Tagged in: cornerback

Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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C.J. Henderson rejoins Jacksonville Jaguars after missing Sunday scrimmage

Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson returned to practice Tuesday after being excused from Sunday’s scrimmage for personal reasons, and the team is positive that the second-year player can make up for all the time he has missed in training camp before the Sept. 12 season opener.

Henderson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list July 23. He was activated Friday but has participated in only two of the team’s 11 practices.

“He can make us a lot better football team,” assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday. “Just to see him get around us and get out on the field and go to work was really exciting.

“I think we’ve still got enough time here [to get him ready]. We’re what, a month still out from playing our first game, and then we have these preseason games and they will be good to get him back so he can get out there and run around.

But just knowing that he can get back and we can just teach him the defense and he can learn it, because we’re doing a lot on defense and it would be good for him to get back and just go through the whole learning process. Even if he can’t come after practice, just being in the classroom really helps.”

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Strong said he and coach Urban Meyer are committed to helping Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in 2020, recover from a hard rookie season that included a shoulder and groin injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve in November and that the two recently visited Henderson at his home.

“Any time you have a great young man like that, you want to make sure that you do everything possible to help him and to help him get back on track,” Strong said.

“I was telling Coach, I said, ‘We’re out of the process of just trying to just get guys and just push them aside.’ Our whole thing is just creating value for him.

“… He wants to play. And that’s the thing. He’s going to do everything he can to get back, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him get back.”

Henderson’s NFL debut in 2020 was impressive, with five tackles, an interception and three pass breakups, including one on fourth down to seal the Jaguars’ triumph over the Indianapolis Colts.

Henderson injured his shoulder three weeks later but played through it, which contributed to his inconsistency.

A groin injury suffered versus the Green Bay Packers ended his season after eight games.

Henderson, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, was expected to be the Jaguars’ top cornerback in 2021, but Sidney Jones worked in his spot with the first-team defense during Henderson’s time on the reserve list. Henderson worked with the second-team defense at times Tuesday.

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New Orleans Saints agree to deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole, pending a physical, a source confirmed.

Terms of the agreement were not instantly known. NFL reporter Josina Anderson first reported that Poole stated he intends to sign a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.

Poole, 28, spent his first five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets after going undrafted out of Florida.

The 5-foot-10, 213-pounder established himself as one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 9 last year.

Poole had two interceptions, one sack and seven pass break-ups in his abbreviated 2020 season with the Jets. He has seven interceptions and six sacks in 70 career games.

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Cornerback has been a pressing need for the Saints ever since they released veteran starter Janoris Jenkins during a salary-cap purge at the start of the offseason.

Poole is a curious fit since he primarily plays in the slot – where New Orleans has other proven options like safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Patrick Robinson. But the increased depth and talent can’t hurt.

The Saints, who recently created more than $10 million in cap space through revised contracts, could also look to add more veteran help at wide receiver and defensive tackle as they head toward the beginning of training camp this week.

Poole is known for his physical coverage against slot receivers, yet he was called for only three penalties in 2019 and none in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

He spent his first three years with the Falcons, and quickly became an integral part of the defense. As a rookie, he saw significant playing time on their NFC championship squad. In 2018, he struggled at times in pass coverage, prompting the Falcons to set him free by declining his restricted-free agent tender.

Poole proved to be a solid, cost-effective acquisition for the Jets, first signing a one-year, $3 million deal in 2019, then a one-year $5 million deal in 2020.

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New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore reports to training camp

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who had skipped June’s mandatory minicamp, reported to the team on Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. Gilmore was subsequently placed on the active/physically unable to perform list due to a partially torn quad sustained in December.

While the majority of Patriots players report for training camp on Tuesday, quarterbacks and players recovering from injuries were booked to arrive Thursday.

There was a question whether Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, would report. He had stayed away from voluntary practices in the spring, as well as mandatory minicamp, while publicly expressing a desire for the team to upgrade his contract.

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Gilmore is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.

The Patriots had advanced him $4.5 million of his 2021 salary last year, contributing to the under-market wage for this season.

Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million contract he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.

At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.

“I just want what I’m worth, however that plays out. Every player should be paid what they’re worth. That’s just how it is,” Gilmore told longtime NFL reporter Josina Anderson earlier in July.

Of his quad injury, Gilmore told Anderson: “I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt since the surgery. I’ve been running a lot, building full speed.”

Gilmore was one of eight players placed on the PUP list on Thursday, with quarterback Jarrett Stidham another notable player on the list.

Outside linebacker Chase Winovich, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, linebacker Terez Hall, tight end Dalton Keene, core special-teamer Brandon King and wide receiver Devin Smith were the other players placed on the PUP list.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson (fourth round, Oklahoma), linebacker Cameron McGrone (fifth round, Michigan) and safety Joshuah Bledsoe (sixth round, Missouri) were rookies previously placed on the active/non-football injury list.

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Rams return Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but questions remain for defending No. 1 defense

With the promise of an improved offense, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense is preparing for an encore performance.

Last season, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey spurred the unit to the top of the NFL.

