The Daily Briefing Tuesday, June 5, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Sad news with the passing of former 49ers WR Dwight Clark at the age of 61. His wife took to Clark’s Twitter page to make the announcement:
I’m heartbroken to tell you that today I lost my best friend and husband. He passed peacefully surrounded by many of the people he loved most. I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS. Kelly Clark.
Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com:
Clark, a 10th-round pick (249th overall) out of Clemson in 1979, played for the 49ers from 1979-1987. During his career, he caught 506 passes for 6,750 yards and 48 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he added 48 receptions, 726 yards, and three touchdowns. None were more memorable than his 6-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone against the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. Now known as “The Catch,” Clark and Joe Montana’s touchdown sent the 49ers to Super Bowl XVI, where they defeated the Bengals. In all, Clark won two Super Bowls with the 49ers.
In May 2017, Clark revealed that he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which is also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” After noticing symptoms in September 2015, he said that he was diagnosed with ALS months later.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” he wrote in May 2017. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.
“What I do know is I have a huge battle in front of me and I’m grateful for the strength and unconditional love from my wife Kelly. She has been my rock. She keeps thinking positive and convinces me each day that we can beat this, as does my daughter Casey and my son Mac. My brother Jeff, his wife Debra and their family also have been unwavering with their love and support.”
Among those praising him – TOM BRADY on Instagram with a great story:
tombradyDwight Clark was one of my idols growing up in San Mateo. I was lucky enough to be at the game where my hero Joe Montana perfectly placed the game winning throw/catch to Dwight in the corner of the end zone to beat the cowboys in the 1981 season. I was 4 years old and cried to my parents the entire first half because I couldn’t see the field when the grown ups would stand and scream for the 49ers. I got a chance to meet him when we happened to share the same orthodontist in San Mateo and I sabotaged one of his visits just to meet him and shake his hand. He was incredibly gracious to me that day as a young boy. And I never forgot the impact he made on me as all of our heroes do. I am sad tonight hearing of his passing of ALS but I know he is now resting and at peace finally after many years valiantly fighting such a terrible disease. Thank you for the great memories and RIP!
Jay Busbee of YahooSports.com on a classy move by the Bears:
While in the process of attempting to catch a touchdown pass against New Orleans, Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller hit the ground with enough force to dislocate his knee, an injury so severe that Miller very nearly lost his leg. (Plus, to add insult to grievous injury, the touchdown didn’t even count.)
The demolished knee demanded immediate surgery to repair a torn popliteal artery; the knee was so ruined that Miller even risked amputation. The likelihood of Miller ever playing professional football again is slim indeed, but the Bears have nonetheless offered him a one-year deal.
The deal pays Miller $458,000 if he doesn’t play, and $790,000 if he does. It’s a fine gesture, given that Miller’s contract ran out at the end of 2017 and Chicago didn’t owe him another dime.
The move is a classy one from a player-treatment perspective, and also serves as good PR for the organization. All too often, NFL teams are meat factories that grind up players and spit out the bones; this is a sign that, at least in this instance, the Bears are taking a different approach.
Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com on QB AARON RODGERS and his contract:
With two years left on his contract, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have a “drop-dead date” to get a new one. The Packers quarterback deserves to become the highest-paid player in football and is expected to become just that at some point in the near future.
But will Rodgers remain the highest-paid quarterback the rest of his career?
Rodgers talked to the media Monday for the first time since Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reported Rodgers wants “some sort of out clause” that would allow him to renegotiate the deal if another quarterback gets a bigger deal.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media piggybacked Monday, saying Rodgers wants “a series of player options throughout his contract so he can at least have some sort of control over what he makes and under the circumstances under which he makes them.”
“I don’t talk about it to the media, and I don’t think my agent is either,” Rodgers said, via video from Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “A lot of it is just conjecture. Or stories that aren’t really based in factual interactions or misrepresented actions. I think that’s just part of it. It’s kind of a slow period for football right now and we’re heading into the summer, and there’s not much to talk about unless somebody gets arrested or injured in the offseason or something happens on the Fourth of July. That’s usually the stories we get now until training camp. I don’t have anything to report at this point, but I’m sure there will be some unnamed sources close to me that have some sort of scoop along the way.”
