49ers Sign OL Laken Tomlinson To Extension

The 49ers agree to three-year extension with offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson, a source tells Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal is worth a maximum of $18MM with $10MM in guarantees. 

Earlier this year, the Niners declined Tomlinson’s fifth-year option for 2019, which would have cost the team $9.6MM (guaranteed for injury only). Instead, the Niners have opted to extend their period of control over Tomlinson while giving him a guarantee that is roughly in the same range.

The new deal is an indication that Tomlinson has performed well in practice this spring. In all likelihood, he’ll be starting at left guard in September, between left tackle Joe Staley and high-priced center Weston Richburg. First-round pick Mike McGlinchey will hold down the right tackle job while Joshua Garnett, Jonathan Cooper, and Mike Person battle for the top right guard spot.

Tomlinson, 26, was made the No. 28 overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Lions. He started the first two years of his career at left guard for the Lions and served in the same capacity for the Niners after coming over in a trade last summer. Tomlinson missed the 2017 season opener, but played in the next 15 games.

Last year, Tomlinson earned the best marks of his career from Pro Football Focus. He graded out as the league’s No. 32 ranked guard, per PFF, which shows that he is clearly a starting caliber player. Still, the Niners opted to turn down his fifth-year option in order to lock him up at a lesser rate going forward.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Best Free Agent RB Remaining?

Even as June winds down, there are a surprising number of quality running backs still available on the open market. The current free agent crop of backfield options includes some notable names, such as: 

Charles, Hightower, Vereen, and Murray were all on the Saints’ radar recently as they canvassed the free agent market for running back support. Ultimately, they signed Terrance West to help fill in during Mark Ingram‘s four-game suspension, leaving the other vets in limbo. While Charles, Hightower, and Vereen all showed their stuff for coach Sean Payton, Murray declined his invite, preferring not to participate in a giant cattle call.

When considering only past accomplishments, the names of Peterson, Charles, and Murray obviously stand out. But, unfortunately, father time is cruel to NFL running backs and these players are on the back nines of their careers, to put it mildly. Out of this trio, Murray has the best 2017 to show teams. Even though his job as the Titans’ top rusher was usurped by Derrick Henry, he had 39 catches for 266 yards and occasionally showed the powerful rushing that made him a force to be reckoned with in Dallas. Charles, he of several 1,000-yard seasons, had only 296 rushing yards in total and found himself at the bottom of Denver’s depth chart to close out the season. Peterson, meanwhile, forced his way out of New Orleans due to a lack of playing time and had only two performances of note in his run with the Cardinals.

Lacy signed with the Seahawks last year and hoped to put concerns about his health and conditioning to rest. Unfortunately, those questions persist after he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in nine games. Lacy was a bulldozer in his early days with the Packers, but his last season of note came in 2015 when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Even then, ball security was a problem as he fumbled the ball four times.

Darkwa is back on the NFL radar after doctors cleared him to workout. Darkwa won’t win this poll on name value, but unlike everyone else on this list, he’s coming off of the best season of his career.The 26-year-old (did we mention that he’s also the youngest running back here?) ran for 751 yards off of 171 carries, good for a strong 4.4 yards per carry average. It was an ugly year for the Giants on the whole, but Darkwa excelled on a personal level.

Vereen, another ex-Giant, can’t say the same for his 2017 season. However, his second act with the Giants has been respectable on the whole. Acting as a secondary ball carrier, he has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the last three seasons. He also showed that he can still be a worthwhile pass catcher out of the backfield with 44 grabs for 253 yards last season, though he averaged a career-low 5.8 yards per catch.

Last but not least is Morris, though you can be forgiven for forgetting about this three-time 1,000-yard rusher. Morris was a force to be reckoned with from 2012-2014, but he has been riding the pine for the Cowboys over the last two years. What you might not realize is that Morris was tremendous in a small sample last year as Ezekiel Elliott‘s early-season backup and later-season fill-in. Morris averaged 4.76 yards per carry off of 115 attempts, which makes one wonder why we haven’t heard his name mentioned in recent months.

Out of the running backs listed here, which player do you feel can contribute the most in 2018? Click below to cast your vote and defend your choice in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Orleans Darkwa Cleared For Workouts

Free agent running back Orleans Darkwa has been given the medical greenlight from doctors, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Darkwa will now be able to work out for teams, which will make him an interesting summer pickup for teams in need of backfield reinforcements. 

