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Cowboys Re-Sign Darian Thompson

The Cowboys have retained safety Darian Thompson, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network. After losing safety Jeff Heath to the Raiders earlier today, the team has maintained some continuity at the position.

A third-round pick in the 2016 draft by the Giants, Thompson started all 16 games of his second professional season in New York, but mediocre play and an injury led to his release in just his third season. The Cowboys soon picked him up and he appeared in 10 games at the close of 2018, but failed to record any statistics.

In his first full season in Dallas, Thompson made 4 starts but appeared in the Cowboys defensive backfield in 15 games throughout the season. Thompson recorded 45 tackles, 3 passes defended, 1.5 sacks, and received the 61st highest grade for a safety of the 86 qualified players, per Pro Football Focus.

Vikings Extend FB C.J. Ham

The Vikings have signed their fullback C.J. Ham to a three-year extension, per his agent’s Twitter account. No details have emerged on the specific dollar value of the extension, although no deal would be expected to break the bank.

Ham has been one of the few fullbacks left in a league that has relied less and less on the blocking focused fullback. Of the 12 fullbacks who qualified for grading by Pro Football Focus last season, Ham solidly ranked in the middle of the pack at 7th.

Over his three years in Minnesota, Ham has appeared in 47 games (10 starts), caught 35 passes for 302 yards, received 20 carries for 38 yards, and recorded two touchdowns.

NFL And NFLPA Will Meet Following CBA Vote

While nearly all major sports leagues have either suspended or canceled upcoming events, the NFL has yet to make any drastic changes to their offseason schedule. Obviously, unlike most other leagues, that are currently in season, the NFL lacks the same pressure since their largest public events (e.g. NFL Draft, Training Camp, etc.) are still at least a month away, but as the COVID-19 (a.k.a coronavirus) epidemic has reached the level of a global pandemic, it has become clearer that even the NFL will be impacted.

According to Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the NFL and NFLPA will meet on Sunday to discuss short and long-term plans for the offseason in reaction to the virus. Furthermore, Maske notes that free agency, at least at the moment, appears set to stay on schedule, however, there seems to be a real possibility offseason workouts are delayed.

While free agency does not require travel from players, agents, and teams, it does seem peculiar to try and continue business as usual amidst such abnormal circumstances. Mike Klis of 9News pointed out on Twitter that “there are competitive disadvantages for teams that have shut down their buildings.” It’s also reasonable to expect members from all around the NFL community to contract the virus. Owners, front-office employees, coaches, agents, and players are all at risk and one wonders if as soon as one person is diagnosed with COVID-19 the league will suspend operation (much in the way the NBA reacted to Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis).

Another complicating factor for the league is the ongoing CBA negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA. The NFLPA is currently voting on the league’s proposal and both sides may be more willing to delay the offseason if the deal is ratified. Granted, there are a number of critics and arguments in opposition of the deal as well.

NFL Could Postpone Free Agency

While reports earlier today indicated the NFL has no plans to alter the start of free agency due to COVID-19, that could change soon. The league may announce on Sunday the delay of the free agent period, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

The NFLPA is scheduled to vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement by Saturday night, so the league would wait until voting has closed in order to stop further delays to that negotiation process. Currently, the deadline to apply the franchise or transition tag is Monday at 11:59am ET, followed immediately by the opening of the legal tampering period at 12:00pm ET.

Free agency, then, is set to officially open next Wednesday at 4pm ET. While many other sports leagues have suspended their seasons, the NFL has as of yet made no such move to delay the beginning of its offseason. However, with coronavirus threats ramping up every day, the league may decide to change its plans.

As Florio notes, free agents likely wouldn’t be allowed (or willing) to take the ceremonial trip to their new destination in order to sign a contract and hold a press conference. Additionally, from a fairly superficial standpoint, it’s unclear how much publicity would be given to transactions, especially as more serious COVID-19 issues arise each day.

