NFL Will Increase Access To Tracking Data

NFL teams will begin receiving in-game tracking data on every player in the league beginning this spring, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.route-chart_JEF498860_2017-reg-11_1511152817654

Club have been seeing data on their own players since 2014, but access to other teams’ players had not yet been available. However, the NFL’s Compensation Committee recently agreed to a proposal allowing every team to collect data on every player, per Pelissero. Clubs will be sent information from the 2016-17 campaigns in mid-April, and will subsequently receive data on a weekly basis during the 2018 season.

Zebra Technologies collects tracking information through sensors placed in players’ shoulder pads, per Pelissero, who says one NFL analyst believes the data could have “massive scouting potential.” “More new metrics,” said the analyst. “Understanding if certain fields are slower or faster. Fatigue and injury prevention. Seeing which players are really explosive but maybe don’t make plays because the scheme is bad.”

As Pelissero notes, some clubs have placed an increased importance on studying tracking data and hiring analysts to further delve into the information. Those teams will presumably have a leg up when the data is released on a league-wide scale, while clubs that haven’t invested in analytics have registered concern over the program. In 2016, for example, Kevin Clark of the Ringer discussed the activities of Zebra Technologies, and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera didn’t sound amenable to increasing data being made available.

“I want to get beat on the field. I don’t want to get beat because someone used a tool or technology — that is not coaching at that point,” Rivera said. “I work all week, I’m preparing and kicking your ass. All of the sudden you see a piece of live video and you figure out, ‘Oh crap, that’s what he’s doing.’ And how fair is that?”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 2/11/18 – 2/18/18

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

Lawrence Guy, Stefen Wisniewski Get 2018 Bonuses

Patriots defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and Eagles offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski each missed out on playing time incentive bonuses during the 2017 campaign, but their respective clubs have now given them new bonuses for the 2018 season to account for the lost pay.Lawrence Guy (Vertical)

Guy was scheduled to earn a $500K bonus if he played in 55% of New England’s defensive snaps a year ago, but he only saw action on 54.8% of the team’s plays. As such, the Patriots have reworked Guy’s contract by giving him a $500K signing bonus for 2018, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.

The Patriots have restructured contracts in such a manner before, as they made offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer‘s deal in 2014 to make his incentives easier to attain, and gave tight end Rob Gronkowski more opportunities to earn extra cash in 2017. Guy, 27, inked a three-year pact with New England last spring, and subsequently posted 34 tackles and one sack during his debut Patriots season.

Wisniewski, meanwhile, failed to earn an $250K bonus after playing only 61.5% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last season. Philadelphia, therefore, gave Wisniewski a $250K signing bonus this week, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). The 28-year-old Wisniewski started 11 games during his second season with the Eagles, grading as the league’s No. 26 among 77 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: M. Peters, Harrison, Pryor

Now that the Chiefs have acquired David Amerson and are on the verge of adding Kendall Fuller — once the Alex Smith trade is finalized — Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wonders if Kansas City could trade Marcus Peters. Peters, whom the Chiefs selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, has quickly established himself as one of the better corners in the league, but as Florio notes, he has been a “handful” for Kansas City, and the incident that got Peters suspended for a game in December may have been the last straw for the team. Florio says “some in league circles” believe Peters could be on the trade block, and Alex Marvez of SiriusXM appears to think it’s a possibility as well (Twitter link).

Let’s take a look at more notes from around the AFC:

  • There is a “reasonable chance” that James Harrison returns to the Patriots in 2018, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk (citing Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal) writes. New England successfully deployed Harrison as a three-down player after acquiring him late last season, and as Harrison recently indicated he wants to play at least one more year, it may make sense for both parties to continue their relationship.
  • Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says it does appear as if well-respected offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will be back with the Patriots in 2018, a prospect that was very much in doubt just a few weeks ago.
  • The Browns will pursue a reunion with free agent wideout Terrelle Pryor this offseason, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Cabot says Pryor never really wanted to leave Cleveland last year, but when the Browns signed Kenny Britt to the same contract they had on the table for Pryor, he didn’t have a choice.
  • The devastating injury to Ryan Shazier will not impact the way the Steelers approach their decision-making with respect to fifth-year options, as Florio writes.
  • Now that A.J. McCarron is set to leave the Bengals, Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer wonders what his departure will mean for Cincinnati. He says Andy Dalton is not going anywhere — which was at least a remote possibility before Marvin Lewis decided to return — and he believes the Bengals could look to address other, more pressing needs in the early rounds of the 2018 draft and select a polished collegiate signal-caller in the middle rounds (just as they did with McCarron). Owczarski also suggests that Cincinnati could add a veteran on a one-year deal to back up Dalton.

