About a third of all NFL players come Week 1 will be undrafted free agents. In this issue, we pinpoint one rookie free agent from every team to watch in 2022.
UDFA Watch List
In any given season, about 500 of the nearly 1,700 players on active rosters for NFL teams will have gotten their start as an undrafted free agent. If you think about it mathematically it makes sense — each draft only has about 256 picks, the average career length is three years and rookie contracts last only four, so the remaining roster spots have to be filled somehow. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that undrafted free agency is a key part of team building.
Out of the few hundred rookies who didn’t hear their name called during the draft but still signed with a team last month, we know there will be a couple dozen or so who make the team. Some will develop into starters, or perhaps even better, in the coming years. Obviously if those players were predictable, they would have been drafted. But it’s still an interesting exercise to go team by team and look at some of the candidates. Consider this a watch list as we move through the summer and into the preseason.
- NFLTR UDFA tracker
- Top UDFAs from the Athletic’s Dane Brugler
- NBC Sports’ Thor Nystrom UDFA class grades
49ers: C Dohnovan West
West had draftable grades from a number of outlets, including a fifth-round grade from Brugler. Concerns about his size and strength dropped him out of the draft, even though he showed position versatility in college to play guard as well.
However, West landed in the perfect scheme for his skillset, as San Francisco’s wide zone offense has helped other undersized centers in the past. There’s also an opportunity with veteran C Alex Mack calling it quits. Jake Brendel has been taking reps with the first team during OTAs, but Daniel Brunskill can also play center. Both are former undrafted free agents, so it shows what’s possible for West, perhaps with some time to develop and improve his play strength.
Fellow UDFA OL Jason Poe, a converted fullback from Mercer, is also a name worth watching here. He’s got impressive raw athleticism and strength, but isn’t as strong technically as West right now.
Bears: Iowa State TE Chase Allen
Allen went under the radar at Iowa State due to the presence of Charlie Kolar, who was a fourth-round pick by the Ravens and widely seen as one of the best collegiate tight ends in the country the past few seasons. Allen wasn’t too shabby himself, however, with three straight second-team all-conference selections to end his career.
As a pro, Allen projects as a jack of all trades, master of none type. He’s got above-average athleticism for the position and good size at 6-6 and 250 pounds. He’s smart and tough, but not particularly dynamic. As a blocker, he’s competitive but his lack of lower body strength limits him.
Add it all up and Allen could compete for a roster spot for Chicago, especially considering how bare their tight end depth chart behind Cole Kmet is.
Bengals: Peru State CB Delonte Hood
Peru State — located in Peru, Nebraska, not South America — isn’t usually on the NFL’s radar. But Hood caught eyes at Nebraska’s pro day with an impressive performance. At 5-11 and 192 pounds, he ran a 4.4 flat 40-yard dash, 6.95-second three-cone, plus jumped a 35-inch vertical and 10-4 broad jump with 17 bench press reps.
Obviously the transition from the NAIA to the NFL will be intense but Hood has NFL-caliber athleticism and is used to overcoming adversity. He’s discussed being homeless for parts of his childhood in interviews. The odds are stacked against him but he’s already overcome quite a bit to get to where he is now. If he can stick with Cincinnati, it would continue a remarkable story.
Bills: Virginia Tech RB Raheem Blackshear
The Bills are widely seen as Super Bowl favorites entering the 2022 season and have a loaded roster. There might not be a lot of room for an undrafted rookie and that’s reflected in the team signing just nine of them. Former Texas A&M Jalen Wydermyer has the most name recognition as someone who was seen as a potential Day 2 pick at one point before a disastrous 2021 season and 2022 pre-draft process. Blackshear might have a better chance at sticking, however.
He’s not big at just 5-9 and isn’t overly fast, but he’s a solid 195 pounds and has good quickness. Most importantly as far as Buffalo is concerned, Blackshear is a tremendous receiver. He finished his college career with 123 receptions over five combined seasons at Rutgers and Virginia Tech. The Bills made a run at pass-catching back J.D. McKissic in free agency and drafted Georgia’s James Cook in the second round as a Plan B. Veteran Duke Johnson is probably Plan C, but a good camp and preseason could earn Blackshear a longer look on the practice squad.
