Month: December 2018

Extra Points: Jets, Kearse, Redskins, Reed, Titans, Ravens

There’s been a lot of discussion about which Jets players could get cut, but one name not frequently mentioned has been wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. Still, Kearse apparently isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Post. Mehta writes that since Kearse’s $5MM salary is non-guaranteed, he could be cut “if other pass catchers impress in training camp and the preseason.”

While Mehta describes Kearse as someone who was a “positive influence” in 2017 who helped “change the culture in the locker room”, the Jets may still decide they want to get a longer look at some of their younger guys in a year they aren’t likely to compete for a playoff spot anyway. Mehta notes that Kearse’s $5.5MM cap charge is greater than the next four receivers on the depth chart’s put together. Kearse is welcoming the challenge, saying he’s “not going to make it easy” for any of the young players to step up and force him off the roster.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Redskins could move on from Jordan Reed after this season, according to Rich Tandler of NBCSports Washington. Reed was one of the best tight ends in the game for a while, but injuries have derailed his career the past couple years. The guaranteed money in his contract is up after this year and if he can’t prove he can stay healthy in 2018, the team “might not have any choice but to let him go” next offseason writes Tandler.
  • Titans rookie Jordan Veasy has a real shot at making the team, according to Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com. The undrafted receiver from Cal has reportedly “caught the ball well in practices” and “proven to be a pretty savvy route runner” this offseason.
  • Another undrafted free agent with a good chance of making his team’s roster is Ravens wide receiver Janarion Grant, according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. Mink writes that Grant has impressed as a kick returner this offseason and has real shot at sticking as the Ravens’ primary returner after Michael Campanaro left in free agency.

Bills Notes: Lawson, McCarron, Peterman, Benjamin

Although Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson has said “all the right things to the media” this offseason, including saying recently that he knows he’s on the trading block and has to get better, he apparently still isn’t in good standing with the team, according to Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. Carucci writes that he’s “not buying” Lawson’s supposed turnaround and says that “parting ways with Lawson makes perfect sense” as “he’s not remotely close to being a good fit on Sean McDermott‘s team.”

Lawson, a first round pick in 2016, could find himself out of a roster spot after just two seasons. While Carucci thinks the Bills will try and trade Lawson, he doesn’t think they’ll get much for him, writing the “rest of the NFL recognizes that Lawson is on borrowed time and will likely offer little or simply wait for him to be released.”

Here’s more from Buffalo:

  • While Carucci thinks “Nathan Peterman looked good” during OTAs and minicamp, he doesn’t “fully buy the narrative that he’s soared to the top of the depth chart and is the front-runner to start.” Despite the offseason hype that Peterman has received, Carucci still thinks A.J. McCarron is the favorite to start.
  • Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin could be “setting himself up for a big contract” if he plays well in the final year of his deal, according to Joe Buscaglia of ABC 7 Buffalo. Buscaglia thinks the Bills will want to lock up Benjamin longterm if he can stay healthy, but writes that the team won’t “commit to him until he shows well, if he develops strong chemistry with [Josh] Allen, or a fair bit of both.”
  • Carucci thinks the Bills will look to add a pass-catcher during training camp. The Bills are a bit thin at receiver and Carucci thinks GM Brandon Beane will be aggressive, saying he thinks he will “as he did last August, look to add a receiver or two.”

AFC Notes: Broncos, Elway, Titans, Bryant, Holland

John Elway could be a potential candidate to buy the Broncos should the Bowlen family decide to sell the team, speculates Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. There’s been some drama recently within the Bowlen family about who should take over the team. Owner Pat Bowlen removed himself from the team several years ago as his health worsened. The team was placed into a trust, and Bowlen’s children have been doing battle in the media for a while now as several angle to be put in charge. Broncos CEO Joe Ellis recently said Pat’s daughter Beth wasn’t “qualified” for the position, a claim she responded to forcefully.

