PFR Originals

This Date In Transactions History: Dolphins Acquire Junior Seau From Chargers

For a three-year stretch in the mid-2000s, the Dolphins rostered three All-Decade defenders. Eighteen years ago Friday, Miami brought in Junior Seau to start on its Jason Taylor– and Zach Thomas-led defense.

On April 16, 2003, the Dolphins finalized a trade that brought Seau over from San Diego. It took only a conditional draft choice for the Dolphins to acquire the 13-year Chargers starter, who was 34 at the time of the trade. (That pick ended up becoming a fifth-rounder in 2004, which turned into future LaDainian Tomlinson backup and Falcons Pro Bowler Michael Turner.)

The 2003 offseason brought considerable change for the Chargers, who said goodbye to Seau and Rodney Harrison. While these two would end up teammates again in New England, Seau took a three-season detour. The Dolphins brought Seau over to join a defense that had ranked fourth in 2002; it ranked third in ’03, which turned out to be Seau’s best Miami season.

A Chargers first-round pick in 1990, the San Diego native became the greatest defender in franchise history. Seau ventured to 12 straight Pro Bowls from 1991-2002 and was a first-team All-Decade performer in the 1990s. The USC alum was the best player on the Bolts’ Super Bowl XXIX team, pairing elite tackling skills with pass-rushing ability that allowed him to put together three seven-sack seasons despite not working as a pure rusher. The Chargers, however, moved in a different direction in 2003, allowing Seau to seek a trade. The Bolts paid Seau around $2MM of a $2.7MM roster bonus, which was due the day before the trade was finalized.

Seau started 15 games for the ’03 Dolphins. He posted 96 tackles (12 for loss) and three sacks that season, a 10-6 Dolphins campaign that ended with the team just missing the playoffs. However, the Dave Wannstedt-run team could not generate momentum coming out of the season. The Dolphins started 1-9 in 2004 and fired Wannstedt. Seau battled through injuries — a pectoral tear in 2004 and an Achilles malady in ’05 — and was only able to log 15 games in that span. Prior to joining the Dolphins, Seau had not missed more than three games in a season.

The Dolphins released Seau in 2006, and he retired soon after. However, the Patriots pulled him out of retirement and used him as a starter in 2006. Seau played four more seasons, becoming one of the only NFL defenders to enjoy a 20-year career, before retiring for good in 2010. Tragically, Seau died by suicide in 2012. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2015.

Poll: Who Will Falcons Draft At No. 4?

This year’s draft is almost certain to begin with Trevor Lawrence going to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson to the Jets, making the 49ers’ No. 3 overall pick the beginning of what promises to be a drama-filled top 10. Just behind San Francisco, however, a team faces a more complicated decision.

Picking in the top five for the first time in 13 years, the Falcons hold the No. 4 overall selection. They have a few intriguing options; each would represent drastically different paths for the franchise. After previously not being on the same page about the pick, new GM Terry Fontenot and new HC Arthur Smith are believed to be in agreement now. Which way should the franchise go?

Fontenot was believed to be leaning toward acquiring Matt Ryan‘s heir apparent. There are reasons to support this route. Ryan will turn 36 this year, has not made a Pro Bowl — in the easiest era for such an honor — since his MVP 2016 season, and the Falcons have a rare opportunity to draft one of this year’s prized QB prospects. While late-blooming prospects will likely emerge, the 2022 quarterback class is not currently rated highly. Drafting Trey Lance, Mac Jones or Georgia native Justin Fields — two will be available — would give the Falcons a player around whom the new regime could build. The Falcons proceeding in this direction would make this the first time a draft has started with four quarterbacks being chosen.

[RELATED: Who Will 49ers Draft At No. 3?]

When the duo was believed to be split, Smith was viewed as being in favor of selecting a player who could help a still-Ryan-centric team. With Ryan still an above-average quarterback, and the Falcons possessing needs elsewhere, a case certainly exists for the team to stay the course with its veteran passer. The Falcons having restructured Ryan’s contract earlier this year also would limit their benefit from a rookie-QB salary in 2022. The Jaguars and Jets have no veteran quarterback contract of note on their books, and the 49ers can part ways with Jimmy Garoppolo without much of a dead-cap hit. The Falcons have more than $40MM in Ryan signing bonus money prorated beyond 2021.

With the 49ers having traded up for a quarterback, the Falcons have the chance to take this year’s top non-QB prospect. Many experts believe that is Kyle Pitts, and many around the league expect the Falcons to draft the Florida tight end. Pitts said the Falcons are interested, and the 6-foot-6 pass catcher would team with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to form an imposing aerial trio. The Falcons could also take Oregon tackle Penei Sewell. However, the team has 29-year-old left tackle Jake Matthews and used a first-round pick on right tackle Kaleb McGary in 2019.

Option 3 would be moving the pick. The Falcons are interested in moving down, likely eyeing the type of trade package the Dolphins received (three first-rounders and a third) to do so. Multiple teams have contacted the Falcons about moving up. Washington is believed to be high on Lance, while Broncos GM George Paton has been busy trekking to QBs’ pro days. The Bears are eager to acquire a long-term QB as well, though Washington and Chicago’s draft slots — Nos. 19 and 20 overall — would up Atlanta’s asking price.

So, how will the Falcons proceed? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: NFL Draft, Garoppolo, Romo

In case you missed it, here’s a look back at the best of our original content over the last week:

Extension Candidate: Denzel Ward

The Browns returned to the playoffs in 2020 after a 17-year absence, and their top two picks of the 2018 draft — QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward — played pivotal roles in the team’s success. Under the youthful leadership of general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland has the opportunity to be a competitive outfit for the foreseeable future.

But success in the draft and on the field generally leads to big-money extensions for a team’s homegrown talent, and the decision as to whether to authorize such extensions is not always a straightforward one. For instance, although Mayfield bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2019 campaign and posted a top-10 QBR of 72.2 last season, the Browns may make him prove himself again in 2021 before getting serious about extension talks.

Ward, meanwhile, has battled health issues since he entered the league. He has missed at least three games due to injury in each of his first three professional seasons — we’re not counting the games he missed last year due to COVID-19 — and when considering the price tag for top cornerbacks, even “minor” injuries become significant.

On the other hand, his performance between the lines has been everything the Browns could have hoped for when they made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2018. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season, and despite the missed time due to injury, he has tallied 40 passes defensed and seven interceptions — including one pick-six — in his young career.

Cleveland’s secondary as a whole was hit hard by injury (and the pandemic) last year. In addition to Ward’s ailments, rookie safety Grant Delpit and second-year CB Greedy Williams missed the entire season, and CB Kevin Johnson also missed time. That meant that DC Joe Woods was forced to run zone coverage schemes for the most part, and Ward’s skill-set is probably better-suited to man coverage.

Still, Ward finished as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd-best corner out of 121 qualifiers, and PFF gave him a strong coverage grade. The team added former Rams DBs John Johnson and Troy Hill in free agency this offseason, which should give Woods a little more flexibility and which should, in turn, have a positive trickle-down effect on Ward. But while Hill has experience playing on the boundaries, the Browns may prefer to deploy him in the slot, and it’s still unclear what the team has in Williams at this point. So other than Ward, there are no certainties in terms of outside-the-numbers CBs, and even if there were, it would be hard to imagine Berry & Co. letting a premium talent at a premium position get away.

Of course, a new contract will be costly. The $20MM average annual value that Jalen Ramsey recently pulled down from the Rams is the current pacesetter for the CB market, and while Ward might not be able to hit that number at this point, he certainly has an argument for at least an $18MM AAV. A five-year pact worth between $90MM-$95MM and around $40MM or so in full guarantees sounds about right if the two sides are to come to terms anytime soon.

For now, there have been no reports of extension talks. The Browns will certainly exercise Ward’s fifth-year option for 2022 — which checks in at a fully-guaranteed $13.294MM — and perhaps player and team will start to discuss a longer-term arrangement over the summer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

If you haven’t been tracking Jaylen Waddle for the last three years, you could be forgiven. Early on in his career, Waddle was largely overshadowed by the likes of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III – two eventual first-round picks. After they left Tuscaloosa, Waddle was primed to assert himself as Bama’s top wide receiver in 2020.

[RELATED: A Closer Look At LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase]

In his first six games, Waddle went off for 28 catches and 591 yards — good for 21.2 yards per catch on average — plus four touchdowns. He also kept up his strong work in the return game, giving evaluators even more opportunities to gawk at his speed on film. Unfortunately, his final return of the regular season came against Tennessee, couching his season up until the National Championship game against Ohio State.

Despite the ill-timed injury, Waddle remains one of this year’s most highly-coveted prospects. His injured ankle even kept him from running the 40-yard-dash for scouts this year — that hasn’t slowed him down either. Waddle was clocked at 4.37 seconds before he even stepped foot on campus. And, depending on who you ask, he could even be a shade faster than Ruggs on the field. Ruggs, for reference, clocked a 4.27-second 40-time last year.

With explosiveness and sustained speed down the field, it would almost be too easy to compare Waddle to Chiefs star Tyreek Hill. Almost. Both players have the ability to wreck one-on-one coverage with their speed and, like Hill, Waddle can accelerate, stop on a dime, and throttle his way past the coverage. Former teammate Najee Harris – viewed by many as the best running back in the 2021 class — also sees the similarities.

He’s small but he’s dynamic. He’s explosive. Really really explosive,” Harris told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “The closest thing to Tyreek Hill. You gotta see him in person. How he plays how he gets in and out of cuts. How he stops and goes 60 [mph] right away.”

The knocks on Waddle are few and far in-between. Many of them were out of his control. Waddle never put together a full season like LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase did in 2019 (1,780 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns, both SEC records), but he was buried behind an All-Star cast in 2018 and 2019. Then, 2020’s ankle injury effectively ended his year. His hands aren’t quite as reliable as Chase’s either. Still, Waddle has already crossed a lot of the “cons” off of his list – concerned chatter about his catching ability and upper body strength have turned into mere whispers. Blessed with serious wheels, route running, and tons of tools to make opponents miss, Waddle has cemented himself as this year’s WR2 or WR3, depending on how you rate him vs. ‘Bama teammate DeVonta Smith.

Chase ran away with the WR1 crown at his pro day when he posted a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, a number that even surprised the LSU star (“I was going for a low 4.4,” Chase said.) If Chase’s absolute ceiling is No. 4 overall after three QBs come off the board, then Waddle’s should top out at the Bengals’ No. 5 pick. After that, it’s the Eagles at No. 6, the Lions at No. 7, and the Dolphins at No. 8, three clubs that want/need a game-changing WR like Waddle. Even with lots of variables in play, it’s hard to imagine Waddle waiting past the top ten.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s NFL Glossary: Offset Language

Ever since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie contracts have been fairly regimented. Now, negotiations between teams and draft picks go pretty smoothly, with few – if any – unsigned rookies by the time training camp starts. 

These days, if there is haggling, it’s usually due to offset language. Offset language relates to what happens to a player’s salary if he’s cut during the first four years of his career, while he’s still playing on his rookie deal. For the top 15 to 20 picks in the draft, those four-year salaries are fully guaranteed, even if a player is waived at some point during those four seasons. For example, if a player has $4MM in guaranteed money remaining on his contract and is cut, he’ll still be owed that $4MM.

However, if a team has written offset language into the contract, that club can save some money if and when the player signs with a new team. For example, if that player who had $4MM in guaranteed money left on his contract signs with a new club on a $1MM deal, his old team would only be on the hook for $3MM, with the new team making up the difference. If there’s no offset language on that first deal, the old team would continue to be on the hook for the full $4MM, and the player would simply earn an additional $1MM from his new club.

In 2015, Marcus Mariota‘s camp went back-and-forth with the Titans until the two sides finally agreed to partial offset language in late July. In 2016, Joey Bosa’s holdout dominated headlines until the linebacker inked his deal on August 29th. In most cases, a lack of offsets for a player simply depends on which team drafted him — clubs like the Rams and Jaguars traditionally haven’t pushed to include offsets in contracts for their top picks, even in an era where most other teams around the league do.

Last year, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown were the first Round 1 picks to sign and they agreed to offset language. It’s impossible to gauge how this year’s top stars will approach those talks, but offsets rarely come into play for elite prospects – few top picks flame out badly enough to get cut inside of four years. And even in those rare instances, if a player has performed poorly enough to be cut in his first few years, he likely won’t land a big-money deal elsewhere, so offset language wouldn’t help his old club recover more than the league minimum.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Poll: Which QB Will Be Traded Next?

The NFL’s quarterback carousel continued earlier this week when the Jets finally traded former third-overall pick Sam Darnold to the Panthers. The 23-year-old became the fifth quarterback to switch teams via trade this offseason:

While teams have already shifted focus from veteran acquisitions to the draft, that doesn’t mean we won’t see another QB trade. Sure, it takes two to tango, and a number of teams already have already solidified their quarterback situation (or they will in the upcoming draft). Still, teams like the Patriots, Broncos, Bears, Saints, and Washington could be in the market for a signal-caller depending on what happens with the draft.

