Taylor Gabriel

Bears To Release Prince Amukamara, Taylor Gabriel

The Bears moved to clear some cap space on Friday by jettisoning two starters. They are releasing cornerback Prince Amukamara and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Amukamara has been a Bears starter since he signed a one-year deal with Chicago in 2017. The ex-Giants first-round pick re-upped with the team on a long-term deal in 2018. One season remained on that three-year, $27MM contract. Two years remained on Gabriel’s pact. Altogether, the Bears will create $13.5MM in cap space by making these moves.

Gabriel signed a four-year, $26MM contract in 2018. That deal had no more guaranteed money. The ex-Falcon started 18 games for Chicago but battled injuries last season, limiting him to nine games. Chicago’s offense struggled as a whole last season, with Mitchell Trubisky regressing. The Bears drafted Anthony Miller and Riley Ridley over the past two years and possess greater needs than the wide receiver spot. Gabriel caught 96 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns as a Bear. The 29-year-old target will get a head start on the receiver market because of this early cut.

Amukamara’s exit leaves a bigger hole. He was a key member of the Bears’ high-end defenses, starting alongside Kyle Fuller. The Bears, though, had a lot of money committed to their corner group after having signed slot man Buster Skrine a year re-upping Amukamara and matching the Packers’ offer sheet for the then-transition-tagged Fuller. Amukamara was set to earn a $9MM base salary in 2020.

Amukamara will turn 31 before Week 1 but figures to generate interest ahead of free agency. He settled for one-year deals with the Jaguars and Bears from 2016-17 before landing a multiyear Chicago accord. The Nebraska alum graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 41 corner last season, which came after he graded higher for the Bears’ No. 1-ranked scoring defense in 2018.

The Bears now hold closer to $20MM in cap space after entering Friday with barely $5MM. More moves could be on tap.

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NFC North Notes: Vikings, Diggs, Bears

Stefon Diggs and the Vikings are at odds, and while Minnesota reportedly doesn’t have any plans to trade the star wideout, Diggs added a bit of fuel to the fire today when speaking to reporters, including Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press“I feel like there’s truth to all rumors no matter how dress you it up,” Diggs said. “I won’t be saying nothing on it. I won’t be speaking on it at all. But there is truth to all rumors, I guess.” Diggs want to play against the Giants on Sunday, but head coach Mike Zimmer said “we’ll have to see” when asked about Diggs’ availability for Week 5, as Chad Graff of The Athletic tweets.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is still hoping the situation “blows over” in due time, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Per Fowler, this is not the first time Diggs has been upset with the Vikings’ “team dynamics,” although it’s not clear — at least publicly — what exactly Diggs is frustrated by at the moment.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said earlier today that he’ll play against the Raiders in Week 6, and Smith has indeed traveled to London with his team, according to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Tribune and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter links). Smith has been dealing with an unspecified personal issue and reportedly hadn’t been “acting like himself ,” per Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com. It’s unclear exactly what is or was going on with Smith, but the Bears have been tight-lipped about the situation. Nevertheless, the 2018 first-round pick appears ready to suit up against Oakland on the other side of the pond.
  • While Smith figures to be available on Sunday, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and backup offensive lineman Ted Larsen are both dealing with injuries and did not make the trip to London, the Bears announced. Gabriel 75 yards and three touchdowns for Chicago in Week 3, but missed last Sunday’s game with a concussion. Larsen filled in for Kyle Long at right guard last week, but Long is expected to start in Week 5 after recovering from a hip injury.
  • In case you missed it, the Packers claimed ex-Ravens edge rusher Tim Williams off waivers.

Revisiting The 2018 Free Agent WR Class

The 2018 free agent class of wide receivers reshaped the market in a number of ways and set the table for lucrative extensions for players like Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Stefon Diggs. But even allowing for the premium that teams often have to pay in the first wave of free agency, the size of the contracts that the 2018 FA wideouts landed raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the league. As we look ahead to Year 2 of some of those contracts, let’s examine the early returns.