Kiszla points out that Elway’s contract as head of football operations runs until 2021. He thinks that if everything goes smoothly until then, Brittany Bowlen could step in then and run the team. But if things go south, the family could force a sale of the team, in which case Kiszla thinks Elway might try and put together the funding to buy the team himself.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Broncos rookie undrafted pass-rusher Jeff Holland not only has a good chance at making the team, but at becoming the “next solid undrafted pass rusher”, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post. O’Halloran thinks Holland “made an impression” this offseason and notes that Shane Ray’s injury will improve Holland’s chances of making the team.
  • Don’t expect the Titans to make a run at Dez Bryant writes Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com. Wyatt notes that the previous veteran receiver signings the Titans have made haven’t worked out and that the team “wants to see the team’s current players develop.”
  • In case you missed it, Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen could be cut by the team in a cost-saving move.

Extra Points: Referees, Harvin, Winston, Buccaneers

The big name stars that change teams garner most of the free agency headlines. But the real free agency that could have the biggest impact on the league is the flock of referees fleeing the field for the broadcast booth, writes Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Volin points out that a number of high profile referees such as Gene Steratore, Terry McAulay, Ed Hochuli, and Jeff Triplette all won’t be back next season, leaving a void in referee leadership.

Volin writes that it’s “another tough blow for NFL officiating”, and longtime NFL official Mike Pereira adds that he’s “never been involved in a season” where there was so much turnover. A total of nine officials are retiring, including the four crew chiefs mentioned above. Volin points out that it could create headaches for the league having so many new inexperienced officials for the upcoming season with several new rule changes. Another former longtime official told Volin the NFL hasn’t “done a good job of preparing for this turnover.”

Here’s more from the football universe:

  • Retired wide receiver Percy Harvin struggled with migraines and mental health issues that ultimately shortened his career, and now he’s opening up about them. During an interview with Michael McKnight of SI.com. Harvin revealed he had “mental stresses that I can’t even put into words” during his playing days, saying he was often playing games having gotten no sleep in the days before.
  • As the debate over what the Buccaneers should do with Jameis Winston rages on, FloridaFootballInsiders took a look at all of the Bucs’ potential options, including releasing Winston immediately. They think if the team does decide to cut Winston “it will come quickly” and that the “financial hit is not that significant” if they chose to do so.
  • In case you missed it, the XFL will reportedly be much better funded this time around.

Extra Points: Sanders, Eagles, Lions

Emmanuel Sanders became one of the NFL’s upper-echelon wide receivers since signing with the Broncos, stringing together three straight 1,000-yard seasons and being Peyton Manning‘s top postseason target en route to Denver’s Super Bowl 50 title. But the 31-year-old pass-catcher saw the Broncos change the equation this offseason. After three seasons featuring scant production behind Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, Denver drafted two wideouts — second-rounder Courtland Sutton and fourth-rounder DaeSean Hamilton — to try and build depth behind its experienced duo. Considering Sanders has a $12.94MM cap number in 2019, one that would cost the Broncos barely $2MM to shed, he may see the writing on the wall heading into his fifth year with the team.

Even prior to them signing those young guys, even when I signed the contract … only two years are guaranteed and after that it’s year-to-year,” Sanders said, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic (subscription required) of his September 2016 extension. “You play long enough and you start understanding these contracts are not guaranteed. And, truthfully, for everybody, including Von Miller, it’s year-to-year, because who knows what might happen? Who knows what situation might play out?

I always play like that, like it’s always year-to-year. I got something to prove this year and if I don’t prove it to the Broncos, then I’ll be proving it to some other team.”

Denver has both Thomas and Sanders signed through 2019, the former with a cap number slated to climb to $17.53MM next year. So, the team will have some big decisions to make a year from now regarding one of the top receiving duos in franchise history.

Here’s the latest from around the league:

  • After receiving his initial OTA reps at left guard, Lions first-rounder Frank Ragnow is expected to start his career there, per Nate Atkins of MLive.com. This would likely mean using improving talent Graham Glasgow at center. Glasgow lined up at center at times during both of his first two seasons but spent more time at guard in a breakout 2017. The Lions were planning to try Glasgow at center at the offseason’s outset, and that experiment may continue into training camp. Ragnow was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated center in each of the past two years while at Arkansas. Newly acquired Wesley Johnson, the Jets’ starting center for the past 1 1/2 years, would then represent a depth piece.
  • Sixth-year defensive lineman Cornelius Washington resides on the Lions’ roster bubble, Atkins notes. The former Bears defender is entering the second season of a two-year, $6MM deal. Washington played 488 snaps last season at defensive end with Detroit, registering 2.5 sacks. The Lions, though, drafted Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth round this year, and Atkins envisions Washington being close to the chopping block as a result.
  • The Eagles are planning to use Jay Ajayi as their unquestioned starter, and Darren Sproles will join emerging second-year back Corey Clement after missing most of last season. The defending Super Bowl champions are likely to keep a No. 4 back on the active roster, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia, who doesn’t expect that to be 2017 draftee Donnel Pumphrey. Despite Pumphrey being yet to show what he can do after an injury wiped out his entire rookie season, the former fourth-round pick is battling one-time Redskins starter-turned-castoff Matt Jones. Zangaro expects Jones to win that battle. The Eagles also have Wendell Smallwood and paid a premium to add UDFA Josh Adams this year, creating an intriguing competition for this back-end roster spot.

Poll: Will Steelers Extend Le’Veon Bell?

As could be expected given the events of the past 1 1/2 years, the Le’Veon Bell/Steelers saga is coming down to the wire. By July 16, Steelers fans will almost certainly know if the two-time All-Pro running back will be a long-term Pittsburgh resident.

Thus far, the signs haven’t been especially promising. Although Bell is optimistic about an extension being finalized, Pittsburgh-based reporters are skeptical about the team committing at the rate Bell seeks. Devonta Freeman‘s $8.25MM-per-year deal represents the current ceiling for long-term running back pacts, but Bell could be angling for $17MM annually in what would be an unbelievable markup for this position. He also might merely want something north of his new franchise tag number ($14.5MM), which would still double as a seismic increase for this job compared to the top rates of the recent past.

The Steelers appeared closer to reaching the finish line with Bell last summer, when they reportedly offered him a deal that would have paid him $42.5MM in its first three years and $30MM across the first two. Bell will be collecting just more than $26MM on his two-franchise tag arrangement between the 2017 and ’18 seasons. The 26-year-old ball-carrier, though, said the Steelers’ top 2017 offer was for $13.3MM per year for the life of the contract. While that still would have represented a seismic raise for the running back market, and was a $1.1MM AAV increase from Bell’s 2017 franchise tag rate, Bell wanted his contract to reflect his contributions as a receiver as well.

Bell then caught a career-high 85 passes — his second 80-reception season — and stayed healthy throughout a dominant slate that doubled as the Steelers’ best since their 2010 AFC championship campaign. But he also added a career-high 406 touches to his odometer. The Steelers have used him as an old-school workhorse. Despite that helping Bell’s statistics, his usage rate may be hurting his long-term value.

Although Kevin Colbert expressed optimism back in March the Steelers would extend Bell, it’s possible that given the way these talks have progressed the team views him as a high-end short-term rental rather than someone who will still be an elite player into his late 20s or early 30s.

However, the Steelers don’t have a ready-made Bell replacement lined up. That would be unrealistic, since the former second-round pick’s been one of the best backs of the decade. But would it be better for a team that’s struggled on defense for years to let Bell walk in 2019 and devote most of that money to helping its weaker unit? Or is Bell essential to Pittsburgh keeping its Super Bowl title window open?

The Steelers may well be the Patriots’ top threat in the AFC, but might this be the last season where Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell are teammates? Bell and the Steelers not agreeing to an extension by the July deadline would put the running back on a Kirk Cousins path, with a 2019 tag number exceeding an untenable $20MM, and make Cousins’ former Michigan State teammate a unique free agent just as he was this year. Or, will Bell back down from his lofty price point and lock in some multiyear guarantees while he’s still in his mid-20s?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Rumors: Steelers, Ravens, Browns

With Le’Veon Bell demanding $17MM per year, less than three weeks could remain for Steelers fans to view the All-Pro running back as a long-term asset. Following the July 16 franchise tag deadline, Bell could be headed toward rental status this season and 2019 free agency. The Steelers are not about to authorize a $17MM-AAV deal for Bell, Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, adding that the only chance of an extension being hammered out is if Bell comes off that price. Judging by the lack of communication between the parties since their pre-draft re-up talks, Zeise notes it’s clear the Steelers are going to hold their line. Bell is optimistic about a deal, but Zeise notes he appears to be the only one. The Steelers may not be able to replace Bell, but the gap between he and either James Conner (or a future successor) may not translate to Pittsburgh paying its running back what he wants. Bell’s $17MM-per-year price is more than twice what current running back salary leader Devonta Freeman makes.

Here’s the latest from Pittsburgh and other AFC North cities.

  • The Steelers do not believe Morgan Burnett is the same player he was at his Packers apex, and they don’t plan on asking him to perform like it, according to Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Keith Butler is planning for the 29-year-old safety to assume some of the responsibility Ryan Shazier used to, working as a quality run-stopper and patrolling the middle of the field on passing downs. However, the plan is for Burnett to play strong safety and for the likes of Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds to have deep-middle responsibilities at free safety, per Benz. Edmunds played a hybrid-type role late in his Virginia Tech career, which would appear to overlap with Burnett’s job description, but it appears the Steelers are confident the first-rounder will be able to grow into a true free safety.
  • It’s going to take a sizable Browns improvement for Hue Jackson to keep his job, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com said (video link), adding that the third-year HC knows this. Cabot envisions a major Browns step forward this season and does expect Jackson, 1-31 Cleveland record notwithstanding, to keep his job for 2019. She estimates six wins may be enough to convince John Dorsey to retain Jackson. The Browns have won six games just once in the past 10 years.
  • The Ravens have moved 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa around a bit since he entered the league. Beginning his career at outside linebacker, the Boise State product was shuttled to an inside spot in 2017. However, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun notes Correa’s been moved back to the outside this offseason. Correa recorded 19 sacks during his final two college seasons but has yet to register one as a pro. He’ll be in the mix as one of Terrell Suggs‘ supporting-casters this year, it appears.

Latest On Aaron Rodgers, Packers Negotiations

Could an Aaron Rodgers extension be on the horizon? That’s what Packers president Mark Murphy seemed to be insinuating when asked about the progress of the negotiations. Murphy told WTMJ.com that the Packers “hope to soon have a contract extension” for Rodgers (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com).

Rodgers is set to earn $22MM next season, but the quarterback market has already been reset due to recent deals signed by Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan. The Packers signal-caller will trail other quarterbacks by around $8MM, meaning he’ll surely be in line for a sizable pay increase. However, as Florio points out, Rodgers is realistically four years away from hitting the open market. The 34-year-old has two years left on his contract, and it makes sense to apply the franchise tag for a player of his caliber for the two years after that.

Besides a pay increase, we also recently heard that Rodgers could be seeking options and out-clauses in his next contract. However, the quarterback quickly rejected those rumors, citing the slow offseason as a reason for the false claims. There were also whispers that the franchise quarterback was frustrated that the organization didn’t talk to him before releasing wideout Jordy Nelson and parting ways with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt. It was said that the relationship “isn’t in total disrepair,” although there was clear tension between the two sides.

Rodgers was limited to only seven games last season after suffering a fractured right collarbone in mid-October. While his team went 4-3 in his seven starts, he still managed to put up solid numbers. Rodgers ultimately finished the campaign having completed 64.7-percent of his passes for 1,675 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Colts, Browns, Jets, Ravens

Pierre Desir was having a breakout season for the Colts through nine games last year. The former fourth-rounder had already established a career-high in passes defended with seven, and he also compiled 32 tackles and one interception.

However, after forcing his way into the starting lineup, the 27-year-old suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 13. Despite the injury, the organization still brought Desir back on a one-year deal, with the team expecting him to be ready for training camp. The cornerback is also confident he’ll be back, and he believes he can continue to build off his productive 2017 season.

