Sony Michel

Latest On Damien Harris, Patriots RB Depth

Per usual, the Patriots running back room is getting a bit crowded. However, while Bill Belichick and co. will traditionally shake up their depth chart based on performance and opponents, ESPN’s Mike Reiss believes the hierarchy is already set heading into training camp. According to the writer, Damien Harris is the “surefire No. 1 option” at the moment

Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, barely played during his rookie campaign, but he took on more responsibility during the 2020 season. The Alabama product ended up finishing the campaign with 743 yards from scrimmage on only 142 carries. Best of all, the 5-foot-11 running back doesn’t appear to be a flash in the pan, as Belichick was quick to praise the 24-year-old last month.

“Damien works extremely hard at all phases — certainly his conditioning and training, running game, passing game, protection, route running, catching the ball,” Belichick said (via Reiss) “He’s got a lot of skill and he can contribute in a variety of ways, and he’s looking to upgrade where he is in every area.”

While Harris seems to have a firm hold on the starting gig, the rest of the depth chart is still a bit uncertain. As Reiss notes, the only other running back who’s (basically) guaranteed to make the roster is fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Elsewhere, pass-catching veteran James White will probably retain his role for at least another year, J.J. Taylor is inexpensive and should serve as a “spark plug,” and Brandon Bolden has established himself as a special teams ace. This means that former first-round pick Sony Michel could find himself on the outside looking in, especially if the Patriots decide to hang on to one of their younger, less expensive alternatives.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Trade Candidates: Patriots RB Sony Michel, WR N’Keal Harry

While Bill Belichick has earned praise for his successful late-round picks, many of his championship rosters have been predicated on early-round draft selections. However, a pair of recent first-round picks have disappointed during their tenures in New England, and the young duo could find themselves playing elsewhere come the start of the 2021 season.

Erik Scalavino of the Patriots website recently discussed the trade availability of edge rusher Chase Winovich (something we looked at yesterday), and the writer believes that running back Sony Michel and wideout N’Keal Harry could also be on the trade block:

“[Winovich] and a handful of other Patriots (Sony Michel, N’Keal Harry?) could be potential trade prospects come August or early September. As always, what their value would be is impossible to predict, but summertime trades often involve player-for-player swaps between teams needed to strengthen certain positions. Something to keep in mind.”

Let’s start with New England’s 2018 first-rounder (No. 31 overall). Michel actually looked like he was well worth his draft stock during his rookie year. He collected 981 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 13 regular season games, and he added another six scores during the Patriots’ run to a championship. Michel’s counting stats went up a bit in 2019 thanks to him appearing in three more games, but his yards per carry dropped from 4.5 (2018) to 3.7 (2019). Michel spent much of the 2020 campaign on the IR and COVID list, finishing with a career-low 563 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

Still, Michel has showed plenty of promise (especially when it matters most), and he’s still only 26 years old. Why would the Patriots shop the young running back? For starters, the former first-rounder is an impending free agent after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year contract. Further, the Patriots haven’t shown any trust in the running back’s ability to catch the ball (26 receptions in 38 games), and it’s clear Michel will never be a three-down back. Considering those two factors, it seems unlikely that Michel will be playing in New England beyond 2021. Finally, New England has plenty of depth at the position; 2019 third-rounder Damien Harris is projected to be the starter, James White will be back in his pass-catching role, and the team also added Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

Harry’s spot on the trade block makes a lot more sense. Since being selected with the 32nd pick in the 2019 draft, the Arizona State product has struggled to show much during his limited opportunities. Harry couldn’t find a groove with Tom Brady during his rookie season, finishing with only 105 receiving yards. With much less receiving depth in 2020, Harry only saw a slight uptick in numbers, finishing with 309 yards from scrimmage. The Patriots have done some work improving their pass-catching corps this offseason, including the additions of veterans Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. This will only slide Harry further down the depth chart.

