The Daily Briefing Tuesday, February 28, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL came back from his serious hand injury to be worthy of a franchise tag.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Giants announced on Monday that they’ve used the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for the second time in three years, something that sets Pierre-Paul up to make around $17 million for the 2017 season.

 

That would be a big chunk of the Giants’ cap and it’s thought the team would like to get a longer deal done in order to lower Pierre-Paul’s cap number and have more flexibility to make other moves. Pierre-Paul has expressed his displeasure with the notion of playing out the year on a one-year deal, so he’s on board with a longer contract but his agent Doug Hendrickson said a lot of work is needed to get to that point.

 

“Obviously we’re talking, but nowhere near a deal,” Hendrickson said, via the New York Post.

 

Hendrickson didn’t delve into where the differences lie in negotiations and said that the two sides will be talking again in Indianapolis in the coming days. If things move quickly in those conversations, the Giants may be able to start free agency without Pierre-Paul eating up a healthy chunk of the money they have available for this year.

 

 

WASHINGTON

With a day of decision, the first of several, looming for the Redskins on QB KIRK COUSINS, Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com doesn’t hesitate to say the team has botching things.

 

If the journey to the next Kirk Cousins contract were a car ride, the Washington Redskins would have sideswiped every parked vehicle on the street by now.

 

And there’s little doubt about how they got here. The Redskins have internal problems. Again. They have Bruce Allen problems. They have Daniel Snyder problems. They even have Scot McCloughan problems, which is a pity, because he has already infused that team with solid young talent since arriving as the team’s general manager.

 

Before diving into the civil strife, let’s absorb the logistics of finance that are in play now for Cousins. On Wednesday, he is due – and from all accounts from league sources, about to receive – a franchise tag that will amount to a one-year deal for $23.94 million in 2017. This means Cousins will be on the books in Washington for a two-season total of $43.89 million in guaranteed money.

 

After following this situation for the last year and speaking with multiple sources familiar with the negotiations, this much is unequivocal: If Washington had offered Cousins a multiyear deal last offseason that included $44 million guaranteed and base salaries of $20 million, he would have taken it. Anyone who says otherwise (on either side of this negotiation) is either lying or trying to rewrite history with alternative facts.

 

Without a shred of doubt, Cousins would be under a multiyear deal now, with the bulk of his guaranteed money set to expire after the 2017 season, given that the Redskins could have done the deal in a manner to take the same financial gut-punch that they’re already sustaining.

 

That must look enticing to the Redskins’ brass now, given what its reticence (and ultimately, its blunder) has resulted in. Unless the Redskins secretly believe Cousins is a total phony as a quarterback – or even a mid-level phony – he is wielding an absolute axe right now. The Redskins have nothing in negotiations. They are naked. And someone is responsible for that.

 

Here’s the bind they’re in:

 

• The Redskins don’t tag Cousins and they lose him right now for nothing more than a third-round compensatory pick next season, then head back to the drawing board at quarterback. That would signify that the franchise is in some stage of a rebuild, losing a starting quarterback that they (publicly claim to) believe in.

 

• Tag Cousins and trade him – a move that will draw far less of a draft pick or player compensation now than ever because NFL teams can see the flames lapping against the windows of the negotiation room.

 

• The Redskins tag Cousins and he plays out the season at a similar pace of the last two seasons. The option here is the Redskins let him go after 2017, blowing through $43.89 million and having no long-term answer to show for it. Or Washington can franchise tag him for a third season at a clip of $34.47 million for 2018. After that? They’d have sunk $78.36 million into Cousins for three seasons – significantly more guaranteed money than any player has ever made over a three-season span. And they’d be forced to let him go to free agency, having nothing to show for one of the biggest financial negotiation blunders in NFL history.

 

• The Redskins can franchise tag Cousins in 2017 ($23.94 million) and transition tag him ($28.78 million) in 2018, paying out $72.67 million over three years – still more than any player has ever earned in three years. But under the transition tag in 2018, Cousins would have the right to negotiate with other clubs. And if the Redskins matched, they’d be on the hook for a brand-spanking new deal likely to come with at least $50 million in guaranteed money. And with the salary cap climbing, that $50 million guaranteed figure in 2018 is very conservative. This means Washington pays out $43.89 million for 2016 and 2017 and then, if its hand is forced, matches a transition offer sheet that delivers potentially another $50 million in guaranteed money, most of which will likely be paid in the first two years of the deal. That would put Cousins at likely more than $93.89 million in guaranteed money for four years of work.

 

To put that digit in perspective, the New Orleans Saints will have paid Drew Brees and his massive, mismanaged, back-end contract just over $71 million the last four years of his deal. The Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck just signed a deal that if it goes as planned, will pay out about $88 million in cash over the next four years. To recap: Brees, $71 million over four. Luck, $88 million over four. Cousins, $93 million (or more) over four.

 

All for a guy Washington could have had under a six-year deal right now, if only it had seen this coming last offseason and made him a six-year offer with $44 million guaranteed. Instead, the Redskins made a final offer that included $24 million in guaranteed money, which was laughable given that Cousins was about to earn $19.95 million of that just by showing up in 2016.

 

So who is responsible for this mess?

