PFR Originals

Poll: Grading The Raiders’ Offseason

To say that this was an offseason of overhaul for the Raiders would be a drastic understatement. With the aid of new GM Mike Mayock, head coach Jon Gruden completely rebooted his team after a disappointing 4-12 finish last year. 

The renovations got underway in 2018 when the Raiders shipped out stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for a combined haul of draft capital. The moves also gave the team financial flexibility this offseason, which was used to add wide receiver Antonio Brown, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, right tackle Trent Brown, and slot cornerback LaMarcus Joyner. Those four players alone account for more than $109MM in guaranteed money, signaling a clear desire to compete in 2019.

It’s hard to knock any of those additions – at least, when considering their expected value for the coming season. However, the Raiders’ draft was among the most polarizing in the NFL. After Gruden and Mayock sent their scouting department packing, they stunned every prognosticator by selecting Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick. Then, at No. 24 overall, some felt that the Raiders reached again with their pick of Alabama running back Joshua Jacobs.

Other picks, such as Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram at No. 27 overall, were better received. Abram projects to be a Day 1 starter alongside Karl Joseph and, ultimately, figures to inherit his spotlight after the club turned down Joseph’s fifth-year option for the 2020 season.

Despite some clear upgrades, question marks remain for the Raiders. The club tried to upgrade its backfield with the quietly effective Isaiah Crowell, but he was quickly lost to a torn Achilles and replaced by the return of Doug Martin. There were also rumblings that they would add a new quarterback to play ahead of Derek Carr, but they elected to stick with the signal caller in hopes that he could return to his old form. It’s also fair to wonder about the status of the Raiders’ locker room – the mercurial Brown always has the potential to rock the boat and he’s now joined by longtime rival Vontaze Burfict and controversial lineman Richie Incognito.

On the whole, how would you grade the Raiders’ offseason? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extension Candidate: Patriots QB Tom Brady

It’s rare for an NFL player to continue his career into his 40s and even rarer for that player to be up for an extension. But, of course, most players are not like Tom Brady.

The multiple-time Super Bowl champ will be out of contract after the 2019 season after he collects on $27MM in earnings. There’s no conceivable scenario in which Brady leaves the Patriots in free agency, but it remains to be seen how the Patriots will structure Brady’s next contract or when they’ll be able to come to an accord.

Brady will turn 42 in August and the Patriots have no succession plan in place for the future Hall of Famer. Theoretically, they could cuff him with the franchise tag if no agreement can be reached, but it would come at a rate of $32.4MM for the 2020 season (a 20% increase from his current cap figure).

Historically, Brady has given the Patriots significant hometown discounts, but he might not be feeling as generous this time around. Amidst rumblings of discord in Foxboro, the Pats added $5MM in incentives to Brady’s 2018 deal. However, he did not his the statistical markers necessary to realize the full potential of the bonus package.

So, what will a new deal for Brady look like? Although Brady showed some chinks in the armor last year, he could easily make a case to join the $30MM/year club, which currently counts Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan among its members.

Meanwhile, Brady’s last deal inked in 2016 averaged out to just $20.5MM/year. Adjusted for cap inflation, that number would be somewhere around $25MM/year, which would position him as just the tenth-highest paid quarterback in terms of average annual value.

Many expect Brady to settle in at that $25MM per annum figure, but don’t be surprised if the two sides shake hands at the midway point between that number and the star’s true market value.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Cardale Jones

In 2015, Cardale Jones emerged as a superstar for Ohio State when quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were lost to injury. After leading the Buckeyes to wins over Michigan and Wisconsin before topping Oregon in the National Championship, Jones went from a relative unknown to a bonafide NFL prospect. Although he was benched midway through the 2016 season, many still believed that big things were in store for the athletic QB when the Bills tapped him in the fourth-round of the draft. 

In 2019, Jones’ NFL career is at a crossroads. After two years with the Chargers, Jones is very much in danger of missing the 53-man cut as he sits behind star Philip Rivers and fellow ex-Bill Tyrod Taylor. The Bolts could conceivably carry three quarterbacks on the varsity squad, but they already seem well set with the far more accomplished Taylor as Rivers’ stopgap.

The evaluation is going to come in the preseason games when you’re out there against another team and you’re having to manage a lot of different things,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said recently. “The trend for him has been good. He’s improving. Just seeing his command in the huddle now, opposed to what it was last year, it’s much better.”

If Jones does not impress in the preseason, it’s not a given that he’ll land an NFL contract. Last year, the Bolts cut Jones on Labor Day Weekend and were able to stash him on the practice squad. This year, he’s with the Chargers on a low-cost reserve/future contract.

There’s still reason to believe in Jones, but it’s hard to see another team carrying him on the 53-man roster as he approaches his 27th birthday in September.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Ricky Williams Retires

On this date in 2004, one of the NFL’s best running backs called it quits at the age of 26. On the heels of a four-game ban for marijuana, Dolphins star Ricky Williams decided that he had enough. 

I’m finally free,” Williams told the Miami Herald from Hawaii. “I can’t remember ever being this happy.”

Williams’ announcement sent shockwaves through the football world and also became the topic of national conversation for non-sports fans. How could Williams, who was just two years removed from leading the league with 1,853 rushing yards, walk away from millions of dollars and superstar status?

Many believed that Williams was choosing recreational marijuana over his career. However, Williams explained that he was in search of true happiness, fulfillment, and enlightenment.

Well, why not?,” Williams said when asked about his puzzling decision. “I just don’t want to be in this business anymore. was never strong enough to not play football, but I’m strong enough now. Everyone has thrown every possible scenario at me about why I shouldn’t do this, but they’re in denial. I’m happy with my decision.”

The Dolphins’ offense was largely built around Williams and his mid-summer departure was nothing short of devastating for the club. The Dolphins invested a great deal in No. 34 – they sent four draft picks to the Saints, including two first-round picks – to acquire him in 2002, so they had little in the way of backfield reinforcements.

Later, Williams revealed that there were other factors that went into his decision. After his stellar 2002 campaign, he once again led the league in rushing attempts with 392 on the year. However, without a quality passing game to keep defenses honest, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. The Dolphins, meanwhile, carried over the same exact quarterback room into 2004. Knowing that Jay Fiedler, Brian Griese, and Sage Rosenfels would produce the same results, Williams elected against taking more punishment.

I led the NFL in attempts the past two years and they really didn’t go out and get a quarterback to help me, so I knew it’s going to be all on me again,” Williams told Sports Illustrated in 2004. “I could see my mortality as a football player, that I’m not going to be able to do this much longer. It just became obvious to me that playing football for me is not going to be fun, not something I’m going to enjoy and it’s time for me to do something different.”

Williams returned to football in 2005 and managed to average 4.4 yards per tote in a suspension-shortened season. In 2006, the NFL handed Williams a one-year ban for the fourth drug policy violation of his career, prompting him to sign with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

After suffering a pectoral tear in his 2007 return, Williams would not play another full NFL season until 2008. The time spent away from the NFL would have been an insurmountable obstacle for most players, but there was clearly something to Williams’ holistic regimen.

From 2008-2011, Williams’ ages 31-34 seasons, the veteran managed 4.3 yards per carry for the Dolphins and Ravens. Then, after topping 10,000 career rushing yards, Williams decided to retire for good.

Today, Williams is one of several ex-NFL players involved in the formation of the Freedom Football League, which vows to provide players with “permanent and reliable holistic health and wellness support on and off the field” as well as encouragement to address “hot-button” societal issues.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s NFL Glossary: Waivers

Here at Pro Football Rumors, you’ll see a number of stories posted on players being cut, waived, or released by their NFL teams. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not quite synonymous. A player who is “cut” has been removed from his team’s roster, but whether he is “waived” or “released” generally depends on his NFL experience.

Between the day after the Super Bowl and the following season’s trade deadline, players with less than four years of service time – or “accrued seasons” – have to pass through waivers after they’re cut by an NFL team. The other 31 clubs around the league have a day to place a waiver claim on that player, adding him to their roster and taking on his contract. That’s why we refer to these players as having been waived, rather than released.

If a player with more than four years of service time is cut between the Super Bowl and the trade deadline, he is not subjected to the waiver process, meaning he becomes a free agent immediately, able to sign with a new team right away if he so chooses.

This isn’t the case all year round, however. Once the trade deadline passes, any player who is cut by his team must pass through waivers, regardless of how many accrued seasons are on his résumé. So if a team cuts loose a 12-year veteran in Week 10 of the season, that player must pass through waivers unclaimed before he’d be free to sign with a team of his choice.

Here are a few more details on the waiver process:

  • If two teams place a waiver claim on the same player, he is awarded to the team with the higher priority. Waiver priority is determined by the previous season’s standings — this year, for example, the Cardinals have first dibs, while the Super Bowl champion Patriots have 32nd priority.
  • However, the waiver priority order will change starting in Week 4. At that point, waiver priority is determined by records of the current season.
  • The window to claim a player closes at the end of the NFL’s business day, which is at 3:00pm central. So if a player is waived by one team on Monday, the other 31 clubs have until Tuesday afternoon to submit a claim. Players cut on Friday clear waivers (or are awarded to a new team) on the following Monday.
  • Prior to the first cutdown date in training camp, injured players with fewer than four years of service time cannot be placed on injured reserve until they pass through waivers. Teams will cut this sort of player with a waived-injured designation, allowing other teams to place a claim if they so choose. If the player goes unclaimed, his team can place him on IR or agree to an injury settlement, then fully release him from the roster.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry, modified from a previous post by Luke Adams. Our glossary posts explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This Date In Transactions History: Steelers’ Shaun Suisham Retires

Three years ago today, Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham was forced to hang ’em up. Once one of the league’s most accurate kickers, Suisham suffered a setback in his recovery from an ACL tear and did not feel that he could return to his previous form. 

From 2012-2014, Suisham sank 91.6% of his field goal tries. But, in the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, Suisham went down with a serious knee injury, costing him the entire season.

My journey in the NFL has come to a crossroads,” Suisham said in a statement. “I was raised in Wallaceburg, Ontario, as a hockey player and have been on an improbable 16-year journey as a kicker, competing at the highest level. The absolute nature of my position has given me the opportunity to test my resolve, and I have grown both professionally and as a man. Undoubtedly, I will miss the challenge of game day and the preparation that is required. Change is hard, but I’m comfortable with where I am in life as a husband and father.”

While Suisham was out, a young kicker by the name of Chris Boswell stepped up and proved to be just as precise. In his first NFL season, Boswell made 90.6% of his field goals, including both of his attempts from 50+ yards out. The Steelers were hoping to give Suisham the opportunity to regain his job, but the battle was over before it could really heat up.

This offseason, the Steelers could be on the verge of another kicking change. Despite a strong rookie season and a stellar 2017 that resulted in his first ever Pro Bowl nod, Boswell is on the bubble after posting a dismal 65% field goal percentage in 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Artie Burns

The Steelers surprised their fair share of draft pundits when they selected Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, and Burns has not done much to prove his doubters wrong over his first three seasons in the league. His strongest season was his rookie campaign, when he notched three interceptions despite starting just nine games.

He could not build on that performance, though, and he struggled with coverage in 2017 and lost his starting job in 2018, appearing primarily on special teams in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh has not had great success in drafting quality corners in recent history, and as of right now, Burns looks like another example of those difficulties.

The Steelers’ decision to not exercise Burns’ 2020 option was something of a no-brainer, given that it would have been worth just shy of $10MM and would have been guaranteed for injury. And earlier this month, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic opined that the club may cut Burns before it’s required to pay him an $800K roster bonus on the first day of training camp.

However, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic suggested just a few days ago that if the Steelers haven’t cut Burns yet, they are likely to keep him around this year. Kaboly did note his belief that 2019 would be Burns’ last hurrah in Pittsburgh.

But just by looking at the financials, it would seem that Bouchette’s take on the situation may be more accurate. If the Steelers cut Burns prior to training camp, they would not only save the $800K roster bonus, but they would also create roughly $1.8MM of cap space. That is not an insignificant amount for Pittsburgh, which currently has just over $1MM of cap room. Although the team has wrapped up its 2019 draft class, it will certainly need to create more space at some point just to conduct regular business during the season, and their already small amount of space will become even smaller when the Rule of 51 is no longer applicable.

And while it may not seem wise to cut a young former first-rounder who plays a premium position just to save some cap space, the Steelers bolstered their CB corps with free agent Steven Nelson and third-round draft choice Justin Layne. The club is also higher on Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton than it is on Burns, and Joe Haden serves as the team’s No. 1 corner. So Burns is at best the sixth corner on the depth chart, which makes him a fringe player that could be cut at any time.

If he is still on the roster by the time he is due the $800K bonus, then the Steelers clearly will give him one more chance. But it would not be surprising to see him searching for a new team before training camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 6/16/19 – 6/23/19

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

  • PFR’s ‘This Date in Transactions History’ series saw five more chapters added.
    • Ben Levine took a look at the Patriots’ signing of David Harris. Harris was a ten-year veteran of the Jets who had spent his entire career in New York, so his decision to go to their AFC East rival was a big deal. Harris ended up only spending one year with New England before retiring.
    • Sam Robinson discussed the Dolphins extending Sam Madison, which at the time was the largest contract in team history. Overall the contract worked out pretty well for both sides, as Madison kept up his stellar play. Eventually the Dolphins cut him after the 2005 season, and Madison went on to win Super Bowl XLII with the Giants.
    • Zach Links reflected on the Bengals cutting Terrelle Pryor back in 2015. At the time Pryor was still a quarterback, and his release from Cincinnati would end up greatly altering his career path. Pryor had previously insisted he wouldn’t play any other position, but after the Bengals cut him he changed his mind. He agreed to line up at receiver, and ended up having a breakout 1,007 yard 2016 season.
    • Zach also took a look at the Panthers’ unwise decision to extend offensive tackle Michael Oher in 2016. They signed Oher to a three-year deal with $21.6MM in new money, but Oher never played a snap under the new contract. Oher missed most of the 2016 due to concussion issues, and then was released with a failed physical designation following a few bizarre offseason incidents.
    • Sam broke down the extension Robert Mathis got from the Colts in 2006. Mathis had only started one game his first three years in the league, but had shown a ton of promise coming off the bench. Indianapolis showed a lot of confidence in him, making him one of the league’s highest-paid pass-rushers despite his inexperience. The move paid off, as Mathis would go on to play another 11 years with the team and rack up a franchise-record 123 sacks.
  • As part of our offseason glossary refreshers, Zach broke down what each of the following terms entail. The glossary terms explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Zach also took a look at two potential release candidates this summer
    • Kenneth Dixon. Dixon looked like the Ravens’ running back of the future for a while, but now finds himself squarely on the roster bubble. He’s put up pretty good numbers when on the field, but he’s been plagued by injuries and was also slapped with a four-game suspension for PEDs. The Ravens signed Mark Ingram this offseason, making Dixon expendable, and it appears as of right now that he’s on the outside looking in.
    • Tavon Austin. When the Cowboys traded for Austin during the draft last year, they initially insisted they had big plans for him. But a groin injury ended up limiting Austin to just seven games, and Dallas barely used him even when he was on the field. Austin only has $500K guaranteed for this season, and the Cowboys now have Randall Cobb in the slot and rookie Tony Pollard as a returner/change of pace back behind Ezekiel Elliott. Austin is going to face an uphill battle to crack Dallas’ 53.
  • Zach looked at the quarterbacks with the biggest cap hits for 2019.
  • Zach broke down the remaining draft picks that have yet to sign their rookie deals, and as of June 19th there were only 16 picks left unsigned.
  • The Patriots have dominated the AFC for many years, and Sam asked readers in a poll who their biggest threat in the conference is in 2019. The Chiefs were the overwhelming winners, getting over 33 percent of the vote.
  • As part of our ‘Extension Candidate’ series, Zach examined where things stand between Julio Jones and the Falcons. Jones still has two years left on his deal, so it’ll be tricky. As Zach points out, former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry recently suggested adding on three new years with $60MM in new money. The two sides have been inching closer to a deal, and something should get done at some point.
  • Being an NFL head coach is one of the toughest jobs in all of sports, and inevitably some of the new head coaches hired this cycle won’t pan out. Last year, Steve Wilks was canned by the Cardinals after just one season. With that in mind, Zach asked readers in a poll which new head coach will have the least successful 2019 season. It was a close three-way race between Kliff Kingsbury with the Cardinals, Brian Flores with the Dolphins, and Zac Taylor with the Bengals, but Kingsbury ended up ‘winning’ with just over 24 percent of the vote.

This Date In Transactions History: David Harris Joins Patriots

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have a penchant for adding veterans on the downside of their careers. The organization also seems to enjoy poaching talent from their division rivals, especially the Jets. The Patriots have added a number of former Jets players since Belichick joined the Patriots (from the Jets, no less) in 2000, including the high-profile (Darrelle Revis) and low-profile (Danny Woodhead). Therefore, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Patriots added a long-time Jets linebacker two years ago today.

The Jets selected David Harris in the second-round of the 2007 draft, and the linebacker quickly established himself as one of the most dependable members of their defense. From 2009 through 2015, Harris didn’t miss a single regular season game, and he earned an All-Pro nod in 2009 after posting 127 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. The linebacker is also top-10 in a number of Jets’ records, including tackles (fourth-708), sacks (eighth-35), and forced fumbles (eighth-10).

However, Harris and the organization hit a bit of a crossroad in 2017. The team was eyeing a rebuild, and they wanted their veteran to take a pay cut. The 33-year-old wouldn’t budge, so the Jets made the “abrupt” move of releasing their long-time player in early June. Then, two weeks later, Harris signed with the Jets’ division rivals on a two-year, $5MM ($1.5MM guaranteed) deal. The move was made official on June 22nd, 2017.

How did it work for the Patriots? Probably about as expected, if not a bit underwhelming. Harris did provide New England with some much-needed depth up the gut, and the veteran ended up compiling 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 10 games (six starts). However, Harris sat out three of the Patriots’ final four regular season games (including their season-finale against the Jets), and he didn’t appear in any of the team’s three playoff games. Harris ended up retiring following the 2017 season, and the Jets were probably on to something when they let him go the previous year.

During his tenure in New York, Harris clearly did enough to establish himself as one of the best defenders in Jets history. However, at least among Jets fan, his resume will always hold one tiny blemish.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Dolphins Extend Sam Madison

The Dolphins in the late 1990s held the 44th overall pick in back-to-back years. They used both second-round selections, 1997 and ’98, to form one of the top cornerback tandems of that era in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

Both players appeared on an All-Pro first team, and the Dolphins locked up each cover man long-term to keep their coverage duo in place until the mid-2000s. Nineteen years ago today, Miami began the process of building around that pair. On June 21, 2000, the Dolphins agreed to a seven-year, $54MM extension with Madison, who was coming off the first of his All-Pro seasons. Madison’s contract, which contained an $11MM signing bonus, surpassed Dan Marino‘s as the richest in franchise history.

Then-HC Dave Wannstedt and current Vikings GM Rick Spielman, then Miami’s VP of player personnel, resided atop the Dolphins front office at this point. The Dolphins had made three straight playoff berths since Madison’s 1997 arrival, which came during Jimmy Johnson‘s coach/de facto GM tenure, out of Louisville. Madison remained a Pro Bowl-caliber player well into the post-Marino era.

Madison’s terms were similar to what other high-end corners had signed for in 2000. Earlier that year, the Patriots and Ty Law agreed to a seven-year, $50MM pact. Deion Sanders signed with the Redskins for seven years and $55MM. Madison’s Dolphins run outlasted both Hall of Famers’ deals, playing in Miami through the 2005 season.

Madison made four straight Pro Bowls, from 1999-2002, and was a back-to-back first-team All-Pro from 1999-2000. Surtain (three Pro Bowls, 2004 first-team All-Pro nod) signed his extension a year later and teamed with Madison until the ’04 season, after which he signed with the Chiefs. Madison’s 31 interceptions are third in Dolphins history, behind their early-1970s safety tandem of Jake Scott (35) and Dick Anderson (34).

The Dolphins cut bait on this contract in March 2006, as Madison was entering his age-32 season. But the veteran landed on his feet, spending the next three seasons with the Giants before retiring. He started 15 games for the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants iteration, intercepting four passes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.