ENGLEWOOD—Darian Stewart nabs three turnovers in one game and before he plays in another, the Denver Broncos give the safety a four-year contract extension worth $7 million per year.
Never let it be said the Broncos and general manager John Elway don’t reward those who perform.
Darian Stewart's an integral part of our defense who brings physicality, leadership & toughness. Thrilled he'll be a Bronco for 4 more yrs!— John Elway (@johnelway) November 26, 2016
The Broncos signed Stewart to a four-year, $28 contract extension Saturday. The deal includes a $7 million upfront signing bonus -- the motivation to get a deal done now -- and $17 million in full and partial guarantees. In terms of average salary, Stewart is among the league's 12 highest-paid safeties.
For clarity, contract extension negotiations between the Broncos and Stewart were initiated not after, but leading into his tremendous game against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He responded to the vote of confidence his team showed in him and then some. Better believe his two interceptions off Drew Brees and fumble recovery that keyed a Broncos’ narrow victory didn’t hurt Stewart’s bargaining leverage.
Stewart, 28, would have been a free agent after this season. Instead, he becomes a shining testament to perseverance.
Undrafted out of South Carolina, Stewart made the St. Louis Rams roster as a rookie in 2010, and worked his way into a full-time starter role in 2011.
But then came a series of hamstring and leg injuries that led to disappointing years in 2012-13. When Stewart reached free agency for the first time in 2014, he could only muster a one-year, $1.3 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens.
But Stewart had a rebirth with the Ravens, starting 16 games, including two in the playoffs. Ravens’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak noticed. When Kubiak became the Broncos’ head coach in 2015, he encouraged Elway to sign Stewart, who again was a team bargain at two years and $4.75 million.
Stewart outperformed his Broncos’ contract from the start. His interception of former teammate Joe Flacco helped secure the Broncos’ season-opening win in 2015, a season that ended with a Super Bowl 50 title.
Still, Stewart entered this season under the threat of borrowed time after the Broncos drafted two safeties in Justin Simmons in the third round and Will Parks in the sixth.
Stewart’s play, though, turned his possible replacements into partners.
He again helped set the Denver defensive tone this season with blasts on Carolina’s Cam Newton in the opener and Andrew Luck in game 2. Stewart was fined a combined $27,346 for those two hits, although he can now afford to pay them off.
In the Broncos’ previous game, Nov. 13 at New Orleans, Stewart’s three turnover game was huge in a 25-23 win. The Broncos were off on their bye week last Sunday and will play this Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at soon-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Stewart will be playing with deeper pockets. He is drawing a $2.5 million salary this season but his new contract includes an upfront signing bonus.
The Broncos now have the league’s third-highest paid secondary as starters Aqib Talib ($9.5 million), Chris Harris Jr. ($8.5 million), Stewart ($7 million) and T.J. Ward ($5.625 million) make a combined $30.625 in average salary. Only the top four-paid defensive backs for Seattle (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Jeremy Lane, $37.25 million) and Arizona (Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Bethel, Tyvon Branch, $35.51 million) make more.