Julius Thomas

East Notes: Webb, Hackenberg, Dolphins

Mired in their worst season in 14 years, the Giants could soon be faced with a tough decision at quarterback. But for now, their plan isn’t changing. Eli Manning will continue to be their starter, and Davis Webb‘s role doesn’t look to be increasing. The Giants do not plan to play the third-round rookie in 2017, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv reports.

Webb has not been receiving additional practice reps and remains behind Manning and Geno Smith, the latter being expected to keep operating as the backup quarterbackGiants wide receivers coach Frank Cignetti said the Cal product is making “tremendous progress” and noted the team would “obviously” get a better read on Webb with game action, but the 1-8 Giants may have other plans in the works regarding their post-Manning quarterback.

Webb was “all but anointed” as Manning’s successor come 2020, Vacchiano notes, but that was before the team lost eight of its first nine games. Now, the Giants have ramped up quarterback scouting, Vacchiano confirms, because of their lost season and a possible top-five draft choice that would then be awarded. The reporter adds Big Blue will “strongly consider” taking a quarterback with that pick.

Here’s the latest from the Eastern divisions, continuing with the New York teams.

  • Both the Giants and Jets have sent their GMs to Los Angeles on Saturday night for the UCLA-USC game featuring high-end quarterback prospects Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. While Jerry Reese is heading the Giants’ contingent, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com (on Twitter), Mike Maccagnan, VP of personnel Brian Heimerdinger and a scout are representing the Jets. Cimini adds Gang Green might be leading the pack among interested teams here. That’s interesting because, as of now, the Jets won’t be in position to have the kind of draft pick it will likely take to land Darnold or Rosen, provided they declare early. While it’s uncertain how many other GMs are at the Los Angeles Coliseum for UCLA-USC, at least 20 teams have sent scouts.
  • The Jets are operating their quarterback contingent in similar fashion to their stadium mates, with Vacchiano reporting the team has no immediate plans to play Christian Hackenberg. Barring a Josh McCown injury, Vacchiano writes it’s unlikely Hackenberg plays this season. Additionally, the reporter notes the Jets “aren’t sold” on the 2016 second-round pick. Vacchiano reports the Jets are “strongly eyeing” the 2018 draft class as well. The Jets are believed to be scouting Wyoming’s Josh Allen to a degree other teams aren’t just yet.
  • The Dolphins‘ pass-catching corps may look quite different next season. While Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald notes the team will have money to re-sign Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins are of the belief they can replace the slot receiver with a Day 2 draft pick. Landry is averaging 7.7 yards per reception, and that might not be worth a $16MM franchise tag for the team. Jackson reports Landry is expected to want a contract in the range of five years and $65MM — which would make him by far the NFL’s highest-paid slot receiver. Jackson writes no decision has been made on this front yet, and how this season finishes will influence the franchise’s thinking on this front.
  • Miami wants Ndamukong Suh back for what will be his age-31 season but will likely approach the Pro Bowl defensive tackle about a restructure, Jackson notes. The Dolphins could create $12MM in 2018 cap space with a base salary-to-signing bonus conversion, thus putting more money on future caps, and lower Suh’s ’18 cap hit from $26.1MM to around $14MM.
  • However, Jackson notes Julius Thomas probably won’t be back next season. The tight end has another season on his Jaguars-constructed (and Dolphins-restructured) deal, but Miami can save $6.6MM in cap space. The athletic pass-catcher who will turn 30 in June is on pace to play more than he did in either Jaguars season, having suited up for all nine Dolphins games thus far, but he has not been the same since leaving Denver.

AFC Notes: Chiefs, Ravens, Fins, Titans

As the Chiefs were preparing to trade up 17 spots in the first round of this year’s draft to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes 10th overall, they reached out to starting signal-caller Alex Smith to make sure he’d be OK with it, general manager John Dorsey told the NFL Network on Monday (via Conor Orr of NFL.com). “You know, Alex is the consummate professional,” said Dorsey. “He’s been through these types of situations before and we made sure we communicated with Alex leading up to the draft that we may make a move like this. And when we were on the clock and traded up with Buffalo, we made sure we again got in contact with Alex and he’s all on board with this.” Even after the addition of Mahomes, Smith knows the Chiefs are “his team,” per Dorsey, who praised the 33-year-old for owning “the fourth-winningest record” among QBs since his KC tenure began in 2013. The Chiefs have indeed posted an excellent regular-season mark (41-20) with Smith at the controls, but they’ve managed only one playoff win in three trips. Now, thanks in no small part to the Chiefs’ investment in Mahomes, Smith appears unlikely to last as their starter for much longer. The 12-year veteran’s contract will expire after the 2018 season.

