After a much longer wait than anyone anticipated, four former Irish football players will have a chance to continue their careers in the NFL. Linebacker Brian Smith, guard Chris Stewart, cornerback Darrin Walls and nose tackle Ian Williams all agreed to rookie free agent contracts yesterday, the first day the NFL opened for business after a 135-day lockout.
Smith will join the Cleveland Browns, where new head coach Pat Shurmur brought in former head coach Dick Jauron to run the defense. Smith has plenty of versatility at linebacker, playing inside and out in both the 3-4 and 4-3, something that’ll come in handy in a defense that’ll likely do a little of both.
Stewart joins one of the AFC’s best teams, the New York Jets. He’ll battle for a job along the offensive line, working with assistant head coach and offensive line coach Bill Callahan. The Jets have a two-deep at guard that includes backups with zero NFL experience, likely the reason why Stewart chose New York.
Walls was expected to be drafted after a solid senior season, but didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine. Still, he elevated his stock more than any other player at the Notre Dame Pro Day when he ran a sub 4.4 forty-time in his personal workouts. He announced via Twitter this morning that he’ll be going to Atlanta, trying to make it in a secondary that was in the bottom-third of the NFL against the pass.
The longest wait of any Notre Dame player might have belonged to Ian Williams, who at one time expected to hear his name called in the second or third round. Williams injured his knee against Navy late in the season, came back in time for the bowl game but struggled to get completely healthy. That likely led to his draft day slide, which officially ended when he joined Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. Williams walks into a depth chart that is likely losing starting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. According to an SI.com report, Williams was the top undrafted free agent available.
UPDATE — It appears that running back Armando Allen has also signed a free agent contract. Allen will join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to various reports.
ANOTHER UPDATE — Add Robert Hughes to the list. He’s signed with his hometown Chicago Bears.