William Jackson III

Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick Out With Appendicitis; OLB T.J. Watt Activated

6:00pm: After undergoing an appendectomy to deal with the appendicitis Fitzpatrick suffered through in walkthroughs today, the two-time All-Pro safety is expected to miss multiple weeks in recovery, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Steelers will want Fitzpatrick back on the field as soon as possible, but typically, appendectomies have resulted in missing more than one week. Schefter points at the most recent major player to undergo the procedure as an example. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow underwent the surgery just before training camp and missed two-and-a-half weeks.

A similar-length absence would see Fitzpatrick miss tomorrow’s game and next weekend’s matchup vs the Bengals. An extra day means that he could return in time for the team’s Monday night game in Indianapolis the week after, but that’s an extremely optimistic timeline.

Behind Norwood, whom we mentioned below as the likely replacement, Pittsburgh recently returned Damontae Kazee from IR. They’ll also have Miles Killebrew and the practice squad elevation, Riley.

2:09pm: The Steelers have been looking forward to the return of star pass rusher T.J. Watt from injured reserve this week but are now expected to be without safety Minkah Fitzpatrick who is reportedly dealing with appendicitis, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The team has also officially activated Watt from IR and placed cornerback William Jackson III on IR.

Fitzpatrick is set to miss his first game of the season and just the second game of his career. Despite the team’s struggles this year, Fitzpatrick has maintained a high level of play. He has been all over the defensive backfield this year racking up six passes defensed along with three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Being only halfway through the season, Fitzpatrick is on track for career highs in both numbers, assuming he can make a quick return from his appendicitis.

In the lone game Fitzpatrick has missed before this, which occurred last season, the Steelers started then-rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in his place. Norwood had already made two starts at the time, being one of the first defensive backs off the bench in packages that called for five or six defensive backs, but that was his first game playing 100% of the team’s defensive snaps and playing specifically in Fitzpatrick’s role. The Steelers’ pass defense struggled that day in a loss to the Chargers in which quarterback Justin Herbert passed for nearly 400 yards. It’s hard to blame the loss on Norwood’s stand-in performance, but considering the Steelers finished 2021 as a top-10 passing defense, one can infer some importance concerning Fitzpatrick’s absence. This year, Norwood started in place of an injured Terrell Edmunds in a Week 5 matchup against the Bills. Again, correlation does not exactly equal causation, but the team’s pass defense once again struggled as quarterback Josh Allen passed for 424 yards and four touchdowns on only 20 completions.

The return of Watt should be heralded in the Steel City as a giant addition to the defense. Outside of outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the Steelers have struggled to produce an effective pass rush. Pittsburgh will gladly welcome pack their star defender who produced 22.5 sacks in only 15 games last season. Returning the reigning Defensive Player of the Year back to the field may not totally make up for the absence of Fitzpatrick, but it sure helps.

Jackson has yet to make his Steelers debut after being traded from the Commanders 11 days ago, and his debut will have to wait at least four more games after being placed on IR. Jackson had already missed the past three games for Washington while dealing with a back injury. Even though the season is only half over, the Steelers are far enough back in the division race that there is no sense in rushing Jackson to return from a back injury before he’s ready.

Lastly, in response to Fitzpatrick’s absence, the Steelers have elevated safety Elijah Riley from the practice squad for this weekend’s game against the Saints.

Contract Details: Baker, O’Neill, Steelers

Despite being in the second half of the NFL season, teams are still actively cleaning up their books in anticipation of upcoming moves or future offseason transactions. We’ve compiled some of the notable financial moves below (plus an interesting note about a future Hall of Fame quarterback):

  • Jerome Baker, LB (Dolphins): restructured deal. According to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter), Baker restructured his contract and reduced his 2022 cap hit by about $2.5MM. This restructuring came on the heels of Miami’s notable trade deadline acquisitions, moves that required the front office to clear up a bit of cap. The 2018 third-round pick has turned into a consistent starter for the Dolphins. After collecting more than 300 tackles through his first three professional seasons, Baker inked a three-year, $39MM extension with the organization back in 2021.
  • Brian O’Neill, OT (Vikings): restructured deal. According to Yates (on Twitter), the Vikings converted $1.8MM of O’Neill’s base salary into a signing bonus, creating close to $1.5MM in cap space. Prior to the move, the Vikings were closing in on the cap, so this should provide them with a bit more wiggle room. In 2021, the former second-round pick signed a five-year, $92.5MM extension with the organization, and he ended up earning his first career Pro Bowl nod later that season.
  • William Jackson III, CB (Steelers): reworked deal. Following his trade to Pittsburgh, Jackson agreed to wipe out the remainder of his per-game roster bonuses, per Yates (on Twitter). Those bonuses were valued at around $44K per game. The cornerback is still due the remainder of his base salary, valued at around $2.7MM, and he helped saved the organization $350K against the cap. Jackson is still attached to a three-year, $40.5MM deal that he signed with Washington in 2021. He was traded to the Steelers at the deadline for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick for a conditional 2025 seventh-round pick.
  • Aaron Rodgers, QB (Packers): contract details. It’s been a while since Aaron Rodgers inked his massive three-year, $150MM extension with Green Bay, but details are still trickling out about the contract. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Rodgers’ $58.3MM option bonus in 2023 can be exercised at any time between the first day of the 2023 league year and the day before the Packers’ regular season opener. This is important timing if the Packers decide to trade their franchise quarterback this offseason. Demovsky also provides details on Rodgers’ contract in 2024. The $49.25MM in salary and bonuses is only guaranteed against injury, but it will become fully guaranteed on the fifth day following the previous season’s Super Bowl.

