Extra Points: Haden, Giants, Bolts, Jaguars

No extension discussions have commenced between Joe Haden and the Steelers, but that seems to be where this is headed. After a pre-draft report indicated a Haden re-up could be in the cards this year, the veteran cornerback said he wants to re-sign with the Steelers. Haden expects conversations to take place when or around the time the Steelers report for training camp July 25, with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac also anticipating extension talks at that point. Haden struggled with injuries and inconsistency at the end of his Browns tenure but has done well to stabilize one of the Steelers’ cornerback spots. Signing for three years and $27MM in 2017, Haden is going into his age-30 season. The Steelers, though, do not appear to have reservations about paying him for his early-30s seasons, per Dulac. Due largely to being an old-CBA first-rounder, Haden has earned more than $100MM in his career.

Let’s look at where some other teams stand exiting minicamp week:

  • After two years either marred by injuries or featuring constraints by his role, Mike Williams expects his usage rate to spike in 2019. The Chargers are thinner at wide receiver but have their 2017 first-round pick set to pick up the slack after Tyrell Williams‘ departure. “My role is going to expand with Tyrell leaving. I’m looking forward to that,” Williams said, via Chargers.com. “I feel I’m going to get a lot more opportunities than I did last year.” Williams saw the third-most snaps among Bolts wideouts last year (732, more than 100 fewer than Tyrell Williams) but still caught 10 touchdown passes (after not scoring as a rookie).
  • The Jaguars will not see their full receiving corps available for a while. Marqise Lee missed all of last season and is not expected to return until nearly the end of training camp, Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com notes. Lee led the 2016 Jaguars in receiving and posted 702 yards in 2017, but a severe knee injury wiped out his 2018 slate. He joins Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook and 2018 second-rounder D.J. Chark in a receiving corps that brings questions about the cogs’ roles.
  • An injury spoiled Jon Halapio‘s first season as the Giants‘ center starter, but it appears he stands to return to the role he held before going down last September. The former sixth-round pick started two games last season but saw the bulk of the first-team reps during Big Blue’s offseason work, with Pat Shurmur indicating (via the New York Post’s Jared Schwartz) the sixth-year blocker is back at 100%. Spencer Pulley graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 26 center last season; he mixed in with the Giants’ first-stringers this offseason.

Michael Pierce Addresses Conditioning Issue

Having missed the voluntary portion of the Ravens’ offseason program, Michael Pierce was present for minicamp after signing his second-round RFA tender. But John Harbaugh sidelined him early on the first day of the mandatory workout due to the emerging defensive tackle being well over his listed 340-pound frame.

Harbaugh pulled Pierce off the field after the stretching portion of the Ravens’ workout, citing the lineman’s health as the reason. The fourth-year defender showed up “significantly” heavier than his listed weight, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

Throughout the offseason, I tend to lift more than run,” Pierce told WNSP-FM radio in Alabama (via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com). “Being a nose guard, I want to be strong or whatnot. I, honestly, just mismanaged my running a little bit.

At the end of the day, you expect a team leader to come back in better shape than I did. That’s a mistake on my behalf I have to correct.”

This is a critical year for Pierce, who is attached to a $3.095MM salary because of the RFA tender. The former UDFA out of Samford is due for unrestricted free agency next year, and given the Ravens’ pattern of letting talent walk and recouping compensatory picks, Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 interior defender last season may well have a chance to hit the market. This is obviously not a good start to Pierce’s contract year.

You know, of course, you are disappointed with him,” Ravens DC Don Martindale said, via Zreibec. “He’s a dominant player, and he’s got a challenge from here until training camp to hit a certain stage, and that’s (up to) the trainers and (GM Eric DeCosta) and Harbs on where they want him to be at. I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”

Pierce will face a pivotal stretch over the next five-plus weeks, needing to reduce his weight to return to the kind of shape he was in last season. The 26-year-old defender, who started two games last year and 13 in 2017, will have to pass a conditioning test before taking the field for training camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Rodgers, Steelers, Bears

Tasked with adjusting to a new offense for the first time in his tenure as an NFL starter, Aaron Rodgers showed a bit of resistance to Matt LaFleur‘s new attack this week. At least, the Packers‘ future Hall of Fame quarterback does not want to be limited at the line of scrimmage. The first-year head coach’s system does not feature the same kind of pre-snap flexibility Rodgers previously enjoyed.

I don’t think you want me to turn off 11 years. There’s stuff that not many people in the league can do at the line,” Rodgers said during an interview with NFL.com’s Michael Silver (Twitter link). “That’s not a humble brag. That’s just a fact.

