AROUND THE NFL

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

More speed from WR CALVIN RIDLEY?  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons haven’t had Julio Jones at their offseason workouts, but they feel pretty sure what they’ll get once he does report to work after watching him go for the last eight seasons.

 

Calvin Ridley doesn’t have the same track record in Atlanta, so there’s less certainty about what the wideout will do in his second NFL season. The signs this spring have been positive, however.

 

Head coach Dan Quinn said Ridley is “always down to fight to get better” after catching 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. Wide receivers coach Raheem Morris said that desire to get better sometimes forces the team to slow Ridley down, but moving quickly seems to come naturally.

 

“I thought I played fast last year, but I am definitely playing faster,” Ridley said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I understand exactly what the coaches want and what [quarterback] Matt [Ryan] wants. So, I feel a lot better.”

 

An improved Ridley across from Jones almost certainly qualifies as something that Ryan (and the rest of the team) wants for the 2019 season.

 

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON is throwing real footballs.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week he was “very optimistic” quarterback Cam Newton would be throwing by training camp. He was right.

 

Newton has started throwing overhand with a regulation football, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer reports.

 

It is another step in Newton’s rehab from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder in January.

 

Newton remains on schedule to participate in workouts at training camp, but the Panthers are going to take a deliberate approach in his return to practice. With the season opener not until Sept. 8, there is no reason to rush his return.

 

It was clear Newton couldn’t throw the ball downfield late last season, and he sat out the final three games after a 6-2 unraveled in a seven-game losing streak. Newton, 30, passed for 3,395 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2018.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

CB TROY HILL has a new deal.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

The Los Angeles Rams have extended a cornerback. Just not that cornerback.

 

Los Angeles inked backup corner Troy Hill to a two-year extension through 2020, the team announced Thursday.

 

Hill’s deal is worth up to $8.25 million with a base value of $5.25 million, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported. Hill will receive the extra $3 million if he plays more than 52.5 percent of Los Angeles’ defensive snaps.

 

In his three seasons with the Rams, Hill has seen his snap rate increase over time — 42.5 percent (2018), 25.3 (2017) and 30.7 (2016) — but has never played over half of L.A.’s defensive snaps.

 

A restricted free agent this offseason, Hill had not signed the $2 million tender placed on him by L.A. in March.

 

The cornerback started seven of 16 games played last year and recorded his first two career interceptions.

 

Hill is an essential plug-and-play option in Los Angeles’ secondary when corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and nickelback Nickell Robey-Coleman aren’t available, and will remain so through at least 2020.

 

 

SEATTLE

Brady Henderson of ESPN.com on the Seahawks and QB RUSSELL WILSON with the departure of WR DOUG BALDWIN:

 

If there was one game that epitomized wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s career with the Seattle Seahawks — what he meant to their offense, the passion with which he played and what he was to quarterback Russell Wilson — it was a 2017 victory over the New York Giants.

 

Baldwin finished with nine catches for 92 yards and caught the go-ahead touchdown. It came on a play in which the Giants brought a cover zero blitz, something the two exploited countless times during their seven seasons together. Showing ultimate trust in his longtime No. 1 receiver, Wilson floated a pass deep down the middle of the field — where no safety remained in coverage — before Baldwin had gotten more than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage and before he had so much as a half-step on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

 

About an hour earlier, Baldwin lost his cool on the sideline following a few lousy possessions. Cameras showed him shoving assistant coach Tom Cable while yelling toward Wilson amid a huddle of offensive players. He wasn’t upset at Cable, who had been instructed by coach Pete Carroll to address the group. He was frustrated by the offense’s execution and felt it was on Wilson, not a coach, to set everyone straight.

 

“We had the playcalls; we just didn’t execute,” Baldwin said postgame. “Whether it was passing the ball, blocking, catching, jumping offsides, false starting, whatever it may be, we weren’t executing as players, and to me there is nothing a coach can say. We have to take accountability for that.”

