T.J. Ward frustrated by lack of playing time: 'I came here to be an impact player'

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward is frustrated by his lack of playing time. That frustration started to boil over after the Bucs' 30-27 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

"I came here to be an impact player," said Ward, a three-time Pro Bowler who was released by the Denver Broncos in a cap-saving move. "I can't do that if I'm not out on the field."

Bucs defensive lineman Chris Baker later expressed a similar sentiment, tweeting in response to Ward's comments:

The Bucs signed Ward to a one-year deal worth $5 million to bolster a safety unit that struggled through the early part of last season. They also traded away safety J.J. Wilcox and a 2019 seventh-round draft pick in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick in 2018.

But Ward hasn't gotten a starting full-time role, much to his chagrin.

"You have to ask [defensive coordinator] Mike Smith and [coach] Dirk Koetter about that, but I'm at my wits' end," Ward said. "I did not come here to rotate. I did not come here to be a part-time player."

Last week, Ward was in a three-safety rotation with Chris Conte and rookie Justin Evans. Keith Tandy also returned to action this week.

Against the Bills, Ward played just 24 snaps, 35 percent, compared to rookie Evans' 68 snaps (100 percent), Conte 39 (57 percent) and Tandy's two (3 percent). Against the Cardinals two weeks ago, Evans played 58 defensive snaps (88 percent), while Conte played 37 (57 percent) and Ward played 36 (55 percent).

In 26 regular season starts with the Broncos from 2015-2016, Ward averaged nearly 61 defensive snaps per game, third-most on the Broncos defense behind only Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.

When Smith was asked about the rotation prior to the Bills game, he alluded to it being because Ward was hurt, but also because of the skill set of the other three players.

"Each week there is going to be a different dynamic," Smith said. "T.J. was coming off an injury. He missed some time the previous week. He missed some time in practice. We've got, I think, very good depth at the safety position. I think each one of the guys has a different skill set that is going to help us based on who we are playing [and] how they are trying to attack us. I've said it many times: There are more than 11 starters on the defense."

Ward said that the injury has been fine the past two weeks.

To make matters worse, the Bucs' defense is struggling to get off the field on third down. Ward feels like a mere bystander.

"I'm only playing every two series," Ward said. "I'm not out there all the time. There's a lot going on. I'd love to help, but I can't. It's very frustrating."