Month: February 2018

Extra Points: Pack, Panthers, Broncos, 49ers

As teams prepare their free agency budgets, several marquee players will be notified soon they will be cap casualties. Brian Cushing was one of the first to find out in 2018. But Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com expects some key members of NFC teams to be jettisoned soon. The Packers are likely to keep one of the Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb tandem, but Rosenthal does not expect both to return. Not after Davante Adams signed for $14MM AAV. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noted this week Cobb is more likely to be shown the door than Nelson, who has been Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target for years. A Cobb cut would save the Packers $9.5MM in dead money. Nelson would create $10.2MM in space if released. The duo count as the Nos. 2-3 players on Green Bay’s 2018 cap sheet.

The Panthers have used either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, or a combination of both, as their top ground producer since the 2007 season. But Rosenthal expects Stewart to be cut along with Charles Johnson. A Stewart cut would create $3.7MM in cap space while tagging Carolina with $1.5MM in dead money. He will turn 31 next month. This would create a void at running back, with Christian McCaffrey more of a pass-catching hybrid type, but Stewart’s yards-per-carry average dropped to a career-low 3.4 last season. Although, his 15 games of work were his most since the 2011 slate.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • Though the Broncos have Matt Paradis and Shaquil Barrett as impending RFAs, they don’t have many high-profile UFAs. Todd Davis profiles as a player who will generate interest on the open market after garnering some as an RFA last year, and Mike Klis of 9News notes the Broncos would like to have their two-year inside linebacker starter back. But the player that might be more likely to return and complement Brandon Marshall in 2018 is Corey Nelson. A four-year backup who started six games in 2016, Nelson is the free agent the Broncos would most like to bring back, Klis writes, adding the former seventh-round pick may receive some heavy Broncos interest during the legal tampering period that begins March 12.
  • Virgil Green and Cody Latimer saw their Denver deals expire, and Green would like to stay on a third contract. A member of every John Elway-era Broncos team, the eighth-year player has functioned as a blocking tight end for most of his Broncos tenure. Green signed a three-year, $12MM deal to stay in Denver in 2015 when many of his 2011 draft class mates departed, but with a Kirk Cousins push coming, the Broncos may not have much money to spend to retain him. Latimer did not develop into what the Broncos hoped as a second-round pick but became a dependable special teams player. Klis writes the Broncos will consider re-signing him if his market doesn’t develop.
  • Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman has impressed the 49ers, among other teams, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com reports. Ateman has been working with former 200- and 400-meter world-record holder Michael Johnson in developing for the draft and is viewed as a Day 2 prospect, but Pauline writes his stock figures to rise based on the speed and vertical numbers he’s been posting. Ateman broke out for 59 receptions, 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.

Kirk Cousins Will Follow Through With Grievance If Tagged

The grievance rumored to be filed if the Redskins use the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins for a third straight season will commence, Kimberley Martin of the Washington Post reports.

Cousins’ camp will file a grievance through the NFLPA if the Redskins tag him again, per Martin. This finalized stance comes two days ahead of the first day teams can designate franchise players. Beginning Tuesday, teams have two weeks to use their tags on players they intend to try to sign by the July 16 deadline.

The Redskins did this with Cousins the past two seasons, and he collected more than $44MM as a result of those one-year setups following contentious negotiations, but they do not plan to have him as their quarterback this season. That will be a problem for the team’s case.

Washington having agreed to trade for Alex Smith, and having an extension lined up, would violate a section of the CBA that indicates teams must only tag players if they have a good-faith intention to employ them at or around that salary for the following season. The Redskins’ Smith extension will ensure they have no plans of paying Cousins $34.47MM in 2018, and this purpose would purely be for compensation. Martin notes several executives around the league view this as a spiteful move on Washington’s part.

The 29-year-old passer figures to have a host of suitors should he reach free agency, and this grievance going his way would finalize his path to unrestricted free agency and ignite a frenzied stretch for teams planning for this rare quick-fix quarterback solution.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Plan To Release Brian Cushing

Brian Cushing will not make it to a 10th season with the Texans. The former first-round pick will be a free agent soon.

The Texans plan to release Cushing before the start of free agency, Mark Berman of Fox 26 reports (on Twitter). The former defensive rookie of the year played in only five games last season and has encountered trouble with performance-enhancing drugs.

Cushing started all 104 regular-season games he played with Houston but will turn 31 this offseason and will save the franchise $7.64MM in cap space. Two years remain on Cushing’s contract.

This release would give the Texans more than $64MM in cap room as they prepare for an offseason that will feature upgrade attempts along their offensive line and in the secondary, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle notes.

McClain reports Cushing texted him this is “part of the business” (Twitter link). The veteran linebacker will join the list of non-rush ‘backers available as free agents. Once the Texans release Cushing, he’ll be free to sign with any team immediately as a street free agent.

Cushing played an integral role for the Texans for nearly a decade. He’s the franchise’s all-time leading tackler with 664 stops. But the team drafted Zach Cunningham in last year’s second round and added productive rookie UDFA Dylan Cole last year as well, marginalizing the longtime defender.

The former USC talent has experienced frequent injury problems as well, tabbing his career surgery count at more than 20. He served a 10-game ban for a positive PED test last season and was popped for four games back in 2010. Knee injuries sidelined Cushing for extensive portions of the 2012 and ’13 campaigns, but he rebounded to be a full-time player in both of Houston’s subsequent AFC South championship slates in 2015 and ’16.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

5 Key NFL Stories: 2/11/18 – 2/18/18

Colts find a head coach. Less than a week after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels rejected their head coaching offer, the Colts decided on Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich to lead their club. Indianapolis will keep defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus — who inked a contract when McDaniels was the presumptive hire — and hire ex-Chargers wide receivers coach Nick Sirianni as offensive coordinator. Before the Colts’ second head coaching search concluded with Reich’s hiring, general manager Chris Ballard also interviewed Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell.

A.J. McCarron will hit the open market. An independent arbitrator ruled last week that McCarron’s contract will not toll, meaning he’ll become an unrestricted free agent rather than a restricted free agent. The Bengals stashed McCarron on the non-football injury list for most of his rookie campaign, but the arbitrator decided Cincinnati won’t get to use that roster trick to keep its backup quarterback for an extra year. The Browns, Vikings, Jets, Broncos, and Cardinals are among the teams that could express interest in McCarron now that he’s available.Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald to play in 2018. After agreeing to a one-year contract extension in November, the 34-year-old Fitzgerald will return for at least more season with the Cardinals. Fitzgerald had maintained that he’d only play for Arizona, and he’ll now be suiting up with a new head coach (Steve Wilks) and a new quarterback (to be determined). As the NFL’s oldest wideout in 2017, Fitzgerald posted a career-high in receptions (109) while managing 1,156 yards and six touchdowns. With a healthy 2018, he’ll move ahead of Terrell Owens for second all-time in receiving yardage.

Raiders part ways with Sea Bass. After 18 years, Sebastian Janikowski will no longer kick for Oakland in 2018, as the Raiders announced last week that the soon-to-be 40-year-old will not be re-signed. Janikowski still plans to continue his career, however, and will join Adam Vinatieri and Matt Bryant as aged kickers on the open market. Because Janikowski spent last season on injured reserve, the Raiders turned to Giorgio Tavecchio, who converted 76.2% of his field goal attempts.

Chiefs land a free agent cornerback. David Amerson will stay in the AFC West —after being released by the Raiders, Amerson agreed to one-year, $2.25MM deal with the division rival Chiefs. Although Amerson is still only 26 years old, he’ll now join the third team of his career. The former second-round pick is the second ex-Redskin defensive back to land in Kansas City this offseason, as the Chiefs also acquired Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Will Increase Access To Tracking Data

NFL teams will begin receiving in-game tracking data on every player in the league beginning this spring, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.route-chart_JEF498860_2017-reg-11_1511152817654

Club have been seeing data on their own players since 2014, but access to other teams’ players had not yet been available. However, the NFL’s Compensation Committee recently agreed to a proposal allowing every team to collect data on every player, per Pelissero. Clubs will be sent information from the 2016-17 campaigns in mid-April, and will subsequently receive data on a weekly basis during the 2018 season.

