Extra Points: Megatron, Young, Sam, Jets

Former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been observing Raiders practices this week as a guest of offensive coordinator Todd Downing, per Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com. Downing was on Detroit’s staff from 2009-13 – a large portion of Johnson’s career – and while it’s fun to imagine Megatron coming out of retirement to join the Raiders’ high-octane attack, there’s no indication he has any interest in doing so.

More from around the game:

  • Johnson may not be coming out of retirement, but former NFL quarterback Vince Young is returning to the gridiron. Young, who retired in 2014, signed Thursday with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, agent Leigh Steinberg announced (Twitter link). The 34-year-old Young, a former superstar at the University of Texas and the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Titans, hasn’t attempted a regular-season pass in the professional ranks since he was a member of the Eagles in 2011.
  • An openly gay player has never played a regular-season NFL game, and it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, former Eagles/Browns executive and current ESPN analyst Joe Banner told SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week (via Sporting News’ Alex Marvez). Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is the only openly gay player ever drafted, having gone in the seventh round in 2014, but he encountered a media firestorm during his stints with the Rams and the Cowboys during the preseason that year. The media attention that accompanied his short time in the league has likely made teams “a little more hesitant” to welcome an openly gay player, says Banner. For their part, the Browns didn’t regard Sam’s sexuality as an issue, according to Banner.
  • Collette Smith will become the first woman to ever join the Jets’ coaching staff, reports Leonard Greene of the New York Daily News. Greene, who’s a coach and marketing executive with the New York Sharks of the Independent Women’s Football League, will work as a preseason intern with the Jets’ defensive backs during training camp. “I’m over the top. I’m humbled and I’m proud,” said Greene. “This could have happened with any NFL team. But it just so happened that it was with my beloved New York Jets. This is bigger because of that. God forbid it would have been with the Patriots. But I still would have done it.”
  • Vice president of player personnel Adam Peters was one of the driving forces behind the 49ers’ drafting of former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, writes Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Before Peters’ hiring in January, general manager John Lynch asked the former Broncos executive whom he’d select with the 49ers’ first-round pick (No. 2 overall). “Without hesitation, he said ‘Reuben Foster,'” stated Lynch. The draft didn’t quite work out the way Peters imagined it then, as the Niners ultimately traded down to third overall and selected ex-Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas with that choice. But San Francisco ended up getting Foster at the end of Round 1, after it moved up to No. 31 overall. “A lot has transpired then and (Peters) loved Solomon Thomas, too, I don’t want to get that mistaken,” said Lynch. “But he was a huge champion of Reuben Foster. Like I said, so much transpired from there to there. But (Peters) was big on that one. I know that.”

Justin Gilbert Gets Four-Game Suspension

The NFL has suspended free agent cornerback Justin Gilbert for the first four weeks of the regular season, as Courtney Fallon of NFL Network was first to report (on Twitter). Gilbert’s ban stems from a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

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Gilbert’s suspension is yet another blow in what has been a disastrous pro career for the 25-year-old. After going eighth overall to Cleveland in the 2014 draft, Gilbert struggled mightily with the Browns on the field over two years, totaling just three starts and one interception in 23 games, and drew criticism from owner Jimmy Haslam for his lack of maturity.

The Browns gave up on Gilbert last summer, trading him to the AFC North rival Steelers for a 2018 sixth-round pick. Gilbert also failed to realize his potential in Pittsburgh, though, as he played a meager 11 defensive snaps in 12 games. The Steelers cut Gilbert in February, and there hasn’t been any reported interest in him since he hit the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Hawks, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham reported Thursday that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has been holding a grudge against both quarterback Russell Wilson and head coach Pete Caroll since the team’s devastating Super Bowl XLIX loss to the Patriots in 2015. But Sherman and defensive end Michael Bennett insist that’s not true (via Kevin Patra of NFL.com). “It’s just a bunch of nonsense from ‘anonymous’ sources. Can never put much gravity of things like that,” said Sherman, who, according to Wickersham, “allowed himself to imagine playing for the Cowboys” when Seattle placed him on the trade block earlier this spring. Bennett, meanwhile, dismissed the article as “trash” and “all gossip.”

The latest from the NFC East…

  • In an interview with 105.1 FM in New York on Thursday, now-Bears wide receiver Victor Cruz implied that the Giants didn’t involve him in their offense more last year because they knew they’d release him in the offseason (per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY). “Halfway through the year, you’re like, ‘OK, I’m balling,’ and then the other half I’m not getting the ball,” he said. “And you’re just like, ‘What’s going on?’ It was like, ‘OK, I see what’s happening. They don’t want me here anymore.’” Continued Cruz, who caught 39 of 72 targets in 2016: “If I played well, they owed me a ton of money that next year. So it was like, ‘let’s get Cruz off the books.'” Unsurprisingly, head coach Ben McAdoo refuted Cruz’s claims, telling reporters that “there is no accuracy” to the wideout’s theory (via Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today).
  • Cutting receiver Nelson Agholor would cost the Eagles more money than they’d save ($4.68MM versus $2.56MM), but his roster spot nonetheless looks to be in jeopardy, writes Andrew Kulp of CSNPhilly.com. Philadelphia signed two proven receivers in March, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, to join Jordan Matthews, which could further marginalize Agholor. A first-round pick just two years ago, Agholor caught only 59 of 114 targets and three touchdowns from 2015-16.
  • It continues to look as though Cowboys offensive lineman La’el Collins will move to right tackle after functioning as a left guard during his first two seasons. Collins has lined up solely at right tackle during organized team activities this week and will likely continue to do so leading up to the season, according to Kate Hairopoulos and Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. The position opened up in Dallas when starter Doug Free retired earlier this offseason, and if Collins fills it, either Jonathan Cooper or Emmett Cleary could take over at left guard, per Hairopoulos and George.

Seahawks Sign Malik McDowell

The Seahawks have signed second-round pick Malik McDowell, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). McDowell was the first pick in this year’s draft for Seattle, which moved down from No. 26 overall to No. 35 in a series of trades before landing the ex-Michigan State defensive tackle. He’ll receive a four-year contract worth approximately $6.96MM, including $3.2MM signing bonus.

Malik McDowell (Vertical)

The 6-foot-6, 295-pound McDowell tallied 24.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 32 games at Michigan State, where he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in each of the previous two seasons. McDowell’s new head coach, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, revealed earlier this month that he won’t just play D-tackle with the Seahawks. Rather, they’ll also McDowell as a Michael Bennett-esque defensive end. Moving to end could benefit McDowell and help him realize his All-Pro potential, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com noted entering the draft.

McDowell is the eighth member of the Seahawks’ 11-player draft class to sign his rookie contract. Second-round offensive lineman Ethan Pocic, third-round cornerback Shaquill Griffin and third-round safety Delano Hill remain without deals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Sign Corey White

The Jets have signed defensive back Corey White and waived/injured wide receiver/kick returner Brisly Estime, according to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY (on Twitter).

Corey White

A 27-year-old journeyman, White has combined for 66 appearances, 24 starts and six interceptions with the Saints, Cowboys, Cardinals and Bills since going in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. He totaled two picks last year during his lone season in Buffalo, where he started in four of 15 appearances and ranked 81st in performance among Pro Football Focus’ 111 qualified corners. White’s now the 11th corner-capable defender on the Jets’ 90-man roster, though he can also play safety.

Estime joined the Jets on May 5 as an undrafted free agent from Syracuse, where he caught 103 passes and seven touchdowns in four years. Estime would’ve had a chance to make the Jets as a returner, tweets ESPN’s Rich Cimini, but he suffered a torn Achilles during practice Wednesday and will head to injured reserve.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pats Didn’t Consider Trading Garoppolo

Although Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was popular in trade rumors earlier in the offseason, the reigning Super Bowl champions never considered dealing Tom Brady‘s backup, ESPN’s Adam Schefter told Bleacher Report’s “Stick to Football” Podcast (via Ryan Hannable of WEEI). The Browns were the most aggressive suitors for Garoppolo, even inquiring about him during the first round of the draft, but he’s primed to remain in New England for at least one more season.

Jimmy Garoppolo (Vertical)

As a contract-year player, the Patriots could risk losing Garoppolo to free agency next March and potentially receiving only a compensatory third-round pick in return – significantly less than they would have gotten had they traded him this offseason, perhaps. But Schefter expects the Patriots to find a way to keep Garoppolo past next season, noting that they’re “big believers” in the 25-year-old and consider him the heir to Brady, who’s entering his age-40 campaign. Brady remains the best quarterback in the NFL despite his age, and there’s no indication that he’s going away anytime soon, though Schefter cautions that “Father Time usually wins that battle.”

In the event Brady’s excellence continues in 2017, that should make it more difficult for the Pats to extend Garoppolo, who would likely land a massive contract and a guaranteed starting job if he were to reach free agency next March. As such, the Patriots might have to place the franchise tag on Garoppolo to retain him, which will cost in the neighborhood of $22MM in 2018. Otherwise, if keeping Garoppolo as a franchise player would be too pricey, New England could tag and trade him – as it did with former Brady backup Matt Cassel in 2009.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Pick Signings: 5/25/17

The latest draft picks to sign their first NFL contracts:

  • The Cardinals have signed their second-round selection, former Washington safety Budda Baker, leaving first-round linebacker Haason Reddick as the only member of their seven-pick class without a contract. Baker, whom Arizona drafted after trading up from No. 45 overall to No. 36 in a deal with the Bears, closed out his college career last year with an All-America season, piling up 70 tackles (9.5 for loss), three sacks and two interceptions. He should emerge as the Cardinals’ long-term answer at strong safety, potentially giving the team an enviable tandem with Baker and free safety Tyrann Mathieu.
  • The Buccaneers have inked second-round safety Justin Evans to a deal, tweets FanRag’s Roy Cummings. With Evans under contract, the only one of the Bucs’ six picks who’s unsigned is third-rounder Chris Godwin. Evans, the 50th pick, played the previous two seasons at Texas A&M, breaking out as a playmaker in 2016 with four interceptions. The 6-foot, 199-pound Evans is an “extremely physical hitter,” per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, who notes that he has the makings of a “plus NFL starter.”
  • The Jets now have eight of their nine selections under contract, having signed third-round wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (first-round safety Jamal Adams is the lone straggler). The 5-11, 204-pound Stewart went 79th overall after emerging as a legitimate weapon at Alabama in 2015 and combining for 117 receptions and 12 touchdowns in his final two years with the Crimson Tide. Stewart now joins Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and fourth-rounder Chad Hansen as intriguing Jets wideouts who are 25 or younger.
  • The Titans have signed the 155th overall pick, fifth-round linebacker Jayon Brown. The ex-UCLA Bruin ended his college tenure in 2016 with career highs in tackles (119), tackles for loss (7.5), interceptions (three) and sacks (two), though Zierlein pegs the 6-foot, 231-pounder as an undersized player who “lacks the functional strength to become anything more than a sub-package cover linebacker.”
  • The Vikings have finally gotten to work on signing their 11 picks, having come to terms with fifth-round receiver Rodney Adams (No. 170 overall) and seventh-round defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (No. 220), per Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune. Formerly with both Toledo and South Florida, the speedy Adams is likely to make an impact as a kick returner and/or a fourth or fifth receiver early in his career, according to Zierlein. Odenigbo, meanwhile, was a prolific sack artist at Northwestern, where he took down opposing quarterbacks 23 times over four seasons – including a personal-best 10 in 2016.

Jets Meet With WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins visited the Jets today, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Thompkins spent time with the Jets in 2015 and was slated to return to the team in 2016 before suffering a season-ending injury. Kenbrell Thompkins (vertical)

Thompkins is perhaps best known for his time with the Patriots. In 2013, he caught 32 of the 69 passes sent in his direction for 466 yards and four scores. In the next season, he split time with the Patriots and Raiders and didn’t have quite the same level of success (21 catches, 262 yards). His 2015 season with the Jets saw him catch 17 passes for 165 yards, which was enough to convince the team to give him a restricted free agent tender.

The Jets made a move at wide receiver earlier this week when they waived/injured wide receiver Devin Smith and re-signed Deshon Foxx. The Jets have presently have 13 receivers on the 90-man roster, including Eric DeckerQuincy Enunwa, free agent pickup Quinton Patton, and 2017 draft picks ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Bills, Clay, Floyd, Vikings

Charles Clay has a chronic knee problem and Bills coach Sean McDermott is worried.

We are concerned with Charles’ knee situation,” McDermott said (via Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News). “It’s something we have to manage moving forward in order to have him on the field for us, which is important moving forward. He’s a weapon for us.”

Clay came to Buffalo as a highly-paid restricted free agent in 2015 and they’re hoping that his knee will sort itself out in the long run. The deal calls for him to carry a $9MM cap number in each of the next three seasons and there’s not much of an escape hatch if his performance declines. The Bills cannot save money by releasing him until they get to 2019 and even then, they’d only recoup $4.5MM in cap room.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • There is no guaranteed money in Michael Floyd‘s one-year, $1.41MM deal with the Vikings, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com tweets. In theory, Minnesota could cut Floyd before the season without financial penalty. On the flipside, Floyd’s deal could reportedly pay as much as $6MM if he reaches all of his incentives.
  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn’t committed to having a fullback, as Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun tweets. Today in practice, Lorenzo Taliaferro was taking some reps at the position today along with undrafted free agent Ricky Ortiz. The decision of whether to utilize a fullback may impact the final makeup of Baltimore’s roster. The Ravens have five high-profile running backs on the roster in Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Javorious Allen, Taliaferro, and Kenneth Dixon. Dixon is facing a four-game suspension to start the year.
  • The Bills have named Terrance Gray college scouting director, per a club announcement. Gray spent the past eleven years in Minnesota’s scouting department.
  • Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t signed exclusive rights free agent tender, per NFLPA records, which means he signed a waiver in order to be on field for OTAs (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). Back in February, it was reported that the Steelers are working to extend the lineman. For now, the ERFA is slated to play out the 2017 season for just $540K. Last year, he was the 24th best offensive tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Bears To Sign WR Victor Cruz

The Bears are signing former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, according to Kimberly Jones and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). It will be a one-year deal. "<strong

As PFR’s Sam Robinson detailed recently, Cruz is a logical fit for Chicago. The Bears lost Alshon Jeffery in free agency this offseason (without much of a fight) and Kevin White cannot be counted upon given his injury concerns. The Bears added Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton this spring to help fill the void and Cruz is the latest addition to bolster the WR group.

In addition to Cruz and the aforementioned Wright, White, and Wheaton, the Bears have Cameron Meredith atop the WR depth chart. Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, and Daniel Braverman are among the other WRs presently on the 90-man roster.

After missing the majority of the 2014 season and sitting out the entire 2015 season, the salsa-dancing fan favorite clearly lost a step in 2016 as he caught 39 passes for 586 yards and one touchdown in 15 games. However, the 30-year-old (31 in November) might be able to recapture some of his old magic if he is used in the slot.

In his best seasons, Cruz was a legitimate star for the Giants. He burst on to the scene in 2011 by catching 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine scores. His encore saw him set a new career high with 86 grabs for 1,092 yards and ten touchdowns, earning him a trip to the Super Bowl.

Before agreeing to sign with Chicago, the Jaguars scheduled a visit with Cruz, but that was cancelled for unknown reasons. The Ravens also reportedly expressed interest in him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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