Dane Belton

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Pinnock, Cowboys

The Eagles both signed five-year starter Terrell Edmunds and used a third-round pick on Sydney Brown. Both safeties factor into the team’s plans, but they are not outflanking Reed Blankenship thus far through training camp. Blankenship has been a first-team mainstay, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane, who adds Edmunds and Brown have rotated at the other safety spot. Indeed, The Athletic’s Zach Berman notes Blankenship — a 2022 UDFA out of Middle Tennessee State — has been the Eagles’ top safety in camp (subscription required).

This reminds of Marcus Epps‘ rise last year. Despite the Eagles re-signing Anthony Harris and adding Jaquiski Tartt in 2022, Epps earned a starting job — one that eventually led to a two-year, $12MM Raiders payday. The Eagles brought in C.J. Gardner-Johnson via trade just before last season. That transaction could signal none of Philly’s safeties should be too comfortable, but Blankenship — Gardner-Johnson’s injury sub last year who played 291 defensive snaps — looks like the best bet to start among the in-house group.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • Staying on the subject of safeties in this division, the Giants may be moving toward giving Jason Pinnock the starting job alongside Xavier McKinney. A Jets fifth-round pick in 2021, Pinnock started five games for the Giants last year, operating as McKinney’s injury fill-in. He has received consistent first-team work in camp, The Athletic’s Dan Duggan notes. Pinnock has distanced himself from Dane Belton and veteran Bobby McCain, having been Big Blue’s first-teamer since the fourth training camp practice. The Giants, who lost Julian Love in free agency, claimed Pinnock shortly after the Jets waived the converted cornerback on cutdown day last year. Two seasons remain on Pinnock’s rookie contract.
  • Malik Hooker‘s 2023 Cowboys cap hit climbed from $4.32MM to $4.57MM as a result of his recent extension, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. The incentives in the three-year, $21MM contract include $500K bumps involving playing time and INT production. Five picks and the Cowboys making the playoffs would result in a $500K increase, Archer adds, noting the other incentive requires Hooker to play 85% of Dallas’ defensive snaps and the team to make the postseason (Twitter link).
  • The Cowboys, who turned Micah Parsons from an off-ball linebacker to a fearsome edge rusher, are giving Leighton Vander Esch some reps on the edge, Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News notes. While the sixth-year linebacker received sparse edge work in games last season, Gehlken adds this is the first time he has received extensive instruction in a defensive end role. Rostering Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler and Sam Williams, the Cowboys are much deeper on the edge than at linebacker. It would stand to reason LVE’s role will likely remain mostly as an off-ball defender.
  • The Giants recently added longtime safety Mike Adams to their coaching staff, ESPN’s Jordan Raanan tweets. A 16-year veteran, Adams will replace Anthony Blevins as the Giants’ assistant defensive backs coach, the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard adds (on Twitter). Adams, 42, hung up his cleats after the 2019 season. Blevins left the Giants during the summer to accept an XFL HC position.
  • While Devon Allen did not see any game action for the Eagles last season, Berman writes the two-time Olympian hurdler is in play to make the team as a backup this year. Allen, 28, has not played in a game since working as an Oregon slot receiver in 2016. Shifting to track full-time proved beneficial for Allen, who is one of the best 110-meter hurdlers in U.S. history. But he opted to give football another try last year. He suffered an injury at the U.S. Championships last month, exiting the 110 hurdles competition before the finals in order to preserve his body for his second Eagles camp. The Eagles activated Allen from the PUP list Tuesday.
  • Given a reserve/futures deal along with Allen in February, Matt Leo landed on the Eagles’ reserve/retired list last month. The team hired the former practice squad defensive end a defensive and football operations assistant.

Giants Starting S Job “Wide Open”

The Giants ran through most of last year with a strong safety duo of Julian Love and Xavier McKinney. With Love departing in free agency to Seattle, the starting job next to McKinney is reportedly “wide open,” according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic. There are plenty of names in contention for the job, leaving New York with several options.

The favorite for the job is Jason Pinnock, whom the Giants claimed off of waivers from the Jets just prior to the regular season last year. Despite playing his rookie year as a cornerback for the Jets, Pinnock filled in for McKinney when he sustained a few broken fingers last year, starting five games in the free safety’s place. He put together a strong sample to put his name in the race early, but he was sidelined in the spring, keeping him from fielding any snaps with the first team until he can return in training camp.

Dane Belton is another name to look at for the position. The fourth-round rookie started five games, as well, last year. He showed a nose for the football in limited time with two interceptions, three passes defensed, and two fumble recoveries. Like Pinnock, Belton missed the spring but should return for training camp in time to compete for the starting job next to McKinney.

With Pinnock and Belton out, veteran free agent signing Bobby McCain and converted cornerback Nick McCloud split reps for the starting spot this spring. McCain is used to the starting role, performing as a full-time starter for Miami and Washington since 2018. His presence provides New York with a reliable starter if none of the other contenders emerge as runaway favorites. He graded out with the worst run defense of any safety in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so he may not be the perfect player to pair with McKinney, but he can stand in if needed.

McCloud is an interesting name in the competition. Another young name on the roster, McCloud started eight games at cornerback for the Giants in his sophomore season last year. He displayed a strong all-around game. While not lacking in run defense, McCloud was decent in coverage, as well, recording seven passes defensed. The Giants lined Love up all over the field last year, and they worked McCloud in a similar manner this spring. If he shows that he’s a good fit in that versatile role, he may have a strong case for a starting gig.

That about sums it up. Pinnock is an early favorite after a strong fill-in performance last season. Belton should also have an opportunity to expand his role from last year but should factor into the defensive back rotation, regardless. McCloud could fit best into a versatile role. While McCain remains a strong option if no one succeeds in separating themselves from the pack.

Giants Notes: Flott, McCloud, Cowden

Although they still have a need at wide receiver, we learned yesterday that the Giants are not presently expected to acquire free agent DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins eyeing a $15MM/year contract, and with New York boasting less than $4MM in cap room, much would have to change for the club’s interest in Hopkins to go beyond the exploratory stage.

Here are a few more Giants-related items:

  • As Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post (subscription required) writes, the Giants believe that second-year pro Cor’Dale Flott — who was drafted as a slot corner — is better-suited to man the boundaries. That could mean that Darnay Holmes will reprise his role as the club’s primary slot defender, but the team could also gain much-needed cap space (about $2.5MM) by cutting Holmes. If Flott shows improvement as an inside option, or if UDFA Leonard Johnson should impress, Holmes may become a release/pay cut candidate.
  • The Giants lost safety Julian Love to the Seahawks in free agency this offseason, and as Dunleavy writes in a separate piece, Big Blue is shifting 2022 waiver claim Nick McCloud to safety on a full-time basis. Per Dunleavy, McCloud will compete with free agent signee Bobby McCain and incumbents Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton for the starting safety job alongside Xavier McKinney. McCloud, like Love, offers positional versatility and started eight games at corner in 2022, so even if he works primarily at safety, DC Wink Martindale may still use him elsewhere in the defensive backfield.
  • According to Dunleavy, first-round rookie Deonte Banks is now lining up as a starting boundary corner opposite Adoree’ Jackson after working with the second-team defense during the first week of OTAs.
  • The Giants recently added Ryan Cowden to their front office, and per the team’s official website, Cowden’s title will be executive advisor to the general manager. Cowden, who actually interviewed for New York’s GM job last year — a job that ultimately went to Joe Schoen — ended the 2022 campaign as the Titans’ interim GM, but Tennessee elected to hire Ran Carthon for the permanent gig. Cowden and Schoen worked together in the Panthers’ front office from 2000-07, so Schoen is adding a familiar and experienced sounding board to his personnel department.
  • Last week, we heard that the Giants and franchise-tagged running back Saquon Barkley are no closer to coming to terms on a long-term contract than they have ever been. It appears that guaranteed money is the biggest sticking point, though it is unclear what the Giants have offered in that regard, nor the degree to which those offers fall short of what Barkley might be seeking.

Giants Release S Andrew Adams

Prior to training camp, the Giants reunited with Andrew Adams. But the former New York safety starter will not be part of the team’s 53-man roster next week. The Giants released Adams on Friday.

The six-year veteran’s exit made room for kicker Ryan Santoso, who is now back on the Giants’ 80-man roster. Ahead of their final preseason game, the Giants also signed wide receiver Travis Toivonen.

Graham Gano is in place as the Giants’ kicker, but he suffered a concussion in the team’s second preseason game. Santoso, whom the Jaguars waived earlier this week, represents insurance. This is a return trip for Santoso, who was with the Giants during the 2020 season and most of the 2021 offseason. The team traded the young kicker to the Panthers just before last season. Santoso, who turns 27 today, has bounced around since that trade, playing in one Panthers game but also moving to the Lions, Titans, Rams and Jaguars.

Adams, who caught on with Big Blue initially as a UDFA in 2016, represented insurance as well. The Giants released Logan Ryan and did not re-sign Jabrill Peppers, who is now with the Patriots. But Adams could not hold off some of the team’s younger safeties during training camp. Adams, 29, started three games for the Buccaneers last season, will head straight to free agency as a vested vet.

The former 17-game Giants starter (from 2016-17) and four-year Bucs contributor lost out to the likes of UDFA Trenton Thompson, whom ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan notes (via Twitter) has impressed the Giants, and fourth-round pick Dane Belton. Despite the latter suffering a broken collarbone early in camp, Raanan adds the Iowa product is not expected to be out too much longer.

Injury Updates: Patriots, Burrow, Poyer, Giants, Falcons

James White remains without a return timetable. The veteran is still sidelined following hip surgery, and Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets that it’s uncertain when the long-time Patriots RB will return to the field.

