Month: July 2024

Revisiting 2021 First-Round QB Picks

With the 2024 draft approaching, this year’s crop of quarterbacks will increasingly become the center of attention around the NFL. Acquiring rookie passers is viewed as the surest route to long-term success, and the urgency teams feel to generate quick rebuilds fuels aggressive moves aimed at acquiring signal-callers deemed to have high upside.

Each class is different, though, and past drafts can offer a cautionary tale about the downfalls of being overly optimistic regarding a young quarterback. In the case of the 2021 draft, five signal-callers were selected on Day 1, and to varying extents things have not gone according to plan in each case. Three quarterbacks (quite possibly four, depending on how the immediate future plays out) have been traded, while the other has not lived up to expectations.

Here is a breakdown of all five QBs taken in the first round three years ago:

Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall, Jaguars)

Lawrence entered the league with enormous expectations after his high school and college success, having been touted as a generational prospect. The Clemson product (like the rest of the Jaguars) endured a forgettable season under head coach Urban Meyer as a rookie, however. The latter’s firing paved the way for the arrival of Doug Pederson, known to be a QB-friendly coach. Lawrence improved in 2022, earning a Pro Bowl nod and helping guide the team to the divisional round of the postseason.

This past campaign saw the 24-year-old battle multiple nagging injuries, and he was forced to miss a game for the first time in his career. Jacksonville failed to find a rhythm on offense throughout the year, and a late-season slump left the team out of the playoffs altogether after a division title seemed to be in hand. In two seasons under Pederson, Lawrence has totaled 46 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions – figures which fall short of what the pair were thought to be capable of while working together. Nonetheless, no changes under center will be forthcoming.

Following in line with his previous stance on the matter, general manager Trent Baalke confirmed last month extension talks with Lawrence have begun. The former college national champion will be on his rookie contract through 2025 once the Jaguars exercise his fifth-year option, but megadeals finalized in a QB’s first year of extension eligibility have become commonplace around the NFL. Lawrence profiles as Jacksonville’s answer under center for years to come, something of particular significance given the team’s past struggles to find a long-term producer at the position.

Four young passers inked second contracts averaging between $51MM and $55MM per year last offseason. Lawrence is positioned to be the next in line for a similar deal, though his generally pedestrian stats could hinder his leverage to a degree. At a minimum, he will see an AAV much higher than that of his 2025 option ($25.66MM) once his next contract is in place.

Zach Wilson (No. 2, Jets)

The Jets’ decision to take Sam Darnold third overall in 2018 did not prove fruitful, and in short order the team was in need of another young passer. Wilson was immediately installed as the team’s starter, but in both his rookie campaign and his follow-up season he struggled in a number of categories. A lack of improvement regarding accuracy and interception rates made it clear a more proven commodity would be required for a team internally viewed as being a quarterback away from contention.

That drove the decision to trade for Aaron Rodgers last offseason, a move aimed at relying on the future Hall of Famer in the short term while allowing Wilson to develop as a backup. Four snaps into the season, though, Rodgers’ Achilles tear upended that plan and thrust Wilson back into a starting role. Playing behind a struggling (and injury-marred) offensive line, the BYU alum guided an offense which finished 29th in scoring and 31st in yardage. In the wake of the poor showing, owner Woody Johnson publicly disparaged Wilson in vowing to upgrade the QB2 spot.

With Tyrod Taylor now in place (and Rodgers aiming to continue playing into his 40s), Wilson’s New York days are believed to be numbered. The Jets have given him permission to seek a trade, which comes as little surprise given the team’s decision to bench him on a few occasions over the past two seasons. A fresh start for both parties could be beneficial, although value on a deal will come well short of the capital used to draft him. Offers for the 24-year-old have nevertheless been received, so a deal could be struck in relatively short order.

Once that takes place, New York will have once again cut bait with a failed QB project. Wilson could follow Darnold’s path in taking on a backup gig before receiving another starting opportunity with a new team. For the time being, though, he will aim to find the ideal supporting role in an attempt to rebuild his value.

