North Rumors: Richardson, Steelers, Ravens

The $3MM incentive package for Sheldon Richardson will center on the interior defender’s sack production. Richardson’s one-year, $8MM Vikings deal will include a $667K bump if he reaches six sacks, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes. Should Richardson register eight sacks, that number spikes to $1.3MM. It rises to $2MM for a 10-sack slate. These benchmarks will be difficult to hit. The former first-round pick has only exceeded six sacks once in five seasons (eight in 2014). Richardson can also earn $500K if he makes the Pro Bowl, which he has done once (in that ’14 season). That will increase to $1MM if a first-team All-Pro nod follows the Pro Bowl acclaim, per Goessling.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions.

Community Tailgate: Giants’ Barkley Fit

With the draft four days away, the prospect of Saquon Barkley becoming the first running back to go off the board in the top two since Reggie Bush has steadily increased. The Giants/Barkley noise has intensified.

The Giants hold their highest pick since 1981, when they chose Lawrence Taylor at No. 2, and have a quarterback who is set to play his age-37 season in 2018. With all but one QB likely to be available to Big Blue at No. 2, it could be argued — as some in the organization appear to have done — the Giants should not forgo a chance to add a possible Eli Manning successor only to draft this year’s best running back prospect. They have not held a top-five selection since the Manning trade 14 years ago, so it can’t be considered a lock they’ll have this opportunity again soon.

New York also has needs on its offensive line, at cornerback and on its front seven, putting a trade-down decision in play. A Bradley Chubb pick would go about meeting need and value if he is the No. 2 choice, but Barkley may well be the No. 1 prospect on the Giants’ board. And Dave Gettleman, who held key decision-making positions when the Giants used a No. 7 pick on Ron Dayne (2000) and a No. 32 choice on David Wilson (2012), does not look to believe running backs aren’t the commodities they used to be. (At least, he’s not saying so publicly.)

The Giants also need a better answer in the backfield. Jonathan Stewart is nearing the end of his career, and Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman may be backup types. As a player who’s been rated by some high-profile draft experts as being a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott, Barkley would surely take care of that and join an offense that would have Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram (and if Dez Bryant gets his way, Dez Bryant) at the skill spots. The Penn State superstar being in that mix could change the equation for the Giants, who ranked 26th in rushing offense and scored just 15.4 points per game (31st in the league) last season. Elliott sure made an impact for the Cowboys as a rookie, but he had a much better offensive line in front of him.

The Jaguars invested a No. 4 overall pick in Leonard Fournette a year ago. He’s Jacksonville’s unquestioned starter going forward, but the Jags saw third-rounders Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt have superior rookie seasons. Devonta Freeman was just a fourth-round pick, and Jordan Howard went in the 2016 fifth round. Le’Veon Bell, a second-rounder, is gunning for a No. 1 receiver-level contract And this running back class is viewed as another strong group, and intriguing ball-carriers will be available on Day 2.

ESPN’s Todd McShay was definitive in his stance that Barkley will be a Giant, and the franchise’s interest in him appears to be genuine. PFR readers overwhelmingly believe that’s what will happen. The Giants had one of the 2000s’ best backfield options in Tiki Barber, but they won a Super Bowl the year after he retired and won another four years later when they ranked last in rushing. This franchise has deployed successful backs since Barber, in Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, but Big Blue has shown it hasn’t necessarily needed a top-tier back to thrive in the recent past.

