Posted on August 2, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

T.J. Ward

Image via denverpost.com

After much speculation, the Denver Broncos officially released safety T.J. Ward on Saturday. Multiple outlets reported on Friday that the Broncos were attempting to trade Ward. But when nothing materialized, the Broncos released Ward after three seasons with the team. Ward is a three-time Pro Bowler who helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl two seasons ago.

Ward was in the final year of a four-year, $23 million contract he signed with the Broncos in 2014. His $4.5 million salary for 2017 was not guaranteed. The Broncos will only take a hit of $1.25 million by parting ways with the veteran. Despite being a key part of Denver’s defense over the past three seasons, Ward did not play in any preseason games this year because of a hamstring injury. The injury kept him from being able to fight to keep his spot on the team.

The Broncos are likely to move forward with Justin Simmons taking Ward’s spot in the starting lineup. Simmons was a second-round pick out of Boston College last year. As a rookie, he totaled 30 tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. His emergence made Denver more comfortable parting ways with Ward. The Broncos still have veteran Darian Stewart to play alongside Simmons at the other safety spot. Will Parks, a sixth round pick in last year’s draft, is also in the mix at safety.

Releasing Ward may make financial sense, and the Broncos may be able to get away with it on the field, but parting ways with Ward could hurt the Broncos from a leadership standpoint. Ward has been one of the most respected players in Denver’s locker room over the last three years.

“You’re talking about a leader, not only in our defense but in our locker room,” Simmons said earlier this week. “Everyone looks up to him and respects him, myself included.”

Several players on Denver’s defense have expressed their displeasure over the past week amidst rumors that Ward’s spot on the roster was in jeopardy.

“I’m with him, I’m with him 100 percent,” Von Miller said of Ward on Thursday. “I don’t think he should be going. That’s a cornerstone of the ‘No Fly Zone.’ The ‘No Fly Zone’ has made me great individually, us great as a defense and us great as an organization. We have championship leaders. We make championship decisions all the time. The front office puts us in championship positions all the time. You can only trust those guys like those guys trust us.”

With Ward released and DeMarcus Ware retiring after last season, leadership could be an issue for Denver’s defense, despite being one of the most talented in the league. It could be up to players like Miller, Stewart, and Aqib Talib to take the reigns on that side of the ball. It’s also up to first-year head coach Vance Joseph to make sure some of the players on his defense are able to move forward after the disappointment of seeing Ward released.

As for Ward, he won’t be out of a job for long. Missing the entire preseason is obviously not ideal. But there was no noticeable dip in his performance last season. At age 30, he should be able to perform at a high level for at least a few more years, as long as he stays healthy. The Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Texans are among the teams that could look to sign Ward before the start of the season.

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