Broncos split with local hero Graham after four seasons

The Denver Broncos released nine-year veteran tight end Daniel Graham on Wednesday and made qualifying offers to five restricted free agents, including right tackle Ryan Harris and kicker Matt Prater.

John Elway, the team's chief football executive, praised Graham for the character, leadership and play he brought the Broncos for four seasons.

"We're thankful for everything Daniel Graham did for the Broncos and the Denver community. Tough to let him go. We wish him the best," Elway tweeted.

The Denver Post on Wednesday cited Graham's high price tag as the driver behind the Graham's release. He was due to earn a $4.2 million base salary in 2011, along with a $1 million roster bonus.

Graham grew up in Denver, where his father, Tom, played linebacker for the Broncos from 1972-74. He was a 2002 first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots after a standout career at Colorado and joined the Broncos in 2007.

Graham's play slipped last season, when he had 18 catches for 148 yards but dropped a number of passes.

The Post reports that Graham is likely to draw interest from other teams, citing Mike Shanahan's Washington Redskins as a possible target.

Elway also announced on his Twitter feed the qualifying offers the club made Wednesday to Harris, Prater, linebacker and co-captain Wesley Woodyard and defensive linemen Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas.

Three of them missed significant time with injuries last year.

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Harris suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason finale and missed much of the first half of the season before starting the final eight games. The Broncos improved 1.8 yards per carry after he was reinserted into the lineup in Week 10, the highest such leap over that stretch.

He also protected southpaw Tim Tebow's blindside when the rookie quarterback started the final three games of the season.

Prater made 16 of 18 field goals and scored 76 points before missing the final month with a groin injury, and Woodyard dealt with leg injuries much of last season.

Thomas had 36 tackles last year and joined Rubin Carter (1975-77) as the only interior linemen in Broncos history to start every game during his first three seasons. Vickerson joined the team as a free agent after his release by Seattle and started 12 games, collecting 52 tackles and two sacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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