Weston Richburg

West Rumors: 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos

It’s been a long offseason for the 49ers, who have seen numerous key players deal with injuries throughout the spring and summer. Add more to the list of San Francisco talents set to miss the preseason. Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg are both unlikely to play until Week 1. Given $18MM guaranteed, McKinnon is still dealing with knee trouble after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. The sixth-year running back received a platelet-rich plasma injection on his knee and is expected to miss the 49ers’ August slate, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com notes. The team activated him from the PUP list Tuesday, but Kyle Shanahan said his prized 2018 offseason signing experienced significant soreness after going through individual drills the past two days. Richburg, who remains on the active/PUP list after a January knee surgery, is being targeted a Week 1 return. So are Nick Bosa and Jason Verrett. The 49ers hope Dee Ford, who received a PRP injection on his injured knee, can play by the team’s dress-rehearsal preseason game.

Here’s the latest West news from outside of San Francisco:

  • With the Seahawks in desperate need of available pass rushers come Week 1, more blitz opportunities may be on tap. Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks (should he be on the field) are in position to be used more as rushers. “If we can play really good D, it’s going to be because of Bobby and K.J. and Mychal and the guys in the linebacker spot. We’re going to utilize them as much as we can to be a factor in all aspects, run and pass [defense],” Pete Carroll said, via ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson. “Those guys are really good pass defenders, and they love coming off the edge too. We’ll plan on using those guys a lot.” After Frank Clark‘s departure, the Seahawks have Ziggy Ansah and L.J. Collier injured. Jarran Reed incurred a six-game suspension. Wright has not collected a sack since 2016, when he had four. Wagner had 4.5 that year but recorded 2.5 since.
  • Theo Riddick will earn a $2MM 2019 base salary with the Broncos, and $750K of it is fully guaranteed, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Another $250K will be available in per-game roster bonuses. Overall, Riddick signed for $2.5MM with $1MM guaranteed. This makes it a near-certainty Riddick will appear on the Broncos’ 53-man roster in September.
  • The Broncos are already down Todd Davis for multiple weeks; they will be without one of his top backups for longer than that. Joe Jones suffered a triceps injury this week, and a second opinion delivered more clarity on the inside linebacker’s timeline. Jones will be out between six and eight weeks, Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic tweets. But he will not need surgery, which could increase his chances of making the Broncos. If Jones hits IR before the Broncos finalize their 53-man unit, the special-teamer will be ineligible to return for them this season.
  • Returning 2018 fifth-round pick Johnny Townsend would seemingly be in line to keep his job as the Raiders‘ punter, but Jon Gruden said rookie UDFA A.J. Cole has put himself in the conversation to unseat the incumbent, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (on Twitter). Cole would be an option to handle Raiders kickoffs as well.

49ers’ Weston Richburg, D.J. Reed Undergo Surgery

49ers center Weston Richburg and cornerback D.J. Reed both recently underwent surgery, leaving their availability for the start of training camp in question, San Francisco announced today. Richburg’s operation addressed an ongoing knee issue, while Reed went under the knife to correct a shoulder injury.

Richburg inked a five-year, $47.5MM contract with the 49ers last offseason, and proceeded to play in 15 games despite dealing with his knee injury. His production wasn’t great, as Pro Football Focus assigned Richburg the lowest grade (51.9) of his five-year career, but it’s fair to assume his health questions factored into his reduced level of play.

Although Richburg could return for training camp, knee injuries can often last longer than initially expected. The 49ers don’t have a ton of depth along the interior of their offensive line, so they could potentially be in trouble if Richburg is forced to miss any regular season action. Erik Magnuson would presumably take over at center, but San Francisco could look to free agency and/or the draft to shore up their line in case Richburg isn’t ready for the 2019 campaign.

Reed, a fifth-round pick last year, appeared in 15 games (two starts) for the Niners. At 5’9″, 188 pounds, he’s mostly suited for the slot, and that’s where he primarily played in 2018. All told, Reed saw action on roughly a third of San Francisco’s defensive snaps and 43.2% of the club’s special teams plays.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Targeted Jerick McKinnon, Weston Richburg, Others

The Jets looked to be Kirk Cousinsbackup plan, and the franchise had to move on to some its own contingency signings soon after. Most notably, the Jets sought a backfield option that ended up in San Francisco.

Despite entering free agency with more than $90MM in cap space, the Jets could not land Jerick McKinnon. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports the Mike Maccagnan-led franchise put a “full-court press” on the former Vikings running back, only to see him join the 49ers instead.

While McKinnon looked to be the main target that got away, the Jets also had interest in Weston Richburg, with “strong plays” for defenders DaQuan Jones and Barkevious Mingo also not working out for Gang Green, Mehta reports.

Once the Jets didn’t sign McKinnon, they moved on to Isaiah Crowell. However, Mehta reports the Jets agreeing to terms with McKinnon would not have precluded them from adding Crowell as well. Although, the team already has Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.

Mehta reports the Jets felt their offer was strong enough to close a deal with the 25-year-old McKinnon, but the team also felt Kyle Shanahan was determined to win a bidding war. The end result shows that to be the case. The four-year, $30MM contract makes McKinnon one of the league’s highest-paid running backs.

The 49ers also beat the Jets on Richburg, but it doesn’t sound like the competition was as fierce between the two franchises as it was for McKinnon. New York eyed Richburg but knew the ex-Giants center was going to sign for more than what the team was willing to pay him. Despite having less cap space than the Jets, the 49ers signed Richburg for five years and $47.5MM.

Jones ended up re-upping with the Titans instead of replacing Muhammad Wilkerson on the Jets’ front, signing for three years and $21MM. Mingo will be one of the players the Seahawks turn to in an effort to replace Michael Bennett. The Jets’ interest in Mingo may not have been too strong, with it only taking a two-year, $6.8MM deal for the Seahawks to sign him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49ers To Sign Weston Richburg

The 49ers will sign center Weston Richburg to a five-year deal when free agency officially opens, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the deal is worth $47.5MM, with $28.5MM in guaranteed money ($16.5MM fully guaranteed).

Richburg only appeared in four games in 2017 while dealing with a concussion, but he’s been since been medically cleared. The 26-year-old offers 50 games of experience at the pivot, but teams were reportedly considering Richburg at guard, as well. Richburg, a former second-round pick, hasn’t played guard since his rookie campaign, but any added versatility could potentially give him more value.

PFR recently ranked Richburg as the No. 34 overall free agent on the board, and he was one of the best interior lineman available. At his position, Richburg competed with the likes of Ryan JensenMatt Slauson, and John Sullivan for free agent dollars. Richburg had reportedly drawn early interest from the crosstown Jets, who have a glaring need at center.

The 49ers inked veteran center Daniel Kilgore to an extension earlier this offseason, so it appears either he or Richburg will move to guard. San Francisco also has Laken Tomlinson and Zane Beadles on the interior of its offensive line, while Brandon Fusco — who played well on a one-year deal in 2018 — is an unrestricted free agent.

San Francisco is expected to be active during this year’s free agent period. Even after inking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year deal that contains a $37MM cap charge in 2018, the 49ers still had about $67MM in available cap space.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Giants Won’t Re-Sign Weston Richburg

The Giants are not interested in re-signing center Weston Richburg, who will reach free agency when the market opens next Wednesday, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. Instead, New York plans to tender restricted free agent Brett Jones and deploy him as its starting center.

Richburg only appeared in four games in 2017 while dealing with a concussion, but he’s been since been medically cleared. The 26-year-old offers 50 games of experience at the pivot, but teams are reportedly considering Richburg at guard, as well. Richburg, a former second-round pick, hasn’t played guard since his rookie campaign, but any added versatility could potentially give him more value.

PFR recently ranked Richburg as the No. 34 overall free agent on the board, and he’s one of the best interior lineman available. At his position, Richburg will compete with the likes of Ryan Jensen, Matt Slauson, and John Sullivan for free agent dollars. Richburg has reportedly drawn early interest from the crosstown Jets, who have a glaring need at center.

The Giants are expected to use the second-round tender on Jones, per Schwartz. Not only would that tender entitle Jones to a $2.914MM salary in 2018, but it would allow Big Blue to reap a second-round pick if Jones inks an un-matched offer sheet with another club. Jones, 26, started 13 games in the absence of Richburg, and graded as the NFL’s No. 18 center among 37 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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Giants Notes: Darkwa, Richburg, Bromley

Although he’s drawing interest from the cross-town Jets, the Giants still want to re-sign running back Orleans Darkwa, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. Darkwa, 26, broke out with Big Blue in 2017, posting career-highs in starts (11), yards (751), and touchdowns (five). A former undrafted free agent out of Tulane, Darkwa had only managed 287 rushing yards in the three prior years of his NFL tenure. The Giants could conceivably lose both Darkwa and fellow free agent Shane Vereen to the open market, which would leave them with Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Terrell Watson, and Jalen Simmons on their running back depth chart.

Here’s more on the Giants, all courtesy of Raanan:

  • Teams around the league are viewing Giants free agent Weston Richburg as both a center and a guard, per Raanan. Richburg has played at the pivot for the past three years, but he spend time at guard during his rookie season in 2014. Although injuries limited him to only four games in 2017, Richburg will be the best center available on the open market, leading a positional group that also includes Ryan Jensen, John Sullivan, Russell Bodine, and Travis Swanson, but he could increase his number of suitors by exhibiting versatility.
  • The Giants could field five new starters along their offensive line in 2018, a source tells Raanan. While that overhaul likely wouldn’t removing Brett Jones, who filled in for Richburg at center last season, but it would still represent a massive overhaul. Notably, changeover at all five positions would mean New York has moved on from former first-round pick, and incumbent left tackle, Ereck Flowers. Panthers guard Andrew Norwell could be part of the renovation, as Giants general manager Dave Gettleman reportedly “loves” the Carolina free agent, Raanan writes in a separate piece.
  • A number of Giants free agents are unlikely to remain with the club next year, per Raanan. Defensive lineman Jay Bromley and Kerry Wynn aren’t expected to re-sign, as neither is a good fit for new defensive coordinator James Bettcher‘s 3-4 scheme. Bromley, notably, is reportedly looking for a larger role on defense, according to Raanan, as he’s spent the majority of his career as a reserve. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, additionally, doesn’t appear to be on the Giants’ radar, as the club is looking to get younger at the second level of its defense.
  • Gettleman will likely try to improve the Giants’ locker room culture by inking established veterans on the defensive side of the ball, and Raanan lists incumbent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and Dolphins’ special teams ace Michael Thomas as players New York could sign for their leadership.

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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Giants Notes: Darnold, Richburg, Pugh

Dave Gettleman fired Marc Ross shortly after he took over as Giants GM, but the longtime Big Blue VP of player evaluation may have shed some light as to which players previous Giants scouts were high on and whom the franchise could target with its No. 2 pick. Of the quarterbacks, Ross singled out Sam Darnold during an appearance on NFL Live (via Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com). He identified Saquon Barkley as well and even pointed to Notre Dame guard phenom Quenton Nelson.

You have to look at a quarterback, ut it has to be the right guy. You can’t just force a guy,” said Ross, who interviewed to be the Giants’ GM in December. “The right guy for them, on and off the field, I would think would be Sam Darnold. He’s ultra-talented, he’s a playmaker, he’s a winner. And he’s also very clean off the field. What I mean by that: no issues, great leader, great teammate, great person.”

Darnold would have a chance to develop while Eli Manning — whom the current regime immediately took off the trade market, judging by everything that’s been said thus far this offseason. Ross’ stance on Nelson mostly comes from Gettleman’s comments regarding the franchise being desperate for offensive line upgrades, and it would be unusual for a guard to go this high. But he did seem to echo a theme he’d heard while in his previous post with the Giants.

All the years of talking about, ‘The Giants need O-line; the Giants need O-line,’” Ross said, “they may even go that route.”

Here’s more Giants news prior to the team’s trip to Indianapolis.

  • Weston Richburg will likely leave as a free agent, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv notes, but the Giants will probably gauge his price at the Combine. Raanan reports multiple teams view the longtime Giants center as a quality starter despite the concussion that cost Richburg 12 games last season. A 2014 second-round pick, Richburg performed better in 2015 and ’16.
  • The Giants will also likely examine Justin Pugh‘s interest in coming back at the Combine, Vacchiano writes. Pugh’s 2017 injury-marred season will not deter the Giants from re-signing him, Raanan reports. A back injury cost Pugh eight games last season, but it looks like the 2013 first-rounder will be a higher priority to retain than Richburg. Pugh did not undergo surgery and said he would like to be back with the Giants next season. It won’t be cheap, however, and Raanan listed the Jaguars — who have Pugh’s college coach (Doug Marrone) and former NFL coach (Tom Coughlin) as key organizational pillars — as an obvious fit if the guard/tackle leaves the Big Apple.
  • Ross is high on Baker Mayfield but doesn’t see an obvious fit in New York. The Giants had a meeting scheduled with Mayfield at the Senior Bowl that didn’t end up taking place, and the Heisman Trophy winner has said a job learning behind Manning would be ideal for him.
  • Orleans Darkwa could be a candidate to return on a low-cost deal, Raanan and Vacchiano note. Raanan expects the running back to have suitors on the market. New York will probably be looking to upgrade at running back after struggling on the ground again last season, but Darkwa would make sense as a complementary back. He led the Giants with 751 rushing yards last season and averaged 4.4 per carry.
  • While technically forbidden because of tampering, Vacchiano notes the Giants will “absolutely” know where they stand with UFA guard Andrew Norwell. The former Gettleman UDFA find with the Panthers has been linked to the Giants, but considering the issues teams have had finding and developing linemen this decade, Norwell could potentially eclipse Kevin Zeitler‘s record guard deal come March.

Pauline’s Latest: Giants, Jets, Colts, Cowboys

The Giants are expected to make a run at pending free agent guard Andrew Norwell, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com. New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman originally signed Norwell as an undrafted free agent when he was still Panthers GM, so there is an obvious connection and familiarity level between the two. Additionally, the G-Men have a clear need to improve an offensive line which could theoretically lose guard/tackle Justin Pugh to free agency. Norwell is not only young (26 years old), but extremely talented, as Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s third-best guard in 2017. Fellow guards such as Kelechi Osemele and Kevin Zeitler have recently inked contracts with $11.5MM+ annual values, and Norwell should meet or exceed that threshold.

Here’s more from Pauline:

  • If the Giants push hard to sign Norwell, they likely won’t have the funds available to sign free agent center Weston Richburg. That doesn’t mean Richburg will necessarily leave New York, however, as the Jets reportedly have interest in pursuing the 26-year-old pivot, per Pauline. Gang Green is in need of a new center given that Wesley Johnson — who started 15 games a season ago — is set to hit the open market in March. Football Outsiders ranked the Jets 29th in adjusted line yards when running towards the guard/center gaps in 2017, so Richburg would offer clear improvement. Richburg appeared in only four games last season (after missing only two contests during his first three years in the league), but he’s been cleared of any ongoing concussion concerns.
  • Colts general manager Chris Ballard could be active during his second offseason at the helm, as Pauline hears Indianapolis is hoping to acquire as many as three new linebackers plus several cornerbacks during the free agent period. Former Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is expected to become the Colts’ next defensive coordinator under presumptive head coach Josh McDaniels, so any additions will likely be made with Eberflus’ scheme in mind. At cornerback, specifically, Indianapolis could seek to re-sign 2017 breakout star Rashaan Melvin, who will hit free agency coming off the best campaign of his career.
  • The Cowboys, too, have potential need areas in mind that could be addressed over the coming months, and linebacker and edge rusher are among them, reports Pauline. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is the top free agent defender on the market, and Dallas will almost certainly retain him via the franchise tag if a long-term deal can’t be arranged. Meanwhile, the Cowboys could express interest in Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, per Pauline, who is expected to “blow up” the scouting combine with an athletic performance.