Ware may be done as Bronco

Vet­eran out­side line­backer put on in­jured re­serve with lower back in­jury

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala@den­ver­post.com or @Nick­iJhab­vala

The Bron­cos placed vet­eran out­side line­backer DeMar­cus Ware on in­jured re­serve with a lower back in­jury, end­ing his sea­son a week early and pos­si­bly end­ing his ten­ure as a Bronco.

Ware did not prac­tice Wed­nes­day be­cause of lin­ger­ing lower back pain. He ag­gra­vated his back last sea­son and missed the en­tire off­sea­son and pre­sea­son to try to re­cover. Although he didn’t miss time be­cause of the in­jury this year — he in­stead missed five games with an el­bow in­jury — Gary Ku­biak said Wed­nes­day that it’s some­thing Ware has “been play­ing through that has kind of both­ered him more and more.”

“Pedal is al­ways to the metal and fuel is still in the tank. #VroomV­room” Ware tweeted later in the day.

Ware, 34, signed a three-year, $30 mil­lion con­tract with the Bron­cos in 2014 as part of gen­eral man­ager John El­way’s de­fen­sive over­haul fol­low­ing the team’s blowout loss to Seat­tle in Su­per Bowl XLVIII, join­ing vet­eran safety T.J. Ward and cor­ner­back Aqib Talib as new­com­ers.

“Peo­ple talk about us try­ing to buy a de­fense and this and that, but all those guys we brought in fit in great,” El­way told The Den­ver Post in Au­gust. “The over­all phi­los­o­phy I’m proud of — play great de­fense and con­tinue to try to get bet­ter on the of­fen­sive side. … You never know how they’re go­ing to mold to­gether, but those guys — es­pe­cially with DeMar­cus and his leadership abil­ity — ev­ery­thing just molded.”

In 10 games this sea­son (eight starts), Ware had four sacks for a loss of 22 yards, plus eight quar­ter­back hits and 15 to­tal tack­les. In his 12 sea­sons com­bined, the nine-time Pro Bowler amassed 138.5 ca­reer sacks to rank eighth in NFL his­tory and sec­ond among ac­tive play­ers. He also ranks sec­ond in NFL his­tory with a sack rate of 0.78 per game through­out his ca­reer, trail­ing only Hall of Fame de­fen­sive end Reg­gie White (0.85 per game).

But he not only keyed the Bron­cos’ de­fen­sive trans­for­ma­tion, he also aided in the de­vel­op­ment and mat­u­ra­tion of fel­low out­side line­backer Von Miller.

“DeMar­cus was a great role model for Von,” El­way said. “We knew what Von could do and we knew the phys­i­cal tal­ent he had. Ob­vi­ously, he had some bumps in the road there, but that’s go­ing to hap­pen to some guys. They’re young. So I think DeMar­cus was a guy we thought, no ques­tion, would be a great role model for Von to get him to see what it takes to be great, what it takes to be a leader and start cre­at­ing that legacy for Von.”

When Ware ar­rived, Miller was com­ing off a sea­son short­ened be­cause of a drug-pol­icy sus­pen­sion and knee surgery. In the years since, Miller, who has spo­ken of­ten of his ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect for Ware, has trans­formed into the Bron­cos’ Su­per Bowl MVP and one of — if not the — top de­fend­ers in the game.

“It’s just like hav­ing the Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi,” Miller said in Oc­to­ber, be­fore Ware’s re­turn from the el­bow in­jury. “It’s just when you have that type of wis­dom around and you have that type of poise and he’s just al­ways calm, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion is. He al­ways has great ad­vice. He al­ways knows the di­rec­tion to go and he has the vi­sion for our out­side line­backer room. He’s def­i­nitely a leader for us. When you have your lead­ers around, it makes ev­ery­thing go a lot smoother.”

Af­ter Su­per Bowl 50, Ware made it clear he wanted to play again, say­ing he had “a lot of gas left in the tank” even af­ter a try­ing sea­son with the back in­jury. To stay in Den­ver, he agreed to re­struc­ture the fi­nal year on his deal and lower his salary-cap hit.

With his con­tract about to ex­pire and his 12th sea­son in the books, Ware’s time as a Bronco, if not an NFL line­backer may have ex­pired, too.

Bron­cos line­backer DeMar­cus Ware sacks Titans QB Mar­cus Mar­i­ota dur­ing the team’s 13-10 loss Dec. 11. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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