Ahmad Gardner

Notable 2024 Pro Bowl Incentives

The NFL released the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters last night. While the annual All-Star event has lost some of its luster (and is eyeing a significant revamping in 2024), a Pro Bowl selection is still a significant accomplishment for many players…especially from a financial standpoint.

There were a number of Pro Bowlers whose selections were tied to contract incentives. We’ve collected some of the notable Pro Bowl incentives below:

Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick didn’t have a traditional Pro Bowl incentive, but his selection will still result in more money. Per Corry, Reddick’s 2024 base salary will increase by $500K (from $13.75MM to $14.25MM) thanks to the Pro Bowl selection.

A handful of former first-round picks also boosted the value of their fifth-year options by earning their first Pro Bowl nod (via Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus): Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton, Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Ravens offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum, Lions offensive lineman Penei Sewell, and Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon. Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain boosted the value of their fifth-round option to the maximum amount with a second Pro Bowl selection.

Beyond incentives, players also get some cash for just participating in the Pro Bowl event. As Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports writes, players on the winning team will earn $88K, while players on the losing team will get $44K. This even applies to Pro Bowl players who can’t participate since they’re playing in the Super Bowl.

Jets Rumors: Gardner, Colletto, Amos

Jets cornerback Ahmad Gardner may have only just finished his rookie season, but he’s already looking towards the future of his NFL career. A recent tweet from Vayner Sports agency announced that Sauce has made a change in his representation and is joining their “family.” While the move seems premature, with Gardner currently under contract through the 2026 season, assuming New York picks up his fifth-year option, Gardner’s early success makes the move much more reasonable.

Sauce only has one season under his belt, but in that one season, Gardner graded out as the best cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That assessment was backed up with a Pro Bowl selection, a first-team All-Pro selection, and a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. When you display that consensus of dominance in only your rookie year, it makes a bit of sense to start looking past your rookie contract.

Usually, teams can take advantage of their best young players being on rookie contracts. For an example, look no further than quarterback Lamar Jackson, who played an MVP season for the Ravens while only making $2.37MM per year. While the Jets would love nothing more than to continue paying Gardner $8.36MM per year under his rookie deal, the best cornerbacks in the league are starting to make north of $20MM per year. If Sauce continues to play like the best cornerback in the NFL, he’s going to want to get paid like it sooner rather than later. Switching agencies may be the move that gets that ball rolling.

Here are a few other rumors coming out of East Rutherford:

  • The 49ers won the lottery for Oregon State fullback Jack Colletto, who signed with San Francisco despite serious interest from the Jets and Dolphins, according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic. The thing is, the 49ers already have a fullback in Kyle Juszczyk, who has graded out as a top-two fullback in the league in six of the past seven years, according to PFF. San Francisco may intend for Colletto to be the successor to the 32-year-old Juszczyk, but if so, they’re going to need to find room for him on the roster. If they waive Colletto in hopes of signing him to the practice squad, they risk allowing one of his other suitors to swoop in and claim him off of waivers. They may also take the route Baltimore did years ago with kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik. For those who don’t remember, Vedvik had a standout preseason with the Ravens, but Baltimore was set with Justin Tucker and Sam Koch as their specialists at the time. They leveraged Vedvik’s success into a trade, converting their undrafted free agent into a fifth-round pick. San Francisco may be able to do the same, flaunting Colletto’s specialist abilities and enticing New York or Miami into a trade for the initially sought after fullback.
  • Earlier this month, the Jets signed safety Adrian Amos in free agency on what was reportedly a one-year deal worth up to $4MM. Thanks to ESPN’s Field Yates, we have a few more details on Amos’s new contract. The deal is initially worth only $1.75MM, consisting of a veteran minimum salary of $1.17MM and a $585k signing bonus. The rest of the value comes from a possible $2.25MM in incentives. $900k of the incentives are considered like to be earned, bumping his cap hit up to $2.65MM.

Lions Never Considered Drafting CB Ahmad Gardner At No. 2

The Lions and Jets are facing off in a matchup pitting two teams which had top-five picks in the most recent draft against one another. While reflecting on Detroit’s approach this past April, Lions coach Dan Campbell made it known that the Jets’ top pick was never on their radar.

