With news that the Buffalo Bills plan to place the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward of the Cleveland Browns becomes the consensus top safety potentially available in free agency come March.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team that could be in the market for a safety if they decide to dump free safety Thomas DeCoud before the start of the league year on March 11. DeCoud is set to have $2.25 million of his $4.2 million 2014 base salary become guaranteed on March 15, which could prompt the Falcons to dump him and target a player like Ward to replace him.
Ward played mostly strong safety the past few years with the Cleveland Browns. With the introduction of defensive coordinator Ray Horton this past year, he saw a lot more time playing up in the box where he was essentially used as a sub-package linebacker. In previous years, he spent a bit more time on the back-end playing in more Cover-2 looks.
The Browns have plenty of cap space to re-sign Ward, and may also opt to franchise tag him if need be. He’ll be competing for that distinction alongside center Alex Mack. Both players are ones that the Browns strive to re-sign.
But if Ward manages to hit the open market, NFL teams are going to find a steady, reliable safety that can do multiple things. He missed half of the 2011 season with a sprained foot. He was well on his way to being one of the highest-rated safeties in the league that year by Pro Football Focus, rating as their 13th-best safety. He’s rebounded the past two years to earn top six safety grades from PFF.
- Good speed and range to make plays in zone coverage
- Has a good nose for the ball in run support and comfortable playing in the box
- Able to cover tight ends and does a good job keeping things in front of him
- Steady all-around safety that can blitz off the edge
- Undersized and will miss some tackles due to being overpowered
- Will tackle too high at times and doesn’t consistently break down and wrap up
- Lacks top speed or hips to be left on an island in coverage
- Doesn’t make a ton of big plays
How He Fits in Atlanta…