Malik Reed

Steelers Hopeful T.J. Watt Can Return In October

SEPTEMBER 13: More information is still being gathered, but there is a growing sense that surgery will not be needed and that, as a result, Watt will indeed be able to return in roughly six weeks (Twitter link via Rapoport). His colleague Tom Pelissero tweets that the Steelers are likely to place him on IR given that timeframe, though they have yet to do so.

SEPTEMBER 12: The next couple of days will be important for the Steelers’ 2022 defensive aspirations. Fears of T.J. Watt having suffered a torn pectoral muscle have not been proven unfounded, but the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is not being shut down for multiple months just yet.

Watt will receive second and third opinions from doctors on Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter report (Twitter links). A surgery would likely lead to a season-ending shutdown, but the Steelers are also optimistic Watt did not suffer a full tear. The team is hopeful Watt, in the event of a partial tear, could to return in around a month, per CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (on Twitter).

Pittsburgh’s wild overtime win finished without Watt, who left the field during the fourth quarter. The NFL’s two-time reigning sack leader posted a sack — one of the Steelers’ seven on Joe Burrow in Week 1 — and three tackles for loss in Pittsburgh’s five-period victory. Their prospects of pressuring quarterbacks would take a substantial hit if Watt sustained a full pectoral tear.

In each year of Watt’s career, the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks. That has helped fuel a defensive turnaround, after a more offensively oriented “Killer B’s” period, during that stretch. Since drafting Watt in the 2017 first round, the Steelers have not had to play an extended period without him. Watt, 27, has never missed more than two games in a season.

No matter what the final rounds of testing produce, it appears certain Watt will be out for a while. The league’s highest-paid edge rusher missing half the season and the rest of it are obviously two vastly different realities, however. This season marks the first of Watt’s four-year, $112MM extension. The Steelers No. 2 and No. 3 edge rushers are signed to rookie contracts.

Pittsburgh’s trade for Malik Reed looms large now. The former UDFA will now be in position to play alongside Alex Highsmith. The team sent Denver a 2023 seventh-round pick for the fourth-year veteran last week. Reed has three years’ worth of experience being called into action as a result of a major injury. Bradley Chubb‘s ACL tear made Reed Von Miller‘s top 2019 complementary rusher, and Miller’s season-nullifying ankle injury a year later kept Reed in the lineup. Chubb missed much of last season due to ankle trouble. That and the Miller trade kept Reed (34 career starts) a lineup fixture. Reed played 32 defensive snaps against the Bengals.

Steelers Notes: Reed, Pickens, Bush

Pass-rush depth had long been something the Steelers were reported to be seeking this offseason. Pittsburgh addressed the issue earlier this week by acquiring Malik Reed and a 2023 seventh-round pick from the Broncos in exchange for a sixth-rounder. It appears that Reed’s destination was no coincidence.

When speaking about the decision to trade the 26-year-old, Broncos GM George Paton said, via Kyle Newman of the Denver Post“We have a lot of really talented outside backers who can rush. We thought it would be best to trade Malik and trade him to somewhere where he’s going to fit in… He wanted to go to Pittsburgh, and we found a home for him. I think it’s a win-win for both sides.”

Reed will enter his contract year slated to operate as the team’s third outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex HighsmithWith 15 sacks and an equal number of tackles for loss during his three seasons in Denver, the Nevada product should give his new team the productivity off the edge they were looking for.

Here are some other notes from the Steel City:

  • Immediately following the trade, Reed agreed to re-work his contract. His base salary has dropped from $2.43MM to $1.5MM, as noted (on Twitter) by ESPN’s Field Yates. With a productive season, he will no doubt earn a raise over that figure, but for 2022 he projects as a highly cost-effective option off the bench for a Steelers team which already led the league in sacks last season.
  • One of the stars of training camp and the preseason has been rookie wideout George Pickensto the point where many have wondered how the Steelers were able to land him at No. 52 in the draft. Per PFF’s Doug Kyed, the Georgia standout was viewed by many around the NFL as the top receiver prospect after the 2020 college season, and that things only changed after his ACL tear the following spring and the rise of character concerns. As a so-called ‘wild card’ prospect, he was ultimately the 11th WR to hear his name called, but he could have a productive rookie season alongside Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, and has the upside to outperform most (if not all) of the pass-catchers chosen ahead of him.
  • Much of the talk surrounding the team this offseason has been the expectations placed on linebacker Devin Bush. The team’s decision to decline his fifth-year option has left many believing the former top-10 pick will be playing elsewhere in 2023. One pundit of that opinion is Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, who wrote last month that Bush is “nowhere near where he should be” considering his experience and draft pedigree. Kaboly adds that the team may need to alter its personnel packages based on whether or not Bush is on the field – a far cry from the every-down, playmaking defender the Michigan alum was drafted to become.
  • In addition to reinforcements along the defensive edges, the Steelers were active in seeking o-line depth. In fact, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh was “the team that came up most often” in trade talks (Twitter link). Fowler names Dennis Daley (who was dealt to Tennessee) as one of the team’s targets; they ultimately acquired Jesse Davis from the Vikings hours after the Reed deal. The 30-year-old was a starter on the Dolphins’ underwhelming offensive front last season, but could provide experienced depth for a unit the Steelers hope will take a step forward in 2022.

