Darius Slay

North Notes: McCarthy, Lions, Tuitt, Ravens

Mike McCarthy‘s enjoyed the benefit of coaching two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and the Packers have qualified for nine playoff brackets in the coach’s 12 previous seasons. But with the team in danger of missing the NFC bracket for the second straight season, McCarthy appears to be firmly on the hot seat. The 13th-year Green Bay coach’s job status is “pretty clearly” uncertain regarding 2019, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link). McCarthy signed a one-year extension to take him through the ’19 season, so the team isn’t committed long-term here. He’s now reporting to team president Mark Murphy under the post-Ted Thompson power structure, and with Brian Gutekunst now GM, different voices will have a say if McCarthy will be brought back.

That’s the job. That’s the way this business has gone,” McCarthy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, when asked about his status. “I’m not going to get into comparables, but at the end of the day that’s part of the job responsibility of the head coachWe set a standard here the past 12 years and it’s our responsibility to play to that standard.”

The Packers are venturing near must-win territory if they want to secure their ninth playoff berth in 10 seasons. They face the Vikings in Minnesota next week.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions:

  • The post-Megatron Lions relied on the Marvin JonesGolden Tate tandem. For the first time since Calvin Johnson retired, neither will suit up for Detroit. Jones is out for Sunday’s game against the Panthers after missing practice this week, and ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein reports the veteran Lions wideout is seeking a second opinion on his injured right knee. Initial tests revealed no damage to Jones’ ACL or MCL, and Jones was diagnosed with a bone bruise. He’ll miss only his second game as a Lion. T.J. Jones would likely be the starter in Marvin Jones‘ place.
  • T.J. Lang‘s Lions tenure hasn’t gone as smoothly from a health standpoint. The former Pro Bowl guard landed on IR this week because of a neck injury, but that setback is not believed to be career-threatening, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports. Lang also suffered a concussion that forced him to miss time earlier this season. He only played in six games this season after missing three in 2017. Set for his age-32 season next year, Lang — with an $11.1MM cap number — will be a release candidate in the offseason. The Lions could save more than $8MM by releasing the acclaimed blocker. Lang is due a $500K roster bonus on the fourth day of the upcoming league year.
  • Darius Slay, however, will be back for the Lions after missing Week 10. Bears wideout Allen Robinson gouged the Lions in Slay’s absence, but the All-Pro cornerback was not on the injury report as of Friday and will return Sunday.
  • While the 2018 Jaguars haven’t been the kind of impediment the 2017 version was, the Steelers will be without a key starter in their attempt to beat a team that went 2-0 against them last season. Stephon Tuitt will miss Sunday’s game with an elbow injury he sustained against the Panthers. Tyson Alualu will start in Tuitt’s place up front, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.
  • Although Robert Griffin III has been mentioned as a possible Ravens starter Sunday, the expectation remains Lamar Jackson will take the reins, Jeff Zreibec of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Jackson’s hospital trip Thursday, coupled with Joe Flacco‘s hip injury, left Griffin as the Ravens’ lone practice quarterback that day. But Jackson returned to practice Friday.

Injury Notes: Gronk, Mack, Pack, Eagles

A third Rob Gronkowski injury absence appears to be in the cards. The Patriots will not deploy their All-Pro tight end to play Sunday against the Titans, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. While Gronkowski is traveling with the team to Nashville, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss (on Twitter), he’s expected to be held out. Gronk missed games against the Bears and Packers but played in Buffalo on the Monday night in between those tilts. He’s been dealing with back and ankle trouble. While the Patriots have been able to win without their top pass-catcher, these repeated absences are obviously a concern for the future Hall of Famer’s availability for New England’s stretch run and potentially his post-2018 NFL future. It’s likely the Pats are attempting to rest Gronk now to hopefully see him healthy for key late-season games and the playoffs, but that can’t be considered a lock given his extensive injury history. Gronkowski hitting his incentive targets may now be unrealistic as well.

Here’s the latest from the Week 10 injury front.

