Marqise Lee

Jaguars To Re-Sign Marqise Lee

Allen Robinson has left Jacksonville to sign with the Bears, but the Jaguars are retaining their other top free agent wide receiver. Marqise Lee has agreed to re-sign with the Jags, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a four-year deal with a maximum value of $38MM, including $18MM guaranteed, a source tells ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). 

Before this week’s free agent frenzy, few expected Lee to net a deal as strong as this. However, after fellow WRs Robinson, Sammy Watkins, and Paul Richardson netted mega contracts, the price went up for Lee and others.

Lee doesn’t offer the same tantalizing talent as Robinson, but he has been a reliable receiver for Jacksonville over the years. Heading into free agency, I rated Lee as the 27th best available player on the market.

Lee had the most catches of any Jaguars receiver in 2017 (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). Lee does not profile as a WR1, but he’s a solid WR2 who offers familiarity with quarterback Blake Bortles. It’s a seller’s market for wide receivers this year, so Lee presumably had plenty of lucrative offers from other teams.

Between 2016 and 2017, Lee racked up 119 receptions for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns.

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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Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

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

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

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

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

Quarterback:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFC South Notes: Colts, Melvin, Jaguars, Lee

Let’s take a quick spin around the AFC South:

  • The Colts intend to allow free agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin hit the open market, general manager Chris Ballard told reporters, including Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). That’s perhaps unsurprising given that Melvin is one of the more intriguing and unproven players scheduled to hit free agency next month. Melvin, 28, had appeared in only 12 games and made two starts before joining the Colts in 2016. He’s since started 19 games over the past two seasons, and was outstanding in 2017, grading as the NFL’s No. 17 cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. While Melvin could certainly become a diamond in the rough for a team who trusts him as a full-time starter, it’s also possible he turns back into a pumpkin, so there’s risk involved in his free agent case.
  • While the Jaguars hope to retain free agent wideout Allen Robinson, they’re “far more likely” to to sign several cheaper options than pay up for Robinson, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, who points to fellow Jacksonville free agent Marqise Lee as an alternative for general manager Dave Caldwell & Co. The Jaguars are reportedly open to using the franchise tag on Robinson, which would enable them to keep their top pass-catcher for a one-year cost of ~$16MM. However, Jacksonville is relatively cap-strapped, so adding multiple low-cost options could make more financial sense for the team.
  • The Colts have continued to fill out Frank Reich‘s staff by hiring Tom Rathman as running backs coach and Kevin Patullo as wide receivers coach, reports Alex Marvez of the Sporting News (multiple stories). Rathman previously served two stints with the 49ers, but he won’t coaching his former pupil Frank Gore, whom Indianapolis does not plan to re-sign. In addition to his work in San Francisco, Rathmaan has also coached in Detroit and Oakland. Patullo, meanwhile, has led quarterbacks and wide receivers in stops with the Jets, Titans, and Bills, but spent 2017 as an analyst for Texas A&M.

2018 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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 2018 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Tuesday, March 6. 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 2018’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but OverTheCap.com recently projected the 2018 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $178MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $23.09MM
  • Running back: $11.72MM
  • Wide receiver: $16.23MM
  • Tight end: $10.36MM
  • Offensive line: $14.54MM
  • Defensive end: $17.52MM
  • Defensive tackle: $14.53MM
  • Linebacker: $15.47MM
  • Cornerback: $14.88MM
  • Safety: $11.08MM
  • Punter/kicker: $5.06MM

(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:

  • Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers: Last offseason, things got pretty weird between the Steelers and Bell. Just before the deadline to extend franchise tagged players, the Steelers believed that they had agreed on a five-year offer worth roughly $60MM. Ultimately, Bell backed out because he did not find the guarantees and cash flow to be to his liking. Soon after, friend and former teammate Ike Taylor said that Bell wanted a contract that reflects his performance as both a No. 1 back and a No. 2 receiver – something in the neighborhood of $15MM per year. Le'Veon Bell (vertical) This year, Bell topped his 75 catch total with 85 grabs, so one has to imagine that his position hasn’t changed. Despite some retirement threats in January, Bell has indicated that talks are going better this time around. Here’s where things get interesting – the Steelers say that today (Feb. 20) is the “deadline” for a long-term deal to get signed. If not, they’ll go ahead and franchise tag him for a second consecutive season, leaving Bell with a one-year, $14.5MM pact when factoring in the 20% increase. Will Bell buckle and sign a deal that isn’t quite to his satisfaction? In theory, the running back could abstain from offseason activities and even reboot retirement talk in an effort to get the Steelers to cave and abide by the real extension deadline on July 16.
  • Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys: It has already been reported that the Cowboys will go ahead and tag Lawrence to prevent him from reaching free agency. Once that happens, you can expect the cash-strapped Cowboys to get to work on an extension that will smooth out the $17.5MM cap hit for defensive ends. There won’t be much drama as to whether the Cowboys will or won’t tag Lawrence, but the subsequent multi-year negotiations will be interesting to watch. Lawrence had a rocky first three seasons in the NFL, but he stepped up big in his contract year with 14.5 sacks. The Cowboys must be willing to pay Lawrence like a top DE, but they may insist on protections like an easy escape hatch or heavy roster bonuses in the event that he is injured or suspended.

Strong Candidates:

  • Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams: As our own Micah Powell explained on Sunday, Watkins is a candidate for the tag with mutual interest on both sides in continuing their union. Committing major dollars to Watkins is dicey, however, given his injury history and his somewhat disappointing stat line in 2017. If the Rams let Watkins hit the open market, they’ll risk losing him to other teams with more wiggle room under the salary cap. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in a weak crop of free agent wide receivers, Watkins could clean up and leave the Rams without an obvious replacement.Sammy Watkins (vertical)
  • Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars: Tagging Watkins will be a tough call for the Rams and the Jaguars have a similarly difficult decision to make when it comes to Robinson. Robinson played only three snaps in 2017 before going down with a torn ACL and he didn’t set the world on fire in 2016. However, his 2015 performance – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes it hard for Jacksonville to let him walk. In theory, the Jaguars could re-sign fellow free agent Marqise Lee and let Robinson go, but Robinson is clearly the more talented of the two and one could argue that Lee’s late-season emergence was fueled by advantageous matchups. It’ll be pricey, but the Jaguars are suddenly in position to win and they can’t afford to let one of their best weapons bolt.

Toss Up:

  • Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears: Frankly, I’m conflicted on this one. I’m sure Bears GM Ryan Pace can relate. Fuller turned in a strong rookie campaign and an excellent contract year, but he was a victim of the sophomore jinx and an unfortunate knee injury which cost him his entire season as an NFL junior. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com hears that Fuller will not be with the Bears this year. But, considering that Fuller graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 22 ranked cornerback and the position is already a major area of need for the team, the Bears have to at least think about tagging him for $14.88MM. Kyle Fuller (Vertical)
  • Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions: Ansah has performed pretty well over the last two seasons, despite playing through some serious pain. The Lions probably aren’t thrilled about extending a one-year, $17.5MM tender to Ansah, but pressure generating edge rushers like him are at a premium. Consider this: Ansah tallied 12 sacks last year despite knee, ankle, and back ailments. Only seven players topped that total: Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Cam Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Joey Bosa.
  • Case Keenum, QB, Vikings: Is one year as an elite quarterback enough to justify the franchise tag? Maybe, but the Vikings have options at their disposal, including two other pending free agents already on the roster. If the Vikings can’t retain Keenum or Bradford or Bridgewater with a reasonable multi-year deal between now and free agency, they can use their mountain of cap space to get involved in the Cousins sweepstakes.
  • Sheldon Richardson, DT, Seahawks: The Jets had both Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson under contract, but they could only afford to pay one of the two defensive linemen. Clearly, they chose wrong. For all of the headaches that Richardson gave the team, the five-year, $86MM deal given to Wilkerson wound up being a monumental mistake and will continue to be an albatross for the Jets even after they cut him this offseason. The Seahawks gave up a second-round choice and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to get Richardson – will they make the same mistake and let him get away? Perhaps not, but it would also be a major gamble to tag him at $14.5MM with limited cap space and other holes to address. The best course of action here may be to try and work out a fresh deal without the franchise tag as a floor for Richardson’s camp. If that fails and the two sides can’t come to terms, the Seahawks can at least collect a 2019 compensatory pick.

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Extra Points: Broncos, Talib, Jaguars, Lee

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib wants to finish his career with the Broncos, but he also knows that a return might not be in the cards.

If I wasn’t [returning], it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world,” Talib said on Denver’s Altitude 950 (transcription via Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post). “You have three corners making big money and that’s rare to have. I had conversations with our staff during our exit meetings and stuff, so it’s kind of up in the air. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m still here. Just put it like this: I had good conversations with [head coach] Vance [Joseph], with [defensive coordinator] Joe Woods. I mean, things change. But there’s a chance I will be back.”

