ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Last offseason, T.J. Ward split his time between a parade through Denver, a trip to the White House and a Super Bowl ring ceremony.
This year, he's spent his precious days off in the dungeon.
At least, that's what Ward is calling the purgatory and grind he's facing in the wake of a season that ended without a playoff berth.
"[This year was] the exact opposite," Ward said Wednesday. "[I've been] in the dungeon grinding. As soon as the Super Bowl was over, I started working out and trying to make this season a lot better than last year, because not going to the playoffs, it hurt after going to the Super Bowl to not even make it to the playoffs.
"I know everybody on this team came back ready for that not to happen again. I can just see it in guys' demeanors, the way they're working, so it kind of reminds me of that Super Bowl season."
The Broncos' struggles in 2016 hardly fall on Ward, who matched his career-high in forced fumbles and also recorded an interception, a sack and 87 combined tackles.
As a leading presence in the locker room, however, he's trying to lead through example as the Broncos attempt to march back to the playoffs.
Of course, the season isn't without it's distractions for Ward, who is entering the final year of his contract. But he said Wednesday his focus on returning to the postseason has largely kept him from dwelling on the financial implications of the season.
"I'm aware," Ward said. "I'm definitely aware of it. You know what, if I do the things I've got to do and do those the right away, everything will handle itself. I try to stay away from all those type of thoughts … and just let my agent handle it.
"But if I put my A-plus effort in then everything will happen the right way."
And so, as the rest of the NFL world has its eyes on the Patriots' visit to the White House, Ward said he's locked himself away to work.
"I would definitely rather be at the White House," Ward said, "but when you don't go to the White House, [you've] gotta go to the dungeon.
"Until we're back at the White House, I'll be in the dungeon."