Month: October 2020

Broncos Rumors: Lock, Lindsay, Miller

As probably the second-best decade in Broncos history concludes, here is the latest out of Denver going into the 2020s. We’ll begin with the team’s quarterback situation.

  • Drew Lock led the Broncos to four wins in his five-start rookie season, and John Elway confirmed the perpetually quarterback-seeking franchise will not be in the market for another starter. “Obviously he finished, did a heck of a job, won four out of five games and played well, but he still has a long way to go; he’s got a lot of work to do,” Elway said, via ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold. “We’re excited about where Drew is so, we don’t like to show our hand. But it’s unrealistic to say we’re going a different direction.” Lock’s rookie contract will give the Broncos flexibility they have not had in a few years.
  • However, the Broncos’ September restructure of Joe Flacco‘s contract will mean a $13.6MM dead-money tag if/when he is released. Flacco is not expected to be on next year’s Broncos team but does not want to retire yet. Although, Flacco would be open to a Broncos backup role going forward, video link via Mike Klis of 9News. Should Flacco return to full strength, he could be an attractive backup option somewhere. The 34-year-old quarterback will go through an MRI in the next month to determine if he needs neck surgery, per Legwold.
  • Phillip Lindsay became the first UDFA to start his career 2-for-2 in 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Elway said the Broncos will look into redoing his contract, per The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala (on Twitter). Lindsay’s rookie deal runs through 2020, but UDFAs can be extended after two years as opposed to the three-year waiting period for draft picks. Lindsay, 25, is set to make just $660K next season, so expect extension discussions to commence. The Denver native would prefer a new contract this offseason, per Jhabvala (on Twitter).
  • Von Miller backtracked on mid-December comments that could have been construed as ominous, clarifying he did not want to leave Denver. And he will be part of the 2020 Broncos. The Broncos will pick up Miller’s option, Elway said (via Klis, on Twitter). The 30-year-old standout’s option — due by March 17 — calls for $6MM of his $18MM 2020 payment to become fully guaranteed, which would essentially ensure he will be part of next year’s Denver edition. Miller’s six-year, $114.5MM deal runs through the 2021 season.

NFL Reserve/Futures Contracts: 12/31/19

Here are the reserve/futures deals handed out on New Year’s Eve:

Cincinnati Bengals

Detroit Lions

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Browns Considering Mike McCarthy-Eliot Wolf Pairing

Despite John Dorsey and the Browns parting ways, assistant GM Eliot Wolf remains in his position. And the Browns are considering pairing him with another former Packers coworker.

Mike McCarthy will be the Browns’ first HC interview, with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noting the longtime Green Bay coach will meet with the Browns on Thursday. The Browns, who have gone through numerous front office structures under Jimmy Haslam, are considering a McCarthy-Wolf power structure, Cabot adds.

Wolf was in Green Bay for each of McCarthy’s nine playoff appearances as Packers coach, working with the Packers from 2004-17. The final four of those years featured Wolf as either the Packers’ director of player personnel or director of football operations. The second-generation NFL executive left for Cleveland in 2018, when former Packers exec Dorsey joined as Browns GM. The Browns appear to be considering a promotion for the son of Hall of Fame exec Ron Wolf. Eliot Wolf has interviewed for GM jobs in the past, and he may be back on the radar — despite the latest upheaval at Browns headquarters.

McCarthy, 56, has already interviewed with the Panthers and will meet with the Giants this weekend. He was on the Browns’ radar during the 2019 hiring period but did not meet with team brass. The Browns ended the 2010s with seven head coaches and are obviously hoping for some semblance of stability entering the next decade.

Several other candidates are on the Browns’ HC radar. Josh McDaniels, Eric Bieniemy, Greg Roman, Kevin Stefanski and 49ers assistants Robert Saleh, Mike McDaniel and Matt LaFleur. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule turned down the opportunity to interview with the Browns.

Cleveland’s next head coach may need to make a greater commitment to analytics, with Cabot adding that Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta is planning to incorporate more analytical concepts into the team’s game plans. This blueprint did not appear to be a hit with Dorsey or Freddie Kitchens, with a source informing Cabot it only complicated matters further for an “in over his head” Kitchens.

