Cowboys Notes: Romo, Williams, Murray

Tonight’s look at the Cowboys..

  • Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Cowboys restructuring the contract of Tony Romo for salary cap flexibility, and Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap runs down the team’s options. Romo has the highest cap charge in the NFL in 2015 at $27.77MM and bringing that figure down would make it easier for the Cowboys to re-sign Dez Bryant, one of their lineman, and either re-sign DeMarco Murray or acquire Adrian Peterson. The Cowboys could turn to a few different variations, including a max restructure ( reducing Romo’s base salary to the absolute minimum and converting the ~$16MM balance to a signing bonus) and moving a portion of Romo’s 2015 base salary to 2016.
  • The two-year futures contract that the Cowboys gave to Ryan Williams could have an impact on their offseason plans at running back, as Clarence E. Hill Jr of the Star-Telegram writes. Williams spent all season on the taxi squad in 2014, but his $240K signing bonus is probably a sign that he’ll be in the mix at tailback in 2015. He won’t be a DeMarco Murray replacement if the star leaves in free agency, but he could be part of the equation at the position that right now includes 2014 backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. There is a real good chance the Cowboys might not tender Dunbar a restricted free-agent contract offer because it comes with a $1.575MM price tag – a steep price for someone who had 99 yards on 29 carries and no touchdowns in 2014.
  • Murray bet on himself before the season began and turned down the Cowboys offer of an extension. His gamble paid off, as David Moore of The Dallas Morning News writes. Now, he says that he’s not stressing too much about his future and whether or not it’ll be in Dallas. “I’ll let my agent handle all that,’’ Murray said. “It’s only been two or three weeks since the season ended. I’m still relaxing and whatnot.’’

AFC Notes: Tucker, Gordon, D. Thomas

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is eligible for restricted free agency for the first time this winter, but will be restricted rather than unrestricted, meaning a one-year deal is possible. Still, if it were up to him, Tucker wouldn’t mind signing a long-term deal to stay in Baltimore, writes Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

“I think when you take a step back and look at it from the big picture and think long-term, that would just be great to know what’s going to go on for the next several years as opposed to the next few months or next year,” Tucker said. “When you think about it from a general perspective, it feels and sounds great for me personally. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Baltimore and would to continue it. I think it’s just a matter of everybody getting something together and discussing it.”

Here are a few more Thursday updates from all over the AFC:

  • In an open letter published on The Cauldron, Browns wideout Josh Gordon addresses Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith, Cris Carter, and other media members and fans who have criticized him for his problems with substance abuse, explaining his side of the story. Gordon’s account provides an interesting perspective, and is a reminder that, at age 23, he shouldn’t be written off as an NFL player. Still, he has vowed in the past to make better decisions, so he’ll have to actually make good on those promises this time around.
  • Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio (audio link), Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said he hadn’t talked to the team about a new contract since before the season started, and is letting his agent handle any discussions at this point. Thomas added that he plans to “go about his business” whether he returns to Denver or ultimately lands with another club.
  • Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis explained today on ESPN’s NFL Insiders that team owner Mike Brown sees defensive backs coach Vance Joseph as a rising star, which is why the club was unwilling to let Joseph take the Broncos‘ defensive coordinator job. Coley Harvey of ESPN.com has the details and quotes from Lewis, who said Joseph “could be sitting in my chair very quickly.”
  • Ndamukong Suh’s name should be atop the Colts‘ winter wish list as the team prepares to enter the offseason armed with a ton of cap room, writes Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. Meanwhile, Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck says Suh seems like a player that would fit in well in Oakland, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press details.

McCoy Open To Restructure, Not Pay Cut

If the Vikings release Adrian Peterson this offseason, a move that many expect to happen, it would leave LeSean McCoy as the only running back in the NFL with an eight-digit cap hit on the books for 2015. McCoy, whose current ’15 cap number is $11.95MM, said today that he’s open to restructuring his contract to lower that number, but he doesn’t want to take a pay cut, writes Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I know how hard it is to keep a team together and I want to be part of this team. But I don’t want to take less money,” McCoy said. “I want to figure a way to make it happen [where] we’re all together.”

McCoy’s comment about keeping everyone together likely refers, at least in part, to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is eligible for free agency this offseason, and is in line for a substantial raise after a hugely productive 2014 campaign. “I got to pay my boy Mac,” McCoy said, when asked specifically about the effect his situation could have on Maclin.

It would be possible for McCoy to reduce his cap number by a pretty significant sum without taking a pay cut, assuming the Eagles are open to the idea. If the two sides agreed to convert, for example, $6MM of the running back’s $9.75MM base salary for 2015 into a signing bonus, it would take his cap hit from $11.95MM to $7.95MM. The downside for Philadelphia? That would increase McCoy’s cap numbers for 2016 and 2017 by $2MM each, and would add more guaranteed money to the 26-year-old’s deal.

McCoy, a 2009 second-rounder, has racked up over 2,900 rushing yards in Chip Kelly‘s first two seasons in Philadelphia, and wouldn’t be easily replaceable. Still, Kelly and the Eagles showed a year ago when they cut DeSean Jackson that they’re willing to cut ties with productive playmakers if necessary. Off-field factors likely played a role in Jackson’s release, but the move still created a precedent that may make McCoy wary of negotiating too aggressively this winter.

Coach/Exec Notes: Nolan, Gamble, 49ers, Jets

Executives around the NFL are looking forward to seeing Josh McDaniels‘ game plan for the Patriots this Sunday against the Seahawks, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, who says that a Pats win would boost McDaniels’ stock and make him one of the top head coaching candidates in the league a year from now. The New England offensive coordinator drew interest from teams seeking a head coach over the past month, though those clubs ultimately went in other directions.

Let’s check out a few more items from around the NFL relating to coaching staffs and front offices….

  • Former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan has joined the Chargers as the team’s linebackers coach, replacing Joe Barry, the team announced today in a press release. With Barry heading to Washington to take a defensive coordinator job, San Diego adds a coach in Nolan who has plenty of experience as a DC himself, including the last three seasons in Atlanta. If there was any lingering doubt that Dan Quinn would bring in his own coordinator when he takes over the Falcons‘ job, that doubt was dispelled with the Chargers’ announcement.
  • Mere weeks after he was let go by the Eagles, personnel executive Tom Gamble is returning to San Francisco. The 49ers announced today that their former director of player personnel is rejoining the organization as a senior personnel executive. The announcement of Gamble’s hiring comes on the same day the Eagles confirmed that they were promoting Ed Marynowitz to Gamble’s old position in Philadelphia.
  • The Jets made a pair of announcements today, naming ex-Bears scout Rex Hogan as their director of college scouting and formally hiring three more position coaches – Jimmie Johnson (TEs coach), Daylon McCutcheon (DBs assistant), and Ryan Slowik (DL assistant) – to Todd Bowles‘ staff.

2015 Franchise Tag Candidates: AFC South

The deadline for assigning a franchise or transition tag on a 2015 free-agent-to-be is less than five weeks away, and we’re in the process of taking a look at players who are candidates to be tagged this year. On Tuesday, we examined the AFC East, and yesterday, we turned our attention to the AFC North, where the Ravens and the Steelers look like the teams most likely to make use of a tag. Today, we’ll shift our focus south, breaking down the franchise and transition tag candidates for the Texans, Colts, Jaguars, and Titans….

Houston Texans:

  • Candidates: Kareem Jackson
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • Jackson, who has been a starter at cornerback in Houston since being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, is an underrated asset for the team. Still, a year ago, corners like Vontae Davis, Sam Shields, and Aqib Talib went untagged, so it’s hard to imagine the Texans franchising Jackson. Linebacker Brooks Reed and right tackle Derek Newton are among the other solid contributors Houston should look into re-signing, but like Jackson, neither player is worth an eight-digit salary for 2015.

Indianapolis Colts:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Zero
  • The Colts, like the Texans, have useful players eligible for unrestricted free agency — safety Mike Adams, defensive lineman Cory Redding, and longtime Indianapolis wideout Reggie Wayne will need to sign new contracts if they intend to continue their careers. But none of the team’s top impact players are free-agents-to-be, which is great news for a club with $30MM+ in projected cap room.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Very unlikely
  • No team projects to have more cap space this offseason than the Jaguars, who could have upwards of $63MM in spending room. That’s one reason we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a franchise tag — the team could easily afford it. However, for the tag to make sense, there needs to be a viable candidate, and it’s hard to find one on Jacksonville’s list of pending free agents. Linebacker Geno Hayes and defensive back Alan Ball are probably the Jags’ best UFA-eligible performers, but both players only appeared in about half the club’s defensive snaps, so it’s hard to make a case for them as franchise tag candidates. And it’s even harder to make a case for players like wideout Cecil Shorts and defensive end Tyson Alualu.

Tennessee Titans:

  • Candidates: Derrick Morgan, Brett Kern
  • Odds of being used: Possible, but unlikely
  • The Titans have a number of starters eligible for free agency, including Morgan, Kern, Michael Roos, and Ryan Succop. And like the Jaguars, they project to be among the top five teams this offseason in terms of cap space, giving them the flexibility to use the franchise tag if needed. Roos may be headed for retirement, and tagging either of the two special-teamers – punter Kern and kicker Succop – would likely be a last resort. That’s especially true of Succop, who had a down year in 2014. Morgan is the club’s strongest candidate. He has thrived in recent years as an edge rusher in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, and despite modest sack totals, he recorded 49 total quarterback pressures last year and ranked among the league’s top 10 3-4 outside linebackers, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Those perennially average sack numbers, along with a perception that he hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing, should keep Morgan’s price down enough that the Titans won’t have to tag him, but he and Kern (a top-10 punter, per PFF) are the most viable options in Tennessee.

NFC West Notes: Dwyer, Seahawks, 49ers

After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer has been sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. Dwyer had been charged back in September after an alleged domestic violence incident, prompting the Cards to place him on their reserve/non-football illness list, citing concerns about his mental health. Although his legal case has concluded, Dwyer’s NFL future remains murky, as he could face a suspension, and isn’t under contract for the 2015 season.

Here’s more from around the NFC West:

  • Former NFL player agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com takes an in-depth look at what a new contract for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would look like, concluding from his data that an extension averaging around $24MM per year with about $65MM in guarantees would make sense. Corry’s whole piece is definitely worth reading for a thorough explanation of how he arrived at those figures.
  • Seahawks GM John Schneider indicated earlier this week that he hopes to retain cornerback Byron Maxwell for 2015 and beyond, but Maxwell said today that he intends to “look at every option for me and my family,” per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News (via Twitter). One potential suitor for Maxwell could be the SaintsMike Triplett of ESPN.com identifies the cornerback as a player worth watching for New Orleans.
  • According to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link), the 49ers players he has spoken to aren’t impressed with the team’s hiring of Geep Chryst as offensive coordinator, viewing the move as a byproduct of management’s desire to pinch pennies.
  • Speaking of 49ers management, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com spoke to general manager Trent Baalke about the team’s “three-year plan” when it comes to managing the roster and the salary cap.
  • David Hunn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an update on the next step in the city of St. Louis’ efforts to build a new downtown NFL stadium for the Rams.

Schefter, Caplan On Suh, Bucs, Peterson, QBs

While most reporters continue to focus on the Super Bowl, which is now just three days away, NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan turn their attention to the offseason in a pair of stories for ESPN.com today, providing a handful of interesting tidbits about coaches, free agency, and the draft. Let’s dive in and round up the highlights from Schefter and Caplan….

  • Many of Schefter’s sources around the league don’t expect the Lions to assign the franchise tag to Ndamukong Suh, since the price ($26.87MM) would simply be too high for one player. Per Schefter, those who know Suh think that the idea of playing in a big market like New York, Chicago, or Dallas has always appealed to him. The Jets, Giants, Bears, and Cowboys could all certainly use a player like Suh, though you could say that about nearly every team in the NFL.
  • There’s a “real sense” that the Buccaneers have their sights set on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 pick in April, says Schefter, though he cautions that many NFL execs and scouts consider Jameis Winston the best QB prospect in the draft. We still have three months until draft night, so plenty can – and will – change in between now and then.
  • While the Vikings seem comfortable with the idea of bringing back Adrian Peterson, the veteran running back may not want to return to Minnesota. According to Schefter, at least six teams have already done background work on Peterson to prepare for the possibility that he becomes available.
  • Multiple executives told Caplan at the Senior Bowl that Washington‘s Kirk Cousins and Mike Glennon of the Buccaneers are viable trade candidates, especially for teams looking for stopgap starters for the 2015 season. One NFC team exec said he thought both Cousins and Glennon would be worth a fourth- or fifth-round pick in a trade.
  • Although former Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is coming off a successful season in Buffalo, he’s no lock to coach anywhere in 2015, says Caplan. We’ve heard all along that Schwartz will be patient when it comes to picking his next job, and Caplan notes that there’s still $6MM left on his deal with the Bills, which gives him the flexibility to take his time.
  • Caplan identifies six free-agents-to-be who may fly under the radar this offseason but could really help a team, including running back Roy Helu, linebacker Dan Skuta, and safety Jeron Johnson.

NFC Notes: Saints, Benson, Rams, Eagles

Saints officials say that owner Tom Benson has maintained an active role in running the team, Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune writes.

I talk to him every day, just as I have for 15 years,” GM Mickey Loomis said. “He talks to me about the same subject matter: The status of the team. And after the season: What are the issues? How are we going to fix the issues? Nothing’s changed here.”

Benson’s involvement with the team, as well as his overall health, came into question after the latest claims made by his ousted granddaughter. Here’s more on the Saints’ ownership situation, as well as a few more notes from across the NFC:

  • Team officials told Duncan that an anecdote in which Benson could not identify the president of the United States was misrepresented by his estranged relatives. The Saints owner was given a concussion protocol test after he fell and hit his head at the NFL owners meetings last May in Atlanta. However, daughter Renee Benson and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc tried to portray the incident as something different. Benson’s relatives want the owner to undergo a psychological evaluation, as Andy Grimm of The Times-Picayune details. The would-be heirs are challenging the 87-year-old’s mental fitness.
  • With Nathaniel Hackett no longer in the running for the Rams‘ offensive coordinator position, an in-house candidate landing the job is “all but a certainty” at this point, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Tight ends coach Rob Boras and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti are the top contenders, and Thomas thinks Boras probably has the edge.
  • Running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were the Eagles‘ two most effective offensive weapons in 2014, but it remains to be seen whether the team will be able to bring both players back for the 2015 season, says Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News.
  • Washington has announced the hiring of Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach (via Twitter). Cavanaugh, who served in the same position for Chicago the last two seasons, will be charged with jump-starting Washington’s troubled quarterback situation.
  • If he were running the Cowboys, Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News would make it a top priority to retain DeMarco Murray this offseason.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Eagles Promote Ed Marynowitz

After what has been nearly a month-long search for a new personnel executive to join the team’s front office, the Eagles have promoted a candidate who has been with the team all along. The Eagles have named assistant director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz the team’s vice president of player personnel, signing him to a new three-year contract, according to a press release. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk first reported (via Twitter) that an announcement was expected to come as early as today.

“Ed is someone who has really impressed me going back to my interview process with the Eagles two years ago,” head coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. “He’s very bright, detailed, organized and his vision was aligned with what we want to accomplish. I spoke with a lot of people outside of our organization over the past few weeks and in the end, Ed was the most impressive.”

The Eagles shook up their front office structure shortly after the regular season ended, parting ways with personnel exec Tom Gamble and giving Kelly the final say on the 53-man roster, the draft, and all personnel decisions. Former general manager Howie Roseman received an extension and a new title, though his involvement in football decisions was reduced. That left room for Kelly to bring on a new exec in a personnel role.

Still, Philadelphia seemed to have some trouble finding viable candidates for the job. Multiple candidates seemed uninterested or unwilling to leave their positions with other clubs to join the Eagles, since the Philadelphia role meant not having the final call on the draft or the roster. In some cases, that meant that it wouldn’t necessarily be a promotion.

Most recently, Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst and Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz did not interview for the job, according to Florio — their teams either denied requests for permission or the candidates declined the opportunity. Chris Grier (Dolphins), Chris Polian (Jaguars), and Brian Gaine (Texans) were among the other Eagles’ targets throughout the process.

Although the Eagles spoke to several outside candidates and primarily targeted executives with more experience than the 30-year-old Marynowitz, the club sounds pleased to have him in his new role.

“I can’t tell you how well thought of Ed is in the scouting business,” Kelly said. “What many people in the football community told me matched exactly what I thought of him from Day One. When you work with him and meet with him regularly – which I have done over the last two years – you appreciate how smart and thoughtful he is.”

AFC East Notes: Bills, Cromartie, Jets, Pats

ESPN’s Bill Polian, formerly a general manager for the Bills, Panthers, and Colts, turned down the opportunity to return to Buffalo in a senior advisory role earlier this offseason, but that didn’t end the Bills‘ search for a new addition to their front office, writes Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. Carucci reports that the Bills are still “very much in the market” to hire someone as an advisor for football decisions, and are targeting an exec with the experience necessary to provide guidance for GM Doug Whaley when it comes to evaluating talent.

According to Carucci, one potential target on Buffalo’s radar is Browns senior player-personnel associate Ron Hill. Hill comes highly recommended by the league, which has been providing counsel to new Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and Cleveland likely wouldn’t stand in his way since the job in Buffalo would be a promotion.

Here are a few more Thursday morning notes from around the AFC East:

  • Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie will be eligible for free agency once again this offseason, and the veteran appears very willing to entertain the idea of a return to New York after leaving the Jets a year ago, as Brian Costello of the New York Post writes. “My door is always open to returning,” Cromartie said. “Everybody knows I didn’t want to leave. I’m going to keep my door open and see what happens.”
  • Appearing on ESPN Radio in New York on Wednesday, Jets owner Woody Johnson told Mike Lupica that he would “never tell the general manager not to spend money,” shifting the blame for the team’s lack of spending to former GM John Idzik. As Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com points out, those comments don’t quite line up with what Johnson said earlier in the 2014 season, but they do suggest he’s ready to get back to being aggressive in free agency.
  • As the Patriots prepare to play in their sixth Super Bowl this century, Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap examines how the franchise goes about building a roster that can sustain success over an extended period of time.