If you want the Baltimore Ravens to take a wide receiver at the No. 16 overall pick, you'll likely be disappointed.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., whose second mock draft came out Wednesday, believes there is only one guaranteed first-round wide receiver in this year's draft, and Alabama's Calvin Ridley is expected to be taken before the Ravens go on the clock in the middle of the first round.
"It's a bad year for receivers in the first round," Kiper said in Wednesday's conference call, "and a really good for receivers in the second through fifth round."
Based on that assessment, the Ravens have to either trade up to get Ridley or take a wide receiver in the second and third rounds. Ridley has projected to go as high as No. 8 to the Chicago Bears, but Baltimore could jump up a few spots if he gets out of the top 10.
The other option is waiting and taking a receiver in the second or third rounds. The Ravens have a pick in each of those rounds, and they should get a compensatory third-rounder for losing offensive tackle Rick Wagner last offseason.
This could be the best route to go if last year is any indication. The three rookie wide receivers who totaled more than 700 yards receiving last season were not drafted in the first round: Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster (second round), L.A. Rams' Cooper Kupp (third round) and Jacksonville's Keelan Cole (undrafted).
Kiper said UCLA's Jordan Lasley is the receiver who can improve his stock the most in next week's combine. Lasley tied a school record with seven 100-yard receiving games, but he's considered a character risk.
Lasley was suspended for four games this season for unspecified reasons, fought with a teammate in practice in 2015 and missed a team bus before a game in 2016. He also was arrested twice in 2016 (once for possession of alcohol as a minor and another time for using a fake ID), according to the Los Angeles city attorney's office.
"If he interviews well and they do their due diligence and they can reconcile all that, then Jordan Lalasley from UCLA could be a first-round pick," Kiper said. "He's a first-round talent now. The combine for him will be very important."
Wide receiver is among the top priorities for the Ravens in the draft. Baltimore could be without its top two receivers from last year because Mike Wallace is a free agent and Jeremy Maclin could get cut. Breshad Perriman, the team's 2015 first-round pick, has failed to live up to expectations.
Since 2008, the Ravens have only taken a wide receiver in the first three rounds twice: Torrey Smith in 2011 and Perriman in 2015.
Rosen is widely regarded as the best pure passer in the draft. Mayfield is the undersized Heisman Trophy winner who put up video-game numbers in college.
Our man Mel predicts the Jets will pick Mayfield, which would break the Internet and send Jets Nation into a state of pandemonium. It would create a Tim Tebow-esque buzz, with one notable difference: Mayfield can actually play the position.
That said, I'd be surprised if it happens because Mayfield doesn't seem like a Mike Maccagnan kind of prospect.
Based on his drafting tendencies, the Jets' general manager seems to prefer players with prototypical traits -- height, weight, speed, etc. For a quarterback, that means a pocket passer, a 6-foot-3 (or taller) player with a strong arm.
Mayfield is the anti-Hackenberg -- accurate, mobile, fiery and only 6 feet tall. Some people think Mayfield is too fiery. Unlike Hackenberg, he has some maturity issues (on and off the field), which need to be checked out and could scare some teams away.
Simply put, Mayfield would be an outside-the-box pick for Maccagnan. Rosen is a classic pocket passer with size (6-foot-4) and fantastic arm talent, though there are questions about his durability and leadership intangibles. Rosen is hardly a sure thing, but he'd be considered a safer pick than Mayfield.
But safer doesn't always mean better. Maybe it's time for Maccagnan to make a bold move.
It's worth noting that Kiper has Sam Darnold slipping to the Denver Broncos with the fifth pick. If I'm the Jets, I'd be trying to leapfrog the Broncos with a trade because Darnold, in my opinion, is the best quarterback prospect in the draft.
This could be moot, of course, if Cousins accepts the Jets' millions.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Three mock drafts and three picks for Marcus Davenport to the Green Bay Packers.
Can it be as obvious as Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have made it seem so far?
Much can -- and will -- change between now and when general manager Brian Gutekunst is on the clock at No. 14 -- assuming he stays there -- on the evening of April 26. The combine is still a week away and free agency is nearly a month away but ESPN's two draft analysts make it look like an easy and obvious choice for the first-time GM.
Kiper's latest mock draft, version 2.0 released on Wednesday, had the Packers taking Davenport. He also had them taking the UT-San Antonio defensive end in his first version last month. McShay doubled down on Davenport, giving him to the Packers in his most recent mock.
Here's why Davenport could be the clear-cut choice:
- There's little chance the Packers will find an impact pass-rusher in free agency; those kinds of players don't usually hit the market. Even though Davenport looks like one of the top rushers in the draft, he could slide out of the top-10 because of the expected run on quarterbacks early on. Kiper has four quarterbacks gone in the first 11 picks -- Josh Allen No. 1 overall to the Browns followed by Sam Darnold (No. 5 to the Broncos), Baker Mayfield (No. 6 to the Jets) and Josh Rosen (No. 11 to the Dolphins).
- With the other 10 picks ahead of the Packers, Kiper has three other offensive players coming off the board -- running back Saquon Barkley to the Giants at No. 2, guard Quenton Nelson (No. 7 to the Buccaneers) and tackle Kolton Miller (No. 12 to the Bengals).
- The Packers know they're not getting NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb (No. 3 to the Colts), which makes Davenport the next-best pure rusher from the defensive line position.
The wild card is that this is Gutekunst's first time running a draft and no one really knows how he will operate. With former GM Ted Thompson, the draft -- especially early on -- became easier to predict. He often went with the safe pick and usually favored the defensive side of the ball. Gutekunst's biggest task is to give new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine more playmakers, but no one really knows how he will do that.
No matter where quarterback Kirk Cousins signs, and given the attention his contract situation has received, there’s a clear directive: He’d better win. He knows that as well as anyone. And in every interview, Cousins has repeated how important winning will be to his choice.