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Latest On Eli Manning’s Plans

With Eli Manning‘s contract coming off the books, the Giants will almost certainly be moving on from the likely Hall of Fame quarterback in 2020. As for Manning, he revealed some details about his thought process exiting his least active NFL season.

The soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback will contemplate retirement and may well do so if there is no clear starting job available. No timetable exists for the younger Manning quarterback’s decision. Peyton Manning retired in March 2016 but was under contract with the Broncos at the time. Archie Manning has said multiple times this year he does not expect his son to play elsewhere, though it doesn’t sound like Eli has completely ruled that out.

That will come into the consideration,” Manning said, via ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan.”That is what I’ll be thinking about these next couple days.”

If Manning does decide he wants to pursue a 17th season, he does not sound interested in being Daniel Jones‘ backup in 2020. Going into a situation as another team’s backup also would not appeal to Manning, via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Manning threw a career-low 147 passes this season.

I doubt it. I doubt it,” Manning said,, of the prospect of returning as a backup. “Backing up is not real fun. … Everything is an option. That is the first decision, whether I want to continue to play or not. That is what I will decide. I’ll just try to figure it out. I think I can still play.”

Even if Manning were to secure a starting job somewhere, said franchise would be in line to use him as a bridge passer. That scenario would probably lead to a similar season arc to 2019’s, when the Giants benched Manning after two games. There are several marquee quarterbacks who reside as free agents-to-be, but finding a true opening for Manning is difficult. And if retirement does commence, Manning added coaching is likely not in his future.

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Eric Bieniemy To Meet With Giants, Panthers

Another Andy Reid offensive coordinator is drawing significant interest on the coaching market. After receiving interview requests from the Browns, Giants and Panthers, Eric Bieniemy has set his itinerary.

The Chiefs’ offensive coordinator will meet with the Panthers on Thursday and Giants on Saturday, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). It is not known if Bieniemy will take a Browns interview.

Bieniemy was part of the 2019 interview cycle, with the Buccaneers, Bengals and Dolphins requesting summits with the Kansas City OC. Should Bieniemy be hired, he would follow Chiefs OC predecessors Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy in landing HC gigs. The former led the Eagles to the Super Bowl LII championship; the latter was last season’s coach of the year. Reid’s coaching tree has proven to generate good hires.

Although the Chiefs fared well under Pederson and Nagy, they’ve certainly hit another gear during Bieniemy’s tenure. While the Reid-Patrick Mahomes partnership receives most of the credit for the Chiefs morphing into one of the league’s most explosive offenses, Bieniemy has served as K.C.’s OC during each of Mahomes’ two years as starting quarterback. Reid serves as Kansas City’s primary play-caller, but his seventh-year assistant has played a role in elevating the Chiefs to two straight playoff byes.

The Giants will also meet with Mike McCarthy and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard for their latest HC vacancy. They are interested in Baylor’s Matt Rhule as well. They have also requested interviews with Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge and Ravens defensive boss Don “Wink” Martindale. The Panthers have met with McCarthy, requested an interview with Josh McDaniels and are also interested in Rhule.

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Broncos Offered Chris Harris Extension

Pro Football Focus rated Chris Harris as the second-best cornerback of the 2010s (Twitter link), and it looks like the acclaimed defender will stick to his offseason word and see how the NFL gauges his value exiting his age-30 season.

The Broncos, however, did make an extension offer before the trade deadline. Harris said (via The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala, on Twitter) the team proposed a three-year, $36MM deal. This came months after the sides could not agree on extension terms over the summer, leading to a rare contract-year pay raise for the four-time Pro Bowler. The Broncos bumped Harris’ 2019 salary to $12.05MM. He was one of the top trade candidates in October, with the Lions making an offer. But the Broncos kept him.

Harris expects to have a new deal by the time the 2020 league year opens on March 18, with Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post adding (via Twitter) the nine-year veteran does not plan to take visits. That’s a common free agency practice for high-end players. Harris bypassed 2015 free agency to sign a five-year, $42.5MM deal to stay in Denver. Although some members of the organization would prefer the team retain Harris on a third contract, the final member of the Broncos’ No-Fly Zone secondary may well depart Denver.

