Baker Mayfield

AFC Notes: Verrett, Raiders, Browns, Stephenson

Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett has appeared in five totals games over the past two seasons. The 27-year-old is excited to head into the 2018 season fully healthy, and he’s ready to return to his Pro Bowl level.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit more juice, just dealing with the fact that I lost two seasons,” Verrett told Hayley Elwood of Chargers.com (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). “I’m hungry. I’m going to grind. I’m going to grind, grind, grind. They’re going to see the Pro Bowl player they saw in 2015.”

The former first-rounder had a breakout season in 2015, compiling 42 tackles, 12 passes defended, and three interceptions en route to a Pro Bowl nod. However, the cornerback has recently been battling through a torn ACL that he suffered during the 2016 campaign.

Starters Trevor Williams and Casey Hayward will still be around next season, but Verrett will be given every opportunity to contribute if he’s healthy.

“We can be real special,” Verrett said. “I know it’s a tough for the coaches to make a decision on who’s going to go out there, just because of how deep we are. But I think just how tight we are as a group, it’s going to allow us to keep feeding off each other. Everyone’s going be wanting to get better each and every day because you know the guys behind you are going to want to be where you are.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the AFC…
  • The Raiders brought in a number of new players and coaches this offseason, and Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area takes a look at the five additions with the most to prove. Head coach Jon Gruden naturally leads the list, with linebacker Derrick Johnson ranking second. Bair notes that Johnson is expected to provide Oakland’s defense with some much-needed leadership, and the signing will be a win if he can prove to be a three-down linebacker. Running back Doug Martin, wideout Jordy Nelson, and cornerback Rashaan Melvin also earned spots on the list.
  • Former NFL agent (and current CBS Sport contributor) Joel Corry observes the “interesting dynamics” between the Browns pair of first-round picks (Twitter link). As Corry points out, cornerback Denzel Ward, who was selected fourth overall, doesn’t have any incentive to sign his contract until the team inks their first-overall selection, quarterback Baker Mayfield, to a deal. If Mayfield ends up receiving guaranteed money without any offsets, Corry believes Ward can push to get similar advantages on his contract. For what it’s worth, 2017 first-rounder Myles Garrett does have offsets in his deal.
  • After being suspended for the first two games of the upcoming season, Browns offensive lineman Donald Stephenson decided to retire yesterday. As Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com points out, coach Hue Jackson was set to fine the player after he was a no-show from mandatory minicamp. Now, the team presumably won’t hit Stephenson with any fines, especially since he gave up his $1MM in guaranteed money by deciding to retire.
  • Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer believes the Browns have improved, but he’s wondering if Jackson will be able to take a step forward. The writer notes that the head coach had a built-in excuse (“rebuild”) during his 1-31 start with the organization, but there will now be actual expectations for the squad. The hiring of offensive coordinator Todd Haley will certainly help, but it will ultimately be up to the head coach to lead the Browns to success.

Offset Language Holding Up Top 10 Picks

There are 15 unsigned rookies left, and seven of them are in the top 10. The holdup for this year’s highest selections is offset language, a league source tells Mike Florio of PFT

Players with offset language who are cut before the end of their rookie contract have the remaining guaranteed money reduced by whatever they earns elsewhere. Without offset language, players get to double dip. Top 10 picks expect to complete their rookie contracts, but it’s an important issue for agents nonetheless.

The following top 10 players are without deals and there’s a common thread in the representation for most of them:

As Florio notes, CAA also represents No. 6 overall pick Quenton Nelson. The new Colts guard agreed to terms back in May on a deal that contains offset language, but also includes large guaranteed training-camp roster bonuses in 2019 through 2021. The presence of those bonuses effectively offsets the presence of offsets and could be a good middle ground solution for the agency’s remaining unsigned top 10 picks.

There’s no sign of real acrimony between any of these players and the teams that drafted them, but Joey Bosa‘s situation in 2016 serves as a reminder that offset language can become a real issue that can lead to a training camp holdout.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Team Best Addressed QB Spot This Offseason?

This turned out to be an important year for quarterback acquisitions. Many teams’ short- and long-term futures will depend heavily on the players they added over the past two months.