NFC West Notes: Wilson, Cardinals, Foster

Yesterday, we learned that Seahawks QB Russell Wilson could be in line for a new contract with an AAV of $30MM as early as next offseason (he is under club control through 2019, and Seattle does not revisit deals that have more than one year remaining). While that report raised some eyebrows, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com (who penned the above-referenced article) tweets that Wilson’s current deal — which he signed in 2015 — has an AAV of 15.31% of the 2015 salary cap. A $30MM AAV on his next contract would represent 15.87% of the projected 2019 cap, so it would be a reasonable benchmark for Wilson to shoot for. Given that, and given Wilson’s accomplishments in the league, a $30MM/year deal does not seem especially far-fetched.

Now let’s take a look at a few more rumors from the NFC West:

  • Just like 2013, Steve Keim‘s first year as the Cardinals‘ GM, Arizona has a void at quarterback. During a recent interview on 98.7 FM, Keim addressed that need (article via Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com). He indicated that the team would be active in the free agent market, which is as rich in QB talent as it has been at any time in recent memory, and he did not rule out the possibility of a trade. Of course, whether they do so via free agency, a trade, or the draft, the Cardinals will need to acquire at least two signal-callers this offseason.
  • As Matt Maiocco of NBCSports.com observes, when the 49ers have released a player due to off-field issues in the past, they have done so immediately. The fact that San Francisco has yet to release Reuben Foster in light of the recent domestic violence allegations levied against him indicates to Maiocco that the team has not seen enough concrete information to cut ties with the former Alabama standout.
  • In the same piece, Maiocco reiterates that the 49ers will look to re-sign LB Brock Coyle, assuming the team is confident that Coyle will make a full recovery from his offseason shoulder surgery. Maiocco is also more optimistic than other writers that the 49ers will be able to retain DE Tank Carradine .

Latest On Kirk Cousins

As our Sam Robinson detailed yesterday, any number of teams could pursue Kirk Cousins if and when he hits the open market, but the Broncos and Jets are currently considered the favorites in the Cousins sweepstakes (although it does appear that the Vikings and Cousins match up very nicely as well).

Kirk Cousins (vertical)

Indeed, as Troy E. Renck of Denver7 writes, the Broncos will be “all in” on Cousins, which is about as definitive as a statement of interest can get. And, as Renck notes, Denver does have a pretty strong sales pitch, as the club has more Super Bowl berths (seven) over the last 34 seasons than losing seasons (six), and it has shown a willingness to build around a free agent quarterback (see Peyton Manning, 2012). The Broncos also have a strong roster and could be just a solid QB away from returning to contention.

However, Denver does not have the same type of salary cap room that several other Cousins suitors enjoy, so Renck says that the Broncos would need Cousins to show flexibility in his salary over the first few seasons of his contract. Even though Cousins has expressed excitement over the possibility of playing for Denver, it is unclear whether he would be willing to make such a concession.

Enter the Jets. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Gang Green is reportedly willing to at least consider fully guaranteeing the entirety of Cousins’ contract if he were to sign with New York. And, if the Jets make that kind of pitch, other teams that want Cousins may have to follow suit or drop out of the race entirely.

And yet, even a fully-guaranteed contract may not be overly enticing to Cousins, as he may prefer a provision that guarantees him a fixed percentage of the salary cap after the first several years of the deal. After all, as Florio notes, most franchise quarterbacks do not suddenly lose their abilities or suffer career-ending injuries, and they typically either finish a long-term deal or have it torn up and replaced by a bigger deal before it expires.

Speaking of teams with a lot of money to throw at Cousins, the Browns have been discussed as a potential landing spot for the long-time Redskin, but John Keim of ESPN.com does not believe a Browns-Cousins marriage makes sense for either side, regardless of whether Washington tries to put the franchise tag on Cousins.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Carrie, Foster, Johnson, Tags

Two of the top wide receivers expected to be available on this year’s UFA market may not be locks to leave their previous teams. The Jaguars and Rams face decisions on Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, respectively, and Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com expects both wideouts to be franchise-tagged by the March deadline. The Jags have both Robinson and Marqise Lee as free agent WRs, and Robinson has posted the best season of any wideout in this UFA class. But the 24-year-old pass-catcher’s 2015 campaign (80 receptions, 1,400 yards, 14 touchdown catches) thus far serves as the outlier, and Robinson didn’t have a chance to rebound from a lesser 2016 slate (73/883/6) — albeit with a worse Blake Bortles showing that year — on it after going down in Week 1.

Watkins being tagged would be notable since the Rams also have Lamarcus Joyner as a tag candidate. Joyner may be the best safety on the market, if he reaches free agency. The Rams also have an Aaron Donald contract to prepare for, so it’s a complicated offseason for the reigning NFC West champs. The receiver tag is expected to come in at $16.2MM, and Watkins’ L.A. work thus far would not justify that price. That could also complicate matters for the Jags, who have Bortles’ fifth-year number of $19MM set to vest come March. A Robinson tag would add a considerable figure to the Jacksonville payroll.

