Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers moves are noted below.
Barely two years after becoming a surprise first-round pick, Alex Leatherwood has been waived by two teams. The Bears joined the Raiders in bailing on the Alabama alum, dropping him earlier this week.
The Browns will attempt to salvage the former No. 17 overall pick. Leatherwood is joining Cleveland’s practice squad, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets. This will be Leatherwood’s third team in three seasons, though he is no longer attached to the first-round contract that went from Las Vegas to Chicago.
Despite his extensive struggles to translate his game to the NFL, Leatherwood started all 17 games — at right tackle and right guard — for a playoff-bound Raiders team as a rookie. After Jon Gruden’s staff moved Leatherwood from tackle to guard quickly, Josh McDaniels’ group shifted him back to tackle during his second NFL offseason. Leatherwood did not show enough to impress the McDaniels-Dave Ziegler regime, which waived him after failed trade efforts.
A mononucleosis bout began Leatherwood’s Bears tenure on a down note, and he only ended up playing in four games (32 offensive snaps). The Browns have a set offensive line, one of the game’s best, and employ top-line O-line coach Bill Callahan. The former Raiders HC has settled back into a role as an O-line instructor. Callahan turned down the chance to interview for the Jets’ OC position this offseason, and the longtime assistant will attempt what could be a difficult reclamation project with Leatherwood.
The Bears have yet to begin making mass cuts in an effort to move towards the eventual 53-man roster, instead opting to look at a few bigger names that should affect how the rest of the roster plays out. According to Bears senior writer Larry Mayer, the Bears released quarterback P.J. Walker and waived offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood while waiving guard Gabriel Houy with an injury designation.
Walker, a former backup quarterback who started seven games for the Panthers over the past three years, apparently failed to do enough to stay in the running for the backup job behind Justin Fields. That leaves the Bears with Nathan Peterman and undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent as the team’s reserve options behind Fields
Another notable part of this transaction is the money that gets left on the table by Chicago here. Leatherwood reportedly had $4.59MM of guarantees remaining on his deal, while the money lost by releasing Walker brings that total up to around $7MM in dead money. Second-year general manager Ryan Poles is making it clear that money owed on a contract isn’t going to determine roster spots for this year’s squad.
The Cowboys‘ offensive line remains a strength heading into the 2023 season. The depth of the offensive line is a different story, though. Behind the starting five, there is a drastic drop in talent, leading Jon Machota of The Athletic to believe that Dallas may pursue adding some offensive line talent from outside the organization before the start of the season.
Currently, the Cowboys’ offensive line depth projected to make the initial 53-man roster is comprised of tackles Matt Waletzko and Asim Richards and linemen Josh Ball, Matt Farniok, and Chuma Edoga. Dallas’ offensive line is likely strong enough along the starting five to weather the temporary need to play a backup, but if the team has to rely on any of the bottom five long-term, it would be a tremendous drop off in production wherever the backup is plugged in.
The situation in Dallas may not be drastic enough to require a trade acquisition, but the Cowboys will likely be perusing the open market once the roster cut deadline rolls around.
Here are a few more roster rumors as the close of the preseason continues:
The Steelers embarked on an experiment akin to that of their division rivals in Maryland as they attempted to work center Kendrick Green into a fullback/tight end role a la Patrick Ricard of the Ravens. According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, the move was a result of Green getting buried on the depth chart of the offensive line. As Green slipped down to third-string center or fourth-team guard, Pittsburgh allowed him to fully pursue the Ricard-role he had simulated in game prep for Ravens matchups. Unfortunately, the magic wasn’t there for Green. A later Kaboly report informed that Green had been moved back to center and that, as low as he is on the depth chart, he’ll likely have trouble retaining a roster spot come next Tuesday.
Although starting offensive guard Teven Jenkinscontinues to struggle with staying healthy, it doesn’t appear that the Bears will pursue offensive line help for the upcoming season, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. While it wouldn’t be an ideal outcome, Chicago feels confident in the backups it has available. Former first-round pick Alex Leatherwood has a year of the system under his belt now and should provide some quality depth immediately behind Jenkins. The Bear will likely retain other quality backups like Larry Borom and Lucas Patrick who could fill in if Leatherwood struggles in injury replacement duties. Whatever the options, Chicago feels confident with its cache of linemen.
Newly acquired linebacker Jaylon Smith has found a renewed drive in New Orleans. The veteran has already worked his way up the Saints‘ depth chart to a battle for the third linebacker spot. While that sounds positive, the Saints defense rarely utilizes three linebackers on the field at the same time with the team placing more value on additional pass rushers or defensive backs. According to John Sigler of USA Today, head coach Dennis Allen has delineated that a special teams role is the key for Smith to find a path towards a roster spot. While Smith has provided a boost to the team’s linebacker depth, his new head coach wants to see him covering punt and kickoff returns in order to cement his place on the 53-man roster.