A fourth of the NFL made major investments in outside talent at the quarterback position this offseason. Which team did you think is in the best position after all the dominoes fell?

Three teams acquired their unquestioned starters via trade or free agency. The Redskins’ trade for Alex Smith ensured they were not going to pick a quarterback in the draft. As did the Vikings’ subsequent Kirk Cousins agreement. The Broncos entered the draft as a borderline QB destination, but John Elway valued Bradley Chubb more than Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, eschewing a Bills offer that would have given his team extra first- and second-round picks. So, Case Keenum is going to be Denver’s starter.

Four of the five teams that used first-round picks on quarterbacks made sure to add bridge-type solutions, with the Browns moving first to get Tyrod Taylor. The Jets and Cardinals then respectively proceeded to bring in Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. And the Bills made the final stopgap addition in A.J. McCarron. But these players, for the most part, are 2018 placeholders — at best.

Was Baker Mayfield worth the No. 1 overall pick? Or did the Browns make what could turn out to be the costliest of their spree of modern quarterback misjudgments last month? Several Cleveland executives independently rated Mayfield as the draft’s premier passer, going against the grain of the many teams that viewed Sam Darnold as this year’s top passing prospect. The Jets appear to have appreciated this bold move, and Darnold is almost certainly going to see extensive time in 2018. PFR readers believe he will.

The Bills worked the phones relentlessly in an effort to install Allen behind McCarron, and the Cardinals reportedly had the Wyoming prodigy rated as their top QB as well. But Allen could need extensive seasoning, and as of now, a returning playoff team has a fifth-year player with 133 career pass attempts set to open the season and possibly close it as the starter.

Conversely, the player the Cardinals invested in was tabbed by many draft experts as the readiest pro. And Bradford being in front of Rosen for 16 games may be asking a lot from the injury-prone veteran. The Ravens are already planning Jackson packages, and although the player whom some teams wanted to work out as a wide receiver may need a season to develop, this draft’s most dominant college QB resides in Baltimore behind Joe Flacco.

Armed with one of the league’s most talented rosters, Minnesota had the most obvious case to pursue a veteran. And the Vikings made history by authorizing a $28MM-AAV fully guaranteed deal for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Cousins, who may be the safest option among all of these players. But he’s now the league’s second-highest-paid passer and tethered to the Vikings through 2020. Smith is coming off his best NFL season, but his Chiefs teams disappointed in two home playoff opportunities. Washington could also be much further away from contention than Minnesota, and the Redskins have now brought in quarterback who for all the stability he offers is four years older.

It’s debatable the Broncos’ contention window could still be open, with many of their core Super Bowl 50 performers still on the team and having played the past two seasons without much help at quarterback. But a 5-11 team armed with only its second top-five pick since 1992 passing on two coveted QB prospects to pursue the 30-year-old Keenum, a late-blooming talent or a player who benefited from better circumstances, could also be classified as a bold choice as Rosen and Allen’s careers unfold. The Broncos only committed to Keenum for two years and are paying Football Outsiders’ No. 4 2017 DYAR passer $10MM less per year than Cousins commanded.

So, with all things considered, which of these franchises is best set up after this offseason? Did one of the teams that spent a first-round pick on a QB ensure a decade and then some of stability and promise? Or did the teams that went strictly for vets get this right? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Rookie QB WIll Log The Most Playing Time In 2018?

Six quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, including the Browns taking Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick.

Though teams spent high-value picks on quarterbacks in 2018, not every quarterback will be in a position to take over a starting role in 2018, though each seemingly has a decent possibility at finding the field in their rookie year. Along with the Browns selecting Mayfield, the Jets selected Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick, the Bills took Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick, the Cardinals took Josh Rosen with the No. 10 overall pick and the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with the No. 32 overall pick. The Steelers also selected Mason Rudolph in the third round of the draft.

Each quarterback has a roadblock to finding playing time in 2018. The Browns acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor via trade, the Jets re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford and the Bills traded for A.J. McCarron. The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger entrenched in the starting role, though he’s missed eight games over the last three seasons.

So, which quarterback do you think will receive the most playing time in 2018? Will injuries to Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco force Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph into action? Or can Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen or Allen win battles in crowded quarterback rooms?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

East Rumors: Mayfield, Dolphins, Eagles

While multiple reports have indicated the Jets‘ goal for their No. 3 pick was Sam Darnold, their new heir apparent, Baker Mayfield‘s agent said the team was effusive in its praise for his client when he visited Gang Green headquarters in April.

When he visited the Jets, they pretty much said ‘You’re our guy if you’re there,'” Mayfield’s agent Jack Mills said on “The Business of Sport with Andrew Brandt” podcast (via Newsday). “(The Browns) didn’t say you’re our guy. I don’t know what they said. They liked him and (John) Dorsey never contacted us.”

It’s since come out the Browns had several executives independently declare Mayfield was the draft’s top quarterback, but for weeks, the Jets/Mayfield noise increased. However, this may well have been contingent on Darnold not getting past Cleveland.

Here’s the latest from the East divisions, continuing with a Dolphins draft what-if.

  • Here’s a nice chain reaction from the fourth round: the Ravens appear to have sought Miami running back Mark Walton with their fourth-round pick, but the Bengals took him at No. 112. This led to Baltimore selecting Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett at No. 118. This, in turn, depressed some in the Dolphins‘ war room. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald hears the Dolphins sought Averett with their fourth-rounder (No. 122), but they ended up drafting Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe. This came after Miami already took Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki in Round 2.
  • The Dolphins have T.J. McDonald signed through 2020, but they may be considering moving him to linebacker, per Jackson. Miami extended McDonald last September and deployed him as a starting safety in eight games after his eight-game suspension ended. He graded as a middle-of-the-pack safety in the view of Pro Football Focus, but the analytics site rated McDonald as an upper-echelon run defender. Set to have Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan start at two of their three linebacker spots, the Dolphins may have an interest in stationing McDonald at one of their outside positions. Although, they did draft former McMillan Ohio State teammate Jerome Baker in the third round.
  • Darren Sproles will make $1.015MM in base salary this season with the Eagles, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. It’s uncertain what bonuses and incentives are in the 34-year-old running back’s contract, but Sproles is already on the books for this salary.
  • The Eagles are highly unlikely to pick up Nick Foles‘ mutual option in 2019, Parks notes. That figure is worth $20.6MM as a result of the renegotiated deal the Eagles and Foles agreed upon earlier this year. Foles faced a somewhat similar circumstance in 2016, when the Chiefs did not pick up an eight-figure option and sent him back into free agency. Shorr-Parks writes the Eagles understandably would be more willing to work out a long-term deal with their backup quarterback than have him stick around on that price.

Patriots Notes: Mayfield, Gillislee, Brady

We recently heard that the Patriots were just one of two teams to rate Baker Mayfield as the best quarterback in this year’s draft, and Mayfield’s agent, Jack Mills, indicated that New England may have been willing to move up to the No. 2 overall pick to land his client. However, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com is not so sure. He thinks the Patriots wanted to meet with Mayfield as part of their thorough scouting process, but if they did not sell Mills on the potential that they could make a big move up, Mills would not have wasted Mayfield’s time with a New England visit. Reiss does not believe the Pats would have jumped from No. 23 to No. 2 even if Mayfield was still on the board.

Now for more notes out of Foxborough:

  • The Patriots have not officially announced their 2018 crop of UDFAs, but as Reiss observes, they have signed Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb and gave him a $70K guarantee, which clearly makes him a priority signing with a decent chance of making the final roster. In a separate piece, Reiss says that Mike Gillislee, who opened the 2017 campaign as New England’s No. 1 back, is now fighting for a roster spot. With new first-round pick Sony Michel and veterans Rex Burkhead and James White considered locks, Gillislee will battle Webb, Jeremy Hill, and Brandon Bolden for one or two spots. The former Bill could be cut with no dead money ramifications.
  • When he was recently asked if he felt appreciated by Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, Tom Brady replied with a joke/non-answer. It is unclear whether Brady actually feels underappreciated by the other two most important figures within the organization, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes the club should ante up and pay Brady a salary more in line with the top of the market. Brady’s $20.5MM AAV is now 16th among all quarterbacks, and Florio believes the Pats should rectify that to some degree.
  • The news continues to be good for 2017 third-rounder Derek Rivers. Reiss says Rivers, who tore his ACL last August and missed his entire rookie campaign, is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
  • Earlier this week, ESPN’s Mel Kiper named Patriots’ sixth-round WR Braxton Berrios as one of the 2018 late-round selections most likely to make an immediate impact.

Browns Rumors: Mayfield, Haley, Ward

While the Baker Mayfield/Browns noise didn’t intensify until draft week, the newly assembled front office viewed the Oklahoma product well independently before arriving in Cleveland. John Dorsey, Eliot Wolf and consultant Scot McCloughan all had Mayfield atop the quarterback class, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes, with Alonzo Highsmith subsequently joining them. Using the Packers’ grading system the Browns do now, Dorsey, Wolf and McCloughan — who has long praised the 2017 Heisman Trophy recipient — each put Mayfield atop their respective lists prior to coming to Cleveland. While a report emerged earlier this week indicating Sam Darnold may well have been more teams’ top-rated QB in this class, Cabot reports four teams — three AFC squads and one in the NFC — had Mayfield as this class’ No. 1 quarterback. Two other teams, per Cabot, provided strong indications he was their top QB choice.

Here’s the latest from Cleveland, including more about the Browns’ signal-caller situation.

  • While the Browns are certainly higher on Mayfield than they were on DeShone Kizer or Cody Kessler, the memories of neither rookie winning a game are still fresh with Hue Jackson. And he reiterated this weekend he’s not going to deviate from Tyrod Taylor atop the QB depth chart. “I’m not going to back off of this,” Jackson said, via Cabot. “We can keep writing this narrative, Tyrod Taylor’s the starting quarterback of this football team, and that won’t change. … Tyrod has demonstrated every day what it’s like to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. I want some of that to rub off on (Mayfield) so he can see firsthand what it means to play quarterback in the National Football League. Baker doesn’t know.”
  • The Browns had close to the same grade on Mayfield and Saquon Barkley, Pat McManamon of ESPN.com notes. While this could mean the Browns placed a slightly higher grade on the Penn State-produced running back, Dorsey felt the need at quarterback and the fact he could land a promising running back prospect in the second round (Nick Chubb went to Cleveland at No. 35) tipped the scales for Mayfield. Cleveland was long connected to a quarterback at No. 1, and Barkley was not believed to be a serious consideration.
  • Todd Haley‘s arrival in northeast Ohio will mean full autonomy of the Browns’ offense, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com notes. Both Jackson and Mayfield will spend time this summer learning Haley’s playbook. Jackson will be taking a CEO-style approach this year instead of calling plays, as he has the past two seasons. But it still sounds like some of the third-year HC’s concepts will be included in Haley’s offense.
  • The Browns had Denzel Ward and Bradley Chubb ranked equally on their board, and need won out, Dorsey said during a radio interview on 92.3 The Fan (via Cabot). Ward’s ability to play press coverage well made him DC Gregg Williams‘ preference, too.

Draft QB Fallout: Darnold, Allen, Mayfield

A draft that produced one of the longest rumor cycles surrounding quarterbacks in recent memory continues to generate fallout. And some of it centers on the quarterback that fell to No. 3.

Among the emotions expressed in the Jets’ war room after the Giants chose Saquon Barkley over Sam Darnold were disbelief and joy, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. But the Giants weren’t the only team many NFL executives and scouts believe helped out the Jets.

The Browns’ Baker Mayfield pick went against the grain, with Matt Miller of Bleacher Report writing that he only confirmed two teams — the Browns and Patriots — that rated the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner as the top quarterback in this draft. Conversely, 15 different teams rated Darnold as their top QB, Miller reports.

Mike Maccagnan decided to keep an airtight lid on his quarterback hierarchy, only informing Christopher Johnson and Todd Bowles of which signal-caller he had as his top-rated passer. The fourth-year Jets GM didn’t bother to assign final grades to the top five QBs in fear of that information seeping out, but grades were given to every other player on the Jets’ board, per Mehta. While the precise order here is not known, Mehta reports Darnold was the Jets’ top-rated passing prospect — one the team did not think would get past the Browns at No. 1 until very late in the process.

