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 Green Bay Packers will bring in quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Kurt Benkert to this weekend's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Benkert went undrafted out of Virginia and spent the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, mainly on the practice squad. Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, was taken with the final pick of the 2017 draft by the Denver Broncos, but he washed out of Denver after two seasons. He's been with the Indianapolis Colts the last two years but was released. Both players could become camp arms with upside further down the depth chart if they sign in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, last year's first-round pick, are the only signal-callers currently on the roster.
Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio said there is no pressure for rookie quarterback Davis Mills to perform in a hurry despite the turmoil surrounding Deshaun Watson and more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. "No different than any other player," Caserio said of the timeline of bringing along the first-year signal-caller. "Bring him in, teach him our system, teach him our terminology, take it one step at a time." It's unclear what will happen with Watson as the legal proceedings play out, but the Texans weren't looking to trade him, despite his public request, before his legal issues arose. Since then, trade chatter surrounding Watson has quieted down. The three-time Pro Bowler could remain with the Texans in 2021, but wherever he's playing, he could be facing a lengthy suspension as well.
Tennessee Titans TE Parker Hesse, LB Matthew Orzech and LB Nate Orchard were waived Monday, May 10.
Free-agent QB Kurt Benkert (Falcons) and QB Chad Kelly (Colts) will participate in the Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources.
Free-agent WR Dede Westbrook (Jaguars) has had preliminary conversations with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Washington Football Team signed wide receiver Curtis Samuel to a three-year deal this offseason, reuniting him with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner from their time together with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera drafted Samuel in 2017, and Turner was the quarterbacks coach in Carolina from 2018-2019. "You can do a lot of different things with him," Turner said. "He's only 24 years old, I think he's just scratching the surface on what he's capable of." Samuel broke out in 2020, catching a career-high 77 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns, adding 200 rushing yards and two more TDs. Samuel will be the No. 2 behind Terry McLaurin and will be an ideal fit for this offense. He'll be a low-end WR2 with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him passes.
The Los Angeles Chargers signed free-agent defensive tackle Christian Covington to an undisclosed deal on Monday, according to his agent. Covington was a sixth-round pick by the Houston Texans out of Rice in 2015. He's also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals in his six NFL seasons. Covington started 14 of the 16 games he played in for the Bengals last season and was on the field for 53 percent of the team's defensive snaps. The 27-year-old had 39 tackles (14 solo) and one QB hit. In his NFL career, Covington has 132 tackles (15 for loss), 20 QB hits, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and 8.5 sacks in 82 games (29 starts).
The Kansas City Chiefs signed former linebacker Tamba Hali to a one-day contract on Monday so he can officially retire with the organization. The six-time Pro Bowler played with the Chiefs for his entire 12-year career. The 37-year-old last played in the NFL in 2017, but he made the Pro Bowl with Kansas City in five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015. He was the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft and finished his illustrious career with 596 tackles (105 for loss), 159 QB hits, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), 16 passes defensed, 33 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and 89.5 sacks in 177 regular season games (157 starts).
Ex-Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin has drawn interest from multiple teams and should find a home soon, according to sources informed of the situation. The fifth-rounder in 2018 appeared in 46 games for the Seahawks, recording one sack, six QB hits and 25 tackles. Griffin's twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, signed a big deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The twins played together at UCF and in Seattle, so Griffin may be looking to join his brother in Jacksonville. His new club could be looking at him as a full-time pass-rusher after he played off the ball in Seattle. The 25-year-old became the odd-man out in Seattle after the team added Jordyn Brooks, Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven to the position in recent seasons.
Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher is signing a one-year, $9.4 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 will now be quarterback Carson Wentz's blind-side protector in 2021. The 30-year-old tore his right Achilles before the Super Bowl last year and was cut by KC. The Colts won't rush Fisher back, though, so there's a chance that he's not ready to play until early October. Coming out of this year's NFL draft, the left tackle position was still a big area of need for the Colts, but this signing takes care of that and makes their offensive line even more elite. It's excellent news as Wentz tries to bounce back from a disastrous final season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. It's also great news for second-year running back Jonathan Taylor.
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, who was waived last week, is visiting the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. Woods, a former undrafted free agent out of USC, played two seasons with the Tennessee Titans before joining the Cowboys in 2018. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder has recorded 83 tackles (25 solo), four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries in 40 career games (32 starts) with the Titans and Cowboys. Woods helped spark Dallas' midseason improvement on defense last year when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he finished with 23 tackles (seven solo), one sack and two QB pressures in 14 games (seven starts) in 2020. He'd be a rotational nose tackle for Indy if he were to sign.
Free-agent LB Tamba Hali (Chiefs) signed a one-day contract with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, May 10, so he can retire as a member of the organization.
Free-agent DE Christian Covington (Bengals) agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers Monday, May 10. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Free-agent QB Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday, May 10.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers could realistically land with the Denver Broncos, who have the second-most salary cap space in football.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers' fantasy value will be about the same wherever he calls signals next season. Denver's thin air can be brutal on a body, and Rodgers has a lengthy injury history. That would be the only concern for the upper-middle QB1.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley leads all receivers with 180 catches over the last three seasons while lined up in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.