The Daily Briefing Thursday, March 16, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

The NFL does have a system that reward players (to a relatively small extent) like DAK PRESCOTT who outplay their contracts.  Jared Dubin at CBSSports.com:

 

The NFL announced on Wednesday the recipients of performance-based pay for the 2016 season. Each team received a sum of $3.995 million (up from $3.8 million last year and $3.63 million the year before), which was then distributed to the players without affecting the salary cap.

 

The formula for performance-based pay weighs playing time against salary and allocates it accordingly. (As such, late-round rookies that play a lot, undrafted free agents, and low-cost veterans typically receive the highest payouts.) It should come as no surprise, then, that the leaders on offense and defense were, respectively: Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round draft pick that started every game for America’s Team; and Falcons cornerback Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie that played 77.2 percent of the team’s snaps.

 

Prescott and Poole each had 2016 base salaries of $450,000, per Spotrac, which means they each nearly doubled their salary with the performance-based payout. They were two of an incredible 16 players that received at least $300,000 in performance-based pay for the 2016 season, double the number of players that received a payout that high last year.

 

The others:

 

Falcons safety Ricardo Allen: Fifth-round pick in 2015 that started all 16 games; also on last year’s list of $300K-plus players

 

Ravens linebacker Zach Orr: 2014 UDFA (undrafted free agent) signing that started 15 games and played 98 percent of defensive snaps

 

Bengals center Russell Bodine: 2014 fourth-round pick that has started all 48 games of his career; also on last year’s list of $300K-plus players

 

Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown: 2016 sixth-round pick that played 70.5 percent of defensive snaps

 

Broncos center Matt Paradis: 2014 sixth-round pick that started every game the last two years; also on last year’s list of $300K-plus players

 

Packers cornerback Ladarius Gunter: 2015 UDFA signing that spent much of this season as a starter after injuries ravaged the Green Bay defensive backfield

 

Texans center Greg Mancz: 2015 UDFA signing that started all 16 games after an injury to Nick Martin

 

Patriots center David Andrews: 2015 UDFA signing that started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champs

 

Patriots guard Joe Thuney: 2016 third-round pick that started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champs

 

Giants safety Andrew Adams: 2016 UDFA signing that made 13 starts and played 77.7 percent of defensive snaps

 

Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills: 2016 seventh-round pick that played 65 percent of defensive snaps

 

Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks: 2016 third-round pick that started all 16 games

 

Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva: Undrafted in 2010, spent two years in the military before making his way to Eagles training camp in 2014; later wound up with the Steelers and has been starting since Week 6 of last season; also on last year’s list of $300K-plus players

 

Seahawks guard Mark Glowinski: 2015 fourth-round pick that started all 16 games

 

49ers tackle Trenton Brown: 2015 seventh-round pick that started all 16 games

 

Titans guard Quinton Spain: 2015 UDFA that started 13 games

 

It seems like a pretty good bet that, barring injury, we’ll be seeing a bunch of these guys again on next year’s list of the top performance-based pay recipients.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

Under cover of darkness, the Vikings sign RB LATAVIUS MURRAY for the role previously played by ADRIAN PETERSON.  Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press with the signing announced in the wee hours:

 

The Vikings signed free-agent running back Latavius Murray early Thursday morning, likely ending Adrian Peterson’s tenure with the team.

 

The Vikings announced the signing of Murray, who played the past four seasons with Oakland, at 12:47 a.m.

 

With Murray taking over, Peterson is not expected to be re-signed. Peterson became a free agent last week for the first time since entering the NFL with Minnesota in 2007.

 

ESPN reported Murray’s deal is for three years but has the potential to be voided after one. So it’s possible he could be a free agent again as soon as 2818.

 

Murray rushed for 1,066 yards in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl before falling off to 788 yards last season. The Raiders didn’t show much interest in re-signing Murray, selected by Oakland in the sixth round of the 2013 draft out of of Central Florida.

 

Like Murray, tight end Jared Cook also had arrived for a Vikings free-agent visit Tuesday. He had dinner that night with Vikings officials, and continued to talk to them before leaving Wednesday night for a free-agent visit with Oakland. A source, though, said Cook is still considering Minnesota.

 

Sources said Cook had a good Minnesota visit and took a later flight than originally scheduled before leaving Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for San Francisco at 8:20 p.m. He will meet with Raiders officials Thursday.

 

After leaving Oakland, Murray will be called upon to help beef up a Minnesota offense that was last in the NFL in 2016 in rushing yards per game (75.3) and yards per carry (3.2). Jerick McKinnon is expected to share some time with him.

 

“It was an experience,” Murray told the team website about the free-agency process. “Obviously, it being my first time, I didn’t really know what to expect but just glad I get the chance to play the game again with a great team with great history here in Minnesota.”

 

Murray’s visit included a tour of U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened last season and which he saw for the first time.

 

“I’m so excited, man,” Murray told the team website. “I saw it earlier when I first got in, so I know that place is going to be rocking for the Super Bowl (next February). I just hope that we’re in it.”

 

 

WR ADAM THIELEN, a true product of Land of 10,000 Lakes, is staying home, or at least as close to home as you can get and still play in the NFL.  Ben Goessling at ESPN.com

 

Adam Thielen has crafted quite the rags-to-riches story for himself in his first four years with the Minnesota Vikings.

 

He accentuated the second half of that equation Wednesday, when he secured a new contract with Minnesota.

 

A source told ESPN that Thielen agreed to a three-year deal that could be worth $27 million with incentives, including $11 million guaranteed, with the Vikings, who had placed a second-round tender on the restricted free-agent receiver last week.

 

The Vikings have signed running back Latavius Murray, who was the epitome of a workhorse for the Oakland Raiders in 2016, leading them in rushing with 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games.

 

Vikings agree to deal to bring back Newman

The Vikings announced that they have reached agreement to bring back cornerback Terence Newman for another season.

He would have made $2.75 million on the tender but assured himself of some long-term security with the extension the team finalized Wednesday.

 

The Minnesota State-Mankato product came to the Vikings on a rookie camp tryout in 2013, performing well enough that the team opened up a roster spot to sign him after the weekend.

 

He spent 2013 on the Vikings’ practice squad, played mostly on special teams in 2014 and 2015, but broke out in 2016, catching 69 passes and leading the team with 967 receiving yards.

 

Thielen, 26, a native of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, fell just short of a single-game franchise record for yards on Dec. 24 in Green Bay, where he caught 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Detroit Lakes is about 200 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.  It’s the county seat of Becker County with a population of 9,000.  It’s about 45 miles from Fargo, North Dakota.

– – –

It was a busy day for the Vikings.  They also re-signed CB TERENCE NEWMAN.  More from Chis Tomasson:

 

Terence Newman will return to the Vikings for a 15th NFL season.

 

Minnesota re-signed Newman on Wednesday to a one-year, $3.25 million deal. Of that, $1.5 million is guaranteed, including a $500,000 signing bonus.

 

Newman last season was the NFL’s second-oldest defensive player behind Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison, who turns 39 in May and has re-signed for next season.

 

Newman signed for a base salary of $2.4 million. He also can earn a roster bonus of $250,000 and a workout bonus of $100,000.

 

Newman has played the two past seasons with the Vikings as a starter. He also played for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was defensive coordinator in Dallas and Cincinnati.

 

It remains to be seen if Newman again will be the starting left cornerback in 2017 or whether the job could go to third-year man Trae Waynes. Newman also could be a candidate to play nickel back, with the Vikings needing a replacement for Captain Munnerlyn after he signed last week with Carolina.

