2021 NFL Draft

Saints Tried To Trade Up For Mac Jones

New Orleans’ quarterback situation has not been this uncertain in more than 15 years. Injury replacement Trevor Siemian has gone 0-4 as a starter, and Taysom Hill is now battling a foot injury. With Jameis Winston tearing an ACL, the Saints will need to regroup here in 2022.

The team did try to move into the mix in last year’s five-quarterback first round, however, amid an active night of trade efforts in April. The Saints attempted to trade ahead of the Patriots with the intention of selecting Mac Jones, Jeff Howe of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

Previous reports had the Saints aiming to move up for Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain II, but after the Panthers and Broncos proceeded to take the draft’s top cornerbacks, it appears New Orleans made an effort to make a 10-plus-spot jump for the final first-round-graded QB. A pre-draft report linked the Saints to one of the non-Trevor Lawrence/Zach Wilson QBs in Round 1. The issue, one that hindered the Saints’ efforts to land Surtain or Horn, became teams’ unwillingness to drop down to No. 28 in a trade, Howe adds.

The Saints spoke to the Giants about moving up to No. 11, but the Bears made a better offer — a 2022 first-rounder that may land in the top 10 — to vault to that slot for Justin Fields. Following the Bears’ Fields pick, the Cowboys — after trading down two spots with the Eagles — selected Micah Parsons. The Chargers then took Rashawn Slater at No. 13. Both picks have worked out incredibly well thus far. The Vikings, who had attempted to trade up for Fields by offering third- and fourth-round picks to the Panthers at No. 8, dealt the No. 14 overall pick to the Jets, who selected Alijah Vera-Tucker. This handed the Patriots Jones, who has fared the best of this draft’s highly touted lot of quarterbacks.

The Saints made a similar move three years ago, trading up from No. 27 to No. 14 with the Packers to choose Marcus Davenport. This cost the Saints a 2018 fifth-rounder and their 2019 first-round choice. New Orleans will hold a higher first-round choice in 2022 than they did this year, but next year’s quarterback class does not feature the same level of prospects 2021’s did. This could certainly put the aggressive team in the mix for one of the veteran arms that stand to be available.

Packers Sign Third-Round WR Amari Rodgers, Finalize Draft Class

Ahead of their training camp, the Packers will have their rookie contingent signed up. For several weeks, Amari Rodgers resided as the lone unsigned Packer draftee. The team changed that Friday, inking its third-round wide receiver pick to the standard four-year rookie deal.

A Clemson product who played a key role on each of the Tigers’ three Trevor Lawrence-led teams, Rodgers continues the line of Green Bay Day 2 receiver investments. However, the Packers have not taken a Day 2 wideout since Ty Montgomery — whom the team reconverted to running back early in his career — in 2015. Green Bay has experienced success with second- or third-round receiver picks during the Aaron Rodgers era — Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, dating back to 2007 — and selected Amari Rodgers at a crucial juncture on its timeline.

The Packers have major questions about the status of their passing attack. Aaron Rodgers remains AWOL, having turned down an extension offer that would have made him the NFL’s highest-paid player again. The disgruntled quarterback has not shown for Packers workouts this offseason and is not expected to report to camp on time. Adams has also become frustrated with the franchise, breaking off extension talks ahead of his contract year.

Green Bay will be deeper at receiver this season, however. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard remain under contract, and 2020 free agency add Devin Funchess — a COVID-19 opt-out last year — is back in the fold.

A 5-foot-9 slot cog at Clemson, Amari Rodgers should add some juice to this aerial attack. With Tee Higgins leaving early for the NFL and Justyn Ross out for the season with an injury, Rodgers led Clemson in receiving last season en route to becoming this year’s No. 85 overall pick. He finished with 1,020 yards in 12 games, surpassing his combined total from the 2018 and ’19 seasons.