If that’s the case, then some teams make a lot of sense and a handful of teams do not.
Minnesota tops the list of the teams that make the most sense -- if it decides not to keep any of the three unrestricted free agents from its 2017 roster at the position. Thing is, the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game (with a much less expensive Case Keenum), so the expectations would be set awfully high for Cousins. Still, if it’s about long-term success and the Vikings are interested, then they’re the easy choice -- even if it means rejecting bigger deals elsewhere.
The Redskins didn’t want to pay Cousins a certain amount because they believed it would be harder to build around him. Minnesota's roster is already built. The Vikings could afford to overpay a guy if they view him as the final piece, one who could help them now and for a few years while in that Super Bowl window.
Jacksonville makes sense too, depending on what the Jaguars decide to do with Blake Bortles.
But there are some teams for which, if he signs, he’ll need help and hope the organization can provide what’s necessary.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals have a new coach in Steve Wilks. But they also need a lot of help and don’t have much cap room (approximately $23 million). There’s another potential problem: They play in the NFC West, the same division as two of Cousins’ former coaches -- the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan. That doesn’t mean Cousins couldn’t play in Arizona and win, but he’d also enter four games each year facing two coaches who know him as well as anyone, especially what makes him uncomfortable. Cousins did play well enough in a victory over the Rams last season and he threw for 330 yards in beating the 49ers (winless at the time). But it makes winning harder.
New York Jets: With approximately $75 million in cap space, they can pay quite a bit for Cousins if they want; they can free up another $15 million or so with cuts. But signing Cousins doesn’t solve all their issues. Quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t the problem in the 13 games he played last season, throwing 18 touchdowns to nine interceptions with a passer rating of 94.5. He wasn’t a Pro Bowl player, but he played well and the Jets were 5-8 in games he started. New York lacks offensive playmakers; finding one with the sixth overall pick won’t be enough. They need a running back, tight end and offensive line help. They need to fix their defense, which ranked 22nd in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed.
Money alone has never solved problems in the NFL. Still, the Jets could always structure Cousins’ contract so it’s front-loaded, allowing them to build for the next several years. Then the question becomes: Can they? If Cousins signs here, it will test the belief that he wants to win. Sometimes a team offers so much money, it convinces players to believe that, yeah, they can win here (see: Redskins, 2000s). Having a coordinator in Jeremy Bates who has a reputation for being highly detailed -- and who coached with Mike Shanahan, Cousins’ first coach -- helps. Cousins met him once and he knows the system he runs. Winning in New York could make Cousins a king; losing there after signing a huge deal would do the opposite. Cousins would be betting on himself again, this time that he could elevate a franchise. He’d also be betting on the Jets to get him what he needs. Those are big bets.
Denver Broncos: If the Vikings and Jaguars don’t bid, then it could come down to the Broncos or the Jets. Denver has shown it can build a winner. The Broncos also have a good running game, ranking 12th in yards per game last season. They have a defense that ranked third in yards (but 22nd in points allowed). There’s a base to build around, plus they have the fifth overall pick. The problem for Denver will be creating necessary cap space. The Broncos not only don’t have a lot of room now -- $25 million – they’re also in tough shape for 2019 (currently 29th in available space). Denver could release or trade players to create more room, but one of them would be receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Also, coach Vance Joseph ended his first season with rumors he could get fired. It’s a storied franchise, but it’s another gamble. And both sides will have to wonder the same thing: Given their cap situation, would signing Cousins prevent them from building for long-term success?
Cleveland Browns: This has never made sense for either side and there’s a good chance the Browns won’t even bid on Cousins. They have a chance to grab the best quarterback in a draft with several good prospects who, in a couple of years, could surpass Cousins. And they’d be much cheaper. From Cousins' perspective: The Browns are a combined 1-31 and have the same head coach. End of story.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- General manager Ryan Pace’s brand-new contract extension ensures a certain degree of roster stability from 2017 to 2018.
Unlike three years ago, the Chicago Bears are not completely starting from scratch under their new head coach, Matt Nagy -- there should be plenty of holdovers from the John Fox era in Chicago’s Week 1 starting lineup.
That being said, change is inevitable in the NFL. The Bears have several higher-profile veterans -- signed through 2018 -- who are on the proverbial bubble.
Here are some of the decisions the Bears face, with projections on how it works out:
QB Mike Glennon
Potential savings vs. cap: $9 million
Dead money: $4.5 million
The situation: Glennon struggled (eight turnovers) in four starts last year before the Bears pulled the plug and went with second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. Glennon, who didn’t take another snap for Chicago after losing his starting job, is scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2018 -- on top of a $2.5 million fully guaranteed roster bonus.
Prediction: Gone. Glennon’s salary is too high for a backup. He also doesn’t fit Nagy’s style of offense. The Bears will be in the market -- either via free agency or the draft -- for another backup.
OLB Pernell McPhee
Potential savings vs. cap: $7.075 million
Dead money: $1 million
The situation: McPhee plays extremely hard but he struggles to stay healthy. The 29-year-old veteran has dealt with knee problems since the Bears signed him in 2015. To McPhee’s credit, he appeared in 13 games last season -- after having another knee surgery over the summer -- but McPhee has only 14 sacks while wearing a Bears uniform. McPhee has a small roster bonus ($200,000) due on June 1, but his base salary is a pricey $7.2 million.
Prediction: The only way McPhee returns is if he agrees to take a reduced salary. The Bears just can’t justify paying a situational player with a history of health problems $7.2 million for another year. Now, there’s value in McPhee coming back. He tells it like it is inside the locker room. The Bears need guys like McPhee. The team as a whole was way too sensitive to internal criticism last year.
Potential savings vs. cap: $5 million
Dead money: $750,000
The situation: Wheaton, who underwent multiple surgeries in 2017, caught three passes for 51 yards in 11 games. He is scheduled to earn $5 million this season. He has seven receptions in the past two years combined.
