Justin Hunter

AFC Notes: Broncos, Brady, Jets, Dunlap

Bill Musgrave, who was elevated to Broncos‘ offensive coordinator once Mike McCoy was dismissed after Week 10 of the 2017 campaign, could not effectuate many wholesale changes to the offense midseason. But as Mike Klis of 9News.com writes, Musgrave is installing an almost completely different offense this year. “Yeah, it’s pretty much all different,” Musgrave said.

Denver ranked 27th in the league in scoring last season, and everyone from the front office down believed that McCoy’s complex system was a big reason for that, although the team’s offense has been in a funk since the second half of the 2014 season. However, the Broncos hope that Case Keenum will bring much-needed stability to the quarterback position, and that Musgrave’s more streamlined offense — which was developed along with GM John Elway, head coach Vance Joseph, and personnel advisor Gary Kubiak — will lead to improved results in 2018.

Now let’s take look at a few other AFC notes and rumors:

  • Although Tom Brady has not announced when he will return to the Patriots, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, just like owner Robert Kraft, expects him to be present for the team’s mandatory minicamp this week. Brady’s backups, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling, have gotten increased work in Brady’s absence, and it remains unclear as to how Brady will be received by head coach Bill Belichick when he returns. While Brady will likely not have much trouble making up for lost time, his absence has created plenty of buzz in the NFL world, and it is not helping the already palpable tension between him and his coach.
  • Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says Patriots second-year TE Jacob Hollister, who made the team as a UDFA last year, has added some noticeable weight and strength and has looked good in OTAs. Hollister will compete for No. 3 TE reps with free agent signee Troy Niklas, who comes with a better draft pedigree but who has not done much in his first few professional seasons.
  • Jets CEO Christopher Johnson‘s pro-player stance on the national anthem issue will likely not be a major factor when it comes to luring free agents, but Rich Cimini of ESPN.com says it is suggestive of a player-friendly environment, which could be a selling point if a player has narrowed his choice to a couple of teams. In the same piece, Cimini notes that the team is rededicating itself to a physical and prominent running game, which free agent signee Isaiah Crowell will lead, and that Quincy Enunwa still expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
  • Steelers‘ 2018 second-round choice James Washington is the presumptive favorite to assume the team’s No. 3 WR job following the draft-day trade of Martavis Bryant. But as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, Justin Hunter — a former second-round pick of the Titans whose star never rose like some expected — has been getting a few first-team reps during this year’s OTAs, and he is making the most of them. Hunter, like Bryant, is a lanky deep threat capable of making plays downfield, and he hopes to become a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Both Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and as Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, the Bengals clearly want to keep Atkins around long-term. Whether or not they want to keep Dunlap could hinge not only on the performance of the young defensive lineman already on the roster, but on next year’s crop of rookies. 2019 is already being labeled “the year of the defensive lineman,” and if the 2019 crop of collegiate prospects lives up to its billing, Cincinnati could be perfectly content to let Dunlap walk. We learned yesterday that Dunlap would end his short-lived holdout and report to the team.
  • In the same piece linked above, Dehner names Bengals‘ 2018 fifth-round choice Darius Phillips as the late-round pick who has stood out the most thus far. Phillips has been deployed as a slot corner in spring practices and has looked sharp and instinctive. He also has been getting a shot at punt returner, as he is reportedly electric with the ball in his hands.

Steelers Re-Sign WR Justin Hunter

Justin Hunter is back with the Steelers, according to an announcement from the team. Terms of his deal were not disclosed. The Steelers also confirmed the re-signing of running back Stevan Ridley.

Hunter seemed to hold serious promise when he entered the league as a second round pick of the Titans in 2013. Since then, he has spent time with three other teams with the Steelers being the most recent of the bunch. He has managed just 14 catches with the Bills, Dolphins, and Steelers over the last two campaigns. His best season came most productive season came in 2014 when he had 28 catches for 498 yards and three scores with the Titans, though he did manage four TDs with Buffalo in 2016.

Hunter won’t have the easiest path towards making the Steelers’ final cut. Ideally, he’d be a No. 5 WR type, but he doesn’t offer much in the way of special teams value. He has played only four special teams snaps during his six-year career.

Behind star Antonio Brown, the Steelers also have Juju Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, and Darrius Heyward-Bey at wide receiver. As shown on Roster Resource, Trey Griffey (son of baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr), Justin Thomas, Marcus Tucker, and Tevin Jones are also among those looking to make the 53-man roster.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys To Host WR Allen Hurns

The Cowboys will meet with free agent wide receiver Allen Hurns, according to Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Hurns’ visit with Dallas will take place ahead of his summit with the Jets, as weather elements are keeping Hurns out of New York.

Dallas has yet to make major additions on either side of the ball (in fact, the club’s only offseason transaction was re-signing its long snapper), but it clearly wants to address its receiving corps. While the Cowboys have yet to make a decision on veteran Dez Bryant‘s fate, Jerry Jones & Co. reportedly made a push for Sammy Watkins before he signed with the Chiefs, and also expressed interest in complementary pass-catchers such as Deonte Thompson.

Hurns, 26, was excellent as Jacksonville’s No. 2 wide receiver in 2015, putting up 10 touchdowns behind top pass-catcher Allen Robinson. The former undrafted free agent landed a four-year, $40MM deal following that campaign, but Hurns only made it through two years before being released. A number of clubs, including the Bears, Bills, Saints, Texans, Jets, Raiders, and Panthers have also expressed interest in Hurns.

The Cowboys are searching for more weapons for quarterback Dak Prescott after Terrance Williams flopped in the first year of his new four year-deal. With Bryant seemingly on the roster for now, Dallas needs a quality No. 2 receiver. To that end, the Cowboys were also expected to meet with free agents Dontrelle Inman and Justin Hunter, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Inman, 29, broke out for 58 receptions and 810 yards with the Chargers in 2016, but he tumbled down the team’s depth chart following the return of a healthy Keenan Allen. Los Angeles shipped Inman to the Bears at mid-season for a conditional seventh-round pick, and he went to finish third among Chicago wideouts in receptions (23) and yards (334).

Hunter, meanwhile, wouldn’t qualify as any more than a No. 5 receiver, as he’s managed just 14 total receptions with three different teams over the past two years. Ideally, a back-end wideout such as Hunter would offer special teams value, but the former second-round pick has played only four special teams snaps during his six-year career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bridgewater, Steelers, Ravens

Mike Zimmer shed some light on Teddy Bridgewater‘s progress recently, revealing (via Jay Glazer of Fox Sports; Twitter link) there is a “possibility” the fourth-year quarterback returns for the Vikings this season. Zimmer reiterates Bridgewater has not been able to practice yet, further pointing to an uncertain future for the former starting quarterback.

CBA language is murky regarding what could happen if Bridgewater begins the season the Reserve/PUP list, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noting this, as written, would cause the passer’s contract to toll and keep him on the Vikings in 2018 as part of his rookie deal. While this subject has been broached a few times this offseason, Florio adds that this contract rule as applied would suggest Bridgewater would need to miss the entire season for his deal to be carried over onto Minnesota’s 2018 books. So, the former Louisville star returning from the PUP list this season could be pivotal for his career, even if Sam Bradford has a firm grip on the starting job.

This could be a drawn-out process for Bridgewater and the Vikings without a near-future resolution, but it’s definitely a worthwhile subplot to their season. Here’s the latest in relevant North-divisions subplots.

  • Several backups complemented Antonio Brown for the Steelers in the AFC championship game last season as injuries and unavailability mounted, and they’re almost all on the roster bubble now. Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey are not locks to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes. Coates, Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers are fighting for the final two spots — behind Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster, per Fittipaldo. The Steelers started Ayers, Hamilton and Heyward-Bey at least once apiece in their three-game playoff sojourn last season, but now that they are deeper, won’t need some of these players to return. Coates not being given a third year would be notable for the 2015 third-round pick, who’s been inconsistent, but the remainder of these players mostly saw action due to higher-level performers’ unavailability in 2016.
  • The Ravens aren’t as deep as their rivals at wideout, and injuries have limited the competition behind locks Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun writes. Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore and Chris Matthews and rookie UDFA Quincy Adeboyejo lead the competition for the final spots, per Zreibec. This would stand to put Griff Whalen and Keenan Reynolds on the outside looking in. Zreibec calls the recently re-signed Campanaro close to a roster lock but assigns slipping stock to Moore. Adeboyejo may see a knee injury dash his hopes at making the team.
  • Bengals DC Paul Guenther discussed the prospect of acquiring defensive end Chris Smith with player personnel director Duke Tobin, expressing support for a move that eventually came April 11 via trade from the Jaguars, Paul Dehner Jr. of cincinnati.com reports. Smith participated in only 311 defensive plays in three Jacksonville seasons, and did not suit up in 10 games last season, but looks to have made a good case for more playing time in Cincinnati, Dehner Jr. writes.
  • Kyle Long not set to play in the Bears‘ third preseason game — and likely not Chicago’s fourth exhibition tilt — makes the guard’s Week 1 status uncertain, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. The Bears are being cautious with their top guard after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in November 2016.

Steelers To Sign WR Justin Hunter

The Steelers have signed wide receiver Justin Hunter, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The former second-round pick has yet to justify his draft status but the Steelers are apparently intrigued by his athleticism and speed. Justin Hunter (vertical)

The Steelers now have eight wide receivers under contract (Antonio Brown, Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers, Canaan Severin, and Hunter), so something has got to give. Hunter probably has only a little bit of guaranteed cash on his deal or perhaps no guarantee, so it’s not a given that he’ll make the 53-man roster.

The Patriots were linked to Hunter last week, but they might have backed off their pursuit after installing Brandin Cooks at the top of their WR depth chart. Hunter closed out the year with the Bills, but we didn’t hear any word of them trying to retain him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Host WR Justin Hunter On Visit

Wide receiver Justin Hunter visited the Steelers on Monday, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The team also met with former Green Bay linebacker Jayrone ElliottJustin Hunter (vertical)

Hunter, a former second-round pick, has never lived up to expectations. The Titans’ old regime believed that he had the upside and talent to be a bonafide WR1 in the NFL. The new regime, led by GM Jon Robinson, cut him loose in September. From there, Hunter had stints with the Dolphins and Bills. In 13 games, he amassed ten catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns.

The Steelers presently have seven wide receivers under contract: Antonio Brown, Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers, and Canaan Severin. That’s a solid top five, so it’s possible that the Steelers are eyeing Hunter as a practice squad candidate. If that’s the case, then any potential deal between the Steelers and Hunter would probably take a while to go down. Before signing a taxi squad deal, Hunter will likely exhaust all other 53-man roster opportunities.

The Patriots were linked to Hunter last week, but it’s unclear if they’re still interested following the acquisition of Brandin Cooks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

WR Justin Hunter To Visit Patriots

The Patriots have been connected to a number of free agents, and we now have another wideout to add to the list. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that Justin Hunter is set to visit the organization today.

The former second-rounder joined the Bills early during the 2016 season after being waived by the Dolphins. In 12 games (five starts) with Buffalo, the receiver hauled in 1o catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns. The 25-year-old’s best season came in 2014 with the Titans, when he finished with 29 receptions, 498 yards, and three touchdowns.

Hunter certainly wouldn’t replace Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, or Malcolm Mitchell on the Patriots’ depth chart. The wideout could logically slide in as the team’s fifth receiver, or he could replace Danny Amendola as the fourth option.

Bills Claim Justin Hunter Off Waivers

The Bills claimed wide receiver Justin Hunter off waivers from the Dolphins, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. The team has since confirmed the move while announcing that fellow wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been placed on IRJustin Hunter (vertical)

[RELATED: Bills Place Sammy Watkins On IR]

Hunter came into the league with a ton of hype behind him as a second-round pick in the 2013 draft. Unfortunately, Hunter was never able to put it all together at the NFL level. This year, the new regime in Tennessee bounced Hunter (and other notable players from GM Ruston Webster‘s watch), leading him to be picked up by the Dolphins. However, on Wednesday, Miami opted to waive the wide receiver.

Hunter has an uninspiring 68 receptions and eight touchdowns in 35 career games (13 starts). While Hunter has averaged an impressive 16.8 yards per catch, that number dropped to a career-worst 12.0 on 22 grabs last season. The 2015 campaign was a short one for Hunter, who only appeared in nine games as a result of a mid-November fractured ankle.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Waive Justin Hunter

Justin Hunter‘s tenure with the Dolphins didn’t end up lasting long. The team waived the fourth-year wideout and will likely make a subsequent practice squad promotion, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald tweets.

A former Titans second-round pick, Hunter was a healthy scratch for the Dolphins last week and resided as the No. 6 wideout in Miami. The Fins did not use its Nos. 4-5 wideouts, rookies Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant, on offense, as Jackson notes (on Twitter), making Hunter’s place on the team somewhat superfluous.

Miami claimed Hunter after Tennessee waived him coming out of the preseason. He’s played in one game thus far and does not have a reception this season. The 6-foot-4 target could coax another team to claim him, or add him as a free agent, as his athleticism has always tantalized. But he’s now been waived twice this month. Hunter has 68 career catches for 1,116 yards and eight touchdowns.

Hunter took a pay cut earlier this month as well, with the Dolphins slashing his $1.1MM salary to $675K. He was coming off a season that ended with a fractured ankle and, of course, encountered a legal dust-up last summer for which he was found not guilty.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: 49ers, Browns, Saints, Fins, Lions

49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis wasn’t willing to speak at length Wednesday about last weekend’s retirement rumors, offering that his absence came down to “miscommunication” (via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com). “Just leave it and let it fester,” said Davis, who was a backup for the 49ers’ 28-0 win over the Rams on Monday. That was Davis’ first game since 2014, as the 26-year-old took a hiatus from football last season. It was also the only appearanced he hasn’t started in since the 49ers chose him in the first round of the 2010 draft. Davis had logged 71 consecutive starts entering Week 1.

More from around the NFL as Wednesday wraps up:

  • First-year Browns head coach Hue Jackson is at the helm of of a rebuilding team that many expect to be the NFL’s worst this season. That didn’t stop Jackson from making some bold declarations Wednesday. “The fans might not like me for a while, but they’re going to love me here pretty soon,” said Jackson (per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com). “We’re going to win a championship here for the Cleveland Browns,” he added. The Browns, who are 0-1 after a 29-10 loss in Philadelphia, haven’t won a championship since 1964, haven’t made the playoffs since 2003, and haven’t finished with more than seven victories in a season since 2007. If a turnaround comes, it’s going to take time, and Marla Ridnour of Ohio.com wonders if owner Jimmy Haslam is patient enough to stick with Jackson through the club’s growing pains. Although Haslam has fired three general managers, three head coaches, two presidents and a CEO since taking over the Browns in 2012, he offered a glowing assessment of Jackson on Wednesday. “Hue relates well to everybody in the building and keeps everybody in the building fired up, which is important because your head coach is and should be the face of the organization, so he does a great job there. For the first time since we’ve been here, everybody’s on the same page.”
  • The Saints worked out return man Jeff Henderson on Wednesday, according to Howard Balzer (Twitter link). Henderson, who tried to a earn a spot with the Chiefs in May, won a gold medal in the long jump at this year’s Olympics.
  • Wide receiver Justin Hunter has taken a pay cut since the Dolphins claimed him off waivers from the Titans earlier this month, tweets Field Yates of ESPN. Hunter’s new 2016 salary is $675K, down from the $1,114,656 he was supposed to rake in this season. The fourth-year man will have a chance to collect $350K in incentives, though, and he landed a $52,267 bonus.
  • Along with he previously reported Nate Washington, the Lions auditioned a pair of other receivers – Mekale McKay and Levi Norwood – and quarterback Philip Sims on Wednesday, per Balzer (Twitter link).
  • Agent Ben Dogra will serve a six-month suspension and pay $25K to the Gene Upshaw Players Assistance Trust for an undisclosed violation, reports Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Daily. The NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation & Discipline levied the punishment on Dogra, though it initially voted in January to revoke his certification and give him the right to re-apply after serving a three-year ban and paying a $200K fine. Dogra was formerly the co-CEO of Relatively Football, which relaunched as Independent Sports and Entertainment in June. It’s unclear if Dogra is with Independent, writes Mullen.