- Despite Michael Vick seeming to indicate he was in the process of coming to an agreement with Falcons management on a one-day retirement contract, the former Falcons Pro Bowler said Sunday he hasn’t spoken with anyone with the team about doing this yet. But he has it on the agenda. “I haven’t talked to anybody about it specifically,” Vick said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “It’s something that I’ve really been thinking about trying to get done. I was asked the question the other day is that what I want, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ … When I spoke to [Falcons owner] Arthur [Blank], we talked about various other things,” Vick said. “Like I said, [retiring as a Falcon] is something that can happen down the road, and I think we both know that.” Vick told McClure he still has a good relationship with Blank despite one of the most notorious exits from a team in league history. Blank did invite Vick and other former Falcon greats to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Day for a celebratory ceremony. The 36-year-old added that the Falcons are where his “identity lies as a player.”
Vick plans to retire after 13 NFL seasons and is in discussions to do so as a member of the Falcons on a one-day contract, the 36-year-old free agent told Jon Chuckery of CBS Atlanta.
While it would be interesting if Vick retires as a Falcon given the way the parties ended their relationship, it would officially bring to a close the career of arguably the most athletic quarterback in NFL history. Vick played six seasons with the Falcons before going to prison for his involvement in the infamous dog-fighting scandal, and after missing the 2007-08 seasons, returned and became a starter again with the Eagles. Finishing his career with one-year stints with the Jets and Steelers, Vick has not played since October of 2015.
“I think I got my fill,” Vick said (via Chuckery) of football, adding that he wants to commence this retirement with the Falcons “hopefully soon.”
Vick did return to the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Day for a celebratory ceremony honoring Falcons who played in the 25-year facility. But the former No. 1 overall Falcons pick saw his employment in Atlanta end with the prison sentence and NFL suspension.
Should Vick be done, he will finish with the most rushing yards from the quarterback position in NFL history, with 6,109. That’s over than 1,000 more than Randall Cunningham, second place on this list, compiled during his career. Vick rushed for 36 touchdowns and surpassed 1,000 ground yards in his final year with the Falcons.
As a passer, Vick would stand to finish with a 56 percent completion rate. The former No. 1 overall pick earned four Pro Bowl bids, the first three with the Falcons before a comeback 2010 campaign with the Eagles, and won two playoff games — in 2002 and ’04 as the Falcons starter.
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The NFL announced that the teams of the NFC South will be carrying an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the upcoming season. This is part of the league’s flagship International Player Pathway program.
Now, the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers will all be operating with an 11-man practice squad while the rest of the league has ten. However, they don’t necessarily have an advantage over other clubs because these additional overseas players cannot be activated during the season.
Here is a look at the players who will be joining each taxi squad:
- Falcons: Alex Gray, TE – Gray, a former rugby star, is the first English rugby union professional to quit the sport to pursue American football. The 26-year-old was named the England Sevens player of the year in 2015. He not to be confused with the undrafted Appalachian State safety of the same name who joined the Bucs’ 90-man roster.
- Panthers: Efe Obada, DE – Obada, who grew up in the Netherlands and England, was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2010. Prior to the 2016 season, he also had brief stints with the Chiefs and Falcons.
- Saints: Alex Jenkins, DE – Jenkins was born and raised in England but actually has a background in American football. Back home, he played for the Bath City Academy and for the Bristol Aztecs before earning a spot on the Great Britain youth team. He played his college ball in San Antonio, Texas at the University of the Incarnate Word. He had 3.5 sacks in his senior year.
- Buccaneers: Eric Nzeocha, LB – Nzeocha is now the second German-born player to join up with the Bucs in franchise history. German safety Claudius Osei spent the 2005 campaign on Tampa Bay’s taxi squad as part of a similar program. Nzeocha’s brother Mark is a linebacker for the Cowboys.
Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.
There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…
Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.
The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.
After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.
Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.
Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.
Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.
The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.
After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.
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A Devonta Freeman extension became a talking point during Super Bowl week, just before the running back became eligible to sign one as a fourth-year player.
