Month: June 2024

Giants Meet With Quentin Johnston, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers; Veteran WRs Still On Radar

Although the Giants used a first-round pick on a wide receiver in 2021, connecting them to a dive back into that pool is not especially difficult. Kadarius Toney is gone, and the team’s lot of free agency moves led complementary-type options coming in or staying put.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s top receiver prospects have heard from the Giants. The team has now met with TCU’s Quentin Johnston, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Boston College’s Zay Flowers at pre-pro-day dinners, Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com notes (Twitter links). Johnston’s meeting occurred Thursday. The other top-four wideout in this year’s class, USC’s Jordan Addison, said the Giants were the most recent team to contact him.

Mentioning Smith-Njigba as a wideout GM Joe Schoen is doing extensive homework on, NJ.com’s Darryl Slater notes the team filled its quota of signings in this year’s unremarkable free agency class. The next step would be to take a swing at a player with a better chance of becoming a lead pass catcher.

I think we’re better than we were,” Schoen said of the team’s receiver situation. “I think Daniel [Jones] has a better group. It goes back to: It’s not fantasy football. So to say, ‘Go get a No. 1 receiver,’ you’re only afforded what’s on the market and what’s available. So all these things sound great. But with the receiver group that was out there…

Schoen’s voice trailing off effectively illustrated the leaguewide view of this year’s free agent receiver class. No top-25 contract at the position ended up going to a wideout, which marks a change from recent years, when the likes of Christian Kirk, Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay and Corey Davis scored such deals as UFAs. John Mara said the team might not be done in free agency, and the owner said earlier this week the team is not out on Odell Beckham Jr.

The former Giants Pro Bowler has received multiple offers, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com adds, though they have clearly not met with the mercurial talent’s approval. Attempting to pair him with Aaron Rodgers, the Jets remain the most likely Beckham destination, per Graziano, who adds OBJ may be waiting on the Rodgers deal to be finalized before he commits.

Schoen said a trade for a receiver remains in play. The Giants made a push for Jerry Jeudy before the 2022 deadline, but the Broncos want a first-round pick for their top wideout. That seems like a non-starter for the Giants, who prioritized draft capital — a third-rounder, which turned into Darren Waller — over waiting on Toney’s potential. Denver also wants a second-rounder for Courtland Sutton. Barring a big offer, the Broncos are standing pat at wide receiver.

The Giants could be a DeAndre Hopkins suitor as well; they will have competition for the Cardinals standout. The Waller move makes it a bit more difficult to envision the Giants dealing away another prime draft asset for a veteran pass catcher.

The Giants doing work on Smith-Njigba adds up, after the promising playmaker finished an abbreviated junior year. JSN broke through for 95 receptions, 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore, leading the Buckeyes in receiving by a substantial margin despite that squad housing 2022 first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. That included a monstrous 347-yard showing in that season’s Rose Bowl. Smith-Njigba, however, only played three games last season, catching just five passes. ESPN’s Todd McShay said in December Smith-Njigba had healed from his nagging hamstring injury by the Buckeyes’ semifinal game against Georgia but was protecting his draft status. That claim drew backlash from the junior wideout’s family, but his third-season no-show has undoubtedly prompted teams to examine the lengthy absence.

This year’s receiver class has not generated the buzz of recent crops, but ESPN’s Scouts Inc. rates Johnston, Addison, Smith-Njigba and Flowers as first-round talents. Johnston is coming off an MCL injury in TCU’s semifinal win over Michigan. None are viewed as top-10-level talents, though the top three here are each listed in the scouting service’s top 20 at the position. New York holds the No. 25 overall pick in next month’s draft. Mel Kiper Jr. mocks Addison to New York at 25.

The Giants, who retained Isaiah Hodgins as an RFA, re-signed Sterling Shepard and 2022 receiving leader Darius Slayton and added Parris Campbell and Jamison Crowder. Wan’Dale Robinson still represents the centerpiece here, being signed through 2025. Though, the Kentucky-developed slot player is coming off an ACL tear. There probably will not be room for this sextet to each be part of Brian Daboll‘s second roster, and how the Giants proceed early in the draft will play a major role in determining this position group’s 2023 outlook.

Seahawks Withdraw Ryan Neal’s RFA Tender

Before they signed Julian Love, the Seahawks extended a restricted free agent tender to Ryan Neal. With Love now forming a trio with safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, the Seahawks are moving on from Neal.

