Ahmad Gardner

Jets Sign Round 1 CB Sauce Gardner

The first of the Jets’ draft picks is under contract, with the team leading off its 2022 round of pick signings by inking Sauce Gardner to his four-year rookie accord Saturday.

Gardner’s deal includes the customary fifth-year option, giving the Jets a half-decade to determine his path. Gardner living up to his draft slot would mean a monster extension one day, and Gang Green would likely be fine with this outcome. For at least three seasons, however, Gardner will be tied to his rookie contract. Gardner’s four-year deal is worth a fully guaranteed $38.7MM, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets.

The team has swung and missed on a few cornerbacks in recent years — from its second Darrelle Revis contract to Trumaine Johnson‘s deal — and largely opted against notable investments at the position under GM Joe Douglas. That changed this year, when the team used the No. 4 overall pick on Gardner, who did not allow a touchdown while in coverage at Cincinnati. Gardner was a key reason Cincinnati broke the Group of Five barrier by earning a College Football Playoff slot, leading a brigade of Bearcats in being drafted last week. Gardner, 21, intercepted nine passes during his three-year career at the American Athletic Conference school.

New York’s Gardner pick ran counter to the way Robert Saleh‘s defenses were staffed in San Francisco and how Seattle fills its cornerback posts, with each team preferring to bet on mid- or lower-level corner investments rather than use top draft capital on the position. But the Jets ranked last defensively in both yards and points allowed in Saleh’s debut. They have both added Gardner in the draft and signed ex-49er and Seahawk D.J. Reed to address the previously understaffed position.

Jets Take CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner At No. 4

“Sauce” is heading to New York. Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner has been selected by the Jets at No. 4.

Armed with a pair of first-round picks and a number of holes on their roster, it was uncertain what direction the Jets would go in at No. 4. Ultimately, they landed on one of the draft’s top cornerbacks, exactly one pick after the first player at that position went off the board.

Gardner is one of the draft’s top prospects, and for good reason. Standing at 6-foot-3, the cornerback ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, and after allowing only 6.6 yards per reception last season, he earned consensus All-American and conference Defensive Player of the Year. In 33 games with Cincinnati, the cornerback had nine interceptions.

Naturally, Sauce was connected to a number of teams throughout the pre-draft process. There was a prevailing sentiment that Sauce wouldn’t get past the Giants at No. 7. Instead, he didn’t get past the other New York squad at No. 4.

Gardner should be a day-one starter for the Jets thanks to his elite length and speed. Last year, the Jets were the third-worst team against the pass, allowing 259.4 yards per game and collecting just seven INTs. Some pundits believed that the Jets would select an offensive lineman to pair with 2021 first-round QB Zach Wilson. Instead, the Cincinnati cornerback was too good to pass up, and the Jets now have a mainstay in their secondary for years to come.

Giants Eyeing Sauce Gardner, Ikem Ekwonu?

While the Giants are still open to trading out of one of their top-10 draft slots, plans on how the team will proceed if they stay at those spots might be emerging.

Connected to tackles at No. 5 throughout the pre-draft process, the Giants are believed to have cornerback Ahmad Gardner as their most universally approved prospect, the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy tweets. The Giants were connected to “Sauce” back in March and hosted the Cincinnati cover man on a visit.

As for their tackle preference, Charles Cross was the blocker most closely connected to the team in the days leading up to the draft. But Dunleavy adds Ikem Ekwonu is believed to be the team’s highest-ranked tackle — ahead of Cross and Evan Neal, respectively. The NFL smokescreen window obviously remains open, but both Gardner and Ekwonu would make sense for the Giants.

Ekwonu, who has played guard as well, has been connected to the Jaguars with the No. 1 pick. But Jacksonville is still viewed as likelier to take a defensive lineman to start the draft. The Jags and Lions going D-line would open the door to the Jets (No. 4) and Giants having corners and top-tier tackles on the board. The Giants had sizable presences at Ekwonu, Cross and Neal’s pro days.

The Texans have been the top five’s least discussed team, possessing a bevy of needs. Houston has, however, been connected to corners in the days leading up to the draft. Derek Stingley Jr. should be considered the favorite to go third, Dunleavy adds (on Twitter). This is not the first Texans-Stingley connection to surface. Since Lovie Smith‘s comments about his team’s need at corner, the Texans have been tied to the LSU and Cincinnati standouts. Stingley going third would likely leave the Jets with their pick of Gardner, the draft’s top tackles and this class’ third- and fourth-best D-linemen — generally believed to be Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jermaine Johnson.

The Giants have a need at right tackle — where Ekwonu, Cross or Neal would presumably step in as a Day 1 starter — but also are preparing to move James Bradberry‘s $21MM cap number off their books. Big Blue’s top corner for the past two seasons, Bradberry has no ties to the current regime and is going into an expensive contract year. Gardner would be an immediate replacement on a much cheaper deal. The Jets, who have also been linked to Garnder, could spoil any Giants plans here. But the NFC’s New York franchise might be OK with multiple prospects at 5.

Texans Eyeing OT, CB At No. 3?

While there is still plenty of debate regarding who will hear their name called first in this week’s draft, the Texans represent an interesting focal point with the third overall pick. Two of the top edge rushers are likely to be gone by the time they make that selection, but they will have a number of options, including at offensive tackle and cornerback. 

While general manager Nick Caserio has expressed a willingness to trade down from that slot, it is expected no team will move up into the top-five this year. That will leave them, in all likelihood, with the decision between Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu if they elect to pick their highest-rated offensive linemen. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports that the team has been “connected to Neal dating back to the end of the college football season”, leading in part to the plethora of mock drafts linking the two.

On the other hand, the class’ top corners remain in consideration. It was reported last week that Ahmad Gardner could end up being the team’s preferred selection. Given their stated desire to invest more in the position, that wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. What could raise some eyebrows is the team’s apparent preference of Derek Stingley Jr. over Gardner as the top corner. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports (on Twitter) that the Texans have done a significant amount of homework on the LSU alum; likewise, ESPN’s Todd McShay adds that Stingley is believed to be higher on Houston’s board than Gardner.

An edge rusher such as Kayvon Thibodeaux cannot be completely ruled out at No. 3, but a tackle or corner seems to be the more likely scenario at this point. In a year dominated by uncertainty, though, which prospect at those positions Houston will lean towards will remain to be seen until Thursday night.

Latest On Jets’ First-Round Plans

An edge rusher-heavy 2022 class has seen Aidan Hutchinson, Travon Walker and Kayvon Thibodeaux overshadow Jermaine Johnson. But the Florida State defensive end is gaining steam to come off the board earlier than expected.

Johnson is tracking toward being a top-10 lock, Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com tweets, noting some view the 254-pound defender as this class’ top pass rusher. Johnson seems to have the Jets’ attention, and they could make the move with the first of their two top-10 picks.

GM Joe Douglas is a fan, according to The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, who adds Johnson is a better bet to come off the board fourth overall than Kayvon Thibodeaux (Twitter link). Several around the league believe Johnson has the edge on Thibodeaux with the Jets, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler adds (via Twitter). The Jets had what is believed to be a good meeting with Thibodeaux recently, and the Oregon product appeared to be re-establishing some of the value he had lost during the pre-draft process. This latest round of reports, including one that pitted the coaches against the front office regarding Thibodeaux, would go against that.

Walker’s ex-teammate at Georgia, Johnson transferred to Florida State in 2021 and had his best season. Johnson registered 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss with the Seminoles. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah ranks Johnson ninth in this class; ESPN slots him 10th. Thibodeaux comes in ahead on both hierarchies, but attitude and effort concerns have dinged the former No. 1 overall prospect throughout the draft buildup.

If defensive end is not the direction Gang Green goes at No. 4, Ikem Ekwonu and Ahmad Gardner come into play. “Persistent buzz” points the Jets toward the North Carolina State offensive lineman, SI.com’s Albert Breer said during an appearance on The Score 1260 (Twitter link). The Jets think “extremely highly” of Ekwonu, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com notes (video link). Ekwonu could slot at tackle or guard. For what it’s worth, no team has chosen a guard in the top four since the Cardinals took guard/tackle Leonard Davis second overall in 2001. Ekwonu would also serve as rather expensive, draft capital-wise, Mekhi Becton insurance.

