Mazi Smith

NFC East Notes: Commanders, QBs, Bieniemy, Cowboys, Smith, Saban, Giants

The Commanders centered their 2023 offseason on Sam Howell, who had played all of one game as a rookie. While the second-year passer showed some encouraging signs, the team was prepared to bench him for Jacoby Brissett late in the season. Howell did become the first Washington quarterback to go wire to wire as the starter since Kirk Cousins in 2017, but the team lost eight straight games to end the season. It remains likely the Commanders draft a QB at No. 2 overall rather than turn to Howell and perhaps another Brissett-level vet as competition,’s John Keim writes.

Washington held the No. 2 overall pick in 2020 but had just taken Dwayne Haskins in the 2019 first round. This effectively took them out of the Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert sweepstakes, joining the Giants (who had chosen Daniel Jones in 2019) in that regard. Washington then took Chase Young. Timing was an issue for the team then, but Howell’s presence — especially with a new owner, HC and football ops boss in town — is unlikely to represent a sufficient deterrent to impede a QB investment this year. Two years remain on Howell’s rookie contract.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • With the Commanders being the seventh team to hire a head coach, and not doing so until Feb. 1, Eric Bieniemy received confirmation he was out late during this year’s hiring period. The one-and-done Commanders OC signed a multiyear deal in 2023, and’s Jeremy Fowler notes the former HC interview mainstay could well take a year off — as money will continue to come in from Washington — and regroup for a 2025 return to the sideline. Bieniemy, 54, may be off the HC radar; but the longtime Chiefs assistant could well resurface as an OC candidate — particularly given this position’s turnover rate in recent years — in 2025. The possibility the Chiefs bring him back, as they did Matt Nagy, also should not be discounted.
  • Over the past decade and change, the Cowboys have generally done well in the first round. They have landed a number of All-Pros — from Tyron Smith to Travis Frederick to Zack Martin to CeeDee Lamb to Micah Parsons — and a few other regular starters. Mazi Smith‘s trajectory is less certain to produce an impact player. Last year’s No. 26 overall pick played 304 defensive snaps as a rookie and logged only four in Dallas’ wild-card loss. Pro Football Focus rated the Michigan alum as one of the worst D-tackle regulars last season. The Cowboys were displeased Smith dropped around 20 pounds from his Combine weight (323) at points last season, per the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken. Drafted as a player who could potentially anchor the Cowboys’ interior D-line, Smith has work to do. The Cowboys also have starter Johnathan Hankins due for free agency in a few weeks.
  • This can be field in the “what if?” department, but as the Giants interviewed Louis Riddick for their GM job — during the cycle that produced the Dave Gettleman hire — the ESPN talent/ex-NFL exec said (h/t Empire Sports Media’s Anthony Rivardo) he reached out to Nick Saban to gauge his interest in becoming the team’s head coach. The Giants interviewed Riddick in December 2017; the ex-Monday Night Football analyst had been up for a few GM jobs around that point. Riddick was also a defensive back during Saban’s tenure under Bill Belichick in Cleveland in the early 1990s. (Saban was the Browns’ DC from 1991-94.) The Alabama icon, who retired last month, was loosely connected to the Giants’ coaching job during the cycle that produced the Ben McAdoo promotion. Saban, who coached the Dolphins for two years (2005-06) before leaving for Tuscaloosa, was not interested in the Giants’ job during the cycle that ended with the Pat Shurmur hire in 2018.

DL Notes: Donald, Jones, Young, Cowboys

The Rams moving on from a wave of defensive starters this offseason could soon call Aaron Donald‘s status into question. No notable Donald trade noise has circulated just yet, but with the Rams retooling, those would not surprise. Donald’s landmark extension runs through 2024, but the guarantees on that $31.7MM-per-year deal end this year. Donald’s contract includes a no-trade clause, but it does not look like he will prioritize his hometown Steelers — either via trade or a potential free agency run. While the Pittsburgh alum may not necessarily rule out a stint with his hometown team, NBC Sports’ Peter King notes the all-time great does not have such a move as a priority. The Rams must decide on Donald’s 2024 status by Day 5 of the 2024 league year, when $30MM becomes guaranteed.

Donald, 32, threatened to retire last year but secured a landmark raise. The 10th-year veteran was not closely connected to retirement plans this offseason. Here is the latest from the D-line scene:

