Damontae Kazee

DB Notes: Hughes, Surtain, Bears, Cowboys

The Vikings punted on Mike Hughes‘ contract year, sending the former first-round cornerback to the Chiefs in a pick-swap trade involving late-round selections. They felt comfortable doing so because of their additions at the position this offseason.

Mike is a terrific kid; he’s been injured an awful lot,” Mike Zimmer said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin (Twitter links). “With the way that everything is now, we were fortunate to get a couple corners last year in the draft, we signed Patrick Peterson in free agency, so I think that gave us the opportunity to make the trade.”

Minnesota signed Peterson to a one-year, $10MM deal and reunited with former second-round pick Mackensie Alexander on a one-year pact. The Vikings drafted two corners high last year — first-rounder Jeff Gladney and third-rounder Cameron Dantzler — but a Gladney arrest earlier this year could affect his NFL future. Taken 30th overall in 2018, Hughes has only played 24 regular-season games during his career. The Chiefs have now taken fliers on two recent first-round corners — Hughes and DeAndre Baker — at low-cost rates.

Here is the latest news surrounding NFL secondaries:

  • Despite Justin Fields remaining on the board, the Broncos selected Patrick Surtain II at No. 9 overall. After seeing the last of their Super Bowl-winning No Fly Zone cogs depart in 2020 (Chris Harris) and Bryce Callahan encounter another injury, the Broncos moved aggressively at corner this offseason. Surtain, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller now join Callahan. With the three veterans perhaps in line to be Denver’s top corners in Week 1, Surtain may be eased in gradually. However, he is viewed as an impact prospect who should be expected to help in 2021. Vic Fangio said the Broncos will train the 6-foot-2 cover man on the outside and in the slot, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post.
  • Formerly possessing a high-end cornerback contingent, the Bears have seen two of those cogs — Callahan and Fuller — rejoin Fangio in Colorado. The Bears cut Fuller this year after releasing slot man Buster Skrine. They signed Desmond Trufant, but the former Falcons Pro Bowler has missed 17 games over the past two years. Chicago has Jaylon Johnson locked in as a starter but did not draft a corner until Round 6 this year (Thomas Graham Jr.). Nevertheless, new Bears DC Sean Desai does not believe the team needs outside help here. “We’ve got enough depth where we’ll be able to solve that problem,” Desai said, via Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. Desai mentioned 2020 fifth-rounder Kindle Vildor, who played 135 defensive snaps last season, as a player who could be elevated into regular duty — either outside or in the slot. The Bears have, however, checked in on Steven Nelson, joining several other teams in doing so.
  • Although the Cowboys signed former first-round safety Keanu Neal, they are planning a hybrid role for the standout tackler. At safety, the team may well be set to turn to the other ex-Falcon cover man they signed this offseason. Damontae Kazee and Donovan Wilson look like the favorites to start at safety, per Jon Machota of The Athletic (subscription required). A 2019 sixth-round pick, Wilson started 10 Cowboys games last season. Kazee replaced Neal as a full-time starter in 2018 and ’19, when Neal suffered early-season injuries. But the former fifth-round pick is coming off an Achilles tear himself, which could impact his path to the starting lineup.

NFC East Notes: Rudolph, Eagles, Cowboys

Kyle Rudolph is expected to undergo foot surgery soon, and he may be in for extensive rehab. The new Giants tight end is believed to be dealing with a Lisfranc injury, Dan Duggan of The Athletic tweets. The troublesome foot malady can be difficult to shake, but Rudolph expects to be ready for Week 1. This injury is similar to what Evan Engram dealt with in 2019. Engram underwent surgery to address his Lisfranc issue in December 2019 and was ready for training camp last year. Rudolph’s timetable is considerably more condensed, which likely led to the delay in the veteran tight end signing his Giants contract. Engram and Rudolph would give the Giants one of the NFL’s top tight end tandems, but the former’s injury history and the latter’s current issue cloud that situation to some degree.

Here is more from the NFC East:

  • GM Howie Roseman and Eagles scouts had differing opinions on which players to select with the team’s top two draft choices last year. The veteran GM and Eagles coaches’ preference for Jalen Reagor won out over the consensus scouts’ preference: Justin Jefferson. Roseman also veered from his scouts’ recommendation in Round 2, tabbing Jalen Hurts over safety Jeremy Chinn, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes. The Eagles will bank on the latter move this season, having since traded Carson Wentz and seemingly signed Joe Flacco to back up Hurts. Chinn went to the Panthers at No. 64 — 11 picks after Hurts — and finished second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Going to the Vikings one pick after Reagor, Jefferson finished second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.
  • Frank Reich‘s future took a major turn in 2018, when Josh McDaniels‘ backtracking on his Colts commitment ended up re-routing the Eagles OC to Indianapolis. This came shortly after Reich played a key role in the Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship. Reich nearly saw his status change in 2017, however. A front office push for Reich’s firing existed, according to McLane, who adds Doug Pederson managed to save Reich’s job. In Wentz’s first season — a 7-9 Eagles campaign, which was also Reich’s first as Eagles OC — the team ranked 22nd in total offense. They rose to seventh in 2017, with Wentz finishing first in QBR. The Eagles, who promoted Mike Groh to replace Reich and then fired Groh after the 2019 season, have since hired Reich’s top Colts protégé (Nick Sirianni) as head coach.
  • Brandon Graham agreed to restructure his deal to provide the Eagles with additional cap space last month. Graham’s adjusted contract can be classified as a one-year extension, with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweeting the new deal is worth nearly $20MM over two years. The Eagles converted Graham’s salaries into prorated bonuses, with the 11-year veteran set to earn barely $1MM in base salary in each of the next three seasons. The team tacked on three void years to the contract, per OverTheCap, which indicates each of Graham’s cap numbers over the life of this through-2023 contract are south of $10MM.
  • After hiring Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator, the Cowboys brought both Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee over from Atlanta. The latter’s deal will be worth the veteran minimum, according to ESPN.com’s Todd Archer (on Twitter). Kazee will count just $988K against the Cowboys’ cap. Attempting to return from an Achilles tear, Kazee will collect $250K guaranteed.

Cowboys Sign Damontae Kazee

The Cowboys have agreed to terms with free agent safety Damontae Kazee, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via Twitter). Veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson says it will be a one-year deal (Twitter link).

Kazee visited with Dallas yesterday, and even though he followed through on his plan to visit the Lions today, it didn’t take him long to strike an accord with the Cowboys. Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Cowboys’ medical staff was satisfied with Kazee’s recovery from the Achilles tear he suffered in October, and once he passed that test, Dallas was quick to extend a contract offer.

Dallas has been looking for a true free safety for a long time, and it hopes it has found what it’s looking for in the 27-year-old Kazee, whose 10 interceptions from 2018-19 were tied for the most in the NFL. The fit was a good one, as the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, was Kazee’s head coach for the first four years of his career in Atlanta, and secondary coach/pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. was his position coach in 2020.

Kazee follows longtime Falcons teammate Keanu Neal from Atlanta to Dallas, so Quinn will have several familiar faces at his disposal. Interestingly, Kazee got his first real chance to start at safety due to Neal’s season-ending injury in early 2018, but Neal is expected to play some linebacker in Dallas, and Kazee clearly feels he will have enough snaps to re-establish himself as a ball-hawking playmaker in the defensive backfield.

In addition to Kazee, the Cowboys auditioned Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker yesterday. The club ended up signing Kearse, and with Kazee now in the fold as well, Hooker will probably need to look elsewhere for his next opportunity.

On a related note, Ed Werder of ESPN.com says that Neal’s double-duty role as an LB/S hybrid could eat into linebacker Jaylon Smith‘s snaps, but that Smith’s roster spot is not in jeopardy (Twitter link). That jibes with a report that was published late last month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Damontae Kazee To Visit Lions

Free agent safety Damontae Kazee has a visit lined up with the Cowboys, and the Lions also have interest. Per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson, Kazee will visit with Detroit brass in short order (Twitter link).

A fifth-round pick of the Falcons in 2017, Kazee delivered a breakout campaign in 2018 in relief of an an injured Keanu Neal (who signed with the Cowboys yesterday). That season, Kazee intercepted an NFL-best seven passes and posted 10 passes defensed in 16 games (15 starts). He started 14 games in 2019, adding three more picks to his career tally.

Unfortunately, a torn Achilles ended his 2020 season after just four games, which means he might be forced to accept a one-year pact this year in an effort to reestablish his value (although he is expected to be medically cleared by training camp). The Lions will return 2018 third-rounder Tracy Walker and 2019 third-rounder Will Harris, but Kazee’s ball-hawking skills would be a welcome addition to that young safety group.

