Month: May 2018

Latest On Rob Gronkowski’s 2018 Status

The uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski‘s career may be on the verge of being tabled. The All-Pro tight end is more likely to play in 2018 than retire shy of his 29th birthday, Jeff Darlington of ESPN.com reports.

Although Gronkowski has not yet made an official decision, Darlington reports he is “pretty certain” to return as long as Tom Brady is still with the Patriots. Despite nearing his 41st birthday, Brady is not believed to be considering retirement. That would point the two Patriots icons toward a ninth season together.

While Gronkowski and Brady appear to still be in lockstep, the four-time first-team All-Pro and Bill Belichick may not be. Gronk is frustrated with Belichick and some others in the Patriots organization, Darlington reports. The punishment the injury-prone player absorbed last season isn’t the only thing pushing him toward a possible early NFL exit, with Darlington also reporting part of the Patriots’ ways are wearing on their top weapon. With nothing occurring since the conclusion of last season indicating the “high-strung” culture will change, Gronkowski is factoring the mental component into his decision, per Darlington.

Belichick has also expressed frustration about Gronkowski, per Darlington, questioning whether the tight end is “all in” at this juncture. Although, sources close to both parties informed the ESPN reporter these differences aren’t believed to be irreconcilable.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported in February that Gronk was likely to return for his age-29 season, but talk about the superstar tight end’s future has swirled since he expressed uncertainty his career would continue after Super Bowl LII. Darlington reports Gronk was having thoughts of walking away late during the 2017 regular season.

The Patriot with the second-most first-team All-Pro honors, behind Hall of Famer John Hannah, Gronkowski remains attached to a contract he signed in 2012. A return to the gridiron next season stands to come on a $10.9MM cap number. Gronk maxed out his incentive-laden 2017 salary by earning that fourth All-Pro nod. Two years remain on the deal.

Gronkowski caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns, surmounting yet another significant injury to reclaim his status as the league’s best tight end. He caught two TDs in New England’s Super Bowl loss but was knocked out of the AFC title game because of a concussion.

Hollywood and WWE interest has come his way, and it’s clear the gregarious performer will have options once his career concludes. While it’s uncertain if he’ll venture elsewhere prior to this season, it’s increasingly looking like there will be a ninth NFL campaign for Gronk.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: What Should Browns Do At No. 1?

With Cleveland decision-makers confirming what’s long been rumored this week about the team’s intentions to draft a quarterback with its top pick, it appears relatively safe to assume one of four passing prospects will end up in northeast Ohio next season.

After the Browns traded out of draft slots that ended up sending Carson Wentz to the Eagles and Deshaun Watson to the Texans the past two years, they appear committed to finalizing this extensive research project in the coming weeks. But which of the top QBs should be Cleveland-bound?

Sam Darnold‘s probably been the player most linked to the Browns with their top pick, but Josh Allen continues to lurk as well. And the team’s interest in Baker Mayfield persists. While Josh Rosen has become the member of this quartet least linked to Cleveland, the UCLA talent remains in relative contention here and appears a safe bet to be chosen in the top 10 — if not in the top five.

Darnold did not throw at the Combine but impressed at a rainy pro day in Los Angeles. Although some scouts would prefer he work on a slightly elongated throwing motion, the USC product does not plan to adjust it. He’s long been rumored to go in this draft slot, even before the Browns acquired it, and was much more diplomatic about being sent to Ohio than Rosen.

Hue Jackson mentioned he would prefer the Browns landing a prospect with some mobility to work in the offense alongside Tyrod Taylor. However, John Dorsey wasn’t as committed to that. Rosen would not be a great fit if the Browns sought a mobile passer, and in being viewed as perhaps the readiest pro, sitting for a full season — as the Browns would like the rookie-to-be to do as Taylor starts — may not match up with his timeline either.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has mocked Allen to Cleveland for months, and Jackson said the Wyoming talent “looks the part.” The Mountain West Conference-honed prodigy also wowed at the Combine with this blend of athleticism and arm strength, and he’s viewed as raw enough that a de facto redshirt season might behoove his development. He seemed intrigued about bucking the trend of bad QB investments in Cleveland.

Not initially viewed to be on the same tier as the other three members of this quartet, Mayfield has seen his stock climb steadily this offseason. The Heisman Trophy recipient, amid fighting off Johnny Manziel comparisons, is coming off a “great” workout with the Browns recently. He’s been linked to Cleveland consistently, particularly with Browns consultant Scot McCloughan being a staunch Mayfield proponent, but could also be available if the Browns decide to take an unconventional route and hold off their quarterback pick until No. 4.

While that’s not expected, Jackson has offered effusive Bradley Chubb praise. And it’s not certain the N.C. State pass rusher will make it past the Giants at No. 2. Saquon Barkley is listed atop many prospect lists, but no running back has gone No. 1 since Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. And the Browns just signed Carlos Hyde. It’s not out of the question Cleveland trades the No. 1 pick, but after what’s transpired the past two years regarding this franchise and quarterbacks, that seems unlikely.

So, which one of the passers should soon expect to look for Ohio real estate? Is Allen’s upside too tantalizing to ignore? Does the apparent clubhouse leader Darnold represent the best combination of talent and intangibles to go No. 1? Is Mayfield worthy of this pick? Or is it possible the Browns are ready to pull another unexpected maneuver and either trade the pick or select a non-quarterback? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Browns, Vikings, Meredith

The Vikings are working on a deal that would bring Terence Newman back to the Twin Cities, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Newman has expressed a desire to not only return for his age-40 season but do so with the Vikings. However, Tomasson confirms a previous report that money is an issue for a potential re-up. Newman made $3.58MM in 2017. Minnesota reached an agreement to re-sign Marcus Sherels and has Mackensie Alexander back for a third year behind their the team’s starting duo. Newman played in 16 games last season and remained a mid-tier corner in the opinion of Pro Football Focus despite his age.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions as we enter draft month.

  • Connected mostly to Sam Darnold and Josh Allen at No. 1 overall, the Browns are still publicly expressing their interest in the big four quarterbacks at this juncture of the process. But Hue Jackson is “very close” to finalizing a preference to bring to John Dorsey and has said he would like a quarterback whose mobility is relatively in step with Tyrod Taylor‘s, as opposed to a stationary passer. The Baker Mayfield interest is believed to be genuine, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports, adding the Heisman Trophy winner enjoyed a “great” workout with the Browns this week. The team is expected to bring Allen, Darnold, Mayfield and Josh Rosen in for visits before the draft.
  • Darnold-to-Cleveland has been the scenario most discussed around the league at this point, Terry Pluto of cleveland.com writes. While Pluto doesn’t discount the idea of the Browns going in a different direction, he has not heard anything lately connecting the team to Rosen. The UCLA quarterback was not exactly a portrait of enthusiasm about a potential Browns union when that subject surfaced late last year.
  • After the Browns take their quarterback at No. 1, Pluto expects them to select Bradley Chubb at No. 4. The caveat of the N.C. State dynamo being available should obviously be included, but with the Jets expected to take a QB at No. 3 and it making sense for the Giants to do the same at 2, the Browns could have the inside track on selecting the top quarterback and top non-quarterback in the draft. Jackson hasn’t exactly been evasive about envisioning what Chubb would bring to the Browns’ defense.
  • The Vikings still had concerns about Teddy Bridgewater‘s knee after the 2017 regular season, despite the quarterback being activated midway through the year. Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes these concerns affected the team’s approach regarding the former first-round pick this offseason. “The reports I’d get back from the medical people weren’t as positive as I was about it,” Mike Zimmer said. “That’s kind of how it came down is that his knee wasn’t as … he still has some recovery to do. When I watched him in practice he moved well, I didn’t see limitations but from what I’m told there was some.” The Vikings deactivated Bridgewater for both of their playoff games, and his Jets contract is light on guarantees.
  • Having brought in several UFA or RFA wideouts for visits recently, the Ravens may have a favorite among these pass-catchers. Baltimore is believed to be particularly high on Cameron Meredith, Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun reports. Given the low-end tender by the Bears, Meredith joined fellow RFA Willie Snead and UFA Michael Floyd in trekking to Maryland for visits this month. Meredith’s met with the Colts and Saints as well, doing so after missing the entire 2017 season. The 25-year-old former UDFA, though, broke out with 888 receiving yards for the 2016 Bears. The Bears have $27.5MM in cap space compared to the Ravens’ $10.7MM figure, for offer-matching purposes.

