Malcolm Butler

Extra Points: Manziel, Thomas, Bolts, Browns

It does not appear the Johnny Manziel saga will return to the NFL until at least the end of the decade. Manziel’s two-year contract with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats is a binding deal, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweets no escape clause for the purposes of venturing to the NFL exists in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The CFL previously voted on a possible escape-hatch option, but the proposal was rejected. La Canfora adds Manziel’s professional football options will come exclusively in Canada for the next two years (Twitter link). The NFL may be a faraway bridge considering how the former Heisman Trophy winner fared in his two years with the Browns and the many months that went by without any team showing significant interest.

As for Manziel’s deal, La Canfora reports (on Twitter) the 25-year-old passer will earn a $122K base salary in 2018. An additional $10K signing bonus is included, as well as an $18K housing stipend. La Canfora adds $10K escalators will trigger if Manziel hits six-, 10- and 14-game benchmarks this season. He’ll receive a $120K bonus if he plays in half the snaps, per JLC, and a $75K offseason bonus is due on March 1, 2019. Manziel’s 2019 salary spikes to $202K, and the same incentives are present.

Shifting back to the NFL, here’s the latest:

  • In supporting his former Seahawks teammate, Richard Sherman revealed a bit about Earl Thomas‘ goals for what will be his third NFL contract. “I think Earl Thomas deserves the money he’s asking for,” Sherman told former teammate and current NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson on Saturday (via NFL.com). “I think he deserves to be compensated as the top safety in the league. Whether Seattle does that or not is up to them.” Financial figures haven’t really emerged regarding this potential standoff, but if the Seahawks are to pay top dollar for their three-time All-Pro defender, it will cost them more than $13MM per year. And that could be a bridge too far for a retooling team that’s dangled Thomas in trades. When Thomas agreed to his initial Seattle extension, his $10MM-per-year salary paced NFL safeties. Five are now ahead of him.
  • Hue Jackson has repeatedly said he would like Tyrod Taylor to start throughout this season. But cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot does not see the Browns opting to re-sign Taylor after this season. She expects Mayfield to make a serious charge for the starting role at some point this season. If it turns out Taylor is a catalyst that leads the Browns to a major turnaround, Cabot expects him to hit the market as a coveted commodity — and one the Browns will not be paying for — in 2019.
  • The Chargers drafted Kevin White‘s younger brother, Kyzir White, in the fourth round. And the Bolts will move Kyzir from safety to linebacker, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Denzel Perryman has one of Los Angeles’ linebacker spots locked down, with Kyle Emanuel and former seventh-round pick Hayes Pullard tentatively slotted in the other spots. The Bolts also drafted USC’s Uchenna Nwosu in the second round. But it doesn’t appear White will factor into the Bolts’ safety picture behind Jahleel Addae and Derwin James at this time.
  • The Saints gave UDFA tight end Deon Yelder $90K guaranteed to sign, Joel Erickson of The Advocate notes. A former wide receiver recruit at Western Kentucky, Yelder spent time behind current Rams tight end Tyler Higbee and current Seahawks left tackle George Fant while with the Hilltoppers prior to receiving plenty of playing time last season. New Orleans has struggled to replace Jimmy Graham and recently cut Coby Fleener. Yelder will try to make a team that has 37-year-old Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill atop its depth chart.
  • In a lower-stakes matter, the Patriots have $215 committed to Malcolm Butler on this year’s payroll, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Apparently, one day of workout cash last offseason didn’t get tallied until now.

This Date In Transactions History: Malcolm Butler

Three years ago today, the Patriots signed several rookies, including fourth-round pick center Bryan Stork and sixth-round guard Jon Halapio. However, New England’s most important move seemingly flew under the radar, as they also signed an undrafted free agent who’d go on to become a Super Bowl hero.

On May 19th, 2014, New England inked undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler to a deal. The West Alabama product was plenty productive during his collegiate career, earning himself a pair of First-Team All-GSC nods. However, the cornerback ended up going undrafted in the 2014 draft, and it took him more than a week to finally latch on with an NFL team. Butler was surprisingly productive during his rookie campaign, compiling 15 tackles and three passes defended for New England. However, his most notable performance was during Super Bowl XLIX, when he picked off a Russell Wilson pass attempt for the championship-winning interception.

Butler parlayed that Super Bowl performance into a starting gig with the Patriots, and he proceeded to earn a 2015 Pro Bowl appearance after finishing with 67 tackles, 15 passes defended, and two interceptions. Following another productive 2016 campaign, Butler and the Patriots seemingly butted heads during the 2017 offseason. The team assigned a first-rounder tender to the restricted free agent (which he ultimately signed), and they proceeded to sign Stephon Gilmore to a lucrative $65MM contract. Butler was demoted to the second spot on the depth chart, and the Patriots’ manipulation of his contract situation led to some ill will.

Butler was productive again in 2017, but he was mysteriously benched during the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. Butler ended up bolting for Tennessee back in March, signing a five-year, $61MM contract ($30MM guaranteed).

Fortunately for the Patriots, they probably never expected that kind of production from an undrafted rookie. On the flip side, when Butler made the game-winning interception during the Super Bowl, they probably never thought that he’d willingly leave the organization three years later.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Panthers, Broncos, Cravens, Jets, Titans

Labeled as a frontrunner in the bidding to become the new Panthers owner, businessman Ben Navarro will make a visit to the team’s facilities next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (Twitter link). Person also notes another suitor, Alan Kestenbaum, was in on Wednesday.

A vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated. The last franchise that was sold, the Bills in 2014, went for $1.4 billion.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Navarro is already being vetted by the NFL. The South Carolina businessman is the founder of Sherman Financial, but some owners have had concerns about how Navarro made his money.

Navarro and Kestenbaum are joined by Steelers minority owner and hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the perceived top contenders to acquire the franchise. The reported sale price has already helped one potential suitor, Michael Rubin, withdraw his name from the running. Rubin’s group reportedly included Sean “Diddy” Combs and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Thanks to a video produced by Sports Illustrated, we have some insights into the offers received by cornerback Malcolm Butler before he agreed to sign with the Titans. Early on, the Bears pitched him on a three-year, $30MM deal while the Texans offered a one-year contract (value unknown). It seems that Tennessee greatly outbid the other suitors after signing him to a five-year, $61.25MM deal with $24MM fully guaranteed.
  • For their offseason so far, the Jets have received a grade of B- from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Considering the team whiffed in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, that’s not a bad grade to receive. Cimini cites, among other things, the team’s addition of Trumaine Johnson as the team’s most significant offseason signing so far.
  • Su’a Cravens, who was acquired by the Broncos from the Redskins earlier this week, told Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post he wanted to play for a team that wanted him. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team,” he said. Cravens sat out the entire 2017 season as a member of the Redskins. “I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins. It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.

AFC Contract Details: Butler, Johnson, Bridgewater

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Extra Points: Butler, Shead, Rams, Chiefs

It’s been a wild ride for the Seahawks defense the past week. After the team traded Michael Bennett to the Eagles and released Richard Sherman, it also decided to release cornerback DeShawn Shead.

This was noteworthy because the Seahawks told the player it would release him to allow him to become an unrestricted free agent despite the NFL saying his contract should toll for 2018.

Earlier today, Shead signed with the Lions but reportedly wanted a return to the Seahawks, the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta tweets. After Seattle honored its statement to make the cornerback a free agent, Shead wanted to give Seattle every chance to keep him, but the organization ultimately wouldn’t match the offer he received from the Lions.

Seattle now enters free agency without three of its top veterans and could be seeing the end of the Earl Thomas era, who has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a new deal. The Seahawks could deal him this offseason and are reportedly looking for a first-round pick in return.

Needless to say, the Seahawks once-stingy defensive unit will look plenty different in 2018.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Rams general manager Les Snead said on Wednesday the team traded linebacker Alec Ogletree to accommodate the ensuing move for cornerback Aqib Talib, Alden Gonzalez tweets. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prefers cornerbacks to linebackers in his scheme, and a big move had to be made to bring in the former Broncos corner, who will count $11 MM toward the cap.
  • Snead also said he sees ways the Rams can address run defense and the pass rush in free agency, Gonzalez tweets. Though he is weighing what will be available to fill those holes with rookies, he doesn’t want to just wait until the draft to fill obvious needs. The team received some insurance for its pass rush on Wednesday when it re-signed veteran linebacker Connor Barwin.
  • New Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler said he was worried his Super Bowl benching would hurt his value on the open market, USA Today’s Lindsay Jones tweets. Butler notoriously didn’t see the field against the Eagles in February when the Patriots allowed Nick Foles to shred their secondary. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection reached a deal with the Titans on Wednesday worth up to $61 MM over five years, with $30 MM of that being guaranteed.
  • Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said cornerback Marcus Peters‘ trade to the Rams had nothing to do with national anthem protests, Pro Football Talk passes along“This was a football decision. … This wasn’t just one game, wasn’t a month, this was three years of body of work, and we look for consistency. We felt that this was in the best interest of the team,” Veach said. 
  • Veach also touched on the Chiefs move for Sammy Watkins, saying the team pounced on the receiver in the first minute of free agency, the NFL Network’s James Palmer tweets. Veach said that if Watkins received a call before theirs, the other team would’ve had to call in 30 seconds before they did. The team was motivated to move on Watkins to add him to Tyreek Hill, giving strong-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes a pair of dynamic, stretch-the-field receivers.

Contract Details: Brees, Butler, T. Johnson

Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless otherwise noted:

Titans To Sign CB Malcolm Butler

Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are reuniting. This time, it’s in Tennessee. Butler intends to sign with the Titans when free agency formally opens on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Butler gets a five-year contract worth more than $61MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal includes more than $30M guaranteed. 

Butler had interest from multiple teams, including the Texans and the Saints. The Jets, who are said to be seeking two starting-caliber corners, also likely had Butler high atop their list. A return to incumbent Patriots, meanwhile, seemed unlikely after Butler was benched for the overwhelming majority of the Super Bowl.

Had Butler reached unrestricted free agency last offseason, he would have had piles of money thrown at him. However, he was a restricted free agent and the Pats prevented him from joining the Saints when they could not agree to terms on a trade. This time around, Butler was an unfettered free agent and still got paid oodles of money, despite coming off of a down year.

Butler will now collect more than the tentative agreement — four years, ~$50MM — that he’d agreed to with the Saints in 2017. The Patriots, meanwhile, never offered Butler more than $7MM annually.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Interested In Malcolm Butler

The Texans are among several NFL teams with interest in cornerback Malcolm Butler, sources tell Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). As reported earlier today, the Saints are also among the teams looking into the Patriots free agent

Butler was conspicuously absent from the Super Bowl and did not look like his usual self in 2017. Still, he stands as one of the very best cornerbacks available in this year’s crop. Last week, PFR’s Dallas Robinson ranked Butler as the No. 2 CB available, ahead of Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Morris Claiborne, Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Prince Amukamara. He trailed only Trumaine Johnson on the list.

Cornerback is high on the Texans’ agenda after Kevin Johnson disappointed and Kareem Jackson turned in an up-and-down season. In hindsight, the Texans probably wish that they made a stronger effort to retain A.J. Bouye last offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints Interested In Malcolm Butler

Once again, the Saints have interest in acquiring cornerback Malcolm Butler. New Orleans is eyeing the Patriots free agent as well as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, according to Dianna Russini of ESPN.com (on Twitter). 

The Patriots and Saints discussed a trade last offseason that would have sent Butler to New Orleans, but talks fell apart when the two sides could not agree to the level of draft compensation. After a down year, the Saints now have an opportunity to sign Butler to a cheaper deal and they won’t have to give up draft picks to do it, save for the impact the signing would have on their compensatory formula. Butler ranked just 51st amongst Pro Football Focus’ qualified corners last season and was virtually a healthy scratch in the Super Bowl.

The Giants released Rodgers-Cromartie over the weekend after he rejected a pay cut. DRC was scheduled to make $6.48MM in 2018, a figure that he can likely come close to on the open market. A reunion with the Broncos appeared to make some sense for Rodgers-Cromartie, but Denver does not have interest. Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune tweets that the cornerback does have a connection to the organization, as senior defensive assistant Peter Giunta was the Giants cornerbacks coach back in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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