Lions Rumors

No Deals For Bell, Lawrence, Ansah, Or Joyner

None of this year’s franchise tagged players agreed to extensions with their respective teams before Monday’s deadline. That means Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, and Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner will all play on their tags in 2018. 

Over the weekend, we heard that deals were unlikely for any of the four players. However, we’ve been surprised in the past. You may recall the 2016 franchise tag extension deadline in which Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets agreed to a buzzer-beating deal after weeks of reports indicating that it would not happen (the Jets certainly wish it hadn’t happened now).

There was no surprise this year, so the four franchise tagged players are all entering contract seasons at the following rates:

  • Ezekiel Ansah – $17.1MM
  • DeMarcus Lawrence – $17.1MM
  • Le’Veon Bell – $14.5MM
  • Lamarcus Joyner – ~$12MM

This marks the first ever franchise tag for Ansah, Lawrence, and Joyner. For Bell, this is the second go ’round and it’s incredibly unlikely that the Steelers will consider a third tag, no matter how good he is in 2018.

Per league rules, extension talks cannot resume between the team and the tagged player until after the 2018 season has concluded.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Franchise-Tagged Players

Monday’s 3pm CT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions may come and go without one being finalized.

After a Saturday report indicated re-ups were unlikely for DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com confirmed Ansah and the Lions won’t agree to terms by Monday afternoon and adds Lawrence is unlikely to come to terms with the Cowboys (Twitter links).

As for the other two tagged players, prospects also appear grim. Schefter reports (on Twitter) Lamarcus Joyner is not expected to reach an extension with the Rams, though he adds the sides are still discussing one. And despite Mike Tomlin‘s hopes of Le’Veon Bell finally agreeing to a Steelers accord, Schefter reports (via Twitter) that’s unlikely, too. However, the Steelers and Bell have made recent progress and will keep trying until the deadline. But this report throws some cold water on an 11th-hour solution coming to pass.

Ansah and the Lions have been far apart throughout this process, and the Lions are planning to see if their top edge defender can stay healthy and prove reliable enough for a long-term commitment. The Cowboys may be using the same strategy with their injury-prone pass rusher, despite making a stronger effort to discuss a deal with Lawrence.

Bell and the Steelers have been circling each other for years, but if the parties can’t agree by Monday afternoon, their arrangement will be a full-fledged rental situation. Bell will likely be headed toward the 2019 UFA market if the Steelers don’t sign him by Monday. The Rams’ issues with Aaron Donald‘s deal leave Joyner in a strange spot. Los Angeles possesses a league-low $2MM in cap space and has a glut of contract calls coming — Donald, Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters — in what will be a complicated stretch for the now-high-profile team.

Of course, by the Lions, Cowboys and Rams not agreeing on deals with their tagged performers, that ups prices down the line. Since Bell has already been twice tagged, it would cost the Steelers a staggering $20MM-plus to tag their All-Pro back again.

Ansah is going to play this season for $17.1MM, and if Lawrence indeed is still without a deal by Monday evening, he will too. Joyner will count nearly $12MM on the Rams’ payroll, while Bell’s $14.5MM 2018 salary has been well-known for months by NFL contract buffs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extensions Not Expected For Ziggy Ansah, DeMarcus Lawrence

The two defensive ends among the four-man franchise tag contingent are not expected to reach long-term extension agreements with their respective teams by Monday’s deadline.

Neither Ziggy Ansah nor DeMarcus Lawrence appear to be close to finalizing a deal, with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reporting (via Twitter) that, barring a major breakthrough in talks, the veteran edge defenders look set to play this season on the tag. Calvin Watkins of The Athletic also hears the prospect of a Lawrence/Cowboys re-up is unlikely (Twitter link).

The Cowboys and Lawrence were reported to have discussed what it would take to come together on an extension this week, but it doesn’t look like those talks were especially productive. As for Ansah, the Lions have been rumored for months to view 2018 as more of an audition season to see if he can stay healthy and thrive in Matt Patricia‘s scheme.

This will mean $17MM-plus cap numbers for both the Cowboys and Lions. The latter’s been prepared to foot this bill for a while, and the former’s payroll doesn’t look like it did at the close of free agency’s major spending period. Though Dez Bryant‘s contract has an $8MM dead-money tag this year, the Cowboys do not have a major pass-catcher expense on their cap sheet after Bryant was released and Jason Witten retired. Dallas also extended Zack Martin yet holds $14.8MM in cap space.

Detroit currently has $9MM in cap room and just three players (Matthew Stafford, Ansah and T.J. Lang) attached to eight-figure cap holds this year. The Cowboys’ cap sheet also has just three eight-figure hits (Tyron Smith, Lawrence and Sean Lee). Dallas’ cap becomes more manageable in 2019, when both Bryant and Tony Romo‘s dead-money figures are off the books.

Renting extra years of Lawrence and Ansah makes sense for both NFC teams because of the injury histories for each pass rusher. Lawrence dealt with significant back problems prior to putting a 14.5-sack season together in his contract year. Ansah experienced back and knee troubles last season, and although he still registered 12 sacks, six of those came in his final two games — after he’d to some degree shaken those maladies.

Ansah, though, may have a more pivotal season ahead considering he will be 30 by the time 2019 free agency opens. Lawrence just turned 26.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Notes: Running Backs, Golden Tate

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.

  • 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.”

This Date In Transactions History: Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford is a rich, rich man. Five years ago today, the quarterback signed his second lucrative contract with the Lions. It was a three-year pact worth $53MM.

Nowadays, players look forward to these paydays, as the NFL’s rookie wage scale limits their earnings. However, back in 2013, Stafford was already playing on a lucrative contract with Detroit. After being selected as the first-overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Georgia product inked a record-breaking six-year deal worth $78MM ($41.7MM in guaranteed money). Stafford didn’t live up to his contract during first two seasons in the NFL. However, he had a breakout campaign in 2011, throwing for 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns.

While he took a step back in 2012, the Lions still felt confident enough to sign Stafford to the three-year extension in 2013. At the time, the quarterback still had two seasons remaining on his contract, so the new deal effectively made it a five-year pact worth $76.5MM. The extension portion of the contract included $41.5MM in guaranteed money and a $27.5MM signing bonus. Signing Stafford early also allowed the Lions to reduce his impending $19.3MM cap hit.

I want to be about the team,” he said at the time (via ESPN.com). “I want to help the team out if I can in cap space, whatever it is. I want good players around me as a quarterback. It doesn’t hurt to have weapons and, you know, if I can help out anyway I can, I’m happy to do it.”

In the five years since signing his second extension, Stafford had shown a lot more consistency on the field. The 30-year-old hasn’t missed a game during that span, and he’s averaged around 4,388 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions per season. This improvement played a role in him earning his third contract from the Lions. Last offseason, the quarterback inked a five-year deal worth $135MM ($92MM guaranteed).

Assuming he doesn’t opt out following the 2020 season, there’s a good chance Stafford will continue being the Lions quarterback through the 2022 campaign. He could reach free agency when he’s 35-years-old, meaning Detroit might end up inking their franchise player to his fourth pricey contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Nick Bellore Moves From LB To FB

  • Nick Bellore started two games at linebacker for the 2017 Lions and served as a 10-game starter for the 2016 49ers. But this season, he will be lining up at a new position. Bellore is now working as a fullback, and the team’s top one at that, Chris Burke of The Athletic notes (subscription required). He saw some action as a fullback last season but spent most of his time on special teams and as a part-time ‘backer. However, Detroit’s moved him to fullback full-time this offseason, per Burke, who adds the Jets tried to do this with Bellore previously. The Lions re-signed the 29-year-old fullback convert in March.

Poll: Which Rookie RB Will Rush For Most Yards In 2018?

In selecting their third first-round running back of this century, the Giants continued to show how they regard this position despite its marginalization over the past several years. Saquon Barkley is the odds-on favorite to win offensive rookie of the year.

However, the running back position produces annual mid- or late-round surprises — from Devonta Freeman to Jordan Howard to Kareem Hunt — that end up providing immense value to certain teams. The Giants obviously have an incredibly gifted ball-carrier set to take handoffs from Eli Manning, but which of Barkley’s peers is in the best position to challenge him (and the quarterback contingent) for the OROY honor?

The other two first-round RBs look to be less equipped for a strong challenge due to circumstances.

Sony Michel‘s prospects of being an immediate ground producer may have been better on a different team. While the Patriots boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Bill Belichick notoriously finds myriad usages for his backs and involves nearly all of them. Although, Dion Lewis‘ departure after a 180-carry season opens the door for someone to take over as New England’s primary back. And Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 156 totes at Georgia last season. Rashaad Penny looks to be behind Chris Carson to start the season, and the surprise first-rounder may be given time to develop for a Seattle team that’s struggled on the ground for a few years now.

After Round 1, however, it becomes a bit more interesting. The Buccaneers did not possess a formidable depth chart at running back prior to investing their second-round pick in USC’s Ronald Jones. In 2017, Jones rushed for 1,550 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. He could well be an early-season starter, with the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber in his path toward a first-string role. Chosen just before Jones, Nick Chubb will have to contend with Carlos Hyde in Cleveland this season for the revamped Browns. Chubb, though, notched three 1,000-yard seasons in the nation’s toughest conference.

Kerryon Johnson looks to be set to start in a committee in Detroit, but the Lions have been desperate for a surefire ground producer for years now. And they view Johnson as a three-down backLeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah reside in the Motor City carries picture, but neither would impede Johnson from a major role if he proves ready from the outset. Derrius Guice could have a quicker path to playing time in Washington. Considered by some the second-best back in this draft, the LSU product fell largely because of character concerns. However, Guice averaged 7.6 yards per carry in 2016 on nearly 200 attempts and is expected to push for the Redskins’ starting job from the start.

Also expected to challenge for an early role: the Broncos’ Royce Freeman. The Oregon-developed talent posted three 1,300-plus-yard seasons with the Ducks, amassing a staggering 947 college carries. With the Broncos having moved on from four-year starter C.J. Anderson, only Devontae Booker (299 rushing yards last season) resides in the third-rounder’s path. Is he a threat to be the 2018 version of Hunt?

As for Barkley, he has the most obvious route to a full-time gig. Despite Jonathan Stewart now being in the Big Apple, the Penn State dynamo will factor in from the start of the Giants’ season. And the three-down back totaled at least 2,300 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back years for the Nittany Lions. The Giants have questions up front, having lost Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, but they added multiple UFAs — spearheaded by Nate Solder — and chose likely Day 1 starter Will Hernandez in Round 2.

So, will Barkley’s situation be too much for the rest of this class to overcome, a la Ezekiel Elliott? Or will one of the later-round picks emerge in Hunt fashion? Is there a Day 3 dark horse in this year’s class in the mold of Freeman or Howard? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Lions Release Stephen Tulloch

On this date in 2016, the Lions bid farewell to one-time defensive cog Stephen Tulloch

Tulloch entered the league in 2006 as a fourth-round pick of the Titans. The linebacker played sparingly in his first two seasons but, eventually, he cracked the starting lineup. Between 2008 and 2010, Tulloch was first-string for 41 games with Tennessee.

When he hit free agency, old friend Jim Schwartz brought him to Detroit with a one-year deal. After he tallied three sacks from the inside linebacker position and 111 overall tackles, the Lions re-signed him to a lucrative five-year deal. Tulloch continued to hold down the fort at MLB, compiling 100+ tackles in 2012 and 135 total tackles in 2013, including a career-high 3.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, his career took a weird turn in 2014. In Week 3, Tulloch took down Aaron Rodgers with a thunderous sack. He then busted out a sack celebration which went horribly wrong. Tulloch tore his ACL, ending his season in September.

Afterwards, Tulloch was asked if he had any regrets about the doomed dance.

Hell, no,” Tulloch said. “I’d do it again, brother. You do it every time. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Just a matter of time. I’ve played a long time in this league and I understand you’re susceptible to this kind of injury when you go out there and play. Nine years without missing a game is kind of crazy, but like I said I’m positive because I believe in my hard work, I believe in my training and what I do in the offseason and how I approach things, so I know I’ll be back even better than before.”

Unfortunately, that was not the case. On paper, Tulloch had an alright 2015 as he started all 16 games, registered 108 total tackles, and came up with two fumble recoveries. However, he wasn’t quite an every-down player, as he saw time on less than 70% of the Lions’ defensive plays. Tulloch also graded out relatively poorly in Pro Football Focus’ rankings, placing as the No. 54 inside linebacker among 97 qualifiers.

Late in the summer of 2016, Schwartz re-connected with him yet again as the Eagles inked him to a one-year, $3MM deal. Tulloch wound up as a reserve for the first time in years and had only seven tackles on the year. That proved to be Tulloch’s last season, as he announced his retirement in April of 2017.

If not for that fateful game against the rival Packers, the Lions might not have released Tulloch two years ago today.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rothstein: Ameer Abdullah A Trade Option?

July 16 Marks NFL’s Franchise Tag Extension Deadline

This year, the deadline for teams to reach extensions with franchise tagged players falls on July 16. If the following four players do not agree to new contracts in the coming days, they will be ticketed for free agency in 2019:

For Bell, the absence of a deal all but guarantees that he will be allowed to explore the open market next season. That’s because this is the second year in a row that Bell has been hit with the tag. He’ll make $14.544MM this season if no extension deal is reached, but a third tag would cost Pittsburgh more than $20MM. For the rest, the possibility of a second franchise tag remains, though the requisite 20% increase could prevent teams from applying the tender.

The rules of the franchise tag dictate that teams have until mid-July to hammer out an extension with players. If not, the two sides are barred from engaging in contract talks until after the season has concluded.

From 2013-2017, 16 of the league’s 33 franchise tagged players agreed to extensions before the summer deadline. This year, it’s hard to say whether deals will be reached for any of the players in question. Bell is looking for a deal that will reflect his production as a top running back and a No. 2 wide receiver. The defensive ends, Ansah and Lawrence, know that teams are willing to overpay for quality edge rushers in free agency. Joyner, meanwhile, may be content to let the Rams control his fate since he’ll either make $11MM+ this year and hit free agency, or earn $25MM through two franchise tags and reach the open market in 2020.

Then again, a serious injury could derail any member of this quartet, so there’s something to be said for financial security over monetary upside. Joyner, in particular, could be quietly eager to sign a multi-year deal after watching a dismal free agent safety market play out this offseason.

What we do know for sure is that the next 12 days will be worth monitoring.