The Daily Briefing Tuesday, February 21, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Cowboys have reworked some deals and will be cap compliant.  Todd Archer at ESPN.com:

 

Whenever the 2017 salary cap is finalized, the Dallas Cowboys don’t have to worry about getting under the allowed amount.

 

On Monday the Cowboys restructured the contracts of All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith and All-Pro center Travis Frederick, freeing up $17.3 million, moving them under a proposed salary-cap of $168 million for 2017, according to sources.

 

In a simple accounting move, the Cowboys lowered Smith’s $10 million base salary and Frederick’s $14.221 million base salary and turned the difference into signing bonus. Instead of counting $15.8 million (Smith) and $14.871 million (Frederick) against the cap in 2017, they will count $8.82 million and $4.531 million, respectively.

 

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys were slightly more than $13 million over a cap of $170 million before the restructures.

 

The Cowboys can create more room by restructuring the contracts of linebacker Sean Lee, receiver Dez Bryant and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, as well as working on an extension for tight end Jason Witten.

 

A release of Tony Romo can create either $5.1 million in salary-cap room or $14 million if he is designated a post-June 1 cap casualty, however, they would not gain the credit until June 2.

 

The Cowboys had planned all along to rework the deals of Smith and Frederick. This is the third straight year they have restructured Smith’s contract. The Cowboys signed Frederick to an eight-year deal last August with the expressed desire for it to be restructured.

 

Given their age — Smith doesn’t turn 27 until December; Frederick turns 26 in March — and productivity, the Cowboys are OK in adding to their cap numbers down the road.

 

Smith has been named to the Pro Bowl the past four years, and Frederick has been named the past three. Smith is a two-time All-Pro, and Frederick earned the honor for the first time last season.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com crunches some numbers to see if the Giants are going to put the franchise tag on DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL:

 

It is not a matter of if the New York Giants want defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to return. It is a matter of whether they can make it happen financially.

 

Pierre-Paul is set to become a free agent after completing his seventh season with the team. He had 7.0 sacks in 12 games before sports hernia surgery ruined his prove-it year.

 

To erase doubts he could still play at a high level after losing his right index finger and parts of several others in a fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul was among the league leaders with eight batted passes and added 54 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

The Giants are sold.

 

“Do we want him back? Of course we want him back,” general manager Jerry Reese said after the season. “He’s a good football player.”

 

It’s not going to be easy. Pierre-Paul deservedly wants to get paid with a long-term deal, but the Giants are already heavily invested in their defensive line and have Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins as pending free agents. Word on the street is that they are genuinely trying to keep the defense intact, which means bringing back Pierre-Paul and Hankins.

 

The Giants might need to use the franchise tag on Pierre-Paul for the second time in three years to make it happen. The franchise number for a defensive end is expected to be about $17 million. That might be where this one is headed, at least as a place-holder until a long-term deal is reached.

 

Free agent file

 

Jason Pierre-Paul

 

Jason Pierre-Paul had seven sacks in 12 games last season. Al Bello/Getty Images

Position: Defensive end

 

Age: 28

 

Experience: 7 years

 

Projected contract: 4 years, $59 million, $21 million guaranteed

 

(Note: The projected contract was derived from the average of five league sources surveyed. The panel consists of a front office executive, salary-cap experts and agents.)

 

Comparable contract: Olivier Vernon (Giants)

It’s not exactly apples to apples, but Vernon signed a five-year, $85 million deal with a record $52.5 million guaranteed last offseason. That was money that likely wouldn’t have been available had Pierre-Paul not been involved in a July 4th fireworks accident the previous year. Now Pierre-Paul is 28, has damaged fingers and quite a bit of wear and tear on his body. Pierre-Paul is going to aim for a similar deal (and likely more), because when he was on the field this season it could be argued he was the better player. The difference is he’s not injury-free, 25 years old and in a free-agent class with a dearth of pass-rushers. Still, Pierre-Paul is justifiably going to want to get paid. He’s waited seven years for this long-term deal and already said he’s not going to play on another one-year contract. If the Giants use the franchise tag, it’s not going to be well-received.

 

Market: Teams are always looking for pass-rushers. For a team that plays a 4-3 defense, Pierre-Paul might be the best available option at defensive end, although there are some quality 3-4 edge rushers this year. The Giants, Bucs, Jaguars, Cowboys and Browns are some potential suitors. The market for Pierre-Paul should be strong, which could make it difficult for the Giants to get him at a price that works for both parties if he hits the market.

 

What he brings: Pierre-Paul is a solid run defender and pass-rusher. He proved this past season that he can still play despite the limitations with his hand. He’s in tremendous physical shape and has a body that can make him a force in any system. He has a solid all-around game that can help just about any team. The biggest question is his durability. In addition to the hand, he’s had back, shoulder and abdominal problems throughout his career.

 

Synopsis: Pierre-Paul proved this past season that he’s worth a lucrative investment. Even though a good chunk of his sacks came against the Browns and Bears (two bad teams), he produced consistent pressure off the edge and re-established himself as an effective run defender. He’s not among the league’s best pass-rushers, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with each week for opposing offenses.

 

Chances he returns to Giants: 70 percent

The franchise tag factors heavily into this equation. If that tool weren’t available, the odds of Pierre-Paul returning would be 40 percent. But it’s hard to imagine the Giants allowing a 28-year-old pass-rusher with plenty of gas in the tank to walk without any immediate compensation in return.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Adam Stites at SBNation.com thinks QB KIRK COUSINS has the means and motive to escape the clutches of the Redskins.

 

After playing the 2016 season under the franchise tag, Kirk Cousins is less than a month away from reaching free agency.

 

Of course, Washington has a chance to keep the quarterback around by either negotiating a long-term deal with Cousins or using the franchise tag to lock him down for another season.

 

The problem is that after more than a year of trying to broker a long-term deal with Cousins, Washington has seemingly made no progress. And with free agency coming on March 9, the only way to make sure Cousins doesn’t leave is to give him the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, which would pay him a little more than $23.9 million guaranteed.

 

It’s a sticky situation for Washington, which doesn’t want to lose its starting quarterback but also doesn’t want to submarine its salary cap situation for one player.

 

Cousins is worth paying even if he isn’t elite

Quarterback is a position a team can’t be without in the NFL. For years, the Houston Texans have been on the doorstep of something big but haven’t been able to find even halfway competent quarterback play.

 

No matter what your opinion of Cousins is, there’s no doubt he’s far better than halfway competent.

 

In his two seasons as a starter, he’s completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. His 99.3 passer rating over that span is behind only Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson, and it’s just ahead of Aaron Rodgers.

 

Still, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. While he’s racked up the stats of an elite quarterback, he’s benefited from one of the best supporting casts in the NFL. And despite so many weapons to work with, Washington was outside the top 10 in points scored and Cousins struggled to capitalize in the red zone.

 

Inside the opponents’ 10-yard line, Cousins completed 31.6 percent of his passes in 2016. Only Bryce Petty, Nick Foles, and a few other quarterbacks who played limited time were less efficient.

 

But would Washington be better off without him? Absolutely not.

 

The other options on the roster are Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld, the team likely won’t find its Super Bowl savior with the No. 17 pick in the NFL draft, and the best options in free agency are likely going to be Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Tyrod Taylor, or Colin Kaepernick.

 

Cousins is Washington’s best bet by a mile.

 

Letting Cousins hit the market would mean he’s as good as gone

According to Albert Breer of The MMQB, Washington was “of a mind to let the market decide what Cousins is worth.” But that’s about as trustworthy of a plan as investing in South Park Bank.

 

“We’ll just let Kirk Cousins hit the open market to figure out how much we’ll pay him aaaaaand he’s gone.”

 

Or at least, that’s how I imagine it would go.

 

What changed Washington’s mind about the strategy, according to Breer, is that the last two offensive coordinators who worked with Cousins are now head coaches and could provide perfect landing spots if he hits the open market.

 

Prior to leaving to take the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator job in 2014, Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington for Cousins’ first two NFL seasons. Now he’s the head coach of the quarterback-needy San Francisco 49ers, who are second only to the Browns in cap space.

 

For the last three seasons, Washington’s offensive coordinator was Sean McVay, who recently became the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

 

The Rams are still only one year removed from taking Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, so landing Cousins now might not be feasible. But if Washington gives him the franchise tag for another season, Los Angeles could be a logical landing spot for Cousins in 2018.

 

But even if it isn’t the 49ers or Rams, there are other teams in need of a quarterback of the future with cap room to make the move happen. Just making a commitment to Cousins in a way that Washington never did could be enough to pull him away.

 

Does Cousins even want to stay in Washington?

Ever since Jay Gruden named Cousins the starter prior to the 2015 season, the team has talked about him as the quarterback of the future.

 

“We have been real clear that we think [Cousins] is the future, and we want him to be our quarterback into the future,” team president Bruce Allen said last May, via the Washington Post. “[Cousins] has been as clear saying he wants to be here. Now it just has to work out the details of that. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than usual, but we’re still 100 percent on board with that.”

 

But after more than a year of failing to make progress on a long-term deal, the warm and fuzzy feelings between the two sides may have worn off.

 

  @JReidESPN

For the past couple of years, former Redskins officials who know Cousins have said he really doesn’t want to be in Ashburn. He wants tag.

3:52 PM – 16 Feb 2017 · Virginia, USA

 

If Cousins isn’t interested in coming to the table for a long-term deal and only wants the franchise tag, Washington may be looking at the inevitably of the quarterback’s departure.

 

Either pay him about $23.9 million for one season or just let him walk now and keep the money in pocket. Neither are particularly appealing choices.

 

Washington has no real alternative at quarterback if Cousins leaves in free agency, so unless the quarterback is so disgruntled that the team decides it’s better just to move on, the likeliest scenario is that he’ll get the franchise tag before the March 1 deadline.

 

But he’ll have all the leverage and no incentive to take any deal from Washington that isn’t one of the biggest in NFL history.

 

A year ago, it was a tough sell for Washington to commit long-term to Cousins after only one season as a starter. Now it looks like the team may have missed its chance to keep him around at all.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

WR VICTOR CRUZ ;has made a visit to his old pal Dave Gettleman over the weekend.  Bill Voth of BlackandBlueReview.com:

 

According to a league source, Cruz, who was released last week in a cost-cutting move by the Giants, arrived in Carolina this weekend for a visit with Gettleman and the Panthers.

 

Cruz left town without a contract*, the source said, and he’s expected to talk with at least one other team.

 

Edit: Mon. Feb. 20, 2:45 p.m.

 

*A source clarified Cruz was still in Charlotte as of Monday afternoon, but no deal is imminent.

 

That the Panthers are at least kicking the tires on Cruz makes plenty of sense.

 

First, there’s the Giants connection.

 

Gettleman was in the team’s front office when they signed Cruz as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The move sparked a rags-to-riches story that saw Cruz put up back-to-back 1,000-yard years beginning with the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl-winning season.

 

Cruz would fit a position of need for the Panthers, who are looking for help in the slot after not replacing Jerricho Cotchery’s touches in 2016. Cruz could also fill the mentor role missing from last season’s wide receivers’ room.

 

But while Cruz believes he has “a lot of good football left ahead of me,” the Panthers have to decide how much that tread is worth.

 

Since tearing his patellar tendon midway through 2014, Cruz has totaled just 923 yards in 21 games. And late this past season, he lost some snaps to Tavarres King, who’s played in only nine regular-season games since the Panthers cut him ahead of the 2014 season.

 

Because Cruz was released by the Giants, he’s not an unrestricted free agent, which means teams don’t have to wait until the start of the new league year on March 9 to sign him.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are preaching patience with their QB moves.  Nick Wagoner at ESPN.com:

 

The San Francisco 49ers will add a quarterback to their roster this offseason. In fact, odds are that they’ll bring in more than one new quarterback in what could be a complete makeover at the position.

 

But just because the Niners will be adding a quarterback or three in the weeks to come doesn’t necessarily mean they will be adding the quarterback they seek to lead the franchise for the next decade or so.

 

After hiring coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, one of the 49ers’ top priorities has been how they will go about finding a solution for the long term at the game’s most important position. With Colin Kaepernick likely to opt out of his contract in early March and the three other quarterbacks on the roster set to become free agents, there will be changes, that much is certain.

 

What isn’t certain is where Shanahan and Lynch will be able to find their man. As is always the case, franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees and teams aren’t in a hurry to let the ones that are qualified walk away. In fact, Shanahan has said he believes there’s only about seven surefire answers in the world.

 

“It’s too important of a position to make an impulsive move,” coach Kyle Shanahan said concerning the 49ers’ search for quarterback help. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

“You’re always looking for one of those seven throwers on the planet, whatever that number is,” Shanahan said. “But I’m guessing there’s only around seven, so you’d better not be set on that and say, ‘Hey, I need one of those seven guys.’ I hope we get one of those guys, but if you don’t, you’ve got to find other ways to win.”

 

That’s something Shanahan knows plenty about. His resume is filled with quarterbacks of all different playing styles — Robert Griffin III, Brian Hoyer, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, to name a few — who have enjoyed some of their greatest NFL success under his guidance. From that group, only Ryan would presumably qualify for Shanahan’s version of the magnificent seven.

 

As Shanahan, Lynch and the rest of the football operation scour the pro and college ranks for their guy, they’re being realistic about the landscape. Yes, names such as Washington’s Kirk Cousins and New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo will be discussed internally, though there’s no guarantee either would be available regardless of the means of acquisition. And neither is exactly a sure thing, even if the Niners could bring one on board. Per usual, the free-agent market isn’t going to be flush with options, either, though someone like Schaub makes sense as a bridge to the future.

 

The early read on this year’s NFL draft also doesn’t seem to offer any of those top-line prospects like an Andrew Luck, making the upside of top prospects such as North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer a major projection at best.

 

Which is why Shanahan told KNBR radio late last week that the Niners aren’t going to rush into a long-term relationship with any quarterback without being certain they have the right guy.

 

“It’s too important of a position to make an impulsive move,” Shanahan told the radio station. “When you make a decision on a quarterback, you don’t want that to be just a short-term fix. You want to make a commitment to somebody. And in order to do that, you better make sure you’re on the same page with everyone else, you’ve put the time in, you’ve talked to people who have been with these guys. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

– – –

If, at the end of their evaluations, the Niners don’t see a quarterback worth a high draft pick, major free-agent dollars and/or a boatload of trade capital in this offseason cycle, perhaps they’ll wait until 2018 to make their bold splash.

 

Because Shanahan and Lynch got matching six-year deals, they know they will be given the time to put things together in their vision and making the mistake of blowing a pick as valuable as No. 2 overall on a quarterback simply because of need is the easiest way to make an already tough rebuild even more difficult.

 

“Everybody wishes and hopes you can take that quarterback who is going to be there and be that franchise guy for the next 15 years,” Shanahan said. “But that’s just what you hope for. You don’t draft people based off of what you hope. You’ve got to draft people based on what you truly believe is the right answer. Knowing no one has all the right answers, there’s nothing that’s going to guarantee you’re going to be right.

 

“You’ve got to think very clearly. What I mean by that is you can’t just hope for stuff and wish things to happen. You’ve got to look at each situation differently. You’ve got to see what’s available. If there is a quarterback there that we believe can match that criteria and we believe he can be a franchise quarterback for us, then, of course, you don’t hesitate on that. But if you don’t see that and there’s other good players — if there’s a pass-rusher, if there’s a linebacker, if there’s an O-lineman — whatever it is, you need to get the best player possible who you think will help your team the next 10 years.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

TMZ.com says the estranged wife of WR EMMANUEL SANDERS says he lied about attending the birth of a child.

 

The estranged wife of Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders has declared WAR on the NFL star — claiming he lied, cheated and spent THOUSANDS on chicks he was banging on the side.

 

It’s all in ANGRY court docs filed by Gabriella Sanders — who blasts the father of her 2 children with a metaphorical bazooka right from the get go.

 

“When he’s not playing football on the field, he ‘plays the field’ with numerous women whom he is or has committed adultery.”

 

Gabby lays out multiple marital “atrocities” allegedly committed by her husband — and claims he spent “thousands upon thousands of dollars on girlfriends and wasting the community estate, even purchasing a vehicle for one of his illicit affairs.”

 

The allegations are strikingly similar to those of Shelly Sterling — who claimed her husband Donald Sterling had no right to give $2.6 mil in gifts to V. Stiviano. She sued V and won. V was ordered to reimburse the Sterling estate.

 

Gabby filed for divorce from Sanders back in October and in the new court docs filed in Texas she says there is ZERO chance of a reconciliation.

 

Emmanuel signed a $33 mil extension with the Broncos back in Sept. — with $27 mil fully guaranteed.

 

But there’s more …

 

Gabby also claims Emmanuel lied to the Broncos — claiming he told the team he needed to miss a practice in Nov. so he could be in Houston for the birth of their child … which was a a lie so he could go out partying.

 

We reached out to Emmanuel’s camp for comment — so far, no word back.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com anticipates a cap purge in Baltimore:

 

The Baltimore Ravens can double their current salary-cap room before free agency begins March 9.

 

The Ravens just need to make their biggest cap purge in 15 years to do so.

 

Baltimore, which currently has $15.3 million in cap room (fifth-fewest in the NFL), can create an additional $20.3 million in space with a half-dozen moves. The Ravens would need to cut linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($6 million in savings), safety Lardarius Webb ($5.5 million), cornerback Shareece Wright ($2.6 million), center Jeremy Zuttah ($2.3 million), cornerback Kyle Arrington ($2.1 million) and safety Kendrick Lewis ($1.8 million).

 

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has a salary-cap number of $8.375 million, could potentially be cut by the Ravens after recording just three sacks last season. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

This would mark a drastically different offseason for the Ravens, who haven’t released more than four players before the start of free agency since 2002.

 

“Everything is on the table,” coach John Harbaugh said about potential cap cuts at the end of the season. “Absolutely, everything has to be on the table, in terms of how we can improve. The financial part of it is a big piece of it.”

 

Right now, the Ravens only have more cap room than four teams: the Dallas Cowboys ($13 million over), New York Jets ($8.7 million over), Kansas City Chiefs ($5.2 million under) and Philadelphia Eagles ($9.6 million under). In order to improve an 8-8 team, Baltimore needs to create more cap space to try to keep a top free agent (nose tackle Brandon Williams and offensive tackle Rick Wagner), add a veteran cornerback, fill the void left by retired wide receiver Steve Smith and potentially replace Dumervil and Webb if they’re cut.

 

Dumervil has become a prime candidate to get released because of his cap number ($8.375 million) — fourth-highest on the team — as well as his age (33) and declining sack numbers (career-worst three last season). Webb is another potential target because of his cap figure ($7.5 million) and an uneven season in his first year as a safety.

 

The other likely cap-cutting decisions include Zuttah, who was inconsistent as an undersized center; Wright, who struggled more than any other Ravens defender; Arrington, who spent all of last season on injured reserve; and Lewis, who lost his starting safety job and was placed on IR last October.

 

The Ravens could decide to cut more players. Parting ways with wide receiver Mike Wallace ($5.75 million) and tight end Ben Watson ($3 million) would open up an additional $8.75 million.

 

Baltimore could also choose to not let go of as many players. The Ravens might hold on to Webb, who played better toward the end of the season.

 

Traditionally, the Ravens don’t start making their cuts until the end of February. Baltimore hasn’t released many players for cap purposes recently. Only eight Ravens players were cut or traded before the start of free agency over the previous four offseasons.

 

Baltimore’s biggest upheaval recently occurred in 2011, when the team cut tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee.

 

But the greatest cap purge in team history came in 2002, when the Ravens released 10 players, including two future Hall of Fame players (safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe) as well as defensive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, wide receiver Qadry Ismail, defensive end Rob Burnett and fullback Sam Gash.

 

The Ravens aren’t expected to match that number of cuts this offseason. But Baltimore will need to part ways with more than a handful of players to create much-needed cap room.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

We’re not sure if this tweet from owner Jim Irsay lives up to hype on the headline that he was “throwing shade” at his former GM Ryan Grigson.  Nik Cline at YahooSports.com:

 

Irsay elected to change some of the culture when he fired Ryan Grigson last month and brought in Chris Ballard. And on Twitter today, Irsay threw some shade at Grigson.

 

@JimIrsay

Colts Nation…I want you to know New GM Chris and HC Chuck are clicking on all cylinders…#12 is healing and great things to come!!

8:41 PM – 19 Feb 2017 ·

 

Wow. Grigson may not be on Twitter, but at some point you know he is at least going to hear about this. If you remember correctly, Pagano and Grigson never got along.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Instead of one trade involving BRANDEN ALBERT and JULIUS THOMAS, there were two trades.  James Walker at ESPN.com:

 

The Miami Dolphins agreed to a trade Monday to acquire Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas for a 2017 seventh-round draft pick, a source told ESPN’s Adam Caplan, confirming multiple reports.

 

In a separate deal, the Jaguars acquired Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert for a 2018 seventh-round pick, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

If both players pass physicals and neither team reconsiders, the deals will be officially announced on or shortly after March 9 at 4 p.m. ET, the start of the new NFL year.

 

Thomas also will restructure his contract upon completion of the trade. He is expected to be in Miami on Tuesday to meet with the Dolphins.

 

Both teams were in heavy trade talks throughout the past week. The initial scenario, according to sources, was to swap Albert for Thomas. Albert was in Jacksonville on Monday to take a physical and will meet with the Jaguars sometime this week.

 

With the acquisition of Thomas, Miami has filled a major need at tight end. Former starters Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims suffered through injuries and inconsistency, and both will be unrestricted free agents in March.

 

Thomas also is familiar with Dolphins coach Adam Gase’s system as both were with the Denver Broncos. Thomas recorded 108 receptions for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns during a two-year stretch with Gase as Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2013-14.

 

Albert, 32, is a quality left tackle when healthy, but he has missed 13 games the past three seasons due to various injuries.

– – –

Meanwhile the Jaguars were cutting DL JARED ODRICK.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jaguars cut defensive lineman Jared Odrick this week, just two years into what was billed as a five-year, $42.5 million deal. An injury that limited him to just six games last year was one reason, but Odrick’s off-field interests may have been another.

 

Odrick is his own man, as detailed last offseason by TheMMQB.com. He says he’s not “blinded by the religion of football.” He spends his time off in Canada, which he says he prefers because America is a “gun culture” that was “built on the backs of slaves.” He has his own methods of training and nutrition, and they aren’t like those of most NFL players. He hopes to go into acting and writing after his football career is over.

 

According to ESPN.com, all those off-field interests sometimes caused some minor friction in the building.

 

There are some organizations that would be fine with all of that. But the Jaguars are now an organization run by Tom Coughlin who is very much an old-school football guy. And he wants to surround himself with old-school football guys.

 

If Odrick had played 16 games and recorded 10 sacks last season, the Jaguars would probably not have much of a problem with his off-field interests. But Odrick played six games and had one sack. That’s not the kind of production that can withstand “minor friction.”

 

For his part, Odrick doesn’t seem too broken up about it. He posted on Instagram a picture of himself at what he says was the moment he found out the Jaguars cut him. He’s at the beach, with a grin on his face.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The Dolphins are acquiring TE JULIUS THOMAS (more in JACKSONVILLE) and Armando Salguero in the Miami Herald explains why:

 

The trade, which cannot be consummated until the NFL’s league year begins March 9, cleared numerous hurdles Monday — not the least of which was as many as two other teams trying to get involved in talks with the Jaguars but the Dolphins prevailing.

 

Ultimately, the reason Thomas is going to the Dolphins and not elsewhere is because he wanted to reunite with coach Adam Gase and the offensive system under which Thomas had back-to-back 12-touchdown season in Denver.

 

Gase was the offensive coordinator with the Broncos when Thomas was there and runs the same system in Miami that Thomas (and the rest of the Broncos) prospered under in Denver.

 

Thomas will walk into the Dolphins locker room when the trade is done and be the most experienced player in the Miami offense despite it being his first season with the Dolphins.

 

Thomas left Denver for Jacksonville in 2015 but never reached the heights he did in Denver and, indeed, struggled with numerous injuries — including hand and back issues.

 

One of the hurdles that was overcome Monday to get Thomas to Miami was a restructuring of his contract.

 

Thomas originally was signed through 2019, with cap hits of $8.3 million this coming season, $9.8 million in 2018 and $10.3 million in 2019.

 

Those numbers have been cut significantly, according to a league source as has the paragraph 5 salary Thomas is scheduled to earn. But Thomas will get a chance to earn back much of his money through incentives if he plays at the level he did in Denver — something he has confidence he can do because of his past performance.

 

Thomas is basically betting on himself. And he’s showing the Dolphins he wants to play in Miami rather than anywhere else.

 

This was a key point for the Dolphins because they are focused on working deals that may not meet the top of the pay scale but still reward players that show a desire to be in Miami.

 

The Dolphins are also focused on rewarding their own players who already played for them rather than players new to the team. The Dolphins in the past have been known to pay incoming free agents while allowing their own players — running back Lamar Miller and defensive Olivier Vernon, for example — to move on to other teams.

 

That is changing now under Gase, general manager Chris Grier and executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

If WR DANNY AMENDOLA wants to remain a Patriot, he needs to swallow another pay cut according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.  He says Amendola’s current deal calls for $6 million in 2017 – and that won’t fly.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

AFC FREE AGENTS

Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com provides free advice for AFC teams as free agency looms:

 

Baltimore Ravens: Logan Ryan, cornerback

Look for Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome to be active this offseason. He has concerns at every level of the defense and can’t rely on the draft to fill them all. Re-signing nose tackle Brandon Williams should be priority one. Once that’s accomplished, how about stealing Ryan from the Patriots? Former New England coordinator Dean Pees prizes physicality, and Ryan is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in football, with the ability to play inside and out. He won’t come cheap after a great postseason run.

 

Buffalo Bills: Tony Jefferson, safety

New Bills coach Sean McDermott has a terrific track record with safeties who can do a little bit of everything. (He tutored relative unknown Eagles safety Quintin Mikell to make second-team All-Pro and helped castoff Kurt Coleman earn big coin in Carolina.) Jefferson can be deployed in a variety of ways, making big plays near the line of scrimmage or in coverage. He makes a lot of sense for a team that could be starting from scratch at safety.

 

Cincinnati Bengals: Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle

Bengals owner Mike Brown rarely goes for a big free-agent splash. That would likely rule out shoring up the team’s defensive line with a run-stopper like Philadelphia’s Bennie Logan, so I’m going with a more familiar name. The Bengals drafted tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher to take over the position, but both of them disappointed in 2016. Whitworth, a Bengals starter since 2006, has more value to Cincinnati than any other organization except PFF.

 

Cleveland Browns: T.J. McDonald, safety

Cleveland’s safety depth chart is nearly as barren as the quarterback room, and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could bring in a familiar face from the Rams. McDonald is a rangy strong safety with four years of starting experience — and he just turned 26 a month ago. He could help establish the physical play that defines Williams’ defenses, for good and bad.

 

Denver Broncos: Tony Romo, quarterback

The Broncos remain the cleanest landing spot for Romo this offseason because they don’t need him. The low cost and potential of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch is a combination that will allow John Elway to wait out Dallas’ attempts to trade Romo and drive a hard bargain. Denver can just sit back and see if Romo eventually gets released. This is where John Elway’s swing and miss with Brock Osweiler last offseason pays off again. It’s too hard to imagine the Texans finding the money for Romo when they still owe Osweiler $16 million guaranteed. Other potential suitors for Romo — like Buffalo and Chicago — need to fill their quarterback holes fast and could be unappealing destinations for Romo, who has made plenty of money in his career and should be looking for the best chance at a title. That’s in Denver.

 

Houston Texans: Martellus Bennett, tight end

Add another name to the New England-Houston pipeline? A tight end, like Bennett, who can block and catch would improve coach Bill O’Brien’s offensive options, with the team also able to deploy C.J. Fiedorowicz. Bennett, a Houston native who just won a Super Bowl in the city, would add another dimension to a nice group of skill-position players. (If you just ignore that tricky quarterback position.)

 

Indianapolis Colts: Melvin Ingram, linebacker

No team should be more desperate for pass-rush help than Indianapolis. No better pass rusher than Ingram is likely to become available. It’s uncertain if Ingram now fits in Los Angeles with the Chargers changing schemes, but that isn’t a question with the Colts. Ingram would be trading one Pagano (John, his former coordinator in San Diego) for another.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Branden Albert, offensive tackle

Miami was all set to release Albert … when suddenly, the team called an audible. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Friday that the Jaguars are considered “the primary destination” for Albert, who figures to arrive in Jacksonville in a trade. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Albert is visiting the Jaguars. This potential trade wouldn’t be announced until the start of the new league year on March 9, at the earliest, and it would come with significant risk. Albert, 32, will cost $8.875 million and has struggled with injuries. He’s a high-risk, high-reward short-term fix for a team that strangely remains all in on Blake Bortles.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: Dont’a Hightower, linebacker

Some team is going to pay Hightower a lot of money this offseason, because the inside linebacker market falls off a cliff after him. It might be difficult for the Chiefs to pull it off because of their salary-cap situation, but general manager John Dorsey could make room if he truly wanted to. Kansas City was surprisingly stale in the front seven last season, especially at the linebacker position. Hightower will provide leadership and the flexibility to line up in any formation with any team that signs him.

 

Los Angeles Chargers: T.J. Lang, offensive guard

GM Tom Telesco is going to be hunting for two to three O-line starters this offseason and could use help at any position. While the Packers don’t like paying 29-year-old guards superstar money, Telesco doesn’t have the same luxury. He’s looking to make up for the mistakes of free agency past, like guard Orlando Franklin.

 

Miami Dolphins: Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback

Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell believes Miami’s secondary is only a nickname away from greatness. Another quality cornerback would help a lot more. New defensive coordinator Matt Burke was with Kirkpatrick in Cincinnati and knows he’s a solid starter. Few teams like to pay big bucks in free agency for solid starters more than the Dolphins.

 

New England Patriots: Eddie Lacy, running back

A talented between-the-tackles running back who struggled with weight issues and could be willing to accept a low-cost deal to reset his NFL value. That once was LeGarrette Blount, and it now describes Lacy, four years younger than Blount with a higher ceiling.

 

New York Jets: Mike Glennon, quarterback

Jets GM Mike Maccagnan reportedly showed interest in Glennon for a possible trade in 2015, and the team’s quarterback need is even more desperate now. While he took a step back in his second season, Glennon put up the 19th-best total QBR with 29 TDs and 15 INTs between 2013 and 2014 while playing for three disastrous Bucs coordinators: Mike Sullivan, Jeff Tedford and Marcus Arroyo. Signing Glennon would offer the Jets an ideal combination of experience, potential and youth. The price tag remains to be seen.

 

Oakland Raiders: Calais Campbell, defensive tackle

Campbell could improve virtually any team needing muscle up front. There just aren’t many 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive linemen possessing position versatility and veteran leadership smarts like Campbell. Despite his spending in recent years, Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie still has plenty of room to work with to address a major need on his interior defensive line.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Prince Amukamara, cornerback

GM Kevin Colbert dipped his toe in free agency last season with tight end Ladarius Green and offensive tackle Ryan Harris. Those moves didn’t pan out, but that shouldn’t stop Pittsburgh from looking for value in the secondary. Since the Steelers are unlikely to make a big splash, Amukamara makes sense as a cornerback who could eat up quality snaps at a reasonable price.

 

Tennessee Titans: A.J. Bouye, cornerback

If the Texans don’t use the franchise tag on Bouye, he could wind up making top-10 cornerback money. The Titans make a logical fit because they have too much cap room, a desperate need at cornerback and saw Bouye play great against them twice this past season.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

More human beings are watching NFL games than ever before.  But with more television windows, “the ratings” can still be on the decline.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

A record 203 million Americans watched NFL games last season, yet average ratings were down. If those two data points seem contradictory, that’s because most people don’t fully understand how TV ratings are calculated.

 

That total of 203 million people represents everyone who ever watched an NFL game at all, while the average ratings are about the average number of people watching a game at any given moment. That the former increased while the latter decreased suggests not that the NFL has a shrinking fan base but that the NFL has a problem with more and more fans deciding that they don’t need to watch every game as consistently as they used to.

 

This data comes from FOX Sports’ Mike Mulvihill, who writes at Sports Business Journal that the NFL’s biggest problem in 2016 was that more viewers were turning away from football to watch election news: The league’s ratings were down 13 percent from 2015 before Election Day but were virtually identical to 2015 after Election Day. But the second-biggest problem, and the one the NFL has some control over, is that the league has too many broadcast windows.

 

For the 2016 season, that meant a total of 110 NFL television windows when you add up the three every Sunday, plus Monday nights and Thursday nights, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sunday morning games from London and so on. That’s more than the league has ever had before, and the ratings data suggest that some fans felt that football was spread so thin that they simply couldn’t keep up with it all, and they were more choosy about which games to watch.

 

The NFL may realize that’s a problem, and there are already indications that the league is looking at scaling back, first by moving the London games back to Sunday afternoon, and perhaps by scaling back on some other broadcast windows as well.

 

If the NFL scales back the schedule slightly to get back to its bread and butter of Sunday afternoons and nights, and if nothing in the news in 2017 captures America’s attention the way the election did in 2016, average ratings should improve in the season ahead. If ratings decline again, however, that’s a sign that the NFL has a real problem on its hands.

 

The DB would also add that most football fans spread their watching between both college and pro football – and the former had more windows than ever before as well.

 

 

2017 DRAFT

Clemson QB DESHAUN WATSON is ready to go make some money in Indianapolis.  The AP:

 

Deshaun Watson is trying to approach everything leading up to the NFL draft as having fun and enjoying the process while preparing for another once-in-a-lifetime moment.

 

Having accomplished his goal of a national championship at Clemson, the dual-threat quarterback said he is now working hard preparing for the draft. The next step is the NFL combine, where he anticipates being a full participant.

 

“That’s the plan,” Watson said Monday. “Run, throw, meetings, everything.”

 

Six weeks after his last-second touchdown pass pushed Clemson past Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff title game, Watson was presented his second consecutive Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback.

 

When Watson was in downtown Fort Worth a year ago to pick up his first O’Brien trophy, only weeks after a 45-40 loss in the CFP title game to Alabama, the quarterback said his main goals in the next year were to complete his communications degree at Clemson and win a championship.

 

Both of those goals have been accomplished.

 

“It’s big, it’s huge, it’s life-changing,” Watson said of helping Clemson win its first national title since 1981. “Your whole life is on another stage, another level.”

 

Watson passed for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns to go with 629 yards and nine touchdowns rushing during the championship season. In three seasons at Clemson, he threw for 10,168 yards and 90 TDs.

 

The first repeat winner of the O’Brien since Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003 and 2004, Watson also won the Manning, Johnny Unitas and Bobby Bowden awards, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

 

The NFL’s scouting combine begins next week in Indianapolis, and then he will also have a pro day before the NFL draft in April. Watson said his emphasis is adjusting to the different terminology of the pro game, learning how to be a professional and being more technically sound at the quarterback position.

 

Most early projections have Watson getting drafted in the first round.

 

“I’m hearing that. First round, anywhere in that range, top 10, top five, just depends on what the teams say,” said Watson, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds.

 

“It’s something I can’t control. I just make sure I can control what I can control. Stay positive,” he said. “The height is the height. This is how God made me. My hands are this size. I can’t really control that. . I can put on weight and be able to go out there and throw and run and talk in the interviews and my knowledge. But outside of physical and body, that’s it.”

– – –

RB JOE WILLIAMS on why he stepped away from football for a while last season at Utah.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

One of the odder stories of the 2016 college football season came when Utah running back Joe Williams announced that he was quitting the team and quitting the sport of football — only to come back a month later and become one of the best players in the country, rushing for 1,300 yards in seven games.

 

Williams will be at the Scouting Combine next week, and he’s eager to explain to NFL teams that his brief departure doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the sport.

 

Instead, Williams told Tom Pelissero of USA Today, quitting football was necessary because grief and guilt he felt over the death of his sister a decade earlier had finally reached the point where he simply had to step away to focus on his mental health.

 

“People make it a big deal that I quit on the team. To me, it was necessary,” Williams said. “I was learning to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t my fault. I’m 23 years old now, and I can’t blame myself for something that occurred 10 years ago, no matter how painful or traumatic it was. It would be bigger to honor her in a much more meaningful way.”

 

Williams’ 7-year-old sister died in her bed in the middle of the night of what her family later learned was a disease that caused inflammation of her heart. Williams says he spent years thinking of himself as responsible — not because that’s a rational thought, but because as a boy grieving his sister, he couldn’t think about her death rationally.

 

“That’s where the guilt comes in,” Williams said. “Because maybe if I had got out of my bed and maybe I’d held her or she knew I was there, maybe she would’ve woken up. That was the biggest reason of why I blame myself.”

 

Williams says he is in a better place mentally now, and is eager to keep playing the way he did after returning to his team last year. He wants NFL teams to know that he’s now more focused on football than ever.