Alonzo Highsmith

Seahawks Hire Alonzo Highsmith For Full-Time Role

Alonzo Highsmith has gone from a Seahawks consultant to a full-time Seattle employee, as Brady Henderson of ESPN.com tweetsHighsmith is now listed as a “personnel executive” on the team website, signaling a larger and more permanent role within the front office.

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Highsmith was a top lieutenant in John Dorsey‘s front office, up until Dorsey was replaced by Andrew Berry. In February, his Packers ties helped lead him to Seattle, working under John Schneider as a freelancer.

Highsmith hasn’t been afraid to go against the grain of the modern NFL, relying more on game tape than newfangled analytics. The 55-year-old has spent most of his adult life in football, having played in the NFL from 1987 through 1992. Then, he took a brief foray into boxing where he amassed a 27-1-2 record in the heavyweight division. In 2012, he began the third act of his career by joining the Packers in a senior front office role.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of work ahead for the Seahawks, even after the signing of 1,000-yard rusher Carlos Hyde. They may also be in the market for a starting-caliber cornerback, depending on how things go for Quinton Dunbar.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks To Hire Alonzo Highsmith, Eliot Wolf As Consultants

Recently let go following the Browns’ latest GM change, Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf have secured pre-draft roles elsewhere. The Seahawks will bring the execs in as consultants during the lead-up to the draft, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

Both staffers have lengthy histories in Green Bay, just as Seattle GM John Schneider does. Schneider and Wolf worked together with the Packers, while Highsmith began a six-year Green Bay tenure shortly after Schneider left for the Seattle job. Each left the Packers to work as John Dorsey‘s right-hand men with the Browns, but with Dorsey’s Cleveland tenure stopping after two years, his lieutenants are now on the market.

Wolf has interviewed for multiple GM jobs in the recent past, venturing to Cleveland after the Packers promoted Brian Gutekunst to that role in early 2018. The son of Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf, Eliot worked with Schneider in Green Bay from 2004-09 and was a 15-year Packers staffer. Wolf worked as Dorsey’s assistant GM; Highsmith served as the Browns’ VP of player personnel.

Both Wolf and Highsmith figure to have options. For now, they will help a Seahawks team that’s become known for draft-weekend moves.

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Browns, Alonzo Highsmith Part Ways

The Browns and VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith have mutually agreed to part ways, per a club announcement. Highsmith previously worked alongside new GM Andrew Berry, but he won’t have a role in Berry’s own front office. Ditto for assistant GM Eliot Wolf, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: Browns Hire Andrew Berry As GM]

Highsmith’s contract was set to run through the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, he leaves just before the heat of the 2020 offseason. Wolf, meanwhile, was contracted through the 2022 draft.

Highsmith and Wolf joined the Browns in January of 2018. Over the last two years, they’ve been connected to a few other notable front office jobs around the league, so they probably won’t be out of work for long. Before that, Highsmith and Wolf served under John Dorsey in Green Bay, which is what led them to Cleveland in the first place.

Berry won the Browns’ GM job after fellow top candidate George Paton withdrew his name from consideration. Reportedly, Paton had serious reservations about the power structure in Cleveland, where the GM and new head coach Kevin Stefanski would be reporting directly to owner Jimmy Haslam. Berry, apparently, is comfortable with the structure, and he’s been given the OK to shape his own team as he sees fit.

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AFC Notes: Browns, Titans, Texans

Once thought to be the Browns‘ top choice for their latest GM vacancy, George Paton backed out of the race. However, a deal may not have been imminent. The Browns had yet to make Paton an offer, according to Albert Breer of SI.com. Paton’s reasons for backing out of the Cleveland search are not totally clear, but Breer confirms an issue with Jimmy Haslam‘s organizational hierarchy was one of them. Most of the Browns’ GM candidates had an issue with Haslam’s setup — in which the GM, Kevin Stefanski and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta report directly to the owner — and Paton was not an exception, Breer adds. With the Browns since bringing Andrew Berry back to Cleveland as the NFL’s youngest GM (at 32), Haslam has now worked with six GMs or front office heads since buying the team in 2012. While Breer notes Paton was seriously considering taking the job after the first interview went well, the frequently hesitant Vikings exec will stay in his assistant GM post in Minnesota.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Although the Browns are set up on an analytics front, their scouting experience in the front office is less certain. John Dorsey hired both assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, but each longtime exec worked with Berry when he was still with the team in 2018. Highsmith’s contract runs through the 2021 draft, and Wolf’s goes through the ’22 draft, Breer adds.
  • An intra-AFC South coaching move occurred Tuesday. The Titans poached Texans defensive backs coach Anthony Midget, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Midget, who’d been with Houston throughout Bill O’Brien‘s six-season tenure, received the head coach-GM’s permission to interview with Tennessee, per Paul Kuharsky of Paul Kuharsky.com (Twitter link). He will hold the same job with the Titans next season, replacing Kerry Coombs.
  • The Texans will replace Midget in-house, promoting assistant secondary coach D’Anton Lynn to the top DBs role, Wilson adds. Lynn, 30, is the son of Chargers HC Anthony Lynn and has been with the Texans since 2018.
  • Texans backup center Greg Mancz underwent ankle surgery, according to Wilson. A five-year veteran and 28-game starter in his time with the Texans, Mancz underwent an arthroscopic procedure and is expected to be ready for Texans OTAs. The former UDFA originally injured the ankle during the preseason.

Latest On Browns’ Coaching & GM Search

The Browns have their new head coach in Kevin Stefanski, but they still need a new GM after firing John Dorsey. They recently requested an interview with Eagles exec Andrew Berry, and Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports tweets that he’s “at the front of the GM candidates.”

Robinson notes that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam once said he considered Berry a future GM, and that he has a relationship with chief strategist Paul DePodesta. In a separate tweet, Robinson explains that it may come down to whether or not Berry wants to take the job. He notes that Berry, who used to work in Cleveland under former GM Sashi Brown, is only 32 and in a good situation in Philly. He also writes that Berry will likely get other calls if he passes on the job.

As for the search that ultimately ended in Stefanski, Robinson has some interesting new nuggets. He tweets that Josh McDanielswanted a specific structure with the Browns” and that he “wasn’t going to an org where DePodesta or anyone else was a ‘side jury’ reporting to Haslam.” If that’s the case, then it sounds like McDaniels never got too close to landing in Cleveland despite his lengthy visit. The Browns and Haslam have caught plenty of flak for their odd reporting structures, and it sounds like that was an issue once again this time around. 

Robinson also tweets that both Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh “had very good interviews” and that he thinks they were the finalists along with Stefanski. Both should be hot names during next cycle. As for Stefanski’s staff, Robinson tweets that the rookie head coach will likely target either Gary or Klint Kubiak. The Kubiaks were on staff with Stefanski in Minnesota, although Robinson thinks the Vikings will try to retain both. Either could be a candidate to be Cleveland’s new OC assuming Stefanski hires one.

Finally, Robinson tweeted about the future prospects for assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith. He thinks the Haslams are open to both staying, and that Wolf will have a conversation with whoever the new GM is about a role.

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.