Darkwa had several offers in free agency, but did not find any deals to his liking. Those clubs were encouraged by his decision to have a plate removed from his leg in May and he should draw plenty of interest after healing up from the procedure.The signing of unrestricted free agents no longer counts against the 2019 compensatory draft pick formula at this stage of the offseason, so a team won’t have much to lose by signing Darkwa to a relatively inexpensive one-year deal.

Darkwa visited the Patriots in April, but they’re already overloaded at running back with first-round pick Sony Michel, James White, Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, and Brandon Bolden under contract (not to mention fullback James Develin). The Giants reportedly had some level of interest in re-signing him, but they’ve since drafted Penn State standout Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick and signed veteran Jonathan Stewart . The crosstown Jets were also eyeing Darkwa at one point, but they signed Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls.

Darkwa had the best year of his NFL career in 2017 with career-highs in starts (11), rushes (171), yards (751), and touchdowns (five). The 26-year-old managed 4.4 yards per carry, and also added 19 receptions for 116 yards in the passing game. Overall, Darkwa was roughly a league-average running back, as he finished 22nd among 45 qualifiers in DVOA, Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Restructuring Contracts

When an NFL team finds itself short on cap flexibility and in need of some space, one of the most effective short-term fixes is to restructure a player’s long-term contract. While cutting or trading players can often be solutions as well, a contract restructure allows the team to keep its roster intact while also providing immediate cap relief.

The base salaries of NFL contracts typically aren’t guaranteed, but players can receive guaranteed money in the form of signing bonuses. While those bonuses are considered to be up-front payments, for cap purposes they can be spread out over up to five years of the contract. For instance, if a player were to sign a four-year deal with a $12MM signing bonus, that figure would prorate equally over the four years of the contract, amounting to a $3MM cap hit per year. If a team were to release that player one season into the deal, the club could avoid paying most of the player’s annual base salaries, but would still be on the hook for the remaining bonus money, along with the cap total for that money.

As such, the most common form of contract restructuring involves converting a portion of a player’s base salary for a given year into a new signing bonus. That bonus can then be spread out over several years, moving it away from the current season.

This is exactly the sort of agreement the Ravens and Tony Jefferson reached this offseason. In 2017, the Ravens signed Tony Jefferson to a four-year deal worth up to $37MM. This year, the Ravens moved some of that cash around to give themselves breathing room under the cap. Baltimore converted $5MM of Jefferson’s $6MM base salary into a signing bonus, creating $3.3MM in space for 2018. Meanwhile, Jefferson’s 2019 and 2020 cap numbers increased by $1.67MM.

Restructuring a contract by converting base salary to a signing bonus creates immediate relief, but also creates problems in future years. A year from now, the Ravens may have to make another move with Jefferson, which will likely mean restructuring his deal once again, to reduce a $12.657MM cap number for 2019.

There are ways a player can remain under contract with a team while also helping to create or maintain both short-term and long-term cap flexibility. A player agreeing to take a pay cut, for instance, could allow a team to reduce his current cap number without necessarily moving that money further down the line in the contract. However, that generally happens in situations in which the team’s leverage outweighs the player’s leverage.

In most cases then, a restructured contract that sees base salary converted into bonus money is the simplest short-term fix for a club. The bill will come due eventually, but restructuring a deal allows a team to put off a more significant decision for at least one more year.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry. Our glossary posts explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Information from Joel Corry and Over the Cap was used in the creation of this post.

This Date In Transactions History: Redskins Sign Terry Crews

On this date in 1995, the Redskins signed linebacker Terry Crews. Yes, that Terry Crews. 

Crews, a 6’3″, 245-pound linebacker, was a standout at Western Michigan. The Los Angeles Rams took note and selected Crews with the No. 281 pick and he appeared in six games as a rookie in 1991. He later found his way to the Chargers, appearing in ten games for them in ’93. His next NFL opportunity came with the Redskins, who inked him in the summer of 1995.

Like his previous stints with the Rams and Chargers, Crews’ run with the Redskins was rather unremarkable. He recorded only one solo tackle and one assisted tackle in that ’95 season, though he did stick on the roster for the full season and dressed for all 16 games.

