ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — We've come a long way from early May, when Jamaal Charles joined the Denver Broncos and said playing in the Orange & Blue was a "childhood dream."
Five wins, 10 losses and a measly 69 carries later, and that childhood dream has hit a wall.
After receiving just four carries in the four weeks leading up to last Sunday, Charles was inactive for the game against the Washington Redskins, sat down in order to give rookie back De'Angelo Henderson a chance. On Tuesday afternoon, Charles told Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post that the team "might as well,” release him.
“No reason for me to just sit around and look at people play," he added.
The comments drew national attention, with some suggesting he is quitting on his team and others wondering why the Broncos hadn't made that move already.
On Wednesday, BSN Denver had the chance to speak exclusively with multiple veterans in the Broncos' locker room to get their take on the attention-grabbing comments.
"I can totally understand it, man," said veteran receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Especially coming off of the injuries he's had and just hearing all the naysayers say he can't do this, he can't do that.
"To base his season off of one play—remember after the Kansas City game he fumbled and he kind of didn't play anymore?" Thomas added. "Just being a veteran and seeing him work every day and seeing what he can do, I'd be frustrated as well. I think he can play, just being a teammate, you know? Every time he got in before that fumble, he made stuff happen."
The fumble Thomas is referencing, of course, came during a first-quarter drive in Kansas City on Oct. 30, when—two plays after he gashed KC for 18-yards—Charles was stripped by Marcus Peters who took the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. While it's not clear whether or not that play directly affected the coaching staff's feelings towards one of the greats, the numbers suggest something changed on that windy night in Charles' former city.
Leading up to and through the game at Arrowhead, Charles was averaging 8.4 touches per game. Since then, he's averaging just 2.9 touches per game, all culminating with his inactivation last week.
"It's just frustration because once you hit that 30-year-old mark, your time is about up," said Thomas, who notably just turned 30 this week. "He had to say that because he wanted to let everybody know that he still can play, because he's not going to have that film. He's not going to have that film to show anybody. I don't know if it was the right time to say it, but he's just been frustrated because he knows he can go out and play. He's can arguably be a future Hall of Famer because, man, he can go and he still can go."
For a player who doesn't necessarily want to be there, Charles got similar support around the locker room. It's clear he is viewed as a legend to the Broncos, even if this season hasn't gone to plan. Each and every player we talked to on Wednesday mentioned how much they communicate with the NFL's all-time leader in yards per carry by a running back.
"I talked to Jamaal Charles every single day," exclaimed defensive lineman Zach Kerr. "From a business standpoint, from a player's standpoint, from a personal standpoint, a guy who averages five yards a carry in his career, obviously that guy wants to play football. It's just a guy that's passionate about his job. Obviously, you can understand. All that stuff, being a player, wanting to play—obviously, you can understand where he's coming from."
"He's a great guy, a really great guy. We have a lot of good conversations," added linebacker Todd Davis. "I definitely understand where he's coming from. I can understand that he's unhappy and I definitely understand that he's towards the end of his career. He definitely wants to be somewhere that he can play and where he can be productive... I think everybody on the outside is going to have their opinions but whatever is best for him and his family is what he should do."
As for those who are calling Charles a quitter, well, that question brought the most passion out of Davis and Kerr, who believed what Charles is doing is quite the opposite.
"It doesn't come from a place of quitting," Davis explained. "It comes from a place of wanting to keep going, wanting to keep working, wanting to keep striving to be great. He's definitely not quittin', he just wants an opportunity to shine."
"That guy loves the locker room," Kerr added. "That guy loves being here with us, he loves playing football, it's more so just hurting him. JC is a stand-up guy. He's been in this league 10-plus years, his resume speaks for itself."
Finally, the voice of reason in the Broncos locker room, Domata Peko, offered his support for his fellow vet.
"Everyone is different, you know?" He said in his classic laid-back tone. "Everyone has different ways of how they feel and when you're not being played, it's tough. Especially being a veteran dude that came in expecting to play a lot more than he is, so I feel him on that. It's a tough thing, but every individual is different, man."
While he may not have produced on the field as much as they had hoped, Jamaal Charles most certainly earned the respect of his teammates in Denver.