Freeman wants “elite” running back money after putting together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons that each featured 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage. The Falcons appear to be in stride with their starting running back regarding an extension. After owner Arthur Blank voiced support for Freeman remaining in red and black long-term, GM Thomas Dimitroff believes he could make that happen.
“We want him here and he’s a very important part of our organization. Contrary to what people were saying around the Super Bowl time with what came out, we’re ready in the relatively near future to have some discussions with their representation,” Dimitroff said during a radio interview with Adam Schein (via Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com).
“Devonta, he’s a really good guy. He’s really — as far as his personality — he’s so hyper competitive. … He’s an urgent, angry runner, which we want and we know is important for us. We want him to be around for years to come and we’re confident that we’ll be able to get it done.”
Dimitroff targeted training camp as a window for this extension to potentially occur. The Falcons have also expressed desire to extend Matt Ryan, although two years remain on the reigning MVP’s contract, and recently reached a long-term agreement with Desmond Trufant. Freeman’s position doesn’t demand that kind of money, but given the ball-carrier’s age (25) and production coming into Year 4, he is in position to be paid like a top-tier running back.
The Falcons also have Freeman complement Tevin Coleman, who ate into the starter’s workload in the games he played. Coleman, 24, has two years remaining on his deal.
“We’ve talked about approaching these types of contracts and situations usually going into camp is when we start talking about them and really start having some discussions about it,” Dimitroff said. “That’s not a hard line for us, but in my mind, I like to make sure that we have those kind of things worked on. You know, look, he’s in a really good space here, he loves being here and he loves playing for Dan Quinn.”
Freeman is not planning to hold out and will make $1.8MM this year on his rookie contract, which will expire at season’s end.
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- The Falcons let go of defensive line coach Bryan Cox back in February, and the former Pro Bowler believes his firing was attributed to his “incident” during the 2016 Combine when he reportedly shoved a Cardinals scout. “You go from your unit playing really well in the Super Bowl and sacking the quarterback five times and having [nine] quarterback hits . . . and [three] days later you get fired,” Cox told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). “I wasn’t given an answer to why I was fired. I was left to go back and kind of play stuff over. And the only thing I can come up with is the Combine incident that kind of led to it.”
- While Falcons running back Devonta Freeman won’t hold out in hopes of landing a new contract, he continues to seek top-tier money relative to his position. “I want to be elite paid. Whatever that is, that’s where I want to be — straight up,” Freeman told Josina Anderson of ESPN. Freeman is in lockstep with his agent, Kristin Campbell, who declared prior to Super Bowl LI that the 25-year-old should be in line for “elite” money. As of now, Freeman’s not on track to approach the NFL’s highest-paid backs in 2017, the final year of his contract, as he’s slated to make $1.8MM. There’s still plenty of time for an extension to come together, of course, and both Freeman and the Falcons have made it clear that they want to work something out.
Atlanta failed to land a high-profile guard during the free agent period to replace the retired Chris Chester, so the club is now seemingly throwing several possible solutions against the wall to see what sticks. Internal option Ben Garland is a candidate to take over at right guard, while the Falcons also spent a fourth-round pick on Oregon State product Sean Harlow. Additionally, Atlanta signed former Bears interior lineman Cornelius Edison on Wednesday, and he could conceivably be in the running for a starting gig.
Gardner, 31, has bounced around since entering the league in 2009, and most recently spent time with the 49ers at the tail end of last season. His most notable experience, however, came with the Eagles, for whom Gardner started 11 games from 2014-15.
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Today’s minor moves:
- Signed: LB Mikey Bart
- Waived: DT Collin Bevins
- Signed: OL Cornelius Edison
- Signed: G Dan Skipper
Los Angeles Chargers
- Waived: DT Toby Johnson
Lissemore, 30 in September, appeared in 41 games for the Chargers between 2013 and 2015 and made 13 starts during that span. Unfortunately, in August of 2016, he suffered a major injury which ended his season before it even began. Presumably, the William and Mary alum is now healthy enough to play.
Before his time with the Bolts, Lissemore spent three years with the Cowboys. For his career, he has 135 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and one interception to his credit.
Lissemore could be a depth option for Atlanta’s newly revamped defensive line. This offseason, the Falcons made three significant additions by signing free agents Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford and drafting UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley.
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