 

Zimmer had expressed optimism at the NFL scouting combine last month that Newman would return. Newman told Sirius XM NFL Radio on Tuesday he soon would be signing a deal, but did not name the team.

 

Asked Tuesday by the Pioneer Press if he would re-sign with the Vikings, Newman said, “You will find out soon.”

 

Newman could not be reached Wednesday. He told ESPN in an text message about how he expects to feel next year playing at 39, “Same as I did every other year I guess. It’s my job.”

 

Newman is in line to be the oldest NFL cornerback since Darrell Green played for Washington in 2002 at age 42. Newman spoke last season about having been inspired by Green.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

Martin Frank in the Wilmington Journal is worried that the Eagles are neglecting their defense:

 

There is a side of football that you might have seen signs for at various sporting events – a big letter “D” followed by the prop of a fence.

 

When the two signs are held together, they become a symbol for the word “defense.” Someone should try telling that to the Eagles.

 

Throughout this offseason, we have seen the Eagles add two wide receivers, an offensive lineman, and a backup quarterback while re-signing another offensive lineman and keeping left tackle Jason Peters at his full salary of $10.5 million.

 

On defense, where the Eagles were mediocre last season, they released two starters (cornerback Leodis McKelvin and defensive end Connor Barwin) and let two other starters leave as free agents (cornerback Nolan Carroll and defensive tackle Bennie Logan). They haven’t replaced any of them. There is speculation that another starter, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, will either be traded or released at some point this spring.

 

And there have been reports that the New Orleans Saints asked for safety Malcolm Jenkins, along with two mid-round draft picks, in trade talks for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Eagles executive vice president for football operations Howie Roseman turned that deal down, then signed free agent wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Cooks was eventually traded to the New England Patriots.

 

On Wednesday, Roseman didn’t deny that Jenkins, the Eagles’ best safety, was mentioned when interviewed by SportsRadio 94 WIP.

 

“People should be interested in Malcolm Jenkins,” Roseman said. “By the same token, we don’t want to give him up.”

 

Otherwise, Roseman didn’t seem too worried about the defense.

 

“We’re not going to address everything right now,” Roseman said last week. “And if there’s a particular position that we don’t address right now, that doesn’t preclude us [from] doing something before the season starts – and certainly not in the draft.

 

“We’ve got a long period of time before we play a game before we report to training camp. We’re going to look at every option to try to improve this team.”

 

Does this signal Roseman’s vision for what the NFL is turning into, where the offense is by far the top priority? Roseman, after all, has spent most of the offseason insisting that he needs to surround quarterback Carson Wentz with better players on offense. So he added Jeffery and Smith on the first day of free agency. Both have had 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the past, and both give the Eagles components in speed and catching balls in traffic that they have sorely missed the last two seasons.

 

The Eagles definitely needed help at receiver. But they also need help at cornerback. The Eagles have no returning starters there now that McKelvin and Carroll are gone. While neither should be confused with Richard Sherman or Josh Norman or Darrelle Revis in his prime, the Eagles only have Jalen Mills as a likely returnee with playing experience from last season.

 

Of course, the draft is considered loaded at cornerback and the Eagles must believe they can get one, and possibly two, starters at that position.

 

But they might have already suffered a setback in that regard when Washington’s Sidney Jones, whom some draft analysts predicted would be the Eagles’ choice at No. 14, tore his Achilles during his Pro Day last weekend.

 

That opens up a new set of circumstances, such as, is there another cornerback worthy of the No. 14 pick, assuming that Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore will be taken by then? If not, will the Eagles draft a defensive end or running back, and thus try to get a cornerback in the second or third round? Or perhaps trade back in the first round to get an extra pick in a later round?

 

If the Eagles are starting a rookie cornerback along with Mills, that would seem to go against Roseman’s philosophy during the early part of free agency of signing veteran players who are not only good but can serve as an example for younger players. The Eagles did this at wide receiver for Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, who so far have been disappointments during the early part of their careers.

 

“You have guys … to watch Alshon and see his skill set and the traits that he has,” Roseman said. “And for Nelson [Agholor] to get a chance to see Torrey and see how he is every day. That was one of the big things … having guys in the room who have done it before to help the younger players.”

 

And yet, at cornerback, when it was mentioned that the Eagles could have two first-time starters, Roseman brought up the 2004 Super Bowl season when the Eagles had Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard as full-time starters for the first time.

 

Roseman might have overlooked the fact that Sheppard and Brown were each in their third seasons, and they had spent their first two learning from veterans Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor.

 

Sure, the Eagles could still sign a free agent. But the best ones have already been snatched up, leaving the Eagles to choose among the “Band-Aids” that Roseman has said he wants to avoid.

 

There is plenty of time to sort all of this out before the draft. As Roseman said, “you don’t want to go into a draft having to have something.”

 

As of now, it sure seems like the Eagles have to have cornerbacks.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are bringing in RB TIM HIGHTOWER, who was not re-signed by the Saints for a visit.

– – –

Fiesty QB BRIAN HOYER says he will be the man in Santa Clara when the dust settles.

 

Brian Hoyer wants to be a starting quarterback, and he’s gone to a team where he thinks he will be.

 

Hoyer said on PFT Live that his priority in free agency was finding a team where he believes he’ll earn the starting job, and after talking to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan he believes the 49ers are that team.

 

“I’m going to have a really good opportunity to go in and be the starting quarterback, and that’s all I’m looking for at this point in my career,” Hoyer said. “I’m not ready to sit there and be content going into the season being a backup. I wanted an opportunity to compete for a starting job.”

 

Hoyer said Shanahan hasn’t promised him anything, but Hoyer believes that having played for Shanahan before, he’s going to have a leg up on any other quarterback the 49ers might bring to camp.

 

“I can go in there Day One and call the plays. I don’t have to learn a whole new system,” he said.

 

Hoyer has started 27 games in the last three seasons, so it’s not like he’s unaccustomed to starting. But for most of his career he’s become the starter only because another quarterback ahead of him on the depth chart either got hurt or played poorly. In San Francisco, he thinks he can take the reins from the first day, and lead the 49ers going forward.

 

Hoyer’s record in those 27 starts is 13-14 – and 7-9 or 8-8 would look pretty good to the 49ers in the short run.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Jared Durbin at CBSSports.com thinks it’s inevitable that QB JIMMY GARAPPOLO will be consigned to Cleveland.

 

The on-again, off-again Jimmy Garoppolo-to-the-Browns saga is, apparently, (maybe) on again. ESPN’s John Clayton stated in a radio interview that Garoppolo could be headed to the Browns soon.

 

Speaking extemporaneously about Cleveland’s quarterback situation, Clayton mentioned that it may even be worse than it was last year, with the Browns merely having replaced Robert Griffin III on the roster with Brock Osweiler. “I think in the end, they have to come to some kind of Jimmy Garoppolo trade,” Clayton said.

 

As for the Patriots, Clayton focused on their lack of early-round draft picks. “With the Patriots not having picks in rounds one and two, there’s got to be some kind of a trade coming up with Jimmy Garoppolo,” he said.

 

The Pats traded their first-round pick last week in a deal for former New Orleans Saints wideout Brandin Cooks. They also dropped down from the final pick in the second round to the eighth pick of the third in a trade that saw them acquire former Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy. That pick, No. 72, is currently the first time the Pats are slated to make a selection in the 2017 draft.

