Month: September 2017

Extra Points: Steelers, Hawks, Giants, Chiefs

The oldest defensive player in the NFL, linebacker James Harrison, is reportedly planning to return for his age-39 season in 2017, and the Steelers are interested in bringing back the pending free agent. “Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we’re definitely open to it,” team president Art Rooney II told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday. “And, from what I understand, at least he’s open to it.” Despite his advanced age, Harrison led the Steelers in sacks (five) in his 14th NFL season and became the franchise’s all-time leader in that category (79.5).

Regardless of whether Harrison’s career continues with the Steelers, they’ll prioritize upgrading their pass rush this offseason, Rooney indicated. “That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on,” said Rooney, whose club finished ninth in sacks and 15th in quarterback hurries in 2016.

Elsewhere around the league…

  • The Seahawks made a contract offer to pending free agent tight end Luke Willson, but it wasn’t “extremely serious” and he “didn’t really respond to it,” the 27-year-old told KJR-AM 950 (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). Willson also revealed that, although his preference is to re-sign with the Seahawks, he’s “excited” about the chance to test the open market. While Willson hasn’t put up gaudy numbers in his four-year Seattle career (74 catches, 976 yards and seven touchdowns in 56 games), he could have a case for a significant payday. As Condotta notes, Willson has similar numbers to San Francisco’s Vance McDonald (64 receptions, 866 yards, seven TDs in 48 games), who landed an extension featuring $16MM in guarantees in December. The Seahawks already have one expensive tight end in Jimmy Graham, who’s due a $7.9MM salary next season.
  • A subpar season – not to mention the $2.5MM in cap savings that would accompany his release – could cost running back Rashad Jennings his place on the Giants’ roster, but he expects to return in 2017. “I’ve got one more year on my contract, and I’ve got a lot to prove. I look forward to doing it in New York again,” the soon-to-be 32-year-old told James Kratch of NJ Advance Media. Jennings, who averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per rush on 181 carries in 2016, added that he and head coach Ben McAdoo had a “very upbeat” exit meeting.
  • Chiefs long snapper James Winchester‘s contract extension is a five-year, $4.45MM pact featuring $500K in guarantees and a $500K roster bonus for 2017, reports Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Winchester can also earn $10K in workout bonuses for every year of the deal.
  • Free agent linebacker Justin Tuggle worked out for the Raiders, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The son of longtime NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle spent 2013-15 in Houston, where he appeared in 42 games and started 11, but didn’t play this season after he was unable to survive the Browns’ final cuts in early September.

NFC Notes: Palmer, 49ers, Saints, Bears

The Cardinals don’t know if quarterback Carson Palmer will return in 2017 for what would be his age-37 season, but one new rumbling on the three-time Pro Bowler could be cause for pessimism. Palmer has put his Arizona home up for sale, pulled his kids out of school and relocated to another state, Mike Jurecki of FOX Sports 910 hears (Twitter link via one of Jurecki’s colleagues, Jody Oehler). But Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has radically different information, tweeting that Palmer has not put his house up for sale. For now, Palmer is under contract through 2018 and set to rake in a $15MM base salary next season.

More from the NFC:

  • The 49ers are suing one of their former stars, Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith, for $341,630.18 in signing bonus money, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. That figure represents the amount of money Smith hasn’t repaid the team since the NFL hit him with a nine-game suspension in 2014, when he was docked $1,186,027 for serving the ban. Despite an arbitrator’s order to repay the 49ers within 30 days, Smith hasn’t done so, thus leading to the lawsuit. The 27-year-old is currently serving another suspension and didn’t play at all this season as a result.
  • The Saints have added Curtis Johnson (wide receivers) and Brad Banta (special teams) to their coaching staff, relays Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. The hiring of Johnson is no surprise, as there was informed speculation Monday that he’d return to New Orleans after rejecting a contract offer to stay in Chicago. Johnson coached the Saints’ receivers from 2006-11, and newly hired Jets offensive coordinator John Morton‘s exit opened to the door for Johnson to rejoin the club. Banta, who was with the Redskins, will take over a Saints special teams unit that ranked 27th in the league in DVOA this season.
  • Bears director of player development Jerry Butler has retired, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. The former wide receiver took the job in 2015, and he focused on helping the Bears’ young players adjust to the NFL during his two-year stint. Butler was a popular figure among the Bears’ youngsters – including standout rookie Leonard Floyd – per Biggs.
  • In what will be yet another Bears departure, assistant special teams coach Richard Hightower is set to leave Chicago to become the 49ers’ ST coach under soon-to-be head coach Kyle Shanahan, tweets Sporting News’ Alex Marvez. Shanahan and Hightower were college teammates at the University of Texas, and they have since worked together on coaching staffs in Houston, Washington and Cleveland. Hightower’s tenure in San Francisco will be his second – he was its assistant ST coach in 2015.

Minor NFL Transactions: 1/31/17

Tuesday’s minor moves:

Reserve/Futures Contracts

Baltimore Ravens

  • DB Otha Foster
  • LB Boseko Lokombo

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Quincy McDuffie
  • WR Uzoma Nwachukwu

ERFA Re-Signing

Pittsburgh Steelers

Browns Will Try To Acquire Jimmy Garoppolo

The Browns are on track to enter this year’s draft with the first and 12th picks, two places where they could select their next starting quarterback, but their signal-caller of the future might already be in the NFL. The club has real interest in Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo and will attempt to swing a trade for the 25-year-old this offseason, reports Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.

Jimmy Garoppolo

AFC champion New England, which is set under center with the 39-year-old Tom Brady, is reportedly open to moving Garoppolo in the coming months. The Patriots could request at least a first- and fourth-round pick for Garoppolo, whose rookie contract will expire after next season.

For the Browns, acquiring Garoppolo would likely mean parting with the 12th selection, where they were supposedly set to zero in on national championship-winning Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. However, Watson’s decision to skip last week’s Senior Bowl may have hurt his standing with the Browns, who specifically asked him to play.

In addition to surrendering at least one high-round draft choice for Garoppolo, the team that acquires the three-year veteran would have to award him a hefty contract extension, writes Joel Corry of CBS Sports. The likelihood is that Garoppolo would want a deal similar to the four-year, $72MM pact (including $37MM) in guarantees the Texans gave ex-Broncos backup Brock Osweiler in free agency last winter.

While signing Osweiler has blown up in the Texans’ faces, Garoppolo’s limited sample of playing time has been far more impressive than Osweiler’s was with Denver. Garoppolo began the season as New England’s starter because of Brady’s four-game Deflategate ban, and he completed 42 of 59 passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in wins over the Cardinals and Dolphins. The second game was Garoppolo’s last start of the year – and perhaps his Pats tenure – as he suffered a sprained AC joint on a hit from Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso and sat out for the remainder of Brady’s suspension.

Even though Garoppolo would likely fetch a quality return via trade this offseason, the Patriots could be inclined to keep him, observes Corry. As great as Brady is, he’ll turn 41 in 2018 – the same year in which Garoppolo is slated to become a free agent – meaning the Patriots could elect to retain the understudy to guard against the elder’s potential decline. That would mean either placing the franchise tag on Garoppolo or handing him a short-term contract worth “top backup money” (as much as $12MM per year, including incentives). It could help the Pats’ cause that their rapport with Garoppolo’s representatives at Yee & Dubin Sports is “excellent,” per Corry.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chip Kelly Legit OC Candidate For Falcons

Just over a week after the Falcons expressed interest in having Chip Kelly become their next offensive coordinator, the former Eagles and 49ers head coach has emerged as a “legitimate candidate” to land the role, reports Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kelly would take over for Kyle Shanahan, who will replace Kelly as the 49ers’ head coach after the Falcons take on the Patriots in Super Bowl LI this Sunday.

Chip Kelly (vertical)

The fact that there aren’t any other proven offensive coordinator candidates on the market makes Kelly a viable option for Atlanta, Schultz notes. Long an offensive guru, the 53-year-old Kelly would inherit an enviable collection of talent in Atlanta, whose attack has laid waste to opposing defenses this season. The Matt Ryan-, Julio Jones– and Devonta Freeman-led unit topped the NFL in both scoring and DVOA during the regular season, and it has combined for 78 points in playoff wins over the Seahawks and Packers.

Kelly is known for running a fast-paced offense, which helped lead to his downfall in both Philadelphia and San Francisco, but the ex-Oregon head coach’s NFL failures have “humbled” him, according to Schultz. As a result, Kelly is willing to slow things down, which he’d have to do in order to accommodate the Falcons’ offensive weapons and make life easier on the team’s defense.

