Ben Watson Only Considered Patriots, Saints

It appears of the teams interested in helping Ben Watson unretire, one had a substantial lead on the others. Although the 38-year-old tight end was linked to the Chiefs, Bills and 49ers, he was only considering a return if two teams were in the mix.

I was retired. I was done for a few months,” Watson said, via Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston. “Around I would say, late April, early May I started thinking about it and made myself available. There were really only two places I would consider playing, coming back (to the Patriots) and playing in New Orleans. Once I made myself available I got a call, and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity.”

The Patriots and Saints were Watson’s two most prominent stops during his 15-season run, the former drafting him in the 2004 first round and deploying him for six seasons. The latter featured him frequently before and after the Jimmy Graham trade. New Orleans, though, was not in the mix for Watson. The Saints shelled out some cash to sign Jared Cook, who was coming off his most statistically productive season.

New England lost this generation’s best tight end, but Watson did not factor Rob Gronkowski‘s status into his decision. Though, it’s certainly debatable if the Pats would have been interested had Gronk not informed them he was retiring. That may have forced Watson to consider one of the aforementioned destinations.

No, I was retired. I considered myself retired,” Watson said about viewing Gronkowski’s retirement as a reason to come back. “I was processing as such and moving forward as such until late in April. (Gronkowski’s exit) wasn’t a factor for me.”

Should the Patriots stand pat with Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end, their 2019 offense stands to look different than their other nine attacks this decade. Most of those, when Gronkowski was healthy, funneled through the future Hall of Famer. This year’s Pats feature bigger names or higher-end investments at receiver, with Demaryius Thomas (should he surmount the Achilles injury that ended his 2018 season) and N’Keal Harry now joining Julian Edelman.

Watson, 39 in December, signed for $3MM ($600K guaranteed). Seferian-Jenkins only received $895K and $50K guaranteed.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On NFL Drug Policy

The NFL and NFLPA agreed to new initiatives that will at least help with the exploration of a potential sweeping change to the league’s drug policy. The league and the union agreed to the formation of a mental health and wellness committee and a joint pain management committee, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano.

This does not change the league’s marijuana policy, but it marks a step toward additional leniency regarding a drug that is now legal in 10 states. Roger Goodell confirmed this week marijuana as a pain management tool will be examined as a part of these studies.

We want to explore all of the strategies that help a player deal with acute and chronic pain,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said, via Graziano. “Some of those efforts require medication, some don’t. With regard to marijuana, certainly there’s a lot of discussion about not only cannabis but cannabinoid compounds, CBD, and it’s something that health care providers are exploring outside of football. That type of research will certainly be part of the mission of this committee and this program.”

The league has tested for marijuana since the 1980s but has softened its stance on the drug, as the 2014 amendment to testing showed. (Players no longer face suspensions for marijuana until their fourth positive test, as opposed to two positive tests for other recreational drugs.) Players not in the drug program are only tested once per year for recreational substances, with Ben Volin of the Boston Globe noting those tests usually occur during the first two weeks of training camp. So, players already have considerable latitude regarding marijuana.

As far as the NFL becoming the first of the major North American sports leagues to stop marijuana testing, that may not be on the immediate horizon.

We may get there. I think some owners certainly have softened on it a little bit,” an owner told Volin. “But I think we’re a long way from deciding we’re not going to test anymore. I think most people would say, ‘Let’s hear from our medical experts about what we’re doing here, whether we’re causing more problems than we’re solving.'”

This week’s agreement also mandates teams employ a mental health professional. Each team’s new mental health employee, however, is only required to spend between eight and 12 hours at team facilities per week.

Bay Area Rumors: Breida, 49ers, Raiders

Many 49ers are not healthy as the team goes through its OTAs. In addition to the likes of Jerick McKinnon, Weston Richburg, Jason Verrett and Kwon Alexander, the team lost one of its running backs because of a weightlifting injury. The 49ers will not have Matt Breida available until at least training camp. The running back, who battled maladies last season before ending the year on IR, suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle while lifting recently, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. San Francisco is already without McKinnon and backup Raheem Mostert, who is battling for a roster spot now that the team employs Tevin Coleman. While torn pectorals of any kind are obviously a concern, Kyle Shanahan said Breida will not require surgery. But the 49ers’ optimal backfield still has a ways to go before coming together.

Here is the latest from the NFL’s Bay Area teams, in their final offseason sharing a region.

