ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- John Lynch wasn't content playing a part-time role, not after four straight Pro Bowl seasons.
The Denver Broncos couldn't promise him the playing time he was seeking.
So, Lynch and the Broncos agreed to amicably separate.
"He wants to play every down," coach Mike Shanahan said Thursday. "Heck, I can't blame him. I'm not going to say that he can't."
It's just not going to be with Denver, where's he's spent the last four seasons.
Lynch was promised nothing more than an opportunity to compete for a starting safety job when he took a pay cut in the offseason.
But with the emergence of Marlon McCree, Lynch didn't see much time in the nickel or dime packages during the first week of training camp.
He tried to live with it, even accept his reduced role, and soon realized he couldn't.
"I've always been one to follow my gut and follow my heart with decisions, and when I've done that things have worked out pretty darn good for me," Lynch said. "My gut was telling me that this wasn't the right situation."
Lynch, who's entering his 16th season, is going to explore his options, possibly signing with another team if he deems it a good situation.
"I still have a great passion for the game of football," Lynch said. "I still very much love it in my heart. I still feel like I can compete at a Pro Bowl level, but the situation is going to have to be right. I'm not going to just play for any team or any situation."
Shanahan is supportive of Lynch and won't stand in the way.
"I'll be rooting for John as long as he's not in the AFC West," Shanahan said with a grin. "If (he) is, I'll be rooting for him as a person, just not in the games we play."
The Lynch saga has been a surprise for the Broncos.
Hamza Abdullah glanced to his left before a passing drill Thursday, failing to spy his fellow safety. Abdullah was taken aback before reality suddenly hit him -- Lynch was no longer around.
"It was a weird feeling," Abdullah said.
Champ Bailey knew the nine-time Pro Bowler was discontent with his playing time, but not to this degree.
"I didn't see that coming," Bailey said. "But I understand how competitive he is and how much pride he has about what he does on the field."
McCree understood Lynch's reasons for wanting to leave as well.
"It's how life is in the NFL," said McCree, who started all 16 games with San Diego last season. "John will go on and continue to have much success. I'm sure if he wants to play, he can still play at a high level."
Lynch's decline in playing time began last season as he started to come off the field on passing downs.
Still, he played every snap over the last three games and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen eventually talked him into signing a cut-rate deal in the offseason. Lynch was even allowed to train on his own back in San Diego, instead of with the Broncos.
He came into camp knowing there were no guarantees, Shanahan even leveling with him during organized team activities in June.
"John came up to me and said, 'Mike, if the season started today, where do you see me?'" Shanahan said.
So, Shanahan consulted with his coaches and told Lynch he'd be apart of the base defense, but wouldn't be in the nickel package, resulting in a dip in playing time.
Lynch reported to training camp, but as the practices wore on, he wasn't pleased with the amount of time he was receiving. He told Shanahan on Tuesday he needed time to think about his future.
"He came back to me and said, 'I'm a guy that's really got to be involved ... I just don't like the role I'm in right now,'" Shanahan said.
Shanahan didn't try to talk him out of the decision.
"I don't think I've ever been with more of a pro than a guy like John Lynch," Shanahan said. "He's the type of guy that you look at in the future and say, 'Could this guy be the president of the United States?' He's that type of guy. I felt like I owed it to him, to look at his options, football, retirement, whatever he wants to do."
Because of Lynch's burning desire to play again, Broncos cornerback Domonique Foxworth can envision Lynch hooking up with another team.
"He didn't go to all those Pro Bowls just because they liked him," Foxworth said. "He's a player and I'm sure he can fit in somewhere."
Abdullah said the reason he's nabbed the starting strong safety spot for the Broncos is because of Lynch's influence. He was always asking the veteran for advice, something Lynch was happy to dispense.
"If you poll all the starting safeties in the NFL, I guarantee they're going to mention John Lynch as one of the top-five safeties of all time," Abdullah said. "I guarantee you. He set the standard."
He was not only a leader on the field, but in the Broncos locker room as well, where the team came to rely on his confident demeanor.
"Guys look up to him and respect him for what he's done and what he can do," Bailey said. "He's a proven winner."
Lynch wished his team well on his way out.
"I really like the feel about this team, and that's what made this an extra-hard decision," Lynch said. "This team has a great chemistry to it. I think they're going to do very well."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press