Lance Dunbar

Extra Points: XFL, Giants, Vikings

The AAF may have imploded in spectacular fashion, but that doesn’t mean people are done taking cracks at spring football leagues. Vince McMahon’s XFL is gearing up to start play early next year, and they’ve already made some big hires. They’re now moving on to filling out the rosters, and some recognizable names are resurfacing. We heard a couple days ago that Landry Jones, Aaron Ripkowski, and Christine Michael would be auditioning, and now we have even more names to report. Trevone Boykin, Lance Dunbar, Kony Ealy, and Ahmad Dixon were at a showcase yesterday as well as a handful of other ex-NFLers, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link).

According to a tweet from Optimum Scouting’s Erik Galko, former Seahawks receiver Kasen Williams will also be among those trying out. Finally, a tweet posted by the XFL Houston account shows that NFL veterans Will Hill and Robert Meachem also participated in a camp. Meachem is 34 and last played in the NFL with the Saints back in 2014, so this would be quite the comeback. While the XFL will still be facing an uphill battle, they do appear to be in better position than the AAF. McMahon seems fully invested in the league, and the TV deal the league has is far superior. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • Speaking of the XFL, one of their big hires was when they named Daryl “Moose” Johnston the director of player personnel for their Dallas franchise. Johnston was the GM of the AAF’s San Antonio Commanders, so he has experience in this type of league. Most players in the AAF and XFL were looking to get back to the NFL, and it’s no different for coaches and execs. Johnston wants to be an NFL GM one day, per Machota. Johnston spent all 11 years of his pro career with the Cowboys as a fullback, winning three Super Bowls with the team. He made the Pro Bowl twice and has done a lot of broadcasting work for FOX since retiring.
  • Evan Engram missed the Giants’ recent minicamp, which raised some eyebrows. But thankfully he’s not dealing with anything serious, as Engram said today at Landon Collins‘ charity softball game that the Giants were just being “cautious” by holding him out, per Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com (Twitter link). He also writes there’s “nothing lingering from last season.” Engram had a breakout rookie season in 2017, but took a step back last year while dealing with injuries. Hamstring and knee injuries limited Engram to just 11 games last year, but he finished strong down the stretch. In each of his last four games he finished with at least 75 yards, so he should be poised for a bounce back 2019 campaign.
  • 2018 first round pick Mike Hughes got off to a solid start last year. The Vikings cornerback had a pick-six in the first game of his career, but his rookie season ended in devastating fashion. The UCF product had his season ended by a torn ACL after just six games, and has been rehabbing ever since. Things appear to be going well, but the team is being cautious with him. To that end, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer recently said that he wouldn’t get any practice in until training camp at the earliest, per Andrew Kramer of the Star Tribune. We heard recently the Vikings were listening to trade offers for both Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, which would seem to indicate they’re optimistic about Hughes’ recovery.

Rams Release RB Lance Dunbar

The Rams have released running back Lance Dunbar, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Dunbar, 28, was already due to reach free agency on Wednesday.

Dunbar played sparingly in his first and only season with the Rams, appearing in just four games and attempting 11 carries. For what it’s worth, he averaged 4.6 yards per tote in that extremely limited sample. He also had a rushing touchdown and a receiving TD.

Dunbar spent the first five seasons of his career with the Cowboys and played mostly in a reserve role. He lost the bulk of the 2015 season to an ACL tear and sat out most of 2017 with knee pain.

Rams Activate RB Lance Dunbar

Gunning for their first playoff spot in 13 years, the Rams will soon have an additional option in their backfield. Los Angeles activated running back Lance Dunbar on Saturday, Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register reports (on Twitter).

Dunbar spent the first half of the season on the PUP list, with knee pain sidelining the former Cowboys passing-down back. Dunbar returned to practice last week, and the Rams didn’t have to make a decision on him just yet due to NFL rules, but he will join Todd Gurley in a blossoming offense beginning in Week 10.

Dunbar will effectively replace Malcolm Brown in the backfield. Brown suffered an injury recently that will shelve him for some time.

