The Daily Briefing Thursday, October 11, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Could the Giants, who picked 2nd last year, get the 1st overall pick in 2019? Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com has a projection that says yep:
1 New York Giants (1-4)
2 Indianapolis (1-4)
3 Oakland (1-4)
4 San Francisco (1-4)
5 Arizona (1-4)
6 Atlanta (1-4)
7 Houston (2-3)
8 New York Jets (2-3)
9 Denver (2-3)
10 Detroit (2-3)
11 Buffalo (2-3)
12 Seattle (2-3)
13 Dallas (2-3)
14 Philadelphia (2-3)
15 Cleveland (2-2-1)
16 Tampa Bay (2-2)
17 Green Bay (2-2-1)
18 Washington (2-2)
19 Pittsburgh (2-2-1)
20 Minnesota (2-2-1)
21 Miami (3-2)
22 Los Angeles Chargers (3-2)
23 Tennessee (3-2)
24 Baltimore (3-2)
25 Jacksonville (3-2)
26 New England (3-2)
27 Chicago (to Oakland) (3-1)*
28 Carolina (3-1)
29 Cincinnati (4-1)
30 New Orleans (to Green Bay) (3-1)**
31 Kansas City (4-0)
32 Los Angeles Rams (4-0)
The Raiders probably weren’t planning on getting the 27th pick when they shipped KHALIL MACK to the Bears.
QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY isn’t going to mess with success reports Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com:
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky isn’t going to mess with success.
And his Bears teammates won’t let him, either.
Trubisky confirmed on Wednesday that — for the second straight game — he intends to wear a compression sleeve on his right throwing arm when the Bears (3-1) face the Miami Dolphins (3-2) on Sunday.
The last time Trubisky wore the sleeve, the second-year quarterback threw a career-best six touchdown passes in Chicago’s 48-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 30.
Trubisky explained the origin of the arm sleeve before Wednesday’s practice.
“I had a little cut on my arm a few weeks ago, and then it reopened in Arizona [in Week 3] on the first drive and was just gushing everywhere,” Trubisky said. “And I didn’t want that to happen [against the Bucs], and I covered it up. And then you play pretty well, some superstition, call it what you want. I also got a lot of threats that I have to wear it, so …”
Trubisky completed 19 of 26 passes for 354 yards and zero interceptions against the Bucs. Trubisky’ s six touchdown passes are tied for the second most in a single game by a Bears quarterback in franchise history.
“I’m going to keep it on,” Trubisky added. “We’ll see what the color is. But it feels comfortable, gives me a little more swag or whatever. Just go out there and do your thing with the arm sleeve. So we’ll see.”
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Meanwhile, Adam Gase of the Dolphins is amazed by Chicago’s KHALIL MACK. JJ Stankevitz at YahooSports.com:
Adam Gase’s Miami Dolphins found a way to prevent Khalil Mack from recording a sack when the Oakland Raiders traveled to Florida in 2017, which stands as an accomplishment going against a guy with 45 1/2 sacks in 68 career games.
Mack did have six pressures of Jay Cutler last year, though that didn’t keep the longtime Bears quarterback from having his best game in a Dolphins uniform (34/42, 311 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). But what the Dolphins did in Week 9 of last year doesn’t really apply to Week 6 of the 2018 season, as Gase explained.
“This is probably the best I’ve ever seen him, and I thought those first couple years in Oakland it was impressive to watch him play,” Gase, the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015, said. “But right now he’s playing at a different level than anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Mack returns from the Bears’ early off week with five sacks and a forced fumble in all four games he’s played. He’s averaging six pressures per game, tied for second-best in the NFL with Kansas City’s Dee Ford and behind only Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (6.2 pressures/game).
While Mack is on pace for a gaudy 20-sack season, there’s no reason why he can’t reach that total – since 2008, four players have reached that mark (DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Justin Houston and JJ Watt, who did it twice). Mack’s career high is 15 sacks, set in 2015, but as Gase said, he’s playing at a different level with the Bears. So why not 20?
“He looks really good right now, I know that,” Gase said. “Last year we played him a little later in the season, he was pretty banged up and he had some really good pass rushes that we just happened to barely get the ball off. You try to do everything you can to get it to where he can’t destroy the game – it’s always hard to stop him from affecting it in some capacity.”
The short week may claim T LANE JOHNSON tonight. Zach Rosenblatt of NJ.com:
The Eagles made a late addition to their injury report for Thursday night’s game against the Giants.
All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson was downgraded to questionable with an ankle injury. Johnson wasn’t listed on Wednesday’s injury report.
