Broncos release safety Stewart for cap savings

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' "No Fly Zone" secondary is now just the "No Fly Guy."

The Broncos, in need of salary-cap space before free agency opens March 13, released safety Darian Stewart on Thursday. Stewart, who had two years remaining on his four-year extension through 2020, was slated to count $6.37 million against the salary cap in 2019.

With Bradley Roby also set to depart via free agency, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. will be the lone player remaining from a secondary that led the league in pass defense in back-to-back seasons and helped power the team to a Super Bowl 50 win.

Safety T.J. Ward was released in 2017, and Aqib Talib was traded before the 2018 season.

Stewart took to social media Wednesday to formally announce the move.

Once the trade with the Ravens for quarterback Joe Flacco becomes official on March 13 and his $18.5 million salary is on the books, the Broncos will have about $17 million to $18 million worth of cap space then. They could turn base salaries into signing bonuses with some of their more highly paid players to create some room, but they will have to make roster moves -- and take on more "dead money" than they've carried in seasons past -- to be as active in free agency as they'd like to be.

Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said at the NFL scouting combine that the team didn't have enough room to do what he wanted in free agency.

"No. What I want to do? There's a lot of things that I would ... we have enough to help our football team, which is the goal. But that's not exactly everything I would like to do," Elway said. "I still think that we can be effective and get better.''

Stewart is the second veteran player on defense to be informed in recent weeks that he would not be retained. Linebacker Brandon Marshall also was told not to expect the team to pay an option bonus in the coming days, so he will be an unrestricted free agent as well.

With the Broncos finishing 5-11 and 6-10 over the past two seasons, Harris had predicted that "every veteran is on a non-guaranteed deal."

In recent weeks, Stewart had hoped to "get some clarity'' on the direction of the new coaching staff, including head coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

Stewart originally signed with the Broncos in 2015 and missed just three games in those four years. A respected voice in the locker room, Stewart had at least 56 tackles each season and finished with nine interceptions.

There is a long list of safeties available in free agency, including Adrian Amos, who played for Fangio with the Chicago Bears. But if the Broncos fill Stewart's job from within, the most likely candidate to play alongside Justin Simmons would be Will Parks.