2014 NFL Draft

Panthers To Add G Robert Hunt

Rumored to be chasing guards, the Panthers are paying up to help Bryce Young protection in the quarterback’s second season. They are preparing a $100MM payment to fill this need.

Robert Hunt is headed to Charlotte, per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler, and NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo reveals what it will cost. Hunt is signing a five-year, $100MM deal. A three-year Dolphins guard starter, Hunt becomes only the fourth guard in NFL history to sign a deal for at least $20MM per year. Part of Hunt’s guarantee will come via a $26.5MM signing bonus, Garafolo adds.

The Dolphins’ free agents have led the way on Day 1 of the legal tampering period. Miami was preparing to lose both Hunt and Christian Wilkins; both players have received deals near the top of their positions’ markets. Hunt will slide in as an upgrade at guard for a Panthers team that saw both its guard starters — Brady Christensen, Austin Corbett — suffer season-ending injuries last year.

These injuries were among the issues that plagued Young during his rough rookie season. The Panthers will give their diminutive quarterback a better chance by helping to protect him from inside pressure, which was a common problem during the No. 1 pick’s debut. Hunt is going into his age-28 season, making it rather important he was able to cash in this year — after the cap spike created a friendlier market.

A 2020 second-round pick, Hunt slid from right tackle to right guard in 2021 and became the Dolphins’ most consistent O-lineman. As Miami moved more players around and saw other blockers suffer injuries in this span, Hunt chugged along. That said, Hunt did aggravate a hamstring injury and miss seven games last season. But the Louisiana alum started all 34 games from 2021-22. Hunt goes 330 pounds, giving the Panthers an imposing presence as they reconstruct their line in Dave Canales‘ first year.

Pro Football Focus slotted Hunt as a top-12 guard in each of the past two seasons; he played a big role in helping Mike McDaniel‘s offense ignite. The Panthers will pay up to see if he can help Young begin a real development effort, after last season saw those hopes encounter early turbulence.

Buccaneers To Use Franchise Tag On S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Franchise tag decisions are coming in hours before the application deadline. As expected, the Buccaneers will prioritize their young All-Pro safety.

Antoine Winfield Jr. will not be given the chance to hit free agency, with ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reporting the second-generation NFL DB will be tagged. This has been the expected scenario for a bit, but with less than three hours until the deadline, the Bucs will make it official.

[RELATED: Buccaneers, Mike Evans Agree To Deal]

This moves Baker Mayfield closer to free agency, but with the quarterback tag costing over $20MM more than the safety tag, Tampa Bay had been expected to make the cheaper move here. The Bucs have until March 11 to keep Mayfield off the market, but they now have until July 15 to hammer out an extension with Winfield.

As should be expected given Winfield’s importance to the Bucs over the past four years, this is not setting up a “prove it” season from the All-Pro safety. The Bucs intend to discuss an extension, ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine tweets. Tampa Bay was interested in a Winfield extension before last season, but little of substance emerged following that report. Winfield proceeded to put together a dominant contract year, setting himself up for a potential top-market safety contract.

It is sensible for the Bucs to use the tag on Winfield due to its $17.12MM price. If would have cost the team more than $38MM to tag Mayfield. That number being roughly $6MM north of what it cost the Ravens to cuff Lamar Jackson last year, it was a long shot the Bucs would take this route. But with Mayfield talks looming as the team’s top near-term priority, using this tool to keep Winfield on the back burner checks out. Mayfield and the Bucs remain engaged in talks about a second contract.

Winfield, 25, finished with six sacks and an NFL-leading six forced fumbles last season, including a goal-line strip of DJ Chark that allowed the Bucs to hold off the Panthers in Week 18 — a win vital to the team’s eventual journey to the divisional round. The Minnesota alum also established new career-high marks in tackles (122) and interceptions (three) in 2023. He has put himself on the radar to top Derwin James‘ safety-record AAV, which sits at $19MM. James has held that top spot since summer 2022. After Jessie Bates collected $16MM on the open market last year, the Bucs will not take that chance with Winfield, who started in Super Bowl LV as a rookie and has been an important defender during the Bucs’ run of playoff berths.

Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson On Free Agency

This week, there were rumblings about Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals agreeing to part ways. However, that was nothing more than a “dirty rumor,” according to the cornerback (via the team website). 

There is no real update,” Peterson said on his All Things Covered podcast. “It is just…a dirty rumor. Me and the team haven’t talked about contracts, we haven’t talked about parting ways. That’s just what it is, a dirty rumor.”

Peterson, 31 in July, is set to hit the open market in March. In 2020, he counted for a $13.2MM charge against Arizona’s salary cap. With a new multi-year deal, the Cardinals could have the flexibility to spread out the hits over time, provided that they want to move forward with him.

Drafted fifth overall by Arizona back in 2011, Peterson has become a franchise icon over the past decade. After eight Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro selections, and countless flare-ups with team brass, P2 says he’s open to a new arrangement. He could wind up anywhere, he concedes, but one thing is for sure — he wants to keep playing. In fact, his goal is to keep it going for another six seasons to solidify what he says is a “Hall of Fame resume.”

AFC Rumors: Steelers, Patriots, Easley, Texans

The Steelers have used the majority of their pre-draft visits within the last week, and announced several more today. As Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, the following players were in Pittsburgh today to meet with the club: Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones, West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, Virginia Tech linebacker Dadi Nicolas, Colorado cornerback Ken Crawley, Maryland safety Sean Davis, and Boston College safety Justin Simmons.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams is visiting with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium today, sources tell Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (on Twitter). The Pats previously met with the tailback at the combine. Williams, 22, missed the 2015 regular season after undergoing foot surgery. In 2014, he racked up 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground despite splitting carries.
  • Patriots defensive lineman Dominique Easley has hired agents Drew Rosenhaus and Michael Katz of Rosenhaus Sports for representation, as Rand Getlin of NFL.com tweets. Easley, 23, has been plagued by injuries since being selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. In December of last season, he was placed on IR with a leg injury. In his injury-shortened sophomore year, Easley totaled 15 tackles and two sacks as a part-time player.
  • Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant is visiting the Texans, as Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle writes. The wide receiver/kick returner has also worked out for the Dolphins, Colts, and Jets. Grant returned four kicks for touchdowns over the course of his collegiate career with the Red Raiders and caught 90 passes for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Dolphins Sign Billy Turner

The Dolphins have signed third-round pick Billy Turner, agent Michael Hoffman tells Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). With the signing, the Dolphins have signed all of their draft picks and there are now only two undrafted picks from the 2014 class in the entire NFL: Taylor Lewan (Titans) and Justin Gilbert (Browns).

Turner, 22, was pick No. 67 out of North Dakota State, where he started 56 games across four seasons. Though he played both left and right tackle in college, he will shift to guard in the NFL. Shelley Smith is probably safe as the Dolphins’ right guard, but Turner could push Dallas Thomas for snaps on the left side.

In Miami, Turner will be part of a totally revamped offensive line. Newly signed Branden Albert will start at left tackle, Thomas and Smith will man guard, and first-rounder Ju’Wuan James will handle right tackle. Center was supposed to be the Dolphins’ most stable position along the front five, but following Mike Pouncey‘s injury, Sam Brenner will likely hold down the spot until Pouncey returns.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this post.

Latest On Four Remaining Unsigned Draftees

As we’ve discussed before when covering draft pick signings – as well as those draftees who remain unsigned – the NFL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement has taken most of the drama out of the contracts for rookies. With set amounts on signing bonuses and total values for most rookie deals, players will haggle over things like offset language, types of payment, and guaranteed money, but for the most part, there isn’t much wiggle room.

That means that we shouldn’t expect to see many – if any – holdouts when training camps get underway later this month. Still, four of 2014’s 256 draft picks have still yet to ink their contracts, so it’s worth checking in on them to see if we can discern any particular reason why that’s the case. Here are the four draftees who remain unsigned, along with the latest updates on each of them:

  • Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns (1.8): As of last Tuesday, Gilbert didn’t sound like he was too involved in his own negotiations, deferring to his agent when asked about contract talks by Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. He echoed that stance later in the week, suggesting that he wasn’t sure whether he’d be in attendance when the Browns’ training camp begins. Still, even with potential disputes over offsets and roster bonuses in play at the No. 8 spot, I’d be pretty surprised if the rookie cornerback wasn’t present for the first day of camp.
  • Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans (1.11): Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote this week that he thinks the delay on Lewan may be a result of the offensive tackle looking to replace his fully-guaranteed base salaries with roster bonuses paid out during training camp. Last year’s 11th overall pick (D.J. Fluker) didn’t receive these bonuses in his deal, but Lewan’s teammate, No. 10 pick Chance Warmack, did get them. Considering Lewan is viewed as the Titans’ left tackle of the future, making him a more essential piece on the offensive line than Warmack, he has a reasonable case for those roster bonuses. In Florio’s view, a brief training camp holdout is a possibility for Lewan.
  • Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (2.39): Lee was long viewed as a likely first-round pick, so the delay on his signing may be related to his trying to recoup some guaranteed money after slipping to No. 39. In his latest mailbag, John Oesher of Jaguars.com couldn’t offer any specific details on the holdup for Lee, but stated confidently that something should get done before training camp.
  • Billy Turner, OT, Miami Dolphins (3.67): There haven’t been many rumblings about the contract talks, who is the last third-rounder to sign. Most recently, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote last Monday that the unresolved issues for Turner “are not insurmountable.”

AFC Links: Watkins, Shorts, Keisel, Raiders

Last night we not only passed along some Browns notes, but also asked whether Johnny Manziel’s off-the-field conduct was among the NFL’s most intriguing storylines. Let’s take a look at some more news from Cleveland, as well as the rest of the AFC:

  • Sammy Watkins revealed to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal that Browns general manager Ray Farmer met with him in Clemson just a few days before the start of last month’s draft. Watkins, of course, was thought to be an option for the Browns at pick No. 4, but Cleveland ultimately traded the pick to the Bills, who selected the 21-year-old receiver.
  • Negotiations between the Jaguars and Cecil Shorts could take awhile, but Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com thinks an extension could be signed sometime during the first half of the season. DiRocco agrees with a recent assessment that Doug Baldwin‘s contract with the Seahawks could be a template for a new Shorts deal, but cautions that if Shorts demands No. 1 receiver money, an agreement could stall.
  • In his latest mailbag, Scott Brown of ESPN.com writes that he still expects the Steelers to re-sign veteran Brett Keisel, though a reunion may not come until just before the start of training camp. Keisel would serve as a mentor to second-round pick Stephon Tuitt, and act as part of a rotation with the rookie and Cam Thomas.
  • 2011 Steelers fifth-round linebacker Chris Carter might be facing his last chance in Pittsburgh, according to R.J. Schaffer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Following the release of LaMarr Woodley, there is room for another pass-rusher to step up for the Steelers, but rumors persist that the team might add veteran James Harrison.
  • The Raiders still have more than $10MM left in cap space, and ESPN.com’s Paul Guiterrez wonders if the team should look to spend that money, while questioning why Oakland did not look into signing Brandon Flowers. Personally, I think it makes more sense for the Raiders to roll over that cap space into 2015, as there aren’t any high-impact free agents left on the market.

Patriots Sign Dominique Easley

2:05pm: 80% of Easley’s rookie contract is guaranteed, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).

1:45pm: Another first-round pick has signed his rookie contract, as the Patriots announced today in a press release that they’ve locked up defensive tackle Dominique Easley. The agreement for Easley leaves just five draft picks unsigned, including two first-rounders — Justin Gilbert of the Browns and Taylor Lewan of the Titans.

Easley, 22, was drafted 29th overall by the Patriots, perhaps seeing his stock slip a little leading up to the draft because he’s recovering from a torn ACL. While the Pats may not be counting on the former Florida standout to contribute on the defensive line in New England, Easley has plenty of upside and should develop into productive regular after he gets healthy.

Per Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap, Easley should be in line for a signing bonus worth around $3.632MM, with an overall four-year value of $7.304MM on his rookie deal. Since Easley is a first-rounder, his pact also features a fifth-year team option, which the Pats can exercise to keep him under contract for the 2018 season.

In addition to signing Easley, the Pats filled the 90th spot on the roster by signing rookie free agent Chris Martin to a contract, the team announced. Martin, a former Central Florida offensive lineman, signed with the Texans following the draft, but was cut last month — he was reportedly waived with a failed physical designation, but presumably he’ll be healthy enough to participate in New England’s training camp next month.

Browns Sign Second-Rounder Joel Bitonio

The Browns announced they have agreed to terms with their second-round pick, offensive lineman Joel Bitonio (Twitter link via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal). According to our draft tracker, Bitonio’s signing means there are only six draft picks who remain unsigned, including one of Cleveland’s first-rounders, cornerback Justin Gilbert.

Bitonio, 22, was selected with the No. 35 overall pick out of Nevada. Though he started 38 games at tackle while in college, he is expected to serve as the left guard on the Browns’ offensive front, where he will line up between All-Pros Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. In this scenario, John Greco, who played the majority of snaps at left guard for Cleveland in 2013, will likely shift to the right side, replacing the departed Shawn Lauvao.

According to Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap, Bitonio is in line for a four-year deal with a total value of ~$5.462MM, with a signing bonus of approximately $2.292MM, and a 2014 cap hit of about $993K.

Dolphins Sign Ju’Wuan James

One of eight 2014 draftees who had yet to officially sign his rookie contract has done so today. First-round offensive tackle Ju’Wuan James tweeted out a photo that shows him inking his deal with the Dolphins, accompanied by the caption “Happy to officially be apart of the @MiamiDolphins for many years to come #FinsUp.”

James, the 19th overall selection in last month’s draft, will be in line for a signing bonus worth nearly $4.45MM, according to Jason Fitzgerald’s figures at OverTheCap.com. The four-year contract, which will include a fifth-year team option for the 2018 season, will have an overall value in the neighborhood of $8.428MM, and that total is fully guaranteed, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

With James locked up, the Dolphins have one unsigned pick remaining, in third-round tackle Billy Turner. I wouldn’t be surprised if the club was working on finalizing that deal as well, with the intention of formally announcing both signings at once. Besides the two Dolphins linemen, six other draftees have yet to put pen to paper, including three first-rounders. You can check out our tracker for all the updates.