Nick Leverett

NFC Rumors: Bucs, Lions, Panthers, Packers

The Buccaneers may be considered as a rebuilding squad, but that doesn’t matter much to the players fighting for roster spots in the late preseason. As the regular season inches nearer and nearer, two starting positions are starting to come into focus, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

On offense, center Ryan Jensen has not returned to practice as he continues to recover from three knee ligament tears that he opted not to have surgery on. In his absence, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett have been competing for the starting job. Hainsey likely has a bit of an edge after playing the position in college and starting all 17 games last season for Tampa Bay, but Leverett has meshed well in new offensive coordinator Dave Canales‘ new zone-blocking scheme. Even if Hainsey can’t hold onto the job, Leverett may keep the position competitive.

On defense, Dee Delaney has really stepped up at nickelback after the team opted to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety full-time. Delaney, who spent four years at The Citadel before transferring to Miami (FL) and going undrafted, has stuck in Tampa Bay, playing 32 games over the past two seasons while starting three of them. Delaney has had a great camp as reflected in a stellar performance in last week’s preseason game against the Jets. Undrafted rookie Christian Izien has also impressed with physical play throughout the preseason, while rookie sixth-round pick Josh Hayes has fallen a bit behind in the position battle.

Here are a few more roster battles to watch heading into the final weekend of preseason games this season:

  • Nate Sudfeld was viewed as a solid backup option at quarterback for the Lions last season. Coming into 2023, though, he may be struggling to retain a roster spot, according to Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. Obviously, Jared Goff has the starting job locked up, but recently signed veteran Teddy Bridgewater has made a strong case for the QB2 role behind him. Sudfeld still has value to the team, but head coach Dan Campbell made it clear that his roster status depends on if he adds more value to the team than depth at other positions on the roster. If CB5 or CB6 end up adding more value than Sudfeld as QB3, he may find himself missing out on the initial 53-man roster.
  • As starting guard Austin Corbett waits to be cleared following ACL surgery, the Panthers‘ situation at guard is feeling a bit precarious. A tweet from Joseph Person of The Athletic tells that a decision on the starting right guard job in Corbett’s absence has been delayed until the returns from injury of rookie fourth-round pick Chandler Zavala and undrafted rookie Nash Jensen. Head coach Frank Reich wanted both rookies to have a chance for the spot before making the decision. Zavala was recently activated from the physically unable to perform list and hasn’t seen much action. Jensen was impressing early in the offseason before a back injury slowed his progress. They’ll compete with Cade Mays and Justin McCray for the position, but Person believes that Carolina may pursue some added competition at roster cutdowns.
  • Last week, the Packers‘ seventh-round pick from last year, Rasheed Walker, got the starting call at left tackle ahead of usual backup Yosh Nijman, according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic. Nijman has been the usual go-to at tackle when starter David Bakhtiari isn’t available, but Schneidman thinks that Walker may have worked his way past Nijman on the depth chart as of late.

Buccaneers C Ryan Jensen Not Likely To Be Ready For Regular Season?

Earlier this month, Ryan Jensen indicated he has healed in full after missing the entire 2022 regular season with a trio of ligament tears in his knee. The Buccaneers center has resumed individual work since then, but he has yet to take part in team drills.

Jensen – who declined to undergo surgery and returned in time for the postseason – has kept a part-time schedule so far as he slowly makes his way back to a full workload. Since he has been absent from regular practices, however, head coach Todd Bowles acknowledged that the Pro Bowler is not in consideration for Week 1 usage at this point.

“When we go into the season, I don’t think we’re going to have anybody if they haven’t practiced,” Bowles said (via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, on Twitter). “You always prepare if somebody gets hurt or somebody’s gonna stay hurt, so we prepare that way every day so that hasn’t changed.”

When at full health, Jensen will be a critical member of the Buccaneers’ O-line, a unit which has seen a number of changes this offseason. The 32-year-old has been a dependable full-time starter since his arrival in free agency in 2018. A lengthy ramp-up period could be needed for Jensen to receive enough practice reps to be green-lit for a return to game action. With two years remaining on his contract at cap hits of $5.9MM and $17.3MM, a cautious approach from the team would come as no surprise.

With Jensen not in the picture (for the time being), Stroud notes that the Week 1 starting center competition will come down to Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett (Twitter link). The former started all 17 regular season games at center in Jensen’s absence last season, while the latter logged 10 starts at left guard. Bowles said a final decision on the matter will likely not be made until after the preseason has ended. By that point, it will be interesting to see how much progress Jensen will have made in his ongoing recovery process.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/17/23

Here are Monday’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New York Jets

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Commanders

Teams with returning head coaches are now free to begin offseason workouts, leading to this high number of RFA and ERFA tenders being signed. Bryant and Reaves signed the low-end tender, while the Packers gave Nijman a second-round tender. Bryant and Reaves are tied to $2.62MM salaries; Nijman is attached to a $4.3MM number. Nijman has both played left and right tackle, settling in at the latter spot after the Packers moved Elgton Jenkins back to guard last season. ERFAs are two years from unrestricted free agency; RFAs are one year away.

