Colts Sign Second-Round LB Darius Leonard

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The Colts and second-round linebacker Darius Leonard have agreed on a rookie contract, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Leonard, the final Indianapolis rookie to come under contract, will receive a four-year deal worth roughly $7.248MM, per Over the Cap. The 36th overall selection, Leonard should collect a signing bonus of ~$3.351MM and carry a 2018 cap charge near $1.318MM.

It’s unclear exactly what held up negotiations between Leonard and the Colts, but Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star recently reported that Leonard would likely have a contract in place by today when rookies were scheduled to report. Back-end first-round picks were reportedly haggling over fourth-year guarantees, and that could have conceivably been a point of contention for Leonard, as well. With Leonard and Giants running back Saquon Barkley now signed, only seven 2018 draft selections are without deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Giants Sign Saquon Barkley

The Giants have signed first-round running back Saquon Barkley, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Barkley, the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, will receive a fully guaranteed four-year deal worth $31.2MM, per Rapoport. the pact also contains a $20.76MM signing bonus, $15MM of which he’ll receive immediately. The remainder of Barkley’s bonus will be paid out by October.

With Barkley under contract, only eight 2018 draft selections remain unsigned, and the majority of those players are first-rounders. Reports earlier this year indicated offset language was the primary driver in first-round pick negotiations. Thanks to the slotting system for rookie deals, and the fact that first-round picks are nearly always guaranteed the entirety of their deals, offset language is the only area left for haggling.

Offset language does exist in Barkley’s deal, tweets Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. That means Barkley won’t be allowed to “double-dip” — collect extra salary from a new team — in the event that he’s released during the next four seasons. Obviously, the Giants are hoping that a Barkley release will not occur over the life of his contract, but the club has protected itself nevertheless.

New York chose Barkley near the top of the first round instead of picking a potential franchise quarterback, a decision that could be analyzed for years to come. But Barkley figures to be one of the primary pieces of the Giants’ offense in 2018, as he’ll run behind a revamped offensive line that includes free agent acquisition Nate Solder at tackle and second-rounder Will Hernandez at guard.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears Notes: Nagy, Howard, Long

The Bears and Ravens will square off in the Hall of Fame Game on August 2, so they are the only two teams whose training camps are already underway. Bears camp officially opened on Friday, so let’s take a look at a few notes out of Chicago:

  • Bears fans are excited about the innovations that new head coach Matt Nagy will bring to the offensive side of the football, and Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times believes that excitement is well-founded. Nagy has a great deal of young talent at his disposal, and while much of that talent is unproven, the club certainly has the chance to turn some heads this year. Nagy’s offense is expected to blend Andy Reid‘s West Coast offense with the run-pass options that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich learned under Chip Kelly at Oregon, and it will certainly include creative formations and shifts. Nagy is also open to innovating and experimenting throughout the course of the season as he adjusts to life as an NFL head coach.
  • One key component of the offense, running back Jordan Howard, is making a concerted effort to improve his hands so that he can become a reliable contributor in the passing game, as Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune details. Indeed, Nagy’s offense frequently utilizes running backs as pass catchers, so Howard, who has not offered much as a receiver in his first two years in the league, needs to refine his abilities. For what it’s worth, Nagy believes that Howard can be a true three-down back. Nagy said, “There’s this notion that [Howard] is just a first-and second-down back, and I don’t believe that. Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that. We’re going to use him, and we’re going to use other guys on first and second down when we need to.”
  • In a separate piece, Campbell describes the importance of offensive lineman Kyle Long — who suddenly finds himself as the offense’s second-oldest player — to the Bears’ rebuild. There are a lot of intriguing new and relatively new offensive pieces at the skill positions, but those pieces cannot come together to reach their collective potential without a strong offensive line in place. Long, whose career started out with three consecutive Pro Bowl nods, has finished each of the last two seasons on injured reserve. However, Campbell reports that Long is as close to full health as he has been in two years, and that is critical not just for the Bears’ chances in 2018, but for both player and team from a contractual standpoint. After this season, Chicago could cut Long and save $5.5MM against the cap, so the next few months will go a long way towards determining Long’s future in the Windy City.
  • Kevin White, who entered the league as a 2015 top-10 pick with a ton of promise, has seen the first three years of his professional career ravaged by injury. The Bears declined his fifth-year option earlier this offseason, so he will enter the last year of his rookie contract with a lot to prove. As Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, White has a good chance of making the team’s roster out of training camp, but given the talent that Chicago has added over the past several seasons, he will need to perform very well in camp and in the preseason to earn significant playing time. Finley reports that White looks as good as ever from a physical standpoint, and the fact that he can line up anywhere on the field in Nagy’s offense will only help his cause.

Tony Sparano Passes Away

Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who previously served as the head coach of the Dolphins and the interim head coach of the Raiders, in addition to a number of other coaching positions in the NFL and collegiate ranks, has passed away, per KSTP.com (the Vikings have since confirmed the news). He was just 56.

Sparano complained of chest pains on Thursday and was admitted to a hospital, but was released on Friday following tests, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Sparano’s wife then found him unconscious Sunday morning as his family was attempting to leave for church.

Sparano’s coaching career began as the offensive line coach at the University of New Haven in 1984, and after working on the offensive coaching staff at Boston University from 1988-93, he rejoined New Haven as head coach in 1994. He moved to the NFL as an offensive quality control coach for the expansion Browns in 1999, which marked the beginning of a 19-year career in the pros.

He is, of course, best known for his time as Miami’s head coach and his innovative Wildcat offense that became an NFL sensation in 2008, his first year at the helm for the Dolphins. Miami would go 11-5 that season en route to an AFC East title, the only time since 2003 that a team other than the Patriots has won that division (although Tom Brady was lost for the season during Week 1 of that campaign). The Dolphins, though, lost to the Ravens during the wildcard round of the 2008 playoffs, and they would not return to the postseason under Sparano’s watch.

Miami fired Sparano towards the end of the 2011 season, and he became the offensive coordinator of the division-rival Jets the following year. He moved on to the Raiders in 2013 and he took over as Oakland’s interim head coach upon Dennis Allen‘s dismissal following Week 4 of the 2014 campaign. The Raiders went just 3-9 under his command, however, and he would not get another shot as head coach, so he finished his NFL head coaching career with a 32-42 overall record.

Nonetheless, the 49ers hired him to be their tight ends coach in 2015, and he signed on with the Vikings in 2016. He may have moved around a lot, but he was clearly a respected coach with an offensive mind that NFL teams appreciated.

He leaves behind his wife, Jeannette, three children (one of whom, Tony Sparano Jr., is currently an assistant offensive line coach for the Jaguars), and four grandchildren.

Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf issued the following statement:

“Our hearts go out to Jeanette and the entire Sparano family as we all mourn the loss of Tony. Tony was a passionate and driven individual who cared deeply about his family, and especially enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. Tony’s presence within the Vikings organization will be deeply missed. We are only thinking of Tony’s family during this incredibly difficult time. We ask that the entire NFL and Vikings family keep the Sparanos in their thoughts.”

We here at PFR offer our condolences and best wishes to Sparano’s family and friends.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Allen, Cooks, Eagles

Bills fans are anxiously looking forward to the inevitable ascension of Josh Allen, and Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News takes a look at the team’s quarterback competition with training camp fast approaching. A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman know that, if either of them start the season under center — and McCarron is generally seen as the favorite to open the year as the starting signal-caller — they would just be keeping the seat warm for Allen. Carucci notes that Allen’s natural talent was on full display throughout spring practices, and he adds that all three competitors have developed a friendship during their time together. The Buffalo News scribe examines each player’s case to start on Week 1, and he notably does not rule out any possibility at this juncture.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks just inked a massive extension with the Rams, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says New England had a pretty good idea that Cooks, who was scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2018 season, was going to get that kind of money given the robust state of the wide receiver market. However, the Patriots just did not value him that highly and were approaching this year as though it would be Cooks’ last in Foxborough. So, when presented with the opportunity to get a first-round pick for him this offseason, New England pounced.
  • Earlier today, the Patriots signed No. 31 overall pick Sony Michel.
  • Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com takes a look at 10 Giants who are in danger of being cut because of their salaries, the status of their position groups, or some combination thereof. Dunleavy’s list is headlined by guard John Jerry and defensive end Kerry Wynn.
  • Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has made more trades than any other general manager since 2010, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, who believes that Roseman will make more trades in the coming weeks. Shorr-Parks puts a potential return on each player on the roster, and he notes that Roseman would likely be open to moving Nick Foles and Brandon Graham, though it would take at least a first-round pick to acquire Foles and a third-rounder to land Graham.
  • In a separate piece, Shorr-Parks offers his take on the locks, longshots, and bubble players on the Eagles‘ roster as it currently stands. As Shorr-Parks has indicated previouslyRonald Darby is another trade candidate if De’vante Bausby continues to play well in training camp.

Patriots Sign Rookie RB Sony Michel

The Patriots have signed rookie running back Sony Michel, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was the first to report that the two sides had agreed to terms (Twitter link). New England selected Michel with the No. 31 overall pick in this year’s draft, and the club now has its entire 2018 draft class under contract.

Michel may have been outcarried by Nick Chubb during his last two seasons on campus, but he still got plenty of touches and was pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands. In 2017, Michel rushed for 1,227 yards on a whopping 7.9 yards per carry (to go along with 16 TDs), and he was taken four picks higher than Chubb in the draft. Although it is notoriously difficult to project how New England will distribute touches among its running backs, Michel is likely to get more carries than anyone else on the roster. Indeed, as Rapoport tweets, the Patriots rarely select an RB in the first round, and they clearly have big plans for Michel.

Michel will lead a group that also includes Rex Burkhead and James White, though the running back room could soon be without Mike Gillislee. Gillislee will battle with Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden for a spot at the bottom of the Patriots’ RB depth chart.

As the No. 31 pick, Michel’s contract is a four-year pact that is worth just shy of $10MM and that carries a team option for a fifth season. He joins former Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn as one of the Patriots’ two 2018 first-round selections, and he could be running behind Wynn as early as Week 1.

There are now nine unsigned first-round picks remaining from this year’s class.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Gregory, Cowboys, Browns, Jets

In a recent feature, Calvin Watkins of The Athletic took a look at the recently re-instated Randy Gregory‘s long road back to the NFL. On Tuesday, Gregory was allowed back into the league on a conditional basis by the league office. The 2015 second-round pick of the Cowboys has played in just two games since his rookie season due to multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Gregory is now reportedly sober and focused on making a return to Dallas. He’s only 25, and the Cowboys could certainly use extra pass-rushing help. Watkins’ article details how Gregory got a regular 9-to-5 job at a Dallas-based business in order to prove he could get his life together. He partnered with attorney Daniel Moskowitz, and continued working out heavily during his extended exile. According to Watkins, Gregory “was in shock” when the league re-instated him, as he didn’t believe he would ever actually make it back. It’s been a tough journey, but it certainly sounds like the former Nebraska standout is ready to make the most of his second chance.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Browns have already made a series of high-profile acquisitions this offseason, but they may not yet be done adding to the team. GM John Dorsey “loves to be aggressive” and may look to make a move or two in the coming weeks, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Ulrich notes Cleveland “could use pass-rush help” and that he wouldn’t rule out the team adding a veteran defensive tackle or free safety.
  • Darryl Slater of NJ.com took a stab at projecting the Jets initial 53-man roster, and had a few interesting predictions. Notably, he predicts the Jets will end up keeping all three of Josh McCown, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. He also thinks notable players like running back Thomas Rawls, tight end Clive Walford, and wide receiver Charone Peake will end up getting cut.
  • In case you missed it, here’s the latest on Raiders star Khalil Mack and the negotiations between the two sides as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

 

NFC Notes: Julio Jones, Falcons, 49ers, Richburg, Packers, Wilkerson

The Falcons have had to do right by a lot of players recently. They’ve doled out extensions to Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan and still need to lock up Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews. Ricardo Allen has also been angling for a new deal. On top of all this, star receiver Julio Jones has made clear his unhappiness with his current contract, and held out of mandatory minicamp in protest.

The team recently informed Jones they had no plans to sweeten his deal, which still has three years remaining on it. Jones is looking at it from the wrong perspective, argues Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bradley thinks that since the Falcons budgeted for the rest of their players under the assumption Jones would play out his deal, it isn’t fair of him to ask the team for a raise. Bradley writes that Jones’ demands are due to “wounded pride” at being the NFL’s seventh-highest paid receiver. It’s unclear how Jones will respond to Atlanta’s refusal, but the team certainly doesn’t want its best player this unhappy. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two sides come to some sort of agreement on additional incentives or some other measure that will satisfy Jones.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

AFC Notes: Jets, Darnold, Bowles, Browns, Kendricks, Texans, Foreman

When the Jets selected Sam Darnold with the number three overall pick, many assumed they would take it slow with the young signal caller. At just 21 years old, he would be one of the youngest quarterbacks ever to start an NFL game. But there are apparently some executives in the team’s front office who think Darnold will be ready to start from the get go, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

“Team decision makers see stardom in the former USC quarterback” Mehta writes, and although the team won’t throw them out there if he’s not ready, “there are smart people in the building who believe that Darnold will prove he belongs under center when the regular season kicks off September 10 in Detroit under the Monday night lights.” Mehta adds that “the summer quarterback competition will be Darnold vs Darnold” and that “the starting gig is there for the taking.” Clearly Josh McCown might not have as big of a lead in the race to be the starter as was previously thought. If Darnold does run away with the job during camp, Teddy Bridgewater would likely be made available in a trade.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Mehta also notes that Jets GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles should be safe moving forward no matter what the team’s record is in 2018. Mehta writes that the duo were extended “without a 2018 playoff mandate” and to “expect organizational continuity moving forward.”
  • Mychal Kendricks signing with the Browns last month “raised eyebrows” because Cleveland was thought to already have a few linebackers “entrenched as starters” writes Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Ulrich thinks Kendricks can play all three linebacker spots in Cleveland’s defense so he “should be deemed a threat to all of the returning starters.”
  • The Texans expect D’Onta Foreman to be ready for the start of the regular season, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The second-year player showed flashes as a rookie but his season was cut short by a torn achilles. The Texans seem high on him, and he should play a bigger role as a sophomore.

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