It’s unclear when Johnson suffered the injury, but his ankle injury was first mentioned on Monday’s report of the Eagles’ walkthrough after a Week 5 loss to the Vikings. Johnson was a limited participant in practice on Monday and Tuesday, but was a full participant on Wednesday.
Here are three thoughts about Johnson’s possible absence against the Giants.
1. The Eagles tend to struggle without him: Yes, Johnson hasn’t had his best stretch of performances these last two weeks. Perhaps the ankle injury has something to do with that. Regardless, the Eagles are simply better when Johnson is in the lineup. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles are 19-7 when he’s in the lineup, 2-8 when he isn’t.
2. Halapoulivaati Vaitai would start in his place: Vaitai has mostly been spelling 36-year-old Jason Peters at left tackle this season, but would fill in on the right side if Johnson is out. This is significant for a couple reasons. First, it would remove the Eagles’ top backup at left tackle when Peters hasn’t proven exactly capable of making it through an entire game this season. The Eagles only other offensive tackle, technically, is rookie Jordan Mailata, a seventh-round pick who had never played football before being drafted in April. It’s also possible the Eagles could shuffle left guard Isaac Seumalo to tackle, if necessary, and bring Stefen Wisniewski back into the lineup at guard.
Secondly, Vaitai hasn’t exactly played his best football when given the opportunity this season. He allowed four sacks and 17 pressures when he started in place of a suspended Johnson for six games in 2016. This season, he’s allowed two sacks and four pressures in a reserve role.
3. The timing isn’t … ideal: As Johnson potentially leaves the lineup, the Giants are getting back one of their best defensive linemen. Olivier Vernon is expected to make his season debut after missing the first five games of the season with an ankle injury. Vernon had 126 total quarterback pressures over the last two seasons.
The NFL has decided not to fine DT GRADY JARRETT for a perfect form tackle. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:
Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett had a $20,054 fine for a hit on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles rescinded by the NFL following an appeal, multiple sources told ESPN.
The league initially issued the fine after Jarrett was penalized for roughing Foles in the Falcons’ season-opening loss to the Eagles. The much disputed “body weight on the quarterback” came into play, but Jarrett insisted from the beginning it was a legal hit.
“I feel like not power-driving him into the ground is fair,” Jarrett told ESPN after the initial fine. “I feel like not intentionally hitting him in the head is fair. Form tackle — like I asked when the refs came to speak to us — I don’t think that’s fair to call roughing. And we’ve seen that happen a lot. That’s something that we hope they take into more consideration as far as not being so quick to pull it. If they want to do that, they might as well go to two-hand touch.”
Jarrett made his appeal via video last month.
“I didn’t feel like it was a penalty; the team didn’t feel like it was a penalty; my representatives didn’t feel like it was penalty,” Jarrett said after making the appeal.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn sided with Jarrett from the outset, saying his player used the proper technique on the play.
Jarrett having his fine rescinded should not be shocking. Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers was flagged for roughing the passer on three separate occasions this season, two involving body weight on the quarterback, yet never received a fine.
Funny how things work out. LB THOMAS DAVIS picked up a PED suspension for what we suspect was a crime of ignorance without criminal intent. He was outraged his good name was tarnished, but during his time off some events occurred that required his full attention. That said, Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com reports that Davis missed his team-oriented support system:
Thomas Davis missed football because he was a football player.
But the Panthers linebacker also missed his support system, when he went through a difficult personal time during his suspension.
Via David Newton of ESPN.com, Davis came back from his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances this week, after a turbulent month which included the death of his father and his mother having a pair of emergency surgeries.
“When you lose a parent, when you have your mother have two emergency surgeries, and besides the family, not really have the guys you depended on so much over the years to lean on, it makes it that much tougher,” Davis said. “It’s definitely good to be back.
“Being able to go out there and practice takes you away from things you have going on in your life, some of the things you have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Davis said he was grateful that teammates will be able to be with him Saturday, when they bury his father Ulysses, who died after complications following a heart attack. The Panthers will then fly to Washington for a game the next day, Davis’ first of the season.
“I’m pretty sure things are going to be pretty difficult Saturday when we have the funeral,” Davis said. “Seeing that situation he was in for a whole month and coming to grips he really wasn’t getting any better, . . . you start to feel like you can’t no longer be selfish in wanting him to keep staying in that position.”
While his professional situation pales in comparison, his story underscores the human bonds created within locker rooms, and it’s clear having those taken away for a month had an impact on Davis as well.
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DE JULIUS PEPPERS is following in the noble path of J.J. WATT. Charlotte Carroll of SI.com:
After Hurricane Florence hit, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers started a relief fund by contributing $100,000 of his own money. On Tuesday, he spent his off day helping recovery efforts in Lumberton, which made him realize the scope of the disaster, he told the Charlotte Observer’s Jourdan Rodrigue.
Peppers is from Baily, North Carolina, which is less than a two-hour drive from Lumberton.
“My home isn’t too far away from that area, and that made it real to me,” Peppers said. “It made it real to me to actually come down here and see some of the damage, some of the people who were affected by this disaster.”
He spent the day speaking with residents, seeing homes and offering support as he heard stories. He helped serve meals and helped repair a home for a policeman who was serving the community when the storm hit.
He’s hoping that along with his fund, people show up to help.
“I think a big part of the solution to these problems, and a big part of the help is the volunteers,” Peppers told the Observer. “People actually getting out there on the ground, putting in the work, going around helping other people and showing compassion for your neighbors. That really left an impression on me. …People need to know that we’re all a big community and we all need help from time to time.”
Peppers played football and basketball at North Carolina.
You can donate here.
Broncos LB ALEXANDER JOHNSON has dodged a Tennessee DUI, but he may not escape the long arm of NFL Justice. The AP:
Denver Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson has pleaded guilty to simple possession and failure to exercise due care while driving and had a DUI charge against him dismissed.
Johnson agreed to a judicial diversion program enabling the charges to be dropped if he pays court costs and successfully completes 363 days of unsupervised probation.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel first reported the news.
Johnson was charged with a DUI and cited for simple possession in July 2017. Police said Johnson had bloodshot eyes with alcohol on his breath and a marijuana cigarette next to him during a traffic stop.
The resolution comes 2-plus months after Knoxville jurors acquitted Johnson and former University of Tennessee teammate Michael Williams of aggravated rape charges stemming from a November 2014 incident. Johnson signed with the Broncos after the trial.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t cite any specific plays on Sunday, and he didn’t name any specific names, when he called on the NFL to improve the quality of its officiating to create a better quality game. Some thought the NFL would let the comments from a member of the Competition Committee pass, but now word comes out that Tomlin was awarded a significant fine. Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Mike Tomlin’s criticism of the officiating reportedly has made him $25,000 lighter in the wallet.
USA Today and the NFL Network, citing sources, reported Wednesday afternoon that Tomlin was fined for the comments he made Sunday after the Steelers’ 41-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Tomlin, a member of the league’s competition committee, said on Tuesday that he did not expect to receive a fine.
It is the second known fine that Tomlin received in his 12-year tenure with the Steelers. He was docked $100,000 for stepping onto the field during a kickoff return in a 2013 game at Baltimore.
Tomlin was critical of the officiating when he was asked about two hands-to-the-face penalties that were called against outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Tomlin said he had no problem with those calls, before adding, “Some of the other stuff is a joke. We got to get better as a National Football League. Man, these penalties are costing people games and jobs. We got to get them correct, and so I’m (ticked) about it, to be quite honest with you, but that’s all I’m going to say on it.”
Are the Jaguars eying London? Rumors flare again. Is he thinking of playing the equivalent of 16 road games? Ian Herbert of The Daily Mail:
Shahid Khan is not letting the grass grow under his feet. Even before the FA Council’s 127 members discuss selling Wembley Stadium to him on Thursday, the Fulham owner’s staff are examining how to limit the tax he will pay in the UK when bringing his Jacksonville Jaguars to what until now has been the home of English football.
Sportsmail understands that Khan would be is looking to continue basing his team in Florida, regardless of staging their home games at what he anticipates would be the new jewel in his London property portfolio.
Tax liabilities are already complicated enough for NFL players who, under Internal Revenue Service rules in the US, must pay a percentage of their income to each state they play in during the NFL season. It’s why Khan’s staff are keen to avoid dealing with the UK’s Inland Revenue.
By flying into London for games, perhaps on a Thursday, and leaving immediately afterwards, the team will also avoid exhausting journeys from London to the US west coast for ‘away’ games and the Florida climate will be conducive to players.
The point is that Khan has fierce financial focus. He’s turned the Jaguars’ stadium into a commercial goldmine by attending to the small details of how to sweat the asset.
Doing that is a financial necessity in the NFL, where TV and sponsorship revenues are shared out equally between franchises and the only way of extracting commercial advantage is by working the bricks and mortar to death all year round.
Those who have worked with him say he will do precisely the same at Wembley. England might be negotiating to ensure ‘major fixtures’ are still played at the stadium but the national stadium will, in every sense, be lost.
And for what gain? Khan’s offer to the FA is £600m, a figure very substantially less than the £860m the FA has spent buying and rebuilding it since 1999.
He will base his NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars in Florida – with home games in London
The Economist newspaper observed this week that house prices in London have trebled in the 19 years since the FA bought the stadium and that is what makes the value look poor. It’s what happens when you’re selling your house and have only one potential buyer.
The FA counters that the money will go to the grassroots game, though how long will it last and how far will it reach with the 29,000 clubs out there is questionable. The £61m of lottery and government money have stumped up to assist the FA’s development of Wembley must be repaid. Then it will be a race against time to achieve the ‘transformation’ of the game that the FA is promising before the money runs out.
By the time it does, expect Khan to have shown the governing body a thing or two about how to make a stadium like Wembley into a cash machine. Ask those who have worked with him and it keeps coming back to commercial rigour.
‘It’s the American fan experience idea for him,’ one tells Sportsmail. ‘He makes the experience for visitors so good that they keep coming back and he is constantly looking for reasons to bring them back. Events, events, events. That’s what he’s about.
‘He is much better at that than the British. You have to feel the FA will look back on a sale and wonder why they couldn’t install the kind of people he employs and make it work financially for them.’
There is evidence at Fulham of what this one-time Khan executive means. The £100m he has invested in the new Craven Cottage Riverside Stand, overlooking the Thames, is expected to become a bigger non-match-day earner as on the 19 days a year that Fulham play at home. For just six times that cost, Khan gets to own Wembley. He’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
Now, let’s say he starts out by playing four games per year in London, four in JAX. If he gets two home games in a row in London, the team stays over for the week in between.
So maybe three trips Across the Pond – and see if JAX still supports a team that plays four games there.
At least that’s what the DB might do.
THIS AND THAT
Rivers McCown (hey, his name includes two QBs) at ESPN.com lists the NFL’s 6 most improved offenses, starting with one that was pretty good to start with last year (edited for space):
This NFL season has been one of passing records being set almost every other week. Both Week 3 and Week 4 set efficiency records, and while Week 5 wasn’t quite as big of a deal, average passer ratings for the league are floating around what a Joe Montana season would look like. The Colts, Cardinals and Bills are the only three teams not averaging more than 6.6 yards per passing attempt.
With offensive stats out of control, the standards of what makes a “good” offense have changed. Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, which are defense-adjusted, help us cut through the noise. Because DVOA attempts to find the average of every team as a baseline, we’re not taking all of history’s passing attempts and measuring what’s happening this year against them. We’re merely looking at which teams have done the best in the context of the current passing environment.
Here are the six teams that have made the biggest strides in 2018:
1. Los Angeles Rams
2017 offensive DVOA: 11.1% | 2018 offensive DVOA: 38.5% | Difference: +27.4%
One thing you might not be aware of is that when an average shifts, the outliers are usually very strong. The Rams’ offense is nothing if not an outlier. Not only have the Rams embarrassed the bad defenses they’ve played, but they also ran roughshod over Minnesota (a good defense) on Thursday Night Football. The Rams have one of the 10 best offensive DVOA ratings through five weeks that we’ve ever recorded, even after adjusting for this year’s explosive passing numbers across the league. The Rams have improved as both a passing offense and a rushing offense over where they were last season, and they don’t have a weakness.
I’m sure we’ll see some team this season catch the Rams off-guard in a single game, but it’s hard to say that what we’ve seen so far is a fluke.
Johnny Hekker has punted eight times in five games.
2. Denver Broncos
2017 offensive DVOA: -19.0% | 2018 offensive DVOA: 7.2% | Difference: +26.2%
Here’s a team you wouldn’t think about as an offensive improvement, given its issues. Some of this improvement is the difference between a bridge quarterback and the abysmal situation from last season. Case Keenum is no great shakes — he might even be benched soon! — but he has offered a lot more than Mom’s three sons did last season. (That would be Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler.)
The enormous difference, though, has been in the rushing offense. The Broncos have the No. 1 rushing DVOA, climbing from -11.9% last season to 18.8% in 2018. 2017 first-round left tackle Garett Bolles has led a step forward on the offensive line.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
2017 offensive DVOA: 15.9% | 2018 offensive DVOA: 34.3% | Difference: +18.4%
All the hubbub about training camp interceptions and how the Chiefs were risking a good thing by trading away Alex Smith sure seemed to disappear when people actually watched Patrick Mahomes play.
Almost all the improvement the Chiefs have made has been with the passing offense, which has gone from 30.6% DVOA last season to 65.1% DVOA in 2018.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
2017 offensive DVOA: -6.6% | 2018 offensive DVOA: 10.2% | Difference: +16.7%
The story of the Bengals is largely a story about putting Andy Dalton in a situation to succeed. He has looked more confident and comfortable in the pocket in 2018, taking throws he simply wouldn’t chance in 2017. The two main factors in this are offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and new left tackle Cordy Glenn.
It always feels so precarious with Dalton, perhaps because we’ve seen the Bengals have to balance this perfect box around him for years. But he’s playing at a high level right now, and there isn’t much reason to think Cincinnati’s offense is going to regress when the outlier was what happened in 2017.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
2017 offensive DVOA: 10.6% | 2018 offensive DVOA: 24.4% | Difference: +13.8%
The teams so far have a common thread of improvement, but the Chargers don’t really fit that thread. They were healthy last season, they haven’t changed much of the lineup — the only new player is center Mike Pouncey — and nobody has taken a gigantic leap forward. In fact, with Hunter Henry on IR since the preseason, you can argue the Chargers have less talent than last year.
Instead, the main difference for the Chargers has been how they’ve approached the passing game. To make do with Henry’s injury, a lot more of the passing game focus has been on the running backs, as any Melvin Gordon fantasy owner would know. What those owners might not know is just how effective Gordon and Austin Ekeler have been out of the backfield. Ekeler leads all running backs in receiving DYAR and DVOA.
6. Chicago Bears
2017 offensive DVOA: -15.1% | 2018 offensive DVOA: -2.2% | Difference: +12.9%
New head coach Matt Nagy has not entirely succeeded in his goal to make Chicago’s offense as dominant as Kansas City’s has been, but it has still been a huge upgrade over years of depressing John Fox field-position football.
How has this offense changed? Drastically and in every way. Last year’s Bears team had neither the skill-position talent nor the direction to run a competent offense. Allen Robinson and Trey Burton were an injection of free-agent, skill-position talent. The offense kept Fox’s focus on channeling easy throws but mixed in Nagy’s view of explosiveness rather than ball possession. Trubisky’s expected completion percentage, per NFL Next Gen Stats, is 67.6 percent, ranking ninth in the NFL. But Trubisky is one of only two players in that top nine (Jared Goff is the other) who averages eight or more intended air yards per pass.
If Trubisky can play more like the guy who threw six touchdowns against the Bucs and less like the guy who stalled out drives all over national television while Khalil Mack won the Bears some games, we’ve got a serious Super Bowl contender on our hands. But nothing we’ve seen so far makes us all that optimistic about it.
Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com with the NFL ratings update:
After two straight years of declines, the NFL’s television ratings are bouncing back.
Through five weeks of the season, NFL games are averaging 3 percent more viewers than last year. That’s not enough to offset the declines of the last two years, which were in the 8-10 percent range each year, but it is enough to end any talk that NFL ratings were in free fall.
And ratings seem to be getting stronger as the season wears on. In each of the last two weeks, four of the six broadcast windows were up compared to last year. In Week One and Week Two, most of the broadcast windows were down.
The NFL’s slight ratings increase is particularly impressive given the overall downward trend of TV ratings. Many of the longtime mainstays on TV — from The Big Bang Theory to Dancing With the Stars to The Walking Dead — have endured serious audience erosion.
“Everything in television is threatened in ratings because people have so many other choices, and that includes the NFL,” Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University, told NBC News. “But in the end, I think the NFL is actually surprisingly stable given all of those other changes.”
Even programming that is doing well still isn’t doing as well as the NFL. The Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees playoff series that wrapped up Tuesday night got strong ratings for TBS, but it was no match for the NFL: When Red Sox-Yankees went head-to-head with the NFL on Monday night, ESPN drew more than twice as many viewers for football as TBS drew for baseball.
Not all the news is great for the NFL. The audience for NFL games appears to be getting older, which isn’t a good sign for the long-term health of the league. But after two consecutive years of bad ratings news, the league is glad to have some good news for a change.
The NFL trade deadline is fast approaching. Teams have until Oct. 30 to negotiate deals, and as we saw last year with the Cleveland Browns’ bungled attempt to trade for AJ McCarron, they’ll use every last second of that time to try to make moves. The league has gotten far more trade-happy over the past few years, with teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams leading the way in building their rosters around trades.
Let’s run through some trade possibilities that might make sense for both sides. Mostly, we’re seeing promising high draft picks who haven’t developed in their current locale move to new cities, and veterans on rebuilding teams heading to playoff contenders, which are generally the sort of moves you’ll see around the trade deadline. Oh, and by law, there’s a Le’Veon Bell trade in the mix.
Miami WR DeVante Parker to Dallas
The details: The Miami Dolphins trade Parker to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2019 sixth-round pick.
Let’s start with a logical move. The Cowboys are absolutely bereft of wide receiver weapons for Dak Prescott.
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No team is dealing a star wideout at midseason unless they have Josh Gordon-sized red flags, so let’s get the Cowboys a wide receiver with upside who has been held back by injuries. Parker was a breakout candidate before the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but things never quite launched for a variety of reasons. In 2016, the Dolphins threw the ball only 477 times, fewer than any team besides the Buffalo Bills. Prorate Parker’s 56-744-4 line to a league-average number of pass attempts and you get something more like 67 catches for 891 yards and five scores, which seems more promising.
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Miami is going to go forward with its expensive trio of wideouts, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, which makes sense. The Dolphins picked up Parker’s fifth-year option before the season, which isn’t surprising given their financial ineptitude, so the Cowboys would be acquiring Parker for a late-round pick in the hopes that he flourishes over the next year-plus. They could get out of Parker’s $9.4 million salary in 2019 without penalty if Parker doesn’t get hurt, which is the only reason they shouldn’t take a flier on a wideout who has the sort of athletic traits the current group can’t touch.
Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy to Philadelphia
The details: Buffalo Bills trade McCoy to Philadelphia Eagles for G Stefen Wisniewski, 2019 sixth-round pick.
OK, let’s get weirder. The Eagles restructured Fletcher Cox’s contract this week to free up $6.5 million in cap space, which is a curious tactic for a team to pursue during the season unless it’s planning on acquiring some salary. Philadelphia has a need at running back with Jay Ajayi shelved by a torn ACL and both Corey Clement and Darren Sproles struggling to stay on the field. General manager Howie Roseman is certainly familiar with McCoy, who was traded to the Bills for Kiko Alonso during the Chip Kelly era. McCoy also played under Andy Reid, whose scheme at the time shares similarities with Doug Pederson’s now.
The Bills are rebuilding, and while McCoy offers Josh Allen a safety valve, the 30-year-old back is not going to be part of the next Bills team to make the playoffs. He has $4.3 million in base salary remaining in 2018 and a $6.2 million base salary next year, and while I suspect the Eagles probably wouldn’t be interested in paying Shady that much in 2019, they could certainly use him for the remainder of this campaign.
To make the case more palatable for the Bills, they’re going to get a player who might help Allen develop. The 29-year-old Wisniewski started 11 games for the Eagles last season and helped them win a Super Bowl, but as the Philadelphia offensive line has struggled in 2018, Wisniewski has been benched for Isaac Seumalo. Wisniewski has suggested that the benching wasn’t performance-based, and while the Eagles might be willing to tolerate his griping, they could also trade Wisniewski and activate Chance Warmack as their backup guard. Wisniewski is under contract until 2019 and could represent an upgrade on guard John Miller or center Russell Bodine.
Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell to Washington
The details: Pittsburgh Steelers trade Bell to Washington Redskins for 2019 third-round pick.
One big-name running back deserves another. The Steelers reportedly shopped Bell before he announced his intentions to return to the team during the bye, and while they are likely a better team with Bell in the fold, do they want to upset what’s already seemingly a difficult locker room? James Conner just had a monster game against the Atlanta Falcons; if he follows things up with another impressive performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, are you going to want to disturb your breakout running back by adding Bell to that mix?
The answer to those questions might very well be yes. If the Steelers think otherwise, though, they’re probably not going to have many suitors for Bell. We can do this “Guess Who?” style. Since Bell can’t be signed to an extension until next year, any team that doesn’t expect to contend for a playoff berth this season is out. Let’s throw out every team with less than a 15 percent chance of making the playoffs, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. Throw out the teams with less than $5 million in cap space, who would have to do too much to absorb Bell’s prorated salary of $10.3 million. Next, remove the teams who have healthy star backs. Finally, let’s take out the teams the Steelers would be likely to face in the AFC postseason, since I can’t imagine that they want to see Bell in January.
We’re left with only four teams: the Buccaneers, Eagles, Texans and Redskins. The Eagles already have suggested they’re not interested in trading for Bell, and I doubt the Steelers would want to trade him to another team in Pennsylvania. The Texans have $20 million in cap room but probably want to roll over that room to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. They also aren’t in a position to trade away draft picks for rentals after dealing away their first two 2018 picks to the Browns.
So now, we’re down to Tampa Bay and Washington. Both of these teams are viable landing spots. Tampa is struggling in the running game, with Peyton Barber averaging 3.0 yards per attempt and second-round pick Ronald Jones making it onto the active roster for the first time in Week 4. Tampa already has benched Ryan Fitzpatrick after his hot start, but if Jameis Winston plays the way he did during the final five games of 2017, the Bucs could still be in the thick of the playoff picture in the NFC.
Washington seems like a slightly better fit for a few reasons. One is that its owner is irrational and shortsighted, which isn’t news. Trading for Bell would win Daniel Snyder positive short-term headlines in D.C. as Kirk Cousins plays well in Minnesota. Washington already has injury issues at running back with Derrius Guice done for the season and both Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson leaving the game against the Saints for stretches. Peterson has a dislocated shoulder, while Thompson injured his ribs. Bell would be a massive upgrade on Peterson.
In addition, even with the brutal loss in New Orleans, Washington is better positioned to compete for a playoff berth in a wide-open NFC East. FPI gives Jay Gruden’s team a 29 percent chance of making the postseason and a 22.8 percent shot of winning the division. The Buccaneers also are 2-2, but they have only an 18.4 percent shot of making it into January, with a 7.5 percent chance to win the NFC South.
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For Pittsburgh, moving on from Bell would end the circus surrounding the team. The Steelers would be guaranteed to get the best possible compensatory pick and would pick up that selection in the 2019 draft as opposed to waiting until 2020. The Steelers also could flip that pick for help in the secondary, where Artie Burns & Co. have been a mess. My guess is that the Steelers hold onto Bell, but if they do decide they want to cut ties now, Washington makes the most sense.
Detroit WR Golden Tate to Tennessee
The details: Detroit Lions trade Tate to Tennessee Titans for WR Tajae Sharpe, 2019 fourth-round pick.
While the Lions are still giving Tate plenty of targets, the 30-year-old former Seahawks standout is in the final year of his deal and seems unlikely to return to Detroit after the breakout of Kenny Golladay.
Cleveland QB Tyrod Taylor to Jacksonville
The details: Cleveland Browns trade Taylor to Jacksonville Jaguars for 2019 conditional seventh-round pick.
The Browns don’t need Taylor after benching him for Baker Mayfield, and while Taylor would presumably return to the lineup if Mayfield were to get injured, he didn’t really seem like a good fit in Hue Jackson’s offense, which also has No. 3 QB Drew Stanton. Taylor is likely looking at backup work in free agency in 2019, and the Browns are essentially going to eat the $7 million or so remaining in base salary on his deal.
One place that might make sense for Taylor, though, is Jacksonville. While Blake Bortles struggled badly against the Chiefs in Week 5, I don’t think the Jags would be pursuing Taylor as a replacement for their hot-and-cold starter. Bortles is basically priced in as the leader of this offense until 2019. Taylor would fit in as a likely upgrade at backup ahead of Cody Kessler by virtue of his ability to avoid giveaways, although he struggled with the Browns.
Arizona LB Deone Bucannon to Jets
The details: Arizona Cardinals trade Bucannon, 2019 fourth-round pick to New York Jets for 2019 seventh-round pick.
Bucannon was once a breakout star and a model for the way defenses would evolve as a safety turned into a linebacker. At his best, Bucannon was capable of covering athletic tight ends and terrifying opposing quarterbacks as a pass-rusher.
Since undergoing ankle surgery in May 2017, though, Bucannon seemingly hasn’t been the same player. He struggled in 2017 and hasn’t taken to the scheme of new coach Steve Wilks, who has promptly benched the former first-round pick. Bucannon played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in the opener and 73 percent in Week 4, but he fielded just one defensive snap in Week 3 and four during last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Complicating matters is Bucannon’s salary. The Cardinals are paying Bucannon $8.7 million as part of the fifth-year option in his rookie deal, which is an astronomical sum for a player who isn’t seeing the field and clearly won’t be back in the desert after the year. The Cardinals would love to shed the $6.1 million remaining on Bucannon’s deal for both cap and cash purposes, but no team is going to trade for that deal as is.
The best-case scenario is that the Cardinals make an Osweiler Trade and package a draft pick to make Bucannon’s contract more palatable. There’s a logical landing point with the Jets, where former Cardinals coordinator Todd Bowles is now the coach and should be able to find a way to incorporate Bucannon’s unique skill set into one of the league’s more modern defenses.
Cleveland LB Jamie Collins to New England
The details: Browns trade Collins to New England Patriots for 2019 seventh-round pick.
Speaking of linebackers on unsustainable contracts, Collins’ four-year, $50 million pact with the Browns hasn’t worked out. He missed 11 games in 2017 with a concussion and a torn MCL, and his role in the defense has been marginalized with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey emerging as every-down linebackers. When Schobert and Kirksey are healthy, Collins is the guy usually coming off the field when the Browns go into their sub packages.
The Browns can cut Collins after the year and free up more than $9 million in cap space, which seems likely. In the meantime, they could convert some of the $7.5 million in prorated base salary remaining on Collins’ deal into a signing bonus to make his contract more tradable. Let’s say they convert $5 million into a bonus to save $2.5 million as part of a trade.
Collins’ time in New England didn’t end well, but the Patriots need help in their front seven after losing Ja’Whaun Bentley to a torn biceps. A healthy, motivated Collins would be an upgrade on the likes of Kyle Van Noy and free up Dont’a Hightower to take the occasional snap as an edge rusher, a tactic the Patriots used to try to create pressure before Hightower got injured last season. The Patriots wouldn’t owe Collins any guaranteed money after the season and would surely ask Collins to renegotiate his deal to stay with the team. Would a one-year reunion make sense for both parties?
Oakland S Karl Joseph to Atlanta
The details: Oakland Raiders trade Joseph to Atlanta Falcons for 2019 sixth-round pick.
Another former first-round pick who has fallen out of favor under a new regime, Joseph was counting his defensive snaps in the single digits before going down with a hamstring injury. Jon Gruden most recently blamed Joseph and departed safety Obi Melifonwu for the Raiders’ passing on Chargers first-round pick Derwin James, which should tell you how highly he thinks of the West Virginia standout.
Joseph looked like a game-changing playmaker before struggling to find his way in Oakland, and at 25, he still should have time to develop. Any team acquiring him would get to see how he performs over the next few months before deciding whether they want to pick up his fifth-year option. The Falcons have a desperate need at safety after losing Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen to season-ending injuries, and while Joseph is not going to be the plug-and-play solution Earl Thomas would have been, his athleticism would make the former 14th overall pick a high-upside solution in the second half of the season for a flailing Falcons defense.
New Orleans LB Craig Robertson to Pittsburgh
The details: New Orleans Saints trade Robertson to Steelers for CB Coty Sensabaugh.
The Steelers have a problem at inside linebacker. Jon Bostic has been a mess in coverage while taking regular snaps, and while L.J. Fort flashed in the absence of Vince Williams, the Steelers need to add someone with more meaningful NFL experience capable of covering tight ends. They are allowing 83 yards per game to tight ends, the third-highest rate in football.
Robertson isn’t exactly Lavonte David or Luke Kuechly, but he’s a competent inside linebacker who has been buried on the Saints’ depth chart. The former Browns starter didn’t take any defensive snaps over the first three weeks of the season before racking up 31 snaps over the past two weeks in Manti Te’o’s absence. When Te’o returns, Robertson will likely end up limited to special teams duty.
Of course, Steelers fans might argue that they’re not exactly in a position to be trading away cornerbacks, but you have to give something to get something. The Steelers have to hope that 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns improves, because if he can’t beat out Sensabaugh, Pittsburgh is doomed anyway. Sensabaugh isn’t a starting-caliber NFL cornerback, but for a Saints team that already has benched Ken Crawley and just lost Marshon Lattimore to a concussion in advance of the bye, competent backups capable of playing 20 snaps per game would be a welcome addition.
Chicago CB Marcus Cooper to Kansas City
The details: Chicago Bears trade Cooper to Kansas City Chiefs for 2019 seventh-round pick.
It might be a surprise to some Bears fans that Cooper remains on the team, given that the 28-year-old hasn’t played much since infamously fumbling away a blocked field goal return on the 1-yard line against the Steelers last season. Cooper was benched shortly thereafter and cut from his four-year, $16 million contract after the season, although he re-signed with the Bears on a one-year, $1.5 million deal in March.
Indianapolis K Adam Vinatieri to Chargers
The details: Indianapolis Colts trade Vinatieri, 2019 sixth-round pick to Los Angeles Chargers for K Caleb Sturgis, 2019 fourth-round pick.
Let’s finish by trying to solve an unsolvable problem. The Chargers haven’t been able to find a reliable kicker since the days of Nate Kaeding, and even Kaeding was brutally bad during the postseason. Sturgis is Los Angeles’ most recent attempt to solve its kicking woes, but the former Dolphins and Eagles kicker doesn’t have a track record of success and is off to a brutal start, missing three field goals and four extra points on his first 12 attempts in each category.
If anyone can deal with the pressure of kicking in the apparently brutal conditions of Los Angeles, it’s Vinatieri, who has now spent 23 years in the league for the Patriots and Colts. The Chargers have had 13 kickers make a field goal wearing their uniform since Vinatieri entered the league in 1996. They are a playoff-caliber team and don’t have a kicker they can trust. Vinatieri might have one last shot at winning another ring and would get to kick in the best non-dome weather in football.
The Colts probably aren’t going to the postseason, so here’s a chance for them to get Vinatieri into the playoffs. In return, they’ll get a meaningful selection as they rebuild their roster and Sturgis, who will fill in as their kicker for the remainder of the campaign.