So, should the Giants use their top offseason resource to draft Barkley? Is he worth the team bypassing a possible long-term quarterback option when the running back position has seen its value take numerous hits this century? Or would the Giants be reaching if they took a quarterback who might not play until 2020 over a well-reviewed running back who could have an Elliott-esque effect on their offense this season? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Notes: Seahawks, Thomas, 49ers

Despite the Seahawks expecting Earl Thomas not to hold out, they still have him on the trade block, John Clayton of ESPN said during a radio appearance with KESN in Dallas (via the Dallas Morning News). Clayton added that the Seahawks would likely be willing to move their three-time All-Pro safety for less than a first-round pick, indicating they would probably trade Thomas for a package featuring second- and fourth-round selections and perhaps something in the 2019 draft. Clayton indicates the Cardinals could use a free safety but that the Seahawks were not going to trade Thomas to an NFC West team. The Cowboys moving Byron Jones to cornerback would open a spot there, and Thomas was vocal about being receptive to a Dallas deal, and they strike Clayton as the top suitor for the 28-year-old defender’s services.

Here’s the latest from Seattle, along with other West-division locales, heading into draft week:

  • Pete Carroll said this week the door wasn’t closed between the Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick, but Clayton said this partnership will be unlikely. The longtime ESPN reporter added the Seahawks did work out Kaepernick last year when he visited but did not offer him a contract because Carroll exited the interview with the impression the former 49er still wanted to be an NFL starter rather than a backup.
  • The 49ers covered their linebacker bases this week. After hosting Roquan Smith on a top-30 visit, they welcomed Tremaine Edmunds to the Bay Area for a 30 summit, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports. The 49ers scheduled the Smith and Edmunds visits weeks ago and not in light of the charges levied against Reuben Foster, per Barrows.
  • Foster’s plea hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 30, and Barrows reports that if no delays occur, jury selection for this case would transpire in late July. With the 49ers barring Foster from their workouts until this matter is resolved, that’s going to essentially nullify the second-year linebacker’s offseason. However, the alleged victim has hired representation, which could cloud this case.
  • The Cardinals visited Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk recently.

AFC Notes: Raiders, Colts, Patriots

Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area looks at four running backs the Raiders could target in the upcoming draft. Though the Raiders have Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin and DeAndre Washington on their roster, Bair believes there’s still a strong chance the team will target a running back at some point.

The Raiders are unlikely to take a running back until at least the second round, where they hold the No. 41 overall pick, and Bair looks at four running backs the team could have its eyes on.

Leading off the list are Georgia’s Sony Michel and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who are both projected to go in the second round (per NFL.com). Penny could also help the team in its return game, with the trade of Cordarrelle Patterson to the Patriots.

Closing out the list are Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Johnson is projected to go in either the second or third round and Jackson is expected to go in the sixth or seventh round, with both projections coming from NFL.com.

The Raiders ranked 25th in the league with 1,554 team rushing yards last season. They were in a tie at No. 11 with 13 rushing touchdowns. Lynch and Martin are slated to become free agents next offseason.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • The Colts will have four selections inside the first 49 picks in the upcoming draft, which is good because they could use help at nearly every position outside of quarterback and their specialists. Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star breaks down where the team is in most need, though, with wide receiver, linebacker and offensive line ranking as the top three. Rounding out the top five were defensive line and defensive back. The Colts moved back to the No. 6 overall pick in the first round in a trade with the Jets.
  • ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported in May of last year that the Patriots were looking to provide depth in their interior line in the form of Indiana guard Dan Feeney before he was selected by the Chargers. The Patriots have a solid core in their interior line, with guard Joe Thuney, guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews, but Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston wonders if they’ll again look for depth on the inside. He points to Iowa’s James Daniels, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow and Ohio State’s Billy Price as a few options that could be available if the team elects to go that route.
  • Earlier Sunday, we learned that the Raiders plan to pick up the fifth-year option on two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper.

North Notes: Mayfield, Lions, Bengals, Browns

In an inbox piece, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com informs that the Browns have not shut down the idea of taking Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But few reports have linked the team with drafting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma.

Cabot notes that Pro Football Focus has ranked Mayfield as its top quarterback in the 2018 draft class and that her sources indicate the Jets are likely to take him at No. 3 if the Browns elect to pass on him at No. 1. She also reminds fans that Browns draft consultant Scot McCloughan entered the draft process extremely high on Mayfield.

