The Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns got zapped Monday by the NFL. Now we wait to find out what the league has in store for the New York Jets, who committed an apparent tampering violation last December when owner Woody Johnson publicly expressed interest in reuniting with Darrelle Revis even though the star cornerback still was under contract to the New England Patriots.
The Atlanta and Cleveland penalties, while not severe, send a message that the league won't let men in suits -- front-office execs -- get away unscathed when they break the rules. Therefore, it's hard to imagine the Goodell Police letting the Jets walk away without some sort of punishment. Even though Johnson claims he misspoke in his end-of-the-season news conference, he broke the tampering rule based on the letter of the law.
The Falcons were fined $350,000 and will lose a fifth-round pick in 2016 for piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome the last two seasons. In addition, team president Rich McKay was suspended at least three months from the competition committee, which is no big deal. Even though their home record was only 3-4 last season (one home game was played in London), the fake noise was an unsavory ploy that, in theory, gave them a competitive advantage.
It's highly doubtful the Browns gained any advantage from their general manager, Ray Farmer, sending strategy-related texts to staffers on the sideline, but it still was a violation of league rules. He was suspended four games and the team was fined $250,000, but the Browns weren't stripped of any draft choices. They got off easy, unless you factor in the embarrassment caused by their stupidity.
The Browns admitted they screwed up. So did the Falcons.
The Jets haven't admitted anything. Truth be told, they think the Patriots' tampering charge is so frivolous that they tried to mock it by filing a ridiculous counter charge against owner Robert Kraft based on innocuous comments at last week's league meetings.
Unlike the Atlanta and Cleveland officials, Johnson didn't repeatedly break the rules. It was a one-time blunder, and that should be taken into consideration when the penalty is handed down -- unless the league digs up more dirt, of course.
If it uncovers a smoking gun -- i.e. phone records indicating contact with Revis and/or his reps before he became a free agent -- the Jets should be stripped of their fourth-round pick. A precedent: In 2008, the San Francisco 49ers were docked a fifth-round pick for contacting the agent of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs during the season. (The Jets don't have fifth- or sixth-round choices in the coming draft.) If this is how it shakes out, the NFL would be making an example out of the Jets because, let's face it, covert tampering is rampant across the league.
If all we're talking about is Johnson's off-the-cuff remark, the forfeiture of a late-round pick in 2016 would be a just punishment.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay shakes it up in his latest mock (4.0 version), predicting the Jets will select Nebraska pass-rusher Randy Gregory with the sixth pick. Mariota, the trendy choice for the Jets, is off the board.
McShay, buying into the surging Mariota hype, moves up the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to the Tennessee Titans at No. 2, also noting the Titans could deal the pick to a Mariota-loving team. He believes the Jets and St. Louis Rams are the likeliest to move up.
I, too, had the Jets taking Gregory in my latest mock, but that was before he admitted to testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine and revealing in an interview with NFL.com that he was a habitual user in college. McShay downplays the marijuana thing, saying he doesn't think it will affect his draft stock. I'm skeptical. I think it's bound to have an impact.
If the top of the draft falls the way McShay predicts, the Jets would be faced with a difficult decision because of Gregory's potential as an edge-rusher. He'd be a nice fit in Todd Bowles' defense, but is he worth the risk?
Of that $91.5 million, over $61 million was included in contracts with players new to the team, an approach that general manager Doug Whaley said won't continue next offseason.
"Next year we’ll be the Green Bay Packers of free agency," Whaley said at the NFL owners meetings last week. "We’ll be signing our own guys because we have Nigel [Bradham] coming up, you got [Marcell] Dareus coming up, you got Cordy Glenn coming up and you got [Stephon] Gilmore. So that will be our free agency next year."
The Packers are well known for not dipping into the free-agent market. With the exception of signing Julius Peppers, the vast majority of their free-agent activity over the past several years has been re-signing their own players.