LaFleur said earlier this offseason the plan will be for Rodgers to either run the called play or switch to one alternative, and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel anticipates some pushback on this. A detailed story this offseason examined Rodgers’ checkered history with Mike McCarthy, so the Packers are facing a crucial season — one in which their two-time MVP turn 36 — so getting their passer and head coach on the same page figures to be essential. While LaFleur said this week he does not want to minimize Rodgers’ penchant for off-script brilliance, it does appear the Packers have some sorting out to accomplish.

Here is the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Teryl Austin‘s title with the Steelers is senior defensive assistant/secondary, the former Lions and Bengals DC will have another key game-day responsibility. Austin will be Mike Tomlin‘s unofficial replay-review coach. Austin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will watch every play that generated a replay review from the 2018 season to prepare for his new role. Tomlin has won just two of his past 14 challenges, dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season, Dulac notes, adding the 13th-year coach is 0-for-12 on fourth-down challenges during his career.
  • As for Austin’s role instructing Pittsburgh’s secondary, the Steelers have deviated from a plan that meant for their new hire to coach one position and secondary coach Tom Bradley another. They are sharing responsibilities leading that unit, per Dulac.
  • Antonio Brown‘s exit leaves the Steelers perhaps the biggest void in the NFL, given his production as the team’s top wide receiver for most of this decade, and the Steelers may have to fill the JuJu Smith-Schuster sidekick role as a group. But among the James WashingtonDonte MoncriefDiontae Johnson contingent, Ben Roethlisberger (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette) singled out Moncrief as having the best offseason. Still just 25, Moncrief posted 668 yards for the Jaguars last season.
  • Another North-division surprise factor: large Bears tight end Bradley Sowell. The converted tackle’s switch to tight end appears legitimate, with Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com called the 6-foot-7, 312-pound veteran a legitimate threat for regular playing time — rather than this being a gimmicky or in-case-of-emergency position change. Sowell played tight end on 30 snaps last season but may be working toward a usage bump.

This Date In Transactions History: Colts Extend Robert Mathis

The Colts in the 2000s centered their team around their passing attack and pass defense. The least likely member of this cornerstone group became a long-term Colt on this day 13 years ago.

On June 16, 2006, the Colts ensured Robert Mathis, taken with a fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M three years prior, would play in Indianapolis for many years. They signed the blossoming sack artist to a five-year, $30MM extension (with an $8.1MM signing bonus), which at the time made him one of the top-10 highest-paid defensive ends. That year changed the Colts’ trajectory, and Mathis played a key role in it.

From 2003-05, the Colts deployed Mathis as an off-the-bench defensive end. But he racked up 25.5 sacks (and 17 forced fumbles) in his first three seasons, doing so despite starting only one game. Raheem Brock started as Dwight Freeney‘s counterpart during each of Mathis’ first three seasons, but the Colts moved him to defensive tackle in 2006. Brock remained a Colts fixture up front until 2009, but Freeney and Mathis became the pass rush’s top bastions beginning with Mathis’ ’06 extension.

Interestingly, Mathis received his new deal before Freeney. But the latter’s rookie contract contained more years, and much more money, allowing the Colts to table that extension until 2007. (Freeney signed a six-year, $72MM contract in ’07.) Both players were full-timers for the Colts for the next seven seasons, the first of which doubling as the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship (and first in Indianapolis). In his age-25 season, Mathis led the Super Bowl champion Colts edition in sacks.

Mathis, Freeney, Peyton Manning, Marvin HarrisonReggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday became the linchpins of that Colts era, with the franchise allowing Edgerrin James (franchise-tagged for $8MM in 2005) to walk just prior to the Mathis extension. The Division I-FCS product outlasted all of his peers in Indianapolis.

Although Mathis did not make a Pro Bowl until 2008, the decision to extend him worked out marvelously for the Colts. Mathis went on to play 11 more seasons with the franchise, his 193 games sitting second only to cornerback Eugene Daniel in the Colts’ Indianapolis history. Mathis’ 123 sacks are a Colts record; his 54 forced fumbles are the most of any player in the past 25 years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Jets, CBs, Bell, Patriots

Despite their wealth of cap space this offseason, the Jets still have some apparent needs. One of those is cornerback. Trumaine Johnson leads the Jets’ corner group. Although the team appears to, at least to some extent, regret signing him to a five-year, $72.5MM contract, he is by far the surest thing Gang Green has here. After Johnson, the Jets have Darryl Roberts and slot signee Brian Poole. Both are former part-time starters, and Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes the Jets are indeed gauging the trade market for possible solutions. The Jets have thus far tried to address this issue with minor signings (Mark Myers and Montreal Meander) but still have $28MM-plus in cap space, so they could take on a veteran contract if need be. This will be an interesting situation to monitor, but the team does have an outside option in Morris Claiborne. A Jets starter over the past two seasons, Claiborne was not in the team’s initial offseason plans but remains in free agency.

