PFR Polls

POLL: Best Available Offensive Free Agent?

Last week, we asked readers who the best available defensive free agent was. Today, we’ll be looking at the best available offensive players. Most of the remaining talent left in the free agent pool is on the defensive side of the ball, but there are still some serviceable options on offense.

All the top quarterbacks are gone, but there are still some decent players left at some skill positions and along the offensive line. This late in the process, many teams will wait until after the draft to see what needs they still have unfilled. Another key date remaining in free agency is May 7th. After that date, signings no longer will count against teams in the compensatory pick formula, so more teams will re-enter the market then for bigger signings.

With that in mind, here are the top remaining offensive free agents:

Demaryius Thomas, WR

Thomas would’ve likely been signed long ago, but his free agency has been complicated by both a devastating injury and an ongoing legal situation. After being traded from the Broncos to the Texans last year, Thomas tore his Achilles. He was then arrested and charged with vehicular assault, which could result in discipline from the league. New England was interested in trading for Thomas at the deadline, and they’re apparently still intrigued. Earlier this week, the Patriots hosted Thomas for a visit. It’s unclear if Thomas will be ready for Week 1, or if he’s facing a suspension. But he’s still only 31, and has remained a very productive receiver when on the field. He had 59 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns in less than 15 full games last year. The year before that he had 949 yards and five touchdowns, which was his first time not having at least 1,000 yards since the 2011 season. Thomas has been declining, but he could still be a very nice piece for a contending team.

Andy Levitre, G

Levitre is an interesting case. Originally a second round pick of the Bills back in 2009, Levitre was one of the league’s better guards the past handful of seasons. He always received strong marks from Pro Football Focus, but his career was derailed by injuries the past couple of season while playing with the Falcons. Levitre was a 16-game starter each of his first eight seasons in the league, but then went down with a triceps injury after 13 games in 2017. Last season he appeared in just two games before landing on injured reserve with another triceps injury. The Falcons appears set to move on, and we haven’t heard of much interest for him yet. Levitre is 33 now, but indicated recently he isn’t planning on retiring. Levitre has started all 143 games in his career, and should resurface somewhere soon.

Michael Crabtree, WR

Crabtree is another high profile receiver still looking for a new home. Crabtree signed with Baltimore last offseason hoping to revitalize his career, and ended up starting all 16 games. Unfortunately for him, the Ravens transitioned to a very run-heavy offense with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, so he couldn’t play quite as large of a role as he would’ve hoped. He had a solid season given the circumstances, catching 54 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. In his previous three seasons in Oakland, he had at least eight touchdowns each year, and had over 1,000 yards in 2016. Crabtree has looked like virtually the same player he has for a while now, so it’s not clear why he hasn’t been scooped up yet. It’s possible he’s demanding too much money, as we haven’t heard much about him since the Ravens cut him in late February.

Donald Penn, OT

Penn is yet another player who had his 2018 season cut short due to injury. The Raiders released Penn on March 16th, ending a five-year run in Oakland. He indicated at the time that he wasn’t going to be retiring. Penn is going to turn 36 later this month, and was making too much money for the Raiders. We heard a few weeks back that the Texans were interested in Penn, but nothing has materialized yet. He was one of the league’s better tackles as recently as 2017, when he made the Pro Bowl, and is presumably still capable of playing at a high level. He only appeared in four games last year because of his groin injury. Penn should be getting plenty of calls from teams still in need of offensive line help after the draft.

Jermon Bushrod, OL

Sensing a trend yet? While many of the top remaining defensive players are defensive linemen, many of the top players left on this side of the ball are offensive linemen. Bushrod was the Dolphins’ starter at right guard in 2016 and 2017, and started six games at tackle for the Saints last season. Bushrod has the versatility to play both inside and out, so it’s a little surprising he’s still on the market. ProFootballTalk rated Bushrod as their 82nd-best free agent heading into the offseason, and he’s one of very few in their top-100 who haven’t been signed yet. Bushrod has been around for a while, and was New Orleans’ starting left tackle for their Super Bowl XLIV win. He’s 34 now, but still capable of playing at a fairly high level at several different spots along the offensive line.