Broncos: Alabama OLB Christopher Allen
The downside to Alabama being a pro football factory is the intense competition between top recruits leads to the losers getting chewed up and spit out. That’s what happened to Allen, who fell behind due to a pair of season-ending injuries (torn ACL in 2018, broken foot in 2021). He flashed some potential when he was on the field, however, earning a second-team All-SEC nod in a rotational role in 2020 and recording a TFL and a strip-sack in the only 10 snaps he played last season.
Stab/Club for the strip sack. Christopher Allen really working this Miami OT. pic.twitter.com/RqHix1ajN2
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) February 22, 2022
Allen is a tweener at just 6-3 and 240 pounds but he has long arms and plays with a lot of power. If he’s healthy, he could make a strong push for a roster spot even in a crowded Broncos edge-rushing group.
Browns: Appalachian State CB Shaun Jolly
Teams can often find slot corners in the late rounds and undrafted free agency, typically guys who fall because they lack ideal size or measurables for the position. Athleticism matters more at cornerback than other positions but players can still make up for limitations with great instincts and coverage skills.
That’s the niche Jolly is hoping to carve out. He’s only 5-8 and maybe 180 pounds with just a 4.51 second 40 time. He’s a feisty and instinctual corner, however, who rarely missed tackles in college. Playing in the slot could help accentuate his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
Buccaneers: Clemson S Nolan Turner
There’s a lot to like about Turner. Despite being a former two-star recruit, his athleticism consistently jumped off the screen when watching Clemson’s defense, and that was confirmed with a 4.37-second 40 time at Clemson’s pro day. He’s got good size at 6-1 and was a two-time team captain at Clemson. It looks like he fell out of the draft for not being the most fluid in coverage and for not consistently taking good angles to the football, which led to missed tackles.
Still, Turner’s package of size, speed and leadership are reminiscent of former Panthers special teams ace Colin Jones, who carved out a long career with a similar skillset. Jones even had stretches of decent play on defense, as long as he was put in situations where he could go forward instead of backward.
Cardinals: Georgia Southern CB Darrell Baker
Like Hood, Baker is another corner from a small school who battled through adversity and has a chance to make a name for himself due to his excellent athletic ability. Georgia Southern is a big step up from Peru State, however, and Baker is an even better athlete (6-1, 190, 4.41 40, 41.5 vertical, 11-4 broad and 7.07 three cone).
Arizona is also thinner at cornerback than the Bengals, which offers more of an opportunity for Baker if he can hit the ground running relatively quickly.
Chargers: Old Dominion TE Stone Smartt
Announced as a tight end when signed by the team, Smartt played quarterback until his final season at Old Dominion when he converted to wide receiver after losing the battle for the starting job. He’s an absurd athlete, checking in at 6-4 and almost 230 pounds with a 4.59 second 40 time and 40 inch vertical. Tight end is a tough position to transition to, let alone for someone like Smartt who has barely played there, if at all. But there is a history of college quarterbacks like Logan Thomas and Robert Tonyan making that switch, so it’s worth keeping an eye on Smartt.
Chiefs: Clemson WR Justyn Ross
The hype around Ross is already far exceeding what is typical for most undrafted rookies. And in a sense it’s understandable. Ross was an instant success as a freshman at Clemson, leading a championship team that included Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, Travis Etienne and Amari Rodgers in receiving. He backed it up with a strong sophomore season and was looking like a potential top draft pick when doctors discovered a congenital spine fusion that threatened to end his career.
Ross returned to the field in 2021, but the combination of his worst statistical season, medical red flags from his spine and a broken foot he played through and poor pre-draft testing times were apparently enough to drop him from the draft altogether. Maybe he’ll never be the same player who shredded Bama in the national title game.
Still, you can’t help but think that surely Ross hasn’t just forgotten how to play. Landing with the explosive Chiefs offense was a boon and plays like this won’t slow the hype train down.
Colts: Nebraska LB JoJo Domann
The consensus on Domann from ESPN, NFL.com, the Athletic and others had him firmly in the fourth or fifth round as a modern coverage-first linebacker with additional value on special teams. Instead, he slid all the way out of the draft, potentially to the Colts’ benefit.
Indianapolis’ starters are locked in, with the incredible Darius Leonard flanked by Bobby Okereke and backed up by E.J. Speed when three linebackers are required. But both Speed and Okereke are in contract years, and the depth behind them is far less settled. Domann’s combination of toughness, speed, instincts and coverage ability as a converted strong safety could translate into a key role player or starter down the line for the Colts.
Commanders: Ohio TE Armani Rogers
Another quarterback to tight end convert, Rogers was a dual-threat quarterback at UNLV and Ohio before making the decision to switch positions as a part of the pre-draft process. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and although he’s clearly a novice to the position, he showed enough to catch some eyes. He’s an outstanding athlete and has room to grow from his 6-5, 233-pound frame.
As far as his fit in Washington, the connection with Logan Thomas is easy enough to make as another position convert. As Thomas is recovering from injury and has an unsettled contractual future, there’s also room for someone to step up in the tight end room. That said, tight ends take time to develop and the Commanders already have one guy in that mold in Sammis Reyes. If Rogers makes an impact in the NFL, the odds are it won’t be for Washington.
Cowboys: Texas A&M LB Aaron Hansford
Dallas has been pretty active in undrafted free agency in recent years and has a few interesting names to watch. Former Texas Tech K Jonathan Garibay might be the frontrunner to start, former Boston College C Alec Lindstrom and Indiana TE Peyton Hendershot could crack the depth chart at their respective positions and the team gave Florida A&M S Markquese Bell $200,000 guaranteed.
Hansford is my underrated pick to stick, however. At 6-2 and just under 240 pounds, Hansford converted from wide receiver after his first three seasons and shows the type of athleticism and range you’d expect for someone with that background. He’s made rapid strides with his game in just a couple of years. There’s an opening at the back end of the Cowboys’ depth chart for a linebacker, don’t discount Hansford filling it.
Dolphins: Arizona State OT Kellen Diesch
The second Arizona State offensive lineman to somewhat surprisingly slip out of the draft, Diesh looks the part of a blindside protector at 6-7 and just over 300 pounds. He’s got movement skills as well as evidenced by his Combine 40 times. However, his arms are short for his size and he lacks some sand in his pants, leaving him vulnerable to defenders who can get in his frame and drive him back.
What Diesch needs is a scheme that emphasizes his strengths in pass protection and getting out on the move. The wide zone offense Miami is implementing under new HC Mike McDaniel ought to do that. Diesch needs time to develop and get stronger but there’s a chance for him to flash enough to stick around and develop into a capable backup and perhaps even more.
Eagles: Nevada QB Carson Strong
Strong was one of the players tabbed as a potential riser entering the 2021 college football season. And he turned in a prolific season, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns to go against just eight interceptions. There was even a little first-round buzz for him early in the draft cycle.
Strong never built on that momentum. But it was still surprising to see him fall out of the draft entirely. He’s a throwback passer at 6-4 and 226 pounds with an absolute cannon for an arm. Drew Bledsoe was a popular comparison in scouting reports. Like Bledsoe, though, Strong has limited to no mobility, which is becoming a negative for NFL teams these days.
His mobility wasn’t helped by knee issues, and that’s probably the true reason Strong fell so far. He’s needed two surgeries on his right knee as he deals with osteochondritis dissecans, a condition where a lack of blood flow causes issues with the bone and cartilage in the knee. There are legitimate long-term durability concerns about Strong even though he played through the injury and at a high level his final season at Nevada.
If Strong can beat those, however, he has the potential to develop into a starting-caliber quarterback. That would be an enormous coup for the Eagles to land someone like that as a rookie free agent regardless of what happens with Jalen Hurts down the road.
Falcons: Ferris State WR Jared Bernhardt
Early reports had the Falcons signing Kentucky OT Dare Rosenthal, which would have been interesting given his impressive tools for the position and the generally unsettled state of Atlanta’s offensive line. However, the deal appears to have fallen through, as Rosenthal was not among the official signings announced by the team.
Bernhardt might not be as intriguing a talent as Rosenthal but he’s the next most interesting player. He started his career as a lacrosse star at Maryland where he won the Tewaaraton Award in 2021 — college lax’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He then kept up his career by switching to football and leading Division II Ferris State to a 14-0 season and national championship as a dual-threat quarterback, shredding opponents with 1,273 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.
