Welcome to the inaugural Full Press Coverage NFL News, Notes, Numbers and Nuggets. Each week the goal is to catch-up on everything important in the NFL.
With Super Bowl 53 in the rear-view mirror, a very busy NFL offseason is upcoming as there has already been some significant player moves and contract quandaries, coaching moves, franchise relocation questions, some franchises possibly in transition, and a quick look ahead at an ongoing trend that may well play out in 2019.
As always, there is a lot going on in the NFL. But before looking ahead, let’s take one last look back at Super Bowl 53:
Super Bowl 53 Revisit
The final numbers are in and New England Patriots fatigue, combined with viewers boycotting in New Orleans (I know the storyline suffers with the facts, but the Saints had the ball to start overtime, you know the same way it was unfair to Kansas City because New England had the ball first) and St. Louis (I hope, but St. Louis fans tend to be so classy they probably were rooting for the Rams even though Stan Kroenke bailed on the city for only offering the billionaire $500 million in city money for a stadium) resulted in slightly lower viewership numbers.
Of course, it is still the most watched program on television by more than double and the decline in numbers of viewers does not include the people streaming the game online (a growing segment). Of course, it could have a lot to do with Maroon 5 being the halftime show–some of us are still trying to move beyond that mix of ennui, uninspired stage performance and bland songs that were beyond tired pop cliches years ago.
The game itself infuriated many who want more offense, want to see ANYBODY other than the Patriots win, and bet the over in the game. If you only watch football for exciting scoring plays, sure it did not entertain that way. But a tense battle of wits, a chess match between the old-school genius defensive-minded head coach versus the young, hot-shot offensive-minded head coach, was a nerve-wracking entertainment of its own.
Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots offense woke up inside of ten minutes to play in the game with some deft play-calling from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The defense was aggressive in the front-seven and in the secondary and held and a Rams’ offense that averaged almost 33 points per game to three points. The Rams usual 420+ yards of offense in the regular season was limited to just 260.
Boring? A matter of opinion. For fans who love a close, tense game with the two modern masters of strategy it was hard to ask for more.
Key Free Agents and Early Moves
Free agency got a bit of a head start this week with the Atlanta Falcons moving on from cornerback Robert Alford and letting him get a head-start on finding a new team before the market is overloaded with other players next month when free agency opens on March 11th and teams can sign players on March 13th (a classy move by Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff).
Alford, according to ProFootballFocus.com,took a nosedive in production at cornerback in his age-30 season. He allowed 175 more yards passing than he did in comparison to 2017. In addition, he had the second-worst passer rating allowed on passes targeting him (138.9 passer rating) and to that he added 12 penalties (worst in the NFL).
So, of course, teams were lining up to overpay Alford. The lowly Arizona Cardinals swooped in and gave the free agent a three-year deal worth $22.5 million with $13.5 million guaranteed. While they were grabbing rejects from the 25th ranked defense, the 26th ranked defense added linebacker Brooks Reed this week as well for reportedly $2 million.
The New York Jets also made a move cutting starting center Spencer Long. Long was due a $3 million bonus saving over $6 million in cap space. There are more players with bonuses that become guarantees coming up in the coming weeks.
Some are no-brainers like Aaron Rodgers and others like Rams’ center John Sullivan, Jaguars’ defensive tackle Calais Campbell, Cardinals’ guard Mike Iupati, Broncos’ wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and Seahawks’ center Justin Britt and tackle Duane Brown. Keep an eye on these players (and others) with guarantees due as the free agent market could grow in the coming weeks.
Nick Foles Situation in Philadelphia
Of course, the biggest free agency situation is happening in Philadelphia. Quarterback Nick Foles–who once again stepped in and shined in place of an injured Carson Wentz. The contract situation is complicated as the Eagles have an option for $20 million (there is two more years for $58 million, but this just complicates things as he will never see it). Foles can void the option years by returning $2 million to the Eagles.
Philadelphia has indicated they will pick up the option and Foles’ camp has indicated he will pay back the $2 million to get out of the contract. From there, the Eagles still have the option to franchise or transition tag Foles to retain his rights. They can also try to trade him as Foles–unlike Le’Veon Bell–will likely sign the franchise tender and guarantee himself $25 million.
Where will Foles go? Well, that is the $25 million question. The Eagles could still keep him as an expensive backup quarterback. The New York Giants may be looking for the next quarterback to take over for Eli Manning, but many doubt that the Eagles will trade him to an interdivisional rival.