Sammy Watkins‘ three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs topped the class in terms of total value, average annual value, and guaranteed money at signing ($30MM). And while his talent certainly merited that type of payday, his injury history was a concern, as he had missed 10 games over the prior three seasons. He ended up missing six games during his first year in Kansas City due to a foot injury, though he did manage to suit up for both of the club’s postseason contests. His raw numbers obviously don’t look too impressive as a result of the missed time, but he did rank fifth among all qualified wideouts in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, meaning he was very valuable on a per-play basis. He also tallied 10 catches for 176 yards during the Chiefs’ two playoff games, and while injury problems may always plague him, he continues to be a factor whenever he’s on the field. KC is likely not regretting Watkins’ deal at this point.

The Bears doubled up at wide receiver by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last March, which allowed them to part ways with Cameron Meredith. Chicago brought in Robinson on a three-year, $42MM pact, even though he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season and had only posted one elite season in his career (which came back in 2015). And after his first year with the Bears, Robinson is still looking for his second 1,000-yard campaign.

There is some reason to hope that he can get there, especially with a fully-healthy offseason and a year of building chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt. A-Rob played in just 13 regular season games last season but was targeted 94 times, and he was brilliant in the Bears’ lone playoff game, posting 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. Football Outsiders’ metrics didn’t love him, but Pro Football Focus assigned him an above-average grade that made him the 28th-best WR in the league. He may not have quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time for him to get there.

Chicago signed Gabriel to a four-year, $26MM deal in the hopes that he could become a big-play threat for Trubisky. But while Gabriel played in all 16 games for the club and saw 93 targets, he managed a fairly modest 10.3 yards-per-reception and two touchdowns. Advanced metrics weren’t overly fond of his work either, and he will be hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019.

It’s still too early to evaluate some of the other significant contracts given to 2018 wide receivers, because the signees saw their seasons derailed by injury. Marqise Lee, who re-upped with the Jaguars on a four-year, $34MM deal, missed the entire 2018 season due to a preseason knee injury, and he is not expected to be back until the end of this year’s training camp. The Dolphins were thinking highly of their three-year, $24MM accord with Albert Wilson, who was performing well for Miami until he landed on IR in October with a serious hip injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 regular season, but he may not see the field until then.

Likewise, Paul Richardson showed flashes in the first year of the five-year, $40MM contract he signed with the Redskins last March, but he landed on IR in November with a shoulder injury.

But at least the aforementioned players are still on their respective teams. Michael Crabtree signed a three-year, $21MM deal with the Ravens after being cut by the Raiders, but he disappeared from Baltimore’s offense when Lamar Jackson became the starter, and Baltimore sent him packing in February (as of this writing, there has been no reported interest in his services). And Donte Moncrief signed a one-year contract for a surprising $9.6MM with the Jaguars, but his mostly disappointing performance in Jacksonville had him searching for a new team this offseason. He ultimately caught on with the Steelers.

All in all, then, the 2018 class of free agent wideouts was a mixed bag. None of the contracts those players signed look like a home run at this point, and while that could change in 2019, those who were surprised by the amount of money thrown at WRs last March were right to be a little skeptical.

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Bears Rumors: Daniels, Robinson, Helfrich

Looking to sport at least two Day 1 starters from this 2018 draft class, the Bears also believe they acquired two first-round-caliber talents in April. Chicago brass placed a Round 1 grade on Iowa center James Daniels, whom the Bears selected at No. 39 overall.

We had him as a first-round player,” Bears director of player personnel Josh Lucas said during an episode of Meet the Rookies (via Bryan Perez of NBC Sports Chicago). “You never know. Every team’s going to have different flavors with interior linemen. It’s just one of those things that you hope he’s there. But based on our grades, based on where we saw the top 32 players in the draft, we definitely weren’t anticipating him being there.”

The Warren, Ohio, native served as the Hawkeyes’ starting center for the past two seasons before declaring for the draft after his junior year. However, the Bears plan to use him at left guard to replace Josh Sitton, per Perez. Cody Whitehair will make the transition back to center full-time. He served as Chicago’s snapper in 16 games as a rookie in 2016 but saw action at both center and guard in 2017.

