Andrew Perna. 3rd March, 2009 - 11:28 am
A stiff wind blew through New York this past season and set himself up for a substantial payday as free agency continues to dominate NFL headlines.
Derrick Ward, ?Wind? in the Earth, Wind and Fire trio that the Giants employed in their backfield last season, agreed to a four-year deal with the Buccaneers on Monday night reportedly worth $17 million.
The contract, which is heavily front-loaded, gives Tampa Bay a 1,000-yard rusher to boost a group of injury-depleted running backs.
Ward carried the ball nearly forty times less than Brandon Jacobs (1,089 yards on 219 touches) last season, but tallied just 64 fewer yards. He only started three games, but averaged 5.6 yards per carry in New York and is far from a one-season wonder.
Sure, the Giants gameplan aided him in reaching the 1,000-yard plateau, but he posted 602 yards and three touchdowns on 125 carries in 2007, a rate of 4.8 yards per run.
Like New York, Tampa Bay spread their carries in 2008, but the reason for the diversity was much different. Warrick Dunn was 33 (now 34), Earnest Graham was banged up, and Cadillac Williams was still (and is still) recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
Graham was the most productive, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
The Buccaneers released Dunn, and I expect them give considerable carries to Ward, Graham and Williams in 2009. If you want to compare the trio to the 2008 edition of the Giants, I?d name Graham ?Earth?, keep Ward as ?Wind? and label Williams ?Fire?.
For all they care, the roles don?t matter. Tampa Bay is just looking to improve a running game that ranked fifteenth in the NFL with 114.8 yards per game, and twentieth in efficiency with just 4.1 yards per carry.
With their quarterback situation in shambles, and not as easily solved, adding someone like Ward to bolster their rushing attack was a very smart move.
Ward ranked eleventh in the NFL among running backs last season in FIC (Chris Reina?s Field Impact Counter), ahead of guys like Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and even former teammate Brandon Jacobs.
What I like about the deal for the Buccaneers, in addition to the help he brings on offense, is that they didn?t grossly overpay for Ward.
He?s not going to gain 5.5 yards every time he touches the ball, but he does have fresh legs having never carried a full load with the Giants. He also has strong hands, which will lessen the pressure on whoever starts at quarterback for Tampa Bay.
Grade for Buccaneers: A-
The Giants re-signed Jacobs to a more lucrative deal, which effectively ended Ward?s time in the Big Apple. The move was expected, although the initial destination was rumored to Cleveland. They knew he?d leave, and they are more than content to reduce their trio to a dangerous twosome this fall.
Grade for Giants: N/A
As far as Ward is concerned, the deal will pay him handsomely next season and give him the chance to prove that he can handle a heavier load than he was getting with the crowded Giants. Unfortunately, he probably won?t win as many games.
Grade for Ward: B+
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3/2: T.J. Picks The Seahawks
Andrew Perna is Deputy Editor of RealGM.com and co-host of RealGM?s Radio Show. Please feel free to contact him with comments or questions via e-mail: Andrew.Perna@RealGM.com