The Jets weren’t certain the Giants would pass on Darnold, either, but were aware of Dave Gettleman‘s interest in Barkley. One source informed Miller that Gettleman, indeed, did not pick up the phone regarding trade interest in the No. 2 overall pick. While Gettleman himself confirmed one team made a strong offer for No. 2, it’s unclear when on draft night that proposal emerged. Wowed by none of these QBs, the Giants did not have a consensus on which of these players was the best prospect.

While the Cardinals wound up with Josh Rosen, Miller reports Josh Allen was their top-rated quarterback. The team that actually drafted Allen, the Bills, had the Wyoming talent rated as this class’ No. 2 passer, Miller reports. Buffalo was one of the teams that viewed Darnold as this draft’s top QB.

No reports of Allen visiting the Cardinals emerged until he confirmed just before the draft he took a trip to Arizona. Miller notes the Cards may have tried to trade up for Allen prior to landing Rosen. Additionally, the Twitter controversy did not appear to affect Allen’s stock. Miller adds no sources indicated that played a role in their teams’ respective assessments of Allen.

Giants Did Not Have Consensus On Draft’s Top QB

The Giants were enamored with Saquon Barkley to the point they didn’t waste much time turning in their card. And the team is now prepared to enter the season without a surefire heir apparent behind Eli Manning.

It turns out, Big Blue’s brass didn’t appear to have a consensus among which of the quarterbacks they would take, with Paul Schwartz of the New York Post reporting different sects of the Giants’ decision-makers preferred three separate signal-callers. And they didn’t feel strongly enough about one of them to pull the trigger at No. 2.

Mostly, the Giants were down to Sam Darnold or Josh Allen, with some Josh Rosen support in the building as well. Schwartz reports there wasn’t much love for Baker Mayfield among the new-look Giants power structure.

If it were up to Pat Shurmur, Allen would have been the quarterback pick — had the franchise been leaning in that direction. Upside drew Shurmur to Allen. However, the Giants would have selected Bradley Chubb if Barkley wasn’t available, per Schwartz.

The Giants placed the same grade on Barkley and Chubb, but the Penn State running back was listed atop Chubb’s name on Big Blue’s board. They proceeded accordingly, and are “ecstatic,” Schwartz writes.

Additionally, Schwartz lists second-round pick Will Hernandez as a near-surefire starter at guard. Hernandez caught the Giants’ eye at the Senior Bowl, and one staffer told Schwartz the the team’s consensus was the UTEP lineman’s Combine performance would not have him available by the time New York’s second-round window opened. The Giants signed Patrick Omameh in free agency and still have returning starter John Jerry on the roster. And Schwartz adds that Lorenzo Carter could well get a strong push to start ahead of free agency addition Kareem Martin, the latter’s knowledge of James Bettcher’s system notwithstanding.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Wanted Baker Mayfield?

The Browns weren’t the only team that had Baker Mayfield ranked as the top quarterback in this year’s class. The Patriots considered trading up to the No. 2 pick in order to take the Oklahoma product, his agent tells Andrew Brandt of The MMQB (audio link). 

We had another team which is going to surprise you. Another team had said, ‘You may get a big surprise on draft day, at No. 2, if he’s available.’ And it was the Patriots,” Mills said. “They had 23 and they had 31 and they had two seconds. We thought, ‘That’s gonna be a heck of a move, to get up that high from where they are.’ And of course he wasn’t available so we never knew if that was reality or not.”

There was speculation that the Patriots could move up in the draft for a quarterback and it’s possible that Mayfield was their one and only target in that respect. Even if Mayfield had fallen to No. 2, however, it’s not clear whether they would have had the ammo necessary to get a deal done. The Pats’ late first round picks could have easily vaulted them into the top ten, but that might not have been enough to entice Giants GM Dave Gettleman to walk away from Saquon Barkley. Even with a pair of second rounders to work with, it’s hard to say whether the Pats and Giants could have been a match.

Had the Pats landed Mayfield, it would have sparked serious drama in New England and New York. The Patriots would have had to deal with Tom Brady‘s reaction, the Giants would have risked giving up on potential generational talent, and the Jets would have to face Mayfield – who some say was their top QB target – twice per season.

But, that’s all one big “What if?” now that Mayfield is in Cleveland.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.