ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If John Elway trades or releases veteran strong safety T.J. Ward, he can expect some bitter backlash from the Denver Broncos locker room. A cauldron of discontent could also confront Vance Joseph as he embarks on his rookie campaign as head coach.
Amid speculation that their boss is about to break up the “No Fly Zone,” Denver’s defenders are coming to their teammate’s defense and pleading with the team to keep the three-time Pro Bowler who brings much-needed leadership to the locker room and a tone-setting nastiness to the playing field.
“I’m with him. I’m with him 100 percent. I don’t think he should be going. That’s a cornerstone of the ‘No Fly Zone,'” said Von Miller , expressing disbelief at the prospect of splitting up the team’s special secondary that’s helped lead them to a 37-15 record and a Super Bowl title in the last three seasons.
“The ‘No Fly Zone’ has made me great individually, us great as a defense and us great as an organization,” Miller said.
Ward, who left the stadium without speaking to reporters following Denver’s 30-2 thumping of Arizona on Thursday night, brings the attitude and thump to the star-studded secondary that includes All-Pro cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib along with safety Darian Stewart and nickel back Bradley Roby.
“It can’t be real,” Miller said. “He’s such an impactful player on and off the football field, in and out of the locker room.”
As he always does when he chimes in on personnel matters, Miller added a caveat that the front office has a Super Bowl 50 trophy in the lobby, “so we’ve got to trust those guys like they trust us.”
Not even the man who would replace Ward in the starting lineup wants to see him go.
“I mean, you’re talking about messing with the chemistry of the defense and the chemistry he has with so many guys in this locker room,” second-year safety Justin Simmons said. “And so we’ll see what happens. It’s crazy.”
Linebacker Brandon Marshall took out his frustrations on social media, tweeting, “Letting go of TJ would b a mistake. With all the plays he’s made and leadership he’s brought. He deserves to at least play out his contract.”
Ward is entering the final season of a four-year, $22.5 million deal he signed in 2014. He’s due $4.5 million this season.
After this season, he’ll be a free agent and he figures to command something similar to the five-year, $60 million deal that Dolphins strong safety Reshad Jones signed — providing he can stay healthy and available in 2017 no matter whose team he’s on.
Ward missed the entire preseason after tearing a hamstring early in training camp and Simmons played well in his place. Also, undrafted rookie safety Jamal Carter of Miami led the team with 19 tackles in the preseason.
The Broncos are facing some tough choices as they trim their roster to 53 by Saturday’s deadline because Paxton Lynch’s sprained right shoulder will probably force them to keep an extra quarterback and that roster spot has to come from somewhere.
When first asked Tuesday about the reports that Ward could be on his way out, Joseph said he’d be surprised because “he’s one of our better players.” But after the game, he sidestepped questions about Ward’s status, saying, “Again, it is going to be a long weekend of a lot of transactions, you know, so I cannot speak to that. At the end of the day, we want the best guys for our football team, and if he is one of them, he will be.”
Both Simmons and fellow second-year pro Will Parks spoke in the locker room Thursday night about how much they’ve learned from Ward.
Asked what Ward did to make him a better player, Simmons said, “The easier question would be what hasn’t he done?”
“It would stink for me to see him go,” Parks said. “But at the end of the day, he helped me understand this was a business from Day 1.”
NOTES: The Broncos sent third-year tackle Ty Sambrailo to the Falcons on Friday for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. The former second-rounder out of Colorado State went on IR with a shoulder injury after starting three games at left tackle as a rookie. He started four games at right tackle last season.
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