Trey Lance (No. 3, 49ers)

Aggressively pursuing a Jimmy Garoppolo upgrade, San Francisco moved up the board at a substantial cost. The 49ers sent the Dolphins a package including three first-round picks and a third-rounder, banking on Lance’s athletic upside. After a year sitting behind Garoppolo, the North Dakota State product was positioned to take over in 2022.

However, a Week 2 ankle fracture cut Lance’s season was cut short; this proved to mark an end to his San Francisco tenure. In all, Lance made just four regular-season starts with the 49ers, as the 2022 season unintentionally resulted in Brock Purdy taking over the starter’s role. The emergence of the former Mr. Irrelevant paved the way for Lance to be traded, but his injury history and inconsistent play when on the field limited his trade market. The Cowboys won a brief bidding war, acquiring Lance for a fourth-round pick.

Lance did not see the field in his first season as a Cowboy, but Dallas will keep him in the fold for the 2024 campaign. He will thus be in line to serve as Dak Prescott’s backup for a year; the latter is not under contract for 2025, but he remains firmly in the team’s plans. Unless Prescott were to depart in free agency next offseason, a path to a No. 1 role does not currently exist for Lance.

The 23-year-old could nevertheless still be viewed as a worthwhile developmental prospect given his age and athletic traits. The Lance acquisition has clearly proven to be a mistake on the 49ers’ part, though, especially given the success the team has had without him. What-ifs will remain a part of this 49ers chapter’s legacy (particularly if the current core cannot get over the Super Bowl hump) considering the substantial price paid to move up the board and the draft picks not available in subsequent years as a result.

Justin Fields (No. 11, Bears)

Like San Francisco, Chicago did not wait on the chance of having a top QB prospect fall down the draft board. The Bears moved two first-round picks, along fourth- and fifth-rounders, to move ahead of the Patriots and add a presumed long-term answer under center. Fields saw playing time early enough (10 starts as a rookie), but his performance that year left plenty of room for improvement.

A head coaching change from Matt Nagy to Matt Eberflus also brought about the arrival of a new offensive coordinator (Luke Getsy). Fields did not make the expected jump as a passer in the new system, averaging less than 150 yards per game through the air and taking 55 sacks. He became only the third quarterback to record over 1,000 yards on the ground in a season, though, showcasing his rushing ability. The Ohio State product made only incremental progress in 2023, despite an improved offensive line and the trade acquisition of wideout D.J. Moore.

As a result, speculation steadily intensified that general manager Ryan Poles – who was not a member of the regime which drafted Fields – would move on from the 25-year-old. Fields received endorsements from Eberflus, Poles and others in the building, but the team decided to move on and pave the way for (in all likelihood) Caleb Williams being drafted first overall. A conditional sixth-round pick sent Fields to the Steelers, his preferred destination.

In Pittsburgh, Fields is slated to begin as the backup Russell Wilson. Both passers face uncertain futures beyond 2024, especially with the former not on track to have his fifth-year option exercised. Fields could play his way into the starter’s role in relatively short order given the 10-year age gap between he and Wilson, who flamed out in Denver. That, in turn, could see his market value jump higher than that of the other non-Lawrence members of this class given their respective situations.

Mac Jones (No. 15, Patriots)

Drafted to become the Tom Brady successor of both the short- and long-term future, Jones was immediately installed as New England’s starter. Coming off a national title with Alabama, he appeared to set the stage for a long Patriots tenure by earning a Pro Bowl nod and finishing second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Nothing went according to plan for team or player beyond that point, however.

Jones saw Josh McDaniels depart in the 2022 offseason, leaving head coach Bill Belichick to hand the offensive reins over to Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. That move resulted in widespread struggles on offense, and Jones regressed. Following a 2021 playoff berth, the inability to venture back to the postseason the following year led to increased speculation about the team’s future under center. That became particularly true amid reports of tension between Jones and Belichick.

With both coach and quarterback under pressure to rebound, optimism emerged when the Patriots hired Bill O’Brien as OC. That move did not produce the desired results, though, and by the end of the year Jones was benched in favor of Bailey Zappe. With a Belichick-less regime set to start over at the quarterback spot, the former was dealt to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick.

