Aaron Hernandez

Extra Points: Pats, Ravens, Lockett, Dansby

If a Malcolm Butler trade is going to occur, it will likely take place this week and come down to whether the Saints are ready to surrender their No. 32 overall pick or submit a proposal of a package involving their second-rounder (No. 42), Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes. Butler signed his $3.91MM RFA tender earlier this week to pave the way for a trade and Saints/Patriots talks continue, but it’s uncertain if the Saints want to unload a high draft pick and pay the 27-year-old Butler like a top-tier cornerback. Reiss gets the feeling the Patriots won’t have an issue with Butler playing on the RFA tender this season, as they would be able to fetch a compensatory pick after the season if/when Butler departs as a UFA in that scenario.

Here’s the latest from New England and the rest of the league as we enter draft week.

  • Aaron Hernandez‘s death closed all cases against him and could open the door to more issues between the NFL and NFLPA regarding the former Patriots tight end’s salary. The league and NFLPA agreed to table any grievance-related discussions until all criminal prosecution of Hernandez concluded, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. That having happened reopens those unresolved issues. Hernandez’s side was demanding $3.25MM in unpaid money from his 2012 signing bonus, and the NFLPA filed a grievance for the former tight end’s 2013 and 2014 guaranteed salaries (in addition to a 2014 guaranteed workout bonus). The NFL and the Patriots’ grievance sought repayment of all money given to Hernandez prior to the 2012 contract extension.
  • While initial reports indicated Ravens offensive lineman James Hurst had signed his restricted free agent tender, that doesn’t appear to be the case, tweets salary cap guru Ian Whetstone. Instead, Hurst looks to have agreed to a reduced one-year contract, similar to Baltimore RFA wide receiver Michael Campanaro. Under the terms of his original-round RFA tender, Hurst would have earned $1.797MM in 2017. But he will now will presumably take in a lesser total. Hurst, 25, started three games for the Ravens last season and played on roughly a quarter of the club’s offensive snaps.
  • Tyler Lockett expects to be ready for training camp, but the rehabbing Seahawks wideout has an uncertain timetable until then, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reports. Lockett broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg in Week 16 of last year and had surgery on Christmas Eve. Lockett told media, including Condotta, he’s aiming to be ready by camp but is viewing any earlier participation as a bonus.
  • The Cardinals did not view Karlos Dansby as a backup plan despite his age, contacting the 14th-year linebacker in the opening minutes of free agency, Kent Somers of AZCentral.com reports. Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal, the 35-year-old Dansby is expected to take Kevin Minter‘s place alongside Deone Bucannon at inside linebacker. The Cards allowed Minter to walk, and he signed a one-year, $4MM deal with the Bengals.
  • Two personnel men surveyed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn regarding the 2017 draft said Ryan Ramczyk would profile as a second-round pick if this were a more traditional year for offensive line prospects. But with the prognosis grim for this year’s class, the Wisconsin blocker likely will vault into the first round. An AFC team’s staffer said this class of linemen was the worst he’s seen in 10 years.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this report.

Aaron Hernandez Commits Suicide In Prison

In a shocking development, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in prison earlier this morning, report Aimee Ortiz and John R. Ellement of the Boston Globe.Aaron Hernandez (Vertical)

“Mr. Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population unit,” according to a statement from the Department of Correction. “Mr. Hernandez hanged himself utilizing a bedsheet that he attached to his cell window. Mr. Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items.”

Hernandez, of course, was serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013. But he had recently been acquitted of another double murder committed in 2012. Hernandez was not on suicide watch as he’d given no signal that he was intent on harming himself, per the Boston Globe scribes, and no suicide note has yet been discovered. An investigation into the incident is still ongoing, however.

Hernandez’s death brings to a close one of the larger recent tragedies in the NFL sphere. Hernandez shined during his three seasons with the Patriots, and even secured a $40MM contract extension with the club. He was quickly released after the Lloyd murder investigation, began, however, and had been in custody ever since. Hernandez was 27 years old.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Joel Corry On Worst Salary Cap Situations

On Christmas Eve, Joel Corry of CBS Sports took a look at a few NFL teams who have the worst salary cap situations going into 2015. He picked out the five organizations stuck deepest in salary cap hell:

  1. New Orleans Saints – $23.07MM over the cap
  2. Arizona Cardinals – $6.44MM
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers – $2.901MM
  4. New England Patriots – $1.945MM
  5. San Francisco 49ers – $928,000

Here are some of the highlights of actions Corry suggests that would help them get under the cap in order to have a successful offseason:

Saints

  • Pass rusher Junior Galette could see his contract restructured to open up $10MM, despite signing the extension this past offseason.
  • Another contract doled off last offseason that can be restructured is of prized free agent Jairus Byrd, which could open up $5.6MM in cap space.
  • A third contract from last offseason that can be restructured is that of tight end Jimmy Graham. That move could save $4.77MM in cap space.
  • Both of their Pro Bowl guards are suddenly highly paid luxuries as they have seen their performance drop, and Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are candidates for release. If cut, they will free up $6.6MM and $3.6MM, respectively.
  • Veteran receiver Marques Colston holds a $9.7MM cap number, and has seen a sharp decline in his play. It will be a tougher cut, but is a candidate to be released.
  • The team could restructure Drew Brees‘ contract again, although they will only push their cap problems into the future in exchange for immediate relief.
  • Releasing linebacker David Hawthorne will free up $2.99MM in cap space if he is released before his $2.5MM roster bonus on the third day of the 2015 league year.

Cardinals

Steelers

Patriots

  • The obvious move for the Patriots would be signing Darrelle Revis to a long-term deal, which would create substantial cap space. The team is unlikely to keep him in 2015 at his current number. They will open $20MM in cap space if they do not keep him on the roster.
  • The Patriots could open up $4MM in cap space by restructuring Tom Brady‘s contract.
  • The team will likely ask linebacker Jerod Mayo to take a pay cut, or they may release him. Corry writes that his $4.5MM injury guarantee will be the only thing that potentially saves him from being released.
  • Danny Amendola will be expendable, and cutting him will free up $2.1MM in cap room or $4.5MM if he is designated a post June 1st cut.
  • Vince Wilfork could also become a cap casualty, as the team will have to decide whether to guarantee his contract for 2015 and 2016. Releasing him will free up $7.566MM in cap room.
  • The team could also recoup some money from Aaron Hernandez‘ signing bonus if the grievance ruling comes back favorable for the Patriots.

49ers

  • The 49ers could restructure Colin Kaepernick‘s contract to lower his 2015 cap number.
  • Linebacker Ahmad Brooks may be released, freeing up a little over $4MM in cap room.
  • Another staple of the team, Vernon Davis, could be released as performance has dropped. The team would gain $4.95MM from releasing him.
  • If Aldon Smith‘s off-field troubles are too much for the 49ers, the team could decline his 2015 option and pick up $9.754MM in cap space.
  • The team could pass on re-signing Michael Crabtree, and will likely cut Stevie Johnson and save just over $6MM unless they lose Crabtree and replace him with Johnson.
  • The team will most likely not seek to bring Frank Gore back to the team, unless it is at an extremely reasonable number.

Extra Points: Clowney, Glenn, Shembo

  • Texans No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney’s status for the beginning of training camp is still up the air, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Clowney, who is recovering from June sports hernia surgery, remains day-to-day with no timetable established for his return.
  • The Ravens placed backup nose tackle Terrence Cody on the physically unable to perform list for the beginning of training camp, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. Cody, who is recovering from hip surgery, can be be activated whenever he’s healthy enough to resume practicing.
  • In minor transaction news, the Bills signed receiver Tori Gurley and cornerback Kamaal McIlwain to fill empty roster spots, according to BuffaloBills.com insider Chris Brown.
  • Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn is on the Active/Non-Football Illness list, but GM Doug Whaley doesn’t think Glenn will be lost long-term, according to WGR 550’s Joe Buscaglia. Said Whaley: “We don’t think so at this time. It’s just gonna have to see on how he progresses. We hope not. We’re still waiting on some reports on him, but it looks like it’s gonna be one of those day-to-day things and we’ll see how it progresses.”
  • In the meantime, highly publicized rookie Seantrel Henderson will man left tackle in Glenn’s stead.
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union takes an in-depth look at the Jaguars’ new-look offensive line, including quotes from offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch praising the athleticism of Luke Joeckel and the leadership of Zane Beadles. “He’s certainly as advertised and then some,” Fisch says of Beadles.
  • Falcons fourth-round outside linebacker Prince Shembo has a realistic chance of earning starts, writes Orlando Ledbetter in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ledbetter says the team will “force-feed” information to Shembo, whom head coach Mike Smith is “very excited” about. “He’s picked up the system very well,” said Smith. “He doesn’t have any experience, but we will get him a lot, I can assure you that in the preseason.”
  • James Harrison, Jermichael Finley and Santonio Holmes headline AP writer Dennis Waszak Jr.’s list of 13 notable, veteran free agents still looking for work with training camps getting underway.
  • The Patriots issued a press release saying Bill Belichick and Aaron Hernandez exchanged 34 total text messages, not 33 pages worth. According to Boston Globe correspondent Dan Adams, filings released Monday did not reveal the contents of the text messages or what Patriots employees shared with authorities, but did reveal that Belichick, Robert Kraft were interviewed by investigators, who also searched the locker of a player.
  • The NFL is moving swiftly to address the issue of underqualified underclassmen flooding the draft, reports NFL.com’s Albert Breer. In an effort to deter potentially undraftable players from declaring, the league’s advisory committee will streamline (simplify) its evaluation grades to include first round, second round or neither. Additionally, colleges will be restricted to five evaluation requests unless an abundance of talent dictates the need for more (e.g. Alabama, LSU, Florida State, etc.). Writes Beer: “At the heart of the changes are staggering statistics stemming from the 2014 draft class — of the record 107 who declared, 45 went undrafted. A majority of those 45 remain unsigned by NFL teams as undrafted free agents.”

