Welcome back to the 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 already in process as significant player moves and contract situations, potential top draft picks making news pre-Combine, and a big NFL settlement are making news this week. The offseason is never quiet for the NFL as next week features the first day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition tag players.
As always, there is a lot going on in the NFL. Let’s start with one of the biggest stories of the week:
Browns Sign Kareem Hunt
The Cleveland Browns made news with their signing of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt was released during the season due to an assault on a female incident and then lying to the team about the details. When the video came out showing Hunt kicking and shoving the woman, the Chiefs did not hesitate to dump him.
Hunt will face a suspension from the NFL, but the Browns have a talented and versatile running back to add to their already strong running back depth chart when the suspension is over. He will be on the commissioner’s exempt list until that suspension is announced.
Hunt initially passed through waivers and went unclaimed even though he was on an inexpensive third-round draft pick contact. Hunt made the Pro Bowl as a rookie leading the league with 1,327 yards rushing and adding 53 receptions (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey is not a stranger to giving players a second chance. He drafted Tyreek Hill in Kansas City and Antonio Callaway in Cleveland. Hunt has three incidents that will factor into his suspension. Working in his favor is that Hunt has entered counseling for anger management and alcohol.
The Browns do not need Hunt to contribute immediately. They have third-down back Duke Johnson and impressive 2018 second-round draft pick Nick Chubb already in place. Chubb played so well the team was content to unload Carlos Hyde after less than half a season after signing him to a big contract in free agency.
Kareem Hunt may not be a good person off the field but he is a heck of a player on the field. The fans in Cleveland have dealt with losing so long that character concerns are not going to deter them from collecting talent.
Antonio Brown Determined to be Traded from the Steelers
Antonio Brown’s bizarre no-show at the end of the 2018 season seemed to signal his desire to end his tenure with the Steelers. With an ungainly contract that requires Pittsburgh to gain very little salary cap relief if they trade him, the Steelers seemed content to let the situation defuse over the offseason and work things out and bring him back.
That seemed to end this week as Brown was very busy making it clear he did not want to return to Pittsburgh. First he posted a good-bye to Pittsburgh fans on Twitter. There were reports that the Steelers owner Art Rooney II was in Florida wanting to talk to Brown in person (which may happen next week).
Finally, Brown went on Twitter on Saturday to answer fan questions and made it absolutely clear that he was done with the Steelers. The next question becomes where does he go and what does he net the Steelers in return?
At 30 years old and under contract at top-of-market money for a wide receiver, the seven time Pro Bowl receiver who has six consecutive 100 reception seasons seemingly should bring a decent return. However, the Steelers know they are eating dead money and the rest of the NFL knows that Pittsburgh has to trade him and will likely offer little more than a middle round draft pick.
There are some teams that have no chance of trading for Brown, regardless of their offer. He is not going to Cleveland, Cincinnati or Baltimore as Pittsburgh has no intention of seeing him twice a season. The Patriots are likely crossed off the list as well along with the Chiefs and Chargers.
The most mentioned team is the San Francisco 49ers who have cap space and Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and Kyle Shanahan designing the offense and a huge need at wide receiver. There have been rumors linking him to the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders but the Steelers may have a preference to send him to the NFC.
Either way, it is turning out to be an ugly divorce in Pittsburgh. With no cap relief and still a number of questions on defense, it could be a signal of a rough 2019 for the Steelers after a difficult end to 2018.
Joe Flacco to Denver
Another domino fell in the offseason as John Elway and the Denver Broncos agreed to send a mid-round draft pick to Baltimore for an overpriced, not elite veteran who had been below average the last four season and was benched for a rookie who subsequently led the team to the playoffs.
The closest comparison I can come up with is the Patriots trading Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo after Tom Brady supplanted him. Bledsoe was younger with a better track record than Flacco and netted a first round draft pick. That said, that move did not work out well for the Bills.
So the big question is how much better is Joe Flacco than Case Keenum? Wait, it may be “Is Joe Flacco as good as Case Keenum?” So other than height and his defense carrying him to a Super Bowl title six years ago, what makes a 34 year old quarterback on the decline a solution at quarterback?
It is a puzzling move as the Broncos will have a salary cap hit of at least $10 million for Keenum. There is no way they can keep him as a $21 million cap charge backup quarterback, but he is guaranteed $7 million in base salary and has $3 million in a cap charge on his signing bonus (per OvertheCap.com).
For the Ravens, it is a steal to get back a fourth round draft pick for a player they had absolutely no intention to bring back. For Denver, it looks like another year of the prime of Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, and Chris Harris wasted as the sub-par club of Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian, Keenan and now Flacco derails the Broncos yet again.
Kaepernick and Reid
More off-field news this week as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid and the NFL reached an agreement to resolve the players’ collusion lawsuit. With Kaepernick still unemployed with lesser quarterbacks getting work, the collusion lawsuit was a headache the NFL desperately needed to go away this offseason.
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The last thing the NFL needed was another offseason full of court reporting and Kaepernick consistently in the news. After the ratings drop of 2017 disappeared with a strong bounce-back in 2018 (and remember, television ratings are what drive the money in the NFL), the league desperately needed an offseason of NFL Draft and Free Agency talk, not courtrooms.
With a confidentiality agreement, the NFL gets what it wants–Kaepernick out of the news talking about how much he was paid off to go away. Kaepernick is unlikely to be signed by any team any time soon but Reid at least was signed by Carolina this past year and recently inked a three-year contract with the Panthers worth over $22 million.
Kaepernick was blackballed by the NFL owners due to having the audacity to kneel during the National Anthem to protest oppression of black people and people of color. Sadly, this peaceful protest was misinterpreted and twisted into an unpatriotic act that was disrespectful to the brave military members and veterans who defend the country.
While Kareem Hunt has already received his second chance after multiple assault incidents, Kaepernick is unlikely to get his. History, however, will likely be the final judge of the NFL and the United States’ behavior fifty years after all the work Martin Luther King Jr. and others did to use peaceful protests to change the culture of the country.
NFL Draft Prospect News
Finally, some news this week emerged about the NFL Draft. Two big stories dominated the news cycle. The first big story was potential top 15 pick Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons announced he tore his ACL at a workout. Simmons had been in the news earlier due to being banned from the NFL Combine due to an incident as a high school senior where he was arrested for hitting a woman.
The second big story was Kyler Murray declaring his intent to play in NFL after previously declaring his intent to play baseball and becoming a first round draft pick of the Oakland A’s. Murray is short for a quarterback, although the success of Russell Wilson should give teams pause for passing on a quarterback with arm strength and athleticism simply due to size.
Murray and Simmons’ status in the NFL Draft should be interesting to watch. Murray has first round quarterback talent and appears to be capable of going anywhere from the middle of the first round to the start of the third round. That goes the same for Simmons whose talent jumped off the game tape. Wherever he goes gets a top player for the price of a redshirt season.
For Simmons, the Jaylon Smith situation compares favorably for him. Smith dropped to the beginning of the second round and is star in Dallas now in his third season. Simmons should be able to shoot for a 2020 return and be back at full strength and an impact-maker by 2021.
For Murray, the next few months will make for a dizzying ride. Mock drafts have him all over the board and no one really seems to have sorted out where he will land. Last year, Baker Mayfield was a late first round projection and turned into the top pick. Where Murray lands is a fascinating storyline between now and the NFL Draft at the end of April.
NFL Free Agency always looks like it will be full of impact players, at least until the franchise tags (and to a lesser extent, transition tags) are used. This week there are a number of teams that will be able to use the tags if they cannot work out a long-term deal.
Some of these are no-brainers: DeMarcus Lawrence, Dee Ford or Jadeveon Clowney leaving their current teams is simply not going to happen. The Cowboys, Chiefs and Texans are going to use the franchise tag to keep their pass rushers. Also likely are the Seahawks using the tag on edge rusher Frank Clark and the Falcons tagging defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
After these five, it becomes tougher to determine who gets tagged. In the NFC East, the Eagles are likely to try to tag and trade quarterback Nick Foles. The Giants should tag Landon Collins, but safeties are continuously undervalued in the NFL and they could let him test the market. In Washington, the Redskins may lose outside linebacker Preston Smith via free agency if he is not tagged. But with low sack numbers, how does Washington justify the cost?
The most interesting call in in Pittsburgh. Can the Steelers take the chance that a transition tag means they bring back Le’Veon Bell? They are unlikely to use the franchise tag, but would they want to have the right of first refusal with the transition tag? With James Conner and Jaylen Samuels already in place for next-to-no-cost, the Steelers are probably best served letting Bell walk and take their compensatory pick next year.
Cost is the question in New England. Trey Flowers is a young leader who has stepped up his game on the big stage in the postseason in each of the last three years. He is a leader up front, plays multiple positions, and the defense struggles mightily without him. If New England does not tag him, he could be gobbled up by another team with plenty of cap space.
In Baltimore, C.J. Mosley fits the same criteria as far as importance to the defense. He is the heart and soul of the Ravens’ strong defense. The problem for Baltimore is that the price of the tag may be too much for their budget. Baltimore may use the tag to buy time to workout a deal.
Speaking of inside linebackers, look no further than the NFC North where Minnesota faces a big question mark with Anthony Barr. Barr is unlikely to get the tag due to the cost for inside linebacker and the Vikings may take their chances letting him go on the market. Staying in the NFC North, I doubt the Lions tag Ezekiel Ansah again after getting just four sacks from him in 2018.
Offensive linemen are an interesting proposition when it comes to the franchise tag. The Buccaneers have the inconsistent Donovan Smith due for a new contract, the Dolphins have right tackle Ja’Wuan James at the end of his contract, and the Rams have guard Rodger Saffold as a candidate to be tagged.
Smith is probably not worth the franchise tag–but with it being the Buccaneers, that means he more than likely gets it. Miami would have an epic overpay for a right tackle, but James is probably one of the better tackles and would be snapped up on the open market. Saffold may be worth the tag, but the Rams have safety Lamarcus Joyner to sign as well.
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