Jordan Reed Will Miss Redskins’ OTAs

Having played in just 52 of a possible 80 regular-season games since being a Redskins 2013 draft choice, Jordan Reed remains mired in an injury battle. And it will be a bit before Washington sees him in action again.

When asked if his top tight end will be able to participate in OTAs this year, Jay Gruden replied, “Heck no.”

Gruden said (via Rich Tandler of NBC Sports Washington) Reed underwent a procedure on a toe that’s bothered him for many months. He finished last season on IR and experienced toe, foot and hamstring trouble last season, one featuring a career-low six games.

We’ve taken the necessary steps to get him right. He’s had some procedure done on his toes and now it’s just a matter of the rehab,” Gruden said this week. “He’s been working hard at it. He’s been working on his upper body while his toes are recovering.

“Hopefully we’ll see a healthy, 100 percent Jordan by training camp.”

The soon-to-be 28-year-old pass-catcher missed the final two months of last season. He suffered a toe injury early in training camp last year, one revealed to be a fracture, but returned in time for Week 1. However, the malady ended up sidetracking Reed’s season. Reed not returning until this year’s camp will mean the toe injury and subsequent rehab will have taken up roughly a year of his career.

Reed caught 27 passes for 211 yards last season. He played in 12 games in 2016 and posted a 686-yard, six-touchdown campaign. He’s set to count $10.14MM toward Washington’s cap this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Hue Jackson On Browns’ QB Strategy

Hue Jackson is “very close” to determining which quarterback will be his top recommendation come April, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports.

The third-year coach worked out all four of the top passers recently, per Cabot, as he makes preparations to help John Dorsey identify the eventual player the Browns will draft at No. 1 overall.

Four players are believed to be under consideration for that pick, with Jackson refusing to rule out Baker Mayfield, but the Cleveland coach said he would like the team’s choice to match up — to some degree — with Tyrod Taylor‘s mobile skill set. That would seemingly make Rosen a longer shot to head to northeast Ohio than Mayfield, Sam Darnold or Josh Allen.

For now, though, Taylor is Jackson’s starter.

We understand that this quarterback decision is for the future. But this is now. This is going to be the 2018 season, and Tyrod Taylor’s going to get us to winning,” Jackson said, via Cabot. “… I think that’s the first and most important thing in this organization — how do we get to winning? And I think Tyrod’s gonna do that, and then the young guy in the future is ready to play — a year from now, hopefully. We hope that’s the way it goes.

And Jackson wants this arrangement to last throughout the season. The Browns are hoping their No. 1 overall pick will redshirt this year. The team went into last season with DeShone Kizer starting in Week 1 and played Cody Kessler some due to injury in 2016.

However, Jackson wouldn’t rule out the rookie usurping Taylor if he’s talented enough early to do so.

Is the guy going to be comfortable having to sit? If he’s talented enough to overcome the situation, then he is,” Jackson said. “We’re not gonna stop that, either. (But) we’re heading into this with this guy having a chance to sit and watch. Some guys can do that, some guys can’t. So who’s going to be two years from now, a year from now, the most talented of this group that can help lead this organization?

We would be asking a lot of a rookie quarterback (to start) in his first year, especially coming off an 0-16 season. That would be unfair.

Jackson praised the leadership qualities of all four possible No. 1 picks and dismissed comparisons between Allen and Kizer.

This guy is what the quarterbacks look like when they get out of a truck. He looks the part,” Jackson said of the Wyoming prodigy. “So it’s going to be interesting over the next five weeks to see where we are.

“… They’re not the same person. Josh’s journey to the NFL was not DeShone’s journey. DeShone was a player at Notre Dame from the beginning. Josh had to work his way to Wyoming and go through his process to get there. I know people look at their completion percentages and see they’re similar, but I don’t see it that way. I think they’re different.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Rumors: 49ers, Suh, Seahawks

Because of the lack of a solidified position, Jimmie Ward has enjoyed a unique start to his career. He’s been shuttled between cornerback and safety throughout his run with the 49ers, and despite returning to play for the same defensive coordinator in a second consecutive for the first time as a pro, Ward still doesn’t have a surefire position. Robert Saleh used him at safety last season after Jim O’Neil stationed him at cornerback in 2016. He saw action at both spots under Eric Mangini in 2015. Now, the 49ers are again ready to see if he can play outside corner again.

Jimmie Ward is a guy who’s played some outside corner in his career,” John Lynch said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “We’re going to experiment with that this offseason and see if that’s viable and give him some time there.”

The 49ers have Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon penciled in as cornerback starters, and Maiocco reports they don’t intend to re-sign Eric Reid. So, keeping Ward at safety would make more sense from a personnel standpoint. But the team nevertheless intends to persist experimenting with the fifth-year player as a corner. However, Maiocco notes the 49ers view 2017 seventh-rounder Adrian Colbert as a possible starting-caliber safety alongside Jaquiski Tartt.

Here’s the latest from the NFC West:

  • Speaking of positioning, the Rams will play Ndamukong Suh at nose tackle in their 3-4 base set, Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com reports. Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers will play outside in Wade Phillips‘ base set, and Suh will play a position at which he’s lined up around 3 percent of his career, per Gonzalez. “Those are things that we talked about with Ndamukong,” Sean McVay said earlier this week. “We wanted to make sure, ‘Hey, do you feel good about the way we envision you?” Suh, who’s played only for teams that utilized 4-3 sets in his eight-year career, will see plenty of time as a 4-3 defensive tackle once the Rams are in sub packages. Los Angeles used sub sets 70 percent of the time last season.
  • Expected to be in the mix for wide receivers this offseason, the 49ers instead backed off of this year’s top UFA targets. Maiocco reports they weren’t interested in either Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson but are expected to target a wideout in the draft. “What you don’t want to do is have a bunch of guys who are OK but are paid like the best,” Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s where you get in trouble and have to stay away from in free agency. It’s usually why the draft is the best way to go.” San Francisco extended Marquise Goodwin this offseason and has Pierre Garcon due back as well.
  • UFA signee Jonathan Cooper will line up at right guard initially for the 49ers. Laken Tomlinson will slot in at left guard, per Maiocco, who adds a slimmed-down Joshua Garnett will compete with Cooper for the right guard job. Tomlinson started 15 games at left guard for the 49ers last season. Last year’s right guard, Brandon Fusco, left in free agency. A 2016 first-rounder, Garnett started 11 games as a rookie.
  • The Seahawks are again in need of a backup quarterback. The team waived Trevone Boykin, and Austin Davis remains unsigned. Colin Kaepernick does not appear to be in the team’s plans, per Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. Kaepernick visited the Seahawks last year before the team signed Davis. Geno Smith met with the team this week, and Mark Sanchez has also been linked to Seattle. Sanchez’s former backup with the Jets, Kellen Clemens, also has ties to new Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer. The 34-year-old backup could interest the Seahawks, per Henderson. Clemens also worked under Schottenheimer with the Rams.

CB Mike Hughes Generating Interest From Several Teams

Cornerback Mike Hughes is generating a lot of interest headed into the draft. Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com writes that the UCF product met with the Panthers and Saints yesterday at the school’s pro day. The prospect is also set to visit the Bears, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Buccaneers, and Chiefs, and he’ll meet again with Carolina.

During the pro day, Hughes ultimately “stood on his combine numbers,” but the defensive back did do several drills (including fielding punts). The general consensus was that the prospect looked better yesterday than he did at the NFL Combine.

Hughes, who is currently ranked 18th in NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah‘s listing of the top-50 free agents, had a breakout campaign in 2017. After playing in only 10 games with North Carolina between 2015 and 2016, Hughes appeared in 13 games with UCF last season. He ultimately finished the campaign with 37 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and four interceptions.

Considering the Panthers met with Hughes yesterday and plan on hosting him for a visit, we can only assume that the organization has serious interest in the prospect. Even with Ross Cockrell now in the mix, the team is apparently still seeking reinforcement at the cornerback position.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts HC, GM Discuss Team’s Free Agent Signings

The Colts have been relatively quiet this offseason. The team did acquire a haul when they traded off the third-overall pick, but they haven’t made many big splashes via free agency.

