AROUND THE NFL
Ken Belson of the New York Times hears that the NFL will indeed aggressively push for an 18-game regular season.
After a relatively quiet off-season, N.F.L. players and coaches are back in training camp.
The league’s owners and players union, though, have been at work for most of the summer, holding several rounds of talks about renewing their 10-year labor agreement, which is due to expire in March 2021. The N.F.L., though, wants to forge a new agreement sooner so it can focus on negotiations with television networks and technology companies for the rights to broadcast games.
The two sides will return to the bargaining table this week in Chicago at what is likely to be a pivotal moment in the negotiations. The handful of meetings thus far have largely been an exchange of ideas as each side tried to determine the other’s priorities. Those include issues like off-season practices and medical care for retired players.
In the coming weeks, the owners and union are expected to start discussing the single biggest issue of any potential labor deal: how to share the league’s roughly $14 billion in annual revenue.
In the current collective bargaining agreement, players get roughly 47 percent of the league’s revenue. It is widely expected that the percentage could rise to as much as 50 percent in a new deal, which would put football players closer in line with their brethren in the N.B.A..
“The big pie-splitting is already done,” said one owner, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as did others involved in the negotiations because the owner was not authorized to publicly discuss the bargaining. “The goal is how to grow the pie.”
For the owners, the easiest solution to pay for giving the players an extra three percentage points of revenue is to expand the regular season. A longer season would help the N.F.L. charge more for media rights and sponsorships, and sell more tickets, hot dogs and beer. A chunk of that money would be shared with players.
Currently, teams play four games in the preseason and 16 in the regular season. One or two preseason games, which are not popular with players or fans, might be dropped so the regular season could expand to as many as 18 games. A second bye week would be added, and the playoffs could grow to include two more teams. The Super Bowl would be pushed to later in February.
The players rejected a similar proposal for a longer regular season during the lead-up to the current agreement. The owners have yet to make a formal proposal this time, but the players remain adamantly opposed, saying that extending the season will lead to more injuries and shorter careers.
“I don’t see an 18-game schedule — under any circumstance — being in the best interest of our players,” DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the N.F.L. Players Association, told ESPN this month. “If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think it would be good for the players.”
Some owners say that concerns over player health can be alleviated by expanding rosters to, say, 57 from the current 53, a move that would also increase the number of dues-paying union members.
Several prominent players, though, are more interested in expanding medical benefits for retired players, possibly including lifetime care.
“I know a big concern for guys is medical care for lifetime,” Malcolm Jenkins, a union representative for the Philadelphia Eagles, said on “The Rich Eisen Show.” “We put our bodies on the line. Guys are dealing with some serious medical issues once they leave the game.”
Players receive five years of medical insurance immediately after they retire, but only if they have spent at least three seasons in the league.
Improved retiree medical benefits, though, are unlikely to substantially soften the union’s stance on a longer regular season.
“It would have to be a ‘Godfather offer’ to make us move,” said a union official who is not directly involved in negotiations. “And what’s the offer we can’t refuse? That’s up to our guys.”
Raising the percentage of total revenue devoted to salaries would be the most obvious way to compensate the players for agreeing to an expanded schedule, but there are several other significant concessions the owners could make, whether the schedule expands.
Minimum salaries could be increased. Rosters could be expanded. The number of years needed to become a free agent could be lowered. The terms of the franchise tag — which lets teams hold on to a player for a year or two after he is eligible for free agency — could be changed. Expanded pensions are another option. Many players also want the league to relax its prohibition on the use of marijuana. N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s near total control of player discipline also is not popular.
Negotiators on both sides have said they are encouraged by the tone of the meetings, particularly compared with eight years ago, when the owners essentially demanded roughly $1 billion in givebacks and locked out the players for four and a half months, delaying the start of training camps. The union is taking no chances this time. This month, it sent a letter to players’ advisers encouraging them to tell their clients to save additional money in case of a work stoppage.
Indeed, the current bonhomie could change once there are concrete proposals to hash out.
“The players are not going to get something for nothing,” an owner said.
– – –
The NFL wants to see more holding penalties, particularly on the backside of running plays. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:
Offensive holding will be a significant point of emphasis for NFL officials this season, raising the possibility of a spike in penalties as players adjust to elevated rule enforcement.
According to guidance released over the weekend, existing rules on holding “will be more strictly enforced this season, particularly on the backside of the run play or line of scrimmage.” Referee Adrian Hill, who visited the Chicago Bears training camp Monday, said the league is trying to eliminate a technique sometimes known as the “lobster block,” where offensive linemen grab defenders around the torso or shoulders to prevent them from flowing to the play from the backside.
“Certain teams do it,” Hill said, “and [the league] is trying to basically legislate it out of the game.”
A video to be shown to every NFL player and coach offers three examples from recent history that would be penalized this season: blocks by the Los Angeles Rams’ Andrew Whitworth, the Miami Dolphins’ Laremy Tunsil and the Washington Redskins’ Trent Williams.
In recent history, NFL points of emphasis have often produced an increase in flags during the preseason and early in the regular season. Last season, a one-week point of emphasis on offensive holding led to 94 such flags, 42% more than in any week since at least 2012.
The 2018 season also included a point of emphasis on roughing the passer, particularly instances where pass rushers fell on quarterbacks with all or most of their body weight. Officials threw 31 roughing flags in the first three weeks of the season before the competition committee issued a clarification. In total, there were a total of 119 roughing the passer calls for the season, 10 more than last season and 27 more than 2016.
In a less-noticed 2018 emphasis, officials called almost the same number of illegal contact penalties during the first five weeks of the season (31) as they did in the entire 2017 season. The season total of illegal contact calls nearly doubled from 2017, from 38 to 70.
For 2019, the NFL has issued a total of two points of emphasis: Offensive holding and a continued enforcement of the “helmet rule,” which prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with an opponent.
S HA HA CLINTON-DIX is good to go with the Bears. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The Chicago Bears’ free-agent acquisition slated to start at safety was removed from the physically unable to perform list along with offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings on Tuesday, the team announced.
Clinton-Dix landed on the PUP list after suffering a knee sprain at the end of the offseason program. There was never serious thought that the 26-year-old safety would miss Week 1. Tuesday’s news confirms he’ll be good to go as the Bears defend their NFC North title.
Set to replace Adrian Amos alongside star Eddie Jackson as the Bears starting safetey, Clinton-Dix can now fully immerse himself in Chuck Pagano’s defense as the Bears press towards the preseason.
Clemmings, slated as veteran depth along O-line, entered camp with a knee issue.
The Cowboys are showing some initial resistance to the idea of giving RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT his huge contract. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com has an idea.
The Cowboys are no longer saying that Ezekiel Elliott is the straw that stirs their drink. They’re saying instead that their drink doesn’t need a straw.
It’s posturing, plain and simple. The Cowboys can’t afford to quickly cave on Zeke, or other agents of other players will regard the Cowboys are weaker than the Ukraine. And so as Zeke heaves a medicine ball at the YMCA in Cabo, the team has no choice but to adopt a posture of indifference, not desperation.
The real question is whether, if the holdout lingers, the Cowboys will make arrangements to proceed into the regular season without Elliott. For now, they’ve signed running back Alfred Morris. Here’s what former Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus, who currently writes for the team’s official website, had to say about the decision to bring back Morris after a one-year detour to San Francisco: “I believe that you have to think that this might last a while. This team does a great job of protecting themselves for these types of situations. The next move might be consider trading for a player if this does go longer.”
It’s an intriguing thought. And the most intriguing trade option for the Cowboys involves a Texas native who has previously made it clear that he’d like to play in Dallas: Adrian Peterson.
The problem, of course, is that Peterson currently plays for Washington, one of the Cowboys’ arch-rivals. Also, Washington gave Peterson a $1.5 million signing bonus earlier this year, and they’d likely want added compensation for taking a hit of $750,000 this year and next year. But with coach Jay Gruden recently raving about Samaje Perine and with 2018 second-rounder Derrius Guice healthier than expected, maybe Peterson is expendable — albeit potentially expensive.
It’s a spitball at this point, nothing more. The broader point is that, if the Cowboys are serious about taking a hard line with Elliott, signing a player like Alfred Morris won’t convince anyone of that. Trading for a player like Peterson definitely will.
WR JULIO JONES will not play a down during the preseason. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
You won’t see Julio Jones this preseason.
The Atlanta Falcons’ receiver told reporters Tuesday he won’t participate in preseason games this year.
