In our Broncos Legends series, we're revisiting the careers of some of the best players in franchise history with video highlights and rarely seen photos — and they'll join us to break down their favorite moments as a Bronco and more. Here's a refresher on DeMarcus Ware's time in Denver.
When the Cowboys released DeMarcus Ware following the 2013 season and made him an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, the Broncos were the first team that came calling.
After a season in which the Broncos' offense rewrote NFL record books, the franchise was reeling from its unraveling in Super Bowl XLVIII. In particular, the defense had several shortcomings and needed reinforcements.
In Ware, a second-team member of the NFL's All-2000s Team and four-time first-team All-Pro, the Broncos saw a partner for Von Miller to bookend the team's pass-rush. Even though Ware had missed the Pro Bowl in 2013 (the first time since his rookie season) and had undergone elbow surgery following the season, Denver still figured Ware had plenty left in the tank; John Elway & Co. set up a visit with Ware for the day after he was released.
In the Broncos, Ware saw a team that was still close to a championship, and when he saw the talent that was also preparing to join him in free agency, he knew his decision would be easy.
"I got on the plane to Denver] and I saw Aqib Talib. I didn't know anything about Aqib Talib coming to the Denver Broncos," [Ware told DenverBroncos.com’s Aric DiLalla earlier this year. "And I thought to myself, 'Is he going to try and sign in Denver?' I said, 'OK, then. If I can get Chris Harris and Aqib Talib on the same team, that means I have at least one more second to get to the quarterback.' And then I also said, 'If I can also get right with Von, we can be the best tandem ever at the outside linebacker position to play together.' I was already sold after that.
"I remember sitting in the [locker room] and Aqib Talib was getting dressed … and I was getting dressed as well. You put on your nice gear and your suit and make sure you're presentable at the time to the owners and also to the press if you were going to sign at that time, so you need to be prepared. I remember when we were sitting in [there], I looked at Aqib and Aqib looked at me, and we smiled at each other. Because we knew exactly what we had to do. And that was one of those cool moments where I knew that it was that time."
After a 10-sack campaign in 2014, Ware made his return to the Pro Bowl, but the Broncos' playoff loss in their first postseason game left him and the team wanting more.
Following a coaching change that brought in longtime defensive guru Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, Ware and the defense would fulfill their potential in 2015.
In addition to being the stingiest unit against the run, the Broncos' defense also featured the most-feared pass rush, led by Ware and Miller. With the "No-Fly Zone" forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball while they waited (or hoped) for receivers to break free, Denver's rushers had all the time they needed. They ended the season with a league-leading 52 sacks.
Ware contributed 7.5 of those sacks in 11 games as a back injury sidelined him for a significant portion of the season, but he was able to return for the final four weeks of the regular season. Ware's contributions in that time, including an overtime fumble recovery to seal a win over Cincinnati, helped ensure the home-field advantage in the playoffs as the AFC's top team.
Then, in each of the Broncos' three postseason games, the 11-year veteran made essential contributions, including a fumble recovery that led to the Broncos' game-winning touchdown in the Divisional Round and seven QB hits on Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
In the only Super Bowl appearance of his career, Ware made the most of his opportunity and recorded two sacks, five total tackles and four quarterback hits.
Upon lifting the Lombardi Trophy, Ware achieved not just the goal he had upon signing in Denver, but also the goal he had upon entering the NFL.
"When I hoisted that trophy up," Ware said after the game, "that was that point to where I'm like, 'I made it' — and being a champion feels good."
In his final season, Ware continued battle injuries but was still able to add four sacks to bring his career total to 138.5. When he retired, Ware ranked eighth on the all-time sack leaderboard.
Super Bowl 50 champion, nine-time Pro Bowler (two with Broncos), four-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, 2015 September AFC Defensive Player of the Month, Broncos Top 100 Team member, second-team member of NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Stats to know
Broncos stats: 37 games, 33 starts, 21.5 sacks, 81 total tackles, three forced fumbles, one interception, one fumble recovery, 26 tackles for loss, 44 quarterback hits
Career stats: 178 games, 173 starts, 138.5 sacks, 657 tackles, 171 tackles for loss, 35 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, 25 passes defensed, three interceptions, three defensive touchdowns, 229 quarterback hits
In his own words
"I would say consist: consistently relentless at getting at the quarterback. My whole career I did that, but also consistent with the guys in the locker room, and that's why I was a captain for 12 years. I was a captain with the Broncos for three years. And also, that's why we won the championship there.
"I go back and look at when I'm in the locker room with Peyton, I'm in the locker room with Von and all those other guys, seeing how we all were a team together, and there was nothing that we couldn't accomplish as a whole."
Three games to remember
Week 7, 2014 season: Broncos 42, 49ers 17
Ware's performance in this game may have been overshadowed by Peyton Manning moving into sole possession of pro football's all-time passing touchdown record, but he still made quite the mark with three sacks.
All three of Ware's sacks came against six-time Pro Bowler and 2010s All-Decade Team tackle Joe Staley, but one in particular was memorable. As quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped back to pass from the shotgun, Ware had a one-on-one matchup with Staley. Midway through his rush, Ware stopped his momentum and pivoted as if he were beginning to spin toward the middle of the pocket; Staley sensed that and spun in the same direction to meet him before Ware could get around him. But Ware wasn't there. He had faked the spin move before closing in on Kaepernick for his second sack of the day.
2015 AFC Championship Game: Broncos 20, Patriots 18
In the AFC Championship Game, Ware's first conference championship game of his career, he put nearly constant pressure on Patriots QB Tom Brady. Ware finished the game with only half a sack, but he led the team with seven quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus recorded 44 pass-rush snaps for Ware during the game; he registered a pressure (a sack, QB hit or hurry) on the quarterback on 25 percent of those snaps. On the Broncos' final defensive snap, the Patriots' two-point conversion attempt that could have tied the game, Ware provided the pressure that forced Brady into a game-sealing interception.
Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10
The night before the only Super Bowl that Ware would ever play, he and Peyton Manning spoke to the team. As the two elder statesmen of the team stood up in front of the room in the team hotel for their speeches, each "got choked up," as former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall recalled.
"D-Ware said that [none] of us had to worry about anything going wrong on the field because, if one side slipped, you got a horde of angels behind you," defensive lineman Antonio Smith said later.
Denver's defense, led by its pass rush in a harassing and dominant performance against 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton, was that horde of angels for the Broncos. Miller forced two fumbles, one of which resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and Ware added two sacks of his own as he achieved the pinnacle of his career.
Flip back through photos of DeMarcus Ware's Broncos career, from when he signed as a free agent to winning Super Bowl 50 and beyond.