Seattle rescinded Neal’s RFA tender Friday afternoon, according to ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter). This will make Neal an unrestricted free agent. The four-year Seahawk is coming off a season in which he started a career-high 10 games.

Neal will almost certainly generate immediate interest on the open market. Pro Football Focus graded his 2022 work quite well, slotting the 6-foot-3 cover man as the No. 4 overall safety last season. Neal, 27, made 66 tackles (four for loss), deflected eight passes an intercepted another during a season in which the Seahawks played 16 games without Adams. PFF graded Neal as the No. 3 overall safety in coverage last season, which represented by far his most favorable marks from the advanced metrics site.

The Seahawks gave Neal the low-end tender, which cost them $2.63MM. The team will pick up that cap space but part with Neal, who could be a candidate to land elsewhere as a starter. The transaction will bump Seattle’s cap space past $8MM. A Southern Illinois alum, Neal started 19 games with the Seahawks from 2020-22. With the new money, the Seahawks should be expected to look into more D-line additions, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com tweets.

During the parties’ in-season negotiations, the Giants offered Love more money than he ultimately received from the Seahawks, per The Athletic’s Dan Duggan (subscription required). But the breakout starter passed and ended up with Seattle on a two-year, $12MM deal. Love agreed to terms with the Seahawks three days after they tendered Neal as an RFA.

With Love in the fold, Henderson notes the Seahawks are planning to use Adams more at the line of scrimmage. The former Jets All-Pro will work as a pseudo-linebacker more often, per Henderson, opening the door for Adams, Diggs and Love to see the field together. Box work has generally been best for the aggressive defender, who makes his living in that capacity rather than as a pure coverage player. Adams set a safety record with 9.5 sacks in 2020 but did not register any in 2021.

Even with this tender off the books, the Seahawks are set to allocate an NFL-leading $41MM at the safety position. They will count on Adams, who has missed extensive time due to injuries over the past two seasons, staying healthy to justify the cost. It will be interesting to see where Neal lands.

Contract Details: Fox, Saunders, Cardinals

Here are some details on more recently signed contracts:

  • Khalen Saunders, DT (Saints): Three years, $12.3MM. The contract, according to Wilson, has a guaranteed amount of $6.6MM, $4.6MM of which is guaranteed at signing. The $4.6MM consists of a $3.5MM signing bonus and the first year base salary of $1.1MM. The second and third year base salaries are worth $3.1MM and $3.4MM, respectively. Saunders can receive a $2MM 2024 roster bonus (injury guaranteed at signing) that will fully guarantee on the third league day of the 2024 season. The deal also has three void years built in to spread out Saunders’s cap hit. He’ll also earn a per game active roster bonus of $17,647 for a potential season total of $300,000. The deal also includes a potential $1.45MM base salary escalator in 2024 based on sacks and playing time. New Orleans built a potential out into the deal, allowing them to release Saunders after this year with $2.8MM of dead cap but cap savings of $11.2MM of cap savings over the following four years.
  • Morgan Fox, DE (Chargers): Two years, $7.25MM. The deal, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2, has a guaranteed amount of $3.75MM consisting of a $2.5MM signing bonus and the first year base salary of $1.25MM. The second year base salary is worth $2.5MM. Fox can receive a $1MM 2024 roster bonus on the third day of the 2024 league year. The deal also includes annual $750,000 incentives based on playing time, sacks, and Pro Bowl selections.
  • Antonio Hamilton, CB (Cardinals): One year, $1.5MM. The contract, according to Balzer, is fully guaranteed with a signing bonus of $335,000 and a base salary of $1.17MM.
  • L.J. Collier, DE (Cardinals): One year, $1.23MM. The deal, according to Howard Balzer of PHNX, has a guaranteed amount of $76,250 consisting solely of Collier’s signing bonus. Collier’s base salary is worth $1.08MM. He can earn a potential roster bonus of $76,250 if he is active for Week 1.

AFC Coaching Updates: Dolphins, Ravens, Titans, Jets, Patriots

The Dolphins announced that they had finalized their 2023 coaching staff three weeks ago. We have reported this offseason on most of the major changes, but here are a few included in their announcement that are new.