More from the AFC:

  • The Ravens are the best fit for free agent running back LeGarrette Blount, opines ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley, who writes that the ex-Patriot’s “bruising” style would be perfect for Baltimore’s offense. Moreover, running back is a need for the Ravens, Hensley points out. With Kenneth Dixon set to miss the opening quarter of the season on account of a suspension and Terrance West having led the team last year with a so-so 774 yards on 193 carries, it’s hard to argue with Hensley. PFR’s Zach Links recently made a case for Baltimore to sign Blount, who set a career high with 1,161 rushing yards and finished with an NFL-best 18 touchdowns on the ground last season.
  • Retired quarterback Peyton Manning had a hand in the Dolphins’ late-winter acquisition of tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars, Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post details. Manning played in Indianapolis under now-Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christiansen, who contacted the future Hall of Famer about Thomas when Miami was considering trading for him. Thomas’ best seasons, the 2013 and ’14 campaigns, came in Denver with Manning under center (and now-Dolphins head coach Adam Gase at offensive coordinator). Having tossed 24 touchdown passes to Thomas during that two-year span, Manning offered Christiansen a positive review of the tight end, saying “that (Thomas) figured it out. (Thomas’) figure-it-out factor was high. That’s what you look for. There’s a guy who came in and probably didn’t know a whole bunch about football, or played very little. His experience was very minimal, and then (he) came in and figured it out and then worked.”
  • The Titans are likely to promote Jon Salge to director of college scouting, a source told ESPN’s Adam Caplan (Twitter link). Salge, a college scout who’s in his 11th year with the Titans, would replace the recently fired Blake Beddingfield.

Extra Points: Thomas, Saints, Dolphins, Draft

Here are some notes from around the league on the final Sunday before the Scouting Combine.

  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union examines a few reasons why the recently traded Julius Thomas did not meet expectations with the Jaguars. Citing a league source, O’Halloran says that Thomas’ Jacksonville tenure was marred by the fact that he did not make enough downfield catches, that he did not create enough yards after the catch, and that he performed poorly as a blocker. Still, O’Halloran believes the Jags should not have dealt Thomas, as he says they are not in position to part with talented players, regardless of their flaws.
  • The Saints have expressed their desire to bolster their pass rush this offseason, and Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune notes that New Orleans, for the first time in a while, has money to spend in free agency. Holder adds that New Orleans would probably be willing to make a splash for a big-name pass rusher like Melvin Ingram, though if Ingram gets the franchise tag from the Chargers, or if his price becomes too rich for the Saints’ liking, Holder points to Nick Perry as a quality alternative.
  • Without a similar deep-threat playmaker on the team, James Walker of ESPN.com wonders why the Dolphins would potentially allow Kenny Stills to depart as a free agent. One of the top wideouts who stand to be available this year, Stills has drawn interest from the receiver-needy Eagles and wouldn’t mind moving to the west coast. The former Oklahoma Sooner is an Oceanside, Calif., native. While the Dolphins have reportedly attempted to prioritize Stills, it’s clear they will have competition if he reaches the market.
  • The NFL rule that keeps incoming draft picks with certain types of past off-field misconduct away from all league-sponsored events — like the Scouting Combine — is coming under increased scrutiny, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. Florio observes that teams will evaluate all players regardless of whether they are invited to the Combine, but they nonetheless prefer that the players be available in one place at the same time. As such, the competition committee could address the issue later this year, either by modifying the current rule or by scrapping it entirely, and any changes could be effective as soon as 2018.
  • Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com believes that as many as three guards could go in the first round of this year’s draft, with Pittsburgh’s Dorian Johnson, Indiana’s Dan Feeney, and Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp all looking like players that could be among the top 32 selected. Pauline notes that the offensive line as a unit is probably the weakest area of the draft, which means that some of the higher-rated prospects — like Lamp, whom Pauline does not believe is worthy of a first-round selection — and even those with middle-round grades will be overdrafted.

Sam Robinson contributed to this report

Julius Thomas Passes Dolphins Physical

All deals are contingent on players passing a physical exam, but it is often just a formality. In the case of tight end Julius Thomas, who has missed eleven games in the past two years, the physical was nothing to be scoffed at. On Tuesday, Thomas was given a clean bill of health by doctors, paving the way for a deal to be finalized between the Jaguars and Dolphins on the first day of the league year, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes. 

Teams cannot officially make trades until March 9, but everything is now in place for the swap to go through. The intra-state deal will send the tight end to Miami in exchange for a 2017 seventh-round pick. Then, in a separate deal, left tackle Branden Albert will go to Jacksonville in exchange for a 2018 seventh-round pick. Initially, it looked like the veterans would be exchanged within the same trade. Effectively, of course, they are being traded for one another.

Thomas has a history with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase and he is expected to pick up the offense rather quickly. If he can stay healthy, he could prove to be a serious weapon for Miami. Between 2013 and 2014, Thomas tallied 108 catches and 24 touchdowns under Gase’s guidance. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have secured their replacement for left tackle Kelvin Beachum, though Albert comes with plenty of question marks himself.

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Rumors on Instagram.

Dolphins To Acquire Julius Thomas

The Dolphins have agreed to acquire tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars, reports Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. The Fins will send a 2017 seventh-round pick to Jacksonville for Thomas, who is traveling to Miami tomorrow for a visit and physical, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter links). The trade won’t become official until 4 p.m. ET on March 9, the start of the 2017 league year.

It’s no surprise that Thomas will head to Miami, which worked hard to acquire him in recent days, but the club took an unusual route to land the 28-year-old. It looked as though the Dolphins and Jaguars were set to swap left tackle Branden Albert and Thomas over the weekend, but that fell through early Monday. Jacksonville later agreed to acquire Albert in a separate deal, which the teams haven’t yet finalized.

Thomas had drawn trade interest from other teams, but the ex-Denver star will now reunite with Dolphins head coach and former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Thomas is eager to reunite with Gase, per Salguero, which is hardly a shock. From 2013-14, Gase was at the helm of a Denver attack that prominently featured Thomas, who posted the best seasons of his career during that stretch. Thomas combined for 108 catches and 24 touchdowns under Gase, and he parlayed that success into a mega-deal with the Jaguars in 2015.

Thomas didn’t live up to his five-year, $46MM contract in Jacksonville, where he missed 11 of 32 regular-season games and saw his yards per catch drop from nearly 12.0 in Denver to under 10.0. He was fairly productive otherwise, though, as he caught 76 passes and nine scores in his 21 appearances as a Jag.

As was the case in Denver and Jacksonville, Thomas will serve as Miami’s top tight end. The club seems likely to lose its No. 1 option from last season, soon-to-be free agent Dion Sims, which made finding a replacement a high priority. Thomas is under contract through 2019, but he has agreed to restructured his deal, a league source told Salguero. The Dolphins are “significantly” cutting down his remaining cap hits, which previously ranged from $8.3MM to $10.3MM. Thomas will have a chance to earn back the money he’s losing through incentives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins, Jags Agree To Swap Branden Albert, Draft Pick

The possibility of the Dolphins acquiring Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas for left tackle Branden Albert is now off the table, reports Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. However, the Dolphins have agreed to send Albert to the Jags in a separate deal, per Salugero, which will net Miami a 2018 seventh-round pick, tweets Albert Breer of The MMQB.com.Branden Albert (vertical)

In order for the trade to become official, the Jaguars will need Albert to agree to report, according to Salguero. Before that happens, the Jags and Albert’s representation will continue discussing his contract status. Albert himself will have dinner tonight with Jacksonville’s front office, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), who adds the two sides will discuss his deal on Tuesday if all goes well.

The two sides have been in talks regarding Albert’s deal the past “several days,” writes Salguero, who adds that Jacksonville seems prepared to take on the rest of his pact and possibly even extend it. The 32-year-old Albert is currently signed through 2018 and set to count upward of $10MM against the salary cap in both seasons. By moving on from Albert, the Dolphins would free up $7.2MM in spending room.

As for Thomas, he could still end up with the Dolphins, tweets Rapoport, but their efforts to acquire him have hit a snag over his contract. Thomas reportedly would have had to take a pay cut had the Jaguars sent him to the Dolphins for Albert. The 28-year-old is signed through 2019 and comes with pricey base salaries ($7MM, $8.5MM and $9MM) and cap hits ($8.3MM, $9.8MM, $10.3MM). Nearly half of his salary for 2017 ($3MM) has already become guaranteed.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Julius Thomas Drawing Trade Interest

Even though they’re unlikely to acquire Julius Thomas for left tackle Branden Albert, the Dolphins are interested in trading for the Jaguars tight end. But Miami’s going to face competition if it attempts to land Thomas in a separate deal, as Mike Kaye of WTLV reports that multiple teams are eyeing a possible trade for the 28-year-old.

Julius Thomas (Vertical)

Aside from the Dolphins, it’s unclear which clubs are targeting Thomas, but the Broncos, Cardinals, Packers, Giants and Jets are among the teams that either got little production from tight ends in 2016 or could lose their No. 1 option to free agency. Thomas has already played in Denver, where he put up back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons from 2013-14. He parlayed that two-year stretch into a $46MM contract with Jacksonville in 2015, but the deal hasn’t gone according to plan for the franchise.

Thomas has missed 11 of 32 games as a Jaguar and averaged under 10.0 yards per catch with them. On the other hand, he has combined for respectable reception and touchdown totals since leaving Denver, having amassed 76 grabs and nine scores.

Any team that acquires the 6-foot-4, 251-pound Thomas would take on a sizable financial commitment, though a contract restructuring would be a possibility. For now, Thomas is due base salaries between $7MM and $9MM over the final three years of his deal, which also carries cap hits ranging from $8.3MM to $10.3MM through 2019.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins, Jaguars Working To Swap Branden Albert, Julius Thomas

The Dolphins are discussing a trade that would send left tackle Branden Albert to the Jaguars in exchange for tight end Julius Thomas, according to Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel. Albert was first linked to Jacksonville last week by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, who speculated Thomas could be a target for the Dolphins.Julius Thomas (Vertical)

[RELATED: Dolphins Extend Cameron Wake]

Miami, of course, was close to releasing Albert last week, but trade talks materialized before the Fins officially made the move. The Jaguars, who recently declined their option bonus on left tackle Kelvin Beachum, were immediately viewed as the “primary destination” for Albert. While Albert and/or Thomas may need to restructure their contracts in order to finalize a deal, “all parties are willing participants” in negotiations, per Kelly.

“Why ruffle feathers when you don’t have to?” Albert said when asked about the trade. “It’s the business of the game. I honestly believe where I’m going to go is the right fit. It is going to be a surprise when [the terms] comes out.”

Albert, 32, has two years left on his current deal, with cap charges north of $10MM in each season. Miami would incur $3.4MM in dead money by dealing Albert to Jacksonville. Albert will visit the Jaguars today, and they could sweeten his deal in order to facilitate a trade, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The 28-year-old Thomas, meanwhile, is signed through 2019, and $3MM of his $7MM 2017 base salary has already become guaranteed, though he might accept a small pay cut, per Rapoport (Twitter link). Regardless, his salary would become the responsibility of the Dolphins in a trade, while the Jaguars would incur $3.6MM in dead money.

While Albert would take over the left tackle spot in Jacksonville, Thomas would also represent a solid fit for Miami. Incumbent Dolphins tight ends Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims are each pending free agents, and while Miami has interest in re-signing Sims, the club could certainly use a more established option. While Thomas has struggled during his time with the Jags, he did catch 24 touchdowns over two seasons in Denver while current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase served as offensive coordinator.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Garoppolo, Murray, Fins, Jaguars

Bill Belichick is unlikely to spend much time working on a trade proposal involving Jimmy Garoppolo, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Despite the Belichick-era Patriots making a league-high 61 trades since he took over in 2000, the coach is more likely to let Garoppolo and Tom Brady‘s agent, Don Yee, find a team that’s willing to extend Garoppolo and have said team put together a compelling array of assets.

La Canfora notes the latest Pats backup quarterback/trade candidate has a chance to be a quality starter. Of course, a buyer-beware element could exist based on Garoppolo’s small sample size (94 pass attempts in three seasons) and the Patriots’ previous trades of Brady backups not working out well for the teams acquiring them.

Relationships between certain key members of quarterback-needy teams and Yee could come into play, with La Canfora noting Hue Jackson has known Yee for more than 20 years and Bears GM Ryan Pace (from the Eastern Illinois grad’s relationship to Yee client Sean Payton; Garoppolo is an Eastern Illinois alum) has known Yee for many years as well. Both teams have been linked to a possible Garoppolo trade, one that La Canfora estimates will send the Patriots a similar haul to the one the Eagles collected for Sam Bradford. Although, some Garoppolo skepticism emerged this week, with a group of anonymous decision-makers preferring A.J. McCarron to the fourth-year Patriot as a trade asset.

[RELATED: Should the Patriots Trade Jimmy Garoppolo?]

Here’s more from the AFC.

  • A possible contractual hangup stands in the way of a DolphinsJaguars Branden Albert-for-Julius Thomas swap, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports. Albert, 32, has two years remaining on his five-year, $47MM deal. Thomas, 28, has three remaining on a five-year, $46.5MM accord. Both teams are in need of upgrades, the Jaguars at left tackle and Dolphins at tight end. Neither player has proven he can stay healthy throughout a season, however. With Albert being set to make $4MM more than Kelvin Beachum did last year at $9MM, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap wonders (Twitter links) if the hesitation is on the Jags’ end. Thomas is scheduled to make $7.1MM; Miami paid Jordan Cameron $6MM in 2016 for little production. Mike Garafolo of NFL.com expects the deal to be finalized by the time the new league year opens, however.
  • The Raiders want to retain Latavius Murray, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). But the reporter adds the fifth-year running back will have a market as well. Teams like the Giants, Buccaneers, Vikings and others could be in need of a medium- or long-term backfield solution. Murray may have some additional appeal due to the fact he has less wear and tear than other backs who have entered free agency in recent years. A starting back for barely two years and having missed his entire rookie season due to injury, the 27-year-old Murray only has 543 carries on his odometer. The sides have discussed an extension, and Reggie McKenzie noted Murray’s importance to Oakland’s offense — while acknowledging he may be swayed toward the market — earlier this month.
  • The Titans may not view a three-down linebacker as a primary need the way, holding fourth-year ‘backer Avery Williamson in a reasonably high regard, Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com notes. The Titans hold two first-round picks and could nab a top-flight ILB with one. ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider link) has the team going with Marshon Lattimore and O.J. Howard, respectively, with its two first-rounders.
  • Within the same mailbag piece, Kuharsky adds Broncos RFA linebacker Todd Davis could have several suitors. The Broncos experienced an eventful RFA last year, placing a low-end tender on C.J. Anderson before ultimately matching a Dolphins offer sheet on their starting running back. Denver applied a second-round tender to Davis’ inside linebacker mate, Brandon Marshall, last season before signing him to a four-year extension later.

Dolphins, Jags Nearing Branden Albert Trade

On Thursday, the Dolphins decided to release tackle Branden Albert. That is, until at least one team phoned them with trade interest. For now, Albert remains on the roster as the Dolphins explore trade possibilities. Apparently, it didn’t take long for serious talks to materialize. The Jaguars and Dolphins have talked trade, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald. A source tells Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter) that the Jaguars are the “primary destination” for Albert at this time. Branden Albert (vertical)

The Jaguars are in need of a starting left tackle after declining Kelvin Beachum‘s contract option on Thursday. At this time, Salguero writes that the Jaguars could be the only team to have expressed interest in an Albert trade. In addition to an agreement of terms between the two Florida teams, the Jaguars will presumably want the blessing of Albert. Albert may not have explicit no-trade rights, but there’s little sense in bringing him on board if he does not want to be there. Albert will turn 33 in November and he might not be gung-ho about joining a team that went 3-13 in 2016.

The Dolphins want draft compensation, though it won’t necessarily have to be an early pick, Salguero writes. Miami will want a pick in the 2017 draft but Jacksonville might push it to be a conditional 2018 pick based on Albert’s performance. If they can’t agree on proper draft considerations, Salguero writes that the two teams might move on to players.

One player who might not figure into the Jags’ plans for 2017 is tight end Julius Thomas and Salguero raises him as a trade candidate, though it’s not clear whether that is speculative or based on direct knowledge. The versatile Thomas would fill a need for Miami and a trade would allow the Jags to get off the hook for the remaining three years of his deal, including his guaranteed base salary. The Dolphins willingly absorbed Byron Maxwell’s contract this time last year, but I’m skeptical as to whether they’d do the same with Thomas after two disappointing years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.