A three-year starter with the Broncos, Alexander Johnson did not generate much free agency interest this offseason. Despite past production, the veteran defender lingered on the market for seven-plus months. The Seahawks will provide another opportunity.
Seattle is adding Johnson to its practice squad, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times tweets. The team also activated L.J. Collier from injured reserve. Wednesday marked the final day Collier could hold an IR-return designation. The former first-rounder remaining on IR after today would have meant his season was over. The Seahawks also signed wide receiver Kevin Kassis to their P-squad.
Only a four-year veteran, Johnson is nearing his 31st birthday. An off-field issue delayed the off-ball linebacker’s NFL entrance, but he produced once bumped into Denver’s starting lineup early in Vic Fangio‘s tenure. Pro Football Focus consistently graded Johnson as one of the league’s top off-ball ‘backers. The Tennessee alum posted 124 tackles in his most recent full season (2020), helping Fangio’s defense particularly against the run. Johnson joined offseason Seahawk trade acquisition Shelby Harris as key Fangio-era starters in Denver.
An injury also affected Johnson’s market. After placing a second-round RFA tender on Johnson last year, the Broncos moved on following the linebacker’s torn pec. Denver lost both its primary off-ball starters last season, but its new regime re-signed Josey Jewell over Johnson. With Seattle DC Clint Hurtt being a Fangio disciple, Johnson could prove a fit.
Seattle also designated cornerback Tre Brown and running back Travis Homer to return from IR, Condotta adds (via Twitter). Each is back at practice Wednesday.
Brown has been out since November 2021 due to a knee injury. The 2021 fourth-round pick started three games as a rookie, but the Seahawks have made some changes at the position since Brown last played. They have used two 2022 draftees — Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant — as regulars. Homer, who has been with the Seahawks since 2019, suffered a rib injury against the Falcons in Week 3. Kenneth Walker has taken over as Seattle’s lead back, but Homer has been a backup presence and special teams regular since 2019.
Following the Chiefs’ lead, the Cardinals used a position player as their emergency kicker Sunday. Backup running back Eno Benjamin logged a kickoff for the Cardinals against the Panthers on Sunday. That arrangement, similar to the Chiefs’ usage of safety Justin Reid against the Cards in Week 1, will not persist past Week 4. With Matt Prater battling a right hip injury, the Cardinals worked out multiple kickers Monday.
Rodrigo Blankenship, Matt Ammendola — the Chiefs’ first post-Reid solution to fill in for Harrison Butker — Jose Borregales and Jonathan Garibayauditioned for the Cardinals, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets. Blankenship, whom the Colts turned to in their first full season without Adam Vinatieri, missed much of last year with an injury and was removed from his gig after struggling in Week 1 this year. Blankenship worked out for the Jaguars last week. Ammendola lasted two games as the Chiefs’ Butker fill-in, being cut after struggling in Week 3, while Garibay was part of the Cowboys’ kicking competition. The rookie UDFA did not make it out of training camp.
Ahead of Monday’s Rams-49ers matchup, here is the latest from the NFC West:
Although the 49ers turned to Jaylon Moore to replace Trent Williams in Week 3, Colton McKivitz will start against the Rams on Monday night. An ankle injury prevented McKivitz from replacing Williams against the Broncos, who pounced after the All-Pro’s exit, but he was the team’s swing tackle throughout the summer. With Williams facing a four- to six-week recovery timetable, McKivitz may have the blindside gig for a bit. The 49ers let 2021 swing tackle Tom Compton sign with the Broncos, but McKivitz — who filled in for Williams in a do-or-die Week 18 tilt in Los Angeles — has been with the team since arriving as a 2020 firth-rounder.
The 49ers have made a few changes at the slot cornerback spot over the past several weeks. After Darqueze Dennard entered camp with the job, rookie Samuel Womack supplanted him and led to the 49ers releasing the veteran. Deommodore Lenoir has since replaced Womack, with Kyle Shanahan indicating the 2021 fifth-rounder played ahead of the 2022 fifth-rounder due to superior practice work recently, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Lenoir played 29% of San Francisco’s defensive snaps last season but likely does not have a firm grip on the job over Womack, who impressed during training camp, just yet.
Staying on the subject of 49ers corners, Shanahan expressed optimism Jason Verrett would practice this week. Verrett’s practice window opens ahead of Week 5, with the 49ers carrying the injury-prone vet on their reserve/PUP list. Should Verrett prove recovered from his September 2021 ACL tear, Barrows notes a starting job should not be ruled out. Verrett played well as a 49ers starter in 2020, showing form that enticed the team to re-sign him in 2021 and this year. Emmanuel Moseley‘s past in the slot could allow for a transition, forming a Verrett-Mosley-Charvarius Ward trio, if Verrett is healthy.
Sean McVay did not seem to expect Van Jefferson to miss a third of the season, but that will happen. The Rams placed Jefferson on IR ahead of their Week 3 game, but McVay is adamant the third-year wideout did not suffer a setback upon returning from arthroscopic knee surgery, Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com tweets. Jefferson’s IR move was more about roster construction, and The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue adds (via Twitter) the Rams expect their WR3 to be back when first eligible in Week 8 (following the team’s Week 7 bye).
