ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Kareem Jackson returned for a 14th season as a captain, determined to help lead the Broncos back to the playoffs.
Nothing went as planned for the veteran. Starting with the opener against the Raiders, the strong safety ran afoul of league rules. He was fined four times, ejected twice, and suspended six games, costing him $925,000 in salary. When he returned from the first two-game ban, Jackson returned as a starter. But when eligible to come back against the Patriots, everything was different.
The 35-year-old had lost his job to P.J. Locke and, with no role on special teams after his lengthy absence, the Broncos elected not to activate him. Monday became decision day. The Broncos plan to release the veteran with the intention of signing him to the practice squad if he clears waivers on Tuesday, per a source.
This allows the Broncos to keep a young developmental player and provides an avenue for Jackson to finish the season in Denver with a chance of signing with another team if the opportunity presents itself.
It was the most manageable solution for a tricky situation, given Jackson's status and respect in the locker room.
Jackson has started eight games this season, posting two interceptions. Teammates criticized the NFL for Jackson’s discipline. Locke wore a “Free KJack” T-shirt in warmups a few weeks ago that was auctioned off for charity at Pat Surtain II’s foundation event. Star safety Justin Simmons considers Jackson a brother and mentor.
“For the biggest reason, you can’t replace his leadership and the intangibles that he brings,” Simmons told Denver7 a week ago. “Obviously, he’s a heck of a player on the field. But I think P.J. would be the first to tell you that the reason he has played so well is because of the knowledge that Jackson has passed down. The reason JMac (Ja’Quan McMillian) has come in and played pretty much like the defensive player of the year for us has been because of a guy like Kareem.”
Simmons made it clear they needed Jackson to finish the season strong. But factors changed with Sunday’s loss. Had the Broncos won their final three games, their playoff odds increased to 82%. By falling to the Patriots, they currently can get no better than 14% if they win out. Jackson said he was ready to play vs. the Patriots despite the long layoff, explaining “that it was like riding bike.” However, coach Sean Payton had not talked to him by late in the week – completely different than we he returned from his first suspension – hinting that Jackson’s role was different.
While admitting he needed to a do a better job of lowering his target, Jackson felt singled out by the league this year. He met with commissioner Roger Goodell during his most recent suspension, and left confused by the message that it was his job to “protect myself, protect the receiver and make a play.”
So rather than risk losing a young player on waivers, the Broncos will release Jackson with the plan to bring him back on the practice squad.