John Elway kicked off free agency this year by bringing in former Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, adding a hard-hitting, much needed physical presence to the back end of the Broncos’ secondary.
Here’s my analysis and overall grade of the Ward signing.
Ward played in the fifth most snaps of any safety in 2013. He graded out as the third best overall safety by Pro Football Focus (+14.5) and as the best vs. the run (+8.1).
The Broncos excelled at stopping the run in 2013, something they figure to do again with the health of their defense presumably back to normal, as well as the addition of Ward and others.
There are some who believe that Ward’s fit in Denver isn’t all that much of an upgrade given that they needed a ball hawk type on the back end of the secondary, someone to come in and provide them with top level coverage ability. Ward is considered, at worst, above-average in coverage, but some people also believe that’s his ceiling.
Denver signed Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal which is an absolute steal for the price that other teams are paying for some safeties and defensive backs. Ward is considered a top five safety in the NFL right now, and the other top five safeties are all getting paid upwards of $7-10 million per season, including fellow free agent Jairus Byrd, who got a big pay day from the Saints.
Personally, I think this move for the Broncos is huge. They are getting Rahim Moore back, so they will have their free safety, and now they have a top level, Pro Bowl caliber strong safety to pair him with. The secondary is getting a huge boost and a great bit of toughness on the back end.
The Broncos need Ward to be effective in coverage as well as his ability to play downfield. They need a guy that forces quarterbacks to have to consistently identify him before the play, and be the kind of guy that can take advantage of what should be a high-octane pass rush, featuring Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
Ward was considered one of the top three best free agents on the open market this offseason, he fills a huge area of need, and for the Broncos to get him at the price they did was an absolute steal.