Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, speaking on SportsCenter Monday from the owners meeting in Phoenix, talked again about getting over the disappointment of blowing a 28-3 lead in a 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLI.
Quinn was asked how many times he's reviewed the tape.
"Probably somewhere between 10 and 15 (times)," Quinn said.
As he did at the NFL combine in February, Quinn emphasized that you have to own the mistakes that were made in the game. Quinn again discussed the "what ifs" from the game, such as if the Falcons should have run the ball late rather than drop back to throw with the game on the line. The decision backfired with a costly turnover when Matt Ryan was sacked and lost the ball on third-and-1 after Devonta Freeman missed a block. Then later, with the Falcons driving for what would have been a field goal, left tackle Jake Matthews was whistled for a holding call on a third-down pass play from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu. The Falcons could have ran the ball more during the drive and kept within field goal range rather than having to punt so the Patriots could drive for the eventual game-tying score.
"Well, yeah, you definitely do the what-if game," Quinn said Monday. "Past that, what I came to realize is what if the lessons I learned helped me for the next 20, 25 years of coaching. When you go into games and you battle for it in a championship format, we learned how hard you've to strain and battle for it."
PHOENIX -- His early success occurred with the Oakland Raiders, leading to nostalgic feelings about the area. But Bruce Allen also understands the economics of the NFL, which is why he supports the team moving to Las Vegas.
Allen, the Washington Redskins president, served as a senior executive to Raiders owner Al Davis from 1996-2003. He won the executive of the year award after the 2002 season. A year later he headed to Tampa Bay, but he remained tight with Raiders current owner Mark Davis.
It pains Allen to see the Raiders leave Oakland, but he also supports the decision. He envisions the famed Black Hole in the Oakland Coliseum being reinvented in Nevada.
"The black hole will be redeveloped in the silver state," Allen said. "It will now be the Silver and Black hole and it will fit perfectly."
Allen said fans will follow the Raiders anywhere.
"The Raiders are a unique brand," he said. "They have a great fan base in Los Angeles, a great fan base in San Diego, in Oakland. I know they had a great fan base in San Antonio that wanted them to move. The inability of Oakland, the city officials, to ever make an offer. ... It really became impossible playing in a baseball stadium. It was the last one in the league like that by many years."
The Raiders are swapping the nation's No. 6 TV market for the 40th. But Allen doesn't think there will be a drop-off in the team's popularity because of that fan base.
"I care about the fans and the franchise," Allen said. "Those fans followed them to Los Angeles when they moved to LA. I'm sure they'll follow them to Las Vegas, many of them. Once you're a Raider in your blood, you're always going to be a Raiders fan."
PHOENIX -- The New England Patriots had never traded a first-round draft choice away for a player on another team’s roster until they shipped the No. 32 overall selection to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks earlier this month.
That reflects how strongly the Patriots feel about Cooks, with owner Robert Kraft taking it up to a higher level on Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting.
“Since I’ve owned the team, the only player that could make an impact like that at wide receiver was Randy Moss. He doesn’t have his height, but it looks like he has his speed,” Kraft said. “I think that’s complementary to what we have on the team, and I’m excited about enjoying this.”
Mentioning Cooks (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) in the same sentence as Moss (6-foot-4, 210) was arguably the most notable thing that Kraft said in his 16-minute Q&A session with reporters.
One of most interesting takeaways from Robert Kraft's Q&A was comparing acquisition of Brandin Cooks to Randy Moss. pic.twitter.com/RX2aPhjcmk
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 27, 2017
Those who watched joint practices between the Patriots and Saints each of the last two years saw firsthand how explosive Cooks can be. Since Cooks entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice of the Saints in 2014, his production has been hard to miss: 215 catches for 2,861 yards (13.3 average) with 20 touchdowns.
When Moss came aboard in 2007, the offensive fireworks came quickly.
Kraft and the Patriots are hoping 2017 will be déjà vu with Cooks.
PHOENIX -- As expected, NFL owners approved Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis’ application for relocation to Las Vegas on Monday. However, that doesn’t mean the silver and black are headed to Sin City anytime soon.
“The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA,” Davis said. “We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff.
“We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
Here are some questions the Raiders will have to answer as they prepare to move to Las Vegas:
Where will the Raiders play in 2017?
As Davis told reporters, the Raiders have consecutive one-year options to play at the Oakland Coliseum, and they plan to play there in 2017. The deadline for the Raiders to exercise the team’s option for the 2018 season is March of next year. The Raiders will continue to practice at the team’s facility in Alameda, California, while they remain in Oakland.
Davis said the team would also pursue an agreement to play in the Coliseum for the 2019 season. According to ESPN NFL Nation Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Davis has all but ruled out using UNLV’s current home, 33,500-seat Sam Boyd Stadium, due to outdated locker rooms and the lack of a proper security border around the facility. The Raiders could possibly play one preseason game per year at Sam Boyd Stadium before moving to Las Vegas permanently.
What will happen to current season-ticket holders?
