Zach Cunningham

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Leonard, Cowboys, Giants, Commanders, Del Rio

Shaquille Leonard‘s free agency decision brought additional intrigue due to its NFC East-only nature, and Jerry Jones said during an interview with 105.3 The Fan (h/t The Athletic’s Jon Machota) the chase did not come down to money. The Colts still owe Leonard $6.1MM guaranteed for the rest of this year. The sixth-year linebacker will collect $416K in prorated base salary from the Eagles, Field Yates of tweets. That checks in above the veteran minimum, and Yates adds the Eagles included a $100K incentive and $17K per game in roster bonuses.

Leonard played 2 1/2 seasons on a five-year, $98.5MM accord — one that topped the ILB market until the Ravens’ Roquan Smith deal earlier this year — but saw two 2022 back surgeries impact his career. Visiting both the Cowboys and Eagles (ahead of the NFC East powers’ rematch Sunday), Leonard said (via’s Zach Berman) his bond with Nick Sirianni played a key role in the Eagles choice. Sirianni was the Colts’ OC from 2018-20, Leonard’s first three NFL seasons (all of which resulted in All-Pro honors). He will attempt to recapture that form ahead of another free agency run in 2024.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

Eagles LB Zach Cunningham Could Be Sidelined Multiple Weeks

Zach Cunningham could be sidelined multiple weeks while dealing with a hamstring strain. According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles linebacker is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the 49ers, and Cunningham could be sidelined beyond that game.

[RELATED: Eagles Meet With Shaquille Leonard]

Cunningham’s two-year stint with the Titans came to an end in February when he was released by the team. He waited until early August to ink his next deal, as the linebacker joined the Eagles. The 29-year-old has been a productive member of Philly’s defense in 2023, collecting 71 tackles in 11 games (nine starts). Pro Football Focus graded him 41st among 79 qualifying linebackers, and the site gave him a top-25 positional grade in pass coverage.

Cunningham suffered his injury in the second half of the Eagles’ overtime win over the Bills last Sunday. The veteran ended up appearing in a season-low 58 percent of his team’s defensive snaps.

Christian Elliss ended up replacing Cunningham on Sunday, with the journeyman garnering his most defensive snaps since Week 1. With Nakobe Dean also recently going down with an injury, the Eagles are left with Nicholas Morrow as their only remaining full-time linebacker.

That probably explains why the Eagles hosted veteran Shaquille Leonard the other day. The linebacker underwent a physical and left Philadelphia without signing a contract, and he’s reportedly taking the next few days to weigh his options.

NFC East Notes: Commanders, Kearse, Giants

Battling a turf toe issue sustained Monday night, Terry McLaurin will not need surgery. But an extended rest period is underway. This hiatus has the top Commanders skill-position talent uncertain to be ready by Week 1, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler (Twitter links). McLaurin has not missed a game due to injury since 2020. The Commanders have made some big investments at wide receiver since starting McLaurin’s tenure off with little around him. Curtis Samuel is going into the final season of his three-year, $34.5MM contract, and the team has first-rounder Jahan Dotson going into his second season. But McLaurin has been one of the NFL’s best receivers, totaling his third straight 1,000-yard season months after signing a three-year, $69.6MM extension.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

Eagles Add Zach Cunningham, Myles Jack

The Eagles expanded their roster at linebacker a bit today, signing free agent linebackers Zach Cunningham and Myles Jack, according to the team’s Twitter account. After working out the two veterans today, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, they were brought onto the roster on identical one-year deals worth up to $2.5MM.

Philadelphia did a similar dual-action deal last year with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, both of whom played sparingly as rotation depth pieces. This time, the two players signing deals have a bit more of a chance of making an impact during their one-year terms. Over their careers, Cunningham and Jack have both served as starters for their respective teams.

Cunningham has stuck in the AFC South for the first six years of his career, playing with the Texans and Titans until now. Serving as a starter essentially from the start, Cunningham made a name for himself as a tackling machine. The Texans rewarded him with a four-year, $58MM extension before the final year of his rookie contract. He rewarded them right back by leading the league in tackles that same year.

He was a strong run defender and pass rusher but struggled in coverage, keeping him from being an all-around top player at the position. Eventually, his one-way style of play, his big contract numbers, and a reported disciplinary issue led to Houston waiving the veteran, allowing him to be claimed by their division rivals in Nashville. Injuries marked Cunningham’s time with the Titans, contributing to him missing 14 games over the last two seasons. When he was available, though, he started in the box for Tennessee.

Jack has spent the majority of his career in Jacksonville after being drafted by the Jaguars in the second round back in 2016. After turning into a full-time starter in Duval, Jack earned a second contract in the form of a four-year, $57MM extension. Unfortunately, the following year saw Jack miss five games with a number of different issues. After falling out of the first round of the draft due to injury concerns, this was the first game time Jack would miss. Over the following years, he would miss more games, but ultimately, he was able to suit up for 88 of 97 possible games in Jacksonville, starting 82.

