Denzel Ward

North Rumors: Browns, Packers, Bears

The Browns plan to use Jarvis Landry, who ran 72.7% of his routes from the slot with Miami in 2017, as a part-time outside receiver during the upcoming season, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. Landry will almost assuredly still move inside in three-wide sets, and given the NFL’s ever-expanding use of “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three wideouts), Landry will still see plenty of time in the slot. But the Browns seem intent on using Landry in a slightly different fashion, as Cabot reports Cleveland will send Landry on deep routes in Todd Haley‘s offense.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • When asked whether Josh Gordon will play for the Browns in 2018, general manager John Dorsey said “Yeah, I would think, absolutely,” per Cabot (Twitter link). It’s difficult to parse the words of a team executive, and even more difficult when it comes to a player with a history of off-field issues, but Dorsey’s answer wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Gordon. Gordon did not report for training camp, and while it’s not believed that he failed another drug test, he’s thought to be in a rehab facility. With Gordon’s status in question, Cleveland is considering an addition of veteran wideout Dez Bryant.
  • The Browns inserted offset language into Baker Mayfield‘s rookie contract, and fellow first-rounder Denzel Ward made the same concession, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Ward, the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, likely didn’t have much of an argument after Mayfield — the No. 1 overall selection — accepted offset language in his deal. Players with offset language in their contracts who are cut before the end of their rookie deals have their remaining guaranteed money reduced by what they earn elsewhere.
  • The Packers placed both receiver Michael Clark and offensive lineman Cole Madison on the reserve/did not report list, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. While Madison is dealing with a personal matter and figures to report at some point, Clark is ending his NFL career, per Aaron Nagler of PackersNews.com (Twitter link). Clark signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and ultimately managed four receptions for 41 yards in two games. Madison, meanwhile, was selected out of Washington State in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
  • Matt Nagy hired former Oregon Mark Helfrich as his offensive coordinator earlier this year, but the new Bears head coach had spoken with Helfrich in 2017, as Peter King of NBC Sports writes. When Nagy was the Chiefs’ OC last season, a fellow staff member advised him to call Helfrich, who immediately expressed interest in an NFL role were Nagy to land a head coaching job. Now, the two offensive minds are tasked with further developing quarterback Mitch Trubisky, while working in new weapons like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton.

Browns Sign Denzel Ward To Rookie Deal

The Browns have officially signed rookie cornerback Denzel Ward. With the No. 4 overall pick in the fold, the Browns have wrapped their entire draft class. 

Ward was widely projected to go in the first half of the first round of this year’s draft, but few expected him to go No.4 overall to the Browns. However, new GM John Dorsey was intent on overhauling the team’s secondary, and Ward is a huge piece of the puzzle.

Ward projects to start at cornerback opposite of free agent pickup T.J. Carrie. They’ll be supported by newcomer E.J. Gaines and possibly other fresh faces in Terrance Mitchell and sixth-round pick Simeon Thomas.

Here’s the complete rundown of the Browns’ draft class, via PFR’s tracker:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Only Seven Unsigned NFL Draft Picks Remain

The overwhelming majority of this year’s NFL draft picks have signed their rookies deals. As training camp gets started, only the following seven players are without contracts:

For Mayfield, Darnold, Ward, Allen, and Smith, the holdup is reportedly tied to offset languagePlayers 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. There’s no sign of real acrimony between any of the Top 10 picks and their respective teams, though Smith has been staying away from the Bears.

In Edmunds’ case, it’s likely that his agent is haggling over guarantees in the fourth year of his rookie contract. First-rounders selected near the end of the first round often don’t get the entirety of their fourth season base salary guaranteed, but that’s an area where agents can press for a bit extra in talks. Seahawks rookie running back Rashaad Penny took less in fourth-year guarantees than last year’s No. 27 overall pick, talks dragged for several other players near the back end of the round. Others, such as Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Jaguars defensive tackle Taven Bryan have signed, but the Virginia Tech product is still in limbo.