The Raiders already have started taking deposits on tickets for the 2017 season from current-ticket season holders. However, Davis said he would refund those deposits to fans who are upset with the team’s plan to move to Las Vegas. “If any of our fans have given deposits or anything for season tickets, we’d be like to refund them,” Davis said. “We’ll be happy to do that.”
When will the new stadium in Las Vegas be completed?
The new NFL facility in Las Vegas will include a domed stadium and will be shared with UNLV. A site for the new project has yet to be determined, but it will probably be just off the Las Vegas Strip and seat 65,000. The stadium is slated to be completed in time for the 2020 season.
Will the Raiders change their name?
Although they have been approved to move to Las Vegas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the Raiders will remain the Oakland Raiders -- as long as they are playing in Oakland.
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) March 27, 2017
Carr said he will continue to work to bring a title to Raider Nation -- regardless of where the fans are based.
The Raiders last played in a Super Bowl after the 2002 season, losing to Tampa Bay. They have won three Super Bowls, twice as the Oakland Raiders (1976, '80) and once as the Los Angeles Raiders (1983).
The Oakland Raiders' dalliance with Las Vegas began publicly some 14 months ago and culminated with Monday’s vote allowing the team to move from the Bay Area to Nevada. The Raiders have called Oakland (1960-1981), Los Angeles (1982-1994) and Oakland again (1995-present) home since their inception as an original AFL team and will relocate to Las Vegas by 2020. What follows here is a look at how the Raiders got the vote and the roadblocks they had to overcome to move to Las Vegas.
Jan. 12, 2016: The Raiders finish third in a three-team race for relocation to Los Angeles, despite their joint stadium proposal in nearby Carson, California, with the Chargers earning the recommendation of an NFL owners committee. The Rams win the right to move from St. Louis, and the Chargers are given a year to decide whether they want to join the Rams in Inglewood. If the Chargers choose to stay in San Diego, the Raiders could then join the Rams. "Well, this is not a win for the Raiders today," Raiders owner Mark Davis said at the time. "But we’ll see where the Raider Nation ends up here. We’ll be working really hard to find us a home."
Jan. 27, 2016: A leaked memo from UNLV president Len Jessup tells faculty that Davis will be in Las Vegas to tour the city and potential stadium sites. He plans to meet with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to check on southern Nevada as a potential home for the Raiders.
Feb. 5, 2016: Davis says moving to Santa Clara and playing at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium is not an option. "There’s three words that mean something to me in a stadium, in a location, and that’s ingress, egress and parking,” Davis said. "The Raiders on game day, if you’re around our stadium, if you see our parking lot before the game, it’s probably the biggest nondenominational gathering on a Sunday morning that you’ll ever find. And I’m not going to give that up. ... I’m not going to do that. That’s just part of the Raider game-day experience, and I just can’t give that up. I just don’t believe that they have that in Santa Clara."
Feb. 11, 2016: The Raiders agree to a three-year lease to play at the Oakland Coliseum, with the final two seasons being team options. Davis reiterates his desire to stay in Oakland with new stadiums for the Raiders and Oakland A’s on the current Coliseum site, challenging the baseball team to get on board. “I do not mind if we build two stadiums on that site. The A’s stadium would take about 12 acres; the Raiders stadium would take about 15 to 17 acres. ... If in fact the A’s do want to stay in the Oakland Coliseum site, they need to commit ASAP so that we can go ahead and design and take down the Coliseum, provide all the infrastructure that’s necessary to build two brand new stadiums in Oakland, and two teams would then come back in and play in two brand-new stadiums. What I do not want to do is build a football stadium in the corner of a parking lot while the Oakland Coliseum is still standing and then, once we have a brand-new [football] stadium, we begin to tear down [the Coliseum] or build a new baseball stadium and then tear down the Oakland Coliseum, disrupting the ingress, egress and parking and tailgating experience for the Raider fans on game day."
March 21, 2016: At the NFL owners meetings, Davis shoots down the idea of recently abandoned St. Louis as a new home for the Raiders. “The Raider brand is a different brand, I believe,” Davis said, “and I just don’t believe St. Louis would maximize it.” Then what about Las Vegas maximizing the Raiders brand, he is asked. “The Raiders would maximize Las Vegas,” Davis said with a laugh. Davis shares a photo of himself with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Davis again says the city of Oakland and the A’s are stunting the possibility of staying in the East Bay. “The A’s are in the stadium; they’ve got a 10-year lease [and] the city doesn’t seem to want to make anything happen in that respect,” Davis said. “I asked the A’s basically through a press conference ... 'Help us make a decision.' Just try and do something, but they haven’t done it.”
March 23, 2016: In his closing remarks at the NFL owners meetings, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confirms Davis is “appropriately looking at all his alternatives” in terms of a new home for the team.
March 25, 2016: The Bay Area News Group reports the Raiders' rent at the Oakland Coliseum more than tripled, from $925,000 a year to $3.5 million. Sources tell ESPN.com this came after the lease was agreed to in principle and revenue from the naming rights to the Coliseum -- which made the rent a wash -- was lost.
