ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a move that could create ripples up and down the depth chart, the Denver Broncos are releasing safety T.J. Ward after three seasons with the team.
"This was a difficult decision to part ways with T.J. after everything he's done for our football team," team president of football operations and general manager John Elway said in a statement. "He was a respected teammate whose attitude and physical mindset played a big part in our success, especially during our Super Bowl run.
"We thank T.J. for his contributions as a Bronco and wish him nothing but the best in the future."
The possibility that Ward would be either traded or released by Saturday has been the hottest topic of conversation both inside and outside the Broncos' complex in recent days. Ward, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who was set to enter the last year of his contract, has been an important voice in the Broncos' locker room and a key part of the Broncos' "No Fly Zone'' secondary.
The Broncos informed Ward of their decision Saturday morning. Ward had taken to Twitter earlier in the day, as he often does, and had posted "#blessedmorning" before the news of his release became public. Ward did not play in any of the Broncos' four preseason games because of a hamstring injury and missed significant practice time as well.
Following Thursday night's preseason finale, Broncos coach Vance Joseph was asked if he could say if Ward would be traded or released. Joseph said: "Nothing on that. Again, it's going to be a long weekend of a lot of transactions. I can't speak to that. At the end of the day, we want the best guys for our football team, and if he's one of them, he'll be here.''
Joseph was then asked if he thought Ward would be a part of the team after roster cuts. Joseph added: "I can't speak to that today. That's more for [Friday's] conversations and Saturday's conversations.''
Team rosters league-wide must be cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday.
Ward said this past week that he was concentrating on "getting ready for the Chargers,'' given the Broncos open the regular season Sept. 11 against the Los Angeles Chargers. He left the team's locker room quickly after Thursday night's game and was one of 29 starters or regulars who did not play in the contest.
The 30-year-old Ward signed with the Broncos in 2014 in an offseason when Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders were also added to the roster. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in two of his previous three seasons in Denver.
Ward's release could require at least some attention on Joseph's part to the team's locker room.
"I'm with him. I'm with him 100 percent,'' said linebacker Von Miller Thursday night. "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.''
Justin Simmons, whom the Broncos selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, has played in Ward's spot in the preseason and will be the starter into the regular season as well. Simmons' emergence has been part of the reason the Broncos were considering trying to trade Ward before releasing him.
"You're talking about a leader, not only in our defense, but in our locker room,'' Simmons said this past week. "Everyone looks up to him and respects him, myself included. ... It's just crazy hearing all this talk and everything around it.''
Linebacker Brandon Marshall posted on Twitter Thursday afternoon that "Letting go of TJ would be a mistake. With all the plays he's made and leadership he's brought. He deserves to at least play out his contract.''
Ward finished what he had said was his best all-around season in 2016 with 87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and 3 forced fumbles.