Titans Claim DB Lonnie Johnson Jr.

The Titans claimed a player off waivers and acquired a player via trade today. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter), the Titans have claimed defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. off waivers from the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com reports (on Twitter) that the Titans have acquired safety Tyree Gillespie from the Raiders.

The Chiefs traded a 2024 conditional seventh-round pick to acquire Johnson back in May, but they ended up dumping the defensive back yesterday (while also, presumably, retaining their draft pick). The former second-round pick had spent the first three seasons of his career in Houston, but he found himself in and out of the starting lineup. He started only 19 of his 44 games during his time with the Texans, collecting 172 tackles.

This past season, Johnson started seven of his 14 games while collecting 55 tackles and three interceptions. While he played mostly cornerback to begin his career, Pro Football Focus graded him as a safety in 2021…and they graded him as the worst player at the position. However, he did show some promise in his rush defense score.

Meanwhile, Gillespie was acquired from Las Vegas for a late-round conditional draft pick, according to Wilson (on Twitter). The safety was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft but barely saw the field as a rookie. He ended up getting into 11 games, collecting eight tackles while primarily appearing on special teams.

The Titans weren’t finished making moves today. As they trimmed their roster down to the 85-man limit, the Titans waived receiver Josh Malone, running back Jordan Wilkins, defensive back Deante Burton, defensive lineman Haskell Garrett, offensive lineman Carson Green, and defensive back Elijah Benton.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/16/22

With the NFL dropping the roster limit to 85 players today, we’ve got a long list of minor moves to pass along:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Commanders

49ers Release DL Robert Nkemdiche

Robert Nkemdiche‘s brief stint in San Francisco has come to an end. The 49ers announced that they have released the veteran defensive lineman.

The former first-round pick somewhat rehabilitated his career with the Seahawks during the 2021 campaign, leading to the 49ers taking a chance on him back in July. There was hope that the veteran could provide some depth during the regular season, but the reality was that he was a healthy body who could fill in for injured defensive linemen Arik Armstead, Hassan Ridgeway, and Maurice Hurst. While Hurst is done for the season, Armstead and Ridgeway sound like they’re close to a return, making Nkemdiche expendable.

Nkemdiche was one of the most highly touted recruits in Ole Miss history, but the end of his tenure saw him getting suspended for the Sugar Bowl after being charged with marijuana possession. Still, the Cardinals took the defensive lineman in the first round of the 2016 draft, but he had a tough time finding a role during his stint in Arizona. In three seasons, Nkemdiche ended up starting only six of his 27 appearances.

He only got into two games with Miami in 2019 after spending much of the season on the PUP, and after getting cut by the Dolphins, he was slapped with a two-game suspension by the NFL. After sitting out the 2020 campaign, he managed to catch on with the Seahawks in 2021. He got into nine games with Seattle, collecting 15 tackles. While he didn’t receive a great grade from Pro Football Focus, the site did suggest the lineman was serviceable in pass-rushing situations. We’ll see if another team is willing to take a chance on Nkemdiche’s untapped potential.

Raiders Cut DT Vernon Butler, WR Demarcus Robinson

The Raiders released a pair of veterans today. According to ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter), the Raiders cut defensive tackle Vernon Butler and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson.

After coming off the bench for the first 38 games of his career, it looked like Butler may have been evolving into a starter after collecting six sacks in nine starts for the Panthers in 2019. That performance earned the former first-round pick a two-year contract from the Bills, but he never saw more than a situational role during his time in Buffalo, collecting 29 tackles and zero sacks in 24 games.

Butler was one of six defensive tackles/nose tackles to join the Raiders this offseason (including draft picks). It sounds like the 28-year-old didn’t show enough to beat out the likes of Johnathan Hankins, Andrew Billings, Bilal Nichols, and Kyle Peko.

Robinson also joined the Raiders this offseason after having spent the first six seasons of his career with the Chiefs. The wideout hauled in 14 touchdowns between 2018 and 2021, and he had two seasons where he topped 400 receiving yards. Most recently, Robinson caught 25 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns before adding another four receptions in the postseason.

