Sam Darnold

AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets

Having ended their veteran quarterback search with a Ryan Fitzpatrick agreement, after pursuing Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor, the Dolphins continue to embark on a rebuilding track. In fact, the word “tanking” came up during one of the team’s head coach interviews, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald notes. Chris Grier, as could be expected, denied the team will use 2019 to tank.

Often one of the most active teams during free agency, the Dolphins this year have parted ways with starters Ryan Tannehill, Josh Sitton, Ted Larsen, Andre Branch and Danny Amendola. They let Ja’Wuan James and Cameron Wake walk. This leads Salguero to the notion the Dolphins are indeed tanking with the prospect of being in best position to land a high 2020 draft pick and have cap space when that league year begins. As of now, early projections have the Dolphins at $107MM in 2020 cap space — second in the league behind the Cowboys. And with Dallas set to extend several young talents, Miami looks poised to lead that pack. Fitzpatrick has made at least eight starts in a season nine times; his teams finished with a winning record in one of those seasons. Sunday’s move lends further credence the Dolphins are targeting the 2020 quarterback class.

Here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • Rob Gronkowski has not given the Patriots his decision on if he will continue his career in 2019, but if the future Hall of Famer wants an extension, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe notes this cannot happen until August 30 — a year after his previous contract adjustment, per an NFL rule. Long dissatisfied with a contract he agreed to in 2012, Gronkowski would be entering the final year of that deal if he returned for 2019. The Patriots could approach Gronk about a pay cut, however, at any point this offseason, per Volin. Gronkowski is due a $10MM salary and to count $11.86MM on the Patriots’ cap. The latest word on Gronk’s status is a return for a 10th season is more likely than a retirement.
  • Conversely, a Tom Brady extension can happen at any point this offseason. Since the Patriots did not adjust their quarterback’s cap number via the unmet incentives last year, Volin notes they can extend his contract before the 12-month mark from when the team included those incentives. Brady’s deal appears likely to be adjusted, with the 41-year-old passer’s contract-year cap figure sitting at $27MM.
  • Dialogue about the trade that moved the Jets up to last year’s No. 3 overall pick began at the 2018 Senior Bowl, with Jets VP of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger approaching Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds that January about a possible trade, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes. Christopher Johnson emphasized the Jets focus on quarterback scouting in 2017, primarily Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. The Jets targeted No. 3 overall because their sources indicated to them the Giants were zeroing in on Saquon Barkley, Cimini adds. Gang Green put its plan B into action a year ago today after Kirk Cousins spurned them.
  • The Dolphins are interested in acquiring a fullback, which marks a change from recent years. Specifically, they are exploring the addition of Michael Burton, per Salguero. Burton was Pro Football Focus’ No. 2-rated fullback last season but only played 49 snaps, not enough to qualify for full-time status. Only five fullbacks did meet those standards, illustrating this position’s scarcity on most teams. If not Burton, a four-year veteran who has played in Detroit and Chicago, Miami may target another UFA blocking back.
  • Prior to LaAdrian Waddle signing with the Bills, the Patriots conveyed interest in bringing him back, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes. The Pats kept an open dialogue with their swing tackle but were not willing to match the Bills’ offer, Reiss adds.

AFC East Rumors: Jets, Chung, Bills

Sam Darnold spoke with Adam Gase before the Jets ended up hiring him. The Jets‘ second-year quarterback said during an interview with SI.com he “interviewed” Gase prior to the team naming him as Todd Bowles‘ successor. Darnold and Gase share an agent, CAA’s Jimmy Sexton. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com wonders how much of a factor that was in the Jets going with Gase, positing that this connection should not be dismissed in tracing how the Jets arrived on Gase. CAA client Peyton Manning also called Jets CEO Christopher Johnson to endorse Gase, Cimini notes. Gase was Manning’s OC for two years in Denver. A previous report indicated Gase’s interview distinguished him from the other candidates. Gase and Darnold will now go about attempting to revive the Jets.

On the first of many Sundays without NFL games, here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • Although Isaiah Crowell set the Jets’ single-game rushing record with a 219-yard performance against the Broncos in October, Cimini does not expect the team to keep the veteran running back around for 2019. Crowell tied his career-high yards-per-carry figure with 4.8 but only amassed 685 rushing yards last season. The Jets can save $3MM by releasing Crowell before March 15, when $2MM of his $4MM 2019 base salary becomes guaranteed. The Jets have been the team most linked to Le’Veon Bell, and the team now has $99MM-plus in cap space.
  • Patrick Chung recently underwent surgery to repair a broken forearm, but the Patriots safety will go back under the knife soon. Chung will undergo an additional procedure to address a shoulder issue that bothered him during the season, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reports (subscription required). It’s the shoulder issue, and not the forearm break, that is expected to sideline Chung for a while. The 31-year-old defender is not expected to participate in Patriots OTAs or minicamp.
  • The Patriots are going to have to make moves to address their wide receiver situation. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are UFAs-to-be, and Josh Gordon‘s return should not be considered likely at this point. Hogan was a key contributor for the Patriots in 2016 and ’17 but could not re-establish himself as a reliable option down the stretch this season. Hogan finished the campaign with a six-target, zero-catch Super Bowl after compiling just 58 receiving yards in the AFC playoffs, and Howe expects the Pats to allow him to depart in free agency.
  • While there could be significant roster turnover in New England, with several coaches already leaving as well, Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston notes this offseason is expected to feature far less drama than last year’s did. Last year featured more fallout from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, a lengthy Tom Brady absence and Rob Gronkowski considering retirement. After the Pats’ latest Super Bowl title, their situation looks more stable, even if Gronk is once again pondering leaving the game.
  • The Bills made multiple moves in order to trade up and land Josh Allen in the 2018 first round, but Brandon Beane may be looking to move back this year. The third-year Bills GM said recently the team does not need to pick in the top 10, and Mike Rodak of ESPN.com expects Buffalo to engage in trade-down discussions from its No. 9 overall slot.

Jets Notes: Enunwa, Tomlinson, Offseason

The Jets signed receiver Quincy Enunwa to a multi-year contract extension yesterday, with the four-year pact coming in at $36MM (and about $20MM in guaranteed money). The 2014 sixth-round pick out of Nebraska has spent his entire career with the Jets, and he’s excited to stick with the organization for the foreseeable future.

“I knew when I got here that I wanted to be a Jet for a very long time,” Enunwa told the team website. “Now, I’ll get my opportunity and it feels really good.”

The 26-year-old broke onto the scene in 2016, when he hauled in 58 receptions for 857 yards and four scores. He missed the entire 2017 season with a neck injury, and he’s appeared in only 11 games this year. However, he’s clearly gaining the trust of quarterback Sam Darnold, and Enunwa is confident that the duo will continue to improve.

“I’m excited for the future and for some more big plays,” Enunwa said. “And I think there is a lot in store for us as a team.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes out of New York…

  • The Enunwa extension was the “first big contract” that was negotiated by Dave Socie, points out Brian Costello of the New York Post (via Twitter). Socie was hired as the team’s Senior Director of Football Administration during the summer after previously serving in the role back in 2006. In this role, Socie works with general manager Mike Maccagnan on all things contracts and salary cap.
  • The Jets placed tight end Eric Tomlinson on injured reserve earlier this week, but it doesn’t sound like the 26-year-old suffered his injury on the field. Rather, Costello tweets that Tomlinson dropped a weight on his foot, leading to a pair of lacerated toes. The accident forced the tight end to undergo surgery, ending his season. Tomlinson had started 12 of his 15 games this season, serving mostly as a blocking tight end. The former Texas-El Paso standout has 16 career receptions for 193 yards and one touchdown.
  • Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.TV believes the Jets should be prioritizing experience as they search for a new head coach. The writer opines that the organization “can’t afford to be wrong with their next hire,” as they’ll be risking Darnold’s formative seasons. Fortunately, Vacchiano believes Maccagnan and CEO Christopher Johnson recognize this, as the team has already been connected to experienced coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Mike McCarthy. The writer also believes the team should give a look at former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell.
  • ESPN’s Rich Cimini writes that the Jets should use their draft picks and $100MM+ in cap space to build a formidable team around Darnold. Specifically, Cimini says the team should make a “serious run” at running back Le’Veon Bell, and he also lists offensive line, receiver, and edge rusher as positions of need. The writer also suggests shopping defensive end Leonard Williams, who is set to earn $14.2MM next season.

Sam Darnold Expected To Start In Week 14

Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to start against the the Bills after Sunday after missing New York’s last three games with a foot sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Head coach Todd Bowles declined to officially name Darold his Week 14 starter, but that’s believed to be the Jets’ plan.

Per Rapoport, the Jets have been delicately handling Darnold’s recovery, and he probably could have played in Week 13 if the club would have let him. However, New York is taking a cautious approach with its first-round signal-caller, just as the Bears have done recently with their young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago already essentially has a playoff spot locked up and didn’t feel the need to rush Trubisky back, while the Jets are in the midst of a lost campaign and thus didn’t intend to deploy Darnold until he was fully healthy.

Gang Green sent their own first-rounder and three second-round picks to the Colts this spring in order to acquire the No. 3 overall selection, which they subsequently used on Darnold. While it’s fair to question the talent around him, Darnold hasn’t been great so far, as he ranks dead last among NFL quarterbacks in passer rating, interception, and adjusted net yards per attempt.

After facing the Bills on Sunday, Darnold and the Jets will close out the 2018 season with the Texans, Packers, and Patriots.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Jets, Browns, Harris, Ravens

Mike McCarthy may well have options going into this coming hiring period, but the Jets might not be a great fit. The status of GM Mike Maccagnan will likely be a deterrent for a coach with other options — in the likely event Todd Bowles is fired soon — multiple NFL executives told Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv. The New York GM has just one more season remaining on his deal and is not expected to follow Bowles out the door. A lame-duck decision-maker could spook McCarthy. With former Packers execs John Dorsey, Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf in Cleveland, many people around the league believe McCarthy will end up with the Browns, Vacchiano notes. The Browns also have a young quarterback and are projected to possess more than $86MM in cap space. While that’s not on the Jets’ level ($106MM-plus), Vacchiano adds McCarthy is known as being a bit sensitive to criticism. That might be an issue in jumping from the league’s smallest market to its biggest.

Here’s more from the Jets and the latest from the AFC:

  • Josh McCown received another start for the Jets on Sunday, doing so despite Sam Darnold being at or close to 100 percent. The rookie quarterback lobbied to play against the Titans during warmups, Albert Breer of SI.com notes, but Bowles stuck with McCown. Bowles would not commit to Darnold starting against the Bills in Week 14, but Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports Darnold showed he was healthy in practice and will likely return Sunday.
  • On the subject of possible quarterback switches, the Ravens may be able to put off their decision for another week. Joe Flacco was not moving too well this week, walking with a noticeable limp, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com tweets. While the Ravens could be forced into a choice of benching Lamar Jackson (3-0 as a starter) and returning to Flacco for a pivotal game in Kansas City, this call might be tabled. The possibility of Flacco returning as the starter at some point this month is not out of the question, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, but Jackson may see more work off the bench than he previously did when Flacco was healthy. The difficult prospect of preparing for the quarterbacks’ disparate skill sets intrigues John Harbaugh, per Rapoport, so the Ravens may keep it quiet if they do intend to pivot back to Flacco.
  • Although the Broncos improved to 6-6 Sunday, it came at a cost. Denver lost one of its top players in Chris Harris to a fractured fibula. However, the All-Pro cornerback is not going to be placed on IR and has a goal of returning before a potential playoff game. The eighth-year defender wants to return by Week 17, when the Broncos play the Chargers in what could be a key game — if Denver wins out and receives help — for Vance Joseph‘s team. “I always heal fast,” Harris told Aric DiLalla of DenverBroncos.com.“I’ve got the right people around me to help me get back fast and I’ll work night and day to get back. My goal is three weeks, but they said four. My goal is three weeks because I want to play against [the Chargers].” Harris’ other notable injury (a torn ACL) came against the Chargers in a 2013 divisional playoff game, but the corner returned by Week 1 in 2014.
  • By intercepting three passes, Harris already cashed in $200K of the incentive package he agreed to in the offseason. But another key financial bump is tied to playing time. Despite standing to miss perhaps the rest of the regular season, Harris can still earn an additional $300K if his 736 snaps end up being 65 percent of Denver’s season total, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic notes (subscription required), adding that scenario is in play.

Jets Planning To Start Josh McCown In Week 13

The Jets are preparing to roll with veteran quarterback Josh McCown once again in Week 13 vs. the Titans, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets

Though rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is close to a return, Rapoport hears from sources the Jets want to make sure their signal-caller of the future is 100% when he returns to the field. He adds Darnold might work out pregame to try to convince them otherwise, but the 17-year veteran McCown is more than likely to get the nod.

The USC product has been out of action after suffering a significant sprain to his right foot in Week 9 vs. the Dolphins. In his stead, McCown has completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 411 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions in two starts against the Bills and Patriots, both New York losses.

Darnold started the season hot, leading the Jets to a 48-17 win over Detroit in Week 1 when he became the youngest quarterback in years to start a season opener. It has been downhill since then, and he had amassed a league-high 14 interceptions at the time of his injury.

At 3-8 and in last place in the AFC East, there is no reason for the Jets to rush back their franchise quarterback to the fold.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Notes: Maccagnan, Bowles, Anderson, Darnold

If the Jets’ season continues to go the way it has gone so far, it’s very likely that head coach Todd Bowles will be fired after the season. GM Mike Maccagnan is apparently in far better shape with ownership, and “all indications” are that “Maccagnan will survive this mess of a season and get a chance to finish his rebuilding project”, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. While Maccagnan seems like a heavy favorite to survive, Cimini writes that it’s unclear exactly how much power he’ll have.

Cimini writes that it’s an open question whether or not Maccagnan will get to be the one who hires New York’s next head coach, and notes that the pairing of Bowles and Maccagnan was an “arranged marriage” from ownership. For what it’s worth, Cimini thinks the Jets will “add a couple of years to Maccagnan’s deal” if they keep him, so it doesn’t send the impression that the GM has less job security than the new coach. While Maccagnan will hang on by the skin of his teeth, the way everyone is talking now it seems like a foregone conclusion that Bowles’ days are numbered.

Here’s more from New York:

  • Robby Anderson is a very talented young receiver, but has dealt with multiple off-field incidents as well as injuries this season, so Cimini thinks he might not be long for the team. Anderson will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and while Cimini expects the Jets to tender him, he thinks they might look to trade him next offseason. He mentions the Eagles as a possible trade destination, and notes that the Eagles “tried to pry him away” from the Jets at the trade deadline. He also thinks the team might just let him walk if a team signs him to a huge offer sheet this spring. It was reported earlier this week that the Jets are trying to get an extension done with fellow receiver Quincy Enunwa, and it seems like the team definitely values Enunwa more than Anderson moving forward.
  • Sam Darnold isn’t playing today against the Patriots, and it looks like he might not play next week either. While Darnold could still possibly return in Week 13, “the following week is more likely”, sources told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport writes that the Jets want to take it easy on Darnold and make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before returning. The team isn’t going to rush him back, so it’ll likely be Josh McCown again next week against the Titans.

Jets’ Sam Darnold To Miss Week 12

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold won’t be able to go in Week 12 against the Patriots, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. With the rookie sidelined, veteran Josh McCown will start once again.

McCown’s last outing against the Bills was one to forget. The 39-year-old completed just 17 of his 34 passes for 150 yards with zero touchdowns against two interceptions as Gang Green lost 41-10.

Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the No. 3 overall pick either. Darnold has flashed at times, but he leads the NFL with 14 interceptions and tossed four picks against the Dolphins in Week 9. The 3-7 Jets are pretty much out of playoff contention, so there’s little sense in endangering Darnold as he recovers from a nagging foot injury.

Naturally, the 7-3 Patriots are heavily favored in Sunday’s matchup. The line could skew even further towards New England now that McCown has been confirmed as the club’s starter.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Sanders, Slauson, Ravens, Jets

Following in the footsteps of Plaxico Burress, Emmanuel Sanders has thrived after leaving the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s permitted many of its wideout finds to depart over the years, prioritizing only long-term partnerships with Hines Ward and Antonio Brown this century. In advance of the latest Broncos-Steelers game, Sanders said (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski) Mike Tomlin told him prior to 2014 free agency the Steelers “didn’t have the money to pay me.” Denver added Sanders to a $5MM-per-year accord then extended him two years later.

The Steelers have let Sanders, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, Martavis Bryant and Antwaan Randle-El go either after the wideouts’ rookie deals expired or, in Bryant’s case, trading him away. But Pittsburgh continues to find wideout talent, with JuJu Smith-Schuster being the latest such discovery. After an injury-plagued 2017, Sanders (763 receiving yards) is on pace for his fourth 1,000-yard season in five years with the Broncos. He’s signed through 2019. Despite a $10.15MM base salary next year, the 31-year-old pass-catcher may be in line to play out his contract. The Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas, with Courtland Sutton waiting in the wings, but don’t have an obvious Sanders replacement lined up just yet.

Here’s the latest from the AFC on this NFC-only Thanksgiving:

  • It doesn’t sound like Matt Slauson has immediate retirement plans, despite suffering a scary back injury, Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star notes. The first-year Colts lineman has contributed plenty to the cause despite being sidelined for much of this year, with Keefer noting he’s helped Indianapolis’ younger linemen. The Colts haven’t allowed Andrew Luck to be sacked in 214 straight pass attempts; that’s the longest since the Redskins kept Mark Rypien upright for 252 straight pass plays during the franchise’s 1991 Super Bowl season. Slauson continues to work out with teammates but is 32 and only signed through 2018.
  • Both Joe Flacco and Alex Collins missed the Ravens‘ Thanksgiving practice, per Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun. Flacco has not practiced since suffering the hip injury that has him sidelined. He’s expected to miss at least one more week, giving Lamar Jackson another audition opportunity. Collins played last week but has dealt with a foot injury throughout the season, per Shaffer.
  • Signs continue to point to Josh McCown receiving another Jets start. Sam Darnold did not participate in team drills Thursday, missing a second straight day of such work, according to the Associated Press. The rookie starter suited up Wednesday for the first time since straining his right foot but did not throw a pass in individual drills. McCown appears to be in line to face the Patriots, with Todd Bowles indicating (via the New York Post’s George Willis) the team will err on the side of caution. So, unless Darnold makes some significant strides by Friday, he’ll likely rest for at least one more week.

Injury Notes: Graham, Mariota, Darnold, Kupp

We learned earlier this week that Packers tight end Jimmy Graham had suffered a broken thumb, and it was expected that the former All-Pro would be out for the foreseeable future. However, head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that Graham is going to try to play on Sunday against the Vikings.

“I know he intends to try to go,” McCarthy said (via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky). “That’s his intention…There’s going to be a transition through the practice week and see different splints and things like that. So that’s why you have to work through it.”

The 31-year-old has 34 receptions for 452 yards and two touchdowns during his first season in Green Bay. If he was forced to miss time, the Packers would likely turn to Lance KendricksRobert Tonyan Jr., and/or Marcedes Lewis.

Let’s take a look at some more injury notes from around the NFL…

  • Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota didn’t suffer an elbow injury during Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Instead, as head coach Mike Vrabel told reporters, the signal-caller suffered a “stinger” (via Jim Wyatt of Titans Online via Twitter). Mariota may get a second opinion, and there’s still hope that the quarterback can play on Monday against the Titans. Through nine games this season, the 25-year-old has completed 67.6-percent of his passes for 1,583 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. He’s also rushed for 255 yards and two scores on 47 carries. If Mariota is forced to miss Monday’s game, Blaine Gabbert would likely earn the start for Tennessee.
  • Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had ditched his walking boot, and ESPN’s Rich Cimini writes that the rookie was seen jogging during Monday’s practice. “It feels good. It feels great,” Darnold said of his right foot. “Nothing for me to complain about. No pain, either.” The quarterback missed the team’s last game against the Bills, but he got an extra week off thanks to the bye. If Darnold misses this weekend’s contest against the division-rival Patriots, the team will turn to veteran Josh McCown again.
  • While Cooper Kupp‘s season-ending injury certainly wasn’t promising, Rams coach Sean McVay revealed that the wideout underwent successful ACL surgery. “It went really well,” McVay said (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). “He called right afterwards and he was in great spirits. I know if anybody is going to attack the rehab process the right way, it’s going to be Cooper Kupp. Fortunately, some of the things when you do get in there, none of the other things that sometimes can delay that rehab process were affected. It was a clean surgery, did a good job repairing that and we expect him to be able to make a good recovery. Looking forward to getting him back.” The 25-year-old was having another productive season before suffering the injury, hauling in 40 catches for 566 yards and six touchdowns in eight games.
  • Buccaneers offensive lineman Evan Smith suffered torn labrums in both hips, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). The veteran will have surgery in New York next Monday. The 32-year-old had appeared in seven games with Tampa Bay this season, serving primarily in a backup role. The team placed him on the injured reserve last week.