Eli Apple

CB Rumors: Jackson, Lions, Jaguars, Apple

Adoree’ Jackson served as the Giants‘ No. 1 cornerback last season, his second with the team. Despite coming off injury, Jackson fared well against Justin Jefferson in the Giants’ wild-card win. But the team is experimenting on a potential shift in the veteran’s role during training camp. Jackson has seen extensive time in the slot in camp, and Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News notes the prospect of Jackson in the slot and Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins outside is viable.

The Titans used Jackson as an outside corner during his Tennessee tenure, and the Giants stationed Darnay Holmes in the slot last year. They also drafted Cor’Dale Flott as a slot option in last year’s third round. But Holmes has struggled during camp, per Leonard. Hawkins, chosen in the sixth round out of Old Dominion, does not have slot experience. Jackson’s willingness as a tackler would benefit the Giants if they followed through on this, though the move is not set in stone. Holmes still operated as the team’s lead slot defender in a joint practice against the Lions on Wednesday, Dan Duggan of The Athletic tweets. Hawkins being in consideration for a regular role would be notable for a Giants team that struggled for CB depth last year.

Here is the latest from NFL secondaries:

  • Emmanuel Moseley‘s cleanup procedure on the ACL he tore last year has led to an unexpected delay in his return. Moseley reported to camp late due to the surgery, and the Lions placed the free agent signing on the active/PUP list. While Dan Campbell said last week the team expected Moseley back soon, the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett notes no timetable exists for the ex-49er’s return, adding that he may not be a lock to start the season on time. This surgery has provided another delay for Moseley, who signed a one-year, $6MM deal that came with $2MM guaranteed. Campbell confirmed Moseley’s absence to start camp was excused.
  • Fellow UFA addition Cameron Sutton and Jerry Jacobs have worked as Detroit’s starting cornerbacks in camp, and while the return of Moseley will give the Lions another starter-level corner, rookie UDFA Starling Thomas has made enough of an impression that Birkett added he is a good bet to make the 53-man roster. He of a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at UAB’s pro day, Thomas has been running with the Lions’ second-stringers at corner alongside Will Harris.
  • Few battles for starting spots are transpiring in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars are holding one at nickel corner. Despite bringing back Tre Herndon on another one-year deal, the Jags are pitting the sixth-year veteran against several players for the slot role. Second-year players Gregory Junior (Round 6) and Montaric Brown (Round 7) join sixth- and seventh-round rookies Erick Hallett and Christian Braswell in vying for this job, per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com. Fifth-round safety Antonio Johnson has mixed in here as well. Herndon re-signed on a fully guaranteed $2.58MM deal. Formerly surpassing 900 defensive snaps in back-to-back years, Herndon finished with just 416 last season.
  • Eli Apple‘s Dolphins deal is worth $1.6MM over one season, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes. Incentives could take the veteran corner’s contract up to $2.28MM. While the $1.6MM is not entirely guaranteed, the former top-10 pick received a $250K signing bonus.

Dolphins To Sign CB Eli Apple

Former Bengals cornerback Eli Apple‘s long wait on the free agent market has come to an end. Days after star cornerback acquisition Jalen Ramsey underwent surgery for a knee injury, the Dolphins have reached out for veteran starting experience, signing Apple to a one-year deal, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Miami lost Ramsey this week to a knee injury that required a full meniscus repair. It was originally reported that Ramsey may just miss the start of the season, but more recent reports have delineated a timeline that doesn’t see Ramsey return until December. Ramsey was obviously a big part of the team’s plan in the secondary moving forward. The Dolphins immediately started looking for options to attempt to negate his absence, also working out veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau and Anthony Averett before ultimately signing Apple.

It looked like a starting duo of Ramsey and Xavien Howard would shape up to be one of the league’s best, with strong young talent like Kader Kohou, Keion Crossen, and rookie second-round pick Cam Smith rotating in. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also had plans of working Ramsey at nickel more often, based on his recent success in that role with the Rams. In this situation, Kohou, Crossen, Smith, or Nik Needham would come on when the team needed extra defensive backs on the field and play on the outside while Ramsey shifted in. Apple’s consistent presence on the outside changes that plan.

First, let’s start with what Apple does bring to the table. A former first-round selection taken five picks after Ramsey in 2016, Apple has been a consistent starter over his career, starting 78 of the 88 games he’s appeared in. He’s struggled with injuries in the past, having never played every game of a given season, but in every season but two, he’s been available for at least 14 games. Not only does he have starting experience, but he’s got playoff experience, as well.

With that being said, Apple has never been considered a top player at the position. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Apple has never ranked higher than 61st in the league. Last year, the site credited Apple with allowing a 99.8 passer rating in his coverage area. So, while Apple provides them with the starting experience, Miami may be hoping that they will still get some of their best play out of their incumbent corners.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald suggests that Apple’s experience will make him a top candidate to start outside opposite Howard. Apple’s main competition should be Kohou, who started 13 games as an undrafted rookie last year out of Texas A&M-Commerce. Jackson foresees a situation in which Kohou could take the role that Fangio envisioned for Ramsey, starting on the outside then shifting in to the slot when the team needs three cornerbacks on the field. If Apple can earn the starting spot on the outside, though, Kohou would become the immediate primary nickel cornerback.

Past that, much of the plan remains the same. A healthy Needham becomes a strong rotational piece as Crossen and Smith continue to develop in the early years of their careers. Thanks to the injuries that forced Kohou and Crossen into starting time last year, the Dolphins have a relatively deep group at cornerback that should absorb the temporary loss of Ramsey well. That’s not to say that this group won’t be significantly better once Ramsey returns, but while he’s gone, the addition of Apple combined with the capabilities of Miami’s younger defensive backs should hold the team over until Ramsey’s back.

Bengals CB Cam Taylor-Britt Undergoes Surgery

The Bengals retained their secondary starters from their AFC championship season but added pieces with both their first- and second-round picks. The second of those choices will miss some time.

Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt underwent core surgery Monday, Zac Taylor said (via ESPN.com’s Ben Baby, on Twitter). The second-rounder has been out for more than a week and will miss at least the rest of the team’s preseason practices.

This essentially locks Eli Apple into a starting job, Jay Morrison of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Taylor-Britt making a later bid at taking over with Cincinnati’s first-stringers cannot be ruled out, but to begin the season, it will be Apple back as a full-timer alongside Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton.

Apple re-signed with the Bengals on a one-year deal worth $3.5MM, though that pact came with only $1MM guaranteed at signing. Pro Football Focus rated the former top-10 pick as a midlevel corner during the regular season, one that saw him keep Trae Waynes out of the team’s defensive picture for the stretch run. The Bengals cut Waynes this offseason. Although the Rams picked on Apple at key points during Super Bowl LVI, he started 15 games to bounce back after a lost 2020 season — a two-game Panthers slate.

Cincinnati drafted safety Daxton Hill in the first round; the Michigan product is seeing more time due to Jessie Bates‘ absence. The Bengals should be expected to have their franchise-tagged safety, whom they are unlikely to trade, back by Week 1. The team traded up three spots for Taylor-Britt in Round 2, moving to No. 60 for the Nebraska defender. With Apple’s deal expiring after the 2022 season, it would seem there is a clear path for the Big Ten product to move into the Bengals’ starting lineup long-term. That ascent is on hold for the time being.

AFC North Rumors: Trubisky, Apple, Pratt, Johnson

With Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Deshaun Watson (tentatively) being cemented behind center in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, respectively, Pittsburgh is working to name their starting quarterback to open the 2022 NFL season. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the current situation points towards free agent acquisition Mitchell Trubisky being named the starter for the Steelers’ season opener in Cincinnati.

On 105.7 The Fan, Dulac was quoted saying, “I think the plan is, and I don’t think there is any question about this, unless something would dictate otherwise including injury, I think Mitch Trubisky will go into the regular season as the starter.” He continued, “NFL teams don’t draft quarterbacks No. 1 to have them be the third quarterback and a gameday scratch. I expect Kenny Pickett to be the guy who dresses on gameday (as the primary backup).”

When asked where that leaves five-year veteran Mason Rudolph, Dulac thinks the Steelers will have “a little bit more respect than to keep him around as the third quarterback and a gameday scratch.” Dulac believes Pittsburgh would rather have the two parties mutually move on and try to find him a trade to a desirable location.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC North, starting with a couple rumors from the division (and conference) champions from last year:

  • When detailing some training camp position battles in Cincinnati this summer, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic asserted that six-year veteran cornerback Eli Apple will be favored to keep his starting job over rookie second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt. After the rollercoaster start of his career, Apple played well last year for the Bengals. Despite the team spending heavy draft-capital on his position by drafting Taylor-Britt early, Apple has reportedly responded very well to the pressure and kept his eye on the ball. Taylor-Britt may eventually unseat the incumbent, but, for now, expect to see Apple across from Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool to open the season this September.
  • Expanding further on the Bengals’ offseason to-do list, Dehner Jr. reported on some possible extension candidates in Cincinnati, claiming that, for now, the Bengals don’t view linebacker Germaine Pratt as an extension candidate. Since Cincinnati selected him in the third-round of 2019, Pratt has been a formidable defender, racking up 76 tackles as a rookie as well as 89 and 91 tackles in the two seasons since. Despite his defensive tenacity, it doesn’t appear that Pratt does quite enough to force an early decision from the Bengals on his future. Instead, Pratt will want to put together a contract year that will either convince Cincinnati to keep him around or convince another franchise to spend big to bring him in. The Bengals will allow him to play out the last year of his rookie deal and assess his value before free agency.
  • Despite the recent one-year deal running back D’Ernest Johnson signed earlier this month to remain in Cleveland, ESPN’s Jake Trotter believes that Johnson could still potentially find himself as the odd man out of a loaded running back room for the Browns. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt cemented as 1-2 at running back, Johnson is competing with 2021 draft pick Demetric Felton and 2022 Draft pick Jerome Ford for playing time behind them. Since both Felton and Ford offer versatility to rush and receive out of the backfield, along with cheap rookie deals, it’s not out of the question to imagine Johnson on the outside looking in. In this case, the Browns may want to find a trade-partner to take Johnson and make sure they don’t completely waste the deal they awarded him weeks ago.

Bengals To Re-Sign CB Eli Apple

Eli Apple will be back in Cincinnati in 2022. The Bengals are re-signing the Ohio State product, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).

The former top-10 pick agreed to a one-year deal worth $4MM. While Apple did not finish his season well, being targeted on the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI-winning drive and giving up the game-winning touchdown, he bounced back on the whole after a 2020 no-show with the Panthers.

Apple started 15 games for the Bengals last season and will see a notable raise, though the 2021 campaign did not result in a substantial market for the ex-Giants draftee. The Bengals gave Apple a one-year, $1.2MM deal in 2021. Apple joined Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton as the team’s top corners; Apple usurped the injury-prone Trae Waynes on the team’s depth chart. Waynes is not expected to be with the Bengals much longer.

While it is not certain if the Bengals will make an effort to upgrade their coverage corps with an outside hire or high draft choice, Apple did intercept two passes last season and play 93% of the snaps for Lou Anarumo‘s resurgent defense. Pro Football Focus assigned Apple a middling grade for the 2021 season.

The six-year veteran would represent a good depth piece, though redeploying him as a full-timer would be somewhat risky for a Bengals team now presented with high expectations. Apple returning, however, means the Bengals stand to have their full five-man secondary back for next season.

Bengals To Add CB Eli Apple

After an injury-plagued season that ended midway through, Eli Apple will receive another chance. The Bengals are signing the veteran cornerback to a one-year contract, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

The Panthers released Apple last October, doing so after he experienced consistent hamstring trouble. Despite now being on team No. 4, the former top-10 pick is still just 25. And he is returning to Ohio, where he once starred as a college prospect.

Apple’s Ohio State work prompted the Giants to use their No. 9 overall pick on him in 2016. However, Apple has not been able to justify the pre-draft hype as a pro. Having since bounced to the Saints and Panthers, Apple will join Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie as offseason Bengals cornerback acquisitions.

Last year, Apple reached a one-year, $6MM agreement to join the Raiders. That deal fell through amid the NFL’s first COVID-19-affected offseason. Apple ended up signing with the Panthers for half that amount, but he only played 28 defensive snaps with Carolina. A hamstring injury sent Apple to IR, and after he aggravated the injury upon return, the Panthers cut bait. Apple sat out the final two months of last season.

While Apple is coming off essentially a medical redshirt campaign, the ex-Buckeye star has made 48 NFL starts — including 25 for a Saints team that won the NFC South in each of his two seasons in New Orleans. The Saints traded fourth- and seventh-round picks for Apple in 2018 and used him as a full-time player.

Apple will now join a Bengals team that has struggled extensively on defense over the past two seasons. Cincinnati lost William Jackson in free agency but has now acquired three veteran corners this offseason. They will join Trae Waynes, who missed all of last season due to injury, in an effort to upgrade the rebuilding team’s secondary.

Panthers Release CB Eli Apple

Eli Apple‘s hamstring trouble only allowed him to play in two games with the Panthers. They released the former top-10 pick Tuesday.

Apple began the season on IR and aggravated the hamstring malady upon debuting in Week 4. After making his second return in Week 7 against the Saints, the ex-New Orleans corner left Carolina’s Tuesday practice because of a hamstring strain, David Newton of ESPN.com tweets.

While Apple would be entitled to an injury settlement, the Panthers are cutting the cord and turning their outside coverage effort over to younger talent. Carolina has third-year corner Donte Jackson, fourth-year man Corn Elder and former Eagle Rasul Douglas at this position. All three have graded as top-25 corners, in the view of Pro Football Focus, through seven games. The Panthers also drafted Troy Pride in Round 4 and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III in Round 7 this year. Douglas, however, resides on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list.

Apple played just 28 defensive snaps with the Panthers — all against the Saints on Sunday — and just 34 overall. This marks another setback for the 2016 No. 10 overall pick. Apple has bounced from the Giants to the Saints to the Raiders to the Panthers and back to free agency. In May, the Panthers signed him to a one-year deal after his previous Raiders pact — a one-year, $6MM contract agreed to on the first day of free agency — fell through.

The Ohio State alum is still just 25, however, and started 15 games for the Saints last season. He will almost certainly receive another opportunity.

South Notes: Texans, Titans, Bucs, Terrell

Bill O’Brien‘s final weeks with the Texans were trying, with the team going 0-4 and the former head coach-GM’s near-universally panned DeAndre Hopkins trade benefitting the Cardinals early. But the since-fired HC also was involved in some internal turmoil, with Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reporting O’Brien engaged in heated disputes with J.J. Watt and first-year defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver at a recent practice (Twitter link). O’Brien also verbally sparred with other staffers in his final weeks, per Wilson. That can be expected given the Texans’ start, but the Watt argument may have been a tipping point. The dispute with Watt — arguably the defining player in Texans history — resulted in O’Brien losing the team, in the view of one source (via ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini). The O’Brien-Watt argument took place days before the Texans’ loss to the Steelers.

Here is the latest from the South divisions, moving first to more Titans news:

  • At least three separate Titans offsite workouts took place last week over a multiday period, veteran NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky notes. A group that included Ryan Tannehill was spotted working out Sept. 30 at Montgomery Bell Academy, an area high school, while Kuharsky reports a different group — comprised of defensive backs — worked out at a park near Belmont University that day. Multiple workouts took place at the park near Belmont, per Kuharsky, who adds that Mike Vrabel said during an Oct. 1 Zoom call he told players not to conduct offsite workouts. The NFL is now investigating the Titans for this, and punishment for the coronavirus-stricken team could be severe. Tight end MyCole Pruitt, one of the Titans’ positive testers, was not at the offsite workouts, per Titaninsider.com’s Terry McCormick (on Twitter).
  • Prior to the Titans being barred from their headquarters, the NFL showed images of players and staffers walking around the team’s facility without masks, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Aside from players during workouts, team personnel are required to wear masks inside team facilities. Twenty-three Titans players and staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Good news for the Falcons on the virus front. First-round cornerback A.J. Terrell returned to practice this week, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com tweets. Terrell missed Atlanta’s past two games after being placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list just before the Falcons’ Week 3 game.
  • For the sect of non-Chris Godwin fantasy managers who might have missed this (and the narrower swath of LeSean McCoy deep-league GMs), both Buccaneers will miss Thursday night’s game against the Bears. The Bucs declared Godwin and Shady out. This marks Godwin’s third missed game this season; he is battling a hamstring injury. Mike Evans, however, will play, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). Evans was a game-time decision because of an ankle injury.
  • Eli Apple is set to miss more time. After successfully rehabbing one hamstring injury, the Panthers cornerback has encountered another. Matt Rhule said the recent acquisition pulled his other hamstring, per Joe Person of The Athletic (on Twitter). Apple missed Carolina’s first three games because of his initial hamstring injury. He has played just six snaps (all on special teams) this season.

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/3/20

Here is Saturday’s bevy of minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Dallas Cowboys

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team

Panthers Designate Eli Apple For Return

The Panthers have designated cornerback Eli Apple and wide receiver Keith Kirkwood to return from injured reserve, according to Joe Person of The Athletic (on Twitter). The club now has a three-week window to activate either player. If they are not activated in that span, they’ll be ineligible to return for the remainder of the year. 

[RELATED: Panthers Promote RB Reggie Bonnafon]

A former Giants first-round pick, Apple inked a one-year deal with the Panthers in May. At the time, he was thought to be on track for a starting role, especially since the Panthers waited until the fourth round before addressing their need at corner.

Without James Bradberry to lead the way, the Panthers weren’t left with much. Pro Football Focus graded none of Carolina’s incumbent corners higher than 89th at the position last season. Apple, meanwhile, was only 20 when he was drafted and he only just turned 25 over the summer, so there’s reason to believe that he can be a quality contributor when healthy.