I'll Miss You, and Hello

I suppose you might have heard the news by now.

Today, I signed a long-term contract to become a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

One of my bigger priorities going into this offseason was signing with a team that I feel really values me. The Jaguars made it clear that they were excited to have me as a cornerstone of their franchise, and that means a lot.

It’s a new city, a new system and a new environment. A new start, really.

First and foremost, I want to make sure that the Denver fans understand that my decision to leave has nothing to do with them. If you had asked me in June if I was going to be a free agent right now, I would have told you no. I really thought I was going to sign a long-term deal with the Broncos last summer. I was so confident that I’d be with the franchise for a long time that I purchased a home in Denver last June. I had to let it go in September because it became clear that the management didn’t want to make a long-term commitment to me.

I understand that their decision wasn’t personal, and I’m not treating it that way.

I really will miss the fans. As players, our ultimate goal is to win games but it shouldn’t be forgotten that we’re in the entertainment business. When we know that a community gets enjoyment from watching what we do, it means all the sacrifices we’ve made and all we’ve put into this job has paid off. So to every Denver fan who has taken time out of their day to go to Mile High, to a bar or even streamed one of our games in a place they probably shouldn’t be watching a football game, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

I can’t say enough about my teammates in Denver. To every player on the Broncos — from the rookie practice squad defensive end that pushed me to improve, to the quarterback who threw me perfect pass after perfect pass — thank you. I wouldn’t be the football player I am today without all of you. Even if I didn’t have the faith of management, I always felt like my teammates believed in me.

Going into last season, the biggest difference in my game was that I started to feel comfortable on the football field. The year before, I always had anxiety that I might mess up a play or do something wrong. I was only in my fourth year of playing competitive football, and my first year of getting serious playing time at the NFL level. Learning on the fly in a league full of experts is tough, but it really meant a lot to me for my teammates — including some of the best players this game will ever see — to tell me that they not only thought I could do great things, but they expected me to. Having the respect of my teammates was the lift I needed to make it in this league.

I’m so thankful for the coaches I had in Denver — in particular, my tight ends coach Clancy Barone, who was crucial to my development as a football player. He always had faith in me and was really patient in helping me learn this game from the ground up. For him to invest so much time in not only instructing me what to do, but helping me understand why I was doing it, meant everything. He put me in a great position to go out there every game and succeed.

I had a truly great run with Denver, and moving on doesn’t diminish that. We made playoffs every year I was with the Broncos and we even made it to a Super Bowl. All of those experiences are great privileges in this game, and I don’t take them for granted.

If there’s been one thing that’s been gratifying about this free agency process, it’s been the ability to see the respect and recognition I’ve earned in the league despite still trying to perfect this game.

That being said, when you’re a free agent, you’re generally judged as a finished product. This isn’t the draft where people look at potential. But inside my mind, I know I’m still getting better. I haven’t reached my peak; I’m only scratching the surface. Many people might point out that I’m not a complete player yet, as if I don’t realize that. I put so much effort and time into getting better at what I do. I realize the things I need to improve more than anybody else does. It’s almost like being in the middle of a long project and having someone start critiquing it because they don’t like the way one aspect of it looks. I don’t like the way it looks either. That’s why I’m working on it. I’m not satisfied yet with where I am as a player and what I’ve accomplished in this league. But I’m also excited to know that my best football is still ahead of me. I’m a better player today than I was last year. Hell, I’m a better player today than I was last week.

I’m eager to get down to Jacksonville and meet my teammates. I plan to do everything I can to be a crucial and contributing member of that franchise and community.

Going into a new offense with a young, talented quarterback is going to be a big change for me. The Jaguars were the youngest team in the league last year, and for so long in Denver, I was the young guy. I learned so much in that locker room from so many great players in this league, and I’m looking forward to passing their approach to the game and winning mentality on to this young franchise. The city of Jacksonville is ready for a winning football team, and I plan to do my part to give them one.

This will be a life adjustment, there’s no question about that. My work is just getting started. But change isn’t a bad thing. Five years ago, if you asked me what I’d be doing professionally a year from then, I probably would have told you that I’d be working in human resources, my college major. The best things in life don’t follow a script.

Most things we do are usually planned out. Football is based so much on routine and repetition that change can be unsettling. But change can either be viewed as a burden or an opportunity.

What I have here is an opportunity.