Month: February 2024

Matt Rhule Takes Issue With Panthers’ Rebuild Timeline

Matt Rhule‘s Nebraska agreement severs the ties between he and the Panthers, who are now evaluating to see if Steve Wilks can become the first interim HC in six years to stick around as a full-time hire. But the team’s previous coach offered candor regarding his Carolina tenure.

When asked what he would do differently as Panthers HC, Rhule said he would have steered clear of the job he accepted in 2020. The Panthers gave Rhule a monster contract — seven years, $62MM — and the deal led the former college rebuild architect to believe he had more time than he did to turn the team around.

I think I probably would just probably [have] taken another job,” Rhule said during an appearance on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast (via Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio). “It’s a great place. Wonderful people. But I just don’t know if I was a fit there.

You know, at the end of the day, you know, we talked about, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have a four-year plan, a five-year plan.’ You know, if you tell me, ‘Hey, we got a two-year plan,’ then I’m gonna go sign a bunch of free agents and do it. So what was a four-year plan became a two-year-and-five-game plan real quick.”

In most cases, NFL coaches in this era cannot execute four- or five-year plans without progress in the win column. The Panthers went 11-27 under Rhule. Rhule’s college rebuilds progressed much faster, with Temple going from two to six to 10 wins in the longtime college coach’s first three seasons and Baylor vaulting from one to seven to 11 victories during his three-year stay at the Big 12 school. This made Rhule a coveted commodity, leading to David Tepper‘s blockbuster offer.

At the time, reporting linked Rhule to preferring the Giants over the Panthers. The Giants represented the New York native’s only previous NFL experience — a one-year stint (2012) on Tom Coughlin‘s staff — but John Mara balked at matching Tepper’s offer. Rhule also had a pretty clear idea of his standing late in the 2021 season, when hot-seat rumors swirled. The Panthers brought Rhule back for a third season, but he took issue with how the franchise changed the timetable. This would not be the first time Tepper has drawn criticism for his ownership style and it is certainly not the first time in recent years a college coach has been unable to replicate success at the NFL level.

I’m not angry about it,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day, I understand. But if it’s gonna be that quick, then we’re gonna sign some more free agents, we’re gonna go make the blockbuster trade, we’re gonna do those things. I think the trajectory we were on was correct.”

Highlighted by their three-year, $63MM Teddy Bridgewater deal in 2020, the Panthers made some notable free agent signings during Rhule’s run. They did not, however, wade into the market’s deep waters. The team gave ex-Rhule Temple charges Robbie Anderson and Haason Reddick midlevel deals (a two-year, $20MM pact for Anderson in 2020 and a one-year, $6MM Reddick accord during 2021’s reduced-cap offseason) and handed out a three-year, $26.25MM contract to Austin Corbett this year. Carolina also sent Jacksonville a third-round pick for C.J. Henderson and added Stephon Gilmore. These players supplemented a Carolina core that drew trade interest after Rhule’s firing. Though, teams’ top Panthers trade targets — Christian McCaffrey, Brian Burns, D.J. Moore — were on the roster before Rhule’s arrival.

The Panthers did try to make what would have been the biggest trade in their history, being a finalist for Deshaun Watson. But the then-Texans quarterback did not have them first on his list. And Tepper, joining Arthur Blank on this front, was uncomfortable with the Browns’ five-year, $230MM fully guaranteed proposal. The Panthers pursued Watson for two years. In 2021, Watson was only believed to have waived his no-trade clause for the Dolphins. By 2022, Rhule’s uncertain status impacted Watson’s view of the Panthers. The team also traded three picks for Sam Darnold and added Baker Mayfield via lower-level swap; it is safe to say Rhule is back in the college ranks because the Panthers whiffed on the quarterback position under his watch.

It will be interesting to see how Rhule fares in attempting to rebuild the Cornhuskers while simultaneously observing if his cornerstone Panthers draft picks — Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn, Ikem Ekwonu — end up being part of a contender in the future.

Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. Declares For Draft

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. announced on Twitter today that he intends to forgo his senior season (as well as his team’s bowl game) in order to prepare for and enter the 2023 NFL Draft. The son of former NFL linebacker Joey Porter just concluded an impressive redshirt junior season that saw him breakup a career high 11 passes.

The younger Porter came to Happy Valley as a consensus four-star recruit and the fourth-best athlete in Pennsylvania out of North Allegheny HS outside Pittsburgh. Porter quickly added 40 pounds to his 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame, giving him a lean, long, NFL-ready physique. He also took his four-star potential out of high school and became the top cornerback on many pundits’ boards coming out of college. He’s a big, physical cornerback with elite speed. There’s not too much to nitpick besides his lack of turnover production.

Porter has been a staple on a Nittany Lions team that has ranked top-10 in scoring defense for each of the past two years. This season Porter held opposing receivers to 5.86 yards per pass attempt under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Over his four years of play, including a true freshman season that saw him appear in only three games, Porter racked up 113 tackles, two for a loss, 20 passes defensed, and one interception.

Porter is widely projected as a first-round pick with some placing him around the early 20s. He’ll compete with Georgia’s Kelee Ringo and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez to be the top cornerback off the board, according to early predictions from ESPN.

Injury Rumors: Jackson, Linsley, Johnson

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is on the team’s injury report for the third straight week after not finishing practice today, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN. This is not a continuation of any previous injuries and his status for the weekend is still far from determined.

Two weeks ago, Jackson sat out of a practice due to illness and followed that up with a missed practice last week because of a hip injury. The former MVP was sidelined today with a quadriceps issue that caused him to seek treatment from a trainer and miss his usual media session.

Although many have assumed Jackson’s running tendencies would lead to an increase in injuries, he has been remarkably durable. Over five years in the league, Jackson has only missed four games over a four-week stretch last year as he dealt with an ankle injury. His continuous ability to play despite being banged up is an encouraging sign for Baltimore.

The team will want their most valuable player as they prepare to face one of the league’s more stout defenses from Denver this week. If Jackson is unavailable, the Ravens will turn to Tyler Huntley, who went 1-3 as a starter in the four games Jackson had to miss last season.

Here are a few more injury rumors from around the NFL, starting with a couple of bumps and bruises on the Chargers offensive line:

  • Los Angeles could be down two offensive linemen this week as they head to Las Vegas for a divisional battle, according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic. Starting center Corey Linsley is in the league’s concussion protocol and may not be available in time to return. Trey Pipkins, who has performed as the Chargers’ starting right tackle this season, reportedly aggravated an MCL injury in his left knee. If neither player can go this weekend, Will Clapp is expected to fill in for Linsley at center and two others will contend for the open tackle position. Storm Norton is the team’s primary backup tackle, but the Chargers have given former practice squad tackle Foster Sarell an opportunity to start this season, as well.
  • The Seahawks have officially shut down outside linebacker Darryl Johnson after the fourth-year defender underwent foot surgery, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. He’s been on injured reserve since suffering a foot injury in Week 4. Johnson had earned the first start of his career in the game that saw his season come to an end. Seattle has used a combination of Darrell Taylor and veteran Bruce Irvin since Johnson went down.

Restructure Details: Woods, Lowry

Here are some details on recent contract restructures in the NFL:

  • Robert Woods, WR (Titans): Halfway through his first season in Tennessee, Woods has agreed to a restructure of his contract that opens up a bit of salary cap space for a team that sorely needs it, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The new agreement converts a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus, freeing up $2.6MM in cap space for the Titans. The team has been among the bottom-five teams in the NFL in regard to cap space this year and is poised to be in a bad position next year, as well. The move shows that general manager Jon Robinson is starting to plan for the impending offseason and making sure that Tennessee is set up well for the future.
  • Dean Lowry, DE (Packers): Lowry agreed to make his contract a bit more team-friendly after seven years in Green Bay, according to Yates. The team will convert approximately $1.5MM in base salary into a signing bonus, similar to Woods’ agreement. The move will clear up about $1.1MM in cap space for the Packers. Lowry is in the final year of his second contract with the team. Helping Green Bay find a little cap space puts Lowry in a favorable position heading into negotiations for a potential third deal.

Bears Add QB Tim Boyle

The Bears could be down their top two QBs when they take on the Packers on Sunday, so the team has added some reinforcement at the position. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reports (via Twitter) that the Bears have signed quarterback Tim Boyle off the Lions’ practice squad.

Starting quarterback Justin Fields is currently dealing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that forced him to miss Sunday’s game against the Jets. Trevor Siemian gutted through an oblique injury to play in that loss to New York, and it’s uncertain if he’ll be able to suit up this weekend. That would leave Nathan Peterman as the only healthy quarterback on the roster, so the team ended up snagging Boyle off Detroit’s taxi squad.

Boyle served as a backup to Aaron Rodgers to begin his career before catching on with the Lions in 2021. He ended up getting three starts for Detroit last year, completing 61 of his 94 pass attempts for 526 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions. The 28-year-old re-signed with the Lions this past offseason, and after getting cut at the end of the preseason, he caught on with the organization’s practice squad.

He’ll likely be a temporary piece in Chicago once the team’s QB corps is completely healthy. However, Boyle wasn’t just a random fill-in. Cronin notes that the Bears signed him because of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who was the Packers’ QBs coach when the two were in Green Bay.

The Bears made two more moves today, placing defensive back Dane Cruikshank on injured reserve and signing defensive lineman Andrew Brown off the Cardinals practice squad. Cruikshank has gotten into eight games for Chicago this season, but a hamstring injury will sideline him for at least the next four games. Brown has 23 games of NFL experience, with the former fifth-round pick having collected 18 tackles and one sack in time with the Bengals, Texans, and Chargers.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 11/30/22

Today’s practice squad moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

  • Signed: WR Shemar Bridges

Denver Broncos

Los Angeles Rams

  • Signed: WR Jaquarii Roberson

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/30/22

Today’s minor NFL transactions:

Atlanta Falcons

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

Tennessee Titans

Seahawks Claim S Johnathan Abram

The waiver process continues to produce Johnathan Abram headlines. Following the Packers’ decision to cut the fourth-year safety, the Seahawks submitted a successful waiver claim, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

The Seahawks will be Abram’s third team this month. The Raiders waived Abram not long after the trade deadline, and the Packers moved on after two games. While much of Abram’s first-round contract has been paid out, more than $500K remains on the through-2022 deal.

Bouncing around the league yet doing so without having reached free agency, Abram is now set to play in a fifth defensive scheme since 2020. The Raiders went from Paul Guenther to Gus Bradley to Patrick Graham at defensive coordinator over the past three years, and after a short time in Green Bay, Abram will attempt to carve out a role in Pete Carroll and Clint Hurtt‘s defense.

The Seahawks have been without Jamal Adams since a Week 1 injury and have Ryan Neal working as Quandre Diggs‘ sidekick. Beyond the starters, Seattle has former second-round pick-turned-journeyman Josh Jones and rookie UDFA Joey Blount on the roster. The Seahawks have also used Teez Tabor, who entered the NFL as a cornerback several years ago, as a safety in limited time this season. Tabor, who has bounced around the league as well, has been on the Seahawks’ active roster since they signed him off the Falcons’ practice squad in September. Neal was on Seattle’s injury report last week but played against the Raiders; he came out of that game with a bruised elbow, however.

Abram, 26, began this season as a Raiders starter and started six games for the team that once took him 27th overall. But Las Vegas’ new regime attempted to trade the Mississippi State product before the deadline and ended up reducing his role. That preceded a post-deadline cut, which led to a Packers claim. Green Bay, which at the time held waiver priority over Denver (which also tried to claim Abram earlier this month), used Abram on just one defensive snap in two games. Abram did contribute on special teams, however.

Abram’s start count remains at 34; most of those came from 2020-21. While coverage issues have affected his NFL development, Abram does have a 116-tackle season on his resume (2021). He has three career interceptions and 12 career pass deflections. The former first-team All-SEC defender will attempt to make this latest relocation stick — until being eligible for unrestricted free agency in March.

Rams Considering Shutting Down Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp

NOVEMBER 30: Week 13 will double as Donald’s first missed NFL game due to injury. The Rams ruled out the seven-time All-Pro defensive tackle for their Seahawks matchup. McVay also confirmed Stafford remains in concussion protocol and is unlikely to play against Seattle.

NOVEMBER 29: Aaron Donald can now be added to the list of high-profile Rams to have suffered significant injuries this season. Sean McVay said the team’s medical staff communicated to him the perennial All-Pro defensive lineman likely sustained a high ankle sprain against the Chiefs, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets.

Considering this immense letdown of a season, Donald is not a lock to return this year. McVay said the team has not ruled out shutting down Donald, Cooper Kupp or Matthew Stafford. The defending Super Bowl champions gave new deals to all three players this offseason, and while the team will not exactly be obtaining value from those lucrative accords by sidelining the cornerstone performers, ensuring these health issues do not bleed into the offseason would stand to be important.

Although Kupp and Stafford have missed stretches of seasons before, Donald has been one of the league’s most durable players. The seven-time All-Pro has never missed a game due to injury; his only absences (two) came because of a 2017 holdout. Over the course of his second Rams contract, Donald became one of the greatest defenders in NFL history. He derailed the Bengals’ final drive in Super Bowl LVI and may well have won MVP acclaim were ballots not required to be turned in before that drive.

