Leighton Vander Esch

NFC East Notes: Shurmur, Vander Esch, Eagles

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur is clearly on the hot seat, and everything we have heard this year suggests that he could be fired at season’s end. And as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post writes, the sentiment for bringing Shurmur back for the 2020 season is dimming within the organization because there is simply no concrete reason to suggest that he should be retained. Previous reports indicated that Shurmur could keep his job simply for the sake of giving young QB Daniel Jones some continuity, but Schwartz says the cons of keeping Shurmur outweigh that potential pro.

Schwartz does not offer an update on Big Blue’s plans for GM Dave Gettleman, and the fact that the Giants have historically practiced patience with their GMs and knew that they were tasking Gettleman with a rebuilding job could mean that he is safe for 2020. But will the team trust him to hire another HC since the Shurmur hire has flopped, or will ownership just clean house and start afresh? All options are definitely on the table.

Let’s take a swing around the NFC East:

  • Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has not played since November 17 due to a neck injury, and while there has been some improvement, the 23-year-old is still not ready to practice, as Todd Archer of ESPN.com writes. The club is not ready to put Vander Esch on IR just yet, but it sounds like that could be a possibility.
  • The Eagles may have lost WR Alshon Jeffery for the season, and as Bo Wulf and Zach Berman of The Athletic write, Nelson Agholor‘s status remains up in the air. Agholor sat out the team’s Monday night win with a knee injury, so Philly may need to make more than one WR roster move. Old friend Jordan Matthews just signed with the 49ers, so Berman believes it’s more likely that the team will promote one or two of their taxi squad wideouts than sign a free agent. Wulf, though, names a few players on other practice squads that the Eagles could poach.
  • Speaking of Jeffery, Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.com says the Eagles have no choice but to release the veteran wideout if they cannot find a trade partner for him (which seems highly unlikely). Because the team guaranteed Jeffery’s 2020 salary earlier this year in order to create more cap room, cutting Jeffery will result in an enormous dead cap number of over $26MM in 2020. That seems like an impossible pill to swallow, even if the club were to designate him as a post-June 1 cut to spread out the dead cap money over two years, but Shorr-Parks believes the team will indeed cut Jeffery if he cannot be traded.

Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch Out

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will not play this week against the Patriots and could miss substantially more time with a neck injury, according to Clarence Hill of the For Worth Star-Telegram. Vander Esch has faced medical questions surrounding his neck since his days in college. Losing Vander Esch would be a big hit to the Dallas defense.

While the injury is listed in a week to week manner, Hill notes in his story that Vander Esch is not scheduled for an MRI for another three weeks. Given the particular dangers with severe neck injuries and Vander Esch’s well-documented history of injury woes, Dallas should be especially cautious with the linebacker.

In his second NFL season, Vander Esch has lived up to his billing when healthy. After being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Vander Esch earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and has already accrued 72 tackles in just 9 games this season.

Without the Boise State alum, Dallas will likely turn to veteran linebacker Sean Lee to take over the team’s weak-side (WILL) linebacker position. Lee is far removed from his days as one of the best linebackers in football, but may be the most qualified backup in the NFL to help fill the gap.

NFC East Notes: Cowboys, Giants, Eagles

As the Cowboys prepare to take on the Giants this Monday at MetLife Stadium, the team will most likely be without defensive tackle Trysten Hill, who is expected to be inactive after falling asleep in a team meeting, according to Michael Gehlken of Dallasnews.com.

Hill’s issues began on October 24th during a team meeting with NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas before everyone departed for the bye. Hill fell asleep while Thomas was talking and was called out by the two-time NBA champion, who asked someone to wake him up. On Tuesday, Hill didn’t practice, and Jason Garrett sent him and a teammate home for tardiness.

Hill spoke publicly Saturday for the first time since the incidents.

“My teammates know I wasn’t asleep in the meeting,” Hill said. “The media is going to take it and run with it no matter what. I don’t even like to speak on things like that because that’s just creating a bigger target for myself. It’s the press. It’s the media. I know it for what it is. I was the first pick for the Dallas Cowboys. I understand that comes with the territory.”

When questioned by reporters, Garrett would go on to say: “Trysten’s a young player who needs to continue to learn to grow and understand how to be a professional. We’ve had a lot of players like that in the past. Part of our job is to help them grow that way.”

The 58th overall pick out of Central Florida has mostly been a disappointment this year for the Cowboys, playing in just four games and registering only one tackle.

Here are some more notes regarding the Cowboys and the rest of the NFC East:

  • The Cowboys are also expected to be without linebacker Leighton Vander Esch when they take on the Giants tomorrow night, despite being officially listed as questionable with a neck injury, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. He suffered the injury against the Eagles and the hope was the bye week would give him time to recover, but he continues to have soreness and range of motion issues. The former first-round pick, who has played well this season, went through three limited practices during the week but did not take any team snaps.
  • Sterling Shepard is back in concussion protocol and will not play against the Cowboys tomorrow night, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. Shepard had been cleared from the concussion protocol on Friday, but after reporting to the team on Saturday night that he wasn’t feeling well and still not feeling well on Sunday morning, he was placed back in the protocol. Shepard suffered his current concussion against the Vikings on October 6th and has missed the Giants‘ past three games. This is Shepard’s second concussion of the season, with the first being suffered after the Giants’ Week 1 loss to the Cowboys. Shepard, 26, was the Giants’ leading receiver before the injury, with 25 catches for 267 yards and a touchdown, and signed a four-year, $41MM contract extension with the team this past offseason, with $21.3MM in guarantees.
  • When questioned by reporters leading up to today’s tilt against the Bears, impending free agent Jordan Howard said he’s starting to see Philadelphia as a place he could stay for the long haul, relays Daniel Gallen of Pennlive.com. “I would love to be back,” Howard said. “I’m loving Philly, so I’d definitely love to be back. I’m loving my teammates and just the city, so I’d definitely love to be back.” Through eight games, the former Bear leads the Eagles with 100 carries for 443 yards and five touchdowns.

 

Extra Points: Gordon, Pats, Lee, Giants, Lions

In a development that’s sure to prompt thousands of early phone alarms Sunday morning, Melvin Gordon has been downgraded to questionable. The Chargers‘ top threat is now a true game-time decision to play against the Titans in London, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Considering this is an 8:30am CT game, this will obviously test the commitment of Gordon’s North American-based fantasy owners while putting the Bolts down one of their best players. Gordon was a limited participant in Friday’s practice, but as ESPN’s Eric Williams notes (on Twitter), wasn’t listed on the injury report until Saturday. A hamstring malady places Gordon’s availability for Week 7 in question. The Chargers took precautions against a Gordon absence by promoting Detrez Newsome from their practice squad. Since finishing his first two NFL seasons on IR, Gordon has played in 22 straight games and emerged as one of the league’s best backs.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • The Cowboys will have the services of Sean Lee on Sunday against the Redskins. Lee is not on Dallas’ injury report for its game against Washington. He missed the past three games because of a hamstring strain, opening the door for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch to log plenty of playing time. Vander Esch responded and enters Week 7 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall linebacker. Lee, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will split time in Dallas’ nickel package, Todd Archer of ESPN.com notes.
  • A disastrous Giants start will result in more changes to their maligned offensive line. Big Blue will bench free agent guard pickup Patrick Omameh and move center John Greco to guard on Monday night, Dan Duggan of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Former Chargers starting center Spencer Pulley will move into the role of Giants first-string snapper, Duggan adds. Omameh suffered a knee injury in practice this week, but Duggan notes this decision was made prior to that occurring. PFF slots the former Jaguars starter as its No. 67 guard (out of 73 full-time players at this position). He’s signed to a three-year, $15MM deal. Pulley, who started all 16 games for the Chargers last season, landed in New York via post-preseason waiver claim. Pulley will join Greco and right tackle Chad Wheeler as replacement starters for this year’s Giants front.
  • Despite logging three limited practices this week, Ziggy Ansah will not return for the Lions on Sunday. Detroit declared its top pass rusher out for a fifth straight game. The franchise-tagged defensive end said (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press) like he felt like he could play, but the Lions will continue to soldier on without him. He’s been trying to surmount a shoulder injury since exiting in Week 1 because of it.
  • T.J. Lang, however, will return to the Lions’ lineup. The veteran guard missed two games because of a concussion and sought medical advice from several doctors, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. While Lang’s return will be a welcome sight for Lions fans, Meinke does not expect Detroit to keep him around in 2019. The final year of Lang’s Lions deal comes with an $11.7MM cap hit. It would save the Lions $9MM if they cut Lang, for whom they authorized a $9.5MM-AAV deal in 2017.
  • Rob Gronkowski is almost certainly going to miss the Patriots-Bears game, with ankle and back trouble keeping the all-world tight end home after his team departed for Chicago. But the Patriots will also be without backup Jacob Hollister, the team announced. This leaves Dwayne Allen as the only healthy tight end available. The former Colt has one catch this season. The Pats still haven’t declared Gronk out, which would make for an interesting sequence of events were he to play without boarding the team plane.

Cowboys Sign 8 Draft Choices

The Cowboys now have all but one of their nine 2018 draft choices signed. Headlined by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas reached agreements with everyone but third-round wide receiver Michael Gallup on Friday, Todd Archer of ESPN.com reports. Here’s the full list of signees:

The structure of the Boise State product’s contract slightly held up the team’s proceedings with its top draft investment, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill (Twitter link), but he’s now signed up. Vander Esch will earn approximately $11.847MM and collect a $6.696MM signing bonus.

Vander Esch met with numerous teams that held picks in the middle of the first round, and despite needs at both pass-catching positions, the Cowboys selected the Mountain West Conference standout. Connor Williams also didn’t play a position of dire need, given Dallas’ three All-Pro linemen, but he’s now in the mix for the team’s left guard spot.

Despite being unsigned, Gallup is working out at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp on Friday. Many third-round picks around the league have yet to sign. This is an annual tradition due to the CBA’s gray area regarding third-rounders’ compensation.

NFL Draft Notes: Dolphins, Browns, Jets, Raiders, Bucs

The Dolphins are serious about moving back in the draft if the board operates as the team expects, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald writes.

Beasley says if the quarterbacks the team are targeting all go early, the team would be more than happy to trade back, pick up additional assets and target a linebacker like Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch.

Though the team did not have Vander Esch in for a pre-draft visit, Miami did meet with him at the Combine in February and not having a pre-draft visit did not stop it from selecting Charles Harris in 2017.

Trading back with the hopes of landing the Boise State standout could be a risky proposition. The quick linebacker has been one of the fastest rising names in the days leading up to Thursday’s NFL Draft.

Here’s more concerning the upcoming draft:

  • The MMQB’s Peter King released his first-round mock draft on Monday and has Sam Darnold pegged as the No. 1 pick to the Browns. King cites his pick on the team’s need to be safe and a source who is “someone I trust, who is very often right and is very well-connected, told me Sunday it’s not [Josh] Allen.” 
  • In the same mock draft, King tabbed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea to the Dolphins at No. 11. Miami was believed to be one of the teams looking to move up for a quarterback like Baker Mayfield. “I’ve started to think, through what I’ve heard in the pre-draft process, that Miami is more likely to stick with Ryan Tannehill (who has missed the last 19 games with injury) and continue the progress he was making with Adam Gase in the 2016 season.”
  • Unlike the Browns, who plan to have their drafted quarterback watch from the sidelines in 2018, the Jets are not opposed to having their top pick — should they draft a quarterback — starting from Day One, Jets head coach Todd Bowles tells Newsday’s Calvin Watkins“It depends on the progress,” Bowles said. “I’m not afraid to play young players at any position. You go in and compete and as you gain confidence in the system, understand what you’re doing and go through training camp.” New York is highly expected to take a signal-caller at No. 3.
  • The Buccaneers could trade back with a team looking to land a quarterback and pick up a running back or pass rusher with the move, Florida Football Insiders speculates. Though the Broncos and Colts have been heavily linked to trade back, the Bucs also make sense. Should they land in the middle to late in the first round, they could target LSU running back Derrius Guice or UT San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.
  • The Raiders are looking to upgrade their receiver depth and could target the position in the upcoming draft, Scott Bair of NBC Sports writes. Though it won’t likely look for a receiver at No. 10, several options like Christian Kirk and James Washington could be on the board in the second round.

La Canfora On Draft, Raiders, Miller, Patriots

UCLA tackle Kolton Miller could be a target for the Raiders if they trade down from the No. 10 overall pick, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com hears. However, they probably can’t move back all that far if they hope to land him. Evaluators and offensive line coaches that have spoken with JLC believe that Miller – and not Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey – is the best tackle in this year’s class. Plenty of teams in the teens are eyeing the 6’9″ prospect and McGlinchey is more likely to go in the late teens or early 20s, La Canfora hears. The Lions at No. 20 could be Miller’s floor as they would plug him in on the right side.

Here’s more draft buzz from JLC:

  • The Patriots are entertaining the possibility of moving up in the teens if the right quarterback falls, La Canfora writes. The Dolphins and Bills are exploring QBs at Nos. 11 and 12, so the Raiders could potentially find value by trading down from No. 10. Josh Rosen, in JLC’s estimation, appears to be the most likely of the big four QBs to slide. I’d agree with that assessment as the Browns, Giants, and Jets are reportedly not high on the UCLA product.
  • The Broncos say they are open to moving down from No. 5 and JLC believes that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is very much on their radar. The likely trade scenario, he believes, would see the Bills moving up to get Josh Rosen if Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield come off of the board in the top four. The Bills own the Nos. 12 and 22 picks in the draft.
  • The Bengals at No. 21 could be the floor for Arkansas center Frank Ragnow. Ragnow is climbing up boards around the league and has a good chance of going in the first round.
  • The Ravens are looking for a tight end, but they would rather not select one at No. 16. La Canfora hears that the Ravens, ideally, would like to move down 5-7 spots to get South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst. The Ravens can’t go too far, however, with the Saints sitting at No. 27.
  • Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who won’t turn 20 until after the draft, is a lock to go in the top 10, JLC hears. He also wouldn’t be shocked to see him go as high as No. 6 overall, depending on how the first five picks shake out.
  • Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan could go just outside the top 10 and JLC believes his worst case scenario is No. 26.
  • Florida state defensive lineman Josh Sweat could sneak into the late first round and seems very possible for the second round.

Draft Notes: Nelson, Evans, Patriots

The 2018 draft class is considered to be one of the deepest in recent memory with respect to quarterback talent, and the quarterbacks are understandably dominating draft-related stories. But there are plenty of other collegiate players with the potential to dominate at the next level, so let’s round up a few non-QB draft notes:

  • Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com believes there is a “decent” chance that the Giants trade down from their No. 2 overall selection, and if they do, he believes Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson would be the target. Nelson is widely-regarded as the safest bet in the draft.
  • Because there is so much QB talent in the draft, as many as six signal-callers could be taken before New England’s No. 23 overall pick rolls around. As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes, that could allow the Patriots to land the type of player it rarely gets the chance to select, as they are typically picking at the end of the first round. Reiss suggests that Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans could be the team’s target, as he would provide much-needed speed at the LB position.
  • Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne, an excellent run-stuffer who has the skills to become a quality pass-rusher as well, will meet with the Bengals tomorrow, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union thinks the Jaguars need another TE who can threaten the middle of the field to take attention off their outside receivers, and he believes Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews would be a good fit for Jacksonville’s No. 29 overall selection.
  • Florida DT Taven Bryan has been generating a lot of buzz lately, per Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, who tweets that the Gator could be a top-25 pick. Miller suggests the Falcons, who are working out another DT in N.C. State’s B.J. Hill, could be a fit.
  • Miller tweets that three offensive tackles are considered locks for Round 1: Texas’ Connor Williams, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, and UCLA’s Kolton Miller.
  • UCF’s Mike Hughes has a great deal of upside and is the No. 15 overall prospect in Daniel Jermiah’s most recent Top 50 rankings. However, Miller believes that, because of Hughes’ off-field concerns, he could be the fourth or fifth CB off the board (Twitter link).
  • There are four linebackers expected to be taken in the first round, per Miller (via Twitter): Evans, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, and Georgia’s Roquan Smith. Miller says Edmunds’ stock is rising rapidly and that he should be a top-10 selection.

NFL Draft Rumors: Vander Esch, Steelers, Bills

The latest NFL Draft news:

  • Linked to Leighton Vander Esch for several weeks this offseason, the Steelers met with the Boise State outside linebacker on Monday night, Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst reports. Pittsburgh has used first-round picks on either inside or outside ‘backers in four of its past five drafts. Three of those players remain on the team, but only two will be able to play this season. Ryan Shazier has been declared out as he attempts to recover from his frightening spine injury. Pauline wrote in March that Vander Esch won’t get past Pittsburgh at No. 28.
  • Next up for Vander Esch met the Cowboys on Wednesday morning, James Palmer of NFL.com tweets. After that, he has the Cardinals and every team picking between No. 12 to No. 24, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Aside from the aforementioned clubs, the teams picking from No. 12-24 are the Bills (twice), Redskins, Packers, Ravens, Chargers, Seahawks, Lions, Bengals, Bills, Patriots, and Panthers.
  • LSU pass-rusher Arden Key met with the Saints and Lions before his pro day on Wednesday and will visit with the Bengals on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Due to injuries, key only started in eight games last year, but he still finished out with 33 tackles, 5.5 for loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. He is widely projected to be a first round pick later this month.

NFL Draft Rumors: Griffin, Lions, Jets

UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin did wonders for his draft stock by running a 4.38 second 40-yard-dash, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) reports. Griffin is getting considerable buzz in Indianapolis and one head coach remarked to Rapoport that Griffin may have put himself in consideration as a fourth-round pick. Teams were wary about Griffin’s ability to play at the next level because of his amputated left hand. They’re looking at him in a whole new light now, though Rapoport says that evaluators are now going back to the tape to see if Griffin plays as fast as he looked at the combine. Griffin’s 4.38 was the fastest recorded time for a linebacker at the combine in more than a decade.

Here’s more on the NFL Draft:

  • Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen are all on the rise after strong showings in the combine, Rapoport reports (on Twitter). Allen was once viewed as a second-tier QB in this year’s draft, behind USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. There’s no longer a clear consensus on the order of this year’s top signal callers with talk that Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are climbing boards league-wide.
  • We’ve been hearing a lot about Vander Esch’s rise in particular in recent weeks. LVE’s 4.65 second 40-yard-dash was faster than expected and Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com hears that he could go as high as No. 14 when the Packers are called to the podium. Pauline’s understanding is that he won’t get past the Steelers at No. 28 and the Eagles, who pick at No. 32, have already come to the conclusion that he’ll be gone by then.
  • Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols is a name to watch for the Jets and Lions, according to Pauline. Nichols tweaked his hamstring during the 40-yard-dash and was unable to finish the drill, but he should be ready to go before his pro day on March 20.