The Daily Briefing Friday, February 17, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com with lists of possible big cuts coming up in the next few weeks.  First in the NFC:

 

Strong candidates for release

 

1) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: This is not the first offseason with Peterson’s future in doubt. Even before Peterson named some potential landing spots on ESPN or broke down the Giants’ offseason on Twitter Rapsheet style, it was obvious the Vikings couldn’t bring him back on his $18 million cap figure.

 

Peterson knows a pay cut is coming, yet it’s inevitable that things get awkward when he finds out how steep that pay cut is. The NFL just doesn’t pay for soon-to-be 32-year-old runners coming off injury who don’t play on passing downs. An uncomfortable fit with Sam Bradford’s shotgun-heavy tendencies, this finally feels like the year Peterson charges ahead to another team.

 

2) Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota Vikings: My editors learned this week that teams can cut former first-round picks heading into their “fifth-year option” season with no cap repercussions. Yes, that makes these options even more precarious than the usual management-friendly NFL contracts written in erasable ink. Floyd, due $6.76 million, played only one game in 2016 after knee surgery and coach Mike Zimmer didn’t hide his frustration in response. (Hiding frustration is not Zimmer’s strong suit.)

 

3) Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: Chicago’s tortured season-ticket base might revolt if the Bears bring Cutler back again. The concept that the team could retain him is likely a bid for leverage, an effort to extract a low draft pick as compensation for this hollow era in franchise history. It’s a hopeless stance the Bears should give up on before free agency starts.

 

4) Lamarr Houston, OLB and 5) Eddie Royal, WR, Chicago Bears: Two ACL tears in three seasons should spell the end of Houston’s hard-luck time in Chicago. The team is reasonably deep with edge rushers. The Bears paid Royal, Cutler’s old buddy, a lot of guap the last two seasons for 18 combined games and 607 receiving yards.

 

6) Connor Barwin, DE, 7) Ryan Mathews, RB and 8) Jason Kelce, C, Philadelphia Eagles: Get ready for Howie Roseman Season. Barwin and Mathews are near-certain goners, clearing the deck for some big-ticket signings. Cutting them both would save nearly $12 million in cap room. Barwin said he is willing to take a pay cut to stay, but he doesn’t fit Jim Schwartz’s defense. Kelce would be tougher to release, but he’s due $5 million and coach Doug Pederson said last season he wouldn’t hesitate to play 2016 third-round draft pick Isaac Seumalo at center. General manager Howie Roseman was noncommittal when asked about Kelce’s future in January.

 

9) Doug Free, OT, Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones always wriggles free of the Cowboys’ salary-cap issues and will no doubt do it again with restructured contracts and other creative accounting tricks. Cutting loose Free to save $5 million after a down season for the 33-year-old right tackle also makes sense.

 

10) Jairus Byrd, S, New Orleans Saints: Not long ago, he was ranked No. 1 on our list of top free agents. It’s telling that Byrd’s nondescript 2016 season felt like a victory for the Saints, just because he stayed on the field. Few entrenched NFL operatives pile up dead money for free agency mistakes like Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis.

 

11) Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: Whether Kaepernick opts out of his contract or the 49ers release him, there’s no chance the QB will return at his $19,365,753 cap number. It would be surprising if an organization starting from scratch again held on to such a vital reminder of the Jim Harbaugh era.

 

Romo gets his own category

 

If this offseason is one big Tony Romo speculation game, it’s only just reached the second quarter. Since so much has been written already, I’ll keep this brief. Romo is still more likely to be traded than released because of the desperate quarterback situations around the league. The clearest path toward Romo getting cut is if he pushes for it to speed up the process. Perhaps that’s where his close relationship with the Jones family helps, like it did when he signed his last contract.

 

Potential surprises

 

1) Jason Peters, OT and 2) Mychal Kendricks, LB, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are caught in a tough spot with Peters. His play is declining at 35 years old, but do they really want to create a hole at tackle by releasing him? (Lane Johnson would likely move to left tackle, but the team would need to find a new right tackle.)

 

ESPN reported the Eagles already asked Peters to take a pay cut and teams don’t usually go that route unless they are prepared to make a change. PhillyVoice.com reported that Kendricks, a promising young linebacker, is on the trade block. The Eagles should be able to get at least a late-round pick for him if they are patient.

 

3) DeAndre Levy, LB and 4) Haloti Ngata, DT, Detroit Lions: General manager Bob Quinn has plenty of cap room, so either of these moves would be surprising — yet understandable. Levy has barely played the last two seasons and wasn’t his usual self in 2016 when he did suit up. The fact that the previous regime, not Quinn, signed both players puts them on the radar.

 

5) Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers: Coach Ron Rivera spoke about Stewart in the future tense this offseason and the Panthers have plenty of cap room, so releasing Stewart would be an upset. He wasn’t the problem in the Carolina backfield last season, but he is due more than $6 million in total compensation, so a release couldn’t be a total shock.

 

6) Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Martin’s suspension could strangely help him keep his roster spot. The team could evaluate Martin up close in the offseason before deciding how to proceed, but it would be stunning if he came back at his current $7 million salary. The team has too much leverage.

 

Other potential cuts

1) DeAngelo Hall, S, Washington Redskins: The team could work out a pay cut for Hall, who has missed most of the last three seasons. Or they could decide it’s not worth the trouble.

 

2) Michael Oher, OT, Carolina Panthers: General manager Dave Gettleman raised questions about Oher’s football future after a concussion sidelined him most of last season.

 

3) Ahmad Brooks, LB and 4) Zane Beadles, OG, San Francisco 49ers: Brooks has survived four head-coaching changes in San Francisco despite a sketchy off-field track record and declining play. That should change with his cap figure at $6.148 million. Beadles is a reminder of why general manager Trent Baalke lost his job.

 

5) Brian Robison, DE, Minnesota Vikings: After 10 seasons in Minnesota, Robison said he was ready to move into a backup role behind Danielle Hunter. He could be back at a reduced salary.

 

6) Justin Bethel, CB, Arizona Cardinals: It’s never a great sign when the head coach calls you a “failure in progress.”

 

7) Lance Kendricks, TE, Los Angeles Rams: Well-respected by the organization, Kendricks’ production doesn’t match his salary.

 

8) Alterraun Verner, CB, 9) George Johnson, DE and 10) Evan Smith, C, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: These are three free agency ghosts of the Buccaneers’ recent past who are likely to be put out to sea.

 

And in the AFC:

 

Strong candidates for release

 

1) Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: It can get awkward when a franchise legend’s salary-cap number exceeds his value. Charles has played only eight games over the last two seasons because of knee injuries, and general manager John Dorsey is digging for cap room. The team can save $6.187 million by cutting Charles, money that can be used to sign safety Eric Berry.

 

2) Darrelle Revis, CB and 3) Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets: The Revis reunion tour has churned out diminishing hits and acrimony. There’s no chance the Jets want an encore with Revis set to make a quarterback’s salary in 2017. If Revis is the best Jets draft pick this century (14th overall in 2007), Mangold (29th overall in 2006) might be No. 2. The team can save $9.075 million by releasing the 33-year-old center, who missed half of last season with an ankle injury. GM Mike Maccagnan should embrace a rebuild.

 

4) Mario Williams, DE and 5) Branden Albert, LT, Miami Dolphins: This is the second straight year Williams has made this list as a near-certainty to get cut. That’s a sign that his career is nearly over, unless he wants to continue playing at a drastically reduced salary. Unlike Williams, Albert was a terrific free-agent signing by Miami. But that signing happened in 2014, and the Dolphins have since stumbled upon a future star left tackle in Laremy Tunsil. Albert’s play tailed off in 2016, and the team can save $7.2 million in cap room by cutting him.

 

(UPDATE: NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reports the Dolphins are releasing both Williams and Albert.)

 

6) Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson talking up RGIII in public is understandable. Browns fans trying to convince themselves Griffin is a palatable option again is much harder to understand. This move needs to happen for my friend Marc Sessler’s sanity, if nothing else.

 

7) Nick Foles, QB, Kansas City Chiefs: Fun fact: Foles is due $6.4 million in 2017 compensation, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, which would rank 28th among quarterbacks. Tom Brady is No. 22 on that list. Football is strange.

 

(Also strange: It’s easy to imagine Foles starting in Week 1 for a team like the Bills, Jets or Bears. Garafolo reports the Chiefs are unlikely to pick up the option in Foles’ contract.)

 

8) Elvis Dumervil, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Dumervil arrived in Baltimore just after the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, having left Denver just before the Broncos’ two Super Bowl appearances. Perhaps that’s why such an excellent career (99 sacks, two first-team All-Pro nods) has been so overlooked. GM Ozzie Newsome has a lot of work to do on the Ravens’ defense, and dodging Dumervil’s $8.375 million cap figure is one obvious place to start.

 

9) Adam Jones, CB and 10) Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati Bengals: Jones’ latest off-field issue and Maualuga’s on-field limitations could mean the end in Cincinnati for two longtime defensive stalwarts.

 

11) Jared Odrick, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars: Odrick has the second-highest cap figure ($8.5 million) on the Jaguars — and he probably would be best used as a rotational defensive end.

 

12) Russell Okung, LT, Denver Broncos: John Elway has until March 8 to pick up $19.5 million guaranteed over the next two years of Okung’s contract, an option the team almost surely will decline. The offensive line has vexed Elway for a few years now, especially at tackle.

 

13) Brandon Flowers, CB and 14) D.J. Fluker, OG, Los Angeles Chargers: Flowers has suffered four concussions the last three seasons and said in January he’s “got to pray about” the possibility of retiring. Fluker was GM Tom Telesco’s first draft pick with the organization, but no amount of loyalty should make the team pay him $8.8 million on the fifth-year option it exercised last year. Cutting pricey free-agent pickup guard Orlando Franklin could also be a possibility.

 

The Tyrod dilemma

Sanity can still prevail in Buffalo with what NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport called the “very real” possibility that Tyrod Taylor stays with the team on an adjusted contract. Taylor fits new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s scheme well, and the Bills are unlikely to find a better quarterback in free agency or on the trade market.

 

Still, there’s a chance that the Bills will cut Taylor before the March 11 deadline to exercise an option that would guarantee him $30.75 million. The Browns, among other teams, could be waiting in the wings to see if Buffalo GM Doug Whaley completes his quest to rid the Bills of any competent quarterbacks.

 

Potential surprise names

 

1) Brandon Marshall, WR and 2) David Harris, LB, New York Jets: Marshall’s salary ($7.5 million) isn’t outrageous for a solid starting receiver, which Marshall should be in 2017. The question is whether Marshall will get in the way of younger players, specifically Robby Anderson. Harris has long been an unheralded rock for the Jets and should only be released if Mike Maccagnan goes Full Rebuild.

 

3) LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills (and possibly other high-priced teammates): This would admittedly be a stunning move, but bear with my logic.

 

McCoy is a very awkward fit in new coordinator Rick Dennison’s one-cut running attack. The Bills could decide to risk letting McCoy go a year too early rather than hold on to him a year too long. If the team designates McCoy a post-June 1 cut, they get $6.25 million in cap room and — more importantly — save $6 million in cash to spend elsewhere. The Bills have a number of high-priced players who may no longer work with the new coaching staff. Tight end Charles Clay is paid like a superstar for role-player production, although his contract makes him difficult to cut. Defensive end Jerry Hughes and defensive tackle Kyle Williams are also questionable fits with new coach Sean McDermott. GM Doug Whaley may be loath to blow this team up because of the dead money involved, but there’s a case to be made to start clearing the decks.

 

4) Jason McCourty, CB, Tennessee Titans: This would be a surprise primarily because he’s the only guy you know in the Tennessee secondary.

 

Other potential cuts

 

1) Danny Amendola, WR and 2) Sebastian Vollmer, RT, New England Patriots: Amendola is like a groundhog that only comes out on Super Bowl Sundays. He will have to take a pay cut for a third straight offseason to stick in Foxborough. Vollmer is a wonderful German teacher and host, but the Patriots have committed to right tackle Marcus Cannon long term, while Vollmer missed 2016.

 

3) Sen’Derrick Marks, DT and 4) Davon House, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars: These defenders might not get the playing time to warrant their big salaries.

 

5) Arthur Jones, DT, Indianapolis Colts: Look for a lot of ex-GM Ryan Grigson’s signings to leave the building.

 

6) Ryan Clady, LT and 7) Marcus Gilchrist, S, New York Jets: Did I mention the Jets are rebuilding?

 

(UPDATE: Clady is a free agent, as the Jets won’t be picking up his option for 2017, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported. Clady was due $10 million this upcoming season.)

 

8) Benjamin Watson, TE, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens may also ask tight end Dennis Pitta to take a pay cut in order to return.

 

9) Shareece Wright, CB and 10) Kyle Arrington, CB, Baltimore Ravens: It’s hard to overstate how many areas on defense the Ravens need to address this offseason. Cornerback is near the top of the list, and it’s possible the team could move on from safety Lardarius Webb, too.

 

11) Dan Williams, NT, Oakland Raiders: Conditioning issues have plagued the nose tackle, who is getting starter money for a part-time role.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The two top execs of the authority running the Vikings new stadium have resigned after too many of their friends and family watched games in luxury suites.  The AP also seems to say that fact that they were Democrats in a state with a legislature in Republican hands seems to be a factor.:

 

The two top leaders of the authority overseeing the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium resigned abruptly Thursday after weeks of criticism over the questionable use of luxury suites by officials’ family and friends, a practice that auditors labeled an ethical violation.

 

Authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen announced her resignation first in a Thursday morning letter, saying it was in the public interest for her to step down from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Hours later, executive director Ted Mondale announced his own exit as top Republicans charting massive changes to stadium governance ramped up calls for him to also step aside.

 

The pair, and the authority as a whole, had been taking heat for months since their use of two luxury suites was first reported by the Star Tribune. A recent report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor last week found that nearly half of the tickets for those two suites were issued to friends and family members of top oversight officials, including Kelm-Helgen and Mondale.

 

“If I could go back and start over again, MSFA would have had a public discussion on the use of these suites and forbid the use of them by family and friends from the start,” Kelm-Helgen wrote.

 

Their departure leaves a leadership vacuum at the oversight board as Minnesota gears up to host the 2018 Super Bowl.

 

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed them both. And while he said he didn’t ask for either resignation, he credited them for recognizing their continued roles on the authority would “be a detriment.”

 

Kelm-Helgen repeatedly apologized to legislators during a hearing on the audit last week, but she and Mondale also defended the practice as commonplace among stadiums around the country.

 

No state laws were broken, but the auditor’s report said the practice violated a “core ethical principle” and that the marketing purpose of inviting friends, family and certain government employees to games and special events wasn’t clear. Several Democratic officials paid $200 or more back to the authority for games they attended after the Star Tribune first wrote about the scandal.

 

The authority has since changed its rules to bar the practice.

 

Republican legislators have been pursuing major changes to the authority’s structure. A bill that would drastically reshape the authority by giving the Legislature the power to appoint most of its members and eliminating Kelm-Helgen’s salary was due for another hearing Thursday afternoon.

 

Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Plymouth Republican behind that bill, said both officials’ resignations were the right move. But she called it “the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing the problems” at the oversight board, and said the four remaining authority commissioners should consider following suit. .

 

“Given the actions of Ms. Kelm-Helgen and Mr. Mondale, hopefully they take that as motivation,” Anderson said.

 

Dayton said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll appoint an interim chair once Kelm-Helgen formally departs in early March. But he bristled at the suggestion that the remaining authority members should also be removed, calling it an unfounded step for the new, $1.1 billion stadium, which just hosted its first NFL season.

 

“We need the stability of the existing members of the board to carry this thing forward,” the Democratic governor said.

 

The legislative auditor noted that lawmakers may have let their oversight of the authority slip. A panel charged with overseeing construction and operation of the stadium met just once in 2016, and Republicans have not yet appointed any members for 2017.

 

Anderson said they may have “took things for granted” that the stadium was being run properly.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Ed Werder of ESPN.com packs a lot of info from TONY ROMO’s mind into 140 characters:

 

Werder @Edwerderespn

Source says Tony Romo expecting release, not trade, and believes he can start as #NFL QB 2-3 more seasons despite turning 37, injury history

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Kevin Patra at NFL.com on WR MICHAEL THOMAS, the best rookie receiver in the NFL in 2016:

 

Michael Thomas is a stud.

 

The New Orleans Saints receiver spent his rookie season slicing up defensive backs to the tune of 92 receptions, 1,137 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Those are all Saints franchise rookie records and the second-most yards for a rookie wideout in NFL history.

 

Taken in the second round of the 2016 draft (the sixth receiver off the board), Thomas earned nearly double the yards of the next closest rookie receiver (Sterling Shepard, 683). The 6-foot-3 ball-snatcher wasn’t just best in his class, but immediately shoved his name among the top receivers in the entire NFL. Thomas finished in the top 10 in receptions, yards and touchdowns for receivers in 2016. Oh, and he did that all while still missing one game.

 

Simple stats not enough for you? Fine. How about Next Gen Stats? As NFL.com colleague Matt Harmon pointed out, Thomas finished seventh in the NFL on catches in tight coverage, with a 56 percent catch rate on balls with less than one yard of separation. The Saints receiver also finished seventh among No. 1 receivers in separation per target — generating 2.38 yards of separation. Combine those stats and you can see that Thomas not only can make contested catches, but also can burn corners with crisp routes.

 

Thomas owns the complete package: size, speed after the catch, hands in tight coverage, high-point ability and route-running acumen.

 

Despite the accolades, adoring praise (like the gushing five paragraphs above), and adulation from Saints fans, Thomas intends to keep himself grounded entering his second season.

 

Speaking with Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday, Thomas said his goal is to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

 

“I’m doing a little bit of everything, and just staying honest and staying on my grind,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of receivers that have probably had good rookie years if you check the history and don’t follow up with it, so I never want to be that guy.”

 

The nephew of Keyshawn Johnson certainly knows his NFL history. The NFL is littered with bright flames that quickly sputtered out. In the early 2000s, players like Roy Williams, Antonio Bryant or Michael Clayton put up good rookie seasons only to struggle in their second year.

 

Players of Thomas’ talents, however, are rarely subdued simply because defenses get more tape on them. Recent history tells us that a player putting up Michael Thomas-type rookie years (Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry) continue to produce.

 

Thomas’ scorching play down the stretch (even though he missed Week 14 with a foot injury) is an indicator of his potential growth from Year 1 to Year 2.

 

“Once I start adding more value and getting more stuff on my plate, I just kept becoming more and more responsible, and just kept my head down at the end of the season. I was able to put up the numbers I did,” Thomas said of his rookie season. “But also remember that I missed one game, so I just have to figure out to stay healthy all 16 games, then I probably could have a better season.”

 

With Drew Brees still under center, the Saints will continue to sling the ball all over the field and Thomas will have plenty of chances to dash any worries of a sophomore slump.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Alden Gonzalez at ESPN.com on the positive step being taken by QB JARED GOFF during his time off:

 

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, coming off a trying rookie season, has been working with noted quarterback coaches Tom House and Adam Dedeaux.

 

House and Dedeaux run 3DQB, a quarterback training facility based in Los Angeles. And one of their many notable clients is reigning MVP Matt Ryan.

 

Matt LaFleur, the Rams’ new offensive coordinator, spent the past couple of years as Ryan’s quarterbacks coach and is happy to see Goff receive similar instruction.

 

“I’ve seen the benefits,” LaFleur said while meeting with Rams reporters on Thursday. “What those guys do is pretty valuable, and it’s not always obviously with the time constraints that we can work with these guys. And I think they offer some things that maybe we can’t as coaches, from just a strength and conditioning standpoint in terms of how these guys train and keep their core strong, keep their shoulders strong.

 

“You’re talking about a long season for these quarterbacks. I didn’t see Matt Ryan fall off from day one to the Super Bowl. His arm strength was as good as it was at the end of the season. I think a lot of that was a credit to how he trained.”

 

LaFleur, who began his new job on Monday, indicated that Goff is still “experimenting” with his offseason program and that working with House and Dedeaux took place before LaFleur even joined the Rams.

 

MMQB.com earlier reported that Goff had been working out with House and Dedeaux.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Mike McCoy, back as OC in Denver, may be just the ticket for QBs TREVOR SIEMIAN and PAXTON LYNCH.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The Broncos re-hiring of Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator might have been the best non-head coaching move by a new staff this offseason, in part because of McCoy’s flexibility as a playcaller and Denver’s uncertainty at the position.

 

In a recent interview, McCoy made it clear that both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch would be served well in his system.

 

“I’ve worked with all kinds of quarterbacks,” McCoy told ESPN.com. “I think we can make an offense that works for all our quarterbacks. I think I can make any of our quarterbacks better and adjust to what they do best.”

 

The reality is that McCoy is coming off a bit of an awkward situation. He was let go by another team in the division after finishing in last place for the second season in a row. His fate was sealed when the Chargers became the first and only team to lose to the woeful Cleveland Browns at the end of the season. He told KUSA-TV in Denver last week that he’d still like to be a head coach at some point, but that he’s solely focused on getting the Broncos’ offense on track.

 

“Sure I’d love to,” McCoy said. “But I’ll say this: I am 100 percent committed to doing whatever we can from this day forward to having a great offense. And most importantly help our team win. That’s my No. 1 focus.

 

“I am so excited to be here and that’s why I made the decision to come here because of the opportunity to work with Vance Joseph, John Elway, Mr. Bowlen, the Denver Broncos organization and all our fans. I owe it to all those people to go out there and get this offense rolling and do whatever it takes to get back to the top.”

 

I think McCoy is smart enough to know that accomplishing goal No. 1 — making either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch a quarterback capable of bringing this team to the playoffs — will eventually lead to goal No. 2 — becoming a head coach again. Just as McCoy’s time in Denver, which saw him rotate from a collegiate-style Tim Tebow offense to a high-flying Peyton Manning system, led to his first foray into the coaching world, solving Denver’s current quarterback conundrum could lead to a second.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Former sports agent Joel Corry floats a trade of damaged superstars.

 

Shaquille O’Neal. Alex Rodriguez. Miguel Cabrera. Kevin Garnett. Ken Griffey Jr. These baseball and basketball superstars of the 21st century were traded during their careers. Blockbuster trades involving superstars occur with more regularity in these sports than in the NFL.

 

Trading J.J. Watt might be given serious consideration if the Texans were an MLB or NBA team. On the surface, it seems like a ludicrous concept. Watt has won three of the past five NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, including consecutive honors in 2014 and ‘15. He is the only player ever to have multiple seasons with 20 or more sacks. Watt is the closest thing to a modern day Reggie White, who is arguably the greatest defensive football player of all-time.

 

Why trading Watt isn’t a crazy idea

The idea of putting Watt on the trading block was almost unthinkable before the 2016 season. Watt only played in the first three games because he suffered a setback in returning too quickly from the back surgery for a herniated disc he had right before the start of training camp. A second surgery was necessary. Watt announced during Super Bowl week he had finished rehabbing his back and was cleared to resume football activities.

 

The Texans defense didn’t collapse during his lengthy absence. Healthy for the first time, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney started living up to the potential that made him the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Surprisingly, The Texans gave up the fewest yards in the NFL last season.

 

A strong defense carried a weak offense, which ranked 29th in total yards, to a second straight AFC South title despite a negative-49 point differential for the season. The Texans defeated a depleted Raiders squad in a wild-card game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl LI champion Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.

 

The Texans haven’t been legitimate Super Bowl contenders since Watt was taken with the 2011 draft’s 11th overall pick. Getting past the divisional round of the playoffs hasn’t happened despite Watt’s dominance. The playoffs have been missed twice, including during one of his Defensive Player of the Year seasons.

 

Since the defense is already formidable, dealing Watt might be a quick way to take the Texans to the next level by acquiring draft picks to improve a subpar offense.

 

Watt has five years left on the six-year, $100 million contract extension he received before the 2014 season, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback upon signing. He is scheduled to make a fully guaranteed $10.5 million next season. His unguaranteed 2018, ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21 salaries are $11 million, $13 million, $15.5 million and $17.5 million.

 

Watt is a tremendous bargain financially with $67.5 million over the remaining five years of his contract. Only $34.5 million is in the next three years.

 

Watt has a $14.5 million 2017 salary cap number. A total of $4.5 million of cap space would be gained by trading Watt. The Texans would be left with a $10 million cap charge for Watt because $6 million of bonus proration from his 2018 and ‘19 contract years would immediately accelerate onto Houston’s books.

 

The Texans are currently projected to have $25 million to $30 million of 2017 cap room depending where the salary cap is set. The NFL’s preliminary projections put the cap at between $166 million and $170 million.

 

Trading Watt would eliminate a looming financial quandary for the Texans. Clowney will likely receive an extension before the start of the 2018 regular season. Six defensive players have already surpassed Watt in the NFL’s salary hierarchy. He will continue to drop as more players that can consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, such as Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones and Khalil Mack, sign new contracts.

 

Clowney’s deal would also be among those that should eclipse Watt. This will likely be problematic if Watt is anything close to his previous form in the future. The Texans would have to adjust or renegotiate Watt’s contract with multiple years remaining as well to avoid having a disgruntled cornerstone of the franchise.

 

So what’s Watt’s trade value?

I consulted several NFL executives I have good relationships with to get a sense of the type of compensation the Texans might receive in a Watt trade. Their responses were made only under the condition of anonymity because commenting in this manner on a player under contract to another team probably runs afoul of the NFL’s anti-tampering policy.

 

The executives generally thought the idea has merit but had a hard time putting a value on Watt because players of his caliber don’t get traded in the NFL.

 

The consensus was Watt’s value would be more than teams received in substantial trades of veteran non-quarterbacks over the past decade provided concerns about his back injury could be alleviated. “Some of the picks would have to be conditional because backs can be tricky,” said one executive.

 

In 2008, the Chiefs received a first-round pick (15th overall) and two third-round picks in that year’s draft from the Vikings for defensive end Jared Allen, who had been given a franchise tag. A swap of 2008 sixth-round picks was also a part of the trade. The Vikings were on the receiving end of picks in 2013 when wide receiver Percy Harvin was dealt to the Seahawks — a ‘13 first-round pick (25th overall), a ‘13 seventh-round pick and a ‘14 third-round pick. Cornerback Darrelle Revis was also dealt from the Jets to the Buccaneers in 2013 for ‘13 first-round (13th overall) and ‘14 fourth-round picks when he was coming off an ACL tear that limited him to two games during the 2012 season.

 

New contracts were a part of the process in each of these instances. Another executive thought it would be necessary to give Watt a new deal again making him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback once he demonstrated he was the same player he was before the back procedures.

 

A different executive said, “It would take at least two firsts for Houston to consider it and that still might not be enough.” He also thought the compensation wouldn’t be much different than what franchise quarterbacks, who are never dealt, would command. The closest comparison is the Broncos getting quarterback Kyle Orton, a 2009 first-round pick (18th overall), a ‘10 first-round pick (11th overall) and a ‘09 third-round pick in exchange for a young Jay Cutler and a ‘09 fifth-round pick.

 

The most interesting concept mentioned was accepting less compensation back in return by requiring the acquiring team to also take Brock Osweiler’s contract off the Texans’ hands. The Texans gave Osweiler a four-year, $72 million deal containing $37 million fully guaranteed at the start of free agency last year after just seven career starts. Osweiler ranked near the bottom in a majority of major statistical categories in 2016 before losing his starting job to Tom Savage when he was pulled from Week 15’s contest against the Jaguars. Savage suffering a concussion paved the way for Osweiler to return to the lineup in time for the playoffs.

 

Osweiler’s $16 million 2017 base salary was fully guaranteed at the signing. His cap number for next season is $19 million. The Texans would be left with just a $9 million cap charge from Osweiler’s $12 million signing bonus by miraculously moving his contract.

 

This would mean a renegotiated contract averaging over $20 million per year with at least $75 million in overall guarantees.

 

Would Watt for Gronkowski make sense?

I also posed one specific trade scenario to the executives centered on the Texans shipping Watt to the Patriots for Rob Gronkowski, who is clearly the best tight end in football when healthy. Gronkowski can no longer be considered indispensable to New England’s success after the Super Bowl was won without him. He was lost late in the season to a back injury requiring his third back surgery. He was limited to just eight games because he was also slowed by an early-season hamstring problem.

 

The idea received mixed reviews.

 

“I can’t imagine the teams making this trade. Gronkowski’s back and injury history scares me much more than Watt’s,” said an executive.

 

Another executive was intrigued by it. He thought more than New England’s 2017 first-round pick (32nd overall) would be required in addition to Gronkowski for the deal to make sense for the Texans but didn’t specify what else would be necessary. Putting a franchise tag on tight end Martellus Bennett for almost $10 million or finding a replacement in the 2017 draft would have added importance if New England was willing to part ways with the four-time first-team All-Pro.

 

Before last season, Gronkowski was reportedly unhappy with the six-year, $54 million extension he signed in 2012 to become the NFL’s highest-paid tight end by average yearly salary. He has three years left on his contract for $24 million. Since Gronkowski’s 2017 salary is $5 million, the Texans would only be losing $500,000 cap-wise in the trade.

 

Taking on Watt’s contract would not be a problem for New England. The Patriots are expected to have over $60 million in cap room.

 

Final thoughts on any Watt deal

The odds of Watt actually getting traded are remote. The price would be too steep for most teams, especially with the uncertainty of his future performance because of his back issues. The prospect of giving Watt a new contract is additional complication.If Watt picks up where he left off when last healthy in 2015, the Texans potentially have one of the most dominant defenses in recent history. It still probably won’t be enough to turn the Texans into legitimate playoff contenders unless Houston gets improved quarterback play and the offense starts holding up its end of the bargain.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins are trying to peddle T BRANDEN ALBERT.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The Miami Dolphins will hand their left tackle job to 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil.

 

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Thursday that the Dolphins are finished with veteran Branden Albert and will look to trade the tackle before releasing him, per a source informed of the situation. The Dolphins are also slated to release pass rusher Mario Williams, Garafolo added.

 

Albert signed a five-year contract, worth $47 million, in 2014. The 32-year-old had two years remaining on the deal. Moving Albert will save the Dolphins $7.2 million on the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com.

 

Albert never played 16 games in three seasons in Miami, including missing four starts last season. The nagging injuries were one cause of the Dolphins’ continual struggles to find consistency along an offensive line that struggled during Albert’s stint in Miami.

 

The left tackle hits the open market coming off a down season — for reference, Pro Football Focus rated him their 65th best offensive tackle in 2016. However, in a league with a dearth of competent left tackles, the two-time Pro Bowler (most recently in 2015) should see some action on the open market.

 

The Dolphins hand the blindside reins to Tunsil, who spent some time in 2016 filling in for Albert at left tackle. The No. 13 overall pick spent most of his rookie season at guard.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com wonders what the Patriots will do with LB DON’TA HIGHTOWER:

 

Wednesday marks the first day that NFL teams can assign the franchise or transition tag on players, and the primary question with the New England Patriots is if the team does so with linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

 

A few key points:

 

The window to tag players extends from Feb. 15 to March 1

 

Teams can use only one tag each offseason

 

There are two types of franchise tags: non-exclusive (most common) and exclusive

 

The transition tag is a lesser option that is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position and allows the team right of first refusal on any offer a free agent might receive

 

What will the Patriots do with Hightower? Let’s break down the options.

 

Case for assigning Hightower the franchise tag

Hightower’s value to the Patriots was highlighted with his exceptional second-half performance in Super Bowl LI. He’s a defensive captain, signal-caller, and is in his prime (turning 27 in March), which are all positives when it comes to a team making a big financial investment. Using the tag would essentially ensure his return in 2017 (it’s hard to imagine a team signing him to an offer sheet and giving up draft-pick compensation if the Patriots don’t match), which should help the defense continue to make positive strides after its strong finish to the 2016 season. While the goal would be a longer-term contract extension, the Patriots could use the tag to buy more time to strike that deal, similar to what they did with Vince Wilfork in 2010. One issue, however, is that Hightower might be more inclined to play on the one-year tag with a chance to hit the open market again in 2018.

 

Case for not assigning Hightower the franchise tag:

While the exact franchise-tag figure for linebackers is yet to be determined — it can’t be calculated until the NFL officially sets the salary cap — it is expected to be in the range of $14.5 million to $15 million. That’s a significant number which would rank No. 1 on the team ahead of quarterback Tom Brady ($14 million) and left tackle Nate Solder ($11.1 million). Absorbing that cap charge, despite the Patriots’ abundant cap space, could restrict their ability to make some other moves they would otherwise have the flexibility to make. When safety Devin McCourty was a free agent two years ago, the Patriots elected against using the franchise tag to avoid a large one-year cap charge, then entered a competitive open-market situation before signing him to a long-term deal at the last moment. That could be their thinking with Hightower as well if they choose this route.

 

Case for assigning Hightower the transition tag

Because the franchise tag figure is projected to be in the $14.5-15 million range, the transition tag would be a more affordable fallback option (projected to be in the $11 million range) for the team while it worked toward a potential long-term deal with Hightower. The transition tag would give the Patriots the right of first refusal on any contract Hightower might receive in free agency, thus providing the club some leverage. The potential issue, though, is that the team would be allowing another club to dictate terms of a contract it would be absorbing. Nonetheless, if the Patriots feel confident they are in position to match any offer — and feel the best strategic approach is to let the market dictate what Hightower ultimately receives — this could be the team’s best course of action.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Jets CB DARRELLE REVIS faces charges after a fight in Pittsburgh’s South Side, although it seems he might have had some provocation before he knocked two college-age kids unconscious.  Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:

 

Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was charged by Pittsburgh police on Thursday night with aggravated assault, robbery, terroristic threats and conspiracy stemming from his alleged involvement in a street altercation over the weekend that witnesses say left two men unconscious.

 

The incident occurred at 2:43 a.m. Sunday in Pittsburgh’s popular South Side. Two men, ages 22 and 21, told police they were punched by Revis amid a verbal altercation. Witnesses said the two men were unconscious for 10 minutes, according to police.

 

Revis, a four-time All-Pro who grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and starred at the University of Pittsburgh, required medical attention, his attorney, Blaine Jones, told ESPN. Jones declined to reveal the nature and severity of any injuries.

 

A Jets spokesman said Thursday that the team is aware of the incident and has spoken to Revis. There was no further comment.

 

According to police, a 22-year-old male from Kittanning, Pennsylvania, was walking on a street when he spotted someone who resembled Revis. He confronted Revis, who acknowledged his identity. At that point, the man began recording video on his cellphone and continued to follow the NFL star.

 

“At some point, Revis snatched the cellphone away and attempted to delete the video,” the police statement said.

 

Police say they obtained cellphone video of the weekend altercation and were able to identify Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

Revis tossed the cellphone on the street. A 21-year-old male from Ross Township, Pennsylvania, helped retrieve it. An argument ensued. An unidentified male came to help Revis. The other men told police they “were punched, then remember waking up to talk to police,” the police statement said.

 

Officers viewed the cellphone video at the scene and confirmed it was Revis.

 

Jones said Revis had returned home to Pittsburgh to visit family and friends and stopped by a location on the South Side that he’s in the process of developing. He said Revis was “physically assaulted while at the location by a group of at least five people.”

 

Jones said Revis still hasn’t been afforded a chance to give a statement to police.

 

“The bottom line is, Darrelle Revis was the victim in all of this,” Jones said in a phone interview. “He never went out to start a fight. He has stellar credibility.”

 

Jones said Revis was shoved by one of the men and attempted to walk away. The man who pushed Revis, he said, yelled at him. At that point, Revis knocked the cellphone out of the man’s hand, according to Jones.

 

“He feared for his safety,” Jones said of Revis.

 

Revis, one of the NFL’s most accomplished players, is facing an uncertain future with the Jets. After a disappointing season — he called it the worst of his career — the 31-year-old Revis could be a salary-cap casualty in the coming weeks; he’s due a $2 million roster bonus on March 11, plus another $13 million in base salary (including $6 million guaranteed).

 

Revis acknowledged he reported to training camp last season out of shape, contributing to his slow start. He has vowed to rebound in 2017, even saying he’s willing to switch to safety.

 

The Jets have been tight-lipped about Revis’ status, even before last weekend’s incident.

 

As one Jet comes into contact with the law, another takes a plea deal.  Darryl Slater at NJ.com:

 

Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins reached a plea deal Wednesday in his Florida driving under the influence case, according to Hillsborough County Court records.

 

Seferian-Jenkins pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of reckless driving. In November, he initially pleaded not guilty to a DUI first offense charge.

 

He will avoid jail time. He received one year of probation and 50 hours of community service. He also must pay $915 in fines and attend DUI prevention classes.

 

But Seferian-Jenkins could still be suspended by the NFL. Based on the league’s precedent with DUI cases, Seferian-Jenkins probably will face a two-game suspension next season, according to Pro Football Talk.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Daniel Jeremiah sings the praises of DE MYLES GARRETT who is likely to be the first player off the board.  Chase Goodbread at NFL.com:

 

To watch Myles Garrett play football is to know the Texas A&M star is a special athlete, but the NFL Scouting Combine will let NFL clubs and the public alike know just how special. One of the 2017 NFL Draft’s elite prospects, Garrett will have his athleticism measured in Indianapolis next month at the annual event, and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah expects nothing less than an exceptional performance.

 

“When you talk to the folks at Texas A&M, they tell you he is going to test like a freak. Now we’re going to get a chance to see him get out there, go through all these drills, put the watch on him, see how high he jumps, all those things. I expect him to just completely torch the combine,” Jeremiah told NFL Network’s Up to the Minute Live on Thursday. “He’s going to be outstanding in this area. He enters for me as the clear-cut best player in this draft, and I expect him to leave (the combine) as such. But it’s going to be fun to watch him put all those athletic skills on display.”

 

Combine testing includes the bench press (225-pound reps), 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and agility tests like the 3-cone drill and shuttle runs. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, Garrett has reportedly run under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and achieved 40 inches in vertical jump testing. For his size, those would be other-worldly numbers at the combine, particularly compared to others in his defensive line group.

 

The anticipation for Garrett’s workout could rival that of Jadeveon Clowney’s 2014 combine appearance, where he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at 266 pounds to lead all defensive linemen.

 

In describing Garrett’s playing style, Jeremiah mentioned nine-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers.

 

“You look at Von Miller, he bends different than anybody else in the NFL, so you can’t really compare him there. Khalil Mack is a little bit shorter, a little bit more compact, and more of a power-based rusher. (Garrett) kind of combines the two worlds,” Jeremiah said. “He can win with speed on the outside, but he also has that power to run right through a tackle. He’s got a very unique skill set (that) reminds me a little bit of Julius Peppers. … Peppers is a little bit heavier, but (has) a similar way of playing the game.”

 

If Garrett’s combine performance meets expectations, comparisons like those won’t stop anytime soon.