April 24, 2016: Davis tells ESPN.com that the Raiders are close to selling out their season tickets for the first time in franchise history. “We’re excited as hell,” Davis said. “Again, we’ve got the greatest fans in the world. The Raider Nation is strong.”
April 28, 2016: Davis attends a meeting of the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee at UNLV and pledges $500 million toward the construction of a proposed 65,000-seat, $1.4 billion (the price estimate would later go up to $1.9 billion) domed stadium to be shared with the UNLV football team. “If Las Vegas can come through with what we’ve been talking about, and we can do a deal here, then we’re going to be the Las Vegas Raiders,” Davis said at the meeting. (The deal would later include $650 million from Adelson and $750 million in a hotel tax. And in a conversation with ESPN.com on the private jet trip back to Oakland, Davis called it “a very positive step in finding the Raiders a home” as well as turning the “Silver State into the Silver and Black State.” This is when Davis turned his full attention toward Las Vegas, after saying he had spent eight years trying to make a deal in Oakland. “We’ve already said we’d put $500 million toward a stadium in Oakland,” Davis said. “But there is a substantial funding gap, and there’s no way to make it up.” Also on the flight, Davis said Larry MacNeil, hired to front the Raiders’ Oakland stadium search three months earlier, could not get a meeting with Oakland officials, after having a term sheet that was “80 percent done” for a new stadium on the Coliseum grounds in June 2014, which included 169 acres of “free land” promised by then-Oakland mayor Jean Quan (an offer later rescinded by sitting mayor Libby Schaaf). “Individually, they’re great people,” Davis said on the flight of Oakland city, Alameda County and Joint Powers Authority legislators. “But you get two or more of them in a room, total dysfunction.”
July 11, 2016: The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee holds a special meeting to discuss nine potential sites for a 65,000-seat stadium, and while Davis tells ESPN.com he's "site agnostic," the Raiders will eventually focus on a 62-acre plot of empty land west and across Interstate 15 from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Russell Road, with the top portion of the Bali Hai Golf Club, just south of the Mandalay Bay, perhaps to be used as the fan experience staging area. The committee, convened by Gov. Sandoval and originally set to disband by the end of July, asks Sandoval for two more months before issuing an official recommendation on the stadium project, with a $750 million tax that has to pass the state legislature.
Sept. 15, 2016: The 11-member Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee votes unanimously to recommend $750 million in public funding for a $1.9 billion stadium. “Everybody at that table should be very proud of themselves,” Raiders president Marc Badain said after the vote. “You heard Mark say he wants to make an offer the league can’t refuse. You took a big step toward that today.” Sandoval has to decide whether to call a special session of the Nevada state legislature to vote on the financing plan, spearheaded by Adelson, because the vote was believed to have a better shot of passing before the Nov. 8 elections. And with the Raiders having toured Reno as a potential site for training camp, that might curry favor with northern Nevada legislators on the fence about whether to vote for the tax package for southern Nevada.
Sept. 20, 2016: An investment group led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who played two seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, makes it known it wants to purchase the Oakland Coliseum and the surrounding land in hopes of keeping the Raiders in Oakland. The Lott Group and Fortress Investment Group’s plan, though, is rejected by the NFL, which says its finances were too similar to previously rejected plans.
Oct. 14, 2016: The Nevada state legislature approves the $750 million tax plan for the stadium.
Oct. 15, 2016: The next day, Davis reaffirms to ESPN.com he wants to stay in Oakland for the next two years, even if he gets league approval to move to Las Vegas, as a new stadium there would not be ready until 2020. Plus, UNLV’s current home, 35,500-seat Sam Boyd Stadium on the far southeastern edge of the city, has antiquated locker rooms and no true security border around the facility required for NFL stadiums. Davis says he wants to win a Super Bowl for the Bay Area before leaving for Las Vegas.
Oct. 17, 2016: Sandoval signs into law the $750 million tax bill for the construction of the 65,000-seat, $1.9 billion domed stadium to be shared by the Raiders and UNLV.
Oct. 26, 2016: Adelson, at a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, gives the first inkling there's trouble brewing between himself and the Raiders, telling reporters he would be fine walking away from the deal. “They want so much,” Adelson said. “So I told my people, ‘Tell them I could live with the deal; I could live without the deal. Here's the way it's going to go down. If they don't want it, bye-bye.’”
Jan. 19, 2017: The Raiders file their formal relocation paperwork with the NFL and remain steadfast they will be called the “Oakland” Raiders, even if they were lame ducks, and no rebranding would occur with a move to Las Vegas. The Raiders could play one preseason game a year in 2017 and 2018 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Jan. 30, 2017: Adelson withdraws his $650 million pledge from the project, saying the Raiders excluded him from talks before sending a lease proposal to the Las Vegas stadium board that would own the stadium. Adelson’s name was also left off the Raiders’ relocation application to the NFL. The lease proposal called for $1 a year in rent from the Raiders. Many observers saw Adelson as wanting a piece of the team, or a path to ownership, with rumors of him being able to take over the Raiders if Davis defaulted on the $650 million Adelson pledged.
