Jihad Ward

NFC North Notes: Bears, Vikings, Reader

Coleman Shelton started every Rams game at center last season, and the former UDFA logged a few starts there during the 2022 season. The Bears gave Shelton only a one-year, $3MM deal, however. Already rostering guards Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis, the Bears may view Shelton as a backup. This is because Chicago acquired Ryan Bates from Buffalo. Given a Bears RFA offer sheet in 2022, Bates remains attached to that contract (four years, $17MM). He looks more likely to be the favorite for Bears center duties than Shelton, ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin notes.

Bates, 27, does not have a notable history at center. At Penn State, he primarily played left tackle. The Bills used him primarily at guard, with Mitch Morse previously entrenched at center. Despite Buffalo matching the 2022 Chicago offer sheet, the team added two new guards — Connor McGovern, O’Cyrus Torrence — in 2023. Bates did not start a game for the Bills last season, but the ex-UDFA looks set to have a good shot at taking over at center for the Bears.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • The Bears’ four-year, $76MM Jaylon Johnson extension features an out in 2026. The deal calls for $10.6MM of Johnson’s $15.1MM 2026 base salary to be guaranteed for injury, but no skill guarantees are in place beyond 2025. KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson notes $7.6MM of Johnson’s 2026 base will shift to a full guarantee if the Pro Bowl cornerback is on the roster by that date. With no true guarantees on this deal post-2025, the Bears could get out with just $5MM in dead money (in the event of a post-June 1 cut) in 2026.
  • The Vikings have been active in using void years under GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. This practice cost the team when Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Tomlinson departed, but it is turning to cap space-saving measure heavily this year as well. Minnesota included four void years in Sam Darnold, Aaron Jones and Andrew Van Ginkel‘s deals, with three void years used to spread out the three-year, $22.5MM Blake Cashman contract’s cap hits. While this will create some dead money if these players are not re-signed before their contracts officially expire, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling observes it created some cap space in the event the Vikes need to carry a bigger 2024 cap number for Justin Jefferson, who has been on the extension radar for two years. That said, Jefferson’s 2024 cap figure is already at $19.7MM on the fifth-year option.
  • Looking elsewhere on the Vikings’ payroll, their Jonathan Greenard deal (four years, $76MM) features $42MM in total guarantees. The contract includes $4MM guaranteed for 2026, per Goessling. Though, that money is classified as injury guarantees, providing the Vikes — like the Bears with Johnson — some flexibility down the road on a $19MM-AAV contract.
  • Rounding up some Minnesota contract matters, Goessling adds Shaquill Griffin‘s one-year contract is worth $4.55MM and features $3.99MM fully guaranteed. The Vikings are giving Jonathan Bullard a one-year, $2.25MM deal to stay, per Goessling, who adds Dan Feeney‘s contract to come over from the Bears is worth $1.8MM. Jonah Williams, the defensive lineman, signed a one-year, $1.5MM deal that includes $350K guaranteed, Goessling offers. Jihad Ward‘s one-year accord is worth $1.8MM and includes $1MM guaranteed, The Athletic’s Dan Duggan tweets.
  • Initially labeled as being worth up to $27.25MM, D.J. Reader‘s Lions pact contains $22MM in base value. The Lions are only guaranteeing the veteran nose tackle $7.4MM at signing, per OverTheCap. Coming off his second quad tear in four years, Reader would receive a $4MM roster bonus on Day 3 of the 2025 league year. That date will certainly be pivotal for his Detroit future.
  • Arrested on a fourth-degree DWI charge in December, Vikings OC Wes Phillips pleaded guilty to a lesser charge recently. The third-year Minnesota OC pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge, Fox 9’s Jeff Wald notes. Phillips, 45, agreed to pay a $378 fine and will serve eight hours of community service.

Vikings Add DE Jihad Ward, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill

The Vikings have seen their roster transform drastically over the past couple of weeks. Their efforts to continue building on defense have not stopped yet. Today, Minnesota agreed to deals that bring in defensive end Jihad Ward and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, per Vikings senior editor Craig Peters.

Ward is an eight-year veteran who was drafted to the Raiders in the second round of the 2016 Draft out of Illinois. While he was never truly able to live up to that second-round draft status, Ward found himself in some solid contributing roles over the past eight seasons.

After starting all but three games as a rookie and failing to register his first NFL sack, Ward needed offseason surgery after a workout injury that would limit him to just one start in five game appearances during his sophomore campaign. He was traded to Dallas in exchange for Ryan Switzer the following offseason but would sign with the Colts practice squad after failing to make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster to start the year.

Since then, Ward has played on one-year contracts that have taken him from Indianapolis to Baltimore to Jacksonville to New York. He’s never quite hit his stride as a consistent starter, though his last two seasons with the Giants saw him start 20 of 34 game appearances. Ward is coming off the most productive time of his career. Over his two seasons with the Giants, he achieved career-highs in total tackles (43), sacks (5.0), tackles for loss (7), quarterback hits (13), passes defensed (4), and forced fumbles (2). In Minnesota, Ward will likely compete with recent signee Jerry Tillery for a starting position opposite Jonathan Bullard. He joins Tillery and Jonah Williams as the third defensive line addition in free agency.

Grugier-Hill is from the same draft class as Ward, getting selected four rounds later by the Patriots. After failing to make the initial 53-man roster as a rookie in New England, Grugier-Hill signed with Philadelphia, where he would spend the first four years of his career. Despite starting 16 of 26 game appearances over his last two years with the Eagles, Grugier-Hill didn’t break out until his 2021 season with the Texans. Over 20 starts for Houston in 2021 and 2022, Grugier-Hill totaled 148 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defensed, and an interception that he returned for 82 yards.

After leaving Houston, Grugier-Hill took a minor role with the Cardinals before playing the 2023 season with the Panthers. In a rotation role last year, he started five games and finished sixth on the team in tackles with 56. With the Vikings, Grugier-Hill reunites with former Texans teammate Blake Cashman as the two will compete for the starting job next to Ivan Pace.

The transformation in Minnesota continues. With so many key contributors departing and needing to be replaced, the Vikings continue to evaluate and reload. Vikings fans will be learning a lot of new names and faces as they watch a very different-looking Vikings team in 2024.

Giants To Re-Sign DE Jihad Ward

The Giants have made some notable outside additions so far in free agency, but a targeted incumbent player is staying in the fold. New York has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with defensive end Jihad Ward, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan (Twitter link).

The 28-year-old bounced around to four different teams before landing in the Big Apple last offseason. His decision to head to New York proved to be a wise one, as he earned a starting role for the second time in his career (and first since his rookie season) in 2022.

Ward saw a 58% snap share in his debut Giants season, one in which he reunited with defensive coordinator Don Martindale. The pair worked together with the Ravens in 2019 and ’20, and Ward’s familiarity with the latter’s scheme allowed him to enjoy a productive campaign. The former second-round pick matched his career high in sacks with three, and set new personal marks in tackles (43), QB hits (13) and pressures (15). Retaining him was thus one of the Giants’ top priorities this offseason.

New York has invested in their pass rush in recent years, a process which included the selection of Kayvon Thibodeaux in the first round of last year’s draft. Like the latter, Ward has the ability to play both on the edge and inside, a degree of versatility which has helped earn him earn numerous opportunities despite never putting up eye-popping statistics. He is now in line for an extended look in his latest home, one which has been the site for plenty of activity so far this offseason.

The Giants will have both quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley in place for next season, and their offense has been augmented with the trade acquisition of tight end Darren Waller. Defensively, the signing of linebacker Bobby Okereke will help the unit’s second level. By re-upping Ward, though, they will maintain continuity up front as they look to repeat the surprising success of 2022.

Giants, Saquon Barkley Moving Closer To Deal; Team Begins Dexter Lawrence Talks

Sitting as the second domino in the Giants’ offseason equation for weeks, Saquon Barkley remains unsigned. He and the Giants have been in talks since midway through last season, but Joe Schoen pointed to progress Tuesday.

The second-year Giants GM said the sides are “a little bit closer” on terms. It is believed the Giants offered Barkley a deal in the $12.5MM-per-year range; that did not move the needle much during the fall talks. The Giants have not been connected to being open to moving too much higher, but they might be willing to climb a bit to retain their dynamic back.

We haven’t totally bridged [the difference]. We’re a little bit closer,” Schoen said, via ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan. “There’s still a gap, [otherwise] would’ve done it. We’ll still work through that. We’re working with Roc Nation and [Barkley’s agent] Kim [Miale]. We have a great relationship with them and her.

“… Again, you have to draw a line in the sand — like we’re not going any further. And if it goes past this [line], alright, let’s shift to Plan B. Again, hopefully we don’t get to all that but we went through all these plans.”

A recent report indicated a deal at around $14MM per year could move this lengthy process past the goal line. That still would place Barkley outside the top three among running backs, and with those deals (for Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott) all being signed in 2020 or before, it would obviously be somewhat unsatisfying for the Giants back to accept such terms now that the cap has spiked to $224.8MM. But the Giants could have both the advantage of the franchise tag and a robust running back market that could suppress players’ values.

Barkley, 26, has already pocketed considerable cash, being a former No. 2 overall pick and having finished his fifth-year option season. But this offseason represents his best chance to cash in during a career not expected to last too much longer. Barkley should still have multiple prime years left, but backs routinely do not play past 30 in the modern game. The Giants have until March 13 to keep Barkley off the market, but their real deadline may be March 7 — the last day to apply franchise tags.

Schoen reiterated the Giants’ plan to tag Daniel Jones (at a steep $32.4MM) unless an extension is reached. A $10.1MM Barkley tag would, then, only commence if Jones is extended. While the GM expressed cautious optimism extensions for Barkley and Jones will be completed, via the New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard (on Twitter), the Giants are likely to go down to the wire here.

Beyond the Jones-Barkley components of this offseason, the Giants have Dexter Lawrence coming off a breakout year and heading into a contract campaign. The Giants have already begun talks with Lawrence, Schoen said (via Leonard), but the discussions look to be preliminary in nature. It is not known if the Giants want to be the team that first bridges the gap between Aaron Donald and the field at defensive tackle. The Commanders just tagged Daron Payne, but he will be part of that mix that includes Jeffery Simmons and Chris Jones, who are each in contract years.

Those contracts would stand to drive up the price for Lawrence, who is going into his fifth-year option season. But the former Clemson standout (and last piece of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade still on either the Giants or Browns) said he wants to stay in New York. The Giants would have the option of a 2024 franchise tag with Lawrence, though their 2023 tag candidates obviously take precedence.

Scrolling further down Big Blue’s expanding priority list, Schoen confirmed the Giants want to keep Julian Love. The Giants will speak with Love’s agent at the Combine, but a deal may not transpire until the Giants survey the market. Schoen said the team will wait to see if teams cut safeties to create a market surplus, which would affect Love’s value. John Johnson will be one of the cap casualties, joining a market set to house Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Jordan Poyer, whom Schoen has close ties to from his Buffalo days. Additionally, Schoen mentioned Jihad Ward as a leadership type the Giants will not want to lose (Twitter links via Leonard). The rotational edge rusher just played out a league-minimum contract.

Giants Sign Jihad Ward

Free agent pass rusher Jihad Ward has found his new home in the NFL. The Giants announced that they have signed the veteran. 

[RELATED: Falcons To Sign LB Carter]

Ward, 27, was a second round pick of the Raiders in 2016. Despite starting 14 of 21 games, however, he was only there for two years, next spending nine games as a Colt split between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

The second team he was on that year – the Ravens – is where he first played under Don Martindale. During 21 games in Baltimore, Ward registered four sacks (the most he’s had with any one team), along with two fumble recoveries. His play earned him a deal with the Jaguars, although he only started one of 17 contests in Jacksonville.

By signing with the Giants, Ward will reunite with Martindale, who became the team’s new defensive coordinator earlier this offseason. He will also likely have at least a rotational role available to him, as Lorenzo Carter signed with the Falcons earlier today.

Alongside Ward, New York currently has a pass-rushing corps which includes recent draftees Oshane XiminesAzeez OjulariElerson Smith and Quincy Roche. While he will add a veteran presence to the position group, the Giants are widely expected to target more help in that department using one of their two top-ten picks in April’s draft.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/1/22

Here are the New Year’s Day activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: G Oli Udoh

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: CB Bryce Hall

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Jaguars To Sign Jihad Ward

The Jaguars have agreed to sign former Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). The deal will reunite Ward with ex-Baltimore position coach Joe Cullen who now serves as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator.

Ward will join former Bears standout Roy Robertson-Harris on the Jags’ revamped defensive line. The Jaguars also re-upped Dawuane Smoot earlier this week to maintain consistency and flexibility as they adjust their scheme.

Ward, a 6’5″, 290-pound lineman, entered the league in 2016 as a second-round pick of the Raiders. In 2018, he was traded to the Cowboys, but he missed their final cut. That led him to the Colts, where he was used sparingly over two seasons. Ward joined up with the Ravens in mid-2019 and cracked the starting lineup in 2020. Last year, he notched three sacks, four tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits.

COVID-19 Latest: Ravens, Tuitt, Colts

Multiple standout defensive linemen will be back in action in Week 13, and although the Ravens still have several players on their reserve/COVID-19 list, their roster is no longer as depleted as it was Wednesday.

  • Baltimore’s coronavirus list still houses 10 players, including Lamar Jackson, but the team will have multiple starters back at practice soon. The Ravens activated Calais Campbell, Mark Ingram and defensive lineman Jihad Ward from their virus list. Ingram was eligible to play against the Steelers on Wednesday, but the Ravens held him out. A five-time Pro Bowler, Campbell has not played since Nov. 8 due to a calf strain.
  • The 11-0 Steelers will have Stephon Tuitt back in action when they face Washington on Monday. They activated the seventh-year starter from their reserve/COVID list. Three Steelers remain on the virus list, including starters James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey.
  • Pricey trade acquisition DeForest Buckner came off the Colts‘ virus list as well. Buckner landed on Indianapolis’ COVID list after testing positive for the virus in late November. The Colts, who allowed the Titans to rush for 229 yards in Buckner’s absence last week, also removed Jonathan Taylor from their virus list.
  • The Ravens announced Saturday that four strains of the coronavirus were present in their building. While the team believes it contained three of those strains, the fourth ended up spreading to the point it forced the NFL to postpone the team’s Steelers rematch three times. Ten straight days commenced with at least one Raven testing positive for the virus, and the team had as many as 23 players on its reserve/COVID list at the height of the outbreak. Four straight days, however, have passed without a Ravens positive test.

Contract Details: Lawson, Trufant, Shelton, Witten,

Kyler Fackrell (Giants), One year, $4.6MM, $3.5MM guaranteed, base salary 2020: $2.6MM, $2MM roster bonus, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.

Antonio Hamilton (Chiefs), One year, $1.047MM, $887.5k guaranteed, $137.5k signing bonus; salary 2020: $910k ($750k guaranteed), according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Shaq Lawson (Dolphins), Three years, $30MM, $21MM guaranteed, $4MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $6.4MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $7.9MM (fully guaranteed), 2022: $8.9MM; $2.5MM fully guaranteed roster bonus in 2020, $100k workout bonus in 2020-2021, potential $2MM in annual incentives, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

John Miller (Panthers), One year, $4MM, $2MM guaranteed, $2MM signing bonus; salary 2020: $1.79MM; $160k in per-game roster bonuses, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Danny Shelton (Lions), Two years, $8MM, $4MM guaranteed, $2.5MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $1.5MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $4MM, according to Michael Rothstein of ESPN.

Desmond Trufant (Lions), Two years, $20MM, $14MM guaranteed, $5MM signing bonus; salaries 2020: $4.5MM (fully guaranteed), 2021: $9.5MM ($4.5MM guaranteed for injury at signing); $500k in annual per-game roster bonuses, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jihad Ward (Ravens), One year, $1.047MM, $637.5k guaranteed, $137.5k signing bonus; salary 2020: $910,000 ($500,000 guaranteed), according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jaylen Watkins (Texans), Two years, $3MM, $300k guaranteed, $300k guaranteed; salaries 2020: $1.1MM, 2021: $1.4MM; 200k first-game roster bonus in 2020, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Jason Witten (Raiders), One year, $4MM, $3.5MM guaranteed; salary 2020: $3.5MM (fully guaranteed); $500k in per-game roster bonuses, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.

Ravens To Re-Sign Jihad Ward

The Ravens are finalizing a new contract for OLB/DE Jihad Ward, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic (Twitter link). Ward was one of the handful of free agents Baltimore added to its defense in the middle of the 2019 season who helped fortify the unit and keyed the club’s 14-2 finish.

The Raiders selected Ward in the second round of the 2016 draft, which gives some clue as to his upside. He was traded to the Cowboys in April 2018, but he did not make Dallas’ roster that year and ultimately caught on with the Colts’ taxi squad. He played in six games for Indy in 2018 and recorded three sacks, but his season was cut short due to an ankle injury.

He saw action in three games for the Colts in 2019 before being waived, and the Ravens, in need of pass rush help, picked him up. Though he recorded just one sack in 11 games in Baltimore, he, like fellow under-the-radar pickups Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, brought much-needed stability to the team’s front seven.

He also accounted for 23 pressures in only 398 snaps, which is even more valuable since some of those pressures came from the interior. He will turn just 26 in May, so it makes sense for the Ravens to keep him around at what will probably be a low-cost deal and to see if he can’t stay healthy and start converting those pressures into sacks.