T.J. Ward recently got released by the Denver Broncos and other members on that prestigious defense were simmering after the fact, including Von Miller. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were astute enough to take advantage of their opportunity to sign Ward.
What T.J. Ward Means for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers found one safety at the end of the year last season in Keith Tandy, who started the last five games and picked off four interceptions. Bradley McDougald went to the Seattle Seahawks after the last three and a half seasons with the Buccaneers.
Ward will likely replace Chris Conte, who still remains an option after a 20-yard interception returned for a touchdown. Another option is rookie Justin Evans, who the Buccaneers drafted in the second round out of Texas A&M but at first glance he seems to be more of a freelancing defensive back.
Almost instantly after acquiring Ward, the Buccaneers somewhat surprisingly traded J.J. Wilcox to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilcox, who spent last season with the Dallas Cowboys, was signed in the off-season. The trade was a surprise because Wilcox is only 26 and in 574 snaps with the Cowboys was one of the highest rated free agents according to Pro Football Focus. But Ward’s high level postseason experience with the Broncos the last few seasons was likely the deciding factor.
Ward has spent the last three seasons of his career with the Broncos, which included 2015 when Denver won the Super Bowl over the Carolina Panthers. He was a difference-maker in that Super Bowl with an interception, a fumble recovery and seven total tackles. He started 41 games with the Broncos and he’s coming off of one of his best seasons in 2016 with 69 solo tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Ward was the 38th overall draft pick out of Oregon in the second round by the Cleveland Browns in the 2010 NFL Draft. He spent four seasons with the Browns and according to Pro Football Reference, Ward’s career year was in 2013 when he had an approximate value of ten. That season, Ward produced 75 solo tackles, a career-high 112 overall tackles and two defensive touchdowns, one which was a 51-yard fumble recovery.
Ward’s metrics show that he probably isn’t the greatest coverage safety, but that’s why he plays strong safety.
But Ward has many other things going for him that should benefit the Buccaneers. Ward’s durability is perhaps his greatest asset. He’s played no fewer than eight games in a season and started at least 12 games in six of his seven seasons.
Ward excels at defending passes with at least six pass breakups in five seasons and has a knack for sacking the quarterback with at least one sack in all but one season and 8.5 career sacks. He also loves to turn the ball over with eight career interceptions and ten forced fumbles and that might be the utmost reason why the Buccaneers brought Ward in.
Perhaps the least controllable aspect in football, but the most important, is being able to force turnovers on defense and not committing turnovers. Tampa Bay’s offense committed a relatively high 27 turnovers, which was tied for sixth most in the NFL. But the Buccaneers went 9-7 because their defense surprisingly forced 29 turnovers, which ranked third best in the NFL.
More specifically, the Buccaneers were tied with four other teams for second place in the NFL with 17 interceptions and they were also tied for fourth with 12 fumbles recovered.