On the offensive side of the ball, there were some updates to the team’s assistants. Ricardo Allen moved on to coaching shortly after retirement last year, taking a role as the Dolphins special teams assistant. This year, Allen has moved to the offensive assistant position. Another new offensive assistant, Mike Judge returns to a coaching role after spending some time in the personnel department. Miami will also give former NFL wideout Max McCaffrey his first NFL coaching position. McCaffrey will serve as an offensive assistant after time coaching wide receivers at Northern Colorado.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins hired Steve Donatell. The son of former Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell worked under his father last year and will serve as a defensive assistant with Miami. Lastly, the team has promoted Ryan Slowik, who served as a senior defensive assistant in 2022. In 2023, Slowik will be the Dolphins outside linebackers coach.

Here are a few other coaching updates from around the conference:

  • With Tee Martin moving to quarterbacks coach, the Ravens hired former Chiefs running backs coach Greg Lewis to fill the wide receivers coaching position, according to the team’s Twitter account. Lewis coached the position in Kansas City for four seasons before moving to running backs.
  • Leaving Baltimore will be former safety Anthony Levine, according to ESPN’s Turron Davenport. Levine had reportedly taken up a role with the Ravens as a scouting and coaching assistant after retiring but will now accept a role with the Titans as a special teams assistant. Tennessee will also bring on Tom Quinn as a special teams assistant and Matt Jones as an offensive line assistant.
  • The Jets have hired Shaq Wilson to fill their assistant defensive line coaching role, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN. Former assistant defensive line coach Greg Scruggs became the defensive line coach at Wisconsin, so New York went to the college ranks that took him away to find Wilson at South Carolina.
  • The Patriots have also added a former college staffer in Keith Jones, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. The former Arkansas assistant spent time with New England during the 2022 training camp as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship. Jones, who mostly worked with the Patriots’ defensive line, will be a coaching assistant in New England.

AFC North Notes: Mixon, Browns, Steelers

Nearly three weeks into free agency, Joe Mixon remains on the Bengals‘ roster. The team having seen Samaje Perine turn down an offer to stay and instead choose Denver thinned out its running back room. But Mixon’s status for a seventh Bengals season is not yet a lock. Bengals executive VP Katie Blackburn stopped short of guaranteeing the six-year Cincinnati starter will be back, reminding of comments player personnel VP Duke Tobin made at the Combine.

Right now, he’s on the team and we are going count on him until that wouldn’t be the case,” Blackburn said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway. “Right now, he’s our starting guy. You’ve seen other teams have to make moves. Could we get to that point? Maybe. But it would be down the road here and we’d have to see if that’s what makes sense or not.”

This situation could hinge on how the Bengals approach the position in the draft. Mixon, 26, is due a $9.4MM base salary and is tied to the third-highest cap figure ($12.8MM) on the team. Blackburn did not rule out the possibility of a post-June 1 cut designation, which would save Cincy $10MM, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler indicated recently (h/t Bleacher Report) the Bengals are looking to add at running back. (They were linked to Ezekiel Elliott, but little has emerged on that front since.) The Perine offer may have been indicative of Mixon plans. The team could still pair Mixon with a rookie, but it does have some pricey deals — most notably for Joe Burrow — on the horizon. Mixon’s $12MM-per-year deal could be used to create more cap space.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • The Browns attempted a bigger swing at defensive tackle in free agency. Dalvin Tomlinson became an expensive consolation prize, with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noting the team was one of the final two suitors for Javon Hargrave. The standout D-tackle signed a four-year, $84MM 49ers deal, denying the DT-needy Browns one of this year’s biggest free agency fish. Cleveland regrouped with Tomlinson, who signed a four-year, $57MM pact. The Browns, who did little at D-tackle ahead of a poor run-defense season in 2022, preferred Tomlinson to fellow target Dre’Mont Jones, Cabot adds. Tomlinson’s acumen as a run defender attracted the Browns more, as Jones profiles as an inside pass rusher rather than a run stopper.
  • Staying in Cleveland, the Browns no longer have a second-round pick thanks to the Elijah Moore pick-swap trade. The Browns eyed Moore since his trade request emerged last year, GM Andrew Berry said (via Cabot). After a dispute with then-Jets OC Mike LaFleur, Moore requested a trade. The Jets were adamant they did not want to trade Moore at the time, but after they signed Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman, the Ole Miss alum became expendable. Still, Cabot adds Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh vouched for Moore’s character to the Browns ahead of the trade.
  • The Steelers traded Chase Claypool for a second-round pick last year, and given their reputation for selecting Day 2 wideouts, it should not surprise the team is being connected to such a move once again. The team will seek an upgrade in the slot, GM Omar Khan said (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly). Hopeful slot weapon Calvin Austin III missed his entire rookie year due to injury. The team should be considered likely to address this need by Round 3, Kaboly adds in a separate piece. From 2013-22, the Steelers chose eight wideouts on Day 2. Both their current top two receivers — Diontae Johnson and George Pickens — were Friday-night draftees.
  • It does not sound like the Ravens will use a notable resource to replace Ben Powers. John Harbaugh alluded to another competition — one featuring former third-round pick Ben Cleveland, ex-Raiders draftee John Simpson, swingman Patrick Mekari and 2022 fourth-round tackle Daniel Faalele (who is 6-foot-9) as options — being how the team will replace Powers, who won a left guard battle last year. Powers, who scored a four-year Broncos deal worth $52MM, beat out Cleveland in training camp. A draft choice could be added here, but The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec does not anticipate a high pick going to this spot.

