Tagged in: linebacker

LB Anthony Barr, Dallas Cowboys agree to one-year deal

After talks that covered a couple of months, the Dallas Cowboys reached a one-year agreement with veteran linebacker Anthony Barr on Wednesday.

The deal is for $2 million but can max out at $3 million, a source told ESPN’s Todd Archer.

With the Cowboys keeping Micah Parsons in a multifaceted role between linebacker and pass-rusher in 2022, the team wanted to add some veteran help alongside Leighton Vander Esch with no other uber-experienced linebacker on the roster.

The Cowboys have second-year linebacker Jabril Cox coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. While he has gotten off to a good start, he has missed the past two days of work, although there does not seem to be concern over his status.

Barr, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, had a career-high three interceptions to go along with 2.5 sacks and 72 tackles last season, the latter of which was his third-highest output in his eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

The 30-year-old linebacker appeared in 11 games after undergoing a procedure on his right knee that forced him to miss the first four matches of the 2021 season.

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He reworked his contract last March to allow himself to hit free agency after the 2021 season.

After missing the final 14 games of 2020 upon tearing a pectoral muscle versus Indianapolis, Barr’s salary and bonuses were reduced from $12.9 million to $10 million with a fully guaranteed base salary of $9.4 million.

Barr has a background with Cowboys senior defensive assistant George Edwards, who coaches the linebackers, from their time together in Minnesota.

The former UCLA standout was former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s first draft pick in 2014 (ninth overall). Barr, a 3-4 outside linebacker in college, transitioned to a nontraditional off-ball role in Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme, where he was used strategically on blitzes designed around his skill set. According to Pro Football Focus data, Barr was ranked as the 12th best pass-rusher at his position and 14th in coverage in 2021.

Barr wore the green dot on his helmet for the majority of his time in Minnesota and played a critical role in calling defensive plays on the field.

The last time Barr hit free agency in 2019, the linebacker verbally agreed to a deal with the New York Jets that would have paid him $15 million per season for five years, but he returned to the Vikings less than 24 hours later to sign for far less money.

He has 495 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles and 5 interceptions in eight campaigns.

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Justin Houston, Baltimore Ravens agree to one-year deal

Justin Houston and the Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement on a one-year deal for the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker to return to the club, it was announced Thursday.

The Ravens tendered Houston after the draft — much as the Kansas City Chiefs did with Melvin Ingram — to try to ensure his return to Baltimore.

In his first campaign with the Ravens, Houston led the team with 17 quarterback hits but was credited with only 4.5 sacks, his fewest ever for a full season and the second consecutive season in which his sack production has decreased.

Houston, who turned 33 in January, became the 39th player in NFL history to reach 100 career sacks. His 102 sacks is tied for the fourth most in the league since he entered the NFL in 2011.

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His return helps to address the thinnest position on the Ravens defense.

There’s doubt whether starting outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, who tore an Achilles in the season finale, will be ready for the start of the regular season. Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson died on June 21 from the combined effects of fentanyl and cocaine.

Before the Ravens brought back Houston, the other remaining experienced outside linebackers — Odafe Oweh, Steven Means and Vince Biegel — have combined for 13.5 career sacks.

Houston has made an impact in Baltimore as a leader, repeatedly staying after practice to help the Ravens’ young pass-rushers on moves. He was nicknamed “Yoda” by Oweh, a rookie first-round pick.

A 2011 third-round pick by the Chiefs, Houston has totaled 484 tackles, 165 quarterback hits, 18 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries and 4 interceptions in 11 seasons for the Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Ravens.

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Pro Bowl LB Bobby Wagner reaches five-year deal with Los Angeles Rams; worth $50M

Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner will be staying in the NFC West next season despite his release by the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month.

Wagner agreed to terms on a five-year contract with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, the team revealed Thursday.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter the deal is for $50 million and can be worth up to $65 million if Wagner reaches incentives.

It will mark a homecoming for Wagner, who was born in Los Angeles and attended high school in Ontario, California, about 35 miles east of the city.

Wagner becomes the latest big-name player to join a star-studded Rams defense that already involves defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Donald (five), Wagner (four) and Ramsey (three) have all earned at least three first-team All-Pro selections over the past five seasons. Only six defensive players in the NFL have achieved that feat over that time period, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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The Rams had a need at one of their inside linebacker spots after they declined to tender Troy Reeder as a restricted free agent.

