Release of RB Ward based on 'skill level,' according to Morris
Minutes after finishing a practice with the Bucs Tuesday morning, running back Derrick Ward was summoned to coach Raheem Morris' office at One Buc Place.
"We shook hands, we looked each other in the eye, we gave each other a hug and said, "Good luck in our further endeavors,'' Morris said.
Just like that, Ward's career with the Bucs ended Tuesday.
Ward, who turned 30 Monday, was released along with receiver Terrence Nunn. Linebacker Jon Alston was placed on injured reserve as the Bucs reached the NFL-mandated 75-man roster limit.
A year after signing Ward to a 4-year, $17-million contract, and two years removed from his 1,025-yard season with the New York Giants, the Bucs decided to go another direction with the running back who never seemed to fit in with Tampa Bay.
The Bucs also owed Ward $3.25-million in base salary this season. Their attempts to trade him as late as Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Ward had the biggest hand in his release. He rushed for 50 yards on 21 carries, a 2.4 yard per carry average, in three preseason games. Following the preseason opener at Miami, he openly sulked about the playing conditions and lack of blocking.
Last season, after losing the starting tailback job to Cadillac Williams, Ward only rushed for 409 yards (3.6) with one touchdown. He missed some of the off-season workouts and reported to training camp overweight.
"It would be hard to say you're disappointed in what someone was able to do because of their skill level or whatever the case may be,'' Morris said. "It's just more about we've got to pick the best 53 men for our football team and we've got to make those decisions. They're never light, they're never easy ones to come by. If you spend time being disappointed in anyone for not being able to do what you want them to do, you end up wasting your time. It's just more about where we're going and our direction.''
That direction would be to keep former Hofstra running back Kareem Huggins, who leads the Bucs in rushing this preseason with 97 yards on 19 carries (5.1 yard avg). Morris said that fullback Earnest Graham also could serve as a backup tailback to Williams.
"It was less about the abandonment, it was more about everybody's skill level on our football team and where we need to go and how we see our team fitting right now,'' Morris said. "We've got Cadillac, who we're happy to have. And also we have Insurance Graham back there playing running back for us and he's able to carry the ball as well. And also, we have little the little sparkplug in Huggy and he's able to provide a little different look for us.
Morris said Ward wasn't surprised by his release.
"Just like any other profession, when it's time for you to depart, you're not as surprised in our profession anytime you're told to go,'' Morris said. "You can't say you're surprised. You've got every day to go out there prove yourself.''
Morris said Huggins is a popular player among teammates, but still has something to prove Thursday in the final preseason game at Houston.
"He's well received in his room,'' Morris said. "You go ask Cadillac about it or you ask Earnest and all those guys, Clifton (Smith), even Derrick, they all love Kareem. They're all going to say a bunch of great things about him, a bunch of great things about his character and what he brings. But he still has to go out there and prove himself every week. He still has to go out here and prove himself against Houston and we look forward to giving the young man an opportunity to.''
By releasing Ward before the final roster cutdown, Morris said it will allow him a better chance to sign with another team.
"There's no doubt about it, it gives him more of an opportunity to catch on with a team,'' Morris said. "There's no doubt about that he'll have a chance to get out there and shop himself and what he's able to do...he 's still a consummate pro, he's still one of these guys who has rushed for 1,000 yards in this league and he's still got a lot of great attributes. He still has soft hands, he still can run the football very well. We chose to go another direction and we chose to do it today.''