Draft Notes: Shenault, Wills, Moss, Niang

One of the many high-end wide receiver prospects in this draft, Colorado product Laviska Shenault will need surgery. Shenault will undergo a procedure that will sideline him for more than a month, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The surgery is scheduled for next week, per Troy Renck of Denver7 (on Twitter). Shenault did not run well in this week’s 40-yard dash, clocking 4.58 seconds, and this injury helps explain that. The early-entry wideout is dealing with a core muscle injury and pubic bone inflammation, per Schefter. Shenault did not run a second 40. This could impact Shenault’s draft stock, but even given his injury history and the abundance of wide receivers in this class, it is unlikely he will fall out of the second round. The 6-foot-1, 227-pound wideout has been on the draft radar for a while, beginning with a 1,011-yard, nine-touchdown 2018 sophomore season.

Here is the latest from the draft world:

  • One prospect who might’ve seen his draft stock dip this week was Alabama offensive lineman Jedrick Wills. Wills seemed to be a lock to be a first-round pick as an offensive tackle, but it looks like a position change could be in his future. Some teams have taken him off their tackle boards all together and are projecting him as a guard at the next level, per Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com, who writes that this is causing his stock to slip and that teams are “concerned about his ability to mentally process a complex blocking scheme.”
  • LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss, the son of the legendary Randy Moss, got some tough injury news at the combine. His physical revealed a Jones fracture in his foot and he will undergo surgery, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link). While Pelissero notes that he’ll be ready well in advance of the regular season, this will unfortunately cause him to miss a good chunk of his first offseason program. Moss bursted onto the scene out of nowhere this past season, and had been regarded as a late riser and potential Day 2 pick. It’s unclear but this could hurt his stock a bit.
  • There was also some good medical news, as TCU offensive tackle Lucas Niang got a positive report following his November hip surgery, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets. Rapoport writes that Niang is now considered one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had him going 77th overall in a recent mock draft, although he could go higher with this fresh clean bill of health.

 

Cardinals Could Trade David Johnson, Want To Retain Kenyan Drake

We heard a lot of Cardinals news yesterday, including that general manager Steve Keim said the team won’t be cutting running back David Johnson. Releasing Johnson would result in an astronomical $16.2MM dead cap hit, essentially making it impossible. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Johnson will be back in Arizona in 2020, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network cautions (Twitter video link).

Rapoport says that the Cardinals could look to trade Johnson this offseason, looking for a deal where they would eat some of his salary. He also floated the possibility of Arizona attaching a draft pick with Johnson to get a team to take on his deal, similar to what the Texans did with Brock Osweiler a few years ago. Johnson’s reps certainly did a great job negotiating his contract, and it’s now one of the most burdensome pacts in the entire league. Just a couple of years ago Johnson was viewed as one of the best running backs in the league, which earned him a three-year, $39MM deal.

He cratered immediately after signing it, and he struggled with injuries last year. Even when he was healthy he simply wasn’t a difference maker, and the team pretty much completely stopped giving him the ball late in the year. Down the stretch he took a backseat to Kenyan Drake, who the Cardinals acquired in a trade with the Dolphins.

Speaking of Drake, Rapoport also said that the team wants to keep the impending free agent in the desert, either with a new deal or on the franchise tag. Drake dominated during the second half of the season with Arizona, rushing for 643 yards and eight touchdowns in only eight games while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. If the Cardinals aren’t able to work something out with Drake and he walks, maybe Johnson will be able to salvage his career, but right now it looks like he won’t be regaining his featured role in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense anytime soon.

Texans Release Vernon Hargreaves

The Texans have released cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. By cutting the one-time first-round pick, the Texans will avoid paying him $10MM in 2020, his fifth-year option season. 

The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, so the Texans will not be left with any dead money on the cap by dropping Hargreaves. The 24-year-old (25 in June) was dropped by the Bucs last year after he clashed with head coach Bruce Arians, but the Texans were largely complimentary of his effort in the second half of the season.

“Vernon came in here, he works very hard,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said in January (via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle). “Very hard worker, guy that really showed up to practice every day, learned the system. I don’t think that’s easy to be able to come in, in the middle of a season, and really later than that, and play that nickel position is not easy…So, I give a lot of credit to Vernon. There’s a lot of things that he’s going to work hard to improve upon. We’re going to help them with that, but I think Vernon stepped into a tough situation and really made the best of it.”

