Uneasy time for some high-priced NFL veterans
The NFL Draft is an exciting time, with 250 picks and several hundred more undrafted rookies setting out to begin their professional football careers.
But the draft also means a time of great uncertainty and consternation for veteran players — especially ones with high salaries.
Expect a handful of trades and notable releases to happen after June 1, as veterans who are traded or released after that date have their dead cap money spread out over two years instead of one.
Let’s take a look at some veterans who probably aren’t sleeping so well as potential trade targets and salary-cap casualties:
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph — The Vikings had less than $700,000 in cap space last week, and though they created a bit of breathing room by redoing Eric Kendricks’s deal, they still need to create more cap space to operate this season. The Vikings can save $7.625 million in cash and cap space if they trade or release Rudolph, who is 29 and in the last year of his deal. Last week Rudolph spurned the Vikings’ offer of a paycut, which often is prelude to a trade or release.
Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes ($10.4 million in cash and cap savings if traded after June 1) and Trae Waynes ($9.07 million in cash and cap savings if released or traded) are two other names to watch.
Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy — The Bucs only have $1.78 million in cap space, and can free up $13 million in cash and cap by releasing or trading McCoy. While he is a six-time Pro Bowl selection, McCoy still has three years and more than $38 million left on his deal, and his play is declining after nine seasons. Perhaps the Bucs could get creative and offer to pay, say, $3 million of McCoy’s salary and trade him to a team that would pick up the final $10 million.
Bills RB LeSean McCoy — “Shady” should probably look to put his Buffalo house on the market. He’ll be 31 in July, averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry last year, the Bills added Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, and third-rounder Devin Singletary to the backfield, and they can save $6.175 million in cash and cap space by releasing McCoy.
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney — Will Clowney join Frank Clark and Dee Ford as pass rushers who were given the franchise tag and subsequently traded this offseason? The Texans reportedly put Clowney on the block around draft time after reaching an impasse on a long-term contract, and they can save $15.97 million in cash and cap space by trading him. Tight end Ryan Griffin is also a trade or release candidate, potentially saving the Texans $2.25 million in cash and cap. He might interest the Patriots.
Broncos CB Chris Harris and DE Derek Wolfe — The Broncos’ contract squabbles with Harris have played out in public, and they can save $7.8 million in cash and cap if they trade or release the cornerback. If they want to start a full rebuild and create more cap space to roll over into next year, Wolfe is another candidate, potentially saving the Broncos $8 million in cash and cap as he enters the final year of his deal.
Giants CB Janoris Jenkins — The Giants’ defensive splurge of three years ago was an utter failure, and they have already moved on from Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. Jenkins is the next to go, as the Giants can save $10.15 million in cash and cap by releasing or trading him.
Redskins CB Josh Norman — He hasn’t played like a superstar since the Redskins signed him to a five-year, $75 million deal, and former Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot has been pounding the table all spring for the team to trade or release Norman. It probably wouldn’t make the Skins a better team, but it would save them $11.5 million in cash and cap this year.
Raiders S Karl Joseph — When the Raiders declined Joseph’s fifth-year option for next year, they swore that they still liked the player and had him in their plans. But they drafted safety Johnathan Abram in the first round, making Joseph expendable. His salary is only $2.07 million, which could actually make Joseph a decent trade chip.
Packers DE Mike Daniels — The Packers have been remaking their defense all offseason with expensive free agent signings and high draft picks. Daniels, a 310-pound end with just 29 sacks in seven seasons, probably doesn’t fit into these plans — especially with the team able to save nearly $8 million in cash and cap with a trade or release.
Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu — The Falcons like Sanu’s veteran presence, but they’re tight on cap space (less than $4 million) and have Julio Jones and Riley Ridley at receiver. They can save $6.25 million in cash and cap space by releasing or trading Sanu.
Panthers WR Torrey Smith — Carolina just signed Aldrick Robinson on Friday, and added Chris Hogan last month (though he is no lock to make the team). But the Panthers can save $5 million in cash and cap by releasing or trading Smith, who caught just 17 passes for 190 yards last year.
Rams DE Michael Brockers — The Rams have several players they can restructure or extend if they want to increase their $6.03 million in cap space. But an easy way could be releasing Brockers, who had one sack last year and would save the Rams $10 million in cash and cap space.
Patriots LB Elandon Roberts — The addition of Jamie Collins couldn’t have made Roberts feel too good. The Patriots’ linebacker room is now crowded with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, John Simon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and several youngsters. Roberts has no guarantees on his $2.025 million salary, though he is still cheap enough that he could be a decent trade chip.
Jets can’t seem to get it right
Speaking of not feeling too comfortable in his job, Mike Maccagnan was surprisingly fired by the Jets on Wednesday.
Firing a general manager at this point in the offseason isn’t unprecedented. In the last few years, the Bills fired Doug Whaley in late April, the Chiefs fired John Dorsey in June, and the Panthers fired Dave Gettleman in July. The thinking is that the GMs already have done most of the prep work on free agency and the draft by the time the season ends, and the team doesn’t want to start the process over from scratch in January.
But the timing of this particular case certainly portrays a front office mired in dysfunction. Jets owner Christopher Johnson fired Maccagnan only after first retaining him in January (but firing coach Todd Bowles), publicly supporting Maccagnan in March, then allowing Maccagnan to help pick new coach Adam Gase, spend nearly $120 million fully guaranteed in free agency, and conduct the team’s draft last month.
Reports of a rift between Gase and Maccagnan have circulated since the draft three weeks ago, and Johnson pretty much confirmed it.
“I think that there was pretty good synergy, but it was not everything I was hoping for,” Johnson told New York reporters. “I made the decision that I want to find a better fit for this building.”
One thing that is clear is that Johnson didn’t just fire Maccagnan on a whim. A league source said that the Jets reached out more than a week ago to one AFC executive, but he turned down an interview. Eagles executive Joe Douglas and NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah are rumored to be front-runners for the job.
One source of the Gase-Maccagnan rift reportedly is Le’Veon Bell. Gase was either adamantly against adding Bell altogether, or against adding him at the price ($27 million guaranteed over two years).
Now Bell finds himself wondering if he’s going to have any support from his new coaches. If Bell has a great season, Maccagnan looks like the smart one. If Bell is a flop, Gase comes out the winner. And Gase is the one who controls playing time, play-calling, etc.
The Jets were doing a great job of building excitement for their fans this offseason, surrounding young quarterback Sam Darnold with expensive new talent.
And in the course of one afternoon, they squandered all of that excitement and devolved into the same old dysfunctional Jets.
Suspension costly for star Peterson
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has played and started every game of his eight seasons, and has been elected to the Pro Bowl all eight years.
But both of those impressive streaks will come to an end this fall with the news this past week that Peterson has been suspended for six games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The NFL does not announce details of a player’s suspension, but the six-game punishment means that Peterson not only tested positive for a substance, but also for a masking agent (or he attempted to dilute or tamper with the specimen).
And the suspension will be costly. Peterson will lose more than $3.88 million in base salary. And per NFL rules, a PED suspension automatically precludes Peterson from playing in the Pro Bowl or winning any season-end awards.
“Definitely, definitely sorry what broke out today,” Peterson told Arizona media. “I’ve never been in this situation before and I never wanted to have my name attached to anything like this.”
Peterson was rumored to want out of Arizona this offseason. Turns out, he was a little ticked that the team wouldn’t renegotiate his contract to help minimize the financial impact of the suspension.
The Patriots did that for Tom Brady in 2016, turning most of his salary into a signing bonus.
You never call
Former Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen said on “The Rich Eisen Show” this past week that GM Steve Keim never called him once all offseason — not before the draft, not during the draft, and not after Rosen was traded to Miami. Coach Kliff Kingsbury kept Rosen in the loop during the draft, but Keim never once reached out.
For as much criticism that Rosen has taken in the last year-plus — mostly from anonymous scouts and executives trashing his character — he handled his departure from Arizona with class and maturity. The same can’t be said of his GM.
Cornering the market on corners
Have you played cornerback in college? Maybe in high school or Pop Warner? Then the Dolphins have a roster spot for you.
The Dolphins have 91 players on their offseason roster, and a whopping 13 play cornerback. Xavien Howard is entrenched as the No. 1 man, but the rest of the depth chart is wide open as Brian Flores looks far and wide for corners.
Former Patriot Eric Rowe has been running as a starter early in organized team activities, per the Miami Herald, and said that the Dolphins’ practices have felt familiar.
“The way practice runs, how hard we work — it’s all similar to up there,” Rowe said.
Flores also has come up with his first motivational tool as a head coach — a giant wall next to the practice field with the letters “TNT.” It is short for “Takes No Talent,” which has led to obvious jokes about the Dolphins’ talent level.
But it is a reminder from Flores to his players that certain aspects of football take no talent — hustle, knowing your assignments, being on time, and so on. Players who mess up the TNT rules in practice have to drop what they are doing in practice, run to the wall, then run back and rejoin practice.
Remaining in the game
The Massachusetts Pirates of the National Arena League don’t usually garner much ink in this space, but they made two interesting signings this past week.
One was offensive lineman Tre’ Jackson, the Patriots’ 2015 fourth-round pick who started nine games as a rookie. Knee injuries cost Jackson his NFL career after one season, but he is still clinging to his football dreams. Jackson also played in the Alliance of American Football this spring.
The Pirates also this past week signed Dexter McCluster, the former Titans running back/receiver/kick returner who made the 2013 Pro Bowl.
An interesting tweet from a member of the EA Sports/Madden team this past week about how the NFL is increasingly a shotgun-oriented league: 20 of the 32 teams last year used the shotgun formation on at least 60 percent of snaps, with the Chiefs leading the way at a whopping 80 percent. But two teams missing from that list are the teams that reached the Super Bowl. The Rams used the shotgun on a league-low 38.3 percent of snaps, and the Patriots were third-lowest at 46.3 percent. The Patriots and Rams did it differently, but running the football from under center and utilizing play-action were instrumental for both teams . . . One stat from Rotoworld that should trouble Bills fans: Quarterback Josh Allen scrambled on 11.9 percent of his dropbacks last year, the second-highest rate over the last decade, behind Michael Vick in 2010. Rotoworld tried to spin it as a positive by pointing out that Allen averaged 10.8 yards per scramble, the highest in the last 10 years. But a quarterback running that much is a bad sign. You want your quarterback going through his progressions and making throws downfield, not scrambling out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble. Allen needs to run less and throw more if he wants to succeed . . . No, Joe Flacco doesn’t have to mentor Broncos rookie Drew Lock. Brett Favre didn’t mentor Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana didn’t mentor Steve Young, and, frankly, Tom Brady didn’t really mentor Jimmy Garoppolo. But it does show some insecurity from Flacco, who likely knows it’s only a matter of time before Lock takes his job. “I’m not worried about developing guys or any of that,” Flacco said. “I hope he does develop, but I don’t look at it as my job.”
Kudos to Colts GM Chris Ballard, who invited Indianapolis media into his film room and spent two hours breaking down the tape of his draft picks and explaining how he sees each player fitting into the team. Ballard also made his scouts available to the media to detail how they scouted each pick. The transparency and lack of paranoia shown by Ballard is refreshing, and it would be great to see other teams follow suit.