Prediction: The Bears probably move on. Wheaton, when healthy, would fit in Nagy’s offense because of his speed, but how can the Bears trust him? And how can they pay him $5 million?
Potential savings vs. cap: $3,260,416
Dead money: $666,667
The situation: Demps, 32, played in three games last year before landing on injured reserve. He’s due to collect a $500,000 roster bonus on the third day of the league year; Demps' total compensation maxes out at $4 million in 2018.
Prediction: The Bears appear to be in good shape at safety with Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. The team isn’t going to pay a backup safety upward of $4 million. It’s probably time for Demps, who intercepted six passes for Houston in 2016, to move on.
Potential savings vs. cap: $4.5 million
Dead money: $1 million
The situation: Cooper quickly fell out of favor with last year’s coaching staff. Cooper, who made $6 million in 2017, was expected to be a full-time fixture in Chicago’s secondary but ended up starting only a handful of games. His $5 million base salary for 2018 becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year.
Prediction: The Bears have serious offseason questions at cornerback -- Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are unrestricted free agents -- which could work in Cooper’s favor. But at $5 million? For a player who started only three games? And with Vic Fangio back as defensive coordinator? It would make more sense of the Bears to move in another direction.
TE Dion Sims
Potential savings vs. cap: $5,666,666
Dead money: $666,667
The situation: Sims wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game in 2017, with only 15 catches for 180 yards and one touchdown. His $6 million base salary for 2018 becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year.
Prediction: It all depends on whether Nagy has a role for him on offense. If Nagy feels he can use Sims -- although $6 million is awfully high for a tight end with 89 career catches over five seasons -- then perhaps he’s back. But Sims does not look like a very good signing based on last year’s results. Few people in Chicago would complain if the Bears cut their losses with Sims after one year.
OLB Willie Young
Potential savings vs. cap: $4.5 million
Dead money: $900,000
The situation: Chicago’s best pass-rusher from 2014-16 (24 sacks), Young played in only four games last year. The 32-year-old is due a roster bonus of $1 million on the third day of the league year. Young’s 2018 base salary is $3.5 million.
Prediction: Young’s age is definitely working against him, but he has had a successful run in Chicago. Given the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the outside linebackers (McPhee is on the bubble, Leonard Floyd is coming off surgery and Sam Acho/Lamarr Houston are unrestricted free agents), the Bears might be better off paying Young the roster bonus. That way, they can bring Young to camp and see what happens.
It was early in the season and the Raiders were prepping for a road trip with bags strewn about, and Lynch had the deeply religious Derek Carr’s ear as he dropped F-bombs and a series of other expletives. The Raiders' franchise quarterback, like a dutiful student, nodded to Beast Mode’s rhythmic cadence and took it in.
All while wearing a T-shirt that read “JESUS LOVES.”
The lessons imparted continued later in the season, with Lynch offering Carr and his five-year, $125 million contract some 401(k) advice.
Contribute the max!
And you think Lynch destroyed the chemistry of a Raiders locker room that tumbled from a 12-4 record and a playoff appearance in 2016 to a 6-10 campaign that essentially cost head coach Jack Del Rio his job?
Two things to consider:
1. If you believe in such things as locker room chemistry in the NFL, “destroyed” might be too harsh a descriptor. It's more likely that Lynch “altered” its chemistry by his mere outsize personality, as the Raiders’ young locker room perhaps was not ready to handle Beast Mode and all that it entails.
2. Del Rio, even with a four-year contract extension, was going to be on the hot seat so long as Jon Gruden whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Raiders owner Mark Davis, who had been chasing Gruden since his father, Al Davis, died in 2011.
As such, Beast Mode is now Chucky’s blessing and curse, depending upon how you look at it.
And with the notion swirling that Oakland could move on from Lynch and save more than $5.95 million against the salary cap by cutting him, Gruden sees things differently.
The way Gruden sees it, he needs a more focused Lynch rather than the guy who, a year after sitting out a season in retirement, predictably and understandably did not get into football shape until after the halfway mark last season.
“I said to him: ‘I need Marshawn Lynch. I don’t need this part-time Lynch. I need full-time Lynch,” Gruden said, according to Sports Illustrated.
Which means the sideshows and side hustles, such as his online reality series, need to be kaput or curtailed during the season.
“We need the real deal,” Gruden continued to tell Lynch, per Sports Illustrated. “If you’re going to put those letters on the back of your jersey, man, you’ve got to back it up, Marshawn -- right? We don’t need another back, we need a feature back.”
For all of his distractions last season, Lynch was a constant and generally positive presence at the Raiders' headquarters.
And we’re not talking about his community work as one of Oakland’s favorite sons.
Sure, Lynch running onto the field to protect an opponent in Marcus Peters rubbed many Raiders the wrong way. And who else could get as much mileage out of a random drug test by saying he had to put his “ding-ding sauce” out for the collector? Or flout California Interscholastic Federation rules and irk the Raiders' staff by practicing with the Oakland Tech high school team at his alma mater during a one-game suspension for making contact with an official during the Peters incident?
But Lynch was at every minicamp, OTA and training camp practice, and he did not miss a regular-season practice until late in the season, when Del Rio started resting his veterans on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
And he was the Raiders' best offensive player during the second half of the season, rushing for 625 yards on 135 attempts (4.6 yards per carry) with five touchdowns in eight games. All this after he averaged a mere 3.7 yards in rushing for 266 yards on 72 carries with two scores before his suspension.
Lynch's 50 missed tackles forced on the season were the sixth most of any running back in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Lynch, who turns 32 in April, has a $1 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year (March 18), so it would make sense that if Oakland were to make a move on him, this would be a target date.
Besides, neither Washington nor Richard are big enough or durable enough to be a feature back, and while Gruden loves to use his fullback as a matchup nightmare -- is that Marcel Reece I hear working out? -- Jamize Olawale also has shown durability issues over the past two seasons.
