Donald Stephenson

NFL Suspends Browns’ Donald Stephenson

Browns offensive tackle Donald Stephenson has been suspended by the NFL. He’ll miss the first two games of the season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. 

Stephenson skipped the Browns’ mandatory minicamp this week, which resulted in an 80K+ fine. The suspension will be even more costly as he’ll lose out on a pair of game checks.

In the interim, Stephenson will be eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games. He’ll be able to rejoin the team on Monday, September 17 after the Browns’ season opener against the Jets and their Week 2 contest against the Saints. His first game back should come on Sept. 20 when the Browns face the Jets in Cleveland.

Stephenson, 30 in September, saw his 2017 season with the Broncos cut short due to a torn calf muscle. He appeared in seven games with four starts before being shut down for the year. Stephenson’s 303 snaps were not enough to qualify for Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but in a larger sample, he would have graded out as the 12th-worst tackle in the league.

After signing a one-year, $2.5MM deal with Denver, Stephenson was slated to start the year as the first tackle off of the bench behind starters Shon Coleman and Chris Hubbard. He’s likely still in line for that role, though he’ll have to wait until Week 3 to see live action. For the first two weeks of the year, the Browns may lean more heavily on reserves Spencer Drango and Roderick Johnson for support.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bengals, Browns, Vikings

Bengals tackle Jake Fisher returned to full participation for the first time in many months. The fourth-year blocker underwent surgery this offseason to correct an irregular heartbeat and was limited during OTAs. On Wednesday, Fisher was present for a full workout at Bengals minicamp, per Laurel Pfahler of ESPN.com. Fisher’s 2017 season ended in early November, but the Bengals remain optimistic he can bounce back and have a productive contract year. Despite the Bengals acquiring Cordy Glenn this offseason, Fisher is nonetheless a decent bet to start. He’s the leading candidate to start opposite Glenn at right tackle.

Here’s the latest from Cincinnati, as well as some other northern cities.

  • Bengals rookie quarterback Logan Woodside was arrested for speeding and driving under the influence, cincinnati.com’s Jim Owczarski and Bob Strickley report. This occurred in Kentucky on the morning of June 9. The Bengals confirmed they were aware of the incident. Cincinnati selected Woodside in the seventh round out of Toledo. With A.J. McCarron gone, the job of Bengals backup falls to a competition between Woodside, Matt Barkley and Jeff Driskel.
  • Multiple AFC West teams gave Donald Stephenson chances to be a starting right tackle, but he could not maintain the job in Kansas City or Denver. He’s now in Cleveland but was not present for the start of Browns minicamp, according to Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. Stephenson missed a sizable portion of Cleveland’s OTAs, per McManamon, as well and would be in position to incur fines for missing minicamp workouts. Hue Jackson said Wednesday this situation will be explained soon. Stephenson may not have a solidified roster spot, with the Browns having signed Chris Hubbard and drafted Austin Corbett in the second round. Shon Coleman is also in the mix for either the starting left tackle job or a swing role, which could make matters more difficult to stick with his most recent AFC franchise.
  • J.W. Johnson, son-in-law of Jimmy Haslam, will now serve as Browns executive vice president, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. Johnson will assume those duties July 1. La Canfora reported last year Johnson was moving into a bigger role with the Browns. Johnson worked at CBS Sports for many years before spending four years at Haslam’s Pilot Flying J company earlier this decade.
  • Rookie defensive end Jalyn Holmes suffered a broken hand and is not participating in Vikings minicamp, Mike Zimmer said (via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, on Twitter). Slated to be a backup edge defender behind Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, the fourth-round pick is expected to be ready for training camp.

Browns To Sign OT Donald Stephenson

The Browns are set to sign offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a one-year, $2.5MM deal for the former Bronco. 

Stephenson, 30 in September, saw his season cut short with a torn calf muscle. He appeared in seven games with four starts before being shut down for the year. Stephenson’s 303 snaps were not enough to qualify for Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but in a larger sample, he would have graded out as the 12th-worst tackle in the league.

The Broncos will have some work to do on the offense line after the departure of Stephenson. They attempted to trade for Dolphins tackle Ju’Wuan James, but Miami informed them that he will be staying put.

