Devin McCourty

Patriots Extend Ninkovich, Restructure McCourty

The Patriots have signed suspended and injured defensive end Rob Ninkovich to a one-year extension, as Ben Volin of The Boston Globe tweets. Ninkovich is now effectively playing on a two-year, $4.27MM deal, and the extension will save him approximately $117K in suspension-related fines. Ninkovich, already slated to miss several weeks to start the season after suffering a torn triceps injury, was suspended four games earlier this month for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Rob Ninkovich (vertical)

Ninkovich has been a boon to the New England pass rush during his tenure with the club, racking up at least 6.5 sacks per year since the 2011 season. The extension therefore helps the club ease some of the financial strains Ninkovich will face as a result of his suspension while keeping one of its more important defensive players under club control for 2017 at a reasonable rate.

The Patriots also restructured Devin McCourty‘s contract on Friday, according to Volin (via Twitter). The team converted $3.74MM of McCourty’s base salary into a signing bonus, thereby creating $2.8MM of cap space in 2016. As a result, Volin tweets, the team adds a fairly palatable $935K to McCourty’s cap number for each of the 2017-19 seasons.

McCourty signed a five-year $47.5MM deal last March as the top safety on the free agent market, but he started his professional career as a corner. The Rutgers product excelled at that position in 2010, his rookie season, grading as the league’s seventh-best CB that year, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. However, even though he remained effective against the run in 2011, his coverage grade lagged and he dropped to 57th on PFF’s cornerback rankings.

In 2012, therefore, he began splitting his snaps between corner and safety, and he was named an All-Pro safety in 2013. He has remained a stalwart at that position ever since. Prior to reworking the contract, the Patriots had a little more than $6.5MM in cap room (per OverTheCap.com), so they did not necessarily need to create more space, but the move does give the club a bit more of an operating budget for 2016.

Ninkovich will have a cap hit of $4.77MM this season after this new deal, giving the experienced Patriot a $367K increase from the previous ’16 figure, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports. As for 2017, Ninkovich’s cap hit will be $2.25MM ($1MM base salary). The deal includes a $400K roster bonus ($25K per game), according to Howe. Ninkovich’s $1MM base for 2017 is guaranteed.

All in all, Ninkovich can earn up to $3.5MM in new money as a result of this extension, which Howe reports was signed on Monday. He’ll receive a $1.5MM signing bonus as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Patriots Notes: Butler, FAs, Sheard

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com believes the extension that Allen Hurns signed with the Jaguars a few days ago could serve as a useful blueprint for the Patriots in their efforts to deal with the contract situations of three of the club’s top defenders: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Malcolm Butler. Collins and Hightower are eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2016 season, whereas Butler is set to become a restricted free agent.

Hurns, like Butler, came into the league as an undrafted free agent, and like Butler, he was set to make $600K in 2016 before becoming a RFA in March 2017. But as Reiss points out, the four-year, $40MM deal Hurns inked with the Jags was tacked on to the final year of his UDFA contract, so Hurns is now effectively playing under a five-year, $40.6MM pact, which sounds a lot more reasonable for a player who enjoyed a successful 2015 campaign but who does not have a long track record of success or an impressive draft pedigree. Such an arrangement would seem to make a great deal of sense for Butler in particular, though Reiss says that an extension for any of the Butler/Collins/Hightower trio would likely be similar in concept and would benefit both sides, as the player gets coveted financial security while the team stays ahead of a rising market by being willing to strike a deal a year early.

Now let’s take a look at more on the Patriots:

  • In the same piece, Reiss says the Patriots did try to follow a similar contractual model with Devin McCourty as he entered the final year of his contract two seasons ago, but their offer was not enticing enough for McCourty. As a result, New England ended up having to pay McCourty at a market value that was higher than the club anticipated. Reiss therefore believes the Pats will be more proactive in their approach with their biggest free agents-to-be this time around.
  • Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald echoes the sentiments put forth by former NFL agent Joey Corry last week, saying that Butler needs to understand his contract will take a backseat for the time being given that he will only become a RFA when the 2017 league year begins and can be retained for 2017 for a relatively modest $4MM or so. In addition to Collins and Hightower, Guregian also mentioned Jabaal Sheard as a pending unrestricted free agent whose contract the team may try to address before Butler’s.
  • Christopher Price of WEEI.com offers an early 53-man roster projection for the Patriots.

