Jihad Ward has struggled to make an impact through two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, but it makes more sense to give him one more chance than it does to cut him loose.
Jihad Ward has been a disappointment (no, I won’t use the b-word) for the Oakland Raiders. He failed to make his presence felt on the field in his rookie season and he spent most of 2017 being on the inactives’ list come game day.
For the Raiders, it’s already next season. Jon Gruden is once again the head coach and now has his staff in place, which brings the team to the next level of the offseason — player evaluation. Gruden and his assistants are going to watch carefully what the players currently on the roster did in 2017 and will decide which can help them moving forward. Jihad Ward is certainly among the players who are closer to the exit door than a 2018 roster spot.
I know most of Raider Nation wishes to see Ward gone. Granted, he has not helped much (if at all) the Raiders’ defense and that might not change. The truth, however, is that there’s not much to gain from cutting the 23-year old loose.
Both scenarios, keeping him or cutting him, have their pros and cons.
The Raiders keep Jihad Ward
Retaining Ward will cost $1,510,854 in 2018, which accounts for less than 1% of Oakland’s salary cap. No matter how you look at it, it’s a small amount of money for a young defensive player who was picked early in the second round of the NFL Draft just two years ago.
Ward will have the chance to fight at least for a roster spot, if not a more significant role. Let’s not forget that in last year’s OTAs, Ward was reportedly “turning heads” with his performance and he was even given first team reps at one point. An injury to his left leg in July forced him to miss the rest of the training camp and he returned to practice in late August. It’s worth noting that Ward has experienced injury issues on the same leg in 2015, as well.
Apart from being healthy, Jihad might benefit from the Raiders’ new coaching regime. Jon Gruden is known for having the ability to motivate his players, and the optimism surrounding his return is evident. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is an experienced coach who was in charge of the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense for four years. Furthermore, it’s not like the Raiders had a dominant defense under Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. and Ward was the only guy who was not performing.
Assuming they keep Ward and he is still a non-factor, then what did the Raiders lose in that scenario? I’d say close to nothing, because if the former Fighting Illini can’t find his way onto the active roster on game day, he’ll simply be released at the end of next season. It’s a small price to pay in exchange for a chance to see Ward develop.
The Raiders release Jihad Ward
Ward has two more years on his contract and cutting him would free up less than $400,000. This amount will not make a substantial difference to Oakland’s cap situation nor will it allow them to bring in a player who they wouldn’t be able to sign with Ward on the roster.
Then it’s entirely possible Ward signs with another team and grows into a useful player or even a solid starter. Long shot, I get it, but just ask Eagles’ fans about Brandon Graham and Nelson Agholor, or Cowboys’ fans about DeMarcus Lawrence. Both fanbases considered these players to be busts at some point but now all three are integral parts of their teams, and everybody is grateful that they were not cut prematurely. And of course, there are even worse examples, like Miami trading Wes Welker to New England, where he became the most prominent slot receiver in the league and a great tool for Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense.
Even if the chances of Ward turning into a valuable piece are slim, why risk it if there’s only a small amount of cap space to be gained?
The Raiders would be wise to roll with Jihad Ward for one more season, rather than risk losing a potential asset for nothing at all. If the experiment fails, the only downside is they’d have just kept a fringe player for one more season as the last defensive lineman of the depth chart. But if he can improve under the new regime, then he’ll be worth keeping around, especially while on a rookie contract.