Here’s the latest from the Windy City:

  • In recovering from the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season and his time with the Jaguars, Allen Robinson did not take part in most of the Bears’ offseason work. However, the former Pro Bowl target is expected to be full go by the time the Bears convene for camp July 19, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com reports. Robinson will be playing on a $14MM-per-year contract and will be essential to Chicago’s passing attack from Day 1, provided he can shake off the knee injury.
  • On the subject of Bears receivers, Taylor Gabriel, not Robinson, will be slotted at the position that Tyreek Hill plays in this scheme, Perez notes. Although Robinson delivered dominant work on deep balls with Blake Bortles in a breakout 2015 season, Gabriel profiles as the player who more closely resembles Hill on this new-look receiving corps. He’s twice averaged more than 16 yards per reception in a four-year career.
  • Chicago’s new offense won’t just be an NFC version of Andy Reid‘s. While Chiefs viewers who find their way to Bears games on Sundays will see familiar concepts, Matt Nagy‘s attack will also contain elements from OC Mark Helfrich‘s former Oregon offenses, Mitch Trubisky said (via Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, on Twitter). The 2017 No. 2 overall pick said the Bears’ new offense is more complex than he’s accustomed to, so it will be interesting to see how the North Carolina product looks with a mostly new cast of pass-catchers. With the Chiefs using plenty of college concepts in recent years, and the Bears hiring a former college HC, Trubisky could be piloting one of the more unique offenses in the NFL this season.

Bears To Sign WR Taylor Gabriel

The Bears’ offense is looking downright scary. Chicago has agreed to sign wide receiver Taylor Gabriel to a four-year deal, according to former NFL player Andrew Hawkins (on Twitter). The news has been confirmed by Peter Schrager of NFL.com (Twitter link).

The four-year deal is worth $26MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal includes $14MM guaranteed with a maximum value of $28MM.

Earlier this month, Gabriel bid farewell to the Falcons as he anticipated better offers to come in from other teams. He found the proposal he was seeking from Chicago, which has changed its offensive attack for the better.

In 2016, Gabriel put himself on the map with 35 receptions for 379 yards and six touchdowns. Last year, those numbers dropped off a bit with 33 receptions for 378 yards and one score. Still, he brings lots of speed to the Bears’ passing game, which also now includes free agent pickups Allen Robinson and Trey Burton.

After settling for bargain buys last year in the form of Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, the Bears committed to serious shopping this year. Chicago has been extremely active in free agency thus far, allocating much of its cap space to helping a passing game that injuries decimated last season.

The Bears were without Cameron Meredith and Kevin White last season, with tight end Zach Miller going down with a scary injury as well. The team tendered Meredith, an RFA, at the original-round level and still has White under contract. But Robinson, Burton and now Gabriel are going to play key roles in the Windy City.

Once waived by the Browns, Gabriel then caught on as a key target for the NFC champion Falcons in 2016. The six touchdowns Gabriel caught that year, though, represent three-fourths of Gabriel’s TDs over a four-year career. His per-catch average plummeted by five yards, to 11.5, in 2017. But he wasn’t the only Falcon to produce worse numbers in Steve Sarkisian‘s offense compared to Kyle Shanahan‘s.

Now, Mitch Trubisky will have a chance to develop a rapport with several playmakers with higher-end potential.

[RELATED: Bears Depth Chart]

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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.

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Taylor Gabriel To Leave Falcons?

It sounds like pending free agent Taylor Gabriel won’t be back with the Falcons. On Thursday, Gabriel took to Twitter to bid farewell to Atlanta fans and the organization. Taylor Gabriel (Vertical)

I’m very grateful to the owner, [GM, and] also the coaches for giving me that opportunity, but [I’m excited] for the new team and city that welcomes me with open arms,” Gabriel wrote.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff recently indicated that Gabriel would be allowed to test free agency, but it sounds as though the team has also told Gabriel’s camp that they will not be in on the bidding process. After another solid year, the 27-year-old may be in line for a pay bump.

The Falcons retained Gabriel with a second round tender last year, giving him a $2.81MM salary for 2017. Gabriel responded by catching 33 passes for 378 yards and one touchdown, numbers that were admittedly down from his 2016 stat line (35 passes, 379 yards, and six scores).

This offseason will mark Gabriel’s first turn through free agency. Free agents are permitted to speak with teams beginning on March 12 and can put pen to paper on March 14.