Rodgers’ answer didn’t answer the question, but he also didn’t deny he wants some control over his future salary.
Rodgers has outplayed the extension he signed in 2013, which is scheduled to pay him $19.8 million this season and $20 million in 2019. His yearly average of $22 million ranks only 10th in the league at his position.
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The Packers have a new, more vocal, defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
Things are clearly different with the Packers defense this season. But you can’t merely see the changes, you can hear them.
After nine years of the calm stylings of long-time coordinator Dom Capers, having his more vocal replacement Mike Pettine stop a drill to yell at guys when mistakes are made is a bit jarring.
“Two different personalities,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Williams played under Pettine for a year when he was head coach of the Browns, so he had a preview to what’s coming.
“From Dom to coach Pettine is totally different,” Williams said. “Two different personalities. Dom was just a laid-back guy. He commanded it with his experience and presence, but coach Pettine, he’s going to let you know. He’s going to let you know, but he’s been highly successful in this league with every team he’s been on. He has the resume to back it up, and you can see it in his attitude also.
“Coach Pettine believes in football stuff, not schematics stuff. As a player, that’s what you love in a coach. If he tells you to go out there and do what you do, that’s what you love to hear from a coach. That’s what coach Pettine is really about.”
Part of that’s out of necessity, as the Packers have gotten younger on that side of the ball.
“Dom was more quiet,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “We had a lot of older guys. I would say our defense is more younger. So Julius (Peppers) and Mike (Daniels) and Clay (Matthews) and all those guys, if we did get one of those situations, I think Dom would let the leaders do that. It was just different coaches and different people, how they handle things.”
And it’s a difference the Packers can hear.
After it was obvious that only a small number of Eagles players were going to show up at the White House for the planned celebration today, the entire organization was disinvited. Here is ESPN’s version:
The Philadelphia Eagles will not be attending a ceremony at the White House to honor their February Super Bowl victory, according to a statement by President Donald Trump.
The statement says that the defending Super Bowl champions disagree “with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”
Instead of the event honoring the Eagles, the White House will host “A Celebration of America.”
The president’s statement said that the ceremony will be “one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”
A large group of Eagles players had decided not to attend, including most — if not all — of the black players, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
In addressing players’ decision to stay home, the president’s statement said “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”
On Monday evening, the Eagles released a statement making no reference to the canceled ceremony, which read: “It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl Championship. Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”
Trump later tweeted:
The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players decided to come, and we canceled the event. Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!
The team did not learn of the cancellation until the White House put out its statement, a source close to the Eagles told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.
The source said that team owner Jeffrey Lurie was planning on attending the White House ceremony, despite some of the negative comments Lurie reportedly made about Trump in a private NFL meeting last fall. Head coach Doug Pederson and his wife, Jeannie, were also planning on making the trip, the source said.
“A lot of people in the Eagles organization are very disappointed,” one league source said.
There had been ongoing conversations within the Eagles organization in the weeks leading up to the scheduled visit in an attempt to map out an itinerary that the team felt comfortable with.
Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith — now with the Carolina Panthers — tweeted his reaction to the decision.
So many lies smh
Here are some facts
1. Not many people were going to go
2. No one refused to go simply because Trump “insists” folks stand for the anthem
3. The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military
In a subsequent tweet, Smith added: “There are a lot of people on the team that have plenty of different views. The men and women that wanted to go should’ve been able to go. It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you.”
Dan Wetzel of YahooSports.com columnizes:
The Philadelphia Eagles won’t visit the White House Tuesday for the traditional Super Bowl champion ceremony because too few players were willing, available or interested in attending. And one thing we know about Donald Trump, crowd size matters.
“The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation,” Trump said in a statement.
So, instead, there will be no Eagles allowed. Trump pulled the invite.
As an alternative, the White House will throw a party draped in red, white and blue to rake the NFL over the coals as an un-American, disrespectful and pathetic organization all because Trump, deftly, if inaccurately, spun the low player attendance into one of his favorite wedge issues: standing for the national anthem.
