T.J. Ward caught on with the Cardinals’ practice squad for a bit last season, doing so after being out of football for a lengthy stretch. The former Pro Bowl safety will not attempt to play in 2021. Ward announced his retirement Wednesday morning, Troy Renck of Denver7 reports.
Best known for being part of the Broncos’ No Fly Zone secondary, which played a major role in the franchise’s third Super Bowl championship, Ward was a regular for eight NFL seasons. He also spent time with the Browns and Buccaneers, last suiting up for a regular-season game in 2017.
Ward, 34, will wrap his career as a two-time Pro Bowler. The Browns selected Ward in the 2010 second round and used him as a starter throughout his four-year tenure in Cleveland. In 2014, Ward signed a four-year, $22.5MM contract to join the Broncos. This move elevated Ward’s profile and bolstered a Broncos defense that was coming off a rough outing in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Ward intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in Super Bowl 50, playing a pivotal part in Denver’s upset victory, and continued as a starter in 2016. The Broncos gave Stewart a long-term extension that season and used two 2016 draft picks on safeties — Justin Simmons and Will Parks. Simmons ended up replacing Ward in 2017. The Broncos released Ward ahead of that season, leading to his one-year, $4MM Bucs deal.
The hard-hitting safety finished his career with two 100-plus-tackle seasons — both with Cleveland — and 29 tackles for loss. He added 10 forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns — both of which came in 2013, when he earned second-team All-Pro recognition.
The Cardinals have signed veteran safety T.J. Ward to their practice squad, per a club announcement. With injuries throughout the position group, it might not be long before Ward is called up to the varsity squad.
The Cardinals’ safety group has been ravaged by injuries. Jalen Thompson is on IR, Budda Baker is still healing up from thumb surgery, and Chris Banjo is questionable due to a hamstring pull, which could put Ward on the field for this week’s game against the Panthers. The Cardinals may also have to get creative by moving versatile rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons to the secondary.
Ward played three seasons with the Broncos, serving as one of the anchors for Denver’s No Fly Zone Super Bowl-winning secondary. He missed the 53-man cut in Vance Joseph‘s first year as the team’s head coach — now, he’s set to play for him in Arizona.
Ward, 33, has not played since the 2017 season. In his last stop with the Buccaneers, Ward registered 30 tackles and three passes defended in 12 games (five starts). Pro Football Focus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance, ranking him 58th among eligible safeties.
September 29th, 2020 at 3:42pm CST by Sam Robinson
The Cardinals‘ defensive resurgence will be tested this week. Budda Baker is dealing with a torn thumb UCL, and Kliff Kingsbury expects the high-priced safety to undergo surgery soon, Howard Balzer of SI.com notes. Baker is expected to miss at least Sunday’s game against the Panthers, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, but given that this injury sidelined Drew Brees five weeks and will shelve Jalen Reagor longer, a multiweek absence would not be surprising. Baker confirmed surgery is in the cards (Twitter link). The fourth-year safety, however, played all but one of the Cards’ defensive snaps against the Lions — despite having sustained this injury previously.
An interesting name has surfaced as a possible replacement. The Cardinals brought in T.J. Ward for a workout, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Ward interestingly played three seasons with the Broncos, serving as one of the anchors for Denver’s No Fly Zone Super Bowl-winning secondary, but did not make their 53-man roster in Vance Joseph‘s first year as the team’s head coach. The then-Joseph-led Broncos cut the veteran safety in 2017, leading Ward to the Buccaneers. Joseph is now the Cardinals’ DC. Ward, 33, has not played since the 2017 season.
Here is the latest from the West divisions:
Pete Carroll said during a radio interview Chris Carson has a Grade 1 knee sprain, and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes (on Twitter) the Seahawks‘ starting running back is in line to miss one or two games. A questionable tackle from Cowboys defensive lineman Trysten Hill, which included a post-play twist of Carson’s leg, led to the injury. Carson has dealt with injuries during his time as Seattle’s starter — including a broken leg in 2017 and a season-ending hip malady last year — but has only missed three games over the past two seasons. The Seahawks have Rashaad Penny on their PUP list, leaving free agent addition Carlos Hyde as the next man up.
Seahawks first-round rookie Jordyn Brooks suffered a knee injury as well, but he did not suffer ACL damage and should return this season. Brooks is recovering from an MCL sprain, per Rapoport (on Twitter). The first-year linebacker will likely miss a game or two.
