- 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).
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.
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.
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:
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Following Detroit’s 35-11 win over division rival Green Bay, head coach Jim Caldwell addressed reporters and said he does not know what the future holds, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News reports (Twitter link).
Despite posting a 9-7 record, the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs following a loss to Cincinnati in Week 16. By missing the postseason, sources told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport that the team was expected to let go of Caldwell at season’s end.
Hot-seat rumors have swirled around Caldwell for months and an answer to those rumors is likely to come in the next few days. In September, Detroit gave Caldwell a contract extension but the terms of the deal were not revealed until December, when NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported the deal ran through 2018.
“I don’t make any excuses,” Caldwell said. “It’s just not the way I live my life. So we go out, we do what we do and we’ll make an assessment from there. The real assessment is wins and losses. That’s the key. I think there are things that I’ve done, but I’m not done yet. So you know, we’ll see.”
Here’s more from the Lions:
- Guard T.J. Lang is not expected to require surgery for a foot injury that has lingered throughout the season, ESPN’s Michael Rothstein reports (Twitter link). Lang missed the team’s Week 16 loss to Cincinnati, which eliminated the Lions from the playoffs. The right guard is signed through the 2019 season.
- Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is “pretty confident” he can return to his 2015 form, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes. Over the last two season, Birkett notes the pass-rushing lineman has spent 25 of a possible 32 weeks on the injury report. Ansah told Birkett, “I’ve been dealing with a lot all year long … There is good days and bad days regardless of how healthy you are.” After recording 14.5 sacks during his breakout 2015 campaign, Ansah has managed just 11 in the two seasons since.
The Eagles have had many stars in their journey towards the top of the NFL this season, and one of those players has been rookie defensive end Derek Barnett. The team’s first round pick this past May has given Philadelphia another dominant pass rusher outside of Brandon Graham and has made the front office look even better, opines Geoff Mosher of the FanRags Sports Network.
Mosher points out that Barnett was viewed as the “safe” pick when the Eagles were selecting in the middle of the first round. He states that flashier draftees that the Eagles passed on, like running back Dalvin Cook, defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster, have all had injury problems, making the choice to select Tennessee’s all-time sack leader even more brilliant.
At the moment, Barnett is simply a pass rushing specialist coming off the bench, but has already racked up 4.5 games even without getting the majority of the snaps. He trails team leader Brandon Graham by just 1.5 sacks with six weeks left to play. Barnett may not have been the sexy choice at the time, but he’s making the Eagles decision makers look even smarter because of what he’s adding to an already outstanding roster.
- Lions star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returned to game action for the team’s Thanksgiving tilt against the Vikings. Ansah is active for the first time since Week 9 when he injured his back on Monday night football. The 28-year-old has responded well from a down 2016 campaign with four sacks in just eight games this season. The news of his return is certainly a welcomed addition to a defense that ranks 20th in sacks in the NFL.
- In regards to the late Thanksgiving game between the Redskins and Giants, the expectation that New York will have offensive lineman Jon Halapio make his first professional start at right guard, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. The 26-year-old would be replacing D.J. Fluker, who has already been ruled out for Week 12 with a toe injury. The move represents another shift in the offensive line for the Giants, who had rookie Chad Wheeler make his first NFL start during the team’s victory over the Chiefs in Week 11.
- In more positive injury news, Panthers star tight end Greg Olsen is continuing to make progress recovering from a broken foot he suffered back in September, reports Jourdan Rodrigue of The Charlotte Observer (Twitter link). Rodrigue further notes that Olsen looks to be on track to return Sunday, which would be huge addition for an offense that already traded away Kelvin Benjamin and lost wide receiver Curtis Samuel for the season.
The woman who accused Jameis Winston of groping her in an Uber vehicle in 2016, via Buzzfeed report earlier today, said only she and Winston were in the car at the time. But Winston’s representatives assert there were several people in the car, with the Buccaneers quarterback sitting in the backseat, NFL.com reports. Winston’s statement pointed to there being multiple passengers in the vehicle as well. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter links) listened to the voicemail an Uber representative sent Winston, with the phrase “you or someone else in your vehicle engaged in inappropriate behavior” used. This led to Winston being banned from Uber but also has the third-year passer’s representatives saying there were more people in the car than the accuser’s account suggests.
Here’s the latest from the NFC.
- The knee sprain Drew Stanton suffered will lead to the Cardinals starting a third quarterback this season. Bruce Arians said Blaine Gabbert will start Sunday against the Texans, marking the first time since October 2016 Gabbert will have started a game. Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com notes it will be a game-time decision for who will be Gabbert’s backup. Stanton, who sprained a knee against the Seahawks, being healthy enough to be an in-case-of-emergency option will make him the No. 2. If not, recently signed Matt Barkley will serve as the backup. This marks the second time in four seasons the Cardinals have needed to start three quarterbacks. This happened in 2014, when Carson Palmer, Stanton and Ryan Lindley opened with that playoff-qualifying team’s first unit.
- John Lynch said the 49ers don’t need to see Jimmy Garoppolo start a certain number of games in order to make a judgment about him for the future. The rookie GM the franchise’s view of the longtime Patriots backup has been enhanced by Garoppolo’s first few weeks in San Francisco despite him not seeing game action yet. “We know what we like about Jimmy Garoppolo. And that’s only been strengthened by the time that’s he’s been here,” Lynch said (via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area). “We’re just going to let these things play out. People have had all these ideas about why we got Jimmy. We got Jimmy because we think he has big-time ability at the quarterback position. And we believe so much – to get where we need to get – you have to have a franchise quarterback. We think he’s got that ability. Whether that happens, when that happens, we’ll see. But we certainly like his future with the 49ers.”
