Ahkello Witherspoon

Rams, CB Ahkello Witherspoon Agree To Deal

The Rams are set to add a veteran presence to their secondary. Los Angeles is signing Ahkello Witherspoon, as first reported by Jordan Schultz of the Score (Twitter link). The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue adds (via Twitter) that it is a one-year deal.

The 28-year-old began his career in San Francisco, starting 33 of 47 contests there. His performance with the 49ers eventually led him to Pittsburgh in 2021, where he was a key member of the team’s secondary. Expectations were high heading into the following campaign, but things did not go according to plan.

Witherspoon was limited to just four games played in 2022 due to hamstring injuries. Despite having recently signed a two-year extension in Pittsburgh, he was released last month. That left the former third-rounder in search of a new home, and the Rams could represent an intriguing opportunity for him to rebuild his value.

In an offseason filled with cost-shedding moves, Los Angeles has seen a number of corners depart in one form or another. The Jalen Ramsey trade created a signficant vacancy on the backend, and David Long signed with the Raiders as part of the latter team’s efforts to re-tool their secondary. 2022 Rams contributors Troy Hill and Grant Haley remain unsigned, while special teamer Shaun Jolly was re-upped.

Witherspoon started all four of his Steelers appearances last season, recording one interception and a pair of pass deflections. His coverage statistics in terms of completion percentage and passer rating allowed were the worst of his career, however, which helped inform Pittsburgh’s decision to move on and contributed to the Colorado alum’s wait on the open market. In Los Angeles, he should compete for signficant playing time.

The Rams lack experience at the CB spot heading into 2023, a season in which plenty of expectations will be placed on recent draftees Robert Rochell and Cobie Durant. The team’s only investment at the position in this year’s sizeable draft class was sixth-rounder Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. At 6-2, Witherspoon will provide not only a veteran presence but also length among the Rams’ cornerbacks contingent.

L.A. ranked top-10 in interceptions last season, but the team struggled as a whole against the pass in their underwhelming Super Bowl defense. Witherspoon will aim to assist their new-look secondary in taking a needed step forward, while remaining healthy and boosting his free agent stock along with way.

Steelers To Release CB Ahkello Witherspoon

Following an injury-plagued season, Ahkello Witherspoon will be in search of a new team. The Steelers informed the veteran cornerback they are releasing him, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

This comes a week after the team parted ways with Arthur Maulet. Acquired via trade from the Seahawks in 2021, Witherspoon worked as a Steelers starter — when healthy. But hamstring trouble nagged Witherspoon for much of last season, continuing a trend. The Steelers will create $4MM in cap space by making this move, bringing them up to more than $12MM in total.

A former 49ers third-round pick, Witherspoon signed a two-year extension worth $8MM with the Steelers in 2022. That deal, which came just as the team let Joe Haden hit free agency (a path that preceded the veteran’s retirement), included starter expectations. Witherspoon, 27, started four games last season. But his hamstring issues led to 13 missed games. And the lost season will lead Witherspoon back to free agency.

Witherspoon hit the market in 2021, signing a one-year, $4MM deal with the Seahawks. But Seattle traded the 6-foot-2 cover man to Pittsburgh before he suited up in a regular-season game for the team. Witherspoon generated extensive interest in 2021, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as a top-20 corner that year and in 2020. But unavailability has dogged the Colorado alum for many years. Witherspoon has not played in more than 11 games since the 2018 season and has never played more than 14 games in a single NFL campaign.

Following their Haden separation and their then-record-setting Minkah Fitzpatrick extension, the Steelers committed to a lower-cost setup at corner last year. Witherspoon and Levi Wallace were attached to $4MM-per-year deals, and Cameron Sutton finished out a two-year, $9MM pact. Witherspoon went down in Week 3, returned to action in a blowout loss to the Eagles — a game that featured four Philly aerial strikes of at least 27 yards. The Steelers benched Witherspoon during that game, and he did not play again last season.

The Steelers have made major changes at corner this offseason. They signed All-Decade-teamer Patrick Peterson and used a second-round pick to add Joey Porter Jr. Veteran slot player Chandon Sullivan is also in the fold. Wallace remains on the team, as does spot starter James Pierre. The team also signed XFLer Luq Barcoo earlier this week.

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.