Russell Okung

NFC South Rumors: Arians, Saints, Okung

Having battled three different types of cancer and being set to turn 68 in October, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians falls into the higher-risk category for potential coronavirus complications. But Arians will coach this season, and he is not planning to do so from the press box. The second-year Bucs HC will coach from the sideline while wearing a mask and a face shield, he said recently.

As far as on the field, I’ll maintain a mask and probably a shield just for personal use and coach like I’ve always coached,” Arians said. “I’m very confident. Like I said, the protocols that are in place are extremely safe.”

Arians has had cancerous tumors to be removed from his prostate, skin and kidney. He enters the season as NFL’s third-oldest head coach, behind Pete Carroll, who are both 68. Two head coaches — Sean Payton and Doug Pederson — have tested positive for COVID-19 thus far. The Eagles HC tested positive earlier this week. Players and coaches are currently being tested daily. This arrangement will continue for two weeks before the league reassesses.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Russell Okung dealt with a health scare last year but did not opt out of the 2020 season. However, the Panthers‘ recently acquired left tackle is considering retirement. But Okung will wait on a decision for now. The 11th-year veteran will keep his options open as he goes further into camp, advisor J.I. Halsell told NFL reporter Josina Anderson (Twitter link). It’s possible the 31-year-old blocker wants to learn more about what this season’s COVID-19-defined environment will bring. Okung has a $13MM salary awaiting him this season but has already made a considerable amount of money in his career.
  • Emmanuel Sanders made the initial contact between he and the Saints in free agency, the 11th-year wide receiver said, per The Athletic’s Katherine Terrell (on Twitter). The former Steelers, Broncos and 49ers wideout wanted to play with Drew Brees in New Orleans, and that helped lead to the two-year, $16MM deal he signed in March. Sanders also assisted the Saints with another free agent receiver, with a Brees-Sanders-Bennie Fowler workout in Denver leading to the latter’s signing this week (Twitter link via Terrell).
  • The Falcons plan to use recently signed cornerback Darqueze Dennard as a slot and boundary cornerback in training camp, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. Dennard mostly worked as a slot defender in Cincinnati. Atlanta signed Dennard earlier last week. He will join a cornerback crew that features third-year player Isaiah Oliver and first-round rookie A.J. Terrell.
  • Given Brees’ year-to-year status, the Saints are obviously not eyeing a contract-year trade of Alvin Kamara. But no known extension talks have taken place between the Saints and their standout back. However, a deal that pays the three-down back just less than what Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott make ($16MM and $15MM AAV, respectively) is a solution The Athletic’s Larry Holder envisions (subscription required). Kamara, one of several running back starters in contract years, has said he wants to stay in New Orleans.

Panthers’ Russell Okung Mulling Retirement

Russell Okung battled serious health issues in his final year with the Chargers and strongly considered opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. The new Panthers left tackle starter is now weighing retirement, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports.

The 31-year-old tackle suffered a pulmonary embolism due to blood clots last year. The Chargers traded him to the Panthers for Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner in March.

One season remains on the four-year, $53MM contract Okung signed in 2017. He is set to make $13MM in base salary this season. If Okung deems the football environment unsafe this season, Fowler notes he is comfortable walking away. The former Seahawks first-round pick has played 10 NFL seasons.

Okung was a logical opt-out candidate and would have almost certainly received the $350K stipend for players who face higher risk of complications were they to contract the coronavirus. But he remains on Carolina’s active roster.

The Panthers lost both their guards from the 2019 season — Turner and Greg Van Roten — but return both players who primarily started at right tackle — Taylor Moton and second-year blocker Dennis Daley. Former tackle starter Daryl Williams left in free agency and is now with the Bills.

Should Okung walk away from the game, it would continue an exodus of veterans to leave the rebuilding Panthers this year. Luke Kuechly retired, while the team cut nine-year stalwarts Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. Mario Addison signed with the Bills, while James Bradberry defected to the Giants. An Okung departure would certainly be different, considering he was acquired after Matt Rhule took over.

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Russell Okung’s NFLPA Battle Continues

Russell Okung won’t go down without a fight. The Panthers tackle says he will appeal the dismissal of his unfair labor claim against the NFLPA (Twitter link). The National Labor Relations Board turned down Okung’s case just last week.

Okung claims NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith pushed the CBA vote through to union-wide vote, despite the opposition of the executive committee. Some established vets and union leaders, including Okung, were vocal in their disapproval, but the union’s rules didn’t necessarily require their yes vote.

