ESPN Chasing Saints’ Drew Brees

Last month, Drew Brees inked a new two-year, $50MM deal to return to the Saints and continue his playing career. However, that hasn’t stopped ESPN from courting Brees for their Monday Night Football booth with an eye on signing him once he retires (via Andrew Marchand of the New York Post). 

[RELATED: Saints CB Janoris Jenkins Renegotiates Contract]

It’s no surprise that ESPN wants to add the charismatic star to its lineup. Although Brees is contracted to play through the 2021 season, it’s possible that Brees may only be coming back for one more year. Recently, head coach Sean Payton told ESPN that Brees is “coming back for his final season.” It’s possible that Payton misspoke, but that could also be an indication that Brees is heading into his final campaign.

The Saints are planning to transition from the future Hall of Famer to Taysom Hill. This year, Hill will take on a much larger role in the offense. If all goes well, and Brees decides to move on to broadcasting or anything else, Hill may stand alone as the Saints’ starter in ’21.

An offer from ESPN could play a factor in Brees’ decision next year. While the networks can’t compete with Brees’ NFL dollars, the QB could still land a lucrative deal in the broadcast booth. Tony Romo, for example, signed a ten-year, $180MM deal with CBS. ESPN isn’t using that as “the measuring stick” for Brees, Marchand writes, but they are believed to be dangling a deal worth about $6.5MM/year. That’s similar to what Jon Gruden towards the end of his MNF tenure.

Brees is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Last year, he completed 74% of his throws with 27 touchdown passes in just eleven contests.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Mulling Christian McCaffrey Extension

The Panthers have internally discussed a new long-term deal for star running back Christian McCaffrey, GM Marty Hurney says (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s David Newton).

[RELATED: Panthers Aren’t Shopping Curtis Samuel]

Obviously, we’ve had internal discussions. Everybody knows what we think of Christian as a player. Other than that I can’t really say any more,” Hurney said.

McCaffrey is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, though the Panthers still hold a fifth-year option on him for the 2021 season. It’s no secret that the Panthers want to keep CMC for the long haul, but they don’t necessarily have to rush things, either.

The Panthers will have to weigh CMC’s performance and massive potential against the past perils of running back contracts. In the summer of 2018, the Rams handed Todd Gurley a four-year, $60MM deal to make him the highest-paid RB in the NFL. At the time, Gurley was fresh off of winning the league’s Offensive Player of the Year trophy. Less than two years later, the Rams released him outright. That’s just the latest example of a high-priced RB deal going south and no tailback is immune from the risk of injury – that includes McCaffrey.

CMC, who won’t turn 24 until June, earned his first career Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro selections in 2019. Even though the Panthers struggled on the whole, he managed 1,387 rushing yards off of 287 carries, good for an average of 4.8 yards per tote. And, for good measure, he added another 116 catches for 1,005 yards receiving. All together, he scored 19 touchdowns on the year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jaguars Re-Sign Carl Davis

The Jaguars announced that they’ll bring back Carl Davis for another year. However, the defensive tackle will not be available for the first month of the season thanks to his four-game ban. 

Davis violated the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy, resulting in a suspension to start the year. Naturally, that inhibited Davis’ market as he talked with clubs in March.

The 2015 third-round pick spent his first three seasons with the Ravens, tallying 30 tackles, half-a-sack, and three passes defended in 28 games (12 starts). His 2016 season was derailed by a knee injury, and he was limited down the stretch of the 2017 campaign with a hamstring issue.

After being released by the Ravens before the 2018 campaign, he hooked on with the Browns. Despite re-signing with the squad the following offseason, he was released by Cleveland following the 2019 preseason. He ultimately appeared in three total games for the Colts and Jaguars last year, collecting a single tackle.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Announce Todd Gurley Deal

Weeks after the deal was reported, the Falcons announced that they have agreed to terms with Todd Gurley. However, Gurley has yet to take/pass his physical, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets

Given Gurley’s medical history, that’s more than just a formality. Gurley hasn’t looked the same since his late-2018 knee injury – last year, the two-time All-Pro averaged just 3.8 yards per carry for the Rams and just 6.7 yards per reception. Before that, Gurley managed 40 all-purpose touchdowns between 2017 and 2018 while averaging 4.8 yards per tote.

Still, there’s a virtual handshake deal in place. Gurley is set to earn $11MM in total this year, with $7.5MM coming from the Rams, $6MM on the Falcons’ books, and an offset of $2.5MM. With that, Gurley will be one of the three highest-compensated running backs in the NFL.

In Atlanta, Gurley will replace the recently released Devonta Freeman. The University of Georgia product will be backstopped by Ito Smith and Brian Hill in his homecoming. 

No one’s exactly sure what to expect from Gurley after his shaky season, but he stayed largely healthy in 2019 and he’ll have another year of recovery under his belt. If Gurley returns to his old form, or even 80% of it, the Falcons could have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft To Be “Fully Virtual”

On Monday, the NFL informed clubs that this year’s draft will be conducted with a “fully virtual format.” The memo from commissioner Roger Goodell lays out some of the basics for what will be the most unique NFL Draft in league history.

[RELATED: FIU QB James Morgan Drawing Interest]

The draft, which is still set to commence on April 23rd through April 25th, will go on with club personnel operating separately from their homes. Early on, there was some thought to executives gathering in their respective war rooms, but that possibility has been ruled out with more and more shelter-in-place orders throughout the United States.

We have made this decision for several reasons,” the memo states. “All clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way. Moreover, we want all NFL personnel to comply with the government directives and to model safe and appropriate health practices. Our staff will carry out its responsibilities in the same way, operating in separate locations outside of our offices.”

Meanwhile, this year’s draft evaluation process is tricky, especially when it comes to prospects with past medical trouble. Coaches, GMs, and other executives will be flying blind when it comes to many players, though some have gone through voluntary exams conducted by the league. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, for example, had a recheck recently and reportedly passed with flying colors.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Antonio Brown Hires Agent

Antonio Brown has hired new representation as he looks to make his NFL return. The free agent wide receiver has hired agent Ed Wasielewski of EMG Sports, as ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter tweets

[RELATED: Antonio Brown Facing Three Criminal Charges]

Wasielewski will have the unenviable task of trying to talk teams into signing the controversial wide receiver as he remains in league limbo. Just last week, Brown’s list of legal trouble grew even longer – he’s now facing three formal charges stemming from an alleged January assault. The timetable for Florida authorities to dig into the matter is unclear given the current climate and the NFL has bigger fish to fry before finally resolving Brown’s status.

There was lots of talk about Brown reuniting with Tom Brady in Tampa, but GM Jason Licht says that won’t be happening.

We feel like there’s a lot of teams that are struggling to find one really good receiver. And we have two really outstanding receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin,” Licht said recently. “Right now, there is only so much money that can go around. There are no plans to sign any other receiver at this time.

“Antonio is somebody that Bruce has come out and had some words about, and Bruce knows him better than all of us. So right now, I would just say that we’re focused on other areas of our team.”

Ditto for head coach Bruce Arians. “Yeah,” Arians said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Despite his seven Pro Bowl nods and 11,000+ career receiving yards, Brown is going to be a tough sell for any team at this juncture.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Where Will Jadeveon Clowney Sign?

It’s April and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is still without an NFL team. The former No. 1 overall pick isn’t coming off of a banner year, but he plays a premium position and has 32 career sacks to his credit. So, what gives? 

Of course, his price tag is his biggest blocker. Clowney came into the offseason seeking a deal worth $20MM per year. Recently, he backed down from that position, though the incumbent Seahawks are believed to be offering between $13-$15MM per annum, which is still probably less than he’s willing to accept.

A reunion still seems possible, but Clowney’s camp is working to find a better deal in the interim. Late last week, the Browns entered the sweepstakes and some league officials believe that they have the strongest interest of any suitor. The Browns have tons of cap room – about $43MM – and they might be willing to use some of it to swap Olivier Vernon for Clowney. Of course, that might be easier said than done, since the Browns would still have to find a team willing to take on the rest of Vernon’s contract, which is set to pay him $15.25MM.

The Jets could use Clowney’s edge rushing ability, but they’ve been taking a conservative approach to free agency after whiffing on their preferred targets in March. The Titans have also been linked to him, thanks to Clowney’s relationship with head coach Mike Vrabel from their Houston days, but they’re less inclined to spend on the pass rush after committing $9MM to outside linebacker Vic Beasley.

Other teams have been connected to Clowney, like the Giants, Colts, and Dolphins, though their pass rush needs have already been addressed. The Eagles remain an interesting landing spot for him from a football perspective, and they have breathing room to work with for right now, but their 2021 situation could complicate things. In theory, Philly could still land Clowney if he is willing to accept a one-year deal. The Ravens – with less than $11MM in cap space for the current year – seem less likely to sign him. For the sake of casting a wide net, we’ll include all of those teams in our poll.

Where do you think Clowney will sign? Cast your vote in the poll below (link for app users) and back up your pick in the comments.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Eagles Notes: Draft, Ngakoue, LB

The Eagles could use some help at wide receiver. Fortunately for them, this year’s draft is positively loaded with talent at the position. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have 20 teams picking ahead of them in the first round and a run on WRs could leave them without their preferred targets (whoever they may be) by the time they step to the virtual podium.

If that’s the case, Eliot Shorr-Parks of WIP has some thoughts on who they could pivot to. Their best bet, he says, would be Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who tallied 17.5 sacks and 37 hurries over the last two seasons. He was also a stout defender against the run with 34.5 tackles for a loss over that same span. There are a lot of mixed opinions on Gross-Matos and his ability to adjust to the pro game, but the potential is there and it might be too strong for Howie Roseman to pass up.

Other candidates in Shorr-Parks’ view include LSU safety Grant Delpit, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson, LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, and Iowa defensive end A.J.Epenesa.

Here’s more on the Birds:

  • More from Shorr-Parks, who explores the possibility of a trade for Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The Eagles now have close to $30MM in cap space, but their future cap crunch could rule out the possibility of another big-ticket contract in 2021. In ’21, the Eagles are projected to be $25MM over the cap. Roseman, well aware of the situation, hasn’t signed any free agents to expensive long-term deals except for Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave. The Eagles will surely add committments for ’21 and beyond between now and the start of this season, but it’s a longshot that they’ll trade for someone like Ngakoue and give him a deal commensurate with his performance and age.
  • Historically, the Eagles have not prioritized the linebacker position. Still, they’re looking pretty bare at the group even by their standards, as Zach Berman of The Athletic notes. As of this writing, the depth chart features Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards, Jatavis Brown, Duke Riley, and Alex Singleton. They haven’t drafted a linebacker in the top four rounds since 2015, but Berman expects that to change this year as they look to fortify the position.

Gerald Hodges To Return To NFL

Gerald Hodges has decided that he wants to play in 2020, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Hodges first decided to hang ’em up exactly one year ago today and has not been on the field since the 2018 season. 

It’s worth noting that Hodges also waffled on his plans in May of last year. But, even after saying that he wanted to retake the field, he was unable to find a deal for the 2019 campaign.

Hodges, 29, has been an NFL journeyman since entering the league as a fourth round pick of the Vikings in 2013. During the 2015 season, the Vikings shipped him to the 49ers. He went on to have a career year in San Francisco in 2016. After notching career-highs in stops (83) and sacks (three), Hodges hooked on with the Saints, but did not record an official statistic in his eleven games there. In 2018, he joined the Cardinals and had a productive 55-tackle season.

For his career, Hodges has earned more than $5MM from four teams across six seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Slay, Anderson, Browns

Not only were the Raiders in on just about every big-name free agent cornerback, they pursued a Darius Slay deal as well. In addition to offers for Byron Jones and Chris Harris, and what turned out to be a failed deal with Eli Apple, the Raiders kicked the tires on a Slay trade with the Lions, Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. A trade target of multiple teams before the 2019 deadline, Slay ended up going to the Eagles for just third- and fifth-round picks. Of course, it also cost the Eagles $30MM fully guaranteed — third-most among corners.

The Raiders’ pursuit of 2020’s group of available corners points to them giving strong consideration to adding one with one of their two first-round picks, and Bair adds there is a “strong belief” corner is a high Raider priority entering the draft. As it stands now, Las Vegas is understaffed at the position.

Here is the latest from around the AFC:

  • For weeks, rumors of a JetsRobby Anderson reunion circulated. Anderson said the Jets wanted him back and that he wanted to stay. The team was reported to be eyeing an Anderson agreement — but only at a price. Anderson instead signed a two-year, $20MM Panthers deal. A report emerged this week about the four-year veteran turning down a four-year, $40MM Jets offer, but Anderson (via The Athletic’s Joseph Person, subscription required) denied such a proposal occurred. The Jets moved quickly to replace Anderson with Breshad Perriman for one year and $6MM. They will likely enter the draft with a big receiver need.
  • The Browns have shopped Olivier Vernon in trades and, as of late February, were not expected to pay him the $15.25MM salary he’s due in the final year of his contract. But a change of thinking may have occurred. The Browns are interested in Jadeveon Clowney, but unless that partnership happens, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer expects Vernon to be back with the Browns in 2020. The Browns still have Myles Garrett on his rookie deal, and Cabot adds that — be it Clowney or Vernon — they are willing to carry a big salary at defensive end next season. Vernon struggled during an injury-plagued 2019 in Cleveland, registering just 3.5 sacks and tallying 11 quarterback hits.
  • Bills GM Brandon Beane sidestepped a question centered around Stefon Diggs‘ satisfaction with his contract. On a $14.4MM-per-year deal, the Buffalo-bound wideout is the NFL’s 13th-highest-paid player at his position. Four years remain on the deal.

NFL News & NFL Rumors