Emmanuel Sanders became the third-highest-paid wide receiver free agent this offseason, trailing younger cogs Amari Cooper and Robby Anderson. But before signing a two-year, $16MM Saints deal, the veteran received extensive interest on the market.
In addition to the 49ers wanting to retain him and some interest from the Cowboys and Jets, two 2019 playoff teams sought Sanders. The Bills and Packers were in the mix for the 33-year-old wideout, Sanders confirmed.
Both teams contacted him on the first day of the legal tampering period, as did the 49ers. While the Bills discussed a deal with Sanders, they reached an agreement to acquire Stefon Diggs less than an hour after the sides’ phone call.
“I spoke with the Bills for a little bit and I told them, ‘Let me think about the idea; give me a night,'” Sanders said during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show (audio link). “And 30 minutes later the Stefon Diggs deal went through and I was like, ‘OK.’ So then I kind of waited. I was talking to Green Bay; I was talking to the Niners, just trying to figure out what type of deal, what type of money we’re talking about. And then the Saints called. I was ecstatic about them, the opportunity to play with Drew Brees, and the numbers made sense.”
While Buffalo unloaded a major asset to bolster its receiving corps with a younger player, Green Bay took the cheaper route in signing Devin Funchess. The Packers figure to still be in the market for receivers when the draft opens. Their Davante Adams sidekick contingent has not panned out, leaving the Packers with a clear need. The 49ers acquired the No. 13 overall pick from the Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade, and they also will likely be in the running for a first-round wide receiver.
Sanders said he signed with the Saints because of their consistent offense reminding him of his first season with the Broncos, in 2014, and because of Brees’ two-year contract. It is not yet known if Brees will play in 2021, but Sanders appears to be rooting for that to happen.
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Trent Williams has been one of the most-discussed players in the NFL for about a year now, and it presently does not sound like the Redskins are close to trading their disgruntled left tackle. One of the more overlooked talking points, however, is what happens if a trade is not completed?
We recently heard that the team does not plan to release Williams, which means he would remain under contract with the Redskins through 2020. And holding out wouldn’t earn him any leverage with the Redskins or with a team interested in trading for him, so as Albert Breer of SI.com writes, Williams would have no choice but to play for Washington next season. He clearly does not want that to happen, but at this point, his clearest path to a lucrative new deal may be to stick it out for one more season with the ‘Skins and prove he is still a top-tier LT.
Let’s round up a few more items from the league’s east divisions:
- CB Kendall Fuller is back with the Redskins on a four-year deal, and he tells John Keim of ESPN.com that a number of factors brought him back to D.C. The Baltimore native played his collegiate ball at Virginia Tech and was drafted by the Redskins in 2016, so Washington is home for him. He also cited new head coach Ron Rivera and Rivera’s reputation for developing CBs as a draw, along with the defensive staff as a whole. Fuller indicated that he does not know if he will play primarily in the slot or outside the numbers (Twitter links).
- The Eagles brought back Jalen Mills on a one-year, $4MM pact, and the club plans on transitioning him from cornerback to safety in the wake of Malcolm Jenkins‘ departure. Mills says that Philadelphia was the only team that wanted to move him to safety (Twitter link via Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94 WIP), but obviously that switch was agreeable to the 2016 seventh-rounder. It’s fair to wonder, however, exactly how much interest Mills was generating as a CB on the open market.
- Ereck Flowers couldn’t hack it as an offensive tackle in the NFL, but he has reinvented himself as a guard and parlayed a strong showing at LG with Washington in 2019 into a surprising three-year, $30MM contract with the Dolphins last month. This will not come as much of a surprise, but Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says Miami intends to have Flowers line up at guard, though his experience at tackle made him attractive to head coach Brian Flores, who clearly targeted FAs with positional versatility.
- The Bills opted against giving WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie an RFA tender, but they did re-sign him to a one-year pact just the same. McKenzie told Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News that he did have other free agent offers, but despite the fact that he is unlikely to see more playing time with the Bills in 2020 than he did in 2019, his preference was to return to Buffalo (Twitter link).
Here are the latest details from the second wave of free agency. All links courtesy of the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson, unless otherwise noted.
- Greg Zuerlein, K (Cowboys): Three years, $7.5MM. $1MM signing bonus; 2020 base salary of $1.25MM is guaranteed. Zuerlein’s non-guaranteed 2021 and ’22 salaries are each $2.25MM.
- Tyler Matakevich, LB (Bills): Two years, $7.15MM. Matekevich will receive $3.45MM guaranteed, which includes his $1.75MM 2020 base salary. His $3MM 2021 base is non-guaranteed.
- Sam Martin, P (Broncos): Three years, $7.05MM. $2MM in guarantees, which includes a $1.45MM signing bonus. $550K of Martin’s $1.05MM 2020 base salary is guaranteed, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Martin’s $2.3MM and $2.25MM 2021 and ’22 salaries are non-guaranteed.
- Andrew Sendejo, S (Browns). One year, $2.25MM. Sendejo will receive $2MM guaranteed, which includes a $1.05MM base salary.
- Taiwan Jones, RB (Bills): One year, $1.75MM. Jones will receive $700K guaranteed; $300K of his $1.05MM base salary is guaranteed.
- Brett Hundley, QB (Cardinals): One year, $1.05MM. $887K of the deal is guaranteed. Because of the Cards using the veteran salary benefit, Hundley will count that amount on their cap.
- C.J. Goodwin, CB (Cowboys): One year, $1.05MM. Goodwin will receive $337K guaranteed; $200K of his $910K base salary is guaranteed.
- D.J. Foster, RB (Cardinals): One year, $825K.
- Will Redmond, CB (Packers): One year, $750K.
Despite Shaq Lawson being in trade rumors for much of his tenure with the Bills, the current regime was interested in bringing him back. However, it does not appear Buffalo’s interest in retaining the former Doug Whaley first-round pick was extensive. The Bills were open to re-signing Lawson, but Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic notes such interest was contingent on Lawson returning at a certain price (subscription required). But once the Dolphins guaranteed two years of Lawson’s $10MM-AAV contract, the Bills let him walk. Buffalo signed both Mario Addison and versatile D-lineman Quinton Jefferson to cover for Lawson’s exit.
- Sam Martin ended up signing with the Broncos, but the Jets were interested in adding the former Lions punter, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News notes. The Broncos gave Martin a three-year, $7.05MM deal; Mehta adds the Jets were not budgeting that much for their punter position. Martin’s $2.35MM salary ranks 15th among punters. The Jets have opted not to re-sign incumbent punter Lac Edwards, their four-year punter, and Mehta adds they have remained in contact with former Dolphins and Bills punter Matt Darr. Ian Berryman, a 2019 Steelers UDFA, is the only punter on the Jets’ roster. The team remains interested in another addition here. Bringing considerable punter news to the table, Mehta adds that the Jets are doing their homework on Texas A&M’s Braden Mann — the 2018 Ray Guy award winner.
In signing Williams, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott — both former Panthers employees — will add yet another bullet point on the list of players who’ve headed from Carolina to Buffalo. Williams joins Josh Norman, Vernon Butler, Star Lotulelei, A.J. Klein, and Mario Addison as ex-Panthers now on the Bills’ roster.
Williams, 27, spent time all over Carolina’s front five last year; after playing tackle for most his career, he saw the majority of his action at guard in 2019, where Pro Football Focus graded him 57th positionally among 80 qualifiers. The former fourth-round pick was outstanding as the Panthers’ right tackle in 2017, but multiple knee injuries limited him to just one game the following season.
The Bills made a number of investments in their offensive line last offseason, signing Mitch Morse, Quinton Spain, Jon Feliciano, Spencer Long, and Ty Nsekhe to free agent pacts while selecting Cody Ford in the second round of the draft. Every member of that haul will return in 2020, meaning Williams may not have a shot to start. Given his versatility, he’ll add value as a utility lineman, but his best chance at significant playing time is likely at right guard, where he could compete with Feliciano and Long.
Williams looked poised to cash in following his excellent 2017 campaign, and even after injuries prevented him from seeing much action in 2018, many observers believed he’d still garner a hefty multi-year pact. Instead, he was forced to accept a one-year, $6MM deal as he re-signed with the Panthers. Given his health history, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he’s again inking a single-season pact.
Carolina perhaps signaled that it wasn’t interested in retaining Williams when it signed former Bengals guard John Miller to a one-year pact last week. Miller will take over at right guard for the Panthers, joining trade acquisition Russell Okung as a new addition to Carolina’s front five.
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The former Rams draft choice played for the Bills in 2017 and re-signed with Buffalo last year. But an injury derailed those plans, and the Bills reached an injury settlement with Gaines in August. He did not land with another team last season.
This signing comes a year and a day after the last time Gaines agreed to join the Bills for a second time. He is hoping to rebound after multiple injury-marred seasons. A midseason malady also cut his 2018 Browns stay short. This will be Gaines’ age-28 season, so if he’s healthy, he should have a decent chance to make the Bills’ regular-season roster and contribute.
Gaines will join Josh Norman as incoming Bills corners eyeing spots alongside Tre’Davious White. Youngsters Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson and Siran Neal will also be in that mix. The Bills lost Kevin Johnson to the Browns earlier in free agency.
Although he has only played in six games since his 2017 Bills run, Gaines started 11 games with Buffalo in his first stay there. Gaines suffered a concussion during his 2018 Cleveland season, which ended in November 2018.
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- Months before the Bills pulled the trigger on a Stefon Diggs trade, they were interested in doing so before last year’s deadline. The Bills called the Vikings on several occasions about Diggs’ availability last year, Breer reports, but Minnesota insisted on keeping him. The Bills reached out about an hour after an ominous Diggs tweet that emerged shortly after the Hopkins trade, Breer adds. Last year, the Vikings wanted either two first-rounders or first- and second-round picks for Diggs, but Breer notes they loosened their asking price when the Bills called last week. Although the Vikings mentioned the 2013 Percy Harvin trade — in which the Seahawks dealt first-, third- and seventh-rounders for the then-standout wideout — as a starting point, they ended up accepting a first-rounder and no Day 2 picks for Diggs.
When the Bills assessed their restricted free agent situation, Isaiah McKenzie did not receive a tender offer. But the wide receiver/return man will stay in Buffalo nonetheless.
McKenzie agreed to re-sign with the Bills, according to his agents (on Twitter). He has been with the Bills since they claimed him on waivers in 2018. This deal will certainly be less than the original-round tender price ($2.13MM).
A former Broncos fifth-round pick, McKenzie could not stick in Denver due to fumbling issues. But he established himself as a role player in Buffalo. The 5-foot-8 wideout caught 27 passes for a career-high 254 yards and a touchdown last season. He will attempt to play a role in a receiving corps that now includes Stefon Diggs.
Having signed Andre Roberts, the Bills did not use McKenzie as much in the return game last season. McKenzie, 24, served as the Bills’ primary return man down the stretch in 2018. Roberts is under contract for 2020, but the Bills are bringing McKenzie back regardless.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Bills may or may not have expressed interest in Melvin Gordon. While 9News’ Mike Klis tweets that the Bills submitted an offer better than the Broncos’ two-year, $16MM proposal, ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter indicated Buffalo did not do so (Twitter link). Regardless of whether an offer emerged, Schefter adds (via Twitter) Gordon’s agent did contact the Bills about a deal. The Bills are all set to go with Devin Singletary again; Frank Gore is a free agent.