DENVER — The news was always coming, but the abrupt nature jarred Friday morning. Brandon Marshall will not return to the Broncos. The linebacker told Denver7 that the Broncos informed his agent team that they will not not exercise a contract option, which would cast him as a free agent next month.
"I have been here six years, and I have loved every moment of it," Marshall texted to Denver7.
Marshall was due a $1 million guarantee on March 12 as part of a $6.5 million salary for 2019. The Broncos are not comfortable keeping him at that figure. With the Broncos looking to move in a different direction, Marshall will be in line to become a free agent on March 13. The seven-year veteran recognized he was unlikely to return after losing playing time last season to rookie Josey Jewell, in part to a bone bruise in his knee that limited him to 11 games and seven starts with 42 tackles.
"Much Love for Broncos country! Still not over yet, but being injured 2 out of the last 3 years after the Super Bowl killed me! But that’s life," he tweeted. "I’ll land on my feet as I always do."
The Broncos will look to address the inside linebacker position in the draft and free agency. As I said Sunday night on Denver7, keep an eye on Baltimore free agent C.J. Mosley. The Broncos have him on their radar. Denver is attempting to return to the playoffs next season, as the move to acquire quarterback Joe Flacco made clear (the deal for a fourth-round pick cannot become official until March 13).
The Broncos could also look to the draft in April for help. One option at the 10th overall pick is LSU linebacker Devin White, a ferocious hitter who brings elite speed to the position. Improving in coverage is a goal for the position as the Broncos look to pair a versatile player with veteran Todd Davis and Jewell.
For Marshall, when the move becomes official, it will end a successful run with with a frustrating ending. He operated as a key anchor on the Broncos' 2015 defense that will forever be remembered for its dominance and winning Super Bowl 50. That season marked one of three where Marshall eclipsed 100 tackles. His career high came in 2014 when he notched 113, a mercurial rise for a player who was cut multiple times and plucked by the Broncos from Jacksonville's practice squad. He eventually earned a starting job in Denver, in part, after quarterback Peyton Manning wondered aloud why the former Nevada star wasn't playing more given how well he practiced.
In June 2016, the Broncos rewarded Marshall with a four-year, $32 million contract extension with $20 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus. Marshall battled through foot and knee injuries over two of the next three seasons. If the Broncos don't exercise the option in Marshall's contract, as he expects, Denver would absorb a $4 million hit in dead salary cap money.
Marshall is a man of conviction and active in the community. He drew attention and criticism for kneeling during the national anthem before eight games in 2016 and one game in 2017. He took his stance, first adopted by his college teammate Colin Kaepernick, to raise awareness of social injustice. As a result, Marshall helped create change in the Denver Police Department's use-of-force policy after meeting with police chief Robert White. Multiple companies cut ties with Marshall for his stance. He was driven to help kids in Denver and his hometown of Las Vegas, and took students from his Williams-Marshall Cares foundation to Washington D.C. for completing a leadership program.
ESPN first reported the news of the team's plans to move on from him before Marshall texted Denver7.
Marshall believes he can still play at a high level, and will soon enter the free agent market as a option for teams.
"From my practice squad days to the Super Bowl days, everything has been magical," Marshall told Denver7. "I wish I could've been healthy every year since the Super Bowl. But that's football. I have loved every moment I have spent in Denver."