Swagger in the Secondary: The No Fly Zone is the best there is – just ask them

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This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

The No Fly Zone was “drippin” and the room was flat out “icy.”

For a group of guys that spends a lot of time together, this may have been the best they’ve ever looked.

Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, Darian Stewart, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib were blinged out. They took this photo shoot as seriously as they do Tom Brady. It was special.

Talib brought in a private jeweler. Roby had his barber on site. The guys took about two hours to get ready. And the final product didn’t disappoint.

The league’s most dominant secondary descended on The Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse looking sharp. They better have been for the price tag.

“We had at least $2 million worth of ice with everyone together,” Talib says.

Jewelry. Chains. Watches. Super Bowl rings. It was all proudly on display.

“We did it right for that photo shoot. We’re a lot different than other squads,” Stewart says.

Mile High Sports Magazine has had some extremely memorable cover shoots over the years. From Von Miller to Carmelo Anthony to Matt Duchene to Nolan Arenado, if you’re a star in this town you’ve had your shot to be on the cover of this publication. This shoot was the most expensive, if you will.

And that’s how this group does it both on and off the field. They have a standard of excellence. Whether it’s pick-sixing Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck – or doing a cover shoot that all the guys insist will be framed and hanging in their house – there’s a certain way they conduct themselves.

“Any time you’re presenting yourself you want to be swaggy. That’s just the mode we were in. We’re the ‘No Fly Zone,’” Roby says.

If you want hope for the Broncos in the 2017 season, these guys are the reason.

Yes, Denver’s quarterbacks looked bad throughout training camp, but in part they looked bad because they had to face these guys. They’re that good at what they do.

Plus, they’re as motivated as ever.

“My fire is already fueled. I believe that for the whole team. Last year we didn’t make the playoffs, how much more motivation do you need?” Ward says.

The Broncos didn’t miss the playoffs because of the No Fly Zone, though. Nine wins would have been more like four without them.

The five of them combined for 11 interceptions and three touchdowns. They consistently made guys like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Tom Brady look mediocre. Harris and Talib were All-Pros and Stewart was a Pro Bowler. Ward is largely regarded as the hardest-hitting safety in the league, and Roby would be a starter (and the best corner) on the majority of NFL teams. It is truly stunning how much talent exists in one unit.

They’re a smart bunch, too.

Yes, they’re compensated handsomely, but these guys don’t blow their money.

Part of the reason so much jewelry was present on the day of the shoot was because they’re are spending their coin on things that continue to hold value – not typical things that cause former stars to go broke. They like buying this stuff.

“I think especially gold,” Harris says with a grin. “It’s something that’s always going to be valuable.”

And don’t think it’s rented, either.

“We get paid well, so we buy it. That’s the good thing about jewelry – it’s an asset – it never loses its value. It’s gold, it’s diamonds. You can always trade it in and get other stuff or you can sell it and get some money back for it,” Talib says.

There’s a refreshing awareness from the No Fly Zone, too. They understand this isn’t something many folks get to do – both playing football for a living and wearing a couple million bucks worth of jewelry.

“It’s nice to be able to wear diamonds and gold around your neck. Not a lot of people get that opportunity to wear things like that, so it’s always cool to enjoy the finer things in life,” Roby says.

As the photos were being snapped, the guys were consistently checking the monitor to see what they did and didn’t like and adjusted accordingly. Amari Cooper might beat one of them for a 15-yard gain, but you better believe it’s not going to happen again. Just like they make in-game adjustments, they made in-shoot adjustments, too.

The editor-in-chief of this very publication, and the orchestrator of the shoot, Doug Ottewill, may have said it best.

“We probably could have shot for another 30 minutes and had no issues, which is something I’d never say about other shoots. The swagger these guys have on the field is a direct reflection of the swagger they have off it. I think that’s an intangible that isn’t taught, it’s just who these guys are, and in turn, why they’re so damn good,” Ottewill says of what he calls one of the “most fun” photo shoots he can remember.

The No Fly Zone is entering its third season as currently constructed. Stewart arrived as a free agent in the spring of 2015. Talib and Ward signed deals a year before and Roby was drafted that April. Harris has been a staple on the Broncos defense since 2011 when he wowed as an undrafted free agent.

It’s been two really, really good years. There’s no reason to believe this season won’t be more of the same. But, realistically, how much longer can it go on?

It depends who you ask.

To get an interview at Broncos training camp, all you have to do is ask.

When Derek Wolfe is barreling off the field in a full sprint, the answer is more than likely going to be no, but if you’re lucky he won’t eat your children.

Here’s a little insight though: Don’t ask too early.