East Links: Pats, Bills, Eagles, Giants

The NFL may have a reason to look into the reported 33 pages of text messages (via Jenny Wilson of the Hartford Courant) between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former tight end Aaron Hernandez. As ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio writes, the league’s recent labor deal limits the amount of interaction between coaches and players during the offseason. The text messages, which were sent between February and May 2013, suggests some kind of communication.

However, the rule, which states “players’ activities may not be directed or supervised by any coaches,” can be interpreted very broadly and might not suggest a violation. Furthermore, the previous Peyton Manning/Adam Gase controversy proved that the league is willing to ignore some transgressions.

Let’s see what else is happening in the NFL’s East divisions…

East Notes: Pats, Cowboys, Bills, Giants

The hearing for Jimmy Graham‘s franchise tag positional designation took place in June and a decision is expected from arbitrator Stephen Burbank this week, but another key arbitration hearing – for Aaron Hernandez and the Patriots – has no set date yet, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network (Twitter link).

As Breer details in a pair of tweets, the two sides are at odds over the tight end’s $12.5MM signing bonus. The Pats have already made $9.25MM in bonus payments, but didn’t pay the remaining $3.25MM this March. Hernandez’s camp figures to try to recover that last $3.25MM, which could end up going to the victims’ families, while the Pats may look to recoup a portion of the bonus that they already paid.

Here’s more from around the NFL’s two East divisions:

  • After signing free agent guard Uche Nwaneri and acquiring linebacker Rolando McClain, the Cowboys may also look to add a veteran at tight end, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com, who suggests the team could use a blocker behind Jason Witten.
  • Since Kiko Alonso‘s ACL injury will technically be considered a non-football injury, the Bills could elect not to pay him for the 2014 season. However, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, because Alonso’s injury was sustained while he was working out, not paying him his ’14 salary could send a bad message, suggesting players are better off not working out when camp isn’t in session. As ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak notes (via Twitter), Alonso wouldn’t earn an accrued season if the Bills placed him on the non-football-injury list, meaning he’d become a restricted free agent after 2016 rather than an unrestricted free agent.
  • After signing John Jerry as a free agent this offseason, the Giants would look to see the veteran guard make a run at a starting spot, writes Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger.
  • Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com takes a look at the Eagles‘ depth chart on the defensive side of the ball.

Extra Points: Incognito, FAs, Finley, Patriots

In the wake of last year’s bullying scandal, Richie Incognito has predictably had trouble finding NFL work. As Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report writes, the offensive lineman’s reps have been contacting teams over the last few weeks and months, but there has been virtually no interest. Said one general manager: “He’s trying to get back in the game, but the door remains shut. No one trusts him.”

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • A pair of veteran free agents, offensive tackle Eric Winston and cornerback Drayton Florence, are expected to make visits next week to unidentified clubs with interest, reports Alex Marvez of Fox Sports. As Marvez notes, interest in unsigned veterans should pick up around the league next week, when June 1 passes and free agents are no longer linked to compensatory draft picks.
  • A source tells Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com that Jermichael Finley‘s meeting with the Packers is a “formality.” The free agent tight end had previous plans to travel to Green Bay with his family, so he’ll check in with team doctors, but no medical clearance, contract signing, or even testing is anticipated, according to Demovsky’s source.
  • The Patriots and the representatives for Aaron Hernandez have a June hearing scheduled to go before an arbitrator as the team attempts to recoup the former tight end’s signing bonus money, tweets Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
  • General manager Jim Popp of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes confirmed today to Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports that former Bengals star Chad Johnson has received his work permit to play in Canada and is “at camp as we speak.”
  • Following up on Chris Johnson‘s Twitter plea for the Jets to acquire Andre Johnson, Brian Costello of the New York Post takes a look at a few reasons why trading for the Texans wideout could make sense for the Jets, as well as several reasons why it may not work.

Hernandez Indicted For July 2012 Murder

A Suffolk County Grand Jury has indicted ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for a double murder that occurred in July of 2012, reports Ted Daniel of Fox 25 Boston. Hernandez has already been charged with murder for a June 2013 incident, and is expected to be arraigned at a later date for his alleged involvement in the July 2012 deaths of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

If Hernandez was the shooter in the July 2012 incident, as authorities believe, it means the tight end’s involvement in the crime predates the $40MM contract extension he signed with the Patriots in August of that year, and that it happened before he played the 2012 season with the club.

As Joel Corry of CBSSports.com explained earlier in the offseason, an indictment for Hernandez for the 2012 murder should give the Patriots grounds to recoup the tight end’s entire signing bonus and end the grievances he filed over his salary due in 2013 and 2014. “Hernandez’s contract contains a clause where he represents and warrants that there weren’t any existing circumstances when he signed his deal that would prevent his continued availability throughout the contract,” Corry writes. Involvement in a double murder would certainly qualify as existing circumstances.

The Patriots are carrying a $7.5MM cap hit for Hernandez this season, an acceleration of the remaining amount of his $12.5MM signing bonus. As Corry details, at least some form of cap relief should arrive eventually for the team, though it remains to be seen when that will happen, or exactly how much relief the Pats will receive.