Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers moves are noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s AFC North transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.
Nick Mullens will not be without a team for long. The Browns are expected to sign the veteran backup quarterback, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.
This will be a practice squad addition, per Garafolo. Teams cannot officially set their practice squads until after today’s 3pm CT roster-finalization deadline, but Mullens is on track to have a gig in Cleveland soon.
Upon trading for Gardner Minshew late last week, the Eagles cut Mullens. The former San Francisco backup had made his way back from elbow surgery. After failing to solidify a job in Philadelphia, Mullens looks set to be Cleveland’s de facto third-string quarterback behind Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum. The Browns waived Kyle Lauletta on Monday.
A 2017 UDFA who spent time on the 49ers’ practice squad in 2017 and ’18, Mullens started eight games during the 2018 and ’20 seasons. He fared well for the 2018 team in Jimmy Garoppolo‘s absence, throwing 13 touchdown passes and averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, and had moments last season — prior to the elbow malady ending his slate early.
Mullens had spent the first four seasons of his career with the 49ers, seeing time in 19 games (16 starts). While San Francisco only went 5-11 in those 16 starts, Mullens still put up respectable numbers, completing 64.5-percent of his passes for 4,714 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions. That included a 2020 campaign where the 26-year-old tossed 12 touchdowns while guiding the 49ers to a 2-6 record in eight starts.
Mullens inked a one-year deal with the Eagles back in June, and he was expected to serve as a third quarterback behind Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco. However, the organization pivoted a bit this morning, acquiring Minshew from the Jaguars. As a result, Mullens earned his walking papers, making him a free agent.
Considering the quarterback’s starting experience, there’s a good chance Mullens finds another gig as a backup. In fact, several reporters (including Brian Costello of the New York Post and Ralph Vacchiano of SNY) speculate that Mullens could be an option for the Jets. Besides his connection to current head coach (and former 49ers defensive coordinator) RobertSaleh, Mullens is also familiar with current Jets offensive coordinator MikeLaFleur, who had spent the previous four years serving as San Francisco’s passing game coordinator. Plus, as Vacchiano tweets, the Jets got a recent up-close look at Mullens; the team participated in joint practices with the Eagles this week, and Mullens completed 10 of his 14 pass attempts in last night’s preseason contest.
Mullens landed a gig with the Eagles last month, joining the team after the Jets expressed interest. The former UDFA out of Southern Miss has made 16 career starts, but the Eagles are not planning a first- or second-string role for their recent addition.
The team will not hold a Mullens-Joe Flacco backup competition, with Bo Wulf of The Athletic noting the QB2 job will be Flacco’s (subscription required). This is assuming the Eagles go with Jalen Hurts, and not Flacco, as their starter. While this is the expectation, new HC Nick Sirianni has not anointed Hurts as such yet.
Flacco joined the Eagles — his fourth team in four years — on a one-year deal worth $3.5MM in March. The 36-year-old passer’s contract comes fully guaranteed. Philly gave Mullens a one-year, $920K deal that includes $200K guaranteed. Mullens arrived after the Eagles waived rookie UDFA Jamie Newmanduring their offseason program. The Eagles are not certain to carry three QBs this season, Wulf adds, injecting some uncertainty regarding Mullens’ roster spot.
Last season, Flacco completed a career-low 55% of his passes during a five-game Jets run (four starts). Granted, the veteran was helming one of the league’s worst offenses. The former Super Bowl MVP did stay healthy in 2020, after a neck injury ended his 2019 Broncos tenure and a 2018 hip injury ushered in the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson era. Despite the Eagles bringing in a rather experienced third-string QB, Flacco is on track to work unchallenged as the team’s backup.
There’s been a lot of talk this offseason about the Jets’ backup quarterbacks situation. Rookie second overall pick Zach Wilson is the presumptive starter, and there’s virtually nothing on the depth chart after him.
