AROUND THE NFL

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with a quick overview of free agency so far:

 

Free agency moved faster than ever in the NFL this year, but there are still plenty of good players available.

 

In our Free Agent Top 100, 39 players remain available as of Thursday morning.

 

Most of the top players have either been franchised or have signed: The top two available players are former Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby at No. 18 and former Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at No. 23.

 

Other well-known players still on the market include receiver Golden Tate, defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Justin Houston, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix linebacker, Clay Matthews, receiver Randall Cobb and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are signing ex-Falcons RB TEVIN COLEMAN.  ESPN.com:

 

The San Francisco 49ers are signing running back Tevin Coleman to a two-year deal worth up to $10 million, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Coleman, known as an explosive, big-play threat, averaged a career-best 4.8 yards per carry while starting 14 of 16 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2018, as two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman underwent season-ending groin surgery. Coleman finished the season with 800 yards and four touchdowns on 167 attempts, and he also caught 32 passes for 276 yards and five TDs.

 

His strength is using his speed to get outside and up the field. Coleman doesn’t possess the same type of vision and elusive ability as Freeman, but the pair worked well in unison. There are questions about whether Coleman, 25, can be a workhorse back as a regular starter, but he has expressed no doubts about his ability to carry a full load.

 

Adding Coleman wasn’t a huge surprise given his ties to Niners coach Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan coached Coleman in Atlanta, and Coleman has long been one of Shanahan’s favorites. With Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, the Niners now have options in the backfield, especially as McKinnon recovers from an ACL injury that cost him the entire 2018 season.

 

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com nods somewhat approvingly:

 

Tevin Coleman, RB, San Francisco 49ers

The deal: Two years, $10 million

Grade: B+

 

This is a good price for the 49ers, given that Coleman was probably expecting a longer contract with more than $10 million in guarantees when the free-agent period started. San Francisco was also reportedly in with a serious bid on Le’Veon Bell, but the former Steelers back chose to join the Jets instead.

 

I still think the 49ers could have gotten by just fine with Matt Breida and a draft pick at halfback, but they continue to invest in running backs with pass-catching ability in free agency. Last year’s Jerick McKinnon deal saw the 49ers pay $12 million in one year for a back who had been one of the worst runners in football the previous two seasons. This signing is far more palatable, especially if it’s a guarantee in the $5-6 million range.

 

Will the 49ers carry Coleman, McKinnon and Breida? I’m skeptical, in part because the 49ers almost surely would have cut McKinnon if they had signed Bell. Most teams want their third back to play special teams, which could be insightful. Coleman doesn’t play special teams, but he’s guaranteed a roster spot this season. McKinnon wasn’t a regular special-teamer in Minnesota, as he suited up regularly in 2015 and was there occasionally in 2017 but didn’t play in 2016. Breida suited up on special teams in 2017 for the 49ers but mostly sat them out in 2018, as he started at halfback and played through an ankle injury. The 49ers wouldn’t realize any cap savings from cutting McKinnon, but they would save $3.7 million in cash. Breida will make $645,000 in the third year of his rookie deals, and I suspect he would have some trade market if the 49ers want to keep Coleman and McKinnon.

 

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks invest big money in the kicker that veteran SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI beat out last year.  Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com:

 

Jason Myers, K, Seattle Seahawks

The deal: Four years, $15-16 million

Grade: D+

 

Myers spent two-plus years as the Jaguars’ kicker between 2015 and 2017 and hit on 81.0 percent of his field goals. The Seahawks had Myers in camp last summer and cut him in favor of Sebastian Janikowski, who was inconsistent in his first season outside of Oakland. Myers caught on with the Jets and produced a career season, hitting 33 of his 36 field goal tries.

 

The chances are far greater that Myers’s true field goal rate is closer to his career average of 84.3 percent than his 2018 rate of 91.7 percent, and if the former is accurate, then Myers isn’t worth this sort of commitment.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on the plans, or lack thereof, for DB KAREEM JACKSON:

 

The Broncos moved quickly to add Kareem Jackson to their defense, but they’ll be deliberate when it comes to deploying him in their defense.

