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Derek Wolfe retires after 10 NFL seasons

The defensive lineman officially retired as a Bronco: "Happy to be done with the game because the injuries were just pilling up.''
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Derek Wolfe celebrates his tackle on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Derek Wolfe, a standout on the great 2015 Denver Defense that delivered the third Super Bowl trophy to the Broncos’ franchise, officially announced his retirement Friday after 10 NFL seasons.

His forearms covered in artwork, the back of his hair tied in a strand while the sides were shaved, his face covered with a full-on woodsy beard, and his body looking healthy and strong even if it hasn’t always felt that way lately, Wolfe signed paperwork that made him officially retired as a Bronco, his team through the first 8 seasons.

"To retire a Bronco, it was something that was really important to me," Wolfe said in his retirement press conference following his former team’s jog-through training camp practice. "The day I stepped foot into this building, I said to myself that I wanted to end it here. I started it here and I wanted to end it here.

"I didn’t get to do it the way I wanted to. Obviously, I wanted the fairy tale-come-off-the-field for the last time and leave my cleats out there, but that just wasn’t able to happen. When you’re playing in the trenches, every day is just a blessing because it’s such a physical job. I’m just grateful, very emotional and happy to be done with the game because the injuries were just pilling up.

"I know my wife is very happy to not have to watch me crawl to the shower every morning. Coming back to do it again, the night before games, not be able to put my underwear on -- It was getting bad so it was time to call it. I get to be a father. I get to be a husband."

Earlier, the Broncos' public relations department escorted Wolfe past the crowd of 3,270 that had gathered along the berm to watch the  Broncos' training camp practice at UCHealth Training Center. He received a nice, sustained applause from the fans. He then joined the team on the practice field, gave a man guy to defensive tackle Mike Purcell, and broke the team down after practice. 

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Credit: AP
Former Denver Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, right, holds a child as he is greeted by media members while attending the NFL football team's training camp Friday, July 29, 2022, in Centennial, Colo. Wolfe signed a one-day contract with the Broncos to retire as a Denver player on Friday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Wolfe, 32, was the Broncos’ first selection in the 2012 draft, No. 36 overall in the second round, out of Cincinnati. He started all 17 games, counting the excruciating playoff loss to Baltimore, as a rookie and had 6.0 sacks that remained his career-best until his final season of 2019, when he had 7.0 sacks  before dislocating his elbow in the 12th game. In between, Wolfe had a scary moment in 2013 when he suffered seizures as the team was about to bus to the airport for a trip to play the Kansas City Chiefs.

Wolfe said his heartbeat got down to 12 to 15 beats a minute and that doctors had to induce a coma.

He missed the final five games, plus three more in the postseason, including Super Bowl 48.

"It was almost all taken away from me," Wolfe said. "I wasn’t in a place financially where I was going to be taken of the rest of my life if that happened. It would have been a miserable existence for me and regret living with that. But I was able to battle back from that and show some resolve."

He said his problems first started during a preseason game at Seattle where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks crushed the Broncos, 40-10.

"I was paralyzed in Seattle – for 3 hours I couldn’t feel anything from my nose down," Wolfe recalled. "And I was back on the field two weeks later. Which, that was my decision to do. … Turns out I wasn’t getting fresh blood to my brain. I had seizures 12 weeks after that on a bus as we were getting ready to the airport. That almost killed me."

He returned to start all 16 games, plus one more in the postseason, in 2014, then teamed with Malik Jackson to produce the kind of consistent inside push up front that allowed outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to create a devastating pass rush in 2015. It was a season when Broncos star quarterback Peyton Manning was losing his legs and it was the Denver D that primarily carried the Broncos to a 12-4 record – 10 coming by a one-score margin – and No. 1 AFC playoff seed.

In the postseason, defense was again the difference in hard-fought home wins against Pittsburgh and New England, before Miller delivered an MVP performance in a 24-10 thumping of favored Carolina in Super Bowl 50. What made that defense so special?

"I would say the camaraderie," Wolfe said. "And you can’t overlook the talent, right? We had so much talent. When you take all that talent and put the egos aside and put it towards one goal, it’s so difficult to do. Because we had a lot of guys going into contract years. And a lot of guys could have been, ‘forget about the team, I’m worried about myself.’ That didn’t happen. We were all focused on winning that Super Bowl. And we did it. And they can’t take that away from us."

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Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Derek Wolfe celebrates after sacking Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.

Wolfe got a nice 4-year, $36.7 million contract extension just before the 2015 postseason and when it expired after 2019, he became a free agent, he signed with Baltimore. Wolfe had a solid, if injury-plagued season with the Ravens in 2020 but then missed all of last season with injuries to both hips that required offseason surgeries.

Wolfe indicated that between his career earnings and his wife Abigail’s real-estate success, money is not an issue for their family that includes two daughters, Tatum and Roxie.

"While I was playing, my wife was building a real-estate empire," Wolfe said. "So we have a ton of real estate that is making a ton of money. Not to brag or anything – I’m bragging on her."

They will continue to live in Colorado. Wolfe said he would be around the team – except in September, which is his archery hunting season.

"I don’t miss the physicality of the game," he said. "I do miss being around the guys."

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