AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT is third in line among the candidates for a big contract from the Cowboys.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com:

 

Based on conversations I’ve had with several people connected to this situation, I do not think Elliott gets an extension this offseason, or even next offseason. As vital a player as he is, the Cowboys don’t feel the same urgency with this deal that they do with QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper or even cornerback Byron Jones. They’ve picked up the 2020 option on Elliott for $9.099 million, and because running back numbers always stay low relative to other positions, they feel good about their ability to use the franchise tag on him in 2021 if need be. They have sensible cost control over Elliott for at least three years. At his current pace, three years equates to about 1,000 touches. Would you be in a hurry to extend a running back — one of the most physically vulnerable positions in the league — if you knew you had another 1,000 touches coming at a reasonable price?

 

 

WASHINGTON

Joe Theismann argues that QB DWAYNE HASKINS should be parked on the bench behind CASE KEENUM or COLT McCOY this year.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Joe Theismann supported Dwayne Haskins donning No. 7, but the former Washington Redskins quarterback doesn’t want to see his former number hit the field early in the season.

 

Theismann told 106.7 The Fan over the weekend that starting the rookie QB out of the gate would be a recipe for “disaster” because of the Redskins opening slate. Washington opens on the road against Philadelphia, versus the Cowboys, then Bears, at the New York Giants, and home versus New England in the first five weeks.

 

“To put him out there early against those teams, it’s just a formula for disaster for the team, for Jay [Gruden], for the fans and everybody else,” Theismann said. “…I think the young man is our future, and let’s protect the future, instead of throwing it out there right now and saying, ‘Okay, go get ’em.’ The schedule we’re playing is not a ‘go get ’em’ schedule.”

 

The Redskins’ quarterback battle will be one of the more intriguing competition when training camp kicks in Richmond, Va., on July 24. Haskins, the No. 15 overall selection in the 2019 draft, will try to prove he’s worthy of the starting gig out of camp over veteran Case Keenum, and possibly Colt McCoy (if he’s healthy).

 

Gruden has gone on the record saying Haskins has a shot to start Week 1 given his strong arm, accuracy, and big-play capability. How the rookie handles the increased pressure of training camp and the preseason will determine whether Haskins will start from the jump, or perhaps further down the line.

 

In Theismann’s view, the Patrick Mahomes’ route would be ideal for Haskins, and the rookie wouldn’t play at all.

 

“To me, the best scenario for Dwayne would be this — is to sit this year, Case plays, Colt comes back, is healthy enough to be able to be in competition and/or a part of the ball club … and give Dwayne a chance to process everything,” Theismann said, via the Washington Times.

 

Even if Gruden decides to give Keenum or McCoy a shot to open the season, it would be a stunner if Haskins sits the entire year. The Redskins targeted the big-armed, pocket QB in the draft and considered trading up to snag him earlier. To hear Gruden gush, Haskins’ skill set fits perfectly into his system if the mental part of the game progresses as it did during the spring. Rarely do highly drafted QBs sit long, if at all, nowadays.

 

If Haskins proves he’s the best QB during Redskins’ camp he should start.

 

Alex Smith allowing Mahomes to sit a year was the exception to the rule. Keenum or McCoy would have to dominate overwhelmingly during training camp and then win against that tough slate early in the season to keep Haskins on the sideline.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Coach Dan Quinn likes what he sees from EDGE TAKK McKINLEY.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons have several key players returning to the lineup after major injuries in the 2018 season, but hopes for improvement don’t hinge entirely on getting back to health.

 

There’s also the hope of improvement for some of the team’s younger players. 2017 first-round pick Takk McKinley is in that group and has spent the offseason working off the edge as both a defensive end and a linebacker in the Atlanta defense.

 

He’s slimmed down to go through that work and his efforts impressed head coach Dan Quinn over the course of the offseason program.

 

“I think he’s lighter, his speed and versatility seem ramped up,” Quinn said, via the team’s website. “For him to go through his first offseason, as you know he missed with his left shoulder, his second year with his right shoulder. To see him lighter, faster and more explosive, that to me was someone who jumped out.”

 

Quinn is running the defense this season and a breakout year for McKinley would go a long way toward making that a winning decision for Atlanta.

 

 

CAROLINA

Has the acquisition of itinerant EDGE BRUCE IRVIN and DT GERALD McCOY put the Panthers pass rush over the top?  Irvin thinks so.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Bruce Irvin is in his first season with the Panthers, but the defensive end is experiencing some familiar feelings.

 

Irvin was part of the Seahawks team that won Super Bowl XLVIII on the back of an overwhelming defense. That defense included a front seven that made life tough on opposing quarterbacks, which was not the case for the Panthers defense in 2018.

 

Irvin believes things will be different this season. He said the Panthers defense “kind of compares” to the one that Seattle employed this season.