Gardner-to-New York talk persists as well, ESPN.com’s Matt Miller tweets. Gardner was linked to the Jets weeks ago, but the Texans are a candidate to nab the Cincinnati prospect at 3. Houston doing that would seemingly put New York to an O-line-or-D-line decision. The Jets’ needs on the edge and at cornerback may outflank those on their O-line. They have drafted offensive linemen in the first round in each of the past two years, and the Jets’ defense ranked last in 2021. But the team using both of their top-1o picks on players who can help Zach Wilson, being linked closely to receivers at No. 10, would make sense as well.

Draft Rumors: Stingley, Jaguars, Alabama, Cine, Burks

According to Matt Miller of ESPN, Derek Stingley, Jr. is the hottest name in the 2022 NFL Draft right now. The LSU cornerback has long been considered one of the top-two cornerback prospects available, along with Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner. Miller claims that Stingley is trending as high as the top-three with the Lions or Texans rumored to be interested in him at No. 2 or 3 overall.

After a stellar freshman season, Stingley was easily viewed as the best cornerback that would be available by the 2022 Draft. But, after a subpar 2020 season and only appearing in three games last year, combined with another stellar season from Gardner, NFL teams have allowed a bit of room for Gardner to challenge as the best corner on the board. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Gardner ranked as the third-best prospect overall with Stingley at 15th, while Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Gardner at fifth overall with Stingley at 14th. Miller, though, seems to think Stingley won’t make it past the Seahawks at 9th overall on Thursday night.

Here are a few more notes for the upcoming Draft, starting with some speculation down in Duval:

  • Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke let it be known on Friday that Jacksonville is considering four players for their number one overall draft pick this Thursday, according to Charean Williams of NBC Sports. Many mock drafts have them going with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson or Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, but they’ve also had their name attached to Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal and NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. It’s hard to imagine any other names entering the conversation for Jacksonville’s top pick.
  • On their postseason run last year, college football powerhouse Alabama lost two of their top pass catchers in two of the biggest games of their season. John Metchie tore his ACL in the team’s SEC Championship victory over Georgia on December 4th. A little over a month later, Jameson Williams tore his ACL in the team’s National Championship game loss to Georgia on January 10th. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the two are progressing impressively in their recoveries, with that opinion being echoed by the NFL teams who have looked into their medical information. They may both be on track to play in the upcoming season, depending on how conservative of a team they end up with. The important thing, though, is that, while their stock may have been affected a bit by injury, they are both fully expected to hear their names called next week.
  • Georgie safety Lewis Cine visited with the Buccaneers this week, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN. Cine led the Bulldogs in tackles and passes broken up for the season last year en route to being named the defensive MVP of the team’s National Championship victory over Alabama. According to Laine, when asked if signing Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal precluded them from drafting a safety, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht simply replied, “No.”
  • According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks added two more teams to his list of visits earlier this week. Burks met with the Bears and Cardinals as he continues to trend in the first round. Read more about Burks in his NFL Draft Prospect Profile here.

CB Notes: Bills, Bradberry, Giants, Gardner, Texans, Jets, Jaguars, Browns, Ward

Losing Levi Wallace in free agency, the Bills have a cornerback need a week away from the draft. The two-time defending AFC East champions will be linked to corners early, but they are still looking into the veteran market. Brandon Beane confirmed the team has spoken with free agent corners, via The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia (on Twitter). While Stephon Gilmore is now off the board, several other accomplished vets remain available. The player Gilmore is set to replace in Indianapolis, Xavier Rhodes, is a free agent. So is Joe Haden, whom the Steelers appear to have replaced with Wallace. Buffalo has Taron Johnson as its slot cornerback, so boundary players would seemingly be the focus on the veteran front. Jackrabbit Jenkins‘ Titans contract expired, and Trae Waynes and Kyle Fuller loom as potential bounce-back candidates. Richard Sherman is set to turn 34 this year, but he has a career’s worth of high-end zone production.

Here is the latest from the cornerback scene:

  • Lovie Smith indicated his team needs cornerback help, and it might even come at No. 3 overall. Several teams believe Ahmad Gardner could be the Texans‘ choice at 3, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler tweets. Houston has also done extensive work on LSU’s Derek Stingley. Given where they are in the rebuilding process, the Texans make sense as a true best-player-available team. That would seemingly point to a tackle choice — be it Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu — but corner buzz has followed this team for a bit now.
  • Stingley played just 10 games between the 2020 and ’21 seasons, seeing injuries slow his momentum after a dominant freshman season. But the LSU product is creeping into the top-10 picture, with ESPN.com’s Matt Miller noting Stingley and Gardner are looking likely to each be top-10 selections (Twitter link). The 6-foot defender, per one evaluator who spoke to NBC Sports’ Peter King, has “the best feet of any corner I’ve ever seen.” Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent ESPN.com mock draft has Gardner going fourth to the Jets and Stingley going 12th to the Vikings. The Jaguars and Jets hosted Stingley on visits this week, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
  • The Washington Huskies could see two corners go in the first round. With Trent McDuffie positioning himself as the draft’s third-best corner, Miller adds a few teams do not expect Kyler Gordon to reach Day 2 of the draft (Twitter link). ESPN ranks Gordon 31st overall, though Todd McShay has him going 42nd in he and Kiper’s latest mock. The 5-foot-11 defender played four seasons at Washington, but only two (2019 and ’21) involved more than three games.
  • New Giants GM Joe Schoen said a scenario exists where the Giants retain James Bradberry, via SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano (on Twitter). Entering the final year of his contract, Bradberry has long expected to be dealt. The Giants have discussed their No. 1 corner with teams, and while they have said an extension for the Dave Gettleman-era signee is possible, Bradberry’s $21.9MM cap number sits second on Big Blue’s payroll. The Giants ($6MM-plus in cap space) would save more than $11MM by designating Bradberry as a post-June 1 cut, if no team offers a draft pick to take on the veteran cover man’s $13.4MM base salary.
  • Denzel Ward‘s five-year, $100.5MM Browns extension includes $44.5MM fully guaranteed, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. That figure also leads all corners. In addition to his signing bonus, the Browns fully guaranteed Ward’s 2022 and ’23 base salaries ($1MM, $4MM, respectively). Ward’s 2024 base ($15.3MM) shifts from an injury guarantee to a full guarantee on Day 3 of the 2023 league year. That same structure is present for 2025, with that base salary ($13.5MM) already being guaranteed for injury. It becomes fully guaranteed on Day 3 of the 2024 league year.

Draft Rumors: Giants, Jets, Eagles, Lions, Seahawks, Cowboys, Browns

The Giants used a top-five pick on an offensive lineman in 2020, and Andrew Thomas now anchors their line. But the team entered the offseason with needs everywhere else up front. Even after adding multiple likely interior O-line starters in March, Big Blue has a vacancy at right tackle. This has led the Giants to do extensive prep on this draft’s top tackles, including Alabama’s Evan Neal, NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano notes. Other teams are penciling the Giants in to take a tackle at No. 5 or No. 7, a rival exec said, via Vacchiano. The Giants brought sizable contingents to the three top tackles’ pro days and have been previously linked to Cross, who rates behind Neal and Ekwonu.

With two picks in the top seven, it would surprise if one of the top three tackles remained on the board after the Giants’ second pick — assuming it is not traded. The Panthers, who hold the No. 6 pick, have eyed Ekwonu and Cross as well. That could put the Giants to the test with the first of their Round 1 choices, with other teams in front of them — namely the Texans and Jets — strong candidates to draft tackles as well. The Giants could exit the first round with a right tackle to join offseason additions Mark Glowinski and Jon Feliciano as part of their latest up-front overhaul.

Here is the latest from the draft realm:

  • Another candidate to join the Giants, Ahmad Gardner will pay them a visit and meet with several other teams ahead of the draft. The Cincinnati standout has emerged as the favorite to be the first cornerback taken, and ProFootballNetwork.com’s Aaron Wilson notes the Jets, Eagles, Lions and Seahawks join the Giants in scheduling “30” visits. The Giants and Jets are believed to have strong interest in Gardner, who seems unlikely to make it out of the top 10. The Jets hold the Nos. 4 and 10 picks.
  • The Cowboys brought in a few first-round prospects this week. Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd and Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green visited the Cowboys this week, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (all Twitter links). Lloyd and Davis rate as top-12 prospects, per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah. Barring freefalls or Dallas trading up from No. 24, they will be out of range. Green is viewed by Jeremiah and ESPN.com as the top guard available, being slotted just outside the top 25 by each. The Cowboys, who lost Connor Williams in free agency, are targeting O-linemen early.
  • One of this draft’s top wide receivers, Treylon Burks has met with a few teams already. In addition to Cowboys and Buccaneers summits, the Arkansas product spent time with the Browns and Jets this week, Wilson tweets. The Texans are up next. The Browns are an unrealistic Burks suitor, having traded their first-round pick (No. 13) to the Texans, who would loom as a potential destination thanks to one of the choices they acquired in the Deshaun Watson deal. The Jets have made their wide receiver interest fairly well known this offseason.
  • Although they do not have a first-round pick until 2025, the Browns still hold their second-rounder (No. 44) this year. In addition to their Friday Burks meeting, the Browns brought in North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. ESPN and Jeremiah slot the Division I-FCS product 45th. The 6-foot-4 pass catcher played with Trey Lance as a sophomore in 2019 and earned All-American acclaim in 2021.

Jets, Giants Eyeing CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner

It sounds like the two New York teams could be eyeing the best cornerback in the draft. According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv, both the Giants and Jets have “strong interest” in Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Both organizations will host the cornerback on a top-30 pre-draft visit.

The Giants and Jets were present for Gardner’s Pro Day last week, with the Giants going as far as to take the cornerback out for dinner. The two organizations also met with the player at the NFL scouting combine earlier this month. Of course, the Jets and Giants aren’t the only teams to show interest in Sauce; per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, the Eagles, Lions, and Seahawks will also host the player on a top-30 visit.

Gardner is one of the draft’s top prospects, and for good reason. Standing at 6-foot-3, the cornerback ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, and after allowing only 6.6 yards per reception last season, he earned consensus All-American and conference Defensive Player of the Year. In 33 games with Cincinnati, the cornerback had nine interceptions.

As Vacchiano notes, many believe Sauce won’t get past the Giants at No. 7. That means there’s little chance that he falls to the Jets at No. 10, so the team may need to use pick No. 4 if they hope to roster the best cornerback in the draft.

Cinci’s Desmond Ridder Declares For Draft

Quarterback Desmond Ridder said goodbye to his home of the past 5 years with a video posted to his Twitter account last night. While it seems obvious that a red-shirt senior is headed to the 2022 NFL Draft, because of the COVID-shortened season, Ridder had the option to return for a sixth year.

In an early mock draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay had Ridder as the fourth quarterback off the board and the 19th overall pick in the first round. The Kentucky native isn’t considered a consensus first-round pick, but he is consistently ranked as one of the 6 quarterbacks in the top-tier with Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Matt Corral (Mississippi), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Malik Willis (Liberty), and Carson Strong (Nevada).

As a three-star recruit out of St. Xavier in Louisville, Ridder chose Cincinnati over Eastern Kentucky and went on to amass a starting record for the Bearcats of 44-6. Ridder and his teammates did what most assumed was impossible when they became the first Group of 5 program to qualify for the 2022 College Football Playoff.

Ridder and cornerback Ahmad Gardner are striving to become the first Bearcats taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since defensive lineman Bob Bell was taken 21st overall in 1971. Regardless, Ridder has certainly made a name for himself as the University of Cincinnati’s winningest quarterback of all time, ranking 3rd overall in the statistic for all college football with his 44 wins trailing only Boise State’s Kellen Moore (50) and Texas’s Colt McCoy (45).