However, the team has added four notable unrestricted free agents, and head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard talked with Stephen Holder of IndyStar.com about the transactions. We’ve highlighted some of the notable soundbites below:

On wideout Ryan Grant, who signed a one-year, $5MM deal with the team:

Reich: “I did a little homework on him even after we signed him and talked to a couple coaches who coached him and guys who played with him. I talked to one guy who had definite inside information. He said, ‘This guy will run every inside route at full speed, no matter what. He works his butt off in practice.’ That’s the kind of player we’re looking for.”

On tight end Eric Ebron, who signed a two-year deal after being let go by the Lions:

Reich: “There is a lot of man coverage in this league — the league is going more and more man coverage — so, now you put an elite tight end on the backside, it’s like clearing it out for LeBron (James), or something, in basketball. Just get everybody on one side of the court and get this guy one-on-one. Well, that’s the analogy here. So, in football, get all the receivers on one side, get the back on the other side, and then just put the tight end back here and see what (the defense) does. And some teams will double him. And then (if) you get a linebacker, you get a safety, and if you get a tight end like Ebron — and even when they have a corner on him, you feel like it’s still a winning matchup, because of his size and catch radius.”

On veteran offensive guard Matt Slauson, who signed a one-year, $3MM deal:

Ballard: “We want our fans to know that we’re serious. Signing Matt Slauson was a good one for us. He’s a 32-year old. And his presence and what he’s going to bring to the O-line room, I don’t think you can put a price on. He’s the ultimate pro and he’s going to bring a level of toughness to that room that I think is going to be really good for everybody in it.”

On defensive lineman Denico Autry, who signed a three-year, $17.8MM deal ($6.5MM guaranteed):

Ballard: “I’d seen him (when I worked) in Kansas City. He’s a good player and he’s going to help our front. What you see is the defensive line is going to be one of the engines that drives us going forward. You need seven or eight guys that can get that done. And Autry is a good example. We think we got a good player at a fair market value for the player.”

Contract Details: Mathieu, Pamphile, Watson, Weeden

Some details on recent free agent deals (all links via Twitter):

NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero also has signing bonus/guarantee details on players who signed one-year deals: TE Levine Toilolo $400K (Lions), LB Pernell McPhee $350K (Redskins), QB Brandon Weeden $90K (Texans), CB Leon Hall $45K (Raiders).

Extra Points: Panthers, Broncos, Cravens, Jets, Titans

Labeled as a frontrunner in the bidding to become the new Panthers owner, businessman Ben Navarro will make a visit to the team’s facilities next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (Twitter link). Person also notes another suitor, Alan Kestenbaum, was in on Wednesday.

A vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated. The last franchise that was sold, the Bills in 2014, went for $1.4 billion.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Navarro is already being vetted by the NFL. The South Carolina businessman is the founder of Sherman Financial, but some owners have had concerns about how Navarro made his money.

Navarro and Kestenbaum are joined by Steelers minority owner and hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the perceived top contenders to acquire the franchise. The reported sale price has already helped one potential suitor, Michael Rubin, withdraw his name from the running. Rubin’s group reportedly included Sean “Diddy” Combs and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Thanks to a video produced by Sports Illustrated, we have some insights into the offers received by cornerback Malcolm Butler before he agreed to sign with the Titans. Early on, the Bears pitched him on a three-year, $30MM deal while the Texans offered a one-year contract (value unknown). It seems that Tennessee greatly outbid the other suitors after signing him to a five-year, $61.25MM deal with $24MM fully guaranteed.
  • For their offseason so far, the Jets have received a grade of B- from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Considering the team whiffed in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, that’s not a bad grade to receive. Cimini cites, among other things, the team’s addition of Trumaine Johnson as the team’s most significant offseason signing so far.
  • Su’a Cravens, who was acquired by the Broncos from the Redskins earlier this week, told Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post he wanted to play for a team that wanted him. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team,” he said. Cravens sat out the entire 2017 season as a member of the Redskins. “I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins. It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.