PFR Originals

This Date In Transactions History: Reggie White Signs With Packers

27 years ago today, the Packers made a franchise-altering move that helped propel them towards the top of the league. On April 7th, 1993, Green Bay officially signed pass-rusher Reggie White to a four-year, $17MM deal (hat tip to @HistoricPackers on Twitter).

After starting his professional career in the United States Football League, White spent eight years in Philly. He quickly became one of the best players in the NFL, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and earning Pro Bowl nods each year between 1986 and 1992. White is still the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks.

By the time the 1993 offseason came around, White found himself as a free agent, and he predictably had a number of suitors. The Packers, Redskins, and Browns all made a run at the defensive end, and there was some belief that free-wheeling Washington would sign the future Hall of Famer. However, the Packers ended up emerging with the best offer, and it didn’t take long for White to pounce.

While the $4.25MM average annual salary seems paltry in 2020, it actually made White the third high-paid player at the time (behind Broncos quarterback John Elway ($4.75MM) and Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino ($4.43MM)). Of course, it wasn’t just money that led White to Green Bay. As agent Jimmy Sexton explained, head coach Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes made the effort to visit the player’s family in Tennessee.

“It was huge,” Sexton said (via Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). “They were smart enough and perceptive enough to know that Reggie was a relationship guy. They sold him on the fact that it’s like a big college atmosphere. He was coming out of a place where it wasn’t fun for him the last couple years.

“But if I had to pick one thing he liked most about Green Bay, Holmgren was it.”

White continued to dominate during his stint with the Packers. In six seasons, he compiled 68.5 sacks, which made him the franchise leader in that category (he’s since been passed by Clay Matthews and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila).

More importantly, the pass rusher (alongside a young Brett Favre) helped catapult the Packers atop the standings. Green Bay made the playoffs during each of White’s six seasons with the team, including three division titles. He also led the team to a pair of Super Bowls, including a Super Bowl XXXI victory over the Patriots.

Despite winning his second Defensive Player of the Year award in 1998, White temporarily retired. He returned during the 2000 season and played all 16 games for the Panthers. At the time of his second retirement, White was the all-time leader in sacks (he’s since been surpassed by Bruce Smith).

Still, what really cemented White’s legacy was the Super Bowl victory. Who knows if he would have reached that pinnacle if not for the transaction made 27 years ago today.

Poll: Where Will Jadeveon Clowney Sign?

It’s April and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is still without an NFL team. The former No. 1 overall pick isn’t coming off of a banner year, but he plays a premium position and has 32 career sacks to his credit. So, what gives? 

Of course, his price tag is his biggest blocker. Clowney came into the offseason seeking a deal worth $20MM per year. Recently, he backed down from that position, though the incumbent Seahawks are believed to be offering between $13-$15MM per annum, which is still probably less than he’s willing to accept.

A reunion still seems possible, but Clowney’s camp is working to find a better deal in the interim. Late last week, the Browns entered the sweepstakes and some league officials believe that they have the strongest interest of any suitor. The Browns have tons of cap room – about $43MM – and they might be willing to use some of it to swap Olivier Vernon for Clowney. Of course, that might be easier said than done, since the Browns would still have to find a team willing to take on the rest of Vernon’s contract, which is set to pay him $15.25MM.

The Jets could use Clowney’s edge rushing ability, but they’ve been taking a conservative approach to free agency after whiffing on their preferred targets in March. The Titans have also been linked to him, thanks to Clowney’s relationship with head coach Mike Vrabel from their Houston days, but they’re less inclined to spend on the pass rush after committing $9MM to outside linebacker Vic Beasley.

Other teams have been connected to Clowney, like the Giants, Colts, and Dolphins, though their pass rush needs have already been addressed. The Eagles remain an interesting landing spot for him from a football perspective, and they have breathing room to work with for right now, but their 2021 situation could complicate things. In theory, Philly could still land Clowney if he is willing to accept a one-year deal. The Ravens – with less than $11MM in cap space for the current year – seem less likely to sign him. For the sake of casting a wide net, we’ll include all of those teams in our poll.

Where do you think Clowney will sign? Cast your vote in the poll below (link for app users) and back up your pick in the comments.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Patriots Trade Brandin Cooks To Rams

With all of the action we’ve seen this offseason, it’s easy to forget that April blockbusters are also relatively common. In fact, we had a significant trade go down two years ago today. On April 4th, 2018, the Rams acquired wideout Brandin Cooks and a fourth-rounder from the Patriots for a first-rounder and sixth-rounder.

Cooks had actually been acquired by New England only 13 months before the Rams/Pats deal. While the former first-rounder had a solid season as one of Tom Brady‘s main targets, he didn’t match his production with the Saints from 2015 or 2016. Cooks ultimately finished the 2017 regular season with 65 receptions, 1,082 yards, and seven scores. While the receiver had a standout performance during that year’s AFC Championship, he was limited to only a single catch in the Super Bowl before exiting with a concussion.

With Cooks set to hit free agency following the 2018 season, the Pats decided to ship the receiver to Los Angeles. The Rams immediately inked the wideout to a five-year, $81MM extension, and that looked to be a good decision at first. Despite playing alongside Robert Woods, Todd Gurley, and Cooper Kupp, Cooks finished that year with 80 receptions, five touchdowns, and a career-high 1,204 receiving yards. He was productive during the Rams’ run to the Super Bowl, finishing with 292 receiving yards in three games.

However, the wheels somewhat fell off in 2019. Cooks battled several ailments, including a concussion that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks. When all was said and done, Cooks put up some of his lowest numbers since his rookie campaign, finishing with 42 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games.

With $12MM guaranteed in 2020 and his contract lasting through the 2023 season, there were rumblings that the Rams could look to trade the receiver this offseason. However, following the organization’s decision to move on from Gurley, it sounds like Cooks isn’t on the block.

On New England’s side, the team used that first-rounder to select offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn. The Georgia product sat out his entire rookie campaign, and he landed on IR following Week 2 of the 2019 season. However, he managed to return in Week 12, and he proceeded to start each of the Patriots’ remaining regular season and postseason games. In true New England fashion, they traded the sixth-rounder for a pair of seventh-rounders.

Both Cooks and (to a lesser extent) Wynn have been productive for their teams so far. However, their future performance will go a long way in determining who won this specific trade. For the time being, we’re comfortable grading both squads as “incomplete.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

POLL: Where Will Cam Newton Sign?

The quarterback carousel has mostly come to a stop, and a few big names were left without starting gigs when the dust settled. The highest profile signal-caller on the open market is Cam Newton, and it’s going to be very interesting to see where he ends up signing.

Newton won an MVP and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, but his past two campaigns have been derailed by injuries. Last year he was limited to only two games because of a foot injury. The year before that he started the season off hot, but fell apart down the stretch once he started having shoulder issues. Since teams are unable to host free agents on visits due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it might be harder for Newton to find a home for a while with teams’ doctors being unable to examine him in person.

The Chargers are the betting favorite at sportsbooks offering odds on where Newton will end up, and it’s not hard to see why. Los Angeles is arguably a quarterback away from being a legit Super Bowl contender, and on paper they might have the most talented defense in the league. Tyrod Taylor is currently slated as the team’s starter and while he has been solid at times in the past with Buffalo, he doesn’t have the upside that Newton does.

The Chargers own the sixth overall pick however, and they’ve been linked to drafting a passer in the first-round. We also heard a couple weeks ago that they were no longer looking to add a veteran after they whiffed on Tom Brady, although that was before Newton became a free agent.

The Jaguars are another option, as they’re currently rolling with second-year player Gardner Minshew at quarterback and not much else. Minshew showed flashes last year, but he was hardly consistent. The Redskins are another conceivable suitor as they could reunite Newton with his old coach Ron Rivera, although we heard before he was released that they weren’t expected to be interested.

The Dolphins don’t have a firmly entrenched starter right now, but they’re widely expected to draft a quarterback in the first-round. If they surprisingly decide to pass on one, Newton could make sense as an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick. Then there’s the Patriots. New England has a lot of uncertainty at the position after Brady’s departure, and all they have right now is the unproven Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Newton being paired with Bill Belichick would certainly be interesting, to say the least.

So where will the former first overall pick be playing next year? Vote in the poll below (link for app users) and show your work in the comments!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Keanu Neal

Falcons safety Keanu Neal has had a horrible run of injury luck. In 2018, he suffered a torn ACL in the regular season opener, and in 2019, he sustained a torn Achilles during the third game of the season. Both of those injuries were season-enders, so he has played just four games over the past two seasons.

Prior to that, however, he was establishing himself as one of the better young safeties in the game. He was selected by Atlanta with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he racked up 106 tackles in 14 starts in his rookie campaign, which culminated in a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to New England.

He built on that performance in 2017, starting all 16 games and piling up 116 tackles en route to a Pro Bowl nod. He moves with fluidity and has a nose for the football, as evidenced by his high tackle totals and the eight fumbles that he forced over his first two seasons in the league. That ability also helps him in coverage on the back end, though he has just one career interception to date.

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie contract last April, which suggested that they weren’t too concerned about the 2018 ACL tear. Of course, they didn’t bank on the 2019 Achilles tear, and Neal is presently slated to count for about $6.5MM against the 2020 cap thanks to the fifth-year option (the option was guaranteed for injury only at the time it was exercised but became fully-guaranteed when the 2020 league year opened earlier this month).

Though $6.5MM would ordinarily look like a relative bargain for someone with Neal’s abilities, the fact that he has been unable to stay on the field complicates matters a bit. That is especially true since the Falcons have limited salary cap space at the moment.

So on the one hand, it would make sense for Atlanta to let Neal simply play out his contract and revisit the situation prior to the opening of free agency next offseason (after all, although the team’s pass defense was one of the worst in the league from 2018-19, per DVOA, that unit didn’t grade out much higher even when Neal was in the lineup in 2016-17). But the top of the safety market now includes contracts with average annual values of over $14MM, and if Neal has a healthy, bounceback campaign, other clubs may pony up that type of cash to steal him away from the Falcons.

As such, the Falcons could explore an extension with Neal. Such a move would be risky given the health concerns — Neal also dealt with a knee injury not long before his rookie season — but it also has a couple of obvious benefits. One, it would help the Falcons’ immediate cap situation, and two, it could keep a talented young player under contract for several more seasons at a potentially discount rate.

From Neal’s perspective, an extension may represent an undersell if he does play up to his 2017 levels in 2020, but it would also provide him extra security in the event that he cannot recapture his prior form. As of yet, there have been no reports of negotiations between the two sides, but it would not be a surprise to hear of exploratory talks in the coming months.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Jaguars Sign Calais Campbell

Three years ago today, the Jaguars landed one of the top defensive free agents on the market. Defensive end Calais Campbell agreed to a four-year, $60MM deal with the club, bringing even more power to the Jaguars’ potent front seven. 

Campbell was thought to be on the radar for a number of clubs in this cycle, including the Titans, Broncos, Colts, Bears, and Redskins (the reported runners-up). The Cardinals, ideally, would have liked to keep him, but the numbers crunch of the offseason made that nearly impossible. Besides, they traded for Chandler Jones one year prior, making Campbell something of a luxury rather than a must-keep player.

Campbell may have been motivated by the Jones acquisition – in his walk year, the 6’8″, 300-pound force tallied eight sacks en route to his second career Pro Bowl appearance. He also entered the market with a proven record of getting to the quarterback: He registered 56.5 sacks over the course of nine seasons in Arizona, a total that’s even more impressive when you consider that he had zero sacks as a rookie in 2008.

This Jaguars front office was not shy about spending on the defensive front and they did it again with Campbell, even though he was entering his age-31 campaign. Presumably, they placed the high bid on the veteran, and it paid off. Campbell logged a career-high 14.5 sacks in his first season with the Jaguars and earned First-Team All-Pro honors for the first time. In the last two seasons, he’s been a Pro Bowler with a combined 17 sacks in that stretch.

Now, the Jaguars have some decisions to make. This year, he’s entering his age-34 season with a projected cap hit of $17.5MM. The Jaguars could save upwards of $15MM by cutting ties, though it would be in their best interest to hammer out an extension that would smooth out his cap hit. With a new deal, the Jaguars can free some some extra dollars to be spent later this month and potentially lock down Campbell for the rest of his career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Jaguars Extend Blake Bortles

Two years ago today, the Jaguars took themselves out of the quarterback market by committing to Blake Bortles for three more years. The move was widely panned and, ultimately, it did not work out for Jacksonville. 

The Jaguars were fresh off of an AFC Championship Game appearance and their first playoff appearance in nine years. Bortles, meanwhile, tossed a career-low 13 interceptions. Still, his overall body of work did not inspire a ton of confidence – his 60.2% completion percentage actually marked a new career best.

Despite the question marks, Bortles became the first 2014 first-round pick to receive an extension – stars like Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack were still negotiating for their new deals (They all, of course, secured long-term riches, though Mack has to get his elsewhere.)

Reported to be a three-year, $54MM pact, the deal included $26.5MM guaranteed with the potential to reach $66.5MM in total through bonuses. He did not earn those incentives, nor did he get to play out his deal – Bortles was cut loose in 2019, clearing the way for Nick Foles to take over.

Bortles went 3-9 in 12 starts for the Jaguars as head coach Doug Marrone flip-flopped him with Cody Kessler. During his five-year run with the Jaguars, Bortles led the league with 75 interceptions – more than one INT per start.

With his stock at an all-time low, the former No. 3 overall pick hooked on with the Rams last offseason. Playing behind Jared Goff, Bortles appeared in only three games and attempted two passes. Without a real opportunity to play in 2019, Bortles did not get a chance to silence his critics. Next month, he’ll be a free agent once again, and the Rams’ level of interest in bringing him back as their QB2 is unclear.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Seahawks Use Transition Tag On Steve Hutchinson

With the NFL taking the rare step to move its window for teams to apply franchise and transition tags, let’s take a look at one of the most pivotal developments in tag history. A fascinating tag-related sequence began 14 years ago today. After Steve Hutchinson reeled off three straight Pro Bowl seasons — two of them producing first-team All-Pro acclaim — the Seahawks placed their transition tag on the standout guard on Feb. 23, 2006.

Hutchinson had just helped Shaun Alexander race to MVP honors during Seattle’s 2005 NFC championship season. Not only did this transition tag not work out for the Seahawks, it set in motion a chain of events that led to a change in NFL offseason procedures.

The Seahawks frequently used their tag in the years leading up to this, franchise-tagging Walter Jones from 2002-04. The Hall of Fame tackle played on the tag in each season but signed a seven-year, $52.5MM extension in February 2005; that figure became important in the Hutchinson proceedings. The Seahawks also franchise-tagged Alexander in 2005, and his status as a free agent loomed large a year later as well.

Seattle opted to use the lesser transition tag, which provides no compensation for successful offer sheets, on Hutchinson. The Vikings then signed Hutchinson to a seven-year, $49MM offer sheet in March, making him the highest-paid guard in league history. But a clause in this contract became the story.

Minnesota’s offer sheet stipulated all of Hutchinson’s $49MM would become guaranteed were he not his team’s highest-paid offensive lineman at the time he signed the contract. With Jones in place on his $7.5MM-per-year deal, Hutchinson would have not been Seattle’s highest-paid O-lineman. That would have triggered the guarantee. Because of the Vikings’ tactic here, the term “poison pill” became a common phrase that offseason. An NFL arbitrator ruled in favor of the Vikings, keeping this language in the contract and sending then-28-year-old lineman to the Twin Cities.

Rather than match the onerous offer sheet, Seattle used that money to give linebacker Julian Peterson a seven-year, $54MM deal. Prior to the Vikings’ Hutchinson contract, the Seahawks had already authorized an eight-year, $62MM deal for Alexander. That decision burned the Seahawks quickly, while Hutchinson continued his prime with the Vikings.

As a revenge measure in this unique offseason feud, the Seahawks then pilfered Vikings restricted free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson for the same amount — seven years and $49MM — despite Burleson never making a Pro Bowl. But Seattle’s “poison pill” was even weirder. That RFA offer sheet stipulated Burleson’s $49MM would become guaranteed if he played five games in the state of Minnesota. The Vikings naturally passed on this offer sheet.

While both teams were admonished at the ensuing league meetings, the Vikings got the better end of these transactions. Hutchinson played six seasons with the Vikings, made four more Pro Bowls while helping Adrian Peterson‘s rise and was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year. Alexander’s production fell off considerably in 2006, and he was out of the league by 2009. A Seattle native, Burleson was a Seahawk from 2006-09. The NFL discontinued “poison pill”-type clauses in offer sheets in 2012.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Ravens Sign Shannon Sharpe

Twenty years ago today, Shannon Sharpe began a memorable NFL second act. After 10 seasons with the Broncos, the future Hall of Fame tight end opted for a change and signed with the Ravens.

Baltimore added the then-31-year-old Sharpe on a four-year, $13.8MM deal with a $4.5MM signing bonus. This offer eclipsed what Denver was proposing by around $1MM per year. This turned out to be a seminal transaction, based on where the Ravens were headed.

Sharpe suffered a broken collarbone early in a down 1999 season for the Broncos, who went 6-10 after losing both Sharpe and reigning MVP Terrell Davis that October. Those injuries came months after John Elway‘s retirement. Sharpe later returned to the Broncos but did so after being a critical component on the best team in Ravens history.

Sharpe proved to be a key get for the Ravens, then a fifth-season franchise without a playoff berth. Baltimore in 2000 featured one of the NFL’s all-time great defenses, but Sharpe led that team with 810 receiving yards. A four-time All-Pro in the 1990s, Sharpe came up big during Baltimore’s playoff run. He caught a 58-yard touchdown pass in the Ravens’ 21-3 win over the Broncos in the wild-card round, and his one reception against the Raiders two weeks later became a 96-yard score in a 16-3 Raven road win. The Ravens routed the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, giving Sharpe a third Super Bowl ring.

The Ravens were not as successful in 2001, having made a Trent Dilfer-for-Elvis Grbac offseason quarterback change. But Sharpe delivered nearly identical numbers — doing so after a memorable role on the maiden voyage of Hard Knocks — in amassing 811 receiving yards. However, the Ravens used a first-round pick on Todd Heap in 2001 and released Sharpe the following February. Sharpe made his eighth and final Pro Bowl in 2001 and broke then-Ravens executive Ozzie Newsome‘s records for most career receptions and yards by a tight end that season.

Denver brought Sharpe back in 2002, and he wrapped up a 14-year career a year later. Sharpe, who caught eight touchdown passes on a Broncos team that returned to the playoffs in 2003, also retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in TDs (62) by a tight end.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Roddy White Retires

Three years ago today, an Atlanta Falcons legend decided to hang up his cleats. We learned on February 15th, 2017 that wideout Roddy White was calling it quits.

Similar to most professional athletes, it didn’t sound like White necessarily went out on his own terms. After having one of the least-productive seasons of his career in 2015 (43 receptions, 506 yards, one touchdown), the receiver struggled to find his next gig. After getting cut by Atlanta, there were rumblings that he’d catch on with the Patriots, but the team ended up opting for Nate Washington (kind of ironically, the Falcons and Pats would meet up in that season’s Super Bowl).

He was approached by the Vikings midway through the 2016 campaign, but the team was out of the playoff picture by the time White was in game shape. The Titans and Buccaneers also expressed interest, but the veteran was content on only signing with a contender. White ultimately sat out for the entire 2016 season, leading to his retirement decision.

White retired having compiled 808 receptions for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. The 2005 first-rounder spent his entire career with the Falcons, making four Pro Bowls and earning a First-Team All-Pro nod in 2010. He also owns a number of franchise records, both for a career (receiving touchdowns, receptions) and for a single game (including most receptions in a playoff game (11)). White was was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor this past December.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.