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The past two seasons have seen the debate about Tyrod Taylor shift. What was once discussion about whether Taylor is the Buffalo Bills‘ franchise quarterback has now become conversation about his immediate future with the team.

The downward trend of Taylor’s statistical performance since he won the Bills’ starting job in 2015 has made it increasingly difficult to argue Taylor is worth a long-term deal in Buffalo. However, his strengths relative to other options at quarterback still make Taylor viable as the Bills’ starter in 2018.

Clarity about Taylor’s status seems to be on the horizon. Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus March 16, which is a checkpoint for Buffalo’s interest in keeping him next season. Free agency begins and trades can be executed the same week, which would be an opportunity for the Bills to find a replacement for Taylor on the veteran quarterback market.

In the almost seven weeks since the Bills’ season ended with a playoff loss to Jacksonville, there has been extensive analysis about the possibilities should Buffalo decide to trade or release Taylor.

But what if the Bills decide to keep Taylor?

Keeping Taylor on the roster March 16 and paying his bonus would not necessarily guarantee he is the starter next season, nor would it preclude Buffalo from swinging a trade to select a quarterback high in April’s draft.

Theoretically, the Bills could pay Taylor his bonus as insurance against not finding another quarterback this offseason, and later trade or release him if a better option is acquired.

Here are some pros and cons to consider under each scenario: the Bills trading or releasing Taylor, the Bills paying Taylor his bonus but later moving on, and the Bills keeping Taylor as their starter.

Trade or release Taylor before March 16

Pros: The Bills would avoid an unnecessary $6 million salary-cap charge (Taylor’s roster bonus) in 2018, when the team is somewhat limited against the cap. Trading or releasing Taylor before the roster bonus would free up $10 million in cap space, and the team could push another $5.6 million into 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut. Doing so would cause Taylor’s entire $18 million cap number to count until June, but the transaction should help Buffalo either use the extra cap space to help fill holes on a thin roster or roll over the cap space into 2019.

After more than a year of uncertainty about his future, Taylor likely would appreciate the opportunity to find another team in March when starting jobs are open as opposed to being traded or released later in the offseason when teams already have set their quarterback plans. Much like the firing of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison last month, the Bills moving on from Taylor would probably receive a positive reception from fans looking for an upgrade from the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing offense last season.

Further, making a move with Taylor now would make the Bills a more attractive landing spot for a veteran free-agent quarterback. It is unlikely Buffalo would pursue Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, but lower-cost options would see Buffalo as a much better fit if Taylor was not in the mix. Waiting to trade or release Taylor until later in the offseason could leave the Bills without a capable veteran in the quarterback room.

Cons: The Bills risk moving a chess piece without a plan for the next move. Executing a trade of Taylor might be difficult in the 32-hour window between the start of the free-agent signing period and when his roster bonus is due. Teams pursuing free-agent quarterbacks might not be ready to trade for Taylor until they learn whether they can make another signing. That could leave the Bills in a more desperate position to take a lesser deal for Taylor before the roster bonus is due, or could result in them releasing him without anything in return.

In the case of either a trade or release, the Bills would have a need for a veteran quarterback, which will eat into their salary-cap savings from Taylor. Letting Taylor go, not signing a top veteran free agent and missing on a top quarterback prospect in the draft would leave Buffalo in a precarious spot.

Pay Taylor his roster bonus but later trade or release him

Pros: The Bills would be eating $6 million of Taylor’s 2018 salary-cap charge, which could make him more attractive for a trade partner that would then only be inheriting a one-year deal with a $10 million salary and only $1 million guaranteed. While there are several options on the quarterback market this March that could make Taylor less valuable in a trade, there could be fewer players available in August in the event of a training camp injury. Such desperation allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to net a first-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings in September 2016 for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater‘s knee injury. The Eagles turned the offense over to then-rookie Carson Wentz, and the Bills could theoretically start a rookie if Taylor is traded late in the offseason or preseason.

Taylor also would act as insurance in case the Bills cannot acquire a quarterback they desire in the draft.

Cons: Buffalo might eventually be able to trade Taylor later in the offseason, but they would be essentially paying $6 million for a potentially higher return on the trade, which might not be worth it. Trading or releasing Taylor after June 1 would ensure that $5.6 million of his dead money hits the salary cap in 2019 and not 2018, but overall the Bills would still be paying $6 million more in dead money. With needs across the roster, that could be viewed as a waste.