Jones has publicly stated the deal (which sent him to his hometown team) was a mutual parting of ways. A backup gig behind Lawrence could allow the pocket passer to regain some of his confidence generated by his rookie success, but his showings over the past two seasons will no doubt give teams considerable pause with respect to viewing him as a starter down the road. Jones’ athletic profile is also a less favorable one than that of Wilson, Lance and especially Fields, something which could further consign him to QB2 duties for the foreseeable future.

Four quarterbacks are considered locks to hear their names called on Day 1 of the 2024 draft, one in which each of the top three picks may very well once again be used on signal-callers. Other QB prospects are also in contention for Round 1 consideration, meaning they and their new teams will be subject to considerable scrutiny. To put it lightly, all parties involved will hope the top of this year’s class pans out better than that of its 2021 counterpart.

49ers’ Jed York Addresses Future Brock Purdy Extension

The 49ers have a pressing financial matter in the form of wideout Brandon Aiyuk for this offseason. By this point next, year, however, quarterback Brock Purdy will be eligible for a new deal. The latter will be in line for a substantial raise given the nature of his first two years in the NFL.

Purdy took over for an injured Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo during the 2022 campaign, and he helped guide the team to the NFC title game. Despite the major elbow injury he suffered in that contest, the former ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ entered the 2023 season as San Francisco’s undisputed starter. His play during much of the year did not do anything to alter that moving forward.

The 24-year-old led the NFL in passer rating (113) as well as other categories in a stellar follow-up to his rookie success. Purdy earned a Pro Bowl nod and finished fourth in MVP voting, confirming his status as a franchise quarterback. The going rate for players who fit that bill has surged in recent years, something 49ers CEO Jed York is acutely aware of.

“When we signed Jimmy several years ago, it was the largest deal in the history of the NFL, for three minutes,” York said, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury NewsBut Jimmy was at [$27.5MM per year]. That’s what the market is and you have to accept the reality of the world. To me, the quarterback is the most important position not just in football, but all of sports, and those guys should be paid a lot of money.”

Four quarterbacks have reached the $50MM mark in terms of annual average value (all ascending passers who agreed to monster extensions last offseason). The likes of Trevor Lawrence and Dak Prescott are among those who could also reach that mark, and deals with either of those would add further to the lucrative environment the QB spot is currently in. Purdy – who has two years remaining on his rookie pact and is due $985K in 2024 – will have considerable bargaining power next offseason if he is able to remain a key figure in San Francisco’s offense.

Each of that unit’s other top contributors (Aiyuk, fellow receiver Deebo Samuel, left tackle Trent Williams, running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle) are already on the books for at least one more season, though. Aiyuk will join the others in being a financial commitment in 2025 if an extension can be worked out. San Francisco’s cap situation will look much different if a Purdy extension is finalized, but well before that can take place York’s comments convey an awareness it will be a very pricey endeavor.

Lions Submitted Offer To WR Josh Reynolds

Josh Reynolds has spent nearly his entire career as a Jared Goff target, with only a brief Titans tenure interrupting a seven-year run as such. But the quarterback and wide receiver are going their separate ways, with the Broncos signing Reynolds earlier this week.

The Lions viewed Reynolds as a player they wanted back, per GM Brad Holmes, who called re-signing the eighth-year veteran the team’s “Plan A” at the position. But the Broncos came in with a two-year deal that KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes checks in at $9MM in base value. Reynolds’ Denver contract can max out at $14MM, though only $4.25MM is guaranteed, providing the Broncos some flexibility in 2025.

[RELATED: Lions Aimed To Keep G Jonah Jackson]

Although the Lions sought another agreement with Reynolds, the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett indicates the team offered the former Rams draftee a below-market contract. The team made that offer at the start of free agency and maintained minimal contact with him in the days that followed. This preceded the Broncos’ second-wave signing, with Reynolds set to join a receiving corps that lost Jerry Jeudy via trade.

It appears the team’s interest included a low price point, with Birkett adding this offer came about because it is expected Reynolds would have been the Lions’ No. 3 wideout in 2024. This points to a bigger role for Jameson Williams, who has seen his January 2022 knee injury and subsequent gambling suspension lead to a slow start. But the 2022 first-rounder flashed at points last season, showing tremendous speed through the air and on the ground.

Williams finished with only 354 receiving yards last season, which began in October due to what turned out to be a five-game gambling ban (after an NFL rule changed shortened it). The Lions already have Amon-Ra St. Brown on the extension radar. With Goff likely set for a big raise this offseason as well, Detroit’s roster complexion changes. That will lead Reynolds, who totaled 608 yards and five touchdown catches, to Colorado, on a slight raise. He played out a two-year, $6MM Lions deal last season.

The Broncos ditched Jeudy’s $12.99MM fifth-year option salary, via trade with the Browns, but still have Courtland Sutton tied to a $13MM 2024 base; the team guaranteed $2MM of that total earlier this month. Unless a Sutton trade happens despite that guarantee vesting, Reynolds will join Tim Patrick and Marvin Mims as complementary Broncos targets. The 6-foot-3 receiver has played an auxiliary role throughout his career, most recently helping a Lions team that had Williams struggle to stay on the field.

Rams Re-Sign WR Tyler Johnson

Already re-signing Demarcus Robinson this offseason, the Rams will continue their receiver-retention effort weeks later. They have circled back to Tyler Johnson, re-signing the veteran wideout Sunday, per KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson.

The Rams are set to return their top receivers from last season. Employing Cooper Kupp for an eighth year, the Rams have Puka Nacua, Robinson and Tutu Atwell under contract. Johnson spent most of the 2023 season on the Rams’ practice squad, but the team will see how the former fifth-round pick looks in a second year in Sean McVay‘s offense.

Johnson, 25, initially caught on with the Rams midway through last year; the Raiders had cut the Minnesota alum not long after adding him. Johnson played in one Rams game last year but joins Ben Skowronek in rounding out a Rams receiving corps that should look quite similar from their 2023 edition. While it would not surprise to see the team add a draft choice to vie for a job, continuity reigns at this position group for the time being.

Best known for his early-career work with the Buccaneers, Johnson joined ex-Golden Gophers teammate Antoine Winfield Jr. in being a 2020 Tampa Bay draftee. The 6-foot-1 wideout caught two touchdown passes as a rookie during a season that earned him a Super Bowl ring and produced a career-high 360 receiving yards during a rather eventful season for Bucs receivers — due largely to Antonio Brown‘s timeline — the following year.

Johnson logged two Texans games in 2022 and caught two passes for the Rams last season, scoring a touchdown during a Week 18 game against the 49ers in which both teams rested several regulars. He will again vie for a backup job this year.

CB Cameron Sutton Taken Into Custody

A warrant went out for Cameron Sutton‘s arrest in early March; more than three weeks later, the former Lions and Steelers cornerback turned himself in.

Sutton was taken into custody on a domestic battery by strangulation charge, according to the Hillsborough (Fla.) County Sherriff’s Office. The Lions released Sutton, 29, last week. The alleged crime took place on the morning of March 7, but Sutton remained at large for weeks. He was seen at the Lions’ facility working out despite being wanted; the team cut him soon after.

Police in Florida issued the warrant March 7. The Lions released the 2023 free agent pickup on March 21, a day after the report of the warrant surfaced. This search for Sutton stems from police responding to a call pertaining to an alleged domestic incident early that morning in Lutz, Florida. He arrived at the Orient Road Jail shortly after 8pm Sunday night.

Sutton’s NFL career is certainly in jeopardy, with the Lions having released him following the report of the warrant. The team had advised Sutton to turn himself in, but that conversation occurred more than a week ago.

We were learning it the same moment you guys were learning about the warrant,” Lions president Rod Wood said (via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett) earlier this week. “Actually I was on a Zoom call with the league on another matter when it popped up on my phone. As soon as that call wrapped up, we kind of quickly convened and talked about it. We were able to reach Cam and talk about it and suggested that he get counsel and do the right thing to turn himself in. And then after that, we met the rest of the day and then the following morning to decide to release him.”

Sutton has played seven NFL seasons — six with the Steelers, one with the Lions — and has been a starter for most of his career. The Lions gave the former third-round pick a three-year, $33MM deal. An NFL suspension, which seems likely to commence, would void the $9MM in remaining guarantees on Sutton’s Detroit contract.

Diontae Johnson Sought Trade From Steelers

The Steelers have made a habit of moving on from starting wide receivers following their rookie contracts, regularly finding replacements in the draft. This assembly line, however, did feature an exception for Diontae Johnson, who signed an extension in 2022. But the Steelers wrapped Johnson’s tenure after five seasons by trading him to the Panthers.

Swapping out Johnson, 27, for Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson, Pittsburgh bailed on a player who led the team in receiving three times (2020-22) and one who displayed strong route-running chops. While some turbulence came along with the former third-round pick, the team has a need at receiver entering April.

[RELATED: Steelers Sign WR Quez Watkins]

Rumblings about a Johnson trade emerged around the Combine, and The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly indicates the talented pass catcher requested a trade (subscription required). Going into the final season on the two-year, $36.71MM extension he signed in summer 2022, Johnson will now count $10MM on Carolina’s cap and give Bryce Young a second veteran receiver to target alongside Adam Thielen.

It is unclear why Johnson wanted out, though the Steelers’ quarterback situation may well have played a role. Chosen in Round 3 out of Toledo, Johnson soon saw the Steelers’ QB fortunes change when Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in September 2019. He showed potential with Mason Rudolph as a rookie, but Roethlisberger was a diminished version of himself upon returning in 2020. More limitations emerged in 2021, and the future Hall of Famer called it quits at season’s end. Drop issues notwithstanding, Johnson became Big Ben’s most trusted target following the elbow injury; he posted 144- and 167-target seasons in 2020 and ’21, posting a career-high 1,161 yards in Roethlisberger’s final season.

Kenny Pickett did not provide an upgrade. Johnson famously did not score a touchdown in 2022, going nearly two years between regular-season TDs. He added five TDs last year and averaged more yards per game (55.2) compared to 2022 but brought baggage stemming from comments and a dispute with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The five-year veteran also chirped at coaches during a rocky 2023 slate. Johnson was also criticized for showing little effort to recover a Jaylen Warren fumble during a game against the Bengals last season. A Johnson-Mitch Trubisky shouting match also took place in 2022, and the Steelers have closed the book on their partnership with the 5-foot-10 WR as they revamped their QB room around Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.

The Steelers have nabbed numerous starting wideouts on Day 2 of the draft during the Mike TomlinKevin Colbert partnership — from Mike Wallace to Emmanuel Sanders to JuJu Smith-Schuster to Johnson to George Pickens — and it would certainly not surprise to see the team turn to the draft’s second day to address this spot once again. This is viewed as another deep receiver draft, and the Steelers have continually done well to staff this job. They need help alongside Pickens now, with Quez Watkins, Van Jefferson, Calvin Austin and gadget/returner addition Cordarrelle Patterson in the fold.

Mike Tomlin said the team had targeted Jackson, 28, in the past. The former second-round pick joins Joey Porter Jr. as the Steelers’ top corners. The team reduced its recent trade acquisition’s cap number as well. The sides agreed on a new deal that dropped Jackson’s 2024 cap number to $6MM, per OverTheCap’s Jason Fitzgerald, who adds the seventh-year corner will receive $4.75MM guaranteed. The Steelers already picked up Jackson’s $4MM roster bonus upon acquiring him.

The Jackson trade left $9.78MM in dead money on Carolina’s payroll; the team moved on from the corner two years after re-signing him to a three-year, $35.18MM contract. Pittsburgh’s Johnson trade left $5.83MM in dead money on its cap sheet. Both players’ contracts still expire after the 2024 season, though their new teams hold exclusive negotiating rights until March 2025.

NFC North Notes: Bears, Vikings, Reader

Coleman Shelton started every Rams game at center last season, and the former UDFA logged a few starts there during the 2022 season. The Bears gave Shelton only a one-year, $3MM deal, however. Already rostering guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis, the Bears may view Shelton as a backup. This is because Chicago acquired Ryan Bates from Buffalo. Given a Bears RFA offer sheet in 2022, Bates remains attached to that contract (four years, $17MM). He looks more likely to be the favorite for Bears center duties than Shelton,’s Courtney Cronin notes.

Bates, 27, does not have a notable history at center. At Penn State, he primarily played left tackle. The Bills used him primarily at guard, with Mitch Morse previously entrenched at center. Despite Buffalo matching the 2022 Chicago offer sheet, the team added two new guards — Connor McGovern, O’Cyrus Torrence — in 2023. Bates did not start a game for the Bills last season, but the ex-UDFA looks set to have a good shot at taking over at center for the Bears.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears’ four-year, $76MM Jaylon Johnson extension features an out in 2026. The deal calls for $10.6MM of Johnson’s $15.1MM 2026 base salary to be guaranteed for injury, but no skill guarantees are in place beyond 2025. KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes $7.6MM of Johnson’s 2026 base will shift to a full guarantee if the Pro Bowl cornerback is on the roster by that date. With no true guarantees on this deal post-2025, the Bears could get out with just $5MM in dead money (in the event of a post-June 1 cut) in 2026.
  • The Vikings have been active in using void years under GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. This practice cost the team when Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Tomlinson departed, but it is turning to cap space-saving measure heavily this year as well. Minnesota included four void years in Sam Darnold, Aaron Jones and Andrew Van Ginkel‘s deals, with three void years used to spread out the three-year, $22.5MM Blake Cashman contract’s cap hits. While this will create some dead money if these players are not re-signed before their contracts officially expire, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling observes it created some cap space in the event the Vikes need to carry a bigger 2024 cap number for Justin Jefferson, who has been on the extension radar for two years. That said, Jefferson’s 2024 cap figure is already at $19.7MM on the fifth-year option.
  • Looking elsewhere on the Vikings’ payroll, their Jonathan Greenard deal (four years, $76MM) features $42MM in total guarantees. The contract includes $4MM guaranteed for 2026, per Goessling. Though, that money is classified as injury guarantees, providing the Vikes — like the Bears with Johnson — some flexibility down the road on a $19MM-AAV contract.
  • Rounding up some Minnesota contract matters, Goessling adds Shaquill Griffin‘s one-year contract is worth $4.55MM and features $3.99MM fully guaranteed. The Vikings are giving Jonathan Bullard a one-year, $2.25MM deal to stay, per Goessling, who adds Dan Feeney‘s contract to come over from the Bears is worth $1.8MM. Jonah Williams, the defensive lineman, signed a one-year, $1.5MM deal that includes $350K guaranteed, Goessling offers. Jihad Ward‘s one-year accord is worth $1.8MM and includes $1MM guaranteed, The Athletic’s Dan Duggan tweets.
  • Initially labeled as being worth up to $27.25MM, D.J. Reader‘s Lions pact contains $22MM in base value. The Lions are only guaranteeing the veteran nose tackle $7.4MM at signing, per OverTheCap. Coming off his second quad tear in four years, Reader would receive a $4MM roster bonus on Day 3 of the 2025 league year. That date will certainly be pivotal for his Detroit future.
  • Arrested on a fourth-degree DWI charge in December, Vikings OC Wes Phillips pleaded guilty to a lesser charge recently. The third-year Minnesota OC pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge, Fox 9’s Jeff Wald notes. Phillips, 45, agreed to pay a $378 fine and will serve eight hours of community service.

5 Key Stories: 3/24/24 – 3/31/24

Teams continue to make adjustments to their rosters in advance of the upcoming draft, something which has produced a few notable moves in recent days. The recent league meetings also produced a number of noteworthy developments. Here is a quick recap of this past week’s top stories from around the NFL:

  • Eagles, Jets Agree To Reddick Trade: The Eagles’ edge rush group faced a number of questions this offseason, owing in large part to the uncertain status of Haason Reddick. The two-time Pro Bowler was traded to the Jets with one year remaining on his contract, although a new deal could be coming in short order. In exchange, Philadelphia will receive a conditional 2026 third-round pick; the selection could become a second-rounder if the 29-year-old logs a snap share above 67.5% and records at least 10 sacks. The Eagles signed Bryce Huff to a lucrative free agent deal, casting further doubt on Reddick’s future. The latter will now join a strong Jets defensive front and either secure a new big-money pact or set himself up as one of the top members of the 2025 free agent class.
  • NFL Approves New Kickoff Format: Among the rule changes approved by the league’s owners, the most notable one was the decision to green-light a dramatically new alignment for kickoffs. The proposal (which passed by a vote of 29-3) will see the NFL essentially adopt – on a one-year, trial basis – the system which was in place in the XFL over the past two years. The change is aimed at staving off the steep decline in kick returns the NFL has seen in recent years, punctuated by a Super Bowl which included all 13 kickoffs resulting in a touchback. The league also agreed to push back the 2024 trade deadline by seven days; it will now fall on the Tuesday following Week 9.
  • Jaguars Extend Oluokun: Jacksonville added Foye Oluokun as a free agent in 2022, and the team has elected to keep him the fold for the foreseeable future. The 28-year-old inked a four-year extension which has a maximum value of $48MM and includes $22.5MM fully guaranteed. Oluokun – who has led the NFL in tackles twice in his career – is now under contract through 2028. The ex-Falcon ranked fourth in the league in terms of annual average value amongst linebackers on his previous contract ($15MM). That figure will be lowered via this extension, but it ensures Oluokun will remain a key member of Jacksonville’s defense for years to come while providing financial security relative to the remaining term on his old pact.
  • Browns Set To Extend Stefanski, Berry: Changes on the sidelines and in the front office have been commonplace for the Browns, but that trend is set to come to an end with respect to head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. Both members of that pair are in line to receive contract extensions. A recent report indicated that would be the case, and with only one year remaining on their current deals a re-up would be sensible. Stefanski has earned Coach of the Year honors twice during his four-year run in Cleveland, helping lead the team to the postseason in 2020 and ’23. Berry’s tenure (which will of course be defined by the blockbuster trade acquisition of Deshaun Watson, one which has to date not gone as planned) has included a number of savvy veteran and draft additions. Both staffers should be in place for years to come once their new deals are signed.
  • Clowney Signs With Panthers: Continuing his career arc of short-term stints around the league, Jadeveon Clowney has once again found a new team. The former first overall pick signed a two-year, $20MM deal with the Panthers following the success of his one-and-done Ravens tenure. A new deal with Baltimore (as well as one with the Jets) seemed to be a possibility, but the Rock Hill, South Carolina native and former Gamecock ultimately elected to join a Panthers team which no longer has Brian Burns or hybrid linebacker Frankie Luvu in the fold. Clowney matched his career high with 9.5 sacks last season, and a repeat of that performance in 2024 would help Carolina’s rebuilding efforts on defense. It could also help the 31-year-old secure a long-term future in Carolina after spending time with five teams over the past six seasons.

Jayden Daniels Vikings’, Raiders’ Preferred Trade-Up Target?

Competition for a top-three selection will intensify if one of the Bears’, Commanders’ or Patriots’ selections becomes available. Of those, New England’s appears to be the likeliest to be moved (although it very much remains to be seen if the team is willing to move out of the opportunity to add a potential franchise quarterback at that spot).

Nevertheless, the fourth (Cardinals) and fifth (Chargers) picks are known to be on the market. As a result, QB-needy teams will have options to maneuver closer to the top of the board. Both the Vikings and Raiders have been named as trade-up candidates, and ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports Minnesota and Las Vegas could find themselves in competition with each other to pursue a passer.

Specifically, Graziano adds Jayden Daniels is a likely target for the Vikings and Raiders. The reigning Heisman winner has a visit scheduled with both teams, the latter of which has a well-documented connection with him. Vegas head coach Antonio Pierce worked with Daniels during their time together at Arizona State, and links have subsequently been made to a trade-up effort on the Raiders’ part with the LSU alum as the target. Aidan O’Connell is still positioned to compete for the staring spot in 2024, but Pierce has essentially confirmed a signal-caller will be drafted next month.

[RELATED: Raiders To Host Michael Penix Jr.]

The Vikings, meanwhile, have the draft capital to aggressively move up the board. Currently set to select 11th overall, Minnesota also has No. 23 after pulling off a pick swap with the Texans. The fourth overall pick is a reported potential landing spot, and it would come as little surprise if the Vikings jumped further ahead of teams like the Raiders (who own pick No. 13) but also the Giants (No. 6) to land their preferred developmental passer.

Notably, the most recent reporting on the matter indicated J.J. McCarthy could be the target of a trade-up on Minnesota’s part. In any case, the addition of a Day 1 option to develop behind Sam Darnold – who signed a one-year deal to serve as a short-term Kirk Cousins replacement – would represented the expected outcome in this situation.

McCarthy has seen his stock rise in draft circles recently, but Daniels has long been considered part of the top tier of QB prospects (alongside presumed No. 1 pick Caleb Williams and UNC’s Drake Maye, whose landing spot will be a crucial determining factor in Daniels’ fate). With each passer’s Pro Day now in the books, attention will shift to personal visits and private workouts as the draft draws nearer and teams such as the Vikings and Raiders continue their evaluations.

Lions Made Effort To Retain G Jonah Jackson

The Lions have two upper-crust contracts allocated to offensive linemen, having extended Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. They also have Penei Sewell on track to eventually score a monster right tackle deal. Exiting the season, these contractual components — along with plans for Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown — had made it more likely than not Jonah Jackson would need to find his second contract elsewhere.

That ended up happening, with the four-year guard starter landing a three-year, $51MM deal from the Rams. Jackson’s Rams deal came on a day in which two teams — the Rams and Panthers — each finalized plans to add two high-priced guards. Jackson joins Kevin Dotson as well-paid Rams guards; the latter signed a three-year, $48MM contract. While the Rams’ guard plan also involved re-signing a starter to keep him out of free agency, the Lions crafted a similar approach.

Although not much came out about a Lions effort to re-sign Jackson, the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes the team had hopes of reaching a deal that would keep him off the market. A belief in the building existed that Jackson would be retained even in the days before free agency, but Rogers adds the Lions then learned Jackson’s price tag would come in higher than they anticipated.

Other teams undoubtedly encountered similar issues, with the salary cap rising by more than $30MM from its 2023 place. This year’s guard class featured a number of candidates to score big contracts, and the cap spike effectively ensured that group would fare well. Dotson re-signing with the Rams before the market opened also helped players like Jackson, who received the second-highest guard payment among this year’s UFAs — behind only the Panthers’ five-year, $100MM Robert Hunt deal.

Jackson, 27, had expressed a fondness for Detroit and hoped extension talks would lead to his second contract coming with the Lions. But little emerged indicating the sides were serious about an extension entering last season. By late February, the parties were not close on terms. Jackson’s eventual defection led the Lions to add Kevin Zeitler in free agency. The 12-year veteran will team with Graham Glasgow, who re-signed (on a three-year, $20MM deal that includes $8MM fully guaranteed) just before the legal tampering period began.

Zeitler joined the Lions on a one-year, $6MM accord. His play in a midseason Ravens rout of the Lions impressed the NFC North champions, and Rogers adds the team made contact with Zeitler early in free agency. A deal took nearly a week to finalize, but Zeitler — a former Bengals first-round pick who later started for the Browns, Giants and Ravens — is now tied to a fifth team.

You never know when guys get to that age how long they’re going to last,” Holmes said, calling the Zeitler-Glasgow combination Plan A going into free agency. “So, when it got to the end of the season, and really started diving into those targets, and looked at him again, I was like, ‘Wow, no. He sustained that for the whole season.’ He’s a guy that, he just fits like a glove for what we’re about.”

It cost the Lions less per year to sign both Glasgow and Zeitler, who received a combined $13.5MM. The Rams gave Jackson $25.5MM fully guaranteed. Jackson’s age helped secure that deal, with Glasgow and Zeitler respectively set for their age-32 and age-34 seasons. Glasgow, who had re-signed with the Lions in 2023, may well have needed to leave Detroit once again had Jackson agreed to terms. The Ravens had started talks on a second Zeitler contract but will move on; Zeitler joins guard John Simpson and right tackle Morgan Moses as starting O-linemen lost this offseason.

The Lions are expected to trot out three 30-something O-line starters this coming season, but Zeitler has been one of the NFL’s steadiest guards over the past several seasons. Pro Football Focus rated the former first-round pick as a top-15 guard in each of his three Ravens seasons. The advanced metrics site did not place Jackson in the top 20 during his four-year Detroit stay.