PFR Originals

Poll: Who Should Bills Start At QB?

The Bills started A.J. McCarron at quarterback Friday night in Cleveland after giving Nathan Peterman the initial start of the preseason. For a playoff team, Buffalo’s proceeded in interesting fashion and has three unique choices to start going into the regular season.

In trading the quarterback who helped them snap major North American sports’ longest playoff drought, the Bills look to be less equipped to make a playoff run this season. Tyrod Taylor had his share of detractors, and the new Bills regime was obviously not sold he was anything more than a stopgap, but his three years’ worth of starter experience represented a higher floor than any of the team’s current options.

So, Buffalo appears to be in a worse spot at sports’ premier job entering the 2018 season. The Bills, who have Las Vegas’ second-worst odds to win Super Bowl LIII, appear to have willingly taken a step back in hopes of reloading for the future.

They signed McCarron to seemingly be the bridge to whatever quarterback they chose in Round 1, which turned out to be Josh Allen. But the fifth-year passer has yet to seize the role. McCarron is still competing with Peterman, the latter having looked better than the higher-paid ex-Bengal during several junctures of the offseason. But McCarron signed a two-year, $8.1MM contract. Peterman has three years left on his rookie deal.

While the 2017 fifth-round pick endured last season’s most disastrous start, his five-interception outing in Los Angeles, he’s clearly shown more as an NFL sophomore. But can the Bills turn back to him after that start and having made two bigger investments at QB?

Explaining why McCarron and Peterman were going to receive first-team work over Allen to start camp, Brandon Beane said the team was committed to giving his team’s veterans the best chance to win this season. But the Bills are not expected to contend in 2018. And they made multiple first-round trades up to select Allen at No. 7. If he shows increased NFL readiness during the preseason’s remainder, would a rebuilding team throw the mid-major prodigy into action early?

So, should the Bills open the season with McCarron, finally giving Andy Dalton’s longtime backup a real chance to prove he’s an NFL starter? Or should Peterman’s improved offseason grant him a second chance? Should the Bills throw a curveball and begin the Allen era now? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Poll: Should The Browns Sign Dez Bryant?

The Browns and Dez Bryant are meeting today, but each side has reservations about a potential union. Bryant ducked the Browns’ phone calls for a while and only got in touch with the Browns after GM John Dorsey disclosed that to the public. The Browns, meanwhile, aren’t completely sold on Bryant being a good fit for them

The Browns’ internal conflict is understandable as Bryant’s star has faded considerably in recent years. After averaging 91 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns between 2012 and 2014, his averages plummeted to 50 catches for 678 yards and 6 TDs over the last three years. He also missed ten games due to injury between 2015 and 2016, and some say he wasn’t giving 100% towards the end of his run in Dallas.

Will Bryant be motivated by his release from the Cowboys? It stands to reason that he will, but one can’t help but wonder how Bryant would react to a sharp decrease in targets. Bryant would be in line for plenty of looks if Josh Gordon misses time, but the Browns are hopeful that the troubled star will be ready to go in Week 1. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Bryant is relegated to being the third wide receiver behind Landry and Gordon, and there’s also a group of talented young receivers to consider, including rookie Antonio Callaway.

With reservations and interest on both sides, we want to know what you think. Should the Browns sign Bryant? Click below to cast your vote.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which UFA RB Should Redskins Target?

Washington’s backfield corps absorbed a major blow Friday when news of Derrius Guice‘s ACL tear surfaced. The second-round pick had impressed during camp and was set to be a key part of the Redskins’ 2018 backfield.

Now, the Redskins are vulnerable here. Chris Thompson admitted he’s not fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered last season, leaving Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine as the team’s top two healthy running backs. Under the circumstances, it would seemingly behoove the Redskins to examine free agent options. Should they?

Washington holds $13MM-plus in cap space, so funding won’t be an issue here given the timing of this injury and the host of proven backs on the market. Of the players available, Orleans Darkwa has generated the most interest this offseason. The Giants’ 2017 rushing leader met with the Patriots in April, before undergoing surgery, and since recovering has met with the Bills, Jets and Colts. Each team passed, but Darkwa has just 276 carries on his NFL odometer. And he averaged 4.4 yards per tote despite running behind an injury-ravaged Giants offensive front.

