Packers Rumors

Latest On Packers, S Darnell Savage

Darnell Savage joined the Packers in 2019 with high expectations, but his time with the team could soon come to an end. The veteran safety was among those players whose contracts recently voided, creating dead cap charges regardless of if they re-sign with Green Bay or head elsewhere in free agency.

As noted at the time by ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Savage’s contract will carry the largest dead money of the group. The Packers will be hit with a $5.46MM charge for the former first-rounder, who is on track to test the open market for the first time in his career next month. His representation is well aware of the opportunities which could arise taking him out of Green Bay.

“Darnell loved his time in Green Bay, and we remain optimistic that a deal can get done before the league year,” Savage’s agent Seth Katz said (via Demovsky). “But realistically, the window for free agent communication is around the corner, and there will be significant interest in Darnell.”

Savage remained a full-time starter throughout much his five seasons with the Packers, a tenure which included a number of ups and downs. The former first-rounder was benched in a four-game stretch in 2022, although he returned to first-team action when healthy this past season. He was limited to 10 regular season contests due to a calf injury, but he was activated in time for Green Bay’s closing regular season contests and both playoff games.

The Maryland alum totaled a career-low 51 tackles in 2023, and he was held without an interception (in the regular season) for the first time. Savage’s downturn in ball production (one pass deflection) came about as his struggles in coverage continued. He allowed a completion percentage of 78.3% as the nearest defender while surrendering an opposing passer rating above 100 for the third consecutive season. PFF rated Savage 15th amongst qualifying safeties, though, a far more favorable evaluation than the team’s other options at the position.

Still, it would come as little surprise if the 26-year-old were to head elsewhere. Demovsky confirms no contract talks have taken place between Savage and the Packers, leaving him on course for free agency. Presuming the Buccaneers use the franchise tag on All-Pro Antoine Winfield Jr., the list of available safeties will likely offer little in the way of star power. Demovsky reports Savage could land the largest deal in the 2024 class at an AAV between $5MM and $7MM.

In any event, the Packers could see a number of departures on the backend this offseason. Savage is joined by Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens – who combined to see 20 starts last season – as pending free agents. With a new defensive coordinator in place, improvements in the secondary will be a key offseason goal. A number of new faces at the safety position could be a major factor in that effort.

Rams Finalize 2024 Coaching Staff

The Rams were one of several teams forced to reconstruct their coaching staff this offseason. While it’s always a challenge to replace staff, the Rams aren’t doing it because they needed to fire anybody, they’re simply replacing coaches who moved on to bigger jobs. Head coach Sean McVay is doing what he’s done year after year, bringing in a new staff that is sure to flourish under his tutelage.

On offense, we were already aware of the hires of quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone to replace Zac Robinson, senior offensive assistant Jerry Schuplinski, and offensive assistant and pass game specialist Nate Scheelhaase, though the “offensive assistant” part of that title is new information.

In addition, since the departed Robinson had held the title of pass-game coordinator, that moniker has transferred to tight ends coach Nick Caley. Lastly, with offensive assistants K.J. Black and Nick Jones following Robinson and former defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to Atlanta, Los Angeles has brought in former Jets quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese as a new offensive assistant. Calabrese takes a step back after spending three years in his first NFL position coaching job.

The defensive side of the ball is where the most change will commence, since Morris departed to become the next head coach of the Falcons. We have already reported on Giff Smith‘s replacement of Eric Henderson as defensive line coach and run game coordinator and the hiring of former Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai as a senior defensive assistant, as well as the departure of assistant head coach Jimmy Lake, who left to become Morris’ defensive coordinator in Atlanta.

Los Angeles’ update informed us on some pending information for the rest of the defensive staff. First, we had heard that former Packers pass-game coordinator Greg Williams had interviewed for the Rams inside linebackers coaching job, and now we know that he has officially been hired for the role, replacing Chris Shula following his promotion to defensive coordinator. Formerly the secondary coach, Chris Beake‘s official title has been altered to safeties coach, and while assistant defensive line coach AC Carter interviewed for the position that went to Smith after Henderson’s exit, Carter will simply remain in his current role. Additionally, outside linebackers coach Joe Coniglio, defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, and defensive assistant Mike Harris have all been retained by Shula in their current roles.

Lastly, on special teams, the Rams hired Chili Davis as assistant special teams coach to replace Jeremy Springer, who departed to become special teams coordinator in New England. Davis will take his first NFL job after coaching for the last 11 years in various college gigs. Most recently, he served as special teams coordinator at Florida A&M in 2022 before going to Manhattan to serve as Kansas State’s special teams quality control coach. Also, on the coaching staff, John Streicher has been brought on board to serve as game management coordinator. Streicher spent the last six seasons in Tennessee, most recently serving as the Titans director of football administration.

