John Simpson

Ravens Name John Simpson Starting LG

The left guard spot was the only one up for grabs this offseason along the Ravens’ offensive front. A slew of candidates received a look at the left guard spot, but a decision has been made ahead of the season opener.

[RELATED: Recapping Ravens’ Offseason]

Head coach John Harbaugh named John Simpson the starter at the LG spot, putting an end to the competition at that position (video link). Simpson represented the most experienced option who took significant reps during training camp and the preseason, especially compared to the other finalist for the gig, sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laula.

It came out shortly before Baltimore’s preseason finale that the left guard battle was down to Simpson and Aumavae-Laula. The latter saw time at both tackle and guard during his time at Oregon, but is viewed as a long-term developmental option. Simpson – who has 21 NFL starts to his name – is, by contrast, much more of a known commodity at this point in his career. The latter will take on first-team duties in 2023 for the first time since he lost a starting role with the Raiders last season.

The Clemson alum started all 17 contests in 2021, and he remained the first choice left guard for the first two games the following season. By December, however, he found himself on waivers with one year remaining on his rookie contract. Simpson earned a PFF grade of 59.5 in 2022, an underwhelming mark which helped explain Vegas’ decision to move on (although it was the highest of his brief NFL career).

Ben Powers excelled at the left guard spot during his walk year last season, pricing himself out of Baltimore in free agency. The former fourth-rounder inked a four-year, $52MM deal with the Broncos, making him part of the team’s major investment project up front. Powers’ absence was first thought to pave the way for 2021 third-rounder Ben Cleveland to ascend to a starting role, and the latter was indeed one of the initial contenders for the role. He underwhelmed in the summer, though, and it was in doubt during roster cutdowns that he would even make the initial 53-man squad.

That will lead to questions about Cleveland’s future with the Ravens beyond 2023. In the meantime, attention will turn toward Simpson’s ability to succeed between former All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and 2022 first-round center Tyler Linderbaum in his first full year in Baltimore. Replicating Powers’ level of play from last year would go a long way in helping Simpson’s prospects with the Ravens or another team on the open market, while helping the team maintain a strong offensive front.

Ravens Rumors: Left Guard, Wallace, Washington, Clowney

The competition for a starting job that began with five or six candidates has seemingly been whittled down to two. According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, it seems that veteran John Simpson and rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laula are the final two players fighting for the starting left guard job in 2023.

Simpson appears to be the frontrunner. He has received a good amount of snaps with the first-team offensive line in camp and hasn’t looked out of place. Aumavae-Laula is viewed to have a higher ceiling than Simpson, and while the sixth-round pick out of Oregon has shown less consistency, the staff seems to be open to “letting him learn on the job.” With Simpson receiving the most first-team reps leading up to the regular season, it appears to be his job to lose, but it may be difficult to hold off Aumavae-Laula for long.

On the flipside, it’s a disappointing outcome for former third-round pick Ben Cleveland. After losing the starting battle to Ben Powers last year, the 6-foot-6, 357-pound lineman seems to be on the losing end of the competition for the second straight year. If he can’t show something soon, Cleveland may find himself fighting for a roster spot next summer.

Here are a few more rumors coming out of Baltimore:

  • Weeks ago, wide receiver Tylan Wallace was considered a likely candidate to be cut before the start of the regular season. After Wallace only amassed 56 receiving yards over his first two seasons, the additions of Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor, and Zay Flowers made Wallace’s future cut seem like a foregone conclusion. With Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay, among others, set to return, the battle for the WR6 position became a must-win. According to Zrebiec, Wallace responded to the adversity by hiring a new trainer and showing out in the preseason. Wallace has given strong performances in the last two weeks while other fringe receivers like James Proche have seen some rough stretches. There’s no guarantee that Baltimore holds on to six wide receivers, but if they do, Wallace is making a strong case for the job.
  • Formerly an undrafted free agent, Ar’Darius Washington has kept at least a spot on the practice squad with the Ravens over his first two NFL seasons as a promising reserve safety and special teamer. According to Zrebiec, though, he has inflated his stock this preseason by shining as a nickel cornerback. His smaller 5-foot-8, 177-pound frame makes some matchups an issue, but Washington has been one of the Ravens’ top performers in the past two weeks and should make a strong case for a roster spot and a true role on the defense.
  • Finally, while second-year pass rusher David Ojabo hasn’t stood out much in the team’s preseason games, the Ravens staff is still excited about his development after barely playing coming off an injury as a rookie. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, head coach John Harbaugh made a point to say that the addition of veteran edge Jadeveon Clowney would not impact the playing time of Ojabo. “You want to have enough guys,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot of snaps…about 1,200 snaps in the season. You need all those guys.”
  • Hensley’s colleague at ESPN, Field Yates, also provided us with some details on Clowney’s contract with the Ravens. Along with Clowney’s base contract value of $2.5MM, consisting of a $1.17MM base salary and a $1.34MM signing bonus, Clowney can receive up to $3.5MM of incentives. Specifically, he will earn $500K for five sacks, $1MM for seven sacks, or $1.75MM for nine sacks. The same respective amounts would be paid out if Clowney plays over 50 percent, 60 percent, or 65 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. If he hits full incentives, it would push the total value of his contract up to $6MM. Finally, he will earn a per game active roster bonus of $20K for a potential season total of $340K.

Latest On Ravens’ Patrick Ricard, LG Competition

The return of Patrick Ricard to Ravens training camp earlier this week brought about a notable development. The four-time Pro Bowl fullback was used in a different capacity, one which could signal another position change for him.

Ricard worked as an offensive lineman after being activated from the PUP list, as noted by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. That represents an interesting development given Ricard’s successful background as a fullback, where he has received a Pro Bowl invitation every year since 2019. That campaign saw the former college defensive tackle serve in a hybrid role, as he logged 342 snaps on offense and 140 on defense.

Since that point, Ricard has been used exclusively as a fullback, a position which held more value under previous offensive coordinator Greg Roman than it is expected to with Todd Monken now at the helm. A shift toward a more pass-oriented scheme led to some questions about Ricard’s roster security, but they have been put to rest. Trying the 29-year-old along the O-line is currently just in the experimental stage, though.

“We’re looking at that,” head coach John Harbaugh said via Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic when speaking about the potential position switch (subscription required). “It’s just a multitude role kind of thing. Pat’s quite an athlete. He can do a lot of different things, and maybe we expand his role just a little bit for a little bit of time here and see how he does.”

Ricard could serve in a depth role along the offensive line if needed, but that unit is also the location of an ongoing positional battle. The left guard spot has been up for grabs since Ben Powers signed with the Broncos, and the Ravens have auditioned a number of replacement candidates. 2021 third-rounder Ben Cleveland appeared to be the top fill-in option at one point, but that is no longer the case.

Sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (who has experience as a guard and tackle dating back to his time at Oregon) is currently the frontrunner to win the job, per Hensley. Zrebiec adds that former Raider John Simpson is the other contender for the starting role, and that he recently rotated into the first-team during practice. It will be interesting to see how that competition shakes out over the coming weeks, along with how Ricard is deployed in practice and preseason games.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Monken, Ravens

With Jim Schwartz returning to Cleveland after 28 years, then as a scout, now as defensive coordinator, there are some expected changes to how the Browns‘ defense will get things done. Thanks to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, we have a bit of insight into just how things might change in the secondary under Schwartz.

At safety, the team exchanged starter John Johnson III with Juan Thornhill while also bringing in veteran Rodney McLeod, as well. Schwartz brings two interesting factors to the safety position: he likes to play three at one time often and he expects versatility. He doesn’t strictly prescribe to free and strong safety assignments but more often tends to focus on sides of the field. Grant Delpit, Thornhill, and McLeod will be interchangeable and will be asked to line up in many areas.

Versatility will be expected of the cornerbacks, as well, as Schwartz has reportedly been crosstraining all of Cleveland’s defensive backs in the slot. This is welcome news for Greg Newsome II, who reportedly wanted to play more to his strengths on the outside this year. He won’t solely work outside, but with Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson also getting work as nickelbacks this summer, Newsome won’t be asked to shoulder the load in the slot alone.

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC North:

  • Schwartz is excited to be bringing together two strong pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith on the Browns’ defensive line, according to Cabot. After a year in which Jadeveon Clowney failed to mesh with Garrett, Schwartz is excited about the flexibility that Smith brings to the table. For one, he’s already had the experience of working across from talented pass rushers like Danielle Hunter, Preston Smith, Matt Judon, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil. Secondly, Smith provides a versatile attack that allows him to rush from either side, as well as from the interior, when needed.
  • After four years under a huddle-first Greg Roman offense, the Ravens will allow quarterback Lamar Jackson a bit more agency in the offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. According to a report from ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Jackson will be given more freedom to audible and make adjustments at the line this season. This is not completely foreign to the recently extended quarterback. Baltimore experimented with this type of offense in a Week 2 game last year against the Dolphins as a counter to Miami’s pressure package. In that game, Jackson threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns while adding 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as well. The Ravens will hope to see more of that in 2023, as Jackson is presented with more opportunities to truly lead the offense.
  • We mentioned about two weeks ago that Ravens second-year tackle Daniel Faalele was a candidate to replace former starting left guard Ben Powers, who departed for Denver in free agency in March. Knowing Faalele’s importance in his current role as one of the team’s primary backup tackles, we boiled it down to a battle between Ben Cleveland and John Simpson. A recent report from Hensley, though, claims that head coach John Harbaugh spoke highly of Faalele at the position and refused to rule him out as a potential starter. He praised Simpson’s performance in the position, as well, but it may be time to start considering Faalele as one of the top candidates to start next year.

Four In Running For Ravens’ LG Job?

The Ravens will return four starters from last year’s offensive line in right tackle Morgan Moses, right guard Kevin Zeitler, center Tyler Linderbaum, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. After allowing last season’s starting left guard, Ben Powers, to depart for Denver in free agency, Baltimore has an open spot available on the starting offensive line.

The Ravens are fairly confident in their options to replace Powers. The favorites for the job are utility lineman Patrick Mekari, guards Ben Cleveland and John Simpson, and tackle Daniel Faalele. The team did draft two linemen in Oregon’s Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and USC’s Andrew Vorhees, but Aumavae-Laulu is considered a developmental prospect who can play all over the line, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, while Vorhees’s recent injuries will require him to miss most, if not all, of his rookie season. They also recently added former Bears center Sam Mustipher, but Mustipher is expected to act as an experienced backup center behind Linderbaum.

Mekari and Faalele may be too valuable in their current roles to force into a starting guard spot, even if they would be strong contributors at the position. Mekari has excelled in recent years as a sort of sixth-man for the Ravens’ offensive line. The former undrafted free agent out of Cal has started games at every position on the line for Baltimore usually as an injury replacement. He has the talent to start for many teams, but Baltimore paid him in 2021 to stay and be one of the league’s most talented backups. Faalele on the other hand has the perfect frame to develop into a top tackle. At 6-foot-8, 380 pounds, Faalele could surely be a force on the interior offensive line, but the Ravens want to keep that length on the outside and will likely continue developing him as a tackle.

The battle likely boils down to Cleveland and Simpson. Cleveland was drafted in the third round two years ago with the expectation that he would develop into a starting guard. He lost the battle last year to Powers, but at 6-foot-6, 357 pounds, Cleveland could be an imposing physical presence on the left side of the line. He’s had five starts over his first two years in the league and dealt with a knee injury his rookie year.

Simpson was a late-season addition to the Ravens’ practice squad last year who was signed to a futures contract at the end of the season. He found his way to Baltimore after being waived by the Raiders but is only a year removed from his role as a full-time starting left guard for Las Vegas.

No battles will be won in May, but the Ravens are well set up to use this summer to determine who will be starting in between Linderbaum and Stanley in Week 1 vs. Houston.

AFC North Notes: Mixon, Browns, Steelers

Nearly three weeks into free agency, Joe Mixon remains on the Bengals‘ roster. The team having seen Samaje Perine turn down an offer to stay and instead choose Denver thinned out its running back room. But Mixon’s status for a seventh Bengals season is not yet a lock. Bengals executive VP Katie Blackburn stopped short of guaranteeing the six-year Cincinnati starter will be back, reminding of comments player personnel VP Duke Tobin made at the Combine.

Right now, he’s on the team and we are going count on him until that wouldn’t be the case,” Blackburn said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway. “Right now, he’s our starting guy. You’ve seen other teams have to make moves. Could we get to that point? Maybe. But it would be down the road here and we’d have to see if that’s what makes sense or not.”

This situation could hinge on how the Bengals approach the position in the draft. Mixon, 26, is due a $9.4MM base salary and is tied to the third-highest cap figure ($12.8MM) on the team. Blackburn did not rule out the possibility of a post-June 1 cut designation, which would save Cincy $10MM, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler indicated recently (h/t Bleacher Report) the Bengals are looking to add at running back. (They were linked to Ezekiel Elliott, but little has emerged on that front since.) The Perine offer may have been indicative of Mixon plans. The team could still pair Mixon with a rookie, but it does have some pricey deals — most notably for Joe Burrow — on the horizon. Mixon’s $12MM-per-year deal could be used to create more cap space.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • The Browns attempted a bigger swing at defensive tackle in free agency. Dalvin Tomlinson became an expensive consolation prize, with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noting the team was one of the final two suitors for Javon Hargrave. The standout D-tackle signed a four-year, $84MM 49ers deal, denying the DT-needy Browns one of this year’s biggest free agency fish. Cleveland regrouped with Tomlinson, who signed a four-year, $57MM pact. The Browns, who did little at D-tackle ahead of a poor run-defense season in 2022, preferred Tomlinson to fellow target Dre’Mont Jones, Cabot adds. Tomlinson’s acumen as a run defender attracted the Browns more, as Jones profiles as an inside pass rusher rather than a run stopper.
  • Staying in Cleveland, the Browns no longer have a second-round pick thanks to the Elijah Moore pick-swap trade. The Browns eyed Moore since his trade request emerged last year, GM Andrew Berry said (via Cabot). After a dispute with then-Jets OC Mike LaFleur, Moore requested a trade. The Jets were adamant they did not want to trade Moore at the time, but after they signed Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman, the Ole Miss alum became expendable. Still, Cabot adds Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh vouched for Moore’s character to the Browns ahead of the trade.
  • The Steelers traded Chase Claypool for a second-round pick last year, and given their reputation for selecting Day 2 wideouts, it should not surprise the team is being connected to such a move once again. The team will seek an upgrade in the slot, GM Omar Khan said (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly). Hopeful slot weapon Calvin Austin III missed his entire rookie year due to injury. The team should be considered likely to address this need by Round 3, Kaboly adds in a separate piece. From 2013-22, the Steelers chose eight wideouts on Day 2. Both their current top two receivers — Diontae Johnson and George Pickens — were Friday-night draftees.
  • It does not sound like the Ravens will use a notable resource to replace Ben Powers. John Harbaugh alluded to another competition — one featuring former third-round pick Ben Cleveland, ex-Raiders draftee John Simpson, swingman Patrick Mekari and 2022 fourth-round tackle Daniel Faalele (who is 6-foot-9) as options — being how the team will replace Powers, who won a left guard battle last year. Powers, who scored a four-year Broncos deal worth $52MM, beat out Cleveland in training camp. A draft choice could be added here, but The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec does not anticipate a high pick going to this spot.

