The seventh-year running back was released Tuesday when the team trimmed its roster to 75 players. Wide receiver Terrence Nunn was waived, and linebacker Jon Alston was placed on injured reserve to get down to the limit for the final preseason game.
"Just like any other profession, when it's time for you to depart ... you can't say it's a surprise," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "You've got every day to go out there and prove yourself."
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Ward signed a four-year, $17 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2009, moving to Tampa Bay after five seasons with the New York Giants. He was a 1,000-yard rusher two years ago with the Giants, but he struggled to make the transition to a new offense with the Bucs.
In a limited role as a backup to a revitalized Cadillac Williams, who was coming off major knee surgery, Ward rushed for 409 yards and one touchdown while averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in 2009. He was even less productive in three preseason games this year, gaining 2.6 yards per attempt and finishing with 21 carries for 50 yards.
Morris said the decision was just as much about the "resurgence" of Williams, the performance of young backs such as Kareem Huggins and the versatility of fullback Earnest Graham as Ward's lack of production. Ward appeared in 14 games, with one start.
Morris called Ward into his office after practice Tuesday and said he and the running back "shook hands, gave each other a hug and said good luck in our future endeavors."
"He was a consummate pro," Morris said, adding that releasing Ward now -- rather than during this weekend's final cuts -- could enhance the 30-year-old's chances of landing with another team before clubs set rosters for the regular season opener.
Morris also said the move doesn't mean Huggins, who's from the coach's hometown of Irvington, N.J., and has rushed for a team-best 97 yards on 19 carries this preseason, has won a job.
"Kareem has to go out and play. I look forward to seeing him go out against Houston," the coach said, looking ahead to Thursday night's preseason finale against the Texans. "He still has to prove himself every week. Still has to prove himself against Houston."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press