Contract Details: CJGJ, Hardman, Cowboys

Here are some of the details on a few deals reached around the league recently:

  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S (Lions): One year, $6.5MM. The deal, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2, is completely guaranteed with a signing bonus of $4MM and a fully guaranteed base salary of $2.5MM. The contract also includes a second, void year to spread out his cap hit. Gardner-Johnson can earn an additional $1.5MM based on incentives. There’s a potential for him to make $375,000 each for playing 70-percent of the team’s defensive snaps and/or intercepting three passes. He can make an additional $375,000 each for upping those numbers to 80% and five interceptions. Unfortunately, these potential bonuses are conditional. Even if he checks all those boxes, Gardner-Johnson will reportedly only receive his money if the Lions are in the top 16 in the league for yards allowed.
  • Mecole Hardman, WR (Jets): One year, $4.5MM. We’ve already reported some details of Hardman’s new contract. Thanks to Wilson, we have a bit more information on the incentives of the deal. Depending on receptions, Hardman can earn $125,000 if he catches 50 passes or more, $250,000 for 60, and $500,000 for 70. For yards, Hardman can receive $125,000 for 650 receiving yards or more, $250,000 for 750, and $500,000 for 850. For touchdowns, Hardman can earn $125,000 for catching six touchdowns, $250,000 for eight, and $500,000 for 10. Lastly, Hardman can receive $250,000 for a wild card win or bye, $250,000 for a divisional round win, $250,000 for a conference championship, and $250,000 for a Super Bowl win. In total, that makes $2.5MM available through incentives. The Jets are expecting big things out of Hardman, as he would’ve only earned the bottom level of each incentive once over his four-year career with the Chiefs.
  • Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB (Titans): One year, $3.5MM. The deal, according to Wilson, is fully guaranteed with a signing bonus of $2.42MM and a base salary of $1.08MM. The contract includes two void years to spread out his cap impact. Wilson reports $1.5MM-worth of incentives for Murphy-Bunting based on playing time and interceptions.
  • Dante Fowler, DE (Cowboys): One year, $3MM. The contract, according to Wilson, has a guaranteed amount of $1MM consisting of his signing bonus. All of Fowler’s incentives are contingent on Dallas making the playoffs. If they do and Fowler tallies eight sacks, he can earn an additional $500,000. Ten sacks gives Fowler $1MM. If Fowler plays over 55-percent of the team’s defensive snaps (and they make the playoffs), he can make an additional $250,000.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/31/23

Minor transactions heading into the weekend:

Atlanta Falcons

Tennessee Titans

 

Levin, despite having had contracts with five teams, returns to the only team he’s appeared in games with. Since being drafted by the Titans in the sixth round of 2018, he’s appeared in 45 games, starting four total. Three of those starts came last year. The team waived him ten days ago but, ultimately, found a way to keep Levin under contract.