The executive committee voted 6-5 in February not to recommend the owners’ CBA pitch, and after the NFL Draft Combine meeting, the exec committee was reportedly at 7-4 against recommending the CBA. The key word there is “recommending” – the NFLPA’s bylaws do not necessarily require a thumbs-up from that group. After that, the union’s 32-player board voted to send the proposal to the entire player body.

We look forward to a neutral party scrutinizing the NFLPA leadership’s history of circumventing and ignoring the union’s constitutional mandates and failure to represent the best interests of the labor force, culminating in a flawed, disappointing Collective Bargaining Agreement and forcing out of a leadership position a person who has shown enormous courage in fighting for players’ rights and protections,” Okung’s attorney said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Okung is gearing up for his new team in advance of the 2020 season. The Chargers shipped Okung to the Panthers in March and received guard Trai Turner in exchange.

I made it really clear, I’m not here to just rebuild,” Okung said recently (via ESPN.com’s David Newton). “I’m here to win, and win right now.”

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Extra Points: Bennett, NFLPA, Cap, Kirksey

Although Michael Bennett went through a nomadic late-2010s stretch after the Seahawks traded him in 2018, he remained productive. The veteran defensive lineman has registered 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is a free agent for the first time since 2013. Bennett, who signed with the Seahawks in 2013, would like to return to the team to which he’s most linked. Asked if he would want to play for the Seahawks again, the 34-year-old defender said “hard yes.” Bennett, though, has not yet committed to playing a 12th NFL season.

I would love to end my career in Seattle,” Bennett said, via Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest. “It’s not up to you, though. It’s up to the team.”

The Seahawks gave Bennett two contracts, including a three-year, $31.5MM extension in 2016. That contract was set to run through 2020, but after the Eagles and Patriots traded him, Bennett and the Cowboys restructured the deal to direct him toward free agency this year. Seattle has most of its pass rushers — including Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed — as impending free agents, so the franchise will have critical decisions to make in the next week and change.

Here is the latest from around the league, moving first to the reconfigured NFLPA:

  • Russell Okung has enjoyed an eventful March, being traded from the Chargers to the Panthers and filing an unfair labor practice charge at the NFLPA staff. As for Okung’s status with the union, he will no longer be part of the NFLPA’s executive committee, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Okung dropped his bid for NFLPA president, throwing support behind Michael Thomas in a race that went to Browns center J.C. Tretter. Both of the players Tretter beat out for the job — Thomas and linebacker Sam Acho — will stay on as executive committee members.
  • Calais Campbell, Malcolm Jenkins and Wesley Woodyard will replace Mark Herzlich, Zak DeOssie and Adam Vinatieri on the executive committee. They will join Tretter, Acho, Thomas, Richard Sherman, Ben Watson, Alex Mack, Lorenzo Alexander and Thomas Morstead on the 11-man committee, the union announced.
  • Rumblings about the salary cap rising to around $230MM by 2021 have surfaced, but the 2020 cap will not move too far from the previously estimated $200MM amount. If the players approve the CBA proposal, the highest the cap would surge to in 2020 would be $206MM, per Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription required). While the salary ceiling could climb significantly by 2023, if the league’s TV negotiations go well, those spikes will not come until at least 2021.
  • Christian Kirksey may have a chance to land on his feet before free agency. Recently released by the Browns, the veteran linebacker has three visits scheduled, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. Kirksey’s travel itinerary is not yet known, but the 27-year-old defender’s first visit is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
  • The Texans will take a look at a notable wide receiver soon. They will work out former Broncos rotational cog Jordan Taylor, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. Taylor has not played since the 2017 season. He spent 2018 on the Broncos’ PUP list, and though he caught on with the Vikings last year, the 28-year-old target did not see game action.

J.C. Tretter, Michael Thomas, Sam Acho Nominated For NFLPA President

Three players will join Russell Okung in vying for the role of NFLPA president. Browns center J.C. Tretter, Giants safety Michael Thomas and Buccaneers linebacker Sam Acho have received nominations for union president, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Okung, who unveiled his candidacy earlier this year, was also nominated Monday. Okung, Thomas and Acho are current members of the NFLPA’s executive committee. Tretter serves as the Browns’ third co-alternate union representative.

The NFLPA will elect its next president on Tuesday; the union’s board members are meeting in south Florida this week to discuss key matters. One item obviously overshadows the rest this week. Players now have until 10:59pm CT Saturday to vote on the CBA. The NFLPA voted Monday to delay the deadline for two days.