Both star playmakers return after a 10-6 campaign that resulted in divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. So does outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract after a career-best campaign in which he tallied 10.5 sacks.

But gone is defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who inherited a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency and improved it to first in his only season before departing to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach. Enter defense coordinator Raheem Morris, who held the same post last season with the Atlanta Falcons for five games before being promoted to interim head coach.

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Morris takes over a defense that permitted a league-low 18.5 points in 2020.

He is expected to maintain what Staley installed, including the base 3-4 scheme, but will add some of his own wrinkles to shape a unit that can propel the Rams to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said at his introductory news conference when asked about taking over the league’s top-ranked defense. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”

Last season, the Rams ranked No. 1 in passing yards permitted per game at 190.7. They ranked No. 3 versus the run, allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game.

However, there’s room for improvement, especially at creating turnovers. The Rams forced 22 turnovers last season, which ranked 10th, and intercepted 14 passes, ranking 12th.

Entering the NFL draft last month, Rams coach Sean McVay said the Rams did not have any glaring holes that needed to be filled. Along with Donald, Ramsey and Floyd, the Rams also return cornerback Darious Williams, whose coming off a breakthrough season that included four interceptions, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former sixth-round pick who is entering his third season as a starter.

But some of their key playmakers have departed.

Four defensive starters left this offseason, including veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers — who was traded to Detroit — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.

The Rams used five of their nine draft picks to select defensive players: South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones, Texas A&M defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell, Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV and Concordia-St. Paul outside linebacker Chris Garrett.

“You look at each of them and there’s a vision that we have for them and how they fit, how they provide value for a football team,” said McVay, who’s entering his fifth season as coach.

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Kansas City Chiefs acquire CB Mike Hughes from Minnesota Vikings

The Kansas City Chiefs obtained cornerback Mike Hughes in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday.

The Chiefs traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to Minnesota while the Vikings sent a 2022 seventh-round pick to Kansas City in the deal.

Hughes was drafted by the Vikings in the first round (30th overall) of the 2018 NFL draft. The Vikings declined to exercise the fifth-year option in Hughes’ rookie contract, meaning he will be a free agent after this campaign.

Hughes will be given the opportunity to compete for playing time with the Chiefs immediately. One starter from last season, Bashaud Breeland, is a free agent and remains unsigned.

Hughes will join a group of cornerbacks that contains Charvarius Ward, a starter the past two seasons, and L’Jarius Sneed, a fourth-round draft pick last year who played well as the third cornerback.

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The Chiefs last year acquired another former No. 1 draft pick, DeAndre Baker, after he was released by the New York Giants. Baker broke his left leg in the final regular-season game last season.

Hughes was limited to just four games last season because of a neck injury that resulted in him being placed on injured reserve in October.

Multiple injuries, including a torn ACL his rookie season and neck injury that ended Hughes’ season on injured reserve in 2020, limited the cornerback to 24 games with seven starts over the first three years of his career.

Hughes recorded 80 tackles, had 13 passes defended and two interceptions — returning one for a touchdown — in his three seasons with Minnesota, predominantly playing in the slot in the Vikings’ nickel defense.

With 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladneyin the legal process after an alleged domestic assault in April, it is possible the Vikings will turn to newly re-signed cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who spent the first four seasons (2016-19) of his career in Minnesota, to play the nickel corner position.

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CB Casey Hayward Jr. signs with Las Vegas Raiders, rejoins DC Gus Bradley

The Las Vegas Raiders added a veteran presence to their youthful secondary by signing cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. on Tuesday.

Hayward, 31, a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012, joins cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (drafted in the second round in 2019), Damon Arnette (first round in 2020), Amik Robertson (fourth round in 2020) and Nate Hobbs (fifth round in 2021), as well as safeties Johnathan Abram (first round in 2019), Trevon Moehrig (second round in 2021) and Tyree Gillespie (fourth round in 2021).

The move also reunites Hayward, who was released by the Los Angeles Chargers in March, with Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his defensive coordinator in Los Angeles the past four campaigns. The Raiders hired Bradley as their defensive coordinator in January.

The signing could mean the Raiders will not move on another veteran free-agent cornerback in Richard Sherman, who has also been linked to Las Vegas. Hayward, 31, appeared in 14 matches last season, making 13 starts.

He finished with an interception and eight passes defended. He was inactive for the Nov. 29 game at Buffalo, snapping a streak of 107 consecutive games played.

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The signing could mean the Raiders will not move on another veteran free-agent cornerback in Richard Sherman, who has also been linked to Las Vegas.

Hayward, 31, appeared in 14 matches last season, making 13 starts. He finished with an interception and eight passes defended. He was inactive for the Nov. 29 game at Buffalo, snapping a streak of 107 consecutive games played.

During his five seasons with the Chargers, Hayward had 66 passes defensed, which led the AFC during that span. He led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2016 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.

He has 23 career interceptions, though only three in his past three seasons combined.

Hayward dealt with back, groin and hamstring injuries in 2020, and while he led the NFL with 42 pass breakups over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, he permitted 8.6 yards per target in 2020, the worst mark of his career.

Arnette, meanwhile, allowed 11.8 yards per target, and Mullen gave up 7.7 yards per target. Hayward could potentially start on the outside in place of Arnette.

The Raiders also signed cornerback Rasul Douglas on April 19 and safety Karl Joseph, a first-round pick of the Raiders in 2016 who spent last season with Cleveland, on April 9.

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Seattle Seahawks talk to Richard Sherman, but no reunion imminent as DB mulls future

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll confirmed that he’s been in communication with Richard Sherman, but stated a reunion with the former All-Pro cornerback isn’t currently in the works.

“That’s not one of our thoughts right now that we’re going out and getting another guy at that spot, but we’re going to keep looking,” Carroll said Saturday, after the Seahawks took Oklahoma CB Tre Brown with one of their three draft picks.

“We’re not going to stop looking and we’re going to compete. So in that sense, I leave everything open and that’s just one of them.”

The 33-year-old Sherman is a free agent after spending the past three campaigns with the San Francisco 49ers.

In an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Friday, he said a return to San Francisco isn’t out of the question and listed the Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders as other teams with which he’s had communication.

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“I’ve got to wait through this draft process,” he told Smith. “Obviously, the first round, a lot of teams got corners, some teams didn’t get the corners they wanted and I think once this draft process completes my phone will ring a little more with people who expected to get a guy and didn’t get the guy they wanted. I’m not as in control as I was. At 33, it’s just like, it doesn’t matter what you put on tape.”

Sherman suggested that his age is the reason he’s unsigned

“It doesn’t matter accolades you have, what you put on tape, the numbers — it’s just age sometimes. So I’ve just got to continue to stay in shape, continue to stay ready … I’m being patient and doing everything I can.”

Sherman made four Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro in three of his seven seasons with Seattle, rising from a fifth-round pick in 2011 to become a key member of the defense that led the Seahawks to their lone Super Bowl championship and a close repeat the next year.

He suffered a torn Achilles in 2017 and was released that offseason with one year left on his contract. The 49ers then signed him to a three-year deal that just expired.

Sherman made his fifth career Pro Bowl in 2019 but missed 11 matches last year with a calf injury.

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CB Pierre Desir, Seattle Seahawks reach 1-year deal

Free-agent cornerback Pierre Desir has agreed to a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, according to his agency.

EnterSports Management tweeted Wednesday that the deal is for one year.

Desir, who is 30, has started 44 matches over seven NFL seasons. The Seahawks are familiar with Desir, who has the size and length (6-1, 192 pounds) that coach Pete Carroll prefers in outside cornerbacks.

Desir spent part of the 2016 season on their practice squad and was with Seattle the next offseason before being waived during roster cutdowns.

He landed with the Indianapolis Colts, who gave him a three-year, $22.5 million extension in March 2019 but released him a year later.

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The New York Jets then signed Desir to a one-year, $4 million deal with the expectation that he would be their No. 1 cornerback, but they released him in November after benching him twice. He concluded the season with the Baltimore Ravens.

Desir had three interceptions — including a pick-six — in nine games for the Jets.

He has eight career interceptions and 42 passes defended in 73 games since entering the league as a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2014 out of Division II Lindenwood.

The Seahawks signed former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon last month after losing Shaquill Griffin in free agency. They also lost Quinton Dunbar after attempting to re-sign him. Seattle’s other options at outside cornerback include D.J. Reed, Tre Flowers and Damarious Randall.

The Seahawks re-signed Randall earlier this month and stated they plan to move him from safety to cornerback, where he played earlier in his career.

Desir is a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually to a player who exhibits leadership on the field and in the community.

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Seattle Seahawks re-sign Damarious Randall, moving him to CB

The Seattle Seahawks have re-signed Damarious Randall and plan to move him back to cornerback, the team revealed Friday.

Randall played cornerback for his first three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him 30th overall in 2015. He has also played safety and some nickelback.

Most of Randall’s 35 defensive snaps last campaign came at safety. He appeared in 10 matches with the Seahawks — mostly on special teams — after joining their practice squad in September.

It’s not clear if the Seahawks see Randall as an option at nickelback or on the outside.

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At 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, the 28-year-old is smaller than what the Seahawks typically prefer in their perimeter cornerbacks. But D.J. Reed emerged for Seattle on the outside last season despite not having prototypical size.

The Seahawks’ other perimeter cornerbacks incorporate free-agent addition Ahkello Witherspoon and Tre Flowers, who has started 37 games for Seattle over the past three seasons.

Safety Ryan Neal has played cornerback in the past. Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair are returning at nickelback, although Blair is coming off a torn ACL.

The Seahawks wanted to re-sign cornerback Quinton Dunbar, but he signed with the Detroit Lions instead.

Other Seahawks corners with starting experience are D.J. Reed, who can play multiple positions and who finished the season starting at right cornerback and free-agent addition Ahkello Witherspoon, who started 33 games in four seasons with the 49ers, playing on both the left and right side.

Randall has 14 interceptions and 47 passes defensed over six NFL seasons. He spent three with Green Bay and two with the Cleveland Browns before landing in Seattle last year.

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