Nicholas Petit-Frere

AFC Rumors: Gilmore, Pryor, Petit-Frere, Wilson, Jaguars

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is playing with his fourth team after a short stint in Carolina. He started in Buffalo before signing with the Patriots. New England traded the two-time All-Pro midseason for only a sixth-round draft pick in return. Gilmore was injured at the time, but the compensation the Patriots received never made a ton of sense. Recently, though, Gilmore elaborated on the situation that deteriorated in New England, according to Stephen Holder of ESPN.

At the peak of his career, Gilmore suffered a torn quadriceps in the 2020 season. The injury kept him on the Patriots’ reserve/physically unable to perform list to start the 2021 season and, during that time, the relationship between Gilmore and New England “reached a point of no return.”

“I just didn’t like how they handled my situation, my injury,” Gilmore told reporters. “The situation just, I don’t know, wasn’t right for both sides.”

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC, starting with a couple position battle victories in the AFC South:

  • In a bit of a surprise decision, it appears that veteran offensive tackle Matt Pryor has won the left tackle job in Indianapolis over rookie third-round pick Bernhard Raimann, according to Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. Pryor has only ever started one game at left tackle in the NFL and many expected the rookie out of Central Michigan to give him a strong run for the job. Erickson goes on to say that, should Pryor not perform up to expectations, there’s a strong chance that the starting job could slip out of his grasp.
  • A third-round rookie who did win the starting job is just across the division in Tennessee. Titans general manager Jon Robinson made it known last weekend that Ohio State rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere will start at right tackle to open the season, according to Kayla Anderson of WKRN News 2. Last year’s rookie offensive lineman Dillon Radunz failed to earn much of a role last season but, reportedly, did everything right this offseason. Still, Petit-Frere has effectively won the starting job and Radunz will continue to come off the bench in Year 2.
  • New Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson received an impressive contract extension this week reported as a five-year, $245MM deal. The new money on the contract extension was originally reported to be $49MM per year. Those original reports failed to take the league’s new 17th-week into account when calculating the new money, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. Wilson was entitled to two more years under his previous contract and the original new money reports included the Week 17 paychecks that really should’ve been included with the original contract. So, while still an extremely impressive payday for Wilson, his average new money is more like $48.52MM per year than $49MM.
  • The Jaguars are losing a member of their front office, according to Seth Walder of ESPN. Director of strategic research & development Momin Ghaffar is leaving the team for a job outside of football. In fact, the job is “outside of sports.” This isn’t a terrible surprise as the position was one of Jacksonville’s many roles that fuse business analytics with football analytics.

Latest On Titans’ RT, LG Competitions

Second-year pro Dillon Radunz has the chance to win the Titans’ starting right tackle job, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s official website. That jibes with an ESPN report from last month, and it makes plenty of sense given that Radunz was selected in the second round of the 2021 draft with the expectation that he would be a long-term bookend on Tennessee’s O-line.

The possibility of Radunz competing for the team’s other OL vacancy, left guard, was floated earlier this year. HC Mike Vrabel subsequently indicated that the team would be focusing on Radunz as an RT candidate, although he will have to fend off 2022 third-rounder Nicholas Petit-Frere, who presently appears to be the most significant threat to his playing time. In his rookie campaign, Radunz started just one game while learning and developing behind former right tackle David Quessenberry, who signed with the Bills this offseason. According to Wyatt, Radunz has looked more comfortable during OTAs and minicamp, but obviously training camp will be a better gauge of where he stands.

While Radunz and Petit-Frere are battling it out for the right tackle slot, Wyatt confirms that Aaron Brewer and Jamarco Jones are the top candidates for the LG gig, as we heard several weeks ago (and throughout the offseason). Brewer, a 2020 UDFA, has started six games for Tennessee in his first two professional seasons, five of which came last year. Jones, meanwhile, signed a two-year, $5.75MM contract with the Titans in March, and one of his primary selling points was his versatility. Despite dealing with injury problems throughout his brief career, the 2018 fifth-round pick of the Seahawks has seen action all over the O-line.

Both Brewer and Jones received sub-par marks from Pro Football Focus for their 2021 work. This offseason, Jones has managed to stay healthy and has, in Wyatt’s estimation, demonstrated improvement, while Brewer missed time due to injury. Brewer’s familiarity with the offense will help, and Wyatt believes the Texas State product will ultimately win the LG job, but that battle will be one of the most hotly-contested for the Titans this summer. Whichever player emerges as the starter will have big shoes to fill, as Rodger Saffold had become a reliable fixture on the interior and earned his first Pro Bowl bid in 2021. He became a cap casualty in March and signed with Buffalo a week before Quessenberry.

The Titans finished the 2021 regular season with the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. While Vrabel’s outfit fell to the Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs, the club still has its eyes set on another deep postseason run. As such, Wyatt confirms that Tennessee will look at the free agent and trade markets if the RT and/or LG competitions are not going well.

Of course, the players who are on the free agent market at this point in the calendar year are generally available for a reason. The top RTs include Bryan Bulaga, Daryl Williams, and Marcus Cannon, all of whom were released by their previous clubs in March and who have not generated any reported interest since. Similarly, the Commanders released LG Ereck Flowers in March, and while our own Ely Allen noted that the former top-10 pick could make plenty of sense for Tennessee, we have not heard of any interest in his services.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif may be an appealing option for the Titans if Brewer and Jones fail to impress, but LDT may not want to continue his NFL career. Nonetheless, potentially intriguing players could be cut as we get closer to the regular season, and GM Jon Robinson may be able to swing a trade if the FA market does not bear fruit.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/19/22

Here are the latest mid- and late-round draft picks to sign their four-year rookie contracts:

Cincinnati Bengals

New York Giants

Tennessee Titans

Release Candidate: Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva

In the week before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens gave in to the wishes of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and traded him away to the Chiefs. This trade left a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line opposite All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To address this issue, the Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva, a free agent whom the Steelers felt ready to move on from

After not falling in love with any of the tackles the Draft had to offer at their position in the early rounds, Baltimore opted for a stopgap solution, signing Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $14MM. Villanueva had performed admirably over his sevens years in Pittsburgh, but was never really considered an elite tackle. His best years saw him make consecutive Pro Bowls in the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons.

As a Raven, Villanueva did his job, and then was asked to do more. After four years of starting at left tackle as a Steeler, Villanueva struggled initially when asked to fill in at right tackle. He got to go back to his more natural position after ankle surgery sidelined Stanley for the all but one game of the 2021 season.

Villanueva had an up and down year. Often Villanueva’s age showed during some rough outings, but the 33-year-old showed some resiliency, playing through some discomfort knowing that another absence for the injury-devastated Ravens could spell disaster. He seemed to find his footing with time, though, playing a pretty good stretch of football to end the season.

But was Villanueva’s performance in 2021 worthy of a $9.25MM cap hit in 2022? Likely not. The Ravens will hope for a strong return for Stanley and they signed Ja’Wuan James to a low $9MM, two-year contract knowing that he likely would be out with a torn Achilles tendon for much of the 2021 season. The likeliest scenario sees Baltimore cutting Villanueva loose to rely on a combination of Stanley and James to bookend the offensive line. The Ravens also recently signed utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari to a three-year extension. The former undrafted free agent has started at all three offensive line positions for Baltimore and could continue to fill in at right tackle until the next franchise tackle shows up.

Baltimore could also opt to address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. While, with the 14th overall pick, the Ravens are not in a position to take one of the Draft’s more exciting tackle prospects like NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal, if Mississippi State’s Charles Cross were to fall to Baltimore, the Ravens, who are known for drafting for value over fit, would likely find it hard to pass on Cross’s potential. Cross, who ranks as the 8th best Draft prospect on The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Top 100, impresses many evaluators, but, reportedly, hasn’t convinced the entire league that he’s a top ten draft pick. If the Ravens were to trade back later into the first round, another common move by the draft-savvy franchise, they could find smaller school prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann falling into their laps. They could even wait until their second-round or third-round selections come up and opt to take a flyer on Minnesota’s massive Daniel Faalele or Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere, respectively.

Regardless, most paths that make sense for Baltimore don’t entail the team stomaching a $9.25MM cap hit for a tackle that struggled much of the year for them. Turning 34 at the beginning of the 2022 season, Villanueva could save the Ravens the trouble and simply retire. Whether retired or released, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see Villanueva in purple and black next season.

Buckeyes Big First Round?

On Monday, we saw Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson announce his intentions to skip his team’s Rose Bowl matchup with the Utes to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. As a few of his teammates follow suit, it becomes less and less likely that Wilson will be alone in hearing his name called on the night of April 28th.

As Monday night crept on, we saw tweets from offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (Twitter), wide receiver Chris Olave (Twitter), and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (Twitter) all echoing Wilson’s intentions. Surprisingly, Wilson, the highest projected pick of the four, was the only one not named First-team All-Big Ten this year.

Olave joins Wilson as a potential first-round receiver this year. Wilson’s 12 touchdowns and Olave’s 13 touchdowns are both good for top-7 in the nation. Their combined 25 receiving touchdowns are good for second-most in the country for a receiving duo, behind only Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley who combined for 31. If both receivers are picked in the first round this year, Ohio State would join Alabama as the only two schools with two receivers picked in the first round of the same draft since 2007, when both Ohio State and LSU accomplished this feat. Alabama has done it twice, consecutively: in 2020 with Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy and last year with Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.

Petit-Frere and Haskell are more likely day two prospects, but they are frequently considered to have an early-second-round value. Between the Combine, Ohio State’s Pro Day, and the unpredictability of the draft, it’s certainly not out of the question that Buckeyes could be four of the first thirty-two names called on that Thursday night in late-April.