 

Allen, the Redskins’ team president holds the purse strings. He made the ultimate decision on Cousins last offseason. While McCloughan wields influence, Allen is the guy who does the deals, making him the one who is most influential when it comes to the salary slot and what a player is worth under the salary cap. McCloughan, for all his upside, is not a cap guy. He’s not a deal-making guy. He’s a talent procurement guy, a more rare commodity that makes him one of the most respected minds in the NFL.

 

Allen wanted to get Cousins at a number that benefited the team. It was Allen who gambled on where everything was going. That’s fine since the money guys are paid to do that. But they’re also paid to know the downside of the gamble – and whether it’s worth taking the risk in the first place. And Allen misjudged this one. He has to see that. Really, everyone has to see that.

 

As for McCloughan, here is the sense I get when it comes to Cousins: He views Cousins as a good-but-not-elite quarterback. And general managers are always reticent to lean on their dealmakers to pay a ton of money to a player who they see as less than elite. There has been no claim or even an indication that McCloughan ever went to Allen and said, “Get this done.” And even if he did, it might not have mattered, because Allen is the guy with the juice. He’s McCloughan’s boss and ultimately runs the show. Just like Mike Tannenbaum does with the Miami Dolphins. Just like Howie Roseman does with the Philadelphia Eagles. And just like Tom Coughlin does now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

This is the new throne in the NFL – the president or head of operations, who sits next to the owner and runs things, with the first guy below him (the general manager) being the one who is on the firing line if things go bad. That’s where Allen is perched. People in Washington have to know that by now. And if things go rotten with the Redskins, it will be McCloughan who gets dismissed long before Allen. That might explain why a guy like former tight end Chris Cooley – who is ultimately in the employ of the team – can openly speculate about McCloughan’s struggles with alcoholism on the radio and have the team say nothing about it.

 

Does Cooley have the green light to say what he did? Teams aren’t normally laid back about ex-players working for their radio stations taking shots at the current general manager. Unless, of course, someone on the team – or someone who owns the team – was OK with it. That’s certainly how this situation looks.

 

All of which brings us to Snyder, the Redskins owner. All over the NFL, we’ve seen front offices and coaching staff relationships go sideways. We’ve seen significant personnel blunders brought upon by disagreements or flat-out mismanagement. And always, everyone ultimately gets fired but the owner who has the power (and the responsibility) to get everyone in the building on the same page. It’s like the San Francisco 49ers czar Jed York said: You don’t fire owners.

 

But they can be held accountable. And Snyder has to be for some of this mess. He has owned the Redskins long enough to know what the franchise looks like without quarterback talent. And he has been in the NFL long enough to understand that if there’s one guy – any guy – that you sometimes have to pay (or even overpay) to keep, it’s a successful quarterback. Snyder has said he believes in Cousins. Head coach Jay Gruden has said he believes in Cousins. Allen has said he believes in Cousins.

 

And in return, over the last two seasons, Cousins has proven to be a winning quarterback who is better than any other option on the table. That’s the kind of guy who gets a deal done in the NFL. And that’s what Washington could have done a year ago.

 

No matter what happens now, Cousins wins this game off the field, too. Significantly. And someone is responsible for that in Washington. No matter where this goes, that reality should linger far longer than any forthcoming quarterback contract.

 

John Keim of ESPN.com seems to imply that Cousins wants to wangle his way to Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco/Santa Clara:

 

The reality of the situation continues to be apparent: It’s hard to see the marriage between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins lasting beyond 2017. His price tag remains high; their love for him has a financial ceiling. And neither side appears willing to budge from its stance.

 

This really isn’t a case of both sides wanting to break away from each other. According to multiple people, Cousins likes playing in Washington. According to multiple people in the organization, the team truly likes Cousins. But the leverage Cousins enjoys isn’t about to change, and the Redskins clearly aren’t prepared to pay him what he thinks he can get.

 

That’s why with all the options as to what can happen if he’s tagged by Wednesday’s deadline, one has a higher percentage of happening: a trade. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said last week that he thought there was a better chance that Cousins would be traded than that he would return. It’s hard to argue against that, and some close to Cousins say that’s what the Redskins want to do anyway, knowing that signing him to a long-term deal will be difficult. It may even be impossible, given their different positions on what his ability is worth.

 

As of now, some in his camp view any deal reached at the July 15 deadline as an impossibility. It certainly would take an increased offer by Washington. I don’t know that this is a universal opinion in Cousins’ camp, but the point is that based on the Redskins’ actions to date, there’s no reason to believe their offer will increase that much. They clearly view him as good, not great. And there’s no reason for Cousins to lower what he believes he should get.

 

There’s also the matter of past slights still bugging Cousins, including an initial offer last offseason of $12 million per year with low guarantees. It was bad at the time; it’s ridiculous now. Had the Redskins given him $18 million per year – before the Brock Osweiler deal with Houston – with solid guarantees, then there’s a good chance he would have signed (but impossible to truly know). That deal would look mighty good now.

 

The Redskins’ problem is that there’s only one team Cousins will sign with right now, according to one source: San Francisco. So Washington doesn’t have much bargaining power with other teams. This isn’t just about Cousins maximizing his financial value; it’s about putting himself in the best position. Reuniting with a coach (Kyle Shanahan) who loves you in an offense you love? That’s a win-win for Cousins. But it’s a tough way for the Redskins to maximize his trade value on the market.