 

The apparent end of Baldwin’s career because of multiple injuries leaves Wilson without the most trusted and prolific receiver he has ever known. For better or worse, it also leaves Wilson without perhaps his toughest critic, the player who held him accountable more than anyone else.

 

“Borderline contentious” was how former Seahawks quarterback Jake Heaps described Baldwin’s atypical relationship with Wilson. Heaps was with the Seahawks during parts of two offseasons and had a stint on their practice squad in 2016. He is now business partners with Wilson, helping run the Russell Wilson Passing Academy, and co-hosts on 710 ESPN Seattle.

 

“He wanted to make sure that Russell was performing at his very best at all times, and anything less than that was unacceptable to him,” Heaps said of Baldwin. “So where you see traditional receivers, No. 1 receivers, is you see them as divas, as guys that are complaining about not getting the ball in their hands — and Doug at times did do that, but it was more than that. It was more you saw Doug Baldwin complaining about the offense not living up to its potential … or demanding is maybe the better word — demanding that Russell plays better, and that’s a different accountability level that you see. That’s just a different dynamic than what you’re accustomed to seeing in football and in the NFL.”

 

Heaps noted for as demanding as Baldwin was of Wilson, he also was supportive and reassuring.

 

“It wasn’t that they hated each other by any stretch of the imagination,” Heaps said, “but there was constant friction between the two of them and mostly from Doug’s side of things.”

 

Did you notice who went unmentioned and unpictured in the series of farewell tweets Baldwin wrote after his release from the Seahawks earlier this month? The veteran quarterback he referred to was Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson was Seattle’s starter in 2011 when Baldwin became the first undrafted rookie to lead his team in receiving since the AFL-NFL merger. It was a remarkable start for a player who, a few months earlier, was interviewing for jobs with Dropbox and other San Francisco Bay area companies during the NFL’s lockout, not knowing if he would play football again.

 

When Wilson was drafted the next year, it meant an adjustment for Baldwin, who was going from pocket passers in Jackson and Andrew Luck at Stanford to a quarterback prone to ad-libbing. Once Baldwin and Wilson got on the same page, they were on their way to becoming one of the most prolific connections of their era. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Wilson’s 436 completions to Baldwin are the fourth most of any quarterback-receiver duo since Wilson entered the league in 2012.

 

Their on-field chemistry was never more evident than in 2015, when Baldwin tied for the league lead with 14 touchdown receptions. That included a video-game-like stretch of 11 scores over five games in the second half of the season.

 

“We got really hot,” Wilson said recently while reminiscing about his time with Baldwin. “That was pretty cool.”

 

Wilson also spoke of a “fire” in Baldwin “that you didn’t see in anybody else.”

 

“Going to miss his leadership,” Wilson said. “I’m going to miss his work ethic. He’s a guy who would catch a slant route and run to the house every time at practice. He would practice and play hurt where other guys would be sitting. He knew the game; he studied the game. Nobody worked harder than he did. He also was a great coach on the field. He really coached the other players, other wideouts and also me too.”

 

With Baldwin gone, Tyler Lockett becomes Wilson’s top target, a role Lockett began ascending to last season. Lockett and Jaron Brown are Seattle’s only wideouts with more than three years of NFL experience. That group also includes David Moore, a 2017 seventh-rounder, and 2019 draft picks DK Metcalf, Gary Jennings and John Ursua.

– – –

Wilson, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the only three Seahawks remaining from the 2013 Super Bowl XLVIII winners.

 

“They lead them in completely different ways,” Heaps said of that trio. “It’s not right or wrong. It’s different. And so I think that from what you saw last year and what you’re going to see moving forward is less tension, more camaraderie on both sides of the ball. I think moving forward with Russell and his $35 million-a-year contract, really what it signifies is this is Russell’s team through and through. So, you’re not going to have receivers calling him out, trying to hold him accountable, do this and that like he’s your little brother.

 

“Russell is the big brother now. Russell is the guy. He’s the face of the franchise. And as Russ goes and as Russ says, everybody else follows suit.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

It is a big year for DE DEREK WOLFE – and the defense of Vic Fangio may be just the ticket to a big check.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Entering the final year of his deal in Denver, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe is looking to break out after a relatively unproductive 2018 season.

 

With new coach Vic Fangio calling the shots on defense in 2019, Wolfe is already howling in delight.

 

“[I’m] falling in love with the defense actually. Last time I felt this was when I was first introduced to Wade [Phillips’] defense,” Wolfe told reporters Thursday. “I almost feel like I was born to play this defense. I was telling my wife that last night. She was like you know it’s your contract year, where are we going to be, this and that. I feel like I was born for this defense, so I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”

 

Wolfe tallied just 3.5 sacks in 27 games in the two seasons after Phillips left his post as Denver’s defensive coordinator for the same one in Los Angeles. In Phillips’ two years with the Broncos (2015-16), Wolfe recorded 11 sacks, and Denver won a Super Bowl.

 

The defensive end thinks with Fangio, most recently the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears’ No. 1 scoring defense, in charge that he, and by extension the Broncos, will experience a renaissance by playing within Fangio’s system.

 

“If you don’t play within the defense — if you don’t do what you’re told and do your job — you’re going to get s—canned anyways,” Wolfe said.

 

Wolfe will earn around $8.6 million in 2019, after which he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

 

“You have to go earn that next check,” the 29-year-old defensive end added. “The thing about contract years is it can go two ways. Some guys they’ll play selfish and not be so team-oriented or they’ll do everything they’re told to do and it ends up working well for them.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Even with RB CARLOS HYDE on the roster, the Chiefs are signaling a heavy workload for RB DAMIEN WILLIAMS.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

The arrival of veteran running back Carlos Hyde in March apparently doesn’t alter how the Kansas City Chiefs view the backfield ahead of the regular season.

 

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy made it clear Thursday who will be the lead back and the team has high expectations for the player.

 

“Damien Williams is our starter,” Bieniemy told reporters, via Matt Derrick of Chiefs Digest. “We expect him to excel at that role.”

 

There was initial thought that the Chiefs could either see Hyde as the starter or the offense would utilize some kind of committee approach given the depth at the running back position. Williams and Hyde are currently joined in the backfield by second-year pro Darrel Williams and a trio of rookies with James Williams, Darwin Thompson and Marcus Marshall.

 

Bieniemy, though, leaves little room for ambiguity surrounding Damien Williams’ status on the depth chart.

 

The Chiefs certainly got a good look at Williams in 2018 after cutting ties with Kareem Hunt in late November.

 

The 5-foot-11, 224-pound Williams, who spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins (2014-17), appeared in all 16 games with three starts to close out the 2018 regular season, totaling 256 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries. Williams also showed some versatility out of the backfield as a receiver, totaling 23 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including a six-catch, 74-yard effort in Week 15. Near the conclusion of the 2018 regular season, the Chiefs signed Williams to a two-year contract extension worth up $8.1 million.

 

A lot can happen between now and the start of the regular season, of course. But for now, the starting running back job in Kansas City is Williams’ to lose.

 

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

The first signs that the Browns are worried about their trade investment in enigmatic and mercurial WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Entering the final year of his deal in Denver, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe is looking to break out after a relatively unproductive 2018 season.

 

With new coach Vic Fangio calling the shots on defense in 2019, Wolfe is already howling in delight.

 

“[I’m] falling in love with the defense actually. Last time I felt this was when I was first introduced to Wade [Phillips’] defense,” Wolfe told reporters Thursday. “I almost feel like I was born to play this defense. I was telling my wife that last night. She was like you know it’s your contract year, where are we going to be, this and that. I feel like I was born for this defense, so I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”

 

Wolfe tallied just 3.5 sacks in 27 games in the two seasons after Phillips left his post as Denver’s defensive coordinator for the same one in Los Angeles. In Phillips’ two years with the Broncos (2015-16), Wolfe recorded 11 sacks, and Denver won a Super Bowl.

 

The defensive end thinks with Fangio, most recently the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears’ No. 1 scoring defense, in charge that he, and by extension the Broncos, will experience a renaissance by playing within Fangio’s system.

 

“If you don’t play within the defense — if you don’t do what you’re told and do your job — you’re going to get s—canned anyways,” Wolfe said.

 

Wolfe will earn around $8.6 million in 2019, after which he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

 

“You have to go earn that next check,” the 29-year-old defensive end added. “The thing about contract years is it can go two ways. Some guys they’ll play selfish and not be so team-oriented or they’ll do everything they’re told to do and it ends up working well for them.

– – –

CB GREEDY WILLIAMS may not have gone in the first round, but the Browns are putting him right into the thick of things.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Browns rookie cornerback Greedy Williams is being given every opportunity to earn a starting job.

 

Williams is working with the first-string defense in Organized Team Activities, according to Cleveland.com. The other starting cornerback is Denzel Ward.

 

Although Terrance Mitchell, who started seven games at cornerback for the Browns last season, has been seen as a likely starter this year, he was working behind Williams at the OTAs that were open to the media.

 

The Browns took Williams with the 46th overall pick in the draft and he immediately made waves by predicting that the Browns will go to the Super Bowl. He’s getting a chance to show on the field that he can back up his talk.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Herbie Teope of NFL.com checks in on QB RYAN TANNEHILL who is no longer a presumptive starter.

 

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

 

He’s on a new team, of course, but by all accounts he’s settled in fine with teammates.

 

The one area, though, that Tannehill continues to adjust to surrounds going from starter to backup, and he admits the transition has comes with challenges.

 

“It’s definitely tough at times,” Tannehill told reporters, via the Titans’ official website. “But Marcus is great to work with. The staff here, Marcus, the quarterback room is really great, and when you work with good people — great people — and you’re all aligned in this thing together trying to win football games, it definitely helps with that transition. But there are some things that are tough about it, but kinds of goes along with it.”

 

Before he was dealt to Tennessee, Tannehill spent six seasons with the Miami Dolphins as the main guy, starting 88 games while posting a 42-46 record.

 

Now, Tannehill is the clear No. 2 behind Marcus Mariota, and he has to adjust how he approaches the game mentally as a backup.

 

“When you’re the starter, there are certain things that you’re able to do as far as leading and stuff like that,” Tannehill continued. “So, really having to kind of take a step back in a leadership role I would say is the toughest role for me. You work at it for so many years, growing leadership and all that, then having to take a step back and really have a back seat is tough, really tough at times.”

 

Nevertheless, a backup’s job is to prepare like they are starting and Mariota hasn’t exactly been a role model of durability on his career.

 

Tannehill’s experience as a starting quarterback would suit him well if the Titans ever need him in the event of a Mariota injury.

 

In the meantime, Tannehill ultimately knows his status and he said he’ll be ready if his number is called.

 

More important, he embraces working with Mariota to help the Titans win games.

 

“I think there’s a lot of mutual respect between us,” Tannehill said. “I’m going to try and help Marcus as much as I can. I think Marcus has done the same for me.

 

“And as long as we have a mutual respect and understand that we’re aligned in trying to push each other and make each other better, and ultimately want to help this team win. That’s what we’re here for as quarterbacks is to help our team win, lead the offense down the field and put points on the board.”

 

The DB isn’t a 100% sure that Tannehill is the second-best QB on the Titans roster.  It might be interesting if and when Mariota gets hurt.

 

Here are some comparative numbers over the last four years:

 

                     W-L       %              Yards     TD-INT      Rating      Rush Yds     Rush TDs

Mariota         27-28    63.2%     12,004        69-42         89.4        1,270                 11

Tannehill      27-29    64.8%      13,227       87-45          91.6          761                   3

 

Pretty much the same guy – Tannehill has been a slightly better passer, while Mariota does more running but not as much as you would think.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

LB TYREL DODSON, an undrafted free agent, has a big problem.  Mike Rodak of ESPN.com:

 

Buffalo Bills rookie linebacker Tyrel Dodson was arrested Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, assault and property damage related to accusations of domestic violence.

 

Dodson was released and ordered not to consume alcohol, possess any weapons or initiate any contact with the woman, who said she was Dodson’s girlfriend. A pretrial conference is scheduled for June 18.

 

“We are aware of the incident involving Tyrel Dodson last weekend,” the Bills said in a statement Thursday. “We have been looking further into the matter and will continue to gather information as the legal process continues.”

 

The woman told Scottsdale police Dodson was intoxicated Saturday night at her apartment when he shoved her against a wall and slapped her face. The woman told Dodson to leave her apartment and locked herself in a bathroom before Dodson forced the door open, according to the police report.

 

The woman told police that approximately $8,000 to $15,000 in cash was missing from a safe once Dodson left the apartment. Dodson later denied any physical altercation and said he took about $1,000 that he shared with the victim.

 

Dodson, 20, has taken part in organized team activities this week following the arrest, a Bills spokesperson said.

 

The Bills signed Dodson on May 9 as an undrafted free agent from Texas A&M.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

We missed this back in February.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Patriots wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was driving 70 mph in a 30 mph zone when he crashed his SUV in February. He says he’s done driving like that.

 

Thomas told TMZ.com he realizes he or someone else could have been killed and he’ll never drive like that again.

 

“I could have been gone,” Thomas said. “I wake up every morning and thank the lord above. . . . And, just thankful for just not even just being able to do what I do — being able to talk, walk, eat, all those things that we forget about on a daily basis.”

 

Thomas was initially charged with felony vehicular assault but resolved the case by pleading guilty to misdemeanor careless driving. The NFL is conducting a routine review of the matter for potential league discipline.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Somewhere RB Le’VEON BELL must be partying with WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Le’Veon Bell is exercising his right to skip voluntary offseason workouts with the New York Jets. Yet, coaches aren’t the only ones who tried to convince the running back it would be good if he worked with his new teammates.

 

Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon, who knows Bell from their three seasons playing together in Pittsburgh, said he tried to convince the running back to attend OTAs.

 

“I talked to him and I told him, ‘You understand this place is different than Pittsburgh,'” McLendon said, via NorthJersey.com. “I said, ‘You need to get back so you can understand the quarterback and the situation.’ … I told him, ‘The media is gonna get you if you don’t come back.’ That’s the truth. I did tell him that.”

 

McLendon’s main pitch to Bell was that getting to know Sam Darnold is paramount, and the experience would be different than the years spent with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

 

“You just want to get to know your teammates, especially when we have a young quarterback,” McLendon said. “He needs to know your rhythm, he needs to know how patient you are. It’s easy to see on the film but it’s so hard to prepare with because [Bell] is very dynamic in the things that he can do. Out of the backfield, in the backfield, lining up at wide receiver, he can do a lot of special things, and for me it’s very amazing to have him on our team.”

 

Bell has skipped all voluntary offseason workouts since signing with the Jets, instead choosing to work out on his own with a trainer he knows who can better monitor his conditioning.

 

While he attempted to get Bell into the building, McLendon admitted that in the grand scheme of things, the running back’s absence isn’t a huge deal.

 

“I know there’s been a lot of people saying, ‘Why is he not here? Because he was paid,'” McLendon said. “Listen, man, he’s not an All-Pro, Pro Bowl running back for no reason. Sometimes people prepare differently. Would we love him here? Yes. But when he comes here and he’s rocking and rolling and helping us get to where we want to go this season, ain’t nobody going to be thinking about it. And I know I’m not.”