 

“That team went eight deep up front,” Irvin said, via the Charlotte Observer. “We had four really good guys, and then four more went in and there was no drop-off. So that’s kind of the feeling I’m getting here. We had a lot of dudes. Everybody communicated. That’s the kind of vibe it is here.”

 

The Panthers are integrating several new faces up front as Irvin, Brian Burns and Gerald McCoy are all new to the team and set for major roles this season. Carolina will need all of them to hit the ground running to even come close to the kind of success Seattle had back then.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

QB DREW BREES convinced a San Diego jury that he was a horribly inept investor in diamonds, easy to be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous dealer.  Jeff McDonald of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

 

A Superior Court jury on Friday awarded New Orleans Saints quarterback and former San Diego Charger Drew Brees more than $6 million in his civil lawsuit against a La Jolla jeweler that Brees said mislead him about the value of jewels.

 

Brees was not in court for the reading of the verdict, but he and his wife both testified during the two-week trial. In total, the jury awarded the Breeses $6,130,767.

 

The Breeses sued Vihad Moradi of CJ Charles Jewelers last year, alleging Moradi lied to them about the value of diamonds. Brees and his wife said they bought the diamonds as an investment and claimed the jeweler defrauded them when he valued the jewels at $15 million.

 

“It was our position that Mr. Moradi breached his fiduciary duty, and that’s essentially what the jury said,” said attorney Andrew Kim, who co-represented the Breeses with Rebecca Riley. “They saw Mr. Moradi for exactly what he is: a grifter and a confidence man.”

 

Kim said the Breeses were traveling Friday afternoon and he had not yet informed them of the verdict, but he expected they would be pleased.

 

The diamonds, which at one point were displayed in court for the jury to see firsthand, were assessed to be worth millions of dollars less than $15 million.

 

Moradi denied the allegations in court. His lawyers did not respond to messages late Friday.

 

Moradi testified that he understood Brees purchased the diamonds as gifts for his wife — not as investments the quarterback expected would rise in value in the future.

 

Peter Ross, one of Moradi’s attorneys, said his client is a reputable jeweler who acted in good faith and within retail industry norms when he did business with the Breeses.

 

During the trial, lawyers questioned Drew Brees and Moradi about their approximately 15-year-long business relationship. Among other things, Brees testified about the explicit agreements the two men made regarding the value of rare diamonds.

 

Moradi testified that rare-colored diamonds not only tend to hold their value but have appreciated over the last 10 years. He said it was his understanding Drew Brees’ primary reason for purchasing the jewels was to express his love to his wife and family.

 

“Mr. Brees told me that he was interested in purchasing great pieces for Ms. Brees to have in the family for the long term,” Moradi testified. “The investment is always related to the long-term legacy pieces to be held in the family. The investment is in that context only.”

– – –

QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER on why he elected to stay in the shadow of QB DREW BREES in 2019.  Luke Johnson in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

“Guys have a comfort level with (Teddy),” Brees said.

 

It is a few days earlier when Bridgewater leans up against a locker and sincerely asks how you’re doing. His face furrows when he hears complaints about the oppressive heat and boring minicamp practices. He quickly responds by saying he legitimately finds joy whenever he’s on the field and at once you wonder what is worth complaining about.

 

“He has a demeanor about him that suits the position well,” said Saints coach Sean Payton.

 

Bridgewater chose the Saints over his hometown Miami Dolphins; said rumors of coach Sean Payton leaving did not factor into decision

 

Bridgewater could have potentially taken this show somewhere else this offseason, maybe to a place where these reasons that make him worth keeping around would have added up to him leading a team of his own instead of opting for a second year as Brees’ backup.

 

But Bridgewater employed the long view. Even if he does not ultimately succeed Brees, he sees Year 2 in New Orleans as being a sort of quarterback graduate school with the added benefit of an enjoyable study environment.

 

“This is the best opportunity for me to grow as a player,” Bridgewater said.

 

His experience last season was akin to a months-long cram session. New Orleans acquired Bridgewater the day before its final preseason game. The offense had long been installed, and Bridgewater was forced to soak up as much of the playbook as he could while the team’s focus was almost exclusively centered on game-planning.

 

As offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael put it, Bridgewater was not afforded “a starting point.”

 

That much has changed, and everyone involved — his teammates, his coaches and Bridgewater himself — are eager to see what emerges after Bridgewater has spent a full offseason developing an intimate knowledge of what the Saints do offensively.

 

“I think our coaches, him, they’ve all looked forward to this offseason where he could get a lot of reps, a lot of time under his belt,” Brees said. “There’s no doubt he’s an extremely talented guy, but he works at it, and I think this offense suits him very well in a lot of things we do, a lot of the capabilities that we have, the creativity we incorporate with everything we do.”

 

Having now gone through OTAs and minicamp, Bridgewater has completed what quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi calls “phase two of quarterback school.” The staff has a week to go over the general information in OTAs, then they run through the same course in minicamp. By the time training camp comes around, it will be Bridgewater’s third time digesting the full course of New Orleans’ offense.

 

 

It is basic, ground-floor stuff. Even Brees finds a way to approach it every year like it’s his first time hearing it, not the 14th. The quarterbacks must grasp the complexity of their own offense while also managing the multiple looks thrown at them by the Saints defense in practice.

 

“Each defensive look might require something different from the quarterback as far as pre-snap communication — it’s a ton that we ask of our guys,” Lombardi said. “He’s got an ability to simplify things in his mind, meaning take the information he has and just go play fast, not overthink things.”

 

In his first season with the club, Bridgewater only had one real chance to show what he could do in a Saints uniform. His Week 17 start against Carolina was underwhelming, as Bridgewater threw for just 118 yards in a losing effort while working mainly with the second-string offense.

 

Neither Bridgewater nor the Saints put too much stock in that one performance because it is just one data point among the many they see on a daily basis. All the reasons to keep him around are there in plain sight, and now that he has had a full year to integrate himself, the belief is that things would look much different if he is pressed into action again.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Chiefs Nation holding its collective breath as NFL Justice heads to Kansas City tomorrow to interrogate/interview/chat with WR TYREEK HILL about his parenting and interpersonal skills.  ESPN.com:

 

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has been banned from the team’s training facility amid a child abuse investigation, is scheduled to meet with NFL officials in Kansas City on Wednesday, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The Kansas Department of Children and Families has been investigating possible child abuse, battery or neglect after officers in Overland Park, Kansas, were called to Hill’s home twice in March when Hill’s 3-year-old son broke his arm.

 

The NFL had said it would investigate, but it was waiting for the DCF investigation to wind down.

 

The news of the NFL’s visit was first reported by radio station WHB 810 in Kansas City.

 

Hill, a three-time Pro Bowler, remains subject to a suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

 

There is currently no criminal investigation. Johnson County District Attorney Stephen M. Howe had announced on April 24 that no charges would be filed. Howe said he believed a crime had occurred but that the evidence in the case didn’t clearly establish who committed the crime.

 

The next day, Kansas City television station KCTV broadcast an audio recording on which Hill was heard discussing striking his son with fiancée, Crystal Espinal.

 

Espinal is heard on the recording asking Hill, “Why did he say Daddy did it? Why did he say Daddy did it?”

 

“A 3-year-old is not going to lie about what happened to his arm,” Espinal said on the recording. “He is terrified of you.”

 

Hill responded, “You need to be terrified of me, too, b—-.”

 

The next day, the Chiefs announced that Hill had been barred indefinitely from all team activities and said the District Attorney would reopen the investigation.

 

Hill’s attorney issued a detailed denial of the allegations made by Espinal on May 2 and accused Espinal of abusing their son.

 

As of June 7, the criminal investigation was not active, Howe said.

 

“As in any case, if we receive additional evidence, we reevaluate,” he told the Kansas City Star.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with questions.

 

The NFL plans to meet with Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, reportedly on Wednesday. So what does it all mean?

 

The news raises more questions than it answers, given that the league previously has suggested that it is deferring to the still-pending proceeding that resulted in Hill’s three-year-old son being removed from the custody of Hill and the boy’s mother. Unless that proceeding has ended, or unless the league has secured permission from the court to speak to Hill, the league’s decision to move forward conflicts with its prior messages.

 

The league also will reportedly meet with Hill on multiple occasions, which can be regarded as an indication that Hill is being investigated for multiple potential violations of the Personal Conduct Policy. As previously explained, Hill could in theory be disciplined for making threats against Crystal Espinal, and for contributing to conditions that resulted in Hill’s child being removed from his custody.

 

However it plays out, the league seems to realize that something tangible needs to happen before training camp opens. Hovering over the situation is Hill’s history of admitted violence against Espinal, coupled with the chilling suggestion that further violence against Espinal is possible, when he said to her earlier this year during an argument over whether their child respects Hill or is terrified of him, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.”

 

It’s hard to imagine the NFL not punishing that comment, given Hill’s past conduct (for which he was never suspended by the league) and the NFL’s decision in 2018 to suspend Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith for making threats and engaging in emotional abuse with respect to the mother of his child.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

We missed this when it happened, but RB Alex Collins is an ex-Raven with legal problems, that started with some bad driving and escalated.  Jonas Shaffer in the Baltimore Sun:

 

Former Ravens running back Alex Collins’ trial on drug and weapon charges in Baltimore County Circuit Court was postponed Monday and rescheduled for next month.

 

Collins, 24, who appeared in court Monday with his attorney, has a plea hearing scheduled July 3 and a court trial July 22, according to court records.

 

Collins is charged with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, both felonies. His other two charges, possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana and possession of a handgun in a vehicle, are misdemeanors.

 

The Ravens waived Collins on March 1, just hours after his car crashed about a mile from the team’s Owings Mills facility. According to charging documents, Collins had been driving a friend home from a party in Towson in his Chevrolet Corvette, which had expired tags, when the car slid off the road in the 10000 block of Dolfield Road and into a tree.

 

After an odor of marijuana at the scene of the crash prompted a search of Collins’ car, police said they found a clear glass jar containing about 5 ounces of marijuana as well as a black revolver. According to charging documents, Collins said he owned the handgun and told police he had other guns at his home. Police said they found two rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition while executing a search warrant.

 

Collins maintained that the drugs in the car did not belong to him. According to charging documents, Collins’ friend, Tykheem Jaquon “TJ” Deundrea Dunaway, told police that the drugs belonged to Collins and that he did not know they were in the car until after the accident. Collins said he noticed Dunaway carrying the jar of marijuana as they left the party.

 

Charges of intent to distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana were dropped against Dunaway in late March, according to court records.

 

“There are disputed facts in this case, and we look forward to working that out,” Collins’ attorney, Andrew I. Alperstein, said after Collins was released on bail in early March. “Alex is a nice young man and has been a wonderful contributor to our community in Baltimore and I hope folks will give him the benefit of the doubt as the facts flesh out.”

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins have come to the rescue of the Miami Edison football team.  Anthony Chiang in the Miami Herald:

 

A fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the field house at Edison Senior High School where the football team stored equipment.

 

The Miami Dolphins didn’t waste any time in helping out.

 

On Monday morning, Dolphins CEO and president Tom Garfinkel announced on Twitter that the Dolphins and Baptist Health South Florida will be replacing the equipment that was destroyed in the fire. Former Dolphins receiver Nat Moore attended Edison.

 

The fire occurred around 1 p.m. on Sunday. A Miami police officer on patrol noticed smoke coming from the weight room and an attachment that’s about 5 feet by 20 feet and used for storage. It was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said. They extinguished the fire.

 

No one was injured, as the Edison football team spent the weekend on college tours.

 

“There were a few pieces of athletic equipment used for the football team and other materials such as paint cans,” Carroll said. “The cause of the fire is undetermined. We did not find anything to indicate it was intentionally set. We did not find anything to say definitively what caused it.”

 

Despite Carroll’s comments, Edison coach Luther “Luke” Campbell, appearing on WQAM’s “The Joe Rose Show with Zach Krantz” on Monday morning, said: “The arson, why would somebody do this? Who would be this sick to go in and burn up the equipment? What person would do that?”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

CHRIS SIMMS QB RANKINGS

There are still eight players to be ranked in the Chris Simms QB Rankings at ProFootballTalk.com – and we know that number one will not be GOAT QB TOM BRADY.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Much of the Chris Simms Top 40 quarterback countdown has been uneventful. On Thursday, it became rather eventful.

 

We crossed into the top 10, and at the bottom of the best are two guys who arguably are better than where they landed.

 

At No. 10: Drew Brees. At No. 9: Tom Brady.

 

Yes, the eight guys still left to be ranked (including the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck) are all great players. But better than Brees and Brady?

 

Given that Brees seemed late in the 2018 season to be slipping a bit physically, it’s easier to justify putting him at No. 10. Brady has shown no slippage at all, and he’s only the greatest quarterback of all time.

 

In this thread, Simms responds on Twitter to criticism:

 

@CSimmsQB

@kurt13warner yo Kurt always respect ur opinion. This is my list. I work very hard on it. And yes at this point of these two legends career I think they are 9 and 10. The system makes them more than they make the system at this point. It’s not about clicks

 

‏My opinion is that any of the QBs ranked in front of Brees or Brady would of had the same success if not better if they were playing for saints or pats.

 

It’s a team sport. Don’t rank the qb according to team wins or just stats set up by the system or OC. Not every qb gets lucky to have Sean Payton. Belichick or Mcdaniels. Brady and Brees are still awesome.

 

And – as we go to press comes word that #8 is Falcons QB MATT RYAN and #7 is Panthers QB CAM NEWTON.

 

Would Bill Belichick take Newton straight up for Brady?  Hard to imagine.

 

 

BILL BARNWELL’S BAD DEALS

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com takes a look at 20 players who are being compensated beyond their value.  Edited version below with some surprising names.

 

NFL contracts are wildly different from those of the other big four American sports. For one, baseball, basketball and hockey deals are mostly guaranteed. Football deals are the opposite. When you hear about a contract in one of those sports, you can usually feel pretty comfortable judging it by the total, cumulative numbers. In football, we’re usually stuck waiting for days to find the actual terms of the deal, which might vaguely approximate the initial reports. Kwon Alexander’s four-year, $54 million deal with the 49ers, for example, really boils down to a one-year, $14.5 million pact.

