Rex Burkhead

AFC Notes: Kraft, Patriots, Bengals

Patriots owner Robert Kraft might not be out of the woods just yet. We heard a few days ago that a judge had ruled in favor of Kraft’s legal team to suppress video evidence in his case that had allegedly been obtained illegally. It was a major procedural win for Kraft, and indicated he might get out of his situation without being convicted of anything. That being said, the government isn’t going down without a fight. Prosecutors are appealing the judges decision, and are looking to get the video evidence reinstated, per T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

Kraft’s attorney William Burck celebrated the news, saying it was a sign that the government’s case was very weak without the tape. The lead prosecutor is “acknowledging he has no case without the illegal video recordings that four Florida judges have now found to be unconstitutional,” Burck said. “No evidence means no trial. So the state had only two options — drop the case or appeal. They chose to appeal, but we are confident the appellate court will agree with Judge Hanser and the other judges who threw out their illegally obtained evidence.” Even if Burck is right and the state eventually drops the case, the Patriots boss could still face discipline from the league. How likely Roger Goodell is to issue punishment without a conviction is anyone’s guess. We’ll keep you updated when a ruling on the appeal comes in.

Here’s more from the AFC on a quiet Sunday afternoon:

  • Speaking of the Patriots, they now have a very crowded running backs room. James White, Sony Michel, core special teamer Brandon Bolden (who just got $2MM guaranteed to return to New England), and last month’s third round pick Damien Harris all seem like locks to make the roster and be active on game-days. As such, Rex Burkhead could be the odd-man out, writes Jeff Howe of The Athletic. Howe doesn’t think the Pats will cut Burkhead as long as he’s healthy, but he could be facing an uphill battle to be on the active-46 on Sundays. Howe points out that Bill Belichick is usually pretty steadfast about keeping only four running backs active, but he could make an exception if Burkhead’s special teams prowess is deemed too valuable. Burkhead is heading into the second year of a three-year extension he signed in March of 2018, and it’s not inconceivable he could be cut this offseason. Injuries limited him to just eight games last year, and ten in 2017.
  • John Ross didn’t participate in the Bengals’ veterans voluntary minicamp last month due to “tightness,” per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official site. This isn’t necessarily major news, but it’s notable because of Ross’ lengthy history with lower body injuries. Groin issues forced Ross to miss a few games last year, and he only played in three games as a rookie due to shoulder and knee issues, so it’s troubling he’s dealing with any sort of “tightness.” The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft has proven he can be a burner, but not much else. We heard back in February the team was shopping the young wideout, but the Bengals pushed back on those reports soon after. New Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor has promised Ross a fresh start, but he’ll need to stay healthy to get that. He’ll have his work cut out for him carving out targets behind A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, who are entrenched as the first and second options. If he wants to avoid being labeled as a bust, he needs a big 2019.

Patriots Activate Rex Burkhead From IR

New England’s backfield will soon be the deepest it’s been since the start of this season. Rex Burkhead will likely be in uniform Sunday after the Patriots activated him from IR, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

The Patriots will waive offensive lineman Matt Tobin to make room on their roster, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss (on Twitter).

This season hasn’t been the smoothest for the Pats’ backfield. Sony Michel has missed time due to injury, and Jeremy Hill was lost for the season after Week 1. Burkhead suffered a neck injury later in September and went to IR. He returned to practice nearly three weeks ago, and the Patriots just beat the three-week window they had to activate their utility back.

Burkhead played a key role for the AFC champion Pats last season, totaling 518 yards from scrimmage and scoring eight touchdowns. He missed six games due to injury a year ago. He’ll join Michel and James White in a Patriots running back corps that’s starting to resemble well-rounded groups of past Pats teams.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Notes: Gronk, Brady, Burkhead

Last week, the Patriots dropped running back Kenjon Barner even though rookie Sony Michel is still limited in practice with a knee injury. That may indicate that the Pats believe Rex Burkhead will return to action in early December, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes.

Burkhead has not been seen since the third week of the season when he suffered a concussion, but he returned to practice on Nov. 8. Per the league’s IR rules, Burkhead can return to action as early as Dec. 2 against the Vikings.

Michel still figures to be the Patriots’ primary back, but Reiss expects Burkhead to enter the game in every third series. He may also get involved in the passing game after averaging 3.0 catches per game in 2017, though James White will likely lead the charge in that department.

Here’s more from New England:

  • After missing three of the past four games with a back injury, tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to play against the Jets after the bye week, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Unfortunately, back and ankle trouble has hampered Gronk throughout the year. For the most part, however, he’s been productive when on the field. In seven games, Gronk has 29 catches for 448 yards and one touchdown.
  • Tom Brady is finally showing signs of his age, as Ben Volin of The Boston Globe writes. The 41-year-old superstar is behind the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Ryan Fitzpatrick in passer rating, his interception rate is its highest since 2011, and he’s struggling mightily against the blitz. Of course, the Patriots would be well-protected against Brady’s decline if they still had Jimmy Garoppolo as his backup. On the plus side, the Patriots did not tie up cap space with a huge extension for the young QB and the trade – in a roundabout way – netted them second-round cornerback Duke Dawson and the Bears’ second-round pick in 2019.

Designated To Return From IR: Burkhead, Shaheen, Davis, Quinn

With more than half of the 2018 campaign in the books, NFL clubs have started to exercise their right to return players from injured reserve. Each team is allowed to bring two players back from IR, but said players must have been retained on their respective club’s initial 53-man roster. Once an IR player returns to practice, his club will have three weeks to decide whether to activate him to their 53-man roster; if he’s not activated, the player will remain on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

Here are three players who have been designated to return from IR this week:

  • Patriots running back Rex Burkhead returned to practice on Thursday, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Burkhead, who is first eligible to play in Week 13 against the Vikings, is the second and final New England player who is scheduled to return from IR, joining rookie cornerback Duke Dawson. That means other injured Patriots, such as linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, cornerback Eric Rowe, and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke are officially done for the year. New England doesn’t necessarily need more help at running back: James White and jack-of-all-trades Cordarrelle Patterson have held down the fort in recent weeks, and impressive rookie Sony Michel is expected to return from injury this week. But Burkhead could still carve out a role, and will certainly be a factor on special teams.
  • Second-year tight end Adam Shaheen has been designated for return by the Bears, tweets veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer. Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017, was an impressive athlete coming out of Division II Ashland last year, but didn’t produce much in the way of results during his first NFL campaign. In 13 games (seven starts), Shaheen managed only 12 receptions for 127 yards and three touchdowns. Now that he’s recovered from foot and ankle issues, Shaheen should slot in alongside fellow Chicago tight ends Trey Burton and Dion Sims.
  • The Packers have gotten contributions from several young receivers already this season, and they could be getting another youthful pass-catcher back in the near future. Trevor Davis returned to practice earlier this week, per Balzer, and can now be activated at any point in the next three weeks. A fifth-round choice in the 2016 draft, Davis posted 24 receptions last season while playing on 40.5% of Green Bay’s special teams snaps. Now that Geronimo Allison has been placed on injured reserve, Davis could see snaps behind Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
  • Redskins rookie wide receiver Trey Quinn returned to practice today and has been designated to return from IR, tweets Balzer. Quinn suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 after being selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft. Washington is dealing with numerous injuries at the wide receiver position and just placed pass-catcher Paul Richardson on IR, so Quinn could theoretically see snaps down the line.