“I don’t need preseason to get ready,” Jones said matter-of-factly, noting that if he gets in some practices, he’ll be fine for the 2019 campaign.
The Falcons kick off a five-game preseason slate on Thursday in the Hall of Fame Game versus the Denver Broncos. Safety Keanu Neal also told reporters he was not sure how much, if any, he would play in the game.
It’s not a surprise in the least that Jones won’t play this preseason. The superstar receiver continues to rehab from a foot issue and is looking for a new contract.
Jones didn’t participate last preseason and played just one game in the 2017 preseason.
As the Los Angeles Rams proved last year, star players sitting out preseason games is not a big deal. We expect plenty of other teams to follow suit and sit key starters until games begin to count.
A deal between the Saints and WR MICHAEL THOMAS could be near.
On Friday, we were told that the Saints and receiver Michael Thomas were close. Soon, they may be getting the cigar.
Per a league source, the current chatter on the NFL grapevine is that the Saints and Thomas will be reaching an agreement soon. Thomas became a surprise holdout as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal.
Our sense as of Friday was that Thomas wanted $20 million per year on a five-year extension, and that the team was in the range of $19 million per year. As G.M. Mickey Loomis said Monday, issues like structure and guarantees also become relevant when attempting to resolve a contractual impasse.
Thomas is subject to fines in the amount of $40,000 per day. That’s peanuts in comparison to what he’s trying to get. Also, the Saints likely won’t be withholding those amounts from his first game check; NFL teams routinely forgive those fines.
The Saints have cut WR CAMERON MEREDITH who was something of a high profile signee last year.
The New Orleans Saints have released wide receiver Cameron Meredith just four days into his second training camp with the team, coach Sean Payton said Monday.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Meredith told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. “It’s on to the next chapter though. I’m good. Just a lot of stuff going on in New Orleans now and they needed to make a move. I’m sure there are teams that need a wide receiver now.”
The former Chicago Bears standout was hoping to finally return from a major 2017 knee injury, but Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis both said it came down to a numbers issue at the position.
Meredith was spotted jogging off the field early on Sunday and later posted on Instagram, “It’s been fun.”
In case things don’t work out, QB DREW BREES was throwing passes to a prospect at Saints camp on Monday.
Zion Williamson has been welcomed with open arms by his new neighbors, the New Orleans Saints. He attended their first training camp practice on Friday, then joined Drew Brees & Co. for a basketball-themed quarterback challenge on Monday.
“If you’ve seen the way he’s put together …” Saints coach Sean Payton said of the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder on Monday on Sirius/XM NFL Radio. “Just 10 snaps a game as a sub [defensive] end.”
Actually, Payton said if Williamson were willing to join the Saints, “there’d be five position coaches with their hands up right now, starting with the defensive line coach and the tight end coach.”
“It’s not like he requires a lot of projection,” said Payton, who said the Saints have scouted many former basketball players over the years. “Like, we’ve looked at a lot of body types, but I feel like that’s an easy projection. …
“We considered the seventh-round pick even in case there was a problem across the parking lot.”
In a more serious tone, Payton said he and the rest of the Saints organization “are excited for the Pelicans,” who share the same owner in Gayle Benson and the same practice facilities in Metairie, Louisiana.
“Because look, we’re separated by a parking lot, and this winning culture is somewhat contagious,” Payton said.
Brees has mostly welcomed Williamson with open arms. He signed a jersey for him after the NBA draft that read, “Passing the torch to you!” He gave Williamson another shout-out earlier this month at the ESPYs, telling him the city of New Orleans was ready for him.
The Buccaneers want QB JAMEIS WINSTON playing under duress this preseason. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
As the Buccaneers try to get quarterback Jameis Winston to the point where he’s able to quit throwing the ball to the other team, his own team is making it difficult for Winston.
“Every play I’m trying to make it as hard for him as possible,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said Tuesday, via JoeBucsFan.com.
Leftwich explained that he works with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on a daily basis to plan for the onslaught directed at Winston.
“They disguise well,” Leftwich said of the defense. “We probably won’t see a team that disguises as well as [Todd’s defense] does all year.”
At one point on Monday, that defense picked off Winston, prompting the Buccaneers’ Twitter account to post a clip of it with the caption “not today.” Apparently, that sort of treatment of Winston was regarded as over the top; the tweet eventually was deleted.
The Broncos are wooing RB THEO REDDICK. Mike Klis at 9News.com:
Theo Riddick, who is considered one of the top passing game running backs in the league, visited the Broncos Monday.
Riddick met with general manager John Elway, head coach Vic Fangio and others at the team headquarters. The running back then left the facility without a deal. League sources tell 9News that Riddick will take some time to decide between the Broncos and New Orleans Saints.
Riddick played six seasons with the Detroit Lions. In the past four seasons he averaged 61.75 catches and 473 receiving yards. He was released Saturday in large part because he was owed a $3.2 million salary.
He took a physical Monday but left Broncos headquarters. There’s still a chance the Broncos will sign Riddick and have him compete with Devontae Booker for the team’s third-down running back slot.
Riddick, 28, is more pass catcher than rusher. Last year with the Lions, he had 61 catches for 384 yards while rushing just 40 times, albeit for 171 yards and a 4.3-yard average.
Here are Riddick’s receiving stats the past four years with the Lions:
2015 … 80 catches … 697 yards … 3 TDs
2016 … 53 catches … 371 yards … 5 TDs
2017 … 53 catches … 444 yards … 2 TDs
2018 … 61 catches … 384 yards … 0 TDs
Totals … 247 catches … 1,896 …. 10 TDs
Riddick was a problem for Fangio’s Chicago Bears’ defense in recent years. In 2018, Riddick had 13 catches for 108 yards in two games against the Bears. In 2017, Riddick had 17 carries for 84 yards (4.94-yard average) against Chicago.
The Broncos have Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman as their top two running backs.
An injury to WR TYREEK HILL. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill had to make an early exit from Tuesday’s practice after hurting his right leg, but the initial indication is that he avoided a serious injury.
Hill took a hit from cornerback Bashaud Breeland while Breeland was moving to break up a pass to the wideout and limped off the field for medical attention. He rode in a cart to the back after briefly being looked at under the sideline medical tent.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Hill bruised his quad. He adds that Hill is expected to be fine, but there’s no word on whether he may miss some practice time before he resumes practicing with the team.
Hill has never missed a game due to injury over his three seasons in the NFL. He did sit out along with several other Chiefs starters in Week 17 of the 2017 season.
Could QB NATHAN PETERMAN make the Raiders roster? Samer Kalaf at Deadspin:
When Nathan Peterman finished his tour of pain with the Buffalo Bills last November, he wasn’t sent to football prison, even though that clearly would’ve been the right decision. Peterman earned a second chance with the only team that would make sense for him to give him one. (“Sense” is used lightly here.) Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was eager to find something good in the worst QB of the season, and possibly ever.
Peterman is still on the roster for training camp, and Gruden gave a tantalizing update today:
“This Nate Peterman is growing on me,” the Raiders coach said, according to the Las Vegas Journal Review. “He’s athletic. I know he’s got some nightmare performances in the NFL, but when you watch the film, you can see why: It’s not all his fault.”
Here’s why I love this quote: Gruden, the former color commentator for Monday Night Football, made a second career out of letting his emotions betray him, and he carried that trait when he returned to coaching. If Jon Gruden thinks there’s something to this Nate Peterman kid, he really believes that.
The context of those seven words, which should never be uttered in that order, is even better. Even if you allow that Peterman isn’t responsible for every mistake he made in Buffalo, any percentage of them is still so, so dreadful. This one-two combo is masterful: “He was an Opening Day starter for the Buffalo Bills last year. I take that very serious.”
To refresh your memory: After the Bills declared Peterman their QB1 in a tweet that somehow has yet to be deleted out of shame, he went 5-for-18 and threw two picks in the season opener before he was benched for Josh Allen. Peterman finished the game with a 0.0 quarterback rating as Buffalo lost, 47-3. Gruden believes there was something valuable in the fact that Peterman was allowed to start that game in the first place. Let’s all pray he makes the Raiders’ 53-man roster.
With the broken finger of QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III, the Ravens have signed QB JOE CALLAHAN who previously was with Green Bay.
Didn’t the Browns just do an overhaul to their uniforms? Matthew Florjancic at WKYC.com:
The Cleveland Browns are in the midst of their second uniform redesign in the last five years, and while the final decisions on the design have yet to be made, one thing is for sure to owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam.