Steelers To Acquire CB William Jackson From Commanders

The Steelers have pulled off another trade before today’s deadline, this time on the defensive side of the ball. Pittsburgh is acquiring cornerback William Jackson from the Commanders, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter link). In follow-up, he tweets that a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick is heading to Washington in exchange for a conditional seventh-rounder in the same year.

[RELATED: Steelers Trade WR Claypool To Bears]

Jackson, 30, had long been the subject of trade speculation. The veteran was reported to be on the lookout for a change of scenery, leading to his name being included in discussions between Washington and interested teams. In recent days, however, signs began to point to no deal materializing in time, which would have led to a different parting of ways.

Earlier today it was reported that the Commanders were prepared to release the former first-rounder in the event an acceptable deal didn’t materialize. Instead, he will now head back to the ACF North, with the Steelers picking up the remaining $2.75MM in guaranteed money on Jackson’s deal. Another two years remain on it after this season, though a move aimed at lowering his 2023 cap hit ($15.75MM) will surely be coming this offseason.

Jackson began his career with the Bengals, operating as a full-time starter for three-plus seasons. His performances there helped pave the way for his big-money deal last offseason, but things have changed quickly regarding his situation in the nation’s capital. He has gone from an every-down defender to a healthy scratch in a matter of weeks, making this move a more minor one from Washington’s perspective than his contract would suggest. The Commanders will move forward with the likes of Rachad Wildgoose, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste heading their CB room.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, will see another veteran added to their secondary. Jackson has plenty of starting experience, but could also fill a rotational role alongside Ahkello WitherspoonLevi Wallace and Cameron Sutton. The Steelers will provide Jackson the fresh start he was likely to receive via free agency anyway, while bringing in useful depth on their defense.

Commanders Prepared To Cut CB William Jackson

The Commanders are continuing with efforts to unload William Jackson, but if they cannot find a taker, they are prepared to move on either way.

Barring a trade, Washington intends to cut Jackson, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Jackson has not played since Week 4, when Washington benched him. The seventh-year cornerback is tied to the three-year, $40.5MM contract the team gave him in 2021.

If Washington moves on after today’s 3pm trade deadline, Jackson hits waivers. That would seem immaterial here, considering no team has — as of yet — wanted to pony up an asset to take on Jackson’s contract. It is worth speculating how much of Jackson’s $5MM base salary the Commanders are willing to take on to move him. Odds are, the team is willing to pay most of it.

The likelier scenario is the ex-Bengals first-rounder hits free agency. While Jackson’s initial crack at free agency produced an eight-figure-per-year AAV, the second stint stands to be quieter. A mid-October report indicated teams had shown interest in acquiring Jackson, but with nothing transpiring hours ahead of the deadline, potential suitors may be OK with pursuing the veteran corner in free agency. Teams are indeed waiting out the Commanders, ESPN.com’s John Keim tweets.

Jackson, who turned 30 last week, has made 64 career starts. He is viewed as a better fit for a man-based defense and excelled at points during his Cincinnati tenure. In 2020, he held quarterbacks to a collective 51.4% completion rate as the closest defender in coverage. That season provided a nice platform to a free agency payday. This season, that number spiked to 70.8% at 7.9 yards per target. Pro Football Focus rates Jackson just outside the top 90 among corners in 2022.

The Commanders have won three straight, having played ex-waiver claim Rachad Wildgoose more alongside starters Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste. The team would be hit with a whopping $13MM in dead money by cutting Jackson — assuming no team claims his contract.

Trade Notes: Gesicki, Hawks, Commanders

Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki recently emerged as a potential trade candidate. The tight end doesn’t seem overly focused on the latest rumblings, telling reporters that he hasn’t asked the front office for clarity about the report.

“No,” Gesicki responded when asked if he’s reached out to the Dolphins (h/t Joe Schad of The Palm Beach Post). “I mean, I think I just kind of like I said, I just kind of go about my business. Whatever happens, happens. And I’ve been here for five years now. I love it here. I’m happy to be here. And if I stay here, which I mean, I would assume, I would. I’m excited to continue to be here, make plays and you know, help the team win and move forward and all that kind of stuff for the rest of season.”

Gesicki is coming off his best game of the season, with the tight end hauling in six catches for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Vikings. However, the 27-year-old has been limited to only 101 yards in his other five appearances, with receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle commanding the bulk of the targets. Despite his inconsistent offensive role, Gesicki made it clear that he hasn’t asked for a trade.

“Nah,” Gesicki said when asked if he’s requested a trade.” I mean, I think these coaches also understand what I’m capable of. And I think, you know, Sunday was a good, you know, showing of that just, you know, a couple of opportunities to go out there and make plays. And that was my thing. I don’t know when the opportunity is gonna come, but I gotta keep preparing as if they’re gonna come.”

More trade notes from around the NFL…

  • The Seahawks have made cornerback Sidney Jones available, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. While the organization would prefer to keep the veteran, they’re willing to listen to offers with Jones buried on the depth chart. Michael Jackson and Tariq Woolen are holding down the fort as the outside cornerbacks, and Tre Brown will eventually work his way back into the lineup. Jones is playing on a one-year deal following a career season in 2021. In 16 games (11 starts) for Seattle, the cornerback compiled 66 tackles and 10 passes defended.
  • Speaking of Seattle, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times can’t envision the Seahawks making a significant move at the trade deadline. While Seattle has made deadline moves in the past, the team currently seems focused on building their core from within. The team also has little cap space to work with, making a big splash unlikely.
  • Following his benching in Week 5, it was reported that Commanders cornerback William Jackson could be looking for a fresh start elsewhere. However, the defensive back denied reports that he wants to be traded (per ESPN’s John Keim on Twitter). Jackson was ruled out for Week 6 with a back injury, and it sounds like he’s unlikely to play in Week 7. Jackson is attached to a three-year, $40.5MM deal, but teams have expressed interest ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline.
  • The Panthers were planning to cut Robbie Anderson before they found a taker in the Cardinals, reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter). Considering the prospect of just eating his salary, the Panthers made out well in the deal, securing a 2024 sixth-round pick and a 2025 seventh-round pick from Arizona.

Commanders Discussing CB William Jackson In Trades

The Commanders benched high-priced cornerback William Jackson in Week 5, and the sides could be moving toward a separation soon.

Jackson would prefer a fresh start elsewhere, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo, and the Commanders have begun discussing the veteran defender in trades. Jackson is attached to a three-year, $40.5MM deal, but teams have expressed interest ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline.

Several teams have shown interest, per NFL.com, despite Jackson having not lived up to the contract he signed last year. The former Bengals first-round pick is signed through 2023. A team acquiring Jackson would be on the hook for $3.8MM in 2022 base salary. Jackson’s contract calls for a $9.25MM base in 2023; that figure is nonguaranteed.

Jackson, 29, said a back injury affected his play in Week 5, when Washington benched him for Benjamin St-Juste, though Ron Rivera did not cite that issue when addressing why the seventh-year cover man was yanked. Jackson (15 Week 5 snaps) had played nearly every defensive snap for the Commanders in Weeks 1, 2 and 4 but was inactive in Week 3. The injury issue stands to limit Jackson’s trade value, but if he is no longer in the Commanders’ plans, the team appears prepared to cut its losses and aim for a late-round asset.

The Bengals faced a potential franchise tag decision in 2021, with Jackson and Carl Lawson‘s contracts up, but they decided to cuff neither defender. Lawson ended up with the Jets, while Rivera and Washington DC Jack Del Rio viewed him as a fit in Washington. Jackson is eyeing a move to a defense that plays more man-to-man looks, per NFL.com. In a limited sample size, Jackson is allowing a 70.8 completion percentage as the closest defender in coverage this season — a mark well north of his previous work in Cincinnati and Washington.

Despite the presences of Jackson and Kendall Fuller, the Commanders ranked 29th against the pass last year. They are 19th so far in 2022, though Chase Young‘s absence has undoubtedly affected this defense. If Washington cannot find a trade taker this year, Jackson could end up a 2023 cut. Even then, it would cost the Commanders $9MM in dead money to jettison Jackson. Though, a post-June 1 cut distinction — like the one the team used to separate from Landon Collins‘ $14MM-per-year deal this year — would reduce that figure.

Jackson, who missed his entire rookie season due to injury, has 64 career starts on his resume. The ex-Houston Cougar has five career interceptions and 51 pass breakups. Pro Football Focus grades him as a top-20 cornerback during his final Cincinnati season (2020) but slotted him outside the top 75 at the position last season.

