The Ringer’s offseason live blog will keep track of the deals, trades, cuts, rumors, predictions, and everything else you need to know about free agency and the draft. Check back for the latest news from around the league both ahead of the so-called legal tampering period (which begins on Monday, March 16) and after players can begin signing (Wednesday, March 18).
The Falcons Bring in an Immediate Fan Favorite in Todd Gurley
March 20, 7:48 a.m. PT
Ben Glicksman: Less than 24 hours after being cut by the Rams, running back Todd Gurley has reached a one-year deal with the Falcons. The move brings the 25-year-old back to Georgia, where he played his college ball.
Gurley was an NFL sensation in 2017 and 2018, combining for 3,924 yards from scrimmage and 40 total touchdowns. He reset the running back market by securing a four-year, $57.5 million deal with Los Angeles in July 2018, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. He was bothered by a chronic knee issue that limited his effectiveness: He averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2018; that figure fell to 3.8 in 2019. Given the Rams’ troubling salary cap situation, the team decided to cut him Thursday rather than pay him more than $10 million in roster bonuses.
If nothing else, Gurley should instantly become an Atlanta fan favorite. His career at the University of Georgia delivered a slew of indelible moments. Who could forget that time he leaped over a Tennessee defender?
And at best, he could provide a boost to a Falcons offense that ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA last season. The injury concerns with Gurley are apparent, but he’s also not that far removed from taking home Offensive Player of the Year honors. He’ll step into the spot left by Devonta Freeman, whom the Falcons released earlier this week.
The Eagles Trade for a Cornerback
March 19, 7:29 a.m. PT
Danny Heifetz: The Philadelphia Eagles have sent third- and fifth-round draft picks to Detroit for Lions cornerback Darius Slay, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Eagles are also signing Slay to a contract extension with $30 million guaranteed over the next three years and a base of $50 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Slay will earn an average of $16.7 million per year, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. (Byron Jones, who signed a deal with the Dolphins this week, drops to second.)
I do love lion fans, i repeat I do love lion fans!!!! Y’all are the best✊— Darius Slay (@_bigplayslay23) March 19, 2020
Slay, who in 2017 led the NFL in interceptions and was named to the All-Pro first team, joins an Eagles secondary that has been in dire need of cornerback help since their Super Bowl run (and during that run, too); Birds fans who have watched star cornerbacks like Jalen Ramsey and Marcus Peters go to other contenders have been waiting for Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman to make this type of trade.
Trading for Slay gives the Eagles the best cornerback they have had since Doug Pederson became Eagles head coach in 2016 and will help mitigate the loss of safety and team captain Malcolm Jenkins, whom the Eagles let go this week.
Meanwhile, the Lions are bleeding talent at defensive back. Detroit traded a fifth-rounder for Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon and a seventh-rounder earlier this week, but losing a cornerback of Slay’s caliber could further hurt the Lions, who have gone 9-22-1 since Matt Patricia took over as head coach two seasons ago.
The Nick Foles Trade Could Signal the End of the Mitchell Trubisky Era
March 18, 12:46 p.m. PT
Heifetz: Breaking news: Mitchell Trubisky is not the Bears’ long-term answer at quarterback. You may have already known that, and Bears fans may have felt it in their hearts for between three years and three months, but the team finally faced reality on Wednesday. Chicago has agreed to trade a 2020 fourth-round draft pick for Jacksonville quarterback Nick Foles, all but waving the white flag on Trubisky. The team may spin this as bringing in a quarterback to compete for the starting job, but the winner of that competition likely already has been decided: Foles will win the job, and Trubisky will win a clipboard (or a Microsoft Surface, or whatever backups hold these days).
Trubisky was not the answer for the Bears, but Foles was not the Jaguars’ answer at quarterback, either. Foles went 0-4 for the Jaguars in his lone season as a starter, which was derailed by a broken collarbone in the first quarter of his first start. Even when he returned, his inability to escape pressure behind a porous Jaguars line doomed him, whereas rookie sixth-round sensation Gardner Minshew II thrived by creating space in the pocket like Kyrie Irving creating space for a pull-up. Minshew usurped a healthy Foles midseason, and now the Jaguars are eating $19 million in dead money to get rid of Foles, who made $30 million for 371 days as a Jaguar, or $81,000 a day. (As part of the trade, Foles will restructure his contract, which still has three years and $21 million remaining. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Foles can now void his deal after either of the first two years, depending on performance.)
Now Foles is in Chicago, where he’ll operate in a more creative offense from Bears coach and de facto offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. The two go back to Foles’s first stint in Philly and to his time in Kansas City, where Nagy was quarterbacks coach under offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and Foles was a backup quarterback on the verge of retiring. Foles credits his time with the Chiefs for helping him fall back in love with football. The following year, he joined Pederson in Philadelphia and won the Super Bowl MVP award after taking over for an injured Carson Wentz midseason. Now Foles must make Chicago fans fall back in love with the Bears, who have toyed with contending for two years but been held back primarily by their quarterback play.
The Bears, who traded up to draft Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshuan Watson in 2017, must decide whether to add a fifth year to his contract in May, and the Foles trade suggests they may not. That would make Trubisky a free agent next year, marking the second consecutive season a team might let a former no. 2 pick leave in free agency, after the Titans let Marcus Mariota leave for the Raiders this week.
Chicago has collected an excellent core that includes Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller at receiver, David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen at running back, and a reborn Monsters of the Midway defense led by Khalil Mack and bolstered by defensive back Kyle Fuller, linebacker Roquan Smith, and the newly signed Robert Quinn. But the Bears defense has shouldered a heavy burden because of the team’s often-inept offense. Chicago averaged just 17.5 points per game and 4.7 yards per play, the fourth- and second-worst marks in the league, respectively, while tying for last in net yards per pass attempt (5.3) last season. Any level of competency at quarterback would be a game-changer for Chicago.
The Foles trade is something of a full-circle move. A year and some change ago, Foles led the Eagles to a win over the Bears in the wild-card round of the playoffs at Soldier Field. Philly won when Cody Parkey’s kick double doinked off of the uprights, but the game was decided in the previous 59 minutes when Trubisky failed to lead touchdown drives. Fourteen months later, the Bears are betting the quarterback from the other sideline of that game can be their answer.
Can Philip Rivers Thrive Again in Indianapolis?
March 17, 2:10 p.m. PT
Riley McAtee: The Colts haven’t yet found their quarterback of the future, but they have at least found someone to man the position for 2020. The team agreed to a one-year deal with Philip Rivers on Tuesday:
Former Chargers' QB Philip Rivers and the Colts reached agreement on a 1-year deal, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2020
The deal will pay Rivers $25 million. While this is seemingly meant as nothing more than a stop-gap measure, the way you view this deal is contingent on whether you think Rivers is still the quarterback he once was. The 38-year-old passer has made eight Pro Bowls and made the playoffs six times in his career, but his efficiency took a hit last season, as his 2019 numbers paint a picture of regression. By adjusted net yards per attempt, he ranked 15th. By PFF grade, he was 17th. And by QBR, he was 22nd.
Last season in L.A., Rivers had a king’s ransom of skill-position talent, throwing to the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, Austin Ekeler, and Melvin Gordon. He won’t have the same type of playmakers with the Colts, though playmakers like T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines can serve Rivers well. A bigger difference will be pass protection. The Chargers had one of the worst pass-blocking units in the league last season—that won’t be a problem with Rivers playing behind an excellent line in Indianapolis. Additionally, the Colts defense, which just added DeForest Buckner, has the chance to be one of the better units in the league.
What’s more is that Rivers shouldn’t face too steep of a learning curve as he leaves the only pro football team he’s ever known. Rivers has worked with a number of coaches on the team’s staff, including head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.
Philip Rivers is very close with Colts coach Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirriani. Both coaches (along with Ken Whisenhunt) were part of a thinktank Mike McCoy put around Rivers in San Diego in 2013, mimicking what Peyton Manning had in Denver.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 17, 2020
The learning curve won’t be steep.
Meanwhile, Rivers’s signing is a strong signal the Colts are done with the Jacoby Brissett experiment. Last season, Brissett threw for 2,942 yards and 18 touchdowns with six interceptions in 15 games. His numbers were fine—but it’s hard to win many football games in the 21st century when your quarterback can’t be relied on to crack 200 passing yards per game. Rivers hasn’t been below that mark since 2007.
So where will Brissett, who has one year on his deal remaining, go? He could be Rivers’s backup in Indy, but if the Colts want to trade the former Patriot, I hear a position in Foxborough just opened up …
Carolina and Cam Newton Are Headed for a Split
March 17, 10:25 a.m. PT
McAtee: The Panthers announced Tuesday that they’re working with Cam Newton to find a trade destination for the veteran quarterback:
Newton quickly responded on Instagram and—if you can read his criminal font choice—said he wasn’t the one asking for a trade:
Cam Newton setting the record straight, just like Greg Olsen had to do. pic.twitter.com/ODwUUG9i4x— Joe Person (@josephperson) March 17, 2020
There will be time for the tea to spill in the coming days, but regardless of what caused this schism, Newton will be dealt. Any team that trades for Newton will get a QB who’s a one-of-a-kind talent and a former MVP. Passers like that rarely become available.
With only one year left on his current contract, Newton’s trade value will be limited. Any deal for the 30-year-old would require an extension almost immediately. Of course, that means the team that trades for him won’t have to give up such a large haul of draft picks or other assets—but it’s still a concern. And hardly the only one.
Meanwhile, Carolina found their Newton replacement within a matter of hours. The team is reportedly close to a three-year, $60 million deal with Saints passer Teddy Bridgewater. That contract would likely mean the end of Kyle Allen’s and Will Grier’s competition for a starting job in Charlotte.
An Aging, Future Hall of Fame Quarterback Just Took a Discount to Return to His Longtime Team
March 17, 7:59 a.m. PT
McAtee: Finally, it’s the news you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for:
The #Saints agree to terms with QB Drew Brees, source said. He gets a 2-year deal worth roughly $50M. Never in doubt, but now done. And Brees took less to help the team continue to build.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2020
Tom Brady Will Have a New Team in 2020
March 17, 7 a.m. PT
Heifetz: It’s happening. Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots. He announced the news in a series of two Instagram posts on Tuesday.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that despite the announcement, Brady has not decided on his next team. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that both the Buccaneers and Chargers are offering Brady contracts worth more than $30 million annually.
Brady ended his first Instagram post by thanking everyone involved in the Patriots organization.
“Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments,” he said. “I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to know each and everyone of you, and to have the memories we’ve created together.”
He ended his second Instagram post by thanking Patriots fans.
“You opened your heart to me, and I opened my heart to you,” he said. “And Pats Nation will always be a part of me. I don’t know what my football future holds but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will always love you and what we have shared—a lifetime full of fun memories.”
Click here to read Danny Heifetz’s full story on Tom Brady announcing he will leave the Patriots.
Can Stefon Diggs Unlock Josh Allen?
March 16, 9:29 p.m. PT
McAtee: Apparently we live in a world where DeAndre Hopkins is worth David Johnson and a second-round pick, and Stefon Diggs is worth, well, a bunch of picks. On Monday, the Vikings finally traded the disgruntled receiver, and in return the Bills gave up a solid haul of draft capital:
Compensation update: Bills are trading a 1st-round pick, a 5th-round pick, a 6th-round pick and a 2021 4th-round pick for Vikings WR Stefon Diggs and a 2020 7th-round pick, source tells ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2020
These two trades aren’t directly comparable, but the difference in value is still stunning. Diggs has never made a Pro Bowl in five seasons; Hopkins has been a first-team All-Pro in each of the past three. And while Hopkins’s desire to rework his contract certainly played into his trade value, there’s context to the Diggs deal, too: While he’s under contract for four more seasons, the receiver was clearly done in Minnesota.
Diggs made it known he wanted out. During the 2019 season, he skipped practices and declined to deny that he’d asked for a trade. The Vikings fined him for those unexcused absences, and then in the playoffs Diggs threw his helmet out of frustration with Minnesota’s offense. In recent days, Diggs has tweeted everything from clock emojis to the much less subtle “it’s time for a new beginning.”
Now he finally gets his wish. After two seasons of working with Kirk Cousins he gets … [squints] … Josh Allen. It could be a match made in heaven. The cannon-armed third-year quarterback has never had an elite downfield playmaker to play catch with, and Diggs could be the talent the Bills need to unlock Allen. It could also be a match made in hell. Diggs has never played with a quarterback who can’t hit the side of a barn before, and unless Allen dramatically improves his accuracy, Diggs could be frustrated like never before.
Click here to read Riley McAtee’s full story on the Stefon Diggs trade.
The Cowboys Had No Choice but to Pay Amari Cooper
March 16, 9:12 p.m. PT
Justin Sayles: Amari Cooper is headed back to the Dallas Cowboys on a five-year, $100 million contract that will make him one of the highest-paid wide receivers in football, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Monday.
The move was a necessary one: Hours earlier, the Cowboys tendered quarterback Dak Prescott with the franchise tag, which will pay him $31.5 million in 2020 unless the two sides negotiate a long-term deal. Cooper, whom Dallas traded a first-round pick for in 2018, has been Prescott’s favorite target, leading the team in receiving yards in both seasons since he came over from the Raiders and finishing 2019 as the no. 9 receiver in football, per Pro Football Focus’s grades. (The pair was particularly effective on deep passes.) Letting him go after investing that kind of draft capital in him would’ve been a disaster, especially when he can do things like this:
Amari Cooper, worth every penny. pic.twitter.com/WgpBJtQWnc— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 17, 2020
Still, the deal means that the Cowboys are paying toward the top of the market for several positions on offense. Ezekiel Elliott has the highest annual average salary at running back, while Zack Martin is the fourth-highest-paid guard. Cooper will slot in at second, behind only Julio Jones, who signed a record-setting extension last offseason. This spending has come at the expense of the Cowboys defense: While Dallas finished 2019 with the second-most-efficient offense per Football Outsider DVOA, they came in 19th on the other side of the ball. That was before losing cornerback Byron Jones, the team’s highest-graded defensive back by Pro Football Focus, to Miami in free agency on Monday. The Cowboys had little chance but to retain Cooper, but they’ve backed themselves into a precarious situation with all this money committed to an offense that led them to an 8-8 record in 2019.
Marcus Mariota Will Get a Fresh Start With the Raiders
March 16, 8:07 p.m. PT
Sayles: The Raiders landed a free-agent quarterback. No, not the one you’re thinking of.
The franchise has agreed to terms with former no. 2 pick Marcus Mariota, according to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. While the terms of the deal have yet to be reported, it’s a presumably low-risk move that could pay dividends for the Raiders, who have been linked to free-agent quarterback Tom Brady for months. For the quarterback, it’s a chance to rejuvenate his stalled career.
Mariota, who’s expected to slot in behind starter Derek Carr, had an up-and-down career in Tennessee after being drafted in 2015. He led the Titans to a wild-card win over the Chiefs in January 2018, but he went 29-32 as a starter and never topped 3,500 yards in a season. He dealt with nerve issues through the 2018 and 2019 seasons and was benched for Ryan Tannehill last year after a 2-4 start. After the Titans switched quarterbacks, they finished the regular season 7-3 before knocking off the Patriots and Ravens in the playoffs. Mariota, the would-be franchise savior, watched all the success from the sideline and appeared on the field for only five snaps after his Week 6 benching.
If there’s an optimistic template for Mariota in Las Vegas, however, it’s what his replacement was able to do in Tennessee. Tannehill, who signed a multiyear deal on Sunday, was cast off the Dolphins last spring after years of mediocrity in what some viewed as a salary dump. On the Titans, he found a more stable environment; once opportunity struck, he was able to seize it. Mariota, meanwhile, had four offensive coordinators in five years in Tennessee. It may sound odd to call Jon Gruden and the Raiders a “stable environment,” but the quarterback guru likely relishes the opportunity to work with a player like Mariota, and general manager Mike Mayock was extremely high on the former Heisman Trophy winner when he was coming out of college. Should Derek Carr fall out of favor—and given his history with Gruden, that certainly seems possible—Mariota could suddenly find himself in the best possible situation.
The Browns Are Going to Spend Their Way to Contention
March 16, 4:17 p.m. PT
Sayles: After a pair of high-profile moves to open free agency, it’s looking like the Browns could have the type of offense in 2020 many of us expected them to last season.
Hours after signing former Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, the team agreed to terms with right tackle Jack Conklin on a three-year deal that guarantees him $30 million. The former Titan, who was considered one of the best offensive lineman on the market, finished 15th in Pro Football Focus’ offensive tackle grades last season and was credited with allowing just four sacks all year.
The move should bolster a Browns line sorely in need of help. After having one of the best offensive lines in football in 2018, Cleveland traded guard Kevin Zeitler and failed to renew line coach Bob Wylie’s contract before last season. The result was a tough year for Baker Mayfield: The sophomore quarterback was sacked 40 times and under constant pressure as he regressed from his breakout rookie year. The team faltered along with him, finishing 6-10 after coming into 2019 with so much hype.
Monday’s moves make clear that new head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry think this team can contend. With Hooper, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry, Mayfield now has one of the most talented pass-catching groups in the league to work with, and adding Conklin is a great first step in rebuilding the line. (The Browns also added high-end backup quarterback Case Keenum on a three-year, $18 million deal on Monday, which would seem to indicate that Stefanski and Berry think they compete even if something were to happen to Mayfield.) And with more money to spend—and the opportunity to go after Washington left tackle Trent Williams presumably still on the table—chances are the front office isn’t done yet. The question is whether it will pay off on the field.
The Colts Finally Take a Swing by Trading for DeForest Buckner
March 16, 1:46 p.m. PT
McAtee: The Colts entered this offseason with a pile of money to spend, and they just decided to burn a chunk of it—and then some. Indianapolis is trading its first-round pick, no. 13, to the 49ers for defensive end DeForest Buckner. The trade includes a new contract for Buckner, who will now be the second-highest-paid defensive tackle, after Aaron Donald.
Trade AND deal: Colts trade first-round pick (13th overall) to 49ers for All-Pro DT DeForest Buckner, who already has agreed to a massive contract that pays him $21 million a year and makes him the second-highest paid DT in NFL history behind only Aaron Donald, sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
It’s a hefty price for the Colts to pay, but it fits with GM Chris Ballard’s team-building philosophy. Less than a month ago he said the defensive line is “how you win.”
Timely quote from Colts GM Chris Ballard, just a month ago: "I’m always going to be obsessed with the (defensive) front. I just believe that that’s how you win and that’s how you have sustained success over time."— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) March 16, 2020
Buckner is a very good player who has 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons combined, but he’s also made just one Pro Bowl in his career and the Niners just prioritized Arik Armstead, who they signed to a five-year, $85 million contract today, over him. For a team that has rarely taken big swings under Ballard, this Buckner trade is a swing for the fences. The Colts likely figured that they needed to spend the money anyway, and Buckner is a better player than they were likely to get with the 13th pick.
The Niners, meanwhile, now have two first-round picks a year after going to the Super Bowl. Unlike the Colts, the Niners were strapped for cash—it would have taken some wizardry to keep both Armstead and Buckner. Buckner is the superior player, but San Francisco is betting that Armstead on a cheaper deal and the 13th pick is better than Buckner and whatever much lesser pick they could have traded Armstead for. Now S.F. can add another highly drafted player to an already loaded roster.
There’s a good chance this deal will end up as a win-win, though we’ll have to see how Buckner performs in Indy and whether the Niners can hit with their new draft pick. In any case, this trade has no loser just yet.
Austin Hooper Could Be the Perfect Fit for Kevin Stefanski’s Browns
March 16, 10:41 a.m. PT
McAtee: The new highest-paid tight end in football isn’t Travis Kelce or George Kittle or Zach Ertz. It’s Austin Hooper. The former Falcon agreed to terms with the Browns on Monday:
It’s not yet clear what Hooper’s contract looks like, just that it pays him more than any other tight end in the game, eclipsing the five-year, $46 million contract Kelce signed in 2016. Hooper was an invaluable part of the Falcons offense last season, racking up 787 yards and six touchdowns in just 13 games. In Cleveland he’ll compete with—and likely essentially replace—David Njoku, who spent most of 2019 on injured reserve with a wrist injury.
New head coach Kevin Stefanski wants to run an offense that’s heavy on play-action—and that could mean getting tight ends involved. Hooper can be a mismatch in the red zone and on seam routes, helping quarterback Baker Mayfield get back on track after a down sophomore season. At any rate, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, and Nick Chubb combine for quite the collection of skill players for Mayfield—but we also thought that last year, too.
Making Sense of the Senseless DeAndre Hopkins Trade
March 16, 12:16 p.m. PT
Danny Heifetz: The Texans have traded receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-rounder, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain. It’s the type of trade that would get vetoed in fantasy football. If it sounds surprising, remember that the Texans front office is run by a full-time head coach whose no. 2 adviser is a former team chaplain with little to no scouting or coaching experience.
Cardinals get: WR DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th-round pick.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
Texans get: RB David Johnson, a second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and the first seven years of his career have been some of the best for any receiver through seven seasons in NFL history. But let’s set aside the Hopkins aspect of the deal for a moment. Trading for Johnson is a questionable decision in and of itself. He started just nine games in 2019 and carried the ball just 94 times for 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry). Worse, he was usurped by running back Kenyan Drake, whom the Cardinals traded for halfway through the year. In Johnson’s final seven games, he had just 18 carries for 47 yards. He was not listed on the injury report for much of the second half of the season, but he dealt with a back issue and an ankle injury earlier in the year. Either those injuries lasted longer than the Cardinals acknowledged, or a healthy Johnson was benched. Either one is concerning.
Click here to read Danny Heifetz’s story on Houston’s Hopkins trade.
Kirk Cousins and Guaranteed Money, Name a Better Duo
March 16, 9:16 a.m. PT
McAtee: A lot of football players will sign new NFL contracts this week, and then there is Kirk Cousins, who has once again signed a deal that looks more like an NBA contract. The quarterback has agreed to a two-year extension to remain with the Vikings. Just like the deal he signed in 2018, this one is nearly fully guaranteed.
For the #Vikings and QB Kirk Cousins, it’s a 2-year deal worth $66M, source said. In all, it’s 3 years, $96M. $61M guaranteed at signing.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2020
Per Spotrac, Cousins’s 2021 salary is fully guaranteed and his 2022 salary will become so next March, making this yet another offseason in which the quarterback gets a deal that he’ll almost surely see through. Before signing his three-year, $84 million contract in 2018, Cousins played back-to-back years in Washington on the franchise tag, and that netted him a total of $44 million. Now after two years in Minnesota, he’s locked in for another three seasons.
Cousins certainly likes that, but should Vikings fans? The quarterback’s tenure—his whole career, really—has been defined by a lack of success in big moments. He’s 1-2 in the playoffs, 0-9 on Monday Night Football, and has few—if any—of those signature wins that help define a quarterback’s career. There used to be a long-running meme that asked whether Joe Flacco was elite, poking fun at the contrast between the quarterback’s general mediocrity and his all-time performance that guided the Ravens to a Super Bowl win. Cousins is virtually the opposite—a reliable, good passer who has yet to see success when it counts.
And Cousins is a good passer. Last season, he ranked sixth in PFF’s grading, seventh in ANY/A, and 13th in QBR. He’s a great fit for Mike Zimmer’s Gary Kubiak–inspired offense, which asks the quarterback to rely heavily on play-action fakes—which means turning his back to the defense. Per PFF, Cousins used play-action on 30.5 percent of his dropbacks, the sixth most in the league. Cousins understands the benefits of play-action usage and has embraced that approach, which is exactly what Zimmer wants. It’s Cousins’s comfort in this system that made him a long-shot MVP contender back in October.
And while Cousins has had excellent playmakers in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook around him, he’s also had a poor pass-blocking offensive line, per PFF. His new deal actually lowers his cap hit by $10 million in 2020, and the hope would be that the team will use some of that money to get him better protection. Because Cousins has shown that, with the right system and players around him, he isn’t just worth his contract—he can be great.
The Chargers Continue to Lock Down Their Playmakers
March 13, 11:35 a.m. PT
McAtee: Exactly a week after the Chargers handed Austin Ekeler a new contract, they’re taking steps to hold on to another important piece of their offense. L.A. placed the franchise tag on tight end Hunter Henry on Friday:
The one-year deal will pay Henry roughly $11 million this season, though the Chargers reportedly have the playmaking tight end in their long-term plans. That makes sense: Henry is a premiere pass-catching tight end when healthy. After missing four of the first five weeks last season, Henry came back to tally 652 receiving yards and five touchdowns as the Chargers’ most reliable red zone pass catcher.
But “when healthy” is a big caveat. He’s suffered an ACL tear, a kidney laceration, a knee strain, and a tibial plateau fracture—all of which have cost him 23 games in his four-season career. It’s hard to tell which players are actually “injury prone” and which just have bad injury luck, but the Chargers are betting on the latter with Henry. If he can stay on the field, Henry is worth not just the tag, but a long-term contract.
Of course, Henry will have a new quarterback this season, as the Chargers won’t be bringing back Philip Rivers. And we all know one big-name quarterback on the market who loves having a reliable tight end—as well as a pass-catching running back. There were rumors aplenty that the Patriots would go after Henry in free agency to try to lure Tom Brady back to New England. There are still reasons why Brady may spurn the Chargers (that offensive line: yikes) (being in a division with Patrick Mahomes: even bigger yikes), but the receiving targets on the roster (including wideout Keenan Allen) sure feel like the type of players that Brady loves to operate around.
But that’s getting far ahead of ourselves. Henry will be an asset to any quarterback who wears powder blue next year, whether that person is the GOAT or a rookie.
Dak Prescott’s Quest to Become the Highest-Paid Quarterback in Football
March 9, 2:28 p.m. PT
Heifetz: “I don’t get hand cramps when writing checks,” Jerry Jones told reporters in November. Sure, but there’s a first time for everything.
Dallas has met with quarterback Dak Prescott’s agent since the combine ended, according to Calvin Watkins of The Dallas Morning News. Watkins reported that the Cowboys previously offered Prescott a deal worth $33 million annually, with $105 million guaranteed. Considering the three highest-paid players in football are Russell Wilson ($35 million annually), Ben Roethlisberger ($34 million), and Jared Goff ($33.5 million, lol), Prescott getting in the $33 million range seems reasonable. But his representation is likely to hold out for a better offer and with good reason.
If the two sides don’t agree to a long-term deal, the Cowboys can franchise tag Prescott to prevent him from becoming a free agent. But the tag comes with its own challenges. If the Cowboys use the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott (which is a mandatory, non-negotiable one-year contract), they will pay him roughly $33 million in 2020—a number that is likely the inspiration for the Cowboys’ mirroring offer. However, they’d be in the same position of trying to keep Prescott away from free agency again next year. If they used the tag a second year in a row, Prescott’s salary would cost closer to $40 million. In this scenario, Dallas would pay him about $73 million in the next two seasons—or an average of $36.5 million per year. That is what Prescott can expect to get if he refuses to sign a long-term deal and plays on the franchise tag. That makes $36.5 million the floor for this negotiation. The Cowboys’ previously reported offer of $33 million annually isn’t close to what it will take to sign him, and they likely know it.
Complicating all of this is the pending player vote on the latest collective bargaining agreement proposal. On Monday, the deadline for players to vote was moved from Thursday to Saturday, and the franchise-tag deadline (currently scheduled for Thursday) may get moved back to match, according to ESPN. If the new CBA does not pass, the Cowboys can use the franchise tag on Prescott and, because of a quirk in the old CBA rules, essentially use a second tag on wide receiver Amari Cooper, who’s also set to become a free agent. But if the new CBA passes, the Cowboys get only one tag. They’ll either have to use that tag on Prescott and pay Cooper closer to market value (perish the thought!) or pay Prescott market value and tag Cooper. Either way, it will be expensive for the Cowboys if the new CBA passes this weekend.
They’ll have to come closer to that $36.5 million figure to sign Prescott. That would make him the highest-paid quarterback in football, which might seem odd for a player who has accomplished so little. But Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo have all held that (admittedly overhyped and oversimplified) title before. Prescott has spent years as the league’s most underpaid player, despite being the most important player for the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Prescott’s career earnings with the Cowboys is less than $5 million. He’ll soon earn more than $2 million for every game. Jerry Jones might even get a hand cramp.
Josh Norman Signs in Buffalo
March 9, 11:56 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Josh Norman ended up with his former Carolina coach, but not the one he expected. The 32-year-old former first-team All-Pro signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills worth $6 million with up to $2 million in incentives. The weather in Buffalo likely will seem cold to someone who has never lived north of Virginia, but Norman is trying to prevent his career from being put on ice. Norman, one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in football, was benched for stretches last season during a dreadful season on a dreadful Washington team. Washington fired head coach Jay Gruden midseason and replaced him with Ron Rivera in December. Rivera coached Norman in Carolina and oversaw his rise from fifth-round draft pick to All-Pro. But Rivera released Norman on Valentine’s Day. In Buffalo, Norman will be reunited with Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, both of whom worked in Carolina during Norman’s time with the Panthers, and McDermott served as Norman’s defensive coordinator. If any team is going to find a useful spot for a veteran like Norman, Buffalo is his best bet.
Tom Brady Might Be Messing With Us
March 9, 11:56 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Tom Brady’s entire free-agency experiment might be one long, drawn-out spon-con ad. Brady revealed to Deadline and on Instagram that he has started a production company.
View this post on Instagram
I’m excited to announce to the world the official launch of 199 Productions. When I was the 199th draft pick in 2000, I knew I needed to work hard every day to prove myself. Launching a production company is no different and I’m humbled to have the opportunity to partner with @therussobrothers, @agbofilms and @gchopra on our first project “Unseen Football.” I believe in the essence of teamwork, and I have no doubt, our 199 Productions team and partners will create inspiring content to share with the world. Stay tuned.. exciting times are ahead, both on and off the field.
The company is working with the Russo brothers, who directed Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The company is already working on a project that includes Gotham Chopra, who directed Tom vs. Time, a Facebook Watch series that chronicled Brady’s experience during the 2017-18 season, which ended with the Patriots losing to the Eagles in the Super Bowl. In other words, there is a real chance Brady’s free-agency foray has been filmed this entire time.
If Brady leaves the Patriots, it will end one of the greatest dynasties in American professional sports and close the chapter on this era in NFL history. If Brady stays and releases a documentary series on his decision shortly afterward, we may look back at this as a marketing campaign. And if Brady leaves and releases a documentary, he might be a genius.
The Chargers Commit to Their Best Running Back
March 6, 12:45 p.m. PT
Riley McAtee: The Chargers just showed the rest of the NFL how to lock up a good running back. No, Melvin Gordon isn’t getting a new deal—Austin Ekeler is. Los Angeles is signing the back to a four-year extension, according to Adam Schefter:
Chargers and restricted free-agent RB Austin Ekeler reached agreement on a four-year, $24.5 million deal that includes $15 million guaranteed, sources tell ESPN.@camRONweiss of @DynamicSportGrp and @Chargers’ EVP Ed McGuire have been negotiating the deal since early January.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 6, 2020
L.A. is getting Ekeler on a deal that will make him the 10th-highest-paid back by average annual value, paying the restricted free agent a bit more than $6 million per year. That’s a bargain compared to the $12 million per year Gordon reportedly wanted last September—and could be a template for running back contracts around the league going forward.
While Ekeler hasn’t shown himself to be a bell-cow back who can be counted on for double-digit rushes per game, he’s so good at everything else that it doesn’t matter. Ekeler is arguably the best receiving back in football. He racked up 993 receiving yards in 2019 while splitting time with Gordon and Justin Jackson, and had 92 catches with only a single drop. His 9.2 yards per target was easily the highest among running backs and even eclipsed downfield receivers like Julio Jones and DK Metcalf. The Chargers are getting a part-time running back and a part-time slot receiver—the type of do-everything player that is a nightmare for defenses.
And Ekeler is no slouch as a runner, either. While he’s rarely gotten a high volume of carries, when Gordon was holding out in the first four weeks of 2019 we did get a glimpse of what Ekeler can be in a lead-back role. The Chargers back averaged 14 carries per game in those weeks (compared to 6.3 when Gordon was in the lineup), and delivered 55 rushing yards per game, 67.5 receiving yards per game, and six total touchdowns. Last season, Ekeler ranked sixth in Pro Football Focus’s elusive rating, which combines yards after contact and broken tackles, and in 2018 he ranked fifth. Last year, Gordon finished just 34th in that stat.
As an undrafted free agent out of Western State in 2017, Ekeler has averaged barely $550,000 per year for his past three seasons in the league. For an NFL player who has at times helped carry his offense, that’s pennies.
None of this would have been possible if Gordon didn’t hold out. Ekeler got a chance to prove himself in those weeks—and passed the test with flying colors. Now, Gordon’s own future is uncertain. It’s difficult to see the Chargers wanting to tie up too much more money at the running back position, especially with Gordon coming off a down year. The unrestricted free agent now needs to shop himself around.
Gordon held out because he wanted a running back to get paid. Ultimately it worked—just not for him.
Forget Free Agency. It’s Announcer Trade SZN.
March 5, 12:00 p.m. PT
Heifetz: Forget where Tom Brady will play next year. Real football fans care about which network Al Michaels will announce for next year. ESPN is planning to send NBC a trade request for Michaels in the hope of pairing him with Peyton Manning, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post.
This would not be the first time ESPN has been involved in an Al Michaels trade. In 2006, Al Michaels wanted to get out of his contract with ABC, which like ESPN is owned by Disney. According to then–ESPN president George Bodenheimer, Bodenheimer called Disney CEO Bob Iger to tell him Michaels wanted to leave. Iger contemplated the matter for a couple of days and then told Bodenheimer he’d trade Michaels to NBC for the rights to a cartoon character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Yes, this happened.
This time may be trickier. The Post story begins with “ESPN plans to attempt to acquire Al Michaels.” Please note the phrasing plans to attempt. This also works for “the New England Patriots plan to attempt to acquire Patrick Mahomes” and “Tulsi Gabbard plans to attempt to acquire the presidency.”
Tough to give up young assets for an aging talent but ESPN is in win-now mode. https://t.co/n9ea7Ik4VD— Danny Heifetz (@Danny_Heifetz) March 5, 2020
If ESPN is successful, it reportedly hopes to pair Michaels with Peyton Manning in the Monday Night Football booth to compete with CBS’ Tony Romo and Jim Nantz (that may be a kind way to say the current MNF announcing crew of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland has been less than stellar). Last week, Romo signed a 10-year, $180 million deal with CBS, which is larger than any contract an NFL player has signed. It’s like the L.A. Clippers adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George after the Lakers got LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it’s ESPN and CBS. With the NFL players voting on a collective bargaining agreement within the week, the league negotiations for new TV deals may begin soon. CBS, ESPN, and Fox pay billions to broadcast NFL games. The Romo and potential Michaels deals are merely housekeeping before inviting the NFL owners over for dinner.
But enough about business. Let’s run through the best fake media trades.
Fox gets: Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio
NBC gets: Announcer Gus Johnson
NBC needs Johnson to pair with Cris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football to compete with the superteams at CBS and ESPN. Fox gets Florio to argue with Terry Bradshaw on its pregame show.
NBC gets: Phil Simms
CBS gets: Chris Simms
A father-son swap. This would be even better than LeBron playing with Bronny James.
AT&T gets: Stephen A. Smith (via ESPN)
Disney gets: Batman (via DC Comics)
ESPN trades Stephen A. Smith to AT&T, which puts him on Inside the NBA on TNT with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaq, and Ernie Johnson to make the greatest television show of all time. The pregame show immediately draws higher ratings than actual basketball games. In exchange, AT&T sends Batman (which it owns through Time Warner) to Disney, which teams him up with the Avengers, who are looking to replace their reclusive billionaire inventor turned vigilante. Two superhero cartoon characters join their respective superteams.
Why Did the Chargers and Panthers Swap Linemen?
March 4, 6:05 p.m. PT
Heifetz: We do not know who will play quarterback for the Chargers or Panthers this season, but we do know who will be blocking for them. Carolina traded Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner to the Chargers for Los Angeles left tackle Russell Okung on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The move makes sense for both sides, but could have larger implications on the draft.
The Panthers have been trying and failing to fill their left tackle spot for the past three years. In 2017, the team signed left tackle Matt Kalil in free agency for $31 million guaranteed, but by the end of his first season in Carolina, he had been nicknamed “Speedbump McGee.” Kalil was on injured reserve less than a month into 2018, and the Panthers filled the hole with career backups Chris Clark and Marshall Newhouse. Last year, the Panthers drafted Ole Miss tackle Greg Little in the second round to fill that spot, but Little suffered a concussion and an ankle injury and started just three games. Now the Panthers are hoping Okung will be the answer at left tackle, but he is 32 and entering the final year of his contract. Okung, the favorite to be the next president of the NFLPA, missed the first two months of the season while recovering from a pulmonary embolism, though he returned in Week 8 and started six games. If Okung takes over at right tackle, Little will presumably compete for the right tackle job. The Panthers will need to replace Turner at right guard and potentially Greg Van Roten, who is a free agent, at left guard. Carolina may have three new offensive linemen in 2020, plus Little in a new spot. Considering the Panthers ranked no. 22 in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus last year, that’s not the worst situation for a team looking to improve its offense.
The Chargers blocking situation was more dire. Los Angeles ranked no. 31 in pass blocking last year, higher only than the decrepit Dolphins, who traded their left tackle days before the season began. The Chargers lose Okung but gain Turner, who seemed at peace with the move. Turner, 26, is looking for a new contract, and the Chargers may be more amenable to giving him one than the Panthers.
Turner can fill in at right guard. Los Angeles’s right guard, Michael Schofield, is a free agent, and the Turner trade suggests Schofield won’t be coming back. Ironically, Turner ranked as the 35th-highest-graded guard by Pro Football Focus last season (minimum 100 snaps) while Schofield ranked 36th. Yet the move leaves the Chargers even thinner at tackle, where they already have the often overwhelmed Sam Tevi on the right side. Without Okung last year, Tevi and backup Trent Scott allowed the second-most quarterback pressures of any tackle duo in the league, according to PFF. Moving on from Okung suggests the Chargers will look externally for a new left tackle. The free-agent market at the position is weak this year, which means they may look for a left tackle with the no. 6 pick in the draft. Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. are all talented linemen who could be around for the Chargers at that spot, though that decision could affect a half-dozen other teams too.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers have mutually separated, and Los Angeles was pegged to be looking at quarterbacks with their no. 6 pick. That pick puts them in potential range for Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Utah State’s Jordan Love, or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, depending on how the draft shakes out. If the Chargers were smitten with any of those players, trading their starting left tackle may not have been a wise choice. It would make a lot more sense if the Chargers were not in love with those passers and instead looking for an offensive lineman. Considering the Panthers have the no. 7 pick, immediately following the Chargers in the draft, this swap could look even more interesting on draft day. This trade may not have been as sexy as a quarterback trade, but it may be a clue as to what these teams will do—and perhaps the Panthers will end up with their future quarterback because the Chargers preferred a tackle.
The Broncos Get A.J. Bouye As the Jaguars Blow Things Up
March 3, 2 p.m. PT
McAtee: Remember Monday, when I wrote that Jacksonville should blow it all up and start over? It appears that process is underway:
The Broncos and Jaguars have agreed on a trade that would send cornerback A.J. Bouye to Denver for a 2020 fourth-round pick, league sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 3, 2020
The trade cannot be processed until the new league year begins March 18th.
It’s stunning that Bouye was sent off for only a fourth-round pick. The corner fell off a bit in 2019, but he made an All-Pro team in 2017 as an important piece for a dominant Jaguars defense. The Broncos are now on the hook to pay Bouye about $27 million over the next two years (assuming he isn’t cut, as his deal isn’t guaranteed), so the move helps alleviate some of Jacksonville’s cap concerns. It’s still a bargain for Denver, though, because the team has plenty of cap space and draft picks to burn—and a massive hole to fill at cornerback. Bouye is better than a fourth-round pick, but the salary realities for both teams made the corner cheap for Denver.
This trade also means that the Broncos likely won’t re-sign Chris Harris Jr., who is set to hit free agency. The 30-year-old veteran has played nine seasons in Denver, earning four Pro Bowl nods in his time there; he’s also recently been shopping himself around at the NFL combine. His chances of re-signing with Denver were already slim, and Bouye can be the team’s replacement for him.
This Broncos defense has a chance to ascend to the top of the league. Head coach Vic Fangio is a defensive wizard, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combine to be one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league, and Bouye still carries Pro Bowl potential. If the Broncos can find one or two more defensive pieces and coach each of them up to their potential, even division rival Patrick Mahomes could have some trouble. Well, let’s not get carried away—at the very least, this defense could be very fun.
It’s Time for the Jaguars to Start Over
March 2, 11:16 a.m. PT
McAtee: The Jaguars as we know them are coming apart at the seams. A year after Jalen Ramsey forced a trade to get out of Jacksonville, the team has another disgruntled defensive star in Yannick Ngakoue. The former Pro Bowl defensive end and soon-to-be free agent tweeted Monday that he has no interest in signing a long-term deal with the team:
The Jaguars are aware I no longer have interest in signing a long term contract in Jacksonville. Duval, I love you and gave you guys everything I got. I’m thankful for the journey and look forward to continuing my career elsewhere. -91— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) March 2, 2020
A cool three minutes later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that the Jags won’t let Ngakoue go that easily. The team is considering using the franchise tag on the pass rusher, which would allow them to work a trade with an interested party:
Jacksonville Jaguars will use their franchise tag on pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, per league sources. The tag will allow them to try to trade him if that’s what they decide or are forced to do.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 2, 2020
The franchise tag would cost the Jaguars about $19.3 million in 2020, which would essentially drain the team of all of its available cap space. Jacksonville has just $21.4 million to spend in 2020, per Over the Cap’s projections, and while there are always ways to free up space in the NFL, this would put the Jags in a tight spot—especially considering it’d be for a player who doesn’t want to be there. And Ngakoue reportedly wants a deal that averages about $22 million per year, so he wouldn’t be happy on the tag.
Is Ngakoue worth that price? In four seasons in Jacksonville, he has recorded 37.5 sacks and 85 quarterback hits. Though he ranked just 36th among edge rushers, according Pro Football Focus, the 24-year-old can contribute to the pass rush for just about any team. But his run defense is questionable and he’s not exactly a premier pass rusher. At that salary, the Jags are probably best off letting Ngakoue walk.
Even with all that under consideration, losing Ngakoue will be a blow to the once-vaunted Jacksonville defense. Two years ago, the Jaguars came just a few plays short of a Super Bowl appearance thanks to their ferocious defense, which featured Pro Bowlers in Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, A.J. Bouye, Malik Jackson, and Ngakoue. If the team loses Ngakoue this offseason, then only Campbell will remain from that group.
But there’s more out of Jacksonville. The team is also considering moving on from quarterback Nick Foles, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler. The Jaguars want to stick with Gardner Minshew II at quarterback and find a trade partner for Foles, who has three years left on the contract he signed with the team last offseason. If the Jags can get a deal for Foles done, that’d certainly help with their money issues—Foles is set to count for more than $22 million against the cap in 2020.
That $22 milion the team could save by dealing Foles could pay for Ngakoue … but the Jaguars need to look at the bigger picture. Multiple star players don’t want to play for the team, and the squad’s high-priced quarterback could spend 2020 warming the bench. This is a disaster. In December, owner Shad Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin a few days after the NFLPA won a grievance against the Jaguars for the franchise’s rehab practices and sent a letter to players warning them not to sign in Jacksonville.
Forget the franchise tag and the salary cap math—what the Jaguars need to do is move on from Ngakoue, Foles, and just about everyone who was a part of their 2017 run. It’s time to blow it up and start over.
Andy Dalton Can’t Save Chicago, but He Can’t Be Much Worse Than Mitchell Trubisky
February 28, 4:26 p.m. PT
McAtee: The Bears are finally serious about the Mitchell Trubisky problem. Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic reports that Chicago has been “in touch” with the Bengals about quarterback Andy Dalton. The 32-year-old former Pro Bowler will likely become redundant in Cincinnati after April’s draft, when the Bengals are expected to take Joe Burrow no. 1 overall. Meanwhile the Bears appear to be a quarterback away from competing, and Dalton carries a manageable $17.7 million cap hit in 2020 before his contract runs out in 2021.
Is Dalton better than Trubisky? Who knows? He outranked the Bears’ incumbent starter in QBR (27th to 28th) and PFF grade (25th to 30th), and adjusted net yards per attempt (29th to 30th), but his numbers are only marginally better. Dalton, of course, played with one of the worst rosters in football last year while Trubisky’s surrounding talent was significantly better, but it’s not like Dalton is a savior worth trading high picks away for. Luckily, Chicago may not have to do that.
None of Dalton’s 2020 money is guaranteed, so the Bengals could look to just release him before the season starts. That means the Bears—or any other team looking for a stopgap veteran to plug in under center—may not need to work a trade with the Bengals. They can just wait Cincinnati out.
In Chicago, Dalton would reunite with former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was the OC in Cincinnati in 2017 and 2018. Even if Dalton is only marginally better than Trubisky, this report is a good indication that the Bears have realized they need a shake-up at quarterback. The former no. 2 overall pick has struggled since he entered the league in 2017, and the Bears can’t progress until he either dramatically improves or they make a change under center. With the former looking unlikely, it’s time to explore the latter.
Tom Brady Watch, Combine Edition: Sources Say “It’s Not Looking Good” for the Patriots
February 27, 9:30 a.m. PT
Heifetz: The Patriots and Tom Brady are taking a break, and rumor has it that it will soon become a breakup. Like the rest of this offseason’s great Tom Brady saga, when interest is maximal but information is minimal, all Brady-related push notifications can be categorized into speculation versus information. When ESPN’s Jeff Darlington went on Get Up! Thursday morning and proclaimed that he would be “stunned” if Brady returned to the Patriots, that is educated speculation—but speculation nonetheless.
The most substantive information to come out Thursday was that the Patriots have still yet to reach out to Brady or his agents for a new contract, according to The Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian. Per Guregian’s source, “it’s not looking good” for New England.
The Patriots still have not reached out to Tom Brady. According to a source, “it’s not looking good”— Karen Guregian (@kguregian) February 27, 2020
That report is curious considering the prior reports that the team wants to get a Brady deal done before free agency begins on March 18. The March 18 deadline has been identified for two reasons: (1) Failing to re-sign Brady before then would create $13.5 million in dead money on the Patriots’ salary cap, but signing him before that date would allow New England to spread that accounting cost over two years; and (2) the Patriots don’t want to wait if they have to find a new starting quarterback. With plenty of viable quarterback options available in free agency or on the trade block, including players like Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton, and Philip Rivers, the Pats want to go into free agency knowing whether Brady is with them or not.
Complicating the (lack of) negotiations here is that the league and players have yet to agree to a new CBA, and it may not make sense for Bill Belichick and Co. to make contact with Brady’s representation until they understand the salary cap situation in 2020 and beyond. For now, we’re just left with big Ross and Rachel energy.
Washington Isn’t Going to Draft a QB—We Think
February 26, 4:15 p.m. PT
Sayles: New Washington head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Wednesday that his team will meet with Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa—the top two quarterback prospects in this year’s draft—this week in Indianapolis. It makes sense for the team with the no. 2 pick to explore all of its options. But there’s one catch: Washington drafted a QB in the first round just last year. Could the team really be ready to move on from Dwayne Haskins so soon?
Probably not. Teams do their due diligence on all the players they could theoretically be in position to draft; it would be irresponsible not to. Plus, the intel gathered in these meetings could bear fruit later, should the player become available. Or perhaps another team interested in Burrow or Tagovailoa may get nervous and offer Washington a haul for the no. 2 spot. This is logical football maneuvering—something Washington fans haven’t seen for a while.
However, one of Rivera’s comments on Wednesday would seem to indicate that moving on from Haskins is in play, if not likely: “Everything is an option. We’re not closing the door on anything.” This would be unheard of had a similar situation not happened in 2019, when the Cardinals used the no. 1 pick to take Kyler Murray and then traded Josh Rosen, whom they’d picked in the first round the previous year. There were different dynamics at play—namely, incoming Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was a longtime fan of Murray—but there are some similarities. Washington, like Arizona in 2019, has a new regime in place that has no ties to the previous first-rounder. If Haskins isn’t the preferred quarterback of Rivera and new vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith, and if they feel that they may not be in position to draft another signal-caller highly for a while, they may strike this April.
There’s also the matter of Haskins outperforming Rosen as a rookie, however slightly. Rosen was considered an NFL-ready prospect entering the league in 2018. While he played behind a terrible offensive line in his first season, he did little to back up the hype. Going by adjusted net yards per attempt, Rosen posted the fourth-worst season ever for a rookie QB, ahead of only Jared Goff, Ryan Leaf, and Terry Bradshaw. Haskins appears on the list at no. 15, and while he was terrible as a pocket passer, he started just seven games to Rosen’s 13. In those small sample sizes, most of the numbers favor Haskins. While there were questions about Haskins’s mobility entering the league, he flashed the ability to move in the pocket in 2019. With a new coaching staff, he could flourish.
So for now, expect Washington to remain where it’s at in the draft and focus on taking Haskins’s former Ohio State teammate Chase Young. But if someone unearths some old Rivera comments pining for Tua, the expectations could shift.
It Always Made Sense for the Panthers to Stick With Cam Newton
February 25, 10:53 a.m. PT
Riley McAtee: The Panthers will stick with Cam Newton. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the team is happy with how Newton’s rehab from a Lisfranc injury is progressing and want to ease the transition to new head coach Matt Rhule:
#Panthers coach Matt Rhule and his staff have been encouraged with how Cam Newton has treated his rehab and how intent he is to get back to top form. He’s spent plenty of time in town. With so much to rebuild in other areas, having a legit starter in place eases the transition. https://t.co/LIvqQDj5b5— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 25, 2020
That report should put to bed months of speculation that Carolina would move on from its longtime quarterback. It also serves as a positive marker for Newton’s health, which has hung over Carolina’s offseason like a storm cloud. On February 11, owner David Tepper said the main hangup was Newton’s health. “Is he healthy?” Tepper said at the time. “Tell me that and then we can talk.” Newton isn’t 100 percent just yet, with Rapoport saying “it will be several months” until Newton’s foot, which he injured in the 2019 preseason and underwent surgery to repair in December, is healthy.
Newton will turn 31 in 2020, and is entering the last year of his deal with the Panthers. He’s repeatedly said that he wants to remain with the Panthers, and if he can return to form, the Panthers would surely love to have him. At his best he’s a one-of-a-kind QB capable of winning the league’s MVP award and carrying his team to the Super Bowl. A great quarterback is the best asset in the NFL, and the Panthers, owners of the no. 7 pick, aren’t likely to get Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa in the draft. It always made sense for them to give Cam at least one more shot.
Stefon Diggs Removes Instagram Posts
February 19, 6:05 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Stefon Diggs has removed all of his photos of him in Vikings gear from his Instagram account, so we are officially back on Stefon Diggs trade watch. But before we dive in, let’s clarify: We do not know that Diggs deleted these posts. Instagram lets you archive pictures, so the wishy-washy among us can take something off the timeline but still have the option to bring it back.
Having said that, removing the photos, permanently or not, would be a weird thing to do unless Diggs wants a trade or thinks he is going to get traded. It’s one thing to do this if he had left the team, but it’s another to do it while he’s still on it. Last night, amid this trade speculation, Diggs (who appears to be in his hometown near Washington, D.C.) posted an Instagram with the caption “11:11… make a wish” around 11:11 p.m. ET. Vikings fans are wondering if he is wishing he plays for another team this season.
It is worth noting Diggs still has photos and videos of him in Vikings gear on his active Twitter account and his not-so-active Facebook account.
This is not the first time Diggs had a flare-up with the Vikings. Last year in Week 4, Diggs was asked point-blank about whether he’d requested a trade, and he, um, didn’t make much of an attempt to deflect.
”I said there’s truth to all rumors,” Diggs said. “What I mean by that ... there’s a lot of speculation of me being frustrated. Of course being a receiver and wanting to have success and wanting to win. If you’re not winning, of course you’ll be frustrated. That’s my answer.”
Diggs had just four catches for 76 yards in two playoff games with the Vikings this year. In Minnesota’s 27-10 loss to the 49ers, Diggs caught a touchdown on the Vikings’ opening drive but did not catch another pass until Minnesota’s second-to-last drive of the game. Kirk Cousins is entering the final year of his contract, and the Vikings are committed to a run-heavy approach. Minnesota had the third-fewest pass attempts in the league and was one of three teams who ran more than they passed in 2019. Diggs may feel better suited to play for one of the 27 teams that passed more than 30 times per game last year, or at least for a different quarterback.
Drew Brees Is Back—Maybe for the Last Time
February 18, 10:49 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Drew Brees is going to play football in 2020, according to a very 41-year-old-dad Instagram post on Tuesday.
Not totally sure how this picture explains “my feelings about the 2020 season!” Is this a reference to reaching the mountaintop? Because there is definitely a higher mountaintop in the frame. Perhaps the cliff Brees is standing on represents the wild-card round, and he is staring at the divisional round in the distance?
Whatever the metaphor, Brees will be back in 2020 for his 20th season as an NFL quarterback and his 41st year on planet Earth. Only five other players have thrown 30 or more passes in a game at age 41 or older: Tom Brady, Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Brett Favre, and Doug Flutie. Only Brady has done it more than seven times. Brees threw at least 30 passes in all 10 of his full starts last season, and he’s a safe bet to hit that threshold again this year. There is almost no blueprint for a 41-year-old quarterback leading an offense, let alone a good offense. There is just Brady’s past two years and Favre’s final season with the Vikings when he was 41 years old. Brees is charting his own course here.
New Orleans has become much more of a running team in recent years. In the nine seasons from 2007 to 2016, the Saints ranked in the top two in pass attempts seven times. But in the past three seasons, New Orleans has ranked no. 19, no. 23, and no. 13 in that category. A major part of that shift is the Saints defense going from one of the league’s worst to one of the league’s best. Better defensive play in recent years has given them more late leads and led to running the clock out more in the second half to seal wins. Brees’s arm strength is not what it was five years ago, so the Saints shifted to a run-oriented game with Alvin Kamara at a convenient time.
The Saints are coming off of three extremely disappointing seasons. The Minneapolis Miracle ended their 2017 season in the divisional round, the missed pass interference penalty in the NFC championship game kept them from the Super Bowl the next year, and they face-planted on their double revenge tour in the wild-card round this past January. Now Brees returns for what could be the last year of this absurdly talented Saints team. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, running back Alvin Kamara, and safety Marcus Williams are all All-Pro-caliber players, and all will be seeking second contracts next year. (Lattimore and Ramczyk will likely have a team option added for the 2021 season, while Kamara and Williams will be free agents next year.) Combine the uncertainty surrounding those players with the potential retirement of Brees, and the Saints might be hitting the reset button in 2021. We don’t know the exact terms Brees will agree on with the Saints, but his return is a formality and it’s unlikely he’ll sign a deal that binds him to the team beyond next season. What the Saints will do at quarterback beyond next year is a mystery.
New Orleans likely does not have the cap space to make a competitive offer to free agent Teddy Bridgewater, Brees’s backup in 2019 who went 5-0 after a wrist injury forced Brees out of the lineup midseason. He’s also likely to have a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere for twice what he was paid last season. It’s unclear whether third-stringer Taysom Hill is viewed as a gadget player or a legitimate successor, so the Saints’ plan at quarterback is muddled. New Orleans has always been a team focused on the short term, and this year may take that to the extreme. This could be the last ride for the Sean Payton–Drew Brees Saints. New Orleans leads the league in just about every offensive category since the two teamed up in 2006, and Brees has become the all-time leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completion percentage in that time. Now we’ll see whether he can get to the mountaintop.
Who Wants a 32-Year-Old Cornerback on the Decline?
February 14, 10:34 a.m. PT
Sayles: You can put to bed the idea that new Washington head coach Ron Rivera can rejuvenate Josh Norman’s career.
According to the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the team is releasing the cornerback after four largely disappointing seasons. The move allows Norman to sign with another team starting now, before free agency begins in mid-March. The question is, will any team be in the market for a 32-year-old defensive back five years removed from his lone All-Pro appearance?
Norman signed with Washington in 2016 under dramatic circumstances: He had broken out in Carolina the previous season, emerging as a leader on a team that went 15-1 and made the Super Bowl. Then–Panthers GM Dave Gettleman franchise-tagged Norman, but quickly removed it after negotiations on a long-term deal stalled. Two days later, Norman signed a five-year, $75 million contract with Washington, which at the time made him the highest-paid cornerback in league history.
The move didn’t turn out to be an Albert Haynesworth–style disaster, but Washington hardly got what it paid for. Norman had just seven interceptions across four years and never ranked higher than no. 33 in Pro Football Focus’s cornerback grades. In 2019, when he started eight games after being benched at midseason, he came in at no. 191. As Norman flailed, so did Washington: The team won the NFC East the year before he arrived, but hasn’t made it back to the postseason since. In 2019, Washington finished 3-13 and 24th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA. There was simply no way the team was going to pay Norman the $12 million he was owed for 2020.
While Norman seemed to think Rivera could turn around the culture created by owner Dan Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen, he’ll have to watch that process play out from afar. (At the moment, he doesn’t seem too bothered.) But where could Norman land? Cornerbacks such as Joe Haden and Richard Sherman have had late-career resurgences after changes in scenery, but both are younger than Norman and had more consistent track records before splitting with their previous employer. There are certainly plenty of DB-needy teams out there—the Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings, Chiefs, and Lions immediately spring to mind—but with images like these likely burned into their minds, it may be hard for Norman to get a chance to rejuvenate his career anywhere.
The Lions Say They Aren't Trading Matthew Stafford. But They Could Create Draft Chaos.
February 13, 10:56 a.m. PT
Heifetz: The Lions are not trading Matthew Stafford, at least according to the Lions.
On Thursday, general manager Bob Quinn quickly shot down a report from a Detroit TV station that the Lions are attempting to move the 11-year veteran. It would certainly be the right move to hold on to Stafford—before he went out with broken bones in his back in November, he was playing as well as he ever had. Lions ownership gave Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia a mandate to compete for a playoff spot in 2020, and the team’s best bet to do so is with Stafford under center.
While Thursday’s news will likely amount to little more than noise, it did underscore what could be one of this offseason’s biggest story lines: The Lions hold the third pick in April and are the key to how the rest of draft unfolds.
LSU’s Joe Burrow seems all but assured to be the Cincinnati Bengals’ choice at no. 1, and Washington would be remiss to not select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young at no. 2. But there’s no indication of what Detroit could do. The Lions could add the third-best player on their board, which could be versatile Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, or one of the other top prospects. Or they might be wiser to make a trade. The Dolphins, Chargers, Panthers, Jaguars, Raiders, and Colts are all in the top 13 and could be looking to trade up for a franchise quarterback. If multiple teams show interest in the no. 3 pick, the Lions could host a bidding war.
How hungry teams are for new quarterbacks depends on two things: how free agency shakes out, and how excited teams are about the other top quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. We don’t know where Tom Brady and Cam Newton—or even Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick—will end up now, but the musical chairs will mostly settle before April. By the time teams begin drafting, we can expect at least a couple of top-13 teams to still be searching for quarterbacks, and from there it depends on whether they are smitten with their options: Tua Tagovailoa from the University of Alabama and Justin Herbert from Oregon.
Tagovailoa had one of the most efficient passing careers in college football history and would be on Burrow’s tier as a prospect if not for a hip injury that prematurely ended his final college season. His hip fracture has healed and he will likely be able to participate in drills again in March, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Tagovailoa’s hip will be examined by multiple NFL team doctors at the scouting combine in February. That medical information isn’t public, so we likely won’t know how close Tagovailoa is to 100 percent. We do know that if he is close, multiple teams will want him. And that list could even include the Lions, despite what Bob Quinn says.
What Kind of Market Will There Be for Andy Dalton?
February 12, 12:48 p.m. PT
Sayles: The Bengals will reportedly work with Andy Dalton on a trade, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, a move that’s been expected since Cincinnati landed the no. 1 pick and the chance to select its next franchise quarterback in April’s draft. But what kind of market will develop for the nine-year veteran?
Dalton’s 2019 likely did little to inspire confidence in his potential suitors. He was benched at midseason, and when he did play, he didn’t look great. In 13 starts, he posted the lowest passer rating of his career and his worst completion percentage since his rookie season. Among qualified players, he posted the third-worst QBR, finishing ahead of just Kyle Allen and Mason Rudolph, two backup quarterbacks who were thrust into starting roles after injuries to the men ahead of them.
But Dalton, whom the Bengals drafted in the second round in 2011, was playing for a first-year head coach on moribund team that lost its top wideout to a preseason ankle injury. He wasn’t great, but he may have not been the biggest problem in Cincinnati. As my colleague Robert Mays wrote in October, Dalton’s play hasn’t varied much in his career—he’s been both an MVP candidate and a punch line, but he’s essentially been the same guy all along. Dalton has typically been as good as the cast around him, and a team with a win-now roster could roll the dice on him and his $17.7 million contract for 2020 and hope for a Ryan Tannehill–like resurgence.
The question is whether any of the teams that fit that bill will need him, given the glut of starting quarterbacks set to hit the market. Philip Rivers is officially out in Los Angeles. Cam Newton and the Panthers could be headed for a divorce. Tom Brady, you may have heard, will test free agency. Any of those veteran options would offer more upside—and for teams like the Chargers and the Raiders, who are moving into new homes in September, more star wattage. Players like Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, and possibly Jameis Winston will also be available. Each of those players has clear limitations, but they’re younger and could be a better long-term investment.
Quarterbacks including Joe Flacco and Alex Smith have moved before free agency started the past few years. They would seem to be the closest analogues for someone like Dalton—a solid, but unspectacular veteran who could offer an instant upgrade for the right team. However, it’s virtually impossible to project where he could land until we see how the rest of the QB landscape shakes out. The Bengals and Dalton are both seemingly motivated to get this done, but if the market for him never materializes, the best move may be for him to stay in Cincinnati and mentor Joe Burrow or whomever the team takes at the top of the draft.
Wait, Taysom Hill Thinks He’s a Starting Quarterback?
February 12, 12:48 p.m. PT
Heifetz: Taysom Hill did every job for the Saints except sell beer at the Superdome, but apparently he isn’t content with being a Swiss army knife for Sean Payton.
When we last saw Hill, he threw a 50-yard pass, ran four times for another 50 yards, and caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings in the wild-card round. He is a throwback to a bygone era of football and also a glimpse at its positionless future. Like anyone born in the wrong generation, he is unhappy. Hill is a free agent and apparently wants to be seen as a franchise quarterback, not just the quarterback/tight end/fullback/punt gunner he’s been for the past couple of years.
“You have to find the situation to take care of your family,” Hill told Rob Maaddi this week. “You know, I want to play quarterback in this league, and if New Orleans don’t view me that way, well, then I have to leave. So that’s really where we’re at.”
Not only is Hill a free agent, but so are the two players ahead of him on last year’s depth chart, Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. Brees is expected to return for his 20th season in 2020—and if he doesn’t, he’ll likely retire instead of trying to find another team. If he stays in New Orleans, it might be hard for the Saints to retain Bridgewater. Bridgewater went 5-0 in relief of Brees in 2019, and that might make him desirable enough in free agency that the team can’t afford to pay him close to starter money to sit on their bench. Hill may not be as polished as Bridgewater, but he’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper.
While Brees and Bridgewater are unrestricted free agents, Hill is a restricted free agent. That means the Saints can offer him a roughly $3.2 million contract for 2020, and if another team wants to sign Hill at that price it’d have to send New Orleans a second-round pick. If the Saints bump Hill’s salary to $4.5 million, a team wanting to match Hill’s deal would have to send the Saints a first-round pick. It is unlikely any team would send a second-rounder for Hill, let alone a first, so if the Saints want Hill back for $3.2 million, it won’t be an issue. Meanwhile, Bridgewater could easily surpass $15 million annually for a team that sees him as a potential starter. Hill may have thoughts about where he wants to go, but it isn’t really up to him.
Hill may seem like he’s come out of nowhere, but he is already 29 years old. (He served a mission for the Mormon church from 2009 to 2011 and then spent five years at BYU, including a medical redshirt after multiple injuries.) By the time Hill could become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, he’d already be 30—the same age Cam Newton is now. The Baltimore Ravens’ creativity with Lamar Jackson makes it more feasible than ever that Hill’s skill set could be used by an NFL team. But the Ravens invested in Jackson when he was 21 years old, and it seems unlikely that any team other than New Orleans would take the same risk on the much older Hill. His best place is probably in Payton’s pocket.
Dallas Wants a Deal With Dak Done Within 28 Days
February 11, 11:22 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Weight loss, marriage pacts, NFL contract negotiations: Self-imposed deadlines rarely work, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen love a challenge. Dallas wants to sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a new contract by March 10, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Teams don’t usually try to do this. Truncating a negotiation that usually takes a few months into a few weeks requires large concessions, and the only concessions teams like are the kinds that players give up by adhering to arbitrary team-imposed deadlines (or the kinds that fans pay for by purchasing $14 Bud Lite tallboys).
The Joneses want a deal done by March 10 because it is the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag. The franchise tag is a collectively bargained clause where teams pay a percentage of—wait, did your eyes just glaze over? Do you, like me, want to gouge out your eyes with a spoon when you hear the franchise tag explained? I’ll keep this simple. The franchise tag forces a player into a one-year contract rather than letting that player reach free agency. Normally teams love using the franchise tag because it artificially suppresses wages. But the Cowboys are not run like most other teams, and Prescott’s negotiation is not a normal situation.
Jerry and Stephen have said multiple times that the team is going to sign Dak to an extension. That makes fans feel better. It makes Jerry feel better. It also makes Prescott’s agents at CAA feel better, because they can demand a lot more money. For reasons that involve math, every year Prescott puts off signing a long-term deal, the more that deal will be worth. Prescott played out the last year of his contract in 2019, a risk many players don’t like to take because of the possibility injury. But by delaying negotiations a year, Prescott probably improved his fortunes from roughly $30 million or so annually to a floor of $35 million. If Prescott plays on the franchise tag this year, it could set the floor for his long-term deal closer to $40 million annually. The Cowboys have the inverse incentive and want to get a deal done soon. That drive is further complicated because the franchise tag has some wacky rules for this 2020 offseason, allowing teams to use two tags instead of just one (we could go into the details, but make sure you have a spoon handy).
If the Cowboys get a deal done with Prescott by March 10, they could use the franchise tag on receiver Amari Cooper and cornerback Byron Jones, both of whom are also free agents. But if Dallas doesn’t reach a deal with Dak in the next four weeks, they’ll have to tag Prescott and Cooper and risk losing Jones to free agency. They’ll have to pitch Prescott on being a team player to keep the gang together, but Prescott is going to make sure they pay up for it. Last year’s negotiations with running back Ezekiel Elliott went into the season, and while Elliott emerged as nominally the highest-paid running back in football, he ultimately gave Dallas control over the next eight years of his career. Elliott parachuted into Cowboys practice from Cabo days before Week 1, but the team had already prepared for his absence. They could have proceeded with running back Tony Pollard, but nobody is pretending the Cowboys will go into 2020 without Dak. That gives Prescott far more leverage than Elliott ever dreamed of. The Dallas Cowboys, the most valuable sports franchise in the world, are experiencing an unfamiliar sensation—getting squeezed.
Mr. Williams Goes to Washington?
February 11, 11:22 a.m. PT
Heifetz: Ron Rivera is beginning his Washington coaching tenure by making amends. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Rivera and left tackle Trent Williams have “touched base,” the most neutral language in the entire workplace lexicon. But touching base is an improvement from Washington’s previous relationship with their star left tackle. Williams refused to play for Washington in 2019, forfeiting roughly $10 million in salary, because he believed Washington’s medical staff did not properly handle a cancerous growth on his head that Williams said “almost cost me my life.”
Last winter, Williams said that he did not have an issue with owner Dan Snyder, but he had sharp words for team president Bruce Allen.
“I don’t see how it can be reconciled,” Williams told reporters about his relationship with the team in December. “At the end of the day, I’m a human being. I ain’t like a dog and you can slap the shit out of me and I’m going to come back the next morning with my tail wagging. This was a conscious decision; they didn’t burn the bridge by accident. This was something they felt comfortable doing, so I got to feel comfortable with moving on, too.”
Washington fired Allen in December, a major step toward changing the team’s culture. Snyder hired Rivera to be the team’s head coach, swapping in one of the league’s least loved executives for one of the league’s most respected head coaches as the main tone-setter in the organization. Rivera will have a lot of work to cleanse Washington of its stink, but thawing the frozen relationship with Williams is the best place to start. The team needs him on the field. He is their best offensive lineman when healthy, and the team will lean on him even more if left guard Brandon Scherff leaves in free agency. As the left tackle protecting the blindside for 22-year-old quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Williams is key to Haskins’s development.
Williams may be even more important to the team off the field. Washington is a young team, which was exemplified when Haskins took a selfie with a fan while he was supposed to be on the field taking a kneel-down to end his first win as a starter. Williams is one of the few veterans on the team who has been an All-Pro on the field and a professional off of it, even when the organization was not a source of pride. How the club treats a star like Williams will resonate among the younger players. Williams worked his butt off since Washington drafted him as the no. 4 pick in 2010, and he has spent his entire career as the stalwart for an organization where change has felt constant everywhere except at the top. If the organization wants its talented young players to work their butts off, too, they’d be wise to do whatever it takes to bring Williams back.
The Chargers Are Moving on From Philip Rivers. Where Will He Go Now?
February 10, 12:38 p.m. PT
McAtee: When the Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles before the 2017 season, Rivers refused to move with them. He played in L.A., sure, but he kept his home and family down south and commuted every day.
“My two biggest things were my family time and my preparation and what I owe this football team,” Rivers said in 2017. “I was not going to sacrifice either of them in any big proportion.”
This year, the quarterback finally moved—but not to Los Angeles. In January, Rivers “permanently” left San Diego for Florida, according to ESPN. That seemed to put an end to the Rivers era in Los Angeles–San Diego, and on Monday it became official: The team won’t pursue the quarterback as he hits free agency.
End of an era: Los Angeles Chargers and QB Philip Rivers have mutually agreed that Rivers will enter free agency and not return to the team for the 2020 season.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 10, 2020
At the end of the regular season, Rivers said he plans “to play football” next season. The only question is where. Given his new home base and aversion to living away from his family, it would seem likely that he needs a suitor in Florida. Enter the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has “legitimate” interest in Rivers, per ESPN’s Jenna Laine. After another up-and-down season from Jameis Winston, the Bucs could move on from him this offseason. The 38-year-old Rivers, meanwhile, could be a stop-gap measure while Tampa Bay figures out its QB of the future. But Rivers is an up-and-down quarterback himself: He threw for 4,615 yards, but also had 20 interceptions to go with 23 touchdowns. He ranked near the bottom of the league in QBR and was 17th in PFF’s grading. He may not be totally washed yet, but he’s far from his Pro Bowl form.
While the Bucs may pursue Rivers, they could also go after a number of other quarterbacks, from the unrealistic (Tom Brady) to the intriguing (Teddy Bridgewater) to the disappointing (Winston). If Tampa Bay passes on Rivers, this may be the end of the road for him—unless he’s willing to live somewhere else.
There’s not much other chatter out there about Rivers right now—it shouldn’t be surprising that the market for a semi-washed veteran is a bit dry. But one team that makes too much sense to not bring up is the Colts. That’d require Rivers to make another move—or another ridiculous commute—but unlike Tampa Bay, Indianapolis is ready to win now, and Rivers has familiarity with the coaching staff:
The Colts' head coach AND their offensive coordinator were Philip Rivers' position coach for multiple seasons in San Diego. Nick Sirianni has a ton of respect for Philip Rivers. https://t.co/RKrV7ptpS8— Robert Mays (@robertmays) February 10, 2020
Nobody Knows Anything About Tom Brady, Despite What You’ve Heard
February 10, 12:38 p.m. PT
Sayles: For a few hours this weekend, it looked like Tom Brady would be headed to Dallas, at least according to Michael Irvin.
The legendary Cowboys receiver turned NFL Network analyst popped up on WEEI’s Dale and Keefe at the end of last week to talk about conversations he had with “very significant people” during Super Bowl week about a scenario that would get Brady to Jerry World. The plan, according to Irvin, would be for the Cowboys to tender Dak Prescott, trade him, and then sign Brady.
It sounded great (and in Colin Cowherd’s eyes, it would look even better). But there was one problem: Irvin hadn’t really spoken to anyone.
It turns out that the “very significant people” weren’t Jerry or Stephen Jones, the latter of whom has said that the franchise would not jettison Prescott for a shot at Brady. Of course, that could change should the Patriots and the three-time MVP actually split up. But taken as a whole, the Brady-to-Dallas rumors highlight exactly what we know about the 42-year-old quarterback’s situation: absolutely nothing.
The content mill has linked Brady to a lot of warmer-weather cities: Los Angeles (unless the Chargers trade for Cam Newton), Las Vegas (gotta sell tickets), Tampa Bay (a “sleeping giant”!), and San Francisco (the team he rooted for as a kid, plus his last chance to screw over Jimmy Garoppolo). The Patriots, meanwhile, are reportedly ready to finally pay Brady his market rate after years of his taking discounts to help keep New England a contender. But Brady and everyone close to him are remaining tight-lipped.
Here’s what we do know: Brady is not retiring. And for the first time in his 20-year career, he is set to become a free agent. If the Patriots don’t re-sign him before the league year ends on March 17, they will incur a $13.5 million cap hit for 2020. If they do, they can spread the money out and kick the salary-cap-hell can down the road, presumably until after Brady retires.
We’ll presumably get more clarification by that deadline. Until then, get ready for a few dozen more reports from people who know for certain where Brady will land.