Since 2002, the NFL’s performance-based pay system has rewarded low-salary players who exceed their expected playing time. This year, due to the pandemic, the league and the players’ union negotiated a gradual payout schedule, one that will meter out the money between now and 2024.
All in all, the league divested $8.5MM per club. This year’s top earner is Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa, a 2018 third-round pick who played every single snap for the eventual champs. Cappa will now receive an extra $622K on top of his $750K base salary for 2021. Per the union’s records, 25 other players also topped $500K, including Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum ($604K), Bills cornerback Taron Johnson ($579K), Rams guard Austin Corbett ($573K), Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye ($572K), Bears tackle Germain Ifedi ($571K), Steelers offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor ($568K), Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier ($561K), Ravens safety DeShon Elliott ($557K) and Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead ($555K).
Ahead of a key AFC matchup against the Colts, the Ravens will have a handful of defenders back. They activated six players off their reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.
Patrick Queen, DeShon Elliott and L.J. Fort are poised to return to Baltimore’s starting lineup after the team activated the defenders from the COVID list. Each was deemed a high-risk close contact to All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who tested positive for the coronavirus and remains on the COVID list.
Humphrey will miss Week 9’s Baltimore-Indianapolis game, but the Ravens having several of their starters back will put them in better position to bounce back after their loss to the Steelers. Baltimore’s defense ranks fifth in DVOA, sitting first against the run.
The Ravens promoted Bonds, a second-year player out of Tennessee State, and linebacker Kristian Welch to their active roster. They also promoted safety Geno Stone as Humphrey’s COVID replacement. They placed wide receiver Chris Moore on IR due to a thigh injury.
In addition to the lengthy foot rehab in which A.J. Green participated recently, the veteran Bengals wide receiver missed more than a week of training camp because of a hamstring issue. Green entered Wednesday having not practice since August 17, but the 10th-year receiver was back in action this afternoon, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Tyler Dragon (on Twitter). While Green was wearing a sleeve on his left leg, he was working in pads for the Bengals for the first time since last year. The 32-year-old wideout missed all of last year but did practice at points during the season. The Bengals placed the franchise tag on their longtime standout, who is set to play the 2020 season on a $17.9MM salary.
Here is the latest from the AFC North:
Already down rookie safety Grant Delpit for the season, the Browns will be without their other LSU cog in the secondary for an undetermined time frame. Greedy Williams is dealing with a shoulder injury, and new Browns HC Kevin Stefanski has yet to indicate that the first-string cornerback will be able to return soon, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. Williams missed four games last season but started all 12 in which he played.
The Browns should be expected to explore an Earl Thomas addition, per Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson (on Twitter), but the team may not be a frontrunner. Cleveland lost Delpit but has offseason acquisitions Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo in the fold.
On the subject of Thomas, his subtraction from the Ravens secondary will indeed bump third-year safety DeShon Elliott into the starting lineup. John Harbaugh confirmed the former sixth-round pick will receive the first crack at replacing Thomas alongside Chuck Clark, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes (subscription required). This will be an interesting promotion, with Elliott having only played in six games during his two-year career. Elliott landed on Baltimore’s IR in both 2018 and ’19, missing all of his rookie season and the latter portion of last season.
11:37am: The Ravens have released Thomas, the team announced. The wording of the announcement suggests that Baltimore will indeed attempt to void his $10MM guaranteed salary for 2020 for conduct detrimental to the team.
9:12am: The Ravens will trade or release star safety Earl Thomas, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter). Thomas got into a physical altercation with teammate Chuck Clarkat practice on Friday, and the team sent the three-time First Team All-Pro home on Saturday. Baltimore told Thomas to stay away from the facility today, so it definitely sounded like a parting of the ways was in the works.
Schefter notes in a separate tweet that the Cowboys, who have long been connected to Thomas, are once again a candidate to land him. The ESPN scribe adds that Baltimore has been trying to complete a trade throughout the weekend, though obviously nothing has materialized just yet (Twitter link). Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says (via Twitter) that the 49ers and Texans could also be in the mix, while Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News says the Cowboys will not trade for Thomas (Twitter link). Dallas could make a play for him if he is released.
The Ravens’ decision comes just one year after they landed Thomas, arguably the best safety of his generation, on a four-year, $55MM free agent contract. So any club that trades for the 31-year-old would be taking on the remainder of that hefty deal, though Thomas could certainly agree to some sort of restructure in order to facilitate a trade.
Without such a restructure, the Ravens would see a $15MM dead cap charge this year, though Thomas was set to count $15MM against the cap if he stayed with Baltimore, so that’s basically a wash. However, the Ravens would be left with a $10MM dead money hit in 2021 (when the salary cap is likely to be reduced), making this a major financial issue.
