The biggest news from Tuesday shouldn’t have been that the Denver Broncos are interested in trading T.J. Ward.

One, because the Broncos shouldn’t be interested in trading Ward in the first place. It’s a move that could fracture the locker room on the eve of the season and mean a very likely step backwards in terms of on-field productivity. (See Will Petersen’s column.)

And two, because the biggest news should have been what they would reportedly have to take in exchange for the three-time Pro Bowler.

After Ian Rapoport surprised Denver on Tuesday with his report that the Broncos were entertaining trade talks for their leading tackler from last year, he some hours later went on Denver radio and said the Broncos would likely receive a mid- to late-round pick in exchange for Ward.

Given Denver’s draft success with mid- to late-round picks, fans have plenty of reason to give pause to the thought of trading Ward.

Sure, Ward has been hampered this preseason with a hamstring injury – always a point of concern for players on the north side of 30 years old. And yes, he has not played a full 16-games in a season in Denver. And indeed, this is Ward’s final contract year, so there’s still time to get a slightly greater return on investment than simply letting him walk next year.

But giving up a key member of the No Fly Zone and one of the team’s top tacklers just to save $4.5 million and acquire a pick that has a 50/50 chance (or less) of succeeding in the NFL doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

First, the money.

Denver already has roughly $10 million in cap space. That number will increase when final roster cuts are made (without cutting or trading Ward). John Elway probably doesn’t want to spend every last penny on a team that’s projecting to be 9-7 again this season, but he still has plenty of money sitting around to add some pieces to the roster once cuts are made across the league. Unless he has a high card up his sleeve, it’s hard to imagine that a free agent floating out there would match productivity value equal to the $4.5-million savings created by parting with Ward.

Money is money, but draft picks can be gold.

Hit on the right selection in the middle to late rounds and you can set your team up for four years of value at a position. The problem with giving up Ward – a proven, if aging, commodity – is that Denver’s success rate with those picks has only been about 33 percent.

Let’s consider a “mid- to late-round pick” to be rounds 3-5 in this instance (splitting the seven rounds at the middle). Also, consider that if they lose Ward in free agency next year they’ll land a mid-round compensatory pick anyway.

Here’s a rundown of Elway’s picks in those rounds (not including 2017), and what each accomplished in Denver.


Rd. 3 (No. 67) Nate Irving, LB

Played in 54 games (12 starts) for Denver, averaging 16.75 tackles and 0.5 sacks per season while in Denver. Went on injured reserve in 2014 and was not re-signed. Is out of football after a subpar year in Indianapolis in 2015.

Rd. 4 (No. 108) Quinton Carter, DB

Played in 30 games (10 starts as a rookie). After recording 45 tackles in his first season, he would go on to log just 18 more in his career. He was placed on injured reserve twice as a Bronco, in 2012 and 2014 and he missed all of 2013 with injury.

Rd. 4 (No. 129) Julius Thomas, TE

Thomas was simultaneously one of Denver’s most productive, and most infuriating players. He rarely saw the field his first two seasons before busting out in 2013. While averaging 12 touchdowns per year over his final two seasons, Thomas missed significant time due to what many observes considered to be questionable injuries. When his contract demands skyrocketed ahead of the 2015 season, the Broncos were forced to move on.

While Elway didn’t completely miss on any of these three, each only produced at about 25 to 50 percent of his potential while in Denver. Thomas grabbed a pair of


Rd. 3 (No. 67) Ronnie Hillman, RB

Hillman had his moments in Denver, like the 72-yard touchdown run against the Vikings in 2015, but he never became the home-run hitter Denver envisioned. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry for the Broncos over his four years, but only 38.4 yards per game. His eight fumbles compared to 13 touchdowns didn’t help his cause.

Rd. 4 (No. 101) Omar Bolden, DB

Bolden made his name primarily on special teams as a returner. His 24.6 yards per punt return in 2015 ranks first all-time in Broncos single-season annals for players with five or more returns in a season, and his 33.0 yards per kick return in 2014 are tops for a single season among players with 10 or more returns. His contributions on defense were limited, though. A knee injury ended his time in Denver and he failed to catch on with the Chicago Bears in 2016.

Rd. 4 (No. 108) Philip Blake, OL

Blake never dressed for a game during his one year in Denver. He was released during the preseason in his second year.