The only other two passers on the roster are Mike White and James Morgan, both young guys who have never thrown a regular season pass. That’s led many to speculate it’s only a matter of time before they add a veteran with more experience. To that end, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY writes that the Jets were believed to be interested in Nick Mullens, who was just signed by the Eagles on Monday. Mullens would’ve made a lot of sense due to spending so much time with new Jets coach Robert Saleh in San Francisco.
That being said, it certainly doesn’t sound like Saleh is in any rush to bring in an experienced backup. “To just think that just because they’re a veteran it’s going to help a quarterback, there’s a match that has to happen, there’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen,” Saleh said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post.
“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” he added. “I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if the crap hits the fan you have a veteran who has played football.”
It looks like Saleh might either want someone who knows Jets OC Mike LaFleur’s system already, or he’s sticking with his young guys. For what it’s worth, both Vacchiano and Costello highlight Bears quarterback Nick Foles as someone who has been linked to the Jets. Foles is an afterthought in Chicago, but Saleh’s statements don’t make it sound like he’s looking to trade a late-round pick for a vet who hasn’t played in the team’s system.
Mullens, 26, started out as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers in 2017. Since then, he’s made 16 total starts with a 25-22 TD-INT ratio and thrown for upwards of 4,440 yards. On the flipside, he has a 7.9 career yards-per-attempt figure. The 49ers chose to go in a different direction this offseason, choosing not to tender Mullens for $2.1MM. Jimmy Garoppolo will return as the likely starter — despite all the speculation to the contrary — with first-round pick Trey Lance waiting in the wings.
The Eagles, meanwhile, had a QB spot open after cutting undrafted free agent Jamie Newman. If the Eagles carry three QBs, Mullens could slot in as the QB3. There’s also the possibility that he outperforms Flacco, or even Hurts — new head coach Nick Sirianni says he’ll hold an open competition for the top job this summer.
Tendered as an ERFA last year, Mullens receiving a tender would mean he is not eligible for unrestricted free agency until 2022. However, it appears he will receive an early look at the true free agent market soon. Mullens will be free to sign with any team if not given a tender. Though, a return to the 49ers should not be ruled out. It just will not be for the tender price; an original-round tender is expected to cost $2.1MM.
As of early March, the 49ers’ plans at quarterback remain loosely Garoppolo-centric. John Lynch threw more support behind the team’s current QB1 recently. But the fifth-year 49ers GM indicated the team will likely add a veteran backup. That would leave Mullens in limbo. So does the presence of Josh Rosen. The 49ers poached the former No. 10 overall pick from the Buccaneers’ practice squad late last season. Under contract through 2021, Rosen would be a candidate to be San Francisco’s third-stringer as well.
A UDFA out of Southern Miss, Mullens has started 16 career games. He boasts a 25-22 TD-INT ratio but also has a 7.9 career yards-per-attempt figure. He journeyed through an interesting 2020. Mullens led a severely shorthanded 49ers team to a blowout win over the Giants in his first start last year — game in which he totaled 343 passing yards — but was benched the following week. Mullens later helped the 49ers to an upset win over the Rams but lost every other start he made.
For the second time in three years, K.J. Wright is a free agent. The longest-tenured Seahawks player has already signed three contracts with the franchise that drafted him. He is eager to ink a fourth.
“I’m having fun; I love this city. I love this team, so let’s make it happen,” Wright said of a return to Seattle, via ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson. “… (A return is) up to Pete (Carroll) and John (Schneider). They know how much I mean to this team. They know I’m a great teammate, a great leader and it would be a great investment — in my opinion — if they invest in K.J. and to bring him back into the building. You get what you pay for, and I bring a lot to the table still.”
Wright, 31, does not sound interested in a hometown discount, per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). The Seahawks have paired Wright and Bobby Wagner for nine seasons and used both as sub-package linebackers for most of the 2020 slate. But Seattle drafting Jordyn Brooks in last year’s first round could complicate a Wright return. Pro Football Focus rated Wright as its No. 8 overall ‘backer this past season.
Here is the latest from the NFC West:
The Seahawks were not planning to part ways with OC Brian Schottenheimer, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes an end-of-season meeting — in which Carroll reinforced his preference to focus on the run game — helped lead to the team changing play-callers. The Seahawks deviated in the season’s first half from Carroll’s run-centric vision but reverted more toward their usual setup down the stretch. It will be interesting to see how Seattle’s offense looks under new OC Shane Waldron, who spent five years in Washington and Los Angeles working under Sean McVay.
Markus Golden‘s sack total dropped from 10 in 2019 to 4.5 in 2020, and the Cardinals saw Haason Reddick complete a contract-year breakout. Still, the older Arizona edge rusher would like to return. “It gave me another shock of energy just being back home,” Golden said of the trade that sent him from the Giants to the Cards, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. “Being here where I know my heart is, it really matters to me to be in Arizona on the Cardinals.” Golden, who signed with the Giants in 2019 and stayed in New York via the rare UFA tender last year, is set for free agency for a third straight year.
Big expenses at the top of the Rams‘ payroll have forced the team to let several role players walk in recent offseasons. This year may be no exception. The Rams are unlikely to re-sign Josh Reynolds, Malcolm Brown or Gerald Everett, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The Rams having drafted contributors at these positions in 2020, and having two wideouts (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods) and a tight end (Tyler Higbee) signed long-term already, pointed this trio to free agency.
Jeff Wilson‘s one-year49ers extension can max out at $3.6MM, according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. Wilson will receive $2.05MM fully guaranteed, with another possible $1.55MM available via incentives. The incentives would give Wilson a chance to out-earn the low-end RFA tender price, which OverTheCap projects at $2.24MM for running backs. He is still due to be a 2022 UFA.
Nick Mullens underwent elbow surgery last month, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. This, however, was not a Tommy John operation, with Garafolo adding the 49ers backup’s injury was not as severe as initially feared. He is expected to be ready by training camp.
Both ran into multiple injuries this year, causing the second-year starters to miss significant time in what became a widespread injury-plagued 49ers season. Each player is under contract beyond this season, with Samuel’s rookie deal running through 2022 and Mostert’s pact expiring after next season.
The 49ers, however, are not opting to shut down all their injured skill-position talents. George Kittle has returned to practice, and Inman notes the All-Pro tight end is on pace to return against the Cardinals. Kittle, who has not played since suffering a foot fracture Nov. 1, would catch passes from his former college quarterback if he does return. The 49ers will start Iowa alum C.J. Beathard over Nick Mullenson Saturday.
A 2017 third-round pick, Beathard has worked as San Francisco’s third-string quarterback for much of his NFL tenure. His contract expires at season’s end. Mullens suffered what is believed to be ligament damage in his elbow against the Cowboys, Inman notes, and will likely need Tommy John surgery. He is due to be a restricted free agent in March.
Kittle will only play if he’s 100%, per Shanahan, who noted the 49ers will not shut down their star tight end if he is fully healthy — despite having been eliminated from playoff contention last week.
Mostert left Sunday’s game because of ankle trouble. The special-teamer-turned-RB1 sustained an MCL sprain in September and injured his ankle upon returning in October. Mostert, 28, was not able to surmount the latter malady. Mostert did end a second straight season averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry, however, though he only managed 104 totes this season. Samuel sustained a foot fracture before training camp but was able to return fairly early in the season. However, a hamstring injury hampered Samuel shortly after he returned. The 2019 second-round pick caught 33 passes for 391 yards over seven games this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo will resume practicing this week, but Shanahan said (via Inman) he would be surprised if doctors deem San Francisco’s QB1 100%. It is likely Beathard will handle the 49ers’ final two starts at quarterback. A high ankle sprain sidelined Garoppolo at multiple junctures this season. He played in just six games. Shanahan said last month the plan is for Garoppolo to return as the team’s starter in 2021, though the franchise will surely explore other options this offseason. Two years remain on Garoppolo’s contract, one the 49ers can move without incurring much dead money.