So if it’s not Lynch, where do the Raiders turn?
Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley does not figure to still be on the NFL draft board by the time the Raiders pick at No. 9 or No. 10.
Maybe the Raiders will look 30-some miles down Interstate 880 at pending San Francisco 49ers free agent Carlos Hyde, who will turn 28 in September and has proved he can be a bell-cow back. He is coming off a career-low 3.9 yards per carry average after averaging a career-best 4.6 yards in 2016, though he did have eight rushing TDs in 2017. Running in a power scheme behind Oakland’s line, which is best suited to run power, would make a lot of sense in utilizing Hyde too.
Bell had an NFL-high 321 carries last season and rushed for 1,291 yards with nine TDs, and he also caught 85 passes for 655 yards and two scores.
“Le’Veon Bell, he’ll ring your bell,” Gruden said to future Raiders backup quarterback Connor Cook during his QB Camp in 2016. “He’s the best back in the league.”
Lynch, it should be noted, was retired at the time.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the teams expected to pursue free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. It will be costly, though -- likely in the neighborhood of $27 million to $30 million annually.
That’s roughly $10 million more than what the Jaguars would have to pay Blake Bortles in 2018. And it’s likely more than what Bortles would command in a contract extension if he were to play well enough this season to earn one. Bortles is due to make $19.053 million in 2018 on the fifth-year option. The wrist surgery he had earlier this month is not expected to keep him from passing a physical.
The question the Jaguars' brass must answer, then, is if Cousins is indeed worth the price. The numbers don’t exactly show that’s the case.
Cousins and Bortles have each played in 62 games and Cousins does have a slight edge in victories (31 to 26) in the regular season. He also is significantly better in completion percentage (64.5 percent to 59.1 percent), passing yards (16,026 to 14,928) and passer rating (93.7 to 80.8).
Both players are similar in touchdown passes (Cousins has 99, Bortles has 90), though Bortles has thrown nine more interceptions.
However, there’s one area where Bortles has clearly outperformed Cousins: in the red zone.
Since 2015, Bortles has thrown 61 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in the red zone. Cousins has thrown 52 touchdown passes and five interceptions on 11 more attempts. Bortles, who has completed more than 60 percent of his passes in a season just once since he was drafted in 2014, also has a marginally better completion percentage than Cousins (55.2 percent to 54.8 percent) in the red zone.
Bortles was among the league’s top quarterbacks in the red zone in 2017, throwing 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was one of only six quarterbacks to throw at least 15 touchdown passes without an interception. Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Case Keenum, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff were the others.
The Jaguars ranked second to Philadelphia in red zone efficiency in 2017, a big reason why they went 10-6 and won their first division title since 1999. They also scored touchdowns on all eight trips into the red zone in the postseason, including three touchdown passes.
Red zone production is not the only way to evaluate a quarterback. Bortles has committed 79 turnovers in his four seasons, his mechanics are far from perfect, and his completion percentage is well below ideal. His ceiling may very well be what he did in 2017: 60.2 percent completions, 21 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions.
Still, that was good enough -- especially with the Jaguars’ defense, which led the league in pass defense and finished second in scoring, turnovers and sacks -- to help the Jaguars reach the AFC Championship Game. That was in Bortles’ first full season under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The strides he made after the worst season of his career in 2016 were significant. If he can make similar progress in 2018, then he’s potentially a top-12 quarterback.
Cousins isn’t Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He’s probably not Stafford or Wentz, either. Still, the consensus is that he is an upgrade over Bortles, despite Bortles’ red zone advantage. The Jaguars have to decide if he’s a significant enough upgrade over what Bortles can potentially become to warrant spending nearly $100 million over the next five or six years.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Martellus Bennett experience lasted all of seven games. Lance Kendricks couldn’t replicate what he accomplished with the Rams. Richard Rodgers never developed after his Hail Mary moment. Emanuel Byrd played in one game after his practice-squad promotion.
So new general manager Brian Gutekunst is no doubt on the lookout for the Green Bay Packers' next playmaking tight end, among all the other needs he inherited when he took over for Ted Thompson last month.
At this time a year ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Packers would re-sign Jared Cook to a multiyear deal and Thompson would be able to move on to other areas of concern. When negotiations broke down, the Packers mistakenly thought they could meld a character like Bennett into a locker room largely devoid of big personalities.
That combination of miscues has thrust tight end back into the conversation as free agency approaches next month.
Coach Mike McCarthy can make a strong case that his offense operates best with a receiving threat at tight end, à la Cook in 2016 and Jermichael Finley from 2009 until his career-ending neck injury in 2013, when he was Aaron Rodgers' No. 1 tight end.
In Cook, the Packers finally found a replacement for Finley, yet it shockingly turned into only a one-year partnership. Those inside Lambeau Field say Cook overplayed his hand, while those on the other side claim Thompson and his contract negotiator, Russ Ball, botched the talks.
Both Rodgers and McCarthy have talked regularly about the importance of a pass-catching tight end. Rodgers loved his one season with Cook, grew to appreciate the enigmatic Finley and was willing to try to make it work with Bennett.
Bennett’s reputation as a difficult -- and at times distracting -- personality played out exactly that way. At the bye week, shortly after Rodgers broke his collarbone, Bennett made a social media post in which he talked about retirement. He then returned from the week off complaining of a shoulder injury.
He tried to smear Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, only to see it blow up in his face when player after player defended the team’s longtime doctor. Bennett claimed McKenzie forced him to play despite an injury that needed surgery. The Packers released the 30-year-old with the designation that he failed to disclose a medical condition. When the Patriots claimed him off waivers, Bennett played two more games for New England, leaving many in Green Bay to believe that he wasn’t willing to play hurt without Rodgers but would for Tom Brady.
