Month: April 2019

Dolphins Exercise Laremy Tunsil’s Fifth-Year Option

Although many high-profile Dolphins from last year’s team are elsewhere now, some stalwarts remain firmly in the organization’s plans. Laremy Tunsil is one of them.

The Dolphins will pick up their left tackle’s fifth-year option, Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald tweets. This will push Tunsil’s rookie deal through 2020.

After a pre-draft slide, Tunsil wound up in Miami three years ago. He has started 44 regular-season games, moving from left guard to left tackle full-time in 2017. Tunsil will be a constant for an offensive line that has since lost Ja’Wuan James, Ted Larsen and Josh Sitton. Miami returns Daniel Kilgore, but the 24-year-old Tunsil obviously profiles as a longer-term starter.

Pro Football Focus viewed 2018 as Tunsil’s best season, one that ended with the site grading the Ole Miss product as the No. 36 overall tackle. His salary will spike to around $10MM in 2020, barring an extension in the meantime. These options are guaranteed for injury only.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns GM John Dorsey On Key Players, Draft Plans

Browns GM John Dorsey addressed the media this morning and provided a number of noteworthy tidbits. Here are some highlights (compiled via the Twitter accounts of Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com):

On the status of RB Duke Johnson, who requested a trade a few weeks ago:

Dorsey said that Johnson’s trade request does not change how the club views him, and that he still envisions a key role for Johnson in the Browns’ offense. Johnson has not been with the team since the offseason workout program began on April 1, but there has been communication between the team and Johnson’s agent. There is still no word on whether Johnson will report for mandatory minicamp in June, but it sounds as though Dorsey is not particularly keen to honor Johnson’s trade request at this time (which means there may not be a particularly large market for his services).

On trading into the first round:

Dorsey did not rule out the possibility of getting his club back into the first round of this year’s draft, and he acknowledged the benefit of getting the potential fifth-year option for a top collegiate prospect. He said he has talked to teams picking in the bottom of the first round about a potential trade, but he added that he always does that as a part of his due diligence. The Browns’ first draft choice this year is the No. 49 overall selection, so they would need to give up a lot to jump at least 17 spots into the first round.

On Odell Beckham Jr.:

Dorsey said OBJ has not reported to the team for voluntary workouts, but he does not sound concerned. He said it would be nice to have the star receiver present, but he added that Beckham is a professional who understands what he needs to do to get ready for the season.

On Kareem Hunt:

Dorsey said that Hunt has “worked his fanny off” both with the team and in the community, and he is impressed with the progress Hunt has made.

On Morgan Burnett:

Dorsey sees the newly-acquired defender as the Browns’ starting strong safety.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Rosen, Kittle, Newton

Amidst a deluge of trade speculation concerning second-year QB Josh Rosen, the Cardinals opted against making Rosen available to the media last week. But Rosen himself spoke to SI.TV (video link) about his uncertain status with the club, and while he did not disparage Arizona, he certainly sounded frustrated. He said, “I definitely understand the situation. I mean, it’s annoying but, like, it is what it is. Football’s a business, and I definitely respect the higher-ups and their decisions. . . . Whatever decisions are made, it’s my duty to prove them right if they keep me, and prove them wrong if they ship me off” (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk).

Now for more from around the NFC:

  • Regardless of who the Cardinals‘ QB is in 2019, RB David Johnson will be getting a ton of touches, both in terms of carries and as a receiver. Johnson said (via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic), “[m]y role this upcoming season, from talking to the coaches, is that I’m going to hopefully get the ball a little bit more.” New head coach Kliff Kingsbury recently said he will build his offense around Johnson, who will be asked to earn every penny of the big-money extension he inked last September. Assuming he can remain healthy, Johnson should be able to tally at least 1,800 all-purpose yards.
  • 49ers tight end George Kittle posted a whopping 1,377 receiving yards last year, and as Matt Barrows of The Athletic (subscription required) writes, Kittle recorded 797 of those yards while injured. Barrows reports that Kittle suffered fractured cartilage in his rib cage early in the team’s Week 9 win over the Raiders, and that he wore two large rib protectors for the rest of the season. It sounds as if Kittle is (or will be) fully-recovered, and he is prepared to build on his monster 2018 campaign.
  • Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said QB Cam Newton has gotten a lot of his range of motion back, and while Newton hasn’t resumed throwing yet, that time is coming (via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer). However, Rivera stopped shy of giving a timetable for Newton’s return.
  • As Rodrigue writes, the Panthers have been taking a look at this year’s collegiate passers, which has sparked some concern about Newton’s status. But Rivera and GM Marty Hurney downplayed the meaning of their QB scouting, and Rivera said, “I don’t think we’ve spent any more time on quarterbacks (this year) than we have in the past.” Rodrigue says the club remains optimistic about Newton’s progress, and while the Panthers could select a quarterback if the right player falls to them, they are not going to reach for one, and they are going to keep their focus on reviving the pass rush and bolstering the O-line.
  • Yesterday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones confirmed that the club will be exercising Ezekiel Elliott‘s fifth-year option, and as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk writes, Jones also said that he will “obviously” be looking for a strong backup for Elliott. Rod Smith was the team’s No. 2 RB last year, but he is still a free agent, and it sounds as though Dallas wants an upgrade. The Cowboys are unlikely to invest a high-level draft choice on an RB given that Elliott will get the lion’s share of the touches, but a quality Day 3 prospect could be in the mix.

No Extension Likely For 49ers DT DeForest Buckner This Offseason

We heard towards the end of 2018 that the 49ers and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner would be discussing an extension this offseason. After all, now that the 2016 first-round pick has three years of service time, he is eligible for a new contract, and he appears to be coming into his own after a breakout 2018 campaign.

But Matt Barrows of The Athletic (subscription required) says it’s unlikely that the two sides agree to a new deal before the season begins. Buckner’s standard four-year rookie contract keeps him under club control at a bargain salary of $720K this year, and San Francisco will soon pick up his fifth-year option that ties him to the club through 2020. It’s unclear whether Buckner or the team chose to table an extension for the time being, but speculatively, it could be that Buckner wants to put together a 2019 season that builds on his 2018 production and further enhances his value before he and his agent get serious about a new deal.

Buckner himself said, “We’ve had conversations here and there. Honestly, it’s very early. Just because I’m eligible for a new contract going into my fourth year, it’s still very early in the process.”

Buckner’s ability to generate pressure from the interior of the defensive line will make him a highly-desirable commodity should he ever hit the open market, and if he produces another double-digit sack season — he posted 12 sacks in 2018, the first time he recorded double-figures — he will almost certainly land a contract paying him over $20MM per season, whether that comes from the 49ers or from some other club. His abilities as a run stopper will only increase his asking price.

With the 49ers’ addition of Dee Ford — and perhaps an elite collegiate prospect like Nick Bosa — to the front seven, Buckner should certainly be able to replicate last year’s success.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins, DE Matt Ioannidis Agree To Extension

The Redskins and DE Matt Ioannidis have agreed to a three-year, $21.75MM extension, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network (via Twitter). The former fifth-round pick out of Temple can earn another $3MM in incentives, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Ioannidis will receive $14MM in guaranteed money.

Ioannidis has quietly turned himself into a quality member of Washington’s defensive line rotation, and he’s gotten better with each year. He would have been eligible for free agency for the first time in 2020, but the Redskins made sure that didn’t happen. Instead, they locked him up on a relatively modest deal that still gives Ioannidis a nice influx of cash. He will now be under club control through 2022.

Ioannidis had something of an inauspicious start to his professional career, as the Redskins waived him during final cutdowns in September 2016 but re-signed him to the practice squad immediately thereafter. He was promoted to the active roster several weeks into the season and ultimately suited up for 10 games in his rookie campaign.

He cracked the starting lineup in 2017, and although his snap count actually decreased a bit in 2018, his sack totals went up, from 4.5 in 2017 to 7.5 in 2018. There is still room for him to grow, but the Redskins are clearly confident in his ability to continue developing his game as they continue to utilize his pass-rushing skills.

In 2018, Ioannidis graded out as an above-average player at his position per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

More On Russell Wilson, Seahawks

After the Seahawks and Russell Wilson agreed to a massive four-year, $140MM extension, the parties held a press conference that produced several interesting nuggets:

  • The team’s decision to include a no-trade clause helped seal the deal, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times tweets. That is an interesting note in light of previous reports that Wilson was only inclined to remain in Seattle if the team gave him top-dollar, but that he may have been willing to accept less from another club, like the Giants. But perhaps, even if those rumors were true, once Wilson committed to the Seahawks, he wanted to make sure he would only be leaving the club on his terms.
  • Although any issues that player and team might have had are often swept under the rug after a contract gets hammered out, Wilson said he intends to remain in Seattle for his entire career. He said he wants to have a 20-year playing career — meaning he’d be playing until he is 43 — and he said he wants to “wear the blue and green forever” (Twitter link via Condotta).
  • Seahawks GM John Schneider said that Wilson’s April 15 deadline to get a deal done was a good idea for both sides. Schneider said, “The April 15th deal for us was a good idea. The last [negotiation between Wilson and the Seahawks], quite frankly, took too long and took a lot of energy away from what we’re supposed to be doing. We thought it was a good idea on their part and worked out for both sides because we had to know what was going on, be able to clear our minds and be right” (via Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk).
  • Wilson, of course, agreed, saying, “I remember the first time, the other contract, it was one of those things that took us all away to the summertime, right before training camp — literally to 11:50 that night and everything else. The next day, we were practicing. For me, and for everyone involved really — the whole organization — it was really more so of a ‘Hey, let’s make sure we don’t have to drag out this whole process.'”
  • Head coach Pete Carroll, whose contract now expires before Wilson’s, emphasized the importance of Wilson remaining with the team for years. Carroll said, “For the continuity of this program, for the continuity of the following, all the fans who have known who we are and how we like to play and Russ has ignited an energy about the games that we play and the style from the offensive side. I thought it was really important for us. We think we have a really good team and we’re really fired up about it, and to be able to maintain this continuity was extremely important for us.”

Panthers, LB Luke Kuechly Restructure Contract

The Panthers have converted $9.05MM of star linebacker Luke Kuechly‘s 2019 salary into a bonus, per ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter). The move will create an additional $7.24MM of cap space, which is quite significant given that Carolina was only operating with about $1.34MM in cap room prior to the restructure.

This marks the second year in a row that the Panthers have given Kuechly cash upfront in order to create cap space, which can be a dangerous strategy. But Kuechly, who will turn 28 in two days, remains one of the best linebackers in the league and is coming off his fifth First Team All-Pro bid. Considering his importance to the team both now and for the foreseeable future, these reworkings are likely not too difficult for Carolina to stomach.

The team now has some much-needed flexibility heading into next week’s draft, and their newfound cap space will allow the Panthers to re-enter the free agent market should they be unable to fill their remaining needs with collegiate prospects. Plus, their release of Matt Kalil earlier this offseason will add another $7.25MM to their coffers once the calendar flips to June 1.

Kuechly is under contract through 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans K Ka’imi Fairbairn Signs RFA Tender

Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has signed his second-round restricted free agent tender, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Defensive tackle Brandon Dunn and linebacker Brennan Scarlett, each of whom was tendered at the original round level, also inked their tenders, per Wilson.

Restricted free agents have until Friday to sign offer sheets, but it was always unlikely that a rival club would sacrifice a second-round pick to sign a kicker such as Fairbairn. Still, the Texans thought enough of Fairbairn to assign him a second-round tender, which costs nearly $1MM more than an original round tender. For Fairbairn, he’ll see his base salary increase to $3.095MM, a significant raise for a player who earned less than $1.5MM over the first three years of his career.

A 2016 undrafted free agent out of UCLA, Fairbairn became the Texans’ kicker in 2017 after spending his rookie campaign on injured reserve. Last year, he led the NFL in both field goal attempts and conversions while ranking 13th in field goal percentage. Football Outsiders‘ ranked Houston eighth in its field goal/extra point metric.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Rumors: Taylor, Ford, Sweat

Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor met with the Bengals on Tuesday, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Taylor, who stands 6’5″ and 328 pounds, certainly has the size requirements favored by new Cincinnati offensive line coach Jim Turner, but it’s unclear if the ex-Gator will be available when the Bengals make their first-round selection at No. 11. Along with Jonah Williams (Alabama), Andre Dillard (Washington State), and Cody Ford (Oklahoma), Taylor is considered one of the best tackle prospects available in the 2019 draft. If selected by the Bengals, Taylor could immediately take over at right tackle, displacing the recently re-signed Bobby Hart, and would be a long-term option to replace Cordy Glenn on the blindside.

Here’s more on the 2019 NFL draft:

  • Speaking of Ford, the Oklahoma offensive lineman has been extremely busy during the pre-draft season. Per Aaron Wilson the Houston Chronicle, Ford has met with and/or worked out for the Patriots, Eagles, Buccaneers, Vikings, Texans, Cardinals, and Falcons. That’s in addition to his previously-reported stops with the Bengals and Panthers. Ford was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2018 and helped Oklahoma win the Joe Moore Award, given to the country’s best offensive line. A left guard in both 2016 and 2017, Ford shifted to right tackle for the 2018 campaign.
  • The Texans are meeting with Mississippi State edge rusher Montez Sweat on Wednesday, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Sweat is considered of the best defensive ends in the draft (especially after blowing up the combine), so Houston would likely need to trade up from No. 23 overall in order to land him. After starting his collegiate career at Michigan State, Sweat spent two years with the Bulldogs, racking up 22.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss during that time.
  • Washington cornerback Byron Murphy has met with the Panthers, Chiefs, and Cardinals in addition to his visit with the Steelers, tweets Wilson. In 2018, Murphy earned a spot on the first-team All-Pac-12 list after putting up 37 tackles, four interceptions, and 13 interceptions. Regarded as a first-round pick by most observers, Murphy is the No. 6 overall player on Pro Football Focus’ draft board after allowing only a 47.7% completion percentage against and forcing 17 incompletions.
  • The Rams hosted Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram on Tuesday, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link). Abram, who has also met with the Cowboys and Cardinals, is part of a closely-clustered safety class that could start coming off the board at the end of the first round. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, notably, ranks Abram as the No. 1 safety prospect of 2019. Arbam posted two interceptions, three sacks, and nine tackles for loss last year.

Minor NFL Transactions: 4/17/19

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

  • Signed: OL Brant Weiss (Alliance of American Football)

Chicago Bears

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers