Le’Veon Bell Say He’ll Report Next Friday

Franchise-tagged running back Le’Veon Bell says he’ll report to the Steelers on Friday, September 1 (Twitter link).Le'Veon Bell (vertical)

Pittsburgh had longed believed Bell would return to the club before the regular season gets underway, and now the team has a specific date, one which lands nine days before the Steelers’ season opener. Bell, who will earn north of $12MM on the franchise tender (which he’ll presumably sign once he gets back to Pittsburgh), missed all of training camp and won’t play in the preseason, as he’ll report one day after the Steelers’ final exhibition game.

The Steelers reportedly offered Bell a long-term deal that would have paid him $60MM over a five-year term (including $30MM over the first two years) and made him the league’s highest-paid running back by a wide margin. Bell rejected that offer, and some reports have indicated Pittsburgh and Bell’s agent believed an agreement was in the offing before Bell himself nixed the finalized pact.

When healthy, Bell is clearly one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, as he topped 1,200 yards from scrimmage in three of his four professional campaigns. A weapon on both the ground and through the air, Bell managed 1,268 yards rushing plus a whopping 75 receptions a season ago, and scored a combined nine times.

Health, though, isn’t a given for the 25-year-old Bell, as he’s missed time with injury in two of the past four years. During his rookie season in 2013, Bell suffered a foot sprain that cost him three sprains, while an MCL/PCL tear sidelined him for 10 contests in 2015. He’s also in the league’s drug program as a result of violating the substance policy, which led to a three-game suspension in 2016.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Rumors: Charles, Stephenson, Butt

Jamaal Charles reportedly has a “50/50” shot to make the Broncos‘ final roster, and his only chance to earn a spot on the club will come in Saturday’s preseason game against the Packers, tweets James Palmer of NFL.com. Charles, 30, signed a one-year deal with Denver that contained only $100K in guarantees, and he hasn’t yet participated in a preseason game. The veteran back, who’s been injured for much of the past two years, won’t play in the Broncos’ final preseason contest, so he’ll need to show he’s worth a roster spot this weekend. Denver’s other running backs includes C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Juwan Thompson, Stevan Ridley, and De’Angelo Henderson.

Here’s more from the Mile High City:

  • Denver will soon face a decision on the status of offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, as Adam Caplan of ESPN.com details (Twitter links). Stephenson isn’t expected to start, as the Broncos plan to play rookie Garret Bolles at left tackle and free agent addition Menelik Watson at right tackle. That combination would leave Stephenson as an extremely overpaid backup, as Stephenson will earn a fully guaranteed $2MM base salary and another $2MM bonus if he makes Denver’s Week 1 roster (all part of a contract restructuring agreed to earlier this year). While Stephenson’s salary is clearly a sunk cost, the Broncos could save the other $2MM by releasing him before the regular season gets underway.
  • Rookie tight end Jake Butt will “probably” begin the 2017 season on the physically unable to perform list, as Broncos head coach Vance Joseph explained to reporters, including Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Butt, recovering from a torn ACL suffered in his final collegiate contest, would be forced to miss the first six games of the year if placed on PUP. Denver selected Butt in the fifth round, using the 145th overall pick to secure the Michigan product.
  • The Broncos have had a relatively busy week, as they’ve announced Trevor Siemian as their starting quarterback over Paxton Lynch, and learned fourth-year edge rusher Shaquil Barrett could be available for Week 1.

NFC East Notes: Eagles, Cowboys, Giants

While recent reports indicated LeGarrette Blount could lose his Eagles roster spot before the season gets underway, head coach Doug Pederson seemingly dismissed those insinuations today, as Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. “LeGarrette Blount is a beast of a runner,” said Pederson. “I’m excited he’s here and he’s going to be a big part of our offense.” The Eagles signed Blount to a one-year deal that contains $400K guaranteed after he led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns a season ago. While there’s virtually no chance the 30-year-old Blount will match his 299 carries from 2016, he should be part of a Philadelphia backfield rotation that also includes Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Donnel Pumphrey.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Last year’s Josh Brown episode could potentially factor into the NFL’s dealings with suspended Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out. Brown, of course, was banned for only a single game even after admitting to abusing his ex-wife. Arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld Brown’s suspension at the time, and he’ll also be hearing Elliott’s appeal of his own six-game ban. “Mitigating factors” lead to the NFL suspending Brown for only contest, but the league has never disclosed what those factors were, per Florio.
  • D.J. Fluker isn’t going to earn a starting spot along the Giants‘ offensive line, and it’s possible he won’t even make the club’s roster, opines James Kratch of NJ.com. New York signed the 26-year-old Fluker to a one-year, $3MM deal ($1.5MM guaranteed) this spring, but he’s made no push to steal Big Blue’s starting right guard job from John Jerry. The Giants aren’t giving Fluker the opportunity to compete at right tackle, so the former first-round pick could be shown the door in favor of journeyman Adam Gettis.
  • The Redskins spent heavily on their defensive line this spring, signing both Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee to multi-year pacts. Thus far, McGee has been far more impressive in camp, but neither player has a lock on a starting job, as Mike Jones of the Washington Post writes. McClain, in fact, has performed so poorly that there’s been some noise he could be released, although that’s unlikely given the $7.25MM dead money hit that would come with the cut. Still, first-round rookie Jonathan Allen and others (such as Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier) could be better bets for playing time.
  • After working out for the Bears last week, undrafted rookie linebacker Michael Scherer is set to audition for the Giants today, reports Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link). Scherer, a Missouri product, appeared in 26 games for the Tigers from 2014-15 before a knee injury ended his senior season after seven contests in 2016. Ranked as one of the 30 best undrafted linebackers following this year’s draft, Scherer has yet to land an NFL contract.

Stephone Anthony Not A Saints Roster Lock?

Third-year linebacker Stephone Anthony‘s place on the Saints’ roster “appears to be in jeopardy,” according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com.Stephone Anthony (Vertical)

Anthony, 25, was a full-time starter in 2015 after entering the league as a first-round selection out of Clemson. But his playing time dwindled last season, as he started only three games and played on just 133 defensive snaps before a knee injury ended his campaign in December. Anthony, who also played on roughly a quarter of New Orleans’ special teams snaps, managed just 15 tackles after posting 112 stops during his rookie year.

The Saints simply have too many linebackers on their roster, and Anthony doesn’t project as a starter, per Triplett. Instead, those starting jobs are expected to go to free agent acquisitions Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein and third-round rookie Alex Anzalone. With Craig Robertson, Michael Mauti, and Nathan Stupar also available in reserve, New Orleans has no place for Anthony.

Anthony is signed through the 2018 season, and the Saints wouldn’t realize any cap savings if they trade or waive him. In fact, Anthony will count for the same total — roughly $2.1MM — whether he’s on the New Orleans roster or not.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Sign DT Brandon Thompson

The Browns have already found a replacement for Desmond Bryant, as Cleveland announced that they’ve signed fellow defensive tackle Brandon Thompson.Brandon Thompson (Vertical)

While Thompson doesn’t offer the experience or history of production of Bryant, he is roughly four years younger (age-27) than his defensive line counterpart. Having just been released by the Bengals on Monday, Thompson also presumably has some level of familiarity with Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson, who was previously Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator.

A former third-round selection, Thompson never broke into the starting lineup for the Bengals during his five-year run with the club (with the exception of 2013, when he started seven contests after Geno Atkins went down with injury). Still, he was a serviceable reserve, appearing in 39 games and and posting three sacks from 2012-15. Thompson didn’t see the field in 2016 after suffering a torn ACL the previous December.

Thompson should have an opportunity to earn playing time in the place of Bryant, but he’ll have to compete with several other players. Trevon ColeyJamie MederXavier Cooper, and rookies Caleb Brantley and Larry Ogunjobi are among the interior defenders who could see action alongside nose tackle Danny Shelton during the upcoming campaign.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Release DL Desmond Bryant

The Browns have released defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link).Desmond Bryant (Vertical)

Bryant, 31, didn’t see the field in 2016 after suffering a torn pectoral during the summer. He’d been a decently productive player in the three prior campaigns, however, averaging 14 games and five sacks per year for the Cleveland. All told, Bryant — who began his career with Oakland — has appeared in 104 NFL contests and made 59 starts.

Bryant was midway through a five-year, $34MM deal with the Browns when he went down last July, and because the injury occurred while Bryant was working on his own (and not with the club), Cleveland placed him on the non-football injury list. Technically, the Browns weren’t required to pay Bryant for the 2016 season, and the two sides ultimately agreed to a salary reduction from $6MM to just $1.25MM.

This time around, Cleveland didn’t ask Bryant to take a pay cut before releasing him, tweets Florio. Bryant, who finally returned to the practice field in June, had been scheduled to count for $4MM on the Browns’ 2017 salary cap. By releasing Bryant, Cleveland will now save all but $1MM of that total.

With Bryant no longer on the roster, the Browns have several options to turn to along the defensive line. Danny Shelton is a starter at one spot on the interior, but players such as Trevon Coley, Jamie Meder, Xavier Cooper, or rookies Caleb Brantley and Larry Ogunjobi could now see increased playing time.

For his part, Bryant now becomes one of the more intriguing free agents on the defensive line market. Given that he can theoretically play either end or tackle, Bryant could interest a number of clubs and contribute in a variety of schemes. He joins a list of available defensive linemen that also includes Jared Odrick, Dan Williams, Tyson Jackson, and Sen’Derrick Marks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Name Starting QB On Wednesday

The Browns are expected to name their starting quarterback on Wednesday, as head coach Hue Jackson announced to reporters following the conclusion of Cleveland’s preseason game on Monday night.Brock Osweiler (Vertical)

“I need to watch the tape and honestly answer [who will start], but I have an idea in my mind based on what I felt and what I saw from our football team,” said Jackson. “We will just kind of go from there.”

The club’s competition appears to be between Brock Osweiler, whom the Browns acquired from the Texans earlier this year, and second-round rookie DeShone Kizer. Jackson reportedly questioned Cleveland veterans as to who should earn the starting job, and the majority of players chose Osweiler, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Cody Kessler, who started eight games as a rookie in 2016, doesn’t appear to be in the running for the starting role, as he didn’t enter last night’s contest until the third quarter was nearly finished.

While Osweiler may have the support of the Browns’ locker room, Kizer has clearly been the better passer through two preseason games. According to Pro Football Focus (Twitter link), Kizer leads Osweiler in adjusted completion percentage (74.1% vs. 60%), passer rating against pressure (109.5 vs. 39.6), and average depth of throw (10.2 vs. 7.7). Still, Cleveland quarterbacks coach David Lee said earlier this month that Kizer is “still not there,” an indication the Notre Dame product may need more seasoning before playing in the regular season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49ers Host DL Ricardo Mathews

Free agent defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews worked out for the 49ers today, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. San Francisco auditioned three free agent defensive lineman today, according to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. Mathews and fellow veteran Tyson Jackson represent two of those visits, but the identity of the third player isn’t yet known."<strong

This is the second time Mathews has met with the 49ers this offseason, per Rapoport, and those visits constitute the only known interest Mathews has generated since free agency opened in the spring. The 30-year-old Mathews appeared in all 16 games a season ago — the fourth time he’s done so in his seven-year career — and played on 29.7% of the Steelers’ defensive snaps. While not an interior pass-rusher (Mathews managed just one sack and 5.5 pressures in 2016), he’s a serviceable defender against the run.

San Francisco ranked 31st in run defense DVOA last year, so while the club can clearly use the help up front, it’s not clear the 49ers have room for yet another defensive lineman. Just this offseason, the Niners have added third overall draft pick Solomon Thomas and free agent signing Earl Mitchell to their front four, a group that already included Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Quinton Dial, Chris Jones, Aaron Lynch, and others.

If the 49ers do sign Mathews (or Jackson), they’ll almost assuredly do so on a one-year, minimum salary benefit contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bills Not Shopping LeSean McCoy

The Bills are not shopping running back LeSean McCoy and have no intention of doing so, sources tell Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.LeSean McCoy (Vertical)

On its face, a McCoy trade could make sense for a Buffalo club that looks to be on the verge of a rebuild (if it isn’t already there). The Bills, of course, dealt wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby earlier this month, and while general manager Brandon Beane received veterans in those deals (Jordan Matthews and E.J. Gaines), the clear impetus behind the moves was draft capital. Buffalo picked up a 2018 second-round pick in the Watkins trade, and a 2018 third-rounder in the Darby swap.

McCoy, then, doesn’t particularly fit in with the Bills’ current direction, especially given his age (he turned 29 in July) and his salary. Signed through 2019, McCoy is currently the league’s second-highest-paid running back on a multi-year deal, trailing only Devonta Freeman. If McCoy was traded, Buffalo would pick up $6.25MM in 2017 cap space, with $2.625MM and $5.25MM in dead money accruing on the team’s salary cap in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Clearing cap space wouldn’t be the primary goal in a McCoy deal, however — instead, the Bills would be aiming to acquire some sort of draft pick compensation for a still-productive running back. Last season, McCoy appeared in 15 games and topped 1,000 rushing for the fifth time in his career while scoring 13 times on the ground. He also added 50 receptions (his highest total since 2013) for 356 yards and one more score.

The Bills don’t have an excessive amount of depth behind at running back behind McCoy, though, and 2016 fifth-round selection Jonathan Williams would likely become the primary beneficiary of a McCoy trade. Veterans Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, and Taiwan Jones are also on the Buffalo roster, but none have experience as a lead back.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/22/17

Today’s minor moves:

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

  • Signed: DB Tyquwan Glass, LB Willie Mays
  • Waived: RB De’Mard Llorens, DE Caushaud Lyons

New York Giants

  • Signed: OL Matt Rotheram (Twitter link via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL News & NFL Rumors