In Las Vegas, the 27-year-old was expected to compete for the WR3 spot behind Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, but it sounds like the Raiders are comfortable rolling with either Mack Hollins or Keelan Cole in that role.

Patriots Place CB Malcolm Butler On IR

It sounds like Malcolm Butler‘s comeback attempt with the Patriots has come to an end. ESPN’s Field Yates reports (via Twitter) that the Patriots have placed the cornerback on injured reserve. Considering the timing of the transaction, Butler is ineligible to be activated during the 2022 campaign.

[RELATED: Joejuan Williams Suffers Season-Ending Shoulder Injury]

Butler returned from his one-year hiatus and inked a two-year deal with the Patriots this offseason. There was initial fanfare surrounding the signing, with some hoping the former Super Bowl hero could slide into a secondary that lost Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson in less than a calendar year. However, reports indicated that he was falling down the depth chart throughout training camp, with Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus suggesting the veteran could even be a cut candidate. Instead of saving a hair under $1.5MM by cutting Butler, the Patriots decided to place him on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury, a hint that the team may look to keep him around for the 2023 season.

After joining the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2014, Butler served as a reserve corner until being called into action in Super Bowl XLIX and making one of the most famous interceptions in NFL history. Butler was awarded the starting gig the following year and kept that job until signing with the Titans as a free agent in 2018. He continued to start in Tennessee for three years before being released as a cap casualty after the 2020 season. Butler rebounded quickly, signing a deal to join the Cardinals, but just prior to the start of the 2021 season, Butler decided to retire for personal reasons. The last time he played, Butler collected a career-high 100 tackles and four interceptions in 16 starts for Tennessee in 2020.

The Patriots are now down two cornerbacks after the team revealed earlier today that Joejuan Williams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Jalen Mills has come on strong in training camp, and he’ll likely be joined in the starting lineup by free agent acquisition Terrance Mitchell and nickelback Jonathan Jones. Third-round rookie Marcus Jones and (especially) fourth-round rookie Jack Jones have earned high praise during minicamp and training camp, and their presence may have made Butler’s “injury” a bit more tolerable.

Injury Updates: 49ers, Rams, Browns, Bears

The 49ers have been dealing with a number of minor injuries in training camp lately, but one which is significant not only in its serenity but also its impact on the team is the one currently ailing free safety Jimmie WardHe has suffered a hamstring injury, and his Week 1 availability is now in question, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner (Twitter link).

Ward has been a starter on the backend in San Francisco since his second season in 2015. He has been a consistent contributor throughout that time, including on the NFC-winning squad of 2019. His level of play that year earned him a three-year extension, giving him financial security for the first time in his career.

Ward is in line to start once again in 2022, the final season of that deal. He and 2021 fifth-rounder Talanoa Hufanga are the top safety options on the depth chart, so any extended absence from Ward would be a major blow to a 49ers team looking to repeat last season’s playoff run, and whose weakness on defense is generally viewed as being in the secondary. Tarvarius Moore and George Odum would be amongst the team’s options to fill in for Ward should he miss any time.

Here are some other injury notes from around the league, starting with another NFC West contender:

  • The Rams are facing some uncertainty in their offensive backfield. Head coach Sean McVay announced that running backs Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson are both dealing with “soft-tissue” injuries (Twitter link via ESPN’s Sarah Barshop). The pair are in line to occupy the top two spots on the depth chart, though injuries are nothing new to either player. McVay added that neither of them will return to practice until they have fully recovered, but didn’t provide a timeline regarding when that may take place.
  • The center position has become a sore spot for the Browns recently, given the season-ending injury to Nick Harris, who was the favorite to take over the starting role. The team’s depth at the pivot is being tested even further, as seventh-round rookie Dawson Deaton suffered a torn ACL, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network (Twitter link). With him sidelined for the season as well, Cleveland is down to free agent signing Ethan Pocic and UDFA Brock Hoffman as their only remaining healthy options. Pocic has starting experience, but another addition would come as little surprise at this point.
  • Another team dealing with center injuries is the Bears. Sixth-round rookie Doug Kramer is believed to have suffered a Lisfranc injury, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). In that case, his 2022 availability will be seriously in doubt, something which would be especially problematic if starter Lucas Patrick isn’t recovered from the hand surgery he had recently in time for the start of the regular season.

