Month: November 2020

COVID-19 Latest: Preseason, Travel, Arizona

As the NFL continues to prepare for training camps amid COVID-19, news on how the league will operate once players return emerges frequently. Here is the latest on the virus-NFL front:

  • A four-week preseason slate looks like the less realistic scenario, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com notes (video link). The NFL-NFLPA talks have not progressed to the point the early portion of the preseason can be ruled out, but signs are pointing in that direction. In addition to gaining some time to further prepare for playing games during the pandemic, the NFL canceling part of the preseason may be vital for conditioning. A multi-week acclimation period would push full-on contact work into mid-August, thus delaying teams’ game action. Players are pushing for the ramp-up period, Garafolo adds (video link). This would stand to better protect them against injuries that would arise from being thrust into team action after a virtual offseason.
  • NFLPA president J.C. Tretter sent a letter to players underlining some of the risks they will take by playing this season. Among the bullet points: the Browns center warns of the players who could be at higher risk of developing severe complications if they were to contract the virus — those with asthma, those at higher weights, etc. Additionally, players want multiple companies to perform different kinds of testing — due to state testing regulations varying. This represents one of the many issues the NFL and NFLPA are discussing before players return to team facilities. Players are scheduled for a conference call Thursday.
  • Two-plus months before the regular season is scheduled to begin, teams are already making travel adjustments. Multiple teams plan to take the unusual step of traveling on game days, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports. This does not indicate whether these plans will be in place throughout the season, with it being impractical for teams to make lengthy trips on game mornings. But teams even preparing to make day-of flights, to avoid hotel stays, is notable. Early returns do not point to players being on board (all Twitter links).
  • The Cardinals have some new hurdles to clear to host training camp. In light of coronavirus cases hitting record highs in Arizona — one of several states in which this is the case — Gov. Doug Ducey banned gatherings of 50 or more people. Ducey added that this policy is unlikely to affect sports — despite NFL training camps obviously housing far more than 50 people — but said attendance will be impacted (Twitter link via the Arizona Repulic’s Katherine Fitzgerald). Arizona was one of the first states to reopen and announce sports could return.

Browns Still In Mix For Jadeveon Clowney

Closing in on four months as a free agent, Jadeveon Clowney continues to survey his options. He wants to sign before the season starts, veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson tweets, but the three-time Pro Bowler’s options remain open.

The team most closely connected to Clowney in recent weeks has not given up its pursuit. The Browns have made multiple offers to the former No. 1 overall pick. Both are still on the table, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. Cleveland is believed to have submitted a one-year offer in the $15MM ballpark, and Cabot adds the team’s multiyear proposal is at or near the top of the list.

Clowney could be using the Browns as leverage, hoping one of the teams he would like to play for bites. He has been linked to being open to playing for both New York teams, and the Cowboys and Saints have entered the equation as teams for which the talented edge defender would prefer to play. As for the Browns, Cabot notes they are not first on Clowney’s list. That said, the veteran Cleveland reporter adds he has not shut the door on a Browns deal either.

At the same time, the Browns are not aggressively pursuing Clowney. They have been discussing a Myles Garrett extension, and those talks can easily lead to Clowney dialogue due to agent Bus Cook representing both pass rushers.

While nothing of note has come from the teams Clowney may be eager to sign with, the Browns, Seahawks, Titans and Eagles have been mentioned as interested parties. Of the non-Browns suitor contingent, the Seahawks may be the most amenable to anteing up. Clowney dropped his price off the $20MM-per-year point early in the offseason, but he continues to wait. So does Olivier Vernon, who looms as a potential hard-luck cap casualty if the Browns land Clowney. The Browns are set to pay Vernon a non-guaranteed $15.25MM base salary this season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Patriots, Cam Newton

The Patriots added Cam Newton in between their virtual offseason and the scheduled start of training camp. Newton’s asking price appears to have moved the needle between the parties.

New England did not express much interest in Newton earlier this offseason, when the franchise explored a deal, but Jeff Howe of The Athletic notes that changed when the former MVP lowered his demands (subscription required). A report even surfaced indicating Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was lukewarm on the passer when he interviewed for the Carolina HC job. But Newton is now New England-bound and primed for his second act.

It is unclear what Newton wanted earlier this offseason, but he was not closely connected to many teams. He ended up signing an incentive-laden deal that will max out at just $7.5MM. He was set to earn more than $19MM in the final year of his previous contract with the Panthers. With Newton’s money not yet on the Pats’ payroll, they hold the least amount of cap space in the NFL at less than $1.5MM. They have not made any plans to accommodate Newton’s deal yet, per Howe. Restructures could well occur in the near future.

Bill Belichick called around on Newton prior to the move, with Albert Breer of SI.com noting that ex-Panthers OC Norv Turner received a call. That prompted Turner to predict a few days ago that Newton would end up in New England.

While Newton not starting in Week 1 would be shocking — should he be healthy at that point — Howe notes the Pats did not guarantee him their QB1 gig. Given the organization’s “do your job” mantra, and Newton’s struggles with injuries over the past three years, that is not surprising. Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer represent Newton’s primary competition, and while Howe adds that Stidham’s work in the virtual offseason did not contribute to the Pats signing Newton, it would be difficult to envision a reality that features a healthy Newton not opening the season as New England’s trigger man. The Pats giving Stidham a cozy path to the job would have pointed to the team being comfortable with a transition year, and Breer adds that Belichick had no intention of “punting on this season.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reduction Of Preseason Rosters On Table

With training camps scheduled to begin in less than a month, teams are in the process of unprecedented preparation for players’ return to team facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL and NFLPA remain in talks about how the new-look camps will proceed.

These discussions have included trimming roster sizes. Teams can carry up to 90 players on their rosters throughout the preseason, but USA Today’s Mike Jones notes that the prospect of reducing rosters to 75 or 80 players has surfaced in NFLPA circles recently (Twitter link).

This would be an interesting decision, since it would mean the union signing off on reduced job opportunities. But odds are stacked against UDFAs this year, with rookies set to be thrust into training camp action without the benefit of onsite offseason work. That would make the bottom-rung rookies’ tasks even more imposing. So would a reduced preseason, which continues to be rumored.

While Jones adds roster reductions are not a lock, because of the job-opportunity component, this is being considered for social-distancing purposes. The NFL sent out guidelines for teams regarding operations amid the coronavirus spread. Some of those centered on distancing. Teams are advised to prevent more than 15 players from being in weight rooms at once, and the league would prefer teams organize their locker rooms so that players are at least six feet apart from one another.

Adhering to these guidelines would be most difficult during training camp. Teams can only have 53-man active rosters during the regular season, but the new CBA expanded practice squads to 12. And discussions have begun on moving P-squads to 16 because of the potential availability crises the virus has created. Talks about how new protocols have encountered some hiccups, however, and many answers will be needed before teams report to camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Remain Out On Antonio Brown?

Some Antonio Brown-to-Tampa Bay rumblings resurfaced Tuesday morning, but Bruce Arians‘ March stance on his former charge may still stand.

The Buccaneers remain uninterested in adding the former perennial All-Pro wideout, Dianna Russini of ESPN.com tweets. With Tampa Bay arming for an all-in window behind Tom Brady for two years, Brown would certainly make sense from a football perspective and give the Bucs a historically loaded pass-catching corps.

The move would be risky, though, and Arians said months ago the team would not pursue Brown. Despite Arians having coached Brown in Pittsburgh, he is not interested in a reunion. Nothing has changed on this front, Greg Auman of The Athletic tweets.

Brown remains under NFL investigation for multiple incidents — including two alleged acts of sexual misconduct — and is expected to face a suspension this season. Given the superstar receiver’s volatile run over the past 1 1/2 years, teams will be hesitant to give him another chance immediately. But Brown’s talent points to him receiving at least one more opportunity at some point.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old weapon has been linked to the Ravens and Seahawks, though Baltimore is believed to also be uninterested in adding Brown to its pass-catching stable. Russell Wilson is believed to have lobbied for the mercurial talent at multiple junctures.

The Bucs already employ Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and scant precedent exists for a tight end trio as deep as Tampa’s Rob GronkowskiO.J. HowardCameron Brate group. But Brady was believed to be against the Patriots cutting Brown last year and has been rumored to support the Bucs bringing him in. For now, however, that does not appear to be a front-burner matter for the team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cam Newton’s Patriots Deal Does Not Prevent 2021 Franchise Tag

Were the Patriots to see a rejuvenated Cam Newton this season, they will not only have exclusive negotiating rights regarding an extension. They can keep the quarterback via the franchise tag, with Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeting Newton’s contract will not prevent the Pats from tagging him in 2021.

Newton signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal that could max out at just $7.5MM. The non-exclusive franchise tag for quarterbacks came in at $26.8MM this year. This season will certainly be a high-stakes slate for Newton’s future, but the Patriots having the ability to keep him around without an extension agreement is also notable.

The Patriots were the only team to offer the former MVP a contract. Newton has undergone three surgeries since the beginning of the 2017 offseason — two shoulder procedures and the most recent foot operation — and has missed 16 of the past 18 games. And, excepting the first half of the 2018 season, Newton has struggled since Super Bowl 50. His cumulative QBR since the start of the 2016 season ranks 30th, so a Patriots future beyond 2020 cannot yet be considered a certainty.

But he should be on track to be the Pats’ Week 1 starter, giving him a chance to immediately revive his stock — something Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston are not expected to have, given their agreements to be backup quarterbacks this season. Dalton, Winston, Newton and Philip Rivers agreed to one-year deals, which could set up another rare buyer’s-market scenario at quarterback.

New England was prohibited from tagging Tom Brady this year, after the future Hall of Famer negotiated a deal that allowed him to leave in free agency without that bridge to cross. The Pats have gone year-to-year at quarterback for a bit now, with Brady not landing the extension he sought late in his 20-year New England run. Newton will need to answer some questions before the tag becomes an option, but this scenario will be on the table should the ex-Panthers centerpiece return to form.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Johnny Manziel: Football Career Is “In The Past”

These days, Johnny Football is more like Johnny Golf. While giving an interview at a country club, former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel confirmed that he’s no longer focused on returning to the field.

In the past, probably, is the way I’d characterize it,” Manziel said (via Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). “I’ve finally got to a point where I’m trying to achieve happiness in life, not happiness on the football field.”

Manziel, 28 in December, has not played in the NFL the 2015 season. At one point in time, the Saints were rumored to have interest in him, but there has been no real chatter about Manziel in NFL circles this offseason. Manziel was also widely connected to the XFL, but nothing materialized between the quarterback and Vince McMahon‘s short-lived reboot.

I know a lot of people probably want me to come back and play and give it another chance, but I don’t know, as far as being a person and figuring out life as a young adult — trying to make it and figure it out — if I’ve ever been in a better place than I’m in right now,” Manziel explained. “I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m doing the right things to try and put a smile on my face every day, and that means more to me than going out and grinding on a football field.”

After capturing the Heisman Trophy, the Aggies star wasn’t able to do much as a pro. In two seasons, the Browns’ first-round pick appeared in 14 games (eight starts) and completed 57% of his passes for 1,675 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also tacked on another 259 rushing yards off of 46 totes.

Meanwhile, off the field, he’s been embroiled in a number of controversies, including a 2016 investigation into domestic violence allegations. Later, he was suspended for four games in the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

With football in the rear view mirror, Manziel is making some impressive strides on the links. He’s playing six days a week in Arizona and estimates that he’s down to a 2-handicap.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: NFL Suspends Cowboys’ Rolando McClain

When linebacker Rolando McClain was handed a 10-game suspension on this date in 2016, it was assumed he’d be back for the Cowboys’ late-season run. However, four years later, it’s uncertain if the 30-year-old will ever play in the NFL again.

[RELATED: Jadeveon Clowney Eyeing Cowboys?]

The 2010 first-round pick had three productive, yet tumultuous, seasons with the Raiders. In 2012, he was booted from team practices after several incidents, and McClain took to Facebook to complain about the organization. One time, he wrote that he wanted “to be anywhere besides [Oakland].” He was released by the team the next offseason before briefly catching on with the Ravens. Less than a month after signing with Baltimore, McClain suddenly announced his retirement.

The Cowboys traded for McClain in 2014, even though the linebacker was one year removed from the field. It paid off for Dallas – McClain went on to appear in 13 games for his new team, registering 81 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. He earned his first suspension from the NFL the following offseason, limiting him to only eleven games in 2015, although he still collected 80 tackles and a pair of sacks.

After signing another one-year deal with the Cowboys during the 2016 offseason, McClain was handed the 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He then failed another drug test midway through the season, and the NFL slapped him with an indefinite suspension. Following his third ban in two years, McClain was arrested on firearm and drug charges.

McClain was conditionally reinstated in August of 2019, but the Cowboys cut him almost immediately. Then, in December, McClain was hit with yet another indefinite suspension from the league office. The league did not publicly disclose the reason for the ban, but it likely means that the once-promising linebacker will never play in the NFL again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers Open To Antonio Brown?

In March, we heard that new Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady wants to reunite with Antonio Brown. Meanwhile, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that a Brown signing is “not going to happen.” Here in June, the Bucs are starting to open up to the idea of adding AB, according to Michael Lombardi of The Athletic (Twitter link via Barstool Sports’ Pat McAfee).

[RELATED: Bucs’ Shaq Barrett Will Sign By July 15]

From a football perspective, it would be a huge win for the Buccaneers. With Brown, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin at wide receiver, they’d be impossible to guard for opposing defenses.

Yeah, it’s not going to happen,” Arians said earlier this year. “It’s just not going to happen. There’s no room and probably not enough money. But it’s just not going to happen. It’s not a fit here.”

When pressed on whether he’d consider Brown on a minimum salary deal, Arians again demurred.

“No. I just know him and it’s not a fit in our locker room.”

Brown’s status with the league office remains under review, so it’s not a given that he’ll be cleared to play in 2020. Beyond that, there’s the matter of Brown’s fit in the locker room, as Arians noted. Even before all of the ugly accusations and disturbing social media videos, Brown clashed with coaches and teammates in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Brady, meanwhile, is likely rooting for a change of heart in the front office.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Ginn, Peterson, Eagles, Giants

Ted Ginn Jr. will enter the 2020 season as the league’s second-oldest wide receiver, behind Larry Fitzgerald, and the 35-year-old veteran did not find a new team until after the draft. But the Bears may have big plans for the veteran speed merchant. Ginn will likely be the outside starter opposite Allen Robinson, Adam Caplan of InsidetheBirds.com notes. The Bears entered the offseason concerned about their speed on offense, wanting more help beyond Tarik Cohen in that department. Ginn remains one of the NFL’s fastest receivers and may well be on the verge of starting for a fifth NFL team. After missing most of the Saints’ 2018 season, Ginn caught 30 passes for 421 yards in 2019.

The Bears also have 2019 draftee Riley Ridley, he of a 4.61-second 40-yard dash clocking at the Combine, and 2020 pick Darnell Mooney. The latter profiles as more intriguing through a speed lens, having blazed to a 4.38-second time this year. But thanks to the virtual offseason, Day 3 picks might have a tougher time acclimating than the already-difficult college-to-NFL jump brings.

Here is the latest from the NFC:

  • In the same piece, Caplan notes the expectation remains the Eagles will add a veteran to their running back corps. Philly has been linked to LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman. Both remain free agents. The Eagles pursued Carlos Hyde as well, but he opted for a Seahawks deal. If the Eagles determine they do not need help behind Miles Sanders, Boston Scott‘s pass-catching ability intrigued coaches last season more than his “OK” run-game chops, Caplan adds. Scott would be in line to be the team’s RB2, were it to stand pat at this spot.
  • Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but Adrian Peterson has no near-future retirement plans. The new play-until number is age 39, the running back told TMZ. Peterson’s Redskins contract expires at season’s end. Peterson (14,216 career rushing yards) is within striking distance of Barry Sanders (15,269) for fourth on the all-time rushing list this season, and if he is granted a 15th season in 2021, he would likely be a good bet to pass the Hall of Famer like Frank Gore did last season. Though, Sanders amassed that total in 10 seasons.
  • The Giants placed a second-round tender on kicker Aldrick Rosas this offseason, but after his arrest for an alleged hit and run, Rosas can probably be considered on thin ice. The fourth-year specialist should be considered unlikely to be Big Blue’s kicker this season, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post writes. There are plenty of kickers in free agency. Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Succop and Nick Folk are among the best available.