 

AFC East Notes: McCourty, Jets, Fitzpatrick

Here’s a look at the AFC East:

  • Patriots safety Devin McCourty only suffered a sprained ankle and the injury will not cause him to miss the playoffs, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. McCourty suffered a scary looking non-contact injury on Sunday night and some observers initially worried that McCourty had suffered a serious injury, such as an Achilles tear.
  • Muhammad Wilkerson is getting less affordable for the Jets with every sack, Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post writes. One game does not make a player, but Hubbuch feels that the All-Pro defensive tackle upped his asking price significantly with a monster afternoon Sunday against the Titans. The pending free agent tallied three sacks, three quarterback hits, two other tackles for lost yardage and five solo tackles to go along with a forced fumble and a pass breakup. “Mo is definitely in beast mode right now,” Jets’ safety Calvin Pryor said. “He’s unstoppable right now, [and] everybody’s starting to take notice. He’s a great player and keeps getting the job done, week in and week out.”
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick went from an afterthought to having one of the Jets’ best years for a quarterback ever, Zach Braziller of the New York Post writes. On his sixth team at the age of 33, Fitzpatrick is closing in on his first playoff berth as a starter and it’s no surprise that coach Todd Bowles wants to bring him back in 2016.

East Notes: Eagles, Patriots, Bills

The Eagles made a pair of noteworthy free agent signings at running back in the offseason when they added DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. As last season’s NFL rushing champion, Murray signed a far bigger contract than Mathews (five years and $42MM versus three years, $11MM). Their performances this year haven’t reflected their disparate deals, however, as Mathews has easily outplayed Murray. Both backs have a similar number of carries (49 for Murray, 41 for Mathews), but Mathews has averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per attempt against Murray’s paltry 2.7.

To his credit, Murray took the notion of an increase in Mathews’ touches in stride, per Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com.

“Hey, whatever they decide,” Murray said. “I can only control what I can control. I can’t control the plays being called or who’s in on different situations.”

In assessing Mathews, Murray stated, “I think he’s running it great. Obviously, he’s a tough running back, tough to defend, tough guy to bring down and I think he’s been doing well.”

How the two have played this year might not matter this week, as Mathews could miss the Eagles’ key game against the NFC East rival Giants with a groin injury. That would give Murray a chance to sink or swim as the unquestioned go-to back. The fifth-year man has fared respectably of late, rushing 28 times for 119 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks. He accrued season highs in carries (20) and yards (83) in the Eagles’ 39-17 win over the Saints last Sunday.

Now the latest regarding a couple of AFC East teams:

  • Bills receiver Sammy Watkins spoke out Thursday about the lack of targets that came his way before he suffered a Week 3 injury. His issues seem to lie with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who could miss Sunday’s game against the Bengals with a knee injury. That would make EJ Manuel the Bills’ starter under center, and Manuel expressed support for Watkins on Friday (via The Buffalo News’ Tyler Dunne). I think as quarterbacks, we like to hear our receiver is hungry and wants to make plays.” Manuel and Watkins seemingly established a rapport during their limited work together in 2014: Manuel targeted Watkins 32 times in four games, per Chris Trapasso of NFL.com (Twitter link). On the other hand, in two-plus games this year, Taylor has targeted Watkins 12 times.
  • With the Patriots weakened at cornerback thanks to Tarell Brown‘s foot injury, they could turn to stalwart safety Devin McCourty for help at the position against the Colts this weekend, writes Phil Perry of CSNNE.com. McCourty came into the league as a corner in 2010 before eventually making the transition to safety. Head coach Bill Belichick used McCourty at corner at times over the summer in the event he’d be needed there this year. That looks as if it could happen this week, as New England is down to Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, undrafted rookie Justin Coleman, and newly added waiver-wire pickup Rashaan Melvin at the positon.
  • In other Patriots news, the team will promote offensive tackle Cameron Fleming from its practice squad to its 53-man roster, tweets ESPN’s Mike Reiss. The former Stanford Cardinal spent all of last season on the Pats’ 53-man roster and played in seven games after they used a fourth-round pick on him.

AFC East Notes: J. Taylor, McCourty, Dareus

We learned earlier today that the Giants suffered yet another blow to their secondary last night, and as Adam H. Beasley of The Miami Herald writes, the Dolphins‘ secondary is also growing thin due to injury. After losing Louis Delmas to a torn ACL last week, Miami saw Jamar Taylor leave last night’s preseason game to a quadriceps injury. Taylor, fighting for a starting cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes, dealt with a sports hernia in his rookie campaign in 2013, and last year he was placed on IR with a shoulder injury. The severity of Taylor’s latest ailment is unknown at this time.

As the Giants and Dolphins fret over their secondaries, let’s take a look at a few more links from the AFC East:

  • Devin McCourty played cornerback for the Patriots in their preseason contest against New Orleans last night, and he did not like it one bit. McCourty said, via Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com, “I hope it’s not permanent. It didn’t feel great, and I don’t think it looked great so we’ll see.” McCourty, of course, transitioned to safety from corner in 2012, and has thrived as a safety in the past couple of seasons. But with the exodus of starting-caliber corners from New England this offseason, the team may be forced to utilize McCourty’s versatility more than he would like.
  • In a separate piece, Curran discusses the status of the Patriots‘ running back battle in light of the impressive performances from James White and Dion Lewis last night.
  • PFR’s Sam Robinson wrote yesterday that Marcell Dareus has softened his public stance towards his contract negotiations with the Bills, and as Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News opines, it’s the right move. Sullivan writes that Dareus may be an excellent player, but he is surrounded by other terrific players on the defensive line, and he is not nearly the run defender that Ndamukong Suh is. Those facts, combined with Dareus’ past indiscretions, suggest that Dareus should not be paid like Suh, regardless of what Dareus himself thinks. In the end, the Bills will likely bend a bit, Dareus will bend a bit, and Dareus will remain in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com says Jets‘ tight end Jace Amaro, a holdover from the John Idzik regime, is on the “moderate” hot seat. Amaro was listed as the third tight end on the team’s first official depth chart, and the team has mixed feelings about him. Cimini adds that wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is in a similar situation, especially given the strong training camp of Quincy Enunwa.

AFC Notes: Freeman, Steelers, McCourty, Anderson

Josh Freeman is trying to make the most of his opportunity with the Dolphins, but the quarterback understands that he could be on the outside looking in:

“We’ve got four quarterbacks on the roster and a limited amount of time,” Freeman told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel. “Some days, I might not get the reps in practice.

“I don’t think anybody can see the future. You don’t really think of those scenarios that haven’t really come up in your mind at times. I’m just taking it in stride. Whatever it becomes, I’m trying to make the most of it.”

When asked about this chances to make the team, Freeman had an honest outlook:

“I couldn’t tell you either way. The coaches are the decision-makers. All I know is I’m going to keep giving it my best, continue to improve and let the people whose call it is to make make the call.”

Let’s see what else is happening around the AFC…

  • Keith Butler waited patiently a dozen years for his opportunity, but he’s finally the man in charge of the Steelers‘ defense. This offseason, the team did not renew the contract of Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, giving Butler the opportunity to ascend to defensive coordinator. Prior to that, Butler had opportunities to be someone else’s defensive coordinator, as Dan Scifo of The Associated Press writes. “To me, if you’re going to coach in this game, you want to win a Super Bowl,” said Butler. “I always thought the best chance for me to win a Super Bowl as a coordinator would be (in Pittsburgh).”
  • The Patriots lost several notable defenders this offseason, including veterans Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork, and that makes safety Devin McCourty the de facto “face” of the defense. Of course, the All-Pro defensive back would never admit that. “We have a lot of really good players on defense,” McCourty said to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “Last year, a lot of guys stepped up and made plays, and I think that is going to continue to happen. I don’t really think we have a face. We have guys that have been here a longer time than other guys…There’s so much that goes into being a good team and a good defense that you can’t put it on one guy to be the so-called face of the defense.”
  • Broncos running back C.J. Anderson signed a new contract yesterday, but it had nothing to do with his football career. The 24-year-old inked a sponsorship with Storm – The Bowler’s Company, essentially making the running back a professional bowler. “This could also be something after football,” he told Rod Mackey of Colorado’s 9News. “A lot of people pickup golf, I might be picking up bowling.”

Zach Links contributed to this post.

AFC Rumors: McCourty, Browns, Jaguars

The free agency defections of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, coupled with the release of Kyle Arrington, have the Patriots with a thin cornerback crop. One solution thrown around is moving Devin McCourty back to corner from the safety spot where he’s become an impact talent, but the recently re-signed McCourty has little interest in moving back outside, per the Boston Globe’s Steve Silva.

I want to play safety, but it’s out of my control so whatever the coaches decide is what it will have to be,” McCourty said to reporters after an OTA session Friday.

Relocating McCourty would leave New England thin on its back line as well, although Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner are entering their fourth seasons with the team — profiles that generally depict starting-capable players in the era of four-year rookie deals. The 2012 draft picks have combined for just four starts, however. Doubting the Patriots’ ability to make a patchwork secondary productive would be foolhardy at this point, though, given their track record.

Let’s look at some additional points from around the AFC.

  • The Browns‘ special teams makeover now includes punter, kicker and long snapper, after acquiring Andy Lee, cutting Billy Cundiff and Garrett Hartley and releasing snapper Christian Yount, notes Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 2014 rookies Travis Coons and Carey Spear are vying to take over at kicker in Cleveland, and rookie Duke Johnson is expected to become the team’s new kick returner, though Justin Gilbert will likely be given a chance to do so as well, Cabot reports.
  • Fourth-round free safety James Sample will miss at least part of training camp after fracturing his arm in a Jaguars OTA session Thursday, reports Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. Sample underwent surgery on Friday. Expected to battle Sergio Brown for a starting position, Sample joins Dante Fowler Jr. as Jags rookies who’ve sustained serious injuries before shoulder pads enter the equation.
  • Steelers veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon said he played through a significant shoulder injury last season and after an offseason surgery is in better position to help out and push for a third contract with the team, reports Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The third-year starter is one of three Steelers starting defenders, along with Cameron Heyward and William Gay, entering a contract season. The 29-year-old who has missed six games the past two years is in the final year of a three-year, $7.25MM deal that represents the eighth-highest pact among nose tackles.
  • Third-round rookie John Miller is the frontrunner to start at left guard for the Bills this season, offers Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Chris Williams, who started three games last year for the Bills, hasn’t shown up to minicamp yet, and Rex Ryan told Maiorana he hasn’t spoken to the absent veteran. The Bills scribe doesn’t expect the former Bears flameout to be on the team much longer, especially if he doesn’t appear at mandatory minicamp next month.
  • Titans rookie Dorial Green-Beckham is seeking to trim down to 225 pounds by the time training camp begins. The mercurial specimen who hasn’t played in a game since 2013 is hovering in the high 230s now, notes The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt.
  • Speaking of weight fluctuations, Melvin Ingram has slashed 20 pounds off his frame and sits at 245 this summer as he makes an attempt at a healthy campaign entering his fourth season with the Chargers, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Michael Gehlken. Ingram hasn’t played in more than nine games since his rookie campaign in 2012.