Talib, 31, has two years left on the five-year deal he signed with the Broncos in 2014. He’s slated to carry a cap hit of $12MM in 2018, but the team can release him and carry just $1MM in dead money. If Talib wants to stay in Denver, he’ll probably have to take a pay cut to make it happen. The Broncos can’t afford to squander any of their cap room, particularly with Bradley Roby’s salary increasing from ~$1MM to $8.5MM next season.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee did not practice on Wednesday and may not practice this week. However, the belief is that he will be able to take the field against the Bills this weekend, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Lee had the most receptions of any Jags receiver this year (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). If Lee cannot go, Jacksonville will have to lean a bit more heavily on Allen Hurns, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole.
  • Meanwhile, Titans running back DeMarco Murray has been ruled out of Saturday’s Wild Card game against the Chiefs (Twitter link via Rapoport). As a result, Derrick Henry will see a larger share of carries.
  • The Giants‘ interview with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is scheduled for Friday, Rapoport tweets.
  • The Cardinals will have their interview with Patricia on Saturday, Rapoport hears. Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores is set to interview on the same day.
  • The Lions will get to talk with Patricia over the weekend, according to Rapoport.

Jaguars Sign DuJuan Harris

The Jaguars have signed running back DuJuan Harris, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union tweets that the team has waived/injured CB Charles Gaines to make room for Harris.

DuJuan Harris

With Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon both battling injuries, Jacksonville needed depth at the running back position. Harris began his career with the Jags back in 2011, when he signed with the club as an undrafted free agent out of Troy. He has also seen regular season action with the Packers, Seahawks, and 49ers, and he accumulated 38 carries for 138 yards (3.6 YPC) for San Francisco last year, along with eight catches for 115 yards and a score. The 49ers re-signed him to a one-year deal this March but released him just a few weeks later.

Fournette, of course, is expected to anchor the Jags’ offense after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, and O’Halloran reports that Fournette is very optimistic about his chances of suiting up on Week 1. He sustained a foot injury on August 12 but indicated he has made good progress in the last week. And, although the high ankle sprain that he suffered with LSU last year was on the same leg as his current foot ailment, he indicated that the two injuries are not related.

Chris Ivory will be Jacksonville’s No. 2 back this season, so assuming Fournette is healthy, Harris will compete with Yeldon for the team’s No. 3 job, along with the likes of Jonathan Grimes, Corey Grant, and Tim Cook.

In the same piece linked above, O’Halloran reports that wide receiver Marqise Lee, who is dealing with an ankle injury that initially looked severe, also plans to be ready by Week 1.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jags WR Marqise Lee Has High Ankle Sprain

Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s preseason game, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). While Lee could conceivably be available for Week 1, an abundance of caution could force Lee to miss the beginning of the regular season, per Rapoport.Marqise Lee (Vertical)

Lee, a second-round pick in 2014, finally lived up to his draft billing last season, as he appeared in all 16 games for the first time in his career. With Allen Hurns sidelined by injury near the end of the 2016 campaign, Lee actually finished second among Jaguars wide receivers with 817 offensive snaps. In that time, he posted 63 receptions, 851 yards, and three touchdowns, and was excellent on a per-play basis, finishing 18th in DVOA.

If Lee can’t get back on the field in time for the season opener, fourth-round rookie Dede Westbrook would theoretically see more snaps as Jacksonville’s third wide receiver. Arrelious Benn and Rashad Greene could also be in contention for expanded playing time, but the Jaguars may choose to lean even more heavily on the run game. Jacksonville ran the ball on only 37% of plays last year, seventh-least in the league, but now boast fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette in the backfield.

Even if Westbrook (or another wide receiver) can fill in for Lee in the Jaguars’ offense, Jacksonville will need to find a new kick returner for the time Lee misses. In 2016, Lee managed 30.3 yards per return on 18 kickoffs, helping the Jags gain 8.9 points of field position on kick returns (fifth-best in the NFL, and the only area of the club’s special teams that was above-average).

Westrbook and/or Greene could help out on special teams, but adding a free agent could also be on the table. Marc Mariani, who’s made a career of fielding both kick and punt returns, is still on the open market. However, he’s entering his age-30 campaign and averaged only 21.5 yards per kick return in 2016.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Washington, Cutler, Cowboys, Fins, Bolts, Jags

Washington will head to Chicago on Sunday to face the Jay Cutler-led Bears as it looks to stay atop the NFC East heap. Besides the matchup’s playoff implications, adding further intrigue is that Cutler – whom the Bears acquired in a trade with Denver in 2009 – was minutes from being Washington’s quarterback, as ESPN’s John Keim writes.

“You know how much time I put into that? A lot. Months. Dan [Snyder] put in a lot, too,” said Vinny Cerrato, who was Washington’s executive vice president at the time. “It was disappointing because at times we thought we had a deal then they called and said, no. Then they called back and said, ‘Hold on. If the deal falls through, we’ll trade him to you.’ Then it was like, ‘No, it didn’t work.'”

