Donte Moncrief

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Bengals, Browns

The Steelers will use the preseason to determine their backup quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger, but 2018 third-round pick Mason Rudolph appears to have a leg up over fellow signal-caller Josh Dobbs, as Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes. Dobbs, a fourth-round selection in the 2017 draft, served as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 last season, but managed just 12 passing attempts in relief of Roethlisberger. Rudolph, meanwhile, only played during the 2018 preseason, completing 24-of-44 passes for 315 yards. “I had the general concepts down and our plays but there are things that you take a little deeper dive,’’ Rudolph said. “Run schemes, protections, signals. Just the no-huddle calls. Ben does such great job of ad-libbing.” As Bouchette notes, No. 3 quarterbacks rarely get significant practice reps during the regular season, so if the Steelers view Rudolph as Roethlisberger’s successor, he could use the practice snaps due a backup quarterback in order to develop this year.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Another Steelers battle is taking place at wide receiver, where veteran Donte Moncrief appears to be the frontrunner for No. 2 duties behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9MM deal with Pittsburgh in March, is competing against 2018 second-round pick James Washington and 2019 third-rounder Diontae Johnson for time. In his first and only season with the Jaguars in 2018, Moncrief posted 48 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns, but ranked as a bottom-15 wideout in Football Outsiders‘ efficiency metrics. The Steelers lost the second-most air yards and sixth-most targets of any NFL team during the offseason, so there should be plenty of work to go around.
  • Bengals sixth-round rookie running back Rodney Anderson has been cleared to practice, tweets Ben Baby of ESPN.com. Once viewed as a potential early-round selection, Anderson suffered a torn ACL during his final season at Oklahoma and subsequently fell to Day 3 of the draft. In 2017, however, Anderson put up 1,161 yards on the ground and scored 18 total touchdowns. Cincinnati is set at the top of its running back depth chart with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, but Anderson and fellow sixth-round rookie Trayveon Williams should make the roster as reserves.
  • After the Browns traded Kevin Zeitler to the Giants, Austin Corbett was thought to be a shoo-in to take over as Cleveland’s starting right guard. But the 2018 second-rounder may not enter the regular season as one of the Browns’ top five linemen, per Graziano (Instagram link). Corbett hasn’t had the offseason the Browns “wanted or expected him to have,” so much so that veteran Eric Kush could end up starting at right guard. Kush, 29, started seven games for the Bears in 2018 and has appeared in 33 career contests.

Revisiting The 2018 Free Agent WR Class

The 2018 free agent class of wide receivers reshaped the market in a number of ways and set the table for lucrative extensions for players like Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Stefon Diggs. But even allowing for the premium that teams often have to pay in the first wave of free agency, the size of the contracts that the 2018 FA wideouts landed raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the league. As we look ahead to Year 2 of some of those contracts, let’s examine the early returns.

Sammy Watkins‘ three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs topped the class in terms of total value, average annual value, and guaranteed money at signing ($30MM). And while his talent certainly merited that type of payday, his injury history was a concern, as he had missed 10 games over the prior three seasons. He ended up missing six games during his first year in Kansas City due to a foot injury, though he did manage to suit up for both of the club’s postseason contests. His raw numbers obviously don’t look too impressive as a result of the missed time, but he did rank fifth among all qualified wideouts in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, meaning he was very valuable on a per-play basis. He also tallied 10 catches for 176 yards during the Chiefs’ two playoff games, and while injury problems may always plague him, he continues to be a factor whenever he’s on the field. KC is likely not regretting Watkins’ deal at this point.

The Bears doubled up at wide receiver by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last March, which allowed them to part ways with Cameron Meredith. Chicago brought in Robinson on a three-year, $42MM pact, even though he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season and had only posted one elite season in his career (which came back in 2015). And after his first year with the Bears, Robinson is still looking for his second 1,000-yard campaign.

There is some reason to hope that he can get there, especially with a fully-healthy offseason and a year of building chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt. A-Rob played in just 13 regular season games last season but was targeted 94 times, and he was brilliant in the Bears’ lone playoff game, posting 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. Football Outsiders’ metrics didn’t love him, but Pro Football Focus assigned him an above-average grade that made him the 28th-best WR in the league. He may not have quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time for him to get there.

Chicago signed Gabriel to a four-year, $26MM deal in the hopes that he could become a big-play threat for Trubisky. But while Gabriel played in all 16 games for the club and saw 93 targets, he managed a fairly modest 10.3 yards-per-reception and two touchdowns. Advanced metrics weren’t overly fond of his work either, and he will be hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019.

It’s still too early to evaluate some of the other significant contracts given to 2018 wide receivers, because the signees saw their seasons derailed by injury. Marqise Lee, who re-upped with the Jaguars on a four-year, $34MM deal, missed the entire 2018 season due to a preseason knee injury, and he is not expected to be back until the end of this year’s training camp. The Dolphins were thinking highly of their three-year, $24MM accord with Albert Wilson, who was performing well for Miami until he landed on IR in October with a serious hip injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 regular season, but he may not see the field until then.

Likewise, Paul Richardson showed flashes in the first year of the five-year, $40MM contract he signed with the Redskins last March, but he landed on IR in November with a shoulder injury.

But at least the aforementioned players are still on their respective teams. Michael Crabtree signed a three-year, $21MM deal with the Ravens after being cut by the Raiders, but he disappeared from Baltimore’s offense when Lamar Jackson became the starter, and Baltimore sent him packing in February (as of this writing, there has been no reported interest in his services). And Donte Moncrief signed a one-year contract for a surprising $9.6MM with the Jaguars, but his mostly disappointing performance in Jacksonville had him searching for a new team this offseason. He ultimately caught on with the Steelers.

All in all, then, the 2018 class of free agent wideouts was a mixed bag. None of the contracts those players signed look like a home run at this point, and while that could change in 2019, those who were surprised by the amount of money thrown at WRs last March were right to be a little skeptical.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Rodgers, Steelers, Bears

Tasked with adjusting to a new offense for the first time in his tenure as an NFL starter, Aaron Rodgers showed a bit of resistance to Matt LaFleur‘s new attack this week. At least, the Packers‘ future Hall of Fame quarterback does not want to be limited at the line of scrimmage. The first-year head coach’s system does not feature the same kind of pre-snap flexibility Rodgers previously enjoyed.

I don’t think you want me to turn off 11 years. There’s stuff that not many people in the league can do at the line,” Rodgers said during an interview with NFL.com’s Michael Silver (Twitter link). “That’s not a humble brag. That’s just a fact.

LaFleur said earlier this offseason the plan will be for Rodgers to either run the called play or switch to one alternative, and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel anticipates some pushback on this. A detailed story this offseason examined Rodgers’ checkered history with Mike McCarthy, so the Packers are facing a crucial season — one in which their two-time MVP turn 36 — so getting their passer and head coach on the same page figures to be essential. While LaFleur said this week he does not want to minimize Rodgers’ penchant for off-script brilliance, it does appear the Packers have some sorting out to accomplish.

Here is the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Teryl Austin‘s title with the Steelers is senior defensive assistant/secondary, the former Lions and Bengals DC will have another key game-day responsibility. Austin will be Mike Tomlin‘s unofficial replay-review coach. Austin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will watch every play that generated a replay review from the 2018 season to prepare for his new role. Tomlin has won just two of his past 14 challenges, dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season, Dulac notes, adding the 13th-year coach is 0-for-12 on fourth-down challenges during his career.
  • As for Austin’s role instructing Pittsburgh’s secondary, the Steelers have deviated from a plan that meant for their new hire to coach one position and secondary coach Tom Bradley another. They are sharing responsibilities leading that unit, per Dulac.
  • Antonio Brown‘s exit leaves the Steelers perhaps the biggest void in the NFL, given his production as the team’s top wide receiver for most of this decade, and the Steelers may have to fill the JuJu Smith-Schuster sidekick role as a group. But among the James WashingtonDonte MoncriefDiontae Johnson contingent, Ben Roethlisberger (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette) singled out Moncrief as having the best offseason. Still just 25, Moncrief posted 668 yards for the Jaguars last season.
  • Another North-division surprise factor: large Bears tight end Bradley Sowell. The converted tackle’s switch to tight end appears legitimate, with Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com called the 6-foot-7, 312-pound veteran a legitimate threat for regular playing time — rather than this being a gimmicky or in-case-of-emergency position change. Sowell played tight end on 30 snaps last season but may be working toward a usage bump.

Contract Details: Ingram, Suggs, Kendricks

Here are the latest details from some agreed-upon contracts during the second wave of free agency. All links courtesy of the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson, unless otherwise noted.

Steelers To Sign Donte Moncrief

The Steelers are beginning the process of replacing Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh has agreed to terms with wide receiver Donte Moncreif, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Schefter reports that it’ll be a two-year deal for Moncrief, although we don’t have the terms yet. The Steelers pursued fellow receiver Tyrell Williams, but didn’t end up winning that bidding war, so they settled for Moncrief. JuJu Smith-Schuster will slide in as the team’s new number one receiver after the Brown trade, but Pittsburgh has been looking for ways to fill out the corp around him.

Moncrief comes to the Steelers from Jacksonville after spending last year with the Jaguars. He had spent the first four years of his career with the Colts. The Jets were apparently interested in signing Moncrief, so the Steelers weren’t alone in their pursuit. Last year, Moncrief reeled in 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns.

It wasn’t a terrible season, but wasn’t his most productive either. In 2016 he caught seven touchdowns in just nine games and the year before that had 733 yards and six touchdowns. His one year deal with the Jaguars last cycle had a base salary of $7MM, and it’ll be interesting to see what the 2014 third round pick landed here.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Interested In Donte Moncrief

The Jets have in free agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief, sources tell Manish Mehta of the Daily News. Moncrief spent last season with the Jaguars and will hit the open market in March after the expiration of his one-year deal. 

Moncrief, 26 in August, was reasonably productive with the Jaguars despite the team’s offensive woes. He finished out with 48 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns, a step up from his previous two years in Indianapolis. More importantly, he was healthy and appeared in all 16 games, unlike the 2016 and 2017 campaigns with Indianapolis.

Moncrief, was second on the Jaguars in targets (89), receptions, and receiving yards last year and has done some of his best work against the Jets over the course of his career, The 6’2″, 220-pound wide receiver has scored a touchdown in each of his three games against the Jets and has topped 100 receiving yards against Gang Green twice.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Contract Details: Butler, Johnson, Bridgewater

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

AFC Contract Details: Crabtree, Williamson

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Jaguars To Sign WR Donte Moncrief

Former Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief is staying in the AFC South. Moncrief will sign with the Jaguars, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). He will earn a base salary of base salary of roughly $7MM, while incentives can bring the total value to $9.6MM, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com.

The addition of the 24-year-old will help to offset the loss of Allen Robinson, who agreed to a deal with the Bears early this morning. Moncrief will pair with Marqise Lee, who has been retained on a new deal, atop the receiver depth chart. Jacksonville could conceivably look to move on from one of their wideout, as they’re rostering 10 players at the position, including Allen Hurns, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook.

Word on Moncrief’s compensation is not yet in, but it’s likely to be a fat deal given the contracts given to wide receivers thus far in free agency. The 2014 third-round pick had a relatively quiet 2017 campaign, hauling in 26 catches for 391 yards and two scores in 12 games (eight starts). His best season came in 2015, when he collected 733 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FA Rumors: Lewis, Moncrief, Jets, Fuller

Despite having surpassed the 100-touch mark just once in a season, Dion Lewis may well have surged to the point of being the top running back available. And the healthy market expected for the 27-year-old back shows no signs of slowing down. However, the Patriots are going to try to keep Lewis, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. However, he notes Lewis’ price may “far outpace” what the Pats are willing to spend to keep him. The Colts, Titans and Jets look to be the early favorites for Lewis. The Titans being run by former Patriots exec Jon Robinson — who was in New England when the Pats acquired Lewis — and the fact Tennessee just released DeMarco Murray would make the AFC South team a logical suitor. The Jets have passing-down veteran Bilal Powell going into the final year of his contract, and the Colts are without a proven back now that Frank Gore is out of the picture.

New England still has James White and Brandon Bolden under contract. Here’s the latest from the market:

  • The Bears placing their transition tag on Kyle Fuller may not dissuade teams from inquiring about the corner. JLC hears from multiple execs the fifth-year cornerback could be in line to see an offer sheet. However, Chicago holds $50MM in cap space and would seemingly be an obvious threat to match an offer that comes Fuller’s way. La Canfora reports the Packers, Titans, Buccaneers and Texans are doing extensive work researching the cornerback market. With Fuller tagged, Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler are the prizes currently unattached.
  • Muhammad Wilkerson will make his fourth visit on Monday, meeting with the Redskins, per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). One of the top defensive UFAs available, the eighth-year defensive lineman has already visited the Packers, Saints and Chiefs.
  • Donte Moncrief is likely to exit Indianapolis, and the Ravens are interested, La Canfora hears. The Ravens, as of now, possess less than $5MM in cap space. But with Moncrief perhaps in line for a one-year deal after an inconsistent Colts tenure, La Canfora writes Baltimore is in the mix for the athletic target.
  • Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the Jets may be a bit out of sync as far as terms go, but the team remains intent on retaining the tight end, per JLC. Now armed with the most cap space in the league, the Jets would be able to meet ASJ’s reported $7MM-AAV asking price. But it’s uncertain if they will. La Canfora connects the Falcons and Seahawks as being interested in Seferian-Jenkins.
  • The Broncos are expected to have interest in Ja’Wuan James if the Dolphins are intent on gauging trade offers for their four-year right tackle, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. Denver, which has started four different right tackles in its past four season openers, is again in need of a right tackle. Although John Elway said Menelik Watson will be back, it’s hard to believe the Broncos wouldn’t try to upgrade after their most recent right tackle signee did not fare well.