Julio Jones

Buccaneers Notes: Rudolph, Jones, Linebackers

The Buccaneers signed Kyle Rudolph about a month after Rob Gronkowski hung up his cleats, but Rudolph’s path to Tampa Bay started before his peer’s retirement. According to Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times, Tom Brady recruited Rudolph to the Buccaneers before Gronk announced his retirement.

Speaking to reporters today, Rudolph acknowledged that Brady’s presence and the Buccaneers’ winning culture influenced his decision to join Tampa Bay. While he’ll likely replace Gronk atop the Buccaneers’ TE depth chart, the veteran made it clear that he’s got a long way to go to replace the future Hall of Famer on the stat sheet.

“Those shoes are way too big to fill, and I’ve got pretty big feet,” Rudolph said. “I feel like there’s so much ground to make up, and I don’t have 10 years of experience with Tom to make it up. We play the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 in September, and my goal is to go out there that week and be on the same page with Tom like we have been playing together for 10 years.”

Head coach Todd Bowles shared a similar sentiment. While he noted that there’s no replacing Gronkowski’s spot on the field, he anticipates Rudolph playing an important role on this squad.

“He brings intelligence, he brings toughness, he brings savvy, and he’s played the game for a while,” Bowles said. “You’re not going to replace Gronk. We’ve got to do that in a variety of ways, whether it’s running back, the other tight ends, the receivers. … But he brings us a veteran presence, understanding the ball game and he learns fast, so he’ll help us on Sundays.”

More notes out of Tampa Bay…

  • Speaking of Rudolph, the tight end’s one-year contract contains a base pay worth $2MM, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Rudolph can make another $1.5MM in incentives, bumping the maximum value to $3.5MM. The deal includes $1.5MM in guaranteed money, and considering the commitment, Florio thinks it’s pretty clear that Rudolph will ultimately make the 53-man roster. Greg Auman of The Athletic shares details (on Twitter) of Rudolph’s incentives, which includes $375k in 46-man roster bonuses, $375k for 30 receptions, an additional $250k for 40 receptions, an additional $250k for 50 receptions, and $250k for a Pro Bowl selection.
  • Julio Jones‘ contract with the Buccaneers also contains a number of incentives. According to Auman (on Twitter), the wideout has 10 bonuses worth $200K: bonuses for each of 50/60/70/80 receptions, bonuses for each of 600/700/800/900 receiving yards, a bonus for an NFC title, and a bonus for a Super Bowl victory. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the Buccaneers included four void years on the receiver’s contract, a tactic the front office has used frequently in recent years. As a result of this move, Jones has a cap number that’s barely above $2MM.
  • Auman speculates that the Buccaneers could add an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker before the start of the season. At ILB, the team is hoping that Devin White and Lavonte David will stand out at the position, but both players have their fair share of question marks and the Buccaneers lack depth behind the duo. At OLB, the team is still seeking a replacement for Jason Pierre-Paul. 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka could ultimately be the answer opposite Shaq Barrett, but similar to the other linebacker position, Tampa Bay lacks depth behind their two starters.

Packers Pursued Julio Jones; Colts Did Not Show Interest

Julio Jones‘ Buccaneers agreement — a one-year, $6MM deal — became official Wednesday morning. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver joined a team that already carried one of the NFL’s best receiving groups, but he was linked to teams with question marks at the position.

The Packers were another team to pursue Jones, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). While other teams are believed to be involved here, Tampa Bay and Green Bay represent Jones’ known suitors. The Colts were not involved, with GM Chris Ballard indicating the team was not planning to add the former Falcons and Titans target (Twitter link via the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson).

Green Bay represented one of Odell Beckham Jr.‘s most prominent pursuers last year, and the Jones situation unfolded similarly. After Beckham joined the Rams, Jones is set up to help another Packers NFC rival. The Pack offered Beckham the veteran minimum; the Rams came in with a better proposal to snare the talented wideout last November. It appears likely the Packers’ Jones offer came in south of the Bucs’, sending the All-Decade pass catcher to a team flush with receiver options.

The Packers are attempting to regroup at wideout, having lost their top two options from recent years — Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. They did add Sammy Watkins in free agency and North Dakota State’s Christian Watson in Round 2, before also drafting Nevada’s Romeo Doubs in Round 4. But the team’s receiving corps is light on dependable players and noticeably lacks a No. 1-type option — barring Watson breaking out quickly. Green Bay has been linked to OBJ again this offseason, but Los Angeles has shown far more consistent interest.

Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb represent the Packers’ top holdover options, with the former having an opportunity to make a major climb in Aaron Rodgers‘ aerial hierarchy ahead of a potential 2023 free agency bid. Beyond Beckham, veterans like Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, Cole Beasley and Will Fuller remain unsigned. But Jones moves a key piece off the board.

Linked consistently to the Colts this offseason, Hilton remains on the team’s radar. Ballard confirmed the team has not ruled out a reunion with the third-leading receiver in team history (Twitter link via Erickson). The Colts lost Zach Pascal to the Eagles in free agency and are counting on second-round rookie Alec Pierce to be a key auxiliary piece in their Michael Pittman Jr.-fronted receiving cadre. Beyond Pittman, the Colts are thin on known commodities at the receiver position. Parris Campbell remains in the team’s plans, but injuries have defined his career through three years. Second-year player Mike Strachan underwent knee surgery this summer, per The Athletic’s Zak Keefer, who adds (via Twitter) the 2021 seventh-round pick may be sidelined until the final days of training camp.

Buccaneers To Sign WR Julio Jones

Although the Buccaneers have two Pro Bowl wide receivers and gave former Falcon Russell Gage a $10MM-per-year deal this offseason, they are not stopping here at wide receiver. A rather notable ex-Gage teammate is coming to Tampa.

The Bucs reached a one-year agreement with Julio Jones on Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. He will team with Gage, his Atlanta teammate of three seasons, along with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in what will be another decorated Tampa Bay receiver stable. Jones committed to the Bucs for $6MM, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The deal can be worth up to $8MM.

This news comes shortly after Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times noted Godwin will not start camp on the Bucs’ active/PUP list (Twitter link). It would certainly have been understandable if Godwin, who suffered a torn ACL in December and underwent surgery Jan. 3, eased into camp work. But the former Pro Bowler will not require a roster move to begin practice. Coupled with the Jones addition, the Bucs will have one of the most accomplished wideout groups in modern NFL history.

While Tampa Bay signing an All-Decade wideout to pair with Tom Brady is not exactly new, given the team’s multiyear partnership with Antonio Brown, Jones brings none of the off-field baggage Brown does. That said, Brown displayed a higher performance level than Jones last season. Jones has seen hamstring trouble sidetrack his career, leading to an absence-laden Titans season and a several-month free agency stay — after Tennessee made the 2021 trade acquisition a cap casualty in March. The Bucs will still take a flier on the player who ripped off the most prolific six-year stretch by a receiver in NFL history.

Jones’ 9,388 receiving yards from 2014-19 are the most in a six-season span ever, but in the 2020s, the former perennial Pro Bowler has missed 14 games. Most of those absences came because of hamstring trouble. Jones’ hamstring issues led him to Tennessee’s IR list in 2021, a season in which he finished with 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown. Those were easily career-worst totals for the future Hall of Famer, but the Bucs will attempt to coax a bounce-back effort in Jones’ age-33 season.

The Bucs are making this signing despite rostering Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, 2021 fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden and 2020 fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson as well. Miller’s rookie-contract contributions notwithstanding, he is not a lock to make Tampa Bay’s roster. The same can probably be said for Jones, who will need to show — at least during camp and the preseason — he can submit a stretch of healthy work to be part of this talented receiving corps. Jones staying healthy during the preseason should all but assure him a spot on this roster.

Nine Teams Gain Cap Space From Post-June 1 Cuts

Although early June no longer serves as a stretch in which a wave of veterans are released for cap-saving purposes, June 2 still serves as an important calendar date for certain teams annually. Nine teams qualify as beneficiaries this year.

Eleven players were designated as post-June 1 cuts this year, via CBS Sports’ Joel Corry. Due to a longstanding CBA provision, teams that designate players as post-June 1 releases see the dead-money burden lessened for that year. Teams can designate up to two players as post-June 1 releases each year.

Here are 2022’s post-June 1 cuts, along with the belated cap savings the teams picked up Thursday:

Arizona Cardinals

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Las Vegas Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

As detailed in PFR’s glossary, post-June 1 cuts spread dead-money hits over two years. These teams will be taking on dead money this year and next. A few of the 2023 hits are substantial, but the league’s cap-space hierarchy changed significantly Thursday as well.

Because of multiple restructures, Raiders will carry $9.9MM in Littleton dead money next year. The Cowboys will take on $8.7MM in 2023 for cutting Collins, while the Titans will be hit with $8.4MM for their Jones release. Cleveland, which just gave David Njoku a $14.2MM-per-year deal, will carry a $7.5MM dead-money cost next year due to shedding Hooper’s eight-figure-AAV deal early. The Eagles will be tagged with $11.5MM for their Cox cut, with Corry noting that is the net difference because of a $3.2MM salary cap credit regarding Cox’s 2022 bonus proration. Philadelphia re-signed the perennial Pro Bowler on a one-year, $14MM deal.

Hooper’s release pushes Cleveland’s cap space to beyond $40MM; the Browns’ overall cap-space edge is now a whopping $15MM. That should help the team address multiple needs ahead of training camp. Other teams have more options now, too. As of Thursday, the Raiders hold the NFL’s third-most cap space ($22.5MM, per OverTheCap). The $10MM the Cowboys saved moves them up to fourth in cap space ($22.49MM), while the Bears ($22.2MM), Commanders ($18.4MM) and Seahawks ($17MM) now sit fifth, sixth and seventh.

A handful of this year’s post-June 1 cut crop joined Cox in taking advantage of the modern setup, which allows these cap casualties to become free agents immediately — rather than waiting until June to hit the market. In place since the 2006 CBA, this adjustment let veterans loose early while keeping their cap figures on teams’ payrolls through May. Collins quickly joined the Bengals, while Littleton landed with the Panthers, Hooper signed with the Titans, and Phillips returned to the Bills. The remainder of this group remains unsigned. The savings this lot of teams inherited Thursday may help some of these players’ causes in free agency.

Packers Eyeing Veteran WR Addition?

The initial waves of free agency, as well as the draft, have come and gone but there are still teams looking to add at the receiver position. One of those teams, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, is the Packers. 

When speaking on The Pat McAfee Show, Rapoport predicted that “the Packers are going to be involved in this [receiver] market” (video link). Brand-name players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and Jarvis Landry are all still available as post-draft free agents, but attention should increasingly be turned towards them in the coming days and weeks. On that point, the latter has recently been named as a target of the Ravens.

Green Bay was able to keep a number of core pieces in place on both sides of the ball this offseason. Two of their most notable departures, though, were of course Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. While they did sign Sammy Watkins in the build-up to the draft, many expected Green Bay to be aggressive in adding further to the position. With the top options off the board by the time of their pair of first-round picks, however, they bolstered their front seven, waiting until Day 2 to trade up for Christian Watson. The following day, Romeo Doubs was selected as well.

Those three join returnees Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers. Sitting towards the bottom of the league in terms of cap space, Green Bay likely wouldn’t be able to win a bidding war for any of the top remaining options; as Rapoport notes, however, the team would represent an attractive destination on a short-term, incentive-laden deal. As they try to keep their Super Bowl window open as long as possible, then, the Packers will likely still remain a team worth watching at the position.

Titans To Release Julio Jones

The Titans will make Julio Jones a one-and-done in Tennessee. The future Hall of Fame wide receiver will be released, Dianna Russini and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com report (on Twitter).

Tennessee traded a second-round pick for Jones last year, but the longtime Atlanta star could not shake the hamstring trouble that plagued him during his final Falcons season. If the Titans do not designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, they will take on more than $13MM in dead money. The Titans are, in fact, using the June 1 designation Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. This will save the team more than $9MM this year.

While this will make Jones a first-time free agent, he is not hitting the market with momentum. The All-Decade wideout ripped off a record-setting stretch from 2014-19, surpassing 1,390 yards in each season and making six straight Pro Bowls. But injury absences began to pile up in 2020. That proved to be a bad sign for the Titans, who could only get 10 games out of the high-level trade acquisition.

Jones caught just 31 passes for 434 yards — both career-low marks; even Jones’ five-game 2013 season produced better numbers — and saw his hamstring injury keep leading to missed time. Tennessee’s Jones-A.J. Brown tandem did not come to fruition, with Brown also struggling on the health front. But Brown will be due a big payday soon. Jones’ Falcons-constructed contract will no longer be part of the Titans’ equation at that point.

Having turned 33 this offseason, Jones may attract some interest. Draft classmate A.J. Green managed to land a reasonable Cardinals deal despite an injury-marred ending to his Bengals run. Any Jones contract figures to be a fairly low-cost deal, however. He signed a $22MM-per-year extension with the Falcons in 2019; two years remained on that pact prior to Wednesday’s move.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/3/22

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

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: OT Mike Remmers (remains on IR)

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: RB Raymond Calais (remains on IR)

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Titans Activate Julio Jones

The Titans have activated Julio Jones from the COVID-19/Reserve list, per a club announcement. The wide receiver is now eligible to face the Texans with an opportunity help the Titans score a first-round bye. 

[RELATED: Titans Place Pruitt On IR]

Jones is in the midst of an uncharacteristically quiet season. Between his recent COVID list stint and a lingering hamstring injury, he’s appeared in just nine games with 26 catches, 376 yards, and zero touchdowns. On the plus side, his hammy is said to be better, so Jones could be primed for some vintage performances.

In 2019, Jones’ last full season, he notched 1,394 yards and six TDs off of 99 receptions. And, even in an injury-dampened 2020, the multiple-time Pro Bowler managed 51 grabs for 771 yards and three scores in his nine games.

Meanwhile, the Titans have officially placed tight end MyCole Pruitt on the injured reserve list. This was the expected move following Pruitt’s gruesome ankle injury on Sunday, one that will require surgery and months of rehab.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 12/29/21

Several key players returned to practice Wednesday. Here are the latest COVID-19 updates from around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Activated from practice squad/COVID-19 list: WR Rico Bussey

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Titans To Activate WR Julio Jones From IR

Julio Jones will be in uniform for the Titans tomorrow when they take on the Jaguars. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter), the Titans plan to activate the veteran wide receiver off injured reserve. Jones returned to practice earlier this week.

A hamstring injury has limited Jones to just six games so far this season. Last month, the Titans moved to place him on IR, freeing up an additional roster spot for a few weeks. Jones missed time in previous seasons with a hamstring ailment, as well. Fortunately, Rapoport says Jones’ latest hamstring injury “has healed.”

Jones was limited to only nine games and 771 yards in 2020, but he was a 1,000-yard receiver as recently as 2019 (when he was a second-team All-Pro after finishing with 99 receptions for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns). So, the Titans were naturally expecting big things this past offseason when they acquired Jones (along with a sixth-round pick) from the Falcons for a second-round pick and a future fourth-round pick. However, in the veteran’s six games this season, he’s averaging only 56 receiving yards per game, a major dip from his previous career-low (73.8 yards during his rookie campaign in 2011).

Still, Jones will be welcomed back with open arms by a Titans offense that had to go without Jones, A.J. Brown, and Derrick Henry in their most recent loss to the Patriots.