It all added up to a dismal season for the position group, which ranked 25th in the NFL in both catches and yards among all teams' tight ends and had more dropped passes than all but four teams’ tight ends, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It wasn’t what anyone had in mind when the Packers signed Bennett to a three-year, $21 million deal last March and the next day added Kendricks on a two-year, $4 million deal.
Kendricks, who was coming off a 50-catch season with the Rams in 2016, managed just 18 for 203 yards and one touchdown for the Packers. Meanwhile, Richard Rodgers, best known for catching the Hail Mary touchdown against the Lions in 2015, caught just 12 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown in the final year of his contract.
Kendricks might be worth keeping for the second year of his deal, while Rodgers could be had on the cheap, and Byrd looks like a developmental prospect. None of them, however, is a No. 1 tight end.
The onus is on Gutekunst to upgrade the position without compromising the plan to restock the defensive roster. Surely, the first-time GM saw in the Super Bowl how important the tight ends were to each offense -- Zach Ertz to the Eagles and Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots. Perhaps that could push Gutekunst into the free-agent market. Among those who could be available include Seattle’s Jimmy Graham, Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert, Tampa Bay’s Cameron Brate and even Ertz’s backup, Trey Burton.
If hurdling football players in full pads were an Olympic sporting event, Todd Gurley might be going for gold in Pyeongchang right now. The Los Angeles Rams' star running back has turned heads numerous times for his ability to leap professional athletes in a single bound, especially while on his way to being named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.
It doesn't surprise those who know him best.
Gurley was a star hurdler at Tarboro High School in North Carolina. He was so good, so natural, that his track coach, Andrew Harding, used to think he could someday medal in the Olympics. Instead, Gurley utilized those talents on the football field. He doesn't ever plan to hurdle opponents. "It just happens," Gurley said. It's instinctive -- and yes, it's also dangerous.
Asked about his hurdling while on Fox Sports 1's "Undisputed" show last month, Gurley smiled and said: "I don't know why I do it, man. ... One day, it's probably going to end bad. But until then, I'm going to keep jumping. For the most part, it's more DBs. Most DBs are not going to hit a running back high, especially if they're going a hundred miles per hour fast at them. It's kind of just a reaction, and for the most part, it's been working."
Has it ever.
Below, we ranked five of Gurley's hurdles from the 2017 season and assigned them a judge's score. (Clips of the plays are linked to the "outcome" section.)
Hurdle No. 5
Situation: Second-and-11, ball at the Rams' 19-yard line with 9 minutes, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Week 14, leading 35-34.
Outcome: Jared Goff spins out of a sack and dumps it off to Gurley as he streaks across the field. Gurley then leaps over Jenkins as he crouches to make the tackle and picks up 5 or so extra yards for a total gain of 9. Two plays later, however, Goff coughs up a fumble for the key turnover in an eventual loss.
Score: 7.6. Gurley cleared Jenkins, but he didn't have to jump as high to do so. He also changed his landing foot midair, which caused him to slip when he hit the turf. Gurley gets extra points for having to reach across his body to make the catch moments before hurdling a defender, but this was his least-impressive leap of the season -- and that's saying something.
Hurdle No. 4
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent's 47-yard line with 9:23 left in the third quarter of Week 4, trailing 24-16.
Outcome: Gurley darts through a hole to his left, picks up a first down, then is confronted by Heath, who barely manages to bring Gurley down on his leaping attempt. Gurley picks up about 3 extra yards with his jump and 17 total yards on the play, getting deep into Cowboys territory to eventually set up a field goal.
Score: 8.1. Gurley didn't stick the landing on this one. Heath's head got just enough of Gurley's groin to interrupt what would've been a superb hurdle. Had he not, Gurley might have gained an extra 30 yards for a touchdown. He still would've had to outrun linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was creeping up from behind and ultimately helped secure the tackle. But Heath was acting as the last line of defense.
Hurdle No. 3
Situation: Second-and-10, ball at the Rams' 32-yard line with 7:09 left in the second quarter of Week 2, trailing 13-7.
Outcome: Gurley could've been stopped at the line of scrimmage, but his leap instead turned this into an 8-yard catch and run. That play was negated, however, because of a holding call on another Redskins cornerback, Josh Norman, prompting an automatic first down that helped set up a field goal in an eventual loss.
Score: 8.9. Gurley cleanly cleared the defender, then stuck the landing so well that he was able to immediately whip around the corner to get past another defender in linebacker Mason Foster. That's huge. But the degree of difficulty wasn't as high because Fuller was coming low and at an angle.
Hurdle No. 2
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent's 23-yard line with 10:41 left in the second quarter of Week 16, leading 6-3.
Outcome: Gurley runs a drag, makes about a 3-yard catch, runs toward the left sideline, then hurdles Byard and picks up a first down on an eventual 16-yard gain. It extended an eventual 16-play drive that absorbed more than eight minutes. New kicker Sam Ficken couldn't finish off the drive, missing a field goal. But the Rams won the game and thus clinched a division title.
Score: 9.2. There was a lot of traffic on this jump, but a closer look makes you really appreciate what Gurley did. Immediately after he regained his momentum after catching a throw that was behind him, he cleared Byard, then, as he was coming down, used his right leg to propel himself off the body of linebacker Wesley Woodyard to pick up even more yardage. All with very little room to work with.
Hurdle No. 1
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent's 18-yard line with 8:53 left in the third quarter of Week 2, trailing 20-10.
Human hurdle: Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
Outcome: Gurley turned what would've been a modest 8-yard gain into an 18-yard touchdown off a screen pass. After hurdling Breeland, he burst toward the end zone and stretched out his left arm just far enough to cross the plane before Deshazor Everett could push him out of bounds.
Score: 9.9. In the annals of football hurdling, this one should stand as the model. Breeland was barely even crouching, probably because he saw what Gurley did to his poor teammate in the prior quarter of this game. But Gurley still cleared him cleanly with a jump that must have taken him about six feet off the ground. That it led directly to a touchdown because of another impossibly athletic play takes it to another level.
The franchise tag window is here, and if the Steelers use the tag as expected, Bell and the team have the next five months to work out a contract.
Here's what you need to know about what's next:
Where things stand: Both sides have expressed optimism over a long-term deal. Negotiations still are in the early stages, but they could take flight at the NFL combine next week.
Why the Steelers likely will tag Bell: Because they are prepared to use it. They've budgeted for it. And because they'd be crazy to let one of their most productive players hit free agency during a crucial Super Bowl window. If no deal is reached by early March, the Steelers can apply the tag to give themselves more options -- they can keep Bell as another one-year rental or continue to negotiate. The $14.5 million tag gives Bell leverage, but the Steelers can use it as a way to test Bell's retirement claims.
Why the Steelers might try to avoid the tag altogether: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the team would prefer a long-term deal above all else. Basically, they'd rather avoid a repeat of last year, when Bell missed training camp as a result of the failure to reach an extension by the mid-July deadline. It's cleaner this way. They have an idea of what Bell wants. If they can meet halfway, perhaps they find a sweet spot this month.
Why the Steelers appear all-in on Bell: The game's most versatile back averages 129 yards from scrimmage per game, the highest clip over a player's first five seasons since the NFL merger in 1970. He's a unicorn back. He does things that you can't duplicate in the draft. He's an elite receiver for his position (or any position), he's an excellent pass-blocker, he can control the pace of the game with his runs and Ben Roethlisberger is at his best when Bell is heavily involved in the game plan. And he just turned 26. The body should have at least a few good years left.
What could hold up a deal: Standard guarantees. This will be crucial to Bell, who knows the per-year payouts to big contracts only tell part of the story. For example, if a team signs a player to a five-year, $50 million deal, the guaranteed money usually dries up by year two, leaving years 3-5 as option, pay-as-you-perform propositions. The Steelers typically guarantee only the signing bonus, then it's up to the player to keep performing. That said, they sign players with the intention of seeing them through the contract, which isn't the standard for all teams.
Why the Steelers might be concerned: Bell's longest run last season was 27 yards. Even Bell lamented frequent no-gain runs around the midseason point. Is his 4.0 yards per carry a byproduct of 1,541 career touches? It's worth noting that Bell missing camp clearly affected him the first three weeks of the season, and the Steelers' offensive line, though good, wasn't as dominant as the previous year.
Why Bell won't blink: Bell has made clear multiple times he considers himself a standard-bearer for a sagging running back market. He considers getting top dollar for his position his personal mission. He's never had major money in his life until now, he says, so he plans to do this right and capitalize on his position of power. Plus, he knows what the Steelers know -- they can get out of just about any deal after two years with minimal cap impact. That might involve absorbing some dead money, but shedding a large cap number would offset that problem.
Why the Steelers won't blink: Teams usually win standoffs with running backs, and the Steelers are among the hardest bargainers. The team can offer the tag or their final long-term proposal and if Bell doesn't take it, they throw the ball 50 times a game and toss James Conner out there. That's not ideal, but it's an option if they feel Bell's price won't fall to them.
How the Steelers can pull this off: Make what seems like a megadeal -- say, $68 million over five years -- manageable. Go big on the signing bonus, which prorates over the course of the deal, and bloat the fourth and fifth years as escape clauses.
A quote to remember: "The least amount of change, the better. That goes for players, coaches and everything; we don't want big changes. We're right there. We're on the cusp [of a championship]." -- Ben Roethlisberger to 93.7 the Fan on Jan. 16.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued cleaning house of under-performing players Tuesday, releasing defensive tackle Chris Baker in a move that screams "accountability." It also suggests that the Bucs need to do a better job of vetting players they bring in from the outside.
Baker, aka "Swaggy," may have enjoyed a reputation as a carefree, friendly guy when he was with the Washington Redskins, but multiple sources said that his effort in practice was a constant issue when he was there. This wasn't something that was unearthed late during his time with the Bucs; it was a well-known fact that the coaching staff would have to ride Baker hard to get the most out of him.
Baker was brought in as an upgrade over former starter Clinton McDonald, but McDonald wound up with 5.0 sacks in just three starts, while Baker had one-half sack in 15 games and 14 starts. While McDonald battled some injuries, he was a steady workhorse who took pride in his job and in being a leader on the field and in the community.
Coupled with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, known as a max-effort guy, along with young workhorse Noah Spence, Baker wasn't a fit. It also became clear that when Baker transitioned from being a 3-4 defensive end in Washington to a 4-3 defensive tackle, he wasn't having the same type of success.
Then in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers, when Baker had a costly penalty that wound up leading to the Panthers' game-winning touchdown, he was approached by Jameis Winston and Kwon Alexander about his lack of remorse for the penalty, resulting in a loud confrontation.
The Bucs will save $4.875 million with the move and won't owe Baker the guaranteed $3 million that he's due on the fifth day of the league year. That means they can now bring in some other free agents and pursue some much-needed defensive talent in the draft. But it's also a sign that once again, they continue to struggle with free agents in the Jason Licht era.
Defensive end Michael Johnson signed a five-year deal worth $43.5 million with $24 million guaranteed in 2014. That same year, they signed offensive tackle Anthony Collins to a five-year deal worth $30 million and $15 million guaranteed. The following year, in 2015, they signed linebacker Bruce Carter to a four-year deal worth $17 million. Collins had been a backup swing tackle most of his career, while Carter was an outside linebacker whom they wanted to move to middle linebacker. All were cut after just one season.
In 2017, the Bucs signed three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward to a one-year, $5 million deal. He wasn't much of a scheme fit, either, playing in a system that didn't cater to his strengths in the box. He wound up serving in a rotational role and voiced his displeasure about not starting. He likely will not return. He wasn't signed to a multiyear contract, but that's a year that could have been invested in another player.