There you have it: the 2024 coaching staff for the Rams. McVay is certainly used to shuffling his staff at this point in his career in Los Angeles. He was able to rebound from a rough 2022 season to get back to the playoffs, and with this new staff, he’ll try to get back to the pinnacle of the sport after winning it all in 2021.

2024 NFL Cap Space, By Team

The NFL provided clarity to its teams on Friday by setting the salary cap ceiling ($255.4MM). Franchise tag figures have been locked in as well, and clubs can now proceed with their offseason planning knowing exactly where they stand with respect to financial flexibility. Courtesy of Over the Cap, here is the current landscape in terms of salary cap space:

  1. Washington Commanders: $79.61MM
  2. Tennessee Titans: $78.66MM
  3. Chicago Bears: $78.34MM
  4. New England Patriots: $77.96MM
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $72.34MM
  6. Houston Texans: $67.58MM
  7. Detroit Lions: $57.61MM
  8. Arizona Cardinals: $51.1MM
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $50.67MM
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $43.68MM
  11. Los Angles Rams: $43.11MM
  12. Las Vegas Raiders: $42.94MM
  13. Minnesota Vikings: $35.81MM
  14. Carolina Panthers: $34.57MM
  15. Atlanta Falcons: $33MM
  16. New York Giants: $30.8MM
  17. Philadelphia Eagles: $27.35MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $24.68MM
  19. Kansas City Chiefs: $18.19MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $16.63MM
  21. Seattle Seahawks: $12.97MM
  22. New York Jets: $12.76MM
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers: $9MM
  24. Green Bay Packers: $2.3MM
  25. San Francisco 49ers: $5.07MM over the cap
  26. Cleveland Browns: $7.76MM over
  27. Dallas Cowboys: $9.86MM over
  28. Denver Broncos: $16.81MM over
  29. Los Angeles Chargers: $25.61MM over
  30. Miami Dolphins: $27.92MM over
  31. New Orleans Saints: $42.11MM over
  32. Buffalo Bills: $43.82MM over

All teams must be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, but it will of course be more than just those currently over the limit which will make cost-shedding moves in the near future. Cuts, restructures and extensions are available as tools to carve out space in advance of free agency. Several have already taken place around the league.

That includes the Dolphins’ release of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the planned cut of Xavien Howard. The latter cannot be designated a post-June 1 release until free agency begins but once it happens, Miami will move much closer to cap compliance. The Saints have moved considerable commitments into the future via restructures (as usual), but more transactions on that front will be required even with the cap seeing an historic single-season jump.

The roughly $30MM spike from 2023 will provide unforeseen spending power for teams already set to lead the pack in cap space while also making the task of those at the bottom of the list easier. Spending more on backloaded contracts this offseason at the expense of future space obviously carries risk, however. Still, the news of a higher-than-expected ceiling will add further intrigue to each team’s financial planning.

With Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson each set to carry record-breaking cap hits for 2024, the Cowboys and Browns will be among the teams most in need of working out a deal to lower those figures. In Dallas’ case in particular, an extension would provide immediate breathing room in addition to clarity on his future beyond the coming season. For Cleveland, Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal has already been restructured once and will need to be again to avoid consecutive years of a $64MM cap charge over its remaining term.

If the Commanders and Patriots add a quarterback with the second and third picks in this year’s draft, each team currently in the top six in space will enjoy the benefits of having a signal-caller on their rookie contracts. That would allow for an aggressive approach to free agency, although the Chiefs’ success after Patrick Mahomes signed (and re-worked) his monster extension has proven it is possible to win Super Bowl titles with a substantial QB investment on the books.

NFC Notes: Buccaneers, Packers, Magee

The Buccaneers dipped into the realm of college football to hire University of Kentucky offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Liam Coen. The team didn’t stop there, reaching out twice more to help fill out the rest of their offensive coaching staff recently.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that Coen and company were dipping back to Lexington in order to poach offensive quality control coach Brian Picucci. The hunt was apparently successful as Josh Alper of NBC Sports followed up to confirm that Picucci would be heading to Tampa Bay as the team’s new assistant offensive line coach.

The Buccaneers also went to the college ranks in order to fill their position for wide receivers coach. According to Schefter, University of Georgia wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator Bryan McClendon has been hired as Tampa Bay’s new wide receivers coach. McClendon has been a long-time college staffer and is well-regarded in coaching circles.

