The nature of NFL trash talk is sometimes difficult to understand, particularly when it comes between two players who reside atop the league at their respective positions.
Cleveland Browns Pro-Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward was on the receiving end of such a barb from Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams after the two squared off in a pivotal Christmas Day game at Lambeau Field. The question is, did Adams intend to give Ward props with what he said, or was it a backhanded compliment born of condescension?
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Accolade or Insult?
The Packers hosted the Browns on Christmas Day and held them off to the tune of a 24-22 victory. The win went a long way toward cementing Green Bay’s status as the No. 1 seed in the NFC while also effectively ended the Browns’ season, as they were eliminated from playoff contention the next week before even getting to take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Adams did things typical of his status as one of the league’s best receivers throughout the night, catching 10 passes for a total of 114 yards and 2 TDs. A couple of the plays he made came against Ward.
With that as the contextual backdrop, the ESPN Instagram account on Tuesday, January 4, posted details of an exchange between Adams and Ward that could be a read in two different ways — as a compliment or as a jab.
“You’re a good player bro,” Adams said to Ward.
“You can’t tell me that after you just caught a ball on me,” Ward said in response.
“Alright, I won’t say anything then,” Adams responded back. “I make a play on everybody.”
Does Ward Have a Point on Adams’ Comments?
Ward is not the type to abide disrespect from anyone, not even a player who is arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver.
Adams has amassed 1,498 yards through 15 games played in 2021, while also setting a career high of 117 receptions to go along with 11 touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. He’s going to make a play or two most games, particularly with the help of reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers under center and a general shift in the direction of football philosophy that has seen teams turn pass-happy and the league continue to implement rules that favor offense and overall point production.
Ward, too, was named a Pro-Bowler this season — the second time he has earned the accolade during his four-year stint in Cleveland. The cornerback is in line for a contract extension that will pay him as one of the top players at his position and he is expected to secure that this offseason, per Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus.
It is possible to read Ward’s comments to Adams as an overreaction, as the cornerback being overly sensitive to a high-level competitor trying to give him his due. However, Ward’s response can also be viewed as the kind of hard-nosed, prideful reaction one might expect from one of the NFL’s best and purest cover corners who is often left on an island to make crucial plays against the most athletic players in the league.
The way Ward took Adams’ comments is reflective of the same kind of attitude that makes him a Pro-Bowl cornerback. Because of that, it doesn’t really matter what Adams intended, Ward came back at him the only way he could. Ward doesn’t need Adams to throw him respect because Ward earns it himself every time he steps onto the field — something he will continue to do for years to come in Cleveland.