Le’Veon Bell

AFC Notes: Orr, Raiders, Chiefs, Bell

A few AFC-themed notes:

  • Free agent linebacker Zach Orr, who retired in January thanks to a congenital spinal condition, announced Wednesday that he’s planning a comeback. Now, nearly half of the NFL’s 32 teams have interest in Orr, though the Raiders aren’t among those clubs at the moment, reports Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Twitter link). The 25-year-old’s agent, Rob Sheets, told Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that Orr is “100 percent confident he will play this season. This is a one-in-a-billion situation. I couldn’t even make this up.” But Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun is less than enthusiastic about Orr’s potential return, opining that the defender should stay retired instead of coming back and risking paralysis. Regardless of whether Orr plays in 2017, Schmuck doesn’t anticipate him rejoining the Ravens, as there’s doubt that their doctors would deem him healthy enough to play.
  • Chiefs ownership fired general manager John Dorsey in part over concerns about how he presented himself, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Dorsey is “more comfortable in a sweatshirt than a suit and tie,” writes La Canfora, leading to questions over whether he was corporate enough for chairman Clark Hunt’s liking. Despite that, there were no indications Dorsey was in over his head in the role – the team did go 43-21 with him at the helm, after all – and one agent told La Canfora: “He’s wily. He’s guile. He plays like he doesn’t know, but he knows. He’s creative in his approach to negotiations and he can be strong willed when he has to be. He’s a very smart negotiator. He’s going to get another job, I’m sure, and he’ll show why he is one of the best GMs in the league. He already has to be one of the top evaluators in the game.” Like that agent, La Canfora doesn’t expect Dorsey to go without a job for long, but he also doesn’t see him rushing into a lesser role than the one he just had.
  • There’s no deal in sight for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who will either ink a long-term contract by the July 17 deadline for franchise players or go through the season under the tag. With the calendar moving toward that date, each of Jamison Hensley, Pat McManamon and Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com agree that the Steelers should extend Bell, arguing that the 25-year-old – unlike most running backs – is worth a significant investment.

No Deal In Sight For Steelers, Le’Veon Bell

There’s no deal in sight right now for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Both sides remain motivated to get an extension done, but it could “go either way,” in Schefter’s estimation. Le'Veon Bell (vertical)

[RELATED: Latest On Redskins, Kirk Cousins]

It’s expected that there will be a push around the time of the July 17 deadline, Schefter writes. That’s typically the case when it comes to extensions for franchised players. Often times, talks will stall but the deadline will spur action.

Despite the off-the-field headaches from Bell, the running back has been a major part of the Steelers’ success in recent years. In 2016, Bell missed three games due to suspension, but he was as lethal as ever when he was on the field. Bell ran for 1,268 yards off of 261 carries, matching a career-high of 4.9 yards per attempt. He was also used frequently in the receiving game as he caught 75 passes for 616 yards. When averaged out on a per-game basis, his 2016 numbers actually bested his 2014 effort, a season which garnered him a First-Team All-Pro selection.

If Bell and the Steelers cannot work out a long-term deal, he will play out the 2017 season on a one-year, $12.12MM deal. Running backs don’t command as much money on the open market as, say, quarterbacks, but Bell could still do well for himself as a free agent next spring. When free agency opens in 2018, he’ll be just one month past his 26th birthday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Pushes Back Deadline To Sign Franchise Players

The NFL has pushed back the deadline to sign franchise players to multiyear contracts, relays ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Teams that haven’t yet extended their tag recipients will have until July 17 to do so. The deadline was previously set for July 15.

Kirk Cousins

The change could affect the Redskins, Rams and Steelers – the only teams that have players currently slated to play the season under the tag. The Redskins have the most expensive member of the trio, quarterback Kirk Cousins ($24MM), who could go through his second straight year as their franchise player. The same holds true for Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who’s in line to make $16.42MM. The cheapest of the three, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, comes in at $12.1MM.

Placing the franchise tag on Cousins again next year would cost the Redskins upward of $34MM, an unpalatable amount, and finding quality quarterbacks isn’t exactly easy. As such, Washington has been working to extend the 28-year-old Cousins prior to the deadline. Unlike last year, when the two sides made little to no headway toward an agreement, there has been progress this spring.

Meanwhile, there’s no indication that the Rams and Johnson have engaged in discussions, in part because they wanted to see how he’d fit in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme. Los Angeles’ coaching staff got a look at Johnson, 27, in Phillips’ defense during the club’s offseason program, and head coach Sean McVay subsequently praised the corner. It’s possible, then, that a deal will come together in the next month.

While Cousins and Johnson each signed their franchise tenders awhile back, Bell still hasn’t put pen to paper on his. He and the Steelers have been discussing an extension throughout the offseason, though, and despite his past suspensions and injury issues, the 25-year-old wants to become the league’s highest-paid back on his next deal. There’s a good chance that will happen, writes ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler, who notes that the per-year value of Bell’s contract won’t match the tag.

“Even if he gets $10 million a year, that’s 25 percent more than any other running back is making right now,” one front office executive told Fowler. “You’d have to call that a market-moving deal.”

In the end, Fowler expects the Steelers to offer Bell a four-year accord in the $40MM to $45MM range, including $20MM in guarantees.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Luck, Hopkins, Bell, Freeman

As he enters his fifth-year option season, DeAndre Hopkins has nothing but great things to say about the Texans, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes.

Those talks are between the Texans and my agent, but this city has embraced me just like my hometown in South Carolina has,” said Hopkins, who’s represented by Creative Artists Agency. “I love being here. I love playing for this team, great organization. Bob McNair and Cal McNair, they do a great job at having an organization that speaks for itself. I thank those guys all the time for picking me 27th when nobody knew who DeAndre Hopkins was.”

Hopkins and Houston are expected to hammer out a new deal this offseason. For now, he’s set to play out the year at a $7.915MM figure.

Let’s check out some other notes from around the league…

  • Colts quarterback Andrew Luck underwent offseason shoulder surgery, and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that he may not be ready for training camp in July. “To be honest, I have not thought about it,” Luck told Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “If I’m ready for it, then great. If I’m not, then that’s the way it is. I’m certainly hopeful for it. In my mind all I can do — and I truly feel this way — with this rehab, with my shoulder, I can’t look five months down the road, three months down the road, a week down the road. To me it’s about the next rehab session, the next day. That’s where my focus is and that’s where I think it needs to be to truly get back to 100 percent.” If Luck was forced to miss any time, Scott Tolzien would presumably take starters reps.
  • Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t signed his franchise tender with the organization, and ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio wonders what it’d take to sign the Pro Bowler to an extension. Using the franchise tag as a guide, the writer guesses that Bell would request at least a two-year contract worth $26.6MM, with team options accounting for the subsequent years. Of course, considering the player’s injury and suspension history, Florio guesses that the Steelers would request some type of per-game bonuses. He also assumes that Bell would be seeking a lucrative roster bonus in an attempt to immediately pocket as much as money as possible.
  • Brandon McManus hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender contract with the Broncos, but Mike Klis of 9News in Denver tweets that the veteran kicker is not “protesting,” noting that the 25-year-old is participating in minicamp. McManus has appeared in 47 games with the Broncos over the past three seasons, converting 82.9-percent of his field goal attempts.
  • Former NFL quarterback Josh Freeman worked out with the Montreal Alouettes today, reports Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette (via Twitter). The former first-rounder’s last NFL appearance came in 2015, when he threw for 149 yards and one touchdown in a start for the Colts. Between 2010 and 2012, Freeman started 47 games for the Buccaneers.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Aaron Donald, Le’Veon Bell May Skip Minicamp

We heard earlier tonight that Duane Brown is not expected to report to the Texans’ minicamp tomorrow, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (article via Conor Orr of NFL.com) reports that Rams DT Aaron Donald and Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell could miss their teams’ respective minicamps as they seek new contracts of their own.

Le'Veon Bell (Vertical)

Bell is now the only franchise-tagged player in the league not to have signed the franchise tender or agreed to a long-term extension, though he and the Steelers have been working on a deal for awhile, and it was reported at the end of last month that neither Bell nor Pittsburgh is worried about the running back’s status. At this point, though, the Steelers have most of the leverage. As talented as Bell is, and as important as he is to the team’s offense, his suspensions and injury history are certainly working against him in contract talks, and the closer we get to training camp, the more difficult it would be for Bell to land a contract on the open market that pays him even $10MM in 2017, much less the $12.1MM he stands to receive under the franchise tender.

As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, the franchise tag value makes a long-term deal unlikely at this point. Bell is no doubt pushing for a multiyear deal that includes twice the amount of the franchise tender in guarantees with a roughly $12MM average annual value, and Bouchette is skeptical that the Steelers would meet those demands (particularly when they can just tag Bell again next season for about $14.5MM, which does not sound too exorbitant for a player of his caliber).

Because Bell is not under contract, he cannot be fined for missing minicamp. The same cannot be said for Donald, who is under club control through 2018, but it is unlikely Los Angeles would actually impose a fine on Donald. We learned last month that negotiations on a long-term deal had entered the “serious phase,” but we have not heard anything since that report. It still looks as if the two sides may reach a multiyear pact sometime soon, though the Rams’ tight salary cap situation could be complicating things a bit. Indeed, Donald’s next contract could make him the highest-paid defensive player in the game, and with hardly any cap room at the moment, the Rams may need to get creative to take on such a contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Steelers, Jets, C. Kelly

Steelers star RB Le’Veon Bell has yet to sign his franchise tender, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wonders if the club would consider rescinding the tender, just as the Panthers did with Josh Norman last year. The closer we get to training camp, the more difficult it would be for Bell land a contract on the open market that pays him even $10MM in 2017, much less the $12.1MM he stands to receive under the franchise tender, and if Pittsburgh were to rescind the tender late in the summer, Bell’s financial prospects would only worsen. In the meantime, the Steelers’ other backs will get ample opportunity to prove their worth, and Florio speculates that Pittsburgh could decide to save millions by severing ties with Bell if its other options could combine to approximate Bell’s production.

But given that the rest of the Steelers’ RB corps features the likes of Knile Davis, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and rookie James Conner, that notion seems almost laughable. Even if the Steelers were considering rescinding the tender, it’s not surprising that there have been no reports about it, as such decisions are made and executed swiftly to avoid the possibility that the player will catch wind of it and pounce on the tender. Nonetheless, if Bell is not lined up behind Ben Roethlisberger on Week 1 (assuming he’s not injured or suspended), it would be the surprise of the season.

Now for more from the AFC:

  • Speaking of Davis, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Arkansas product, whom the Steelers signed as a free agent this offseason, has a good chance of landing the team’s No. 3 RB spot behind Bell and Conner. Third-string backs have been important players for Pittsburgh in recent years, and Davis’ experience returning kickoffs could give him the edge over Toussaint.
  • New Jets OC John Morton, unlike his predecessor, Chan Gailey, utilizes two-back sets, and the only fullbacks currently on New York’s roster are the unproven Julian Howsare and undrafted rookie Anthony Firkser. As such, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com believes the team could add a fullback like Zach Line, whom the team expressed interest in earlier this offseason, in the near future.
  • Darryl Slater of NJ.com says Jets QB Christian Hackenberg has shown some progress in OTAs, though he is still struggling with accuracy and turnovers. If the team can get him some game action, and if he flashes some potential, Slater believes the Jets may refrain from drafting a QB in 2018. If not, look for Gang Green to use another early selection on a signal-caller next year.
  • Broncos rookie QB Chad Kelly, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, is close to getting back on the field, as Mike Klis of 9News.com writes. Kelly is coming off an injury to his right throwing wrist and his second ACL operation on his right knee, and while the Ole Miss product likely wouldn’t have been a factor in Denver’s QB competition this year anyway, he could have a legitimate chance at the job in 2018 or 2019.
  • Texans rookie Deante’ Gray, who signed with the club as a UDFA last month and who has a chance of cracking the back end of Houston’s WR corps, is expected to be out until training camp with a Grade 2 partially torn hamstring, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes.
  • Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union compares the career trajectory of Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith, who is entering his contract year, with that of Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey, who recently signed a four-year, $38MM extension with Cleveland. The two players, who were both drafted in 2014, have similar numbers through this point in their careers, so O’Halloran suggests that Kirksey’s deal will be a good foundation for a new Smith contract if the Jags are open to extending Smith before the season starts.

Melvin Ingram, Le’Veon Bell Likely To Stay Away From Workouts

The final two franchise-tagged players yet to sign their tenders or reach a long-term deal with their respective teams, Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Ingramaren’t expected to show at team facilities any time soon, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports.

It would be a surprise if the Steelers running back and Chargers edge defender participated in OTAs or minicamp, per Rapoport, who adds Ingram is more likely to stage a holdout come training camp if he and the Bolts are unable to come to a long-term agreement by July 15.

Bell, conversely, remains in talks with the Steelers on a long-term pact, and Rapoport notes neither Bell (attached to a $12.1MM tag) nor Pittsburgh management is worried about the running back’s status.

Rapoport adds that no firm decisions are in place yet for these two talents, but they are the last two of their ilk during an offseason that hasn’t seen quite the tag drama as in years past. Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Kawann Short have already come to agreements on lucrative extensions, and Kirk Cousins and Trumaine Johnson are working out with their respective teams after signing their tenders.

Ingram’s situation could resemble Eric Berry‘s if the sides can’t agree by the deadline. The safety did not receive a long-term commitment from his team and did not rejoin the Chiefs until late August of last year. Rapoport points out the Chargers’ struggles striking deals with tagged performers Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles as examples of why Ingram’s path to an extension may be more complicated than Bell’s.

Since the Chargers tagged Ingram in February, no updates have emerged about progress in talks on an extension. The Chargers have changed significantly since Ingram was last on the field, moving from San Diego to Los Angeles and changing from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 alignment. Ingram spent his entire five-year career in a 3-4 look, so the career outside linebacker’s fit under Gus Bradley isn’t as certain as it was under John Pagano. But the Bolts using the $14.6MM tag on Ingram provides a good illustration of their view of the defender.

However, more Ingram deal parameters emerged after Pierre-Paul and Jones inked their extensions. Bell is expected to become the league’s highest-paid running back, so the Steelers won’t have other contracts to work off of like the Chargers do this summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.