PFR Originals

This Date In Transactions History: Titans WR Rishard Matthews Requests Release

Two years ago today, Titans wideout Rishard Matthews requested his release. The veteran receiver was hoping the impending move would lead to a bigger role elsewhere. Instead, it likely spelled the beginning of the end for his career.

The 2012 seventh-round pick out of Nevada spent the first four seasons of his career with Miami, culminating in a 2015 campaign where he compiled 662 receiving yards on 43 receptions. This performance earned him a three-year contract from the Titans, and Matthews immediately became a contributor to his new team. The wideout’s first season in Tennessee proved to be the best of his career; he finished with career highs in receptions (65), receiving yards (945), and receiving touchdowns (nine). He missed a pair of games in 2017, but he still put up similar per-game numbers (53 receptions, 795 yards, four scores). Unfortunately, the wheels fell off in 2018.

It started with a preseason contract extension that was self-negotiated by Matthews. The deal was the equivalent of a team option that would pay the receiver $7.5MM, but none of that money was guaranteed. The deal was generally panned by pundits, and while the contract has never been explicitly attributed to Matthews’ dissatisfaction with the organization, you’ve got to wonder if it played a role.

Of course, Matthews was also unhappy with his role in the passing game. Through the first three games of the 2018 season, the receiver had only hauled in three receptions for 11 yards. He played only 50% of the team’s offensive snaps through three weeks (third among Titans receivers behind Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe), and he was ranked sixth on the team in targets. Part of that reduced production was thanks to subpar quarterback play from Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert, but Matthews also seemed to blame the coaching staff.

“I’ve been the leading receiver for two years,” Matthews said at the time. “Then all of a sudden I’m barely playing and not even starting. Using my injury as the scapegoat. Look at number of snaps and targets.”

Matthews ultimately got his wish, as he was released by the Titans the day after his public request. After hiring Drew Rosenhaus for representation, Matthews proved to be a popular free agent target, with the Browns, Cardinals, and Jets expressing interest. The receiver ultimately landed in New York, but he didn’t do much for his new team; in five games for the Jets, Matthews was limited to only two receptions for 13 yards before landing on the IR.

He caught on with the Saints during the 2019 offseason, but he was cut in August. Days later, Matthews announced his retirement. Who knows if things would have been different if Matthews ended up sticking in Tennessee. However, it’s obvious that his public release request — a move made two years ago today — certainly didn’t help his prospects of sticking around the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which 0-2 Team Has Best Chance To Make Playoffs?

Eleven teams entered Week 3 at 0-2. While the Dolphins reduced the NFL’s winless contingent to 10 last night, the 11 0-2 squads were still the most since the 2008 season. This creates a pivotal third regular-season week for many franchises.

The Bengals, Broncos, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, Jets, Lions, Panthers, Texans and Vikings will go into Sunday at 0-2. A couple of these teams were fringe Super Bowl contenders — or at least strong candidates to win their respective divisions — while others’ 0-2 starts are not as surprising.

The typical talking point about how 0-2 records correlate with playoff absences is less relevant this season, with seven teams now invited to each conference’s bracket. But 0-3 cannot be easily dismissed. Since the playoff field expanded to 10 total teams in 1978, only five teams (excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season, which featured a 16-team field) have made the postseason after starting 0-3. Just one — the 2018 Texans — has done so this century.

Philadelphia and Minnesota’s starts probably qualify as the most surprising, given their recent histories and current rosters. But the Eagles are down three starting offensive linemen and multiple wideouts, helping lead to Carson Wentz‘s struggles out of the blocks. They rank last in DVOA, despite two dreadful Vikings performances. Wentz and Kirk Cousins boast the Nos. 32- and 31-ranked Total QBR figures, respectively. The Vikings, a top-11 scoring defense in each of Mike Zimmer‘s six seasons, have regressed on that front after several starters’ offseason exits. Seventh-year starter Anthony Barr is now out for the season.

The Giants and Jets have seen injuries deplete their rosters, but neither New York team was expected to contend in 2020. Carolina, which is down Christian McCaffrey, is in that boat as well. The Bengals poured more resources into their roster than they have in many years — signing D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander to help a porous defense (though, Waynes is set to miss much of the season) — and drafted Joe Burrow. But Cincinnati also entered the season as a non-contender playing in a tough division.

Two HCs from this contingent’s middle-class sect — Dan Quinn and Matt Patricia — reside only behind Adam Gase in first-coach-fired odds. With the Falcons starting 1-7 last year and becoming the first team in NFL history to lose a game after scoring 39 points and committing no turnovers on Sunday, Quinn is in a desperate situation. The Lions have lost 11 straight games under Patricia, who entered the season on the hot seat.

Denver can blame injuries for its situation, to some degree, with four of its six previous Pro Bowlers either out for the season (Von Miller, Courtland Sutton) or presently injured (Phillip Lindsay, A.J. Bouye). Drew Lock may also be out well until November. Houston has almost certainly played the NFL’s toughest schedule to start out — against Kansas City and Baltimore — and faces Pittsburgh on Sunday. Bill O’Brien‘s 2018 team rebounded, and the Texans’ schedule stands to soften after Week 3. But it is safe to say the absence of DeAndre Hopkins has shown up thus far.

So which of these teams has the best chance of rebounding and qualifying for the 14-team playoffs? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Vikings Place Adrian Peterson On IR

Four years ago, Adrian Peterson was counted out for the season, and possibly for his career. The Vikings placed Adrian Peterson on the injured reserve list with a torn meniscus. Even though he was 31 at the time (old, by running back standards), Peterson vowed to return to the field and continue his career long past the 2016 season.

Peterson made his way back to the field after some unsettling off-the-field events, but many felt that this was different. Peterson’s odometer was already way up there – in 2015, he led the league in rushing yards (1,485) and touchdowns (11) with an NFL-high 327 carries. With nearly 2,400 totes in total, it was fair to wonder if Peterson had exhausted his tank.

In Week 15, Peterson made good on his promise to come back from IR, though it was a forgettable game for both the veteran and the Vikings. That game against the Colts would turn out to be his final contest in purple. In February of 2017, the Vikings announced that they would not exercise his option for the coming year, making him a free agent. That led Peterson to the Saints, where he signed a two-year, $7MM deal that lasted just four games. Unhappy with his minimal role, Sean Payton & Co. shipped him off the the Cardinals for a conditional sixth-round pick.

Done? Nope. In his first game with the Cardinals, Peterson rumbled his way to 134 yards and two touchdowns, leading his new squad to victory over the Bucs. Later that year, he turned in another stellar performance against the 49ers, going off of 159 yards and staying strong through 37 (!) carries. His final tally for 2017 (3.4 yards per carry) didn’t lead to a ton of offers, but he found a home with the Washington [Football Team] on a minimum-salaried deal. Peterson would spend two years as the club’s primary tailback, topping 1,000 yards in his first season and averaging a solid 4.2 yards per carry on the whole.

Now, at the age of 35, Peterson is still doing his thing in Detroit. With a lighter workload, Peterson has 6.4 yards per carry through the first two games of the season. Whether he can meet his stated goal of playing until the age of 40 remains to be seen, but we know better than to bet against him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Contract Guarantees, Explained

Unlike in the NBA or MLB, players’ contracts in the NFL aren’t guaranteed by default. Typically, an NFL player will receive at least some guaranteed money when he signs a deal, but that money often comes in the form of contract bonuses, and in particular signing bonuses. While a player’s base salary, or P5 salary, will occasionally be guaranteed for a season or two, more often than not future seasons in that contract are fully non-guaranteed, allowing the team to escape the contract without much of a cap hit, particularly if the player’s bonus money was limited.

Take Vontaze Burfict for example. The linebacker inked a three-year, $33MM extension with the Bengals in 2017 with just $3.3MM in total guarantees. Rather than carrying Burfict at a $7.3MM cap figure in 2018, the Bengals released him in March, leaving just $1.8MM in dead money against $5.5MM in savings. At the time of signing, Burfict was ticketed to be the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the game on a per-year basis, but the Bengals were able to pull the plug and pay out only a portion of that commitment.

Signing bonuses, which are generally paid in one or two lump sums, are fairly straightforward forms of guaranteed money, but not all guaranteed money is created equal. We saw a prime example of that when Colin Kaepernick inked a long-term extension with the 49ers in 2014. When word of the agreement first broke, Kaepernick’s guaranteed money was reported to exceed $60MM+. However, upon learning the full details of the contract, we found that only about $13MM of that total was fully guaranteed, whereas another $48MM+ was guaranteed for injury only.

An injury-only guarantee is one of three types of guarantees that a team can write into a player’s contract that apply to his base salary in a given season. These guarantees are as follows:

  • Guaranteed for injury: If a player suffers a football injury and cannot pass a physical administered by the team doctor, he would still be entitled to his full salary if the team were to release him. For a player with several future seasons guaranteed for injury only, it would take a career-ending injury for the team to be on the hook for all those future injury-only guaranteed salaries.
  • Guaranteed for skill: The most subjective of the three, a player whose talents have significantly declined and is released for skill-related reasons (ie. another player beats him out for a roster spot) would still be entitled to his full salary if that salary is guaranteed for skill.
  • Guaranteed for cap purposes: This form of guarantee ensures that a player who is released due to his team’s need to create cap room will still be entitled to his full salary.

A team can use a combination of these forms of guarantees, making a player’s salary guaranteed for injury and skill, for example. In the event that a player’s salary is guaranteed for injury, skill, and cap purposes, we’d refer to that salary as fully guaranteed, since the player would be eligible for his full salary regardless of the reason for his release.

As is the case with prorated bonuses, all future guaranteed salary owed to a player by a team is considered “dead money” and would accelerate onto the club’s current cap in the event of his release (over one or two years, depending on whether the cut happens after June 1). For the most part though, beyond the first year or two of a deal, that prorated signing bonus money is the only guaranteed figure remaining on the contract, which is why teams often don’t have qualms about releasing a player in the later years of his deal.

This Date In Transactions History: Lions Extend Theo Riddick

On this date in 2016, the Lions finalized a three-year, $12.75MM deal with running back Theo Riddick. At the time, the deal positioned Riddick as one of the higher-paid tailbacks in the NFL. Today, the deal serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change in football. 

[RELATED: Lions Sign Adrian Peterson]

Riddick, who had just turned 25, was coming off of a breakout year. He hauled in 80 passes – the most of any running back in 2015 – for 697 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions didn’t want to let the dual-threat RB get anywhere near free agency, so they locked him up through 2019. With Riddick and the speedy Ameer Abdullah in the fold, the Lions figured that they were well-set in the backfield.

Riddick kicked off his new deal with 728 all-purpose yards in ten games and set a new career-high with 3.9 yards per tote. And, naturally, he showed his soft hands with 53 grabs. Then, a wrist injury halted his season in November. Riddick returned in 2017, and stayed healthy, but the Lions’ ground game was lacking. In 2018, rookie Kerryon Johnson emerged as a total game-changer, and that changed the course of Riddick’s career. After Riddick logged just 40 carries, the Lions no longer felt that he was worth his contract. In July of 2019, they dropped the 27-year-old to save less than $4MM against the salary cap.

Today, Riddick finds himself on the fringe. After missing the Raiders’ final cut, he’s waiting for his next opportunity on Jon Gruden‘s practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Victor Cruz Retires From NFL

Two years ago today, former Giants superstar Victor Cruz retired from football. Cruz was still shy of his 32nd birthday, but a string of injuries ultimately slowed down the charismatic salsa dancer. 

From 2011 through 2013, Cruz averaged 80 receptions, 1,209 yards, and eight end zone salsas per season. The first year in that set basically came out of the blue. Cruz joined the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of UMass in 2010. In 2011, he managed 82 grabs, 1,536 yards, and nine TDs. His 2012 encore wasn’t quite as efficient (he posted an 86/1092/10 stat line), but he was still recognized as a vital part of the Giants’ passing attack and earned his first career Pro Bowl nod.

Not wanting to risk losing Cruz to free agency – particularly after watching him carve up the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game – the locked Cruz down with a five-year extension worth up to $43MM. Cruz could have gambled by staying on track for free agency after the 2013 season, but the added security of the deal, including nearly $16MM in guarantees, made it a worthwhile tradeoff.

In hindsight, it was the smart play for Cruz. Initially slowed by a heel bruise, he came two yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark in 2013, despite missing two games. Unfortunately, in 2014, the course of his career changed dramatically. A torn patellar tendon ended his campaign after just six games and a calf injury in the following season put him under the knife before he could take the field.

By the time Cruz returned to action in 2016, the Giants’ offense was fully focused on Odell Beckham Jr. Meanwhile, Cruz’s trademark speed was gone, and so was his longtime mentor Tom Coughlin. Cruz took a pay cut to stay in the fold, but he registered just 39 catches for 586 yards. After that, he moved on to the Bears, only to suffer a season-ending injury at the end of the preseason. When his personal campaign to return to the Giants failed, Cruz called it quits.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Filling The Voids Left By Key NFL Opt Outs

67 NFL players have decided to opt out from the 2020 NFL campaign due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly every team was affected, as only the Steelers, Chargers, and Falcons didn’t have a player who elected to sit out.

Some players’ absences will be felt more than others. Teams that are losing starters or other key pieces of their roster will feel an outsized impact during the upcoming campaign. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most important players who are opting out in 2020, and how their respective clubs could look to replace them for the season ahead.

Buffalo Bills

  • Opted out: DT Star Lotulelei
  • Filling the void: Aside from possibly Jerry Hughes, the Bills don’t necessarily have a star along their defensive line, but general manager Brandon Beane has built one of the deepest front fours in the NFL. On the interior specifically, Buffalo will turn to Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, and Vincent Taylor to play more snaps opposite 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver. Jefferson, who inked a two-year, $13.8MM deal to leave the Seahawks, is a top-notch run-stuffer but also notched 39 pressures in just 589 snaps a year ago. He is the favorite to soak up the majority of Lotulelei’s projected playing time.

Chicago Bears

  • Opted out: DT Eddie Goldman
  • Filling the void: Goldman is something of a relic, a true 3-4 nose tackle in a league that no longer prioritizes that potion. The Bears thought of enough of Goldman’s recent efforts to reward him with a four-year, $42MM extension in 2018, but they’ll have to go without him for the 2020 campaign. Chicago will likely first look internally to replace Goldman, and John Jenkins is an underrated player who could surprise in extended action. But if the Bears go to the free agent market, Damon Harrison could be of interest, as the 31-year-old has indicated he’s open to continuing his career.

Green Bay Packers

  • Opted out: WR Devin Funchess
  • Filling the void: To many, it was nearly inconceivable the Packers didn’t use a single draft pick on a wide receiver, and it could be even more unthinkable if Green Bay doesn’t acquire another pass-catcher now that Funchess has opted out. Taylor Gabriel is probably the best free agent wideout left on the market, but a trade could make even more sense for the Packers. Veterans like Kenny Stills (Texans) and Keelan Cole (Jaguars) may be available, but a more intriguing option may be Broncos second-year WR DaeSean Hamilton, who could be without a role after Denver drafted both Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler earlier this year.

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Opted out: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RB Damien Williams
  • Filling the void: The defending champions have already made one low-cost move in an attempt to replace Duvernay-Tardif, inking former All-Pro Kelechi Osemele to a one-year pact reportedly worth up to $2MM. Osemele is now 31 years old and hasn’t been fully healthy in a few years, but he’s as good a guard as a club is going to find on the open market at this point in the summer. The loss of Williams will sting as well, but Kansas City spent its first-round pick on fellow running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who now figures to take the lion’s share of the Chiefs’ backfield action.

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

  • Opted out: DT Michael Pierce
  • Filling the void: The Vikings lured Pierce away from the Ravens on a three-year, $27MM deal with the hope that he’d replace Linval Joseph, who defected to the Chargers. Now, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, and Jalyn Holmes are the top-three options to start at defneisve tackle. Minnesota will likely turn to the free agent market to add another body, and former No. 3 overall selection Marcell Dareus could make for a solid Pierce replacement. Dareus missed most of last season with an injury and doesn’t offer much a pass-rusher, but he could fill Pierce’s projected role as a run-stuffer.

New England Patriots

New York Giants

  • Opted out: T Nate Solder
  • Filling the void: The Giants have a ready-made replacement for Solder in first-round pick Andrew Thomas, whom New York made the first offensive lineman to be chosen within the top-four overall selections since 2014. Thomas should step in immediately on Daniel Jones‘ blindside, leaving right tackle as the biggest question on the Giants’ offensive line. Fellow rookie Matt Peart is now projected to take over on the right side, and he’s probably the best option for Big Blue unless they want to invest in an older free agent like Cordy Glenn.

New York Jets

  • Opted out: LB C.J. Mosley
  • Filling the void: Not only is Mosley out for the 2020 season, but fellow veteran linebacker Avery Williamson could be traded or released. Perhaps the Jets will be more amenable to retaining Williamson now that Mosley has opted out, but either way, it probably doesn’t make sense for general manager Joe Douglas to use draft capital or cap space to bring in another ‘backer. The Jets don’t look like 2020 contenders, and after trading safety Jamal Adams, the club is looking towards the future. New York should see what 2019 fifth-rounder Blake Cashman can do with more playing time rather than acquiring a veteran.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Opted out: WR Marquise Goodwin
  • Filling the void: The Eagles spent all offseason acquiring weapons for Carson Wentz, spending three draft picks on wideouts (including first-rounder Jalen Reagor) while also trading for Goodwin, who had fallen out of favor in San Francisco. Clearly, Philadelphia was looking for more speed in picking up Goodwin, but another trade candidate could offer the same sort of game-breaking ability. Robert Foster posted 541 yards for the Bills in 2018, but wasn’t a part of Buffalo’s offense last season and certainly won’t be in 2020 after the club added Stefon Diggs. The Eagles could likely pick him up for a late-round draft selection.

This Date In Transactions History: Browns Extend OL John Greco

The 2013 offseason was a busy one for the Cleveland Browns. The organization replaced general manager Tom Heckert Jr. with Michael Lombardi, and they hired Rob Chudzinski as head coach after canning Pat Shurmur. The team also made significant changes to the roster, ditching former third-round quarterback Colt McCoy and signing veteran Jason Campbell to a two-year deal. The front office also traded former third-overall pick Trent Richardson.

One of the moves that went under the radar was a move made on July 23rd, 2013. On that date, the organization signed offensive lineman John Greco to a five-year, $13MM deal. The contract featured only $3MM in guaranteed money.

Greco originally joined the Browns before the 2011 season, as the Rams traded their former third-round pick to Cleveland for a conditional seventh-rounder. Greco appeared as a backup in 15 games during the 2011 campaign, but he endeared himself to the organization in 2012 when he started 10 games in place of Jason Pinkston.

The Browns proceeded to ink Greco to a surprisingly lengthy extension, but the organization ended up getting plenty out of the offensive guard. The lineman started 56 games for Cleveland between 2013 and 2016, including a stint at center when regular starter Alex Mack was sidelined.

While Greco dealt with a handful of injuries during his tenure in Cleveland, he emerged as a dependable, reliable option for the coaching staff. While he certainly wasn’t a household name, the lineman consistently ranked in the top-20 of Pro Football Focus’ offensive guard rankings.

Cleveland made some changes to their offensive line before the 2017 season, adding Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter. Greco was ultimately cut by the Browns at the end of the preseason. He didn’t end up seeing the field during his subsequent stint with the Saints, but he appeared in 21 games (with seven starts) for the Giants between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

While Greco’s career ended unceremoniously, he’s getting his time in the (PFR) limelight today.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 7/13/20 – 7/19/20

A look back at some of our faves from the past week:

Extension Candidate: Kenny Golladay

Top Lions wideout Kenny Golladay is due to make $2.133MM in 2020, the final season of his rookie contract. Considering his importance to the team, his overall abilities, and the fact that he is starting to look like one of the better receivers in the league, that represents a terrific value for Detroit.

It stands to reason that the Lions would like to extend Golladay before he is eligible to hit the open market next offseason, and both sides are interested in a new deal. But as of March 30, no contract talks had commenced, and it’s highly unlikely that anything will change in that regard until there is more clarity on future salary caps.

Indeed, big-money extensions have been rare in the current climate, and Golladay’s next contract will undoubtedly be a hefty one. Jason Fitzgerald of believes the Northern Illinois product will land a deal with an average annual value of at least $17MM (Twitter link), and a review of the receiver market shows that estimate might actually be on the low end. While Golladay may not be on the level of the Saints’ Mike Thomas, it can certainly be argued that he is at least as good as the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper, who just inked a five-year, $100MM contract ($60MM guaranteed) this offseason.

Golladay could stand to improve his consistency, as he put up a couple duds in 2019 even before QB Matthew Stafford was lost for the season. But when Stafford was under center last year, Golladay posted four 100-yard efforts, and he was a TD machine throughout the season, hitting paydirt 11 times. For what it’s worth, Golladay graded out as a top-10 receiver in terms of Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, and he also made the first Pro Bowl of his career.

In all, he tallied 1,190 yards to go along with those 11 TDs, both career-highs. And though his career catch rate is a little on the low side (57.6%), that often comes with the territory for a big-play threat. After all, Golladay posted a whopping 18.3 yards-per-reception last year, good for fourth in the league.

He has been on an upward trajectory over his first three professional seasons, and it would be fair to expect another step forward in 2020, assuming Stafford stays healthy. As soon as the team gets a better understanding of its future financial picture, it seems likely that it will start negotiations in earnest.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.