Justin Bethel

NFC Notes: Bears, Cards, Rams, Giants

Extension chatter regarding contract-year Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks has died down after some early summer rumblings, but the 27-year-old made it clear Thursday that he’d like to remain in Chicago. Hicks said on multiple occasions that “I would love to be a Bear for a long time,” per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. Back in July, in advance of his second season with the Bears, Hicks hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus as his representative. Rosenhaus has reportedly been seeking $10MM per year for Hicks on a new deal. Hicks made a case for that type of money last season when he tallied 54 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles across 16 starts and 930 snaps. Barring a change, he’ll earn a $4MM base salary this season to conclude a two-year, $10MM pact.

Elsewhere around the NFC…

  • Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians referred to cornerback Justin Bethel as a “failure in progress” last season, and it now looks as if the defender took that to heart. Arians announced Thursday that Bethel will start opposite Patrick Peterson come Week 1 (video link via the Arizona Republic). “He’s earned that job,” said Arians, who added that Bethel “outplayed everybody” he was competing against for the role. Bethel, 27, took a pay cut in the offseason just to remain with the Cardinals, who deleted the last year of his contract (2018) in the process. He’ll be eligible for free agency next winter as a result.
  • Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday that running back Lance Dunbar is likely to open the season on the physically unable to perform list, according to the Associated Press. Dunbar, who has been battling knee issues, would miss the Rams’ first six games in that scenario. The Rams’ hope was that the offseason signing and former Cowboy would serve as their top complement to starter Todd Gurley for the entire year. With Dunbar unavailable for the foreseeable future, Los Angeles will choose between Malcolm Brown – a 2015 undrafted free agent who has 22 carries for 56 yards under his belt – and undrafted rookie Justin Davis to begin the year as the main backup to Gurley.
  • Cornerback Valentino Blake left the Giants on Wednesday because “he’s dealing with personal issues,” coach Ben McAdoo told reporters Thursday (via Dan Duggan of NJ.com) “We’re going to give him some time and space to deal with those.” It remains unclear whether Blake will resume his career, and it’s also unknown how long the Giants will keep him on the exempt list. They’re currently using Blake’s vacated spot on safety Tim Scott, a Thursday signing.

West Rumors: Conley, Broncos, Cardinals

It took the Raiders until their training camp eve to reach an agreement with first-round pick Gareon Conley. Although no legal clarity has come after a woman accused the cornerback of sexual assault in April, the Raiders did not design Conley’s contract with that alleged incident in mind. Conley’s deal contains 90 percent guaranteed money, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, adding the language in the four-year contract is standard despite the legal cloud surrounding the ex-Ohio State defender presently. The Raiders also agreed to terms with second-rounder Obi Melifonwu this week. Titans first-rounder Corey Davis is the only unsigned pick remaining.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions on opening camp weekend.

  • The Broncos opened 2016 with a dominant outside linebacker corps, with DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett joining Von Miller in the fold. Miller has none of those sidekicks available for the time; Ray and Barrett may both be out throughout the preseason. Vance Joseph discussed the early replacement hierarchy here Saturday, calling recent UFA signing Kasim Edebali the top edge rusher alongside Miller (via Mike Klis of 9News, on Twitter). Edebali played three years with the Saints but wasn’t offered an RFA tender in March, leading to his one-year deal with the Broncos.
  • Bruce Arians said Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams could be battling for the Cardinals‘ No. 2 cornerback job until the final week of the preseason, but Williams and others will have some additional opportunities to build a case early. Bethel suffered a hyperextended knee and will be out for the coming days, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com reports. Arians did not believe this injury was serious, but given this position duel likely coming down to the wire, it stands to raise Bethel’s degree of difficulty here.
  • Regarding Williams, the second-year man has evidently been usurped on the depth chart by Ronald Zamort — a 2016 UDFA who spent last season on Arizona’s practice squad — according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com (on Twitter). The Cardinals have been connected to Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams this week, and Arians’ status on his own corners looks to have changed. Somers notes he now wants to add a veteran.
  • The Raiders‘ handling of Donald Penn‘s holdout will be key to how future free agents view the team, Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News writes. The Raiders relied immensely on free agency in recent years, Penn being one of the key signings. On a two-year deal worth $6.25MM AAV, the 34-year-old Penn is now by far the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman on his own team, after the Raiders made Gabe Jackson an $11MM-per-year man in June. Penn saw a host of less proven tackles sign for more than him this offseason, and he’s seeking top-10 left tackle money. His per-year wages rank 20th presently. The Raiders have just more than $14MM in cap space. Oakland lined up Marshall Newhouse at Penn’s left tackle spot and second-year man Vadal Alexander at right tackle on Saturday.
  • Menelik Watson has missed 37 of a possible 64 regular-season games due to various injuries through four seasons, and the Broncos‘ projected right tackle starter dropped a lot of weight in an attempt to stay on the field. The former Raiders right tackle is close to 315 pounds after playing in the 340s earlier in his career, per Troy Renck of Denver7 (Twitter links), noting Watson told him the reduction is because of the slew of setbacks he encountered.
  • Joseph won’t have 5-foot-7 rookie Isaiah McKenzie return kicks due to his slight frame, Klis tweets. Carlos Henderson and Cody Latimer are vying to handle those duties for the Broncos while McKenzie has the inside track to return punts. This is a deviation of sorts for a Broncos team who received high-end kick-return production from 5-5 Trindon Holliday in 2012-13. The team has not had much success in this area since, leading to the selection of McKenzie in the fifth round.

West Notes: Broncos, Cardinals, 49ers

The Broncos entered the offseason with questions at two of the game’s most important positions – quarterback and left tackle – and that remains the case, writes Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. But general manager John Elway, who’s sticking with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch under center and drafted ex-Utah left tackle Garett Bolles in the first round, expects the Broncos to return to the playoffs in 2017. “I like where we are. I like where we’ll be if we continue to work,” said Elway, whose club went 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Elway added that the Broncos are “a pretty good football team,” which led him to trade two draft picks and reduce his selection total from 10 to eight. “We had the meeting before the draft started … and we started counting numbers,” Elway explained. “It’s going to be hard to make our football team. We’ve got a lot of good football players, so that’s why we have to be that good in the draft because we’ve got to find guys that can come in and compete and have a chance to make our football team.”

Now the latest on a couple NFC West teams:

  • Regarding his decision to accept a pay cut earlier this offseason, Cardinals cornerback and special teams standout Justin Bethel told Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic, “It’s called betting on yourself.” Bethel agreed to a reworked contract that hacked $2MM off his base salary for this season and erased the final year of his deal, 2018, which will give him an opportunity to hit free agency next March. In order to cash in, though, Bethel will need to be more of a defensive factor than he was last season, when he only saw action in 25 percent of snaps. Along the way, head coach Bruce Arians called Bethel a “failure in progress.” But Arians acknowledged last month that a broken foot may have held Bethel back, and the defender agrees. “Before I broke my foot, I thought I was going to come into the season and earn the starting job,” Bethel said. “I still had high hopes that I would be healthy by training camp. That wasn’t the case. I was just trying to make it through (the season). I knew I wasn’t healthy enough to play corner all the time.” Bethel and Arians are now “on good terms,” according to Bethel, who will get a chance to start opposite Patrick Peterson in 2017. With free agency looming, the upcoming campaign will be a make-or-break season for Bethel, opines Bickley.
  • The 49ers have tabbed Ran Carthon as their new director of pro personnel, general manager John Lynch announced Friday. Carthon served in the same role with the NFC West rival Rams over the previous five seasons, before they dismissed him last month.
  • In other 49ers news, the team worked out defensive lineman Carlos Wray on Thursday, tweets Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. Wray was among three defensive linemen whom the 49ers auditioned, along with the previously reported Kedric Golston and Cedric Reed. A former Duke Blue Devil, Wray signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent last spring, but they waived/injured him in July.

Cardinals Targeting CBs In Draft?

Entering the 2017 draft in slightly worse shape, depth-wise, at cornerback than they appeared last season, the Cardinals have identified that area as a place to target in the upcoming draft, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com notes.

Still housing a throng of uncertain cogs alongside Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals lost Marcus Cooper to the Bears and did not make any notable additions to the position group. Bruce Arians, though, identified cornerback as one of the positions the team could target a player to learn behind current veterans this season. The fifth-year Arizona coach also included wide receiver and inside linebacker in that category.

Arizona again has Justin Bethel and 2016 third-rounder Brandon Williams as top in-house candidates to start opposite Peterson. Arians could be counting on the Cardinals’ recent ability to unearth some Day 2 and Day 3 standouts to help out this group, however.

“I don’t know if we can get all those high picks, but we’ve been really, really lucky from round three to round six, I think, of getting some quality guys, and as college free agents, too,” Arians said, via Weinfuss.

The Cardinals added the likes of Tyrann Mathieu, John Brown, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson and Rodney Gunter in Rounds 3-5 over the past four years. Arians also called this draft “loaded with corners.” While ESPN.com’s Todd McShay (Insider link) placed Marshon Lattimore and Kevin King as second- and third-tier players in this draft, respectively, the ESPN draft guru put six corners — Gareon Conley (Ohio State), Quincy Wilson (Florida), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Jourdan Lewis (Michigan) and Adoree’ Jackson (USC) — on his next tier of draftable prospects. McShay also includes Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, whom some teams like as a corner, in this group.

Arizona added veterans in recent years to team with Peterson, with Antonio Cromartie, Cooper and Mike Jenkins — the latter of whom did not play after a season-ending injury in camp — but Weinfuss notes the Cardinals may not want to go that route again. Some interesting options are out there if the Cards don’t like what they see early in the offseason, though. Tramon Williams, Shareece Wright, Alterraun Verner, Sam Shields and Darrelle Revis are UFAs. Teams are also monitoring former 49ers starter Tramaine Brock, should he not be charged with domestic violence for the alleged incident that prompted his Niners exit.

Furthering this sense the Cardinals may go with what they have: Arians also appears to have softened his stance on Bethel, whom he called a “failure in progress” last season. Bethel did accept a paycut this offseason, though.

I think Justin Bethel is going to play a hell of a lot better if he can finally practice,” Arians said, via Weinfuss. “He hasn’t practiced for two years on that broken foot. I think he’s going to really, really take off with it this spring so I feel fine with those guys.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals CB Justin Bethel Accepts Paycut

Cardinals cornerback/ace special teamer Justin Bethel has agreed to reduce his 2017 base salary from $4.5MM to $2MM, while Arizona has also deleted the 2018 year of his contract, tweets cap guru Ian Whetstone. Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com confirms (Twitter link) the Cardinals’ cap space has increased from $18.5MM to $21MM to account for the change.Justin Bethel (Vertical)

Bethel, 26, has been a key special teams cog during his five-year run in Arizona, and he’s never played on fewer than two-thirds of the club’s special teams snaps. For his efforts, Bethel has earned three Pro Bowl nods and two All Pro berths. Bethel’s work on defense has been less spectacular, however, as he’s struggled through seven career starts opposite Patrick Peterson.

Near the end of the 2016 campaign, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians notably referred to Bethel’s play as a “failure in progress.” Pro Football Focus didn’t view Bethel in such a negative light, however, handing him a 71.0 grade on 270 defensive snaps.

Bethel, a former sixth-round pick, inked a three-year, $15MM extension that included $9MM in guarantees at the tail end of the 2015 season. He won’t make it all the way through that deal, however, given that his 2018 year has now been deleted. That may have been a concession from the Cardinals, allowing Bethel to hit free agency a year earlier in exchange for him accepting a paycut. Bethel will now count for just $2.75MM on Arizona’s 2017 salary cap.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals Notes: Humphries, Bethel, Bryant

Let’s take a look at the latest out of Arizona…

NFC Notes: Cardinals, Browner, Coughlin

Before signing a three-year extension with the Cardinals yesterday, cornerback Justin Bethel was set to hit free agency following the season. The special teams ace could have made more than $9MM guaranteed on the open market, but he told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com that he wanted to stay in Arizona.

“You never know,” Bethel said. “You want to stay with the team that brought you in. You talk with your agents, you talk with your family, you want to do what’s best for you and your career. Not everybody plays the game for a long time. I didn’t want to go and be greedy if they gave me a really good deal, which they did. I’m thankful.”

Let’s check out some more notes from the NFC…

  • Brandon Browner‘s brutal first season with the Saints got even worse in today’s loss to the Panthers. The cornerback was called for three penalties, was beat by Devin Funchess for a touchdown, and was a part of the failed coverage that led to another score by Ted Ginn. The veteran was also caught arguing with teammate Jairus Byrd and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. This led to Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe tweeting that Browner should be released, citing the distraction that accompanies the defensive back.
  • On the flip side, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com notes (via Twitter) that the Saints are too depleted to let go of Browner, noting that both Delvin Breaux and Damian Swann are currently banged up.
  • Leading by 10 with less than nine minutes to go, Giants coach Tom Coughlin opted to go for the touchdown instead of a field goal. Eli Manning‘s pass ended up being picked off, setting the way for the Jets’ comeback victory. The New York Post’s Steve Serby believes that play could signal “the beginning of the end” for the long-time Giants coach.

Justin Bethel Signs Extension With Cardinals

5:05pm: The deal is official, via Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.

“With the guys we’ve got here, especially in our secondary, Pat (Peterson), Ty (Mathieu), Rashad (Johnson), Jerraud, Deone (Bucannon), Tony (Jefferson), all those guys, I think we have a really, really close group,” Bethel told Urban. “It shows on the field. Being able to get my deal done, and hopefully get some other guys done, is a really big deal to me.

“I’m just thankful I could stay with the team that drafted me.”

SUNDAY, 11:13am: Former NFL agent Joel Corry passes along (via Twitter) a couple of details on the impact of this extension on the Cardinals’ salary cap. As Corry notes, Bethel’s cap numbers will be $3.25MM in 2016, $5.25MM in 2017, and $5.75MM in 2018.

SATURDAY, 9:47am: Cardinals Pro Bowl defensive back Justin Bethel has signed a three-year, $15MM extension, agents Damarius Bilbo and Fletcher Smith told NFL Network’s Rand Getlin (via Twitter). The deal will contain $9MM in guaranteed money and $1.8MM in incentives and escalators (Twitter link). NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport was the first to report that a deal was close.

Bethel, the Cardinals’ sixth-round pick in 2012, was set to become a free agent following this season. The cornerback has yet to miss a game in his career, although he only recently earned his first career start. In 2015, the 25-year-old has compiled 18 tackles, five passes defended, and an interception (which was brought back for a score). While he’s only played 201 snaps on defense this season, his 247 special teams snaps are tops on the team.

The Presbyterian College alumni was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2013, and he made the Pro Bowl in both 2013 and 2014. The team will presumably now switch their focus to fellow defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson, who are set to hit free agency following the season.

NFC Notes: Newton, Jordan, Cards, Bears

Following up on the details we passed along earlier today on Cam Newton‘s and Cameron Jordan‘s new extensions, we have another pair of notes. Joel Corry of CBSSports.com clarifies (via Twitter) that while Newton’s $10MM option bonus isn’t technically guaranteed at the time of the signing, it’s practically guaranteed, since there’s essentially no chance the Panthers will cut the quarterback before picking it up. Meanwhile, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Jordan received a significant signing bonus, worth $16MM, from the Saints.

Here are a few more items from across the NFC:

  • The Cardinals signed defensive lineman Frostee Rucker to a one-year extension earlier this week, and Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com identifies three more defensive players who could be next in line for new deals. Weinfuss’ list includes safety Rashad Johnson, defensive back Justin Bethel, and cornerback Jerraud Powers.
  • Asked about whether he expects Martellus Bennett to attend the Bears‘ June minicamp, head coach John Fox said he “can’t predict” the tight end’s intentions, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes. Bennett, who wants a new contract, has been absent from the team’s OTAs.
  • Having signed a $40MM deal to remain with the Packers this offseason, wideout Randall Cobb vows the new contract won’t change his approach or create added pressure, per Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com.
  • According to an incident report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo admitted to kicking his girlfriend’s dog and considered fleeing the country after the animal’s death. The AJC’s Tyler Estep has the details.

Arians: Bethel As Talented As Peterson

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said the team is “very solid” at cornerback when he spoke with azcardinals.com’s Darren Urban, citing Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers and Tyrann Mathieu, who showed playmaking ability before suffering torn knee ligaments. However, Arians raised eyebrows by identifying third-year man Justin Bethel, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player, as a potential breakout candidate.

I think the guy who really should make the big move is Justin Bethel,” said Arians. “He’s as talented probably as Patrick. He just has to start believing it and play corner the way he plays special teams and we’ll really be set back there.”

A 2012 sixth-round pick out of Presbyterian, Bethel put himself on the NFL radar by earning Big South Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011. He blocked nine kicks during his college career and showed well in the pre-draft process, recording a 39.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump.