Mark Nzeocha

NFC West Notes: Baldwin, Shields, 49ers

Doug Baldwin is back at Seahawks practice after missing the preseason with a knee injury. As expected, Seattle’s top wide receiver plans on returning for Week 1, per the Associated Press. Baldwin may or may not have undergone a procedure for his sore left knee, the soon-to-be 30-year-old pass-catcher not denying an operation of some sort took place. The eighth-year Seahawk also expects to have to deal with knee pain this season, saying he’ll have to manage this issue throughout the year. The Seahawks are counting on Baldwin to reprise his role as Russell Wilson‘s favorite target, but while he was out, newcomers Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall logged extensive first-team time. But Baldwin remains Seattle’s centerpiece receiver and a key veteran after so many on defense were jettisoned this offseason.

Here’s the latest from the NFC West:

  • Sam Shields‘ comeback attempt may clear a key barrier. The former Packers starter is on track to make the Rams‘ 53-man roster, Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com writes. While he stands to be behind Los Angeles’ top three of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman, Shields making it back onto a roster would be a significant development considering how concussion issues nearly ended his career. The 30-year-old defender has not played since Week 1 of the 2016 season.
  • Under optimal circumstances, Mike Person may have been third in the running for the 49ers’ right guard job. Jonathan Cooper and Joshua Garnett are ex-first-rounders both are out-earning the 30-year-old UDFA who is attached to a league-minimum contract. But Person is the odds-on favorite to open the season with the starters, Kyle Shanahan said (via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, on Twitter). Despite Cooper’s one-year, $4.95MM contract, Person is competing to hold off Garnett, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic (on Twitter).
  • One of the 49ers’ Reuben Foster insurance policies may not make the roster. A 16-game Chargers starter between the 2016 and ’17 seasons, linebacker Korey Toomer is on the bubble going into the 49ers’ final preseason game, Barrows writes (subscription required). Foster’s return induced the 49ers to move Mark Nzeocha to outside ‘backer, where he has a chance to start, and Elijah Lee is also competing for a roster spot. Toomer may make the team’s initial 53-man roster, because of Foster’s two-game suspension, but Barrows notes he’s not a lock to be one of San Francisco’s backups this season.
  • Arthur Moats probably won’t be ready for the Cardinals’ regular-season opener because of an MCL issue.

Bay Area Notes: Melifonwu, Mack, Harold

Obi Melifonwu did not do much to draw praise from Jon Gruden this offseason, and the new Raiders coach cut bait on Reggie McKenzie‘s 2017 second-round pick. The Combine phenom out of UConn struggled to recover from his 2017 hip injury this offseason, and he recently suffered a setback that Vic Tafur of The Athletic notes (subscription required) was related to his hip problem. Melifonwu recently went to see a specialist, and Tafur adds he hasn’t been at the Raiders’ facility in more than a week. If no team claims Melifonwu, officially waived with an injury designation, the Raiders will take a $1.73MM dead-money hit, Tafur tweets. If not, the 6-foot-4 defensive back revert to Oakland’s IR. That is, unless an injury settlement is reached. He adds that neither last year’s Raiders staff nor this year’s were convinced Melifonwu was fully committed to football, believing that was going to result in Gruden cutting ties with him. Melifonwu, though, received first-team reps earlier this month before that setback. Another team could take a chance on him because of the athleticism he showed during his pre-draft workouts.

Here’s the latest out of northern California.

  • Khalil Mack remains at odds with the Raiders, and SI.com’s Albert Breer does not expect this situation to be resolved by Week 1. Although the Raiders provided hard no’s to teams inquiring about the former defensive player of the year’s trade availability, Breer notes there’s still no progress between the team and Mack. Guarantee structure strikes Breer as an issue, with cash flow serving as a potential problem for the Raiders. Derek Carr‘s landmark extension was heavily backloaded toward the Las Vegas years. Perhaps Mark Davis is trying to do the same with Mack.
  • Eli Harold lined up with the 49ers‘ starters throughout the offseason, but the now-Lions linebacker didn’t stay on the field during nickel sets and wasn’t a quality special-teamer, per Matt Barrows of The Athletic. Kyle Shanahan and his staff realized Harold wasn’t going to make the team, Barrows notes. Traded for a conditional 2020 seventh-rounder, Harold started for most of the past two seasons. However, his departure leaves just 12 49ers left from the Trent Baalke years. Fellow 2015 draftee Mark Nzeocha took Harold’s place with the starters at San Francisco practice Thursday, Barrows notes. A former Cowboys seventh-round pick, Nzeocha played in 10 games for the 49ers last season but has yet to start an NFL contest.
  • One of the Baalke-era 49ers, though, returned to the team this week. The 49ers re-signed defensive lineman Chris Jones after Cedric Thornton decided to retire. Jones will see reps at both defensive tackle spots while spending time at San Francisco’s “big end” position as well, DC Robert Saleh said (via Barrows, on Twitter). Jones last played in 2016 for the 49ers, but he started all six contests in which he participated.

49ers Re-Sign LB Mark Nzeocha

The 49ers have re-signed linebacker Mark Nzeocha to a one-year deal, the club announced today.Mark Nzeocha (Vertical)

Nzeocha had been scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason, and given his lack of playing time, San Francisco likely would have been secure in tendering Nzeocha at the original round level. Such a tender would have been non-guaranteed and cost roughly $1.908MM, so it’s fair to assume Nzeocha accepted less than that total on his new contract. In exchange, it’s possible Nzeocha was able to garner a small guarantee as part of his 2018 salary.

The 28-year-old Nzeocha spent two seasons in Dallas before joining the 49ers during the 2017 campaign. While he appeared in 10 games, he rarely played on defense (only nine snaps). Instead, Nzeocha saw most of his action on special teams, where he managed 38.7% playtime on a unit that ranked 11th in DVOA. He’ll likely return to that role next season, although there’s always a chance he could see more time on a young San Francisco defense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 9/25/17

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Green Bay Packers

  • Signed: LS Taybor Pepper
  • Signed off Cardinals‘ practice squad: OL Ulrick John
  • Placed on IR: LS Brett Goode

Indianapolis Colts

San Francisco 49ers

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 9/5/17

Today’s practice squad transactions:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

  • Signed: CB Tony McRae, C Matt Skura

Buffalo Bills

  • Signed: LB Eric Lee
  • Released: S B.T. Sanders, CB Marcus Sayles

Carolina Panthers

  • Signed: FB Alex Armah

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Houston Texans

  • Signed: LB LaTroy Lewis

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Signed: CB Raysean Pringle

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

  • Signed: TE Johnny Mundt, CB Kevin Peterson
  • Released: OL Michael Dunn, DL Louis Trinca-Pasat

New England Patriots

New York Giants

New York Jets

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

  • Signed: CB Kenneth Durden

Sunday NFL Transactions: NFC East

Listed below are the Sunday roster moves for the four NFC East teams. Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline yesterday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters, claiming players off waivers or signing guys who clear waivers. Those transactions for the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, and Redskins are noted below.

Additionally, as of 12:00pm CT today, teams can begin constructing their 10-man practice squads. You can check out our glossary entry on practice squads to brush up on those changes, as well as all the other guidelines that govern the 10-man units, whose players practice with the team but aren’t eligible to suit up on Sundays.

Here are Sunday’s NFC East transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day:

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

How The Cowboys Could Replace Rolando McClain

For the second consecutive season, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain will serve a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. In 2015, Dallas only had to survive without McClain for a quarter of the season, but given that McClain is facing a 10-game ban for 2016, the Cowboys will need to more seriously consider how they’re going to make up for the loss of their middle linebacker.