During their annual training-camp address inside the Casey Coleman Fieldhouse at team headquarters following Sunday’s practice, the Haslams vowed to keep the helmet’s logo-less look no matter the final results of the jerseys during the redesign process between the team, NFL and Nike.
“No. No. Never,” Dee Haslam said with a laugh when asked about redesigning the helmet. “Absolutely never.”
While the helmet will stay the same, the uniforms will reflect the vision for the organization.
“We talk all the time that Cleveland has a certain way about them,” Dee Haslam said. “I think the uniform that we are in development will fit our team really well — just our look and our feel of who we are.
“I think there are still some things to be done. It takes a little while. Obviously, you have to really work hard to get every detail right. I still think they are working on the development part of it, but it is coming together.”
As the redesign process continues, the Browns have filed a request with the NFL to wear the Color Rush uniforms more during the 2019 season, but no decision has been made on the very jerseys quarterback Baker Mayfield wore when he made his regular-season debut and led a come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets in Week 3 of the 2018 season.
“We are really excited,” Dee Haslam said. “Hopefully, that will work out. It is a pretty good uniform. I think the players would be excited to wear it if it works out.”
Getting the uniform situations worked out is one thing, but the Haslams are hard at work on improvements for the training facility in Berea, a possible extension of the lease with the city and development of properties near FirstEnergy Stadium and the lakefront in general.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with an update on QB ANDREW LUCK and his calf:
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was “ready to roll” for training camp. Until he wasn’t.
Zak Keefer of TheAthletic.com reports that Luck’s lingering calf problem will keep him out of practice on Tuesday. It will be the second practice missed by Luck in only four days. He participated in only individual drills during the first practice of training camp.
Coach Frank Reich has said that the team is being cautious with Luck, citing the Kevin Durant injury as a reason for doing so.
Still, at some point Luck has to get ready for the season. That’s the balance the team needs to strike, both during training camp and, if the issue lingers, during the regular season.
Depending on how you look at it, QB RYAN FITZPATRICK has moved ahead or QB JOSH ROSEN has fallen behind in the Dolphins quarterback derby. Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com also has news on the team jettisoning its offensive line coach a week into camp:
Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores made a strong comment Tuesday on the team’s quarterback battle entering Week 2 of training camp.
“It is pretty clear to me that Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the way,” Flores said.
Fitzpatrick is competing with Josh Rosen for the Dolphins’ starting job.
Flores cited Fitzpatrick’s leadership skills and ability to run the offense efficiently, but he emphasized that “this is still a competition.”
He also discussed his decision to fire offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, saying there were a lot of factors in the move, not a specific incident. He listed communication and fit as reasons for making the change to Dave DeGuglielmo.
“The easy decision would have to be do nothing and hope it got better,” he said.
Flaherty was hired in February shortly after Brian Flores took over as head coach, but the Dolphins’ offensive line has struggled throughout the spring and summer.
Flores has made it clear that there are no “sacred cows” in the organization and players are competing for their jobs every day. It’s apparent that refers to coaches, too, after the move to let go of Flaherty.
The fact that the move happened even before the preseason shows that the issues with how Flaherty was guiding the offensive line were significant. The interior of the offensive line, in particular, has been dominated by the defensive line through four days of training camp.
DeGuglielmo, who spent 2018 as the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line coach, was hired as a Dolphins football analyst in May. He’s very familiar with Miami. This is his third stint as an assistant coach here (2009-11; 2017 after Chris Foerster resigned).
The move also means another former Patriots assistant in DeGuglielmo (offensive line coach, 2014-15) has a significant role on the Dolphins’ coaching staff.
DeGuglielmo, also known as Guge, is recognized for turning the Colts’ offensive line into one of the NFL’s best last season, most notably thanks to the performances of rookie starters Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.
The Dolphins are expected to have at least two new starters on their offensive line and need to groom several young players in that room, including third-round pick Michael Deiter.
It is a bit hard to follow this NFL.com report, but we think this is a raise for T MARCUS CANNON:
The New England Patriots have restructured the contract of veteran right tackle Marcus Cannon, guaranteeing $4.5 million of his 2019 compensation, NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported Monday, per a source familiar with the negotiations. In addition, the team added incentives that could boost the total value of Cannon’s deal, which runs through the end of the 2021 season, to $24 million.