If a guy gets corralled by a media member when he’s still in plain view, your one-on-one interview is going to turn into a scrum, with sometimes as many as 25 other journalists joining the fun to get the quote, video or audio bite they need. On the other side of the coin, if you wait until the last possible second, you’ve got a much better chance of getting an “exclusive” with the player.

Pro tip: That’s when you’ll get the best answers.

For this group, all the interviews conducted were done as exclusives, and the honesty was refreshing. The reality is no one is sure how realistic it is the five of them play football together beyond 2017. Sure, they’d be thrilled if that’s the case, but it may not happen.

“Realistically, you never know [if we can stay together],” Harris says. “Everybody’s definitely trying to get paid and trying to get paid again. Hopefully it all works out.”

Ward is a free agent after the season, although as the preseason concluded, rumors swirled that he could be traded – or even cut – before the opener. Roby and Stewart will be on the market in 2018, while Talib and Harris are under contract through 2019. It’s no guarantee any of them are in Denver past those dates.

“That would be crazy if it’s possible to keep us together. John Elway is the guy that can make that happen, but the thing is you never know what happens down the line. You have to live in the moment and enjoy each other’s company now. It’s definitely a blessing for us to still be together,” Roby says.

Roby is correct; it’s Elway that ultimately holds those cards. At press time, Ward’s future as a Bronco was very much in question. The tight-lipped Elway had not made any official moves heading into the team’s fourth preseason game.

“I would love to finish my career here,” Ward says. “They have done that in the past with guys. I think I have proven myself. But if they think I need to show more, then I will just have to keep proving it to them.”

The Broncos do have the “Baby No Fly Zone” in waiting with Justin Simmons and Will Parks – both looking like players who will have productive NFL careers. But neither (at least not yet) is at the level of someone like Ward. Even his partner at safety, Stewart, can’t imagine playing alongside someone else, but is aware it’s a real possibility.

“We’ve built that trust with each other and love playing with each other more than anything. I can’t imagine playing with any other secondary. But if you deserve top dollar you’ve got to take care of your family. We all know the business side of this,” Stewart says.

The general tone is the same: Soak up the moment, because 2017 could be it with this current group. Still, Talib knows if the play on the field matches what it has been, it’d be hard for Elway to let a guy like Ward walk now, and eventually someone like Roby or Stewart.

“We’ve had a great run, but this year will be very important on keeping us together again. We talk about it all the time. We know talking about it is not going to do anything about it though. It’s our play on the field that’s going to do something. So, we’re always trying to be at the top of our game so that we can stay together,” Talib says.

If (or when) the group is broken up, they’ll always have the cover of this magazine. But, they’d love to do it again, and this time with another ring.

You can buy a Rolex.

You can buy a gold chain.

But you can’t buy a Super Bowl ring. At least, not one intended for you.

The Super Bowl 50 ring was a key element of this photo shoot, but don’t think this group is satisfied with just one. There is an eagerness to earn another. You know what’s cool? One ring. You know what’s even cooler? Two rings.

“I want that second ring so bad just because last year we didn’t even go to the playoffs. You have the ultimate high and then the ultimate low. Now you’ve just got to be hungry and do whatever you can to help us get back to that big game,” Roby says.

It’s no secret a trip back to the big game would be in large part due to the No Fly Zone. And with the way the Broncos offense looked in camp, they’re going to have to do more than just their fair share. They’re going to have to do what they’ve done in the past and then some. The challenge is immense.

That said, it’s not like last season is a constant source of motivation. This is a new year, with a new coaching staff and a hopefully a whole new offense.

“We’re starting fresh, a clean slate. It’s 2017. We’re starting the 2017 season and doing it from here. We’re not worried about last year, but it’s definitely in the back of our heads as players,” Ward says.

What’s funny is you can tell not making the 2016 playoffs stings these guys, even though it wasn’t their fault. The Broncos offense was dreadful in almost every aspect of the game. There’s a reason the No Fly Zone was asked to be on the cover of this magazine and not someone like (the since departed) Russell Okung.

And you can bet these magazines will be cherished by the group. Five guys who are extraordinarily good at their jobs on the field and clean up nicely off it.

“I’ll definitely frame it and have the guys sign it. It was fun. We went all out and we enjoyed it. Hopefully we can do it again,” Talib says.

“That’s something that’s going to be remembered forever. It’s something I’ll definitely put in the house. It’s not every day you get to play with four other [potential] All-Pros,” Stewart adds.

Finally, Roby articulates what we all are basically trying to say about these guys.

“That’s going to be one I show my kids down the line. ‘Look at your daddy, we were the shit back in the day.’”

The shit, indeed.

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