Broncos To Acquire Gino Gradkowski

The Broncos and Ravens are working to finalize a trade that would send veteran center Gino Gradkowski to Denver, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (via Twitter). It doesn’t sound as if a deal is official yet, but Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports (via Twitter) that it will happen.

Gradkowski, 26, started all 16 regular season contests at center for the Ravens in 2013, but was supplanted on the depth chart by 2014 trade acquisition Jeremy Zuttah, and is now a reserve for the team. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) wasn’t particularly fond of Gradkowski’s 2013 play, though his -15.6 overall grade was almost entirely a result of a poor pass-blocking performance — he was adequate as a run blocker.

The Broncos, who lost guard Orlando Franklin in free agency, had been in the market for interior line help even after signing veteran guard Shelley Smith. The team could end up playing Manuel Ramirez at center and identifying a replacement at left guard for Franklin, or Ramirez could be shifted to guard with Gradkowski taking over at center. Heading to Denver will reunite Gradkowski with former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is now the Broncos’ head coach.

The compensation heading to Baltimore in the deal has yet to be reported, but I wouldn’t expect it to be more than a late-round draft pick. Gradkowski, a beneficiary of 2015’s proven performance escalator raises, had been set to earn a base salary of $1.542MM, so clearing that money from their books and replacing him with a cheaper backup was probably part of the Ravens’ incentive to make the move.

Cowboys, Tony Romo Restructure Contract

1:53pm: Joel Corry of CBSSports.com clarifies (via Twitter) that it appears the Cowboys converted exactly $16MM of Romo’s salary into a bonus, rather than the maximum allowable $16.03MM. That slightly affects our calculations below, but the general cap implications are essentially identical.

12:51pm: According to reports by the Dallas Morning News and Pro Football Talk (Twitter link), the Cowboys have now converted about $16MM of Romo’s 2015 base salary into a signing bonus, as explained below.

12:17pm: According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com (via Twitter), Romo’s restructure isn’t official yet, but it will be within in the next day or so.

12:02pm: In order to accommodate the re-signing of Rolando McClain and additional forthcoming moves, the Cowboys have created some extra cap space by restructuring Tony Romo‘s contract, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports (via Twitter). Getlin reports that the move saves the team nearly $13MM in cap space.

Romo, who turns 35 later this month, had been slated to count for $27.773MM against the cap in 2015, including a $17MM base salary. Assuming it’s a simple restructure for Romo, the team likely reduced his base salary to the minimum $970K, turning $16.03MM into a signing bonus. That bonus would then be prorated over the final five years of his contract at a rate of $3.206MM per year, lowering his ’15 cap number to $14.949MM. That would work out to $12.824MM in cap savings, which is the most room the Cowboys could create without their starting quarterback taking a pay cut.

The Cowboys had been down to about $2MM or less in cap space, so such a move was probably necessary, and will give the team room to sign its draft picks, as well as McClain and possibly other free agents. Still, it makes Romo’s contract more unwieldy in its later years. From 2016 to 2019, the QB’s cap hits will increase by more than $3MM annually. The move will also increase the post-2015 dead money on Romo’s deal from $19.135MM to $31.959MM.

While Romo’s restructure figures to increase speculation that the Cowboys will make a run at Adrian Peterson, the club would still need to make at least one more move to accommodate such an addition, unless the Vikings running back were to rework his contract or accept a pay cut as part of a trade.

Bears Sign Sam Acho

The Bears continued to add to a defense-heavy free agent class today, announcing (via Twitter) that they’ve signed linebacker Sam Acho. It’s a one-year contract for Acho, according to the team.

Acho, who spent his first four NFL seasons in Arizona, originally joined the Cardinals as a fourth-round draft pick in 2011. After starting 16 games during his first two seasons, the Texas product missed most of the 2013 campaign with a broken ankle, then played a part-time role for the Cards in 2014.

The 26-year-old Acho hasn’t been an overly effective pass rusher since entering the league, recording just one sack last season. However, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credited him with 26 overall quarterback pressures, and gave him a positive grade for his run defense.

Acho is the latest free agent defender to sign with the Bears, following Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle, Alan Ball, Ray McDonald, Jarvis Jenkins, and Mason Foster to Chicago. With new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio planning to make the transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 system in 2015, the team has been active in finding and adding players who have experience in the 3-4.

Bengals Re-Sign Brandon Tate

The Bengals have re-signed wide receiver and return man Brandon Tate, the team announced today (via Twitter). Terms of the agreement weren’t immediately disclosed.

Tate, 27, was selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 2009 draft, but only lasted two seasons in New England. The North Carolina product has spent the last four years in Cincinnati, returning kicks and punts for the club and occasionally contributing on offense as well.

Tate didn’t have much of an impact in the return game in 2014, averaging 9.7 yards per punt return and a career-low 22.1 yards per kick return; he hasn’t had a return touchdown since 2011. With the Bengals dealing with multiple injuries to pass-catchers, Tate played more on offense than he had in the previous two seasons, grabbing 17 balls for 193 yards and a TD.

Although he’s back on the roster, Tate isn’t necessarily guaranteed a role as the team’s primary returner, or even a spot on the roster. Coley Harvey of ESPN.com and Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer both tweet that they still expect the Bengals to draft a return-type receiver in a few weeks, with Tate providing insurance and competition.

Tate previously paid a visit to the Chiefs.

Stevan Ridley Visiting Jets

A day after paying a visit to the Dolphins, free agent running back Stevan Ridley will continue his AFC East tour by heading to New York today to meet with the Jets, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter).

Ridley, 26, is returning from a season-ending knee injury and appears unlikely to sign with the Patriots, with whom he has spent his first four NFL seasons. His best season in New England came in 2012, when he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns as the team’€™s feature back. Fumbling problems, injuries, and Bill Belichick‘s habit of rotating running backs limited Ridley’€™s production over the last two seasons.

The Jets re-signed Bilal Powell earlier this offseason, and also have Chris Ivory atop their running back depth chart, but could still use some help at the position. Ivory, who had a career-high 198 carries in 2014, probably isn’t the type of player who will carry a DeMarco Murray-esque load, so a healthy Ridley might be a nice complement for the Jets’ starter.

Ridley has also been linked to the Cowboys and Vikings at various times in free agency, but based on his visits this week, it appears very possible that he’ll remain in the AFC East.

East Rumors: Pats, Dolphins, Boykin, Eagles

While linebacker Rolando McClain opted to return to Dallas, re-signing with the Cowboys today, the Patriots made a competitive offer to the former eighth overall pick. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald (via Twitter), New England offered McClain a $4MM contract that was structured similarly to the Dallas deal, which has a $3MM base and $1MM in incentives. If the money was equal, McClain likely made his decision based on the familiarity of the Cowboys’ system, as well as the opportunity for more playing time.

Here’s more from around the NFL’s two East divisions:

  • There’s a chance the Dolphins make a trade to acquire either a veteran guard or cornerback right before or during the draft, writes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. According to Salguero, one potential cornerback target is Brandon Boykin, whom the Eagles are said to be willing to trade. Evan Mathis is another possible trade option for Miami, with Philadelphia reportedly open to considering a deal for just about anyone if the price is right.
  • Speaking of Eagles trades, safety Malcolm Jenkins says he and his teammates weren’t too shocked by the team’s decision to send LeSean McCoy to the Bills last month. “You look at the style of runner that Chip [Kelly] wants in his offense and even though Shady is one of the best backs in the league, he’s not necessarily what Chip is looking for all the time,” Jenkins said, per NFL.com. “Chip thinks he’s a great running back, he knows his talent is there, but our (system) is really predicated on downhill, somebody who is going to hit the hole every time.”
  • The Eagles hosted UCLA edge defender Owamagbe Odighizuwa for a pre-draft visit yesterday, a source tells Tim McManus of PhillyMag.com (Twitter link).

Saints Extend Jahri Evans Through 2017

The Saints have extended the contract of guard Jahri Evans by one year, locking him up through the 2017 season, according to PR man Greg Bensel (Twitter link). The team had needed to create some salary cap flexibility, and Evans’ cap number was a candidate for reduction, so I’d expect the move restructures his deal in addition to extending it.

Evans, 31, had been on the Saints’ books for an $11MM cap hit in 2015, which included a $6.8MM base salary. The club could reduce that number by a few million dollars by lowering Evans’ 2015 salary in favor of some additional bonus money or guarantees.

A four-team All Pro who has earned six consecutive Pro Bowl nods, Evans was viewed as a potential cap casualty or trade candidate this offseason, but his roster spot became safer once the Saints moved Ben Grubbs in a deal with the Chiefs. By hanging onto the former fourth-round pick, the New Orleans line will maintain some stability in the middle, where new center Max Unger will play alongside Evans.

The Bills reportedly discussed a possible Evans trade with New Orleans before the Saints elected to keep the veteran lineman in the mix.

Saints Sign Kyle Wilson

10:39am: The Saints have officially signed Wilson, the team announced (via Twitter). It’s a one-year deal for the cornerback (Twitter link).

10:34am: Having reworked Keenan Lewis‘ deal and signed Brandon Browner as a free agent last month, the Saints are making another move at cornerback, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Mehta reports (via Twitter) that that ex-Jet Kyle Wilson will be signing with New Orleans.

Wilson, who turns 28 next month, was a first-round pick back in 2010, but only started 28 of the 80 regular season contests he played for the Jets since entering the league. In 2014, Wilson didn’t start a single game for the club, and only saw 320 defensive snaps. In his limited playing time, Wilson allowed a 73.3% completion rate and a 111.9 passer rating on passes thrown into his coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

The Jets no longer had room for Wilson in a crowded secondary that has received an influx of talent at the cornerback spot within the last few weeks. Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine all signed with New York as free agents, and 2013 first-rounder Dee Milliner will also rejoin the team after missing most of the 2014 season with an Achilles tear. Of course, even before adding all those new corners, the Jets didn’t appear interested in re-signing Wilson.

In New Orleans, Wilson will compete for playing time on a defense led by Rob Ryan, the brother of the cornerback’s old head coach. Lewis and Browner are penciled in as the starters, but Patrick Robinson and Corey White, two of the Saints’ top corners last season, are now playing elsewhere, so Wilson, Brian Dixon, Terrence Frederick, and others should get an opportunity to earn snaps.

Dolphins Notes: Thomas, Draft, Trusnik

Dolphins safety and special-teamer Michael Thomas met with coaches and formally signed his contract tender with the team this morning, according to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). There was no doubt that Thomas would be back, since he was an exclusive rights free agent and couldn’t negotiate with other teams, but he’s now officially under contract, and the club expects “big things” from him in 2015, says Beasley.

Here’s more on the Dolphins, courtesy of Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

  • A team source tells Jackson that Auburn receiver Sammie Coates and USC wideout George Farmer are among the prospects being flown in to meet with Dolphins coaches and executives this month. Miami acquired Kenny Stills in a trade with the Saints last month, but Stills alone won’t replace Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson, so the team remains in the market for receiving help.
  • Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley doesn’t look like a good bet to fall to the No. 14 pick, but the Dolphins have scheduled a visit with him anyway, says Jackson.
  • Miami’s Phillip Dorsett and Florida State’s Rashad Greene are among the receivers the Dolphins have invited to audition for them on their local day on April 10. According to Jackson, FSU tight end Nick O’Leary won’t be in attendance that day due to a scheduling conflict, but he’ll meet with team execs and coaches on April 9 instead.
  • Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines and Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson are among the defensive backs slated to visit the Dolphins, per Jackson. The club also intends to audition Miami middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, and sent linebackers coach Mark Duffner to Clemson to work out potential second-round pick Stephone Anthony.
  • According to Jackson, the Dolphins didn’t show any interest in retaining linebacker and special-teamer Jason Trusnik, who signed yesterday with the Panthers.

Cowboys Re-Sign Rolando McClain

8:34am: The signing is now official, tweets Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com.

7:42am: After visiting the Patriots earlier this week and receiving a contract offer from New England, linebacker Rolando McClain has instead agreed to re-sign with the Cowboys on a one-year deal, reports Ed Werder of ESPN.com (via Twitter). According to Werder, it’ll be worth $3MM, with another $1MM available in playing-time incentives.Rolando McClain

McClain, 25, recorded 87 tackles and a sack to go along with two interceptions in 13 games for the Cowboys in 2014. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the former first-round pick eighth out of 60 qualified inside linebackers, and he excelled in every aspect of the game — PFF’s grades placed him eighth as a pass rusher, seventh as a cover man, and 11th as a run defender, among inside linebackers.

Despite his impressive on-field showing, McClain still has some off-field question marks. He came back from retirement less than a year ago, and has failed multiple drug tests, making him a potential suspension risk. When I examined his free agent stock last week, I speculated that he may have to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal like the ones signed by Nick Fairley and Terrance Knighton. I also noted that returning to Dallas might be the best fit for the veteran linebacker.

That third failed drug test means a four-game fine for McClain, so that penalty figures to come out of his game checks for the upcoming season. The ex-Raider has appealed the fine, but history suggests he doesn’t have a great chance of winning that appeal, barring extenuating circumstances.

The Cowboys’ linebacking corps will look much different in 2015 than it did a year ago, as regular contributors Justin Durant and Bruce Carter have signed elsewhere. McClain will be joined by incoming free agents Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar on the new-look unit. Sean Lee, who missed the 2014 campaign due to a torn ACL, will also be back in the mix.

McClain initially ranked 35th last month on my list of this year’s top 50 free agents. Only three players on that list – Michael Crabtree, Joe Barksdale, and Stefen Wisniewski – remain unsigned.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.