John Elway has identified Justin Simmons as a player the Broncos would like to keep, and it looks like — via long-term deal before free agency or through the franchise tag — the breakout safety will be back in Denver next season. The nine-year GM did not commit to Harris in the same way, indicating it will be up to how the Broncos can fit contracts into their cap space — which currently is projected to stand at $65.6MM.

Injuries and inexperience at cornerback forced the Broncos to play Harris in a less familiar role this season. The Broncos did not use the acclaimed slot defender much in the slot this season. While Harris fared well against several high-end wideouts, he struggled at times as well. Pre-free agency extensions and franchise tags may well commence, but as of now Harris, Trae Waynes, Byron Jones and ex-Bronco Bradley Roby are among the top cornerbacks set for free agency.

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Latest On Browns’ Front Office

The Browns’ disappointing season produced the firing of Freddie Kitchens and prompted Jimmy Haslam to approach John Dorsey about stripping his power. That led to the constantly retooling franchise having another GM vacancy. The Haslams confirmed the 2019 Browns’ underachievement helped lead to Dorsey departing.

While John helped greatly improve our team’s talent and we are excited about the core players on our roster, we fully recognized that our team did not meet its potential on or off the field and additional changes in leadership give us the best opportunity for success in the future,” Jimmy and Dee Haslam said in a statement. “As the role of the general manager continues to evolve in this league we felt there were areas that needed to be reassessed. Over the last 48 hours, we’ve had discussion with John about his role but could not come to an agreement on a position that would enable him to remain with the organization.”

The Browns have now gone through five GMs or de facto GMs during Haslam’s seven-plus-year tenure. They will be looking for No. 6, along with a seventh head coach under current ownership.

Here is the latest on the state of the Browns’ front office:

  • It is not certain Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta will survive a second regime change during his tenure, but that looks to be the case. Former football operations boss Sashi Brown‘s right-hand man, DePodesta stayed on during Dorsey’s run and is now playing a key role helping Jimmy Haslam find the Browns’ next head coach. The former MLB GM is taking a “very heavy hand” in Cleveland’s latest coaching search, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link).
  • DePodesta, however, is not necessarily in charge. The fourth-year executive is not currently running the football operation, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. This does beg the question as to who exactly is running things at this point.
  • Top responsibility may now fall on assistant GM Eliot Wolf. Although Wolf came aboard shortly after Dorsey did and worked with Dorsey in Green Bay as well, the second-generation NFL exec is still a part of Cleveland’s front office, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. That could certainly change soon, once a new GM or head coach with GM powers arrives in Berea.
  • Dorsey received a nice exit package from the Browns. The two-time NFL GM will walk away with two years’ severance, according to Pelissero (on Twitter). This marks the second time in three years Dorsey will be on the market, with the Chiefs having fired him during the summer of 2017.

Lions Fire Six Assistants

While both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia will return after the Lions’ worst season in 10 years, the latter’s coaching staff will look considerably different in 2020.

The Lions fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego on New Year’s Eve and also axed five assistants, the team announced. Linebackers coach Al Golden, defensive backs coach Brian Stewart, tight ends coach Chris White, strength coach Harold Nash and assistant strength coach Rodney Hill will not be back next season. Second-year defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni remains in place.

Bonamego returned to the Lions earlier this year, doing so after spending four seasons as Central Michigan’s head coach. He was also Detroit’s ST coordinator from 2013-14. The Lions fired previous ST boss Joe Marciano midway through Patricia’s first season.

Golden had been with the Lions since 2016, working as their tight ends instructor from 2016-17 before moving over to the other side of the ball. This was his first NFL coaching destination, having previously been a college head coach from 2006-15 at Temple and Miami.

Stewart joined Patricia’s initial staff last season, but the Lions struggled in pass coverage in 2019. The team ranked 29th in pass-defense DVOA. White will not have a chance to further develop T.J. Hockenson, who struggled after a record-setting debut against a Cardinals defense that turned out to be historically bad at defending tight ends. The Lions have still yet to see 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis justify his draft slot; he rated as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-worst full-time ‘backer this season.

