ENGLEWOOD—Sure, players on the Denver defense are upset T.J. Ward is no longer among them after the strong safety was released Saturday.
But, in time, perhaps as soon as a couple days, it will hit Bronco veterans that once again the NFL is a difficult business that favors the young and is tough on the old.
Ward, who will turn 31 in December, is out. Justin Simmons, a second-year player who was a third-round draft pick last year, is in.
“Of course, we all support Justin,’’ said Broncos starting inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. “Justin is a hard-working young guy with talent. I guess Justin has been inserted into the No Fly Zone even though you could also say they broke up the No Fly Zone.’’
During the week as it became known Ward’s time with the Broncos was numbered either through trade or release, Marshall took to social media to urge his bosses to keep Boss Ward. Von Miller and Derek Wolfe also publicly supported their teammate that is now a former teammate.
“I’m baffled,’’ Marshall said upon hearing the news of Ward’s release Saturday. “T.J.’s a great leader. He’s up there with the DeMarcus Wares. Different type of leaders. T.J.’s very vocal. It’s hard to replace guys like that in the locker room and on the field. He plays with so much passion, so much fire. He inspires others to play that same way. He’s part of the reason we won the Super Bowl that year.’’
Ward became vulnerable for a variety of reasons. One, safety is where the Broncos have the greatest depth of young talent. Besides Simmons, Will Parks and undrafted rookie Jamal Carter are box players and have the potential to become Ward-type hard hitters.
Two, Ward is 30, will turn 31 in December and while his Tasmanian devil style of play is what made him a three-time Pro Bowler, his 199-pound body is showing signs of breaking down from the punishment. He missed games each of his three years with the Broncos and he just sat out the preseason with a hamstring strain.
And three, he was to draw a decent $4.5 million salary this season. That may be team-friendly for a Pro Bowler but it’s significant for a player the Broncos believe is past his prime. The Broncos did not offer Ward a chance to stay with a pay cut.
Four, the Broncos couldn’t block their young talent with two veterans and they chose to tie up the other safety, Darian Stewart, to a four-year, $28 million contract extension last November.
“I’m going to miss T.J., he was a great player for us,’’ said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, who like Ward is a Bay Area native. “I’m going to watch him play and I’m going to check up on his stats. But I also understand the NFL is a business.’’