Patriots Notes: Gordon, Cooks, Gronk

New Patriots wideout Josh Gordon will make his New England debut today, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Gordon was inactive for last week’s loss against the Lions, but the Pats are sorely in need of some playmaking ability at the wide receiver position, and Gordon certainly has the potential to give them exactly that.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more notes out of Foxboro as the Patriots get set to take on the Dolphins in what could surprisingly be a pivotal divisional matchup:

  • Speaking of playmaking wideouts, given the disappointing performance of New England’s receiving corps thus far, plenty are wondering whether the Pats were right to trade Brandin Cooks to the Rams in the offseason. When factoring in what the team netted in its trade to acquire Cooks from the Saints in 2017 and the trade that sent him to LA, Doug Kyed of NESN.com believes the Patriots were right to make the move. The Pats ultimately received a year of Cooks, a 2017 third-round pick, the 2018 No. 23 overall pick, and a 2018 sixth-rounder in exchange for another year of Cooks, a 2017 fourth-round pick, the 2017 No. 32 overall pick, and a 2018 fourth-round pick. That represents good value, especially when considering the Pats would have had to pay Cooks $8.5MM this year and might have received a 2020 compensatory third-rounder if they let him walk in free agency (which they almost certainly would have). Plus, New England could not have predicted the Julian Edeleman suspension, so even though the results might indicate the Cooks trade was a bad one with the benefit of hindsight, Kyed believes the process was right.
  • The Patriots have already put nine players on IR since the start of training camp, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes. Reiss points out that the team put just 11 players on IR all of last season, and just four during the 2016 Super Bowl season. Reiss notes that only Rex Burkhead and Duke Dawson are the only two players who could realistically return from IR in 2018.
  • In light of last week’s Rob Gronkowski trade reports, Reiss points out that there had not been much communication between Gronk and the Pats before the star tight end was informed of the potential trade to Detroit. Reiss wonders whether New England really would have pulled the trigger on the deal, or if it simply used the trade as a way to reignite conversations with Gronkowski
  • Reiss also notes that last week’s AFC Defensive Player of the Week, the Bills’ Matt Milano, was drafted by Buffalo with the fifth-rounder it acquired from the Pats when New England signed then-RFA Mike Gillislee. Needless to say, that transaction looks like a big win for the Bills right now.
  • The Patriots cut Gordon’s former Browns teammate, Corey Coleman, from their practice squad yesterday.

Patriots To Place RB Rex Burhhead On IR

The Patriots will place running back Rex Burkhead on injured reserve with a neck injury, according to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe (on Twitter). The Pats will also place rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on IR with an unknown ailment. To fill Bentley’s place on the roster, the Pats have signed outside linebacker John Simon, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets

Burkhead, 28, had to be cleared from concussion protocol prior to the Patriots’ Week 3 game against the Lions. Unfortuantely, he was forced out of that game with a neck injury, putting the rest of his season in jeopardy. It’s currently unknown whether Burkhead is a candidate to return from IR later this year or if this is a definite season-ender.

In three games, Burkhead failed to get going on the ground with 24 rushes for 86 yards. Last year, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry in a limited sample.

Burkhead’s injury should mean a larger workload for rookie Sony Michel and more carries for James WhiteKenjon Barner is back in the fold, so the club may opt to stand pat with those three active running backs plus fullback James Develin.

Bentley, meanwhile, is the just the latest Patriots 2018 draft pick to be placed on IR this season, joining first round tackle/guard Isaiah Wynn, second-round cornerback, sixth-round wide receiver Braxton Berrios, and others.

Simon spent one season with the Colts, but in their new 4-3 defense, he was not viewed as an ideal fit. He spent the prior five seasons of his career with 3-4 teams — the Ravens and Texans — and has worked in a starting role for the past three years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Fournette, Ansah, Michel, Burkhead, Barron

Inactive lists for the late slate of games are starting to roll in, and are providing answers to some key injury questions. Perhaps the biggest mystery of the week was the status of Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. We finally have clarity, as Fournette will officially miss Jacksonville’s Week 2 game against the Patriots with his hamstring injury according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (Twitter link).

It’s a big blow for the Jaguars who like to establish the running game and make things easy for Blake Bortles. They did get some good news however as Calais Campbell, who was a very late add to the injury report, will play. Here are more injury notes from around the league:

  • The Lions’ already weak defense will be without their best player, as Ezekiel Ansah will be sidelined with a shoulder injury per Michael Rothstein of ESPN (Twitter link). Ian Rapoport had previously tweeted Ansah was expected to play, so this is a bit of a surprise.
  • The Patriots’ backfield got some good news as both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead will suit up per Ben Volin of The Boston Globe (Twitter link). Burkhead was cleared from the concussion protocol while Michel will make his NFL debut after missing most of the offseason with a knee injury.
  • The Rams will be without starting linebacker Mark Barron for a second straight week per ProFootballTalk (Twitter link). It’s bad news for Los Angeles as their linebackers were shredded over the middle last week by tight end Jared Cook for 180 yards.

Patriots To Re-Sign RB Rex Burkhead

The Patriots have agreed to a multi-year contract with running back Rex Burkhead, according to a league source who spoke with Jim McBride of The Boston Globe (on Twitter). The news has been confirmed by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), who adds that it is a three-year pact with significant guarantees.

The Pats lost Dion Lewis in free agency when he inked a four-year deal with the Titans, but they’re holding on to their other major free agent tailback.

Burkhead accumulated more than 500 all-purpose yards with eight touchdowns last season. He will rejoin James White as a versatile running back. New England also retained Brandon Bolden recently, so a Burkhead pact will ensure three of the Pats’ top four backs are in line to return in 2018.

A four-year Bengals contributor, Burkhead posted his career yards-from-scrimmage high-water mark during his Patriots season despite an injury limiting him to just 10 games. He came back and played in two of New England’s postseason contests and will likely be entrusted with more key responsibilities as Tom Brady prepares for his age-41 season.

While the Pats could still use some backfield help to replace Lewis — the best of their ball-carriers last season — they appear to have their pass-catching contingent shored up minutes into free agency.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

Read more

FA Notes: Burkhead, Seahawks, Broncos

Free agent running back Rex Burkhead is expected to see a “competitive market” for his services and it’s not a lock that he re-signs with the Patriots, according to Doug Kyed of NESN. Burkhead, 27, inked a one-year deal with New England last offseason and went on to produce 518 yards from scrimmage in 10 games. Viable in both the running and passing game, Burkhead ranked seventh in receiving DVOA in 2017, meaning he was highly effective on a per-play basis. The Patriots, of course, have another free agent running back in Dion Lewis, who is expected to draw interest from six-to-seven teams on the open market.

Here’s more from the free agent front:

  • The Texans and cornerback Johnathan Joseph have mutual interest in a return, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Joseph, 33, has spent the past seven seasons in Houston after beginning his career in Cincinnati. Last year, Joseph started all 16 games for the Texans and managed two interceptions. Even more impressive, Joseph ranked 21st in Football Outsiders’ success rate, meaning he was excellent at stopping wideouts short of the sticks. If he does re-sign with Houston, Joseph will need to accept less than the $7.3MM annual salary he earned under his previous contract, per Wilson, who adds Joseph would also likely see a reduced role in the Texans’ secondary.
  • With Kam Chancellor‘s status for the 2018 season in doubt, the Seahawks have discussed moving cornerback DeShawn Shead to safety, reports Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. Shead is a free agent, so Seattle would have to re-sign him if it wants him to play safety, but the club clearly has interest in retaining him. A 15-game starter as recently as 2015, Shead tore his ACL in January 2016 and took awhile to recover. Two surgeries later, Shead is hitting the free agent market after appearing in only two contests a season ago. Fellow reserve defensive back Bradley McDougald is also a pending free agent, so the Seahawks will need to work to retain their secondary depth this offseason.
  • Although the Broncos would prefer to re-sign linebacker Todd Davis, they will likely allow him to gauge his value on the open market, general manager John Elway told reporters, including Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link). The Broncos plan to meet with the representatives for both Davis and fellow linebacker Corey Nelson on Saturday, per Jhabala. Davis, for his part, has started 29 games for Denver over the past two seasons. Now 25 years old, Davis graded as the No. 34 linebacker among 87 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.