Cutler hasn’t exactly been a franchise quarterback for the Bears, but he has fared better than the slew of passers Washington has used since failing to acquire him. Washington has started Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy and current No. 1 Kirk Cousins throughout Cutler’s time in Chicago, Keim notes. Among that group, the club invested a fair amount in an ineffective McNabb and a boatload in RGIII, who hasn’t taken a snap this year and is all but guaranteed to be with another franchise next season.

Landing Cutler would’ve cost Washington plenty – a first-round pick, a fourth-rounder and QB Jason Campbell – but Cerrato believes Mike Shanahan’s presence would’ve helped make it worthwhile. Shanahan coached Cutler with the Broncos from 2006-08 and went on to hold the same position in Washington from 2010-13. Cutler threw 54 touchdowns against 37 interceptions in 37 games under Shanahan and amassed a career-best 4,526 passing yards in 2008.

“Mike knew him and what made him tick,” Cerrato said. “It would have given the organization a shot in the arm. Some like him and some don’t, but he’d have played his best football because of the way he is with Mike … It was like a punch in the gut.”

We’ll never know how another helping of Cutler-Shanahan would’ve gone, but one thing’s obvious: Had it happened, it would’ve changed both franchises dramatically – not necessarily for the better in either case, of course.

More from around the NFL as we draw closer to Washington-Chicago and the rest of Sunday’s Week 14 action:

  • Cowboys owner Jerry Jones criticized the team’s coaching staff earlier this week. On Friday, he laid some of the blame for Dallas’ 4-8 record on himself – specifically for his handling of the backup quarterback position last offseason. “On the other hand, if you want to look at any aspect of this team you can say well, if we would have been in better shape had you had Matt Cassel in the spring, rather than (Brandon) Weeden, and I’m not trying to knock Weeden, but if we would have had a guy like Cassel in here than we might have made a difference there, so put that one ultimately on my shoulders for sure,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan, per Josh Clark of CBS DFW.
  • Dolphins rookie receiver DeVante Parker – whom the team chose 14th overall in this year’s draft – started quietly but has come on strong over the last two weeks, combining for seven catches, 143 yards and two touchdowns. With Parker seemingly emerging as a playmaker and Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills also part of the Dolphins’ long-term receiving corps, the end of Rishard Matthews‘ tenure in Miami could come this offseason, according to the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero. Matthews, a fourth-year man who’s in the top two among Dolphins in receptions (43), targets (60), yards (662), yards per catch (15.4) and touchdowns (four) this year, is scheduled to hit free agency in a few months.
  • Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was impressive on 12 carries against Denver last Sunday, rushing for 55 yards, but head coach Mike McCoy benched the first-round rookie because of fumbling issues. Gordon coughed the ball up twice in a 17-3 loss, giving him five fumbles on the season. McCoy’s decision to sit Gordon was wrong, Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune offers. In Canepa’s opinion, with the season effectively over for the 3-9 Bolts, McCoy and his staff should be coaching Gordon through his struggles and letting him play – not relegating him to the sideline.
  • The final quarter of the season will provide some important answers for the Jaguars, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. Among them: the future statuses of receiver Marqise Lee, center Stefen Wisniewski, defenders Ryan Davis and Chris Smith, and kicker Jason Myers.

AFC Notes: Pagano, Jags, Titans, Broncos

Rumors have persisted that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is fighting to keep his job. While the rumors seemingly haven’t fazed the team, the players certainly recognize their coach’s questionable job security.

“Every team has adversity,” cornerback Vontae Davis told Stephen Holder of IndyStar.com. “If the job was easy, then everybody could be a head coach. I think he’s the man for the job.”

Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo echoed that sentiment.

“He doesn’t bring any of that in here,” he said. “I actually don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Let’s check out some more notes from around the AFC…

  • Michael DiRocco reports that Jaguars wideout Marqise Lee is one setback away from landing on the injured reserve. The second-year player has only played in two games this season, but the organization isn’t ready to just cut bate from the former second-rounder.
  • With Titans running back David Cobb set to return from injury, Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com wonders if Terrance West could be the odd man out. The team swapped a conditional draft pick for the former Browns running back, but West still hasn’t appeared in enough games for that to matter.
  • Peyton Manning and the Broncos are struggling offensively, finding it difficult to run the football and getting little production from their tight ends. Owen Daniels should have a chance to get healthy during the bye week and be more productive coming out of it, but if he’s not, Troy Renck of the Denver Post suggests the team seriously consider trading for Vernon Davis, Jared Cook, or Martellus Bennett.

Rob DiRe contributed to this post.