While it remains uncertain if a Rodgers-Rodgers connection will materialize, the Packers have the makings of an improved receiving corps in 2021. Here is how Green Bay’s draft class breaks down going into camp:

Round 1: No. 29 Eric Stokes, CB (Georgia) (signed)
Round 2: No. 62 Josh Myers, C (Ohio State) (signed)
Round 3: No. 85 (from Titans) Amari Rodgers, WR (Clemson) (signed)
Round 4: No. 142 Royce Newman, OG (Ole Miss) (signed)
Round 5: No. 173 Tedarrell Slaton, DT (Florida) (signed)
Round 5: No. 178 Shemar Jean-Charles, CB (Appalachian State) (signed)
Round 6: No. 214 Cole Van Lanen, G (Wisconsin) (signed)
Round 6: No. 220 Isaiah McDuffie, LB (Boston College) (signed)
Round 7: No. 256 Kylin Hill, RB (Mississippi State) (signed)

Raiders Sign Third-Rounders Malcolm Koonce, Divine Deablo To Wrap Draft Class

The Raiders are ready to roll for training camp; all their rookies are now under contract. Las Vegas came to terms on the customary four-year rookie deals for third-round picks Divine Deablo and Malcolm Koonce on Friday.

Las Vegas took Koonce, a defensive end out of Buffalo, at No. 79 before drafting Deablo (Virginia Tech) a pick later. The team is set to open its training camp July 27, joining 28 other squads in that regard. Deablo, Koonce and second-round safety Trevon Moehrig represent the Raiders’ Day 2 draft contingent. Moehrig signed his rookie deal last month.

Primarily a safety at Virginia Tech, Deablo is on track to begin his NFL career as a linebacker. Deablo began his Hokies career as a wide receiver, ranking as a top-25 wideout recruit nationally in 2016, but moved to the defensive side in 2017. Deablo was a key Virginia Tech defender from 2018-20. Last season, he intercepted four passes; one of those picks came against top 2021 pick Trevor Lawrence. Deablo will join an experienced Raiders linebacking corps, being positioned to potentially see extensive time following the 2021 season.

Koonce combined to register 13 sacks over the past two seasons. He tallied 11 tackles for loss in 2019, when he added three forced fumbles. Koonce finished as a first-team All-MAC defender during the conference’s six-game season. In that truncated campaign, Koonce still posted five sacks. He will join a Raiders edge-rushing corps that now houses Yannick Ngakoue, who signed to team with Clelin Ferrell and former fourth-round find Maxx Crosby. Crosby was also a MAC pass-rushing standout.

Going into camp, here is how the Raiders’ 2021 draft class breaks down:

Round 1: No. 17 Alex Leatherwood, OL (Alabama) (signed)
Round 2: No. 43 (from 49ers) Tre’von Moehrig, S (TCU) (signed)
Round 3: No. 79 (from Cardinals) Malcolm Koonce, DE (Buffalo) (signed)
Round 3: No. 80 Divine Deablo, S (Virginia Tech) (signed)
Round 4: No. 143 (from Vikings via Jets) Tyree Gillespie, S (Missouri) (signed)
Round 5: No. 167 (from Seahawks) Nate Hobbs, CB (Illinois) (signed)
Round 7: No. 230 (from Jets via 49ers) Jimmy Morrissey, C (Pittsburgh) (signed)

Dolphins Sign Second-Round S Jevon Holland

The first of the Dolphins’ two second-round picks is now under contract. The Dolphins and safety Jevon Holland agreed to terms on the customary four-year rookie deal Friday.

Miami selected Holland 36th overall out of Oregon, doing so just after Denver traded up to No. 35 to take running back Javonte Williams. The Dolphins did extensive work on Williams, but after the Broncos’ move, the team’s focus shifted. Holland will be ticketed to play a key role in Miami’s secondary as a rookie.

The Dolphins cut longtime starter Bobby McCain this offseason, clearing a path for Holland to move into the starting lineup as a rookie. Miami has converted cornerback Eric Rowe in position as a safety starter. Rowe has been a full-time safety first-stringer in each of Brian Flores‘ two seasons.

Holland opted out last year, joining Oregon first-round talent Penei Sewell in doing so, but the 6-foot, 207-pound defender packed plenty into his two-year Ducks sample. Holland intercepted nine passes in his two years with the Ducks. He added 4.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2019.

Both of Miami’s other Day 2 picks — second-round tackle Liam Eichenberg and third-round tight end Hunter Long — remain unsigned. The Dolphins and first-rounders Jaelan Phillips and Jaylen Waddle have agreed to terms.

Broncos Sign Second-Round RB Javonte Williams

With Broncos rookies reporting Saturday, they will have their entire draft class ready for training camp. Second-round pick Javonte Williams signed his four-year rookie deal Friday, becoming the last of Denver’s 10 2021 draftees to sign.

New Broncos GM George Paton traded up in front of the Dolphins at No. 35 to draft Williams, who teamed with Jets fourth-rounder Michael Carter to form one of the nation’s top backfields. Williams entered the draft as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-rated back; he went off the board third at the position, behind first-rounders Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. Williams doubles as the Broncos’ highest-drafted back since Knowshon Moreno in the 2009 first round.

Williams, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry in his third and final North Carolina season, scored 22 touchdowns in 2020. He amassed 1,445 scrimmage yards despite the COVID-19 pandemic capping the Tar Heels’ season at 11 games. His Denver arrival figures to signal Melvin Gordon will be a two-and-done back with the team — at best.

The Broncos, despite Phillip Lindsay‘s back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, gave Gordon a two-year deal worth $16MM in March 2020. Gordon played well in spurts but also fumbled four times and was arrested for DUI last year. That charge ultimately being dismissed kept Gordon’s guarantees intact, but his 2021 roster spot may not be locked in. Though Lindsay is now in Houston, the Broncos signed ex-Vikings backup Mike Boone this offseason. It would cost the Broncos $6.5MM in dead money to cut Gordon.

Latest On Unsigned Third-Round Picks

A significant number of third-round picks have yet to ink their rookie contracts, and SiriusXM’s Adam Caplan has a potential explanation. The reporter tweets that these rookies’ agents are requesting a fully compensated four-year deal.

Specifically, agents want to max out base salaries (while adhering to the 25-percent limit). Front offices apparently aren’t giving in; there are currently 26 unsigned third-round picks (h/t to John Glennon of Broadway Sports on Twitter). For comparison’s sake, there are eight unsigned second-round picks and zero unsigned fourth-round picks.

This trend may have been inspired by Nico Collins. The Texans rookie wideout ended up inking the “fully compensated” four-year deal. The Michigan product was the 25th pick of the third round (No. 89 overall), so it’s easy to assume that most of the players taken before Collins are pushing for a similar contract.

That 25-percent rule is the true crux of the staring contests between teams and agents. Per NFL.com, the rule states that “[u]nless a player’s base salary is set at the minimum every year, no team can sign a player to a contract that would give him a raise of more than 25 percent annually. So, the second year of the contract can’t provide a salary more than 25 percent of the first year, and after that, each subsequent year can’t offer an increase of more than 25 percent of his previous year’s salary.” The difference between that aforementioned “minimum” third-round contract and the hypothetical “maximum” third-round contract is about $500K for the life of the contract, a significant sum at that point in the draft.

Eight Second-Rounders, 27 Third-Rounders Still Unsigned

Even though there hasn’t been much drama in rookie contract negotiations since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement was passed, there are always a few stragglers when it comes to getting rookie deals signed. As of the time of this writing, eight 2021 second-rounders (including the top six picks of the second round) are still unsigned, and 27 third-rounders have yet to put pen to paper.

An NFL executive (via Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post) offers a refresher on why this is the case. He reminds us that most second-round choices now have the second year of their rookie deals guaranteed, and those players are pushing for more guarantees in the third year of their contracts. So, if the first pick of the second round has 90% of his third year guaranteed, the second pick of the round might get an 85% guarantee, and so on. That helps explain why, after the top six selections of the round, there are only two unsigned draftees.

The third round is the opposite. The first 12 third-rounders (pick nos. 65-76) are signed, whereas only two players selected with the nos. 77-105 picks are under contract. That is because, starting in the third round, teams don’t have to pay their rookies the full 25% yearly salary increase the CBA permits. The players’ agents, of course, are negotiating to get their clients as close to that 25% figure as possible, but as the executive notes, most of these discussions are revolving around a few thousand dollars at this point.

Every player drafted from rounds 4-7 is under contract, and there are still six unsigned first-rounders. Here’s the list of second- and third-round players who are still waiting to sign on the dotted line with several weeks left until training camp opens.

Round 2

33) Jacksonville Jaguars: Tyson Campbell, CB (Georgia)
34) New York Jets: Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)
35) Denver Broncos (from Falcons): Javonte Williams, RB (North Carolina)
36) Miami Dolphins (from Texans): Jevon Holland, S (Oregon)
37) Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Dickerson, C (Alabama)
38) New England Patriots (from Bengals): DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)
42) Miami Dolphins (from Giants): Liam Eichenberg, OT (Notre Dame)
45) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Vikings): Walker Little, OT (Stanford)

Round 3

77) Los Angeles Chargers: Josh Palmer, WR (Tennessee)
78) Minnesota Vikings: Chazz Surratt, LB (North Carolina)
79) Las Vegas Raiders (from Cardinals): Malcolm Koonce, DE (Buffalo)
80) Las Vegas Raiders: Divine Deablo, S (Virginia Tech)
81) Miami Dolphins: Hunter Long, TE (Boston College)
83) Carolina Panthers (from Bears): Tommy Tremble, TE (Notre Dame)
84) Dallas Cowboys (from Eagles via Colts): Chauncey Golston, DE (Iowa)
85) Green Bay Packers (from Titans): Amari Rodgers, WR (Clemson)
86) Minnesota Vikings (from Seahawks via Jets): Wyatt Davis, G (Ohio State)
87) Pittsburgh Steelers: Kendrick Green, C (Illinois)
88) San Francisco 49ers (from Rams): Trey Sermon, RB (Ohio State)
90) Minnesota Vikings (from Ravens): Patrick Jones II, DE (Pittsburgh)
91) Cleveland Browns (from Saints): Anthony Schwartz, WR (Auburn)
92) Tennessee Titans (from Packers): Monty Rice, LB (Georgia)
93) Buffalo Bills: Spencer Brown, OT (Northern Iowa)
94) Baltimore Ravens (from Chiefs): Ben Cleveland, G (Georgia)
95) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Robert Hainsey, OL (Notre Dame)
96) New England Patriots (compensatory pick): Ronnie Perkins, DE (Oklahoma)
97) Los Angeles Chargers (compensatory pick): Tre’ McKitty, TE (Georgia)
98) Denver Broncos (compensatory pick, from Saints): Quinn Meinerz, G (Wisconsin-Whitewater)
99) Dallas Cowboys (compensatory pick): Nahshon Wright, CB (Oregon State)
100) Tennessee Titans (compensatory pick): Elijah Molden, CB (Washington)
101) Detroit Lions (from Rams, compensatory pick): Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB (Syracuse)
102) San Francisco 49ers (compensatory pick): Ambry Thomas, CB (Michigan)
103) Los Angeles Rams (compensatory pick): Ernest Jones, LB (South Carolina)
104) Baltimore Ravens (compensatory pick): Brandon Stephens, CB (SMU)
105) Denver Broncos (compensatory pick, from Saints), Baron Browning, LB (Ohio State)

Jaguars Sign No. 1 Pick Trevor Lawrence

This year’s top rookie prospect is now under contract. The Jaguars and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence agreed to terms on his rookie deal Monday, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

The customary four-year deal, with the Year 5 option, will be worth $36.8MM and come with a $24.8MM signing bonus. The deal is fully guaranteed. The 21-year-old quarterback passed his physical and will collect his signing bonus within the next 15 days, Pelissero adds (on Twitter).

