Englewood, Colo. — The Broncos have broken up the “No Fly Zone,” releasing three-time Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward with a year left on his contract.
General manager John Elway said cutting the eighth-year pro was a difficult decision “after everything he’s done for our football team.”
“He was a respected teammate whose attitude and physical mindset played a big part in our success, especially during our Super Bowl run,” Elway said. “We thank T.J. for his contributions as a Bronco and wish him nothing but the best in his future.”
Ward set a nasty tone for Denver’s defense as a founding member of the “No Fly Zone” secondary that includes Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart and Bradley Roby.
Ward was due $4.5 million this year in the final season of his four-year, $22.5 million contract he signed in 2014. The Broncos will eat about $1.3 million in dead money from his prorated signing bonus.
But this decision wasn’t about money or cap space. It was about looking toward the future.
Second-year pro Justin Simmons has stood out in place of Ward, who missed most of training camp and all of the preseason with a torn hamstring. The Broncos also are high on second-year safety Will Parks and undrafted rookie Jamal Carter of Miami, who led the team with 19 tackles in the preseason.
Ward returned to practice Monday and Tuesday and word quickly got out that he was on the trading block or the chopping block this weekend when teams trim their rosters to 53 with their season openers approaching.
Teammates expressed disbelief that Elway would part with such a key leader, one who helped Denver go 37-15 and win a Super Bowl in his three seasons with the Broncos, and pleaded with him to reconsider.
“Mind blown,” linebacker Shaquil Barrett tweeted upon Ward’s release Saturday morning.
“Hate to see my brother @BossWard43 go,” tweeted defensive end Derek Wolfe . “Huge part of our success as a defense. Don’t forget this is a business first.”
“Going to miss my Dawg!” linebacker Brandon Marshall wrote on Instragram. “Irreplaceable Passion, Leadership, and just a DOG on the field!! I’ve learned a lot these past 3 seasons playing wit you. Somebody will get a STEAL !”
After Denver wrapped up a perfect preseason with a 30-2 win over Arizona on Thursday night, Von Miller said breaking up the “No Fly Zone” made no sense because the star-studded secondary was what “has made me great individually, us great as a defense and us great as an organization.”
The Cowboys released quarterback Kellen Moore, a former Lion, making undrafted rookie Cooper Rush of Central Michigan the backup to Dak Prescott.
Rush had six touchdown passes without an interception while outplaying Moore, a five-year veteran, in all four preseason games.
The Cowboys also cut guard Nate Theaker (Wayne State).
... The Buccaneers cut rookie linbebacker Riley Bullough (Michigan State), who was a featured performer in HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
... The Jets cut defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas (Michigan State) and offensive lineman Ben Braden (Michigan).
... The Ravens put linebacker Brennan Beyer (Michigan) on the waived-injured list.
... The Bengals cut safety Demetrious Cox (Michigan State).
... The Chargers cut guard Donavon Clark (Michigan State).
... The Dolphins waived running back De’Veon Smith (Michigan).
... The Steelers cut running back Fitz Toussaint (Michigan).
... Washington cut guard Kyle Kalis (Michigan).
... The Vikings waived TE Josiah Price and WR R.J. Shelton (Michigan State), and guard Willie Beavers (Western Michigan).
... The Patriots traded quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts for receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Brissett, a third-round pick in 2016, started two games as a rookie last season while Tom Brady served his four-game “Deflategate” suspension.
By adding Dorsett, a first-round draft pick in 2015, the Patriots get another capable pass catcher with Julian Edelman out for the season with a knee injury.
The Colts cut receiver Valdez Showers (Madison Heights Madison).
... Suspended safety T.J. McDonald reportedly agreed to a $24 million, four-year extension with the Dolphins.
... The Steelers traded wide receiver Sammie Coates to the Browns. The Steelers also sent a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft to Cleveland for a sixth-round pick in 2018.
... The 49ers cut last season’s leading receiver, former Lion Jeremy Kerley. The 49ers also placed receiver Aaron Burbridge (Michigan State) on season-ending injured reserve.
... The Panthers acquired cornerback Kevon Seymour from the Bills for wide receiver Kaelin Clay and a 2019 seventh-round draft pick.
The Panthers also cut three-time All-Pro punter Andy Lee and third-string quarterback/special teams player Joe Webb.
... Falcons defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman has been placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List as the result of 2016 domestic violence-related charges.