Pettis is believed to be in line for a significant role this season, so it would behoove the Niners to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

North Notes: Lions, Abdullah, Tate, Browns, Ward, Packers, Williams

After drafting Kerryon Johnson in the second round and signing LeGarrette Blount in free agency, the Lions suddenly have a crowded running backs room. In addition to Johnson and Blount, the team also has Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, and Zach Zenner on the team. At this point, Johnson, Blount, and Riddick are the locks to make t he team, while Abdullah, Washington, and Zenner are on the roster bubble, according to Tim Twentyman of Detroitlions.com.

Twentyman thinks the three on the bubble will be fighting it out for just one spot on the team. As of now he seems to think that Abdullah has the edge. The team can save $1MM in cap space by cutting Abdullah. Abdullah has been a disappointment since entering the league with a lot of hype as a second round pick back in 2015. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, even if he does make the roster this fall, 2018 should be his last season in Detroit. Washington and Zenner have both been hanging around the bottom of the Lions’ roster the past couple of years, and it looks like it could be the end of the road for them.

Here’s more from the league’s northern divisions:

  • The Browns are very high on rookie Denzel Ward, reports Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland. The number four overall pick in this year’s draft, Ward has drawn rave reviews from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams this spring. “He is one of the best press guys that I have seen” Williams said, adding that Ward “passed with flying colors” during offseason workouts. It sounds like Ward could start right away and that he could help solve the Browns’ long-lasting issues at cornerback.
  • The Packers battle between Tramon Williams and rookie Josh Jackson for a starting cornerback spot will be one of the most interesting competitions to keep an eye on, writes Nick Shook of NFL.com. Shook points out that Williams is 35, and that the Packers might be eager to usher in a “new era” at cornerback with Jackson. Williams could hang on as a starter for one final year, but it won’t be long until the Packers’ younger cornerbacks take over.
  • Golden Tate isn’t concerned with his contract, he told Sirius XM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Tate said he wasn’t worried about heading into the final year of his deal, and doesn’t appear to be pressuring the Lions for a new one. He did say teams shouldn’t hold his age against him, because he hasn’t “shown any decline.”

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.

Draft Notes: 2019 QBs, Browns, Jackson

A possible dearth of quarterback talent in the 2019 draft class may have contributed the first-round aggressiveness of teams in recent years. The Bears, Chiefs, Texans, Jets, Bills and Cardinals traded up to land their hopeful quarterbacks of the future the past two drafts, and Albert Breer of SI.com notes some of the impetus behind these moves may be coming from issues teams have with the crop of passers likely set to populate 2019 big boards.

Not right now, there isn’t one (that would go in the first round as it stands),” an AFC college scouting director told Breer. “The kids at Auburn (Jarrett Stidham), Missouri (Drew Lock) and N.C. State (Ryan Finley), by the end of it, could work their way into the conversation. But on the surface, based on current performance, it’d be a no. Now, if they ascend, which they should, those three guys have a chance to get there.”

Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN.com (Insider link) has both Lock (No. 16) and Oregon’s Justin Herbert (No. 18) in his early top 25 for 2019. Issues with Lock’s completion percentage (57.8 percent is the senior-to-be’s career high) and Herbert’s toughness, per Breer, are early concerns for respective first-round hopefuls. While events of recent years show it’s a good bet a quarterback will be taken in the 2019 first round, Breer compares this crop — at this early juncture — to the 2013 group that saw only E.J. Manuel chosen in Round 1 instead of other recent classes that saw the likes of Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston emerge as obvious down-the-line high draft choices in advance of their final college campaigns.

Here’s more on this year’s draft, courtesy of Breer:

  • Breer reports the Browns “loved both” of the Denzel Ward/Bradley Chubb duo, but the team felt the Ohio State cornerback possessed upside potential the N.C. State defensive end didn’t. Ward started just for one season but sat behind Buckeyes cornerbacks that are now in the NFL. Cleveland brass also didn’t view Chubb as a Myles Garrett– or Jadeveon Clowney-like athletic specimen. Plus, Gregg Williams said the team’s need at corner was greater than the one opposite Garrett. Also noting Ward, who went to Nordonia High School in the Cleveland area, pitched his local ties and desire to help a Browns resurgence, Breer writes the Browns did their homework on this difficult decision and did not make an impulse call on draft night.
  • If the Eagles did not trade their first-round pick to the Ravens, they were going to consider eventual Broncos wideout Courtland Sutton at No. 32, per Breer. Sutton visited the Eagles in early April. Philly has Alshon Jeffery, a player to whom Sutton’s been compared, signed long-term and has Nelson Agholor controlled through 2019. However, the defending Super Bowl champions still signed Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton, the latter a post-draft addition.
  • Ravens brass needed to hear from John Harbaugh the coaching staff was confident the team could win with Lamar Jackson before trading up to take him, and Breer reports Harbaugh, OC Marty Morhinweg, senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and QBs coach James Urban all developed a plan for the rookie before Ozzie Newsome made the trade with the Eagles. Both Mornhinweg and Urban were in their same positions under Andy Reid on the 2010 Eagles, when Michael Vick resurfaced as a top-flight weapon after previously working intermittently in certain packages. Roman’s work adjusting the 2012 49ers’ offense for Colin Kaepernick also played a role here, Breer writes. The Ravens look to be preparing Jackson sets already.
  • The first four rookies to sign their deals all had offset language built into the contracts, Breer tweets. Da’Ron Payne, Josh Rosen, Marcus Davenport and Quenton Nelson saw their teams include offsets in their deals. Offset language provided one of the sticky points in Joey Bosa‘s 2016 holdout, and the Chargers won out. So far, teams are doing the same with their 2018 top picks.

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.

Brandon Beane On Bills’ First-Round Trades

Brandon Beane enjoyed a complicated night on his first draft as Bills GM. And he detailed the extensive process in an expansive piece by Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News.

The Bills were ready to give the Broncos an extra first- and second-round pick, Beane confirms of Mike Klis of 9News’ report that emerged on draft weekend. Denver and Buffalo’s GMs agreed to the swap at around 7pm CT on draft night — one that would have sent Buffalo’s Nos. 12 and 22 picks and one of its second-rounders to Denver in exchange for the No. 5 overall choice and a third-round pick — but John Elway told Beane the deal would be off if a certain player was still on the board.

Beane wondered if that player was Denzel Ward, but when a text message came alerting Beane that Bradley Chubb might fall past the Browns at No. 4, he began to worry about his plans to acquire Josh Allen.

I was really nervous when Cleveland got on the clock. You’ve got your channels where you’re getting information outside of the draft room. Somebody told me, it’s down to Ward or Chubb,” Beane said, via Skurski. “Earlier in the day, people felt like they were probably going to go Chubb. That was my first four. I did say it was going to be Chubb, and we’ll go to Denver. I was wrong. Not until (the Browns) were on the clock did I get the text from somebody that said, ‘Hey, Ward may go here.’ I said (expletive).”

I was a little bummed when Elway told me, ‘Hey, this is our guy.’ I felt like what I had to offer John was better than anybody else could offer. I felt like I was bidding against myself, basically.”

Beane became leery of the Dolphins and Cardinals moving up to No. 7 for Allen, whom Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reported was their No. 1-rated quarterback, but he would no longer be willing to part with the No. 22 pick like he was in talks with the Broncos at No. 5. And he wasn’t willing to trade the Bills’ 2019 first-rounder.

(Assistant GM) Joe (Schoen) would say, ‘(the Buccaneers) want this and this,’ and it included 22, and I said no,” Beane said. “It was just too much. I would have done 22 at five. I wasn’t doing it there. Because I knew nobody could be offering that. … That was the biggest obstacle I faced during the whole thing. Everybody wanted next year’s one leading up to the draft, and I wasn’t doing it.”

