DENVER — Then there was one.
The No Fly Zone secondary, a catalytic force in the Super Bowl 50 title, lost another charter member Wednesday as safety Darian Stewart told Denver7 he will be released. The safety knew he faced an uncertain future after last season. After seeing contract options picked up on defensive end Derek Wolfe and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, Stewart sought clarity in his situation. He learned he will be cut, saving the Broncos roughly $3.6 million in salary cap space.
"I have nothing but respect on this end. I told them to be open with me. (General Manager) John Elway told me that they were going to release me," Stewart said in a phone interview with Denver7. "You hear all the stuff. You see what's going on with other guys, and you wonder, 'What about me?' I wanted to know sooner rather than later. I am in a good place. I am at ease now."
Stewart played four seasons in Denver, helping anchor an elite secondary in 2015 and 2016. He finished with 60 tackles last season and netted two picks, among nine in his career with the Broncos.
"Damn," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. when told of Stewart's exit, leaving Harris as the lone No Fly member with T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Stewart gone, and Bradley Roby likely to sign elsewhere as a free agent.
The Broncos could be active in free agency, pursuing someone like the Bears' Adrian Amos. They also have multiple in-house options like Will Parks, Su'a Cravens and Jamal Carter, among others. Cravens was acquired last year to push for Stewart's spot, but it never materialized because of an injury and a falling out with the previous coaching staff.
A Pro Bowler in 2016, Stewart preferred to know where he stood. He watched what unfolded with safety T.J. Ward two years ago as Ward was released at the end of training camp. He wanted more control of his next stop. Stewart, 30, started 58 games for the Broncos. He was soft-spoken off the field, a professional with the media and teammates. On the field, he lit up receivers and provided a physical presence. However, following Ward's departure Stewart fought consistency issues in coverage, often being blamed even when he wasn't at fault.
"The last three years were tough as a team. We struggled, struggled, struggled. I want to win another Super Bowl. I feel like I have a lot of game left," Stewart said. "I have nothing but love for Denver. I won a Super Bowl here. We had our first child here. The fans were great to me. It's just time to move on and see what's next."