ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Jeff Heuerman was at home, participating in a Broncos’ tight end virtual meeting when he got a call from his agent.
Minutes before the league’s deadline to submit the daily transactions at 2 p.m., the Broncos released Heuerman, ending his five-year stay with the team that began when he was its third-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2015.
Although Heuerman’s release had been expected since the Broncos signed his college teammate, Nick Vannett, in March, saying goodbye to such a well-regraded fixture is a poignant moment.
Vannett and Heuerman essentially play the same position of in-line tight end, which means blocking more than receiving. Noah Fant, a first-round pick last season, is the Broncos’ top receiving tight end and starter. The team drafted another receiving tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam, in the fourth round. Okwuegbunam was Broncos’ quarterback Drew Lock’s tight end at Missouri.
Vannett received a two-year, $5.7 million contract as a free agent from the Broncos, including a full guarantee of $2.5 million of his $3 million payout in 2020. Heuerman was in the final season of a two-year, $8 million extension that had $3.875 million non-guaranteed money due in 2020.
Money said Vannett was in, Heuerman was out.
Heuerman battled tough injury luck from the start as he suffered a torn ACL while covering a kickoff during a rookie minicamp practice held inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse in 2015.
He bounced back and played at least 11 games in the next four seasons and became a starter the past 2 ½ seasons.
Heuerman, 27, was emerging into one of the league’s top 15 tight ends in 2018 when he had 31 catches in 11 games. But he suffered fractured ribs and a bruised lung late in game 11 against Pittsburgh, injuries that ended his season.
Heuerman had passed his pre-entry COVID-19 tests Tuesday and Wednesday and took another virus test Friday that would have allowed him inside the Broncos’ headquarters for a physical exam Saturday.