Eric Winston has served in the role since 2014, but he will cycle out of it after ending his playing career after the 2018 season. The next president may or may not be thrust into a high-stakes situation. If more than 50% of players vote against CBA ratification, the 2020 season will be played under the 2011 CBA. That CBA expires in March 2021. Players voting against the proposal will increase the prospects of a strike or lockout next year.

Of the new members, Okung and Thomas submitted “no” votes on the CBA; Acho voted “yes” on the proposal, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Tretter did not indicate which way he has voted on the owners’ offer, Pelissero adds (via Twitter). Okung has been a hard-liner against the 17-game schedule, so much so he filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the staff of the NFLPA, Ken Belson of the New York Times reports.

Okung’s filing accuses union executive director DeMaurice Smith of forcing a union-wide CBA vote despite objections from the executive committee, Belson adds. The executive committee voted 6-5 in February not to recommend the owners’ CBA proposal, and after the Combine meeting, the executive committee was at 7-4 against recommending the CBA, Belson reports. However, the union’s 32-player board voted to send the proposal for a union-wide vote.

Should the recent Panthers trade acquisition receive the keys after the players vote down a proposal Smith and Winston championed, the league could be set for period of uncertainty over the next several months.

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Chargers, Panthers Agree To Okung/Turner Swap

6:01pm: Turner wants a new contract, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. It remains to be seen whether the Chargers would be willing to give him a deal that reflects the current guard market.

4:44pm: The Chargers and Panthers have reached tentative agreement on a trade that would send tackle Russell Okung to Carolina and guard Trai Turner to L.A., according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). It’s a swap of two big-time and big-bodied offensive lineman that addresses areas of need for both teams. 

The deal is not yet official, but it sounds like the core pieces are in place. Once the new league year begins on March 18, the deal can be finalized.

The Panthers started shopping Turner earlier this month and it didn’t take long for a deal to come together. He’s got two years to go on his four-year, $45MM pact, but the Chargers are happy to pick up what’s left of the tab. The contract is not cheap by any stretch, but the guard market has rapidly advanced to the point where interior enforcers are getting ~$15MM year.

Turner, who has made the Pro Bowl for the last five years, has 84 career games and 80 NFL starts to his credit. Last year, he graded out as the No. 31 ranked guard in the league, according to the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus. In 2015 – his coming-out party – he positioned as one of the game’s very best.

Okung was skeptical of his future with the Chargers and vocal about his complaints against the team. His L.A. tenure has been a bit of a mixed bag. In Year One, Okung earned Pro Bowl honors. Unfortunately, he lost much of last season due to blood clots in his lungs and a painful groin injury. All in all, he appeared in just six games for the Chargers.

No one expected Okung to fetch a ton on the trade block – he has one year left on his four-year, $53MM deal and the Bolts seemed likely to cut ties. His contract calls for a sizable $16.7MM cap hit; the Chargers had an escape hatch, however, that would have left them with just $3.5MM on the books.

The Chargers already have more than $50MM in available cap room and shedding Okung’s deal would push them into $60MM+ territory. They can direct those funds towards finding Philip Rivers‘ replacement or stick with Tyrod Taylor as their starter and spread the funds all around.

Okung, who is also looking to lead the NFLPA’s charge in CBA discussions, would probably be happy to rejoin offensive line coach Pat Meyer.

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Chargers, Russell Okung To Part Ways?

It doesn’t sound like Russell Okung will return for another season with the Chargers. The left tackle is “skeptical” of the Chargers’ direction and his future with the team, ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson tweets

Okung, who has never been one to pull punches, has one year to go on the four-year, $53MM deal he signed in 2017. He’s currently set to count for $16.7MM against the cap. Releasing him would save more than $13MM of that sum with just $3.5MM left.

Okung, 33 in October, made the Pro Bowl in his first year with L.A. Unfortunately, blood clots in his lungs landed him on the NFI list to start the 2019 season and a groin injury sidelined him near the end. In total, he was limited to just six games.

The Chargers’ offensive line struggled mightily on the whole, so Okung isn’t the only party questioning the partnership. Currently, the Chargers have just over $50MM in available cap room – dropping Okung would give them about $64MM to work with, allowing them to land a big-time tackle on the open market and, potentially, their next starting quarterback.

Internally, the Chargers don’t have a shoe-in candidate to take over for Okung, though Trey Pipkins and Sam Tevi could be part of the solution.

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Russell Okung To Run For NFLPA President

It’s official. Chargers left tackle Russell Okung will run for NFLPA president, as Ken Belson of the New York Times writes. If Okung wins, he could change the complexion of the ongoing labor talks and, potentially, steer the league towards a labor stoppage. 

