Ahkello Witherspoon

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/28/22

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Detroit Lions

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders 

Steelers Activate DE DeMarvin Leal, Place CB Ahkello Witherspoon On IR

Rookie third-round defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal was activated today from injured reserve, according to the Steelers’ official Twitter account. To make room for Leal on the active roster, Pittsburgh assigned injured cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to IR.

Leal needed a moment to adjust to the game at the NFL-level but was slowly carving out a role for himself on the Steelers defense at the start of the season. Leal played fairly minimal snap shares in the team’s first three games. After being given more of an opportunity in a Week 4 loss to the Jets, Leal earned his first career start in a road game at Buffalo. A knee injury would force Leal to the IR and cause him to miss the next six games.

The Steelers defensive line is one of their deepest position groups. Leal will likely be worked in slowly as a rotation substitute for starters Larry Ogunjobi, Montravius Adams, and Cameron Heyward. He’ll compete with Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, and Isaiahh Loudermilk for those backup snaps. Leal might be able to get some additional run due to his ability as a pass rusher. With star edge rusher T.J. Watt and Malik Reed both questionable heading into this week’s matchup against the Falcons, Leal might hear his name called to go get after the quarterback.

Witherspoon has had a disappointing second season in Pittsburgh. Despite injuries keeping him out of nearly half the team’s games last year, Witherspoon started the first three games at cornerback for the Steelers this season. Since then, a hamstring injury has held him out of seven of the last eight games.

Listed as doubtful coming into this weekend, moving Witherspoon to IR doesn’t change anything in the team’s starting lineup, solely clearing a roster spot for Leal. Levi Wallace will continue to start in place of Witherspoon during his extended absence alongside Cameron Sutton.

Steelers Rule Out Minkah Fitzpatrick, Top 3 CBs For Week 6

Mike Tomlin‘s .500-or-better streak is facing perhaps its biggest threat yet. After the Steelers’ 38-3 loss to the Bills, they will be without nearly their entire starting secondary against the Buccaneers.

Pittsburgh ruled out Minkah Fitzpatrick with the knee injury he sustained in Buffalo and will also sit cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace against Tampa Bay. Hamstring injuries will sideline Sutton and Witherspoon, while Wallace suffered a concussion against his former team. Starting safety Terrell Edmunds missed Week 5 with a concussion but practiced fully all week.

Since the Steelers acquired Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins in September 2019, they have only been without him in one game — due to COVID-19 last season. Fitzpatrick played 96% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps last week. The team rewarded its two-time All-Pro this summer with a four-year, $72.99MM extension. The team re-signed Witherspoon and added Wallace — each on low-cost contracts.

Sutton and Wallace played against the Bills, while Witherspoon will miss a third straight game. The team started Arthur Maulet in place of Witherspoon in Buffalo; James Pierre is the team’s only other healthy corner on the 53-man roster. Former second-round picks Josh Jackson and Quincy Wilson reside on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, which houses four corners. Duke Dawson and second-year UDFA Mark Gilbert are on that 16-man P-squad. Still, this creates quite the advantageous spot for Tom Brady and his receiving corps.

The Steelers rank 30th in total defense and 26th in points allowed. They started 1-3 last season and began 1-4 during Ben Roethlisberger‘s 2019 injury season but rallied back to .500-or-better marks in each year. The only season in which the Steelers sat four games under .500 during Tomlin’s tenure came in 2013, when the team rallied back to 8-8.

Steelers Notes: Wormley, Leal, Wallace

Going into the 2021 NFL season, Steelers defensive tackle Chris Wormley had 3.5 career sacks from his time in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. After a fractured ankle landed nose tackle Tyson Alualu on injured reserve, Wormley took advantage of the increased playing time and broke out with seven sacks, good for third on the team behind T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward. He also reached career-highs in total tackles (51), tackles for loss (six), and quarterback hits (10).

Despite Wormley’s breakout season as a starter, the arrival of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi could force Wormley back into a reserve role, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. Pittsburgh will likely rely on Ogunjobi to be a more well-rounded lineman, as Wormley tends to lose battles off the snap on running plays. The Steelers defense allowed the most rushing yards of any team last season, and it looks like signing Ogunjobi is a move that will address that.

Here are a couple other notes from the Steel City’s roster breakdown:

  • Rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal is another player that could limit Wormley’s playing time. Just as Wormley had spent time as an end with the Ravens and a tackle with the Steelers, Leal provides the versatility to play both inside and outside on the defensive line. If he can impress in camp and the preseason, I’d expect Leal to play more at the start of the season and for the Steelers to lean on Wormley more as the season wears on longer than Leal is used to from 12-game college regular seasons. Otherwise, giving him a bit more time to get adjusted while keeping him fresh for some late-season playing time could be extremely effective, as well. The combination of Leal and Wormley as versatile, athletic defensive line options gives Pittsburgh a couple of possibilities that could really help its defensive line depth.
  • With Joe Haden departing Pittsburgh for free agency, the Steelers have two cornerbacks who could potentially replace Haden as the starter opposite Cameron Sutton next season. 2021 trade acquisition Ahkello Witherspoon showed a ton of promise to end last season, totaling three interceptions and nine passes defensed in a six-week span. Pittsburgh will likely give him the opportunity to build off of that production for a full season. This leaves free agent signing Levi Wallace as the probable No. 3 cornerback to start the year for the Steelers. During spring practices, Sutton and Witherspoon lined up with the first-team defense on the outside in normal alignments, but, in nickel and dime packages, Sutton would bump inside and Wallace would come in on the outside.

Steelers Not Seeking Outside Additions At CB, DL

This offseason has seen a number of changes on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers, leaving questions being asked at the cornerback and defensive line positions in particular. However, as detailed by Mark Kaboly of the Athletic (subscription required), the team is looking to internal options to fill important roles at those spots. 

The CB room includes, as Kaboly states, a number of complimentary players, such as a former third-rounders Ahkello Witherspoon and Cameron Sutton. The latter took on a much larger workload in 2022, playing over 1,000 snaps for the first time in his career. Pittsburgh also added former Bill Levi Wallace in free agency, giving them another consistent, starting-caliber member of the secondary.

The unit has lost a familiar face in veteran Joe Haden, who was reported to be on the way out earlier this offseason. On that point, Kaboly confirms that the Steelers “have shown no interest” in a reunion with the 33-year-old. Lacking an established No. 1 at the position, Kaboly reports that team nevertheless appears willing to “ride with what they have,” leaning on their elite pass rush.

Their front seven suffered a substantial loss as well, though, after the retirement of Stephon TuittThat leaves the team in need of a new starter along the defensive line, which should lead to an increased workload for Tyson Alualu. The 35-year-old played only two games in 2021 because of an ankle injury, but he has provided consistent rotational play throughout his career. Kaboly also names Chris Wormley as an incumbent in line for more snaps. The former Raven recorded a career-high seven sacks last year, but was also part of the reason Pittsburgh gave up a league-worst 146 yards per game on the ground. Recent draftees Isaiahh Loudermilk and DeMarvin Leal will feature in the d-line rotation as well.

This late in the offseason, the Steelers, like all teams, are essentially set at the top of their roster. While their defense still features the likes of T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, internal progress will need to be made at the front and backends of the unit if it is to help lead the team to another playoff berth.

Steelers To Re-Sign Ahkello Witherspoon

The Steelers are holding on to Ahkello Witherspoon. The cornerback has reached agreement with the team on a brand new two-year deal, according to a league source who spoke with Josina Anderson of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The deal is worth $8MM, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter).

[RELATED: Steelers Cut Joe Schobert]

While Witherspoon is staying put, the Steelers may be bracing for Joe Haden‘s departure. Haden is out-of-contract and in talks with other clubs and the Steelers have already added Levi Wallace on a low-cost deal. Haden, in theory, could still be brought back, but it’d have to be at something near the veteran’s minimum.

Witherspoon is not a world-beater but he did have some strong performances down the stretch of the 2021 season. He’s also got youth on his side as he’ll turn 27 early next week.

Last year, Witherspoon notched a new career with three interceptions and 15 total tackles in just nine games (three starts). If he’s healthy, he should be in line for more substantial work in 2022.

Steelers Re-Sign CB Maulet

The Steelers tied up one of their loose ends before the start of free agency this week, signing cornerback Arthur Maulet to a new two-year deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Maulet signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2017, spending most of his time in New Orleans on the practice squad but appearing in six games. After being waived in 2018, the Colts claimed Maulet off waivers. He played five games in Indianapolis, earning his first career start, before getting waived and re-signed to the Saints’ practice squad.

Maulet signed a reserve/future contract in 2019 with the Jets. In New York, Maulet started 11 games over two years splitting time at cornerback and strong safety. He recorded his first career interceptions in New York, reeling in one each year there, and recorded his first career sack in 2020.

In May 2021, the Steelers signed Maulet to a one-year, $990,000 deal. Maulet appeared in all but one game last year for the Steelers, earning two starts at cornerback. Maulet adds some much needed depth to the cornerback’s room in Pittsburgh, rejoining starter Cameron Sutton and back ups Tre Norwood, James Pierre, and Justin Layne. Starting cornerback Joe Haden and key back up Ahkello Witherspoon are also on their way to free agency.

Seahawks Trade Ahkello Witherspoon To Steelers

The Seahawks are trading cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to the Steelers (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). In exchange, the Steelers will send a 2023 fifth-round choice to Seattle.

Witherspoon left the rival 49ers to join the Seahawks in March. A third-round pick in the 2017 draft, Witherspoon turned in a strong rookie campaign for SF. Then, he regressed in his second pro season. He was benched several times in 2018, and he ultimately graded out as the worst full-time corner that year, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics.

He did show some signs of life in his platform season, however. Though he started just four games and appeared in only 32% of San Francisco’s defensive snaps in 2020 — both career-low marks — PFF considered him a top-10 corner in terms of coverage ability. In addition to the Seahawks, the Jets, Broncos, and Panthers also showed interest in Witherspoon. Now, he’ll try to fortify the Steelers’ secondary.

DB Rumors: Mills, Panthers, Seahawks, Colts

The Eagles moved Jalen Mills from cornerback to safety ahead of the 2020 offseason, when they re-signed him to a one-year contract. Mills began his first Patriots offseason at safety, but his new team has shuttled him back to his old job. Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips‘ early OTAs absences prompted the Pats to use Mills alongside Kyle Dugger at safety. But he spent the team’s final week of OTAs back at corner, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes. With Stephon Gilmore holding out, Mills played opposite J.C. Jackson at corner Monday, per Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required). Thirty-four of Mills’ 49 NFL starts have come at corner, including 15 in the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl-winning season. Gilmore and the Pats are not believed to be close on an extension, clouding his future with the team and complicating New England’s cornerback outlook.

Here are some additional updates from NFL secondaries:

  • A.J. Bouye broke out as an outside corner with the Texans and made the Pro Bowl as a boundary defender with the Jaguars. The Broncos used Bouye on the outside as well last season. The Panthers have a different plan. Carolina DC Phil Snow told Bouye the team needs him in the slot, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). After signing Bouye to a two-year, $7MM deal, the Panthers picked Jaycee Horn eighth overall. Horn and Donte Jackson are on track to be Carolina’s outside corners this season.
  • Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn underwent surgery for an injury that has bothered him since college. The second-year defender had what Matt Rhule described as a minor knee operation this offseason, but Carolina’s HC said the injury Chinn dealt with in 2020 had bothered him dating back to his Southern Illinois days (Twitter links via Person). Despite the injury, Chinn proved to be one of the NFL’s top rookies last season.
  • Richard Sherman surfaced on the Seahawks‘ radar recently, but he is taking his time on deciding his next team. The three-year 49ers corner did advise ex-teammate Ahkello Witherspoon to move to Seattle, however. The former Legion of Boom member told Witherspoon he would fit in well with the Seahawks, Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic notes. Witherspoon signed a one-year, $4MM contract with the Seahawks in March. A third-round 49ers pick in 2017, Witherspoon made a 30 visit to Seattle ahead of the draft four years ago.
  • The Cowboys did not use Reggie Robinson on defense in his rookie season, but they moved the 2020 fourth-round pick from cornerback to safety during training camp last year. While that change did not end up mattering during regular-season games, Robinson is now back at corner, Jon Machota of The Athletic notes.
  • Marvell Tell opted out of the 2020 season, but the former fifth-round pick is back at work with the Colts. Tell has joined the run of secondary position changes this offseason; the Colts have moved him from safety to corner, Stephen Holder of The Athletic writes. As a safety in 2019, Tell played 252 snaps and started one game. The Colts have crowded their cornerback contingent this offseason, re-signing both Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie. Both veterans are on one-year contracts. Tell’s rookie deal tolled from the COVID-19 opt-out; he is under contract through 2023.

Seahawks To Sign CB Ahkello Witherspoon

The 49ers have brought back two members of their huge class of free agent cornerbacks, but another appears headed to one of their top rivals. Ahkello Witherspoon is expected to sign with the Seahawks, according to veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). Per Matt Barrows of The Athletic, it will be a one-year pact for the Colorado product (Twitter link). Witherspoon will join a Seattle team that just lost Shaquill Griffin.

A third-round pick in the 2017 draft, Witherspoon turned in a strong rookie campaign, but he regressed in his second professional season. He was benched several times in 2018, and he ultimately graded out as the worst full-time corner that year, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics.

He did show some signs of life in his platform season, however. Though he started just four games and appeared in only 32% of San Francisco’s defensive snaps in 2020 — both career-low marks — PFF considered him a top-10 corner in terms of coverage ability. He is not a perfect replacement for Griffin, who agreed to a three-year, $40MM deal with the Jaguars earlier today, but he will come much cheaper.

According to Barrows, Witherspoon also generated interest from the Jets, Broncos, and Panthers, among other clubs. The ‘Hawks did get to see him up close quite a bit over the last four seasons, and they clearly liked what they saw.

Rory Parks contributed to this post.