The Daily Briefing Friday, February 23, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

New turf at Lambeau Field and you may not have known that it was a combination of real grass and synthetic turf.  Richard Ryman of USA TODAY-Wisconsin:

 

The Green Bay Packers are replacing the turf at Lambeau Field.

 

Replacement is necessary because the synthetic fibers sown into the turf were wearing out. The surface is the same concept as before, but the Packers switching from the GrassMaster product to SISGrass. The GrassMaster turf was installed before the 2007 season.

 

Here’s a quick look at the turf replacement project and what it will take to get the field ready for the start of the season:

 

• Work began this month. The  field is expected to be ready for play in early August, before Family Night.

 

• The just-removed turf was used for 115 Packers games, one college game and three concerts.

 

• More than 3,500 tons of sand, or more than 170 standard dump truck loads, will be used.

 

• Irrigation and heating systems will be re-installed to make sure they work with the new turf. The heating system includes 43 miles of tubing, which ensures that the Frozen Tundra never is. 

 

• Sod will be planted in spring. Stitching of synthetic fibers will take place in July.

 

• More than 2,500 miles of synthetic fibers (or 20 million individual fibers) will be sewn into the grass.

 

• The rubber apron that surrounds the playing surface will be replaced as well.

 

• The Packers shareholder meeting will be held at Lambeau Field in June and Cellcom Green Bay Marathon will go through the stadium, but no other events, such as concerts, are scheduled.

 

• And no, the Packers will not sell the turf removed from the field as they did in 1997. Packers fans have long memories and the question does come up.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles have a champion team with a deep, well-rounded roster.  Robert Mays of The Ringer looks at the challenge to keep it:

 

When the Seahawks decimated the Broncos 43-8 to win Super Bowl XLVIII, it felt as if Seattle’s reign over the rest of the NFL had only just begun. Quarterback Russell Wilson had finished the second season of a four-year contract set to pay him a total of $3 million. Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, and Earl Thomas—the team’s homegrown defensive core—were all age 25 or younger. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett weren’t even starters during the 2013 campaign.

 

As expected, Seattle’s run during those post-championship years was undeniably impressive. Head coach Pete Carroll’s team finished no. 1 in both scoring defense and Football Outsiders’ overall team DVOA in every season from 2012 to 2015, a straight-up ridiculous feat. Thanks to a savvy talent-retention approach that involved locking up key contributors before they came close to hitting the open market, the Seahawks were able to hang onto nearly every one of their stars as those players came off their rookie contracts. Yet as Seattle’s experience made plain, maintaining a loaded roster as players cash in becomes a high-wire act for even the shrewdest, most forward-thinking franchises.

 

Over time, the Seahawks front office was forced to make roster concessions. Wide receiver Golden Tate took a big deal with the Lions during 2014 free agency. The cornerback spot opposite Sherman became a revolving door and continuous problem area. One by one, each starting offensive lineman from the Super Bowl–winning team was either shipped out of town or allowed to walk. Seattle’s pass protection and the running game slowly deteriorated until reaching their nadir over the past two seasons. When teams are forced to juggle a roster full of excellent players on second contracts, choices have to be made, even in the expanding salary cap era. That’s the challenge now facing the newly minted Super Bowl champions.

 

From top to bottom, the Eagles boasted the NFL’s most stacked roster last season. Identifying holes in the first line of the Philadelphia depth chart (and the second, in many positions) required a level of pessimism that even pre-2017 Eagles fans probably had trouble mustering. The finished product was the main reason this team was able to sustain the myriad injuries it did over the course of last fall, from Jason Peters to Darren Sproles to Carson Wentz. As executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and the rest of the front office bunker down in the next month or so, their task will be figuring out how to maintain the majority of that roster as Philly gears up for its first title defense.

 

The Eagles’ current salary-cap situation, at a glance, would terrify any prudent financial planner. According to Over the Cap, Philly is about $9.7 million over the cap. Even Nicolas Cage would consider that to be reckless spending. The truth, though, is Roseman and Co. have recourse to get things back on track. Recent extensions to players like receiver Alshon Jeffery and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who were poised to hit free agency, were inevitably going to put the Eagles in the red once the 2018 league year began. It’s now a matter of moving money around and trimming the edges of the roster to conserve cash.

 

Some of the cost-cutting moves seem fairly straightforward. Declining the option on receiver Torrey Smith would save the Eagles $5 million against the cap with no dead money, and 2017 fourth-round pick Mack Hollins is a cheap alternative who could take over if Smith is let go. Tight end Brent Celek is 33 years old and set to make $5 million this season. If the Eagles’ mainstay is retained, it’ll likely come at a smaller price. Stalwart left tackle Jason Peters is on the books for close to $10.7 million in 2018; it’s probable that the Eagles will at least ask the aging star to take a pay cut. And several top-end players, including defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and center Jason Kelce, could have a chunk of their salaries converted into signing bonuses to save money against this year’s cap. Philly will get where it needs to be financially; it’s just a matter of using the right cap acrobatics.

 

After the smoke-and-mirrors accounting, though, the tough decisions come into play. Part of the Eagles’ cap problem (a problem that every team in the league would love to have) is that nearly every one of their big-name players has been locked up on a long-term deal. The list is kind of hilarious: Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Brooks, Kelce, Cox, Jernigan, and Jeffery. Seriously, read that list again. The foundation of this team is secure for at least the next couple of years, but a handful of important contributors are already set to leave. Some guys who fall into that camp (linebacker Nigel Bradham, slot corner Patrick Robinson, and running back LeGarrette Blount) were starters in 2017, and at least a few others (tight end Trey Burton and rotational safety Corey Graham) played significant roles down the stretch.

 

Robinson emerged as one of the league’s most pleasant surprises after signing a one-year deal in Philly last offseason; given the team’s allocation of resources, it probably won’t be able to retain him. Roseman stockpiled corners last offseason as if they were going extinct; considering the amount of money the Eagles have tied up in safeties and defensive linemen, 2017 draft picks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas should get the first crack at replacing Robinson in the cornerback rotation. Blount also has a logical successor in place after the team’s October trade to acquire Jay Ajayi.

 

That leaves Bradham as the most glaring question mark. Linebacker Jordan Hicks, who missed most of last season to injury, should be back next fall, and the idea of pairing Hicks and Bradham in the middle of coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense is damn enticing. And this is where the unenviable choices start to arise. Fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks is on the books for $7.6 million in 2018. Even though Bradham is the superior option to Kendricks, it’s tough to imagine the Eagles keeping the former without either trading the latter or freeing up a considerable chunk of money. Philly would likely listen to offers for Kendricks, but the nearly $13 million in base salary he’s due over the next two years might be enough to scare away any potential suitors. And creating the cap space necessary to keep Bradham while cutting Kendricks (which would save a projected $4.4 million) would require the Eagles to move beyond the financial viability attained by small cost-saving moves and toward financial flexibility that could only become possible if the organization makes one of a number of unpopular decisions.

 

Which brings us to the elephant in the room during this Eagles’ offseason: Nick Foles and his $7.6 million contract. Philly is set to pay its quarterbacks a combined $15 million in 2018—a relative bargain given the position’s market and the rising cap. Yet while Foles’s deal was palatable for the franchise in 2017, it’s less so on a team that’s notably cash-strapped.

 

Roseman will attempt to strike the right balance of maintaining the Eagles’ expertly curated organizational culture while staying fiscally responsible. He places emphasis on rewarding guys within the team building as a way to stoke a feeling of togetherness, and trading the Super Bowl MVP and newfound Philadelphia hero for a meager return—just to squeeze every ounce out of the quarterback’s value—may not prove worth it given the likely reverberations around both the facility and the city.

 

A couple of the other potential moves could have similar implications. It’s possible that the Eagles could let go of Peters if he refuses to accept a pay cut, designating the nine-time Pro Bowler as a June 1 release—harsh treatment for a Hall of Fame–caliber player. A move like that would not go over well in the close-knit Eagles locker room. Another potential cost-cutting avenue would be signing Brandon Graham, whose contract is set to expire after the 2018 season, to a long-term extension. A new deal would shrink Graham’s $8 million cap hit and free up money immediately. But that would come with its own set of complications. The Eagles just took Derek Barnett in the first round of the 2017 draft as a long-term option on the outside, and the other key members of their 2019 free-agent class (Ajayi and Darby) are five years younger than the 29-year-old Graham. Philly also has about $186 million tied up in its 2019 cap without committing to Graham. Add everything together and the strip-sacking Super Bowl hero could enter the final year of his deal with no assurances for the future.

 

Again, these are the sorts of rock-and-a-hard-place predicaments that arise for a team that’s collected so many terrific players. If the Eagles do right by Graham, there’s a chance they’ll have to let Darby leave in free agency and be forced to rely on Jones or Douglas to step into his place in 2019. There are no guarantees that either will be nearly as reliable. If Ajayi prices himself out of the Eagles’ price range with a standout 2018, Philly could be left searching for answers at running back next offseason, too.

 

It’s not a radical notion that teams can’t sign every player on their rosters before they hit the market. There’s only a finite amount of resources to go around. But in the Eagles’ case, as was the case with the Seahawks before them, what’s startling is that the tough choices come almost immediately. With each successive compromise, the overlooked areas of a roster can devolve into problems. And each regression can spell the difference between playoff success and failure.

 

As Robinson likely leaves in free agency and Darby enters the final year of his deal, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a world in which Philly’s young corners fail to develop and the secondary becomes a weak spot that could sabotage a standout pass rush. One subpar position group is far from disastrous, but a team’s marginal changes can compound quickly. This season served as a constant reminder of how tiny improvements to the edges of a roster can go a long way—the Jaguars were another team that won largely because their depth overcame their deficiencies, and that now face tough decisions this spring—and for the Eagles, an ironclad roster buoyed a group led by a backup quarterback to a historic championship win.

 

Philadelphia is poised to be an NFC power player for years but keeping the group that carried a banged-up team to a Super Bowl win intact is far from a given. Assembling the most complete roster in the NFL is tough enough. Maintaining it is even harder.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

The Panthers appear ready to tag PK GRAHAM GANO per Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Graham Gano is likely staying put.

 

The Carolina Panthers are more likely to place their franchise tag on Gano, their kicker of six seasons whose four-year contract expired this year, than on guard Andrew Norwell, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Thursday.

 

The tag number for a kicker hovered around $4.8 million in 2017 and has climbed each year since 2012. Gano averaged a $3.1 million salary under his expired deal.

 

Teams don’t often use their franchise tag on kickers. Gano would be just the fourth kicker to earn the distinction since 2012, when five kickers were handed the tag. Most recently, the Baltimore Ravens tagged two-time All-Pro booter Justin Tucker in 2016; he signed a four-year deal soon after.

 

The 30-year-old Gano isn’t quite an All-Pro, but he is coming off a Pro Bowl season, his first, in which he connected on a league-best 96.7 percent of his field goal attempts.

 

Regarding Norwell, the standout guard is considered one of the top free agents at any position, and Rapoport reported that Carolina wants to keep him in house. However, the large tag number for offensive linemen ($14-plus million and increasing) is more a reaction to the tackle market than that of the guards. This makes it harder for the Panthers to financially justify locking up Norwell at a tackle’s rate.

 

Norwell earned $2.7 million on a one-year pact in 2017. The highest-paid guard in the league on average is Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler, who signed a record five-year, $60 million deal last year. If Norwell were tagged, he would immediately assume that mantle.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Austin Knoblach of NFL.com on the curious case of WR DeSEAN JACKSON’s crashed truck:

 

Tampa police are no longer actively investigating an incident involving a car registered to Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson that was found to contain marijuana and hollow-point bullets after crashing into a tree, police confirmed to NFL.com.

 

“The case is currently inactive because we don’t have any witnesses or evidence to place the driver behind the wheel at the time of the crash,” a Tampa Police Dept. spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

 

Greg Auman of Tampa Bay Times first reported the development.

 

Officers responded to the scene of the crash on Christmas Eve and found an abandoned Chevy Silverado, which appeared to have left the roadway and struck a tree, according to the report. The driver fled the scene, according to police, and officers learned the vehicle was registered to Jackson. In the car, police found 6.3 grams of marijuana and also found two .38 caliber hollow-point bullets, which are legal in Florida. Possession in Florida of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor.

 

Jackson was contacted by police and later responded to the scene. Jackson told police he let his friend borrow the truck prior to the crash. Police, however, were unable to confirm via witness accounts if his friend was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.

 

The investigation was placed into inactive status after the business that sustained damage to the tree on its property did not turn over surveillance video footage of the crash. Police said the business also hasn’t indicated if it is interested in prosecuting the driver.

– – –

The Buccaneers have cut ties with PK NICK FOLK.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Folk played just four games in one season in Tampa.

 

Folk famously beat out former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo for the starting kicker job during the preseason. However, Folk soon lost the gig four games into the season after making just six of 11 field goal attempts and seven of nine extra points.

 

Tampa Bay has since moved on to Patrick Murray, who played the remaining 12 games and hit 82.6 percent of his 23 field goal attempts. Murray will be an unrestricted free agent when the 2018 league year begins.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

QB TYROD TAYLOR will be a Bill for at least a little while longer.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Buffalo Bills might not be so anxious to rid themselves of Tyrod Taylor before the new league year opens.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday on NFL Up To The Minute Live that the Bills are not planning to cut Taylor.

 

“At this point, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to cut him without knowing who his replacement will be,” Rapoport said. “The Bills are OK with paying a $6 million roster bonus to keep him on the roster.”

 

The prevailing thought has been that Buffalo would move on from the 28-year-old quarterback either by releasing him or through a trade. While the latter option appears to remain on the table, per Rapoport, the Bills won’t simply jettison their starting quarterback at this time.

 

Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the new league year to go along with a $10 million base salary in 2018. He restructured his contract last season, but will not entertain that route again.

 

Taylor seemed well on his way out of Buffalo when coach Sean McDermott infamously benched him in favor of untested rookie Nathan Peterman ahead of a Week 11 tilt versus the L.A. Chargers. Taylor took back the starting gig after Peterman’s disastrous 5-INT half and helped lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 17 seasons.

 

Two different coaching staffs reportedly have been frustrated with Taylor’s play seemingly since he took over the starting gig in 2014. Taylor’s propensity to not target receivers over the middle and a habit of missing open wideouts led to frustration throughout the Buffalo fan base.

 

The Bills might be signaling to other teams to offer them a draft pick for Taylor — trying to reverse the tide when it seemed certain they would need to cut the QB. Perhaps waiting to see if teams like the Denver Broncos and New York Jets end the quarterback musical chairs without a signal-caller — presenting a potential trade partner — is the Bills game.

 

Buffalo could also realize it might not have a better option than bringing Taylor back.

 

Peterman is the only other QB currently on the roster and, barring a huge leap in play in Year 2, the fifth-round pick didn’t look the part of a starter. The Bills are likely to get priced out of the Kirk Cousins spree and could get boxed out of adding the likes of Case Keenum or AJ McCarron. Perhaps the Bills surveyed the free-agents-to-be and decided Taylor at an $18 million salary-cap hit is a better option than what they’d be tied to otherwise.

 

Buffalo sits with plenty of draft capital to trade up for one the premier rookies in the first round. The Bills hold the No. 21 and No. 22 overall picks, to go along with two second-rounders. Keeping Taylor around could be insurance in case they can’t land their QB draft choice. Pairing a rookie with a veteran like Taylor isn’t a terrible plan, either.

 

 

MIAMI

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald looks at the upcoming moves, surefire and possible, for the Dolphins as they free up cap space.  Towards the end, the name of DT NDAMUKONG SUH comes up.

 

Today’s snapshot of the NFL’s projected salary cap rankings for 2018 presents a bad picture for the Miami Dolphins. Yeah, actually, it looks terrible.

 

It’s the Dolphins currently projecting to be over the salary cap kind of terrible. It’s the Dolphins sitting in the second-worst salary cap situation of any NFL team kind of terrible.

 

With 55 players under contract, the Dolphins would be between $7 million and $8 million over a projected $177 million salary cap. And that’s just for the top 51 contracts the NFL counts during the offseason.

 

So Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins executive vice president who’s primary function is to handle the team’s cap affairs, needs to get on his horse.

 

Tannenbaum and the Dolphins will be doing a lot of work this offseason to get the Dolphins under the cap by the March 14 start of the league year. And after that’s accomplished, they’ll have to do more work to give the Dolphins some cap room to actually compete in free agency.

 

But here’s a couple of warnings:

 

Regardless of how much work the Dolphins do, they will not be as flush with cap space as a majority of the other NFL teams already are.

 

And in a free agency market that NFL sources are saying will not be brimming with awesome talent, what few good players are available will be paid. And I do mean paid. Because teams with more money than Miami will be driving up the prices on a few elite players.

 

So what does this all mean for the Dolphins?

 

It means they have to find a way to create cap space in the next three weeks. And they will.

 

The Miami Herald has learned the team will cut tight end Julius Thomas by March 14. That will save $6.6 million in cap space.

 

The Miami Herald has learned the team will cut linebacker Lawrence Timmons by March 14. That will save $5.4 million in cap space.

 

The Dolphins could also terminate the fifth-year option on offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. That would make James a free agent. And it will save the Dolphins $9.34 million.

 

Those three moves would save the Dolphins $21 million.

 

Suddenly, the Dolphins will be cap compliant at around $11 million under the limit. But that will still leave them near the bottom of the cap pool because, remember, this is in an environment where the Cleveland Browns are scheduled to open with about $110 million in space.

 

Even after these cuts, the Dolphins will have the least cap space in the AFC East.

 

So more will have to be done. Tannenbaum could have saddle sores from all his work.

 

The good news, I’m told by multiple club sources, is the Dolphins wrote and timed contracts in a manner that gives them flexibility to create necessary cap room.

 

The Dolphins could restructure quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s contract and save $11.123 million in cap space this year. The restructure involves turning base salary into signing bonus, which would then be prorated over the final two years (2019 and 2020) of Tannehill’s contract.

 

The club could do a similar exercise with safety Reshad Jones and save $7 million in cap space.

 

It could save $4.79 million doing this with Kenny Stills, $4.72 million doing it with Kiko Alonso, and another $3.5 million doing it with Andre Branch.

 

The point is if the Dolphins needed to create enough cap space to go crazy in free agency, they could wipe up to $31 million in cap cost off the 2018 books simply by restructuring deals for players they currently plan to keep.

 

Tannenbaum put these options in place a year or two ago before he got on the horse.

 

But there’s more and this is where it gets intriguing.

 

The two biggest salary cap issues the Dolphins face this offseason involve receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

 

The Dolphins currently seem to be under water because they’ve got a $16.2 million cap hit budgeted for Landry since Tuesday evening when they made him their franchise player. It would shock if that number stands all of 2018.

 

The Dolphins can remove the tag and suddenly they have $16.2 million more in cap space.

 

The Dolphins can trade Landry and suddenly they have $16.2 million more in cap space.

 

The Dolphins can sign Landry to a long-term contract and the cap space will necessarily come down because such a deal will involve guaranteed monies that prorate over the life of the contract. This, by the way, is the least likely scenario. The Dolphins aren’t signing Landry to a long-term contract unless they or the player cave on earlier negotiating positions.

 

And neither is currently motivated to do that.

 

The point is if Jarvis Landry carries a $16.2 million cap figure into the regular season, something went wrong. Plans went awry. Tannenbaum not only fell off the fictional horse but got trampled by it.

 

There’s also the problem of what to do with Suh. And, yes, it’s a problem.

 

Suh is a good player who had a good season in 2018 despite overcoming a knee injury suffered against Oakland Nov. 5. He started 16 games and has started all 126 games of his career.

 

He’s a steel horse, to stick with a recurring theme.

 

But Suh is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $26.1 million in cap space this year. That’s the most on the team, the most by any defensive player, the most by any non-quarterback, and third overall behind only quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Matthew Stafford.

 

Think of this: Suh’s cap cost in Miami this year is higher than six Super Bowl winning quarterbacks are costing their teams.

 

Suh’s production does not match his cost despite the fact he’s pretty good.

 

So what to do?

 

The Dolphins can trade Suh and save $3.9 million in cap space and get compensation in return. This makes sense in a salary cap environment where multiple teams could absorb such a contract.

 

The Dolphins can designate Suh as a post-June 1 cut, get no compensation, but save a whopping $17 million in cap space. This is currently the most likely scenario if the Dolphins choose to move in a different direction.

 

And here’s the thing: The Dolphins are not dismissing the idea. Or any idea.

 

In plotting strategy, the Dolphins are considering every option. Because the current snapshot of the salary cap is unacceptable and the Dolphins are going to change it.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are quietly disputing reports that QB KIRK COUSINS can name his astronomical price.  Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, as always, has anonymous sources in the organization:

 

The speculation surrounding the Jets’ eventual pursuit of Kirk Cousins has prompted some much-needed comedic relief during the NFL’s silly season.

 

There have been some whoppers in the past week or so. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Woody and Christopher Johnson were willing to offer an ownership stake to the soon-to-be free-agent quarterback.

 

Heck, why stop there? Why not just change MetLife Stadium to Cousins Coliseum?

 

After all, that would be as probable as some of the unfounded stuff I’ve read in recent days that paints a wholly inaccurate picture of this situation.

 

First and foremost, the Jets absolutely would love to sign Cousins in the coming weeks, according to team sources. He’s a win-now AND win-later quarterback entering the prime of his career. There’s a large enough window (at least five seasons) to win with the soon-to-be 30-year-old signal caller to make it more than worthwhile to make a strong investment in him, but let’s be clear: The Jets are not going to try to bring him aboard by any means necessary.

 

The notion that the organization will go to any lengths to sign him is patently false. There’s a difference between making a strong and aggressive move for a player (aka – an all-in mindset) and actually recklessly overspending. The Jets aren’t going to hand Cousins a blank check, according to team sources.

 

That would just be plain ol’ dumb business.

 

Truth be told, some folks on One Jets Drive have gotten a kick out of the unfounded rumors that they’re willing to break their budget for Cousins (even though they have prioritized him). There’s a distinct difference between paying the man and adopting some of the tactics being proposed in recent days.

 

There’s little doubt that Cousins would be a terrific fit for new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, but the idea of paying him $60 million in the first year of a blockbuster deal is beyond ludicrous. Speculation that the Jets would be willing to absorb a $60 million cap hit in 2018 for Cousins so they could free up future cap space in subsequent years to build around the quarterback simply isn’t true, according to team insiders. It makes for good headlines, but it isn’t rooted in reality. It’s actually illogical on myriad fronts.

 

By rule, the cap hit in the second year of a deal must be at least 50 percent of the Year 1 cap charge. So, this fairytale $60 million cap hit scenario would mean that Cousins would have to count at least $30 million against the Jets’ 2019 cap.

 

The comparisons will give you a good sense of the general structure of Cousins’ deal. Jimmy Garoppolo will make $42.6 million in the first year of his recently signed five-year, $137.5 million extension. The 49ers will absorb a $37 million salary cap hit in 2018 and subsequent cap charges of $20 million, $26.6 million, $26.9 million and $27 million. Here’s the most important part of the contract: Jimmy G will pocket $86.4 million in the first three years of the deal.

 

Matthew Stafford’s five-year, $135 million deal from last summer provides another window into Cousins’ future. The Lions paid Stafford $51 million (including a $50 million signing bonus) in 2017, while absorbing a $16.5 million cap hit (lowering his base salary to $1 million in the first year of the deal helped keep the cap number relatively low). Stafford’s 2018 earnings drop to $16.5 million, but his cap number increases by 61 percent to $26.5 million. He will pocket $87 million in the first three years of the deal.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal with the 49ers will give you an idea what to expect in a Cousins contract.

Cousins will get a comparable contract. The Jets, who will have more than $90 million in available cap space after Mo Wilkerson and Matt Forte are cut in the coming weeks, aren’t going to make a cursory inquiry. They’ll be real players for Cousins, but they are not going to wildly overspend or make history by offering him a fully guaranteed four- or five-year deal, according to team sources.

 

Gang Green believes that there will be about three other strong suitors. On the surface, the Broncos, Browns, Vikings, Cardinals and Bills have their own quarterback dilemmas, but will they all be serious bidders for Cousins’ services? The Jets don’t think so. Some of those teams will address their signal caller needs in the draft.

 

Breaking news: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield are going to be on NFL teams in a few months.

 

Washington to consider placing franchise tag on Cousins: report

The Jets want Cousins. They’ll make a strong, fair proposal and plan accordingly if he goes elsewhere.

 

In the meantime, enjoy reading the comics.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

A five-year, $150 million contract isn’t out of line, however, given that 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has gotten $137.5 million over five years. Cousins would become the first $30 million-per-year quarterback; given increases in the salary cap over the last five years, the market should have surpassed $30 million per year by now.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FBI SPECIAL AGENT CHARLES TILLMAN

The FBI currently needs all the help it can get.  And it will be getting some from former cornerback Charles Tillman.  Bobby Clay in The Sporting News:

 

Former Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman has graduated from the FBI’s Training Academy in Quantico, Va., and is now an agent, Sporting News has learned.

 

The 13-year NFL veteran entered the 20-week program last year, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune, and had until his 37th birthday (Feb. 23, 2018) to earn his badge due to a stipulation that a new agent must be appointed before he or she reaches that age.

 

A spokesman for the bureau told Sporting News that it does not comment on personnel matters, and Tillman’s family couldn’t be reached, but a source close to the situation said on the eve of Tillman’s 37th birthday, “He is currently working for the FBI. (He) has his badge and everything.”

 

A source told SN in 2017 not to expect a grand announcement from the FBI if Tillman succeeded.

 

“They will try to get him to fade to anonymity as much as they can,” said retired U.S. Marshal Kim Widup, a 38-year law enforcement veteran who led the Whitewater investigation. “But I think at some point the FBI will also use it as part of their recruiting policy, as in, ‘Look who we got.’”

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Here is a Mock Draft from Charles Davis of NFL.com.

 

With the NFL Scouting Combine (March 2-5 on NFL Network) a little more than a week away, here’s my initial mock of the 2018 NFL Draft. Per usual, quarterbacks will dominate the conversation leading up to the draft in April. I have five QBs going in Round 1 in my first mock, although I expect that free agency will change the outlook for which QBs will land where, and how many will hear their name called in the opening round.

 

NOTE: There’s a tie for the ninth overall pick. A coin flip between the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders will determine which team picks first.

 

PICK 1 – CLEVELAND

Sam Darnold – QB, USC

Yes, there are questions about turnovers, but there are plenty of magical plays on tape, as well. Obviously, the Browns are hoping that pixie dust travels with him to Cleveland.

 

PICK 2 – NEW YORK GIANTS

Saquon Barkley – RB, Penn State

The most talented runner in the draft since (fill in the blank). He’s a true three-down player with a very special set of skills. If the Giants turn him down, it’s for a QB.

 

PICK 3 – INDIANAPOLIS

Bradley Chubb – DE, N.C. State

The best edge rusher in the draft. Chubb will provide the Colts their best pressure since the days of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

 

PICK 4 – CLEVELAND

Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB, Alabama

I’ve stated tongue-in-cheek (somewhat) that the Browns should consider taking a QB at No. 1 AND 4, but good sense will reign, and this versatile defender helps Cleveland improve its takeaway quotient.

 

PICK 5 – DENVER

Josh Rosen – QB, UCLA

The Broncos are used to having very strong personalities at QB when they are at their best (John Elway, Peyton Manning), and Rosen is a bright, opinionated young man with the best arm talent in the draft. He also could easily be the most scrutinized prospect this year.

 

PICK 6 – NY JETS

Baker Mayfield – QB, Oklahoma

“Broadway Baker” has a ring to it. He has the skill set, and personality, to embrace NYC.

 

PICK 7 –TAMPA BAY

Denzel Ward – CB, Ohio State

There is a huge need for a pass rusher, but another talented pass defender is welcome in the NFC South.

 

PICK 8 – CHICAGO

Quenton Nelson – OG, Notre Dame

Instant starter with a mean streak a mile wide who will help protect last year’s No. 1 pick for the Bears, QB Mitchell Trubisky.

 

PICK 9 – SAN FRANCISCO

Tremaine Edmunds – LB, Virginia Tech

The team of John Lynch (GM) and Kyle Shanahan (HC) collaborated last year to get the Niners back on the road to respectability. They continue down that path with this athletically gifted defender.

 

PICK 9 – OAKLAND

Roquan Smith – LB, Georgia

Diagnose, run, hit. Diagnose, run, cover, hit. Rinse. Repeat. I love this playmaking thumper so much that I voted him third for last year’s Heisman Trophy.

 

PICK 11 – MIAMI

Marcus Davenport – DE, UTSA

Yes, he’s raw. However, putting heat on the QB is a huge part of the game in the NFL, and rushing the passer is what he does best.

 

PICK 12 – CINCINNATI

Josh Allen – QB, Wyoming

They need help at a number of spots, but the Bengals might not be able to resist hitting the reset button for the future with this strong-armed Cowboy.

 

PICK 13 – WASHINGTON

Vita Vea – DT, Washington

I loved the building-block pick of Jonathan Allen last year, and Vea’s selection continues to bolster the defense. For a BIG man, he makes a lot of hustle plays, as well.

 

PICK 14 – GREEN BAY

Josh Jackson – CB, Iowa

The Packers drafted another lengthy corner last year in Kevin King, and this instinctive Hawkeye nearly had double-digit interceptions last season (eight).

 

PICK 15 – ARIZONA

Connor Williams – OT, Texas

The Cardinals are most definitely in the QB market, but Williams has excellent technique and a good dose of nasty to help them bolster their OL.

 

PICK 16 – BALTIMORE

Orlando Brown – OT, Oklahoma

Yes, it would honor his father, the late former Raven Orlando “Zeus” Brown, but more importantly, it helps the 2018 Ravens in a huge way, bookending LT Ronnie Stanley with this mountain of a prospect on the right side.

 

PICK 17 – LA CHARGERS

Derwin James – S, Florida State

James is a big hitter, but he has plenty of range in coverage, as well. He might not be exactly like former Charger Eric Weddle, but he could provide a similar impact.

 

PICK 18 – SEATTLE

Mike Hughes – CB, UCF

The Seahawks hit it big last year with a third-round CB from the same school in Shaquill Griffin, and they would expect similar results from this shifty, tough cover man. The Legion of Boom makeover is underway.

 

PICK 19 – DALLAS

Calvin Ridley – WR, Alabama

The Cowboys need a young, big target to help QB Dak Prescott push the ball downfield, and Ridley provides exactly that option.

 

PICK 20 – DETROIT

Maurice Hurst – DT, Michigan

The Lions did not have to go far to scout him. They need his stoutness and get-off in the middle of the DL.

 

PICK 21 – BUFFALO

Da’Ron Payne – DT, Alabama

Head coach Sean McDermott’s background is defense, and Payne helps him continue to build from the inside out. Payne was a force in the CFB Playoff.

 

PICK 22 – BUFFALO

Billy Price – C, Ohio State

With the unfortunate news that Eric Wood’s career is coming to an end due to injury, Price could plug right in and help keep the Bills’ ground attack rolling. Ohio State has been cranking out quality centers in recent years.

 

PICK 23 – LA RAMS

Isaiah Oliver – CB, Colorado

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ versatility gets an added dose of secondary help with this talented CB.

 

PICK 24 – CAROLINA

Christian Kirk – WR, Texas A&M

The Panthers have plenty of size at WR. Kirk gives them the speed that they have been seeking to put DBs on their heels.

 

PICK 25 – TENNESSEE

Harold Landry – LB, Boston College

New head coach Mike Vrabel likes to be aggressive in his calls, and while Landry had a better 2016 than 2017, he definitely has some juice.

 

PICK 26 – ATLANTA

Isaiah Wynn – OG, Georgia

Wynn was a tremendous LT for the Bulldogs, and I think he will be an instant starter at OG for the Falcons. He had an excellent Senior Bowl week of practices at his new spot inside.

 

PICK 27 – NEW ORLEANS

Rashaan Evans – LB, Alabama

The Saints really made a jump on defense last season. Now they add an ILB who can run and make sideline-to-sideline plays in a division built on speed.

 

PICK 28 – PITTSBURGH

Derrius Guice – RB, LSU

The questions about Le’Veon Bell’s future will continue, barring a long-term deal, and the Steelers hedge their bets with an RB who can fly but also run inside and catch.

 

PICK 29 – JACKSONVILLE

Lamar Jackson – QB, Louisville

There will be plenty of breakdowns of his game, but smart OCs will figure out ways to “meet him halfway” by utilizing concepts/schemes that play to his strengths (and can hurt defenses). A beyond-exciting playmaker who feels he has something to prove.

 

PICK 30 – MINNESOTA

Mike McGlinchey – OT, Notre Dame

The Vikings OL made a huge jump last season, and perhaps the best LT in CFB makes them even better. McGlinchey might make the move to RT if the Vikings keep Mike Remmers inside at OG.

 

PICK 31 – NEW ENGLAND

Ronnie Harrison – S, Alabama

He moves and hits. Harrison was trained by one of the best secondary coaches in Nick Saban, whose close relationship with Bill Belichick is well documented.

 

PICK 32 – PHILADELPHIA

Donte Jackson – CB, LSU

The Eagles’ secondary did an excellent job at tackling — and not permitting big runs after the catch — last season. Jackson adds his talents to the mix, and he can play inside, as well.