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At first glance, this AJ McCarron news might not strike you as much. A fifth-round pick who’s started four games in four NFL seasons can now be an unrestricted free agent. Big whoop, right? Are teams really going to line up to throw money at him just because they can?

Thing is, though, McCarron plays quarterback. And that position makes NFL teams do funny things. Just a year ago, Mike Glennon was a 27-year-old free agent with 18 career starts — none since 2014 — and the Bears signed him for $18.5 million guaranteed.

McCarron is 27. His four starts in Cincinnati were in 2015. One was a playoff game. He completed 62 percent of his passes in them, with five touchdowns and one interception. He played well enough to win the playoff game, but the Bengals lost to the Steelers in painful fashion because Jeremy Hill fumbled and the defense lost its mind.

Oh, and don’t forget that, just a little more than three months ago, a team tried to trade a second-round pick and a third-round pick for McCarron but couldn’t get it done because of a deadline paperwork snafu.

The point here is this: Don’t rule out McCarron as a factor in the increasingly interesting 2018 offseason quarterback market.

Start with the Browns, the team that tried to trade for McCarron at the deadline in October. That got all botched up, and the team has since changed general manager and overhauled its front office, but if the Browns still want McCarron, they can now get him for nothing but money. Coach Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati for McCarron’s first two seasons and is known to be a fan. It’s not crazy to imagine the Browns signing McCarron as a guy they think can start in 2018 while whomever they draft — they have picks 1 and 4 in Round 1 — gets ready. And who knows? Maybe they like him enough that, if they sign him, they decide they don’t have to take a quarterback at the top of the draft. Unlikely, but you never know.

The top free-agent quarterback prize this year is Washington’s Kirk Cousins. But you can make a list of a half-dozen or so teams that will want Cousins, and only one can get him. If the Browns, Jets, Vikings, Cardinals, Broncos and Bills all try for Cousins, that means at least five teams will need a fallback option. Currently, those include the likes of Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater (who also hasn’t really played in two years). Josh McCown is out there as a one-year “bridge” option. Maybe a team can trade for Blake Bortles, but if so, that leaves Jacksonville as a team looking for a starting quarterback.

The question is not whether McCarron is a starting quarterback any more than that was the question about Glennon a year ago. The question is whether there is a team — or more than one team — out there that views McCarron as a 27-year-old with potential to be more than he’s been to this point in his NFL career. And if they’re willing to pay him a starter’s salary — even on a deal similar to the one-year commitment Chicago made last year to Glennon.

Quarterback is the NFL’s most stubborn and common problem, and it very rarely presents its teams with perfect solutions. If your team ends up signing McCarron and making him the starter in 2018, some of you will wonder if the decision-makers have lost their minds. Some will be cautiously optimistic. Very few will be satisfied, unless and until he performs at a level that justifies the decision. This is the nature of the quarterback market, and because of that, McCarron fits into it just fine. As of Thursday, we now know that he’s going to have a chance to maximize his value in a world where demand for what he does always outpaces supply. Which means he’s likely to end up coming out of this a very rich man.

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Sources — Free agent J.J. Watt has offers from multiple NFL teams

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Free-agent defensive lineman J.J. Watt has received contract offers from multiple teams, league sources told ESPN’s Dianna Russini.

Multiple sources told Russini that the most lucrative offer Watt currently has on the table is believed to be worth between $15 million and $16 million.

The Browns are among the teams interested in Watt, according to ESPN and multiple reports, but it was not clear as of Thursday morning whether Cleveland has submitted an offer to the five-time Pro Bowler. Cleveland.com reported last week that Watt had some mutual interest in signing with the Browns.

The Texans released Watt earlier this month, ending the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year’s decade-long run in Houston.

At the time of his release, sources told ESPN that approximately a dozen teams — including the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills — had already expressed interest in Watt.

Watt, who turns 32 next month, finished last season with five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. He ranked 15th out of 119 qualified pass-rushers in pass rush win rate in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and ended his Texans career as the franchise’s all-time leader with 101 career sacks.