 

Contracts are also different in the NFL because there are huge differences in what players are paid at different positions. A truly great player is going to get a max deal in the NBA, regardless of whether he’s a center or a point guard. The highest-paid players in hockey are a mix of skaters, although goalies are left aside. Relievers don’t typically make as much as starting pitchers by virtue of their (relative) lack of usage, but hitters and pitchers are mostly an even split at the top of the baseball market. In the NFL, it’s quarterbacks and then a huge drop off to everyone else. Fifteen of the 16 largest cap hits in football in 2019 belong to passers.

 

As a result, it can be tough to gauge what actually represents a huge deal for a player at a given position. Every year, this column steps in to try to figure out which players actually have the biggest commitments in football after adjusting for their respective positions. It’s more than trivia; evaluating these contracts and finding the most expensive outliers in the league give us a sense of how well teams negotiate and who they see as transcendent players. This year’s free-agent safety class, as an example, might have seemed six or seven deep with similarly promising pieces. When you actually look at their deals, though, it’s clear that there is a three-person tier at the top and a huge drop off to the rest of the bunch. (All three of those deals made this column.)

 

To measure outlier deals, I’ve gone through each multiyear deal of three seasons or more signed since the league adopted its current CBA in 2011 and sorted them by position. As a measure of contract value, I’m using the three-year compensation for each deal, which I’ve found several salary cap managers in the NFL to use as a reasonable shorthand for value. This is the actual cash a player stands to take home over the first three years after he signs an extension. Few deals have any guaranteed money after three seasons, at which point organizations usually opt to sign a player to a new deal or move on.

 

I compare each contract’s three-year value to the top 20 deals signed at that contract’s position since 2011, and that yields our difference. Landon Collins, as an example, will make $45 million over the first three years of his deal with Washington. Our baseline for the top 20 safety deals in football currently comes in at $30.1 million over three years, so Collins is right around 50% above his positional average.

 

Two notes, and then we’ll get started with the 20 biggest outliers in football. One is that we don’t have firm numbers for the Carson Wentz extension, so I’ve temporarily excluded him from the discussion. In addition — and this is very important — an expensive outlier of a contract doesn’t necessarily make for a bad deal. Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack make this list after signing huge extensions in 2018, but they’re franchise-altering superstars. You would happily have them on your roster at an enormous salary. I’ve tried to mention where I think a deal hasn’t gone well for each respective team.

 

20. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Three-year compensation: $94.5 million

Percent above average: 28.1

 

The Falcons surprisingly didn’t give Ryan an extension after his MVP season in 2016, instead choosing to wait until the final year of the Boston College product’s first extension before handing him a five-year, $150 million pact in May 2018. Julio Jones, meanwhile, attempted to get a new deal done around the same time with three years left on his existing extension, and he seems likely to reset the wideout market this summer with two years left on his contract.

 

Owner Arthur Blank has never been shy about paying Ryan like the best quarterback in football. His first extension in 2013 set a record at the time for three-year compensation. This most recent contract made Ryan the first member of the $30 million club, and the structure of the deal basically guarantees he will take home $117.5 million over four seasons through 2021, when he’ll be 36.

 

19. Kevin Zeitler, G, New York Giants

Three-year compensation: $38 million

Percent above average: 29.4

 

While Sashi Brown might have been tanking for the entirety of his run as Browns general manager, he handed out a pair of huge deals to entice veterans in their primes to play in Cleveland. John Dorsey got rid of both of those contracts this offseason by cutting Jamie Collins and trading Zeitler to the Giants for Olivier Vernon. Zeitler is yet to make a Pro Bowl in seven seasons with the Bengals and Browns, but his contract is safe as long as Dave Gettleman is in charge of the Giants. An expensive hog molly is still a hog molly.

 

18. Taylor Lewan, OT, Tennessee Titans

Three-year compensation: $50 million

Percent above average: 31.7

 

Washington tackle Trent Williams wants a new deal, and the contract he’ll be targeting is Lewan’s five-year, $80 million pact. The ornery Michigan standout is the league’s highest-paid left tackle, as his $50 million three-year cash flow topped the $48 million Nate Solder netted in his free-agent deal with the Giants last March.

 

The only hole you can poke in Lewan’s game is penalties. The three-time Pro Bowler has averaged more than eight flags and three holding calls per season across his four seasons as a starter.

 

17. Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

Three-year compensation: $52 million

Percent above average: 32.3

 

With the Jaguars restructuring Marcell Dareus’ deal, Short is now the NFL’s second-highest-paid defensive tackle behind Aaron Donald. The 30-year-old is unquestionably an asset to any defense, but he’s not quite at Donald’s level.

– – –

The Panthers will hope for increased production from their star tackle after adding McCoy and edge rushers Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns to shoulder the workload this offseason. If not, they could ask Short to take a pay cut from his $12 million base salary in 2020. Stats aren’t everything, of course, but at this price point, defensive linemen simply have to produce sacks and terrify opposing quarterbacks to return value.

 

16. Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

Three-year compensation: $30 million

Percent above average: 32.7

 

Graham has been atop the tight end charts for six seasons running, having signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Saints in 2014 before the Packers followed up last offseason with a three-year, $30 million pact. No other tight end has hit an annual average of $10 million or more on a multiyear deal, although George Kittle could become the first next offseason.

– – –

While Graham caught 55 passes last season, he managed only two touchdowns. Rodgers posted the third-worst red zone QBR of his career. Graham’s touchdown rate will likely fall somewhere between those extremes in 2019, but the Packers can — and likely will — save $8 million on their 2020 cap by cutting Graham, 32, after the season.

 

15. Trent Brown, OT, Oakland Raiders

Three-year compensation: $50.75 million

Percent above average: 33.7

 

This figure actually undersells Brown’s deal because I’m comparing his contract to all other tackles. With the Raiders moving him back to the right side after his revelatory season at left tackle with the Patriots, Brown’s three-year cash flow dwarfs the competition.

– – –

The Raiders were able to keep this deal relatively short, as they can get out of this contract without any dead money after two years and $36.8 million if Brown doesn’t live up to expectations. Given that he’s moving from arguably the best offensive line coach in football (Dante Scarnecchia) to the worst (Tom Cable), it’ll take a huge individual effort from the 6-foot-8 Super Bowl champion.

 

14. Mitch Morse, C, Buffalo Bills

Three-year compensation: $36 million

Percent above average: 37.7

 

The Bills generally went for volume this offseason to help Josh Allen, as general manager Brandon Beane added as many as eight new offensive starters to both seal up a leaky offensive line and surround Allen with weapons. Morse’s deal — four years, $44.5 million — isn’t shocking in terms of total compensation, but it’s a record for a center and clearly patterned on the four-year, $42 million pact Ryan Jensen signed with the Bucs as the top center available last offseason.

 

13. Le’Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets

Three-year compensation: $39.5 million

Percent above average: 39.1

 

In the end, while Bell didn’t get the mammoth deal he expected, the Jets ended up paying the player, not the position. He comfortably has the second-largest deal of any back in football until Ezekiel Elliott signs his extension with the Cowboys, and there’s a significant drop-off between the former Steelers star and David Johnson ($31.9 million) in third.

 

12. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Three-year compensation: $103 million

Percent above average: 39.6

 

You’re familiar, I hope. Rodgers had two years and $41.6 million remaining on his previous contract when he signed a four-year, $134 million extension with the Packers last August.

 

In practical terms, Rodgers is now entering the second year of a four-year, $125 million deal, with $51 million in unguaranteed base salaries tacked on over the final two seasons for cap purposes and to inflate the overall value. Rodgers will be 38 by then, at which point the Packers will either likely hand him a new deal or move on from their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

 

11. Tyrann Mathieu, S, Kansas City Chiefs

Three-year compensation: $42 million

Percent above average: 39.8

 

What a difference one year makes! Last offseason, the Cardinals decided to cut Mathieu to get out of guaranteeing the star safety $18.8 million between 2018 and 2019. Mathieu ended up taking a one-year, $7 million deal with the Texans, where he stayed healthy and showed more of the range he exhibited during his peak with the Cards.

 

The Chiefs promptly won a bidding war to hand Mathieu a three-year, $42 million deal with nearly $27 million guaranteed. Is it too much? On one hand, Mathieu wasn’t coming close to that sort of a deal a year ago, and while he played well last season, it wasn’t like we saw the consistent Defensive Player of the Year candidate that Mathieu looked like in 2015. At the same time, the Chiefs had a $13 million cap charge in 2018 for Eric Berry, who played 71 snaps all season for a team that desperately needed difference-makers in the secondary. With Patrick Mahomes still on his rookie deal, you can understand why the Chiefs took a swing on Mathieu.

 

10. Todd Gurley II, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Three-year compensation: $40 million

Percent above average: 40.8

 

What a difference a few weeks make. Gurley was a borderline MVP candidate in 2017 and continued to produce like a superstar for most of 2018, only to miss time in December with a knee injury. C.J. Anderson came off the street to excel in Gurley’s absence, then looked like the better back during the postseason. Reports after the offseason have suggested that Gurley is dealing with arthritis in his knee, which was surgically repaired in college.

– – –

Even now, Gurley and Le’Veon Bell are way ahead of the running back pack by virtually every contractual measure.

 

What makes this even more difficult is that the Rams didn’t need to do this. As I mentioned last July when Gurley signed his deal, the Georgia product still had a year left on his original rookie deal. The Rams could have picked up a fifth-year option for 2019 and would have also been able to franchise him on a relatively modest number for 2020. My best estimate is that the Rams would have been able to go year-to-year with Gurley and paid him somewhere around $24 million without having to commit on a long-term deal.

 

Instead, the Rams virtually guaranteed Gurley $40 million over three years by signing him to an extension. That’s an enormous bet that the guy we saw in 2017 was going to continue to play at that same level for years to come.

 

9. Andrew Norwell, G, Jacksonville Jaguars

Three-year compensation: $41.5 million

Percent above average: 41.3

 

The Jaguars rolled over oodles of cap room for years during their rebuilding process, one of the reasons they were able to commit more than $198 million to their roster during the 2018 season. Only the 49ers spent more on their cap last year. Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin aimed to make life easier for his running game by signing Norwell, who was an All-Pro for the first time with the Panthers in 2017, to a five-year deal worth $66.5 million.

 

Things didn’t quite work out in Year 1, although the problems with the Jacksonville offense were beyond Norwell’s paygrade.

 

8. Earl Thomas, S, Baltimore Ravens

Three-year compensation: $43 million

Percent above average: 43.1

 

Did the Ravens panic after cutting Eric Weddle and losing both C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith in free agency? Maybe. If a team is going to hit the panic button, though, going after a future Hall of Famer is a pretty good fallback.

– – –

Injuries are an understandable concern for a player who has missed 18 games over the past three seasons, but the Seahawks have been a significantly better defense over that time frame with Thomas in the lineup:

 

7. Khalil Mack, LB, Chicago Bears

Three-year compensation: $73.3 million

Percent above average: 43.5

 

When the Bears traded two first-round picks as part of a package to acquire Mack, they were simultaneously handing him and his agent what amounted to a blank check. There was no way, of course, that the Bears were going to trade a franchise-altering haul for Mack without signing him to an immediate extension. Contracts are about leverage, and Mack had more leverage than just about any player in the league.

– – –

Having said all that, after Year 1 in Chicago, I think Bears fans would happily pool together the money and pay Mack out of their own pockets if need be. Mack was expensive, but he was worth every penny to the Bears last season.

 

6. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Three-year compensation: $107 million

Percent above average: 45.0

 

To put quarterbacks in context, Mack has the largest three-year cash flow of any non-quarterback at $73.3 million. In terms of raw total, he would have the eighth-largest three-year cash total of any player in football, which would mean that there are seven quarterbacks ahead of the rest of the league. When you consider that group includes midtier passers like Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Matthew Stafford, it’s clear just how significantly quarterbacks stand out.

 

Wilson has the biggest contract in the league, which in itself isn’t really very interesting for the purposes of this piece. He’s a great quarterback. When great quarterbacks come up for extensions, they get record deals. It was his turn. Wentz got a similar sort of contract, as will Dak Prescott. When Mahomes signs his extension, which could come as early as next January, the Chiefs star will likely top them all.

 

5. Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

Three-year compensation: $43 million

Percent above average: 46.4

 

The Cowboys are the king of the never-ending contract. The longest contract in the league is the eight-year, $97.6 million extension signed by Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith. No player is currently signed to a seven-year contract, but two of the 15 players signed to six-year deals are Martin and Cowboys center Travis Frederick. It would hardly be a surprise if Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott join this list when the two other Dallas cornerstones sign their own extensions as early as this summer. (You can read more about the pros and cons of this contract philosophy here.)

 

It would be hard to raise any serious reservations about the Cowboys giving Martin the largest contract for a guard in NFL history and one of the most significant position-independent deals in all of football. Martin has now made the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, with three first-team All-Pro nods along the way.

 

4. Landon Collins, S, Washington

Three-year compensation: $45 million

Percent above average: 49.7

 

Washington really, really wanted to sign Collins this offseason. After moving on from D.J. Swearinger and seeing the Ha Ha Clinton-Dix trade fail to work out, Jay Gruden’s team desperately needed a solution at safety. You could understand why they preferred Collins. The former Giants standout only turned 25 in January, making him the youngest of the free-agent safeties. He has a relatively clean injury history, although he did miss the final four games of 2018 with a torn labrum. The Alabama product has been a dramatic playmaker at times, although much of that leads back to his 2016 season, which is still his best by a considerable margin. Collins also famously idolizes late Washington safety Sean Taylor.

 

3. C.J. Mosley, LB, New York Jets

Three-year compensation: $51 million

Percent above average: 63.2

 

There’s a big leap from No. 4 to No. 3, which brings us the second Jets free-agent signing of the offseason. Collins was in a similar ballpark to Berry, but there was no player close to Mosley’s three-year cash flow playing a similar sort of role for an NFL team before the former Ravens star signed his deal with the Jets.

– – –

There are no qualifiers needed for Mosley’s deal. He is a classic middle linebacker and is getting paid like nobody else at his position. Mosley tops Alexander’s three-year cash flow by more than $10 million. He had $43 million guaranteed at signing when the previous record-holder for an inside linebacker was Luke Kuechly at $27 million. Unless the Jets want to eat $8 million in dead money to get out of this deal after two years and $43 million, Mosley will end up seeing all of this $51 million before turning 30.

 

Some might note that the Jets followed this offseason spending spree by firing general manager Mike Maccagnan and suggest that the organization was simply throwing gobs of money at whoever might take it. That’s probably true, at least to some extent. If you’re looking for a slightly more coherent plan, the Jets seemed to go out of their way to pay a premium for top-level talent at positions the league typically doesn’t pay. Mosley’s a cover linebacker. Barr would have rushed the passer more in New York, but those haven’t been his primary duties in Minnesota. Bell is a running back. Jamison Crowder is a slot receiver. Even third overall pick Quinnen Williams, arguably the best player in the draft independent of position, is likely to line up as a nose tackle frequently during his debut season in the NFL.

 

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

Three-year compensation: $67 million

Percent above average: 70.3

 

How many players win Defensive Player of the Year and then have a significantly better season the following year? Donald claimed the award for the first time in 2017 after racking up 11 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 27 knockdowns in 14 games. That’s a career season for most defensive tackles, and the Rams rewarded Donald by handing their former first-round pick a six-year, $135 million extension last August.

 

Donald followed up a season where, again, he was regarded as the best defensive player in football by nearly doubling his sack total from the prior year. He finished with 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for loss and 41 knockdowns, leading the league in all three categories.

 

He won Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, and the two-time winners of this award usually need to keep their summers free for a trip to Ohio five years after they retire. The full list of players to win DPOY two or more times includes Joe Greene, Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, J.J. Watt and Reggie White. That’s six inner-circle Hall of Famers and a seventh, Watt, who will also be an immediate inductee when eligible. Donald is in rare company. As bad as the Gurley deal looks one year later, the Rams probably consider Donald’s deal to be a bargain, even given that he’s the second-highest-paid player in the league by this metric.

 

1. Kyle Juszczyk, FB, San Francisco 49ers

Three-year compensation: $15.45 million

Percent above average: 174.3

 

For the third consecutive year, Juszczyk ranks head and shoulders above the pack. To put his four-year, $21 million deal in context, Donald would need to make about $108 million over three years to be similarly ahead of the defensive tackle market. Russell Wilson’s four-year, $140 million extension would need to be a four-year, $202.9 million deal to rank similarly ahead of the quarterback class.

 

Nobody has joined the 49ers in rewarding the fullback position, either. Juszczyk is one of just four veteran fullbacks in the league signed to a deal of three seasons or more.

– – –

The issue isn’t wanting Juszczyk on the roster. It’s paying him more than twice as much as any other fullback in the league. He has offered little as a runner over his first two seasons in San Francisco, carrying the ball 15 times for 61 yards. Those 15 runs include a pair of fourth-and-1 stuffs and a third-and-1 stuff which resulted in a lost fumble. Juszczyk has fumbled four times across 98 touches, which is the seventh-worst rate in the league over the past two seasons among players with 50 touches or more.

 

It’s almost impossible for a back to be valuable with that sort of fumble rate. Niners fans might argue that Juszczyk was signed to serve as a receiver, and indeed, he has been more productive catching passes. Juszczyk has caught 63 passes for 639 yards over the past two seasons, and Shanahan has been able to scheme him open for big plays, most notably this 56-yard catch against the Vikings last September. Of course, Shanahan would also theoretically be able to scheme open another fullback or H-back, too.

– – –

If the argument is that Juszczyk helps as a blocker, that’s also tough to trust, as 36.8 percent of San Francisco’s running plays with Juszczyk on the field result in a successful run by expected points added (EPA). Without Juszczyk on the field, though, that figure rises to 42.8 percent.

 

In the bigger picture, there just isn’t much evidence of Juszczyk making a consistent difference. The 49ers are successful on offense by EPA for 41.9 percent of their snaps with Juszczyk on the field. Without him, they’ve been successful on … 41.8 percent of their snaps. I don’t think those on/off stats are enough to totally discount Juszczyk, but it’s also fair to say that there isn’t a clear case he’s making a difference.

 

Is spending too much on a fullback going to make or break the 49ers’ chances of competing? Of course not. Juszczyk’s deal, though, is one of a series of shocking contracts the 49ers have handed out to make sure they get their guy at a given position, even if it means paying something well above market value or expectations.