NFL Clears Ray McDonald

Former 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who signed a modest one-year deal with the Bears this offseason, has been cleared of any violation of the league’s personal conduct policy for the domestic violence incident that landed him in jail last year, according to Adam Jahns of The Chicago Sun Times. McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence on August 31, 2014, but due to insufficient evidence, no charges were filed. As Jahns writes, the league completed its investigation of the incident on Friday, and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash released the following statement:

“We have completed that [domestic-violence] investigation. [Special counsel for investigations] Lisa [Friel] and her team completed that investigation [and] did not establish a violation of the personal-conduct policy. We informed the player and the [NFL] Players Association.’’

However, the league continues to investigate an alleged sexual assault that involves McDonald. Again, no charges have been filed in that matter, but the incident did prompt the 49ers to release the 29-year-old in December despite his promising 2014 campaign. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McDonald was the league’s 12th-best 3-4 defensive end in 2014, grading well both against the run and as a pass rusher.

It is unclear when the second investigation will conclude, though as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk wrote last month, McDonald has announced his intention to sue the woman who accused him of sexual assault.

 

Eagles Could Still Trade Bradford

After making one of the more surprising trades in recent memory when they dealt for Sam Bradford last month, the Eagles have insisted that they are not planning on using Bradford as a trade chip to move up in the draft to select Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, Philadelphia has done nothing to dispel that rumor since the deal was completed.

Specifically, the team has engaged in no contract talks with Bradford, who is entering the final year of his current deal and is owed nearly $13MM in 2015. Of course, Bradford could have some say in that as well. One team that could deal for Bradford would be the Browns, who are in desperate need of a franchise signal-caller and who have already tried to acquire the Oklahoma product this offseason. Under the framework of a three-team deal that Florio has put together, Cleveland would receive Bradford, Philadelphia would move up high enough in this year’s draft to select Mariota, and a third team could receive multiple high-round draft picks from bot the Eagles and Browns.

But if Bradford had his druthers, he surely would not want to be shipped to Cleveland, and if he were to sign a new multi-year deal with the Eagles, he would only become more valuable to a team like the Browns, which could keep him under club control beyond 2015. And that’s not to mention the financial aspect of a new contract, which would certainly require extensive negotiation. Bradford, after all, is hoping to play his way into a big payout in 2016 and is not willing to accept a “substandard” contract.

So the saga continues, despite the Eagles’ insistence that Bradford is not a stepping stone to Mariota. However, if a trade were to happen, one would think that the parameters would already be in place, or at least preliminary discussions would have been held. But just as there has been no chatter surrounding a new deal between the Eagles and Bradford, there have similarly been no substantiated rumblings about Philadelphia trading him. In any event, it looks like all possibilities remain on the table, and only Thursday night will bring any real clarity.

In addition to the Bradford piece, there are a few more Eagles nuggets to pass on today:

  • The Eagles cannot hide their interest in UConn CB Byron Jones, and Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer examines the case for Philadelphia to grab the speedy, physical corner with the No. 20 overall pick.
  • In a separate piece, McLane examines the size, speed, and other physical measurables that head coach Chip Kelly–whose “big people beat up little people” mantra has become a catchphrase–and vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz use to weed out certain players from their draft board. Although scheme, position, fit, and intelligence of course remain important components of the team’s evaluation process, if a player does not have the right build, the odds are he will not wind up on the Eagles’ radar. McLane wonders if that process is unnecessarily restricting the crop of talent from which Philadelphia picks.
  • Speaking of Marynowitz, Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer examines the challenges that await the newly-promoted 31-year-old.
  • Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com writes that the Eagles will not be selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins with their first round selection. Collins is widely regarded as the best safety in an otherwise weak class.

 

East Notes: E. Manning, Cowboys, Dolphins

Eli Manning is entering the final year of his contract with the Giants, and there have been no discussions about an extension, writes Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. However, the lack of negotiations has not phased the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

“I haven’t made a big deal about it,” Manning said. “[It] is not something I’m going to argue about or make a fuss about.”

Of course, Manning did receive a six-year, $97.5MM deal from the Giants back in 2010, a contract he is going to play out, so he has reason to be patient as his next contract negotiations approach. One would think that he is in line for one more big payday, even though he will be 35 when he hits unrestricted free agency next winter. New York could put the franchise tag on him if it comes down to it, though it is difficult to imagine Manning finishing his career on anything other than a multi-year deal with Big Blue.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Ralph Vacchiano of The New York Daily News believes there is only one direction for the Giants to go with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft: offensive line. Even if an elite wide receiver prospect like Amari Cooper or Kevin White falls to New York, Vacchiano believes the team should resist temptation and grab one of the top offensive linemen like Brandon Scherff or Ereck Flowers.
  • Rainer Sabin of The Dallas Morning News looks at the top priorities for the Cowboys heading into the draft. He lists cornerback and defensive line as the two positions the team absolutely must address.
  • For a number of reasons, the Cowboys have been pretty successful in the draft under head coach Jason Garrett. Garrett and assistant director of player personnel Will McClay have a good eye for talent, executive VP Stephen Jones has wielded a “firm and disciplined hand,” and owner Jerry Jones is meddling a little less. As David Moore of The Dallas Morning News writes, the one drawback to success in the draft is that other teams want to poach the successful team’s players, which has happened with the Cowboys this offseason. Running back DeMarco Murray, linebacker Bruce Carter, and special teams ace Dwayne Harris were all part of Garrett’s first draft class and all left in free agency, so the team must now deal with the unique challenge that drafting well presents: not only adding talent to the nucleus of the roster, but replacing lost talent in the most cost-effective manner possible, which includes mining hidden gems in the lower rounds. Dallas must show they are up to that task if they are to repeat as NFC East champions.
  • John Keim of ESPN.com takes a look at a number of Robert Griffin III-related questions in his latest mailbag, including the ramifications of Washington‘s decision to either exercise or not exercise RGIII’s fifth-year option.
  • In a couple of Dolphins-related items, James Walker of ESPN.com examines whether Miami would really be willing to roll the dice on Georgia RB Todd Gurley and what the holdup is in exercising Ryan Tannehill‘s fifth-year option.
  • In Bill Belichick‘s 15 drafts with the Patriots, the team has traded up 17 times and traded down 17 times. As Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald writes, New England is one of two teams holding five of the top 101 picks in this year’s draft, so you can expect more wheeling and dealing from the Pats this week.
  • Despite the buzz surrounding Marcus Mariota and the disappointment surrounding Geno Smith, Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News believes the Jets should go with the “strategically smart” decision and trade down from their No. 6 overall pick to select Stanford OT Andrus Peat.

North Notes: Browns, A. Brown, Vikings

The Browns have drafted a quarterback in the first round in two of the past three seasons, and by the time their first pick in this week’s draft rolls around–they hold the N0. 12 overall selection–the top two quarterbacks in the class, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, will be long gone. After those two signal-callers, the general consensus is that the drop-off to the next tier of QBs is pretty steep.

But Cleveland needs a quarterback. They’ve needed one since they rejoined the league in 1999. Which is why, despite their recent investments at the quarterback position, investments that can only be classified as abject failures at this point, they may consider moving up in the draft to nab Mariota. Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that the Browns’ interest in Mariota is “very real,” but whether they decide to pull the trigger and trade up would of course depend on the price. Trading up to the No. 2 overall pick–which they may have to do, since the Titans, who currently hold that selection, are reportedly more interested in Mariota than many originally believed–would probably be too cost-prohibitive.

But if Mariota slides past Tennessee, than the Browns may be tempted. In addition to the No. 12 overall pick, they also hold the No. 19 selection, so they have the ammunition to move up. Given the team’s series of missteps at quarterback, such a move would certainly make Browns fans nervous, but until Cleveland gets a franchise player under center, they will continue to stare up at the other three teams in their division. Despite his shortcomings, Mariota has the chance to be that player if the system, and the price, is right.

Now for some more notes from the league’s north divisions:

  • Antonio Brown, who is coming off a magnificent 2014 campaign, is reportedly trying to renegotiate his current contract with the Steelers. But as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, Pittsburgh holds all the cards at the moment. Brown would suffer significant fines, signing bonus give-backs, and lost wages if he were to hold out beyond voluntary workouts and OTAs this spring, and the Steelers simply do not renegotiate this early in a player’s contract (Brown still has three years left on his current deal).
  • Matt Vensel of The Star Tribune looks at a few key positions the Vikings might target in the first round of the 2015 draft and makes an argument for each. Ultimately, he concludes that trading back might represent the team’s best option.
  • Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says all signs point to the Vikings selecting Michigan State corner Trae Waynes in Thursday’s first round.
  • Although Matt Forte‘s decision to skip the opening phase of the Bears‘ offseason program was reported, Martellus Bennett‘s decision to do the same thing went unannounced. Bennett is coming off a career year, but the average annual salary of his current deal ($5.1MM) puts him fairly low on the list of the league’s highest-paid tight ends. As ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson writes, the team has a three-day voluntary minicamp scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday of the coming week, and the Bears will have a better idea of Forte’s and Bennett’s offseason intentions at that time.
  • Kyle Meinke of MLive.com ranks the Lions‘ pre-draft needs, with the guard position topping the list.

Five Teams Interested In Chris Polk

Five teams are in the running for free agent running back Chris Polk, Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com tweets. One of the teams with interest in Polk, he adds, is from the NFC East. The former Eagle is currently weighing his options.

The Eagles rescinded Polk‘s RFA contract tender on Friday, making him an unrestricted free agent. According to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com, Philadelphia was open to re-signing the running back at a lower salary, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement.

Polk, 25, took on a slightly larger role in Philadelphia’s offense last season behind LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, totaling 172 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries. After agreeing to a trade that sent McCoy to the Bills, the Eagles – presumably expecting Polk to play an even more significant part on the offense in 2015 – assigned him a $1.542MM RFA tender. Later in March, however, the Eagles landed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to go along with Sproles, creating a back log on the running back depth chart.

Now, Polk is on the open market and he just might land with a divisional rival of the Eagles.

Extra Points: Farmer, Pitta, Giants

Over the weekend, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com looked at five GMs in need of a strong draft, including Browns GM Ray Farmer. Thanks to the Sammy Watkins trade, Farmer has a pair of first-round picks for the second consecutive year and, as Wesseling notes, he can’t afford to blow them this time around. Here’s a look around the NFL..

  • Dennis Pitta said at an event for special Olympics tonight that his goal is to play this season, but it’s still too early for him to know, Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun tweets. The Ravens tight end has been plagued by injuries over the last two seasons but is among the most productive offensively when healthy.
  • The Giants‘ problems are far from fixed, but they don’t have as many glaring holes to fill as they did when last year’s draft rolled around and Dan Graziano of ESPN.com thinks they should consider moving up. If a defensive difference-maker such as Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler Jr. slips past the top four or five, Graziano would support Big Blue moving up, so long as the cost was reasonable. Unfortunately, Williams looks like Oakland’s top choice at No. 4 and Fowler looks like Washington’s top choice at No. 5.
  • In today’s mailbag, a reader asks Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com if he thinks the Titans might cut or restructure running back Shonn Greene and guard Andy Levitre. Green is due $3.25MM in 2015 and would only leave $833K in dead money, so he could very well get cut if and when Antonio Andrews beats him out in camp. Cutting Levitre, meanwhile, wouldn’t save the Titans all that much money, so he’s not a likely cut for them.

West Notes: St. Louis, Polk, Rams

Leaders of the effort to build a new NFL stadium in St. Louis said Friday they remain optimistic about a plan they say would retain a team and help redevelop a blighted part of the city, according to the The Associated Press. Members of the St. Louis stadium task force made their case directly to league officials in New York on Wednesday and they emerged confident as ever that the plan is still on course. Of course, to get a new stadium greenlit, they’ll have to figure out how to fund it and there could be legal hurdles to overcome in order to use taxpayer money. Here’s a look at the West divisions..

  • Meanwhile, commissioner Roger Goodell thinks the projects in Inglewood and Carson, California are “viable,” and have a “great deal of potential to be successful,” Barry Wilner of The Associated Press writes. Of course, the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers are all eyeing Los Angeles as a potential destination.
  • Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times wonders if free agent running back Chris Polk could be a fit for the Seahawks. Coach Pete Carroll is familiar with the University of Washington product because he tried to recruit him to USC in 2007. The Seahawks don’t necessarily have an urgent need at running back, with last year’s trio of Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and Christine Michael all due to return next season. But the Seahawks like to add competition, and Polk could be a viable competitor for a backup spot.
  • Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if the Rams might take a gamble on Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. Gregory, despite his off-field issues, is regarded as the draft’s best pass rusher, and that’s saying a lot given this year’s crop. “It’s a real good group,” said a veteran NFC scout. “They’re going to fly off the board.” The scout sees Gregory as “an Aldon Smith or Jason Pierre-Paul type” and heaped loads of praise upon him.

Latest On Titans, Philip Rivers

Alex Flanagan of NBC Sports (on Twitter) is hearing from more and more people who believe the Philip Rivers trade rumors have legitimate legs. Peter King of Sports Illustrated (Twitter link), meanwhile, seems to be sensing the same thing, though he says nothing is certain regarding the No. 2 pick at this time.

As Flanagan tweets, the Titans have a clear need for Rivers and the Chargers could get out of their financial obligation to him with a trade. Meanwhile, Marcus Mariota would be marketable in Los Angeles, if the Bolts do wind up moving there. Meanwhile, Flanagan (link) isn’t so sure that the Buccaneers won’t want Mariota, which would throw a wrench into things. For his part, King (link) still sees Jameis Winston going No. 1.

All eyes will be on the Titans and their No. 2 pick heading into the draft on April 30th. Mike Mayock of NFL Network believes that it will be hard for any team to pry that selection away from Tennessee unless they’re offering an established veteran quarterback like Rivers. All in all, the discussions have been shrouded in relative secrecy despite the level of speculation going on. Earlier this week, a source told Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego that the two sides have yet to be in contact with one another. At this stage, however, it’d be surprising if that were still the case.

Browns Notes: Gurley, Draft, Brooks

Here’s a look at the latest out of Cleveland..

  • The Browns’ chances of getting the best quarterback in the draft are nil if they don’t trade up, so Jeff Schudel of The Morning Journal wonders if they just might decide to go for a running back instead. The Browns pick at No. 19 and Todd Gurley could conceivably be available there. On the other hand, running back is not an area of desperate need for the Browns because they have Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. Interestingly, it was Gurley that replaced Crowell at Georgia when Crowell was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons.
  • Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer took a look at quarterback prospects that could be a fit for the Browns. Beyond presumptive No. 1 pick Jameis Winston, he feels that the best candidate is Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson. Most scouts have projected him as a backup, but ESPN’s Jon Gruden has him pegged as the No. 3 quarterback in the draft, behind Winston and Marcus Mariota.
  • Ex-Morgan State running back Jourdan Brooks has been invited to the Browns‘ minicamp on tryout basis, according to a source that spoke with Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun (on Twitter). Brooks, who stands at 6’0″ and 237 pounds, was originally signed by Cincinnati as an undrafted free agent.

Jim Irsay Discusses Chuck Pagano’s Future

The Colts have had some incredible success since hiring Chuck Pagano prior to the 2012 season. The organization has won 11 games in three straight seasons, and they’ve advanced an extra round in the playoffs in each of his three years.

However, there was some skepticism surrounding the 54-year-old, particularly his inability to lead a talented roster to a Super Bowl appearance. News that the team wasn’t planning on extending Pagano only added fuel to the fire. However, owner Jim Irsay hushed any speculation on Friday evening, asserting that he wants Pagano, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, to be the head coach going forward.

Stephen Holder of IndyStar.com compiled some quotes from Irsay, which we’ve collected for you below…

On previous negotiations between the organization and Pagano’s representatives:

“There were some efforts to talk about it. We just didn’t get there. Sometimes that happens. If you go back to the old days, there were no agents involved, either. Now general managers and coaches sometimes have agents. In fact, oftentimes … We’re real positive about Chuck Pagano and the things that he’s done. It’s not a sign of anything extremely negative. We just haven’t gotten anything done in terms of a long-term contract.”

On the two sides’ inability to agree on a contract extension:

“These things are ongoing a lot of times behind the scenes. We’re working on contracts, whether it’s management, coaches, players. We had discussions and it doesn’t mean that they won’t continue. It’s not a Super Bowl-or-bust season or anything like that.”

On Pagano’s accomplishments and contributions to the organization:

“We were proud of our (2014) season and I really feel positive about Chuck and what he’s done for us. There’s no question that he’s accomplished a lot since he’s been here. And we’re here tonight for this gala because he had that illness (leukemia) in 2012. Really, it’s only been two years, kind of, that he’s been coaching. So, he’s done a very good job and nothing rules out that we couldn’t have an extension done before the season. And if not, we can still, I’m sure, work things out.”