Alonzo Highsmith

Extra Points: Browns, Ryan, 49ers, Texans

As we heard Sunday, Browns VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith indicated Sam Darnold was his preferred quarterback until late in the draft process. Baker Mayfield then became the consensus choice. However, the first-year Browns exec had one interesting reason for being less interested in Josh Rosen, whom the Browns worked out at UCLA and hosted on a visit.

I was at an airport. UCLA’s volleyball team was in front of me. You heard so much about Rosen. He’s this or that,” Highsmith said, via cleveland.com. “We all know how people talk. So I asked one of the volleyball coaches, ‘What’s Rosen like?’ He said, ‘Aaaaa, you should probably ask his girlfriend. She’s one of the players. She’s over there. I’m like, ‘All right, coach. That’s good enough.’

I don’t know what all this means, but there was something about him that bothered me.”

The Browns were not connected closely to Rosen, the least mobile of this year’s top QB contingent but also the player who could well be the readiest to start in Week 1, and they preferred a more mobile passer. But this candor is rather interesting and may not age well if Rosen has a strong rookie year for the Cardinals. It’s not the first time a key Browns exec’s made a comment on a quarterback they bypassed.

As for Allen, Highsmith wasn’t interested in hearing excuses for why the Wyoming player couldn’t complete 57 percent of his passes in either of his two years as a starter.

Josh Allen … big arm … he could throw the ball from here to the moon,” Highsmith said. “When they have to make excuses … why are they not completing passes? That’s a problem. Baker Mayfield lost two receivers (from the 2016 team) and he was the same quarterback.”

  • In addition to Matt Ryan‘s five-year, $150MM Falcons extension being a per-year record, it contains the most Year 1 money in NFL history. The 11th-year quarterback will take home $52.5MM in 2018, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports. However, Matthew Stafford still holds the signing bonus record. Ryan will see a $46.5MM bonus, per Graziano. That’s just shy of Stafford’s record $50MM signing bonus agreed to last year.
  • Elvis Dumervil is currently without a team after the 49ers did not pick up his option. The 49ers did not draft an edge defender this year, and John Lynch indicated Dumervil — his teammate for two seasons with the Broncos — could be brought back and may not need a full offseason in what would be his 13th year. “Yeah, I think it could be,” Lynch said (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) of a possible reunion with the 34-year-old pass rusher. “I’m sure a lot of (teams) are looking at it as such. Elvis isn’t a guy who at this stage of his career really needs to be around in an offseason. He’s a professional. He takes tremendous pride in how he trains, how he eats and all those things. So he’ll be ready.” Lynch mentioned the 49ers plan to evaluate some younger players for pass-rushing roles, though, so it could be a while before a possible reunion commences. Dumervil made $4.5MM with San Francisco last season and registered a team-high 6.5 sacks.
  • The Texans are moving second-year cornerback Treston Decoud to safety, Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets. A 2017 fifth-round pick, Decoud played in 10 games for the Texans as a rookie. Decoud played cornerback in both of his seasons at Oregon State. He’s the younger brother of former longtime Falcons safety Thomas Decoud. Houston signed Tyrann Mathieu in free agency and drafted Justin Reid with its first 2018 pick, a third-rounder, so Treston Decoud could stay a depth piece at his new position.
  • Houston’s revamp of its scouting department will see the franchise hire nine-year Patriots staffer James Liipfert as the new director of college scouting, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. Liipfert will succeed Jon Carr in this role. Having been with the Patriots during each year Bill O’Brien was, Liipfert served the past three seasons with the Patriots as a national scout after previously being an area scout.

AFC Draft Fallout: Browns, Jackson, Colts

The Browns listened to offers for their No. 4 overall pick, but the talks for that spot did not escalate too far. Four teams contacted John Dorsey about potentially moving into that position, Peter King of SI.com reports, noting just one offered a package including a 2019 first-rounder. King estimates the Cardinals were that team. However, Dorsey said the franchise interested in moving up to No. 4 was interested in a quarterback that the Browns GM knew going to be available.

I’m coming up for one player and one player only, and that’s Baker Mayfield.” the anonymous exec told Dorsey, who relayed this to King. “I knew all along it wasn’t going to happen.”

Mayfield visited the Cardinals before the draft, and while it’s uncertain if they were the team that offered a 2019 first-rounder, their No. 15 draft position being the lowest of the QB-needy teams would make such a proposal logical. Arizona ended up with Josh Rosen, moving up five spots without having to sacrifice a first- or second-round pick to do so.

Here’s more from Cleveland and the rest of the latest draft fallout.

  • New Browns vice president of football operations Alonzo Highsmith said for months he had Sam Darnold rated ahead of Baker Mayfield in a succession that went Darnold, Mayfield, Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. But Mayfield’s visit changed the new Cleveland exec’s tune. “From the start of this college football season to the end of the season, I had Darnold No. 1 and Baker No. 2On our way through everything, you couldn’t tell me Darnold wasn’t the best,” Highsmith said (via Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository). “Then comes the part where you meet them off the field. You watch their workouts. You watch everything. And Baker blew me away. Highly, highly intelligent. Highly competitive. And he had a trait that some of the good ones have. I call it efficacy. That includes the power to effect other people. I thought that of all the quarterbacks I watched, he stood out far and above the other guys. When he walked into a room, you knew he was there.”
  • Lamar Jackson‘s pre-draft process did not go smoothly, with CBS Sports’ Joel Corry reporting teams had trouble scheduling workouts and meetings with him. The quarterback also experienced difficulties breaking down plays on teams’ whiteboards at the Combine. Corry notes Jackson’s decision to not hire an agent could have cost him some money on his rookie contract, with the Ravens being able to get him at No. 32 after a contingent in their draft room lobbied for him at 16.
  • Chris Ballard said, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star, the Colts‘ decision to make Quenton Nelson this year’s No. 6 overall pick was the easiest draft decision he’d made in 19 years (Twitter link). However, if Bradley Chubb would have remained on the board, Ballard admitted (via Holder, on Twitter) it would have been a much tougher call. Had the Broncos and Bills been able to swing a deal, the Colts would have been faced with that decision. But when the Bills contacted the Colts about a trade for No. 6, Ballard appeared to intimate he was fixated on Nelson.
  • Fort Hays State defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd will be stationed at defensive end in the Jets‘ 3-4 scheme, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News notes. Despite weighing 315 pounds, Shepherd will be in line to potentially take Muhammad Wilkerson‘s spot opposite Leonard Williams come training camp.

Browns Hire Alonzo Highsmith

The Browns’ staff under new GM John Dorsey is starting to take shape. The Browns have hired executive Alonzo Highsmith away from the Packers, as Ryan Wood of the Press-Gazette tweets. Highsmith’s title will be Vice President of Football Operations, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link).Alonzo Highsmith (vertical)

Highsmith has served as the Packers’ senior personnel executive since 2012 and, this past season not withstanding, their strong drafts have propelled them to tremendous success. Highsmith has garnered attention from other teams in the past and been made to stay, but it appears that he has either secured permission to go elsewhere or his contract has expired.

We discussed so many ideas and all kinds of stuff,” Highsmith said to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky in a phone interview. “I was exposed to so much stuff today. That’s why I thought it was as great opportunity. It feels good to go somewhere that you feel like you’re trusted.”

Dorsey is expected to shift the Browns’ front office from a focus on analytics to a concentration on old-fashioned scouting and the hiring of Highsmith is a major push in that direction. With a new lieutenant in town, the team could be one step closer to moving on from former baseball GM Paul DePodesta. Recently, Dorsey ripped into predecessor Sashi Brown as well as the people working underneath him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pollard Alliance Releases HC, GM Candidates

The Fritz Pollard Alliance met with the NFL this week and submitted names of suggested GM and head coaching candidates. The list, which is distributed to teams each year, recommends minority candidates for openings around the league. Teryl Austin (vertical)

This year’s candidates for GM jobs are Joey Clinkscales (Raiders), Alonzo Highsmith (Packers), Ray Farmer (Rams consultant), Will McClay (Cowboys), and Doug Williams (Redskins), according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The head coaching candidates are Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Vikings DC George Edwards, Panthers DC Steve Wilks, and Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, as Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Farmer has ten years of front office experience under his belt, including two as the Browns’ GM. The team went 10-22 under his watch, so wouldn’t necessarily be an exciting choice for a team this offseason. The other four suggested candidates would be first-time GMs, if hired.

Austin has been considered a bonafide head coaching candidate for some time, but he has been left in a holding pattern. In the 2016 offseason, Austin opined that two of his four interviews were done solely to satisfy the Rooney Rule. This past year, he interviewed with the Rams and Chargers.

Absent from the list is former Bills GM Doug Whaley, who received a potentially bogus interview with the Browns this week.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Packers Execs, Browns, Lions

In the past year, the Packers have denied its three highest-ranking personnel executives under GM Ted Thompson the opportunity to interview with other NFL clubs, as Bob McGinn of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. Eliot Wolf was not allowed to speak with the Lions in November about their GM job, Brian Gutekunst was not permitted to interview with the Eagles in 2015 for a major front-office position or with the Titans in January 2016 for Tennessee’s director of player personnel position, and Alonzo Highsmith was denied the chance to interview with Washington last year for its director of player personnel job.

Thompson, the man responsible for denying those opportunities, has attempted to “make it up” to Wolf and Gutekunst by giving them more grandiose titles and higher salaries, even though their duties did not change much, but Highsmith has remained senior personnel executive since May 2012. Those executives have expressed a small degree of frustration, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, but by and large they enjoy working for Thompson and are part of a generally positive environment. Wolf, of course, is widely viewed as Thompson’s heir apparent, although scouts who have recently interacted with the 63-year-old GM say they cannot envision his retiring anytime soon. Thompson has three years left on his current contract.

Now for some more notes from the league’s North divisions:

  • In a different piece, McGinn spoke with an NFL personnel executive who said the Packers really need to focus on the defensive line in this year’s draft, particularly with the team’s first pick, No. 27 overall. Although that executive believes Green Bay can “get by” with its skill positions, he believes the Packers, after addressing their defensive line, should grab a running back, and should also fortify their offensive front.
  • In her latest mailbag, Mary Kat Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that the Browns and head coach Hue Jackson were simply not high enough on Jared Goff or Carson Wentz to justify staying put with the No. 2 overall selection, particularly when the Eagles’ presented them with a bounty of draft picks that they could not refuse. Jackson has indicated he might like another quarterback just as much or more than Goff and Wentz, and Cleveland will stockpile talent until it can justify pulling the trigger on that particular signal-caller.
  • Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press takes a look at five players that may be available when the Lions are on the clock with the N0. 16 overall selection. True to Birkett’s statement that Detroit is one of the biggest wildcards in this year’s draft, each of the five players Birkett lists plays a different position.
  • The Ravens are no strangers to picking up quarterbacks in the later rounds of the draft, having selected Keith Wenning in the 2014 draft and Tyrod Taylor in 2011, and Clifton Brown of CSNBaltimore.com thinks Baltimore could do it again this year. With Ryan Mallett‘s contract set to expire at the end of the 2016 campaign, Brown sees Kevin Hogan, Dak Prescott, and Brandon Allen as potential fits.

 

Washington Makes Cuts, Down To 75 Players

The big news out of Washington today will be Jay Gruden‘s announcement that Kirk Cousins is heading into the year not just as the starter for Week 1, but as the starter for the 2015 season. However, “Kirk’s team,” as Gruden referred to it today, also made a series of roster moves to get down to the required 75-man roster in advance of tomorrow’s deadline.

One of today’s roster moves for Washington is the placement of pass rusher Junior Galette on injured reserve. Galette, who joined the club after being released by the Saints, tore his Achilles last week and will miss the entire 2015 campaign.

Here are the rest of Washington’s moves (via Twitter):

Waived:

  • Ernst Brun, TE
  • Dyshawn Davis, LB
  • Chase Dixon, TE
  • Tajh Hasson, CB
  • Alonzo Highsmith, LB
  • DreQuan Hoskey, CB
  • Tony Jones, WR (waived/injured)
  • Ty Long, K
  • Devin Mahina, TE
  • Bryce Quigley, G
  • Trey Wolfe, CB

Released:

  • Bryan McCann, CB
  • Willie Smith, T

Minor Moves: Monday

Today’s minor moves..

  • The Buccaneers have signed safety Derrick Wells, according to Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com (on Twitter). The Lehigh, Florida native was one of the players in attendance for the team’s rookie mini-camp.
  • The Cowboys welcomed back fullback Tyler Clutts on a one-year deal and cut Jed Collins, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. Clutts joined the Cowboys late in 2013 and played in every game last season, helping DeMarco Murray to an NFL-high 1,845 yards.
  • The Giants removed Thomas Gordon from their injured reserve with an injury settlement, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun tweets.
  • The Patriots have said goodbye to Cameron Gordon and Devin Gardner, Wilson tweets. Gardner was a former quarterback at Michigan and was looking to transition to wide receiver in the NFL.
  • Washington signed linebacker Alonzo Highsmith while waiving Brey Cook, James Gayle, LaKendrick Ross, wide receiver Tyler Rutenbeck, and quarterback Connor Halliday, as John Keim of ESPN.com tweets. Halliday’s release was just formality after he abruptly announced his retirement from football.
  • The Saints announced the signings of linebacker Henry Coley, kicker Zach Hocker, offensive lineman Antonio Johnson, wide receiver Josh Morgan, and wide receiver Kyle Prater, as Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune tweets. To make room, offensive lineman Doniel Gambrell, guard Andrew Miller, and linebacker Stephon Sanders were shown the door while New Orleans waived/injured receiver Malcolme Kennedy (link).
  • The Titans announced (on Twitter) that they have agreed to terms with tight end Tevin Westbrook and outside linebacker Dezmond Johnson. Running back Lache Seastrunk and outside linebacker Dontay Moch were waived.
  • The Toronto Argonauts signed former NFL linebacker Brian Rolle, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Rolle, 27 in November, was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. His last NFL gig was with the Steelers, who signed him on a futures/reserve contract in 2013. Meanwhile, the Argos said goodbye to wide receiver Mike Thomas and safety David Sims, who both have had multiple stops in the NFL (link).
  • Wide receiver/kick returner DeShon Foxx has agreed to terms with the Seahawks, accoridng to Wilson (on Twitter).
  • The 49ers signed Mylan Hicks and Justin Renfrow, according to Wilson (on Twitter).
  • The Seahawks signed Earnest Pettway and Charles Tuauu, according to Wilson (on Twitter).
  • The Chiefs cut Curtis Feigt with a non-football injury designation, Wilson tweets.

Pauline On Gurley, Bengals, McKinney, RBs

After his citation for marijuana possession, the expectation is that Missouri linebacker Shane Ray could fall out of the first round and that’s an opinion shared by many in his camp, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net writes. Earlier today, we learned that teams that wouldn’t have had a chance to land Ray before are now inquiring on him, with both GMs and owners doing their homework. Here’s Pauline’s latest:

  • The Dolphins are hoping that Todd Gurley doesn’t get selected in the top 10. If the running back is still on the board, Miami will happily snag him at No. 14, per Pauline.
  • As of now, there’s a very good chance the Bengals take an offensive tackle in round one and they’re said to be looking at Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi, among others.
  • Linebacker Benardrick McKinney spent an extensive amount of time the past few days talking with the Broncos and Cowboys. If Kevin Johnson is unavailable when the Cowboys are on the clock in round one, they will strongly consider either McKinney or Eric Kendricks, Pauline hears.
  • There’s a good possibility that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is still available when the third round begins. While teams like his film and cover skills, his knee injury from last December has some clubs concerned. Recently, PFR’s Rob DiRe wrote that he expected Ekpre-Olomu to experience a dropoff in draft stock from last year to this year, but not this severe. Had he gone pro last season, the Oregon notable may have had a chance to be a first-round pick.
  • There are a number of running back-needy teams who might wait until the fourth round before drafting at the position, due to the quality and depth available this year. David Cobb and Buck Allen have been brought to Pauline’s attention as fourth round types that can contribute off the bat and Miami junior Duke Johnson is also getting buzz.
  • Alonzo Highsmith, senior personnel director for the Packers, is pushing hard for Denzel Perryman at the bottom of round one. If Green Bay takes the Miami notable, the team would then push Clay Matthews to the outside. The belief is Green Bay still values a cornerback with that first pick and Eric Rowe continues to be in the mix, but Perryman is also a possibility.
  • Don’t be surprised if tight end Wes Saxton is drafted much earlier than presently predicted, as teams are high on his speed and athleticism. Saxton, a South Alabama product, could go as high as the fourth round. Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack is also getting additional attention.

NFC Notes: Lions, Highsmith, Fewell

Throughout the course of last offseason and in the season, Lions GM Martin Mayhew made a plethora of moves to try and improve the team. Some worked and some didn’t and Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com broke it all down. Mayhew hit on some, like wide receiver Golden Tate, who proved to be one of the best free agent pickups in the entire NFL. The same can’t be said for tight end Brandon Pettigrew, however, who was brought back on a deal with $8MM in guaranteed money and hardly used in the passing game. More from the NFC..

  • The Packers denied Washington‘s request to interview personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith, a league source tells Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The Texans were blocked from hiring him a few years ago, Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter) notes.
  • Washington announced that they have hired former Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell as their new defensive backs coach, as Adam Caplan of ESPN.com tweets. Fewell replaces Raheem Morris, who was plucked away by the Falcons earlier this week.
  • Brandon LaFell doesn’t understand why Panthers GM Dave Gettleman rebuilt the roster after a successful 2013, but he’s not dwelling on it, as Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer writes. “They didn’t give me an explanation for why they did it. They didn’t owe me one,” LaFell said. “I appreciate those guys drafting me and giving me an opportunity to play ball. I love those guys and wish them the best.” LaFell got a three-year, $9MM offer from New England and Carolina chose not to match.
  • Panthers offensive assistant John Ramsdell is retiring, as Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com writes. Ramsdell has spent 19 years as an NFL coach and 19 more as a college coach.

Extra Points: Packers, Jets, Bears, Greenberry

Earlier today, the Packers announced that they have promoted Eliot Wolf to director of player personnel. Wolf, who served as Green Bay’s pro personnel director for the past three years, has been mentioned quite a bit as a GM candidate this offseason, but the promotion might take him off the table for GM openings around the league and could signal that he’ll be the heir apparent to GM Ted Thompson.

Meanwhile, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com tweets that Alonzo Highsmith‘s name has come up for director of player personnel jobs for other teams, pending GM hires. Highsmith is currently employed as a senior personnel executive in Green Bay’s front office.

Let’s round up a few more Friday odds and ends from around the NFL….

  • The Jets have requested permission to interview Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard and Dolphins director of college scouting Chris Grier for their general manager vacancy, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune (Twitter link), if Ballard were to land the GM job in either New York or Chicago, Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich would be high on his short list of candidates.
  • In the view of Chris Boden of CSNChicago.com, recently-dismissed Eagles executive Tom Gamble would make an ideal candidate for the Bears‘ general manager opening.
  • A report earlier in the week indicated that Houston wide receiver Deontay Greenberry had chosen an agent and would enter the 2015 NFL draft, but Greenberry said on Friday that he has yet to make a decision on his status for the coming year, writes Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.
  • Nick Powell of the Star-Ledger wonders if the Giants should use the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. By using the tag, the Giants can wait on deciding to make a sizable long-term commitment to JPP and ensure that he’ll be motivated for 2015. On the flip side, of course, it would cost the Giants a great deal of money for the upcoming season.
  • In his latest ESPN.com mailbag, John Keim fields a handful of questions on Washington‘s 2015 outlook, including inquiries into potential roster and coaching turnover.

Zach Links contributed to this post.