Other options could be the Miami Dolphins (as they are moving on from Ryan Tannehill), Jacksonville Jaguars (if they prefer to go via free agency instead of the draft to move on from Blake Bortes…I mean, they ARE moving on from Blake Bortles? They have to, right? Right?), Oakland Raiders (does anyone know what Jon Gruden is doing?), Denver Broncos (lame-duck Case Keenum is clearly not the long-term answer), or the Carolina Panthers (Cam Newton’s shoulder is a concern for 2019).
Of course, there are other options besides the NFL Draft and Nick Foles:
Tannehill, Flacco and Bridgewater, oh my!
With Ryan Tannehill likely to be released, Joe Flacco likely to join him in free agency, and Teddy Bridgewater likely to test the market again, there are some intriguing quarterback options available to the Giants, Jaguars, Dolphins, Broncos, Raiders and Panthers (and anyone else looking for another quarterback).
Tannehill has a $26.6 million cap number and a new head coach incoming after Tannehill’s lack of improvement cost quarterback guru Adam Gase his job in Miami. The Dolphins take a cap hit of just under $8 million in dead money jettisoning Tannehill and saving almost $19 million in cap space if they designate him as a post-June 1st cut (per OvertheCap.com).
The Ravens are unlikely to bring back Flacco after first round draft pick quarterback Lamar Jackson Flacco has a similar cap hit to Tannehill at $26.5 million against the salary cap (mediocrity at quarterback never cost so much). For Baltimore, a trade or release (designated post June 1st) results in an $18.5 million cap savings and only $8 million in dead money.
Bridgewater did a favor for the New Orleans Saints after arriving last year via trade with the New York Jets restructuring his deal to free up salary cap space, His deal voids or March 3 and he becomes a free agent. Bridgewater did not get a ton of attention and ended up in New York on a one-year deal and could not beat out impressive rookie Sam Darnold.
None of these three are franchise quarterbacks, but any of them could succeed in the right situation.
Coaches on the Move
The final coaching dominoes fell after Super Bowl 53 as Patriots de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores taking his talents to South Beach to become head coach of the New England Patriots (Miami fans must feel better than Lions fans did with these two coming off wildly different Super Bowl performances from their unit). On the other sideline, Rams quarterbacks coach took over the reins in Cincinnati becoming head coach despite having been an interim offensive coordinator for five games in 2015 and never being a head coach at any level.
Flores drained some talent from Foxborough bringing in Chad O’Shea as offensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer. He also grabbed New England assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski to bring him to Miami. How this talent drain affects the Super Bowl champions will be a story to follow this offseason.
Taylor has not gutted his former team like Flores did, but he made some news with one hiring. Offensive line coach Jim Turner drew some raised eyebrows due to having been fired from his tenure in Miami for being aware of and participating the in the bullying scandal Also, at Texas A&M a few years ago he was suspended for inappropriate comments at a football clinic for females.
Steelers Offseason with AB and Le’Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell sat out 2018 and watched the Pittsburgh Steelers replace him with two running backs in Jaylen Samuels and James Connor ($1.5 million combined cap charge in 2019 per OvertheCap.com) who more than adequately replaced his production. Add in the Steelers having saved $14.5 million with Bell holding out and Pittsburgh is just trying to get some kind of return for Bell and controlling his destination.
The Steelers have an ugly offseason with Bell, as he prefers not to be tagged with the franchise or transition tag. Unlike Nick Foles in Philadelphia, there is no guarantee Bell has any intention of signing any tender to let the Steelers trade him away. However, he also cannot sit out a second consecutive season, so his leverage may be limited.
The bigger headache is Antonio Brown. Brown has a huge cap hit if traded $21 million and saves just over $1 million. However, the post-June 1st trade his dead money drops to just over $7 million and saves the team over $15 million on the salary cap. The problem is the team will have a hard time spending that cap money after June 1st when all the free agents were signed in March.
The Steelers are likely going to have to keep Brown and put the onus on head coach Mike Tomlin to make peace in the locker room. For Bell, it is hard to predict. Letting him walk only nets a third round compensatory pick in 2020 at best and runs the risk of him ending up in the AFC North with another franchise and having to see him twice a year.
OK, that is all for this week. Check back each week as we go around the NFL with all the news, notes, nuggets and numbers you need to know.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the NFL and the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01