Lee Smith

Bills Sign TE Lee Smith

The Bills have signed tight end Lee Smith to a three-year deal, according to a team announcement. The pact is worth $9MM and is heavily frontloaded, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal is also front-loaded to give Smith more money in Year One and includes fully guaranteed pay for 2020. 

The deal brings Smith back to Buffalo, where he spent 2011-2014. The blocking specialist spent the last four years in Oakland, but that run ended earlier this month when he was released by the Raiders.

Smith offers almost nothing as a receiver, as he has averaged just 49 receiving yards per season in his eight years in the league. However, he’s long been considered to be one of the league’s best blocking tight ends.

With the Bills, he should continue to do more of the dirty work in a group that also includes Tyler Kroft and third-round pick Dawson Knox. Meanwhile, seventh-round choice Tommy Sweeney is in line to be the team’s No. 4 tight end, but he’ll have to lock down his spot in camp this summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Cut TE Lee Smith

The Raiders have cut veteran tight end Lee Smith, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Rapoport posits that Smith could reunite with his old offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who is now the tight ends coach of the Titans, and Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com feels that Tennessee will indeed pursue Smith (Twitter link).

Smith’s release comes as something of a surprise, as Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has shown a fondness for veterans of his ilk, and he is one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. But he offers almost nothing as a receiver, as he has averaged just 49 receiving yards per season in his eight years in the league.

Plus, Oakland just added TE Foster Moreau in the fourth round of last week’s draft, and the club already has a blocking tight end on the roster in Derek Carrier. Luke Willson, who signed with the Raiders last month, is the most prolific receiving TE on the roster.

Smith signed a three-year deal with the Raiders last March, but he made it through just the first year of that contract. Oakland creates just under $2MM in cap space with the move.

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Raiders To Retain Jordy Nelson For 2019

Jordy Nelson appears to have a second Raiders season on tap. The longtime Packers wide receiver signed a two-year deal with the Raiders, but some speculation existed about the rebuilding team moving on after one season.

Jon Gruden confirmed Friday that Nelson will return next season. The Raiders also moved up a $3.6MM Nelson roster bonus to be paid today rather than in 2019, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

If you watched Jordy play carefully the last four weeks when he’s been healthy, you see what he’s capable of doing, … I think you can even see better and better days ahead,” Gruden said, via Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter links). “So yeah, he’ll be back. … Normally when you hand out a bonus for next year’s season, there’s a pretty good chance those guys are coming back.”

That puts Tahir Whitehead, tight end Lee Smith and linebacker Kyle Wilber in line to be Raiders in their to-be-determined city next season. The Raiders paid Whitehead his $3.325MM bonus, with Smith collecting $1.1MM and Wilber $500K, Yates adds. These moves will spread out said bonuses’ cap hits across 2018 and ’19.

Nelson will be 34 when next season starts. He said earlier this week (via Bair, on Twitter) he wanted to play at least one more season. Jared Cook leads the Raiders in receiving, but Nelson has, to some degree, bounced back from a dismal 2017 with 661 receiving yards on one of the NFL’s worst offenses, bumping his yards-per-catch average from a career-low 9.1 (in the largely Aaron Rodgers-less ’17 Packers slate) to 12.2 with Derek Carr. While the latter figure is still below his prime work, Nelson is one of the NFL’s oldest wideouts.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders To Re-Sign TE Lee Smith

Veteran tight end Lee Smith is re-signing with the Raiders, a source tells Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). Terms of the deal are not yet known. It’s a three-year deal for Smith, reports Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Smith, our No. 11 ranked tight end, doesn’t have gaudy stat lines on his resume, but he is a solid blocker. Back in February, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com cautioned that he could make more than expected.

The Raiders should now be set at tight end for the 2018 campaign, as they had already signed free agent Derek Carrier on Tuesday. Smith and Carrier will join starter Jared Cook to give Oakland a diverse group at the tight end position.

Smith, 30, has never been an offensive force, as his career-high in season receptions sits at 12. However, he will essentially act as a sixth offensive lineman when on the field, as Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 13th-best pass-blocking tight end in the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Extra Points: Vander Esch, Cousins, Brees

During his teleconference on Monday, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock opined that Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch could shoot up the charts if he clocks in at under 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard-dash at the combine. Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (video link) hears that Vander Esch has been beating that number in practice, which means that we could see him climb the boards in the coming weeks.

Last year, Garafolo was hearing similar rumblings about Temple’s Haason Reddick and he catapulted from the second round to No. 13 overall where he was snagged by the Cardinals. Recently, a scouting director told Matt Miller of Bleacher Report that LVE will go in the first round, though he is unlikely to crack the top 15.

Vander Esch, a high-end athlete for his position, broke out in 2017 with an eye-popping 141 tackles, the most by any Boise State player in an individual season since 1988. He also had 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, and two interceptions.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Mike Florio of PFT wonders if this year’s free agent quarterbacks could fall victim to collusion. Already, we’ve heard talk that the Jets will not simply hand Kirk Cousins a blank check, despite their desperate need for a franchise QB. Florio anticipates similar talk to emerge about Drew Brees, who would likely garner $30MM/year from a contender in a fair market. Meanwhile, there’s talk that lesser options like Case Keenum and A.J. McCarron may get less than the value of Blake Bortles‘ now exercised $18MM option with the Jaguars. If QBs of that caliber are stifled, then injury-prone players like Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater will certainly feel it too. Ultimately, teams will be able to find leverage in this year’s draft, which has multiple QB candidates for the first round.
  • This year, free agent blocking tight ends like Darren Fells (Lions), Lee Smith (Raiders), and Virgil Green (Broncos) figure to earn more than expected, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The reason, Rapoport says, is because of poor draft talent in that area and a lack of other options. Last offseason, tight end Rhett Ellison landed a four-year, $18MM free agent deal from the Giants despite averaging just ten catches per season over the course of his five-year career, so there is precedent for TEs to cash in even without gaudy stat lines.
  • If you’re not doing so already, you can follow Pro Football Rumors on Twitter: @ProFootballRumors. It’s a must-follow for all NFL fans, particularly with free agency right on the horizon.

Raiders, Lee Smith Agree To New Deal

The Raiders and tight end Lee Smith have agreed to a revised contract, as Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal tweets. The new deal will give Smith more guaranteed money while reducing his base salary. The new deal also includes playing time incentives that will protect the team against injury. Lee Smith (vertical)

Initially, Smith was slated to make a $2.75MM base salary. He’ll now make $1MM along with a $1MM roster bonus, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

Smith suffered a broken bone in his lower leg in the team’s fourth game of the season last year, ending his season in October. Before 2016, the blocking specialist was largely healthy, but the Raiders still wanted some protection in the event that he missed time again this year.

The Raiders signed Smith to a three-year, $9MM deal prior to the 2015 season, so he’ll be eligible for free agency in the spring of 2018.

At the time of his injury last year, Pro Football Focus rated Smith as the No. 5 run blocking tight end in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Move Lee Smith To IR

The Raiders will be without their top blocking tight end for most likely the rest of the season after making the decision to place Lee Smith on IR, Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Suffering a broken bone in his lower leg during the first half against the Ravens, Smith will be out at least eight weeks. He’s likely going to miss the rest of the year, with the Raiders already having starting defensive end Mario Edwards on IR. They are expected to bring him back when he’s eligible.

To take Smith’s place on the roster, the Raiders signed Ryan O’Malley, a rookie UDFA out of Penn, off their practice squad.

Smith’s been Oakland’s primary blocking tight end since coming over from Buffalo last year. He’s started all 19 games in which he’s played, and although the sixth-year veteran isn’t a prolific receiver (18 total receptions with the Raiders since the start of the 2015 season), he’s their primary tight end.

Pro Football Focus rates Smith as the No. 5 run-blocking tight end through the 3 1/2 games he played this season. Receiving tight ends Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera are not near the top of said list.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders’ Lee Smith Could Be Done For Season

6:00pm: Smith will have surgery, but the Raiders aren’t going to place him on IR just yet, according to head coach Jack Del Rio (Twitter link via Scott Bair of CSNCalifornia.com). While allowing that Smith’s season is “jeopardy,” Del Rio said Oakland is “hoping for good news.”

12:28pm: Raiders tight end Lee Smith could be done for the season after suffering a “fractured bone in his lower leg,” a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Smith appeared to have hurt his ankle after being hit by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith in the second quarter of yesterday’s game. Lee Smith (vertical)

Smith doesn’t catch a lot of passes in the Raiders’ offense, but he is highly valued for his blocking skill. Since joining the Raiders in 2015, Smith has just 18 catches for 99 yards and one touchdown to his credit. He is currently in the midst of a three-year, $9MM deal that he signed prior to the ’15 season. Before coming to Oakland, Smith spent his first four years in Buffalo.

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders are waiting for additional word on linebacker Malcolm Smith‘s groin injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Sign Lee Smith

WEDNESDAY, 4:36pm: The Raiders officially announced (via Twitter) the signing of Smith. Smith will get $3.1MM guaranteed in the deal, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun tweets.

TUESDAY, 3:47pm: The Raiders have agreed to terms with free agent tight end Lee Smith, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (Twitter link). It’s a three-year, $9MM pact, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN. The 27-year-old blocking specialist has the spent the entirety of his four-year career with Buffalo.

Per Schefter, Oakland will also visit with tight end Jermaine Gresham today. Vic Tafur of the Oakland Tribune adds more (via Twitter), saying that while nothing is yet official, most expect the Raiders to sign Gresham and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton today. Knighton was said to be close to a deal with Oakland earlier today, though the Colts are also in the running.

The Raiders will host several other free agents, including defensive tackle Dan Williams and linebacker Curtis Lofton, today, tweets John Middlekauf of 95.7 The Game. Oakland could be choosing between Williams and Knighton, per Tafur (Twitter link).