As the ink on Derek Carr's five-year, $125 million deal with the Oakland Raiders was drying on Thursday, a few things became apparent.

Chief among those things in Detroit is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his agent, Tom Condon, now have a baseline to work with in negotiations with the team.

While Stafford said last week that he didn't have a timetable for finishing up a contract extension, having Carr's contract completed could change his thinking.

Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders, Matthew Stafford, Detroit LionsKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatthew Stafford has to be looking at the $125 million Derek Carr just got as a jumping-off point for a new deal with the Lions.

The biggest question now isn’t if a deal will get done between Stafford and the Lions; it’s when. Stafford said last week that he wasn't worried about what happened with the contracts of Carr and Washington's Kirk Cousins, but it should make a difference in negotiations. That's just good business strategy.

Stafford could wait to see if Cousins gets a deal done, too, but that negotiation has a definitive timeline of July 17 because of the franchise tag. So the Lions and Stafford can put together a framework now for what the money could look like for Detroit’s franchise quarterback and when the two will finalize a deal.

Stafford, if he signs a similar deal to Carr's, will potentially double his career earnings to date if he finishes whatever contract he signs. So far in Stafford’s career, he has pulled in almost $111 million in cash according to Spotrac, with another $16.5 million due this year.

The Lions understand they are going to have to pay Stafford. They’ve always known this, from the moment general manager Bob Quinn said he’d like Stafford to be the team’s quarterback for the long-term future. This is what the long term, contract-wise, was going to look like. Stafford, for as much as he deflects conversations about his contract publicly, hinted at what he was looking at when he said in April that he sees teams around the league build successful squads with high-quarterback salaries and that the cap is “malleable.”

If a team wants to pay a player, the team will make it happen. And the Lions have made it clear they want to pay Stafford. That’s something Quinn has said and Lions team president Rod Wood reiterated to ESPN last week when he was asked if he was comfortable making the 29-year-old the highest-paid player in the NFL.

“I’m comfortable in getting a deal done with him, and we’ll see where that ends up,” Wood told ESPN. “It’s going to be whatever it takes, I think, to make it happen from both sides, and whether he becomes the highest paid or not, it’ll be a short-lived designation because, as Bob said, and I think it’s true, if you’re in the top whatever of quarterbacks, when your time comes up, your time comes up and then somebody else’s time comes up and they become the highest.

“It’s a premium position, and you need to have a very, very good player at that position to be credible and competitive, and I think we do have that, and we’re working on getting a deal done.”

The highest-paid designation, though, seems more likely for Stafford now that Carr’s deal is complete. Stafford is next up -- or close enough to it that a deal realistically can happen soon.

They lacked a catchy moniker -- the Hogs were still around, but going on 10 years -- or a player who grabbed everyone's attention for his greatness. There was no Joe Montana or Tom Brady; so the 1991 Washington Redskins sometimes get shorted when it comes to recognition.

They shouldn't be overlooked and Football Outsiders shows why. In fact, they even called it an easy decision in naming them the best teamInsider over the past three decades. After all, only this Redskins team produced an offense, defense and special teams that were ranked among the 30 best over the past 30 years. Two years ago, USA Today called the '91 Redskins the best Super Bowl team ever.

RedskinsAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe 1991 Redskins dominated on offense, defense and special teams.

The Redskins had one of the game's best-ever coaches in Joe Gibbs, who is in the Hall of Fame. They had good players all over the place, some of whom played great. The whole of this team was better than the sum of its parts. They had three future Hall of Fame players, but eight made the Pro Bowl that season. Two were named All-Pro. Of the Pro Bowlers, only corner Darrell Green made it to Canton (receiver Art Monk and guard Russ Grimm also made it there from this team).

"We had tremendous depth," said Charley Casserly, the general manager of that team, "and a Hall of Fame coaching staff and it starts with them. I have to emphasize that."

That depth was evident at receiver, where Ricky Sanders was their No. 3, behind Monk and Gary Clark. Sanders once set a Super Bowl record with 193 yards receiving after the 1987 season and finished his career with 483 receptions.

"Clark to me is Andre Reed," Casserly said. "He's not better than Gary Clark and he's in the Hall of Fame."

At running back, they used a combination of Earnest Byner (1,048 yards) and Gerald Riggs (11 touchdowns) and Ricky Ervins (680 yards; 4.7 per carry). And they had depth along the line; in a game against Houston, the Redskins lost both starting tackles. So at left tackle they used Grimm, who is in the Hall of Fame as a guard and was a backup in '91. They inserted a one-time first-round pick, Mark Adickes, on the right side. Those two shut down the Oilers' top ends, William Fuller and Sean Jones.

The Redskins could have finished as the NFL's best scoring offense and stingiest defense. But in the season finale, they pulled their starters at halftime and Philadelphia rallied for a 24-22 win; the Redskins finished with the No. 2 scoring defense instead. The Redskins' other loss: a three-point defeat to Dallas. Conceivably, a couple of plays prevented them from an undefeated season.

They led the league in average yards per pass attempt (8.07); they also were first in yards allowed per attempt (6.0). They were plus-18 in turnover differential. They excelled on special teams -- returner Brian Mitchell averaged 13.3 yards per punt return.

Of the Redskins' 17 wins that season, 12 were by double digits. During the postseason, they outscored the opposition 102-41.

Then there's quarterback Mark Rypien. In his first four seasons, he combined to throw 56 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. After 1991, in his final seven seasons, he threw a combined 31 touchdowns to 40 interceptions. But in 1991, Rypien threw 28 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. He was sacked seven times; he attempted 421 passes. In fact, the Redskins allowed only nine sacks all season and recorded 50.

"Ryp was a leader, he was smart," Casserly said. "He could throw the deep ball. You look around today and how many quarterbacks can throw the deep ball? And we had a way to get guys deep."

One word sums them up: dominance.

It was the Redskins' third Super Bowl winner in a decade. This run was capped by a season that Football Outsiders considers the best. They even said the gap between this team and the No. 2 team -- the 2007 New England Patriots -- was greater than the Pats and the 11th-ranked team.

But this Redskins team didn't have standout personalities. They just won; usually big. Their coach's personality was to deflect praise. Casserly said those reasons, all of which helped their success, are why this team isn't remembered like, say, the 1985 Bears.

"We weren't a team that said a lot," Casserly said. "We didn't blow our horns. The best phase of the team was the offensive line and nobody cares about the offensive line. Not having that signature guy that TV focuses on probably is a reason this team doesn't get as much recognition as it deserves."

But when people dig into the numbers and the season, that's when this Redskins team gets the praise it deserves.

Sign at Ravens facilityJamison Hensley/ESPN.comThe inspiration for this message comes from Dave Adolph, a friend of the Harbaugh family who died in February.


OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens took the field this offseason, they were met with a piece of football philosophy from a close friend of the Harbaugh family.

The white sign hanging from a goalpost on the outside fields, as well as one in the indoor facility, reads:

The uncommitted player
The out-of-shape player
The absent-minded player
and the bad player
all look alike

The inspiration for the message comes from Dave Adolph, a great friend of coach John Harbaugh's father, Jack. Adolph was also the defensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego from 2004 to 2006, before joining him as a data analyst at Michigan in 2015.

Adolph died in February at the age of 79.

"Coach Adolph was a big part of our family and our football philosophy, and Jim especially embraced it," John Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh has used signage around the team facility to instill messages since he was hired in Baltimore in 2008.

One sign inside the team meeting room reads: "W.I.N." -- What's Important Now -- which is a phrased coined by Lou Holtz. Another one inside the facility is "The Team, The Team, The Team," which comes from a famous speech by Bo Schembechler.

Harbaugh's latest sign carries the same ideology, although it's not an exact quote.

"It is a little bit tweaked for the NFL, I have to be honest," Harbaugh said. "It was a little bit more edgy, probably. But it is pretty edgy and we like it. I think it is a great message for players to get every day when they walk underneath the upright."

Ricardo Louis, Najee MurrayKen Blaze/USA TODAY SportsRicardo Louis was more confident and assertive at receiver for the Browns during minicamp.


Ricardo Louis is a name to remember as the Cleveland Browns search for offensive impact players, especially at receiver.

Entering his second season, Louis looked, talked and acted like a different player during offseason workouts. To say he was more confident is an understatement.

"It was funny because I went back and looked at our last year's rookie minicamp, the OTAs and the veteran camp, and [he's] a different guy," receivers coach Al Saunders said.

"He has really improved," coach Hue Jackson said.

If Louis can translate that improvement into actual games, he could be a boon to the offense -- and, depending on how preseason goes, a fantasy sleeper.

A year ago, Louis was one of four receivers taken by the Browns in the 2016 draft. Coaches and players privately thought highly of him, but Louis never put it together on the field, finishing with 18 catches. He admitted the challenge of going from Auburn to the NFL was larger than he expected.

"There's a lot of things that you have to be very specific on when it comes to being in the NFL," Louis said. "You have to be detailed with everything you do as far as preparation and taking the next step."

Louis listed almost every element of the position when addressing how he now feels more comfortable -- route running, change of direction, coming off the ball, creating separation, coming out of breaks.

"I have definitely taken a step forward," he said.

Saunders said that Louis takes the most detailed notes of anyone in meetings, and that none of the other receivers prepare "any more diligently off the field and at home than Ricardo."

This from a guy who was quiet and almost reserved a year ago. The pro game seemed too much for Louis at times.

"Now he lines up at the line of scrimmage and hears the play and sees the defense and recognizes the coverage, he goes 100 miles per hour," Saunders said. "He's a talented young man. I'm thrilled he feels really comfortable in what he's doing and am really excited when we get him to the preseason and take that transition and get into real physical football and play the game when things aren't what you expect it to be."

That will be the next step for Louis. Impressing in meetings and offseason practices is a long way from impressing in training camp and preseason games. But the Browns have a gigantic need Louis could fill.

The sole veteran is Kenny Britt, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season in his eighth year.

Corey Coleman was a first-round pick a year ago but is a bit of an enigma. Coleman missed most of camp with an undisclosed injury. Jackson pointedly said in the offseason it was time for Coleman to grow up and step up, but it didn't happen in offseason work.

The rest of the group is inexperienced and young. If Louis' progress is real he would seem to have as good a shot as anyone at earning playing time.

"We're all competing to get on the field and play," Louis said. "Nobody has a legit spot right now. Nobody's No. 1. Nobody's No. 2. Right now, we're just all competing to see who can do things the best, who can play this position the best."

METAIRIE, La. -- Forget about Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram. The play that might have drawn the loudest "oohs" and "ahhs" from the fans at last week's New Orleans Saints minicamp came from rookie running back Alvin Kamara.

Kamara earned that reaction when he made veteran linebacker Manti Te'o whiff with a nasty cut in the open field -- showing off the explosiveness that made New Orleans trade up to get Kamara in the third round of the draft.

"It was definitely cool, definitely fun," Kamara said of the crowd reaction, though he was quick to praise Te'o's skill as well. "I'm just working on my craft ... understanding the nuances of what I'm doing."

Alvin KamaraDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAlvin Kamara appears set for a pass-catching role out of the backfield, much like how the Saints utilized Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.

Let's face it, Kamara is still going to play third fiddle to Ingram and Peterson -- for this year, at least. But the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder from Tennessee adds even more potential to New Orleans' dynamic and versatile offense.

The Saints were clearly thrilled to land Kamara with the 67th pick in this year's draft after they had considered him 25 spots earlier with their second-rounder.

And they clearly have a vision for him as a pass-catching "joker" back in the mold of Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.

Kamara said he has heard those comparisons -- and he has even gone back and watched film of how Sproles and Bush were used in New Orleans' past offenses. But he said coaches haven't been directing him to be a carbon copy.

When asked if he invites those comparisons or wants to say, "Whoa, let's not go there," Kamara replied:

"I wouldn't say, 'Whoa.' But it's definitely something that I know about, people talk about. And I just try to focus on getting better every day, just trying to do what's asked of me and excel in that and add on top of it every day."

Kamara said he has often been described as a "dual-threat running back" and a "versatile running back" in the past. He had 74 catches for 683 yards and seven receiving touchdowns over the past two years, to go along with his 1,294 rushing yards and 16 TDs.

But Kamara said he thinks the Saints will use him even more in that pass-catching role.

During portions of practice in minicamp and OTAs, Kamara would split off and work with the receivers instead of the running backs -- much like Saints veteran Travaris Cadet, who has a total of 19 rushes and 94 receptions in five years with the Saints.

"I knew that was one of my strengths, and I think just ending up here was a good situation, a perfect situation, to be able to utilize that strength," said Kamara, who got his first glimpse of what the Saints had in store for him during an impromptu private workout for coach Sean Payton before the draft.

Kamara said he wasn't expecting to work out. But as Payton explained during the draft, he strongly encouraged Kamara to catch some passes -- so Kamara ran back to get his shoes.

"He asked me to come and catch some balls, and I was just like, 'Whatever,' went and got my cleats. And it worked out," Kamara said. "I felt good. And then on draft day when he called me, he was like, 'That's the best thing you could've done, caught those balls.'"

Payton complimented Kamara last week as a "quick study" who is smart and understands the game. But he also said, "There is still that learning curve for a young player."