Jay Ajayi, RB

At this time last year, it would’ve been pretty surprising to think that Ajayi still wouldn’t be signed. After being traded from the Dolphins to Eagles in 2017, Ajayi had a great second half of the year for Philly and helped them win a Super Bowl. But his injury issues resurfaced this past season and he ended up appearing in just four games. Even super-agent Drew Rosenhaus hasn’t been able to get him a gig yet, although he has been drawing some interest. The Eagles are apparently still potentially interested in re-signing him, and he also had a visit with the Colts last month, who could still sign him down the line. In seven games with the Eagles in 2017, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry and was electric. If he can shake the injury bug and keep his knees healthy, he could still start for a team.

So what do you think? Which of these players is the best offensive player still available on the free agent market? If it’s none of the above, let us know in the comments! Other big names like T.J. Yeldon, Jermaine Kearse, and Jared Veldheer are still out there. (Link for app users).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Best Available Defensive Free Agent?

If your favorite team is searching for help at quarterback, running back, pass-catcher, or offensive line, you can probably go ahead and look towards the draft. Sure, Jay Ajayi can help a backfield, Jermaine Kearse can still play, and Jared Veldheer or Jermey Parnell could step in at right tackle. But there aren’t any top-end offensive options available on the offensive side of the ball.

That’s not the case on defense, where starting-quality players are still hunting for new contracts. It’s entirely possible that none of the players listed below will sign in the next few weeks. Free agent additions will still count towards the NFL’s compensatory pick calculations though May 7, so teams may be wary of adding new talent until after that date. But if a club wants an instant injection of defensive talent, the free agent market is still a place to look.

Let’s take a look at the best defensive players still available:

Ezekiel Ansah, DE

Ansah collected $17.143MM as the Lions’ franchise player in 2018, but his season could barely have gone worse. He missed nine games thanks to a shoulder injury and a subsequent re-aggravation, and eventually ended the campaign on injured reserve. The former first-round pick has generated legitimate interest this offseason, meeting with both the Saints and Bills, but clubs are reportedly wary of his shoulder issues. As such, Ansah isn’t expected to sign with a new club until he completes a mid-April medical check. Typically, a one-year deal would make sense for a player coming off injury like Ansah, but given that he’s entering his age-30 season, Ansah may want to reel in as much guaranteed money as possible.

Shane Ray, DE/LB

Ray doesn’t have the name value or production of the other players listed here, but he does have at least one thing working for him: age. He’ll only be 26 years old when the 2019 season gets underway. Like Ansah, Ray has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and he’s only played a full 16-game slate one time in his four NFL seasons. As recently as 2016, though, Ray was a force on the edge, posting eight sacks while tying for 21st among all defenders with 21 quarterback hits. Ray’s former Broncos teammate Shaquil Barrett landed only one year and $4MM from the Buccaneers, and while Ray may have to settle for a similar figure, he could also match Barrett as a potential bargain addition. Thus far, the Colts are the only club known to have taken a visit with Ray.

Ndamukong Suh, DT

Los Angeles is reportedly unlikely to re-sign Suh, but any number of teams could use an interior defender with his track record. Other defensive tackles like Malik Jackson, Sheldon Richardson, and Henry Anderson have secured multi-year deals since the free agent period opened in March, but Suh is still on the board. That’s likely due to his asking price, as it’s fair to wonder if he’s pushing for a pay raise after collecting a fully guaranteed $14MM with the Rams in 2018. Suh is now 32 years old, but he’s still extremely effective. And perhaps even more important, he doesn’t come off the field: last season, Suh played 1,062 defensive snaps, the second-most of any interior defender behind only teammate Aaron Donald.

Zach Brown, LB

Because he was released by the Redskins, Brown won’t count towards the NFL’s compensatory pick calculations, but it still won’t be surprising if he’s forced to wait a while to land a new contract. Teams with vacancies at linebacker — such as the Steelers, Bengals, Broncos, and Eagles — may want to see what the draft has to offer before bringing in a veteran like Brown. Historically a streaky player, Brown was excellent in 2018, grading out as the No. 3 linebacker in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

Jamie Collins, LB

When Cleveland acquired Collins from New England midway through the 2016 season, he was expected to become the face of a revamped Browns roster. That was especially true after Collins signed a four-year, $50MM extension that — at the time — made him the highest-paid off-ball linebacker in the league. While he didn’t live up to that contract, Collins is still a useful player, a versatile defender who can cover and rush the passer. Could the Patriots be interested in a reunion at the right price?

Eric Berry, S

A three-time All-Pro, Berry is a terrific safety when on the field. But it’s perhaps no surprise that he hasn’t found a new team after being released by Kansas City last month, as other clubs are surely concerned about his health. In five of his nine pro seasons, Berry has failed to play more than five games. He’s been available for only three total regular season contests over the past two years after rupturing his Achilles in September 2017. In spite of that, Berry doesn’t plan to undergo offseason surgery to correct his nagging heel concerns. He met with the Cowboys in March, but they’ve since signed fellow defensive back George Iloka.

Tre Boston, S

Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and Kenny Vaccaro were all victims of a league-wide safety shun in 2018, but all three have landed multi-year deals this offseason. That’s not the case for Boston, who had to wait until last July to sign with the Cardinals and still hasn’t found a new home yet this year. Boston is just 26 years old and has posted eight interceptions over the past two seasons, excelling in a deep safety role that’s critical in most clubs’ schemes. He’s garnered interest from the Raiders and Browns in recent weeks, but Oakland and Cleveland have since added Lamarcus Joyner and Eric Murray, respectively.

So what do you think? Which of these players is the best defender still available on the free agent market? (Link for app users).

Poll: Should Giants Trade For Josh Rosen?

NFL teams in need of a long-term answer at quarterback appear to have an interesting opportunity this offseason. One of 2018’s top quarterback prospects may well be available at a discount rate — both financially and in terms of draft capital — less than a year after being selected.

Nothing has cooled on the Cardinals-Kyler Murray front, leaving Josh Rosen as one of the more intriguing potential trade chips in memory. Kliff Kingsbury in February said Rosen would be the starting quarterback on his first Cardinals team, and while he has not officially changed his stance on this, the odds entering April of Rosen having a second opportunity with the Cards look longer than the likelihood of the UCLA product being traded.

The Giants loom as a possible landing spot. If/when Rosen becomes available, one of the teams that passed on him last year will be interested. Big Blue did not have a consensus on the top quarterback in last year’s draft, but with Eli Manning having recently turned 38 and Dave Gettleman having chosen Saquon Barkley over Sam Darnold 11 months ago, the prospect of a first-round quarterback talent being available at a lower rate has to be somewhat enticing — especially for a Giants team that has numerous needs on defense.

Gettleman traded both Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Eli Apple in the past year and opted against placing the Giants’ franchise tag on Landon Collins. The team has a few surefire starters — Alec Ogletree, Jabrill Peppers, Janoris Jenkins, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill — but is lacking talent elsewhere on its first unit. Both of the Giants’ first-round picks could go toward rebuilding their defense. They are not looking to package their Nos. 6 and 17 picks to move up, either.

None of this year’s group of passing prospects has wowed the Giants, who have been up and down on Dwayne Haskins. If Big Blue is dead-set on the Ohio State-honed quarterback, this is a fairly big secret. Gettleman, however, said his Manning successor will need to be a first-round pick. None of this year’s quarterbacks would outrank Rosen as prospects, in the eyes of multiple high-profile evaluators, either. Prior to selecting Barkley, though, the Giants may not have had Rosen as one of the top-three quarterbacks on their board last year.

The Cardinals took Rosen at No. 10 overall, giving up merely third- and fifth-round draft picks to move up five spots last year. The results were not pretty.

Rosen completed 55 percent of his passes, averaged 5.8 yards per attempt and threw 11 touchdown passes compared to 14 interceptions. He finished with a league-worst 26.1 Total QBR. Football Outsiders assessed the 6-foot-4 passer as last year’s worst full-time quarterback, with Rosen’s DVOA and DYAR figures well behind the pack. Arizona, though, employed two offensive coordinators last year and experienced rampant trouble on its offensive line, creating a shaky setup for a rookie quarterback.

It will almost certainly not cost a team a first-round pick to land Rosen this year. A second, or possibly a third, figures to be enough to pry the 2018 prospect away. The Giants hold the No. 37 overall pick but do not have another selection until No. 132; Big Blue’s third-rounder went toward 2018 supplemental draft cornerback Sam Beal. This would complicate a Giants trade for Rosen, with other teams seemingly likely to pursue the low-cost passer as well. With the Cardinals having paid his signing bonus, a team acquiring Rosen would have him for less than $7MM through the 2021 season. That is obviously great value, if a team believes the 22-year-old is a worthwhile starter.

So should the Giants be the team that pulls the trigger for Rosen, or should they focus on one of this year’s rookie QBs? After his rough debut season, do you view him as a legitimate option to be a long-term starter? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Big FA Spender Made The Most Of Its Money?

The first wave of free agency is over, and a number of starter-quality players remain available. That list includes the likes of Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh, and Ziggy Ansah, all of whom could still command lucrative multi-year pacts.

However, much of the big money has already been spent, and while it seems that the the free agency “winners” often have difficulty translating their offseason success into regular season wins, it is always worth taking an early guess at how the top free agents will impact their new teams (or how well the contracts of players who were eligible for free agency but who re-signed with their original clubs will age).

Yesterday, we directed our readers to a page provided by OverTheCap.com that tracks team-by-team spending on all contracts that free agents have signed since the Super Bowl. The page breaks down spending into categories like total contract value, total guarantees, and full guarantees.

For purposes of this poll, we will examine the top five spenders thus far in terms of total contract value. We realize that may be an imperfect measure, given that even blue chip free agents often do not play out the entirety of their contacts, but we also feel as though it accurately depicts which teams were most prepared to make big commitments to immediately improve their rosters. Plus, the list of the top five spenders in terms of total contract value is almost identical to the list of the top five spenders in terms of total guarantees, though the Bills, not the Packers, would be a top-five team if we were using total guarantees as a guide.

In any event, let’s quickly review what the big spenders have done with their money so far.

New York Jets

The Jets entered free agency with the most money to spend, and they did not disappoint. GM Mike Maccagnan, on a quest to keep his job, has doled out contracts worth nearly $200MM, and about half of that money is fully-guaranteed. The big fish, of course, are C.J. Mosley and Le’Veon Bell, both of whom should immediately improve their respective units, although both come with some question marks. Mosley is a high-character, intelligent player who is generally strong against the run but who is not particularly gifted in coverage, so it’s fair to wonder whether he will justify the Jets’ commitment to him. Bell, meanwhile, is undoubtedly explosive, and the Jets structured his contract in a team-friendly way, but he also comes with obvious character concerns and a lot of wear-and-tear. Re-signing Henry Anderson was a more low-key move that could nonetheless pay major dividends.

Green Bay Packers

Packers fans are not used to seeing their team mentioned as a big free agency spender, but the club has given out over $184MM to its signees thus far (though less than one-third of that figure is guaranteed). Green Bay has made a concerted effort to upgrade its pass rush as it prepares to bid adieu to long-time QB hunter Clay Matthews, and to that end, it acquired former Raven Za’Darius Smith and former Redskin Preston Smith. Neither player has a double-digit sack season to his credit, but both are young and come with plenty of upside. Za’Darius Smith has also shown an ability to provide a pass rush from the interior of the line, and Preston Smith is a strong overall edge defender who still has room to grow. Former Bears safety Adrian Amos was also acquired to add some much-needed physicality to the back end of the defense.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers made two big splashes at the outset of free agency, signing former Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander and trading for (and extending) former Chiefs pass rusher Dee Ford. Alexander is coming off a season-ending ACL tear, but San Francisco is betting that he can make a full recovery and return to form. The club was also in dire need of someone who can get to the QB, and they believe Ford is that guy. Ford has had an up-and-down career thus far, and though the Niners gave him what appears to be a massive contract (five years, $87.5MM), they can get out of that deal fairly quickly with minimal salary cap ramifications. The club is also taking a low-risk, high-reward gamble on talented but injury-prone corner Jason Verrett, and they added Tevin Coleman to their stable of running backs.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders grabbed headlines when they traded for star wideout Antonio Brown, but because he wasn’t a free agent, the new deal he landed from the club doesn’t factor into the $165MM worth of contracts that the team has handed out in free agency. That number does include deals for Tyrell Williams — who will pair with AB to lead what could become a prolific passing attack — and Trent Brown, who will likely be tasked with protecting Derek Carr‘s blindside. The Raiders were also in on Bell, and they added safety Lamarcus Joyner to serve as Karl Joseph‘s running mate in their defensive backfield. They still need some pass rush help and could be players in the market for Houston and Ansah.

Detroit Lions

The Lions were projected by many to be active in the free agent market, and they spent some money to try and keep pace in a crowded NFC North. The big-money acquisition was former Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, who may end up replacing Ansah as the club’s top sack artist (though the Lions have not ruled out re-signing Ansah). The Lions brought in tight end Jesse James, who offers some ability as a pass catcher and who is also a strong pass blocker, and they added Danny Amendola in the hopes that he can provide Matthew Stafford the type of reliable slot target that he lost when the club traded Golden Tate last season. Another free agent acquisition, Justin Coleman, should represent an upgrade at nickel corner.

So have at it. Which of the five big spenders made the most of their money? Let us know what you think in the poll and in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Where Will Le’Veon Bell Sign This Offseason?

We got confirmation a few days ago that the Steelers won’t attempt to tag and trade Le’Veon Bell, and will let him walk as a free agent. Bell, of course, sat out the entire 2018 season over his contract dispute with Pittsburgh, and we heard just yesterday that he’s seeking a total of $50MM over the first two years of a new deal from salary and signing bonuses.

It’s unclear if Bell will be able to get the huge payday he wants, but he’ll still have a very active market either way with no shortage of suitors. Today, we’ll be taking a look at his most likely destinations.

The Jets have been widely seen as the frontrunner for a while, and will have plenty of cap space available. GM Mike Maccagnan has been signaling for months now that the team will be aggressive in free agency, so New York would seem to be a good fit. It’s already been reported that they won’t be bringing back Isaiah Crowell, so they’ll have a void at running back. Bell would be a nice weapon and safety blanket for Sam Darnold in the passing game. That being said, the Jets apparently have some concern about Bell’s weight and conditioning. Still, the fact that they’re even concerned implies they’re interested.

The Colts have also been linked to Bell for a while now. Coming into the 2018 season they seemed to have a hole at running back, but Marlon Mack performed very well down the stretch. Mack’s emergence could take the team out of the Bell sweepstakes, but they’ll still have a lot of money to spend and could really use better options for Andrew Luck in the passing game aside from T.Y. Hilton.

The Buccaneers are another team that has been frequently mentioned in conjunction with Bell, and are sorely lacking at running back. Last year’s second round pick Ronald Jones didn’t do anything, and Peyton Barber isn’t a viable featured back. New coach Bruce Arians loves to be aggressive, and pursuing a player like Bell would fit him. The Buccaneers are stacked at wide receiver and tight end, and adding Bell would make them one of the most talented offenses in the league.

The Eagles are another playoff-contending team that is missing a featured back, and Bell staying in the state of Pennsylvania has been picking up some steam recently. Darren Sproles is 35 and not much of a runner, Jay Ajayi can never seem to stay healthy, and the young guys behind them have been very inconsistent. The Eagles’ front office is one of the most aggressive in the league, so them making an offer for Bell wouldn’t be at all surprising. Daryl Slater of NJ.com recently listed the Eagles as among his likeliest destinations for Bell.

So, what do you think? Where will Bell end up next season after his year out of the league? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will Case Keenum Be A Starter In 2019?

Case Keenum inked a two-year, $36MM deal with the Broncos just this past offseason, but he’s already been made redundant in Denver after general manager John Elway & Co. sent a fourth-round pick to the Ravens in exchange for quarterback Joe Flacco. Denver will now attempt to trade Keenum, but if the club can’t find a willing partner, it will either ask Keenum to accept a hefty pay cut or release him outright.

The Broncos will likely struggle to find a rival team willing to trade for Keenum, not only because of his lackluster 2018 campaign, but because of his contract. Keenum is due an $18MM base salary in 2019, and $7MM of that total is fully guaranteed. It seems incredibly unlikely that another club would be willing to lock itself into those figures, so unless Denver first restructures Keenum’s contact (potentially by converting some of his base salary guarantees into a bonus that the Broncos would pay), he’s likely to hit the free agent market.

If he does end up leaving the Broncos, would Keenum offer appeal as a starter? He’s only one season removed from leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game during a 2017 season in which he ranked second in Total QBR, seventh in adjusted net yards per attempt (the passing metric most correlated with winning), fifth in interception percentage, and seventh in sack percentage.

But Keenum’s 2018 ranks in those same statistics tell a different story. Among 33 qualifying quarterbacks, Keenum finished 30th in Total QBR, 28th in ANY/A, 21st in interception percentage, and 11th in sack percentage. A year after ranking first in Football Outsiders‘ DVOA (meaning he was extremely effective on a per-play basis), Keenum fell all the way to 29th in 2018.

So, do you think Keenum will open the season as a starter next season? Vote below (link for app users), and then keep reading — and voting — as we examine a few potential destinations for the 30-year-old signal-caller:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Keenum will be a starting quarterback in 2019 — nearly every club would be interested in signing Keeum as a backup passer, so let’s only look at landing spots where Keenum could become a starter. Where are his most likely havens?

Jacksonville Jaguars: Although the Jaguars have Blake Bortles under contract for the next two seasons and will incur a massive dead money hit if they release him, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine Jacksonville entering the 2019 campaign with Bortles still on its roster (let alone as the team’s starting quarterback). Nick Foles could be the Jags’ preferred choice under center, especially now that they’ve hired former Eagles QBs coach John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator, but Keenum would present a cheaper option.

Miami Dolphins: Miami isn’t expected to retain Ryan Tannehill, and — like Denver with Keenum — will explore a trade of Tannehill before cutting him. Under new head coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins aren’t expecting to be competitive any time soon, and are loosely embracing a “tanking” strategy, at least in 2019. Still, Miami needs to put someone under center, and Keenum could offer the club competency at a reasonable rate.

New York Giants: Giants general manager Dave Gettleman earlier this year refused to commit to Eli Manning as his team’s 2019 starter, so there’s no guarantee the franchise icon will return next season. New York is expected to draft a signal-caller within the first two rounds of the upcoming draft, and Keenum could represent a reasonable solution as a bridge quarterback. And perhaps most notably, Keenum experienced his 2017 success under then-Vikings OC Pat Shurmur, who has since taken over the Giants’ head coach.

Washington Redskins: If, as recent reports have indicated, Alex Smith is going to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from a gruesome leg injury, Washington will need a new quarterback. The only problem? Smith will count for $20.4MM on the Redskins’ salary cap next year, and there’s no way for the club to reduce that figure save for a restructure that would only tie Smith to Washington’s roster for a longer period. Therefore, Keenum might be enticing given that he is only likely to command a modest salary on a short-term contract.

What do you think? Does one of these destinations make sense? Or could an unlisted team have interest in Keenum? Vote below (link for app users), and your thoughts in the comment section:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will You Watch The Alliance Of American Football?

Back in December, a slight majority of our readership voted that the newly-formed Alliance of American Football (AAF) would be the most successful of the new spring football leagues. Its primary competitor, the XFL, is not scheduled to kick off until 2020, so by getting underway last night, the AAF got a sizable head start.

And the early returns were promising. Although neither of the league’s first two games were particularly competitive — the Orlando Apollos defeated the Atlanta Legends 40-6 and the San Antonio Commanders defeated the San Diego Fleet 15-6 — most observers agree that the contests were largely entertaining and that the quality of play was good enough to be watchable.

That alone is a win for the fledgling league, as most other challengers to the mighty NFL proved pretty quickly that they would not be able to sustain success. But the AAF, which was founded by Charlie Ebersol and long-time NFL executive Bill Polian, and whose leadership board features well-respected former NFL stars, never seemed like a fly-by-night operation. Several head coaches of the league’s eight teams are also quite recognizable to even casual fans — Mike Singletary and Steve Spurrier, for example — and as Matt Miller of Bleacher Report tweets, almost all of the AAF’s players were good enough to be considered by NFL clubs at some point or another, even if they never suited up at the game’s highest level. And the fact that many such players see the AAF as a springboard to the NFL means that the games should be intensely-contested affairs.

In that vein, last night’s opening matchups featured a few hard (but clean) hits that were not flagged, although similar plays in the NFL generate plenty of penalties these days. That will certainly make purists happy, and even though observers like Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk likened the overall quality of play to the second half of a preseason NFL game, that might be good enough for fans who just enjoy watching competitive football at a reasonably high level.

The very nature of the league means that there will be plenty of intriguing storylines to follow, and Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com details a few of the early ones. And the fact that every AAF player is on a non-guaranteed three-year contract worth $250K lends credence to the league’s belief that it represents football in its purest form.

Still, a common refrain in recent years is that there is simply too much football and that interest in the game has waned because the NFL has created a year-round news cycle and has otherwise oversaturated its fans. But if last night’s ratings are any indication, there are plenty of people willing to give the AAF a chance. The first game of the AAF on CBS beat the NBA on ABC in overnight ratings, and the generally positive reviews suggest that those who missed last night’s contests will want to see what they missed. Two more games will be televised today, one on the CBS Sports Network at 4pm ET and one on the NFL Network at 8pm ET, and the CBS Sports Network will televise one AAF game each week going forward (the season is 10 weeks long).