  • While Breida is expected to return before the start of the regular season, Garrett Celek‘s timeline is more concerning. The eighth-year 49ers tight end suffered a concussion in Week 16 last season and has yet to be cleared from concussion protocol, according to Shanahan. Celek is also dealing with a back injury. The soon-to-be 31-year-old tight end resides as the 49ers’ second-longest-tenured player, having been with the team since 2012. The 49ers did draft Kaden Smith in the sixth round but, beyond Celek, do not have much at tight end behind George Kittle.
  • Jimmie Ward‘s injury likely will not keep him out for the rumored three-month span, with Maiocco believing that to be on the cautious side of the safety’s timeline. Should they get Ward back by training camp, the 49ers are not likely to sign a veteran safety — like Eric Berry or Tre Boston — to replace Ward, Maiocco adds. Although Ward is back on only a one-year deal, the 49ers believe he is their best defensive back when healthy. On a team that employs Richard Sherman, that’s certainly a notable distinction.
  • The Jon GrudenMike Mayock regime reshuffled their front office and scouting staff recently. The roles of recently hired staffers Dwayne Joseph, DuJuan Daniels and Walter Juliff are now known. Daniels, who joined the Raiders after a Patriots tenure, is now Mayock’s assistant director of player personnel. Joseph, who came over from the Eagles, will become the Raiders’ director of pro personnel. A former Cowboys exec, Juliff is now a senior advisor to the GM, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Scott Bair tweets. Recently with the Senior Bowl and the Bills, Jack Gilmore is now in place as Raiders scouting coordinator. The Raiders also hired recent Eagles scouting coordinator John Hill as a pro scout. Lastly, Oakland promoted Trey Scott and Teddy Atlas (not that one) to assistant player personnel director and assistant director of college scouting, respectively. Scott was one of the few staffers to help with the Raiders’ draft, after Mayock dismissed the scouts prior to draft weekend.

NFC Notes: Cardinals, Bosa, Giants

While D.J. Humphries‘ recovery from a knee injury could linger into the preseason, the rest of the Cardinals offensive line is looking healthy this spring. As Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic writes, many of the team’s projected starters are feeling good, including Justin Pugh (hand/knee), A.Q. Shipley (knee), and Marcus Gilbert (quad).

“I feel great, I’m 100 percent,” Pugh said. “Going into last year I was coming off an injury and last I broke the hand and had an MCL issue that sidelined me, but everything is 100 percent and I feel great. [Strength and conditioning coach] Buddy Morris did an unbelievable job with me this offseason, so a huge shout out to Buddy and our training staff.”

Six Cardinals linemen finished last season on the injured reserve, so the team is looking forward to meshing prior to the regular season.

“It’s amazing when you play this game and you see how guys battle back from stuff, see how everybody handles stuff and how everybody collectively comes together,” said Humphries. “We’re here to get better and that’s the fun part about it. We all went through something last season, but we’re going to figure this out, we’re going to roll with it and we’re going to be better than we were last season.”

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

  • 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain and will miss the next few weeks of practice, according to Ali Thanawalla of NBC Sports Bay Area. The second-overall pick suffered the injury during Tuesday’s OTAs, and he had just returned to the field after recovering from a bilateral core muscle injury (and the subsequent surgery).
  • Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is always looking for ways to improve his defensive line, but Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com doesn’t envision the team pursuing Gerald McCoy. Dunleavy suggests former Chargers tackle Corey Liuget or former Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey could be more realistic options.
  • Dunleavy doesn’t believe the Giants will be able to hang on to all of their young cornerbacks. The grouping, which includes Sam Beal, Grant Haley, DeAndre Baker, Corey Ballentine and Julian Love, will have a tougher time making the roster if the Giants end up holding on to one of their end-of-roster veterans. Specifically, Dunleavy notes that Tony Lippett or special teams ace Antonio Hamilton could pair up with starter Janoris Jenkins.

Poll: Who Should Jets Hire As GM?

It’s been 10 days since the Jets suddenly fired general manager Mike Maccagnan, leaving a major hole atop their front office. Yesterday, we finally got some clarity on definitive candidates, as the organization requested interviews with Eagles executive Joe Douglas and Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly.

Following reports of tension between Maccagnan and head coach Adam Gase, Kelly would seemingly be a good choice. The two have a history that dates back to their tenures with the Broncos, with Denver earning four division titles during Kelly’s five seasons as Assistant Director of Pro Personnel. Kelly also played a role in signing eight veteran free agents who would go on to earn Pro Bowl nods with the Broncos.

The executive has spent the past four years with the Bears, including the last two as the team’s Assistant Director of Player Personnel. In this role, Kelly has directed both Chicago’s pro personnel and college scouting departments. Kelly was one of the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s recommended GM candidates this offseason, but he didn’t get an interview in the thick of the cycle.

Despite Gase’s connection to Kelly, Douglas is reportedly his top choice for the position. Douglas spent the past three seasons as the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel, and he played a major role in constructing the Super Bowl LII-winning roster. Douglas had a brief stint with the Bears in 2015 after having spent the previous 16 years with the Ravens. Douglas is expected to be choosy when it comes to his next opportunity. Many pundits are questioning the Jets’ power structure given the timing and nature of Maccagnan’s firing, so it’s uncertain if Douglas would be willing to take on the challenge.

