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Here's why Aqib Talib may be about to play his final game for Broncos

Aqib Talib referred questions to John Elway following practice on Friday.
02 October 2016: Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) intercepts a pass in the 1st quarter of the NFL regular season game between the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers . (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Given what may have been his last chance to answer questions from the Denver media following a practice, Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib declined.

He referred questions to John Elway, instead.

With the offense slumping in the past two seasons since Peyton Manning retired, Talib has been the Broncos' second-best player the past two years. He and the best player, pass-rushing linebacker Von Miller, are the Broncos' only two Pro Bowlers this season.

In his four seasons with the Broncos, Talib has made four Pro Bowls and helped the team win Super Bowl 50. He has been a great Bronco, even if his play has come with its share of combativeness.

But Elway as the Broncos' general manager must pay attention to the business side of football and business could make Talib vulnerable to the trading block this offseason.

Perhaps the two biggest reasons are, one, No. 3 cornerback Bradley Roby is jumping from a $1.37 million salary this year to $8.526 million next year, and two, Roby will play at 26 next year and Talib will be 32.

Money and age, age and money. They have always been the top two factors in roster turnover in professional team sports.

Talib made $10.4 million this year and the Broncos' other standout cornerback, Chris Harris Jr., made $8.6 million. That $19 million combined was easy to fit into the player budget with Roby making $1.37 million.

Next year, Talib is to draw $11 million in the fifth year of his six-year contract. While that is still a team-favorable salary for an elite cornerback (if he should wind up released, he may well command $13 million to $15 million a year) has it been noted Talib will turn 32 and Roby will be 26 next year? Harris will split the middle at 29 years old next season and will make $8.5 million.

That's a combined $28 million for the three cornerbacks next year, or $8 million more than they're making this year.

With the Broncos expected to need big money to attract a proven starting quarterback from free agency, the team would have to look at other areas to trim payroll, not add.

“The way I look at it, nobody is safe,'' Harris said.

It may be time for Roby to step up and join Harris as the Broncos' starting cornerback tandem next year.

Talib would not be the only well-known Broncos player who is making good money but might be playing in his final game for the team Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“There's going to be some drastic changes this offseason and I'm up for it,'' Miller said. “I want to get back in the mode to being competitive and winning.''

Changes figure to come not only to the roster, but coaching staff and personnel department.

Bronco players under contract who are scheduled to make decent-to-big money next year are Miller ($19 million), Demaryius Thomas ($8.5 million), Emmanuel Sanders ($8.25 million), Derek Wolfe ($8 million), Ron Leary ($7.65 million), Menelik Watson ($5.5 million), Brandon Marshall ($5 million), Darian Stewart ($4.5 million), C.J. Anderson ($4.5 million) and Domata Peko ($3.7 million).

The Broncos' group of unrestricted free agents include Virgil Green, Todd Davis, Cody Latimer, Brock Osweiler, Jamaal Charles, Donald Stephenson, Jared Crick and Corey Nelson.

“When you have a season like this, nobody is safe,'' said Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

“We don't know if we're going to rebuild or are we trying to win a Super Bowl next year,'' Harris said.

It's a catch-22 on both fronts. Rebuilding would mean going forward with a quarterback drafted within the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft.

Somebody like Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield.

Elway and his top deputy Matt Russell personally watched Allen play in the Potato Bowl and they will be joined by scouting consultant Gary Kubiak on Friday night to watch Darnold in the Cotton Bowl.

The Broncos' evaluating triumvirate are also planning to watch Mayfield in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Going forward with a rookie quarterback, though, would save on payroll. That could mean more high-dollar players staying than otherwise would.

If the Broncos decided on a free-agent quarterback, to recruit a big-ticket player like a Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins, the Broncos would likely have to create payroll room. But then again, those type of quality quarterbacks wouldn't be attracted to a purged roster.

Hmm. In either scenario, it may be time for Roby to step up and become a starting corner. He's going to get paid like one. And this is why Talib may be playing for another team in 2018.