  • Chase Young is on the verge of returning to full-time duty, after a 2021 ACL tear and patellar tendon rupture sidetracked the former Defensive Rookie of the Year’s career. But the fourth-year Commanders defensive end is recovering from another issue. As a result of a stinger sustained in the first preseason game, The Athletic’s Ben Standig notes Young has not received full clearance to return and is not a lock to be available in Week 1 (subscription required). Young has not practiced fully in more than two weeks; he was expected to meet with a doctor this week. The Commanders declined Young’s fifth-year option in May, putting him in a contract year along with Montez Sweat.
  • Chris Jones‘ holdout has extended past the one-month mark, and while fines have piled up, the disgruntled D-tackle has indicated he would be willing to push this hiatus toward the midseason point. Jones reporting only to pick up an accrued season would certainly harm the Chiefs, who have relied on their dominant interior D-lineman for years. On that note, GM Brett Veach said (via Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams) the sides have increased communication this week. Jones would accumulate nearly $10MM in total fines — from training camp fines and missed game checks — were he to sit out until Week 8. Andy Reid said Friday he has not been given any indication Jones will be back in time for Kansas City’s Thursday-night opener. Jones wants Donald-level money; the Chiefs are looking to pay him closer to the second tier of DT deals that formed this offseason. Quinnen Williams‘ $24MM-AAV deal tops that contingent.
  • The Cowboys appear to be planning to work in first-round Mazi Smith slowly. The Michigan product is expected to be a rotational player to begin his career, with The Athletic’s Jon Machota and Saad Yousuf noting Johnathan Hankins and Osa Odighizuwa are likely to be team’s defensive tackle starters in Week 1. Smith, however, will obviously be expected to move into the starting lineup early in his career.
  • Joseph Ossai‘s status for the Bengals‘ opener is up in the air due to a high ankle sprain, Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes. The third-year defensive end is unlikely to suit up against the Browns, per Conway. While Ossai has shown some promise, injuries have continued to intervene. The 2021 third-round pick missed his entire rookie year and, after playing through a torn labrum late last year, underwent offseason surgery. The Bengals are deeper at D-end now, having drafted Myles Murphy in Round 1 to join Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard.

Cowboys Sign Mazi Smith, Rest Of Draft Class To Rookie Deals

With their rookie minicamp set to begin tomorrow, the Cowboys have signed their entire draft class. The team announced that they’ve officially inked all eight of their draft picks to rookie contracts, including first-round defensive tackle Mazi Smith.

While many assumed the Cowboys would use their first-round pick on a tight end, they ended up pivoting to the defensive side of the ball. Smith was a worthy pick; the Michigan product finished his 2022 campaign with 48 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a half-sack en route to All-Big Ten honors.

There were some questions surrounding his consistency heading into the draft, but his size and speed made him a surefire first- or second-round pick. Fortunately for Dallas, they won’t need Smith to be a contributor right away. He’ll find himself in the mix with Johnathan Hankins and Osa Odighizuwa on the DT depth chart, but he could also earn some playing time at defensive end.

We heard earlier today that the Cowboys inked second-round tight end Luke Schoonmaker to his rookie deal. The rest of the team’s draft class includes:

Cowboys Select DT Mazi Smith At No. 26

The Cowboys are using their first-round pick to shore up their defensive line. With the No. 26 pick, Dallas has selected Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith.

With the way the draft board was shaking out, many assumed the Cowboys may use their first-round selection on a tight end to replace Dalton Schultz. However, the Bills traded up ahead of Dallas to select Dalton Kincaid, and while Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer was still on the board, the Cowboys opted to take a defender instead.

They ultimately landed on Smith, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors following a 2022 campaign that saw him compile 48 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a half-sack. Thanks to his performance, the prospect was certain to hear his name called during one of the first two rounds, with scouts loving his size and quickness but raising an eyebrow at his consistency.

Ultimately, this will be an upside pick for Dallas, and the team has plenty of defensive line depth to bring Smith along slowly. It’ll be interesting to see whether the rookie settles in as a defensive tackle or nose tackle, but for the time being, he’ll find himself in the mix with the recently re-signed Johnathan Hankins and rookie-contract presence Osa Odighizuwa on the Dallas D-tackle depth chart.

Draft Notes: Flowers, Eagles, Bills, Ravens

The Bears have already moved back once in the first round, sending the No. 1 pick to the Panthers for a package that included the No. 9 pick in Thursday’s draft. While the front office was able to restock their draft capital, the team could still look to move back a second time. According to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe, the Bears “probably would like to trade down” as they pursue more picks.

Volin suspects that the organization likes Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers but has no intention of taking him in the top 10. By trading back in the first round, Ryan Poles and co. can continue to collect assets while also selecting their preferred prospect in a more palatable spot. Volin also suggests that the front office could simply look to deal some of their non-firsts to trade into the back end of the first round, with the writer suggesting a package of picks No. 53, No. 61, and No. 64.

The Bears made a clear commitment to Justin Fields when they traded out of the first selection, eliminating any shot at adding one of the draft’s top QB prospects. The team’s apparent pursuit of Flowers emphasizes their desire to surround Fields with as many talented playmakers as possible, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the organization adds a handful of skill players before the draft is complete.

