Jerick McKinnon

NFC Minor Moves: 9/3/18

There have been plenty of transactions across the league today. While the big names all garnered headlines of their own, there were tons of more under-the-radar signings and cuts as well. Here are all the additional moves from the NFC so far today:

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

New Orleans Saints

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Redskins

49ers RB Jerick McKinnon Tears ACL

49ers running back Jerick McKinnon has suffered a torn ACL, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Earlier today it was reported McKinnon suffered a “concerning” leg injury. The injury “did not look good” a source told Matt Barrows of The Athletic (Twitter link). It now sounds like McKinnon will end up missing the entire season.

If McKinnon does end up missing the year, recent free agent signing Alfred Morris and Matt Breida will fill in. It’s also possible the team could look to add one of the many available veteran backs, like Orleans Darkwa. Kyle Shanahan specifically sought out McKinnon in free agency as a pass-catching back he thought would be great for his offense, and signed him to a massive contract.

McKinnon signed a four-year $30MM contract in March, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field since. He missed the entire preseason with a calf injury, and only returned to conditioning drills earlier this week. Needless to say, this would be a big blow to the 49ers’ new-look offense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jerick McKinnon Suffers “Concerning” Leg Injury

Jerick McKinnon only recently returned to practice, and now could be facing another extended absence. The 49ers running back went down with a leg injury in practice today, and it’s reportedly “concerning” according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

The injury “did not look good” a source told Matt Barrows of The Athletic (Twitter link). More details are reportedly coming later when coach Kyle Shanahan has a conference call later today. Until then it’s hard to speculate, but it sounds like McKinnon could miss some serious time.

If McKinnon does end up missing time, recent free agent signing Alfred Morris and Matt Breida will fill in. Shanahan specifically sought out McKinnon in free agency as a pass-catching back he thought would be great for his offense, and signed him to a massive contract.

McKinnon signed a four-year $30MM contract in March, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field since. He missed the entire preseason with a calf injury, and only returned to conditioning drills earlier this week. Any missed time would be a big blow to the 49ers’ new-look offense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Notes: Avril, Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers

Cliff Avril indicated earlier this offseason he wanted to resume his career, despite the severe neck injury he suffered in 2017 ending his time with the Seahawks. Three months have passed since reports of Avril interest surfaced, and the 2016 Pro Bowler appears to be moving closer to full retirement.

Avril began dabbling in radio shortly after his Seahawks release, and Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes he now has an every-day hosting gig. However, the 32-year-old former Lion and Seahawk is mentoring one of the players competing to take his old job. Condotta writes Avril has been mentoring 2016 fifth-rounder Quinton Jefferson while hosting a daytime radio show. It’s uncertain if he’s regained clearance to play again. Should that happen in the near future, Avril may have another chance. But as of now, it looks like Avril’s played his last NFL down.

Here’s the latest out of the NFC West:

  • Josh Rosen looking ready for potential near-future action may not mean Mike Glennon’s roster spot is in jeopardy. The Cardinals’ injuries at quarterback last season serve as a warning of what can happen, Mike Jurecki of ArizonaSports.com tweets. Plus, with Sam Bradford serving as the starter, it’s obviously critical to stockpile depth. Glennon, the Bears’ starter to begin last season, signed for two years and $8MM. It would not save the Cards any money to cut him.
  • Jamar Taylor is still the frontrunner to be the Cardinals’ Week 1 starter opposite Patrick Peterson, Jurecki tweets. The Browns traded the once-embattled cornerback to the Cardinals this offseason – the second time Taylor’s been shipped elsewhere by a new regime – and he’s leading a race for a job that’s been one of the NFL’s biggest trouble spots in recent years.
  • John Lynch said (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) Jerick McKinnon will be out for the remainder of the preseason because of the calf strain he suffered in the 49ers’ first exhibition game. The 49ers don’t have a deep running back depth chart, and No. 2 back Matt Breida is also dealing with an injury. San Francisco signed Alfred Morris recently. He and Joe Williams figure to see more time while the top two ball carriers are on the shelf.
  • Mike Person’s received the bulk of the first-team work at right guard for the 49ers and is a threat to be the Week 1 starter, despite the franchise having used a first-round pick on Joshua Garnett two years ago and having added Jonathan Cooper this offseason, Branch notes. Although the 30-year-old Person would seemingly be a longshot to claim this job, the injury histories of Cooper and Garnett give him a better shot than he’d have under ordinary circumstances. Garnett spent all of last season on IR, and Cooper has struggled with a litany of maladies in his five-year career. Person was a full-time starter at center for the 2015 Falcons.

NFC West Notes: Bucannon, 49ers, Seahawks

Deone Bucannon spent his 2017 offseason rehabbing from an injury, and the Cardinals became concerned the fifth-year linebacker suffered a serious setback at practice Thursday. But a day later, the team is relieved after an MRI revealed Bucannon did not damage any knee ligaments, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). Bucannon did suffer a hyperextended knee and bruised a kneecap, per Rapoport, and the Cards aren’t going to rush him back as a result. Ankle injuries limited Bucannon to 12 games last season, and 2018 will be critical for him. He will play this season on a fifth-year option and is due for 2019 free agency. The Cards’ shift to a 4-3 look will result in their 2014 first-round pick lining up at outside linebacker. Initially a safety, Bucannon moved to an inside ‘backer slot and played there full-time over the past two seasons.

The 49ers saw a former first-round pick go down during camp as well. Here’s the latest from the NFC West:

  • Arik Armstead missed much of the past two seasons because of an injury, and the 49ers‘ 2015 first-rounder’s now dealing with another one. A hamstring malady is expected to sideline Armstead for multiple weeks, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. Armstead went on IR with a shoulder injury in 2016, and a broken hand ended his 2017 campaign. He also underwent foot surgery this offseason. The 49ers picked up Armstead’s $9MM 2019 option in May. He’s expected to remain a defensive end starter this season.
  • The Seahawks drafted Alex McGough in the seventh round, but ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson notes he hasn’t provided Austin Davis with much competition. It appears certain Davis will reprise his role as Russell Wilson‘s top backup this season. “Austin has been really solid,” Pete Carroll said. “I think it’s been really hard for Alex to get going. He’s been struggling. It’s been hard for him. We are a very high-tech offense, there’s a lot going on and he hasn’t been able to get back to even where he was in the offseason.”
  • Kyle Shanahan admitted he’s had doubts he made the right decision to convince John Lynch to trade up to select Joe Williams in the 2017 fourth round, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes. A Utah product who stepped away from football in college due to off-field issues, Williams did not impress the 49ers’ staff during 2017 training camp and has yet to play in a game. While Shanahan’s seen a stronger commitment from the second-year back this summer, Williams isn’t a roster lock. He’s competing with Raheem Mostert for the 49ers’ third-string running back job, behind Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, Branch adds.
  • Before the 49ers made an offer to McKinnon, Kyle Juszczyk helped recruit him. The NFL’s highest-paid fullback began texting with the former Vikings backup running back during the winter, and once informed the 49ers were going after him, the team told Juszczyk to keep pushing with his recruitment, Juszczyk said (via Maiocco). McKinnon surprised many by fetching a four-year, $30MM contract, including his new fullback. “I don’t know if I knew he was going to be the top-paid running back in the market that year,” Juszczyk said. “But I figured he’d be a guy that we’d be interested in.”

Jets Targeted Jerick McKinnon, Weston Richburg, Others

The Jets looked to be Kirk Cousinsbackup plan, and the franchise had to move on to some its own contingency signings soon after. Most notably, the Jets sought a backfield option that ended up in San Francisco.

Despite entering free agency with more than $90MM in cap space, the Jets could not land Jerick McKinnon. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports the Mike Maccagnan-led franchise put a “full-court press” on the former Vikings running back, only to see him join the 49ers instead.

While McKinnon looked to be the main target that got away, the Jets also had interest in Weston Richburg, with “strong plays” for defenders DaQuan Jones and Barkevious Mingo also not working out for Gang Green, Mehta reports.

Once the Jets didn’t sign McKinnon, they moved on to Isaiah Crowell. However, Mehta reports the Jets agreeing to terms with McKinnon would not have precluded them from adding Crowell as well. Although, the team already has Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.

Mehta reports the Jets felt their offer was strong enough to close a deal with the 25-year-old McKinnon, but the team also felt Kyle Shanahan was determined to win a bidding war. The end result shows that to be the case. The four-year, $30MM contract makes McKinnon one of the league’s highest-paid running backs.

The 49ers also beat the Jets on Richburg, but it doesn’t sound like the competition was as fierce between the two franchises as it was for McKinnon. New York eyed Richburg but knew the ex-Giants center was going to sign for more than what the team was willing to pay him. Despite having less cap space than the Jets, the 49ers signed Richburg for five years and $47.5MM.

Jones ended up re-upping with the Titans instead of replacing Muhammad Wilkerson on the Jets’ front, signing for three years and $21MM. Mingo will be one of the players the Seahawks turn to in an effort to replace Michael Bennett. The Jets’ interest in Mingo may not have been too strong, with it only taking a two-year, $6.8MM deal for the Seahawks to sign him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Jets, McKinnon, Cardinals, Mathieu, Eagles, Foles, Acho, Bears

The latest from around the NFL:

  • Running back Jerick McKinnon nearly joined Teddy Bridgewater with the Jets, according to Ben Volin of The Boston Globe (on Twitter). Ultimately, the 49ers came back with a big offer. The Jets pivoted at that point and instead signed running back Isaiah Crowell.
  • The Cardinals were willing to go to about $9MM/year with Tyrann Mathieu before he was cut, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets. Other teams believe that he is now looking to top that figure. He may or may not get that kind of coin given his past injuries and a down 2017.
  • The Cardinals called the Eagles about acquiring Nick Foles this week, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). However, this took place right around the time of the Sam Bradford signing. With Bradford in the fold at a hefty salary, it’s unlikely that the Cards will go back to that well. Meanwhile, the Eagles seem intent on keeping the Super Bowl MVP.
  • Before re-signing with the Bears, linebacker Sam Acho also had interest from the Seahawks, Texans, and Rams (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Jeff Dickerson).

49ers To Sign Jerick McKinnon

The 49ers have agreed to sign running back Jerick McKinnon to a four-year deal, $30MM deal, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (all Twitter links). The deal includes $12MM guaranteed, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB (on Twitter), and he’ll get $16MM over the first two years of the deal.

The four-year Vikings ball-carrier will see $12MM come his way in the first year of this deal, with Tom Pelissero of NFL.com also reporting (via Twitter) a $3.7MM guarantee for 2019 will shift from an injury guarantee to a full guarantee in March of next year. The fourth year of this contract will essentially serve as an option year, per Pelissero.

Although the Buccaneers had reportedly expressed interest in McKinnon, his decision ultimately came down to the Jets and 49ers, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Gang Green inked former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell to a pact on Tuesday, but it’s unclear if the Jets were deciding between the two players, or had hoped to pair the bruising Crowell with the pass-catching McKinnon.

McKinnon will now surprisingly become the NFL’s fourth-highest-paid running back at $7.5MM annually. Currently, he sits behind only the franchise-tagged Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and LeSean McCoy. San Francisco had ample cap space to work with, but it’s still a hefty deal for a (primarily) receiving running back.

But McKinnon’s new contract speaks to the increasing value of pass-catching runners in today’s NFL. While the former Vikings back has never managed 160 carries in a season, he’s put up at least 40 receptions in each of the last two campaigns. In 2017, he set a career-high with 51 catches and 421 yards while grading as the league’s No. 8 pass-blocking back, per Pro Football Focus.

San Francisco lost former starting running back Carlos Hyde to the Browns earlier this morning, so McKinnon will now join a backfield that includes Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and Joe Williams.

[RELATED: 49ers Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bucs Interested In RB Jerick McKinnon

The Buccaneers have interest in running back Jerick McKinnon, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). McKinnon could be a fit for Tampa Bay’s backfield following the release of Doug Martin

On Tuesday morning, the Bucs re-signed exclusive rights free agent Peyton Barber, who also figures to be a key component in the running game. McKinnon may not have the build to carry the ball 17 times per game, but he could combine with Barber to make a formidable combo at running back.

Heading into free agency, I ranked McKinnon as one of the 50 best players available and ranked him third amongst all running backs based on ability.

A return to Minnesota has not been officially ruled out for McKinnon, but he has been vocal about his desire for a larger role.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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