The second week of free agency didn’t pack as much action as the first, but there were still several interesting moves across the NFL.
Let’s take a look at the latest:
■ The biggest move was a trade, the Giants dealing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers on Thursday, with the Giants getting a third-round pick but giving up a fourth-rounder.
The trade amounts to a salary dump for the Giants, who discarded Pierre-Paul just one year after signing him to a four-year, $62 million extension. The Giants paid Pierre-Paul $22.5 million for one year of service, but he wasn’t going to be much of a fit in the Giants’ new 3-4 defense, and new general manager Dave Gettleman found someone to take the final three years and $39 million off his hands.
While the Giants saved some cash, this wasn’t much of a salary cap move. The Giants only created $2.5 million in cap space with the trade, and they’re taking a whopping $15 million dead cap hit on Pierre-Paul in 2018. But he’ll be off the books after this coming season.
■ The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are making big changes to the defensive line after finishing last in the NFL with 22 sacks last season. Pierre-Paul should be a great fit in their 4-3, and he was still a productive player last year with 8½ sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 batted passes in 16 games. And if he’s not a great fit, the Buccaneers can release him next March for no cap or cash penalty.
The Buccaneers also signed defensive end Vinny Curry and defensive tackle Beau Allen from the Eagles, and added defensive tackle Mitch Unrein from the Bears.
■ The full contract details for Kirk Cousins and Alex Smith have emerged, putting the Redskins’ decision to move from Cousins to Smith into better context.
Cousins got a monster of a deal — $84 million fully guaranteed over three years, with a maximum of $90 million. But Smith’s deal isn’t far off. Technically, Smith got $55 million fully guaranteed over two years, but his $16 million salary for 2020 becomes fully guaranteed if Smith is still on the team in March 2019, which he will be. So really it’s $71 million fully guaranteed over three years, with a maximum of $78.5 million.
So the Redskins are saving $12 million-$13 million over three years, or about $4 million per season. But they’re also getting four years older at the most important position — Smith will be 34 this fall, Cousins will be 30.
The decision to move on from Cousins makes sense if it’s about not investing major dollars into an unproven quarterback. But the Redskins aren’t exactly saving much money with Smith, and they got older and, arguably, worse at the position.
■ Another decision that will be interesting to track this year is what the Dolphins did at slot receiver. Instead of paying Jarvis Landry $15.982 million on the franchise tag, they’re spending $13.5 million on Albert Wilson ($7.5 million) and Danny Amendola ($6 million).
That’s two for less than the price of one, but Landry is certainly more accomplished. Landry, who doesn’t turn 26 until late November, has 400 catches and 4,038 yards in four seasons, and is one of the toughest players to tackle in the NFL. Wilson is the same age but has just 124 catches and 1,544 yards in four NFL seasons, while Amendola is 32 and has to have his snaps managed.
■ The Jets have spent a ton of resources on the quarterback position this offseason. They signed Josh McCown for one year and $10 million, Teddy Bridgewater for one year and $6 million (up to $15 million), then last weekend traded the No. 6 overall pick plus three second-rounders to the Colts for the No. 3 pick, ostensibly to draft a quarterback.
That’s obviously overkill, but I don’t hate the moves. Franchise quarterbacks don’t usually fall in your lap (unless you’re the Colts or 49ers), and it takes bold moves to get them. If the quarterback the Jets get at No. 3 ends up being a legitimate franchise quarterback, then the price of three second-round picks will look insignificant in comparison.
And the Jets didn’t really invest much in McCown or Bridgewater. McCown got $5 million up front, but the other $5 million doesn’t become guaranteed until Week 1 of the regular season. Bridgewater got $500,000 up front and will get another $500,000 for attending offseason practices, but his $5 million salary doesn’t kick in until Week 1, as well. So either player can easily be released at the end of training camp.
■ One free agent visit caught my eye last week — the Lions reportedly hosting defensive tackle Alan Branch.
Branch found himself in the Patriots’ doghouse for most of last season and was a healthy scratch for the final six games, including the entire postseason. Yet Matt Patricia and the Lions still are willing to take a look at him — just like Patricia was reportedly interested in bringing Malcolm Butler to Detroit, before he signed with the Titans.
It certainly suggests that Patricia didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Bill Belichick in terms of which players deserved to play.
■ Several deals this offseason provided a good example of how NFL front offices can always play with the numbers and fit players under the salary cap.
Arizona’s Justin Pugh will make $11.5 million in 2018, but his salary cap number is just $3.25 million thanks to a $10 million signing bonus that gets spread out over five years. In Philadelphia, Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz restructured their deals to create $13 million in cap space while maintaining the same salary this year. And in New England, Patrick Chung is getting a raise from $2.4 million to $5.4 million, yet his cap number is staying at $3.8 million.
Yes, these deals push money into the future. But the salary cap keeps rising by $10 million-plus per year, making future dead money less significant.
Can new league get off ground?
There was a lot of hype last week about the announcement of a new developmental league, the Alliance of American Football. The league has big names involved as investors/advisers — Bill Polian, Justin Tuck, Jared Allen, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Dick Ebersol, and more — and announced in a press release that it will revolutionize developmental football when the league kicks off in February 2019.
The AAF plans to have an eight-team league, with 50 players on each roster. Player safety and fan engagement will be top priorities — the league will do without kickoffs and onside kicks, and will have a shorter play clock and fewer commercial breaks. The league is promoting “post-football career scholarships and financial wellness programs” for the players. And the league announced that it has a TV deal with CBS and its affiliated sports networks.
Our take: Let’s wait and see if this venture ever gets off the ground. Because we’ve heard this before. Every few years a new idea pops up for a spring league — the XFL, the United Football League, the Arena League, the new Spring League that is supposed to take place in a couple of weeks, or Pacific Pro Football, the venture headed by agent Don Yee that is supposed to launch this summer — and yet the leagues never last long, or even happen altogether.
Football is expensive. Does the AAF really have the backing, or expect to generate enough revenue, to pay 400 players, plus coaches, trainers, and medical staffs? And pay for travel, equipment, and game-day expenses? And provide scholarships and wellness programs?
Then let’s get to the product. If the games are happening in February-April, the players involved will be those currently not on teams. And since NFL rosters expand to 90 players in the offseason, we’re talking about players that were out of football for the previous season and can’t get a sniff with the NFL now — youngsters who haven’t made it, and washed-up veterans.
The quarterback position will be especially tough to fill. Anyone who can play even a semblance of the position is already in the NFL. Consider how many bad QBs are sitting on the benches of NFL rosters — and consider that those guys are all dramatically better than the quarterbacks that will play in any developmental league. It will also be hard to evaluate receivers, offensive linemen, and defensive backs when the passing game is so limited. The product will be boring — a lot of incomplete passes and running up the middle.
The NFL does need an outlet to develop young players, but the answer is much simpler than any of these spring leagues. Just expand the practice squads from 10 to, say, 20 players per team. It keeps young players under the guidance of NFL coaches, gives them valuable practice reps every day during the fall, and gives teams more opportunities to find diamonds in the rough.
Plus, practice squad players will only make $7,500 per week in 2018, for an added cost of $1.275 million per team, per season. It makes a lot more sense than trying to stage an entire league that no one will watch.
Patriots keeping busy in offseason
A few Patriots-related notes:
■ A thought struck us last week as we were casually glancing over Dion Lewis’s career statistics: There’s good timing, and there’s what Lewis did in his contract year in 2017.
Last season could not have gone better for Lewis as he prepared to hit unrestricted free agency. He played in 16 games for the first time in his career. He led the NFL in rushing over the second half of the season. Pro Football Focus ranked Lewis as the most “elusive” player in the NFL.
And look at the numbers he produced, compared with his previous career highs: 180 carries (64); 896 rushing yards (283); 10 total touchdowns (4); 1,110 yards from scrimmage (622). Lewis’s 4.98 yards per carry ranked third in the NFL, and most impressively he didn’t fumble once in 2017.
Lewis’s reward was a four-year contract with the Titans that will pay him $6 million in 2018. It was certainly well-earned.
■ The Patriots’ free agency moves this offseason have a distinct theme — special teams. The Patriots had six core special teams players reach free agency this month, and they brought back five — Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden, and Marquis Flowers. Only cornerback Johnson Bademosi signed elsewhere, and the Patriots replaced him with Cordarrelle Patterson. Running back Rex Burkhead, another key special teams contributor, also was re-signed.
Meanwhile, the Patriots let their four big-ticket free agents walk, and none of them — Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, and Lewis — play on punt or kickoff coverage.
■ When Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts to stay with the Patriots, the Colts still honored the contracts of the three coaches that had already signed with the team to work with McDaniels. But one coach did get squeezed out of a job — Jake Peetz, who spent last year as the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach and was supposed to be McDaniels’s offensive coordinator but never signed a contract.
Per the NFL Network, Peetz instead will be an “offensive analyst” for Nick Saban at Alabama this fall. It’s not ideal, but it’s a decent temporary landing spot for Peetz to regroup and get back into the NFL.
■ Former Arkansas and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was spotted at Southern Cal’s pro day wearing Patriots gear. Bielema is getting paid $11.935 million from Arkansas over the next three years, so he might be working for the Patriots for peanuts, similar to Mike Lombardi in 2014-15 after he was fired by the Browns.
With the Browns likely to take a quarterback at No. 1, and the Jets now staking claim to a QB at No. 3, the Giants have control over the draft with the No. 2 pick. They can stay in the spot and draft pass rusher Bradley Chubb to replace Jason Pierre-Paul, draft a quarterback as the heir to Eli Manning, or trade the pick to any of the quarterback-desperate teams (Bills, Cardinals, Broncos). Considering the haul the Colts landed for the No. 3 pick, the Giants should strongly consider a similar deal. Bills GM Brandon Beane and Giants GM Dave Gettleman, old friends and formerly the top two executives in Carolina, should be able to work out a trade.
Nice offseason for the Harvard Crimson’s NFLers. Tight end Cameron Brate signed a new deal with Tampa Bay that will guarantee him $7 million this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick also re-signed with the Buccaneers, guard Nick Easton got a second-round restricted free agent tender from the Vikings ($2.914 million salary), long snapper Tyler Ott re-signed with the Seahawks, and six other ex-Crimson players are currently on NFL rosters, including Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk . . . There is no escaping the NFL Draft from April 26-28. You can watch on Fox, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports, and Fox Sports and ESPN digital properties. And for the first time, all seven rounds will be aired on network TV . . . Two big issues not on the official agenda for this coming week’s owners meetings in Orlando — the future of the Saints after the death of owner Tom Benson, and an update on the sale of the Panthers . . . Hopefully NFL players will not take Richard Sherman’s advice and start negotiating contracts themselves. NFL contracts are already the most lopsided in pro sports . . . Standing front and center at Southern Cal and Wyoming pro days last week: Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, getting a firsthand look at Sam Darnold and Josh Allen as the team determines who to take No. 1 overall . . . Ryan Shazier was scouting for the Steelers last week at Pitt’s pro day, timing the 40 from his wheelchair and getting pointers on how to evaluate players . . . Per the NFL, rookies accumulated 22,219 yards from scrimmage and 177 touchdowns in 2017, both the most since the 1970 merger . . . Got to love the candor from 49ers GM John Lynch last week on ESPN Radio, speaking on coach Kyle Shanahan’s initial reaction to the Jimmy Garoppolo trade: “We made the trade, but then there were some days when Kyle Shanahan was in mourning, because I think everybody knows his master plan was to have Kirk Cousins come in eventually,” Lynch said. “I was proud of Kyle, because I think he knew this was the right thing for our franchise. And he didn’t hesitate. But even then, Jimmy had to really prove himself.”