Zebra Technologies collects tracking information through sensors placed in players’ shoulder pads, per Pelissero, who says one NFL analyst believes the data could have “massive scouting potential.” “More new metrics,” said the analyst. “Understanding if certain fields are slower or faster. Fatigue and injury prevention. Seeing which players are really explosive but maybe don’t make plays because the scheme is bad.”

As Pelissero notes, some clubs have placed an increased importance on studying tracking data and hiring analysts to further delve into the information. Those teams will presumably have a leg up when the data is released on a league-wide scale, while clubs that haven’t invested in analytics have registered concern over the program. In 2016, for example, Kevin Clark of the Ringer discussed the activities of Zebra Technologies, and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera didn’t sound amenable to increasing data being made available.

“I want to get beat on the field. I don’t want to get beat because someone used a tool or technology — that is not coaching at that point,” Rivera said. “I work all week, I’m preparing and kicking your ass. All of the sudden you see a piece of live video and you figure out, ‘Oh crap, that’s what he’s doing.’ And how fair is that?”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 2/11/18 – 2/18/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

Lawrence Guy, Stefen Wisniewski Get 2018 Bonuses

Patriots defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and Eagles offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski each missed out on playing time incentive bonuses during the 2017 campaign, but their respective clubs have now given them new bonuses for the 2018 season to account for the lost pay.Lawrence Guy (Vertical)

Guy was scheduled to earn a $500K bonus if he played in 55% of New England’s defensive snaps a year ago, but he only saw action on 54.8% of the team’s plays. As such, the Patriots have reworked Guy’s contract by giving him a $500K signing bonus for 2018, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.

The Patriots have restructured contracts in such a manner before, as they made offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer‘s deal in 2014 to make his incentives easier to attain, and gave tight end Rob Gronkowski more opportunities to earn extra cash in 2017. Guy, 27, inked a three-year pact with New England last spring, and subsequently posted 34 tackles and one sack during his debut Patriots season.

Wisniewski, meanwhile, failed to earn an $250K bonus after playing only 61.5% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last season. Philadelphia, therefore, gave Wisniewski a $250K signing bonus this week, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). The 28-year-old Wisniewski started 11 games during his second season with the Eagles, grading as the league’s No. 26 among 77 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: M. Peters, Harrison, Pryor

Now that the Chiefs have acquired David Amerson and are on the verge of adding Kendall Fuller — once the Alex Smith trade is finalized — Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wonders if Kansas City could trade Marcus Peters. Peters, whom the Chiefs selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, has quickly established himself as one of the better corners in the league, but as Florio notes, he has been a “handful” for Kansas City, and the incident that got Peters suspended for a game in December may have been the last straw for the team. Florio says “some in league circles” believe Peters could be on the trade block, and Alex Marvez of SiriusXM appears to think it’s a possibility as well (Twitter link).

Let’s take a look at more notes from around the AFC:

  • There is a “reasonable chance” that James Harrison returns to the Patriots in 2018, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk (citing Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal) writes. New England successfully deployed Harrison as a three-down player after acquiring him late last season, and as Harrison recently indicated he wants to play at least one more year, it may make sense for both parties to continue their relationship.
  • Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says it does appear as if well-respected offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will be back with the Patriots in 2018, a prospect that was very much in doubt just a few weeks ago.
  • The Browns will pursue a reunion with free agent wideout Terrelle Pryor this offseason, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Cabot says Pryor never really wanted to leave Cleveland last year, but when the Browns signed Kenny Britt to the same contract they had on the table for Pryor, he didn’t have a choice.
  • The devastating injury to Ryan Shazier will not impact the way the Steelers approach their decision-making with respect to fifth-year options, as Florio writes.
  • Now that A.J. McCarron is set to leave the Bengals, Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer wonders what his departure will mean for Cincinnati. He says Andy Dalton is not going anywhere — which was at least a remote possibility before Marvin Lewis decided to return — and he believes the Bengals could look to address other, more pressing needs in the early rounds of the 2018 draft and select a polished collegiate signal-caller in the middle rounds (just as they did with McCarron). Owczarski also suggests that Cincinnati could add a veteran on a one-year deal to back up Dalton.