Here is the latest out of the AFC East:

  • Another Jets issue does not yet appear to have subsided. Some in the building were upset Le’Veon Bell did not show for OTAs, Cimini adds. While the two-time All-Pro running back reported for minicamp, there will surely be some learning to do when training camp commences. Bell has only played in one offensive system, Todd Haley‘s, in his career. This is the latest in what’s been another complicated Bell offseason, one that included previous reports of Jets dissatisfaction at his absences and Adam Gase not wanting him at the price Mike Maccagnan paid.
  • Gang Green has not decided on an Andre Roberts successor at kick returner yet, but Trenton Cannon looks to be in the early lead, Ethan Sears of the New York Post writes. Jets special teams coordinator Brant Boyer praised the running back’s work in this department this offseason, but he has one career kick return as an NFLer. That won’t make replacing an All-Pro easy.
  • The Patriots have not featured much in the way of consistency at wide receiver over the past two years, with numerous players — including Julian Edelman, who did not play in 2017 — shuttling in and out of the lineup and on and off the roster. One low-level signee who has a chance to stick as a role player is former Redskins cog Maurice Harris, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Given a one-year, $1MM deal, the 6-foot-3 Harris has been used at multiple positions thus far, Reiss adds, and profiles as a Tom Brady auxiliary target.
  • The pick the Pats were going to send to the Lions for Michael Roberts was the one they acquired from the Falcons in trading them safety Jordan Richards last year, Reiss notes. The Falcons gave the Patriots a 2020 seventh-round pick, so Roberts’ chances of making New England’s roster may have been slim.
  • Both the Bills and Dolphins now have all of their rookies under contract.

5 Key Stories: 6/9/19 – 6/16/19

Texans, Patriots butt heads over GM candidate: The Texans’ hopes of landing Nick Caserio hit a wall this week. The Patriots not only resisted the overture but accused the Texans of tampering, taking issue with the timing of Houston’s GM switch. Bill O’Brien said neither he nor former Patriots exec-turned-Texans staffer Jack Easterby had contacted Caserio. Rather than the Texans powering through on this front, perhaps via trade, the franchise backed off and will not pursue Caserio any longer. However, it could be messy on the home front. Caserio is prepared to leave the Patriots, who may not be acting in the best faith in keeping him in New England. After all of this, the Texans may be prepared to go without a GM in 2019 and make another run at Caserio next year.

Extension agreements aplenty: Several teams moved to extend key players this week. The Chiefs led the way by doing deals for Mitchell Schwartz and Harrison Butker. Kansas City added a year to its standout right tackle’s deal, keeping him through 2021, and moved to retain its third-year kicker. The biggest-money extension of the week came out of New Orleans. The Saints and top sack artist Cameron Jordan agreed to terms on the defensive end’s third NFL contract — a three-year, $52.5MM re-up that locks in Jordan through 2023. Kenny Moore has now gone from UDFA to well-paid slot cornerback in a span of two years; the Colts gave him a deal that will pay him $30MM in new money. Lastly, it turns out Kyle Rudolph does have a post-2019 future in Minnesota. The Vikings completed yet another extension, this one keeping their tight end around long-term.

Holdouts taking shape: This became a busy week on the holdout front, with several key starters absent from teams’ mandatory minicamps. Jadeveon Clowney, Chris Jones, Yannick Ngakoue and Robbie Gould stayed away from their franchises’ camps this week. Clowney has been on the extension track for 2 1/2 years now, but his status does not appear to have contributed to Brian Gaine‘s firing. Jones broke out in 2018, becoming one of the NFL’s top interior pass rushers. The centerpiece of the Chiefs’ defensive line is entering the final year of a second-round contract, and talks have stalled. While Jalen Ramsey showed up for Jaguars minicamp, but with some pointed language about his contract, Ngakoue is absent. The former third-round pick is in a contract year. Kyle Shanahan is taking his franchise-tagged kicker’s absence in stride, and it doesn’t appear Gould will resurface with the 49ers any time soon.

