January 31st, 2018 at 10:02pm CST by Dallas Robinson
According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.
If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $1.908MM in 2018. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.
Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2018 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:
January 31st, 2018 at 9:19pm CST by Dallas Robinson
The Ravens auditioned free agent quarterback Ryan Nassib on Wednesday, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Nassib, a former fourth-round pick, spent four years as Eli Manning‘s backup in New York, but attempted only 10 total passes during that time. After hitting free agency last spring, Nassib initially signed with the Saints, but was quickly released. Another one-year deal, this time with the Jaguars, ended in the same fashion, and Nassib spent the majority of the 2017 campaign unsigned. Baltimore, meanwhile, only has two quarterbacks under contract for 2018: starter Joe Flacco, and former undrafted free agent Josh Woodrum, who signed a futures deal earlier this month.
Here’s more from around the NFL:
Although the Jaguars exceed nearly everyone’s expectations by advancing to the AFC Championship Game, they could still do a bit of salary cap work this offseason to trim their 2018 obligations, as Mike Kaye of First Coast News writes. Perhaps the most obvious cap casualty is expected to be running back Chris Ivory, who managed 112 carries behind Leonard Fournette last season. While Ivory is scheduled to count for nearly $7MM next year, Jacksonville could release him and save $3.25MM. Wide receiver Allen Hurns ($7MM cap charge) is another candidate to be cut, but Kaye notes that Hurns’ status as a team leader could lead the Jaguars to approach him with a reworked contract.
The Titans have formally announced another wave of coaching hires, and although some of the moves had already been reported, a few hires on new head coach Mike Vrabel‘s staff had yet to be noted. Former assistant special teams coach Craig Aukerman has been promoted to the full-time role, while Tennessee has opted to retain tight ends coach Arthur Smith. Furthermore, the Titans have hired former Dolphins defensive line coach Terrell Williams for the same position, reports Alex Marvez of the Sporting News. Williams had led Miami’s front four since 2015, and will now work with a Tennessee unit that ranked among the top half of the NFL in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate.
The Seahawks have hired Jethro Franklin as their new assistant defensive line coach, as Marvez details. Franklin spent one season (1989) as a player for Seattle, but has worked as a coach since 1991. Boasting a plethora of collegiate and NFL experience, Franklin has served as the defensive line coach for Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and, most recently, Oakland. He won’t be the primary D-line coach with the Seahawks, but he’ll undoubtedly be an asset to Seattle defensive line coach Clint Hurtt.
January 31st, 2018 at 8:32pm CST by Dallas Robinson
The Patriots are optimistic tight end Rob Gronkowski will be fully recovered from his concussion in time to play in the Super Bowl, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link). Indeed, New England is game-planning as though Gronkowski will be available against the Eagles. Gronk did not wear a red non-contact jersey during practice today (as he previously had), tweets Doug Kyed of NESN, another positive development as the Patriots prepare for Sunday. Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady wore only black tape on his injured right hand during Wednesday’s practice, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Brady’s hand injury didn’t seem to affect him in the AFC Championship Game, and likely won’t have an effect on his Super Bowl performance.
Here’s more from the AFC East:
Pending free agent corner Malcolm Butler said he “without a doubt” wants to return to the Patriots in 2018, reports James Palmer of NFL.com (Twitter link). Butler, 27, had an up-and-down season on the field, and was repeatedly involved in trade rumors during the preseason and during the 2017 campaign. New England engaged in Butler trade conversations with the Saints throughout the summer, and were reportedly open to dealing the former Super Bowl hero near the trade deadline. While the two sides could theoretically reach an agreement before the start of free agency, negotiations were never expected to take place until the season concluded.
The Patriotssigned linebacker James Harrison in late December after he was released by the Steelers, and the veteran edge rusher today offered more details about his departure from Pittsburgh, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Per Harrsison, the Steelers promised him 20-25% playtime, but he ended up seeing action on only 40 defensive plays, which amounts to roughly four percent. Fed up with his lack of a defined role, Harrison says he asked Pittsburgh three times to be traded before he was ultimately cut. The 39-year-old former Defensive Player of the Year has racked up two sacks in four games with New England.
The Jets worked out Canadian Football League star wideout Luke Tasker on Wednesday, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com. Tasker, the son of former NFL Pro Bowler and current broadcaster Steve Tasker, set career-highs with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017 by posting 104 receptions for 1,167 yards and seven touchdowns. He worked out for the Packers in 2014, but reportedly passed on a Green Bay offer to sign an extension with Hamilton.
January 31st, 2018 at 7:27pm CST by Dallas Robinson
In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Houston Texans, who finished 4-12 after posting a 9-7 record for three consecutive seasons.
Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for CB Kevin Johnson
1) Rebuild the offensive line: The Texans’ porous offensive line didn’t play a role in rookie sensation Deshaun Watson‘s torn ACL, as the first-year quarterback suffered the non-contact injury during a practice session. However, if Houston wants to protect its investment under center for the long-term, the club needs to do something about its front five, which ranked among the league’s worst and traded away its best player — left tackle Duane Brown — at midseason.
Nearly every individual and team metric was down on the Texans’ offensive line in 2017. Football Outsiders ranked the unit 20th in adjusted line yards and 30th in adjusted sack rate, while Houston finished dead last in pressure rate allowed. The club allowed 54 sacks (second-most in the NFL), while no Texans offensive lineman received a grade greater than 45 (on a 100-point scale) from Pro Football Focus. Players such as Breno Giacomini, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Greg Mancz, Jeff Allen, and Chris Clark — none of which are household names — garnered at least 45% playtime in what became a lost Houston season.
As such, the Texans are looking at a complete offseason revamp of their front five: Giacomini, Su’a-Filo, and Clark are all free agents and don’t figure to attract much interest, while Mancz is a restricted free agent and Allen is a candidate for his release. However, Houston will have to do nearly all of its offensive line rebuilding through free agency, as the 2018 draft lacks impact lineman (and the Texans don’t own a first- or second-round pick, anyway).
The free agent tackle class doesn’t offer many special options, either, but Texans head coach Bill O’Brien‘s Patriots connections could make Houston a player for Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, or LaAdrian Waddle. Solder is clearly the prize among that group, and given that he’s far and away the best blindside protector on the open market, Houston would have to outbid several other clubs in order to land him. With nearly $60MM in cap space, the Texans have the ability to do just that, but Fleming and/or Waddle could also be viable solutions at cheaper cost.
The only other free agent tackles worth considering are the Giants’ Justin Pugh and the Steelers’ Chris Hubbard, but each come with concerns. Pugh has generally played guard and right tackle at the NFL level, so he could be stretched if asked to play on the left side full-time, while Hubbard had never started more than four games before last season. Other free agents at the tackle position include Greg Robinson, Donald Stephenson, Garry Gilliam, and Andre Smith, none of which would represent significant upgrades over the Texans’ current line.
Unrestricted free agency isn’t flush with left tackles, but the Texans could take an unorthodox approach and pursue Redskins restricted free agent Ty Nsekhe. Nsekhe isn’t a conventional pickup, as he’ll turn 33 years old during the 2018 season and has started only 11 games during the course of his career. But Nsekhe was incredibly successful as a fill-in for Trent Williams in 2016, and Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus told me last spring that Nsekhe has the “kind of power and athletic mix that makes him a fit for any scheme.” Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com, meanwhile, called Nsekhe a “good North/South run-blocker” who is “athletic enough to contribute in an outside zone game.”
One other tackle who could potentially help Houston is already on the club’s roster: Derek Newtontore both patella tendons in October 2016 and hasn’t been on the field since, and while there’s been no recent update on his health, Newton was reportedly optimistic at this time last year that he’d be able to play again at some point. Medical professionals have called Newton’s injury a “once-every five year” outcome, so there’s no guarantee Newton will ever return, let alone play at the same level. The Texans have more information than the general public on Newton’s status, and their offseason moves at right tackle should reflect their opinion of his health.
While Houston may not be able to use free agency to pick up a starting tackle, the team should make hay in the free agent guard market, which offers more serviceable options. Andrew Norwell figures to land the largest contract among the group, and the Texans should be interested, as signing the former Panther would allow the club to correct its mistake in signing Allen two years ago. Weston Richburg could be another interesting addition, although his presence would force Houston to move either him or incumbent center Nick Martin to guard.