The Jaguars attacked the free agent market at its opening last year and, as a result, released Jack to make some room in their cap space. The Steelers jumped on Jack’s availability, signing him the next day to a two-year, $16MM deal. Jack didn’t have a stellar season in Pittsburgh, but he logged his fourth 100-tackle season at only 27 years old. Pittsburgh ended up releasing him during a complete revamp of their linebacking corps, making him available for the Eagles to sign today.

On their way to the Super Bowl last year, the Eagles relied on T.J. Edwards (now with the Bears), Kyzir White (now with the Cardinals), and Haason Reddick to start on defense. Reddick returns to reclaim his role as a starter, but with Edwards and White gone, Philadelphia was looking to second-year second-round pick Nakobe Dean and free agent linebacker addition Nicholas Morrow (who spent last year as a full-time starter for the first time in his career with the Bears) to start next to him. Adding to the bit of uncertainty that comes with handing the keys over to two such inexperienced starters, Dean is dealing with an ankle injury that appears to be holding him out of camp, according to Eliot Shorr-Parks of

Whether Philadelphia is fully confident and committed to rolling out a starting three of Reddick, Dean, and Morrow or they aren’t sold on that lineup, the signings of Cunningham and Jack make a lot of sense. If Dean and Morrow are able to step up, the two new signings provide strong, experienced depth behind them. If Dean and Morrow falter in taking the reins, Cunningham and Jack will be ready and waiting in the wings to take over.

Titans Release LB Zach Cunningham

Making a fourth major cut Wednesday, the Titans will now move north of $10MM in cap space. They are jettisoning veteran linebacker Zach Cunningham, Tom Pelissero of tweets.

A waiver claim in 2021, Cunningham has been a regular starter for most of his career. The former second-round pick has spent his six-year NFL run in the AFC South, moving from the Texans to the Titans. The 28-year-old off-ball ‘backer will have an early chance to catch on somewhere else, perhaps in another division this time around. The Titans cut Cunningham with a failed physical designation, Aaron Wilson of KPRC tweets.

Over the past few hours, the Titans have released four starters — Cunningham, Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods and Randy Bullock — and cleared more than $35MM in cap space. This purge of veterans will give the quartet opportunities to land elsewhere before free agency’s March 13 soft opening.

Cutting Cunningham creates $8.9MM in room for Tennessee, which entered Wednesday more than $20MM over the cap. This move will cost $4.5MM in dead money, thanks in part to a 2022 restructure. The team has now moved well under the $224.8MM salary ceiling, with the Cunningham transaction giving the retooling squad more than $12MM in space as of 2pm CT.

Teams still have until the start of the new league year — 3pm CT March 15 — to comply with the 2023 salary cap, but new Titans GM Ran Carthon is moving early to create space. The team is almost definitely not done on this front.

While Woods and Lewan’s positional markets are not especially strong, Cunningham’s is. A host of off-ball linebackers — fellow Titans starter David Long, ex-Tennessee starter Rashaan Evans, Bills standout Tremaine Edmunds, Bucs stalwart Lavonte David among them — are set to be available once the market opens. Cunningham should still be able to find a gig, though his next contract should not be expected to approach the four-year, $58MM deal the Texans gave him in August 2020.

Cunningham led the NFL in tackles in 2020, totaling 164 in the league’s final 16-game season. He racked up an NFL-most 106 solo stops that year as well, but the Texans’ 2021 regime change altered his standing with the organization. Cunningham’s playing time yo-yoed during the ’21 season in Houston, and he finished his tenure there as a healthy scratch. The Titans claimed the Vanderbilt alum off waivers that December, and Cunningham became an instant starter for his new team. He started Tennessee’s final four regular-season games that year and logged a playoff start.

Injuries slowed Cunningham in 2022, however, and he joined numerous Titan starters on IR. An elbow injury sidelined him at multiple points this season. The Titans used one of their injury activations on Cunningham, bringing him off IR late in the season, but he finished the year back on the injured list because of the elbow issue. As such, Cunningham will not hit street free agency with much momentum.

Titans Place Ryan Tannehill, Bud Dupree, Zach Cunningham On IR

While Ryan Tannehill had been attempting to find a way to come back from his nagging ankle injury this season, the Titans are effectively shutting that effort down.

Tennessee placed Tannehill on IR on Thursday, and linebackers Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham will join him on the league’s most populated IR list. All three players must miss a minimum of four games. Given the direction of Tennessee’s season, each is almost certainly done.