Since the Raiders received considerable criticism for drafting Alex Leatherwood in the 2021 first round, the young offensive lineman has been unable to carve out a steady role for either of his two NFL teams. The second of those looks to be considering moving on early as well.
After the Raiders found no takers for Leatherwood’s first-round contract last summer, the Bears claimed it through waivers. The Alabama product remains attached to that deal, but the Bears may not have a roster spot for the third-year blocker. Leatherwood is on the Bears’ roster bubble, with the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs noting a place on the 53-man squad should not be considered secure.
Leatherwood, however, is still in the mix for one of the team’s reserve O-line roles. The Bears have been active along their offensive front this offseason, adding four-year Titans starting guard Nate Davis and using the No. 10 overall pick on Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright. Davis is ticketed to be Chicago’s right guard, while Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com notes Wright has been working as the team’s starting right tackle this offseason. Wright spent more time at right tackle than on the left side with the Volunteers, making for an easier transition as a pro.
Demoted right tackle Larry Borom has operated as the Bears’ swingman behind Wright and left tackle Braxton Jonesthis offseason, though Biggs adds no clear swing tackle is present just yet. Leatherwood will likely compete for that job in training camp. Backup guard Ja’Tyre Carter worked in with the first team during offseason practices as well during OTAs and minicamp; the Bears chose Carter in last year’s seventh round. Leatherwood has seen time at guard and tackle as a pro but has not been able to catch on at either post.
Jon Gruden‘s staff moved Leatherwood to guard early in his rookie season, and he started all 17 games. Those starts were not well reviewed, and Josh McDaniels‘ staff shifted Leatherwood back to right tackle last year. Despite the Raiders running into injury issues at that spot, they did not see enough from Leatherwood to carry his contract onto the 53-man roster. The Bears did not see much from Leatherwood last season, either. A mononucleosis bout led to Leatherwood’s placement on the reserve/non-football illness list in September. The Bears used last season as a developmental year, activating Leatherwood in late October but not using him in a game until December. Leatherwood totaled 32 offensive snaps last season.
Leatherwood, 24, is only attached to a $1.97MM cap number. It would cost the Bears more to remove the contract from their cap sheet, as a $4.5MM dead-money figure would arrive in that instance. If the Bears cut Leatherwood, only Wright would remain as a former first-round pick on Chicago’s O-line. Jones emerged out of last year’s fifth round, while left guard Teven Jenkins and center Cody Whitehair were second-rounders. The Titans chose Davis in the 2019 third round.
The Bears will be without three of their preferred starting offensive linemen this week, but they will have one of their backups available. Alex Leatherwood is coming off the team’s reserve/non-football illness list, The Athletic’s Adam Jahns tweets. The team announced the activation.
Leatherwood has not played since being claimed by the Bears. A mononucleosis bout led Leatherwood to the Bears’ reserve/NFI list, which mandates at least a four-game absence. The Bears had until Nov. 2 to activate Leatherwood, so a shift back to the 53-man roster a bit early would seem to represent a good sign. This will be the Bears’ second injury/illness activation this season; they have six remaining.
Because the Bears designated Leatherwood to return on Oct. 12, he could resume practicing. Chicago claimed Leatherwood on Aug. 31, keeping his first-round contract in the equation after the Raiders bailed on it before his second season. Last year’s No. 17 overall pick, Leatherwood has a long way to go to restore his pre-draft stock — a value in which most disagreed with the Raiders — but he may have an opportunity to contribute with the Bears soon.
Already without longtime left guard Cody Whitehair, the Bears lost center Lucas Patrick and right tackle Larry Borom against the Patriots. Patrick is now on IR, and the Bears ruled out Borom due to the concussion he suffered Monday night. Despite not winning a starting job, Riley Reiff remains on Chicago’s 53-man roster. Reiff would make sense as a Borom replacement; the 33-year-old veteran has played one offensive snap all season. Matt Eberflus did not confirm Reiff would start. The Bears have Michael Schofield rostered as well, with Sam Mustipher set to step back into the starting center role.
Leatherwood, who stands to provide the Bears with some depth, has bounced between tackle and guard during his short career. The Raiders moved him from right tackle to right guard early in his rookie season, but Josh McDaniels‘ staff had the Alabama alum working back at right tackle this offseason. Las Vegas did not see enough from Leatherwood to reserve a roster spot for him, jettisoning the Jon Gruden-era pick.
September 14th, 2022 at 12:29pm CST by Sam Robinson
Alex Leatherwood‘s NFL career encountered another setback Wednesday. The recent Bears waiver claim will be placed on the team’s reserve/non-football illness list, according to Matt Eberflus.
This will sideline the 2021 first-round pick for at least four games. The Bears are bringing back Michael Schofield, who was with them in training camp, to replace Leatherwood on the 53-man roster, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Leatherwood is believed to have contracted mononucleosis, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
Eberflus said Leatherwood is not at the team’s facility today. He did not play in the Bears’ Week 1 game. A 17-game Raiders starter last year, Leatherwood caught on with the Bears via waiver claim. The Raiders’ new regime bailed on the Jon Gruden–Mike Mayock-era O-line investment after this year’s training camp.
The Bears exited their camp with some questions on their O-line, and the team is attempting to salvage Leatherwood. The Alabama prospect, who was not expected to go in last year’s first round, has been working at right tackle with the Bears, Biggs adds. Leatherwood began his pro career as the Raiders’ right tackle starter, but the team moved him to guard early in his rookie year. McDaniels’ staff slid Leatherwood back to right tackle this offseason, and while the Raiders have significant questions at that particular position, they could not find a spot for the second-year blocker on their 53-man roster.
As expected, Chicago used fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones and 2021 fifth-rounder Larry Borom as its Week 1 tackle starters. Riley Reiff, 33, remains on the team as a swingman. Leatherwood’s hopes at competing for playing time will have to wait a while now. Three years remain on his rookie contract.
Schofield, 31, initially signed with the Bears just before training camp. The Illinois native has extensive experience at right guard and right tackle, having transitioned to guard after being a right tackle starter for the Broncos’ 2015 Super Bowl-winning team. The Chargers used Schofield as their primary right guard over the past five seasons; he joins Reiff as a 30-something second-stringer on the rebuilding Bears.
Teven Jenkins started at right guard for the Bears on Sunday, rotating with would-be center Lucas Patrick. The latter is poised to be Chicago’s center, but a July hand injury has altered that plan for now. Sam Mustipher started at center for the Bears against the 49ers.
Chicago landed quite the haul in waiver claims last week. Perhaps the most intriguing of the six claims they made is former-Raiders offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood. After being selected 17th-overall in last year’s draft, the Alabama product failed to survive this year’s 53-man roster cuts, much to the benefit of the Bears’ offensive line group.
The move could also benefit the 23-year-old, as well, as some in league circles see Chicago as a better scheme-fit for Leatherwood, according to Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus. The improved fit doesn’t exactly mean that we can expect Leatherwood to become an immediate starter in Chicago, though.
The guard spots are currently manned by Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins. Rookie fifth-round pick Braxton Jones has exploded onto the scene and seized the starting job at left tackle, pushing Riley Reiff to right tackle and Larry Borom to the bench as a backup. So where exactly does Leatherwood fit into the picture?
To start his career with the Bears, Leatherwood has been practicing at right tackle, according to Adam Jahns of The Athletic. General manager Ryan Poles asserted that they expect to work Leatherwood at guard, too, though.
“We all believe in player development here, and we’ve put pieces in place to allow players to be their best selves,” Poles told reporters. “So we’re going to approach that in many different ways, and we’re going to give (Leatherwood) an opportunity to develop and grow. Forget the draft pick thing. That’s over. So let’s start from the ground floor. Let’s build you up and take your time and whatever that is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed.”
The good news for Leatherwood is that his versatility allows him more positions in which to find success. In college, Leatherwood began as the primary backup to starting left tackle Jonah Williams. Unable to keep him off the field, Nick Saban and company decided to start him at right guard as a sophomore. He moved back to left tackle for his junior and senior seasons winning the Outland Trophy as a senior. The Raiders attempted to start Leatherwood at tackle as a rookie but, after some persistent struggles, the team moved him inside to guard, where he started the remainder of the season.
It will likely be an adjustment for Leatherwood to be forced into a backup role, but the change may be just what he needs to develop and learn to play at the NFL level. And Chicago may be the perfect place for him to do so. The Bears are in a bit of a rebuilding stage and do not expect to be in contention enough to require immediate success out of Leatherwood. Additionally, we’ve seen very recent success stories of offensive line development from the Bears with young players like Jones and Jenkins making impressive progress in their short time with the team.
So this is where we’re at with Leatherwood: the second-year lineman has been given a second chance in a scheme better fit for him and on a roster that doesn’t pressure him for immediate success. Putting it all in this perspective makes it easy to see how the addition can be a win-win scenario for Leatherwood and the Bears.
Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings moves are noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s NFC North transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.