Raiders first-round cornerback Damon Arnette is visiting a thumb specialist Tuesday, and Rapoport notes he could miss up to six weeks (Twitter link). This was an aggravation of a previous injury, with Arnette having broken his thumb prior to the regular season’s outset. Arnette fell awkwardly on the injured thumb during Sunday’s game against the Patriots.
Second-year Raiders safety Johnathan Abram played through an AC joint sprain Sunday, but questions about the injury persist. Abram collided with a TV cart during the Raiders’ Week 2 win over the Saints, and the NFL has engaged in discussions with ESPN about where the network’s carts can be during games, per Pelissero and Rapoport. The cart was closer to the field because of the COVID-19 pandemic restricting cheerleaders, photographers and other personnel from the sideline. Abram missed almost all of last season following an injury during the Raiders’ Week 1 game on a Monday night.
The Broncos are now down five of their six Pro Bowlers, after Jurrell Casey‘s season-ending biceps tear. But that number of injured standouts could be reduced to four soon. Phillip Lindsay returned to practice last week and may be on track to face the Jets on Thursday, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Lindsay has been battling turf toe since suffering the injury during Denver’s opener.
The stomach pains that caused Chiefs guard Andrew Wylie to be transported to the hospital prior to Monday night’s Chiefs-Ravens game are believed to have stemmed from appendicitis and not a COVID-related concern, Pelissero tweets.
Shortly after Darian Stewart caught on with the Buccaneers, another Florida team will look at the other safety from the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning secondary.
The Jaguars are working out T.J. Ward on Saturday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). Ward did not play in 2018. This marks the first known workout for the two-time Pro Bowler in well over a year.
Ward last played for the Bucs in 2017, starting five games. The Broncos released him just before the ’17 regular season, with Justin Simmons having beaten him out for a starting job. Ward, 32, has eight seasons of experience, beginning his career as a Browns starter for four seasons. He signed with the Broncos in 2014 and made the Pro Bowl that season. Over the next two years, Ward was part of the Broncos’ dominant secondaries that led the league in pass defense DVOA by wide margins.
The Jaguars, top six in pass defense DVOA over the past two seasons, released Tashaun Gipson in March. They have Ronnie Harrison set to start at one of their safety jobs and former UDFA Jarrod Wilson in place as well. Harrison graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 72 safety last season, with Wilson receiving a better grade as a part-time contributor. Ward graded as PFF’s No. 58 safety in 2017, his production having dipped since his Denver exit. The Jags did not draft a safety this year.
The 31-year-old was facing “an allegation of felony marijuana possession and misdemeanor paraphernalia possession.” Ward also failed to attend a court appearance regarding the charges. At the time of the arrest, the veteran’s agent stood by his client, saying all reports were “inaccurate.”
Ward had previously been arrested in 2014 on assault charges, and he was handed a one-game suspension despite the charges being dropped. Florio opines that the free agent safety will not face any punishment from the NFL this time around. Of course, Ward is currently unsigned, although suitors may have been waiting to see how this case unfolded. Back in March, the veteran earned a spot on our top-20 free agent safety rankings.
Following three productive seasons with the Broncos, the safety was released by Denver last offseason. He ended up catching on with the Buccaneers, compiling 30 tackles and three passes defended in 12 games (five starts). Pro Football Focus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance, ranking him 58th among eligible safeties.
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.
Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:
As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.
Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.
Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.
The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.
Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.
Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.
While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.
February 26th, 2018 at 5:18pm CST by Zachary Links
Here’s a look at the NFC South:
Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff says that he has no interest in trading running back Tevin Coleman this offseason (Twitter link via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com). Previously, Dimitroff indicated that he could see a scenario of extending Coleman even though the team has already paid Devonta Freeman. Last year, Coleman totaled 628 rushing yards and four touchdowns plus 27 catches for 299 yards. For what it’s worth, that’s 122 less receiving yards than he had in 2016 and his 4.0 yards-per-carry average was down from 4.4 over the previous two seasons.
Pending Buccaneers free agent T.J. Ward is a player to watch in free agency, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Ward started only five of his 12 games for the Bucs last year and graded out as the No. 58 ranked safety in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. That’s a big dropoff from his three straight Pro Bowls from 2013-2015 and his January arrest doesn’t help matters either. Still, in a shallow safety pool, Rapoport expects Ward to draw interest. Whether that comes to fruition or not, it’s not expected that Ward will be back with the Bucs.