Of course, the Ravens don’t have a ton of leverage in trade talks right now, so a release could be forthcoming. If that happens, then obviously the same dead money charges would apply, though Baltimore could try to void Thomas’ guaranteed $10MM salary for 2020 for conduct detrimental to the team, thereby alleviating the burden. Thomas would almost certainly grieve such a move, but Baltimore would stand a good chance of succeeding in the grievance process. After all, the altercation started when Clark, Thomas’ would-be running mate at safety, became upset after Thomas blew a coverage assignment. Clark slammed his helmet to the ground, and Thomas escalated matters by throwing a punch. Thomas later posted a video of the play itself on social media, which is clearly prohibited.
That the Ravens are willing to take on a potentially massive dead cap hit while parting ways with a player like Thomas is indicative of just how bad of a fit he was in the team’s locker room. The incident with Clark, who is well-respected by his teammates, angered a number of prominent players, as Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic details. And last year, Thomas was late for or missed several team and position meetings, and he reportedly already missed one position meeting this year.
His Ravens teammates had grown weary of his antics and wanted him gone, but they might very well miss his on-field presence. Though Thomas struggled in the early portion of the 2019 campaign as he learned Baltimore’s defensive system, his play improved considerably as the year went on, and opposing offenses generally avoided him. He did not make many splash plays, but he was consistently strong in coverage and earned his seventh career Pro Bowl nod.
For now, Thomas will be replaced by DeShon Elliot, a promising young player who has dealt with injury problems in the early stages of his career. Elliott was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 draft.
Although many have assumed that the Packers will keep DeShone Kizer on their final roster — after all, Kizer is just one year removed from being a second-round draft pick, and Green Bay liked him enough to trade for him this offseason — Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com believe the Packers should keep Brett Hundley and cut Kizer if it comes to that. Baranczyk and Dougherty say the game has slowed more for Hundley than it has for Kizer, and the fact that Green Bay recently traded for Kizer should not be a factor in the team’s decision (after all, the Packers were likely to cut Damarious Randall anyway if Cleveland hadn’t been willing to deal Kizer for him). Ideally, the Packers would be able to swing a trade for one of Hundley or Kizer, but failing that, the Packers News scribes think GM Brian Gutekunst should stick with Hundley, who did not play very well in relief of the injured Aaron Rodgers last year.
Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from the league’s North divisions:
Wide receivers Kevin White and Javon Wims both improved their chances of making the Bears‘ 53-man roster during Chicago’s preseason victory over Kansas City last night, as Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. White, of course, was the No. 7 overall pick of the 2015 draft — and GM Ryan Pace‘s first-ever draft choice — but injuries have almost completely wiped out the first three years of his NFL career. Wims was a seventh-round selection in this year’s draft, and Jahns believes the Bears should keep both players and six receivers overall, including Josh Bellamy.
Although Mackensie Alexander is battling an ankle injury, he is expected to start as the Vikings‘ slot corner — and “quarterback of the defense” in head coach Mike Zimmer‘s scheme — if he is healthy, as Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune reports. However, first-round rookie Mike Hughes — who is also battling an undisclosed injury — has been pushing for first-team reps, which is fairly remarkable when considering that he did not play in the slot in college. Hughes could overtake Alexander down the line, but in any case, Minnesota appears to be well-set at the position in the long-term. Alexander, a 2016 second-rounder, has made tremendous strides in his third summer with the club.
Though they had been enjoying an injury- and drama-free offseason, the Ravens have been hit hard with unwelcome news over the past few days. They lost rookie TE Hayden Hurst for three-to-four weeks, they saw star CB Jimmy Smithsuspended for four games — though they at least knew that was coming — and now Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic has more bad news to report. Zrebiec tweets that emerging third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry will miss several weeks with a hernia, while promising rookie safety DeShon Elliott may be out for the season with a forearm injury. Zrebiec adds that the recent spate of bad luck will impact Baltimore’s initial roster construction, because while the team will likely carry Hurst and Henry on the 53-man roster until they are ready to return, the Ravens may need to keep an extra tight end and defensive lineman until that happens (Twitter link). Elliott, meanwhile, is an IR candidate. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com reports that Henry had surgery for his hernia and Hurst has had surgery for the stress fracture in his foot (Twitterlinks).
Averett and Elliott will attempt to carve out positions in Baltimore’s secondary, while Sieler becomes the third Division II front-seven piece on the Ravens’ roster, joining Brandon Williams and Matt Judon.