Extra Points: Pats, Packers, Vikes, Panthers

NFL owners passed a resolution today that will no longer allow clubs to block prospective general manager candidates from interviewing elsewhere simply because the new role doesn’t come with final 53-man roster authority, reports Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Earlier today, the league’s owners also voted to eliminate the 75-man roster cutdown and allow teams to bring two players — instead of only one — off the injured reserve list during the season. One rule change that wasn’t voted on: granting clubs a roster exemption for players who’ve suffered a concussion, per Ben Volin of Boston Globe (Twitter link), who adds that proposal could be reintroduced next year.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Packers are working out former Texas Southern wide receiver Derrick Griffin today, tweets Mark Berman of FOX 26. Griffin was a two-sport athlete during his collegiate days, but was dismissed from the football team and left the basketball in order to prepare for the NFL draft, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year. Griffin, who stands 6’6″, 240 pounds, auditioned for the Texans during their local prospect day and also landed a tryout at the Vikings’ rookie minicamp. Green Bay drafted two wideouts — Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey and LSU’s Malachi Dupre — and also added two undrafted pass-catchers.
  • Offensive lineman David Andrews‘ three-year, $9MM extension with the Patriots contains $2.1MM ($700K annually) in playing time incentives) that can bring the maximum value of the deal to $11.1MM, according to Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap. The pact also contains a $1.6MM signing bonus — the only fully guaranteed portion of the contract — plus per-game roster bonuses of $300K in 2017 and $400K in 2018-2020. Andrews’ extension places him within the top half of the league’s highest-paid centers.
  • The NFLPA is advising members of the Vikings‘ rookie class to not sign their contract until certain procedural language is cleared up, reports Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. While Minnesota maintains that it’s offering standard rookie deals with no changes from years prior, the players’ union is concerned with language dealing with offsets and anti-tampering. None of the 11-member Vikings class is under contract, but they’re each participating in offseason activities after signing protective waivers.
  • Now that former assistant general manager Brandon Beane has taken the reins in Buffalo, the Panthers have restructured their scouting staff, as the club announced Monday. Mark Koncz is Carolina’s new director player personnel, Jeff Morrow is the new director of college scouting, and Matt Allen has been named the team’s new director of pro personnel. Meanwhile, Don Gregory, who was reportedly on the Bills’ general manager candidate list, is now a senior executive scout who will work in both the pro and college arenas.

Latest On Redskins’ GM Vacancy

Redskins team president Bruce Allen said Monday he’s interviewed roughly a dozen candidates for jobs in Washington’s front office, but executives with interest in the Redskins’ general manager position are worried about the level of power they’d have in the team’s decision-making structure, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link).Bruce Allen/Daniel Snyder (Vertical)

Washington may not even hire a formal general manager to replace the fired Scot McCloughan, and one report suggested the club had submitted a front office plan to the NFL that included a restructuring of duties but no new GM. Allen himself pushed back against that notion, but the Redskins could simply choose to promote staffers from within. Doug Williams has been mentioned as a possible candidate to take on an expanded role within Washington’s personnel department, while scout Alex Santos and contract negotiator Eric Schaffer could also be in line for new responsibilities.

If they do opt to hire a GM, though, the Redskins could find a shortage of suitors, per Cole. McCloughan reportedly wasn’t allowed to hire his own scouting team or find his own additional staffers, leaving potential Washington candidates wary of how much control they’d wield. Previous reports have indicated Allen will act as the Redskins’ de facto general manager no matter what other hires the club makes.

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Minor NFL Transactions: 5/23/17

Today’s minor moves:

  • The Eagles have waived quarterback Jerod Evans and defensive tackle Charles Walker off injured reserve with injury settlements, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. Both players were waived/injured in the past two weeks, but cleared waivers without being claimed by another club. Instead of spending the year on Philadelphia’s IR list, Evans and Walker will now earn a payment equal to what they would have earned while injured. Evans and Walker can re-sign with the Eagles, but they’ll have to wait three weeks plus the time value of the settlement.

Derek Carr Extension Talks To Ramp Up?

Negotiations between the Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr are expected to gain steam following the conclusion of this week’s owner’s meetings, sources tell Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link).Derek Carr (vertical)

Any deal between Oakland and Carr is likely to be a “strong step above” the five-year, $122.97MM extension the Colts handed fellow signal-caller Andrew Luck last summer. Luck is currently the highest-paid quarterback in the league with a $24.594MM annual salary, but Carr could conceivably top that figure.

Carr, 26, may hold a bit more leverage than did Luck, as the Raiders don’t hold a fifth-year option on Carr given that he was originally a second-round selection. Oakland could deploy the franchise tag in 2018 at a cost of more than $22MM, but the club prefers not to use that tender, per Cole.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in April that he’s been discussing an extension with Carr “for months”, and characterized those talks as “super positive.” Both McKenzie and Carr have expressed confidence that a new deal will get at some point.

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Broncos’ Brandon McManus Wants New Deal

Broncos kicker Brandon McManus is the only restricted free agent yet to sign his tender, but that’s by design, as McManus hopes to receive a long-term extension, as Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post writes.Teddy Bridgewater (Vertical)

“There’s really no rush for me to sign the tender because it could go through June 15,” McManus said. “I’d love to be here as long as I can and be on a long-term deal here that gives me security. I love Denver. I love the fan base here. I would love to be here four more years so why not see what I can do?”

Denver tendered McManus at the second-round level, meaning he’ll earn a non-guaranteed base salary of $2.746MM in 2017. McManus, who is attending Broncos’ workouts despite being unsigned, didn’t generate any known interest during the restricted free agent period, so he essentially has two options: sign his tender, or sit out the season. If McManus doesn’t ink the tender by June 15, Denver can reduce his salary to 110% of his 2016 pay, which would amount to just $660K.

McManus, 25, converted 29 of 34 field goal attempts last season, and his 85.3% conversion rate ranked 17th in the NFL. He missed just one extra point, and managed 50 touchbacks on kickoffs, good for 14th in the league. Overall, the Broncos gained 1.5 points on field goals, but lost a whopping 8.6 points on kickoffs, according to Football Outsiders‘ DVOA metric.

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Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater Returns To Field

In what is extremely uplifting news, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returned to the practice field today, as documented in a short video posted on the club’s website. Bridgewater, of course, hasn’t been able to participate in football activities since tearing his ACL and dislocating his knee joint last August.Teddy Bridgewater (vertical)

While the video is concise and doesn’t show much, Bridgewater is seen moving about, taking snaps, and throwing passes with a large brace on his left leg. Technically, Bridgewater didn’t “return to practice,” according to Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune (Twitter link), as the throws were part of Bridgewater’s recovery process. Still, as Vensel notes, simply witnessing Bridgewater able to perform some sort of football task is very encouraging.

Given that today marks the first we’ve seen of Bridgewater since last fall, it’s entirely unclear how far along he is in his rehabilitation, or what possibility exists of the 24-year-old playing during the 2017 campaign. Head coach Mike Zimmer admitted earlier this year that he has “no idea” when Bridgewater will fully return to action. With that in mind, the Viking signed veteran Case Keenum in March to back up starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

If Bridgewater doesn’t play next year, and spends the season on the reserve/PUP list, his contract could toll, meaning the Vikings would again hold his rights in 2018. However, Bridgewater and his representation could push back against any attempt by Minnesota to hold onto him for an additional year.

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Redskins May Franchise Kirk Cousins Again

A third consecutive franchise tag for quarterback Kirk Cousins would net him north of $34MM for the 2018 campaign, but that hasn’t dissuaded the Redskins from considering another franchise tender, as JP Finlay of CSNMidAtlantic.com writes.Kirk Cousins (Vertical)

“Yes,” said Redskins president Bruce Allen when asked if his club could deploy the franchise tag on Cousins next season. “In the collective bargaining agreement, we really have one year and an option that we can do at the end of next season if we don’t get a contract.”

The NFL’s CBA would require Washington to pay Cousins 144% of his 2017 salary if it used the franchise tag for another year. Given that Cousins is scheduled to earn a fully guaranteed ~$24MM during the upcoming campaign, he’d be due almost $34.5MM in 2018 (that figure, too, would be fully guaranteed). If the Redskins opt to go that route, Cousins would have raked in roughly $78.5MM from 2016-2018.

Trade rumors surrounded Cousins throughout the offseason, but now he’s almost assuredly staying put in Washington for the 2017 season. Cousins, 28, has been adamant that he hopes to remain with the Redskins for the long-term, and Allen said Monday the team is optimistic an extension will eventually be hammered out. The two sides have until July 15 to reach a new deal, or else Cousins will play out the year under the franchise tender.

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NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/23/17

Today’s draft pick signings:

  • The Jets announced that they’ve signed second-round safety Marcus Maye and fifth-round linebacker Dylan Donahue. Maye, a Florida alum, was the second safety New York drafted last month, joining sixth overall selection Jamal Adams. With Marcus Gilchrist having been released, and Calvin Pryor in danger of being traded or cut, Maye and Adams could be Gang Green’s starters come Week 1. Donahue, meanwhile, will likely begin his NFL career on special teams as he transitions from Division II West Georgia.
  • The Seahawks have signed third-round wide receiver Amara Darboh, tweets Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Darboh, the penultimate pick of Day 3, put up 57 receptions for 862 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season at Michigan. At 6’2″, 214 pounds, Darboh will give Seattle some size on a wide receiver depth chart that includes smaller pass-catchers such as Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett.
  • The Buccaneers have agreed to terms with third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith, fifth-round running back Jeremy McNichols, and seventh-round defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, the club announced today. Tampa Bay traded up in the draft to acquire both Beckwith and Tu’ikolovatu. Of the trio, Beckwith seemingly has the best chance for playing time early in his career, as he can take over at strong-side ‘backer for Daryl Smith. McNichols, meanwhile, could earn a role pending Doug Martin‘s eventual martin, although the Boise State product is recovering from surgery.

Giants Hosting LB Gerald Hodges

Free agent linebacker Gerald Hodges‘ free agent tour will continue, as he’s scheduled to meet with the Giants today, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link).Gerald Hodges (Vertical)

Hodges, 26, only visited with two clubs — the Chiefs and Seahawks — during the first month of free agency, as his market seemed to be extremely limited. The demand for the four-year pro has certainly picked up, however, as Hodges has been linked to the Jets, Bills, Patriots, Jaguars, and Colts over the past two weeks.

Hodges started 12 games in 2016, playing on roughly half of San Francisco’s defensive snaps while grading as the NFL’s No. 21 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus. In 15 total games, Hodges racked up 80 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. He also chipped in on special teams (73 snaps).

The Giants didn’t make many additions to their linebacking unit this offseason, as their only moves at the position involved re-signing veteran Keenan Robinson and bringing undrafted free agent Calvin Munson out of San Diego State. The rest of Big Blue’s ‘backer depth chart is comprised of Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Deontae Skinner, Mark Herzlich, and B.J. Goodson.

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Top 8 Fits For Free Agent TE Gary Barnidge

Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.Gary Barnidge (vertical)

There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…

Atlanta Falcons

Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.

Carolina Panthers

After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.

Cincinnati Bengals

Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.

Denver Broncos

Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.

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