VIKINGS AGREE TO TERMS WITH PRO BOWL TIGHT END T.J. HOCKENSON ON CONTRACT EXTENSION
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings agreed to terms on a contract extension Thursday with tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Hockenson was the eighth overall pick by Detroit in the 2019 draft out of Iowa. The two-time Pro Bowl pick was acquired in a deadline-day trade last year by the Vikings and had 60 catches for 519 yards in 10 games. His season total of 914 receiving yards was a career high.
Hockenson was only a limited participant for most of training camp, first citing an ear infection that caused equilibrium trouble and later attributing his absence to lower back stiffness. Hockenson repeatedly said he wasn’t holding back because of his contract extension.
“I didn’t view at as that at all,” Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “I just know there was a process that had to play out.”
Hockenson was close to a full participant in practice Wednesday, coach Kevin O’Connell said, and is expected to be in the starting lineup for the season opener Sept. 10 against Tampa Bay.
The Vikings sent a 2023 second-round draft pick and a 2024 third-round draft pick to the Lions for Hockenson and two draft picks (a fourth-round draft pick in 2023 and a conditional draft pick in 2024).
With Hockenson locked up for the long term, the Vikings have one more contract situation to resolve with a pending extension for superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson. He still has two years left on his rookie deal, but the Vikings would be unwise to play hardball with the reigning Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year award winner.
“Justin’s someone we want around here for a very long time,” Adofo-Mensah said.
O’Connell also announced the eight captains for the season at a joint news conference with Adofo-Mensah: Jefferson, quarterback Kirk Cousins, fullback C.J. Ham, right tackle Brian O’Neill, outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety Harrison Smith and safety and special teams ace Josh Metellus. Cousins was an unanimous pick by his teammates, excluding his own ballot.
With running back Kene Nwangwu on injured reserve with a lower back injury, O’Connell said Ty Chandler will start as the primary kickoff returner. Chandler is the backup to starter Alexander Mattison. Myles Gaskin was added Wednesday for depth with Nwangwu sidelined.
DOLPHINS RB JEFF WILSON JR. WILL START SEASON ON INJURED RESERVE
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. will start the season on injured reserve because of midsection and finger injuries.
The Dolphins placed Wilson, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and offensive lineman Robert Jones on the injured reserve list Thursday morning, sidelining them for at least four games.
Miami coach Mike McDaniel said there is a possibility that Wilson can play this season.
“It was a midsection injury compounded by some finger issues, and really, we just made the assessment that he couldn’t protect himself and be himself the way we know him to be,” McDaniel said, “so time is the best healer. Knowing Jeff, his true passion in life is to play this game, so he’ll do everything he can. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if he would make a return this season, but we’ll let his body tell us.”
Wilson’s injury leaves Miami with veteran Raheem Mostert, rookie De’Von Achane, Salvon Ahmed, Chris Brooks, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent, and fullback Alec Ingold in the backfield.
Both Achane and Ahmed have been dealing with injuries.
Achane injured his shoulder in Miami’s preseason game against Houston, but McDaniel said he expects the former Texas A&M running back to be available in practice next week to “get some prep work” before the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 10.
“Timelines are always fluid, but with regard to him, I think him and his teammates are very confident in his competitve play,” McDaniel said. “The good news is he got a ton of reps in the spring and in training camp, so we’re not too worried about that with him.”
Ahmed, who left Miami’s preseason finale against Jacksonville with an injury, should practice Thursday, McDaniel said, adding that the team has been “deliberately cautious” with him.
Ahmed had a strong preseason, with 16 carries for 142 yards and 8.9 yards per carry.
Mostert, who dealt with various injuries in 2022, led Miami in rushing with 891 yards on 181 carries. Wilson joined the team in November via a trade with San Francisco, but led Miami’s ball carriers with five rushing TDs.
Both Wilson and Mostert averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry and were expected to share lead running back duties in 2023.
Ramsey was officially placed on injured reserve after suffering a meniscus injury early in training camp. Jones suffered a leg injury against Houston.
HALL OF FAMER GIL BRANDT, WHO HELPED BUILD COWBOYS INTO ‘AMERICA’S TEAM,’ DIES AT 91
DALLAS (AP) Gil Brandt, overshadowed by coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm as part of the trio that built the Dallas Cowboys into “America’s Team” in the 1970s, has died. He was 91.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame said Brandt died Thursday morning. No cause of death was given, but Brandt had been in declining health in recent years.
Brandt was the player personnel director alongside the stoic, fedora-wearing Landry and media-savvy Schramm, but had to wait almost 30 years longer to get into the Hall of Fame.
By the time Brandt was enshrined as a contributor, it was as much for his ability to remain involved in the NFL by adapting to the social media age as for the innovation the Cowboys brought to the draft process with computers in the early 1960s.
“You can’t tell the story about the success of the Dallas Cowboys and their two-decade run of winning seasons from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s without mentioning Gil Brandt,” Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said.
“To me,” said former Dallas running back Calvin Hill, a first-round pick in 1969, “Gil should have been the first one in terms of certainly from a personnel standpoint.”
In 2019, Brandt finally joined Landry (1990) and Schramm (1991) in Canton, Ohio, and always said he never felt overshadowed.
“I think we all got credit,” Brandt told The Associated Press before his induction. “And I think Tex rightfully so got more credit than Tom and myself. Because he was really a very media-savvy person. When somebody from Sports Illustrated called, they didn’t talk to Tom, they didn’t talk to me. They talked to Tex.”
Schramm, Landry and Brandt were together for the franchise’s first 29 seasons, and Brandt was the last of the three to go after Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 and immediately fired Landry. Schramm resigned shortly thereafter (Jones has been the GM for all 34 years he has owned the team).
“How could you not be overshadowed by Tex and Tom?” asked a chuckling Cliff Harris, who credits his Hall of Fame career as a safety to Brandt finding him as an undrafted player out of tiny Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas. “Everybody was.”
Brandt said late Raiders owner Al Davis tried to hire him before the 1989 draft by telling him he had heard Jones was going to fire him after the draft. Brandt didn’t believe it, and though Davis turned out to be right, Brandt said he probably wouldn’t have done it anyway because Dallas had become home for the Wisconsin native.
Animosity toward Jones didn’t last long for Brandt, who maintained a presence around the club even as his health forced him into a wheelchair for game days in the press box.
Brandt even asked Jones to be his presenter in Canton, and Jones put him in the club’s ring of honor a few weeks before Brandt was voted into the Hall of Fame.
In a statement, Jones called Brandt “a true icon and pioneer of our sport.”
“Gil was at the very core of the early success of the Dallas Cowboys and continued to serve as a great ambassador for the organization for decades beyond that,” Jones said. “He was my friend and a mentor not only to me, but to countless executives, coaches, players and broadcasters across the National Football League.”
At Schramm’s urging, Brandt worked with IBM to create a system in which numerical values were assigned to intangibles such as character, competitiveness and “mental alertness,” along with tangible measures such as quickness and strength. The numbers were stored on punch cards and loaded into massive computers, allowing the club to rank players.
Brandt enjoyed telling the story of Vince Lombardi chiding the Cowboys by asking if their computer had broken down while Dallas held up the 1964 draft waiting for medical information on Mel Renfro. The Cowboys drafted the future Hall of Fame defensive back in the second round.
“I think Gil, in terms of quantifying so many things about scouting, was really ahead of his time,” Hill said. “They could look at all the individual things that go into making a player and a teammate and tried to quantify it.”
While the Cowboys developed a Hall of Famer out of a track star in receiver Bob Hayes of Florida A&M, they also found a four-time All-Pro on the basketball court at Utah State in cornerback Cornell Green.
There were plenty of future stars among high draft picks from bigger schools, such as TCU’s Bob Lilly, the first draft choice for the Cowboys in 1961, and Alabama linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, their top selection two years later.
But the list of lower-round picks or undrafted players, particularly from smaller schools, under Brandt stood out as much as anything else. Brandt often mentioned Jethro Pugh, an unsung defensive lineman taken in the 11th round in 1965 out of tiny Elizabeth City State in North Carolina.
Pugh played for the first five Dallas teams to reach the Super Bowl, as did Roger Staubach. The Hall of Fame quarterback was a 10th-round choice a year before Pugh, with the Cowboys taking him while knowing Staubach’s arrival would be delayed five years by a Navy commitment.
Brandt’s longevity also turned him into one of the few unofficial historians for the NFL – a role that served him well when the league celebrated its 100th anniversary the same year he went into the Hall of Fame. He had more than 150,000 followers on Twitter.
“I feel like I have reinvented myself,” Brandt said in 2019. “From somebody that did pretty good with the Cowboys to somebody that’s doing pretty good right now with social media.”