Besides Kelly and Douglas, the Jets have also been connected to Peyton Manning. Following Maccagnan’s firing, there were rumblings that the Jets were eyeing the future Hall of Fame quarterback for the open GM gig. However, subsequent reports have indicated that the notion of Manning becoming the Jets’ GM is “unrealistic,” with a source stating that being an NFL GM is “not a job he seems to want.”

Of course, there’s also Gase, who earned the interim GM tag following Maccagnan’s ouster. The head coach has been relatively busy since taking on the job; he’s moved on from a pair of former draft picks (tight end Jordan Leggett and linebacker Darron Lee), and he’s added wideout Deonte Thompson. There were reports that Gase was opposed to Le’Veon Bell‘s lucrative contract, and the organization’s apparent trust in their head coach indicates that he’ll surely have a say in future transactions (assuming he doesn’t maintain the GM role).

There are a number of additional candidates who could emerge in the coming days. We learned earlier this week that Gase would be receptive to a number of GM hires, including the 49ers’ Adam Peters and the Lions’ Lance Newmark. Additionally, Jets ownership is believed to “think highly” of Vikings exec George Paton.

So that brings us to today’s question: who should Christoper Johnson hire as the team’s next GM? Should they bring on Douglas, Kelly, or another executive from outside the organization? Should they take a flyer on Manning, who has no front office experience? Should they allow Gase to maintain control over the 53-man roster?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Contract Details: Patriots, Edelman, Collins

A look at the details on recent deals from around the NFL:

  • Julian Edelman, WR (Patriots): Two-year extension. Worth $18.5MM, could increase to $25.5MM with incentives. $9.3MM tied to roster bonuses/performance incentives, $1.1MM in workout bonuses. Cap hits: $6.077MM (2019), $7.166MM (2020), $6.66MM (2021). Details via the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin (Twitter) and The Athletic’s Nick Underhill (Twitter).
  • Jamie Collins, LB (Patriots): One year (original story). $250K guarantee, $100K signing bonus, $900K base salary. $1.25MM injury guarantee. Earnings: $2MM (plays in all 16 games), $3MM (part-time starter), $5MM (starts all 16 games). $3MM cap hit. Details via Volin and via Underhill.
  • Brandon King, LB (Patriots): Two-year extension, $3.5MM. When combined with current deal, contract is three years, $4.875MM. 2019 salary increases from $1.175MM to $1.975MM, 2019 cap number increases from $1.359MM to $1.626MM. Details via Volin.

Extra Points: McCoy, Cooper, Bears

Gerald McCoy spent nearly a decade with the Buccaneers, who have not made the playoffs since 2007. As a result, he is prioritizing a certain type of team as a first-time free agent. McCoy said he plans to sign with a contender, ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson reports.

I want to win,” McCoy said. “I’m not worried about where I’m living. Wherever I got to go to win. … Everybody’s open.”

Thus far, the Browns, Ravens, Bengals, Colts and Panthers have emerged as McCoy suitors. The Browns and Ravens have received or will receive meetings, Cleveland’s occurring over the past two days and Baltimore’s set for Tuesday. The $11MM-AAV offer is believed to have come from a non-contending team. Despite the Browns’ NFL-long playoff drought (16 years), their offseason improvements have this year’s edition profiling as a playoff threat, joining the Ravens and Colts in that regard. Interestingly, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots no longer appear to be interested in the six-time Pro Bowler.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Julio Jones and the Falcons are engaged in contract negotiations, and these talks may well be impacting another NFC team’s re-up discussions with a No. 1 wideout. The Cowboys look to be under the impression Amari Cooper is waiting on the Jones deal before moving forward in his negotiation, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets. The Cowboys and Cooper are at a stalemate presently, and although Cooper may not have much of a case to be paid more than Jones, the Alabama alums’ age difference (Jones is 30; Cooper will turn 25 next month) may bring their next prices closer together.
  • The Bears are doing some rearranging up front. Former second-round picks Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are switching positions, with Whitehair set to slide to left guard and Daniels to center, J.J. Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago notes. A 2016 draftee, Whitehair has started all 48 games in his career and has spent most of that run as the Bears’ snapper. Whitehair played guard at Kansas State, while Daniels — a 2018 draft choice — was primarily a center at Iowa. Both played well last season in their old jobs, Whitehair grading as Pro Football Focus’ No. 10 center and Daniels ending his rookie year as PFF’s No. 29 guard.
  • Additionally, Bears backup running back Taquan Mizzell is now a wide receiver, Stankevitz adds. Mizzell is also in his third Bears season; he only received nine carries in 2018.

