“We are excited to add T.J. Ward to the Denver Broncos,” Elway said. “He’s a young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary.”
Per Mike Klis, from The Denver Post, Ward’s deal is a four-year, $23 million contract with $14 million guaranteed.
T.J. Ward gets 4 years, $23 million; $14 million guaranteed— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 11, 2014
Ward has a connection to Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert. When Heckert was the general manager in Cleveland, he selected Ward in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. He instantly became a standout player for the Browns, and his best may be yet to come.
His career totals include 340 tackles (253 solo), five interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 26 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns (one interception, one fumble recovery).
Ward checks in at 5’10” and 200 pounds. He started all 54 games he appeared in during his first four seasons. He should bring an attitude that the Broncos defense has been missing.
Let’s reflect on Ward’s football career to this point, while also looking ahead to what is next for the Broncos in free agency.
A knee injury during his senior season in high school caused Ward to be a walk-on prospect at Oregon, but he was able to later earn a scholarship. He showed great versatility for the Ducks, playing cornerback, free safety and strong safety.
Ward was a standout player, an All-Pac-10 Conference performer who played in 37 career games and totaled 190 tackles and three interceptions.
He topped off his college career by being named the Defensive Player of the Game in the 2010 Rose Bowl.
He was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft by Heckert, and immediately made an impact for the Browns.
Ward led all NFL rookies in 2010 with 105 tackles as a 16-game starter. He started eight games in 2011, helping the Browns finish second in pass defense (184.9 yards per game).
In 2013, Ward had a career-high 112 tackles (75 solo). He also matched his career high with two interceptions. His play earned him his first career Pro Bowl selection and second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press.
Ward also was voted by his teammates as the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award after starting all 16 games following a knee injury late in the 2012 season.
He’s missed 10 games over four years due to various injuries.
Ward’s nickname is “Boss” because he is known as a big-hitter who can intimidate opponents. He is a strong tackler with proper form and technique. Ward will drive through an opponent when bringing them to the ground.
He can excel in man coverage, and Ward can fluidly move his hips to turn and cover downfield.
Ward is a smart player who diagnoses plays quickly. He understands what offenses are trying to do, and Ward will find the quickest way to the football on most every play. He does a good job of avoiding blockers at the second level when playing in the box.
He’s an impact player, but sometimes he will bite on a fake when looking to make the big play. This makes it difficult for him to recover and receivers can get behind him.
His big hits also lead to him getting banged up. He had a history of knee injuries coming out of college, and he also missed six games in 2009 due to an ankle injury.
Ward doesn’t have great hands, and is not known as a ball hawk.
How Does He Fit in Denver?
Ward should be an impact player for the Broncos from day one. He’s likely to immediately start for the Broncos opposite Rahim Moore.
This addition will move Duke Ihenacho to a reserve role for the team. Ihenacho loves to hit, but he struggles in coverage. Ward is clearly superior to Ihenacho and will upgrade the Broncos' faulty pass defense in addition to strengthening Denver's ability to defend against the run.
What’s Next for the Broncos?
Now that the safety position has been taken care of, the Broncos should keep their attention (and salary-cap dollars) focused on the defensive side of the ball.
The next move for the Broncos could be to add a pass-rusher. There are a few big names the Broncos might be considering so long as the price is right.
The Chicago Bears released defensive end Julius Peppers on Tuesday. He had an $18 million cap number in 2014, and Chicago could find no team interested in trading for him. While he’s not the same player he used to be, Peppers could still be an effective pass-rusher for Denver. And he has a history with head coach John Fox dating back to their days together with the Carolina Panthers.
The Cowboys released defensive end Demarcus Ware on Tuesday as well. David Moore, from The Dallas Morning News, reports that the door is open for Ware to return after he explores his options in free agency. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted there are already six playoff teams who have inquired about Ware. The Broncos could be one of those interested teams.
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is likely to move on in free agency. A league source tells the Packer Report there may be as many as five teams (including the Broncos) interested in signing the veteran pass-rusher. Vic Lombardi, from CBS4 in Denver, already tweeted that Allen was going to visit the Broncos.
Denver still has the salary-cap room to sign one of these veterans.
In fact, Adam Schefter from ESPN says the Broncos may be considered the favorites to land Ware at this time.
Filed to ESPN: Denver has emerged as the favorite to land former Dallas DE DeMarcus Ware, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
This was the right move for the Broncos. Ward was arguably their top target in free agency, and the team was able to snare him on the first day it possibly could. He’ll be a big contributor for the Broncos this year as they look to get back to the Super Bowl.
Denver is one of the most attractive teams to sign with, and that chance for a championship could entice other free agents to jump on board.
As we continue to navigate through free agency, the Broncos are going to continue making splashes that are felt league wide.
Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com. Draft grades all from NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.