The Rams signed Dunbar to a one-year deal in March. He returned from a 2015 ACL tear last season and played in 13 games for the Cowboys. However, Ezekiel Elliott‘s arrival changed Dallas’ backfield arrangement and limited outside opportunities. Gurley could have the same effect on Dunbar in L.A. The Rams have used their starter as a three-down back. But Dunbar returning will at worst provide insurance while outfitting Sean McVay with another weapon in passing situations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

California Notes: Raiders, Janikowski, Rams

A quick look at the Raiders and Rams:

  • Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie says he won’t hurry Sebastian Janikowski back from injured reserve. “You don’t have to rush him back; that’s for sure. Giorgio [Tavecchio] has really stepped up to the plate.” (Twitter link via Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review Journal). Janikowski w
  • When asked if NaVorro Bowman could be a long-term option for the Raiders at middle linebacker, McKenzie answered in the affirmative (Twitter link via Matt Schneidman of the Bay Area News Group). Bowman, 30 in May, is playing on a one-year deal that can max out at $3MM. He’ll be eligible for free agency in March.
  • Rams backup running back Malcolm Brown will be “out for a little bit of time” with an injured MCL, as Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com writes. His absence could open the door for Lance Dunbar, currently on PUP, to get back on the field. It’s not yet clear whether Brown will require surgery.

Rams RB Lance Dunbar Returns To Practice

While the Rams’ resurgence has been one of the NFL’s top stories this season, the team hasn’t been operating quite at full strength on offense.

Expected to play an auxiliary role in Los Angeles’ offense, Lance Dunbar has yet to debut for his new team. But the veteran running back returned to practice this week, Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News tweets.

The Rams have three weeks to activate Dunbar from the PUP list or place him on IR. Sean McVay said a decision on that could come soon despite the three-week window available to the team.

Signed to a one-year deal in March, Dunbar began experiencing knee pain and was placed on the PUP list. The Rams have used Todd Gurley as a three-down back to much success in McVay’s offense, and Tavon Austin has taken on some of the responsibilities Dunbar was to possess. ESPN.com’s Alden Gonzalez isn’t certain if the sixth-year veteran will have a role, so an IR trip or a release could be in play here.

The Rams, though, don’t have an abundance of backfield depth, with UDFAs Malcolm Brown and Justin Davis stationed behind Gurley on the depth chart. Dunbar played in 13 Cowboys games last season but missed most of Dallas’ 2015 season due to a torn ACL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Make Cuts, Reach 53-Man Max

The Rams added a player via trade on Saturday, but their real focus was on mass cuts to get down to the 53-man max. Here’s a rundown of their moves.

Waived:

  • DT Omarius Bryant
  • WR K.D. Cannon
  • OL Parker Collins
  • K Travis Coons
  • CB Carlos Davis
  • LB Kevin Davis (waived/injured)
  • OL Michael Dunn
  • OL Jake Eldrenkamp
  • LB Josh Forrest (waived/injured)
  • DB Tyquwan Glass
  • RB Aaron Green
  • DB Isaiah Johnson
  • DB Michael Jordan
  • OL Alex Kozan
  • OLB Willie Mays
  • LB Cassanova Mckinzy
  • WR Paul McRoberts
  • OLB Andy Mulumba
  • OL Pace Murphy
  • LB Folarin Orimolade
  • DB Aarion Penton
  • NT Mike Purcell
  • FB Sam Rogers
  • WR Shakeir Ryan
  • DT Casey Sayles
  • WR Brandon Shippen
  • WR Nelson Spruce (waived/injured)
  • OLB Carlos Thompson
  • RB Lenard Tillery (waived/injured)
  • OLB Orlovsky was signed in July, but he was facing long odds since the Rams already had Jared Goff and Sean Mannion as their top two QBs.
  • G Cody Wichmann
  • TE Travis Wilson

Released:

Reserve/Injured:

Reserve/PUP:

Reserve/Suspended:

Orlovsky was signed in July, but he was facing long odds since the Rams already had Jared Goff and Sean Mannion as their top two QBs. Since being drafted in 2005, the 34-year-old has made just 12 career starts.

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.

Rams To Sign RB Lance Dunbar

The Rams and running back Lance Dunbar agreed to a one-year deal, a source told Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The contract could pay him up to $3MM, Caplan adds. It’s presently unclear how much Dunbar gets in guarantees and base pay.

Dunbar was third on the Cowboys’ depth chart last season behind star Ezekiel Elliott and veteran Alfred Morris. Morris remains under contract in Dallas, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Dunbar to get playing time there in 2017. The Cowboys either didn’t make a strong effort to retain Dunbar or, at minimum, any push to keep him didn’t make it to the press.