 

Jackson was a cornerback for his first eight years in Houston, but shifted to safety with the Texans ahead of the 2018 season. Losing Kevin Johnson after Week One forced the Texans to start shuffling him between the two spots and that versatility was something that the Broncos found attractive.

 

It is also keeping them from making a definitive choice about where he will be playing in 2019.

 

“That’s yet to be determined,” head coach Vic Fangio said, via the team’s website. “Once we get the team here and start working out — that’s one of his strong suits, he can play corner, safety, nickel — we’ll use him where we most need him or that best fits him.”

 

The Broncos have said goodbye to a player at each of the spots in the secondary. They released safety Darian Stewart last week and cornerback Bradley Roby switched spots with Jackson by signing with the Texans this week.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

The arrival of S TYRANN MATHIEW meant the departure of S ERIC BERRY.  The AP:

 

The Kansas City Chiefs began free agency Wednesday by cutting one of their most popular players in strong safety Eric Berry, who was a dynamic presence when he was healthy but had missed significant time throughout his care

 

While other teams were touting new additions, the Chiefs announced Berry’s release shortly after the start of the new league year. He would have been guaranteed $7.5 million of salary on Friday.

 

“We continually evaluate every aspect of our football team and we came to the decision that it was in our best interest to release Eric,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “Knowing what Eric has meant to this organization and this city made this an incredibly difficult decision.”

 

A three-time All-Pro, Berry was the Chiefs’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft, and he quickly became a star, earning the first of five Pro Bowl invitations as a rookie. But he also missed most of the 2011 season with torn knee ligaments, most of the 2017 season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, and nearly all of last season, when a mysterious heel injury kept him off the field for all but two games.

 

Berry also missed 10 games during the 2014 season when he was diagnosed with cancer, but he became a motivation to many when he concluded treatment and was back on the field the following summer.

– – –

While finances were a major consideration in the Chiefs’ recent moves, including the trade of top pass rusher Dee Ford to San Francisco, so has the way the roster had been constructed.

 

The Chiefs sacked longtime coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo shortly after their defense wrapped up a miserable season with a complete letdown against the Patriots in the AFC championship game. Then it picked up steam once Spagnuolo examined the personnel and decided that many of the pieces did not fit with his preferred 4-3 system.

 

The moves also have been made with an eye on the future. The unloading of several big contracts helps the Chiefs begin to negotiate with defensive tackle Chris Jones and wide receiver Tyreek Hill on extensions. They also are trying to create space to sign quarterback Patrick Mahomes to an extension when he becomes eligible next offseason.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

WR ANTONIO BROWN shows up in Oakland and Paul Guttierez of ESPN.com was there.

 

Saying his ultimate goal is to pass Jerry Rice as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver, a mellow Antonio Brown also talked about bringing a higher level of accountability to his teammates while being praised for his legendary on-field work ethic during his introductory news conference as the newest member of the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday.

 

Brown, who turns 31 on July 10, also referred to Raiders coach Jon Gruden as a father figure of sorts.

 

“Mr. Gruden played everything in my decision coming here,” Brown said at the team facility. “Obviously, he’s an offensive guru. You get excited just talking with him. He’s got so much knowledge of the game. He’s coached some of the greatest players ever, so he knows what it takes.

 

“He did his homework on me. He done seen every play I’ve played in … he doesn’t want to talk about what you’re doing well; he always wants to focus on the things that you can even do that much more better. When you have a coach like that, it’s like your dad — you want to be around because you know he’s not going to build you up for what you’re doing [well], he’s going to encourage you on how you always can be better.”

 

It was a decidedly kinder, gentler Brown than Pittsburgh Steelers fans saw toward the end of last season and early this offseason, when his nine-season tenure that included seven Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro selections came to an end.

 

Gone was the gold-dyed mustache — he said he wanted to be more “professional” — and there were no histrionics in his arrival — no helicopter landing or Facebook Live stream — even if the news conference did start about 25 minutes late.

 

Brown and his family, with agent Drew Rosenhaus, walked into the team auditorium with Gruden and new Raiders general manager Mike Mayock a few minutes after the trade was made official in a news release — Brown to the Raiders for Oakland’s third- and fifth-round draft picks this year, Nos. 66 and 141 overall — announcing the deal that was struck Saturday night.

 

Mayock said the Raiders did not get involved with Brown until Friday night, after his proposed trade to the Buffalo Bills fell apart earlier in the day.

 

“He is as good of a practice football player and works as hard as any football player I have ever seen in my life,” Mayock said of Brown.

 

And this from Gruden: “We don’t want to have a good receiving corps; I want to have the best receiving corps in football. And I think, to have the best, you’ve got to have the best; and in my opinion, we acquired the best wide receiver in football. And let’s get to work.

 

So Brown has 837 career catches for 11,207 yards through nine seasons.  He played at 30 years old last year.

 

Jerry Rice had 610 catches through his age 30 season, covering eight years.  He would play 12 more seasons after that, with 939 catches to reach 1,549 for his career.

 

Brown has a new playmate in WR TYRELL WILLIAMS, formerly of the Chargers.  ESPN.com:

 

The Oakland Raiders announced Wednesday that they have signed former Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams.

 

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the deal is worth $44 million for four years with a max value of $47 million that includes $22 million guaranteed.

 

He will become the Raiders’ No. 2 receiver behind Antonio Brown, who was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

 

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

The reconstituting of the Ravens defense starts with S EARL THOMAS.  Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

One by one, the Baltimore Ravens watched last season’s top-ranked defense in the NFL get slowly dismantled at the start of free agency.

 

First, it was leading tackler C.J. Mosley going to the New York Jets. Then, it was Terrell Suggs, the face of the defense, surprisingly joining the Arizona Cardinals. Lastly, it was sacks leader Za’Darius Smith cashing in with the Green Bay Packers.

 

The Ravens responded on Wednesday by giving a monumental contract to safety Earl Thomas, who received the richest deal for a non-quarterback in the franchise’s 24-year history. There’s a reason Baltimore struck a four-year, $55 million deal with the last remaining member of the “Legion of Boom” in Seattle.

 

Thomas is a leader. He’s a playmaker and the most feared ball hawk in Baltimore since Ed Reed. He’s a critical first piece in rebuilding the best defense in the league.

 

Beginning free agency with $26 million in cap room (their most in recent memory), the Ravens were expected to make an uncharacteristic splurge. Many assumed Baltimore would pursue Le’Veon Bell, but Baltimore went with value at running back with Mark Ingram and went all out for the top free safety available.

 

Few teams hold the free safety position in such high regard as the Ravens, and Baltimore’s track record backs it up. When the Ravens set the record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season in 2000, Rod Woodson was patrolling center field. When Baltimore ranked No. 1 in defense in 2006, Reed was frustrating quarterbacks by always finding the ball. When the Ravens had the NFL’s top defense for the second time in team history, Eric Weddle was quarterbacking the defense and helping disguise coverages.

 

From Reed’s departure in 2013 to Weddle’s arrival in 2016, Baltimore struggled at finding a difference-maker at that spot. The Ravens went through nine starting safeties, missing in free agency (Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo and Kendrick Lewis) and in the draft (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks).

 

The Ravens clearly made the decision that replacing Weddle, who was cut last week, was a top priority. They would spare no cost in the last line of defense, especially with Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green making big plays in the division and Ben Roethlisberger still throwing deep downfield.

 

Thomas’ $13.75 million average per year is the largest ever for a Ravens player outside of quarterback Joe Flacco. His $32 million guaranteed is the most ever given by Baltimore to a free agent from another team.

 

The addition of Thomas fills a leadership void. The Ravens had passed the mantle of leader on defense from Ray Lewis to Reed to Suggs. It was supposed to be Mosley’s turn next, but the Ravens weren’t going to break the bank on an inside linebacker. Instead, Thomas becomes the new voice of a defense that has dominated teams for two decades.

 

Thomas also will make quarterbacks — the Ravens play Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson this season — think twice about throwing deep. Last season, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey led Baltimore with two interceptions each. Thomas had three interceptions last season — in four games. Thomas’ 28 interceptions are the third most in the NFL since 2010.

 

The obvious concerns with Thomas are age and health. He’ll turn 30 in May and has missed 19 games over the past three seasons after suffering two breaks in his left leg.

– – –

It’s unclear whether QB LAMAR JACKSON is sorry he went 105 mph or sorry he put a video of the event up on Instagram.

 

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson issued an apology Wednesday for video he posted to his Instagram account that showed him driving at 105 mph.

 

Lamar Jackson

@Lj_era8

 I made a bad decision and will set a better example going forward. #Myapologies

 

The video, which Jackson appeared to film on his cellphone, showed a light on his dashboard that indicated someone in the car was not wearing a seat belt. The post was taken down from Instagram on Wednesday afternoon.

– – –

While the video was taken down from Jackson’s Instagram account, it was posted on the website TMZ. The Ravens responded to it Wednesday evening, saying, “We are aware of the report and have addressed it.”

 

The Ravens also inked RB MARK INGRAM.  Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com with his grades:

 

Earl Thomas, S, Baltimore Ravens

The deal: Four years, $55 million with $32 million fully guaranteed

Grade: B

 

Well, if the Ravens wanted to help fans get over the losses of Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, this is a step in the right direction. Baltimore is replacing a very good veteran safety with arguably the best safety of his generation in Thomas, who is likely to end up in Canton one day. It’s not quite as sure of a bet as it once was when Thomas was a perennial first-team All-Pro pick from 2012-14, but Thomas has been a game-changer when healthy.

 

Over the past three seasons, even as his influence has conceivably waned because of injuries, the Seahawks have been a much better defense with their star safety on the field:

 

                             CMP            ATT      CMP%  PSYDS   Y/ATT   TD      INT       RATING           

Thomas on field    563    936       60.1%   5,799      6.7        30       30         77.2     

Thomas off field    448    699       64.1%   5,002      7.7        31       7          98.2     

 

That interception split is stunning. Thomas is a ball hawk — the Texas product had three in what amounts to three-plus games last season before breaking his leg in Week 4 — but his presence in the deep middle of the field also allowed his teammates to be more aggressive attacking underneath routes, knowing that they had a monster lurking over the top.

 

If the Ravens get the healthy Thomas of old, this is an easy win. There’s no guarantee Thomas will be that guy over the length of this deal. He turns 30 in May and is coming off two different broken legs in the past three seasons. The Seahawks clearly didn’t think he was going to age well, which was one of the reasons they didn’t re-sign him.

 

This is also a big investment when you see the guaranteed figure. Almost 60 percent (58.1) of the total money is guaranteed, which is the largest percentage for a veteran safety with a deal of $20 million or more on an active deal. Most four-year free-agent deals are really two-year pacts. This is more likely to be a three-year contract. If any veteran’s upside is worth betting on, though, it’s Thomas.

 

Mark Ingram, RB, Baltimore Ravens

The deal: Three years, $15 million

Grade: C

 

I’m less enthused about Baltimore’s second move of the afternoon, which saw the team invest in a running back by signing Ingram to a three-year deal. The guarantee could end up pushing this grade in either direction; it’s not as bad of a contract if it’s a $5-6 million guarantee on a one-year pact, but if it’s closer to $10 million guaranteed, this would be even worse.

 

After struggling throughout most of his rookie deal, Ingram rounded into form and emerged as a valuable rotation back in New Orleans. He has worked hard to improve as a receiver, and while he’s not going to be mistaken for Alvin Kamara, he is a viable screen-and-safety valve option out of the backfield.