Bottom line: In a locker room filled with younger players in leadership roles, one that has prided itself on being a "family," the Bucs have to do a better job of vetting veteran players from both a scheme standpoint and a personality standpoint. Otherwise, they'll just continue to spin their wheels in free agency.
It would cost the team $14.3 million to tag the player Carolina got as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2014.
Would the Panthers like to keep Norwell, who, according to Pro Football Focus, was the only lineman in the NFL not to allow a sack or quarterback hit last season? Yes.
Can they afford to sign him to a long-term deal? That depends on how steep the asking price is by Norwell and agent Drew Rosenhaus. According to one report, the New York Giants, with former Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman now running the show, are prepared to make a big run at Norwell in free agency.
The Panthers have about $20 million in salary-cap space, so they can’t just open the checkbook, particularly for a guard.
So the tag really isn’t an option here.
But the Panthers have used the tag on two offensive linemen in the past -- tackle Jordan Gross in 2008 and center Ryan Kalil in 2011. Those made sense at the time to keep first- and second-round draft picks.
Here’s a look at Carolina’s interesting tag history as teams begin using it Tuesday:
Todd Sauerbrun, P, 2003 -- $1.47 million
He reached a four-year extension during Week 2 of the season, then in December of 2004 was charged with driving under the influence. Later that year, he was linked to steroid use during an investigation into a South Carolina doctor. He was traded to Denver before the 2005 season for punter Jason Baker and a seventh-round pick.
Jordan Gross, OT, 2008 -- $7.45 million
He made the Pro Bowl while under the tag and was rewarded the next year with a six-year, $56.4 million deal that made him one of the leagues’ highest-paid linemen. He made the Pro Bowl two other seasons before retiring after the 2013 season.
Julius Peppers, DE, 2009 -- $16.7 million
This was Peppers’ last year on the Carolina roster before he returned for the 2017 season. He played in 16 games and had 10.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl, then moved on to Chicago the next year with a six-year, $91.5 million deal.
Ryan Kalil, C, 2011 -- $10.1 million
He wound up signing a six-year, $49 million deal that made him the highest-paid center in league history. He made the Pro Bowl this season and then two others. He recently announced that 2018 would be his last season.
Greg Hardy, DE, 2014 -- $13.1 million
A few months after signing the tag, Hardy was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend. He played in the opener and had a sack, was inactive for Week 2 and spent the rest of the season on the commissioner’s exempt list while facing domestic violence charges.
Josh Norman, CB, 2016 -- $13.9 million
The 2015 Pro Bowl selection ultimately had the tag rescinded by then-Panthers GM Gettleman and was signed by Washington to a five-year, $75 million deal. Gettleman said the tag was rescinded after a realization that a long-term deal was not attainable.
Kawann Short, DT, 2017 -- $13.6 million
The 2015 Pro Bowl selection never played under the tag, signing a five-year, $80.5 million deal before the season that made him among the highest-paid interior linemen in the league.
The Bengals were fairly set at quarterback just two seasons ago. Andy Dalton was coming off one of the best seasons of his career, and A.J. McCarron had shown promise filling in for Dalton when the starter was hurt in 2015.
They also made the rare move of claiming Jeff Driskel off waivers and keeping him on the active roster as insurance in case they fielded a trade for McCarron.
Now things seem a bit more uncertain. McCarron recently won a grievance against the Bengals that will allow him to become a free agent when the new league year opens in March, while Driskel's 2017 season was lost to injury. Driskel broke his thumb in the preseason and never had a chance to come back after breaking his arm in the final week of practice. A source said Driskel will be 100 percent for OTAs. However, he still has yet to complete a pass in a regular-season game.
The Bengals were bracing for the McCarron ruling and weren't surprised to hear it didn't go their way, but now they have some decisions to make. They could look for a veteran to replace McCarron, or they could go the other direction and take a quarterback in the first round of the draft.
It would be a definite departure from how the Bengals usually operate, and it would be surprising after standing behind Dalton. Unless he gets hurt, it doesn't seem any change will be happening this year.
The Bengals stood behind Dalton despite struggles for the past two seasons, but if they did want to look to the future, his contract gives them an opening as early as next year.
Dalton has three years remaining on the extension he signed in 2014, and starting in 2019, the prorated portion of the $12 million signing bonus he received will be off the books. That means they'll have no dead money or financial implications should they choose to part ways next season.
This particular draft is loaded with quarterbacks who could go early, including UCLA's Josh Rosen, Southern California's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Louisville's Lamar Jackson. The Bengals don't make many in-draft trades, but they would probably be able to move up to snag a quarterback if they had one they loved.
It would be a good situation for a young quarterback. The Bengals tend to take their time with their first-round picks as a general rule, and since 2011, only A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert had significant rookie seasons. There would be no pressure to take over right away with Dalton still there.
Still, the idea seems unlikely. The Bengals haven't shown any signs of giving up on Dalton and instead have tried to fix his supporting cast.
They recently hired former Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, whose departure didn't sit well with Aaron Rodgers. They also seem to be following through on an attempt to fix the offensive line, essentially swapping longtime coach Paul Alexander for former Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Bill Lazor, who took over for the fired Ken Zampese last year, will be given his chance to fix the league's worst offense.
If the Bengals are fully behind Dalton, the more likely scenario would be to eye a backup in the middle or later rounds if they don't sign a veteran.
Either way, it'll be a big year for him. Dalton hasn't been the same since former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson left after the 2015. It didn't help that several key Bengals players left in free agency, including receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.
The struggles with the offense haven't been all on Dalton, but this will undoubtedly be a big season for him, regardless of whether they take a quarterback high in the draft.
Lazor has talked about getting Dalton out of his comfort zone and being open to change in all areas.
"You have to be realistic. What we did last year did not work,” Lazor told the team website. “You can’t be afraid to let go of things that did not work. As a whole, it’s been a downward trend. If that means you blow it up, then you blow it up. That’s a decision we’ll make. I’m not afraid to blow the whole thing up."
If the Bengals can't get Dalton back on track along with the rest of the offense this season, they'll certainly be having the quarterback conversation again next offseason.
If the Washington quarterback wants to play for a franchise built to win now, his best opportunity, arguably, is in Minneapolis.
If the 29-year-old wants a fat payday, the Vikings can oblige -- to a degree. It might not be the back-up-the-Brinks-truck, whatever it takes mentality the Jets are reportedly taking, but Minnesota has money to spend on its quarterback of the future and can do so without sacrificing too many of the pieces it wants like to keep around Cousins (and on defense) in the coming years.
Free agency doesn't start for another three weeks, but the Cousins sweepstakes is already heating up. It's not often that a healthy, potential franchise quarterback who hasn't turned 30 becomes available for teams willing to negotiate a top-dollar contract.
The likelihood of Cousins becoming an unrestricted free agent feels likely to happen, unless it doesn't. Tuesday marks the first day for NFL clubs to designate their franchise (or transition) tag, something the Redskins have done for Cousins in each of the past two offseasons. After paying $20 million to apply the franchise tag a first time in 2016 and $24 million to retain him last season, a third tag would cost Washington $34.5 million for a player they'd attempt to trade, a risky move that could end up backfiring for a number of reasons.
As the Vikings deliberate their own quarterback situation, it's fair to assume that the top expected free-agent quarterback will at least be in the discussion, and for good reason. He's shown consistency over the past three seasons while performing at a pretty high level and doesn't have injury issues.
Last week, new Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was asked about Cousins, someone he's had a chance to see up close the past few years.
"I know a pretty good deal about him because we're in the same division the last two seasons," DeFilippo told KFAN's Paul Allen. "And I've had to compete against Kirk at some other places I've been. So obviously Kirk's a heck of a football player. He's got a lot of skills. He's accurate. He's got plenty of arm strength, and does some really nice things. I mean, Kirk's a very good quarterback."
If Minnesota is going to go all-in for Cousins, it will need to determine just how much better it feels the franchise is in his hands versus someone like Case Keenum (or another of the Vikings' pending free-agent quarterbacks), and whether it believes he's worth signing for a mega-contract.
So, what kind of money could Cousins command and where does that put the Vikings? Again, Minnesota has money to spend. With the eighth-most cap space (about $50 million) and another $6.7 million to become available with the expected release of injured defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings could very well give Cousins a five-year deal for $120 million, as ESPN's Bill Barnwell suggested.
He'll likely command quite a bit more than that figure ($24 million a year), so let's bump that number up to the $26-28 million range. Should be doable for Minnesota under its current cap circumstances.
But will the Vikings still be in the running if Cousins is commanding a five-year, $150 million contract? A number of reports have the guaranteed figure as high as $75 million with a $60 million signing bonus. Could the Vikings afford that?
Minnesota potentially has five extensions coming due in 2019 -- Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Trae Waynes. General manager Rick Spielman could choose to knock out a few of those extensions a year ahead of schedule to create more space (like signing Barr now), but that money will quickly disappear once deals begin being made.
The Vikings might be able to afford the higher salary for Cousins even when cap issues potentially come into play in 2019 (the Vikings are estimated to have about $78 million available), but will have to rely on restructuring deals and releasing players with minimal penalty to avoid sacrificing key parts of their roster.
Sounds like a headache, yeah? The numbers game is something Spielman said the Vikings began planning two years back knowing they would face these questions at quarterback in 2018.
"We don't just start planning for this year on our cap," Spielman said. "There is a process in place, like everything we do, that's done very thoroughly and it is also looking out into the future. Knowing, as these players develop and knowing as those players become good players that you don't want to lose, we're targeting guys -- OK, two years from now we're probably going to have to pay this guy. So, as we cap plan, I never want to get into the mode of all in this year because I don't want to start back over again. It's always looking, not only to put the best team on the field this year, but also can we keep these players for year after year after year."
The jury will have spoken if the Vikings decide to apply the franchise or transition tag on Keenum. If that happens, speculation about Cousins goes away. But if it doesn't, free agency gets a lot more interesting.
If Cousins wants to win now, the Vikings could be ready to contend for the Super Bowl and stay intact -- at least for the short term. The talent he'd have at the skill positions is far more than he's ever had in Washington.
Might he need to leave some money on the table versus what he could get elsewhere? Yes. Do the Vikings think he's worth the deal they might have to make to land his talents? That will be decided in the next few weeks.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Fifty-eight years ago, they officially became the Patriots.
Flipping through the historical timeline in the New England Patriots' media guide, one of the first entries looks like this: "Feb. 20, 1960: As a result of a public content, the team nickname of Patriots is chosen. The Patriots also announce that the team colors will be red, white and blue."
But how was the name chosen?
Bob Holbrook of the Boston Globe reported the details, writing back in 1960: "After weeks of consideration, content-running and general inquires from the newspaper and radio men, William H. Sullivan Jr. and his associates decided upon the Patriots tag ... exploiting the region's vast colonial history. They are looking forward to the promotion angle, mainly television, where they can easily conjure thoughts of a gaily-garbed Colonial band fifing and drumming its up way up and down the field. Many names were suggested, including Colonials, Pilgrims, Puritans, Braves, Beantowners, Hubs and others. A total of 74 persons turned in the suggestion of the Patriots."
As part of Holbrook's report, each of the 74 people who suggested Patriots as the nickname were given a pair of tickets to a game and were eligible for the grand prize of a new television set.
It was a modest beginning. Of course, at that time, they were the Boston Patriots. When the team moved to Foxborough in 1971, they were renamed the New England Patriots.