The Daily Briefing Wednesday, February 21, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Andrew Brandt of SI.com thinks QB KIRK COUSINS will fall short of a mega-contract.

 

As NFL free agency approaches, we have a rare sight to behold: a true, unrestricted free agent quarterback with experience, productivity and relative youth at the game’s most important and valuable position. Kirk Cousins will finally avoid the franchise tag (Washington could try to tag and trade Cousins even after acquiring Alex Smith but, well, good luck with that…) and, for the first time in an NFL career that began in 2012, be free to negotiate with all teams. And, as the narrative goes, multiple suitors will bring multiple bidders, which will bring Cousins a CRAZY contract once the free agency bell rings on March 14.

 

Or not.

 

Limited marketplace

Quarterback is the only position in football—except kicker and punter—where, barring injury, one man plays the vast majority of downs. That means teams will only pay one player at the quarterback position, unlike other positions that can support more than one upper-range contract.

 

There are roughly 5–7 potential teams who are in the market for a starting quarterback. One team being mentioned as a potential spot for Cousins is the Vikings, who have three quarterbacks—Case Keenum, Teddy Brigewater and Sam Bradford—all set to be free agents. But chances are unlikely that Minnesota would move away from what they know and replace it with the shiny new object in the window. The Jaguars, another team mentioned as a potential landing spot for Cousins, have exercised a $19-million option on QB Blake Bortles, so that’s not happening.

 

Thus, we are left five teams with potential interest in Cousins or another free agent quarterback: the Browns, Jets, Broncos, Cardinals and Bills.

 

The Draft Problem

Before getting to the draft, there are other obstacles for Cousins. Perhaps one of these teams, noting the magical season of the Eagles’ Nick Foles, chooses to package draft picks to secure Foles, reducing the list of potential suitors from five to four. And, of course, another team may prefer another free agent quarterback such as AJ McCarron, recently set free by a grievance arbitrator (and pursued at the trade deadline by the Browns) or cheaper options such as Keenum or Bradford.

 

The bigger problem for Cousins, having been a team executive, is the draft. The consensus seems to suggest that four or five quarterbacks could be selected in the first round—and these four or five teams that need quarterbacks are likely to be selecting these players. A few of the previously mentioned teams own top-10 draft picks, and some reports state that the Bills are trying to move some of the picks they have accumulated to move up to draft a quarterback as well. Will a team spend top-tier free-agent quarterback money on a veteran quarterback in March and then draft his future replacement in April? That is the question. Again, only one quarterback can play at a time.

 

Recent lessons

We have seen this movie play out poorly for the teams in each of the last two seasons. In 2016 the Eagles signed incumbent Bradford to a two-year $35-million contract, only to then maneuver to draft Carson Wentz, making Bradford extraneous. They were bailed out by the Vikings, who they leveraged for a first round pick after Bridgewater’s injury in the preseason, only after paying Bradford an $11-million signing bonus. Similarly in 2017 the Bears signed the top free-agent quarterback available, Mike Glennon, before drafting Mitchell Trubisky. And the $18.5 million investment in Glennon (the amount of guaranteed money) was poorly spent as the team gave the keys to Trubisky four games into his career. NFL teams learn from past mistakes of their brethren. Teams would much prefer if the draft were before free agency (which would further soften the NFL free agent market) but that is not going to change.

 

But, you say, Cousins is better than Bradford and Glennon! Well, that is not the debate we should have. It is this: would the Browns, Jets, Broncos, Cardinals or Bills really spend, say, $60-70 million guaranteed on Kirk Cousins to be a placeholder?

 

I may be totally wrong, and Cousins—or maybe even Keenum and McCarron—may break the bank after being replaced in Washington. But that may require bidding among a total supply chain of maybe two or three teams, and a team willing to pay full retail on a free agent while drafting his future replacement. As with all things, we will see.

 

The DB would argue that the Broncos – and maybe the Jets and Cardinals – would be content to sign Cousins and not double up with a first round rookie.  The DB can also think of four teams not on Brandt’s list that are not going to be interested in Cousins – but could very easily draft one of the first round quarterbacks to replace a veteran who might be rounding third – those would be the Saints, Chargers, Giants and Steelers.  We didn’t even mention the Patriots, Jaguars, Redskins, Dolphins, Ravens, Bengals who would seem to be as set at QB now as the Chiefs were last year when they drafted PATRICK MAHOMES.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

As John Fox sees it, he cleaned up the mess and Matt Nagy will benefit from the clean accommodations.  John Mullin of CSNChicago:

 

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

 

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

 

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

 

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess… but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

 

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

 

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

 

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

 

Bridge” results

 

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

 

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

 

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

 

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

 

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”

 

The Bears are passing on the chance to continue to employ G JOSH SITTON and LB JERRELL FREEMAN.  Patrick Finley in the Chicago Sun-Times:

 

The Bears began shaping their 2018 team Tuesday by making their most difficult roster decision, as well as their easiest, in the span of a few hours.

 

Guard Josh Sitton, one of only three Pro Bowl players during general manager Ryan Pace’s three-year stint with the Bears, won’t return. The team told him it will decline his $8 million option for 2018, making the soon-to-be 32-year-old a free agent.

 

Earlier, the Bears decided to cut inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who was suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug rules twice in as many years with the team.

 

After tearing a pec muscle on the Bears’ first defensive play of the season, Freeman went on injured reserve. He received a 10-game suspension midway through the season, sealing his fate.

 

Outside of quarterback Mike Glennon, perhaps no veteran was less likely to return than Freeman. The Bears were pleased with Nick Kwiatkoski’s performance in his place, playing alongside Danny Trevathan.

 

The Sitton decision, however, was much more nuanced. The Bears signed the former Packers star to a three-year, $21 million deal before the 2016 season, and he responded by posting his fourth Pro Bowl season. Considered one of the game’s best pass-blocking offensive linemen, Sitton allowed only six pressures in 2016 but gave up twice as many last year. After missing only two games to injury in seven years as a starter for the Packers, Sitton started 25 of 32 games with the Bears and finished last season with an ankle injury.

 

The window to decide on Sitton’s option opened five days after the Super Bowl and was set to close March 9.

 

To replace Sitton, the Bears could eye Notre Dame star guard Quenton Nelson, who played for new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand in college, in the draft. The Bears figure to interview Nelson, who is likely to be taken in the top 10, at the NFL Scouting Combine next week.

 

The Bears also could consider moving center Cody Whitehair, who struggled with snaps early last season, back to guard, the position he played before the Bears signed Sitton. Right guard Kyle Long is recovering from offseason surgeries.

 

Cutting Sitton and Freeman will save the Bears more than $11 million in salary-cap space, but the team already had plenty of money to spend — about $40 million before the moves — in free agency.

 

The Bears need an infusion of talent. With Sitton gone, they have only two players on their roster who have reached the Pro Bowl: Long and running back Jordan Howard. The Bears had no players in this year’s Pro Bowl for the first time since 1999.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles have decided they will have an offensive coordinator after all at it will be an in-house promotion.  Tim McManus of ESPN.com:

 

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has decided to promote wide receivers coach Mike Groh to offensive coordinator, a source tells ESPN.

 

Pederson interviewed Groh and running backs coach Duce Staley for the post on Monday, and has decided to go with Groh. Staley will remain the team’s running backs coach. Press Taylor, who served as the Eagles’ assistant quarterbacks/offensive quality control coach last season, is being elevated to quarterbacks coach to replace John DeFilippo, now offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.

 

Pederson was considering keeping the offensive coordinator position open after Frank Reich left to become head coach of the Colts. He ultimately decided on having an OC, believing it best to have someone in that position given all of his day-to-day responsibilities. Pederson calls the plays for the Super Bowl-champion Eagles.

 

Groh, 46, joined the Eagles this past offseason and gained immediate command of the wide receivers room. Alshon Jeffery (12 total touchdowns) responded to him, as he did in Chicago, but Groh’s work with Nelson Agholor was the most noticeable. Agholor went from a bubble player to a formidable slot receiver, scoring eight touchdowns in the regular season.

 

Before coming to Philadelphia, Groh served as the passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. The son of former New York Jets head coach Al Groh, he got his start on his dad’s staff as the Jets’ offensive assistant/quality control coach in 2000. He went on to coach at the University of Virginia, his alma mater, for eight seasons, elevating to the position of offensive coordinator. Groh had stops in Alabama and Louisville as well before coaching Jeffery and the Chicago Bears’ wide receivers from 2013 to 2015.

 

In addition, it was learned later on Tuesday that Staley will tack on the title of assistant head coach.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

RB DOUG MARTIN and DT CHRIS BAKER are gone.  Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker, the team announced Tuesday.

 

Martin, a two-time Pro Bowler, was due to make nearly $7 million in 2018 but averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over the past two seasons.

 

Martin, 29, was benched in favor of second-year back Peyton Barber for the final three games of the 2017 season and was a healthy scratch for the Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15 for violating a team rule.

 

Baker had been brought in as an upgrade at defensive tackle over Clinton McDonald but was cut just one year into a three-year deal worth $15.75 million.

 

Baker registered 33 tackles, just 0.5 sacks and two passes defended in 2017, while McDonald tallied 5.0 sacks in just three starts. Baker was due $3 million guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2018 league year. Instead the Bucs will save $4.875 million with the move.

 

While Baker was considered a fun personality in the locker room, his effort in practice was a source of concern, as it was in Washington too.

 

Things reached a boiling point in Week 16, when a costly penalty from Baker allowed them to surrender a game-winning touchdown to the Carolina Panthers. Teammates were upset by Baker’s lack of remorse.

 

Martin rushed for 1,402 yards in 2015, second only to Adrian Peterson that season and second most in Martin’s career. He leaves Tampa Bay with 4,633 rushing yards, fourth in team in history behind James Wilder, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Martin’s 11 100-yard rushing games are tied for second in franchise history.

– – –

The move was hardly a surprise. When asked by ESPN about Martin’s struggles in 2017 and whether he had a future with the team, general manager Jason Licht said, “Without going into much detail, it’s safe to say that we need more out of our running game in general. We need to get better run-blocking, we need more explosive plays out of the running back position. I was really happy [and] we were really happy with Peyton with the way he came on at the end of the season, so that was positive. Obviously Doug had a down season by his standards and by our standards.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com is working through prescriptions for each of the member clubs.  To give you an idea of his style, here is what he says the Texans should do:

 

1. Use the savings from cutting Brian Cushing to lock up Benardrick McKinney. The Texans have more than $65 million in cap room to work with after cutting Cushing, their longtime inside linebacker. Houston drafted Zach Cunningham in the second round in 2017 to serve as Cushing’s successor. Cunningham was pushed into the lineup early after Cushing was suspended for 10 games, and while he had an inconsistent rookie season, he showed enough to justify a role in the starting lineup and force Cushing aside.

 

The Texans freed up nearly $8 million by releasing Cushing, and much of that money could go to a fellow inside linebacker. The run-thumping McKinney is in line for an extension as he enters the final year of his deal, and while he’s not enough of a threat in pass coverage to get a truly top-level inside linebacker deal, the Mississippi State product should be able to top the four-year, $38 million extension Christian Kirksey signed with the Browns last year.

 

2. Sign at least one offensive lineman. The Houston offensive line is a mess. Duane Brown was traded and not replaced. Xavier Su’a-Filo was a Texans punching bag and is now a free agent. Jeff Allen hasn’t lived up to the free-agent deal he signed after leaving the Chiefs and wasn’t good at guard before being moved to left tackle out of sheer desperation, where he committed three consecutive false starts on one fourth-quarter drive. Chris Clark and Breno Giacomini are both free agents. Derek Newton is recovering after rupturing both of his patellar tendons in 2016 and might never play again.

 

This is a mess. The Texans will line up Nick Martin at center and probably bring back Allen, if only because there was a time in the past when he was a competent player. I’d suggest that the Texans draft linemen, but Cleveland owns their first- and second-round picks as a result of the Deshaun Watson and Brock Osweiler trades, meaning that Houston probably won’t be looking at many starting-caliber tackles in the third round.

 

As a result, new general manager Brian Gaine is going to have to go to the free-agent market and probably overpay to win on at least one lineman. The problem: There really aren’t many good offensive linemen out there. The Texans will be linked to Nate Solder because of Bill O’Brien’s Patriots connection, but O’Brien overlapped with Solder for only one year, and guys whom the Patriots allow to leave don’t exactly have a great track record with their new teams. Guys like Greg Robinson and Donald Stephenson haven’t looked good as starters.

 

The Texans probably have to get creative. They could look at Steelers utility lineman Chris Hubbard, who has been very useful at multiple positions for Pittsburgh, and pay him to be a full-time right tackle. They could compete for Justin Pugh, a college left tackle who played both guard and tackle for the Giants, and hope that he’s good enough to play on the edge on a full-time basis.

 

They’ll also be in the market for cap casualties. If the Bills want to move on from Cordy Glenn or the Eagles decide to release Jason Peters, the Texans should be one of the first teams on the phone. More marginal contributors such as Austin Howard, Ben Ijalana and Jared Veldheer also should be on Houston’s radar. The Texans don’t really have much of a choice but to be in the free-agent market up front.

 

3. Extend Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney has continued to improve during each of his seasons as a pro and delivered his most productive season in 2017, racking up 9.5 sacks and 21 quarterback knockdowns as the team’s primary pass-rush weapon. More importantly, he stayed healthy, playing in 16 games for the first time. The Texans will always have concerns about Clowney’s knee in the back of their mind, but there’s no way they can let him leave as he enters the fifth-year option season of his rookie deal.

 

The former first overall pick isn’t going to be cheap, because some team is going to offer him $18 million per year if he hits free agency next year. Clowney’s representation probably will wait until the offseason settles and we see what Ezekiel Ansah and DeMarcus Lawrence get in long-term deals before negotiating an extension. The Texans could be looking at a five-year, $90 million extension with more than $50 million due over three years to keep Clowney around for years to come.

 

4. Shop Whitney Mercilus for an offensive lineman or a 2018 pick. The Texans have the luxury of three upper-echelon pass-rushers, although they are surely concerned about J.J. Watt’s future given that the former Defensive Player of the Year has missed the better part of two seasons with injuries. Mercilus is a valuable third member of their pass-rush rotation, and with two years and $11.2 million remaining on his contract extension, he’s a bargain relative to the going rates for pass-rushers in free agency.

 

The Texans also desperately need help at other positions, notably along the offensive line, and have less draft capital to work with than any other team. Mercilus still has two years left on his deal, but the Texans probably won’t be signing him to an extension, given their investment in Watt and their investment to come in Clowney.

 

Gaine should put Mercilus out on the free market and look to see if other teams are willing to offer up a meaningful return. Look at a team like the Buccaneers, who finished dead last in sack rate in 2017 and have spent years looking for a useful pass-rusher. If they strike out in free agency, could the Texans convince the Bucs to part with the 38th pick in the draft for Mercilus and the 99th selection? Would the Bills, who finished 28th in adjusted sack rate, build a package around Glenn to add Mercilus?

 

The Texans don’t need to trade Mercilus, and if the offers are underwhelming, the Illinois product would remain a valuable part of the defense. With the offensive line in truly disastrous shape and the team down multiple draft picks, though, they have to be creative.

 

5. Pick up Kevin Johnson’s fifth-year option. The Texans chose not to franchise or otherwise re-sign A.J. Bouye in part because of Johnson, who was impressive as a rookie but missed 10 games in 2016 with a fractured foot (opening the door for Bouye) and four more in 2017 after spraining his MCL. The Texans were probably expecting Johnson to move into the starting lineup in 2018 for Johnathan Joseph, but Joseph, an unrestricted free agent, still might return to Houston, and Johnson didn’t play well in 2017, even when healthy.

 

It’s too early to give up on Johnson, though, and the risk of handing him a fifth-year option is outweighed by the upside of locking him in if he turns things around, as we just saw from Kyle Fuller in Chicago. The Texans should pick up the option and hope Johnson takes a leap forward in 2018.

 

The rest of Barnwell’s AFC South recipes can be found here.

 

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK is throwing again.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Andrew Luck sounds more hopeful even than Frank Reich does about his return.

 

The Colts quarterback said he has started throwing, though he remains in the phase of building strength.

 

“I’m in the middle of sort of a little bit of throwing, strengthening and preparing my shoulder for the throw load of being an NFL quarterback,” Luck said in a pre-recorded interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star.

 

Luck missed all of last season but sounds encouraged by his rehab.

 

“I feel awesome. I really do,” Luck said. “I’m in a great place.”

 

Two weeks ago, General Manager Chris Ballard said Luck does not need a second surgery, and Luck confirmed Tuesday.

 

“That is not an option for me right now,” Luck said. “That ship has sailed in my mind as far as I’m concerned, which is a relief. I’m not going to lie.” “

– – –

Congratulations to Reggie Wayne.  Dakota Crawford of the Indianapolis Star:

 

The Indianapolis Colts announced Tuesday morning that wide receiver Reggie Wayne earned a spot in the team’s Ring of Honor.

 

Wayne, who racked up 1,070 receptions for 14,345 yards in 14 seasons, will be the 15th Colts player inducted to the Ring of Honor. He ranks 10th in NFL history in receptions and receiving yards.

 

“No one is more of a true Colt than Reggie Wayne,” Colts Owner & CEO Jim Irsay said in a release. “He embodies everything about the Horseshoe and is much beloved by Colts fans everywhere. He was also one of the greatest players in NFL history, and chants of ‘REG-GIE, REG-GIE’ will forever echo through our stadium along with memories of many amazing catches and exciting plays.”

 

From 2001-2013, Wayne played in 189 consecutive games which is the third longest streak in team history. He ranks in the Colts top 10 in numerous categories including total touchdowns (third), receptions (second), consecutive games with a reception (134, second), games with a reception (205, first), receiving yards (second), receiving touchdowns (second), 1,000-yard receiving seasons (eight, tied-first) and scrimmage yards (14,345, second).

 

@zkeefer

Great Reggie Wayne story: He prefered baseball as a kid, didn’t like football because of the hits. “You can’t be no chump,” his dad told him, “because there are no chumps in this house.”

 

With the Colts, he went seven years without missing a practice, 11 without missing a game.

– – –

Advice to the Colts from Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com:

 

Trade down out of the No. 3 overall pick. I mentioned this back in October, but the Colts have the rare opportunity to pick near the top of a quarterback-rich draft without needing to draft a signal-caller. Even if you think Luck is irreparably damaged — and nobody knows yet — Brissett showed enough to keep Indy from going after another quarterback.

 

There are plenty of impactful players the Colts could take with the third pick at positions of need, including NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Penn State halfback Saquon Barkley. At the same time, though, the Colts are utterly bereft of young talent from the disastrous reign of Ryan Grigson. The core of so many great teams — drafted-and-developed talent — is missing from the Colts.

 

The 2012 draft delivered Luck and T.Y. Hilton; that’s a win. Afterward? Nobody from the 2013 draft is left on the roster. If Mewhort and Donte Moncrief leave in free agency, no one will be left from the 2014 draft. The only players left from the 2015 draft are three injury-riddled prospects: Henry Anderson, Clayton Geathers and Denzelle Good. First-rounder Phillip Dorsett never developed into more than a fifth wideout before being traded for Brissett in a swap of players about to be released. Third-rounder D’Joun Smith, the team’s second selection that year, is a free agent.

 

It’s still too early to judge 2016, but the returns there aren’t great. Second-rounder T.J. Green was moved to cornerback, then back to safety, and was out of the rotation for most of the season. He found a role only after 2017 first-rounder Malik Hooker tore up his knee. Third-rounder Le’Raven Clark hasn’t looked like a quality NFL tackle. Morrison was a mess. Kelly and fourth-round pick Joe Haeg have shown the most signs of life, but there’s a missing core of Colts players around Luck. Guys like Bjoern Werner, Hugh Thornton and Trent Richardson (famously acquired for a first-round pick) were added to be regulars, and they’re instead out of football.

 

 

The Colts aren’t one player away. They’re Luck and a half-dozen players away. They don’t just lack depth; they lack talented contributors with upside in starting roles up and down the roster. The best thing they can do is try to exploit one of those teams that wants to go after Barkley, Chubb or one of the other quarterbacks and acquire multiple first- and second-round picks in the process. Trading down is no guarantee for success, as the Browns will tell you, but if the Colts can get a massive offer for the third selection, their roster construction suggests Ballard should take it.

– – –

This tweet from Adam Schefter about another Adam:

 

@AdamSchefter

Free-agent-to-be, 45-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri intends to kick this upcoming season, his 23rd in the NFL, per source. Here’s how long he has lasted: Vinatieri already has spent two more seasons in Indianapolis (12) than he did in New England (10).

 

Vinatieri was uncharacteristically shaky in the 30-39 FG range, going just 29-34 (counting PATs) last year, but he hit 11-13 FGs from 40+, including 5-6 from 50+.

 

Vinatieri now has 559 FGs in his career, 6 behind the all-time record of Hall of Famer Morten Andersen.  He is 59 total points behind the Great Dane, 2,544 to 2,485.

 

In case you wondered, all the other NFL players born in South Dakota have scored 1,068 points, so Vinatieri has scored 69.9% of all points scored by South Dakota natives.

 

Of course, Andersen has scored 99.6% of the 2,544 points scored by natives of Denmark.

 

And how did the Vinatieri clan get to South Dakota for generations?  Therein hangs a tale recounted by the New York Times in 2002:

 

Vinatieri’s great-great-grandfather, Felix Vinatieri, a musician and composer, served as George Armstrong Custer’s bandmaster during the Civil War general’s Indian campaign. And Vinatieri’s great-great-grandmother, Anna, became a close friend of Custer’s wife, Libbie.

 

Adam grew up hearing stories of ”Granddad Felix,” who came to the United States with his father, a piano maker from northern Italy, and then joined the service and made his way west.

– – –

In the spring of 1876, when Custer led the Seventh Cavalry out of Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota to its eventual doom along the banks of the Little Bighorn in the famous battle against Crazy Horse and his Sioux warriors, most of the band — and its leader — stayed behind. Had Felix Vinatieri not remained at Fort Lincoln, ”There probably wouldn’t be anybody, no Vinatieris, no Adam,” said Adam’s father, Paul.

 

The writer and historian Bob Karolevitz, of Mission Hill, S.D., said: ”Custer loved music. He believed the band boosted his troops’ morale, and they were good entertainment on long trips.”

 

Custer’s band accompanied the troops on marches, but usually not into battle, for the sake of expedience, Karolevitz said. Only the bugler John Martini, another Italian — who, like many Army musicians, spoke little English — was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

– – –

Six months after Custer and his troops were outflanked and killed in the original battle between the Seventh Cavalry and the Indians, Felix Vinatieri was discharged from the Army. With an eye on pursuing his musical career, he and his wife settled in Yankton, S.D., where they raised eight children. Felix composed music, conducted an orchestra and traveled with various shows, including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, Karolevitz said. He died at age 57 in 1891 and was buried in Yankton, in the southeast corner of the state along the Missouri River.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

TE MARCEDES LEWIS is one veteran who is not being put on the scrap heap.  Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union:

 

The Jaguars started their in-house off-season business Tuesday by exercising the 2018 contract options on tight end Marcedes Lewis, offensive tackle Josh Wells and guard/center Tyler Shatley.

 

Lewis, a first-round pick in 2006, will return for a 13th season and remain the longest-tenured current Jaguars player.

 

According to a league source, Lewis will receive a $500,000 bonus and his $3.5 million base salary is not guaranteed.

 

Lewis started all 19 regular season/playoff games in 2017. He played 1,016 of 1,324 offensive snaps (76.7 percent), second-most among the Jaguars’ skill players (quarterback Blake Bortles was first). Lewis had 24 catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and four catches for 21 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.

 

Lewis’ return is unlikely to change the team’s free agent/draft strategy if they want to prioritize a pass-catching tight end. Lewis rarely lines up detached from the line and continues to be viewed as a solid blocker and pass protector.

 

Wells and Shatley are both undrafted free agents who started games in 2017 because of injuries to starters.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

The first tag of the year goes to the Dolphins and WR JARVIS LANDRY.  Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post:

 

The Miami Dolphins are franchise tagging star wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

 

The Dolphins are applying the non-exclusive franchise tag, which would allow Landry to sign a one-year deal worth about $16 million. Or, Landry could negotiate with other teams and Miami would receive two first-round picks, if he were to leave.

 

Realistically, Landry will sign the deal or continue to negotiate a long-term deal with the Dolphins. It is extremely unlikely another team would give up two first-round picks to sign Landry.

 

The Dolphins want to make sure Landry stays with the team in 2018 because of his success in the league and because he is a player who was drafted and developed by the club.

 

Landry has 400 catches and 4,038 receiving yards in four seasons with Miami. Landry has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay with the Dolphins and coach Adam Gase has expressed his admiration for Landry’s determination and passion.

 

Landry was expected to earn more than $14 million per season on the open market. The Dolphins could have placed a slightly less costly transition tag, but they would have received no compensation had he left.

 

Mike Florio hears that the boldfaced paragraph above isn’t necessarily true.

 

There’s another possible message that the quick decision to tag receiver Jarvis Landry sends to other teams, other than, “Don’t tamper with him next week.” And the message may be this: “Make us an offer.”

 

A league source tells PFT that the the quick tag is being interpreted as a desire by the Dolphins to trade Landry.

 

No trade can happen unless and until Landry signs the tender. As a practical matter, a trade is unlikely unless and until he’d agree to an acceptable long-term contract from the new team.

 

The challenge comes from calculating a long-term offer, given that Landry can sit tight and make more than $16 million in 2018, with the promise of a shot at the open market or a 20-percent raise in 2019.

 

Rumors of a potential Landry trade emerged last year. With Landry officially tagged as all teams prepare to head to Indianapolis, every team is on notice that Landry possibly could be had — if a deal can be worked out both with the player and his current team.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2018 DRAFT

QB BAKER MAYFIELD will not be in New York for the draft.  Steve Gardner of USA TODAY:

 

Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield won’t be there to shake Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand when his name is called at the NFL draft.

 

The Oklahoma quarterback told Dallas sportscaster Newy Scruggs on Monday that he won’t be attending the draft when it gets underway April 26 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

 

Mayfield picked up the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s top quarterback Monday night in Fort Worth.

 

@newyscruggs

Baker Mayfield told me he will NOT be coming to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium for the @NFL draft in April. @daveyobrien #OU

 

Mayfield is one of the top quarterbacks available and is projected to be taken fifth overall in USA TODAY Sports’ latest mock draft.

 

Three years ago, the top two quarterbacks in the draft — Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — did not attend, even though they were selected with the first and second overall picks.