Other guard/centers that could require multi-year contracts include Josh Kline (Titans), Jack Mewhort (Colts), and Ryan Jensen (Ravens), but the Texans could also ink a few older players to one-year pacts in an effort to solidify their front five. Given Watson’s cheap contract and the overall weakness of the AFC South, Houston should try to compete immediately, so signing veterans for a single-season run isn’t the worst idea. Among the candidates for such a deal could be Brandon Fusco, Matt Slauson, Alex Boone, or Jahri Evans.
2) Bolster the secondary: The Texans were still in the mix for cornerback A.J. Bouye in the spring of 2017, but eventually lost him to the division-rival Jaguars after not using the franchise tender. Granted, Houston entered last offseason with only $25MM in cap space, so the club didn’t have unlimited funds to use on re-signing Bouye, but his absence was felt last year. None of Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, nor Kevin Johnson played well, and the Texans ranked 24th, 30th, and 24th in DVOA against No. 1, No. 2, and slot receivers, respectively. Overall, Houston surrendered the second-most passing touchdowns and yards per attempt in the NFL in 2017.
Joseph (33) and Jackson (29) aren’t part of the Texans’ long-term plans, and neither may be on the team’s roster next season. Joseph is a free agent, and given his recent lack of production, it probably doesn’t make sense for Houston to re-sign him. According to the 2018 Pro Football Focus Free Agent Guide, Joseph ranked 88th among 126 qualified corners with a 99.1 passer rating last year, and finished 105th in yards allowed per coverage snap (1.45). Jackson also struggled in 2017, and given that the Texans can save $6.75MM by cutting him in the coming weeks, he could be a cap casualty.Read more
More likely, the Texans will be forced to turn to the free agent market to land a cornerback, so after the team (hopefully) spends on an offensive tackle, it should use its remaining funds on a secondary upgrade. The most obvious candidate for Houston will be Patriots’ corner Malcolm Butler: not only do O’Brien’s New England connections once again come into play, but there was at least some indication the Texans pursued Butler via trade in 2017. Butler will surely be expensive, and will likely be looking for at least $14MM in annual salary and $25-30MM in full guarantees. But he’s capable of shadowing opposing No. 1 wide receivers and would instantly become Houston’s best corner, so the Texans should seriously consider Butler as a free agent addition.
Butler and the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson are the clear top options on the open market, but the free agent corner class is also well-stocked with mid-tier defenders. E.J. Gaines played well after being dealt to Buffalo a season ago and would become a sensible, medium-cost defensive back on the Texans’ roster. Rashaan Melvin (Colts), Bashaud Breeland (Redskins), Vontae Davis (Colts), Morris Claiborne (Jets), and Kyle Fuller (Bears) could all make varying levels of sense for Houston at varying levels of price — Fuller, a former first-round pick, could be a solid addition for the Texans given his age and recent production, but there could be a concern that he reverts to his pre-2017 level of play.
If the Texans (unwisely) believe they can get by with Jackson and Johnson as their starting outside cornerbacks in 2018, they could target a shutdown slot corner to further augment their defensive backfield. If Houston chooses that route, it will have plenty of options on the free agent market. Patrick Robinson was one of the best one-year signings in the NFL last season, and he’ll complete an excellent campaign by playing in the Super Bowl with the Eagles on Sunday. Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, and Nickell Robey-Coleman are among the other corners who could help the Texans when they’re in sub packages.
One other cornerback who could be of interest to Houston is Aqib Talib, whom the Broncos will reportedly attempt to trade this offseason. It probably doesn’t make sense for the Texans to try and swing a deal with Denver, as Houston has already given up enough of its draft picks in recent years. However, some general mangers believe Talib will be released in the coming weeks, at which point, the Texans should make a strong effort to sign him. Despite the Broncos’ willingness to part ways, Talib is still a shutdown cornerback, as he ranked third in yards allowed per pass attempt, 15th in PFF’s CB grades, and 18th in success rate.
3) Add depth on the edge: Watson’s torn ACL effectively ended the Texans’ season in early November, but a month earlier, Houston had lost two of its top three three edge defenders — J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus — to season-ending injuries. The Texans ranked sixth in defensive DVOA through Week 5 (the week Watt and Mercilus went down), but finished the year as the No. 23 defense by the same metric. Without Watt and Mercilus around, no Houston edge defender besides Jadeveon Clowney played more than 30% of the club’s snaps, as the Texans were forced to use a rotation that included Brennan Scarlett, Ufomba Kamalu, and Gimel President.
There’s no doubt Watt is a superstar and possibly the best defender in the league when healthy, but he’s now missed the majority of the past two seasons. Another injury to Watt, Mercilus, or even Clowney won’t be tenable for the Texans if they run out the same cast of backups in 2018, so the club should seek to bring in competent front seven depth this offseason. Houston ranked eighth in adjusted line yards allowed but just 21st in adjusted sack rate a year ago, so new general manager Brian Gaine should focus on free agent options that have the ability to get after opposing quarterbacks.
With a reminder that we’re looking for depth options (not starters), the Texans could focus on free agents such as Adrian Clayborn, Kony Ealy, Courtney Upshaw, or Sam Acho, but Junior Galette could make the most sense for Houston. Although he dealt with several Achilles injuries from 2015-16, Galette was able to manage a 11.9 pass rush productivity mark from PFF, good for No. 15 in the NFL. He wasn’t used all that much in Washington last season (just 407 snaps), but that’s a sign Galette can be productive even when deployed sparingly. The 29-year-old Galette shouldn’t require more than a one-year deal, and could make for a perfect reserve behind Watt & Co.
The 49ers’ Aaron Lynch could be on several teams’ radars this offseason, but the Texans could make him a priority given his natural edge talent. Lynch hasn’t been able to fully break out over the past few years in the Bay Area, but working with Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as a sub package pass rusher could be just what the doctor ordered. Looking at veterans, the Texans could allow Erik Walden to continue his tour of the AFC South by inking him to a cheap deal. Although he’s now 32 years old, Walden managed 21 pressures on only 332 pass rushing snaps with Tennessee in 2017.
Adding a rookie edge rusher (and thus, reaping the benefits of a four-year rookie contract) should be another focal point for the Texans, and there are several players who could be in play for Houston in the middle rounds. Florida State’s Josh Sweat managed 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, and Luke Easterling of USA Today says Sweat has “natural athletic ability” and room to grow. Dorance Armstrong Jr. (Kansas), meanwhile, only posted two sacks after securing 10 in 2016, but he offers versatility that could be intriguing to the Texans in Round 4 or 5.
January 31st, 2018 at 6:33pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Although he didn’t appear in the NFL in 2017 after being released by the Bears in September, veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz doesn’t intend to retire, according to Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com.
“I’m going to give it one more shot and see what’s out there, see what’s in the market for me and if I can get into anybody’s camp,” said Cruz. “If not, we’ll see where it goes after that and take the necessary steps.”
Cruz, 31, inked a one-year, $2MM deal with Chicago last offseason that contained a $500K signing bonus, but that guarantee didn’t prevent the Bears from cutting the former undrafted free agent just prior to the start of the regular season. Cruz later lobbied the Giants — who had recently lost Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, and Sterling Shepard to injury — to re-sign him, but New York never expressed any interest in a reunion.
“Naturally, I was surprised [that the Giants didn’t call], being that I knew the offense and was just there a few months ago at that point,” Cruz said. “I was a little bit surprised just as a normal human being just as everybody else I came across was surprised as they (said) to me everywhere I go.”
Cruz, of course, was highly successful during his run with the G-Men, and averaged 80 receptions 1,209 yards, and eight touchdowns per season from 2011-13. Since that time, however, injuries have made Cruz a shell of himself, and he’s failed to top 40 receptions or 600 yards over the past four years.
January 31st, 2018 at 5:44pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Here are the latest reserve/futures contract signings from around the NFL. These deals will go into effect on the first day of the 2018 league year, with players joining their respective clubs’ offseason 90-man rosters:
Arizona acquired Peterson from the Saints in October for the price of a 2018 sixth-round pick, and installed him as its starting running back in the absence of superstar David Johnson. Peterson, who will turn 33 years old in March, managed 3.5 yards per carry on 129 rushes and scored twice in the desert. However, he was among the least effective backs in the league: Football Outsiders ranked Peterson 46th among 47 running backs in both DYAR and DVOA, metrics which measure overall and per-play value, respectively.
With Johnson expected back from injury in 2018, Peterson wouldn’t have been handling many carries, which makes his $2.881MM cap charge relatively untenable. The Cardinals’ new coaching staff may have also played a role in Peterson’s ouster, as former head coach Bruce Arians had said the future Hall of Famer would be part of Arizona’s 2018 plans. However, new head coach Steve Wilks and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy may have had other ideas, and presumably believe they can find a cheaper — or more effective — backup running back.
Peterson has already stated that he intends to continue his career in 2018, so he’ll be looking for work after he hits the free agent market. While it may be a bit early to speculate on potential destinations, the Patriots, Seahawks, and Giants all expressed interest in Peterson before he signed with New Orleans last year. Additionally, the Ravens reportedly discussed trading for Peterson before the Saints shipped him to Arizona.
The latest of many updates regarding the Browns‘ preference for their No. 1 pick runs indicates John Dorsey may have an issue with Baker Mayfield‘s height. While it’s uncertain if the Heisman Trophy winner’s 6-foot frame will be a deal-breaker, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports hears from a source close to the Browns the new Cleveland GM prefers size in quarterbacks (Twitter link). That and off-field baggage will work against Mayfield, who is slotted by most as a high first-round performer but someone who won’t likely be the Browns’ choice. Hue Jackson‘s on the same page about the size issue. Robinson previously reported Dorsey, though, is a fan of Mayfield’s competitive streak and was zeroing in on he or USC’s Sam Darnold. ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Josh Allen going to the Browns at No. 1, and Josh Rosen is generally regarded as the readiest pro prospect. So, the Browns — who wanted Alex Smithto mentor their to-be-determined prospect — will have a complex decision to make.
Here’s the latest from the North divisions.
Now that the Browns missed out on another trade target, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer mentions Kirk Cousins will warrant consideration. The Browns were planning on signing or trading for a bridge quarterback while their No. 1 pick learns but now could be in the Cousins mix. However, Cleveland’s status after two historically woeful years could derail this. Cousins has said he’s going to value a winning situation, and the Browns are about the furthest thing away from being classified as such. It would seem odd a team that’s at this stage of the rebuilding process would consider Cousins rather than a rookie, but the Browns ($100MM-plus in space) have the money to enter the fray. Cabot notes the Browns will likely know if they’ll have a shot at Cousins before the tampering period begins, and if he’s not interested, they will move on to bridge-type veterans, mentioning Chase Daniel or a Josh McCown reunion as options.
Like everyone else in the stellar 2014 first-round class, Anthony Barr is still attached to his rookie contract. However, the Vikings outside linebacker wants to sign an extension, and Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes the team is expected to try to sign Barr by the time training camp opens. “I love it here,” Barr said, via Tomasson. “Absolutely. I really love my teammates. I really love this team. I love the city. I could see myself being here for the future.” Jamie Collins‘ $12.5MM-per-year pact paces 4-3 outside ‘backers presently, but Barr could poised to (sorry) raise the bar here. No other player in this role makes more per year than Telvin Smith‘s $11.1MM pact, so it’s a near-certainty Barr’s re-up will come in above that. The Vikings extended Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen in 2017. A Barr agreement would be logical to follow this offseason.
Former Lions center Dominic Raiola played the Bears on numerous occasions. Chicago will now dip into the family for coaching help, hiring younger brother Donovan Raiola to be its assistant offensive line coach, per Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Donovan Raiola worked under new Bears O-line boss Harry Hiestand at Notre Dame.
John DeFilippo‘s been a hot commodity this postseason and despite being passed over for the Cardinals’ HC job, the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach could have a promising option after the Super Bowl.
The Vikings are hopeful they will get a chance to speak with DeFilippo about their OC job once permitted, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Tomasson previously reported (via Twitter) DeFilippo was a name to watch following Super Bowl LII in an OC search that’s not expected to conclude until after this season’s final game.
It’s possible DeFilippo’s name is holding up the process, which has already included interviews with Vikings QBs coach Kevin Stefanski, ex-Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell, Texans QBs coach Sean Ryan and Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell.
DeFilippo was also mentioned as a candidate to replace Bevell in Seattle, but the Seahawks went with Brian Schottenheimer for that post. The 39-year-old Philadelphia assistant is in his second season with the Eagles, and the performances of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles have made him an attractive candidate for higher-profile jobs.