Derrick Ward signs with Tampa

So much for going after Derrick Ward. Eric Mangini suggested he was interested in pursuing Ward, but that didn’t happen.

Clinging to an NFL-record $61 million under the salary cap at the start of free agency, the Bucs finally handed off some of that loot Monday to Giants running back Derrick Ward.

Part of the Earth, Wind and Fire running back rotation with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, Ward rushed for 1,025 yards and two touchdowns last season. His 5.6-yard rushing average was the best in the NFL, and he caught 41 passes for 384 yards.

Ward, who turns 29 before opening day, agreed to terms on a four-year contract worth $17 million. The deal includes $6 million guaranteed in the first year, $9.25 million over two years and $13 million over three.

Ward received strong interest from the Bengals and Broncos in free agency, but his offers might have been tempered because he is at an age when many running backs begin to slip.

In Tampa Bay, Ward will split carries with running back Earnest Graham, who is 29 and coming off a leg injury that sidelined him the final six games of 2008.

This isn’t a huge loss. Given his age, I can see why Ward wasn’t a big priority.

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