All-22 Free Agent Profile: T.J. Ward

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T.J. Ward is exactly the kind of player the Browns should be looking to keep in Cleveland.

With the franchise having once again undergone major changes at the top, Ward is a homegrown talent (drafted in the second round of 2010) who has started 30 of 32 games the last two seasons and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2013.


The Browns have the franchise tag in their back pocket, but with new decision-makers leading the charge, the possibility exists that Ward hits the open market.

Considering the team in Philadelphia is in dire need of safety help, we went to the All-22 to get a better idea of what Ward brings to the table.

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Ward's name has been grouped with Jairus Byrd quite a bit in these parts since the season ended. They are the two top free agent safeties, and both played their college ball at Oregon. Ward was with the Ducks from 2005 to 2009 and played for head coach Chip Kelly as a senior.

But the thing about safeties is they come in different shapes, sizes and skill sets. Byrd and Ward are two of the better ones in the game, but their styles couldn't be any more different.

We covered Byrd last week. The Bills' safety is a true ballhawk who patrols the deep middle of the field and is a master at creating turnovers. That's not Ward's game at all.

Instead, his greatest strength is playing in the box and consistently making stops against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, Ward played in the box 65.7 percent of the time on run plays in 2013. That was the seventh-highest percentage in the league among safeties.

Here's an example of Ward at his best. First take a look at where he's lined up.

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Because he's so good against the run, at times it felt like the Browns had another linebacker on the field.

On this handoff to Reggie Bush, Ward's teammates do an excellent job of occupying blockers, allowing him to attack freely.

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Ward is really good at diagnosing run plays and getting to the ball-carrier. You can see he's on the move and headed towards Bush before the ball is even in the running back's gut.

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And the most important part is finishing. If Ward doesn't make a play here, Bush can cut it back. But that doesn't happen. Instead, it's a 1-yard loss.

Ward had 112 tackles last season, third-most among safeties. His nine tackles for loss (per STATS, Inc.) were tops on the team and second among safeties behind only Kansas City's Eric Berry.

At 5-10, 200 pounds, Ward is not the biggest safety in the league. But his strength shows on the field, and he plays bigger than he is.

Here's another play from that Lions game. This time, he has to deal with an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage.

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Here, it looks like the offensive lineman has him, and Bush will have a big running lane.

Ward gets knocked back, but still manages to get to the ball-carrier and makes the stop after just a 2-yard run.

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Again, when thinking about what he does best, there's no doubt it's play in the box and stop the run. That is Ward's elite skill.

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As we know by now, safeties have to be versatile. And being able to cover is a huge part of the job. In the games I watched, Ward was very rarely used as a single-high, center fielder-type safety. When he played back, it was often in two-deep looks.

But where he performed better than I anticipated was in man coverage - specifically on tight ends.

I took a look at the Browns' Week 14 game against the New England Patriots. In that game, Ward hit Rob Gronkowski low in the third quarter and ended the tight end's season. But before that play, Ward was used in man coverage against Gronkowski quite a bit.

By my count, he covered Gronkowski six times and did not give up a catch, although there was one 10-yard pass interference penalty.

Early on in that game, Ward lined up out wide against Gronkowski one-on-one.

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Gronkowski runs a short comeback route, and Ward is playing off coverage. Initially it looks like an easy completion.

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But Ward does an excellent job of closing on the ball and ends up forcing the incompletion.

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Ward is an aggressive, physical player who seeks out contact. Keep in mind he was giving up roughly eight inches and 64 pounds on this play.

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What are the concerns with Ward? Well, the big one as I mentioned above is he might not be available. The Browns could use the franchise tag or reward him with a long-term extension. If Ward does hit free agency, he'll likely find a favorable market considering he's only 27 years old.

If a team wants a pure ballhawk-type safety, that's not really Ward. Opportunities have to be taken into account, but he had a combined eight interceptions/passes defensed last year. That ranked 31st in the NFL among safeties, per STATS, Inc.

There are also some inconsistencies in his tackling. Most of the time he does a good job, but there were several occasions where Ward didn't finish. Pro Football Focus had him down for 13 missed tackles, which was tied for 15th among safeties.

Overall, he provides versatility with the ability to play the run at an extremely high level and also match up with tight ends.

If the Eagles somehow landed Ward, he'd immediately be their best safety since Brian Dawkins.

We'll find out in the coming weeks if they get the chance to to even explore this option.

  • Justin

    I would be shocked if he hit the open market.

    • Joe L

      Rotoworld just posted a note saying that their currently working on a new contract for him.

      http://www.rotoworld.com/player/nfl/5877/tj-ward

      • GEAGLE

        Yeah they started talks with both Ward and Mack…
        I’m really curious to watch how this next regime builds the browns. They have so many high priced players:
        ..
        Mack is an all pro who missed one game in 4 years, and he is young, he is getting PAID.
        ..
        Daqwell Jackson gets PAID

        Haden is about to be the highest paid corner in history
        ..
        Kruger signed for 40m

        They have to extend their all world TE this fall, and the following year they have to worry about Josh Gordon..

        talented young roster..curious to see how long it takes them to go from 40mil in cap space, to cap problems

        • anon

          Easy when you dont have to pay a QB.

          • GEAGLE

            Yeah well we don’t have to pay a QB, and we allegedly have no “stars on defense” and I over rate our defenders, yet I’m told we have to be bargain! batting average approach shoppers, while out QB makes chump change for two more years….Weeden makes more money then FOles lol, yet they get all these damn expensive players…who do we have? peters and shady?

          • anon

            Peters, Shady, Desean. To be fair CLE has the benefit of drafting high every year and they’ve definitely hit on a bunch of players — many of whom want to stay in CLE (surprisingly).

            Kruger’s dead money decreases significantly after this year, i think he’s gone unless he does something really special.

          • Ark87

            Foles is eligible for a pay-raise for the 2015 season right? If Foles has another season like the last, I don’t see his agent being a good soldier and quietly sitting through his entire rookie contract. I think 2014 is the year, add 2 key pieces on the D, make a run while we got the cash. I’m thinking Nick’s payday will be marking the departure from guys like Cole, Meco, and Peters.

          • Crimzin

            Foles is eligible for an extension before the 2015 season…as are Boykin, Cox and Kendricks.

      • Justin

        I saw that. And even if they don’t reach a deal, they have two weeks to franchise him.

  • morgan c

    Straight up, TMac or SK, who do you think is a better player between Ward and Byrd? I know a tough question, but please no qualifiers. Who is better?

    • Michael Deen

      “But the thing about safeties is they come in different shapes, sizes and skill sets. Byrd and Ward are two of the better ones in the game, but their styles couldn’t be any more different.”

      Pick your poison – Centerfield ballhawk or a guy who plays in the box more often. I personally think Byrd fits our needs more than Ward, but beggars can’t be choosers….

    • GEAGLE

      That’s a silly question but I think Byrd will get the slightly more lucrative contract…both are elite at what they do, you would have to complement them with different players….Put it to you this way, I’d rather have Byrd, but if we could do that Saimts game all over again, I’d rather have Ward..

      • Dr Rick

        Either one would be a big improvement. I think the Bills will keep Byrd but the Browns are a dumpster fire so who knows.

    • anon

      Easier to find a ward than it is to find a Byrd. Ward is staying in CLE.

      • GEAGLE

        .Byrd is the best in centerfield. Ward is a BEAST in the box…but what other FA safety is actually better in coverage then Ward (besides Byrd)???

        I flat out think Ward and Byrd are both top 3 in this market in both Coverage and In the box…I doubt there are 3 safeties on this market better then Ward in coverage…

        • anon

          Both play their relative positions at a high level, but i think it’s harder to find a good “free” safety than it is a good “strong” safety.

          When it comes to our scheme there’s a place for both considering the way we blitz, BUT think a Byrd helps the secondary way more than Ward. Though i will say Ward would be all over the field, very helpful on those crossing routes that we got killed on last year.

          • GEAGLE

            Ward probably means the saints wouldn’t have been able to run all over our Nickle. We would be fortunate to have either, and both would be the best we have had in coverage and against the run that we have had since Dawkins…but if the Browns are trying to work out a Longterm deal, it’s probably safe to assume that they will use the Tag if talks break down. I’d rather have Byrd, but I would be every bit as happy with Ward. If the Browns do sign him, hopefully the money isn’t as absurd as we think…Ward doesn’t just play the box..they use him on slot WR, TEs and dropping into centerfield as well…either would be a dream come true for us
            ..
            If the steelers sign Delmas and browns sign Ward, we will be able to have a good idea how much the other safeties will cost

          • Joe L

            Not that it’s really relative, but the Steelers have no cap space. So I’d imagine they can’t sign Delmas unless they cut Polamalu or Clark to make space.

          • anon

            Clark is spending more and more time on ESPN…

          • GEAGLE

            They can prob sign him, but you are I right, they wouldn’t have the cap space to do so today..word is he is headed to Atlanta(who probably will cut Decoud) and Denver next for visits…

          • MoreRecentTimes

            If ward started creeping in the box Brees would have started attacking the seam with Graham and Watson. You gotta play elite qbs honest. For that you MUST get 4 man pressure, and have linemen who play in the backfield on run plays. Certainly easier said than done, but even recent championship history supports this. People overcomplicate the game. It will always be won in the trenches.

          • Crimzin

            Agreed. Byrd and Ward have different strengths but neither of them really have a glaring weakness. Ward is touted as the physical, big hitter but Byrd is also a very consistent tackler. At the same time, Byrd gets touted as the best player in coverage but Ward allowed a passer rating of around 64-65 in coverage if I’m not mistaken. Either one of them would be a blessing and signing one or the other should be the Eagles’ #1 priority by a mile in free agency.

  • Adam

    UGH it’s so disheartening to see an All-22 of good safety play. It’s seems like such a mythical creature. Some day..

  • GEAGLE

    Hahaha check this out:
    “A league source tells Profootballtalk that Riley Cooper will be in high demand if he hits the market” hahahahaha yeah I bet Florio,,,Caplan says the opposite, teams view Riley as a product of Chip and FOles so we should be able to get him on a reasonable deal…sounds like Florio is a puppet for Riley’s agent

    steelers brought Delmas in for a visit today…because he was cut, teams don’t have to wait til FA to sign him..curious to see what type of deal he gets and it should help set the second tier safety market

    • Rick H

      I generally agree with almost all your posts and your thoughts on the Eagles however Cooper is a lot better then you are giving him credit for now. Cooper can get open and is Foles “go to guy in crunch time”. I see adding on quality WR’s but they can’t and shouldn’t lose Cooper.
      He is much more then a product of the system. Conversely he received the butt end of Andy’s system and Vick…
      Cooper has a lot of attributes that Kelly demands in no specific order size, can get open, very very good blocker, special teams and if you projected last year’s numbers out for a full season with Foles he would have had a great year as a # 2 receiver.
      He can be paid reasonably well and then you lock him up for 4 years. Add new young receivers now and next year plus see what Maclin does in a one year deal. You do not have to break the bank but you do have to pay him. I could name 10 QB’s that would really like to have him. Cooper is reliable and consistent.
      p.s. I am not a Caplan fan at all!!!

      • GEAGLE

        WTF? First of all, I didn’t even give my opinion on the matter, I nearly stated what two different people said about the situation..secondly if you like my posts, about once a day I write that I expect the eagles to re sign Coop and Maclin before they ever become free agents. I would be FURIOUS if we took Coop away from FOles, but I wouldmy worry about it. Coop isn’t going anywhere, an extension will be announced within the next two weeks. I would Genuinly be shocked if Coop and Maclin both weren’t here next year.

        Cooper, Maclin and Desean will be the core with Ertz, and we will draft a WR or two to ease into the rotation..and I think Avant takes a pay cut and stays one more year…so actually, you don’t disagree with me at all…lol cheers tho..no worries
        .
        I was laughing at Florio saying he had a league source who said that, Florio is a clown and I don’t believe a word he said. and his source was most likely Coopers agent….I think the truth about Coop probably lies between those two opinions.
        ..
        “Coop, there it is” is going no where. We would have to be Braindead to take him away from FOles in year two…I’m not the least bit concerned because he won’t ever become a free agent
        ..
        But thanks for the kind words

    • UKEagle99

      I don’t think the Steelers have much cap room as it stands so they will need to make some moves before they add him.

  • johnjohn

    Off topic but whats up with vick getting attacked by dog today where known pitbull fighting events go on? Any news?

  • Tom W

    I wouldn’t be shocked if buffalo franchises Byrd and then he freaks out again demands trade …. And buffalo allows his agent to seek out a trade partner and a long term deal …. Wonder what the market would offer 2d and a escalating 3d? Buff get better compensation that the 3d or 4th compensatory in a deeper draft

    • GEAGLE

      they would have to pay 120% of like 9mil…and,they know Byrd would raise hell and sit out…even the bills can’t be that Incompetant…I see no shot of Byrd being on the bills in April

      • Jerry Pomroy

        It would actually be 120% of 8.25M, which comes out to 9.9M on the nose. I, like you, just don’t see ANY team that is willing to fork over 2nd & 3rd rd picks & then also pay that salary (which is guaranteed) on top for a one year deal. Not without a sign & trade type deal anyway. But that’s still a VERY steep price because Byrd’s looking for at least 9M/yr. Maybe another team does it for a 4th, possibly even a 3rd, but not a 2nd AND 3rd as Tom mentioned.

    • Crimzin

      Um…no. I highly doubt it. They already used the tag on him once. It’s going to cost them an arm and a leg if they want to do it for a second year, and doing it for a third year would be practically impossible since they’d have to pay him QB money which is absurd. It is in their best interest to either sign him to a new multi-year deal or just let him walk. Franchise tagging him for a 2nd year would just be paying a huge price to retain a guy who doesn’t want to play for you for 1 more year before he leaves. If they can’t lock him up to a multi-year deal they are better off moving on.

  • Token

    Just not a fit here. Not for what they need their safety to do. Not with Wolff potentially being the other guy. Byrd fits way better. Much better coverage safety.

  • Jerry Pomroy

    If I had a choice between the two, I’d choose the TO production & top notch, deep centerfield coverage from Byrd. I just think he’s a player that fits extremely well if we’re going to continue with the big physical type of corners on the outside. He adds an element we just don’t have in our secondary. Outside of Boykin who doesn’t see a ton of time on the field, we really don’t have an elite athlete in the secondary.

    I like Ward & he would definitely be an upgrade for sure and I’d be happy to have him. He would certainly make a ton of sense if we were in a division with a slew of young athletic TEs or pass catching RBs, but those guys are on our own team (Don’t give me Witten either). As for his run stuffing ability, that’s easier to find in a safety than an athletic ballhawking centerfielder type.

  • hrtak

    OK, so we need both Ward and Byrd :)

  • dmancine9

    Why not sign Byrd AND Ward?! (wishful thinking)