While it appears the Browns haven’t closed the book on Mayfield, the likes of USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen could lead the team to go elsewhere with the first overall pick.

Here’s more from around the AFC/NFC North:

  • Kyle Meinke of MLive wonders if Matt Cassel might beat out Jake Rudock for the team’s backup quarterback job. The ties between Cassell, 35, and the Lions are fairly obvious, with new coach Matt Patricia. He was an assistant coach with the Patriots in 2008 when Cassel had arguably his best season as a pro, in place of the injured Tom Brady. The Lions took Rudock in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of Michigan and he’s appeared in three games through two seasons, compared to 106 career appearances and 81 starts in Cassel’s career.
  • The Bengals didn’t have much trouble getting ahold of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to bring him in for a visit, per Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which had been a knock on the former Heisman Trophy winner. Owczarski also reports that the visit was merely due diligence in the hopes that Jackson may fall to them at No. 21.
  • Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal points to USC running back Ronald Jones as a potential fit for the Browns in the second round. It’s unlikely the Browns would get a crack at taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley unless they select him with the No. 1 overall pick. Jones is viewed as a “clone” of veteran running back Jamaal Charles, who new general manager John Dorsey worked with during his four seasons as the general manager of the Chiefs. The Browns have three picks in the second round (Nos. 33, 35 and 64).

NFC Draft Rumors: Seahawks, Eagles, Redskins, Packers

The Seahawks have proven to be the wild cards of the NFL Draft under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. One of their constants, though, has been the move to trade back in the first round to collect a higher volume of picks.

ESPN’s Brady Henderson looks into the team’s history of trading back and wonders if this may be the year it decides to stay put. The Seahawks hold the No. 18 overall pick in the draft.

One reason the team may look to stay at No. 18 is that trading All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, which has been rumored throughout the offseason, would certainly bring back high-value picks. The wealth of quarterbacks set to go in the first round could also lead to a quality player slipping down the draft board.

As it stands, the Seahawks don’t have a pick in the second or third rounds of the upcoming draft. They’ve never had fewer than two picks through the first three rounds under Schneider and Carroll.

Here’s more rumblings from the NFC side in regards to the draft:

  • Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer looks into the Eagles’ historically weak draft position this year. The team holds the No. 32 overall pick in the first round and doesn’t have a pick in the second or third round. The team has averaged four selections through the top 125 picks over the last 15 drafts and the last time they picked less than twice in the first three rounds came in 1977. It’s definitely possible that the Eagles could trade down from the No. 32 pick with a team targeting a specific player. They could also use players like Ronald Darby and Mychal Kendricks as trade bait to collect more picks. Lastly, they could bank on their likely compensatory picks for the 2019 draft, due to a large group of players departing in free agency this offseason, and use their current 2019 picks to collect more draft capital.
  • Rich Tandlerof NBC Sports Washington examines the five safest picks for the Redskins in the draft. Those players include Washington DT Vita Vea, Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson, Ohio State OL Billy Price, Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch and Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver. The Redskins currently hold the No. 13 overall pick in the first round.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Video link) believes that the Packers decision to bring in Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds for a visit was not just for show and signaled genuine interest by the team. Silverstein notes that the Packers would likely have to trade up from their No. 14 overall pick to land Edmunds (or Georgia’s Roquan Smith) but Edmunds’ ability to possibly be moved outside could make a potential trade worth their while.

Shane Ray Optimistic 5th-Year Option Will Be Picked Up

The Broncos have yet to publicly express whether they intend to pick up the fifth-year option on linebacker Shane Ray‘s rookie deal. But Ray, the No. 23 overall pick of the 2015 draft, remains optimistic that it’ll get picked up.

“I’m not concerned,” Ray said, per Vicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. “I love being a Bronco. [John Elway’s] got a lot of things to deal with, and whether or not he picks up my option, it doesn’t say anything about what I’m going to be for this team, my role for this team. I’m just excited. I wouldn’t look into too much. I think that it’s going to get picked up. I think that I’m going to be here, and I’m just looking forward to this opportunity.”

Ray, 24, appeared in just eight games last season due to a wrist injury. He started seven of those games and ended with a sack to go with 10 tackles. The Missouri product had 12 sacks through his first two seasons in the league.

The Broncos have until May 3 to decide whether they’ll pick up the option on Ray’s contract, which would guarantee him $9.2 million. Ray is currently projected to start at strong-side outside linebacker, opposite Von Miller.

The team’s depth at outside linebacker includes Shaquil Barrett, Deiontrez Mount, Stansly Maponga and Marcus Rush. Barrett made a career-high nine starts last season in place of Ray and appeared in all 16 games for a third straight season.

East Notes: Foles, Giants, Breeland

The Eagles and reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles just agreed to a reworked contract that gives Foles a $2MM raise for 2018, plus a whole host of incentives. The deal also includes a mutual option for 2019, though if Foles were to decline the option, he would have to give back the $2MM he just received.

Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com examines why Philadelphia, which is tight against the cap this year and will be again in 2019, made the move. The reworked deal probably had little to nothing to do with the Eagles’ wanting to reward Foles for his postseason heroics, so Shorr-Parks speculates that Foles and his camp could have put some pressure on the team, and he also suggests the new contract may come with a lower cap hit.

The chances that the Eagles exercise the 2019 option are very slim, as Foles would be owed a $20MM salary under that scenario. But, if the two sides want to continue their relationship beyond 2018, this gesture will certainly buy the Eagles some goodwill when it comes time to negotiate again. It also guarantees that Philadelphia, which already had the best QB insurance policy in the game, will keep that policy perfectly content this season, and even if Carson Wentz cannot stay healthy, the team has given itself a chance to deploy a capable signal-caller for at least the next two years.

Now let’s take a quick swing around a few other east division clubs:

  • Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com says the Giants could look to trade offensive tackle Ereck Flowers during the draft, though that will probably be a difficult trick to pull off. Raanan also says Big Blue has done a lot of pre-draft work on punters this year, and he believes the team could bring in a UDFA punter to compete with Riley Dixon. Dixon was recently acquired from Denver for a conditional seventh-round pick, so if he does not make the club, the Giants will likely not need to surrender the pick.
  • Former Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland was set to sign a three-year, $24MM pact with the Panthers last month, but Carolina scuttled the deal due to a “non-football incident” in which Breeland cut his foot. The foot became infected, and at the time, it was reported that Breeland was a few months away from being able to pass a physical. He will surely garner some interest this summer once he is healed, but JP Finlay of NBCSports.com says Washington is not expected to bring Breeland back into the fold. Indeed, Breeland himself indicated on Instagram that the Redskins never had interest in retaining his services.
  • The Patriots are in the unique position of having three fifth-year options to either exercise or decline before May 3, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says the team will almost certainly exercise those options on defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown (at a little over $7MM apiece). However, the team is unsurprisingly not expected to exercise the $9.387MM option for receiver Phillip Dorsett.
  • The Cowboys are expected to exercise Byron Jones‘ fifth-year option.

Draft Notes: Giants, Eagles, Lamar Jackson

There are plenty who believe that the Giants would be foolish to pass up one of the top QBs in this year’s draft to select Saquon Barkley, regardless of how good Barkley is. But Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com wonders if the presence of Davis Webb, whom the Giants selected in the third round of last year’s draft, is impacting New York’s decision-making. Webb has impressed with his work ethic and preparation, and while it is unclear how highly the new regime values Webb, it could be that the Giants feel better about their short- and long-term QB situation than those outside the organization (plus, Webb still has a major supporter within the front office in president of player evaluation Chris Mara). Therefore, maybe it would not be much of a surprise to see Big Blue pull the trigger on a non-QB with their No. 2 overall pick.

Now for a roundup of more draft-related rumors, starting with another note on the Giants:

  • The Giants could also trade their No. 2 overall pick to a team who really does want to snag one of this year’s top QB prospects, but as Raanan notes, New York is going to ask for a major haul in exchange for that selection — including multiple first-round picks — and clubs that want to move up may be better served in making a deal with the Broncos or Colts (who hold the Nos. 5 and 6 overall picks, respectively). Raanan points out that Denver and Indianapolis have been talking to teams about the possibility of moving down, which hurts the Giants’ leverage.
  • The Eagles do not have many holes that need to be filled for the 2018 season, but there are plenty of questions they need to answer for 2019 and beyond, so as Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, the team may be drafting for future needs this week. For instance, the Eagles know they currently have a few young players on expiring contracts that will be in line for richer deals soon — most notably Carson Wentz — so they will need to find talent that can contribute on a rookie contract for a few years. Running back, offensive line, and safety are three positions that are at least somewhat unsettled beyond 2018, so Berman suggests the Eagles could target those positions this week.
  • In his latest mailbag, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com takes a look at two of the pass rushers that have been frequently connected to the Lions — Boston College’s Harold Landry and UTEP’s Marcus Davenport — and opines that Davenport would be the better fit. However, as we learned yesterday, Detroit could be looking to trade down from its No. 20 overall pick, and Rothstein notes that remains a possibility.
  • It’s unclear whether the Dolphins will be targeting a QB with their No. 11 overall pick — or if they will trade up to land a signal-caller — but Florida Football Insiders offers its view as to why Miami should pick Louisville QB Lamar Jackson with its first-round selection.
  • Speaking of Jackson, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock (article via Edward Lewis of NFL.com) believes the former Heisman Trophy winner will not only be a first-round pick, but that he could go in the top-10 (he also believes a team could trade up into that territory to land him). But if Jackson is not selected in the first 20 picks, Mayock says the Saints and Patriots would be two clubs that could target him, as they have the offensive minds to harness Jackson’s talent.
  • With more available data than ever before, a “handful of teams,” including the Rams, are using analytics to help them locate hidden gems and special teams contributors/reserve types on Day 3 of the draft, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes. Volin writes, “[i]n addition to comparing 40 times and broad jumps, teams find different ways to track a player’s health, his productivity at various positions and alignments, his performance in the fourth quarter, and so on.” So while old-school scouting and face-to-face meetings are still the most important tools with respect to early-round picks, potential late-round selections are increasingly being scouted with advanced metrics.

Raiders To Exercise Amari Cooper’s Option

As expected, the Raiders plan to exercise Amari Cooper‘s fifth-year option, per ESPN’s Josina Anderson (via Twitter). The move will keep Cooper under club control through 2019 and will lock Cooper into a $13.924MM salary — guaranteed for injury only — for the 2019 campaign.

However, as we learned just a couple of days ago, the Raiders have begun discussing a long-term contract with Cooper’s agent, and if the two sides come to terms, Oakland will need to pony up more than the fifth-year option amount on an average annual basis. The high-priced deals signed by this year’s free agent receivers, as well as the mega-extension for Bucs wideout Mike Evans, will only boost Cooper’s leverage in talks.

Coooper, who doesn’t turn 24 until June, has compiled more than 2,900 receiving yards over the past three years. He positioned himself as one of the league’s best receivers right out of the gate as a rookie when he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015. He earned Pro Bowl honors once again in 2016, catching 83 passes for 1,153 yards and five scores.

However, Cooper’s numbers were less impressive last year, as he posted just 680 yards and saw a sizable dip in targets (though he did play in only 14 games after suiting up for all 16 contests in his first two seasons in the league). He’ll look to get back on track under new head coach Jon Gruden and will hope that opposing defenses will be paying some attention to new WR2 Jordy Nelson, though it’s debatable as to whether Nelson is a bigger threat than former Raider Michael Crabtree.

In any event, we can expect to see the former Alabama standout and No. 4 overall pick in black-and-silver for the foreseeable future.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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