We haven’t done a whole lot to inspire confidence in either of these young players…so why would rival squads be interested? Well, both players are still on their rookie contracts, making them relatively inexpensive, (potentially) high-upside reclamation projects. Further, while the Patriots have a bit of a roster crunch at each position, there’s no real urgency nor financial advantage to cut the players. If a rival team is interested in Michel and/or Harry, they’ll likely have to acquire the player(s) via trade. New England obviously won’t come close to recouping their first-round investment, but the team could net a late-round pick.

One thing is certain: 2021 will surely be a make-or-break year for both Michel and Harry. The big question is if that crucial season will take place in New England or elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2022 NFL Fifth-Year Option Tracker

NFL teams have until May 3 to officially pick up their options on 2018 first-rounders who are entering the final year of their rookie deals. In a change from years past, fifth-year option seasons are fully guaranteed, rather than guaranteed for injury only. Meanwhile, salaries are now determined by a blend of the player’s position, initial draft placement, and specific performance metrics:

  • 2-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • 1-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the 3rd-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • 75%+ snaps in two of their first three seasons
    • 75%+ average across all three seasons
    • 50%+ in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will get the average of the 3rd-25th top salaries at their position.

With the deadline looming, we’ll use the space below to track all the option decisions from around the league:

Updated 4-30-21, 4:24pm CT

  1. QB Baker Mayfield, Browns: Exercised ($18.858MM)
  2. RB Saquon Barkley, Giants: Exercised ($7.217MM)
  3. QB Sam Darnold, Panthers (via Jets): Pending ($18.858MM)
  4. CB Denzel Ward, Browns — Exercised ($13.294MM)
  5. LB Bradley Chubb, Broncos — Pending ($12.716MM)
  6. G Quenton Nelson, Colts — Pending ($13.754MM)
  7. QB Josh Allen, Bills: Pending ($23.106MM)
  8. LB Roquan Smith, Bears: Exercised ($9.735MM)
  9. OT Mike McGlinchey, 49ers: Exercised ($10.88MM)
  10. QB Josh Rosen, Cardinals: N/A
  11. S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers (via Dolphins): Exercised ($10.612MM)
  12. DT Vita Vea, Buccaneers: Exercised ($7.638MM)
  13. DT Daron Payne, Washington — Exercised ($8.529MM)
  14. DE Marcus Davenport, Saints: Exercised ($9.553MM)
  15. OT Kolton Miller, Raiders — N/A (extension)
  16. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Bills: Pending ($12.716MM)
  17. S Derwin James, Chargers: Exercised ($9.052MM)
  18. CB Jaire Alexander, Packers: Exercised ($13.294MM)
  19. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys: Pending ($9.145MM)
  20. C Frank Ragnow, Lions: Exercised ($12.657MM)
  21. C Billy Price, Bengals: Declined ($10.413MM)
  22. LB Rashaan Evans, Titans: Pending ($9.735MM)
  23. OT Isaiah Wynn, Patriots: Pending ($10.413 MM)
  24. WR D.J. Moore, Panthers: Exercised ($11.116MM)
  25. TE Hayden Hurst, Falcons (via Ravens): Pending ($5.428MM)
  26. WR Calvin Ridley, Falcons: Pending ($11.116MM)
  27. RB Rashaad Penny, Seahawks: Pending ($4.523MM)
  28. S Terrell Edmunds, Steelers: Pending ($6.753MM)
  29. DT Taven Bryan, Jaguars: Pending ($7.638MM)
  30. CB Mike Hughes, Vikings: Pending ($12.643MM)
  31. RB Sony Michel, Patriots: Pending ($4.523MM)
  32. QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens: Exercised ($23.106MM)

NFL’s Fifth-Year Option Salaries For 2021

The NFL’s 2021 salary cap has been set at $182.5MM, marking the league’s first reduction in a decade. With that, the league has also ironed out the value of this year’s fifth-round option for 2018 first-round picks.

