John Simpson

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.

Raiders Rumors: Offensive Line, WRs, Jacobs

We recently wrote about the unlikelihood that any rookies will be starting for the Raiders to start the 2022 NFL season. The player we gave the best odds of earning a starting role is maybe even better set up for taking the job than we thought, according to Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed at The Athletic. The two reported that, besides left tackle Kolton Miller and right guard Denzelle Good, the other three offensive line jobs are up for grabs.

We had given Andre James the assumption of starting at center after a successful season at the position last year. We also didn’t grant Good an automatic spot as he is recovering from a torn ACL that held him out for all but 18 snaps of last season. But Tafur and Reed assert that rookie third-round pick Dylan Parham “could push John Simpson at left guard and (James) at center.”

They also believe that Alex Leatherwood doesn’t quite have the right tackle job in the bag. He’s being pushed by Brandon Parker, who started 13 games at the position last year, while Leatherwood occupied a guard spot.

Here are a few more rumors from Sin City:

  • The addition of star wide receiver Davante Adams provides an obvious No. 1 weapon for quarterback Derek Carr. Carr will have Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to target in the slot and at tight end, respectively, but who will be out wide opposite Adams? That role will be a battle between free agent additions Mack Hollins, Keelan Cole, and Demarcus Robinson. According to Tafur and Reed, the former Dolphins wide receiver, Hollins, should be considered the favorite. Though he hasn’t quite shown the necessary production (his best season came last year with 14 catches for 223 yards and 4 touchdowns), Hollins has a large, 6’4″ frame and speed that can make him an effective weapon while defenses focus on Adams, Waller, and Renfrow. Cole has shown more consistent production during tenures in Jacksonville and New York, as has Robinson in Kansas City, but neither quite has the physical tools that Hollins displays. If Hollins can take the next step and make the most of his abilities, Cole and Robinson can be strong assets off the bench behind a starting three of Adams, Renfrow, and Hollins.
  • Las Vegas didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on running back Josh Jacobs rookie contract this offseason as a result of some of the injury trouble he’s experienced in the NFL. In total, Jacobs has only missed six games throughout his three years of play, but his struggle to stay healthy has limited him in many other games. Due to health, Tafur and Reed see this as Jacobs’ last year on the team. Their opinion is also backed by the draft addition of Georgia running back Zamir White, once considered the top recruit at his position in high school. While the team won’t put too much on White as a rookie, The Athletic guesses that the Raiders will utilize a running back by committee approach. Vegas will lean on Jacobs to lead, as the most talented, while attempting to bring White along and up to NFL-speed. Career third-down back Brandon Bolden and backup Kenyan Drake will continue their usual roles as the Raiders allegedly groom White to start.

OL Rumors: Raiders, 49ers, Giants, Solder, Eagles

The Raiders are tracking to have two starters from their 2020 Week 1 offensive line setup back, with Kolton Miller signed long-term and Richie Incognito back on a lower-cost deal. But spillover from another training camp battle may affect Incognito’s standing. Denzelle Good and John Simpson will vie for the starting right guard spot, but Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed of The Athletic note Raiders coaches have informed the team’s guards the loser of this competition may still wind up replacing Incognito at left guard (subscription required). Incognito, 38, played well in 2019 but missed 14 games due to an Achilles injury last season. The Raiders cut him in March but re-signed him weeks later on a one-year, $2.12MM deal. Good replaced Incognito last year, and the Raiders are hoping Simpson — a 2020 fourth-round pick out of Clemson — can win the right guard competition.

Here is more on the Raiders’ O-line and the latest from some other offensive fronts around the league:

  • Elsewhere on Las Vegas’ O-line, the center spot may not be much of a competition. Despite offseason addition Nick Martin having started four full seasons with the Texans, the former second-round pick appears to be clearly behind former UDFA Andre James, according to The Athletic. After trading Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson to the Cardinals, the Raiders gave James an extension. James has played 116 offensive snaps as a pro; all came in 2019.
  • Nate Solder has moved to the Giants‘ roster bubble, according to Jordan Raanan of The 6-foot-8 veteran worked as New York’s starting left tackle in 2018 and ’19, after signing a then-record tackle contract in free agency, but opted out in 2020. The Giants can spread out Solder’s cap hit over multiple years, but they would face a $13.5MM cumulative dead-money charge by cutting Solder. Andrew Thomas has taken over as New York’s left tackle, with Raanan adding that Solder will compete with second-year blocker Matt Peart for the right tackle job. Solder has not been a full-time right tackle since his rookie season in 2011.
  • Although former UDFA Daniel Brunskill provided some stability amid 49ers injury chaos last season, starting 16 games, the team plans to return him to a utility role. The 49ers are eyeing second-round pick Aaron Banks as their starting right guard, Matt Barrows and David Lombardi of The Athletic note. Brunskill worked as a swing backup as a rookie in 2019, primarily filling in for left tackle Joe Staley. The 49ers selected Banks 48th overall; the 325-pound rookie started in part of his sophomore season and throughout his junior and senior years at Notre Dame.
  • Rather than stockpile depth at tackle, the Eagles may look to trade the loser of the Andre DillardJordan Mailata left tackle competition, Eliot Shorr-Parks writes. While keeping both would provide insurance, Shorr-Parks notes moving Mailata in a contract year would make sense and Dillard may lose more value if he goes through this season as a backup. A 2019 first-round pick, Dillard missed all of last season due to injury and has logged just four career starts. A rugby convert chosen as a project in the 2018 seventh round, Mailata spent two full seasons in development but broke into Philadelphia’s starting lineup for 10 games last season.

Raiders Want John Simpson To Start At RG

The Raiders bid adieu to three high-profile offensive linemen this offseason — center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson, and right tackle Trent Brown — and they didn’t do much to replace them outside of selecting RT Alex Leatherwood with the No. 17 overall pick in the draft, which was probably the most curious of this year’s first-round choices. But Vegas feels good about its young O-line talent, including 2020 fourth-rounder John Simpson.

As Vic Tafur of The Athletic writes, the team would like Simpson to replace Jackson as the starter at right guard (the article was written before the draft, but given that the team’s only high-level OL pick was used on Leatherwood, the club’s expectations with respect to Simpson presumably haven’t changed). The Raiders did re-sign Denzelle Good as a fallback plan if Simpson isn’t ready, and Good also provides some insurance at RT in case Leatherwood should struggle.

Like many 2020 rookies, Simpson was hurt by the lack of offseason workouts last year. He ended up appearing in seven games (two starts), for a total of 252 snaps. The Clemson product did not fare well by Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, finishing with below-average grades in both run-blocking and pass-blocking. Good, though, wasn’t much better, and it’s easy to envision a downturn in the team’s overall O-line performance in 2021.

In the same article, Tafur notes that Richie Incognito — who played in only two games in 2020 due to an ankle injury — is back to full strength. The soon-to-be 38-year-old blocker is the team’s projected starter at left guard, and his experience should be beneficial to presumptive center Andre James, a 2019 UDFA who didn’t play a single offensive snap last year. 2021 seventh-rounder Jimmy Morrissey will also compete for playing time at the pivot.

Raiders Sign Damon Arnette, Wrap Draft Class

The Raiders have wrapped up their 2020 NFL Draft class. Following their reported agreement with first-round wide receiver Henry Ruggs, the Raiders formally announced deals for the rest of the class. Here’s the full rundown, via PFR’s tracker: 

1-12: Henry Ruggs III, WR (Alabama): Signed
1-19: Damon Arnette, CB (Ohio State): Signed
3-80: Lynn Bowden Jr., WR (Kentucky): Signed
3-81: Bryan Edwards, WR (South Carolina): Signed
3-100: Tanner Muse, LB (Clemson): Signed
4-109: John Simpson, OL (Clemson): Signed
4-139: Amik Robertson, CB (Louisiana Tech): Signed

Per the terms of his slot, Arnette will receive a four-year deal worth $13.4MM, including a signing bonus of ~$7.3MM. Beyond that, the Raiders will hold a fifth-year option to keep him under club control through the 2024 season. Arnette wasn’t expected to go in the middle of the first round, but the Raiders aren’t afraid to buck conventional thought.

Arnette took a while to develop and reach Ohio State’s starting lineup, but once he got there, he provided the Buckeyes with a solid partner opposite star Jeff Okudah. With the ability to play on the inside or the outside, the Raiders believe that Arnette has what it takes to make it at the next level. His 4.56 second 40-yard-dash didn’t necessarily impress evaluators, but his ability to jam receivers at the line is a major plus.