When speaking about the possibility of selecting cornerback Ahmad Gardner second overall, Campbell admitted that he was not the subject of serious consideration. “We thought about a lot of different guys, but I never really felt it went there for [general manager] Brad [Holmes] and myself,” he said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press“We felt pretty comfortable with where we wanted to go with it.”

That, of course, is a reference to Detroit’s intention of adding to their pass rush with their top selection. Aidan Hutchinson allowed them to do just that, after a highly productive career at Michigan. The 22-year-old has been the subject of criticism after his inability to follow-up his Week 2 performance with more multi-sack games, but he leads all rookies with seven on the year. He has added 23 pressures, six tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions, making him a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year and leading to expectations that he will be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.

The same also holds true of Gardner, though, considering the start he has had to his NFL career. The Jets selected the Bearcats alum fourth overall, after he established himself as arguably the top corner in the class. The 6-3, 200-pounder has been an immediate every-down starter in New York, and has racked up two interceptions and a league-leading 16 pass deflections during the campaign. He has been a standout in coverage as well, allowing a completion percentage of just over 52%.

Like Hutchinson, Gardner is a Michigan native, so Detroit choosing the latter would have carried a similar storyline to the one developed by taking the former. Birkett notes that the Lions had scheduled a visit with Gardner, but that never took place. Keeping their attention on Hutchinson allowed them to maintain a starting duo of Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye at corner. The latter has struggled considerably compared to his breakout campaign last season, though, and the Lions’ defense has been among the league’s worst all year.

Nevertheless, both teams are likely satisfied with how the top of the draft board shook out, and they are each in contention for a postseason berth entering the final few weeks of the campaign.

AFC East Notes: Williams, Bills, Sauce, Jets

Mentioned as dangling Preston Williams in trades earlier this month, the Dolphins have not ruled out adding an asset for the young wide receiver. Williams is generating some trade interest, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets, but this looks like a situation that will either produce a deal for a late-round pick or Williams being waived before rosters are finalized Tuesday. Teams have until 3pm CT tomorrow to cut to 53. The Dolphins made some adjustments at receiver this offseason, trading for Tyreek Hill and adding Cedrick Wilson Jr. The team already cut Mohamed Sanu on Monday, however, potentially keeping the door open for Williams to stick as a backup. Williams emerged as a key target for the skeleton-crew 2019 Dolphins edition, but his rookie-year ACL tear threw his career off course. He has just 359 receiving yards over the past two seasons.

Here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • In the wake of the Bills jettisoning embattled punter Matt Araiza, they have gotten to work on finding his replacement. Michael Palardy, Ty Long, Tyler Newsome and Joseph Charlton worked out for the team, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. None have been signed. Two of these punters, as it often goes with the Bills, have Panthers histories. Though, Palardy — a Carolina punter from 2016-19 — is the only one with ties to Buffalo’s Brandon BeaneSean McDermott duo. Charlton was Carolina’s punter in 2020, long after the Bills had hired Beane and McDermott. These workouts also came before two veteran punters — Brett Kern and Sam Martin — were informed of their respective releases by the Titans and Broncos. The Colts signed the punter the Bills recently waived (Matt Haack) last week.
  • Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins created some cap space for his team recently, restructuring his contract. Dawkins’ reworking created more than $5.6MM in space for the Bills, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. The Bills moved Dawkins’ 2022 base salary down to $1MM and added two void years to spread out his cap hits, per OverTheCap. Dawkins remains signed through 2024; the Bills hold just more than $11MM in cap space.
  • The Jets will not spend any regular-season time developing Sauce Gardner as a backup. The No. 4 overall pick will be a Week 1 starter, Robert Saleh said. Gardner’s expected ascent will move Bryce Hall to a backup role, with the Jets also having signed D.J. Reed in free agency.
  • Isaiah Wynn looks to remain available in trades for a Patriots team that has moved him to right tackle. Additionally, when Trent Brown re-signed with New England, he was not made aware the organization was planning to move him back to the left side.

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.