The Bills have good reason not to spend on outside free agents next spring: they can't afford it.
Here is a look at the teams with the highest 2016 cap commitments, per ESPN Stats & Information:
- New Orleans Saints: $131.975 million
- Buffalo Bills: $130.223 million
- New York Jets: $128.169 million
- Green Bay Packers: $122.616 million
- Pittsburgh Steelers: $119.110 million
The Bills' 2016 cap number will jump to $141.305 million in May, when they pick up the $11.082 million fifth-year option on Gilmore.
The NFL's salary cap is expected to be in the $150 million range next season. The Bills can carry over their remaining 2015 cap space into 2016, but they won't have much to roll over -- likely $3 million or less once they sign rookies and make in-season roster adjustments this fall.
Here are the team's top cap hits in the 2016 season:
- Mario Williams: $19.9 million
- Charles Clay: $13.5 million
- Stephon Gilmore: $11.082 million
- Percy Harvin: $10 million
- Kyle Williams: $8 million
There are several ways for the Bills to knock down these numbers and clear up 2016 cap space. The most obvious would be to void Harvin's deal, which would save $8 million against the cap. They could also negotiate an extension with Gilmore that would reduce his cap hit, and they could restructure Mario Williams' deal to lower his number.
The trickier contract to re-work would be Clay's. In an effort to make it hard for the Miami Dolphins to get around his bloated 2016 cap hit, the Bills worked a fully-guaranteed $10 million roster bonus into Clay's deal that is due on the first day of the 2016 league year. The Bills could try to negotiate with Clay and convert that roster bonus into a signing bonus that is spread over the life of the deal, but they'd have to negotiate that during the 2015 league year, meaning part of the signing bonus would impact their 2015 cap number, which is already close to the limit.
The elephant in the room with the Bills' 2016 cap number is Marcell Dareus' deal. An extension with Dareus will likely cost the Bills $15 million per season or more, adding some financial stress to the team over the coming seasons.
Add extensions for Bradham and Glenn to the mix and the Bills have one of the NFL's trickiest salary-cap situations to navigate over the coming year or longer.
Win this season, and few will care about the Bills' cap conundrum. Fall short this season, and the Bills' financial approach will be magnified.
In case you missed it, former New England Patriots safety-turned-TV analyst Rodney Harrison lit up Geno Smith in a scathing commentary last Friday on a radio show. One particular aspect of his rant jumped out:
"If you go into the season and you’re expecting Geno Smith to improve, it’s not going to happen. He might get a little better, but when times get tough, when adversity hits, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to fold just like the last couple years."
Does Smith fold in the face of adversity? Let's take a closer look.
Supporters of the New York Jets' quarterback can point to his rookie year, 2013, when he tied for the NFL lead with five game-winning drives. (A famous cliff jumper from the Patriots also had five that year.) This is the strongest piece of evidence to counter Harrison's claim. Yeah, he caught some lucky breaks along the way (Lavonte David, anyone?), but give the man his due.
Smith also demonstrated some resilience last season, responding favorably after his three-game benching. His Total QBR over the final five weeks was 49.8, 19th in the league. That's only an average number, but consider it was a dreadful 27.6 over the first 12 weeks (31st). So, no, he didn't fold, although critics can certainly argue the season was lost -- read: no pressure -- by the time he returned.
Unfortunately, there's no "adversity" stat, a number that illustrates a player's ability to function in tough situations. However, we can study how Smith handled clutch situations. And our quick conclusion is: Not well. Somewhere, Harrison is saying, "I told you so."
Smith's Total QBR (and league rank), courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
Fourth quarter passing: 18.3 (31st)
When pressured by the pass rush: 1.8 (27th)
When blitzed: 38.9 (25th)
Last two minutes of a half: 16.0 (31st)
In the red zone: 17.3 (29th)
Games decided by 1 to 8 points: 30.4 (34th)
In a post on his personal Facebook page Saturday morning, Brady showed video of himself taking a big jump into the water during a recent trip to Costa Rica. He added the following comment: "Never doing that again! #AirBrady
The jump is estimated at about 40 feet.
NBC studio analyst Rodney Harrison doesn't think much of the New York Jets' headline-making offseason. He believes they're doomed to a five-win or six-win season as long as Geno Smith is the quarterback.
Co-hosting NBC's "Under Center" radio show on Friday, Harrison unloaded on the Jets and their third-year quarterback. He might not be the most objective guy in the room, considering he played for the Patriots, but his comments are so strong, they're worth a mention.
“You can say whatever you want about Darrelle Revis -- and I do believe he’s the best cornerback in the league -- but Darrelle Revis has not thrown a touchdown pass," Harrison said. "He’s not your quarterback. Yes, he can shut down a No. 1 receiver, but they need a quarterback. The Jets are, all of a sudden, on a high, thinking they’re going to win a championship. You’re not going to win a championship -- you’re not even going to make the playoffs -- because you don’t have a quarterback.
"If you go into the season and you’re expecting Geno Smith to improve, it’s not going to happen," he added. "He might get a little better, but when times get tough, when adversity hits, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to fold just like the last couple years. I don’t believe in Geno Smith. I think this is a huge mistake. Hopefully in this draft, they try to address this quarterback situation, because if they go into the season with Geno Smith, they might win five or six games.”
You get the impression he doesn't like the Jets?
Not surprisingly, Harrison supported the Patriots' decision not to re-sign Revis, saying, "Bill [Belichick], he’s not going to sell the farm for Darrelle Revis, because as good as Darrelle is, you know in a year or two maybe Darrelle is not going to be quite the same player he was this past season for the New England Patriots. So I believe that was the right move to make.”
For Harrison's full commentary on the state of the AFC East, check out Mike Reiss at ESPNBoston.com.
Tannehill has the confidence of power players in the Dolphins' organization. Vice president Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin all endorsed Tannehill this offseason as Miami's long-term solution.
Tannehill also is expected to get a sizable raise. It can come in the form of a fifth-year extension worth approximately $15 million in 2016 or a multi-year extension that could approach $100 million or more.
But the true next step for Tannehill doesn’t involve money, recognition in Miami, or filling up the stat sheet. For Tannehill to truly evolve into a franchise quarterback, he must win more games for the Dolphins.
Here is an important stat to remember for Tannehill: He is just 23-25 as a starter.
Tannehill has never had a winning season in Miami and has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. His .479 career winning percentage is worse than quarterback counterparts Jay Cutler (.512), Andy Dalton (.625) and Colin Kaepernick (.641). These are all players that Tannehill will be compared to when working out a long-term contract.
A quarterback’s career ultimately will be determined by wins and losses. Tannehill made strides and proved last season that he can put up good numbers. But he won the same amount of games than he won in 2013.
Of course, not every win or loss can be pinned on the quarterback. There are a variety of reasons teams lose games. However, a quarterback has more impact on the field than any other player because he touches the ball on almost every offensive snap. Tannehill is going to get a bulk of the blame or the credit.
Tannehill must win enough games in his fourth season to get the Dolphins over the hump and into the playoffs. Quarterbacks build their reputation in the postseason, which is currently a major void on Tannehill’s resume.
The New York Jets' brass, headed by general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, will be in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday for a private workout with quarterback Marcus Mariota -- another important step in the pre-draft evaluation process.
Maccagnan attended Mariota's pro day earlier this month, but this time the Jets will have one-on-one time with the Heisman Trophy winner. It'll be the standard routine. There will be a workout on the field, along with a classroom session. Mariota will be tested by the coaches on specific plays he received ahead of time. The idea is to gauge his football acumen.
Mariota is regarded as the No. 2 quarterback prospect behind Florida State's Jameis Winston. The quarterback-needy Jets could take Mariota with the No. 6 overall choice, but he might not last that long. He could be picked anywhere from second to fifth, possibly by a team trading up.
NBC studio football analyst Rodney Harrison co-hosted the “Under Center” program on NBC radio on Friday and here were a few sound bites of note on New England and the AFC East:
Patriots and pass-catchers. “The only thing I was a little disappointed in is that they really didn’t upgrade at the wide receiver position. I knew they wouldn’t pay Darrelle Revis, and that’s just part of Bill Belichick’s DNA; he’s not paying a cornerback $16 million per year. He had an opportunity to sign Asante Samuel [in the past] and didn’t. He just doesn’t believe in paying those type of guys that kind of money.”
Jets might be a five-win team. “You can say whatever you want about Darrelle Revis, and I do believe he’s the best cornerback in the league. But Darrelle Revis has not thrown a touchdown pass. He’s not your quarterback. Yes, he can shut down a No. 1 receiver, but they need a quarterback. The Jets are, all of a sudden, on a high thinking they’re going to win a championship. You’re not going to win a championship, you’re not even going to make the playoffs, because you don’t have a quarterback. If you go into the season and you’re expecting Geno Smith to improve, it’s not going to happen. He might get a little better, but when times get tough, when adversity hits, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to fold just like the last couple years. I don’t believe in Geno Smith. I think this is a huge mistake. Hopefully in this draft, they try to address this quarterback situation, because if they go into the season with Geno Smith they might win five or six games.”
Suh not enough for Dolphins. “I know they wanted to make a splash. They did the same thing [as the Jets]. At the end of the day Ndamukong Suh is the most dominant defensive lineman in this game, outside of J.J. Watt. But guess what? He’s a defensive lineman. As great as he is, I would have never paid him that type of money. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to get three or four or five players to come in and really make a difference on this team. The Miami Dolphins didn’t just need one guy to plug that middle. I understand you’re trying to make a splash, get people around Miami excited, but I think it’s a huge mistake. At the end of the day, you’re not going to win a Super Bowl with Ndamukong Suh. You need a host of guys. I played on a 1-15 team, I played on a 16-0 team and trust me, it doesn’t come down to one defensive lineman.”
Bills on the rise. “I really like the Matt Cassel move, because EJ Manuel, he struggled with the confidence. To get a veteran quarterback that understands the division and understands Bills Belichick. He’s been productive when he’s been a starter. LeSean McCoy that gives them a different dimension. Charles Clay was one of my favorite players the last couple years. I’m really surprised the Dolphins didn’t sign this guy; I think this is a huge mistake. At the end of the day, I think the Buffalo Bills made tremendous progress and really closed the gap with the New England Patriots.”
Patriots made right call on Revis. “Darrelle Revis is a special cornerback. There are only 2-3 Darrelle Revises -- Richard Sherman [and] maybe [Joe] Haden. [Bill] Belichick has had a lot of success, but I think the way you offset that shutdown corner is you have to be able to bring in pass-rushers and you have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback. But also offensively, you know you’re going to score points, you’re going to probably score 25 to 30 points a game. It’s kind of that bend-but-don’t break mentality, when you get down in the red zone, you toughen things up, hold teams to a field goal. That’s the thinking. Bill, he’s not going to sell the farm for Darrelle Revis, because as good as Darrelle is, you know in a year or two maybe Darrelle is not going to be quite the same player he was this past season for the New England Patriots. So I believe that was the right move to make.”
Patriots also parted ways with Brandon Browner. “Browner is not getting any faster. For a guy like that to lead the league in pass interferences and all the grabbing and holding, Belichick looked at him and said, ‘There’s no way I’m paying a guy $6 million when I can go and fill in a guy like Malcolm Butler.’ When I was up there, Belichick told me in training camp, ‘Malcolm Butler is a guy I really like, a guy who is going to be a really good player.’ That’s what you have to do as a coach, you have to bring these guys along and you don’t have to necessarily pay cornerbacks $19 or $20 million a year.”
Ryan led the Wolverines with 112 tackles and also recorded two sacks and an interception last season. According to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., Ryan is this year's fifth-rated inside linebacker.
The Dolphins lost three linebackers this offseason and need to add depth at the position. They traded Dannell Ellerbe to the New Orleans Saints, cut Philip Wheeler and allowed Jason Trusnik to test free agency. Miami also was 24th against the run last season.
Each NFL team gets a maximum of 30 pre-draft visits.
Former New York Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who retired after the 2012 season, has turned down several opportunities to return to coaching. He enjoys his job as a TV and radio analyst, but there's more to it than that.
"The job I did doesn't exist today," he said in a phone interview. "What do you want me to coach, touchbacks? Not interested."
Westhoff is right. Rules changes have turned the kicking game into Special Teams Lite. By his count, there are only eight to 10 "action" plays per game, down from 18.
Specifically, the touchback rate reached an all-time high last season (50.3 percent), watering down one of the most exciting plays in the game -- the kickoff return. Westhoff built his reputation, in part, because of his uncanny success on kickoff returns. In 2012, the kickoff was moved out to the 35-yard line to reduce head injuries -- more touchbacks, fewer collisions -- although Westhoff suspects the concussion rate under the old rule wasn't as high as feared.
Now we have a new hot-button issue: What to do with the extra point?
Frankly, the PAT is a waste of time (a 99.3-percent success rate last season), so the league is exploring ways to improve what is now a non-competitive play. The competition committee expressed optimism at the league meetings earlier this week that a new PAT format will be approved by May.
You've heard the expression, "He outkicked his coverage." These days, kickers are outkicking the rules. They're too good.
"Kicking has become easier today," said Westhoff, who coached 30 years in the NFL. "The kickers are bigger, stronger and better athletes than before. We always used to picture a little soccer guy like Matt Bahr, but that's not true today. The kids are bigger and better. If you don't have a 90 percent [success] guy, you'd better have your eyes open."
Other factors have contributed, according to Westhoff: The snaps are almost always perfect. Long-snappers no longer have to worry about an opponent lining up directly over them -- another safety-related rule change. The "get-off" time on a placement has gone from 1.33 seconds to 1.23, per Westhoff's calculations, making it harder to block a kick.
Stadium configurations, too, have helped kickers. Westhoff recalled the old days at Giants Stadium, where the notorious wind was a huge factor. That's not the case at MetLife Stadium.
"Now," he said, "it's benign."
Westhoff is a traditionalist, but he believes it's "reasonable" to move PATs to the 15-yard line, which would create a 32- or 33-yard kick. That's one of the proposals on the table. Even that distance is a gimme for some kickers, as 10 teams converted 100 percent of their field goals in the 30-39 range last season.
He'd also like to see the goal posts narrowed by a yard, raising the degree of difficulty. Westhoff, who does some consulting on the side, brought that idea to the FXFL developmental league last year. The league liked it, he said, but it simply didn't have the money to change the goal posts.
Westhoff also has proposed the idea of a kicking hash for field goal attempts, creating "a slightly smaller target from slightly wider angle. That will bring kicking percentages back to where they should be and make it a little more difficult."
That, of course, would affect third-down play calling. Teams would be hesitant to run plays outside the hashmarks, knowing they'd have a tougher field goal if the ball ends up getting pushed out to the kicking hash.
Clearly, the league has a lot to consider, starting with the PAT. It's the most nondescript play in football, yet so complex. Westhoff is certain about one thing: He's not in favor of the nine-point play proposed by the Indianapolis Colts.
"That would junk up the game," he said. "It would create a carnival-type image."
General manager Mike Maccagnan wasn't kidding when he said the New York Jets would be "very active" in free agency. Catching you up on the moves:
Free agents signed
- Darrelle Revis, CB -- Five years, $70 million ($39 million guaranteed)
- Buster Skrine, CB -- Four years, $25 million ($13 million)
- Antonio Cromartie, CB -- Four years, $32 million ($7 million)
- James Carpenter, LG -- Four years, $19.1 million ($5 million)
- Marcus Gilchrist, FS -- Four years, $22 million ($3.5 million)
- James Brewer, G/T -- One year, $825,000 ($40,000)
- Kevin Vickerson, DE -- One year, $950,000 ($60,000)
- Corey Hilliard, RT -- One year, $950,000 ($60,000)
- Stephen Bowen, DE -- One year, $950,000 ($60,000)
- Kellen Davis, TE -- N/A
- Brandon Marshall, WR -- Three years, $24.3 million ($7.5 million)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB -- One year, $3.25 million (0)
Free agents re-signed
- David Harris, LB -- Three years, $21.5 million ($15 million)
- Bilal Powell, RB -- One year, $2 million ($750,000)
- Willie Colon, G -- One year, $950,000 ($65,000)
- Tanner Purdum, LS -- Two years, $1.8 million ($265,000)
So here we are, exactly five weeks to the draft, and the Marcus Mariota speculation continues to build.
Would the New York Jets select the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback if he's available with the sixth pick? Our man Mel Kiper Jr. believes it's a no-brainer.
"I would think that, at that point, I don't know how you'd pass him up," the ESPN draft analyst said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "You're going against Tom Brady. Tom Brady has probably got another five years in him. And Mariota needs a little bit of time. So [Ryan] Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith would give you time to develop Mariota, who, in another two or three years, could be really good."
I agree with Kiper. If you're the Jets, starved for a franchise quarterback, you take Mariota and bring him along slowly, which is easier said than done. You know how it is in the New York market; the pressure to play him immediately would be intense.
General manager Mike Maccagnan continues to say he will draft the best available player. The top four players, according to a consensus of the top draft experts (including ESPN's Kiper and Todd McShay), are quarterback Jameis Winston, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, wide receiver Amari Cooper and Mariota. If one happens to slip to six, they'd be hard-pressed to pass.
"I'm not concerned at all about the fact that you're not this rah-rah guy out there," Kiper said of the former Oregon Duck. "He's got a ton of skills, a ton of ability, and if you give him time, I think the Jets would be a perfect team to afford him that opportunity."
PHOENIX -- Call it a calculated spending spree, call it reckless. Either way, the Buffalo Bills have spent more than any NFL team this offseason.
The Bills have given out $91.5 million in guaranteed money in new contracts and restructured deals this offseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is more than $11 million more than the next highest-spending team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Overall, the New England Patriots' competitors in the AFC East -- the Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets -- have spent $245.1 million in guaranteed money in the last two and a half weeks, which accounts for 22 percent of overall NFL guaranteed money handed out since free agency started.
Here are the Bills' deals this offseason ranked by guaranteed money:
RB LeSean McCoy: $26.55 million
TE Charles Clay: $24.5 million
DE Jerry Hughes: $22.15 million
WR Percy Harvin: $5.9 million
DT Kyle Williams: $4.5 million
FB Jerome Felton: $4 million
WR Marcus Easley: $2.2 million
QB Tyrod Taylor: $1.15 million
G Kraig Urbik: $300,000
DE Jarius Wynn: $250,000
Fletcher seemed to lose confidence last season with the Eagles, who decided that a fresh start would be best for both sides. But Eagles coach Chip Kelly had complimentary things to say about the 6-foot-0, 200-pound Fletcher.
"I love Fletch," he said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast. "[He's] the ultimate competitor. Works his tail off every single day in practice. He’s a physical player. He played really well for us also on special teams. They’ll get a guy who’s a great teammate, will buy into Bill’s system."
Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles for ESPN.com's NFL Nation, previously provided more context on Fletcher's two-year tenure in Philadelphia.
We currently slotted Fletcher into the No. 2 spot on the Patriots' projected cornerback depth chart.