Pitt star receiver officially enters transfer portal, but Panthers still 'viable option'

JOHNNY McGONIGAL and CRAIG MEYER
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) makes a catch in drills during Pittsburgh's football pro day, Monday, March 21, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH – Jordan Addison – the winner of last year’s Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the top wide receiver in college football – officially entered the transfer portal on Tuesday, a source confirmed to the Post-Gazette.

Matt Zenitz of On3 first reported the news.

The Frederick, Maryland, native could technically stay at Pitt. ESPN reported on Tuesday that a return to the Panthers “remains a very viable option.” On Friday, sources told the Post-Gazette that he was expected to land at USC.

Addison was required to submit his written request to enter the portal to Pitt by Sunday, the deadline mandated by the NCAA for fall and winter sport athletes interested in using the one-time transfer exemption. By beating the deadline to submit his request, Addison has time to decide where he wants to play football this fall.

In what’s still a relatively new structure that allows college athletes to transfer once without penalty and earn money via name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation, Addison’s decision is perhaps the highest-profile instance yet of the limits of a largely unregulated market being tested.

A source within the Pitt program told the Post-Gazette on Friday that USC’s coaching staff illegally tampered with Addison, an action outlawed by NCAA rules as a player must officially be in the portal before coaches can contact them. Additionally, sources told the Post-Gazette, Addison is being offered a multi-million-dollar deal to suit up for the Trojans.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, according to a report from ESPN, called first-year USC coach Lincoln Riley multiple times Friday to “express his displeasure” after he “caught wind of USC as a potential destination.”

Pitt football players also indirectly referenced and addressed Addison’s possible departure over the weekend. Calijah Kancey, a preseason All-American candidate who was rumored to be a target for other Power Five programs, tweeted “H2P” on Saturday. USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis, who is competing with Nick Patti to start this fall, tweeted on Sunday: “Culture wins.”

Narduzzi and the Panthers’ disappointment is justified if the Trojans did indeed tamper. NCAA rules prohibit schools and coaches directly contacting a player before they appear in the portal. The rules also prohibit the indirect use of third parties contacting individuals on the athlete’s behalf, like a family member, coach or adviser. Certain violations of those rules can “constitute a significant breach of conduct” and can jeopardize an athlete’s eligibility at a school that is found to have engaged in impermissible contact.

Other schools could ultimately enter the fray, but the Trojans are an enticing option for Addison. Riley’s pass-heavy offense that produced two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at Oklahoma – where he was the head coach from 2017-21 – regularly racks up gaudy stats for pass-catchers. Wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown were first-round picks in 2021 and 2020, respectively, while Dede Westbrook finished fourth in the 2016 Heisman voting with Riley calling the plays.

According to a report from The Athletic, ties between Addison and USC quarterback Caleb Williams, both of whom are from the Washington, D.C., area, might have facilitated the mutual interest. Williams was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class and a dynamic playmaker last season for Riley at Oklahoma before following him to Los Angeles.

If Addison also ends up there, he could repeat the mind-bending numbers he put up in 2021. As a sophomore, Addison caught 17 touchdowns, tying him for the most among all Football Bowl Subdivision players. His 1,593 receiving yards were the fourth-most nationally and his 100 receptions set a Pitt single-season record. He became the third Panthers player to ever win the Biletnikoff, the most recent of which had been Larry Fitzgerald.

Addison’s possible departure comes while the Pitt offense is in flux. Kenny Pickett, a Heisman finalist last season, was selected by the Steelers with the No. 20 overall pick in the NFL draft. Last December, Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and wide receivers coach Brennan Marion left for the same positions at Nebraska and Texas, respectively. If he stays at Pitt, Addison – who was recruited by Chris Beatty – will play the 2022 season for his third wide receivers coach in as many years with the program.

Addison’s success on the field had provided him with lucrative opportunities away from it. In January, while posing in front of a red GMC truck, he announced he had agreed to a partnership with Bowser Automotive, a local car dealership.

What he stands to gain by going to USC, one of college football’s biggest brands, exemplifies a rapidly changing landscape for a sport in which athletes were previously forbidden from earning compensation until a Supreme Court ruling last year.

While coaches have generally been supportive, at least publicly, of players being able to earn money, some of the most prominent figures in college football have recently expressed reservations and concerns about what they see as unintended consequences. Even Riley told reporters in April that NIL was instituted “without any plan” and that there will be a “market correction” as it relates to NIL and recruiting.

For now, though, he stands to benefit from it by potentially adding the nation’s top wide receiver, bolstering the Trojans’ outlook in his first season while dealing the Panthers a notable setback.

Even if Addison leaves, Pitt is still deep at wide receiver. Jared Wayne ranked second on the team last year with 47 catches, 658 yards and six touchdowns. Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield was a freshman All-American in 2021 after tallying 751 yards and eight touchdowns. Jaden Bradley improved in spring camp, Jaylon Barden is healthy, and Louisiana Tech transfer Bub Means might be eligible. Pitt also has tight end Gavin Bartholomew back after an encouraging freshman season.

How that group fares will depend in part on how successfully Pitt is able to replace Pickett with either Slovis or Patti.

Those quarterbacks, though, could now be without a valuable target. And a program that produced a first-round draft pick last week might lose a player who is projected to be one next year.