Extra Points: Cowboys, Chiefs, Darkwa

Jerry Jones only helped add fuel to the fire today regarding Earl Thomas potentially joining the Cowboys. When asked if the organization would pursue some help at safety, the team’s owner made his answer pretty clear.

“Yes,” Jones told ESPN’s Todd Archer (Twitter link). “That’s about all I’ll say, but yes.”

Of course, it’s important to note that Jones never explicitly mentioned Thomas, but it’s pretty easy to assume that the organization will pursue the veteran defensive back. The mutual interest between the two sides has been covered extensively, although the NFL recently made it clear that the Cowboys didn’t tamper when it came to the 29-year-old.

Of course, Dallas ultimately may look to leverage Thomas’ interest in joining the Cowboys. The team is projected to have around $50MM in cap space, but a solid portion of that total will go towards a DeMarcus Lawrence franchise tag and other extensions. As a result, the team may not have a whole lot of money to give Thomas.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFL…

  • The Chiefs have finalized their defensive coaching staff under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. As Brooke Pryor of KansasCity.com writes, the biggest addition was defensive line coach and run game coordinator Brendan Daly, who previously served in that role with the Patriots. The organization has also added linebackers coach Matt House, defensive backs coach Dave Merritt, defensive backs/cornerbacks coach Sam Madison, linebackers coach Britt Reid, defensive quality control coach Terry Bradden, and defensive assistant Alex Whittingham.
  • Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic may have appeared in all 16 games this season, but his role was reduced as the season went on. While the journeyman may be able to find a bigger role elsewhere, he’s still hoping to stay in Pittsburgh. “Obviously this is my first year here and whatnot; hopefully we can make this place a home,” Bostic told Chris Adamski of TribLive.com. “It’s been a fun year; definitely didn’t go the way we would have planned (missing the playoffs). But that’s football. You can’t plan everything out. But I do (feel like the Steelers’ organization can be home).” Bostic is set to earn $1.8MM next season, and the team would be left with only $700K in dead cap if they released the 27-year-old.
  • It sounds like we now have an explanation for why Orleans Darkwa never joined an NFL team last season. The veteran running back told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan that he tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg during an October audition with the Jaguars. The 26-year-old was coming off his most productive NFL season in 2017, rushing for 751 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 171 carries. The Giants had offered him a contract that would have kept him in New York, and he also received interest from the Redskins, Patriots, and Bills.

NFLPA Projects 2019 Franchise Tag Values

With the NFL offseason rapidly approaching, the NFL Player’s Association recently unveiled their position-by-position franchise tag predictions (via Albert Breer of SI.com). The numbers are based on an $190MM salary cap; the league’s most recent projection came in between $187MM and $191.1MM.

Here are the union’s predicted values for each position:

  • Quarterback: $25.103MM
  • Running back: $11.322MM
  • Wide receiver: $16.948MM
  • Tight end: $10.486MM
  • Offensive line: $14.201MM
  • Defensive end: $17.291MM
  • Defensive tackle: $15.355MM
  • Linebacker: $15.591MM
  • Cornerback: $16.175MM
  • Safety: $11.256MM
  • Punter/kicker: $5.018MM

There numbers are about on par with former agent Joel’s Corry predictions from December. It’s also worth noting that these values see a significant boost over the 2018 numbers. As our own Dallas Robinson previously noted, Aaron Donald‘s new contract helped to drastically impact the defensive tackle value, while Trumaine Johnson and Kyle Fuller‘s deals impacted the cornerback number. As Breer writes, the linebacker number is impacted by edge players like Von Miller, meaning a team like the Vikings may be wary of franchising Anthony Barr.

Breer also notes that these rising numbers may play a role in less teams using the franchise tag. There were 19 players tagged back in 2012, but that number dropped all the way to five in 2018. The writer believes the franchise tag is now actually being used as intended, as it’s now only being used for “premier players at premier positions.”

Breer also points out that it will be a particularly deep free agent class for pass rushers and interior linemen, meaning teams will have some difficult financial decisions to make. Ultimately, the writer opines that Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Frank Clark, and Grady Jarrett will receive the tag (Breer points out that safety Landon Collins, left tackle Donovan Smith, and quarterback Nick Foles are the players not in that grouping who could conceivably receive the tag).

The NFL generally sets their salary cap in early March, at which time we’ll receive franchise and transition tag values.

AFC East Notes: Brown, McDermott, Dolphins

Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown will soon be hitting free agency, but the 25-year-old sounds like he’s focused on staying in New England. Brown told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he’s seeking some “longevity” and a “great fit schematically,” and he specifically pointed to the Patriots.

“That’s definitely something I would love,” Brown said about sticking with the team (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “But hey, we’re going to cross that bridge when we get there.”

The six-foot-eight lineman has a solid season with the Patriots in 2018. After being acquired from the 49ers, Brown proceeded in start all 16 games for New England en route to a Super Bowl championship. Pro Football Focus was bullish on his performance, ranking him 32nd among 80 eligible linemen.

However, considering Brown’s performance, many thought the lineman may leave New England for a lucrative payday. In that scenario, the Patriots would presumably lean on 2018 first-round Isaiah Wynn, who missed his entire rookie campaign after having torn his Achilles during the preseason.

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

  • The Dolphins will have a tough decision to make on free agent offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, but it sounds like he has at least one fan in the team’s new offensive line coach, Pat Flaherty. “I think it keeps the continuity there, if we’re able to retain him,” Flaherty told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We sure hope he does [stay with Miami]. He’s a good football player. I’ve had an opportunity to go back and watch every game from 2018. He’s a fairly young guy also, so he has some things technique-wise that he can get better.” Agent Drew Rosenhaus (who does not represent James) recently predicted that the Dolphins would make 26-year-old the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL.
  • It’s been a bit more than two years since the Bills hired Sean McDermott as their head coach, and the team has seen a complete roster overhaul since that time. As Alper points out, the Bills are only rostering five players who preceded McDermott’s tenure: running back LeSean McCoy, defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive end Shaq Lawson, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and long snapper Reid Ferguson. The number would increase if the team retains any of their impending free agent offensive linemen: Ryan GroyJordan Mills and John Miller.
  • The Dolphins have hired Mike Judge as their new defensive quality control coach, according to agent Paul Sheehy’s Twitter. The former Patriots intern has spent the past 11 years as Navy’s fullback coach. The team compiled a 84-47 during his tenure.

Jets To Decline Kevin Pierre-Louis’ Option

The Jets will not exercise Kevin Pierre-Louis‘ 2019 option, per Brian Costello of the New York Post (via Twitter). The move will create another $2MM in cap space for Gang Green, which is already near the top of the league in that department, with over $100MM to spend in free agency this year.

The 27-year-old Pierre-Louis is a linebacker by trade but has seen his most action as a special teams contributor. In the games in which he suited up in 2018, he appeared in the majority of the Jets’ special teams snaps. He saw a little more burn on the defense towards the end of the season and recorded his only sack on December 12.

He was suspended for Week 1 of the 2018 campaign as a result of a January 2018 arrest that resulted in various marijuana drug and traffic charges. Those charges were dropped several months later, contingent on the completion of one year of probation.

He was something of a sought-after commodity last offseason, having visited multiple teams before agreeing to a two-year, $5.25MM deal with the Jets. His special teams value will almost certainly result in another contract this time around.

Pierre-Louis was drafted by the Seahawks in the fourth round of the 2014 draft and parlayed a strong 2017 season with the Chiefs into his deal with New York. He is the third player whose 2019 option was declined by the Jets today, joining Terrence Brooks and Mike Pennel.

