DENVER -- Free safety Darian Stewart brings ferocity, intensity and breathtaking plays to the Broncos defense.
In proving his health and worth over two seasons in Denver, Stewart evolved into a core player. The Broncos rewarded him as such Saturday, agreeing with Stewart on a four-year, $28-million contract extension with $17-million guaranteed.
"4 more years! #Blessed," Stewart posted on Instagram.
Coach Gary Kubiak identified Stewart as an important addition prior to the 2015 season. Kubiak appreciated his work ethic during the 2014 season they spent together in Baltimore. The Broncos added Stewart on a two-year, $4.25-million contract, leaving him due to become a free agent after this season. Denver general manager John Elway prevented Stewart from hitting the open market with a preemptive strike that began in earnest on Monday.
Stewart weighed staying in Denver, where he has played the best football of his career after avoiding previous hamstring injuries, against a potential bigger payday. Rather than see if he could benefit from the deals of Minnesota's Harrison Smith (five-year, $51.25 million) and Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu (five-year, $62.5 million) in a "trickle down effect," as CBS Sports salary cap expert Joel Corry told Denver7, Stewart stayed put.
Stewart's contract runs more along the lines of what Rodney McLeod (five years, $35 million, $17 million guaranteed) received from Philadelphia as an unrestricted free agent. NFL.com first reported Stewart's signing.
His new deal runs through the 2020 season.
For Stewart, his value assaults the senses. Perhaps no player consistently delivers bigger hits than the former University of South Carolina star. He changes games with hard tackles, including the opener against Carolina. If there was any doubt about his stature, he drove the point home at New Orleans. Stewart became the first Broncos player in 15 years to produce three takeaways, and the only player to pull it off this season.
"I might have done it in high school," said Stewart, who is used to catching fastballs after playing prep football with Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. "The ball kept finding me today."
"Darian Stewart's an integral of our defense who brings physicality, leadership & toughness. Thrilled he'll be a Bronco for 4 more yrs!" Elway tweeted.
Stewart, 28, has 44 tackles and three passes defensed this season. He began his Broncos career by securing a season-opening victory over Baltimore in 2015 with a soaring interception.
While Stewart's original signing ranked as one of the league's best in 2015, his extension embellishes another trend under Elway. The Broncos have kept critical players in the fold on fair deals before letting the market set their value, creating a bidding war. Since the end of 2014 regular season, Elway has signed cornerback Chris Harris, defensive end Derek Wolfe, linebacker Brandon Marshall, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and Stewart to contract extensions.