[RELATED: NFL, NFLPA To Meet On Thursday]

The owners and players have been discussing a new deal based upon the framework of an expanded 17-game regular season. Okung has been vocal in his opposition of the proposal and says that a labor stoppage might be necessary to get the best possible deal for the union.

Are we in an equitable agreement with management?” Okung said. “Right now, the answer is no. This will take as long as it needs to…I expect more, and I’m not willing to be bashful about saying that. I’ve made it really clear we need to exhaust every single opportunity we have in order to put our players in a better situation to take care of themselves, their families and to protect the future of this game.”

Okung is far from the only player who doesn’t want a 17-game season. A source familiar with the negotiations tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that an extended regular season, which will likely come with expanded playoffs, remains a very difficult sell for the league’s players. A reduced preseason isn’t much of a selling point for them, as fewer and fewer vets are playing in the preseason anyway. John Clayton of 710 ESPN Seattle confirms that there is not enough player support for a 17-game schedule (Twitter link).

It’s worth noting that Okung has been at odds with his own union in the past. An independent investigation found that Okung spread confidential information in violation of union rules as a member of the Executive Committee. Okung, for his part, denies any wrongdoing and says he’s the union’s best bet to push back against the rigors of an expanded season.

We can’t neglect those issues in order to get more money,” Okung said. “Am I going to trade health and safety for a buck?

The league will elect its next president in March. Eric Winston, the incumbent, is not eligible for another term because he is two years removed from playing.

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Extra Points: Okung, Trubisky, Bucs

Chargers left tackle Russell Okung intends to run for NFLPA president, sources tell Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. This development is notable because, while CBA negotiations between the owners and the union have been progressing smoothly thus far, Okung is said to be vehemently opposed to a 17-game schedule and is open to a work stoppage in order to get the best possible deal for the league’s players.

The 17-game schedule may be the last major sticking point holding up a new CBA, but if a new agreement is not in place by the time current union president Eric Winston’s term expires in March, and if Okung were to be elected, negotiations could stall. Winston cannot be re-elected because he hasn’t played for the past two seasons.

A recent NFLPA investigation revealed that Okung gathered and disseminated confidential information in violation of the union’s constitutions and by-laws, but Okung denies those allegations.

Now for more news and notes from around the league:

  • On Monday, the Fritz Pollard Alliance issued what Florio calls the strongest statement it has made since the Rooney Rule was promulgated. The statement reads in part, “[w]e were painfully reminded through this past hiring cycle that attaining diverse leadership in the NFL can only happen through the willful actions of the team owners and decision makers. The abysmal record of hiring people of color in high ranking levels of NFL management is a reminder of the dark periods of civil rights history. The League has only one African-American General Manager. There are no African-American club presidents.” The Redskins hired a minority when they tabbed Ron Rivera as their new head coach, but the Fritz Pollard Alliance believes worthy minority candidates like Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy continue to get overlooked.
  • Mike Sando of The Athletic takes a look into the upcoming fifth-year option decisions that teams will have to make on their 2017 first-rounders. The entire piece is worth a read, and it’s notable that most of Sando’s sources believe the Bears will exercise the $25MM option on QB Mitchell Trubisky.
  • The Buccaneers worked out cornerback Tre Roberson, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Roberson, who played quarterback in college and who was last with an NFL team in September 2017, recorded seven interceptions for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders this year. Recent reports suggested that Roberson would be back in the NFL in 2020 and that over 10 teams were interested in the converted signal-caller.

Chargers Activate T Russell Okung

Russell Okung is set to make his season debut Sunday. The Chargers activated their top tackle and placed rookie safety Nasir Adderley on IR.

Okung battled blood clot issues for several weeks and began this season on the Bolts’ NFI list. After returning to practice earlier this month, the 10th-year left tackle will soon be back in action. This represents some rare good news for the Chargers on the injury front.

The Bolts have used second-year UDFA Trent Scott at left tackle in all seven games this season. Okung, 32, obviously represents a notable upgrade and will begin his third season in this post. The former top-10 pick started 15 games for each of the past two Chargers teams, making the Pro Bowl in 2017. His return comes for a Chargers team that’s been ravaged by injuries at nearly every position, helping lead to a 2-5 start.

A second-round pick, Adderley only played 10 defensive snaps this season. The Delaware product has missed the past three Bolts games. He has dealt with a hamstring injury and will now have the chance to rehab and prepare for his sophomore NFL campaign. Adderley will join fellow safeties Derwin James and Adrian Phillips on IR. Both are candidates to return this season, James in particular.

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