Last month, in a moronic move destined to fail, the NFL attempted a Trump Appeasement Plan by (sort of) rewriting its national anthem policy. It didn’t actually outlaw protests during the anthem – players can just stay in the locker room.
Team owners thought the policy would give Trump enough of a “win” that they hoped he might stop beating them up.
Please. It was one of the most ludicrous crisis-management strategies ever implemented. Watching Trump pound on the NFL at every opportunity has become a sport unto itself.
“They disagree with their President because he insists they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the great people of our country,” Trump said in the statement, applying a motive to the disinterest in meeting him that isn’t actually true.
Eagles players are actually staying away for myriad reasons. To think the only objection they have with Trump is the national anthem policy is ridiculous and runs contrary to historical fact.
During the 2017 season and playoffs, not a single Eagles player knelt for the national anthem. Not one. In every single game, every single player stood. Even after Trump called NFL players who did kneel “sons of bitches,” the response by players was to stand for the anthem. They even linked arms with police officers and military personnel who had been invited to the game.
To repeat: There were no anthem protests by the Eagles, no matter what Trump or the state-run media is peddling.
“No one refused to go simply because Trump ‘insists’ folks stand for the anthem,” former Philly wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted.
Whatever. Facts don’t matter, and Trump knows that. This is “Fox & Friends” porn.
Trump doesn’t have a patriotic bone spur in his body – if he did, he wouldn’t have spent his time belittling prisoners of war, gold-star families, the FBI, federal judges and intelligence agents who protect the country from attacks.
He is, however, an undeniable master of waging culture wars to rile up his base. This is a popular issue for him to fight on, so he fights on it every time he can. It’s like a pop station playing the hits. If his voters shifted sentiment and started believing the players should have a right to kneel, Trump would quickly shift and champion that side.
Only the NFL could have been too dumb not to realize all of this when it decided to give him all the ammo he needed to blast it.
“Tell everybody, you can’t win this one,” Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, when Trump was lobbying the league to do what he wanted. “This one lifts me.”
Trump was right about that. It lifts him. A lot of Americans actually are patriotic and they don’t like protests during the anthem. Others don’t see the logic in allowing workers to act out politically while on the job – at most places you can’t. Still, others just love hearing someone call out highly paid (and mostly African-American) professional athletes for supposedly being ungrateful and un-American. That last segment is unfortunate, but it no doubt exists.
Why the NFL thought Trump would ever stop using this to his advantage will be taught in the Roger Goodell School of Public Relations Disasters for years to come.
The league’s new anthem policy makes no sense. It didn’t stop protests – players can just stay in the locker room. Yet it didn’t show respect to protesters by allowing the sideline kneeling. As sure as many oppose the kneeling, there are also many Americans who aren’t threatened by it or believe that peaceful protesting is the most American of acts.
Mostly, though, the NFL didn’t ignore Trump. The best way to get him to go away is to bore him. It wasn’t like this was still a hot-button issue. As few as eight players took a knee in Week 2 of last season before Trump stumbled into a political rally applause line. Even after he made it a big issue again (Colin Kaepernick ignited it originally back in 2016), the fury eventually died down by season’s end. Not a single NFL player, including the Eagles, took a knee during the playoffs or the Super Bowl.
Talk of mass TV revolts and fan protests were overblown.
Few people were still discussing the subject until the NFL brought it back into the news last month by concocting a plan that appealed to no one except those who want to divide and conquer.
The league should have either mandated all players stand for the anthem – like the NBA does – or just done nothing and not given Trump oxygen.
Instead, it gave him attention, power and an open invitation to keep whacking the piñata of Goodell leadership.
On Tuesday, Trump will, in lieu of an Eagles visit, bring in the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Army Chorus to “honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes that fight to protect it and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”
So, there will be an official White House-sponsored America vs. the anti-American NFL rally. The television footage of that should be priceless. All that’s missing is a march through Kim Il-sung Square, with Dear Leader watching from above.
Great work, NFL. Really great, great work.
The league is so dumb and spineless it deserves every last bit of this humiliation. And the next one. And the next one. And the …
And this from Mike Florio:
The statement issued by the Eagles on Monday night regarding the White House visit cancellation kerfuffle fairly can be characterized as the franchise taking the high road. It also can be read as the team tiptoeing around the possibility of getting into a back and forth with the Commander-in-Chief.
