Browns’ Joe Flacco, Za’Darius Smith To Test Free Agency

Despite a slew of injury troubles at the quarterback position (among others), the Browns managed to post a record of 11-6 and qualify for the postseason. Joe Flacco was a major part in that success, and he plans on playing through the 2025 campaign.

The 39-year-old may not be in Cleveland for the next chapter of his career, however. Flacco is expected to test free agency in March, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. In the wake of losing Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season, the Browns added Flacco as a depth quarterback option; he ultimately took over the starting role to close out the regular season, averaging 323 passing yards per game.

While turnover issues presented themselves in the wild-card round in particular, the former Super Bowl MVP earned Comeback Player of the Year honors for his surprise resurgence. The Browns are open to retaining him, but a new Cleveland deal would come with the understanding he would back up Watson. For that reason, Flacco’s desire to gauge his value on a potential deal sending him elsewhere is certainly reasonable.

A number of veteran QBs are set to reach free agency, and Flacco would be one of many available as a bridge starter or high-end backup. As Cabot notes, his preference would an opportunity to at least compete for the No. 1 role with his next team. In the event he were to depart, the Browns would move forward with Watson and 2023 fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson atop the depth chart.

One of several front seven additions the Browns made last offseason was the acquisition of edge rusher Za’Darius SmithThe three-time Pro Bowler was tasked with serving as a complement to Myles Garrett, and he finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Cabot notes that Smith, like Flacco, will test the market before deciding on his future.

Likewise, the Browns’ preference would be to retain Smith at the right cost. Cleveland has Garrett under contract through 2026, but the team also added Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in free agency last offseason. The latter is signed for the next two seasons, and he would be in line for an increased workload in the event Smith were to depart. Now 31, Smith has managed to play 16 games in each of the past two seasons but his 15 total sacks in that span could lead to lukewarm interest on the market.

The Browns are currently over the 2024 cap by a margin of $7.76MM. That figure will change dramatically once Watson’s pact is inevitably restructured, but the team will still have other priorities beyond retaining Flacco and Smith. It will be worth watching to see how much interest both veterans generate and if Cleveland will be able to match any offers from outside suitors.

Ravens, DL Justin Madubuike Discussing Extension

Justin Madubuike enjoyed a breakout season in 2023, boosting his free agent stock considerably. He is not expected to reach the open market given the option of a franchise tag, but the ascending Ravens D-lineman could still be retained on a long-term deal.

When speaking at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta confirmed that discussions have taken place on a new deal for Madubuike. While he later acknowledged that the franchise tag will all-but assuredly be used if no traction is gained in the near future, the team’s clear preference is an agreement providing more financial flexibility.

“We’re trying to get a deal done,” DeCosta said, via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley“We’ve had discussions with Justin. He’s the guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year, by the way that he played. Had a great season for us. He’s a valued player on the team and we’re hopeful that we can get a long-term deal done.”

Madubuike saw incremental growth in terms of year-over-year production during his first three seasons in the league. His continued development took on a decidedly different level in 2023, however, as he recorded 13 sacks and 33 QB hits. The 26-year-old earned his first career Pro Bowl invite, as well as a second-team All-Pro nod. He therefore projects as the Ravens’ top priority in terms of in-house players in need of being retained.

Last offseason saw a surge in the price of up-and-coming defensive linemen. The quartet of Quinnen WilliamsJeffery Simmons, Daron Payne and Dexter Lawrence each landed extensions worth between $22.5MM and $24MM per season. Madubuike could be in line to secure a similar value on his next contract if one can be worked out on either side of the tag deadline (March 5). The one-year tender would cost $22.1MM, and absorbing that cap hit at once would hinder Baltimore’s other efforts in free agency.

Of course, the tag could wind up serving as a stop-gap to allow more time on the negotiation front. Tagged players can work out a new deal as late as mid-July, but if DeCosta has his way, Madubuike will already be on the books for 2024 and beyond by that point.

Bears, CB Jaylon Johnson Conducting Extension Talks

Arriving at a quarterback decision is the top offseason priority for the Bears, and the team could have a firm direction on that front in the near future. Finding a way to retain cornerback Jaylon Johnson is also high on the to-do list for general manager Ryan Poles, though.

When speaking to the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, the latter confirmed that extension talks are still ongoing between the team and Johnson’s camp. Specifically, he noted (via The Athletic’s Adam Jahns) that “conversations are going well” on that front. Obviously aiming to avoid the franchise tag, Poles and the Bears have an offer on the table (h/t Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times).

Johnson enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2023, recording four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. Those figures represented an uptick in ball production and earned him a Pro Bowl invite as well as second-team All-Pro honors. Of course, the 24-year-old’s market value has seen a healthy increase as a result of his play during his walk year. Trade talks in the build-up to the deadline did not produce an agreement, and Poles has subsequently stated Johnson will remain in Chicago for at least one more season.