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NFC South Notes: Falcons, Panthers, Bucs

The Falcons have opened extension talks with quarterback Matt Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff told reporters, including Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (Twitter link), at the combine today. Ryan, 32, has only one year left on his current contract at a cost of $19.25MM in base salary. On an annual basis, Ryan ranks just 14th among quarterbacks, but any new deal will likely catapult him into $28MM+ range. Atlanta has previously expressed a willingness to make Ryan the highest-paid signal-caller in the NFL, so Ryan and his camp may prefer to wait until free agent passer Kirk Cousins inks a new contract (expected to be worth ~$30MM annually) before working out his own pact.

Here’s more from Atlanta and the rest of the NFC South:

  • Left tackle Jake Matthews is set to play on his fifth-year option in 2018, and Dimitroff indicated the Falcons are interested in signing both Matthews and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to multi-year deals, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Matthews has settled in as an above-average tackle since being selected sixth overall in the 2014 draft. He’s scheduled to earn $12.496MM next season. Jarrett, likewise, has developed into one of the league’s best interior defenders, and graded 14th among 122 defensive tackles a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and linebacker Kemal Ishmael will both be allowed to hit free agency, Dimitroff said today (Twitter links via McClure). That doesn’t necessarily mean Atlanta doesn’t have interest in retaining either player, but the club will allow Gabriel and Ishmael to gauge their value on the open market. Last season, Gabriel regressed from his excellent 2016 campaign, while Ishmael spent the majority of his time on special teams.
  • Bids for the Panthers franchise haven’t yet been entered, but the sale of the club is likely to be wrapped up in time for the NFL’s spring meeting in late May, report David Newton and Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. At that point, the league’s finance committee must approve any potential deal, and 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners must vote to go forward with the sale. Presently, the only two serious contenders to purchase the Panthers from current owner Jerry Richardson are hedge fund manager/minority Steelers owner David Tepper and South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro, per the ESPN scribes.
  • While the Buccaneers have had conversations with free agent backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, they aren’t nearing a new deal, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter links). Fitzpatrick, 35, managed a 2-1 record in relief of starter Jameis Winston last season while completing 59% of his passes for six touchdowns and three interceptions. He earned $3MM for his year of work in Tampa Bay.

Taylor Gabriel Signs RFA Tender

Taylor Gabriel will be back with the Falcons as they continue their offseason program. The wide receiver signed his RFA tender, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).

Barring a new contract, the fourth-year wideout will make $2.81MM on the second-round tender this season. Gabriel figures to again be a key part of Atlanta’s passing attack, one that dazzled last season under Kyle Shanahan‘s guidance.

Gabriel turned in a second season of quality complementary work, with his 579-yard showing in 2016 representing the second-most of his career. Shanahan’s one year in Cleveland helped the then-rookie target to a 621-yard campaign in 2014. The six receiving touchdowns last season, though, were far and away Gabriel’s career high.

He’s yet to excel outside of Shanahan’s stewardship, though, so 2017 figures to be a critical year for the 5-foot-8 performer as he makes a case for long-term employment in Atlanta or elsewhere as a free agent. The 26-year-old receiver stands to be a UFA in 2018. For now, he’ll return to his post alongside Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu after rewarding the Falcons for their prescient preseason waiver claim.

 

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Falcons To Place Second-Round Tender On Taylor Gabriel

The Falcons will apply a $2.81MM second-round tender to restricted free agent wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Doing so will entitle Atlanta to a team’s second-round pick if that club signs Gabriel to an offer sheet and the Falcons don’t match it. Gabriel told McClure he’d like to be a “Falcon forever,” though, and the two sides will be able to negotiate a long-term contract if they want.

Taylor Gabriel

The speedy Gabriel just finished his first season in Atlanta, which claimed him off waivers after the Browns jettisoned him leading up to Week 1. That proved to an excellent move for the Falcons, with whom Gabriel averaged a lofty 16.5 yards per catch on 35 grabs and scored seven touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing) in 13 regular-season games. The 26-year-old then added another nine catches for 171 yards in the playoffs for the NFC champions.

Since entering the NFL in as an undrafted free agent in 2014, the 5-foot-8, 167-pound Gabriel has amassed 99 catches, 1,441 yards (14.2 YPC) and eight scores scores in 42 games.

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