We’ve examined how Dallas might go about finding a replacement for McClain, looking at players already on the Cowboys’ roster, free agents sitting on the open market, and veterans who could be on the roster bubble with their respective clubs. Let’s dive in…

Internal options:

The primary name being floated to replace McClain in the middle is third-year linebacker Anthony Hitchens, whom the Cowboys selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Thing is, Hitchens was already a starter — he played on the inside in Anthony Hitchens (Vertical)McClain’s absence last year, and then moved to the outside, ultimately seeing action on about half of Dallas’ defensive snaps. So if Hitchens is being counted on to man the middle full-time, including in sub packages, the Cowboys would need to find a replacement at strong-side linebacker, meaning Kyle Wilber and/or Andrew Gachkar could see meaningful snaps after spending most of their respective careers as special teams players.

[RELATED: Updated Dallas Cowboys depth chart]

Gachkar, meanwhile, is another option to fill in at middle linebacker, and he has experience at the position. If chosen, Gachkar would likely be a two-down player, as Pro Football Focus’ grades have shown him to be effective against the run but a liability in pass coverage. The 27-year-old has never been a major defensive contributor — he was forced to step into the starting lineup when the Chargers suffered a variety of injuries at the linebacker position in 2014, but even then, he only played on 36.5% of San Diego’s defensive snaps.

The “wild card” in this race is second-year player Mark Nzeocha, according to Bryan Broaddus of the Cowboys’ website. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Nzeocha only appeared in two games during his rookie season, managing 14 snaps, all of which came on special teams. Extremely athletic, Nzeocha was all over the field at Wyoming, playing safety and all three linebacker positions. His learning curve might be steep, but he clearly has all the physical tools to play the position.

A source tells PFR that the Cowboys are, for the most part, satisfied with the current state of their linebacker room, and are looking forward to have their young players compete for playing time while McClain is suspended. Dallas, says the source, hasn’t shown a lot of interest in scouring the free agent market for substitutes, so one of Hitchens, Gachkar, or Nzeocha might be the favorite to earn significant snaps this fall.

Free agents:

Donald Butler — After selecting Denzel Perryman in 2015 and Joshua Perry in this year’s draft, the Chargers parted ways with Butler, who had spent the past five seasons with the club. At age-27, Butler is the youngest free agent option on this list, but he’s coming off the worst season of his career, having posted just 40 tackles during the 2016 campaign. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune accused Butler of “losing interest” after receiving a massive extension prior to the 2014 season, so perhaps some other clubs have made that same assessment.Justin Durant (vertical)

Justin Durant — Durant started 12 games for the Falcons last year, but prior to his time in Atlanta he spent two seasons with the Cowboys, so at the very least he’d offer some familiarity with Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli‘s playbook. Versatility is another point in Durant’s favor, as he played mostly inside linebacker with Atlanta and Detroit, roamed the middle during his Jacksonville tenure, and moved between both positions with the Cowboys.

A.J. Hawk — The Bengals signed Hawk to a two-year deal before the 2015 campaign, but despite injuries limiting fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict to just 10 games, Hawk rarely saw the field, playing on roughly a quarter of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps. Hawk recently told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that although he’s aware a club might not express interest until late in camp (or perhaps after the season begins), he’s staying in shape in the hopes of receiving a phone call.

David Hawthorne — Like Durant, Hawthorne offers positional versatility, having seen action at both inside and outside linebacker. In 2015, Hawthorne was shifted to the weak side in favor of rookie Stephone Anthony, but was then benched, declared inactive, and ultimately released after an unproductive season. Still, he’s got 83 career starts under his belt, and would presumably feel comfortable in the middle of the Dallas defense.

Keep reading for more external options that could be on the Cowboys’ radar…

Read more

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/18/15

Let’s check in on the latest minor signings, cuts, and other transactions from around the NFL….

  • The Broncos claimed center Sam Brenner off waivers from the Dolphins, according to Troy Renck of The Denver Post (on Twitter). To make room, Shelley Smith has been waived (link).