Beane and Schoen then approached the 49ers at No. 9, but John Lynch was zeroed in on Mike McGlinchey. However, Jason Licht called Beane back and said he would accept the offer of both of Buffalo’s second-round picks. The Bills collected a seventh-rounder from the Bucs as well.

He said, ‘I’ll do it for the twos, but we’ve got to do it right now,’ ” Beane told Skurski. “I said alright, I need another pick, though. I need a player. I don’t care what it is, just give me your last pick, whatever it is. He said, ‘Alright, done.

(The Broncos taking Chubb) was a blessing in disguise. I was tight after Denver’s pick. I was trying not to show it to the room, but I was tight. Joe and I, we were very tight.”

In passing on the chance to acquire additional first- and second-round picks, the Broncos are betting big on Chubb. Beane said he also spoke with the Giants and Browns about the Nos. 2 and 4 picks, and Skurski reports the only trade Beane would have made pre-draft was with the Giants at No. 2.

Skurski adds the Bills finalized their quarterback hierarchy following their April 13 Sam Darnold workout. Miller reported this week Darnold was the Bills’ top-rated quarterback, so it would have made sense for a trade to the second slot. Although, Darnold was still connected to the Browns at No. 1 at that point. The Bills were rumored to be targeting a top-five pick for weeks prior to the draft, but the Giants and Browns wanted more than Beane was willing to offer, per Skurski.

As for the Bills’ second Round 1 trade, Beane contacted the Packers at No. 14 and Raiders at No. 15. Green Bay ended up accepting a New Orleans offer that did include a 2019 first, and Oakland did not want to trade down again, per Skurski. Edmunds was the target because of the Bills’ situation at linebacker, Beane said, and the Ravens quickly agreed to a deal at No. 16.

(Edmunds) was sticking out on our board, and it’s a need,” Beane said. “If a guy is sticking out on our board, and it’s really not a need, you might not do it. But with the hole we had there, and where he was on our board, it was a no-brainer. Even if we could have got to 14, we would have done it.”

Extra Points: Bridgewater, Gronk, Browns, Vikings

It’s been assumed that Jets quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty are trade/release candidates, especially since the team is eyeing a signal-caller with their first-round pick. However, Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com says another Jets quarterback could be at risk of losing their job.

Williams reports that Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a lock to make the Jets roster, “at least until he shows he’s healthy.” The 25-year-old has played less than 10 combined snaps over the past two seasons, but he still earned a one-year deal worth $500K in guaranteed money. During his last season as a starter in 2015, Bridgewater completed 65.3-percent of his passes for 3,231 yards, 14 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

If the Jets indeed select a quarterback, the depth chart will be incredibly crowded. Besides the three previously-mentioned quarterbacks, the team is also rostering projected starter Josh McCown.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski confirmed on Tuesday that he’ll suit up for the Patriots in 2018, and Peter King of The MMQB is curious about the timing of his announcement. It’s purely speculative from King, but he wonders if Gronk was told that he would have to make his intentions clear about playing before this weekend’s draft. The Patriots have been willing to deal star players in the past, so Gronkowski could have feared that he would have wound up in the same boat as Richard Seymour and Chandler Jones.
  • If the Browns move down from No. 4, they could target Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward further down the board, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Browns have already made some additions at cornerback, but they’re looking for another starter. If they land Ward, you can expect Cleveland to trade Jamar Taylor.
  • Earlier today, reports indicated that Browns head coach Hue Jackson wasn’t sure what the organization would do with the first-overall pick. However, Steve Wyche of NFL Network tweets that Jackson is “fully in the loop” regarding Cleveland’s draft plans. Jackson, along with several coordinators, have seen the front office’s draft board.
  • Vikings GM Rick Spielman seems to have an affinity for taking players out of the ACC, as Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune writes. The Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook, Danny Isidora, Stacy Coley, Bucky Hodges and Jack Tocho, all from the ACC, last year. Conversely, Spielman rarely takes players from the Big 12, with only two selections from that conference — Tyrus Thompson (Oklahoma) and Elijah Lee (Kansas State) — in his six drafts at the wheel.