NFC Notes: Seahawks, Carroll, Foster, Saints

Appearing on Dave Dameshek’s podcast, Cliff Avril said that following the Seahawks‘ loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, Pete Carroll started losing the trust of his players. The former Seattle defensive end said “a lot of guys got turned off” when the head coach opted for a potential game-winning pass instead of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

Of course, we know what happened next. With the ball at the one-yard line, quarterback Russell Wilson ended up throwing a game-deciding interception to New England cornerback Malcolm Butler.

“If we win that Super Bowl I think we would have won another one,” Avril said (via Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com). “I do think the team would have bought in more to what Coach Carroll was saying, instead of going the opposite way.

“Guys started kind of questioning him more instead of following his lead if we had won the Super Bowl.”

The Seahawks ended up losing in the divisional round during the 2015 and 2016 playoffs, and they failed to make the postseason in 2017. The team ultimately let go of a number of veterans this offseason.

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

  • Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner has left Athletes First and is without an agent, reports Liz Mullen SportsBusiness Daily (via Twitter). Wagner signed a four-year, $43MM extension (about $22MM guaranteed) with the Seahawks back in 2016, and he still has two years remaining on that deal.
  • According to Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Hays Webb, 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster had “several months of clean drug screen results” during his pre-trial diversion program (via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch on Twitter). Foster ultimately completed the program. In this past week, Foster has seen both of his offseason arrests lead to dismissed cases. Yesterday, the former first-rounder had a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge dismissed, and we learned earlier this week that he wouldn’t be charged in a domestic violence case.
  • The Saints are still hoping that special teams coach Mike Westhoff will return to the organization after he successfully completes recovery from offseason surgery, according to Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. The 70-year-old underwent surgery for “an issue from his hip all the way down his leg,” and he’s yet to return to New Orleans. Sean Payton had previously expressed some optimism in Westhoff’s return, but he also said he didn’t expect the coach to come back until training camp. After retiring in 2012, Payton convinced Westhoff to return to the NFL towards the end of last season.

Broncos Sign Rookie CB Isaac Yiadom

The Broncos have signed another draft pick. Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reports (via Twitter) that the team has inked third-round cornerback Isaac Yiadom to his four-year contract. The deal is worth $3.1MM (with a $736K signing bonus).

The Boston College product was selected with the 99th-overall pick by Denver. Following three productive years with the Eagles, Yiadom had a breakout campaign in 2017, compiling 36 tackles, two interceptions, and seven passes defended. Following his standout season, the cornerback had an opportunity to play for the Broncos’ coaching staff at the Senior Bowl.

“Isaac was a guy that got better every day (at the Senior Bowl),” said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph (via Ryan O’Halloran of The Denver Post). “He certainly fits our profile at corner. We want long corners with long speed because we’re a press team. … He’s a smart guy and he’s going to be great on special teams.”

Besides special teams, the rookie should have a chance to contribute right away for the Broncos defense. He’ll compete with free agent addition Tramaine Brock and 2017 third-rounder Brendan Langley for reps behind projected starters Bradley Roby and Chris Harris.

The Broncos have two draft picks who remain unsigned: first-round defensive end Bradley Chubb and third-round running back Royce Freeman.

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Dolphins Sign OL Mike Matthews

The Dolphins have added some depth to their offensive line. The Dolphins announced yesterday that they’ve signed center Mike Matthews.

The 6-foot-2, 290-pound lineman will participate in the team’s offseason program, and he could end up sticking around for training camp later this summer. The 24-year-old will be looking to finally earn an opening-day roster spot, as he’s bounced around the NFL since going undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2016. He had a brief stint with the Browns, and he spent the entire 2017 campaign with the Steelers. However, Matthews never saw the field for Pittsburgh, as a torn patellar tendon ended his season early.

The center is looking to follow in the footsteps of his family. His father, Bruce Matthews, is a Hall of Famer, while his brother, Jake Matthews, was a first-round pick by the Falcons in 2014. He’s also the cousin of Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews.

Of course, this Matthews will have a tough time making the Dolphins’ roster. He’ll presumably compete with Jake Brendel to be Daniel Kilgore‘s backup.

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Poll: Should The Chargers Re-Sign Gates?

Earlier this year, the Chargers informed Antonio Gates that they would not re-sign him for a 16th season with the Bolts. However, their situation has changed in recent days after Hunter Henry‘s season-ending ACL tear. 

We’ll look at all the options that are out there. We’ve got time to do it right now,” GM Ted Telesco said when asked about Gates earlier this week.

Gates, 38 in June, isn’t quite the player he was in 2009, but he was highly productive as recently as two years ago when he caught 53 passes for 548 yards and seven scores. On a limited snap count, Gates could help replace some of Henry’s production in 2018, even if he doesn’t match his 12.9 yards per catch average.

Gates’ familiarity with the Chargers’ offense and personnel also shouldn’t be discounted. He’s been catching passes from Philip Rivers since 2004 while earning eight Pro Bowl nods and three First-Team All-Pro selections along the way.

The 6’4″ tight end probably represents the splashiest move they could make, but he’s not the only noteworthy tight end available. Julius Thomas, Brent Celek, and Coby Fleener are all out there for the taking and it’s possible that one of those three players would be more amicable to playing in a limited role than Gates.

Alternatively, the Chargers could patch things up at TE by shifting sixth-round rookie Dylan Cantrell from receiver to tight end. Cantrell has the height (6’3″) and may have blocking ability ability to make the move, but he’s untested.

All things considered, do you think the Chargers should change course and re-sign Gates? Cast your vote below and support your decision in the comment section.

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This Date In Transactions History: Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is best remembered for his remarkable 16-year career with the Niners, in which he earned a dozen Pro Bowl nods and ten First-Team All-Pro selections. After that, Rice had some less remarkable – but still productive – seasons with the Raiders. His final NFL games were spent in a Seahawks uniform, but that wasn’t the original plan. On this date in 2004, Rice signed a one-year contract with the Broncos. 

For so many years there was so much pressure on me,” Rice told Denver beat reporters on a conference call after signing his deal (via The Associated Press). “I had to set a certain standard and I still carry on that standard. But I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. I had blinders on. I couldn’t hear the crowd. I couldn’t hear them chanting my name and I couldn’t see little kids in the stands. I was so focused on what I had to do. The last couple of years, though, he has been more of a role player. The ball was not coming my way every down and I’m really enjoying the game and having fun.”

Rice was 42 years old at the time, meaning that his plans to continue playing were ambitious, even by Jon Gruden‘s standards today. In 2004, the legendary receiver totaled just 30 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Even though he still averaged an impressive 14.3 yards per reception, he was no longer the player that he once was, and Denver head coach Mike Shanahan did not guarantee his place on the roster.

I told Jerry that I don’t know if he’s lost a step or two steps, but you’re going to come here for one reason and that’s to compete with the other guys,” Shanahan said. “And if you’re one of our top five guys at the end of camp, then you’re going to be on our football team. If you’re not, I said I’d have one of the toughest jobs in the world.”

As the season drew near, Rice realized that he would be no higher than fourth or fifth on the Broncos’ depth chart. After serving as a role player in ’04, Rice decided in September that he would rather retire than be a role player in Denver.

The receiver left the game with remarkable league-record totals of 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns – numbers that are in no danger of being eclipsed anytime soon, unless Larry Fitzgerald changes course and decides to play into his 40s.

So, Rice’s run with the Broncos never came to pass, but if you happen to have his replica orange-and-blue jersey hanging in your closet, you can probably fetch a nice price for it on eBay.

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AFC Notes: Dolphins, RG3, Ravens, Browns

The Dolphins made a number of moves this offseason, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that the team was focused on improving the locker-room culture. The front office deliberately pursued team-first players who would “buy in, be diligent about studying and preparation, and do things the way the staff wanted.”

While the organization may have been focused on shifting the culture, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t believe there was a culture issue in the first place.

“I don’t think we had a bad culture,” he said. “I think the guys that we brought in have already bought in and now we’re fully aligned and we can just drive forward. I think that’s a big factor in the performance of teams is everyone being on the same page.”

On the flip side, Jackson writes that safety Reshad Jones did admit that he’s already seen improvements to the team’s mindset.

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

  • Jackson notes that Dolphins undrafted rookie cornerback Jalen Davis received a $20K signing bonus on top of his $25K in guaranteed money. The writer wonders if the defensive back could end up sticking around, especially since he earned the most money among the team’s undrafted free agents. Linebacker Mike McCray received $12K in guaranteed money and and a $1oK signing bonus.
  • The Ravens added quarterback Robert Griffin III earlier this offseason, and they subsequently drafted signal-caller Lamar Jackson. While the rookie will surely provide the 28-year-old with some competition for backup reps, Griffin told Mike Jones of USA Today that the draft selection wasn’t a slight at himself or Joe Flacco. “When they drafted Lamar, I didn’t look at it as a shot at me or a shot at Joe,” Griffin said. “It was ‘OK, Lamar is coming in here, and it’s our job to help him learn the offense and help him compete.’ So, for me, my job is to show them that I’m an asset to the team and not a detriment. … One (reporter) asked me if I was trying to showcase for other teams. No, my focus is, ‘I’m a Baltimore Raven. I’m showcasing to them that this is where I’m supposed to be.’ ”
  • The Browns made several personnel changes today. ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi writes that personnel executives Chisom Opara and Bobby Vega (as well as area scout Patrick Moore) have left the organization. Grossi also notes that general manager John Dorsey could end up pursuing former NFL linebacker and current radio host Matt Wilhelm for a front-office gig.
  • We heard earlier today that the Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski were zeroing in on a new contract.

Jaguars Sign Second-Round WR D.J. Chark

The Jaguars are one step closer to signing their entire draft class. The team announced today that they’ve signed second-rounder D.J. Chark Jr. to his rookie contract. The wideout was selected with the 61st pick, and he was the eighth receiver off the board.

“It’s amazing,” Chark Jr. told John Oehser of Jaguars.com. “I’m here, and I’m on the team. I’ve been having a great week of OTAs. I’ve been joining the players and now I feel like I’m finally one of them because I put my name to paper.

“I’ve been in the playbook; coaches have been helping me out a lot. I’ve been learning every position and the guys on the team have been helping me. I’ve been getting good insight from those guys. They’ve been bringing me along and I feel like I’m part of the family here.”

The LSU product didn’t record a single reception during his freshman and sophomore season, and he only hauled in 26 catches during his junior campaign. Chark had a breakout season as a senior, however, compiling 40 receptions for 874 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned 18 punts for 190 yards.

After having lost Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns this offseason, the Jaguars were desperate for a wideout. Chark is currently projected to be the team’s second receiver behind Marqise Lee, although he’ll see competition from former fourth-rounder Dede Westbrook and free agent addition Donte Moncrief.

With the signing, Jacksonville has signed six of their seven draft picks. First-round defensive tackle Taven Bryan is currently unsigned.

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Patriots, Rob Gronkowski Nearing Reworked Deal

The Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s contract discussions have progressed to the point where it’s now “likely” Gronkowski will play the 2018 campaign with a new deal in place, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required).

Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski’s agent, is reportedly working with the Patriots on a “tweaked” contract, which could indicate New England is willing to add extra incentives to the All-Pro tight end’s deal. However, it’s not exactly clear how the Patriots intend to address Gronkowski’s pact, as Howe reports it’s not yet known whether Gronk will receive an extension or simply earn a raise.

New England has always shown a willingness to go the extra mile for its players by including additional– and sometimes, more easily attainable — incentives into contracts. The Patriots did just that for Gronkowski a year ago, and the 29-year-old ultimately maxed out his deal by earning a first-team All-Pro nod, allowing him to collect a total salary of $10.75MM.

NFL rules don’t allow teams to rework incentive-laden deals until one year after the last restructuring, and given that the Patriots altered Gronkowski’s contract on May 24, 2017, they’ve just passed the date at which they can change his current deal. Gronkowski, who is signed through the 2019 season, is scheduled to earn an $8MM base salary, $750K in per-game roster bonuses, and a $250K workout bonus for the upcoming season. On an annual basis, Gronk is only the league’s fourth highest-paid tight end behind Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, and Jordan Reed.

Gronkowski, of course, has had an eventful offseason, and reportedly considered retirement after battling a variety of health issues. In 2017, Gronk was on the field for 14 games, and managed 69 receptions, 1,084 yards, and eight touchdowns, all of which placed him within the top-five among tight ends.

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East Rumors: Collins, Fins, Bills, Lauvao

Landon Collins has yet to practice with the Giants this offseason. He underwent a second surgery on the forearm he broke late last season. The latest operation delayed the fourth-year safety’s timetable, but he’s hoping to be back on the field in time for Giants minicamp next month, Tom Rock of Newsday notes. Collins expects to be cleared in a few weeks, per Rock. It’s possible the Giants could hold him out until training camp, with the standout defender having essentially nothing to prove in June workouts, but the holdover Giant defenders are adjusting to James Bettcher‘s new scheme. That makes OTAs and minicamp more important than they were a year ago. However, Collins said he’s running currently and will push the new coaching staff to let him work with his teammates in a few weeks.

Here’s the latest from the East divisions:

  • Raekwon McMillan‘s 2017 injury came at a worse time than Collins’ and was far more severe. But the Dolphins linebacker is back in action. McMillan is participating in Miami’s OTAs, per Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The former Ohio State ‘backer and Ryan Tannehill underwent surgeries for ACL tears on the same date last summer and are each progressing accordingly. Both are working with their teammates at OTAs. McMillan was slated to be the Dolphins’ starting middle linebacker prior to his preseason setback.
  • The Redskins opted to bring back veteran guard Shawn Lauvao for what will be a fifth season with the team, doing so possibly because of Arie Kouandjio‘s significant injury. Lauvao’s deal will be a one-year pact worth up to $2.39MM, John Keim of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The 30-year-old lineman will earn $950K in base salary, per Keim, who adds this agreement includes a $300K signing bonus and a $200K roster bonus. While only $300K is guaranteed, Keim categorizes the $1MM incentive package as “likely to be earned.”
  • After being benched early last season, John Miller is back working as the Bills‘ first-unit right guard, Joe Buscaglia of WKBW notes. Departures of Richie Incognito, Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn have the Bills’ line in an interesting place, but Miller has started all 32 games in which he’s played since Buffalo used a third-round pick on him in 2015. Vlad Ducasse usurped him after the guards’ offseason competition, which Miller won, continued into the regular season. Miller did not see action after this post-Week 4 demotion, but Buffalo is giving him another chance entering his contract year. If Miller sticks at right guard, Ducasse would be in line to fill Incognito’s left guard position.

Reuben Foster’s Marijuana Case Dismissed

Reuben Foster has now seen both of his offseason arrests lead to dismissed cases in a span of three days. The 49ers linebacker is no longer facing a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge after that case was dismissed, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee tweets.

On Wednesday, it was determined Foster would not face a felony domestic violence charge. On Friday, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., district attorney’s office announced the 24-year-old defender’s second-degree marijuana possession charge was being dropped because Foster completed a diversion case, per Barrows.

Foster was arrested for drug possession shortly after his rookie season concluded. He’s now in the clear for this lesser charge as well. However, while Foster has navigated some significant hurdles this offseason, he could still face discipline from the NFL. The Alabama product could be subject to suspension for the January arrest under the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Weeks ago, the 49ers barred Foster from offseason workouts, and the 2017 first-round pick’s future with the team looked bleak. But the tide turned swiftly for the talented linebacker, who now has a clear path back to the 49ers. They will surely plug him back into their first-string group after he’s missed extensive offseason time.

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