Bills To Release Mike Williams

The Bills have released wide receiver Mike Williams, who is now healthy after suffering a calf injury earlier this season, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Twitter).

The team released him earlier this season, but he cleared waivers and reverted to the team’s injured reserve list.

Williams’ has had a tumultuous year since joining the Bills via trade this offseason. Unhappy with his opportunity, he reportedly asked for a trade and the organization allowed him to pursue interested team. For the record, Williams denied at the time that he asked for a trade.

Williams is now free to sign with any team, granted someone would want him for the final week of the season. It is unlikely that any playoff team would be so desperate for receiver help that they would sign him for a postseason run. Teams already eliminated from playoff contention would also have little to gain from bringing him in, with no previous knowledge of the offense and an unlikelihood of getting on the field with one week left in the season.

It would be more likely that if he were given an opportunity to continue his career, it would happen in free agency this offseason.

Willie Young Tore Achilles Tendon

Bears’ defensive end Willie Young didn’t arrive in Chicago with the fanfare of fellow free agent signings Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, but the fifth-year pro has outshone his counterparts along the defensive line in 2014. He has ten sacks this season, the first of a three-year deal signed this past offseason.

Young seemed like a lock to be a star again in 2015, but an injury to his Achilles tendon could jeopardize at least the beginning of next year. It will certainly keep him out of the season finale this Sunday, reports Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times.

“It’s an injury that’s going to take some time,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “I don’t know many that aren’t [serious].”

The Achilles injury is a difficult one to come back from. Another pass rusher recently came back from a similar injury in incredible time, as Terrell Suggs returned in time for the team’s Super Bowl run only five months and six days after the injury.

Of course, that case is the exception, as nine months to twelve months is a more common timetable for return.

In addition to young, kicker Robbie Gould has missed the last three games with a quadriceps injury, and will also not be back in time for the Week 17 matchup, reports Dan Weiderer of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). Gould made additional waves this morning when he went on the radio and criticized Trestman and the coaching staff’s decision to bench Jay Cutler, writes Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.

“You could bench the whole team,” said Gould. “It’s not like anybody has really played fantastic or great. I mean, we’re 5-10 now. So … Jay is not the problem. Jay is not the issue. It’s just unfortunate. This is, honestly, it’s not the Bear way. I mean, this whole season is not the Bear way. Pointing fingers, things getting out of the locker room — that’s not the Chicago Bear way.”

 

Eagles Unlikely To Upgrade At Quarterback

The Eagles were eliminated from playoff contention after losing to Washington on Saturday night and the Cowboys’ blowout victory over the Colts on Sunday. Eagles’ quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled with turnovers after taking over for Nick Foles, and the team lost three in a row after starting the season 9-3.

Foles was not spectacular while he was playing either, showing alarming regression from an unsustainable 2013 season. Looking forward, head coach Chip Kelly will need to get better quarterback play in order to continue to succeed in the NFL. However, if he is unable to develop Foles, the organization may have to look outward for better quarterback play.

Still, finding an upgrade at quarterback will prove difficult for the team, writes Mike Sando of ESPN. Sando looks at some of their options if they do decide to add to their depth chart at the position.

Sitting at nine wins, even a loss in Week 17 will likely leave the Eagles out of the running for Kelly’s former superstar Marcus Mariota. The Oregon quarterback will not be likely to last to where the Eagles end up selecting. Sando also believes trading up for him would be unlikely. Even considering his familiarity with Kelly, the Eagles might be unwilling to pay the price to go up and get him near the top of the draft.

Among the most experienced and accomplished free agent quarterbacks, Sanchez remains at the top of that list. Matt Hasselbeck and Michael Vick are the best options in terms of stop-gap quarterbacks who have won in the NFL. Sando points out the team could target a young but failed quarterback in hopes of developing him. Among those are Jimmy Clausen, Christian Ponder, Colt McCoy, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and Ryan Mallett. Those options probably don’t represent a better choice than sticking with Foles.

Sando does include a number of more veteran quarterbacks, but their chances of succeeding are uninspired at best. Not many will consider Matt Flynn, Jason Campbell, or Brian Hoyer as a legitimate quarterback to improve the Eagles’ situation.

The only other option outside of Foles and Sanchez is hoping that a quarterback becomes available. Jay Cutler is the biggest name as of right now, as his situation in Chicago is volatile at best as long as Marc Trestman is coaching the team. Robert Griffin III is less likely to become available, and it is unlikely that Washington would be willing to trade him to a divisional rival. A third option would be Matt Schaub, which would be uninspired after not being able to start a single game for the Raiders in 2014.

For these reasons, Sando believes that the Eagles are best off staying put with Foles, Sanchez, or both in 2015. The continuity will bring more advantages than any other question mark quarterback they could bring in, and if Kelly adjusts his offense to put less pressure on the quarterback, the Eagles could see more efficient and consistent quarterback play next year.

Cardinals Will Not Cut Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald‘s contract will take up an enormous amount of cap space in 2015, eating up $23.6MM of valuable cap dollars that could go to making improvements elsewhere on the roster. Because of that number, Fitzgerald has long been thought of as a candidate to be cut this offseason. Ideally, the team would be able to trade the former All-Pro receiver, although it would be difficult to find a team willing to accept Fitzgerald’s cap number.

Although his contract looms large, the team will not cut the face of their franchise, writes Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The team may explore trading him, restructuring his deal, or signing him to an extension. Florio’s sources made it clear that the Cardinals would not cut him.

General manager Steve Keim noted that there have been ongoing talks with Fitzgerald’s agent about his future with the team, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com“We have to make good business decisions,” said Keim. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we said all along that it is our intent to have Larry Fitzgerald retire a Cardinal. I don’t want to get into it too deep, but with planning purposes and financially, from a cap standpoint and all those sort of things, we have Larry’s (cap) number already baked into our numbers.”

“Now, any kind of business decisions moving forward, renegotiations with Larry and that sort of thing, we’ve had ongoing talks with (agent) Eugene Parker and we will continue to have ongoing talks,” added Keim. “But again, the best I can tell you is that it is our intent to keep Larry and make sure he stays a Cardinal the rest of his career.”

Urban also writes that if the Cardinals are serious about not releasing the veteran wideout, Fitzgerald will have no reason to accept a paycut to stay with the team.

Buccaneers, Titans Will Draft In Top Two

With one week left in the regular season, the first half of the 2015 NFL Draft order is close to being set. The Buccaneers and Titans both lost in Week 16, clinching their place as the first two teams to reach the podium when the draft opens on April 30.

Last week, the top six teams in terms of potential draft position were the Buccaneers, Titans, Jaguars, Raiders, Washington, and Jets. Of those teams, Jacksonville, Washington, and Oakland all notched wins this past weekend. Those wins knocked all three teams out of the running for a top two pick, and the Jets were already out of that race due to strength of schedule.

Rivers McCown of Advanced Football Analytics put together odds of where each team will likely fall within the top five selections of the NFL Draft. According to their calculations, the Buccaneers have a 75% chance of landing the first overall pick, and could clinch that spot with a loss. The Titans would need to lose to the Colts and have the Buccaneers to beat the Saints in order to jump into the top spot.

Washington’s schedule would not allow them to gain the third overall pick after beating the Eagles, even if the Jets, Raiders, and Jaguars all win and end the season with four wins. The Jaguars and Raiders will play the Texans and Broncos respectively, and both teams will still need those wins in Week 17. The Jets might have an easier game, with the Dolphins already eliminated from playoff contention.

Extra Points: Randle, Jets, Mangold, Texans

Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle hasn’t seen his career take off as he had hoped, writes Mike Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “I put myself in this situation, and it’s up to me to get myself out of it,’’ Randle said. “It’s my job to correct what’s happened. That’s how I see it and that’s how I’m going to go about it. This being my third year, I was expecting to have a better season.’’ More from around the NFL..

  • Jets owner Woody Johnson needs to clean house and hand the reins over to the Patriots duo of Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels, opines Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Caserio is a football man with a coaching and scouting background while McDaniels’ stock has risen after a shaky run as a head coach in Denver. There are executives around the league, however, who aren’t sure whether Caserio would want to work for the Jets due to the cut-throat nature of the rivalry.
  • Good news for the Jets: the x-rays on Nick Mangold‘s ankle revealed no break, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Mangold will have an MRI tomorrow for a complete diagnosis.
  • If the Texans get a quarterback or develop one they can truly contend in 2015, especially in the AFC South, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com writes.

West Notes: Harbaugh, Sparano, Seahawks

Earlier today, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that a “swift” decision will come after the regular season ends on the future of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). While SF could keep him for 2015 or extend his contract, it’s more likely that they’ll trade him or fire him. Florio notes that trading him quickly won’t be easy. Another team would have to can their coach, comply with the Rooney Rule by interviewing at least one minority candidate, negotiate a deal with the 49ers, and hammer out a deal with Harbaugh. Glazer says this will all be determined within 48 hours of the season finale, leaving an extremely tight window for a trade. More from the West divisions..

  • Cam Inman of the Mercury News scouted out Harbaugh’s options if he is let go by the 49ers, a list that no longer includes the Dolphins after it was announced earlier today that coach Joe Philbin would be returning in 2015. Still potentially on the table: the University of Michigan, the Raiders, the Bears, the Jets, the Giants, the Falcons, and others.
  • Some may disagree, but Raiders coach Tony Sparano told reporters, including Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle (on Twitter) that he feels he should return next season.
  • Cliff Avril & K.J. Wright‘s contract extensions with the Seahawks are using $1.5MM of their current cap space with $5.06MM of carry over room remaining, according to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). Seattle should have $18.77MM of ’15 cap space remaining after the new pacts (link).

Dolphins Notes: Philbin, Harbaugh, Wake, Clay

Following his announcement that Joe Philbin will return as the Dolphins’ head coach, owner Stephen Ross elaborated on his decision to retain the man who has lead Miami for nearly three seasons, per Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Twitter links: 1, 2, 3, 4). “We say patience is a virtue. But I’m expecting big things next year, I’ll tell you that,” said Ross. “I think everybody feels a buzz. Things are changing around here. It’s frustrating we didn’t make the playoffs. I feel as bad as everybody does. But I think we’re building something here and I believe in the coach.” Here are some more notes out of South Beach…

  • Philbin himself was understandably pleased with the news, writes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. “This is where I want to be the head coach,” said Philbin. “Three years ago when I interviewed I came to work to Steve Ross. He’s the owner. He’s shown a lot of support to me over the years, through let’s face it, some difficult times. It’s a privilege to be the head coach and I want to do the things I said when I came here — consistently compete for championships.”
  • In the same piece, Ross tells Salguero that despite speculation that the Dolphins were interested in Jim Harbaugh, he did not contact the 49ers head coach.
  • By reaching the double-digit sack threshold during today’s game against the Vikings, defensive end Cameron Wake earned a $750K bonus, tweets Salguero.
  • Charles Clay might not generate much interest in free agency, but he could be an interesting option for a team that would employ him in an FB/TE/halfback role, opines Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (via Twitter). I pegged Clay to garner a four-year deal worth $16-18MM in August, but given his lackluster season, he won’t come anywhere near that figure.

Browns To Consider All Options At QB

Despite the presence of 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, the Browns will be open to upgrading the quarterback position during the offseason, reports Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Head coach Mike Pettine noted last week that the club would still have doubts about Manziel even if his play improved over the last two games of the season. Manziel missed most of today’s game against the Panthers after suffering a hamstring injury, and with his status for the season finale uncertain, Cleveland will have even less information with which to make a judgement on its rookie signal-caller.

The new contractual bargaining agreement likely plays a role in the Browns thinking in this situation, as the terms of the CBA drastically reduced the earning potential of rookies, even first-rounders like Manziel. Manziel, chosen twenty-second overall, will count only $1.87MM against the cap in 2015, $2.25MM in ’16, and $2.62MM in ’17; Cleveland will then hold a fifth-year option for 2018. The Texas A&M product has just the 15th-highest cap figure on the Browns roster this season, and only the 12th-highest in 2015. Essentially, the CBA allows the Browns to retain Manziel at such a low cost that it’s conceivable they could simply employ him as a backup quarterback. Additionally, the modest cap numbers make Manziel more attractive to clubs interested in acquiring the young QB, if Cleveland is inclined to trade him.

League sources tell Cabot that Browns general manger Ray Farmer has long been fascinated by Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is widely expected to be a top-five pick in the 2014 draft. Cleveland will hold two mid-first-round picks thanks to its draft-day trade with the Bills earlier this year — given the current standings, the Browns would pick at No. 14 and No. 19. As Cabot writes, a move up to acquire Mariota is possible, but unlikely, given that the cost could rival what Washington parted with to select Robert Griffin III. In addition to both its 2015 first-rounders, Cleveland would probably have to surrender its 2016 first-round choice in order to move up.

Cabot also speculates that the Browns could bring in a veteran quarterback next season, either to replace Manziel if he’s dealt, or to act as a bridge as he continues his development. Hoyer is unlikely to return to Cleveland, as the Browns don’t view him as a long-term starter. But Jay Cutler is believed to be available via trade, and a number of mid-tier options, such as Mark Sanchez, Ryan Mallett, and Jake Locker will be unrestricted free agents after the season.

Dolphins To Retain Joe Philbin

The Dolphins moved to 8-7 with a last-minute victory over the Vikings today, but they had already been eliminated from playoff contention thanks to the Chargers’ win over the 49ers last night. Despite that fact, the club won’t see a coaching staff overhaul, as owner Stephen Ross said after the game that head coach Joe Philbin will return for the 2015 season, according to the team’s Twitter account.

Philbin, 53, was hired as Miami’s head coach in 2012 after spending the previous five seasons as the Packers’ offensive coordinator. The club has a 23-24 record (and no postseason appearances) during his tenure, but there have been some positive developments. The defensive unit has been stout at times, and following the hiring of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor prior to this season, third-year QB Ryan Tannehill has shown significant signs of improvement. Still, it’s fair to wonder if 2015 will be Philbin’s final shot in Miami; if the team doesn’t make the playoffs next season, it will probably be tough for Ross to keep him around any longer.

2015, then, sets up as a make-or-break year in South Beach, and it’s unlikely that the current version of the Dolphins’ roster will see many upgrades. Over the Cap’s data shows Miami to have negative cap space in 2015, at nearly $2.2MM in the red. The club will obviously make some moves to be in compliance the cap; cutting players like Dannell Ellerbe, Brian Hartline, and Cortland Finnegan, for example, could save the Fins more than $14MM. But Miami probably won’t be able to make its typical splashes in free agency, meaning Philbin & Co. will have to rely on continued advancement from Tannehill and a dominant defense to compete next season. If not, general manager Dennis Hickey, hired earlier this year, would likely be given the opportunity to choose his own coach.

On a macro level, this news crosses off one possible destination for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to leave San Francisco at season’s end. Ross tried to bring in Harbaugh as the Dolphins’ head coach prior to the 2011 season, so speculation arose that Miami would once again be interested in acquiring the controversial head coach. However, given the expected level of interest in Harbaugh from the University of Michigan (who reportedly offered a six-year deal worth nearly $50MM), the Raiders, and a slew of other suitors, the Dolphins opted to stick with their incumbent coach. It’s just my speculation, but I would guess that Miami didn’t want to pursue Harbaugh for a second time, only to be publicly embarrassed yet again if he declined their overtures.