 

They’ve made a couple high-profile acquisitions in Cooks and former Bills corner Stephon Gilmore, and re-signed Dont’a Hightower on Wednesday , but they’ve also lost several players in free agency (Logan Ryan, Jabaal Sheard, Martellus Bennett), could lose several more (including Chris Long), and now have limited draft resources to acquire adequate replacements.

 

“He doesn’t have picks in one and two. If they don’t get Dont’a Hightower re-signed, then they’re down four players on defense in a very good defensive draft and so they need some volume,” Clayton said. “That’s why I can’t imagine them sitting there with a quarterback that’s not gonna play next year because he’s got Tom Brady on the team — waiting to get a third-round compensatory pick in 2018, when he can get a good group of draft choices now.”

 

The Pats could acquire a draft pick for Malcolm Butler if the cornerback comes to an agreement with the Saints after a visit to New Orleans on Thursday (his restricted free agent tender would return a first-rounder as compensation), but moving Garoppolo would likely help them nab even more early picks.

 

What kind of picks? Well, who knows, really? The Pats either are or are not willing to move Garoppolo, and they either want a first , two firsts , or the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for his services. Rumors are all over the place. This is just another one to add to the pile, which is likely to grow more and more as we move closer to draft day.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Have the Texans painted themselves into a corner where it is TONY ROMO or bust?  Sarah Barshop at ESPN.com:

 

It has been nearly a week since the Houston Texans traded Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns and they still don’t have a starting quarterback.

 

The widely speculated option for the Texans is Tony Romo, who is still under contract with the Dallas Cowboys while being widely linked to the Texans and Denver Broncos, either by a trade or after he is released. There also have been reports that Fox is interested in Romo as an analyst if he is done playing.

 

The Texans are more interested in Romo if he is an available free agent and reportedly do not want to trade for him. Romo, who turns 37 next month, has an extensive injury history and has played in only five games in the past two seasons.

 

So if Romo doesn’t work out, either because he doesn’t want to play football, chooses Denver, or the price is not right for the Texans, who else is out there? The smart money has the Texans turning to Tom Savage and drafting a quarterback. But if they did need to sign a veteran, who is still available?

 

Tom Savage: One option for the Texans is to go with the guy already on their roster. Savage played well at times in his two starts for Houston last season, but he is still an unknown commodity because he hasn’t had many opportunities to start. Savage was injured in 2014 and 2015 and didn’t have the option to win the starting job last season after the Texans signed Osweiler. Even if Houston signs Romo, given his injury history, they will need a reliable backup. That should be Savage.

 

2017 draft pick: With the No. 25 pick in the draft, it won’t be easy for the Texans to trade up if they see the guys they want falling off the board. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, UNC’s Mitch Trubisky and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer are widely expected to be taken fairly early on Day 1. The Texans could draft Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes if they believe he is worthy of that pick. But if they don’t get Romo, they could find it necessary to make sure they get their guy, regardless of what they have to do to trade up.

 

Jay Cutler: Cutler has a very strong arm and would be able to take advantage of the Texans’ offensive weapons, but he might clash with head coach Bill O’Brien. Although he is the biggest name on the market after Romo, I can’t see him being the right fit in Houston.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo: The fourth-year player is not a free agent, but because he is playing behind Tom Brady, there was speculation that he would be available in a trade. However, the Patriots’ asking price is reportedly two first-round picks (2017 and 2018), which is too much for the Texans. Houston already doesn’t have a second-round pick in 2018 after including it in the trade of Osweiler.

 

Robert Griffin III: Like Romo, Griffin spent most of last season injured, but Griffin has a lot less upside. In five games, he completed 59.2 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and three interceptions. Griffin, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Baylor, has a history of serious knee injuries and it would not make sense for Houston to sign him.

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick has a history in Houston and could return. But Fitzpatrick’s days as a starter are likely over after posting a league-low 69.6 passer rating last season. Fitzpatrick already said he would not be returning to the New York Jets, but he could be a reliable backup somewhere next season. That’s probably not what Houston needs, though, unless they turn to Savage and don’t draft a quarterback, so it’s tough to see him returning to the Texans.

 

The rest of the field: Colin Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Aaron Murray, Chase Daniel, Josh McCown, Case Keenum, Shaun Hill, Matt McGloin, EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith, Dan Orlovsky, Josh Johnson, Christian Ponder, Thaddeus Lewis, T.J. Yates, Kellen Moore, Ryan Nassib, David Fales, Bruce Gradkowski, Austin Davis and Charlie Whitehurst.

 

 

TENNESSEE

LB WESLEY WOODYARD has an extension.  Field Yates at ESPN.com:

 

The Tennessee Titans have signed linebacker Wesley Woodyard to a two-year extension through 2019, according to a source. He can earn a maximum of $12.75 million over the life of the new deal, but will take a pay cut in the first year.

 

He was scheduled to make $4.75 million this year ($4.25 million base salary) but in Year 1 of his new deal, he’ll be paid a base salary of $2.2 million, plus a $1 million roster bonus that was paid out on the fifth day of the league year, plus a maximum of $300,000 in per-game roster bonuses.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins retained WR KENNY STILLS who might have had more elsewhere.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills quickly signed a four-year, $32 million contract to stay in Miami when free agency started, showing that he’s committed to the franchise that traded for him two years ago.

 

Stills said this morning on PFT Live that he feels at home with the Dolphins and knew that staying was his top priority, even as other teams wooed him.

 

“I wanted to be here,” Stills said. “I think we’re going to do something special here. I believe in the staff. I believe in the owner. I believe in every person that’s in our building, and I love Miami and I love the people here. So I wanted to stay here and do something special for them.”

 

Last season Stills started all 16 games and had 42 catches for 726 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns, and the Dolphins ended their playoff drought. Stills said he believes the Dolphins are going to build on that in 2017, and beyond.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

After testing the free market, LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER returns to the Patriots.  ESPN.com:

 

Dont’a Hightower has decided to return to the New England Patriots, agreeing to a four-year, $43.5 million deal, the star linebacker’s agents announced Wednesday.

 

The deal also includes $19 million in guaranteed money, according to Hightower’s agency, Sports Trust Advisors, which announced the news on Twitter.

 

@_SportsTrust

Back home to New England. Congrats, @zeus30hightower! #boomtower

 

Hightower will re-sign with New England despite being coveted by multiple teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets. He earned $7.751 million in 2016, as the Patriots had picked up the fifth-year option of the five-year contract he had signed as a rookie.

 

Hightower visited with the Steelers on Tuesday, one day after visiting with the Jets in New York. The Jets offered Hightower a contract on Monday but withdrew the offer after he left the team’s facility, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The deal to keep Hightower marked the latest high-profile move this offseason for the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots, who also signed free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore and acquired star receiver Brandin Cooks in a blockbuster trade with the Saints.

 

Hightower, 27, was named a Patriots captain for the first time in 2016. He finished the season with 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits.

 

Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says Hightower is now ready to be a key member of Patriots pantheon of heroes:

 

The New England Patriots’ aggressive offseason continued on Wednesday with linebacker Dont’a Hightower agreeing to re-sign with the club. This is arguably the most important signing for the team this offseason.

 

Terms: Four years, $43.5 million, with $19 million in bonuses and guarantees.

 

Grade: A-plus. The Patriots and Hightower are a perfect match based on Hightower not fitting into the prototypical linebacker box, and the Patriots having a creative, multiple defensive scheme that brings out the best in him. It was a process for the sides to reach this point as Hightower first visited the Jets and then the Steelers before deciding to return. He wanted to explore the open market, which could be the only time in his career he’d have that opportunity, and then assess those options against the one he knew best in New England, which was appealing to him from the standpoint of security/stability and winning. This is a generous, fair deal for Hightower, who has earned it.

