DENVER – Perhaps no single signing since Peyton Manning better illustrates the Broncos’ raised expectations than their pickup of cornerback Drayton Florence. Denver’s signing — and that he was on the market in the first place — is evidence of two franchises in diametrically different places on the NFL spectrum.
The 31-year-old Florence would be something of a luxury item for the rebuilding Bills — but has value to a team that hopes to play from ahead and in five- and six-defensive-back packages for most of its downs.
Florence is a still-solid contributor. At minimum, he can be a fifth defensive back for most teams. Although he struggled last year — but not as badly as Pro Football Focus’s metrics would maintain — he would have looked better with free-agent pickup Mario Williams and first-rounder Stephon Gilmore in the picture.
Cutting Florence in May, as Buffalo did, is the sort of move made by a team that wants to shove players into the lineup for the sake of the long-term future at the expense of short-term performance. There was no reason for Buffalo to jettison Florence when they don’t know what they have with their rookies — particularly fourth-rounder Ron Brooks, whose role stands to be more extensive than ideal — but they did so anyway.
Twenty-three picks before the Bills picked Brooks, the Broncos added a fourth-round cornerback of their own in Omar Bolden. But he won’t be asked to play extensively right away, thanks to the pickups of Florence and Tracy Porter and the return of 2011 nickelback Chris Harris.
Even without Florence, Bolden projected as a dime back; with him aboard, it’s possible that the only way Bolden assumes a role beyond the Broncos’ six-defensive back packages is if two of their top four cornerbacks are lost to injuries.
If Bolden contributes immediately, it’s a pleasant surprise. But with Bailey turning 34 this year, Porter on a one-year contract and Florence on a two-year deal, you don’t have to squint to see his future in the distance. Now Bolden won’t have to be rushed into a workload that he — and, specifically, his surgically repaired knee — can’t handle. All signs point to Bolden starting by 2014; if he can remain healthy until then, he should be ready for extensive, every-down work.
Florence is a nice insurance policy, but to the Bills, that wasn’t worth the cost. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, he was worth the $1.5 million in guaranteed money. Now the Broncos can withstand a cornerback injury — yes, even to Champ Bailey — and can get by. No, Florence can’t replace Bailey; no one can. But he gives the Broncos four cornerbacks that played extensive roles last year — two of whom will likely see a downgrade from their previous status assuming all remain in good health.
His knowledge of Jack Del Rio’s defensive scheme from a year in 2008 also gives him value as an additional teacher for Bolden, Harris and any other young cornerbacks who manage to stick on the roster.