With one of the free roster spots, the Falcons brought back linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. The team had included the former Bears and Raiders defender among its Tuesday cuts. Atlanta also re-signed defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson and offensive lineman Colby Gossett.
Linked in trade rumors for months, Jones underwent shoulder surgery in May to quiet those. He did not return to practice until late August. The seventh-year defender is set to count for a Falcons-most $20MM against the 2022 cap. The team added Kwiatkoski, former Dean Pees Titans charge Rashaan Evans and second-rounder Troy Andersen at the position — one also housing third-year cog Mykal Walker — this offseason. That and the Falcons having moved on from most of their Super Bowl LI nucleus, as they attempt to rebuild, has naturally inserted Jones’ name into departure rumors.
It should not be completely ruled out Jones could be dealt by the Nov. 1 deadline, but Thursday’s transaction — continuing an injury hiatus into the season — further complicates that status.
Practically the only need the Chargers did not address this offseason was right tackle, where incumbent Storm Norton and backup Trey Pipkinswaged a summer competition. It looks like there will be a change up front for the Bolts. Pipkins appears to have beaten out Norton for the gig, Daniel Popper of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The two are swapping roles, with Pipkins — a 2019 third-round pick — leaving his swing tackle post to try his luck as a starter again. Norton, who replaced Bryan Bulaga early last season and made 15 starts, worked with the second team throughout practice this week and saw time as the second-string left tackle as well. Pipkins, 25, has made 10 career starts. While the Chargers demoted him in 2021, they were impressed with his left- and right-side spot starts late in the season. The University of Sioux Falls product, who is going into a contract year, will work on a line full of free agency investments (Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler) and first-round picks (Rashawn Slater, Zion Johnson).
Here is the latest from the O-line scene:
Staying on the right tackle topic, Elgton Jenkins is expected to settle in there when he returns, per Albert Breer of SI.com. A high-end Swiss Army knife for the Packers, Jenkins made the 2020 Pro Bowl at guard and began last season as David Bakhtiari‘s left tackle fill-in. An ACL tear sidelined Jenkins in November. Jenkins would stand to command more in earnings with a quality right tackle season, though staying on the field in 2022 will position him for a lucrative deal no matter where he lines up. The Packers removed both players from the active/PUP list this month but do not yet know if Jenkins and Bakhtiari — who have not played together since December 2020 — will be ready for Week 1, Matt LaFleur reiterated Sunday. When healthy, a Bakhtiari-Jenkins duo would be one of the league’s best tackle tandems.
The Vikings are on the verge of having five homegrown first- or second-round picks as O-line starters. Second-round rookie Ed Ingram is “trending” toward being the Vikes’ right guard starter, Kevin O’Connell said (via the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson). Although Minnesota signed Jesse Davis and Chris Reed as potential stopgaps, Ingram has impressed since moving to first-team duty during camp. Ingram worked with Minnesota’s first team in joint practices against San Francisco, with Davis — who had taken some days off to rest a surgically repaired knee — shifting to the second team, Tomasson adds. Ingram was also held out of the Vikings’ preseason finale Saturday, and while O’Connell stopped short of locking the LSU product into the lineup, that is the likely scenario. Ingram would join 2021 first-rounder Christian Darrisaw, 2020 second-rounder Ezra Cleveland, 2019 first-rounder Garrett Bradbury and 2018 second-rounder Brian O’Neill on a fully homegrown Vikings line.
Free agent pickup Elijah Wilkinson looks to have commandeered the Falcons‘ left guard spot, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who notes the former Broncos and Bears blocker looks set to play ahead of 2021 third-rounder Jalen Mayfield. The Michigan product struggled as a rookie, ranking as a bottom-10 Pro Football Focus guard. Mayfield did start 16 games, so a demotion is certainly notable for player who started one with the Bears last season. Wilkinson’s most relevant NFL work came in Denver, when he served as Ja’Wuan James‘ primary replacement from 2019-20. Mayfield may already be on Atlanta’s roster bubble, per Ledbetter.
Mayfield, who was taken with the No. 68 pick, is naturally the most notable signing. The lineman appeared in 18 games through three seasons at Michigan, allowing only a pair of sacks. Mayfield put himself on the NFL map after helping guide the 2019 Michigan running game to more than 2,000 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Ogundeji is an intriguing prospect following a productive career at Notre Dame. The defensive lineman saw time in 43 games for the Irish, compiling 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 17 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, while Williams had a solid stint at Boise State as a defensive back, he was prolific on special teams, and he could immediately find himself as one of the Falcons’ key returners next season.
Following the five signings, the Falcons have four draft picks who remain unsigned:
Deion Sanders has received his wish. After pushing for a head coaching job earlier this year, the Hall of Famer has been hired by Jackson State. Rashad Milligan of the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reports (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com) that Sanders will be the next head coach of the Tigers.
Prime Time won a pair of Super Bowls, earned eight Pro Bowl appearances, and garnered six first-team All-Pro nods during his illustrious NFL career. However, as Florio notes, the 53-year-old hasn’t even served as an assistant coach (much less head coach) at the college or professional level. Sanders is currently coaching his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, at Trinity Christian in Cedar Hill, Texas.
Jackson State fired John Hendrick back in August, with T.C. Taylor and Otis Riddley taking over interim head coaching duties. The school is sitting out the fall 2020 season, but they’re expected to participate in a spring league that begins in February.
More notes out of the college ranks:
Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike has opted out of the 2020 season and will declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-3, 288-pound lineman earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, and he’ll finish his Huskies career having compiled 95 tackles and seven sacks. Onwuzurike will likely be a top-five defensive tackle in the 2021 draft, and he’s currently projected to be a second-day selection.
Last month, it sounded like Michigan offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield was going to sit out the 2020 season and prepare for the draft. However, Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News reports that Mayfield will actually return to the Wolverines this season. Mayfield was projected to be a first-round pick in next year’s draft.
MSU has confirmed that defensive end Jacub Panasiuk has reversed course and will play this season (via Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News on Twitter). The six-foot-three, 245-pound lineman initially opted out of the season last month. In 38 games at MSU, Panasiuk has compiled 80 tackles and eight sacks. Thanks to the decision, Panasiuk could improve his current third-day draft stock.
Wade hired an agent but did not file any paperwork, according to ESPN.com. He is not the only one of the Big Ten opt-outs to reconsider. Ohio State offensive lineman Wyatt Davis, a potential first-round pick, also reversed course and opted back in (Twitter link).
Penn State coach James Franklin said the door is open for Parsons to play as a junior, according to PennLive.com, while Purdue HC Jeff Brohm intends to check on Moore’s status now that the conference timetable has changed. Bateman, however, does not plan to opt back in, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Golden Gophers standout wideout has asthma and cited health concerns as a reason he will skip the COVID-19-altered season to prepare for the draft. Despite playing just one full season with the Wolverines, Mayfield plans to stick with his decision to bypass his junior season, per the Detroit Free Press.
The Big Ten’s decision to postpone its football season created ripple effects across the college football landscape. A possible spring season will make it difficult for 2021 draft-eligible prospects. A few such talents opted out of the season when the conference was still hoping to play this fall.
One such player will pass on a not-yet-certain spring slate. Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield announced he is declaring for the draft ahead of what was set to be his redshirt-sophomore season (Twitter link).
Mayfield rated as a first-round talent on Todd McShay’s first 2021 big board. But he will leave the Wolverines program after just one season of action. The former four-star prospect operated as Michigan’s starting right tackle as a freshman last season.