So, what do you think? Will you give the AAF a shot, or are you planning to taking a break from football games for a little while? Let us know in the poll and in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will Rob Gronkowski Return In 2019?

Rob Gronkowski‘s decision on playing a 10th season is expected to come as soon as this week. On the heels of his third Super Bowl ring, Gronk exited the Patriots’ victory healthy after another injury-plagued season.

A report linked Gronkowski to having a better outlook on playing in 2019 if he was healthy at season’s end and if Tom Brady was committed to another season. Both of these came to fruition, adding intrigue to this decision. In January, Gronk was leaning toward retiring. Is he now?

The best tight end of his generation and perhaps the most dominant tight end in NFL history, Gronk has yet to turn 30. But his body has betrayed him many times over. Ankle and back injuries limited him to 13 games this season, and he missed a game because of injury in 2017. Gronkowski missed major chunks of the 2012, ’13 and ’16 slates as well. He has not played a 16-game season since 2011, and it would be unreasonable to expect 16 Gronk games again.

While Gronk and Bill Belichick were understandably giddy after the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII conquest, the former has long been unhappy about his contract.

Agreed to in 2012, Gronk’s deal paid him well below market value for a player with his gifts. At his best, no tight end was on the same level. Yet some out-earned him. Elite wide receivers were earning millions more than Gronk, who arguably impacted games more than any skill-position player for a while. This led to frequent acrimony, two incentive packages — one of which he attained — along with 2018 retirement talk and a general disenchantment toward the Patriot Way.

Will the Patriots want Gronk back? Although he has been underpaid, his contract jumps to a career-high $11.859MM cap figure in 2019. His 2018 numbers — 52.5 receiving yards per game, three touchdowns — were well south of almost anything he posted in his previous eight seasons. Considering Gronkowski’s attitude about his deal in the past, it would be incredibly unlikely he would take a pay cut to stay with the Patriots. The Pats nearly traded him to the Lions last year, prompting a retirement threat.

With Gronk having slowed down, it is fair to wonder if the Patriots ($16.1MM in projected cap space, prior to an expected Brady extension) would want to carry his contract-year cap number on their payroll. That said, Gronkowski remains one of the league’s best tight ends. He came through with big playoff catches en route to the franchise’s latest championship. Brady’s late-career renaissance can be closely tied to Gronkowski’s incomparable presence, and although the four-time first-team All-Pro was out during the bulk of the Pats’ 2016 title run, Martellus Bennett was there to help. The Patriots do not have a comparable alternative on their current roster.

So, will the future Hall of Fame tight end call it quits? Or were these productive playoff games a springboard to at least one more season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will Antonio Brown Stay With Steelers?

The Antonio Brown seems to get messier by the week. Throughout the year, Brown squabbled with coach Mike Tomlin and franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, resulting in a Week 17 meltdown and a trade demand

Obviously, from a talent perspective, there are 31 teams that would love to deal for Brown. However, his hefty contract complicates matters and the Steelers are not eager to trade one of the best wide receivers of all-time while taking on an astronomical cap hit. If the Steelers cut or trade Brown before June 1, the Steelers will incur more than $21MM in dead money on their salary cap and gain just over $1MM in new space. If he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut or traded after that date, Pittsburgh will take on roughly $7MM in dead money in 2019 and ~$14MM in 2020, which isn’t very palatable either.

Other teams may have reservations about Brown’s character as well. His well-publicized friction with Pittsburgh may be a red flag and, earlier this week, we learned that Brown was involved in a domestic dispute in January. The league is planning to investigate the incident and a suspension seems possible – that event will likely be taken into account along with other allegations, including an incident in Florida in which Brown was accused of throwing furniture off of a balcony.

Brown due a $2.5MM roster bonus on March 17, so the Steelers could look to deal him before that date. However, there are serious complications all around and the Steelers’ best bet may be to mend fences with the perennial Pro Bowler.

How do you see things playing out? Will Brown be a member of the Steelers in Week 1 of the 2019 season? Click below to cast your vote and let us know your thoughts in the comment section (link for app users):

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Will The Top Pass Rushers Actually Hit Free Agency?

Among the dozens of NFL edge rushers scheduled to hit free agency in the middle of March, five stand out as candidates to earn more than $20MM annually. Frank Clark (Seahawks), Jadeveon Clowney (Texans), Trey Flowers (Patriots), Dee Ford (Chiefs), and DeMarcus Lawrence (Cowboys) have each registered enough production during their respective careers to vault themselves into the realm of the league’s highest-paid players, but will any of the quintet actually hit the open market?

Historically, NFL clubs have been reticent to allow their pass rushers to reach free agency. In 2018, both the Cowboys (Lawrence) and Lions (Ezekiel Ansah) deployed franchise tags to keep their best defenders in tow, leaving age-resistant Julius Peppers as the best edge defender still available when free agency began. The year prior, the Chargers, Cardinals, and Giants respectively kept Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, and Jason Pierre-Paul off the open market by using franchise tenders. And in 2016, the Broncos went ultra-conservative, utilizing the more expensive exclusive franchise tag — which doesn’t allow the player to negotiate with any other teams — on Von Miller.

Things don’t figure to change in 2019, thanks to the ongoing importance of edge rushers and the NFL’s soaring salary cap. Additionally, the five teams with the most projected 2019 cap space — the Colts, Jets, Browns, Bills, and Raiders — could all use help at defensive end/outside linebacker. Any pass rusher that gets to free agency is going to enter a market full of teams that a) have a clear need along their front four and b) have ample cash to spend.

Let’s take a look at each of the five premier pass rushers bearing down on free agency, with a specific focus on each player’s team’s salary cap situation:

Frank Clark (Seahawks): Seattle shouldn’t have any trouble retaining Clark, as it currently ranks eighth in the NFL with roughly $55MM in projected 2019 cap space. Additionally, the Seahawks don’t have any other first-rate free agents that will require new deals (assuming, as I am, that Earl Thomas has no interest in returning to Seattle next season). Guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker each played at least 55% of the Seahawks’ snaps last year, but middling interior offensive linemen aren’t going to break the bank, and neither are defensive tackle Shamar Stephen or running back Mike Davis. Clark, meanwhile, is discussing a new deal with the Seahawks, but he’s also open to the franchise tag.

Jadeveon Clowney (Texans): Like the Seahawks, the Texans have plenty of cap space to go around in 2019, as they rank sixth with $65MM in available funds. However, Houston does several non-Clowney players that will need new contracts. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is a candidate for extension after inking a one-year, $7MM pact with the Texans last offseason, while cornerback Kareem Jackson could also be back on a short contract. Houston may also need to shell out to improve an offensive line that allowed an NFL-worst 11.5% adjusted sack rate. If the Texans do tag Clowney, the two sides may have a dispute over whether he’s a defensive end ($17.143MM franchise tag) or an outside linebacker ($14.961MM).

Trey Flowers (Patriots): As Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit wrote last May, New England hasn’t used the franchise tag frequently in recent seasons. After deploying the tag in eight times from 2002-12, the Patriots have only used the tender once over the past six years (kicker Stephen Gostkowski in 2015). Instead of signing or retaining high-end players or relying on productive rookie classes, New England leads the NFL in “mid-level veteran” contracts, according to Justis Mosqueda of Optimum Scouting, who defines that term as a veteran with a cap charge between $1MM and $6MM. Flowers may be the perfect Patriot, but it’s unclear if New England is willing to pay him as such, or instead wait for the market to dictate his price.

Dee Ford (Chiefs): His AFC Championship Game blunder aside, the 27-year-old Ford posted the best season of his career in 2019. He earned the NFL’s top pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus, and finished second only to Aaron Donald in total pressures generated. While we’ve seen conflicting reports as to whether the Chiefs are open to using the franchise tag on Ford, he seems like the optimal candidate for the tender. Ford has been up-and-down throughout his career, as he’s managed fewer than four sacks in three of his five professional campaigns, so a one-year deal could protect Kansas City if Ford’s performance dovetails again.

DeMarcus Lawrence (Cowboys): The Cowboys have finally removed themselves from salary cap hell, but don’t let their $55MM in space fool you. Dallas has multiple stars — including Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, and Jaylon Smith — up for extension over the next year-plus, so the club can’t simply run through its cash this offseason. Lawrence, if tagged, would be on his second consecutive franchise tender, meaning his salary would increase by 20% to $20.572MM.

So what do you think? Will any of these pass rushers reach actually reach free agency? Choose as many edge defenders as you like in the multiple choice poll below (link for app users):

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.