This Date In Transactions History: Lions Re-Sign Romeo Okwara

Two years ago today, the Lions agreed to a two-year deal with Romeo Okwara. At the time, the move flew under the radar a bit (it got only three brief paragraphs on the team’s website). Fast forward to today, and the new Lions brass is probably disappointed that their predecessors hadn’t made a longer commitment.

The 2016 undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame spent the first two seasons of his career with the Giants, appearing in 22 total games. After getting waived prior to the 2018 campaign, he caught on with the Lions, and he proceeded to have a career year for his new team. Okwara appeared in 15 games (14 starts), compiling 39 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. The defensive lineman was one of the few standouts for a lowly Lions squad, but the team still had some hurdles to overcome in order to retain the player.

Okwara was set to become a restricted free agent following that 2018 campaign. Instead of placing a second-round (or even first-round) tender on the player, the team paid him a bit more in order to retain his services without any competition. The front office ultimately gave the defensive end a two-year deal worth $6.8MM, including $3.4MM in guaranteed money. It was a bit of gamble for the team, as Okwara was solely getting paid off of one productive season.

The defensive lineman didn’t necessarily live up to that deal in 2019, as he was relegated to a rotational role and finished with only 1.5 sacks. However, he rebounded with a career year in 2020, finishing with career-highs in tackles (44), sacks (10.0), and forced fumbles (three). The 25-year-old was especially productive down the stretch; per Pro Football Focus, Okwara finished with the third-highest pass-rush grade from Week 12 on, and he posted the ninth-highest grade for the entire season.

As a result of this production, Okwara is expected to be a popular name in unrestricted free agency this offseason. Detroit would certainly be a suitor…he’ll already account for $900K on their books thanks to previous signing bonus machinations. It sounds like new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is also a fan of the defensive lineman.

“Romeo had 10 sacks (last year),” Glenn said (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). “So, he’s a pressure player. Every team in this league, every coach in this league, wants a pressure player. So if he’s back with us, which we hope we get the chance to get him back, we’re going to have him rushing the quarterback. That’s what he does best. Again, we’re going to put him in position to do what he do best and that’s to get after the quarterback.”

Hindsight is obviously 20/20, and the Lions may have raised some eyebrows had they originally signed Okwara for more than two years back in 2019. However, exactly two years after that contract was signed, we’re sure GM Brad Holmes and his staff are wishing they had another year to evaluate the young defensive lineman.

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Dolphins Want To Retain C Ted Karras, DT Davon Godchaux

Besides Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins really don’t have any big-name impending free agents. However, the organization is still focused on retaining at least a couple of those players. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that the Dolphins are interested in re-signing center Ted Karras and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux.

According to Jackson, the Dolphins have told Karras that they want him back next season. The offensive lineman joined the Dolphins last offseason, and he proceeded to start all 16 games for Miami, playing on all 1,067 of their offensive snaps. The 27-year-old had spent the previous four years with the Patriots, winning a pair of Super Bowls. After starting only five games through his first three seasons in the NFL, Karras started 15 games for New England in 2019.

Godchaux was limited to only five games in 2020 thanks to a biceps injury, but the former fifth-rounder started all 32 games for Miami between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Jackson notes that the organization would like to retain the 26-year-old, but financials could complicate the negotiations. Jackson passed along a quote from agent Drew Rosenhaus, who acknowledged that the Dolphins may not be able to afford his client after they “invested” in the likes of Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, and Zach Sieler.

“Davon is one of the most talented defensive tackles, I believe, and the Dolphins would have to be able to compensate him in that capacity,” Rosenhaus said (via Jackson). “I’m not sure that they will, given the talent they have on the team. We’ll see if the Dolphins are able to step up and be competitive with other teams that may not have as much talent at the defensive tackle position.”

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Minor NFL Transactions: 3/1/21

Here are Monday’s minor moves:

Las Vegas Raiders

Tennessee Titans

Bears Hire Ex-Texas HC Tom Herman

Matt Nagy decided to add an experienced college head coach to his staff. Former Texas and Houston HC Tom Herman will join the Bears as an offensive analyst, the team announced.

Fired after four seasons with the Longhorns, Herman is 54-22 in six seasons as a college HC. He has spent his entire career in the college game, beginning that run in the late 1990s.

Herman, 45, has an offensive coaching background. He worked as offensive coordinator at Iowa State and Ohio State from 2009-14, spending three seasons under Urban Meyer in Columbus before taking the Houston HC job. Herman, who was in charge of a Buckeyes national championship-winning offense that lost two QBs due to injury (in 2014, when both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett went down), has been either a college head coach or offensive coordinator since 2005.

Nagy has not been averse to bringing in college coaches for his staff. His hired ex-Oregon HC Mark Helfrich as his first OC with the Bears; that partnership lasted two years. Bill Lazor currently serves as Chicago’s OC.

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Bears To Release CB Buster Skrine

After two seasons, the Bears will move on from Buster Skrine. Chicago will make the veteran cornerback a cap casualty, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Skrine signed with the Bears in 2019, landing in Chicago after four seasons with the Jets. The veteran slot corner has managed to reach 10 NFL seasons. An 11th would mean another relocation.

This move comes ahead of a $500K roster bonus Skrine was due to collect. He will turn 32 in April. Skrine played 28 games with the Bears, with his tenure coming exclusively under DC Chuck Pagano. Both are out of the picture now. Because of the two void years tacked onto the end of Skrine’s three-year deal, the Bears will save just $2.7MM by making this move. Entering Monday, the Bears were barely $2MM over the projected salary cap.

Skrine played 52% of the Bears’ defensive snaps in 2020, grading as Pro Football Focus’ No. 92 overall corner. The former Browns fifth-round pick has started 92 games in his career but will now enter a buyer’s market, with the cap set to drop.

The Skrine release marks the second straight year in which the Bears have cut a 30-something cornerback contributor. They made Prince Amukamara a cap casualty ahead of the 2020 league year.

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Saints Want To Keep S Marcus Williams

Facing a historic cap crunch, the Saints will still try to retain one of their own marquee free agents. They intend to prioritize safety Marcus Williams, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Two weeks before the start of the legal tampering period, the Saints are a staggering $69MM-plus over a projected $180MM cap. The franchise has continually faced difficult cap situations, only to navigate them and still manage to bolster its roster — as it did last year via Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins. But this year’s situation presents a final boss-type challenge for New Orleans’ front office.

No other team is within $25MM of the Saints’ present payroll obligations, with the Eagles residing as the league’s only other franchise more than $40MM over the projected cap. The Saints will go through an eventful two weeks to comply with the cap, though the NFL’s in-progress TV deals could help the organization to a degree. It is not certain yet where the 2021 cap will land, which has halted NFL activity to a degree.

Part of one of the best draft classes any team has put together in many years, Williams has been a starter since arriving in the 2017 third round. Pro Football Focus has graded him as a top-eight player at his position in three of his four seasons, including 2020. While 2017 draft classmate Trey Hendrickson figures to have a market as well, Williams has reeled off a much longer run of production with the Saints. Mickey Loomis has acknowledged keeping Hendrickson will be tough.

Williams stands as one of the league’s top free agents, with he and Justin Simmons perhaps residing as the top safeties available. The Broncos are set to make Simmons unavailable, via the franchise tag, which would take a key target off the board. The Jets are also likely to take Marcus Maye off the market via the tag. While other safeties may well be available — from Anthony Harris to Keanu Neal to John Johnson — Williams may be the top prize at this position, should he hit the market. As PFR’s Rory Parks noted recently, a Williams tag — in the $10MM vicinity — will be off the table, meaning the Saints would need to have him extended by March 15 to avoid the talented defender negotiating with other teams.

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Texans Release QB Josh McCown

The Texans will move on from Josh McCown as a player, with Field Yates of ESPN.com tweeting the team released the backup quarterback Monday. However, this move appears likely to precede a coaching career.

Despite adding McCown midway through last season, the Texans signed him two a two-year deal. They also took the unusual step in interviewing him for their head coaching job. Even after David Culley‘s hire, McCown loomed on the Texans’ radar for an assistant coaching gig. This transition could occur soon.

Long expected to one day move into coaching, McCown served as a de facto assistant for the Eagles last year. Philadelphia added the then-40-year-old passer to its practice squad but, ahead of the league’s initial COVID-19-altered season, used him in a remote capacity. McCown was living in Texas while on the Eagles’ practice squad. The Texans poached McCown in November.

McCown did not see any action with the Texans last season and has not started a game since doing so in relief of Sam Darnold in three games with the 2018 Jets. But he did play the bulk of the 2019 Eagles’ wild-card loss to the Seahawks, after Carson Wentz‘s early-game injury.

A 2002 draftee, the 41-year-old QB has been with 12 teams — the Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Dolphins, Panthers, 49ers, Bears, Buccaneers, Browns, Jets, Eagles and Texans — in his near-two-decade NFL run. McCown’s Bears stay, which included a productive 2013 stretch filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, reignited his career and led to multiple additional starting opportunities. The Texans may not let him get to a 13th NFL team to start his coaching career, but it is not yet certain where that run will begin.

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Latest On Cardinals, Haason Reddick

The Cardinals’ newly formed Chandler JonesJ.J. Watt pass-rushing duo doubles as one of the most accomplished in modern NFL history, though assembling this tandem may leave the team’s breakout pass rusher in search of a new home.

