T.J. Ward suspended for Broncos' opener vs. Ravens for conduct violation

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward is suspended for the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy, the team confirmed Thursday.

Ward, who was named to his second Pro Bowl in 2014, has been through the appeals process; his appeal hearing was with the league earlier in training camp.

It marks the second consecutive year the Broncos have had a suspension handed down as the preseason drew to a close. Last year, Wes Welker's suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs was announced after the team had reduced its roster to 53 players.

Ward's suspension is a result of a May 2014 incident in which he was charged with misdemeanor assault and disturbing the peace after being accused of throwing a glass mug at a bartender in a Denver strip club. In August 2014, Ward was ordered to perform four hours of community service before Oct. 31, 2014, and prosecutors agreed to drop the misdemeanor charges.

"I take full responsibility for the incident that occurred in May 2014 and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by serving my one-game suspension," Ward said Thursday in a statement. "Although I was never arrested and all charges against me were ultimately dismissed, I have no one to blame but myself for being in the predicament that evening. To the Denver Broncos organization, the Bowlen family and to the Denver Bronco fans, I want to apologize for my conduct. I have learned from my mistakes and will continue to be a pillar in the community to make myself a stronger person and player for the Denver Broncos."

Ward later struck a defiant tone, however, after the Broncos' preseason finale against Arizona.

"I feel it's really unfair," he said in the locker room. "I'm getting punished for being accused of doing something, not for doing something but being accused, and I've got to pay the consequences for it. And I just don't feel the whole process is very fair."

Ward also expressed displeasure with the timing of the suspension.

"I was very shocked when I first heard there may be a suspension because the incident happened a year ago," he said. "I've played a full season, and now it's the following season."

Ward said he wasn't sure why the NFL took so long to mete out its punishment but guessed, "Maybe they were busy with the Tom Brady and that federal hearing, but I'm not exactly sure."

Ward signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract with the Broncos before the 2014 season as part of the team's haul in free agency that year that also included DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib. All four players were named to the Pro Bowl following the season.

Ward is a fixture in the defense, playing in all personnel groupings. David Bruton Jr. would be the most likely candidate to replace Ward in the team's base defense.

Bruton already plays in several of the team's specialty packages, and this week defensive coordinator Wade Phillips lauded Bruton's versatility.

"We work Bruton as a linebacker, and we want to get our best players on the field as much as we can," Phillips said. "Bruton's worked some as a linebacker, and he's worked as a safety. He's very versatile. He's one of the smartest guys we have, so that helps also. That helps him and us, so we try to utilize that."

Ward had 74 tackles last season for the Broncos with two sacks and two interceptions. He was one of two players, along with former Broncos safety Rahim Moore, to top 1,000 snaps last season. Ward was second to Moore with 1,003 snaps even though he was held out of the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.