 

What it means: The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Hightower is one of the NFL’s most physical linebackers and calls the defensive signals as the primary communicator on defense. Because of that, he is the first domino to fall before each play and what he does affects the other 10 players on defense. Having to possibly replace that was something the Patriots hoped they wouldn’t have to do, and this ensures they won’t. A first-year captain in 2016, this extension also sends a message to the rest of the locker room that players drafted and developed in the system who do things the right way can be rewarded with deals that are close to top of the market. The Patriots did it with safety Devin McCourty two years ago. Hightower, as projected, had a similar end result.

 

Hightower could be next “54” in Patriots Hall: In his first five years with the Patriots, Hightower proved he was a foundation-type player. Now with a four-year extension, he can elevate himself into the discussion among the franchise’s all-time greats, potentially following linebacker Tedy Bruschi (the linebacker who wore No. 54 before Hightower) into the team’s Hall of Fame if the next four years resemble his first five. What stands out most about Hightower? The greater the stakes, the greater the chance he makes impact plays.

 

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com with the view from the spurned Jets:

 

Dont’a Hightower took the cupcakes and blew off the cream puff.

 

That would be the downtrodden New York Jets, who made a legitimate run at one of the top free agents on the market. It would’ve taken an obscene amount of money to convince Hightower to leave the Super Bowl champions for a 5-11 team because, let’s be honest, why else would he abandon Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots’ dynasty?

 

In the end, Hightower opted to stay with the Patriots, signing a four-year, $43.5 million contract that includes $19.5 million in guarantees, according to his agent. It’s hardly a surprise.

 

Don’t be depressed, Jets fans. This worked out for the best.

 

Don’t get me wrong, Hightower is a terrific football player and he’s only 27 years old. He would’ve looked nice in the middle of the Jets’ defense, and his championship pedigree would’ve helped change the culture in the locker room, but there had to be a financial line in the sand.

 

To land him, the Jets would’ve had to offer more than $11 million per year. I heard he was looking for $12 million per year from them. That’s crazy money for a player who doesn’t sack the quarterback, score touchdowns, throw touchdowns or cover elite wide receivers.

 

As one former Jets player texted to me, “At $12 million it has to be someone who can translate to three or four wins.”

– – –

Christopher Gasper in the Boston Globe wonders why the Patriots are toying with CB MALCOLM BUTLER.

 

At least we know the Patriots aren’t going for defensive degree-of-difficulty points in repeating as Super Bowl winners. The Patriots showed the money to free agent linebacker and heart-and-soul playmaker Dont’a Hightower on Wednesday, re-signing him to a four-year, $43.5 million deal, instead of showing him the door like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. The Patriots are holding on to one of their young, Pro Bowl defenders. Hallelujah.

 

The only major remaining offseason question now is do they want to hold the high ground in negotiations with restricted free agent Malcolm Butler or do they want to hold on to Butler long term?

 

The good news is that the Patriots are not going to go 0 for 4 in retaining young cornerstone defenders. The bad news is it feels as if Butler is more likely to follow in the footsteps of Jones and Collins, who were traded away, than Hightower. Butler is scheduled to be in New Orleans on Thursday, negotiating a deal with the Saints, so they can negotiate his exit from Patriot Place with the Patriots.

 

The Patriots like winning at the negotiating table as much as they like winning on the field, but beating Butler into submission for a season or separation is a loss. What kind of message does it send forcing players who have hand-delivered Super Bowls to scratch and claw for every cent? Why buy in if you have to crawl through the contractual Sahara for a payout? That’s the conclusion Collins came to.

 

The Patriots are in the driver’s seat with Butler via the $3.91 million first-round restricted free agent tender they placed on him. It gives them the right to match any contract offer he gets or receive a first-round pick or watch him squirm without offers and play for the tender. If he doesn’t sign the tender, they can rescind it and force him to play for the league minimum of $690,000 — that would be greater than 110 percent of his 2016 base salary ($600,000).

 

They control the outcome for the Cinderella cornerback. They have a replacement on board in Buffalo Bills refugee Stephon Gilmore, who signed a five-year, $65 million contract on the first day of free agency. Like the receivers that Butler faces, they’re well-covered.

 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying that it’s about the players. That they’re the ones who deserve the credit. He said it after he recorded his 200th career regular-season win in 2014, a 30-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He said that on the rostrum to Julian Edelman after Super Bowl XLIX, the game Butler secured with an interception for the ages.

 

It’s all about the players until it comes time to pay them. Then it’s a little bit more about the unimpeachable system of player replacement and financial restraint that has formed the foundation of the Patriots’ five Super Bowl titles. Butler is learning that aspect of the Patriot Way the hard way.

 

It has been pointed out by some that Butler should be grateful for the $3.91 million tender offer, which is more money than he has made to this point of his career. But it doesn’t matter if an offer pays you more than you’re scheduled to make if it doesn’t pay what you believe you’re worth as a cornerback who was second-team All-Pro last season, led the team in interceptions last season, and is good enough to be shadowing Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.

 

Plus, the reason the Patriots gave Butler the highest tender wasn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. It was to deter teams from making offers that influenced Butler’s value. It was simply smart business by the Patriots to pay Butler an extra $1.164 million — the difference between the first-round tender of $3.91 million and the second-round tender — to buy leverage and a potential first-round pick.

 

If the Patriots had put the second-round tender on Butler, he would have an offer sheet by now. There are reports the Houston Texans are willing to sacrifice a second-round pick for the Super Bowl XLIX hero.

 

Some Patriots fans and observers say Butler should simply wait to get paid. He only has three seasons in the league. The timing isn’t right. That’s fine, but the 27-year-old already has provided two years as a No. 1 corner at a cut-rate. The Detroit Lions paid cornerback Darius Slay with a four-year, $48 million extension last summer as he entered the fourth and final year of his rookie deal.

 

Patriotologists practically act like the players should pay the Patriots to play and not the other way around. They believe Butler should simply accept his circumstances. If he had done that in the first place, he never would have made it in the NFL, and the Patriots would have one fewer Lombardi Trophy to show off in the lobby. Butler got here by doing what others told him he couldn’t do and proving that their evaluations of his worth were erroneous.

 

It has also been pointed out that Butler is in line to make more money through his first four seasons than some players who were drafted in the second round the year he entered the league, 2014. That’s apples to oranges. Those players got a portion of their money up front, guaranteed. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr received a $2.26 million signing bonus for breathing before he ever played a down in the NFL. The total guarantee on his contract was $3.31 million.

 

Butler’s signing bonus and guaranteed money as an undrafted free agent were listed as $0. In Butler’s first three years his base salary was the league minimum for his years of service — $420,000, $510,000, and $600,000.

 

So, you have a guy playing three seasons for the league minimum with no guaranteed money to this point in his career. He is now looking for real money beyond the CBA salary-suppressant mechanism of his RFA tender. That doesn’t sound like a crime, just like it’s not a crime on the Patriots’ part to decide they’re going to leverage him to the hilt, even if it means losing him.

 

Both sides have contract cases. But it’s both sides, not just the side wielding the collectively bargained cudgel.

 

The Patriots won the Super Bowl without Collins or Jones. They’re winning the offseason without Butler. But what you can do and what you should do aren’t always the same.

– – –

WR BRANDIN COOKS is saying he didn’t tell the Saints to trade him, but he is glad they did.  Josh Katzenstein at NoLa.com:

 

Brandin Cooks said Wednesday he did not request to be traded by the New Orleans Saints, but he is ecstatic about his new opportunity with the New England Patriots.

 

The Saints traded Cooks, a 23-year-old wide receiver, to the Patriots last Friday, and in his first public comments since the deal, Cooks talked about his experience in New Orleans while also looking forward to his future with a new team.

 

Reports about Cooks being involved in trade discussions swirled for a week before the Saints eventually accepted New England’s offer, which sent the Saints a first-round pick (No. 32) and a third-round pick (No. 103) for Cooks and a fourth-round pick (No. 118).

 

“First of all, once I found about it, I was thankful for the opportunity to be able to play in New Orleans and the opportunity they had given me there,” Cooks said on a teleconference with Patriots reporters. “No bad blood. I loved everything about the organization and the people. Things just happen in this life.

 

“Second thing, when I found out about it, I was ecstatic to be able to come play for an organization like New England and play for a guy like coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom (Brady) and Mr. (Robert) Kraft and his family. The whole process was a blessing. As soon as I found out, I couldn’t be more thankful throughout this time.”

 

Asked directly if he requested a trade, Cooks quickly said, “No, I didn’t.”

 

Cooks expressed frustration with his role in the offense, and those feelings went public in November. Considering the Saints had a losing record nearly the entire year, those feelings might’ve been understandable, but his timing was poor as the leak happened after a 49-21 Saints victory in which he had zero targets.

 

“It was a long process and I guess — so if we could set this straight,” Cooks said. “I think a lot of that and what was going got taken out of context and a little exaggerated, and throughout the (trade) process I felt like I had to take the blows and keep my mouth shut, which is fine. It just happened to be a great opportunity for both sides — to be able to build what (the Saints) want to build and to be sent off to a good team for me.

 

“I think it’s a win-win situation, and, like I said, the rumors out there and what’s been going on and what’s been told, I don’t let it bother me. I’m just here to play football and that’s what it’s all about.”

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

A Pittsburgh judge saw no reason to proceed with any of the charges from a brawl against former Jets CB DARRELLE REVIS.  One of the player’s high school friends said he had knocked out the two drunks, but only after the drunks “jumped” Revis.  Austin Knoblach at NFL.com:

 

A judge has dropped all charges against former New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis stemming from an alleged assault in Pittsburgh last month.

 

Pittsburgh Municipal Court Judge Jeffrey A. Manning dismissed the five criminal charges after hearing testimony from Rashawn Bolton, Revis’ longtime friend, during a preliminary hearing on Wednesday.

 

Bolton testified he came to Revis’ aid and knocked out two men who allegedly were in a physical altercation with the seven-time Pro Bowler during a Feb. 12 incident on a Pittsburgh street. Bolton also testified that it was his voice which is heard on a video released by TMZ last month showing the immediate aftermath of the altercation.

 

“What happened is in the past now and all I can do is move forward,” Revis told NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala after the hearing concluded.

 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told NFL.com that the incident remains under review as part of the league’s personal conduct policy.

 

“Darrelle Revis is a peaceful, quiet, private individual and a law-abiding citizen,” Robert Del Greco Jr., Revis’ attorney, told reporters after the hearing. “A neutral, detached, disinterested judge determined that there isn’t even probable cause for this case to warrant further trial consideration.

 

“There is no reason these charges should have been brought.”

 

Bolton’s attorney told Kinkhabwala there was no financial incentive for his client to testify about his role in the incident. Bolton did not speak to reporters when he left the courthouse.

 

Revis was initially charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor. According to the criminal complaint compiled by the Pittsburgh Police Dept., the two victims said they were knocked unconscious following a physical and verbal confrontation with Revis and another man (later identified as Bolton), although they couldn’t remember who punched them.

 

A friend of the two victims who witnessed the incident told police the men were unconscious “for at least 10 minutes.” When asked by police if Revis or Bolton was responsible for knocking out his friends, the witness said, “I don’t know, it happened so fast.”

 

One of the men who was knocked out was diagnosed with an orbital floor fracture and the other was diagnosed with a contusion to his cheek.

 

Darry Slater at NJ.com on what’s next for Revis:

 

Ex-Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis spoke to reporters Wednesday after having his felony assault case completely dismissed by a Pittsburgh judge. And Revis said he wouldn’t mind going back to Pittsburgh, albeit under happier circumstances.

 

He would love to play for the Steelers next, after flaming out with the Jets in 2016. Revis, whom the Jets recently released, remains a free agent.

 

“That would be a dream come true, I tell you, to play for the hometown team,” Revis said, via PennLive.com. “It would be.

 

“I think teams were trying to see what was going to happen in this [legal] situation. And then once they got the verdict of it, they can sit here and call me now. They’re probably making calls now.”

 

Revis grew up near Pittsburgh, in Aliquippa, so playing for the Steelers would be a homecoming. He turns 32 this summer, and he is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career.

 

Revis had nothing controversial to say about his release by the Jets.

 

“I want to go where I’m wanted,” he told NFL Network.

 

The Jets owe Revis $6 million in guaranteed salary for 2017, but that would be offset (for payment and salary cap purposes) by whatever Revis makes with his next team. So if he earns $2 million from his new team in 2017, he’d get $4 million from the Jets.

 

Unless Revis gets more than $6 million in 2017 from his new team, he’ll be making the same amount of money to play as he would by not playing at all. But he wants to play.

 

“The hunger is definitely there,” he said. “I’m excited for this upcoming season. I just had to put this [legal situation] past me. And now I can really focus on what team I can fit with.”

 

Could Revis switch to safety in 2017? He declined to speculate.

 

“That would be a discussion with the management and the coaches,” he said.

 

Revis told NFL Network he isn’t sure when he’ll land with a new team.

 

“It could take a week from now,” he said. “It could take a month from now. I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was last year at this time. I’m really hammering after this [training for 2017].”

– – –

Should he still be on the team, TE AUSTIN SEFARIAN-JENKINS won’t be on the team when the Jets play their first two games of 2017.  Connor Hughes of NJ.com:

 

The Jets will begin next season without their starting tight end.

 

On Wednesday, the team announced Austin Seferian-Jenkins had been suspended by the NFL for two games after he violated the league’s policy and program for substance abuse. He will be eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices, along with preseason games.

 

Seferian-Jenkins’ suspension stems from his DUI arrest in September, which was his second since 2013, and led to his release from the Buccaneers. Police stopped Seferian-Jenkins for a traffic violation, and appeared ready to let him off with a warning. He then attempted to make small talk with the officer. Things escalated from there. ‘

 

Here’s more from ESPN’s Jenna Laine:

 

According to the Florida Highway Patrol arrest report, Seferian-Jenkins was pulled over at 3:42 a.m. for driving erratically and speeding. He was going 75-80 mph in a 55 mph zone. He was arrested and charged with a DUI and violation of an Ignition Interlock Device restriction from a 2013 DUI arrest in Washington. He refused a breathalyzer test once at the Hillsborough County Jail.

 

TMZ got ahold of the dash-cam footage, which paints a pretty accurate picture of what happened. You can watch the video here.

 

Once in the cop car, Seferian-Jenkins infamously told the officer he had to take “a huge sh–.”

– – –

When was the last time you could say that the Jets had one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks?  It won’t be in 2017 if any of Rich Cimini’s scenarios comes true.

 

The longest-running quarterback soap opera (outside Cleveland) continues to provide new characters and compelling storylines.

 

The latest script for “All My Quarterbacks” — the New York Jets’ annual search for the next Broadway Joe — contains a couple of intriguing plot twists.

 

Our latest rankings, based on the likelihood of landing with the Jets:

 

1. Jay Cutler, free agent: The Jets reached out to him last week when he was released by the Chicago Bears and remain interested. He reportedly will take a visit. He’s the most accomplished quarterback on the list, so his price tag will be higher than the others. There’s also the baggage. It’ll take a sell job by the Jets because Cutler probably isn’t hot for a rebuilding situation at 34. If they wait until April 29 for the visit — his birthday — maybe they can try the cupcake ploy.

 

2. Chase Daniel, free agent: He was released Monday by the Philadelphia Eagles, who paid him $7 million last season for one pass. They still owe him another $5 million for 2017, but that includes an offset. Daniel, 30, drew interest from the Jets last offseason during the Ryan Fitzpatrick contract mess, and he probably will get another call. He has thrown fewer passes in seven years (78) than Bryce Petty has thrown in two (133), so we’re talking about a No. 2 quarterback at best. His familiarity with Sean Payton’s offense is a plus. New coordinator John Morton also spent time with Payton at the New Orleans Saints. He never overlapped with Daniel, but they’d have some common ground, which helps when a new offense is being installed.

 

3. Josh McCown, free agent: When aren’t the Jets interested in McCown? It seems to be an offseason ritual. McCown, 37, has a reputation for being a good teammate and would be a terrific mentor for Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but has started only 11 games over the past two seasons.

 

4. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos: If John Elway lands Tony Romo, he could put Siemian on the trading block. The Jets like him. He’s young and cheap, with a big arm, but they want to hold on to their draft picks. Maybe they could peddle Sheldon Richardson to the Broncos. This wouldn’t be the first Jets-Broncos trade for a quarterback (See: Tim Tebow).

 

5. Brock Osweiler, Cleveland Browns: They’re reportedly trying to flip Osweiler for a couple of draft picks, but they won’t find any suckers and will have to release him. He was horrible last season for the Houston Texans (16 interceptions), but this is a player who was once envisioned by Elway as Peyton Manning’s heir apparent. Unlike McCown, Daniel and Cutler, Osweiler has some upside. The Browns are on the hook for his $16 million salary, which includes an offset. The Jets could get him on the cheap, letting the Browns foot most of the bill.

 

 

We found this at Wikipedia – and boldfaced candidates who might have been in the top 10 of NFL QBs at the time they quarterbacked Gang Green:

 

Season(s)        Quarterback (Games)

2016                 Ryan Fitzpatrick (11) / Geno Smith (1) / Bryce Petty (4)

2015                 Ryan Fitzpatrick (16)

2014                 Geno Smith (13) / Michael Vick (3)

2013                 Geno Smith (16)

2012                 Mark Sanchez (15) / Greg McElroy (1)

2011                 Mark Sanchez (16)

2010                 Mark Sanchez (16)

2009                 Mark Sanchez (15) / Kellen Clemens (1)

2008                 Brett Favre (16)

2007                 Chad Pennington (8) / Kellen Clemens (8)

2006                 Chad Pennington (16)

2005                 Brooks Bollinger (9) / Vinny Testaverde (4) / Chad Pennington (3)

2004                 Chad Pennington (13) / Quincy Carter (3)

2003                 Chad Pennington (9) / Vinny Testaverde (7)

2002                 Chad Pennington (12) / Vinny Testaverde (4)

2001                 Vinny Testaverde (16)

2000                 Vinny Testaverde (16)

1999                 Ray Lucas (9) / Rick Mirer (6) / Vinny Testaverde (1)

1998                 Vinny Testaverde (13) / Glenn Foley (3)

1997                 Neil O’Donnell (14) / Glenn Foley (2)

1996                 Frank Reich (7) / Neil O’Donnell (6) / Glenn Foley (3)

1995                 Boomer Esiason (12) / Bubby Brister (4)

1994                 Boomer Esiason (14) / Jack Trudeau (2)

1993                 Boomer Esiason (16)

1992                 Browning Nagle (13) / Ken O’Brien (3)

1991                 Ken O’Brien (16)

1990                 Ken O’Brien (16)

1989                 Ken O’Brien (12) / Tony Eason (2) / Pat Ryan (1) / Kyle Mackey (1)

1988                 Ken O’Brien (12) / Pat Ryan (4)

1987                 Ken O’Brien (12) / David Norrie (2) / Pat Ryan (1)

1986                 Ken O’Brien (14) / Pat Ryan (2)

1985                 Ken O’Brien (16)

1984                 Pat Ryan (11) / Ken O’Brien (5)

1983                 Richard Todd (16)

1982                 Richard Todd (9)

1981                 Richard Todd (16)

1980                 Richard Todd (16)

1979                 Richard Todd (15) / Matt Robinson (1)

1978                 Matt Robinson (11) / Richard Todd (5)

1977                 Richard Todd (11) / Matt Robinson (1) / Marty Domres (2)

1976                 Joe Namath (8) / Richard Todd (6)

1975                 Joe Namath (13) / J.J. Jones (1)

1974                 Joe Namath (14)

1973                 Al Woodall (6) / Joe Namath (5) / Bill Demory (3)

1972                 Joe Namath (13) / Bob Davis (1)

1971                 Bob Davis (7) / Al Woodall (4) / Joe Namath (3)

1970                 Al Woodall (9) / Joe Namath (5)

1969                 Joe Namath (14)

1968                 Joe Namath (14)

1967                 Joe Namath (14)

1966                 Joe Namath (13) / Mike Taliaferro (1)

1965                 Joe Namath (9) / Mike Taliaferro (5)

1964                 Dick Wood (13) / Pete Liske (1)

1963                 Dick Wood (12) / Galen Hall (2)

1962                 Johnny Green (8) / Lee Grosscup (4) / Butch Songin (2)

1961                  Al Dorow (14)

1960                 Al Dorow (13) / Dick Jamieson (1)

Obviously this is a subjective decision and there are those who might say Namath was not even NFL-level top 10 while playing in the AFL in the late 60s. 

 

But, if a team had average QB play they should have had a top 10 quarterback in approximately 15 of the 47 seasons since the 1970 merger.  The DB can identify only four possible seasons at that level for the Jets in that span – one season each by four different quarterbacks.  The only one we are somewhat passionate about is Chad Pennington in 2002 who actually led the NFL in passer rating that year.  The season’s by Boomer Esiason, Ken O’Brien and Richard Todd look to be somewhere around the 8th-best that year – and each was clearly their best year with the team.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

LB DeMARCUS WARE talks to Peter King about his decision to retire:

 

DeMarcus Ware could have kept playing. He was working out, and he was over neck and back ailments that wrecked his 2016 season in Denver. Ware is 34, and he had a $9 million offer on the table for 2017 (he won’t say from which team, but Dallas is a best guess), and he felt he could have had the kind of reborn season that would satisfy the football devotee inside of him.

 

“You go through so much as a player to keep playing—for me lately, the neck injury, the back injury—and then you correct those things,” Ware told The MMQB Tuesday afternoon, a day after he finalized his emotional decision to retire from football.

“And right now as a I stand here, my body feels great. My body feels youthful. There is no question in my mind that I could have played two or three more years. But I’m realistic about it. My body’s good now, but how long will that last? How long can your body hold up at 34, 35, when what you do is likely to hurt yourself?”

 

In other words, I said, you feel good now, but the way football is, there’s a good chance that something, on some part of the body, would flare up this season, and there’s no way you’d feel this good through an entire season.

 

“Now you see where I’m coming from,” Ware said. “How many times when I go through a full season do I feel great from start to finish? It’s hard. Football has been great for me. I love football. Always will. Heck yeah, I want to get out there and play. But I can’t let passion overrule my sense. I am walking away with respect. I gave the fans, I gave my family, I gave my teammates everything I had every game. One hundred percent. One … hundred … percent.”

 

But this was a surprise on Monday, when Ware broke the news, because he’d talked openly this off-season about playing in 2017 and beyond. Could he change his mind? It’s possible, but on Tuesday he sounded like a man secure with his decision. “It’s important for my family, and for my future,” he said. “But the decision was emotional. Very emotional. The ‘R’ word comes out of your mouth … and you get emotional. When you’re playing, you think the NFL’s forever. You think it’s never going to end.”

In nine seasons with Dallas, then three with Denver, Ware was one of the very small handful of premier edge rushers of the new century. He is eighth on the all-time sack list with 138.5, one behind 2017 Hall of Fame enshrinee Jason Taylor and three behind 2014 Hall of Fame enshrinee Michael Strahan. Taylor and Strahan played 15 seasons. Ware played 12.

 

Ware, too, leaves a legacy of treating people the right way. His former teammates in Dallas, and then in Denver, looked up to him about football and about life. “The Peyton Manning of our defense,” Emmanuel Sanders called Ware in a text to ESPN, and he didn’t mean just about football.

 

“The ‘R’ word comes out of your mouth … and you get emotional,” Ware says. “When you’re playing, you think the NFL’s forever. You think it’s never going to end.”

Ware had a terrific second act in Denver. Manning led the offense. Ware led the defense. In fact, on the night before Denver’s Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina 13 months ago, it was Manning and Ware who were picked to speak emotionally to the Denver players. Both veterans’ voices cracked as they spoke that night. And the next day Ware had the last big game of his career, sacking Cam Newton twice in Denver’s 24-10 victory.

 

But when I asked about his greatest game, that’s not the one Ware brought up.

 

He harked back to 2009. It was December. The Cowboys, losers of two straight, were 8-5 and traveling to New Orleans on a Saturday night on national TV—and the Saints were 13-0. “We played San Diego the previous week, and honestly I thought I broke my neck.” Ware’s head collided violently with a Chargers offensive lineman’s hip, and he lay on the ground, and he had to be carted off the field on a backboard. “They took my face mask off, and the helmet, and they were so careful. And after the game, my guys were there, telling me my health is important and You don’t have to play.

 

“So we go to New Orleans, I was in the locker room, and I could just feel it. In football, you’ve got to understand—you don’t play for yourself. You play for your teammates. That’s how I’ve always been. And no one said anything to me, but I could feel it. D-Ware, we need you to play. I hadn’t had pads on the whole week. We needed this game to have a chance to make the playoffs. Before the game, I go up to [fullback Deon Anderson] with my helmet on. We bump heads, just to test it, and I feel fine. That gave me confidence.”

 

Two sacks, two forced fumbles, two Saints turnovers. Dallas 24, New Orleans 17. The Cowboys went on to win the NFC East.

 

“That day was big for me,” Ware said. “I was captain of the defense, but I gained even more respect from my teammates. Like, This guy’s the warrior we knew he was. And respect is everything to me. I put my team first.”

 

And today? “Now, I put myself first. I put my family first. And look out world. Here I come.”

 

A headline on another story at TheMMQB called Ware “a future Hall of Famer.”  What say you?  We think he might be, but like to be near the line that John Lynch finds himself, not quite over the top.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

In yesterday’s Mock Draft, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com had QB MITCHELL TRUPINSKY as an afterthought to New Orleans at the bottom of the first round.  We edited out some of his explanations.  You can see the whole thing here.

 

 

On the other hand, Steve Palazzolo of ProFootballFocus.com sees Trupinsky as a coveted asset who the Jets will seize by trade to the penultimate pick:

 

The first pick has remained constant throughout the mock draft process, but starting with the No. 2 pick, this draft could turn any numbers of ways.

 

As always, this mock draft is what I would do as GM of each team, not a prediction of what NFL front offices are thinking.

 

1. Cleveland Browns

Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M

Garrett has proved everything he’s needed to during the draft process, as he dominated the NFL Combine after three productive years at Texas A&M. His 31 sacks, 35 QB hits and 98 hurries on 978 rushes show that he knows how to get to the quarterback, and his improved run grade of 87.8 ranked third in the nation last season. Garrett is the best player in the draft and a perfect fit for a pass-rush-needy Browns defense.

 

2. Trade: New York Jets (from San Francisco 49ers)

49ers receive: Jets’ first-round pick (No. 6), Jets’ second-round pick (No. 39)

Jets receive: 49ers’ first-round pick (No. 2), 49ers’ fourth-round (No. 143)

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

(I usually don’t include trades unless it makes a lot of sense for both teams. In this case, the 49ers do not have a good, clear choice to take at No. 2, and the Jets are making a move to find their quarterback.)

 

The Jets are sorting through a number of unexciting free-agent bridge quarterbacks, but they change that by making the move to get Mitchell Trubisky. The one-year starter was impressive at North Carolina, showing the presence to maneuver the pocket and the arm to deliver the ball outside the numbers with velocity. Trubisky also has excellent short-area accuracy, and his grade on third downs ranked third in the nation a year ago.

 

3. Chicago Bears

Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama

Chicago has added a number of key pieces to the defense in recent years, and even with a subpar NFL Combine, Allen brings another playmaker to their defensive front. While it would certainly ease concerns if Allen had shown better athleticism in Indianapolis, last year’s nation-leading 67 QB pressures speak for themselves, and Allen’s three-year production has been outstanding. He knows how to shed blocks and disrupt both the run and pass game, and his 93.6 pass-rush grade led all interior defensive linemen in 2016.

 

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

This pick is another shocker in the draft. Even with QB Blake Bortles on the roster, the Jaguars grab Watson at No. 4 as the quest to find a top signal-caller continues. Bortles was seemingly on the right path in 2015, but a poor 2016 is enough for the Jaguars to look for insurance in Watson, who can throw with accuracy and touch. His best throws are quite impressive, and he’ll make plenty of them, but he’ll also miss his fair share, and he has work to do as far as working through progressions and maneuvering the pocket. However, Watson consistently shows the ability to bounce back from mistakes, and he’s been one of the nation’s top-graded quarterbacks the last two seasons, doing his best work down the stretch.

 

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

The Titans grabbed former Patriots CB Logan Ryan in free agency, but that won’t keep them from taking another corner, as starter Jason McCourty is heading into the last year of his contract. Lattimore was outstanding in one year of work at Ohio State, allowing a passer rating of only 30.2 into his coverage, fourth-best among corners with at least 40 targets. Lattimore has the size and speed to press and take away the deep ball and the movement skills to break on the ball in front of him, where he didn’t miss a tackle in all of 2016.

 

6. San Francisco 49ers (from New York Jets)

49ers receive: Jets’ first-round pick (No. 6), Jets’ second-round pick (No. 39)

Jets receive: 49ers’ first-round pick (No. 2), 49ers’ fourth-round (No. 143)

Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee

There are few positions that are set on the 49ers’ roster, so they can go a number of ways here. Barnett had outstanding production at Tennessee, finishing No. 2 among the nation’s edge defenders in 2015 (90.0) and No. 3 in 2016 (92.0). He is strong against the run and continues to improve as a pass-rusher, challenging the edge as well as any rusher in this class. He’ll play defensive end as the 49ers transfer to a 4-3 scheme.

 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

A perfect scheme fit for new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Hooker brings exceptional range as a center-field free safety, as he picked off seven passes last year in his first full season of action. The Chargers continue to add talent to the defensive side of the ball, and Hooker is the next piece in the puzzle. The one issue is his tackling, where he missed one out of every 6.5 attempts last season, good for 135th out of 242 qualifiers. However, Hooker’s instincts and ball skills are necessary for the Chargers’ cover-3/cover-1 scheme, and Hooker makes for a good first-round marriage.

 

8. Carolina Panthers

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

The Panthers love to surround QB Cam Newton with big-bodied receivers, and Williams adds another weapon to the mix. He can win in the possession game, where he uses his 6-foot-3 frame to win on slants and posts, but he also has the body control to make contested downfield catches to bring a big-play element to the offense, as well. Williams earned the No. 3 overall grade among Power-5 receivers, at 85.0 overall, and adds yet another huge target for QB Cam Newton in the Carolina offense.

 

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

A natural fit in Cincinnati, Davis is the draft’s best route-runner and a perfect complement to WR A.J. Green on the other side. QB Andy Dalton has showed that he can put up good numbers when he has a variety of playmakers all over the field, and adding Davis is another step in the right direction. He can get open in the short and intermediate range, and averaged 8.1 yards after the catch per reception over the last three seasons.

 

10. Buffalo Bills

Teez Tabor, CB, Buffalo Bills

With CB Stephon Gilmore moving on in free agency, the cornerback position becomes an even bigger need for the Bills. Tabor didn’t have a great combine, but he’s one of the best playmakers in the class at cornerback. He recorded a pass breakup or an interception on 26.5 percent of his targets—best in the class—and can make plays whether playing in press or off coverage.

 

11. New Orleans Saints

Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Reuben Foster’s off-field antics at the NFL Combine may not sit well with teams, but focusing on his on-field performance, he’s a perfect fit in New Orleans. Foster was the nation’s top-graded linebacker in 2016, at 93.3 overall, as he can take on and defeat blocks in the running game while showing the athleticism to hang with running backs and tight ends in coverage. Off-field aside, Foster is a three-down presence in a league that needs them more than ever.

 

12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

The Browns’ defense is starting to take shape as they add another playmaker in Adams, who led the nation’s safeties with an 89.4 overall grade last season. He can play the run when lined up in the box, and can play multiple coverages, whether working short zones, covering tight ends, or playing on the back end. Adams continued to improve each year at LSU and he adds a defensive chess piece to the Cleveland defense.

 

13. Arizona Cardinals

Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

White posted the nation’s top grade among cornerbacks in 2016 at 90.5, bouncing back strong form a subpar 2015. He has enough size and speed to play on the outside, but he’s also capable of kicking inside to cover the slot, adding a versatile dimension to the Cardinals’ defense. With Patrick Peterson locking down one side of the field, the No. 2 corner spot is a vital spot for Arizona to address.

 

14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)

Solomon Thomas, Edge, Stanford

Continuing to move up draft boards after a strong combine, Thomas will fit well in Philadelphia where he can use his outstanding run-stopping ability at defensive end before kicking inside to rush the passer. Thomas was the best run defender in college football last season, finishing at 92.0 overall and improving as a pass-rusher to rank seventh among the nation’s interior defensive linemen, at 86.5.

 

15. Indianapolis Colts

Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama

Even with the additions of John Simon and Jabaal Sheard in free agency, there’s still room for pass-rushers in Indianapolis, especially a player like Tim Williams, who can make an immediate impact as a situational rusher. He’s only played 168 snaps against the run the last three years, and he may be limited there early on in the NFL, but he did his damage as a pass-rusher, where he put pressure on the quarterback on 26.1 percent of his rushes (the NCAA average is 10 percent).

 

16. Baltimore Ravens

Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn

Finding pass-rushers is still a priority for the Ravens, and Lawson is coming off a 2016 season in which he finally showed what he’s capable of when healthy. He recorded the fifth-best pass-rushing grade in the nation with his nine sacks, 13 QB hits, and 45 hurries on 364 rushes, and can step right in as a designated rusher as he develops as a run defender after ranking 161st in the country last season.

 

17. Washington Redskins

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

 

18. Tennessee Titans

John Ross, WR, Washington

 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Fournette would have been a good fit for Washington, but he also fits what Tampa Bay is trying to build offensively. RB Doug Martin is coming off an injury-riddled season, and Fournette can take right over in the Bucs’ downhill scheme that works well with his strengths. At his best, Fournette led the nation in forced missed tackles in 2015, with 83, as he brings speed and power to the position—even though he may be limited in the passing game.

 

20. Denver Broncos

Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin

 

21. Detroit Lions

Charles Harris, Edge, Missouri

 

22. Miami Dolphins

Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan

The Dolphins need an influx of youth at defensive end, and Charlton is a good fit at this point in the draft. He continues to improve, ranking as the No. 4 edge defender in the nation down the stretch, and he picked up 17 sacks, 19 QB hits, and 66 hurries on about a season-and-a-half’s worth of action between 2014 and 2016. Charlton is also stout on the edge against the run, and his best football may be ahead of him.

 

23. New York Giants

O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

This move is all about loading up on playmakers for the Giants’ offense. They already brought in former Jets WR Brandon Marshall to pair with Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard, and Howard adds a middle-of-the-field complement to the strong receiving corps. Howard wasn’t used often in the passing game at Alabama, but has the size and speed to stretch the seam; he averaged 7.1 yards after the catch per reception over the last three seasons.

 

24. Oakland Raiders

Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

 

25. Houston Texans

Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech

Mahomes lands in Houston for the second straight mock as the Texans continue to search for their signal-caller of the future. Even if they land Tony Romo in the short-term, Mahomes is a great developmental prospect, as his feel for the passing game and ability to create plays outside of structure is outstanding. That same feel also gets him into trouble, as he’ll have a number of bad plays in there, as well, but a team willing to work through the kinks may be rewarded with a high-end starter. Mahomes ranked second in the nation in both big-time throws and third in turnover-worthy throws last season, highlighting the boom-or-bust nature to his game.

 

26. Seattle Seahawks

Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky

 

27. Kansas City Chiefs

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

A 6.51 3-cone confirmed what we saw on tape from McCaffrey, and that’s outstanding change-of-direction ability. Our top-graded receiving running back from 2015, McCaffrey would be a top prospect if he was just a receiver, but he also brings a scheme-diverse, patient runner to the backfield. His best fit is with a team willing to utilize his mismatch-creating ability, lining him up all over the field and spreading the field to let him run the ball in either a man or zone scheme. McCaffrey adds another weapon to a Kansas City offense that is quietly adding versatile options all over the field.

 

28. Dallas Cowboys

Jordan Willis, Edge, Kansas State

 

29. Green Bay Packers

Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

 

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

 

31. Atlanta Falcons

Malik McDowell, Edge, Michigan State

 

32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots)

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson

A smooth-mover for a 6-foot-1 corner, Tankersley is scheme-diverse, as he can play press man coverage and off coverage proficiently. He can be too physical at times, something he’ll have to adjust to avoid illegal contact penalties at the next level, but opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 40.0 when throwing his way the last two years. The Saints continue to add more pieces to a defense that sorely needs it.