Over the past few years, three things in life seemed to be absolute: Death, taxes and an elite Broncos defense led by their talented secondary.

One of the cornerstones of the “No Fly Zone” has been safety T.J. Ward, who joined the Broncos during their historic 2014 offseason.

Since then, Ward has brought more to the Broncos than just big hits and game-changing plays. He’s brought a toughness and leadership that has codified a talented Broncos secondary.

As Ward’s contract is set to expire at the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Broncos have a tough decision to make in terms of retaining his services going forward.

Although he didn’t earn a Pro Bowl nod, as he did for three straight years from 2013-15, Ward continued his elite play in 2016.

Few safeties in the NFL are capable of playing in pass coverage as well as coming down to play against the run the way Ward does. Despite being a safety, Ward led the team in tackles in 2016.

But, as with all free-agents-to-be, general manager John Elway will always look to put the team’s needs over everything else.

Ward turns 31 during the 2017 season. As such, the Broncos could look to younger talent on the roster at the safety position.

Behind Ward, Denver has two promising players in Will Parks and Justin Simmons, the tandem Broncos fans will remember for delivering the incredible defensive two-point conversion to seal a Week 10 win in New Orleans last year.

Still playing under their rookie contracts, both players carry smaller price tags than Ward will command as a free agent.

Looking at Ward’s current four-year, $22.5-million contract, the first year of his contract carried a $3.25-million cap hit, while his second year spiked up to a $7.515-million cap hit. His cap number was locked at $5.75 million over the final two years.

The Broncos’ likely won’t want to extend Ward on a similar four-year deal (as Ward would be 35 at the time that contract would expire). If the Broncos do retain Ward, it could be on a two- or three-year basis with a team-friendly contract.

This would allow the Broncos to keep their great secondary intact, while still developing the younger talent (Simmons, Parks) on the roster.

Ward has stated he “would love to finish [his] career here.”

This humble contributor would be very pleased to see Ward suiting up in orange and blue for the next few years.

The value of re-signing Ward to an already talented defense cannot be understated.

The Broncos defense wouldn’t be the same if No. 43 wasn’t roaming the field, striking fear into the hearts of all players on the opposing offense.

However, Ward is looking at what will likely be his last big NFL contract. The allure of a massive payout is hard to ignore.

Returning to the playoffs this year seems paramount to making a pitch to keep Ward in Denver for his remaining days. If Denver is going to ask for a team-friendly deal, it should come with the possibility of winning another Super Bowl and cementing the No Fly Zone’s legacy as one of the best secondaries ever (not to mention the financial incentives that come with a Super Bowl win). As soon as winning another title doesn’t look like an option, Ward could be tempted (like any player might) to go after one last big payday.

Whether the Broncos are able to retain Ward or he signs elsewhere, his contribution to the Broncos cannot be overlooked. Ward’s presence has elevated the Broncos defense to an elite level, turning them into Super Bowl champions.