Mike Vrabel had attempted to go week to week with his starting quarterback, but a report last week indicated the ankle aggravation Tannehill suffered in Los Angeles was set to end his season. Tannehill, who missed two games with the ankle ailment earlier this year, went down again against the Chargers in Week 15 and needed to be carted off the field. He somehow managed to come back against the Bolts, scoring a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Tannehill, 34, underwent ankle surgery last week but had maintained efforts to potentially come back again. Instead, it will be Joshua Dobbs — signed last week off the Lions’ practice squad — taking the reins against the Cowboys tonight. It is uncertain if the Titans are merely going to Dobbs because of a conservation effort for a do-or-die Week 18 matchup against the Jaguars or if Malik Willis has indeed been benched. Willis has made three starts in relief of Tannehill but has struggled throughout his rookie year.

The Titans have Tannehill signed to a four-year, $118MM extension that runs through next season. The former Dolphins top-10 pick is due a $27MM base salary and is set to count more than $36MM against Tennessee’s cap. Tannehill is attached to a $38.6MM 2022 cap hit and has played with a far worse receiving situation compared to his previous Titans slates. Over the past two offseasons, the Titans have let Corey Davis walk and traded A.J. Brown. Ready replacements — a concern at this season’s outset — have not emerged, playing a major role in the team’s five-game losing streak.

Tennessee would save nearly $19MM by trading or releasing Tannehill next year, with that number rising with a post-June 1 release designation. Then again, the Titans have not exactly seen much from Willis — a third-round pick this year — to indicate he would be ready to take over. This season has marked Tannehill’s first injury-marred campaign with Tennessee. Knee injuries hounded the Texas A&M product in Miami, but since replacing Marcus Mariota in October 2019, Tannehill did not miss a game as a Titan until this season.

Dupree has been unable to escape injuries as a Titan. Signed to a lucrative deal despite coming off a November 2020 ACL tear, Dupree has missed 10 games with Tennessee. The former first-round pick has totaled just seven sacks in two seasons with the Titans, who needed more from the ex-Steeler after Harold Landry went down with an ACL tear just before the season. A chest injury will lead Dupree to IR this time.

The Titans just activated Cunningham from IR last week, bringing him back after he missed time with an elbow injury. He will head back to the injured list with an elbow injury. Tennessee claimed Dupree off waivers from Houston late last season and has used him exclusively as a starter. Injuries, however, will limit Cunningham to six games this season. The former second-round pick will likely become a cap-casualty candidate; the Titans could save more than $9MM by releasing the 28-year-old defender next year.

In addition to Tannehill, Dupree and Cunningham, Tennessee’s IR contingent includes the following players: Landry, Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, David Long, Elijah Molden, Caleb Farley, Dillon Radunz and Terrance Mitchell. Amy Adams Strunk cited the team’s recent injury problems as a reason for GM Jon Robinson‘s ouster months after his extension. After using an NFL-record 91 players last season, the Titans will end this one approaching that mark.

Titans To Start Joshua Dobbs Vs. Cowboys

The Titans are not exactly going into Thursday night’s Cowboys game with a clear intent to win. The injury-plagued team is planning to rest numerous starters, with a Week 18 date against the Jaguars set to determine its playoff fate.

But Tennessee will make an interesting change at quarterback. Rather than give Malik Willis more reps in his rookie season, the Titans are preparing to start recent acquisition Joshua Dobbs, Justin Melo of The Draft Network tweets. Tennessee brought in Dobbs on Dec. 21, with Ryan Tannehill out with an ankle injury. Tannehill is not expected to return this season, though the starter has not shut it down just yet.

A former Tennessee Volunteer, Dobbs has bounced around in the pros. The sixth-year backup has been with three teams just this year, moving from Cleveland to Detroit to Nashville over the past month. The former fourth-round pick has not thrown any regular-season passes this season; his most recent game work came in 2020 with the Steelers. The Browns signed Dobbs this offseason and used him as Jacoby Brissett‘s backup for much of the year, but once Deshaun Watson was eligible to play, Cleveland cut bait. Dobbs landed in Detroit, but Tennessee poached him from the Lions’ practice squad.

Dobbs has seen most of his NFL work come in the preseason, and the Titans’ Week 17 lineup will have the look of an August matchup. Tennessee placed O-line starters Nate Davis and Ben Jones on IR last week, and the team will be without right tackle starter Nicholas Petit-Frere against Dallas. With Taylor Lewan out of the picture, the Titans will deploy basically a second-string O-line tonight. While Willis’ early work points to extensive development being needed, the Titans may be leery of putting the third-round pick behind this set of blockers against a top-tier Cowboys pass rush.

In an arrangement that will surely test Al Michaels’ patience, Titans will also sit Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Amani Hooker, Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham. Oh, and they are unlikely to deploy Derrick Henry, who is doubtful with a hip injury. This sets up an unusual Week 17 and an odd Week 18 plan. The Titans look like they will be trying to salvage their season in Jacksonville next week on the heels of a six-game losing streak. Even if the Titans drop to 7-9 tonight, the AFC South will be on the line next week.