One of the biggest keys for Kamara's playing time will be his ability as a pass-protector -- something Ingram is very good at, which is why Ingram will likely be on the field during many of New Orleans' passing downs.

Kamara said he feels like he is pretty good at pass protection.

But he knows the stakes are a lot higher now.

"Coming into a new system, you've gotta learn just the new concepts," Kamara said. "I mean, it's pretty much the same. But it's just ... you've got Drew Brees back there."

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Almost three weeks after being released from his contract, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is still unhappy with the Kansas City Chiefs. Making the point first with Pro Football Talk and then ESPN, Maclin is upset at hearing he was done after two seasons in Kansas City by getting the message in a voicemail from Chiefs general manager John Dorsey.

That’s fair. Maclin has a right to feel the way he feels after losing his job, even if he has since landed with the Baltimore Ravens.

But the Chiefs have a right to go about their business, too. They could have handled some things better, in particular giving Maclin the word face to face before he departed Kansas City for the weekend on the Friday he was released.

Still, the job of the front office is to make the team better. As odd as it might sound, the Chiefs believe they improved after releasing their most experienced and accomplished wide receiver.

The timing of Maclin’s release is the key to understanding it, or at least having it make more sense. The Chiefs waited to release Maclin only after exhausting trade talks. Upon being released by the Chiefs, Maclin said he found out they had been trying to trade him for two or three months.

The Chiefs were also two weeks into their offseason practice sessions and weren’t seeing what they wanted to see from Maclin, a receiver who was supposed to make a salary of almost $10 million this year. He wasn’t as explosive as the Chiefs thought he should be, whether that was because of last season’s torn groin, which limited his production, or the fact that he recently turned 29.

At the same time, the Chiefs have been impressed with some of their younger receivers. In particular, the Chiefs now have some expectations this season for Demarcus Robinson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2016.

On the Friday night in question, Dorsey and Maclin did have a phone conversation, according to a source. The conversation obviously didn’t satisfy Maclin.

But that’s not the Chiefs’ job. Their job is to build a better team, which sometimes means making difficult decisions. Time will tell whether the Chiefs are right on this one, but without the benefit of hindsight, they believe they are.

LOS ANGELES -- The optimist sees the 2017 Los Angeles Rams like this: Good on defense, good on special teams, and now it's just a matter of how quickly they can fix the offense.

Sean McVay, the rookie head coach who was brought in for that very task, isn't ready to set expectations.

Sean McVayJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsRams coach Sean McVay says his approach to the offense this winter was about "evaluating the pieces and then figuring out what's the best way to put it together."

"It sounds cliché -- I think the expectation is that we're just going to continue to try to get better every single day," McVay said last Thursday, the day after the conclusion of his offseason program. "I know this, in terms of the predictions, things like that, we don't really talk about it. But when you talk about the time, the effort that you put into each week, your expectation is to try to win that game."

The short answer: Nobody really knows how much better this unit can be with one offseason.

There's way too much ground to make up.

The Rams were dead last in the NFL in yards each of the past two years, but their struggles are even deeper and more pronounced than that. They have finished within the bottom 10 in yards per game each of the past 10 years. During that 10-year stretch, they didn't have a Pro Bowl quarterback and only had two 1,000-yard receivers -- Torry Holt in 2007 and Kenny Britt in 2016. Using its DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric, Football Outsiders has the 2016 Rams as the fourth-worst offense in the past 30 years Insider.

McVay has since cleared the decks.

Only six of those expected to start the 2017 season were starters on offense during the stretch run last season. That includes quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick from 2016 who must be given a real chance; running back Todd Gurley, the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015; left guard Rodger Saffold, by far the Rams' best offensive lineman last season; receiver Tavon Austin, who might have a one-year tryout with this new coaching staff; and linemen Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown, each transitioning to new positions on the right side.

At left tackle, the Rams swapped Greg Robinson for Andrew Whitworth. At center, Tim Barnes was replaced by John Sullivan. At receiver, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp will essentially take the place of Britt and Brian Quick. At tight end, Tyler Higbee seems primed to absorb the targets that were once directed at Lance Kendricks.

"I don’t necessarily know if it was about kind of changing the structure of the entire offense," McVay said, "but more evaluating the pieces and then figuring out what's the best way to put it together."

Regardless, it will be a largely different group implementing an entirely different philosophy.

McVay was able to elevate quarterback Kirk Cousins while serving as the offensive coordinator and play-caller in Washington these past two seasons. He will call plays for the Rams, too, and has spoken constantly about being able to marry the run and the pass, something he wasn't really able to accomplish in his prior gig. It's even more important now because McVay wants to take a lot of the pressure off Goff, who's still only 22 years old.

The Rams' offense should be better, but it's impossible to know by how much.

"To say how our offense affects what we'll be able to do as a team, it's hard to say," McVay said. "And there's so many things that change from year to year. But I think when you look at what's been done in the past, we're optimistic that we're improving as a team."

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The Florham Park-to-Foxborough shuttle doesn't fly as frequently as it once did, but it still makes news on occasion.

On Wednesday, David Harris became the latest passenger, signing with the New England Patriots for a shot to win a championship before retiring.

Many former New York Jets have done it during the years, looking to score Super Bowl bling as part of Bill Belichick's team, but it's not a gimme. Harris, released on June 6, would be the seventh player to win a Super Bowl after going directly from the Jets to the Patriots -- but the first since 2003.

The old shuttle has hit a dry spell.

You're probably thinking about Darrelle Revis, a member of the Patriots' 2014 title team, but remember: He took a one-year detour to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before arriving in New England.

Several ex-Jets found championship glory in the Patriots' early-dynasty days. From 2001 to 2003, Bobby Hamilton, Otis Smith, Jermaine Wiggins, Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox and Rick Lyle won titles immediately after playing for the Jets.

That fraternity shrinks to one if you count only homegrown Jets -- i.e. players that began their career with the team. Wiggins, a little-known tight end, made the Jets as an undrafted free agent before moving on to the Patriots and winning a title in 2001.

Only two players drafted by the Jets have won titles with New England -- Revis and Fred Baxter (2003), who played with the Chicago Bears for a year before landing with the Evil Empire. Harris would be the third.

He became the 19th player in the Belichick era (since 2000) to make the direct jump, according to Elias. That list includes Danny Woodhead, James Ihedigbo, Shaun Ellis and Chris Baker. Years before them, there was Victor Green, Chris Hayes and Vinny Testaverde.

Sorry, we're not counting Tim Tebow. He never played in a regular-season game for the Patriots.

Before Harris, Ellis was the most noteworthy Jets-to-Patriots jump. Like Harris, he was a longtime Jet (11 years), so his defection in 2011 was a stunner, although the circumstances were different. Ellis was a free agent in training camp and received only a low-ball offer from the Jets, who had just drafted Muhammad Wilkerson and were planning to start him.

"It seems like the Patriots love Jets players," guard Matt Slauson said at the time. "I think it's because Belichick up there wants some insights."

No one hated the Patriots more than Ellis, but he took the "If-you-can't-beat-em, join-em" approach. He came agonizingly close to winning a Super Bowl in his only season with Belichick, a crushing loss to the New York Giants. He probably still has Manning-to-Manningham nightmares.

"No loyalty," Ellis said during the run-up to the Super Bowl, referring to the Jets. "They preached that the whole time -- loyalty, loyalty, blah, blah, blah."

No fewer than 28 players have migrated from the Jets to the Patriots since 2000, including nine that had at least one stop in between. Of the nine, Anthony Pleasant, Baxter and Revis won Super Bowl rings.

Really, any conversation about Jets-to-Patriots flights should start with the original defector -- Belichick, who resigned as head coach of the New York Jets and became arguably the greatest coach in history.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Count Tedy Bruschi as one who endorses the New England Patriots bringing aboard linebacker David Harris on a two-year deal with a maximum value of $6.75 million.

Bruschi, who played the same position as Harris in the Patriots’ scheme from 1996 to 2008, said on SportsCenter that it was a shrewd move by the club. Part of Bruschi’s thinking is the protection it gives the team in the event of injury to captain Dont'a Hightower.

“I like the move. I know they like the move. Hightower is a player that playing 16 games, you’re not sure if he’s going to get that. He does have some injury situations where he plays 12, he plays 13 games,” Bruschi, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said. “And they also like Hightower, in particular packages, on the outside. So to have a veteran presence -- I know [second-year man] Elandon Roberts can play that, and now Harris comes in to give them a veteran presence.

“He’s still super instinctual. You watch him on film and he barely takes a false step. He knows what he’s doing, he knows the reads; he just does it a little bit slower than he did maybe four years ago.”

Bruschi then touched on how the addition of a player like Harris can create a positive trickle-down effect in the locker room.

“When you’ve won a couple championships in the last few years now, you get some players that maybe get a little complacent. You bring in a veteran that hasn’t won a championship, and [others] can look at someone who has played 10 years in the league, that’s hungry, that is a true professional, and is a good 'backer room guy and in the locker room. The hard work he’s going to do to still get that championship, it can remind some of these younger players that have been so beneficial to the success [the Patriots] have had: ‘I have to work like that, I have to continue to work like that.’ And maybe they have some motivation to get Harris his championship.”

Bruschi expounded upon those thoughts later in the day on NFL Live.

“He’s 33 years old, the tank isn’t full, but it still has a lot of gas left in it,” he said. “Over the course of my career there, there were multiple players brought in, although championships were already won: Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, Junior Seau. You get rejuvenated by seeing a veteran player who wants to come and you know he wants that championship. So, you know what, ‘let’s get this for Moss, for a Dillon, for a Seau ... because this guy has a lot of tread on the tires but he’s still playing hard, still great effort out there, he’s trying to lead us.'

“So it might be refreshing for Hightower, in my opinion. Because having not all on him on first and second down, for David Harris to help him and take some of that mental burden off him, that’s going to help him. …

“He shouldn’t see the field on third down [other than] third-and-short, fourth-and-short, something like that, but on first and second down, those definite run packages against the big units, he’ll be in there helping out.”

videoDerek Carr's new contract with the Oakland Raiders again hammers home the price of doing business with good quarterbacks. It's an expensive lesson for the Washington Redskins, who will either pay several million more than they would have last year for Kirk Cousins or risk losing him. In other words, we remain in the same spot.

Carr's contract doesn't change any of that. But what it does remind everyone is that the new cost of a good free-agent quarterback is in the mid-20s, as in millions of dollars. If the Redskins want to keep Cousins long-term, they’ll have to accept that reality.

The question is: Will Carr's deal, a five-year extension worth $25 million per year, alter Cousins’ demands? Not necessarily. Some of it depends on the guaranteed money; that's always the key. But it certainly provides another benchmark for any quarterback whose contract is being negotiated. Remember this: The price always rises.

But would Cousins earn a deal greater than Carr's only two or three weeks later? The deadline for any long-term deal with Cousins is July 17. Carr just turned 26; Cousins turns 29 in August. Carr has thrown a combined 60 touchdowns to 19 interceptions the past two years. Cousins has thrown 54 touchdowns and 23 picks during that same period.

Carr produced seven fourth-quarter comebacks, adding strength to his résumé, for a team that went 12-3 with him in control. It's hard to imagine any negotiator opposite Cousins not using the last regular-season game, capped by his interception, to reduce the cost.

The Redskins have pointed, quite often, to that last game -- for the team in general, that is -- as the impetus for many changes in the offseason. Timing, though, matters in negotiations.

Cousins' quest has never been to become the NFL's highest paid quarterback; that's not something I've heard in multiple conversations with people involved in the situation. If that happened, it would stem from the leverage he enjoys rather than his pecking order among young passers. He's not Aaron Rodgers. Guess what? Few are. But Cousins is a good quarterback in a league in which play at that position matters. If they feel they can make do with Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld in 2018, then they won't get it done with Cousins.

And nobody should be surprised that Carr has received such a contract; this isn't like Brock Osweiler in 2016. Cousins' side knew that had he signed a deal earlier this offseason, three others would surpass him rather soon: Carr, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. In fact, that was a selling point: Get it done now and he'll soon be pushed down the ladder. They weren't waiting to see what other quarterbacks received; they were waiting for an offer to kick-start legitimate talks.

But this has always been about the leverage, thanks to the franchise tag. Without it, Cousins would have been more affordable -- but it exists and the Redskins used it, so he's more expensive. This is important, too: They chose not to make a stronger deal last year, wanting to wait and see how Cousins responded to a second year starting. The price went up. It always does.

Once Carr signs, he'll become the 12th quarterback to make at least $20 million per year. Stafford will become the 13th whenever he reaches an extension. Had the Redskins signed Cousins last year for $20 million per year, the talk now would be: What a smart move. They weren't sold; it's their right and there's no crime in thinking he shouldn't be paid a certain amount. The Raiders deserve praise for signing Carr now.

Cousins will make $23.9 million guaranteed this season. Carr's deal doesn't have to alter how much Cousins receives per year -- the guaranteed portion will be most important. But if the Redskins' offers don't match the leverage -- or at least come close -- it's not worth signing.

If Cousins wants to play hardball, he can demand more than Carr and tell them, "OK, if you really want to get it done now, this is what it'll cost." Otherwise, he can hit the market next offseason and perhaps get it at that time -- provided his play continues at a certain level.

If Cousins really wants to be here, it doesn't have to change much at all. Just meet the leverage and he'll be good. So far, that has been the sticking point.

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The Oakland Raiders and quarterback Derek Carr are close to finalizing a deal that would pay Carr about $25 million per year. NFL Nation reporters weigh in on how Carr's new deal might impact negotiations with quarterbacks who could get new contracts in the very near future.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: The reigning MVP is one of 11 NFL QBs averaging more than $20 million per year and one of nine with $50 million-plus guaranteed in their contracts. With Carr on the verge of a deal that would top the one given to the Colts' Andrew Luck ($24.594 million), it will be interesting to see what's next for Ryan, 32, who is coming off his best season. Ryan has two years left on his current deal, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Ryan "needs to be compensated well, and he will be." -- Vaughn McClure

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Carr's expected new deal puts Stafford in position to become the league's highest-paid player whenever he agrees to an extension. When I asked Lions president Rod Wood on Tuesday if he'd be comfortable making Stafford the league's highest-paid player, he told me he's "comfortable getting a deal done" with Stafford. He added that if Stafford is the highest-paid, that would be the case only until the next high-level QB is up for an extension. -- Michael Rothstein

Detroit v DallasRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesLions quarterback Matthew Stafford might be able to point to Derek Carr's deal in his negotiations and become the highest-paid player in the NFL.

Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots: Carr's expected extension provides a ballpark of what a young, up-and-coming quarterback might expect on the open market. The Patriots' Garoppolo, who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season, likely wouldn't be able to command that much money because he doesn't have the same NFL on-field track record as Carr. But a deal in a range between Chicago's Mike Glennon ($19 million guaranteed) and Carr appears to be the ballpark for Garoppolo in an open-market situation. Meanwhile, Carr's extension reinforces how fortunate the Patriots are to have Tom Brady under a reasonable pact: a $14 million cap charge in 2017 and then a $22 million cap charge in both 2018 and 2019. -- Mike Reiss

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Carr's potential new deal shouldn't dramatically affect Brees' next contract because he is already in that financial ballpark -- and because he and the Saints appear to be operating in the mode of one-year deals. Brees, 38, signed a one-year extension worth $24.25 million during Week 1 of last season, after the Saints balked at a long-term commitment. It's quite possible the same thing will happen again this year -- or maybe they'll even be content to wait until after the season -- because Brees has made it clear he wants to stay in New Orleans, and neither side appears to be pressing to get a new deal done. -- Mike Triplett

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: Carr's deal certainly raises the bar, but it's one the Redskins were unlikely to hit anyway. And Cousins' goal hasn't been to become the highest-paid passer, but rather to be paid commensurate with his leverage, starting at his franchise tag number of $23.9 million. If the Redskins hit that, with the right guarantees, there is a shot it could lead to a deal -- regardless of Carr's average salary figure. – John Keim

Kawann ShortJeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Kawann Short (right), heading to practice with RB Cameron Artis-Payne, said he's working like he's still trying to earn a contract.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After signing a five-year, $80 million deal in April, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short can enter this year's training camp free from all the talk about whether or not he would sign a contract extension.

A year ago, Short skipped two weeks of voluntary offseason workouts amid contract negotiations, but failed to receive the extension he'd hoped for prior to the start of season. Short, whose 17 sacks the last two years rank him third among all defensive tackles, has enjoyed a drama-free offseason so far this year. He closed his new deal long before July 15, the signing deadline for franchise-tag players.

“I’ve still got to work like I’m still trying to earn one,” Short said last week during the Panthers’ mandatory three-day minicamp. “I come out here every day. That’s in the past now. I’m working like it’s another rookie year for me.

“It’s the same mentality [in camp] -- to do what I’ve been doing and go at the offensive line and make each other get better.”

A second-round draft pick out of Purdue in 2013, Short said he hasn’t done a whole lot of celebrating or grandiose spending after signing the new deal. He took his mother and 3-year-old daughter on a low-key vacation to Key West, and has been preparing to run some camps for youth near his hometown in the Chicago area.

He said his offseason training has remained hard-core, “like still trying to make it in the combine.”

The 2015 Pro Bowl tackle is joined on the defensive line by another former Pro Bowler: veteran defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers returns to Carolina after making stops in Chicago and Green Bay over the last seven years.

“Everything you’ve got to absorb from Pep and ask questions,” Short said. “As a young guy, I still have room for improvement. We help each other out.”

Focusing on improving -- and turning around a 6-10 season that came on the heels of Super Bowl run -- should be a bit easier for Short, considering he has less to stress about with regard to his future.

“I don’t have to worry about what’s next or what’s that,” Short said. “I’ve just got to worry about coming out here and doing what I’ve been doing.”

Enduring one last body blow in an offseason filled with them, the New York Jets saw one of their most beloved players, David Harris, sign with the Evil Empire on Wednesday.

Fired by his forever team, which handled his ouster in amateurish fashion, Harris ran into the open arms of Bill Belichick, joining the Jets' longtime nemesis.

Some will criticize Harris for being a traitor, but here's a news flash: Loyalty is dead in professional sports. Remember, the Jets dumped him; he didn't want to leave.

So now he goes to the New England Patriots, where he'll have a chance for significant playing time and, more important, an opportunity to finish his career with a championship.

In a way, it's so perfect, so Jets.

David HarrisRich Graessle/Icon SportswireDavid Harris, released by the Jets on June 6, landed a deal with the team's biggest rival two weeks later.

Harris wasn't good enough for a tanking team, yet he was coveted by the defending Super Bowl champions. From what I hear, he could be their starting middle linebacker.

Some will say this is Belichick sticking it to the Jets, but let me tell you something about Belichick: His idea of sticking it to the Jets is beating them, over and over, and he does that by adding useful players to his roster. Obviously, he believes Harris, 33, can help him win a sixth Super Bowl title.

Harris will look weird in a Patriots uniform, even weirder than Darrelle Revis did, because Revis was on his third team by the time he gained entrance to the Foxborough fortress in 2014.

This reminds me of Victor Green in 2002. He was a terrific player for the Jets, a member of their 40-year anniversary team. Like Harris, he was unceremoniously discarded and signed with the Patriots. In his first trip back to New Jersey, in Week 2, he intercepted a Vinny Testaverde pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.

The Boston Globe ran a fantastic photo of the play, a shot of Green sprinting past the Jets' sideline. You could see the dejection on some of the Jets' faces, including coach Herm Edwards. For a player, it was the ultimate moment of redemption.

The Patriots visit MetLife Stadium on Oct. 15. Would it surprise anyone if Harris were to intercept Christian Hackenberg or make another type of game-changing play in his old home?

Of course not. That's what happens in this so-called rivalry.

The crazy thing is, Harris probably would be cheered by a fan base that appears resigned to a season of tanking.video

When assessing how David Harris fits in the New England Patriots linebacker corps, there are a few key points with which to begin.

Captain Dont'a Hightower is the unquestioned leader of the group. He usually plays on all three downs.

Then the Patriots pieced it together next to him last season, using a combination of 2016 sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts plus Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, depending on the game plan.

Rich Graessle/Icon SportswireLongtime foe David Harris is joining the Patriots.

Roberts excels when playing downhill against the run and timing up a blitz. Meanwhile, McClellin and Van Noy offer a bit more versatility in terms of their ability to align in different spots and possibly follow running backs down the field.

Based on coordinator Matt Patricia's approach of mixing up the defense on a week-to-week basis to combat each opponent's strengths, and the unit is in sub packages about 80 percent of the time, the playing time of Roberts, McClellin and Van Noy would fluctuate. Jonathan Freeny, a run-first player who spent last year on injured reserve, is also part of this year's depth chart.

Now Harris, who is probably closest to Roberts in terms of skill set at this stage of his career (primarily a two-down player), enters the mix.

He also adds insurance for Hightower, who has been banged up at times.

Did the Patriots truly need Harris?

Probably not, but when he unexpectedly became available, Bill Belichick pounced to add another solid portion at a position the Patriots have mixed and matched in recent years alongside Hightower.video

MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman was one of seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to meet Pope Francis on Wednesday morning, during a Hall of Fame-sponsored trip to the Vatican.

The pope greeted Doleman, Curtis Martin, Ronnie Lott, Franco Harris, Jim Taylor, Floyd Little and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer. The Hall of Fame announced it was the first American pro sports organization to have an audience with the pope.

"I am pleased to greet you, the members and directors of the American Pro Football Hall of Fame and welcome you to the Vatican. Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values -- in the religious sense, we can say virtues that have guided your commitment, on and off the field," the Pope told the group, according to a release from the Hall of Fame. “These values meet the needs of our brothers and sisters and combat the exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice that hold us back from living as one human family."

Doleman, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2012, had 96.5 of his career 150.5 sacks in 10 years with the Vikings, playing with the team from 1985-93 and returning at age 38 to post eight sacks in 1999. He called the meeting with the pope "one of those life-changing moments," according to the Hall of Fame. "He showed us peace, love and respect," Doleman said.

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