Wed Apr 21 6:19pm ET
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 file photo, Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) follows a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla. T.J. Ward, one of the members of the Denver Broncos famed No Fly Zone secondary, announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Ward helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50. Ward played eight seasons in the NFL with Cleveland, Denver and Tampa Bay. He last played in 2017 for the Buccaneers.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
T.J. Ward, the walk-on at Oregon who became a key part of Denver's famed ''No Fly Zone'' secondary that helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50, officially announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Ward played eight seasons in the NFL, earning All-Rookie team honors, two trips to the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors. He last played for the Buccaneers in 2017, although he spent a month with the Cardinals last season.
''This period came fast, and yet it felt prolonged,'' Ward wrote in an open letter announcing his retirement. ''We each have our own journey in this life and in this sport, and I proudly followed mine until my football path was complete.''
A second-round pick by the Browns in 2010, Ward played eight seasons in the NFL, including three in Denver, where he teamed with Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Darius Stewart and Bradley Roby to form one of the best defensive backfields in the game.
The ''No Fly Zone'' was the backbone of Denver's dominant defense that led the Broncos to a 24-10 win over Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, which was Hall of Famer Peyton Manning's farewell game.
''For sure, it's the hallmark moment,'' Ward told The Associated Press. ''That team, that year was very special, and to finish against the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense - and being underdogs pretty much that whole season - and the group of guys and the relationships we built, the camaraderie will last a lifetime. So, I'm definitely fortunate to play with the group of guys I played with on that team.''
Ward said playing in today's era of offensive fireworks made his time in Denver even more special.
''For those years, we were on top of the league, No. 1 in most categories,'' Ward said. ''We did everything you could do as a defense.
''It wasn't like back in the day. Nothing against those other great defenses, but they're lining up in `12 personnel' (two tight ends, two running backs) all day, every day,'' Ward said. ''Those were smash-mouth days, so I wouldn't say they were easier, but just a different type of football you had to stop.''
Ward said Denver's defense led by the ''No-Fly Zone'' could have played in any era.
''You could put us in the AFL, the no merger era. You could put us in the `60s, '70s or '80s and I felt we were smash-mouth enough to go head up with those Bears defenses, the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtain.
''Could our secondary play man and zone? Could our D-line rush and stop the run? Could our linebackers play the run and the pass. And you look up and say yes. Well, that's a special defense.''
Ward said he feels he could still play at age 34 but has a lot of other things in his life to attend to other than football.
''Raising my son. He's 8 months old. That's first and foremost on top of the list,'' Ward said. ''I have some business interests, my real estate firm, I've got a management company that you guys will hear about soon. I was writing a book for a while. I have different things like my fashion, my Ward Corp line. So, a bunch of different things.''
Ward said last year in Arizona he felt like he was still in his prime. ''So, physically, mentally, I know I could play,'' he said, ''but it's just not time for me anymore.''
In his letter, Ward thanked members of his family, Oregon for giving him a chance, Cleveland for drafting him, Denver for ''three amazing years,'' and Tampa Bay and Arizona for giving him another shot. He thanked his fans and ended with this: ''Finally, thank you football.''
The Las Vegas Raiders signed free-agent cornerback Casey Hayward to an undisclosed deal on Tuesday. The 31-year-old, a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2012, will join cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (taken in the second round in 2019), Damon Arnette (a first-rounder in 2020), Amik Robertson (fourth-rounder in 2020) and Nate Hobbs (fifth-rounder this year). Hayward will reunite with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his coordinator the last four years with the Los Angeles Chargers. He didn't play in a full season last year for the first time since 2013, recording an interception and eight passes defensed in 14 games (13 starts). Hayward had 66 passes defensed, which led the AFC, in his five years with the Chargers. He also led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.
Former Denver Broncos special teams ace/linebacker Joe Jones is signing an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday, according to a source. The Broncos are losing both Jones and safety Will Parks, who were both standout special teams players for the Broncos in the last four seasons. It doesn't come as a huge surprise, though, as Denver put a big emphasis on special teams in the draft last week. The 27-year-old Jones was undrafted out of Northwestern and recorded 31 combined tackles (23 solo) in 49 games (zero starts) for the Broncos from 2017 through last year. Jones will help boost Tampa's special teams unit in 2021.
