Panthers Pick Up Cam Newton’s 2015 Option

5:00pm: Based on tweets from Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer and ESPN.com’s David Newton, it sounds like the option pickup isn’t quite finalized yet, but the team is in the process of making it official.

4:14pm: The Panthers have officially exercised their fifth-year option on quarterback Cam Newton, according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network (via Twitter). The move ensures that Newton remains under contract with the club through the 2015 season.

As the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, Newton is eligible for a 2015 salary equivalent to the 2014 transition tag amount for QBs, meaning his ’15 salary will be $14.666MM. Although that’ll be the largest fifth-year salary for any members of the 2011 draft class, it’s still a good price for the Panthers, given the going rate for franchise quarterbacks.

Still, even with Newton now formally locked up for two more seasons, Carolina will presumably keep working on a longer-term deal for the 24-year-old. Newton had perhaps his best all-around season in 2013, leading the Panthers to a division title and a first-round bye. He’ll have his work cut out for him in 2014, after the club’s top four receivers from 2013 departed in free agency and standout offensive tackle Jordan Gross opted to retire.

Panthers GM Dave Gettleman first said nearly a month ago that the club would pick up its 2015 option on Newton. To keep tabs on all of this year’s fifth-year option decisions, be sure to check out our tracker.

Rival Execs Expect Texans To Trade Down

When I asked last week what the Texans should do with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, more than 30% of you said the team’s best move would be to trade down. And it sounds like rival executives around the NFL agree with that assessment. ESPN.com’s Ed Werder reports (via Twitter) that other teams expect the Texans to trade down, perhaps to the Falcons’ spot at No. 6. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link) is hearing similar whispers, writing that there’s “no shortage of execs” who believe the Falcons look like Houston’s best potential trade partner.

According to La Canfora, the Falcons remain “very focused” on Jadeveon Clowney, and are expected to put him through a few drills on Friday when they visit South Carolina. Clowney’s agent, Bus Cook, indicated earlier in the month that his client was essentially shutting down workouts for teams, electing not to do anything that would risk injury. As such, the fact that the young pass rusher appears willing to run some drills for the Falcons is noteworthy.

Clowney is viewed as the top prospect in this year’s class, and is a lock to come off the board within the first five picks, so Atlanta will need to trade up to have a shot at him. As La Canfora notes, the Texans are “very open” to trading down, and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is no stranger to blockbuster draft-day trades — the GM notably gave up a handful of picks to land wide receiver Julio Jones in 2011.

Still, despite a number of signals pointing toward a possible deal between the Texans and Falcons, nothing is imminent at this point. And as Albert Breer of the NFL Network points out (via Twitter), the general consensus suggests there’s a clear-cut top four prospects at the top of the draft: Clowney, Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, and Khalil Mack. All four of those players could be unavailable at No. 6, so the Texans may not be inclined to move down that far, though Blake Bortles could also be an option for Houston.

Minor Moves: Ravens, Williams, Slaton

We’ll keep tabs on Thursday’s minor transactions right here — that includes free agents accepting contract tenders, notable CFL signings, and signings and cuts involving players who haven’t seen much or any NFL action lately. Here are the day’s minor moves, with any new transactions added to the top of the page throughout the afternoon and evening:

  • The Ravens have re-signed free agent wide receiver LaQuan Williams. The team announced the move today in a press release after Williams himself broke word (via Twitter) that he’d be returning to Baltimore. The 25-year-old spent the first two years of his NFL career with the Ravens before being cut prior to the 2013 regular season. Baltimore has plenty of receiving depth already, but Williams is more likely to contribute on special teams if he makes the regular season roster.
  • Former Texans running back Steve Slaton, who was drafted in the third round in 2008 and piled up 1,282 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns that season, has signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the club announced today. Slaton’s last NFL regular-season action came with the Dolphins during the 2011 season.

Pauline’s Latest: Dolphins, Donald, Latimer

In past years, we’d be gearing up for the NFL draft to begin in a matter of hours, but with this year’s event pushed back into May, we still have two more weeks of build-up until the big night. Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net is helping to bridge that gap by continuing to pass along noteworthy tidbits on this year’s prospects. Here’s the latest from Pauline, with these notes coming from his latest blog entries unless otherwise indicated:

  • The Dolphins like offensive lineman Zack Martin, but don’t expect him to be available when they pick in the first round. Sources tell Pauline that Miami could end up trading down and targeting a player like Nevada’s Joel Bitonio — Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio isn’t expected to be a first-round option for the club. Bitonio, meanwhile, is also drawing interest from the Panthers and Buccaneers.
  • Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald figures to come off the board somewhere between picks No. 6 and 16, according to Pauline, who identifies the Falcons (6th), Giants (12th), Bears (14th), and Cowboys (16th) as potential landing spots.
  • At least 23 teams will travel to Bloomington, Indiana tomorrow for Cody Latimer‘s on-campus workout. Pauline hears that the receiver is one of the draft’s fastest risers, and even has a shot to be selected in the first round.
  • Fresno State wideout Davante Adams is working out with the Panthers for a second time. Adams has also visited the Lions, Chargers, and Falcons, and worked out for the Titans.
  • The Colts brought in Wisconsin safety Dez Southward for a pre-draft visit, according to Pauline.
  • The Steelers, Colts, and Eagles are displaying the most interest in Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart.
  • Wake Forest linebacker Justin Jackson is paying a visit to the Chiefs today, Pauline reports in a tweet.
  • The Jets have reps at Clemson today to work out quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Roderick McDowell, and linebacker Quandon Christian, tweets Pauline.
  • Pauline also reports (via Twitter) that the Packers, Patriots, and Chiefs are at Mississippi State today to work out quarterback Tyler Russell and safety Nickoe Whitley.

Patriots Sign Josh Hull

1:27pm: The Patriots have officially announced the signing of Hull in a press release.

10:46am: Free agent linebacker Josh Hull has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Patriots, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Terms of the deal haven’t been reported yet, but I’d expect a minimum salary benefit contract for the 26-year-old.

Hull, a seventh-round pick in 2010, has spent four seasons in the NFL with the Rams and Redskins, playing primarily on special teams. The Penn State product was particularly effective in kick and punt coverage for Washington last season, racking up 12 special teams tackles in just nine games, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Browns, Steelers

In the latest installment of Over The Cap’s team-by-team breakdown of free agency, Jason Fitzgerald examines the Ravens. While Arthur Jones‘ departure leaves a big hole on defense, losing offensive tackle Eugene Monroe would’ve been a more significant blow to the team, says Fitzgerald, adding that he liked Baltimore’s pickup of Owen Daniels quite a bit. Factoring in the loss of James Ihedigbo to the Lions, Fitzgerald assigns the Ravens a grade of B- for their work over the last several weeks.

Here’s more from around the AFC North:

  • As our fifth-year option tracker shows, no decision has been announced or reported yet on the Browns‘ 2015 option for defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Speaking to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal, Taylor suggested he’s not sure what the team plans to do with that option, but he hopes it gets picked up: “I would love to be here, but that’s not up to me. So we’re going to wait and see what [the front office] is going to do about it.”
  • South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is visiting the Browns today and tomorrow, and will work out for the club on Saturday, reports Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. Wilson also links several other clubs to Shaw, writing that the signal-caller has met or worked out with the Falcons, Titans, Patriots, and Buccaneers, and interviewed with the Seahawks, Packers, Raiders, and Jaguars.
  • The Steelers are hosting Boise State edge defender Demarcus Lawrence and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon for pre-draft visits today, tweets ESPN.com’s Scott Brown.
  • Cumberlands running back Terrance Cobb is visiting the Bengals today, tweets Aaron Wilson.

Draft Visits: Falcons, Bryant, Martin, Jets

Teams only have until Sunday to bring in draft prospects for pre-draft visits, so even though workouts are still permitted after that date, plenty of clubs are hosting players this week. Here’s a round-up of several of the latest reports on these visits:

  • According to reports from ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure (Twitter link), Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), the Falcons have worked out Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews and Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood, and are heading to Columbia, South Carolina tomorrow to work out wideout Bruce Ellington.
  • Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith has visited the Broncos, Eagles, and Panthers, as well as worked out privately for the Panthers, Falcons, Patriots, and Buccaneers, according to Wilson.
  • Martavis Bryant has been extremely busy over the last few weeks, with a combined total of 22 visits and private workouts, writes Wilson at the National Football Post. According to Wilson, the Buccaneers are one team that has hosted and privately worked out the Clemson wide receiver.
  • Wilson, who has been busy lately himself, also passes along updates on two more prospects: USC center Marcus Martin has met with the Chargers, Panthers, Saints, and Eagles, while Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman is visiting the Bengals.
  • Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is among the players visiting the Jets today, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (via Twitter). We heard last night about several other prospects the Jets are hosting this week, including Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
  • Cornerback Justin Gilbert‘s previously reported visit with the Lions is happening today, tweets Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
  • McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is projected to be the first overall pick in the CFL draft, but he’s also drawing plenty of interest from NFL teams. As Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com details, the 49ers are the latest club to host the Canadian prospect for a visit.

Packers Re-Sign Matt Flynn

APRIL 24: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun provides the details of Flynn’s new deal with the Packers, tweeting that the base value is about $968K. That includes a $730K base salary, a $75K signing bonus, a $25K workout bonus, and up to about $138K in per-game active roster bonuses. Flynn can also earn another $100K via incentives.

APRIL 22: The Packers have officially announced their new deal with Flynn, tweets Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

APRIL 15: The Packers have reached an agreement to re-sign free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). We heard earlier this afternoon that Flynn’s visit with the Giants was no longer on the docket, and I speculated that it could be because the signal-caller was close to signing with another team. It appears that was the case, as the Packers didn’t let him get away.

Flynn, 28, spent his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay before joining the Seahawks, Bills, and Raiders over the last two years. Flynn rejoined the Packers last season and was effective down the stretch in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers, completing 61.4% of his passes for 1,146 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions in five games (four starts).

With Flynn back in the fold, the Packers will retain three of the four quarterbacks that started games for the club last season. Flynn and Scott Tolzien figure to jockey for the No. 2 spot behind Rodgers, while Seneca Wallace remains a free agent, unlikely to return to Green Bay.

Bucs To Decline Option On Adrian Clayborn

The Buccaneers will not exercise their fifth-year option on Adrian Clayborn, Clayborn’s agent confirmed to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune (Twitter link). Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk had reported earlier in the week that the club wasn’t expected to pick up the defensive end’s 2015 option.

Unlike some other 2011 first-rounders, Clayborn has been a full-time starter for his club when he’s been healthy, starting all 35 games he has played for the Bucs since being drafted 20th overall. In 2013, the 25-year-old established a career high with 66 tackles, and also logged six sacks. However, while those numbers are respectable, Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) weren’t all that fond of Clayborn’s performance, ranking him 47th out of 52 qualified 4-3 defensive ends.

Although the $6.969MM option for Clayborn would have been guaranteed for injury only, the Buccaneers’ decision suggests the team isn’t comfortable potentially being on the hook for that amount for the defensive end. The Iowa product will now be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2014 season, and the value of his next deal figures to depend in large part on his performance in his contract year.

To keep tabs on all of this year’s fifth-year option decisions as the May 3 decision deadline approaches, be sure to check out our tracker.

Seahawks Notes: Carpenter, Visits, McCloughan

The defending champion Seahawks will host the Packers on September 4 to kick off the NFL season, but that’s the last time during the regular season the club will play a prime-time game at home. A league source tells Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk that the lack of prime-time games at CenturyLink Field is a result of Seattle’s track record — in the last several seasons, the club has been too good in its nationally televised home games, and the league is wary of scheduling blowouts in prime time. As Crabtree points out, the Seahawks have won their last three prime-time games in Seattle by a combined 82 points.

Here’s more on the 2014 Super Bowl champions:

  • The Seahawks are currently leaning against picking up their 2015 option on offensive lineman James Carpenter, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. As our fifth-year option tracker shows, Carpenter would be in line for a $7.438MM salary in 2015 if his option is exercised, though it wouldn’t be fully guaranteed until the first day of the ’15 league year.
  • University of Washington quarterback Keith Price was one of 19 players to participate in the Seahawks’ local prospect day on Wednesday, as Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com details.
  • Senior personnel executive Scot McCloughan has resigned from his position in Seattle’s front office to tend to a family matter, reports Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). McCloughan, who has been a key part of general manager John Schneider‘s staff since being hired by the Seahawks in June 2010, reportedly drew interest from both the Dolphins and Browns when those teams replaced their GMs earlier this offseason.
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