Still, most of the checks Shanahan has written have gone to shore up the defense. The biggest payout went to Titans cornerback Denard Walker (six years, $26 million), who will be counted on to strengthen a secondary that surrendered 26 touchdown passes last year. Tyrone Poole, formerly of the Colts, was signed to a one-year deal for the NFL veteran minimum of $477,000 and should be a solid nickelback. Defensive tackle Chester McGlockton, late of the Chiefs, will get a chance to shed his under-achiever label. The Cowboys thought 32-year-old defensive tackle Leon Lett was done, but Shanahan doesn't think so. "He hasn't missed an off-season workout in our program," says the coach.
Because many of the free agents took cap-friendly deals, Denver won't be strapped if those veterans don't pan out. "When we won our Super Bowls," Shanahan says, "we were near the top of the league in offense and defense. Last year only one team [ Seattle] allowed more yards per play than we did. You can't win playing like that. So we had to address our defense. These guys can play, but every year is new. You have to build chemistry. You have to define roles. We'll see if we've done enough."
Ray Lewis Unplugged
Winning a Title Is Not Enough
During a break from a recent NFL Films shoot with two Hall of Famers, former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary and former Steelers cornerback Mel Blount, Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis allowed himself to be a fan for a minute. Lewis leaned over to Singletary and said in a low voice, "I watched you all the time. I wanted to play like you!"
Where he ultimately ranks among the great middle linebackers has become vitally important to the Ravens' Lewis. "I have so much admiration for the great ones who came before me—Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Ray Nitschke," he says. "But when I finish playing, I want to be known as the greatest middle linebacker of all time. That, plus winning, is driving me."
So much of Lewis's greatness last season—he was a consensus All-Pro, he returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to clinch a playoff win at Tennessee, he suffocated the Giants' offense in the Super Bowl—was overshadowed by the double-murder charges he faced in early 2000. (The charges were later dropped.) He wants to make headlines only with his play next fall, so he has spent the off-season shuttling between his home in Baltimore and Atlanta, where he works out with Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe.
"I'm probably peaking too soon in my conditioning," says Lewis, "but I'm driving myself to be a little bit better at every aspect of my game."