The Kansas City Chiefs are signing free-agent safety Will Parks to a one-year deal worth up to $1.13 million on Wednesday, according to a source. Parks took a visit with the Detroit Lions as well, but he is choosing the Chiefs. He started his career as a safety and was taken in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. Parks spent the first four seasons of his career as a rotational safety before joining the Philadelphia Eagles last spring. But he was waived in December and rejoined Denver to play in nickel situations for the final four games of the season. In 10 games between the Eagles and Broncos in 2020, the 26-year-old had 31 tackles (three for loss) and a sack. It's likely the Chiefs will view him as more of cornerback depth at this point in his career.
Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who knows how current Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is feeling these days, thinks that Rodgers is unlikely to back down. "Knowing Aaron, and I think I know him fairly well, if he has a grudge, whether it be against the organization or a player or an arch-rival, or family, friends, he ain't budging," Favre said on the "Bolling with Favre" podcast. If Rodgers were to abruptly retire, he'd owe the team around $23 million over the next two years. The Packers traded up in the first round of last year's draft to select Jordan Love, Rodgers' eventual successor, and Rodgers didn't take kindly to that. Rodgers has reportedly mocked general manager Brian Gutekunst in group chats with teammates, referring to him as Jerry Krause, the former Bulls GM who got into it with Michael Jordan. At this point, anything could happen with Rodgers and the Packers. Buckle up.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman confirmed that quarterback Kirk Cousins is the team's starter. The Vikings drafted quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round of last week's NFL draft, but it was done to create competition behind Cousins. "Right now, there's no question that Kirk Cousins is our quarterback," Spielman said. Mond will enter the mix behind Cousins, and it also includes Nate Stanley and Jake Browning. Cousins is due to count $45 million against the salary cap in 2022, which would all become dead money if he was cut. While Cousins remains the starter for now, the Vikings also considered making a move to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, which means they are preparing for Cousins' eventual run in Minnesota. Cousins isn't the sexiest pick in fantasy, but he has plenty of weapons and should be seen as a low-end QB1 option.
The Dallas Cowboys are waiving starting defensive tackle Antwaun Woods on Wednesday, according to a source. Woods becomes a salary cap casualty after the Cowboys selected defensive tackles Osa Odighizuwa in the third round and Quinton Bohanna in the sixth round of last week's NFL draft. Woods started 32 games for Dallas from 2018 through last season and was set to make $2.1 million under the restricted free-agent tender. He had 33 tackles, one sack and four QB pressures in 14 games (seven starts) last season. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder was more of a fit in former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme. Dallas also waived cornerback Saivion Smith after the team selected corners Kelvin Joseph (second round) and Nahshon Wright (third round) in the draft. The Cowboys also released center Adam Redmond, defensive tackle Walter Palmore, defensive end LaDarius Hamilton and cornerback Kemon Hall.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel could potentially lose his roster spot to fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson because the latter is more likely to be a factor on special teams, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.
The Las Vegas Raiders will release safety Jeff Heath on Wednesday, according to a source. Heath was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 10 last year, but he'll be looking for a new team this offseason. It comes after the Raiders drafted safeties Trevon Moehrig in the second round and Tyree Gillespie in the fourth round in last week's NFL draft. They also officially added cornerback Casey Hayward on Tuesday. The Raiders think that Moehrig can step in and start at the free safety spot. Heath led the team with three interceptions in 2020. The soon-to-be 30-year-old signed a two-year deal worth up to $8 million last offseason after spending seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. In 13 games last year, Heath had 37 tackles and four pass breakups.
Las Vegas Raiders S Jeff Heath will be released, according to a source Tuesday, May 4.
Free-agent WR Damiere Byrd (Patriots) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears Tuesday, May 4, according to a source. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Byrd is coming a productive 2020 season and could compete for the No. 3 receiver job during training camp. Fantasy players can monitor the situation because Byrd could be a late round option if he receives a decent role in the passing game.
Free-agent CB Casey Hayward (Chargers) agreed to terms with the Las Vegas Raiders Tuesday, May 4. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars S Doug Middleton was released Tuesday, May 4.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, one of the fastest players in the NFL, will compete in the USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open this Sunday in Walnut, California. He is listed among the participants in the 100-meter dash. The 6-foot-4, 229-pounder was a standout hurdler and long-jumper in high school, in addition to playing football and basketball. Metcalf ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 combine and reached a top speed of 22.64 mph last year, according to Next Gen Stats. He made the Pro Bowl in 2020 with 83 catches for a franchise-record 1,303 yards. Metcalf caught five passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Rams last year and will enter the 2021 season as a top-five fantasy wideout.
Free-agent TE Darren Fells (Texans) is scheduled to visit with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, May 4.
Free-agent S Malik Hooker (Colts) is meeting with the Miami Dolphins Tuesday, May 4, according to a source.
Free-agent veteran tight end Darren Fells is visiting with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, according to a source. Fells is coming off 11 touchdowns in the last two seasons with the Houston Texans and could return to Detroit, where he played in 2017. The 35-year-old also had 55 receptions on 76 targets for 653 yards in 32 games (28 starts) over the last two years with Houston. He played mostly in a backup role to Jordan Akins for most of last year, catching 21 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. The Lions already have T.J. Hockenson as their top pass-catching tight end, so if Fells were to return to Detroit, he'd have very minimal fantasy value as a backup once again. Fells had 17 catches (26 targets) for just 177 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games for the Lions back in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said he wants to help rookie quarterback Trey Lance with his transition to the NFL after the team took him at No. 3 overall in the first round of last week's draft. Garoppolo entered the league with the New England Patriots and learned behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. "I try to use my own personal experiences and just what I went through, what helped me, what challenged me as a young player," Garoppolo said. "I'm going to use those tools that helped me and try to help Trey out." Jimmy G is 24-9 in his time with the 49ers, but he's been injured in two of his three seasons. Garoppolo is expected to enter the 2021 season as the starter under center, but another injury or poor performance could thrust Lance into the spotlight at some point in his rookie season. There is no definitive plan or timetable for Lance to take the starting job next season.
Former Indianapolis Colts first-round safety Malik Hooker is visiting with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, according to a source. Hooker has yet to play a full season in the NFL after being selected 15th overall out of Ohio State in 2017. The 25-year-old played in only two games last year before he tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season. He's missed 14 games with various injuries in his four seasons in the league, which is why Indianapolis declined to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2021 campaign. Hooker can still be productive on the field, he just needs to stay healthy. He has seven interceptions, 124 tackles (81 solo), 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries in 36 career games (35 starts).
Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (heart) fell to pick No. 52 overall in last week's NFL draft because a heart issue came up late in the pre-draft process, according to sources. However, doctors ultimately cleared him. If not for the heart issue, Owusu-Koramoah could've come off the board in the first round. Cleveland traded up to keep him from sliding any further on Day 2. The former Notre Dame product is a linebacker/safety hybrid, which will allow the Browns to drop him into coverage or rush him off the edge. Owusu-Koramoah will bring intensity and a high motor to his new club. He finished his senior season for the Fighting Irish with 62 tackles (11 for loss) and three forced fumbles.
New York Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) broke a small bone in his foot and likely will undergo surgery that will keep him out for eight to 10 weeks, according to sources. Williams will miss organized team activities and minicamp, but he should be ready to return for training camp this summer. The 23-year-old is one of the better pass-rushers for Gang Green's defense, so this is notable. He finished last season with 55 tackles and seven sacks for the Jets. As long as Williams doesn't suffer any setbacks during his rehab process, he should be good to go for Week 1 of the 2021 regular season. In 13 games (nine starts) in his rookie season in 2019, Williams had just 28 tackles (four for loss) and 2.5 sacks.