Seahawks cornerback Tre Brown will not be ready to return when first eligible to come off the team’s PUP list. Pete Carroll confirmed the third-year corner remains a few weeks away, via ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson (on Twitter). Brown missed last season’s first five games and was down for their final seven, with a Nov. 21 knee injury leading to the latter hiatus. Seattle’s cornerback room has changed considerably since Brown last played; it will be interesting to see what role the 2021 fourth-rounder will play upon returning.
Summers is a 2019 seventh-round pick who has just one career start but who has established himself as a key contributor on Green Bay’s special teams unit over his first three seasons in the league. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects the TCU product to generate interest on the waiver wire (Twitter link). Indeed, Packers HC Matt LaFleur said that the team made the decision to part ways with Summers now in order to give him a chance to hook on with a new club before the wave of impending cuts that will soon flood the market (Twitter link via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com).
The Seahawks’ decision to move Brown to the PUP list means that he will be sidelined for at least the first four games of the season. That marks a disappointing start to his second NFL campaign; the fourth-rounder had two separate IR stints last year. That limited him to just five games (three starts), during which he registered 10 tackles and one pass deflection. Seattle has seen plenty of roster turnover at the CB position this offseason, leaving Brown in line for at least a rotational role. In his absence, the team will rely even more on starters Sidney Jones and Artie Burns, with rookies Coby Bryant likely to play in the slot.
The cornerback position group in Seattle is one of the more intriguing in the NFL this year. The Seahawks look to put together a formidable group of corners with last year’s trade acquisition, a veteran attempting a comeback, and two mid-round rookies.
Jones was a second-round pick out of Washington back in 2017 for Philadelphia. He only appeared in one game of his rookie season due to an Achilles injury, but received a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Eagles. A nagging hamstring injury kept him from consistently contributing during his sophomore season, but he was able to start four games that year for Philadelphia. An injury to starter Ronald Darby gave Jones an opportunity in Year 3, but another hamstring injury sidelined him and Jones was cut just prior to the 2020 season having only started eight games for the Eagles.
Jones signed with Jacksonville and started six games for the Jaguars, but, once again, injuries held him out of multiple games. The Jaguars extended his contract in March 2021 just to trade Jones five month later to the Seahawks. In Seattle, Jones finally found himself healthy, appearing in all but one game and starting 11. Jones is currently taking some time off the field after sustaining a concussion in practice, but he is is expected to return to a starting role in 2022.
Burns is the other cornerback running with the ones this offseason. Burns is a former first-round pick that many in Pittsburgh will regard as a bit of a disappointment. Burns started his career in Pittsburgh as the No. 3 cornerback behind William Gay and Ross Cockrell. He eventually replaced fellow rookie Sean Davis as the starting nickelback and, in his first career start, picked off Joe Flacco for the Steelers’ first interception by a defensive back that season. Burns was a full-time starter in his second season before losing playing time to Davis, Coty Sensabaugh, Mike Hilton, and Cameron Sutton over the next two years. Pittsburgh declined Burns’ fifth-year option and allowed him to walk in free agency.
Burns signed with the Bears but was carted off the practice field with a torn ACL weeks before the season started. He re-signed with the Bears and, after getting small morsels of special teams snaps in the team’s first 10 games, Burns started six of Chicago’s final seven games last season. Following the dismantling of the Bears’ coaching staff after the 2021 season, Burns followed former Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai to Seattle, where Desai would take the role of associate head coach/defensive assistant. Seattle seemed to notice how Burns was progressing in Desai’s defense and decided that bringing him in could certainly benefit the Seahawks secondary.
“We still feel like he is an ascending player and, sure enough, he has familiarity with the scheme from being in Chicago last year,” defensive coordinatorClint Hurtt said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “You’ve seen that benefit pay off since he has been here. He has great command, helps out the young guys.”
Although Jones and Burns will slot in as the starters going into the season, Burns’ influence on “the young guys” is crucial as first- and second-year players fill out the depth chart just behind them. Brown is entering his second season out of Oklahoma. Brown’s rookie season saw two separate stints on injured reserve, but he started three of the five games he appeared in. Add to the roster the two rookies, Bryant and Woolen. Bryant was a playmaker for the Bearcats en route to winning last year’s Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football. Woolen made the switch from wide receiver to cornerback while with the Roadrunners. He put together a productive college career but really shot up draft boards with a 4.26 40-yard dash time and a 42-inch vertical at the NFL Combine. All three will play significant roles in the Seahawks secondary, along with veteran free agent addition Justin Coleman.
Rounding out the current roster is Reid, former Cowboys’ fifth-round pick Mike Jackson, and undrafted rookies Elijah Jones and Josh Valentine-Turner. With a top six of Jones, Burns, Brown, Bryant, Woolen, and Coleman, it’s going to be a tough run for Reid, Jackson, Jones, or Valentine-Turner to make the final roster. After spending last year with the Seahawks, Reid may be in the best position to push Coleman for a spot, but Coleman has seniority and experience over Reid.
An injury-riddled Washington native returning as starter, a fallen star from Miami looking for a resurgence, and a host of young go-getters with everything to prove, this secondary is a bit of an island of misfit toys. The Seahawks may need some minor miracles on offense to put them in playoff contention, though, which means it’s the perfect time to experiment with some interesting projects, like they are at cornerback, to see what they can make work.
Not big on making big cornerback investments, with Richard Sherman‘s 2014 extension the exception, the Seahawks have some questions at the position ahead of training camp. A year after the team let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency, 2021 starter D.J. Reed joined the Jets in March. The Seahawks did not use a first- or second-day draft pick at corner and, while they brought back Justin Coleman in the slot, have some uncertainty in how they will replace Reed. One option will be Artie Burns, the former Steelers first-round pick who signed a one-year, $2MM deal. Burns, 27, lined up opposite Sidney Jones with Seattle’s first-team defense at minicamp, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes. Burns, who worked as a late-season starter with the Bears last season, has not been looked upon as a primary starter since the Steelers benched him in 2018. A pair of fourth-round picks — second-year cover man Tre Brown and rookieCoby Bryant — loom as options as well. Brown did not participate in minicamp, due to the knee injury that ended his rookie slate. After nearly four years after his Steelers starter run wrapped, Burns has a chance to carve out a key role with his third team.
Here is the latest from the NFC West:
The 49ers‘Tyrion Davis-Pricethird-round pick was somewhat surprising, but bolstering a backfield featuring other notable assets may be a two-fold solution. While the 49ers have starter Elijah Mitchell, backup Jeff Wilson and 2021 third-rounder Trey Sermon, Albert Breer of SI.com notes the selection of the LSU running back choice doubled as an “olive branch” of sorts to Deebo Samuel. Kyle Shanahan using Samuel as a between-the-tackles back last season is believed to be one of the gripes the disgruntled wide receiver had when he made his trade request in April. Davis-Price joining the backfield will provide more insurance so that Samuel — his 6.2 yards-per-carry figure notwithstanding — will not be needed for such a role in 2022. The 49ers continue to work toward a Samuel extension.
Shifting back to the Seahawks, they set to return their 2021 guard duo — Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis — but their oldest O-lineman will be returning from offseason knee surgery, per Condotta. Jackson, 30, missed OTAs and the Seahawks’ minicamp because of the procedure. The former Raiders starter is going into his ninth season. Because of the new contract the Seahawks gave Jackson last year, he is set to count $9MM toward their 2022 cap. Jackson only missed one game in his first Seahawks season.
Staying on the Seahawks’ O-line, the team will feature a right tackle competition in camp. Rookie Abraham Lucaswill vie for the job against second-year blockers Jake Curhan and Stone Forsythe, Condotta adds. A former UDFA, Curhan started five games last season. Forsythe, who has mostly worked as a left tackle during his short career, played just 14 offensive snaps as a rookie. Second-year Seattle OC Shane Waldron said he does not have an issue starting two rookies at tackle; No. 9 overall pick Charles Crossis set to succeed Duane Brown on the left side.
It sounds like Andy Dalton will be back in the lineup for the Bears on Thursday night. The veteran quarterback is expected to get the start for Chicago later this week, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter).
Rookie Justin Fields is currently dealing with a rib injury, thrusting Dalton back into the starting lineup. The 34-year-old has barely seen the field since starting Chicago’s first two games. Since then, Dalton has appeared in two contests, completing 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Fortunately, it sounds like it’s more of a timing thing for Fields than anything else. The rookie spent the day undergoing more testing on his rib injury, but the turnaround time will ultimately keep Fields out of the lineup. Rapoport adds that the young QB has “been making major strides,” and it sounds like he’ll be back for the Bears before long. Fields has started eight of his 10 games this season, throwing four touchdowns vs. eight interceptions.
More injury notes from around the NFL:
Saints tight end Adam Trautman had a career day yesterday, but it came at a cost. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that Trautman suffered a sprained MCL that will keep him sidelined for the next four to six weeks. Presumably, the former third-round pick will end up seeing a stint on the injured reserve. Trautman had a standout game on Sunday against the Eagles, finishing with five catches for 58 yards and one touchdown.
Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson landed on injured reserve a few weeks back, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be sidelined for much more than the three required weeks. Rapoport tweets that Garden-Johnson’s expected recovery time from his foot injury is only three to four weeks. The 23-year-old started each of the Saints first seven games this season.
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston underwent surgery on his ACL earlier this month, but ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that the procedure “did not include an MCL repair.” While there was damage to the MCL, doctors believe the ligament was still strong enough to heal on its own.
Seahawks rookie cornerback Tre Brown is likely done for the season, as Pete Carroll acknowledged that Brown will likely require season-ending knee surgery. “This is just the day after and it looks like surgery is imminent,” Carroll said (h/t Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). “Yeah, so he would be [done for the year].” The fourth-round pick has gotten into five games (three starts) this season, collecting 10 tackles and one pass defended.