Brandt had a weekly show on satellite radio, but mostly disappeared after making insensitive comments following the death of quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was struck by a dump truck on a Florida interstate in April 2022.
Brandt said Haskins had been advised to stay in school rather than turn pro, and equated Haskins’ decision to go the NFL with the circumstances of his death.
“I hate anytime anybody is killed or anybody dies, but he was a guy that was living to be dead, so to speak,” Brandt said on the radio show. “It’s a tragic thing any time somebody dies, especially when you’re 24 years old and have your whole life ahead of you. But maybe if he stayed in school a year, he wouldn’t do silly things. Jogging on a highway on a road like that leaves it open.”
Brandt apologized for the comments on social media.
REPORT: DOLPHINS MAKE ALEC INGOLD HIGHEST-PAID FB
Alec Ingold and the Miami Dolphins have agreed to a three-year contract extension that will make him the highest-paid fullback in the league, NFL Network reported Thursday.
The extension reportedly is worth up to $17.2 million, per the report. With an annual average value of $5.7 million, the contract exceeds the $5.4 million average earnings for San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Ingold, 27, landed in Miami as a free agent in 2022. He started his NFL career as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2019 with the then-Oakland Raiders.
With the Dolphins last season, he appeared in 17 games (14 starts) and caught 15 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Relied on as an old-school blocking back, Ingold also carried the ball six times for 8 yards and a score.
In 58 career games (25 starts), Ingold has gained 374 yards from scrimmage and scored five times.
BEARS BRING BACK QB NATHAN PETERMAN AFTER RELEASE
The Chicago Bears signed quarterback Nathan Peterman, two days after releasing him in their final roster cuts.
The Bears on Thursday also announced the signing of receiver/return specialist Trent Taylor to the active roster.
Peterman and undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent will back up Justin Fields.
Peterman, 29, appeared in three games (one start) last season for the Bears, connecting on 14 of 25 passes for 139 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In two preseason games this summer, he was 14-of-24 passing for 173 yards and a TD.
In his career with the Buffalo Bills (2017-18), Las Vegas Raiders (2020-21) and Bears, Peterman has a 1-4-0 record as a starter and has appeared in 13 games. He has thrown for 712 yards, completing 53.1 percent of his passes with four TDs and 13 interceptions.
Taylor, 29, was a fifth-round pick of the 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He spent three seasons in San Francisco, followed by two with the Cincinnati Bengals, and appeared in 61 games (three starts). For his career, Taylor has 87 receptions for 834 yards and three touchdowns. He’s returned 89 punts for 863 yards (9.7 yards average) and eight kickoffs for 106 yards (13.3).
In corresponding moves, the Bears placed guard Teven Jenkins and offensive lineman Doug Kramer on injured reserve.
JAGUARS PLACE DT DAVON HAMILTON (BACK) ON INJURED RESERVE
The Jacksonville Jaguars placed starting defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton and rookie guard Cooper Hodges on injured reserve Thursday.
Hamilton (back) and Hodges (knee) will miss the first four games of the season and are eligible to return for the Oct. 8 contest in London against the Buffalo Bills.
Hamilton, 26, set career highs with 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 17 games (14 starts) in 2022. He has 132 tackles, 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in 44 games (28 starts) since the Jaguars drafted him in the third round in 2020.
Hodges, 23, was a seventh-round pick out of Appalachian State. He was carted off the field during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 19.
Jacksonville added defensive lineman Angelo Blackson and offensive lineman Blake Hance to the active roster in corresponding moves.
The Jaguars also signed defensive linemen Esezi Otomewo and Tommy Togiai, tight end Josh Pederson and safety Ayo Oyelola to the practice squad.
DOLPHINS PLACE CB JALEN RAMSEY (KNEE) ON IR
The Miami Dolphins placed All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and two others on injured reserve Thursday.
Ramsey, 28, underwent meniscus surgery on his left knee on July 28 and is not expected back until December.
The non-contact injury occurred in training camp while he was covering wideout Tyreek Hill in an 11-on-11 drill.
The three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection joined Miami in a March 12 trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
Ramsey has 19 interceptions in 108 career games (107 starts) with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2016-19) and Rams (2019-22).
Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (undisclosed) and offensive lineman Robert Jones (knee) were also placed on IR and are ineligible for the first four games.
The Dolphins reloaded their 53-man roster by signing cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Parry Nickerson and tight end Tyler Kroft.
RAIDERS RESUME REBUILD, REUNITE JIMMY G WITH FORMER COACH
Las Vegas Raiders
2022 record: 6-11, third AFC West
Playoff picture: The Raiders have made two postseason appearances in 20 seasons with their last victory coming in 2002.
Biggest Week 1 question: After nine seasons of Derek Carr, the Raiders now employ Jimmy Garoppolo, who will be under the microscope from the first snap. Garropolo is familiar with the system, having played for New England while Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels was offensive coordinator of the Patriots.
What’s new: Garoppolo figures to provide the Raiders with steady if not spectacular play. Whether the Raiders can contend with him is uncertain since they didn’t come close last season with running back Josh Jacobs and receiver Davante Adams enjoying big seasons. Las Vegas added receiver Jakobi Meyers, while second-round pick Michael Mayer could be a quick contributor at tight end. Las Vegas might have scored big by drafting defensive end Tyree Wilson, the seventh overall pick, and he could join defensive Maxx Crosby as an up-front playmaker. The Raiders also added safety Marcus Epps.
They’re gone: Carr became the scapegoat for the poor 2022 season and was benched after 15 games. Carr got the last laugh by refusing to waive his no-trade clause. The Raiders released him and got nothing in return after he signed with the Saints. Tight end Darren Waller struggled with injuries last season and the Raiders sent him packing via trade to the New York Giants in the offseason.
On the money: Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards (1,653) and yards from scrimmage (2,053) and then had to hold out to receive a one-year, $12 million deal. Adams fared quite well with 1,516 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in his first pro season without catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. Those two playmakers should again excel.
Get to know: Jacobs may be the Raiders’ top all-around player and one of the league’s top running backs, but he didn’t seek the bright lights during his holdout.
The 25-year-old left Las Vegas and returned to his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., to be around his children and other family members. To keep in shape, he worked out at his former high school — McLain High — and enjoyed the opportunity to mentor the school’s football players.
Vegas says: BetMGM pegs the Raiders win total at 7.5. That number only gets exceeded (+130) if Garoppolo proves to be a good fit.
CHARGERS IN PROVE-IT MODE, CHASE CONSECUTIVE 10-WIN SEASONS
Los Angeles Chargers
2022 record: 10-7, second AFC West
Playoff picture: The Chargers made the playoffs for the third time in 13 seasons in 2022. They potentially can get there again, but head coach Brandon Staley is potentially at risk if he falls short given the way the postseason exit came about.
Biggest Week 1 question: The Chargers collapsed in epic fashion in last season’s playoffs, blowing a 27-point lead and losing 31-30 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Is the residue of that collapse still hanging around? Kellen Moore is the new offensive coordinator and he will be asked to take quarterback Justin Herbert to the next level. The buzzwords in training camp: vertical passing.
What’s new: The Chargers believe veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks still has fuel in the tank. He was a six-time Pro Bowler in eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. First-round pick Quentin Johnston arrives at a time when veteran Keenan Allen (10 games in 2022) might be slowing down; his health is no longer a given. Johnston was the 21st overall pick and looks like a power forward in cleats, bringing mismatches in the red zone.
They’re gone: Linebacker Drue Tranquill moved on and landed with the AFC West rival Chiefs. Three-year starting safety Nassir Adderley surprisingly retired at age 25.
On the money: Herbert signed a five-year $262.5 million deal to become the highest-paid player in NFL history before he has won a single playoff game. He has thrown for more yards (14,089) than any player in his first three NFL seasons. Austin Ekeler wants more pay, too. While running backs are battling to regain financial footing, Ekeler has been essential to the Chargers and Herbert, scoring 38 total touchdowns over the last two seasons (most in the NFL). Pass rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James are stellar and the club hopes linebacker Khalil Mack can reach double digits in sacks for the first time since 2018.
Get to know: Johnston will increase the depth at receiver. Allen is a five-time Pro Bowler but averaged 11.4 yards or less in each of Herbert’s three seasons. While Allen missed seven games, sidekick Mike Williams missed four in the regular season and also sat out the Jacksonville loss. So a youthful Johnston figures to be valuable.
Nobody is anointing Johnston as the next Lance Alworth or Charlie Joiner, but the TCU product has tremendous athleticism. He played high school basketball and said he patterned part of his game after Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. Expect him to win his share of jump balls.
Vegas says: BetMGM set the Chargers’ win mark at 9.5 (over -115).
CHIEFS DEFEND THRONE WITH KEY CHARACTERS IN PLACE
Kansas City Chiefs
2022 record: 14-3, first AFC West
Playoff picture: The defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs have reached the AFC Championship game in five straight seasons with memorable meetings with the Bengals and Bills in recent years. The division favorites are also consistently challenged by the Los Angeles Chargers. Five of the past six games between them were decided by one score.
Biggest Week 1 question: The holdout of star defensive end Chris Jones hurts the defense if he doesn’t report before the Thursday night kickoff game with the Detroit Lions. The four-time Pro Bowler wants a huge payday after being one of the top defensive players (15.5 sacks) in the NFL last season. The Chiefs also start the season without Charles Omenihu, who was suspended six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
What’s new: Omenihu, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, was signed in the offseason. First-round draft pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah also could play a role up front. Kansas City has two new offensive tackles, spending big money for ex-Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor (four-year, $80 million) to play on the right side. Donovan Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was signed to be the left tackle and protect star quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ blind side.
They’re gone: Left tackle Orlando Brown departed for the Cincinnati Bengals and fellow offensive lineman Andrew Wylie and pass rusher Frank Clark also are gone. Receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman relocated in free agency, but the Chiefs are high on second-round pick Rashee Rice.
On the money: Mahomes won MVP honors after a monster season that included 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns. Kansas City has reached the Super Bowl in three of his five seasons as a starter and the franchise has two rings to show for it. Mahomes starred in the playoffs despite a gimpy ankle. Tight end Travis Kelce will be looking for his eighth straight 1,000-yard season.
Get to know: Defensive end George Karlaftis had 6.0 sacks and seven pass breakups during a solid rookie season and he could approach double digits if Jones is around. Karlaftis has a keen ability to deflect passes and part of it stems from his time serving as the goalkeeper on the Greece under-16 national water polo team. Treading water and trying to deflect the ball at the same time went a long way in improving Karlaftis’ hand-eye coordination.
The 2022 first-round pick from Purdue also has been working on his pass-rushing technique with Chiefs legend Tamba Hali.
Vegas says: BetMGM has Kansas City in the favorite role (+600) to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
BRONCOS BANK ON SEAN PAYTON, RUSSELL WILSON IN REBOUND BID
2022 record: 5-12, last AFC West
Playoff picture: The Broncos have missed the playoffs seven straight seasons. Denver hired former Saints coach Sean Payton to put them in contention, but a rapid rebound might be more difficult in the competitive AFC West.
Biggest Week 1 question: A tumultuous 2022 created many questions. But the critical concerns really come down to answering this riddle … “Is Russ Cooked?”
Payton and quarterback Russell Wilson begin their partnership with a home game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Wilson’s debut will be heavily dissected. He flopped badly in his first season in the Mile High City and injuries at the WR position have piled up in August.
What’s new: Payton won a Super Bowl with the Saints and he’s adamant expectations are sky high. Tackle Mike McClinchey and guard Ben Powers were signed to pump up the offensive line, while Frank Clark and Zach Allen were added to improve the pass rush. Linebacker Drew Sanders, chosen in the third round, should contribute as a rookie and with injuries to Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy, second-round rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. might become vital. Running back Samaje Perine adds depth while Jarrett Stidham was signed to be Wilson’s backup.
They’re gone: Nathaniel Hackett went 4-11 last season before being fired with two games left. Defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones had 22 sacks in four seasons but departed for the Seattle Seahawks. Guard Billy Turner left for the New York Jets.
On the money: Wilson was supposed to solidify the quarterback position and end the Denver playoff drought. Instead, he was one of the worst QBs in the NFL and the Broncos floundered. He received a five-year, $243 million extension from the Broncos. In short, a lot of money is tied into Wilson.
Get to know: Jeudy is just 24 years and was viewed as a player who could shine in Payton’s system. But a hamstring injury in late August is expected to cause him to miss the start of the season. Denver didn’t place him on short-term injured reserve, which is a clear signal they expect him to play at some point in September.
An ankle injury limited Jeudy to 15 games last season when he established career highs of 67 receptions, 972 yards and six touchdowns. That performance created optimism Jeudy could rise up with an even better campaign. Jeudy’s misfortune comes after Tim Patrick (Achilles) was lost for the season.
Vegas says: BetMGM has the Broncos at +105 to top 8.5 victories. Failure to reach that total will certainly continue the playoff drought.