The Daily Briefing Thursday, March 1, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
RB MATT FORTE, who probably is in the Hall of the Very Good, hangs it up after 10 seasons. He does so with one very long paragraph:
For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old. But, after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL. Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room. I’m even more grateful that God blessed me with Gene and Gilda Forté, my two amazing parents that constantly supplied me with unending love, support, patience and motivation since I came into this world. I’ve become the man and father that I am today because of both of you. I am forever indebted to Jimmie and Dolores Daniels and the city of Chicago because not only did I get to live out my childhood dream in playing for the Bears, but also it was here where I fell in love with my beautiful wife, Danielle, and started a family of my own. I want to thank my agent, Adisa Bakari, for guidance throughout my career and preparing me for this moment and for life after football while still playing. It’s not often that you see an agent who cares about his clients beyond the contracts and field and for that, I appreciate you. I’d like to thank the New York Jets organization for the past two years. My experience as a Jet was truly first-rate. To all of my many coaches and teachers over the years, thank you for your dedication and commitment to my growth and success as a person and player. To the McCaskey family and the entire Chicago Bears organization, thank you for the honor of allowing me to be a part of the rich Chicago Bears tradition and to run in the footsteps of greats like Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Lastly, to all Chicago Bears fans, you’re truly the best fans in all of professional sports. Thank you for embracing my family and me from day one! The roar of the crowd at Soldier Field as I’d break a run or make a big catch will forever be ingrained in my mind. The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable. While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life, I am excited about what the future holds. God Bless and Bear Down!
We wondered where Forte ranked on the all-time scrimmage yards list among running backs? Top 20? Just barely. But he is in some pretty good company.
16 Jerome Bettis 15111
17 Ricky Watters 14891
18 Jim Brown 14811
19 Matt Forte 14468
20 Franco Harris 14407
21 Adrian Peterson 14291
It has been determined that QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER is indeed a free agent – and it looks like he will be on the market despite the love of the Vikings for him. Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
Just like Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater’s days with the Minnesota Vikings could be numbered.
The NFL elected not to toll the fifth-year quarterback’s contract for 2018, a league source said Tuesday. That would make Bridgewater a free agent on March 14 unless the Vikings negotiate a long-term extension for him, which seems highly unlikely at this late point.
The NFL Players Association was prepared to file a grievance on Bridgewater’s behalf if the NFL Management Council, which governs player contracts, tolled his $1.354 million contract over to 2018.
Bridgewater’s only game action since suffering a torn left ACL in August 2016 has been two series in mop-up duty in a 34-7 victory Dec. 17 over Cincinnati. Bridgewater, in the final year of his four-year rookie contract, was on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the 2017 season.
Article 20, Section 2 of the NFL collective bargaining agreement states: “Any player placed on a physically unable to perform list (PUP) will be paid his full … salary while on such list. His contract will not be tolled for the period he is on PUP, except in the last year of his contract, when the player’s contract will be tolled if he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game.”
NFL rules do not permit a player on the PUP list to practice or play in the first six weeks of the season. However, a source has said language in the CBA could be interpreted as to whether Bridgewater could have been physically able to perform in the first six weeks regardless of that rule.
Bridgewater returned to practice on Oct. 18, the first day he was eligible. He said on Oct. 19 that he could have returned a “couple of weeks” earlier had he been eligible.
On Monday, NFL Network reported the Vikings would not negotiate a contract extension for Keenum or place the franchise tag on him, which would have allowed the team to sign him for one season at about $23 million. He, too, is scheduled to become a free agent on March 14 after a career season in which he was 12-4 in 16 starts, 14 during the regular season and two in the playoffs.
The Vikings have given no indication what they plan to do with Bradford, who was their backup quarterback for both playoff games — not Bridgewater, their 2014 first-round draft pick.
“It happens,” Bridgewater told reporters on Jan. 22, one day after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Vikings in the NFC Championship game.
“In a perfect world, I would have loved to have been dressing. But I understand decisions were made to give this team the best chance to win. I understand that. I’m a pro. I know what it takes. It just happened, and I dealt with it.”
The Vikings don’t have any quarterbacks under contract for the 2018 season, though Bridgewater made it sound like he wouldn’t want to return to Minnesota as a backup.
Bridgewater said “without a question” he wants to be a starting quarterback next season.
Bridgewater suffered a near-catastrophic knee injury on Aug. 30, 2016, during a late preseason practice at Winter Park. He spent all of 2016 and most of 2017 rehabilitating.
In 2015, Bridgewater led the Vikings to the playoffs, completing 65 percent of 447 passes for 3,231 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“I feel great,” Bridgewater said last month. “Probably feel better than I have in a while. We’ll just see how the future plays out.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants are acting as if they don’t feel they have to draft a quarterback. First, this from GM Dave Gettleman. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley no doubt fits the well-rounded, running back prototype that Giants coach Pat Shurmur described Wednesday for a position he believes is critical to any offense.
“I think certainly I have a high opinion of what a running back brings to an offense, but I also have a very (strong belief) that that guy has to be able to run the ball, he has to be able to pass protect, and he has to be able to catch,” Shurmur said at the NFL Combine.
But it wasn’t totally clear if Shurmur thinks it’s wise to select a running back at No. 2 overall in April’s draft. And that is the question right now, isn’t it, as the Giants appear to be keeping their options open:
If GM Dave Gettleman and Shurmur don’t draft a quarterback, what will they do at two? Gettleman interestingly left the door open to a potential trade down in the first round.
“Are we open for business? Any decision I make’s gonna be in the best interest of the New York Football Giants, plain and simple,” Gettleman said. “So if someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse, would I move back? It depends upon who’s there.”
But the GM qualified that his decision will have everything to do with the answer to a simple question: Is there a future Hall of Famer, a “generational player” as Shurmur said, who is a can’t-miss star? Because if that player exists and he’s still on the board after Cleveland picks first, then it wouldn’t be a tough decision for Gettleman at all.
And this from Coach Pat Shurmur, caught at Bleacher Report:
New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur believes quarterback Eli Manning isn’t nearing the end of his time as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Per SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano, Shurmur said Manning has “years” left to be a starter.
Giants co-owner John Mara said in December when Dave Gettleman was hired as general manager that he felt Manning was still capable of playing good football.
“I think he can still play at a high level, but at the end of the day that’s gonna be a discussion between Dave, the new head coach and myself,” Mara said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.
Falcons GM Thomas Dmitroff signals the desire for an extension for QB MATT RYAN. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a contract that pays an average of more than $20 million per year. However, as more and more quarterbacks receive lucrative contracts, Ryan’s average annual salary slides farther and farther down the list.
Soon, he’ll be out of the top half of the league. With one year left on his current contract, the Falcons hope to get a new deal in place sooner than later.
During a Monday visit with PFT Live, Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff said that the team definitely prefers sooner, since doing a deal sooner will allow them to address other areas in free agency, because they’ll know exactly what will be devoted to Ryan under the cap in 2018 and beyond.
From Ryan’s perspective, however, he may want to go later, after guys like Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers sign their new contracts. The fact that Ryan’s agent, Tom Condon, also represents Brees gives Condon an easy way to tap the brakes on a deal for Ryan, at least until Brees is signed, sealed, and delivered to the Saints — or someone else.
Ryan, whose decade with the Falcons has directly been responsible for the team’s decade of relevance, surely will remain with the Falcons. But time is likely on his side at this point, in part because time isn’t on the team’s.
T ZACH STRIEF is close to retirement. Josh Katzenstein for the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
It sounds like the New Orleans Saints will be losing one of their top locker room leaders and one of the last remaining players from their Super Bowl roster this offseason.
Offensive tackle Zach Strief, 34, is expected to retire, according to a report from NFL Network on Wednesday.
Strief, a seventh-round pick in 2006, played 12 seasons for the Saints, but he appeared in just two games in 2017 before going on injured reserve in early October with a knee injury.
#Saints OT Zach Strief, a long-time stalwart on their O-line, is expected to retire, I’m told, though he has not made his choice public. This was the expectation and makes their pick of first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk more important than it already was.
Strief’s retirement would leave the Saints with just three players left from the 2009 Super Bowl team, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel and punter Thomas Morstead. Brees and Daniel are both free agents.
After the season ended, Strief said he would take some time to debate his options for the future.
“I think physically it’s something that I could do,” he said in January. “The reality of this job is that there’s as much mental preparation as physical, and I think the question will come down to more, ‘Am I mentally ready to do what’s necessary to play another season?'”
But, Strief faced physical obstacles to play in 2018, too. ESPN reported that Strief had surgery in November on his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, so he faced a painstaking recovery process this offseason if he hoped to return for the start of the regular season.
Are S TYRANN MATHIEU’s days with the Cardinals coming to an end? Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
The future of Honey Badger is in question during business season on the NFL calendar because, like many players, he has a key option in his contract coming up. Unlike others who could hit free agency, however, Mathieu is young, coming off a season where he led the league in total snaps and could be willing to bet on himself if the Cardinals choose not to pick up an option that guarantees him $19 million over the next two seasons.
“It’s a gamble and I’m taking all bets…. if I lose I vow to make it all back,” Mathieu cryptically wrote Tuesday on Twitter. And the 25-year-old offered additional commentary Wednesday:
It’s a business 😎 https://twitter.com/greggrosenthal/status/968892020508020736 …
I interpret those tweets as possibly meaning that Mathieu and his representatives could be unwilling to renegotiate the deal and take a pay cut in order to stay in Arizona. It’s hard to blame him for his confidence: If Mathieu is indeed released, he’ll be one of the top 10 unrestricted free agents available. Wednesday’s comments from Keim only bolstered the belief that the two sides could be headed for a staredown.
“What we’re doing right now with our coaching staff is looking not only at Tyrann but every player, and see how they fit,” Keim said when I asked whether the Cardinals are expecting Mathieu to be on the roster. “So how do they fit (with) what we’re asking them to do schematically, but (also) where they fit from a salary standpoint — all those things moving forward.
“There’s a lot of moving parts — what we’re potentially going to do in free agency, how that affects our cap situation — and I feel like we have a pretty good grasp on that.”
This would not have been a difficult question two seasons ago, before the Cardinals handed Mathieu a five-year contract. Mathieu was a transformative talent on and off the field, such a cornerstone that Arizona gave him a $62.5 million deal after his second torn ACL. But the Cardinals have since drafted safety Budda Baker, whom Keim called a “budding star” on Wednesday. Mathieu also lost a supporter and mentor in former coach Bruce Arians.
“You take a loss, then you have to embrace it,” Mathieu wrote after seeing Keim’s comments in Indy.
On a frantic day where we got a better idea of many potential veteran comings and goings throughout the league, it sure sounded like Mathieu could be headed elsewhere.
GM John Elway sounds willing to keep bringing in QBs until he gets it right. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
— “Life is too short to rebuild in the NFL” — John Elway, Denver Broncos general manager.
John Elway doesn’t want to tear down a championship football team. He wants to add one missing piece: quarterback.
The Broncos are poised to hit free agency targeting the biggest fish in the pond, Kirk Cousins. Elway plans to make a hard charge at quarterbacks hitting the open market before turning his attention to the draft if he strikes out.
“I think we are going to explore all options in free agency and see where that goes,” he said. “Obviously we’ve got the fifth pick in the draft too. So that will all play into it. So, we’ll continue to look at all the options out there when it comes to quarterback.”
Since landing Peyton Manning in free agency in 2012, Elway has struggled to unearth and develop a quarterback. He used a second-round pick on Brock Osweiler (2012), a seventh-round selection on Trevor Siemian (2015), and traded up to get Paxton Lynch in the first round (2016). None could help buoy a championship defense.
The misses at quarterback won’t deter Elway from swinging hard again.
“Believe me, I’m not done swinging and missing,” Elway said. “Misses don’t bother me. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it right.”
Swing one is Cousins.
Elway said he has the cap space to bring in a high-priced quarterback. The Broncos, however, will have competition for Cousins’ services from teams like the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets.
If he can’t land Cousins, other free-agent options include Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and AJ McCarron. Elway could also use the No. 5 overall pick on another rookie quarterback.
The Broncos will use the allure of a playoff-ready defense and two Pro Bowl caliber receivers to woo Cousins and others. Elway said Wednesday “the plan is” to bring back both Demaryius Thomas (picking up his option) and Emmanuel Sanders.
The Broncos GM is confident that if he can land a foundational quarterback, Denver can leap right back into the Super Bowl hunt.
“I still think we aren’t too far away,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got to get better at [the quarterback] position. We didn’t play well there last year — and that doesn’t go all on the players, there were some things we should have done differently that we didn’t do. I feel like we can get back in the thick of things rather quickly because we still have a good defensive football team. On the offense, we’re going to get better with Bill Musgrave being the offensive coordinator … Figure out what we do at the quarterback position. So, I’m excited about where we are and think we have a chance to get back in the thick of things quickly.”
Jerry McDonald of BayAreaNewsGroup.com says Jon Gruden is hanging on to WR MICHAEL CRABTREE.
Not so fast on Michael Crabtree.
Widespread speculation that Crabtree would be released for the 2018 season was refuted by a report Tuesday that he would return for the final year of his contract.
Crabtree, according to The Athletic, is in the Raiders plans. He is in the final year of a contract which would pay him $7 million in salary.
After a dropoff in production late in the year, speculation was rampant that Crabtree would not return. He caught 58 passes for 618 yards in 14 games and was ejected from a game against Denver while participating in an on-going feud with cornerback Aqib Talib.
Quarterback Derek Carr has supported Crabtree’s return (he has supported every teammate in every instance since he arrived).
New Raiders coach Jon Gruden told the Bay Area News Group he was open to having Crabtree on the roster.
“Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career,” Gruden said.
The market for wide receivers is sparse in free agency and taking one in the draft can be dicey.
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Jarvis Landry of Miami, considered one of the top receivers available, was given the franchise tag by the Dolphins for $16 million in 2018.
GM Dave Caldwell maintains that the Jaguars are in it for the long haul with QB BLAKE BORTLES. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Jaguars signed quarterback Blake Bortles to a contract extension running through the 2020 season on Sunday, which ended speculation that the team will make a big splash by acquiring a veteran quarterback to supplant Bortles this offseason.
The length and structure of the deal — $26.5 million guaranteed at signing — don’t eliminate the possibility that the Jaguars will be looking to draft and develop a quarterback who could do that at some point in the not-so-distant future. That may wind up happening, but General Manager Dave Caldwell said on Wednesday that the team does not view Bortles as a stopgap until someone better comes along.
“I thought he had a nice year,” Caldwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “The one thing I know about him is that he is mentally and physically tough as they come. For everything he has been through and all of the things people say he can’t do — he has proven that he can do it. He is not a placeholder. This wasn’t a decision where he’s going to be here for a year and we’re going to be keeping our eyes out.”
Jaguars executive vice president Tom Coughlin’s statement regarding the deal said it comes with “high expectations that [Bortles] will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.” Should the 2018 season end with a feeling that the Jaguars are further away from those goals, it will be interesting to see how Coughlin, Caldwell and company view their future at the position.
An anonymous source pushes back vaguely against the idea that TE ROB GRONKOWSKI is done with the Patriots and headed to wrestling. Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:
Rob Gronkowski might wander into a onesie in the WWE ring or a starring role on the silver screen some day, but not in the immediate future.
Gronk is expected to return to football for the 2018 season and is not expected to retire, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday.
The New England Patriots tight end first broached the prospect of retirement immediately after Super Bowl LII, when he told reporters after the loss, “I mean I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure. I’m going to sit down the next couple of weeks and see where I’m at.”
Rapoport added that, while neither the Patriots nor Gronk’s agent Drew Rosenhaus have any update on Gronk’s status, the tight end has, after several weeks of putting football briefly on the back burner, decided that he will not pursue professional wrestling and/or a career in entertainment until after his football career is over.
Gronk has two years left on a six-year extension signed in 2012 and is owed $17 million total in base salary over the next two seasons.
According to Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, money won’t be an issue for Gronk when considering whether or not to call it quits. The tight end has reportedly saved all $44-plus million earned from his football career, spending only the cash made from his many endorsement deals.
Ever boyish and enthusiastic, Gronkowski will surely have a career after the NFL, one that includes many photo ops and few shirts. Until then, there’s football left to play.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets are releasing DT MUHAMMAD WILKERSON. This from NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman:
Hit the road, Mo.
The New York Jets informed defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson of his release on Wednesday, the team announced.
In 2016, Wilkerson signed a five-year, $86 million extension with the Jets. Two disappointing seasons and $36.8 million later, he’s back on the market. Wilkerson was projected to earn around $20 million in 2018, but will now count just $6 million against the salary cap. The Jets free up $11 million in salary-cap space by cutting the 28-year-old pass rusher.
“Mo was a business decision, ” Bowles said of the release Wednesday. “It wasn’t disciplinary at all. It was a business decision that we made that was good for both parties, and we made that decision.
“I’m disappointed for the team. I’m disappointed for him. Obviously it didn’t work out, but I have a lot of love for Mo. I still think he’s got some football ahead of him and he’s got some good football ahead of him. I just wish him the best.”
So ends the tiresome saga of Wilkerson’s stay in New York. Once a transcendent first-round selection and a Jersey-bred fan favorite, Wilkerson racked up 44.5 sacks in his time with Gang Green, including 28.5 from 2013 through 2015. The anchor of the Sons of Anarchy defensive line (Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson), Wilkerson was a versatile pass rusher, able to play as a tackle or an end.
But one by one, the line broke up. Harrison left to the crosstown New York Giants in free agency while Wilkerson got paid in 2016; Richardson was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2017; and with their exits went Wilkerson’s work ethic and punctuality.
THIS AND THAT
A Vince Young sighting – at the top of Mount Kilamanjaro – along with some other NFL notables. Tim McManus of ESPN.com:
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long did not allow himself much downtime after winning his second Super Bowl in as many seasons; he had another summit to reach.
Long joined a group that included former Green Beret/Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, St. Louis Rams defensive end Connor Barwin, former players Vince Young and Steven Jackson, and military combat veterans in scaling Africa’s highest peak — Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet high at its highest point — to raise funds to build sustainable water wells in East Africa.
The goal of this year’s “Conquering Kili” effort is to raise $150,000 and fund two new wells in Tanzania. According to the Waterboys website, they have currently raised over $94,000 in connection with this year’s climb, bringing the total since 2016 to around $370,000.
Waterboys, a charitable organization within the Chris Long Foundation, aims to bring “life-sustaining well water to East-African communities in need.”
The ink on the divorce papers with Papa John’s were barely dry and the NFL had a trophy pizza, or is it a sugar pizza, on its arms. Darren Rovell at ESPN.com:
Less than 14 hours after Papa John’s announced it had prematurely ended its sponsorship as the official pizza of the NFL, the league announced its replacement: Pizza Hut.
Financial terms of the deal were not revealed, but sources say it extends beyond the original Papa John’s deal, which was contracted to run through the 2020 season. The new deal with Pizza Hut now runs through the 2021 season.
Pizza Hut is the largest pizza chain in America, with more than 7,500 stores, more than double that of Papa John’s.
Pizza Hut’s chief marketing officer, Zipporah Allen, said the company will engage consumers on the deal through new products and packaging, the company’s loyalty program and a continued push into beer delivery. The brand started a pilot program to deliver alcohol into homes in Phoenix late last year.
The partnership could eventually include a less traditional content play. More than half of Pizza Hut orders now take place without the customer calling on the phone — 70 percent of online orders are placed via mobile, an industry high.
“The NFL and pizza appeal to the same demographic, which is everyone,” said Renie Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of partnership and sponsorship management. “Fans watch our game and they do it around a pizza box. That’s why it’s one of the most important categories in sports sponsorship.”
Pizza Hut’s first opportunity to take advantage of the sponsorship will be the NFL draft, which will take place in late April at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Pizza Hut’s headquarters are in nearby Plano.
“Having one of America’s classic brands like Pizza Hut happily come aboard in an important sponsorship category is another reminder of the continued power of the NFL,” Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, chairman of the league’s business ventures committee, said in a statement provided to ESPN.
Papa John’s has an official deal with the Dallas Cowboys, and team owner Jerry Jones is an investor of a franchisee that owns 94 Papa John’s, but the former NFL sponsor can no longer have a presence at league events.
“The NFL and Papa John’s have made a mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams, presence in broadcast and digital media, and key personalities in the sport,” the league and company said Tuesday in a joint statement.
Pizza Hut currently has no deal with NFL players. In the past, the company has used Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Terrell Owens to promote its product.
Louisville QB LAMAR JACKSON gets an endorsement from Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Dan Parr of NFL.com:
— Andy Reid is not among those entertaining the idea of a position change for Lamar Jackson.
The Chiefs coach took the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday and sarcastically dismissed the idea that the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner would be best served by ditching quarterback in favor of a different position at the next level.
“Yeah, I think you probably want to try it there (at quarterback) and see,” Reid said. “He’s pretty good. I would. I’d give that a whirl. I could handle that, yeah.”
The talk of Jackson changing positions became a hot topic earlier this month when former Bills and Colts GM Bill Polian, an analyst for ESPN, suggested during an appearance on the Golic and Wingo show Jackson should move to wide receiver, citing size, explosiveness, athleticism, and what Polian perceived as his shortcomings in the accuracy department, as the main reasons for the move.
“Yeah, I’m not much on that,” Reid said. “I want to bring him in. Let’s exhaust that other thing that we know he’s good at and see. I’m just saying in general. This is a general statement: Let’s get him in and let him wing it a little bit and see how he does. We’ll be able to fit some things in there I’m sure.”
Jackson and the rest of the draft’s top QB prospects will take the field on Saturday for their combine workouts, but first, Jackson will meet the media on Friday. It’s a safe guess that he’ll be asked about which position he’ll play in the NFL, and it’s an even safer guess that he’ll have a definitive answer to the question.