The Browns also signed defensive end Chris Smith earlier today and tendered a contract to exclusive rights free agent wide receiver Josh Gordon. The Browns were also active on the trade market last week as they acquired Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, Damarious Randall and jettisoned defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos LB Corey Nelson Out For Season

The Broncos have trotted out the same quartet of inside linebackers since the beginning of last season, but they will be a thinner group entering Week 6. Fourth-year contributor Corey Nelson will miss the rest of this season because of an elbow injury, Vance Joseph said Friday (via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, on Twitter).

Nelson will be placed on IR and undergo surgery, Jhabvala tweets, adding that the Broncos will promote linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams from their practice squad. Nelson suffered the injury during Thursday’s practice, Mike Klis of 9News tweets, one that also saw swing tackle Donald Stephenson tear a calf muscle.

A fourth-year linebacker who arrived in Denver as a 2014 seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma, Nelson played in every Broncos game since that ’14 season. This included work in each of the Broncos’ three playoff contests during their 2015 Super Bowl season. He mostly served as a depth piece, initially behind Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall before being the primary backup Marshall and Todd Davis once Trevathan signed with the Bears.

Nelson started six games last season, making a career-high 61 tackles, because of a Marshall hamstring injury. The Broncos have used Nelson mostly on special teams this season, playing him on only 44 defensive snaps. This will make 2015 UDFA Zaire Anderson the primary backup to Marshall and Davis going forward. Nelson will be a UFA after this season.

Denver signed Garcia-Williams as a UDFA out of Hawaii in May.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos, Donald Stephenson Rework Deal

It appears that Donald Stephenson has improved his chances of making the Broncos’ roster. The tackle has agreed to a restructured deal, according to Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post (on Twitter). Meanwhile, his $4MM salary for 2018 has been erased, Mike Klis of 9News writes."<strong

[RELATED: Broncos’ Shaq Barrett Could Play Week 1]

Full details of the deal are not yet known, but it’s likely that the revised contract will carry a smaller overall cap number, making him a stronger option to play behind starting left tackle Garett Bolles and right tackle addition Menelik Watson. The new pact will benefit Stephenson too, as the guaranteed portion of his deal has gone from $2MM to $2.5MM. He’ll also receive $750K for playing in 50% of the team’s snaps and another $750K if he reaches 70%.

This marks the second time this offseason that Stephenson has agreed to rework his deal. Originally on a three-year, $14MM deal, Stephenson modified the deal in March to lower his 2017 salary.

The veteran started 12 games at right tackle for Denver but graded out as the second-worst tackle in the league among qualifying players, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. He was responsible for three sacks and 11 penalties.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Rumors: Charles, Stephenson, Butt

Jamaal Charles reportedly has a “50/50” shot to make the Broncos‘ final roster, and his only chance to earn a spot on the club will come in Saturday’s preseason game against the Packers, tweets James Palmer of NFL.com. Charles, 30, signed a one-year deal with Denver that contained only $100K in guarantees, and he hasn’t yet participated in a preseason game. The veteran back, who’s been injured for much of the past two years, won’t play in the Broncos’ final preseason contest, so he’ll need to show he’s worth a roster spot this weekend. Denver’s other running backs includes C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Juwan Thompson, Stevan Ridley, and De’Angelo Henderson.

Here’s more from the Mile High City:

  • Denver will soon face a decision on the status of offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, as Adam Caplan of ESPN.com details (Twitter links). Stephenson isn’t expected to start, as the Broncos plan to play rookie Garret Bolles at left tackle and free agent addition Menelik Watson at right tackle. That combination would leave Stephenson as an extremely overpaid backup, as Stephenson will earn a fully guaranteed $2MM base salary and another $2MM bonus if he makes Denver’s Week 1 roster (all part of a contract restructuring agreed to earlier this year). While Stephenson’s salary is clearly a sunk cost, the Broncos could save the other $2MM by releasing him before the regular season gets underway.
  • Rookie tight end Jake Butt will “probably” begin the 2017 season on the physically unable to perform list, as Broncos head coach Vance Joseph explained to reporters, including Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Butt, recovering from a torn ACL suffered in his final collegiate contest, would be forced to miss the first six games of the year if placed on PUP. Denver selected Butt in the fifth round, using the 145th overall pick to secure the Michigan product.
  • The Broncos have had a relatively busy week, as they’ve announced Trevor Siemian as their starting quarterback over Paxton Lynch, and learned fourth-year edge rusher Shaquil Barrett could be available for Week 1.

Broncos Notes: Romo, Webster, Peko, OL

Connected to a high-profile quarterback acquisition for the second straight offseason, Broncos GM John Elway didn’t identify the team’s Tony Romo circumstances as being all that different from the ones that had Denver close to adding Colin Kaepernick last year.

Yeah [it’s a similar situation], because we feel good where we are. There are so many things … everything gets ratcheted. I will just tell you this: There’s been a lot of things out there that are not true as far as what’s going with our quarterbacks. So that’s what happens. Everything gets frothed up,” Elway said, via Troy Renck of Denver7.

Renck adds that the latest coming out of Dallas is Romo is growing restless with the Cowboys’ tactics, with the franchise having backtracked on its intention to release him in order to pivot back to trying to trade the 15th-year quarterback. The Broncos remain unlikely to trade for Romo, per Renck, even after the Texans’ cap space-clearing trade of Brock Osweiler. It would be a “major upset” if the Cowboys found a taker for Romo’s contract in a trade, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

The Broncos nearly traded for Kaepernick last year, but the sides couldn’t agree on a restructured deal. Denver then selected Paxton Lynch in the first round but turned the reins over to Trevor Siemian for most of 2016. That competition would continue for a second straight year if the franchise doesn’t acquire Romo. Vance Joseph said the franchise is in good shape with Siemian and Lynch for “the next four or five years,” per James Palmer of NFL.com (Twitter link). Lynch is under Broncos control for four more years, with Siemian’s rookie deal running through 2018.

Here’s more from the Mile High City.

  • Meanwhile, Elway said his understanding is Kayvon Webster wants to play more (Twitter link via Cameron Wolfe of The Denver Post). Webster has been public about his desire to have a larger defensive role and he won’t get that opportunity in Denver, being blocked on the cornerback depth chart. Webster, who made our list of this year’s Top 50 Free Agents, has long been expected to leave. The fifth-year corner has served as one of the Broncos’ top special-teamers, but after a rookie season in which fewer obstacles resided in between Webster and a defensive role, the Broncos’ 2014 additions of Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby effectively buried him on the depth chart for the ensuing three seasons. Now employing his previous defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, the Rams are hosting Webster on a visit today.
  • Domata Peko also received interest from the Bengals, Vikings and Eagles prior to signing his two-year Broncos accord, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post tweets. Peko had obvious connections to the Bengals and the Mike Zimmer-coached Vikings but chose to join the Broncos.
  • Elway said the team’s starting left tackle might not be on the roster presently, per Renck, but noted recent right tackle signings Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson are options there. Watson served as an emergency left tackle after injuries ravaged the Raiders’ tackle corps at a point last season, but Oakland primarily utilized him on the right edge. Stephenson began the 2015 season as the Chiefs’ starting left tackle, when he took Eric Fisher‘s spot, but Andy Reid reversed course and placed Fisher back there. Stephenson didn’t get a starting job back and signed with Denver, where he struggled as the team’s primary right tackle starter.
  • Denver still has interest in re-signing backup outside linebacker Dekoda Watson, according to 9News’ Mike Klis, who confirms the team’s interest in bringing back Vance Walker (Twitter link).
  • Newly signed Kasim Edebali will likely compete for work behind Von Miller and Shane Ray at outside linebacker, Wolfe writes. He played defensive end in the Saints’ 4-3 scheme and 58.7 percent of New Orleans’ special teams snaps in 2016. The Broncos also have Shaquil Barrett as their top backup at outside ‘backer.

Zach Links contributed to this report.

Broncos, Donald Stephenson Rework Deal

Offensive tackle Donald Stephenson has restructured his deal with the Broncos to remain in Denver, as Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Stephenson signed a three-year, $14MM contract with the club last offseason, but he struggled in his first year at Mile High. He started 12 games at right tackle and graded as the second-worst OT in the league among qualifying players per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required). He was responsible for three sacks and 11 penalties.

Still, as Troy Renck of Denver7 tweeted last night, Stephenson’s salary was low enough that the team was considering retaining him for depth, and now he will stick around at a price tag that the Broncos are more comfortable with. As Klis reports in a separate tweet, Stephenson was due a $4MM salary in 2017, and this restructure gives him $2MM in guaranteed money now; he will get the additional $2MM if he makes the team’s 53-man roster.

Speaking of the 53-man roster, Renck isn’t convinced that the lineman is a shoo-in to make the squad. The team has 10 draft picks in the upcoming draft, and the writer believes the organization could add a rookie to the unit. However, the Broncos are optimistic that new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson could help Stephenson improve.

The Chiefs selected Stephenson in the third round of the 2012 draft, and he has largely underwhelmed in his career. Stephenson opened his last season in Kansas City as the starting left tackle, but he ultimately lost that job to former first overall pick Eric Fisher.

The Broncos, though, desperately need as much help as they can get along the offensive line, especially since this year’s rookie crop of O-linemen is considered to be rather weak. The club lost last year’s starting left tackle, Russell Okung, to division-rival San Diego on Thursday.

Klis observes that the Broncos now have four offensive tackles in Stephenson, Menelik Watson, Michael Schofield, and Ty Sambrailo. Watson is the only member of that group that cannot play both guard and tackle, which does give Denver some positional flexibility (Twitter link). Klis adds (via Twitter) that Stephenson will likely get some LT reps, though the club is expected to sign or draft a left tackle as well.

Broncos Notes: Kubiak, Okung, Quarterbacks

The Broncos could look a bit different in 2017, and those changes could start with the coaching staff. Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post writes that both head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will have to decide whether they want to return to Denver for next season.

Kubiak’s health could play a significant role in any decision. The head coach was hospitalized earlier this season with a “complex migrane,” and he previously collapsed during a 2013 contest with the Texans. Naturally, the 55-year-old claims that he isn’t focused on the future.

“I love this league. I love the Broncos. I love this work. I’m all in on the Raiders right now,” Kubiak said. “There will be time for reflection and all of that stuff next week.”

Meanwhile, Phillips’ two-year contract is set to expire following this season. The 69-year-old has been responsible for Denver’s stifling defense, but the coach could decide to hang it up after having coached 39 years in the NFL.

“We think the world of Wade,” Kubiak said. “Everybody knows the job that Wade has done. (Contracts) are things that will be addressed after we get through this week. But Wade’s a tremendous person and a tremendous football coach.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes out of the Mile High City…

  • The Broncos offensive line has struggled this season, and Wolfe writes that the organization will have to choose whether they want to “cut the cord” on Russell Okung and/or Donald Stephenson. The team has until the first day of the league year (March 9th) to pick up a $1MM option on Okung’s contract – which would then trigger a unique four-year, $48MM extension ($19.5MM guaranteed). “It’s not on me. We’ll get to that hurdle when we get there,” said Okung. “For now, we still have to play Oakland.”
  • Meanwhile, the Broncos could save about $3MM in cap space if they release Stephenson. The veteran has struggled in 2016, making only 12 starts. As Wolfe writes, the lineman has been responsible for three sacks and 11 penalties. “I work my butt off,” said Stephenson. “The problems definitely aren’t from not trying. I’m giving it all I got. There’s some things I’ve got to get better at.”
  • Besides fixing the offensive line, NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling believes the Broncos should prioritize fixing their run defense and solidifying the quarterback position. The organization could choose between Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch as their future signal-caller, or Wesseling suggests the team could make a move for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Extra Points: Rice, Saints, Broncos, Bills

If free agent running back Ray Rice is going to return to the NFL, it could be now or never, opines Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Several teams are dealing with injuries in the backfield, and that could open the door for Rice to sign somewhere and see his first action since 2013. Rice has been out of the league since the Ravens released him in September 2014, which came after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator surfaced. The league also suspended Rice, but he won an appeal that lifted the ban in November 2014. Teams have still stayed away from Rice, who has seemingly cleaned up his act off the field over the past couple years. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month of a “growing sense” that the 29-year-old would get another chance, and Florio observes that it could come soon.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Saints aren’t thrilled with big-money tight end Coby Fleener‘s early season production, writes Christopher Dabe of NOLA.com. Quarterback Drew Brees has targeted Fleener 12 times in two games, but the former Colt has caught just three passes for 35 yards. “I think there’s been moments and yet it hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like yet,” head coach Sean Payton said Monday. Fleener, 27, combined for 183 receptions and 17 touchdowns over his first four seasons, leading the Saints to sign him to a five-year, $36MM deal in free agency.
  • Broncos right tackle Donald Stephenson suffered a calf injury that should keep him out 2-3 weeks, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Fortunately for Denver, he did not suffer a tear, as some initially feared.
  • The Bills worked out a pair of free agents, tight end E.J. Bibbs and offensive tackle Laurence Gibson, on Monday, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN. Of the two, only Bibbs has NFL experience. He signed with the Browns last year as an undrafted free agent from Iowa State and appeared in seven games as a rookie, catching one pass.

Zach Links contributed to this post.