Alfred Morris led the Redskins in rushing for four straight seasons, and he averaged 4.8 yards per handoff last season as the Cowboys’ primary starter during Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension. The former sixth-round Washington find is 29 and hasn’t generated much interest since his Cowboys contract expired, although he did visit the Jets recently.

Eddie Lacy‘s also fairly young, at 28, but he’s coming off a brutal Seahawks season. After providing per-carry averages north of 4.0 in each of his four Packers seasons, Lacy averaged just 2.6 yards per run for the Seahawks. Branden Oliver has not been as successful on a per-rush basis, holding a career average of 3.4, but he totaled 853 yards from scrimmage as a seven-game starter as a rookie in 2014. Oliver also drew interest from the Bills this summer.

What about the market’s old guard? Adrian Peterson is obviously the first name that comes to mind, and the future Hall of Famer maintains he would like to play a 12th season. Peterson said he’s now healthy and has recovered from the neck injury that ended his 2017 season. While the three-time rushing champion’s best days are behind him, he amassed two 130-plus-yard games with the Cardinals, doing so despite being a midseason acquisition.

Jamaal Charles, 31, made it through last season healthy after extensive knee trouble plagued him in 2015 and 2016, but the Broncos took him out of their rotation. Nevertheless, the two-time All-Pro led Denver backs by averaging 4.3 yards per carry (albeit on just 69 handoffs). DeMarco Murray retired, but he made it clear shortly before that announcement he was interested in playing this season. Could this situation lure the 2014 offensive player of the year out of retirement?

However, the Redskins also have former Broncos backup Kapri Bibbs and third-year UDFA Byron Marshall. Should they bypass the market and go with a cast fronted by Kelley and Perine?

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which 2017 First Place Team Is Likeliest To Miss Playoffs In 2018?

In 2017, four first-place teams from the previous season did not earn postseason berths. Those clubs — the Texans, Cowboys, Packers, and Seahawks — all missed the playoffs for different reasons. Injuries, poor luck, off-field issues, and plain old regression to the mean all contributed in certain instances, and 2018 doesn’t figure to be any different for the 2017 first-place teams.

We’ve already asked PFR readers which 2017 last place team is likeliest to make the postseason in 2018 (the 49ers were the top choice, with the Texans following closely behind). Today, we’ll flip that question: which 2017 first place club is going to miss the playoffs during the upcoming campaign?

Let’s take an overview of the teams:

New England Patriots

With Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in tow, the Patriots have won at least 12 games for eight consecutive seasons, and earned playoff berths in 14 of the past 15 years. Despite some roster turnover, that streak doesn’t figure to end in 2018. Not only is the AFC weak overall, but the AFC East in particular isn’t going to offer much competition for New England. New faces such as running back Sony Michel, offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, defensive lineman Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn, and cornerback Jason McCourty should help keep the Patriots’ postseason streak alive.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are rolling it back, as the club won’t have many changes on either offense or defense. The only new factor on the offensive side of the ball figures to be rookie wideout James Washington, who will replace Martavis Bryant as Pittsburgh’s deep threat. On defense, linebacker Jon Bostic takes over for the injured Ryan Shazier, while Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds will form an all-new safety tandem. Competition from within the AFC North might be improved, especially if the Browns don’t play like a winless team again in 2018.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Over the course of the 2017 season, the Jaguars posted the second-highest DVOA variance of any NFL club, meaning their performance wasn’t consistent from week-to-week. Now that they’ve brought back quarterback Blake Bortles, that doesn’t figure to change. In a passing league, Jacksonville will commit to winning via the run game and defensive dominance, and those two areas of the game aren’t nearly as correlated to win as passing offense.

Kansas City Chiefs

For what it’s worth, the Chiefs finished with the worst DVOA of any first-place team in 2017, and DVOA — Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric — is better at predicting future records than a team’s actual win-loss record. Kansas City is now deploying a new quarterback in 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes, and as Warren Sharp detailed on Thursday, the Chiefs and Mahomes will need to limit their turnovers in order to have success in 2018. Everyone’s favorite sleeper — the Chargers — also reside in the AFC West, while Denver and Oakland also have legitimate postseason hopes.

Philadelphia Eagles

Unlike a postmortem, which helps explain why things happened after the fact, a premortem examines potential crises before they actually occur. Let’s take a premortem approach to a hypothetically-flawed 2018 Eagles roster: Carson Wentz doesn’t recover quickly from his ACL tear and his replacement, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, looks more like the Rams version of himself. Philadelphia’s defensive line ages quickly and can’t match its 2017 dominance, and the Eagles’ defensive back depth chart — which is relying on young players like Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas — can’t hold up. And head coach Doug Pederson‘s aggressiveness, which led him to go for it on fourth downs a league-leading 29 times in 2017, backfires.

Minnesota Vikings

Two words: Aaron Rodgers. Sure, the Vikings were among the most complete teams in the league last season, and have since added both Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson to an already-stacked roster. But the return of Rodgers from injury surely strikes fear in the hearts of Minnesota fans, and we haven’t even mentioned the improvements made by the NFC North’s other two clubs, the Bears and Lions.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints undoubtedly have a lot going for them in 2018: a future Hall of Famer in quarterback Drew Brees, dynamic rushing and receiving weapons, and an up-and-coming defense that will add veterans Kurt Coleman and Demario Davis in addition to rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport. The real problem for New Orleans is the strength of the NFC South. Both the Falcons and Panthers made the playoffs in 2017 and figure to be in contention again, so there’s always a chance the Saints slip out of the postseason picture due to their intra-division competition.

Los Angeles Rams

For all the offseason hype regarding the Rams, there are still quite a few questions about the club’s roster construction? Will LA’s offensive line — fronted by aging veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan — hold up? How long will All-World defender Aaron Donald continue his holdout? Can Brandin Cooks improve upon Sammy Watkins‘ performance as the Rams’ X receiver? And who exactly will be rushing the passer from outside linebacker in Wade Phillips‘ 3-4 scheme?

So, what do you think? Which 2017 first place team is likeliest to miss the playoffs in 2018? Vote below!

Only Seven Unsigned NFL Draft Picks Remain

The overwhelming majority of this year’s NFL draft picks have signed their rookies deals. As training camp gets started, only the following seven players are without contracts:

For Mayfield, Darnold, Ward, Allen, and Smith, the holdup is reportedly tied to offset languagePlayers with offset language who are cut before the end of their rookie contract have the remaining guaranteed money reduced by whatever they earns elsewhere. Without offset language, players get to double dip. Top 10 picks expect to complete their rookie contracts, but it’s an important issue for agents nonetheless. There’s no sign of real acrimony between any of the Top 10 picks and their respective teams, though Smith has been staying away from the Bears.

In Edmunds’ case, it’s likely that his agent is haggling over guarantees in the fourth year of his rookie contract. First-rounders selected near the end of the first round often don’t get the entirety of their fourth season base salary guaranteed, but that’s an area where agents can press for a bit extra in talks. Seahawks rookie running back Rashaad Penny took less in fourth-year guarantees than last year’s No. 27 overall pick, talks dragged for several other players near the back end of the round. Others, such as Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Jaguars defensive tackle Taven Bryan have signed, but the Virginia Tech product is still in limbo.

Pettis is believed to be in line for a significant role this season, so it would behoove the Niners to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

PFR Originals: 7/15/18 – 7/22/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past seven days:

Release Candidate: Mike Gillislee

When the Patriots signed running back Mike Gillislee last year, it was a case of the rich getting richer. Gillislee, a restricted free agent, averaged 5.7 yards per carry for the Bills in 2016 and his future seemed extremely bright in the Patriots’ backfield. One year later, the Patriots find themselves with an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, and that could leave Gillislee without a spot on the roster. 

[RELATED: Patriots’ Julian Edelman Won’t Sue NFL]

Despite rushing for three touchdowns in the Pats’ season opener against the Chiefs, Gillislee was left off of the active roster for much of the season. Although he had some decent performances in a limited role and averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry in October, Gillislee was way behind Dion Lewis in the pecking order and also snaps to Rex Burkhead and James White. When it came time for the playoffs, the Patriots did not ask Gillislee to suit up.

Lewis is out of the picture after signing a lucrative free agent deal with the Titans, but the competition is still fierce in New England. The Patriots used a first-round pick to select Sony Michel, who projects to be the team’s leading rusher. White, Burkhead, and Branden Bolden are still in the fold, and the latest word is that former Bengal Jeremy Hill may have a better chance of making the final cut than Gillislee.

Patriots fans were rightfully ecstatic about plucking Gillislee from the rival Bills last year, but he’s no longer a focal point of the team’s plans. Gillislee’s two-year, $6.4MM deal has no guaranteed money remaining, so the team can save $2.18MM by cutting the Florida product with no dead money left on the cap. If Gillislee can’t step it up in camp, that’ll be the likely outcome for the 27-year-old.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which First-Round QB Will Start Most Games?

Five quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson — were selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, but each signal-caller will have different outlooks for his rookie campaign. Team status, the presence of other options under center, and each quarterback’s own development will play a role in when exactly he starts his first game.

So which rookie passer will start the most contests in 2018? Let’s take a look at each individually:

Baker Mayfield, Browns

None of the first-round quarterbacks are guaranteed to open as a Week 1 starter, and Mayfield especially may face an uphill battle to overtake his club’s presumptive starter. Cleveland management has been adamant that Tyrod Taylor will be under center to begin the season, and there’s no reason (at present) to think that will change. However, Mayfield could certainly change minds during training camp and the preseason, and if the Browns get off to a slow start, Taylor could conceivably be benched in favor of the No. 1 overall pick.

Sam Darnold, Jets

Mayfield only needs to overtake Taylor in order to become the Browns’ starter, but Darnold might need to beat out two veterans: Josh McCown, who started 13 games for the Jets in 2017, and Teddy Bridgewater, who reportedly impressed during organized team activities. Darnold is the future of the New York franchise, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Jets are interested in throwing him on the field behind a porous offensive line and with limited offensive weapons.

Josh Allen, Bills

Like Darnold, Allen may also be competing against two other quaterbacks, as Buffalo signed former Bengal A.J. McCarron this offseason while 2017 draft pick Nathan Peterman is also still in the fold. Additionally, Allen was viewed as a raw prospect coming out of Wyoming, and the Bills will field one of the league’s worst offensive lines during the upcoming season. Buffalo’s wide receiver depth chart is a terrifying sight, while the club’s best offensive player — running back LeSean McCoy — could face discipline if domestic violence accusations prove true. The Bills may want to hold Allen on the bench for awhile, allowing either McCarron or Peterman more reps.

Josh Rosen, Cardinals

Another rookie quarterback facing a battle with two other options? Sounds familiar. Although in Rosen’s case, it’s unclear if Mike Glennon is a serious obstacle. Sam Bradford is the favorite to act as the Cardinals’ starter in Week 1, but Rosen is viewed as the most pro-ready signal-caller of the rookie bunch, so he could get on the field sooner rather than later. Arizona faces a stiff schedule to open the 2018 campaign, and if the club struggles, the Cards’ staff may choose to turn to Rosen.

Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Jackson might be the first-round quarterback who sees the field first in 2018, but it may not be under center. The Ravens are reportedly interested in deploying Jackson as an “offensive weapon,” and could line him up on the field with starting quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has produced poor performances in recent seasons, so Jackson is a reasonable candidate to see starts later in the year, especially if Baltimore falls out of the playoff picture.

So what do you think? Which first-round quarterback will make the most starts in 2018? Vote below!

This Date In Transactions History: Tony Boselli Retires

On this date in 2003, one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the history of the game called it a career. Tackle Tony Boselli, the first ever draft pick of the Jaguars, retired at the age of 31. 

Soon after being drafted with the No. 2 pick in the 1995 draft, Boselli established himself as one of the best players in Jacksonville. He earned five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1996-2000 with three First-Team All-Pro selections coming in 97-99. The Jaguars reached the postseason in four of their first five seasons in existence, and Boselli played a huge role in their success.

Unfortunately, injuries started to chip away at Boselli in 2001 and he appeared in only three games that season. In February 2002, the Jaguars made Boselli one of their five exposed players for the Texans’ expansion draft. With the very first pick, Houston took on Boselli’s $6.883MM cap figure, but they did not get the All-Pro they were expecting.

I am retiring because of medical reasons, specifically my left shoulder, which did not continue to improve to the point where I could play,” said Boselli as he announced his retirement.

Boselli’s career was relatively short, but highly impactful. In seven seasons with the Jaguars, Boselli allowed only 15.5 sacks and cemented his legacy as one of the Jaguars’ most important players of all-time.

Boselli signed a one-day deal to retire with the Jaguars in 2006 and became the first inductee into the team’s Hall of Fame. Still, the football Hall of Fame eludes him. In 2018, Boselli was denied entry in his 12th year of eligibility and his second year as a finalist.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 7/8/18 – 7/15/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week: