AROUND THE NFL
The coaches subcommittee of the Competition Committee wants an all-powerful eye in the sky. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Competition Committee has made plenty of headlines this week regarding whether and to what extent the replay review process will, or won’t, change in the aftermath of last month’s NFC championship game. There’s one specific angle that the Competition Committee has yet to publicly or privately acknowledge in conjunction with the commencement of the official preparations for the 2019 league meetings.
It’s the video official. Specifically, an extra official who would monitor the available camera angles and who would be available to correct egregious errors in real time — not as part of a second look but as part of the first look, but with the unique perspective of seeing what we all see when watching the game on TV.
Per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the NFL coaches’ subcommittee has recommended a video official to the Competition Committee. The Competition Committee initially didn’t react to it with enthusiasm, but as one source observed there’s no good argument against it. While some will wring hands and gnash teeth regarding the possibility of unintended consequences or a parade of horribles involving the video official not knowing the seven officials on the field have, for example, opted to issue a warning instead of throwing a flag for defensive holding, there’s a way to craft this approach in a manner that will provide an umbrella of protection to the officials, ensuring that mistakes are avoided before the they become final and official and unavoidable, making the officials look incompetent and the league look inept.
Surely, that’s not what the league wants. And if that’s what the league gets, eventually the Commissioner will get an invitation to appear before Congress to explain why the NFL isn’t doing more to ensure that hard-earned money wagered legally by American citizens is being placed at risk not by the skills and abilities of players and coaches but by the correctable-but-uncorrected blunders of the folks in black and white stripes.
This isn’t the time to circle the wagons or to hunker down or to adopt and us-against-them mentality. This is the time to learn from a glitch that marred the NFC title game and prevent it from happening again. Whether the Competition Committee and/or the owners realize and embrace this will be one of the biggest questions confronted by the league over the next month.
Coach Mike Zimmer thinks we’ll see a better QB KIRK COUSINS in 2019, partly with the arrival of Gary Kubiak. Kevin Patra of NFL.com
Some Minnesota Vikings fans might be experiencing buyer’s remorse with Kirk Cousins. The team’s head coach is not.
Speaking Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, coach Mike Zimmer said he believes the quarterback will be better in Year 2 in Minnesota.
“I think he had a good year,” Zimmer said. “I think because he signed a big contract everybody is on his rear-end about this, and we didn’t win enough games, and same with me I guess. The big thing is, is every free agent I ever had, in 25 or 26 years or however many years I’ve been coaching, they’ve always played better the second year. They have to learn where everything is, they have to find a place to live. I mean, you go through our free agents, Captain Munnerlyn, when he was with us, second year, Linval Joseph, second year. All these guys typically when they come in, they don’t know anybody, they don’t know where their locker is, any of this stuff. You throw that in with new terminology, whatever. But I think he’s going to play great.”
Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million guaranteed contract with the Vikings last March. During the 2018 campaign, the quarterback put up comparable career numbers, completing 70.1 percent of his passes for 4,298 yards, 7.1 yards per attempt and 30 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.
The Vikings, however, went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs after a dismal performance in the season-finale loss to the Chicago Bears.
The team regression, along with Cousins’ struggles in high-profile games, has put pressure on the quarterback heading into 2019.
Zimmer believes the offensive coaching staff reshuffling, which included bringing in Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive advisor to aid OC Kevin Stefanski, will help Cousins immensely in his second year in Minnesota.
“It’s definitely going to help Kirk,” he said. “The system, the terminology, the things he’s done really well with the Shanahans … that definitely is going to help.”
Cousins had his best years in Washington under Sean McVay, a Shanahan disciple. Getting back to that type of offense could be a boon for the quarterback.
Zimmer crowed about the experience Kubiak brings to Minnesota, which he believes will help the entire offense get back on track.
“It’s almost like romantic for me that I can sit there … and hear about Bill Walsh and that offense and how it evolved to Mike Shanahan and so on and so forth,” he said about his offensive meetings thus far. “For me as a football guy, all those things are outstanding. How this came about, how that came about, how this play worked in this particular situation, and the way they’re putting it all together. I couldn’t be any happier with the way that situation’s been going.”
Todd Archer of ESPN.com on the return of TE JASON WITTEN:
Jason Witten is returning to the Dallas Cowboys, the team announced Thursday.
Witten is leaving ESPN’s Monday Night Football and returning to the playing field less than a year after announcing his retirement. Sources told ESPN that the tight end is getting a one-year deal worth $3.5 million that can max out at $5 million, including roster bonuses and incentives.
Witten has played in 11 Pro Bowls during his 15 years with the Cowboys, becoming the franchise leader with 1,152 receptions, which ranks fourth in NFL history, and 12,448 receiving yards. He also holds franchise records for games played (239), consecutive games (236), starts (229) and consecutive starts (179).
In returning, he also will have the longest service time with the organization at 16 years.
“The fire inside of me to compete and play this game is just burning too strong,” Witten, who will turn 37 in May, said in a statement. “This team has a great group of rising young stars, and I want to help them make a run at a championship. This was completely my decision, and I am very comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the dirt.”
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, there are some in the Cowboys’ organization who have long considered Witten as an NFL head-coaching candidate — and this move could help serve as the bridge to his coaching career.
Before joining ESPN in May, Witten went back and forth on a decision to leave the game until ultimately signing a four-year deal with the network. There were some rough patches during his first year as an analyst, which he acknowledged, but he felt there was growth as well.
“I’ve known for about 10 to 14 days that he was seriously deliberating this,” Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Thursday. “As you know, when Jason retired last year, he had a real difficult decision. He obviously missed it. I’ve never seen anybody really embrace the physical part of football like Jason. He missed that. The rougher it is, the better.
“We’re happy to have him. We think he can still play and he thinks he can still play.”
Jones said he expects Witten to be more than a “situational player” for the Cowboys in 2019.
“I think he’ll play more than that,” Jones said. “This is a big thing to him. He wants to be out there, and he will be out there this year.”
There were discussions about Witten’s potential return to the playing field during last season, but he remained in the booth.
“We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
GM Dave Gettleman sees ELI MANNING as his QB – for one more year. Think ALEX SMITH in 2017 with the Chiefs. Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:
The quarterback hunt is on for the New York Giants at the NFL scouting combine. It is no accident that coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman already have watched every snap for Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray and the other top quarterbacks in the 2019 draft. They are fully invested, ready to secure the new face of the franchise if they find the right qualified candidate.
The Giants insist they are not going to force a quarterback decision. It is why they drafted running back Saquon Barkley second overall last year. If their evaluations don’t reveal a quarterback they are willing to stake the future of their franchise on, they will defer on the decision yet again.
But don’t be fooled by that rhetoric. The preferred plan is to take a quarterback in the first round (the Giants select No. 6 overall) and have him sit behind veteran Eli Manning this season. Let’s call it the Kansas City model, in reference to the Chiefs stockpiling first-round pick Patrick Mahomes behind veteran Alex Smith as a rookie before Mahomes lit the NFL on fire this past season.
“Listen, the Kansas City model really worked well. How is that?” Gettleman answered when asked for clarification on whether the plan actually was to proceed with Manning this season.
Of course, this isn’t apples to apples. It’s more wishful dreaming. The Giants aren’t the Chiefs. Smith was playing at a Pro Bowl level even with Mahomes on the bench and their roster was already playoff-ready. The Giants have won eight games in two years, missed the playoffs seven of the past eight seasons and Manning’s play has dipped in recent years, no matter how much they chalk it up to his supporting cast.
Then there is the most monumental task of them all — finding another Mahomes, or even someone relatively similar. Mahomes proved to be a quarterbacking unicorn who threw 50 touchdown passes and won the MVP award in his first year as a starter. That might come around only once in a lifetime.
The Giants still would welcome a slightly lesser version. The top quarterback to watch this year is Ohio State’s Haskins. Then there is Murray, the diminutive Oklahoma signal-caller who shunned playing baseball for the NFL. Shurmur conceded that will run parallel to their decision-making, whether they like him or not. Duke’s Daniel Jones and Missouri’s Drew Lock are other potential options who have the chance to win over the Giants’ brass during the evaluation process at this week’s combine and the subsequent private visits and workouts.
There is still plenty of time left in this race to impress. Regardless of what you hear, the Giants have hardly made up their minds before meeting with the quarterbacks one-on-one, which will happen this week.
“[The combine] is just at the very beginning of the process,” Gettleman said. “You’ve got Indy, you’ve got the workouts, we’ve got private visits, we’ve got interviews. You can’t line them up now. And if anybody has them lined up now, God bless ’em. They’re smarter than me.”
What the Giants do know is who the front-runners are. It begins with Haskins.
Overall, they at the very least see intrigue in this group.
“The little bit that I’ve looked at, it’s a nice-looking group,” Gettleman said. “They come in all shapes and sizes — that is for darn sure. It’s a nice-looking group. Excited to watch them all perform on the floor and looking forward to interviewing all of them. It’s only 15 minutes, but you can get a little feel for it. And then I’m looking forward to the interview process. The private-visit stuff, because you can really learn so much about a guy. It’s a massive decision. He’s the face of your franchise. He has to do all the right stuff for all the right reasons. You can’t go to bed at night worrying about whether he’s going to come in [on] time, no matter how talented they are.”
The early returns on the character and leadership of Haskins and Murray have been positive. The question with Murray is his height. He’s expected to measure in the coming days somewhere in the 5-foot-9 range.
That would seem to be problematic given the old-school Giants thinking. They downplayed that on Wednesday, insisting the measurables wouldn’t rule Murray out of consideration.
“No. We’re going to look at the player and decide whether he’s the guy that we want to be with the Giants,” Shurmur said.
They would like to find their guy in the first round. Gettleman talked about data showing that is where most true franchise quarterbacks are found.
Depending on how the combine and coming weeks unfold, that could mean the Giants — like the Chiefs — might need to move up to grab their quarterback. Kansas City moved from 27th to 10th in 2017 for Mahomes.
“No guts, no glory, kid,” Gettleman said.
Not if they want to follow in the Chiefs’ footsteps.
GM John Lynch seems to cool off talk that WR ANTONIO BROWN will land with the 49ers.
The dot-connecting society has pegged the San Francisco 49ers as one of the top trade destinations for Antonio Brown.
For now, the Niners have made no play for the Pro Bowl receiver.
General manager John Lynch said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine that there have been no conversations between his organization and the Steelers regarding Brown.
“We have not. We have not,” Lynch said. “It’s funny the world we live in where one tweet from a player turns into interest. But, hey, that is the world we live in. I can tell you, like every team, we think the guy is a heck of a football player. But we have not had talks with the Steelers, I can tell you that.”
Pressed further about why a team with a need at receiver and plenty of cap space wouldn’t even inquire about a player like Brown being available, Lynch declined to elaborate.
“I’ll just leave it as he’s a great player. We’ve got a ton of respect for Antonio,” he said.
And this from Lynch on QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO:
General Manager John Lynch told PFT Live at the Scouting Combine that he thinks they’re going to be in great shape with Garoppolo at full health — and that they feel better about the backup quarterback position after seeing Nick Mullens play well.
“We’re just thrilled,” Lynch said. “Jimmy’s rehab is going extremely well. He’s attacking it with great vigor. We’re excited to get him back on the field, and about the depth of our quarterback position in general. Some other guys got some opportunities and made the most of them.”
Lynch acknowledged that the 49ers need to improve, saying, “We haven’t won enough games in those two years.” Having Garoppolo healthy for 16 games would go a long way toward changing that.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Three Rams defenders appear headed to free agency. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
General manager Les Snead announced the team is definitely not planning to use the franchise tag and cast doubt on whether they could work out long-term deals with safety Lamarcus Joyner, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or defensive end Dante Fowler before free agency starts. It sounds like all three starters will be allowed to test the market. The Rams may want Fowler the most of that trio, but he also could inspire the most interest from outside parties.
Pete Carroll views his top backs as 1 and 1A. Herbie Teope of NFL.com:
The Seattle Seahawks aren’t about to fix something that isn’t broken.
The Seahawks led the league in rushing last year, averaging a healthy 160 yards per game, thanks to the contributions of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and then-rookie Rashaad Penny, the team’s first-round pick in 2018.
Carson led the team in rushing with 1,151 yards on 247 yards, while Penny capped off his rookie season with 419 yards rushing on 85 carries. It remains to be seen if the Seahawks bring back Davis, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, but Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll made it clear Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine how he views Carson and Penny for the 2019 season.
“One-two punch and I don’t know who’s one or who’s two,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I thought both guys did a really good job.”
Carson’s emergence came as a surprise given Penny’s lofty draft status. But an injury suffered in training camp set back Penny and opened the door for Carson to shine.
“Chris had a fantastic season,” Carroll said. “It’s the first time Chris has really had the opportunity to play a whole season all the way through and show what he’s all about. It was exhilarating to watch him have that opportunity and to see him play. His style was great and loved the way he played.”
The Seahawks haven’t found a reliable running back to carry a full load since Marshawn Lynch stepped away from football after the 2015 season.
Seattle went through the likes of running backs Christine Michael, Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise, among others, in an effort to field a capable backfield before finding the formula last season with Carson, Penny and Davis.
Carson, a physical runner, and Penny, a speedster and capable receiver out of the backfield, complement each other well.
And with a successful backfield-by-committee approach in 2018 helped by an improved offensive line, Carroll isn’t in a hurry to change how the Seahawks run the football with Carson and Penny.
“Those two guys, they’re good football players and we love what they bring,” Carroll said. “They’re not the same, their running style is much different, but there’s plenty of room for both those guys. I’m excited for both of them.”
Veteran GM John Dorsey is trying to lower expectations in Cleveland. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Browns closed the 2018 season on an upswing and have both cap space and draft picks to spare in 2019, which has led some to predict that 2019 is the year when they finally break through for both a winning record and a trip to the postseason.
That may be the case, but General Manager John Dorsey said Thursday that he does not plan to blow through a lot of that cap space in order to help things along. Dorsey said at a press conference from Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that the team still has to work on building its foundation so that they are positioned to win consistently rather than going all out for the brass ring right now.
“I don’t think we’re a team yet to go for it,” Dorsey said, via Ohio.com. “We have a young, talented team. Let’s build a foundation here, let’s build a team of substance. We’re not done yet in terms of getting this thing right. Every year we want to win, that’s the overarching goal. I’m not going to go out and waste a whole bunch of money because I have to think three and four years down the road. I just can’t think for the immediate future.”
They are projected to have around $78 million in cap space and own 12 picks in the draft, so they are well positioned to take another step forward even if Dorsey isn’t throwing money around wildly next month.
Here is what Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com picked up from the press session of Texans GM Brian Gaine:
Gaine indicated that the team wants Lamar Miller to remain the starting running back, with the position not sounding like a priority in free agency or the draft. It’s a bit surprising in light of Miller’s ho-hum Texans track record, but the team has bigger needs. Gaine was far less certain about cornerback Kevin Johnson coming back on the fifth year of his rookie option. It’s expected that Johnson will be released. Houston has looming secondary questions with Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu also set to hit free agency.
– – –
They have a charge called “vehicular assault” in Colorado – and you don’t even have to strike a pedestrian or another vehicle to get charged with it as former WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS found out:
Former Broncos and Texans wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has been arrested on allegations including vehicular assault stemming from a crash earlier this month.
Police say Thomas was taken into custody Wednesday after turning himself in. He also was being held on allegations of reckless driving and not having proof of insurance.
Thomas was involved in a crash on Feb. 16, a few days after he was released by the Texans. In a document released Thursday, police said Thomas was driving over 70 mph, more than twice the speed limit, near downtown Denver when his SUV went off the road and flipped end-over-end after hitting a median. Police say the SUV landed on its wheels and that one of his two passengers suffered serious injuries.
Thomas and the other passenger also were taken to the hospital after the crash.
Thomas’ agent, Todd France, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
GM David Caldwell proclaims the Jaguars will not be trading CB JALEN RAMSEY. Ryan Young of YahooSports.com:
While reports swirled this season that the Jacksonville Jaguars were considering trading cornerback Jalen Ramsey, general manager Dave Caldwell said on Wednesday that he has no plans to shop the star defensive back.
Caldwell spoke highly of Ramsey while talking with NBC Sports at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday, and said he’d like to have him in Jacksonville for a long time.
“We’re not going to trade Jalen,” Caldwell told NBC Sports. “That’s not our intention. When you have a player that’s one of the top at his position, it’s hard to replace that player.”
Ramsey had 65 total tackles and three interceptions this season with the Jaguars — his third in the league. He is entering the fourth and final year of his initial deal with the team, however Caldwell confirmed Wednesday that they will pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. According to The Athletic’s Daniel Popper, the Jaguars will wait until after free agency and the NFL draft in April before deciding on a long-term contract extension for the 24-year-old.
While he’s certainly one of the better cornerbacks in the league, there are few who talk more trash publicly than Ramsey. Most notably this season, he was involved in a feud with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and even snubbed Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck after pretending to help him up.
Despite the antics, which Caldwell said he’s reeled in, Ramsey has been extremely dedicated throughout his three years in the league.
THIS AND THAT
FIELD YATES AND FREE AGENCY
Field Yates of ESPN.com goes through the biggest free agency decisions for the 32 member clubs (edited here for space):
OG John Miller: The Bills now enter an offseason in the healthiest place during the McDermott/Beane tenure: equipped with cap space (estimated around $82 million), a young quarterback and a rock-solid defense. Miller is a fine player; he showed strides in 2018 and can be a starter. Ideally, however, he’d be a depth-level player along your line who can start in a pinch.
Verdict: Re-sign Miller to a modest deal.
OT Ja’Wuan James: James is a stud right tackle, and those get paid handsomely on the open market. James is worth the payday for someone — the Dolphins just need to decide how aggressive they want to be in retaining him. He’s only 26, and as the Dolphins begin a likely search for a long-term quarterback solution, fortifying the offensive line should be a priority. Keeping James won’t come cheap but is a reasonable first step.
Verdict: Re-sign James.
New England Patriots
DE Trey Flowers: The numbers don’t paint the full story on Flowers, but he’s a terrific edge player with pass-rush juice to disrupt a game. The predicament for the Patriots likely starts with this: to tag or not to tag? The tag projects to cost north of $16 million for one season, which is too steep if a long-term deal feels out of reach. The Patriots would seem to be interested in reaching a long-term deal at a lower number with Flowers prior to the start of free agency. But would Flowers have any interest in securing an extension before reaching the open market?
Verdict: Aim for a long-term extension before free agency.
New York Jets
DE Henry Anderson: The Jets have the resources (a projected $95 million in cap space) to be as aggressive as any team, and many in league circles view GM Mike Maccagnan as likely to be just that. That doesn’t mean merely big-game hunting to help surround quarterback Sam Darnold with support — it also includes retaining players who have shown promise. Anderson fired off 4.5 sacks in the final three games this past season and is a player Maccagnan traded a seventh-round pick for in the 2018 draft.
Verdict: Re-sign Anderson.
LB C.J. Mosley: New Ravens GM Eric DeCosta faces a situation similar to the one Green Bay counterpart Brian Gutekunst dealt with last year: Would Gutekunst, in his first few months on the job, really play hardball and let negotiations with Aaron Rodgers linger when it was clear that both sides had interest? The answer, of course, was no. DeCosta has been with the Ravens for a long time and is no stranger to the players, but as the man now calling the shots, keeping a leader, a stalwart and a linebacker in his prime is a slam dunk. It’s just a matter of finding the cost.
Verdict: Re-sign Mosley.
TE Tyler Eifert: Unfortunately, the Bengals have extensive experience with what the offense looks like without Eifert, who’s missed 53 of 96 career regular-season games.
Verdict: Let Eifert walk.
QB Tyrod Taylor: While Taylor is an imperfect option as a starter, he still has enough traits that NFL teams looking for a starter will consider him this March. Which likely means that Cleveland, which already has Drew Stanton under contract for 2019, would be priced out on a deal for Taylor.
Verdict: Let Taylor walk.
RB Le’Veon Bell: The team has an excellent track record of talent evaluation, saw the emergence of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels in 2018 and has enough needs to use that money elsewhere.
Verdict: Let Bell walk.
S Tyrann Mathieu: When a player signs a one-year deal, it offsets the risk for the team and also gives the player a chance to re-establish his value. Mathieu accomplished the latter, as he was a near every-down player for the Texans and a wonderful addition to the defense. He’s versatile, an excellent communicator, plays with passion and is just 26 years old. The Texans have another important decision to make on Jadeveon Clowney (a franchise tag could be in play there). Mathieu deserves a new deal.
Verdict: Re-sign Mathieu to a multiyear deal.
DE Margus Hunt: The beauty of the Colts’ defense last season was that it maximized players who were scheme fits. Hunt had his best season in 2018, showing the versatility to slide to defensive tackle and capably handle duties there. The Colts are about as cap-flush as any team in the NFL (projected cap space of $105 million) and can get in the mix on almost any free agent they want, in-house options included.
Verdict: Re-sign Hunt to a multiyear deal.
CB Tyler Patmon: Yes, the Jaguars will be fine in the back end as long as Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are around, but depth surrounding them matters in a league where offenses are more multiple than ever.
Verdict: Re-sign Patmon.
S Kenny Vaccaro: In a league where offenses are seemingly more prolific than ever, Super Bowl LIII proved that defense ain’t dead. The Titans profile as a team that wants to impose its will physically on both sides of the ball, with Vaccaro possessing the requisite traits to do just that.
Verdict: Re-sign Vaccaro.
C Matt Paradis: There are a lot of traits that coaches want in an offensive lineman, and reliability is typically near the top. Paradis is worth big bucks.
Verdict: Re-sign Paradis.
Kansas City Chiefs
LB Dee Ford: The Chiefs are a year away from perhaps paying Patrick Mahomes record-setting money, something that will alter the way the team constructs its roster. Ford was the Chiefs’ second-best defensive player this past season. The Chiefs could see many pass-heavy opponents next season as they try to play catch-up with Kansas City’s offense, so having effective edge rushers to combat that is important. He’s a home-grown talent the Chiefs should find a way to retain.
Verdict: Use franchise tag on Ford.
Los Angeles Chargers
WR Tyrell Williams: While Tyrell Williams is a solid player, the money needed to retain him would be better served at other positions to fortify the few spots where Los Angeles is not as deep.
Verdict: Let Williams walk.
RB Marshawn Lynch: Ultimately the Raiders must zero in on players who can be building blocks for them going forward, but Lynch is a unique case. While the team seeks a home for the 2019 season, Lynch would not only bring value to the backfield but would also be a player whom fans — if the Raiders stay in Oakland — could rally around considering his roots and connection with the city. Given that Lynch has seemingly no interest in playing elsewhere, a deal with the Raiders could come in a straightforward manner: a one-year, moderately priced agreement.
Verdict: Re-sign Lynch for one year.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence: The Cowboys will face this situation a lot in the near future: an awesome player is set to hit the open market or is eligible for an extension. Lawrence is the first one up, and while the franchise tag looms, it would behoove Dallas to hammer out a deal now. It will be incredibly expensive … and worth it.
Verdict: Re-sign Lawrence to a multiyear deal.
New York Giants
S Landon Collins: No need to overthink it: Collins is one of the Giants’ very best and most impactful defensive players.
Verdict: Re-sign Collins long-term.
DE Brandon Graham: Ideally, Graham sticks around; but at a position that is compensated well on the open market, he figures to see offers north of what the Eagles can present.
Verdict: Let Graham walk.
LB Preston Smith: Free agency is about paying for traits, not past production. While Smith didn’t fill up the stat sheet in 2018, he’s a player who will be attractive to teams around the league. So if I’m Washington, I work hard to secure a deal with Smith before the market opens.
Verdict: Re-sign Smith.
S Adrian Amos: The task at hand for GM Ryan Pace is an enviable one: managing how to pay all of his talented players. Amos is a really solid player — a key starter for the Bears — but if his asking price is a top-of-the-market deal, Chicago might have to exercise some caution.
Verdict: Allow Amos to test the market, re-sign if at a reasonable price tag.
DE Romeo Okwara: The Lions will almost assuredly tender Okwara, but not at the original round level. Okwara entered the league as an undrafted free agent, meaning tendering him at that level would allow a team to sign him to a deal and if Detroit were to decline to match it, the Lions would receive nothing. While the specific value of a first-, second- or original-round tender is not yet known, we can project a second-round tender to be north of $3 million for 2019. That would be a raise for Okwara and also a deterrent for other teams to offer him a contract; he’s a solid player, but acquiring him via a new deal and sending a second-round pick is too steep.
Verdict: Tender him at the second-round level.
Green Bay Packers
OLB Clay Matthews: Colleague Rob Demovsky noted that Matthews might be best suited to work as an inside linebacker for Green Bay, a role he’s played previously. Matthews doesn’t project to see a robust market for his services if he reaches free agency, and he has been an influential part of the franchise since being drafted 10 years ago. While Green Bay might opt to start fresh in many ways after a stale 2018 and the hiring of head coach Matt LaFleur, a modest money deal might be enough to entice Matthews to stay put.
Verdict: Retain Matthews on a short-term deal.
LB Anthony Barr: Amid an offseason when several key players (including Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks) received new deals, it was notable that Barr did not. Head coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive mastermind who certainly wouldn’t want to surrender a player like Barr who has flashed skill throughout his career, but the Vikings are a team with enough talent that difficult decisions are going to be a norm in choosing whom to extend and whom to replace. With a strong need to fortify the offensive line, the Vikings might use their assets there while allowing Barr to test the market.
Verdict: Let Barr walk.
DT Grady Jarrett: When a general manager addresses a contract situation publicly, he knows the reality: You need to follow through. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has made no mystery that he wants to extend superstar Jarrett, a player Dimitroff stole in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. It won’t be cheap and it shouldn’t be: Jarrett is outstanding. A deal will likely get done.
Verdict: Re-sign Jarrett to a multiyear deal.
OT Chris Clark: After Eric Reid was signed to a deserved three-year extension, Clark became the free-agent focus. Clark earned his keep last season for Carolina, signing a deal after the beginning of the regular season and eventually starting 13 games at the crucial left tackle spot. Clark is not the long-term solution at left tackle and might not necessarily be the short-term solution — Carolina would be wise to study tackles in this year’s draft — but as the team learned the hard way last year, offensive line depth is essential.
Verdict: Re-sign Clark to a short-term deal.
New Orleans Saints
QB Teddy Bridgewater: The move to acquire Bridgewater was a sensible insurance policy for the Saints, but it’s logical to surmise that New Orleans envisioned it as a likely one-year proposition. Bridgewater should see interest to possibly start elsewhere, and while the idea of eventually taking over for Drew Brees might be alluring, there are two factors to consider: Can New Orleans afford to pay Bridgewater starter-level money until that time and, of course, how many years away is that? Bridgewater has a clearer path to start by moving on.
Verdict: Let Bridgewater walk.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LB Kwon Alexander and OT Donovan Smith: A pair of decisions to make here, so let’s break it down this way: Which player should be the priority? While Alexander has reached a higher level of performance at his position in his career, Smith plays a more indispensable spot at left tackle. He’s never missed a game, and replacing a left tackle is a massive chore for any team in the offseason. In an ideal world, both players stick. But when in doubt, find a way to keep the offensive line intact.
Verdict: Prioritize Smith, angle to retain Alexander.
DE Markus Golden: Golden profiles as a natural candidate to take a one-year deal in hopes of regaining his form from 2016, when he had double-digit sacks. With Chandler Jones and the first overall draft pick, the Cardinals have the means to build a dynamic front seven.
Verdict: Let Golden walk.
Los Angeles Rams
DT Ndamukong Suh: The Rams have a really good problem on their hands: GM Les Snead has built one of the best rosters in the NFL, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to keep it together.
Verdict: Let Suh walk.
San Francisco 49ers
K Robbie Gould: Under GM John Lynch, the 49ers have been unafraid to spend aggressively on free agents, be it in-house options or those on the open market. The team handed fullback Kyle Juszczyk a record-setting deal and later did the same to retain Jimmy Garoppolo, proving a willingness to pay top dollar for players who are a part of their core going forward. Gould might be 36, but he remains one of the game’s very best at his position. Kickers have a longer window to succeed than those at most other positions; the 49ers have too much money to spend to miss out on retaining him.
Verdict: Sign Gould to a multiyear deal.
DE Frank Clark: Clark and his agent had little interest in discussing an extension during the 2018 season, opting to play out the final year of Clark’s rookie contract with the chance to take his value to the next level. Smart choice, as Clark registered another double-digit-sack season. He’s a star player at 25 and would command an outstanding contract if he were available. The Seahawks are a year away from the expiration of Russell Wilson’s contract, which makes using the franchise tag on Clark this season a tad more uncertain: Would you want to risk having both players scheduled to be free agents in 2020? A tag for Clark feels like Seattle’s starting point.
Verdict: Use franchise tag on Clark.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com looks at the Monday Night Football booth after the departure of Jason Witten. He writes as if Beth Mowins is the only possible name on the play-by-play bench if the Worldwide Leader opts to make wholesale changes:
After Witten’s surprise announcement that he will return to the Cowboys, ESPN released an announcement of its own, saying only that it will be a few weeks before the MNF team is determined.
“We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” the statement said. “We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys. In the coming weeks we will determine our MNF plans for the 2019 season.”
So who will replace Witten?
One simple solution would be to keep Joe Tessitore on play-by-play and move Booger McFarland from the “Boogermobile” where he worked last year and into the booth for a two-man announcing team.
Another possibility is keeping McFarland on the sideline and Tessitore in the booth, with a replacement for Witten. That replacement could come in the form of another tight end, Greg Olsen, who has toyed with the possibility of retiring from the Panthers and moving to the booth. Another option would be Matt Hasselbeck, a longtime ESPN commentator who was considered for the MNF role last year before Witten was hired.
If ESPN really wants to shake things up, it could bring in three new announcers. Beth Mowins handled play-by-play for one Monday night game last year, when ESPN ran a doubleheader in Week One, and could be considered as a replacement for Tessitore for the permanent role. Kurt Warner was reportedly the second choice behind Witten last year and could be his replacement this year. ESPN has given Louis Riddick significant air time recently and he could be a third announcer in the booth with Mowins and Warner.
And the wild card is Peyton Manning. ESPN would have loved to hire Manning last year, and FOX also tried to hire him for Thursday nights. ESPN would have to pay a lot of money to get Manning in the booth, but he could be worth it: It’s easy to envision Manning becoming the next Tony Romo, a retired quarterback who draws rave reviews for his understanding of the game. ESPN would probably allow Manning to pick whatever play-by-play announcer he’s most comfortable working with.
Whatever ESPN decides to do, it’s going to be heavily scrutinized. Just as Witten was last year. ESPN will hope whoever is in the booth in 2019 gets a better reception than Witten did.
Even as QB KYLER MURRAY tries to succeed as an undersized QB (now a certified 5-10), DT ED OLIVER is also undersized. Pete Thamel of YahooSports.com:
In scouting circles, Oliver’s physical measurements and potentially ridiculous 40-yard dash are being greeted with an equal amount of intrigue. Since starting the season being hailed as the potential No. 1 pick, Oliver is now better cast as a guaranteed first-rounder. Some of that has to do with the historic defensive line depth in this class. But there’s also size concerns, as Oliver played last season at around 272 pounds – even if he was listed at 292 – and looks more like a linebacker than a defensive tackle. Oliver is believed to be 6-1, which would make him exponentially shorter and smaller than a typical NFL defensive tackle.
But Oliver has a raging motor, freaky physical traits and speed that’s expected to test in the 4.5 range that would essentially give him the jets of an average receiver. And there’s also high-end production, which included 53 tackles for loss in three seasons.
The tension with Oliver lies in how NFL teams will treat his anomalous size, even if he’s expected to weigh in somewhere in the mid-280s.
Oliver has managed to evade giving the NFL and its scouting services an official height and weight, which will change on Friday when he is formally weighed and measured at the combine.
“Oliver is a tough conversation because most of us can’t wait to see what his height and weight is this week because we don’t even know,” said Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock. He added: “If you look at historic data, at analytics, it tells you that the height and weight probably shouldn’t work in the NFL. But when a guy like that runs a 4.5 something at the combine, that changes the analytics a little bit.”
How dominant was Oliver in college? He arrived at the University of Houston as the highest recruited player in school history. He earned freshman All-American and as a sophomore became the first underclassman to win the Outland Trophy award for the country’s top interior lineman. Oliver was so confident in his NFL future that he declared he’d be entering the NFL draft before the start of his junior season, a decision that offers a window into Oliver’s endearing braggadocio.
Twice during his career, Oliver was the target of dirty hits that resulted in knee injuries – with opponents from Temple (2017) and Navy (2018) diving into his knee while he was engaged. (He missed 4.5 games in 2018.) The 2017 hit, in part, led to the NCAA to changing its rules to prevent similar blocks.
Former Houston coach Tom Herman, now at Texas, recruited Oliver and coached him for a year there. He watched him as a freshman sack both Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson twice in seismic Houston upsets, as both Oklahoma and Louisville were ranked No. 3 in the country at the time. “I think with him, the strength and explosiveness is what overcomes his lack of mass,” Herman said in a phone interview on Thursday. “He’s never going to be a 325-pound guy. But he’s just so strong and quick and explosive that it’s hard to even get your hands on him.”
Herman still marvels at Oliver’s ability to contort his body, as he recalled him running drills where linemen are working on leaning their body to rush the passer. “His shoulder pad would be a few inches off the ground,” Herman said. “It was silly the way he was able to bend while still moving.”
No one will argue with Oliver’s freakiness, but there are vexing questions about him. He’s rare in that he’s more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, making it more difficult to justify a high draft choice.
The most often used comparison to Aaron Donald – Oliver’s favorite player – isn’t necessarily a fair one as Donald was much more refined in his technique, especially with his hands, and a more accomplished pass rusher. Oliver’s position coach at Houston for his final two seasons was also his high school position coach, which stagnated his development.
Much like NFL coaches and schemes have recently adjusted to quarterbacks coming from college and not fitting their NFL archetype – Murray, Deshaun Watson and Mayfield – there’d have to be some schematic adjustment for Oliver as well.
“The general feeling is that you get a movable piece in the front seven with whom you can find matchups and attack,” said a source familiar with Oliver. “It’d be a disservice to the kid to plug him in and keep him on one spot on the interior of the defensive line. He doesn’t fit prototypes, but he’s such a good athlete, he can play on his feet and play on the edge.”
There are no critical character flaws with Oliver, as he wasn’t a partier, generally worked hard and went to class and didn’t raise any off-field red flags. But there are general questions around Oliver involving his emotional maturity, as he showed at times in his Houston career that he could be temperamental and struggled with coaching.
That was epitomized by the great jacket flap this season that led to a wave of social media vitriol for former Houston coach Major Applewhite. In a game against Tulane in November, Oliver screamed at Applewhite on the sideline after the coach attempted to enforce a rule that injured players couldn’t wear jackets on the sideline. Both came out looking bad, as Oliver said afterward: “Last night is not who I am.”
Who will Oliver be in the eyes of NFL scouts? All that will start with Friday’s measurement. It will take a bold and creative team to pick him, which is why he has lost traction in some mock drafts.
Will Oliver be a paradigm changer? Or will teams ignore the motor, production and dynamism, and rely on their prototypes? We’ll get a better clue when he steps on a scale Friday.
“Height is a little bit overrated, I think he’s a top-10 pick,” said a veteran NFL executive. “His quickness and disruptiveness translates really well to the modern game.”