Month: July 2021

Latest On Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger

After a whole lot of drama, it now appears that Ben Roethlisberger is in fact going to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback in 2021. Things aren’t wrapped up though, as Big Ben still needs to adjust his contract in a way that satisfies Pittsburgh’s management.

Roethlisberger currently has a cap hit north of $40MM for 2021, and that isn’t going to stand. The team’s options are limited, and in a recent TV hit Brooke Pryor of ESPN laid out what they are (Twitter video link). Pryor says the team can give Roethlisberger a four-year extension, which would void after 2021 and save the them around $14MM in cap space for this season. The extension would be strictly a technical maneuver to spread cap charges, as those voidable years being tacked on to contracts have become increasingly popular recently.

The other option she lays out is to have Roethlisberger take a massive pay-cut to play for the veteran minimum, which would reduce his 2021 cap charge down to around $23MM. Meanwhile, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network seems to think after conversing with a source that voidable years are the likeliest path, even though as he notes it’s something the Steelers don’t often do (Twitter video link).

He thinks the Steelers will give Big Ben a big signing bonus for this season to ensure he still gets paid starting QB money, and then spread that bonus out over several voidable years. Getting lost in all the contract talk is how Roethlisberger will actually look when it comes time to take the field.

Team president Art Rooney II said this week that he’s not too concerned about his actual play, via the team’s official site. “We think Ben played at a high level last year,” Rooney said. “We won our division and set a franchise record for most consecutive wins to open a season, so there was a lot of good stuff.

Rooney even addressed the concerns about Roethlisberger’s physical limitations after the elbow surgery that cost him almost the entire 2019 season. “His arm, I would say, is as strong or almost as strong as ever, so I think he’s certainly capable of getting the job done.” Observers of 2020 Steelers games might disagree, but it’s interesting to here nonetheless. Rooney also said March 17th, the beginning of the new year, is a deadline to get something done, although he hopes it’ll happen before then.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: O’Connell, Rams, Flaherty, Giants

We heard last month that new Chargers coach Brandon Staley was interested in bringing OC Kevin O’Connell with him from the Rams, but that Sean McVay had blocked the lateral move. McVay confirmed that news when speaking to the media earlier this week, and indicated that he’s putting more on O’Connell’s plate to keep him happy. McVay said his top offensive deputy will have more responsibility this upcoming season, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets.

The Rams head coach stressed how important it was for the team to retain O’Connell in the face of the Chargers’ advances. It doesn’t sound like he has any intention of giving up play-calling duties anytime soon, but at least O’Connell will be more involved in the operation. McVay let his old OC Matt LaFleur leave to go to the Titans for a lateral move since it came with play-calling responsibilities, but he wasn’t as keen to see O’Connell walk out the door. O’Connell, still only 35, was Washington’s OC in 2019 before getting bounced with the rest of Jay Gruden’s staff and then getting picked up by McVay.

  • O’Connell isn’t the only one getting additional responsibilities on the Rams staff. Running backs coach Thomas Brown has now been given the title of assistant head coach, tight ends coach Wes Phillips has been named passing game coordinator, and defensive line coach Eric Henderson has been promoted to run game coordinator, the team announced. Knowing the history of McVay’s staffs, each of these guys will probably be head coaches by 2022. All jokes aside, Phillips is the son of former Cowboys head coach and Rams DC Wade Phillips, so it’s interesting to see him rising up through the ranks if nothing else.
  • The Giants are bringing a familiar face back into the fold. Former New York offensive line coach Pat Flaherty will return to the team in an advisory role, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. It’s notable because Flaherty was such a staple of those Eli Manning era Giants teams, serving as their offensive line coach for all 12 of Tom Coughlin’s seasons as head coach from 2004-15. As such, Flaherty won two Super Bowls with the team. The Giants had a lot of drama in their offensive line room last year, and are probably hoping the seasoned vet Flaherty can be a stabilizing presence. He was the Dolphins’ offensive line coach in 2019.
  • In case you missed it, the Eagles did in fact request an interview with Eric Bieniemy for their HC vacancy, putting to rest a mini-controversy.

LeSean McCoy Wants To Keep Playing

Prior to the Super Bowl, veteran running back LeSean McCoy said that if he won his second ring in as many seasons, he’d consider hanging up his cleats and walking away from the game. McCoy easily picked up his second championship with the Bucs’ win over the Chiefs, but it didn’t take him very long to decide retirement isn’t what he wants.

On a recent appearance on NFL Network’s ‘Good Morning Football,’ McCoy said he’d like to keep playing and that he’s already had conversations with his agent about finding a new team, via Chris Franklin of Lehigh Valley Live.

The only thing is it has to be the right team,” McCoy said. “I can’t go from two Super Bowls to playing with BA (Bruce Arians), Andy Reid, Tom Brady, and (Patrick) Mahomes to not even having a team that’s competing. I’m still a competitor. To bring me back, I have to play for a team that is a contender, or with some young guys I could help out. I still want to be effective and get a shot to play and showcase my talent. I still have some more highlights to give out.”

It sounds like after 12 seasons in the league he has no interest in playing for any random team, which is understandable. McCoy played sparingly for Tampa this season, getting only 10 carries and 15 receptions in 10 games. He’ll turn 33 in July, and if any team wants him it’ll be more as a veteran locker room presence than on-field contributor. He was on a one-year minimum deal with the Bucs, and likely won’t be brought back considering they’ve already got Ronald Jones and Lombardi Lenny Fournette in the fold.

One of the most accomplished running backs of the past decade, McCoy made six Pro Bowls in seven seasons from 2011-17. As recently as 2019 with the Chiefs he had 129 touches, so maybe he’s still got a little bit left in the tank. If nothing else he can claim to be good luck for whatever team signs him after the way his past two campaigns have gone.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jimmy Garoppolo Still To Be Available For Trade?

Every time it seems like the 49ers have put the Jimmy Garoppolo story to rest, it takes another twist. GM John Lynch recently made headlines by saying there was “no doubt” Garoppolo would be the team’s 2021 starter, but there apparently is some doubt after all. 

“Many around the league still expect Garoppolo to be available” in trade talks, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes. Garoppolo is one of only a handful of players around the league with a no-trade clause, so he’d have to give his approval for any potential destination. Lynch’s comments always rang a bit hollow considering the team reportedly inquired about Matthew Stafford before balking at the asking price.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has also waffled at various points about how committed to Garoppolo he is. Regardless of whether he’s good enough to be their long-term starter, there are also questions about Jimmy G’s health issues, which Lynch acknowledged recently.

He played all 16 games in San Francisco’s 2019 NFC Championship season, but played in only three in 2018 and just six this past year. Although his status as the 49ers’ starter is apparently not as set in stone as we may have believed earlier this week, Volin does say that he thinks the team “would have to be bowled over by a trade offer” to move Garoppolo.

In his latest ‘Football Morning in America’ column, Peter King of NBC Sports wrote that if the 49ers can convince Garoppolo to waive his no-trade clause he could see them being ‘all in’ on Deshaun Watson. Just for entertainment he floated a couple of hypothetical trade scenarios, including a fun one where the Vikings send Kirk Cousins to San Francisco and the 49ers send Garoppolo to Houston in a three-team deal that ends with Watson in Minnesota. Obviously Shanahan and Cousins have a long history dating back to their time in Washington together.

If Garoppolo were to be traded eventually, the Patriots would have to be considered as a potential suitor given that it was Bill Belichick who brought him into the league with a second-round pick back in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The NFL’s Post-June 1 Cuts, Explained

NFL teams will often use contract bonuses as a way to spread out a cap hit that might otherwise be exorbitant. For example, if a player’s four-year deal includes a $8MM signing bonus, that money can be paid immediately but spread out over four years for cap purposes. This way, the cap charge for the bonus amounts to $2MM per year for cap purposes, rather than $8MM in year one.

There’s an obvious benefit to kicking the can down the road, but it can also hurt teams if they want to terminate that deal. If the club in the above scenario wanted to release the player in the second year of his contract, it would still have to account for that remaining prorated bonus money. Rather than counting on the cap as $2MM per year for two seasons, that dead money “accelerates,” and applies to the cap for the league year in which the player is released. In other words, the remaining $4MM in prorated bonus money immediately counts against the cap.

Although these rules apply to many cuts, a different set of rules is in place for players released after June 1. In that case, a team can spread the cap hit across two seasons rather than one — for the current season, the prorated bonus figure stays at its original amount, with the remaining bonus balance accelerating onto the following season. Referring again to the above scenario, that means the player would count against the cap for $2MM in the league year in which he was cut, with the remaining $4MM applying to the following league year.

The guidelines for pre-June 1 and post-June 1 cuts are fairly straightforward, but things become a little more complicated when we take into account that teams are allowed to designate up to two players as post-June 1 cuts even if those players are released before June. Last offseason, we players like Trey Burton (Bears), Desmond Trufant (Falcons), Trumaine Johnson (Jets), and Todd Gurley (Rams) designated as post-June 1 cuts well before the actual date.

In the case of Johnson, the Jets were initially slated to pay him $11MM in base salary. Under typical circumstances, the release would have left Gang Green with a $12MM dead money obligation for 2020. However, through the post-June 1 designation, they unlocked $11MM in cap space with just $4MM in dead money. This year, they’ll wrangle with the remaining $8MM charge.

Of course, teams won’t always opt for the dead money deferral. For example, the Panthers just recently terminated Kawann Short’s contract, which left $11MM lingering on the cap. Rather than spreading it out, the Panthers chose to take it all on the current cap for a cleaner long-term slate. And, even if the team doesn’t use that cap space for summer free agents, it can come in handy for signing draft picks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Saints Release Jairus Byrd

On this date in 2017, the Saints released Jairus Byrd. The safety had still had multiple years to go on his six-year, $56MM deal, but, at this point, the Saints had seen enough. 

Byrd joined the Saints as a free agent in 2014, when he was positioned as one of the best talents available in the class. In his previous run with the Bills, Byrd was a star, making three Pro Bowls and intercepted a whopping 22 passes. In New Orleans, he totaled just three picks in three years. For his 33 games (32 starts), Byrd collected $28MM in guaranteed cash alone.

Injuries hampered Byrd throughout his Saints tenure, but he wasn’t a total bust. In 2016 — his age-30 season — Byrd turned in his first 16-start season since 2012. His performance placed him in the middle-of-the-pack among safeties that year (42 out of 89), per Pro Football Focus. So, even though things trending up, he wasn’t worth the megabucks. The Saints recouped $3.2MM of his would-be salary for 2017 but were still left saddled with ~$8MM in dead money.

Unfortunately, Byrd wasn’t able to do much after his release. In the fall, he hooked on with the Panthers to help fill in for an injured Kurt Coleman. After a dozen games and zero starts, Byrd’s Carolina stint marked his last action in the NFL. On the field, Byrd is best remembered for his glory days in Buffalo. In GM circles, Byrd became something of a cautionary tale for teams considering high-priced safeties. The following year, players like Eric Reid and Saints starter Kenny Vaccaro felt the sting of the depressed safety market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks Notes: Wilson, Carroll, Dunlap

One of the reasons for the trade rumors swirling around Seahawks QB Russell Wilson — and perhaps the primary reason — is Wilson’s relationship with head coach Pete Carroll, which appears to be strained. Apparently, his relationship with Carroll’s sons hasn’t been much better.

According to a tweet from The Athletic, Wilson believes Carroll and his sons, Nolan and Brennan, answer to no one (Nolan serves as the team’s WRs coach, and Brennan had been working as the run game coordinator before accepting a position at the University of Arizona). And, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, Wilson is 100% correct.

Former owner Paul Allen “stayed deep in the background” when he was alive, and his sister, Jody Allen, has largely done the same since she inherited the team. Some league sources believe the Seahawks are essentially run by the Allens’ parent company, Vulcan Inc., which in turn defers to the head coach as the club’s de facto CEO. So while Jody Allen could intervene in light of the Wilson trade rumblings, her track record suggests that she will not do so, and that Pete Carroll will ultimately be the one to decide whether to deal Wilson.