As running backs coach for the Bulldogs from 2009-14, McClendon coached Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. As wide receivers coach at South Carolina from 2016-19, McClendon mentored Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards, and Shi Smith. He also had two years of offensive coordinator experience with the Gamecocks, as well. McClendon will inherit a wide receiving corps featuring Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, and Trey Palmer, and he will likely hope the team can come to terms with long-time star, and pending free agent, Mike Evans.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the NFC:

  • In the Packers‘ front office, it has been made known that team president and chief executive officer Mark Murphy is going to retire in July 2025. The organization has reportedly formed a search committee in order to find Murphy’s replacement. Packers executive committee vice president and lead director Susan Finco will chair the committee and executive committee secretary and chair of the personnel and compensation committee Dan Ariens will serve as vice chairperson. The search committee is comprised of several individuals throughout the organization’s structure and will utilize the national search firm Korn Ferry to conduct the search. The expectation is that the process will take around six to nine months.
  • Lastly, the Bears will also be losing a member of their front office, though this one is in effect immediately. According to Matt Zenitz of CBS Sports, Chicago’s chief of staff Sean Magee will be departing for a job in the collegiate ranks. Magee is expected to be hired as senior associate athletic director and general manager for football at the University of Michigan.

Packers Expected To Cut LT David Bakhtiari

David Bakhtiari‘s time with the Packers is almost definitely winding down. Post-Aaron Rodgers and Mason Crosby, the 2013 draftee is the team’s longest-tenured player. But the knee injury sustained in a late-season practice in 2020 sidetracked the All-Pro’s career.

That seminal setback has led to five surgeries on the same knee; counting playoff opportunities, Bakhtiari has missed 45 games since the December 2020 injury. He was on the field for one contest last season, and although the longtime Green Bay left tackle did not put retirement in play when he went down last season, he will soon no longer be attached to the lucrative extension signed midway through the 2020 campaign.

The Packers are expected to release Bakhtiari soon, The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman notes (subscription required). Labeling the matter a formality, the Green Bay Press Gazette’s Ryan Wood also points to this release transpiring.

The Packers can save nearly $21MM by cutting the 11-year veteran. He is set to count a team-high $40MM against the Packers’ cap this year. One season remains on Bakhtiari’s contract. None of his remaining salary is guaranteed, though the Packers have more than $19MM in deferred signing bonus set to represent dead money if/when the former fourth-round pick is cut.

Prior to Bakhtiari going down with the ACL tear, the Packers gave him a four-year, $92MM extension. That deal came to pass six weeks before the injury, representing important timing on Bakhtiari’s part. While both the tackles who signed record-setting extensions during that 2020 season — Bakhtiari, Ronnie Stanley — have run into recurring injury trouble since, the elder of the two blockers has been unable to string together a steady batch of starts since going down.

A reasonable “what if?” exists surrounding Bakhtiari’s injury. The Packers obtained the NFC’s No. 1 seed in 2020 but saw Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul tee off on their tackles in a narrow NFC championship game loss. The Barrett-JPP second-half sack spree protected Tom Brady, who threw three second-half INTs in the narrow Buccaneers win. While it is reasonable to suggest the Packers venture to Super Bowl LV if Bakhtiari was available, that quickly devolved into a missed opportunity. By the point the five-time All-Pro was ready to play regularly again, the Packers were no longer at that level. They finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs during the 2022 slate, which featured 11 Bakhtiari outings.

Bakhtiari played well when on the field in 2022, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 overall tackle. More knee trouble and an appendectomy sidelined him for six contests that season, which came after a 2021 campaign included only 27 Bakhtiari snaps. Last season, the 32-year-old blocker played in Week 1 but soon needed the above-referenced fifth knee procedure. Matt LaFleur said Bakhtiari experienced swelling in his surgically repaired knee before Week 2, and ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky indicates training camp remains the goal for the injury-prone veteran.

After Elgton Jenkins suffered a torn ACL when filling in for Bakhtiari at left tackle in 2021, the team settled on seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker as the veteran’s primary replacement last season. The 2022 draftee made 15 starts and was the team’s blind-sider in both playoff games. Barring an offseason upgrade effort, Walker would go into the ’24 season as one of the many rookie-contract starters on Green Bay’s offense.

As for Bakhtiari, the Jets being the team to give him a bounce-back opportunity seems logical. Rodgers wields considerable influence with the AFC East club, and the four-time MVP has been connected to wanting to bring his longtime LT to the Big Apple. The Jets would probably prefer a more stable option, given Mekhi Becton‘s injury-plagued tenure. The team is not viewed as overly interested in re-signing Becton, however, and Rodgers certainly drove personnel moves last year. It will be interesting to see if Rodgers pushes hard for the Jets to sign Bakhtiari at a significantly reduced rate — compared to his Packers deal, at least — once his Wisconsin tenure wraps.

Assessing NFL’s OC Landscape

This offseason showed the turnover that can take place at the offensive coordinator position. As a result of several decisions in January and February, the NFL no longer has an OC who has been in his current role for more than two seasons. Various firings and defections now have the 2022 batch of hires stationed as the longest-tenured OCs.

One of the longest-tenured coordinators in NFL history, Pete Carmichael is no longer with the Saints. The team moved on after 15 seasons, a stay that featured part-time play-calling duties. The Browns canned their four-year non-play-calling OC, Alex Van Pelt, while three-year play-callers Arthur Smith and Shane Waldron are relocating this winter. Brian Callahan‘s five-year gig as the Bengals’ non-play-calling OC booked him a top job.

The recent lean toward offense-oriented HCs took a bit of a hit of a hit this offseason, with five of the eight jobs going to defense-oriented leaders. Callahan, Dave Canales and Jim Harbaugh were the only offense-geared candidates hired during this cycle. But half the NFL will go into this season with a new OC. Following the Seahawks’ decision to hire ex-Washington (and, briefly, Alabama) staffer Ryan Grubb, here is how the NFL’s OC landscape looks:

2022 OC hires

  • Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions*
  • Mike Kafka, New York Giants*
  • Wes Phillips, Minnesota Vikings
  • Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins
  • Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers
  • Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Although this sextet now comprises the senior wing of offensive coordinators, this still marks each’s first gig as an NFL OC. Three of the six received HC interest this offseason.

Johnson’s status back in Detroit has been one of the offseason’s top storylines and a development the Commanders have not taken especially well. The two-year Lions OC was viewed as the frontrunner for the Washington job for weeks this offseason, and when team brass did not receive word about Johnson’s intent to stay in Detroit (thus, waiting until at least 2025 to make his long-expected HC move) until a Commanders contingent was en route to Detroit for a second interview, a back-and-forth about what exactly broke down took place. Johnson should be expected to remain a high-end HC candidate next year, but Dan Campbell will still have his services for 2024.

Kafka interviewed for the Seahawks’ HC job, and the Giants then blocked him from meeting with the NFC West team about its OC position. Rumblings about Kafka and Brian Daboll no longer being on great terms surfaced this year, with the latter yanking away play-calling duties — given to Kafka ahead of the 2022 season — at points in 2023. Taylor may also be on the hot seat with his team. Doug Pederson gave Taylor the call sheet last season, and Trevor Lawrence did not make the leap many expected. After a collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs, the team had begun to look into its offensive situation.

2023 OC hires

  • Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
  • Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets*
  • Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
  • Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
  • Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens*
  • Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals*
  • Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans*

Only nine of the 15 OCs hired in 2023 are still with their teams. One (Canales) moved up the ladder, while others were shown the door following that organization canning its head coach. The Eagles were the only team who hired an offensive coordinator last year to fire that staffer (Brian Johnson) after one season. Nick Sirianni fired both his coordinators following a wildly disappointing conclusion.

Hackett may also be drifting into deep water, given what transpired last year in New York. Rumblings of Robert Saleh — who is on the hottest seat among HCs — stripping some of his offensive play-caller’s responsibilities surfaced recently. This marks Hackett’s fourth chance to call plays in the NFL; the second-generation staffer did so for the Bills, Jaguars and Broncos prior to coming to New York. After the 2022 Broncos ranked last in scoring, the ’23 Jets ranked 31st in total offense. Hackett’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers has largely kept him in place, but 2024 may represent a last chance for the embattled coach.

Of this crop, Monken and Slowik were the only ones to receive HC interest. Neither emerged as a frontrunner for a position, though Slowik met with the Commanders twice. The Texans then gave their first-time play-caller a raise to stick around for C.J. Stroud‘s second season. Stroud’s remarkable progress figures to keep Slowik on the HC radar. Monken, who is in his third try as an NFL OC (after gigs in Tampa and Cleveland), just helped Lamar Jackson to his second MVP award. The former national championship-winning OC did not stick the landing — as Jackson struggled against the Chiefs — but he fared well on the whole last season.

Schottenheimer is on his fourth go-round as an OC, while Lombardi is on team No. 3. The latter’s job figures to be more secure, being tied to Sean Payton, compared to what is transpiring in Dallas. With the Cowboys having Mike McCarthy as the rare lame-duck HC, his coordinators probably should not get too comfortable.

2024 OC hires

  • Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills*
  • Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
  • Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns
  • Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders*
  • Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks*
  • Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders*
  • Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints*
  • Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers
  • Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles*
  • Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons*
  • Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers*
  • Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers*
  • Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots*
  • Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears*

The 49ers do not employ a traditional OC; 16 of the 31 teams that do recently made a change. Most of the teams to add OCs this year, however, did so without employing play-calling coaches. This naturally raises the stakes for this year’s batch of hires.

Retreads became rather popular. Dorsey, Getsy, Moore, Van Pelt and Waldron were all OCs elsewhere (Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle) last season. Smith will shift from calling the Falcons’ plays to running the show for the Steelers. Dorsey, Getsy and Van Pelt were fired; Moore and Waldron moved on after the Chargers and Seahawks respectively changed HCs. Moore and Smith will be calling plays for a third team; for Moore, this is three OC jobs in three years.

Coen, Kingsbury and Roman are back after a year away. Kingsbury became a popular name on the OC carousel, having coached Caleb Williams last season. This will be his second crack at an NFL play-calling gig, having been the Cardinals’ conductor throughout his HC tenure. This will be Coen’s first shot at calling plays in the pros; he was Sean McVay‘s non-play-calling assistant in 2022. Likely to become the Chargers’ play-caller, Roman will have a rare fourth chance to call plays in the NFL. He held that responsibility under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco; following Harbaugh’s explosive 2015 49ers split, Roman moved to Buffalo and Baltimore to work under non-offense-oriented leaders.

Grubb, Holz, Idzik, Pitcher and Robinson represent this year’s first-timer contingent. Grubb has, however, called plays at the college level. Robinson is the latest McVay staffer to move into a play-calling post; he was a Rams assistant for five years. A host of teams had Robinson on their OC radar, but Raheem Morris brought his former L.A. coworker to Atlanta. Pitcher appeared in a few searches as well, but the Bengals made the expected move — after extending him last year — to give him Callahan’s old job.

* = denotes play-calling coordinator

Updated 2024 NFL Draft Order

With Super Bowl LVIII in the books, the 2023 campaign has come to a close. Teams outside Kansas City and San Francisco had already turned their attention to the offseason well before Sunday’s game, of course.

Regular season standings determine the order for the top 18 picks, so they have been known since the conclusion of Week 18. For the second straight year, the Bears face the question of dealing away the top selection and starting over at quarterback or re-committing to Justin Fields. Expectations still point toward Caleb Williams heading to Chicago, although the Bears will not move the No. 1 pick at a discounted price.

With the Commanders also in position to add a signal-caller second overall, the Patriots and Cardinals will be worth watching closely. New England will be in the market for a QB, but it may not come via the team’s top selection. Arizona’s position could also be a trade-up target for teams seeking a quarterback addition. This year’s class is expected to be dominated by blue-chip prospects under center, as well as at wide receiver and offensive tackle.

The final 14 spots in the draft order are filled by postseason results. The Chiefs find themselves in familiar territory picking at or near the end of the first-round order for the fourth time in the past five years following another Super Bowl appearance. The team has a mixed track record with its selections in that regard, but another impact rookie would of course help its bid to sustain its impressive run.

While a number of selections will no doubt be swapped between now and draft day, here is the full 2024 first-round order:

  1. Chicago Bears (via Panthers)
  2. Washington Commanders: 4-13
  3. New England Patriots: 4-13
  4. Arizona Cardinals: 4-13
  5. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-12
  6. New York Giants: 6-11
  7. Tennessee Titans: 6-11
  8. Atlanta Falcons: 7-10
  9. Chicago Bears: 7-10
  10. New York Jets: 7-10
  11. Minnesota Vikings: 7-10
  12. Denver Broncos: 8-9
  13. Las Vegas Raiders: 8-9
  14. New Orleans Saints: 9-8
  15. Indianapolis Colts: 9-8
  16. Seattle Seahawks: 9-8
  17. Jacksonville Jaguars: 9-8
  18. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-8
  19. Los Angeles Rams: 10-7
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-7
  21. Miami Dolphins: 11-6
  22. Philadelphia Eagles: 11-6
  23. Houston Texans (via Browns)
  24. Dallas Cowboys: 12-5
  25. Green Bay Packers: 9-8
  26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 9-8
  27. Arizona Cardinals (via Texans)
  28. Buffalo Bills: 11-6
  29. Detroit Lions: 12-5
  30. Baltimore Ravens: 13-4
  31. San Francisco 49ers: 12-5
  32. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-6

2024 Hall Of Fame Class Unveiled

As part of tonight’s NFL Honors program, the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has been revealed. It consists of modern-era standouts and two players chosen by the senior committee. Here is the full breakdown of this year’s honorees:

Dwight Freeney, defensive end (2002-17)

In his second year as a finalist, Freeney received enough support to be voted into the Hall. One of the quickest edge rushers in NFL history, Freeney will reach Canton with 125.5 career sacks. That total ranks 18th in NFL history. The Colts made Freeney their pass-rushing anchor during Peyton Manning‘s extended run as their franchise centerpiece. While the team eventually found a bookend in Robert Mathis, it chose Freeney 11th overall in the 2002 draft with a hope of building a pass defense around the Syracuse alum. Freeney delivered and will book a Hall of Fame nod on his second try.

Freeney finished second to fellow 2024 inductee Julius Peppers in 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, but the spin-move maven showed what was ahead by forcing nine forced fumbles as a rookie. The 11-year Colt earned four All-Pro honors, joining Mathis as one of the era’s defining pass-rushing duos. Freeney led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and helped the Colts vanquish their Patriots hurdle en route to a Super Bowl XLI win two years later. The Colts gave Freeney a six-year, $72MM extension in 2007.

The enduring sack artist managed to play five seasons following his Colts career, spending time with the Chargers, Falcons, Cardinals, Seahawks and Lions. Serving as a designated rusher near the end of his career, Freeney helped the Cardinals reach the 2015 NFC championship game, after an eight-sack season, and played in Super Bowl LI with the Falcons.

Randy Gradishar, linebacker (1974-83)**

Widely viewed as one of the best linebackers of his era and one of the game’s best tacklers of any period, Gradishar moves into the Hall via the senior committee route. Gradishar’s selection makes him the first member of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense to be enshrined in Canton. That defensive nucleus powered Denver to its first playoff berth, a 1977 season that included postseason wins over 1970s superpowers Pittsburgh and Oakland en route to Super Bowl XII. The Broncos allowed just 10.6 points per game in 1977. Despite multiple rule changes designed to increase offensive productivity in 1978, the Broncos yielded just 12.4 points per contest that year.

A first-round pick out of Ohio State, Gradishar played his entire career in Denver and earned five All-Pro honors. The above-referenced 1978 season featured perhaps the best team in Steelers history, but Gradishar outflanked “Steel Curtain” cogs by being voted as Defensive Player of the Year after helping the 10-6 Broncos back to the playoffs. The off-ball linebacker added 20 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns in his career.

Devin Hester, return specialist (2006-16)

Almost definitely the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester becomes one of the few true specialists in the Hall of Fame. Dabbling at cornerback and wide receiver, Hester provided the Bears tremendous value as a return specialist. Elite in both the kick- and punt-return capacities, Hester set an NFL record with 20 return touchdowns. Famously adding a kick-return score in the playoffs — to begin Super Bowl XLI — Hester delivered one of the great rookie seasons in NFL history. The Bears second-round pick notched six return TDs in the regular season — one coming on a blocked field goal sprint against the Giants — and added No. 7 against the Colts in the Super Bowl.

Hester’s 2007 season dismissed any fluke notions; he posted six more return scores (four on punts) during his NFL sophomore slate. While producing 17 more TDs on offense over the course of his career, Hester never caught on as a pure wideout in Chicago. But he landed on two All-Decade teams for his return work. Eighteen of Hester’s 19 return TDs came in Chicago. Hester’s 14 punt-return TDs are four more than second place all time (Eric Metcalf); he broke the record for combined kick- and punt-return TDs in only his sixth season (2011).

The Falcons gave Hester a three-year, $9MM contract in 2014; he finished his career splitting time with the Ravens and Seahawks in 2016. Seattle signed Hester just before the 2016 playoffs, using him in both its postseason contests that year.

Andre Johnson, wide receiver (2003-16)

Not collecting a Super Bowl ring like the other two pure wide receiver finalists in this year’s class (Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne), Johnson became well known for putting up monster numbers despite not being gifted a top-tier quarterback. But Johnson operated as one of the most physically imposing receivers in NFL history. The ex-Miami Hurricanes star’s numbers, largely compiled with David Carr and Matt Schaub targeting him, reflect that. Of Johnson’s seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons, four included 1,400-plus. Only Jerry Rice (six) and Julio Jones (five) produced more such seasons. Johnson’s 14,185 career yards rank 11th all time.

The Texans chose Johnson third overall in 2003, the second draft in their history. The 229-pound pass catcher led the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yards in back-to-back years (2008, 2009). Neither of those seasons lifted the Texans to a playoff berth, but Johnson remained in place as the team’s No. 1 wideout when the team finally booked its first two postseason cameos in 2011 and 2012. Johnson amassed 201 yards in two playoff games in 2011, doing so despite Schaub’s injury leaving rookie T.J. Yates at the controls.

Johnson is the Texans’ first Hall of Famer. This is fitting, as he retired with the most games played in Texans history. The longtime WR1 spent 12 years with the team. Johnson signed two Houston extensions spanning at least seven years in length, earning more than $108MM throughout his NFL run. He finished a 14-year career with one season apiece in Indianapolis and Tennessee.

Steve McMichael, defensive tackle (1980-94)**

Part of the storied 1985 Bears’ defense, McMichael played 13 of his 15 NFL seasons in Chicago. A Patriots third-round draftee, McMichael found himself in the Windy City ahead of his second season. The Patriots waived the future D-line mainstay during the 1981 offseason. Teaming with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Richard Dent (along with William “The Refrigerator” Perry) on Chicago’s D-line, McMichael earned four All-Pro honors while helping a Bears team — one that saw Jim McMahon injuries impede paths to Super Bowls — become a perennial contender.

The Bears did, of course, break through as champions in 1985. That 18-1 team is on a short list of those in the running for the best ever, allowing only 12.4 points per game and outscoring its playoff opposition 91-10. McMichael started 16 games for the ’85 team and suited up every week for an ’86 Bears defense that statistically outflanked its famed predecessor. Better known by some as part of WCW’s Four Horsemen faction during his wrestling career, “Mongo” finished his gridiron run with 95 sacks (three of them safeties). McMichael closed out his NFL stay with the Packers in 1994. His 92.5 sacks with the Bears are second in franchise history.

Julius Peppers, defensive end (2002-18)*

Five years after retiring, Peppers remains fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list (159.5). The former Panthers, Bears and Packers pass rusher finished a half-sack shy of Kevin Greene for third. While Greene needed to wait a bit before enshrinement, voters will send Peppers to Canton on his first try. The former North Carolina two-sport standout came into the league with high expectations, going off the 2002 draft board second overall. He justified those, remaining a productive pass rusher into his late 30s. No active sack artist is within 35 of Peppers’ career total. He is among the rare players to land on two All-Decade teams.

Peppers collected six All-Pro honors, three as a first-teamer, and did quite well on the contract front. Peppers’ rookie contract spanned seven years (and $46MM, before the 2011 CBA introduced the slot system), and the Panthers kept him off the market with a franchise tag ahead of Year 8. During the uncapped 2010, Peppers landed a then-record-setting DE pact from the Bears (six years, $84MM). He played four seasons on that deal, and after the Bears made the 6-foot-6 rusher a cap casualty in 2014, Peppers made an impact for three playoff-bound Packers teams in the mid-2010s.

While this can be considered a big night for the Bears — due to the enshrinements of three former players — Peppers played 10 years with the Panthers, returning home to close out his 17-season run. Fifteen years after he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in Charlotte, the North Carolina native re-signed with his hometown team. Peppers’ penultimate season brought a 10th double-digit sack showing; he totaled 11 at age 37 to help the Panthers to their most recent playoff berth.

Patrick Willis, linebacker (2007-14)

Willis did not overstay his welcome in the NFL, retiring after his age-29 season. The dominant inside linebacker did not lack for accolades in his eight-year career, racking up six All-Pro honors — including five first-team distinctions. The 49ers nabbed Willis in the 2007 first round and turned him loose. Although San Francisco did not form the Jim HarbaughVic Fangio pairing until Willis’ fifth season, he flashed frequently as a young player and was regarded by many as the NFL’s best off-ball linebacker for an extended period.

The Ole Miss alum picked up Defensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and became the rare player to win that award while earning first-team All-Pro honors. Willis tallied a career-high 174 tackles — including a staggering 136 solo — as a rookie to provide an indication of his capabilities. Willis remained in his prime when Harbaugh and Fangio arrived in 2011. While Harbaugh’s arrival elevated Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick, Willis’ presence represented a key part of a defense-geared 49ers blueprint that produced three straight NFC championship games and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII.

Willis teamed with NaVorro Bowman to form one of the great linebacking pairs in modern NFL history. Seeing each soar to the first-team All-Pro perch, the 49ers went second-second-third in scoring defense from 2011-13. After suffering a foot injury midway through the 2014 season, Willis opted to call it quits.

* = denotes first year of eligibility
** = denotes senior candidate

Packers Notes: Coaching, Clements, Evero, Watson

Tom Clements is expected to be back in Green Bay next season. The long-time coach will continue being the quarterbacks coach on Matt LaFleur’s staff in 2024, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

There was some speculation that the organization’s recent hiring of Sean Mannion could mean that the 70-year-old Clements would retire, but that isn’t the case. Per Silverstein, the Packers believe Clements will be a great mentor to Mannion, perhaps a hint that the recently-retired QB could eventually take over the role.

Over the past two years, Clements has overseen a major turnover at the position. After coaching Aaron Rodgers during his first season at the helm, Clements guided Jordan Love through the QB’s first season as a starter.

Clements has been coaching since the 1990s, serving as the QBs coach with the Saints, Chiefs, Steelers, Cardinals, and Packers. He had a two-year stint as the Bills offensive coordinator before catching on with the Packers in 2006. He spent more than a decade in Green Bay, eventually serving as offensive coordinator and later assistant head coach. He called it a career following a two-year stint in Arizona, but he was coaxed out of retirement in 2022 and returned to the Packers.

More news out of Green Bay…

  • With the Packers having settled on Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley as their new defensive coordinator, the rest of the defensive coaching staff is starting to take shape. According to Silverstein, Hafley will bring along BC defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase. Incumbent defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery isn’t expected to be back next season, although Silverstein adds that linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich is expected to pivot to defensive line coach in 2024, making Oghobaase’s role unknown. In addition to Montgomery, passing game coordinator Greg Williams and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti won’t return to the Packers, per Silverstein.
  • The Packers are expected to hire former Dolphins linebackers coach Anthony Campanile, per Silverstein. Campanile is expected to be the team’s new run game coordinator, and the hiring was inspired by LaFleur‘s desire to transition to a 4-3 defensive scheme. Campanile has been a popular name this offseason; he interviewed for the Giants defensive coordinator job and was pursued by the Eagles to be their linebackers coach.
  • The Packers are also adding former Chargers defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley as their defensive pass-game coordinator, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Ansley had a long stint in the NCAA to begin his coaching career, culminating in him serving as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020. He joined the Chargers the following season, and after serving as their defensive backs coach for two years, he earned a promotion to DC in 2023.
  • Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is sticking in Carolina, but if he shook loose, the Packers would have had interest, according to Fowler. The feeling would have been mutual, as Evero would have had interest in the Green Bay DC job. We heard last week that the Packers also made an unsuccessful run at Zach Orr as their defensive coordinator.
  • A hamstring injury has forced Packers wide receiver Christian Watson to miss a handful of games through his first two seasons in the NFL, but the organization is working to remedy the lingering issue. LaFleur told reporters (including Silverstein) that the Packers have a “plan” to figure out why Watson’s hamstring continues to be an issue. The team intends to send the wideout to a specialist who should provide further guidance.

Latest On Seahawks’ HC Decision; Eric Bieniemy On Radar For OC?

Fallout from the Seahawks and Commanders’ HC hires points to Seattle winning out, hiring Mike Macdonald despite Washington’s push. It took a six-year contract for the Seahawks to land the young defensive coordinator, but they are starting over after initially being connected to Dan Quinn.

Likely the Commanders’ fallback option during what turned into a complicated HC search that featured some notable Ben Johnson involvement, Quinn was the first name mentioned in connection with the Seahawks’ job. But the veteran staffer’s past with Pete Carroll may well have been an issue for the team. As the Seahawks sought a fresher option, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline notes Quinn’s two stints under Carroll worked against him.

The team viewed Quinn as too similar to Carroll, per Pauline. Considering Quinn worked under Carroll in 2010 — after being added to the then-Jim Mora Jr.-led Seattle staff in ’09 — and then led the team’s defense from 2013-14, comparing Quinn to his former boss is understandable. The Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense during both Super Bowl seasons under Quinn, and he reestablished his value with the Cowboys over the past three years. But he will be tasked with leading the Commanders now, as Macdonald is moving forward with assembling his Seahawks staff.

Quinn and Commanders front office boss Adam Peters informed Eric Bieniemy, following the team’s Kliff Kingsbury OC addition, he would not be retained. At this time last year, Bieniemy had been a Commanders target after five seasons as the Chiefs’ non-play-calling OC. Seeing HC interest decline in recent years and his first year as a play-calling OC produce a decline on offense in Washington, Bieniemy sits in limbo late in the hiring period.

The Seahawks should still be a team to watch in connection with Bieniemy, according to ProFootballNetwork.com’s Adam Caplan, who connects the NFC West team to the veteran assistant for the OC job. The Seahawks have thus far been tied to new Alabama OC Ryan Grubb and Lions pass-game coordinator Tanner Engstrand for what will be a play-calling OC post. The Giants blocked the Hawks from interviewing OC Mike Kafka.

Bieniemy’s failure to land a head coaching job during his five-year run as Chiefs OC became one of this period’s defining coaching storylines. Bieniemy’s Washington departure also leaves the NFL with no Black offensive coordinators or offensive play-callers. This has been a longstanding issue for the league, even as four teams hired minority HCs during this year’s cycle. The three Black candidates hired — Antonio Pierce, Jerod Mayo, Raheem Morris — came from the defensive side. This pattern has shined a light on Bieniemy’s candidacy, but after the Commanders finished 25th in scoring offense and closed the season on an eight-game losing streak, their 2023 OC’s stock has dropped.

Additionally, the Seahawks will retain their defensive pass-game coordinator. Initially linked to following ex-Seattle DC Clint Hurtt to Philadelphia, Karl Scott will stay in Seattle, according to the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta. Scott has been the team’s DBs coach for the past two seasons, and while Condotta adds his role under Macdonald is unclear, the Seahawks will keep a Carroll assistant on that side of the ball.

The team is also hiring Kirk Olivadotti from the Packers, KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson tweets. The son of former Dolphins DC Tom Olivadotti, Kirk has been an NFL assistant for most of the 21st century. Spending much of his career (16 years over two stints) with Washington, Olivadotti joined Macdonald on the Georgia Bulldogs’ staff from 2011-13. Olivadotti coached the Bulldogs’ linebackers in that span, while Macdonald was on the quality control level. After spending the past five seasons as the Packers’ ILBs coach, the 50-year-old assistant is expected to coach the Hawks’ linebackers.