Demario Davis

Contract Details: Cousins, Graham, Davis

Let’s take a look at the most recent new contracts around the NFL:

  • Kirk Cousins, QB (Vikings): Three years, $84MM. Guaranteed salaries of $22.5MM, $27.5MM and $29.5MM. Guaranteed $500K workout bonuses each year. Up to $2MM in incentives per year. No-trade clause and a no-transition tag provision in 2021 (Twitter link via Dan Graziano of ESPN).
  • Jimmy Graham, TE (Packers): Three years, $30MM. $11MM signing bonus, $300K per-game roster bonuses each year. $2MM base salary in 2018, $3.45MM in 2019 and $7.45MM in 2020. $5.67MM 2018 cap number. $5MM roster bonus due on third day of 2019 season (Twitter links via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein).
  • Demario Davis, LB (Saints): Three years, $24MM. $16MM guaranteed. $9.2MM signing bonus. Annual salaries of $850K, $5.95MM (guaranteed) and $7.35MM. (Twitter links via Graziano and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
  • Jeremy Hill, RB (Patriots): One year, $1.5MM. $150K signing bonus. $1M base salary. (via Pelissero, on Twitter, and ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss).
  • Bruce Ellington, WR (Texans): One year, $1.25MM. $730K base salary, $200K signing bonus (via Wilson, on Twitter).

Extra Points: DRC, Redskins, Maxwell

Free agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie says he’s in no rush to make a decision in free agency. Right now, he’s hoping to make a decision “in April sometime” (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson).

Rodgers-Cromartie visited with the Redskins and had a meeting scheduled with the Saints, but it seems that New Orleans lost interest after signing fellow corner Patrick Robinson. The Redskins could still use an addition to their cornerback group, but it’s possible that their offer was not to DRC’s liking. Or, perhaps no offer was made.

Before he was released by the Giants, DRC reportedly agreed to play safety in 2018. That could be a solution for him if his market continues to stall.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • As teams try to hold onto their own players, two to watch: The Redskins are working to keep outside linebacker Junior Galette and the Seahawks are doing the same with cornerback Byron Maxwell, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). We had Galette ranked as a top-12 edge rusher heading into free agency. Maxwell did not make the top 15 at his position due to his decline in performance and the depth of this year’s CB crop.
  • Linebacker Demario Davis says the Jets didn’t make him an offer before he signed with the Saints. “The shocking thing was the Jets didn’t make me an offer, so that made my decision easy because all I had to do was look at the contenders,” Davis said (via Rod Walker of The Advocate). “It would have been something to weigh. The hardest decision isn’t where to go, but deciding if you want to go or stay. So I didn’t have to make that decision so that was the peaceful thing about it. I was able to just weight my options objectively.” Things worked out just fine for Davis as he signed a three-year, $24MM deal with New Orleans.
  • The Dolphins have been talking with agent Drew Rosenhaus about re-signing offensive tackle Sam Young, Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald tweets. If retained, Young would return as Miami’s third offensive tackle.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

Read more

Saints Reach Deal With LB Demario Davis

Demario Davis will head to New Orleans after a solid contract year with the Jets. The Saints have reached an agreement to sign Davis, Diana Russini of ESPN.com tweets.

An off-ball linebacker, Davis will receive a significant raise compared to his last time on the market. The Saints have agreed to pay him $24MM over three years, per Russini, with $18MM coming in guarantees.

This completes a turnaround year for Davis, who saw the Browns trade him back to the Jets last offseason. He then accepted a pay cut from the previous $4MM-AAV salary the Jets re-signed him for in 2016. But after a strong season that saw him grade (per Pro Football Focus) as the No. 8 pure linebacker in the game, Davis will receive his reward sum.

The 29-year-old linebacker was targeting a deal worth $8-$10MM per year, but the Jets did not view him as a player worth that much. Gang Green saw Davis as more of a $3-$4MM-AAV performer, but with the cap rising to $177MM, most positions’ values are spiking. And Davis — who previously ranked as PFR’s No. 24 remaining UFA — was rewarded on the market.

While the Jets seemingly replaced Davis with a younger defender in Avery Williamson, the Saints will add a proven, durable starter to their second level. Davis has never missed a regular-season game in his six-year career and has been a full-time starter since 2013.