Rd. 5 (No. 137) Malik Jackson, DL

Along with Matt Paradis (Rd. 6 2014), Jackson is arguably Elway’s greatest value pick. After a quiet rookie season, Jackson produced at least 30 tackles every year thereafter for the Broncos. He logged 14 sacks and 15 passes defended over his final three seasons. He was instrumental in Denver’s Super Bowl 50 run and victory, then signed a massive free-agent contract with Jacksonville.

On the whole, 2012 was a mostly productive mid-round draft for Elway. Blake was a total miss, but Jackson more than made up for it (on the other side of the ball). Hillman and Bolden didn’t fully live up to expectations, but they were decent contributors in their time.


Rd. 3 (No. 90) Kayvon Webster, DB

Webster was the unfortunate victim of a crowded defensive backfield after his rookie season. The addition of Aqib Talib and first-round draft pick Bradley Roby in 2014 pushed him primarily into a special teams role. He was an excellent gunner and proved in limited snaps that he could contribute on the defensive side, but Denver was simply too deep at defensive back to re-sign him after the 2016 season.

Rd. 5 (No. 146) Quanterus Smith, DL

Smith tore his ACL during the preseason of his rookie year and never really recovered. He made seven tackles in 15 games (no starts) in 2014 and was released in April 2015.

Rd. 5 (No. 161) Tavarres King, WR

King didn’t even last a full season in Denver. He was waived in October of his rookie year to make room on the roster for Von Miller (returning from a drug policy violation). The Panthers claimed him on waivers. He is now with the Giants.

Elway’s middle-round batting average really took a dip here with the 2013 class. Webster deserved a spot, but was a victim of depth ahead of him. Smith and King were ultimately wasted picks.


Rd. 3 (No. 95) Michael Schofield, OL

Schofield got a terrible rap in Denver in 2015 when he was forced into action at right tackle and became a human turnstile on the way to sacking Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. He rebounded somewhat in 2016 as a starter at right guard, but not so much that Elway kept him in place this year. The Broncos signed Ron Leary at right guard and Schofield is now in a battle for a job.

Rd. 5 (No. 156) Lamin Barrow, LB

Barrow played in all 16 games as a rookie, making one start, logging just six tackles. He was waived ahead of the 2015 season.

Schofield was probably unduly criticized playing out of his strongest position (guard), but given his success as a tackle at Michigan more was expected from the third-round pick. Barrow’s inability to make the roster in year two was a big hit to the 2014 group.


Rd. 3 (No. 92) Jeff Heuerman, TE

Potential has been the best thing going for Heuerman, as an injury completely derailed his rookie season. He appeared in 12 games his second year, recording just nine catches and no touchdowns. Heuerman has much to prove in year three.

Rd. 4 (No. 133) Max Garcia, OL

Garcia played an important role backing up both Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez at guard during the 2015 season and Super Bowl run. He showed enough deficiencies as a starter in 2016 that Elway brought in Allen Barbre to compete for his starting spot. Garcia has the potential to be a longterm starter, but is still rounding into form.

Rd. 5 (No. 164) Lorenzo Doss, DB

Like Webster before him, Doss is playing behind a group of All-Pros and finding it hard to get on the field. He has four tackles on his NFL résumé, all logged in 2016. He’s played, on average, less than 8 percent of special teams snaps and less than 3.5 percent of defensive snaps over his two seasons.


Rd. 3 (No. 98) Justin Simmons, S

Simmons may well be the very reason Ward is on the trading block. The Broncos are high on the athletic Boston College product after a successful rookie campaign. Simmons, along with sixth-round pick of the same year Will Parks, are the presumed next wave of Broncos safeties. Elway may be willing to roll the dice, it seems, that Simmons and Parks can combine to replace Ward’s productivity as early as this year.

Rd. 4 (No. 136) Devontae Booker, RB

Booker earned the title of “Denver’s top rusher” almost by default in 2016 when C.J. Anderson went down with injury midyear. His numbers were by no means eye-popping, but he did prove serviceable when put in the lead back position. Booker’s 2017 season may be delayed a bit as he recovers from a broken wrist, but he figures to be part of Denver’s three-headed rushing monster that now also includes Jamaal Charles.

Rd. 5 (No. 144) Connor McGovern, OL

McGovern experienced a steep learning curve as a rookie and never saw the field, but he’s been impressing in a backup role so far in 2017. He’s been taking snaps at center while Matt Paradis continues to heal from his offseason, in addition to his work at guard.

The 2016 class is trending to be one of Elway’s better mid-round groups, but with only a year to evaluate so far it would be prudent to give them another year to prove him right.