 

 

Former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram had 55 total touchdowns in eight years in New Orleans. Ryan Kang via AP

I don’t love the fit with Ingram and the Ravens. For one, Baltimore is going to cancel out one of its compensatory picks by signing Ingram, who wasn’t cut by the Saints. It’s true that Thomas’ contract will cancel out a higher compensatory selection, but the chances of finding a safety like Thomas after June 1 or in the draft are slim to none. It’s far easier to find running backs, and there will be useful veterans at the position who get cut in the weeks to come. The Ravens have found effective running backs for nothing in recent years by signing the likes of Justin Forsett, Alex Collins and Gus Edwards for peanuts.

 

It’s true that the Ravens are going to a run-heavy offense with Lamar Jackson as their quarterback, and having a veteran back like Ingram will help . Given that Jackson spent the vast majority of his time in the pistol last season, though, I would at least be a little anxious to see how Ingram adjusts. Over the past five seasons, more than 85 percent of Ingram’s carries have come from under center. He has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt on those runs, a figure that dropped to 4.4 when Drew Brees was in the shotgun or pistol. Ingram has had a higher EPA+ percentage when Brees hasn’t been under center, so it might not be a big concern, but taking a rare carry out of the shotgun and getting virtually every run out of the pistol is a different ballgame.

 

Ingram turns 30 in December, and while he hasn’t had a huge workload as a pro, multiyear deals for backs around this age rarely work out. I can see why the Ravens wanted to add a back, and Ingram might very well be able to translate his success in New Orleans to Baltimore, but the Ravens probably would have been better off using this $5 million to help re-sign future free agents such as Matt Judon and Patrick Onwuasor, or by going after Justin Houston to help their edge rush.

 

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com has some thoughts on the Earl Thomas signing:

 

Earl Thomas in Baltimore feels so right.

 

I love when an all-time great is allowed a chance to author a memorable second chapter to his career. I love when a franchise continues a rich tradition of greatness at a position. The Ravens’ signing of Earl Thomas accomplished both.

 

From Ed Reed to Eric Weddle to Earl Thomas, the attacking Ravens’ defense has always been anchored by a center fielder who can run the show and cover ground. Reed and Thomas are two of the greatest to ever do it. Weddle’s release makes more sense following this move, with Thomas now able to prey on the confusion that quarterbacks feel when they go up against Baltimore’s blitzes.

 

After an exodus of talent the last two days, it was clear the Ravens had a lot of work to do. Thomas’ signing is a huge start because it helps give the team’s defense an identity in the back end. In Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Tony Jefferson and Thomas, the Ravens may have the deepest, most talented secondary in football. Their system can help create pressure up front and the secondary can make the pass rush look better by forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball. Thomas’ time in Seattle was clearly over. But he will only be 30 years old this season and is always a huge difference-maker when he’s on the field. The Ravens gave Thomas the huge payday he was hoping for and they also give him a chance to become an inner-circle Hall of Fame-type player, with a second peak playing on a team that will know just how to maximize his unique skills.

 

The Ravens have more moves to make on both sides of the ball, but agreeing to terms with Mark Ingram was a step in the right direction. He didn’t cost anything more than Latavius Murray did in New Orleans and fits the rugged mold of running backs that have thrived in Baltimore. Ingram figures to share the workload with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson for an attack that is the early favorite to lead the league in carries again. Now they just need to find some receivers for Jackson to throw to.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com likes the signing of DT SHELDON RICHARDSON:

 

Sheldon Richardson to the Browns

Lost in the shuffle of the Browns’ two trades with the Giants was the signing of Richardson, who is coming off a very nice season in Minnesota. This signing gives Cleveland a defensive front of Richardson, Olivier Vernon, Myles Garrett, and Larry Ogunjobi, with Emmanuel Ogbah also available to rush the passer. That’s a heck of a group for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to work with.

