Month: February 2017

Extra Points: Clear, Jones, Hughes, Cowboys

A teammate of Johnny Manziel‘s at Texas A&M, tight end Cameron Clear joined the embattled quarterback among those suspended on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Like Manziel, Clear is also a free agent suspended for four games. The Colts signed him to a reserve/futures contract after the 2015 season but cut him in May.

A 6-foot-5 tight end who would be a second-year player if given another chance after this suspension, Clear spent time with the Steelers last season but did not see any game action.

Sheldon Richardson and Rolando McClain were also suspended on a news-dump Thursday before the July 4 weekend, with Demarcus Lawrence‘s four-game ban being upheld as well.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • Former Chargers, 49ers and Cowboys special teams contributor C.J. Spillman was convicted of sexual assault Thursday, Claire Z. Cardona of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 30-year-old spent most of his six-year career with the 49ers but last played as a Cowboys reserve defensive back in 2014. The incident that prompted the conviction, which carries a two- to 20-year prison sentence, occurred Sept. 20, 2014. Spillman played for the Cowboys for the rest of that season.
  • McClain’s suspensions in Dallas now total 14 games after the middle linebacker began the 2015 season with a four-game ban. Todd Archer of ESPN.com advocates the Cowboys cut ties with him despite re-signing the soon-to-be 27-year-old this offseason. McClain is signed to a one-year, $3.375MM deal as a stopgap until Jaylon Smith proves ready. The latter does not look like he’ll be ready to play this season, and the Cowboys now have three of their starting front seven — McClain, Lawrence and Randy Gregory — set to begin 2016 suspended.
  • After a potential felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor for resisting arrest, Seahawks reserve quarterback Trevone Boykin received probation on Thursday, Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com reports. The rookie UDFA incurred this charge after a Dec. 31, 2015 incident before TCU’s Alamo Bowl, a game for which Boykin did not dress.
  • Datone Jones will shift to a stand-up, edge-defending position after he relocated there late last season, Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com reports. The Packers plan to play their 2013 first-round pick at outside linebacker in a 3-4 set and on the outside in passing-down sets, which he did beginning with a two-sack game against the Vikings last November. Given the team’s depth at each position, Jones’ role adjustment is interesting. As Roster resource shows, the Packers are more stocked on the edge than they are inside in their 3-4 set. Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and a recently relocated Clay Matthews reside at outside linebacker.
  • The Bills will also look to move Jerry Hughes into more of a stand-up outside-linebacking role, Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News reports. Hughes had his best seasons as a 4-3 end in 2013-14, when he notched 10 sacks in each slate en route to signing a five-year, $45MM contract.

Latest On NFL’s PED Investigation

THURSDAY, 6:52pm: The NFL fired back at the NFLPA on Thursday, noting that sufficient grounds for an investigation are indeed present and the union’s stance is “fundamentally at odds with the CBA,” NFL senior vice president of labor affairs Adolpho Birch said in a letter to the union obtained by USA Today.

While we readily agree that such evidence is required to support the imposition of discipline, nothing in the CBA or the policy imposes such a requirement before possible violations of the policy may be investigated,” Birch wrote. “Obviously, the standard that you advocate — that the league cannot undertake an investigation unless and until it has established the facts and claims to be investigated — would simply ensure that there would be no investigations at all.”

Birch’s letter also mentioned the active players summoned in this investigation have an obligation to comply or face possible league-imposed discipline. The letter did not contain anything pertaining to Manning, who is retired and not currently represented by the NFLPA.

WEDNESDAY, 10:48am: Tuesday, the NFLPA sent the NFL formal letters on behalf of four players named in Al Jazeera’s December documentary. In the letter, the union demanded that the league produce “sufficient credible evidence” before prying into the business of James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, and Julius Peppers.

[RELATED: NFL Plans To Interview Peyton Manning]

Especially in a business where the mere mention of a player-employee’s name can generate ratings for a broadcaster, the NFLPA and Mr. Harrison do not believe that unsupported, unsubstantiated verbal remarks provide ‘sufficient credible evidence’ to initiate an investigation of, and require an interview with, an employee,” the union wrote in a letter defending Harrison (Twitter link via Albert Breer of The MMQB).