As teams continue to prepare for the Combine and free agency, here’s the latest from around the league.

  • Derrick Johnson confirmed on Instagram he will not be back with the Chiefs next season. This news emerged earlier this week and will conclude a 13-season run for Johnson, who will end his Kansas City career as one of the franchise’s best defenders. However, Johnson wants to play a 14th season. The 35-year-old linebacker may have regressed a bit but could be an interesting fit for a linebacker-needy team on a one-year deal.
  • The 49ers spoke to Reuben Foster in person and by phone this week, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports. The linebacker is being investigated for an alleged domestic violence incident, leading to his second arrest of the offseason, that occurred last weekend.
  • Despite his Raiders contract having expired, T.J. Carrie met with the new Silver and Black coaching staff this week, Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Carrie functioned as a full-time starter with Oakland last season. The Raiders released David Amerson earlier this month and could well move on from Sean Smith free of charge soon. Pro Football Focus’ No. 22 corner in 2017, Carrie is coming off his best season and would be an interesting name to on the market. But the former seventh-round pick told Kawahara he would like to stay with the Raiders. “I’m a hometown kid. I’m a Bay Area kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else than Oakland,” Carrie said. “… I’ve loved and I’ve dreamed of playing for the Raiders for such a long time. And now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish there.”
  • The Lions hired Erik Kunttu to run their video operations department, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes. This hire proves interesting because it adds to an unusual pipeline. Counting Matt Patricia, there are now seven members of the 2018 Lions’ staff who were on the 2001 Syracuse staff, per Meinke. Patricia spent three seasons serving as an offensive graduate assistant at the then-Big East program, and then-Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni will join Patricia in guiding the Detroit defense.

East Notes: Cousins, Eagles, Jets, Pats, Bills

Should the Redskins place the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, a grievance from the quarterback’s camp could follow. And Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk expects the quarterback’s side to successfully prevent Washington from tagging him again. Florio cites a section of the CBA that indicates a team that intends to use the tag must have a “good faith intention” to employ that player the following season. The Redskins having agreed to trade for Alex Smith, and having terms in place for an extension once that trade processes, essentially signals they do not plan to employ Cousins at or around $34.47MM this season. With other complications of a possible Cousins tag potentially emerging, the Redskins don’t look to be in line to succeed if they were to go down this path.

Here’s the latest from the East divisions:

  • The Eagles currently hold the least amount of projected cap space (being $9MM-plus over the cap as of Saturday), and Geoff Mosher of FanRag Sports notes Howie Roseman would like to get a head-start on future caps by reaching an extension with breakout wideout Nelson Agholor. While no 2014 first-round pick has signed an extension yet, Mosher writes Roseman would probably like to extend the Chip Kelly-approved 2015 first-rounder this offseason and expects — if that comes to fruition — that price to be at around $9-$10MM per year. That would stand to lower Agholor’s 2019 fifth-year option number, slated to come in at $9.5MM. But with Agholor set for a bigger role in the Eagles’ offense, which Mosher does not expect to include Torrey Smith, he could bet on himself and see if he can drive up his value with a strong 2018.
  • This offseason will also be important for Jay Ajayi, whose contract expires after the ’18 slate. But Ajayi’s history of knee trouble — which helped lead to the Boise State product falling to the fifth round in 2015 — could induce Roseman to be careful about an extension, Mosher writes. Corey Clement‘s Super Bowl performance may put the ex-UDFA on the radar to be the leading Eagles back in the near future, Mosher writes, which would affect Ajayi’s long-term standing.
  • Martellus Bennett did not end up playing much of a role for the AFC champions this season post-waiver claim, and ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss does not expect his second Patriots stint to last much longer. Reiss expects the Patriots will decline his $2MM option (which would trigger a $3.6MM 2018 base salary and $2.6MM roster bonus). Bennett said he intended to retire after last season but has yet to formally announce anything. Of course, he was embroiled in a contentious situation with the Packers at the time of that proclamation.
  • Two AFC East tackles are cap-casualty candidates in the view of OverTheCap’s Jason Fitzgerald. The Jets will save $4.67MM by cutting Ben Ijalana, who has mostly served as a backup aside from his 13 starts in 2016. The Bills may have a tougher decision regarding Cordy Glenn, but since signing a five-year extension in 2016, the formerly durable left tackle has has struggled to stay healthy. It would cost the Bills $9.6MM in dead money to cut Glenn, with $4.85MM coming Buffalo’s way in savings, and Fitzgerald could see the team putting him on the trade block. The Bills have second-rounder Dion Dawkins as an in-house replacement option and could see if another team would gamble on Glenn given the dearth of available tackle talent.

Poll: Who Will Sign Kirk Cousins?

