Jihad Ward is one of a few seasoned defensive linemen the New York Giants signed this offseason to compete for a roster spot and bring a veteran presence to the room. Ward has not been a starter since his rookie season. Does he have what it takes to find a role in New York? Let’s discuss as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the Giants’ 90-man roster.
By the numbers
Experience: 6 years
Contract: One-year, $1.187 million deal | 2022 Cap hit: $1.047 million
Career to date
The Oakland Raiders selected Ward with the 44th pick of the 2016 draft. He might have gone in the first round if not for injury concerns that turned out to be accurate. Ward has played full seasons only three times in six years. He missed most of his first training camp with a lingering knee issue and turned in a disappointing rookie season, posting 30 tackles and no sacks in 13 starts.
Before his second season, Ward injured his foot during a workout and appeared in only five games that year. The Raiders then traded Ward to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Ryan Switzer, but Ward failed to make the Cowboys’ roster.
A stint with the Indianapolis Colts ended after yet another leg injury, after which Ward appeared in 21 games over the next two years in Wink Martindale’s defense on the Baltimore Ravens. Last season, Ward found consistent playing time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, appearing in all 17 games with two sacks.
Ward has started only two games since his rookie year. He has 10 career sacks, a career-high 3.0 coming while playing for Martindale in Baltimore during the 2020 season.
Ward comes with slightly more upside than a seven-year career backup normally would. Despite all the injuries, he’s still the same player that many scouts gave a first- or second-round grade before he was drafted. He’s never had more than two years in the same defensive system and never had a chance to show what he can do with a starting role since his rookie year.
None of that is to say that Ward will suddenly enjoy a breakout season in New York or that he will find a starting role. It’s just that he generates more intrigue than the veterans he will compete with for a roster spot: guys like Jalyn Holmes, who have likely already shown the full extent of what they can do with a starting job.
In March, Ward said a reunion with Martindale was part of the reason he signed with the Giants.
“I wanted to go somewhere where they’re going to make me feel loose and Wink is one of those coaches where basically he’s going to make me extend my career being the best that I can be,” Ward said.
“I can play all the positions. Everything is really simple. The only thing is with the rest of the d-line that’s here, we’ve just got to basically understand its different types of fronts. It’s basically like a mixture of everything. For example, you can’t really say it’s a 3-4. You can’t say it’s a 4-3, it depends what type of front that you’re in. That’s what [Martindale] brings to the table. It’s going to be a lot of confusion and basically versatility.”