Le’Veon Bell

AFC Notes: Browns, Raiders, Steelers

While the Browns are likely to move on from newly acquired quarterback Brock Osweiler before he ever plays a down in Cleveland, head coach Hue Jackson indicated Sunday the 26-year-old will have a chance to compete for the team’s No. 1 job, tweets Jeff Schudel of The News-Herald. It’s difficult to take Jackson seriously in this case, however, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com senses that he’s uninterested in trying to transform the former Bronco and Texan into a viable starter. As such, the Browns remain on track to jettison Osweiler via trade or release, Cabot writes.

The latest on a couple other AFC teams:

  • Count Jets owner Woody Johnson among the many around the NFL who are unimpressed with the city of Oakland’s attempt to keep the Raiders. “They didn’t make a valiant effort,” Johnson told Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal (Twitter link). It seems fair to infer from Johnson’s comment that he’ll vote in favor of the Raiders’ relocation bid Monday. The Raiders’ Mark Davis will need 23 yes votes from the league’s other 31 owners to realize his Vegas goal. He’s unlikely to have difficulty garnering approval from his colleagues, two anonymous owners told the Associated Press. “Not only have no hurdles been made clear to us, but there isn’t any opposition to it,” said one. Added the other, “It’s going to happen and the sooner we do it, the better it is for the league and for the Raiders.”
  • Pittsburgh took a serious run at inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower in free agency before he re-signed with the Patriots, which Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert addressed Sunday. “We made an attempt (to sign Hightower). It didn’t work. We’re fine, we move on,” said Colbert (via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The Steelers also lost stalwart ILB Lawrence Timmons in free agency, though Colbert insists that they’re “very confident” that Vince Williams is capable of stepping up in the wake of Timmons’ departure. Williams has only started six games since an 11-start rookie campaign in 2013, though, and played just 25.7 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps last season. It “remains to be seen” if the 27-year-old has what it takes to be a three-down player, offered Colbert.
  • A far more prominent member of the Steelers, running back Le’Veon Bell, is entering a contract year as the team’s franchise player. Long-term negotiations between the two sides will ramp up after the draft, per Rutter. “It will be a very complicated type of deal,” said Colbert, who added that locking up Bell “always has been our goal.” The leaguewide deadline to re-up franchise tag recipients to multiyear pacts is July 15, which will give the Steelers two-plus months to get a deal done with Bell if they take a post-draft approach.

Steelers’ FAs Likely To Test Market

While the Steelers have prevented running back Le’Veon Bell from reaching free agency, it doesn’t appear they’ll be able to keep their other unsigned players from hitting the open market. The club isn’t close to re-signing any of its free agents-to-be as March 9 approaches, two sources told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Lawrence Timmons (vertical)

The Steelers’ list of unrestricted players includes linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones, running back DeAngelo Williams, quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Markus Wheaton, among others. Pittsburgh began talks with Timmons in February, but it will be a challenge to stop the productive defender and careerlong Steeler from heading elsewhere for his 11th NFL season.

“Would you like to have him stay? Absolutely,” general manager Kevin Colbert said in regards to Timmons last month. “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.” 

Although Jarvis Jones has disappointed since going in the first round of the 2013 draft, having totaled only six sacks in 50 appearances, he’s likely to encounter a favorable market, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

As is the case with Timmons, Colbert has indicated he’d like to have Landry Jones stick around, though it might behoove the four-year veteran to look for a clearer path to playing time someplace else. Jones appeared in a combined 15 games the past two seasons, but barring retirement, Ben Roethlisberger is entrenched as the Steelers’ starting signal-caller.

As for Bell, the Steelers aren’t in any rush to start talks on a long-term deal with the franchise-tagged running back, per Dulac. That runs contrary to a Thursday report from NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, who relayed that the two sides are “heavy into negotiations.” The Steelers have until July 15 to lock up Bell.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Steelers, Patriots, Chiefs

The Steelers are heavy into negotiations with running back Le’Veon Bell on a long-term deal, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com hears (on Twitter). She adds that there is a very good chance the deal will set the market for running backs. Among rushers with multiyear contracts, the Bills’ LeSean McCoy paces the NFL in total value ($40.05MM) and annual average ($8.01MM), while the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott is atop the league in guarantees (~$25MM). Thanks to his designation as the Steelers’ franchise player, Bell is currently slated to lead all backs in salary next season ($12.12MM).

More on Pittsburgh and two other AFC franchises:

  • On another note relevant to the Steelers’ offense, the club has expressed interest in soon-to-be free agent quarterback Mike Glennon, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link). It’s fair to say Glennon won’t end up in Pittsburgh, though, unless Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire by the opening of free agency. Glennon’s current team, Tampa Bay, has tried to keep him at $8MM per year, but he’ll get more money and a chance to start on the market.
  • Impending free agent fullback James Develin is likely to re-sign with the Patriots in the coming days, tweets CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. A member of the Pats since 2012, Develin hasn’t touched the ball much in his career (13 receptions, seven carries), but he has registered three straight 16-game seasons and won two Super Bowls. He took part in 33.7 percent of the Patriots’ special teams snaps and 31.3 percent of their offensive plays in 2016.
  • Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif‘s new deal includes a $10MM signing bonus and $14MM fully guaranteed at signing, per Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Zach Links contributed to this post.

2017 NFL Franchise Tag Players

The deadline to designate franchise or transition players for 2017 has passed. Here’s the rundown of the players that were tagged, plus the candidates that did not receive the designation:

Franchise players (exclusive):

Franchise players (non-exclusive):

*second tag; players receive raise over designated salary for position tender

Candidates who didn’t receive tags:

Steelers Franchise Tag Le’Veon Bell

The Steelers have placed the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Steelers have opted for the exclusive tag, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), which means that no other team can sign him away. The two sides now have until July to hammer out a new contract. If they do not, Bell will play out 2017 on a one-year, ~$12MM deal."<strong

The non-exclusive variant of the tag, which costs the same as the exclusive one, opens the door for another team to sign the player if the original club does not match. When that happens, the team losing the player collects on two first-round picks.

Bell, 25, is arguably the best running back in the NFL. Had he reached unrestricted free agency, Bell probably would have become the highest-paid tailback in the NFL, considering that Adrian Peterson‘s current deal is days away from being terminated.

In 12 games last year, Bell ran for 1,268 yards off of 261 carries (4.9 yards per attempt) and had seven rushing touchdowns. Bell was often utilized as a receiver too, totaling 75 catches for 616 yards and two scores. As if that wasn’t enough, Pro Football Focus gave him the sixth-highest pass blocking grade of any running back in the NFL last year. His overall grade, naturally, was No. 1 amongst RBs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.