Update: Philadelphia Eagles Appear To Have Little To No Interest In Safety T.J. Ward


Oct 20, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive back T.J. Ward (43) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

*Original article written by Somers Price. Update written by Tim Kelly.*

The Eagles free agency rumor mill started fast and furious this morning. For most of the period building up to Tuesday’s 4PM start time, Philadelphia’s pursuit of a top-end safety mostly revolved on former Buffalo Bill Jairus Byrd. According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, the Eagles may also have a vested interest in the other top safety on the market, Cleveland’s T.J. Ward.

After rarely being mentioned in the same breath as some of the top free agents on the market, the last 24 hours or so have seen the Eagles linked to several marquee names, now including Ward.

Many speculate that Ward, while a special talent playing from the back-end, is much more of an ‘in the box’ type player. While Byrd is coveted most for his elite coverage skills and his ability to play ‘center field’, Ward has reached the top of the 2014 free agent class by way of his extreme physicality and ability to establish a tone and attitude from the safety position.

Playing the strong safety position for the Browns, Ward was named to his first career pro bowl in 2013. Ward does not have the injury concerns that come along with Byrd, as the Oregon product started all 16 games last season and was tough not to notice. His limitations (at least relative to Byrd) in coverage will probably set Ward’s price tag slightly lower than the Buffalo product. Nevertheless, Ward is a young, impact safety and would require a substantial investment in order for the Eagles to sign him.

Ward has been productive, if not spectacular in his four seasons in Cleveland. He has averaged 58 tackles a season (a number dragged down by a 2011 season that Ward was hampered by an injured foot) and has an impressive five career forced fumbles. Ward is nowhere near the interception threat that Byrd is, totaling just five in his career, but brings ample value playing the run and cutting off an oppositions short to intermediate passing game.

Ward of course made headlines last season for a vicious hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowkski that ended the Pro Bowler’s season. Rather than taking aim at Gronkowski’s upper half, a hit that comes along with a 15-yard penalty, Ward drove through his legs and ended up causing a serious knee injury. Despite serious backlash from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Ward defended his tackle noting it was the preferred approach of defenders set forth by the NFL.

"“It’s a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen. This can happen if you have those types of situations. It’s pretty much inevitable, and they forced our hand with this one…But I’ve got to play football, man. I’ve got to play football,”"

I wonder how the people in Philadelphia would feel about a player like that? Sounds an awful lot like a dearly departed Clemson product that we still complain about being unable to replace.

Ward is a tantalizing prospect. The Eagles have been without that type of physical presence on defense for some time. As Kam Chancellor showed in the Super Bowl, one punishing hit has the ability to affect an entire offensive gameplan. Ward, much more so than Jairus Byrd, has the capability of doing just that.

Although Ward would not come cheap for any team, something tells me some of the free agents in the upcoming class are starting to temper their expectations for what sort of money they will make on the open market. After Seattle’s Michael Bennett, a coveted pass-rusher, inked an $8 million/year pact to remain a Seahawk, one would have to think some of the defensive backs started bringing their sights down, just a bit. Even though Ward is not seen as the three-down player that Jairus Byrd is, something tells me the Eagles would find a way to keep their investment on the field as often as possible if they did bring the free agent safety in. They would probably still have to bring in at least one player with plus coverage skills to complement Ward’s more physical game. Who knows? Maybe the Eagles will go crazy on us and sign both Ward AND Byrd. Stranger things have happened…

Update: ESPN’s Adam Caplan (Twitter link), 97.5 the Fanatic’s Tim McManus (Twitter link), and Ian Rapoport (Twitter link) of the NFL Network, have all denied LaCanfora’s report. Not only did they deny it, but from the sounds of the tweets put out by all three ,  the Eagles seem to have little to no interest in Ward.

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