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Defending Baker Mayfield: Why wouldn’t the Cleveland Browns give him an extension? – Cleveland Browns Blog

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BEREA, Ohio – In the wake of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz being dealt away from the teams that drafted them, the same phrase has begun to reverberate with regards to the Cleveland Browns and their quarterback, Baker Mayfield.

“Cautionary tales.”

Two years ago, Goff and Wentz, the top two picks of the 2016 draft, signed the richest contract extensions in NFL history. Yet just this month, the two were jettisoned before those record extensions had even kicked in, leaving their former teams with record heaps of dead-money blows to their respective cap sheets.

This offseason, another former top pick is extension-eligible coming off a banner third season quarterbacking his team to the playoffs. And yet, some are wondering if the Browns should kick the can down the road on a Mayfield extension, largely because Goff and Wentz cratered soon after signing theirs.

Of course, that’s a rather fatalistic viewpoint of Mayfield and the Browns. And one focused on events elsewhere, instead of the facts on the ground in Cleveland.

True, Goff and Wentz regressed for various reasons after enjoying success early in their careers. But that doesn’t mean Mayfield will follow suit. In fact, all signs point to him getting better — next season and beyond.

For the first time since the Browns drafted him in 2018, Mayfield won’t have to dedicate his offseason to learning yet another new offense. After playing for three different head coaches over his first two seasons in the league, Mayfield thrived during the back-half of last season in first-time head coach Kevin Stefanski’s scheme, portending their budding future together.

“That’s a huge part of this,” Stefanski said last month, while revealing how thrilled Mayfield was to finally begin growing within the same offense. “We can start at that baseline and that foundation and build on what we’ve done.”

Mayfield had some rough moments early while adapting to Stefanski’s offense following a virtual offseason learning it. But from Week 7 through Week 15, just last year’s MVP (Patrick Mahomes) and this year’s MVP (Aaron Rodgers) posted a better QBR than Mayfield, who during that stretch tossed 15 touchdowns with just two interceptions. As a result, the Browns wound up finishing the regular season with 11 wins, their most since returning to the NFL in 1999.

“Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, which is a big part of this,” Stefanski said, “he really started playing at a high level.”

Mayfield continued to play at a high level in the postseason, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in Cleveland’s first playoff victory in 26 years, a 48-37 win in Pittsburgh — where the Browns had not won in 17 attempts.

“You saw growth from him as a player from the first game to the last,” Stefanski said. “Really pleased with his progress, and I think he recognizes that he has room to grow.”

Any extension to any NFL player comes with at least some risk, as the cases of Goff and Wentz underscore. But at this point, the Browns either believe in Mayfield — or they don’t, at least not yet.

Cleveland already demonstrated that belief last offseason, committing a franchise-record $60 million in guaranteed money in free agency to upgrade Mayfield’s supporting cast, with All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin and Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, plus veteran quarterback Case Keenum, to serve as Mayfield’s mentor.

The Browns also used the 10th pick in the draft on left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to solidify the offensive line. With vastly improved protection and a scheme befitting his skill set, Mayfield rekindled the confidence and touch he flashed during his first season when he broke the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. He also emerged as the unquestioned leader of the locker room.

Given the upward trajectory of Mayfield and the Browns, there’s nothing to suggest Cleveland won’t double-down again on the former No. 1 overall pick in the coming months.

The Browns already will have to make a partial commitment to Mayfield this summer. As colleague Dan Graziano pointed out, starting with Mayfield’s 2018 draft class, fifth-year options for first-round picks are now fully guaranteed at the time they’re executed, at a significantly higher price than before.

But going halfway and pushing off an extension invites downside, too. What if Mayfield is better in 2021? A potential extension would cost the Browns even more down the line, as Tim Hasselbeck noted on ESPN this week. That would only make it more difficult to get one done at all.

On Wednesday, ESPN colleague Ed Werder suggested that the Dallas Cowboys might have to use their first-round pick on another quarterback, if they can’t lock up Dak Prescott to a multiyear deal before March 9. Returning to square one at quarterback is not where Cleveland wants to be again anytime soon.

To get a deal done with Mayfield this summer, the Browns probably will have to start in the neighborhood of $35 million over four years. That would make Mayfield one of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, pending what happens with Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who also are extension eligible.

But others down the line, like Mayfield’s former Oklahoma teammate Kyler Murray, are going to continue to reset the quarterback market next offseason. What might seem expensive now could quickly become a bargain, especially as the league negotiates new rights deals.

The Goff and Wentz situations also showed that even the worst-case scenario can still be mitigated. The Rams were able to turn Goff into Matthew Stafford; the Eagles flipped Wentz into draft capital. Sure, the cap sheets in Los Angeles and Philadelphia will be a mess this year as a result of those trades. But if Mayfield proves not to be the answer at quarterback, the Browns will already be in short-term trouble anyway, whether they extend him or not.

Franchise quarterbacks are incredibly hard to find, and it’s virtually impossible to win without one, as Cleveland has had to painfully learn over the years. Now is not the time to get cute, dodge about or worry why it might go wrong, just because it did in Philly or L.A.

The Browns appear — finally — to have their franchise quarterback. Acting otherwise could prove to be a cautionary tale of its own.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be ‘elated’ to extend Tom Brady’s contract beyond 2021

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Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said Thursday that he and coach Bruce Arians would be “elated” if they could get a deal done with quarterback Tom Brady to keep him in Tampa beyond his two-year contract, which will end after the 2021 season.

Licht said Tuesday on the Rich Eisen Show that signing Brady to extension is a possibility, but declined to discuss the specifics of any conversations with Brady’s agent Don Yee when asked Wednesday in the Bucs’ pre-combine and free agency zoom conference.

“Bruce and I both have a great relationship with Tom, and I have a good relationship with his agent,” Licht said. “We thought Tom played incredibly well this year, along with the entire team. We would love to have Tom play here — I can speak for Bruce — I think as long as he continues to want to play. If that comes to fruition at some point, we’d be elated. But I’d like to keep those conversations private right now.”

Brady, 43, is set to earn $25 million next season. He had previously said his goal was to play until age 45, but Brady said last month the week of the Super Bowl that he would now consider playing beyond 45. Brady would be 44 next year and tacking on a year to his deal would keep him under contract through his 45th birthday.

A new contract would not only ensure more long-term stability at the position, but could help the Bucs’ salary cap situation. They will have less than $30 million in salary cap space, with a number of high-profile players who need to be re-signed, including Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin, inside linebacker Lavonte David, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Leonard Fournette.

While there is uncertainty as to whether or not there will be an offseason program, Arians anticipates Brady would be recovered from his offseason knee procedure and ready to fully practice by early summer. If there is no offseason program this year, they could lean on Brady’s player-organized workouts similar to what he led at Berkley Prep last summer.

“I think he’s probably looking [at] somewhere around June, right now, from what I hear,” Arians said. “His leadership — he doesn’t have to be out there throwing it anymore. He can be there standing and coach the s— out of them. Wherever they meet and work out — I’m hoping we have an offseason for the younger players. Tom doesn’t need it, but for the younger players — first-, second-, and third-year players — we’ve missed two years of player development with where we’re at now. We don’t need to miss another one.”

Licht also said he “expects” center Ryan Jensen and left tackle Donovan Smith back next year. Both are under contract but neither are due any guaranteed money. With Smith set to count $14.25 million against the salary cap this year and Jensen $10 million, some had questioned if they’d be cap casualties. But the Bucs were thrilled with their performances down the stretch and in the postseason.

“We love Ryan and Donovan,” Licht said. They played a pivotal role in our offense — in their protection, in the run game. We envision Ryan and Donovan both being on this team. We expect them, not just envision them.”



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