So who could be available? We know one name is definitively on the block: Teddy Bridgewater. Following the Panthers’ acquisition of Darnold, the front ofice gave the 2020 starter permission to seek a trade. It seems like a trade is inevitable, with reports indicating that multiple teams have reached out to Carolina about the veteran. Many of these teams are apparently eyeing Bridgewater as a backup, which could complicate a trade if the veteran is hunting for a suitor who will let hm start. Further, interested teams would also like to rework Bridgewater’s contract, adding another hurdle to negotiations.

It was widely assumed that Jimmy Garoppolo would be on the trade block after the 49ers made a blockbuster trade for the No. 3 pick. However, the organization appears to be playing hard ball. After declaring that the veteran would be sticking around San Francisco for the 2021 season, the 49ers are reportedly seeking a first-rounder for Jimmy G. This could obviously just be leveraging via the media, and the 49ers will be hard pressed to find a team that will give up that type of draft capital and inherit Garoppolo’s hefty deal. Either way, the rumors will surely persist, especially if Garoppolo’s former team, the Patriots, roll into the regular season with Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham as their top quarterbacks.

What about Gardner Minshew? The former sixth-rounder took a step back from a team-record perspective in 2020, but he still proved to be a capable game manager, connecting on 66.1-percent of his passes and tossing 16 touchdowns vs. only five interceptions. The Jaguars will presumably take Trevor Lawrence will the first-overall pick in the upcoming draft, relegating Minshew to a backup role. Minshew has a low salary and plenty of upside, so Jacksonville won’t just give him away. However, if a team is willing to pony up for the mustached quarterback, the Jaguars will probably listen. For what it’s worth, we heard back in March that the Jaguars weren’t shopping Minshew “at this point” in time.

Those three quarterbacks appear to be the most realistic trade targets, but there are plenty of additional quarterbacks who have lingered in trade rumors. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson were the biggest names thrown around this offseason, but it’s unlikely either player is dealt any time soon (Wilson because he’s a franchise quarterback and the Seahawks aren’t dumb, Watson because of the ongoing sexual misconduct allegations against him (and the Texans prior refusal to trade him despite demands)). Some less sexy names include Nick Foles, who could be displaced in Chicago after the Bears signed Andy Dalton. Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Drew Lock have also been tossed around, but it’s unlikely any of those players switch teams.

So that leads to our question: who will be the next quarterback to be traded? Let us know if we forgot anyone in the comments.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Packers Re-Sign TE Robert Tonyan

Two years ago today, a minor transaction by the Packers was tucked into our daily roundup. The move likely went unnoticed by many (the signing of former Alliance of American Football players probably caught more eyes), but fast forward to today, and Green Bay certainly deserves some praise for their under-the-radar move. On April 10, 2019, the Packers re-signed tight end Robert Tonyan.

The Indiana State product went undrafted in 2017, but he managed to secure a lucrative three-year, $1.66MM deal with the Lions. He didn’t end up making the regular season roster, and he spent the majority of his rookie year as a free agent before catching on with the Packers practice squad. Following that 2017 campaign, Green Bay retained the young tight end via a futures contract.

Tonyan ended up sticking the team in 2018, appearing in all 16 games. However, other than a memorable 54-yard touchdown catch, the tight end didn’t do much on the offensive end, and he ended the season having appeared more on special teams (191 snaps) than on offense (67). Still, the Packers apparently believed in his potential, as they extended him a tender as an exclusive rights free agent. That decision (and the subsequent negotiations) culminated in the minor move that was made two years ago today.

Tonyan’s 2019 campaign was similar to his 2018 season; he saw a bit more offensive responsibility, but he still didn’t put up notable numbers. Following that season, the Packers made him an exclusive rights free agent once again, and the player ultimately signed the tender.

The tight end rewarded the Packers’ commitment with a breakout season in 2020. The 26-year-old emerged as one of Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite targets, finishing the season with 52 receptions for 586 yards and 11 touchdowns. He continued producing in the playoffs, hauling in eight catches for 82 yards and one score in two games.

Tonyan was slapped with a second-round tender this past offseason, locking him into a $3.3MM salary for 2021. If he continues producing next season, he’ll see an even larger pay raise as an unrestricted free agent, and a hypothetical bidding war could end up spelling the end of his tenure with the Packers. Still, regardless of what the future holds, the Packers clearly made the right decision by retaining the tight end two years ago today.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Rams trading Brandin Cooks to the Texans. The deal netted the Rams a second-round pick in exchange for the wide receiver and a future fourth-round choice. For Cooks, it was familiar territory — this was the third trade of his career.

[RELATED: Patriots Trade Cooks To Rams] 

Cooks, who was still only 26 at the time, was well-traveled at this point. Two years prior, the Patriots sent him to L.A. (along with a fourth-rounder) for a first-round choice and a sixth-rounder. And, in 2017, the Saints traded Cooks to the Patriots for a first- and third-round pick. It’s not unusual for players on the NFL fringe to cycle through teams, but Cooks had the rare distinction of being simultaneously desirable and very much tradable.

In 2018, his first year with the Rams, Cooks managed a career-high 1,204 receiving yards. Things were going well for all parties in L.A. — Cooks helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl and he had a contract to match his performance, a pricey five-year, $81MM extension with $50.5MM locked in. Then, in 2019, Cooks capped his year with just 635 yards. The most troubling part was that he suffered yet another concussion, which sidelined him for two games.

Cooks’ talent has never been in question, but his health history was another story. The Rams were now in a difficult spot, with millions and millions of dollars committed to Cooks through 2023. The deal left them with $21.8MM in dead money and less draft capital than they gave up just a couple years prior. The Texans got Cooks and the rest of his contract — an $8MM base salary in 2020, followed by $12MM, $13MM, and $14MM through 2023.

The Rams went on to turn that pick into Van Jefferson. The wide receiver out of Florida was used sparingly in the regular season, catching 19 balls for 220 yards and one touchdown. All in all, he was targeted just 31 times with 118 special teams appearances. On the plus side, he flashed in the playoffs with six grabs for 46 yards and one TD vs. the Packers. Aaron Rodgers & Co. came out on top, but Jefferson gave a glimpse of what could be in store.

Cooks went on to turn 81 receptions into 1,150 yards and six touchdowns for the Texans. In an otherwise tumultuous year, he was a bright spot. Now, they’ll count on him and Randall Cobb to keep the chains moving with Will Fuller out of the picture. If Cooks stays concussion-free, the trade will go down as a clear win for the Texans, even as their quarterback situation remains murky.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

After just 17 starts at North Dakota State, quarterback Trey Lance is ready to turn pro. He also barely played in 2020 after NDSU nixed the season, but his tremendous 2019 season is still fresh in everyone’s minds. He may be green, and he’s yet to celebrate his 21st birthday, but Lance figures to be one of the first names called in the 2021 draft.

[RELATED: NFL Draft Prospect Profile — Florida TE Kyle Pitt]

Lance arrived on campus in 2018 and attempted just one pass as a frosh. In 2019, he ascended to the starting job and put himself squarely on the NFL radar. As a sophomore, Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Meanwhile, NDSU took full advantage of his running ability as he racked up 1,110 rushing yards off of 169 carries, good for a 6.5 average per attempt. In 2020, he led the Bison to a 39-28 comeback victory in their lone game against Central Arkansas. Despite the rust, he rattled off 143 rushing yards on 15 carries. He also threw the first interception of his collegiate career, but that can certainly be forgiven.

Aside from Trevor Lawrence, many feel that Lance is the most NFL-ready QB of this year’s bunch. Still shy of legal drinking age, Lance is known for putting in lots of film room time, and that showed throughout his ’19 season. Just a few months ago, Lance was seen as a second-tier QB, a consolation prize for middle-of-the-order teams missing out on Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Now, he’s very much in the same conversation.

So, where will Lance land? Some saw him as a fit for the 49ers after their move up to No. 3, but there’s increasing chatter that they’ll go with Alabama’s Mac Jones instead. Unlike Lance, Jones was able to provide lots of footage for evaluators last year as he set a new national record by completing 77.4% of his throws. He lacks the mobility of Lance, but the Niners may see him as the safer choice of the two.

For the other QB-needy teams on the board, Lance offers tantalizing upside. If Lance can adjust to the pro game and work from the pocket a bit more, the sky is the limit. Falcons GM Terry Fontenot probably recognizes that, which is why he’s reportedly hesitant to pass up a Matt Ryan successor at No. 4. And, if the Falcons trade the pick, there’s a good chance that the team moving up will be eyeing Lance. Right now, it seems like the No. 3 pick is Lance’s ceiling. And, while floors are always hard to peg, it would be a surprise to see him get past No. 7. If the Lions don’t use that pick to take Jared Goff‘s successor, another team could slide in to get their preferred passer.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.