Month: June 2024

Post-Draft Notes: Seahawks, Washington, Jaguars

The Seahawks were able to obtain both the top cornerback and top wide receiver on their board last Thursday when they drafted Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon at No. 5 overall and Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 20 overall. There had been rumors that Seattle had their eyes on Jalen Carter at No. 5, but with some troubling pre-draft issues, Carter wasn’t likely worth a top-five pick anymore.

A few teams had ideas of trading into Seattle’s pick and there’s a chance the Seahawks would’ve listened. General manager John Schneider, though, clarified that there were two players who would’ve prevented the Seahawks from trading down, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. Witherspoon happened to be one of them.

It’s unclear who the other player might have been or if they were even still available, but the Seahawks didn’t trade out of their top draft spot, so it’s clear that they were able to get their guy in Witherspoon.

Here are a few other rumors following the 2023 NFL Draft:

  • New Steelers tight end Darnell Washington experienced a bit of a slide in the draft this weekend. The former-Georgia Bulldog had a first- to second-round grade going into the Thursday with many expecting him to be the fourth or fifth tight end off the board. Especially after a run of tight ends started in the second round, it was surprising not to hear Washington’s name called. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, injuries were the reason for the slide. Washington’s knee was a concern, but reportedly, there were other things on his medical that contributed to teams’ hesitancy, as well. The scout giving this information also called the slide “laughable,” asserting that he expects Washington to play for a long time in the NFL.
  • The Jaguars had a number of Day 3 picks that they used on Saturday. 10 to be exact. It sounds like they tried to sell some of them off and failed. According to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, Jacksonville’s general manager, Trent Baalke, attempted to trade up in the draft’s later round and got denied. Multiple times. “We went through 15 or 16 teams when we were trying to trade up,” Baalke told the media. “Every team behind us and not one would make a move.”

Vikings Sign 15 UDFAs

The Vikings have officially added to their six-man draft class, announcing the signing of 15 undrafted free agents last night. Here is the list of undrafted rookies who will be given an opportunity in Minnesota this summer:

The team has also invited Ouachita Baptist running back T.J. Cole to rookie minicamp, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2. The former-Tiger was also invited to go to Philadelphia for the Eagles’ rookie minicamp, as well.

Minnesota was able to nab the 2022 AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American linebacker in Cincinnati’s Pace. He’ll have the opportunity to continue working alongside his former teammate, Huber, in rookie minicamp.

The Vikings brought in some strong pass catchers in Knowles, Thomas, and Sims. Johnson will look to continue developing as a receiver. He spent time at Southeastern Louisiana as both a backup quarterback and wide receiver, although he only had three catches in college. They also added a few defensive backs with ball skills in Coldon, Thompson, and Williams. Thompson didn’t have the interception totals of Coldon and Williams, but after playing both sides of the ball, he should have the hands to start turning deflections into picks.

Podlesny is an intriguing addition for Minnesota. The Vikings re-signed incumbent kicker Greg Joseph after a season that saw him miss seven field goals attempts, six of which were attempts over 50 yards. Joseph’s new deal is only for one year, though, leaving an opportunity for a potential kicking competition. Podlesny provides Minnesota with a second kicking option, but after not attempting a field goal over 50 yards in all of 2022, it’s to be determined if Podlesny represents a potential improvement.

Steelers Announce Seven-Man UDFA Class

The Steelers will be keeping their rookie class extremely small in 2023. After drafting seven college prospects this weekend, Pittsburgh will only be adding seven more undrafted rookies:

We covered the addition of Morgan after his signing last night. With only two quarterbacks (Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky) currently on the roster, Morgan should have a legitimate chance to earn a roster sport. At the very least, barring the signing of another passer, Morgan should at the very least be a shoo-in for a practice squad spot.

Pittsburgh listed Byrd as a wide receiver despite his status on the Aztecs as a running back. While Byrd contributed as a rotation back, his true impact came on special teams. He earned All-Mountain West first-team honors thanks to 571 kick return yards, 118 punt return yards, and touchdowns on each type of return in 2022. It was his second straight year on the All-Conference first-team as a kick returner. The team’s main returner from last year, Steven Sims, signed with the Texans, so Byrd will compete with Gunner Olszewski for returning duties in 2023.

The Steelers recently signed kicker Chris Boswell to an extension, so bringing in Potter likely is not a threat to Boswell’s job. Boswell did miss some time with a groin injury last year, forcing Pittsburgh to scramble. This wasn’t the first time Boswell missed games, so Potter may be destined to sit on the practice squad in case of emergency.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/30/23

There was one minor transaction among all of the college transactions today:

Seattle Seahawks

 

Winston signed with the Seahawks’ practice squad early last season. He’s spend time with the Rams, Saints, and Browns but only appeared in games with New Orleans. He played three games with the Saints, primarily as a punt returner but with snaps on offense, as well. Winston signed a reserve/future contract to stay in Seattle back in January but was waived two weeks ago.

Chargers Sign 18 UDFAs

After selecting seven new players in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Chargers announced their undrafted free agent signings. Here are the 18 undrafted rookies who will be looking to make their mark this summer:

Clark is set to receive a $100K base salary, in addition to a $5K signing bonus, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2. He was a three-year starter as a nose tackle in Myrtle Beach. He overcame quite a few obstacles to find an NFL opportunity, switching from tight end in college, gaining muscle and weight, and working through multiple injuries. He’ll work hard to earn a spot in the defensive line rotation for Los Angeles.

Lang also earned a bit over the minimum, according to Wilson. His deal includes $50K guaranteed, $30K of salary and $20K in a signing bonus. The Colorado pass rusher had 9.5 sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss for the Buffaloes over four years of play.

Mullen is the younger brother of Ravens cornerback Trayvon Mullen. He earned first-team All-American honors in 2020 but was limited due to injuries after that. He ended his career at Indiana with five interceptions, 33 passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.

Cowboys Remain Open To Ezekiel Elliott Reunion

The Cowboys were among many teams to add running backs during the draft, a signal seen by some that they are fully prepared to move on from Ezekiel Elliott. That still may not be the case, however.

The Cowboys used a sixth-round pick on Deuce Vaughn, a move which generated considerable interest in its own right around the league given the fact that his father Chris works in the team’s scouting department. The Kansas State product figures to serve in a rotational role behind Tony Pollard, who will play on the franchise tag in 2023 after establishing himself as the clear-cut No. 1 back for Dallas.

The five-foot-five Vaughn will likely never be tasked with handling short-yardage and goal line duties, however, something which was true of Elliott in 2022 in particular. The latter’s efficiency and totals hit a career low last season, but he could still carve out a specific role as a power back in the next offense he plays in. That could still end up bringing him back to Dallas.

When asked if the door is now closed to an Elliott reunion, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “No, no, no, not at all. That ship hasn’t sailed yet. We haven’t made a decision. We obviously drafted a running back, but a little different style than Zeke. I’m not trying to be cute. But nothing we did today changes that” (h/t David Moore of the Dallas Morning News).

It was learned last month that the Cowboys declined to offer the two-time rushing champion a pay cut after making the expected move of releasing him. At that point, they acknowledged the possibility of a reunion, though it remains to be seen how motivated they will be to bring Elliott into what is now a more crowded backfield. The former No. 4 pick has yet receive much (if anything) in the way of interest from the three other teams he is reportedly looking to join.

That could change in the near future, as he and all other veteran free agents will evaluate which teams could represent suitable landing spots with the draft now complete. A number of experienced running backs are still on the market, but Elliott’s future – with the Cowboys or otherwise – could become clearer soon.

“That’s what we’ll be sitting here evaluating,” Jones added. “We’ll look and see what his situation is, what our situation is. But I have not ruled out Zeke.”

5 Key Stories: 4/23/23 – 4/30/23

Another draft has come and gone, bringing with it a number of interesting developments. Prior to the latest class of rookies joining the league, though, some long-anticipated quarterback deals were made as well. Here’s a quick recap of the week’s top stories:

  • Packers, Jets Finalize Rodgers Trade: More than one month after Aaron Rodgers stated his intention to play for the Jets, the trade sending him to New York came into place. The Jets paid a considerable price (including a conditional 2024 second-round pick, which could become a first-rounder if he plays 65% of the snaps this season), leading many to wonder whether the 39-year-old will play beyond this year. That question remains unanswered, but for at least this season the Jets’ offense will have substantially more upside than it had under Zach Wilson, which could allow them to compete in a stacked AFC. Rodgers, like Brett Favre before him, will look to find success in the Big Apple late in his career following an illustrious Green Bay tenure.
  • Ravens Extend Jackson: Lamar Jackson became the latest quarterback to land a monster extension, inking a five-year, $260MM deal with the Ravens. The agreement put an end to a years-long effort on Baltimore’s part to get the 26-year-old on the books for the foreseeable future, one which included several eyebrow-raising developments. The Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson last month, but no suitors emerged on the offer sheet or trade fronts, leading to the growing belief he would ultimately stay in Baltimore. Jackson’s pact supersedes that given to the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts by a small margin in both AAV ($52MM) and guarantees ($185MM), and marks further evidence of the upward trend in the position’s market – something which will no doubt influence talks for the likes of Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert down the road.
  • Commanders To Decline Young’s Option: Decisions on the fifth-year options for 2020 draftees are coming due, and the Commanders won’t exercise that of defensive end Chase Young. The former No. 2 pick has been dogged by injuries for much of his career, playing just 12 contests since his impressive debut season. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year showed plenty of potential in 2020, but the questions surrounding his health and ability to replicate his production from that year make Washington’s decision to turn down a guarantee of nearly $17.5MM in 2024 an understandable one, especially considering the other investments made in their defensive front. Young’s performance this season could set up a very high-profile free agent situation depending on how the Commanders handle his contract status.
  • Titans End Levis’ Draft Slide: As expected, three quarterbacks were selected with the first four picks of the draft, but Will Levis fell out of the opening round. The Titans ended his wait to hear his name called, trading up to pick No. 33 to draft the Kentucky alum. Tennessee has Ryan Tannehill under contract for one more year, but the veteran’s future with the team has been in serious doubt for some time. Levis’ addition also shows the organization’s desire to add another young passer despite the previous front office having drafted Malik Willis last year. Long considered a first-round lock, Levis should soon have the opportunity to take on a starting role in the NFL, which will no doubt lead to continued comparisons between he and the signal-callers drafted much earlier this weekend.
  • Lions Deal Swift To Eagles: Speculation ramped up after the first round that Detroit would move on from running back D’Andre Swift, and they did just that by trading him to the Eagles. The Lions swapped seventh-round 2023 picks and added a 2025 fourth-rounder by dealing the 24-year-old, who is a native of Philadelphia. The Lions signed David Montgomery in free agency, and used pick No. 12 on fellow back Jahmyr Gibbs, and this trade now sets up that pair at the top of their depth chart. Swift will look to solidify the starting role in a crowded Eagles backfield which lost Miles Sanders, but added Rashaad Penny. The Georgia alum is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so his production in his new home will go a long way in determining his future in 2024 and beyond.

Saints Announce 11-Man UDFA Class

The Saints have announced an 11-man UDFA class after drafting seven players over the course of the last three days. Here are the undrafted talents who will begin their pursuit of an NFL job with New Orleans:

Two of the above players, Davis and Orji, received guarantees in excess of $200K, as Greg Auman of FOX Sports tweets.

Davis has the size (6-5, 217 lbs.) and length that could allow him to find success in the pros, and he showed off serious big-play ability at the collegiate level, averaging roughly 20.4 yards per catch over four years at South Carolina State. That included 45 catches for 934 yards and 11 TDs in 2022.

That production, however, came against FCS competition. While the size of Davis’ guarantee indicates he was a priority signing, there are elements of his game — like his issue with drops — that he will need to clean up in order to have a shot at cracking the roster.

Orji, meanwhile, was a three-year starter for the SEC’s Commodores, as well as a team captain. Despite averaging nearly 100 total tackles and 10 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, he also missed a lot of tackles and does not have the speed that would make him an elite defender in today’s NFL. Still, there was a chance that he would hear his name called on Day 3 of the draft, and he should have a decent chance of sticking as a backup defender or special teamer.

Jets Could Re-Sign LB Kwon Alexander

The Jets are open to re-signing linebacker Kwon Alexander, as ESPN’s Rich Cimini tweets. Cimini adds that the two sides have remained in touch throughout the offseason.

Alexander, who is entering his age-28 season, agreed to a veteran-minimum contract with New York last July. In his first season as a member of Gang Green, the LSU product appeared in all 17 games (12 starts) and posted 69 tackles. Pro Football Focus assigned him an overall score of 63.0, which positioned him as the 44th-best LB among 81 qualifiers.

With Aaron Rodgers now in the fold, the Jets profile as legitimate championship contenders in 2023. Though the club missed the postseason last year, it still fielded the fourth-best defense in the league in terms of both yards allowed and points allowed, and after re-signing Quincy Williams in March, it stands to reason that the Jets would want to keep the third member of their C.J. Mosley/Williams/Alexander linebacker triumvirate intact. The fact that Alexander could likely be had for another modest contract — there have been no public reports of outside interest in him this offseason — makes him more attractive.

Plus, the draft did not do much to bolster New York’s LB corps. GM Joe Douglas did add a linebacker, Western Michigan’s Zaire Barnes, in the fifth round, but Barnes does not profile as a player that will immediately command significant snaps on the defensive side of the ball. He joins 2021 Day 3 draftees Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen and reserve/futures signee Chazz Surratt as the only other ‘backers on the roster. That group combined to play 42 defensive snaps in 2022.

Another selling point for Alexander is that he holds up well in coverage. having yielded QB ratings of 81.5 and 89.5 over the past two seasons. He may not be the same player he was in 2017, when he earned his first and only Pro Bowl nod, but he remains a capable defender who is already familiar with Robert Saleh‘s high-end defense.

Bengals HC Zac Taylor On RB Joe Mixon: “His Future Is Here With The Team”

For the past several months, there have been rumblings that Joe Mixon‘s time with the Bengals could soon be up. However, in his post-draft presser yesterday, head coach Zac Taylor indicated that the seventh-year running back would remain in Cincinnati in 2023.

“[Mixon’s] future is here with the team,” Taylor told reporters, including Ben Baby of ESPN.com. “I like Joe Mixon.”

Those comments are certainly more definitive than those made by VP of player personnel Duke Tobin and executive VP Katie Blackburn earlier this offseason. When asked whether the club would retain Mixon, Tobin said, “I don’t know,” and Blackburn was similarly noncommittal. Several weeks ago, a report from Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic suggested that Mixon will ultimately be asked to take a pay cut.

A pay cut may be the best outcome for both sides, as the Bengals would retain a 2021 Pro Bowler while reducing his $12.8MM cap number, and Mixon would avoid becoming a late addition to a free agent market that has proven quite unfriendly to running backs. Plus, it’s not as though he would be hitting the market with a great deal of momentum; he posted a subpar 3.9 YPC average in 2022 and is presently facing a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing.

If player and team do not discuss or come to terms on a salary reduction, the Bengals could release Mixon with a post-June 1 designation and shave over $10MM off their 2023 ledger. However, that would put a great deal of pressure on Trayveon Williams (47 career carries), Chris Evans (17 career carries), and fifth-round rookie Chase Brown.

If Cincy had been able to re-sign Samaje Perine, perhaps the club would have been more inclined to move on from Mixon and deploy a Perine/Brown tandem at the top of the RB depth chart. Or, if a blue-chip prospect like Bijan Robinson had fallen to them in this year’s draft, the Bengals might have been comfortable with such a player taking over RB1 duties right away. As it stands, however, it would seem that a team with Super Bowl aspirations would not immediately hand the running back reins to Brown, no matter how high his upside might be. So Taylor’s comments with respect to Mixon, who has joined the team for voluntary workouts, make sense.

For his part, Brown — a Doak Walker Award finalist who rushed for 1,643 yards and posted 13 total TDs in his final season with Illinois — is excited to work with Mixon.

“They have a great running back there right now, Joe Mixon, who I grew up watching and watched a lot through college,” Brown said. “So I’m excited to come in, learn from him, learn from the coaching staff and produce on Sundays.”