Even though Neal is now in Dallas, he is expected to play some linebacker as well as safety, meaning that Kazee would still fit into the team’s defense. The opportunity to reunite with Cowboys DC Dan Quinn — Kazee’s head coach in Atlanta — might sway Kazee in Dallas’ favor if he believes there are enough snaps to go around, but he will listen to Detroit’s pitch just the same.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys To Host Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee

3:23pm: Even after the Cowboys agreed to terms with Neal, they still intend to visit with Hooker and Kazee, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes (on Twitter).

1:25pm: Although their Keanu Neal interest may not be for a role as a full-time safety, the Cowboys appear interested in bolstering this position soon. They are set to meet with Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News tweets.

Despite the latter two defenders being on Dallas’ docket, the team remains in the mix for Neal, Watkins adds. Neal, however, appears to be on the cusp of a position change. Hooker and Kazee would then profile as potential Cowboys replacements for Xavier Woods, though the recent Cowboys starter remains unsigned. And both the safeties set to visit Dallas are coming off severe injuries. Each tore an Achilles’ tendon early last season.

While Hooker played out his rookie contract with the Colts, the Cowboys’ interest in Neal and Kazee certainly makes sense. The Falcons drafted Neal in the 2016 first round and added Kazee in the 2017 fifth round. New Cowboys DC Dan Quinn was the Falcons’ HC for most of the free agent safeties’ respective Atlanta tenures.

Hooker entered the NFL with injury trouble and has not been able to shake those concerns over the course of his career. While the former Colts first-round pick did bounce back from a seven-game rookie season to suit up for 27 regular-season contests from 2018-19, he is coming off a two-game 2020 slate. Hooker suffered his Achilles injury last September.

Neal’s Falcons teammate for four seasons, Kazee delivered a breakthrough season replacing an injured Neal in 2018. Kazee intercepted an NFL-most seven passes and posted 10 passes defensed, and he started 29 games for the Falcons — all in place of Neal, who suffered major injuries in back-to-back seasons — from 2018-19. Kazee’s four-start 2020 screeched to a halt after his October Achilles tear.

The Cowboys have featured a need at safety for years; Woods’ UFA status has now magnified the void at this position. They signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last year but cut him ahead of Week 1. The Cowboys proceeded to allow the most points in franchise history.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

S Damontae Kazee Not Expected To Re-Sign With Falcons

It sounds like Damontae Kazee‘s stint in Atlanta has come to an end. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the safety isn’t expected to re-sign with the Falcons.

Fortunately, the 27-year-old has recovered from the torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered during Week 4 of this past season. Rapoport notes that Kazee is expected to be cleared by training camp, meaning he’ll have plenty of time to acclimate with his new squad.

The 2017 fifth-round has spent his entire career with the Falcons. He had a standout campaign during the 2018 season, compiling 82 tackles, 10 passes defended, and a league-leading seven interceptions in 16 games (15 starts), and he collected another three interceptions in 16 games (14 starts) during the 2019 season. Prior to his season-ending injury this past year, Kazee had compiled 20 tackles and one pass defended.

The Falcons’ secondary is going to look a bit different in 2021. The team already cut Ricardo Allen, and Keanu Neal could end up skipping town via free agency. The organization is currently rostering only a pair of safeties in Jaylinn Hawkins and T.J. Green.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/7/20

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves, with the list being updated throughout the day:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Cleveland Browns

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Claimed off waivers (from Cardinals): T Brett Toth

Seattle Seahawks

Falcons’ Damontae Kazee Done For Year

Falcons safety Damontae Kazee suffered a torn Achilles in last night’s game against the Packers, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter). Unfortunately, the diagnosis didn’t come as a huge surprise after Kazee was carted off the field. 

Kazee, 27, was hoping for a big platform season in the final year of his rookie contract. The opportunity was there for him, too, with a slew of injuries in the secondary. Now, he’ll focus on rehab so that he can showcase himself to teams — or land a fresh deal with the Falcons — in the spring.

The versatile former fifth-rounder has started in 34 of his 52 career games for the Falcons, including virtually all of his appearances from 2018-2020. In 2018, Kazee made some serious noise as he led the league with seven interceptions. Last year, he followed up with three INTs, plus 74 total stops.

