Extra Points: McCoy, Cooper, Bears

Gerald McCoy spent nearly a decade with the Buccaneers, who have not made the playoffs since 2007. As a result, he is prioritizing a certain type of team as a first-time free agent. McCoy said he plans to sign with a contender, ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson reports.

I want to win,” McCoy said. “I’m not worried about where I’m living. Wherever I got to go to win. … Everybody’s open.”

Thus far, the Browns, Ravens, Bengals, Colts and Panthers have emerged as McCoy suitors. The Browns and Ravens have received or will receive meetings, Cleveland’s occurring over the past two days and Baltimore’s set for Tuesday. The $11MM-AAV offer is believed to have come from a non-contending team. Despite the Browns’ NFL-long playoff drought (16 years), their offseason improvements have this year’s edition profiling as a playoff threat, joining the Ravens and Colts in that regard. Interestingly, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots no longer appear to be interested in the six-time Pro Bowler.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Julio Jones and the Falcons are engaged in contract negotiations, and these talks may well be impacting another NFC team’s re-up discussions with a No. 1 wideout. The Cowboys look to be under the impression Amari Cooper is waiting on the Jones deal before moving forward in his negotiation, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. The Cowboys and Cooper are at a stalemate presently, and although Cooper may not have much of a case to be paid more than Jones, the Alabama alums’ age difference (Jones is 30; Cooper will turn 25 next month) may bring their next prices closer together.
  • The Bears are doing some rearranging up front. Former second-round picks Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are switching positions, with Whitehair set to slide to left guard and Daniels to center, J.J. Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago notes. A 2016 draftee, Whitehair has started all 48 games in his career and has spent most of that run as the Bears’ snapper. Whitehair played guard at Kansas State, while Daniels — a 2018 draft choice — was primarily a center at Iowa. Both played well last season in their old jobs, Whitehair grading as Pro Football Focus’ No. 10 center and Daniels ending his rookie year as PFF’s No. 29 guard.
  • While that marks the only change expected on the Bears’ starting front, with each of the team’s other three starters set to reprise their roles this coming season, swing tackle Bradley Sowell will have an interesting opportunity. The 6-foot-7, 312-pound veteran is now wearing No. 85 and working as a tight end, per Stankevitz, and the Bears plan to use him behind regular blocking tight end Adam Shaheen. Sowell is entering his eighth year. He has spent the past two seasons with the Bears, working as a backup. He worked as a starting tackle with the 2012 Colts and 2016 Seahawks, however.
  • Additionally, Bears backup running back Taquan Mizzell is now a wide receiver, Stankevitz adds. Mizzell is also in his third Bears season; he only received nine carries in 2018.

Broncos Rumors: Jackson, Harris, Leary

While the cornerstone Broncos secondary cog remains away from the team, the player that helped (indirectly) create the Chris Harris situation may be slated for a hybrid role. Kareem Jackson has continued to line up at safety during Broncos OTAs, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes. Given $11MM AAV in March, Jackson joins Justin Simmons as a first-string safety when the team has used its base formation thus far. However, the longtime Texans cornerback moves into his more familiar role when the Broncos shift to their sub-packages, O’Halloran adds. Jackson spent some of the 2018 offseason at safety and began the regular season there, but once Andre Hal returned after his cancer diagnosis, Jackson was shuttled back to corner.

The Broncos appear to be planning to use Harris and Bryce Callahan as base corners, with Jackson and Simmons on the back line. Denver released four-year safety starter Darian Stewart earlier this year and did not use a draft choice on a safety. Oft-used sub player Will Parks remains behind Jackson and Simmons, however, with Su’a Cravens and Jamal Carter still in the mix. But it is not known yet who Simmons’ sidekick in nickel and dime sets will be.

Shifting to the latest on Harris, here is more from Denver:

  • The ice between Harris and John Elway appears to be thawing. The sides have resumed negotiations, and the All-Pro corner’s $15MM asking price has come down a bit. It appears Harris will be receiving a raise, and Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets the Broncos and their ninth-year corner are discussing what would be a “big” 2019 salary spike. But interestingly, said big raise may just be for this season. Teams normally like to add control in exchange for salary hikes, but at this point, Harris may still be headed toward a contract year and 2020 free agency. The prospective one-year bump centers around the reality that the Broncos need Harris to contend this season, Renck adds.
  • Continuing with the Denver secondary, Simmons is entering his walk year. The 2016 third-round pick became a full-time player for the Broncos in 2017 and was their only defender to play every snap last season (1,078). Simmons is focused on a Broncos extension. “Obviously when it’s all said and done, if I had a choice I would stay here,”Simmons said (via The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala, subscription required), “not even a question of looking elsewhere or anything like that.” The Broncos have three starters from the 2016 draft, with Adam Gotsis and Connor McGovern 1.0 also in contract years, but it is not certain any will command lofty salaries. The Broncos’ highest-profile walk-year players are seasoned veterans (Harris, Emmanuel Sanders) rather than rookie-salary cogs on the verge of big money.
  • Ronald Leary has ended both of his Broncos campaigns on IR, last season’s Achilles injury occurring in October. But the veteran guard is set to be back as a starter, after seeing $5MM in 2019 injury guarantees kick in earlier this year. The 30-year-old blocker is on track to begin participating in OTAs next week, Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio tweets. The Broncos have moved Leary back to right guard, where he played in 2017. Leary was not on board with being moved to left guard last year, Marvez adds. Second-round pick Dalton Risner is expected to be Denver’s starting left guard.

Wagner, Seahawks Begin Extension Talks

Had the Seahawks and Bobby Wagner engaged in contract-year negotiations in 2018, this would have probably been an easier process. But the Jets changed the game in March, transforming the off-ball linebacker market by giving C.J. Mosley a five-year, $85MM deal.

With Wagner having accomplished far more than Mosley, it certainly added a major element to the talks with the Seahawks. While the parties had not begun discussions at May’s outset, Wagner confirmed negotiations have started. But it is certain Wagner wants to eclipse the $17MM-per-year number Mosley received.

That is the plan, to break that,” Wagner said, via Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic (subscription required). “… Like I said, it’s a business. If it works out, it does. If not, it’s been cool.”

At this point last year, Jamie Collins‘ $12.5MM-AAV number paced all off-ball linebackers. Now, Mosley leads all second-level defenders with his massive Jets deal. Kwon Alexander (one Pro Bowl) signed for $13.5MM per year, though the 49ers can get out of that contract rather easily after 2019, and Anthony Barr followed suit with the Vikings. Wagner signed a four-year, $43MM deal in 2015. He is due $10.5MM in base salary this season.

Wagner’s four first-team All-Pro honors trail only Luke Kuechly among active non-rush linebackers. The Seahawks opted not to pay Frank Clark, trading him to the Chiefs, so they appear to be planning for a Wagner future. With Earl Thomas also off the books, the Seahawks do not have a non-Wagner defender earning eight figures annually. But moving up to the Mosley tier certainly won’t be easy, given the radical markup. The Seahawks hold $23.9MM in cap space.

For now, the soon-to-be 29-year-old middle linebacker is attending Seahawks workouts but not participating in drills. Pete Carroll called this tactic “a good decision for him right now.”

It’s a tricky situation,” Wagner said. “It’s a business. You get hurt, they don’t pay you, so you got to be mindful of that. Y’all know I’m a professional; I’m going to be in shape. I work out every single day, so y’all don’t have to worry about me being in shape, and my mind is going to always be sharp.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Notes: Goff, Seahawks, 49ers

While the Eagles and Carson Wentz are negotiating an extension that is expected to be finalized before the season, the Rams and Jared Goff have not made similar progress. It is not clear if they have begun re-up talks. But the notion the team is toying with the idea of using the two-time Pro Bowler during his rookie deal and moving in is not rooted in reality, Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic notes (subscription required). The Rams are committed to building a roster around a franchise-level Goff contract, per Bonsignore. Goff stands to make more than $20MM in 2020 on his fifth-year option but is tethered to merely an $8.89MM cap number this season. Sean McVay has not said if the Rams plan to extend Goff this year, mentioning the possibility of a deal being tabled until 2020.

Shifting to another quarterback’s contract, here is the latest from the NFC West:

  • Geno Smith landed with a fourth team in four years recently, linking up with the Seahawks. His one-year deal is for the minimum salary, according to Brady Henderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). He’ll receive just $25K guaranteed on the $895K deal as he competes with Paxton Lynch to serve as Russell Wilson‘s backup. Lynch is making $645K this year. Neither is a lock to be on Seattle’s roster when the regular season begins. Despite these two high picks’ struggles as NFLers, each profiles as a bigger name than the Seahawks have employed behind Russell Wilson over the past two seasons.
  • More Seahawks details: Al Woodsdeal points to the veteran defensive tackle having a slightly better chance to make the 53-man roster. But the 10th-year lineman’s pact is worth slightly less than originally reported, as is often the case. Woods can earn up to $2.25MM, but the base value of this pact is $1.25MM, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes. A five-team veteran who played two games with 2011 Seahawks, Woods received $400K guaranteed. The deal will count $2.215MM against Seattle’s cap. This deal is similar to those given to Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen last year. Both made the team, though Johnson was cut midway through the season.
  • Ahkello Witherspoon‘s 2018 season did not go well. The young cornerback graded as, by far, the worst full-time corner in the view of Pro Football Focus. But the 49ers signing Jason Verrett does not mean he will be the starter. Witherspoon will still be the man to beat at right cornerback, Matt Barrows of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Verrett is unlikely to be ready to go until training camp, Barrows adds.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Ravens To Host Gerald McCoy On Visit

In what has quickly become a crowded pursuit, Gerald McCoy will make another trip to meet with an AFC North team. The Ravens are up next on the veteran defensive tackle’s docket, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter).

McCoy will make a trip to Baltimore on Tuesday, per Stroud, but this does not mean the Browns are out of the mix. The sides wrapped up their visit recently, and the Browns remain in contention to sign the nine-year Buccaneer.

The Browns booked the first meeting with McCoy, but it looks like it will take a contract — at least, in terms of per-year value — worth nearly what McCoy was making with the Bucs to secure his services. While more will go into McCoy’s second NFL landing spot than finances, it is believed the 31-year-old interior defender has drawn an offer of $11MM per year. However, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports that proposal is not from a team coming off a winning season. Still, with more than a quarter of the NFL interested, McCoy won’t come cheap.

The Cleveland visit went well, with Cabot reporting the Browns tried to sign him before the summit concluded. McCoy would prefer to land with a team that has realistic playoff opportunities. With the Bucs having not made the playoffs since 2007, McCoy has never suited up for an NFL postseason game. If the Browns end up adding McCoy, they will have four Pro Bowlers on their defensive line; only four other teams have employed that many on a defensive front since 1970, according to the NFL Network.

For the Ravens, McCoy would add another big name to a defense that lost a few but gained one (Earl Thomas) this offseason. While the Ravens did lose Brent Urban, the big names lost were either linebackers or defensive backs. Baltimore uses a 3-4 scheme and has well-regarded nose tackle Brandon Williams. The Ravens could use some depth up front, however, and a McCoy signing would likely move one of Baltimore’s incumbent ends to the bench.

McCoy would likely factor in as an end in Ravens base sets and move inside in sub-packages. He played the bulk of his 731 snaps (498) at either left or right defensive tackle last season, though 141 did come at left end to reveal some possibilities for the next team that deploys McCoy.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Request Interviews With Douglas, Kelly

The Jets have requested interviews with Eagles executive Joe Douglas and Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly for their GM vacancy, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Douglas was immediately connected to the Jets job after Maccagnan’s firing and Kelly name emerged hours later.

[RELATED: Jets Won’t Try To Trade Le’Veon Bell]

Kelly has history with head coach Adam Gase dating back to their time with Denver. For the last two seasons, he’s served as a top official with the Bears. Kelly was one of the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s recommended GM candidates this offseason, but did not get an interview in the thick of the cycle.

Douglas, meanwhile, is said to be Gase’s top choice for the role. Still, Douglas is expected to be choosy when it comes to his next opportunity and many in the football world are questioning the Jets’ power structure given the timing and nature of Maccagnan’s firing.

This Date In Transactions History: Broncos Sign 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 2005, 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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Jets, Gase, Bills, Eagles

It has been widely reported that Adam Gase forced Mike Maccagnan out of the Jets’ front office, but the head coach/interim GM denied those accusations in a press conference on Thursday.

Me and Mike had disagreements on a few things. There was no personal rift,” Gase said (Twitter link via Darryl Slater of NJ.com).

Gase claims that team CEO Christopher Johnson called and told him Maccagnan was gone, and did not ask Gase for input on the decision (Twitter link). Whether or not that’s really the case, we know that Gase will have input in the hiring of the team’s next GM.

Here’s more from the East divisions:

Browns Wrap Draft Class

The Browns’ draft class is in the books. On Friday, the Browns inked third-round linebacker Sione Takitaki, which means that all of the following players are officially in the fold:

Last year, Takitaki led BYU with 118 tackles, but many teams had him low on the board due to his past off-the-field troubles. Takitaki got into a dorm fight in his freshman year, allegedly stole property on campus as a sophomore, and spent time away from the program in 2016 due to academic issues.

In spite of those red flags, the Browns are excited about Takitaki’s potential.

Takitaki is a tough son of a gun,” Browns director of college scouting Steve Malin said during the draft. “I’m excited about having Takitaki because of his physical presence and what he brings to this organization. Obviously, there is a lot of exposure that all of us in the personnel department got on all these players.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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