The onset of training camps has brought about another wave of veterans signing new deals, or at least meeting with prospective teams in the hopes of landing a contract. Odell Beckham Jr.is still unlikely to be included in either scenario in the immediate future, but the free agent remains a name worth watching.
Multiple NFC teams have expressed interest in signing the 29-year-old in recent months, and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that he could still have a number of suitors (video link). The Buccaneers expressed interest before signingJulio Jones, and Rapoport “expects” the Packers to still be included among the teams willing to sign him, given the lack of proven options in their re-worked receiving corps.
The landing spot Beckham remains most connected to, though, is Los Angeles. Rapoport adds that the Rams “still have maintained interest” in a reunion as the offseason has progressed. His level of play after joining the team midseason – 593 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 total games – led to the team expressing optimism about a deal being finalized this offseason. The three-time Pro Bowler has reciprocated that desire, but is still not expected to sign with anyone soon.
As he continues to recover from the torn ACL he suffered in the Super Bowl, Beckham won’t be available to play for several weeks to begin the season. That timeframe allows him to approach free agency without the urgency of healthy players, leaving open the possibility that he remains a free agent well into the campaign. On that point, Rapoport adds that nothing is considered “imminent” with respect to a contract being signed this summer.
The Rams still have Cooper Kupp at the top of their WR depth chart, and added Allen Robinsonin free agency. The loss of Robert Woodsleaves a starting spot available, though, and with over $8MM available in cap space, the team could afford a modest deal for Beckham. As the pool of available free agents continues to shrink, it will be interesting to watch how his market develops over time.
With training camps well underway, there have been a number of significant developments with on- and off-the-field implications this past week. In case you missed anything, here’s a quick recap of the top stories from around the league:
Watson Given Six-Game Suspension: The long-awaited ruling from former judge Sue L. Robinson was handed down Monday morning, and imposed a ban for the first six games of the season on Deshaun Watson. The Browns QB was found to have violated the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy by virtue of his “nonviolent sexual conduct” during massage sessions dating back to his time with the Texans. As it stands, the punishment will cost Watson $345K in salary; things could change significantly soon, however, since the league has appealed the decision, and is looking to have both its length and financial penalties increased by a new third-party arbiter.
Samuel Signs Extension: After formally requesting a trade earlier this offseason, wideout Deebo Samuelcompleted his course reversal by inking a three-year, $71.55MM extension. The new deal will keep him in San Francisco through 2025, and moves him into the top-10 in the league in annual compensation ($23.85MM) at the position. The 26-year-old now has the financial security to replicate his success from last season – where he earned All-Pro honors for his unique effectiveness in the air and on the ground – but also the opportunity to hit the open market in the not-too-distant future.
Dolphins, Ross Punished For Tampering: The Dolphins were docked a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 third-rounder for their attempts to acquire QB Tom Bradyand head coach Sean Payton. In addition, owner Steven Ross was suspended until October and fined $1.5MM. The organization was found to have committed tampering violations of “unprecedented scope and severity,” leading to the substantial discipline being handed down. Ross and the team were, on the other hand, cleared of any wrongdoing with respect to the tanking allegations made by former head coach Brian Flores.
Steelers Extend Johnson: In the immediate build-up to his new deal being finalized, all signs seemed to point to Diontae Johnsondeparting in free agency at the end of this season. Instead, he signed a two-year extension worth $36.71MM. Surprisingly, the Pro Bowler came in short of the $20MM-per-year mark that each of his 2019 draft classmates (among several other wideouts) who have been extended this offseason eclipsed. Like Samuel, though, he can build off of a career-year over the course of the pact’s short term and test the free agent market while still in his prime.
Cardinals Extend Humphries: Not long after signing QB Kyler Murrayto a massive extension, Arizona took care of his blindside blocker as well. Left tackle D.J. Humphries signed a three-year, $66.8MM extension to keep him on the books through 2025. The 28-year-old now ranks ninth in the league in terms of annual average compensation ($16.98MM) amongst left tackles as a result of the deal. He will look to continue his Pro Bowl form of last year as another key member of the Cardinals’ offense who is on the books for the foreseeable future.
4:29 PM: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Harry suffered a high ankle sprain (video link). Further confirmation and testing will be done, but that should leave him sidelined for roughly six weeks.
3:09 PM: N’Keal Harry‘s second NFL chapter has taken an unfortunate turn before even beginning. The newly-acquired wideout suffered an ankle injury which “appears severe,” reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (Twitter link).