Jets’ Mekhi Becton Expected To Miss Season

AUGUST 16: The Jets have placed Becton on IR as rosters are cut down to 85, per a club announcement. That confirms that Becton will indeed miss the entire 2022 campaign, as had been feared.

AUGUST 9: More official word has come down on Becton’s injury. He suffered an avulsion fracture of the right kneecap, according to Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). The injury, Becton’s second kneecap issue in less than a year, is expected to sideline the former first-round pick throughout the season. Becton will receive a second opinion Wednesday, but it looks like he will be out until 2023. Robert Saleh also conceded Becton will not play this season. The Jets have Brown on their radar, and the 14-year veteran is interested in a deal.

AUGUST 8: It’s gone from bad to worse for the Jets and right tackle Mekhi Becton. According to SNY’s Connor Hughes (on Twitter), Becton suffered a knee cap and patella injury that is expected to sideline him for at least a “chunk” of the 2022 campaign, if not the entire season.

According to Aaron Wilson ofProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter), Becton suffered a “small chip-sized fracture” in his surgically repaired right knee. The lineman is set to undergo more tests to determine the true extent of his injured knee, but according to Hughes, the Jets are “bracing for the worst.”

The former first-round pick exited Jets practice today with the injury, but there wasn’t any initial cause for concern. Trainers described the injury as “stable,” and the MRI was merely precautionary and intended to confirm the original prognosis. However, that MRI ended up showing that the injury was far more troublesome than initially believed. In fact, there’s fear that Becton may have suffered additional damage beyond the knee cap and patella injuries, per Hughes (on Twitter).

This is poor timing for both Becton and the Jets. The lineman had already lost out on the left tackle competition to George Fant, but it sounds like the Jets were still committed to their former first-round pick as their right tackle. Ahead of an offseason decision about his fifth-year option, this was going to be a pivotal third year for Becton. The 11th-overall pick in the 2020 draft, Becton showed his potential in 14 games (13 starts) as a rookie. He suffered a dislocated kneecap and MCL damage during Week 1 of the 2021 campaign, knocking him out for the rest of the season.

Assuming the subsequent MRI confirms the Jets’ concerns, the front office may need to hustle to add a replacement. Backup Conor McDermott is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, and Chuma Edoga has yet to live up to his third-round billing through his first three seasons in the NFL. The Jets hosted Duane Brown last week, and while he left New York without a contract, ESPN’s Rich Cimini tweets that the veteran tackle is still on the organization’s radar. According to Hughes, the Jets already had Brown take a physical and meet with coaches, so it might not take long for the organization to ink the free agent to a contract.

Jets’ Zach Wilson Undergoes Successful Surgery

The Jets have been holding their breath in recent days due to the knee injury suffered by starting quarterback Zach WilsonToday’s procedure produced good news, however; the surgery was deemed a success, and led to no surprises with respect to his recovery timeline (Twitter link via ESPN’s Rich Cimini). 

Today’s operation – arthroscopic surgery aimed at repairing torn meniscus in his knee – ended up being simply a ‘trim,’ which was by far the more straightforward procedure, and the one which will allow Wilson to play in 2022. When he does so remains a question, of course, but this is an encouraging piece of news for the Jets.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that a return in time for Week 1 is still “in play.” The team will proceed with caution, though, so it remains more realistic that the original recovery timeline of two-to-four weeks will see him miss at least one game to open the regular season. In addition to the meniscus injury, Wilson has to deal with a bone bruise as part of the damage done during the team’s first preseason contest.

Assuming last season’s No. 2 pick is sidelined for at least Week 1, the Jets will turn to Joe Flacco as their starter, whom they have expressed confidence in since learning of Wilson’s injury. On that point, Rapoport adds that New York seems to have no intention in trading for outgoing 49er Jimmy Garoppolo (Twitter link). Flacco, 37, has started five winless games with the Jets over the past two seasons, but the season opener will be against the Ravens, with whom he played for 11 years and won a Super Bowl.

Wilson struggled as a rookie last season, but expectations are higher for himself individually and the Jets in general this season. He is line to have an upgraded skill-position group around him, so a Year 2 jump of note would come as little surprise. His early-season performance will no doubt be affected by his recovery from this operation, but confirmation in the best-case scenario is still a very positive development for Gang Green.

Matt Rhule Names Ikem Ekwonu Panthers’ Starting LT

The Panthers had been in the midst of a competition for the left tackle spot this offseason, but the winner of that battle has been named. Head coach Matt Rhule announced on Tuesday that Ikem Ekwonu will be the team’s starter at the blindside moving forward (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic). 

The news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the draft capital Carolina invested in Ekwonu. The No. 6 overall pick in April’s draft, the NC State alum was the first offensive player to hear his name called. Part of a trio of o-linemen in contention to be the first selected at their position (alongside Evan Neal and Charles Cross), Ekwonu received plenty of interest in the build-up to the draft, including from the Panthers.

Carolina has been in need of a long-term left tackle since Jordan Gross retired in 2014, so it came as little surprise when they added the six-foot-four, 320-pounder. Whether he would start at tackle or guard became an important question after his selection, however. Ekwonu played at both spots during his time with the Wolfpack, leading some to believe he would begin his career on the interior. The chances of that seemed to grow when 2021 third-rounder Brady Christensen took a significant number of starter’s reps at LT during minicamp.

That was still the case in practice as recently as last week. Overall, though, signs have pointed to Ekwonu ultimately winning out for the first-team spot. With the latter’s position confirmed, Person tweets that Christensen will now compete with 2019 fourth-rounder Michael Jordan for the starting left guard spot. Especially in the long-term, a left side of Ekwonu and Christensen should give Carolina some much-needed improvement up front.

It remains to be seen (at least officially) who will be the Panthers’ starting quarterback in Week 1. Whether Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold begins the season at the top of the depth chart, they will now know who is charged with protecting their blindside.

Steelers WR Anthony Miller Out For Season

12:05pm: Per a team announcement, the Steelers have indeed placed Miller on IR, meaning that he will not suit up in 2022.

11:04am: The Steelers’ receiving corps has taken a hit. Anthony Miller is dealing with a shoulder injury and is set to be sidelined for “several months,” putting his 2022 availability in jeopardy, reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (Twitter link). 

Fowler adds that there is currently a slight chance that Miller is able to return at some point during the season, not unlike JuJu Smith-Schuster last year. However, the likelier outcome is that the 27-year-old misses the campaign in its entirety, marking a significant blow to his career and leaving the Steelers shorthanded in terms of depth at the position.

Miller signed with the Steelers last October, joining their practice squad. He made a single appearance with the team in 2021, recording a single reception. Given the presence of former Bears teammate Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, however, there was a chance he could carve out a more significant role this season. During three-plus years in Chicago, the former second-rounder totaled 134 catches for 1,564 yards and 11 touchdowns.

His inability to secure a full-time starting role made him a disappointing draft pick, though, and before the end of his rookie contract, he had been traded to the Texans. His short-lived (and relatively unproductive) tenure in Houston left him on the waiver wire, leading to the Steelers’ investment in him as a reclamation project.

With Miller out for at least a significant portion of the season, the Steelers are somewhat thin at wideout behind starters Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens. The team lost Smith-Schuster and James Washington in free agency. Now, with Miller out of the picture, the final roster spots will likely be decided by a combination of rookie Calvin Austin IIICody White and Gunner Olszewski, as waiver claim Miles Boykin was recently deemed a logical cut candidate.

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