Ezekiel Ansah

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.

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.

NFC Notes: Falcons, Seahawks, Cardinals, Lions

The Falcons have had a relatively quiet offseason in terms of additions. They’ve chosen to focus instead on developing their own players and locking them up. They tied up a lot of money on last month’s long awaited Matt Ryan mega-extension. Last month it was reported that Julio Jones wanted an “adjustment” made to his contract. Ricardo Allen is also pushing for a new multi-year deal. To top it all off, GM Thomas Dimitroff recently said the team hopes to sign offensive tackle Jake Matthews to a new contract soon.

Overall, there’s a lot of deals for the Falcons to get done. But despite the long list of Falcons waiting their turn, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett appears to be “next in line” for an extension writes D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jarrett, a fifth round pick back in 2015, is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Jarrett made an immediate impact as a rookie, and sacked Tom Brady three times during Super Bowl LI. He started all 16 games this past season and is a key component of the Falcons’ defense, even more so now that the Falcons let Dontari Poe walk in free agency. Jarrett says he’s not worrying about a new deal and that “at the end of the day, that will work itself out.” Jarrett might not be focused on his contract, but if Ledbetter is right, he should have a new one soon.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • The Seahawks currently have a crowded running backs room full of well-known names. First round rookie Rashaad Penny seems like the only lock to make the team. Although it’s been speculated that one or more could be cut, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times thinks all five of Penny, Chris Carson, Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise, and J.D. McKissic will make the team.
  • Lions star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah reportedly “dodged” questions about his contract, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. Ansah was franchise tagged back in April, and little progress has been made on a longterm deal since. Lions GM Bob Quinn seemed to hint back in March that the team wasn’t interested in locking Ansah up longterm, and would like to see him play out the year under the franchise tag and prove he can stay healthy. Given the Lions’ reluctance to give him a multi-year deal, it makes sense that Ansah had no interest in discussing his frustration’s with the media.
  • The Cardinals could bring in a veteran wide receiver to be the number two behind Larry Fitzgerald, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. Fitzgerald is entrenched as the number one receiving option, but there’s currently a wide-open competition behind him between Brice Butler, rookie second-rounder Christian Kirk, and potentially J.J. Nelson. Kirk would seem to have the most upside, but if he’s not ready for such a large role as a rookie, the Cardinals could sign a free agent during training camp Urban believes.

Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah Signs Franchise Tender

The Lions have officially re-signed defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. For now, Ansah is set to play out the 2018 season on a one-year deal worth more than $17MM. 

Ansah and the Lions have until July 16 to agree on a multi-year extension, per the terms of the franchise tag. From 2013-2017, 16 of the league’s 33 franchise tagged players have agreed to extensions before the summer deadline, but it’s not especially likely in Ansah’s case. In late March, Lions GM Bob Quinn hinted that he’ll take a wait-and-see approach with Ansah.

“We’re hoping he stays healthy, has a productive year and we go from there,” Quinn said.

Last year, Ansah recorded 12 sacks, 44 total tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Only seven players – Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, Demarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Joey Bosa – brought the quarterback down behind the line more than Ansah in 2017.

Ansah’s 44 career sacks rank fifth all-time in Lions history, an impressive feat with just five NFL season under his belt. The Lions, ideally, would like to keep him in the fold in the long run, but they may be hesitant about committing major dollars to him because of his so-so 2016 performance.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Unlikely To Sign Ansah To Long-Term Deal?

Some teams use the franchise tag to buy some time to negotiate with their players on a long-term deal. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Detroit with Ezekiel Ansah. Appearing on PFT Live, general manager Bob Quinn alluded to taking a wait-and-see approach with the fifth-year defensive end. 

“We’re hoping he stays healthy, has a productive year and we go from there,” Quinn said.

Quinn said it is about new head coach Matt Patricia being able to get to know Ansah through the off-season program before the team makes a decision about a long-term deal. The fact that Ansah has been inconsistent early in his career — sandwiching a pair of double-digit sack seasons in 2015 and 2017 with a two-sack campaign in 2016 — also surely factors into the decision to wait.

Though he wants Patricia to become familiar with the defensive end through the offseason program, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio also writes Ansah isn’t likely to attend the offseason program with a long-term deal.

The 2015 Pro Bowl selection has until July 16 to sign his franchise tender, which will pay him an expected $17.14MM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Packers, Lions, Vikings

Allen Robinson narrowed his potential destinations to the Bears and Packers before ultimately deciding on Chicago, as the star wideout tells Mike Kaye of First Coast News. While a number of clubs — including the Redskins, Browns, Ravens, Panthers, and incumbent Jaguars — were linked to Robinson before free agency officially opened, Green Bay was never mentioned as a suitor. The revelation is interesting on a few different levels, but chief among them is that the Packers clearly feel a need to upgrade their receiving corps. So far this offseason, Green Bay cut ties with franchise icon Jordy Nelson, but hasn’t made any additions to its wideout depth chart. Robinson, 24, eventually landed a three-year, $42MM deal from the Bears.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • The Lions‘ decision to release Eric Ebron was strictly a financial call, general manager Bob Quinn told reporters, including Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). Ebron had been scheduled to earn a base salary of $8.25MM in 2018, and that figure would have become fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year. Indeed, Ebron’s high salary also warded off any potential trade suitors, per Quinn, while Detroit never discussed an extension that would have reduced Ebron’s upcoming cap charge (Twitter link via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News). Ebron, a first-round pick in 2014, has subsequently inked a two-year, $13MM pact with the Colts.
  • Given that he’s currently in Ghana, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has no immediate plans to sign his franchise tag, per Birkett (Twitter link). However, Ansah does eventually plan to ink the tender and has no intention of dragging out the process. When he does eventually sign, Ansah will earn a fully guaranteed $17.143MM base salary for the 2018 campaign, and will have until July to hammer out a long-term extension with Detroit. Ansah finished the 2017 season with 12 sacks, 44 total tackles, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
  • The Vikings have indicated they’d like to re-sign cornerback Terence Newman, but it sound as though money will be the determining factor in any such agreement, according to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). While Newman will be 40 years old when the 2018 season gets underway, he was able to stay healthy for all 16 games last year. Newman, who ranked as the No. 66 CB among 119 qualifiers in 2017 (per Pro Football Focus), would reinforce a Minnesota secondary that also includes Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander.
  • Despite a previous report to the contrary, the Lions are not interested in free agent defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, tweets Birkett. Detroit has already upgraded its defensive tackle rotation by signing Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean-Francois, but Hankins isn’t in the team’s plans.

North Notes: Bengals, Vikings, Ansah

We learned earlier today that the Steelers signed Jon Bostic to a two-year deal as a potential fill-in for Ryan Shazier, and now we’ll take a swing around a few other north division clubs:

  • Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer think the Bengals did very well for themselves during the first week of the new league year, and they believe the club is done with its major free agent additions/trades in 2018. One of the reasons the team was so successful is that it did not force itself into an expensive Russell Bodine contract. The market has not developed for Bodine, a four-year starter in Cincinnati, in the way that he thought it would, and he may have to settle for a modest deal. We heard earlier today that he will be making a visit to the Bills, and while the Bengals will have center options in the draft, they could bring back Bodine if his price falls far enough.
  • Yesterday, we heard that the Vikings were open to bringing back the recently-released Jarius Wright at a lesser rate, and Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says that Wright himself would be open to rejoining Minnesota at a reduced salary. Wright said, “It’s not out of the question. But it’s the NFL. We’ll have to see what happens. But I love Minnesota. I would love to come back, so you just never know what will happen.”
  • The Broncos signed OL Billy Turner yesterday, but Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets that the Vikings also had interest in Turner as a depth option. Tomasson tweets that the team might not have the funds to make a major O-line addition, though it will continue to monitor the market for potential bargains (like Turner). Any potential starter, though, would likely come through the draft.
  • The Lions recently retained Zach Zenner on a one-year deal and signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year pact, which leads Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com to believe that the club will target an RB early in the draft.
  • In the same piece, Rothstein says he believes Ziggy Ansah will play out the 2018 season on the franchise tender and that he and Lions are not likely to reach a long-term agreement before the July deadline. Rothstein also said the team cut Eric Ebron and saved his significant salary cap charge for a reason, though it’s not clear what that is just yet. Rothstein says Ebron would not have been cut unless the team knew it had a better option coming in (although the Lions could have simply felt that Ebron’s role as a potential mismatch receiving tight end might not be as important to the offense in 2018).

Lions Franchise Tag DE Ziggy Ansah

The Lions announced that they have designated defensive end Ezekiel Ansah as their franchise player. The tag will prevent him from testing free agency by holding him in place with a one-year tender worth roughly $17.52MM. "Ezekiel

It’s a high price to pay, but the Lions did not want to risk losing one of their top defenders to free agency. The team is likely hoping that the deal will give them a starting point for fruitful long-term contract negotiations that will bring him down to a lesser cap number for 2018.

Ansah finished the 2017 season with 12 sacks, 44 total tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. His 44 career sacks rank fifth all-time in Lions history, an impressive feat with just five NFL season under his belt.

Ansah’s sack total last year was bested by only seven players: Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, Demarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Joey Bosa. Most of those players are already playing under high-priced contracts or are well on their way to top-tier deals. It makes sense that Ansah is now joining the club, despite some health concerns.

Over the last two seasons, Ansah has spent 25 of a possible 32 weeks on the injury report. For the most part, he managed to play through the pain, missing only five games since the start of the 2016 season. When the 28-year-old (29 in May) is healthy, he’s one of the game’s most fearsome D-Linemen.

Teams like the 49ers, Colts, Jets, and others were expected to express interest in Ansah had he been allowed to reach unrestricted free agency. Ansah’s removal from the UFA market should benefit fellow defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who many feel will not be tagged by the Seahawks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2018 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2018 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Tuesday, March 6. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2018’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but OverTheCap.com recently projected the 2018 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $178MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $23.09MM
  • Running back: $11.72MM
  • Wide receiver: $16.23MM
  • Tight end: $10.36MM
  • Offensive line: $14.54MM
  • Defensive end: $17.52MM
  • Defensive tackle: $14.53MM
  • Linebacker: $15.47MM
  • Cornerback: $14.88MM
  • Safety: $11.08MM
  • Punter/kicker: $5.06MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

  • Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: Last offseason, things got pretty weird between the Steelers and Bell. Just before the deadline to extend franchise tagged players, the Steelers believed that they had agreed on a five-year offer worth roughly $60MM. Ultimately, Bell backed out because he did not find the guarantees and cash flow to be to his liking. Soon after, friend and former teammate Ike Taylor said that Bell wanted a contract that reflects his performance as both a No. 1 back and a No. 2 receiver – something in the neighborhood of $15MM per year. Le'Veon Bell (vertical) This year, Bell topped his 75 catch total with 85 grabs, so one has to imagine that his position hasn’t changed. Despite some retirement threats in January, Bell has indicated that talks are going better this time around. Here’s where things get interesting – the Steelers say that today (Feb. 20) is the “deadline” for a long-term deal to get signed. If not, they’ll go ahead and franchise tag him for a second consecutive season, leaving Bell with a one-year, $14.5MM pact when factoring in the 20% increase. Will Bell buckle and sign a deal that isn’t quite to his satisfaction? In theory, the running back could abstain from offseason activities and even reboot retirement talk in an effort to get the Steelers to cave and abide by the real extension deadline on July 16.
  • Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: It has already been reported that the Cowboys will go ahead and tag Lawrence to prevent him from reaching free agency. Once that happens, you can expect the cash-strapped Cowboys to get to work on an extension that will smooth out the $17.5MM cap hit for defensive ends. There won’t be much drama as to whether the Cowboys will or won’t tag Lawrence, but the subsequent multi-year negotiations will be interesting to watch. Lawrence had a rocky first three seasons in the NFL, but he stepped up big in his contract year with 14.5 sacks. The Cowboys must be willing to pay Lawrence like a top DE, but they may insist on protections like an easy escape hatch or heavy roster bonuses in the event that he is injured or suspended.

Strong Candidates:

  • Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams: As our own Micah Powell explained on Sunday, Watkins is a candidate for the tag with mutual interest on both sides in continuing their union. Committing major dollars to Watkins is dicey, however, given his injury history and his somewhat disappointing stat line in 2017. If the Rams let Watkins hit the open market, they’ll risk losing him to other teams with more wiggle room under the salary cap. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in a weak crop of free agent wide receivers, Watkins could clean up and leave the Rams without an obvious replacement.Sammy Watkins (vertical)
  • Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars: Tagging Watkins will be a tough call for the Rams and the Jaguars have a similarly difficult decision to make when it comes to Robinson. Robinson played only three snaps in 2017 before going down with a torn ACL and he didn’t set the world on fire in 2016. However, his 2015 performance – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes it hard for Jacksonville to let him walk. In theory, the Jaguars could re-sign fellow free agent Marqise Lee and let Robinson go, but Robinson is clearly the more talented of the two and one could argue that Lee’s late-season emergence was fueled by advantageous matchups. It’ll be pricey, but the Jaguars are suddenly in position to win and they can’t afford to let one of their best weapons bolt.

Toss Up:

  • Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears: Frankly, I’m conflicted on this one. I’m sure Bears GM Ryan Pace can relate. Fuller turned in a strong rookie campaign and an excellent contract year, but he was a victim of the sophomore jinx and an unfortunate knee injury which cost him his entire season as an NFL junior. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com hears that Fuller will not be with the Bears this year. But, considering that Fuller graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 22 ranked cornerback and the position is already a major area of need for the team, the Bears have to at least think about tagging him for $14.88MM. Kyle Fuller (Vertical)
  • Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions: Ansah has performed pretty well over the last two seasons, despite playing through some serious pain. The Lions probably aren’t thrilled about extending a one-year, $17.5MM tender to Ansah, but pressure generating edge rushers like him are at a premium. Consider this: Ansah tallied 12 sacks last year despite knee, ankle, and back ailments. Only seven players topped that total: Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Cam Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Joey Bosa.
  • Case Keenum, QB, Vikings: Is one year as an elite quarterback enough to justify the franchise tag? Maybe, but the Vikings have options at their disposal, including two other pending free agents already on the roster. If the Vikings can’t retain Keenum or Bradford or Bridgewater with a reasonable multi-year deal between now and free agency, they can use their mountain of cap space to get involved in the Cousins sweepstakes.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Seahawks: The Jets had both Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson under contract, but they could only afford to pay one of the two defensive linemen. Clearly, they chose wrong. For all of the headaches that Richardson gave the team, the five-year, $86MM deal given to Wilkerson wound up being a monumental mistake and will continue to be an albatross for the Jets even after they cut him this offseason. The Seahawks gave up a second-round choice and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to get Richardson – will they make the same mistake and let him get away? Perhaps not, but it would also be a major gamble to tag him at $14.5MM with limited cap space and other holes to address. The best course of action here may be to try and work out a fresh deal without the franchise tag as a floor for Richardson’s camp. If that fails and the two sides can’t come to terms, the Seahawks can at least collect a 2019 compensatory pick.

Read more

West Notes: Raiders, Hawks, 49ers, Ziggy

Although the Raiders failed to lure ex-Packers executive Eliot Wolf to Oakland (Wolf ultimately accepted a new role with the Browns), they’re still aiming to hire a “young” assistant general manager and may also add an executive vice president of football operations, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Wolf would have seemingly been the ideal candidate for Oakland given his ties to general manager Reggie McKenzie, who is also a former Green Bay staffer. There’s no word as to whether the Raiders ever pursued yet another former Packers executive in Alonzo Highsmith, who — like Wolf — ultimately landed in Cleveland. No matter who Oakland hires, McKenzie is expected to share roster control with new head coach Jon Gruden.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two West divisions:

  • Prior to the Seahawks hiring Ken Norton Jr. as their new defensive coordinator, they also interviewed incumbent defensive line coach Clint Hurtt for the position, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Although Hurtt was passed over for the job, he will stay on Seattle’s staff going forward, per Rapoport. Hurtt, who was the Bears’ outside linebackers coach from 2015-16, was hired by Seattle last January after an odd dance in which it seemed he’d land with the Jets. Hurtt’s decision to remain with the Seahawks shouldn’t obfuscate the fact that Seattle has revamped its defensive staff this month by firing both former DC Kris Richard and assistant head coach/linebackers Micahel Barrow.
  • The concept of pending free agent Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah signing with the 49ers is being discussed in NFL circles, reports Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. As Barrows notes, this is an “all smoke, no fire” situation, as there have been no reports officially linking Ansah to the Bay Area. However, Ansah — who rebounded with 12 sacks in 2017 after a two-sack 2016 — could theoretically thrive in San Francisco’s 4-3 scheme as opposed to what will be a Matt Patricia-led defense in Detroit, so this is something to file away for later.
  • While Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch certainly hasn’t been successful through two NFL seasons, he’s also had to deal with two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, and three different offensive schemes, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post opines. Lynch, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2016, has only four games in two years with Denver, and lost the starting quarterback job to former seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian in both campaigns.