“I think I’m going to be able to use my size and my length to my ability,” Desir told Jake Arthur of Colts.com. “It’s going to allow me to mess up the timing of the receivers, because the front seven — they are going to get some pressure. So that’s going to allow me to create opportunities to make some plays, so I think I fit well.

“I look at this year being a big year for me. Last year, the season didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I feel like I have a lot of upside, a lot of good football to play, and I’m definitely excited and looking forward to playing in this scheme and playing for these coaches.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the AFC…
  • Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com takes a look at some of the most intriguing position battles for the Browns offense as they head into training camp. With Joe Thomas retiring this offseason, the writer first points to left tackle as an intriguing position to watch. While Shon Coleman appeared to be atop the depth chart during spring practices, he didn’t do much to impress coaches, leading to the team adding free agent Greg Robinson to the mix. The team could also turn to second-round rookie Austin Corbett. Ulrich also points to wide receiver (where the depth chart is questionable behind Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry) and running back (where any of Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, or Nick Chubb could earn the starting role) as interesting position battles.
  • Darryl Slater of NJ.com explored which Jets players are currently on the roster bubble. Cornerback Rashard Robinson led the list, with the writer pointing to the player’s lack of production and offseason arrest. Cornerback Juston Burris, fullback Lawrence Thomas, offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison, running back Thomas Rawls, tight end Clive Walford, receivers Charone Peake and Devin Smith, and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin were listed as other potential roster casualties. Ultimately, Slater believes Burris has the best chance of sticking around, as coach Todd Bowles tends to carry “a bunch” of cornerbacks.
  • Receiver Janarion Grant may have gone undrafted out of Rutgers, but Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com says the rookie still has a good chance of making the Ravens‘ roster. Following the loss of Michael Campanaro, the team is now searching for a new returner, and the speedy Grant seems to have the edge over Tim White. “Janarion Grant is a young man that I thought had exceptional college tape,” said special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. “He came in as a tryout player in our rookie minicamp and earned a roster spot because of those things and his skills as a receiver.”

NFC Notes: Redskins, Scherff, Ajayi, Saints

With Zack Martin recently signing a six-year, $84MM contract ($40MM guaranteed) with the Cowboys, Kareem Copeland of The Washington Post says Redskins guard Brandon Scherff is line for a big extension. The lineman has already earned a pair of Pro Bowl nods during his two seasons in the NFL, and he was rated as one of the best guards in the league per Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, with the organization looking to protect their investment in quarterback Alex Smith, it only makes sense to lock in their offensive line.

Fortunately for Scherff, it sounds like the team is more than willing to keep him around.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” said offensive line coach Bill Callahan. “He’s a guy that continually challenges you as a coach and every day wants to get better, wants to know specifically what he needs to work on to improve. We go over that list continually.

“He’s a guy that you just love to coach because you tell him one time and he gets it and he’s got it. You can do a lot of different things with him because he has that type of versatility and that type of adaptability as well.”

Scherff is set to earn $705K in 2018, but that will be bumped to $12.525MM in 2019 when the Redskins presumably pick up his fifth-year option.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFC…

  • Jay Ajayi is expected to sit atop the Eagles depth chart next season, but Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia says that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll have have 20-plus carries per game. Rather, the writer expects Ajayi to collect less than 200 total carries on the season, especially when you consider the team’s depth at the position and Ajayi’s persistent knee issues. Acquired in a trade with the Dolphins midseason, the running back ultimately appeared in seven games (one start) for the Eagles in 2017, compiling 408 rushing yards and one score on 70 carries. He also collected 42 carries in the playoffs, including a nine-carry, 57-yard performance in the Super Bowl.
  • After being released by the Panthers in February, safety Kurt Coleman quickly signed a three-year deal with the Saints that contained more than $6MM in guaranteed money. It sounds like the organization had high hopes when they signed the defensive back to the contract, as Larry Holder of NOLA.com says Coleman could end up replacing Vonn Bell in the starting lineup. The 30-year-old played in 12 games for Carolina last season, compiling 76 tackles and three passes defended. On the flip side, Bell, 23, was plenty productive last year, finishing with 83 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
  • We learned yesterday that Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham is facing a one-game suspension.