Without “sufficient credible evidence,” the NFL is not permitted to punish players for suspected use of performance enhancing substances, per the terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NFLPA’s letter cites this section of the CBA and argues that the since-recanted recordings Charles Sly do not meet the qualifications:

Sufficient credible evidence includes but is not limited to: criminal convictions or plea arrangements; admissions, declarations, affidavits, authenticated witness statements, corroborated law enforcement reports or testimony in legal proceedings; authenticated banking, telephone, medical or pharmacy records; or credible information obtained from Players who provide assistance pursuant to Section 10 of the Policy.”

In addition to Harrison, Matthews, Neal, and Peppers, the NFLPA was inclined to tell Peyton Manning not to participate in the league’s investigation, because it feels the NFL lacks jurisdiction in that area, Breer tweets. Still, Manning may participate anyway, because of the possibility that he may wish to become a front office executive (Twitter link). Because he is retired, he is being handled separately and he cannot truly be forced to act one way or another by either the league office or the union.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Notes: Julio, Sweezy, Bucs, Saints

Julio Jones is unlikely to become the first wide receiver in NFL history to top the 2,000-yard mark, opines Jenna Laine of ESPN.com, noting that Jones was able to accrue his massive yardage total — 1,871, second-most in league history — because the Falcons didn’t have many other weapons for quarterback Matt Ryan to throw to.

Since last year, Atlanta has added fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu, signing the former Bengal to a five-year pact, and tight end Austin Hooper, selected in the third round of the draft. Plus, with center Alex Mack now on board, and running back Devonta Freeman hoping to excel again under second-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons might not have to rely on the passing game quite as much.

Here’s the latest from the NFC South.

  • The Falcons tried to lure guard J.R. Sweezy to Atlanta during the free agent period, but the price tag on the former Seahawk eventually got too expensive, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sweezy eventually signed with another NFC South club, inking a five-year, $32.5MM deal with the Buccaneers. The Falcons, meanwhile, will fill right guard with either veteran Chris Chester, who was re-signed over the offseason, or Mike Person.
  • The Buccaneers might not be done adding free agents, and Joe Kania of Buccaneers.com identifies three veterans — edge rusher Dwight Freeney, wide receiver James Jones, and guard Jahri Evans — who could be of interest to the club in the coming weeks. For what it’s worth, all three players were listed on PFR’s ranking of the best remaining free agents on offense and defense.
  • In their series of best and worst contracts, Pro Football Focus zeroes in on the Saints‘ backfield as having two of the five worst deals given to running backs. The analytics site rates C.J. Spiller‘s four-year, $16MM deal as its worst, with Mark Ingram‘s identical contract (in terms of length and overall value) slotting fifth. Although $4MM is cheap for a starting-caliber back, PFF argues Ingram doesn’t fit the profile yet. The site ranked the former first-round pick 33rd among running backs in 2015, a season that doubled as Spiller’s worst.

Sam Robinson contributed to this report

Latest On Chargers’ Stadium Effort

The California State Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Chargers’ chances of seeing a new stadium built in San Diego, and the team’s future is uncertain as a result.

California’s high court temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that would have made it much easier to pass the team-backed initiative that would raise hotel taxes to generate public funds toward a new stadium, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Instead of the measure needing a simple majority to pass in the November election, a two-thirds majority of voters will need to vote in favor of it.

Considering Acee estimates around 60% of voters are opposed to using public funds to build a new stadium, the measure receiving 66.6% of the vote now looks unrealistic. The Chargers figured this was coming, per Acee, but Wednesday night’s confirmation provides an air of finality to the lofty requirement.

This week’s ruling did not mean the two-thirds threshold will be locked in, with the court only agreeing to review the appellate court’s March ruling. A review does mean the appellate court’s earlier decision is no longer the law, however. Even if the simple majority ruling is overturned or upheld, it will further complicate matters by dragging on past the November elections, David Garrick of the Union-Tribune writes.