 

Therefore, with a trade, the Redskins can get what they can for a player they’ll lose in a year anyway. Of course, if Cousins plays under the tag, he’s gambling that San Francisco – a preferred destination with Shanahan in charge – still will need a quarterback next year. But with a six-year contract, Shanahan can afford to wait. Use the picks this year on other spots knowing the quarterbacks will arrive in 2018.

 

It’s hard to say the Redskins definitely will trade him; it’s not hard to say they will try. With the combine starting this week – and agents in touch with teams – Cousins and his side should have a good sense of what San Francisco might do. If he signs the franchise tag right away, or within a few days, it likely means he knows what will – or won’t – happen. Cousins also knows a year from now he’ll be free.

 

The transition tag idea for 2018 at around $28 million has been floated. It’s not realistic. So if Cousins leaves after 2017, then the Redskins would get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019. If they can get a good return from the 49ers this offseason, it’s hard to imagine them saying no. Quite a bit of work remains for this situation to be resolved, whether via trade or anything else. But for the marriage to continue, the first step would be a willingness on both sides to alter their position.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals have put a tag on LB CHANDLER JONES.  Darren Urban at AzCardinals.com:

 

Chandler Jones’ future wasn’t going to be on the free-agent market, and the Cardinals had made that clear multiple times – including a blunt statement by team president Michael Bidwill on Valentine’s Day.

 

“He’s a great pass rusher,” Bidwill said on Arizona Sports. “But if we can’t agree to terms that work for us, we’re just going to franchise him. His people know that.”

 

The two sides haven’t yet come to an agreement on a long-term contract. So Monday — coincidentally, Jones’ 27th birthday — the Cards officially placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jones, who finished with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2016.

 

Wednesday is the deadline for teams to apply the tag.

 

The tag for linebackers is expected to be around $15 million. It is a tender offer which Jones would still need to sign to guarantee that salary for 2017. The salary cap hit, however, immediately hits the books when the new league year begins March 9.

Jones still has the ability to seek out a contract offer from another team. But the Cardinals have to right to match any offer, and if the Cardinals chose to let Jones leave, the team signing Jones would have to trade back a pair of first-round draft picks.

It is that prohibitive price that makes the tag a virtual guarantee that the player will remain on his current team.

 

The Cardinals and Jones now have until July 15 to reach a long-term contract extension. If they cannot, a new deal can’t be negotiated until after the 2017 regular season ends.

 

The last time the Cardinals used the franchise tag was in 2012, on defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Campbell was tagged March 2, and the two sides agreed to a long-term contract May 10.

 

With Jones getting the tag now, it makes it more likely Campbell – now with his 2012 contract expiring – will reach the free-agent market and end up elsewhere next season.

But Campbell will be 31 when the 2017 season begins, and the Cardinals have brought in young defensive linemen (like Robert Nkemdiche and Josh Mauro) in an effort to protect themselves against losing Campbell. Jones, meanwhile, helped sparked a pass-rush resurgence the Cardinals had sought for years, teaming with fellow linebacker Markus Golden (12½ sacks) to push the team to No. 1 in the league in sacks.

 

“I love it here,” Jones said following the final game of the season. “I love playing here, and we’ll see what happens.”

 

Jones is the ninth Cardinal to receive the tag since the tag was created in 1993. The Cardinals have used it 10 times.

 

Prior to Campbell, the Cardinals used the tag twice on linebacker Karlos Dansby in 2008 and 2009. There was a time the team used the tag fairly regularly, tagging safety Kwamie Lassiter (2002), cornerback Aeneas Williams (2001), defensive end Simeon Rice (2000) and wide receiver Rob Moore (1999) in consecutive years.

Defensive tackle Eric Swann (1995) and safety Tim McDonald (1993) were also tagged by the Cardinals.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

The Chiefs are apparently close to a deal with S ERIC BERRY.  It would enable them to put the franchise tag on DT DONTARI POE.  Lakisha Jackson at NFL.com:

 

Eric Berry might not have to worry about a prolonged contract negotiation after all.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday the Chiefs are negotiating a deal with Berry to make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. The sides are working hard at a deal, Rapoport added, which could be reached before Wednesday’s deadline to franchise tag players.

 

This is a positive development for Berry, who was hit with the franchise tag last season and didn’t sound particulary optimistic that a deal was close this past weekend. “I’m going to keep being patient because you never know,” Berry said Sunday, via the Kansas City Star. “Last year I thought one thing and it didn’t happen. So I’m not getting my hopes up; I’m looking at it logically.”

 

If the Chiefs are able to reach a deal with Berry, they could use their franchise tag on defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Rapoport added. Keeping both Berry and Poe would be huge news for their defense.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers have used the franchise tag on MELVIN UPTON who will be moving from LB to DE this year.  Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com:

 

With a focus on drafting and developing the team’s core talent, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco had little choice but to figure out a way to keep one of the best pass-rushers in the AFC West on his roster.

 

That’s why the Chargers franchising Melvin Ingram on Monday was a no-brainer. With 18.5 sacks and no missed games over the past two seasons, Ingram has proved he can stay healthy and be a productive player.

 

Pass-rushers can produce at a relatively high level well into their mid-30s, so at 27 years old, Ingram still has plenty of good years ahead.

 

With Joey Bosa still on his rookie contract, the Chargers are getting great value from the Ohio State product in comparison to his production. And by keeping Ingram around, it makes sure opposing offenses cannot double-team Bosa as he heads into his second season.

 

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley recently said Ingram will be a good fit in his system as a Leo defensive end, as the Chargers switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive alignment.

 

“With his production and his effort, he’s just been a highly productive player,” Bradley said of Ingram. “I just think for him, it’s the opportunity to rush more and be on the line of scrimmage more.

 

“He’ll have his times when he has to drop, but the percentage is going to change to where it’s going to lean more towards giving him the ability to rush.”

– – –

Newly-minted Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson has taken a role with the Chargers.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Tomlinson will be taking a position in the Los Angeles’ Chargers front office, Fred Roggin of NBC Los Angeles reports.

 

There’s no word on whether this job will be ceremonial in nature and focused mostly on public relations, or whether he’ll have some say in the football operation. The latter would seem unlikely as Tomlinson hasn’t always been on the same page as the Chargers, including saying last year that he thought they should trade Philip Rivers.

 

Tomlinson also has a job on NFL Network, where he’s already based in Los Angeles.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Will the fact that QB MITCH TRUBISKY hails from near Cleveland be a factor on whether or not the Browns anoint him as their latest QB savior?  Joon Lee at Bleacher Report:

 

There’s no such thing as a bandwagon Cleveland Browns fan. No casual football fan would subject themselves to the annual heartbreak of following a team that has two winning seasons and zero playoff wins since 1999. No casual fan would endure the yearly tribulations of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel or the team’s endless line of starting quarterbacks.

 

Instead, people are born into Browns fandom. In Mentor, Ohio, a 30-minute drive away from Cleveland, University of North Carolina junior quarterback and potential No. 1 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky grew up rooting for the Browns. Slowly, the kid who was raised rooting for one of the NFL’s laughingstocks became a highly touted quarterback recruit, earning Ohio’s Mr. Football honors, as if he recognized his favorite team’s greatest need and determined he needed to fill that hole himself.

 

Trubisky and Brandon Short, the gunslinger’s high school center, followed the Browns passionately. After going through high school game film together on Sundays, they’d often grab a bite to eat before watching Browns games together. Like most Browns fans, given their team’s history of regular-season futility, they paid close attention to the team’s potential (and often high) draft picks.

 

“The draft is just as big as the playoffs here in Cleveland,” Short said. “That’s an exciting day for Cleveland.”

 

When Trubisky and Short played Madden, they’d fight over who got to play as the Browns, who’ve averaged a 76 rating in the game and rated as low as 65 since 1999, the year they returned to Cleveland.

 

“You’d want to be the Browns,” Short said. “Whoever else got the crappy end of the stick because they weren’t the Browns.”

 

This is the upside-down football world in which Trubisky was raised. Kids actually want to be the Cleveland Browns in Madden.

 

“I think he’s just like any one of us Clevelanders,” Short said. “He loves his teams.”

 

Soon, Trubisky may have the opportunity to be the quarterback for that team. The Browns own the No. 1 and No. 12 picks in the 2017 NFL draft, and Cleveland is once again expected to be searching for someone who can provide stability at quarterback. Many scouts and analysts consider Trubisky to be the best signal-caller in the draft. (Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranks him as the 16th-best prospect overall, one spot above Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.)

 

Should the Browns decide to take Trubisky, he’d follow in the footsteps of Cleveland hometown quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brian Hoyer, which is sort of like being the next DC Comics movie and having to follow up blockbuster train wreck Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

 

To many around Trubisky, loyalty stands out as one of his defining characteristics. He replies to every text from high school coach Steve Trivisonno. When he returns home, he visits his teachers and mentors. When someone asks for a photo or autograph in Mentor, Trubisky obliges. When Marquise Williams beat him for the starting job at UNC in 2014, Trubisky decided to stay a Tar Heel instead of transferring to another school in search of playing time.

 

“A lot of kids feel entitled to be a starter from Day 1, and he always had this bigger plan for himself,” said Taylor Vippolis, who played wide receiver for the Tar Heels. “He trusted that God had a bigger plan for him and that his time would eventually come at North Carolina.”

 

That time came in 2016, when Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora named Trubisky the starter as a redshirt junior. The 22-year-old put together a season that shot him to the top of draft boards. Despite having just 13 starts under his belt, his numbers—a completion percentage of 68.0, 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions—spoke for themselves.

 

And though being a Tar Heel moved his college football loyalties from Ohio State to Chapel Hill, Trubisky remained loyal to his Cleveland roots.

 

“Me and him would go back and forth about LeBron, and I would tell him that [Cleveland] was soft for letting him back in like he never left,” Vippolis said. “All [Trubisky] would say was that he wanted Cleveland to win as many titles as possible. He doesn’t care who it takes.”

 

It may take Trubisky, who some analysts view as a potential franchise quarterback, for the Browns to start creeping into any title discussions. In 2016, the Browns had their worst season ever, which is an accomplishment given their 88-200 record since their 1999 rebirth. Head coach Hue Jackson and the front office, led by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, will undoubtedly need to make changes in the offseason.

 

While the Browns have a short-term starter in RGIII, it’s hard to imagine them lifting the Lombardi Trophy with him leading the way. In Trubisky, Cleveland could have a player who has believed in the organization through all the highs and lows.

 

“You can see every Sunday, no matter what the record, most true Cleveland sports fans are turning on the TV and believing that they are going to win,” Short said. “None of us pick against the Browns, and I bet Mitch never did.”

 

The Browns’ previous hometown quarterback saviors have flamed out one by one. Should they take Trubisky at the top of the draft, he would become the franchise’s highest-drafted quarterback since Tim Couch in 1999. While pressure comes with that label, Short doesn’t see Trubisky having any trouble handling the attention.

 

“People keep talking about the pressure of coming to Cleveland,” Short said. “I understand being the hometown boy, but I think that Mitch doesn’t look at it as pressure. Even if you reach tough times, I think he’s the kind of guy that would pull through and you would want leading your team.”

 

 

PITTSBURGH

The Steelers have done some big business with WR ANTONIO BROWN.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

The Steelers weren’t kidding about their commitment to Antonio Brown.

 

Weeks after general manager Kevin Colbert insisted the franchise wanted the All-Pro receiver to “retire as a Steeler,” Pittsburgh on Monday signed Brown to a new five-year deal that makes him the highest-paid wideout in the league.

 

The pact is essentially a four-year extension worth $68 million that runs through 2021, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. It includes a $19 million signing bonus, Rapoport added. The 28-year-old Brown had one year remaining on his current deal, which was set to pay him just $4.71 million in 2017

 

The massive $17 million annual price tag in new money easily surpasses A.J. Green’s $15 million average. It’s fair to wonder, though, if Brown will remain the game’s highest-paid wideout for long: With Alshon Jeffery set to hit the open market, the former Bears pass-catcher has a chance to crack the bank.

 

Money aside, Brown was fantastic this past season, finishing second in the NFL with 106 catches for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Since 2011, the eighth-year pro leads the league in targets, receptions and receiving yards while tying Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison with four straight campaigns of 100-plus catches in the regular season.

 

With more receptions over a four-year span (481) than any player in NFL lore, Brown shows no signs of slowing down. Despite reports that some of his antics wore “thin” with teammates and coaches in 2016, the Steelers were a no-brainer to extend him. Pittsburgh deserves plenty of credit for finalizing negotiations long before Jeffery went to market.

 

As a foundational piece of the puzzle on offense, Brown is destined to remain inside team walls deep into the future. The question now is whether franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell will join him.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com has the money:

 

After patiently waiting until he entered the final year of his contract, which is when the Steelers will extend non-quarterback deals with one year left, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown cashed in on Monday, in a big way.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, here’s the breakdown:

 

1. Signing bonus: $19 million.

 

2. 2017 salary: $910,000.

 

3. 2018 roster bonus: $6 million due on the fifth day of the league year.

 

4. 2018 salary: $7.875 million.

 

5. 2019 roster bonus: $2.5 million due on the fifth day of the league year.

 

6. 2019 salary: $12.625 million.

 

7. 2020 salary: $11.3 million.

 

8. 2021 salary: $12.5 million.

 

The Steelers and Brown had been working diligently to get the deal done, with three different trips to Pittsburgh over the past three weeks by agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, along with negotiations during Senior Bowl week.

– – –

Meanwhile, the team put the exclusive franchise tag on RB Le’VEON BELL.  ESPN.com:

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed the franchise tag on star running back Le’Veon Bell, the team announced Monday.

 

Bell received the exclusive tender. With that designation, Bell can negotiate only with the Steelers and isn’t able to sign an offer sheet with another team.

 

The sides have until July 15 at 4 p.m. ET to agree to a long-term contract. If no deal is reached, Bell would have to play the 2017 season under the franchise tender.

 

Le’Veon Bell: Per-Game Totals,

Since 2013

 

RB RANK

Snaps                              54.5   Most

Touches                          24.2    Most

Scrimmage yds.             128.7    Most

 

The deadline for teams to use their franchise tag is Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

 

Bell, 25, stated his case as the game’s best running back during an explosive 2016 season in which he averaged 157 yards from scrimmage per game, the third-best clip ever for a running back.

 

The Steelers rode Bell into the postseason. They fed him the ball 31.8 times per game rushing or receiving over the final eight games he finished — all wins, with two coming in the playoffs.

 

While racking up yards, Bell earned MVP consideration and national acclaim for a patient yet effective running style that showed that running backs don’t have to hit the hole right away. In the process, Bell broke Franco Harris’ regular-season and postseason single-game rushing records.

 

Injuries have ended Bell’s past three seasons prematurely, including a groin injury suffered during the 36-17 AFC title game loss to the New England Patriots. In four NFL seasons, Bell has dealt with two knee injuries and two drug-related suspensions.

 

The Steelers stood by Bell during his suspensions in part because of his work ethic, and Bell validated that faith with a monster year.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Colts DL DAVID PARRY faces charges after a drunken escapade in Scottsdale according to Holly Hays in the Indianapolis Star:

 

Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman David Parry was arrested over the weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona.

 

Parry, 24, was arrested just after 2:30 a.m. Saturday at an apartment complex in the 6900 block of East Osborn Road in Scottsdale after someone called 911 regarding an assault and auto theft, according to Scottsdale police.

 

The victim told officers he had picked up three people from a downtown bar in his “transportation cart” — a street-legal golf cart police say was used as a taxi — and had dropped two of them off. When he got out of the cart to collect payment, the victim told police the third person, later identified as Parry, hit him on the head and left the scene in the cart.

 

Police were later called to a hit and run collision nearby, where responding officers found the golf cart crashed into a gate. Officers later found Parry on the sidewalk, apparently drunk, according to police.

 

He was arrested on suspicion of robbery, auto theft, criminal damage, resisting arrest and driving under the influence, according to police.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

The Jets have a lot of capital – draft and cash – tied up in the defensive line of a mediocre defense.  Rich Cimini of ESPN.com on how that might sort out in 2017.

 

Position: Defensive line

 

2017 cap hits of top returnees:

 

Muhammad Wilkerson — $18 million

 

Sheldon Richardson — $8.1 million

 

Leonard Williams — $5.1 million

 

Steve McLendon — $3.9 million

 

Pending free agents: Mike Pennel (restricted).

 

Key stat: The defense was terrible with a four-man rush. It allowed 19 touchdown passes, made only three interceptions and surrendered a league-high 109.5 passer rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Leaky coverage in the secondary was partly responsible, but the big fellas up front have to take a big share of the blame.

 

Money matters: The Jets have a ridiculous amount of money invested in the line, especially when you consider they play a 3-4 base front. Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams are counting a combined $31.2 million on the cap. It means close to 20 percent of the team’s resources is devoted to three players who play basically the same position. By the way, Richardson’s salary (the amount of his fifth-year option) becomes fully guaranteed on March 9. Wilkerson’s entire base salary for 2017 ($14.75 million) is guaranteed, so forget about a trade. No team would take on that contract.

 

Big picture: The spotlight will be on Richardson for the next few weeks, as the Jets almost certainly will try to trade him. They can deal him now and get something in return or lose him next year for nothing (unless you count a compensatory pick in 2019). The Jets will ask for a first-round pick for Richardson, but they will have to settle for less, perhaps a third-rounder. He’s a talented player, but he spent last season acting as if he wants out. There’s also the scheme issue. If they won’t play him in his natural position (3-technique), they might as well use him as a bargaining chip. It’s laughable to use him at outside linebacker. Williams and Wilkerson are two solid anchors at end, with McLendon and Deon Simon in the middle.

 

Free-agent market watch: Brandon Williams (DT), Kawann Short (DT), Calais Campbell (DE), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Sylvester Williams (DT), Bennie Logan (DT), Dontari Poe (DT), Chris Baker (DT), Domata Peko (DT), Alan Branch (DT), Frostee Rucker (DT), Charles Johnson (DE), Mario Williams (DE), Jared Odrick (DT).

 

Also could become available: Arthur Jones (DT), Michael Johnson (DE), Haloti Ngata (DT), Tyson Jackson (DT).

 

The game plan: Two words: Stand pat. The Jets don’t have to spend any money; they have a good mix of young and middle-aged players. They will be fine if Wilkerson returns healthy and motivated and Williams continues to develop.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE CONVERSATION

Jeffri Chadiha at ESPN.com gives QB COLIN KAEPERNICK all the credit in the world for his anthem protest because he started us talking about a vital national issue.

 

It’s been roughly six months since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest went public, and things haven’t been the same since. More NFL players decided to follow his lead in bringing attention to the issue of unarmed African-Americans dying at the hands of police. Athletes in other sports also joined in, while police officers, military veterans and ordinary citizens talked about the problem from their own perspectives. There was plenty of dialogue and debate, fury and frustration. But what became clear in all this is something even Kaepernick couldn’t have known: The world of sports was the perfect place to ignite a new conversation about race in our society.

 

We live in a country that’s become so divided for so many reasons that athletics is the only thing that still brings us all together. It doesn’t matter what we believe, who we voted for or how we view the future of our land. It only matters that the people sitting next to us are rooting just as hard for our favorite teams as we are. By sitting during the anthem, Kaepernick reeled us all into a critical, wide-ranging social discussion — one that will be chronicled in the NFL Network documentary, “The Conversation” — because our collective guard, unbeknownst to us, was already way down.

 

The critics who pushed the notion that Kaepernick should be happy to make his millions didn’t get it. The same holds true for those who thought his role simply was to entertain or provide a much-needed distraction from their hectic lives. Kaepernick and the players who followed him with their own protests wanted to provoke the people who watched them into hearing their pain. What they discovered over time was that there was no better place for them to do that than inside an NFL stadium.

 

“Sports is a lot like religion,” said Dr. Harry Edwards, who is a professor emeritus of sociology at Cal-Berkeley, a consultant for the 49ers and one of the most respected civil activists of his generation. “It’s a secular religion. You’ll find more people tuned into the NFL on a Sunday than you’ll find going to church. It’s not that sports heal the differences. But what sports do is bring us out of our silos. So if that guy is wearing a San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, that makes him one of us. … There’s a commonality that we can begin to build. It doesn’t heal the gaps, but it gives us an opportunity to open the conversation we otherwise wouldn’t have.”

 

That was the essential dynamic that gave this movement a heartbeat and allowed so many people to feel comfortable raising their own voices. The players — a group that included Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — had their say every week, as did the people who didn’t agree with their desire to protest during the national anthem or the raising of our country’s flag. The offended talked about how sacred those symbols are to our country. The protesters talked about how those symbols inevitably brought more attention to their collective stances.

 

It was awkward, ugly and uncomfortable to watch at times. It was difficult to listen to some of the rhetoric, the predictable generalizations and the disparaging remarks and threats that appeared as the months passed by. The important thing to remember here is this is exactly how change happens. It’s never going to be a pretty process, nor is it ever going to happen as quickly as we all would like.

 

When Kaepernick first sat for the anthem, it was fascinating to imagine what he would do next. The reality was that, as the season went on, the conversation became less about him than we ever imagined. He was merely the person who lit the fuse, who had the nerve to be the first to say what a lot of other people already were thinking. He also was willing to do something even more courageous, which was to take on this pursuit, initially, all by himself.

 

There’s no doubting Kaepernick said and did some ill-advised things in his quest to improve a world he saw as damaged (including not voting in November’s presidential election and infuriating a good part of South Florida with some favorable comments about Fidel Castro). He also made it easier for us to notice all the remarkable things that other players were saying and doing in other parts of the NFL. Let’s not forget the conversations between Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, the relationships Jenkins built with local police in Philadelphia or the willingness of Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin to talk about police brutality on Capitol Hill nearly a year after a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens (Florida) police officer killed Boldin’s own cousin in October of 2015.

 

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest the unarmed shooting of African-Americans by police during the 2016 season generated a movement among many players around the league.

That victim, Corey Jones, was slain after his SUV broke down on the side of the road. That officer, Nouman Raja, eventually hit Jones with three shots and wound up being charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm.

 

“These issues are very important,” said Boldin, whose meeting with politicians also included Jenkins, Lions safety Glover Quin, Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and Browns quarterback Josh McCown. “They’re very relevant. Just because we’re in the NFL, that doesn’t mean we’re excluded from what goes on in everyday life. We still have family members and we still live in this world, so we’re affected by those things that go on.”

 

Boldin was quick to point out something just as vital in regards to this discussion: He has plenty of respect for police officers. If he faced a situation where he was dealing with somebody who was breaking the law, the first thing he would do is call 911. For him, this was never about demonizing the police. It was about trying to find a way to help others avoid the type of pain that plagues his own family after their tragic loss.

 

Edwards implored people to have a similar mindset. He said there’s no value in looking at police as the enemy, just as there is no value in hating those who don’t adhere to your same political philosophies. The true battle to be waged is not with one another. It’s in finding a way to create unity in a world when it’s far too easy to create divisions.

 

We are entering an era when that ideal has never been more crucial and so applicable in so many arenas. We all know NFL players aren’t the only people who have a reason to protest these days. What is admirable is that a select few have been willing to take a stance, to speak their minds, to sacrifice for something bigger than themselves. That’s what gets lost in all this: It’s not easy to do what some of these men have done over the last few months.

 

It is, however, proving to be far more necessary than we ever realized.

 

“There’s absolutely no question that we are moving into an era where there will be tremendous pressure on athletes to take a stand around issues of social and political relevance,” Edwards said. “It will be phenomenal. … You can’t just stand silent as these circumstances are evolving and developing. You have to use that tremendous megaphone you have to enunciate the issues, to stand up for what is right.”

 

Edwards chuckled when recalling some of the conversations he had after Kaepernick began to gain more attention for his protests. Edwards talked with 49ers owner Jed York multiple times. He spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as well. He told everybody the same thing when they wondered how best to manage a situation that had the potential to spin way out of control before the regular season was even one month old: We will all come out of this better.

 

It was likely easier for Edwards to have that confidence because he’d been down this road a long time ago. He’d been the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in the 1960s, an organization that pushed for the boycott of the 1968 Olympic games, which are now best known for U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the medal stand in Mexico City. He knew first-hand about the death threats Muhammad Ali faced — decades before Ali was buried as a saint — and all the efforts of athletes who fought for civil rights in the 1960s. It’s worth noting that Carlos and Smith are hailed as heroes today, with statues at San Jose State University, after being publicly excoriated for their actions nearly 50 years ago.

 

What they understood then is the same thing Kaepernick and his fellow players are realizing today: It’s important to be on the right side of history. We actually might look back decades from now and laud them for having the courage to help us improve our country even more. If that happens, we won’t just remember the words they spoke or their actions during the anthem. We’ll also realize they couldn’t have picked a better arena in which to ultimately make their case.

 

Funny, we just learned about Boldin’s cousin who, based on the charges brought against the police officer, does seem to be the victim of unjust police violence.

 

This from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in January. 

 

Newly released investigative files are giving an early look at the case prosecutors have put together against the plainclothes officer who shot and killed stranded motorist Corey Jones.

 

Audio recordings from the Oct. 18, 2015, encounter serve to refute former Officer Nouman Raja’s possible defense that he fired six shots at Jones because he felt threatened, according to court records released to the news media Tuesday.

 

Using Raja’s voluntary statements after the shooting, investigators then repeatedly tried to poke holes in the Palm Beach Gardens officer’s story by matching the audio with his words.

 

A drummer in a reggae band in his spare time, Jones, 31, was driving to his home west of Lake Worth after a gig when his Hyundai Santa Fe broke down along a southbound Interstate 95 exit ramp at PGA Boulevard.

 

Raja was patrolling the area for late-night vehicle burglars, and pulled his unmarked van in front of Jones’ SUV about 3:15 a.m., what prosecutors have called a “tactically unsound, unsafe and grossly negligent manner.”

 

Among the now-fired officer’s statements is that Jones “knows I’m a cop. I identified myself and this guy’s tryin’ to kill me and I was, and I, I didn’t wanna die … He drew that gun so quick on me.”

 

But Deputy Chief Investigator Mark Anderson, in a June 17 report for prosecutors that was released Tuesday, contends the evidence shows Raja continued to fire his pistol at Jones “as he ran away” and “after he realized Jones no longer possessed a firearm.”

 

Jones body was found 41 yards away from his .380-caliber licensed pistol, which had not been fired that night. He was hit by three bullets.

 

In a 60-page summary of the investigation, Anderson wrote Raja “lied” while speaking to investigators at the scene about 4 1/2 hours after the shooting.

 

“He did not identify himself as a police officer as he claimed he did,” Anderson wrote, referring to a recording of Jones’ call to a roadside assistance service and Raja’s plainclothes attire. “He did not tell Jones to ‘drop the gun’ as he claimed he did.”

 

Yet another alleged “contradiction” is when Raja, during the same statement to investigators, said he called 911 before he fired a second volley of three shots at Jones, 31, Anderson noted in the report.

 

“We know Raja’s 911 call was placed 33 seconds after he fired his sixth/final shot,” Anderson wrote. “Despite this fact, Raja begins his 911 call as if he was still actively engaging an armed suspect … By that time, Corey Jones’ body was down and he was dead or within moments of dying from the massive internal trauma caused by the bullet wound to his chest.”

 

Prosecutors will not comment on their strategy for the trial, still at least six months away. But they are seeking convictions on manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm; the latter is punishable by up to life in prison.

 

In an explanation of the charges, prosecutors have said Raja was negligent for the way he confronted Jones and that, “there is no question that Jones ran away from Raja.”

 

“The intent of discharging his firearm was to kill Corey Jones,” Anderson concluded in his report.

 

The review includes findings from two medical examiners who concluded Jones could have run 40 yards after the bullet that penetrated his heart and lungs. Those statements were in contrast to the findings from the doctor who performed Jones’ autopsy and stated Jones “could not have continued moving more than a few yards after receiving the chest wound.”

 

Before arresting Raja, prosecutors presented evidence to a grand jury. It determined the officer’s use of force was “unjustified.”

 

After Raja, 39, was charged last June, the county’s police union picked up his legal expenses and said a police officer should be able “to defend himself while in fear for his life.”

 

John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday that nothing had changed concerning his organization’s support for Raja, who is on house arrest.

 

“We will stick by this guy because he’s innocent of what he’s charged with,” Kazanjian said.

 

It was revealed this week that before charging Raja, the State Attorney’s Office hired a police practices expert to examine Raja’s actions.

 

Dan Libby, former chief of police for Punta Gorda and a chief deputy for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in a May 1 report that he reviewed crime scene photos, an FBI computer animation of the shooting, the audio recordings, Raja’s statements, and other evidence.

 

His conclusion: Raja “failed to follow accepted police practices” in the way he pulled up to Jones’ disabled vehicle and how he approached Jones.

 

“Corey Jones had no reason to believe that Raja was a police officer there to assist him,” Libby wrote, adding Raja also violated police department policy by not wearing his tactical vest while on duty.

 

Libby, who has testified as a prosecution witness in other cases, told the Sun Sentinel he could not discuss his involvement in the Raja case.

 

The Jones shooting led to changes by Palm Beach Gardens police. One new policy bans all undercover officers from engaging in traffic stops without a backup marked car. The department also started using body cameras.

 

Chuck Drago, a former Fort Lauderdale police detective who testifies in trials as a police practices expert, said it’s becoming more common for prosecutors to seek professional opinions in police shooting cases.

 

“With all the media attention, prosecutors are feeling a lot of heat,” said Drago, who is familiar with the Raja case but has no involvement.

 

He said he expects Raja’s lawyers to hire their own experts to present to a jury, concerning the issue of whether it was reasonable for the officer to use force.

 

Raja appears to be a sub-continental Indian-American, FYI.

 

There is good reason to believe Jones the victim had no reason to believe that Raja, swerving in front of him in an unmarked van with his only badge in his pocket was a police officer.

 

On the tape he says, “I gave him commands, he started running and I shot him.”