“It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl Championship,” the Eagles said. “Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration. We are truly grateful for all of the support we have received and we are looking forward to continuing our preparations for the 2018 season.”
That’s it. No mention of the White House visit. No mention of the cancellation of the White House visit. Above all else, no mention of the President.
The Eagles know they’re in a no-win situation. Even if they only defend themselves or explain their position, it easily could be twisted into an attack on the President and, in turn, an opening for more tweets and taunts and tumult.
Surely, the Eagles had to say something. Ultimately, the Eagles opted to say next to nothing.
It’s a continuation of the fear with which the NFL regards the President and his base. For a league that constantly fights and fights and fights and fights anyone and everyone and anything and everything, the NFL has finally found a foe who is capable of making the league run up a tree.
Here’s the real question: How long will that last? If the President plans to pick on the NFL any and every chance he can get, regardless of what the league does to defuse things, at some point a league that is used to rolling up its sleeves and throwing punches may decide that it’s go time.
A quiet resignation in Washington. Charlotte Carroll of SI.com:
The Redskins onetime president of business operations, Dennis Greene, has resigned over his involvement with the team cheerleaders’ 2013 trip to Costa Rica, reports the Washington Post.
According to the Post, Greene left after 17 years with Washington, and had been in charge of selling luxury suites at FedEx field where the team plays its home games. He promised access to cheerleaders as an incentive to help meet his sales. He and another executive joined the trip for the photo shoot.
Greene was mentioned in The New York Times story that detailed the 2013 trip where cheerleaders were allegedly required to be topless for a calendar shoot and “picked” to be personal escorts. The team invited an all-male contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders to spectate, according to the Times.
The cheerleaders’ participation did not involve sexual activity, but many cheerleaders said they felt uncomfortable and felt like the team was “pimping (them) out.”
The Redskins responded to The New York Times story by saying they were looking into the situation.
A holdout for a new contract got T DUANE BROWN a ticket out of Houston. He’s contractless in Seattle, but professes to be unconcerned. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
Duane Brown held out for the first six weeks of the 2017 season in hopes of leveraging a new contract from the Houston Texans.
While a new contract never developed in Houston, Brown was eventually traded to the Seattle Seahawks in October. He started the final nine games of the year for Seattle and appeared in the Pro Bowl as an alternate last January.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said he wanted the 32-year old Brown to finish his career with Seattle after making the trade, but nothing has changed with Brown’s contract as of yet as he gets sets to enter the final year of his deal.
Brown said Monday that it’s not something he’s currently focused on.
“My agent is handling that,” he said following practice. “I trust that everything is going to happen in good time and when it’s supposed to. For now I’m just concerned with this moment, embracing every day that I have here in the offseason. This is the first time that I’ve been able to work with this group of guys in the offseason and I’m really cherishing it and enjoying it. It’s my 11th year I’m going into so I’m not concerned with that. I’m concerned with improving as a player, helping my group up front improve and doing all I can for this team and everything else will work itself out.”
While Earl Thomas and Frank Clark have stayed away from voluntary practices as they get set to enter the final years of their contracts, Brown has been at OTAs working with new offensive line coach Mike Solari. The Seahawks are trying to revitalize a running game that was abysmal in 2017 and the success of the offensive line will be a vitally important part of that pursuit.
Brown was much happier upon arriving in Seattle last season amid differences over his contract and disagreements with owner Bob McNair on social issues and the protests during the national anthem. Brown echoed Schneider’s hopes he could finish his career in Seattle, but a new deal would be necessary for that to happen.
For now, Brown is confident it will happen in due time.
Bills icon Jim Kelly will be receiving the Jimmy V Award at the ESPYs. Cindy Boren of the Washington Post:
Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame quarterback who has fought several bouts with cancer, will be given the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at next month’s ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, he announced Monday during his annual golf tournament.
“God willing, I’ll be there,” the Buffalo Bills legend said (via ESPN) in Batavia, N.Y.
The Jimmy V Award, part of ESPN’s annual awards show, was created in 2007 by the V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. It is named for Jim Valvano, the late N.C. State men’s basketball coach who memorably addressed the audience at the first ESPYs in 1993 with the words: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Valvano, who died of cancer that year, was presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award and added: “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
Kelly, 58, underwent surgery for cancer in his jaw in 2013 and had additional treatment and surgery after doctors found it had spread to his nasal cavities in 2014. He was declared cancer-free in 2016, then announced earlier this year that he had suffered a recurrence. He underwent a 12-hour procedure in late March and was discharged from a New York hospital in late April.
Among others who have received the award are Craig Sager, Stuart Scott, Devon and Leah Still, Kay Yow, Eric LeGrand and George Karl. ESPN, according to the network’s Adam Schefter, plans to make an official announcement later Monday. Last month, retired NASCAR and Indy driver Danica Patrick announced she will host the awards, marking the first time they’ve been hosted by a woman.
THIS AND THAT
Bill Barnwell of ESPN offers a dating service for free agents like DEZ BRYANT:
The most impactful signings of the NFL offseason aren’t always the big-ticket deals we see in the first 48 hours of free agency. Last year, the Eagles waited out the market and signed the likes of Patrick Robinson and LeGarrette Blount to one-year deals at a fraction of the price that other players got in free agency. Both were regular contributors all the way to the Super Bowl. The Vikings found Case Keenum for $2 million. Cheap can be effective.
After a wild spending spree on wide receivers and offensive linemen in March, there are still plenty of veterans with track records of success wasting away on the free market. Even as recently as 12 months ago, the idea that players like Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray would be available in free agency without any aggressive bidders would have seemed bizarre. Things are different now.
Some of these players are on their last legs. Others might suddenly look like useful contributors in the right scheme or in a more appropriately sized role. Finding that fit could be the difference in extending a player’s career. Keenum was closer to being out of football than he was to a big-money contract last season; after finding a stable home in Minnesota, he was able to parlay a successful season into a two-year, $36 million pact with the Broncos.
Let’s run through 15 veteran free agents who are on the outside of NFL rosters looking in and try to find them a new home. And let’s start with the most prominent free agent left standing and finish with a future Hall of Famer.
Dez Bryant, wide receiver
The market some might have expected to open up for Bryant hasn’t really developed, and that really shouldn’t be a surprise. The former Cowboys star became available only in mid-April, after most teams with wide receiver concerns had already signed replacements. Six wideouts then came off the board across the first 51 picks in the draft, which further capped Bryant’s ceiling. The only offer the 29-year-old has reportedly received is from the Ravens, who offered something similar to the three-year, $21 million pact they handed Michael Crabtree.
Bryant declined that contract in the hopes of finding a one-year deal and potentially parlaying a big season into a more lucrative deal in 2019. He’s going to find a roster spot, but it might not even hit that $7 million mark in 2018. Bryant’s big-play ability has been sapped since undergoing foot surgery, and while he’s still a physical target capable of manhandling smaller cornerbacks, the same guy who had four 100-plus-yard games in 2014 has had just four such games over the three ensuing seasons.
Ironically, the team that could use Dez the most is Dallas, but that bridge has been burnt, mortared, demolished, engulfed, sabotaged and blown to smithereens. Most of the other candidates are out of the running. The Ravens, who already have a player with a similar skill set in Crabtree, appear to be out. The Bills had a need for a wide receiver with Zay Jones out indefinitely, but general manager Brandon Beane said Buffalo doesn’t expect to make Dez an offer. Jason Witten suggested on The Adam Schefter Podcast that the Saints could be in the running for Bryant, but they have less than $4 million in cap space and would be blocking newly acquired wideout Cameron Meredith by adding Bryant. The Seahawks went in an alternate direction by signing Brandon Marshall. The 49ers apparently aren’t interested.
There aren’t many other options for Bryant out there. The Cardinals could theoretically find a spot for Bryant if they don’t think second-year wideout Chad Williams is ready for a bigger role. The Giants haven’t expressed much interest in Bryant and don’t want to go three-wide as frequently in 2018, which would mean that Bryant would be taking snaps away from Sterling Shepard if he signed. They also gave Cody Latimer a one-year, $2.5 million deal, suggesting they think the former Broncos disappointment can contribute in three-wide sets. The Steelers could carve out a part-time role for Bryant at the expense of Justin Hunter, but with $5.2 million in cap space, they’ll probably want to put the money they have toward pass-rushing help.
We’re left with the other team Witten suggested might be in line to add Bryant: the Packers, who seem to fit Bryant’s desires. Green Bay has a hole in its three-wide lineups after letting go of Jordy Nelson, and while the Packers could promote Geronimo Allison into that spot, Bryant would be an upgrade. They have Aaron Rodgers, whose résumé does not need to be reiterated here. The Packers are likely to be a playoff team and have more than $10 million in cap space, which would allow them to fit Bryant in for a one-year deal in the $4 million range while retaining some flexibility. Bryant’s long-term future probably isn’t in Green Bay, but he could certainly fit in the short term.
New home: Green Bay Packers
Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver
At this point, Maclin is realistically best as a slot receiver who can use his experience to create space and throwing lanes. He could fit in Oakland, where the Raiders have spent the offseason stockpiling veterans and could use an upgrade on Seth Roberts, whose 7.7 percent drop rate over the past two seasons is tops among wideouts. Maclin also has plenty of experience playing underneath Gruden chum Andy Reid in the West Coast offense, so he should be a quick study in Gruden’s scheme.
New home: Oakland Raiders
Eric Decker, wide receiver
Titans fans will always have Decker’s game-winning touchdown catch during last season’s playoff victory over the Chiefs, but the 31-year-old never seemed to settle in under Mike Mularkey in Tennessee.
It makes sense that Decker would look up one of his former coaches from his time in Denver. Adam Gase probably isn’t a good fit given how much the Dolphins have invested at wide receiver, but a logical landing point would be with the Cardinals, who have a relatively middling wide receiver depth chart and former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy taking over in that role. Decker might not be able to beat out Chad Williams or Christian Kirk for regular snaps, but it’s probably worth a try for Arizona.
New home: Arizona Cardinals
Bashaud Breeland, cornerback
Breeland started 58 games for Washington over his four-year rookie deal and had struck a three-year, $24 million deal to join the Panthers this offseason, but a foot injury he suffered on vacation resulted in a failed physical and a silent free-agent market. Breeland recently met with the Colts and Cardinals, both of whom are desperate for cornerback help, and the fact that the two sides weren’t able to consummate a deal might in itself be telling.
At this point, Breeland’s probably looking at a one-year deal in advance of hitting the market again in 2019. Rashaan Melvin was able to parlay a successful season with the Colts into a larger contract with the Raiders, but even that only became a one-year pact for $5.5 million. A better fit might lurk with the Chiefs, who are perilously thin at cornerback after trading Marcus Peters and could give Breeland a chance to shine in a more productive defense before seeking a long-term deal again next offseason.
New home: Kansas City Chiefs
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback
It’s a surprise to see DRC still on the market, but the 10-year vet doesn’t appear to be in much of a rush. In March, Rodgers-Cromartie said he hoped to sign in April. Last month, Cromartie set a target for training camp. It’s fair to wonder whether the two-time Pro Bowler is yet to see an offer worth signing, but Rodgers-Cromartie can also afford to be choosy and wait until camp. Nobody in the pass-happy NFL ever says it has too many cornerbacks.
It seems likely that Rodgers-Cromartie, 32, will wait for someone to get injured or for a contender to realize that its cornerbacks aren’t any good in training camp. Failing that, DRC already met with Washington, which lost Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller this offseason and only replaced them by adding Cowboys veteran Orlando Scandrick. Rodgers-Cromartie would be an upgrade on Scandrick, especially if Washington tries to play Scandrick outside of his usual home in the slot.
New home: Washington
Delvin Breaux, cornerback
Once the bright spot in a turgid Saints defense, Breaux has been limited by injuries to just six games over the past two seasons. The breakouts of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley and the return of Patrick Robinson led the Saints to non-tender the former Louisiana high school star this offseason, and he has yet to find a home in free agency.
The risk-reward ratio for Breaux is enormous. Given his injury history, it’s difficult to imagine Breaux commanding more than a one-year, $2 million deal. His upside, though, is as a legitimate starting cover corner in a league in which those often cost $10 million per season in free agency. The Patriots have a track record of taking shots on similarly talented players, and while they traded for Jason McCourty and drafted Duke Dawson this offseason, Bill Belichick has a way of finding uses for talented cornerbacks.
New home: New England Patriots
Kenny Vaccaro, safety
Breaux’s former teammate has had an up-and-down career since being selected with the 15th pick of the 2013 draft, and that includes last season.
Vaccaro’s best role is as a box defender, where his athleticism and physicality can play up. The Saints have moved on after replacing Vaccaro in their rotation with Kurt Coleman, but there’s a landing spot in the division that might make sense. The Panthers are relatively thin at safety after releasing Coleman, and while they could sign one of several former Carolina players in Tre Boston or Mike Mitchell, the Panthers would be able to upgrade on 38-year-old Mike Adams or former Titans backup Da’Norris Searcy by adding Vaccaro.
New home: Carolina Panthers
Robert Ayers, defensive end
Arguably the best edge defender left in free agency, Ayers has been a useful two-way defender over the past several years, albeit while missing four games in each of the past four seasons.
At worst, Ayers should be a useful reserve defensive end in a league in which the Eagles just rode their defensive line rotation into the Super Bowl. Half of the league could use a player like that. The Saints have former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen running things and drafted Marcus Davenport to play across from Cameron Jordan, but they could use depth at the position with Alex Okafor returning from a torn Achilles. The Chargers might have the league’s best one-two punch on the edge with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but there’s precious little behind their two stars if one of them gets hurt. Ayers would be a high-quality reserve.
If anyone needs help on the edge, though, it’s a Rams team that’s in win-now mode and bereft of talent at defensive end after trading away Robert Quinn. Ayers probably wouldn’t be an every-down player in Los Angeles, but he could easily give the Rams 500 valuable snaps at a position of need for less than the $4.3 million the Rams currently have available on their cap.
New home: Los Angeles Rams
Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle
For the second offseason in a row, the league hasn’t shown much interest in the former Giants defensive tackle. Last year, Hankins sat in free agency for a month before signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Colts. After Indy changed schemes this offseason, they released Hankins one season into his deal. The 26-year-old has taken a number of visits since, but he hasn’t yet caught on with a new team.
Hankins might end up looking at a one-year deal, but there’s a team that could take advantage of its opportunity to sign a talented young player for something less than his typical market value: the Browns, who have typically been forced to pay premiums to attract talent to an organization that has gone 1-31 over the past two seasons. New general manager John Dorsey traded away Danny Shelton this offseason without adding any help at defensive tackle, so Hankins could be a viable piece of an emerging defensive line.
New home: Cleveland Browns
NaVorro Bowman, linebacker
Bowman got relatively good reviews for his brief stint with the Raiders, but Oakland showed what it thought of the three-time Pro Bowler by signing Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson this offseason. It seemed likely that Bowman would be able to help as a run-defender, but the Raiders were slightly worse with Bowman on the field. Oakland last season averaged 4.1 yards per carry and a 22.2 percent first-down rate on the ground with Bowman in the lineup and 3.9 yards per rush with a 20.1 percent first-down rate while he was in San Francisco or off the field.
Even if Bowman isn’t the superstar linebacker we saw before his serious knee injury, it’s a surprise that there isn’t more of a market for a veteran with his level of leadership. There’s one contender with a huge weakness on the interior: The Steelers haven’t really added anyone to replace Ryan Shazier, who won’t be able to play in 2018, besides special-teamer Jon Bostic. Pittsburgh could still bring back Lawrence Timmons, but Bowman’s probably a better player at this point.
New home: Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Gates, tight end
The Chargers announced that they didn’t intend to re-sign Gates as part of their plan to finally give No. 1 reps to Hunter Henry, but Henry tore his ACL in OTAs and will miss the 2018 season. You can imagine how awkward it might be for the Chargers to go back to their longtime stalwart hat in hand, but there’s not really a better option for them on the market. Gates, who will soon be 38, is essentially limited to drag routes and pick plays at this point, but he’s still a better option than Julius Thomas or Brent Celek.