Chiefs To Re-Sign S Deon Bush

A year after bringing Deon Bush over from the Bears, the Chiefs will give him the opportunity to play an eighth NFL season. The veteran safety/special-teamer agreed to terms on a new Kansas City accord Friday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Bush, who is going into his age-30 season, will stay in Missouri on a one-year deal. The seven-year vet has experience as a starter, but his most common roles have come on special teams. The Chiefs took advantage of the longtime Bear’s special teams abilities last season, using him on 73% of their ST plays.

Bush’s 317 special teams snaps last season marked a career-high number. This role came a year after he played 44% of Chicago’s defensive snaps during his final Bears season; the Chiefs deployed the former fourth-round pick on just 71 defensive plays in 2022. Bush has been a steady special teams presence for most of his career, having logged at least a 60% ST snap rate in each of the past five seasons.

The Chiefs lost Juan Thornhill in free agency, a year after they let Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen defect to the Saints, but added Mike Edwards from the Buccaneers. Kansas City now has Edwards, Justin Reid and Bryan Cook in place as its top safeties (those three entered Friday as the only safeties on K.C’s roster).

Bush will be in position to provide in-case-of-emergency depth while likely playing another major role on Dave Toub‘s ST units.

Colts, TE Pharaoh Brown Agree To Terms

After a second stint with his hometown Browns, Pharaoh Brown will head back to the AFC South. The veteran tight end agreed to a deal with the Colts on Friday, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.

This agreement is pending a physical, with Fowler adding the contract is not expected to be official until April 9. Brown is a six-year vet whose most notable statistical contributions have come with the Texans.

[RELATED: Colts To Sign RB Darrynton Evans]

Brown, 28, has made a nice career for himself after coming into the league as a UDFA. The 6-foot-6 pass catcher will attempt to play a seventh NFL season, and the retooling Colts will provide that chance. Indianapolis is fairly well-stocked at tight end, rostering Mo Alie-Cox, Jelani Woods and Kylen Granson. Each of the team’s top tight ends arrived during GM Chris Ballard‘s tenure, though Woods and Granson were selected to play in Frank Reich‘s offense. Brown marks the first notable addition at the spot since Shane Steichen took over.

The Texans gave Brown a one-year, $3.5MM deal in 2022, and the Oregon alum proceeded to lose nearly 20 pounds to better position himself for receiving success. The weight loss did not lead to increased production; between stays in Houston and Cleveland last season, Brown totaled 12 catches for 117 yards.

Brown played at around 280 pounds in 2021, working more as an in-line blocker. That may be what the Colts would prefer, given his modest receiving numbers. Brown’s career-best receiving total is 171 yards, coming in 2021. Steichen, Jim Bob Cooter and Co. will see how Brown looks in their offense. The Colts also have 2022 sixth-rounder Andrew Ogletree and former Texas A&M standout-turned-UDFA Jalen Wydermyer on their roster at the position.

Bengals To Add DE Tarell Basham

Working to bolster their edge-rushing depth, the Bengals are adding a six-year veteran to the mix. Tarell Basham agreed to terms with the team Friday, according to his agency (on Twitter).

The former third-round pick who played for two teams last season will return to Ohio, where he played his college ball. The ex-Ohio Bobcat spent last season with the Cowboys and Titans. Basham, 29, will now prepare to vie for a rotational role behind starting Bengals defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson.

Basham has already played for four teams in his career, beginning with the Colts before moving to the Jets. He has twice been waived in-season, seeing the Colts and Cowboys cut bait. Dallas did so last year, having seen Basham go down with a quad injury in Week 1 and the likes of Dante Fowler and Sam Williams become its preferred edge-rushing depth pieces. The Cowboys attempted to dangle Basham in trades but found no takers.

The Cowboys gave Basham a two-year, $5.5MM deal in 2021. He helped Dan Quinn revive Dallas’ defense that year, registering 3.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits. That came after he totaled 3.5 sacks and 13 QB hits for the Jets in 2020, creating a modest market. Basham forced three fumbles for the 2020 Jets and added another with the ’21 Cowboys. The ’22 Cowboys’ depth at the position left no room for Basham, who played five games for an injury-riddled Titans team to close out the season.

Cincinnati rosters Joseph Ossai as a backup edge option, but the 2021 draftee was playing through a torn labrum during the final games of last season. Ossai underwent surgery early this offseason. Basham will join Ossai, a former third-round pick, and Cam Sample (Round 4, 2021) as backup options going into Cincy’s offseason program. Ossai and Sample combined for 5.5 sacks in 2022.