NFC South Notes: JPP, Panthers, Falcons

Bruce Arians has understandably asserted Shaquil Barrett‘s all-time contract year will keep him with the Buccaneers but added the team wants to keep its other high-profile front-seven starters as well. Both Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh‘s contracts are up, but Arians said keeping both will be a top priority (Twitter link via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com). The veteran HC may have indicated JPP resides slightly higher on the priority list as well, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (on Twitter). Pierre-Paul returned from another scary injury this season and has registered 8.5 sacks in 10 games, giving him 21 in two Bucs seasons. The Bucs hold a great deal of cap space, at $88.9MM, but will likely need to devote a chunk of that amount to Jameis Winston.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • If Greg Olsen opts to put off his broadcasting career for another year, he will likely need to relocate. The veteran tight end indicated recently he did not want to take part in a potential Panthers rebuild. While the franchise has not committed to charting that path, Joe Person of The Athletic expects Olsen to be elsewhere in 2020. “I just think sometimes the writing’s on the wall,” Olsen said, via Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). “There hasn’t been anything officially. But I wanted to make sure if that was my last time that I made sure I told the people that I needed to how much they meant on my career.” One year (at a $6.6MM base salary) remains on the 34-year-old tight end’s contract. Carolina would save $8.1MM by cutting Olsen, its top tight end for the past nine years.
  • Moving to a younger NFC South tight end, Austin Hooper acknowledged the Falcons have not yet made him an offer to stay, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Hooper, however, would like to return, and Thomas Dimitroff appeared to indicate the breakout tight end will be a priority (Twitter link via Ledbetter). We heard this earlier this season as well.
  • A Hooper return may lead De’Vondre Campbell elsewhere. The Falcons already gave a top-market contract to Deion Jones and are up against the salary cap. While noting he wants to stay in Atlanta, the Falcons’ top 2019 tackler acknowledged (via ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure) he may need to change teams. Although the Falcons will consider re-signing Campbell and Vic Beasley, Dimitroff did not commit to either’s return (via McClure, on Twitter).
  • Despite Breshad Perriman‘s end-of-season stretch potentially raising his free agency price, the Buccaneers‘ No. 3 wideout would like to stay in this high-octane offense. Perriman signed a one-year, $4MM deal with Tampa Bay, doing so after backing out of a Cleveland commitment following the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. The Bucs have Mike Evans on a high-end deal and will see Chris Godwin enter a contract year in 2020, perhaps pushing Perriman to another team.
  • A player the Panthers do not want on another team: James Bradberry. Carolina’s top cornerback met with GM Marty Hurney, and David Newton of ESPN.com notes the fourth-year corner received a “be patient” message from this summit. The Panthers want Bradberry back, Newton adds, but the former Round 2 pick would obviously prefer an upper-echelon deal to stay.

Texans Activate J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt is back. Officially.

On Tuesday, the Texans formally activated their star defender, per a club announcement. Watt will return to the field for Wild Card weekend to face the Bills on Saturday.

Watt was double-teamed 30% of the time on his edge rusher snaps this year, more than any other qualifying player in the NFL. He still managed to tally four sacks and 24 tackles in eight games, up until he tore his pectoral muscle. Typically, pec surgery rules players out for three or four months, but Watt beat out the doctor’s prognosis by a wide margin.

Re-injury risk does exist here, but Watt encountering such a scenario would not jeopardize his status for Week 1 of next season. The Texans have been without their future Hall of Fame pass rusher, and their pass rush has suffered. Watt’s 21 QB hits led the league at the time of his injury, and 5.5 of Whitney Mercilus‘ 7.5 sacks came during the seven games in which Watt played from start to finish.

This will obviously increase the Texans’ chances of winning their first playoff game in three years. Houston had Watt for its 2018 wild-card game against Indianapolis but lost. Watt did not play in the Texans’ two 2016 playoff games. He’s the only player in NFL history to record two 20-plus-sack seasons, so this transaction will alter the Bills’ game plan.

To make room for Watt, the Texans placed safety Tashaun Gipson on injured reserve. The veteran had 51 tackles and three interceptions in 14 games this season. Gipson suffered a transverse process fracture in his back, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. The former Browns and Jaguars starter signed a three-year, $22.5MM deal with the Texans this offseason.

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