  • Better news for the Bears. They’re in line to have both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson back on Sunday when they face the Lions, per the Associated Press. Mack is no longer on the injury report after missing the past two Chicago games because of an ankle malady. His defensive player of the year chances took a hit because of this hiatus and Aaron Donald continuing another all-world season but Mack figures to still be in the running and can help a team attempting reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
  • The Lions‘ Robinson coverage options will be limited. Darius Slay is out for Week 10, joining guard T.J. Lang in that regard. Slay’s played in each of Detroit’s previous eight games and hasn’t missed time since 2016 but is battling a knee injury. A neck ailment will sideline Lang, who also missed time because of a concussion this season.
  • A tough injury night against the Patriots will have after-effects for the Packers. Kevin King will not play Sunday against the Dolphins because of a hamstring injury. Bashaud Breeland, whom ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky notes appeared to impress the Packers in his Green Bay debut, figures to see more time.
  • Both Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills are going to miss Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game, but Corey Graham will return after missing four games, per Sirius XM Radio’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter). After claiming Cre’Von LeBlanc off waivers earlier this week, surely due to injuries affecting the aforementioned duo, the Eagles have seven corners on their roster.
  • Taco Charlton and Connor Williams aren’t playing for the Cowboys on Sunday. Xavier Su’a-Filo appears to be the choice to replace Williams at left guard for Dallas, per executive VP Stephen Jones (Twitter link). A full-time Texans starter the past two seasons, Su’a-Filo has not played this season. Williams is down with a knee injury.

Notable 2018 Pro Bowl Incentives/Escalators

The NFL announced the 2018 Pro Bowl rosters earlier tonight, and aside from determining which players will spend a week in Orlando early next year, the rosters also dictate several important bonuses and/or contract escalators for individual players. Former NFL agent and current CBSSports.com contributor Joel Corry has rounded up the notable incentives earned tonight, and we’ll pass those along below. As Corry notes (Twitter link), only first ballot Pro Bowlers who actually participate in the game (unless injured or playing in the Super Bowl) are in bonuses, which are typically paid out by the end of March.

Here are the notable Pro Bowl bonuses and escalators that were preliminarily netted this evening (all links to Corry’s Twitter):

Bonuses

  • Ravens S Eric Weddle, $1MM; requires Baltimore in playoffs (link): Still playing like one of the league’s best coverage safeties at the age of 32, Weddle needs the Ravens to land one of the AFC Wild Card slots in order to earn his incentive. Baltimore appears to on course to do just that, as FiveThirtyEight gives the club an 87% of earning a postseason berth. That playoff appearance will be largely due to the Ravens’ defense, which ranks second only to Jacksonville in DVOA.
  • Bills S Micah Hyde, $400K (link): Sean McDermott can coach defensive backs. After spending years finding gems at safety for the Eagles and Panthers, the Bills head coach has helped Hyde transform into a top-notch DB. Hyde, who inked a five-year, $30.5MM contract with Buffalo in the spring, ranked a respectable 53rd in Pro Football Focus‘ safety grades a year ago. This season? He’s ninth.
  • Raiders G Kelechi Osemele, $300K (link): Under general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders have employed what is often referred to as an “all cash” salary cap management system, wherein prorated signing bonuses are rarely used while base salary guarantees, roster bonuses, and — as evidenced by the number of Oakland players on this list — incentive clauses are heavily employed. Osemele, the league’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman, is signed through 2020 with cap charges north of $10MM in each season.
  • Rams K Greg Zuerlein, $250K (link): While the Los Angeles offense garners the most headlines, the club’s special teams unit has maintained its dominance under coordinator John Fassel, who briefly took over as the Rams’ interim head coach in 2016. Fassel, Zuerlein, & Co. have managed a No. 2 ranking in special teams DVOA, while Zuerlein himself has been worth 15.1 points of field position (second in the NFL).
  • Raiders T Donald Penn, $200K (link): Penn’s summer holdout lead to extra guarantees in the future, but didn’t end with a change to his 2017 salary, meaning this bonus part of his original deal. The 34-year-old Penn is currently on injured reserve, and will miss his first game since 2007 on Sunday. Still, his renegotiated contract now contains a $3MM guarantee for 2018, meaning he’s likely part of the Raiders’ plans.
  • Patriots ST Matthew Slater, $150K (link): Slater has now earned a Pro Bowl berth in every season since 2011. At some point, it’s fair to wonder if Slater is skating by on reputation, as he played only a quarter of the Patriots’ special teams snaps this year. Slater missed more special teams tackles than he made prior to his 2016 berth, tweets Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus.
  • Raiders C Rodney Hudson, $100K (link): For all of Oakland’s problems this season, the Raiders have continued to boast some of the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive lineman. Hudson is the best pass-blocking center in the league by a wide margin, meaning he’s eminently affordable at $8.9MM annually.

Escalators

  • Lions CB Darius Slay, $550K base salary increase in 2018 (link): As Corry reports, Slay had three ways to earn this heft escalator — post five or more interceptions (he sits at seven), play on 80% or more of Detroit’s defensive snaps (he’s at 97.6%), or earn a Pro Bowl berth. Slay managed all three in what has become the best season of an increasingly impressive five-year career.
  • Eagles T Lane Johnson, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-21 (link): Depending on Jason Peters‘ health and the Eagles’ plans, Johnson could very well be playing left tackle as soon as 2018. Even with his base salary set to increase, Johnson won’t have a cap charge north of $13.5MM over the life of his contract.
  • Eagles G Brandon Brooks, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-20 (link): General manager Howie Roseman zeroed in on Brooks at the outset of the 2016 free agent period, and the 28-year-old has quickly proved to be one of the best free agent signings in recent memory. Brooks will earn an $8.5MM base salary — the largest during his five-year deal — in 2018.
  • Eagles TE Zach Ertz, $250K base salary increase from 2019-21 (link): Per Corry, Ertz also picked up a $100K bonus for 2017. Ertz has already set a career-high in touchdowns (eight) and has a shot to set new marks in receptions and yards even though he missed two games with injury. A former second-round pick, Ertz ranks among the top-five tight ends in catches, yards, and scores.

Lions CB Darius Slay To Miss Time?

As the Lions work to lock down the NFC North crown, they could be without their best cornerback. Darius Slay will have an MRI on his re-injured hamstring today, but he sounds like a longshot to play this week against the Cowboys, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) hears. He could also miss more time beyond the Week 16 game. Darius Slay (vertical)

[RELATED: Lions Claim LB Corey Lemonier]

Slay has been dealing with hamstring issues all year and this latest instance forced him to exit Sunday’s game in the second quarter. If he is forced to miss this week, the Lions will have their hands full as they plan for the always dangerous Dez Bryant. Without Slay, Nevin Lawson will likely be elevated to the top cornerback role.

Through Week 15, Slay is ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 11 cornerback in the entire NFL. His 86.3 overall grade is roughly identical as his 2015 finish. So far, Slay’s four-year, $50.2MM contract extension looks like a wise move by Detroit.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Bears, Lions, Seahawks, Saints

The Bears and receiver Alshon Jeffery didn’t agree to a multiyear contract by the July 15 deadline for franchise-tagged players, meaning they won’t be able to negotiate a new deal until the end of the season. Despite a report that the Bears aren’t keen on giving big money to Jeffery, general manager Ryan Pace is “optimistic” the two sides will eventually work something out (via Kevin Patra of NFL.com). Jeffery will first have to stay healthy in 2016, though, Pace said. Jeffery accomplished that from 2013-14, appearing in all 32 of the Bears’ games, but he missed six as a rookie and seven last year.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • The four-year, $50.2MM contract extension the Lions and cornerback Darius Slay agreed to Friday is a win for both sides, opines Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. In the 25-year-old Slay, the Lions finally have a shutdown corner, one who has rapidly improved since his rookie season – 2013 – thanks in part to his strong desire to get better, Meinke writes. Further, the Lions didn’t break the bank on Slay, whom Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked as the league’s second-best corner last season. For Slay, the deal provides financial security and pays him like a top seven corner, which is exactly the type of money he was seeking before signing the contract.
  • The Seahawks remain on the lookout for quarterback help, GM John Schneider revealed Friday (per Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk). “Yep, absolutely. And we do that with every position. We’ll have one, two, three guys like on standby.” Schneider also talked up undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin, the current favorite to serve as the No. 2 behind Russell Wilson. “Great athlete, tons of arm strength,” said Schneider, who believes Boykin would’ve been a third- to fifth-round pick if not for off-the-field trouble last season at TCU. Along with Boykin, Seattle has Jake Heaps, an undrafted free agent in 2015. Boykin and Heaps make up a less-than-ideal tandem from at least an experience standpoint, which would explain why the club tried to land Connor Shaw via waivers earlier this month. The top free agent signal-caller available is the recently released Nick Foles, though reports haven’t connected the Seahawks to him.
  • Between auditioning for the Saints in May and signing with them Wednesday, receiver Hakeem Nicks stayed on the team’s radar by texting head coach Sean Payton on a weekly basis, the 28-year-old said Friday (via Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com). Some of those texts included workout videos, according to Nicks, which apparently paid off for the former Giant, Colt and Titan. “We were real familiar with him just because on two different occasions we had him in for workouts. Plus, he wouldn’t stop texting me,” commented Payton, who added that Hicks’ personality “could be infectious and help the room.”
  • The Falcons’ offseason signing of center Alex Mack is their biggest pickup since the drafting of receiver Julio Jones in 2011, contends Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Mack could singlehandedly turn the Falcons’ offensive line from a weakness to a strength, writes Schultz, who notes that Atlanta has struggled since it jettisoned now-retired center Todd McClure after the 2012 season. In regards to joining the Matt Ryan-led Falcons, Mack told Schultz, “It was enticing to come here knowing they had a quarterback.” The 30-year-old spent the first seven seasons of his career with the bottom-feeding Browns, whose quarterback play was consistently woeful. Mack held his own, though, making three Pro Bowl trips before securing a five-year, $47.5MM contract with the Falcons in free agency.

