The Denver Broncos have signed seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, who spent his entire 13-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Although Dawkins turns 36 next season and is clearly on the downside of his career, he brings a hard-hitting style and leadership qualities coveted by new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator before he was hired to replace Mike Shanahan in Denver, envisions his new veteran safety playing a role similar to what Rodney Harrison had in New England in recent seasons.
The Broncos also signed free agent safety Renaldo Hill, who helped lead the Miami Dolphins' turnaround last season
Dawkins figures he has at least a couple more good seasons in him. He started all 16 games last season for the third time in four years and recorded 75 tackles, three sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception.
The Broncos, who gave up an eye-popping 448 points last season while ranking at or near the bottom in every major defensive category, ran through six different free safeties after saying goodbye last summer to John Lynch and Hamzah Abdullah in hopes Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel were the answers.
They weren't, and when the Broncos missed the playoffs for the third straight season, Shanahan was fired and replaced by McDaniels as coach and Brian Xanders as GM. The new brain trust allowed McCree to become a free agent and jettisoned Manuel along with four other defensive starters in a massive spring cleaning that freed up $37 million in cap space.
In addition to bringing in two veteran safeties, McDaniels is tapping the New England pipeline as he tries to resurrect the Broncos, luring two free agents from the Patriots in wide receiver Jabar Gaffney and long-snapper Lonie Paxton.
Hill and Gaffney both signed four-year deals worth $10 million with $3 million in guarantees, their agent, Drew Rosenhaus, confirmed Saturday.
"Jabar is excited to play for coach McDaniels, whom he obviously knows quite well from their time together in New England," Rosenhaus told The Associated Press. "Renaldo was very impressed with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and was with coach McDaniels at Michigan State."
The signings of Gaffney and Hill were first reported by The Denver Post, which said Paxton got a five-year, $5.3 million deal.
Paxton has spent all nine of his pro seasons in New England. His signing spells the end of the road for Mike Leach, Denver's superb long-snapper for the last 6 1/2 seasons. Leach said he'll ask for his release.
Hill was a major player in Miami's turnaround last season from the NFL's basement to the playoffs, and Gaffney is a versatile No. 3 receiver whose signing could move Eddie Royal into the slot much like similarly sized Pro Bowler Wes Welker with the Patriots.
Gaffney spent the last three seasons in New England after four years in Houston, where he was a starter. He started 20 games for the Patriots, where he averaged 37 catches for 457 yards and four TDs over the last two seasons.
Hill, entering his ninth year, had 77 tackles and three interceptions for the Dolphins last season.
Rosenhaus said another of his clients, San Francisco defensive tackle Ronald Fields, will visit with the Broncos on Monday. The Broncos are switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 with three down linemen and four linebackers.
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