The Broncos’ primary right tackle over the past two seasons, Elijah Wilkinson will relocate. The free agent offensive lineman revealed on Instagram he will join the Bears.
Wilkinson wrapped up his Bears visit earlier Tuesday, and 9News’ Mike Klis noted (via Twitter) the sides were close on a deal. It appears Wilkinson will be set to be part of Chicago’s next O-line group. It’s a one-year deal, per the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs (on Twitter).
This move comes after the Bears passed on Bobby Massie‘s 2021 option. Massie had served as Chicago’s right tackle starter for the past five seasons. Since 2018, Wilkinson has logged 26 starts — at both tackle and guard — and became essential for a Broncos team that saw its high-priced right tackle essentially miss two full seasons. Ja’Wuan James missed almost all of Denver’s 2019 season, thrusting Wilkinson into a full-time role on the right side, and then opted out of the 2020 campaign.
Given a second-round RFA tender by the Broncos last year, Wilkinson suffered a leg injury that limited him to nine games in 2020. The former UDFA did not perform like an upper-echelon right tackle, grading among the lower half at his position in the view of Pro Football Focus, but has extensive experience now as a starter there.
Wilkinson worked as a guard in 2018, helping Phillip Lindsay to the first of his two 1,000-yard seasons, and has competed with Garett Bolles for Denver’s left tackle spot as well. But James’ issues made Wilkinson a full-time right tackle over the past two seasons.
The Bears have also re-signed O-lineman Germain Ifedi this month. While Ifedi played right tackle in Seattle, he started 16 games with the Bears at guard last season. While the team could continue to bolster its O-line, Wilkinson appears set to at worst step into their swing tackle role next season.
As cut day approaches, let’s take a look at the latest news coming out of the AFC West:
As Hard Knocks viewers observed, Mike Williams suffered a shoulder injury while diving for a pass in practice. While Williams was said to be out “for a while,”Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen noted recently the fourth-year wideout may well return for Week 1. “Mike’s gotta be ready to play,” Steichen said, via the Orange County Register’s Gilbert Manzano (on Twitter). “I think Mike has got that mindset to be ready to play. We look forward to having him on September 13.” A thin Bolts receiver depth chart — beyond WR1 Keenan Allen — increases the importance of Williams returning.
Rookie Raiders cornerback Damon Arnette suffered a setback recently. The first-round pick sustained a thumb fracture, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. This will require Arnette to wear a soft cast on his injured hand, which he did at one point with the Buckeyes. The Raiders are counting on Arnette to play a key role in their secondary this season.
One of Mike Williams‘ ex-Chargers receiver teammates will not play this season. The Raiders placed Tyrell Williamson IR this week, ending his second season with the team. Tyrell Williams suffered a torn shoulder labrum for the second time as a pro, and Jon Gruden said an attempt to play through this malady would have required Williams to wear a movement-restricting harness (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Vic Tafur). With a Williams cut saving the Raiders $11MM-plus next year, he looms as a likely 2021 release.
Although Demar Dotson operated as the Buccaneers’ starting right tackle for the past eight seasons, his Broncos signing does not mean he will stay a first-stringer. The current Denver plan is for Elijah Wilkinson to again fill Ja’Wuan James‘ position, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes. Dotson would then play a swing role behind Wilkinson and embattled left tackle Garett Bolles. Whether Wilkinson starts in Week 1 or not, the Broncos will enter a seventh straight year with a different right tackle to open a season.
The COVID-19 pandemic will make rookies’ transitions more difficult, and quarterbacks will face a tough learning curve. As a result, Tyrod Taylor is expected to open the season as the Chargers‘ starting quarterback, Daniel Popper of The Athletic writes (subscription required). That arrangement may continue for a while. No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert will likely sit at least eight games, Popper predicts, noting that the Bolts are preaching patience with their first Round 1 quarterback pick in 16 years. Anthony Lynn said in early April that Taylor was the Bolts’ starter “for now.” Taylor is undoubtedly a bridge quarterback again, but this bridge may be longer than the one the Browns used to get to Baker Mayfield two years ago.
Let’s look at the latest from the Chiefs’ three challengers in the AFC West:
Defensive lineman Damion Square and the Chargers have expressed mutual interest about another contract, Popper notes. The Bolts originally picked up Square in 2014 and re-signed him in 2017 and ’19. The former UDFA would provide a veteran presence on a defensive line housing Pro Bowlers Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Linval Joseph up front but little experience behind them. Square, now 31, has seen time at defensive tackle and D-end with the Bolts. He started 11 games for the 2018 Chargers, registering three sacks that season.
The Broncos did not add a left tackle in the draft or free agency, planning instead to hold a Garett Bolles-vs.-Elijah Wilkinson competition for the job. The latter will be coming off surgery. Wilkinson underwent an ankle procedure in May, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic notes. Wilkinson, who filled in for Ja’Wuan James as Denver’s starting right tackle for almost all of last season, suffered a high ankle sprain in December. The ailment did not heal properly, postponing the fourth-year player’s recovery. Wilkinson, who signed his second-round RFA tender in April, still hopes to be ready for training camp.
Despite the coronavirus altering the construction of the Raiders‘ Allegiant Stadium, the team is eyeing July 31 as a completion date for the Las Vegas-based domed stadium’s “substantial construction,” Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal notes. At least 16 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and Akers adds the near-$2 billion project moved from two shifts to three to allow for social distancing.
At pick No. 83, the Broncos drafted center Lloyd Cushenberry. The starting snapper for national champion LSU is the early favorite to be Denver’s Week 1 center. However, he may well have been the Broncos’ second choice for this role. The Broncos had a deal in place to move up to No. 79, where they would have taken Temple center Matt Hennessy, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports. The Jets were set to drop from No. 79 to No. 83 and add a Day 3 pick from the Broncos to do so, Mehta notes. The Falcons, however, scuttled these plans by drafting Hennessy at No. 78. Instead of moving up for Cushenberry, the Broncos stood pat. Interestingly, the Jets’ signing of two-year Broncos starter Connor McGovern created a Denver need at center. With the Falcons interrupting a Jets trade-down maneuver, Gang Green took defensive end Jabari Zuniga at No. 79.
Here is the latest out of Denver:
Melvin Gordon‘s two-year, $16MM Denver deal surprised many, with the Broncos already featuring two-time 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay. Count Lindsay as one of those surprised by the move. “It caught me off-guard,” Lindsay said during an interview with NFL.com’s Terrell Davis (video link via The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala). “It was like, ‘OK, I’ve put in work.’ It makes it seem like they don’t respect you enough to know the work you’re putting in. I was really upset at the beginning. I’m not gonna lie.” Lindsay said soon after he has since come around to the prospect of splitting time with Gordon, viewing the ex-Charger as another weapon in a retooled offense. As a 2018 UDFA, Lindsay is extension-eligible. He is set to make just $750K but has not indicated plans for a holdout.
Although the Broncos passed on Garett Bolles‘ $11MM fifth-year option, they did not draft a tackle. The team passed on both Ezra Cleveland and Josh Jones in Round 2, doing so to take Penn State speedster K.J. Hamlerat No. 46. The Broncos passed on the blockers because they did not view either as having the chance to beat out Bolles or Elijah Wilkinson at left tackle, per Troy Renck of Denver7. Wilkinson, who played right tackle most of last season because of Ja’Wuan James‘ injury, is set to compete with Bolles for Denver’s starting left tackle gig.