Lawrence will collect roster bonuses from 2022-24, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, who adds these payouts will be due three days after the start of the Jaguars’ training camp (Twitter link). The prized rookie will collect these bonuses even if he begins any of these camps on the Jags’ non-football injury list. Given this bonus structure, it will be interesting to see the full breakdown of this deal. The contract also includes no offset language.

It took a full-on Jaguars freefall to obtain the rights to Lawrence, who starred at Clemson for most of the past three seasons. Jacksonville lost 15 straight games en route to landing the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history. Lawrence’s status played a key role in leading Urban Meyer to accept the Jags’ offer to become their head coach.

The 6-foot-6 passer had been penciled into the 2021 No. 1 overall draft slot for years, dating back to his 2018 emergence as a super prospect. Lawrence led Clemson to a national title as a true freshman, taking over for veteran Kelly Bryant midway through the season. Lawrence finished with a 34-2 record as the Tigers’ starter. In his final season in South Carolina, Lawrence threw for 3,153 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. And, with 69.2% of his passes completed, he finished as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, despite losing time to a positive COVID-19 test.

The Jags have taken the first-round route with a few quarterbacks during their history. Following trade acquisition Mark Brunell‘s successful run in the franchise’s early years, the Jags were unable to turn their first-round QBs — Byron Leftwich, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles — into long-term answers. Lawrence, however, enters the NFL with considerably more hype than the other three Round 1 QBs in Jags history.

Gardner Minshew took the bulk of the Jags’ snaps over the past two years, though the team used a few arms in its rough 2020 season. Minshew remains on the roster, despite offseason trade rumors. While Meyer has floated the idea of a quarterback competition, it would be shocking if Lawrence did not open the season as Jacksonville’s quarterback.

Ex-Clemson teammate Travis Etienne will join Lawrence in Jacksonville. Etienne and Jags second-round picks Tyson Campbell and Walker Little remain unsigned.

Latest On Unsigned First-Round Rookies

After the Falcons inked first-round tight end Kyle Pitts to his rookie deal earlier today, there are eight first-round rookies who remain unsigned:

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)
2) New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB (BYU)
3) San Francisco 49ers (from Texans via Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)
13) Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT (Northwestern)
14) New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL (USC)
15) New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): Travis Etienne, RB (Clemson)
26) Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB (Northwestern)

This isn’t a huge cause for concern, as first-round contracts are pretty standard and by-the-book. However, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has an explanation for why at least a handful of these players still haven’t put pen to paper. According to the reporter (via Twitter), there are still some “wrinkles to work out” for the notable quarterback deals. This sentiment would presumably apply to each of the top-three picks, and it could even be referring to Patriots first-round quarterback Mac Jones.

There’s a number of minor details that agents could be pushing for, including signing bonus terms or any other contract language that goes beyond the standard, boilerplate options. On the other side, teams could be pushing for some type of offset language, meaning the organization would get some financial flexibility if the player for some reason doesn’t finish their rookie contract with the team.

When it comes to the quarterbacks, most of the agents are probably waiting to see how Lawrence’s deal unfolds in Jacksonville. Alternatively, if Bill Belichick and the Patriots (somehow) give in to any demands from Jones camp, you can bet the top-three QBs would argue for similar benefits. While there are a number of reasons why the other, non-QB players have yet to sign, one could guess that the two offensive lineman may be pushing for similar terms (Vera-Tucker could also simply be waiting for his teammate to sign their contract). Etienne is in a unique position as one of only two first-round running backs (or, like Vera-Tucker, he could be waiting for his teammate), while Newsome recently fired his agent.

The teams and the players will want the contracts settled prior to training camp in late-July, but that still leaves a few weeks for negotiating.