Month: February 2024

Aaron Rodgers Addresses Packers Exit

Aaron Rodgers‘ Green Bay departure would have been far messier had it occurred in 2021, when he requested to be moved. But the divorce, coming after a prolonged trade negotiation, has still produced a stream of headlines. The new Jets quarterback attempted to set the record straight regarding a few key 2020s Packers plotlines.

Shortly after the Packers traded up for Jordan Love in 2020, Rodgers said he no longer knew finishing his career in Green Bay was realistic. Before the 2021 trade request, Rodgers earned his third MVP honor despite the Packers using their first-round pick on a backup quarterback. While the Love choice did not directly impede Green Bay in 2020, the team suffered another narrow NFC championship defeat — at home against Tampa Bay — as its first-round pick did not contribute. That loss began an annual run of Rodgers-driven offseason uncertainty in Green Bay.

Did I wanna, years down the line, go, ‘Well, what if we had just taken somebody who could impact our team because we had just gone to the NFC championship?’ Yeah, of course,” Rodgers said (via The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman; subscription required) of the Packers’ decision to draft Love. “I don’t think any other competitor would say anything different.

… We didn’t win the Super Bowl. [The Packers] had their guy in waiting. I knew that [the team going with Love] was always a possibility, that they would wanna go, ‘You know what? We tried hard. We tried to win a championship. We had a good team, but now it might be time to go with Jordan, move some contract stuff around and do that.'”

The organization made that decision two years after Rodgers requested a trade. The Packers could have obtained more for Rodgers in 2021, given his age and MVP form, but they rebuffed trade overtures during that offseason. Rodgers’ agent is believed to have made a blunt request to Packers president Mark Murphy at that time: trade Rodgers or fire GM Brian Gutekunst. The Rodgers-Gutekunst feud simmered throughout the ’21 offseason, and this ultimatum surfaced that summer. Wednesday’s report lends more support to the Rodgers-or-Gutekunst rumors. The 18-year veteran told Schneidman communication between he and Green Bay management improved once he returned to the team, but it still pales in comparison to the talks he has held with Jets management in the weeks since he arrived.

Although Rodgers re-signed with the Packers — on a three-year, $150.8MM deal the Jets are now in the process of restructuring — in March 2022, team brass has revealed dissatisfaction with the future Hall of Famer’s commitment level last year. The Packers viewed Rodgers skipping OTAs last year as detrimental to Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs‘ rookie-year development, Albert Breer of SI.com notes, and Schneidman adds the team was dissatisfied with Rodgers’ day-to-day commitment throughout last season. The four-time MVP, who has been at Jets OTAs this offseason, disputed the notion his 2022 absence hindered the Packers.

When I’m in, I’m all in, and you wanna ride with offseason workouts?” Rodgers said. “I won MVP without doing offseason workouts. Like, was my commitment any less then? I’d say not at all. The way that I come back to work, not just physically in good shape but mentally refreshed, is the best thing for me to have the season I wanted to have during those in Green Bay. I think that’s just a cop-out written to try and find something to disparage me about that, honestly, when you know what offseason workouts are really about, it’s completely ridiculous.”

The key difference between Rodgers’ 2021 OTAs absence and his 2022 no-show: receiving talent. Green Bay dealt Davante Adams to Las Vegas and let Marquez Valdes-Scantling leave for Kansas City in free agency last March. Adams has said the Packers’ final offer surpassed the Raiders’ deal (five years, $140MM) and that he wanted to leave Green Bay. But the sides also went through failed negotiations during the 2021 offseason. Adams sought to be the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver during the summer ’21 talks; Rodgers said the Packers’ initial offer was nowhere close, indicating it checked in below $20MM per year.

Adams broke off talks with the Packers ahead of last season and played out the $14.5MM-per-year extension he had signed in 2017. Although the Packers upped their offer before franchise-tagging him in 2022, Rodgers wonders if the team’s early hesitancy affected the All-Pro wideout’s desire to stay.

They offered him less money than Christian Kirk and [Adams] is going, ‘Are you serious right now? I’m the best receiver in the league, and you’re gonna offer me less than Christian Kirk?’” Rodgers said of the Pack’s offer compared to Kirk’s $18MM-AAV Jaguars deal. “With all due respect, he’s not on Davante’s level.

I’m sure that the team will say that’s just the business of negotiation — it’s like, yeah, but you’re also sending a message to that guy, and a lot of times it can stick with guys and make them a little sour on things. … That goes back to the first offer that they made, and I don’t think [the Packers] had the foresight — obviously didn’t have the foresight.

Rodgers’ numbers suffered without Adams and Valdes-Scantling, with Doubs and Watson — the latter’s late-season surge notwithstanding — not measuring up to the veterans’ contributions. Gutekunst deferred to Rodgers’ MVP awards when asked in January if the veteran starter or Love gave the Packers a better chance to win. Three-plus months later, Rodgers became a Jet. Gutekunst did not believe he could sit Love for a fourth season, per ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky and Rich Cimini; the sixth-year GM had said many times this offseason the fourth-year backup was ready to play.

Gutekunst and Rodgers did not meet this offseason; scheduling conflicts have been cited. The Packers have also accused Rodgers of rebuffing efforts to meet, per ESPN.com. Rodgers said he reached out to Packers management regarding a meeting with the front office and Matt LaFleur before he trekked to the darkness retreat, but after he referenced the Pack’s lack of communication, a desire to play for the Jets — rather than retire — emerged post-darkness. As Brett Favre did 15 years ago, Rodgers will now attempt to prove the Packers wrong.

Did Brian text me more than I texted him? Yeah, but did I ghost him? No,” Rodgers said, via Schneidman. “I texted him back. There was back-and-forths that we had and so this is the story you wanna go with? You’re gonna stand on this hill of austerity and say that arguably in the conversation of the best player in your franchise history, you’re gonna say I couldn’t get a hold of him and that’s why we had to move on?

Like, come on, man. Just tell the truth; you wanted to move on. You didn’t like the fact that we didn’t communicate all the time. Like, listen, I talk to the people that I like.”

Six Teams To Gain Cap Space From Post-June 1 Cut Designations

With the annual June 1 date — a pivotal salary point on the NFL’s calendar for decades — looming, a handful of teams will see their cap-space figures rise this week. This year, six teams took advantage of the post-June 1 cut designation the league allows for cost-defraying purposes.

Teams are permitted to designate two players per offseason as post-June 1 cuts. This transaction allows a team to spread out a dead-money hit over a two-year period, as opposed to absorbing all the cost in one offseason. The Cardinals did not take this path with DeAndre Hopkins, finalized a standard release Tuesday. Arizona is one of the six teams to have used the post-June 1 cut tactic this offseason, however.

Here are the teams who will pick up cap room Friday, via ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter):

  • Miami Dolphins: $13.6MM
  • Cleveland Browns: $10.92MM
  • Dallas Cowboys: $10.9MM
  • Washington Commanders: $4MM
  • Denver Broncos: $3.75MM
  • Arizona Cardinals: $3.22MM

With $1.3MM in cap space, the Dolphins sit 30th as May winds down. They will rise to the league’s top half thanks to the funds from their Byron Jones cut emerging. Jones missed all of last season due to injury, seeing what was believed to be a routine surgery — one not expected to even force him to miss training camp time — leave his career in jeopardy. Three years after the Dolphins gave Jones a then-record-setting cornerback contract, the former Cowboys Pro Bowler expressed doubt about playing again.

The Browns’ John Johnson release will balloon their cap space to $15.9MM. Cleveland gave Johnson a three-year, $33MM deal in 2021 but cut bait with a year to go. The Browns were believed to be interested in Jessie Bates, but the Falcons’ monster offer (four years, $64MM) won out. Cleveland instead signed ex-Kansas City starter Juan Thornhill. The Browns used their second post-June 1 designation on Jadeveon Clowney, doing so despite signing the former No. 1 overall pick to a one-year deal in 2022. Released for procedural purposes after a tumultuous year, Clowney is no longer in the Browns’ plans. The team, which has been mentioned as a Hopkins dark horse, now sits in the top 10 for cap space.

Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott cut will lead to a cap-space figure north of $21MM soon; that will place the team in the top eight. The team would have faced an $11.8MM dead-money charge had the post-June 1 designation not been used. Elliott remains in the mix to return to the Cowboys, but the two-time rushing champion would do so at a significantly reduced rate. The team had signed him to a six-year, $90MM extension ahead of the 2019 season, but the former No. 4 overall pick’s best work came on his rookie contract. The Cowboys still have Tony Pollard tied to a $10.1MM franchise tag.

Chase Roullier represents the source of the Commanders’ belated savings. Washington cut its former starting center earlier this month, doing so after signing veteran Nick Gates and drafting interior O-lineman Ricky Stromberg in Round 3. Roullier signed a Washington extension in January 2021 but missed 24 games over the past two seasons. The 2017 draftee, who played just two games last season due to a knee injury, remains unsigned. The Roullier-generated money will bump Washington’s cap-space total past $8MM.

Denver parting ways with longtime kicker Brandon McManus will lead to its slight funding increase, which will boost the team’s cap space past $10MM. McManus served as the Broncos’ kicker for nine seasons, taking over after Matt Prater‘s substance-abuse suspension in 2014. McManus signed two extensions to stay in Denver, the most recent in 2020. But the Broncos have another round of new special teams coaches. Sean Payton cited cost savings when addressing McManus’ release, and the veteran kicker already has a new gig — in Jacksonville.

The Cardinals will add a few million because of their Rodney Hudson release and J.J. Watt‘s retirement. Hudson, who has been closely tied to retirement, spent the past two seasons in Arizona. The Cards acquired the former Raiders and Chiefs center via 2021 trade. Hudson then signed a three-year, $30MM extension that ran through the 2024 season. Injuries doomed the former Pro Bowler in Arizona. After missing five games in 2021, Hudson missed 13 last season. Although Watt retired, the Cards created nearly $1.2MM in 2023 cap space by processing the move as a post-June 1 exit.

Because the Cardinals had used the post-June 1 designation on Hudson and Watt, they could not apply the cost-spreading measure to the Hopkins release. With the Hudson and Watt moves set to lift the Cardinals past the $27MM mark for cap space, only the Bears will reside ahead of them in available funds.

Leslie Frazier: “My Goal Is To Be A Head Coach”

After spending the past six years as the Bills defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier announced that he’d be stepping away from coaching for the 2023 campaign. While the long-time coach indicated that he’d consider returning in 2024, it’s starting to sound like he’ll only be pursuing head coaching opportunities during the next hiring cycle. While attending the league’s coaching “accelerator program,” Frazier told Albert Breer of SI.com that he’ll consider HC jobs next offseason.

[RELATED: Bills DC Leslie Frazier To Step Away]

“I really feel good about where I am,” Frazier told says. “I think my reasons for stepping away were the right reasons; I feel good about it. It just gives me a chance to see things from a different perspective, get recharged again and reenergized.

“And, hopefully, an owner will give me a chance to talk to him about an opportunity. If that doesn’t happen, I’m good. I’ve had a good career. I’m good. My goal is to be a head coach. I know I don’t have much time left, I’m at an age where it seems like owners are going younger and younger, but I think I have some things I can bring to the table. We’ll see what happens.”

Frazier also told Breer that he’ll spend some of his free time attending OTAs and training camps around the league. The coach also intends to keep close tabs on the 2023 campaign in an effort to “look at what’s happening around the league, make sure I stay up on any new trends.”

The coach’s defenses in Buffalo generally ranked top-10 in yards and points allowed, putting him firmly back on the head coaching radar. In recent years, the 64-year-old has been connected to HC jobs with the Colts, Texans, Giants, Dolphins, and Bears. Those latter three opportunists all came last offseason, and Frazier was a finalist for the Giants job before it was ultimately offered to fellow Bills coach Brian Daboll.

Frazier’s only head coaching opportunity came with the Vikings, when he guided the team to a 3-3 record after taking over for Brad Childress in 2010. Following a 2011 campaign that saw the Vikings go 3-13, the coach helped led the team to the playoffs in 2012. Frazier was fired as Minnesota’s head coach following a 5-10-1 campaign in 2013.

Jets Notes: WRs, Hall, Brown, Whitehead

The Jets have been mentioned as a potential suitor for DeAndre Hopkins, but head coach Robert Saleh made it clear today that he’s perfectly content rolling into the 2023 campaign with his current grouping of receivers.

“No, we love our current group,” Saleh told reporters (via Yahoo’s Jori Epstein on Twitter). “I know there was some stuff with Odell [Beckham], but other than that, we love our group.”

Saleh is referring to the team’s pursuit of OBJ, which ultimately resulted in the WR landing in Baltimore. Unlike that sweepstakes, the Jets haven’t been definitively connected to Hopkins; it’s merely been speculation that the receiver could team up with Aaron Rodgers in New York.

While the veteran QB would surely welcome in as many weapons as he can get, the Jets don’t have a major need for another receiver. The team has been busy this offseason adding Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and Randall Cobb to a grouping that already features Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, and Denzel Mims.

More notes out of New York…

  • Speaking of offensive weapons, Saleh told reporters that he’s “very optimistic” that running back Breece Hall will be on the field for Week 1. “I’m very optimistic on that one,” the coach said (via NFL.com’s Kevin Patra). “I don’t want to jinx it. (Knocks on wood) I mean, the kid’s already hitting over 22 (mph) on the GPS, so he looks frickin’ good.” The 2021 second-round pick was averaging more than 97 yards per game last season before suffering a torn ACL. Saleh noted that the running back is already hitting 22 miles per hour on the GPS, which is faster than his top speed from last season.
  • Offensive tackle Duane Brown underwent offseason rotator cuff surgery after injuring his shoulder last season. Entering his age-38 season, the veteran easily could have hung up his cleats, but he told reporters that he decided to keep playing in 2023 because he wants to win (per ESPN’s Rich Cimini on Twitter). Brown also admitted that he’s unsure if he’ll be ready to go for the start of training camp, noting that it will be up to the team’s doctors.
  • The Jets depth at edge could mean more inside opportunities for John Franklin-Myers and Micheal Clemons, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich (via Brian Costello of the New York Post on Twitter). JFM ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 18 edge defender (among 119 qualifying players) following a 2021 campaign that saw him finish with five sacks. Clemons was 23rd on that same list, with the 2022 fourth-round pick finishing with 2.5 sacks in 16 games.
  • Safety Jordan Whitehead restructured his contract today, opening $5.3MM in cap space, per Cimini (on Twitter). Since the team converted Whitehead’s non-guaranteed base salary into a signing bonus, the player’s salary is now guaranteed for the 2023 season (per Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com on Twitter).

WR Preston Williams To Work Out For Bills

The Bills are eyeing some wide receiver depth, and the front office is looking at a former division foe. Per Ryan Talbot of Syracuse.com (on Twitter), the Bills will be working out former Dolphins wideout Preston Williams tomorrow. The team will also audition receiver Marcell Ateman.

The Bills are plenty familiar with Williams after the receiver spent the first three seasons of his career in Miami. The former UDFA has appeared in three career games against Buffalo, including a matchup during his rookie season that saw him haul in six catches for 82 yards.

Williams ultimately collected 428 receiving yards during that rookie campaign, with half of his season being wiped out by a torn ACL. He only put up 288 yards in half a season in 2020, and after catching only six passes in eight games in 2021, the Dolphins cut him at the end of the 2022 preseason. He spent most of last season on the Panthers practice squad, getting into one game.