Donald, 31, threatened retirement and sent the Rams a letter — amid contract negotiations — informing them of his intentions to walk away. The Rams came back to the table with an unprecedented offer — a straight raise with no new years added, making Donald the NFL’s highest-paid defender again. Donald’s $31.6MM-per-year average dwarfs the rest of the D-tackle market; no other interior D-lineman makes more than $21MM per annum. That deal has not started off well for the Rams, who have seen their run of good health in recent years deteriorate into a mess that has this team on course to be the worst defending Super Bowl champion in league history.

Donald’s third Rams pact runs through 2024; he is set to count $26MM against Los Angeles’ cap next year. That money is guaranteed, though Donald’s 2024 cash is not. This season, Donald’s production has dipped a bit. The ninth-year defender has five sacks and 11 quarterback hits. While he still would have had time to move toward his seventh double-digit sack season, this injury will probably nix such an effort.

Kupp underwent ankle surgery and is expected to miss at least the next four games. Considering that timetable and the Rams’ 3-8 record, it seems unlikely the All-Pro wideout will play again this year. Stafford has spent the past two weeks in concussion protocol, with a neck issue leading him back there after he left the Rams’ Week 11 loss to the Saints early. Conflicting reports surfaced about Stafford returning this season, but the Rams are unsurprisingly considering punting on the rest of the veteran quarterback’s 14th season and regrouping in 2023. Stafford’s new deal runs through 2026.

The Rams squandered key seasons from their well-paid trio. Donald will turn 32 in May; Stafford will be 35 in February. Kupp is younger, but he will hit 30 in June. The team, which also placed Allen Robinson on IR on Tuesday because of a season-ending foot injury, may see its skeleton crew thin further in the weeks ahead. Although the 1982 49ers finished 3-6, a strike-shortened season impacted their first title defense. No defending Super Bowl champion has finished with fewer than six wins in a non-strike-shortened campaign; if the Rams are to be without Donald and Stafford the rest of the way, they might have a hard time making it to 6-11. The Lions hold the Rams’ 2023 first-round pick.

RB Notes: Jacobs, Patriots, Steelers, Hill

Coming off just the NFL’s 11th performance with 300 yards from scrimmage, Josh Jacobs is not expected to practice much this week. The Raiders running back suffered a calf strain during his monster outing against the Seahawks, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Planning to go through “around the clock” treatment, Jacobs said (via The Athletic’s Tashan Reed, on Twitter) he is not planning to miss any time.

Of course, that expectation will be tested. Calf strains can sideline players for multiple weeks. Jacobs handled a career-high 39 touches in Las Vegas’ overtime win in Seattle, finishing with 303 scrimmage yards. He now leads the league in rushing (1,159 yards) and is making a strong case for a second Raiders contract, despite the team having passed on his fifth-year option. The Alabama alum has stayed relatively healthy during his career, having never missed more than three games in a season. But missing time due to this calf ailment would give Jacobs at least one absence in each of his four seasons.

Here is the latest from the running back scene:

  • The Patriots are not expected to have Damien Harris available against the Bills on Thursday. Harris left the Pats’ Thanksgiving Day game with a thigh injury, and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport notes (via Twitter) that issue will keep him out in Week 13 and potentially for more games. One of several starter-caliber backs set to hit free agency in March, Harris has battled multiple injuries this season and seen Rhamondre Stevenson emerge as New England’s primary back. This certainly points to the former third-round pick needing to find another team to dole out his second contract.
  • Najee Harris also left his team’s most recent game due to injury, seeing an abdominal issue force him to leave the Steelers‘ Monday-night win over the Colts. Harris avoided a major injury, however, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). It is not certain the second-year back plays Sunday, but after he battled a Lisfranc issue this offseason, dodging another notable injury represents a nice break. The Steelers were without rookie backup Jaylen Warren in Indianapolis due to a hamstring injury and used veteran Benny Snell as their top ball-carrier.
  • The Commanders worked out a familiar NFC East back this week, bringing in Jordan Howard. The well-traveled back stopped through Washington for a Tuesday workout, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 tweets. Former Panthers backup Reggie Bonnafon also took part in this audition. Howard spent time with the Saints this season, playing in two games, but New Orleans released the ex-Chicago and Philadelphia starter from its practice squad earlier this month.
  • Despite using one of their injury activations on Kylin Hill this year, the Packers cut bait recently. Matt LaFleur said conduct contributed to the transaction. “There are standards and expectations that are placed on every member of this team that we expect guys to live up to,” LaFleur said, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “He’s a guy we had high expectations for, and [I] realize he’s in a loaded room, but regardless of your role big or small, we expect guys to come to work and be supportive and own that role to the best of your ability. If you don’t do that, that’s what happened.” This certainly points to the second-year back voicing dissatisfaction with being behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon on Green Bay’s depth chart. No team claimed Hill, who is now a free agent.