The Baltimore Ravens also were in the mix to sign Wagner before he decided to sign with the Rams. The Dallas Cowboys also had interest in Wagner.

Wagner publicly and privately voiced his unhappiness over how the Seahawks handled his release earlier this month. Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll expressed their regret over how they communicated those plans to Wagner.

Wagner, 31, was the last remaining member of the star-studded defenses that led Seattle to its lone world championship and a return trip to Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season.

Wagner, the Seahawks’ all-time tackles leader with 1,383, is coming off a 170-tackle season that earned him his eighth Pro Bowl nod in 10 seasons. He posted that personal best despite missing all but one snap of the final two matches with a knee sprain.

While Wagner didn’t make as many impact plays as in some of his best seasons, he recorded an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and five passes defended in 2021 en route to a second-team All-Pro selection.

In 2020, Wagner was one of 22 defenders named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the All-Decade Team for the 2010s. His Hall of Fame-worthy résumé also includes six first-team All-Pro selections, two second-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowls nods, tied for second most in franchise history.

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Minnesota Vikings reach deal with free agent linebacker Jordan Hicks

The Minnesota Vikings have reached a deal with free-agent linebacker Jordan Hicks, the team revealed Tuesday.

Terms were not released, but multiple reports said the two-year deal was worth $12 million.

The Arizona Cardinals released Hicks last week in a move that saved the team $6.5 million on their salary cap. Hicks, who turns 30 in July, has started 51 consecutive matches, the third-longest active streak among all NFL linebackers.

He played at a high level last season, registering 116 tackles and four sacks, but the Cardinals made the move to give fellow inside linebacker Zaven Collins, drafted in the first round last year, more playing time.

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The Vikings already have veteran middle linebacker Eric Kendricks on their roster, but new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has said he plans to use both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. Hicks thrived in the Cardinals’ 3-4 and wore the green dot on his helmet, which signaled he was calling defensive plays.

Hicks signed with the Cardinals in 2019 and posted more than 100 tackles in all three seasons with Arizona, including a career-best 150 his first year there.

He spent the first four campaings of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft.

He missed 21 regular-season games due to a variety of injuries during his time with the Eagles but didn’t miss a game (all starts) in three seasons with the Cardinals.

Hicks has career numbers of 638 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions.

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Las Vegas Raiders releasing LB Cory Littleton after 2 seasons

The Las Vegas Raiders are releasing high-priced linebacker Cory Littleton after two underwhelming seasons, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The Raiders are expected to designate the move with a post-June 1 designation, according to the source.

After spending his first four campaigns with the Los Angeles Rams, Littleton, 28, signed a three-year, $35.25 million free-agent deal with $22 million guaranteed with the Raiders in 2020 and was expected to help in sideline-to-sideline pass coverage. Instead, he lost his starting job to rookie Divine Deablo late last season.

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The post-June 1 designation will save Las Vegas $11.75 million against the cap after that date but will cost the Raiders $4 million in dead money this year and $10 million in 2023.

Earlier Thursday, the Raiders restructured the contracts of foundation left tackle Kolton Miller and versatile running back Kenyan Drake to save $14.525 million in cap space.

They also informed fullback Alec Ingold they were not tendering his contract.

Littleton started 27 of 31 games for the Raiders and had just 0.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. He did not have an interception among his four passes defended. He also had six tackles for a loss among his combined 180 tackles.

The Raiders have a new regime with general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels, who came over from the New England Patriots.

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Arizona Cardinals release starting inside linebacker Jordan Hicks

The Arizona Cardinals released veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks on Wednesday.

Hicks, 29, played at a high level last season, registering 116 tackles and four sacks, but the Cardinals are making the move to give fellow inside linebacker Zaven Collins, drafted in the first round last year, more playing time.

The Cardinals had told Collins he would be the starter last season after selecting him 16th overall. Hicks said last year he was “pissed off” when initially told he had lost his starting job to Collins.

He requested a trade, which never happened, and the seven-year veteran ended up starting all 17 matches.

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By getting released now, Hicks will be able to sign with another team before free agency officially starts next week.

The move will save the Cardinals $6.5 million on their salary cap but also will leave $3 million in dead money on their books.

Hicks signed with the Cardinals in 2019 and posted more than 100 tackles in all three seasons with Arizona, including a career-best 150 his first year there.

He spent the first four seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft. He missed 21 regular-season games due to a variety of injuries during his time with the Eagles but didn’t miss a game (all starts) in three seasons with the Cardinals.

Hicks has career numbers of 638 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions.

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Kansas City Chiefs release linebacker Anthony Hitchens

The Kansas City Chiefs have released linebacker Anthony Hitchens, it was revealed Tuesday.

Hitchens had 80 tackles and an interception in 15 matches last season. Hitchens, 29, joined the Chiefs as a free agent in 2018, and he registered a career-best 135 tackles that season.

In four seasons with the Chiefs, Hitchens played in 70 games in the regular season and playoffs with two sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.

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The Chiefs will save about $8.4 million against their salary cap in 2022.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to coach Anthony over the last four years,” coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “He’s as tough as they come in this league and is a team-first player. I appreciate the way he came to work, ready to do his part, but also his willingness to teach the younger guys around him.”

The Chiefs drafted one linebacker, Willie Gay, in the second round in 2020 and another, Nick Bolton, in the second round last year.

Before joining the Chiefs, Hitchens played four seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. In 63 regular-season and playoff games for the Cowboys, Hitchens had 3.5 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles.

“He has all the intangibles and was an integral piece in our franchise winning a Super Bowl title,” general manager Brett Veach said in a statement.

“We appreciate everything he’s done for the organization and wish him the best as he continues his career.”

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Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner hopes he plays Sunday, optimistic he stays with team next season

A week after acknowledging his unclear future with the Seahawks, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner struck a more hopeful tune Wednesday, saying he has “a lot of optimism” that he’ll be back in 2022 for an 11th season in Seattle.

Wagner stated he hasn’t given up on the chance of playing in the team’s season finale either, saying he’s going to get “as much treatment as I possibly can” on his sprained knee in the hopes of suiting up Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” said Wagner, who hurt his knee on the opening play of the Seahawks’ blowout win last week over the Detroit Lions and didn’t return. “I have a lot of days before Sunday and we’re going to see what happens.”

Last week, Wagner answered in the affirmative when asked if he has wondered whether he’ll be back with the Seahawks next season given his huge cap number.

The Seahawks’ defensive captain and longest-tenured player (along with quarterback Russell Wilson) said there’s “obviously” going to be some changes on the heels of Seattle suffering double-digit losses for the first time since 2009 and added, “Whether or not I’m part of those changes, I don’t know.”

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On Wednesday, Wagner was asked if that insecurity has given him any more incentive to play Sunday.

“Not really, because in my mind I don’t feel like this is my last time,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is my last time putting on a Seahawks uniform. I don’t feel like this is my last time doing that. I understand there is a business side to this, but there is a lot of optimism on my end that I’ll be back. So I’m not worried about it. Obviously, I can’t control everything. I can only control my part. And my part on this is I feel like I love this city. I love this team. I love the Seahawks. So I always wanted to be a part of a franchise’s good times and bad times and every time. So this is a team that I would love to be able to be a part of for a very, very long time.

“So on my end, that’s where I’m at, that I’m a Seahawk until they tell me I’m not. So that’s my mindset. So I don’t see it as that was my last game or this next game could be my next game.”

Wagner, 31, serves as his own agent and negotiated his three-year, $54 million extension in 2019, then a record for off-the-ball linebackers in terms of annual average.

He’s arranged to count $20.35 million against the salary cap next season — second on the team to Wilson’s $37 million cap hit for 2022 — in what’s scheduled to be the final year of that deal. None of the $16.6 million Wagner could earn next season is guaranteed.

Wagner was asked what gives him optimism that he’ll be back next year.

“I would like to say that I’m a pretty good businessman and I would like to say I have a lot of respect here,” Wagner said. “So I’m just going to go into my businessman mentality and work some stuff out.”

Asked whether that means he’d be amenable to working out a different contract with Seattle, Wagner said with a smile: “I didn’t say that. … I said I’m a businessman. That’s all I said. Put my business cap on. I did not say I’m doing all that.”

Wagner was named to the Pro Bowl for an eight consecutive season last month, and he could be a first-team All-Pro for the seventh time.

Wagner is the Seahawks’ all-time tackles leader and broke his own franchise record for tackles in a season two weeks ago. His 170 tackles were leading the league until last week, when he was overtaken by the Atlanta Falcons’ Foyesade Oluokun (179).

Wagner hadn’t missed a snap this season until he was hurt versus Detroit when his foot slipped as he tried to plant on the wet turf at Lumen Field. He tried to return for the next snap following the injury timeout but had to miss at least one play per NFL rules. That’s when the Seahawks decided to take him to the locker room for evaluation and ultimately kept him there for the remainder of the game.

Coach Pete Carroll called it a sprained knee capsule and said the injury wouldn’t require surgery. He said the team is keeping its fingers crossed that he can play Sunday.

As expected, Wagner didn’t practice Wednesday.

“I just want to thank everybody that reached out,” he said. “I’m good. Ain’t got to worry about nothing. It’s not serious. I’m grateful that I do yoga. I just learned that I can do the splits if I want to.”

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Denver Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson to miss rest of season because of torn right pectoral muscle

Denver Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson, who is the team’s second-leading tackler, will miss the remainder of the season after he suffered a torn right pectoral muscle in Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio stated Monday that tests had revealed the tear. Johnson, who has 32 tackles on the season, becomes the third Broncos defensive starter — and third linebacker — to head to injured reserve in the past four weeks. Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb went to injured reserve last month after surgery to remove a bone spur from his left ankle.

Johnson is also the second of those defensive starters, along with fellow inside linebacker Josey Jewell, to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle. Jewell suffered his injury in the Broncos’ Week 2 victory over Jacksonville. Fangio said the team’s medical staff will look at both injuries to evaluate why two players at the same position suffered the same injuries.

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“They’ll look at it, Josey’s was a contact injury, and [Johnson] fell on his,” Fangio said. “But they’ll look at it. It seems to be a more common injury nowadays around the NFL than it has been in the past.”

Fangio isn’t imagining it.

In 2019, the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine did a study to determine whether the number of players suffering torn pectoral muscles was on the rise. And after studying the injuries that had been made public, the report said torn pectorals had increased five times between 2010 and 2017 than had occurred from 2000 to 2010.

Jewell suffered his injury on special teams — covering a punt — while Johnson was injured in pass coverage on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to running back Kenyan Drake.

Micah Kiser entered the match after Johnson was injured and played the rest of the way. Kiser and Justin Strnad are expected to start at the two inside linebacker spots Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns, with Strnad expected to wear the communication earpiece in his helmet during the game.

Jewell had worn the earpiece, and then Johnson did in the weeks following Jewell’s injury.

“That’s the way it will be right now, [but] we’ll see how [Kiser] can do it with it, too, and make a decision by game time,” Fangio said. Fangio stated the Broncos might have to elevate one or two inside linebackers from their practice squad for Thursday’s game. Inside linebackers Curtis Robinson and Barrington Wade are on the Broncos’ practice squad and both were with the team throughout training camp.

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Broncos are expecting same old Raiders even without Gruden

Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller still sees the Las Vegas Raiders as Jon Gruden’s team even after their rival’s iconic coach resigned in disgrace.

While acknowledging “how they call the game will definitely change because they have a new play caller,” Miller insisted, “what they do is what they do.”

“They’re not going to come out here and be an option team. They’re not just going to come out here and change their whole identity because Gruden’s gone,” Miller argued. “They’re still going to do some of the things that they do well. We just don’t know when they will do it.

“To be honest, that’s really every week that we go out there,” Miller added. “We really don’t know what the other team is going to present.”

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Longtime special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia makes his debut as the Raiders’ interim head coach Sunday, with offensive coordinator Greg Olson taking over play-calling duties in a matchup pitting 3-2 teams who are seeking their first victory in October.

“No one wants to be a head coach in this particular situation, no one wants to be put in front of this under these particular circumstances,” said Bisaccia, whose first NFL job was under Gruden in 2002, when he was hired as special teams coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“But it’s an incredible opportunity, not only for me but for all the other coaches to see what we can do with this adversity, see what we can do with this challenge.”

Olson’s voice isn’t an unfamiliar one to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“My rookie year he called plays,” Carr said. “I’ve heard his voice through the headset. I know how he calls the game and I know how he thinks. We’re in the same room. Every conversation I had with coach Gruden, I had with Oly this whole time.

“It’s not going to be anything crazy new but there are philosophies that some people have. So, I don’t want to give Oly’s secrets away, but could things be different? Yes. Could things be similar? Yes, absolutely.”

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