That goal could be achieved by using the franchise tag, a rarity for corners but a backup plan which would ensure the former second-rounder does not reach the open market. Johnson has stated a desire to become the league’s highest-paid corner, which would require an AAV of more than $21MM on a new deal. Working out a pact in that price range will be a challenge for both parties, but it is striking that Poles spoke with considerable optimism when providing an update on the situation.

Chicago is once again in position to have considerable spending power in free agency, though retaining Johnson on a lucrative pact will eat into a large portion of the team’s cap space (especially if the $19.8MM tag is used). The window to apply tags is March 5, but Poles’ stance indicates a long-term agreement could be in place by that point.

Cowboys RBs Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle Will Reach Free Agency

The Cowboys made a notable but expected move last offseason by cutting Ezekiel Elliott. The move brought an end to the former rushing champion’s time in Dallas, and it allowed a new group of backs to operate in his place.

The position was led in 2023 by Tony Pollard, who flashed potential as a lead back during his time splitting reps with Elliott. Playing on the franchise tag, Pollard entered the season with considerable expectations, but his production was relatively underwhelming. The former fourth-rounder again reached 1,000 rushing yards, but he did so while averaging 1.2 fewer yards per carry than he did in 2022.

As a result, Pollard’s performance would make a second tag (valued at $12.1MM) a non-starter for the Cowboys. Indeed, the 26-year-old will be allowed to reach the open market next month, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News reports. The same is also true of backup Rico Dowdle, who has been with the team since 2020.

Dowdle’s role has been a minor one for much of his tenure, but earned the No. 2 spot during training camp last summer. Having seen only seven regular season carries before this season, the former UDFA received 89 in 2023. Dowdle produced 361 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, adding 144 yards and another pair of scores in the passing game. The 25-year-old could search out a more prominent role in free agency, although the list of high-profile veterans at the position will no doubt hinder the market for all involved.

If Pollard and Dowdle both depart, running back will be a position to watch closely in Dallas. The team’s third-leading rusher amongst running backs last season was rookie Deuce Vaughnwho saw just 23 carries. Even an uptick in usage for 2024 and beyond would need to be accompanied by an addition at the top of the depth chart. Saquon BarkleyJosh Jacobs, Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler are among the backs set to reach free agency next month, so Dallas will have a number of options to choose from. Of course, new deals for Pollard and/or Dowdle should not be ruled out if they can be retained on cost-effective deals.

Buccaneers To Release OLB Shaquil Barrett

In need of retaining several key members of their 2023 team, the Buccaneers have a few likely salary cap casualties. One of those has long been believed to be outside linebacker Shaquil Barrettand he is indeed set to see his time in Tampa Bay come to an end.

The Buccaneers will release Barrett, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. The two-time Super Bowl winner was owed an option bonus of $15.04MM on the fifth day of the new league year. Rather than absorbing that cap charge, Tampa Bay will cut bait after Barrett’s five-year run with the team.

This move will come in the form of a post-June 1 release, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times confirms. Taking that route will allow the team to spread out Barrett’s $26.67MM dead cap figure across two seasons. The Bucs will be hit with $9.27MM in dead money in 2024 and $17.4MM next year. They will save $4.9MM in cap space for this season, but only after June 1.

Barrett recently admitted he was likely to be released this offseason given his burdensome cap hit. The 31-year-old was owed $17MM in 2024 and he was due to carry a cap hit of $14.19MM, along with a charge of $29.43MM in a void year in 2025. One of many Bucs veterans to have their contracts restructured in recent years, Barrett’s release will be part of the process of Tampa Bay clearing out financial wiggle room in the post-Tom Brady era. The modest cap savings will not be available during the opening wave of free agency, but it will still help as the team aims to retain important members of the squad which went to the divisional round of the postseason.

Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans and Antoine Winfield Jr. are each pending free agents (although the latter is likely to receive the franchise tag). A new contract for Mayfield in particular will be an expensive priority, given his success in his debut Tampa season. Barrett, by contrast, delivered underwhelming totals in 2023 despite managing to play in 18 combined regular season and playoff games coming off an Achilles tear the previous season. The two-time Pro Bowler posted 4.5 sacks in 2023, after recording three in eight contests the year prior.

Those totals mark a stark contrast to Barrett’s 19.5 sacks in 2019. That figure led the league and set a single-season franchise record. The Colorado State product also delivered four sacks in the 2020 postseason to help Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl that year; after a 10-sack campaign the following season, though, things have not gone according to plan. Barrett will now turn his attention to free agency in the hopes of regaining his previous form in a new environment.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, will move forward with an inexpensive edge contingent including the likes of Anthony NelsonJoe Tryon-Shoyinka and YaYa Diaby. The latter finished tied for fifth in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after he delivered 7.5 sacks in 2023. Another investment along the edge via the draft could be in play for Tampa Bay, or the team could dip into the secondary free agent market if sufficient funds for a Barrett replacement exist. Entering today, the Buccaneers had $43.68MM in cap space with a slew of major financial decisions still to make.