A decision either way will almost certainly will not happen until at least 2017. Voters will now vote on the measure in November without knowing what will be required for it to pass, further clouding the Chargers’ status.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tabs the 66.6% majority requirement as virtually impossible for the stadium measure to pass, so he lays out six options for the Bolts going forward. Moving to Los Angeles or playing out their lease at Qualcomm stadium loom as the top two choices, Florio writes. The Chargers’ lease at their current 49-year-old stadium runs through 2020, but repairs and upgrades are likely to be required to make this a tenable choice. After all, the stadium’s state served as a driving force behind the Bolts’ push for joining up with the Raiders on the teams’ Carson project.

The Chargers in January agreed in principle to join the Rams in Los Angeles and have until Jan. 15, 2017 to decide. Of course, Dean Spanos then declared the team would play in San Diego this season, and the team and the city began engaging in productive talks soon after.

The franchise remains conflicted about joining Stan Kroenke‘s Rams in Inglewood, with Florio pointing out efforts are ongoing to determine the dollars and cents of the Chargers being the second team in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Roger Goodell Earned $32MM For 2015

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell received $32MM in compensation for the 2015 season, according to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal (all Twitter links). The league has since relinquished its tax-exempt status, so this will be the final time the public gets a glimpse of Goodell’s salary.Roger Goodell

Goodell received a slight pay decrease from the 2014 season, when he was paid $34.1MM. During that ’14 campaign, Goodell dealt with – and arguably botched – a pair of off-field incidents involving running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, but as Kaplan points out, the league didn’t seem to hold those instances — nor his handling of Deflategate — against the commissioner, lowering his salary by only ~$2MM.

All in all, it seems as though the league’s owners are still quite pleased with Goodell’s performance, as his pay hasn’t taken a huge hit over the years despite his negative public perception. But there’s no doubt his compensation has dropped from the heights of 2013, when Goodell reportedly earned $44MM. During his ten-year run as commissioner, Goodell has now raked in more than $212MM in earnings.

Previous reports had indicated that 2014 would be the final instance of the public being privy to Goodell’s salary, but Kaplan adds (Twitter link) that the NFL had a stub period between the last filing and present, thus the league was forced to issue one last filing.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC South Notes: Luck, Allen, Texans, Titans

Though there are items to nitpick in Andrew Luck‘s new contract with the Colts, the former No. 1 overall pick comes out ahead when it comes to cash flows, writes Jason Fitzgerald of the Sporting News. Starting in year three of the deal (2019), Luck will have lapped the field when it comes to quarterback contracts that are currently on the books — he’ll have earned more than $79MM while Russell Wilson, for example, will have taken home only $70.6MM by year three of his deal. Downsides of the pact, according to Fitzgerald, include the $32MM signing bonus, which doesn’t stack up in terms of percentage of total contract value, and historical relevancy, as Luck still falls short of Aaron Rodgers‘ deal once inflation is accounted for.

Here’s more out of the AFC South:

  • Both of the Colts‘ top two tight ends were eligible for unrestricted free agency during the offseason, but the club chose to re-sign Dwayne Allen instead of Coby Fleener in large part because of the former’s versatility, according to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com. Head coach Chuck Pagano has pointed out that Allen is a more well-rounded tight end that’s more adept in the blocking game, and given that new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski heavily employs the tight end in his scheme, it made sense for Indianapolis to go with the more complete option.
  • Many members of the Colts‘ scouting staff had positive things to say about seventh-round linebacker Trevor Bates, as Bowen writes in a separate piece. PFR has been posting its own reviews of the AFC South draft classes, with evaluator Dave-Te Thomas providing his expert analysis on each selection. We’ve already taken a look at the Texans, Jaguars, and Titans, and the Colts piece will be coming soon.
  • Mike Mularkey‘s tenure with the Titans will be determined by quarterback Marcus Mariota‘s development, opines Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com. Mularkey was somewhat surprisingly promoted to full-time head coach after taking over as the club’s interim leader midway through the 2015 season. After Mularkey posted poor records in his previous stops with the Bills and Jaguars, many observers thought new general manager Jon Robinson would want to bring in an outside hire at head coach. Instead, Tennessee opted for continuity, likely with an eye on Mariota’s future.
  • The Texans will face some growing pains on offense with new quarterback Brock Osweiler in tow, but Houston’s defense is so spectacular that the club is still in a solid position, writes Mike Wells of ESPN.com. After giving Osweiler $37MM in guaranteed money, the Texans didn’t stop adding to their roster, adding weapons such as Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller to the offense, while solidifying the line by bringing in Jeff Allen and Nick Martin.

Rolando McClain Suspended 10 Games

The Friday afternoon NFL news dump is happening a day early. Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended 10 games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, according to Adam Schefter and Todd Archer of ESPN.com (Twitter link).Rolando McClain

[RELATED: Johnnny Manziel, Sheldon Richardson suspended]

The 10-game ban indicates that McClain has entered stage three of the league’s substance policy for marijuana. McClain missed the first four games of last season while on suspension, so the penalties will keep increasing as McClain continues to fail drug tests. The 26-year-old McClain has dealt with plenty of off-the-field question marks throughout his career, and his free agency earnings have thus been relatively modest. Still, he’s now set to lose about $2.35MM as a result of this latest ban.

In 2015, McClain graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 28 linebacker (subscription required). In his suspension-shortened season, McClain recorded 80 total tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 pass deflections. The former first-round pick had been sitting out Dallas’ team activities while reportedly dealing with a family issue, an occurrence that had apparently caused a minor dispute between owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett.

McClain is the third Cowboys defender to face a multi-game ban for 2016, as defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are scheduled to miss the first four games of the year with their own suspensions — in fact, Archer reports that Lawrence’s appeal has been denied, ensuring that he will in fact be suspended. I recently listed Dallas as a potential landing spot for veteran edge rusher Dwight Freeney, and though he wouldn’t be directly replacing McClain, Freeney could help a Cowboys defense that is now in dire need of talent.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Waive QB Connor Shaw

The Browns have waived quarterback Connor Shaw, as Shaw himself indicated by thanking the organization for his time in Cleveland via Twitter. Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal has since confirmed the move (Twitter link). Because he’s not a vested veteran, Shaw will have to pass through waivers — if he’s not claimed by another club, he’ll become a free agent.Connor Shaw (Vertical)

[RELATED: Updated Cleveland Browns depth chart]

Shaw, who will be 25 years old during the upcoming season, has just one career NFL appearance to his name. He started the final game of the 2014 season for the Browns, completing 14-of-28 pass attempts for 177 yards and one touchdown in a loss to the division rival Ravens. Expected to compete for Cleveland’s No. 3 quarterback job in 2015, Shaw suffered a thumb injury prior to the regular season, and was placed on injured reserve.

The Browns coaching staff and front office have given lip service to an all-out quarterback competition taking place in advance of the regular season, but it still seems overwhelmingly likely that free agent signee Robert Griffin III will take the first snap in Week 1. Veteran Josh McCown is still on the roster, though he’s been the subject of trade speculation, while Cleveland also has Austin Davis and third-round rookie Cody Kessler under contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: First $25MM Player?

Though the period between the end of OTAs and the beginning of training camp is usually relatively quiet — at least, by NFL standards — one of the bigger stories of the past calendar year broke yesterday, as quarterback Andrew Luck agreed to an extension with the Colts that will lock him up through the 2021 season. The details of the pact show that Luck will be extremely well-paid, as he’ll average $24.594MM over the life of the deal; he also received a hefty $47MM in full guarantees and $87MM in injury guarantees.Andrew Luck

But despite those figures, some observers have noted that the contract is a little underwhelming. Luck will be the highest-paid player in the league on an annual basis, but he didn’t set a new record for guarantees. Ndamukong Suh still holds that mark after scoring $60MM fully guaranteed from the Dolphins last season, while Aaron Rodgers is tops among quarterbacks, at $54MM.

Additionally, Luck didn’t break the $25MM per year barrier. Now, that distinction could seem inconsequential — Luck came close, and he’s only $406K per year short. But most expected him to shatter that mark, and the fact that he came up a little light was somewhat surprising. Perhaps it’s simply that fact that we like round numbers, but that $25MM figure seems like the next annual salary that players — more specifically, quarterbacks — will look to attain.

So which signal-caller will be the one to crash through that ceiling? Just this morning, former agent and current CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry argued that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could be the most logical candidate, given that he’s posted comparable statistics to Luck and only has a couple years left on his deal. From my vantage point, Stafford does look like he could reach the $25MM mark because he could opt for a contract with a short length, as he did last time around when he agreed to a three-year extension. Without having to worry about large guarantees on the back end, or a massive signing bonus that could make it untenable to cut Stafford loose down the road, Detroit could be willing to meet $25MM per year.Drew Brees (Vertical)

What about Drew Brees? Yes, the Saints quarterback will be 38 years old when free agency begins next year, but he’s showed no signs of slowing down, and plenty of teams would back up the Brinks truck to lure him in. Kirk Cousins, too, could be a free agent in 2017 if the Redskins don’t use the franchise tag again. Clearly, Cousins isn’t in the same class as Brees, but with the quarterback scarcity around the league, even a merely above-average talent like Cousins can cash in. Rodgers, meanwhile, is signed through the 2019 season, but the Packers could be open to reworking his deal in order to make him the highest-paid QB in the NFL.

It’s always possible that we’ll have to wait until the current crop of young quarterbacks hits free agency before someone cracks the $25MM mark. Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota have all had varying levels of success at the NFL level, and none can even sign an extension yet, but if one of those three truly breaks out in the next few years, they could be looking at a record-breaking deal. Further down the line, rookies such as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch could be in line for hefty contracts, but it won’t probably won’t take until 2018-19 until someone tops $25MM.

A non-quarterback theoretically could cross over the $25MM line, but Suh currently leads all defenders at around $19MM per year, so there’s a long way to go before someone on the defensive side of the ball redefines contracts to that level. Wide receivers, meanwhile, are currently topping out at $15MM, while offensive lineman haven’t even hit $14MM. J.J. Watt, perhaps, could have gotten to $25MM had he hit free agency, but it’s probably going to be a quarterback.

So who will it be? Will Brees hit free agency next year and stun the market with a record-breaking deal? Will a surprising option like Stafford hit $25MM first? Will Rodgers renegotiate his deal? Or will we have to wait for a younger quarterback to sign an extension? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Johnny Manziel, Sheldon Richardson Suspended

Free agent quarterback Johnny Manziel will be suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, according to TMZ. Meanwhile, Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson will miss the 2016 season opener, as the NFL has announced that Richardson will be suspended one game for violating the personal conduct policy.Johnny Manziel (vertical)

The TMZ report specifies that Manziel’s suspension is for substance abuse, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports that Manziel will be subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy if he returns to the league. Manziel was involved in a domestic violence incident with his ex-girlfriend earlier this year, and is thought to be the subject of an NFL investigation. Earlier this week, Manziel’s father spoke out about his son, labeling him a “druggie” and indicating that he needs help and rehabilitation.

Clearly, this suspension only adds to any reluctance a club would have when considering signing Manziel. Manziel does need to be on an NFL roster to serve the ban — in other words, even if he signs in Week 5, he’ll still have to sit out four games. But if he doesn’t return to the league in 2016 (which at this point seems likely), the suspension will not roll over to 2017, according to TMZ. There will be no appeal of the ban, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports (Twitter link), because Manziel has refused to cooperate with the appeals process.

Richardson, meanwhile, avoided jail time for a July 2015 incident in which he was charged with resisting arrest, speeding, and running a red light, but he won’t evade punishment from the NFL. This marks the second suspension for Richarson, who also missed the first four games of last season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The former-first round pick will lose nearly $475K in base salary as a result of the suspension.Sheldon Richardson (vertical)

New York faces the Bengals in Week 1, so the club will have to count on other defensive lineman to compensate for the loss of Richardson. As Roster Resource shows, Gang Green has a solid stable of lineman it can rely on, including last year’s first-round pick Leonard Williams, All Pro Muhammad Wilkerson, and free agent signings Steve McLendon, Jarvis Jenkins, and Shelby Harris, among others.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.