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Browns, TE David Njoku Agree On Extension

David Njoku will turn his franchise tag into a top-five tight end agreement. Weeks ahead of the deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions, the Browns have come to terms with the former first-round pick.

The Browns are signing Njoku to a four-year deal worth $56.75MM, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report (on Twitter). Njoku will see $28MM fully guaranteed. This $14.2MM-per-year deal makes the five-year Browns contributor the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid tight end.

Cleveland, which entered Friday holding the second-most cap space in the league, could have used this season as a de facto audition year for Njoku on the tag. But reports kept indicating the Browns’ seriousness about extending him. After making an offer north of $13MM per year, the Browns confirmed their faith in Njoku with this deal.

Njoku’s $14.2MM-AAV figure comes in below George Kittle‘s $15MM positional highwater mark, but it is right in the neighborhood of Travis Kelce ($14.3MM AAV) and Dallas Goedert ($14.25MM). Considering Njoku’s lack of statistical success on his rookie contract, this is a major win for the ex-Miami Hurricane and a Browns bet on his potential.

The 2017 first-rounder has just one 500-yard season on his resume. That came back in 2018, when Hue Jackson, Todd Haley and Freddie Kitchens were running Cleveland’s offense. The 6-foot-4 pass catcher, however, is only going into his age-26 season. Several prime years could remain ahead for Njoku, who should have a big opportunity to up his game with Deshaun Watson now at quarterback in Cleveland.

This extension comes two months after the Browns cut Austin Hooper, whom they previously signed to a top-five (at the time) tight end deal. Hooper’s presence cut into Njoku’s opportunities, but in tagging the latter ahead of the March deadline, the Browns signaled they still believed in the younger player’s potential. Njoku headlines a Cleveland tight end depth chart that includes 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant. This contract makes it clear who the Browns will rely on at the position.

The Browns traded back into the 2017 first round, after having already selected two players that year (which included trading out of the Watson draft slot with the Texans), to nab Njoku with the No. 29 overall pick. Other than his 639-yard 2018 showing, Njoku has never taken off in Cleveland. His tenure also included a rocky stretch in 2020, when he requested a trade at multiple points after Hooper signed. The sides patched up their relationship, and Njoku did produce his second-best statistical season (475 yards, four touchdown catches) — as the Browns’ passing attack cratered — in 2021.

Amari Cooper is set to be the centerpiece of Cleveland’s passing attack, and Donovan Peoples-Jones is positioned to be the trade acquisition’s top complementary player. The team cut Jarvis Landry and, despite rumors about a reunion, let him sign with the Saints following the draft. Njoku will be poised to be a key target for Watson and, in all likelihood, Jacoby Brissett this season.

This still represents a big bet on the potential of a player who has not displayed consistency yet. This deal also stands to impact the negotiations for fellow franchise-tagged tight ends Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz. It will be interesting to see if it affects Darren Waller‘s approach with the Raiders. Going into his age-30 season, the former Pro Bowler is tied to a below-market $7.6MM-per-year pact.

Chargers Sign First-Round G Zion Johnson

Nearly every first-round pick this year has come to terms on his four-year agreement (feat. the fifth-year option). The Chargers became the latest team to lock down their top draftee, signing Zion Johnson on Friday.

A standout guard from Boston College, Johnson was the second interior offensive lineman off the board this year — following only Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, who went 15th overall to the Texans. This year’s No. 17 overall pick will be expected to play immediately for a Chargers team that loaded up on filling needs this offseason.

Johnson transferred to Boston College after spending two years at Davidson. He blocked for four 1,000-yard rushers while in college, most notably A.J. Dillon‘s 1,645-yard season in 2019. Boston College stationed Johnson at left tackle during the 2020 season, and he earned first-team All-American honors at guard last year, joining Green and fellow first-round O-linemen Ikem Ekwonu and Tyler Linderbaum on the Associated Press’ top team.

The 6-foot-2 blocker should be ticketed to be the Bolts’ right guard starter in Week 1. The team has its left side of the O-line addressed, with 2021 first-round pick Rashawn Slater thriving as a rookie alongside free agent pickup Matt Feiler, and Corey Linsley has the center post locked down. Los Angeles will likely still search for a right tackle, its weakest O-line spot last season, but Johnson fills a key need for what is expected to be a rising AFC contender.

All but five first-round picks have signed their rookie contracts. Only Linderbaum, fellow Ravens pick Kyle Hamilton, Patriots guard Cole Strange and Seahawks tackle Charles Cross remain unsigned.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/26/22

Here are the latest minor moves from around the NFL:

Baltimore Ravens

Los Angeles Rams

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Falcons Waive DL John Cominsky

A rotational defensive lineman with the Falcons, John Cominsky hit the waiver wire Thursday. The Falcons moved on from the former fourth-round pick.

The team will create nearly $1MM in cap space by jettisoning Cominsky, who was going into the final year of his rookie contract. He will hit free agency if unclaimed in the next 24 hours. Atlanta, however, used some of its available space by signing running back Jeremy McNichols earlier Thursday.

Cominsky, 26, emerged out of Charleston (West Virginia) in 2019. His most notable season came in 2020, when he saw action on 44% of Atlanta’s defensive plays. The 285-pound defender registered a sack and three tackles for loss that year. Last season, the Falcons’ Dean Pees-headed defensive staff only used Cominsky in four games and on just 13 defensive plays.

The Falcons have some questions about how their non-Grady Jarrett front seven will look, with even Deion Jonesstatus up in the air. The team used a second-round pick on Marlon Davidson in 2020, but he started just one game last season. Eleven-game starter Tyeler Davison is no longer with the team; the Falcons released him in March. This would seemingly clear a path for Davidson. The team did not use a draft choice on a pure D-lineman, though it did add two edge rushers (Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone) on Day 2.

Falcons Sign RB Jeremy McNichols

The Falcons have added depth to their running back room. The team announced on Thursday the signing of journeyman Jeremy McNichols

The 26-year-old was a fifth round pick of the Buccaneers in 2017. He never played for Tampa in the regular season, however, failing to make the team during his rookie season. Instead, he went to San Francisco, though he only made two appearances for the 49ers.

That was followed by a plethora of short stints across the league, as he bounced on and off of teams’ practice squads. In 2018, he played in a single game for the Colts; that was also the case one year later in Jacksonville. It wasn’t until he signed with the Titans (for the second time in his career) in 2020 that he began playing on a full-time basis.

The Boise State alum averaged 4.3 yards per carry that season, totalling 204 rushing yards. His play earned him a spot on Tennessee’s roster again this past campaign, which saw him put up better numbers. Seeing a larger workload after the injury suffered by Derrick Henry, McNichols became a factor in the passing game, posting 240 receiving yards. Not long after suffering a concussion, however, he was waived.

In Atlanta, McNichols will look to again prove himself as a viable contributor at the end of the roster. Much of the team’s offense will be centered on Cordarrelle Patterson, of course, and the Falcons added Damien Williams earlier in free agency. Still, after the release of Mike Davis, McNichols will have the chance to compete for the No. 3 role.

Ravens Sign QB Brett Hundley

The Ravens are adding some training camp depth at the quarterback position. The team announced on Thursday that they have signed veteran Brett Hundley

The soon-to-be 29-year-old was originally a fifth-round pick of the Packers in 2015. He made his Green Bay debut the following year, but didn’t register any starts until 2017. He went 3-6 during that campaign, but that remains the only time where he operated as a No. 1.

After one season as the backup in Seattle, he signed with the Cardinals in 2019. The three appearances he made that year remain the last regular season action he saw. He stayed with Arizona for one more season, though the team looked elsewhere when Kyler Murray needed replacing in-game late in the year. He then spent 2021 bouncing on and off of the Colts’ roster, and recently had a visit with the Vikings which didn’t end in a contract offer.

At the most, Hundley would be in line to compete for the No. 3 role in Baltimore. The Ravens have starter Lamar Jackson under contract for one more season, but his absence from OTAs has left the team thin at the position right now. The Ravens also have backup Tyler Huntley available; the former UDFA filled in for Jackson at the end of last season after his injury, and did enough during that span to secure the No. 2 role.

Baltimore also currently has Anthony Browna member of this year’s UDFA class, to take practice reps. In the absence of veteran Josh Johnson, who made one appearance for the Ravens last year, both he and, now, Hundley could find themselves in a competition to land on at least the team’s practice squad.

Jaguars Sign Third-Rounders Luke Fortner, Chad Muma To Finalize Draft Class Deals

The Jaguars became the latest team to wrap up the draft pick-signing portion of their offseason. Two third-rounders — center Luke Fortner and linebacker Chad Muma — rounded out this process by signing their four-year rookie deals Wednesday.

Fortner’s deal at the No. 65 overall slot will be worth $5.5MM, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, who adds the Kentucky alum will collect a $1.18MM signing bonus (Twitter link). Muma, chosen 70th overall out of Wyoming, will be entitled to a bonus just north of 2021 No. 70 selection Brady Christensen‘s; the Panthers tackle collected $1.15MM guaranteed.

Brandon Linder‘s retirement created an immediate need for Jacksonville. Linder had been the team’s longest-tenured starter, and although he battled injuries for much of his career, the talented blocker had been the Jaguars’ starting center since 2016 after beginning his career at guard. Fortner played center and guard at Kentucky, starting 36 games played after taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility schools provided after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Fortner moved from right guard to center before last season. He stands to vie for the Jags’ center spot with previous Linder backup Tyler Shatley, who is the team’s longest-tenured player. Shatley has been with the Jags since 2014; he started eight games last year.

Jacksonville aggressively pursued upgrades at linebacker this year. The team gave ex-Atlanta starter Foyesade Oluokun a three-year, $45MM deal and traded back into the first round for Utah standout Devin Lloyd. The Jags selected Muma with the pick obtained in last year’s C.J. Henderson trade. They moved on from longtime starter Myles Jack this offseason as well. Muma broke out last season by making 142 tackles (eight for loss), earning first-team All-Mountain West Conference acclaim. It will be interesting to see where he fits with a Jags team that reloaded at this position.

Here is how the Jags’ draft class breaks down:

Round 1: No. 1 Travon Walker, Edge (Georgia) (signed)
Round 1: No. 27 (from Buccaneers) Devin Lloyd, LB (Utah) (signed)
Round 3: No. 65 Luke Fortner, C (Kentucky) (signed)
Round 3: No. 70 (from Panthers) Chad Muma, LB (Wyoming) (signed)
Round 5: No. 154 (from Commanders through Eagles): Snoop Conner, RB (Ole Miss) (signed)
Round 6: No. 197 (from Eagles) Gregory Junior, CB (Ouachita Baptist) (signed)
Round 7: No. 222 Montaric Brown, CB (Arkansas) (signed)

Raiders Sign DL Tyler Lancaster

The Raiders have made several additions to their defensive line this offseason. They agreed to terms with another veteran free agent Wednesday.

Four-year Packers D-line contributor Tyler Lancaster signed with the Raiders. He follows the likes of Vernon Butler, Bilal Nichols, Andrew Billings and Kyle Peko to sign with Las Vegas this offseason.

New Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has a short history with Lancaster. Graham was in Green Bay when the team signed Lancaster as a UDFA in 2018. While Graham was the Packers’ linebackers coach that year and left to become the Dolphins’ DC in 2019, he will bring back a familiar face to potentially help in his current gig.

Lancaster worked as a part-time starter. Despite going undrafted out of Northwestern four years ago, Lancaster started 10 games for an NFC championship-bound Packers team in 2019. Green Bay kept the interior D-lineman as a backup for most of the past two seasons, which featured six combined starts, but he was a regular. Lancaster, 27, saw his defensive snap rate stay the same in 2020 (37%) compared to his year as a regular starter. The 313-pound defender played 31% of Green Bay’s defensive snaps last season, when he finished with 31 tackles (three for loss).

While Maxx Crosby and Johnathan Hankins are back, most of the key cogs that will see time for Las Vegas’ D-line are new. Butler came over after a year in Buffalo, while Nichols was in Chicago’s 3-4 scheme for the past four seasons. Billings spent last season in Cleveland. The Raiders also used fourth- and fifth-round picks on D-linemen (Neil Farrell and Matthew Butler). Their Lancaster signing adds to this competition.

Cardinals Sign Round 3 OLB Cameron Thomas, Wrap Draft Class Deals

As they finished their first week of OTAs, the Cardinals also wrapped up their draft class signings. Third-round pick Cameron Thomas signed his four-year rookie contract Wednesday.

Arizona made nine selections in this year’s draft. Coming off the board 87th overall, Thomas will be expected to help the Cardinals early. The team lost Chandler Jones in free agency and did not sign a replacement for the decorated edge rusher, leaving Thomas alongside the likes of Markus Golden, Devon Kennard and third-round edge Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati) at outside linebacker.

Although Thomas was a San Diego State regular as an underclassman, combining for 9.5 sacks from 2019-20, he broke through as a junior last year. Thomas tallied 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, en route to Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2021.

Here is how the Cardinals’ draft class breaks down:

Round 2: No. 55 Trey McBride, TE (Colorado State) (signed)
Round 3: No. 87 Cameron Thomas, DE (San Diego State) (signed)
Round 3: No. 100 (from Ravens) Myjai Sanders, DE (Cincinnati) (signed)
Round 6: No. 201 Keaontay Ingram, RB (USC) (signed)
Round 6: No. 215 Lecitus Smith, OG (Virginia Tech) (signed)
Round 7: No. 244 Christian Matthew, CB (Valdosta State) (signed)
Round 7: No. 256 Jesse Luketa, OLB (Penn State) (signed)
Round 7: No. 257 Marquis Hayes, OG (Oklahoma) (signed)