While Wilson himself has said he does not expect to be dealt, Florio believes the 32-year-old will ultimately request a trade either this year or next. If QB and HC do not mend fences soon, it’s easy to envision such a scenario.

Now for more from the Emerald City:

  • Unlike Florio, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com does not believe Wilson will be traded. One of the reasons for that is the fact that — as our Sam Robinson wrote several days ago in the piece linked above — a trade will leave $39MM in dead money on the Seahawks’ cap. While a post-June 1 trade will allow the team to spread out that hit and actually create $19MM in 2021 space, Seattle is lacking a first-rounder and third-rounder this season, so a Wilson trade might be more beneficial if it happened prior to this year’s draft and not after June 1.
  • Still, Henderson believes the ‘Hawks will make a trade that both sheds some salary — the team has less than $8MM of cap space relative to the $180MM floor — and adds some much-needed draft capital. There is no indication as of yet that Seattle will look to trade players like Carlos Dunlap, Bobby Wagner, or Jamal Adams, but Henderson could see it happening.
  • As of now, though, Henderson predicts that the club will cut Dunlap and look to re-sign him to a less expensive contract — the former Bengal is due to carry a $14.1MM cap hit in 2021 — while restructuring the contract of franchise icon Wagner and extending 2020 trade acquisition Adams.
  • Proven performance escalators for several 2018 draftees have played a role in Seattle’s cap crunch. Since he earned a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie season, punter Michael Dickson has a $3.384MM salary for 2021 — the amount of the second-round RFA tender — while cornerback Tre Flowers is due to earn $2.183MM since he met the snap count requirement for the Level One PPE (Twitter link via Henderson). If you need a refresher, OverTheCap.com offers a comprehensive explanation of PPEs.
  • Presently, the Seahawks’ highest draft choice is their second-rounder (No. 56 overall). Given the state of the club’s offensive line, and Wilson’s recent comments in that regard, most mocks have Seattle selecting an OL with that pick, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times observes. Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis and Tennessee guard Trey Smith would be worthy Day 2 selections.

Jets Expected To Use Franchise Tag On Marcus Maye

Multiple league sources recently told Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv that they expect the Jets to hit safety Marcus Maye with the franchise tag. Teams have until March 9 to deploy the franchise and transition tags.

With the 2021 salary cap expected to fall between $180MM-$185MM, the franchise tag value for safeties will check in between $10MM-$11MM. That’s not an outrageous sum for a young and talented player like Maye, especially since New York has a ton of salary cap space but not many quality defensive players. And, although most impending free agents do not like being designated as a franchise player, the tag could benefit Maye this year.

The Florida product has played well throughout his first four seasons in the league, and he saved his best performance for his platform campaign. In 2020, his first year without former running mate Jamal Adams, Maye set career-highs in tackles (88), passes defensed (11), and sacks (2). He also intercepted two passes and graded out as the fifth-best safety in the game per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, which were especially fond of his coverage ability.

Nonetheless, several sources tell Vacchiano that Maye is not viewed as a top-tier safety just yet, and since the big money in this year’s free agent cycle might not trickle down past the top tier of talent due to the depressed salary cap, players like Maye may need to settle for one-year pacts in the hopes of a landing a lucrative long-term contract in 2022. Vacchiano says the soon-to-be 28-year-old will be eyeing a top-of-the-market deal (meaning an AAV of $14MM+), but he might have a hard time getting that type of money this year, so a $10MM-$11MM tag wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

For what it’s worth, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com said back in November that Maye was eying a $7MM/year contract, though Maye surely values himself more highly than that at this point and would likely prefer to play out the season on the franchise tag rather than settle for a multi-year pact with a $7MM AAV (even if it came with a fair amount of guaranteed money).

As of now, there is no indication that Maye and the Jets are anywhere close to a long-term contract, but the franchise tag would buy them a few more months to find some middle ground in that regard.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Patriots’ QB Outlook

We heard at the beginning of January that the Patriots and quarterback Cam Newton were unlikely to reunite in 2021, but a report from earlier this week suggested that the the door is not closed on a Newton return to Foxborough next season. And multiple sources tell Ben Volin of the Boston Globe that they would not be surprised to see the Pats re-sign the 2015 league MVP.

After all, HC Bill Belichick reportedly loved coaching Newton, and Volin hears that even after the 2020 campaign, Belichick has raved about the effort that Newton put forth last season. He is concerned about Newton’s arm strength — which is understandable given the 31-year-old’s disappointing passing performance during his first season with New England — but he appears open to continuing the relationship just the same. Newton, meanwhile, has been similarly candid about how much he enjoyed playing for the Pats, so if the two sides can agree to another inexpensive contract, a re-up could be in the cards.

Of course, the club has also had conversations about every quarterback in the league that could be available via trade, and the expectation remains that the Pats will select a QB in the early rounds of this year’s draft (perhaps with their No. 15 overall selection). So if Newton comes back, it obviously won’t be as anything more than a bridge option to a younger passer, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com suggests that the team could even re-sign Newton and pair him with another veteran.

If New England goes that route, one obvious option would be to re-sign longtime Patriot Brian Hoyer, as Volin notes. Volin also believes that Mitchell Trubisky could be on the Pats’ radar, and at this point in their respective careers, Trubisky certainly appears to have a higher ceiling than Newton. Some have connected the dots between New England and former Belichick draftee Jacoby Brissett, but Volin sees a Brissett signing as unlikely since he did not “click” with Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels before he was dealt to the Colts in 2017. Assuming the Patriots do end up adding two QBs this offseason, Jarrett Stidham‘s roster status will be very much in doubt.

One collegiate signal-caller that has been routinely mocked to the Patriots is Alabama QB Mac Jones. As Reiss notes in the piece linked above, former New England OC Charlie Weis was effusive in his praise of Jones, and Weis sees him as a perfect fit in the Pats’ offense. Though he is not as athletic as some of the other passers in this year’s class, Jones is more than capable of moving around in the pocket and can make accurate throws to every part of the field.

If the Pats really want Jones, though, they may have to trade up from the No. 15 pick. His stock is rising, and ESPN draftniks Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay both believe he will be off the board by the time New England is on the clock.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Former NFLer Louis Nix Passes Away

Former NFL player Louis Nix III has passed away, as Ben Becker of Action News Jax was among those to report (Twitter link). Nix was just 29 years old.

Nix was reported missing earlier in the week, and yesterday evening, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office pulled a car from a pond that matched the description of the vehicle he was last seen driving (Twitter link via Becker). As Douglas Farmer of NBCSports.com relays, Nix was shot in December during an attempted armed robbery at a gas station, while he was attempting to put air in his tire. Nix survived the shooting and later said, “I know it sounds cliché, but more than anything, I’m happy to be alive.” There is no indication that the incident is related to Nix’s passing.

Nix was a three-year starter at Notre Dame, establishing himself as one of the top interior defenders in the collegiate game. He was at this best in 2012, when the Fighting Irish enjoyed an undefeated regular season. That year, even as he was absorbing double-teams for star linebacker Manti Te’o, Nix piled up 50 tackles — including 7.5 tackles for loss — two sacks, and five passes defensed.

He returned to school for his senior season in 2013, but that year marked the beginning of the knee troubles that would end his professional career before it really got off the ground. He underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in November 2013, and though the Texans selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft, he would need a another knee surgery before training camp. Ultimately, a third knee operation prevented him from playing a single game in his rookie season.

Houston waived him before the 2015 regular season, and he was claimed by the Giants. He would go on to appear in four games for Big Blue, but he was waived again that November and was later re-signed to New York’s practice squad. He spent time on Washington’s and Jacksonville’s p-squads in 2016, but his career was essentially over after the Jags cut him loose in May 2017.

We at PFR offer our sincere condolences to Nix’s family and friends.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.