As a pro, Bernhardt will transition to wide receiver. He’s got decent size at 6-1 and 190 pounds, and while a 4.7 second 40 is slow, a 6.9-second three-cone shows he has some quicks to make up for it. Atlanta’s receiving corps is one of the worst in the league, so there’s room for Bernhardt to impress.
Giants: Nebraska TE Austin Allen
New York’s roster is barren enough as they kick off another rebuild, particularly in the secondary, that guys like former Kentucky S Yusuf Corker and Florida Atlantic CB Zyon Gilbert are worth watching as well. But tight end is really thin. There’s journeymen Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins to go with fourth-round rookie Daniel Bellinger. That leaves a crack for someone like Allen who has an intriguing skillset.
At just a shade under 6-8 and 253 pounds, Allen is already an enormous target. His measurables also show surprising athleticism and explosiveness, with a 7-second three-cone, 34-inch vertical and 10-4 foot broad jump. He broke out in 2021 with 38 catches, 602 yards and two touchdowns. A practice squad berth seems like a strong bet, with the potential to develop into more given how wide open the Giants depth chart at tight end is.
Jaguars: Brown QB E.J. Perry
Perry initially signed with the Eagles but flipped to Jacksonville once Philadelphia signed Strong. He’s a dual-threat prospect as a quarterback who might have more utility in the NFL as a Taysom Hill-style gadget weapon. He’s not as big or athletic as Hill but he was basically the entire offense for Brown as a runner and thrower. He scored 60 combined passing and rushing touchdowns in 20 starts.
The best-case scenario for Perry is probably latching on with Jacksonville’s practice squad. Down the road, being around a creative play-caller like HC Doug Pederson can only be a good thing.
Jets: Washington State WR Calvin Jackson
Jackson had to wait even longer for his chance, as he was unsigned after the first dash of signings immediately following the draft. He got an offer to attend rookie minicamp for the Jets and made the most of it, though, earning a contract offer from the team afterward. He’s not the biggest or fastest at just 5-9 and with a 4.52 40 time, but he showed a knack for making difficult catches in college and evidently during his tryout.
The Jets have a crowded receiver room right now, so Jackson’s best bet is trying to snare a spot on the practice squad or putting enough good tape out that he earns more of an opportunity elsewhere.
Lions: Central Michigan WR Kalil Pimpleton
Though tagged with an unfortunate surname, the diminutive Pimpleton was an electric player for Central Michigan last season. Despite standing at a diminutive 5-7, he was an All-American as a return specialist and chipped in nearly 1,000 yards receiving as well. He has a game very similar to Bills speedster Isaiah McKenzie.
Kalil Pimpleton with one of the oddest and difficult grabs of the year at the boundary. Central Michigan pic.twitter.com/VoxIwvU73m
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) January 28, 2022
Pimpleton has already made a few waves during OTAs for the Lions so far, though helmets and shorts is exactly the setting he should be succeeding in given his size. Detroit made it a point to beef up their receiving corps this season and Pimpleton will have to beat similar players in Kalif Raymond and Trinity Benson for a roster spot. It’s far from a given but it’s certainly within the range of outcomes.
Packers: Louisiana-Lafayette DE Chauncey Manac
There’s an opening on the Packers’ depth chart at reserve edge rusher. Fifth-round rookie Kingsley Enagbare probably has one sewn up, but there should be a stiff competition for the other between Randy Ramsey, Tipa Galeai and Jonathan Garvin. Manac could insert himself into that conversation with a strong preseason. He has some limited juice as a pass rusher but was a four-year starter for the Ragin’ Cajuns and has some aptitude against the run.
Panthers: Miami WR Charleston Rambo
Rambo was a starter and above-average contributor for two seasons at Oklahoma before he decided to transfer to Miami for the 2021 season. It ended up being a sterling decision, as he broke out with a massive season of 79 catches, 1,172 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. It’s a little surprising he fell out of the draft. Even though he has a slight build, he has good speed and solid foundation to his game in terms of route running and catching.
There’s a path to Rambo making the roster in Carolina, as the back of their depth chart is far from solidified. Long-term, there are questions about both Robbie Anderson and 2021 second-rounder Terrace Marshall after poor seasons last year. Rambo has the feel of someone who develops into a solid No. 3 or No. 4 receiver over the course of time.
Patriots: Texas S Brenden Schooler
No organization puts an emphasis on special teams quite like the Patriots do, as they annually devote multiple roster spots exclusively to special teams outside of the usual kicker/punter/long snapper trio most teams employ. So this is a notable landing spot for Schooler, who was twice named first-team All-PAC 12 for his contributions on special teams.
Schooler’s college career is a bit of an anomaly as well. He started as a true freshman at Oregon and finished the season with 74 tackles, four pass deflections and four interceptions. He moved to wide receiver in the offseason and was a contributor on offense while making a name for himself on special teams for the next two seasons. He left Oregon for Arizona in 2019, but ended up at Texas before the 2020 season and finished out his career there, first as a receiver in 2020 and then as a safety in 2021.
That history as a receiver is worth filing away given how the Patriots have shown themselves open to position changes in the past. Schooler has the athleticism to succeed wherever the team puts him, as at 6-1 and 200 pounds he ran a 4.4 flat in the 40, 16 in the bench press, 6.71 seconds in the three-cone drill and had a 10-8 broad jump.
Raiders: Utah OT Bamidele Olaseni
The former soccer player from London has a remarkable background, as after discovering the sport of football in 2014 he moved to the United States to pursue it. He spent two years in community college before transferring to Utah and eventually winning the starting left tackle job as a senior. Already 26, Olaseni is old for a project player. But you can’t teach 6-7 and 340 pounds, and the Raiders are like any team looking for quality tackle play.
Rams: North Dakota State OLB Brayden Thomas
The departure of Von Miller has left a huge hole in the Rams’ defense, and it wouldn’t be surprising at some point to see them make a big move to fill it. In the meantime, they’re making a bunch of dart throws to try and find some production, signing three UDFAs including Thomas and using a seventh-round pick on Daniel Hardy.
Both Thomas and Hardy cracked seven seconds in the three cone drill, which has a strong correlation to success for pass rushers as it displays their bend and agility. Hardy had an outstanding 6.71 second time, while Thomas was at 6.9. However, Hardy is 6-2 and 235 pounds while Thomas stands 6-4 and almost 260.
Brayden Thomas ERASES the quarterback. pic.twitter.com/eiDAjV8Q66
— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) September 4, 2021
The level of competition will be a change for Thomas but there are some physical tools that make him another potential intriguing diamond in the rough for Los Angeles.
Ravens: Mississippi State WR Makai Polk
Baltimore didn’t draft any receivers after trading away Marquise Brown but they tried to make up for it by signing half a dozen after the draft. A consistent theme was adding size, and that includes Polk who measures out at 6-3 and 195 pounds. He’s more of a possession receiver than a deep threat, but 105 catches and 1,046 yards as a junior in the SEC is hard to ignore. He probably has the best combination of athletic ability and technical development out of the six UDFAs the Ravens signed.
As far as his outlook on the team, the Ravens have a number of young receivers they want to give a look to. They could also still sign a veteran. Polk could push Binjimen Victor for the role of No. 5 receiver but the practice squad might be a more realistic Year 1 aspiration.
Saints: Baylor RB Abram Smith
For his first few years, Smith dealt with significant knee injuries and shuttled back and forth between running back and linebacker. He actually had more tackles in 2020 (48) than career rushing yards to that point (46). But then he came out of nowhere to notch an enormous 1,600-yard rushing season for the Bears in 2021.
At 5-11 and 213 pounds, Smith has a sturdy build for the position, and his 4.5-second 40 times shows he has the ability to rip off chunk runs. His background on defense is a nice perk for the coaching staff and will help him on special teams as well. If Alvin Kamara is suspended and Mark Ingram starts to show his age, Smith could be a factor as a rookie.
Seahawks: Miami S Bubba Bolden
From a measurables standpoint, Bolden has everything you could want in a starting safety. He’s got great size, good speed and is a fluid mover in coverage. There are times when he looks like a high draft pick.
Bubba Bolden is a SS prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 8.11 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 164 out of 863 SS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/au0Mydxf8S #RAS #UDFA https://t.co/c70iS0VaFH pic.twitter.com/TkjtU2VH4s
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 1, 2022
Consistency is the issue. Bolden is generally a reckless and undisciplined player, which leads to a lot of missed tackles and blown coverages. He’s also had extensive injury issues and transferred to Miami after getting suspended for the 2018 season at USC. However, Seattle isn’t risking much by signing him as an undrafted free agent to see if HC Pete Carroll can coax some more out of him.
Steelers: USC CB Chris Steele
Dane Brugler had a draftable grade on Steele, though he also had a draftable grade on fellow UDFA CB Bryce Watts who already has been released by Pittsburgh. Steele has a good mix of size and speed but some of the mental aspects of the position elude him, per Brugler. Still, there’s an opportunity on Pittsburgh’s depth chart as they’re far from settled at corner.
Texans: Oregon WR Johnny Johnson
Normally a team like the Texans would be all over the undrafted free agent market given how wide open their depth chart is for potential contributors. Houston has not placed as high of a priority on youth under GM Nick Caserio as might be expected, however, and that’s reflected in a smaller UDFA class of just 11 players.
Out of that bunch, Johnson might have the best chance to set himself apart in Year 1. The starting trio of Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins and second-round rookie John Metchie is pretty set, but Metchie is coming off a torn ACL. Veterans Chris Conley, Chris Moore and Phillip Dorsett are more outside receivers, so if Johnson shows some aptitude as a slot receiver, he might even be able to fill in for Metchie for the first part of the season.
Titans: Texas A&M DT Jayden Peevy
Peevy is a massive lineman at 6-5 and 310 pounds who had some disruptive flashes over the past three seasons. Widely expected to be at least a mid-round pick, Peevy instead had a poor pre-draft process like a lot of Texas A&M prospects this year and slipped. He plays with burst off the snap but that didn’t come through with his testing.
Still, there’s an opportunity in Tennessee to carve out a role on the defensive line. Peevy’s enormous 85-inch wingspan could also net him a role on special teams, as he blocked four kicks in college. Those are the types of things that can set you apart as an undrafted player.
Vikings: Wake Forest DE Luiji Vilain
After being buried at Michigan, Vilain transferred to Wake Forest for his final collegiate season in 2021 and broke out with a team-high nine sacks. That caught the Vikings’ attention, as they’ve probably not coincidentally given him close to the same amount of guarantees as he’d earn with a season on the practice squad.
Traits are important for edge rushers and Vilain checks a lot of the boxes teams want to see in terms of size (6-4, 255 pounds), length (nearly 80-inch wingspan), quickness (1.57 second 10-yard split) and agility (7.01 in the three cone). He still has to develop some of the nuances of the position but this is the type of bet NFL teams are happy to make in undrafted free agency.
This Week In Football
- It was a big week for retirements as we saw three notable veterans announce they were done playing — 49ers C Alex Mack, Steelers DL Stephon Tuitt and longtime NFL veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Mack had been pondering this decision all offseason, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see him decide to hang the cleats up after 13 seasons. He leaves a big hole in the middle of San Francisco’s offensive line that they’ll have to figure out how to plug. In the meantime, Mack has an interesting Hall of Fame case in a few years.
- Tuitt hasn’t played since 2020 and is coming off an absolutely brutal year both personally and professionally. His brother unexpectedly passed away in 2021 and Tuitt missed the entire season dealing with a knee injury and. In his retirement announcement, the veteran referenced getting his degree from Notre Dame and being ready to move on to other things besides football. His absence also creates a major hole for Pittsburgh to fill.
- Fitzpatrick’s retirement didn’t come as a major surprise. He subluxated his hip in Week 1 for the Commanders, which is a fancy medical way of saying he partially dislocated it. That’s a tough injury for anyone, let alone an athlete near the age of 40, and Fitzpatrick wasn’t able to return. He finishes one of the most unique careers in recent NFL history as a late-round draft pick who was far better in his 30s than his 20s and ended up starting for nine different teams.
- We looked at the implications for the imminent deal with the Browns and TE David Njoku last week and the numbers came in. It’s a four-year, $56.75 million deal, making Njoku the No. 5 highest-paid tight end at $13.6 million per year. Given his limited production, that is going to be the new floor for a number of other players in their negotiations. Included in that group is Raiders TE Darren Waller, who is criminally underpaid at just $7.5 million a year. For context, that’s less than deals signed recently by C.J. Uzomah, Will Dissly and Taysom Hill. Waller has outproduced all of them, which is why there’s a good chance his agent will push for the deal the two sides are currently working on to make Waller the NFL’s highest-paid tight end.
- The next marker in the saga between the Browns and QB Baker Mayfield is mandatory minicamp next week. Players can be fined for missing minicamp but given neither Mayfield nor the Browns really want him at the team facility, there’s a good chance something is worked out. Maybe Mayfield could force the issue by showing up and making things awkward, but that seems like an outside chance. Cleveland’s front office continues to insist that simply cutting Mayfield is not an option for them, and if the Seahawks and Panthers are interested they’ll have to trade for him. Expect this to drag into training camp.
- The Buccaneers made what qualifies as a big move for this time of year, signing veteran DT Akiem Hicks to a one-year deal that can max out at $10 million. The actual value is closer to $7.5 million, but it’s still a strong deal for the veteran. When healthy, Hicks has shown he’s still a plus starter the past couple of seasons. Staying healthy has been the rub, though. He probably represents an upgrade over Ndamukong Suh at this point, although the latter’s durability has never been a question mark.
- For the first time in years, former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick had an actual workout with an NFL team, showing his stuff for the Raiders. It’s a notable development given how the league as a whole has blackballed Kaepernick to this point. It raises the chances of Kaepernick returning to play from zilch to…..slim. Realistically, this much time away from the game is hard for anyone to overcome. It’s been five seasons since we’ve seen Kaepernick play and while he’s been staying in shape, it’s hard to replicate live reps against other NFL players. The Raiders have the public support of owner Mark Davis to sign Kaepernick and he could compete for a backup job in theory. But no signing appears to be imminent — for now.
- Cardinals CB Jeff Gladney passed away over the weekend. He and his girlfriend were in a car wreck in Dallas that killed them both. The 25-year-old first-round pick had signed with Arizona this offseason and was in prime position to win a starting job and get his career back on track after he was released by the Vikings following an indictment on domestic violence charges. Gladney was later acquitted. It’s always shocking to see the life someone so young cut short. Our thoughts and well wishes go out to Gladney’s family and loved ones at this time.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
I want to preface this by saying that Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is one of the most talented young passers in the game right now, because the rest of what I’m going to say is going to sound like I’m hating. Check out this quote…
“I think I was blessed with the cognitive skills to just go out there and just see it before it happens. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team and that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”
Murray is that one person we all knew in high school who bragged about not having to study to do well on the test. They may have been right, they may even have been able to keep it up in undergrad. But Murray’s in the equivalent of a Ph.D. program now and that won’t fly. Not if he and the Cardinals want the results some of these other star quarterbacks get…
This, in a nutshell, is the entire reason that NFL Media and neutral fans think that Brandon Staley's aggressiveness on 4th down cost LAC a trip to the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/l7EOmZ1sL0
— MIBPJ (@mibpj2) May 31, 2022
Chargers HC Brandon Staley’s fourth-down decision-making was one of the biggest stories surrounding the team in 2021. It’d be fair to call it a controversy, but as shown above, the broad perception of how effective it was might have been undersold…
I hadn’t seen this clip from Fitzpatrick before and it is a hoot. Shows the potential he has in his next career in media…
Just for perspective on how much of a dominant force in sports the NFL is right now…
NFL Quarterbacks as fictional characters, a thread:
1. Josh Allen- Doug pic.twitter.com/qdg6T1v07C
— The Nati King (@thenatiking) June 2, 2022
A lil dash of humor…
I tried coaching my son’s pee-wee football team this spring. This is the story of the Slow Mesh Express. They are now my all-time favorite team, and probably always will be. https://t.co/g1UTgmbniC
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 31, 2022
If you have some time, this article is a fantastic read. Especially if you ever played or coached youth sports…