T.J. Ward

Charges Dropped For T.J. Ward

Back in January, safety T.J. Ward was arrested for possession of marijuana. According to JoeBucsFan.com (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com), all pending charges have been dropped.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

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:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

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 defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

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

NFC South Notes: Falcons, Coleman, Bucs

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).

Buccaneers’ T.J. Ward Arrested

Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward was arrested on Wednesday on a misdemeanor court of possession of marijuana (Twitter link via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times). Ward is already out of jail on bond.

[RELATED: Bucs Sign Several Players To Futures Deals]

T.J. Ward (vertical)

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Kaepernick, Ward, Saints

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.

NFC Rumors: Pryor, Eagles, Ward, Trubisky

Terrelle Pryor already confessed his camp might have misjudged the market when he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Redskins. The wideout’s back in a contract year but said Wednesday other teams presented multiyear offers.

A lot of teams … I got four or five offers from four or five teams for four or five-year deals for a lot of money, but it wasn’t where I thought I needed to be,” Pryor said, via Matt Lombardo of NJ.com. “At the end of the day, I wanted to really show I can do it, dominate at it again, and really just set myself up to have a home for four or five years, that way I can sign somewhere for four or five years instead of always moving around.”

Evidently hoping this one-year agreement can be a pathway to more lucrative long-term proposals, the 28-year-old Pryor also revealed he was negotiating with the Eagles prior to his Redskins pact. Pryor said he “believed” the Eagles were one of the teams pursuing him before something “in house” changed. This could allude to Alshon Jeffery signing a one-year deal on the same day Pryor agreed to his Washington contract. The Eagles were connected to just about every UFA wideout of note this offseason, and Pryor’s comments back up a March report of five teams being interested in signing him.

Here’s the latest from the NFC as 15 of its teams make preparations for their Week 1 games.

  • The one NFC franchise that won’t play this weekend has a new safety that now has an extra week to acclimate to Mike Smith‘s system, and details of T.J. Ward‘s contract continue to emerge. Ward will earn $3MM guaranteed on his one-year deal with the Buccaneers, tweets Mike Klis of 9News. The veteran safety’s contract has a base value of $3.875MM, and offers the chance for an extra $1MM via incentives. Ward, of course, signed with Tampa Bay less than 24 hours after being released by Denver, a move that led the Buccaneers to trade fellow defensive back J.J. Wilcox to the Steelers.
  • While this is not exactly a surprise, Mitch Trubisky will ascend to second on the Bears‘ depth chart for Chicago’s Week 1 tilt. The rookie quarterback usurped Mark Sanchez and will back up Mike Glennon on Sunday, John Fox said (via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, on Twitter). Of this rookie class, only DeShone Kizer will receive an opening day start. Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, C.J. Beathard and Nathan Peterman join Trubisky in being second-stringers entering their first NFL seasons.
  • Dontari Poe‘s latest weight check-in, which is today, will secure the Falcons defensive tackle $125K, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Poe earned the $125K by coming in under 330 pounds in late July. The pre-regular-season weight ceiling remains the same.
  • No offset language existed in Alex Boone‘s Vikings contract, Joel Corry of CBS Sports notes (on Twitter), so Minnesota will be stuck with $3.5MM in dead money on this year’s cap. Terms of Boone’s Cardinals deal are not yet disclosed, but it won’t go toward helping the Vikings offset dead money remaining on the four-year, $26.8MM contract they authorized for Boone last year.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this report.

West Notes: Ward, Donald, Hawks, Schofield

John Elway spoke with T.J. Ward‘s agent earlier this summer and informed him the team did not intend to sign the veteran safety to an extension, with the GM telling media (including Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post) a Ward re-up was not in the team’s plans “at that point of time.” The Broncos made Ward one of the highest-profile cuts of the roster-slashing weekend, but Jhabvala reports the team did not come to a decision on Ward until last week. The rise of second-year safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks, along with Ward’s injury history, played a role in the departure.

Citing a lack of clarity during the process, Ward on Monday called the Broncos “completely unprofessional” regarding the separation. The divorce came with one season remaining on the 30-year-old defender’s four-year contract. The eighth-year safety will earn up to $5MM with the Buccaneers this season. Ward missed all of Denver’s preseason games with a hamstring injury and missed six games due to injury in three Broncos campaigns — two of which producing Pro Bowls. Mike Klis of 9News described the process as Simmons — a 2016 third-round pick who served as Denver’s third safety last season — Wally Pipp’ing Ward (Twitter link). Klis notes Elway gave Ward “every chance” to make this year’s team.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions, shifting to Seattle, which just made the biggest trade in a week full of them.

  • The injury to rookie Malik McDowell prompted the Seahawks to trade for Sheldon Richardson, Pete Carroll said, via the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta (on Twitter). Currently on the NFI list, McDowell does not have a timetable for a return, Condotta adds (via Twitter). Carroll said the team could still look to add another defensive tackle (Twitter link, via Condotta).
  • Richardson will play the three-technique position in the Seahawks’ 4-3 scheme, the fifth-year defensive lineman said Monday (via Condotta, on Twitter). He will line up inside of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, giving the Seahawks one of the most talented defensive fronts in football. Richardson primarily played 3-4 defensive end with the Jets but also saw time at outside linebacker. He played 4-3 defensive tackle at the University of Missouri, though.
  • Aaron Donald remains a holdout as the Rams begin their Week 1 preparations, but Sean McVay won’t impose a deadline on how late the All-Pro defensive lineman can report to the team and still play Sunday, Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com reports. Rams reps flew to Atlanta to meet with Donald, but the sides reportedly aren’t close to a deal. Gonzalez adds McVay nonetheless remains “optimistic” about a solution.
  • A two-position starter for the Broncos during the past two seasons, Michael Schofield attracted widespread interest on the waiver wire. The Chargers won out due to their position in the waiver hierarchy, but the Lions, Redskins, Vikings and Saints also put in claims on the fourth-year guard/tackle, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. A 2014 third-rounder, Schofield started for the Broncos at right tackle during their Super Bowl season and lined up at right guard throughout 2016. While Denver didn’t sport particularly effective O-lines during those seasons, Schofield clearly has believers out there.
  • Speaking of waivers, the Seahawks hoped they’d have a chance to stash wide receiver Kasen Williams on their practice squad, Carroll said (via Condotta, on Twitter), but the Browns swooped in with a claim. The Seahawks will move on without Williams and Jermaine Kearse, traded to the Jets in the Richardson deal. Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett are now Seattle’s top complementary wideouts, and Lockett (per Condotta, on Twitter) is expected to play in Week 1 after breaking his fibula late last season.

Buccaneers To Sign T.J. Ward

The Buccaneers will sign the newly-released T.J. Ward, as James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. It’s a one-year, $4MM deal that includes a maximum value of $5MM, per Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link).

T.J. Ward (vertical)

Ward started 41 games over three seasons in Denver after inking a four-year deal with the club prior to the 2014 season. Last season, he made 14 appearances, totaling one interception and one sack while ranking as the NFL’s No. 48 safety, per Pro Football Focus. Ward’s 75.9 grade was the worst mark of his career, and the Broncos felt it was better to move on and get a little salary cap relief in the process.

Per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link), Ward drew interest from seven teams and had serious talks with three. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, the Steelers had some degree of interest, but they were not serious contenders for his services.

Tampa Bay has already done a fair amount of tinkering at the safety position this offseason. The Bucs re-signed Chris Conte, signed free agent J.J. Wilcox from the Cowboys, and drafted Justin Evans in the second round. But signing Ward will help solidify the defensive backfield, and as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times writes, Ward will push either Conte or Keith Tandy to the bench, and Wilcox and Evans will see their potential playing time take a hit as a result.

John Spytek, the Bucs’ director of player personnel and GM Jason Licht‘s right-hand man, was Cleveland’s director of college scouting when the Browns drafted Ward in 2010, and he spent two years as a scout with the Broncos when Ward played in Denver. That connection almost certainly played a role in Ward’s decision, along with the fact that Tampa Bay is a potential playoff team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Broncos, Ward, Dorsett

The Broncos did not discuss a pay cut with safety T.J. Ward before releasing him on Saturday, Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post tweets. “It was a football decision,” a team source tells her, adding that the motivation was to give more playing time to Justin Simmons and Will Parks. Meanwhile, Broncos players are upset about losing Ward and his locker room presence, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets.

While Ward searches for a new home, here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Colts had offers for Phillip Dorsett from other teams, but those proposed swaps involved draft choices instead of netting a young player at a positional need, Mike Lombardi of The Ringer tweets. Lombardi doesn’t name teams, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link) says the 49ers, Jets and Cardinals were among the teams that showed preliminary interest in him.
  • The Jets are expected to be interested in running back Travaris Cadet now that he has been released by New Orleans, Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle tweets. The Jets showed interest in Cadet during free agency but ultimately lost out.
  • T.J. McDonald‘s new deal with the Dolphins has built in protections for the team that will override his guarantees if he has another suspension issue, Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald tweets. The pact includes $10MM in “guarantees,” but McDonald can’t slip up if he wants to collect on all of it.
  • Wide receiver Victor Cruz says that he got a “clean bill of health” on his MRI this week, Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets. He’s now a free agent after being released by Chicago.
  • Chiefs GM Brett Veach says veteran running back C.J. Spiller could still end up on the Chiefs’ roster (Twitter link via BJ Kissel of Chiefs.com). Spiller was among the Chiefs’ mass cuts on Saturday as they trimmed down to 53.

Broncos To Release T.J. Ward

The Broncos will release safety T.J. Ward, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Denver had been expected to cut Ward if it couldn’t find a trade partner.T.J. Ward (Vertical)

Ward, 30, had been entering the final year of his contract, which would’ve paid him $4.5MM in base salary. While none of that total was guaranteed, the Broncos will still absorb $1.25MM in dead money as a result of Ward’s signing bonus proration accelerating onto their salary cap.

Ward started 41 games over three seasons in Denver after inking a four-year deal with the club prior to the 2014 season. Last season, he made 14 appearances, totaling one interception and one sack while ranking as the NFL’s No. 48 safety, per Pro Football Focus. Ward’s 75.9 grade was the worst mark of his career.

With Ward out of the picture, the Broncos will turn to Justin Simmons to start at safety opposite Darian Stewart. Simmons was a third-round pick in 2016 and made three starts during his rookie campaign.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.