Chiefs, HC Andy Reid To Discuss Extension

Coming off a second straight Super Bowl title (and third overall), Andy Reid has cemented his legacy but also helped his case to land a new contract with the Chiefs. An extension was floated as a possibility in the lead-in to Kansas City’s latest championship, and one could soon be in place.

Reid and the Chiefs are expected to negotiate a new deal in the coming weeks, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reports. To little surprise, he adds that the extension could very well make him the league’s highest-paid coach. Given Kansas City’s success during the team’s run with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, Reid will certainly have considerable leverage in contract talks.

Sean Payton‘s Broncos pact averages $17MM per season, while fellow AFC West coach Jim Harbaugh will average $16MM with the Chargers. Reid’s current contract is believed to check in at $12MM per year, and a raise moving him to at least the top of the division would certainly be justified. With Bill Belichick out of the picture for at least the coming season, Reid comfortably leads all active coaches in terms of all-time wins (258), so a short-term accord reflecting his status amongst his peers would likely include a notable raise.

Retirement has become a question in Reid’s case in recent years. The 65-year-old has elected to carry on in his current capacity, though, a decision no doubt made easier with Mahomes still in place and the Chiefs managing to qualify for the AFC title game in each of the past six years. Reid has previously stated a willingness to coach into his 70s, and doing so would allow him to continue climbing the all-time ranks and competing for further hardware.

Mahomes is under contract through 2031, and while the Chiefs could lose at least one key defender in free agency this offseason, the team profiles as having a high floor with Reid at the helm. The latter sports a winning percentage of .715 in his 11 years in Kansas City, and the Chiefs are likely to remain Super Bowl contenders as long as he and Mahomes are in the fold. That may very well continue to be the case beyond 2024.

Chargers To Let RB Austin Ekeler Test Free Agency

The 2024 free agent class is set to feature a number of high-profile running backs. Austin Ekeler is likely to be one of them with his Chargers deal about to expire.

Ekeler is expected to reach the open market, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. That comes as no surprise given the nature of Ekeler’s 2023 offseason, one in which he asked for an was granted permission to seek a trade. He will have the ability to depart the organization he has spent his entire career with, although the plethora of accomplished backs who will also be available will no doubt limit his value.

None of the three running backs who received the franchise tag last year (Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard) are expected to be tagged a second time. No member of that trio performed at a level in 2023 which would make them an obvious candidate for a long-term deal, something which has no doubt informed their respective teams’ hesitancy to make a lucrative commitment. Schefter confirms that Titans stalwart Derrick Henry is also expected to reach free agency, something which was foreshadowed throughout the campaign.

Ekeler sought out a raise on a new Chargers deal, and his inability to land one led to his trade request. No suitors emerged, and he ultimately remained in Los Angeles on a re-worked contract. The two-time NFL leader in total touchdowns thus set himself up for free agency, while being a vocal member of the league’s running backs who have aired their frustrations over the stagnant nature of the position’s market. In an era where a number of positions have seen surging values, the RB spot has flatlined.

The 2023 campaign was an important one for Ekeler given his status as a pending free agent. The 28-year-old was limited to 14 games, however, and he was less efficient when on the field (3.5 yards per carry) than any other season in his career. After scoring 38 total touchdowns from 2021-22, Ekeler managed only six as part of a Chargers offense which struggled across the board but especially in the ground game.

While then-head coach Brandon Staley hinted at a divvying up of running back opportunities late in the campaign, Ekeler averaged 12.8 carries per game in 2023. That falls in line with his usage rate of the past four seasons, which has seen his career carries total reach 990. Many backs at his age have more mileage on them, but last season’s struggles will still likely be a key factor working against him on the open market.

The former UDFA landed a four-year, $24.5MM deal in 2020. That $6.13MM AAV ranks 11th in the league amongst running backs, and Ekeler will likely be hard-pressed to improve on his standing in the position’s pecking order on his new deal, regardless of where it comes from. Chargers backup Joshua Kelley is also a pending free agent, so the team could see significant turnover at the RB spot in the near future.

49ers Complete DC Interviews With Brandon Staley, Nick Sorensen

In the wake of the team’s Super Bowl loss, 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was dismissed. That has created the lone coordinator vacancy remaining in the NFL’s coaching cycle, but the process of filling it is underway.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan informed NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco that a pair of DC interviews have already taken place. Those initial meetings have been with former Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, as well as 49ers defensive passing game specialist Nick Sorensen. Another internal option – defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks – will likely interview for the position later this week, per Shanahan.

Staley saw his time at the helm of the Chargers come to an end midway through the 2023 campaign. His first HC opportunity did not go according to plan, but his reputation dating back to his time as a position coach and coordinator earned him multiple DC interviews. Staley spoke with the Packers, Rams and Dolphins about their respective vacancies. The San Francisco gig represents the 41-year-old’s final opportunity to land an NFL coordinator position in 2024.

Failing that, Staley could find a role as a position coach on an NFL staff, or he could take on a position in the NCAA ranks (having most recently coached in college during the 2016 campaign). Of course, the former Rams DC could spend a year off the sidelines altogether in a bid to return during the 2025 hiring cycle. San Francisco will also consider in-house options, though.

Sorenson transitioned from playing to coaching over one decade ago, taking his first opportunity with the Seahawks in 2013. He has primarily worked on the defensive side of the ball since then, though his background on special teams landed him the ST coordinator gig with the Jaguars in 2021. After a single season in Jacksonville, the 45-year-old joined the 49ers’ staff. The 2023 campaign was his first in his current capacity.

Bollocks has been in San Francisco since Shanahan’s arrival in 2017. He spent a pair of season as an assistant working with the team’s defensive backs before being promoted to the lead role. After bringing in Wilks from outside the organization, the 49ers could elect to stay in-house with his next hire by promoting one of Bollocks or Sorenson.

Shanahan added that at least two other external candidates are expected to be interviewed in the coming days, though. In all, two minority candidates must be considered to satisfy the Rooney Rule. The 49ers do not have any NFL competition for their DC vacancy, but a decision could be coming soon as the interview process continues.

Dolphins, Andrew Van Ginkel Have Mutual Interest In New Deal

After re-signing with the Dolphins on a one-year deal last offseason, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel proceeded to have one of the best seasons of his career. While the five-year veteran will surely test free agency in pursuit of a pay raise, there’s still a chance he sticks in Miami.

During an appearance on The Joe Rose Show, agent Drew Rosenhaus said there’s mutual interest in Van Ginkel returning to Miami (via Daniel Oyefusi of the Miami Herald). However, the agent also cautioned that his client will be “coveted by several other teams,” so there’s no guarantee that the linebacker will return to the Dolphins.

“He’ll be very well sought-after,” Rosenhaus said (via David Furones of the South Florida Sun Sentinel). “Whether or not he remains with the Dolphins, there’s mutual interest, but obviously it’s going to come down to, I’m sure, the start of free agency and what the market looks like and how the Dolphins are going to compete with other clubs.”

The former fifth-round pick has spent his entire career with the Dolphins, rotating between the bench and the starting lineup. After showing some pass-rush prowess early in his career, Van Ginkel seemed to put it all together in 2023. He finished this past season with a career-high six sacks while also compiling some of his best numbers in TFL (eight) and QB hits (19).

Pro Football Focus was especially fond of the player’s performance. Listed as an edge rusher, Van Ginkel was ranked seventh among 112 qualifying players at his position. This included a top-four positional grade for his coverage skills and a top-seven positional grade for his pass-rush ability.

The Dolphins have already started clearing out some of their pass-rush depth, as the team cut Emmanuel Ogbah last week. With Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb both questionable for the start of next season, the organization could be especially committed to retaining some continuity in Van Ginkel.

Jets To Release OL Laken Tomlinson

Laken Tomlinson‘s stint with the Jets has ended after two seasons. The Jets are releasing the veteran offensive guard, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The move will save the Jets more than $8MM against the cap, with the lineman counting for $10.71MM in dead money. Tomlinson was set to enter the final season of the three-year, $40MM pact he signed with the organization back in 2022. While the veteran has been a consistent presence through his two years with the organization, his future in New York was in doubt considering his $18.85MM cap hit for the 2024 campaign.

The former first-round pick spent his first two seasons in Detroit before finding a home in San Francisco. He ended up spending five seasons with the 49ers, including a 2021 campaign where he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod while ranking 13th among 82 eligible guard candidates (via Pro Football Focus).

Part of the appeal of Tomlinson was his reliability, and he certainly delivered in that regard during his time with the Jets. He started all 34 of his appearances in New York, and the 32-year-old lineman has an active 114-game starting streak. However, Tomlinson wasn’t able to carry over his 49ers production during his stint in New York.

Following that aforementioned 13th-place finish in 2021, Pro Football Focus hasn’t graded Tomlinson higher than 53rd in either of his two seasons in New York. The website was especially critical of his run-blocking ability, ranking him in the bottom-20 at his position in that category this past season.

With Tomlinson officially out, the Jets will be seeking at least three new lineman next season. Depending on how the team proceeds with Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets could be pursuing two new offensive tackles and a new offensive guard. There’s an expectation that the organization will look to fill at least one of those holes via free agency, and they could also turn to the draft for reinforcement (especially with their tenth-overall pick).

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