Tristan Wirfs

NFC South Notes: Wirfs, Trask, Saints, Gilmore

The Buccaneers cruised on Super Wild Card Weekend to a mostly stress-free victory over the Eagles in January. While they were all smiles on the field, in the locker room, Pro Bowl right tackle Tristan Wirfs was preparing himself for a lengthy recovery. Wirfs left the game early in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury and, soon after, found out that he had suffered two torn ligaments, including one off the bone, and was initially thought to need surgery to repair his ankle.

Well, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, a second opinion informed Wirfs that surgery was not necessary and, after receiving an injection in the ankle, he’s made progress in his recovery and is expected to avoid surgery altogether.

Here are some other notes from the NFC South, starting with another note from central Florida:

  • According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, head coach Bruce Arians has announced that quarterback Kyle Trask will be given a legitimate chance to replace Tom Brady in training camp. With the retirement of Brady leaving the position behind center wide open for the taking, the second-year player out of the nearby University of Florida will attempt to show his worth as the team’s second-round pick from last year. Veteran Blaine Gabbert spent the 2021 season as Brady’s primary backup, but he is heading back to the free agent market, unless Arians and company decide to bring him back. As of right now, Trask is the only active quarterback on contract in Tampa Bay. It has yet to be seen whom his competition will be.
  • On Monday, news dropped that the University of Alabama’s director of sports science, Dr. Matt Rhea, is expected to join the staff in New Orleans, according to Josh Pate of CBS Sports. Rhea has worked with the Tide for two years after a similar stint on staff with the Indiana Hoosiers. He also brings with him 13 years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach.
  • The Panthers acquired former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore via a trade with the Patriots last season. After overcoming an early quad injury to start the season, Gilmore put forth an impressive performance in eight games for Carolina. The Panthers would love to bring Gilmore back on a new deal, but, with Gilmore expected to draw offers up to $14MM, he is expected to test free agency, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

NFC South Notes: Pickett, Bucs, Falcons

The Panthers have received substandard quarterback play for several years and still have Sam Darnold‘s fully guaranteed fifth-year option ($18.9MM) on their books going forward. While Carolina will undoubtedly be linked to veteran passers — potentially Deshaun Watson for a second straight offseason — the team may have early interest in Pitt prospect Kenny Pickett. The Panthers are believed to be high on Pickett, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who notes multiple evaluators do not believe the ACC talent will make it past Carolina’s No. 6 overall pick. Panthers owner David Tepper was previously a minority Steelers owner and, per JLC, is a Pitt booster, connecting some dots here. Tepper was believed to be behind the Panthers’ aggressive Watson interest last year, before the Texans QB’s legal issues surfaced. Based on that and the team’s push for Matthew Stafford last year, it can be assumed the owner will endorse a splashy QB addition. Although this year’s crop of prospects is not viewed especially well, Pickett impressed at the Senior Bowl and would give the Panthers a low-cost starter amid the Darnold deal.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Tristan Wirfs could not finish the Buccaneers‘ wild-card win and missed their divisional-round Rams matchup, halting a quality run of durability to start his career. Tampa Bay’s All-Pro right tackle is moving toward taking care of his recent ankle issue. Wirfs plans to undergo surgery, per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe (subscription required). Although Bruce Arians said a non-surgical option exists (via Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith), the standout blocker suffered a rather severe ankle injury. The former first-round pick tore two ligaments, one ripping off the bone completely, Howe adds. Wirfs said he will undoubtedly be ready for training camp.
  • The Bucs have not made a roster move regarding Tom Brady yet, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes, despite the all-time great announcing his retirement last week. The team has $32MM in dead money associated with its two-year quarterback. A post-June 1 placement on the reserve-retired list would defray $24MM of that total to 2023. The Saints and Panthers did this with Drew Brees and Luke Kuechly, respectively, over the past two offseasons. The Bucs doing this would also mean they would retain Brady’s rights for 2022, entitling them to compensation if the ageless passer decides he wants to play again but for another team. Should the Bucs release Brady after June 1, he would be free to sign with any team.
  • Falcons director of pro personnel Steve Sabo is leaving the team. Sabo spent the past 12 years with the Falcons, working in various roles. Previous GM Thomas Dimitroff hired Sabo, but he stayed on in Terry Fontenot‘s first year. Sabo previously served as the Falcons’ college scouting director.
  • The Panthers made a change in their front office recently as well. They are promoting cap guru Samir Suleiman to a newly created position of VP of football administration, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Suleiman previously worked as Carolina’s salary cap manager.

Buccaneers Activate Leonard Fournette From IR, Waive Le’Veon Bell

After the Buccaneers played without their top two running backs in their wild-card game, they are set to have one of them back against the Rams.

Leonard Fournette is coming off IR and will play Sunday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Tampa Bay’s starting back has been out since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 15. The Bucs designated Fournette for return last week but kept him on IR ahead of their Eagles matchup, moving forward with Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard.

This week, Fournette should play a major role. While it is not certain if the former top-five pick will be up for his pre-injury workload, the Bucs having their leading rusher back will certainly help their cause. The team’s running game might encounter tougher-than-usual sledding, given some key offensive line injuries.

Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs did get in limited practices this week, but The Athletic’s Jeff Howe tweets the latter is dealing with a high ankle sprain. This troublesome ailment could keep Wirfs out, and even if the All-Pro right tackle plays, he figures to be far less than 100%. Wirfs has yet to miss a game in two seasons.

The Bucs will also be without Fournette backup Ronald Jones, but their primary 2020 back has not been much of a factor this season. After gaining only 367 rushing yards in 2020, which featured time as a healthy scratch, Fournette totaled 1,266 scrimmage yards and matched his career-high with 10 touchdowns despite the hamstring injury ending his regular season early. Fournette returning to his “Playoff Lenny” form would stand to cement his value ahead of free agency, which should feature a better market for the ex-Jaguar this time around.

To make room for Fournette, the Bucs are waiving Le’Veon Bell, Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets. This marks the second time this season a team has waived the former All-Pro. The Ravens cut bait during the regular season. Bell, however, makes sense as practice squad insurance for the Bucs. Bell’s route back to Tampa Bay’s taxi squad would be fairly smooth, given his one-year contract and any team claiming Bell being unable to use him in the playoffs.

Injury Updates For 49ers, Buccaneers

While the Buccaneers and 49ers both won on Sunday, they each suffered major injuries in the process. For the 49ers, defensive stars Nick Bosa and Fred Warner both exited the game early; for the Bucs meanwhile, offensive linemen Tristan WirfsRyan Jensen and Josh Wells are all banged up. 

According to Eric Brach of the San Francisco Chronicle, the status for both Bosa and Warner are “up in the air”. Bosa had to leave the game with a concussion suffered in the second quarter, while Warner exited due to an ankle injury in the fourth. In the latter’s case, there is some reason for optimism, though. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said that Warner’s injury is “similar to what he did earlier in the year”, referring to another ankle injury sustained in Week 12 against the Vikings, which resulted in his only missed game of the season. Shanahan added, “I think he’s got a chance” to play on Saturday against the Packers. In his first regular season since signing a record-breaking extension, Warner totalled 137 tackles, four pass deflections and a forced fumble, adding five stops against the Cowboys. The 25-year-old tweeted an encouraging update, saying, “sorry for the scare yesterday everyone… we’ll be good to go”.

For Bosa, on the other hand, a return to the field would be less likely. After colliding with teammate D.J. Jones, his head snapped back, and caused him to lay on the field for a matter of minutes. He was initially taken to the medial tent, but spent the remainder of the first half in the locker room and remained there past the beginning of the third quarter. The fact that the 49ers are on a short week doesn’t help his chances of clearing the league’s concussion protocol. In less than one half of action against Dallas, the two-time Pro Bowler recorded three tackles and a half-sack, after totalling 15.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 17 regular season games. His absence against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense would be massive.

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers will likely have to wait most of the week to see how healthy their offensive line will be. Head coach Bruce Arians stated that Wirfs, the team’s All-Pro right tackle, suffered a sprained ankle and will be in a walking boot throughout the week, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. Arians said “there’s a chance” Wirfs will be able to play, but that Laine adds “it will likely come down to the wire”. If the 2020 13th overall pick were to miss the Bucs’ next game, it would be the first of his young career. As for Jensen, the Pro Bowl center, an ankle sprain didn’t cause him to miss any snaps in the game, but Arians said he “will probably go all the way until Friday before we know anything true”. Jensen hasn’t missed a game in his four years in Tampa Bay.

Lastly, Wells, who took over for Wirfs at right tackle, suffered a quad injury. Like the others, Arians admitted the team will “have to wait and see” if he’ll be available on Sunday. Arians is understandably concerned about the offensive line’s current health situation, regardless of their next opponent. The Bucs will need to deal with either a defensive front featuring Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt if the Cardinals win tonight, or one featuring Aaron Donald and Von Miller in the event the Rams win.

 

Buccaneers Tried To Trade Up Higher For Tristan Wirfs

A large part of the reason the Buccaneers were able to pull off their Super Bowl run was the stellar protection Tom Brady got throughout the playoffs. One of the main reasons Tampa’s O-line saw so much improvement this year was the drafting of right tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first-round last April. 

The Bucs traded with the 49ers to move up one spot in the draft from 14th to 13th and select Wirfs. Speaking on a recent episode of the Pewter Report Podcast, Bucs GM Jason Licht revealed he tried to trade up much higher to get his guy.

I was stunned,” Licht said about Wirfs slipping that far to them. “I saw him starting to fall. I was trying to go and get him, well, even higher than nine and nobody wanted to make any deals and I think we made the first trade of the pandemic at-home draft.” Licht explained how he believed there was another team below them looking to trade with the 49ers and take Wirfs. Fortunately for Bucs fans, Licht says San Francisco was worried they’d miss out on Javon Kinlaw if they moved much lower than 14th, so they took the deal from Tampa.

Licht wanted to move into the top ten, but ultimately only had to give up a fourth-rounder to move up the one spot. Had he succeeded in getting into the top nine picks or so, he would’ve had to part with a lot more draft capital than that.

Wirfs ended up being one of the best rookies in the league this season, and looks like he’ll be a high-end starter for many years to come.

Buccaneers, Tristan Wirfs Agree To Deal

Tampa Bay agreed to terms with its projected right tackle starter Wednesday. Tristan Wirfs is now in the fold for the Buccaneers, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The fully guaranteed deal tethers Wirfs to the Bucs through 2023, with the fifth-year option covering 2024.

The Bucs traded up one spot, from No. 14 to No. 13, with the 49ers to nab the Iowa blocker. Wirfs was viewed as one of this draft’s top four tackles. He ended up going fourth out of that group, but he is in position to play a key role for the highest-profile Bucs team in at least 17 years.

Wirfs primarily played right tackle for the Hawkeyes, which will make this an easier transition compared to some of his first-round tackle brethren. He blazed to a 4.85-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, doing so despite weighing 320 pounds. Wirfs also set Combine O-line records for the vertical (36.5 inches) and broad jumps (10 feet, 1 inch).

The Bucs opted not to re-sign longtime right tackle starter Demar Dotson, who remains in free agency. Dotson was the Bucs’ primary right tackle for the past eight seasons, but Wirfs is now on track to join left tackle Donovan Smith in Tampa Bay’s starting lineup.

Here is the Bucs’ 2020 draft class:

1-13: Tristan Wirfs, T (Iowa): Signed
2-45: Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Minnesota)
3-76: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB (Vanderbilt)
5-161: Tyler Johnson, WR (Minnesota): Signed
6-194: Khalil Davis, DT (Nebraska): Signed
7-241: Chapelle Russell, OLB (Temple)
7-245: Raymond Calais, RB (Louisiana): Signed

West Notes: 49ers, Dissly, Raiders

With DeForest Buckner‘s asking price starting at $20MM per year, the 49ers gave the Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s agent permission to seek a trade at the Combine, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Lynch told Joel Segal, Buckner’s agent, that the four-year San Francisco starter had earned a megadeal. But in order for the 49ers to sign off on a trade, a first-round pick had to be involved. Segal found a taker in the Colts before the Combine’s conclusion.

Not only did he bring back a first-round pick, he brought back the 13th pick,” Lynch said. “And then, it’s like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t think he’d do that.’ By that point, you start looking at how we can keep our team together. And I guess a long story short, it’s not something we wanted to do, but at a certain point, we felt like that was the best decision.”

The 49ers opted to extend Arik Armstead at $17MM per year, instead trading Buckner to the Colts and drafting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw 14th overall. Buckner signed a $21MM-AAV deal with Indianapolis. Here is more from San Francisco as well as some news from the AFC West:

  • Lynch called Ron Rivera before the draft, hoping to finalize a Trent Williams trade before the virtual event began, Breer adds. The Redskins HC informed the 49ers GM “too much interest” was coming Washington’s way for the long-disgruntled tackle to have a trade done before the draft. While the 49ers rated Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs rated “incredibly high,” they preferred Kinlaw in an effort to keep their defensive line as one of the NFL’s deepest position groups. Allowing the Buccaneers to draft Wirfs at No. 13, via one-slot trade-down, preceded the 49ers winning the Williams sweepstakes. Rivera called Lynch Saturday morning to inform that San Francisco’s Friday offer of third- and fifth-round picks was enough to close a deal, according to the 49ers GM.
  • Will Dissly has suffered season-ending injuries early in each of his two NFL campaigns. The Seahawks are not ready to give up on him, however. Despite Seattle signing Greg Olsen and drafting Colby Parkinson in Round 4, Dissly is a roster lock — as long as he’s healthy — according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Regarding Dissly’s health, he fully expects to be ready for training camp, per Omar Ruiz of NFL.com (video link). A 2018 fourth-rounder who has played in just 10 NFL games, Dissly suffered an Achilles tear in October of last year.
  • The Raiders are not looking to move Lamarcus Joyner back to safety. They hope to keep the ex-Rams safety as a slot corner, to the point it affected the team’s pursuit of All-Decade defender Chris Harris, Vic Tafur of The Athletic writes (subscription required). The Raiders were in on Harris, but the ex-Broncos slot standout preferred the Chargers to the Raiders.
  • The Seahawks, whose top two running backs are recovering from injuries, are not closing the door on another Marshawn Lynch contract.

NFL Draft Rumors: Vikings, Jags, Redskins

The Vikings have “done a lot of work on” Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link), but Minnesota may have to move up in Round 2 in order to land him. Per Wolfson, the Vikings may need to get ahead of the Jaguars at No. 42 if they want to grab Cleveland. Minnesota’s second-round pick doesn’t come until No. 58 overall, so general manager Rick Spielman would need to work some magic in order to move up. Luckily, the Vikings have 12 picks remaining in the draft that could be used as trade ammunition.

Here’s more on the 2020 draft:

  • Speaking of the Vikings and offensive tackles, the ideas of Minnesota acquiring Redskins tackle Trent Williams and moving up in Round 2 aren’t mutually exclusive, as Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune tweets. Washington wants draft capital it can use this year, and while the club has been asking for a second-round pick, the Redskins could also accept a combination of selections that add up to the value of a second-rounder, per John Keim of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Minnesota could use any number of those aforementioned 12 remaining picks in order to patch together an offer for Williams.
  • Two clubs were attempting to move into the Buccaneers‘ No. 14 slot in order to land Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs, which prompted Tampa Bay to move up one spot into No. 13 and take Wirfs for themselves, reports Jenna Laine of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Presumably, the Bucs figured teams moving to No. 14 would also be trying to move to No. 13, which was held by San Francisco. Instead, Tampa Bay shipped a fourth-round pick to the 49ers and added Tom Brady‘s new right tackle.
  • When the Raiders‘ first came on the clock at No. 12, the club’s initial discussions involved offensive tackles, tweets Josina Anderson of ESPN.com. Oakland’s interest in tackles is a little puzzling, as it already has 2018 first-rounder Kolton Miller on the left side and the high-priced Trent Brown on the right. Eventually, the Raiders settled on Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs.

49ers Trade 13th Pick To Buccaneers

We’ve finally got our first trade of the evening. Plenty of teams in the top ten were listening to calls, but apparently nobody got an offer worth taking.

The 49ers are making the first move, trading back one slot with the Buccaneers, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). In order to get the 13th pick Tampa will send the 14th pick and the 117th pick, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. The 49ers will also send back the 245th pick as part of the deal.

The Bucs are using the selection to add some protection for Tom Brady, as they’re drafting Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs with the pick. San Francisco previously didn’t have any picks in the second, third, or fourth-rounds, so they were widely expected to explore trading down from one of their two first-rounders.

They are also currently scheduled to pick 31st later tonight, and GM John Lynch clearly wanted to get an extra mid-rounder. Since the Bucs are only moving up one spot, it’s likely the 49ers were threatening to move the pick to a different team who also wanted a tackle like Tampa did.

Poll: What Will Giants Do At No. 4?

While the variance in this draft’s top three picks may be low, the Giants could go in a number of directions at No. 4 overall. They have been connected to several different strategies.

Picking in the top six for the third straight year (after never landing there from 2005-17), Big Blue has needs at a few places. The Giants could use help on the offensive line and at outside linebacker and safety. Based on the organization’s history and Dave Gettleman‘s impossible-sounding track record featuring zero trade-down maneuvers in seven drafts as either the Panthers or Giants GM, the Giants would be expected to hold their pick at No. 4. But noise about the team moving down has emerged.

Gettleman said this week he is seriously entertaining the prospect of moving down — something he did not strongly consider the past two years when the Giants took Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. The Giants may be going as far as planting a seed about Justin Herbert interest. Gettleman was believed to be higher on Herbert than Jones last year. But with only two teams in the past 38 drafts using back-to-back first-round picks on quarterbacks — the 1982-83 Baltimore Colts and the Cardinals in the past two years — teams do not appear to be buying this.

With Chase Young a lock to be off the board by No. 4 and the Giants not expected to take a cornerback that high, they may be down to tackle or Clemson do-everything defender Isaiah Simmons. The Giants have not gotten what they paid for in Nate Solder and signed stopgap right tackle Cameron Fleming. The latter, however, could be used as a swing man — as he was in New England and Dallas — to open the door for a rookie to start at right tackle.

Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs has been linked to the Giants for several weeks. However, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, massive Louisville blocker Mekhi Becton and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills loom as possibilities as well.

The Giants are evaluating Simmons’ fit. He played everywhere from off-ball linebacker to safety to edge rusher to slot cornerback at Clemson. That kind of rare versatility prompted ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold to label him the draft’s top prospect.

While Simmons could help the Giants in multiple areas, Gettleman has preached offensive line development since arriving in December 2017. They also would be in a better position to address their edge rusher need with more picks, hence the greater interest in trading down.

So where what will the Giants end up doing at No. 4 overall? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.