ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- One of the most successful eras of the Denver Broncos' franchise officially ended this week.
The idea, the memories and the T-shirts -- the brainchild of Chris Harris Jr.'s wife, Leah -- will endure, but the No Fly Zone is a wrap.
It was really done, in many ways, when Aqib Talib was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in March 2018, but when Harris agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers this week, it formally put the period on the group's last sentence.
Harris will be one who looks back fondly at the era.
"You just knew what it was going to be every week -- Aqib was at the left corner, you knew where I would be, T.J. [Ward], everybody," Harris said this past season. "You just knew, we were set, we just balled out, and the next day we were already watching film together, working on the next game."
The Broncos' secondary makeover is well underway. During the past two seasons, the Broncos have signed cornerback Bryce Callahan and cornerback/safety Kareem Jackson in free agency, have placed the franchise player tag on safety Justin Simmons and made a trade for cornerback A.J. Bouye. They likely will add a rookie defensive back or two in April's draft.
Harris' departure, given he was the final undrafted rookie the Broncos signed in 2011, brings with it some finality. Harris, Talib, Ward, safety Darian Stewart and cornerback Bradley Roby were part of a group that propelled the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl 50 and was the league's No. 1 pass defense in back-to-back seasons (2015 and 2016).
Even in 2017, after Ward had been released during training camp, the Broncos finished No. 3 in total defense and No. 4 in pass defense.
But then Talib was traded, Stewart was released and Roby signed a one-year deal with the Texans. And as the Broncos slogged through an injury-marred 2019 season in the secondary, led by Callahan missing the year with a foot injury, Harris became increasingly frustrated. The Broncos have now had four consecutive playoff misses and three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1970s.
"We were always kind of going week to week," Harris said at season's end. "I was on the outside most of the time, every week, instead of in the slot ... You keep playing, you keep working, you strap it up every week, but changes always come."
Or as Simmons put it: "I don't think we put everything in [on defense] because of injuries and everything. I think we'll be better moving forward as we get more comfortable in [coach Vic Fangio's] system. But change is always happening in this league, always."
Harris' departure seemed almost inevitable each time he talked about the future or what might happen this past season. That was especially true after a brief contract spat last spring. Harris wanted a new deal from the Broncos, stayed away from the offseason workouts and then agreed to some additional bonuses last May for the coming season but without the multiyear vote of confidence with guaranteed money he had hoped to receive.
Harris seemed to know in recent weeks he was leaving when he simply offered: "I don't know what's going to happen ... We had some great years, a championship, No. 1 pass defense in the league. That's hard to do and we did it. That always stays with you."
Now he's gone, and with the passage of time, the number of Broncos who suited up for Super Bowl 50 has eroded. Linebacker Von Miller, the team's first-round pick in 2011, is now the longest tenured of them.