The longest-tenured member of the Patriots offense could ultimately land on PUP, but Howe notes that the organization will wait a few more weeks to evaluate White’s progress. The RB suffered a hip subluxation injury last September, limiting him to only three games during the 2021 season. White had 496 yards from scrimmage during his first non-Tom Brady season in 2020, but he topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in both 2019 and 2018.

Fortunately for the Patriots, the organization still has Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson atop their depth chart, but it’s tough to replace the pass-catching prowess of White. The organization also used a pair of draft picks on RBs Pierre Strong Jr. (fourth round) and Kevin Harris (sixth round).

More injury notes from around the NFL…

  • Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had an appendectomy last week, and it’s unlikely we see him until the regular season. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Burrow likely won’t play during the preseason. Rapoport estimates that the QB could return two to four weeks after his initially surgery, and he’ll likely participate in throwing sessions while limiting his hits during practice.
  • Bills All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer hyperextended his elbow yesterday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). While the injury will keep Poyer off the field for a few weeks, he’s expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. The veteran defensive back has only missed a pair of regular season games since joining the Bills in 2017.
  • Giants fourth-round safety Dane Belton suffered a broken collarbone, reports ESPN’s Jordan Raanan (via Twitter). While the rookie will be sidelined for the foreseeable future, the organization is holding out hope that he’ll be good to go for the start of the season. There’s a better chance he lands on IR following final cuts and will then be activated at some point in October. The Iowa product had already made a strong impression at training camp, according to Raanan.
  • Falcons defensive tackle Vincent Taylor ruptured his Achilles, according to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein (on Twitter). The injury will force Taylor to miss the 2022 season. The 28-year-old joined the Falcons back in April. The journeyman has appeared in 40 career games, including a single start with the Texans in 2021.

Giants Sign Round 2 WR Wan’Dale Robinson, Round 4 S Dane Belton To Wrap Draft Class

The Giants will not go into training camp with any unsigned rookies. They became the latest team to round out their draft class deals Monday, signing both second-round wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and fourth-round safety Dane Belton.

Chosen in what became a gray area, thanks to the guarantees in the No. 37 overall pick Jalen Pitre and No. 44 choice John Metchie‘s Texans contracts earlier this offseason, Robinson represents the latest early-second-round pick to sign. Eleven second-rounders remain unsigned. This year’s No. 43 overall choice will vie for playing time in a crowded Giants wideout situation.

[RELATED: Assessing Giants’ Offseason Decisions]

Although Big Blue’s receiver setup is currently jampacked, Robinson profiles as the safest bet to stay with the team into the mid-2020s. The Giants roster Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton. But Robinson is the only member of this intriguing wideout quintet to be brought in by the Joe SchoenBrian Daboll regime. Slayton has become a trade candidate, while Shepard restructured his deal to stay for a seventh season. The longest-tenured Giant is now set to be a 2023 free agent. Golladay underwhelmed after signing a four-year, $72MM deal in 2021, and unavailability has been Toney’s defining NFL trait thus far.

Robinson zoomed onto the second-round radar after a 104-catch, 1,334-yard, seven-touchdown 2021 season at Kentucky. The 5-foot-8 slot player had been a Wildcats contributor during his underclassman years, but 2021 brought a breakthrough. Even without the Giants’ offseason injury issues at receiver and Slayton’s potential preseason departure, Robinson should be expected to have a steady role as a rookie. Both he and Belton are now signed through 2025.

The Giants are less situated at safety, giving Belton an interesting opportunity. The team cut Logan Ryan and allowed Jabrill Peppers to sign with the Patriots this offseason, leaving some uncertainty opposite Xavier McKinney. Julian Love is tentatively expected to start alongside the former second-round pick, but Belton — a first-team All-Big Ten player last season — will have a say in that plan during camp. As a junior at Iowa, Belton intercepted five passes in 2021. That tally tied for the second-most in the conference last season.

Here is how the Giants’ draft class looks ahead of camp:

Round 1: No. 5 Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE (Oregon) (signed)
Round 1: No. 7 (from Bears) Evan Neal, OT (Alabama) (signed)
Round 2: No. 43 (from Falcons) Wan’Dale Robinson, WR (Kentucky) (signed)
Round 3: No. 67 Joshua Ezeudu, G (North Carolina) (signed)
Round 3: No. 81 (from Dolphins) Cor’Dale Flott, CB (LSU) (signed)
Round 4: No. 112 (from Bears) Daniel Bellinger, TE (San Diego State) (signed)
Round 4: No. 114 (from Falcons) Dane Belton, S (Iowa) (signed)
Round 5: No. 146 (from Jets) Micah McFadden, LB (Indiana) (signed)
Round 5: No. 147 D.J. Davidson, DT (Arizona State) (signed)
Round 5: No. 173 (from Chiefs through Ravens) Marcus McKethan, OG (North Carolina) (signed)
Round 6: No. 182 Darrian Beavers, LB (Cincinnati) (signed)