Bernhard Raimann

South Notes: Saints, Darnold, Colts

Links between Patrick Mahomes and other teams have emerged in the past. The Cardinals were preparing to draft the eventual Chiefs megastar five years ago. Sean Payton also confirmed the rumored story of his old team’s plans with the then-Texas Tech prospect. During his latest FOX appearance (h/t NFL.com’s Peter Schrager), the former Saints coach said he was prepared to draft Mahomes at No. 11 in 2017. While Payton confirmed he discussed the selection with Drew Brees and informed the future Hall of Famer a Mahomes pick would not impact his starter status, the Saints also viewed Marshon Lattimore as a top-four player in the 2017 class.

Payton said in 2020 the team did not have a clear choice between Lattimore and Mahomes, though then-Kansas City GM John Dorsey made New Orleans’ decision easier with the trade-up for the quarterback. Payton said this week Mahomes was “the best quarterback I’d ever seen on college tape.” The Saints had worked out Mahomes in Lubbock that year. Hindsight would suggest the Saints needed to be ready to climb into the top 10 for such a talent, but Mahomes was not viewed as a surefire top-10 pick that year. GM Mickey Loomis also said Lattimore falling impacted the team’s decision not to trade up for Mahomes. Both Mahomes and Lattimore are now signed to long-term contracts, though the former’s prime should be expected to last longer.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • The NFL’s longest-tenured general manager, excluding those with owner-GM or coach-GM roles, Loomis has seen fellow Saints cornerstones Payton and Brees depart in the past two offseasons. But the 21st-year Saints front office boss is not planning to join them in leaving anytime soon, via Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com. When the acclaimed salary cap guru does walk away, Jeff Ireland looms as a logical successor. The former Dolphins GM is well-regarded by Loomis and others in the organization, Duncan adds. Ireland, 52, was the Dolphins’ GM from 2008-13. Currently the Saints’ assistant GM, Ireland has been with the team since 2015. The Bears interviewed Ireland for their GM post this offseason, while the Lions and Panthers met with him in 2021. It will be interesting to see if Ireland sticks around to potentially succeed Loomis or land a GM gig elsewhere before the New Orleans GM exits.
  • After a strained 2021 between Michael Thomas and the Saints, first-year HC Dennis Allen made connecting with the wide receiver one of his first acts upon being promoted. Allen flew to Los Angeles to have dinner with Thomas early this offseason, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com notes. Despite Thomas’ injury-plagued 2020s and the Saints’ frustration with their top wideout regarding his 2021 surgery timetable — a process that led to the All-Pro missing a full season — the team vowed not to trade him early this offseason. Thomas, 29, has returned healthy and caught two touchdown passes in the Saints’ Week 1 comeback win over the Falcons.
  • Potentially the Colts‘ left tackle of the future, Bernhard Raimann backed up Matt Pryor in Week 1. But the Colts used the third-round rookie in a rotation with Pryor. After Raimann played 12 of the five-period game’s 90 left tackle snaps, Frank Reich said (via the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson) he plans to continue rotating his backup in going forward. Left tackle represented the only position at which the Colts deployed a rotation, beginning a path to Raimann seizing this job full-time. The Colts re-signed Pryor on a one-year, $5.55MM deal this offseason, and Erickson offers the 2021 Colts swingman — who has never been a full-time left tackle — could be an option at right guard, should Raimann take over the blindside.
  • Sam Darnold is making progress toward a return. The Panthers backup has shed his walking boot, per The Athletic’s Joe Person (on Twitter). On IR due to a high ankle sprain, Darnold will miss at least the season’s first four weeks.

AFC Rumors: Gilmore, Pryor, Petit-Frere, Wilson, Jaguars

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is playing with his fourth team after a short stint in Carolina. He started in Buffalo before signing with the Patriots. New England traded the two-time All-Pro midseason for only a sixth-round draft pick in return. Gilmore was injured at the time, but the compensation the Patriots received never made a ton of sense. Recently, though, Gilmore elaborated on the situation that deteriorated in New England, according to Stephen Holder of ESPN.

At the peak of his career, Gilmore suffered a torn quadriceps in the 2020 season. The injury kept him on the Patriots’ reserve/physically unable to perform list to start the 2021 season and, during that time, the relationship between Gilmore and New England “reached a point of no return.”

“I just didn’t like how they handled my situation, my injury,” Gilmore told reporters. “The situation just, I don’t know, wasn’t right for both sides.”

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC, starting with a couple position battle victories in the AFC South:

  • In a bit of a surprise decision, it appears that veteran offensive tackle Matt Pryor has won the left tackle job in Indianapolis over rookie third-round pick Bernhard Raimann, according to Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. Pryor has only ever started one game at left tackle in the NFL and many expected the rookie out of Central Michigan to give him a strong run for the job. Erickson goes on to say that, should Pryor not perform up to expectations, there’s a strong chance that the starting job could slip out of his grasp.
  • A third-round rookie who did win the starting job is just across the division in Tennessee. Titans general manager Jon Robinson made it known last weekend that Ohio State rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere will start at right tackle to open the season, according to Kayla Anderson of WKRN News 2. Last year’s rookie offensive lineman Dillon Radunz failed to earn much of a role last season but, reportedly, did everything right this offseason. Still, Petit-Frere has effectively won the starting job and Radunz will continue to come off the bench in Year 2.
  • New Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson received an impressive contract extension this week reported as a five-year, $245MM deal. The new money on the contract extension was originally reported to be $49MM per year. Those original reports failed to take the league’s new 17th-week into account when calculating the new money, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. Wilson was entitled to two more years under his previous contract and the original new money reports included the Week 17 paychecks that really should’ve been included with the original contract. So, while still an extremely impressive payday for Wilson, his average new money is more like $48.52MM per year than $49MM.
  • The Jaguars are losing a member of their front office, according to Seth Walder of ESPN. Director of strategic research & development Momin Ghaffar is leaving the team for a job outside of football. In fact, the job is “outside of sports.” This isn’t a terrible surprise as the position was one of Jacksonville’s many roles that fuse business analytics with football analytics.

Colts’ Bernhard Raimann Could Become Week 1 LT Starter

New Colts quarterback Matt Ryan will operate behind a number of top-tier blockers in 2022, including All-World performer Quenton Nelson at left guard, three-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kelly at the pivot, and Braden Smith — who signed a four-year, $70MM extension one year ago — at right tackle. The left tackle and right guard spots, however, remain up for grabs.

Of course, the LT job is the most important one on the line, and Matt Pryor is currently penciled in as the Week 1 starter on Ryan’s blindside. The problem is that Pryor, a 2018 sixth-round pick of the Eagles, has just one start at left tackle in his career, which came in the penultimate game of the 2021 season as an injury replacement for Eric Fisher. Indianapolis acquired Pryor in a minor trade in advance of final cutdowns last August, which is indicative of his generally underwhelming performance during his two-year stint in Philadelphia.

On the other hand, Pryor demonstrated marked improvement in an admittedly small sample size with the Colts last year. In 438 offensive snaps, the TCU product did not allow a sack and earned a strong 76.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. PFF ranked him as the 25th-best tackle in the game — he also saw time at right tackle as a fill-in for Smith — and gave him high marks for both his pass-blocking and run-blocking acumen. The Colts were sufficiently impressed to re-sign Pyror to a one-year, $5.5MM contract this offseason, while Fisher remains a free agent.

Indianapolis did, however, select Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann, a First-Team All-MAC left tackle last year, in the third round of April’s draft. Per Mike Chappell of Fox59.com, Pryor will open training camp with the first-stringers, but Raimann, who is viewed as the long-term solution at LT, will be given “every opportunity” to win the job.

It’s not difficult to see why the Colts are so optimistic about Raimann. Even though he began his collegiate career as a tight end and just converted to tackle in 2020, Lance Zierlien of NFL.com says the Austrian native is much more developed as a technician than one might expect. That technique combined with a tight end’s athleticism make Raimann an intriguing prospect, and while he still has plenty of work to do to reach his ceiling, it sounds as if he has a good chance to step right into a starting role as a rookie.

If that happens, then Pryor — who saw time at guard with Indy last year and whose work with the Eagles came on the interior of the line — could compete with 2020 fifth-rounder Danny Pinter for the RG gig.

“We’ll get the best five [O-linemen] on the field,” GM Chris Ballard said. “Whatever the coaches think are the best five, we’ll get them on the field.”

Colts Sign Third-Rounders Jelani Woods, Bernhard Raimann To Wrap Draft Class

Despite making three picks in Round 3, a round that annually leads to delayed rookie agreements, the Colts are finished signing their 2022 draftees.

Third-round tight end Jelani Woods (Virginia) and third-round tackle Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan) signed their four-year rookie deals Friday, being the final members of Indianapolis’ nine-man draft class to do so. Both players will be expected to vie for first-string work this year.

The Colts obtained the Woods draft pick (No. 73) in their second Carson Wentz trade, and they gave Matt Ryan a new weapon with the Commanders pick. A 6-foot-7 prospect, Woods transferred from Oklahoma State and put together a first-team All-ACC season (44 catches, 598 yards, eight touchdowns) in 2021. The second tight end off the board, Woods will be expected to contribute early. The Colts re-signed Mo Alie-Cox but saw Jack Doyle retire. The team drafted two tight ends this year.

Raimann went to the Colts four picks later, by virtue of the trade-down maneuver the team executed with the Vikings in Round 2, and joins a position group that lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher. Raimann also has tight end experience, starting 11 games at that post at Central Michigan. He finished as a first-team All-Mid-American Conference left tackle, however, last season. Raimann joins the recently re-signed Matt Pryor as the top candidates to succeed Fisher.

Here is the Colts’ full 2022 class:

Round 2: No. 53 (from Raiders through Packers and Vikings) Alec Pierce, WR (Cincinnati)
Round 3: No. 73 (from Commanders) Jelani Woods, TE (Virginia)
Round 3: No. 77 (from Vikings) Bernhard Raimann, OT (Central Michigan)
Round 3: No. 96 (from Rams through Broncos) Nick Cross, S (Maryland)
Round 5: No. 159 Eric Johnson, DT (Missouri State)
Round 6: No. 192 (from Vikings) Andrew Ogletree, TE (Youngstown State)
Round 6: No. 216 Curtis Brooks, DT (Cincinnati)
Round 7: No. 239 Rodney Thomas, S (Yale)

Release Candidate: Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva

In the week before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens gave in to the wishes of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and traded him away to the Chiefs. This trade left a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line opposite All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To address this issue, the Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva, a free agent whom the Steelers felt ready to move on from

After not falling in love with any of the tackles the Draft had to offer at their position in the early rounds, Baltimore opted for a stopgap solution, signing Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $14MM. Villanueva had performed admirably over his sevens years in Pittsburgh, but was never really considered an elite tackle. His best years saw him make consecutive Pro Bowls in the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons.

As a Raven, Villanueva did his job, and then was asked to do more. After four years of starting at left tackle as a Steeler, Villanueva struggled initially when asked to fill in at right tackle. He got to go back to his more natural position after ankle surgery sidelined Stanley for the all but one game of the 2021 season.

Villanueva had an up and down year. Often Villanueva’s age showed during some rough outings, but the 33-year-old showed some resiliency, playing through some discomfort knowing that another absence for the injury-devastated Ravens could spell disaster. He seemed to find his footing with time, though, playing a pretty good stretch of football to end the season.

But was Villanueva’s performance in 2021 worthy of a $9.25MM cap hit in 2022? Likely not. The Ravens will hope for a strong return for Stanley and they signed Ja’Wuan James to a low $9MM, two-year contract knowing that he likely would be out with a torn Achilles tendon for much of the 2021 season. The likeliest scenario sees Baltimore cutting Villanueva loose to rely on a combination of Stanley and James to bookend the offensive line. The Ravens also recently signed utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari to a three-year extension. The former undrafted free agent has started at all three offensive line positions for Baltimore and could continue to fill in at right tackle until the next franchise tackle shows up.

Baltimore could also opt to address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. While, with the 14th overall pick, the Ravens are not in a position to take one of the Draft’s more exciting tackle prospects like NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal, if Mississippi State’s Charles Cross were to fall to Baltimore, the Ravens, who are known for drafting for value over fit, would likely find it hard to pass on Cross’s potential. Cross, who ranks as the 8th best Draft prospect on The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Top 100, impresses many evaluators, but, reportedly, hasn’t convinced the entire league that he’s a top ten draft pick. If the Ravens were to trade back later into the first round, another common move by the draft-savvy franchise, they could find smaller school prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann falling into their laps. They could even wait until their second-round or third-round selections come up and opt to take a flyer on Minnesota’s massive Daniel Faalele or Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere, respectively.

Regardless, most paths that make sense for Baltimore don’t entail the team stomaching a $9.25MM cap hit for a tackle that struggled much of the year for them. Turning 34 at the beginning of the 2022 season, Villanueva could save the Ravens the trouble and simply retire. Whether retired or released, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see Villanueva in purple and black next season.