With that in mind, it’s possible that the Texans could circle back to Hargreaves at a lesser rate. As a former No. 11 overall pick, there’s still plenty of room for him to grow. Besides, the Texans will need some capable bodies at cornerback.

With the Texans, Hargreaves notched 21 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and two passes defended in six games.

Patriots Extend Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio

After months of speculation surrounding Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, it appears the well-regarded executive will be staying in New England for some time. Per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the Patriots and Caserio agreed to a multi-year extension earlier today.

Caserio has been the center of rumors for some time. As head coach Bill Belichick‘s right-hand man, many teams have at least made overtures at poaching Caserio to run their player operations. Prior to the hiring of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers, San Francisco reportedly was targetting Caserio to work alongside longtime Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. This past offseason, a different former New England assistant, Bill O’Brien, tried to bring Caserio to Houston to help him run the Texans player operations.

Instead, the Patriots filed a tampering charge against the Texans. It appeared to just pause Caserio’s shift. With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, it seemed logical that he would move to Houston as soon as this season ended. However, things have changed. Houston plans to move forward with O’Brien in charge of both player personnel and coaching and Caserio will be staying in New England.

With some major franchise decisions looming for the Pats, Caserio’s familiarity with the organization will surely be appreciated by a group that has to decide whether or not they want to continue with Tom Brady at quarterback and, if they retain him, must decide who his successor will be.

NFL Upholds Steelers Mason Rudolph $50,000 Fine

The NFL is finally done litigating the infamous fight between the Browns and Steelers on November 14th of last season. The fight’s signature moment came when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett swung Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph‘s helmet at his bare head. The league’s discipline, which included numerous fines and suspensions for players on both teams, was headlined by an indefinite suspension of Garrett. It was reported earlier today that the league reinstated Garrett and, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the league finally reviewed Rudolph’s appeal of his $50,000 fine and upheld their original decision.

When the news of Garrett’s reinstatement originally broke, one of Garafolo’s colleagues at the NFL Network, Ian Rapoport, noted a previous report from Garafolo that Rudolph’s appeal had yet to be decided due to a backlog at the league office. However, Garafolo quickly responded to Rapoport citing “a source” that informed him the decision to uphold Rudolph’s fine had indeed been made.

At the time of the incident, Garrett claimed Rudolph used a racial slur, which sparked his angry outburst. However, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the team told Garrett to keep the allegation between him and the league before his disciplinary meeting. The allegation leaked to the media nearly a week after the incident and the league claimed they found no evidence to substantiate Garrett’s claims. Regardless, Rudolph did appear to instigate Garrett in the incident and thus, was fined $50,000.

49ers GM: We Want To Keep Armstead

The 49ers will do everything they can – within reason – to keep the band together. After the defensive line lifted them to a Super Bowl appearance, GM John Lynch says he wants to keep pending free agent Arik Armstead for the long haul. 

[RELATED: Latest On 49ers, Jimmie Ward]

Arik’s an excellent player. He’s had an excellent year. Everything is on the table,” Lynch told reporters on Thursday (via Jeff Kerr of CBSSports.com). “We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time.”

Armstead was responsible for ten of the D-Line’s 48 sacks in 2019. Before that, he totaled just nine sacks across four seasons. The disparity could be cause for concern, but others see this as the beginning of something special for the former first-round pick.

Naturally, the Niners want to keep him, but they have other fish to fry and limited fiscal flexibility. As of this writing, the Niners have less than $14MM in cap room. They can shed some contracts to create extra space, but they still have to leave enough cash to tight end George Kittle and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

If they can’t work out a multi-year deal with Armstead, they could employ the franchise tag – something that Armstead says he’s not necessarily opposed to.

I would love being here,” Armstead said recently. “Trying to go back to the Super Bowl, so however that is seen or has to get done, it’s not really my decision what they want to do with me.”