Ateman, a former seventh-round pick by the Raiders, had 20 catches for his squad between 2018 and 2019. After spending the 2020 season on the practice squad, he got into a single game in 2021 before getting released. After being cut by the Cardinals at the end of the 2022 preseason, Ateman was the second-overall pick in the 2023 XFL Skill Players Draft. He ended up getting into six XFL games, hauling in 19 catches.

The Bills are clearly looking for some size at wide receiver, with both players standing at six-foot-four. If signed, the WRs would be competing with the likes of Deonte Harty, Justin Shorter, Trent Sherfield, and Khalil Shakir for one of the WR spots behind Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/31/23

Today’s minor transactions:

Baltimore Ravens

  • Signed: CB Jordan Swann

Denver Broncos

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Waived: LB Damon Lloyd

Tight end Tommy Hudson got into five games with the Titans last season, hauling in three catches for 31 yards. He’ll join a relatively deep tight ends group in Denver that includes Greg Dulcich, Chris Manhertz, Adam Trautman, and Albert Okwuegbunam.

Saints Sign TE Jesse James

For the third straight year, Jesse James has found a new team. The Saints announced on Wednesday that they have signed the veteran tight end.

James’ longest and most productive stint came with the Steelers to begin his career. His four-year tenure in Pittsburgh saw him start 36 of 56 games, and record a personal-best 423 receiving yards in 2018. He has bounced around the league since then, however, spending two years in Detroit followed by one in Chicago.

The 28-year-old inked a one-year deal with the Browns last year, as he aimed to rebuild his value in a depth role. James wound playing only 18 offensive snaps across two games in Cleveland, however, before a biceps injury ended his season. He will now look to find more playing time and better luck on the health front in New Orleans.

James will join a Saints TE room which includes returnee Juwan Johnson and Swiss Army Knife Taysom Hill. New Orleans traded away Adam Trautman during the draft, but they have since signed Foster Moreau in an encouraging sign with respect to his recent cancer diagnosis. James will thus have plenty of competition for playing time in 2023, a season in which the team’s expectations on offense have been raised given the addition of quarterback Derek Carr.

In addition to James, the Saints announced that they have signed fullback Jake Bargas. The former UDFA entered the league with the Vikings, making one appearance with them in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He spent much of the the past campaign on the Dolphins’ practice squad. To make room for those additions, kicker Alex Quevedo has been waived, leaving the Saints with two players (Wil Lutz and Blake Grupe) at that position.

Giants Looking Into Potential DeAndre Hopkins Acquisition

The list of expected suitors for DeAndre Hopkins is fairly well-known at this point, but other teams will no doubt at least kick the tires on the idea of signing the All-Pro wideout. The Giants are a member of that group.

Hopkins has officially been released by the Cardinals, leaving him free to sign anywhere on the open market. A number of Super Bowl contenders (particularly in the AFC) have been connected to him throughout the offseason, given his own remarks and the value he would add to any team’s passing attacks. The Chiefs and Bills are currently considered the favorites to sign him, though a Browns deal reuniting him with Deshaun Watson could also be in play.

The Giants will look into Hopkins as a possible addition, head coach Brian Daboll said on Wednesday. GM Joe Schoen was involved in the team’s work on Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason and through his year-long free agency period. The latter ended up signing with the Ravens, while the Giants turned their attention elsewhere with respect to their pass-catching corps.

“Like last year, anytime there’s someone that’s available that’s a free agent, I’d say Joe and his staff are gonna look into it, research it,” Daboll said, via Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News“We talk about a lot of different players. So regardless of who it is, that’s part of our job is to make sure we’re doing our due diligence.”

New York’s most impactful addition so far in 2023 has been tight end Darren Waller, who could be in line to operate as a de-facto No. 1 receiver if healthy. At the WR spot, they signed former Colt Parris Campbell while retaining Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and Sterling Shepard. Hopkins, a five-time Pro Bowler, has a considerably longer track record than the rest of the team’s receiver room. Leonard also notes that the Giants are one of a ‘handful” of teams which were expected to be involved in a pursuit of the 30-year-old.

