Le’Veon Bell

FA Notes: Jeffery, Mitchell, Gillislee, Bell

“Those things will pick up as we get further down the road,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of contract negotiations with free agent receiver Alshon Jeffery. However, as Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times writes, those decisions will start to “pick up” next week. Wednesday is the first day teams can assign the franchise tag to their impending free agents, and Jefferey could surely be in line to be slapped with the designation.

Jeffery also received the franchise tag last offseason, meaning his projected tag value for this season would be around $17MM. Jefferey didn’t necessarily have a “prove-it” season thanks in part to a four-game suspension, so the organization may not want to make the 27-year-old one of the highest paid wideouts for a second-straight year. Additionally, the Bears may not want to invest in the receiver long-term.

Let’s take a look at some other notes pertaining to the league’s free agents…

  • Following his release by the Dolphins earlier this week, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has lined up a number of visits. According to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the veteran is set to meet with the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Broncos next week. Mitchell joined Miami prior to the 2014 season, playing in 37 games over his three seasons with the team.
  • The Bills don’t want to lose running back Mike Gillislee like they did wideout Chris Hogan, writes ESPN.com Mike Rodak. The organixation assigned their former receiver the cheapest restricted free-agent tender last offseason, and the Patriots swooped in and signed him for practically nothing. The Bills have until March 9th to assign a similar tender to Gillislee. In 15 games last season, the running back ran for 577 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries.
  • Joel Corry of CBSSports.com writes that the franchise tag may be a “blessing” for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The former agent notes that front offices are wary of signing running backs to lucrative, long-term contracts, citing the deal signed by DeMarco Murray. The running back franchise tag is projected to be valued at around $12MM, and Corry is skeptical that Bell could earn that kind of money (per year) via a standard contract.
  • Defensive tackle Nick Fairley and the Saints would both embrace a reunion, but Nick Underhill of The Advocate wonders if the two sides can make the money work. Following a season where he recorded 6.5 sacks, the writer believes Fairley could be in line to make around $9.5MM next year. While the Saints have the financial flexibility to make that work, Underhill wonders if they’d actually be willing to commit that kind of money.

Steelers Notes: Brown, Bell, Timmons, Jones

The Steelers have a number of to-do items on their offseason docket, and today general manager Kevin Colbert addressed the media with a focus on what Pittsburgh plans on doing over the next few months. Let’s take a look at the highlights from Colbert’s press conference, courtesy of Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

  • Stating that he wants both wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell to remain Steelers for life, Colbert said the club has opened extension talks with Brown, the only player with whom Pittsburgh has discussed a new deal, according to Dulac. Brown is signed through 2017 with a cap charge of roughly $13.6MM, while Bell is an unrestricted free agent but will likely be retained via the franchise tag. Colbert specifically called reaching a new contract with Brown an offseason “priority,” although a recent report indicated that talks between the two sides will move slowly.
  • Re-signing veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons could also be in the cards for the Steelers, but negotiations with Timmons won’t be as cut-and-dry as talks with Brown and Bell. “Would you like to have him stay? Absolutely,” Colbert said. “Does it all fit? We can make it work, but at what cost? He’s never been a free agent. I’d like to see him finish his career here and he would too.” Timmons, 30, has spent a decade in Pittsburgh, and is coming off a 78-tackle, 2.5-sack season.
  • The Steelers aren’t counting on former second-round cornerback Senquez Golson, who has missed his first two seasons in the NFL with injury, for anything more than potential depth. “I’m a little more apprehensive,” said Colbert. “Just from sitting out two years, where you haven’t played at all, it’s not real easy to just step out there and catch up.” As such, Colbert said Pittsburgh could consider selecting a cornerback in this year’s draft.
  • Because Golson is a question mark, the Steelers could be open to re-signing cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was released last week, tweets Dulac. Gilbert has become a massive draft bust since being selected eighth overall in 2014, and played only 11 defensive snaps last season. He’s still just 25 years old, however, and would make for an interesting (if uninspiring) depth peice.
  • Despite reports of a possible retirement, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return in 2017, and the Steelers hope to re-sign backup signal-caller Landry Jones, as well, as Dulac writes. “We’d like to have Landry stay in the mix,” Colbert said. “Will we add a guy? Absolutely. When? It’s hard to say. Sooner or later we will have to address that.” If Pittsburgh doesn’t view Jones as the long-term replacement for Roethlisberger, the club could look to draft a QB at some point.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Steelers, Bengals

Pending free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has told his representation he wants to stay with the Browns, reports Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Browns management is reportedly “redoubling efforts” to re-sign Pryor, and the club is set to meet with Pryor’s agent this week. Cleveland, of course, holds the franchise tag as an option, but is loathe to go down that avenue unless a long-term deal cannot be reached. Pryor has spoken highly of the Browns and head coach Hue Jackson in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s willing to take a hometown discount to remain Cleveland.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston says he’s “hopeful” about a return to the Bengals, and noted a new deal “looks promising,” per SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Thought to be buried on Cincinnati’s depth chart, Winston ended up rotating right tackle snaps with former first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, and ultimately played on roughly a quarter of the Bengals’ offensive snaps. Winston, 33, signed a minimum salary benefit contract with Cincinnati in 2016, and would likely be forced to accept a similar deal this year.
  • If the Viking release running back Adrian Peterson (or ask him to take a paycut), the Steelers could confidently argue that Peterson’s $14MM annual salary was an anomaly, and pressure pending free agent Le’Veon Bell to accept something closer to LeSean McCoy‘s $8MM per year, opines Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Pittsburgh is likely to franchise Bell at a cost north of $12MM for 2017, and would probably be willing to go near $10MM annually on a long-term extension, per Fowler. Approaching, or exceeding, Peterson’s $14MM figure would represent a problem, however.
  • The Ravens will not hire a formal quarterbacks coach for the 2017 season, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will lead the QBs room, while Craig Ver Steeg — whom previous reports had indicated would become Baltimore’s new quarterbacks coach — will remain an offensive assistant.
  • In his latest chat at ESPN.com, Tony Grossi covers which quarterbacks the Browns may target if they strike out on Jimmy Garoppolo, the likelihood of Tyrod Taylor — who is said to be on Cleveland’s radar — heading to northern Ohio, and other position groups the Browns may target in free agency.

2017 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2017 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Wednesday, March 1st. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2017’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently projected the 2017 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $168MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $21.395MM
  • Running back: $12.377MM
  • Wide receiver: $15.826MM
  • Tight end: $9.894MM
  • Offensive line: $14.444MM
  • Defensive end: $16.955MM
  • Defensive tackle: $13.468MM
  • Linebacker: $14.754MM
  • Cornerback: $14.297MM
  • Safety: $10.961MM
  • Punter/kicker: $4.863MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals: Maybe Jones should headline a category titled “Super Duper Virtual Locks.” In January, coach Bruce "<strongArians said that the Cards would apply the franchise tag to Jones if they were unable to immediately lock him up to a long-term deal. Then, just this week, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offered additional confirmation of that plan. The $16.955MM tag will be applied to Jones in the next couple of weeks and the two sides will then have until the summer to work out a long-term deal. The odds of a longer pact coming together seem pretty good, considering the Cardinals knew what they were getting themselves into when they traded for Jones last year.

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admits that Short will “probably” be tagged and, unlike ex-teammate Josh Norman, Short doesn’t have a problem with it. The 28-year-old was the third-best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers will gladly pay him ~$13.5MM on a one-year deal. A multi-year agreement could require an average annual value of $17MM, so our early guess is that Short will wind up actually playing on the tender.


Le’Veon Bell
, RB, Steelers: We’ve known for a while now that the Steelers will use the franchise tag on Bell. For all of his off-the-field headaches, Bell still stands as one of the league’s most dynamic running backs and a one-year, $12.3MM deal would suit Pittsburgh just fine. Sometime after the tag is in place, we’re expecting the two sides to agree on a long-term deal. As I wrote in our most recent edition of the Free Agent Power Rankings, Bell will top LeSean McCoy‘s ~$8MM AAV and Doug Martin‘s $15MM in guarantees on a new multiyear pact. Of course, other factors such as cash flow will be pivotal in talks, particularly given the limited shelf life of running backs.
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AFC Notes: Smith, Tyrod, Cutler, Steelers

Already under police investigation for an alleged domestic violence incident that took place last Saturday, Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith is now on the NFL’s radar, writes Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “We are looking in to the matter,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told McDonald in an email Tuesday. Smith has been serving a substance abuse suspension since November 2015 and has a chance to gain reinstatement in March, but the league could push back its decision or even hand him an indefinite ban as a result of his latest off-field issue, per McDonald.

Elsewhere in the AFC…

  • If the Bills move on from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, they should sign soon-to-be released Bears signal-caller Jay Cutler to replace him, opines Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com in a piece focusing on potential offseason moves in the AFC East. Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo are more appealing choices, Barnwell acknowledges, but he doesn’t expect the former to sign in Buffalo (if the Cowboys cut him) or the Patriots to trade the latter within the division. If those two are unattainable, the draft could be an option, though Barnwell argues that the Bills shouldn’t reach for a QB with the 10th overall pick. That would leave Cutler as the most logical solution. Not only would he come on a short-term deal, but he’d reunite with new Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Cutler played under Dennison in Denver and has spoken highly of him in the past.
  • Speaking of Taylor, the Browns’ hiring of his former quarterbacks coach, David Lee, increased the passer’s odds of ending up in Cleveland, contends Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. Taylor, who’s on the Browns’ “radar,” played under Lee in Buffalo the past two seasons and fared respectably in his first 29 games as a starter. The former Baltimore backup would replace Robert Griffin III, whom Cabot expects the Browns to release before his roster bonus is due March 11.
  • The Steelers’ contract talks with wide receiver Antonio Brown and linebacker Lawrence Timmons don’t figure to move quickly, tweets CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who expects running back Le’Veon Bell to be their biggest priority. Unlike Brown, who has another year on his deal, both Timmons and Bell could become free agents next month. Bell is clearly the more valuable of the two, of course, and the Steelers will place the franchise tag on the runner if they’re unable to re-sign him.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings 2.0

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams, the offseason is already underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the early January edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

Free Agent Power Rankings 2 (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): Cousins may not be the best player on this list, but he will come away with the most guaranteed money of any free agent this offseason. Quarterbacks are perpetually in high demand and short supply and as a result Cousins could become one of the league’s three highest paid signal callers. Because Washington has already used the franchise tag on Cousins, a repeat would cost them a whopping $23.94MM for 2017. The belief is that Cousins is seeking that $23.94MM number as an AAV goal. There has been talk of the Redskins shopping their star QB, but the team has since publicly stated its intention of locking him up to a long-term dealKirk Cousins (vertical)

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Jones has been an absolute stud ever since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2012. If we go by the numbers at Pro Football Focus, 2016 was actually Jones’ best year to date. This past season, he finished out with a strong 87.4 overall score, tying him for seventh amongst all edge rushers with Houston’s Whitney Mercilus. In the previous four seasons with New England, Jones averaged a 79.38 on PFF. Every team could use a sack machine like Jones, but coach Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. He’s technically ticketed for unrestricted free agency, but it doesn’t sound like Jones is going anywhere.

3. Kawann Short, DT (3): Unlike former teammate Josh Norman, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short says he won’t have any problem signing the franchise tender if the team tags him. “I wouldn’t fight it or anything,” said Short in early January. In 2016, he turned in his fourth straight 16-game season and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best interior defender. Short, 28 this week, also had six sacks on the year. I think the Panthers would be wise to hit Short with the ~$13.468MM franchise tag or sign him to a long-term deal, but there is at least a non-trivial chance of him reaching the open market.

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Extra Points: Steelers, Seahawks, Ravens, Jets

The NFL is “looking into” whether the Steelers violated its policy in not listing running back Le’Veon Bell on their injury reports in recent weeks, including before last Sunday’s AFC championship game, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). Bell departed the title game early because of a groin injury, and he then revealed after the Steelers’ 36-17 loss to New England that it had had been a problem for weeks. At no point did the Steelers disclose the ailment, though, which is why the league is investigating the matter.

Of course, the league is also scrutinizing the Seahawks for a similar issue involving cornerback Richard Sherman. That could lead to the loss of a second-round pick for Seattle, whose general manager, John Schneider, told SiriusXM on Thursday that the club “didn’t do anything malicious at all” (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times).

Sherman, meanwhile, believes “it would be odd, out of the norm” for the Seahawks to receive punishment, and he doesn’t expect the league to discipline the Steelers. “Le’Veon said he’s got a groin (issue) for weeks, they’re going to get a warning,” he told Conor Orr of NFL.com. “Andrew (Luck) played with cracked ribs for a whole year (back in 2015). You see what I’m saying?”

More from around the league:

  • While the possibility of the Ravens cutting wide receiver Mike Wallace this offseason in order to save $5.75MM has come up, he remains in the team’s plans, relays Clifton Brown of CSNMidAtlantic.com. Thanks to Steve Smith‘s retirement and Kamar Aiken‘s forthcoming departure, Wallace is easily the most accomplished receiver the Ravens have under contract for next season. In 2016, his age-30 campaign, Wallace finished in the top two among Ravens in receptions (72; first), yards (1,017; first), targets (117; second), yards per catch (14.1; second) and touchdowns (four; second). He’s also still one of the league’s fastest wideouts, as Brown details.
  • The Jets have hired Hall of Fame linebacker Kevin Greene to coach their OLBs, tweets Sporting News’ Alex Marvez. Greene, who’s third all-time in sacks (160), last coached the Packers’ OLBs from 2009-13.
  • Former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich is taking over as the Cardinals’ QBs coach, according to Marvez (Twitter link). He’ll displace Freddie Kitchens, who will become the team’s running backs coach. That role previously belonged to Stump Mitchell, who was in a contract year and elected not to come back for 2017. Leftwich’s introduction to coaching came last year as an intern with the Cards.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Bell, Ravens

Browns coaches represent one of the two staffs summoned to instruct sides at the Senior Bowl, and the team made a specific request. The Browns asked Deshaun Watson to play in the Senior Bowl only to see the Clemson quarterback pass on the opportunity, Peter King of TheMMQB.com reports.

Despite being a junior, Watson was eligible for the game due to having graduated early. Neither of his potential first-round peers, Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer, are eligible to compete in the top college all-star game. Watson would have played for the South team, which the Browns’ staff is instructing. Bears coaches are leading the North squad. The Browns have been linked to both Watson and Trubisky recently, but the latest report coming out of Cleveland pointed to the Browns eyeing Watson with their No. 12 overall pick. The direct communication with the dual-threat passer certainly points to this interest.

There are going to be other guys that are not participating either, so I won’t hold it against him,” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. He’s still a draftable player. … Obviously, we wish he were here. It would’ve been a great chance to have an opportunity to evaluate him doing the things we do in meetings and on the practice field.”

Here’s more from Cleveland and other AFC North cities.

  • Multiple key Browns assistants are no longer in the picture, with the team firing Ray Horton and watching Pep Hamilton follow former boss Jim Harbaugh to Michigan. The team went with a big name in filling its DC vacancy with Gregg Williams but did not take the same route to fill Hamilton’s role, promoting tight ends coach Greg Seamon to quarterbacks coach, Cabot reports. Seamon followed Hue Jackson from Cincinnati to Cleveland in 2016 after spending 12 years with the Bengals but has a longer history with the coach. Seamon coached Jackson while serving as offensive coordinator at the University of Pacific in the mid-1980s.
  • The Browns are also shifting Mark Hutson from assistant offensive line coach to tight ends coach, Cabot reports. Prior to arriving in Cleveland last year, Hutson’s only previous NFL coaching job came in overseeing the Raiders’ tight ends from 2012-14.
  • Le’Veon Bell said he injured his groin prior to the AFC championship game, Barry Wilner of the Associated Press notes. The franchise tag candidate played just 11 snaps against the Patriots in the Steelers‘ 36-17 loss. He declined to say when exactly he injured his groin this season but acknowledged he didn’t feel right during warm-ups.
  • The Ravens won’t be able to afford Ricky Wagner if the hype surrounding the UFA right tackle continues to build, Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun writes. Pro Football Focus’ Cris Collinsworth listed Wagner as his No. 1 under-the-radar free agent, and NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal recently said he could fetch as much as $10MM per year. That would be quite the raise considering only one tackle, Lane Johnson, averages more than $7MM AAV. But Zreibec sees too many needs for the Ravens to go that high to retain Wagner.
  • Zreibec identifies Mike Wallace, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb and Jeremy Zuttah as potential Ravens cap cuts. Having missed the playoffs three times in a four-year span for the first time since the 2004-07 stretch, Baltimore is projected to have barely $15MM in cap room before any cuts occur. Zreibec expects several veterans to be released. The Ravens can save more than $11MM by cutting both Dumervil and Webb.

Steelers To Franchise Le’Veon Bell, Want To Extend Antonio Brown

We heard last month that the Steelers were expected to put the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell this offseason, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported today that Pittsburgh will indeed franchise their star running back.

Le'Veon Bell (Vertical)

The tag will be about $12.3MM for running backs, and after the Steelers use it on Bell, the two sides will have a few months to work out a long-term contract. If they cannot, Bell could play out the 2017 season under the tag and be eligible for free agency again next offseason.

There are complications to a multi-year deal, of course. Bell has a history of off-field trouble, having been been suspended in each of the past two seasons, and he sustained knee injuries in 2014 and 2015. But when he’s on the field, he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game, both as a runner and as a receiver. Despite missing four games this season, Bell ranked first in the NFL in touches per game (28.0) and scrimmage YPG (157.0), and he was second in rushing YPG (105.7). From Weeks 4-16–Bell was suspended for the first three weeks of the season and was rested for the team’s meaningless Week 17 contest–he led the NFL in touches (336) and scrimmage yards (1,884).

It appears that the Steelers are comfortable with Bell’s health and they seem to believe that his off-field issues are behind him, as a long-term deal is considered likely at this point. While Bell is unlikely to reach Adrian Peterson’s record-setting $14MM/year deal, he stands an excellent change of netting an eight-figure annual salary.

Per Rapoport, the Steelers also want to extend wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is under club control for one more season. Brown’s exceedingly club-friendly deal will pay him just $4.7MM next year, quite a bargain for arguably the best receiver in the game. But with substantial raises for Bell and Brown on the horizon, Pittsburgh will need to make some tough decisions elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings

The regular season is over and, for most teams, the offseason is underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the November edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

2017 Free Agent Power Rankings With Text (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): In 2015, Cousins established himself as a solid NFL quarterback. That summer, the Redskins told Cousins they wanted him to prove it all over again before giving him a monster contract. Cousins was happy to oblige and he has now increased his value even further. After a so-so start to 2016 season, Cousins closed out strong to finish as Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 ranked QB, putting him ahead of notables such as Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Philip Rivers. All of those players have gotten their big pay day and now it’s time for Cousins to join the club. "<strong

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Before you start salivating over the idea of Jones joining your favorite team’s front seven, we have some bad news: Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. Whether it’s on a one-year, $16.955MM deal or a multi-year contract that tops Olivier Vernon‘s Giants deal, it sounds like Jones is staying put. Jones, 27 in May, played in all 16 games this year and racked up 11 sacks.

3. Kawann Short, DT (4): Contract talks between the Panthers and Short stalled last summer and Fletcher Cox‘s market-boosting deal with the Eagles didn’t help matters. Short wound up playing 2016 for peanuts ($1.473MM) and he turned in yet another stellar season. Short was the fourth-best interior defender in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus, and his 87.7 overall score was roughly the same as his 2015 mark, even though he had five less sacks. In June, it was said that the Panthers did not want to go too far beyond an average annual salary of $15MM. If he’s not franchised tagged or signed to a long-term deal by Carolina, there are a few teams that will happily go beyond that point.

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