But he's ready for a fresh start.
"Fresh start. Fresh everything," Ward said after Wednesday’s organized team activities. "I’m happy, happy to be here. I’m here to work and this is a brotherhood here. You really don’t have that on a lot of teams, so I preach that a lot. We all preach that. It’s about the team. It’s not about the individuals.
"We just work all the time and we’ve got each other’s back. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I feel it. If we keep going, I think we’ll be great."
Ward is happy to join an organization he has familiarity with. The Cowboys’ coaching staff had the dubious distinction of coaching the Senior Bowl after the 2015 season, and got a first-hand look at Ward.
They’ve been interested in him ever since and were able to acquire him during this year’s draft. They sent last year’s fourth-round pick, returner Ryan Switzer, in exchange for Ward, the Raiders’ 2016 second-round pick (44th overall).
Ward posted just one sack and 32 tackles in two seasons with the Raiders, and became expendable with a new coaching staff led by Jon Gruden coming in. The Cowboys parted ways with Switzer after acquiring Tavon Austin from the Rams.
"Man, I don’t even want to talk about [the trade]," Ward said. "I don’t want to talk about the Raiders. I just want to say thank you for the opportunity. I was surprised, but ever since I’ve been coached by the Cowboys at the Senior Bowl, they’ve shown interest. I’ve wanted to be here.
"I’m just worried about being here and making the team better."
The hope is Ward is able to develop into the type of player the Raiders envisioned when they used that high of a pick on him. For now, he provides the Cowboys with interior depth and position flexibility to play on the edge if needed.
As coach Jason Garrett said shortly after the team acquired Ward, "We feel like he fits in our scheme of being an up-the-field pressure guy. A guy who can disrupt the running game and affect the passer."
Ward has the size (6-foot-5, 295 pounds) and athleticism to play in the NFL, but had been considered a developmental prospect coming out of Illinois.
Maybe a coach such as Rod Marinelli is the person who can restart what appears to be a stalled development. Ward certainly thinks so.
"Trust is the key with Marinelli," Ward said. "I think Marinelli is one of the best coaches in this game and one of the legends. So I’m very thankful to be here with the defensive line."
Asked to describe himself as a player, Ward said: "I pride myself on effort. I really don’t brag about my game. That’s everybody else’s opinion. I really don’t brag on my game. The one thing I do is I give a lot of effort. The rest of the stuff y’all can say about me as a player is for y’all to decide. I just go out there ready to work every time and work on what I need to work on."
With that being said, Ward made it clear that he believes he can be a more disruptive player than he’s been so far in his professional career. After all, this is a guy who combined for 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in his two seasons at Illinois.
"I know I can be that guy," Ward said. "I just gotta be myself, Jihad."