Chargers To Franchise Tag Hunter Henry?

The Chargers have a few high profile offensive players set to become free agents, including Philip Rivers, Hunter Henry, and Melvin Gordon. While they’ve already announced that they’ll be letting Rivers walk, they have no plans to let Henry follow him out the door. 

Henry “absolutely” will be getting the franchise tag, from what Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears. We heard back in January that the Chargers were considering the transition tag for the young tight end, but it sounds like they aren’t even willing to take that risk. The transition tag is a non-exclusive tag that gives the team the right to match any offer that the player gets in free agency. This is shaping up to be the most exciting tight end market in years, with plenty of big names getting new deals. Austin Hooper is about to enter unrestricted free agency and is expected to land a huge contract, while George Kittle is reportedly likely to get a record-breaking extension soon.

Kittle is widely expected to reset the market, and the last we heard was he’ll get at a minimum $13MM annually. The top of the tight end market right now is currently around $10MM, and it will be interesting to see what the slightly lower tier guys like Henry and Hooper get.

The Chargers are going to have a new quarterback under center in 2020, and quite possibly a rookie, so it makes sense why they’d want a reliable tight end. Henry showed a lot of promise his first two years in the league, then missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL. He missed four games this past season with a different knee injury, racking up a very solid 652 yards and four touchdowns in 12 contests. The Arkansas product is still only 25, and with less than three full seasons under his belt, he should still have plenty of room to grow. The Chargers have indicated they want to work out a long-term deal, and it would be a bit of a surprise if he doesn’t get one at some point after he’s tagged.

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Redskins Interested in Philip Rivers?

There’s been a lot of buzz about Philip Rivers and the Colts recently, and there have also been reports that the Buccaneers are interested in the impending free agent passer. While most of the talk surrounding where Rivers plays next has focused on those two teams, there’s at least one wild card option in the mix.

The Redskins are expected to “make a bid” for Rivers, sources at the combine told Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com. There has been some talk that Washington could be looking to upgrade at quarterback despite the presence of Dwayne Haskins, and we recently heard that they would host Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa on pre-draft visits. The Redskins hold the second overall pick in April’s draft. This latest report indicates they’re also interested in bringing in a veteran, although Pauline cautions there would be some financial hurdles.

The sources conceded that it would be tough for the Redskins to sign Rivers, since it “will likely take a massive contract.” It was unclear what Rivers’ market was going to look like, but it sounds like he’s going to be in high-demand. The 38-year-old had a down year this past season that was marred by turnovers, but in 2018 he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league and made the Pro Bowl. He’s averaged at least 7.8 yards per attempt in three straight seasons.

Rivers has been linked to the Colts in part because of his connections to head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, but he also has some connections to Washington’s new staff. New Redskins head coach Ron Rivera was an assistant with the Chargers for four years during Rivers’ time there, which could help explain this report. Although this seems like a bit of a long-shot Rivera has consistently insisted that nothing will be handed to Haskins, and it will be very interesting to see what if anything they do at quarterback this offseason.

Extra Points: CBA, RB Market, Walton, Smith

We got a new update on many of the details surrounding the new collective bargaining agreement, and now we have an update on the timeline. Attorneys from the league office will meet with NFLPA attorneys early next week in DC, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (Twitter link).Those sides expect to have a final draft ready by late next week, and it will be sent out from there. Graziano reports that the NFLPA is still working out how the voting will take place from the full membership, and that the union is estimating 2-2.5 weeks until the voting process is complete. As such, it sounds like it’s going to be a little while before we know an answer one way or the other, and hopes that it would get done by next week were unrealistic. We’ll continue to keep you posted.

Here’s more from around the league as the combine continues:

  • Several teams have signed running backs to massive contracts in recent years, and then nearly immediately regretted it. Most notably, David Johnson and Todd Gurley received huge extensions from the Cardinals and Rams respectively before regressing sharply. Other teams appear to be taking note of that trend, and it looks like they’ll be acting accordingly. “The running backs slated to be free agents in a few weeks will not be getting paid huge contracts,” sources told Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com. Accordingly, Pauline writes that many around the league now expect it to be easier for the Titans to re-sign impending free agent Derrick Henry, since there won’t be as much competition for his services as some might have thought. Le’Veon Bell is another runner who recently signed a big deal before failing to live up to expectations, and it will be very interesting to see what the market looks like when free agency opens in a few weeks.
  • Mark Walton seemingly can’t stay out of trouble. The embattled running back was arrested following a verbal incident with the mother of his child, according to 7 News Miami. There was no physical contact this time, but Walton violated the terms of a restraining order against him. He was released by the Dolphins in November after a domestic violence arrest. The former Miami star had started to break out with the Dolphins, becoming their starting running back before the ugly arrest. He was originally drafted by the Bengals but was cut by Cincy after three offseason arrests for more minor offenses. He’s likely facing a suspension, and it’s hard to see him playing in the league any time soon.
  • Former Browns defensive lineman Chris Smith is looking to make a comeback. Smith’s girlfriend was tragically killed in a car accident last year, leaving Smith as a single father of their child. Not long after the incident the Browns released him, and he spent the rest of the year out of football. Smith is now “feeling better and ready to resume his career” and will look to sign with a team, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Smith entered the league in 2014 and has spent time with the Jaguars and Bengals as well. He appeared in all 16 games for the Browns in 2018, starting two.

 

Randy Gregory Wants To Play In 2020

There was a report going around the internet earlier this afternoon that Randy Gregory had filed for reinstatement with the league, although that isn’t entirely true. Gregory does want to return to the NFL this season but hasn’t officially filed the papers yet, he told Jane Slater of NFL Network (Twitter link).

“I’m hopeful of a return to football in 2020 but papers haven’t been filed yet,” Gregory said. This is the first we’ve heard from Gregory since August of last year, when we heard that he had been making progress but wasn’t quite ready to file for reinstatement. He was supposed to file last summer, but that ended up not materializing. Gregory was suspended indefinitely almost exactly a year ago for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and the terms of his previous reinstatement.

Despite the repeated suspensions the Cowboys announced shortly after that they weren’t giving up on him, and Jerry Jones even gave him a contract extension while under suspension to keep him under team control through the 2020 season. Defensive end Robert Quinn is entering unrestricted free agency, and if he doesn’t return then Dallas could really use Gregory to provide some additional pass-rush outside of DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Cowboys drafted Gregory in the 2nd round back in 2015, but he’s been in constant trouble with the league office. He appeared in only two games in 2016 and missed the entire 2017 season due to suspensions. He returned for 2018 and played well, racking up six sacks in 14 games, before getting hit with his latest indefinite ban after the season.

Still only 27, it would be a remarkable comeback story if he’s able to get reinstated and stay on the field. The last we heard Gregory was taking huge steps to ensure he stayed in recovery, and here’s to hoping he can get back to playing.

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South Rumors: Titans, Luck, Jags, Falcons

Perhaps no team’s free agency plan hinges on the CBA more than the Titans‘. They have three marquee free agents, and the previously reported goal of extending Ryan Tannehill soon looks to have an auxiliary purpose. The Titans’ hopes of extending Tannehill before the franchise-transition tag window closes March 12 doubles as a way to keep Tannehill, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin. Tennessee would then like to use both its tags on Henry and Conklin, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. The Conklin component here is interesting, as little has emerged on a possible reunion between the tackle and the Titans. It will almost certainly require a tag to keep the former first-round lineman off the market. Conklin has generated immense interest thus far.

This Titans plan might not be viable, leading to some frenetic extension talks in order to prevent them from losing two members of this trio. Teams may not be permitted to use both tags. While a ruling has yet to emerge, the possibility of a CBA ratification forcing a team to vacate one of its tags remains in play.

Here is the latest from the South divisions:

  • No surprise here, but the Jaguars are prepared to use their franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue, La Canfora adds. The standout defensive end held out from Jags offseason activities last year and will not be pleased the team will prevent him from hitting the market, per JLC. The Jaguars not picking up Marcell Dareus‘ option freed up $20MM in cap space, giving them just more than $21MM — just enough for an approximately $18MM Ngakoue tag. GM Dave Caldwell called Ngakoue the team’s top priority at the end of last season.
  • Jim Irsay appears to be hoping Andrew Luck will change his mind, but Frank Reich does not expect him to. The Colts HC continues to talk to the team’s former franchise quarterback, but those discussions apparently do not progress to the subject of a comeback. “I talk to him; we communicate. I sense none of that. We don’t talk about that,” Reich said, during an appearance on PFT Live, about an NFL return for the 30-year-old passer. “I think he’s retired. He’s like any other ex-player. You’re always going to miss your buddies in the locker room. That’s normal. I don’t read into that a clue that he wants to come back. He’s just a good friend.”
  • A Falcons cog for seven seasons, Kemal Ishmael will likely have to find another team in order to continue his career. The seven-year veteran linebacker-safety will not be brought back, according to Ishmael’s agent (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The Falcons have shuttled the 28-year-old defender/special-teamer between safety and linebacker and have re-signed him to one-year deals in each of the past three offseasons.

Laremy Tunsil Shooting For $20MM AAV?

After sending the Dolphins two first-round picks and change in last summer’s Laremy Tunsil-centered swap, the Texans are prepared to negotiate with their prized left tackle. These talks will be interesting.

Tunsil and the Texans have engaged in preliminary talks and met with the fifth-year blocker’s agent at the Combine, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. While the sides are not deep in negotiations yet, the recent trade acquisition is expected to set an eye-opening price point.

Tunsil is expected to pursue a deal that pays him between $19-$20MM per year, Wilson adds. That would eclipse Lane Johnson‘s recent offensive line-record $18MM-AAV pact. Although Tunsil is not as accomplished as Philadelphia’s top tackle, the Texans sending two first-rounders for him — and the salary cap potentially set to vault into previously unforeseen territory in the near future –support Tunsil shooting for this price range.

Johnson represents the only offensive lineman earning more than $16.5MM per year presently. Tunsil joining him should be anticipated, however. The 25-year-old tackle is attached to a $10.3MM fifth-year option in 2020. The Texans would have the option of a franchise tag in 2021, but as more information about future salary caps comes out, Tunsil’s price may continue to rise.

The Texans received a Pro Bowl season from Tunsil in 2019; the ex-Ole Miss standout became the first Texans Pro Bowl offensive lineman since Duane Brown in 2014. Houston dealt Brown in 2017 and experienced considerable trouble replacing him over the next 1 1/2 seasons, with Deshaun Watson taking a 2010s-high 62 sacks in 2018. Pro Football Focus graded Tunsil as its No. 21 overall tackle but slotted him third overall in pass protection.

Houston enters the offseason with $61MM-plus in cap space and has some key needs on defense, but this will be a centerpiece priority for the team — one that will not have the luxury of upgrading too much in this year’s draft. The Texans traded four first-, second- or third-round 2020 picks last year, placing a premium on how they handle veteran contracts this year.

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CBA Notes: Cap, TV Deals, IR, P-Squads

Work continues on the collective bargaining agreement, which has yet to be officially sent out for a vote. A potential goal of a ratification vote occurring by late next week exists, but Mark Maske of the Washington Post notes (via Twitter) this could spill into the second week of March. That will keep teams’ tag plans complicated. The tag window opened Thursday and will close March 12. Here is the latest on the CBA front:

  • The expectation of the 2020 salary cap coming in at around $200MM remains, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). However, the expanded playoffs and next round of TV deals are expected to increase the cap spikes considerably in the near future.
  • The TV contracts could well make an enormous impact on the game, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk indicating the networks’ cash infusion will mean a $3.2 billion-per-year increase per team. Teams would then see an estimated $100MM in additional funds per year. While not all of that will go toward players, 48.5% of it will when the season expands to 17 games. The prospect of the cap climbing closer to $300MM by 2023 is in play. That would change the NFL’s financial landscape.
  • Under this CBA proposal, teams will be permitted to bring three players off injured reserve, per CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin. That is up from the current IR-return setup, which allows teams to bring two players off their injured lists annually. This marks a key change, as it was not long ago placing a player on IR meant his season was over.
  • While teams will be allowed 12 practice squad slots (up from 10) starting in 2020, that number increases to 14 in 2022, per Benjamin. This would create more jobs and potentially hurt the XFL’s talent base, though it’s obviously uncertain if the league will be in operation by then. Like the IR setup, the practice squad format has undergone a notable overhaul. Prior to 2014, teams could only carry eight players on taxi squads.
  • Rounding out the bullet points in the CBA proposal, teams cannot practice in pads for more than three straight days during training camp, per CBS.

Buccaneers Determining QB Path, Preparing To Tag Shaquil Barrett

The prospect of teams using both franchise and transition tags remains in play, though there is a better-than-average chance of the owners’ CBA proposal being ratified and preventing such a path. This would impact the Buccaneers considerably.

Having said for months they plan to keep Shaquil Barrett, the Bucs are preparing to use their franchise tag on the 2019 breakout pass rusher, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Bruce Arians pointed to this path, unless an extension can be agreed upon, Greg Auman of The Athletic writes (subscription required).

Barrett registered a Bucs-record (by a considerable margin) 19.5 sacks last season, topping his total from four Broncos campaigns. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old sack artist — who is open to giving the Bucs a discount, based on Florida’s lack of a state income tax — will not hit the market. This complicates Jameis Winston‘s status, as he appears behind Barrett on the Bucs’ priority list.

Tampa Bay remains uncertain about its future at quarterback, but the team may well view Philip Rivers as an upgrade on the interception-prone passer. The Bucs are interested in the 16-year Charger/new Florida resident, with La Canfora adding execs around the league believe the team will get aggressive on Winston if a clear sense emerges that Rivers will not sign there. The Colts have surfaced as key players for Rivers, who worked with Frank Reich and Indianapolis OC Nick Sirianni with the Chargers. But Rivers would be an interesting fit for Arians’ deep-passing attack in Tampa as well.

If teams are permitted to use two tags (and not have one of them vacated by a new CBA passing), Winston appears a strong candidate to receive the transition tag. That price will come in north of $25MM, which is at least $2MM lower than the franchise tag value for QBs.

It could also be down to Rivers or Winston for the Bucs, whom Auman tabs as unlikely to draft a quarterback this year. Tampa Bay holds the No. 14 overall pick.

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Packers Unlikely To Retain Bryan Bulaga?

Bryan Bulaga has been a stalwart on the Packers’ O-line since his rookie campaign in 2010. Though he has never made the Pro Bowl, he has been a consistently solid performer who has generally been able to keep star QB Aaron Rodgers clean, and 2019 was no exception.

The former first-round pick graded out as the 16th-best tackle in the league last year, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics, and despite a couple of injury concerns during the season, he played a full 16-game slate for the first time since 2016. The O-line as a whole performed pretty well, and Bulaga was a big reason for that.

However, it looks like the Iowa product will be testing the free agent waters for the first time in his career. Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that the Packers have not had any talks with Bulaga’s camp since the end of the season, and while that could simply be a function of the uncertain CBA situation that has the entire league in limbo to some degree, the team does not appear to be interested in tagging Bulaga either.

Per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, it’s unlikely that Bulaga gets hit with the franchise tag, which comes at a value of $16.1MM. Theoretically, the slightly less expensive transition tag could be in play, but it sounds as though the Packers are simply prepared to cut ties.

Bulaga would become one of the better tackles available on the open market, and he stands to earn a sizable raise over the $6.8MM he took home in 2019.

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Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu To Undergo Surgery

The Patriots traded a second-rounder pick to Atlanta for receiver Mohamed Sanu in advance of last year’s deadline in the hopes that he could spark the club’s sagging vertical game. That did not happen, as Sanu suffered a high ankle sprain during a punt return in his third game with New England, and he was not the same after that (just one game prior, he tallied 10 catches for 81 yards and a TD in a loss to Baltimore).

Unfortunately, Sanu will require surgery on his ankle, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link). The hope was that the injury would heal on its own, but instead Sanu will have to go under the knife. There is not yet a timetable for his recovery, though it seems fair to expect that he will be at full strength in time for training camp.

Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Pats next year, they are widely expected to add a couple of pass catchers in free agency and/or the draft. But a healthy Sanu, along with a year of growth from 2019 first-rounder N’Keal Harry, would go a long way towards improving the club’s overall offensive output.

Sanu is under contract through 2020 and is due a $6.5MM salary this season, though the Pats could clear that entire figure off its books by cutting him. However, $6.5MM seems like a reasonable figure given Sanu’s potential production, and the team would hate to have given up a second-rounder without much of a return on its investment.

In 2018, Sanu turned in perhaps the best performance of his career, catching 66 passes for 838 yards and four TDs with the Falcons. So if he’s healthy, he’s still capable of being a key contributor.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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