Broncos Rumors: Jackson, Harris, Leary

While the cornerstone Broncos secondary cog remains away from the team, the player that helped (indirectly) create the Chris Harris situation may be slated for a hybrid role. Kareem Jackson has continued to line up at safety during Broncos OTAs, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes. Given $11MM AAV in March, Jackson joins Justin Simmons as a first-string safety when the team has used its base formation thus far. However, the longtime Texans cornerback moves into his more familiar role when the Broncos shift to their sub-packages, O’Halloran adds. Jackson spent some of the 2018 offseason at safety and began the regular season there, but once Andre Hal returned after his cancer diagnosis, Jackson was shuttled back to corner.

The Broncos appear to be planning to use Harris and Bryce Callahan as base corners, with Jackson and Simmons on the back line. Denver released four-year safety starter Darian Stewart earlier this year and did not use a draft choice on a safety. Oft-used sub player Will Parks remains behind Jackson and Simmons, however, with Su’a Cravens and Jamal Carter still in the mix. But it is not known yet who Simmons’ sidekick in nickel and dime sets will be.

Shifting to the latest on Harris, here is more from Denver:

  • The ice between Harris and John Elway appears to be thawing. The sides have resumed negotiations, and the All-Pro corner’s $15MM asking price has come down a bit. It appears Harris will be receiving a raise, and Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets the Broncos and their ninth-year corner are discussing what would be a “big” 2019 salary spike. But interestingly, said big raise may just be for this season. Teams normally like to add control in exchange for salary hikes, but at this point, Harris may still be headed toward a contract year and 2020 free agency. The prospective one-year bump centers around the reality that the Broncos need Harris to contend this season, Renck adds.
  • Continuing with the Denver secondary, Simmons is entering his walk year. The 2016 third-round pick became a full-time player for the Broncos in 2017 and was their only defender to play every snap last season (1,078). Simmons is focused on a Broncos extension. “Obviously when it’s all said and done, if I had a choice I would stay here,”Simmons said (via The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala, subscription required), “not even a question of looking elsewhere or anything like that.” The Broncos have three starters from the 2016 draft, with Adam Gotsis and Connor McGovern 1.0 also in contract years, but it is not certain any will command lofty salaries. The Broncos’ highest-profile walk-year players are seasoned veterans (Harris, Emmanuel Sanders) rather than rookie-salary cogs on the verge of big money.
  • Ronald Leary has ended both of his Broncos campaigns on IR, last season’s Achilles injury occurring in October. But the veteran guard is set to be back as a starter, after seeing $5MM in 2019 injury guarantees kick in earlier this year. The 30-year-old blocker is on track to begin participating in OTAs next week, Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio tweets. The Broncos have moved Leary back to right guard, where he played in 2017. Leary was not on board with being moved to left guard last year, Marvez adds. Second-round pick Dalton Risner is expected to be Denver’s starting left guard.

Wagner, Seahawks Begin Extension Talks

Had the Seahawks and Bobby Wagner engaged in contract-year negotiations in 2018, this would have probably been an easier process. But the Jets changed the game in March, transforming the off-ball linebacker market by giving C.J. Mosley a five-year, $85MM deal.

With Wagner having accomplished far more than Mosley, it certainly added a major element to the talks with the Seahawks. While the parties had not begun discussions at May’s outset, Wagner confirmed negotiations have started. But it is certain Wagner wants to eclipse the $17MM-per-year number Mosley received.

That is the plan, to break that,” Wagner said, via Michael-Shawn Dugar of The Athletic (subscription required). “… Like I said, it’s a business. If it works out, it does. If not, it’s been cool.”

At this point last year, Jamie Collins‘ $12.5MM-AAV number paced all off-ball linebackers. Now, Mosley leads all second-level defenders with his massive Jets deal. Kwon Alexander (one Pro Bowl) signed for $13.5MM per year, though the 49ers can get out of that contract rather easily after 2019, and Anthony Barr followed suit with the Vikings. Wagner signed a four-year, $43MM deal in 2015. He is due $10.5MM in base salary this season.

Wagner’s four first-team All-Pro honors trail only Luke Kuechly among active non-rush linebackers. The Seahawks opted not to pay Frank Clark, trading him to the Chiefs, so they appear to be planning for a Wagner future. With Earl Thomas also off the books, the Seahawks do not have a non-Wagner defender earning eight figures annually. But moving up to the Mosley tier certainly won’t be easy, given the radical markup. The Seahawks hold $23.9MM in cap space.

For now, the soon-to-be 29-year-old middle linebacker is attending Seahawks workouts but not participating in drills. Pete Carroll called this tactic “a good decision for him right now.”

It’s a tricky situation,” Wagner said. “It’s a business. You get hurt, they don’t pay you, so you got to be mindful of that. Y’all know I’m a professional; I’m going to be in shape. I work out every single day, so y’all don’t have to worry about me being in shape, and my mind is going to always be sharp.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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