Defensive stalwart Wilson: 'My time is up as a Bronco'

Associated Press • Apr 14, 2007 at 12:27 PM

DENVER - Broncos linebacker Al Wilson's heart tells him he can still play football. His neck is a different story.

The Broncos released the five-time Pro Bowl player Friday because of a combination of injury and salary cap concerns. Wilson, who injured his neck against Seattle on Dec. 3, was scheduled to make $5.2 million in base salary this season.

A Broncos spokesman declined comment and an e-mail to Denver general manager Ted Sundquist wasn't returned.

Wilson, who was informed by the team Thursday night he'd be cut, had no bitter feelings toward the team.

"My time is up as a Bronco," the eight-year veteran said. "It's time to move forward and try something else. You have to do what's best for your organization, just like a Fortune 500 company. Sometimes you have to let good employees go."

Wilson was the defensive captain for the past six seasons. He led the team in tackles last season with 113.

However, he was plagued by injuries in the second half of 2006. Wilson hurt his neck running into teammate Gerard Warren on a tackle against the Seahawks and had to be carted off the field as the crowd gave him an ovation and chanted his name.

And while he played the next three weeks, Wilson didn't participate in the season finale against San Francisco due to thumb and back injuries. The loss knocked Denver out of a playoff spot.

"I've had a great time here," Wilson said. "I feel like I've got a few more good years in me, too."

He was nearly dealt to the New York Giants earlier this spring. However, he failed a physical and the Giants backed out of the trade.

"I was looking forward to a new opportunity," Wilson said. "There are 31 other teams out there."

But his neck remains a concern. Wilson won't play again until doctors clear him. He claims doctors say his neck is getting better.

"If I can get medically cleared, hey, I'm going to go out and play," Wilson said. "I feel like I still can play. It's not about the money. I'll only get out there and play if I'm healthy."

Peter Schaffer, Wilson's agent, wouldn't discuss the exact nature of Wilson's neck injury.

Wilson played the week after he injured his neck against division rival San Diego. Asked if he came back too soon from the injury, he paused as he stared at his folded hands.

"Maybe I should've sat out a week or two," Wilson said. "The competitive nature in me, I wanted to compete."

Wilson had a good parting conversation with Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on Thursday.

"I wish him nothing but the best," Wilson said.

Yet there's still the side of him that wants to prove cutting him was a bad decision.

"You definitely have that in the back of your mind," Wilson said. "You definitely want to prove people wrong. You want to go out and show people you can still compete. If I'm able to get back out there, and the doctors say I can do it, you'll see me out there flying around."

Wilson was the undisputed leader in the locker room and even spoke at the funerals for cornerback Darrent Williams and running Damien Nash. Williams and Nash both died in the offseason at age 24.

The fact Wilson was a no-show at the Broncos' offseason conditioning program in early April was taken as an ominous sign by teammates. Cornerback Domonique Foxworth took the Broncos' shopping around of Wilson as a wake-up call.

"It tells you everybody is expendable in this business," Foxworth said at the time. "I don't think anybody in this organization will say that we're better off without his personality around. For whatever reasons they felt we'll be better off going in a different direction."

If Wilson's neck injury prevents him from playing again, he said he's at peace with his accomplishments. He has 21½ career sacks and five interceptions.

"I have no regrets," said Wilson, the Broncos' first-round pick in the 1999 draft out of the University of Tennessee. "I gave them all I had. I can walk away with my head held high."

Schaffer thinks Wilson's tenure in Denver will one day be rewarded.

"I believe he's done enough to have No. 56 on the Ring of Fame someday," Schaffer said of the ring around Invesco Field that honors former players and administrators. "That's immortality right there. He's definitely a player who's earned that right."

But Wilson isn't ready to close the door on his career just yet. Neck willing, he still wants to play.

"It's time for a change," he said of his release. "I'm not sad. I'm not mad. I'm looking forward to the next step."

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