Month: September 2022

Latest On Steelers’ Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson made headlines last week when he joined the group of extension-eligible wideouts choosing not to attend the first week of their team’s OTAs. He has now changed course on that decision, however. 

As noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, the 25-year-old is in fact with the team now, and conducting on-field work. All activity at this point in the offseason is voluntary, so Johnson’s absence was much different than what it would be if he were to repeat it in June. Still, his presence will be a welcomed sign for the rest of the team’s offense.

That unit includes new quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has been taking first-team reps so far. Developing chemistry between the pair – something which, in fairness, already began informally earlier in the offseason – will go a long way to developing the team’s passing game. Whether Trubisky or top pick Kenny Pickett ends up winning the starting job in the fall, Johnson will of course be a focal point of Pittsburgh’s offense.

The third-rounder has taken a notable step forward in terms of production during each of his three seasons in the NFL. After coming just short of doing so in 2020, he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark last season, earning Pro Bowl honors along the way. That has led to optimism for the upcoming campaign, though another strong performance would only inflate his value in free agency.

As a result, the way new general manager Omar Khan will handle this situation bears watching. The Steelers have a history of generally declining to sign wideouts to large second contracts, something which may become more likely if the recent upward trend in the position’s market continues with deals for the likes of Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin. Outside of Johnson, Pittsburgh boasts Chase Claypool, along with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin as notable young receivers. Last year, running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth showed the potential to become franchise cornerstones as well, but the team’s offensive nucleus would likely be at its best with Johnson in the fold long-term.

With Johnson back on the field, it will be worth monitoring if any progress is made soon regarding a contract extension. In any event, the Steelers will no doubt welcome back their top wideout during a time when other teams are without stars in similar situations.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/31/22

Today’s minor moves around the NFL:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans

Kansas City Chiefs

Pittsburgh Steelers

Second-Round Broncos Bids Expected In Coming Days

The process of finding a new owner of the Broncos is approaching a crucial next step. 9News’ Mike Klis reports (on Twitter) that second-round bids for the franchise are due by Monday.

That places a firm deadline on the bidding process, which was expected to reach this stage in the near future. As Klis notes, four groups are expected to place a bid, with the lone exception amongst prospects previously reported as showing interest being the one led by media mogul Byron Allen. He was still considered to be in the running earlier this month, but the list of finalists would seem to no longer include his name.

That leaves the group led by Rob Walton at the top of said list; the Walmart heir has a personal value of more than $70MM, and has consistently been labelled as the frontrunner to win the bidding process. Among his competitors is the pairing of 76ers owner Josh Harris and Magic Johnson, the group involving Todd Boehly (which is in the process of purchasing English Premier League club Chelsea) and, the most recent addition to the mix, brothers Mat and Justin Ishbia.

In a follow-up, Klis details that if the group including Boehly were to be successful, he would be a “limited partner”. Instead, Jose Feliciano would be the lead owner, something which would satisfy the league’s desire for minority ownership in this process. While Klis further tweets that the trio involving Boehly, Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali would constitute surprise winners in the bidding process at this point, they remain in contention to make a second major purchase in a matter of weeks.

With the next round of bids – long expected to approach the $5B mark, which would comfortably set a new North American sports record – set to be made in the coming days, Klis reports that the sales process could be completed by late June or early July (Twitter link). That would stay in line with the overarching thought that a new owner would be in place in time for the 2022 campaign, and bring an end to one of the league’s top off-the-field storylines.

Vikings To Sign WR Albert Wilson

Another free agent wideout has found a new home. The Vikings are signing Albert Wilson to a one-year deal, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press adds (via Twitter) that the contract is worth the veteran minimum of $1.12MM.

[RELATED: Vikings Work Out WR Westbrook]

Wilson, who will be 30 when the season begins, started his career with the Chiefs in 2014. His last season in Kansas City was his best, as he posted 554 yards and three touchdowns on 42 receptions. A notable contributor on the team’s offense (especially in 2015 and 2017), he started 26 of 55 contests there, which earned him a sizeable deal on the open market.

The Georgia State alum signed a three-year, $24MM contract with the Dolphins in 2018. He ended up playing roughly half of the team’s offensive snaps during his first two years in Miami, however; while he did make a career-high 43 catches in 2019, he failed to match the yardage totals from his best campaigns in Kansas City. Wilson did finish out his contract (one year later than originally intended, as he opted out in 2020) despite uncertainty that he would remain on the roster heading into last season. Playing 14 games, he had his worst statistical output since his rookie year.

In Minnesota, Wilson will join a WR room which is headlined by Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The team also has K.J. Osborn, who went from zero targets as a rookie to 50 receptions and seven touchdowns last season. Wilson will likely slot in behind him for rotational snaps, rounding out a depth chart also featuring recent Day 3 selections Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jalen NailorTaking a (presumably) healthy tight end Irv Smith Jr. into account, the Vikings already featured sufficient pass-catching options, but this addition will provide them with an experienced role player capable of contributing on offense.

New Civil Suit Filed Against Deshaun Watson

There is another update to Deshaun Watson‘s ongoing legal situation, but not one further signalling its conclusion. Another civil suit has been filed against him, per ESPN’s Sarah Barshop (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: NFL “Nearing The End” Of Watson Investigation]

That brings the total number of suits to 23. As this latest one states, the plaintiff “changed her mind about filing a lawsuit after watching the HBO Real Sports piece”. That is a reference to the recent airing of two plaintiffs who went public with the details of their allegations against the Browns quarterback, who has at all times maintained both his innocence and an intention of seeing out the legal process without a settlement agreement. Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post details (on Twitter) that this suit contains specific allegations that the owner of one spa in particular “provided women for Watson” and that they were paid for doing so.

As his attorney, Rusty Hardin, admitted after the HBO piece aired, Watson and his camp were “not going to win the battle of public opinion” on the matter of sexual misconduct and sexual assault allegations made against him related to massage therapy sessions. Hardin stated that he envisioned the NFL’s investigation ending by June or July after it came out that the league would be meeting with the 26-year-old for a second time.

This newest suit could, of course, affect that timeline. If the league meets with the 23rd plaintiff – as it has with more than half of Watson’s accusers – that would open the door to a delay in their ultimate decision with respect to a punishment, which is separate from the result of his pending civil litigation (on two previous occasions, grand juries have decided not to indict him on criminal charges). While it remains to be seen how much of an effect, if any, the suit will have on this matter, it adds another layer to the most controversial storyline in the league this offseason.

Cardinals CB Jeff Gladney Dies At 25

MAY 31: The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department later confirmed a woman, Andrea Mercedes Palacios, died in the accident. Palacios was 26. Gladney’s girlfriend, Palacios was with him in a white vehicle that was found overturned Monday morning, ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss reports. The vehicle was believed to be speeding; it lost control after hitting another vehicle in front of it and colliding with a beam on Woodall Rogers Freeway in Dallas. The two passengers in the other vehicle were not injured.

MAY 30: Cornerback Jeff Gladney, a former first-round pick who had recently signed with the Cardinals, was killed in a car accident early Monday morning in the Dallas area, Clarence Hill and Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram report. The accident occurred at around 2:30am, according to SI.com’s Albert Breer (on Twitter). Gladney was 25.

Minnesota drafted Gladney 31st overall in 2020, 10 spots after former TCU teammate Jalen Reagor went off the board. The Eagles wide receiver made several tweets mourning Gladney’s loss Monday.

Gladney did not play in the NFL last season, with a felony family violence assault charge leading the Vikings to waive him in August 2021. After being acquitted of the charge in March, Gladney signed a two-year deal worth $6.5MM with the Cardinals.

We are devastated to learn of Jeff Gladney’s passing,” the Cardinals said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to his family, friends and all who are mourning this tremendous loss.”

Gladney made 42 starts at TCU and finished the 2019 season eighth in Division I-FBS with 14 pass breakups. That helped garner the New Boston, Texas, native first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior. Gladney, who was at TCU for five years, intercepted five passes during his college career.

The 5-foot-10 defender became an immediate starter for the Vikings, who used the rookie on 89% of their defensive snaps during the 2020 season. Making 15 starts for a Vikings defense that encountered numerous injury problems, Gladney made 83 tackles as a rookie. He was set to be a key part of the Cardinals’ secondary in 2022.

