CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- T.J. Ward signed with the Buccaneers and wasted no time Monday shooting a verbal cannon ball from the pirate ship at his former team.
Released last Saturday by the Broncos, Ward called Denver's treatment of him during his exit "unprofessional."
"It’s unfortunate the way they handled the situation,” Ward said at his introductory press conference with Tampa Bay. “But it is what it is. And they got to live with it. I got to live with it. And we’ll see what happens, but I’m going to make sure I land on my feet. That’s just me. And whatever happens to them, the (expletive) happens to them. That’s on them.”
Ward, who signed a one-year deal worth up to $5 million, told Denver7 last week things became "weird" during training camp, and he wondered about his status. He began bracing for his departure last Wednesday, saying, "He would make sure it worked out." What bothered Ward was the timing. He alluded to that on Monday.
“You could have let me know what was going on. You had a full offseason. I know it’s a business, but when you have good employees, you’re supposed to treat your employees a certain way," Ward said. "And I think they handled it completely unprofessional. That’s just my opinion.”
The team respectfully disagrees. Denver7 talked to multiple league sources regarding Ward's release. The Broncos' argument for the timing was simple: They did not make a decision on Ward until last week, deciding that second-year player Justin Simmons was ready after a strong preseason. They also told Ward's agent at the beginning of training camp, according to a source, that there would be no talks on a contract extension.
In the end, Ward found himself in the NFL danger zone -- an aging player who missed the final two games last season with injuries and did not play in the preseason because of a strained right hamstring.
Breakups with popular, productive Pro Bowlers are never easy. Ward delivered for the Broncos, helping reshape the defense's image with his breathtaking hits and big plays, including in the Super Bowl 50 victory. General manager John Elway praised Ward's contributions last Saturday, while stressing the team's confidence in Simmons, Will Parks and Jamal Cater. Teammates weighed in on Monday.
"There was kind of a buzz, so I’m not going to say it was surprising. The buzz started a couple of days before. So, we had an idea it was going to happen. We talked about it. Him and I talked about it. We just hoped he made more money there then what he was going to make here this year. He did that, so I’m happy for him," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "I found out I got traded (from Tampa Bay to New England) while I was in a hyperbaric chamber. That's part of being a pro. TJ will do great."
Ward's exit creates an opportunity for Simmons. Teammates stress his maturity and intelligence when explaining why he's ready.
"The ball just finds him," linebacker Todd Davis said. "He's a playmaker."
While Ward is gone, he did not take the secondary's brand with him. The No Fly Zone remains. Attitude, performance, and picks required.
"Yeah, ain't nobody flying," Talib said. "They still can't fly. TJ knows we love him. We are going to miss him. We have jobs to do. That's part of being professionals. You can put us anywhere and we adapt."