Shanahan, meanwhile, won’t be able to take any significant members of head coach Dan Quinn‘s staff with him to San Francisco. The Falcons will prevent him from pilfering the likes of assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Raheem Morris, running backs coach Bobby Turner and offensive line coach Chris Morgan, a source told Schultz. However, offensive assistants Mike McDaniel, Mike LaFleur and Matt LaFleur could end up with Shanahan’s 49ers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Raiders’ Future: Vegas, Oakland, SD

After casino magnate Sheldon Adelson scrapped his plan to commit $650MM toward a $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas for the Raiders on Monday, there was a report that Goldman Sachs might also bail because of its relationship with Adelson. It turns out that will be the case. The investment firm will not help the Raiders finance a stadium without the 83-year-old Adelson’s involvement, a source told Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times (Twitter link).

Mark Davis

Goldman Sachs was supposed to be the Raiders’ fallback option in the event of Adelson’s withdrawal. Not having either could be a death blow to the franchise’s hopes of relocating to Las Vegas. With neither around to aid the Raiders, staying in Oakland for the long haul could become a more realistic scenario than it was was previously.

Raiders owner Mark Davis hasn’t been amenable to the joint stadium proposal that the city of Oakland and the Ronnie Lott-fronted Fortress Group have put forth, but the deal isn’t without merit, as CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora writes. The city would set aside 130 acres of land for a stadium and handle all the taxes associated with it, per La Canfora, who adds that the NFL would chip in $300MM. Another $300MM to $400MM would come from Fortress (plus whatever else is necessary to complete construction) toward a stadium to replace the outdated Oakland Coliseum. Fortress would also perhaps want an ownership stake in the Raiders – something Davis is not open to giving out – but there could be other ways for him to “make them whole,” according to La Canfora.

Lott’s group issued a hopeful statement Tuesday in the wake of the Adelson news, saying (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk): “We stand ready to work with the team and NFL to keep the Raiders here at home. We have the land available at the existing Coliseum site following the actions of the City of Oakland and Alameda County last December. We have a strong financing partner in Fortress Investment Group. We have an additional $100 million due to the NFL incentive to keep the Raiders in Oakland. And of course, we have the best fans in the world right here in the heart of Raider Nation. Add to all that a diverse and fast growing community, a top 10 television market, and more Fortune 500 companies than any region in the western United States. Bottom line, if the Raiders want to stay in Oakland, we are more than ready to be a partner in making that happen.”

If Davis can’t make things work in either Vegas or Oakland, the suddenly Chargers-less city of San Diego could quickly regain entry into the league. Mayor Kevin Faulconer reached out to the NFL on Tuesday to let the league know it’s interested in the Oakland franchise, while another San Diego official at least made an attempt to contact the Raiders, but it’s unknown if the two sides spoke, reports Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

San Diego’s plan to erect a stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise could help its cause in landing the Raiders, relays Acee, who notes that the proposal “sets aside a 16-acre parcel specifically for an NFL stadium” to replace Qualcomm Stadium. Further, Davis “loves” the city and might be more flexible in negotiations to build a facility there than Chargers owner Dean Spanos was. It’s also worth noting that the league didn’t want to lose the San Diego market, as the Chargers’ relocation left commissioner Roger Goodell “disappointed” and owners “very upset.” Those same parties haven’t been overly enthusiastic regarding the prospect of the Raiders playing in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the United States.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Expect Ben Roethlisberger To Return

Although quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinted last week that he may have thrown his last NFL pass, Steelers president Art Rooney II expects the five-time Pro Bowler to return in 2017.

Ben Roethlisberger

“I talked to Ben and we had a good conversation,” Rooney told reporters, including Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on Tuesday. “I think he’s at that stage in his career that those are thought I think you have. I personally expect that he’ll be back, but that’s going to be his decision.”

With the offseason approaching, the Steelers unsurprisingly want an answer from the 34-year-old Roethlisberger sooner than later, per Rooney, who noted that “if he decided to retire, that would modify our plans greatly.” Even if Roethlisberger comes back for a 14th year, the Steelers seem intent on drafting a quarterback – something they haven’t done since they selected pending free agent Landry Jones in the fourth round in 2013.

“In terms of just going forward, look, I think the quarterback position is a position you have to make sure you have some depth there, and we haven’t drafted a quarterback for several years, and we’re probably due to look at the position,” stated Rooney.

Pittsburgh is slated to pick seven times – including 30th overall – in this year’s draft, which might feature one of the worst quarterback classes in recent memory. But regardless of who lines up under center for the Steelers in the coming years, he’ll likely have superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown in the fold as his No. 1 target. While Brown has caused some issues behind the scenes, the four-time 100-catch man is “certainly a player that we would like to have on the team for a while,” per Rooney. Brown is scheduled to enter a contract year, but the Steelers could make him the league’s highest-paid wideout via an extension sometime this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins To Re-Sign Junior Galette

Pending free agent defensive end Junior Galette will re-sign with the Redskins, he announced Tuesday on Instagram. Gallette’s contract will become official Wednesday, per Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com.

Junior Galette (vertical)

It will presumably be a third straight one-year pact for Galette, who inked deals with the Redskins in each of the previous two offseasons. However, injuries have prevented the former Saint from playing a single down with Washington thus far. Galette, 28, has torn his Achilles on two separate occasions – once in August 2015 and again last July – thereby stunting a promising career.

Before signing with the Redskins in 2015, Galette racked up 31.5 sacks in five seasons with the Saints. The bulk of those sacks (22), as well as four of his five career forced fumbles, came during his final two years in New Orleans.

Galette’s career-high 12-sack showing in 2013 led the Saints to sign him to a four-year, $41.5MM extension. However, they cut him a year later because of unbecoming off-field behavior – including a domestic violence incident – and had to eat a significant amount of dead money as a result. The NFL handed Galette a two-game suspension in 2015 on account of his domestic violence violation, though it didn’t actually cost him any playing time because he was already on the shelf.

If Galette bounces back from an injury-plagued two years to make the Redskins’ roster in 2017, he’ll attempt to boost a defense that finished this season ninth in sacks but just 25th in DVOA.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Hire Saints’ John Morton As OC

The Jets officially announced that they are hiring former Saints wide receivers coach John Morton as their new offensive coordinator. He’ll take over the post vacated by veteran coach Chan Gailey.

Morton and former Texans OC George Godsey were the two finalists for this position, and although Godsey offered OC experience, Morton was coming off a banner year coaching New Orleans’ receivers. The Saints led the NFL in total offense and generated constant production from their wideouts, including UDFA Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas.

Morton’s past with Sean Payton, willingness to use the West Coast offense, and plans to fully utilize the tight end position caught Todd Bowles‘ attention, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets. Jets tight ends under Gailey produced historically unproductive numbers with just 26 receptions combined during his tenure. Meanwhile, Bowles is expected to be more involved with the offense in 2017 than he was in the previous two seasons.

At one point, the Jets were potentially leaning toward Godsey, having done “extensive homework” on the former Texans assistant. The Jets also considered eventual Broncos OC Mike McCoy and interviewed current McCoy staffer Eric Studesville before the Denver running backs coach withdrew from consideration. The Eagles put the kibosh on a Jets meeting with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo as well.

Morton served as OC at USC from 2009-11, but has no prior play-calling experience in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings 2.0

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams, the offseason is already underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the early January edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

Free Agent Power Rankings 2 (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): Cousins may not be the best player on this list, but he will come away with the most guaranteed money of any free agent this offseason. Quarterbacks are perpetually in high demand and short supply and as a result Cousins could become one of the league’s three highest paid signal callers. Because Washington has already used the franchise tag on Cousins, a repeat would cost them a whopping $23.94MM for 2017. The belief is that Cousins is seeking that $23.94MM number as an AAV goal. There has been talk of the Redskins shopping their star QB, but the team has since publicly stated its intention of locking him up to a long-term dealKirk Cousins (vertical)

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Jones has been an absolute stud ever since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2012. If we go by the numbers at Pro Football Focus, 2016 was actually Jones’ best year to date. This past season, he finished out with a strong 87.4 overall score, tying him for seventh amongst all edge rushers with Houston’s Whitney Mercilus. In the previous four seasons with New England, Jones averaged a 79.38 on PFF. Every team could use a sack machine like Jones, but coach Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. He’s technically ticketed for unrestricted free agency, but it doesn’t sound like Jones is going anywhere.

3. Kawann Short, DT (3): Unlike former teammate Josh Norman, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short says he won’t have any problem signing the franchise tender if the team tags him. “I wouldn’t fight it or anything,” said Short in early January. In 2016, he turned in his fourth straight 16-game season and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best interior defender. Short, 28 this week, also had six sacks on the year. I think the Panthers would be wise to hit Short with the ~$13.468MM franchise tag or sign him to a long-term deal, but there is at least a non-trivial chance of him reaching the open market.

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