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Saints Nearing Deal With Jared Cook

The Saints are close to a deal with free agent tight end Jared Cook, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link).

Cook, 31, just wrapped up the best season of his NFL career, leading the Raiders in receptions (68), receiving yardage (896), and receiving touchdowns (6). Cook ranked as a top-five tight end league-wide in all three of those categories, while Pro Football Focus grades him ninth at his position. Additionally, Cook finished fifth among NFL tight ends in Football Outsiders’ DYAR — which measures value over a replacement level player — and 11th in DVOA, which quantifies value on a per-play basis.

The Saints are losing Ben Watson to retirement, but still have Josh HillGarrett Griffin, and Dan Arnold at tight end. Cook, clearly, would represent an upgrade over any of those options, and would project to see the majority of snaps and targets at the position in New Orleans.

A number of free agent tight ends — Jesse JamesTyler Kroft, and Nick Boyle among them — have received multi-year deals worth $6-7MM annually, and Cook should be able to top those figures. Heading into free agency, he was widely viewed as the top tight end available on the open market.

New Orleans originally hosted Cook when the free agent market opened last Wednesday. At the time, both the incumbent Raiders and the Patriots were believed to be “monitoring” Cook’s market.

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Rams To Sign OLB Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews will be returning to southern California. The USC product and longtime Packer linebacker will sign with the Rams, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Via some uniform art, Matthews confirmed his decision (on Twitter).

The Rams and Matthews agreed on a two-year deal, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. This deal will max out at $16.75MM, according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter). While it’s unlikely Matthews’ base salary surpasses $8MM, Ian Rapoport notes he was one of the Rams’ top free agency targets (Twitter link). With one of the linebacker’s homes located within minutes of the Rams’ training facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif., this seems like a convenient landing for the free agent sack artist.

More lucrative offers came Matthews’ way, per Garafolo, who adds staying close to home was a priority for the 11th-year linebacker. After entering last season with significant issues at outside linebacker, the Rams now have Matthews and Dante Fowler early in this offseason.

Matthews finished last season with a career-low 3.5 sacks. He saw his Packers job essentially given to younger pass rushers, with Green Bay replacing its Matthews-Nick Perry setup and going with a Preston SmithZa’Darius Smith combination. Rams rumors emerged last week, and the soon-to-be 33-year-old edge rusher is set to be a key part of Los Angeles’ pass rush.

The former USC Trojan and L.A.-area high school standout went on to record 83.5 sacks with the Packers, en route to six Pro Bowls. While those honors came between 2009-15, the Packers’ all-time sack leader working as a pass-rush specialist in L.A. would be interesting. Matthews, who collected a Super Bowl ring eight years ago, follows Eric Weddle to the defending NFC champions’ defense.

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Raiders Sign LB Vontaze Burfict

The Vontaze Burfict-to-Oakland rumors turned out to have legs. The Raiders met with Burfict on Tuesday and are signing the veteran linebacker, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report (Twitter link). It’s a one-year deal. The Raiders have since announced the move.

Despite a polarizing reputation, the 28-year-old linebacker could roughly earn up to $5MM on this deal, Rapoport tweets. Incentives are involved, and it’s unclear yet how much of $5MM figure for which those account.

A day after the Bengals released him, Burfict will receive another chance. He will reunite with DC Paul Guenther in Oakland and be in position to be one of the Raiders’ first-string linebackers. While Burfict has often lined up on the outside in past Guenther schemes, the Raiders plan for him to play middle linebacker and have Tahir Whitehead stay outside, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM tweets. Burfict called Guenther soon after being cut, he said (via Vic Tafur of The Athletic, on Twitter).

The new Raider, obviously, comes with a controversial past. He is a perpetual suspension risk, having paid more than $4MM in fines.

Burfict has not played more than 11 games in a season since the 2013 campaign. He has completed just two 16-game seasons — 2012 and ’13 — and saw suspensions and on-field struggles in 2018 lead to his Cincinnati exit. This also places Burfict on the same team as Antonio Brown. The two have a history, with the linebacker concussing the wide receiver during a 2015 playoff game. That hit led to Brown missing the Steelers’ subsequent divisional-round game and Burfict drawing a suspension to start the 2016 season. He was also suspended to start the 2017 and ’18 seasons.

The Bengals cut bait on Burfict with two years remaining on his deal. In addition to having a reputation for delivering dirty hits, the former UDFA has reportedly sustained seven concussions himself. These factors do not paint a picture of reliability, but the Raiders are going to take a chance on Burfict’s skills.

This signing may result in Brandon Marshall, rumored as a Raider target, to seek another gig elsewhere. Though, considering Burfict’s history and the Raiders’ lack of surefire answers on their defensive second level, the longtime Bronco still may be an option.

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Rams Sign Blake Bortles

After visiting with him today, the Rams have signed embattled signal-caller Blake Bortles to a one-year deal, per a team announcement. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington was the first to report that a contract was being finalized (Twitter link).

Bortles will earn just $1MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), but that doesn’t make much of a difference for the QB since his previous Jaguars contract contained offset language. The $1MM sum will eat into the $6.5MM he’s owed by the Jaguars, which results in the same income for Bortles and a bit of relief for Jacksonville.

Bortles will certainly test the theory that Rams head coach Sean McVay can make any quarterback successful, and he will serve as the backup to starter Jared Goff. This signing also likely means that Goff’s 2018 backup, Sean Mannion, will be moving on. Mannion is an unrestricted free agent.

The third overall selection in the 2014 draft, Bortles hasn’t come close to living up to his draft status. Since Bortles entered the NFL with the Jaguars, 17 quarterbacks have attempted at least 2,000 passes: among those signal-callers, Bortles ranks dead last in adjusted net yards per attempt, quarterback rating, and interception rate, and is second-to-last in touchdown rate.

Bortles has never worked with McVay, but the two do have a tangential connection. Greg Olson was Bortles’ Jacksonville offensive coordinator from 2015-16 before taking over as the Rams’ quarterbacks coach under McVay in 2017. Olson left for Oakland after one year in Los Angeles, but it’s fair to assume he’s given McVay a Bortles scouting report that McVay apparently likes well enough. Plus, Bortles’ first OC, Jedd Fisch, is an offensive assistant on the Rams’ staff.

The Jaguars will certainly be interested to see how much money the Rams will be paying Bortles. Bortles still had guaranteed salary remaining on his Jacksonville deal, but thanks to offset language, the Jags will receive a cap credit equal to the amount of Bortles’ base salary (up to $6.5MM).

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Eric Berry To Visit Cowboys

Former Chiefs safety Eric Berry is visiting the Cowboys tomorrow, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). After a long-rumored reunion of sorts with Earl Thomas never came to fruition, Dallas is still in the market for safety help, and the club is looking at another former First Team All-Pro.

Berry, 30, was cut by Kansas City after the Chiefs inked fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu to a lucrative free agent contract. Berry has always been a terrific player, but he has had difficulty staying on the field throughout his career.

In five of his nine pro seasons, Berry has failed to play more than five games. He’s been available for only three total regular season contests over the past two years after rupturing his Achilles in September 2017, but in spite of that, Berry doesn’t plan to undergo offseason surgery to correct his nagging heel concerns.

That is enough to give any team pause, but the Cowboys need a safety and may see Berry as a worthwhile gamble. The club met with Clayton Geathers earlier today, and while there is probably room in the defensive backfield to add both talented but injury-plagued talents, that is not an especially likely scenario.

This marks Berry’s first scheduled visit since he was cut.

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Redskins Sign Ereck Flowers

The Redskins have signed free agent offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, per Pro Football Talk (on Twitter). Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that it will be a one-year, $4MM pact.

Washington hosted the fifth-year pro yesterday, and the club elected to pull the trigger today. Flowers, of course, was selected by the division-rival Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft, but he never lived up to his pedigree. New York cut him last October and he subsequently caught on with the Jaguars, starting seven games at left tackle for Jacksonville.

His tenure with the Giants was marred by penalties and a matador-like approach to pass blocking, and even after Big Blue switched Flowers from left tackle to right tackle, they did not see an uptick in performance. But his improved play with the Jags caught the Redskins’ eye, and John Keim of ESPN.com says the club plans to to slide Flowers inside to guard.

However, he will also serve as a swing tackle and insurance policy for left tackle Trent Williams and right tackle Morgan Moses, while 2018 third-rounder Geron Christian — whom the team prefers at swing tackle — recovers froma torn MCL.

 

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Bengals Release Vontaze Burfict

It’s the end of an era in Cincinnati. On Monday, the Bengals released linebacker Vontaze Burfict

Burfict, one of the league’s most controversial players, has been a pillar of the Bengals’ defense throughout his seven year career.

Over the years, Burfict has helped to anchor the Bengals’ front seven with his hard-hitting style. Unfortunately, his aggression blurred the line when it comes to rules and safety regulations. In seven seasons, Burfict racked up whopping 14 total fines and/or suspensions from the league office, including three times in 2018. Last year, his sanctions resulted from PEDs and hits on Antonio Brown, James Conner, and Andy Janovich. All in all, Burfict lost $4.2MM and ten games for his violations.

By releasing Burfict before the final year of his contract, the Bengals will take on $1.8M in dead money. However, they’ll save $5.5M on this year’s cap. Meanwhile, Burfict should find a decent market for his services, though you can expect teams like the Steelers to pass on him given their history together.

Burfict, 29 in September, went undrafted in 2012 thanks to a bad showing at the combine and rumors of a failed drug test. Quickly, Burfict proved that belonged in the NFL. As a rookie, he compiled 127 stops in 16 games (14 starts) and followed up with a Pro Bowl nod and a league-leading 177 tackles in his second pro season.

When on the field, Burfict is a bonafide difference maker as a middle linebacker. But, because of his issues, Burfict may not garner offers with guarantees beyond 2019 like many of his MLB counterparts have this offseason.

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Eagles’ Haloti Ngata Retires From NFL

After 13 years in the NFL, Haloti Ngata is calling it a career. On Monday morning, Ngata took to Instagram to bid farewell to the Eagles and the game he loves. 

Just a man standing on top of the world with a heart full of gratitude,” Ngata wrote. “Thank you Lord for letting me play the game I love for 13 unforgettable years. I’m retiring on top. I might be finished playing football, but I’m holding tight to the friendships, memories and wisdom I’ve gained along the way.”

Ngata 35, enjoyed a long run as one of the league’s most feared defensive linemen. Over the course of his 13-year career, Ngata earned five Pro Bowl nods, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and captured a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens.

Last year, Ngata was initially set for a fill-in role with Philly, but he wound up seeing more snaps than expected while Tim Jernigan was sidelined. His final year ended with 17 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. He ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 55th best interior defender – a respectable placement for an aging veteran.

Ngata will be missed by the Eagles, though the recent addition of Malik Jackson and the continued presence of Fletcher Cox should offset the loss. It’s also likely that the Eagles will target defensive tackle help in the draft.

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Dolphins Sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

The Dolphins have signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, according to Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com (Twitter link). It’s a two-year, $11MM deal that could reach $17-20MM via incentives, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

Miami traded former starter Ryan Tannehill and a 2019 seventh-round pick to the Titans on Friday, acquiring a 2019 sixth-rounder and a 2020 fourth-round pick while absorbing $5MM of Tannehill’s $7MM 2019 base salary. That left the Dolphins will only two quarterbacks on its roster: former sixth-rounders Jake Rudock and Luke Falk, who have combined to attempt five passes in the NFL (all by Rudock).

Fitzpatrick was the best signal-caller still available on the open market, especially after the Dolphins reportedly tried — and failed — to land both Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater. Taylor opted to sign a two-year to backup Philip Rivers with the Chargers, while Bridgewater decided to return to New Orleans on a one-year, fully guaranteed $7.25MM contract.

Fitzpatrick excelled — at times — with the Buccaneers in 2018, but after what was an uneven overall campaign, Tampa Bay indicated it would deploy Jameis Winston as its full-time starter for the upcoming season. Ever mercurial, Fitzpatrick started the first three games of the year while Winston was on suspension, and tossed 11 touchdowns against four interceptions while completing more than 70% of his passes.

Things unraveled against a league-best Bears defense in Week 4, and Fitzpatrick lost his job to Winston. The 36-year-old Fitzpatrick relieved a struggling Winston in Week 7 versus the Bengals and threw four touchdowns the following week, but after five total interceptions in Weeks 9-10, Fitzpatrick was permanently demoted. All told, Fitzpatrick finished the year having completed 66.7% of his passes for 2,366 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 12 picks.

The addition of Fitzpatrick shouldn’t preclude the Dolphins from selecting a quarterback early in the 2019 draft, but it’s unclear if they plan to do so. Miami is embarking on a full-scale rebuild, so the club may attempt to bottom out this season in an effort to compile more long-term assets.

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Ereck Flowers To Visit Redskins

Free agent offensive tackle Ereck Flowers is visiting the Redskins tonight, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Flowers was selected by the division-rival Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft but never lived up to his pedigree. New York cut him last October and he subsequently caught on with the Jaguars, starting seven games at left tackle for Jacksonville.

He played decently for the Jags, and surprisingly graded out as an above average offensive tackle in 2018, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. However, his tenure with the Giants was mostly a disaster, as he yielded the most quarterback pressures of any offensive lineman in the league from Week 1 of his rookie campaign to Week 2 of 2018, his last appearance with Big Blue. Even after the Giants switched Flowers from left tackle to right tackle, they did not see an uptick in performance.

But his improved play with the Jaguars has led to some interest from the Redskins. Washington, of course, has Trent Williams entrenched as its starter at left tackle, but Williams has dealt with suspensions and injuries throughout his career, and he will be 31 when the regular season starts.

Morgan Moses, the Redskins’ right tackle, has started every game for the team since the 2015 season, but he wasn’t great in 2018. Flowers could provide an insurance policy for both Moses and Williams, which the Redskins need now that their former swing tackle, Ty Nsekhe, has signed with the Bills.

If signed by Washington, Flowers would reunite with his 2015 draft mate, Landon Collins.

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