Latest on Jets front office: Despite Joe Douglas having been college teammates with Todd McShay at Richmond, the new Jets GM will not lure the longtime analyst away from ESPN. After interviewing with his longtime friend, McShay will stick in his current post. However, one of the candidates Douglas beat out for the GM job — Bears exec Champ Kelly — is still in the running to join the Douglas-led front office. Former Browns GM Phil Savage is in the mix as well.

Broncos lose their owner: After a years-long battle with Alzheimer’s, Pat Bowlen died at 75. He had been the Broncos owner since 1984, helping lift the franchise to new heights. The Broncos had as many Super Bowl appearances (seven) as losing seasons during Bowlen’s tenure and became the NFL’s winningest home team in that span. Lauded for his work in helping the NFL secure crucial TV deals, Bowlen leaves behind a towering legacy. In the wake of his death, matters will shift to what is next in Denver. That has become an extensive legal matter, but the youngest of Pat’s children, Brittany Bowlen, has long been viewed as the preferred successor.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 6/9/19 – 6/16/19

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • PFR’s “This Date in Transactions History” series saw four more chapters added.
    • Zach Links discussed the Dolphins’ 2012 move to bring in Chad Johnson, who was then coming off a season with the 2011 AFC champion Patriots. Unfortunately, a legal issue ended what turned out to be a poor fit, and that year’s Hard Knocks captured the team cutting the cord on the former Pro Bowler.
    • Ten years ago this week, the Falcons concluded the Michael Vick era. Zach recalled the Falcons’ plan trade Vick following his two-year prison term. But no team wanted to take on Vick’s massive contract, and the Falcons ended up cutting him.
    • The first of the Peyton Manning-led Broncos’ Super Bowl teams made a change at running back late in the 2013 offseason, and Zach discussed the team’s jettisoning of Willis McGahee after two years in Denver. Knowshon Moreno went on to have a strong season for the AFC champions, while McGahee ended up in Cleveland for what turned out to be his final season.
    • I discussed another two-plus-year Bronco, revisiting the Josh McDaniels-led team’s decision to bring in Brandon Lloyd in 2009. Lloyd ended up producing a surprisingly strong 2010 season, leading the league in receiving yards while also helping the Broncos assemble part of their Super Bowl rosters.
  • This draft produced some unconventional quarterback choices near the top, and Zach asked the PFR community which of this year’s top-10 picks has the biggest bust potential. Unsurprisingly, the two quarterbacks selected — Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones — lead the way so far.
  • A fourth of the league’s teams replaced their coach in 2019, and Dallas Robinson asked which new leader was in position to oversee the best season. Despite Freddie Kitchens‘ inexperience, PFR readers believe the new Browns HC will finish well. The Packers’ Matt LaFleur garnered strong support as well.
  • With the Texans’ GM search hitting a wall, potentially creating another Patriots rival after the Nick Caserio saga, Rory Parks asked the PFR readership whom they believe the team will end up hiring. Interestingly, many readers believe the Texans will not end up replacing Brian Gaine this year.

Latest On Extensions For Rams’ Jared Goff, Sean McVay

We heard earlier this month that the Rams are eyeing a 2020 extension for quarterback Jared Goff, who is entering his fourth year in the league. Goff has thrived under the tutelage of head coach Sean McVay, who recently threw his full support behind his signal-caller, and it seems like only a matter of time before Goff lands a nine-figure contract.

So, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk asks, why wait? Goff, a two-time Pro Bowler who led his team to the Super Bowl last season, is not going to get any less expensive, especially since his draft mate, Carson Wentz, just signed a four-year, $128MM pact despite suffering significant injuries in each of the past two seasons. Florio observes that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are other young QBs eligible for a second contract that have not yet gotten one, but neither player has accomplished as much as Goff (plus, both of them are making over $20MM this year under their fifth-year options). Like Goff and Wentz, Dak Prescott was a 2016 draft choice, but at least he and the Cowboys are talking.

As Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times writes, GM Les Snead and Goff’s representation have been in touch, but they have only had preliminary discussions about a possible timeline for future talks. In other words, the two sides are talking about when they’re going to talk. Snead said, “Nothing heavy. No heavy lifting.”

Rams officials have indicated they could get a deal done with Goff prior to the 2019 campaign, but considering where the parties are in contract talks, the 2020 timeframe seems more plausible at this point. Like McVay, though, Snead said he is fully committed to Goff.

McVay himself could get an extension soon, and a report back in January suggested that could happen this offseason, but it sounds like those talks have not commenced. When asked whether the club was pursuing an extension for McVay, COO Kevin Demoff indicated he was focused on extending certain key players first.

Both Demoff and Snead declined to comment on Snead’s contract situation, but if things continue on their current trajectory, the Snead-McVay-Goff trifecta could be in LA for the long haul.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans CBs Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson Jr. Dealing With Injuries

The Texans are still looking for a GM, they have no clarity on the Jadeveon Clowney situation, and they have some worrisome injury news concerning their cornerbacks. Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, new CBs Bradley Roby and Lonnie Johnson Jr. are both dealing with ailments that have largely kept them off the field over the past couple of months.

Roby, who signed a one-year, $10MM contract with Houston in March, struggled as a full-time player for the Broncos in 2018 after a strong run as Denver’s nickel man. Still, his track record was enough to merit a three-year, $30MM offer from the Steelers, though Roby elected to take a prove-it deal from Houston in the hopes of landing a top-of-the-market payout in 2020.

But Roby was sidelined for the majority of the spring with soft-tissue injuries, and the hope is that he will be back to full health by the time training camp opens next month. Head coach Bill O’Brien said, “[Roby] hasn’t done much, so we’ll just have to see in training camp.”

The Texans selected Johnson, a Kentucky product, in the second round of April’s draft, and he has all the physical tools one could want in a corner. At 6-2, 213 pounds, Johnson ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the Combine and showed flashes of potential with the Texans this spring, but his own soft-tissue injuries forced him to miss a lot of practice time.

Johnson, like Roby, is expected to be ready for training camp, though O’Brien was non-committal on that front. Given the injury issues, and given that Houston ranked 28th in pass defense in 2018, the Texans may turn to the free agent or trade market for CB help. Morris ClaiborneSam ShieldsDavon HouseCaptain MunnerlynCoty Sensabaugh, and Marcus Williams are among the best FA corners available.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Will Texans Hire As Their Next GM?

The NFL news cycle over the past few weeks has been largely dominated by surprise GM vacancies, and while the Jets filled their opening with Joe Douglas, who has quickly generated a great deal of excitement in New York, the Texans are still looking for their next GM.

Of course, the club had zeroed in on Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, but Houston abandoned its pursuit shortly after New England filed tampering charges against the Texans. Houston may have been successful if it had elected to fight those charges and the provisions in Caserio’s contract with the Patriots that may prohibit him from interviewing with other clubs, but it chose to take the path of least resistance.

So where do the Texans go from here? Aside from Caserio, the only other candidates that Houston has definitely expressed interest in are former Browns GM Ray Farmer and former Lions GM Martin Mayhew, both of whom have already interviewed with the club. However, neither one seems like a home run hire.

Farmer’s two years as Cleveland’s top exec (2014-15) did not do much to inspire confidence, as he generally failed in both free agency and the draft. Some of his draft picks (Joel Bitonio) and free agent signings (Andrew HawkinsJosh McCown) did work out. But he also handed $9MM in guaranteed money to receiver Dwayne Bowe — who had five catches in his first and only year with Cleveland — and used first-round picks on Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert.

Mayhew, currently the 49ers’ vice president of player personnel, had his ups and downs in Detroit, but he did construct several playoff rosters — not an easy thing to do for Lions’ GMs — and he remains well-respected in front office circles. If the Texans’ choice ultimately comes down to Farmer and Mayhew, Mayhew would appear to be the superior candidate.

Other names that have been floated as potential targets include Reggie McKenzie and Scott Pioli. McKenzie enjoyed some success as the Raiders’ GM for seven years — including an executive of the year award in 2016 — and he currently serves as a senior personnel executive with the Dolphins. His ouster from Oakland had more to do with the club forcing him to cede most of his authority to head coach Jon Gruden than anything else, and there has been plenty of speculation that he could return to the GM ranks at some point.

Pioli, meanwhile, recently stepped down from his post as Falcons assistant GM, and he said he did so simply to “pursue other opportunities.” At the time, the Jets’ GM job had just come open, though Pioli was never named as a candidate for that position. He served as the Chiefs’ general manager from 2009-12, which was a mostly forgettable stretch of time in Kansas City franchise history, but he does have over 20 years of front office experience.

Although the Texans were interested in Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort when they were looking for a GM in 2018, New England denied the club’s interview request at that time. Houston did not request an interview with Ossenfort in 2019, and given the Caserio debacle, it would be quite surprising if they reversed course. In fact, the Texans may not hire a GM at all this year.

So how do you think this situation will be resolved? Let us know whom you think the Texans will name as their GM in 2019 (if anyone), and feel free to explain your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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