The Falcons dropped to 0-4 on Monday night without the services of cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Darqueze Dennard or safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. Now, they’ll turn their attention to the Panthers in Week 5.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Seahawks, Cardinals, Falcons, Cowboys

A growing rift in the Seahawks’ locker room over the team’s treatment of Russell Wilson was the catalyst for the trade or release of many Seahawks veterans this offseason, according to an explosive report from Robert Klemko of SI.com. The story, which is well worth a read, details how Richard Sherman and other Seahawks defenders objected to coach Pete Carrol’s alleged preferential treatment of Wilson.

The story also describes how many former Seahawks players think the rift was responsible for the team getting rid of veterans like Sherman, Michael Bennett, Jeremy Lane etc., and rebuilding the team around Wilson. It’s an unwelcome distraction for Seattle just days before their season opener, and it will be very interesting to see how Carrol and Wilson respond.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman never fit in with the Browns. Released after just two injury plagued seasons, the young speedy receiver is now looking for a new home and visited with the Cardinals today a source told Field Yates of ESPN (Twitter link). The Cardinals are a bit thin at receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald, so this could be a good landing spot for both sides.
  • The Falcons lost starting safety Keanu Neal for the season during last night’s opener with a torn ACL, but his absence might not be as devastating as some had thought. Even before last night’s game, rookie fifth round safety Damontae Kazee had “emerged as the versatile swing safety type that’s incredibly valuable in today’s NFL” during training camp according to Albert Breer of SI.com. The coaching staff apparently loves Kazee, so the loss of Neal isn’t as disastrous as it might’ve seemed.
  • Cowboys guard Travis Frederick hasn’t been placed on injured reserve “but he continues to have some numbness in both arms” according to Todd Archer of ESPN. It’s a situation far more important than football, and Frederick acknowledged to Archer he has no idea when he’ll be back on the field.

Injury Notes: Berry, Giants, Titans, Falcons

Some teams will be opening their seasons without key defenders. Here’s the latest from the Week 1 injury front:

  • The nagging heel issue Eric Berry‘s been dealing with will likely keep him out of Week 1. Andy Reid (via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, on Twitter) does not expect his All-Pro safety to be available when the Chiefs play arguably their toughest AFC West game of the season — a road tilt against the Chargers. Berry’s been held out of practice this week. He missed the Chiefs’ final 15 games of last season with an Achilles tear, his second severe NFL injury. Berry’s right heel’s plagued him in recent weeks, and was also an issue in Kansas City’s 2017 training camp; the ninth-year safety tore his left Achilles’ tendon in Week 1 of last season. He hasn’t practice since August 11. Eric Murray and the recently reacquired Ron Parker are K.C.’s likely safety starters, per Teicher.
  • Suffering a high ankle sprain in practice late last month, Olivier Vernon will not be available for the Giants on Sunday. Vernon will miss New York’s Week 1 game against Jacksonville, Pat Shurmur said (via SNY.tv’s Ralph Vacchiano). This will pose a problem for the Giants’ pass rush, which is now without Jason Pierre-Paul. This could push rookie Lorenzo Carter into Big Blue’s lineup Sunday, per Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, who adds the Georgia-developed edge defender may play plenty regardless of his first-string status.
  • The Titans will be missing some key players but may also have one back sooner than expected. Derrick Morgan‘s meniscus issue hasn’t stopped him from practicing this week, and the ninth-year edge player practiced fully on Thursday to put him in line to start Sunday. However, the Titans will begin their season without Jack Conklin, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry, Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com tweets. Evans and Landry were Tennessee’s top two 2018 draft picks.
  • Keanu Neal‘s Week 1 injury (an ACL tear) proved to be the biggest health news thus far on Friday, and the Falcons may not seek an outside replacement. Damontae Kazee is likely the next man up for the Falcons, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets, rather than Atlanta going after former Dan Quinn charge Earl Thomas or UFA Eric Reid.
  • Joey Bosa may miss Week 1 as well, and the Chargers‘ dynamic pass rusher was spotted in a walking boot on Friday, Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Bosa will be out for Sunday’s game, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Bosa missed the preseason with a foot injury, but Wang notes (on Twitter) that ailment healed and that the third-year defensive end is week-to-week because of a different malady on that same foot. While the Bolts have maybe the NFL’s best edge-rushing tandem in Bosa and Melvin Ingram, they aren’t especially deep at that position.
  • Jesse James will start at tight end for the Steelers on Sunday against the Browns. Vance McDonald will miss Pittsburgh’s opener, per Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews (Twitter link). A foot injury shelved McDonald during the preseason, halting the tight end’s offseason momentum as he prepares for his second Steelers season.