The Cardinals added another familiar face to their running back room, following the re-signing of Jonathan Ward. On Monday, Ward signed a one-year tender with the team.
Ward was not the typical free agent. Because he has yet to accumulate more than two accrued two seasons in the NFL, meaning being on the roster or reserve/injured for at least six games per season, he was designated an exclusive-rights free agent. The Cardinals presented a qualifying offer of $895,000, which meant Ward was unable to negotiate with other teams.
Heading into his third season, Ward has spent his career with the Cardinals. Signed in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, Ward spent most of his first season back and forth in between the active roster and practice squad. During the final week of the regular season, Ward earned his first career touchdown on an 11-yard pass from quarterback Chris Streveler.
In 2021, Ward saw increased playing time compared to his first season. He rushed nine times for 33 yards along with three receptions for 34 yards. For the most part, Ward saw significant time on special teams.
Despite limited opportunities, Ward may be used more as a receiver due to an impressive helmet catch made against the Dallas Cowboys.
In a Week-17 win over Dallas, the Cardinals were faced with a fourth-and-2 early in the contest. Despite lining up to punt, the ball was snapped to Chris Banjo who lobbed the ball to Ward streaking down the middle of the field. The ball fell short of Ward, reaching over Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright, the 6-foot Ward caught the ball off the defender's helmet, falling to the ground and completing the catch.
The impressive catch to save the drive was ultimately crucial. Quarterback Kyler Murray connected with wide receiver Antoine Wesley for a 1-yard touchdown pass and the Cardinals ultimately won, 25-22.
Ward rejoins a running back group that is mostly intact from last season. James Conner returns after re-signing with the Cardinals on a three-year deal. His 752 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns helped make Arizona's run game one of the best in the NFL.
Conner's partner in crime, Chase Edmonds, departed for the beach vibes of Miami, but Eno Benjamin returns alongside Ward. Former Pittsburgh Steelers back Jaylen Samuels is the new face in the room after signing a reserve/futures contract earlier this year.
Wide receiver Antoine Wesley was the Cardinals other exclusive-rights free agent. Wesley signed his one-year tender in early April.