With less than a month until free agency begins, Kirk Cousins looks to be — barring an 11th-hour Redskins franchise tag he would fight — close to signing a long-term contract with the team of his choice.

It’s an incredibly unique situation, and teams with disparate profiles figure to make runs at signing the 29-year-old quarterback. Rebuilding teams, contending teams and operations that would seemingly be contenders if supplied a quarterback are going to pursue Cousins. So, where will he go?

The Jets and Browns are going to have the most money to chase Cousins, and the former makes sense as a destination. New York surprised many last season by winning five games and finishing well off the pace for the No. 1 pick, which many predicted the rebuilding team would secure. The Jets could have more than $90MM in cap space after a few sensible roster moves, and despite their troubles in recent years, could make a case they are a young team who could build a long-term foundation around Cousins.

Cousins has said repeatedly that after making more than $44MM the past two years he wants to play for a contending team. The Browns, though, have a staggering amount of cap space at $110MM-plus. They could sell a free agent QB on their ability to construct a foundation, but their past does not inspire much confidence. And this, by just about every indication to this point, seems like the year they draft a quarterback.

The Bills made a surprise run to the playoffs last season, but Brandon Beane said upon being hired he doesn’t plan to make many high-cost free agent signings. Considering this figures to be the most expensive free agent in NFL history, it’s difficult to envision a Bills push for Cousins. And Tyrod Taylor may not be completely out of the picture yet.

The Broncos and Cardinals are in similar positions as recent contenders who have fallen off the pace a bit, and neither will have the cap space to outflank the Jets or Browns. Both saw quarterback play lower their ceilings last season, and the Cardinals saw their longtime starter retire and his backups’ contracts expire. Denver has both Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian under contract but has made no secret about wanting to upgrade — via free agency or the draft — with that desire presumably being centered around complementing the core players remaining from the Super Bowl season.

Both the Broncos and Jets are rumored to be gearing up for entrances into the Cousins sweepstakes, and the Bovada sports book has these two as the early frontrunners. However, both the Vikings and Jaguars fit the profile of franchises that could use Cousins as a possible springboard to a Super Bowl. How serious are they about this, though?

The Jaguars may have complications because of Blake Bortles‘ wrist surgery. The embattled starter not being able to pass a physical come mid-March will guarantee his $19MM fifth-year option salary and cloud a potential Cousins pursuit. Jacksonville’s current plan is to keep Bortles, but is a chance at Cousins too tempting to avoid?

The Vikings would make sense as well but may opt to stick with Case Keenum via franchise tag. However, Cousins has proven more than Keenum, and although he would make for a costlier expense, Minnesota being on the doorstep of its first Super Bowl berth in 40-plus years may make ditching their 2017 setup for Cousins a worthwhile gamble. The Vikings do have several core players entering contract years, which could make a near-$30MM-AAV Cousins accord complicated. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter are four who fit that profile. How much will that factor into a Cousins push?

So, where does Cousins end up?

Does he stick to his winning-situation statements and avoid teams who have struggled in recent years, or can the Browns or Jets submit an offer he can’t refuse? Can the Broncos make a sales pitch that their history surrounding a UFA QB with championship-caliber talent would be worth sacrificing a bit of cash, or is their nucleus’ window closing to the point Cousins looks elsewhere? How serious are the Cardinals and Bills in this derby? And how much would the Vikings or Jaguars entering the fray change the outlook of this high-stakes process? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Vikings To Hire Ex-Raiders OC Todd Downing

Todd Downing looks set for a homecoming venture. The recently dismissed Raiders offensive coordinator has landed a job with the Vikings, with Adam Caplan of ESPN.com reporting (on Twitter) he will serve as a senior offensive assistant and passing-game specialist.

Not only did the Vikings give Downing his first NFL opportunity, as an intern in 2001 when the future OC was just 21, but Downing is an Eden Prairie, Minn., native. The Vikings’ facility being located in Eden Prairie makes this a logical move for the 37-year-old assistant to rebound from a one-and-done stint as the Raiders’ OC.

Downing served as Oakland’s quarterbacks coach prior to ascending to OC in 2017, but the Raiders underwhelmed last season and turned back to Jon Gruden. Downing will join new OC John DeFilippo and QBs coach Kevin Stefanski as key staffers involved with Minnesota’s aerial attack. With each of these coaches under 40, and Mike Zimmer being a defensive-minded HC, the Vikings will have young voices in charge of their offense.

The Bears interviewed Downing in January for their QBs job but went in another direction. Downing’s work helping Derek Carr ascend to the position of MVP candidate in 2016 led to him becoming the Raiders’ OC. The Raiders proceeded to plummet from the No. 6 offense, their finish in 2016 under Bill Musgrave, to No. 17 during Downing’s year overseeing the unit.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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