Broncos players hope talk of release, trade of safety T.J. Ward is 'fake news'

T.J. Ward walked the sidelines with the other Broncos starters, but will he remain in Denver much longer? Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

DENVER -- Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph said Thursday night he couldn't say whether Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward would be on the team after the roster is cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday.

Reports have surfaced that the Broncos will either trade or release Ward by Saturday’s deadline. Privately, team sources said no final decision had been made about Ward's future as of Thursday evening, when the Broncos closed out the preseason with a 30-2 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but multiple options were being considered.

Asked following the game if Ward would be either 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. "I can't speak to that today," he responded. "That's more for [Friday's] conversations and Saturday's conversations."

Ward left the Broncos' locker room shortly after the game -- he was one of 29 players who did not play in the preseason finale -- and did not speak formally to the media. Ward, who took part in a pregame workout with the rest of the sidelined players, missed several weeks in training camp with a hamstring injury and did not play in any of the Broncos' four preseason games.

Ward, who signed with the Broncos in the team's free agency shopping spree in 2014 that also included Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders, has been named to the Pro Bowl in two of his three seasons in Denver. The 30-year-old is entering the last year of his contract and is a highly respected voice in the Broncos' locker room.

"You're talking about a leader, not only in our defense, but in our locker room," safety Justin Simmons said. "Everyone looks up to him and respects him, myself included. ... It's just crazy hearing all this talk and everything around it."

"I don't know," linebacker Von Miller said. "I hope it's fake news, you know? I hope it doesn't happen."

Linebacker Brandon Marshall took to Twitter Thursday afternoon and offered his opinion:

There are personnel executives in the league who said earlier in the week the Broncos were both shopping Ward and listening to offers for the Pro Bowl safety. However, Ward said after Tuesday's practice he was continuing to get ready for the Broncos' Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Ward finished what he said was his best all-around season in 2015 with 87 tackles, a sack, an interception and three forced fumbles. He is part of the team’s "No Fly Zone" secondary that features four starters -- Ward, Talib, safety Darian Stewart and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- who each have been named to at least one Pro Bowl over the past two seasons.

At the root of the Broncos' thinking, to at least some degree, is the emergence of Simmons, who plays safety in some situational packages. Ward moves into the weakside linebacker role when the Broncos go to their six defensive-back look, which they used for 60 percent of their defensive snaps last season. President of football operations/general manager John Elway routinely has taken a hard look at players when they enter the last year of their contracts as he tries to decide which ones will be re-signed before they hit free agency.

The Broncos have signed several defensive starters -- Derek Wolfe, Marshall, Harris and Stewart -- before they finished out the last years of their previous deals.

Ward is scheduled to earn a base salary of $4.5 million this season and will count $5.75 million against the salary cap. If the Broncos release Ward, they would have a $1.25 million "dead money" charge against their salary cap.