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Running back Ward reportedly agrees to join Bucs

The Wind has changed.

Derrick Ward, the middle man in the moniker "Earth, Wind & Fire" - the three running backs who made the Giants the top rushing team in football in 2008 - reportedly has agreed to play for the Bucs.

According to reports, he will sign a four-year contract worth $17 million with $6 million guaranteed. As of Monday evening, though, he had not yet signed a contract, and he is expected to take a physical Tuesday morning.

Ward and Brandon "Earth'' Jacobs each ran for more than 1,000 yards last season - only the fourth pair of running backs to do that - and both were due to become free agents. The Giants prevented Jacobs from hitting the market when they put a franchise tag on him and then signed him to a long-term contract last week. They had left the door open for Ward's return, but apparently not in the price range Ward wanted.

Ward was said to have wanted a contract comparable to Jacobs, who signed for four years and $25 million with $13 million guaranteed. After visiting and speaking with several teams, though, those numbers were hard to come by for a 29-year-old back with a history of injuries.

He'll be teamed in the Tampa backfield with Earnest Graham, effectively replacing Warrick Dunn, who was released by the Bucs last week.

The move leaves the Giants without their No. 2 running back from last season, but they have two candidates to replace him: Ahmad "Fire'' Bradshaw and Danny Ware. They likely will compete in training camp for the backup job behind Jacobs.

Bradshaw, who is serving a 30-day sentence in a Virginia jail for a probation violation stemming from a juvenile offense, will be entering his third year in the NFL and has the early lead in the competition. He emerged as a game-breaker in 2007 and was the leading rusher in Super Bowl XLII.

Ware, who was on the Jets' practice squad in 2007 before being signed by the Giants - in a move to build depth after Ward's season-ending injury - has only two carries in his NFL career for 15 yards.

Ware is an exclusive-rights free agent, but according to the NFL Players Association Web site, he has not yet signed his tender offer from the Giants.

Ward's departure is not a surprise, not even to those who were closest to him on the team. Last week, when Jacobs signed the deal that essentially sealed Ward's fate as a former Giant, Jacobs told his backfield companion that his time would come and that he should try to get as much money as he could.

That's apparently what he has done, even if it is for less money than he originally thought possible (although more than some suspected he might get).

The Giants are scheduled to play the Bucs at Tampa Bay in 2009.

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