However, Davis has never played for a team that used a 4-3 scheme. He could be a fit at inside or outside linebacker, conceivably, on a Saints team that will surely find a starting spot for him given the contract authorized.

[RELATED: Saints Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

Read more

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more

FA Rumors: Broncos, Davis, Giants, Crowell

Earlier this week, the Broncos were believed to be ready to compete to the end of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. But last month, they were identified as having Case Keenum looming as a possible backup plan. There’s been more chatter about that in Indianapolis, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes (on Twitter). While it’s unlikely the Broncos are ready to bow out on Cousins after being so closely connected to him for weeks, they’ve been the top non-Vikings Keenum connection this offseason. The Broncos also discussed a trade for Keenum with the Rams in 2016. La Canfora notes the Broncos being serious on Keenum could pit the Vikings and Jets against one another for Cousins. It’s possible the Broncos could sign Keenum and not select a quarterback at No. 5, and Mike Klis of 9News wrote recently Keenum and Cousins are likely to be the only QBs who would deter the Broncos from using that pick on a passer.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo sports, who reported earlier this week the Broncos were ready to go “all in” for Cousins, notes every team linked to the former Redskins quarterback has made it a point to stay in contact with agents of other passers in order to preserve fallback options (Twitter link). That said, Robinson does not believe the Broncos — or any team linked to Cousins thus far — is truly out on the 29-year-old signal-caller.

Here’s more from the free agent market.

  • Demario Davis enjoyed a solid contract year after an offseason trade with the Browns sent him back to the Jets, but he might be set to relocate again. A considerable gap between Davis’ expectations and the Jets’ valuation of him exists, with Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reporting Davis is eyeing a deal that would pay him between $8-$10MM annually. The Jets, conversely, see him as a $3-$4MM-per-year player and are not prepared to pay him what he’s currently targeting. Cimini notes that in a buyer’s market that has several younger non-rush linebacker options, Davis will have to adjust his price point. While the sides were talking earlier this offseason, this kind of gap could route Davis elsewhere. Although the 29-year-old inside linebacker had a strong 2017 season, he hasn’t been especially consistent. And only five 3-4 ILBs earn $8MM per year. Davis signed for $4MM per year with the Browns in 2016.
  • Last offseason, Isaiah Crowell hired Drew Rosenhaus to negotiate with the Browns on an extension, but a deal didn’t come to pass. Not much has transpired on a Crowell/Cleveland future in recent months, but John Dorsey said he’s had discussions with Rosenhaus about keeping Crowell in the fold. However, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal notes Hue Jackson didn’t express much optimism about Crowell staying. The Browns are a prime candidate to draft Saquon Barkley, possibly at No. 1 overall, so that would make Crowell somewhat superfluous.
  • The Giants have been open about wanting to commit to an offensive line overhaul and haven’t ruled out a 2018 line that includes Andrew Norwell and Justin Pugh. But they’re likely to lose D.J. Fluker, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com notes. Fluker has not enjoyed a particularly productive career, and Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst pass-blocking linemen last season. The former first-round pick wouldn’t cost much, but it looks like Dave Gettleman will move on.
  • Should the Giants be priced out of the Norwell sweepstakes, they have Ryan Jensen lined up as a cheaper contingency plan, per Pauline. Jensen’s most prominent NFL work has come at center, where he started all 16 Ravens games last season, but he was a part-time guard starter in years past. PFF rated Jensen as a top-10 center last season. The Giants are expected to lose four-year starter Weston Richburg in free agency.

East Rumors: Giants, Jets, Bills, Flores

Here’s the latest out of the East divisions, with six of these teams early in their offseasons and two preparing for divisional-round games while grappling with possible coaching staff defections.

  • A Josh McDaniels/Giants union is at least a possibility, with Dave Gettleman and Co. interviewing the Patriots’ OC this week. But ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano does not foresee this hire happening, viewing McDaniels as likely to end up elsewhere and noting both he and the Giants might not be each other’s first choices (Twitter links). McDaniels has met with the Giants, Colts and Bears. Graziano speculates (via Twitter) the Colts are the likely frontrunners.
  • Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Demario Davis look to be in the Jets‘ plans prior to free agency opening. The team has held discussions with Seferian-Jenkins about a re-up, Newsday’s Calvin Watkins notes, and wants to retain Davis. A Jet in five of his six NFL seasons, the soon-to-be 29-year-old linebacker could be in line for a significant pay bump come March after finishing the season as the NFL’s No. 8 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus. Davis, whom Watkins notes wouldn’t mind testing the market, took a pay cut prior to the 2017 season and earned just $900K in base salary. ASJ changed representation going into his UFA year. He caught a career-high 50 passes and gave the Jets a viable tight end weapon for the first time in years.
  • The Jaguars making the playoffs will slightly alter their trade for Marcell Dareus. The Bills received a conditional 2018 sixth-round pick for Dareus in the parties’ October trade, but now that the Jags ventured to the postseason, that pick will become a fifth-rounder, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
  • Should Matt Patricia be hired as Lions HC as expected, the Patriots will likely promote linebackers coach Brian Flores to defensive coordinator, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. Flores drew interest as a DC candidate last year, per Reiss, and was mentioned in a 49ers search that ended with Robert Saleh getting the job. The 36-year-old Flores, who interviewed for the Cardinals’ HC job on Saturday, has been with the Patriots since 2004 and has been a position coach since 2012.
  • The Giants have not hired a GM that didn’t have ties to the team since George Young in 1979, and Tom Rock of Newsday notes Kevin Abrams may be in line to succeed Dave Gettleman down the line. The newly hired general manager is 66 years old and kept the 46-year-old Abrams on as assistant GM while firing another Giants GM interviewee in Marc Ross. Abrams has been the Giants’ assistant GM for the past 16 seasons, serving in this post now through three GMs’ tenures. The longtime exec has been sitting in on the franchise’s HC interviews this time as well.

Browns Rumors: Jackson, Haslam, Haden

Hue Jackson did not want to confirm a report that he and ousted executive VP Sashi Brown weren’t on speaking terms, but Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports the two had clashed on numerous occasions — and certain players were at the root of this friction. Carson Wentz, Marvin Jones, A.J. McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo induced disagreements between the Browns’ power structure, as previously reported, but Cabot adds Jackson and Brown were at odds about the likes of Joe Haden, Demario Davis and Jeremy Maclin.

Jackson wanted the Browns to sign Maclin, Cabot reports. They were loosely connected to the UFA wideout, but the Ravens, Bills and Eagles were well ahead of them. Jackson presumably wanted Haden to remain in Cleveland, but the Browns released him. Davis was also shipped back to the Jets and has enjoyed a productive season. Cabot also notes Jackson and Gregg Williams received pushback from some members of the front office in the Myles Garrett-vs.-Mitch Trubisky argument that transpired in April, with the coaches’ side winning out and Garrett being the pick.

Here’s the latest on a busy day in Cleveland.

  • Jimmy Haslam made this move Thursday in order to not fall behind on the GM carousel, Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com reports, adding the owner saw the Giants taking an early lead by landing their former GM Ernie Accorsi to lead a search to replace Jerry Reese. Ownership was “adamant” not to fall behind in this pursuit, per Grossi. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report said during a radio appearance on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland the early Brown firing was to get an early start on a John Dorsey push (Twitter link). The Browns do not have to wait until season’s end to interview Dorsey like they would an active exec, and Miller reports many believe he will be Cleveland’s next GM. Dorsey steered the Chiefs to three playoff berths in four seasons after taking over following a 2-14 season.
  • Haslam was tinkering with the idea to make in-season changes for the past couple of weeks, Albert Breer of SI.com reports, noting the owner was considering bringing in a football voice to complement Brown rather than replace him. But after research, the owner decided to fire Brown and begin a search for his replacement.
  • Both Breer and Grossi confirm the Thursday-afternoon report the Browns are going after Dorsey. Grossi reports Dorsey has been “endorsed heartily” by at least one of the football execs with whom Haslam’s already consulted. Breer notes a Dorsey/Jackson arrangement makes more sense than Brown/Jackson, with the ex-Chiefs GM’s scouting background aligning more with Jackson’s admitted old-school approach to football development. That, and not necessarily his impressive work in Kansas City, made him a key name to watch in Cleveland, Breer notes.
  • A Dorsey hire could well mean a more prominent role for ex-Colts GM Ryan Grigson, Grossi writes. Grigson’s currently working as a senior personnel exec, with an emphasis on scouting. Dorsey and Grigson’s friendship and mutual respect would stand to lead to a better title for the since-fired Indianapolis decision-maker.
  • The Browns’ decision to part with Brown and not Jackson could lead to an increased interest in Josh Rosen. Miller notes. Jackson likes the UCLA quarterback as a prospect, with a source informing the draft-based reporter Rosen is “Jackson’s guy.” Rosen seems more certain to declare for the 2018 draft than Sam Darnold at this juncture.

Latest On Colin Kaepernick, NFL Protests

One of the centerpieces of Colin Kaepernick‘s collusion grievance against the NFL will be President Donald Trump’s tweets and comments regarding his and other players’ racial inequality-themed protests and those words’ possible influence on owners, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. La Canfora adds Kaepernick’s case will involve the numerous times the president has attempted to exert influence on owners regarding this matter, one that the quarterback is charging has him unemployed while numerous passers of lesser pedigrees are on teams’ rosters. Arguing certain inferior players are rostered while Kaepernick isn’t may not be enough to satisfy the CBA’s “burden of proof” element, so it appears Kaepernick’s side is taking a different approach.

Trump’s tweeted about having conversations with owners about protesting players and has discussed publicly his sway over them regarding this recent movement, and La Canfora writes Kaepernick’s lawyers could argue this has created a climate in which “numerous owners have colluded” to keep the quarterback from having a chance to sign as a free agent. Trump recently tweeted about speaking with Jerry Jones in late September regarding this issue, and the Cowboys owner made comments about the team benching protesting players in early October. Jones spoke about Trump discussing the game-day manual regarding anthem protocols as well, per La Canfora.

Kaepernick became a free agent in March by opting out of his 49ers contract, but San Francisco GM John Lynch said the team would have released him had he not done so.

Here’s the latest surrounding the Kaepernick grievance and the protest discussions that came out of the league meetings this week.

  • Other owners wish Jones would refrain from making bold pronouncements like his anthem directive in an effort to preserve the goodwill fostered between them and the players this week, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com reports, adding the owners would like the NFL to stay off Trump’s political agenda. Jones could be an outlier among owners who have expressed optimism about talks with the players on social activism, Robinson writes. The Cowboys owner did not make further remarks about this issue after the owners’ meetings. Considering Jones speaks with the media often, this issue will come up again soon.
  • Michael Bennett said an early step toward further discussions with owners about social issues would be making sure Kaepernick signs with a team. “I think before we even negotiate anything about whether we sit, whether we stand [during the national anthem], it should be a negotiation about opening up the doors for Colin Kaepernick and giving him an opportunity again,” the Seahawks defensive end said, via Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. “Because I feel like through everything, that’s been lost.”
  • However, other players may not see a Kaepernick job as an automatic end to the protests. One anonymous member of the NFL players coalition, assembled this year to help with criminal justice reform in these players’ respective communities, told Ed Werder (Twitter link) a Kaepernick signing won’t just stop the protests. The same player told Werder (Twitter link) the quarterback “continues to isolate himself from [the coalition]” with this grievance.
  • The Jets player reps at this week’s owners’ meetings, Kelvin Beachum and Demario Davis, declined to answer questions about them. Davis did compose a statement, however. “I will say that the talks were very productive,” the linebacker said, via Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News. “It’s encouraging to me as an athlete to see so many athletes and owners so concerned about our country and pushing in the right direction. We have a tremendous platform in the NFL, and to whom much is given, much is required. And that’s why we simply can’t just play football.”
  • Jaguars owner Shad Khan said Trump’s failure to buy an NFL team has led to this crusade against the league. “This is a very personal issue with him,” Khan said (via Jarrett Bell of USA Today). “… He’s been elected president, where maybe a great goal he had in life to own an NFL team is not very likely. So to make it tougher, or to hurt the league, it’s very calculated.” Trump attempted to buy the Bills in 2014, but Terry Pegula wound up acquiring the franchise.