Titans Claim K Sam Ficken Off Waivers

It didn’t take long for Sam Ficken to find a new home. Just a day after getting cut by the Jets, the kicker has been claimed by the Titans, the team announced Sunday.

Tennessee cut fellow kicker Blake Haubeil in a corresponding roster move, and also announced they’ve placed tight end Briley Moore on injured reserve. A Penn State product, Ficken went undrafted in 2015. He didn’t even sign his first NFL contract until 2016, and didn’t make a regular season roster until December of 2017 with the Rams. He kicked in a few games with Los Angeles between 2017-18, both times as a fill-in for an injured Greg Zuerlein.

After quick stints with the Seahawks and Packers, Ficken eventually landed with the Jets in September of 2019, where he found his first real home. He’s been New York’s kicker for most of the last two seasons, with mixed results. Injuries limited him to only nine games last year, in which he made 13 of 15 field goals and 12 of 15 extra points.

In 2019 he was shakier, making only 19 of 27 field goal attempts across 15 games. He’ll now battle it out with Tucker McCann to be the Titans’ next permanent kicker after they elected not to re-sign Stephen Gostkowski this offseason.

Haubeil is an undrafted rookie from Ohio State. Moore is an undrafted rookie from Kansas State who suffered a knee injury.

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Bills Mulling Move To Austin?

The Bills are currently pushing New York officials to approve a $1.5 billion plan to build a brand new stadium and renovate the Buffalo Sabres’ arena. At the same time, they’re looking to ramp up the pressure. One owner of the Bills tells Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com (Twitter link) that Austin, Texas is a possible destination if things don’t work out. Beyond Austin, the Bills could ponder “other cities elsewhere that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it.

Of course, this is standard operating procedure for professional sports teams seeking taxpayer dollars. Even the Yankees threatened to move to New Jersey before the new Yankee Stadium was built in the Bronx. However, Austin would hold lots of appeal for an NFL franchise. For starters, the lack of state tax in Texas would enable the Bills to keep more of their money. That would also be a huge selling point for free agents, who could save seven figures per year.

The Bills aren’t the first team to threaten a Texas move. Before the Raiders got their shiny new stadium in Las Vegas, they told Oakland that they were considering San Antonio. But, if the Bills actually want to move to Austin, they’ll have to duke it out with the Cowboys and Texans. Those clubs may have the right to veto — getting them to waive it would probably require sizable checks to both teams.

The Bills’ most recent proposal asks New York State and Erie County to pay the entire $1.5 billion cost.

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Latest On Colts’ Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz will try and avoid surgery on his injured foot (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). If all goes well after rest and rehab, the Colts quarterback could be available for the season opener. But, if his condition does not improve, Wentz will be forced to go under the knife and miss the start of the 2021 season. 

Wentz is looking to reboot his career under old pal Frank Reich. But, before he can mount his return, he’ll need to get the green light from team doctors and independent specialists. For now, he’s been kept off of the practice field.

The Colts intend to use Wentz as their Week 1 starter. But, if he can’t go, they’ll have to rely on the likes of second-year QB Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger. Longtime stopgap Jacoby Brissett is no longer in the fold, so the Colts are short on options.

He’s with the docs, trying to figure what out the process is,” offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said last week. “[We’re] still evaluating what the next move is, how bad it is. Then we’ll go from there.”

Wentz was once considered one of the league’s best young quarterbacks. However, it’s been a while since his Pro Bowl nod in 2017. His final year with the Eagles was a mess and resulted in Jalen Hurts ascending to the starting job. Hurts was first-string for four of his 15 games, completing 52% of his passes for 1,061 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. He also added another 354 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries, prompting the Eagles to trade him to the Colts for a package of draft picks.

The Eagles received a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round for the QB. That conditional choice could turn into a first-round selection if Wentz plays 75% of the snaps or 70% with a playoff appearance.

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Jordan Hicks On Reduced Role With Cardinals

It’s been a difficult offseason for Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks. He accepted a substantial pay cut in March, and then he watched his club select LB Zaven Collins with the No. 16 overall pick of the draft. Shortly thereafter, the team announced that Collins would take over Hicks’ starting ILB role, and Hicks was given permission to seek a trade.

Hicks appreciated the fact that the Cardinals were upfront with him about their plan, and that they agreed to work with him to find a trade partner, but he understandably hoped that he would have a legitimate opportunity to compete for a starting job.

I respected the fact that [GM Steve Keim] told me straight up [that Collins would be starting],” Hicks said (via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com). “I respected the fact that he told me he was going to work with me to try to honor a trade. And, so, there’s a part of you that respects that, but then there’s a part that just wishes you had had an opportunity to compete, which is all I asked for.”

It is somewhat curious that Arizona has already given a rookie a starting job over an established veteran like Hicks. Since joining the Cardinals as a free agent in 2019, the 29-year-old has started all 32 games for the club, and while Pro Football Focus’ metrics have not been especially high on his work, he has been among the league leaders in tackles.

On the other hand, Collins certainly offers more upside, and the fact that there has been no reported interest in Hicks from rival clubs despite his eminently reasonable salary suggests that the Cardinals are making the right call. At the time of the trade request, we heard that a swap was not particularly likely, and that is how things have played out thus far. Still, underperformance or an injury elsewhere might lead to a new opportunity for Hicks.

In the meantime, he is mentoring Collins and second-year ‘backer Isaiah Simmons to the best of his ability. He says he has been impressed with Collins and is excited about the 2021 campaign, but he was clear about his preference to be a starter somewhere.

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Giants Met With Austin Reiter

The Giants brought in a veteran O-lineman yesterday, signing 30-year-old blocker Joe Looney. Yesterday morning, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reported that free agent center Austin Reiter was expected to visit with Big Blue “in the coming days” (Twitter link).

However, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that Reiter has already met with the Giants, and that the Looney acquisition has closed the door on a Reiter signing, at least for the time being. Looney could supplant Nick Gates at the pivot, thereby shifting Gates to guard, or he could serve as guard depth himself. With Reiter having worked almost exclusively at center in his career, it would certainly seem that there is no room for him with the Giants at this point.

A seventh-round pick of the Washington Football Team in 2016, Reiter eventually caught on with the Chiefs and settled into a role as Patrick Mahomes‘ snapper over the past two seasons. But Kansas City let him hit the open market this offseason and then added Austin Blythe in free agency and Creed Humphrey in the draft. Reiter has recently met with the Bengals and Texans, so he could be on the verge of finding a new home even without the Giants in the picture.

In other Giants OL news, left guard Shane Lemieux recently sustained a knee injury that will sideline him for a couple of weeks. Luckily, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, the second-year pro will not require surgery and should be on track for the start of the regular season. Given that Lemieux was carted off the field when he suffered the injury, that comes as a big relief for New York.

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Browns Gave Paul DePodesta Five-Year Extension In 2020

The Browns’ young GM/HC combo of Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, both of whom were hired in January 2020, appear to have the team headed in the right direction. Although much of the current roster was constructed by former GM John Dorsey, the Browns finally got back to the postseason with Berry and Stefanski at the helm, and they look poised for an extended run of competitiveness.

Berry and Stefanski are signed through 2024, and so is the man who is largely responsible for their hirings, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. As Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal writes, DePodesta was given a five-year extension in 2020, which club owner Jimmy Haslam just revealed yesterday.

It lines up with [Berry and Stefanski],” Haslam said of DePodesta’s contract. “That makes all the sense, and we’re super excited about that. Paul’s going to be with us for a significant amount of time. Paul’s not the type, you don’t need to announce something on Paul’s behalf, but he’s going to be with us for a significant amount of time.”

Haslam brought DePodesta on board in January 2016, and his hire was an unconventional one to say the least. He had no previous football experience, having made his name as a Major League Baseball executive with the Moneyball-era Athletics before becoming the GM of the Dodgers. He also worked in the front offices of the Padres and Mets.

His analytics-based approach to roster construction is what initially caught Haslam’s attention, and he has clearly earned the owner’s trust over his first few years in Cleveland. DePodesta has outlasted former executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown and Dorsey, and Berry and Stefanski were the GM and head coach candidates that DePodesta preferred. For the first time in a long time, the organization’s top power brokers appear to be completely in sync, and Haslam has acted to maintain that unified vision.

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Texans Setting High Price On Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston, and the Texans are said to have moved on from their embattled quarterback. However, GM Nick Caserio has put a very high price on Watson. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that Caserio is asking for a combination of five high draft picks and quality players in any Watson deal (via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe).

Although no team will pony up that kind of offer while Watson’s status remains so uncertain, Caserio can afford to wait out the process. Watson’s $10.54MM salary for 2021 is not untenable, especially for a club that will not be competing for a playoff spot. If Watson ends up on the Commissioner’s Exempt list until his legal situation is resolved, Houston would be paying him that salary to sit on the sidelines, but even that wouldn’t be a big deal for Caserio. As Volin observes, the rookie GM would happily pay out that money this year in order to maximize his return in a Watson trade in 2022.

Volin also notes that the team is taking efforts to protect its biggest trade chip. Watson reported to training camp to avoid the $50K daily fines mandated by the CBA, but his participation in practices has been light. He has been held out of team drills, and he worked as a scout team safety at one point.

Meanwhile, Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the 22 women who have filed sexual assault/sexual misconduct suit against Watson, issued a definitive denial of reports suggesting that the NFL has not been given access to speak to many of his clients.

“To suggest the NFL hasn’t got enough information or has not been provided access, that’s just demonstrably false. I think if you ask the NFL directly they would have to admit that,” Buzbee said (via Mark Berman of Fox 26). “I don’t know who the sources are or what they’re saying, but I do know my staff has spent many, many, many hours voluntarily, because the NFL asked us to, and these women have went out of their way to provide information.”

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“No Momentum” In Contract Talks Between Bills, Josh Allen

The Bills and star QB Josh Allen are talking extension, but as of right now, there is no momentum towards an agreement, as Kim Jones of the NFL Network reports (Twitter link). However, Allen himself is not sweating it, calling his contract situation the “least of my worries.”

That is because Allen knows it’s a question of when, not if, he gets his mega-deal. Jones suggests that, if a new contract is not in place by the middle of August, the two sides could table negotiations until next offseason, but that scenario would hardly threaten Allen’s future in Buffalo. Because the Bills have exercised Allen’s fifth-year option, the big-armed passer is under contract through 2022, and the franchise tag is a theoretical option for 2023 if it comes to that (of course, the Cowboys’ protracted talks with Dak Prescott demonstrated the danger of that approach).

Allen has expressed a willingness to give the Bills a team-friendly structure on his second pro contract, but that doesn’t mean he will be willing to take a discount. He is in line to eclipse Prescott’s four-year, $160MM pact, which includes $126MM in guaranteed money. A deal of that magnitude certainly is a complex undertaking, though the Bills and Allen have plenty of time to continue discussing it.

As our Ben Levine detailed last month, Allen might prefer to get something done sooner rather than later. After all, it’s hard to imagine him improving on his incredible 2020 campaign, and while draftmate Lamar Jackson might drive Allen’s price a little higher if Jackson signs his extension first, it’s unlikely to make too much of an impact. And an earlier report noted that Allen is willing to operate independently of Jackson and Browns’ QB Baker Mayfield, suggesting that Allen is indeed prepared to put pen to paper before his fellow young signal-callers.

On the other hand, we don’t know the type of offer the Bills have on the table at this point — maybe they’re trying to keep the price down by pointing to Allen’s inconsistencies in 2018-19. And if they’re not willing to give up Prescott money just yet, Allen could continue to wait them out.

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Saints To Host Prince Amukamara

The Saints just agreed to terms with running back Devonta Freeman, and he might not be the only big name veteran they add. New Orleans is also hosting cornerback Prince Amukamara for a visit on Saturday, a source told Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football (Twitter link).

The 19th overall pick of the 2011 draft, Amukamara was on the Cardinals’ practice squad last year but didn’t appear in a game. He had spent the previous three seasons as a full-time starter in Chicago. Amukamara was originally drafted by the Giants, and he won Super Bowl XLVI with the team as a rookie. After his first five years in New York he signed a one-year deal with Jacksonville.

After that one season with the Jaguars he signed with the Bears, who gave him a three-year, $27MM extension in March of 2018. In February of 2020, he was cut. He’s never been a top-tier talent but has been a pretty solid starter at times, and he had double digit passes defended in both 2018 and 2019.

New Orleans is also bringing in fellow corner KeiVarae Russell for a workout, as Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. Russell, a third-round pick of the Chiefs in the 2016 draft, has appeared in just 21 games (one start) since he entered the league, so he does not offer nearly the same level of experience as Amukamara. The Packers signed Russell to a reserve/futures deal in January but cut him loose in May.

The Saints have been linked to free agent cornerback help all offseason after releasing Janoris Jenkins back in March, so it wouldn’t be shocking if they made a move here. After top corner Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans also has longtime vet Patrick Robinson and youngster Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The club also signed veteran slot man Brian Poole last week.

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