This would not be Crews’ last NFL contract. Later, he signed on with the rival Eagles, but quickly realized that football wasn’t for him.

For two weeks, I stayed at the Holiday Inn across the street from Veterans Stadium. I just remember it was Christmas Day. It was the saddest thing ever, that Holiday Inn. I was eating old sausage and two little pancakes. It was so sad,” Crews said (via Philly.com). “I was missing my family. We lost the game to the 49ers – it was a playoff game. I just thought, I don’t want to do this anymore. The excitement wasn’t there.”

Crews didn’t find excitement or millions in the NFL, but he found a different path to fulfillment and riches. The 2002 comedy “Friday After Next” launched Crews into a lucrative acting career that included roles in several hit movies, including football comedy “The Longest Yard.” We won’t list his full IMDb here, but you get the point – Crews hit it big, just not on the gridiron.

Crews’ time with the Redskins wasn’t notable move from a football perspective, nor was his short-lived trip through Philadelphia. But Crews’ struggles throughout his NFL career made him appreciate the success that he discovered later in life.

I was the name at the end of the roster,” said Crews, reflecting on his former life as a professional football player. “It wasn’t until after I became famous that people noticed I played in the NFL. I kind of snuck in!

Extra Points: Dez, Robinson, Darnold, Jets

Some assorted notes from around the NFL as we wrap up this Thursday evening…

  • A fan recently told free agent wideout Dez Bryant that he should be focused on finding a new team, prompting the veteran to respond. “The last problem I have is finding a team..I’m in a world you will never understand,” Bryant said on Instagram (via Joey Hayden of the Dallas News). The receiver has indicated that he’s received calls from teams but is waiting for the ideal fit, and his recent comments seemingly echo this sentiment. We heard earlier this month that Bryant likely wouldn’t join a new team until July.
  • The Browns signed offensive lineman Greg Robinson earlier this week, and ESPN’s Field Yates tweets some of the financial details of the deal. It will be a one-year, $790K contract for the former second-overall pick, and the deal contains no guaranteed money. Robinson started six games for the Lions last season, but he was ultimately released by the team in November. Robinson isn’t guaranteed to make Cleveland’s roster, and he’ll likely compete for a reserve role.
  • The Jets are predictably convinced that they have a “star in the making” in quarterback Sam Darnold, writes Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.TV. The coaching staff also believes that it’s only a matter of time before he replaces veteran Josh McCown, and he should supplant Teddy Bridgewater as the second-stringer sooner than later. Of course, a lot of Darnold’s 2017 stock will depend on his performance during training camp and the preseason.
  • We learned earlier today that Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson pled no contest to charges of reckless driving. As a result, he’ll get six months of “non-reporting” probation.

More Details On Jameis Winston’s Impending Suspension

We learned earlier tonight that the NFL was planning on suspending Jameis Winston, and the Buccaneers quarterback wasn’t going to appeal. Why wouldn’t he exercise his appeal rights? Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com believes Winston and the NFL have already cut a deal.

There’s a benefit for both sides. The NFL could have threatened Winston with a six-game ban, and the quarterback managed to get that chopped in half. By avoiding an appeal, the NFL could also avoid a lengthy, “futile” appeal process. As Florio points out, this ordeal could also “expose yet another Park Avenue Keystone Cops investigation and/or kangaroo court process.”

After having learned from the Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott appeals, the writer ultimately surmises that the NFL didn’t want to deal with the impending “P.R. crisis” that would surely accompany the process.

There have been some more important notes regarding Winston’s suspension. We’ve compiled those below…

  • While it was originally reported that the quarterback would be suspended for three games, the NFL could end up increasing the punishment. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Winston could be suspended for more games if he “fails to meet certain undisclosed requirements” that are expected to be handed out by the NFL.
  • NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport echoes Stroud’s sentiment, tweeting that the suspension “number has not yet been finalized.” The reporter adds that Winston nor the team have been notified of the suspension, and he notes that the quarterback “must meet a certain criteria related to his conduct to return to the field.”
  • The decision will be a “major” disappointment to the Buccaneers organization, writes ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The team was hoping for a bounce-back season following their 5-11 campaign, and they were also encouraged by the “type of behavior that Winston has demonstrated.” People around Tampa have also lauded the quarterback for his work with the surrounding communities.
  • Schefter tweets that Winston will lose $124K in base salary thanks to the three-game ban, which is based on his $705K salary for next season. However, the quarterback will be making $20.9MM in 2019, meaning he’d be sacrificing a lot more money if the process is dragged out. This would be another reason why Winston would want to completely avoid the appeals process.