 

AFC East Notes: Pats, Rice, Wilkerson

After checking in on the status of two embattled running backs earlier today, let’s have a look at a few links from the AFC East:

  • With the mass exodus that the Patriots have experienced at cornerback this offseason, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that Devin McCourty could shift from his safety position to corner, where he played reasonably well during his first several seasons in the league. But given how good of a safety he has become, such a move would not be optimal for New England.
  • Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes that Brandon LaFell, who is under contract with the Patriots for two more years and $5.3MM, changed agents recently to Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, the same agents who represent Darrelle Revis. Volin wonders if LaFell, after an excellent 2014 season, is preparing to ask for a new contract.
  • In the same piece, Volin writes that the Patriots will likely enter into contract negotiations with Rob Gronkowski in the near future. Gronkowski has a $10MM option bonus due next March that would trigger another four years and $37MM total.
  • We learned earlier today that the Bills might be a good landing spot for Ray Rice, but Mike Rodak of ESPN.com tweets that Buffalo is not interested in the former Ravens star.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com writes that the Jets are “spitting out cash like an ATM” when it comes to imported players, citing Brandon Marshall‘s restructure as the most recent example. Cimini believes it’s now time for the team’s best homegrown talent, Muhammad Wilkerson, to get a new deal.
  • In the same piece, Cimini writes that the Jets have an unusually large amount of money tied up in players 30 years old or older, and he passes along details of Leonard Williams‘ rookie contract.

Giants Owner Talks FAs, Eli, JPP, Draft

Speaking to reporters today, Giants co-owner John Mara answered questions about his team’s approach to free agency, the contract status of a pair of the club’s most notable players, and a handful of other topics. Tom Rock of Newsday passed along several highlights from the session, so let’s round them up, with all links going to Twitter….

  • Acknowledging that the Giants “still have some holes to fill” on their roster, Mara said the team has done a good job so far in free agency.
  • Asked about the top free agents available, Mara admitted that the Giants made a big push for Devin McCourty. The club also inquired on Ndamukong Suh, but he was “a little too pricey” for the team’s liking. According to Mara, this year’s free agent class was a mediocre one, and many of the players who signed lucrative deals did so because a lot of teams had plenty of cap space. The Giants didn’t want to invest in those higher-end players at inflated prices.
  • No contract extension is imminent for Eli Manning, but “obviously something will be done at some point,” according to Mara.
  • The Giants co-owner would like to see Osi Umenyiora retire as a Giant, but Mara hasn’t spoken to coaches or GM Jerry Reese about signing the veteran pass rusher this year.
  • Mara would prefer to lock up Jason Pierre-Paul to a long-term contract, but is comfortable having JPP play out the 2015 season on the one-year franchise tag if necessary. The two sides have until July to work out a multiyear extension.
  • Wide receiver won’t be a top priority for the Giants early in this year’s draft, but the club won’t be averse to taking one if there’s value to be had.

Patriots Re-Sign Devin McCourty

WEDNESDAY, 10:27am: McCourty’s signing is now official, tweets Volin.

SUNDAY, 9:40pm: The Patriots have been in the driver’s seat in terms of retaining Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty, and it looks like he will be returning to New England on a new deal, reports Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1 (via Twitter).

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com has confirmed the report (via Twitter). McCourty will sign a five-year deal worth $47.5MM, according to Rapoport (via Twitter). He also writes that McCourty turned down larger offers to remain with the team. Mike Reiss of ESPN adds that the deal includes $28.5MM in guaranteed money (via Twitter).

McCourty was the top safety on the market and had drawn tremendous interest around the league. The Jaguars, Eagles, and Giants all made hard pushes to sign the play making free safety.

Other interested teams have been notified that McCourty plans to return to the Patriots, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN (via Twitter). The team will likely turn all of its attention to working out a long-term deal for Darrelle Revis. Keeping both Revis and McCourty will ensure a successful offseason for the Patriots, writes Ben Volin of the Boston Globe (via Twitter).

Volin writes that the deal is not finalized, but that McCourty will be back with the Patriots in 2015 (via Twitter).

With McCourty off the market, Ron Parker and Rahim Moore jump to the top of the list of free agent safeties. The market for those players should heat up quickly, writes Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).