In 2016, Dunbar had just nine carries and 16 receptions. Now, in sunny Los Angeles, he could be the clear-cut No. 2 running back, depending on what the team does between now and training camp. Todd Gurley will be the starter but the only other tailbacks on the roster are former undrafted free agents Malcolm Brown and Aaron Green. With his pass-catching skill, he could play a role similar to Chris Thompson in Sean McVay‘s former Redskins offense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Hosting RB Lance Dunbar On Visit

Free agent running back Lance Dunbar is visiting the Rams today, a source tells ESPN.com’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter). This is Dunbar’s first known visit since free agency started six days ago. Lance Dunbar

Dunbar was buried on the Cowboys’ depth chart last season and had just nine carries on the year with one score. He added 16 catches for 122 yards. Dunbar was never a starter in his five years for the Cowboys, but that was the least amount of burn he ever received in a healthy season. Even when he played in only nine games in 2013, he still managed to get 30 carries (he averaged 5.0 yards per carry in that limited sample).

The Rams could use some depth behind Todd Gurley. Currently, he has Malcolm Brown and Aaron Green – a pair of former undrafted free agents – as his understudies. Dallas’ level of interest in a reunion is unclear, but if Dunbar were to return, he would be stuck behind Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Offense

NFL free agency is right around the corner! The legal tampering period starts on Tuesday and free agency officially starts on Thursday. The list of available free agents will change between now and then as players re-sign with teams or get cut loose, but we have a pretty good idea of who will be available right now. After looking at the top defensive players, we now shift our attention to the other side of the ball.

Here are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each position. The rankings aren’t determined by earning power, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with a combination of short- and long-term value taken into account. You won’t find restricted free agents or franchise tagged guys here since they are unlikely to go leave their current clubs.

Player evaluation is always subjective, so we encourage you to make your voices heard in the comments section in cases where you disagree with us.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2017:

Updated 3-7-2017, 2:55pm CT

Quarterback:

  1. Mike Glennon
  2. Nick Foles
  3. Brian Hoyer (story)
  4. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  5. Colin Kaepernick
  6. Josh McCown
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Christian Ponder
  12. Blaine Gabbert
  13. Geno Smith
  14. Matt Schaub (story)
  15. EJ Manuel

Honorable mention: Ryan Nassib, Landry JonesShaun Hill Mike Glennon (vertical)

Colin Kaepernick’s agents have (wisely) let everyone know that their client will stand for the National Anthem in 2017. That may seem like a minor point, but teams say they would have automatically removed him from consideration if he continued his attention-grabbing protest. He grabbed headlines for his actions on the sidelines last year, but he actually turned in an OK season. From a football standpoint, Kaepernick would make sense for a lot of teams as a QB2 with upside.

Interestingly, this list includes three quarterbacks who couldn’t cut it as the Jets’ starter and three rejects from the 49ers. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all six of those players (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert) come with varying degrees of potential and proven effectiveness. Smith, somehow, could reportedly be retained by the Jets and installed as the starter in 2017.

Ryan Nassib is just outside of the top 15 here with EJ Manuel getting the final spot. Despite positive word about his play in practice, Nassib is unproven and the Giants’ apparent lack of interest in re-signing him says a lot. It’s also possible that he might not be 100% after ending the 2016 season on IR with an elbow injury. Manuel, for all his warts, has shown potential in small bursts.

Running back:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. Adrian Peterson
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Jamaal Charles
  6. Darren McFadden
  7. Jacquizz Rodgers
  8. Rex Burkhead
  9. Rashad Jennings
  10. Danny Woodhead
  11. Tim Hightower
  12. DeAngelo Williams
  13. Andre Ellington
  14. Chris Johnson
  15. Christine Michael

Honorable mention: Robert Turbin, Travaris Cadet, Benny Cunningham, Lance Dunbar, Bobby Rainey, Brandon BoldenDenard Robinson, James Starks

Adrian Peterson (vertical)As expected, the Vikings have cut Adrian Peterson loose and he is expected to garner interest from contending clubs this week. Some might peg Peterson as the most talented running back in this year’s free agent class, but it all comes down to how you weigh his age and injury history. Peterson has shocked the football world in the past with an incredible comeback, but I’m a little skeptical of his ability to do it again in his age-32 season. Eddie Lacy, who has injury question marks of his own, takes the top spot at the position.

The Patriots believe they won’t be able to match the offers that come in LeGarrette Blount‘s direction. Latavius Murray could circle back to the Raiders, but he won’t be agreeing to a deal with them before free agency opens on Thursday.

Jamaal Charles has the most impressive resume of anyone on this list, with the exception of Peterson. However, no one knows exactly what he can do after playing eight games in the last two years. He’ll turn 31 in December and that’s usually not an indicator of success for running backs.

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