AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Kevin Patra of NFL.com on new OC Darrell Bevell:

 

The Detroit Lions parted ways with Jim Bob Cooter in favor of veteran play-caller Darrell Bevell as the team’s new offensive coordinator this offseason. Bevell is still figuring out what Detroit’s new offense will look like in 2019

 

“I hope it’s one that scores points,” Bevell said Monday at a Lions season-ticket holder Q&A, via the Detroit News. “That’s the first thing we need to do. But right now, it’s still something we’re trying to build. It’s easy to say what we want to do in the run game, what we want to do in the pass game, but we need to build around our players. We’re going to do what Kerryon (Johnson) does well, we’re going to do what our wide receivers do well, what Matthew (Stafford) does well.

 

“At this point, to make big, bold statements, it’s a little bit early because we need to discover a little bit more about our personnel.”

 

Lions coach Matt Patricia indicated in the past that he desires a run-focused, ball-control approach to the offense, so we expect Bevell’s offense to feature a lot of Johnson.

 

Bevell’s work with Matthew Stafford will be key to the OC’s success in his first season. The signal-caller is coming off one of the worst seasons of his professional career in what looked like a neutered offense, particularly after the Golden Tate trade and injuries wiped out playmakers.

 

Bevell specifically noted that he wants to push Stafford in 2019.

 

“In my conversations with him, we want to make sure we’re doing the things he’s been successful at, but I talked about with him stretching him a little bit, maybe putting him in positions that he hasn’t been before and being able to push our offense to new heights,” Bevell said. “I’m really excited just to build this thing. I don’t even know where we’re going to go, who we’re going to be, yet, because we’re going to build this around our players.”

 

The Lions are a prime team to add weapons at tight end and receiver to go along with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in the passing game this offseason.

 

It’s not unusual for a new coordinator to be fleshing out his offense at this stage. It is not even Valentine’s Day yet, after all. In the next few months, when players don shorts and light pads, and into late August during training camp, we should get a better idea of what Bevell plans for 2019, and how that strategy plans to get the most out of Stafford.

 

Having traded away a quality tight end, GM Bob Quinn knows he needs to find one for Bevell.  Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:

 

They whiffed on Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton and every one of their other top tight-end targets last spring, and the Detroit Lions are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

 

Be it through free agency or the NFL draft, Lions general manager Bob Quinn said at a fan forum for season-ticket holders on Monday that “the tight end position is definitely a priority for us” to upgrade this offseason.

 

“This is a position of need,” Quinn said. “We know that.”

 

More on Lions: Quinn head fakes, won’t rule out drafting QB at No. 8

 

The Lions had fewer receptions from their tight ends last season (45) than every team but the Miami Dolphins.

 

Levine Toilolo led the group with 21 catches for 263 yards, but Luke Willson had career-lows of 13 catches and 87 yards receiving, Michael Roberts had just nine catches for 100 yards before going on season-ending injured reserve, and Hakeem Valles had two catches in three games with the team.

 

Toilolo and Willson are free agents who are not expected to return in 2019, while Valles finished last season on injured reserve with the New York Giants.

 

While this year’s free-agent class of tight ends is relatively thin — Jesse James and Jeff Heuerman are probably the best of the bunch — Quinn said “it’s a good year in the draft for tight ends.”

 

More on Lions: NFL draft prospects: Which defender to take in Round 1

 

“Actually, just (Monday) morning is when we went through the tight ends with our scouts and I’d say it’s a really good crop,” Quinn said. “There’s an unusual amount of underclassmen tight ends in this year’s draft, which really fit kind of what we’re looking for. So there’s numerous options there and also in free agency. You read our needs correctly.”

 

As many as three tight ends could go in the first round of April’s draft, though there does not appear to be a consensus No. 1 player at the position.

 

Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr., the son of the former NFL tight end by the same name, and the Iowa duo of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have all drawn first-round projections after leaving school early. All had at least 39 receptions last season.

 

Stanford’s Kaden Smith, UCLA’s Caleb Wilson, Boston College’s Tommy Sweeney and San Jose State’s Josh Oliver could be in the Day 2 mix.

 

The Lions probably won’t consider a tight end in the first round with the eighth overall pick, but their needs are so great at the position — they need a receiving threat to help stretch the field and a blocker to assists the run game — that they’ll have to consider all variety of players elsewhere in the draft and free agency.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Adam Schein of NFL.com thinks QB DAK PRESCOTT should play out his contract rather than taking a hometown discount:

 

Dak Prescott made a mistake, and here’s an educated guess: He knows it.

 

Dak took some heat over the weekend for talking to USA TODAY about his contract status. The criticism stemmed from a rare faux pas for the 25-year-old quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, saying he wasn’t going to take a hometown discount like Tom Brady, citing the six-time Super Bowl winner’s wife in the process.

 

“Nobody’s wife makes as much money as his wife does,” Prescott said in reference to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. “When Tom Brady isn’t the breadwinner in the home, then that’s a great problem to have.

 

“So in that case, he can do that. He can do his contract however you want to do it.”

 

Dak Prescott is a fantastic person. Typically, he gets it. So, I will give him a pass on at least three slip-ups in that one quote:

 

1) Never talk about another player’s contract.

 

2) Never talk about another player’s significant other.

 

3) Never compare yourself to Tom Brady.

 

You just cannot win on any of the above.

 

In fact, with Prescott entering the final year of his rookie deal as a fourth-round pick who has out-kicked his contract, here’s exactly what I would do:

 

Nothing.

 

If I’m Prescott, I would do nothing. I would play out my rookie deal if Dallas were unwilling to pay top dollar. And frankly, there should be some hesitation on the Cowboys’ side, based upon the overall body of work and erratic three-year trajectory. But if I’m Prescott, I absolutely bank on 2019 being the best, most dominant, most explosive year of my professional career.

 

Please understand that I am a Prescott fan. You can most certainly debate the merits of QB wins as a statistic of record, but Dak is 32-16 in three years under center for one of the NFL’s marquee franchises. Dak has a knack for rising to the moment and coming through in the fourth quarter. Since Prescott entered the league in 2016, he ranks first in game-winning drives (14) and is tied for fourth in fourth-quarter comebacks (eight).

 

Prescott is a tough, sensational leader. He’s an amazing person who does meaningful charitable work and doesn’t seek attention for it.

 

But is he elite? Is he a star? Is he worthy of today’s franchise-quarterback money?

 

That’s up for debate.

 

In 2016, Dak earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Personally, I registered my AP vote for his teammate, running back Ezekiel Elliott. I was of the opinion then — and remain of the opinion now — that Zeke makes Dak, not the other way around. When Elliott was in limbo — and eventually suspended for six games — in 2017, Prescott’s play decidedly dipped. His completion percentage plummeted (from 67.8 down to 62.9), as did his yards per attempt (8.0 to 6.7) and QB rating (104.9 to 86.6). Meanwhile, the interception total ballooned from four to 13. And the Cowboys went from a 13-3 team with a playoff bye to a 9-7 squad watching the playoffs from home.

 

That brings us to Prescott’s 2018 season, which can be broken down into two distinct periods: Before Amari and After Amari.

 

For the first seven games of the season, Prescott looked relatively dreadful, completing just 62.1 percent of his passes and barely averaging 200 yards passing (202.4, to be exact). Add in the QB’s underwhelming marks in TD-to-INT ratio (8:4) and QB rating (87.4), and it wasn’t too surprising that Dallas found itself below .500 at 3-4.

 

But everything changed when the Cowboys flipped a first-round pick for Amari Cooper. The pair immediately clicked, which rarely happens after a midseason trade.

 

Prescott, Cooper and the ‘Boys went 7-2 down the stretch and won the NFC East. Prescott’s completion percentage in these nine games vaulted to 71.3 and his yards per game skyrocketed to 274.2. Same story with his TD-to-INT ratio (14:4) and QB rating (103.0). His overall confidence and fourth-quarter play were noticeably different.

 

Prescott went from struggling pop-gun starter to must-see TV. It was awesome. It was significant. And it should only get better in 2019, especially since the new offensive coordinator (Kellen Moore) was promoted from within, mitigating potential growing pains on that front.

 

With this three-year roller-coaster ride in mind, though, Dak’s a fascinating conundrum on the pay scale. He plays the most important position in team sports. He plays it well, having made a pair of Pro Bowls. Still, you could argue half of the league’s starting quarterbacks played it better over the entirely of the 2018 campaign. You could argue Prescott is the third reason why Dallas wins, trailing the outstanding defense and the running attack. And given the number of teams this decade that have enjoyed success with a QB on a rookie contract — something that allows for more balanced spending across the roster — it would be easy to understand if the Cowboys’ Powers That Be were a bit apprehensive on giving Dak a new deal that averaged well north of $20 million per season, despite what the Joneses have said publicly.

 

I spoke to Prescott on radio row in Atlanta during Super Bowl week. When I asked about contract talks with Dallas, he said, “I’ll let those conversations take care of themselves. I will let my agent do his job. It’s for my agent to handle. It’s for the Cowboys to handle. It’s out of my hands. I only worry about things I can control.”

 

I gave him my suggestion: to wait, to have his best season, live his best life and then cash in after banking on himself. I also asked him if there’s a time frame with the talks.

 

“This is my first time obviously going through something like this,” Prescott said. “I will listen to the advice of my agent. I’m doing as he says with the right way and the right approach. Time frame? I don’t know. A lot of quarterbacks historically get it done later in the offseason. Who knows when it will be done — or if at all, as you mention.”

 

I love Dak as a person and leader. I’m conflicted on Dak as a player, especially when it comes to considering the possibility of a nine-figure contract. He’s definitely good and has accomplished a lot in three NFL seasons.

 

All that said, I don’t think he’s remotely gotten started yet. 2019 will be his best year to date. Take it to the bank, Dak. Literally.

 

 

WASHINGTON

RB CHRIS THOMPSON spills the beans that QB ALEX SMITH’s rehab will not be done in time for the season. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Redskins brass has played coy with the status of Alex Smith next season, but one Washington player expects the starting quarterback to sit out the 2019 campaign and perhaps even longer.

 

“When I did talk to [Smith], he’s staying about positive about it. We know and understand that it’s probably not going to happen that we have him this year,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson told NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday. “He’s a hard working guy, He’s gonna do whatever he can to get back, if he decides that he wants to put that workload on his leg again.”

 

Smith suffered a season-ending compound leg fracture in Week 11 and underwent multiple surgeries soon after. He was released from the hospital in mid-December following a leg infection and was seen at a Washington Wizards game in January wearing a large apparatus on his injured leg.

 

Redskins president Bruce Allen told reporters at the Senior Bowl that they were “optimistic” Smith would play again, but did not clarify what his status for 2019 was. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported in late January that Washington is planning as if it won’t have Smith in 2019.

 

The only other quarterback currently on the Redskins’ roster is Colt McCoy, who also suffered a season-ending leg injury in 2018. Thompson is confident that the Redskins can compete if the front office chooses to operate as if McCoy is the starting quarterback next season.

 

“I know Colt is ready to go,” Thompson said of McCoy’s readiness to play in 2019. “He’s all healthy now and ready to go if he is to be the guy next year.”

 

That remains to be seen. Washington has roughly $17.7 million in cap space, per Over The Cap, and is expected to add a quarterback through free agency, the draft or both this offseason.

 

As for Smith, Washington’s big offseason signing in 2018 is entering the first season of a four-year extension signed with the ‘Skins after they acquired him from the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith carries a cap number of $20.4 million in 2019, the highest on the team.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Unlike BAKER MAYFIELD with the Browns, and perhaps SAM DARNOLD of the Jets and JOSH ALLEN of the Bills, Cardinals QB JOSH ROSEN did not do enough in his rookie season to make you say with certainty “That’s our guy.”  Which is a problem for Coach Kliff Kingsbury and the rest of the Birds braintrust.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

On the surface, it makes no sense for any team to publicly limit its draft options. For teams with a young potential franchise quarterback in place, it makes plenty of sense to throw water on speculation that the young potential franchise quarterback could be supplanted by another young potential franchise quarterback.

 

And so the Arizona Cardinals, amid speculation fueled by their new head coach’s stated interest in making Kyler Murray the first pick in the draft from weeks before he became the coach of the team that earned the first pick in the draft, had no choice but to shout down the notion that Murray could be picked with Josh Rosen on the roster. Even if the Cardinals, as they absolutely should, plan to fully explore whether to draft Murray, they must stand firmly behind Rosen in the event that the Cardinals decide not to take Murray or any other quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

 

Without a clear and direct “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach”-type statement, Rosen becomes undermined, both during the pre-draft process and after it. Even if the Cardinals decide, after looking into whether Murray should be the first overall pick, to not select someone else to potentially replace Rosen, weeks of guesswork about whether the Cardinals are truly committed to Rosen could impact Rosen’s development, by shaking his confidence or creating questions among teammates, or both.

 

That’s why owner Michael Bidwill said what he said. It’s why coach Kliff Kingsbury said what he said. It’s why the team’s official Twitter account trumpeted the development with #fake news-style derision. If, for whatever reason, the Cardinals decide not to take Murray or any other quarterback, they can’t afford to let Rosen and the rest of the roster wonder from now until late April whether or not he’s truly the guy.

 

Still, it would be foolish for the Cardinals to refuse to consider Murray simply because they have Rosen. A year ago, the Cardinals didn’t know that Murray would emerge as a potential franchise quarterback. They now do, and they owe it to the future of the franchise to ask the tough questions about whether Murray has more of an upside than Rosen.

 

Until they decide to take Murray, however, the Cardinals have no reason to throw Rosen under the bus. If, however, Murray wows the scouts and emerges as the best option to lead the Cardinals in a division that suddenly has become one of the most difficult in the NFL to navigate, the Cardinals need to be ready to make the same kind of dispassionate decision about Rosen that every NFL team makes when determining the contours of its roster and setting its starting lineup.

 

And if the Cardinals in late April eventually have to eat their own words from mid-February, so be it. The consolation prize will be that they will believe they’ve upgraded at the most important position in football. If the price for doing so is being regarded by some as being untruthful, so be it. Every NFL team is untruthful at some time or another, since the bests interests of the team from time to time demand it.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Chiefs legend Emmitt Thomas has called it a career.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

A football legend is calling it quits after 51 years in and around the National Football League.

 

Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Thomas informed the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday that he is retiring from coaching. Thomas had been Kansas City’s defensive backs coach since 2010.

 

“I have been blessed and honored to be a part of the NFL for the last 51 years,” Thomas said in a statement released by the team. “My journey started in Kansas City, and by the grace of God I am able to end my NFL career here as well. I would like to thank the Hunt family and the Chiefs organization for all that they have done for me in my special days here in Kansas City. It has been a privilege to work alongside the great coaches that have come through this building. Having the opportunity to coach so many talented young men in my time as a coach has been one of my greatest gifts.”

 

“On behalf of my family and the entire Chiefs organization, I want to congratulate Emmitt on his remarkable 51 years in the National Football League,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt added. “Over the course of a career that spans two leagues and most of the modern era of the NFL, Emmitt was a Hall of Fame player and one of the most respected coaches in the league. Emmitt will always be a part of our Chiefs family, and we wish him the best in retirement.”

 

Thomas spent all 13 years of his playing career with Kansas City. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 1966, the cornerback finished his time with the Chiefs with a franchise-record 58 interceptions and two Super Bowl appearances, including Kansas City’s victory in Super Bowl IV. Thomas was named to the Pro Bowl or the AFL All-Star Game on five occasions and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 1974 when he led the NFL with 12 INTs.

 

In 2008, Thomas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player.

 

As a coach, Thomas was the wide receivers and defensive backs coach for the Redskins from 1986 to 1994, the defensive coordinator for the Eagles, Packers and Vikings from 1995 to 2001; and an assistant head coach and interim coach for the Falcons from 2002 to 2009.

 

Thomas is the second veteran defensive coach to leave the Chiefs organization since the end of the season. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was replaced by Steve Spagnuolo.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Blocked from Oracle Park by the 49ers, the Raiders turn their attention back to Oakland as their possible home for 2019.  Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

 

The Raiders’ search for a home stadium in 2019 soon could end in a familiar place after the franchise recently resumed negotiations with the group that oversees the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

 

Scott McKibben, executive director of the Coliseum Authority, acknowledged in a Tuesday phone interview with the Review-Journal that discussions are ongoing between the two sides.

 

“I will confirm that we, late last week, started sitting down and talking with the Raiders about the potential of a 2019 season deal,” McKibben said. “In my view, the discussions have been meaningful and productive.”

 

A Raiders official did not immediately return request for comment. The club has spent 40 seasons at the Coliseum, including the past 24.

 

The team’s lease at the Coliseum expires Wednesday, per McKibben. He said last week that he hoped to gain clarity by the lease’s conclusion on whether the Raiders had interest in discussing a possible return to Oakland in 2019.

 

Negotiations now could progress quickly, given the foundation that was established last year when the Raiders and Coliseum Authority agreed on terms that included a $7.5 million rent figure for 2019. Progress stalled in December when the city of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its 32 clubs, prompting the Raiders to walk away from the possible lease extension.

 

The Raiders then explored alternative sites, including local options Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and Oracle Park in San Francisco. They did not rule out an Oakland return while quietly sifting through options.

 

Communication between team president Marc Badain and McKibben picked up shortly after the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

 

McKibben told the Review-Journal early last week that he conveyed in an email to Badain that the $7.5 million figure from December was still in play. Their correspondence evolved as the lease’s expiration neared.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Thoughts from new coach Zac Taylor from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Sean McVay’s success with the Rams has resulted in several other teams hiring coaches with ties to McVay, and the Bengals are one of those teams. New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor says you can expect to see a similar offense in Cincinnati in 2019.

 

But Taylor added today on PFT Live that he has hired several offensive assistants he hadn’t previously worked with, and they’re going to re-shape the offense to their own talent, not just copy the Rams’ playbook.

 

“It will be the Cincinnati Bengals’ playbook. There’s no doubt about it. The starting point will be what we did in L.A. We had a lot of success there. I believed in what we did. But I think it was also important to hire people with outside experiences,” Taylor said.

 

One thing Taylor said he is committed to is sticking with quarterback Andy Dalton.

 

“I’ve watched Andy closely for the last eight years,” Taylor said. “I think he’s a great fit for what we’re going to do. He’s very smart, he’s accurate, he can get the ball out on time. So I think he’s going to fit this offense to a T.”

 

If Dalton can lead the Bengals’ offense to Rams-like numbers, the folks in Cincinnati will be very happy. If not, it may be another quarterback running the Cincinnati Bengals’ playbook in the future.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

WR ANTONIO BROWN lets the world know that he sees Pittsburgh in his rear view mirror, even if he’s still on the roster.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s not clear that he’s leaving, but it’s definitely clear that he’s saying goodbye.

 

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown has taken to Twitter to bid farewell to Pittsburgh. “Thank you SteelerNation for a big 9 years…time to move on and forward,” Brown said, adding the deuces emoji and #NewDemands.

 

The message means either that the Steelers have reached an agreement in principle to trade Brown to a new team, or that he simply has decided to take matters into his own hands.

 

If it’s the latter, things could get interesting quickly. He’s under contract for three more years, and the Steelers have shown no inclination to cut him, if they can’t trade him.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans have cast aside WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS.  Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com:

 

Never forget, when NFL players hold out for as much money as they can command, that the teams consistently make cold-hearted business decisions and players see millions of dollars in potential salary disappear.

 

The latest case is Houston Texans receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Texans acquired Thomas in a mid-season trade with the Denver Broncos, where he was a star. Thomas tore his Achilles tendon late in the season, and that’s a tough injury to come back from at age 31.

 

The Texans cut Thomas on Tuesday, canceling the $14 million base salary he was slated to make in 2019. Despite the high rate of injuries and short career spans, as we know, almost all NFL contracts are comprised of mostly non-guaranteed base salaries.

 

Demaryius Thomas will continue to rehab

The Texans probably planned all along to move on from Thomas after the season. A $14 million salary for a receiver past age 30 is tough to handle, especially since the Texans have a true No. 1 receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.

 

Still, the timing after the injury is harsh.

 

Thomas will have to prove he’s healthy before he gets a 2019 deal from a team, and even then it will likely be a short-term deal at nowhere near $14 million. Thomas will continue to rehab, without an employer, and try to show teams he’s healthy when he’s ready. The timing of the injury, which happened in Week 16, makes the timetable a little more difficult. Most teams will have made their plans at receiver by the time Thomas is healthy.

 

What will Thomas’ market be when healthy?

One of Thomas’ issues will be that he looked like he was in decline even before the injury.

 

Thomas made four Pro Bowls with the Broncos and was a key part of the team’s Super Bowl 50 championship, but he posted 949 yards in 2017 and just 677 between the Broncos and Texans in 2018. Inconsistent quarterback play with the Broncos didn’t help.

 

Thomas will have a lot of questions to answer, and the first one is due to his health. It’s a view into the tough side of a brutal business.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Adam Rank of NFL.com thinks WR JULIAN EDELMAN is a Hall of Famer in waiting.  Really.

 

Listen, I don’t try to live my life as a contrarian. That’s not true — I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world’s most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it’s best to take a look at the other side.

 

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think — unpopular opinions, if you will — and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Today, I’ll explain why the most recent Super Bowl MVP is ticketed for a spot in Canton.

 

Julian Edelman is going to the Hall of Fame.

 

Yes, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And no, not as a spectator for Tom Brady’s eventual enshrinement, wiseass. You’re very funny, but Edelman’s getting the knock. He’s getting the gold jacket. He’s getting a bust that better include a big bronze beard or else I’ll riot. But he’s a Hall of Fame player.

 

As I watched Edelman run around wide open all game against the Rams in the Super Bowl, like that undersized kid at an AYSO game who is running circles around the bigger kids, it also struck me that Edelman has become one of the best receivers of his generation.

 

He has the numbers to back it up, too. Yes. He. Does. He hasn’t put up the gaudy statistics of some of his other peers destined for Canton — Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, etc. He’s just 248th all-time in receiving yardage (5,390). That’s in the regular season, though. Edelman is second in NFL postseason history with 1,412 receiving yards, behind Jerry Rice. He’s also behind only Rice with 115 playoff receptions. He’s tied with Michael Irvin for the second-most playoff games with 100-plus yards receiving (six). He ranks third in career receiving yards in the Super Bowl (337). Sorry that he might not have won you a fantasy football championship (actually, he might have, because he’s still a PPR beast!), but he delivers when the Patriots need him the most.

 

And shut your mouth if you even want to invoke the fact that he’s never made the Pro Bowl. It’s an honor to be selected to the all-star game, but he’s usually making big plays in the Super Bowl at that time of year anyway. Which might be a touch more important. When we talk about the best NFL players ever, you talk about the guys who come up the biggest on the biggest stage. Huge stat lines in the regular season are great, but every player is gunning for the Lombardi Trophy. So if you make the plays that matter, you should get some consideration. It might not be fair, but that’s the way it is.

 

Just think of Edelman’s big postseason moments during the Patriots’ recent run of dominance. He threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola as the Patriots earned a comeback win over the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the 2014 season’s playoffs. He scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Seahawks a few weeks later in Super Bowl XLIX. He had a miracle catch against the Falcons during the Patriots’ rally from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI. Then he looked like the only dude outside of Sony Michel who was playing offense for the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, and he was voted the game’s MVP.

 

Rings matter when it’s time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee to vote, and Edelman now has three of them. And the Patriots’ dynasty (which is the greatest North American professional sports dynasty ever) has only one player who spent the bulk of his career with New England in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Ty Law, who’ll be enshrined this summer). That’s going to change.

 

By the time his career is over — Edelman, 32, still has good years ahead of him — he will be able to point to at least three Hall of Famers whose career achievements were comparable to his: Lynn Swann, Fred Biletnikoff and Michael Irvin.

 

Swann never led the NFL in receiving. In fact, he never had more than 880 receiving yards in a season, although he did tie for the NFL lead with 11 receiving touchdowns in 1975. Biletnikoff led the NFL in receptions only once (1971) and topped 1,000 receiving yards only once in his career (1968). Both men were selected as Super Bowl MVP (Swann in Super Bowl X; Biletnikoff in Super Bowl XI). They’re two of the seven receivers to earn the honor. Irvin led the NFL with 1,523 receiving yards in 1991, the year before the Cowboys’ dynasty started. And while Swann and Freddy B were a little before my time, I remember Irvin being one of the most annoying players in the NFL. Not because of his flamboyance, but because he always made those critical catches that would break the opposition’s spirit.

 

But if you let Edelman in, why not Troy Brown? Deion Branch? Wes Welker? Well, I have only so much time to devote to this topic. I do, however, defer to coach Bill Belichick, who waxed on about Edelman after the Super Bowl.

 

“Julian epitomizes the work ethic, toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, determination and will, and just extraordinary ability to perform under pressure,” Belichick said. “He’s truly in the mold of one of the great versatile Patriots, with Troy Brown, Mike Vrabel, guys like that.

 

“Nobody has worked harder in my career than Julian to develop his skills and his craft at a position, other than I’d say Stephen Neal — other than Julian because he really didn’t have any background in it.”

 

Edelman’s the most distinguished receiver of the Patriots’ title-winning teams (remember, Randy Moss never got a ring), even if I didn’t feel that way a couple of weeks ago. And one day, he’s going to be celebrated in Canton. It’s inevitable. Just like it’s inevitable that he’s going to make a 9-yard reception when it’s third-and-8.

 

Edelman now has 499 career catches and 30 career TDs.  Isaac Bruce has over 1,000 having played on some very, very good teams himself and can’t get in.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP AND THE AAF

Can a league with “American” in its name take on a lover of Che Guevara?  Would QB COLIN KAEPERNICK, flush with Nike bucks, really play for $70,000 for a season?  Evan Bleier of RealClearLife.com explores such a marriage and its possibilities.

 

Colin Kaepernick and the Alliance of American Football need each other.

 

For Kaepernick, getting on the field for the AAF would be an easy way to show NFL teams not only that he’s healthy and can still play football at an elite level, but also showcase his potential.

 

And, playing for the AAF wouldn’t just help show off Kap’s wares for NFL scouts – it would help him show the country as well.

 

Despite being scoffed at by many prior to kickoff, the debut of the AAF delivered a 2.1 overnight rating on CBS Saturday night for its regional coverage of San Diego vs. San Antonio and Atlanta vs. Orlando.

 

That 2.1 rating – the highest for a non-NFL pro football game since a 2004 – equaled the overnight rating of ABC’s  Thunder-Rockets NBA game and almost tied the Duke-Virginia men’s college basketball game on ESPN (2.3).

 

Clearly, the ratings for the start-up league are already surprisingly good, but they’d almost certainly be even better if a lightning rod like Kaepernick was on the field because people would be tuning in to watch him succeed as well as see him fail.

 

But, if he were to suit up, it seems unlikely he would.

 

For clarification on that, let’s just look at who each of AAF’s eight teams is currently starting at quarterback.

 

Arizona Hotshots: John Wolford (Wake Forest)

Atlanta Legends: Matt Simms (Tennessee)

Birmingham Iron: Luis Perez (Texas A&M-Commerce)

Memphis Express: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)

Orlando Apollos: Garrett Gilbert (Texas/SMU)

Salt Lake City Stallions: Josh Woodrum (Liberty)

San Antonio Commanders: Logan Woodside (Toledo)

San Diego Fleet: QB Mike Bercovici (Arizona State)

 

Out of the eight quarterbacks above who started over the AAF’s opening weekend, only Wolford (four TDs, two 2-point conversions, 275 yards) really shined as a passer. In fact, Wolford was the only quarterback other than Gilbert to throw for multiple touchdowns (who had two).

 

Overall, given that the league saw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (nine) thrown in its opening weekend, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch that Kaepernick — who boasted a sparkling 72-to-30 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a passer over his NFL career — would be an upgrade over and and every AAF quarterback, all due respect to Wolford.

 

In Kaepernick’s most recent on-field sample size, 11 games of the 2016 NFL season, he was even better percentage-wise while throwing 16 touchdowns compared to four interceptions and racking up a 90.7 quarterback rating.

 

If he was able to play even half that well in the AAF (albeit against reduced competition), Kaepernick would have some valuable ammo for his collusion case against the NFL as the argument that he isn’t being signed because his football skills have deteriorated over the past two years would be null and void.

 

A stint in the AAF also wouldn’t hurt Kaepernick’s chances of returning to the NFL because, although players do sign three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $250,000 each, they are allowed to leave the league to go to the NFL.

 

From the AAF’s perspective, having Kaepernick playing —and playing well — would be advantageous to the league from a merchandising standpoint as he would automatically become the league’s most recognizable player. And as his Nike campaign showed in the fall, the guy can help sell shirts, shorts, and pretty much anything else.

 

Prior to the season at least, it sounded like that was actually a possibility as AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol said his league would be open to players like Kaepernick who take social stances.

 

“Best available players,” Ebersol said in May. “You show up and you can play and you want to play in our league, then we want to talk to you … The way we’re structuring our relationship with players, that alliance that I talk about, starts with the idea that we’re gonna listen. We hope they’re gonna listen. And we’re gonna play together.”

 

If you are an NFL fan already jonesing for an off-season fix of good quality play on the field, you should be rooting for Kap and the AAF to play together as well.

 

After all, who would you rather watch throw passes on Saturdays and Sundays over the next nine weeks of the AAF regular season, Christian Hackenberg or Kaepernick?

 

Love him or hate him, the answer should be clear.

 

Ain’t gonna lie – Kaep in the AAF would make it more compelling.

 

 

TOP FREE AGENTS

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com has this list:

 

The most interesting free agent this offseason, like most offseasons, will probably never make it to free agency. Freedom in the NFL is always relative, and Nick Foles’ decision to buy his way into this market comes with a caveat.

 

The Eagles are expected to place the franchise tag on Foles and then see what kind of trade market he has. That would give the team some say in Foles’ landing spot, with NFC East teams like the Giants and Redskins out of the mix.

 

Foles tops a group of available quarterbacks, including Teddy Bridgewater, that is likely to grow as teams begin to prune their salary cap before the March spending spree. That’s something to keep in mind when looking at my way-too-early list of the top 25 free agents in 2019. A lot of names will be added to the market because of cuts, and plenty of high-profile players (like Jadeveon Clowney) are unlikely to ever make it to free agency, because their current teams will use the franchise tag to keep them or strike a long-term deal. Players like Panthers safety Eric Reid have already re-signed.

 

That makes this initial list fun to consider, albeit a work in progress. It’s a free-agent crop that is heavy on pass rushers and safeties while light on offensive linemen, wide receivers and cornerbacks. Chris Wesseling and I will publish our complete Top 101 Free Agents list later on. In the meantime, feel free to irrationally believe your team is going to sign all the players below and solve all of their problems.

 

1  DeMarcus Lawrence

DE Cowboys

Don’t worry about his sack number dropping to 10.5. Lawrence backed up his breakout 2017 (14.5 sacks) with another season as a top-five pass rusher, solidifying his place as one of the league’s best players.

 

2  Le’Veon Bell

RB Steelers

This ranking isn’t a prediction of how much guaranteed money Bell will earn. It’s a reflection of his status as one of the transcendent players this century at his position — and the fact that he’s still just 26 years old.

 

3  Jadeveon Clowney

OLB Texans

Using the franchise tag to retain Clowney makes too much sense for Houston, even if Clowney won’t be thrilled about it.

 

4  Nick Foles

QB  Eagles

Foles needs to find the right system to play in, but isn’t that true of any quarterback? His play late in the 2018 season showed that his Super Bowl run was no fluke. This ranking reflects the premium placed on any starting quarterback who becomes available during his prime because it happens so rarely. That position scarcity is one reason why the Eagles believe they can get a draft pick back for Foles despite a huge expected contract that he’s due.

 

5  Grady Jarrett

DT Falcons

A 25-year-old game-wrecker from the interior who has improved every year. There’s little chance the Falcons will let Jarrett get away.

 

6  Trey Flowers

DE  Patriots

While Flowers isn’t a prototypical pure pass rusher from the outside, he can do everything well from a variety of positions, the perfect Swiss Army Knife for a modern defense. And he’s already been the most disruptive presence on a Super Bowl championship team.

 

7  Earl Thomas

S Seahawks

Thomas would be even higher on this list if not for two of his previous three seasons being marred by injury. He has maintained his high level of play as a potential future Hall of Famer and isn’t yet 30 years old.

 

8 Dee Ford

OLB  Chiefs

At a position where speed kills, Ford’s first step is among the best in football. The Chiefs might use the franchise tag on him to make sure his monster breakout season can be repeated.

 

9  Frank Clark

DE  Seahawks

In many years, Clark would be the best pass rusher available. He isn’t as complete a player as the guys above, but 32 sacks and 66 QB hits over the last three years speaks for itself.

 

10  Landon Collins

S  Giants

Collins received some Defensive Player of the Year consideration in 2016, but his hard-hitting style has made less of an impact lately. And his 2018 campaign ended after Week 13, when he hit IR and underwent shoulder surgery.

 

11  C.J. Mosley

LB  Ravens

Inside linebackers don’t get paid in free agency, although Mosley could be an exception. A four-time Pro Bowler, Mosley is known for his smarts and his leadership.

 

12 Anthony Barr

LB Vikings

The skill set and splash plays didn’t always add up to excellent overall production, although his contract year went well. It’s a bit of a concern that a great defensive coach like Mike Zimmer didn’t consistently get more out of him.

 

13  Sheldon Richardson

DT  Vikings

Richardson started out his season like a man on fire before settling into another campaign that made his employers probably want just a little bit more. He’s been stuck on the “prove-it contract” cycle for years.

 

14  Ronald Darby

CB Eagles

A torn ACL will hurt Darby’s value, but he’s still the class of a soft cornerback crop of free agents.

 

15  Tyrann Mathieu

S  Texans

It’s unclear why safeties like Honey Badger didn’t get paid well last offseason. There’s an even better crop of free agents at the position this time around.

 

16  Lamarcus Joyner

S  Rams

The Rams valued Joyner enough to use the franchise tag on him last year. There just aren’t enough tough, versatile safeties who can cover slot receivers around.

 

17  Teddy Bridgewater

QB  Saints

Teddy’s underwhelming Week 17 start was more about a rag-tag backup Saints offensive line that didn’t protect Bridgewater than it was about anything else. He showed enough in the 2018 preseason to compete for a starting job somewhere.

 

18  Preston Smith

LB  Redskins

If everyone thinks Smith is underrated, is he still underrated? Pro Football Focus’ No. 8-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2018 should get the contract of someone rated quite highly.

 

19  Ndamukong Suh

DT  Rams

If he plays another game or two like the one he did in the Divisional Round, Suh’s price tag could skyrocket.

 

20  K.J. Wright

LB  Seahawks

Instinctive as a run-stopper and excellent in coverage, Wright looked good late in the season after missing 11 games with a lingering knee injury.

 

21  Za’Darius Smith

OLB  Ravens

PFF credited Smith with 10 sacks, 17 QB hits and 33 hurries in the regular season, which is monster production for someone with 690 snaps. He plays with laudable fury.

 

22  Ezekiel Ansah

DE  Lions

One of the toughest players to evaluate in free agency. The Lions spent hefty franchise-tag money on a guy with just 662 snaps combined over the last two years.

 

23  Daryl Williams

OT  Panthers

Good tackles are so hard to find in free agency that Williams, a second-team All Pro in 2017, should still inspire plenty of interest despite missing nearly all of this season with a knee injury.

 

24 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

S  Redskins

The Packers’ opinion of Clinton-Dix and his so-so time in Washington after being traded there by Green Bay this season might have him pegged as just an above-average starting safety, but that should be worth something on the open market.

 

25  Brandon Graham

DE  Eagles

This ranking may look disrespectful for a player of Graham’s caliber, but the track record of betting on soon-to-be 31-year-old pass rushers in free agency is rough.

 

Notable omissions (in alphabetical order):

 

Matt Paradis, C, Broncos

Kwon Alexander, LB, Buccaneers

Randall Cobb, WR, Packers

Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons

Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots

Jordan Hicks, LB, Eagles

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints

Kareem Jackson, CB, Texans

Ja’Wuan James, OT, Dolpins

Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos

Rodger Saffold, OG, Rams

Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens

Golden Tate, WR, Eagles

 

 

2019 DRAFT

In all likelihood, you can scratch Mississippi State DT JEFFREY SIMMONS from the list of first round picks.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Projected first-round Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons suffered a brutal workout injury.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that Simmons tore his ACL doing a routine drill during a workout, per a source informed of the situation. The DT will undergo surgery.

 

ESPN first reported the injury.

 

Simmons was barred from attending the NFL Scouting Combine stemming from a 2016 arrest after a physical altercation with a woman. Simmons was charged with simple assault and disturbing the peace and pleaded no contest.

 

The 21-year-old racked up 157 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and six passes defended in three seasons at Mississippi State and was projected as a top-10 pick by some draft analysts earlier this offseason.

 

The injury will likely sink Simmons’ value further.

 

@LanceZierlein

 Reached out to several NFL executives about Mississippi state DT Jefferey Simmons. I’ve had four responses so far, and all four say he will fall out of the first round due to his torn ACL.

 

When you already would have had to sell the pick on personal conduct grounds, a bad injury makes Simmons a non-starter early in the draft in the DB’s opinion.