AFC Notes: Mariota, Clowney, Jaguars

Probably the most-discussed prospect during this year’s pre-NFL draft cycle, Marcus Mariota has drawn the interest from numerous teams who think they have a chance to either select him in the top 10 or move up to No. 2 to make the pick.

At No. 6, the Jets are doing their research. GM Mike Maccagnan and five additional “decision-makers” flew to Eugene, Ore., to work out the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, reports Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

New coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey joined the Jets’ contingent. Bowles noted earlier this week Geno Smith remains the Jets’ starter, but the former second-round pick has played wildly inconsistent football in two seasons.

Elsewhere around the AFC …

  • Last year’s No. 1 pick and the most-hyped defender to come out of college this decade, Jadeveon Clowney is making “terrific progress” on his recovery from microfracture surgery, the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain reports. Clowney, who told McClain he couldn’t put weight on his right leg until around seven weeks transpired after his Dec. 2014 surgery, hopes to be back on the field by Texans training camp. But the microfracture procedure is one of the worst to undergo if the goal is a quick recovery, although Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce emerged to make an impact less than 12 months after an October 2013 procedure.
  • The Jaguars are “almost certain” to take Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. at No. 3 overall, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. opined to the Florida Times-Union‘s Hays Carlyon. As for the Jags’ second-round pick at No. 36: Kiper noted running backs Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman (Indiana) before mentioning Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, a former projected first-rounder who sustained a torn ACL in the Liberty Bowl, as a possible wild-card choice, per the Times-Union. Ogbuehi played guard alongside 2013 Jags No. 2 overall selection Luke Joeckel with the Aggies in 2012. Kiper cites the Jaguars’ myriad additions in free agency providing flexibility in Round 2.
  • The former coaches of the Jags’ marquee free agent signings, Julius Thomas, Davon House, Jermey Parnell and Dan Skuta, offered positive stances about their fits in Jacksonville, reports the Florida Times-Union’s Ryan O’Halloran.
  • After helping the Ravens save more than $2MM in 2015 cap space, Lardarius Webb hopes to finish his career in Baltimore, reports the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson. The longtime Ravens corner can earn up to $18MM over the next three years thanks to $500K playing-time incentives in each of those prospective seasons. “Doing the restructure, I’m glad it helps the team financially to make more moves to make the team better,” Webb told Wilson. “It’s not easy losing great players like Torrey Smith, Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, but this happens every year.”

NFC North Mailbags: Mathis, Long, Blalock

Here’s some of the chatter from the Saturday mailbags on the NFC North.

  • Evan Mathis could be in play for the Vikings if the Eagles release him as they’ve indicated they might, writes ESPN’s Ben Goessling. Although not willing to part with draft choices for the All-Pro guard, the Vikings are reportedly eyeing more interior help and could move for a soon-to-be-released player. Mathis has connections to Mike Zimmer and offensive line coach Jeff Davidson from his time with the Bengals and Panthers, respectively.
  • Stefen Wisniewski, conversely, is not on the Vikings’ radar due in part to the torn labrum he suffered last season, reports Goessling.
  • The Bears view Kyle Long as a candidate to move to tackle due to his athleticism, writes ESPN’s Michael C. Wright. Long started 31 games at right guard the past two years and Bears 2014 starters Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills were lower-tier tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Wright notes the Bears won’t go out of their way to take a quarterback or wide receiver at No. 7 despite the loss of Brandon Marshall or uncertainty surrounding Jay Cutler.
  • The Packers going after a cornerback in the first round to replace the departed Tramon Williams and Davon House is probably one of their top options, offers ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. Green Bay, which hasn’t drafted a corner in Round 1 since Ahmad Carroll in 2004, could look at Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson at No. 30 if he’s still on the board, per Demovsky.
  • Wes Welker may have been a fall-back option had Randall Cobb opted to sign elsewhere, but the veteran slot target is not on the Packers’ radar now. Young backups Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis remain in the team’s developmental plans.
  • Like the Vikings, the Lions are also expected to add talent at guard, reports ESPN’s Mike Rothstein. Retaining 32-year-old Rob Sims or signing longtime Falcons starter Justin Blalock, also 32, are the Lions’ most likely routes in this pursuit, opines Rothstein. After a free agency period more notable for who they lost than who they’ve acquired, the Lions have just more than $5MM worth of cap space heading into the draft.
  • The only two starting lineup locks up front in Detroit are Larry Warford at right guard and Travis Swanson at center, notes Rothstein. Former tight end Michael Williams, who resided on the practice squad last season, could make a move toward the swing tackle spot.

C.J. Anderson To Enter OTAs As Starter

The centerpiece of a reshaped offense during the latter portion of last season, C.J. Anderson will get a weighted chance at an encore for the Broncos, reports DenverBroncos.com’s Andrew Mason.

Gary Kubiak announced the former 2013 undrafted free agent who totaled 1,173 yards from scrimmage after stepping in for multiple injured runners will open the Broncos’ OTAs next month as the starter.

He made a big jump as a player, and I think he’s earned the right to walk in to the offseason program — the OTAs — and line up as our starter,” Kubiak told Mason. “But he’s got to continue to earn it on a daily basis. I think he’s shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we’re really looking forward to working with him.”

There were previous rumblings of a more open competition heading into training camp, but Anderson is the only runner in the Broncos’ top trio that didn’t suffer a season-altering injury in 2014. A groin ailment sidelined Montee Ball, 2014’s opening-night starter, and paved the way for Ronnie Hillman (two 100-plus-yard games after taking over for Ball as the starter in Week 4) before the smaller ball-carrier sustained a foot sprain that sidelined him for nearly two months.

Early-round draft picks Hillman (third round, 2012) and Ball (second, 2013) have enjoyed sporadic success in Denver, but neither matched the run Anderson did last season. The stout runner seems a natural fit in Kubiak’s zone-blocking system that’s made stars out of several backs, most recently undrafted talent Arian Foster. In more than 100 extra snaps last season, however, Foster couldn’t match Anderson’s production, according to Pro Football Focus, which rated him as a top-4 halfback (subscription required).

This could begin a more stable offseason for Anderson, who was fourth on the Broncos’ depth chart last summer after showing up to training camp in less-than-optimal condition and a healthy scratch in Week 5 against the Cardinals before his steady ascent.

NFC Mailbags: Peterson, Rams, Gurley, Newton

We already took a look at some of the AFC mailbags, now let us turn our attention to what ESPN.com’s writes are saying about the NFC:

  • The biggest question left for the Cowboys in terms of building their team outside the draft is whether or not they will trade for Adrian Peterson. Todd Archer writes that while you can never rule anything out with the Cowboys, he doesn’t see it as a real possibility.
  • The Rams are in an odd spot drafting at No. 10, with no obvious players or needs going in that range. Nick Wagoner opened his mailbag to questions about what the team will do if one of the better prospects falls to them, despite not being an immediate fit. He believes the team would have to consider players like Amari Cooper, Kevin White, Vic Beasley, and Randy Gregory should they be available.
  • The Cardinals have a lot of questions at running back, and Josh Weinfuss explores two options, with the likeliness of either Todd Gurley or Peterson starting at halfback for the team in 2015. Weinfuss writes that while every player is different, Gurley should be ready for the beginning of the season. In the case of Peterson, he notes that the chances of a deal materializing lessen as time goes on.
  • Cam Newton is coming closer to a contract extension with the Panthers, and David Newton answers questions about his progress this offseason and the team’s opinions of him. He also touches on whether the team would be willing to trade up in the draft, which he hasn’t seen precedent of under general manager Dave Gettleman.

AFC Mailbags: Jets, Steelers, Bengals, Colts, Jags

It’s Saturday mailbag time, and as free agency is coming to crawl, ESPN.com’s NFL writers are opening their mailbags and answering questions from readers. Here are some notes from the AFC:

  • While the Jets have been linked to Marcus Mariota at six, Rich Cimini would be stunned if the team tried to trade up to get him.
  • The Steelers released Hines Ward ago despite his legendary status in Pittsburgh, but are willing to wait for Troy Polamalu to decide for himself whether it is time to retire. The difference being this time around the team does not have any pressing salary cap issues that are being held up by the decision, according to Scott Brown.
  • The Bengals signed Pat Sims, and fans want to know if the team will still add to their defensive line. Coley Harvey doesn’t think they will go that route early in the draft, writing that the signing likely indicates they will look to fill holes elsewhere in rounds one through three.
  • The Colts have had one of the more miserable running back situations in the league over the past few seasons, due to injury, poor performance, and Trent Richardson. They will have a chance to put more assets toward the position in the draft, although Mike Wells hesitates to say which round the team will find a back deserving a draft pick.
  • The Jaguars need to have an impactful draft class, and Michael DiRocco answers a number of questions in his mailbag regarding draft prospects. He writes that the he thinks the team would take Leonard Williams over Dante Fowler Jr. if both were available, that he would be surprised of Todd Gurley was available for them in round two, and that Randy Gregory’s positive marijuana test should scare them.
  • The Texans were plagued for most of their existence with the inability to find a second receiver to complement Andre Johnson. In 2015, Johnson won’t be there anymore, and the team will now try to find a player to complement DeAndre Hopkins. The coaching staff values versatility, writes Tania Ganguli, and that could leave an “outside receiver” like DeVier Posey the odd man out.
  • The Raiders made a choice to sign Dan Williams over Terrance Knighton, and Bill Williamson answers the simple question, why? Williamson writes the team saw Williams as a more reliable long-term option, with Knighton’s weight issues.
  • The Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin to add some firepower to a position group that failed to register a single touchdown catch in 2014. Still, the situation was desolate enough that Chiefs’ fans are still wondering if the team will target a wideout high in the draft. Adam Teicher writes that they could be interested in Davante Parker if he is available at No. 18, but the chances of taking Dorial Green-Beckham are diminished with Maclin in the fold.

NFC East Notes: Mariota, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys

Washington has been insistent that they are committed to Robert Griffin III as their franchise quarterback, but that does not mean they aren’t doing diligence on the top passers in the draft. The team plans to host Marcus Mariota for a pre-draft visit, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

“If we think it’s worth the risk to hit the ‘reset button,’ if he’s that good of a football player, if we decide in the building that he’s that good of a football player and that we should do that, then we should do that, you know?,” said head coach Jay Gruden said. “But we’ll see. It has not been determined yet, obviously. We still have some time to determine whether or not we want to go in that direction.”

It is uncertain if Mariota would even be available for the team at the fifth selection.

Here are some other notes from around the NFC East:

  • Building off reports that Washington will have Mariota for a visit, John Keim of ESPN offers some thoughts on the connection between player and team. He writes that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the team is at least having him in for a visit, as he is projected to go in the range of their selection, and the teams are allotted 30 visits. He also notes that there are real concerns over Griffin’s standing within the organization, as well as concerns about Mariota’s NFL projection.
  • While Washington has expressed some interest in Mariota, Ross Jones of Fox Sports highlights three players who make more sense for the team. He picks pass rushers Randy Gregory and Shane Ray as options, as well as offensive tackle Brandon Scherff.
  • The Giants have a need at safety after losing Antrel Rolle to the Bears, but may be able to fill that hole on the second day of the draft, writes Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. Citing Mel Kiper of ESPN, Raanan picks out a few safeties who could be available when the Giants come to the podium in rounds two and three, including Byron Jones of Connecticut and Eric Rowe of Utah.
  • The Eagles have been engaged in trade talks with the Dolphins, who are reportedly interested in a member of their defensive backfield, writes Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. While the specific player is not known, Shorr-Parks surmises it is either Brandon Boykin, Earl Wolff, or Jerome Couplin.
  • The Cowboys are known for having one of the top offensive lines in the league, but that wouldn’t preclude them to adding to a strength in the draft, and Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News has profiled a number of offensive linemen that could be of interest to the team.

Lance Briggs To Visit 49ers

Linebacker Lance Briggs is scheduled to meet with the 49ers on Monday, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.

Briggs played his whole career with the Chicago Bears, playing in 173 games and earning seven Pro Bowl appearances while making a case for the Hall of Fame.

However, it has already been made clear that he would be not returning to Chicago for the 2015 season. The team is ready to move on from Briggs, who struggled with injuries the past two seasons, as they try to rebuild their defense under new head coach John Fox.

The 49ers have expressed interest in a number of linebackers since the surprise retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. Aside from Briggs, the team has also been linked to Erin Henderson and Mason Foster.

Briggs has also drawn interest from the Cowboys and Buccaneers, where he is familiar with head coach Lovie Smith.

FA Notes: Moss, Copeland, Lloyd, Bishop

As we heard yesterday, Washington coach Jay Gruden wouldn’t hesitate in bringing back veteran wideout Santana Moss. The 35-year-old has played in Washington for the past ten seasons, and he finished last season with ten catches for 116 yards. If he returns, Moss can expect to continue to contribute at a reduced role, considering the presence of fellow receivers DeSean JacksonPierre Garcon, and Andre Roberts. Still, Gruden appreciates the veteran’s role on the field and in the locker room:

“You know what? I could always play with Santana,” Gruden told Mike Jones of the Washington Post. “Santana’s a great person. He’s great in the locker room for us. He knows all the positions. I know he’s going to be in great shape, and I would not hesitate one bit to call him.”

“We’ve talked about everybody. It’s just about when, how. We don’t want — we’ll wait until the draft to see what we have as far as numbers at every position and go from there. You know, that’s something that we know where Santana is, and he knows where we are, and something may work out down the road.”

Some more assorted notes from around the NFL…

  • As we previously heard, linebacker Brandon Copeland has received interest from multiple teams following his performance at the Veteran Combine. “My phone’s been ringing,” he told Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. “It’s been pretty good so far. I’m not going to say what teams, but four teams have offered me contracts so far. It was definitely successful for me to go to the veteran combine.” Among the teams showing interest in Copeland are the Lions, EaglesBengalsChiefsColtsGiants and Titans.
  • Meanwhile, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that the 49ers are not among the estimated 13 teams to have shown some level of interest in Copeland.
  • ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez says the 49ers haven’t had any conversations with wideout Brandon Lloyd. He notes that the team previously has little interest in bringing back linebacker Desmond Bishop, but he acknowledges that the mindset may have changed following the roster overhaul.
  • Some have drawn comparisons between the Texans signing of Ed Reed last offseason and their addition of free agent Vince Wilfork this year. Texans owner Bob McNair recognizes the difference, however. “I think the difference is when you have someone at a position where they have to be able to run, then age is more of a consideration,” McNair told ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli. “We thought Ed was in good shape and was going to be able to come down and play and he was a big disappointment. At nose tackle, you don’t have to run that much. He’s got to be strong. So there’s some positions you can play for more years and you aren’t taking as much risk.

AFC Links: Maclin, Dareus, Colts, Revis

Part of Jeremy Maclin‘s decision to join the Chiefs was surely based on the five year, $55MM contract (including $22.5MM guaranteed) he received. However, the wideout insists the move had nothing to do with the value of the contract (via Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com):

“It wasn’t really about money. Obviously you want to get paid because of all the stuff that you do. But it wasn’t necessarily about who could pay me the most money.”

Meanwhile, Eagles coach Chip Kelly acknowledged that he wanted Maclin to return to Philadelphia:

“We didn’t think there was another receiver in that price range in free agency. We were trying to get Mac back. Felt we gave him a real competitive offer. Kansas City offered him a lot more than we did. We just weren’t going to go that high.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…

  • Marcell Dareus is in line for a big payday, and despite his previous issues off the field, Bills general manager Doug Whaley told ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak that the organization is comfortable with the defensive tackle’s maturation. “I think the maturity we saw this (past) year has us feeling that unless he has a relapse soon, that we’re pretty comfortable that he’s taking that step for him, as a professional, to be more professional,” Whaley said (via John Kryk of Canoe.ca). “He has taken those steps now.”
  • The Colts have made some notable moves this offseason, bringing in Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole. Still, as Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star points out, the team has plenty of holes, including safety, defensive line and center. “It can’t be Christmas every day,” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “There’s not a forever, endless river of cash flowing. We have a plan. We followed it.”
  • Rodney Harrison knows a thing or two about elite defensive backs, and the two-time Super Bowl champion said the Patriots made the right move by not over-extending to keep Darrelle RevisBill (Belichick), he’s not gonna sell the farm for Darrelle Revis,” Harrison said while appearing on NBC Sports Radio’s “Under Center with McNabb and Malone” (via Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com). “Darrelle, as good as he is, maybe in a year or two he won’t be quite the same player he was this past season for the New England Patriots. I believe that was the right move to make.”

 

NFC Links: Ball, McClain, Panthers, Cardinals

Veteran cornerback Alan Ball rejected the Panthers offer in free agency, eventually opting to sign with the Bears. The former seventh-round pick discussed his decision to join Chicago with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

“I just see opportunity in a new defense that is coming in. I’ve watched Vic [Fangio]’s defense in the past and what he does for his players and the situations he puts them in. You have to be excited about that. [Ed] Donatell does a good job with players as well and John Fox, no matter who you ask, they say the same thing about him as a head coach.

“I like the whole situation with those guys after being around them and (general manager) Ryan Pace. It’s good energy and it is something to be excited about. I don’t want to talk numbers. The Bears were competitive. The reason I made the decision overall was because of fit.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from the NFC…