Waiting until later in the offseason to make a move with Taylor also could preclude the Bills from adding a veteran in the spring. That means, without Taylor by September, the Bills could be left with only a rookie and Nathan Peterman under center — or be searching for another option.

Keep Taylor as the starter in 2018

Pros: This is what the Bills opted to do after exploring their options last offseason. It was the safe route, and whether Buffalo would have been better off transitioning to a younger quarterback is still up for debate. But the decision to keep Taylor steadied the Bills’ ship under first-year coach Sean McDermott and contributed to a playoff berth.

Because of Taylor’s restructured contract, the Bills have no commitment to him beyond 2018. That could make him an attractive bridge option who starts this season and eventually yields the job to a draft pick. The Bills might be able to find a cheaper quarterback to fill that role on the free-agent market, but that might either cost more or result in a less talented player. Taylor’s cost is still aligned with his value.

Cons: Fan sentiment can be hard to measure, but keeping Taylor for a fourth season as the starter could be a hard sell for a fan base that generally seemed anxious for change by the end of last season. Taylor has not shown he can help the Bills take the next step, and after seven seasons in the NFL, it is fair to question whether Taylor will get any better. McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane helped create a sense of progress around the Bills last season, but keeping Taylor could cause stagnation to creep in.

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If Jaguars want an impact tight end, they’d better act quickly in the draft – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Coach Urban Meyer was pretty clear the Jacksonville Jaguars needed a pass-catching tight end, and since they didn’t sign one in free agency it’s equally clear it will be a priority in the draft.

The Jaguars had better pick one in the first three rounds, though, because recent history shows that it’s hard to find an impact tight end after that. It’s not impossible — Antonio Gates was undrafted, Delanie Walker was a sixth-round pick, and George Kittle was a fifth-round pick, for example — but drafting one early is a much better option.

In looking at the highest-producing tight ends over the past 20 years, 13 of the top 20 in terms of receptions were first- or second-round picks. Tony Gonzalez, the NFL’s all-time receptions leader among tight ends (and third overall), was a first-round pick. Rob Gronkowski, who has the third-most TD catches among tight ends since 2001 with 86, was a second-round pick. Zach Ertz, who holds the single-season record for most receptions by a tight end (116 in 2018), was a second-round pick.

Four more of the top 20 were third-round picks, including Jason Witten, whose 1,228 receptions are second only to Gonzalez among tight ends and rank fourth overall in NFL history, and Travis Kelce, who surpassed 100 catches twice in the past three seasons. Jimmy Graham and Jared Cook also were third-round picks.

Only three of the top 20 players were taken after the third round: Gates, Walker and Owen Daniels (fourth round).

So the Jaguars’ best chance of landing a tight end that can be a major part of the passing game — something that hasn’t happened much around here, and certainly never to the extent of what the players mentioned above have done — is to find one by the end of Day 2 of the draft. The Jaguars have five picks in the first three rounds (two each in the first and second rounds) and are likely taking quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall.

Florida’s Kyle Pitts will almost assuredly be long gone by the time the Jaguars pick 25th, but there are some other intriguing prospects — such as Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth, Boston College’s Hunter Long and Miami’s Brevin Jordan — that the Jaguars could target in the second or third round. Freiermuth could be the pick to start the second round.

There’s no guarantee about any of those players and the Jaguars shouldn’t force the pick, but if they do have good evaluations on any of them and believe they can be impact players, then it’s better to take them in the second or third rather than waiting at the position or hoping they slide.

The Jaguars’ draft history with tight ends is … not good. They’ve drafted nine since the team’s inception (including Derek Brown in the 1995 expansion draft), but just two earlier than the fourth round: Marcedes Lewis (28th overall in 2006) and Josh Oliver (third round in 2019). Lewis is the franchise’s all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (375), receiving yards (4,502) and TD catches (33), and he’s third overall in the first two categories and second only to wide receiver Jimmy Smith in touchdown catches.

Oliver played in four games and had just three catches in his first two seasons because of injuries, and the Jaguars traded him to Baltimore last month for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2022.