NFC West Notes: Wilson, Cardinals, Foster

Yesterday, we learned that Seahawks QB Russell Wilson could be in line for a new contract with an AAV of $30MM as early as next offseason (he is under club control through 2019, and Seattle does not revisit deals that have more than one year remaining). While that report raised some eyebrows, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com (who penned the above-referenced article) tweets that Wilson’s current deal — which he signed in 2015 — has an AAV of 15.31% of the 2015 salary cap. A $30MM AAV on his next contract would represent 15.87% of the projected 2019 cap, so it would be a reasonable benchmark for Wilson to shoot for. Given that, and given Wilson’s accomplishments in the league, a $30MM/year deal does not seem especially far-fetched.

Now let’s take a look at a few more rumors from the NFC West:

  • Just like 2013, Steve Keim‘s first year as the Cardinals‘ GM, Arizona has a void at quarterback. During a recent interview on 98.7 FM, Keim addressed that need (article via Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com). He indicated that the team would be active in the free agent market, which is as rich in QB talent as it has been at any time in recent memory, and he did not rule out the possibility of a trade. Of course, whether they do so via free agency, a trade, or the draft, the Cardinals will need to acquire at least two signal-callers this offseason.
  • As Matt Maiocco of NBCSports.com observes, when the 49ers have released a player due to off-field issues in the past, they have done so immediately. The fact that San Francisco has yet to release Reuben Foster in light of the recent domestic violence allegations levied against him indicates to Maiocco that the team has not seen enough concrete information to cut ties with the former Alabama standout.
  • In the same piece, Maiocco reiterates that the 49ers will look to re-sign LB Brock Coyle, assuming the team is confident that Coyle will make a full recovery from his offseason shoulder surgery. Maiocco is also more optimistic than other writers that the 49ers will be able to retain DE Tank Carradine .

Latest On Kirk Cousins

As our Sam Robinson detailed yesterday, any number of teams could pursue Kirk Cousins if and when he hits the open market, but the Broncos and Jets are currently considered the favorites in the Cousins sweepstakes (although it does appear that the Vikings and Cousins match up very nicely as well).

Kirk Cousins (vertical)

Indeed, as Troy E. Renck of Denver7 writes, the Broncos will be “all in” on Cousins, which is about as definitive as a statement of interest can get. And, as Renck notes, Denver does have a pretty strong sales pitch, as the club has more Super Bowl berths (seven) over the last 34 seasons than losing seasons (six), and it has shown a willingness to build around a free agent quarterback (see Peyton Manning, 2012). The Broncos also have a strong roster and could be just a solid QB away from returning to contention.

However, Denver does not have the same type of salary cap room that several other Cousins suitors enjoy, so Renck says that the Broncos would need Cousins to show flexibility in his salary over the first few seasons of his contract. Even though Cousins has expressed excitement over the possibility of playing for Denver, it is unclear whether he would be willing to make such a concession.

Enter the Jets. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Gang Green is reportedly willing to at least consider fully guaranteeing the entirety of Cousins’ contract if he were to sign with New York. And, if the Jets make that kind of pitch, other teams that want Cousins may have to follow suit or drop out of the race entirely.

And yet, even a fully-guaranteed contract may not be overly enticing to Cousins, as he may prefer a provision that guarantees him a fixed percentage of the salary cap after the first several years of the deal. After all, as Florio notes, most franchise quarterbacks do not suddenly lose their abilities or suffer career-ending injuries, and they typically either finish a long-term deal or have it torn up and replaced by a bigger deal before it expires.

Speaking of teams with a lot of money to throw at Cousins, the Browns have been discussed as a potential landing spot for the long-time Redskin, but John Keim of ESPN.com does not believe a Browns-Cousins marriage makes sense for either side, regardless of whether Washington tries to put the franchise tag on Cousins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.