The Daily Briefing Tuesday, March 13, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Peter King offers three reasons why there are more trades in the NFL than ever before:
1. The paranoia to trade is gone. A few of the more conservative team czars have faded away—Ted Thompson, Trent Baalke, Jerry Reese—and the ethos of mega-value for draft choices has lessened. As one club official told me over the weekend, it used to be that second- and third-round picks were solid gold, and now if you really need to use them, you figure you can recoup them if you’re imaginative enough. There have been 12 second- and third-round picks traded already, and the draft is six-and-a-half weeks away; by March 12, 2016, only three picks in the second or third round of that year’s draft had been traded. I also notice there’s less of a desire to “win” trades. There’s much less of a desire to say, You’re not touching my high picks. If you really need something—legitimacy and a bridge quarterback, for instance, with the Browns; a new set of corners for the Rams—you do it, and don’t get paranoid about the consequences.
2. Familiarity among GMs. Hang in the Indiana Convention Center with Eagles GM Howie Roseman during the combine, with the full roster of NFL coaches and GMs walking by, and your conversation won’t last long. Roseman keeps getting interrupted. He’s the mayor of the combine, talking to everyone. There’s more camaraderie among fierce competitors than I remember in the past. Roseman, Seattle’s John Schneider, Les Snead of the Rams, Indy’s Chris Ballard, Minnesota’s Rick Spielman, San Francisco’s John Lynch, Tom Telesco of the Chargers and Cleveland’s John Dorsey (and his new Browns staff) are young franchise czars who seem, mostly, to genuinely like and respect each other. “I think we all feel we want trades to be win-win,” Roseman said. “It’s not a case of trying get over on someone. This is a fraternity. We don’t want to see our friends in the business lose their jobs.”
3. Texting. So there’s not a lot of offers flying back and forth on Twitter. But it’s pretty easy to feel out your peers by sending out exploratory fishing lines via text-messaging. “The ability to text is huge,” Rams GM Les Snead told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “You can shoot off a proposal, an idea, to 10 or 15 general managers in less than two minutes. In the days when you had to call, and let’s just say the other person says, ‘OK, I’ll get back to you.’ And then when you make your second call, here comes the GM you called first. Now, you’re playing phone tag.”
So the Bears went all in on WR ALLEN ROBINSON. Thoughts from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Last year, Bears G.M. Ryan Pace tried to bolster Chicago’s offense in free agency, signing quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract, and wide receiver Markus Wheaton to a two-year, $11 million contract. Those signings turned out to be big mistakes, and Glennon and Wheaton won’t be with the Bears in 2018.
This year, Pace has again tried to bolster the Bears’ offense, agreeing to a three-year, $42 million contract with wide receiver Allen Robinson. If this move doesn’t work out, it may be Pace’s last chance to right the ship in free agency.
Although Pace signed a contract extension this offseason, the Bears have finished in last place in the NFC North four consecutive years. Even with a new contract, Pace is on the hot seat.
And so Pace is desperate to show that the other big move he made last year, trading up to the second overall pick in the draft to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, was a smart one. And the best way to help Trubisky flourish in his second season is to surround him with weapons on offense.
That’s what the signing of Robinson was all about. If it works out, Trubisky should improve in his second season, the Bears should improve as a season, and Pace should get a chance to continue the rebuilding project. If the Bears are a last-place team for a fifth consecutive year, they’ll likely be looking for a new G.M. a year from now.
As QB KIRK COUSINS says goodbye to the Redskins, he may have given hints on his next stop. Nikki Jhabvala of the Denver Post:
Kirk Cousins is officially moving on, but his next destination remains unknown.
The free-agent quarterback penned a lengthy blog post on Monday, the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period, to thank the Redskins and their fans, as well as former head coach Mike Shanahan.
“Knowing I will not be putting on a Redskins jersey next season, it’s hard to look back at all that’s taken place and not become emotional,” Cousins wrote on his website. “I will forever be grateful to Mike Shanahan for taking a chance on me in the 2012 draft. At the time, many people saw his selection as foolish. Time proved otherwise and taught me that there are no guarantees in this business — if you work hard and learn from your mistakes, good things can happen. For the first time in 11 years I will participate in choosing where I play. Having said this, I would not trade the past decade for anything.”
But at the bottom of his blog post, Cousins might have revealed his top choices for his next team. When it was initially published, “Jets” and “Vikings” were among the keywords tagged at the bottom. They have since been removed.
The Broncos have long been considered to be on the short list of options for Cousins, along with the Jets and Vikings and Cardinals. But a definitive group of targeted teams has never been revealed by Cousins or his agent.
Though the Broncos are a bit tight on cap space, they have a glaring need for a starting quarterback and could make the pieces fit. They also boast a talented defense (even with the loss of cornerback Aqib Talib), feature a pair of Pro Bowl receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and have a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway calling the shots.
Earlier reports claimed Cousins would take at least one visit, if not two, when free agency began to determine the best fit. The Vikings could be one. No such visit has been scheduled with the Broncos yet, though it’s not to say it won’t in the coming days.
T ZACH STRIEF has retired at age 34 and after 12 seasons with the Saints.
– – –
Would QB DREW BREES actually sign with another team? Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The white whale of free agency is more like the Loch Ness Monster.
Technically in play for a move to a new team, Saints quarterback Drew Brees likely won’t be. The talk in league circles is that both Brees and his wife are strongly resisted the possibility of leaving New Orleans.
Separately (or maybe consequently), Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis is believed to be holding firm with the team’s current offer.
It’s unclear what the Saints have on the table, but it’s believed to be well south of the $30 million threshold that every agent wants to be the first one to surpass. At a time when Mike McCartney could be the first one to get to that number with Kirk Cousins, Tom Condon wants to get their first with Brees.
So what hasn’t a deal been done? Brees is willing to use his necessarily limited leverage (given that he’s resisting the possibility of leaving) to get the best deal he can, both for himself and for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, another Condon/CAA client who is next in line to try to get to $30 million per year or beyond.
There’s still a little leverage that helps Brees get a better deal in the next day. As of Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, his current contract technically voids, creating an $18 million cap charge for 2018. If the deal can be extended before then, that $18 million will be spread equally over the next three years.
Peter King with some good stuff on how CB RICHARD SHERMAN became a member of the once-hated 49ers:
“We’re on the 1-yard line here!” 49ers GM John Lynch said late Saturday afternoon to the free-agent corner he was recruiting, Richard Sherman. “We can do this! We can put this in the end zone!”
Sherman smiled. “I’ve been at the 1-yard line before,” he said, “and it didn’t go so well.”
Lynch said: “I promise you, we won’t throw it this time.”
This was not your typical negotiation. Here, in the inner sanctum of the team Sherman kept out of the Super Bowl four years ago, the most hated rival in recent San Francisco history spent four hours on Saturday afternoon negotiating his own contract with no agent. Imagine David Ortiz negotiating with Brian Cashman. For four hours, the football version of that scenario happened in Santa Clara, Calif. Lynch and veteran Niners cap man Paraag Marathe on one side, Sherman and his fiancée, Ashley, on the other side.
And the specter of Super Bowl 49 reared its head. Lynch didn’t realize he was conjuring up a bad memory for Sherman—the three-year-old memory of the Seahawks passing on second-and-goal from the one instead of running Marshawn Lynch, down four points to New England in the final minute of the Super Bowl. The Russell Wilson pass, of course, was intercepted by New England’s Malcolm Butler at the goal line, and instead of being a two-time Super Bowl winner, the Seahawks suffered the bitterest last-second loss in Super Bowl history.
Now Sherman could smile about it. And very late in the talks, Sherman said for the second time that he wanted to sleep on the offer. He wanted to think. This was too big a deal to rush, and there were the Lions and the Raiders and, yes, the Seahawks he had to consider and get back to before making the deal.
“We are right there,” John Lynch said, having structured the three-year deal that Marathe called “one of the most complicated contracts on our team,” with much of it massaged by Sherman. “Let’s do it!”
Sherman, of course, hadn’t represented himself like this before, but he did know one thing: If the deal didn’t get done right now, and if he walked out and took a couple more free-agent trips, the Niners might not be there for him in a few days. “I would assume if I leave, some of the things in this deal would get walked back,” he said to Lynch. Could be, he was told.
So much at stake. Twenty-eight hours earlier, he’d been released by Seattle. Richard Sherman needed time to think.
You know the ending now. Sherman got the heavily incentivized deal, both sides recognizing that cornerbacks about to turn 30 and coming off Achilles surgery are no sure things. But let’s start at the beginning, when Sherman’s name appeared on the NFL waiver wire on Friday at 1:05 p.m. Pacific Time. In fact, let’s start a few days before.
“We did have a trade in place with Denver for a veteran cornerback,” Lynch told me late Sunday afternoon. “Aqib Talib. I think he didn’t like the idea of being traded—he wanted to be released. I think he felt, ‘If I’m going anywhere, I want to play for [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick or [Rams defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips.’ I talked to the Broncos at the scouting combine in Indy about it, and I thought we had a deal. Richard [Sherman] wasn’t available then. But we might have had to fight to make the trade for Aqib, so we just dropped it.”
Then, on Friday afternoon, Sherman got dumped by Seattle, which wanted to save $11 million on its tight salary cap. Lynch said it was like the Niners had Sherman on speed dial. They were the first to contact him. Sherman was in Las Vegas, at the annual NFLPA meetings, and the Niners wanted him to fly to San Jose on Friday afternoon to meet coach Kyle Shanahan for dinner at team hangout Nick’s Next Door in Los Gatos, Calif. Sherman said yes. Shanahan and his wife, and Sherman and his fiancée, met for a dinner that lasted four hours.
Lynch was at a charity function in San Diego on Friday night and went to sleep afterward. He missed an 11:43 p.m. call from Shanahan. When they spoke on Saturday at 7 a.m., Shanahan told him the dinner went well and he supported the idea of signing Sherman. Lynch and Marathe prepared to meet with Sherman and had to figure out the smartest way to structure a contract. Sherman on Saturday morning got some medical tests, including a scan on his healing Achilles. The meeting in Lynch’s office started after noon.
“Richard came into the meeting with us having read all the contracts for all the top cornerbacks past and present,” Marathe said. This was only the second time in 16 years as negotiator that Marathe faced off against a player advocating for himself. Defensive end Justin Smith was the first, in a late-career deal that took “two minutes,” Marathe said. Sherman, he said, “studied our contracts and knew who we’d given real guaranteed money to. He brought up an old Nnamdi Asomugha contract with massive acceleration in it. He’d done his research. Very impressive.”
Said Sherman: “I spent maybe 10, 12 hours reading all these contracts and studying the contract language. If I was going to represent myself, I was going to do the research.”
Normally, when teams talk to agents during negotiations, some negatives about players come up. Now there was no buffer. Lynch and Marathe had to make Sherman realize that with his age and recent surgery, he would be subject to significant clauses protecting the team. Sherman didn’t get ticked off, Lynch said. Sherman understood. “Sometimes contract offers sting the player,” Lynch said. “We said to him, ‘There are some realities here where you’re going to have to give.’ And he got it.”
Occasionally, Sherman stepped out to talk to other teams. Occasionally, Lynch and Marathe stepped out to massage their offer and clauses. Sherman got the Niners to budge on a few things. “This is how much Richard studied this,” Marathe said. “We had a clause in a bunch of our contracts saying players got an incentive for making the Pro Bowl, even if they were medically excused from playing in the Pro Bowl. Richard said, ‘What if I’m voted to the Pro Bowl and I can’t go because we’re in the Super Bowl?’ We thought, He’s right. Great observation. We changed the wording.”
Late in the process, when Sherman and the Niners agreed on most of the incentives in the deal, he got back to the three most interested teams. Seattle, interestingly enough, wanted the first right of refusal on any offer, and so Sherman called Seahawks GM John Schneider. Sherman said Schneider told him, “Incentives [are] a little rich for me.” Sherman called Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie, who said he wasn’t going to have the cap money to compete for him. And Sherman called Detroit coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn; incentive package too rich for Detroit’s blood.
So if Sherman wanted a deal today, and if he wanted a sure thing, he’d have to go with the 49ers. With the other contenders falling by the wayside, and with one final concession by the Niners, Sherman’s decision was made for him. He shook hands with Lynch, hugged him, and the deal was done.
Now, this isn’t the contract of Sherman’s dreams. As Mike Florio reported on Sunday, the deal includes $5 million before training camp in the form of a $3 million signing bonus and a $2 million roster bonus on the first day of camp. His base salary in 2018 is $2 million. He will have to be Sherman the All-Pro corner for three years to make what the contract originally was reported to be worth—$39 million. And turning 30 this year, coming off the Achilles injury, that’s highly unlikely, obviously. Could an agent have done better? Possibly. But all teams are looking at Richard Sherman, damaged goods, not Richard Sherman, sure All-Pro.
So Sherman is getting knocked for not getting a good-enough deal. That view may have some merit. But if he plays 90 percent of the snaps for San Francisco in 2018 and makes the Pro Bowl, he makes the same $11 million he was scheduled to make in Seattle this year … and his salary of $8 million for 2019 would be guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1, 2019.
That’s a complicated way of saying Sherman can be an $11- or $12-million-a-year player, but he’s going to have to play like the Richard Sherman of 2013 to get it.
Sherman came out firing on the players-shouldn’t-rep-themselves charge.
“I don’t think any agent in the business could have done a better job of negotiating this contract,” Sherman told me by phone on Sunday night. “As long as I’m content with what I’m making, nothing else matters to me.
“Once I make a Pro Bowl, $8 million the next year is guaranteed for me. It gives me the ability to control my destiny. The 49ers have skin in the game. I have skin in the game. In my former contract, no matter what I did this year, nothing would be guaranteed to me next year. I couldn’t feel secure in my contract. Now, if I play the way I know I’m capable of playing, I know I’m going to get paid.”
Now about the Seahawks’ part of things. While Seattle reconstructs its franchise, its heart-and-soul guy—its Ortiz, its LeBron—flies south. Lots of familiar things in the Bay Area for Sherman. That’s where he went to college, at Stanford. He fancies himself a Renaissance man full of interests outside of sports, and so the imagination of Silicon Valley interests him. He’s a California guy. But there’s something else about playing for the Niners.
“We had something no other team could offer,” Lynch said.
“The ability to play Seattle twice a year,” Lynch said.
When that was relayed to Sherman, he paused for a second.
Sherman said: “I’m vengeful in that way.”
That’s what it sounded like. But I wanted to make sure. I asked him to repeat that.
“Vengeful,” Sherman said. “I love the fan base to death, and I loved playing there. It was such a great opportunity. I helped the organization get to a great place and stay there. But now it’s like I abandoned them. People are out there burning my jersey. Come on. I’m not the one who let me go. They let me go. I didn’t abandon anybody.”
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Peter King on the results of the Rams four trades:
For the record, in the past two weeks, the Rams have made four trades, all involving veteran players, and this is the collective result:
Rams Traded Rams Received
DE Robert Quinn CB Marcus Peters
LB Alec Ogletree CB Aqib Talib
2018 fourth-round pick 2018 fourth-round pick
2018 sixth-round pick 2018 fourth-round pick
2019 second-round pick 2018 sixth-round pick
2019 seventh-round pick 2018 sixth-round pick
(Note: I eliminated the sixth-round pick obtained from the Chiefs in the Peters trade, because the Rams traded it away in the Quinn deal.)
The Rams now own in this draft 10 choices—one pick in the first, third, and fifth rounds, two in the fourth round, none in the second and seventh rounds … and five in the sixth round (overall picks 176, 183, 194, 195, 198).
The Rams’ plan, coordinated by GM Les Snead with the full agreement of coach Sean McVay, was to fix the cornerback position for the next two years (that’s how long they can contractually hold onto Peters, and the best guess for how long Talib will play) without affecting the base of the young talent in L.A.—namely Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley. With defensive coordinator Wade Phillips craving shutdown corners, and quite possibly no assistant coach in the league better equipped to handle the firestorms the mercurial Peters and Talib could bring, the risk of those two players is mitigated. Plus, the Rams may get a handle on Peters and may be able to sign one of the best young corners in the game long-term.
Peter King with the spin from Seattle:
When Carroll and Schneider had their arranged marriage in January 2010—Carroll was hired first, and Schneider, the road scout, followed from Green Bay—they reveled in the fact that they both loved change, and they both loved trusting young players. So what’s happened in growing relatively old with Sherman and Thomas and Chancellor and the like is probably not who Carroll and Schneider are. Carroll loved the constant turnover of college football, pitting the new recruit against the established starter through competition. He may not say it publicly, but he really has missed that through the last five or six seasons, since the Seahawks got really good and became Super Bowl contenders. But at some point, to be true to yourself, you’ve got to go back to your ethos. And the Carroll/Schneider ethos is finding Sherman in the fifth round and plugging him in and discovering gold, and finding Wilson in the third round and plugging him in and finding the same kind of gold.
I heard a story about the Seahawks last season. A young player got to the team, and looked around the locker room, and told one of the veterans, “I played you with Madden when I was in high school.” You’ve got to be peers when you go play an NFL game. Should young players be little puppy dogs, in awe of the guys in their own room?
The Broncos go with QB CASE KEENUM. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The first domino has fallen in the Great Quarterback Chase of 2018. To the chagrin of Von Miller.
Case Keenum, not Kirk Cousins, will become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos. And Case Keenum will be compensated accordingly, given that he’s not Kirk Cousins.
A source with knowledge of the dynamics of the process guesses that Keenum’s deal will land in the range of $18 million to $20 million per year. Mike Klis of 9News.com says it’s expected to be a short-term deal.
The dollars may seem steep on the surface, but consider three points. First, Keenum played great last year, with a couple of isolated exceptions (including, you know, the NFC Championship game). Second, Blake Bortles sort of set the bar with his $18 million per year deal. Third, most above-average quarterbacks are getting more than $20 million per year.
Of course, the guess could end up being high, based on two other points. First, the numbers weren’t leaked with the report of the deal, which implies that the numbers may not be worth bragging about. Second, Broncos G.M. John Elway, who feels helpless during the season because he can’t get on the field, thrives for the competition at the negotiating table.
Regardless, the Broncos have a new quarterback. While we may not know many of the details from now, one thing is certain: He won’t be wearing No. 7 in Denver.
The Chiefs will be adding WR SAMMY WADKINS. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Chiefs are giving their young starting quarterback a big-play receiver.
Sammy Watkins and the Chiefs have agreed to terms on a contract that should be signed tomorrow, according to multiple reports. The deal has been pegged at about $16 million a year for three years.
That pairs Watkins with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ new starting quarterback, and adds him to a talented offense that also includes Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce. The Chiefs have set Mahomes up to succeed in his first year as the starter, following the Alex Smith trade.
Watkins didn’t live up to expectations in Buffalo after the Bills packaged two first-round picks to move up and draft him. But with the Rams last year he played well in a supporting role, and now the Chiefs will hope he can be their No. 1 wide receiver.
Peter King looks at the weekend moves of the Browns:
It was a good weekend for the Browns, who paid $1.30 on the dollar to continue their fight toward NFL competitiveness with four trades in 24 hours.
My biggest takeaway is that Cleveland is still likely to take a quarterback with the first or fourth pick in the draft, and that Tyrod Taylor is more likely than not a bridge quarterback to the next guy. Taylor, of course, controls that with how he plays this year. He’s a significant upgrade over DeShone Kizer, certainly. And by committing $16 million to Taylor, the Browns are saying, You’ve got a chance to be our quarterback of the future, and you control that, plus your next contract, with how you play in 2018. But I have believed since the hiring of John Dorsey that the Browns fully intended to get a veteran quarterback (Alex Smith? A.J. McCarron? Sam Bradford? Tyrod Taylor?) this off-season, and a rookie quarterback likely to be the long-term quarterback for the franchise. Nothing’s changed. I believe this is the way the Browns still feel.
Regarding the $1.30 on the dollar: Cleveland did what other teams wouldn’t do Friday, which was to ensure Taylor and wideout Jarvis Landry that they would both make $16 million in 2018. The Browns sent a third-round pick to Buffalo for Taylor, and fourth- and seventh-round picks to Miami for Landry. Steep, if you consider 2018 is a one-year trial for each player.
I like acquiring safety Demarious Randall for quarterback DeShone Kizer (plus swapping draft spots in the fourth and fifth rounds) for Cleveland; the Browns will likely play Randall at his college position, free safety, instead of trying to convert him into a corner, as the Packers did for part of his tenure in Green Bay. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could play Randall in the one-high-safety look he likes to play, and Randall should be a good fit in that rangy spot. And dealing nosetackle Danny Shelton to New England for a 2019 third-rounder is smart if the Browns consider Williams’ scheme—a 4-3 look that doesn’t need a pure nosetackle—to be their long-term defense.
The Browns improved on Friday, no doubt. But they’ll need Taylor to win some games, or they’ll need to get good play out of Landry and a new contract for him, for the day to be a winner beyond 2018.
The Jaguars are poised to land the prized guard of the NFL free agent class. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
The Jacksonville Jaguars are set to harpoon the top offensive lineman in free agency.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports former Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell is expected to sign with the Jaguars, according to sources informed of the deal. The deal is set to count five years and $66.5 million, with $30 million fully guaranteed.
Norwell’s deal sets new highs for guards in total value, average per season and guarantees, per Over The Cap.
The deal cannot be finalized until the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
The Panthers would have liked to keep the 2017 first-team All-Pro, but couldn’t afford to pay another guard huge money. Carolina eschewed the franchise tag money that paid offensive tackle money.
The Panthers didn’t want to pay Norwell offensive tackle type cash; the Jaguars are happy to.
Norwell immediately upgrades the interior of Jacksonville, which struggled much of last season. The addition of the undrafted 26-year-old will immediately improve Leonard Fournette’s outlook for 2018. Norwell should also make life easier for Blake Bortles protecting the QB from pressure up the gut.
After focusing on building up the defensive side of the ball last offseason, the Jags begin this new league year letting receiver Allen Robinson walk to the Bears and upgrading their offensive line. The game plan heading to 2018 is clear: Play D and pound the rock. Norwell’s signing is the biggest key to that plan thus far.
Peter King on Buffalo’s ammo to get to the top of the draft:
I don’t know which rookie quarterback Bills GM Brandon Beane likes, but I’ll tell you why the Tyrod Taylor trade makes so much sense for the Bills’ attempt to get one in the draft 45 days from now. There are three teams at the top of the draft—Browns at one and four, Giants at two, Colts at three—with GMs who see holes all over their roster. And with GMs, I might add, who are not afraid. As I wrote earlier in the column, I expect the Browns to take a quarterback at one or four. The Bills, now with five picks in the top 65 (21, 22, 53, 56, 65), can offer those three teams the chance to get three or four starter-caliber players this year or this year and next.
The Taylor trade netted Buffalo the first pick in the third round, 65th overall, with a value of 265 points on the Draft Trade Value Chart (hackneyed, but still a point of reference). Let’s say the Bills wanted to move up to number four. Value of the fourth overall choice on the chart, invented by the Cowboys 30 years ago: 1,800 points. The 21st and 22nd picks, together (1,580 points), are likely not enough, at least in the eyes of Browns GM John Dorsey, to make that jump. But adding the 65th pick (265 points) puts the Bills at 1,845 points, and 21, 22 and 65 seems like a pretty fair swap.
So there could be another Buffalo-Cleveland trade in the works.
Peter King on the recruitment of T NATE SOLDER:
I think the best non-quarterback in free agency is New England left tackle Nate Solder. After quarterback, in some order, the most valuable positions to fill on the football field are edge-rusher, cornerback and left tackle. There is no top-10 NFL pass-rusher on the unrestricted free-agent market. There is no top-10 NFL cornerback on the unrestricted free-agent market. But there is a top-10 NFL left tackle on the market—it’s borderline, but I’d include him after his tremendous Super Bowl performance—and it’s Solder.
I figured the Patriots would have Solder singled against the Eagles’ right-side edge rushers because of New England’s respect for Fletcher Cox, and that’s what happened. Of 75 snaps in the Super Bowl, I counted Solder getting help on five snaps, and I counted Solder giving up one quarterback hit and two significant pressures. That’s a terrific job against a strong front. The Patriots want him back, but Bill Belichick’s history is to not pay vets of a certain age. (Solder will play at 30 this season.)
I bet Houston will be all over Solder. The Texans haven’t replaced a solid left tackle, Duane Brown, after dealing him to Seattle at the trade deadline last October, and don’t have a pick until 68th overall in the third round, and so will have to make some hay in free agency. Bill O’Brien and Solder overlapped on the Patriots during Solder’s rookie season of 2011, and the Texans coach has high regard for him, I’m told. There’s one other X factor: Solder’s son Hudson, 2, is undergoing treatment for kidney cancer, and his treatment base is in Boston now. So that could play a role too—although other NFL cities have pediatric cancer units, to be sure.
I’m told Solder is wide open and will consider all options. But I’m also told the Patriots are being quite aggressive in their attempt to keep him. Gut feeling: Barring a crazy-money offer from the Giants or Texans (or a mystery team), which could happen, Solder returns to the Patriots. They know they need him more than any of their significant free agents, like Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis.
THIS AND THAT
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com thinks RB SAQUON BARKLEY should be the first guy off the board.
If Saquon Barkley is widely viewed as the No. 1 prospect in the 2018 draft class, he should be the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, right?
In a league where executives pride themselves in taking the “BPA” (best player available) on draft day, the decision to select the Penn State star should be a no-brainer for the team that’s on the clock when the draft opens.
“Barkley’s special,” an AFC personnel executive told me. “He checks off all of the boxes as a player, and he is an exceptional character kid. It’s hard to find a hole in his game.
“He has to go No. 1.”
This is a sentiment that was expressed to me at the NFL Scouting Combine by several evaluators and coaches familiar with Barkley and his game. They raved about his versatility and playmaking skills as a hybrid running back and gushed about his character.
“Barkley is going to change the standard for running backs coming into the league,” an AFC running backs coach said. “He has every single trait that you want in a player. He’s a terrific playmaker with a versatile game. Plus, he is a great kid with outstanding character. … He’s about as perfect as they come at the position.”
After hearing so many of my scouting colleagues and coaching buddies throw verbal bouquets on Barkley, it is pretty obvious that he is a face-of-the-franchise type of player with the name and game to handle the pressure of being the No. 1 overall pick. He is a “4-P” prospect, possessing the production (5,000-plus scrimmage yards and 51 total touchdowns in three seasons at Penn State), performance (dynamic runner-receiver-returner with explosive playmaking ability), prototypical traits (6-foot, 233 pounds with 4.40 40 speed and a 41-inch vertical) and personal character to validate his candidacy as the top pick in the draft.
When you’re picking a player at the top of the draft, you’re hoping to land a transcendent star with a game that elevates the franchise. Although we typically reserve that spot for a quarterback, a pass rusher or an offensive tackle, based on the impact that players at those positions have on the passing game, the running back remains a valuable piece of the offensive puzzle, particularly when it comes to RBs with versatility and exemplary character.
“Positions are just letters of the alphabet, but Hall of Famers are human beings,” one GM told NFL.com‘s Kimberly Jones in Indianapolis. “Every draft is about the human being. If you think that human being is special, take him at 1. Don’t get hung up on the position.”
To that point, Barkley is a special player with the potential to impact the game like perennial Pro Bowl RB Le’Veon Bell. You know that guy: The one who’s averaged 129.0 scrimmage yards per game — the most of any player in their first five seasons in NFL history — as an RB1/WR2 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While I’m not suggesting Barkley and Bell are similar stylistically, I do believe the Penn State star possesses the versatility, explosiveness and playmaking ability to take over the game as a runner-receiver. The 233-pound running back can grind it out between the tackles and on the edge while also delivering splash plays as a dynamic route runner and pass catcher from the backfield, in the slot or out wide. In a league where points matter, Barkley scores touchdowns and creates scoring opportunities for others when he’s on the field. That’s important to remember when we dismiss the idea of drafting running backs No. 1.
I know detractors will quickly cite Kareem Hunt (a third-round pick last year who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie) and Alvin Kamara (a third-round pick who produced 1,554 scrimmage yards) as examples of why teams don’t need to spend a top pick on a running back, but I would counter that argument by pointing out the impact Ezekiel Elliott (drafted fourth overall by the Cowboys in 2016), Leonard Fournette (fourth overall by the Jaguars in 2017) and Todd Gurley (10th overall by the Rams in 2015) have had on their respective squads. Look at how they immediately became the most productive playmakers on their teams, and how their unique talents have allowed their teams to play around the limitations of the QB1.
Remember, there have been serious concerns about each of those team’s quarterbacks (Dak Prescott in Dallas, Blake Bortles in Jacksonville and Jared Goff in Los Angeles), yet the running backs are able to steady the offense as multi-faceted workhorses. Thus, the positional argument is moot, particularly when the running back is clearly the MVP of the offense.
That brings me to the 2018 draft class and the viable contenders for the No. 1 spot, particularly the quarterbacks. There isn’t a sure-fire franchise quarterback in the group, and it’s nearly impossible to suggest that any of the throwers are safer bets than Barkley.
Think about it this way: If Barkley absolutely bombs as a runner (hard to imagine), he is still a dynamic pass catcher capable of snagging 100 balls as a big-bodied weapon out of the backfield. At a time when running backs are being featured as pass catchers (14 running backs had at least 50 receptions in 2017), Barkley’s skills as a pass catcher make him a can’t-miss prospect at the position, barring injury.
Looking at the Cleveland Browns and considering why they have to take Barkley, it really comes down to acquiring as many blue-chip prospects as possible. Sure, we can talk ourselves into believing quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield are elite players capable of single-handedly reversing the team’s fortunes, but we actually know Barkley can make life easier for every skill player in a Browns uniform while also alleviating the burden on any QB1 who steps into the lineup.
Plus, the Browns have the No. 4 overall pick, so they’re assured of the chance to get one of the top quarterbacks at that spot. If the Browns have similar grades on the Tier 1 quarterbacks, they should take Barkley at No. 1 (given the bigger talent gap between the No. 1 RB and the others) and scoop up the quarterback with their next selection.
If I’m being completely honest about the situation, I believe the Browns would be better served to sign a veteran quarterback, ignore adding a young signal-caller altogether in Round 1 and add more blue-chip players to the roster to improve the overall team (UPDATE: The Browns are trading for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday). As a wise NFL executive told me, “You can never go wrong taking good players. If you keep adding good players, the team will ultimately improve and you will eventually get to where you want to go.”
In baseball terms, you can win a lot of games hitting singles and doubles instead of waiting for the home run. Barkley is a line-drive shot in the gap with the potential to go from a two-bagger to a triple if he plays to his potential. In a business where it is impossible to get certainty, I would bank on a prospect who checks off every conceivable box as a potential franchise player.