NFC Notes: Cobb, Griffen, Orakpo, Coaches

Randall Cobb started the 2014 season a little slow, and he admits that his frame of mind may have played a role in his lackluster production during the first three games. “The mental side of things is very important,” Cobb told Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “I think I was pressing a little bit too much early on this season, trying to do too much instead of just being myself and doing what I do. Just relaxing and playing ball.” Cobb, playing under the final year of his rookie deal with the Packers, also allowed that his contact situation played into his slow start. “I mean, it definitely had something to do with it,” Cobb said when asked about his contract status. “But I think I found peace mentally, and that’s the biggest thing, having that peace and being able to not worry about those things.” I profiled the 24-year-old Cobb as a extension candidate a few weeks ago, and projected that he could receive a contract in line with Golden Tate‘s, five-year, $31MM deal. Here’s more from the NFC.

  • Many NFL observers panned the Vikings’ decision to re-sign defensive end Everson Griffen to a five-year contract worth $42.5MM, but as Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes, the 2007 fourth-round pick has been worth the money so far. Griffen has already registered seven sacks, and Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) say that he’s an excellent run defender.
  • In a piece for the Sporting News, Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap writes that Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo is the latest victim of the evolution of franchise tag use. Per Fitzgerald, clubs simply use the tag as a way to keep players to whom they don’t want to commit. When a player gets injured during his franchise tag season, as Orakpo did, the player is forced to sign a bargain basement deal the next offseason, à la Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer.
  • Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are among the top head coaching candidates in the league, according to Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post.

Tony Carter Drawing Trade Interest

As trade speculation heats up, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link) has identified another name to watch in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. According to Rapoport, Broncos cornerback Tony Carter is “generating interest” on the trade market.

Carter, 28, has seen his role reduced in Denver this season following the arrivals of free agent signee Aqib Talib and first-round pick Bradley Roby. Those two cornerbacks, along with Chris Harris, have shouldered the majority of the defensive snaps at the position for the Broncos, with Kayvon Webster contributing in dime packages during the last few games. As a result, Harris, who played 35 snaps in Week 1, has been relegated to the bench, having been listed as inactive for several contests.

As Rapoport observes, while Carter may not be in the Broncos’ plans at the moment, he should appeal to teams who have suffered injuries at cornerback or who are eyeing potential nickel backs. As Harris showed in 2012, when he grabbed two interceptions, recovered two fumbles, defended 12 passes, and recorded a +5.3 PFF grade (subscription required), he’s capable of holding his own in the secondary.

Carter is on a minimum salary contract with no bonus money, and will be eligible for free agency at season’s end, so he makes for an ideal trade candidate — he’s a low-risk target for a potential suitor, and anything the Broncos get for him would be a bonus, assuming they don’t intend to play him or re-sign him.

Titans GM Downplays Trade Rumors

The Titans are off to a slow start this season, having fallen well back of the playoff teams at 2-5, and the team’s decision to start rookie Zach Mettenberger at quarterback this weekend indicates that the focus has shifted from contending to rebuilding. As such, several veterans have been cited as potential trade candidates, but general manager Ruston Webster isn’t anticipating a busy deadline for his team, as Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com details.

“We actively traded Akeem [Ayers]; that was something we were working on and trying to do and was good for both parties,” Webster said today on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville. “Outside of that, there’s really nothing imminent, nothing on the back burner. I’d be surprised if anything happened before the trade deadline.”

While Ayers had been a key contributor on defense in past seasons, the new coaching staff didn’t have a spot for him, and the return in this week’s trade was minimal — the Titans upgraded from a seventh-round pick to a sixth-rounder for the 2015 draft. There’s a chance the team could do a little better than that for some of its trade chips, but none of them are potential difference-makers that will move the needle significantly for a contender or net the Titans a high draft pick.

Wide receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Wesley Woodyard, and safety Michael Griffin have all been mentioned as players potentially on the block. A PFR poll this morning asked which of those players is most likely to be dealt, and Washington is currently the leader with nearly 50% of the vote. About 20% of you lean toward Webster’s apparent stance, voting that none of those three players will be moved.

The trade deadline is scheduled for Tuesday at 3:00pm central time, so Webster still has about 95 hours to change his mind and swing a deal. We’ll have to wait and see whether the rebuilding Titans indeed stand pat.

Practice Squad Updates: Friday

We’ll keep track of Friday’s practice squad signings and cuts right here, with the most recent moves added to the top. Here’s the latest:

  • The Patriots have filled the two openings on their practice squad, announcing today in a press release that they’ve signed linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and wide receiver Jonathan Krause.

Earlier updates:

  • The Cardinals have signed return specialist Solomon Patton, according to agent Hadley Engelhard (via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times on Twitter). The former Florida Gator signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent, but he was waived by the team earlier this week.

Raiders To Place Woodley, Young On IR

At least two Raiders players won’t be around to try to help lead the team to its first victory of the year, according to head coach Tony Sparano, who confirmed today that defensive end LaMarr Woodley and safety Usama Young have season-ending injuries (Twitter link via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle). According to Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group (via Twitter), practice squad players will likely be promoted to the 53-man roster when Woodley and Young are officially placed on injured reserve.

Woodley, who turns 30 next month, suffered a torn bicep on Sunday, prematurely ending his season and likely his stint with the Raiders as well. The veteran defender signed a two-year deal with the team in the offseason, but the contract didn’t include a signing bonus, which means it’ll be fairly easy for Oakland to get out of at season’s end. With Woodley recovering from this injury, it seems more likely that the Raiders would cut him than commit to a 2015 salary that includes a $3.85MM base and a $1MM bonus due on the fifth day of the ’15 league year.

As for Young, he also signed a two-year contract with the Raiders in the offseason. A frequent contributor on special teams, Young had also taken on a more significant role on defense this season, starting three of the club’s first six contests.

Assuming the Raiders add a pair of defenders to replace their injured players, candidates to be promoted from the practice squad include defensive ends Denico Autry and Shelby Harris, along with linebacker Spencer Hadley, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, and defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin.

Cap Notes: Rice, Kerley, Trades

With the trade deadline approaching, it’s worth keeping an eye on which teams have cap room to spare and which clubs don’t have much flexibility to make moves. Before we get into that though, we have a couple notes on how a pair of players will affect their respective teams’ (or former teams’) caps. Let’s dive in….

  • Because Ray Rice filed a grievance against the Ravens in an attempt to recoup his 2014 base salary, he’ll count against the cap for 40% of that disputed amount, tweets Joel Corry of CBSSports.com. Because Rice had been in line for a $3,529,412 salary, the cap charge for Baltimore works out to $1,411,765.
  • Adam Caplan of ESPN.com adds another note on Jeremy Kerley‘s contract details, tweeting that the Jets wideout has $3.841MM in fully guaranteed money at the time of his signing, with an additional $2MM becoming guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2015 league year.
  • As Albert Breer of the NFL Network considers whether there will be any deals of note before Tuesday’s trade deadline, he points out that 15 teams have less than $5MM in cap space, which could make it tricky to complete any sort of significant move.
  • Breer goes on to add that there are six teams with more than $10MM in cap room: The Jaguars ($22.84MM), Browns ($19.06MM), Eagles ($16.31MM), Jets ($12.82MM), Titans ($11.86MM), and Patriots ($10.54MM).

Cowboys Links: Okoye, Sam, Murray

Amobi Okoye practiced for the first time yesterday, and the clock has officially begun ticking. The Cowboys have three weeks to decide whether they want to activate the former first-rounder or keep him on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Regardless, practicing was a big step in the right direction for the 27-year-old. Okoye is recovering from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition that causes memory loss and seizures. This resulted in Okoye spending three months in a coma last year. Following such a traumatic experience, the defensive tackle was thrilled to return to the field (via Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com)…

“It was good, it was worth it,” said Okoye. “It was mixed emotions. It felt like it naturally was coming back. I’ve played six years in the league [and], it doesn’t take too long for stuff to come back to you.”

Linebacker Bruce Carter was impressed by his teammate’s determination to return to the game…

“He’s been through a lot,” Carter said. “His story is amazing. A guy like that who works real hard, I see him all the time working [with strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Woicik] one-on-one. Just to see him actually working with [us] and see it pay off is a great thing. I think he’s going to do great things for us.”

Let’s see what else is happening in the Cowboys organization…

  • Owner Jerry Jones attributed the release of Michael Sam to “a numbers game,” tweets Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com. Jones clarified that Sam was great at practice and worked “very, very hard.”
  • Members of the Cowboys’ 2013 draft class are already contributing to the team, and Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com points to first-round pick Travis Frederick as the best of the bunch.
  • The Cowboys have enough money under the cap to fit a veteran, but Archer doesn’t believe the team is going to be active at the trade deadline.
  • Despite DeMarco Murray‘s hot start to the season, Bob Sturm of The Dallas Morning News would still move on from the veteran in free agency if the team could draft a stud running back like Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Since the team won’t have that foresight, Sturm believes the team should franchise the running back.

AFC East Notes: Ayers, Brady, Jets, Pryor

Akeem Ayers finds himself in a much different situation with the Patriots than he with his previous team, the Titans. The former second-round pick apparently fell out of favor with Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff, but the 25-year-old is happy for a chance to contribute in New England. Via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald

“I’m pretty much just happy to be here. Obviously, I wasn’t playing there, and I just happened to get in a good situation here,” Ayers said. “As I’m learning the playbook, I’m trying to simplify things as much as I can and the coaches are helping me out with that. We’re trying to keep things simple and try to learn to the best I can to play as fast as I can when I’m on the field.”

Let’s check out some more notes from the AFC East…

  • ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss believes Tom Brady will finish his career with the Patriots. However, based on the team’s previous handling of franchise players, Reiss warns that it isn’t a guarantee.
  • While Bill Belichick has received some criticism for releasing veteran Tommy Kelly, Reiss points out that the veteran didn’t put forth much effort in the team’s preseason opener. The writer opines that Kelly wanted out and forced Belichick’s hand.
  • Following an eight-win season in 2013, the Jets should have done a better job of addressing some of their weaknesses in free agency, writes Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Entering the season with the league’s second-highest salary-cap surplus is an “embarrassing truth,” the writer opines.
  • Among the Jets disappointments this season has been first-rounder Calvin Pryor. Coach Rex Ryan attributed the rookie’s struggles to a missed interception earlier in the season. “Probably started with the first game when he dropped that pick-six. But, he hasn’t had the impact necessarily that I think all of us had expected, but quite honestly, our defense has been played a little differently than maybe we had anticipated,” Ryan said (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “So, I think we’ve had to make some of those adjustments along the way. It hasn’t gone according to plan so to speak.”

Patriots To Sign Alan Branch

FRIDAY, 9:25am: The deal between the two sides still hasn’t been finalized. ESPNBoston.com’s Lee Schechter writes that the defensive lineman was spotted in the locker room, but Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald clarifies (on Twitter) that Branch still hasn’t signed.

Meanwhile, ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss suggests that the Patriots could wait a week to sign Branch. As the writer notes, if the team ultimately decides that Branch can’t help them this weekend, it’s make little sense to rush the process.

TUESDAY, 7:42pm: The Patriots are expected to sign free agent defensive lineman Alan Branch to help fill the void left by Chandler Jones‘ injury, tweets Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe. Branch was released by the Bills after he was arrested for a DUI in August.

Branch, 29, was signed to a three-year, $9.1MM extension in December of last year, which included a $3.1MM signing bonus. The former Cardinals second-round pick was set to earn $1.85MM in base salary in 2014, $875K of which was guaranteed for injury only, but Buffalo decided to part ways with him after his incident. Branch started 13 games for the Bills last season, and has started 47 during his career, racking up 112 tackles and eight sacks in total.

New England also acquired defensive end Akeem Ayers from the Titans earlier today.

Poll: Who Will The Titans Trade?

The NFL trade deadline is just days away and recently there has been a lot of chatter about the 2-5 Titans, who apparently don’t want to wait until the offseason to start their newest rebuilding process. Tennessee traded linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round choice to the Pats for a sixth-round pick earlier this week and that might not be the last trade they pull off in October.

Three veteran players in particular have been identified as trade candidates, and wide receiver Nate Washington is the biggest of the bunch. Washington is in the final year of his six-year, $26.8MM deal and the Titans, who aren’t in the playoff picture right now, aren’t eager to pay out ~$282K per game to the 31-year-old. Of course, that doesn’t mean other clubs wouldn’t be willing to take on that obligation. The Bengals are one team that could benefit from adding Washington to the fold. Rutgers alum Mohamed Sanu has emerged as a legitimate option in the passing game, but Cincinnati could use reinforcements, especially if A.J. Green isn’t back on the field this Sunday. Moving Washington wouldn’t just save money, it would allow the Titans to see how sophomore Justin Hunter responds to being their unquestioned No. 1 receiver.

Safety Michael Griffin, who has a Tennessee tenure nearly as long as Washington’s, is said to also be on the block. Like Washington, Griffin also boasts an impressive track record of durability, playing 16 games per season from 2007-2012, 14 games in 2013, and playing in all seven games thus far in 2014. In those 14 games last season, Griffin recorded 82 tackles, four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was also bullish on him, giving him an overall grade of 6.1, good for 14th amongst all qualified safeties in the NFL last season. The advanced metrics haven’t been nearly as kind to him this season – he’s 75th out of 82 safeties – but another team could try getting him back to his old form in a different scheme.

Just hours ago, linebacker Wesley Woodyard was added to the list of Titans trade possibilities. Woodyard just signed with the Titans in the offseason on a four-year deal worth up to $16MM with $4.75MM in guarantees, so his inclusion came as something of a surprise. Still, with a youth movement taking place in Tennessee, it appears that GM Ruston Webster is willing to move Woodyard and possibly carve out more snaps for rookie Avery Williamson.

So, with the Tuesday deadline drawing closer, who do you think will be on the move?