DENVER -- The Denver Broncos have parted ways with versatile but vexing linebacker D.J. Williams.
The Broncos released the nine-year veteran Monday on the eve of free agency, freeing up his $6 million salary in 2013 for other needs.
"We appreciate the contributions made by D.J. Williams during his time with the Broncos," John Elway, vice-president of football operations, said in a statement. "He was a solid player with this team for a number of years, showing a lot of versatility at linebacker. Our organization wishes D.J. all the best going forward."
The Broncos also have asked Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil to take a pay cut. If not, he'll be traded or released before Saturday when his $12 million salary for 2013 becomes guaranteed. Dumervil is also due $10 million in 2014 and $8 million in 2015.
Williams missed nine games while serving a pair of NFL-mandated suspensions last season and was deemed expendable after Wesley Woodyard had a breakout season at weakside linebacker in Jack Del Rio's defence.
The Broncos also released third quarterback Caleb Hanie, a former Colorado State star who didn't take a single snap in his one season in Denver following four years as the backup in Chicago.
The Broncos were busy on many fronts Monday, finalizing a three-year deal to keep backup safety David Bruton, their top special teams player, and working to keep defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson in navy and orange before the start of free agency Tuesday.
Williams' departure is notable because he and cornerback Champ Bailey were the longest-tenured Broncos, their careers in Denver dating back to Mike Shanahan's time as coach.
Williams was a first-round draft pick (17th overall) out of the University of Miami in 2004 and played four different linebacker positions during his nine seasons in Denver, where he led the team in tackles five times.
"It's the nature of the business," Bruton said about Williams' release. "Guys change, things change. D.J. is still a young player. He was a great teammate. He'll definitely make it somewhere and he'll continue to make plays because whenever he stepped on the field here, he made plays. Best of luck to him. He's been a great player and a good teammate. Just, his time was up here."
Williams is one of only five NFL players during the last nine seasons to post at least 800 tackles and 20 sacks, and he displayed his versatility by starting at the weakside, middle, strongside and inside positions for a revolving door of defensive co-ordinators and schemes in Denver.
He turns 31 this summer and is sure to draw interest on the open market but he is coming off a season in which he collected just 14 tackles in seven games and only made one start because of his two suspensions that cost him about $4 million in salary and relegated him to playing on special teams and in sub packages upon his return in November.
Williams was suspended six games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and three games for an alcohol-related arrest in 2010 that led to a conviction last August.
He was originally charged with driving under the influence, but a jury convicted him of the lesser charge of driving while impaired. He was also convicted of driving without headlights, the offence that prompted police to stop him near downtown Denver in the early morning hours on Nov. 12, 2010, before taking him to a detox facility.
The Broncos stripped Williams of his captaincy shortly after his arrest -- the second time he'd been detained for suspicion of drunken driving. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to impaired driving.
A judge last fall sentenced him to 30 days of house arrest and two years' probation.
Williams also made news last summer by tweeting a picture of his new digital playbook and saying his coaches were asking him to switch positions yet again.
If Dumervil follows Williams out the door, the Broncos will have some big shoes to fill on a defence that was one of the NFL's stingiest last season.
"It's always important to keep a defence together," Bruton said. "This is the first time having the same defensive co-ordinator in my career here. So I feel like that's a great step in the right direction. But teams change, players change. We just don't want to change that mentality no matter who we bring in.
"As far as me worrying, I don't have to worry as much anymore. You still worry who they bring in, because the NFL is a revolving door. Guys come in, guys come out. It's just the nature of the business."