The injury was sustained yesterday, and Fowler adds that further evaluation will be needed to determine its severity. If he misses any significant time, though, it would of course represent a significant blow for the former first-rounder. In 33 games with the Patriots, including 18 starts, he totaled just 57 catches and less than 600 receiving yards.
The six-foot-four, 225-pounder would have had a much better chance at carving out a role for himself in Chicago, whose receiving corps lost Allen Robinsonin free agency. Outside of Darnell Mooney, the rebuilding squad lacks established playmakers on the perimeter, and will to turn to the likes of Byron Pringleand rookie Velus Jones Jr.in the event Harry misses significant time.
While it remains to be seen how severe the injury is, being sidelined for any notable duration would also have financial consequences for Harry. One season away from free agency, 2022 represented an opportunity to re-build some of his value with a strong campaign in Chicago. While that may still be possible, the chances of him being able to to so have taken a significant hit.
Veteran linebacker Nate Gerryis headed back to the NFC East. The Commanders are signing him, per Mike Kaye of Pro Football Network (Twitter link).
Gerry, 27, began his career with the Eagles in 2017. He played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie during the team’s Super Bowl run that year, but took on a larger defensive role with each passing year. In 2019, he played a full season for the first tine, starting 12 contests and setting career highs in tackles (78) and sacks (2.5) along the way. He was a full-time starter the following season, but that campaign was cut short due to an ankle injury.
In free agency. the former fifth-rounder signed with the 49ers. By July, however, he was cut, and remained sidelined throughout the entire 2021 season. Kaye adds that he had not fully recovered from the injury until this offseason (Twitter link). Now, he will look to add starting-caliber depth to Washington’s LB corps.
The Commanders are led at the position by the likes of veterans Cole Holcomband David Mayo, and 2021 first-rounder Jamin Davis. Gerry – who, as noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Field Yates, was among several players the team worked out yesterday – could prove to be a valuable find if he is able to regain his form of years past. He will, at a minimum, provide more experienced depth in the middle of the team’s defense than the likes of UDFA Tre Walker, who reversed his retirement decision yesterday.
Washington entered the day with more than $13MM in cap space, so this deal won’t prevent any other additions. Per Kaye’s colleague Aaron Wilson, the team is cutting offensive lineman Tyrese Robinsonto make room for Gerry’s arrival (Twitter link).
Vikings center Garrett Bradbury is in danger of losing his starting job, as Mark Craig of the Star Tribune writes. Although Bradbury has handled all of the first-team reps in training camp thus far, head coach Kevin O’Connell admitted that the NC State product does not have the gig sewn up.
That is largely a result of Bradbury’s struggles in pass protection. Over this first three years in the league, his Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grades have ranked last, last, and second-to-last among centers. He is more accomplished as a run blocker, and O’Connell made sure to mention Bradbury’s running game prowess while acknowledging the need for him to improve in pass pro.
“[Pass-blocking is] where we’re challenging him each and every time; technique, technique,” O’Connell said. “He’s got a good anchor when he’s got his feet underneath him. I think he has the strength to hold up. I think he has the technique to hold up. I think we can do some things with how we protect to try to limit some of the [one-on-one] situations by how we scheme up certain fronts.”
Bradbury missed four games in 2021 but has otherwise started every game for the Vikings since turning pro in 2019. Selected in the first round (No. 18 overall) of that year’s draft, his struggles in protecting the quarterback forced Minnesota to decline his fifth-year option for 2023, thereby turning 2022 into a platform year.
As such, Bradbury’s earning power hangs in the balance. A marked improvement in his game could lead to a lucrative multi-year pact, whereas a demotion could see him hit free agency after having spent a full season as a reserve and with major questions marks about his viability as a starting pivot.
If he ends up ceding his starting role, free agent acquisitions Austin Schlottmann (seven career starts) and Chris Reed (29 career starts) could fill the void, although Reed has never played a regular season game at center. Schlottman has been working as the second-team center.
O’Connell believes that Reed can handle a center’s duties, but one would imagine that his preference would be to have Bradbury step up and seize the job. He has yet to do that, having been burned repeatedly by the Vikings’ interior pass rush in the first several weeks of camp.
It sounds as if free agent wide receiver John Ross will find a new employer soon. The No. 9 overall pick of the Bengals in the 2017 draft, Ross spent the 2021 campaign with the Giants and is still recovering from a knee injury that he sustained towards the end of the season.
As such, Ross will begin meeting with teams around the start of the regular season next month, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (via Twitter). He is expected to be fully healthy by that time, and a number of teams have remained in “consistent contact” with the Washington product.
Injuries have been the prevailing theme of Ross’ career. He possesses blinding speed, but due to various ailments and his inability to impress then-head coach Marvin Lewis, Ross played in just one game in his rookie year in Cincinnati. Though he started 10 games in 2018, he managed only 21 catches for 210 yards, and after a hot start to 2019, he missed another eight games due to injury.
The Bengals made the easy call to decline Ross’ fifth-year option in May 2020, and in his final season in the Queen City, Ross was a healthy scratch for a number of games and requested a trade as a result of his diminished role. Cincy could not find any takers, and Ross eventually landed on IR with a foot injury.
He signed with the Giants in March 2021, and he once again missed time for health reasons. A hamstring malady kept him out of the first few games of the season, and the above-mentioned knee trouble sidelined him towards the end of the year. Still, clubs apparently remain tantalized by his speed and big-play ability, which will buy the 26-year-old another opportunity.
Ross has indeed shown flashes of his potential. In 2019, he caught 28 balls for 506 yards — good for a 18.1 yards-per-reception rate — and in his first and only season with Big Blue, he tallied 11 catches for 224 yards, which represents a career-best 20.4 YPR average. His 43.4% career catch percentage is quite low, but that is largely a function of the routes he is asked to run. If he can ever stay healthy for a full season, his abilities as a bonafide home run threat would be a welcome addition to any number of WR rooms.
Although Fowler did not specify which clubs have expressed interest, the Colts, Cowboys, Packers, and Ravens are just a few of the teams that could still use receiving help.
Saffold landed on the NFI list after injuring his ribs in a car accident. Getting their starting left guard back sooner rather than later is an important development for the Bills.
Colburn will take the place of Cottrell in the Jags’ RB room. The Wake Forest product played in four games for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars this year, garnering 102 rushes for 457 yards (just under 4.5 YPC) and eight scores.
Cottrell has seen action in each of the past two years for Jacksonville, returning seven kicks in 2020 and handling one carry in 2021.
Aug. 7: It sounds as if Hunt has made a formal trade request, per Cabot. As expected, the Browns maintain that they have no intention of honoring that request. Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports believes this situation could end with a pay increase for Hunt (Twitter link), and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com says Hunt would have trade value if Cleveland does choose to explore that option (Twitter link). Per Fowler, some evaluators consider Hunt a top-10 RB talent.
Aug. 6: There have been questions concerning running back Kareem Hunt‘s future with the Browns going into a contract year dating back to the early months of the offseason. It didn’t initially seem like there was any drama as both parties were taking a bit of a lackadaisical approach to negotiations that seemed inevitable, but now, with the regular season breathing down his neck, Hunt appears to be acting more boldly. Hunt sat out of team drills for the second consecutive practice today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, telling the Browns he only plans on participating in individual drills.
Reports in May described the contract situation as up in the air, positing that, if the two parties failed to deal with negotiations before camp, it would likely decrease the odds of Hunt staying in Cleveland past this year. Only a week later, further reports claimed that, despite the lack of certainty concerning his future, Hunt was “still very much in the Browns’ plans for this season,” saying that the team had no plans of dealing or releasing Hunt due to the lack of substantive extension negotiations.
It took a couple more weeks before Hunt finally voiced his opinion that he wanted to re-sign with the Browns, desiring an extension but choosing to take things “day by day” in mid-June. Upon reaching full health soon after, Hunt made further comments toward his contract situation.
“I hope I get paid,” Hunt said. “So you know, whatever they decide, they know I’m going to come out there and give it my all and I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win.”
That apparently only applies to the regular season, considering Hunt’s new preseason plans. The two recent “partial hold-ins” were “the first time since training camp that Hunt didn’t participate” in team drills. Cleveland is able to, and likely will, subject him to fines for his lack of participation.
Hunt’s agent was reportedly at the Browns’ facility earlier this week, presumably to work on a potential new deal for the 27-year-old. According to Anderson, members of the team have said that “he wants to get paid or traded.” The belief is that he would truly prefer to remain in Cleveland, he just wants to be paid what he’s worth.
The Browns were fine slow-playing a new deal for Hunt after he missed nine games last year between injuries and COVID-19. Because of the missed time and how the second year of his contract is set up, it made sense that Cleveland would be okay allowing Hunt to play out his contract year and revisit a new contract after the season. They seemed to be taking their lead from Hunt, but now, with Hunt’s new decision to be more vocal about his desires, they’re in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with negotiations in the weeks leading up to the regular season.
As a native of Willoughby, OH, Hunt made it known recently that he would like to eventually end his career in Cleveland, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. Unfortunately for Hunt, he doesn’t hold much leverage. A plethora of running backs who can contribute and a contract that doesn’t much penalize the team for waiting stacks the deck against Hunt.
Hunt is expected to be the Browns’ No.2 running back behind star running back Nick Chubb. D’Ernest Johnson and Demetric Felton both had opportunities to show their stuff in Hunt’s absence last year, and rookie fifth-round pick Jerome Ford has shown some serious potential coming into the league. The combination of contributing running backs has the potential to make Hunt redundant, especially if he decides to continue holding out.
Hunt certainly has the talent to be a starting running back in this league, as displayed during his rookie year in Kansas City, and he likely wants to get paid like it. Unfortunately, the situation is against him, so he’s taken to drastic measures in order to try to achieve his means. With the first preseason game for Cleveland six days away and the regular season starting in just over a month, time is running out for the two parties to come to terms.
The Bills have signed FB Reggie Gilliam to a two-year extension worth up to $5.2MM, as Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network was first to report (via Twitter). The team subsequently announced the move.
A 2020 UDFA, Gilliam has seen most of his action on special teams, appearing in 504 third-unit snaps in his first two years in the league (as opposed to just 236 offensive snaps). However, he received high marks for his blocking prowess in his limited time on the offensive side of the ball, with Pro Football Focus assigning him a strong 76.3 grade for run-blocking and a stellar 84.7 pass-blocking grade in 2021.
Although he has lined up in the backfield and as a tight end, Gilliam hasn’t gotten many touches. In his career, he has five catches for 39 yards and a TD, to go along with three carries for three yards.
Still, the Bills clearly value his contributions. We do not yet know how much of the above-referenced $5.2MM payout is guaranteed, but as a former UDFA who plays a position that many NFL teams no longer utilize and who does not see nearly as much burn as better-compensated fullbacks like Kyle Juszczyk and Patrick Ricard, Gilliam appears to have done well for himself.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old was eligible for free agency at season’s end but is now under club control through 2024.
While high-profile teammates like Derek Carr and Davante Adams did not participate in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame game, Raiders running back Josh Jacobs got a considerable amount of playing time. Combined with Las Vegas’ decision to decline Jacobs’ fifth-year option earlier this year and recent reports suggesting that 2022 would be his last season in the Silver-and-Black, HC Josh McDaniels‘ deployment of his presumptive RB1 led some to wonder whether Jacobs was being showcased for a potential trade.
According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there has been no indication that the Raiders are interested in trading Jacobs. Instead, when asked why Jacobs saw so much action in a game that generally sees very few established starters for even a brief period of time, McDaniels said, “I always think it’s good for backs to carry the ball in preseason.”
Indeed, Jacobs’ primary backup, Kenyan Drake, got an extended look as well, and Brandon Bolden was the only veteran back who did not see the field. Per McDaniels, “There are a lot of things that happen when you’re tackled and getting hit that you can’t simulate in practice. All our guys either caught it or were handed the ball and got tackled. We can’t really simulate or rep that in practice.”
Even if Jacobs suits up for another club in 2023, the Raiders have playoff aspirations this year, and it makes sense that McDaniels would want him to continue building the positive momentum that he has generated in the early days of training camp (Bonsignore writes that Jacobs has had a “dazzling” start to camp after reporting to the club in terrific shape). Plus, a 2023 departure will likely result in a compensatory draft pick anyway.
Thanks in large part to a suspect and injury-plagued O-line, Las Vegas’ running game was among the league’s least productive in 2021. The club did not do much to improve its blocking this offseason, so unless linemen like Alex Leatherwood and rookie Dylan Parham step up in a big way, the Raiders will be counting on Jacobs & Co. to carve out their own space. A potentially prolific passing attack may also give the team’s backs some breathing room.
Bonsignore does believe that, as a result of their RB depth, the Raiders will trade or release an NFL-caliber rusher sometime before Week 1. In his estimation, Jacobs will not be the one on the move, although Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes Jacobs’ usage in the HOF game was indeed a sign that the 2020 Pro Bowler is available, and ESPN’s Matt Miller feels the same way (Twitter link).