Lions, Darius Slay Agree To Extension

Darius Slay and the Lions have agreed to a four-year extension worth $50.2MM with $23MM fully guaranteed at signing, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Slay is coming off his second straight 16-start, two-interception season, one in which Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the NFL. As a result of his on-field excellence, Slay – who was slated to enter his contract year – pushed to be paid like one of the league’s top seven corners on his next deal.

Slay’s old deal would have paid him just under $1MM in 2016 before potentially hitting the open market. The new deal will give Slay a major pay hike starting in 2017.

Being paid like a top-seven corner means getting roughly $14MM per year in salary and nearly $7.3MM in annual guarantees. Prices for high-end corners have continued rising since last season, with the likes of Josh Norman and Janoris Jenkins scoring massive contracts in free agency. Slay’s new deal gives him $12.55MM annually with a true guarantee payout of $5.75MM per year. When more details come out about the pact, we’ll find out if Slay cracked the top seven.

In assessing his own performance recently, the 2013 second-round pick from Mississippi State sized himself up against the league’s best corners:

 “Right now I’ll say top seven, just cause as long as (Darrelle) Revis is in the game, he’s going to be the best corner to me. (Richard) Sherman’s the best, 24 picks in three years, nobody ain’t do that. Pat P (Peterson) of course. I love Chris Harris’ game. (Aqib) Talib. Joe Haden. I feel like them are the real elite, elite, elite guys, so I feel like I’m an elite guy, but I feel like I got to keep working to get to their level because they’re elite.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bengals, Steelers, Lions

The Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth showed he had plenty left in the tank last season, his 10th in the NFL and seventh with 16 starts, when he made his second Pro Bowl and finished as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-ranked offensive tackle (77 qualifiers). Nevertheless, the 34-year-old isn’t sure yet if he wants to play beyond the upcoming campaign. “As you get older, it takes a lot more focus to play. A lot of mental drain,” he told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “You have to rehab correctly. You have to stay in and get treatments. You have to keep your body in shape. There are so many more things now. When you were young you could run through a brick wall and bounce back no matter what you did.”

More from the league’s North divisions:

  • The Steelers and star running back Le’Veon Bell aren’t discussing a new deal “right now,” he told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, because the 24-year-old isn’t willing to delve into extension talks until his surgically repaired knee is 100 percent. Bell – who’s entering a contract year – missed seven games last season because of a torn MCL and PCL, though he now feels “great.”
  • Al Golden is happy with his decision to jump to the NFL as the Lions‘ tight ends coach, but that doesn’t mean that the former University of Miami head coach is done with college football, as he tells Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I think I have too much experience and just because I started young as a head coach, sometimes people look at it like, ‘Well, he’s already been a head coach,’” Golden said. “But I’m not 57. I’m 46, so I started young as a head coach and I’ve got a world of experience and I think this is just the next chapter for me so we’ll see where it goes. It’s too early to start thinking about that, but I know I’m skilled in that aspect of it. I’ve been a defensive coordinator, I’ve been a special teams coordinator, I’ve coached five or six different positions and now I’m coaching on the offense in the NFL
  • Cornerback Darius Slay‘s contract situation puts the Lions in a familiar position, writes The Associated Press. For the third straight season, the Lions have a top defensive player entering a contract year, with Slay joining linebacker DeAndre Levy (2015) and tackle Ndamukong Suh (2014). Levy signed a four-year extension before last season, of course, and Suh played out his contract year and then departed in free agency. Slay hopes to follow Levy’s path and stay in Detroit for the long haul, the corner said earlier this week.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Darius Slay Wants Top 7 Cornerback Money

The Lions’ Darius Slay is coming off his second straight 16-start, two-interception season, one in which Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the NFL. As a result of his on-field excellence, Slay – now in a contract year – wants to be paid like one of the league’s top seven corners on his next deal, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Darius Slay[RELATED: Lions Sign WR Andre Roberts]

In assessing his own performance, the 2013 second-round pick from Mississippi State said, “Right now I’ll say top seven, just cause as long as (Darrelle) Revis is in the game, he’s going to be the best corner to me. (Richard) Sherman’s the best, 24 picks in three years, nobody ain’t do that. Pat P (Peterson) of course. I love Chris Harris’ game. (Aqib) Talib. Joe Haden. I feel like them are the real elite, elite, elite guys, so I feel like I’m an elite guy, but I feel like I got to keep working to get to their level because they’re elite.”

