Denver Broncos T.J. Ward celebrates a sack of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during the first quarter at Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — T.J. Ward hasn’t played a preseason game snap since suffering a hamstring injury in practice Aug. 4 and now finds himself the subject of trade rumors that began breaking during Tuesday’s practice.
"I haven’t heard that about T.J.," Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said after practice. "I’ve been on the practice field. He’s one of our better players, so I would be surprised if he was, but I have not heard that."
Ward is in the final year of his contract, and the Broncos’ defense has played well without him — both in the preseason and the final two games of last year’s regular season, which he missed because of a concussion.
Justin Simmons filled in for Ward late last season and again this season and has emerged as a potential long-term option in the secondary, with fellow safety Darian Stewart having emerged as a Pro Bowler last year, leading to a long-term extension that he signed last November.
The development of Will Parks, who was a sixth-round pick last year, and the emergence of undrafted rookie Jamal Carter also gives the Broncos depth options if they part ways with Ward.
With Paxton Lynch out for at least two weeks of the regular season because of a sprained right shoulder, the Broncos need to figure out an option at backup quarterback behind Trevor Siemian.
First, they want to figure out if rookie Kyle Sloter could be an option.
Sloter stepped in for Lynch in the second half last Saturday and completed 4 of 7 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown, continuing an outstanding preseason in which he has amassed a 140.2 rating on 16-of-20 passing for 193 yards and two scores.
"Everything I’ve seen from the guy in preseason, everything we’ve seen, he’s a baller," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "I’m not going to go anything short of that. We’ll see when he gets his first start on Thursday."
If Sloter is not a viable answer, the Broncos could sign a young backup for Week 1 who is not a vested veteran.
"If this week we want to add a guy, after the cuts, we could add a guy," Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. "We’re not sure. Every option is going to be explored."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It’s a lot easier when you’re not going through a quarterback competition. You can look at the guy and know that at fourth and three, you’re going to be the guy that is throwing these passes. Let’s work. Let’s gain camaraderie, let’s gain chemistry and let’s get better, so that’s what we’re doing right now." — WR Emmanuel Sanders.