Jim Leonhard

AFC North Links: Webb, Browns, Eifert

Lardarius Webb has battled a back injury all season, and the Ravens cornerback told Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun that he suffered nerve damage in his back during training camp, severely hampering the start of his season. However, the 29-year-old is starting to regain his old form, and his defensive coordinater believes he’ll be a force for the rest of the season.

“I actually graded the film on the plane on the way back, and then I came in and watched the film again on Monday morning and I texted him right after I got done and said, ‘That’s the best you’ve played all year. You look like you’re kind of getting back to the Lardarius that I know,'” said Dean Pees. “I think that is a very, very positive thing about him. Hey, we need him right here at the end. I was very pleased with the way he played.”

Webb echoed that sentiment:

“Yeah, I feel awesome. It was late in the season and everything, but I do feel good now. I’ve been through a long season. I started off on the back burner with a back injury. I’ve just been trying to catch up the whole time and get it right eventually. Now, I’m right.

“That’s how nerve injuries do, they take time. I had to fight through it all year with the good and the bad. It would be perfect going into the playoffs to play your best game. Hopefully, we can continue playing and win this game and go into the playoffs and keep improving on the back end. It’s been a long year, a humbling year. I’ve been through a lot of adversity since I’ve been in the NFL. That’s been my career.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from the AFC’s northern division…

  • Browns‘ cornerback Buster Skrine is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil wants him back, reports Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald (via Twitter). With Joe Haden playing at a Pro Bowl level and first-round pick Justin Gilbert on the roster, Skrine may be more comfortable going elsewhere to continue his career. Skrine has not talked about his next contract.
  • Meanwhile, Browns coach Mike Pettine was asked if he wants Skrine on the team next season. “Yeah, he’s a Brown,” he answered (via Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com). “It’s tough when you have guys that are up (for free agency). That’s the reality of business. As far as what we’re looking for, and I already talked about it, just everything from Buster from A to Z is a guy that you want on your football team.”
  • Before the season, Browns safety Jim Leonhard declared 2014 his final NFL season. According to Tom Reed of Cleveland.com, the veteran is sticking by the statement. “But, no, it’s not happening. I’m very happy with my decision and I’m looking forward to that next chapter . . .I definitely want to get out and travel a little bit with the family. Outside of that, head back to Madison (Wisc.) and figure it out. I had a lot of conversations with people and we’ll see what happens, where this thing leads.”
  • Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert has struggled through injuries all season, and head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed yesterday that the 24-year-old’s season is over. Eifert had left shoulder surgery earlier this month, helping repair an injury he sustained in training camp. “It’s been unfortunate for him,” Lewis said (via ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey), “but it was the best thing for him.”

Zach Links contributed to this post.

North Notes: AD, Manziel, Leonhard, Briggs

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson says that he didn’t want a coaching change but he recognizes that his teammates probably did, writes Ben Goessling of ESPN.com. “It was good to have him there, Coach [Leslie] Frazier, but [Mike Zimmer] fits our players better. That’s something I can honestly sit here and say. A lot of guys can’t respond to a Coach [Tony] Dungy, Coach Frazier, guys like that. A lot of guys respond to Coach Zimmer. He’s a better fit for the team,” Peterson said. More from the North divisions..

  • New Browns safety Jim Leonhard says that he plans to retire after the 2014 season, tweets Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Leonhard added that he is happy to join coach Mike Pettine for what he expects to be last hurrah in the NFL. Of course, Leonhard and Pettine have been together during their shared time with the Ravens, Jets, and Bills.
  • There might technically be a quarterback competition in Browns camp, but it’s starting to look like it’s heavily tilted in one direction. “I think Brian Hoyer‘s got the starting nod currently,” said center Alex Mack in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio (on Twitter). Star rookie Johnny Manziel may have the No. 1 spot eventually, but it seems likely that Hoyer will be the starter to kick off the 2014 season.
  • When all is said and done, veteran linebacker Lance Briggs says that he intends to retire as a member of the Bears, writes Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune. Briggs, entering his 12th season with Chicago, says that he’s excited about the new faces on the Bears’ D this season and added that he feels comfortable with second-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
  • The offseason addition of tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson might wind up being one of the Vikings‘ biggest moves, writes Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. The 6’6″, 330-pound lineman is earning high praise from coach Mike Zimmer for his play so far in training camp.

Browns Sign Jim Leonhard

6:18pm: The Browns announced the signing, tweets Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal.

4:53pm: Well-traveled safety Jim Leonhard has signed with the Browns, the veteran free agent announced today, tweeting, “It’s official, I just signed my 8th NFL contract to become a part of the Cleveland Browns. #dawgpound.” The move reunites the 31-year-old with Browns head coach Mike Pettine, who was the Bills’ defensive coordinator when Leonhard played in Buffalo last season.

Leonhard, a Wisconsin product, has played for four teams since entering the league in 2005, spending time with the Jets, Ravens, and Broncos, as well as enjoying two separate stints with the Bills. After playing primarily in a reserve role in Denver in 2012, Leonhard earned seven starts last season in Buffalo. Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) ranked him as just the 67th-best safety out of 86 qualified players, but he contributed 41 tackles and four interceptions to a much-improved Bills defense.

For the Browns, Leonhard will look to earn a spot and playing time in a secondary where Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson project as the starting safeties. Cleveland won’t have to cut a player to finalize the signing of Leonhard, since the team had a couple open spots on its 90-man roster.

Nothing Imminent Between Leonhard, Packers

Over the weekend, free agent safety Jim Leonhard told WQOW-TV that he’s talked to the Packers about joining the team and seemed to indicate that a deal could be struck this offseason.

They’re a great organization,” Leonhard said. “I’d love to play for them but it hasn’t worked out up to now. You never know what can happen in the future, but we’ll see.

However, in a chat with SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier today, Leonhard threw cold water on such talk, according to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports 1 (on Twitter). Leonhard says that his agent is talking with clubs, just as he does every offseason when he’s not under contract, and says a deal isn’t imminent.

Leonhard, who has nine NFL seasons to his credit and 67 career starts, spent last season with the Bills and recorded five pass deflections, four interceptions, and 30 tackles. The 31-year-old is a native of Tony, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin, so it stands to reason that he would be excited to join up with the Packers. As of right now, however, it sounds like a homecoming is far from guaranteed.

Leonhard has 302 tackles and 12 interceptions over the course of his career with the Bills, Jets, and Broncos. The Packers already have safeties Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the fold, so it’s unclear how much interest they might have in Leonhard. One would have expected Browns coach Mike Pettine, who has coached Leonhard with three different teams, to come calling, but it doesn’t appear that has happened yet.

In today’s interview, Leonhard also said that he plans to make 2014 his final NFL season, tweets Marvez.

NFC North Links: Lions, Packers, Vikings

The squad likely won’t set any records, but the Lions have quietly built a solid secondary. As Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press writes, the team’s defensive backfield consists of a former All-Pro (Rashean Mathis), a former Super Bowl champion (James Ihedigbo), a talented former second-rounder (Darius Slay) and perhaps the most talented player of the bunch (Glover Quin). With that depth, the Lions should improve a passing defense that allowed the fifth-most passing yards in the NFC last season.

However, the team looked to have a solid secondary entering last season but struggled initially. Mathis, the oldest of the group, understands that the group has to be ready from day one.

“More of everything,” he said. “More consistency regardless of what coverage we’re in, what technique we’re in, we’re just going to be consistent and that means a lot, that means a lot.

“If we’re press, the ball is ours just as much as it’s theirs. If we’re (off-man coverage), same thing goes. Regardless of what technique we’re showing we’re just going to be more consistent. We didn’t start off well, but we finished well. So to start better is a good thing. To finish how we did last year, we want to finish even better. And we have the tools to do so.”

Let’s check out some more notes from the NFC North…

  • Free agent safety Jim Leonhard told WQOW-TV (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com) that he’s talked to the Packers about joining the team.They’re a great organization,” Leonhard said. “I’d love to play for them but it hasn’t worked out up to now. You never know what can happen in the future, but we’ll see.”
  • In his recent Packers mailbag, ESPN.com writer Rob Demovsky said that it’s “a good bet that (Jordy) Nelson‘s deal will get done well before (Ted) Thompson‘s.” Packer president Mark Murphy previously said that extending Thompson is a “top priority.” However, Nelson and his expiring contract are likely higher on the front office’s check list.
  • Andre Johnson and the Vikings don’t “seem like a good fit,” opines ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling. The writer points out the that team already has a 30-year-old receiver in Greg Jennings, and a Johnson acquisition may reduce Cordarrelle Patterson‘s role.