An August shoulder injury cost Williams his 2022 season, but the former second-round pick was trending in the wrong direction with the Patriots. New England chose Williams 45th overall in 2019 but used him as a starter only once. New Vikings DC Brian Flores was no longer with the Pats when they drafted Williams, 25, but the team will take a flier on the Vanderbilt alum.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/10/23

Today’s minor moves around the NFL:

Arizona Cardinals

Chicago Bears

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Waived: DB Carlins Platel

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

  • Signed: T Drew Himmelman

 

Bailey has been the punter for the Patriots since the team drafted him in the fifth round in 2019. He spent some time on injured reserve this past season and looked ready to return before being suspended by the team in response to missed rehabilitation appointments. In Bailey’s absence, New England relied on former Panther Michael Palardy for the rest of the season. With Palardy set to hit free agency, the Patriots will need to figure out who will be flipping the field for them next year.

Gray has been a standout special teamer for the Saints, earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2021. His new contract will be his largest yet, a three-year, $9.6MM deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The deal includes $4MM guaranteed, $2.4MM at signing, and has annual playing time incentives that could pay up to $500,000 per season. The first year’s base salary of $1.1MM is fully guaranteed for injury, followed by second- and third-year base salaries of $2.5MM and $2.6MM, respectively. The new contract has an potential maximum value of $11.1MM.

Buccaneers Considering O-Line Trades

Between Tom Brady‘s second and third Buccaneers seasons, Tampa Bay’s interior offensive line has gone from one of the league’s most stable areas to an undependable spot. Injuries to Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie followed the exits of Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa. The Bucs endured more issues Saturday night, when both Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett went down during the team’s preseason finale.

Hainsey, who is in line to replace Jensen at center, suffered an ankle injury. The Bucs do look to have caught a break with the second-year blocker, whom Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets could return by Week 1 after X-rays revealed a short-term injury. Leverett suffered a shoulder malady, and Wilson adds that is also not considered to be a serious issue (Twitter link). But the run of injuries this position group has suffered cannot exactly be ignored.

[RELATED: Jensen Injury Not Season-Ending?]

This latest round of setbacks reminds of how much has changed for the Bucs’ offensive line, which does have trade acquisition Shaq Mason healthy as the regular season nears. Todd Bowles confirmed the team will look at acquisitions along the O-line.

There is not a sense of urgency unless we lose the two that went down yesterday,” Bowles said, via JoeBucsFan.com. “You have to have someone willing to give you a good football player [in a trade]. Nobody is going to give you a good football player. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you.

We are going to look at the waiver wire. We are going to look at certain trades to see if we can find some things out there. But if there is nothing out there, we still have some guys that can play.”

The Bucs join the Bears and 49ers as known teams to be looking into O-line trades, though this is likely not the only trio making inquiries into availability at these premium positions. Tampa Bay used a third-round pick on Hainsey in 2021 and a second-rounder on guard Luke Goedeke. The latter is expected, due to Jensen and Stinnie’s severe injuries, to be a starter. More clarity on Hainsey’s status will help clear up the Bucs’ O-line picture for Week 1. The team has lost linemen during practice and preseason games this summer. Depth, at least, may be needed this week.

NFC South Rumors: Darnold, Christensen, Bucs, Murphy-Bunting, Werner

As Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield starts to run away with the starting job, questions have been raised about the future of incumbent starter Sam Darnold. When a rumor surfaced that Carolina may be shopping the fifth-year passer, general manager Scott Fitterer pulled Darnold aside to set him at ease, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic.

“I talked to Scott,” Darnold explained. “He said not to worry about it. To be honest, before he talked to me, I didn’t even see it. So I’m just gonna continue to do me and do what I can to put myself in a good position and put this team in a good position.”

Aiding Fitterer in convincing Darnold that he’s not likely to be dealt is Darnold’s $18.86MM salary. There could certainly be a team willing to make a call about Darnold if an injury occurs to their starter, but if the Panthers wanted to offload him, they’d likely have to eat some of his contract, as well.

There’s a good chance, though, that Darnold stays put. As Person explained, “in a league that saw only 12 teams make it through the 17-game regular season in 2021 with one quarterback,” the backup quarterback is still a crucially important position. And, while Darnold may not rank highly among the starters in today’s game, he certainly ranks as one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. The backup job appears to be his, too, as long as the Panthers continue to slow play the development of rookie third-round pick Matt Corral.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC South, starting with another note out of the Tar Heel state:

  • As certain as it seems that rookie first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu will start the 2022 season as the Panthers’ starting left tackle, Carolina is still giving last year’s third-round pick, Brady Christensen, plenty of snaps at the position. According to Person, Christensen took the majority of the first-team reps this past Thursday at the position. Christensen has a highly sought after versatility that gives the Panthers the option of playing him as a guard or a tackle. With Ekwonu still expected to win the starting job, perhaps offensive line coach James Campen just wants to ensure his best backup option has enough experience at one of the offensive line’s most important positions.
  • The Buccaneers‘ interior offensive line will look completely different in 2022 after the departures of Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet, as well as an injury that may cause center Ryan Jensen to miss a significant amount of time. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason will man the right guard position, while the left guard and center positions are still up in the air, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The center position is currently a battle between Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett. Leverett is also competing for the left guard starting job with Aaron Stinnie and rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke. A tweet from Bucs staff writer Scott Smith, though, may hint at one of the positions. Smith reports that assistant head coach & run game coordinator Harold Goodwin “hopes a decision (at left guard) will be made prior to the third preseason game” so that the new left guard can “build chemistry with Donovan Smith and (Hainsey).” Smith is projected to be the starting left tackle, so this comment from Goodwin may point to the fact that Hainsey has won the position battle at center.
  • We recently did a rundown of the Buccaneers’ cornerbacks room, but an update, provided by Matt Matera of the Pewter Report, may give us some new information. We claimed that Sean Murphy-Bunting was in a competition with Jamel Dean for the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Carlton Davis, but that the loser of that battle would still likely get plenty of time as the top option at nickel. According to Matera, though, Murphy-Bunting is no longer working in the slot and is solely competing with Dean for the outside job. Matera adds that Dean seems to have the inside-track which will leave Murphy-Bunting coming off the bench.
  • It appears that Saints second-year linebacker Pete Werner has taken hold of the starting weak-side linebacker position next to Demario Davis, according to Jeff Duncan of nola.com. Duncan comments that the staff’s confidence in Werner is high enough that it assisted in their decision to allow former starter Kwon Alexander to walk in free agency.

Buccaneers Fear Season-Ending Knee Injury For C Ryan Jensen

JULY 29: The Bucs indeed fear Jensen will be out for the season, Rapoport adds. Todd Bowles confirmed Friday the team’s starting center will miss a significant amount of time (video links). The new Tampa Bay HC did not say Jensen would miss the entire season, mentioning a potential multi-month timeline.

The Bucs have already discussed bringing in a veteran, per Bowles, though the fourth-year Tampa Bay staffer said these discussions have not progressed too far just yet. Hainsey, a right tackle at Notre Dame who converted to the interior as a pro, is expected to receive the first crack at replacing Jensen, per Rapoport. Nick Leverett, a former UDFA who played in two games last season, is also in the mix.

JULY 28: A cart transported Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen off the practice field Thursday, and the team is concerned about a long-term absence. The Bucs fear the recently re-signed snapper suffered a serious injury, Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com report (on Twitter).

These reports indeed usually precede bad news for teams. The Bucs just gave Jensen a second contract — a three-year, $39MM deal — to return as Tom Brady‘s center. Tests are ongoing here, but a source informed ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter this situation is “not looking good” for the veteran blocker (Twitter link). Jensen is dealing with a major injury, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter). His season is certainly in jeopardy.

Offensive line continuity played a big part in the Bucs’ surge to the Super Bowl LV championship, but the 2021 playoffs and this offseason have brought uncertainty to Tampa Bay’s front. This year has injected considerable O-line change, with longtime guard Ali Marpet retiring and the Bucs letting their other guard starter — Alex Cappa — defect to the Bengals in free agency. A Jensen absence would create a new issue for the Bucs, who will have the oldest primary starting quarterback in NFL history.

Jensen’s recommitment to the Bucs came just after Brady’s; the ninth-year center re-signed with the team hours after Brady’s unretirement. Jensen has established himself as one of the NFL’s top centers, having moved from sixth-round pick to using a contract-year springboard with the Ravens to a 2018 Bucs deal. On that pact, Jensen did not miss a game. The Colorado State-Pueblo alum has not missed a game since the 2016 season. Jensen, 31, made his first Pro Bowl last season.

Tampa Bay did trade a Day 3 pick to acquire Shaq Mason, reuniting Brady with one of his longtime Patriots guards. But the team could soon be vulnerable at two guard positions. With interior O-line play vital to Brady-led offenses, the Bucs could be in need of another veteran reinforcement. While it is premature here, center does feature an interestingly experienced free agent crop. J.C. Tretter, Matt Paradis and Trey Hopkins remain available.

For now, Robert Hainsey will take over at the pivot, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. Competing for the other guard spot with second-round pick Luke Goedeke and the recently re-signed Aaron Stinnie, Hainsey is a third-round pick in his second season. Tampa Bay quickly addressed the Rob Gronkowski void by signing Kyle Rudolph. If Jensen is set to miss a substantial amount of time, it would not remotely surprise if Tampa Bay signed one of the top free agent snappers.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/28/21

Here are Saturday’s minor moves. Teams have until 3pm CT Tuesday to cut their rosters down to 53 players.

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers Sign 11 Players To Futures Deals

The Super Bowl champs have signed eleven players to reserve/futures contracts for 2021. Shortly after their boat parade, the Buccaneers announced low-cost deals for:

The list mostly draws from the team’s year-end practice squad, save for Leverett who was dropped in the postseason for the returning Earl Watford. Now, the Bucs will work to keep the band together with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and edge rusher Shaquil Barrett among those scheduled for free agency.