With the Chiefs adding Mecole Hardman and eyeing a WR crunch, the team reportedly shopped James last week. A trade didn’t end up happening, and with the wideout sitting on IR, the team has decided to designate him for return. After resurfacing last year with the Giants, James signed a one-year deal worth $1.23MM with the Chiefs back in April. He got into Kansas City’s first two games, hauling in one six-yard catch.
Three veteran tight ends were let go in Mason Schreck, Eric Tomlinson, and Nick Vannett. Vannett has the most epxerience of the bunch, having seen time in 86 career games. He spent the 2022 seasons with the Giants and Saints, hauling in six catches. Tomlinson has appeared in 85 career games, including 34 over the past two seasons. He started 12 of his 17 appearances for Denver in 2022, serving mostly as an extra blocker.
Adam Humphries was an 800-yard receiver with the Buccaneers in 2018, but he’s compiled only 985 yards in three years since. He didn’t get into a game during the 2022 season, but he did haul in 41 catches for Washington in 2021.
7:50pm:Nick Vannett joined King and Kirksey in not making the Texans’ 53-man roster, per KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson. The Texans signed the veteran in early August. Teams frequently release veterans on the bubble to protect younger players from reaching the waiver wire. Vested vets’ contracts becoming guaranteed just before Week 1 also factors into cuts at this time of the year, but as of now, Houston will be without this experienced trio.
3:45pm: Wilson reports that another notable veteran has received his walking papers from Houston in the form of cornerback Desmond King. The 28-year-old, like Kirksey, spent the past two years with the Texans. King started 25 games with the team, collecting five interceptions and 14 pass deflections, making him a name to watch with respect to potential interest from other teams in need of secondary depth. His release will yield $3MM in cap savings.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old had been in Houston over the past two years. Kirksey signed a one-year deal to join the Texans in 2021, then a two-year pact the following offseason. He was due to carry a cap hit of $6.25MM this year, but by parting ways with him the Texans will save all but $1MM of that amount.
Kirksey proved himself to be a capable starter during his time with the Browns and Packers before heading to Houston. He played 789 snaps in 2021, then a career-high 1,141 last season while collecting over 100 tackles for the third time in his NFL tenure. The former third-rounder operated as one of the team’s captains as one of the few veterans entrenched within an otherwise young roster. It will be interesting to see how willing the Texans are to bring him back at a reduced rate, or if they will proceed with their other LB options.
Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes that free agent addition Denzel Perrymaneclipsed Kirksey (who had been dealing with a hamstring injury for much of the offseason) on the depth chart, making today’s move an easier one to go through with given its financial benefits. Houston also has Cory Littletonin place as a veteran, and the team has drafted an Alabama ‘backer (Christian Harrisand Henry To’oTo’o) in each of the past two years. That new corps at the second level will aim to deliver an improvement on defense this season under new head coach DeMeco Ryans.
In addition to Kirksey, offensive lineman Rashaad Coward is among the Texans’ Monday cuts, Wilson adds. Coward has logged 18 starts across 38 regular season games with the Bears, Steelers and Cardinals. He signed in Houston earlier this month amidst the team’s injury concerns up front, especially at right tackle. The Texans swung a deal with Arizona for Josh Jones last week, though. Coward will now head to another new home via waivers if claimed, or he can remain with Houston if the team elects to place him on the practice squad.
The top three tight ends on the Texans’ depth chart are currently dealing with injuries in camp. Schultz was recently sidelined after a collision with another newcomer to the team, safety Jimmie Ward. Head coach DeMeco Ryans claims that Schultz should be fine, though. Third-year tight end Brevin Jordan is dealing with a strained hamstring. Expected to take on a leading role at the position last year, Jordan disappointingly fell short of his rookie production. Health has continued to be an issue in his young career as he has missed 14 games over his first two years in the league. Second-year player Teagan Quitoriano, the team’s primary blocking tight end, is currently on the physically unable to perform list as he deals with a pulled quadriceps injury.
Vannett and Keene join a healthy group that includes veteran journeyman Eric Tomlinson, Mason Schreck, and undrafted rookie Jordan Murray. All three have typically been used in blocking and special teams roles throughout their careers. Murray had some receiving success at the FCS level at Missouri State but didn’t make much of an impact after transferring to Hawai’i last year. Tomlinson and Schreck on the other hand have both had many years of work at the NFL level without establishing reputations as pass catchers.
While Schultz will be the obvious TE1 upon his return from injury, Jordan’s step back last year puts him in a precarious situation going into Year 3. If he can’t find a way to stay on the field and take the next step forward in his development, it could open the door for Vannett or Keene to establish a more permanent role in Houston than just camp bodies.
Vannett’s best season has only seen him catch 29 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns, but that still exceeds Jordan’s greatest contributions thus far. And, while Keene didn’t make much of an impact as a third-round rookie in New England, he had a bit of a reputation as a redzone target at Virginia Tech in college. If Jordan leaves the door open wide enough in training camp, he may find himself in a battle for a roster spot.
For now, though, Vannett and Keene will fulfill their roles as camp bodies at a position that has been overcome by injuries. While rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud may not be able to establish early connections with the tight ends he’ll be relying on in the regular season, Vannett and Keene will work to make sure that their absences don’t affect Stroud’s rookie camp development.
The Giants are in the midst of a bit of a midseason slump during a crucial four-game stretch of division games. They are activating pass rusher Azeez Ojulari and safety Tony Jeffersonfrom injured reserve in hopes that they’ll be able to turn things around after losing three of their last four, according to Giants senior writer Michael Elsen.
New York will certainly be glad to see Ojulari return to the field to assist with an aspect of the game they’ve struggled with so far this season: sack production. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been able to produce some form of pass rush, much like he did during his time with the Ravens, by getting creative and sending blitzers from every part of the field. While this has resulted in 12 different players contributing to the team’s sack total, the Giants haven’t gotten consistent results out of any one player, besides defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence leads the team with five sacks and is the only one of those 12 players with more than two.
Ojulari not only will get to the quarterback, as he showed he could during his rookie season when he led the team with eight sacks, but his presence should help the other defensive lineman provide more of a natural pass rush. With offensive linemen focused on Ojulari, Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and this year’s No. 5 overall pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux, should be freed up with some one-on-one matchups.
Jefferson is a depth piece in the Giants secondary. After two standard gameday elevations, Jefferson was signed to the team’s active roster for their London game against the Packers. Jefferson unfortunately suffered a foot injury in the game and was promptly placed on IR. With starting safety Xavier McKinney ruled out for the fourth-straight game, Jefferson provides a solid option alongside Dane Belton to start opposite the team’s other starting safety, Julian Love.
New York also made an exchange at the tight end position in today’s transactions. The Giants signed veteran tight end Nick Vannett to the active roster from the practice squad, waiving tight end Tanner Hudson to make room. With fourth-round rookie, and expected starter, Daniel Bellinger missing the last four games with an eye injury, the Giants have recently turned to recent addition Lawrence Cager who converted from wide receiver this past offseason. The team is expecting to finally get Bellinger back but will have Cager and Vannett available for backup.
Lastly, New York has promoted defensive tackle Vernon Butler and defensive back Zyon Gilbert as standard gameday elevations from the practice squad for tomorrow’s matchup with the Commanders. If Gilbert enters the game for Big Blue tomorrow, it would be the NFL debut for the undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic.
As teams around the NFL attempt to navigate the salary cap while putting together the rosters with which they will open the season, a couple of players have agreed to rework their current contracts in order to give their teams a bit more breathing room. Here are a few notable examples:
Ronnie Stanley, LT (Ravens): Baltimore addressed a major stressor today by converting $8.47MM of star left tackle Stanley’s salary this year into a signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The move resulted in the creation of $6.35MM of cap space for the 2022 season. This is a win-win for both sides. The Ravens gave Stanley a five-year, $112.8MM contract extension mid-season in 2020 that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL at the time. Since signing the contract, Stanley has played in two total games. With this compromise, Stanley still gets money from the contract while giving the Ravens a bit of relief on what stood to be the 20th largest cap hit in the NFL this season. After initially holding a cap hit of $18.55MM, Stanley will now represent a much easier to swallow $12.2MM of the Ravens’ cap space this year.
Troy Hill, CB (Rams): Los Angeles will make its cap struggles a bit easier by exercising a pre-existing option in Hill’s contract that will lower his 2022 cap hit by about $2MM, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Hill returned to his long-time home in Los Angeles sporting a one-year-old contract from the Browns. The Rams decided to trade for their former cornerback a year after losing out on him to a two-year, $9MM deal from Cleveland. The option will lower Hill’s 2022 cap hit from $4.5MM to only $2.5MM.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Chiefs): Smith-Schuster decided in his second stint with free agency to join a new franchise, signing with the Chiefs on a one-year, $3.76MM contract. The deal was already extremely incentive-laden, but Kansas City decided to give the former-Steelers’ receiver an opportunity at a bit higher of a bonus total in a cost-efficient, cap-savvy move. According to Yates, the Chiefs agreed to an amended contract that will increase Smith-Schuster’s per-game active roster bonus from $30K to $60K. This will increase his potential season total in such bonuses from $510K to $1.02MM. What’s interesting is that, of the additional $510K, only $150K will be attributed to this year’s salary cap. Since Smith-Schuster only appeared in five games last season, only five games-worth of the additional $30K per game will count against the 2022 salary cap. The remaining $360K will be applied to the 2023 salary cap.
Nick Vannett, TE (Saints): New Orleans brought in a solid run-blocking tight end in Vannett last offseason on a three-year, $8MM deal. Unfortunately, the Saints were only able to get seven games of action out of Vannett last year in a season that saw him miss the first 10 weeks of the season. Perhaps a reaction to the absences last year, the Saints were able to convince Vannett to sign a reworked deal that would lower his 2022 base salary from $2.6MM to $1.04MM, according to a tweet from Yates. The lowered payout will result in about $1.55MM of cap space for New Orleans.