North Rumors: Browns, Villanueva, Vikings

Ryan Grigson will be working on a much lower level with the Browns than he did during his five seasons as the Colts’ GM, but his new employer wants to get the longtime exec back to what he’s believed to do best. The Browns are going to deploy Grigson as a “super scout” of sorts, with Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting the team believes that is Grigson’s biggest strength. Grigson worked as an NFL scout with the Rams and Eagles from 1999-2009 before becoming Philadelphia’s director of player personnel in 2010. Pluto notes the 45-year-old Grigson will scout pro and college players and travel to schools to gauge talent in his new role, one that will feature him reporting to former Colts subordinate Andrew Berry.

Here’s more out of Cleveland and some other northern NFL cities.

  • The Browns’ contract talks with Isaiah Crowell have stalled for the time being, per Pluto. But the Browns are expected to revisit discussions about an extension for their starting running back “at some point.” Crowell signed his second-round RFA tender earlier this month and as his contract year approaches is in position for a possible career campaign. The Browns devoted considerable resources to upgrading their offensive line this offseason, signing Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, and extending Joel Bitonio. Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushing for 952 on a 1-15 team, so the 24-year-old back could be in line to enhance his value with a strong 2017.
  • Returning Browns tackles leader Christian Kirksey also profiles as player the team wants to extend, Pluto notes, hearing extension talks between the team and the linebacker are progressing. The former third-round pick is moving from inside linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 look to the 4-3 weak-side ‘backer, but he should retain a three-down role alongside Jamie Collins. Kirksey’s 143 stops last season were nearly 50 more than the second-best Browns tackler, and the emerging player is entering a contract year.
  • Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t signed his Steelers ERFA tender yet. As it stands now, Pittsburgh’s left tackle starter would be paid $615K this season. Villanueva profiles as an interesting case, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, noting the 28-year-old former Army Ranger is attending Carnegie-Mellon business school and could have options if an NFL career doesn’t unfold to his liking. Fowler also notes the Steelers won’t be keen on giving Villanueva more than high-end right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who makes $6.1MM per year. While the Steelers are in commanding position here due to ERFAs’ lack of leverage, Villaneuva obviously saw the going rate for steady tackles rise this offseason. The Steelers were working to extend their third-year left tackle starter in February, but Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the sides aren’t progressing on an extension. Gilbert believes Villanueva is “very deserving” of a new deal.
  • Jerick McKinnon has largely been forgotten in the Vikings‘ backfield competition this offseason, but the fourth-year back remains on the roster and has added some weight to his lighter (for an NFL running back) frame. The 5-foot-9 McKinnon bulked up to 211 pounds from 200 this offseason, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That said, the Vikes signed Latavius Murray and used a second-round pick on Dalvin Cook. It’s likely McKinnon — a former college quarterback — will be the No. 3 back.
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