Jan. 31, 2017: Goldman Sachs, which has a long business relationship with Adelson and which the Raiders saw as stepping in for Adelson, also pulls out, saying it would be involved only if Adelson was involved. A curious case given that the Raiders would not have needed Goldman Sachs’ money if Adelson was involved.
Feb. 1, 2017: Goodell gives the Raiders the green light to continue pursuing relocation without Adelson, saying at his state of the league address, “I don’t see an ownership position in a team from a casino. That is not something that is consistent with our policies ... not likely a stadium, either.”
March 6, 2017: The Raiders inform the NFL's finance and stadium committees that Bank of America has stepped in to fill the void created by Adelson’s $650 million departure and will help finance the stadium project. NFL owners seemingly let out a sigh of relief, what with $750 million in public money on the table and a growing feeling that they were not entirely comfortable with a casino operator being so closely linked to a team.
March 24, 2017: The city of Oakland and its partners submit a revised financing plan for a $1.3 billion mixed-use stadium project on the Coliseum site. That same day, Goodell writes a letter to Schaaf, telling her he believes the city has yet to find a “viable solution” to keeping the Raiders in the East Bay.
For any team to lose seven free agents in one offseason, it has to be a shock to the system. For it to happen to a draft-and-develop team like the Green Bay Packers, it can be downright damaging.
So what happened in the first few weeks of free agency, when general manager Ted Thompson and contract negotiator Russ Ball watched T.J. Lang, Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook, JC Tretter, Datone Jones, Julius Peppers and Micah Hyde all leave for other teams?
“I think the reality is you can’t pay everybody,” Packers president Mark Murphy told reporters in Phoenix, where the NFL annual meetings were in full swing on Monday. “That [salary] cap is a hard cap, so you have to work within it. Each case is kind of unique.
“Obviously disappointed to lose some of the players we did this year, but I think Ted and Russ, you have to look at each player and what are you comfortable paying. There’s just certain players that other teams were willing to pay more than we thought was reasonable.”
That’s long how Thompson and Ball have done business. Typically they make up their minds about what they’re willing to pay a player, and if the market is higher, so be it. In the case of Lang, for example, their offer came in well below what the Detroit Lions gave the veteran right guard coming off his first Pro Bowl season. The Packers increased their offer slightly in the final hours but didn’t come up enough. In the case of other players, like Hyde, no offer was made.
The Packers haven’t lost this many free agents since 1999, when eight of their players signed with other teams. They had the same number of departures in 1998.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Thompson was unusually active, signing four veteran players off other teams, although only tight end Martellus Bennett was a true free agent. The other three -- tight end Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois -- were cut by their former teams and thus don’t count against the Packers in the compensatory-pick formula, which gives teams additional draft picks based on net losses in free agency.
It was Thompson’s most active free-agent signing year since 2006, his second offseason at the helm of the roster. That’s when he signed Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Marquand Manuel and a few other, low-level free agents.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to bringing in players, but it has to be the right fit,” Murphy said. “I think Ted and Russ do a good job vetting the players we bring in. We’re excited about it -- I think bringing in four players, only one of them is a true free agent. The compensatory draft system is something where you can really help yourself, especially now being able to trade those. But again, the compensatory draft system doesn’t drive your decisions. [It's] looking at each player and whether the money they’re asking for makes sense. Obviously we identified Nick Perry as a core player that we wanted to keep, and I was really pleased we were able to keep him.”
Still, some significant holes remain on the Packers’ roster, most notably at running back. Thompson re-signed Christine Michael to a one-year, low-cost contract that doesn’t ensure he will be on the roster.
“I think we’ve helped ourselves in a number of positions," Murphy said. "Obviously the draft coming up is another opportunity for us to help ourselves."
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert contributed to this report.
PHOENIX -- The Washington Redskins haven’t abandoned hope for signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal, which team president Bruce Allen stressed once more Sunday night. Cousins holds the leverage now in terms of money, but Allen said they still have future options.
Of course, that means this could drag into next offseason as well.
One slight risk for Cousins now is that his preferred destination, San Francisco, could end up with another quarterback in the draft. If taken with a high pick, that’s the guy the 49ers would have to view as their future quarterback. And that would remove them from the Cousins chase. That doesn’t mean another team wouldn’t appeal to Cousins, if free next offseason.
Keep this in mind if the Redskins tag Cousins next year: His side can now point to future tags as part of their leverage in terms of compensation. That would end next year. However, they can point to something else as leverage: absolute freedom in 2019. If Cousins plays well this upcoming season, that’s a real threat.
It’s to Cousins’ benefit to wait at this point (which is good because a long-term deal isn’t close). See how the franchise responds after an 8-7-1 record in terms of success. See how the front-office situation shakes out and the direction the franchise will go. See how things are with Jay Gruden calling plays. Cousins felt in sync with Sean McVay the past two years. Cousins can win by playing the waiting game at this point. The Redskins seem to think they can, too.