This Date In Transactions History: Baltimore Ravens

The 2010 draft didn’t necessarily go as planned for the Ravens. They sent their first-rounder to the Broncos (Denver selected Tim Tebow), and their pair of second-rounders failed to live up to their billing. Linebacker Sergio Kindle played in only three career games, while defensive tackle Terrence Cody mostly played in a reserve role.

The team did manage to snag tight end Ed Dickson in the third round, but nobody would deem the first half of Baltimore’s draft a success. However, the team did manage to draft a pair of contributors in the later rounds: tight end Dennis Pitta and defensive end Arthur Jones. Both of those players inked their rookie contracts on this date eight years ago.

The Ravens used their fourth-round pick (#114) on Pitta, a tight end out of Brigham Young. He ended up playing his entire seven-year career in Baltimore, winning a championship along the way. His best season came in 2012, when he hauled in 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 2,098 career receiving yards rank 12th in franchise history. Unfortunately, Pitta suffered a number of injuries throughout his career, forcing him to miss 46 regular season games. After suffering a hip injury during last year’s OTAs, the Ravens ended up cutting the veteran, effectively ending his career.

Jones, who was selected with the team’s second fifth-rounder, mostly served in a reserve role for the Ravens during the first three years of his career, including their Super Bowl run in 2012 (the defensive end finished with a key sack and fumble recovery in the victory). He took on a bigger role in 2013, finishing with 53 tackles and four sacks. He ended up inking a lucrative five-year deal with the Colts worth more than $30MM, but he never managed to stay healthy during his tenure in Indy. The 32-year-old played in a single game for the Redskins this past season.

While no one would ever declare the Ravens 2010 draft as a “win” (the team also drafted wideout David Reed and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood), their pair of later-round picks ended up having solid NFL careers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Planning To Suspend QB Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston will indeed be disciplined for allegedly groping an Uber driver back in 2016. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that the NFL is planning on suspending the Buccaneers quarterback for three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Winston won’t appeal the suspension.

We heard back in November that the NFL was investigating the former first-overall pick. A female Uber driver alleged that Winston inapporopriately touched her while the two were waiting in a fast food drive-thru. At the time, both Winston and his representative, Russ Spielman, denied the allegations.

We heard last night that the 24-year-old was bracing for some kind of discipline (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). Those reports indicated that Winston might not necessarily be disciplined for the incident; rather, he’d face a punishment for failing to “make a timely report of the allegation.” However, Stroud tweets that the quarterback will indeed be suspended for “violating the NFL’s player conduct policy.”

A three-game ban would be a tough blow for a Buccaneers squad that’s looking to make the postseason for the first time since 2007. While Tampa Bay finished an underwhelming 5-11 last season, Winston still had a standout campaign. He completed a career-high 63.8-percent of his passes for 3,504 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 13 games. He missed three games due to a shoulder injury.

Fortunately for Tampa Bay, they do have a capable backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick. The 35-year-old appeared in six games (three starts) for the team last season, compiling 1,103 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. The team is also rostering former Saints backup Ryan Griffin.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bengals Sign Third-Round DE Sam Hubbard

The Bengals have officially signed their entire draft class. After inking linebacker Malik Jefferson to a deal earlier today, the Bengals announced that they’ve signed fellow third-rounder Sam Hubbard.

Following three standout seasons at Ohio State, the defensive end was taken with the 77th pick during April’s draft. After redshirting as a freshman, Hubbard immediately had an impact during the 2015 campaign, compiling 6.5 sacks. He had another solid season in 2016 before establishing himself as one of the top pass-rushers in the Big Ten during the 2017 season. Hubbard ultimately finished the year with 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks.

With Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson penciled in as Cincy’s starting defensive ends, it’s unlikely that Hubbard will have a chance to contribute right away. However, he’ll still have the opportunity to compete with the 2017 third-rounder Jordan Willis for backup reps.

With the signing, the Bengals have inked each of their draft picks to contracts. Besides Hubbard and Jefferson, their 2017 class includes

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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