Here’s the full rundown, via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter):

1. Baker Mayfield, Browns, QB — $18.858MM (playing time)

2. Saquon Barkley, Giants, RB — $7.217MM (1x Pro Bowl)

3. Sam Darnold, Jets, QB — $18.858MM (playing time)

4. Denzel Ward, Browns, CB — $13.294MM (1x Pro Bowl)

5. Bradley Chubb, Broncos, LB — $12.716MM (1x Pro Bowl)

6. Quenton Nelson, Colts, G — $13.754MM (2x Pro Bowl)

7. Josh Allen, Bills, QB — $23.106MM (1x Pro Bowl)

8. Roquan Smith, Bears, LB — $9.735MM (playing time)

9. Mike McGlinchey, 49ers, OT — $10.88MM (playing time)

10. Josh Rosen, Cardinals, QB*

11. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers, S (drafted by Dolphins) — $10.612MM (2x Pro Bowl)

12. Vita Vea, Buccaneers, DT — $7.638MM

13. Daron Payne, Washington, DT — $8.529MM (playing time)

14. Marcus Davenport, Saints, DE — $9.553MM

15. Kolton Miller, Raiders, OT — $10.88MM (playing time)

16. Tremaine Edmunds, Bills, LB — $12.716MM (1x Pro Bowl)

17. Derwin James, Chargers, S — $9.052MM (1x Pro Bowl)

18. Jaire Alexander, Packers, CB — $13.294MM (1x Pro Bowl)

19. Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys, LB — $9.145MM

20. Frank Ragnow, Lions, C — $12.657MM (1x Pro Bowl)

21. Billy Price, Bengals, C — $10.413MM

22. Rashaan Evans, Titans, LB — $9.735MM (playing time)

23. Isaiah Wynn, Patriots, OT — $10.413MM

24. D.J. Moore, Panthers, WR — $11.116MM (playing time)

25. Hayden Hurst, Falcons, TE (Drafted by Ravens) — $5.428MM

26. Calvin Ridley, Falcons, WR — $11.116MM (playing time)

27. Rashaad Penny, Seahawks, RB — $4.523MM

28., Steelers, S Terrell Edmunds — $6.753MM (playing time)

29. Taven Bryan, Jaguars, DT — $7.638MM

30. Mike Hughes, Vikings, CB — $12.643MM

31. Sony Michel, Patriots, RB — $4.523MM

32. Lamar Jackson, Ravens, QB — $23.106MM (1x Pro Bowl)

* Rosen was released from his original contract and, therefore, is not option-eligible 

As a refresher, the fifth-year option year is now fully guaranteed. In the past, it was guaranteed for injury only. The values are also dependent on certain performance metrics:

  • Two-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • One-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the 3rd-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • 75%+ snaps in two of their first three seasons
    • 75%+ average across all three seasons
    • 50%+ in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will get the average of the 3rd-25th top salaries at their position.

Patriots Activate RB Sony Michel

Following a six-game absence, Sony Michel is back with the Patriots. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that New England has activated the running back from injured reserve. The team will waive Hjalte Froholdt to make room on the roster. Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets that the Patriots have also waived defensive end Derek Rivers.

Michel started each of New England’s first three games this season, but a quad injury has kept him out of the lineup for the past month-plus. It’s unlikely the 25-year-old will slide back to the top of the Patriots depth chart; former third-rounder Damien Harris has three 100-plus-yard performances since Michel went down, while both Rex Burkhead and James White continue to see work out of the backfield.

The Georgia product has been a bit trick-or-treat since being selected with the 31st-overall pick in the 2018 draft. He had a dynamic playoff run in 2018, rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns in three games en route to a Super Bowl championship. However, Michel only averaged 3.7 yards per attempt in 2019, and he didn’t play more than 38-percent of his team’s offensive snaps through the first three weeks of the season.

Rivers was a third-round pick by the Patriots in 2017, and he’s already missed a pair of seasons due to injuries. In total, the 26-year-old has seen time in 14 games, compiling six tackles and 2.5 sacks. Froholdt, a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in 2019, appeared in eight games this season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Williams, Chiefs, OBJ, Patriots

Adam Gase insisted the Jets were not trading Quinnen Williams, but that did not stop teams from reaching out about a potential trade. The Jets received inquiries from multiple teams on their standout defensive tackle before last week’s trade deadline, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. Although GM Joe Douglas was not with the team when the Jets selected Williams — during a draft in which Gase was not exactly in lock-step with previous GM Mike Maccagnan — the team views the ex-Alabama prospect’s talent and positional value to be too great to trade. After a less impactful rookie year, Williams has broken through as an NFL sophomore. He has three sacks and seven tackles for loss — already bettering his 2019 numbers.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • The ChiefsAndy Reid-era front office has undergone changes, thanks to the executive talent the organization has amassed. Ryan Poles may well be poised to follow Chris Ballard and Brett Veach to a GM job, with Field Yates of ESPN.com noting (via Twitter) the current Chiefs exec is firmly on the GM radar. The Chiefs have twice promoted Poles over the past three years, moving him to college scouting director in 2017 and to assistant player personnel director a year later. Should Poles land a GM job, the Chiefs would be entitled to third-round draft compensation.
  • Odell Beckham Jr. underwent successful ACL surgery Tuesday, the Browns announced. The team expects OBJ to be ready for the 2021 season. It is not certain if the 28-year-old wideout will, in fact, be with the Browns for the ’21 campaign. His through-2023 contract contains no guaranteed money, and his star has certainly fallen since being dealt from New York to Cleveland. Beckham landed in trade rumors last year and this offseason, and rumblings have resurfaced about the Browns dealing the John Dorsey-era acquisition in 2021.
  • When Sony Michel returns from IR, it is unlikely the third-year Patriots back will recapture his previous role. Damien Harris stood out in training camp and has played well since debuting. The 2019 third-round pick should not be expected to lose his lead role in New England’s backfield, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. Harris did suffer a chest injury Monday, but it remains to be seen if the former Alabama back will miss any time. Harris is averaging 5.6 yards per carry this season. While Michel is at 6.7, that is on just 26 totes. The former first-round pick’s career YPC average sits at 4.2.

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/31/20

Here is the league’s avalanche of Halloween minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Patriots Place Sony Michel, Shaq Mason, Derek Rivers On Reserve/COVID-19 List

Just as the Patriots took their two highest-profile players off the reserve/COVID-19 list, they placed three more players on it. Sony Michel, Shaq Mason and Derek Rivers landed on the list Saturday, per Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Michel has tested positive, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reports (on Twitter). Mason and Rivers have not. Although Michel was on New England’s IR list, this is certainly a situation to monitor for the league. The NFL moved the Patriots’ Week 4 game to Monday after Cam Newton‘s positive test surfaced the previous Saturday and postponed the Denver-New England Week 5 game to the following Monday and then, after another Pats positive test emerged Sunday morning, delayed it another week.

Players do not have to test positive for the coronavirus to be placed on teams’ COVID lists; they can land on there if they are deemed close contacts of someone who has tested positive. The Pats took Newton and Stephon Gilmore off their list this week but still have multiple players on it. James Ferentz and defensive end Byron Cowart were already on New England’s COVID list.

Approaching 4pm CT Saturday, the Pats’ Week 6 game against the Broncos remains scheduled for noon Sunday. The NFL was aware of the team’s impending Saturday adjustment to its COVID list, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). However, the Pats did not resume practice until Thursday — after their game against the Broncos was moved off its Monday date — and canceled their in-person workouts Friday because of another positive test.

Michel has been on New England’s IR list since before their Week 4 game against the Chiefs; Mason missed Week 4 and was questionable for Week 6. The Pats will be down Mason and Ferentz from their starting O-line on Sunday, should the game remain scheduled. Rivers has played 21% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season; the defensive end has 1.5 sacks.

To help with depth, the Pats have elevated tackle Caleb Benenoch, tight end Rashod Berry, defensive end Nick Thurman and wide receiver Isaiah Zuber from their practice squad to their active roster.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Place Sony Michel On IR, Activate Damien Harris

The Patriots are doing some major shuffling with their backfield. New England is placing running back Sony Michel on injured reserve and activating fellow running back Damien Harris off IR, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). The team also activated receiver Gunner Olszewski and placed safety Cody Davis on injured reserve.

With the new rules this year, Michel will have to miss at least three games before returning. It’s a bummer for Michel since he was coming off by far his best game of the season, when he rushed for 117 yards on only nine carries against the Raiders. He had been a disappointment through the first couple of weeks, and will now be hitting the shelf. Fortunately, Rapoport noted in a follow-up tweet that he was told Michel could be activated relatively quickly and it’s not a season-ending injury.

A third-round pick last year, Harris barely played as a rookie and was a healthy scratch most weeks. He reportedly had a strong summer though, and was looking like he might be the Patriots’ starter to open the year before a hand injury sent him to IR. Now he’s back and figures to be in the mix tonight against Kansas City, although with James White and Rex Burkhead also present it’s unclear how much run he’ll get.

That being said, with Michel hitting injured reserve there’s a clear lane for Harris to shine if he can make the most of the opportunity. With Cam Newton out due to COVID-19 and Brian Hoyer getting the start at quarterback, the Pats figure to be running the ball frequently on Monday night. A first-round pick in 2018, Michel impressed as a rookie before taking a step back last year. This quad injury he picked up against Las Vegas certainly isn’t what he needed to get back on track.

Olszewski, a 2019 UDFA, served as New England’s punt returner for half of last season. Davis is a core special teamer who has yet to play a defensive snap this season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Douglas, Pats, White

Jets head coach Adam Gase may soon receive his walking papers, and though the leash for GM Joe Douglas will be a bit longer, Douglas is not without blame for the club’s struggles over his first 16 months or so on the job. In a piece that colorfully recounts all of Douglas’ missteps, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News includes an interesting nugget indicating that Douglas nixed an impending agreement for free agent DB Logan Ryan — whom Douglas reportedly coveted — because he was unhappy that the agreement was leaked to the media.

To be fair, other reporters wrote that Ryan’s asking price was the real obstacle to the deal, and Mehta himself has noted on more than one occasion that Douglas is operating under owner-imposed financial constraints, so it’s unclear what actually prevented Ryan from joining Gang Green. And obviously the Jets would still look just as directionless with Ryan as they do without, but when Douglas’ body of work is laid out in black-and-white, one can understand any skepticism Jets fans might feel about the GM’s abilities.

Now for more from the AFC East:

  • Doug Kyed of NESN.com believes the Patriots should try to trade for a top-flight wide receiver. His piece was published before QB Cam Newton threw the ball all over the place in the team’s narrow loss to the Seahawks in Week 2, but in New England’s Week 3 triumph over the Raiders, it was clear that Newton could use another receiving threat. After posting eight catches for 179 yards against Seattle, Julian Edelman caught just two passes for 23 yards against Las Vegas, and the Pats want to reduce Edelman’s snap count. Meanwhile, N’Keal Harry is still coming into his own, and Damiere Byrd is hardly irreplaceable. Kyed believes a player like the Bears’ Allen Robinson would be a great fit, and that New England should not be hesitant to give up 2021 draft capital.
  • Prior to the Patriots‘ win over Las Vegas, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com suggested that Sony Michel needed a big game to keep his job as New England’s RB1, and Michel delivered. He reeled off 117 yards on just nine carries, though he and J.J. Taylor both had 11 touches and Rex Burkhead had 13 (three of which ended in touchdowns). As usual, it looks like the Pats will take a committee approach to their backfield, and the committee will become even more crowded when Damien Harris returns from IR. Still, it’s encouraging for New England that Michel, who has not exactly lived up to his status as a former first-rounder, looked as good as he did.
  • The Bills signed cornerback Tre’Davious White to a massive extension shortly before the season started, a deal that temporarily positioned him as the highest-paid CB in the league in terms of AAV ($17.25MM). But as Jason Wolf of the Buffalo News writes, some league observers believe Buffalo came out ahead in that deal, as Jalen Ramsey signed a five-year, $105MM extension shortly after the ink dried on White’s contract. The NFL world knew that Ramsey’s deal was coming soon, so pundits like Joel Corry of CBS Sports believe White could have gotten himself at least $19MM per year if he had been more patient, and that the Bills were wise to strike when they did. Of course, with $55MM in guaranteed money coming his way, most people won’t be too sad for White.