Chiefs Expected To Put Franchise Tag On Dee Ford

It sounds like Dee Ford isn’t going anywhere. Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star reports that the Chiefs are expected to put the franchise tag on Ford, which is in keeping with GM Brett Veach‘s comments several weeks ago. At that time, Veach praised Ford’s season and indicated that he’ll return in 2019, saying simply, “[w]e’re excited to bring him back.” 

[RELATED: Will The Top Pass Rushers Actually Reach Free Agency?]

There had been conflicting reports on whether the Chiefs are open to tagging the 27-year-old (28 in March), but the tag is a sensible solution since the Chiefs seem unwilling to let him walk. With the tag, the Chiefs can earmark Ford on a one-year, $15MM+ deal, then negotiate an extension up until the summer deadline.

For his part, Ford is open to the tag.

“That’s out of my control,” Ford said recently“If it happens, it happens, and I don’t mind it.”

The 27-year-old made his first Pro Bowl this season after finishing with career-highs in tackles (55), sacks (13), and forced fumbles (league-leading seven). The 2014 first-rounder had previously shown signs of stardom, including a 2016 campaign when he compiled ten sacks. However, Ford truly established himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL in 2018; Pro Football Focus ultimately ranked him 11th among 103 eligible edge defenders.

Ford was stellar for a Chiefs defense that lacked consistency throughout the year. His ill-timed neutral zone infraction in the AFC Championship Game may have cost them a chance at the Super Bowl, but he still profiles as one of the best edge defenders in the league. In 2018, Pro Football Focus ranked Ford as the No. 11 edge rusher in the NFL, putting him ahead of notables such as Olivier Vernon, Justin Houston, and Cameron Wake.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Emmanuel Sanders Won’t Consider Pay Cut

Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is set to enter the last year of his three-year, $33MM pact with the Broncos, and he is due a $10.25MM salary in 2019. He will be 32 next month, and he tore his Achilles in December, but he has no intentions of reworking his deal, which carries a nearly $13MM cap hit next season.

104.3 The Fan asked its Twitter followers today if the Broncos should approach Sanders about a restructure, and Sanders tweeted, “it ain’t happening..no way Jose.” Troy Renck of Denver 7 ABC sides with Sanders, saying that there is no need for him to rework his deal, and that it would be foolish for the Broncos to trade for Joe Flacco and then let a veteran receiver of Sanders’ caliber go (Twitter link).

Of course, there is a difference between a restructure and a pay cut. Sanders clearly interpreted the hypothetical question as “should the Broncos approach Sanders about a pay cut,” and if that’s the case, then his stance (and Renck’s) is certainly understandable. But perhaps the two sides could come together on an extension that would buy Denver a little cap relief and would result in a little more guaranteed money in Sanders’ pocket (though the fact that he is rehabbing from his Achilles tear could mean, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk observes, that the Broncos will not be addressing Sanders’ future for at least the next few months).

The Broncos could cut Sanders and save his full $10.25MM salary against the cap while eating his bonus proration of $2,687,500. But they are not really pressed for cap space even after they absorb Flacco’s contract, especially since they are likely to cut or trade Case Keenum and save $11MM as a result. It seems more likely that they will simply wait to see how Sanders’ recovery progresses and either approach him about an extension this summer or else let him play out the final year of his deal and see what happens in 2020.

In any event, we should have another update in the next couple of weeks. Mike Klis of 9News points out that, of Sanders’ $10.25MM salary, $1.5MM becomes fully-guaranteed if the Broncos exercise his 2019 option, which they must do by March 12 (Twitter link). Klis presently expects the Broncos to pick up the option, though he concedes it is difficult to predict what GM John Elway will do.

In his 12 games last season, Sanders hauled in 71 catches for 868 yards and four TDs. He also rushed for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rob Gronkowski Decision Expected In Next Several Weeks

One of the biggest storylines of the offseason is whether Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will call it a career or if he will rejoin the defending champs for at least one more season. He said in the aftermath of Super Bowl LIII that he would make his decision in a week or two, but we are now more than two weeks removed from the Super Bowl, and we still don’t have an answer.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus, though, said Gronk will decide soon. Rosenhaus said, “He’s thinking it through, he’s giving it a lot of thought… I imagine a decision will happen in the next couple of weeks” (Twitter link via ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates).

Of course, it makes sense for anyone to take their time when making a decision of this magnitude, but the delay could also suggest that recent events have changed Gronkowski’s thought process. A report back in January suggested that he was leaning towards retirement, which came on the heels of a separate report at the end of December indicating that Gronk had grown tired of the “Patriot Way.”

But winning cures a lot of ills, and there figures to be much less drama in Foxborough in 2019 than there was last year. Just two days ago, we heard that Gronkowski is spending plenty of time at Gillette Stadium these days, and that his feeling towards the Pats are very positive at the moment. Plus, quarterback Tom Brady will be back in 2019, and Gronkowski was able to finish the 2018 campaign healthy, both of which are primary factors in his decision.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Vikings’ Anthony Barr Likely To Hit Free Agency

Anthony Barr has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons and has been a stalwart on the Vikings’ defense since Minnesota drafted him with the 9th overall pick of the 2014 draft, but it appears the two sides are headed for a parting of the ways. Per Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, there is no indication that Barr and the Vikings have recently engaged in contract talks, and given the cost of the franchise tag for linebackers ($15.9MM), Minnesota is highly unlikely to tag him.

As such, Barr is set to hit the open market, and he will surely get paid handsomely. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker at UCLA –racking up 23.5 sacks in his last two years with the Bruins — and though he converted to a 4-3 ‘backer when he came to the Vikings, his pass rushing abilities have not left him. As Krammer observes, Barr has twice been rated Pro Football Focus’ most efficient blitzing linebacker, including the 2018 season, though he has been one of the league’s top 10 most frequent blitzers just once in his first five years in the league.

He could therefore hold significant appeal to a number of clubs. He has proven himself as a quality 4-3 stack linebacker, but his pedigree and upside as a pass rusher will make him almost universally attractive. His sack numbers are not eye-catching, but that is a function not only of the position he plays, but the discipline with which head coach Mike Zimmer‘s unit operates. Barr said, “If you watch a lot of teams — the Panthers, Miami, Oakland, Cincinnati — a lot of linebackers are going under blocks and not playing their gaps. Either they get gashed or they make a big splash play. We play sound across the board. I think it also hurts stat numbers because we’re going to hold our gap and force the ball to go elsewhere.”

The Vikings’ defense fared well when Barr was sidelined for several games last season, and with much of their veteran defensive core already under contract for the long-term, it seems unlikely they will bring Barr back unless they get him on a team-friendly deal. Though they approached Barr about an extension last summer, it does not appear they ever came close to an agreement. Per Krammer, Barr said that Minnesota’s offers were not what he expected.

He should have more luck when free agency opens on March 13.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Sign RB Andre Ellington

The Buccaneers signed running back Andre Ellington, according to a team announcement. The deal reunites the former Cardinals tailback with Bruce Arians, who has taken over as the Bucs’ head coach. 

Ellington may have a chance to compete for the club’s third-down back role, a spot that is up for grabs as Jacquizz Rodgers approaches free agency. Ellington was once a regular in Arizona’s backfield, but he was not in football in 2018.

The 30-year-old has a reputation as a solid pass catcher and, at one point, the Cardinals considered transitioning him to the wide receiver position. In 2014, Ellington collected a career-high 46 catches. In 2017, his last NFL season, he had a total of 39 grabs for the Cardinals and Texans.

Ellington was largely overshadowed during his Arizona tenure, but he did average 4.2 yards per carry under Arians. If he can prove that he still has something left, he may have an opportunity to get his career back on track in Tampa.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL News & NFL Rumors