Steelers Increased Offer To Le’Veon Bell

Less than 18 hours remain until the 2018 franchise tag extension deadline, and the impasse between the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell persists after nearly two full offseasons’ worth of negotiations.

The Steelers and Bell resumed talks again this week, and the team is committed to trying to hammer out a deal until the 3pm Monday deadline. However, the two-time All-Pro running back turned down the Steelers’ latest offer, one worth north of $13.3MM per year, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports (video link).

Pittsburgh’s 2017 offer was worth $13.3MM AAV, and the proposal reportedly contained $30MM in its first two years. However, Bell — attached to a $12.12MM tag at that point — turned that down.

When the Steelers approached him earlier this year, per Fowler, the running back referenced his 406-touch workload last season as evidence he’s worth more. The talks between the parties cooled off until they picked up again months later, and it’s safe to assume Bell’s adjusted price caused the hiatus.

Bell’s $14.54MM 2018 tag figure continues to be his per-year floor, per Fowler. The Steelers and Bell have made progress, but ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Sunday night that the odds are against an agreement being hammered out.

No other running back makes more on a long-term deal than Devonta Freeman‘s $8.25MM, and his 2017 extension only bumped the current running back ceiling up by less than $250K per year. LeSean McCoy‘s 2015 Bills deal represented the standard before that. No other current running back earns more than $8MM annually, but Bell would nearly double that this season by playing on the tag again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Burns, Ravens

Both of the Browns‘ first-round picks have endured a fair amount of scrutiny, with Baker Mayfield making a borderline-unthinkable rise during the pre-draft process and Bradley Chubb remaining on the board after No. 4. The Browns’ issues in coverage last season prompted the Denzel Ward pick. So did a belief third-year edge defender Emmanuel Ogbah can be a quality Myles Garrett sidekick. DC Gregg Williams is seeing Ogbah, a 2016 second-rounder who suffered a broken foot last season, validate the Browns’ thought process thus far this offseason.

I’m so excited to see how well (Ogbah’s) doing out here this year,” Williams said, via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “He’s night and day more relaxed and doing things more instinctively, not overthinking and not as afraid to make a mistake as he was last year because we moved him into a new position. Knock on wood, staying healthy, he’s going to really stand out this year.”

Here’s the latest from Cleveland and other AFC North cities.

  • A new addition to the Browns’ defensive end room expected to be a member of Cleveland’s defensive end rotation behind Garrett and Ogbah, UFA signee Chris Smith will likely be used as an interior pass rusher. “He can play inside; he can play outside; he brings a lot of energy to the room,” Browns defensive line coach Clyde Simmons said, via Cabot. “He’s got a high motor and I think it’s going to be great competition.” Smith joins third-round pick Chad Thomas and previous Browns draftees Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard. Though, Smith is pretty much a roster lock since he signed a three-year, $14MM contract that would cost the Browns to shed this year. So, Nassib and Orchard could be vying for one spot.
  • Other than Ryan Shazier, the Steelers have not possessed an open-and-shut case for exercising a fifth-year option in a while. They passed on Jarvis Jones‘ and picked up Bud Dupree‘s, doing so despite the 2015 first-rounder’s inconsistency. However, with Artie Burns‘ decision coming up in May, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sees another difficult call coming. Burns has not established himself as a surefire member of the Steelers’ core but is expected to be a starter again opposite Joe Haden. This season figures to be pivotal for the Miami product’s future.
  • The Ravens are moving Vince Mayle from tight end to wide receiver, Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun notes. This comes as Baltimore’s wideout room looks more crowded with possible roster cogs than it did last season. With Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown borderline locks for the 53-man unit, the Ravens will have some choices to make at preseason’s end. A 2015 Browns pick, Mayle played in 16 games with the 2017 Ravens. Third-year backup Chris Moore may not see much receiver time, per Lee, who adds fourth- and fifth-round rookies Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State) and Jordan Lasley (UCLA) aren’t locks to make the roster. Though, the Ravens will surely give them every opportunity to do so and it’s a fairly safe bet the rookies will be on the Week 1 roster. The Ravens’ wideouts averaged a league-low 8.9 yards per catch last season.

Latest On Franchise-Tagged Players

Monday’s 3pm CT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions may come and go without one being finalized.

After a Saturday report indicated re-ups were unlikely for DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com confirmed Ansah and the Lions won’t agree to terms by Monday afternoon and adds Lawrence is unlikely to come to terms with the Cowboys (Twitter links).

As for the other two tagged players, prospects also appear grim. Schefter reports (on Twitter) Lamarcus Joyner is not expected to reach an extension with the Rams, though he adds the sides are still discussing one. And despite Mike Tomlin‘s hopes of Le’Veon Bell finally agreeing to a Steelers accord, Schefter reports (via Twitter) that’s unlikely, too. However, the Steelers and Bell have made recent progress and will keep trying until the deadline. But this report throws some cold water on an 11th-hour solution coming to pass.

Ansah and the Lions have been far apart throughout this process, and the Lions are planning to see if their top edge defender can stay healthy and prove reliable enough for a long-term commitment. The Cowboys may be using the same strategy with their injury-prone pass rusher, despite making a stronger effort to discuss a deal with Lawrence.

Bell and the Steelers have been circling each other for years, but if the parties can’t agree by Monday afternoon, their arrangement will be a full-fledged rental situation. Bell will likely be headed toward the 2019 UFA market if the Steelers don’t sign him by Monday. The Rams’ issues with Aaron Donald‘s deal leave Joyner in a strange spot. Los Angeles possesses a league-low $2MM in cap space and has a glut of contract calls coming — Donald, Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters — in what will be a complicated stretch for the now-high-profile team.

Of course, by the Lions, Cowboys and Rams not agreeing on deals with their tagged performers, that ups prices down the line. Since Bell has already been twice tagged, it would cost the Steelers a staggering $20MM-plus to tag their All-Pro back again.

Ansah is going to play this season for $17.1MM, and if Lawrence indeed is still without a deal by Monday evening, he will too. Joyner will count nearly $12MM on the Rams’ payroll, while Bell’s $14.5MM 2018 salary has been well-known for months by NFL contract buffs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jack Conklin Addresses Rehab Timeline

Last month, Mike Vrabel said Jack Conklin could begin Titans training camp on the PUP list. The third-year tackle discussed his recovery this weekend but did not confirm he’d be ready by the first Vrabel-era camp commences.

While Conklin stopped short of proclaiming himself ready to go, which can be expected since he tore an ACL in mid-January, he said no setbacks have occurred during his recovery.

I am still rehabbing, but things are going well, no setbacks,” Conklin said, via Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com. “It is hard having a new staff, not able to be out there running around. But I have a great team and the staff has done a great job of getting me (healthy). I am excited.”

Conklin added that he’s down to 310 pounds from 320, with Wyatt pointing out that may be a better fit for the new offense the Titans will run under new OC Matt LaFleur. The Titans are exercising patience with their right-edge starter.

You don’t want to come back too early and hurt it again,” Conklin said. “You want to make sure you are full health and ready to go. If I come back too early, I am not only hurting myself, but I am hurting the team. If I can’t play at the level I need to perform at, there’s really no reason I should be out there playing. I think I need to earn my way back health-wise and practicing and that is something I am working toward and something I am excited to get back to.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Blake Bortles On New Jaguars Contract

Rather than enter the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes or make a run at other starter-level players like Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor or Sam Bradford, the Jaguars preemptively reached an extension agreement with Blake Bortles. He’s signed through 2020.

With Bortles having not shown much to indicate he’s capable of top-level quarterback play, the Jaguars look to be building around their defense. Bortles was on board with that strategy when it came time to negotiate his second Jags deal.

I think definitely the way the Tom (Brady) has done it is the way to try to model,” Bortles said, via Sirius XM Radio (Twitter link), of willingly taking a lower salary. “Having guys and putting pieces around him was definitely something. When you take up a ton of money you kind of limit your team and who they can help you out with and put around you.

I’m not naive enough to say that we don’t need a run game. We also need a good defense; we need good receivers; we need all these pieces. You can’t play as a quarterback and do it yourself so I’m more than willing to take less money than somebody else might in my position to put good guys around us.”

Bortles signed for three years and $54MM, with a $15MM signing bonus. His 2018 salary is fully guaranteed, and $6.5MM of his ’19 base salary is as well. With it costing the Jags $16.5MM in dead money to cut Bortles after this season, this deal ties the 2014 first-rounder to the team effectively through the next two seasons.

However, given the inconsistency he’s displayed in four seasons, it was unlikely Bortles was going to make much more than he did on this contract. He did want to remain in Jacksonville, something he hopes to do throughout his career.

I was like, ‘I don’t really care how much money it is. Let’s just get a deal done so I can go play football and have some security in a place that I got drafted,'” Bortles said during the interview. “It was huge for me to sign a second deal by the team that drafted me. To be able to play in one place your whole career is something I’ve always wanted to do. To be able to have that security for at least a little bit … I’ve still go to go earn it and play well in order to stay there.”

Bringing in Cody Kessler and sixth-round pick Tanner Lee, the Jags did not make a big outside investment at quarterback this offseason. So, Bortles doesn’t have much in-house competition this season — one that features the Jaguars in as strong of a competitive position going into it as they have been in many years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

5 Key NFL Stories: 7/8/18 – 7/15/18

LeSean McCoy faces domestic abuse allegations. McCoy’s ex-girlfriend, Delicia Gordon, has accused the Bills running back of being involved in an incident which left her with brutal injuries. While McCoy wasn’t in the same state when Gordon was the victim of a home invasion, Gordon is claiming McCoy orchestrated the attack. McCoy has hired a defense attorney with experience in NFL cases, and it’s possible he’ll be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list while the case plays out.

DeMarco Murray announces retirement. Despite taking multiple offseason visits, Murray surprisingly decided to hang up his cleats — although not everyone is sure he’ll stick with retirement. As of last week, reports emerged that Murray was hoping to land with a new team soon, and a number of clubs looked like obvious fits. He met with the Lions, Seahawks, and Dolphins during the offseason, but declined an opportunity to work out for the Saints.

Darren Sproles will play one more season. Just this afternoon, Sproles announced that he’ll play just more season before heading into retirement. Sproles, now 35, had hinted at retirement at this time last year, but after his 2017 campaign was ended by both a torn ACL and a broken arm, the veteran running back decided to come back for one more year. He’ll handle passing game work in an Eagles backfield that also includes Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and others.

2018 supplemental draft results. Although the NFL’s supplemental draft had been a boring affair in recent years, that wasn’t the case in 2018. The Giants sacrificed a 2019 third-round pick in order to land Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal, while the Redskins used a 2019 sixth-rounder on Virginia Tech corner Adonis Alexander. Mississippi State defensive back Brandon Bryant, meanwhile, went undrafted but has since landed with the Jets.

Marcell Dareus sued twice for sexual assault. Dareus is facing not one, but two sexual assault civil suits. Both women claim Dareus had sex with them after they’d fallen asleep or blacked out, while one woman says Dareus transmitted an STD. So far, no criminal charges have been pressed, but Dareus could still be subject to NFL discipline regardless of the legal outcomes of his cases.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Darren Sproles To Retire After 2018 Season

Eagles running back Darren Sproles will retire from the NFL after the 2018 season, as the veteran explained in a post today.

“The plan was for 2017 to be my last season,” writes Sproles. “I was 34, had a great career, accomplished a lot—it was time. No one ever expected my career to last this long, over a decade but I was proud to prove them all wrong. Then my season ended a little earlier than expected, to an injury.

An injury is different; It’s something you don’t have any control over but I feel like I left a lot out there, and I couldn’t let my career end like that.”

As Sproles alludes to, he’d originally hinted that 2017 would be his final NFL campaign, but backtracked on that sentiment even before multiple injuries ended his season in September. Sproles not only suffered a torn ACL, but a broken arm during the first month of the 2017 season, which concluded with Sproles having played in just three games.

After deciding to return for 2018, Sproles inked a one-year deal with the Eagles that contains $1MM in guarantees. Now 35 years old, Sproles will be part of a Philadelphia backfield that also includes Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Matt Jones, Wendell Smallwood, and Donnel Pumphrey. Sproles should be guaranteed a roster spot, and will likely handle passing game work in the Eagles’ offense.

Maintaining value based on his receiving skills is nothing new for Sproles, who has never topped 100 carries in a season during his lengthy pro tenure. Sproles spent the early portion of his career as LaDainian Tomlinson‘s backup with the Chargers, but emerged to even greater prominence as a backfield weapon for Drew Brees and the Saints. He was shipped to the Eagles in 2015 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 7/8/18 – 7/15/18

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

East Notes: Redskins, Cowboys, Jets

Earlier today, we looked at how the Redskins plan to deploy their supplemental draft choice, Adonis Alexander. Now let’s take a look at notes from several other east division clubs, starting with more out of Washington:

  • The Redskins‘ lack of a consistent running game in the Jay Gruden era is the byproduct of a number of factors, as John Keim of ESPN.com observes. While the offensive line is generally a good one (when healthy), the team has struggled mightily in short-yardage situations over the last few years, and some question whether Washington is committed enough to the run, as it ranks 27th in the league in total carries since 2014. But, as Keim points out, the Redskins rank 10th in first-down carries over that same span; the problem is that they rank 30th in yards per carry on first down. So, as one scout suggests, the issue is not running more, it’s running more effectively. The addition of Derrius Guice should help, as would a healthy season from the starters on the O-line and more effective blocking from receivers and tight ends. If Washington is going to push for a playoff spot, it will need an effective ground game to help out Alex Smith and the passing attack.
  • The Cowboys have a new O-line coach in Paul Alexander, who spent the last 24 seasons with the Bengals. He inherits one of the best offensive lines in the league, so he is under a good deal of pressure to keep the train rolling. To that end, he does not plan on making a drastic overhaul, but as Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News writes, Alexander and OC Scott Linehan are implementing concepts that are noticeably different from the ones that previous O-line coaches Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack employed. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott is impressed with the modifications, and Alexander suggests that the linemen themselves have also bought in.
  • Darryl Slater of NJ.com touched on the Jets‘ tight end battle in a mailbag item yesterday, a situation that he delves into more deeply today. Per Slater, Jordan Leggett — whom the team selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, but who missed his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury — is a roster lock, as is 2018 fourth-rounder Chris Herndon. Both players are essentially rookies, and while they both have upside, rookie tight ends rarely produce a great deal in the passing attack. Slater suggests that Leggett and Herndon could see a fairly even split in snap distribution, though they will both need to improve as blockers. He adds that New York is expected to keep three tight ends, and Eric Tomlinson — who is a capable blocker — is currently the favorite for the No. 3 TE job.
  • Per Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins could build a training facility that will allow them to practice where they play. Miami is considering building a $75MM complex on team-owned land adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium, which would be a considerable upgrade from the facility at Nova Southeastern University that the team has trained in since 1993. Although that facility has been improved over the years, it is still a far cry from the first-class complexes that are becoming more commonplace around the league. Other locations remain in consideration, but an upgrade is coming, and it could come as soon as 2020.

Latest On Adonis Alexander

The Redskins sacrificed a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft by selecting Adonis Alexander in this year’s supplemental draft. That certainly seems like a risk worth taking, given that Alexander has the ability of a first- or second-round prospect and given that Washington has two other sixth-round choices in the 2019 draft anyway.

The general assumption around the league is that Alexander, who played both safety and cornerback at the collegiate level, will play cornerback for the Redskins. Rich Tandler of NBCSports.com, though, says no firm decision in that regard will be made until the team has had the opportunity to evaluate him at both positions. Although Washington is currently leaning towards deploying him as a CB, Tandler says Alexander’s makeup could make him a quality safety as well.

Either way, Alexander will have an excellent shot not only of making the roster, but of earning significant playing time right away. The top two corners on Washington’s roster, veterans Josh Norman and Orlando Scandrick, are locked into starting roles in 2019, but the depth chart looks pretty open behind that. Quinton Dunbar is currently penciled in as the team’s No. 3 CB, but Alexander certainly has the potential to push him for snaps, and Alexander has higher upside than second-year players Joshua Holsey and Fabian Moreau. Moreau, a 2017 third-rounder, is likely not going anywhere this season, but Tandler says that if Alexander makes the team, Holsey or 2018 seventh-rounder Greg Stroman — Alexander’s former Virginia Tech teammate — could be squeezed out.

At safety, D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson are the presumptive starters, so Alexander’s primary competition would come from Deshazor Everett — who is viewed as more of a special teams contributor — second-year player Fish Smithson, and rookie Troy Apke.

For his part, Alexander predictably believes that he could line up anywhere in the defensive backfield (and the Redskins could certainly utilize his 6-3, 207-pound frame in a number of roles if they so choose). He said, “At safety, I feel like my strength is just being an instinctive player. Being physical would definitely be my strength in playing safety, coming down to tackle and stuff.” He added, “As for corner, my competitiveness, instincts, like I said, would definitely be a strength at corner because as far as playing corner, it’s a one-on-one thing with you and the receiver. I’ve definitely tried to win everyone at a one-on-one battle.”

Since Alexander missed offseason practices, he will have some catching up to do when training camp opens. But even if he starts a little behind the learning curve, one has to think that he will be given every opportunity to secure a spot on the 53-man roster, regardless of the position he winds up playing.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL News & NFL Rumors