September 2nd, 2017 at 8:24pm CST by Zachary Links
The Raiders were among the teams to drag their feet on announcing their 53-man roster. Now that we can see their initial roster in full, we have to say that they’re looking a little thin at linebacker. Here’s the full rundown of their moves:
The Raiders have signed pass rusher IK Enemkpali to a one-year deal, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
The addition of Enemkpali comes just a few days after renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews gave the 26-year-old a clean bill of health from the torn ACL he suffered last summer. Enemkpali was then a member of the Bills, with whom he appeared in 11 games in 2015 and didn’t make much of a dent on the stat sheet, only registering 13 tackles. He picked up three tackles in six games the year before with the Jets.
Enemkpali’s claim to fame isn’t on-field production, of course, but an off-field dust-up with ex-Jets quarterback Geno Smith. The defensive end broke Smith’s jaw with a punch prior to the 2015 season, which led to a four-game suspension for Enemkpali and his ouster from the Jets. Meanwhile, Smith missed a significant portion of time that year.
Although Enemkpali’s a household name for the wrong reasons, the 2014 sixth-round pick will nonetheless get another opportunity with the Raiders, adding to their DE options behind Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards Jr. One of the Raiders’ top ends, Jihad Ward, is on the active/physically unable to perform list with a foot issue, so they could use the depth.
Free agent defender IK Enemkpali has received a “clean bill of health” from Dr. James Andrews and is “100% ready to return” to the NFL after sustaining a torn ACL nearly a year ago, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
Although he’s probably still best known for breaking Jets quarterback Geno Smith‘s jaw prior to the 2015 campaign, the 26-year-old Enemkpali has shown the ability to act as a reserve defensive end/linebacker since being selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. He appeared in 17 games from 2014-15 with the Jets and Bills, and had been slated for a larger role with Buffalo last season before injuring his knee.
Enemkpali seemed to a favorite of former NFL coach Rex Ryan, as the latter was in New York when Enemkpali was drafted and then acquired him off waivers even after the Smith incident. With Ryan no longer coaching in the league (and his longtime defensive assistant Dennis Thurman also currently unemployed), it remains to be seen if a club will take a chance on Enemkpali.
Unrestricted free agent news will obviously dominate the day, but several clubs also had to make decisions on whether to offer tenders to restricted and exclusive rights free agents. All RFA tenders listed are original round/right of first refusal (worth $1.797MM), and all links go to Twitter:
The Colts announced that they have waived wide receiver Josh Boyce. Boyce, a former 2013 fourth-round pick of New England, managed just nine catches for his old team. At TCU, he was the program’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns (22). Indianapolis also announced that it has waived wide receiver Andre Debose and replaced him with fellow WR Andrew Opoku. Opoku, a converted linebacker, had four receptions at Delaware.
1:09pm: Enemkpali has indeed torn his ACL and will be out for the season, Rapoport tweets.
9:32am: The Bills’ defense received yet another blow yesterday, when outside linebacker IK Enemkpali suffered what head coach Rex Ryan called a “major injury” during Buffalo’s first preseason contest against the Colts (Twitter link via Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News). Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Enemkpali likely tore his ACL and will be out for the season, though an impending MRI will be needed to confirm.
Enemkpali, of course, made headlines for all the wrong reasons last season as a member of the Jets, when he punched then-teammate Geno Smith in the face and broke his jaw, which prompted Gang Green to waive Enemkpali. The former sixth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech was immediately claimed by the Bills–Ryan, of course, was the Jets’ head coach when Enemkpali was drafted–and appeared in 11 games for Buffalo in 2015.
As Roster Resource shows, Enemkpali at least figured to be an important piece of the team’s OLB rotation, and may have even landed a starting gig to open the season. After all, Enemkpali did impress during spring workouts, and he garnered some reps with the first-team defense. Ryan indicated that the Bills could look to sign a free agent OLB to replace Enemkpali, as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com writes, though of course the pickings are pretty slim at this point in the year.
The news concerning Enemkpali is especially unwelcome in light of the Bills’ recent spate of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Just a few days ago, the team learned that inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, this year’s second-round pick, would miss the entirety of his rookie season with a torn ACL, and that prized first-round selection Shaq Lawsonwould not be able to suit up until at least Week 6.
On the heels of finishing with the second-fewest sacks (21) in the NFL last season, the Bills spent the 19th overall pick on ex-Clemson edge rusher Shaq Lawson. Unfortunately, Lawson underwent right shoulder surgery after the draft and will be out until October, leaving the Bills without any real pass-rushing upgrades entering the season (plus, Mario Williams is gone). To fill Lawson’s void, the Bills could turn to IK Enemkpali, according to Joe Buscaglia of WKBW. Although the former Jet is known more for breaking quarterback Geno Smith‘s jaw with a punch last summer than anything he has accomplished on the field, Enemkpali impressed head coach Rex Ryan during spring workouts and garnered some first-team reps, per Buscaglia. As a result, the rush-needy Bills could platoon Enempkali and Manny Lawson at linebacker – using the latter on rushing downs – Buscaglia writes.
Notes on a couple other AFC linebackers:
The Jets are counting on second-year man Lorenzo Mauldin to evolve into a more complete linebacker this season, writes Brian Costello of the New York. The 2015 third-round pick emerged as a pass-rushing threat in racking up four sacks while playing just 24 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps as a rookie. On the negative side, the team has concerns about Mauldin’s abilities in coverage and against the run, according to Costello, who nonetheless adds that the 23-year-old is the favorite to start on the weak side for Gang Green.
Similarly, the Texans “expect a lot from” sophomore inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney, LBs coach Mike Vrabel told the Houston Chronicle. McKinney, whom the Texans want to use more in pass-rushing and coverage situations, has drawn praise from head coach Bill O’Brien this offseason. “I would say one guy on defense that I haven’t been asked a lot about that I think has really improved during the offseason and was improving at the end of last year is Benardrick McKinney,” said O’Brien. The 43rd pick in last year’s draft, McKinney started in 11 of 14 appearances as a rookie, picked up 63 tackles and a sack, and ranked an outstanding 17th among 97 qualifying linebackers at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
12:52pm: The Bills have officially activated Enemkpali and placed Wood on IR, the team announced in a press release.
12:30pm: The Bills have decided to activate edge defender IK Enemkpali to their 53-man roster in advance of today’s deadline, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com (Twitterlinks). To clear a roster spot for Enemkpali, Buffalo is placing running back Cierre Wood on injured reserve due to an ACL injury.
Enemkpali, who was claimed off waivers by the Bills after the Jets cut him for punching Geno Smith, was briefly moved to Buffalo’s 53-man roster earlier this year so that the team could store him on its reserve/suspended list while he served his four-game suspension. Now that the suspension is up, the Bills had a roster exemption for Enemkpali, giving them several days to decide whether or not to move him to the active roster — that decision was due by this afternoon.
As for Wood, the 24-year-old has seen a little action during the Bills’ last two games, with LeSean McCoy sidelined due to a hamstring issue, and Karlos Williams dealing with a concussion. Buffalo also has Boobie Dixon and Boom Herron on its roster, so adding another running back shouldn’t be necessary, particularly with McCoy and Williams hoping to return soon.
Ex-Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor on Sunday night, and while he was in town, Umenyiora weighed in on his former teammate, Jason Pierre-Paul. As Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes, Umenyiora thinks JPP is “just happy he’s alive” after his fireworks accident, but he remains very optimistic about a comeback.
“If anybody could do it, it’ll be him,” Umenyiora said. “He’s a powerful, athletic football player. I relied more on technique: He was just more athleticism. A guy like that, he’d be able to [come back]. … He’s still young. He’s going to be able to play football. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year, but he’s going to be able to play.”
As we wait to see when Pierre-Paul might be able to return to the field, here’s more from around the NFL’s two East divisions:
Sunday night’s performance was a quintessential example of why the Giants extended Eli Manning with a lucrative new contract prior to the season, writes Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com.
The Dolphins announced today in a press release that special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi has been elevated to an assistant head coach position. According to the team, Rizzi will continue to oversee the special teams unit while working with new head coach Dan Campbell.
Speaking of Campbell, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald identifies the 10 biggest issues that the Dolphins‘ interim head coach must fix in order to turn the team’s season around.
As Mike Rodak of ESPN.com tweets, the Bills will have until 3:00pm central time today to either add IK Enemkpali to their 53-man roster or cut him. If the club chooses to activate Enemkpali, who is returning from a four-game suspension, another player would need to be removed from the roster.
Earlier today, we identified several notable players returning from four-game suspensions who could be active for their respective teams in Week 5. One player we didn’t mention? Bills edge defender IK Enemkpali, who may qualify more as “notorious” than “notable.”
Enemkpali, who was picked up by the Bills after the Jets cut him for punching Geno Smith, was briefly moved to Buffalo’s 53-man roster so that the team could store him on its reserve/suspended list while he served his four-game ban. Now that he’s eligible to return, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Bills put him on the 53-man roster or cut him and try to get him back on their practice squad, as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com details.
For now, the Bills will have a roster exemption for Enemkpali, and won’t have to make an immediate decision. As the team decides what to do with the young defensive end, let’s check in on some other Bills-related items….
While Tyrod Taylor‘s base salary for this season is just $750K, he could earn up to another $3MM in playing-time and performance incentives if the Bills make the postseason, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. According to Rapoport, Taylor chose the Bills’ offer over one from the Broncos during the offseason, and was hoping he’d get one from the Eagles, but Philadelphia chose not to pursue him.
Bills head coach Rex Ryan said today that tight end MarQueis Gray may have a broken bone in his forearm, which would sideline him for a while, tweets Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News. We’ll see what Buffalo decides to do with Gray, if anything, after the club gets an official diagnosis.
Speaking of injuries, a weekend report indicated that running back LeSean McCoy would miss three to four weeks due to his hamstring issue. However, a source tells Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News (Twitter link) that McCoy’s recovery timetable isn’t set in stone: “[Hamstrings] are tricky. Could be less, could be more.”