Thomas spent the last three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, starting eight games while playing mostly in the sub packages and on special teams. He had 14 tackles, a half sack and a pass deflection in 2017. His best year came in 2016, when he started seven games and had 77 tackles and one interception.
The Cowboys have had a slow start to free agency, although their biggest decision was putting the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence before free agency started to the tune of $17.143 million. The Cowboys also placed the second-round tender on defensive lineman David Irving at $2.9 million.
Veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur (one year) and exclusive rights free agent defensive tackle Brian Price (two years) also re-signed but Thomas is the first player from outside the organization to sign. But he's not an unfamiliar face, as he spent part of the 2015 season on the Cowboys' practice squad before signing with the Packers.
The Cowboys saw linebacker Anthony Hitchens sign with the Kansas City Chiefs and fullback Keith Smith and linebacker Kyle Wilber sign with the Oakland Raiders in the first week of free agency. Left guard Jonathan Cooper signed with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday.
Wide receiver Allen Hurns, who was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday, visited the Cowboys on Wednesday, as did receiver Deonte Thompson. They came the day after the team met with free agent receivers Dontrelle Inman and Justin Hunter.
The Cowboys are snug against the salary cap but can gain just under $7 million when they restructure the contract of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, turning most of his $10 million base salary into a signing bonus.
Haslam was one member of a large contingent present to evaluate the quarterback the Browns are pondering taking with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. In an unusual twist, Darnold chose to keep throwing after a heavy rain started a few minutes into his workout. He received generally favorable reviews from analysts for his footwork, arm strength and accuracy.
Those Browns in attendance for the workout included Haslam, general manager John Dorsey, coach Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Haslam sat with Darnold’s parents during part of the workout. On Tuesday night, the Browns took Darnold out to dinner. Haslam was not present to scout Darnold, but more to get to know him with the rest of the Browns staff.
“He’s a great guy,” Darnold said of Haslam on the NFL Network. “That whole staff is awesome. I was able to meet with the Giants as well [on Monday]. Just meeting with both of those organizations, like I said before, those people are at the top of the world right now and I’m trying to impress them but at the same time be myself. So there is a fine line between that, and I just tried to find that and do my best.”
Part of the reason the Browns sent such a large contingent to Los Angeles is because Darnold did not throw at the scouting combine. Darnold, who will turn 21 in June, chose not to go inside when it started raining, in part because he wanted to show he could handle the elements, and because he did not think it was fair to his USC teammates to move the time of the workout. Another factor is that USC’s indoor facility is not large enough for deep passes, ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson said during the workout.
Though there were several dropped passes, Darnold was praised for his accuracy and mobility. He also focused on showing that he had worked at holding onto the ball with two hands (he had 21 fumbles in two seasons at USC). He did not seem to do anything to hurt his draft standing, and might even have improved his cause.
“Just being aware of all those little things and then just coming out here and ripping it,” Darnold said. “I thought I did a pretty good job.”
Darnold said during an interview with ESPN that he’s eager to go to a team that wants him. He is well aware that the Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor to be the team’s starting quarterback.
“It'd be awesome to go No. 1, just because I think what the Browns are doing is really good right now and I think they have potential to be a really good team in the future," Darnold said. "Just based on that, yeah, a part of me really wants to go 1. But at the same time, if they don't want me and they don't pick me, that's the best situation. Because I don't want to go to a team that doesn't want me."
This is a busy time for quarterback pre-draft workouts. Josh Rosen had his workout at UCLA on Tuesday. The Browns will visit and work out Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield on Thursday. On Friday, it’s on to Wyoming, where Josh Allen will have his pro day. Allen is also viewed as a possibility for the Browns at No. 1.
The major question behind one of the biggest changes in franchise history is how much DeCosta will deviate from Newsome's philosophy and system.
Newsome, the Ravens' only general manager, built two Super Bowl teams in Baltimore. He will be remembered for drafting 18 players who became Pro Bowlers, starting with his first two picks, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis, who became Hall of Famers.
But the Ravens haven't reached the playoffs for the past three seasons because recent drafts haven't lived up to expectations. Since Baltimore won the Super Bowl in February 2013, its drafts have produced two Pro Bowl players (linebacker C.J. Mosley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk) and featured busts like safety Matt Elam, linebacker Arthur Brown and wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
"We certainly won't do everything the same, but we're not going to try to reinvent a wheel, either, because I think what we've done has been pretty successful over the years," DeCosta told the Ravens' website. "You have your ups and downs but in general people would look at Ozzie's regime and his tenure and say it's been a smashing success. So, anybody coming into a situation like that would be foolish to try and just blow everything up and make tremendous change. That would be foolhardy. We're not going to do that."
DeCosta, 46, indicated that Newsome is probably the better evaluator, and that DeCosta has the advantage when it comes to utilizing analytics. He remembers reading "Moneyball" in 2003 while sitting in the waiting room while his daughter was born.
So, the Ravens will lean more on analytics with DeCosta in charge.
"I appreciate information," DeCosta said. "I appreciate people who can take information and either find trends, or find loopholes, or find patterns or things that we could exploit and ways of gaining advantage."
DeCosta pointed out how he wants the Ravens to be more "creative, organized and responsible" with the salary cap. Baltimore has been limited in cap space because of restructuring deals and overpaying players, which has hurt the team's ability to keep young talent and acquire top free agents.
"That's critical for us moving forward as well," DeCosta said. "I want us to be innovative with the salary cap. I want us to be ahead of the curve. I think all those things play together."
Over the years, DeCosta was repeatedly asked why he wouldn't interview for other general manager jobs. So it was a relief when he knew that owner Steve Bisciotti was going to announce on Feb. 2 that DeCosta would take over for Newsome after this season.
"I don't have to worry about other teams or worry about people saying to me, 'What are you, an idiot? You don't want to be a GM?'" DeCosta said.
DeCosta has been with the Ravens organization for 22 years, including the past six as assistant general manager. He is thankful for the opportunity to learn from Newsome before taking over, which doesn't happen very often in the NFL.
DeCosta's close relationship with Newsome is a big reason why he feels it will be a smooth transition.
"My friendship with Ozzie is a helluva lot more important than my job," DeCosta said. "I know maybe that sounds crazy to certain people, but that’s just the way that I'm wired. I really believe that I can be a great friend and also work extremely well with Ozzie."
That means he almost certainly won’t be around when the Arizona Cardinals go on the clock at No. 15, where they’re currently slated to draft.
But Wednesday, general manager Steve Keim, coach Steve Wilks, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich were at Darnold's pro day in California, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
So, if it's incredibly unlikely Darnold will be on the board at No. 15, why were they there?
Perhaps the Cardinals are plotting a trade that would vault them into the top five, where they could pick Darnold and make him the franchise quarterback Arizona has never had. It's not out of the realm of possibility.
The Cardinals own seven draft picks this year; they could move a handful of those, as well as future selections, for a spot at which they'll be able to pick Darnold.
This year's top five currently is No. 1 Cleveland; No. 2 New York Giants; No. 3 New York Jets; No. 4 Cleveland; and No. 5 Denver. With the Broncos having signed their quarterback of the immediate future in Case Keenum, they could be a trading partner. But the Browns have those two picks in the top four and might be willing to flip positions if the price is right.
Even though the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to a two-year contract worth up to $20 million per season, they’re still searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. Moving up for Darnold would give them that, and Cardinals brass was able to take a long look Wednesday at whether he’d be worth it.
The Bengals are once again in a position where the fate of Vontaze Burfict rests in the hands of the league, much like it has for the past three seasons. Burfict faces a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, and while he will appeal on the basis of being on prescribed medications for a shoulder injury and concussion at the time, the NFL has historically declined to overturn most PED suspensions.
If the suspension is upheld, Burfict will sit out his third consecutive season opener due to a rules violation. The Bengals are 1-5 in the six games Burfict missed while suspended to open the past two seasons.
The Bengals have stood behind Burfict, 27, even during the toughest times of his career, and they rewarded him with a three-year extension last September. This latest blow likely won't cause them to part ways with him, and there are statistics that point to why. Since 2012, the Bengals have allowed only 4.85 yards per play when Burfict is on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's the third-best number in the NFL. When he’s off the field, that number jumps to 5.49 yards per play, which ranks 21st.
It would be easy to say Burfict isn't worth the trouble, but when he's available, fit and motivated, he's a Pro Bowl-caliber player. When he's not around, the Bengals don't have anyone in his mold to patrol the field the way he can on his best day. That needs to change.
Even if the Bengals don't want to move on right now, they need to incorporate Burfict's potential absences into their planning, and that should start now.
The Bengals need a fast start after their 0-3 opening put the 2017 season on life support before the first month was over. It's a crucial time for the Bengals, who re-signed coach Marvin Lewis despite protests from a disgruntled fan base eager for change.
While Cincinnati has missed the playoffs two straight seasons, it's not as if the AFC North has gotten worse. The Steelers, division winners the past two seasons, added solid pieces in the draft last year, and even the Browns, who went 0-16 last season, have made strides to improve with a series of aggressive trades this month.
The Bengals have no time to play catch-up in 2018, and certainly not when they're breaking in a new defensive coordinator. Teryl Austin is running the show now, and former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who knew Burfict as well as anyone given his days as linebackers coach, isn't around anymore.
It's hard to say whether Austin, who needs to make a good first impression, would show the same patience Guenther did when he waited out Burfict's suspensions and the subsequent weeks Burfict spent getting back into playing shape.
Burfict's troubles began prior to the 2016 season, when it became clear the NFL would not put up with what it deemed repeated safety violations. Burfict received his first three-game suspension only a week after the Bengals’ 2015 season ended with a crazy wild-card loss to Pittsburgh.
It became even more clear when the NFL issued Burfict a surprisingly lengthy five-game suspension for a 2017 preseason hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, a penalty later reduced to three games upon appeal.
The Bengals had to be reeling a bit with the current suspension coming less than a year after Burfict's contract extension, but they can't claim to be surprised about possibly losing him for a significant amount of time.
The Bengals protected themselves financially when they gave Burfict his latest extension, guaranteeing only his $3.3 million signing bonus. A $2 million roster bonus will become guaranteed if he's still on the roster at the end of March. Everything else is tied up in base salary, workout bonuses or per-game roster bonuses.
But the team has never protected itself competitively at that position. The Bengals' backup plan for Burfict's absences over the years has been Vincent Rey, who is solid and reliable but not on the same level as a healthy and available Burfict.
That is surprising in light of a comment Lewis made more than once during the past two seasons, indicating that personnel evaluations were necessary to get the Bengals out of their rut.
“We have to look at how we're doing things [and] who we're doing it with,” he said.
They should consider that now in light of the circumstances. Since 2012, the Bengals have drafted five linebackers: Sean Porter in the fourth round of the 2013 draft (he played one game for them); Marquis Flowers in the sixth round in 2014 (he was mostly a special-teams player before being traded to the Patriots last year); Paul Dawson in the third round in 2015 (injuries and attitude led to his departure after only two seasons); Nick Vigil in the third round in 2016; and Jordan Evans in the sixth round in 2017.
Other than Vigil, who became a starter at strongside linebacker, and Evans, who started four games last season and filled in a lot due to injuries, none was a big contributor. Evans flashed potential at times during his rookie season and could improve significantly in Year 2, but his wildly inconsistent play doesn't mean he should be penciled into a spot with strong confidence. The linebacker play was abysmal when Burfict was out with an injury in the Week 14 loss to the Bears last season; Evans, Rey and Kevin Minter ranked 65th, 66th and 67th, respectively, out of 69 linebackers that week, according to Pro Football Focus.
It's not as if the Bengals haven't considered options. They had Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster rated highly during the 2017 draft process, but a lingering shoulder injury likely scared them off. That might have been a blessing in disguise, as Foster has been arrested twice since the end of his rookie season. Foster probably would've been a middle linebacker in the Bengals' system but also could have played the weakside role. Instead, they went with wide receiver John Ross, who played fewer than 20 snaps.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds are potential targets in this year's draft, although they might not be around by the end of the first round; the Bengals are slated to pick 21st overall.
As the 2018 draft approaches, and the prospect of not having Burfict for the first four games lingers, the thought of selecting a linebacker early has to be a consideration.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Initial bids for the purchase of the Carolina Panthers have been made with a fourth candidate emerging, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com.
The newest candidate is 55-year-old Alan Kestenbaum, the CEO and chairman of Bedrock Industries LP, which focuses on the ownership and operation of metals, mining and natural-resources assets and companies.
Kestenbaum, whose interest in the team first was reported by the Charlotte Observer, is believed to have strong backing from Canadian businessman Jim Pattison, the source said.
Bedrock Industries last year purchased Canadian steel company Stelco Inc., now known as Stelco Holdings Inc.
Pattison, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $6.8 billion. The magazine did not list a net worth for Kestenbaum, but Stelco reportedly has a market value of about $1.3 billion.
Neither Kestenbaum nor Pattison could be reached for comment. All bids are confidential, and the starting bid in a process that typically involves multiple rounds of bids is not known.
The Panthers are valued by Forbes at $2.3 billion.
Other known bidders for the team Jerry Richardson put up for sale following the season include Charleston, South Carolina, billionaire Ben Navarro, hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper and Michael Rubin of the sports-merchandise giant Fanatics.
After Richardson selects his choice for the winning bid, three-fourths of the 32 NFL owners must approve the sale. The most likely scenario for that, ESPN.com first reported last month, is the May 21-23 meetings in Atlanta.
Richardson, 81, announced in December plans to put the team up for sale amid an NFL investigation into allegations of sexual and racial workplace misconduct. The team founder stepped down from the day-to-day operations of the franchise after a Sports Illustrated article detailed the allegations and named Tina Becker chief operating officer.
The Kansas City Chiefs shed many years of experience recently. Players such as quarterback Alex Smith, linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali, defensive backs Marcus Peters, Ron Parker and Terrance Mitchell, wide receiver Albert Wilson and offensive lineman Zach Fulton have been either traded, released or departed as free agents.
The Chiefs have added some players as well, with free-agent signings of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, defensive lineman Xavier Williams, cornerback David Amerson and quarterback Chad Henne. They traded for another corner, Kendall Fuller.
The result is a roster drastically different from last season's, this with the later stages of free agency and the draft still to go. Here’s where the Chiefs stand at each position group:
Running back (6): Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt, George Atkinson III, Anthony Sherman. In Hunt, Ware, West and Sherman, the Chiefs would seem to have their top three featured backs and fullback. But they’ve been looking at backs recently, so they might have something else in mind.
Wide receiver (10): Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Chris Conley, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, Daniel Braverman, Brandon Shippen. Here’s another position group in which the Chiefs appear set at after the big free-agent signing of Watkins. But they’ll add more players for training camp.
Tight end (5): Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Orson Charles, Jace Amaro, Anthony Firkser. The Chiefs don’t have much of a receiving threat here other than Kelce, but because he plays so much, they might not view that as essential. Amaro is an interesting prospect. He is a former second-round draft pick who caught 38 passes for the Jets in 2014.
Offensive line (11): Eric Fisher, Parker Ehinger, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz, Cameron Erving, Bryan Witzmann, Jordan Devey, Kaleb Johnson, Andrew Wylie, Dillon Gordon. Eight of the nine linemen who played in a game for the Chiefs last season are back, so the only need here are players to fill out the camp roster and developmental prospects.
Defensive line (10): Allen Bailey, Chris Jones, Xavier Williams, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jarvis Jenkins, Justin Hamilton, Stefan Charles, T.Y. McGill, Josh Augusta, Mike Purcell. After signing Williams on Tuesday, the Chiefs have a nose tackle and could line up and play a game now with what they have here.
Linebacker (10): Justin Houston, Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Dee Ford, Frank Zombo, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Dadi Nicolas, Ukeme Eligwe, Terrance Smith, Tyrone Holmes. Some depth at both the inside positions and outside wouldn’t hurt. But after signing Hitchens in free agency, the Chiefs have their starters.
Defensive back (15): Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, David Amerson, Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, Ashton Lampkin, Makinton Dorleant, Prince Charles Iworah, Sheldon Price, Eric Berry, Eric Murray, Daniel Sorensen, Leon McQuay, Devin Chappell, Jordan Sterns. The first nine players here are cornerbacks, so the Chiefs have a lot to sort through. But after Fuller, Nelson and Amerson, do they have anyone who can help? They are thin at safety beyond Berry.
Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti ruled out the team selecting a defensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft.
He didn't say anything about picking someone who can play all the other positions on defense.
The Ravens desperately need offensive playmakers, but Baltimore would be hard-pressed to pass on Florida State's Derwin James if he surprisingly fell to the No. 16 overall pick.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale was in Tallahassee, Florida, on Tuesday to watch James' pro day and get an up-close look at one of the draft's most exciting talents. James, who is considered the second-best safety in the draft, has the tackling ability to play inside linebacker, the explosiveness to line up as an edge rusher and the coverage skills to serve as a slot corner.
"James is one of the most versatile players we've ever evaluated," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said.
The Ravens likely would line up James at inside linebacker. Baltimore has been trying to find a weakside linebacker next to Pro Bowl middle linebacker C.J. Mosley for the past couple of seasons, since Zachary Orr retired.
The chances of James falling to the middle of the first round appear slim, if the latest mock drafts are correct. He is expected go in the first dozen picks, having been linked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at No. 7), San Francisco 49ers (No. 9), Oakland Raiders (No. 10) and Miami Dolphins (No. 11).
Even James himself would be shocked if he was available when the Ravens are on the clock.
"I know I’m going to go top 10," James said at the combine. "I’m confident through the whole process, but like I said, there’s a lot of mock drafts, people have their own opinion. But at the end of the day, nobody knows who’s picking who."
At Florida State, James had a stellar freshman season in 2015 (91 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles), before having his sophomore season end after two games because of a torn meniscus in his left knee. He came back healthy to produce a strong junior season with 84 tackles, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions.
James declared for the draft and then crushed the combine. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds (ninth best among combine safeties), recorded a 40-inch vertical jump (sixth best of all defensive backs) and delivered an 11-foot broad jump (fifth best among defensive backs).
He's just as impressive with the intangibles. James is a natural leader who will impact the locker room, even as a rookie.
Martindale and officials for the other 30 teams (the Kansas City Chiefs were the only ones who didn't show) didn't see much from James on Tuesday. He surprisingly didn't do any position skills, on the advice of his agent, and participated in only the three-cone drill and the shuttle run.
"I’ve proved everything I can prove," James told reporters. He added that if a team wants "to see a private workout, I can do that."
The Ravens' preference would likely be to take an impact offensive player, such as a wide receiver or pass-catching tight end. But Baltimore isn't going to reach to improve the supporting cast around quarterback Joe Flacco and help the NFL's No. 27 offense.
If a dynamic talent like James is available, the Ravens probably wouldn't hesitate to draft a defensive player for the fifth time in the last seven years in which they had a first-round draft pick. James has the talent and leadership to take a very good defense and make it a great one.
The Seattle Seahawks' decision to release Richard Sherman and the cornerback's subsequent decision to sign with the San Francisco 49ers have triggered an array of feelings in the Pacific Northwest. Those include sorrow over the departure of a franchise icon and disappointment in the decision to part with a player who, even if coming off an injury, could still help the team.
Sherman has taken notice of another one -- apparent indignation among some over his joining the rival team. Sherman addressed that, among many other aspects of what's been a life- and career-altering week and a half, in a recent piece for The Players' Tribune.
The cornerback said he gets why some Seahawks fans aren't happy that he's now with the 49ers, but he offered the obvious reminder that it was the Seahawks who moved on, not the other way around.
"So yes, I understand why some fans don't like the idea of me in a 49ers uniform. But I still spent seven incredible years in Seattle -- the Pro Bowls, the Super Bowls, the L.O.B. ... all that stuff still happened, right? It's just amazing to me how quickly people forget," Sherman wrote. "I'm very appreciative of -- and humbled by -- all the 12s who have shown me support over the last couple of weeks. Throughout my time in Seattle, you guys have been nothing short of amazing. I'll always have love for the 12s.
Richard Sherman wants Seahawks fan to "remember that image" of the Achilles injury he suffered against the Cardinals as a testament to his sacrifices in Seattle.
"But this whole process has definitely made me more aware of the hate and hypocrisy that's out there. You got fans calling me a traitor and burning my jersey when they probably know that if they got fired from their job tomorrow, and a competitor offered them more money, they'd take it in a heartbeat."
Sherman wrote that the Seattle area will still be a home base of sorts and that he'll "always be proud to call Seattle home." He owns a house there that he and his fiancée don't plan on selling. Their children will still be schooled in the area. He also plans to continue his charitable work in the community.
While Sherman wrote in the piece that he didn't realize it at the time, his Seahawks career effectively ended when he ruptured his Achilles in a November game against the Arizona Cardinals.
"But I hope Seahawks fans remember that image," Sherman wrote before noting the injuries he played through during his time with Seattle. Among them were a hyperextended elbow he suffered on Jan. 18, 2015, in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and an MCL sprain during the second half of the 2016 season. His Achilles had also been bothering him for several weeks before it ruptured.
Sherman has expressed appreciation for how the Seahawks handled his release, specifically that they did it before free agency, which gave him the best opportunity to catch on with a new team. But The Players' Tribune piece makes clear that he's still rankled by the decision to release him in the first place even if he understands the motivation behind it.
"Seven years and I didn't miss a game until my Achilles finally went. And this is what I get. At the first sign of adversity ... they let me go," Sherman wrote. "But I understand. This is a business. And the Seahawks decided that that best thing for their franchise was to show me the door. Well, I disagree."
Sherman added: "I have no regrets about my time in Seattle -- only great memories of incredible fans, and of teammates who will be my brothers for life. I know I wasn't always perfect, but whatever mistakes I may have made, I made because I was trying to be the best player and the best teammate I could possibly be -- and because, more than anything, I wanted to win. I worked with some incredible people in Seattle. My relationship with [coach Pete Carroll] goes all the way back to when he recruited me in high school, and I'll always be grateful to [general manager] John Schneider and everyone in the Seahawks organization for taking a chance on a kid that most people had overlooked."
The Minnesota Vikings are firmly in a Super Bowl window, with a talented roster they felt needed an upgrade in one area: quarterback. The Washington Redskins want to enter that same window, which meant they needed a quarterback who could afford them one key thing: cap room to build.
Those feelings are reflected in the contracts handed out to Kirk Cousins (Minnesota) and Alex Smith (Washington). It's hard to not compare their deals because the Redskins essentially replaced Cousins with Smith.
However, the Redskins never wanted to pay a certain amount for Cousins, knowing they needed more around him to make it work. Their comfort level ended at about $23 million per year -- or five million less per year than what the Vikings gave him. And once the tag was used in the 2016 offseason, Cousins was a long shot to sign a long-term deal.
Minnesota, though, was one game from the Super Bowl and has a deep core that should be together for the next several years. A quarterback -- even one ranked by some in the 10-15 range -- could make the difference. So the Vikings were willing to pay more than just about any other team, aside from the cap-rich and desperate-for-QB-help New York Jets.
Smith's contract is expensive up front in terms of cash flow and shows the staggering investment Washington has made in the position over a three-year period. However, it also puts the Redskins in a favorable cap spot at quarterback over the next few years -- provided Smith plays well of course.
At the end of this season, the Redskins will have spent $84 million over the past three seasons for their starting quarterback. That includes the $27 million signing bonus for Smith and his $13 million base salary this season. It also includes the $44 million in guaranteed money with two franchise tags on Cousins. They didn't want to pay Cousins' three-year, $58.5 million in guaranteed money at the end of the 2015 season.
However, had they accepted those terms they would have needed to sign Cousins after this season anyway -- though they would have had an option to use the franchise tag for a first time. But a long-term deal would have been tough given where the market is headed, their thoughts on Cousins' talent and how his side wanted to get the fully guaranteed money.
Over the next two years Smith will actually receive $1 million more than Cousins. It's not as though Cousins is widely considered that much better than Smith; it typically depends on who you ask, but regardless they're in the same ballpark. Smith just happens to be four years older than Cousins.
Another key part of Smith's deal is the salary-cap hits. In 2018, Smith ranks 16th among quarterbacks at $18.4 million. In 2019, he ranks 19th at $20.4 million; and in 2020 he ranks ninth out of the 20 quarterbacks with contracts extending into that season. He'll fall a lot farther once other quarterbacks -- like Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers -- sign extensions. Over that same span, Cousins' cap hits rank sixth, third and second, respectively.
The Redskins will be dinged for giving Smith so much money in the first year of the deal; the Vikings will be knocked for giving Cousins so much money overall. But if the Redskins didn't have one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, they didn't want to be hamstrung by the cap. So they got a good quarterback at a favorable cap hit. The Vikings wanted one final piece and got that -- they hope.
Of course, to make it work the Redskins must use that cap space wisely -- some of it eventually will be spent extending their own players such as linebacker Preston Smith and guard Brandon Scherff in the future -- and the Vikings must win it all. No pressure.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Philadelphia Eagles were a disaster at wide receiver in 2016. They ranked 24th in the league in passing with 224.1 yards per game. Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor were tied for second on the team with 36 catches and two touchdowns each.
So, management spent the offseason overhauling the position. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick were traded to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were signed in free agency to start on the outside. Agholor moved to the slot position and two receivers were drafted.
Jeffery, Smith and Agholor combined for 155 catches and 19 touchdowns.
And, oh by the way, the Eagles won the Super Bowl -- with a backup quarterback, no less.
The Carolina Panthers are trying to do the same thing with a group that was an equal mess this past season. Only Devin Funchess (63 catches) had more than 17 receptions. Running back Christian McCaffrey led the team with 80 catches.
So, general manager Marty Hurney began the overhaul with a formula eerily familiar to Philadelphia's. It actually began midway through last season, when leading receiver Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo for third- and seventh-round draft picks in 2018.
Starting cornerback Daryl Worley was traded to Philadelphia just before free agency began in exchange for Smith, the likely starter outside with Funchess. Former Minnesota receiver Jarius Wright was signed Tuesday to play the slot. A receiver probably will be selected among the first three rounds of the draft, perhaps with the No. 24 overall pick.
Will it get the Panthers to the Super Bowl?
That remains to be seen, but there is a concerted effort to upgrade a position that was an Achilles' heel a year ago.
"It can turn around really, really quick," Wright said.
Coach Ron Rivera hopes so. The goal, beginning with the Benjamin trade, was to add more speed since Funchess and Benjamin were of similar size and style.
They got that in Smith, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds in the combine before the 2011 draft. Wright also is fast, clocked at 4.42 seconds at the 2012 combine.
Add them to the mix with 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel -- who missed most of last season because of injuries -- and 2015 undrafted free agent Damiere Byrd, and the Panthers have the makings for a good 4x100 relay team.
"Speed," Rivera said Tuesday on ESPN 730 AM radio when asked what Smith, in particular, brought to the group. "Last year we lost Ted Ginn to free agency, which I think was a big blow to our offense. When you have speed, it offsets a lot of things. It forces the defense to play honest. You don't see a lot of eight-man boxes all the time. You can't play a lot of man coverage, either.
"So bringing a guy in with Torrey Smith's speed and ability is going to help us out tremendously."
Signing Smith, 29, and Wright, 28, prevents Funchess from being the elder statesmen of the group at age 23.
Wright also had his two best seasons when new Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner was in the same position at Minnesota in 2014 and 2015. So, he knows what to expect from Turner and can relay that to the younger players.
"The big thing everybody has to understand that is coming here, the demand is going to be high," Rivera said. "We need guys to understand what's expected of them when they get on the field. If you have a veteran guy that can show you, 'Hey, believe me, there's a reason why we're doing this. This is how we do this. This is what Coach wants,' it helps."
It's the same thought process Rivera had in 2011 when he went from the defensive coordinator at San Diego to the head coach of the Panthers. He brought players such as fullback Mike Tolbert with him a year later to help others understand what they should expect from the new coach.
The receiving corps needed to change for the Panthers to improve offensively. They ranked 28th in the NFL in passing with 192.3 yards per game.
Losing Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen for nine games was a big factor. But just as big was the lack of production at wide receiver outside of Funchess, who had a career high in catches.
The receivers were so bad that early speculation had most of the draft analysts predicting Carolina would use its first-round pick on a dynamic receiver, from SMU's Courtland Sutton to Texas A&M's Christian Kirk.
But with the addition of Smith and Wright, the Panthers could wait until the second or third round to add another receiver. Outside of Alabama's Calvin Ridley, who could be a top-10 pick, there's discrepancy on whether the other receivers should be selected in the first, second or third round.
It helps that Turner has experience in rebuilding receiver groups. From 2014 through the seventh game of the 2016 season, he molded the foundation of the Minnesota unit that made it to the NFC Championship Game this past season.
"Norv, he does a lot of things," said Wright, who had a career-best 42 catches under Turner in 2014. "He has a lot of different routes and ways to get receivers the ball. Some screens, some down-the-field things with having Cam [Newton] and his strong arm. He can get the ball down the field. That's what Norv likes to do."
But before Turner could begin doing that, he had to overhaul a receiving corps that was a mess in 2017. Time will tell if it will be a success, but Smith's experience in Philadelphia and Wright's Minnesota experience provides evidence it can work.
"I don't think it takes long at all," Wright said of turning things around with a new group. "I know just being with my old receiving corps, we jelled really, really quick.
"Not that things were already bad. But you can always turn your passing game around really, really quick."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the second consecutive season, the Tennessee Titans' biggest early offseason splash came at cornerback. Adding Malcolm Butler to a cornerback group that also features Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson is the sort of move that should pay off in January.
The Titans' defensive back group, which also includes All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and safety Johnathan Cyprien, now has the talent to compete with the top offenses in the AFC (New England, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers). The Butler move makes this group a team strength.
What are the Titans getting in Butler? Well, he's admittedly coming off a rocky 2017 season that hit bottom when he was benched during Super Bowl LII. But he'll be highly motivated to change the narrative and he said he'll "most definitely" have a chip on his shoulder. The odds are on him bouncing back in an environment more conducive for his success.
One high-ranking scout told ESPN that he viewed Butler as a No.1 cornerback and believed his five-year, $61.25 million contract with the Titans was on point with the value a player of his caliber should receive in free agency.
"He's highly competitive and highly instinctive. If you're building a team, he's a great example of how to work," the scout said. "He has some limitations like a lack of top-end speed and his strength is playing outside. He may have trouble retaining a lot of information quickly, but he'll match up with receivers and cover them up completely."
Butler's ability to play aggressive man coverage and fight to get his hands on the ball will come in big when the Titans, who ranked 25th in the NFL in pass defense in 2017, play top-end receivers. Butler has 44 pass breakups and eight interceptions since 2015, per Pro Football Focus.
"I got that undrafted mentality," said Butler, a Vicksburg, Mississippi, native who played football at Hinds Community College and Division II West Alabama before getting a two-day tryout to make the Patriots in 2014. "When I first got to the NFL, I got my first check; I thought I was the richest man in the world because I know where I come from. The money is what it is, but I love football more than I love money. It ain't about the money. I love this game."
Ryan and Butler share a physical style of playing football. They also have the advantage of playing together from 2014 to 2016 with the New England Patriots. They are good friends, and Butler had a wide smile while reminiscing about the success they had together.
"I got the fast guy. He got the biggest guy," Butler said. "We gonna communicate when them bunches come up. We got great communication and great chemistry."
"He said, 'C'mon man, let's get this reunion back together. The same one-two punch, [now] with me, you and Jackson.'"
Ryan and Jackson played starting-caliber football in 2017, with the latter making drastic improvements throughout the season. Ryan is the leader of the group. Jackson has elite potential. But the Titans were often beaten when teams went to three-receiver sets, exploiting that fifth defensive back.
The Titans saw that and invested in a big upgrade. They're spending $12.25 million per year on Butler to go along with the $10 million annually for Ryan and the first-round pick they used to get Jackson in 2017. That's a lot, but cornerback is probably neck and neck with pass-rusher as an NFL team's most important defensive position.
So, who will be the true No. 1 guy? Well, maybe there won't be one. Butler would be the most likely to be considered the No. 1 cornerback here, but even he selflessly said, "We're all No. 1. We're a team."
Most NFL defenses essentially have three starters at cornerback, even if just two are officially starters. I'd imagine all three corners will play at least two-thirds of the snaps in an average game under defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
My early prediction on the Titans' rotation would have Butler filling one outside cornerback spot, while Jackson plays the other and Ryan plays in the slot. Ryan and Jackson both have the flexibility to play inside and outside based on matchups, and it's likely Pees will use that flexibility to his advantage.
Ryan also has the versatility to play some safety if the Titans want more coverage at that position in sub packages. Jackson was used by the end of the season to trail speedy threats like Kansas City's Tyreek Hill, and that role should only continue in 2018.
The Titans still will add some depth at safety, but this is setting up to be their most talented defensive back group in a long time. It's a safe bet that Tennessee will finish better than 25th in pass defense next season.
They picked him to eventually take over for Morgan Burnett.
That time has arrived.
He's the second Packers safety to leave via free agency in as many offseasons. Last March, they let Hyde leave for the Buffalo Bills and a five-year, $30.5 million deal. Then Packers-GM Ted Thompson and contract negotiator Russ Ball never even made an attempt to re-sign the versatile Hyde, who made his first Pro Bowl last season.
Jones, the 61st overall pick in the 2017 draft, played 731 snaps -- second to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix among Packers safeties and six more than Burnett -- last season in what can only be described as an up-and-down rookie year. In preseason practices, Jones looked like someone who would be around the ball more often than not. Yet despite playing all 16 games, including seven starts, he had only one turnover play (an interception at Cleveland of new teammate DeShone Kizer). He also had two sacks and seven pass breakups.
Perhaps more memorable was a last-season breakdown at Carolina that cost the Packers a touchdown in a loss that eliminated them from playoff consideration. Jones dropped coverage on Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who ended up scoring a 30-yard touchdown.
"You want him to make that play, and it's a critical play in that situation," then-Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said after that game. "Those are some of the growing pains that you go through when you have young guys out there and so forth. Josh has worked his butt off and he spends a great deal of time in the meeting rooms and going over things and so forth. Sometimes it just doesn't, you know, translate.
"He doesn't want to make those mistakes, but as a rookie player out there sometimes you get off your technique, and that's probably more than anything else with a veteran quarterback, you've really got to hone in, particularly when you're playing an experienced guy like that."
Perry did not return to the coaching staff after he was passed over for defensive coordinator, so Jones' second season will fall under new secondary coach Jason Simmons. Simmons and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also will no doubt take a long look at the hard-hitting Kentrell Brice, who finished last season on injured reserve because of an ankle injury, along with Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead.
Still, Burnett's versatility will make him difficult to replace with just one player. Burnett played multiple roles -- safety, inside linebacker and defensive signal-caller. Pettine has not yet been asked whether he will use the "nitro" package, which featured a safety (usually Burnett but occasionally Jones) as an inside linebacker.
"You can't have enough multi-positional players," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said before free agency. "Morgan definitely is one of our best at that. So to be able to play multiple positions over the course of a year, his communication you could see the level of efficiency when he's in there as opposed to when he wasn't in there.
"So those two components right there: communication and efficiency and ability to play multiple positions; you always want to have schematic challenges from bad matchups. When you have multi-positional players, it obviously eliminates the opportunity to potentially be in a bad matchup."
GILBERT, Ariz. -- When Jon Buford and Pat Ware, the co-founders of Arizona Wilderness Brewing, were thinking about what kind of beer they should make in collaboration with a handful of Arizona Cardinals offensive linemen that would help benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation, they wanted to go big.
Real big. Like offensive linemen big.
The finished product was the O-Line Triple IPA, a beer with a 12 percent alcohol content that was the result of 42 varieties of hops -- in honor of Tillman's number at Arizona State -- from across the world. They used Citra and Mosaic from the United States, Galaxy from Australia, Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand, Sorachi Ace from Japan and Mandarina Bavaria from Germany, among others.
"Forty-two hops is insane," Buford said. "It is insane. The fact that I don't think anyone has done that makes me excited because it's not about Arizona Wilderness. It's about the Pat Tillman name -- the foundation name -- so we really want you to associate that with the craziness that we're doing.
"When you get to 42, you can't go all one type of hop. We're choosing some European hops that will kind of go very uniquely with these American, juicy IPA hops. But in the end, we're going to brew really clean, really exciting beer."
Ware, an Arizona State graduate, knew people who were friends with Tillman in college. They told him he was a fun guy to hang out with. Buford believes that Tillman -- the former Cardinals safety who left the NFL to join the U.S. Army in 2002 and was killed in action two years later -- would have enjoyed the O-Line Triple IPA.
"It's meant to be a statement," Buford said.
So how will it turn out?
Nobody knows. Buford has an idea, but free-agent offensive lineman Earl Watford, who made a special trip to Arizona to attend Tuesday's brewing, thinks it'll be "amazing ... as everything the guys do here."
Watford, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2013, has been the link connecting the brewery with the players. He and a few teammates went to Arizona Wilderness for lunch a few years ago and Buford recognized them. Watford said he and Buford struck a friendship that has grown in the past few years "into kind of a family."
Cardinals tackle Jared Veldheer, an avid home brewer, met Buford and Ware through Watford and struck up his own friendship with the two. When the offensive linemen come to Arizona Wilderness, the conversation typically revolves around beer, food, cars and wine, Buford said. Not much football is discussed.
The relationship between Veldheer and Arizona Wilderness took another step a few years ago when he brought in some of his home-brewed beer, which impressed Buford and Ware. They offered to make it in a larger batch and serve it on tap. From there, Veldheer and Arizona Wilderness have relied on each other to help out with various charitable causes beyond supporting the Tillman Foundation, Buford said.
On Tuesday, when the O-Line Triple IPA was brewed, Veldheer and Watford brought fellow offensive linemen Evan Boehm, A.Q. Shipley, John Wetzel and Will Holden. They drank beer and devoured a double peanut butter and jalapeno jelly burger with cheddar cheese and bacon.
This will be the third year that a group of Cardinals offensive linemen collaborate with Arizona Wilderness on a beer to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. Their goal is to raise $10,000. The beer will be released April 21, the same day as Pat's Run, a 4.2-mile road race through Tempe, Arizona, that also honors Tillman.
Two years ago, Marie Tillman, Pat's widow, wrote Buford and Ware a letter thanking them for their donation and sharing her opinion that Tillman would've enjoyed the collaboration.
"That's all we needed to know that this does honor his legacy, not just for the patriot that he was but for the human that he was," Buford said.
Helping raise money for the Tillman Foundation has been "awesome," Veldheer said.
"He's a hero," Veldheer said. "And everybody especially in the state of Arizona -- pretty much throughout the United States -- knows who Pat Tillman is and what he's all about. The foundation is really cool because it allows veterans to continue education and to be set up for their time when the military's done, and to be able to help with that is great."
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- With young quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Blake Bortles signing lucrative new deals this offseason, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers could be considered underpaid.
After signing a five-year, $137.5 million deal in February, Garoppolo will be the highest-paid quarterback in 2018, earning $42.6 million in total compensation, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
New Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith ($42 million), Drew Brees ($27 million), Cousins ($26 million) and Derek Carr ($22.5 million) round out the top five in total compensation for quarterbacks in 2018.
Cousins signed a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency that could shift the paradigm of how players negotiate deals in the NFL.
However, Rivers is tied with Tom Brady and Cam Newton at No. 18 on the list. Rivers is set to earn a reasonable $15 million in 2018 and has two years left on a four-year, $83.25 million contract extension he signed in August 2015.
Rivers has said he still wants to be on the field when the Chargers open the new Inglewood stadium in 2020.
“I’m at a point in my career where I know that -- and I feel like I have some good years left -- but I know I’m not going to be able to duplicate that here [in Los Angeles], talking length of time and that just really ingrained in the community,” Rivers said at the end of last season. “But I still am all in.”
Chargers brass likely will have to address Rivers’ contract next year, and he could be in line to receive a similar contract to the one 39-year-old Brees negotiated in order to stay with the New Orleans Saints this season -- a two-year, $50 million deal that included $27 million in guaranteed money.
At 36 years old, Rivers is still playing at a high level. He earned his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl last season, finishing second in the league in passing with 4,515 passing yards. He threw 10 interceptions, his lowest total in a season since 2009.
Rivers threw for more than 4,000 yards for a ninth season and is the fourth player in NFL history to post nine or more 4,000-yard seasons. (Peyton Manning has 14; Drew Brees has 12; and Tom Brady has nine.)
With 50,348 career passing yards, Rivers ranks ninth in league history.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has started the clock on finding an eventual replacement but said Rivers has more years of productive play ahead.
“I haven’t really had a timeline on him, per se,” Telesco said. “At that position, because it is so important, you’re always looking for who that next guy will be, so you’re always prepared to do that if the situation arises.
“Philip is as well prepared as anybody, and he’s still playing at a high level. I don’t really have a timeline for him, but I know he played really well for us this year, and I expect him to come back and do the same thing next year.”
For Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, Rivers provides veteran leadership and playmaking ability.
“Philip is like a coach on the field,” Lynn said. “That’s what you want from your quarterback. He studies and he prepares no different than I did. When he’s on the field, I feel really comfortable that he’s going to get our guys in the right position.
“He’s going to deliver the mail to where it’s supposed to go. I thought, as far as recognizing run fronts in defenses, a lot of plays we called in the run game was because Philip changed the plays. That right there, you can’t teach that. That’s hard work. He has his little SUV that he put his mobile office in. That thing is unbelievable. All the video, all the technology you want with it. I’ve sat in the back seat with him. He’s working all the time.”