The Seahawks are bringing Holton Ahlers back to their squad after the UDFA spent the preseason with the organization. Ahlers had a standout 2022 campaign at East Carolina, completing 67.2 percent of his passes while tossing 28 touchdowns vs. five interceptions. He’ll be taking the taxi-squad spot previously held by Teez Tabor, who already earned one promotion to the active roster in 2023.
11:34am: Although the Cowboys worked out four linebackers today, they are expected to go with the highest-profile name among that contingent. Rashaan Evans is expected to sign with the team, Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reports. This would be a fourth NFL home for Evans, though his third (Philadelphia) did not produce any game action. The former Titans and Falcons starter, however, figures to be part of the Cowboys’ 53-man roster — via direct signing or the practice squad promotion route — soon. Per Archer, Evans will initially land on the P-squad. Though, it should be expected he will vault to the 53-man roster in the near future.
Rashaan Evans will meet with the team Wednesday, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler reports. Evans spent time with the Eagles recently but requested a release from the defending NFC champions’ practice squad, eyeing other opportunities. This would qualify as a high-profile chance, should the Cowboys view the former first-rounder as a fit.
While Evans has a Falcons past, he did not overlap with Dan Quinn in Atlanta. The Falcons used Evans as a one-and-done starter in 2022, with ex-Titans OC Arthur Smith bringing in the former Tennessee top pick. Evans started throughout the ’22 season and loomed as an option to stay in Atlanta, but nothing materialized. Evans then waited for several months for an opportunity. Evans caught on with the Eagles’ P-squad shortly after the team lost Nakobe Dean in Week 1, but he was gone days later, aiming for a chance to sign elsewhere. Teams can poach players off P-squads, but the player’s options narrow in those transactions.
Evans going this long without another opportunity is a bit strange. The Alabama product led the Falcons in tackles — by a substantial margin — last season, totaling 159. That number doubled as a runaway career-high mark, as Evans only topped 100 tackles in one Titans season. Tennessee did not pick up Evans’ fifth-year option in 2021, leading to his 2022 defection. The Falcons landed Evans on a one-year, $1.75MM contract.
Pro Football Focus rated Evans just outside the top 50 among off-ball linebackers last season. A buyer’s market formed at the position, however, limited young veterans’ options. Many starter-caliber linebackers fetched deals worth between $5-$7MM per year. Vander Esch landed just south of this bracket, scoring a two-year accord worth $8MM. Evans, 27, was among those on the outside looking in. But the six-year Cowboys starter’s injury could lead to a shot with a third team.
Vander Esch, 27, is expected to miss at least a month with a neck strain. Considering the neck trouble the 2018 first-round pick has battled in the past, it would not surprise to see his recovery timetable lengthened. Vander Esch, who went off the ’18 draft board three spots before Evans, has seen neck injuries limit his earning potential. The Boise State product has missed time with neck trouble in multiple seasons, with a spinal stenosis issue leading to lower-level second and third contracts with the Cowboys. While Dallas kept Vander Esch in its plans, a lucrative extension path never formed despite a dominant rookie season.
In not re-signing Barr, the Cowboys went with second-year player Damone Clarkalongside Vander Esch. Quinn said the prospect of Micah Parsons playing more at linebacker is in play, but considering the Defensive Player of the Year candidate’s value as an edge rusher, that might ultimately be deemed counterproductive. Dallas also lost third-round rookie linebacker Demarvion Overshownto an ACL tear this summer. The team has used P-squad elevation Malik Jefferson as a backup option this season; he figures to factor in more prominently following Vander Esch’s injury.
9:21am: The Jones release has not, in fact, helped win Smith a spot on the 53-man roster. The former Matt Rhule draftee has been waived, per ESPN’s David Newton. Smith’s draft stock was boosted by his athletic traits, but they have yet to translate to production at the NFL level. The Panthers will be able to retain him via the practice squad if he goes unclaimed.
8:10am: Deion Jones did not end up with a team until the first week of training camp, and the former Falcons standout will not be part of the Panthers’ 53-man roster. Carolina is releasing the veteran linebacker, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
This move will put Jones’ career at a crossroads of sorts, as he was unable to carve out a regular role as a Browns starter following an in-season trade. Previously attached to a top-market off-ball linebacker contract with Atlanta, Jones will pass straight into free agency as a vested veteran.
Jones, 28, started 83 games for the Falcons from 2016-21 and earned a four-year, $57MM extension from the team back in 2019. The Thomas Dimitroff regime authorized that deal. GM Terry Fontenot cut bait in his second year running the Falcons, incurring substantial dead money to do so. Jones still counts on the Falcons’ payroll this year, but the Panthers did not guarantee the former second-round pick anything.
Carolina is set at the top of the LB depth chart with Shaq Thompsonand Frankie Luvu each on the books for at least one more year. The team also added Kamu Grugier-Hillin free agency, and 2022 fourth-rounder Brandon Smithresides on the roster as well. The latter has faced questions about his roster security this summer, but the decision to move on from Jones certainly helps his chances of remaining with the team moving forward.
As teams sort out their 53-man rosters and practice squads in the coming days, Jones will seek out a new fit which could offer a clearer path to playing time than what he faced in Carolina. The chances of that could be slim, however, and he may be resigned to taking another one-year, low-cost deal with an interested team in the hopes or rehabbing some of his free agent value. It will be interesting to see how much of a market he generates ahead of Week 1, and his ability to carve out a role on his next team.
Here are the mid- and late-round picks to sign their four-year rookie deals Thursday:
LB Brandon Smith (fourth round, Penn State)
The Panthers made a notable trade-up maneuver on Day 3 to acquire Smith, sending the Commanders two fifth-round picks in exchange for the No. 120 overall selection. Washington used one of those Carolina choices to nab Sam Howell atop Round 5 (at No. 144). The Panthers, who had already traded back into the third round for Matt Corral, focused on defense atop Day 3. Smith made 81 tackles (nine for loss) and tallied two sacks as a senior, doing so ahead of clocking a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. This signing leaves Corral as the last unsigned Panthers draftee.