Guest Stars

Guest Stars

2017 NFL Draft Grade: NFC North

The Bears hitch their wagon to Mitchell "Don't call me Mitch" Trubisky, the Lions get some Gators, Ted Thompson and the Packers leverage the second round for secondary support, while Minnesota was fortuitous to land its "All Day" replacement on day two.

Chicago Bears
Round 1 (No. 2): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North

The Bears hitch their wagon to Mitchell “Don’t call me Mitch” Trubisky, the Lions get some Gators, Ted Thompson and the Packers leverage the second round for secondary support, while Minnesota was fortuitous to land its “All Day” replacement on day two.

Chicago Bears
Round 1 (No. 2): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
Round 2 (No. 45): Adam Shaheen, TE. Ashland
Round 4 (No. 112): Eddie Jackson, DB. Alabama
Round 4 (No. 119): Tarik Cohen, RB. North Carolina A&T
Round 5 (No. 147): Jordan Morgan, OG. Kutztown

Let me preface by saying that I actually like the collection of players the Bears added, but this evaluation hinges at least partially on Ryan Pace & Co.’s one-spot trade up into No. 2 overall. I’m a cautious believer in Trubisky and I think the biggest ‘win’ from this Chicago class is the fact that he is allowed to sit for a complete year behind Mike Glennon. Adam Shaheen is not “Gronk-lite”, but he’s a well-rounded player who can block/run/catch. Eddie Jackson is decent safety depth, but my two favorite picks were the last two: “Joystick” Tarik Cohen is an intriguing change of pace ‘back who offers electricity in space, while Jordan Morgan is a high-potential college left tackle who will transition to guard. Chicago gave up a boatload for one draft position and didn’t get much draft value elsewhere, but this is a long-term class for a rebuilding team so they won’t care what I think.

Grade: C+

Detroit Lions
Round 1 (No. 21): Jarrad Davis, LB. Florida
Round 2 (No. 53): Teez Tabor, CB. Florida
Round 3 (No. 96): Kenny Golladay, WR. Northern Illinois
Round 4 (No. 124): Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB. Tennessee
Round 4 (No. 127): Michael Roberts, TE. Toledo
Round 5 (No. 165): Jamal Agnew, CB. San Diego
Round 6 (No. 205): Jeremiah Ledbetter, DE. Arkansas
Round 6 (No. 215): Brad Kaaya, QB. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 250): Pat O’Connor, DE. Eastern Michigan

I don’t see the ‘wow’ factor anywhere in this class past round one. I really like the Jarrad Davis pick: fills a major position of need and adds a very dynamic, twitchy interior linebacker with range and on-field leadership qualities. However, Teez Tabor and Kenny Golladay combine for maybe the most underwhelming day two haul of any draft class this year. Jalen Reeves-Maybin adds more athleticism in a big area of need, but was questionable value. Michael Roberts is a good blocker and a nice red zone option, while Brad Kaaya is the most exciting of the late round project passers, but that’s not enough to salvage a desired grade here.

Grade: C

Green Bay Packers
Round 2 (No. 33): Kevin King, CB. Washington
Round 2 (No. 61): Josh Jones, S. North Carolina State
Round 3 (No. 93): Montravius Adams, DT. Auburn
Round 4 (No. 108): Vince Biegel, LB. Wisconsin
Round 4 (No. 134): Jamaal Williams, RB. Brigham-Young
Round 5 (No. 175): DeAngelo Yancey, WR. Purdue
Round 5 (No. 182): Aaron Jones, RB. Texas-El Paso
Round 6 (No. 212): Kofi Amichia, OG/C. South Florida
Round 7 (No. 238): Devante Mays, RB. Utah State
Round 7 (No. 247):
 Malachi Dupre, WR. Louisiana State

Green Bay’s methodical and workman-like approach was evident yet again this year, valuing need over BPA. I was fired up about the team’s first three picks: King is your modern matchup boundary, while Josh Jones is a hit-stick safety with supreme athleticism – and in a post-Raji world, Montravius Adams’ blend of size/quickness/power fits right in. Mid-late rounds are hit or miss, but Jamaal Williams can do the dirty work Ty Montgomery can’t and Aaron Jones has intriguing long-speed. Malachi Dupre was a nice stamp: blue-chip high school recruit who suffered from poor quarterback-play at LSU – potential diamond. Par value, plenty of contributors.

Grade: B

Minnesota Vikings
Round 2 (No. 41): Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
Round 3 (No. 70): Pat Elflein, C. Ohio State
Round 4 (No. 109): Jaleel Johnson, DT. Iowa
Round 4 (No. 120): Ben Gedeon, LB. Michigan
Round 5 (No. 170): Rodney Adams, WR. South Florida
Round 5 (No. 180): Danny Isidora, OG. Miami (FL)
Round 6 (No. 201): Bucky Hodges, TE. Virginia Tech
Round 7 (No. 219): Stacy Coley, WR. Miami (FL)
Round 7 (No. 220): Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE. Northwestern
Round 7 (No. 232):
 Elijah Lee, LB. Kansas State
Round 7 (No. 247): Jack Tocho, CB. North Carolina State

One of three teams (Seattle, Cincinnati) who made 11 selections – the most this year. Like Green Bay, the Vikings knocked off a lot of needs. Dalvin Cook was my top rated running back, so to get him at No. 41 might be my favorite pick from the 2017 draft overall. A new long-term center was sorely needed and Elflein addresses that, offering some guard versatility in the interim. Jaleel Johnson is a wide-bodied 3-tech in the profile of Sharrif Floyd (who may not play again). Rodney Adams takes Cordarrelle Patterson’s place as the WR/KR on roster, while the intriguing Bucky Hodges is a modern move-TE with long arms and movement skill. I don’t think Ben Gedeon is the long-term Chad Greenway replacement Spielman & Co. might, but time will tell.

Grade: B

Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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Caputi: Pick-By-Pick Analysis (Round 1)

Settle in, I'm here to accompany you through the 2017 NFL Draft's first day of selections. Here you'll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.

Have a comment for me? Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

 

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
The right pick for

Settle in, I’m here to accompany you through the 2017 NFL Draft’s first day of selections. Here you’ll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.

Have a comment for me? Hit me up on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

 

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
The right pick for a franchise lacking a genuine premier cornerstone on defense for far too long. This situation reminds me so much of Mario Williams’ selection by Houston in 2006. Defensive end has become a true value position over the past half-decade and good teams require elite edge play. Myles Garrett will have bare the flag of the Cleveland revolution, but fortunately he has a ton of talent supporting his efforts.

2. Chicago Bears (via SF): Mitchell Trubisky, QB. North Carolina – *TRADE
Let the games begin. Cleveland consciously passed on Trubisky at No. 1 knowing it was impossible he’d be available to them again. Oh, and don’t forget about John Lynch’s San Francisco 49ers already making a bold move by allowing the Bears to select the potential franchise arm – acquiring a boatload for the one draft spot in the process, I’ll add. Only two picks in and already we have a major storyline to follow in the coming years. Browns and 49ers pass on Trubisky: will they find their QBs later? will Trubisky pan out? Time will tell.

*Details of trade
To Bears: 1st round pick (No. 2 – Trubisky)

To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 3), 3rd round pick (No. 67), 4th round pick (No. 111) + 2018 3rd round pick

3. San Francisco 49ers (via CHI): Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
John Lynch goes to his alma mater for his first pick as a General Manager. Building the defense from the ground up after making Thomas the franchise’s third 1st round defensive lineman selection in as many years (previous Arik Armstead, 2015 and DeForest Buckner, 2016). He’s not a tweener, he’s versatile. Hand in the dirt on 4-3 looks or rushing off the edge in a two-point stance on 3-4 downs, he can change the complexion of games.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
Elite size to speed ration with an undeniable mean streak. Ultimately, this pick had to be made in support of Blake Bortles and the Jags’ minimalist ground game. T.J. Yeldon is a nice player, but Fournette adds an element that simply wasn’t there before this evening.

5. Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
A more complete, all-around receiver than guys perceivably graded ahead of him, but finds the right “fit” for your offense trumps the public’s draft board. Davis is tremendously productive + experienced, enters the league with a ton of polish and adds a more imposing physical element to Mariota’s arsenal.

6. New York Jets: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
Whether the organization realizes it or not, there is a rebuild going on right now and Adams’ tone-setting abilities are a timely addition. Though the needs on defense were greater elsewhere, the Jets front office were not expecting this scenario – too much talent to pass on. Great pick – my favorite thus far.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
The wide receiver need was always evident, but to get their guy this early is surprising when you consider the talent available on defense. That said, Phil Rivers ain’t getting younger and he’s never been able to rely on Keenan Allen to be healthy for a full 16 games. Williams is the best 50-50 receiver in this draft and adds an element that was sorely missing in the pass game.

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB/WR. Stanford
Four-down player, don’t put him in a box as just being a running back. You want to allow him 20-30 touches and create opportunities for him in space, as he offers pretty scary open-field elusiveness. Can you imagine the possibilities of a Cam Newton + Christian McCaffrey backfield? Sign me up for some college-style options looks once in a while – they could be special together. Caf’s special teams ability is just the cherry on top.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR. Washington
The fastest man in NFL Combine history is off to Cincy. The Bengals are fortunate that the one receiver who suits their offense best in this receiver group fell to them. Ross’ speed creates a dangerous over-the-top threat that should relieve AJ Green of some pesky double-coverages. Calling Ross a similar player to DeSean Jackson would be miscasting him – at minimum, he enters the NFL running B+ routes with A++ speed.

10. Kansas City Chiefs (via BUF): Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech – *TRADE
The biggest talent at his position in the class and he’s entering the ideal situation where he can sit for a complete season before worrying about meaningful snaps. We thought all along that he had a hard-stop at No. 12-13 with the quarterback-hungry Browns and Cardinals soon on the clock. He creates his own opportunities and is equipped with an A++ arm. In 3-5 years, we may look back at the quarterback order and say this situation worked out the best.

*Details of trade
To Chiefs: 1st round pick (No. 10 – Mahomes),

To Bills: 1st round pick (No. 27), 3rd round pick (No. 91) + 2018 1st round pick.

11. New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
The Saints front office, much like the viewing public, could never have imagined Lattimore would be available outside of the top ten. You must think his constant hamstring issue may have at least mildly contributed to this happening, but the cornerback-starved Saints are thrilled by the opportunity to roll the dice here.

12. Houston Texans (via CLE): DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson – *TRADE
It’s well-documented that Bill O’Brien is a fan of the big, strong prototype passers. DeShaun Watson doesn’t quite fit that profile and it just goes to show how highly O’Brien must rate his intangibles. An accurate passer who comes alive in big moments, Watson is the safest quarterback in this class and he’s joining a playoff team. Houston went to the playoffs despite receiving marginal QB play last year, so the pressure isn’t on Watson to be a world-beater in year one.

*Details of trade
To Texans: 1st round pick (No. 12 – Watson),

To Browns: 1st round pick (No. 25) + 2018 1st round pick.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Cards missed out on landing a QB to create the ideal redshirt scenario they desired, but might have landed the best realistic player on their board otherwise. Reddick is a self-starter, improving annually and holds genuine 2-3 position versatility. Will help wherever needed and contribute as a pass rusher from day one.

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
This one made a lot of sense pre-draft. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Philly required a more reliable option off the edge behind Brandon Graham. Three consistent years of sack production at Tennessee, I don’t care if the combine numbers weren’t eye-popping on him, he gets after it.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
Boom or bust poster boy from this draft class. Hooker has only one year of production, but it was absurdly productive. Elite center-field type with excellent ball skills. Sideline to sideline range and near-cornerback caliber movement skills, but the inexperience and durability concerns must be noted. Will he show flashes of Ed Reed at the next level or are we talking Raheem Moore 2.0? I’m suspect there won’t be much in-between with him. Tremendous potential-based pick.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
Ozzie Newsome drafts a player from Alabama? No way! Seriously, this is a bargain pickup here as Humphrey could have easily gone to New Orleans had Lattimore not been available as expected. A physical press-man type, he profiles somewhat like Pro-Bowler Stephon Gilmore stylistically. Makes you wonder about Jonathan Allen though – if Ozzie wasn’t even comfortable scooping him 

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
While the arthritic shoulder situation is worrisome, the Redskins have glaring issues along their 3-4 base defensive line. Strictly from a talent standpoint, Allen is a top 3 player in this class and worth the risk here for Washington. The Skins’ trench play has already improved with this selection.

18. Tennessee Titans: Adoree Jackson, CB. Southern California
This pick was (hopefully) made with patience in mind. As the diminutive playmaker develops as a corner I do hope to see him contribute immediately as an ace returner and hopefully on offense a little. Size and matchup length aren’t mandatory physical traits in Tennessee, nor have they ever been. It was always going to take an open-minded team to choose Adoree and the Titans may reap the long-term benefits as a result.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
Great fortune for the Bucs, who continue adding to an enviously impressive core of weaponry for Famous Jameis. Howard represents elite pass-catching potential, but enters the league with polish as a blocker. Hell, he did it so much at Bama, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Either way, massive bargain at this point.

20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, OT. Utah
There’s no better athlete available along the offensive line in this draft class. Bolles essentially stays home and has long-term left tackle potential, though he requires a bit of polishing – which should come at RT. In a rather weak OL draft overall I think Elway & Co. go the potential route. Bolles is a mean dude on-field and enjoys a good trench battle.

21. Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis, ILB. Florida
Rangy interior linebacker to the team who was most desperate for help in that spot in the league. Davis is a leader by example, modern in style and provides a major athletic boost to the Lions’ linebacking core. Conventional thinking says there was just no way Reuben Foster would be available here though. For them to pass on him says quite a bit about what kind of slide Foster might be in for tonight and/or tomorrow.

22. Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris, DE. Missouri
A coaches dream, Harris is a self-starter who has had to earn his time at Missouri behind a conveyer belt of strong collegiate edge defenders. After two productive starting seasons, I’m happy to see him land with a 4-3 team as I believe 4-3 end is his ideal situation. To Miami, he’s Cam Wake’s heir apparent.

23. New York Giants: Evan Engram, TE. Ole Miss
All along, it was a very strong possibility that Engram could go ahead of David Njoku. His skill-set appeals to more teams, including those who already had an entrenched tight end. The reason is he’s not a true tight end, nor is he a wide receiver – though versatile nonetheless. Eli obtains a field-stretcher.

24. Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley, CB. Ohio State
Simply put, if the off-field allegations didn’t happen, he’s comfortably a top 15 pick. Give the Raiders front office the benefit of the and assume they know something the public doesn’t, because there still appears to be some uncertainty here. That said, on-field, this is a fantastic all-around player who contributes day one. Oakland entered this draft lacking a solution at corner opposite Sean Smith. We’ll see how this one plays out.

25. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Jabrill Peppers, S/LB. Michigan – *TRADE
His personality should certainly help to provide a spark in a stagnant Browns locker room. Hue Jackson is attempting to change the culture of the organization’s on-field product and you do that by collecting players like Peppers. Though, to me, he’s more of a tweener than he is versatile I’ll assume the team selecting him is doing so with a specific role in mind for him.

26. Atlanta Falcons (via SEA): Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA – *TRADE
Relentless motor off the edge either as a 4-3 end or standup edge linebacker. Offers some role diversity for the Falcons’ pass rushing setups and increases the ‘compete’ level of an already strong defensive core. By the way – who didn’t love that on-stage moment? You’ve just got to love live TV. Good for him – as he’s certainly not going to enter the NFL lacking in motivation.

*Details of trade
To Falcons: 1st round pick (No. 26 – McKinley),

To Seahawks: 1st round pick (No. 31), 3rd round pick (No. 95), 7th round pick (No. 249).

27. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State – *TRADE
4-year starter who should make a seamless transition into a starting role from day one and competent enough to contribute in a multitude of roles in coverage. Stephon Gilmore departed and reinforcements were needed asap. Nice to see Buffalo think big-picture and acquire a 2018 1st round selection while still crossing off a considerable roster hole.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, DE. Michigan
Long disruptive figure who feasted in opposing backfields. That said, he’s a one-year wonder, but the Cowboys are clearly pleased with the upside aspect of this pick. Despite his size + frame, Taco gets real-real skinny. Dallas has some talent on the edges, but these days teams require 3-4 viable options. I like this pick, Taco is too talented to have slid out of day one.

29. Cleveland Browns (via GB): David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL) – *TRADE
Supremely gifted athlete with absolutely no physical limitations. Njoku is still just 20 and enters the league as something of a diamond in the rough, as his catching is a little inconsistent for my liking. However, when he’s your third 1st round pick, than I think you feel comfortable rolling the dice on his talent. If you pass on all of the quarterbacks, at least help Kessler. They did with this pick.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
Can’t draw it up any better. Energy, toughness, attitude – all ideal characteristics Pittsburgh seeks on defense, all adjectives of T.J. Watt. One of the more complete defenders available at this point and it’s logical that he proved too talented to slip out of day one. Steelers have been trying to get younger on D for years.

31. San Francisco 49ers (via ATL by SEA): Reuben Foster, ILB. Alabama – *TRADE
We’ll assume this slide – like teammate Jonathan Allen’s – was medical related, but I applaud rookie GM John Lynch for being aggressive at both the top and bottom of round 1. Thomas and Foster help frame a new attitude for a rebuilding San Francisco defense that was very good not long ago.

*Details of trade
To 49ers: 1st round pick (No. 31 – Foster),

To Packers: 2nd round pick (No. 33), 4th round pick (No. 108).

32. New Orleans Saints (via NE): Ryan Ramczyk, OT. Wisconsin
Plug and play right tackle to help keep the grizzled Drew Brees upright. Saints addressed the big cornerback need earlier and now knock off arguably the second largest hole on the roster. Unsexy, but sound pick to conclude the day.

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Caputi’s Final 2017 NFL Mock Draft

Here we go, football fans - the big day is here.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
Quarterback rumors are on sale, but no one's buying. There's an obvious dearth of talent in Cleveland and fortunately the most talented player in this class also addresses a considerable need. Note: Browns

Here we go, football fans – the big day is here.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
Quarterback rumors are on sale, but no one’s buying. There’s an obvious dearth of talent in Cleveland and fortunately the most talented player in this class also addresses a considerable need. Note: Browns defense ranked No. 30 in sacks last year (26.0)

2. San Franciso 49ers: Mitch Trubisky, QB. North Carolina
New General Manager. New Head Coach. New Quarterback? The organization’s current situation under center is concernedly comprised of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Shanahan gets his prototype. Note: 49ers had the league’s worst-ranked passing offense in 2016.

3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams, S. Louisiana State
An impact player is needed in the defensive secondary here and there may not be a safer player in this class. Da Bears have lacked a tone-setting defender since Brian Urlacher’s retirement; Adams fits the bill. Note: Bears defense conceded 399 points last season (ninth-worst in the league).

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB. Louisiana State
In a make-or-break season for Blake Bortles the franchise is well placed to support its fourth-year quarterback while still solving a position of concern. Doug Marrone is given a physically imposing specimen with long speed. Note: Jacksonville’s 101.9 rushing yards per game ranked 22nd-best in 2016.

5. Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore, CB. Ohio State
Long-time starting cornerback Jason McCourty was jettisoned for economic reasons and despite the signing of Logan Ryan, help remains sorely required at the position. The former Buckeye is a gifted athlete with an exciting future if hamstrings issues don’t continue to flare up. Note: Titans defense begrudgingly boasted the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing defense last year.

6. New York Jets: O.J. Howard, TE. Alabama
If Gang Green isn’t feeling a quarterback here (and the belief entering the day is they aren’t), this is represents a tantalizing alternative. Elite pass-catching potential + nicely refined blocking skills in a position of significant need. Note: The last tight end to be selected No. 6 overall (or higher)? Vernon Davis in 2006.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker, S. Ohio State
The vintage Eric Weddle era already feels like a lifetime ago and the organization is desperate for a playmaker in the secondary. Ohio State produced last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year for the team – double dipping is allowed. Note: Chargers defense allowed the 4th-most points in the NFL in 2016 (423 total).

8. Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB. Stanford
Provides much-needed electricity and can hurt a defense in a multitude of ways. Think outside the box here – position and role can change on any down; he runs, he catches, he scores touchdowns when in space. Note: Panthers offense finished middle of the pack in total yards (19th) and touchdowns (17th).

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Solomon Thomas, DE. Stanford
Michael Johnson is now 30 and the quietly-elite Carlos Dunlap becomes a free agent after 2018. Cincy, more so than most, values pass rushing options. Thomas is an active power-edge reminiscent of vintage Aaron Kampman (2006-2007). Note: Bengals defense had 9.0 less sacks in 2016 than in 2015.

10. Buffalo Bills: Marlon Humphrey, CB. Alabama
A similar profile to the now-departed Stephon Gilmore: comfortable in press-man, combining length + speed with an eagerness to intervene in run defense. Not much on the roster past Ron Darby. Note: Humphrey created 8 turnovers in two years (five interceptions, three forced fumbles).

11. New Orleans Saints: Haasan Reddick, LB. Temple
Though cornerback is by far the bigger concern, this selection represents more talent value. Nollins’ added some depth at linebacker, but Reddick has 2-3 position versatility and flashed elite pass rushing proficiency as a senior in 2016. Note: Saints defense placed 27th in sacks last season (30.0).

12. Cleveland Browns: Mike Williams, WR. Clemson
Were quarterback a real priority, I find it difficult to believe they’d pass on “their guy” at No. 1. Instead, Cleveland opts to add some weaponry for Kessler & Co after upgrading the defense earlier. Kenny Britt is barely a short-term solution and Williams could create a mouthwatering duo with last year’s 1st round draft choice Corey Coleman. Note: In 2016, Browns placed 27th in receiving yards per game (230.8) and t-30th in receiving touchdowns (15).

13. Arizona Cardinals: Pat Mahomes, QB. Texas Tech
Never look a gift horse in the mouth – particularly when the gift is a quarterback. Arizona is in the optimal situation of being able to give a redshirt year to whomever it taps as its future under center. Highly gifted, in-time Mahomes could prove to be the best passer this class produces. Note: In 2012 – a year before Carson Palmer’s arrival – the Cards ranked 28th in passing yards per game.

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE. Tennessee
Supreme value, as he could’ve crept into the top 10. Tremendous production with 32.0 sacks in three seasons of starting. Barnett is as prolific in the classroom as he is on-field; great character. Marcus Smith hasn’t panned out and Chris Long is a stop-gap. Note: Eagles defense was t-16th in sacks last season (34 total).

15. Indianapolis Colts: Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB. UCLA
Robert Mathis has rode off into retirement and incomes a fresh-faced motor edge in his likeness. McKinley enters the NFL coming off a better year than some remaining counterparts in the same role. Note: Indy’s defense placed 19th in the league with 33.0 sacks last season.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Corey Davis, WR. Western Michigan
The current wide receiver situation in Baltimore is shocking. If Breshad Perriman can put things together, great – it’s a bonus, but otherwise reinforcements are needed. Davis, and his four years of absurd production, are a safe selection here. Note: Ravens offense finished 2016 with 20 receiving touchdowns, tied for 21st in the league.

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DL. Alabama
The (medical-related?) slide ceases, much to the Skins’ benefit. Though some more disruption depth off the edge would help, this is tremendous value. A top 3-5 talent if healthy, Washington can easily improve its 3-4 base trench-play. Note: Last year, the Redskins’ defense placed 9th in both sacks (38.0) and yards per game (119.8).

18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross, WR. Washington
Front office has taken care to ensure Mariota is continuously supported in his development and an injection of electricity is needed. Ross is often miscast as a one-dimensional vertical threat, but he boasts elite speed and (as of today) B+  route running skills. Note: (At 232.5) Titans offense ranked 25th in overall receiving yards per game last season.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, RB. Florida State
A tornado of uncertainty surrounds Doug Martin’s future with the Bucs and the chance to grab a special all-around workhorse is too tempting to pass on. And he’s only about a four hour drive away. Note: Bucs rushing offense ranked 24th in the league last season (101.0).

20. Denver Broncos: Cam Robinson, OT. Alabama
His combination of length and size could allow him to cover 3-4 positions in the NFL. If the whole long-term left tackle thing doesn’t pan out, he projects to be an elite guard/right tackle. Note: Denver conceded a 24th-ranked 40.0 sacks in 2016.

21. Detroit Lions: Reuben Foster, LB. Alabama
Victim of circumstance (and maybe some pre-draft character questions), as he’s undoubtedly a top 10 talent in this class. Detroit is gifted an elite falling talent at arguably its greatest position of need. Note: Lions defense finished middle of the pack (15th) in total yards conceded per game last season (354.8).

22. Miami Dolphins: Forrest Lamp, OG. Western Kentucky
The franchise has shown the willingness to invest prominent picks in reinforcing the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil kicks out to left tackle and Forest Lamp, at guard, is arguably the most ready-to-play blocker in this class. Note: Phins allowed the 14th-most QB hits in the league last year.

23. New York Giants: David Njoku, TE. Miami (FL)
G-Men have invested prominent picks into their OL recently and brought in D.J. Fluker as well. This could finally be the year they address the need for a dynamic tight end, and Njoku is a special athlete. Note: NYG ranked 18th in receiving yards per game (251.7) last season.

24. Oakland Raiders: T.J. Watt, OLB. Wisconsin
It’s a great spot for a corner (among other defensive positions), but the organization is in dyer need of pass rush help. “Little” Watt gets to the quarterback and probably shouldn’t be available here. Note: Raiders finished last in the league with 25.0 team sacks in 2016.

25. Houston Texans: DeShaun Watson, QB. Clemson
He’s not the ideal Bill O’Brien profile, but you want your quarterback to be an alpha-male personality who performs best in big situations. Houston went to the playoffs with poor play under center in 2016, so there’s little pressure to do “too much” in his rookie campaign. Note: In 2016, Texans ranked last in average yards per pass attempt (5.9).

26. Seattle Seahawks: Kevin King, CB. Washington
Perfectly suits the profile of what’s desired on the boundary in Seattle and he’s a local product. The Legion of Boom core is aging fast and Richard Sherman’s situation is awkwardly uncertain. Note: ‘Hawks defense conceded 7.2 yards per reception last season, tying them for 15th in the NFL.

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Zach Cunningham, ILB. Vanderbilt
Derrick Johnson is 34 and coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2016. They reinforce the interior linebacker spot with a big search-and-destroy playmaker. Note: Chiefs gave up the 7th-most rushing yards per game (121.1) last season.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Tre’Davious White, CB. Louisiana State
The position needs to be addressed early and the ‘Boys are fortunate to see an experienced man-capable available here. Note: Dallas conceded the 7th-most passing yards per game (260.4) in 2016.

29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Kamara, RB. Tennessee
Offense lacks a workhorse in the ground-game and there’s 3-down value here. Exciting do-it-all talent if perceived character concerns can be overcome. Note: Pack came in at 20th in rushing yards per game (106.3) last season.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Charles Harris, DE/OLB. Missouri
There’s little behind the soon-to-be 39-year-old James Harrison on the edge opposite Bud Dupree. Harris is a self-motivater with the ideal skill-set for a 3-4 conversion rusher. Note: Pittsburgh conceded the 10th-fewest points (327) in the league in 2016.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Jordan Willis, DE. Kansas State
Ascending prospect who has improved in each of his last three-years as a starter, including a strong pre-draft process. Active and instinctual, a bargain for a team with very few needs. Note: Atlanta conceded the 8th-most yards per game (371.2) in 2016 on defense.

32. New Orleans Saints (via Patriots): Rasul Douglas, CB. West Virginia
Surprise. Former JUCO, one (elite) year wonder with 8 interceptions in 2016. Physically he combines size and modern prototype length. Cornerback must be addressed with one of their two picks. Note: Nollins’ allowed the most passing yards per game (273.8) in 2016.

Call me an idiot on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

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Vontaze Burfict three-game suspension upheld

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension.

Burfict was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs that caused a concussion.

Burfict met Thursday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid further disciplinary

Appeals officer Derrick Brooks upheld Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension.

Burfict was suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs that caused a concussion.

Burfict met Thursday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his on-field behavior and steps he could take to avoid further disciplinary action in the future. Burfict, his agents and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis were at the meeting Thursday with Goodell and NFL executi Troy Vincent.

Burfict was fined $50,000 for a hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams.

Burfict was fined three times for incidents against the Steelers that totaled $70,000.

Burfict will lose $502,941 of his salary next season.

Follow me on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL

Aaron Wilson covers the Texans for The Houston Chronicle.

 

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post, his second stint at the Post. He has previously written for Pro Football Talk and FOX Sports-Scout. Entering his 13th year covering the Baltimore Ravens, he’s a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun. Wilson has also covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

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Why Jonathan Martin retired

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin retired before the 2015 season, but Martin’s departure from football has nothing do with his infamous bullying scandal or his sometimes inconsistent play.

Instead it was a back injury suffered prior to training camp that forced him out of football.

“It just never got better,” said Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman. “He

Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin retired before the 2015 season, but Martin’s departure from football has nothing do with his infamous bullying scandal or his sometimes inconsistent play.

Instead it was a back injury suffered prior to training camp that forced him out of football.

“It just never got better,” said Martin’s agent, Kenny Zuckerman. “He was just hoping it would just get better and better every day, and it just didn’t.”

Doctors said that Martin had to rest his back for four to eight weeks without engaging in physical activity — something that would’ve put him well behind for this NFL season — and then he was a candidate for spinal fusion surgery, a risky operation that could have sidelined him a year.

According to Zuckerman, the injury left Martin very discouraged, something that went contrary to some media depictions that labeled him as a player who lacked passion for football. He agonized over what to do about his playing career before deciding to retire just shy of his 26th birthday.

“He went through a tough time, but he loved playing,” Zuckerman said. “(The injury) consumed his mind 24 hours a day.”

After the Dolphins’ turmoil in 2013, few would have guessed that the NFL stay of Richie Incognito, the player who tormented Martin, would outlast Martin’s.

Martin, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, was just 23 years old at the time of the scandal and played one of the most important positions in football — offensive tackle. He entered the NFL as a major prospect, having protected quarterback Andrew Luck while at Stanford.

Incognito was a 30-year-old guard, who had been dismissed from both Nebraska and Oregon during college, and was being kicked to the curb by his third NFL team.

Surprisingly, Incognito is now slated as the starting left guard for the Bills while Martin has moved on with his career.

Zuckerman said there is “zero percent” chance that Martin plays again — regardless of whether the 25-year-old’s health unexpectedly improves.

Instead Martin, whose mother is a corporate lawyer for Toyota, likely will go to law school.

“If it was a guy who didn’t have that plan, I could see him sitting a year (and playing again),” Zuckerman said. “He’s a very bright guy … He’s ready to move on to the next part of life.”

After attending Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High, a school known for its lofty academics, Martin, who majored in ancient Greek and Roman classics at Stanford, could have been the first ever fourth generation African-American at Harvard.

He was heavily recruited by the Ivy League school attended by his mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Instead Martin went to Stanford, where he became a second-team All-American in 2011, before starting 32 games during his three years in the NFL.

After leaving the Dolphins, the 6-5, 315-pound Martin signed with the 49ers and played for his college head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Martin started nine games at right tackle but often struggled while playing on an injury-plagued offensive line and was cut after the season.

In the ensuing offseason, he was claimed off of waivers by the Panthers, a team with a porous offensive line.

Martin, who was mostly playing behind Michael Oher of The Blind Side fame on the left side of the Panthers’ line during offseason practices, was reportedly scheduled to make $1.042 million this season.

Following his retirement from the Panthers, Martin’s camp maintains that he will not be negatively linked to the bullying scandal but instead serve as a positive example of resilience.

“He is a role model for kids that are going through things like he went through,” Zuckerman said.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Chasing the Patriots: Bills and Jets share same strengths, weaknesses

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.

They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.

Two of their challengers in the division —

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have won the AFC East six consecutive years, but they are poised to be knocked off the division’s top perch.

They have lost their top three cornerbacks from last season, and the NFL upheld a four-game suspension of QB Tom Brady.

Two of their challengers in the division — the Bills and Jets — are similarly constructed teams with the same strengths and problems.

Both the Bills and Jets have very good defensive units, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the main link between the franchises is Rex Ryan, the son of Buddy Ryan, who popularized the 46 defense.

After six years with the Jets, Rex Ryan enters his first year coaching the Bills. Ryan’s replacement in New York, Todd Bowles, actually employs a very similar gameplan involving a blitz-heavy 3-4 D.

Bowles, though, inherits the same problem that plagued Ryan in New York and still negatively affects him in Buffalo — poor QB play.

Although both teams have two of the most uncertain QB situations in the league, their defensive lines are two of the best.

The Jets’ D-line took a hit when defensive end Sheldon Richardson, who was just charged for resisting arrest after driving 143 mph, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. But even without him, the Jets have Muhammad Wilkerson, a 6-4, 315-pounder with 16 sacks the last two years, and rookie Leonard Williams, who was regarded as the best defensive player in the draft before dropping to No. 6 overall because of rumors of a lingering shoulder injury that he claims were unfounded.

Buffalo’s version of Richardson is Marcell Dareus. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has the versatility to play nose tackle, 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. The talented Dareus is stout versus the run, and his 28.5 sacks in his four years in the league demonstrate his pass rush ability. His issues come off the field where he has numerous incidents, including ones involving drag racing and drugs.

On the Bills’ four-man line, Dareus lined up next to Kyle Williams, a high-motor player who has 16 sacks the past two years, last season.

Ryan will likely go with three down linemen this year, moving defensive ends Mario Williams — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft — and Jerry Hughes to 3-4 outside linebackers. Williams has 91 career sacks, and the duo combined for 24 sacks last season.

The Bills had the third best pass defense in the league last year not only because of their ability to get to the quarterback, but also because they have two former top 11 picks — Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore — starting at cornerback.

Ryan will love having those corners. He can trust them in single coverage, allowing him to blitz multiple defenders.

His penchant for doing that is why Ryan lobbied the Jets front office to re-sign Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, the cover cornerbacks who shut down receivers while the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game in 2010.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the Jets re-signed them only after he left.

Those secondary additions — and the free-agent acquisition of CB Buster Skrine — should drastically improve a New York defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season but only 14th against the pass.

And the Jets D will have to be outstanding to compensate for an anemic offense.

The offensive woes begin at quarterback where New York has error-prone Geno Smith, who has turned the ball over 41 times in 30 career games.

Rookie quarterback Bryce Petty, drafted in the fourth round, has potential, but he is somewhat of a project because he needs to adjust from the spread offense at Baylor to the Jets’ pro-style attack.

There’s a reason Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his sixth team; he is whom you want as your No. 2 quarterback but not your starter.

One of Fitzpatrick’s former teams, the Bills, have similar QB issues. Matt Cassel, the odds-on favorite to win the job, is like Fitzpatrick. An excellent backup, he could not hold onto the starting job in Kansas City or Minnesota.

EJ Manuel, the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, is not dynamic enough. He has completed under 59 percent of his passes in both seasons and never averaged more than 6.44 yards per pass.

Tyrod Taylor also has a shot at the starting job.

Whoever quarterbacks the Bills will at least have LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson at running back, potentially allowing Buffalo to play a ball-control attack, which puts less pressure on the passer.

McCoy has 2,926 rush yards over the last two seasons, and Jackson has surpassed 925 rushing yards three times.

The Bills have young talent at receiver. Sammy Watkins enters his second year while Robert Woods enters his third. They combined for 1,681 receiving yards last year.

They also signed WR Percy Harvin to a one-year contract. Harvin played for Ryan last year in New York after the versatile receiver previously wore out his welcome in Minnesota and Seattle.

The Jets took on another talented — but somewhat troubled — receiver in Brandon Marshall to complement Eric Decker.

But like the Bills, the Jets would be better off taking the game out of the hands of whichever dubious quarterback wins the QB job and relying on a deep RB group.

The Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing last year and are even deeper this year. Though lacking an elite back, New York has Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy. Each has at least one 697-yard season to his name.

Time will tell if strong running games and defenses will be enough to make up for poor QB play — and enough to finally unseat the Patriots.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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How the Belichick-Parcells relationship mirrors Coach K and Knight’s

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again.

It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind

Mentor teaches pupil. Pupil bests mentor. Mentor and pupil grow apart. Mentor and pupil become close again.

It’s a narrative that describes two of the greatest coaching pairings — Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski — in the modern era, and it’s just one of the ties that bind the four legends.

Belichick coached on the defensive side of the ball under Parcells from 1983-1990 with the New York Giants, 1996 with the New England Patriots and 1997-1999 with the New York Jets.

The two were so tied at the hip that Belichick was called “Little Bill,” and Parcells was called “Big Bill.” Little Bill, though, has now surpassed Parcells. As head coach he has more Super Bowl titles (four to two), more Super Bowl appearances (six to three), and more regular-season victories (211 to 172).

Coach K played under Knight from 1966-1969 at Army and coached under him at Indiana from 1974-1975. When Krzyzewski’s father died near the end of his senior year, Knight flew to Chicago to mourn with the family and he attended Krzyzewski’s wedding four days after his player graduated from college.

Like Belichick, Krzyzewski similarly exceeded his confidante and former boss. He now has more NCAA championships (five to three), Final Four appearances (12 to five), and total victories (1,018 to 902) than Knight.

The striking parallels, though, go beyond a student gaining more acclaim than his teacher.

The falling out and reconciliation

The plan all along was for Belichick to succeed Parcells as head coach with the Jets. However, Belichick, who saw a more stable ownership with the Patriots and a chance to spread his wings, resigned from that position to become the Patriots’ head coach.

“At that point in time, in that situation, I did what I felt I needed to do and I don’t have any regrets about that,” Belichick said in Parcells: A Football Life. “Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently.”

Belichick’s move to New England not only added more fuel to the Patriots-Jets rivalry, but also created acrimony between the coaches. The two remained estranged for about six years.

But after Parcells watched Belichick win Super Bowl XXXIX and get doused with Gatorade while his father, Steve, was at his side, Parcells was moved. He sent a note describing his joy in seeing them enjoy that father-son moment.

More than a year after that, Belichick invited Parcells, the then-Cowboys coach, to play golf at Nantucket Golf Club, a gracious act that Scott Pioli, Parcells’ son-in-law and former Belichick right-hand man, is presumed to have played a role in.

Shortly thereafter, the coaches regularly called each other.

Belichick, whose girlfriend was living in Florida, even purchased a condominium unit two floors above Parcells’ Miami-area place in 2009.

“We just had a difference of opinion on some things,” Parcells said in his book. “I wasn’t happy that we were kind of at different ends of the spectrum for a while. I wouldn’t say we’re buddy buddies, but we get along.”

The ultimate gesture came when Belichick left Patriots training camp to attend Parcells’ 2013 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Coach K went to his first Final Four in 1986, a beaming Knight supported him by wearing a Duke button in Dallas.

For his sixth Final Four, Coach K’s defending champion faced Knight’s Indiana team in the semifinal. Duke won 81-78, and the coaching legends brushed past each other after the game, barely shaking hands.

It was never revealed what led to the frostiness in the relationship. John Feinstein, a Duke alum and author of the Knight tell-all book, A Season on the Brink, conjectured that Knight felt Krzyzewski had not publicly credited him enough for his success.

Like it did for Parcells and Belichick, the Hall of Fame helped mend fences for the basketball coaches.

Krzyzewski asked Knight to introduce him during his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, and the two became close once again.

During a 2006 holiday tournament, Krzyzewski told me he always roots for Knight, who was then coaching Texas Tech, to win, equating it to cheering for a family member.

When Krzyzewski surpassed Knight in 2011 as the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history, Knight was there announcing the game for ESPN. The two warmly embraced.

“I just told Coach I love him,” Krzyzewski said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without him. It’s a moment shared. I know he’s very proud and I’m very proud to have been somebody who’s worked under him and studied him and tried to be like him.”

Military ties

All four have deep connections to the military.

Bill Belichick’s father, Steve, coached at Navy from 1956-1989. The Midshipmen coach helped indoctrinate his son, who learned how to scout at the age of 10, into the football world.

Steve coached against Parcells, the Army head coach from 1966 to 1969, in the famed Army-Navy rivalry clashes. Parcells became the head coach at another service academy, the Air Force, in 1978. It was his first head coaching job at any level.

Knight, who was nicknamed the “General” in part because he coached at Army from 1965 to 1971, recruited Krzyzewski. Coach K then served as Army head coach from 1975 to 1980 before becoming Duke head coach.

To further complete this coaching quadrangle, Parcells and Knight were the respective head coaches of football and basketball at Army at the same time.

They became great friends, playing heated basketball games against each other and regularly hanging out in Knight’s basement or Parcells’ living room.

Knight would counsel Parcells on prospective jobs, once telling him the Indiana head coaching job had opened, though Parcells would accept the Giants’ head coaching position.

Three years before, Knight recommended Duke hire an under-the-radar coach with a last name that was difficult to pronounce. He would go on to become the NCAA’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

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Why the Vikings are on the rise

After a 7-9 finish last year, the Minnesota Vikings are a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2015 — and for good reason.

Although the young talent on the defense may represent the biggest reason for the Vikings’ ascension, much of the optimism centers on returning star, RB Adrian Peterson, and the new offensive

After a 7-9 finish last year, the Minnesota Vikings are a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2015 — and for good reason.

Although the young talent on the defense may represent the biggest reason for the Vikings’ ascension, much of the optimism centers on returning star, RB Adrian Peterson, and the new offensive face of the franchise, QB Teddy Bridgewater.

The excitement over Bridgewater is understandable, considering the Vikings went 31-48-1 from 2010-14 when the team’s major problem was a void at quarterback.

Now they have their best young passer since Daunte Culpepper. (Brett Favre starred in his first season in Minnesota in 2009, but at 40 years old, he was not a long-term answer at the position.)

Bridgewater enters his second season after going 6-6 in his 12 starts as a rookie. Most encouraging is how his play improved as the season wore on. During four of his last five games, he posted a QB rating of 90.2 or better. He threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions during that stretch while completing at least 68 percent of his passes in each game.

He put up those promising numbers despite being without one of the best running backs in NFL history. Peterson played in just one game in 2014 after being placed on an exempt list due to child abuse charges.

Look for Peterson, who rushed for 1,266 and 2,097 yards in the two previous seasons, to play with added motivation in 2015. The last time he had a chip on his shoulder — after coming back from an ACL injury — he finished with an MVP season.

Though he’s a physical marvel, Peterson has turned 30, the age when most running backs begin showing slippage. But the Vikings finally have a player who can spell Peterson in Jerick McKinnon, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

They are not the only offensive playmakers who will help out the 22-year-old Bridgewater. He now has a deep threat after the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick for wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Even though the speedster didn’t live up to the expectations of his lofty contract with the Miami Dolphins, he still had 862 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and a change of scenery could provide a career boost.

His receiving mate, the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson, showed great promise as a rushing/receiving/special teams threat while scoring nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2013, though his play regressed last season.

To resuscitate Wallace’s career and advance Patterson’s, the Vikings have the right man in offensive coordinator Norv Turner, an excellent playcaller and QB guru.

Unlike most well-regarded offensive coordinators, Turner emphasizes the running game over the passing game, though he mixes in the deep ball, a result of his Air Coryell roots.

With Turner in charge of the offense, it allows second-year head coach Mike Zimmer to devote his time to his specialty — the defense, a 4-3 unit that features press coverage in the secondary.

The D — with players like Jared Allen, the Williams Wall, Antoine Winfield and co. — used to be the hallmark of Minnesota’s success, but as that group grew old, the Vikings fell apart.

The Vikings have just one defensive starter from their last NFC Championship Game appearance — Chad Greenway, the linebacker who has started 123 games.

Minnesota has remade their defense alongside Greenway with a slew of young defensive stars, which it acquired through the draft.

One reason the Vikings felt comfortable parting with Allen before the 2014 season was the emergence of their other pass rushers. Everson Griffen and veteran Brian Robison combined for 32 sacks the last two years, though a pectoral injury could limit the latter during training camp.

Aside from Greenway and Robison, it’s a young corps.

Before a knee injury ended his 2014 season, linebacker Anthony Barr was in contention for Rookie of the Year voting. A multi-talented player, he had 55 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a touchdown through 12 weeks last year.

Projected as a 2015 first-round pick, Eric Kendricks slipped to the Vikings in the second round (45th overall). The best middle linebacker of the draft has special instincts and intelligence while also possessing great lateral agility and a 38-inch vertical leap.

With the 11th overall pick, the Vikings selected cornerback Trae Waynes, a perfect fit for Zimmer’s man-press scheme. The 6-1, 183-pounder has the blend of size and speed to handle NFC North receivers.

His 4.23 speed at the NFL Combine was the fastest among all defensive backs, and he also had the fastest 20-yard split (2.40 seconds) among all participants.

What was once a source of weakness — the defensive backfield — may soon become a strength for the Vikings. They can pair Waynes with ballhawking safety Harrison Smith, who has three touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his three-year career, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, a first-round pick in 2013.

Beyond the young talent aboard, the future looks bright in Minnesota. The Vikings’ new stadium, Minnesota Stadium, will open in 2016. And in 2018, it will host the Super Bowl.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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The Chiefs have Georgia on their mind

Immediately after Chris Conley was selected by the Chiefs in third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, second-year Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray texted the Georgia wide receiver.

“Get ready to come and grind with me again,” messaged the former Bulldogs passer.

Murray, Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, threw to Conley for

Immediately after Chris Conley was selected by the Chiefs in third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, second-year Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray texted the Georgia wide receiver.

“Get ready to come and grind with me again,” messaged the former Bulldogs passer.

Murray, Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, threw to Conley for three years, including in 2013, when Conley led the team with 45 receptions and 651 receiving yards.

The duo is elated about their reunion Kansas City.

“It helps tremendously. It helps because Aaron knows how I work,” Conley said. “He’s able to ease that transition a little more.”

Perhaps the Chiefs will start planting some Sanford Stadium-like hedges outside Arrowhead Stadium. In the past five years, Kansas City has drafted five Georgia players.

That group includes Murray, Conley, safety Sanders Commings, linebacker Justin Houston and linebacker Ramik Wilson, who was selected in the fourth round (118th overall) of this 2015 NFL Draft.

Under general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have selected four former Georgia players since 2013 and at least one Bulldog every year.

In addition Wilson has become close to Houston, who was drafted by former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. The elite pass rusher often comes back to Georgia at the end of NFL seasons and works out or rehabs there. Wilson and Murray both grew up in Tampa, Florida, and have known each other for years prior to reconnecting in Kansas City.

“It’s a great fit,” Wilson said. “It makes (it) feel like home. I can go to them for anything.”

While the Georgia players enjoy a comfortable setting in Kansas City with plenty of former teammates, the Chiefs get players who have proven their ability at the highest level of college football.

“Everyone always talks about the speed of the game and they say the speed of the SEC is the closest you get,” Conley said. “Hopefully that will translate.”

That SEC background is likely one reason Dorsey remains enamored with Georgia players. However, he drafted Conley and Wilson because of their specific skill set — not just their conference pedigree.

The Chiefs liked Conley so much that they traded their third-round pick (80th pick overall) and sixth-round pick (193rd overall) to the Vikings in exchange for Minnesota’s 76th overall pick.

The 6-2, 213-pound Conley has an impressive blend of size and athleticism. At the 2015 NFL Combine, he led all participants with a 45-inch vertical leap and tied for fourth with a 40 time of 4.35 seconds.

Conley used that speed to average 18.3 yards per catch while posting 657 receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns during his senior year in 2014.

“He can go deep. He really does have some nice feet in terms of running after the catch and making guys miss. He’s got enough size to break the arm tackle,” Dorsey said. “He has got the athletic skills to just kind of blend right in.”

Conley has blended in quickly thus far, wowing observers and teammates during offseason practices.

“He can play some football,” said veteran wide receiver Jason Avant. “He has the potential to be really, really good.”

The Chiefs need Conley to be good and quickly — given the glaring hole on Kansas City’s roster. The Chiefs’ wide receivers did not score a touchdown last season.

Wilson also fits a need at middle linebacker where 32-year-old star Derrick Johnson is coming off a season-ending torn Achilles tendon.

The rookie’s production and range belie his 4.74 speed in the 40. A three-year starter at Georgia who can adeptly cover tight ends, the 6-2, 237-pound linebacker led the SEC in tackles in 2013 and added 110 more in 2014.

His fellow Bulldogs linebacker, Houston, remains unsigned after the franchise player led the NFL with 22 sacks last year. Meanwhile, Commings, who is trying to overcome two injury-plagued seasons, will try to help fill the void left by safety Eric Berry.

The challenge for Murray, the presumptive No. 3 quarterback and a possible eventual successor to starter Alex Smith, is to continue to master the complexities of the Chiefs’ West Coast Offense.

“Even Aaron is still learning things about this offense,” Conley said. “When Aaron was at Georgia, he knew everything there was. This offense is so big and grand, and every year wrinkles are added.”

As Conley tries to master his own playbook and adjust to life in the NFL, having fellow Bulldogs on the roster only can help the rookie receiver.

“There are so (many) new things going on and so many things flying,” Conley said. “Having familiar faces and guys who can kind of show you the ropes is so beneficial at this point. I’m loving it.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jfedotin

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Why Michael Sam can excel in the CFL

Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.

“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.

The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive

Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.

“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.

The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive scheme with a four-man front, which emphasizes pressuring the passer, and employ bump-and-run coverage in the secondary.

Moreover, the CFL has 12 players on each side of the ball, and the extra player is typically a receiver on offense and a defensive back on defense. So, the Alouettes use a 4-3-5 scheme or often a dime look with six defensive backs. Those extra secondary players focus on coverage responsibilities, which will allow Sam to concentrate on pressuring the quarterback.

“There will be times where he has to drop,” Popp said. “But 95 percent of the time he’ll be rushing the passer.”

That should enable Sam, 25, to avoid one of the weaknesses in his game — dropping back into coverage — that prevented him from hanging on with an NFL team.

Sam, however, has a knack for rushing the passer.

In the best conference in the country, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss during his senior season at Missouri and was named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. During the 2014 NFL preseason, he tied for fourth in the league with three sacks.

But the 6-2, 260-pound Sam, who ran a 4.99 in the 40 at the NFL’s veterans combine in March, was knocked by NFL teams for being a tweener — too slow to be a 3-4 linebacker and too small to play defensive line.

The CFL is often a refuge for players deemed to have inadequate speed or size for the NFL. Doug Flutie, who NFL teams rejected because of his 5’10” height, became a six-time Most Outstanding Player in the CFL.

“We don’t get caught up in measurables,” Popp said.

Popp also is not concerned by the fact that Sam is gay.

“Absolutely not,” said Popp, who lauded Sam’s character and leadership. “We see everyone as equal.”

Sam was not only the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL, but Popp also said he is the first one in the CFL, and the CFL is embracing his barrier-breaking status.

“The league office is very happy,” Popp said.

Sam has been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list since college.

The CFL has a draft, but it is only for Canadian citizens. Free agents can be placed on a negotiation list of 35 players, a first-come, first-serve, private list only known to CFL teams and the league office.

Noteworthy players who have been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list include Russell Wilson (who was once deemed too short for the NFL and was recruited to N.C. State by future Alouettes coach Marc Trestman), Clay Matthews (a former USC walk-on once considered too slight), Colin Kaepernick (once considered a product of a gimmicky system at Nevada) and Tim Tebow.

CFL teams can take a player off at any time but cannot tamper with someone else’s list. Hypothetically, they could even put high school players on that list, though they cannot negotiate with them or college players until they have declared for the draft or already have spent four years in college.

The Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round (249th overall) in 2014 before releasing him prior to the season. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn holding down a stacked defensive end group, St. Louis may not have been the best fit.

“That was one of the strongest points of that team,” Popp said. “That was (working) against him.”

Receiving playing time with the Alouettes, a vaunted CFL franchise that has made eight Grey Cup appearances in the 21st century, is not guaranteed either. Defensive end John Bowman, the franchise’s all-time leading sacker, leads a deep group.

“The position we’re bringing him into (has) four very good guys,” Popp said.

Sam signed a reported one-year deal, and the Alouettes hold the option for the 2016 season, though Popp often allows his players to move on if they receive NFL interest.

So if Sam can rise up the Montreal depth chart and produce big this year — like former B.C. Lions pass rusher Cameron Wake — he could find himself back in the NFL within a year.

Sam begins his CFL journey at the Alouettes’ rookie camp, which starts Wednesday.

After his NFL campaign focused on how a gay football player would mesh with his team, the narrative now has become whether he can make an impact on the field.

“This young man just wants to be a football player,” Popp said. “He wants to play.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Why Travis Kelce is poised for a huge season

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce.

“When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.”

It also meant that Kansas

When the Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Fasano over the offseason, it pained his younger position mate, Travis Kelce.

“When you see Fasano go, that’s a brother. That rips your heart out,” Kelce said. “It just lets you know that it is a business and everybody’s spot is vulnerable.”

It also meant that Kansas City had high expectations for Kelce to replace Fasano —who started 22 games for the Chiefs the last two years — and then some.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said the 25-year-old Kelce has the potential to be an elite player, and he’s at a crucial position in the K.C. offense.

Even with the free-agent signing of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs lack strong receiving options. And in their ball-control, short-passing offense — K.C. ranked 24th in the league in yards per attempt — the team often employed 3-TE-sets last season.

The Chiefs still have basketball player-turned-tight end Demetrius Harris and did draft James O’Shaughnessy in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the onus will be on Kelce, who caught 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 during what basically was his rookie year.

A 2013 third-round pick, he played in just one game his rookie season because of a knee injury. He was placed on injured reserve in October of 2013 and underwent microfracture surgery, where holes are drilled in the knee to stimulate cartilage growth.

Kelce excitedly launched a comeback, returning to action last season when he burst on the scene with a 69-yard touchdown reception during the first preseason game, a 41-39 victory against the Bengals.

“I felt like I was in flames, just running around there with my head on fire,” Kelce told NFP. “It was a huge mile marker for me.”

Once the 6-6, 250-pounder passed that initial marker, he continued to flourish.

And now nearly two years removed from microfracture, he should see even better results this season. Patients who have undergone major knee surgeries typically report that it’s not until two years postoperatively that they begin feeling 100 percent.

“Without a doubt … the cartilage has got to regrow,” Kelce said. “I’m definitely feeling more and more comfortable.”

He’s also growing more accustomed to the offense that uses him in myriad roles, including in motion and chip blocking pass rushers.

“If you watch the film,” Kelce said, “you can see me everywhere on the field.”

Indeed he stands outs, exuberantly celebrating his touchdowns — and even first downs.

“He’s tremendously talented, loves to play the game,” Reid said. “He’s like a little kid out there.”

Kelce’s energy pumps up teammates during games and even mundane practices and meetings.

“When you’re having a bad day,” said Brandon Barden, a tight end on last year’s Chiefs practice squad, “just look at him, and he’ll kind of give you that little spark you need to get through.”

Kelce’s enthusiasm is best displayed during touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.

“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”

It’s a carryover from what he did growing up while “being a knucklehead in the backyard trying to get in the heads of the guys we were playing around with.”

“Everything that I come out here and show,” Kelce said, “is a product of who I am and where I’m from.”

He grew up in suburban Cleveland with his brother, Jason Kelce, who has started 46 games at center for the Eagles.

Reid drafted and coached Jason, who is two years older than Travis, when he was in Philadelphia. That bond likely factored into the Chiefs drafting Travis and knowing he could make an impact in the NFL.

“It might’ve helped out a little bit that they knew the kind of family that me and Jason came from,” Travis said. “We’re both hardworking guys and love what we do.”

Upon being selected by Kansas City, Travis picked his brother’s brain on Reid, and Jason emphasized the vigilance and attention to detail of Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU and a tight ends coach for the Brett Favre-era Packers.

“He was going to hold you accountable. He wasn’t going to let anything slide,” Travis said his brother explained. “Every fundamental, even when you think he’s not watching, he’s watching every single second.”

Reid likely will be keeping a close eye on Kelce’s blocking, an area that he needs to improve to be on par with his stellar body control, route running and ability to gain yards after the catch.

As he continues to hone those skills, Kelce seems ready to use his breakout 2014 campaign as a springboard for 2015.

“Everybody is really excited about Travis,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “We all saw last year what he’s capable of.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Shane Ray and Randy Gregory: Same predicament, different outlook

CHICAGO—Shane Ray and Randy Gregory endured a similar fate.

The talented pass rushers plummeted in the 2015 NFL Draft because of marijuana issues.

“Shane is kind of like me. He made a bad choice.” Gregory told NFP. “I wish nothing but the best for him, hope he makes some smarter decisions in the future and I'm

CHICAGO—Shane Ray and Randy Gregory endured a similar fate.

The talented pass rushers plummeted in the 2015 NFL Draft because of marijuana issues.

“Shane is kind of like me. He made a bad choice.” Gregory told NFP. “I wish nothing but the best for him, hope he makes some smarter decisions in the future and I’m hoping he wishes the same upon me.”

But while the humbled Gregory said he deserved what happened to him, the overly confident Ray was defiant.

“I want to show those other teams that they made a huge mistake. … This does nothing but add fuel to the fire,” Ray said. “I will use this as motivation and I hope that I do see every one of those teams twice a year.”

Ray, who had 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year, vowed to demonstrate his ability that had many pegging him as a Top 10 pick last month before his issues, including an April 27 citation for weed possession, caused him to slide to No. 23 overall.

“I will go over and beyond to show (the Broncos) that I am more than capable at dominating at whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “And when I say ‘dominating,’ I mean nothing less than that.”

While the Denver-bound Ray seemed vengeful, Gregory took a more apologetic tone, saying he needed to mature.

“I made a real dumb decision,” Gregory said, “that’s been the most embarrassing part of my life up to this point and I’m just ready to fix it.”

After testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, Gregory fell out of the first round and was the last player remaining in the green room when the Cowboys selected him 60th overall.

Gregory’s Missed Appointments

Magnifying concerns over his character, the Nebraska product was truant from meetings with several NFL clubs.

“I know for a fact it hurt me with a few teams,” Gregory said. “I understood why I wasn’t picked high.”

One meeting Gregory did attend was with the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago. He spent 40 minutes with head coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and owner Jerry Jones.

Gregory compared his heart-to-heart with Jones to a stern father-son conversation. Dallas has taken chances on several players with a litany of off-the-field problems, including wide receiver Dez Bryant and defensive end Greg Hardy.

Gregory, who said he smoked weed to help cope with anxiety, told reporters he would be open to having a mentor/sponsor, which the Cowboys have used on players in the past.

Unintentionally wearing Cowboys colors — a silver suit and blue tie — on Friday night, he may prove to be a great fit in Dallas. Having recorded just 28 sacks in 2014, the Cowboys ranked 26th in pass defense and are in desperate need of a pass rusher.

“I feel like I could be a piece right there to get us to that next level, get us another championship,” Gregory said. “That’s what makes it exciting.”

Denver, on the other hand, does not have a hole at pass rusher. With DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, after whom Ray has modeled his game, the Broncos ranked in the top 10 in the NFL last year with 41 sacks.

Rumors, though, circulated that the Ravens were targeting Ray, and the Broncos traded their first-round pick, fifth-round pick, 2016 fifth-round pick, and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez to the Lions to move up five spots to select the explosive 6-3, 245-pound Missouri star.

Injury and Weight Issues

Trading up was somewhat of a surprising move by Denver, considering Ray not only had the marijuana incident but also a toe injury that prevented him from working out at the Combine and had some speculating he would miss much of his rookie NFL season.

Ray, though, said that his doctor told him he did not need surgery. The injury was only keeping him out because he did not have time to properly rehab it due to the hectic schedule of pro days, the Combine and flying to meet teams.

He promised to be healthy enough to play Week 1 against the Ravens.

“My toe’s fine,” Ray said. “I will be ready.”

Like Ray, Gregory had a physical concern that caused him to fall in the draft.

Though a gifted 6-5 pass rusher who had 17.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss the last two years, he was the lightest defensive lineman at the Combine at 235 pounds. Gregory said he currently weighed 239 to 240 pounds and that he needs to get up to 255.

“One of the big things is obviously putting a little bit more mass on me,” he said. “I’m definitely going to get there.”

Ray is going to get to play in Colorado, a state that legalized pot, something that made him the butt of social media jokes.

“Just because I was cited for marijuana possession doesn’t mean I’m this huge smoker or some huge drug addict,” Ray said. “That’s not a worry for me.”

Instead Ray is more concerned with proving himself to the other teams who passed on him before the Broncos selected him at No. 23.

“They’re all circled, you best believe,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with my situation that the Broncos decided to trade up to get me and give me a second opportunity. And I’m going to show them that this was the best decision they could’ve made.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Draft: 3 biggest bargains of round one

Although there were very few curveballs in a rather vanilla round one of the 2015 NFL draft, we certainly weren't void of a few value selections in the latter stages of the night.

Here are three in particular that stood out:

Bud Dupree to the Steelers at No. 22

Prior to Randy Gregory

Although there were very few curveballs in a rather vanilla round one of the 2015 NFL draft, we certainly weren’t void of a few value selections in the latter stages of the night.

Here are three in particular that stood out:

Bud Dupree to the Steelers at No. 22

Prior to Randy Gregory and Shane Ray’s off field indiscretions in the pre-draft, there may have been a limited number of scenarios where all five of the highly rated pass rushers were not all off the board by the time Pittsburgh was on the clock at No. 22. However, for the eternally defensive-minded Steelers, Kentucky conversion edge defender Bud Dupree fell fortuitously into their lap. Although the secondary absorbed multiple blows this offseason, with Jason Worilds’ shock retirement came the immediate requirement for a pass rushing reinforcement. Dupree (my 10th ranked player overall) was projected by some to go as high as seventh to Atlanta. A height, weight, speed specimen with significant upside, he will luckily not be thrust into a high leverage role prematurely as he — and his raw skill set — acclimatizes to the NFL game.

Shane Ray to the Broncos at No. 23

The 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year’s slide was not unforeseen after being cited for marijuana possession during the very week of the draft, but the Broncos were happy to capitalize. Ray (my 3rd ranked player overall) brings with him to Denver a pleasantly violent on-field demeanor and unmatched motor. Though I view him to be a better fit as a classic 4-3, hand in the dirt, defensive end, simply having him installed opposite Von Miller makes a good unit all the more dynamic. I’d expect him to contribute primarily as a spot rusher while he adjusts to the pro level and (hopefully) adds to his frame.

Malcom Brown to the Patriots at No. 32

Big bodies who can move and affect the passing game are a commodity. For New England, it was fortunate that Brown (my 14th ranked player overall) was able to get past a handful of defensive tackle-needy teams in the twenties — particularly the Detroit Lions at No. 28 who lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason. Malcom Brown improved significantly in 2014 and accumulated 13.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. A slippery pass rusher packed into a beefy frame, he boasts an abundance of athleticism for the position as well. Yes, Vince Wilfork is gone, but Brown is not his replacement. The latter is a different profile of player and, unlike Big Vince, won’t have to come off the field in obvious passing situations.

Honorable Mention…

The 49ers trade down two spots and still get their man

Despite the surprisingly sparse amount of trade movement, San Francisco was able to slide down just two spots and take the player they coveted all along. The 49ers went from No. 15 to No. 17, managing to acquire a fourth round pick (No. 117 overall) and a 2016 fifth round pick as well. Fair play to San Diego for getting its man, but quick and easy draft manipulation is always worthy of props.

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NFL Draft Day Two: The 11 Best Available

When the music stops at the cessation of any NFL draft's first day, we're left with a handful of talented players still standing, unselected.

Though the 2015 NFL draft isn't as classically stockpiled with as much overall depth as we've been accustomed to in recent years, there is plenty to monitor heading into the top

When the music stops at the cessation of any NFL draft’s first day, we’re left with a handful of talented players still standing, unselected.

Though the 2015 NFL draft isn’t as classically stockpiled with as much overall depth as we’ve been accustomed to in recent years, there is plenty to monitor heading into the top of the second round.

Of the remaining dancers without a partner, here are the eleven most enticing available:

Jake Fisher, OT. Oregon (6’6″ 306 lbs.)

Former tight end with superior athleticism and quickness off the snap. A potential left tackle in a zone blocking scheme, he gets by on good technique and above-average footwork. There is a Joe Staley element to his profile.

Randy Gregory, OLB. Nebraska (6’5″ 235 lbs.)

Quality movement skills and lower body explosion packaged into a long frame. Though his get-off is sub par as slowly unravels out of his stance, Gregory does well to use his hands to beat blockers. Chase linebacker who plays with effort. If he gets past his substance concerns and reinforces his semi-wiry frame, he could be a major day two bargain.

Landon Collins, S. Alabama (6’0″ 228 lbs.)

Aggressive and tough, Collins is a downhill hammer that finds the football in run and pass defense. Will add a certain attitude to a defense and comes physically ready for the NFL. A lack of ball skills or natural coverage ability prevented him from the first round, but he’s an impact run defender from day one at the strong safety position.

Eddie Goldman, DT. Florida State (6’4″ 336 lbs.)

A lot to be said about big men who can carry their weight well. Goldman is a wrecking ball at the point of attack and can affect the oppositions rhythm with his natural power. He lacks the ability to consistently affect the passing game on third-down, likely limiting him to 3-4 teams.

T.J. Clemmings, OT. Pittsburgh (6’5″ 309 lbs.)

Experienced leader who displays impressive quickness and lateral movement skills. The former defensive end is still constantly learning the nuances of playing on offense, but has long term potential to be a left tackle if he goes to a patient team.

Jaelen Strong, WR. Arizona State (6’2″ 217 lbs.)

Big body target who can prove to be a reliable safety valve due to his ability to adjust and shield defenders away from passes. Lacks explosion and doesn’t consistently make catches off hi frame with natural hands, but there’s an undeniable talent level that should intrigue teams early day two.

La’El Collins, OG/RT. LSU (6’4″ 305 lbs.)

Powerful, thickly-built dual guard or right tackle. A finisher in the run game who eliminates when engaged. Leader with three-years of starting experience. Though he is not a suspect, Collins has a scheduled meeting with police over an April shooting of a pregnant woman. If not for the uncertainty of the situation, he’d have likely been a first round selection.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR. Missouri (6’5″ 237 lbs.)

A laundry list of maturity and off-field concerns are difficult to overlook, but the physical makeup is tantalizing. Fluidity and smooth movement despite carrying a larger, taller frame. Strength and separation of areas of concern, but can extend and high-point over most defensive backs. Can he deal with physical NFL cornerbacks, though?

Jordan Phillips, NT. Oklahoma (6’5″ 329 lbs.)

Beefy 3-4 nose tackle only; decent movement skills. Anchors well and can push the pocket using his supreme length and strength. Won’t provide much of a pass rush, but should contribute from the outset for a team that needs help at the 0-tech. Two down player, but imposing dimensions.

Ronald Darby, CB. Florida State (5’11” 193 lbs.)

Track speed with smooth change or direction and obvious fluidity. Man-coverage capable boundary corner by gives up inside release quite often on film. Lacks top end ball skills, but could make for a very intriguing project to a team in day two. Rather significant upside.

Tevin Coleman, RB. Indiana (5’11” 206 lbs.)

Workhorse ‘back who produced heavily despite playing behind an unimpressive offensive line. Greatest strength is his refusal to go down, but can also be a weakness as he too often looks for the home run. Still, a smooth-cutting between the tackle rusher who can maintain speed off contact. Lacks open-field elusiveness of some others and relatively unproven as a pass catcher.

Honorable mentions…

Jalen Collins, CB. LSU (6’1″ 203 lbs.) – New school boundary corner; size/speed/length.
T.J. Yeldon, RB. Alabama (6’1″ 226 lbs.) – Decisive bruiser with instincts; keeps feet moving.
Eric Kendricks, ILB. UCLA (6’0″ 232 lbs.) – Stat freak with an aggressive downhill demeanor.
Donovan Smith, OT. Penn State (6’6″ 338 lbs.) – Day one starter at guard/right tackle.
Eli Harold, DE/OLB, UVA (6’3″ 247 lbs.) – Gets regular pressure; fluidity to play in space.

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Did the Jets get a steal in Leonard Williams?

CHICAGO—Before stepping to the podium, Leonard Williams audibly exhaled.

Such a reaction was understandable, considering he had slipped to the sixth overall pick, even though most had pegged the 6-5, 302-pounder as the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s like a sigh of relief,”

CHICAGO—Before stepping to the podium, Leonard Williams audibly exhaled.

Such a reaction was understandable, considering he had slipped to the sixth overall pick, even though most had pegged the 6-5, 302-pounder as the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“It’s like a sigh of relief,” Williams said. “I had high expectations for myself, and seeing myself fall was kind of disappointing.”

The Jets didn’t expect him to be available at No. 6 either.

Williams had visited the Jets and was told he’d be one of their main targets if he was there, something they didn’t figure to be the case.

Rumor has it that a shoulder injury caused the defensive lineman, who had 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss during his three years at USC, to slide in the first round.

Williams had surgery following his sophomore season to repair a torn labrum and after workouts he still does extra stabilization exercises to keep his shoulder strong.

After missing spring workouts, however, he returned from injury to have seven sacks and 80 tackles during an impressive junior campaign where he started 13 games.

“I played the whole 2014 season with no problems,” Williams said. “I don’t know why that would have been a factor, so I don’t really believe in that rumor.”

Whether that shoulder rumor led to him falling to the Jets, it meant he landed on a team that had already possessed a strong defense. New York had the sixth-ranked defense last year and added cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who both starred for the team previously, during the offseason.

“I’m glad to go into a defense that’s already well-seasoned up front,” Williams said. “They have a great D-line already.”

That line is led by stout defensive ends Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. In addition to stopping the run, the latter has 16.5 sacks the last two years, a very high total for a 3-4 end.

Following the Jets’ selection of Williams, Wilkerson welcomed him to the club via Instagram.

“That means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to working with those guys.”

Wilkerson, though, could be on his way out. Thee fifth-year player is in the final year of his deal and has skipped voluntary workouts. New York even reportedly listened to trade offers for him prior to the draft.

Williams, who looks very lean in person, is athletic, having run a 4.94 40, and versatile, which allows him play either the three- or five-technique under new head coach Todd Bowles. But he said the Jets told him he would play as a 3-4 defensive end, perhaps making Wilkerson the odd man out.

Bowles, a Bill Parcells disciple, orchestrated the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense last year and likely will not employ four defensive linemen in his base defense.

Williams instantly bonded with his new coach, who he described as a players’ coach, during their visit. Bowles kidded him, saying he would critique his draft attire.

“We were joking around,” Williams said. “I felt comfortable around him.”

The 20-year-old, who has outside interests including ceramics, should also be a good fit in New York as he crosses coasts to plays on the biggest stage.

“I kind of do well being in big cities,” Williams said.

The Big Apple will take to Williams if he can help the Jets bridge the gap in the division, which includes their longtime nemesis and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots led by Tom Brady.

“I know it’s a big rivalry,” he said. “I’m looking forward to tackling a great quarterback like that. I hope that’s the first sack of my career.”

The Jets could make the going tough for opposing offenses in the AFC East. They currently have three defensive lineman (Richardson, Wilkerson and Williams) who were first-round picks, and none is older than 25.

The issue is that by loading up on D-line, the Jets have neglected their offense, which currently looks like it will be quarterbacked by Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick and lacks many weapons beside Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

New general manager Mike Maccagnan must spend Friday and Saturday improving that part of his team.

He used his Thursday to phone Williams, a call that really surprised the All-Pac 12 player.

It was not only shock for the soon-to-be rookie, but it also provided motivation. He vowed to remember the five teams who passed on him.

“I’m looking forward to proving those people wrong,” Williams said, “and most of all proving the Jets right.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Participation Is Voluntary

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.

There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.

Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.

A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.

Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.

The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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A Chiefs draft lesson: Why GM Scott Pioli was better than you think

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.

Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years.

Among his biggest gaffes:

  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is better suited as a backup than a starter, to a franchise quarterback worthy deal of six years, $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed.
  • Trading future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick that would be used on Javier Arenas, an average defensive back.
  • Drafting Tyson Jackson third overall — over players like Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 2009 NFL Draft.

As time has gone on, however, Pioli’s 2009-12 tenure looks much better.

Three of his draft picks, in particular, have proven to be the backbone for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second fewest points in the league last year.

It starts with the 2011 NFL Draft, where his third-round selections accounted for 27 sacks last season.

With the 70th overall pick, Pioli selected outside linebacker Justin Houston, a move that was considered a gamble at the time. Houston starred at Georgia, but his character was questioned for, among other things, testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana.

Houston, though, lost weight and has become a hard worker, providing Kansas City its best edge rusher since Derrick Thomas.

Just 26, Houston already has made three Pro Bowls, including his exemplary 2014 season when he had 22 sacks — a half-sack behind Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season NFL record — and four forced fumbles.

Sixteen picks after Houston, Pioli selected Allen Bailey out of Miami (Fla.) The 3-4 defensive end came into his own last year, starting 14 games and recording five sacks.

“He’s continued to improve,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He was good before, but I think he’s really developed into a pretty fine football player.”

Bailey’s speed, range and quickness made him effective on third down from the get-go, but the 6-3, 288 pounder has added weight and honed his technique to make him a more stout, well-rounded 3-4 end.

As a result the Chiefs, who signed Bailey to a four-year, $25 million contract last season, expect the 26-year-old to anchor the edge of their defensive line for years to come.

“The more he’s played, the better he’s got,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “The arrow’s really pointing up on him.”

Bailey’s acquisition also offsets missing on Jackson, who was drafted to play the same position as Bailey, two years earlier. (Jackson now plays for the Falcons, where Pioli is the assistant GM.)

Pioli’s best move may have been his final first-round pick as a Chiefs executive when he drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Poe may be the best nose in the NFL. He’s that good.

Poe crushed it at the 2012 Combine, running the 40 in 4.98 seconds despite being the fifth heaviest defensive lineman to weigh in at the Combine since 2000. He also bench pressed 44 reps of 225 pounds.

Despite those eye-popping numbers, Poe was considered a workout wonder, and the pick was deemed a question mark. His play on the field at Memphis came nowhere close to reflecting those physical gifts. He had just five sacks over three years, including one as a senior, while playing against weak competition in Conference USA.

Pundits thought that indicated a lack of motor and of real football talent.

Pioli, however, rolled the dice and ended up with a player that not only has a motor, but it’s revved for nearly every play.

Heading into Week 14 of the 2013 season, for example, Poe was in the lineup for 95 percent of Kansas City’s defensive plays, which amounted to 804 snaps and was 85 more than any other NFL defensive tackle.

“It’s a great luxury because very seldom do you have a man as big as he that doesn’t come out,” Sutton said. “He’s a very talented guy.”

Indeed Poe plays so many downs because of his versatility — not just because of his stamina. The mammoth space eater is stout against interior running plays but has chased down screen passes near the sideline.

On obvious passing downs, the 346-pounder can collapse the pocket. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10.5 sacks the last two seasons.

The acquisitions of Poe, Bailey and Houston show that while the Chiefs organization may be in better shape with Reid and John Dorsey running the show, some of Pioli’s moves helped mold the Chiefs defense into one of the league’s best.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Is 2015 the best running back draft in years?

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason.

DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back.

Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason.

DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back.

Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one running back selected in the first round for the first time in two years.

Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Langford head a deep group that could contribute from Day One. Before a knee injury sidelined Gurley, many thought the Georgia runner was the most talented back since Adrian Peterson.

Only time will tell if the experts are correct in predicting the quality of this year’s crop, but here’s a look at what the 2015-ers are up against from the last five RB drafts:

 

2010 — 13 RBs drafted

1st round

C.J. Spiller, drafted 9th overall by the Bills, rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened the explosive player’s 2014 campaign.

Ryan Mathews, drafted 12th overall by the Chargers, has started 53 games and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but he can’t shake the injury bug.

Jahvid Best, drafted 30th overall by the Lions, played in just 22 games before concussions ended his career.

2nd round

Dexter McCluster, drafted 36th overall by the Chiefs, was a running back/receiver and never exemplary at either, though he did make the Pro Bowl as special teamer in 2013.

Toby Gerhart, drafted 51st overall by the Vikings, served as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota and then struggled when given an opportunity for more with Jacksonville.

Ben Tate, drafted 58th overall by the Texans, broke his ankle as a rookie, allowing Arian Foster to take his spot. He ran for 942 yards the next year for Houston but has been on three different teams since.

Montario Hardesty, drafted 59th overall by the Browns, was plagued by injuries and last played in a regular season contest in 2012.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Packers (193rd overall, 6th round), James Starks rushed for 316 yards in the 2010 postseason during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run.

Grade

D: This class not only lacked depth, but the first seven backs selected are no longer with their original team.

 

2011 — 24 RBs drafted

1st round

Mark Ingram, drafted 28th overall by the Saints, had his best year in 2014, rushing for 964 yards and nine touchdowns after battling myriad injuries.

2nd round

Ryan Williams, drafted 38th overall by the Cardinals, has been plagued by injuries, including rupturing a patella tendon before taking a regular season snap and a shoulder injury that ended his second season.

Shane Vereen, drafted 56th overall by the Patriots, emerged as an effective runner, receiver and blocker especially on third downs.

Mikel Leshoure, drafted 57th overall by the Lions, tore his Achilles tendon before playing a regular season down for Detroit and did not play for a team during the 2014 regular season.

Daniel Thomas, drafted 62nd overall by the Dolphins, has averaged under 3.9 yards per carry in each of his four seasons.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Cowboys (71st overall, 3rd round), DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.

Drafted by the Patriots (73rd overall, 3rd round), Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012 before fumbling issues put him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse.

Drafted by the Redskins (105th overall, 4th round), Roy Helu surpassed 100 rushing yards in three consecutive weeks as a rookie.

Drafted by the 49ers (115th overall, 4th round), Kendall Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career before tearing his ACL in last year’s training camp.

Drafted by the Jets (126th overall, 4th round), Bilal Powell started 11 games while rushing for 697 yards in 2013.

Drafted by the Falcons (145th overall, 5th round), Jacquizz Rodgers, a shifty third-down back, has scored 10 career touchdowns.

Grade

C+: Murray can’t redeem a class whose early-round picks had their careers hampered by injuries and that lacks many full-time starters.

 

2012 — 19 RBs drafted

1st round

Trent Richardson, drafted 3rd overall by the Browns, has become one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts of late.

Doug Martin, drafted 31st overall by the Buccaneers, rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie before suffering a shoulder injury and then falling out of favor with the Tampa Bay coaching staff.

David Wilson, drafted 32nd overall by the Giants, retired prior to the 2014 season because of neck injuries.

2nd round

Isaiah Pead, drafted 50th overall by the Rams, carried the ball a total of just 17 times during his three years in St. Louis.

LaMichael James, drafted 61st overall by the 49ers, was relegated to the Dolphins’ practice squad before joining their active roster late in the 2014 season.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Broncos (67th overall, 3rd round), Ronnie Hillman started four games for Denver last year before the emergence of C.J. Anderson.

Drafted by the Ravens (84th overall, 3rd round), Bernard Pierce rushed for 1,334 yards in three years with Baltimore before a recent DUI arrest led to his release.

Drafted by the Redskins (173rd overall, 6th round), Alfred Morris has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,613 during his rookie season, and 4.0 yards per carry each year.

Drafted by the Bengals (191st overall, 6th round), Dan Herron started all three playoff games for the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Drafted by the Rams (252nd overall, 7th round), Daryl Richardson rushed for 475 yards as a rookie.

Grade

D+: A 6th rounder — Morris — is the best of a lot that included major busts in the early rounds.

 

2013 — 23 RBs drafted

1st round

None Selected

2nd round

Giovani Bernard, drafted 37th overall by the Bengals, amassed 1,209 yards from scrimmage during his rookie year while making a slew of highlight plays.

Le’Veon Bell, drafted 48th overall by the Steelers, was initially slowed by knee and foot injuries as a rookie before emerging as one of the NFL’s best weapons in his second season.

Montee Ball, drafted 58th overall by the Broncos, never developed into more than a part-time player as he struggled with injuries and fumbling issues.

Eddie Lacy, drafted 61st overall by the Packers, has become the best back Aaron Rodgers ever played with.

Christine Michael, drafted 62nd overall by the Seahawks, has averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his career, though Marshawn Lynch’s backup only has 52 career rushes.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Chiefs (96th overall, 3rd round), Knile Davis has proven to be a nice complement to the smaller, speedier Jamaal Charles.

Drafted by the Jaguars (135th overall, 5th round), Denard Robinson, the former college quarterback, twice surpassed 100 rushing yards as he grew into his new position during his second season.

Drafted by the Rams (160th overall, 5th round), Zac Stacy started 12 games his rookie year before falling out of favor in his second season.

Drafted by the Raiders (181st overall, 6th round), Latavius Murray surpassed 75 rushing yards three times during the last five games of the 2014 season.

Drafted by the Cardinals (187th overall, 6th round), Andre Ellington has produced 2,078 yards from scrimmage during his two-year career.

Drafted by the Lions (199th overall, 7th round), Theo Riddick caught four touchdowns last year and likely will take on a bigger role after Detroit lost Reggie Bush.

Grade

A-: The second round featured a star back in Bell and two very good ones in Lacy and Bernard. The later rounds unearthed several part-time or full-time starters, which could’ve been even better had 4th rounders Johnathan Franklin and Marcus Lattimore not retired early.

 

2014 — 20 RBs drafted

1st round

None selected

2nd round

Bishop Sankey, drafted 54th overall by the Titans, disappointed as rookie, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry and never registering more than 61 yards in a game. He had as many touchdowns as fumbles.

Jeremy Hill, drafted 55th overall by the Bengals, shined as the star of the class, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and stealing the starting job from Giovani Bernard.

Carlos Hyde, drafted 57th overall by the 49ers, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year and is poised to assume the starting role in 2015 with Frank Gore off to Philadelphia.

Sleepers

Drafted by the Rams (75th overall, 3rd round), Tre Mason came on strong in the latter part of the season as St. Louis’ main back after not playing in the first four games.

Drafted by the Browns (94th overall, 3rd round), Terrance West started six games for Cleveland.

Drafted by the Vikings (96th overall, 3rd round), Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry and could become Minnesota’s main back if it parts ways with Adrian Peterson.

Grade

B: This class could produce as many as six starters on 2015 rosters, but Hill is the only Pro Bowl-level talent.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

 

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Free Agency’s Losers

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.

Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.

Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.

Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.

The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).

Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.

Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Free Agency’s Big Winners

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages $16,666,667 per year) J.J. Watt received from the Houston Texans last September. Suh’s $59.955 million also sets a new standard for guaranteed money with non-quarterbacks. It eclipses the $53.25 million of guaranteed money in the seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-New York Jets: Revis getting a deal to place him at the top of the cornerback salary hierarchy was expected. His five-year contract worth $70,121,060 is clearly superior to other top cornerback deals in key contract metrics. $39 million is fully guaranteed at signing. That’s a little over $8.5 million more than the $30.481 million Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the NFL’s second and third highest paid cornerbacks (by average yearly salary) have fully guaranteed at signing collectively.

Julius Thomas (TE)-Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars didn’t make Thomas the NFL’s second highest paid tight end because of his blocking prowess. He is expected to remain arguably the NFL’s best red zone threat at the position after receiving a five-year, $46 million deal containing $24 million in guarantees. Thomas sets a new standard for guarantees in tight end deals with the $24 million. $21 million of the $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

Byron Maxwell-(CB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Maxwell hit the open market at the right time. This year’s group of free agent cornerbacks wasn’t nearly as impressive as last year’s group, which included Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner. He received a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed. $32 million is in the first three years.

Devin McCourty (S)-New England Patriots: McCourty became the NFL’s second highest paid safety despite rejecting bigger offers from other teams. His five-year, $47.5 million contract contains $28.5 million in guarantees, which is the most ever in guarantees for a veteran safety deal. McCourty also has the best three-year cash flow for safeties with $30 million in the first three years.

Rodney Hudson (C)-Oakland Raiders: Hudson reached his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest paid center with a five-year, $44.5 million contract. The Raiders were smart in using a pay as you go structure with Hudson’s deal. His cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus. Since Hudson’s $7.35 million 2016 base salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2016 league year (mid-March), the Raiders have a window to get out of the deal after the 2015 season without any cap consequences if he doesn’t pan out.

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Murray didn’t capitalize on a dominant season in a contract year as much as he would have at other positions because of the devaluing of running backs. Nonetheless, his five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) makes him the first running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year since Michael Turner left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

Dwayne Harris (WR)-New York Giants: The Giants made Harris the NFL’s highest paid player whose primary role is returning kicks by giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed). Harris was second in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.6 yards per return and third in punt return average (12.8 yards) during the 2013 season. It’s conceivable that Harris will be New York’s fifth wide receiver behind Preston Parker, who caught 36 passes in an expanded role because of Victor Cruz’s torn patellar tendon in his right knee. To put Harris’ deal in better perspective, Cole Beasley, who was ahead of Harris on the depth chart with the Dallas Cowboys last season as the team’s third wide receiver, recently re-upped on a four-year, $13.606 million contract with $5 million fully guaranteed.

Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: The Packers maintain offensive continuity with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb taking hometown discounts to remain in Green Bay. Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal. Cobb’s four-year, $40 million contract containing a $13 million signing bonus, which is the deal’s only guaranteed money, is in line with the four-year, $39.05 million contract extension Jordy Nelson signed during the initial days of training camp last season.

Jeremy Parnell (OT)-Jacksonville Jaguars: Parnell signed a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million fully guaranteed after serving as a backup during his five years with the Dallas Cowboys. He got his most extensive playtime in 2014 by starting five regular season games and both of the team’s playoff games because of ankle and foot injuries to starting right tackle Doug Free. Parnell received a much more lucrative contract than Free, who is two and half years older. Free re-signed with the Cowboys for $15 million over three years. The guaranteed money in Parnell’s deal is almost as much as Free’s entire contract.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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How ‘The U’ shaped the Colts’ offseason

After the Texans released him, wide receiver Andre Johnson told the Colts’ website that the ensuing process felt like “being recruited all over again.”

It turns out that his NFL courtship had the same result as his collegiate one.

Johnson signed with the team of Chuck Pagano, the same person who recruited him to the

After the Texans released him, wide receiver Andre Johnson told the Colts’ website that the ensuing process felt like “being recruited all over again.”

It turns out that his NFL courtship had the same result as his collegiate one.

Johnson signed with the team of Chuck Pagano, the same person who recruited him to the University of Miami.

The Colts’ ties to “The U” extend beyond head coach Pagano, who coached defensive backs and special teams at Miami from 1995 to 2000 and served as a graduate assistant in 1986, and Johnson, who played for the Hurricanes from 2000 to 2002.

“We have a lot of history,” Johnson told Colts.com. “I just felt so comfortable.”

That history includes Colts associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, the Miami offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003 and the school’s tight end coach and graduate assistant prior to that.

As soon as the Texans released Johnson, Frank Gore, who played at Miami from 2002 to 2004, called his former college teammate, asking where the receiver was going to sign.

The duo then flew to Indianapolis on Colts owner Jim Irsay’s team plane.

Gore signed with the Colts first — for three years and $12 million — while Johnson mulled over his decision.

As part of his research into the team that coveted him, Johnson spoke to Reggie Wayne, who played 14 years for the Colts before getting released this offseason following an injury-plagued year.

Despite being jettisoned by the team, Wayne praised the organization. Perhaps in part due to Wayne’s advice, Johnson signed with the Colts for three years and $21 million.

It will mark the second time Johnson has replaced Wayne, who played for Miami from 1997 to 2000. His senior season — when he posted 755 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns — coincided with the freshman season of Johnson, who would go on to record 1,831 yards and 20 touchdowns over three years.

Prior to signing with the Colts, Johnson also spoke to running back Edgerrin James. The Colts’ all-time leading rusher played at Miami from 1996 to 1998.

Gore, one of James’ successors at the U, has rushed for 11,073 yards in 10 years with the 49ers, a comparable number to James, who rushed for 12,246 yards, including 9,226 yards during his seven years with Indianapolis.

Upon seeing James’ Colts jersey at his new team’s facility, Gore flashed The U sign with his hands.

Though Gore is proud of his time in Miami, another college — Stanford — played a major role in his signing with Indianapolis.

Gore thrived in San Francisco, playing behind the run-first, power football design of head coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Stanford from 2007 to 2010, and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Stanford’s tight ends/offensive tackle coach from 2009 to 2010.

Current Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, the Stanford wide receivers coach in 2010 and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2011 to 2012, worked with both.

“That’s why I came here,” Gore said.

Despite the obvious Miami and Stanford connections, Gore nearly signed with Philadelphia, where most experts had him going.

“It was tough, man,” Gore said, “because they really wanted me.”

Indianapolis, though, really needs Gore. Following their failed Trent Richardson acquisition, the Colts averaged just 3.9 rushing yards per carry to rank 25th in the NFL last year.

The Colts’ lack of a bell cow back not only prevented Hamilton from capably running that same punishing Stanford offense, it also put more pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck, who threw for 16 interceptions, seven more than he did in 2013.

Luck will now have the benefit of throwing to a deep crop of wide receivers, including Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter.

The 33-year-old Johnson is not as explosive as he once was. Last year he failed to post 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career when he played at least 14 games. He also averaged just 11 yards per catch.

He, however, remains an effective possession receiver who can go underneath and open up the deeper routes for the speedy Hilton and Moncrief.

How much gas Gore has left in the tank is up for debate. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive season last year, but before the 2015 regular season, he will turn 32, an age well past when most NFL running backs have washed up.

But Gore, a five-time Pro Bowler who overcame tearing his ACL in back-to-back seasons at Miami, is used to defying the odds.

If he matches his production with San Francisco, Indianapolis will go a long way toward shoring up its running game, one of its major weaknesses from last year.

Another issue was a porous run defense that gave up 4.3 yards per carry, including allowing third-string Patriots back Jonas Gray to rush for 201 yards and four touchdowns during New England’s 42-20 victory in November.

The Patriots have ended the Colts’ postseason the last two years. Perhaps Indianapolis, which has advanced further in the playoffs in each of the last three successive seasons, can narrow the gap between the teams even more by signing defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who New England released this month.

A college teammate of Gore and Johnson’s, Wilfork played for the Hurricanes from 2001 to 2003.

Whether or not they sign Wilfork, the Colts hope their new members from the Sunshine State can take them to the promised land.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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“Typical” Bills no more

I remember the Music City Miracle like it was yesterday. I was home on break from college and had to work. I was a pit man at a now defunct oil change shop in Cheektowaga (suburb of Buffalo). Y2K had come and gone without a hitch. And for some reason that stumps people in bars throughout

I remember the Music City Miracle like it was yesterday. I was home on break from college and had to work. I was a pit man at a now defunct oil change shop in Cheektowaga (suburb of Buffalo). Y2K had come and gone without a hitch. And for some reason that stumps people in bars throughout Buffalo every time that game comes up, Rob Johnson got the start over Doug Flutie. You know how it ends. We sat there, huddled around a TV the manager brought in as Kevin Dyson scored, and somebody said, “Next year I guess.” Of course! Next year. There was always next year. Almost every year of my adolescence involved Bills’ football in January. Had I foreseen the decade-and-a-half playoff drought that would follow, I could have saved myself a lot of disappointment and bitterness.

And those are all from the same game! I’m not proud of this. It has made me the worst kind of Bills’ fan. I’m the guy you hate to watch games with. As soon as I see EJ Fitzlospatricktonwards (pick any of them) go three-and-out, I’m the first one to throw in the towel. I’ve explained this in previous articles and an unhealthy amount of gameday tweets, but this off-season has changed me.

The 2015 Buffalo Bills are a different team. For 15 seasons, I’ve watched defensive stars, just entering their prime, walk away at the end of their contracts, yet I woke up this morning to find Jerry Hughes resigned. I’ve watched teams so devoid of offensive firepower that Stevie Johnson was the number one receiver for SEVERAL YEARS and a front office that limps into free agency like they are walking to their death. This year, they traded an unnecessary part for a star running back before it even started. I’ve watched coaches who are almost apologetic for being the Bills in their play-calling. Now we’ve got a coach who wants to bully the Patriots and made his truck into a tailgater’s dream. These are not the traits of the same team that lost 6-3 against Cleveland in 2009 or the team that couldn’t beat the Raiders with their season on the line in 2014.

It’s different. And it’s going to take a while for the Buffalo faithful to come around to accepting it and to avoid applying what have become cliches in #BillsMafia. “We just don’t spend the money.” “They just don’t seem to want it.” “Typical Bills.” Stop. I call upon you all to erase those from your memory, and give Rex Ryan, this defense of monsters, and the one-two punch of Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy your full and undivided attention for the next few years. I’m not sure if it will translate to 11-5 or 1-15, but I know for the first year in many, I’m not dreading the first Patriots’ game this season.

The city of Buffalo, the people within it, and everything about Sunday are so much better when they’re good. What I remember most about the aforementioned Music City Miracle game was that we didn’t see a single car come through our shop the entire day. Even if we did, I’m not sure our manager would have let us work on it. The playoffs are holidays in Buffalo. A holiday that has been indefinitely suspended for 15 years. Get your Zubaz ready, Buffalo. It’s time.

Follow @erikoehler on Twitter

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Just Win Baby: Why The Bucs Should Become The NFL’s Greatest Villain

With NFL Free Agency kicking off, we've reached the point in the offseason where teams really begin taking shape for next year. Between free agency and the draft, a franchise can fill needs, stock up on depth, or create a whole new identity. In the last few years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have taken a lot of

With NFL Free Agency kicking off, we’ve reached the point in the offseason where teams really begin taking shape for next year. Between free agency and the draft, a franchise can fill needs, stock up on depth, or create a whole new identity. In the last few years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have taken a lot of big-time swings in free agency that haven’t exactly hit.

Carl Nicks suffered a toe injury that he never recovered from; Eric Wright was plain terrible; and don’t even get me started on the disasters that were Josh McCown (HOW DID YOU GIVE HIM A RAISE CLEVELAND!?), Michael Johnson, and Anthony Collins. That said, to give credit where credit is due, Clinton McDonald and Vincent Jackson have proven to be good signings.

But here we are in 2015. The Buccaneers hold the first overall pick in the draft and have a boatload of cap space. They can create more space by making certain moves, or they can also keep cash by cutting Johnson, even though his cap hit remains the same. To say that this team doesn’t have an identity would be putting things lightly (I guess they lose a lot, that’s an identity).

Their lack of identity is why I think the Bucs really should embrace their team name and its pirate ship “yo-ho” lifestyle this off-season and just say, “Screw it, we’re going to be the Seahawks East and create an unstoppable force of hate-able awesomeness.” Look at the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers team. I know many fans like to point at Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber as the signs of textbook professionalism, but looking at that team in that regard is kind of missing the point a bit—that team was NASTY.

Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Michael Pittman, Keyshawn Johnson, Dwight Smith, John Lynch, and the young fireball that was Jon Gruden (before he moved to TV and decided he loved everyone). If you want to hear some of the most colorful NFL language you can imagine, watch the Buc’s Super Bowl video. It’s basically three hours of trash talk and bleeped out expletives. I have a plan to bring back the nastiness that defined the 2002 Buccaneers and revive the fire that this team seemed to have lost since placing their trust in the blank expressions of Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, and Lovie Smith.

  1. Adrian Peterson – Give the Vikings Doug Martin and then play around with draft picks to make this reasonable. AP may only have a couple years left of real productivity, but the same can be said for Vincent Jackson. Peterson adds a dynamic weapon to the Tampa Bay backfield.

  2. Greg Hardy* – Try to get him on an incentive-laden deal if he can keep himself out of trouble. I’m sure Hardy would enjoy taking it to the Panthers twice a year and keeping the division crowns out of their hands. Throw this pass rusher next to McCoy and Jacquies Smith, and BOOM CITY!
  3. Ndamukong Suh – McCoy and Suh were BORN to play with each other. They tore up the Big 12 during their college careers and were drafted one spot apart from each other. Now, I know that you’re not supposed to invest so much money in one position, but when you consider the fact that McCoy has only finished two seasons in his career not on injured reserve, the risk might be worth it. Plus, how sick would that D-line be?

  4. Jameis Winston – You know what a team that has zero fire or in-your-face intensity doesn’t need? A quarterback with a soft-spoken demeanor who hasn’t led a huddle in four years. Mariota can step aside because it’s the Jameis Show in Tampa. Of all the moves I’d like to see, this is the one that I am pretty sure is actually going to happen. The team has already begun to form a PR campaign to handle the potential hit that this could do in the mind of some fans, and allegedly, Winston has been in touch with a local respected religious figure to help integrate himself into the community smoothly. Winston is clearly the best QB in this class for a pro-style system and has the demeanor and tenacity to bring life to a team that desperately needs it.

So that’s it. That’s what I want to see when I look back on the Buc’s offseason in a few months. I want fire, I want meanness, I want HATE-ABILITY. Create an identity—you will hate us, we will beat you, and we will let you know that we beat you. A Super Bowl is only a hop skip and a jump away at that point.

 

* I don’t want Greg Hardy anywhere near my team, and I hope he never gets another shot in the NFL again.

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Wait, what?: McCoy/Alonso trade

Is there a more exciting offseason transaction than a star player for star player, straight-up trade with your team involved? When the words hit my screen, every word of the headline on ESPN raised my heart rate just a little bit.

MCCOY! TO BILLS! IN BLOCKBUSTER!?!?!?

How? Who? What? Is

Is there a more exciting offseason transaction than a star player for star player, straight-up trade with your team involved? When the words hit my screen, every word of the headline on ESPN raised my heart rate just a little bit.

MCCOY! TO BILLS! IN BLOCKBUSTER!?!?!?

How? Who? What? Is this real life?

This is a paradox. Not because it doesn’t make sense for either team. It’s actually perfect for both of them. It’s the kind of trade you’d talk through with football cards when you were 10, but rarely see executed. When was the last time you saw all three of the following in one NFL trade?:

-Good player-for-good player on opposite sides of the ball
-No draft picks involved
-Both teams improve as a result

It doesn’t happen. Ever. The stars so rarely align with situations equal enough to get a deal like this done without additional compensation, even if it’s an extra 7th thrown in.

WHY BUFFALO WINS:

Rex Ryan wants to run the ball. A lot. C.J. Spiller never developed into the 20 carry back that merits a first round pick. Fred Jackson is in perennial, “He’s probably got another year in him” mode. Kiko Alonso had a sensational rookie year, but Buffalo didn’t exactly miss him in 2014 when he missed the entire season with a torn ACL. It was the most ferocious defense in years. And it may get even better under Ryan.

WHY PHILLY WINS:

McCoy just wasn’t working in Philly. Part of it might have been Chip Kelly wanting to spread it around conflicting with McCoy’s preseason quest for 2000 yards. Part of it might have been the beleaguered line throughout 2014. Who knows. And the Eagles’ defense, which saw great improvement in 2014, can take a step towards the elite with the addition of Alonso, whose versatile skillset shores up a suspect linebacking corps. Not to mention the cap implication for the Eagles, now on the hook for $1 million with Kiko as opposed to $11.95 million for McCoy.

Now if we can only talk them into a Foles for EJ Manuel trade…

Follow @erikoehler on Twitter

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Dear NFL: Let the players have fun in the end zone

Deion Sanders was there as part of his NFL Network duties. And the Sept. 18 game took place in Atlanta, where “Primetime” began his career.

So after returning a punt 62 yards to break Sanders’ all-time return record, Devin Hester mimicked the Hall of Famer by high-stepping the last 10 yards into the end zone.

Deion Sanders was there as part of his NFL Network duties. And the Sept. 18 game took place in Atlanta, where “Primetime” began his career.

So after returning a punt 62 yards to break Sanders’ all-time return record, Devin Hester mimicked the Hall of Famer by high-stepping the last 10 yards into the end zone.

But showing no sense for the moment or that the current Falcons returner was paying homage to the former Falcons great, officials gave Hester a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It is unfortunate that the NFL won’t allow for that kind of celebration,” said Patrick Mannelly, Hester’s special teams teammate from 2006 to 2013. “I mean it’s an NFL record.”

With its stringent rules regarding touchdown celebrations, the NFL is once again living down to its notorious nickname — the “No Fun League.”

“We’re out there having fun,” said Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “If you get in the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It’s what we work for. So, once we get in there, I love to see guys just have fun, enjoy themselves, be a kid again.”

Though the NFL likely won’t relax its rules to allow for more frivolity, the competition committee would have to submit such proposals to NFL executives at the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix late March.

The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Rule

Currently, in Rule 12, Section 3 of the by-laws, the NFL lumps in such seemingly innocuous celebrations with other prohibited acts, including punching an opponent or making unnecessary physical contact with a referee, which results in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

 

Section 3 Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Article 1: Prohibited Acts. There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:

(a)  Throwing a punch, or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, even though no contact is made.

(b)  Using abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.

(c)  Using baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams.

(d)  Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.

(e)  Two or more players engaging in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations or demonstrations.

(f)  Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop.

(g)  Unnecessary physical contact with a game official.

(h)  Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.

Note 3: Violations of (b) will be penalized if any of the acts are committed directly at an opponent. These acts include, but are not limited to: sack dances; home run swing; incredible hulk; spiking the ball; spinning the ball; throwing or shoving the ball; pointing; pointing the ball; verbal taunting; military salute; standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation); or dancing.

 

Who do football players hurt with these excessive celebrations that result in unsportsmanlike penalties?

Moreover, the semantics of the rule can make it difficult to interpret and legislate. Hester’s touchdown was excessive, but the Lambeau Leap is not?

The Husain Abdullah Penalty

Perhaps the most glaring screw-up in penalizing for excessive celebration occurred during the late September Monday Night Football contest between the Chiefs and Patriots.

After a Pick-6 against New England quarterback Tom Brady, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah kneeled in the end zone in Islamic prayer and received a 15-yard penalty because he was “on the ground,” an activity outlawed in part D of Section 3, Article 1.

“That was just an errant call in my mind. Heck, a guy going to his knees and praying?” Abdullah’s teammate, Travis Kelce told NFP. “You can’t really say anything bad about that. It shouldn’t have been a flag.”

Kelce was right. The NFL admitted it messed up the call because, though Abdullah was going to the ground, it was part of a religious expression — no different than Tebowing.

Kelce, the dynamic Chiefs tight end entering his third year, is known for his touchdown celebrations, including The Nae Nae, The Shmoney Dance, The Bow and Arrow and even one that honors WWE wrestler Ric Flair.

“I do have some fun when I do get in the end zone,” Kelce said. “That’s for sure.”

One of the NFL’s most prolific celebrators is no fan of the restrictions.

“I really don’t agree with half of them,” Kelce said. “You got to abide by ’em … whether you like them or you don’t.”

Prior to Kelce, several players engaged in memorable celebrations that would be penalized today.

Chad Johnson performed CPR on a football and used an end zone pylon as a putter. Steve Smith pantomimed rowing a boat.

“When I was younger, I was big fan of Ochocinco and T.O. and Steve Smith and all the guys,” said Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans.

Evans, who scored 12 touchdowns during his rookie year, wishes he could celebrate in a way that reflects on his impressive prep basketball career, which led to numerous scholarship offers from Division-I schools.

“I wanna be able to dunk the ball,” Evans said.

Before the 2014 season, however, the NFL said dunking over the crossbar — something Saints wide receiver Jimmy Graham did regularly — would result in the 15-yard penalty.

This change to the rule by the NFL competition committee, though, made some sense. In previous instances dunking over the goalpost bent it, causing a delay in the game while it was reset.

The Odell Beckham Jr. Penalty

Making less sense is what happened to Beckham.

The rookie receiver was penalized 15 yards after he spun the ball and danced behind it following a first-quarter touchdown — his 10th score of the season — against the Rams in late December.

“I don’t think spinning the ball in front of myself is taunting anybody,” Beckham said. “That wasn’t directed to anybody. I spun the ball in front of me. I don’t think it was even past my feet.

“I didn’t quite understand the penalty.”

And neither do I.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

 

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5 college reunions that could happen in the NFL Draft

1) Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota

I imagine the Roseman/Kelly saga involved a conversation like this:

Roseman: Chip, where are the results?

Kelly: I just need the right guys! I told you, I need Oregon guys in the draft, and what do you give me?

Roseman: I did! I drafted Josh Huff and Taylor

1) Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota

I imagine the Roseman/Kelly saga involved a conversation like this:

Roseman: Chip, where are the results?

Kelly: I just need the right guys! I told you, I need Oregon guys in the draft, and what do you give me?

Roseman: I did! I drafted Josh Huff and Taylor Hart!

Kelly: Yeah, no. I meant ALL Oregon guys. Give them all to me. They’re the only ones who truly understand me. Just let me do it next year.

This is the obvious one getting all the press, but Kelly’s love for Mariota (and many of his former players at Oregon) is well documented. With the 20th pick, it’s definitely a long-shot, but if Kelly isn’t sold on his current personnel, some of those pieces would be very attractive to some of the Top 5 teams. I’m looking at you Jags (McCoy?) and Titans (Foles?). Throw in a 3rd or a 4th, and it’s a deal. I don’t even like the Eagles, but it would be awesome to see Kelly’s offense take even 80% of the form it had in Oregon.

2) Teddy Bridgewater and DeVante Parker

If you put 2013 Bridgewater with 2014 Parker (who put up comparable numbers to his 2013 stats in half the games), I think Louisville has a better run than they did. Still, they were impressive together. Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman has already talked with Parker, and despite saying Bridgewater has nothing to do with it, it has to be tempting.

Look at these highlights. They’re like one singular mind, always knowing exactly where to place and find the ball.

3) Blake Bortles and Breshad Perriman

This would be a tough one to pull off. It would be insane to take him with the third pick with the other needs in Jacksonville (RB, OT, CB, etc..) and he might not last until the second round, but Perriman was Bortles favorite deep ball target at UCF. A trade down, or a trade back into the mid-to-late first might be worth it.

4) Teddy Bridgewater and Amari Cooper

This reunion is less talked about that Parker/Bridgewater, but the one that makes more sense for the Vikings. They played together at Miami Northwestern. Cooper is almost “uncoverable” in medium routes, an area where the Vikings were lacking in 2014. Parker is more of a deep threat. It comes down to whether Minnesota is convinced that Jarius Wright and/or Charles Johnson can become the primary long-ball target.

5) Jeremy Hill and Connor Neighbors

This is my sleeper pick. Hill had an impressive rookie year in Cincinnati averaging 5.1 yards per carry behind a sub-par line. The fullback is a dying breed in the NFL, and one I’d love to see resurrected. Watch this (at :46) or any number of Hill’s LSU highlights, and you’ll see Neighbors frequently paving the way. He’ll be available in the 6th or 7th round, so what have you got to lose?

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler

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2015 Contract Restructure Possibilities

Contract restructurings are standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with tight salary cap situations use restructures to create cap room to get under the cap, which all teams must be for the beginning of the 2015 league year on March 10. Restructures are important for some other teams because cap space can be freed

Contract restructurings are standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with tight salary cap situations use restructures to create cap room to get under the cap, which all teams must be for the beginning of the 2015 league year on March 10. Restructures are important for some other teams because cap space can be freed up to target players in free agency.

A contract restructuring is different from a pay cut. In a typical restructuring, a player will convert some portion of his base salary or roster bonus (without reducing salary) into signing bonus because it can be prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract (most other salary components usually can’t be prorated) for a maximum of five years.

The team gets a lower cap number in the current season while the player gains more short-term security and potentially a better payment schedule for the current year of his contract. The player’s cap numbers in the remaining contract years also increase, which can make him more susceptible to becoming a cap casualty in the future.

A relatively new phenomenon is for teams to take away the player’s option to refuse restructuring his contract. Cap flexibility has started being built into contracts, especially the most lucrative ones, with teams having the ability to automatically create cap room at any time during a deal with a discretionary right to convert a portion of a player’s base salary or roster bonus into signing bonus. The Chicago Bears exercised this right with Jay Cutler in 2014, which was necessary to sign Jared Allen. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before $5 million of his base salary was converted into signing bonus to lower his cap number to $18.5 million.

Players can restructure their contracts at any time, including multiple times in the same season. Chris Snee restructured his contract with the New York Giants twice in 2013. There isn’t a limitation on how many consecutive years a player can restructure his contract. Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 cap number has increased from $12.1 million to $18.395 million because he restructured his deal for three straight years (2011-2013) to help the Pittsburgh Steelers with cap problems.

Here’s a look at several players, with their 2015 cap numbers, that could be candidates to restructure their contracts. New Orleans Saints players were treated collectively because of the team’s salary cap situation. References to the 2015 salary cap room a team has assume the 2015 salary cap will be set at $142 million.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are approximately $23.3 million over the 2015 salary cap. Restructuring the contracts of safety Jairus Byrd ($10.3 million 2015 cap number), outside linebacker Junior Galette ($15.45 million cap number), tight end Jimmy Graham ($11 million cap number) and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton ($9.25 million cap number) could wipe out the overage. $23,426,666 of cap room can be gained by converting a significant portion of their salaries into signing bonus.

Byrd has the NFL’s highest 2015 cap number for a safety. The Saints can free up $5.6 million of cap room by turning $1 million of Byrd’s $2 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $6 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus. $10 million of cap room will be created by converting Galette’s fully guaranteed $12.5 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus.

Graham has the NFL’s only 2015 cap number for a tight end over $10 million. A maximum of $4,826,666 of cap room can be gained through a salary conversion with Graham’s four-year, $40 million contract, which makes him the NFL’s highest paid tight end, if his $100,000 workout bonus is left intact. Lofton’s cap number would drop to $6.25 million by turning his $4.5 million first day of the league year roster bonus (March 10) into signing bonus.

Tony Romo (QB)-Dallas Cowboys: $27.773 Million

It’s hard to believe Jerry Jones will practice the fiscal restraint he’s preaching now that he has a legitimate chance to finally win a Super Bowl without Jimmy Johnson’s fingerprints on it. History suggests that Jones will create $12.8 million of cap room can by converting $16 million of Romo’s $17 million base salary into signing bonus in order to keep the team largely intact since there may not be an extended championship window with him as quarterback. Although Romo, whose contract runs through the 2019 season, arguably had the best season of his career in 2014, he will be 35 years old in April and has had back surgery in each of the last two seasons. Romo’s league high cap number would drop to $14.973 million through such a salary conversion.

J.J. Watt (WR)-Houston Texans: $21.969 Million

The Texans would have plenty of salary cap flexibility by turning $9.2 million of Watt’s $9.969 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $10 million 15th day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 24) into signing bonus. $15.36 million of cap space would be freed up, which would put the Texans almost $26 million under the cap. Watt’s would still have manageable 2016 and 2017 cap numbers of $16.34 million for those years considering he signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension last September.

Peyton Manning (QB)-Denver Broncos: $21.5 Million

Although the Broncos have $26 million in cap space, it will be difficult for the Broncos to keep most of their five offensive and three defensive starters set to become unrestricted free agents on March 10 while upgrading the offensive line, especially if nearly half of this room is allocated to a franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

General manager and executive vice-president of football operations John Elway would probably prefer for Manning to cut his scheduled $19 million salary now that he has informed the team he is physically and mentally prepared to play the 2015 season. The Broncos don’t have the leverage for a salary reduction. Manning should be amendable to restructuring his contract considering he did it twice while with the Colts. This would be a departure from Denver’s recent practices. The Broncos haven’t done any simple contract restructures for cap purposes during Manning’s three years with the team.

Denver can create $9.015 million in 2015 cap space if Manning’s entire 2015 salary except for his $970,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Manning’s 2015 cap number would drop to $12.485 million but his 2016 cap number would balloon to $30.515 million.

The Broncos might prefer a less extreme restructure. $5 million of cap room could be created by converting $10 million of Manning’s $19 million base salary to signing bonus. His 2015 cap number would drop to $16.5 million and his 2016 cap number would become $26.5 million. The Broncos would have $10 million of dead money, which is a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster, in 2016 under this scenario if Manning called it quits after the 2015 season.

Calvin Johnson (WR)-Detroit Lions: $20.558 Million

Restructuring Johnson’s contract could be likely if the Lions franchise defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his $22,412,500 2014 cap number. The Lions can’t currently accommodate such a large cap figure with slightly under $17 million of cap space. Most of the deficit can be wiped out by turning all of Johnson’s $12.5 million 2015 salary except for his $870,000 league minimum into signing bonus. $9.304 million of cap room would be created. Another season with nagging injuries in 2015 could lead to Johnson’s departure next year because his 2016 cap number would go from $24.008 million to $26.334 million with this maneuver.

Charles Johnson (DE)-Carolina Panthers: $20.02 Million

Being almost $13 million under the cap puts the Panthers in their best position financially since Dave Gettleman became general manager in January 2013. The Panthers won’t be “shopping at the dollar store” in free agency but restructuring the six-year, $76 million contract Johnson signed in 2011 for a third straight year may be necessary to buy at Nordstrom. Because more than half of Johnson’s cap number is bonus proration, a maximum of $4.44 million in cap space can be gained unless Gettleman is willing to add up to three voidable years to help with the bonus proration and create additional cap room. He has put voidable years in contracts before when doing restructures.

Alex Smith (QB)-Kansas City Chiefs: $15.6 Million

There’s a faction of Chiefs fans that would love to see the team part ways with Alex Smith. He isn’t going anywhere for awhile. $11 million of his $11.9 million 2015 base salary was fully guaranteed when he signed his four-year, $68 million contract extension last August. The remaining $900,000 of his 2015 base salary and his entire $14.1 million 2016 base salary are fully guaranteed on the third day of the upcoming league year (March 12).

The Chiefs have right around $4.1 million of cap space after releasing wide receivers Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. More work needs to be done to accommodate restricted free agent tenders and Justin Houston’s expected franchise tag (approximately $13 million). $8.175 million of cap room can be created by converting $10.9 million of Smith’s $11.9 million 2015 base salary into signing bonus.

Colin Kaepernick (QB)-San Francisco 49ers: $15,265,753

The 49ers have slightly over $3.3 million of cap space. The 49ers will need more cap room if keeping a majority of the team’s 15 impending unrestricted free agent is a part of the plan. Kaepernick has the highest 2015 cap number on the team. The 49ers can create $7.724 million in 2015 cap space if Kaepernick’s entire 2015 salary except for his $745,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Kaepernick’s 2015 cap number would drop to $7,541,753. His 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers would each increase by $1.931 million under this scenario.

Richard Sherman (CB)-Seattle Seahawks: $12.2 Million

Extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner shouldn’t take up a majority of Seattle’s almost $19 million of cap space, which factors in restricted free agent tenders. A cushion can be created by lowering Sherman’s $10 million 2015 base salary to $750,000 through a salary conversion. $6,937,500 of cap room can be generated by this move.

LeSean McCoy (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.95 Million

McCoy is willing to restructure his contract if approached by the Eagles but isn’t interested in cutting his $10.25 million 2015 salary. His numbers are large for a running back. Adrian Peterson is the only other ball carrier with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Minnesota Vikings running back has a $15.4 million cap number and is scheduled to make $13 million. Since the Eagles have almost $19 million in cap space and have other options for additional cap room, like Trent Cole, it may not be necessary to adjust McCoy’s contract. $6 million of cap room can be created by converting $9 million of McCoy’s $9.75 million base salary into signing bonus. His 2016 cap number would go from $8.85 million to $11.85 million.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Are players better off under the new franchise tag methodology?

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of its impending free agents with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a two week window beginning on February 16. The designation period ends on March 2.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changed how non-exclusive franchise tags are determined. Since its

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of its impending free agents with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a two week window beginning on February 16. The designation period ends on March 2.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changed how non-exclusive franchise tags are determined. Since its inception in 1993, a franchise tag number had been an average of the five largest salaries in the prior year at a player’s position or 120% of the prior year’s salary of the player, whichever was greater. For franchise tag purposes, salary means a player’s salary cap number, excluding workout bonuses.

The 120 percent and five largest salaries provisions remain intact but the formula component is now calculated over a five year period that’s tied to a percentage of the overall salary cap. More specifically, the number for each position is determined by taking the sum of the non-exclusive franchise tags for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the salary caps for the previous five seasons (an average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps are used for the uncapped 2010 season in the calculations). The resulting percentage is then multiplied by the actual salary cap for the upcoming league year.

This non-exclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other NFL teams but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first round picks as compensation from the signing team.

Under the exclusive franchise tag, a player will receive a one year offer from his team that is the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free agent signing period of the current year has ended (April 24 for 2015) or 120 percent of his prior year’s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Teams also have the option to use a transition tag instead of a franchise tag. The transition tag operates similarly to the non-exclusive franchise tag, except it is based on the average of the top ten salaries at a player’s position. Teams have the same matching rights as with franchise tags but do not receive any draft choice compensation. The transition tag had essentially become obsolete. It made a comeback last year with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers becoming the first teams to use it since 2008.

It’s almost a certainty that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston and Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be franchised if they don’t sign new deals with their respective clubs before the end of the designation period. The Detroit Lions haven’t ruled out franchising defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Since Suh’s number is same whether it’s the exclusive or non-exclusive version, the Lions would probably opt for the exclusive version to prevent him from negotiating with other teams. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are other non-exclusive franchise tag possibilities.

The franchise tenders can’t be finalized until the 2015 salary cap is set in late February or early March. NFL teams were informed at a league meeting on December 9 that the 2015 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. The actual salary cap in 2014 was 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. The expectation is for the salary cap to once again exceed initial projections.

CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora was the first to report the expected salary cap percentages each franchise tag last October. I have independently verified that his figures are correct. The chart below contains the non-exclusive franchise numbers if the 2015 salary cap is $142 million and their percentage of cap. For comparison purposes, I have also included what the franchise tenders would have been for 2015 under the old method of calculation.

2015 2015 2015 Projected vs. Old
Position Salary Cap % Projected Old Method % Difference
Cornerback 9.125% $12,958,000 $10,620,000 22%
Defensive End 10.339% $14,681,000 $13,177,000 11.4%
Defensive Tackle 7.812% $11,093,000 $14,943,000 -25.8%
Linebacker 9.209% $13,077,000 $10,967,000 19.2%
Offensive Line 9.034% $12,828,000 $11,174,000 14.8%
Punter/Kicker 2.88% $4,089,000 $3,850,000 6.2%
Quarterback 12.942% $18,378,000 $18,611,000 -1.3%
Running Back 7.643% $10,853,000 $9,483,000 14.4%
Safety 6.713% $9,532,000 $9,484,000 0.5%
Tight End 5.825% $8,272,000 $7,468,000 10.8%
Wide Receiver 8.949% $12,708,000 $14,147,000 -10.2%
Note: Projections assume 2015 salary cap is $142 million.

 

The NFLPA is gaining a small measure of vindication in 2015 for the criticism received for agreeing to change the calculation of the non-exclusive franchise designations. Franchise players are going to be better off with the new methodology than under old methodology for the first time since the change was implemented. The franchise tag numbers will be 3.67 percent higher collectively under the new formula with a $142 million 2015 salary cap.

A record twenty-one players were franchised in 2012, including six kickers and punters, in the first year of with the new method of calculation when there was almost a 20 percent drop in the franchise tags from 2011. The franchise numbers were approximately 18 percent higher collectively under the old formula in both 2012 and 2013. The difference dropped to 2.18 percent in 2014 because of the significant increase in the salary cap.

Defensive tackle, quarterback and wide receiver are the only positions that would be better off with the old method of calculation. The discrepancy in the defensive tackle number under the two methodologies is due to Suh and Gerald McCoy having the NFL’s largest cap numbers in 2014. McCoy’s cap number increased to over $21 million when he signed a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives) last October to become the NFL’s highest paid interior defensive lineman.

There was greater year-to-year variance with franchise tag numbers with the system under the previous CBAs. For example, the wide receiver number would have gone from $11.826 million in 2013 to $9.731 million in 2014 to $14.147 million for 2015 with the old methodology. None of the franchise tags numbers at the eleven different positions have decreased in a year under the new method of calculation after the initial rollback in 2012.

The good thing for players is franchise tag numbers being higher under the new methodology than with the old methodology should continue as long as there is at least modest salary cap growth annually. Most players aren’t happy when given a franchise player designation because it hinders their ability to gain long term security. The tag is essentially a high salaried one-year “prove it” deal where players incur the risk of serious injury and poor performance again after already playing out their contracts. There may be fewer players dealing with franchise tags in the future because teams should become more judicious in using the designation as it gets more cost prohibitive.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Why does Marshawn Lynch hate speaking to the media?

I’m just here so I won’t get fined.

Nothing drew more attention during the Super Bowl week media sessions than that declaration, which Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch repeated 29 times during his obligatory press conference.

Why does Lynch go to such efforts to avoid answering questions from the media?

“I don’t think he likes

I’m just here so I won’t get fined.

Nothing drew more attention during the Super Bowl week media sessions than that declaration, which Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch repeated 29 times during his obligatory press conference.

Why does Lynch go to such efforts to avoid answering questions from the media?

“I don’t think he likes to deal with the phoniness,” Michael Robinson, Lynch’s former teammate with the Seahawks, told NFP.

During their four-plus years together with Seattle, Robinson became so close to Lynch that he served as his unofficial spokesman and still refers to him as a “brother.”

Robinson made the point that Lynch feels the media too often dwells on negative stories and also that he feels his play on the field should speak for itself and not require further explanation.

If someone did want to glean more from Lynch about him as a person and player, Robinson said the best tactic is to go to one of Lynch’s community service events — especially those involving the Fam 1st Family Foundation — about which the running back is passionate.

Show real interest in that, and he would open up.

“If more media would come into his world during the offseason — and not only when they’re looking for a DUI story or something crazy like that,” Robinson said, “they’d get a lot more out of him.”

Instead, Lynch’s standoffish dealings with the media stand out drastically from those of the other most recognizable Seahawks — very polished quarterback Russell Wilson and very loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman.

Lynch conducts himself much differently.

“He marches by the beat of his own drum,” Robinson said.

Lynch’s bizarre behavior with the media reached its apex during the week of Super Bowl XLIX. His “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” comment became embedded in pop culture with everyone from Katy Perry to Tiger Woods facetiously repeating it in public.

Such sideshows may have been prevented if Robinson, his backfield mate who similarly overcame a rough upbringing, was still on the team.

Robinson, who last played for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl-winning 2013 season and now works for NFL Media, had his locker next to Lynch.

“I was able to diffuse some situations just because I understood where he was coming from, and we were able to get some quotes out of him during the week,” Robinson said. “He knows that I understand him. There were times where they’re asking questions, and I could tell it’s a little awkward moment and I would jump in and answer it.”

Some have theorized that the awkward open locker room sessions and press conferences could be a result of a social anxiety disorder, something that plagues more athletes than is commonly depicted. (Think Ricky Williams delivering interviews with his helmet on during his early days with the Saints.)

But Robinson insisted that Lynch does not suffer from an anxiety disorder.

“That’s not Marshawn,” he said. “If you go back to his Buffalo days before people viewed him in the light of ‘this great running back,’ he did interviews all the time.”

Riding that great running back, the Seahawks returned to the Super Bowl this season but lost on an infamous goal-line play.

Instead of running the ball to Lynch, who had rushed for 102 yards, Seattle attempted to throw a slant pass to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, which Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler picked off.

Some called it the worst the play-call in NFL history. Other conspiracy theorists even suggested that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wanted to make the mediagenic Wilson the hero rather than the enigmatic Lynch.

Is Lynch peeved that he did not receive that last carry? Does he hold a grudge?

“I have not specifically asked him about the play — and if I did — I probably wouldn’t tell you anyway,” Robinson said, laughing. “But again, I know where this guy’s from. I’m from a similar area. You talk about a guy who’s dealt with best friends dying, best friends being locked up for life, fathers not being around. I mean real life stuff, heavy. Not winning football games is kind of down on the list — as opposed to being at the top.”

Though Lynch keeps the significance of football in proper perspective, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks returning to the NFL’s most important stage next year without him.

But with just one year at $7 million left on his deal, rumors have swirled that he might hold out — or even retire.

Lynch takes a pounding. His violent style is so aggressive that it has been dubbed “Beast Mode.”

And many have suggested that, even though the 28 year old is coming off a season in which he ran for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns, he won’t subject himself to another year of such physical punishment.

Robinson hopes and believes he will continue playing.

“If I was a betting man — which I’m not,” he said, “I would bet on him playing next year for Seattle.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

 

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Top 2015 pay cut candidates

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates.

Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams

Bradford is one of the last

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates.

Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams

Bradford is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving mega-deals prior to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement creating a rookie wage scale. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees.

Bradford’s future with Rams seemed in doubt because he missed the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in row until head coach he was consulted on Frank Gignetti’s promotion from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. This suggests that Bradford will open the 2015 regular season as the Rams’ starting quarterback barring injury or a terrible pre-season. It also gives Bradford some leverage in discussions about reducing his $12.985 million ($16.58 million cap number).

Larry Fitzgerald (WR)-Arizona Cardinals

The signs have been pointing to off-season pay cut discussions with Fitzgerald for quite awhile. Fitzgerald making $16.25 million on a $23.6 million cap number in 2015 isn’t feasible with the Cardinals having over slightly $151 million of 2015 cap obligations. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who signed a seven-year, $113 million contract extension in 2011, has the NFL’s fourth highest 2015 salary cap number.

The situation needs to be before resolved Fitzgerald’s $8 million 2015 roster bonus is payable on the fifth day of the league year (March 14). Although it is ownership’s preference for Fitzgerald to play his entire career with the Cardinals, his performance no longer warrants him being paid like an elite wide receiver. Fitzgerald hasn’t had a 1,000 receiving yards season since 2011. He seemed to be a lock for hitting the mark before he was hindered by a knee sprain and injuries at quarterback.

A trade market for Fitzgerald will be somewhat limited because a team must have enough cap room to absorb his $16.25 million salary in order to acquire him. Only after a trade is completed would the acquiring team be able to restructure Fitzgerald’s contract to decrease his cap number. The Cardinals will pick up $9.2 million of cap room with a trade, which is the same amount of cap space that would be created if the team released him.

Tamba Hali (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs

Hali has expressed a willingness to take a pay cut if it would help re-sign 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston to a long term deal. The Chiefs will use their franchise tag on Houston if a new deal isn’t in place before the March 2 designation deadline. The linebacker franchise tag number will be $13.077 million with a $142 million 2015 salary cap. Some contract maneuvering will be required to fit Houston’s franchise tag under the cap. The Chiefs have less than $1 million of cap room assuming the cap is set at $142 million.

Hali, who is entering the final year of a five-year, $57.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $60 million through salary escalators), has a $9 million salary in 2015, with an $11,964,705 cap number. $2 million of Hali’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Any reduction to his salary would need to take place before he receives the roster bonus.

The 31 year old might balk at too steep of a pay cut. It’s conceivable that Hali could make more than his scheduled $9 million in 2015 as a free agent given the market for older pass rushers picked up last year. DeMarcus Ware made $13 million last season in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal he received from the Denver Broncos after refusing the Dallas Cowboys’ attempts to cut his $12.975 million 2014 salary. He got a $250,000 raise for 2014 in his new deal despite coming off a 2013 season where he had career low six sacks while dealing with elbow, quadriceps and back injuries.

Julius Peppers quickly landed a three-year, $26 million deal (with $7.5 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators) from the Green Bay Packers once the Chicago Bears released him. He was 34 years old when he signed with Green Bay and made $8.5 million in 2014.

$9 million of cap room will be freed up by releasing Hali. 2014 first round pick Dee Ford would need to step up after playing sparingly as a rookie. Hali had 91.8 percent defensive playtime (975 of 1,062 snaps) in 2014 while Ford only received 11.5 percent playtime (122 of 1,062 snaps).

Percy Harvin (WR)-New York Jets

Harvin was acquired in trade with the Seattle Seahawks last October. The Jets owe the Seahawks their 2015 fourth round pick if Harvin on the roster on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Seattle gets the team’s sixth round pick if he is released prior to this date.

This doesn’t leave the new regime of general manager Mike Maccagnan, who came to the Jets from the Houston Texans, and head coach Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, a lot of time to figure out whether Harvin fits into their plans. Harvin, who is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2015, said during the 2014 season that he would like to remain with the Jets but isn’t interested in taking a pay cut.

The Jets have the leverage to ask Harvin to reduce his salary. He’s unlikely to find another team willing to pay him anything close to $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract as a free agent after wearing out his welcome with the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. There could be a glut of wide receivers on the open market because several pass catchers currently under contract could hit the streets (Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, etc.). There also aren’t any negative cap consequences for the Jets with releasing Harvin. His entire $10.5 million cap number comes off the book if he is let go.

Adrian Peterson (RB)-Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are presenting a united front about welcoming back Peterson once he’s eligible for reinstatement from his suspension on April 15. Peterson is seeking immediate reinstatement through an NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL. Arguments were heard by U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty on February 6. There isn’t a set timetable for Doty to make a ruling.

Peterson, who turns 30 next month, said he didn’t think a pay cut was warranted in an interview with ESPN towards the end of the 2014 regular season. The six-year, $85.28 million contract extension (with a 2017 base salary escalator worth up to $4 million) Peterson signed in 2011 is an outlier in running back marketplace. He is the NFL’s only $10 million per year running back.

The 2012 NFL MVP’s $13 million salary and $15.4 million cap number for the 2015 season are the highest among running backs. LeSean McCoy is the only other running back with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Philadelphia Eagles running back has an $11.95 million cap number and is scheduled to make $10.25 million.

Peterson has also wondered whether a clean slate with a new team might be best. His salary makes a trade unlikely, which suggests that he may be more receptive to playing for less with another team after his reinstatement. The Vikings would pick up of $13 million of cap room by releasing or trading Peterson. There’s already a lot of speculation that he’ll replace impending free agent DeMarco Murray in the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield since he has expressed an interest in playing for the team before he retires.

Others: Dwayne Bowe (WR)-Kansas City Chiefs: $14 million cap number/$11 million salary; Brandon Carr (CB)-Dallas Cowboys: $12.717 million cap number/$8 million salary; Trent Cole (OLB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.625 million cap number/$10.025 million salary; Marques Colston (WR)-New Orleans Saints: $9.7 million cap number/$7 million salary; Andre Johnson (WR)-Houston Texans: $16,144,585 cap number/$11.5 million salary; Jerod Mayo (ILB)-New England Patriots: $10,287,500 cap number/$7 million salary; Lardarius Webb (CB)-Baltimore Ravens: $12 million cap number/$8 million salary

Follow me on twitter:  @corryjoel

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What if the Seahawks had kept Golden Tate?

Approached at his locker late in December, former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate took the high road.

“I’m very happy and thankful with the decision I made to come be a Lion,” Tate told NFP. “I’m not having any regrets or looking back.”

The Seahawks, though, may regret not re-upping Tate, who

Approached at his locker late in December, former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate took the high road.

“I’m very happy and thankful with the decision I made to come be a Lion,” Tate told NFP. “I’m not having any regrets or looking back.”

The Seahawks, though, may regret not re-upping Tate, who signed with the Lions for five years and $31 million during the 2014 offseason.

A major reason the Seahawks did not match that was because they had signed wide receiver Percy Harvin to a five-year, $64.2 million contract extension on March 13, 2013 after acquiring him from the Vikings.

Seattle lost Super Bowl XLIX because of a poor play call when it had the ball at the New England one-yard-line at the end of the game. Seattle lost the game because it allowed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to throw for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

But if Tate was still on the team, perhaps quarterback Russell Wilson throws for more than 247 yards, including just 84 in the first half. Perhaps the Seahawks score more than 24 points. Perhaps Richardo Lockette, the intended receiver on the goal-line interception, is on the bench, and Tate makes the touchdown grab.

Seattle’s biggest coaching gaffe — and one of the poorer play calls of all time — was having Wilson throw a slant pass from the one instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

But Seattle’s biggest personnel gaffe was signing Harvin to an extension instead of Tate.

Harvin’s presence reportedly divided the locker room, forcing Seattle to trade him to the Jets during Week 7 of this year. He played in just six regular-season games over the course of two seasons for the Seahawks.

Without Harvin or Tate, the Seahawks were left with a major void at receiver. During the regular season, Seattle’s leading receiver, Doug Baldwin, ranked 42nd in the league in yardage (825 yards) and receptions (66).

Though he played in a more wide-open offense with the Lions than Baldwin did with the Seahawks, Tate finished seventh in the NFL in yards (1,331) and sixth in catches (99).

And that’s not just a byproduct of lining up opposite Calvin Johnson. Megatron, who had fewer catches (71) and yards (1,077) than Tate, missed three games this year with an ankle injury.

“(Tate has) certainly been able to add some spark,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell told NFP in December, “in particular when Calvin was hurt.”

Whether or not Johnson was in the lineup, the Lions moved Tate all over the formation, including in the left and right slot and as the outside receiver.

All season long he demonstrated his deft blocking skills, competitiveness, ball skills and a catch radius that belies his 5-11 height.

Tate set career highs in yards, receptions and touchdowns — far exceeding his production with the Seahawks.

But he did not exceed the Lions’ expectations for him.

“We knew what we were getting in terms of a talented individual,” Caldwell said. “We knew exactly what he was capable of doing, even though his first few years in the league, maybe perhaps he didn’t catch the ball as much as he’s caught it for us. We certainly knew he had the potential to be exactly who he is.”

Caldwell was aware of that potential when Tate entered the league. While serving as head coach of the Colts, Caldwell worked under general manager Bill Polian, whose son, Brian, was the special teams coordinator at Notre Dame.

As a result, Bill Polian visited Notre Dame even more frequently than other college venues and scouted Fighting Irish receiver Golden Tate very extensively.

“He was probably one of the guys I heard more about as a collegiate player than anyone,” Caldwell said.

Tate’s former team, the Seahawks, could target a wide receiver in the 2015 Draft.

They ranked 27th in the league in passing yardage, and their No. 2 wide receiver, Jermaine Kearse, had just 38 catches for 537 yards and a touchdown, though he did make a fantastic juggling catch to put the ball at the New England one-yard-line at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.

Chris Matthews, who didn’t have a catch in his career before the Super Bowl, had four for 109 yards on the biggest stage.

Last year the Seahawks selected Paul Richardson in the second round, but the 175-pound target had just 29 catches for 271 yards before tearing his ACL during the divisional playoff game against the Panthers. Kevin Norwood, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft, had nine catches for 102 yards on the season.

The player, whose production they were trying to replace, remains content with how his career is unfolding in Detroit.

“I was just happy I was given the chance to become the player that I kind of always envisioned,” Tate said.

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

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Predicting the 2015 Hall of Fame class

The 46-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists, two Contributor candidates and one Seniors' Committee nominee in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 18 candidates before a vote is taken on the Seniors

The 46-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists, two Contributor candidates and one Seniors’ Committee nominee in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 18 candidates before a vote is taken on the Seniors nominee and the Contributor candidates. Next, the 15 modern era finalist are reduced to 10. Another cut is made to the final five candidates. Each of the final five are voted on individually.

A minimum of 80% of the vote is required in order to be enshrined. A Hall of Fame class must consist of at least four members with a maximum of eight inductees. The 2015 class will be announced later that evening during the NFL Honors show.

Five modern era candidates will likely be a part of this year’s class. 2007 was the last time one of the final five (Paul Tagliabue) was not elected. Here’s my prediction of the 2015 Hall of Fame class.

First Year Eligible Candidates

Orlando Pace (OT)-Chicago Bears/St. Louis Rams
Pace was named first team All-NFL five times and a seven-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons. Pace compares favorably to Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, who were selected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014 respectively during their first year of eligibility. He is a second team tackle behind them on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. Recent selection trends favor offensive lineman. An offensive lineman has been elected to the Hall of Fame in eight of the last nine years. Pace’s stiffest offensive line competition comes from three-time finalist Will Shields.

SeauiconSeau was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection

Junior Seau (LB)-Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots/San Diego Chargers
Seau received All-NFL honors ten times and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection (all consecutively) in 20 NFL seasons. His 268 games played are second in NFL history among linebackers. Seau doesn’t have eye-popping raw numbers with 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions but was the pre-eminent sideline-to-sideline linebacker of his generation. The 1990s All-Decade selection was the driving force behind the San Diego Chargers’ Super Bowl XXIX appearance, the only one in franchise history.

Kurt Warner (QB)-Arizona Cardinals/New York Giants/St. Louis Rams
Warner wouldn’t get my vote this year if I were on the selection committee. It would probably go twelve-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Will Shields instead. There hasn’t been a quarterback enshrined since 2006 when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were inducted. Warner was a two-time first team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler in 12 NFL seasons. He came out obscurity in 1999 after Trent Green tore his ACL in the pre-season to guide the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and earn Super Bowl MVP honors with a record 414 passing yards to cap off his MVP season. Warner was also regular season MVP in 2001. As the leader of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams topped the 500 point mark in three straight seasons (1999 through 2001), which is the only time the feat has been accomplished by a franchise in the NFL, and set a record for total offense with 7,075 yards in 2000. Warner doesn’t have the sustained excellence of other Hall of Fame quarterbacks because of a mid-career slump from 2002 to 2006 where he threw more interceptions (30) than touchdowns passes (27) and had an 8-22 record as a starter. He rebounded by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XLIII during the latter stages of his career. History is on Warner’s side because every multiple MVP winner has been a first ballot Hall of Famer. If Warner doesn’t make it on the first try, he may have to wait until 2017 at the earliest because Brett Favre is eligible for induction in 2016.

Returning Finalists

Marvin Harrison (WR)-Indianapolis Colts
It was surprising Harrison wasn’t the sixth wide receiver to become a first ballot Hall of Famer. The selection committee isn’t supposed to consider off the field issues, which may have been a factor in Harrison’s candidacy stalling after the reduction to 10. He was a person of interest in a 2008 Philadelphia shooting involving a gun owned by him. Harrison was named first team All-NFL six times and elected to eight Pro Bowls during his 13 year NFL career. He was a first team wide receiver with Randy Moss on the 2000s All-Decade team. Harrison ranks third in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, seventh with 14,580 receiving yards and fifth with 128 receiving touchdowns. He set the NFL single season record for receptions in 2002 with 143. The next closest single season total is Antonio Brown’s 129 receptions in 2014. Harrison was the first NFL player to have three consecutive 1,500 receiving yard seasons. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Harrison faces competition from Tim Brown, a five-time finalist. Unlike Harrison, Brown wasn’t named first team All-Decade. If Brown gets the nod instead of him, it could be a case of the committee deciding it is Brown’s time considering he wasn’t among the final 10 last year like Harrison was.

Charles Haley (DE/LB)-Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers
Haley is a finalist for the sixth straight year. He made the first cut of finalists in each of the last three years (2012-2014) without advancing to the final five. Haley was named All-Pro twice and to five Pro Bowls in his 13 year NFL career. He was the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994. Haley has 100.5 total sacks, with a season best 16 in 1990. His trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 swung the balance of power in the NFL. He added three Super Bowl rings after the trade to go along with the two rings he had already earned with the San Francisco 49ers. Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. His 4.5 sacks in Super Bowls are the most of any player. Haley was a difficult teammate and antagonized the media, which could be factors with the selection committee.

Seniors Committee Nominee/Contributor Candidates

Bill Polian (GM)-Buffalo Bills/Carolina Panthers/Indianapolis Colts
Polian was the architect of three successful franchises during his 32 year NFL career. He was named NFL Executive of the Year five times by the Pro Football Writers of America. Polian built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant (XXV-XXVIII). The expansion Carolina Panthers quickly found success by going to the NFC Championship in the 1996 season during the franchise’s second year of existence with him at the helm. He turned the Indianapolis Colts into the winningest team of the 2000s decade with a 115-45 regular season record. The Colts appeared in two Super Bowls under his direction. The Super Bowl XLI victory is the franchise’s only NFL championship since the 1970 season. Polian’s best personnel decision was taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. It’s hard to be now but there was a debate at the time over which player was the better NFL prospect. Polian’s recent flirtation with a return to the Bills as team president may jeopardize his Hall of Fame bid because of the perception that he may not be permanently retired.

Ron Wolf (Executive)-Green Bay Packers/Los Angeles & Oakland Raiders/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wolf spent 41 years in the NFL. Most notably, Wolf revived the Green Bay Packers. The franchise went to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI, during his tenure as general manager. He found his franchise quarterback by giving the Atlanta Falcons a 1992 first round pick for Brett Favre after his less than impressive rookie campaign as a seldom used backup. He proved the skeptics wrong by demonstrating that the small market Packers could be a viable destination for free agents when he landed Reggie White in 1993. Under Wolf’s guidance, the Packers had a 92-52 record in his nine seasons (1992-2000) with the club. Prior to his success in Green Bay, Wolf was a personnel executive with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders for 25 seasons in three separate tenures. While Wolf was owner Al Davis’ right hand man, the Raiders won two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII). The only blip on Wolf’s radar screen was his three-year stint as general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The franchise had an inauspicious start with 26 straight losses. However, 16 starters on Tampa Bay’s 1979 team that advanced to NFC Championship game after Wolf left were drafted by him. Wolf still has influence on the fates of NFL franchises. Five current general managers (John Dorsey-Kansas City Chiefs, Scot McCloughan-Washington Redskins, Reggie McKenzie-Raiders, John Schneider-Seattle Seahawks and Ted Thompson-Packers) are former Wolf employees.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

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To pass or run?

by Joshua K. Connelly, Head NFL Writer, The Sports Quotient

It is no secret that the NFL has evolved into a pass-first league over the past 30 years. When Dan Marino became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and added 48 touchdown passes for good measure

by Joshua K. Connelly, Head NFL Writer, The Sports Quotient

It is no secret that the NFL has evolved into a pass-first league over the past 30 years. When Dan Marino became the first quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and added 48 touchdown passes for good measure (obliterating George Blanda’s then-record 36), the true age of the passing offense was ushered in. Despite the constant increase in passing attempts, Marino’s single-season records stood for years. Peyton Manning finally broke the single-season touchdown record in 2004, 20 years after Marino set it. The single-season passing yards record lasted even longer — 27 years! — before falling to Drew Brees in 2011.

Despite the increased role of the quarterback over the past three decades, a common belief still exists among NFL fans and experts alike that strong defense and rush offense are more important when it comes to winning a championship. This idea stems from the early days of the NFL, when rushing the ball was far more common than passing. Even in the first five Super Bowls combined, rushing attempts outnumbered pass attempts 678 to 525. It was not until the 1980s that passing truly took off.

Now, getting to the Super Bowl is one thing, but once a team arrives in the host city and begins game preparation, is it more beneficial to run the ball or pass it? A definitive answer may not exist, but looking back at previous Super Bowls may provide insight that could at least get the ball rolling.

The popular belief that running the ball wins championships suggests that the NFL’s pass-first attitude is left at the door when it is time for the Super Bowl, but looking at the pass-rush splits in each Super Bowl suggests the opposite.

The trend of passing overtaking rushing — in the Super Bowl, at least — has been evident increasing since Super Bowl XVIII, back in 1983, with a brief exception in Super Bowl XXV (1990), where run and pass play calls were split directly in half. Beginning in 1991 and continuing to this day, not a single Super Bowl has seen more rush attempts than pass attempts. The fact that 23 consecutive Super Bowls have featured more pass plays than run plays is a testament to the evolution of the game. (Fun Fact: The last time the number of runs in a Super Bowl was more than the number of passes was Super Bowl XVII, after the 1982 season.)

The differential between pass plays and run plays throughout Super Bowl history has been extreme at points. More than 60% of offensive plays in Super Bowls VI through IX comprised rushes, while passing made up 70% of the offense in Super Bowls XLIV (2009) and XLV (2010). There have been limited occasions over the past 20 years where passes and rush attempts have been nearly equal. Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII saw 52/48 and 53/47 splits, respectively. Super Bowl XLI in 2006 was another instance where passing made up on 53% of the offensive play calling. The lowest margin between passes and rushes since 1990 came in Super Bowl XLVII, in 2012, when the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers combined to pass only 51% of the time.

All of this is intriguing, but it doesn’t answer the question: Can you still win the Super Bowl if you pass more than you run? So far, these stats have shown the combined offensive play calling of the two Super Bowl participants. What happens when you break the data apart and compare the winning teams to the losing teams?

Because more recent Super Bowl data is more helpful than that of 30 or 40 years ago, only the past 15 Super Bowls (1999 season and onward) will be taken into account when looking at pass-rush splits between Super-Bowl-winning teams and Super-Bowl-losing teams. As the graph above shows, only five Super Bowl Champions ran the ball more often than they passed: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2006 Indianapolis Colts and 2013 Seattle Seahawks. Of those five teams, none ran the ball more than 59% of the time in their respective games, and only one ran on more than 55% of its offensive snaps. The fact that two-thirds of the past 15 Super Bowl Champions passed more than they ran seems to dispel the idea that teams must have a strong run game in order to win an NFL title.

What about the losing teams? Again, looking at the past 15 Super Bowls, of the losing teams, none ran the ball more than they passed. The 1999 Tennessee Titans came the closest, rushing on 49% of their plays from scrimmage. The 2002 Oakland Raiders threw more often than any other Super Bowl loser of the past 15 years (on 82% of snaps).

It is true that, in some of these cases, this heavy favoring of the passing game came as a result of the losing team being down for a good part of the game, which would result in a higher percentage of pass attempts. However, eight of the past 15 Super Bowls were decided by one possession. A ninth was decided by two possessions, but only because of a late pick-six by the trailing team. The fact that the majority of these games have been so close sheds doubt on the idea that passing numbers were boosted by trailing teams. There are certainly instances of this happening — the 2000 New York Giants, 2002 Oakland Raiders and 2013 Denver Broncos — but the majority of losing teams were very much in their games until the end.

In addition, some of the losing teams — especially the 2009 Indianapolis Colts and 2011 New England Patriots — featured strong passing offenses with little to offer in the running game. Could this lack of a rushing presence have contributed to the teams’ Super Bowl losses? Definitely. However, because the NFL has become a pass-first league, using a run-first approach may not have done much for the losing teams anyway. They may simply have been outmatched regardless.

The problem that arises when comparing Super Bowl winners and losers in this way is the fact that this ongoing pass-first trend means almost all Super Bowl teams – at least in the past 15 years – pass more than they run. Of the past 30 Super Bowl participants, only five ran more often than they passed, a measly 17%. This realization is one of the reasons why these statistics are inconclusive, regardless of how interesting they may be.

In the end, it may not be possible to determine a Super Bowl winner ahead of time, just by looking at stats from previous games – especially when all Super Bowl teams pass as often as they do – but doing so can still provide insight into the NFL’s most-important game. When watching this Sunday’s game, keep an eye out for which team runs the ball more; which team passes from the get-go; and which team has to play catch-up. And remember that run-first offense does not automatically lead to victory, even in the Super Bowl.

Article and graphics both by Joshua K. Connelly,
Super Bowl pass-rush splits provided by Pro Football Reference

Visit thesportsquotient.com for more!

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Why Dave Toub deserves a head coaching job

After the Chiefs ended their season by defeating the Chargers 19-7, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt approached his special teams coordinator, Dave Toub.

“Don’t be going anywhere on me,” Colquitt told him.

His concern was understandable. Toub, who orchestrated the Bears’ record-breaking special teams and turned one of the worst special teams units

After the Chiefs ended their season by defeating the Chargers 19-7, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt approached his special teams coordinator, Dave Toub.

“Don’t be going anywhere on me,” Colquitt told him.

His concern was understandable. Toub, who orchestrated the Bears’ record-breaking special teams and turned one of the worst special teams units into one of the best with the Chiefs, should be a desirable head coaching candidate.

“He would be phenomenal,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

With almost all of the head coaching vacancies filled, however, his ascendance to that position seems very unlikely this year.

Rumors floated that the Bears were going to hire Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard, a scout with connections to both Chicago and Kansas City, as general manager and that Ballard would choose Toub as head coach. The Bears ended up hiring Ryan Pace as GM, who subsequently picked John Fox.

A likely reason Toub, 52, was not more seriously considered for other openings is that a special teams coordinator is not perceived to be as significant a position or as adequate a preparation as offensive or defensive coordinator.

But John Harbaugh, one of the NFL’s best head coaches, served as an NFL special teams coordinator for nine years (and defensive backs coach for just one) before landing in Baltimore.

From 2001-03 Toub coached special teams under Harbaugh with Reid’s Eagles, and Reid made sure to bring Toub along when he came to Kansas City.

And Toub’s experience goes beyond special teams. Like with Harbaugh, while with the Eagles, he had defensive duties — serving as assistant defensive line coach.

Drafted in the ninth round of the 1986 NFL Draft by Philadelphia, the former offensive lineman coached defensive line at Missouri from 1989-2000 while also serving as a strength coach there and at UTEP.

After special teams practices — traditionally shorter than those of the rest of the team —Toub would carefully observe the other positions groups on the Bears.

“He spent his time wisely, learning the rest of the game and trying to learn as much as he could outside of special teams,” said Patrick Mannelly, the Bears’ long snapper under Toub from 2004-12.

But a special teams coordinator — in and of itself — actually provides unique training to run a team. They have to deal with more players and personalities than any other assistant. And because of the constant roster churn, they have to regularly deal with the position coaches and the pro personnel department.

“They make great head coaches because they’re coaching 44 guys pretty much on special teams,” Colquitt said, “so they have everybody’s ear.”

Colquitt and the rest of the Chiefs special teams experienced an immediate upgrade under Toub.

• In 2012, the year before Toub came to Kansas City, the Chiefs had no punt or kickoff returns for touchdowns — while allowing two — and ranked 24th in average kick return and next to last in kickoff return yardage allowed.

• In 2013 Toub came aboard and inserted Dexter McCluster as punt returner. As part of his only Pro Bowl season, McCluster returned two punts for touchdowns and tied or set new franchise records for punt return yards and punt return touchdowns in a season.

Led by new kickoff returner Quintin Demps, the Chiefs also had two kickoff returns for touchdowns and ranked first in kickoff return average.

• In 2014 McCluster and Demps were signed away as free agents, and Toub had to use two different players — De’Anthony Thomas on punts and Knile Davis on kicks — as the main returners.

Despite the roster turnover, the Chiefs ranked first in both kickoff and punt return yardage while scoring on a punt and a kickoff and allowing no touchdowns.

An obvious hire in Kansas City after his exemplary work in Chicago, Toub guided five different Bears players to eight Pro Bowl berths, including Johnny Knox (2009), Brendon Ayanbadejo (2006-07), Robbie Gould (2006), Corey Graham (2011) and — most notably — Devin Hester’s three selections (2006-07 and 2010).

During Toub’s tenure, Chicago had an NFL-high 22 kick return touchdowns compiled by six different players, and he helped Hester develop into the NFL’s all-time leader in kick return touchdowns by adeptly breaking down the other teams’ coverage unit.

For example, because the Vikings typically covered the whole field, keeping everyone wide, Toub would instruct Hester to return it up the gut against Minnesota.

“He knows how to get the best out of his players,” Mannelly said.

His football acumen was at the root of one of this year’s best plays. During a punt return against the Seahawks, Tavon Austin set up on the left like he would catch the sailing punt, and his Rams blockers drifted to that side. But the punt actually went to the right, and Stedman Bailey ran it back 90 yards for the touchdown.

That copied Toub’s design from a 2011 game against the Packers. Tim Masthay’s punts regularly went to the left. Knowing Hester would be the focal point of the Packers coverage unit, Toub had Hester on the other side and feign catching a punt while Knox lined up on the left. Uncovered, Knox caught the punt and returned it for a touchdown, though a dubious holding penalty nullified the play.

“Dave Toub’s schemes were exceptional,” Mannelly said

A gifted coach, perhaps Toub can follow the footsteps of another bright mind — his former boss and current Ravens head coach — and guide his own team.

“Put him in that John Harbaugh category,” Reid said. “Dave would be very good.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

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Let’s go for a ride

For 15 seasons, the head coach at One Bills Drive just hasn't belonged. Gregg Williams shut himself off from the city after getting drunk, having a fight with his wife, and falling in a pond. Mike Mularkey couldn't handle his "detractors" in the local media. Dick Jauron sounded star-struck when he would

For 15 seasons, the head coach at One Bills Drive just hasn’t belonged. Gregg Williams shut himself off from the city after getting drunk, having a fight with his wife, and falling in a pond. Mike Mularkey couldn’t handle his “detractors” in the local media. Dick Jauron sounded star-struck when he would talk about New England, a contender for the most hated franchise in the history of Buffalo sports. The Doug Marrone saga speaks for itself.

They weren’t Buffalonians. I don’t mean that they weren’t born here. They didn’t understand how to handle the circus that is the NFL in a small market city that cares about little else for 4-5 months out of the year. They didn’t have the ability, like everyone I know from that city does, to laugh at themselves while being unabashedly proud of the team and the city they represented. If it sounds like I’m placing too much importance on the “representing the city” angle. Consider this: if you live outside of Western New York, do you know who the mayor of Buffalo is? Do you know who Doug Marrone is?

The Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills doesn’t need to go 11-5 (though it would be nice once per decade). They just have to care as much as we do. And for 15 years, I’ve watched coaches who coached not to lose. Coaches who let players leave the field with a minute to go. Coaches who punted away entire seasons.

Whether you love Rex Ryan or not, he isn’t any of these things. He hates Bill Belichick as much as I do, and that feels really good. If we go 6-10 next season, but he buries a gameball in the ECC lots if they get blown out by New England, I’m at least having fun. I can tolerate losing. I’ve had a lot of practice. I can’t stand losing the way Buffalo has lost: “meh” coaches with “meh” excuses for their “meh” decisions. Rex Ryan isn’t the best coach in the league, but he unapologetically will try to be, and be anything but “meh” along the way.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler and at Fanual.com

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Jonas Gray, Josh Boyce, Cameron Fleming among inactives for Patriots

The Patriots inactives for today's game with Baltimore are WR Josh Boyce, RB Jonas Gray, T Cam Fleming, and a few others in the list, posted by their Twitter account this afternoon. The complete list is below.

Follow @erikoehler on Twitter

The Patriots inactives for today’s game with Baltimore are WR Josh Boyce, RB Jonas Gray, T Cam Fleming, and a few others in the list, posted by their Twitter account this afternoon. The complete list is below.

Follow @erikoehler on Twitter

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Chris Johnson arrested on gun charge

Ian Rapoport is reporting Chris Johnson was arrested in his hometown of Orlando, Florida on Friday after being pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. An officer searched his car and found his licensed and registered firearm in a book bag under a seat (instead of locked up inside the car).

He

Ian Rapoport is reporting Chris Johnson was arrested in his hometown of Orlando, Florida on Friday after being pulled over for rolling through a stop sign. An officer searched his car and found his licensed and registered firearm in a book bag under a seat (instead of locked up inside the car).

He was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor of open carrying of weapons/firearms.

Johnson is coming off of a disappointing season in NY and facing a new General Manager and coach in the coming weeks who will be deciding whether to bring him back.

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Why the Bears’ future is bleak

Pick your favorite lowlight from the Bears’ dysfunctional and disappointing 2014 season:

• They became the first team since the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons to allow 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks.

• They scored a total of 42 first-half points during an eight-week stretch.

• They became a soap opera

Pick your favorite lowlight from the Bears’ dysfunctional and disappointing 2014 season:

• They became the first team since the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons to allow 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks.

• They scored a total of 42 first-half points during an eight-week stretch.

• They became a soap opera when offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer leaked the offense’s problems with Jay Cutler to NFL Media and then tearfully apologized to the team.

• They attempted a fake punt against the Saints but only had 10 players on the field and in an illegal formation. (New Orleans declined the penalty after the Bears failed to convert.)

Because the 2014 season featured these mistakes and many others, Chicago fired head coach Marc Trestman.

But no matter who replaces Trestman, the Bears may be years away from fielding a quality team.

Of the limited talent on the roster, most are past their prime.

The root of the problem began in the latter years of the defense-centric Lovie Smith era. Realizing the stars of the team’s backbone — Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman — were aging, the Bears knew their defense would need a complete overhaul.

So they focused on assembling a potent offense that would make them competitive while the defense underwent a total rebuild.

And the centerpiece of that offense would be quarterback Jay Cutler.

The burden of Cutler

Cutler’s tenure has proven to be disastrous. He has one playoff win, and that came against a 7-9 Seahawks team.

The highest paid offensive player in the NFL ($22.5 million) this season, he led all quarterbacks in turnovers.

Cutler threw 18 interceptions, including one to Dolphins safety Reshad Jones during Miami’s 27-14 victory.

“He was looking where he threw the ball,” Jones said. “He was always looking at his receivers and never looking off.”

That’s a mistake a rookie should make — not someone with nine years of NFL experience. Similarly, he struggled with the basic quarterback task of reading defenses — particularly zone schemes — this year.

After studying film of Chicago, Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis noticed that creating pre-snap confusion was key to stopping the Bears offense.

Jay CutlerICONCutler has won just one playoff game in nine seasons.

“Don’t tell them what (defense) you’re in,” Lewis said after his Saints defeated the Bears 31-15 on Monday Night Football. “Make them figure it out at the last minute. There was a lot of success doing that.”

It’s one thing to be bad and inexpensive. It’s catastrophic to be awful and taking up a lot of salary cap space.

Cutler is due $15.5 million in base salary, which would create a $19.5 million cap hit, making it impossible to just release him.

So if the Bears want to get rid of Cutler, they are left with two undesirable options. They can a) either trade him before March, suffer only a $4 million cap hit and receive almost nothing in return because the other team absorbs much of the cost or b) convert the guaranteed base salary into a costly signing bonus to make the contract less onerous for the trading partner and consequently receive a better draft pick.

So even if the Bears move Cutler, his contract may continue to hinder them in 2015.

An overrated offense

The offensive issues go beyond Cutler. There is a misconception that the Bears are loaded with weapons at the skill positions.

Those pieces, however, are flawed. Matt Forte is a great player. During the 2014 season, he set the single-season reception mark (102 catches) for a running back while also surpassing 1,000 rushing yards.

But during next season, he will turn 30, an age when running backs’ production often drops off precipitously.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall will be 31 during the 2015 season and he just endured his worst season — 61 catches, 721 yards — since his rookie year.

Was the drop-off in performance due to a series of injuries? Or is he suffering more injuries because he’s getting long in the tooth?

Marshall also has been arrested at least five times. In 2008 the NFL suspended him for violating the league’s personal conduct policy; in 2009 the Broncos suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team.

The best organizations like the Packers and Patriots emphasize bringing in the “right 53” and draft for character and intelligence.

Brandon MarshallMarshall (right) is coming off his worst professional season since his rookie year.

Meanwhile, the Bears have traded for and signed players like Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett.

Though athletically gifted, Bennett began the year by being suspended for the preseason opener because of conduct detrimental to the team and capped it in Week 16 by receiving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for mouthing off at a referee. (The latter penalty allowed Detroit to start on its 17-yard-line instead of being backed up at its end zone.)

The defense is even more of a mess.

The unit, which ranked 30th in the league in 2014, lacks players around whom you want to build. Chicago needs upgrades at each level of defense — defensive line, linebacker and secondary.

The Bears made three major free-agent defensive acquisitions for 2014. One was defensive end Jared Allen, who turns 33 in April, and his best days are behind him.

The two others suffered career-threatening injuries. Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston tore his ACL while doing a discount-double-check sack celebration. In Week 16 defensive end Willie Young — the only player on the team with double-digit sacks — tore his Achilles, an injury that likely will sideline him well into next season.

Reasons for optimism

One positive on the defense is Kyle Fuller. Though the cornerback regressed as the season wore on, the Bears felt so confident in the rookie that they left him in single coverage against some of the game’s best receivers, including Calvin Johnson.

Fuller is one of the bright spots. Another is Alshon Jeffery. Just 24, the 6-3, 216-pound target with good hands was drafted two years before Fuller and already has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons to his credit.

The year after Jeffery, the Bears drafted Kyle Long, who has made back-to-back Pro Bowls at right guard. Matt Slauson, the left guard, is a mauler, though he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in late October.

Also providing some hope for the Bears is the fact that teams in the NFL can accomplish swift turnarounds.

The NFC East has had four different division winners during the last four seasons, demonstrating the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL and how quickly a team can go from woeful to playoff bound.

The Bears will test that theory.

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

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What are players paid during the playoffs?

Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. Most players take a significant pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make in the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for

Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. Most players take a significant pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make in the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for each playoff round where each eligible player gets paid the same. Here’s a look at how playoff compensation works for the 2014 league year.

Wild Card Round

Division Winners: $24,000
Wild Cards: $22,000

Divisional Playoff Game: $24,000

Conference Championship Game: $44,000

Super Bowl

Winning Team: $97,000
Losing Team: $49,000

Players typically receive their entire salary over the course of the 17-week regular season. For example, Ndamukong Suh made $738,235 per week during the regular season from his $12.55 million base salary. He will receive $22,000 for the Detroit Lions’ Wild Card playoff game, just like third string quarterback Kellen Moore and the rest of his teammates. Wild Card playoff money is less than the weekly pay of a player making the $420,000 first-year player minimum salary ($24,706 per week).

Players on teams with Wild Card round byes (Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks) are essentially working for free for the week since they will not receive payment. The additional rest and home field advantage in the Divisional playoff round are supposed to make up for the lack of money.

$189,000 is the maximum a player can earn in the 2014 season’s playoffs, but the Super Bowl winner would have to be a division winner that participated in the Wild Card round (Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, or Pittsburgh Steelers). The most a player can earn if he is from a team with a first round bye is $165,000. Payments during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.

For a player like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, winning the Super Bowl would be more meaningful financially than to most of his teammates since he is only making his $495,000 league minimum salary this season. The additional $165,000 would be one-third of his 2014 salary.

Players on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time receive payment for Wild Card and Divisional playoff games. Practice squad players don’t receive playoff money, but continue to get paid (minimum of $6,300 per week) during the weeks their respective teams are in the playoffs.

Payment eligibility is more complicated for the conference championships and Super Bowl. The payment requirements for these two playoff rounds are outlined below.

Full Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for at least three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. Veterans (at least one year of service) put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played.

3. Vested veterans (four or more years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent at least eight games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

The final category gives Antoine Cason a chance of getting paid for being on two different teams during the season that made the playoffs. Cason played 12 games for the Carolina Panthers before he was released. Cason has been with the Baltimore Ravens since Week 15.

Half Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for less than three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. First-year players put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played and signed a player contract or practice squad contract in a prior season.

3. Non-vested veterans (one to three years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent between three and seven games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

Percy Harvin could be rooting for the Seahawks despite getting traded to the New York Jets in the middle of the season because of the last category. He will make $70,500 if the Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl champions since he was on their roster for five games.

There is one more category that receives a one-quarter share for Conference championships and the Super Bowl. First-year players put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played. They also must have been on a team’s practice squad for at least eight games in a prior season or received one or two game checks while on a team’s 53-man roster or injured reserve in a prior year in order to qualify for payment.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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No shame in punting

I appreciate what Doug Marrone did for the Bills. For 14 seasons, you could hear the same things muttered by the Buffalo faithful every Sunday. "This team doesn't want it." "They look lost out there." "No heart." My disagreements with his in-game management aside, (and more recently) I couldn't say anything about

I appreciate what Doug Marrone did for the Bills. For 14 seasons, you could hear the same things muttered by the Buffalo faithful every Sunday. “This team doesn’t want it.” “They look lost out there.” “No heart.” My disagreements with his in-game management aside, (and more recently) I couldn’t say anything about this team’s heart or will to win this season. Monday through Saturday, he got this team that, on paper, looked medicore and turned them into contenders. No matter how many three-and-outs you’d see for the first three quarters, you’d keep watching, because the defense could make things happen.

He was almost the guy. And a lot of Buffalonians, so desperate for a return to the glory years of the early 90’s, probably don’t understand why I’m calling this the best possible thing that could have happened to this team at this time, but it is.

Finding the head coach that comes to define your franchise for an extended run (your Belichicks, your Cowhers) is rare. But when you’ve got him, you know it. You know it, because when you watch your team, regardless of the opponent, you know your guy is just smarter than the coach on the opposite sideline. When the talent on the field is a draw, your guy is going to know when to gamble, how to use his timeouts, and when not to punt. Marrone failed in every one of those areas, week after week. And this team was never good enough on the field to overcome it. He brought them into every Sunday believing they could win, and their play reflected it. But we need that extra step. We need a coach who knows that late in a game, down two scores, that he can’t punt on 4th and 1 when he’s past the 50. That doing so is a disservice to a team that, for the first time in a long time, can get you that extra yard. Ask Fred Jackson to get you that yard, and time after time, he gets you two. Two more 2014 regular season wins, and this article is probably about me being on cloud nine traveling to my first NFL playoff game in 15 years. I watched him cost us those two wins (and at least 2 more).

And so, when faced with the option to opt out, to punt, career-wise, to hope that the defense can get you another shot and your reputation can get you another gig, Marrone did. And he’ll get another job, probably as a head coach. Because there a lot of teams that are still ok with punting on every literal and metaphorical 4th and 1.

But we can do better, Buffalo. We deserve better. Without getting too sappy about it or attaching too much meaning to the Head Coach position, we deserve a coach that reflects what this city has done over the past decade. This city is proud. When everyone ws writing it off, and young graduates were moving away in droves, others stepped up and are transforming downtown Buffalo into someplace you want to go, instead of someplace you need to go to when you have traffic court or someone at work gave you Sabres’ tickets. We’re overdue for a coach that can turn a silo into a climbing gym or an old warehouse into a brewery. I don’t know if Jim Schwartz is that guy, or if he’s lurking somewhere in a DIII school, but I hope the Pegulas or Doug Whaley or whoever leads the search can find him.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler or fanual.com

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Who deserves the NFL MVP award?

50 members of the media will vote on the 2014 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award before the playoffs start on January 3. The NFL’s MVP voting procedure differs from the other major professional team sports in this country because a points system isn’t used. For example, the NBA MVP is determined

50 members of the media will vote on the 2014 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award before the playoffs start on January 3. The NFL’s MVP voting procedure differs from the other major professional team sports in this country because a points system isn’t used. For example, the NBA MVP is determined by voters ranking their top-five candidates on a 10-7-5-3-1 points system. Instead, each NFL voter selects a single player as MVP, with selectors sometimes splitting a vote between two players. The results will be announced on January 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX, during the NBC televised NFL Honors Awards Show in Phoenix, Arizona.

Here are the top-five MVP candidates in the order in which they should finish, but won’t:

1. J.J. Watt-Houston Texans

Watt should be the 2014 NFL MVP despite history working against him. The only two defensive players to win the MVP are Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. The last MVP from a team that didn’t make the playoffs was Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson in 1973.

J.J. WattWatt just became the only player in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a season twice.

Watt had one of the most dominant seasons ever for a defensive player. His historic performance was better than his 2012 season when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Watt became the first player in NFL history to have multiple 20 sack seasons by tying his career high with 20.5 sacks. He had a league leading five fumble recoveries, tied for second with four forced fumbles and was second in sacks. Advanced metrics better capture Watt’s dominance. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Watt had a career-best 119 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits) to top has previous high of 85 in 2013. NFL sacks leader Justin Houston was second this year to Watt with 85 pressures.

Watt was an occasional two-way player as a red-zone threat on offense. He also became the first player in NFL history with an interception return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery touchdown and three touchdown receptions during a season. Although the Texans narrowly missed the playoffs with nine victories, Watt led the team to the NFL’s biggest win improvement in 2014. The seven-game turnaround from a league-worst two wins in 2013 occurred without a legitimate starting quarterback or another elite defensive player to turn the opposition’s attention away from Watt. It will be a surprise if Watt wins the MVP because of the advantage quarterbacks have by impacting the game on practically every offensive play. A quarterback has been named MVP in 37 of the 57 years of the award. Watt should get more than four votes, which would be the most for a defensive player during the 21st century.

2. Aaron Rodgers-Green Bay Packers

Rodgers probably clinched his second MVP award with a gritty performance against the Lions in the season finale. After an aggravation of a left calf injury that forced him out of the game in the first half, Rodgers returned in the second half to break a 14-14 tie and lead the Packers to their fourth straight NFC North title. Rodgers completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,381 yards to post a 112.2 passer rating (second-best in the NFL). He threw 38 touchdown passes (third in NFL) and only five interceptions, which are the fewest of his career since becoming a starter in 2008. The 2011 NFL MVP was extremely consistent throughout the season with his only major hiccup coming in a Week 15 loss to the Buffalo Bills when Rodgers completed only 40.5 percent of his passes (17 of 42 attempts) for a career-worst 34.3 passing rating.

3. Tom Brady-New England Patriots

Tom BradyRumors of Brady’s demise were a bit premature.

It’s hard to believe that there was a rush to judgment about Brady being washed up when New England had a 2-2 record given the way the season unfolded. In the first four games, Brady only threw for 197.8 yards per game, completed just 59.2 percent of his passes, had four touchdown passes and two interceptions with a 79.1 passing rating. The two-time MVP rebounded from the slow start to give the Patriots home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England’s 12 wins put them in a tie with four other teams for the NFL’s best record. It’s hard to ignore that Brady’s resurgence coincided with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski shaking off the rust after receiving limited action initially during his return from a 2013 ACL tear. In the eleven games with a healthy Gronkowski (he sat out the season finale for precautionary measures), Brady had a 66.2 completion percentage and 104.4 passing rating while throwing for 294.4 yards per game with 29 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

4. DeMarco Murray-Dallas Cowboys

Murray started the 2014 season like gangbusters as the Cowboys transformed into a rushing team after running the ball 36.4 percent of the time in his first three NFL seasons. He broke Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games with 100 rushing yards or more to begin a season with an eight-game streak. At the midway point of the season, Murray had 1,054 rushing yards and 1,293 yards from scrimmage, which put him on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards by three yards and Chris Johnson’s single season yards from scrimmage record (2,509 yards). Murray couldn’t sustain his pace of production, but the Cowboys rode him to a 12-4 record to win the NFC East crown. Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s single season franchise rushing record of 1,773 yards by gaining 1,845 yards on the ground while playing through a late season broken left hand. The NFL’s rushing leader had almost 500 more yards than runner up Le’Veon Bell. Murray also tied for the NFL lead with 13 rushing touchdowns and was tops in the NFL with 2,261 yards from scrimmage.

5. Tony Romo-Dallas Cowboys

Romo made a late season MVP push with his stellar play in December, which should earn him the final NFC Player of the Month award of the season. During December, he led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record by completing 74.8 percent of his passes (83 of 111) for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception to post a 133.7 passer rating. Less has been more with Tony Romo, as the quarterback attempted only 29 passes per game after throwing 35.7 and 40.5 per game in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Romo’s efficiency has never been greater with the Cowboys becoming more reliant on the running game. He led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9 percent), passer rating (113.2) and yards per pass attempt (8.52 yards).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The Pro Bowl snub team

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on January 25 in Glendale, Arizona.

Offense

QB-Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
RB-Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Odell Beckham, New York Giants
WR-Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
TE-Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
T-Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
G-Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs

Odell BeckhamBeckham should go down as the biggest snub of the 2014 season.

The unconferenced format really hurt Wilson, as only two NFC quarterbacks were selected. The league’s top dual-threat quarterback is 15th in the NFL in rushing with 842 yards and has a 95.7 passer rating (ninth in the NFL). Forsett leads NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and his 14 runs of over 20 yards tie him with DeMarco Murray for the most in the NFL. The NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (1,147 yards) has also been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Beckham is among the NFL’s most productive wide receivers since recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ first four games. During the second half of the season, Beckham leads the NFL with 858 receiving yards and is second in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (8). Tate has set career highs with 96 catches and 1,286 receiving yards. The Lions aren’t in the playoffs because they don’t go 3-0 without Calvin Johnson if Tate doesn’t catch 24 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns in those games Megatron missed. Whitworth anchors the offensive line and hasn’t given up a sack this season.

Defense

DE-Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE-Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DT-Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
OLB-Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
OLB-DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
ILB-Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB-Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
CB-Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

Michael BennettQuietly, Michael Bennett has had a terrific season for the Seahawks.

Stuffing the run was undervalued in this year’s selections. Bennett is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top rated 4-3 defensive end against the run and is also second among all defensive ends with 68 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 3-4 defensive ends Richardson and Wilkerson were listed on the Pro Bowl ballot at defensive tackle. Wilkerson was PFF’s No. 2 rated 3-4 defensive end this season before being sidelined for three games (Weeks 13-15) with a toe injury, which opened the door for Richardson to move into the slot. Mack quickly established himself as a dominant force against the run. The lack of sacks (only four) contributed to him being overlooked, but the rookie matches Connor Barwin with 54 quarterback pressures and has more than Clay Matthews (48) and Tamba Hali (42).

Levy has been a tackling machine (third in NFL with 140 tackles) for the NFL’s second-ranked defense in total yards and points allowed. Patrick Peterson was a reputation pick, as he’s given up eight touchdowns this season. As the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, Peterson should be limiting quarterbacks to a 48.4 completion percentage for a 56.5 passing rating when targeted like Graham.

Specialists

K-Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P-Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
PR-Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
ST-Kelcie McCray, Kansas City Chiefs

Bryant has the most field goals from 50 yards and beyond in the NFL this season, with seven. Overall, he has converted 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts (28 of 31), which is fourth in the league. Jones may have gotten a berth if kickoffs were still a part of the Pro Bowl. He’s leading the NFL with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average and is third in punt returns (11.9 yard average).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Are these not the same old Lions?

CHICAGO—To record an 11th win for the first time since 1991, the Lions faced a seemingly easy task: defeat a dysfunctional Chicago team that had just benched its starting quarterback.

Detroit, though, committed special teams gaffes, ill-timed penalties and three first-half turnovers.

The Lions looked more like the 2013 team, whose bone-headed

CHICAGO—To record an 11th win for the first time since 1991, the Lions faced a seemingly easy task: defeat a dysfunctional Chicago team that had just benched its starting quarterback.

Detroit, though, committed special teams gaffes, ill-timed penalties and three first-half turnovers.

The Lions looked more like the 2013 team, whose bone-headed errors caused them to lose six of their last seven and fall out of the playoff picture last season.

“This is a game that we lost last year,” Lions running back Reggie Bush told NFP.

Instead the Lions prevailed 20-14 in Week 16 to remain in first place in the NFC North.

A major reason the 11-4 Lions sit atop the division is that quarterback Matthew Stafford has taken a more conservative approach. Instead of zinging the ball all over the field, the Lions have tried to win games on the strength of their stout defense.

Heading into the Week 16 contest on Dec. 21, Stafford had last thrown an interception in Week 12 on Nov. 23 against the Patriots.

Against the Bears, though, Stafford reverted back to the form he displayed while throwing 19 and 17 interceptions, respectively, the last two years.

He killed two second quarter red zone opportunities by forcing passes, which were intercepted by Brock Vereen and Ryan Mundy.

Because of those and other blunders, the Lions were tied with the five-win Bears after one half of play.

At halftime first-year Lions coach Jim Caldwell preached the same consistent message — play a clean half of football, and they would be okay — he had all year.

The 2014 Lions have taken their cues from their stoic coach who always remains on an even keel.

“It starts with Coach Caldwell. He’s really come in and changed a lot about this team,” Bush said. “It’s true that one man can make a difference.”

Last year under fiery Jim Schwartz — though also a smart defensive tactician — the Lions were 2-6 in games decided by four points or fewer. This year they are 4-1.

Better in tight contests, they are playoff bound for just the second time this millennium.

Ndamukong SuhSuh anchors a unit that currently ranks second in the NFL in total defense.

Indeed, with Pro Bowl-caliber players at each defensive level, this may be the most dangerous Lions team in decades.

Ranked second in the league (entering Week 16), the defense is led by one of the best players in the game, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.

Safety Glover Quin, who sealed the victory against the Bears with his seventh interception of the season, patrols the back line.

“He’s an integral part to our secondary,” Suh said. “Glover Quin is a hell of a player.”

DeAndre Levy, whose sideline-to-sideline mastery in pursuing running backs is matched by his deftness in pass coverage, keys the LB corps. He collected eight tackles Sunday, falling just short of his 11th double-digit tackle performance of the season.

On the offensive side — with Bush looking healthy after ankle injuries had limited him much of the season — the Lions averaged 5.3 rushing yards on 26 carries against the Bears.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball well,” Bush said, “in order for us to win this time of year.”

A resurgent running game also prevents opponents from dropping all of their defenders in coverage to stop an explosive passing offense.

Calvin Johnson, the best receiver in the league, recorded his 44th career 100-yard game Sunday.

And Johnson has the best complementary receiver he has ever had in free-agent addition Golden Tate, who has a career-best 1,286 receiving yards this season.

“When people draw coverage away from him and more towards Calvin,” Caldwell said, “he’s certainly given us some very, very important plays.”

But despite possessing this kind of offensive and defensive talent, Detroit will need to play much cleaner than it did against the Bears if it wants to advance in the playoffs or capture the NFC North.

In addition to Stafford’s interceptions, the Lions — while trailing by four points in the fourth quarter — had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked by Jeremiah Ratliff.

An even more significant special teams miscue occurred in the second quarter.

Jeremy Ross signaled for a fair catch on a punt. But the ball bounced off him, and Bears defensive back Sherrick McManis recovered on Detroit’s 11-yard-line.

Chicago scored one play later to tie the game and gain momentum going into halftime.

Julian Sanford’s roughing the kicker penalty extended the Bears’ third-quarter drive in Detroit territory, and Chicago scored a touchdown three plays later.

Even after retaking the lead in the fourth quarter, the Lions committed a dumb penalty on the Bears’ final drive.

Ezekiel Ansah delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit to Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The 15-yard penalty gave Chicago the ball on its own 45-yard line with plenty of time (2:18) to go.

It was the final error of Detroit’s mistake-plagued victory.

“We definitely want to clean that up,” said center Dominic Raiola, a 14-year veteran. “We need to execute better. We need to be smarter.”

The Lions will need a more crisp performance if they want to win the NFC North, something they can accomplish by defeating Green Bay next week.

Beating the Packers on the road would give Detroit its first division title since 1993.

“This is what we set out for. This was our main goal the beginning of the season,” Bush said. “Now it’s right here in front of us.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

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The difficulty in trading Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler’s benching for Jimmy Clausen could mean the end of the veteran quarterback’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Despite the demotion, Cutler’s stated preference is to remain a part of the Bears.

It was presumed that Cutler would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future when he

Jay Cutler’s benching for Jimmy Clausen could mean the end of the veteran quarterback’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Despite the demotion, Cutler’s stated preference is to remain a part of the Bears.

It was presumed that Cutler would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future when he signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal within days of the 2013 regular season ending. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered it to $18.5 million by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary ($5 million) into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen. Cutler’s $15.5 million 2015 base salary is fully guaranteed. $10 million of his $16 million 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12).

Cutler’s 2015 cap number is $16.5 million. Releasing Cutler before the 2016 guarantee kicks in on March 12 will result in $19.5 million of dead money, a cap charge for a player no longer on a team’s roster. Since Cutler’s guarantees have offset provisions, the Bears would be able to reduce the guaranteed money owed to him by the amount of his new deal with another team. However, the cap relief wouldn’t occur until 2016.

Before releasing Cutler, the Bears would attempt to trade him. From a cap standpoint, trading Cutler is preferable because the Bears would pick up $12.5 million of 2015 cap room. There would be a $4 million cap charge for the Bears from the signing bonus proration in Cutler’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The trading period for 2015 begins when free agency starts on March 10. This doesn’t leave much time for a trade because it would have to occur before the March 12 salary guarantee date if having Cutler return to the team isn’t the organization’s backup plan to a trade.

The Bears won’t be able to get anything comparable to the two second-round picks the San Francisco 49ers received from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 for Alex Smith in a Cutler trade, but he should be worth more than the sixth-round pick the Oakland Raiders sent the Houston Texans to acquire Matt Schaub in the offseason. In addition, a team must have enough cap room to absorb a player’s cap number in order to make a trade. Once the player is acquired, the team can then restructure his contract to decrease his cap number.

Jay CutlerWould it make sense to send Cutler to St. Louis in exchange for Sam Bradford?

Teams aren’t allowed to include cash or cap room in trades under NFL rules. The way around it, which was done when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, is for the team to restructure the contract before the trade by converting salary into a signing bonus. It operates essentially the same way as including cash or cap room because the acquiring team’s cap hit for the player in the current league year is reduced.

This would entail the Bears using the same discretionary conversion rights with Cutler they did prior to signing Allen. If $5.5 million is converted to a signing bonus, Cutler’s 2015 base salary will drop to $10 million. When the trade is made, signing bonus proration from Cutler’s future contract years (2016 through 2019) will accelerate onto Chicago’s 2015 cap. The Bears’ total 2015 cap charge for Cutler will be $9.5 million ($4 million of signing bonus proration from the 2014 restructure and $5.5 million relating to this new restructure), which is still $7 million in cap savings. The acquiring team’s cap charge for Cutler will be $10 million. Eating salary in this manner could be a way for the Bears to increase the compensation received for Cutler.

Although Cutler’s salary guarantees make it harder to trade him, there is a scarcity of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. The team that acquired Cutler would be making at least a two-year commitment to him because of the 2016 salary guarantee. It would be easy for the team to walk away from Cutler after that because the remaining four years for $72.7 million don’t contain any guarantees.

The team that seems to make the most sense to acquire Cutler is the Tennessee Titans. CEO Tommy Smith has vowed to remake the Titans’ roster in the offseason. Rookie Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick this year, hasn’t shown enough for the Titans to know whether he is a potential franchise quarterback.

The Titans are in line for the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, which would put them in a position to select 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the franchise may be gun shy about using another high pick on a quarterback with Jake Locker, the eight overall pick in 2011, failing to live up to his potential. Cutler would also have some marketing appeal since he went to Vanderbilt.

The New York Jets are in need of a quarterback because Geno Smith hasn’t proven he’s the long-term solution at quarterback. It’s been a disappointing season for the Jets, but they probably won’t be drafting high enough to have a shot at 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota or Winston.

Cutler’s contract would help the Jets solve their spending predicament. The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over four-year periods of 2013 through 2016 and 2017 through 2020. Jets are 30th in spending this year ($106.295 million) and below the 89 percent threshold since 2013 at 84.56 percent.

Another intriguing possibility could be the St. Louis Rams. Jeff Fisher recently said he would like Sam Bradford, who is missing the entire 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row, back in 2015. Bradford, who is making $12.985 million on a $16.58 million cap number in 2015, would likely need to take a significant pay cut to return.

The opportunity for a rare quarterback swap exists with Cutler and Bradford. Their salaries and dead money are close enough to each other’s that a trade involving the two of them wouldn’t have much of an effect on either team’s salary cap.

Josh McCown hasn’t performed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like he did last year in Chicago while Cutler was injured. Head coach Lovie Smith has called Mike Glennon the team’s quarterback of the future, but doesn’t seem to have much confidence in him. Smith was Cutler’s head coach in Chicago for four years, which could work against him.

The Houston Texans may be a quarterback away from challenging the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South crown. Cutler would be an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is scheduled to make $3.25 million in 2015. Fitzpatrick could remain with the team as Cutler’s backup with that salary. The Texans won’t have enough cap room to take on Cutler’s contract without restructuring deals or the Bears eating some of his salary unless the 2015 salary cap is above $145 million.

Another alternative could be for the Bears to concentrate on salvaging the situation with Cutler by hiring an offensive-minded head coach that believes he can get the most out of him. Mike Shanahan would best fit that description. Cutler’s only Pro Bowl season was in 2008 under Shanahan.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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How the 49ers can bail from Kaepernick’s contract

Colin Kaepernick’s surprising regression this season and the anticipated departure of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh could result in Kaepernick’s tenure with the team being shorter than anticipated.

On the surface, it appeared as if the 49ers made a huge financial commitment to Kaepernick when he signed a six-year,

Colin Kaepernick’s surprising regression this season and the anticipated departure of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh could result in Kaepernick’s tenure with the team being shorter than anticipated.

On the surface, it appeared as if the 49ers made a huge financial commitment to Kaepernick when he signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension during the offseason because of the overall value of the deal and the $61 million in guarantees. Kaepernick’s extension has a team-friendly structure, as do all of the lucrative contracts negotiated by the 49ers in recent years.

Only $12,973,766 of the $61 million in guarantees is fully guaranteed at signing. $48,026,234 of Kaepernick’s base salaries are guaranteed for injury only initially. His 2015 through 2017 base salaries and a portion of his 2018 base salary are fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1 in each specific contract year (i.e. 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed on April 1, 2015).

Kaepernick doesn’t have the same level of security as other quarterbacks with comparable deals. Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan have $38 million, $40 million and $42 million, respectively, practically fully guaranteed at signing in their contracts, which is essentially triple Kaepernick’s amount.

Kaepernick’s contract also contains a convoluted $2 million per year salary de-escalator. Kaepernick’s base salary for the following season doesn’t decrease by the $2 million if he is named first or second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, or the 49ers reach the Super Bowl while he has 80 percent playtime in the regular season and playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl (Wild Card, Division and Conference Championship games). Once Kaepernick reaches this threshold in a season, the de-escalator becomes void for the remainder of the deal.

The team’s loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 dropped San Francisco’s record to 7-6, which virtually ensures the triggering of the salary de-escalator, so Kaepernick’s 2015 base salary will go from $12.4 million to $10.4 million. However, the de-escalator being activated won’t change Kaepernick’s $15,265,753 2015 salary cap number. The lower salary, $10.4 million, is already a part of his cap number because de-escalation is being considered likely for cap purposes.

Colin KaepernickWill Kap be in a 49ers jersey past 2015?

Kaepernick’s $12,328,766 signing bonus and the conditional guarantees make his deal a year-to-year proposition from the outset because the 49ers can part ways with him at anytime without adverse cap consequences. For example, $5,402,740 of cap room would be gained in 2015 by releasing Kaepernick before his $10.4 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. The 49ers would have a $9,863,013 cap charge or dead money from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The 49ers releasing Kaepernick in 2015 is unrealistic because teams are usually reluctant to admit they made a mistake so quickly after giving a player a new deal. It would essentially amount to giving Kaepernick a $12 million windfall by releasing him so soon because his salary is $13,073,766 this year instead of the $1,073,766 he was scheduled to make by playing out his rookie contract.

The 49ers would attempt to trade Kaepernick before releasing him anyway. Kaepernick having his worst NFL season since becoming a starter and his failure to make significant strides as a pocket passer would impact the type of compensation the 49ers could get for him in a trade. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers receiving a draft choice comparable to the second-round pick (36th overall) used to select him even though he still has upside as a quarterback.

The most likely scenario is the 49ers restructuring Kaepernick’s contract in the offseason because he has the highest 2015 cap number on the team ($15,265,753) and the 49ers have the third-most 2015 cap commitments in the NFL at $148.9 million (51 players under contract) while having slightly over $4.5 million of unused cap room to carry over from this year. According to multiple reports, the NFL Management Council informed teams at an NFL meeting on December 9 that the 2015 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. The actual salary cap this year is 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. Regardless of where it is ultimately set, the 49ers have cap issues for 2015.

The 49ers have built cap flexibility into Kaepernick’s contract because they can create cap room at any time during the deal with their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Most lucrative contracts around the league contain a clause similar to this one. The 49ers could create a maximum of $7.724 million in 2015 cap space through a restructure by converting $9.655 million of Kaepernick’s $10.4 million 2015 base salary into a signing bonus. Kaepernick’s 2015 cap number would drop to $7,541,753. His 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers would each increase by $1.931 million under this scenario.

Whether Kaepernick has a bounce back year in 2015 will largely determine his fate with the 49ers. If the San Francisco is able to solve their cap woes in the offseason without changing Kaepernick’s contract, then $9,368,493 of cap room would be picked up in 2016 by releasing Kaepernick before his $11.9 million base salary (assumes he didn’t extinguish the de-escalator mechanism with his 2015 performance) became fully guaranteed.

There’s a significant difference in the cap savings by releasing Kaepernick after a 2015 restructure for maximum cap space, which is more likely than the 49ers leaving his 2015 cap alone. In this instance, $3,575,493 of cap room would be gained in 2016. The 49ers would have a $15,121,260 cap charge from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2017 through 2019 contract years accelerating onto the 2016 cap.

$14.3 million of 2016 cap room could be created by giving Kaepernick a post-June 1 designation or releasing him after June 1. The only 2016 cap charge for the 49ers would be Kaepernick’s $4,396,753 of 2016 signing bonus proration. The 49ers would also have a $10,724,507 cap charge in 2017 relating to Kaepernick with post-June 1 treatment. Carrying Kaepernick’s entire $18,696,753 2016 cap number until June 2 is required with this route. Either way, releasing Kaepernick in 2016 would be the equivalent of giving him a one-year extension for $24.8 million because his rookie contract ran through the 2014 season.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Dear Bills: it’s not the refs, it’s your coach

"No Goal" ruined sports for a lot of us in Buffalo. I imagine Lakers-Kings Game 6 did the same for Sacramento. When you've been legitimately, provably screwed over by officials, it changes you. You watch every game with a little zebra-clad devil on your shoulder telling you it's happening to

No Goal” ruined sports for a lot of us in Buffalo. I imagine Lakers-Kings Game 6 did the same for Sacramento. When you’ve been legitimately, provably screwed over by officials, it changes you. You watch every game with a little zebra-clad devil on your shoulder telling you it’s happening to you again. I get it. That isn’t what happened in Denver Sunday.

Grand conspiracy? Or “hey, good job!”

#BillsMafia erupted after refs, who were working together to determine if C.J. Anderson got the ball past the plane or not, fistbumped after declaring it a touchdown. Sure enough, the aformentioned devil was right there telling me it was happening again. They’re out to get us! The world hates Buffalo! We could have been the next New York City if railroads hadn’t replaced canals! Homerun throwback! No goal!

Saftey Aaron Williams didn’t help matters on Twitter when he said “No excuse for my performance but we can’t win playing 16 vs 11” This all, tragically, misdirected our rage away from the real problem, Doug Marrone.

For almost two quarters of football, Jerry Hughes, arguably your 2014 Bills’ MVP, sat on the sidelines. It was originally reported that it was due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and they wanted to make sure he “cools down”. Hughes cooled down alright, sitting in the cold Denver air for 24 of the next 36 snaps. All this could still be explainable, if the head coach actually knew about it! That’s right. Marrone, in the most meaningful game of the season, did not know that his best defensive player was not on the field for almost two quarters of football.

Add to this, his decision to punt on 4th-and-2 while down two scores with five minutes left, and you have, yet again, beaten yourself. There is a laundry list of these decisions in every Bills’ loss this season. He has lost them all for you. There’s a little blame to go around. Orton didn’t do them any favors sliding for a loss on a 3rd and 1. A lot of poor penalties (are there many non-poor penalties?) and some costly turnovers stacked the deck. But those need to be atoned for by the guy who doesn’t have to rely on muscle memory or split second decisions or the calls of imperfect officials. He needs to make the right choices, and he can’t. He just can’t.

I wrote about it in the beginning of the year, and I am more convinced than ever: he is just not ready to be an NFL coach. He is grossly unaware of clock management, in-game probabilities, and the relatively simple task of being aware of who is actually on the field. He could probably be a great assistant, where he can focus on one area. He could probably return to Syracuse and be as mediocre as he left. But you can’t correct these deficiencies. They are either things that you inherently understand, or you don’t. And until it’s changed, the Bills aren’t going to have a chance of being legitimately screwed in something as meaningful as a playoff game.

Follow me on Twitter @erikoehler or at fanual.com

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Why the Broncos offense has become even more potent

Denver set an NFL record for touchdowns (76) and points scored (606), and Peyton Manning established passing yardage (5,447) and touchdown (55) marks last year.

The 2014 version may not have those gaudy stats, but is this year’s offense even better?

“Yeah,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told NFP, “I think it

Denver set an NFL record for touchdowns (76) and points scored (606), and Peyton Manning established passing yardage (5,447) and touchdown (55) marks last year.

The 2014 version may not have those gaudy stats, but is this year’s offense even better?

“Yeah,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told NFP, “I think it is.”

That’s a scary thought — and a somewhat surprising one, considering Denver’s offseason moves focused on the defensive side with the additions of cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware.

But this year’s offense — despite losing wide receiver Eric Decker, a 6-3, 214-pound target, to the Jets as a free agent — may be more versatile and balanced.

The Broncos replaced Decker with Steelers wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who has just one fewer catch and 80 fewer yards through 13 games than Decker had during all of last season, which was the best of Decker’s career.

Though Sanders may not have Decker’s size, his superior speed has given the Broncos another outside threat opposite Demaryius Thomas to further stress a defense.

Sanders, whose catch radius belies his 5-11 frame, has quickly built a rapport with Manning.

“Peyton has a lot of trust in him,” Sutton said. “He’s running great routes and knows how to get open and, of course, he has that great speed.”

Reinvigorated ground game

With Sanders in the mix, the Broncos offense hummed along until a Week 11, 22-7 loss to the Rams when Denver lacked balance, throwing the ball 54 times and rushing it just 10 times.

“It was a wake-up call,” Broncos head coach John Fox said. “Our team realized it, and we adjusted and responded.”

Emmanuel SandersSanders is on pace to shatter all of former Bronco Eric Decker’s marks from 2013.

The next week the Broncos began dedicating themselves to the running game during a 39-36 victory against the Dolphins. After halftime Denver ran on nine of its first 12 plays, and C.J. Anderson, who had 167 rushing yards on the day, touched the ball on eight of them.

Anderson, an undrafted, second-year back, stepped up when injuries sidelined running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin). Denver had already lost its leading rusher from last year, Knowshon Moreno, when he signed with Miami as a free agent.

While Anderson, a burly, 5-8, 224-pounder, has allowed Denver to emphasize the run, he is also a weapon in the passing game with 204 receiving yards in his last five games.

“He’s been doing a good job in all phases,” Sutton said. “He’s not just a runner. He’s a good protection guy. He’s a stout guy.”

Against Sutton’s Kansas City defense, Anderson rushed 32 times for 168 yards and caught a 15-yard touchdown.

“C.J. was a workhorse tonight. He was really special,” Manning said after the 29-16 road victory over the Chiefs. “The offensive line was awesome.”

Outstanding O-line

That line is a stronger and deeper unit than last year’s. One major reason is the return of left tackle Ryan Clady, one of the best in the game at one of the most important positions. He missed all but two games last season because of a Lisfranc injury.

His presence has allowed Orlando Franklin to move inside to left guard.

Denver reshuffled the line further against Oakland — also the first game Anderson received double-digit carries — inserting Will Montgomery at center, enabling Manny Ramirez to play his more natural position at right guard instead of center.

The Broncos even went in true road grading mode versus the Chiefs, putting an extra tackle, Paul Cornick, at tight end to create a jumbo look.

“You’ve got to give it to the big fellas up front,” Anderson said. “We are proving to everybody on the outside that we can run the ball.”

Though Anderson is a beneficiary, he also deserves much of the credit. Part of the lineage of former Cal backs tearing up the NFL — including Justin Forsett of the Ravens and Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks — Anderson has 716 total yards and six touchdowns in his last five games.

During the first game of that stretch, he took a routine checkdown on 3rd-and-8 for a 51-yard touchdown, making a quick cut after busting through three Raiders defenders, which displayed his knack for breaking tackles.

“It’s just being that tough, nasty running back,” Anderson said. “It’s always been in my arsenal.”

Anderson’s emergence puts less pressure on Manning and should make Denver a formidable foe during cold-weather January playoff games and a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The running back who started the year as the No. 3 guy on the depth chart is obviously having his best season — as is Sanders, who already has set career highs with 86 receptions, 1,208 yards and seven touchdowns.

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said the speedy fifth year receiver has improved drastically since his days in Pittsburgh because of his better understanding of the game.

“Also he’s playing with Peyton Manning,” Harris said. “That will always help you.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JFedotin

Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills. During his football playing days at Pembroke Hill (Mo.) School, Fedotin was known for his bad knees and even worse blocking.

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Who is Latavius Murray?

The Oakland Raiders entered Week 12’s divisional showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs carrying a futile 0-10 record and little reason to be excited heading down the stretch of the 2014 campaign. However, the team exited victorious, and with one very significant bright spot to look forward to in the remaining games of the 2014

The Oakland Raiders entered Week 12’s divisional showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs carrying a futile 0-10 record and little reason to be excited heading down the stretch of the 2014 campaign. However, the team exited victorious, and with one very significant bright spot to look forward to in the remaining games of the 2014 season.

Latavius Murray, a little known second-year running back, became the first player in NFL history to rush for 110+ yards on less than five carries. The historic mark was set prior to an early concussion, which in today’s NFL means Murray was sidelined for the rest of the game. As is now known, the Raiders would go on to win the matchup, with Murray’s brief, but impactful performance being the most palpable catalyst.

The potency of Murray’s succinct appearance on Thursday Night Football left a wide margin of NFL fans collectively uttering the same question: “Who is Latavius Murray?”

Amidst interim-coach Tony Sparano saying Murray’s return is “close,” it might just be time to find out.

Coming out of high school, the Nedrow, New York native was regarded as a semi-mediocre linebacker/running back recruit despite playing both positions at a high level. Ultimately, he chose the University of Central Florida, where he became a highly productive offensive threat. Over the course of his collegiate career, the all-purpose back posted three particularly impressive seasons between his sophomore and senior campaigns – with the latter being his most productive. Murray left the Knights program having rushed for 2,424 yards on 453 carries (5.4 YPC) and 37 touchdowns, adding 524 yards and six scores on 50 receptions.

Latavius MurrayMurray currently ranks second on the team in rushing yards despite carrying the ball just 14 times this season.

Although Murray left Orlando as a 2012 first-team All-CUSA selection with multiple years of consistent production, he was somewhat surprisingly not extended an invitation to the NFL Combine. Evidently, the slight only helped motivate him, as his performance at the UCF pro day generated intrigue from pundits and evaluators alike. At 6’2” 230 pounds, Murray recorded a staggering 4.38 40-time, 36” vertical leap, 10’4” broad jump and 4.36 shuttle time. Comparatively to quintessential all-world athlete Adrian Peterson in 2007 (4.4, 38.5”, 10’7” and 4.4), Murray’s pro day numbers helped to justify his own immense athleticism for the position.

All told, I carried a fourth-round grade on Murray at the time, given he remained productive throughout his college career as both a runner and short-yardage receiver, along with possessing a good frame and foundation to grow as a pass protector. His special teams/returning skills only helped solidify my grade. Still, despite his 40-time, there wasn’t much evidence that Murray was a top-end burner in pre-draft study – leaving some to question his game speed. The perception became that he was just a perfectly decent all-purpose back, with some skill, who performed well in a lesser conference. Additionally, a rather deep overall rushing class was expected to harm Murray’s cause.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders selected Latavius Murray in the sixth round with the 181st pick, making the UCF-standout the 15th running back selected overall. It was hardly smooth sailing from then on, as an ankle injury landed Murray on injured reserve in August of 2013 before his rookie season even began.

The 2014 offseason saw veteran Maurice Jones-Drew join Darren McFadden and Murray on the Oakland depth chart, leaving less room for the now second-year rusher. It wasn’t until Week 11 against the division rival Chargers that he was given a reasonable opportunity to earn further touches. After rushing for 43 yards on four carries with 16 yards on three receptions in San Diego, Murray was finally given full reign against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12. He rewarded the faith by rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on only four carries before being ruled out due to his concussion.

At 24-years-old, the rest of Murray’s story is still very much in the process of being written, but there has been an interesting thread of instances that have led up to what we saw on Thursday night of Week 12. To this point, we know who Latavius Murray is, but the inquiry being bandied amongst NFL faithful has changed.

Now we eagerly await the answer to our next question: “What will Latavius Murray become?”

<p> Follow Dion on Twitter: @nfldraftupdate

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2014 salary cap kings

Defensive tackles have the NFL’s top-two 2014 salary cap numbers, which is a rarity. As usual, quarterbacks dominate the list of the largest cap numbers. Here’s a look at the players with 2014’s highest cap numbers. The Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (CBA) $175 daily amount for participating in a team’s voluntary offseason workout

Defensive tackles have the NFL’s top-two 2014 salary cap numbers, which is a rarity. As usual, quarterbacks dominate the list of the largest cap numbers. Here’s a look at the players with 2014’s highest cap numbers. The Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (CBA) $175 daily amount for participating in a team’s voluntary offseason workout program is included in the cap numbers.

1. Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Detroit Lions: $22,414,600 million

Suh’s cap number is a product of restructuring his five-year rookie deal (worth up to $68 million with $40 million fully guaranteed) in 2012 and 2013. The Lions and Suh engaged in negotiations for a new deal during the offseason, but the team broke off talks at the beginning of training camp. It will be virtually impossible for the Lions to use a franchise tag on Suh in 2015. His franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Suh’s next contract will likely be the richest deal in NFL history for a defensive tackle because he isn’t going to think a decrease from his rookie contract is warranted after being named All-NFL four times in his four NFL seasons and Gerald McCoy’s recent contract extension averaging $13.6 million per year.

2. Gerald McCoy (DT)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $21.295 million

Gerald McCoyMcCoy is currently the NFL’s highest-paid interior defensive lineman.

McCoy had the NFL’s second-highest 2014 salary cap number among defensive tackles at $15,627,253 before signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives). The deal, which contains $51.5 million in guarantees, made McCoy the NFL’s highest-paid interior defensive lineman. McCoy has the second-largest amount of guarantees ever in an NFL contract for a defensive player behind J.J. Watt’s $51,876,385.

3. Eli Manning (QB)-New York Giants: $20.4 million

In 2015, Manning will be entering the final year of his 2009 six-year, $97.5 million contract extension (with $35 million guaranteed). It may be in the Giants’ best interest to take a wait-and-see approach on a new deal with Manning because he’s been inconsistent in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s west coast offense. The Super Bowl XLVI MVP has a $19.75 million salary cap number in 2015.

4. Ben Roethlisberger (QB)-Pittsburgh Steelers: $18,896,750 million

The Steelers decided against renegotiating Roethlisberger’s contract with two years remaining as they did with his rookie deal. Team president Art Rooney II indicated during the early part of training camp that Roethlisberger’s contract situation would be addressed after the season. In order for Roethlisberger to maintain the same place in the quarterback salary hierarchy as the six-year contract extension averaging $14,664,417 per year with $33.2 million in guarantees he signed in 2008 (NFL’s second-highest paid player and third-most contract guarantees), his new extension would need to top $20.75 million per year and $59 million in guarantees.

5. Mario Williams (DE)-Buffalo Bills: $18.8 million

Williams lost his place as the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player ($96 million/six years, $50 million in guarantees, $4 million in incentives) when J.J. Watt signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension at the start of the regular season. The 2006 first overall pick’s $53 million in the first three years of his deal is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL for a non-quarterback. Living up to the deal has been hard for Williams, but he’s fourth in the NFL with 12 sacks and is also Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked 4-3 defensive end this season.

6. Jay Cutler (QB)-Chicago Bears: $18,504,900 million

Cutler signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal (includes $54 million guaranteed) within days of the 2013 regular season ending. He had the NFL’s highest 2014 cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered his cap number by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen.

7. Drew Brees (QB)-New Orleans Saints: $18.4 million

Brees became the NFL’s first $20 million per year player with the five-year, $100 million contract (included a record $60.5 million in guarantees) he signed with the Saints in 2012. It will be difficult for the Saints to carry Brees’ $26.4 million 2015 cap number with a league high almost $161 million in 2015 cap commitments when the 2015 cap isn’t expected to exceed $145 million.

8. Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams: $17.61 million

Sam BradfordThe Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

Bradford is missing the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row. He is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving rookie contracts where easily achievable escalators created large base salaries in their deals. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees. By contrast, Cam Newton signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $22,025,498 contract (with a CBA mandated fifth year option worth $14.666 million) as the first pick in 2011 after the creation of a rookie wage scale. Bradford’s future with the Rams is in doubt because of durability concerns and his $16.58 million 2015 cap number. The Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

9. Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: $17.55 million

Rodgers is the highest-paid player in NFL history (by average yearly salary). He signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension in 2013 containing $54 million in guarantees, which included a $35 million signing bonus. The 2011 NFL MVP’s 2014 cap number was originally $17.9 million. The signing bonus proration dropped from $7 million annually in Rodgers’ 2014-2017 contract years to $6.65 million because of insurance policy payments to the Packers relating to the quarterback missing seven games last season with a broken collarbone.

10. Matt Ryan (QB)-Atlanta Falcons: $17,505,425 million

Ryan edged Peyton Manning for the tenth spot because he received $350 more in offseason workout per diem. The 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year became the NFL’s second-highest paid player when he signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension (including $59 million in guarantees) in 2013. $42 million was essentially fully guaranteed at signing. Ryan is getting $63 million in the first three years of his contract, which is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL and narrowly eclipses Rodgers’ $62.5 million.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Inside a performance-based contract

Incentives and salary escalators can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. These contract mechanisms are usually designed to be classified as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the

Incentives and salary escalators can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. These contract mechanisms are usually designed to be classified as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the salary cap when a deal is signed. Generally, any incentives or escalators with higher thresholds than the player or team’s statistical performance in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. The most frequent categories for individual achievement are playtime or based on the player’s primary function (i.e. rushing yards for a running back).

Elvis Dumervil signed this type of contract with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 after he was released by the Denver Broncos because of a paperwork snafu on his renegotiated contract reducing his 2013 salary from $12 million to $8 million. He received a five-year deal from the Ravens with a base value of $26 million containing $11 million in guarantees. Dumervil’s contract is worth up to $35 million because it has $9 million of base salary escalators and incentives. Since Dumervil had 11 sacks with the Broncos in 2012, his escalators or incentives required him to exceed this sack total in order to be considered NLTBE.

Dumervil has notched 22.0 sacks in 26 career games with the Ravens.

Dumervil triggered $3 million in base salary escalators and earned $1 million in incentives during Week 12’s contest against the New Orleans Saints by getting two sacks to reach the 12-sack mark. He is now second in the NFL with 12.5 sacks and on pace to break Peter Boulware’s franchise record of 15 sacks with a career best 19 sacks.

Dumervil has four different clauses in his contract as follows relating to base salary escalators and incentives.

1. With 12 or more sacks in any regular season, the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million. A maximum of $4 million can be earned under this clause.

2. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial escalator (number one), the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million with 12 or more sacks in the 2014, 2015 or 2016 regular seasons. The maximum that can be earned under this clause is $3 million.

3. A one-time $1 million bonus is earned with 12 or more sacks in any regular season. It is available every year until earned.

4. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial sack incentive (number three), there is another one-time $1 million bonus for 12 or more sacks in 2014, 2015 or 2016 and (a) team improvement from the previous season in one of eight categories (points allowed by the defense, touchdowns allowed by the defense, total defense, average net yards given up per rushing play, average net yards given up per passing play, sacks, interceptions or team wins) or (b) Dumervil improves from the previous season in one of six categories (interceptions, interception return yards, touchdowns on interception returns, opponent fumble recoveries, opponent fumble return yards or touchdowns on opponent fumble returns). It can also be earned with 13 or more sacks as long as it’s an improvement from the previous season’s sack total. This incentive is also available every year until earned.

The value of Dumervil’s contract has increased to $30 million over five years. He can’t earn the maximum of $35 million because he didn’t have 12 sacks in 2013. The most Dumervil can earn is $33 million if he hits his thresholds again in 2015.

Dumervil’s 2015 and 2016 base salaries, which were originally $4 million, are now $5 million. His $5 million 2017 base salary jumps to $6 million. Dumervil had a $6.375 million cap number in 2015 and 2016 which has now increased to $7.375 million during these years. His 2017 cap number goes from $7.375 million to $8.375 million.

Triggering an escalator doesn’t necessarily mean that the player will make the increased salary. The escalated amount is rarely guaranteed so teams can still ask the player to take a pay cut or release him without any financial obligation. For example, the Atlanta Falcons cut John Abraham in 2013 instead of paying him $6.5 million for the season after he triggered a $1 million base salary increase with 71.62 percent defensive playtime and 10 sacks. Dumervil is assured of making at least $2 million of his performance bonuses ($1 million of the salary escalator and $1 million in incentives) because he isn’t in danger of being released in 2015.

 

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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