As of now, the seven highest-paid corners in the league average roughly $14MM per year in salary and nearly $7.3MM in annual guarantees. Prices for high-end corners have continued rising since last season, with the likes of Josh Norman and Janoris Jenkins scoring massive contracts in free agency.

Regardless of the exact amount it takes to lock up Slay, the 25-year-old hopes the Lions are the ones doling out his checks for the foreseeable future. Slay, who hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent in January and subsequently approached the Lions about an extension, told Birkett that he wants to remain in the Motor City for the long haul.

“I love the city, I love the fans, so that’s why I came to them and asked them for it,” he stated.

As for a time frame on an extension, Slay is aiming for sometime this summer, he told Birkett.

“I don’t really know why it’s that important, but I feel like it should be done then,” Slay said.

Slay is currently on track to earn just under $1MM in 2016.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Eagles, Lions, Falcons

Eagles running back Darren Sproles took to Twitter on Wednesday to shoot down the notion that he’s holding out for a long-term contract (links here). “Totally false,” he claimed in one of the tweets. As of earlier this week, the soon-to-be 33-year-old was reportedly staying away from Eagles workouts amid trade rumors, but head coach Doug Pederson responded by calling Sproles “a big part of this team.” Sproles, who’s entering a contract year, will count $4.6MM against the Eagles’ cap this season.

More regarding Philly and a pair of other NFC clubs:

  • Whether Pederson can actually develop quarterbacks remains an open question, opines Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sielski points to 2011, the year Pederson was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach and when Michael Vick declined significantly from the prior campaign, as a reason for skepticism. Pederson also failed to tap into former first-round pick Vince Young‘s talent, adds Sielski, who writes that the beleaguered Chip Kelly did manage to get production from Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford during his oft-criticized run in Philadelphia. While Alex Smith played well during Pederson’s three-year reign as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his career was revived by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman – not Pederson – as Sielski offers.
  • Lions safety Glover Quin believes teammate Darius Slay is one of the 10 best cornerbacks in the NFL, but there’s one thing missing from his game. “Everybody is going to say it from now until the end of time — he’s a great, great, great cover guy. The only thing that he can do to take it to the next level is intercept the ball. I mean, that’s it,” Quin said Wednesday (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). Slay has just four interceptions during his three-year career – all of which came during the previous two campaigns – but Pro Football Focus graded him as the second-best corner in the league last season (111 qualifiers). Thanks to his reputation as a shutdown corner, Slay should land a sizable raise between now and the expiration of his contract after next season. A deal could be in the works, as Slay’s agent – Drew Rosenhaus – was at Lions practice Thursday.
  • The Falcons are making a few changes to their defensive alignment, including shifting Vic Beasley to strongside linebacker. The eighth pick in last year’s draft, Beasley spent his rookie campaign as a LEO pass rusher, as Kevin Patra of NFL.com notes, and totaled four sacks while playing in all 16 of the team’s games. The ex-Clemson star had a difficult time against the run, writes Patra, which would explain the switch. Beasley will now fill the role that former Seahawk Bruce Irvin occupied when Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2014. Patra, however, is skeptical of the decision because it’ll lead to fewer pass-rushing opportunities for Beasley.
  • In addition to moving Beasley, the Falcons will give Ra’Shede Hageman a look at defensive end and try DE Tyson Jackson at D-tackle, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Hageman, a second-round pick in 2014, spent his first two seasons at tackle, amassing 43 tackles and two sacks in 32 games (11 starts). On playing end, the former Minnesota standout said, “It’s something I did in college. It’s a nice little move for me.” The Falcons believe the change will give the 310-pound Hageman a better opportunity to take advantage of his size and strength.

NFC Rumors: Sproles, 49ers, Lions, Slay

Darren Sproles makes his offseason home in California and, on paper, his experience be a welcome addition to the 49ers‘ roster. However, Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee can think of a few reasons why he wouldn’t be a great match for the Niners.

For one, the 49ers likely would be wary of striking a new deal with a runner who turns 33 next month. San Francisco has already bid farewell to several notable names that were north of 30, including Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Anquan Boldin. And, even if SF really wanted him, the Eagles would probably be hesitant to help out their former head coach in any way. For what it’s worth, the Eagles say Sproles is not available, even though the team reportedly received trade inquiries on him during the draft.

Here’s more out of the NFC:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.