ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Super Bowl 50 champion Darian Stewart is calling it a career.
The former Broncos safety who played in Denver for four seasons was a key member of the "No-Fly Zone" secondary and made one Pro Bowl during his 10-year NFL career before announcing his retirement on Thursday.
"Today I'm officially announcing my retirement," Stewart told Denver media. "I'm happy. I'm ready. This was the perfect time with COVID going on. I'm ready for the next journey."
Stewart was known for his hard-hitting style as a safety, and he also proved to be a talented ball hawk for Denver. In his 61 games as a Bronco, Stewart racked up 254 total tackles, including seven tackles for loss, 24 pass breakups, nine interceptions, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one sack and five quarterback hits.
"I always wanted to let them feel me anytime I came into a tackle," Stewart said. "I always tried to go for the big hit."
The former South Carolina standout entered the league as an undrafted free agent and spent his first four seasons in St. Louis with the Rams before one season with Baltimore.
He arrived in Denver in 2015 as a free agent, signing to fill the last open starting spot in the secondary as part of a talented group that also featured three Pro Bowlers in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and T.J. Ward.
Almost immediately, Stewart proved to also be a capable game-changer in his own right, as he sealed victory for the Broncos in the 2015 season opener when he intercepted a pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. By the end of the season, Stewart had broken up 10 passes, a total that tied for second on the team.
"I knew what I was stepping into, and I knew I was able to deliver," Stewart said. "[Former Head] Coach [Gary] Kubiak knew. He trusted me. He knew what I was capable of. He worked alongside me the previous year in Baltimore. … Being under [former DC] Wade Phillips' defense, that allowed me to play that much faster and make plays from Game 1."
During the Broncos' stellar postseason run in which they faced Steelers, Patriots and Panthers — three of the league's top four teams in points scored that year — Stewart was indispensable. He picked off a pass by Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, and in the Super Bowl, he had a sack, three tackles, a quarterback hit, two pass breakups and forced a fumble.
In the three years that followed, the soft-spoken safety continued to play at a high level.
The year after Super Bowl 50, Stewart helped Denver's "No-Fly Zone" keep its league-leading standing in pass defense. In a Pro Bowl campaign, he picked off three passes, broke up six total, forced one fumble, recovered a fumble, made 68 total tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, and had two quarterback hits. That season included probably the best game of his career, a Week 10 game against Drew Brees and the Saints. Stewart intercepted two passes and recovered one fumble, a performance that made him the first Bronco since Deltha O'Neal in 2001 to finish a game with three takeaways.
In his last two seasons with the Broncos in 2017 and 2018, Stewart totaled five interceptions, recovered a fumble and had a sack.
During his time in Denver, Stewart also founded Stewart Standouts Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization focused on helping underprivileged children with opportunities to pursue academic and athletic goals.
He is now the second member of the "No-Fly Zone" to announce his retirement from the NFL in recent months, joining Talib, who made his announcement in September.
"Make sure you maximize that moment you get an opportunity," Stewart said in his Instagram post announcing his decision. "Nothing is ever given, and everything is always earned. I'm hanging up my cleats and taking off my helmet. On to the next chapter."