 

The Richardson deal is a three-year pact worth $39 million, just $21.5 million of which is guaranteed. That’s the kind of deal you can hand out to take advantage of the remaining years of Baker Mayfield’s (and to a lesser extent, Garrett’s) cheap rookie contract, stacking talent at a position of strength to make a quality unit into an elite one. The Browns now have multiple players who can play the run and the pass from multiple positions along the defensive line, and they can play them in several different combinations and rotate in and out to keep everybody fresh.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

The BLAKE BORTLES Era is over in JAX, with a total of two postseason victories which is more than some teams get from first round picks (more than Miami has had with RYAN TANNEHILL and Tampa Bay with JAMEIS WINSTON for example).  Or more than Washington got with Robert Griffin III.

 

Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union does not kick him on his way out the door:

 

The Jaguars had a 2-11 record in December 2016 as they prepared for a game at Houston, one that would go down as the last in coach Gus Bradley’s tenure.

 

Among the topics surrounding a team long out of the playoff race was a peculiar trend involving quarterback Blake Bortles. In each of the prior three games against the Texans, he had thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

 

Not great.

 

Asked how to avoid continuing his dubious streak for a fourth game — which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, had never happened — Bortles offered a bit of humor.

 

“I’ve got to be a better tackler,” he deadpanned.

 

More than two years later, no other comment so perfectly epitomizes the legacy left behind by Bortles, who was released as expected by the Jaguars shortly after free agency began Wednesday, ending his five-year run with the franchise.

 

Among the most easy-going players the Jaguars have ever had, Bortles also will be remembered as someone who ultimately could not achieve an acceptable level of consistency.

 

As a result, the Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract, hoping he can revive an offense that went belly up during the team’s disastrous 5-11 season in 2018.

 

The Jaguars opted not to designate Bortles as a post-June 1 cut, meaning his contract will count $16.5 million in dead money on the team’s 2019 salary cap, per overthecap.com. Bortles would have had a $21 million cap number this season after signing a three-year extension in February 2018, so his release amounts to $4.5 million in savings.

 

Bortles, who turns 27 next month, is a free agent and can sign with another team.

 

“I’m confident I’ll get an opportunity to play football, whether it’s here or elsewhere, next year,” Bortles said in December. “I’ve got to make sure I’m taking care of myself and getting healthy and getting ready to go so when I get that shot, whether it’s here or somewhere else, I’ll be ready to go.”

 

The third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Bortles ends his Jaguars career with a 24-49 record in 73 regular-season starts and a 2-1 mark in the playoffs. During the regular season, Bortles threw 103 touchdowns and 75 interceptions and posted a quarterback rating of 80.6.

 

Bortles, drafted out of UCF, took over as the team’s starter for Chad Henne at halftime of the Jaguars’ 2014 Week 3 loss to Indianapolis and did not relinquish that role during the regular season until he was benched by coach Doug Marrone after Week 12 last season amid a seven-game losing streak.

 

In 75 regular-season games (73 starts plus two appearances off the bench), Bortles completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 17,646 yards. An underrated athlete throughout his career, he also ran 281 times for 1,775 yards and eight touchdowns. His average of 6.32 yards per rushing attempt is the highest in franchise history among those with at least 50 carries.

 

Bortles ranks second in the franchise record books in career passing yards (Mark Brunell — 25,698), touchdown passes (Brunell — 144) and interceptions thrown (Brunell — 86).

 

In 2015, Bortles set single-season franchise marks for passing yards (4,428) and touchdown passes (35). He also holds single-season Jaguars records for pass attempts (625 in 2016) and completions (368 in 2016).

 

Asked in December how he hoped to be remembered by fans, Bortles said: “Just as a quarterback, as a guy that would do anything for his team, played as hard as he could and just tried to win football games. You know, it’s been an interesting five years. There’s been all kinds of ups and downs and peaks and valleys.

 

“Obviously, coming off of [2017], everybody had high expectations going into the year and we didn’t live up to that. We didn’t live up to the expectations and the bar that we set for ourselves, and that’s something that we’ve got to live with as a team and as a group of men.”

 

Despite his shortcomings, the peak with Bortles was high: The Jaguars posted a 10-6 record in 2017 — their only winning season with him on the roster — and captured an AFC South title. They squeaked by Buffalo (10-3) in a wild-card game and outlasted Pittsburgh (45-42) in a divisional game in which Bortles made important plays.

 

A week later, the Jaguars held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at New England with the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance at stake. However, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a pair of late touchdowns to win the game.

 

Bortles finished the 2017 playoffs with three touchdown passes and no turnovers. He completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 594 yards and rushed 17 times for 121 yards, including 88 yards against the Bills.

 

That, in part, convinced front office chief Tom Coughlin to sign him to a contract extension.

 

Had Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell not reached that decision, Bortles could have played on his fifth-year option in 2018 for $19.053 million. By doing the deal, the Jaguars lowered Bortles’ 2018 cap number to $10 million but also risked having unwanted future obligations if his trajectory went awry.

 

And it did — in grand fashion.

 

Bortles threw 13 touchdown passes and totaled 15 turnovers (11 interceptions and four lost fumbles) in 2018. He was particularly brutal in a Week 5 loss at Kansas City, throwing a career-high four interceptions and losing a fumble in a 30-14 loss that began the Jaguars’ seven-game losing streak. They were 3-1 entering that game.

 

“We hit our goals for the first quarter and won the first quarter of the season and then to have it just kind of fall off with the injuries and stuff like that, that was the frustrating part because you saw the glimpse of what this team could have done had it stayed healthy,” Caldwell said at the NFL’s Scouting Combine.

 

Injuries, particularly along the team’s offensive line, were a major issue after the first month of the season. But there was no overlooking how poor quarterback play also affected the team. Marrone, desperate for a spark, benched Bortles and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on Nov. 26, a day it became clear the Jaguars were likely to move on from Bortles sooner rather than later.

 

Cody Kessler started four games and was mostly ineffective in place of Bortles, who returned to start the finale at Houston.

 

Bortles, who never avoided pointed questions from the media and took a remarkable amount of criticism from opponents, was equally generous in the community.

 

For example, his foundation, which focuses on providing support for first responders as well as people with intellectual and developmental challenges, provided free meals for many who worked following the mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing in August.

 

Bortles was often happy to talk about upcoming events with his foundation, and rarely was any topic off limits.

 

Last year, Bortles said he understood why most of the blame for a bad season was directed at him.

 

“That’s part of the quarterback’s job description,” Bortles said. “I think when things don’t go well, a lot of it falls on the quarterback’s shoulders. I know that and signed up for that and have no problem with it.

 

“Whether it’s a scapegoat or whatever you want to call it, somebody’s got to take the blame when things don’t go well. I think [Hackett] was one of those guys, I think I’m one of those guys, and there’s other guys on this team that were part of that as well.”

 

As they move on from Bortles, the Jaguars are banking on Foles ending a futile stretch of quarterback play that has doomed the franchise to a 32-80 record since owner Shad Khan purchased the team and losing that extends even further back.

 

Since Brunell was traded to Washington prior to the 2004 season, Bortles and David Garrard are the franchise’s only two quarterbacks to start and a win a playoff game.

 

That hasn’t stemmed from a lack of trying. The Jaguars used the No. 7 pick on Byron Leftwich in 2003, the No. 10 pick on Blaine Gabbert in 2011 and the third pick on Bortles in 2014.

 

Bortles is likely to sign with another team in a backup role.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

When expensive ornament WR ANTONIO BROWN did not work out, the Bills turned to the bargain bin to spend their money.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bills made their bold move to get a quarterback last offseason.

 

This offseason, they made the bold move to get Josh Allen some help, even if Plan A didn’t work out.

 

The early hours of free agency brought a flurry of offensive players to Buffalo, as they added running back Frank Gore, wide receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown, tight end Tyler Kroft, and offensive linemen Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Ty Nsekhe.

 

“I think it’s obvious that we’ve been trying to build our offense,” Bills coach Sean McDermott told Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. “Look, we have good pieces in our locker room. Let’s not forget that. That’s A. B is, how can we improve our football team by going out there and trying to add guys with our DNA – in this case veteran players that have experience? We’re going to add them to what we already have and continue to try and put a team together for this season.”

 

Of course, all those moves came after the Bills tried to trade for a certain wide receiver, before Antonio Brown spurned them and ended up in Oakland.

 

“You always look. It doesn’t mean we pull the trigger,” McDermott said. “Somewhere in the process of looking, whether it’s early or late in the process, when you come across things that tell you it’s not going to work out for one reason or another, then you go on to the next one. But for us not to look would be, at times, ignorant. You hear things, but let’s do our due diligence and our research and make sure. At the end of the day, you see the end result of that due diligence. . . .

 

“We have a lot of respect for him as a player. He’s tough to go against. That’s what leads you initially on the path to try and find out more about him. Going against him, I know how hard he is to defend. You watch him on TV – I watch him like you do, like the fans do – he’s entertaining and fun to watch. That’s what leads you down that path for a player with that type of name recognition.”

 

And when they weren’t able to finish the deal, they decided to buy in bulk.

 

 

MIAMI

QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER did not spurn his hometown team, at least he did not spurn them without a visit.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Contrary to past reports, Teddy Bridgewater has not re-signed with the Saints and it appears there’s a good chance he’ll be heading back to his hometown for the 2019 season.

 

Bridgewater grew up in Miami and we heard that the Dolphins are interested in the possibility of signing him to be part of their quarterback plan in 2019. They’ll get to pitch him on that in person.

 

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe was the first to report that Bridgewater will be visiting with the Dolphins on Thursday.

 

One can’t know exactly what Bridgewater is looking for in terms of a financial commitment from either team, but the chance to be a starter is much greater in Miami than it is in New Orleans. If that’s driving his decision, it may not be long before word of an actual deal surfaces.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2019 DRAFT

QB KYLER MURRAY had a limited agenda at Oklahoma’s Pro Day.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Kyler Murray stepped on a scale and threw for those who turned out to watch him at Oklahoma’s Pro Day workouts on Wednesday, but he didn’t do the 40-yard dash or agility drills.

 

That was also the case at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said there would be no point in Murray going through those paces because “he’s athletically so far beyond anything in this game.” Murray didn’t go quite that far, but did say that there was plenty of tape for scouts to watch when it came to his speed and agility.

 

“I’d like to get out there to run, but I don’t think it’s that necessary for me,” Murray said, via ESPN.com. “I didn’t want to pull anything before I got the chance to throw. … I think the film kinda speaks for itself.”

 

Murray said he thought he showed everybody he can make all the throws he’ll be asked to make in the NFL and he also pushed back at the notion that his meetings with teams at the Combine went poorly.

 

“I felt amazing leaving the combine, every meeting I had went well,” Murray said. “At least to my face, no one was negative. I had a great experience. … I don’t think I would’ve done what I did if I didn’t understand what defense were doing.”

 

Murray met with a Giants contingent that included head coach Pat Shurmur after throwing, although they may wind up being one of 31 teams watching Murray go off the board to the Cardinals with the first overall pick if Arizona decides Murray is a better choice for their future than Josh Rosen.

 

Bucky Brooks tweeted this out:

 

@BuckyBrooks

@TheKylerMurray Pro Day has been pretty impressive to watch. He has A+ arm talent and is an “easy” thrower. KM can make a wide range of throws to every area of the field.. Touch, timing, anticipation, drive throws and feathery tosses.. Plus, he’s a A+ athlete.. 5⭐️ player