What had been speculated for days has happened.
Safety T.J. Ward has been cut by the Denver Broncos.
The #Broncos have informed three-time Pro Bowler and all-pro safety TJ Ward that he's been released, source said.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 2, 2017
About to play in the final year of his four-year contract, Ward was seen as a financial liability on a defense with an embarrassment of riches in its secondary.
Outstanding play in training camp and preseason from Chris Lewis-Harris as well as rookie Jamal Carter - along with excellent development from second-year safety Justin Simmons - has the Broncos feeling confident that the No Fly Zone won’t skip a beat without Ward.
But players - who learned about the possible move on Thursday - voiced a strong desire for Ward to stay.
“I spent the last three years with him. It can’t be real. He’s such an impactful player on and off the football field; in and out of the locker room for the Denver Broncos,” said Von Miller after the Broncos final preseason game. “I’m with him. I’m with him 100 percent. I don’t think he should be going.”
The 30-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl strong safety has been the heart and soul of the NFZ, but his production has been hampered somewhat by injury the past two seasons, and Ward is currently recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined throughout the preseason.
Cutting Ward saves the Broncos $4.5 million this season, but the savings could come at a high price in the locker room - at least for a little while.
Miller called Ward a “a cornerstone of the No Fly Zone” and pointed out how that unit has allowed him to be the great player he is.
“The ‘No Fly Zone’ has made me great individually, as great as a defense and as great as an organization,” Miller said. “Like I said, I hope it’s fake news. I hope it’s not real. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
Will Parks, another backup safety who has been mentored by Ward, noted the many things he has learned from the eight-year pro.
“We kind of don’t talk about it a lot, ever since it has been brought up, but like I said, I can’t say nothing but positive thoughts about T.J.,” Parks said. “Everything about him is just great - his leadership, his mentality, the way he approaches practice and the way he approaches meetings. Everything is like a learning stage for him and that’s kind of how I approach the game, so I can definitely say a lot about him. He’s just a wonderful human being.”
Ward had 69 tackles, one sack and one interception last year, and according to Pro Football Focus, he led safeties in quarterback pressures last season with 17 - second most in the PFF era.
While it may not be the most important job for a safety, T.J. Ward was the most productive pass rusher at the position last year pic.twitter.com/cb958j3ka4— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 25, 2017
Brought in as a free agent in 2014 to spice up the aggressiveness on defense, Ward has not disappointed.
A vocal leader in the locker room and on the field, he has been a huge part of Denver’s No. 1 pass defense and a major part of the Broncos’ big defensive stop to win Super Bowl 50.
Since joining the Broncos, the Bay Area native and former Cleveland Brown has logged 181 solo tackles, 5 sacks and 3 interceptions.
Though it might be easy to replace that production with the hot prospects behind him, there will be a temporary void not having his strong presence on the field.
He will be missed most by his fellow No Fly Zoners.
“I am just hoping it is just not true. We do a good job working together and I am just hoping it is not true and we are getting ready for the season and we expect him to be with us,” Darian Stewart had said Thursday night. “He is definitely a team leader and a big part of our defense and a big part of our team. I don’t know if they are going to listen to us, but I think it is going to impact a lot. He is the key leader and a good teammate.”
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