Eric Stokes

Packers Sign First-Round CB Eric Stokes

Eric Stokes became the latest first-round pick to sign his rookie contract Wednesday. The Packers now have all but one member of their 2021 draft class signed.

Green Bay added Stokes with the 29th overall pick, continuing a heavy emphasis on the cornerback position in the draft. The Packers chose Jaire Alexander in the 2018 first round and have used first- or second-round picks on corners six times since 2015. Stokes will be expected to play a key role for the Packers as a rookie.

Scouts Inc. viewed the Georgia alum as a bit of a reach, ranking him 71st among this year’s prospects. The Packers were viewed by manyincluding the Ravens — to be eyeing Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman with their first-round pick, but Baltimore swooped in at No. 27 to select him. Stokes, however, was a first-team All-SEC pick in 2020 and a second-teamer in the powerhouse conference in 2019. He intercepted four passes last season and logged 18 throws defensed from 2018-19, seeing steady action in all three of his Bulldogs seasons. The 6-foot defender declared for the draft after his junior year.

The Packers have Alexander back, with the Louisville product positioned as a possible long-term No. 1 corner, and re-signed Kevin King this offseason. Stokes will join this mix. With this contract, only third-round wideout Amari Rodgers is unsigned from this year’s Packers draft haul.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Washington Adds Chris Polian To Front Office

After not employing a general manager in 2020, Washington now has three ex-GMs in its front office. The team hired former Colts GM Chris Polian on Monday.

Joining Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney in Washington’s new-look front office, Polian will serve as the team’s director of pro personnel. The former Colts GM was out of the league last season but was with the Jaguars from 2013-19.

The son of Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, Chris served as Indianapolis’ GM from 2009-11 and has been an NFL staffer since 1994 — when the yet-to-debut Panthers, run by Bill Polian, hired him. Chris Polian has not worked with Mayhew or Hurney previously, despite Hurney’s 1998 Carolina arrival. The Polians were in Indianapolis by then. But the younger Polian was connected to the Lions’ GM search to replace Mayhew in 2015. He also was in the mix for the Titans’ GM job that went to Jon Robinson in 2016.

Chris Polian will succeed Eric Stokes as Washington’s pro personnel director, but Stokes is still with the team. The GM candidate is now serving as Washington’s senior director of player personnel. Ron Rivera and Kyle Smith served as Washington’s top personnel execs last year. Smith is now with the Falcons, while Rivera will remain a key presence on this front. In addition to Smith, Washington parted ways with assistant director of pro scouting Jeff Scott, per John Keim of ESPN.com. Scott received a promotion just last summer.

GM/Coach Notes: Broncos, WFT, Jaguars, Chargers, Dolphins

George Paton was introduced as the Broncos general manager today, and the executive gave a thoughtful response when explaining how he’d help to reestablish a winning culture in Denver.

“There’ll be no shortcuts,” Paton said (via the team website). “We’re going to embrace the day-to-day [process], we’re going to embrace the grind, and we’re going to do it together. … We’re going to be progressive, we’re going to be innovative, we’re going to be forward-thinking and we’re going to use all the information at our disposal to make the best informed decisions.”

Paton also noted the importance of hitting in the draft and being innovative in their evaluation of potential acquisitions.

“Drafting and developing players will be our foundation,” Paton said. “It’s going to be the lifeblood of this football team.”

Paton joined the Broncos on a six-year deal. Under the restructured front office, Paton and head coach Vic Fangio will report to John Elway, who will have less to do with the team’s day-to-day roster decisions.

Let’s check out some more GM and coaching notes…

  • Washington previously interviewed Eric Stokes for their open general manager vacancy, reports Jason La Canfora (via Twitter). The 47-year-old has been working in NFL front offices since 2002, including stints with the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Panthers. He joined Washington as their director of pro scouting this past summer. We learned yesterday that Washington is expected to ultimately hire former Panthers GM Marty Hurne for the position.
  • Scott Linehan and Joe Cullen will interview for the Jaguars open coordinator positions this week, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). We learned of Urban Meyer‘s interest in both coaches this past weekend. Linehan, who’s candidate for the offensive coordinator gig, has had a long coaching career, including a stint as the head coach of the Rams. Cullen, a candidate for the defensive coordinator opening, has served as Baltimore’s defensive line coach since 2016. Rapoport notes that Raheem Morris was also a candidate for the defensive coordinator opening, but we’ve since learned that Morris will be taking the same role with the Rams.
  • The Chargers won’t be retaining offensive line coach James Campen, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Campen spent more than a decade with the Packers, and following a one-season stint with the Browns, Campen joined the Chargers as their offensive line coach this past offseason. However, he won’t stick around, as Schefter notes that new head coach Brandon Staley will be bringing in his own OL coach.
  • The Dolphins have parted ways with offensive line coach Steve Marshall and promoted Lemuel Jeanpierre to the role, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Marshall has spent more than a decade coaching in the NFL, and he joined Miami this past offseason. Jeanpierre has spent time on the Seahawks, Raiders, and Dolphins coaching staffs, serving as Miami’s assistant offensive line coach in 2020.

NFC Notes: Barrett, Gregory, Washington

The Buccaneers look to be one of the many teams set to carry a franchise tag number on their payroll this season. Shaquil Barrett and the Bucs were believed to be far apart on terms over the weekend, and the breakout pass rusher expects to play this season on the tag.

I would love to get a deal done. I know they would love to get a deal done. But just the situation of the world right now is making it hard to get a deal done,” Barrett said during an NFL Network appearance (via NFL.com). “So if we get one done, I’m going to be happy. But if not, I’m still happy to be down here for another year and potentially to get a deal done in the future once we do figure out how the season’s going to go and how next year possibly will be.

“I still have some hope for it, but I’m more optimistic for the one-year to get done over a long-term deal.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has clouded the NFL financial picture. Although some teams have come to extension agreements, most franchises have held off. Of the 15 players who received the franchise tag this year, only one (Chris Jones) has reached an extension agreement. With Barrett upping his single-season sack career high from 5.5 to a Bucs-record 19.5, he profiled as a possible “prove it” player. It looks like the sides will huddle up again after the season.

Here is the latest from the NFC:

  • After firing multiple front office execs last week, Washington added some staffers. The team will hire Eric Stokes as its director of pro scouting, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Washington is also adding longtime scout Don Warren to be its assistant director of pro personnel, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Both will come to Washington after years with Carolina, following Ron Rivera in that regard. For Warren, this will be a reunion. He won three Super Bowls with Washington as a tight end and previously served as a scout with the franchise from 2005-09.
  • The Cowboys refuse to give up on Randy Gregory. Despite the Cowboys losing hope he will be reinstated in time for this season, they would like to have the suspended defensive end back in a non-playing capacity for the time being, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes. Gregory has been suspended four times since entering the league. He has not played since the 2018 season.
  • The Saints should be expected to sign a tackle at some point before the season, Katherine Terrell of The Athletic writes (subscription required). New Orleans has entrenched starters Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk and added ex-Ravens starter/swingman James Hurst this offseason. But the Saints have been proponents of O-line fortification, so it would not be especially surprising to see them further bolster the group. That said, Hurst and interior lineman Nick Easton qualify as solid backups.
  • Perhaps following the Saints’ lead, the Cardinals had former CFL quarterback Chris Streveler sit in on their special teams meetings during the virtual offseason period, Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com notes. While the Cardinals communicated to the Grey Cup-winning quarterback he will not change positions upon moving south, a Taysom Hill-type role may be how Streveler makes the team. Brett Hundley and former UDFA Drew Anderson are the other QBs on Arizona’s roster.

Staff Notes: Newsome, Panthers, Lions

Despite ceding his post as Ravens GM to longtime lieutenant Eric DeCosta, Ozzie Newsome remains a central presence in Baltimore’s front office. He played a key role in the Ravens adding Earl Thomas, despite not having an official title. He does now. Amid a staff shakeup, the Ravens revealed (via Pennlive.com) Newsome will serve as their executive vice president. The Hall of Fame tight end and Super Bowl-winning executive will continue to advise DeCosta. This should help a Ravens team in a bit of a transition, considering Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco and C.J. Mosley are no longer with the franchise. Newsome, 63, sticking around will provide vital continuity.

Here is the latest on some front office situations around the league, staying first with more from the Ravens’ new-look staff:

  • The Ravens will now have co-directors of player personnel, moving former college scouting director Joe Horwitz and previous senior personnel assistant George Kokinis into the position. The Ravens brought in Kokinis in 2010, following a short stay as the Browns’ general manager. The Ravens promoted Mark Azevedo from his northeast area scout post to player personnel coordinator and made Chad Alexander their assistant director of pro and college personnel. Vincent Newsome will move from director of pro personnel into a senior player personnel executive position, and Nick Matteo will now oversee the Ravens’ salary cap. Matteo spent 10 years as an NFL management council exec.
  • While their staff changes were not as sweeping as the Ravens’, the Panthers have some key figures in new positions. A 22nd-year Panthers exec, Jeff Morrow will take over as Carolina’s player personnel director after heading the franchise’s college scouting department. Fourth-year Panthers staffer Eric Stokes will move into Morrow’s former role. Former Panthers wide receiver Mark Carrier, a ninth-year member of the team’s front office, will become executive director of the Panthers’ football staff.
  • Lastly, the Lions reshuffled a few roles. Dave Sears will rise from Detroit’s assistant director of college scouting to leading that department. Rob Lohman will make the same move on the pro side. Both Sears and Lohman have been with the Lions for 13 years.

Extra Points: Las Vegas Raiders, Short, Bills

Are owners getting more comfortable with the idea of the Las Vegas Raiders? One anonymous owner thinks that Mark Davis & Co. have a chance of getting NFL approval for the move. Las Vegas (vertical)

I think it would be a tough sell, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” the unnamed owner told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “If they put such a good deal in front of the Raiders, it has a chance of getting support. I would prefer not to have the Raiders there. I would prefer they stay where they are. Oakland is a great market, but if there is no opportunity to put a stadium there, it would be hard to blame them for moving. I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it if it’s the best alternative. If it’s between Las Vegas and being stuck in an awful stadium, there is nowhere else to go.”

The owner added that it would be “a concern to have exposure to” gambling, however, and that aspect of it would have to be discussed until every owner was “comfortable with it.”

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Former agent Joel Corry spoke with USA Today about his expectations for a potential contract extension between the Panthers and defensive tackle Kawann Short. Corry feels that Short will seek a minimum of $15MM per year and $50MM overall in guarantees. He also expressed confidence that Short’s agent, Joel Segal, will aim high after negotiating Justin Houston‘s substantial deal with the Chiefs. An average salary of $15MM would place Short as the fourth highest defensive tackle in the league, behind Gerald McCoy, Marcell Dareus, and Ndamukong Suh. A $50MM guarantee would also place him at No. 4 at his position. Short, 27, enjoyed a breakout season in 2015, recording 11 sacks to go along with 55 tackles, three forced fumbles, and a pair of fumble recoveries.
  • Bills GM Doug Whaley thinks so highly of his draft class that he anticipates there will be three rookies in the team’s starting lineup to start the season. “At least three,” Whaley told NFL Network when asked how many of his rookies will be on the field in Week 1. “[First-round defensive end] Shaq Lawson is going to walk in off the bus starting. [Second-round linebacker] Reggie Ragland, and then [third-round defensive tackle] Adolphus Washington — all three of those guys will start right off the bus. And we’re excited for some guys from the fourth through sixth rounds that will contribute for us.”
  • Eric Stokes is in the mix for a high-level scouting position with the Panthers, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweets. Carolina is looking to fill positions following the departure of Ryan Cowden. Stokes previously served as the Dolphins’ assistant GM and also had stints with the Bucs and Seahawks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Notes: Front Office, Vernon, Wake

The Dolphins and assistant general manager Eric Stokes have mutually decided to part ways, the club announced today. Stoke, whose scouting career dates back to 2000, came to Miami from Tampa Bay, joining Dennis Hickey in making the leap from the Buccaneers to the Dolphins in 2014. Hickey, of course, was let go by Miami last month, and the team in turn promoted Chris Grier to take over as general manager.

Here’s more from South Beach:

  • The team also announced that it has hired former Wisconsin secondary coach Daronte Jones as its new assistant defensive backs coach. Prior to his coaching experience in Madison, Jones spent time with Hawaii, UCLA, and the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. He’ll be part of a revamped Miami coaching staff that includes new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and defensive backs coach (and former interim DC) Lou Anarumo.
  • The Dolphins have yet to enter into “serious negotiations” with pending free agent defensive end Olivier Vernon, according to James Walker of ESPN.com. Set to reach the open market next month, the 25-year-old Vernon would surely garner plenty of interest from suitors around the league if he doesn’t reach a deal with Miami. A report last month indicated that Vernon was the club’s No. 1 priority among internal free agents.
  • Miami is unlikely to be able to retain Vernon without first restructuring the contract of fellow defensive end Cameron Wake, but the team has not approached Wake about reworking his deal, per Walker. Wake, 34, is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, and is due to count $9.8MM against the Dolphins’ cap, but the club could save $8.4MM by releasing him.
  • Given that former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase is head coach in Miami, it’s fair to wonder if running back Matt Forte — who was informed he won’t be re-signed in Chicago — might be a fit with the Dolphins. It’s an idea we explored today on the Pro Football Rumors Instagram account.

NFC South Rumors: Graham, White, Bucs

Free agency, which opened more than two months ago, feels well behind us now, but technically one of the top free agents of the offseason remains available. Jimmy Graham was franchised by the Saints, meaning he can’t freely sign with another club, but he can still sign an offer sheet if there’s a team out there willing to give up two first-round picks to land him. And according to Mike Freeman of the Bleacher Report, that’s not a total pipe dream — Freeman hears from multiple sources that there are still some teams “strongly considering” extending an offer sheet to Graham.

I’d be surprised if another team ended up make a serious play for the Saints tight end, who would require a sizable chunk of cap space in addition to his suitor being willing to give up two first-rounders. But with a hearing looming next month to determine whether Graham will be considered a tight end or a wide receiver, it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on. Here’s more from around the NFC South:

  • ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure explores the possibility of an extension for Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, who is entering the final year of his contract. McClure likens White’s contract situation to that of Reggie Wayne, who signed a three-year extension in 2012 at age 33 — White turns 33 this fall.
  • Patriots director of college scouting Jon Robinson is leaving New England to reunite with Buccaneers GM Jason Licht in Tampa Bay, reports Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston (Twitter links). According to ESPN.com’s Adam Caplan (Twitter link), Robinson will assume the role of director of player personnel in Tampa. Meanwhile, Bucs director of college scouting Eric Stokes will be moving on to Miami to act as an assistant to Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey, tweets Reiss.
  • A bill addressing professional athletes’ injury benefits, which is working its way through the Louisiana Legislature could adversely affect the Saints‘ recruitment of free agents, according to former NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, via Emily Lane of the Times-Picayune. Lane’s piece has plenty of details on the bill, which would limit compensation benefits for NFL players if they’re injured during training camp rather than during the regular season. The Players Association also published an article on its website stating its opposition to the bill.