Cannon, 31, has started 54 regular season games for New England, including 13 last season, since being selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. The 6-6, 355-pounder started throughout the 2018 postseason for the Patriots, culminating with the team’s Super Bowl LIII victory over the Rams. He earned second-team All-Pro honors following the 2016 season, after which New England also won the Super Bowl.
NEW YORK JETS
RB Le’VEON BELL apologizes to his 2018 Fantasy Football owners (or “governors” as the NBA would have it):
For Le’Veon Bell — and most likely for many fantasy owners — an apology was long overdue. But the New York Jets running back has finally made amends.
Bell took to Twitter Monday to apologize to fantasy football owners who drafted him in 2018 — a year in which he played a grand total of zero games due to a season-long contractual dispute with the Steelers, his home for the first five years of his career.
this is loooong overdue!! but I want to take a moment to apologize to all the fantasy owners who picked me last year, I’m sorry I couldn’t pull through for y’all…but trust me, this year’s about to be wayyyy different, I’m bringing the 🏆🏆 this year 😈😈
It’s possible that Bell’s apology may only make the most bitter fantasy owners feel even more angry but, at the very least, it should excite anybody that decides to take a chance on him this upcoming season.
According to NFL.com Fantasy, Bell finished in the top-5 among running backs in the last two seasons he played in, totaling 317.40 points (third-place finish) in 2016 and 341.60 in 2017 (second-place finish).
If you were on the fence before about taking Bell, you might want to reconsider because the man sounds like he’ll be on a mission once the NFL’s historic 100th campaign rolls around.
THIS AND THAT
TOP 10 CORNERBACKS
We recently had Nate Burleson’s list of the top 10 receivers in the NFL as 2019 dawns. Now, former cornerback DeAngelo Hall counters that with his top 10 CBs.
What do I value in an NFL cornerback? My answer might shock you.
I don’t care if a guy gives up touchdowns. After all, the NFL is an offensive league. What I look for is whether the corner can consistently affect plays, despite the ups and downs of a game and season. I also care about turnovers, any which way you can get them — fumble recoveries, picks and the return yardage on those plays. All of that is taken into account in my list. Oh, and there’s nothing better than a cornerback who loves to mix it up and be physical every now and then. With that said, here are my top 10 players at the position heading into the 2019 season:
1 Patrick Peterson Cardinals
He sits at the top of my list for all the same reasons he’s been voted to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Peterson, who is dominating much in the same way Darrelle Revis did before him, excels in man coverage and is also great in zone defense. Over the past few seasons, there hasn’t been much that offenses (or receivers, for that matter) could do to get the CB1 off his game. And as with all great cornerbacks, he’s seeing fewer targets thrown to his side of the field — but he often makes opponents regret it when they do test him.
However, I can’t put Peterson in this spot without addressing the six-game suspension he’ll serve for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, which will make him ineligible for this season’s Pro Bowl and snap his streak of consecutive selections to the game at eight. ( Side note: The only other player to be selected to each of the last eight Pro Bowls is Tom Brady.) Some may think Peterson should be lower on this list because he’s missing six games, but his superb production and incomparable impact keep him at the top.
2 Jalen Ramsey Jaguars
When I watched Ramsey during his college career at Florida State, I remember thinking, Dang, this kid is going to be a great free safety in the NFL. Man, was I wrong. He’s a lockdown corner who is a combination of Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman. (Not bad, right?!) I know Bailey and Sherman are completely different cornerbacks when it comes to playing the position, but Ramsey’s ideal mix of length, athleticism and speed allows him to run with any receiver on the field. Ramsey has allowed the third-lowest completion percentage (52.9) and fourth-lowest passer rating (71.6) in coverage among 98 cornerbacks with at least 200 targets since 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this kid: Not only does he call his opponent out before a game, but he backs it up with his play and THEN tells you about it after the game. (And he’ll give at least some credit when credit is due, too.) As a former trash talker early in my career, I love Ramsey’s confidence and swag. Ramsey, who fell off a bit last season from his dominant play in 2017, showed some signs of maturity over the offseason and said he’s going to cut back on the talk. But I know how hard it is to shut up when you love to talk! The Jags star is seeking a new contract, so I’m excited to see what he can do in 2019.
3 Stephon Gilmore Patriots
As the years go by, I fall more and more in love with Gilmore’s game. He’s a big-bodied corner who is fast but doesn’t rely solely on his speed. He’s rarely flashy — although that crucial interception in the Super Bowl was pretty spectacular. He’s more of a smooth technician who is a monster in coverage. The veteran is so good at disrupting the receiver by using his hands and punching the ball out, even when it looks like a sure reception.
4 Xavien Howard Dolphins
Despite playing in just 12 games last season, Howard tied for the league lead in interceptions (seven) and was rewarded with a five-year, $76.5 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL in terms of total value and average value per year. He’s one of the best ballhawks in the league right now, and the fact that he allowed a league-low 62.6 passer rating in coverage among CBs targeted at least 50 times speaks volumes about his game. Howard is a leader and tone-setter for a young Dolphins defense looking to improve on last season’s No. 29 overall ranking.
5 Byron Jones Cowboys
It’s common to see a player transition from cornerback to safety, but rarely do you see someone transition from safety to cornerback. Jones, who began his career as a corner, returned to the position last season after playing safety in 2016 and ’17. The result? He manned the island in Dallas and earned the seventh-highest coverage grade among CBs with 500 or more snaps in 2018, per Pro Football Focus. His physicality and ability to blanket receivers shined. In fact, Jones wasn’t targeted at all during the Cowboys’ Week 4 win over the Lions — something that proves you have arrived as a lockdown corner.
6 Darius Slay Lions
The two-time Pro Bowl selectee has great ball skills and loves to compete. A complete cornerback, Slay didn’t get close to his 2017 INT mark (eight, tied for the league lead) as teams threw his way less than they did in ’17, though he still managed to record three picks and finished fourth in the league in passes defensed with 20. Slay deserves to get the new contract he’s seeking based on his performance the last few seasons.
7 Kyle Fuller Bears
I was a teammate of Vincent Fuller, Kyle’s oldest brother, at Virginia Tech, so I have watched all the Fullers grow up and play the game. Kyle has developed into a complete player since entering the league in 2014, something the rival Packers took note of last offseason, when they signed him to an offer sheet after the Bears placed the transition tag on him. Chicago ended up matching Green Bay’s offer, and I’d imagine the Bears are happy with that decision, as Fuller was a first-team All-Pro selectee in 2018. He is physical, good in press coverage and has great ball skills. He’s a key part of what I believe is the NFL’s best secondary and defense.
8 Denzel Ward Browns
I should’ve known this kid could play, given the pedigree of cornerbacks coming out of Ward’s school — Ohio State — in recent years. I spoke with him at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine and heard in his voice everything I needed to know — he clearly loves the game and was born to play the position. Like other analysts, I questioned the Browns’ decision to take Ward fourth overall in the 2018 draft, but he proved a lot of people wrong by becoming the franchise’s first rookie Pro Bowler since Joe Thomas in 2007. Ward plays like a 10-year veteran, with natural hips and smooth transitions in and out of his breaks. And now with a stacked receiving corps in Cleveland, I can’t wait to see how much he improves after competing with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. in practice. Ward will be an All-Pro corner real soon.
9 Chris Harris Jr. Broncos
This dude has made plays for years and was instrumental in Denver’s championship run in 2015. Harris has long been known as one of the league’s top slot corners, but he’s mastered the art of playing both inside and outside. Aging cornerbacks have two choices: adjust your game or retire. Harris, who turned 30 in June, has adjusted well in recent years and was playing some great ball before suffering a broken leg in Week 13 last season, which brought his campaign to an end. He finished 2018 as Pro Football Focus’ third-highest graded cornerback.
10 Marshon Lattimore Saints
The Saints’ CB1 has been one of the NFL’s most productive cornerbacks since entering the league in 2017. He is tied for first in forced fumbles (five) and tied for fourth in both interceptions (seven) and passes defensed (30) among cornerbacks during that span. Lattimore usually shadows the best receiver each time out — a tough job, especially in the NFC South, with Julio Jones in Atlanta and Mike Evans in Tampa — and will start the season with a highly anticipated matchup against Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. Lattimore’s play so far tells me he’ll hold his own.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers; A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Quinton Dunbar, Washington Redskins; Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers; Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens; Donte Jackson, Carolina Panthers; Kareem Jackson, Denver Broncos; Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets; Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers; Josh Norman, Washington Redskins; Marcus Peters, Los Angeles Rams; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings; Aqib Talib, Los Angeles Rams; Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons; Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers; Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills.