Alex Anzalone

Lions Notes: LBs, Gibbs, Branch

The Lions had two picks in the first round of the 2023 draft, and they used both of them on non-premium positions. Detroit selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the No. 12 overall pick and added inside linebacker Jack Campbell with the No. 18 selection.

As the first off-ball ‘backer taken in the draft, it was fair to expect that Campbell would immediately be inserted into the starting lineup alongside veteran Alex Anzalone, who signed a three-year, $18.75MM deal in March to remain with the Lions. However, it became clear that such an assumption was a bit premature. 2021 fourth-rounder Derrick Barnes impressed during OTAs, while Campbell acknowledged that he was perhaps trying to do too much in his first taste of the pros (via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website).

“I came in and I felt like maybe I was pressing a little bit early on,” Campbell said yesterday. “But right now, I’m just trying to settle down. My personality type I like to make sure everything is perfect. I just need to understand that mistakes are going to happen and as long as I’m playing fast everything is going to work out.”

While Barnes has earned the starting job next to Anzalone, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn made it clear that the team’s top four LBs — a group that also includes 2022 sixth-rounder Malcolm Rodriguez — will see plenty of action. Campbell showed off his tackling ability in Detroit’s preseason slate, and given the club’s investment in him, it is certainly possible that his snap share will increase as the regular season unfolds.

Gibbs, meanwhile, split first-team training camp reps with free agent acquisition and former division rival David Montgomery and will start the year as the pass-catching complement to Montgomery (he will likely get his fair share of carries as well). Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson told reporters, including Twentyman, that, “we might use Gibbs in some ways that people don’t quite think we might,” though it’s unclear exactly what that means. Most are already expecting Gibbs to line up as a receiver, but perhaps he could line up as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation (or maybe, with the season set to kick off on Thursday against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs, Johnson is simply engaging in a little misdirection).

Another rookie, Brian Branch, has secured the starting nickel corner job, per Twentyman. The second-round pick out of Alabama began taking first-team reps at the position after C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a knee injury early in training camp, and he immediately impressed. GM Brad Holmes, who engineered a trade-up to land Branch, said that the team had a first-round grade on the defensive back.

“He fits who we are, so you don’t know exactly how quick it’s going to turn on, but we’re not surprised that he’s making the plays because he’s doing, really a lot of the same things that he did at Alabama,” Holmes said.

Branch’s emergence will presumably allow the team to move Gardner-Johnson to safety, where he thrived with the Eagles in 2022.

Latest On Lions’ LB Competition

Expectations will be raised on defense for the Lions in 2023 given the unit’s struggles through much of last year and the team’s investments on that side of the ball this offseason. Those endeavors have set up a notable training camp competition at the linebacker spot.

The Lions have Alex Anzalone in place as an entrenched starter after he parlayed his highly-productive 2022 campaign into a three-year, $18.75MM deal in March. A repeat of his career year would go a long way in helping Detroit make the needed improvements on defense to put the team in postseason contention. Who will be alongside him in the starting lineup remains unclear, however.

The Lions doubled down on their selections of non-premium positions in the first round of the draft by selecting Jack Campbell with the No. 18 pick. That decision made the Iowa product the top off-ball linebacker in the 2023 class, and led to the expectation he would be a plug-and-play starter. OTAs and minicamp demonstrated that the team’s veterans seemed to be in the lead, though, and Campbell still has a long road to a first-team position.

“Probably in 20 other rooms that player is starting and there’s nothing you can do about it as a position coach,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said of Campbell, via Tim Twentyman of the team’s website“Well, that’s not the case here. If Jack isn’t the top two or three Jack will continue to go through the process of rookie development until he’s hit that mark.”

Detroit also has 2021 fourth-round pick Derrick Barnes and 2022 sixth-rounder Malcolm Rodriguez as options for a starting role. The latter missed signficant time during the spring, allowing the former to take first-team reps alongside Anzalone. Rodriguez proved himself to be productive as a rookie, though, totaling 87 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble despite logging only a 57% snap share. Increasing his workload this year could come as a result of a strong training camp, and doing so would consign Campbell to a special teams role to start the year.

After a standout college career, Campbell (like fellow first-rounder Jahmyr Gibbs) will need to perform at a high level to justify the Lions’ investment in him – and their avoidance of other, potentially more attractive options based on position – in the eyes of many evaluators. His pro tenure will no doubt involve a heavy workload at some point, but he finds himself behind Rodriguez and Barnes on the depth chart heading into his first training camp.

Lions To Re-Sign LB Alex Anzalone

The Lions have already made one major addition to their defense today, but a key returning member of the unit will remain in place. Linebacker Alex Anzalone is re-signing in Detroit on a three-year, $18.75MM contract (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network).

The 28-year-old was set to earn a considerable raise on the open market this year, after his previous time in Detroit consisted of modest, one-year pacts. It was reported after the season ended that a more long-term deal would likely be necessary to keep him in the Motor City. This new contract will comfortably exceed his previous earnings from throughout his career.

Anzalone began his career with the Saints, but he never saw more than a rotational role in New Orleans. That changed immediately upon his first Lions deal, where he saw a snap share of 87%. That figure jumped to 95% in 2022, the first season in which he topped 1,000 snaps. The Florida product responded with a new career-high in tackles (125), adding 1.5 sacks and one interception.

Adding on defense has universally been seen as Detroit’s top priority this offseason, given the shortcomings of the unit in 2022 compared to their efficient offense. The Lions have been active on that side of the ball on Monday, re-signing defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs and agreeing to terms on a deal with Cameron Sutton, one of the top corners available in this year’s free agent class. Keeping Anzalone in the fold represents moves made at all three levels of their defense.

Anzalone will remain atop the linebacker depth chart for Detroit in the coming years, with not much else in place in terms of financial commitments at the position. While that could leave the door open to future additions in free agency or the draft, the team’s top decision amongst their LBs has likely already been made.

Giants Rumors: Lawrence, Edwards, WRs, Love

The Giants have been eyeing an extension for star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for a while now and, following a breakout season, the team has made it a priority. New York started preliminary conversations with Lawrence about two weeks ago, but Jonathan Jones of NFL on CBS claims he wouldn’t be surprised to see a new deal done “sooner than later.”

Despite the ever-growing markets for every position, the league’s market for defensive tackles has never been near the contract of generational talent Aaron Donald. It appears that this will continue to be the case as we see the defensive tackle market reestablished this offseason. Washington has already made Daron Payne the new second-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL behind Donald with a four-year, $90MM contract. Payne’s average annual value of $22.5MM is still well short of Donald’s $31.67MM per year.

It will be interesting to see where the Giants go from Payne’s deal. Payne established himself as a premier pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league this season but struggled in run defense. Lawrence didn’t have the pass rush production that Payne did but still excelled in the area while also being strong against the run.

Lawrence graded out as the second-best defensive tackle in the league this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It would make perfect sense for the Giants to reward Lawrence with a contract that surpasses that of Payne’s new deal, but will Lawrence be able to come anywhere close to the heights reached by Donald?

Here are a few more rumors surrounding the Giants’ priorities at the start of the new league year:

  • Starting the offseason with 21 unrestricted free agents, New York had a laundry list of names and positions to take care of. One of those positions that has been getting some chatter is inside linebacker. Specifically, the Giants have continuously been connected to Eagles pending free agent linebacker T.J. Edwards, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. The four-year Philadelphia defender has had two increasingly impressive breakout seasons, recording career-highs last year in total tackles (159), tackles for loss (10), sacks (2.0), quarterback hits (5), and passes defensed (7). Aside from Edwards, the top name expected to be available at the position is Tremaine Edmunds from Buffalo. Other names of interest for the G-Men include the Commanders’ Cole Holcomb, the Bengals’ Germaine Pratt, the Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch, the Lions’ Alex Anzalone, and the Chargers’ Drue Tranquill.
  • The wide receivers position has been an obvious need on the Giants’ roster for some time now, but it doesn’t appear that the Giants intend to address that through free agency, according to Pat Leonard of New York Daily News. With their focuses in free agency and the draft reportedly on inside linebackers, defensive linemen, cornerbacks, and interior offensive linemen, thoughts are that the trade market may make more sense for New York. If the Bills aren’t able to reach an extension agreement with Gabriel Davis, the Giants could be strong contenders to acquire his talents. The Rams have granted receiver Allen Robinson permission to seek a trade. Cardinals star receiver DeAndre Hopkins appears to be available for a price, as well. There are other names that could be interesting additions to the trade market such as Cincinnati wideout Tyler Boyd or Denver’s Jerry Jeudy. The team might still make free agency moves for veterans like Cole Beasley or Odell Beckham Jr., but the trade market could be a more attractive way to bring in established talent to New York.
  • There is reportedly optimism that the Giants will be able to come to an agreement to re-sign pending free agent safety Julian Love. After two seasons of relatively down play, Love had a bounce-back, breakout season in a contract year. He led the team in tackles by a mile with 124 total and tacked on two interceptions for good measure. Love may not be expected to make top money at the position, but after playing out his rookie contract, it appears Love is on the right track to remaining in New York long-term.

Lions LB Alex Anzalone Seeking Multi-Year Deal?

The Lions’ late push for a playoff spot was driven in part by the team’s defensive turnaround to close out the regular season. One veteran member of the unit would be open to another contract keeping him in the Motor City, though another one-year pact may not be an option this year.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone signed a one-year deal in the 2021 offseason to join the Lions after starting his career in New Orleans. His level of play during that campaign earned him another one-year pact, this time at a value of $2.25MM, a slight raise from the previous contract. After a career-year in terms of production, he is now set to hit the free agent market.

The 28-year-old started all 17 games in 2022, seeing the field for over 1,000 snaps for the first time in his career. He comfortably set a new personal mark in terms of tackles with 125, adding 1.5 sacks, one interception and six pass breakups. While those totals didn’t yield a particularly glowing evaluation in terms of PFF grade, it still made him a valuable member of Detroit’s defense. When speaking about his future, the former third-rounder left the door open to once again re-upping with the Lions.

“I feel like obviously it’s a fit, but there are multiple layers to that,” Anzalone said, via the team’s website“I’m going into Year 7 and you have to take care of your family, but I love [head coach] Dan [Campbell] and AG [defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn] and love what they are doing here.”

Anzalone’s production in 2022 has led to a sense that he will look for a longer-term deal this March after consecutive one-year stints. Given the valuation of his position, a significant raise compared to his previous deals would be unlikely at his age, however. If he were to move on in free agency, the Lions could turn to the likes of Derrick Barnes and Josh Woods at the second level of their defense.

That area is likely to be a key focus of theirs during the offseason, as they look to improve on the defensive side of the ball in particular. The Lions are currently in better shape than most teams with respect to cap space, though much will surely change between now and the onset of free agency, including their valuation of Anzalone and several other veteran defenders.

Inside Linebacker Market

There are many inside linebackers waiting patiently on the open market. A wild first week of free agency has come and gone with other positions seeing record deals and big names moving. The market for inside linebackers, however, has been quiet and less than lucrative.

In years past, we’ve seen monster deals to players like C.J. Mosley, whose contract has an average annual value of $17MM and guaranteed him $43MM at signing, and Darius Leonard, whose contract has an average annual value of $19.7MM and guaranteed him $33MM at signing. The largest payout we’ve seen this offseason to an inside linebacker was when the Packers kept De’Vondre Campbell from entering free agency with a five-year, $50MM deal, with a guaranteed $15MM. It’s certainly an impressive deal, and one the esteemed linebacker deserves, but no other deals have come close.

After being cut by the Jaguars, Myles Jack signed a two-year, $16MM deal to become a Steeler. Josey Jewell remained with the Broncos after signing a two-year, $11MM deal. Minnesota’s new inside linebacker, Jordan Hicks, joined the Vikings on a two-year, $10MM contract. Christian Kirksey signed a similar deal to remain with the Texans. We’ve seen a few other small deals like Zaire Franklin signing a three-year, $10MM deal to remain in Indianapolis and Alex Anzalone signing a one-year, $2.25MM contract to play another year with the Lions.

While that may sound pretty active, there are many big names who have yet to find deals. The biggest of these names is Bobby Wagner. Cut after ten outstanding years in Seattle, Wagner was expected to be a highly sought after free agent. While there have been many teams who’ve voiced interest in the eight-time All-Pro, there has been no word of negotiations. Any deal Wagner signs will likely top the numbers posed by Campbell and the Packers, but the fact that he has yet to find a home may hint at the fact that the money he’s looking for isn’t being offered.

There are many other impact names on the open market: Kwon Alexander, Jayon Brown, Jarrad Davis, Dont’a Hightower, Anthony Hitchens, Nick Kwiatkoski, Reggie Ragland, Joe Schobert, and Danny Trevathan.

Due to the low spending we’ve seen thus far and the plethora of names available, these players will likely have to search for the right fit and accept a decent deal if offered. They may end up having to wait until injuries provide an opportunity for them to fill in on a roster. The exception, of course, is Wagner, who can afford to be patient. Wagner will have the luxury of being able to wait and see how rosters form throughout the league, biding his time until he’s sure he’s joining a contender. Look for the others to give up on looking for a lucrative payday and settle for decent deals from teams with schemes they like.

Lions QB Jared Goff Lands On Reserve/COVID-19 List

After a shocking win over the Cardinals yesterday, the Lions will be looking to carry that momentum into next weekend’s game against the Falcons. Unfortunately, Detroit might have to go for their second-straight win without their starting QB. The Lions announced today that they’ve placed quarterback Jared Goff on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

While things certainly haven’t gone right in Detroit this season, the team’s struggles aren’t entirely Goff’s fault. The 27-year-old has completed 67 percent of his passes this year for 3,007 yards, 17 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He’s also been victim to a career-high 34 sacks for the 2-11-1 Lions.

Goff was forced to miss Week 11 against the Browns, and backup Tim Boyle ended up throwing for only 77 yards and two interceptions in the loss. If Goff isn’t able to play this weekend, there’s a chance Boyle gets another start for Detroit.