Of the remaining nine players in the franchise’s top 10 in terms of tight end receptions, six were either free-agent signees, signed off the street, or acquired via trade: Kyle Brady, Pete Mitchell, James O’Shaughnessy, Julius Thomas, Clay Harbor and Tyler Eifert.

After Lewis, the best tight end the Jaguars have drafted is George Wrighster, a fourth-round pick in 1990 who went on to catch 94 passes for 850 yards and nine touchdowns in his six-year career.

Jaguars tight ends have rarely been prominent parts of the passing game. Only three in franchise history have caught 48 or more passes — an average of just three per game over 16 games — in a single season: Mitchell (52 in 1996), Brady (64 in 2000) and Lewis (58 in 2010 and 52 in 2012).

Three catches per game, even for a run-oriented team, isn’t asking too much. Especially since the Jaguars haven’t exactly had dynamic receivers since Jimmy Smith retired after the 2005 season. They’ve had only three receivers record 1,000-yard seasons since then (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in 2015 and DJ Chark Jr. in 2019) and have had only two players with 70 or more catches in a season (Robinson in 2015-16 and Chark in 2019).

Tight end is a priority in the NFL today more than ever and the Jaguars should treat it as such.

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From $248 to $622K – NFL players to bring in a wide range of bonuses

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Sometimes the best feeling can be finding an extra $20 in a pair of jeans you have not worn in a while.

Now imagine what it must be like when you learn you have found an extra $622,056.

The NFL’s performance-based pay system has been around since 2002, when it was included in the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, and it rewards players who have had high playing time but are making low base salaries.

This year, the league divvied up $8.55 million per team for veterans and rookies, and while the checks won’t hit the players’ accounts until 2024 at the earliest, it’s still good to know there will be some money coming in.

Here’s a look at some of the notable performance-based bonuses that were distributed:

Big money

Alex Cappa, a 2018 third-round pick, played all 1,070 snaps for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 at guard, winning a Super Bowl ring along the way. Because of the NFL’s performance-based pay system, Cappa earned a league-high extra $622,056 on top of his $750,000 base salary.

He was one of 26 players to have earned at least $500,000. He wasn’t the only Buccaneer, either. Safety Jordan Whitehead earned $555,455. A fourth-round pick in 2018, Whitehead started every game for the Super Bowl champs and had two interceptions.

Small money, but …

At the other end of the spectrum is Cincinnati Bengals center B.J. Finney. He collected the smallest bonus, just $248 for two snaps on special teams.

But Finney was able to double dip. He also earned $3,668 from the Seattle Seahawks, who dealt him to Cincinnati in the Carlos Dunlap trade in October 2020. Finney signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason.

Offensive lineman Marcus Martin, who split the 2020 season between two teams, was also a double-dipper. He earned $2,839 from the Detroit Lions and $591 from the New England Patriots.

The rest of the top 10

Arizona Cardinals tackle Kelvin Beachum collected the second-highest check at $604,185 after starting every game. Not bad for a player who signed a few weeks before training camp began. This offseason, he signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Cardinals.

The remainder of the top 10 includes: Buffalo Bills corner Taron Johnson ($578,749), Los Angeles Rams guard Austin Corbett ($572,736), Detroit cornerback Amani Oruwariye ($572,067), Chicago tackle Germain Ifedi ($570,571), Steelers offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor ($567,469), Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier ($561,469), Baltimore Ravens safety DeShon Elliott ($557,477) and Whitehead ($555,335).

The bottom 10

Finney was one of 13 players to earn bonuses of less than $1,000, with Houston Texans quarterback AJ McCarron receiving the second-smallest check at $316.

In spots 3 through 10: Seattle linebacker D’Andre Walker ($453), Carolina offensive tackle Matt Kaskey ($542), Green Bay defensive tackle Anthony Rush ($547), Martin ($591), New York Giants wide receiver Alex Bachman ($600), Jacksonville Jaguars place-kicker Stephen Hauschka ($740), Philadelphia Eagles tackle Prince Tega Wanogho ($781), Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson ($924) and Washington Football Team tackle Saahdiq Charles ($924).

There could not have been a more disappointing season for anybody other than Wilson, the Titans’ first-round pick.

The players selected immediately before Wilson at No. 29 overall — Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen and Miami Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene — earned $181,141 and $139,826 respectively.

The Titans traded Wilson to the Dolphins earlier in the offseason and he has already been released.

Big names, small money

Playing on his rookie contract from 2016 to 2019, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott regularly cashed in quite well in the performance-based pay system, earning more than $1 million total in his first four seasons.

Last year, Prescott had the highest base salary in the NFL at $31.4 million, playing on the quarterback franchise tag. He was also limited to five games because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. His take from the 2020 performance-based pay system: $5,653.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. He collected $4,786. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (knee) played just two games as well, and he earned $4,279. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. lasted seven games before a knee injury. He received $14,669.

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Evaluating GM George Paton’s first free agency with the Denver Broncos – Denver Broncos Blog

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When George Paton was hired in January to be the Denver Broncos‘ top football decision-maker, he became the first person in four decades to hold the job without previously working for the team.

He brings a fresh set of eyes to a franchise that has long preferred its own way of looking at things. His approach to free agency over the long haul remains to be seen, but his first foray as the guy in charge of the checkbook did give a glimpse of what he thought about of the roster he inherited.

As in:

  • The defense needed some immediate attention, and not just a little.

  • When he said re-signing Justin Simmons was a priority he meant it.

  • Drew Lock is a better option at quarterback than spending big in free agency.

The draft, which opens April 29, is still a significant portion of the Broncos’ offseason work and how Paton chooses to use the picks will also show what his vision is in his first year on the job.

But with one of the league’s youngest group of skill position players already in place on offense, the team’s defense clearly troubled him. Start with the fact he signed Simmons to the richest deal for a safety in league history with a $15.25 million per year average.

Paton also chose to exercise the option in linebacker Von Miller‘s contract, keeping him with the team for the final year of the six-year, $114.5 million deal signed in 2016. And of the six players the Broncos have signed from the open market to this point, including defensive end Shelby Harris and safety Kareem Jackson who were both with the Broncos last season, five were on defense. Running back Mike Boone, signed to a relatively low impact two-year, $3.85 million deal, is the only player on offense the Broncos have signed in the first month of free agency.

With Simmons’ signing, the Broncos also added cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby in a secondary eroded by injuries last season. In all it was $132.5 million worth of contracts to defensive players even before defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was signed this week.

“It’s a work in progress,” Paton said about the upgrades on defense after Darby’s and Fuller’s arrival. “We’re not there yet. We have the rest of free agency. We have the draft to add good, young players that fit our culture and fit the scheme. We have a ways to go.”

Simmons’ deal — as well as Harris’ three-year, $27 million deal to a certain extent — also provided a message from Paton to the Broncos’ locker room: The Broncos will retain their own free agents if they produce at a high level. That’s not something they have always been able, or willing, to do in recent years — not unless a player, like tackle Garett Bolles or cornerback Chris Harris Jr. or defensive end Derek Wolfe, was willing to sign a new deal before he actually hit the market.

Paton said right from his arrival he wanted to retain Simmons and had even called the franchise player designation for Simmons a “procedural move” on the way to a new deal. As coach Vic Fangio put it: “I was confident that we would have him back.”

As for the quarterback position, Paton has expressed confidence in Lock’s development — he said “fortunately we have a quarterback” when asked about potential moves earlier this offseason — but what happens in the draft is still the 1,000-pound Bronco in the room.

With the No. 9 pick in the first round the Broncos could still make a move up to take a quarterback. It would have to be up to the No. 4 pick because the teams selecting 1-2-3 — the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers — are locked in place with plans to take their own QB. But the Broncos would have to really like one one of the QBs available at No. 4 and be willing to to surrender the substantial number of future picks it would cost to make the move.

The Broncos, other than a short dalliance to see what the price would be in a trade for Matthew Stafford, have remained on the sideline in free agency at quarterback. Veterans such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett and Mitchell Trubisky signed elsewhere and the list of those who could challenge Lock as a starter has almost evaporated.

Players such as Gardner Minshew or Teddy Bridegwater would require the Broncos make a trade, and in Bridgewater’s case, he currently carries a $17 million base salary for the 2021 season.

Paton’s actions to this point have backed up his words, that Lock “is very talented … and has a lot to work on,” but that Lock “really wants to be great.”

The last benchmark will be how Paton approaches the draft weekend and how the depth chart looks at quarterback when the calendar flips to May, a depth chart at the position that, at the moment, looks exactly the same now as it did in January.

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