Andre Ward is coming back after 9 months off, which was a comeback fight after 19 months off, which was a comeback fight after 14 months off. Yes, since a 2011-12 campaign that saw his two biggest wins (Froch and Dawson), Ward has been more active in court than in the ring. He has yet to show any rust, in fact even the Dawson performance was coming off of a 9 months layoff (at that point, his longest). Ward is part of a new breed of fighter (prominent in the African American fight community, but rare elsewhere) who is all about the principle of knowing one's own value. I know Ward is half white as well, but the model can be employed by anyone.
Now, too often the "know your value" model is used as an excuse for pricing oneself out of big matches, but I do not believe that is the case here. Men like Mayweather, Whittaker, and Ward know that they are only famous because of how good they are... in fact unbeatable throughout most of their careers. They live and die on that. Unlike a Mexican brawler that can rely on an action-style and racism, in order to guarantee a certain amounts of seats selling, people only come to see the defensive African American because he is the best. Being the best is all they have, therefore every risk must be calculated. This successful strategy of marketing was learned under Sugar Ray Leonard, even though SRR didn't employ it as drastically, he was the first hype-manufactured champion of the modern era.. but it only worked because he really WAS that good.
Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara are very good fighters, but they are not great, and nowhere near dominant, which takes an entire zero off of their average purses. If Ward loses to Sullivan Barrera, which is not likely, he will lose everything. It would be a long (and probably not exciting) rebuilding process. Unless you fight excitingly (he doesn't), 6 times a year (no one does), and are a ticket friendly ethnicity (he's not), that aura of invincibility is really all you have left. Ward is now moving towards a fight with Kovalev, which is supposed to happen before the end of this year. However, given mandatories, Ward's insistence that he have one more fight before Kovalev, as well as his own propensity for layoffs and injuries, an early 2017 date is more likely.
By that time, Ward will have been a pro for more than a dozen years, and may have nowhere else to go afterwards. He is too big for middleweight, too small for cruiserweight, and has done everything at super middleweight. If Haymon fighters are indeed off the table for Roc Nation Sports fighters, then Ward can forget about Beterbiev, Stevenson, Fonfara, and Alvarez. The whole division is at a standstill, and don't be surprised if Ward retires after Kovalev, regardless of what happens. He's always wanted to be a good example for fighters, and no one since Calzaghe has had the strength of character to walk away on top lately (unless Floyd actually stays retired). So, every fight is a big risk for him, probably bigger than anyone else is facing right now.