Earlier Updates:

  • The Cowboys, armed with several open spots on their 53-man roster, activated linebacker Mark Nzeocha from the non-football injury list and promoted cornerback Deji Olatoye from their practice squad, per David Helman of DallasCowboys.com (Twitter link). Even after adding Nzeocha, Olatoye, and running back Robert Turbin, Dallas has one opening left on its roster.
  • The Lions officially placed Josh Wilson on injured reserve today due to a right knee injury, signing cornerback Bill Bentley to take Wilson’s spot on the roster, according to a press release. Bentley, a Lions’ third-round pick in 2012, will help provide depth at a position that his been hit hard by injuries.
  • The Buccaneers filled one of the two openings on their 53-man roster today by signing defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, the team announced in a press release. It’s the second time during the 2015 regular season that Sidbury has been added to Tampa Bay’s active roster.
  • The Giants have elevated safety Cooper Taylor from their practice squad to their active roster, the team announced today (via Twitter). Taylor started the year on the team’s injured reserve list, but was removed from IR and eventually rejoined the club.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/11/15

Here are today’s minor signings, cuts, and other transactions from around the NFL, with any additional moves listed at the top of the page throughout the day:

Earlier updates:

  • The Vikings have activated cornerback Josh Robinson from the physically unable to perform list, waiving tight end Chase Ford in a corresponding roster move, writes Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. As Tomasson writes, Ford – who has been with Minnesota since 2012 – took the news well, pointing out that it’s “part of the game” and it’s not his first time being cut.
  • Having cut quarterback Kellen Moore, the Cowboys added linebacker Mark Nzeocha to their active roster, per Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link). Nzeocha, who began the season on the non-football injury list, will help add depth to a group of linebackers that has been affected by injuries.
  • The Cardinals have waived-injured cornerback Cariel Brooks, elevating cornerback Robert Nelson from their practice squad to fill the empty roster spot, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com (Twitter link). Brooks, who is dealing with an ankle issue, played exclusively on special teams during his limited action this season, so Nelson isn’t expected to have a major role either.
  • After placing him on the injured reserve list last weekend, Washington has now removed outside linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat from the roster entirely with an injury settlement, tweets Zac Boyer of the Washington Times.

PUP, NFI Players Soon Eligible To Practice

Week 6 of the NFL season will come to an end after Monday night’s game between the Giants and Eagles, and when teams begin preparing for Week 7, many clubs could be welcoming injured players back to practice. Six weeks into the NFL season, players who were placed on the physically unable to perform list or the non-football injury list prior to Week 1’s games will be eligible to return to the practice field.

Of course, just because those players are able to return to practice doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be healthy enough to do so. Players on the PUP list have a five-week window to begin practicing. Once they return to practice, they have three weeks to be added to their respective teams’ active rosters. In other words, a player currently on the PUP list could return to the field for his team’s Week 7 game, or could return as late as for his team’s Week 15 contest.

The rules for NFI players are similar to those for PUP players. If a player on either reserve list doesn’t return to practice or game action in time, his 2015 season will officially be over.

Here are the players currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list who can begin practicing as soon as this Tuesday:

And here are the players currently on their teams’ non-football injury or illness lists, who are also eligible to begin practicing this Tuesday:

  • Arizona Cardinals: WR Damond Powell
  • Buffalo Bills: CB Leodis McKelvin
  • Cincinnati Bengals: T Cedric Ogbuehi
  • Cleveland Browns: DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, TE Randall Telfer, RB Glenn Winston
  • Dallas Cowboys: LB Mark Nzeocha
  • Houston Texans: T David Quessenberry
  • Kansas City Chiefs: QB Tyler Bray
  • San Francisco 49ers: WR DeAndre Smelter
  • Seattle Seahawks: DT Jesse Williams

In addition to monitoring players on the PUP and NFI lists, it’s worth keeping an eye on players who have been placed on the injured reserve list with the designation to return. Teams can use this IR-DTR spot on one player per season, placing him on the injured reserve list without necessarily ruling him out for the season. As we explained in an earlier post, players given this designation can begin practicing after six weeks and can return after eight weeks.

That means that a player who was placed on IR-DTR prior to Week 1 can begin practicing on Tuesday, though he won’t be eligible to return to game action until Week 9. A player who was placed on IR-DTR after Week 1 will have to wait until next Tuesday – October 27 – to return to practice, while other IR-DTR players will have to wait until November to practice.

Here’s the list of players currently on IR-DTR who can begin practicing as soon as Tuesday: