Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue Changes Agents

Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has hired Roc Nation and Ari Nissim as his new representatives, according to Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal (Twitter link). Ngakoue had previously employed agent Adisa Bakari.

Ngakoue just wrapped his second NFL campaign, and given league rules stipulate no player can sign a contract extension until after his third pro season, Ngakoue isn’t allowed to receive a new deal until 2019 at the earliest. Because he wasn’t a first-round pick, Ngakoue doesn’t have a fifth-year option attached to his pact, so he’ll base salaries of $735K and $834K over the next two years before hitting free agency.

Those figures are undeniable bargains for Ngakoue, who turned 23 years old earlier this year. The former third-rounder has been exceptional through two seasons in Jacksonville, as he’s posted 20 sacks since 2016, good for 12th in the NFL during that time. While Ngakoue isn’t much of a run defender, his pass-rush prowess enabled him to grade 23rd among all edge defenders a season ago, per Pro Football Focus.

The Jaguars have invested heavily in their defensive line in recent years, using draft picks on players such as Ngakoue, Dante Fowler Jr., Dawuane Smoot, and — most recently — Taven Bryan, signing free agents Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell, and trading for Marcell Dareus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 5/20/18 – 5/27/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

AFC Notes: Bridgewater, Pats, Dareus

Teddy Bridgewater has looked very good in OTAs, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, and if his strong performance continues, the Jets could be faced with a difficult decision. They could trade Bridgewater — which was the plan when they signed him — or they could name him their starting QB for at least the beginning of 2018 while they continue to groom Sam Darnold. Starting Bridgewater would likely mean keeping three quarterbacks on the roster, as the nearly 39-year-old Josh McCown doesn’t really have any trade value. But head coach Todd Bowles, who is coaching for his job this year, will want to start the best quarterback he has, and he is a big believer in Bridgewater.

Let’s take a look at a few more rumors and notes from the AFC:

  • Cimini also details Christian Hackenberg‘s last few months with the Jets before he was shipped to the Raiders. We already knew that Bowles was not aware Hackenberg changed his throwing motion until after the fact, but Hackenberg first approached Jets QB coach Jeremy Bates about making the change, and Bates was skeptical. That caused some friction between the two men, and it forced Hackneberg to go outside the organization to seek help with his mechanics.
  • Ben Volin of the Boston Globe points out how Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady continue to (needlessly) fan the flames of controversy that owner Robert Kraft keeps trying to extinguish, and that the apparent tension between Belichick and Brady may be one of the reasons why Brady has not attended spring practices. However, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says Brady’s absence has not created as big of a leadership void as one might expect, as younger players are taking a more active role in that regard and veteran players like Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower are back after their 2017 season was marred by injury.
  • The Broncos released C.J. Anderson last month, leaving Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson as the top candidates to become the team’s next No. 1 RB. However, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post says Royce Freeman, whom the team selected in the third round of last month’s draft, has the durability and history of production to suggest he can be an every-down back at the next level, and he will get a chance to make a major impact right away. His heavy collegiate workload could have contributed to his falling to the third round.
  • Marcell Dareus more than wore out his welcome in Buffalo, leading the Bills to ship him to the Jaguars before last year’s trade deadline. Dareus, though, found new life in Jacksonville, and per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk (citing Mike Kaye of First Coast News), Dareus continues to be a good soldier for the Jags. Head coach Doug Marrone said, “I’m very happy with the way he’s worked, the way he has come into camp. I think those are things he has done a much better job of than what maybe he had done in the past. I can appreciate that and see that in him.” That is not an insignificant statement, as Dareus’ effort in Buffalo seemed to evaporate after he signed his big-money extension, so perhaps he has matured and will continue to be a solid contributor to Jacksonville’s talented defensive front. Marrone, of course, was also Dareus’ coach in Buffalo during Dareus’ best two seasons to date (2013-14), so he has a pretty good reference point.

Poll: Who Will Be Next FA Safety To Sign?

The slow development of the safety market has been one of the major storylines of the offseason, and while there are a number of reasons as to why some of the top available players at the position remain unsigned, it is still surprising to see players of their ilk without work at this point in the league year. Indeed, three of PFR’s top 10 remaining defensive free agents are safeties, and we would like to know which one you think will be the first to sign with a club.

Our top-rated defensive player still available, Eric Reid, could be having difficulty fining a team because of his history of protesting the national anthem. Indeed, the only team that has brought him in for a visit, the Bengals, asked him about his plans in that regard moving forward. But Reid’s fellow free agent safeties on our Top-10 list, Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro, have not made the same public stances — though Boston was fairly outspoken following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer two years ago — and they haven’t had any better luck, so it could be his status as a safety, more so than his status as a political activist, that is dampening Reid’s market.

Of course, Reid himself feels differently, and he has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL. That will surely not help his cause, but on the field, Reid is a solid and versatile player capable of playing either defensive back or linebacker. His skillset would fit nicely on a team like the Cardinals or Buccaneers.

Boston, meanwhile, has drawn interest from a number of clubs, and he is coming off the best season of his career. He is far from a perfect player, but he does have the ability to play deep safety, and he picked off five passes for the Chargers in 2017. He appeared to be coming into his own after being released by the Panthers last year, and while he is not great in coverage, he has shown that he can at least be serviceable in that regard. He is also a capable pass rusher.

Vaccaro, on the other hand, was terrible in coverage in 2017, but he has shown the ability to line up at safety or at slot corner in his career, and he could theoretically play linebacker in sub-packages as well. He recently met with the Colts, and two weeks ago we heard that he was going to meet with the Jets, though it is unclear whether his summit with Gang Green has actually happened yet. He met with the Dolphins earlier in the offseason, but after the Fins used their first-round pick on Minkah Fitzpatrick, they are probably no longer interested in Vaccaro.

Again, these three players are not without flaws, particularly in coverage, and with the league moving further and further away from traditional in-the-box safeties, maybe we shouldn’t be as shocked that they remain without work. After all, younger players on rookie contracts frequently offer a strong presence in the run game while they work on their coverage skills, so it could be that teams just don’t want to pony up the cash for a veteran to do the work that a less experienced player can do.

Presumably, however, Boston or Vaccaro will eventually find a new team, and Reid may as well, despite his grievance. Let us know which of them you think will sign first, or if you think another safety like Corey Graham will get a chance before they do. We’d also like you to explain your choice in the comments section and let us know what you believe is holding up the safety market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Packers, Q. Diggs, Conner

We heard last month that the Packers would be going “back to Page 1” of their playbook, but as Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, Green Bay is not going to be making any wholesale changes to its offense. In light of all of the new voices on the offensive side of the ball this year — Joe Philbin is back as OC, Frank Cignetti Jr. is in as quarterbacks coach, and there are several other staff changes besides — it made sense for all involved to thoroughly review the team’s play design and philosophy. But as Philbin said, “It’s been a process of refining, enhancing, tweaking, as opposed to, ‘Yeah we scrubbed it down.’ Yes, we went page by page. (But) we’re not starting from scratch here. These players in that locker room, they’ve done some great things.” 

Philbin, of course, is primarily referring to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers indicated that verbiage has changed — and Philbin acknowledged that such changes were made in order to streamline the playcalling — and that has created something of a learning curve. But passing game Jim Hostler said that the goal is for the offense to look the same as it always has with Rodgers under center, even if there are some refinements and enhancements here and there.

Now for more from the league’s north divisions:

  • Opposing defenses were already treating Packers WR Davante Adams as the team’s No. 1 wideout last season, so the departure of Jordy Nelson will not represent much of a change in that regard, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. But Green Bay has not (yet) signed a veteran wideout to replace Nelson, so Adams will need to take on a more active role in terms of leadership. The Packers drafted three receivers this year — one each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds — and return 24-year-old Geronimo Allison as the presumed No. 3 WR on the depth chart, so Adams is suddenly the second-oldest player in the wide receiver room. He was not present for the start of OTAs, which caused some concern in light of his concussion history, but neither player nor team seem concerned about his availability. Head coach Mike McCarthy simply said Adams is “battling a couple things,” presumably minor injuries.
  • Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com says Quandre Diggs has a real chance to permanently supplant Tavon Wilson as the Lions‘ starting strong safety in 2018. Diggs, a former sixth-round selection, played well in that role last season, and Rothstein suggests he may even be the favorite to start at this point. Miles Killebrew, a former fourth-round choice, appears to be on the outside looking in and may need to continue to stand out on special teams to retain his roster spot.
  • James Conner, a feel-good story and 2017 third-round choice, is featuring prominently in Steelers‘ OTAs due to Le’Veon Bell‘s continued absence, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes. Conner showed flashes in his rookie campaign, which ended with a Week 15 MCL tear, but if he can cement himself as the team’s No. 2 back behind Bell this season — and he will need to improve in pass protection in order to do so — that could be the first step towards a starting job in 2019, depending on Bell’s contract situation.
  • John Ross is once again a full participant in the Bengals‘ OTAs, as Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer observes. Although Ross dropped a few passes, he also made some difficult grabs and is seeing a lot of passes come his way. Tyler Eifert, meanwhile, is a limited participant, but having both players involved at the beginning of full team work is a beautiful thing for Cincinnati fans.
  • Neil Stratton of InsideTheLeague.com (via Twitter) details a few more changes to the Browns‘ scouting department that were not covered several days ago.

Cameron Meredith Ahead Of Schedule

Cameron Meredith, who entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, provided a rather interesting case study. The Bears signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State in 2015, and he showed enough during training camp and preseason that year to stick on Chicago’s roster. Although he recorded just 11 receptions in 2015, he exploded in 2016, posting 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. His physical gifts were beginning to translate to on-field production, and he entered 2017 looking to cement himself as the Bears’ No. 1 WR and one of the better wideouts in the league.

Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and MCL last preseason, so he entered restricted free agency as a player with tantalizing athleticism and measurables (6-3, 207), but also a major medical red flag and a UDFA pedigree. Plus, his route running is not yet as refined as it needs to be for him to truly take the next step.

However, he drew significant interest from both the Saints and Ravens — he also visited with the Colts — before choosing to sign an offer sheet with New Orleans. The Bears were reportedly too wary of Meredith’s medicals to match the offer, so Meredith became a Saint, and the early returns are promising.

Head coach Sean Payton said Meredith is “way ahead of schedule” in his recovery (via Amos Morale III of the Times-Picayune). Although the 25-year-old receiver is not participating in team drills every day just yet. Payton said, “Just watching him move around and, you guys saw him, he’s way ahead of schedule. And certainly where our doctor our doctors had hoped and even better. So, he’s going to factor in this year. He’s a player that we’ve got a real clear vision for.”

Meredith could be a force in the slot in 2018, with Ted Ginn and Michael Thomas currently expected to operate outside the numbers. His contract with New Orleans is a two-year, $9.6MM pact, so he could also represent a major bargain for the Saints if he remains healthy.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Anderson, Verrett, Steelers

C.J. Anderson seemed surprised he didn’t see better offers after the Broncos released him. The Panthers signed the sixth-year veteran to a one-year, $1.75MM deal that comes with a $500K signing bonus. While Anderson was making much more with the Broncos the past two years, Denver didn’t do him any favors by cutting him so late into free agency. However, Anderson asked for a one-year deal for the purposes of re-entering free agency in 2019.

I should be in my prime. I think I have an opportunity to do something really special here,” Anderson said, via Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “I asked for the one-year deal. I want to prove myself that I can still play this game at a high level.”

Anderson will be set for what would be his age-28 season in 2019 and, at the moment, be part of a UFA class that includes Le’Veon Bell, Mark Ingram and Ameer Abdullah. Although, Anderson would be able to test the market immediately once the 2019 league year opens. And several running backs signed for more than $1.75MM per year this March.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • Jason Verrett has yet to be cleared for full practices after his latest injury, Eric Williams of ESPN.com reports. The former first-round Chargers pick suffered a knee injury in September of last season, cutting short a third season for the talented cornerback. But that talent’s come with a well-earned injury-prone label, with Verrett having missed 39 of a possible 64 games in his career. The Chargers have him under contract for 2018 due to picking up his fifth-year option last year, and Williams writes Verrett will start opposite Casey Hayward if he’s healthy.
  • The Steelers liked their situation at linebacker enough to avoid reaching for one in the draft, Kevin Colbert said (via the Associated Press). Pittsburgh signed veteran Jon Bostic in free agency, and Colbert said they plan to give 2016 seventh-rounder Tyler Matakevich a look at the spot alongside Vince Williams as well. Additionally, Steelers first-rounder Terrell Edmunds is expected to receive a look there. While it’s uncertain how extensive the Steelers will examine the Virginia Tech talent at this spot, he spent some time in a linebacker role in Hokies sub-packages.
  • As for some veteran safeties, the market’s been unkind. The Steelers signed Morgan Burnett early in free agency, but arguably the other three top safeties available in March — Eric Reid, Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro — remain unsigned. While Reid’s situation isn’t hard to figure out based on recent events, Boston and Vaccaro have not landed jobs despite free agent visits. A former defensive coordinator believes teams’ myriad responsibilities for these players — and the lack of reliable statistics — create issues evaluating outside talent. “It’s hard to determine the value of safeties, based on the different ways that teams use them,” the coordinator said, via Bucky Brooks of NFL.com. “You can’t simply look at the stat sheet and figure out how much of an impact a player makes, due to the different roles that they’re playing in today’s game. Some guys are center fielders asked to play in the middle of the field, while others are playing down in the box as run defenders. Throw in the other guys who play as hybrid slot defenders and nickel corners, it’s hard to put them in the right order when it comes to stacking the board.”

Community Tailgate: Rodgers’ Contract

With Kirk Cousins‘ and Matt Ryan‘s landmark deals completed, the market is seemingly set up for Aaron Rodgers to reset it. He seems to agree, if an airport encounter with Thomas Dimitroff is any indication.

But now that those dominoes have fallen, and the QB market’s per-year ceiling has been raised by $3MM as a result, what will Rodgers’ deal look like?

Cousins ushered the NFL into new territory with a fully guaranteed contract. The Packers’ starting quarterback’s accomplishments dwarfing the Vikings’ new one, he will certainly command more money. But the Packers may not be eager to structure Rodgers’ deal this way — a three-year, fully guaranteed agreement — since he’s under contract through 2019 on his current pact.

Green Bay has Rodgers signed to what became an incredibly team-friendly contract (five years, $110MM), and while it’s virtually impossible to imagine Rodgers getting to the 2019 season on his current deal and the leverage that would come with that position, his through-’19 accord wouldn’t seem to line up with a Cousins-type deal.

Ryan’s contract structure — five years, $150MM — would make more sense for the Packers, and that certainly would be the floor for the two-time MVP that’s probably the most valuable commodity in the NFL. Rodgers is only entering his age-34 season and recently said near-future retirement is not in the cards for him.

The 2005 first-round pick had to wait until his fourth season to start, and top-tier QB peers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are much closer to retirement than he is. The Packers’ long-term future can still include the two-time MVP, and thus a perpetual Super Bowl window. And with those future Hall of Famers out of the picture at some point, Rodgers could have an even bigger opportunity to burnish his legacy.

Assuming the Packers follow the Falcons’ blueprint here, how much can Rodgers justifiably earn? The quarterback market moved rather slowly after Rodgers signed his extension in spring 2013. Entering the summer of 2017, the NFL hadn’t yet seen a $25MM-per-year player. But now that the market’s rapidly escalated, it sets up well for Rodgers to transport salaries further north.

Ryan’s $30MM AAV comprises approximately 17 percent of the league’s $177MM salary cap. Rodgers’ $22MM-per-year deal actually represented a greater percentage of the $123MM cap (18 percent) in 2013. An 18 percent chunk of the current cap is nearly $32MM, which would be quite reasonable. But with the cap rising, and Rodgers’ value being displayed via his absence last season, he could obviously ask for more. Is any kind of Packers-friendly discount, for the purposes of the franchise optimally building around him, in the cards? The cap’s steady rise and Rodgers’ 2013 contract becoming outdated (currently 10th among QBs) may nix that logic quickly.

Is a contract that is tied to a percentage of the salary cap a viable scenario? If a player was going to pursue that, Cousins may have been the one — a free agent franchise-level passer in his prime. But Rodgers’ immense importance to his team may make him a logical candidate for such an attempt. It would prevent his deal from becoming a bargain as the cap climbs toward (and eventually exceeds) $200MM in the next few years, but the Packers would obviously be hesitant about this type of player-friendly structure.

So, what will Rodgers’ next contract look like? He seems likely to exceed Ryan’s $94.5MM fully guaranteed figure, but by how much? Is he going to push for a $35MM-per-year deal and take the quarterback market to another stratosphere, or is a pact somewhere in between that and Ryan’s AAV where this will end up? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Vikes, Browns, Ravens, Sutton

At Vikings OTAs this week, they placed Mike Remmers back at right tackle, per Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Remmers finished last season playing guard, and the Vikings used a second-round pick on tackle Brian O’Neill out of Pittsburgh. Minnesota had UFA signee Tom Compton working as its first-string right guard during OTAs, per Rand. Compton has never been a full-time starter in his six-year career, coming closest with the 2014 Redskins, who used him as a nine-game starter. Last season, the Bears started Compton in five of the 11 games he played. Minnesota lost its most effective blocker, Joe Berger, to retirement and did not make any notable additions beyond Compton at the guard spot.

Here’s more from the north:

  • The Browns have made some adjustments to their front office and scouting department, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com expects that to continue. She targets the VP of player personnel decision as a possible turnover spot. Alonzo Highsmith, Ken Kovash and Andrew Berry currently reside in that role. John Dorsey just hired Highsmith, and Cabot reports Berry is safe from a change despite being an integral part of the previous regime. The Browns promoted Kovash shortly after the Sashi Brown regime took over in 2016 after he’d previously worked as the franchise’s director of football research.
  • Converted cornerback Damarious Randall will be the Browns’ starter at free safety this season, relocating Jabrill Peppers to strong safety, per Cabot. Gregg Williams‘ deep placement of Peppers, sometimes more than 25 yards off the ball, became a constant source of discussion and derision among Browns fans, and Peppers himself may be a bit tired of the jokes. But the Browns will now place him closer to the line of scrimmage, which is similar to the role he had at Michigan.
  • Optimism exists around Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who saw a strong season end early in 2017 because of a torn Achilles, but Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun notes the veteran may not be ready for the start of training camp. The career-long Raven is going into his age-30 season.
  • Additional Ravens’ timelines are coming into focus as well. Defensive lineman Carl Davis, who started nine games last season, underwent surgery to repair a tear in his shoulder earlier this offseason, Zreibec reports. The former third-round pick is questionable to participate in minicamp. Offensive lineman Nico Siragusa also had an operation this offseason. The 2017 fourth-round pick missed all of last season because of ACL, MCL and PCL tears and required an additional knee surgery this year. Zreibec reports the goal for him is a training camp return. As for Alex Lewis, Baltimore’s projected guard starter opposite Marshal Yanda, he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury that nixed all of his 2017 season, Zreibec notes.
  • The Steelers aren’t sure where to station Cameron Sutton. The 2017 third-round pick played 117 snaps as a rookie after an injury delayed his NFL debut. Pittsburgh may be planning to use him at outside or slot cornerback, or as a safety alongside Morgan Burnett, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. But he notes that Artie Burns and Sean Davis will still have first crack at their respective jobs, outside cornerback and the non-Burnett safety starter, with the Steelers still hoping for the high draft picks’ upside to show. Mike Hilton remains the frontrunner to be the Steelers’ slot corner, where the former UDFA fared well in 2017.

Latest On Terrance Williams Situation

The bizarre twist in the Terrance Williams car-crash saga involved Kendall Wright after the Cowboys wide receiver said the new Vikings pass-catcher was, in fact, the driver of the vehicle at the time of the accident.

Williams and Wright were teammates at Baylor together and had spent time together earlier on the night of the accident. But both Williams’ attorney, Chip Lewis, and Vikings GM Rick Spielman deny it was Wright who was behind the wheel.

I have spoken directly with Kendall and his agent and both have assured me there is no truth to the matter,” Spielman said, via Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Police arrested Williams, whose statement indicated he was the driver of the vehicle, for leaving the scene of an accident and for public intoxication. Williams told police he’d gotten a call from Wright informing him of the Lamborghini crash, but police were suspicious of this claim since Williams subsequently admitted his phone was still in the car at that point. Williams’ public statement of the events of that sequence did not include Wright.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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