- There are rumblings of another suspension in Martavis Bryant‘s future, but Vic Tafur of The Athletic hears the Raiders wide receiver did not fail a drug test or miss a test. Bryant has missed 20 games due to failed drug tests and another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy could result in a lengthy ban. But, for now, it’s unclear as to whether Bryant has committed another infraction.
- NFL.com’s Gil Brandt observes (on Twitter) that there were 32 undrafted rookies to make bonuses of $15K or more. The top earners were Eagles running back Josh Adams, Giants cornerback Grant Haley, and Raiders kicker Eddy Pineiro, with the trio each making $25K. Generally, it’s assumed that the highest-paid undrafted free agents have the best shot of making the regular season roster.
The league’s seen a large number of standout players skip mandatory workouts this week, setting up an eventful stretch despite teams being on break between minicamps and training camps.
The star power from the 2014 draft is driving part of this spree of holdouts, and this summer figures to produce at least one mega-contract for a defender (and likely more). By the time this offseason concludes, the defensive contract landscape will look different. Who will be the league’s new standard-bearer here?
Von Miller‘s held that title for two years, since signing his six-year, $114.6MM extension at the 2016 franchise tag deadline. Multiple stars drafted in the 2014 first round are gunning for contracts that would surpass Miller’s.
Will it be Aaron Donald? Despite playing a position that has not been traditionally compensated as well as Miller’s, Ndamukong Suh‘s 2015 free agency windfall notwithstanding, Donald has been the league’s most dominant interior defender for a bit now. With quarterbacks’ release times steadily accelerating, defenders lined up closer to the ball have seen a change in compensation patterns. Defensive tackles like Fletcher Cox and Kawann Short are each paid more than $16MM annually, and Donald’s operated on a higher level than each during his four-year career.
Holding out for a second straight year, Donald is a key component to a Rams operation that’s taking a more aggressive approach to contention than it did last year. While no deal is imminent, talks will presumably heat up soon. Les Snead‘s already said a Donald resolution will need to involve an NFL-high defender contract, but will other defenders end up with a better deal?
Khalil Mack didn’t follow Donald’s lead and hold out last year, despite both being on the same timeline and the Raiders defensive end beating the Rams defensive tackle to the defensive player of the year throne. Now, Mack’s stayed away from the Raiders throughout the offseason. While the Raiders may be a tad behind the Rams on the preseason hype scale, Mack has been vital to their defense — a perennially shaky unit despite his dominance — and plays the game’s most valuable defensive role.
At 27, Mack is two years younger than Miller. And the cap is now $22MM higher than it was when the Broncos signed their edge-rushing phenom. It stands to reason Mack will sign a more lucrative deal. However, Derek Carr accepted less than market value at $25MM per year to help Oakland be in better position to keep its core together. With that contract on the books, and a situation the Rams do not have to navigate with Jared Goff just yet, will Mack end up just behind Donald in this pursuit? The Raiders also signed Carr in June of last year. Mack signing in June, to conclude a less contentious process than Donald’s, would open the door for Donald to come in and exceed whatever deal the Bay Area parties reach.
What about Jadeveon Clowney? Not as accomplished as the California-dwelling duo, the No. 1 pick in 2014 has become a star in his own right. And at 25, he’s two years younger than both. As injuries have sidetracked J.J. Watt‘s otherworldly career, Clowney’s become one of the league’s best players. The Texans have a history of authorizing this kind of contract — as they did with Watt’s six-year, $100MM pact in 2014 — and have a quarterback at least two years away from an extension.
While Watt’s maladies have clouded his future and made Clowney more indispensable in the process, might Houston be leery of paying league-record money to another injury-prone performer? Clowney is not holding out, but he did not participate in minicamp while recovering from another surgery.
So, which defender will assume Miller’s position? What will it take to finalize such a deal? Will this derby end with a $20MM- or $21MM-per-year contract? Is there a darkhorse player (perhaps the franchise-tagged Demarcus Lawrence?) that could swoop in here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your view in the comments section!
- Raiders coach Jon Gruden has never been a fan of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and he attribute quarterback Christian Hackenberg‘s recent release to the CBA’s limitations. “Everybody is an expert out there on Hackenberg and thinks he can’t play,” Gruden said (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “It’s unfortunate, this whole collective [bargaining agreement]. How do you develop a quarterback? I don’t know how you do it. … It is hard enough to get Connor Cook enough reps, let alone a fourth guy. It really depresses me how we can’t spend more time with these young quarterbacks, and it is really going to be an impactful situation on the NFL in the future.” The former second-round pick was released by the Raiders after having been acquired from the Jets several weeks ago.
The 2014 first round produced some of the NFL’s best players, and they comprise part of an extensive group of that skipped minicamp and could well be training camp holdouts. But several other standout players didn’t show for their respective teams’ mandatory workouts either. Here’s a look on where things stand with this absent contingent.
Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: The reigning defensive player of the year is holding out for a second straight summer. He skipped the Rams’ minicamp, as expected, and remains focused on a landscape-changing deal. Both Donald and Khalil Mack are in line to eclipse Von Miller‘s $19MM annual salary, but the California-based franchises may be hesitant to be the first to authorize a $20MM-per-year pact for a defender. However, Les Snead‘s already conceded the Rams will have to finalize a Donald deal that makes him the league’s highest-paid defender. But with the Broncos superstar having signed his extension in a $155MM cap year, it’s likely Donald’s camp — particularly on the heels of a season where the all-world interior defender won DPOY honors after his holdout induced a two-game absence — is targeting a figure well north of Miller’s, with the cap now at $177.2MM.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: Unlike Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers, this process features no immediate deadline. But Johnson’s contract expires after this season, with no fifth-year option available to the franchise. Johnson and the Cards are engaging in extension discussions, and Steve Keim said this week — as his All-Pro back skipped minicamp — the team looks forward to signing Johnson long-term.
This has not proven to be an acrimonious situation, but Johnson is on a slightly different timetable than Bell. Despite being a fourth-year player compared to Pittsburgh’s All-Pro entering his sixth season, Johnson is a few months older than Bell and will turn 27 in December. However, it may be in his best interests to wait and see what happens with Bell by the July 16 franchise tag extension deadline.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: The NFL’s seen its wide receiver salary landscape shift since Jones signed his extension in August 2015. That contract made Jones the NFL’s highest-paid wideout, but seven receivers have since surpassed him. This includes Sammy Watkins and slot target Jarvis Landry, who respectively signed 2018 deals for $16MM and $15.1MM annually. Atlanta’s top weapon wants a revised contract and skipped OTAs and minicamp, and the Falcons are discussing such an amendment.
Jones has three seasons and minimal guarantees remaining on his deal, which averages $14.25MM per year. The team’s response a Jones camp proposal did not meet with the group’s approval, but the sides continue to negotiate. The 29-year-old pass-catcher said recently he has no intentions of forcing his way out of Atlanta.
Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans: The left tackle is part of the 2014 first-round contingent entering fifth-year option seasons, and he joined some of the group’s higher-profile players in skipping mandatory June workouts. Jon Robinson said upon being informed of Lewan’s impending minicamp absence that the parties are participating in ongoing re-up dialogue, but as recently as late May, no reports indicated this was the case.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Lewan is entering his age-27 season and is now shooting for Nate Solder‘s $15.5MM-AAV standard. That’s $2MM-plus more than any other left tackle makes, and the Giants authorized that contract amid free agency circumstances. This will complicate matters for Lewan and other extension-seeking tackles. Lewan’s option season is set to be worth $9.341MM.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders: After not joining Donald in a 2017 holdout, despite being in essentially the same situation, Mack is doing so this year. He has not reported to the Raiders this offseason. The 2016 defensive player of the year saw 2014 draftee teammates Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson sign lucrative extensions, only to see the Raiders put his on hold — mirroring other teams’ processes with ’14 first-rounders — because of the franchise-friendly fifth-year option. Reggie McKenzie‘s maintained the franchise intends to extend Mack in 2018 and said other players’ situations aren’t factoring into these discussions. Though, it’d be hard to believe Donald’s process isn’t impacting Mack’s at all.
The Raiders and Mack weren’t close on terms in April, but both Carr and Jackson signed their extensions in June of last year, perhaps pointing to a near-future resolution. Unlike the Rams, however, the Raiders have a top-tier quarterback salary on their books. That could cause issues elsewhere on the roster. Although, the cap’s perpetual rise negates some of those potential problems.
Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks: Perhaps the most interesting of these situations, the Seahawks have dangled Thomas in trades but expect him to report for training camp. Like Jones, Thomas saw several at his position usurp him in the salary hierarchy since signing an extension. Thomas signed a $10MM-AAV contract to make him the highest-paid safety in 2014. Again in a contract year, he’s threatened a holdout for months and is following through. The Cowboys and Seahawks discussed a draft-weekend deal for the three-time All-Pro. While Dallas balked about sending a second-round pick for the 29-year-old defender, the teams may well revisit these talks.
Either way, Thomas is going to want Eric Berry money ($13MM AAV) on his third contract. With Richard Sherman in San Francisco and Kam Chancellor‘s career in doubt, Thomas is the last remaining member of the Legion of Boom. It’s just uncertain if he’ll finish out his second contract in Seattle or be shipped elsewhere and end that dominant era.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Arden Key is officially under contract with the Raiders. On Friday, Oakland announced the signing of the third-round defensive end.
Heading into draft season, Key was widely projected as a first-round pick. However, his rocky 2017 season at LSU damaged his stock. In his final year on campus, Key spent time in rehab, injured his shoulder, and porked up from 235 lbs to 270.
However, given his 2016 performance – 12.5 tackles for loss and eleven sacks – the Raiders believe they have a draft steal on their hands. The athletic youngster will serve as a reserve behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin in his first year, joining Mario Edwards, Tank Carradine, and possibly Frostee Rucker as bench DEs.
With Key under contract, the Raiders have now signed every player in their 2018 draft class. Here’s the complete rundown, via PFR’s tracker:
- 1-15: Kolton Miller, T (UCLA): Signed
- 2-57: P.J. Hall, DT (Sam Houston State): Signed
- 3-65: Brandon Parker, T (North Carolina A&T): Signed
- 3-87: Arden Key, DE (LSU): Signed
- 4-110: Nick Nelson, CB (Wisconsin): Signed
- 5-140: Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan): Signed
- 5-173: Johnny Townsend, P (Florida): Signed
- 6-216: Azeem Victor, LB (Washington): Signed
- 7-228: Marcell Ateman, WR (Oklahoma State): Signed
The Raiders are concerned that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be subject to league discipline, sources tell Michael Gehlken of the Review Journal. The belief is that Bryant has run afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy once again, which would put his 2018 season in jeopardy.
Bryant, 26, missed the entire 2016 season after repeated policy violations. It’s not exactly clear what the issue is this time around, but a failed test or a failure to attend a scheduled exam could result in a lengthy ban for Bryant given his history.
On Day 1 of the draft, the Raiders shipped the No. 10 overall pick to the Cardinals for the No. 15 selection, plus a third-round pick and a fifth-round choice. After selecting UCLA tackle Kolton Miller at No. 15, they traded that newly acquired third-round selection to the Steelers for Bryant.
Bryant’s talent is undeniable, but his off-the-field issues made it a risky move. The Raiders are now bracing themselves for the possibility of not having Bryant in what should have been a highly-motivated year for him. The wide receiver is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is slated to hit free agency after the 2018 season. Instead of balling out, Bryant might have to sit out.
After joining the Raiders, Bryant insisted that he was turning over a new leaf.
“Just by handling my business as a man,” Bryant said when asked in April about how he’ll stay on course. “It’s not my first rodeo. I’ve had my difficulties in my past, but I’ve come a long way from that. It’s all about keeping the right resources around me and continuing to stay on the right path. I’m going to make sure I get that done.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Odds are the Cardinals will sign wide receiver Greg Little after minicamp, Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic tweets. Little likely would have signed with the club after his first tryout, but a hamstring injury got in the way. Little, a second-round of the Browns in 2011, spent three seasons in Cleveland before being waived. Since then, he has had stints with the Raiders, Bills, and Bengals. Little, 29, has played in 54 games with 42 starts over the course of his career. His most productive season came as a rookie when he had 61 catches for 709 yards and two scores. He followed that up with 53 catches for 647 yards and four scores as an NFL sophomore.
- The Raiders‘ kicking competition close between Giorgio Tavecchio and Eddy Piñeiro is extremely close, as Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area writes. Tavecchio stands as the only incumbent specialist left on the Raiders’ 2018 offseason roster after the team parted ways with punter Marquette King, long snapper Jon Condo, and longtime kicker Sebastian Janikowski, but it’s possible that they’ll clean house in that department under new head coach Jon Gruden. “I believe we’ll go in through some of the preseason games for sure and give them both an opportunity to kick in game-like situations,” special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “We’ll try to create as many situations in practice as we possibly can and certainly when we get to pads. It’s a process and everything matters. … Right now, they’re nip and tuck.”
That was fast. The Raiders have released quarterback Christian Hackenberg just three weeks after acquiring him, according to a team announcement. Linebacker Brady Sheldon has also been cut. With those two out of the picture, the Raiders have formalized the signing of defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Frostee Rucker.
Hackenberg was considered to be an extreme longshot to make the Jets’ final cut following the re-signing of Josh McCown, the free agent addition of Teddy Bridgewater, and the drafting of Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick. The waiving of Bryce Petty gave the former Penn State signal caller some reason for hope, but the Jets saw little need to keep Hackenberg around after Bridgewater took the practice field on Tuesday with no ill effects from his surgically-repaired knee.
In May, the former second-round pick was sent to the Raiders for a conditional seventh-round choice. The Jets will not receive any compensation for the QB now that he has been released.
Despite Jon Gruden‘s affinity for Hackenberg, which dates back to his college days, his odds of making the Raiders’ final cut weren’t much better than they were in New York. The Raiders already have E.J. Manuel and Connor Cook battling for time behind starter Derek Carr. With Hackenberg’s release, it seems likely that those three will be the QBs on the opening day roster, barring another addition.
Per league rules, Hackenberg will be subject to waivers. If no club claims him and his contract within the next 24 hours, he’ll be free to sign with any team of his choosing.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.