New(ish) home: Los Angeles Chargers
Matt Moore, quarterback
The best quarterback available on the market outside of Colin Kaepernick, Moore has been effective in a reserve role for the Dolphins but didn’t help his case with two ugly starts last season.
The Dolphins have moved on by signing Brock Osweiler, but Moore is still good enough to justify a roster spot. Truthfully, he might be better than a few of the league’s starting quarterbacks.
The Jaguars clearly committed to two more years of Blake Bortles by extending their quarterback this offseason, but what happens if Bortles gets hurt or suffers a serious downturn in performance? Jacksonville’s backup is Cody Kessler, who was barely capable of getting on the field for the Browns last season. Their third-stringer is sixth-round pick Tanner Lee. Moore is just ineffective enough to not spook Bortles, but solid enough to fill in if Bortles is unable to play.
New home: Jacksonville Jaguars
Alfred Morris, running back
After his yards per carry declined for four consecutive seasons, Morris finally took a leap back toward effectiveness by averaging 4.8 yards per rush across his 115 attempts. Some of that was thanks to a 70-yard run, but Morris finished 10th in DVOA and seventh in Success Rate, suggesting he was a consistently effective back. Ezekiel Elliott was better in both categories, so the offensive line clearly helped out Morris, but there’s a useful zone runner in here.
Morris’ most impressive season came as a rookie in Washington under Kyle Shanahan, so you can probably guess where I’m suggesting he could head. The 49ers made a major investment in Jerick McKinnon this offseason, but McKinnon wasn’t an effective back in Minnesota and hasn’t carried the ball more than 20 times once in a single game as a pro. With the loss Carlos Hyde in free agency, the primary backups to McKinnon are Matt Breida and Joe Williams. Morris could figure in as an insurance policy and change of pace for McKinnon.
New home: San Francisco 49ers
DeMarco Murray, running back
After a return to form in 2016, Murray fell off a cliff in Mike Mularkey’s exotic smashmouth scheme last season. The Oklahoma product was dramatically outplayed by Derrick Henry and became a bit of a cause celebre for Titans fans, who weren’t particularly upset when Tennessee cut Murray during the offseason and replaced him with Dion Lewis.
Murray probably shouldn’t be a team’s primary back, but he still offers enough as a pass-protector and occasional receiver to justify a roster spot as a team’s RB2. He famously prefers to get the ball from a quarterback under center, so ideally, we would be able to find him a team that operates from center in need of a reserve halfback.
I’m trying to limit teams to one addition here, but I’ll make an exception and throw out the Rams as a natural home for Murray. Los Angeles ran the ball 388 times from under center last season, which ranked second in the league behind the Saints. Todd Gurley is obviously going to get the bulk of those carries, but if Gurley gets hurt, Los Angeles’ primary backup is Malcolm Brown, who has averaged 3.6 yards per carry without showing much as a receiver at this level. Murray might not be needed for more than 60 carries if Gurley stays healthy, but he would be a much-needed insurance policy for a back with a history of knee issues.
New home: Los Angeles Rams
Adrian Peterson, running back
The future Hall of Famer had two wildly productive games with the Cardinals, but AD ran the ball 93 times for a mere 236 yards in his other eight games, an average of just 2.5 yards per rush. He also didn’t score in any of those eight appearances, finishing the season with just two touchdowns on 167 touches. You can squint and maybe make a case for Peterson’s struggles — he never found a steady role behind two superior backs in New Orleans and was playing behind a beat-up, replacement-level offensive line in Arizona — but it’s clear that we’re coming close to the end of Peterson’s career.
If this is it, perhaps now is the time for a long-rumored dalliance to come into existence. The Cowboys are left with just Rod Smith behind Elliott, and while Smith has been a reasonable backup, it seems plausible that Peterson could still be an upgrade as a 100-carry back while playing a couple of series per game. At the very least, he would sell plenty of jerseys for a team that isn’t exactly teeming with skill-position weapons behind Elliott.
New home: Dallas Cowboys