William Jackson III: “Blessing” To Leave Bengals

William Jackson III is glad to be done with the Bengals. Now with the Washington Football Team, the standout cornerback says it was a “blessing” to leave Cincinnati.

[RELATED: Washington Adds William Jackson III]

Cincinnati, they got some crude fans, man. You know misery loves company. When nothing (is) going good, everybody’s not doing any good,” Jackson said (via 106.7 The Fan). “(WFT) has been nothing but supportive since Day 1. The Bengals, on the other hand, them dudes – they wonder why they’re not winning. I’m happy I’m out of that thing man. It’s a blessing to get away and I wish them the best, but Washington – let’s go from here.

Jackson spent four up-and-down seasons with the Bengals, but saved his best for last. After a so-so 2019, he notched 45 stops, eleven passes defensed, and one interception in his platform year. Then, he parlayed that into a three-year, $40MM deal to join up with Washington and aid them in their bid to return to the playoffs.

The cornerback drew lots of interest on the open market, but his price tag was too rich for the Bengals’ blood. Instead, they pivoted to former Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (at about half the price of Jackson’s deal) and ex-Steeler Mike Hilton (for just over 50% of WJIII’s contract).

Washington To Sign William Jackson III

The Washington Football Team is signing former Bengals corner William Jackson III, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that it will be a three-year, $42MM pact with $26MM in guaranteed money.

That puts Jackson in the top-10 of the cornerback market in terms of AAV. The 2016 first-rounder has proven himself as a strong cover corner over his first few years in the league, and though he has yet to make a Pro Bowl, he could receive those honors in the near future. He missed his entire rookie campaign due to injury and started just five games in his second professional season, but from 2017-20, he tallied 41 passes defensed and three picks, and he graded as Pro Football Focus’ 20th-best CB (out of 121 qualifiers) last season.

He will serve as a worthy replacement for Ronald Darby — who agreed to a free agent deal with the Broncos yesterday — and will team with Kendall Fuller to provide WFT with a strong starting tandem at the cornerback position. The club was terrific against the pass last season, so maintaining a quality 1-2 punch on the boundaries was a key part of its push for back-to-back playoff appearances.

Although Jackson had previously expressed a desire to remain in Cincinnati on a long-term basis, the writing was on the wall when the club agreed to sign Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie earlier today. Jackson is probably better than both players, but Hilton and Awuzie’s combined AAV is about the same as Jackson’s, so the Bengals saw an opportunity to acquire two quality starters for the price of one.

A.J. Green Very Unlikely To Be Back With Bengals?

When he last spoke about his future, A.J. Green made it clear he knew there was a chance he was playing his last games in Cincinnati. It sounds like it’s no longer just a chance, it’s a foregone conclusion.

While going through the Bengals’ upcoming free agent class, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic writes that there’s just a ‘one percent’ chance of Green coming back. “The hope for all involved is Green can resurrect his remarkable career. It just won’t be in Cincinnati,” he writes. This isn’t exactly a shock, as this has been the direction things have been trending, and there was even some speculation back in October that he wanted to be traded although the wideout denied it.

If it is indeed the end, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft had an incredible run in Cincy. He’s set all sorts of franchise records while making seven Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He had a reduced role this past season, catching only 47 passes for 523 yards in 16 games. Now 32, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest he gets on the open market.

Although he doesn’t treat it with nearly as much certainty, Dehner also doesn’t think cornerback William Jackson III is too likely to return. He thinks one or more teams will be willing to give him a big contract and “the Bengals won’t be one of them.” Jackson has started at least 13 games in each of the past three seasons, and had 11 pass breakups in 2020.

Bengals Rejected Trades For William Jackson III

With one year left on his contract, Bengals cornerback William Jackson III is hoping to take off his fantastic blazer and stay a while. The University of Houston product tells Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle that he wants to sign a multi-year extension with the only NFL team he’s ever known.

[RELATED: Bengals’ Jessie Bates Hires New Agent]

They picked up my fifth-year option, so that was a blessing,” said Jackson. “I just go out there and have fun and let everything play out. I love it in Cincinnati. I’m comfortable. They’ve got a great coaching staff and great teammates around me. I would love to come back. Right now, I’m just focused and ready to get the season started. One thing you can control is when people aren’t watching is what you do. I come in, put the work in and it will pay off on Sundays.”

It’s not clear whether the two sides have gotten deep into talks, but they’ve probably been delayed due to the pandemic. It does sound like the Bengals intend to keep him, however. Last year, they picked up the former first-rounder’s fifth-year option for 2020, worth $9.6MM. And, before October’s trade deadline, the Bengals received and rejected trade inquiries on Jackson from other clubs.

The lightning-fast corner was slowed by a shoulder injury towards the end of the year and placed on injured reserve. The recovery was painful, but Jackson says he’s now “fully healthy and ready to go” as he enters his walk year.