Beyond the previously covered quarterback situation, the Watts departure is Minnesota’s most notable cut. The 2019 sixth-round pick started nine games last season, moving into the lineup after Michael Pierce‘s injury. The Vikings cut Pierce this offseason, though Watts did not profile as a pure nose tackle. He was also drafted to play in a different scheme.
Minnesota hired a new DC this offseason (Ed Donatell), and the team acquired former Texans second-round defensive tackle pick Ross Blacklock on Tuesday. The Vikes had also added veteran Jonathan Bullard this offseason. These moves appear to have affected Watts’ status, as does the Vikings keeping only six D-linemen. They retained 10 after 2021’s cutdown day. Some of the changes can be attributed to classification, with edge defenders classified as outside linebackers in 3-4 sets. Watts also carried a $2.5MM cap charge, allowing Minnesota to save some decent money.
The Davis cut represents a quick bailout on a 2021 third-round pick. One of two guard Davises the Vikes shipped out Tuesday (along with Jesse, whom they traded to the Steelers), Wyatt — an Ohio State alum — played in six games last season and did not log an offensive snap. In addition to drafting Ed Ingram in the second round this year, the Vikings signed veteran interior linemen Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann.
The Lions’ new running back, Jackson, has found a second home after playing out his rookie contract in Los Angeles. The former seventh-round pick out of Northwestern spent his time with the Chargers backing up starting running back Austin Ekeler, earning a few starts during Ekeler’s more injury-riddled periods. Despite not receiving many touches, Jackson has made the most of each one averaging 5.0 yards per carry during his four-year career in the NFL to total 1,040 rushing yards and four touchdowns, adding 508 yards receiving on 65 receptions. Jackson will compete with Craig Reynolds and Jermar Jefferson for the reserve positions behind the top-two backs, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.
The Vikings made a handful of roster moves today, including the signing of a veteran cornerback. The team announced (on Twitter) that they’ve signed cornerback Nate Hairston. The Vikings also announced the signing of offensive lineman Jesse Davis, and the team announced that they have re-signed cornerback Tye Smith.
Hairston was a fifth-round pick by the Colts in 2017, and he spent the first two seasons of his career with Indy, starting 11 of his 27 games. He spent the 2019 campaign with the Jets before splitting the 2020 season between New York and Denver.
In total, Hairston has seen time in 59 career games, collecting 104 tackles and a pair of interceptions. That includes a 2021 campaign with the Broncos where he complied nine tackles and four passes defended in 16 games (one start). The 27-year-old played the majority of his snaps on special teams last year.
Smith, a former fifth-round pick, joined the Vikings last offseason, and he collected six tackles in five games with the organization. Per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (on Twitter), Smith is signing a one-year minimum contract worth $1.035MM.
The free agent acquisition will miss at least three games and possibly more. Denver signed Darby to a three-year deal this offseason, one in which the franchise also added veteran Kyle Fuller on a one-year contract and used its No. 9 overall pick on Patrick Surtain II. The latter will be counted on as a potential every-down player beginning in Week 2.
This marks the latest injury setback for Darby, who carries a checkered health history. The veteran starter played 16 games last season, setting him up for a better free agency bid, but missed 20 games over the previous three years. Of Denver’s top four corners, only Darby and Surtain are signed beyond 2021.
Barring other injuries to its cornerback corps, the Broncos have the depth to withstand this setback and continue their momentum. The team returns Bryce Callahan from last season as well. However, Callahan has an extensive injury history — one that includes a full-season absence in 2019 and an IR stay to close the 2020 slate. He will team with Fuller and Surtain as the Broncos’ top three corners beginning Sunday, however. Second-year corner Michael Ojemudia is also on IR with a hamstring injury.
Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders moves will be noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s AFC West transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.
The Broncos are expected to bring back both Fleming and Stephen, Paton said (via Denver7’s Troy Renck, on Twitter), with running back Mike Boone and cornerback Michael Ojemudia bound for the regular-season IR list. Both backups are set to miss time to start the season, but the Broncos carried each onto the 53-man roster and will plan for their in-season returns.
Because Fleming and Stephen are vested veterans, they do not need to clear waivers in order to re-sign with the Broncos. Denver signed both Fleming and Stephen this offseason. While Fleming competed with fellow addition Bobby Massie, the latter won the Broncos’ right tackle job. Bassey and Dawson can return after six weeks, though the Broncos’ cornerback contingent is much deeper than last season — to the point the roster may not have room for both. Ojemudia would stand to be Denver’s No. 5 corner upon returning.
It’s officially official. The Broncos have re-signed defensive back Nate Hairston, according to the league’s transactions wire.
Hairston, 26, was released by the Broncos on Thursday, but he wasn’t gone for long. The Broncos released him only as a procedural move — likely in order rework his contract.
Hairston, a 2017 fifth-round pick out of Temple, appeared in 27 games with the Colts through his first two seasons in the NFL, compiling 65 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. He was traded to the Jets for a conditional sixth-rounder in 2019 He wound up starting six of his eleven appearances for Gang Green that season.
The 26-year-old saw two games with the Jets last year before being dropped in October. He went to spend time with the Ravens’ practice squad before coming to Denver towards the end of the season. Hairston suited up for the Broncos’ final three games, primarily on special teams. Now, he’ll battle for his spot in camp behind newcomers Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller. Of course, the cornerback group could also get more crowded between now and the fall — especially if the Broncos tap Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Caleb Farley with the No. 9 overall pick.