Lions Claim DL John Cominsky, Release K Aldrick Rosas

The Falcons cut John Cominsky after three seasons, but the defensive lineman did not last long on the waiver wire. The Lions claimed the young defender Tuesday, according to ProFootballNetwork.com’s Aaron Wilson (on Twitter).

Despite being a healthy scratch at points last season — a four-game campaign for the former fourth-round pick — Cominsky only lasted to the No. 2 team on the waiver wire. The Lions, by virtue of their 3-13-1 record, sit only behind the Jaguars here.

Dan Campbell‘s team has been busy at defensive end this offseason, drafting Aidan Hutchinson second overall and adding Kentucky’s Josh Paschal in the second round. The Lions, who cut three-year defensive end Trey Flowers, largely stood pat at defensive tackle. Michael Brockers remains; ex-Day 2 picks Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill join him. Cominsky, who has worked as an inside player as well, profiles as a potential rotational cog here.

That will be the goal, at least, for the 26-year-old defender. Atlanta did not view Cominsky as a fit in Dean Pees‘ 3-4 scheme. After Cominsky played 398 defensive snaps in 2020, he logged just 13 last season. He registered a sack in 2020, but the Charleston (West Virginia) alum’s pro career has largely been light on statistics.

Detroit also cut kicker Aldrick Rosas, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. The Lions gave Rosas a reserve/futures deal in early February. The team still has Riley Patterson and Austin Seibert, who combined to kick in 13 Lions games last season, on its offseason roster.

Rosas kicked in one game with Detroit in 2021. The former Giants Pro Bowler continues to bounce around the league. Prior to venturing to Michigan, Rosas spent time with Jacksonville and New Orleans over the past two seasons.

Panthers Eyeing Brady Christensen At Guard

For the first time in over a decade, the Panthers have a young player positioned to be a long-term left tackle. The franchise will enter this season with a 10th primary left tackle option in the past 10 years, but Ikem Ekwonu appears poised to halt that streak.

Ekwonu’s arrival, however, is likely to move one of Carolina’s Day 2 picks from last year to a new role. The Panthers view Brady Christensen, a 2021 third-round choice, as a better guard option than he was at tackle, Joseph Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The BYU product has worked at guard and center during the Panthers’ offseason program thus far.

Christensen started six games at left tackle last season, allowing four sacks on 480 snaps. Carolina lost each of those six games, though the team had many other issues, and Matt Rhule said last year he viewed the rookie as an interior blocker. But the embattled head coach said earlier this offseason he saw some promise for Christensen at tackle, where he started the final three games of last season. Prior to the draft, offensive line coach James Campen also said Christensen would factor into the left tackle picture. Ekwonu going to his home-state team at No. 6 overall changed that plan.

The Panthers added new interior starters in guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman. Taylor Moton remains entrenched at right tackle, leaving one open spot — left guard — on Carolina’s reconfigured O-line. Christensen stands to battle 2021 left guard starter Michael Jordan for the gig, per Person. A 2019 fourth-round Bengals draftee, Jordan has an extensive experience advantage. He has made 29 starts at guard for Cincinnati and Carolina in three seasons. One year remains on Jordan’s rookie contract.

Although Christensen was an All-American left tackle who generated Pro Football Focus’ highest single-season tackle grade in the site’s short history grading college players, it appears a best-five-blockers-type plan could produce a quintet featuring the 6-foot-6 lineman alongside Ekwonu next season.

Extension Candidate: Roquan Smith

Although the Bears have a new regime in place, one that has gutted the previous staff’s front seven, Roquan Smith‘s status with the organization still appears secure.

One season, at a fifth-year option price of $9.74MM, remains on the linebacker’s rookie contract. New Bears GM Ryan Poles is planning to discuss a Smith extension, per Adam Jahns of The Athletic (subscription required). The prospect of a new deal before the season looms, though it is not a lock.

I don’t know if that’s how we’re going to handle it, but I would like to,” Poles said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin. “Obviously the earlier you get to that, the better. But also with a new staff, we may wait a little bit, too.”

The rebuilding Bears no longer have too much money tied to their defense, with several veteran deals coming off their books in March. Smith, who said in April he “absolutely” seeks a long-term Chicago stay, represents the team’s front-seven cornerstone and would make sense as the first big defensive investment for Poles and Matt Eberflus. Though, the off-ball linebacker market has changed considerably since the Ryan Pace regime drafted Smith.

The talented off-ball ‘backer has been a starter since going off the 2018 draft board eighth overall, teaming with Danny Trevathan in Vic Fangio-, Chuck Pagano– and Sean Desai-coordinated 3-4 schemes. The Bears are shifting to a 4-3 alignment under new Eberflus, but teams pay up for defenders’ sub-package usage. Smith, 25, has been a three-down player throughout his career.

Smith is coming off another strong season, one in which he paired 163 tackles with three sacks and a pick-six. He has 14 career sacks and also accumulated 30 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Smith’s 30 TFLs since 2020 not only lead all off-ball linebackers by a wide margin; that total sits second to only T.J. Watt among all linebackers. While no Pro Bowls appear on Smith’s resume, the four-year veteran has received second-team All-Pro nods in each of the past two years.

Poles has moved four Pace-era extensions off the roster, taking on some dead money to do so. He signed off on cutting Trevathan, a six-year Chicago starter, and nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who was a D-line first-stringer for six years. The Bears traded Khalil Mack, severing ties with the All-Pro edge rusher after four seasons (and taking on $24MM-plus in dead money). Six-year D-end starter Akiem Hicks signed with the Buccaneers on Tuesday. Robert Quinn has been with the Bears two years and broke Richard Dent‘s single-season team sack record in 2021. But the 11-year veteran does not seem a fit on a team that looks unlikely to contend this season. Quinn, 31, is believed to want out. Smith, however, is much younger than his longtime teammates, being squarely in his prime.

Smith’s option price would have been higher were he selected to a Pro Bowl. That promises to come up once the Bears begin negotiations in earnest; so do the second-team All-Pro accolades. The top of the linebacker market moved last year, with Fred Warner ($19MM per year) and Darius Leonard ($19.7MM AAV) using the C.J. Mosley and Bobby Wagner contracts as springboards to raise the ceiling of a positional landscape that looked drastically different prior to Mosley’s 2019 Jets pact ($17MM AAV).

Eberflus’ past with Leonard certainly bodes well for Smith. Still, a gap between the Leonard-Warner-Mosley tier and the field exists. Only two other traditional linebackers — Deion Jones (on a 2019 extension, one that may be shed soon) and ex-teammate Foyesade Oluokun — currently earn at least $14MM per year. The salary cap’s renewed growth, following its second-ever reduction in 2021, also stands to help extension-seeking players this year.

The gaps in between these linebacker salary tiers create some space for Smith’s camp to negotiate while also injecting some uncertainty into the talks. Smith can set his price above Jones ($14.25MM per year), Oluokun ($15MM AAV) and probably Mosley, but it will be interesting to see how the Bears’ new regime values him in comparison to first-team All-Pros Warner and Leonard.

Buccaneers To Waive WR Travis Jonsen

Arrested for DUI on Monday, Buccaneers wide receiver Travis Jonsen is set to hit the waiver wire. Bucs HC Todd Bowles said Tuesday the former UDFA signing is no longer with the team, via Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith (on Twitter).

A 2020 Bucs post-draft addition, Jonsen has spent most of his NFL time in Tampa. While the Lions rostered him on their practice squad for a stretch last season, the Bucs gave Jonsen a reserve/futures contract for a second straight year in January. His Memorial Day arrest has changed the team’s plans.

Tampa police arrested Jonsen at 3:18am Monday, Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets. Jonsen, 25, refused a blood-alcohol test and was booked at 4:56am on a misdemeanor DUI charge. Although Jonsen was released from jail before noon Monday, Auman tweets, the Bucs have since moved on. Countless instances exist of players remaining with teams after DUIs, but bottom-rung roster players are generally afforded fewer missteps.

A Montana State alum, the 6-foot-4 wideout has not played in an NFL regular-season game to this point. He finished as a first-team All-Big Sky Conference performer in 2019. He was with the Bucs on their 16-man practice squad for most of their Super Bowl LV-winning season and began last season on Tampa Bay’s taxi squad as well.