The deadline to give the franchise tag for NFL teams came and went yesterday, and two of the top safeties in the game, Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, were not tagged. The Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns decided to go in different directions, which should allow Byrd and Ward to hit the open market.
The Patriots recently released safety Steve Gregory, which leaves a gaping hole next to Devin McCourty in the back end. I don’t know if the Pats will be willing to fork over enough money to sign one of these two, but it would be a hell of an investment if they did.
I personally like Ward the most, despite what he did to Rob Gronkowski‘s knee earlier in the year. He is a hard hitting safety, who also has good cover skills. The combination of him and McCourty at the safety positions would be incredibly daunting for opposing quarterbacks, and if Aqib Talib isn’t retained, the addition of a Ward will help soften the blow. If Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard get beat in coverage, Ward and McCourty will be there to help them out. I would want to see both Talib and Ward in the defensive backfield, but the Pats won’t be willing to invest that kind of money in the secondary.
According to ‘Advanced NFL Statistics’, Ward was the third best safety in the league last year. This is based off of their ‘WPA’ stat, which stands for ‘Positive Win Probability Added’. Ward has racked up a whopping 342 tackles in his short four year career, which is just ridiculous. He has a nose for the football, and when he finds it, you better protect yourself. As Seattle showed, having a solid tandem at safety really helps make your defense elite, and while the potential combination of Ward and McCourty won’t be as talented as the Seahawks’ duo, they certainly will improve Bill Belichick’s defensive unit.
New England has been looking for the next Rodney Harrison for quite some time, and even though Ward isn’t nearly the player that Harrison was, he is the closest thing to him in today’s NFL.