The Falcons know that they’ll have some tough choices to make as they create room for quarterback Matt Ryan‘s next deal. “We all know that as we start nearing the signing of quarterbacks in this league, and especially quarterbacks of Matt Ryan’s status, you have to be very creative,”Dimitroff said on 680 The Fan (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “There are going to be some difficult moves for us to make probably early next week and into next week.” Ledbetter notes that left guard Andy Levitre ($7MM in savings) and defensive end Brooks Reed ($3.6MM in savings) are both cap casualty candidates. Other cap casualty candidates include quarterback Matt Schaub ($3.25MM), defensive tackle Derrick Shelby ($3.2MM), wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($3.1MM,) and tight end Levine Toilolo ($2.5MM).
Ward’s agent, Josh Arnold has now released a statement, which conflicts with the original report regarding Ward’s arrest (via Albert Breer of Sports Illustarted on Twitter).
“Reports from various sources revolving around my client, T.J. Ward, and an incident nearly 3 months ago are inaccurate. We dispute the claims being reported and TJ adamantly denies these allegations. IT was our understanding that the matter had been resolved in October and my client was never arrested at that time. Nor was he even at the residence when the police allegedly located marijuana. TJ never received a notice to appear or any other otice of a court date regarding this matter in October or subsequently thereafter. TJ is uncertain as to why this coming up now given the fact it was revolved months ago, but nonetheless he looks forward to resolving the issue as expeditiously as possible.”
Given the conflicting reports, we’ll have to just wait and see how this situation will unfold.
Nonetheless, the news comes at a particularly bad time since Ward is scheduled for free agency in March. This isn’t a particularly serious charge, but GMs won’t be thrilled about this in light of his 2014 assault charge which was later dropped. At the time, it was alleged that Ward threw a glass mug at a strip club bartender after she told him outside drinks were not allowed. The NFL later suspended him for one game in 2015.
It should be noted that Ward was with the Broncos in early September. In Colorado, marijuana is legal for recreational purposes.
Ward’s on-field play will likely be a bigger issue as he looks for his next contract. In 12 games (five starts), Ward graded out as the No. 58 ranked safety in the NFL per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. That’s a big dropoff from where he was from 2013-2015 when he made three straight Pro Bowls.
More is coming out about Colin Kaepernick‘s collusion lawsuit against the NFL. Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, recently shed some light about some of the points they will attempt to prove that collusion exists between the NFL owners in the latest episode of his Reasonable Doubt podcast. Geragos pointed out the need for a “smoking gun” that proves there is coordinated effort from owners from blocking his client from signing with a franchise. In response to a question about a potential email regarding the collusion from Roger Goodell, Geragos stated “there is very good reason to believe that that exists,” the lawyer said (transcription via Pro Football Talk). “The interesting thing will be when the discovery comes, and I expect the discovery to be very quickly.” Even with the confidence coming from the lawyer, the overall sentiment around the case is that collusion will be a difficult charge to prove, but it looks like Kaepernick and his team are serious about their lawsuit and will look far and wide to see if any hard evidence exists.
Here’s more from the NFC:
New Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward is apparently frustrated with his part-time defensive role, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The reporter passes along that the veteran defensive back is at his “wits end” in regards to his role on the team. Ward was not on the field during Tampa Bay’s fourth quarter collapse at the hands of the Bills. The 30 year-old expected to bring more physicality when he signed a one-year, $4MM deal with the team after he was cut by the Broncos in the preseason. Ward only has 11 total tackles on the year and looks to be on his way out of the rotation after what transpired today.
Saints linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha could be on the trading block after his deactivation from today’s contest vs. the Packers, Larry Holder of NOLA.com speculates (Twitter link). It’s a disappointing turn of events for the former 2015 third round pick, who was benched in favor of defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad. However, despite Kikaha’s struggles, the Saints defense has turned the corner in recent weeks, getting another takeaway today, after notching five turnovers last Sunday.
In other Saints news, we have now learned that the team’s former veteran cornerback Brandon Browner was arrested for cocaine possession last May, reports Amos Moralle III of NOLA.com. Browner last appeared for the team in 2015, but was mostly ineffective with the team deciding to move on from the defensive back that following offseason.