More notes leading up to Thursday’s draft…

  • A league executive told Peter King of Football Morning in America that the Eagles “love” Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith, and the writer believes there’s a chance the organization selects the prospect with the 10th-overall pick. While many pundits have assumed the Eagles would select someone like Northwestern lineman Peter Skoronski, King notes that the organization generally hasn’t used high draft picks on offensive guards. Further, the team’s grouping of edge rushers (Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat) are pushing an average age of 30, so it wouldn’t be a shock if they add some youth to the grouping.
  • The Bills like North Carolina wideout Josh Downs, according to King. Scouts believe the receiver could start in the slot from Day 1, providing Josh Allen with another talented pass-catcher outside of Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. Downs averaged nearly 100 yards per game over the past two seasons.
  • A number of teams believe the Ravens will be eyeing wide receivers when it’s their turn to pick at No. 22, according to Albert Breer of While the organization added Odell Beckham to a grouping that also includes Rashod Bateman, the team could be looking for another burner to pair with Lamar Jackson. Breer points to Flowers as a “potential interesting fit.”
  • The Chiefs have made calls about moving up from the No. 31 pick, according to Breer. While teams believe Kansas City is simply looking for a “discounted way” to move up the board, Breer notes that the organization wouldn’t make such a move unless they had their eye on a particular prospect. Once again, Flowers comes up as a potential target, and Breer also points to Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt, and Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith as options.

Latest On Michigan DL Mazi Smith’s Draft Stock

Mazi Smith is turning into a popular name leading up to the draft. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Michigan defensive lineman has had more than 20 meetings or visits with teams.

The Bills were one of the most recent teams to meet with Smith, with Rapoport noting that the team had a top-30 visit with the prospect today. The Chiefs and Steelers previously met with the defensive lineman at Michigan, and Rapoport also connects the Bears, Eagles, Cowboys, Cardinals, and Saints to the player.

Over the past two years, Smith had 85 tackles and five tackles for loss in 28 games for the Wolverines. The 2022 campaign had majors ups and downs for the player. He was arrested in October after being found to be in possession of a gun without a license. The ensuing felony charge was later dismissed in favor of a guilty plea on a misdemeanor. Then, following the season, Smith earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, putting him firmly on the NFL map.

The six-foot-three, 323-pound lineman has been lauded for his size and athleticism. Aaron Wilson of previously compared Smith’s “rough-and-tumble style” to that of fellow defensive line prospect Bryan Bresee‘s “finesse.” ultimately gave him the third-highest combine grade among defensive tackles, although the site questioned his ability to produce behind the line of scrimmage. That lack of pass-rushing prowess could end up forcing Smith into the second round, but his growing collection of top-3o visits certainly bodes well for his chances of being selected on the first day of the draft.

Draft Notes: Seahawks, Eagles, Carter, Steelers

Armed with a pair of top-20 picks, the Seahawks have been busy evaluating their first-round options. This past week, the organization was busy scouting some of the draft’s top quarterback prospects.

According to Albert Breer of (via Twitter), the Seahawks sent a “contingent” led by head coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson to meet privately with Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that the Seahawks also checked out the Pro Days for C.J. Stroud and Will Levis.

The Seahawks inked quarterback Geno Smith to a three-year extension, but the team-friendly nature of that deal shouldn’t preclude the organization from selecting a QB prospect in the upcoming draft. Seattle is in possession of picks No. 5 and No. 20, meaning they even have the ammo to trade up for one of the preferred targets. The more realistic route would see the organization staying pat at No. 5 and potentially selecting a signal-caller.

More draft notes from around the NFL…

  • One of the league’s most dynamic offenses is eyeing one of the draft’s most dynamic playmakers. Texas running back Bijan Robinson had a predraft visit with the Eagles earlier this week, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter). The Eagles lost top RB Miles Sanders this offseason, but they’ve added Rashaad Penny to a RB room that still features mainstays Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. As Garafolo warns, Eagles GM Howie Roseman has never selected a running back in the first round, and the organization hasn’t taken a first-round RB since 1986.
  • Jalen Carter has had a concerning predraft process. He had to leave the combine while facing charges of reckless driving and draft racing following a deadly car accident that killed a Georgia teammate and staffer. As Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post writes, the defensive lineman also “put on considerable weight” before his pro day, and his performance was described as “less than stellar.” When coupled with the potential run on QBs, Carter could fall out of the top-five, something that was unthinkable only a few months ago. However, one executive doesn’t believe Carter will experience a significant fall down draft boards and attributed the poor performance to tough coaching. “It really wasn’t as bad as how it was reported,” the exec told La Canfora. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. [Chiefs defensive line coach] Joe Cullen was leading the drills, and he went pretty hard on the kid. I don’t know if he was trying to make a point, but he had him doing the same drills as [much smaller linebacker] Nolan Smith, and he was really trying to wear the kid out.”
  • The Steelers could use the draft to add a defensive tackle, and the organization has already met with Michigan lineman Mazi Smith. Aaron Wilson of believes Pittsburgh would select Smith over Clemson’s Bryan Bresee at pick No. 17, but there’s a “a battle between the two.” Ultimately, Wilson says Smith’s “rough-and-tumble style” would better fit the Steelers’ mold than Bresee’s “finesse.” Meanwhile, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweets that Minnesota OL John Michael Schmitz met with the Steelers earlier this week, so the team is definitely keeping their options open in the middle of the first round.
  • Before yesterday’s pro day, Boston College wideout Zay Flowers met with the Saints and Giants, according to Pelissero (on Twitter). The projected first-round pick has put on 13 pounds of muscle during the pre-combine process, and Pelissero believes the wideout could add even more weight before the draft.