Football / Sports

Former Eagle Justice gets super break

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Four-and-a-half months ago, Winston Justice thought his NFL career might be over.

After starting 12 games for the Colts last season, the ex-Eagles offensive tackle turned down a contract offer from Indianapolis and decided to spin the free-agent roulette wheel. He put his money on black, but the ball went in the red slot.

He got a couple of offers early, but the money didn't jibe with what he felt he was worth. Turned them down and waited. And waited. And waited. Nobody else called.

"I bet on myself and lost," Justice said.

Two weeks into the season, Justice's phone finally rang. It was the Broncos. Their All-Pro left tackle, Ryan Clady, had gone down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

Backup tackle Chris Clark replaced Clady, and the Broncos needed somebody to replace Clark as the swingman at tackle. The money wasn't anywhere close to what Justice had been looking for when he first hit the free-agency market in March. But beggars can't be choosers.

"I thought free agency was going to be different than it turned out for me," said Justice, who, like a lot of players, overestimated his value. "I got some offers I didn't want, including one from Indy. I kept saying no until the Broncos offered (a job). It was kind of a last resort for me.

"I had stayed in shape. But it was getting to the point where I was going to stop. Another week or two and I would've moved on mentally and physically."

Justice hasn't seen much action with the Broncos. He played in just four regular-season games, mostly on special teams. He was on the field for just 19 offensive snaps.

It's still not certain whether he'll even be activated for Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. Justice played in the Broncos' AFC Championship Game win over the Patriots but was inactive the week before that in their divisional-round win over the Chargers.

"It's every player's ultimate goal to get to this game," Justice said. "You never know if and when it's going to happen. When I was with the Eagles, I would have guessed I would have made it here with them."

Justice's six seasons in Philadelphia didn't quite turn out the way either he or the Eagles had hoped. Selected in the second round of the 2006 draft, he started just 31 games for them before being traded to the Colts after the 2011 season for a swap of sixth-round draft selections.

He was considered a major disappointment, particularly given the infamous draft-day quote by head coach Andy Reid, who said he would have taken Justice with his team's first-round pick -- the 14th overall -- if defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley hadn't still been on the board.

After starting just one game in his first three seasons with the Eagles, Justice started all 16 games at right tackle in 2009 and 13 more in 2010.

He suffered a knee injury late in the 2010 season that required what the club described at the time as a routine cleanout. But when the Eagles reported to training camp in late July after the 4 1/2-month NFL lockout, Justice's knee still wasn't right.

Justice and the team's new offensive-line coach, Howard Mudd, constantly clashed. Justice ended up playing in just six games that year and starting only one.

The trade to Indianapolis didn't come as a surprise to anyone, including Justice.

"You'd like to finish your career where you started it, but it seldom works out like that," Justice said. "I was traded, but it wasn't like a disrespectful get-him-out-of-here trade. Andy Reid and Howie Roseman, they treated me better than I ever could have expected.

"They actually asked me, 'Do you want to go (to the Colts)? Are you sure?' They didn't just say, 'Hey, you've been traded to the Colts. It's been nice knowing you. To me, (Reid and Roseman) really cared. You don't really find that in the NFL a lot as far as what I experienced with those two guys."

Of Mudd, Justice said, "He helped me improve my game a lot even when we didn't get along. And he probably doesn't even know that."

Justice still gets back to Philly a lot in the offseason. He opened a coffee shop there four years ago on Sydenham Street, near 15th and Walnut, called Elixr.

Justice said he developed a love for coffee on mission trips to Africa, Indonesia and Haiti.

"All of those places have really great coffee," he said. "All the people do there is drink coffee and smoke (marijuana). I didn't smoke, but the coffee shops were cool. I told my brother-in-law we should open one in Philly, and we did."

If you see him in there in the near future, he just might be wearing a Super Bowl ring.

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