Here are the Redskins' 2018 options:
Franchise tag: It’s hard to imagine this being a realistic solution. If the Redskins tagged him for a third consecutive year, it would cost approximately $34.5 million. Let’s say the salary cap increases to $175 million -- Cousins would then occupy nearly 20 percent of the space. That’s way too much for one guy. Cousins clearly is OK with the tag, and if he did it a third time, he would have made approximately $78 million in three years. The Redskins could have locked him up for five or six years last offseason with that kind of cash. Why pay that sum for three years? Of course, using the franchise tag again would enable Washington to perhaps explore a trade.
Transition tag: This has been floated as a possible scenario, but there are problems. It’s cheaper than the franchise tag, at approximately $28 million. That’s fine. But if another team makes him an offer and the Redskins fail to match? Then they receive no compensation in return -- not even a compensatory pick. Of course, this would allow Cousins and the Redskins to gauge his true market with the ability to match any offer.
If no offer is made and Cousins plays under the transition tag, he still would have made approximately $72 million in three years.
Let him test the market: This is a roll of the dice no doubt. But what if the 49ers do get another quarterback (and what if Jared Goff develops in Los Angeles under McVay)? Then two primary landing spots would be removed. Regardless, the Redskins and Cousins could gauge his market, and he’d receive a contract more in line with his standing among quarterbacks. For Cousins, it would come after having made $44 million in guaranteed cash so he’d be in line for another big payday. For the Redskins, if they were able to convince him to stay, they still would have paid a lot of money in the prior two years to get him at what they’d consider his true market.
The other part is, both sides might just want to part ways after next year. The Redskins would have had (potentially) three years of good quarterback play but feel just as strong about other options. Cousins might (will?) just reach the point where he wants out; it’s safe to say he knows had Robert Griffin III put up similar numbers, he’d have already been signed.
Former general manager Scot McCloughan was rather high on Nate Sudfeld throughout the offseason and in training camp, predicting he’d become a starter within a couple years. Another year of Cousins would allow the team to see if he indeed could make that jump. It’s far from a slam dunk, however. Some of this, too, will depend on the rest of the roster, if they’re finally making progress on both sides. In that case, another quarterback would be stepping into a better situation than what Cousins had the past two years (with a struggling defense; the offensive talent, of course, was excellent). The Redskins would then receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.
The options aren’t necessarily great and in some cases will be costly, either in money or the loss of a good quarterback. But it’s the one way the Redskins hope to control the situation.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here’s what Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman saw standing in the end zone as quarterback Cam Newton started the final drive of the 2016 season from his own 26-yard line at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium.
“Cam throws the ball, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Who the hell is he throwing that to?’" Gettleman said Friday as he recalled the high toss over the middle. “All of a sudden I see [Kelvin Benjamin] jump, and it’s like, ‘Holy crap!’
“Then he almost killed Brent Grimes on the boundary.”
The 6-foot-5 Benjamin came down with a throw that would have sailed over the head of most receivers, then ran another 24 yards before stiff-arming Grimes as he went out of bounds at the Buccaneers' 29-yard line.
Later in the drive, on fourth-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 18, Benjamin made a tough 13-yard catch over the middle.
On the next play, he used his big body to box out the defender for a touchdown that could have won the game had tight end Greg Olsen not slipped on the 2-point conversion play in a 17-16 loss.
But it was plays like those from Benjamin that made Gettleman’s decision to use the fifth-year option on the 28th pick of the 2014 draft an easy one.
Despite his inconsistencies, questions about his conditioning and sometimes his heart, Benjamin still is Carolina’s best weapon at wide receiver.
He can still be elite.
And for the $8 million it will cost Carolina in 2018 with the fifth-year option, he can be a bargain.
That figure currently would tie Detroit’s Marvin Jones for 21st in the league for annual salary among receivers in 2017. It’s not close to the $17 million a year Pittsburgh gave Antonio Brown, but that’s fair because Benjamin isn’t close to Brown’s elite status. He may never be, but he’s worth every penny the Panthers have wrapped up in him over the next two seasons.
What Benjamin did at the end of 2016 was only a preview of what he can be. Much of his inconsistency last year can be attributed to still recovering from the ACL tear that ended his 2015 season in training camp.
“Kelvin was limited in what he could do in training camp, so it affected his process as a receiver and coming back from his injury," former Carolina wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl before stepping down after the season to spend more time watching his sons play college football.
“He hit a wall a little bit where his leg had a tremendous amount of soreness and swelling, and it affected him in practice to where he couldn't practice. Then it started feeling better at the end of the year, and you started seeing glimpses of the Kelvin of his rookie year."
Benjamin caught 10 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns over the final two games. He looked like the player that caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie.
It reminded that he was better than the player that caught only 10 passes during a five-game, midseason stretch and became so frustrated that he tossed his helmet and shouted at a coach on the sideline.
“We’re really fired up with the way Kelvin finished the year," Gettleman said. “He started the year strong, had that lull, then finished up. ... He was a man."
Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos: Impact free agents will be in the eye of the football beholder, as AFC West teams made minor splashes, signing players who met an immediate need. But two players who could have significant impacts in their new surroundings will be guard Ronald Leary in Denver and tight end Jared Cook in Oakland. Leary was quietly one of the best players on the open market in terms of age, performance and room to grow. Many personnel executives believe he’s better than the player the Cowboys moved ahead of him on the depth chart: La’el Collins. Cook is a difficult matchup athletically for defenses. He has had four seasons with at least 44 receptions, including two 50-catch seasons in his time with the Rams.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs: Tight end Jared Cook gives the Raiders another threat in the passing game. Derek Carr should be able to get more production from Cook as the primary tight end than he did from Clive Walford last year. Cook's addition might cut into the number of passes that go to wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but having a presence such as Cook in the middle of the field should make Oakland more efficient in the passing game. Cook was mostly a default choice because the AFC West wasn’t otherwise a division for high-impact signings. For the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos, the biggest free-agent additions were linemen.
Eric Williams, Los Angeles Chargers: Unless the Raiders somehow figure out how to finagle Oakland native Marshawn Lynch from the Seattle Seahawks or the Denver Broncos land Tony Romo, for now I have to go with the Raiders' signing return man Cordarrelle Patterson. The Tennessee product has five career returns for touchdowns and led the league last season by averaging 31.7 yards per kick return. Patterson should put Derek Carr and Oakland’s offense in good field position most times as the team’s main punt and kick returner. The Raiders averaged 20.5 yards per kick return last season, No. 22 in the NFL.
Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders: Until Marshawn Lynch comes out of retirement and joins the Raiders or the Raiders sign Adrian Peterson, this is a fairly dull division when it comes to big-splash free-agent signings. Ronald Leary might not light up your fantasy team -- he is a guard, after all -- but if the Broncos hope to get themselves right, it starts in the trenches. Leary, by all accounts, after starting 47 of his career 48 games with the Cowboys, could have the biggest, albeit quietest, impact in the AFC West. If not, then let’s go with the Raiders’ Cordarrelle Patterson, a three-time All-Pro returner for the Vikings who will get Oakland’s return game going.
They're probably next up on the Green Bay Packers' list of players who will receive contract extensions.
Not that any deals are imminent, but team president Mark Murphy indicated the future of all three are currently being considered even as the 2017 free-agent class is still being assembled.
It's why general manager Ted Thompson and his chief contract negotiator, Russ Ball, might sit on the bulk of the $20 million-plus in salary-cap space they still have available for this season even after they added four veterans from other teams -- Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Davon House and Ricky Jean Francois -- and also made a high-priced re-signing in Nick Perry.
"You can't just look at this year; you have to have a plan over a two-to-three-year period," Murphy told reporters in Phoenix, where the NFL annual meetings got underway on Sunday evening. "Who are our core players that we're going to need to sign? And we want to have money available for those signings, not just this year."
In terms of timing, Adams and Clinton-Dix might be more pressing, but no one is more important than Rodgers. Even though the quarterback still has three years remaining on his five-year, $110 million extension that at the time made him the NFL's highest-paid player, Rodgers now ranks fifth in the NFL among quarterbacks in terms of his $22 million average per year.
"Obviously Aaron is extremely important to the organization, and I know they have a plan for him," Murphy said. "Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and you've got others, Davante Adams, that are coming up towards the end of their contracts as well."
While Rodgers is under contract through 2019, Adams and Clinton-Dix -- along with fellow 2014 draft picks Corey Linsley and Richard Rodgers -- are entering the final seasons of their rookie deals, although the Packers could exercise the fifth-year option on Clinton-Dix that all first-round draft picks have in their deals. They would have to do that with Clinton-Dix by early May, and then they’d have him under contract through 2018.
The Packers have never picked up a fifth-year option since the system went into place for first-round picks taken after the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Clinton-Dix almost certainly will either have his exercised or will get an extension.
As for Rodgers, Murphy offered no timetable on a new deal.
"That's something that like I said before, Ted and Russ work through those things," Murphy said. "And I'm confident they'll make the right decision."
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert contributed to this report.
Which free agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division? ESPN's NFC East reporters make their picks:
Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys reporter: I’m going with Alshon Jeffery. If he can stay healthy and on the field, I think the Eagles have found Carson Wentz a bona fide No. 1 receiver to make his life a lot easier. I’ve spent the last 10 years covering Tony Romo and he always had a top receiver -- Terrell Owens, Miles Austin (at least for a short run), Dez Bryant -- to help his development and ascension up the quarterback ranks. Jeffery is a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks. He runs well. He makes big plays. He is what Wentz lacked in many ways last season.
John Keim, Washington Redskins reporter: Philadelphia’s signing of receiver Alshon Jeffery. The NFC East has been more about player losses than signings, which is why the pickings aren’t deep for this category. Terrelle Pryor can help Washington, but he’s helping to replace something lost. Brandon Marshall gives Eli Manning another target in New York. But Jeffery will give second-year quarterback Carson Wentz what he lacked as a rookie: a big-time target. Signing speedy receiver Torrey Smith alongside should help both, too. The question with Jeffery will surround his availability, thanks to injuries two years ago and a suspension in 2016. But he’s a big target for a big quarterback. Jeffery has some flaws as a receiver, but he knows how to use his body well, allowing quarterbacks to take chances with him. Last season, his catch percentage was 56.5 – or 119th in the league (and two spots below Pryor). But his big-play ability can help Wentz and, therefore, the Eagles.
Tim McManus, Philadelphia Eagles reporter: The Eagles picked up the top receiver on the market by inking Alshon Jeffery to a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $14 million. Suddenly, Carson Wentz goes from having arguably the worst outside receivers in the NFL to being armed with a legitimate No. 1 in Jeffery on one side and a deep threat in Torrey Smith (he signed a 3-year, $15 million deal) on the other. While the Giants' (Brandon Marshall) and the Redskins’ (Terrelle Pryor) receiver acquisitions are significant, no move changes the dynamics on offense quite like the one for Jeffery. He will provide a reliable target for Wentz, shielding off defenders and flying high for catches in the red zone, and will help create spacing for receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz on the inside.
Jordan Raanan, New York Giants reporter: It has to be Alshon Jeffery with the Eagles. Did you see their wide receivers last season? If Jeffery is on the field (injuries are always the question with him) he’s such a substantial upgrade from what they had last year, when Jordan Matthews was their No. 1 receiver. Jeffery gives quarterback Carson Wentz a weapon on the outside that he didn’t have during his rookie year. He can go up and get the ball and make tough catches in tight spaces. Was Nelson Agholor going to do that for him last year? Dorial Green-Beckham? Please. Jeffery is also playing on a one-year deal worth less ($9.5 million guaranteed) than he expected on the open market. So he should have extra motivation for a big season; otherwise he will never get paid. I like his chances working with a young, ascending quarterback who will welcome a legitimate pass-catching option.
Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division? ESPN's AFC South reporters give their picks:
Sarah Barshop, Texans reporter: A.J. Bouye will not only help solidify the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense, but he joins the 23-year-old Jalen Ramsey to form what could be the best cornerback duo in the NFL next season. Bouye was part of the second-ranked secondary with the Texans last season, and he finished the year as their top cornerback. The Jaguars gave Bouye a five-year, $67.5 million deal after his best season -- and the only one in which he was a starter -- but he will be a great addition to the Jaguars' secondary if he can match or improve upon the production he had in his final year in Houston.
Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter: Bouye leaving Houston for Jacksonville might have the most long-term impact because it gives the Jaguars one of the best corner duos in the NFL. But the signing that will have the biggest impact in 2017 is the Jaguars' addition of defensive end Calais Campbell. The Jaguars ranked sixth in total defense last season, but their weaknesses were the pass rush and a lack of turnovers. Campbell has 56.5 sacks in his nine seasons and has recorded at least five sacks in the past eight seasons, including a career-high nine in 2013 and eight last season. The Jaguars' pass rush was hit and miss and Campbell brings some much-needed consistency. A better pass rush usually means more chances to create turnovers, which is something the Jaguars have struggled to do. They have forced the fewest turnovers since 2014 (51) and Jacksonville defensive backs have intercepted just 11 passes in the past three seasons. That's by far the worst in the division (Houston DBs picked off 46).
Paul Kuharsky, Titans reporter: With no significant quarterback addition in the division (yet), the most impactful addition is a guy who will do plenty to disrupt quarterbacks. New Jacksonville defensive end Calais Campbell is a big addition to the Jaguars' front. On the same line with Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler and Abry Jones, he will give some tackles, quarterbacks and offenses real headaches. Campbell will also give the Jaguars a vocal leader they might have been lacking. Sure, we've seen the Jaguars add plenty of talent in recent years and not get improved results. But Campbell's arrival shouldn't be judged against previous free-agent production or the team's win-loss record before he was part of things. Campbell is No. 1 and his teammate, cornerback A.J. Bouye, may well rate as No. 2.
Mike Wells, Colts reporter: The Jaguars will need to rely on their defense if Blake Bortles doesn't show much improvement at quarterback. That's why signing defensive end Calais Campbell was a significant move for them. Campbell has 56.5 sacks in his nine-year career and he's had at least five sacks in a season eight straight years. Jacksonville was tied for 19th in the NFL in sacks with 33 last season. Campbell will join a defensive line that also features Yannick Ngakoue (eight sacks), Malik Jackson (6.5 sacks) and Dante Fowler (four sacks). That's a formidable group the Jaguars will put on the field to pursue quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota in the AFC South.
Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the NFC North? ESPN's NFC North reporters make their picks:
Rob Demovsky, Packers reporter: Mike Glennon. And that doesn't mean it will be a positive impact. The Chicago Bears moved on from the talented, but mercurial Jay Cutler and put their struggling franchise in the hands of a quarterback who sat on the bench in Tampa Bay the last two years. A better option for the Bears would have been Jimmy Garoppolo or Tony Romo. But when the Patriots decided to hang on to Tom Brady's backup and the Cowboys stalled in making a move with Romo, it left the Bears without a great quarterback option. The impact comes in the sense that the Bears could again be a gimme for wins for the rest of the division.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Splurging for right tackle Rick Wagner was a brilliant move by Detroit. Of course, Wagner was expensive -- a five-year contract worth $29.5 million guaranteed -- but he's a major upgrade up front for a team that also added right guard T.J. Lang. Wagner not only helps protect franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, he should open holes in the run game. Run blocking matters, and the Lions' offense has been way too one-dimensional. In Wagner, Detroit gets a dominant right tackle it can run behind. To some, signing offensive linemen in free agency is boring, but I can't think of a bigger pickup inside the division.
Ben Goessling, Vikings reporter: Viewed purely in terms of what he is replacing, it might be Riley Reiff in Minnesota. The Vikings gave Reiff a five-year, $58.5 million deal that included $26.3 million in guaranteed money, and it shouldn't be assumed he's going to be a stalwart left tackle. But even if he's average, he might be enough of an upgrade to make a significant difference for the Vikings in the division. Their offensive line was positively dreadful a year ago, with T.J. Clemmings' first stint at left tackle going so poorly that it led the Vikings to sign the oft-injured Jake Long. Clemmings wound back up at left tackle after Long was lost to a torn Achilles, and the Vikings badly needed a solution on the left side. A team that started the season 5-0 lost eight of its final 11 games in large part because of crippling injuries and rank ineffectiveness on the line. If Reiff and Mike Remmers are able to provide competence at the tackle positions, the Vikings' offense might be competent enough to help the team return to the playoffs.
Michael Rothstein, Lions reporter: Of the four teams in the NFC North, only one will definitely have a new quarterback under center for the start of the 2017 season. That, of course, is the Bears and Glennon. Because Glennon will be charged with running an entire offense -- and doing so without Alshon Jeffery -- he immediately becomes the biggest impact signing in the division. Yes, the Lions improved their offensive line with Wagner and Lang, the Packers added a dynamic tight end in Martellus Bennett and Minnesota made its defense stronger with Datone Jones, but Glennon is the one who will have the ball every offensive snap. If the Bears are going to make a push from their spot at the bottom of the division, it will come from consistent play out of the 27-year-old Glennon, who is 5-13 as a starting quarterback, all with Tampa Bay.
Which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact in the division? ESPN's AFC East reporters make their picks:
Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: Technically, this isn’t a free-agent signing, but Tyrod Taylor staying with the Bills on a restructured contract will have the biggest impact. Personally, I think it would’ve been a terrible move to dump Taylor, considering what else is out there. I guess the Bills realized the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I know Taylor has his warts, but he has won games as a starter and he’s not an interception machine. The Jets would kill for a guy like that. He’ll keep the Bills competitive, and the restructured deal is more cap-friendly than the previous one -- another plus. As for an actual free-agent signing, I’ll say Stephon Gilmore going to the Patriots. He could have an impact before he steps on the field, as his arrival could lead to Malcolm Butler’s departure.
Mike Reiss, New England Patriots reporter: CB Stephon Gilmore. This was the Patriots’ big splash, and its ripple effect could be that fellow cornerback Malcolm Butler -- a restricted free agent -- is no longer in New England. So that’s a big impact, one way or another. The Patriots handed Gilmore a generous five-year, $65 million contract, with $31 million in the first two years. They like his size (6-1, 190), length, man cover skills and steadiness off the field.
Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: I hesitate to give this honor to the Patriots signing Stephon Gilmore, but there is not another signing in the division that rivals it. I covered each of Gilmore's games for the past four seasons and do not believe he is a surefire upgrade from Malcolm Butler as the Patriots' top cornerback, if Butler is traded to or signs with the New Orleans Saints. The signing particularly surprised me because Patriots coach Bill Belichick seems to prefer players who played well against his team; Gilmore struggled against New England in a loss in Buffalo last season. He has the physical tools to be a top player at his position, but the consistency has not been there. Perhaps Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can even out Gilmore's performance, but I am not sure he will deliver the same impact that Darrelle Revis did for the Patriots in 2014.
James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: I really like what the Patriots did by signing Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract. I've watched Gilmore his entire career and always liked his aggressiveness and willingness to play man and bump-and-run coverage. That's partially led to Gilmore's eight interceptions and 30 passes defended the past two seasons. You would be surprised by the amount of corners in the NFL who prefer to "play it safe" and avoid those responsibilities with zone or soft man coverage for most of the game. Gilmore is a great fit for New England and is entering his prime. He's had some ups and downs, but that comes with being a young player. Gilmore is about to get elite-level coaching in New England under Bill Belichick, which will only make the 26-year-old better. What's not to like with this move?