NFL Reserve/Futures Deals: 1/16/23

Today’s reserve/futures deals:

Baltimore Ravens

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

San Francisco 49ers

  • DB A.J. Parker

Ravens Add G John Simpson To Practice Squad

Free agent guard John Simpson has found a new home after getting waived by the team that drafted him two seasons ago, signing to the practice squad of the Ravens as a veteran exception. Simpson provides a strong depth piece deep down the Ravens roster.

Simpson is in his third season in the NFL. After a rookie season that saw him play here and there on the Raiders line, Simpson started every game for Las Vegas at left guard last year. Simpson started only the first two games of the season for the Raiders this season before being demoted to a backup role for both guard spots.

The former fourth-round pick out of Clemson losing his starting job at the beginning of the season didn’t come as a total shock. Before the season began, early reports out of camp indicated that only left tackle Kolton Miller and right guard Denzelle Good were guaranteed their starting spots. The reports, from Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed of The Athletic, claimed that rookie third-round pick Dylan Parham “could push (Simpson) at left guard or Andre James at center.”

Luckily for Simpson, Parham wouldn’t get a chance to take his job since he was first asked to replaced Good after a surprising retirement announcement. Unfortunately for Simpson, his job would soon be given to Alex Bars. The Raiders would waive Simpson shortly after an injury to Bars would push Simpson into extended relief duty for a game.

The move makes sense for the Ravens, who have experienced their fair share of offensive line injuries over the past few years. Starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and Ja’Wuan James have both missed significant time in recent years, helping to make sense of why Baltimore prefers to have so much quality depth at the offensive line.

Currently, behind a starting line of left tackle Stanley, left guard Ben Powers, rookie first-round center Tyler Linderbaum, right guard Kevin Zeitler, and right tackle Morgan Moses, the Ravens boast a true sixth-man on the line. Utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari has played significant time at all five positions on the line at the NFL-level. He has the ability to fill in for any of Baltimore’s starting lineman should they go down with injury with little-to-no drop-off in quality of play. Besides Mekari, Baltimore has fourth-round rookie Daniel Faalele as a backup tackle, Trystan Colon-Castillo as a backup center, and Ben Cleveland as a backup guard.

The quality of the depth is good, but the lack of quantity doesn’t leave the Ravens with much in the way of options in case of emergency. Adding Simpson to the practice squad gives Baltimore another quality backup option on their offensive line. To make room for Simpson on the practice squad, the Ravens released practice squad outside linebacker Julian Stanford.

AFC Workout Rumors: Simpson, Coutee

The Ravens hosted free agent guard John Simpson on a visit yesterday, a little less than a week after his release from Las Vegas, according to Field Yates of ESPN. Simpson cleared waivers and is now free to determine where he will sign next.

The Raiders decision to waive Simpson was bit of a shock. Only just last year, Simpson started at left guard for all 17 regular season games as well as the Raiders lone postseason game against the Bengals. Simpson started the first two games of this season before being demoted to a backup role for both guard spots.

It’s an interesting move to watch for the Ravens. They recently started backup center Trystan Colon-Castillo at right guard in place of an injured Kevin Zeitler last weekend. Kicking the tires on Simpson might indicate that Zeitler’s injury could be more serious. Their current selection of backups includes last year’s third-round pick, guard Ben Cleveland, this year’s fourth-round rookie tackle Daniel Faalele, and veteran Patrick Mekari, whom they paid last year to serve as their utility lineman.

No deal developed on the trip, but the Ravens may keep Simpson on their shortlist in case they lose a starter enroute to a possible postseason berth.

Here’s another recent free agent rumor from around the AFC, this one pertaining to Simpson’s former team:

  • The Raiders worked out free agent wide receiver Keke Coutee today, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 Houston. Coutee has played with the Texans and Colts over his five-year career. He had a strong start in the NFL, catching 83 passes for 941 yards and four touchdowns in 23 games with Houston. Since getting waived by the Texans before last season, Coutee has been with the Colts, taking a largely reduced role. In eight games with Indianapolis, Coutee has only caught two passes. He did serve as the Colts’ punt returner for six games this year, as well. With Hunter Renfrow on injured reserve, Las Vegas may be looking to add some depth to its receiving corps. They currently only roster four healthy wideouts: Davante Adams, Mack Hollins, Keelan Cole, and DJ Turner.

Raiders Waive G John Simpson

In a bit of a surprise move, the Raiders have released offensive guard John Simpson, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. A former fourth-round pick from only two and a half years ago, Simpson will be placed on waivers.

The release is surprising for a couple of reasons, the first of which being that Simpson started every game for the Raiders last season. He had earned two starts the year before as a rookie out of Clemson, before winning the full-time job at left guard in his sophomore season.

There were early signs of trouble for Simpson, such as when it was reported that only left tackle Kolton Miller and right guard Denzelle Good were guaranteed starting jobs for the 2022 season, according to Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed of The Athletic. Good retired a week after that report. The report also noted that rookie third-round pick Dylan Parham “could push (Simpson) at left guard or Andre James at center.”

Parham would earn a full-time starting role as a rookie. He is the only Raider rookie to do so and only one of two Raiders (offensive lineman Thayer Munford) who have started a game at all as a rookie for Las Vegas this year. But Parham isn’t the one who took Simpson’s spot. Parham was the immediate plugin after Good’s unexpected retirement. Simpson was eventually benched before Week 3 for fourth-year lineman Alex Bars. Bars would hold down the starting job until getting injured early in the team’s loss to the Rams last night. Simpson would fill in for Bars for the rest of the game, his first extensive action on offensive since getting benched.

The second reason that his waiving is a shock is that the 25-year-old still has another year on his rookie contract with a base salary of $1.01MM and only $199,195 in guaranteed money. This makes Simpson a no-doubt pickup for any team with a hole on their offensive line and an early enough waiver priority. Simpson is a cheap offensive line option with starting experience. The risk is extremely low. He would fit well on a contender who may need to plug a hole due to injuries, but, at this point, Simpson is at the mercy of the waiver wire and his value may be too good to pass up for many of the teams with top priority.

While the move doesn’t change much, if anything, about the Raiders’ starting lineup, it does raise questions about the team’s offensive line depth. Las Vegas has three offensive lineman, Brandon Parker, Lester Cotton, and Justin Herron, on injured reserve. Simpson was serving as the primary backup for both guard spots and, if James were to get injured, Parham would slide over to center and push Simpson into the lineup. With Simpson out, the Raiders now hold only two backup linemen, Munford and Jackson Barton, on the active roster. Practice squad linemen Hroniss Grasu and Sebastian Gutierrez should expect to hear their names called in the coming days.

An interesting aspect about this move is that it leaves 2020 fourth-round pick Amik Robertson, the team’s final pick of that year’s draft, as the only remaining member of the Raiders’ 2020 draft class. First-round wide receiver Henry Ruggs was released after his involvement in a fatal car accident. First-round cornerback Damon Arnette was released after appearing in a threatening video with a handgun. Third-round utility back Lynn Bowden was traded to the Dolphins along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Third-round wide receiver Bryan Edwards was traded to the Falcons along with a 2023 seventh-round pick for a 2023 fifth-round pick. Third-round safety Tanner Muse was waived without ever taking snap for Las Vegas after spending his whole rookie season on IR. Robertson, who has started six games at cornerback for the Raiders, four this year, is the last man standing as we add Simpson to the list.