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 Philadelphia Eagles claimed former Detroit Lions second-round running back Kerryon Johnson off waivers on Friday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The Lions waived the Auburn product on Thursday. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D'Andre Swift in the first round in 2020, signed free-agent running back Jamaal Williams and then drafted Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round last weekend. He led the Lions with 641 rushing yards in 2018 despite playing in just 10 games due to a knee injury, but the second-rounder was limited to just eight games in 2019 and lost valuable playing time to Swift and veteran Adrian Peterson last season. The 23-year-old will compete for touches behind Miles Sanders in Philly with Boston Scott, Jason Huntley and Jordan Howard in 2021.
Former New York Jets unrestricted free-agent linebacker Neville Hewitt is signing an undisclosed one-year deal with the Houston Texans on Friday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Hewitt has racked up 248 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 44 games since 2018 with the Jets. The 28-year-old had a career year in 2020, posting career-highs in tackles (134) while also forcing a fumble in 16 starts. He was an undrafted free agent out of Marshall and spent the first three seasons of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins. Hewitt will reunite with ex-Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who also signed with Houston in free agency. A change in defensive schemes in New York and the salary cap situation likely led to the Jets letting Hewitt walk in free agency.
Detroit Lions tight end Josh Hill announced his retirement on Thursday, less than two months after he signed with the team as a free agent. Detroit signed veteran Darren Fells as a replacement. The soon-to-be 31-year-old spent his first eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints before being released. His one-year deal was scheduled to pay him $1.2 million in 2021. Hill became a versatile blocker, receiver, special-teamer and occasional fullback in his time with the Saints after going undrafted out of Idaho State in 2013. He'll finish his career with 116 catches for 1,071 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season. Hill added another 15 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown in the postseason.
The New York Jets released former first-round wide receiver Josh Doctson on Friday. Doctson never actually played a snap for the Jets after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. The Jets also cut cornerback Kyron Brown, tight end Connor Davis, offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi, kicker Chase McLaughlin and wide receiver Jaleel Scott on Friday. Doctson, the No. 22 overall pick in 2016 by the Washington Football Team, spent three seasons with Washington and had 1,100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 81 catches. The 28-year-old saw just seven snaps with the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 before being released. Even if Doctson latches on with another team, he won't be worth taking in fantasy leagues in 2021.
New York Jets star defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) underwent successful surgery on Thursday to fix a broken bone in his foot, according to a source informed of the situation. The surgery was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson. Head coach Robert Saleh said the team is expecting Williams to be back by training camp this summer. Williams suffered the injury while working out and is expected to be out for 10 to 12 weeks. The 23-year-old is extremely key to Gang Green's success on defense, so it's great news that he shouldn't have to miss any regular season action in 2021. Williams had 55 tackles and seven sacks for the Jets defensive line last year.
Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye became the fastest first-round pick to sign his first NFL contract on Thursday. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, safety Shawn Davis, wide receiver Mike Strachan and offensive lineman Will Fries also signed their rookie contracts with the Colts. Paye was the 21st overall pick in last week's draft and will fill a spot vacated by the departure of Justin Houston after just one year in Indy. He's set to account for around $2.4 million in his rookie season, per OverTheCap. Paye is a very raw edge rusher that has plenty of upside. He will need to improve on his hand usage at the next level, but he has the size and tools to turn into a dominant 4-3 defensive end for the Colts.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett believes that rookie D'Wayne Eskridge, selected with the No. 56 overall pick in last week's NFL draft, will be an immediate contributor in 2021 alongside himself and DK Metcalf. "He's very explosive," Lockett said. Eskridge stands at just 5-foot-9, but he ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at Western Michigan's Pro Day and racked up more than 2,000 receiving yards in college. He had 768 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on only 33 catches in six games played in 2020. Eskridge is extremely athletic and has plenty of home run playmaking ability, but he'll need to improve his route-running tree if he's to be an effective No. 3 in Seattle in Year 1. After Seattle's offense sputtered out in the second half last year, Eskridge could be the key to the passing game flourishing once again in 2021. He could develop into a WR3/flex option in his rookie season.
Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (groin) is close to 100 percent recovered from groin surgery that ended his disappointing rookie season. With an all new defensive coaching staff in 2021, Okudah is optimistic that he'll turn things around in his sophomore season. The No. 3 overall pick had just one interception and two passes defensed while allowing a passer rating of 118 on balls thrown in his area in nine games, according to Pro Football Reference. Okudah said he currently has no restrictions in his training and is "feeling great." Detroit will be counting on Okudah to start this year, likely opposite Amani Oruwariye. If Okudah can bounce back and stay healthy in his second season, it'd be great news for Detroit's secondary.
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff said that he and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn have been in constant dialogue about the team's evolving playbook. "I think the to describe it, is the way he described it to us, is multiple with spread principles, and I think it's going to have a little bit of what they did with (Justin) Herbert and the (Los Angeles) Chargers and a little bit of what he did in Buffalo. it's a nice little mixture of it so far and it's been good," Goff said. Lynn's Bills led the league in rushing when he was the offensive coordinator there in 2016, and the Lions offense is expected to be a run-first squad that leans heavily on play-action passing, something that Goff excelled at in his time with the Los Angeles Rams. With not many standout receiving weapons as the team rebuilds, Goff will be an unappetizing QB2 for fantasy managers in his first year in Detroit.
The Miami Dolphins signed veteran free-agent cornerback Jason McCourty to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 12-year veteran will reunite with head coach Brian Flores after the two worked together with the New England Patriots. The 33-year-old McCourty will give Miami a veteran presence in the secondary and is expected to be behind both Xavien Howard and Byron Jones on the cornerback depth chart. McCourty had 115 solo tackles, two interceptions, 19 passes defensed and a forced fumble in the last three seasons with the Patriots. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2009 by the Tennessee Titans and spent eight seasons with them before a one-year stint with the Cleveland Browns.
Former Miami Dolphins safety Bobby McCain, who was released on Thursday, is scheduled to visit with the Washington Football Team on Monday, according to a source. The 27-year-old was taken in the fifth round in 2015 out of Memphis and grew into a dependable member of Miami's secondary. But the Dolphins are gearing up to be contenders and saw McCain's release as a way to save some salary cap space. If he's designated as a pre-June 1 cut, Miami will save $5.6 million. If he's designated as a post-June 1 cut, Miami will save $6.4 million. In 16 games for the Dolphins last year, McCain recorded 46 tackles (39 solo), one interception and five passes defensed.
New York Jets unrestricted free-agent linebacker Neville Hewitt visited with the Houston Texans on Thursday, according to a source. The Texans have signed more free agents this offseason than any other team, but they may be adding to that list with Hewitt. He led the Jets with 134 tackles (six for loss) and added two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 16 starts last season, his third with the Jets. The 28-year-old spent the first three seasons of his NFL career with the Miami Dolphins after going undrafted out of Marshall. In 82 career games (39 starts), Hewitt has 352 combined tackles (20 for loss), 18 QB hits, three interceptions, 13 passes defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 7.5 sacks.
Detroit Lions TE Josh Hill announced his retirement from professional football Thursday, May 6.
Free-agent S Bobby McCain (Dolphins) is scheduled to meet with the Washington Football Team Monday, May 10, according to a source.
Free-agent LB Neville Hewitt (Jets) is meeting with the Houston Texans Thursday, May 6, according to a source.
Free-agent CB Jason McCourty (Patriots) agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins Thursday, May 6, according to a source. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson was officially waived Thursday, May 6.
The Tennessee Titans agreed to terms on undisclosed deals with running back Brian Hill, linebacker Justin March-Lillard and defensive back Greg Maybin on Thursday. The team also released cornerback Kareem Orr. Hill will compete with Darrynton Evans for the No. 2 role behind workhorse Derrick Henry in 2021. The 25-year-old carried the ball 100 times for 465 yards and a touchdown last season while also grabbing 25 receptions for 199 additional yards. In his four-year career, Hill has 209 carries for 982 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, adding 38 receptions for 313 yards and another score in 45 games (three starts). Unless Henry misses time with an injury this season, Hill is likely to be left to the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Justin Layne pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possessing criminal tools and had a felony gun charge dropped on Wednesday, stemming from a traffic stop in northeast Ohio on April 23. The 23-year-old received six months of probation, 32 hours of community service and a $500 fine and was ordered to pay court costs. He was initially pulled over going 89 mph in a 60 mph zone last month, when officers found a loaded pistol in his car. Layne was also charged with two misdemeanors -- driving with a suspended license and exceeding speed limits. Layne was taken in the third round of the 2019 draft and appeared in all 16 games for the Steelers last season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert to a one-year deal worth up to $2.5 million, according to a source. Gabbert earned $1.187 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019 and has played in 60 career games (48 starts) in the NFL. The 31-year-old completed nine of his 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns as Tom Brady's primary backup last year. The Buccaneers also re-signed Ryan Griffin, last year's third-stringer, and drafted quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft last week. This will be Gabbert's third season with Tampa after spending 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, 2017 with the Arizona Cardinals, 2014-16 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2011-13 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.