Haason Reddick was hopeful he could stay with the Cardinals, despite his rocky tenure prior that led to the team declining the linebacker’s fifth-year option. And the Cards, prior to their Watt signing, expressed interest in bringing Reddick back, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter).

Pre-Watt, the Cardinals were carrying more than $11MM in cap space. While the team does have a rookie quarterback contract around which to build, it will certainly be a more difficult task to re-sign Reddick now. The Cards also expressed interest in keeping Patrick Peterson. A scenario in which Peterson and Reddick return now appears extremely unlikely. And cornerback will be a much greater Arizona need entering free agency.

Of course, Steve Keim‘s splashy Watt transaction points to the franchise’s interest in contending for a Super Bowl now. Reddick returning would certainly strengthen that prospect, after his 12.5-sack season, and Watt’s extensive experience as an interior pass rusher would seemingly leave a fit for the former first-round pick on the edge opposite Jones.

Markus Golden could serve as a cheaper option for the Cards to retain. He did not draw much interest after his 10-sack season with the 2019 Giants and expressed a desire to stay in Arizona this year. Golden did not record a sack in nine games back with the Cardinals last year but did post 14 QB hits — just two shy of Reddick’s total last season.

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Pernell McPhee Wants To Stay With Ravens

Pernell McPhee wants to extend the latest chapter of his career. After leaving Baltimore as a big-ticket free agent signing several years ago, the veteran pass rusher has resurfaced with his original NFL team as a rotational player. He would like to continue to do so.

The Ravens have nearly their entire edge rusher contingent due for free agency. McPhee joins higher-profile cogs Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue as a free agent-to-be, with Tyus Bowser also on track to hit the market come March.

Of course, the plan is to come back to Baltimore and continue to play some ball, help win a championship and build a dynasty,” McPhee said, via Clifton Brown of BaltimoreRavens.com. “That’s the goal. Myself and my agent haven’t really talked about it yet. I’ve been chilling, taking care of my body. I’ll think about things, but my thought is really just on coming back.”

After battling injuries with the Bears, McPhee returned to the Ravens in 2019. He re-signed on another one-year deal last year. Both accords occurred after those years’ respective drafts. This past season, McPhee served as a starter alongside Judon and matched Ngakoue’s Ravens total with three sacks. McPhee, 32, has recorded three sacks in back-to-back seasons. Last year, however, he posted 15 quarterback hits — his top mark since 2015. He also outsnapped Ngakoue in Baltimore’s divisional-round game.

The 10-year veteran could be a lower-cost option for the Ravens to retain. It would cost just more than $20MM for the team to use its franchise tag on Judon for a second straight year, and Ngakoue figures to have a big market as a first-time free agent. Considering their situation, McPhee’s desire to return might be something to capitalize on as the franchise attempts to craft a new pass-rushing plan.

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Chiefs GM Brett Veach On Mahomes, OL, Watkins

The Chiefs are coming off a very disappointing Super Bowl loss, and although they’re coming off back to back AFC titles, they know they’ve got some work to do this offseason. GM Brett Veach met with the media on Monday, and dished on what lies ahead.

Perhaps most notably, Veach provided an update on Patrick Mahomes. Everything appears to have gone smoothly with Mahomes’ foot surgery, as the GM said he’ll definitely be ready for training camp and the team is hoping he can participate in mandatory minicamp in June. Mahomes was hobbled down the stretch, but it doesn’t sound like this is going to be an issue of much importance for 2021.

Kansas City’s offensive line (deservedly so) took a lot of blame for the Super Bowl loss, and Veach acknowledged it’s a priority. He highlighted the two COVID-19 opt-outs the team had on the O-line, as well as the loss of left tackle Eric Fisher in the AFC Championship Game, but made it clear the team wasn’t going to stand pat.

“From the offset here, the draft looks to be really talented on the offensive line. So I think it’ll be a combination of what we have in-house and blending that in with some new talent. Potentially in free agency and potentially in the draft,” Veach said, via Charles Goldman of the Chiefs Wire.

Speaking of the offensive line, Veach said that right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who was limited to six games in 2020, had disk surgery on his back and the team is hopeful he’ll be ready for training camp as well. He said the same thing about Fisher, although that might be a bit of a reach considering he’s coming off a torn Achilles at 30.

Finally, Veach talked about the receiving corp and specifically Sammy Watkins. He said it would take more work than it did last year to bring Watkins back, which could be GM-speak for the team being likely to move on. Veach said the team feels good about Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Byron Pringle and that “I can’t see us running out of the gates in the first week of free agency and signing a receiver,” via Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star (Twitter link).

The last we heard was right before the Super Bowl, when there was apparently mutual interest between Watkins and the Chiefs in sticking together, but it sounds like it might be an uphill battle to get it to work financially. Watkins took a pay-cut last April to stay with the team for 2020.

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