Broncos To Trade OLB Malik Reed To Steelers

The top fill-in starter for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb over the past three seasons, Malik Reed has a new home. The Broncos are sending the veteran outside linebacker to the Steelers, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Denver will collect a late-round pick for the contract-year linebacker. While Reed has been a productive pass rusher, the Broncos made some moves this offseason to bolster that position. The depth acquired made Reed expendable, it appears.

After the Broncos traded the best pass rusher in team history (Miller) at last year’s deadline, they went to work in adding to that position this offseason. The team signing Randy Gregory and used its top draft choice (No. 64 overall) on Nik Bonitto. Denver also moved 2021 inside linebacker starter Baron Browning to the edge, and NFL.com’s James Palmer adds (via Twitter) the team is high on the former third-round pick after the training camp he put together at the new position.

A Reed trade has also loomed as a possibility for months due to his arrival before George Paton became the Broncos’ GM. Chubb is now the only OLB left from the John Elway regime, with the Broncos also rostering 2021 seventh-rounder Jonathan Cooper. Though Cooper’s spot may not be completely safe. Chubb and Gregory’s injury issues still may prompt the Broncos to prioritize depth at the position. But they felt enough depth was present to unload Reed, who will have a clearer role in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers, who cut edge rusher Genard Avery earlier this month, have featured an OLB need for a bit now. They traded Melvin Ingram last year, creating a void behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Reed stands to play the same role he did in Denver, though Miller and Chubb’s injuries often simply made him a starter.

A 2019 UDFA, Reed has registered 13 sacks over the past two years. Since 2019, the Nevada alum has made 34 starts. One season remains on the 26-year-old OLB’s contract; the Broncos tendered Reed at the original-round level as an RFA this year.

AFC Roster Rumors: Van Roten, Jefferson, Scharping, Reed

As the calendar year ticks away the days, NFL teams are having to start thinking about the difficult decisions they will have to make to eventually get their rosters down to 53 players to start the season. While the teams still have almost two months to make all the necessary cuts, many veterans are entering training camp on roster bubbles.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the players who may find themselves looking for a new team by the time the season begins:

  • The Bills brought in free agent offensive guard Greg Van Roten to solidify their depth on the interior of the offensive line. The 32-year-old veteran has starting experience with the last two clubs he’s spent time with, the Panthers and Jets, but he may not even make it to the final 53-man roster in Buffalo, according to Alaina Getzenberg of ESPN. As the Bills figure out just who will receive their coveted roster spots, the final spot will likely become a battle between Van Roten, Greg Mancz, whose experience at center could give him an edge, and rookie sixth-round pick Luke Tenuta.
  • The Ravens are overloaded with talent at the safety position. With free agent addition Marcus Williams, first-round pick Kyle Hamilton, and incumbent starters from last year Chuck Clark and Brandon Stephens all crowding the depth chart, veteran Tony Jefferson may find himself on the outside looking in, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. Jefferson was released by Baltimore two offseasons ago, following a season mostly lost to a torn ACL, but was brought back last year after starting safety DeShon Elliott went down with a season-ending injury and Baltimore needed another veteran presence in their defensive backfield. Unfortunately, with the influx of new talent combined with the presence of last year’s starters, the Ravens may find that rostering Jefferson is not crucial to their depth at the position.
  • After trading cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. to the Chiefs this offseason, the Texans‘ 2019 draft class is down to two remaining players: first-round tackle Tytus Howard and second-round guard Max Scharping. While Howard has established himself as a starter on the line, Scharping is not a lock for the 53-man roster, according to Sarah Barshop of ESPN. Scharping stepped up as a starter during his rookie season but could not manage to hold onto the spot in his second year. The 2021 season saw Scharping struggle enough that his roster spot is now in question.
  • Over the past three seasons, pass rusher Malik Reed has been a lifesaver for Denver as the Broncos saw stars Von Miller and Bradley Chubb each miss time over the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons. Some roster moves by the Broncos, though, seem to be pointing toward some roster danger for Reed, according to ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. Free agent Randy Gregory was brought in on a $70MM contract, Denver drafted rookie Nik Bonitto in the second round this year, and the Broncos moved Baron Browning to outside linebacker after he played his entire rookie season on the inside. That trio will all be under contract until at least 2025, while Reed is in a contract year. This doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the former undrafted free agent, who has done a lot to earn his spot. But, with only one roster spot likely to be available at the position, Reed will potentially be duking it out with 2021 seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper for the final OLB roster spot.

