Duke Johnson

Browns Rumors: Gordon, Corbett, Robinson

Josh Gordon remains away from the Browns as they enter the second week of training camp, but the team remains confident its oft-unavailable wideout will show up in Berea, Ohio, at some point during camp. John Dorsey reaffirmed during a radio interview Friday that the 27-year-old pass-catcher will be at camp. But no timetable has been announced. Browns camp runs until August 15, though it’s unclear if Dorsey meant Gordon will return by camp’s conclusion or merely before the regular season begins.

I told you he’d be here, and he will be here,” the Cleveland GM said during an interview with 92.3 The Fan (via the Lorain Morning Journal). “… I haven’t talked to Josh Gordon; I’m going to respect his privacy. I admire what he’s doing here because he’s taking care of the long-term interest of his person.”

Gordon is believed to be at a rehab center in Gainesville, Fla., and his return status may not be entirely up to him. Roger Goodell could well have a say, complicating matters for a player who’s endured one of the more complicated careers in modern NFL history.

Here’s the latest out of Cleveland:

  • The Browns moving to their “Plan Z” so fast — sliding Joel Bitonio to left tackle — will prompt them to move second-round pick Austin Corbett into Bitonio’s old spot. Corbett is now working as the team’s starting left guard, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. The left side of the Browns’ line is now comprised of former Nevada starting tackles, with Corbett taking over as the Wolf Pack’s left tackle for Bitonio in 2014 after he was a Cleveland draft choice. Corbett did not see time at guard in college but was considered a prospect who could make the transition inside in the pros.
  • Given the first chance to succeed Joe Thomas, Shon Coleman was not progressing like the Browns hoped, per Cabot. Cleveland’s right tackle starter last season, Coleman seems likely to now become a swing backup. But Hue Jackson suggested Greg Robinson, who’s been out for most of camp due to a concussion, may get a chance to potentially move Bitonio back to guard. Though, this move doesn’t look to be an experiment. “It’s full speed ahead with Joel,” Jackson said. “But Greg will factor into that. He hasn’t practiced enough. I don’t know enough about him yet to say if he can or he can’t.”
  • Duke Johnson would prefer to be a full-time slot receiver, rather than serving as a running back/receiver, per Dan Labbe of cleveland.com. With Jarvis Landry around, it doesn’t seem like the recently extended passing-down running back’s role will be changing anytime soon. Johnson took 82 handoffs last season but caught a career-high 74 passes.

Extra Points: Browns, Johnson, Watson, Watt

Duke Johnson Jr. is staying in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. The running back signed a three-year extension with the organization today that will tack an additional $15.6MM ($7.7MM guaranteed) to his contract. While the 24-year-old is set to be with the organization until at least 2021, Johnson was more focused on his team’s potential in 2018.

“I’m excited,” Johnson told ClevelandBrowns.com. “It’s fun to see how this team is shaping out and I want to be a part of it. You can see it with the guys they brought in on offense like Tyrod (Taylor) and (Jarvis) Landry plus the guys we already had. I think bringing in coach (Todd) Haley adds another dimension to our offense and it gives coach (Hue) Jackson the chance to be the head coach. John Dorsey has been bringing in guys that can play, that can ball, and that gives us a chance. Now it’s about going out and doing it now.”

General manager John Dorsey also discussed the running back’s new deal.

“Duke Johnson is a good football player,” Dorsey said. “His hard work and commitment to the Browns organization is appreciated and we are excited to extend his contract and keep him in a Browns uniform for years to come. Duke is an excellent representative our organization. He leads by example and we look forward to him playing an important role with the Cleveland Browns moving forward.”

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

  • The Texans are looking like they’re going to head into the 2018 campaign healthy. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that quarterback Deshaun Watson (ACL) and defensive end J.J. Watt (tibial plateau fracture) aren’t expected to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The duo combined for only 12 games last season.
  • NFL executive vice president of business operations Eric Grubman will be stepping down from his role (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). The executive, who has been with the NFL for 14 years, played a major part in the Rams’ move to Los Angeles.“He has handled some of the most challenging and important issues to the NFL,” said Roger Goodell. While the commissioner tried to convince Grubman to stick around, the executive will join former COO Tod Leiwicke and former executive vice president of communications Joe Lockhart among those who have left high-ranking roles.
  • We learned earlier today that Broncos edge rusher Shane Ray is set to undergo wrist surgery, which will keep him out of action for three months.

Browns, Duke Johnson Agree To Extension

The Browns and running back Duke Johnson have agreed to terms on a long-term contract extension, sources tell Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a three-year addition worth $15.6MM, including $7.7MM guaranteed. 

With nearly $70MM in cap space, it wasn’t difficult for the Browns to make room for Johnson’s deal. The two sides have been in talks throughout the offseason and a pact came together well in advance of the team’s mandatory minicamp.

If the deal were to start this year, Johnson would be ninth amongst all NFL running backs in terms of annual average value. When the pact kicks in next year, Johnson will probably be just outside of the top ten at his position.

Johnson, 25 in November, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his three NFL seasons while playing largely in a backup capacity. In 2017, the Browns often utilized him as a pass-catcher and the results were tremendous. Johnson set new career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (693) and was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for Cleveland. This year, he’ll serve as the Browns No. 2 ball carrier behind free agent addition Carlos Hyde.

Johnson was initially set to enter the final year of his rookie deal with a modest $2.084MM cap number. He has now received a significant pay bump.

In addition to Hyde and Johnson, the Browns further bolstered the running back group by drafting former Georgia standout Nick Chubb in the second round of last month’s draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bears, Browns, Ragnow

Fans of another Midwestern team will recognize much of what the 2018 Bears‘ offense looks like. Matt Nagy said, via Dan Pompei of The Athletic (subscription required) the Bears’ offense will be 70-80 percent the same as what the Chiefs run under Andy Reid.

It will be different in some regards, which is only fair to our coaches on offense and the ideas they have,” Nagy said. “But the identity is going to be the same. It will feel very similar to Kansas City’s. We’re in the lab now. That’s the fun part. All the coaches are giving their ideas and thoughts. Coach [Reid] always said he had 51 percent of the say. So ultimately, he had final say. Now I have that. There are plays I liked that Coach [Reid] didn’t like, so now those plays are in.

Reid and Nagy each had roles as the Chiefs’ primary play-caller during the pair’s two years working in an HC-OC relationship, with Nagy’s shift toward play-calling responsibilities coinciding with Kansas City’s late-season charge toward a second straight AFC West title. He’ll attempt to replicate that with the Bears.

With OTAs continuing for some and minicamps starting elsewhere this week, here’s the latest from the North divisions.

  • The Browns believe Mychal Kendricks can play all three linebacker positions, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. Lining up the ex-Eagles starter — who is set to sign with the Browns on Monday — in the middle would give him the best chance of starting, with Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey on the outside. However, Joe Schobert started all 16 Browns games as the middle linebacker and was the top-rated (per Pro Football Focus) Browns ‘backer last season. Kendricks was unhappy with his role with the Eagles, but in Cleveland, the Browns’ recent futility notwithstanding, he’s going to be playing with a deeper group of linebackers. A three-down role won’t be guaranteed. Of course, the previous Browns regime re-signed Collins and extended Kirksey, which could complicate matters a bit as John Dorsey steps into his first full season with the franchise.
  • Also in Cleveland, Browns coaches are high on Duke Johnson, despite the team signing Carlos Hyde and drafting Nick Chubb, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com envisions an extension coming to fruition this offseason. The Browns have nearly $70MM in cap space, and Johnson would seemingly fit alongside either Hyde or Chubb as a passing-down back. The sides have been discussing a re-up for a bit now.
  • Despite being open to Joel Bitonio as Joe Thomas‘ replacement, the Browns kept him at left guard at OTAs this week, per Terry Pluto of cleveland.com. Bitonio would prefer to stay at guard, and the Browns — who drafted Austin Corbett, Bitonio’s left tackle successor at Nevada — in Round 2. Corbett is currently working behind Shon Coleman at left tackle.
  • On the subject of rookie offensive linemen’s roles, the Lions have begun first-round pick Frank Ragnow‘s tenure at guard, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes, adding he took some first-team reps at that spot. This is interesting considering Graham Glasgow played well at guard last season. The Lions have T.J. Lang entrenched at the other guard slot and signed ex-Jets center Wesley Johnson. However, Detroit’s discussed the notion of moving Glasgow to center. Ragnow played center for all but one game as an upperclassman but started throughout his sophomore season at guard for Arkansas.
  • Tyler Matakevich underwent surgery to repair three areas — his rotator cuff, labrum and a biceps muscle — repaired shortly after the Steelers‘ divisional-round loss to the Jaguars. And the Steelers subsequently signed Jon Bostic, seemingly to replace Ryan Shazier this season. However, Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes Matakevich was the first-string inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams throughout OTAs this week. While this situation is likely far from being settled, the Steelers holding a competition between a 2016 seventh-round pick and a sixth-year veteran who started 14 games last season is interesting.

Browns, Duke Johnson Discussing Extension

Duke Johnson says that he and the Browns are in discussions about a contract extension (Twitter link via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). The running back also says he is “very optimistic” the two sides will come to an agreement. 

Johnson, 25 in November, has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his three NFL seasons while playing largely in a backup capacity. In 2017, the Browns often utilized him as a pass-catcher and the results were tremendous. Johnson set new career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (693) and was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for Cleveland. This year, he’ll serve as the Browns No. 2 ball carrier behind free agent addition Carlos Hyde.

Johnson is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal which will carry a modest $2.084MM cap number. Because he was a third-round pick and not a first-round selection, the Browns do not have the option of extending his deal via the fifth-year option. The franchise tag is technically still in play, but the Browns want to keep that possibility open for other players who are scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season.

In addition to Hyde and Johnson, the Browns further bolstered the running back group by drafting former Georgia standout Nick Chubb in the second round of last month’s draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2018 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.Jay Ajayi (Vertical)

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $1.908MM in 2018. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2018 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

49ers: Trent Brown, T; Eli Harold, LB

Bears: Adrian Amos, S

Bengals: Tyler Kroft, TE; Josh Shaw, DB

Bills: John Miller, G

Broncos: Max Garcia, G; Trevor Siemian, QB

Browns: Duke Johnson, RB

Buccaneers: Kwon Alexander, LB

Cardinals: David Johnson, RB; J.J. Nelson, WR

Chargers: Kyle Emanuel, LB

Chiefs: Chris Conley, WR; Steven Nelson, CB

Colts: Henry Anderson, DE; Mark Glowinski, G; Denzelle Good, OL

Dolphins: Bobby McCain, CB

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, RB; Jordan Hicks, LB

Falcons: Grady Jarrett, DT

Jaguars: A.J. Cann, OL

Lions: Quandre Diggs, CB

Packers: Jake Ryan, LB

Panthers: Daryl Williams, T

Patriots: Trey Flowers, DE; Shaq Mason, G

Raiders: Clive Walford, TE

Rams: Jamon Brown, G

Ravens: Za’Darius Smith, LB

Redskins: T.J. Clemmings, OL; Jamison Crowder, WR

Saints: Tyeler Davison, DT

Seahawks: Tyler Lockett, WR

Steelers: Jesse James, TE

Vikings: Stefon Diggs, WR; Danielle Hunter, DE

OverTheCap.com was essential in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Extra Points: Chiefs, Johnson, Colts, Chargers

Some assorted notes from around the NFL as we wrap up this Monday evening…

  • Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was not involved in the evaluation process in promoting Brett Veach to GM (Twitter link via James Palmer of NFL.com). The Chiefs promoted the 39-year-old earlier this month, and reports indicated that while Veach will have control over the roster, he’ll ultimately work in tandem with his head coach.
  • Here’s something that could affect the Browns‘ roster bubble: Duke Johnson profiles more as a wide receiver right now than a running back, Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer writes. Johnson is the leading candidate to replace Andrew Hawkins as the team’s No. 1 slot receiver and has been split out wide at times in practice. After carrying the ball 104 times as a rookie, Johnson ran the ball only 73 times in 2016 and he could be looking at another reduction this year.
  • The Colts have not had substantive extension talks with left guard Jack Mewhort as he enters his contract year, Stephen Holder of the Indy Star tweets. Mewhort has started at left guard with some appearances at tackle since entering the league in 2014. Unfortunately, the former second round pick saw his season cut short last year due to a knee injury. Mewhort has graded out as a starting caliber player for the Colts in each of his NFL seasons. In 2016, he was PFF’s 23rd ranked guard.
  • Titans guard Sebastian Tretola apparently suffered a minor injury from a bullet, and ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky tweeted a statement from the organization: “We are aware of the reports that Sebastian received treatment for a wound when he was grazed by a bullet…He has been released from the hospital and is thankful for only a minor injury.” The 2016 sixth-round pick appeared in only one game as a rookie last season.
  • Following news that Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams might need season-ending surgery on a herniated disk in his back, ESPN.com’s Eric D. Williams explored whether the team could bring back veteran Vincent Jackson. The writer ultimately believes that he wouldn’t be a fit, as the team could rely on a number of young players to fill the void. Alternatively, the team could opt for a number of free agents (including Stevie Johnson and Vincent Brown) who are more familiar with the team’s current offensive scheme. Jackson spent the first seven seasons of his career in San Diego, earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

AFC Notes: Broncos, Pats, Von, Steelers, Jets

Mike Klis of 9News obtained a report from a non-Broncos scout who observed linebacker Von Miller nine times last season and concluded that the 27-year-old is a “Hall of Fame-caliber performer.’’ Meanwhile, former Patriots general counsel/player personnel Jack Musa told Klis that the Pats – who are known for preemptively cutting bait on stars – would shop Miller if they were in a similar situation as Denver is now.

“I’m not saying not signing Von Miller is the wrong thing to do. I’m not saying that at all,” said Musa, who was with the Patriots for a decade. “But if you don’t and you’ve moved on from him, you certainly get something from him. You don’t have him sitting out a year and improving his own negotiating leverage – that’s not something we ever experienced in New England but that’s a very real possibility in Denver.’’

The Broncos and Miller are currently in a contract-related showdown, one which they’re running out of time to resolve. If the reigning Super Bowl champions and the franchise-tagged superstar don’t reach an agreement on a long-term deal by July 15 at 4 p.m. ET, they won’t be able to negotiate again until the offseason. That would leave Miller with two options: 1. Continue sitting out in lieu of signing the franchise tender. 2. Sign it and make in the $14MM neighborhood to play this year. If Miller opts for the first choice, the Broncos wouldn’t have the ability to slap the exclusive franchise tag on him next offseason, though they could give him the non-exclusive version. However, the compensation from a team that signs Miller to an offer sheet would decrease in value by a substantial amount, going from two first-round picks to a first- and third-round selection. The Broncos hit Miller with the exclusive designation this year to stop him from trying to hammer out an accord with another team.

Elsewhere around the AFC…

  • The Browns picked up quarterback Robert Griffin III in free agency and ex-Baylor receiver Corey Coleman via the first round of the draft, but they’re nonetheless “going to be a run-oriented football team,” run game coordinator Kirby Wilson told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. As Roster Resource shows, the Browns’ top two rushers from last season – Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson – remain in the equation, and three former undrafted free agents trail behind them. Given that trio’s lack of pedigree and the fact that neither Crowell nor Johnson eclipsed 3.8 yards per carry last season, it’s not exactly the most promising group on paper. Johnson, to his credit, caught 61 passes as a rookie, leading Wilson to call the 2015 third-rounder from Miami “an ultimate weapon.”
  • The five-year, $41.9MM deal – including $8.5MM guaranteed – all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown signed in 2012 is the most team-friendly contract the Steelers have, argues Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap. Brown was behind Mike Wallace on the Steelers’ wideout pecking order at the time, but the former has since combined for a stunning 375 receptions, 5,031 yards and 31 touchdowns going back to 2013. Although Pittsburgh took a risk at the time, it now has the biggest veteran bargain in the league, Fitzgerald opines. Conversely, linebacker Lawrence Timmons‘ contract (five years, $47.8MM, $11MM guaranteed) is the Steelers’ worst. While Fitzgerald doesn’t have a problem with the value, he’s critical of the way the Steelers have handled the pact. The club has restructured it three times in a four-year span, effectively guaranteeing four of its five seasons and leaving Timmons without an incentive to accept an extension and lower his cap number – which is the most among inside linebackers this season by over $5MM.
  • Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey could have a harder time dividing touches between his top two running backs this year than he did in 2015, posits Brian Costello of the New York Post. Last season’s Jets prominently featured the duo of bruiser Chris Ivory and dual-threat option Bilal Powell, but the former is now in Jacksonville. The Jets replaced him with Matt Forte, who – like Powell – can do damage both as a rusher and pass catcher. Regardless, Costello argues that New York has a valuable player on its hands in the 27-year-old Powell, without whom it went 1-4 in 2015. As a result of his 11-game, 701-total yard, 47-catch season, the Jets re-signed Powell to a three-year, $11.25MM deal with $6MM in guarantees over the winter. Forte landed a somewhat similar contract at three years, $12MM and $8MM guaranteed.

Browns Links: Manziel, Pryor, Johnson

The latest on the Browns:

  • While backup quarterback Johnny Manziel looked much better than starter Josh McCown during Thursday’s game against Buffalo, don’t expect the two to flip-flop on the depth chart. Bud Shaw of the Northeast Ohio Media Group writes that Manziel lost a lot of trust within the organization as a rookie last year and it’s going to take more than solid preseason work to unseat McCown.
  • Terrelle Pryor, who’s in the incipient stages of his career as a wide receiver after switching from quarterback in June, is far from a shoo-in to make the Browns’ roster. The hamstring injury that has bothered the fifth-year man for nearly all of August isn’t helping his cause, according to head coach Mike Pettine. “He’s not guaranteed a spot,” Pettine said Saturday, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. “He’s got to play, and that window narrows every day he’s not out there.”
  • Fellow Browns wideout Dwayne Bowe seems a lot more bullish about Pryor than Pettine does.  “He’s a specimen,” Bowe said Saturday, according to ESPN’s Pat McManamon. “You’ve got to have a guy like that on the field.” 
  • Like Pryor, third-round rookie Duke Johnson has also been felled by a hamstring this month. But, despite sitting out most of August and both of Cleveland’s preseason games, the ex-Miami Hurricane is still confident he can be the Browns’ starting running back as early as Week 1. “I feel like I can (start) but that’s not my decision,” he told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “If I’m not that starting guy, just know whoever is that starting guy, that’s the man for the job because we came out here and competed and we push each other to be the best.”  The Browns are hoping to get some Johnson on the field for their next preseason game. Pettine stated that “the next two weeks are big for Duke.”

AFC North Notes: Elam, Lundy, Johnson, Bryant

Let’s take a look at some injury notes from around the AFC North on this first Sunday of training camp:

  • Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun writes that Ravens safety Matt Elam may have torn his biceps and will undergo an MRI today. It is feared that the injury may be season-ending (via Twitter). “I’m sure it’s very disappointing for him,” said head coach John Harbaugh. “He’s very serious in great shape and then has a freak injury.”
  • In addition to Elam, early signs could mean the Ravens’ secondary may be in injury peril again, with cornerbacks Tray Walker and Rashaan Melvin both hurting their hamstrings, writes Clifton Brown of CSN Mid-Atlantic (via Twitter).
  • Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer tweets that Browns head coach Mike Pettine said he will talk with GM Ray Farmer later today to discuss adding a running back or two. After rookie Luke Lundy left practice with an injury today, the team is down to Isaiah Crowell and Shaun Draughn as its only healthy backs. Duke Johnson and Terrance West have already gone down, and Pat MaManamon of ESPN details a few other players who have suffered injuries in camp so far.
  • Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson was carted off the practice field with a knee injury, but head coach Marvin Lewis said he doesn’t believe the injury is major, according to Sirius XM NFL Radio (via Twitter). Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that the early word is that he suffered a torn MCL, which would likely cost him time early in the season (via Twitter).
  • Not to be left out, the Steelers are also dealing with an injury to a key contributor in second-year receiver Martavis Bryant, who had a procedure to fix an infection with his elbow, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN (via Twitter). Luckily for Steeler nation, he is only expected to miss a few days.

Rory Parks contributed to this post.