Willis has shown some promise in the run game but has looked woefully overmatched through the air. The mid-major product has not eclipsed 100 passing yards in any of his three pro starts and has a 0-3 TD-INT ratio on 61 pass attempts. It will be interesting if the Titans turn back to Willis or go with Dobbs (17 career attempts) against the Jaguars, when they reconvene for relevant football, next week.

Titans Place G Nate Davis On IR, Activate LB Zach Cunningham

Already ruled out for Saturday’s pivotal AFC South matchup against the Texans, Nate Davis may now be done for the season. The Titans placed their starting right guard on IR on Friday.

This transaction will sideline Davis until the divisional round. Given the Titans’ recent performance and their latest injury news, it is a good bet Davis is done for the season. The Titans have placed three O-linemen — Davis, center Ben Jones, tackle Dillon Radunz — on IR this week. An ankle injury will shut down Davis.

[RELATED: Ryan Tannehill Likely Done For Season]

Tennessee did activate linebacker starter Zach Cunningham from IR, but the team will face Houston with numerous starters out of action. The Titans (7-7) are now just a half-game up on the Jaguars, who now control their own destiny in the division race.

One of Pro Football Focus’ top 20 guards this season, Davis is playing on an expiring contract. The fourth-year blocker will be Tennessee’s top 2023 free agent-to-be. Davis, 26, has been a key piece for the Titans since they drafted him in the 2019 third round. The Charlotte alum was a starter on both the Titan O-lines that helped Derrick Henry to rushing titles, and he stayed healthy for most of Tennessee’s injury-riddled run to the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season.

With Elgton Jenkins off the market, Davis’ price could rise. Next year’s guard market is not particularly deep, and with Jenkins having signed a four-year Packers extension, Davis will probably be the top prize. The Broncos’ Dalton Risner and Cowboys’ Connor McGovern will also generate extensive interest, but PFF has rated Davis as a top-25 guard in each of the past three seasons. As far back as the 2021 offseason, Davis has been rumored to be a coveted commodity on the market. His final two rookie-contract years have not changed that status.

The Titans’ exclusive negotiating rights with Davis run up until March’s legal tampering period. Because all O-linemen are grouped together under the franchise tag formula, guards are rarely tagged. It would cost the Titans roughly $18MM to cuff Davis with the tag. It is possible Davis has played his final down with Tennessee, as a new GM’s arrival will add a major wrinkle into the franchise’s upcoming offseason, but the team will surely place a high priority on Davis negotiations. While the Titans’ A.J. Brown trade came to define their 2022 offseason, the period did include a Harold Landry deal — after the franchise tag deadline had passed.

A 2021 waiver claim from the Texans, Cunningham has been out since Week 9 with an elbow injury. Cunningham coming back will help the Titans’ defense, but veteran Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky points out (via Twitter) 19 players who dressed for the team in Week 1 will not be in uniform Saturday. This comes a season after the Titans used an NFL-record 91 players. The Titans have one IR activation remaining; they also promoted offensive lineman Xavier Newman from their practice squad.

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/14/22

Here are today’s minor transactions from around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Titans Activate WR Treylon Burks, CB Elijah Molden

The Titans will likely have their starting quarterback available for tomorrow’s game against the Broncos. Their offense will also have a key piece back in the fold in time for the contest.

The Titans announced on Saturday that wideout Treylon Burks has been activated from IR. That is in line with what was expected, after the team designated him to return earlier this week. The first-round rookie should have an immediate role available once again when he suits up tomorrow.

Burks played in each of the team’s first four games this season, after he was unavailable at times during the offseason. He logged a snap share just over 50% during that stretch, making 10 catches for 129 scoreless yards. The Arkansas alum was expected to have a slow start to his NFL career, in part due to the missed time in the spring, but also his unique skillset and usage in college. The Titans rank 31st in the league with an average of 155 passing yards per game, so his return will be a welcomed sight.

The same holds true of Elijah Molden, whom the team has also activated in time for Sunday’s game. The second-year cornerback has yet to play this season, but showed promise as a rookie. The third-rounder took on a starting role, registering 60 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups. He had been designated for return last week as well, making his activation little surprise. Molden will provide a boost to the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense.

To make room for those two additions, the Titans moved a pair of players onto IR. One of them is linebacker Zach Cunningham, who has already missed significant time this season. The former Texan immediately took on a starting role after Tennessee claimed him off waivers last December, and did the same this year with 24 tackles. Cunningham missed three games earlier in the campaign, and will again be sidelined as he recovers from an elbow injury.

Undrafted rookie defensive back Josh Thompson has also been placed on IR. He, like Cunningham, will be unavailable for at least the next four games. Tennessee has five IR activations remaining for the season.