AFC West Notes: Reed, Raiders, Chargers

With Bradley Chubb and Von Miller suffering injuries at various points from 2019-21, the Broncos could rarely deploy their ideal edge-rushing combination. That led to extensive Malik Reed work. The 2019 UDFA has made 34 starts over the past three seasons and racked up 13 sacks over the past two. However, the Broncos have since signed Randy Gregory, drafted Nik Bonitto in Round 2 and moved 2021 inside linebacker starter Baron Browning to the edge. This creates a crowded depth chart, which features Chubb in his fifth-year option season. Reed is also going into a contract year, and ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold’s 53-man roster prediction leaves the Nevada product off the team. Reed’s status could depend on Gregory’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, per Legwold, with the Broncos potentially going with a special-teamer over Reed if Gregory is healthy. If the Broncos determine Reed is not on track to make their team, he would be a logical trade candidate. Reed is attached to a $2.43MM salary.

Here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The Raiders were active at defensive tackle this offseason. They re-signed Johnathan Hankins and brought in free agents Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings, Tyler Lancaster, Kyle Peko and Bilal Nichols. The team also used fourth- and fifth-round picks (Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler) on interior D-linemen. Of this group, Nichols projects as a starter, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed note (subscription required). Hankins, who has been a Raiders first-stringer for the past four seasons, should be ticketed to keep his starter gig under new DC Patrick Graham. Among the host of veterans brought in as free agents, Nichols’ contract (two years, $11MM) would point to him having the clearest starter path. The Raiders have been linked to Ndamukong Suh, but they might not be especially interested in signing him right now.
  • Despite the Raiders changing defensive schemes and letting Casey Hayward defect to the Falcons in free agency, they are unlikely to tinker with Nate Hobbs‘ job. The second-year cornerback practiced exclusively in the slot during Las Vegas’ offseason program and will still expected to be the team’s slot defender, per Tafur and Reed. Coming into the league as a fifth-round pick, Hobbs graded as a top-10 corner as a rookie, per Pro Football Focus. Trade acquisition Rock Ya-Sin and free agent signing Anthony Averett worked as Vegas’ slot corners this summer, with starter Trayvon Mullen on the mend after a May foot surgery. Mullen missed 12 games last season, with foot trouble at the root of the absence. The recent surgery makes Mullen’s status something to monitor during camp.
  • The Chargers have taken an aggressive approach to filling offensive line needs over the past two offseasons. They gave Corey Linsley a then-record center contract and also signed guard Matt Feiler. Those moves came before the Bolts drafted Rashawn Slater in Round 1. They selected Zion Johnson in this year’s first round, and he is expected to start at right guard. That leaves right tackle vacant, with 2020’s Bryan Bulaga signing not panning out. The Bolts used Storm Norton as their primary 2021 starter, but Trey Pipkins started a game apiece at left and right tackle — due to the starters’ COVID-19 contractions — last year. Those two starts elevated the former third-round pick’s status in the Chargers building, Daniel Popper of The Athletic notes. Pipkins’ progress will be put to the test when he battles Norton for the right tackle gig in camp.

How Will Broncos Proceed With Crowded OLB Corps?

Visions of a long-term Von MillerBradley Chubb edge partnership mostly proved fleeting for the Broncos, who saw injuries sideline at least one member of this tandem for most of its three-plus-season tenure. The 2018 season, when Miller and his then-rookie sidekick combined for 26.5 sacks, turned into a mirage.

The Broncos’ 2022 contingent of edge rushers presents intrigue, even if it is the first in 12 years not to include the best pass rusher in franchise history. Denver’s Miller trade allowed the team to finish stockpiling its cast of pass rushers, bringing second- and third-round 2022 picks, but with only Randy Gregory locked in as a long-term starter (and given Gregory’s history, that classification might be premature), how the team proceeds with this crew will be interesting ahead of what promises to be a high-profile division race.

Gregory signed a five-year, $70MM deal in March, backing out of a Cowboys agreement at the last minute due to contract language. Suspended four times as a pro, Gregory showed considerable promise during his final Dallas season. If that form is a true indicator of the former second-rounder’s form, the Broncos having him signed to a $14MM-per-year deal will age well as the salary cap’s rise has pushed edge rusher salaries toward the $30MM-AAV mark. Gregory, whose drug suspensions could give him a “young 29” presence, carries boom-or-bust potential. From a roster-building standpoint, more questions surround his supporting cast.

Chubb made the Pro Bowl in 2020, despite accumulating just 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble, and racked up 12 sacks as a rookie. But the two ankle surgeries he underwent last year brought limitations and questions about his future in Denver. (Chubb also sustained an ACL tear in 2019.) George Paton identified the former top-five pick as a core player, and while those comments came before the ankle trouble limited Chubb to seven games in a zero-sack season, the second-year GM expressed Chubb confidence again this year. Paton did extend 2018 second-round pick Courtland Sutton, whom he also called a core talent last year, after an ACL tear. Chubb, 26 later this month, will enter a high-stakes contract year, with Paton reorganizing the team’s edge-rushing stable after the February vote of confidence.

An extension path may still exist for Chubb. Gregory’s AAV checks in just 22nd among edge defenders, and the Chargers and Raiders each have two edges earning north of $17MM per year. But that prospect is murkier than it was last year at this time. Had Chubb not been a first-round pick, he may already be signed to a lucrative deal. The fifth-year option allowed the Broncos to wait, and the team will have cheaper options to flank Gregory beyond 2022 — when Russell Wilson will be playing on a top-market contract.

Denver rosters Malik Reed, a former UDFA who has seen extensive run (34 starts) due to Chubb and Miller’s injuries, and used its top draft choice on Oklahoma edge Nik Bonitto (64th overall). The team also has ex-Ohio State teammates Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning. Cooper fell to Round 7 because of a heart issue (one that did not keep him out of games last season) and flashed a bit after the Miller trade. The Broncos curiously moved Browning from inside linebacker — where they are much thinner. A 2021 third-rounder, Browning started nine games inside as a rookie.

It will be difficult for the team to roster all six, and its recent penchant for UDFA edge success (Reed, Shaq Barrett) creates a path for Christopher Allen, a 2020 Alabama contributor who missed last season due to a foot injury. The Broncos gave Allen $180K to sign after the draft.

Also in a contract year, Reed has registered 13 sacks over the past two seasons. Though lesser-known than Chubb, Reed profiles as an extension candidate himself. The Broncos would probably stand to save by extending Reed over Chubb, who also looms as a 2023 franchise tag option. Chubb staying healthy this season could create a clear value gap between the two. Denver also has defensive end starter Dre’Mont Jones going into a walk year, creating an unsettled post-2022 mix beyond Gregory and Bonitto.

With Paton-era OLB investments behind Reed, would the Broncos consider trading the frequent fill-in starter ahead of his contract year? They only gave Reed the low-end RFA tender ($2.4MM) in March. That price and Reed’s recent production could be attractive for teams with thinner edge cadres. Chubb is tied to a $12.7MM option salary. A mix of Gregory, Chubb and Reed would limit Bonitto’s rookie-year time. But injuries could obviously change that.

The Broncos faced a surplus situation at cornerback last year but refrained from dealing into it, despite teams showing interest. Chubb’s injury history could prompt Denver to carry an extra outside linebacker on its 53-man roster. Browning’s ability to play on the inside would seemingly represent insurance for an iffy group of inside ‘backers as well. But carrying six edges is on the high end for 3-4 teams.

However the Broncos decide to proceed here, their moving parts on the edge should be a situation to monitor as the revitalized team attempts to compete against high-powered offenses. How that effort goes, particularly from the John Elway-era holdover rushers, will determine how the franchise chooses to complement Gregory beyond 2022.

RFA/ERFA Tender Decisions: 4/11/22

Here’s a look at the latest tender decisions from around the NFL:

RFAs

Signed:

ERFAs

Signed:

RFA/ERFA Tender Decisions: 3/16/22

Here’s a look at the latest tender decisions from around the NFL:

RFAs

Tendered:

Non-tendered:

ERFAs

Tendered:

Denver Emerging As Premier QB Destination

We wrote a bit earlier today on the Broncos being among multiple AFC teams who “have trade compensation lined up with the Packers,” in relation to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Well, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Denver has emerged as a prime location for many of the league’s veteran quarterbacks looking for a potential change of scenery.

The Broncos recently hired former Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to replace Vic Fangio, who failed to accomplish a winning season in three years with the Broncos. The former Green Bay staffer represents an obvious and strong connection for Rodgers. Should Rodgers decide to move on from the Packers, having a play-caller that he’s familiar with could add some allure to the Mile High City. Another intriguing aspect that could bring a star quarterback to Denver is the addition of former Vikings’ offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Kubiak just helped Kirk Cousins turn in one of his best seasons in Minnesota.

Hackett and company inherit an impressive roster posed to perform. The defense is comprised of veterans like outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, safety Justin Simmons, defensive end Shelby Harris, and cornerback Ronald Darby. There are a number of free agents that Denver would like to bring back like cornerbacks Bryce Callahan & Kyle Fuller, defensive back Kareem Jackson, inside linebacker Josey Jewell, and outside linebacker Malik Reed. Even if they fail to bring some of those names back, the Broncos saw impressive seasons last year for youngsters like cornerback Patrick Surtain II, linebacker Baron Browning, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones, and safety Caden Sterns. The list of defensive players above may not overwhelm you with stardom, but, together, the Broncos defense ranked third in the league in points allowed and eighth in the league in yards allowed.

In addition to a brand new offense and stacked defense, Denver boasts a nice array of young offensive weapons. An impressive receiving corps is led by veteran 26-year-old Courtland Sutton, young star Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, who has broken out a bit over the past two seasons. The Broncos also have two talented, young receiving tight ends in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Any quarterback looking to join in on the fun would potentially have the benefit of a two-headed rushing attack that was 79 yards short of a combined 2,000-yard rushing season. Running back Javonte Williams enjoyed a healthy dose of carries in his rookie season, and there is mutual interest in bringing back Melvin Gordon.

Rodgers is obviously a name to keep an eye on as the decision on his future in Green Bay looms on the horizon. He has said that he will let the Packers know of his intentions before the franchise tag deadline so they can figure out how to deal with free agent wide receiver Davante Adams. In addition to Rodgers, though, keep an eye out for Denver to make moves on other quarterbacks searching for greener pastures. Russell Wilson has long been rumored to be interested in moving on from Seattle, and Deshaun Watson is still searching for a new home.

Whether Rodgers, Wilson, Watson, or some other under-the-radar name, look for the Broncos to make a move for a star quarterback. If they are able to find the right fit, the move could bring them into contention for what could easily turn into the toughest division in football.

Update On Broncos’ Fant, Chubb, Gordon

With a new head coach in place, the Broncos now face a number of key decisions on their roster. In a recent conversation with the team’s website, general manager George Paton outlined his views on a number of players and position groups, including tight end Noah Fant, edge rusher Bradley Chubb and running back Melvin Gordon

The team needs to decide by May whether or not to pick up Fant’s fifth year option. Considering Paton waited until after the draft to make that same decision with Chubb, it may be a while before the former 20th-overall pick learns his fate. When asked about Fant, Paton said, “he probably wasn’t as productive as he would have liked… He needs to work in the run game, and he knows that”, while still acknowledging his pass-catching ability. Fant has put up almost identical numbers the past two seasons, averaging 65 catches for just over 630 yards and seven total touchdowns in that span.

As for Chubb, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, Paton remains optimistic that he can recover from the ankle surgery that cut his 2021 season short. Even though Chubb was held without a sack in seven games, Paton said “I expect great things from him”. More work will be done with the team’s pass rushers, though, as Malik Reed and Stephen Weatherly are pending restricted and unrestricted free agents, respectively. Paton made clear his desire to add a “mismatch-type rusher”, especially given the void left by Von Miller.

Finally, Paton seemed to open the door to Gordon returning. The 28-year-old signed with Denver two years ago, but is now a pending UFA. While he topped 1,100 scrimmage yards in both seasons with the Broncos, the presence of 2021 second round pick Javonte Williams has many feeling the veteran will need to find a new home. Paton said, though, that Gordon “had a heck of a year”, adding ” I like Melvin a lot”.

The decisions made with those three players – and within their respective position groups – will go a long way to shaping the rest of the team’s offseason moves, and in turn, their attempt to return to the postseason.