Extra Points: 2018 QBs, Watt, Gronk, Garrett

With the 2017 class of rookie quarterbacks carrying potentially significant risk, a strategy to eye the 2018 class may enter the mind of some decision-makers as the draft nears. But a college scouting director told TheMMQB.com’s Albert Breer the ’18 crop won’t be without risk, either, so hoping an Andrew Luck-type player emerges will be a gamble.

I’d say no on [UCLA’s Josh] Rosen,” said a college scouting director, via Breer, regarding the class of 2018’s potential to produce a franchise quarterback, with Breer adding “off-field issues” and a nerve injury may be presently holding Rosen back. “[USC’s Sam] Darnold, I like a lot, but needs to repeat that this year. He wasn’t good enough to start the season at USC — Why? And Josh [Allen, of Wyoming] needs to make a lot of strides to be considered a top guy. He’s talented, but not accurate.”

Rosen will be draft-eligible in 2018. Darnold will be a redshirt sophomore in 2017, and Allen a junior. An AFC scouting director told Breer a strategy of waiting for this group instead of gambling on the current one would need a committed owner, but the method may fall short due to it simply being too far away to predict these younger passers’ futures.

Here’s more from around the league.

  • A trade of J.J. Watt would be one of the more earth-shattering scenarios the NFL could produce, but Joel Corry of CBSSports.com discussed this hypothetical gargantuan Texans deal with executives who didn’t think it was laughably unrealistic. Houston’s defense improved statistically without Watt, finishing first in total defense, and the team needs help offensively. One exec said it would take two first-round picks for the Texans to consider it, likening a Watt return package similar to that of a franchise quarterback. Another hypothetical deal involved the Texans including Brock Osweiler‘s contract in a trade and accepting less compensation in return. Corry adds that Jadeveon Clowney will likely receive a contract extension in 2018 for an amount eclipsing Watt’s six-year, $100MM deal. Corry projects that would induce a new Watt contract since it wouldn’t be realistic to have a three-time defensive player of the year be the second-highest-paid defender on his own team.
  • Taking said Internet-breaking premise further: Corry discussed with execs a Watt-for-Rob Gronkowski exchange, with the Patriots — in the mind of a league exec — needing to include more than just their No. 32 overall pick in addition to Gronk to make the Texans consider that deal. Another exec couldn’t picture the teams doing this trade due to Gronkowski’s extensive injury history.
  • Myles Garrett‘s lack of consistency has drawn questions from some NFL personnel, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (video link). The Texas A&M edge-rushing maven piling up statistics against inferior competition — 16 of his 31 career sacks came against Texas-San Antonio, Rice, Louisiana-Monroe, Lamar and Nevada — and disappearing for times in bigger spots, makes some curious about his reliability. Cabot is not certain Garrett will be the first player taken despite the Browns’ reported “astronomical grade” on the ex-Aggie. This runs counter to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noting Garrett beginning to distance himself from the pack. This draft’s quarterback scrutiny could tilt the scales in Garrett’s favor.
  • Cameron Wake‘s two-year, $19MM extension will not have a factor on Lorenzo Alexander‘s potential UFA deal, Corry tweets, noting the disparity between the two aging players’ careers. Wake, 35, has four double-digit sack seasons and has been the Dolphins’ premier sack artist this decade while Alexander, 33, emerged from nowhere to lead the Bills with 12.5 last year.

Bengals To Assess A.J. McCarron Trade?

Somewhat overlooked in what promises to be an eventful offseason when it comes to available quarterbacks, A.J. McCarron may be firmly in the mix here. The Bengals are expected to gauge the market for a potential trade of their backup quarterback over the next month, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com notes.

And NFL evaluators look to be more intrigued by McCarron than a name that’s risen to a higher tier than Cincinnati’s backup has in terms of trade buzz. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah surveyed five NFL personnel execs about the respective trade values of McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo, and the decision-makers rated McCarron as the more attractive trade piece.

I wouldn’t feel good about making a major commitment to any of these quarterbacks,” one executive explained regarding those believed to be available. “If I had to choose one, I would go after McCarron. Ideally, you get him for a late second- or early third-round pick. Then, if it doesn’t work out, you draft a QB in 2018.”

Another exec told Jeremiah he would target McCarron over Garoppolo if his team needed a quarterback. The 26-year-old McCarron has thrown 119 career passes, completing 66 percent of those, but each came in 2015 after what turned out to be a Dalton season-ending injury. The 25-year-old Garoppolo only made it through one game healthy in his Deflategate audition last season, but the former second-round pick has nonetheless drawn extensive interest from QB-needy franchises.

This comes as a bit of a surprise given Garoppolo being linked to several teams — the Browns, 49ers and Bears — compared to scant reports emerging about a prospective deal for McCarron. Multiple second-round picks could be on the table in a Garoppolo deal, with a first-round selection potentially in the realm of possibility.

Earlier this month, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport noted the Browns could pursue McCarron — who spent three years under Hue Jackson‘s tutelage — as a fallback option in case Garoppolo’s price became too much for their liking. Marvin Lewis said recently no team inquired about McCarron last offseason, but the team would have demanded a first-round pick in a deal then, per Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s reasonable to suggest that could still be the asking price, but if the demand remains nonexistent, it stands to reason the former fifth-round pick could be had for less.

The Cincinnati backup’s value may be viewed as higher because it’s been determined he’s under team control for two more seasons, as an RFA in 2018, compared to Garoppolo being set for a contract year. Being set to enter a fourth season behind Andy Dalton, McCarron would not be opposed to a trade that would let him compete for a starting job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: 49ers, Munnerlyn, Saints, Eagles

Recently, Kyle Shanahan expressed a desire to steer clear of a stopgap quarterback, but Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes that with so much uncertainty surrounding the 2017 college crop of QBs, the 49ers have to invest in a veteran to potentially be their 2017 starter. Barrows writes Shanahan will look to sign Brian Hoyer or Matt Schaub (or possibly both). Each worked with Shanahan for a time, with Hoyer starting the bulk of the games for the 2014 Browns and Schaub spending time with the new 49ers coach with both the Texans and Falcons. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the 35-year-old Schaub’s name linked to San Francisco as a bridge-type passer, either. The 31-year-old Hoyer, though, figures to draw more interest after producing as a middling starter the past two years.

Here’s more from the NFC.

  • Captain Munnerlyn awaits re-entering the free agency scene, with the Vikings cornerback tentatively expecting to test the market for the second time in his career. The 28-year-old corner would enjoy a return to Minnesota but appears to acknowledge that’s not a given. “Hopefully they value my position, value my talent and bring me back,” Munnerlyn said, via Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I’m an older guy, I want to win. I definitely want to win. In Minnesota, I definitely feel like we have a chance to win.” The seasoned slot specialist will be set for his ninth season. He profiles more as a player who will score a medium-length contract, as he did when he signed three-year Vikings pact in 2014, on a market housing more highly touted UFAs.
  • The Saints will look to upgrade their pass rush, Sean Payton told the team’s website. “It’s a must. We’ve got to find a pass-rusher,” Payton said. “Now, whether that comes from free agency or that comes from the draft, we have to be better at affecting the quarterback. Last year if you took hurries, sacks, pressures – a study of all three things that can happen with a rush – we were in the bottom third of the league and that has to get better.” The Saints ranked 27th last season with 30 sacks. Cameron Jordan remains under contract, but New Orleans has Nick Fairley (6.5 sacks last season) looming as a UFA and no surefire answer opposite Jordan. No other defensive end recorded two sacks, but promising rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins accrued four despite missing much of the season with a broken leg.
  • One veteran who served as part of the Saints’ defensive end equation wants to continue playing. Darryl Tapp would prefer to continue his career on a contending team, Alex Marvez of the Sporting News tweets. Tapp, 32, said he might re-sign with the Saints, although it’s not known if the interest is mutual, and is eyeing two more seasons before retiring. The veteran defensive end finished with just a half-sack last season but graded out reasonably well despite being a late-summer signing, coming in at 44th on Pro Football Focus’ edge defender rankings.
  • While agreeing with Howie Roseman that adding aging skill-position targets around Carson Wentz doesn’t make much sense, NJ.com’s Eliot Shorr-Parks writes the Eagles should keep their present veteran-laden offensive line in front of Wentz. Jason Kelce surfaced as a cut candidate earlier this offseason, while the Eagles have approached perennial Pro Bowler Jason Peters about taking a pay cut entering his age-35 season. PFF and Football Outsiders considered the Eagles line a top-10 unit, and with Lane Johnson figuring to be available for more games in 2017, the group should help further. But Kelce, and possibly Peters, could be cap casualties — something Shorr-Parks categorizes as a “massive risk” for the Eagles — as a result of Philadelphia’s spending spree last year. Kelce’s only set to count $6.2MM against the Eagles’ 2017 cap, but Peters stands to comprise an Eagles-high $11.7MM. Philly is projected to have barely $9MM in cap space.

Poll: Will Chiefs Re-Sign Eric Berry, Dontari Poe?

Two defenders responsible for helping the Chiefs revitalize their operation in the mid-2010s are now two of the NFL’s most impactful free agents-to-be, and the major question involving Kansas City’s offseason will be if the team can retain both Eric Berry and Dontari Poe.

Each resides either at or near the top of his respective positional hierarchy as far as 2017 UFAs go, and the Chiefs do not stand to possess much in terms of cap space. While the team is expected to pass on Nick Foles‘ option to free up $6.75MM and will likely move on from Jamaal Charles ($6.19MM saved), the prospect of retaining both Berry and Poe will still be daunting.

Berry, of course, played the 2016 season on the franchise tag after the sides couldn’t come close to an agreement last July. The safety delivered maybe his best year, operating as a full-time defender throughout a season for the first time since 2013, and earned first-team All-Pro honors for the third time. Among active safeties, only Earl Thomas has achieved that status as often as Berry.

The safety landscape has also changed since Berry and the Chiefs were last at the bargaining table, with Tyrann Mathieu resetting the market with an extension that pays him $12.5MM annually. So, this could be a complex negotiation, especially considering the 28-year-old safety vowed he won’t play another season on a tag. Nevertheless, PFR’s Zach Links pegs Berry as a strong candidate to be tagged again.

Despite entering his eighth season, Berry has not signed a veteran contract. He played on an old-CBA rookie deal from 2010-15, and after making a triumphant cancer conquest en route to 2015 comeback player of the year acclaim, the Chiefs used the franchise tag to retain him for $10.806MM. Another tag, even as a means to an extension, would cost Kansas City $12.967MM and limit the team regarding Poe or the pursuit of higher-end outside free agents. John Dorsey confirmed the team is discussing re-ups for both players, but Berry’s agent pumped the brakes on Dorsey’s notion the talks are progressing positively. Dorsey’s signed numerous players to extensions, including several drafted by previous regimes, which Berry and Poe were. But being set for the last full season of his 20s, Berry figures to drive hard for a lucrative deal now.

Berry would certainly be the top safety available, while Poe might become the No. 1 defensive tackle on the market. The Panthers plan to use the franchise tag on Kawann Short, and with the Ravens prioritizing a Brandon Williams extension, Poe would induce a nice competition for his services if the Chiefs let the mammoth defender reach free agency. Although he’s a 3-4 nose tackle by trade, it’s likely Poe’s camp will be targeting a deal closer to Fletcher Cox or Marcell Dareus — or at least second-tier 4-3 DTs Michael Brockers ($11MM AAV) or Damon Harrison ($9.25MM AAV) — than traditional 3-4 inside men. A two-time Pro Bowler, Poe will turn 27 before the season begins. While his feelings about the tag aren’t yet known, it’s unlikely he’ll see it as a non-starter the way Berry does. The Chiefs and their largest player weren’t especially close on an extension in 2016. On a fifth-year option last season, Poe made just more than $6MM. A franchise tag would pay the former first-round pick approximately $13.47MM.

Unlike Berry, Poe has not delivered his best work over the past two seasons. A back surgery hampered his 2015 season, and Pro Football Focus graded Poe as its No. 59 interior defender a year later. The Chiefs also may have been planning for a future without their nose guard when they selected Chris Jones in the second round last year. Jones flashed often last season, looking like a long-term starter. Kansas City also has two starting defensive ends — Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard — tethered to the 2017 payroll at $6.16MM and $6.38MM, respectively. So, a Poe accord would stack that unit with veteran salaries and limit the team to some degree at other spots. However, both Bailey and Howard went down with season-ending injuries in 2016, further complicating this equation.

Kansas City stands to possess barely $4MM in cap space before making decisions on Foles and Charles. Due to a run of recent extensions and re-signings, the Chiefs don’t have a lot of other ways to create a quick cash influx. The Chiefs like to backload their deals, a tactic which helped them afford Jeremy Maclin two years ago despite scant cap room. But that strategy will see spikes in some players’ 2017 wages. An offseason featuring a backloaded Berry pact and a Poe tag would leave the team thin in space, and despite the Chiefs not possessing a host of glaring needs, these deals would prevent them from addressing them seriously in free agency.

So, do you see the Chiefs paying to keep both of these players? If so, how will the franchise tag come into play? How much will Berry’s standing as a cornerstone Kansas City athlete and inspirational figure impact his deal? Vote in PFR’s latest poll.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

GMs Skeptical Of Adrian Peterson’s Future?

Adrian Peterson might not be able to be especially picky when it comes to selecting a second NFL employer, provided the Vikings send him to free agency for the first time in his career. Surveying several GMs, CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora reports a skepticism exists about multiple facets of Peterson’s career going forward.

The aforementioned GMs expressed “real concerns” about how much Peterson has left and whether or not he’d be willing to accept a contract commensurate with a running back on the downside of his career. The high-level decision-makers wonder if the soon-to-be 32-year-old ball-carrier would take a one-year, $5MM deal with an incentive-laden structure if that’s what a team was offering. He made at least $11MM in base salary from 2013-16.

It only takes one team to do something stupid,” an NFL contract negotiator told La Canfora, “but I can’t see there being much out there for him once the Vikings let him go.”

As far as possible interest in going to the Giants or Cowboys, La Canfora notes Big Blue would be better off using potential Peterson money to upgrade their offensive line and target a younger back to complement Paul Perkins, while the reporter questions how Peterson would co-exist with Ezekiel Elliott in a situation where the three-time rushing champion would be a backup. The Patriots warranted a mention here, given their penchant for cheap veterans, but La Canfora suggests the running back’s recent film sample may not appeal to Bill Belichick. Despite winning the 2015 rushing crown, Peterson’s averaged 2.9 yards per carry in the eight games prior to his meniscus tear in September of 2016.

Noting questions would ensue about Peterson’s willingness to be a five- or 10-touch player as a backup on a contending team, along with those about his durability, La Canfora does not expect Peterson to encounter a seller’s market. Instead, a Frank Gore-esque contract (the Colts’ starter signed for $12MM over three years in 2015) could be the reality with which Peterson is confronted.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Extend Cameron Wake

Cameron Wake returned from injury last season and again made a significant impact on the Dolphins’ pass rush, and the team rewarded the veteran defensive end for it. The Dolphins and Wake agreed on an extension that will keep him in Miami through the 2018 season, the team announced (on Twitter).

Wake signed an extension last year to push his contract through the ’17 slate, but he now has two years remaining on his Dolphins pact. His latest Miami re-up will be for two years and $19MM, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets, adding that $11MM guaranteed will be coming Wake’s way.

The 35-year-old edge rusher was scheduled to make $6.875MM in 2017 base salary and take up $7.6MM of the Dolphins’ cap. Wake turned 35 in January, so he will be set for his age-36 season with the Fins as a result of this new arrangement. The dominant pass-rusher bounced back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon to record 11.5 sacks last season and make his fifth Pro Bowl. This marked his fourth double-digit sack slate.

Miami extended Wake in May of 2016 for $14.125MM, pushing his deal through this coming season. But the parties will continue their relationship, with the 2018 season standing to represent Wake’s 10th in south Florida. The Dolphins cut Mario Williams earlier this week and also have Andre Branch looming as a UFA. But they continue to value Wake despite his advancing age. Wake rewarded them for such faith last season, and the team clearly views him as an integral cog going forward.

 

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Several Teams Have Interest In Eagles’ Connor Barwin

If the Eagles decide to release or trade linebacker/defensive end Connor Barwin, Mark Eckel of NJ.com says multiple teams would have interest in the veteran.

Connor Barwin“If they cut him, teams will be lining up for him,” a “pro personnel man” told Eckel. “He wouldn’t be out of a job for long. I would think they could trade him and get something back. He has value. His deal this year isn’t that bad.”

The 30-year-old is set to make $7.75MM next season, and his cap hit is $8.35MM. Barwin is set to make another $10.25MM in 2018, so it’s understandable why the Eagles would look to get out of that contract. Cutting the eight-year veteran would save the franchise that $7.75MM, leaving the team with only $600K in dead cap. Of course, the team could also look to restructure the player and, as Eckel implies, keep him in Philadelphia for the rest of his career.

The 2009 second-round pick joined the Eagles in 2013 following four successful seasons with the Texans. Barwin has played all 16 games in each of his four seasons in Philly, including a 2014 campaign where he collected 14.5 sacks. Last season, the defensive lineman finished with 34 tackles, one forced fumble, and five sacks.

Eckel lists the Packers, Ravens, and Colts as potential landing spots for Barwin. Not only do the teams have the necessary cap room, but they also play the 3-4 defense that caters to the veteran’s skills. If Barwin did leave the team, the writer believes Vinny Curry would be his replacement as the starting right defensive end.

AFC Notes: Patriots, Jaguars, Ingram, Jets

Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll is set to become the offensive coordinator at Alabama, and ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss writes that the departure will leave “a notable void on the staff.” The former Browns, Dolphins, and Chiefs offensive coordinator will surely have more of an opportunity to run his own system at Alabama, although Reiss notes that Daboll was considered the “coordinator-in-waiting” if Josh McDaniels left the organization for a head coaching gig.

Who’s going to fill the role? Well, Reiss believes Bill Belichick will give a long look at several coaching assistants, including Nick Caley, Mike Pellegrino, and Cole Popovich. The team could also look to promote promising assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski.

Reiss also throws one other name into the mix: former head coach Chip Kelly.

Let’s check out some more notes from the AFC…

  • The Jaguars believe former first-rounder Jalen Ramsey is capable of being a top cornerback, but will that prevent the organization from pursuing another defensive back? Ryan O’Halloran of Jacksonville.com suggests that Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye could be an option, and one opposing coach believes the duo would form a “lethal” combination. Of course, the writer notes that the hypothetical would be moot if the team re-signs Prince Amukamara.
  • If Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram hits the open market, ESPN.com’s Mike Wells believes he’d be an intriguing option for the Colts. Indy was tied for 19th in sacks last season, while Ingram has compiled 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
  • ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini explores which of the Jets impending free agents they should prioritize re-signing. Left tackle Ben Ijalana and linebackers Josh Martin and Mike Catapano. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is at the bottom of Cimini’s list.

FA Notes: Jeffery, Mitchell, Gillislee, Bell

“Those things will pick up as we get further down the road,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of contract negotiations with free agent receiver Alshon Jeffery. However, as Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times writes, those decisions will start to “pick up” next week. Wednesday is the first day teams can assign the franchise tag to their impending free agents, and Jefferey could surely be in line to be slapped with the designation.

Jeffery also received the franchise tag last offseason, meaning his projected tag value for this season would be around $17MM. Jefferey didn’t necessarily have a “prove-it” season thanks in part to a four-game suspension, so the organization may not want to make the 27-year-old one of the highest paid wideouts for a second-straight year. Additionally, the Bears may not want to invest in the receiver long-term.

Let’s take a look at some other notes pertaining to the league’s free agents…

  • Following his release by the Dolphins earlier this week, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has lined up a number of visits. According to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the veteran is set to meet with the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Broncos next week. Mitchell joined Miami prior to the 2014 season, playing in 37 games over his three seasons with the team.
  • The Bills don’t want to lose running back Mike Gillislee like they did wideout Chris Hogan, writes ESPN.com Mike Rodak. The organixation assigned their former receiver the cheapest restricted free-agent tender last offseason, and the Patriots swooped in and signed him for practically nothing. The Bills have until March 9th to assign a similar tender to Gillislee. In 15 games last season, the running back ran for 577 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries.
  • Joel Corry of CBSSports.com writes that the franchise tag may be a “blessing” for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The former agent notes that front offices are wary of signing running backs to lucrative, long-term contracts, citing the deal signed by DeMarco Murray. The running back franchise tag is projected to be valued at around $12MM, and Corry is skeptical that Bell could earn that kind of money (per year) via a standard contract.
  • Defensive tackle Nick Fairley and the Saints would both embrace a reunion, but Nick Underhill of The Advocate wonders if the two sides can make the money work. Following a season where he recorded 6.5 sacks, the writer believes Fairley could be in line to make around $9.5MM next year. While the Saints have the financial flexibility to make that work, Underhill wonders if they’d actually be willing to commit that kind of money.

Latest On Darrelle Revis

After formally turning himself into Pittsburgh police last night, Darrelle Revis has been arraigned. The Jets cornerback received a non-monetary bond, and he’s required to appear at all future hearings (via ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey). Revis is also barred from contacting the victims or witnesses, and he has 72 hours (as of last night) to turn in his passport. Revis was previously charged with four felonies stemming from a weekend altercation.

Darrelle Revis (vertical)Meanwhile, attorney Blaine Jones has been replaced by Bob Del Greco. Harvey notes that Jones was solely being retained for pre-trial services, and the attorney told the ESPN.com reporter that Revis has “a good case,” especially if the video of the confrontation is released.

“He’s hoping he can be vindicated,” said Jones (via The New York Post). “I hope in the next phase he will be vindicated. I think he has a very good case.”

Ralph Vacchiano of SNY points out (via Twitter) that Del Greco is the same lawyer who got charges reduced for Steelers coach Joey Porter earlier this season. The attorney also played a role in getting the domestic violence charges dropped against James Harrison back in 2008.

On Thursday evening, reports came in that Revis was injured during a fight. However, we later learned that the cornerback was being charged with two counts of aggravated assault, one count of robbery, one count of conspiracy – aggravated assault, and one count of terroristic threat (the former four of which are felonies). More details on the altercation emerged yesterday.

League spokesman Brian McCarthy told Darryl Slater of NJ.com that the NFL is “looking into it” when asked if they were aware of the charges. Yesterday, our own Zach Links explored whether the Jets could get out of Revis’ contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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