Making Sense Of The TJ Ward Trade Talk

The other day, we had a lengthy discussion about the Broncos reportedly talking to other teams about trading safety TJ Ward. It led to a couple of people sharing some rather ridiculous claims regarding what such a move means for the season.

Let’s be clear about one thing: The decision to part ways with Ward is not about the team’s thoughts regarding what will happen this season or what they think about their quarterbacks, but what their overall roster needs are at this point and whether or not they believe they can safely slip younger players through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Allow me to follow up on my post the other day regarding the tough decisions the Broncos will have to make when finalizing the 53-man roster, which will lead to the bigger picture as to why TJ Ward might be traded.

The Big Picture Regarding the 53-Man Roster

When teams cut down their rosters to 53 players, they need to think about an ideal mix of players to keep. Because three spots are reserved for specialists (punter, kicker, long snapper), that leaves 50 spots for the rest of the team. One possibility is to have 25 players on offense and 25 players on defense.

Let’s assume that the Broncos were going to keep two quarterbacks all along. The roster makeup on offense would probably look like this: 2 QB, 4 RB, 1 FB, 6 WR, 3 TE and 9 OL. If you want to keep one less OL, you can add a third QB. It seems likely the Broncos will do that on offense, considering that Paxton Lynch is injured and the Broncos need a backup QB for the first couple of weeks of the season.

Assuming 25 players on defense, here’s a possible roster that gets you there: 6 DL, 5 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 5 S. Such a roster makeup would allow you to retain Ward’s services while keeping one of the two UDFA safeties who have looked good this season: Jamal Carter or Orion Stewart.

However, the injury to Zach Kerr plus the emergence of Tyrique Jarrett complicates matters. The Broncos will likely want to have that extra defensive lineman at least until Kerr is cleared to play again. They can’t go down to four OLBs because Shane Ray won’t be available for a few weeks and Shaquil Barrett might be held out Week One. Going down to four CBs isn’t desirable, either.

So that means the Broncos may have to go down to four safeties, thus exposing both Carter and Stewart to waivers. Chances are they won’t be able to get both onto the practice squad – I suspect plenty of teams are keeping an eye on Carter, given how he has impressed.

Now, you could keep Ward and roll with six defensive linemen, but not only is Kerr not going to be available for a couple of weeks, but the Broncos might want to bring Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick along slowly, given their recent injuries, and that means they need more linemen to rotate. Throw in how well Jarrett has played and there’s no guarantee the Broncos will be able to slip him onto the practice squad.

So it makes sense that the Broncos would want to explore trading Ward, thus allowing them to keep younger players around. Just because other teams are trading notable players, and those teams are rebuilding, doesn’t mean the Broncos are doing the same. And in some cases, those teams trading players are getting rid of players from previous regimes who haven’t worked out (such as the Browns with Cameron Erving) or who they likely weren’t planning to keep beyond 2017 anyway (such as the Bills with Sammy Watkins).

What Does This Mean for TJ Ward?

First of all, it’s not a given that Ward will be traded. The Broncos can certainly explore offers or contact other teams to see if they are interested, but they have to decide if the offer is worth taking or if it really does make sense. Remember that there is a fourth preseason game yet to be played and a number of factors can come into play, ranging from injuries to unexpected regression, that could mean Ward sticks around on the 53-man roster.

But assuming the Broncos do move on from Ward, would they get anything for him? It’s true the Browns tried to trade Joe Haden and found no takers, but Haden was due $11.1M if traded, and even if the Browns agreed to take the $4M he was fully guaranteed, I wouldn’t expect teams to agree to pay him $7.1M for a single season.

Ward, though, might be easier to trade because his base salary is $4.5M, which doesn’t even put him in the top 10 among safeties for a single season payout – and that’s even after you remove players who received large signing bonuses from recent extensions. So Ward has a salary that teams might be more willing to consider paying. On top of that, because Ward’s money isn’t guaranteed, teams probably won’t get him for the veteran minimum. Haden would take that because he’s getting $4M no matter what, but Ward would be hesitant to take that because he has nothing guaranteed.

Of course, the Broncos would need to get fair draft pick compensation in return if Ward was traded. Since Ward would likely get a fourth-round compensatory pick if he stayed with the team and departed in free agency in 2018, that’s what the Broncos should try to get. Keep in mind that what they should try to get doesn’t equal what they should ask for from initial offers – they should ask for a third-round pick in those, with the hopes teams might give them a fourth rounder. If the Broncos have to accept a fifth rounder, I can live with that – but that’s as low as I would go.

All this said, bear in mind that the Broncos have one more preseason game to play, so it’s not a given Ward will be traded or cut. But if you like your depth at a position, aren’t able to keep everyone on the 53-man roster, aren’t sure you can slip your younger guys onto the practice squad without other teams claiming them, and you know that Ward is entering the final year of his contract, it doesn’t hurt to consider all your options with him.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.