Thursday, April 2, 2020

Spartans in the NFL: A 2020 free agency update

March 23, 2020
<p>Then-junior quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates a touchdown. State News file photo.</p>

Then-junior quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates a touchdown. State News file photo.

Michigan State University has seen several of its former star football players moving around in the NFL's free agency during the month of March.

1. Kirk Cousins.

With one year still left, the Minnesota Vikings extended Cousins' guaranteed contract by an extra two years.

Cousins played for the Spartans as the quarterback from 2007-11, redshirting his first-year. He spent the 2008 season as the backup quarterback to Brian Hoyer before winning the starting quarterback position in 2009 against Keith Nichol.

He was selected in the fourth round, No. 102 overall, of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins as a backup to fellow rookie Robert Griffin III.

Cousins played for the Redskins for seven years, only occasionally appearing on the field, along with a few starts, during his first three seasons.

He replaced an injured Griffin in the 2015 preseason and remained the team's starter until 2017.

He signed with the Vikings in 2018, receiving the first fully guaranteed and highest-paying contract in NFL history.

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2. Jack Conklin

Conklin agreed to terms on a three-year, $42 million deal with $30 million fully guaranteed to play right tackle for the Cleveland Browns.

Conklin played for the Spartans as a walk-on offensive tackle from 2012-15, redshirting his first-year. He started in 38 of 39 games throughout his collegiate career.

He was selected in the first round, No. 8 overall, of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans after forgoing his senior season. He was MSU's 36th first-round selection in school history.

Conklin played for the Titans as the starting right tackle from 2016-19.

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3. Trae Waynes

Waynes agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract to play cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Waynes played for the Spartans as a cornerback from 2011-14, redshirting his first-year. He collected 101 tackles, six interceptions and 19 pass deflections in 36 career games with the Spartans, including 27 consecutive starts.

He was selected in the first round, No. 11 overall, of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, becoming the highest-drafted Spartan of the Mark Dantonio era. He was also the highest-drafted cornerback at MSU in the modern NFL Draft era, since 1967.

Waynes played for the Vikings from 2015-18, and the team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract to keep him into 2019.

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4. Darqueze Dennard

Dennard agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million contract with $6 million guaranteed to play cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Dennard played for the Spartans as a cornerback from 2010-14. As a four-year letterwinner and three-year starter, he won the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football in 2013.He ranks tied for 11th in MSU history with 10 interceptions.

He was selected in the first round, No. 24 overall, of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. The fifth-year senior was the first first-round selection in the Mark Dantonio era.

Dennard played for the Bengals from 2014-18. The team exercised the fifth-year option on his contract to keep him into 2019, but he was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list in August and wasn't activated until October.

5. Brian Hoyer

Hoyer agreed to the terms on a one year deal for the New England Patriots. Hoyer will compete for the position of quarterback in wake of Tom Brady's recent exit. This will be his third stint in the red, white and blue and his first without Brady on the roster with him.

Hoyer played for the Spartans as a quarterback from 2004-08, redshirting his first-year. He now ranks among MSU's career leaders in pass attempts (No. 2 at 896), passing yards (No. 3 with 6,159), pass completions (No. 3 at 500), TD passes (No. 6 with 35) and completion percentage (No. 10 at .559).

He is also one of three Spartan quarterbacks to record 6,000 career passing yards.

He was not selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, despite being invited to the NFL Combine. However, he signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent immediately afterward.

Hoyer has played for a multitude of NFL teams including the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Arizona Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans, the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts.

He was active for the New England Patriot's Super Bowl LIII win over the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, but was the only active team member to not play a down. His experience with the offensive system run by Rams head coach Sean McVay made him a key factor in this game.

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