The Lions made a handful of additional moves today. Besides Goff, offensive tackle Matt Nelson was also placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, while cornerback Mark Gilbert and running back Jamaal Williams were activated from the list. The team placed linebacker Alex Anzalone on IR, and they signed running back Craig Reynolds to the active roster following a breakout game yesterday.

Lions To Sign LB Alex Anzalone

New Lions coach Dan Campbell is getting the gang back together. Well not entirely, but he is adding a familiar face to his inaugural defense.

Detroit has agreed to terms on a deal with free agent linebacker Alex Anzalone, a source told Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter link). It’s a one-year pact worth a modest $1.75MM, he reports. Campbell and Anzalone were together in New Orleans for the past four years when Campbell was an assistant head coach under Sean Payton. 

The Saints drafted Anzalone in the third-round back in 2017, and he spent his first four pro seasons with the team. This past season he appeared in all 16 games and started nine, playing almost exactly half of the defensive snaps. He finished with 41 tackles, three for a loss.

The Lions have so far made the defensive line more of a priority, adding guys like Michael Brockers and Charles Harris, and this is their first real addition to the linebacking corp.

Saints Place LB Alex Anzalone On IR

While injury news out of New Orleans will naturally be focused on quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints lost another contributor today. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the team has placed linebacker Alex Anzalone on the injured reserve.

As Charean Williams of points out, while Anzalone’s current injury isn’t known, the third-year player has struggled with shoulder ailments during his brief career. He was limited to only four games (and, notably, four starts) as a rookie before landing on the IR with a shoulder injury. He also had shoulder surgery this past offseason.

The former third-rounder out of Florida did manage to appear in all 16 games (seven starts) last season, compiling 59 tackles, two sacks, and three forced fumbles. He also appeared in the Saints first two games this season, collecting seven tackles and one sack. However, he only appeared in 18 of his team’s 70 defensive snaps yesterday.

The Saints acquired Kiko Alonso prior to the start of the season, and while the veteran has played a minor role through his first two games with New Orleans, he’ll surely be counted on following this latest injury. The Saints are also rostering linebackers Demario Davis, A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, and Kaden Elliss.

NFC Rumors: Johnson, Rodgers, Panthers

More details on David Johnson‘s Cardinals contract are emerging. In addition to the fourth-year running back seeing $24MM in full guarantees as part of his three-year, $39MM extension, Johnson will receive a $12MM signing bonus, Dan Graziano of reports (Twitter link). His $5.7MM base salary in 2019 is fully guaranteed. The All-Pro’s 2020 base ($10.2MM) will have $5.1MM guaranteed fully at signing, per Graziano (on Twitter), but the other half of it is guaranteed for injury only. However, Johnson’s full 2020 salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the Cardinals’ roster by March of 2019.

Each of Johnson’s next three seasons include $750K in per-game roster bonuses. As far as cap numbers go, Johnson now has a $5MM hit this season. The former third-round pick will count $9.45MM against Arizona’s 2019 cap, $13.95MM in 2020 and $11.7MM in 2021, Graziano reports (Twitter link).

Here’s the latest out of the NFC, shifting toward its most important player.

  • Aaron Rodgers missed Packers practice again on Thursday, but this wasn’t unexpected. However, Mike McCarthy said it’s no layup that his two-time MVP quarterback will play Sunday against the Vikings, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Rodgers and McCarthy said Wednesday he does not need to practice in order to start Sunday.
  • It keeps getting worse for the Panthers. After serious injuries hit Greg Olsen and Daryl Williams in Week 1, Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner is in concussion protocol, David Newton of notes. Both of Carolina’s starting tackles — Williams and Matt Kalil — are already on IR. Both can return after eight weeks, but at this point, it can’t be assumed both will be back. Carolina could lose a more important player to its cause. Only two players can be recalled from IR. Amini Silatolu filled in for Turner last season, but he may have to play right tackle Sunday. However, the Panthers added Chris Clark to potentially do that. In addition to Silatolu, Newton writes Tyler Larsen and rookie UDFA Brendan Mahon will have a chance to start in place of Turner — in the event he can’t go Sunday.
  • Demario Davis rated as a top-10 Pro Football Focus linebacker last year, doing so for his work as an inside linebacker. It was expected the high-priced free agent would man the middle for the Saints, but they’ve moved him to the weak side,’s Josh Katzenstein notes. Second-year man Alex Anzalone is now stationed as New Orleans’ middle ‘backer, but the team rotated he, Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein as Davis sidekicks in Week 1. Sean Payton said the team’s still determining how it will structure its linebacker usage. Davis played all 66 snaps in the Saints’ loss to the Buccaneers, while Anzalone led the others with 34. Klein functioned in Davis’ role in 2017, playing all of the Saints’ Week 1 snaps in his first game with the team.