Broncos release T.J. Ward; Confident young players can step up

Posted at 10:14 AM, Sep 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-02 18:11:31-04

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Encouraged by the progress of young players, the Broncos made the difficult decision Saturday to cut veteran T.J. Ward. Ward confirmed his release to Denver7 on Saturday morning.

It became increasingly likely earlier this week when the Broncos attempted to trade the former Pro Bowler. Ward, 30, was surprised by the development, but began wrapping his head around it as the days passed. He told Denver7 on Wednesday that "I am going to make it work out for me, you can believe that." As a vested veteran, Ward becomes a free agent. He's expected to talk with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the interest could be mutual. So keep on eye on that. Other teams with a need include the Rams, Texans, Raiders and Buccaneers.

His agency said Saturday night that seven teams expressed interest with three finalists. He could sign as soon as Saturday night or Sunday morning. 

The Broncos have released more than 20 players and traded Ty Sambrailo to Atlanta as they inch toward the 53-man roster limit. 

Ward was due $4.5 million this season, none of which was guaranteed. The Broncos will absorb a $1.25 million cap hit. Ward wondered if something was possible as he missed the preseason games with a strained right hamstring, admitting "things got a little weird." He had hoped to land a contract extension in the offseason, but talks never developed. The Broncos never discussed or considered a paycut for Ward.

"This was a difficult decision to part ways with T.J. after everything he’s done for our football team,” general manager John Elway said. “He was a respected teammate whose attitude and physical mindset played a big part in our success, especially during our Super Bowl run. We thank T.J. for his contributions as a Bronco and wish him nothing but the best in the future.”

The Broncos already have cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib and safety Darian Stewart on longterm deals. 

The Broncos' move signals their confidence in young players: second-year safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, and possibly undrafted rookie Jamal Carter. Simmons played well with Stewart in the preseason, providing the Broncos a different look given Simmons' coverage skills. It is likely Simmons will be used in a free safety role with Stewart serving as the thumper on the back line. Parks and Carter, called the "Baby Monster" by some teammates for his physical play, also are big hitters. 

Still, this move, even as it slowly played out, is jarring and unpopular in the locker room.

"Ima gonna miss my dawg," tweeted Chris Harris Jr. 

"Mind blown," outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett tweeted. 

Linebacker Brandon Marshall pushed for Ward to stay in conversations with me and on social media. Defensive end Derek Wolfe talked about how much he disliked even the possibility of Ward leaving, and Von Miller termed it "Fake news" because he couldn't believe it would happen.

"I spent the last three years with him. It can’t be real. He’s such an impactful player on and off the football field; in and out of the locker room for the Denver Broncos. It’s just the nature of the National Football League. You can only control what you can control," Miller said Thursday night. "I’m with him. I’m with him 100 percent. I don’t think he should be going. That’s a cornerstone of the ‘No Fly Zone.’ The ‘No Fly Zone’ has made me great individually, us great as a defense and us great as an organization. We have championship leaders. We make championship decisions all the time. The front office puts us in championship positions all the time. You can only trust those guys like those guys trust us."