- Both Terrelle Pryor and Jordan Reed will miss the Redskins‘ Week 11 against the Saints, and Pryor’s ankle injury looks like one that could shelve him for multiple weeks. Pryor will see Dr. James Andrews about his ankle, Master Tefatsion of the Washington Post reports (on Twitter). Signed to a one-year contract, Pryor has been demoted from Washington’s first unit and now hopes he can return this season — one that’s doubled as a grim contract year. Center Spencer Long will also miss Washington’s game in New Orleans.
- On the subject of less-than-ideal contract years, Ziggy Ansah will miss a second straight game with a back injury, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com reports. Injuries have limited the Lions defensive end for the past two seasons and figure to be a key part of the discussion once his contract expires after 2017. He has four sacks — all coming in two games — this season.
- Mike Remmers experienced a concussion protocol setback this week and will miss the Vikings‘ Week 11 game against the Rams, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Andrew Sendejo will also miss Sunday’s game, the safety being out due to groin and hamstring pain. Rashod Hill and Anthony Harris will respectively replace the ailing duo in Minnesota’s starting lineup.
Ansah’s current ankle injury is especially concerning given that the 28-year-old missed three games in 2016 with ankle and shoulder issues. Additionally, Detroit can’t afford to lose any more front seven pieces, as Kerry Hyder, Brandon Copeland, and Jordan Hill are already out for the season with injuries. Defensive lineman Khyri Thornton and Armonty Bryant will also miss time, albeit due to suspension and not health questions.
The Lions ranked just 25th in adjusted sack rate a season ago, and Ansah’s struggles were a large factor in that finish. After posting 14.5 sacks in 2015, Ansah registered just two quarterback takedowns last year and posted his worst Pro Football Focus grade since 2013 (No. 48 edge rusher among 110 qualifiers). While sacks aren’t always indicative of a pass-rusher’s effectiveness, Ansah also ranked just 71st among NFL defenders with 20 pressures.
Ansah will $12.724MM in 2017 under the terms of his fifth-year option, but Detroit has interest in signing him to a long-term extension. Of course, after inking quarterback Matthew Stafford through the 2022 campaign, the Lions can use a 2018 franchise tag as leverage over Ansah during negotiations, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press details. That tender will likely be worth north of $17MM next season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Suspended Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently without an agent, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Joby Branion terminated their relationship “a couple weeks ago,” a source told Florio. Branion succeeded Drew Rosenhaus, who parted ways with Gordon several months back, as Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes (on Twitter). Branion had been working to help get Gordon reinstated, a bid the NFL denied Thursday. The league’s decision came on the heels of a recent conversation between Gordon and commissioner Roger Goodell, per Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole, who adds that Gordon is working out in Gainesville, Fla., and seems to be in good shape physically (Twitter links).
More from around the league:
- Before the Cowboys chose Michigan defensive Taco Charlton with the 28th pick in the draft, they spoke with the Ravens about trading up to No. 16 for Missouri DE Charles Harris, reports Charean Williams of the Star Telegram. However, the teams’ discussions died when the Ravens’ target, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, was still on the board for their pick. Harris ended up going 22nd overall to the Dolphins.
- The Cardinals released Daryl Washington on Thursday, but the linebacker told Mike Jurecki he’d have wanted to stay with the team had it been willing to pay him a salary higher than the league minimum (Twitter link). Understandably, Arizona wasn’t interested in making any kind of a real investment in Washington, who hasn’t played a down since 2013 because of repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The league reinstated Washington last month.
- Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah says that he will ask Ndamukong Suh for advice on contract talks, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes. “I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but I will,” Ansah said. The Lions are hoping to lock Ansah down with a contract extension, despite a down year in 2016.
- Wide receiver Eddie Royal, whom the Bears released Thursday, is still recovering from the turf toe that ended his 2016 campaign early, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. While Royal is making progress from December surgery, he’s not ready to return to the field, per Rapoport.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
There have been whispers about Ezekiel Ansah‘s true age ever since he was drafted in 2013. The Ghana native, some have said, was actually born in 1987, which would mean that he is on the cusp of his 30th birthday rather than his 28th birthday. When the latest round of rumors picked up, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com reached out to the Lions for clarity.
“We believe our published information is accurate — born May 29, 1989,” a team spokesman said in a text message.
As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) notes, teams around the league viewed Ansah’s passport back during the draft process and confirmed his age. This may not be a 100% foolproof way to verify the age of a player born outside of the U.S., but it’s the best info that the league has as its disposal and the belief remains that he was born in 1989.
Ansah certainly doesn’t want any questions about his age to linger as the team looks to sign him to a long-term extension. The difference between 30 and 28 may seem like splitting hairs to some, but it makes a major difference in the NFL and a discrepancy here would likely cost Ansah millions of dollars.
Ansah was hampered by ankle and shoulder issues in 2016, but he should be in for a bounce back year if he stays healthy. In 2015, Ansah recorded 14.5 sacks and earned his first career Pro Bowl nod.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.