Month: July 2018

Tony Sparano Passes Away

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Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who previously served as the head coach of the Dolphins and the interim head coach of the Raiders, in addition to a number of other coaching positions in the NFL and collegiate ranks, has passed away, per KSTP.com. He was just 56.

East Notes: Allen, Cooks, Eagles

Bills fans are anxiously looking forward to the inevitable ascension of Josh Allen, and Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News takes a look at the team’s quarterback competition with training camp fast approaching. A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman know that, if either of them start the season under center — and McCarron is generally seen as the favorite to open the year as the starting signal-caller — they would just be keeping the seat warm for Allen. Carucci notes that Allen’s natural talent was on full display throughout spring practices, and he adds that all three competitors have developed a friendship during their time together. The Buffalo News scribe examines each player’s case to start on Week 1, and he notably does not rule out any possibility at this juncture.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks just inked a massive extension with the Rams, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says New England had a pretty good idea that Cooks, who was scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2018 season, was going to get that kind of money given the robust state of the wide receiver market. However, the Patriots just did not value him that highly and were approaching this year as though it would be Cooks’ last in Foxborough. So, when presented with the opportunity to get a first-round pick for him this offseason, New England pounced.
  • Earlier today, the Patriots signed No. 31 overall pick Sony Michel.
  • Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com takes a look at 10 Giants who are in danger of being cut because of their salaries, the status of their position groups, or some combination thereof. Dunleavy’s list is headlined by guard John Jerry and defensive end Kerry Wynn.
  • Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has made more trades than any other general manager since 2010, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, who believes that Roseman will make more trades in the coming weeks. Shorr-Parks puts a potential return on each player on the roster, and he notes that Roseman would likely be open to moving Nick Foles and Brandon Graham, though it would take at least a first-round pick to acquire Foles and a third-rounder to land Graham.
  • In a separate piece, Shorr-Parks offers his take on the locks, longshots, and bubble players on the Eagles‘ roster as it currently stands. As Shorr-Parks has indicated previouslyRonald Darby is another trade candidate if De’vante Bausby continues to play well in training camp.

Patriots Sign Rookie RB Sony Michel

The Patriots have signed rookie running back Sony Michel, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was the first to report that the two sides had agreed to terms (Twitter link). New England selected Michel with the No. 31 overall pick in this year’s draft, and the club now has its entire 2018 draft class under contract.

Michel may have been outcarried by Nick Chubb during his last two seasons on campus, but he still got plenty of touches and was pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands. In 2017, Michel rushed for 1,227 yards on a whopping 7.9 yards per carry (to go along with 16 TDs), and he was taken four picks higher than Chubb in the draft. Although it is notoriously difficult to project how New England will distribute touches among its running backs, Michel is likely to get more carries than anyone else on the roster. Indeed, as Rapoport tweets, the Patriots rarely select an RB in the first round, and they clearly have big plans for Michel.

Michel will lead a group that also includes Rex Burkhead and James White, though the running back room could soon be without Mike Gillislee. Gillislee will battle with Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden for a spot at the bottom of the Patriots’ RB depth chart.

As the No. 31 pick, Michel’s contract is a four-year pact that is worth just shy of $10MM and that carries a team option for a fifth season. He joins former Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn as one of the Patriots’ two 2018 first-round selections, and he could be running behind Wynn as early as Week 1.

There are now nine unsigned first-round picks remaining from this year’s class.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Gregory, Cowboys, Browns, Jets

In a recent feature, Calvin Watkins of The Athletic took a look at the recently re-instated Randy Gregory‘s long road back to the NFL. On Tuesday, Gregory was allowed back into the league on a conditional basis by the league office. The 2015 second-round pick of the Cowboys has played in just two games since his rookie season due to multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Gregory is now reportedly sober and focused on making a return to Dallas. He’s only 25, and the Cowboys could certainly use extra pass-rushing help. Watkins’ article details how Gregory got a regular 9-to-5 job at a Dallas-based business in order to prove he could get his life together. He partnered with attorney Daniel Moskowitz, and continued working out heavily during his extended exile. According to Watkins, Gregory “was in shock” when the league re-instated him, as he didn’t believe he would ever actually make it back. It’s been a tough journey, but it certainly sounds like the former Nebraska standout is ready to make the most of his second chance.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Browns have already made a series of high-profile acquisitions this offseason, but they may not yet be done adding to the team. GM John Dorsey “loves to be aggressive” and may look to make a move or two in the coming weeks, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Ulrich notes Cleveland “could use pass-rush help” and that he wouldn’t rule out the team adding a veteran defensive tackle or free safety.
  • Darryl Slater of NJ.com took a stab at projecting the Jets initial 53-man roster, and had a few interesting predictions. Notably, he predicts the Jets will end up keeping all three of Josh McCown, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. He also thinks notable players like running back Thomas Rawls, tight end Clive Walford, and wide receiver Charone Peake will end up getting cut.
  • In case you missed it, here’s the latest on Raiders star Khalil Mack and the negotiations between the two sides as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

 

NFC Notes: Julio Jones, Falcons, 49ers, Richburg, Packers, Wilkerson

The Falcons have had to do right by a lot of players recently. They’ve doled out extensions to Devonta Freeman and Matt Ryan and still need to lock up Grady Jarrett and Jake Matthews. Ricardo Allen has also been angling for a new deal. On top of all this, star receiver Julio Jones has made clear his unhappiness with his current contract, and held out of mandatory minicamp in protest.

The team recently informed Jones they had no plans to sweeten his deal, which still has three years remaining on it. Jones is looking at it from the wrong perspective, argues Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bradley thinks that since the Falcons budgeted for the rest of their players under the assumption Jones would play out his deal, it isn’t fair of him to ask the team for a raise. Bradley writes that Jones’ demands are due to “wounded pride” at being the NFL’s seventh-highest paid receiver. It’s unclear how Jones will respond to Atlanta’s refusal, but the team certainly doesn’t want its best player this unhappy. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two sides come to some sort of agreement on additional incentives or some other measure that will satisfy Jones.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

AFC Notes: Jets, Darnold, Bowles, Browns, Kendricks, Texans, Foreman

When the Jets selected Sam Darnold with the number three overall pick, many assumed they would take it slow with the young signal caller. At just 21 years old, he would be one of the youngest quarterbacks ever to start an NFL game. But there are apparently some executives in the team’s front office who think Darnold will be ready to start from the get go, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

“Team decision makers see stardom in the former USC quarterback” Mehta writes, and although the team won’t throw them out there if he’s not ready, “there are smart people in the building who believe that Darnold will prove he belongs under center when the regular season kicks off September 10 in Detroit under the Monday night lights.” Mehta adds that “the summer quarterback competition will be Darnold vs Darnold” and that “the starting gig is there for the taking.” Clearly Josh McCown might not have as big of a lead in the race to be the starter as was previously thought. If Darnold does run away with the job during camp, Teddy Bridgewater would likely be made available in a trade.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • Mehta also notes that Jets GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles should be safe moving forward no matter what the team’s record is in 2018. Mehta writes that the duo were extended “without a 2018 playoff mandate” and to “expect organizational continuity moving forward.”
  • Mychal Kendricks signing with the Browns last month “raised eyebrows” because Cleveland was thought to already have a few linebackers “entrenched as starters” writes Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Ulrich thinks Kendricks can play all three linebacker spots in Cleveland’s defense so he “should be deemed a threat to all of the returning starters.”
  • The Texans expect D’Onta Foreman to be ready for the start of the regular season, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The second-year player showed flashes as a rookie but his season was cut short by a torn achilles. The Texans seem high on him, and he should play a bigger role as a sophomore.

Clowney Expected To Be Ready For Camp

While Jadeveon Clowney‘s pursuit of a lucrative second Texans contract has accounted for most of the buzz surrounding him this offseason, the fifth-year pass rusher was not available for Houston’s practices due to a surgery.

Clowney did not participate in the Texans’ OTAs or their minicamp, but he pronounced himself ready to go for training camp. Clowney did so without going into specifics, but Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports the outside linebacker is not expected to have health limitations once the Texans begin camp.

An arthroscopic knee surgery sidelined Clowney this offseason. The process dragged on, however, with the surgery occurring shortly after the 2017 season concluded but sidelining Clowney throughout the spring and early summer. He saw Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion, Wilson reports, adding the Texans will likely ease their top edge man back to work at their West Virginia-stationed camp.

Clowney also appeared to squash the prospect of a holdout, a course of action fellow 2014 first-rounders Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald are taking as they pursue extensions.

I’m ready, man,” Clowney said, via Wilson. “I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to the season … I’m great, I’m good. See you guys at camp.”

This will be a pivotal season for Clowney. He’ll receive a nice pay bump — to a $12.306MM salary on a fifth-year option — but no report this year indicated he and the Texans were close on an extension. No substantive re-up talks between Clowney’s camp and the Texans occurred this offseason, leading John McClain of the Houston Chronicle to foresee the 2014 No. 1 overall pick playing this season for the option price and the parties reconvening after the campaign concludes.

The Texans may want to see Clowney stay healthy this season, or at least avoid knee problems, in order to be convinced he’s worthy of a top-market extension. The 25-year-old defender, though, has played 30 regular-season games the past two years after injuries affected him more earlier in his career. Nevertheless, Clowney shaking off this latest one figures to be critical en route to that elusive extension.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks Notes: Thomas, Fluker, Fant, Hill

Earl Thomas remains at an impasse with the Seahawks, who’ve stripped the defense — at least, their first and third levels of it — almost completely bare of Thomas’ Super Bowl teammates this offseason. But future franchise tags give the Seahawks the leverage on Thomas in this holdout, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com writes. The 29-year-old safety skipping regular-season weeks would obviously cost him financially, and he must report by the midseason point to avoid his contract tolling over to 2019. Thomas’ four-year, $40MM deal expires after this season. Pete Carroll expects Thomas to be at camp, but Brooks writes the Seahawks probably don’t want to pay him $12MM per year (or north, if the three-time All-Pro is intent on surpassing Eric Berry‘s $13MM-AAV deal that doubles as the safety high-water mark) in what’s been an oddly soft safety market.

If the Seahawks do decide to get serious about a trade, Brooks notes that, beyond the Cowboys, the Chargers, 49ers, Buccaneers and Bengals are the most logical destinations. The Bolts drafted Derwin James and have Jahleel Addae on the books for three more seasons, but Brooks cites the need for a deep centerfielder-type safety nonetheless. And Thomas has a history with Los Angeles DC Gus Bradley. He has a background with San Francisco DC Robert Saleh as well. The Bengals hosted Eric Reid on a visit that went poorly, but they were only in the market for a backup safety at that time. Tampa Bay spent plenty to add to its defensive front this offseason and added three DBs in the draft’s middle rounds. The Bucs boast Chris Conte and second-year man Justin Evans as their top safeties.

Here’s the latest out of Seattle:

  • A Chargers trade for Thomas wouldn’t add up with the franchise’s usual M.O., Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes. Tom Telesco and football ops president John Spanos aren’t big on parting with draft capital, with Krasovic adding that extensions for Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon — along with Los Angeles’ approximate $9MM cap-space total — would also impede a move like this.
  • Should the Seahawks deal Thomas, Delano Hill would be the favorite to succeed him alongside Bradley McDougald, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes. McDougald would move to free safety, with Hill — a 2017 third-rounder — making his starting-lineup debut as Seattle’s strong safety. Hill ran with the starters in Thomas’ stead during minicamp.
  • The right side of Seattle’s offensive line figures to be manned by tackle Germain Ifedi and guard D.J. Fluker, per Condotta, who adds Fluker could be an option at tackle if Ifedi struggles. Fluker, though, has not played much tackle since the Chargers shuttled him to guard prior to the 2015 season. However, former left tackle starter George Fant will be thrust into the right tackle competition in training camp, Condotta writes. Fant is expected to be healthy after suffering a torn ACL last summer and would profile as the Seahawks’ swing tackle if Ifedi keeps the top right-edge job.
  • Amara Darboh (eight receptions, 71 yards in 2017) received essentially a redshirt year as a rookie, but Condotta notes the Seahawks are “counting on” the third-round pick to see a significant playing-time uptick this season. Seattle has Tyler Lockett and recently added UFAs Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall. However, the latter is coming off a poor season and spent time recovering from multiple injuries this offseason. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Darboh’s role could hinge on how Marshall fares in camp. Seattle did not guarantee Marshall much, so it’s not certain the 34-year-old target makes the roster.

Bashaud Breeland To Visit Raiders, Chiefs

Four-year Redskins starter Bashaud Breeland remains on the market, despite having agreed to an $8MM-per-year deal with the Panthers months ago. But the fifth-year cornerback has surmounted the foot injury that scuttled that agreement and is going to see what the pre-training camp market looks like.

Breeland will visit the Raiders and Chiefs next week, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com tweets. He’ll head to Oakland on Sunday, with Demovsky adding that visit is slated to go into Monday as well, and is scheduled to trek to Kansas City on Tuesday.

Following his recovery from an offseason foot injury, Breeland also visited the Cardinals. But Arizona subsequently traded for Jamar Taylor, who is now in line to start opposite Patrick Peterson. The parties moved on, but the 26-year-old defender has an obvious connection in Oakland.

With Breeland (Pro Football Focus’ No. 54 corner in 2017) having played for Jay Gruden for four seasons, it’s likely Jon Gruden will have good information about the corner. The former Washington second-round pick started 58 games during his Redskins run. The Raiders moved on from their Sean Smith/David Amerson tandem this offseason but have Gareon Conley now healthy and added veterans Rashaan Melvin, Shareece Wright and Leon Hall. Breeland is younger than each of those offseason signees and would add to a crowded competition of experienced performers.

Kansas City signed Amerson but has a glaring vacancy at outside corner. The Chiefs traded Marcus Peters for what was not considered to be strong value and doesn’t have an obvious replacement for the All-Pro. Former Breeland teammate Kendall Fuller is now expected to start as one of the Chiefs’ outside corners, but he thrived in 2017 as a slot stopper. It’s possible Kansas City uses Fuller like Denver deploys Chris Harris — as an outside man in base sets and in the slot in sub-packages — but it remains to be seen how the Chiefs will use Fuller.

The team is also moving Steven Nelson from the slot spot to an outside role as well, but Breeland would look to have a better shot at surefire playing time in western Missouri than in the Bay Area due to Peters’ departure.

Interestingly, the AFC West rivals also could be battling for another notable UFA, with each slated to meet with former Steelers wideout Eli Rogers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.