However, New York has just $3.8MM in cap space at the moment, a figure which puts them in a similar financial situation to Kansas City and Buffalo. The Giants also have plenty of work to do on the Saquon Barkley extension front, something which is likely a higher priority for the team in the long term. As a result, it would be a stretch to consider them Hopkins frontrunners as of now.

Saints QB Jameis Winston Eyeing Future Starting Role

Jameis Winston is in line to continue serving in a backup role with the Saints in 2023, but he does not envision the remainder of his career consisting solely of QB2 duties. The 29-year-old made it clear he intends to pursue a starting job in the future.

“The main thing is the opportunity, and I’m just grateful every chance I get an opportunity to step into a building and play a sport I love.” Winston said, via ESPN’s Katherine Terrell“However, I know that I’m still a starting quarterback in this league… There’s some Hall of Famers that made their big break at 30. So I’m still young, I’m still 29, but right now my role is to serve this team in the role that I’m in.”

The former No. 1 pick’s most recent full campaign as a starter came in 2019, his final season with the Buccaneers. Winston threw for over 5,100 yards and 33 touchdowns that season, though he also tossed 33 interceptions. A fresh start emerged for him in New Orleans, where he ultimately took over as the team’s Drew Brees successor in 2021.

An ACL tear interrupted his campaign, however, and limited him to just seven games that year. His level of play that season (including a 5-2 record and a 14:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio) led to the expectation that he would carry on as the Saints’ starter last season. After only three starts in 2022, though, Winston was replaced by Andy Dalton; the latter remained atop the depth chart even after Winston had healed in full from his latest injury troubles.

That led many to expect the latter would head elsewhere this offseason in search of a new opportunity. Instead, Winston agreed to a new deal which has a maximum value of $8MM (compared to the $12.8MM he was originally due in 2023) to keep him in New Orleans. That puts him in line to serve as a backup to free agent signing Derek Carr, who enters the coming year with high expectations given the four-year, $150MM deal he inked. Winston is unlikely to see any signficant playing time in 2023, but he expects that to change down the road.

“It’s challenging to be a NFL quarterback,” he said. “And when you have an opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback, you want to make the most of it. I’ve just had some unfortunate injuries over the past three years, so this is where I’m at. But this is not what I visualize being in the near future.”

XFL Aiming To Continue For 2024 Season

The third edition of the XFL took place this spring, and the league is now turning its attention to consolidating its 2023 campaign. Their intention is to return to action next year, though changes in the organization will be taking place in the meantime.

The XFL has parted ways with a number of its employees, as detailed by Ben Fischer of the Sports Business Journal. Among the layoffs are Chief Marketing Officer Janet Duch and VP of Marketing and Brand Anthony Zucconi, as the league shifts its focus less on branding and more on revenue driven by ticket sales and marketing. Some of the layoffs are likely seasonal in nature.

February is currently scheduled to be the start time for the 2024 XFL season, one which could go a long way in developing much-needed stability for the league. Its first two iterations ended briefly in 2001 and 2020, for different reasons, but a model built on using the league as a testing ground for alternative rules helped lead to a formal partnership with the NFL for the now Dwayne Johnson-owned outfit.

The current setup with eight teams saw a number of notable ex-NFLers take part on the field and the sidelines in 2023. Several players parlayed their success into NFL deals for the offseason, which points to the XFL’s potential on a long-term basis if it is able to remain sustainable. Aside from factors such as attendance and media deals, the presence of another, similar league in the re-booted USFL could complicate matters on that front.

“As the XFL plans for 2024 and beyond, it has decided to transition into a dual full-time and seasonal-based employment model,” a statement from the league reads in part. “The XFL will continue to employ full-time business and football operations functions on both the league and team levels and will scale up hiring each year for pre-season and in-season roles.”

This year’s XFL season took part from February to May, with the Arlington Renegades winning the title. Average attendance across the league was under 15,000 per game overall, though St. Louis fared far better in that regard. It will interesting to monitor how much of an impact the league’s new focus will make on what it hopes will be the second of many seasons to come in 2024.