TAMPA – Minutes after finishing 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.
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.
“My experience with the Bucs was a great one,” Ward told the St. Petersburg Times by e-mail. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rah (Morris) and Mark (Dominik, general manager) and I hope this season goes well for them. Although it’s tough to think that I’m not a Buc anymore I’m excited to see what else is out there for me. I still believe in my abilities and am looking forward to the next chapter of my football career.”
A year after signing Ward to a four-year, $17 million contract, and two years removed from his 1,025-yard season with the New York Giants, the Bucs let go the running back who never seemed to fit in with Tampa Bay.
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, 2.4 yards per carry, in three preseason games. After 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 rushed for 409 yards (3.6) with one touchdown. He missed some offseason 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 average). Morris said fullback Earnest Graham also could back up Williams.
“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,” Morris said. “And also, we have 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 (to) prove yourself.”
Releasing Ward before the final roster cutdown will give him a better chance to sign with another team, Morris said.
“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.”
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