T.J. Ward Reportedly Signing 1-Year Buccaneers Contract After Broncos Release

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured Columnist

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 18:  T.J. Ward #43 of the Denver Broncos in action during the game against the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field At Mile High on December 16, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  The Patriots defeated the Broncos 16-3.  (Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images)
Rob Leiter/Getty Images

Veteran safety T.J. Ward signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after spending the previous three seasons with the Denver Broncos, the Bucs announced Monday:

James Palmer of NFL Network first reported the news on Aug. 27, with Josina Anderson of ESPN later noting Ward would sign a one-year deal.

The Broncos released Ward on Saturday, and general manager John Elway said the following in a statement, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold:

"This was a difficult decision to part ways with T.J. after everything he's done for our football team. He was a respected teammate whose attitude and physical mindset played a big part in our success, especially during our Super Bowl run. We thank T.J. for his contributions as a Bronco and wish him nothing but the best in the future."

Ward played his first four NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns after they selected him with the No. 38 pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Oregon.

He quickly developed into one of the league's premier safeties, and was named to his first career Pro Bowl in 2013 when he registered 112 tackles and two interceptions.

Ward then signed with the Broncos and made the Pro Bowl in each of the next two seasons.

Along with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Darian Stewart, Ward helped form arguably the best secondary in football, leading to Denver's Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Ward missed two games last season due to injury and finished 2016 with 87 tackles, one pick, one sack and two fumble recoveries.

Prior to his release, Ward was set to enter the final year of the four-year contract he signed with the Broncos in 2014.

One factor that made him expendable was the fact that 2016 third-round pick Justin Simmons emerged during the preseason and developed into a potential starter.

Ward's production has dipped somewhat over the past couple of seasons in comparison to his final year in Cleveland and first year in Denver.

He has also missed at least one game due to injury in each of the past three seasons, so there are durability concerns as well. Despite that, the 30-year-old is an experienced player with intangible leadership skills and a stronger resume than almost any safety in the NFL.

That alone makes him a significant addition to the Buccaneers secondary, and he should provide the defense with a major boost.

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