The Decision to Pay Aaron Donald Now, 49ers Have a Decision on Reuben Foster, Richie Incognito’s Legacy

Plus, Seahawks snub Kaepernick, Odell Beckham Jr. shows up, Thomas Davis suspended, Dez Bryant’s future in Dallas, and (thankfully) the end of ‘color rush’ uniforms
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The week’s 10 biggest stories in the NFL, and the impact of each...

10. Cowboys Decision on Dez Bryant Coming Soon

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is meeting with the wide receiver to discuss his future with the team.

Two things: (1) Bryant can’t run anymore. That’s irrefutably evident on film. His route running is better than it was early in his career, but it never sharpened enough to compensate for an athletic decline. And (2) Bryant costs $16.5 million against the cap, but the Cowboys would only save $8 million by cutting him. The rest would be dead cap money. So the decision to cut or keep Bryant isn’t about whether he’s worth $16.5 million in cap space (he’s clearly not), it’s about whether he’s worth $8.5 million in cap space.

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9. Color Rush Uniforms No More?

The NFL’s Color Rush jerseys, a Thursday night staple, will no longer be required on Thursdays as TNF transitions to Fox.

Thank God. No more Thursday night pajama parties. The Thursday games already feel a little gimmicky because popular belief is the quality goes down when playing on a short week. Having childish, unfamiliar uniforms only amplified that gimmicky feel. Wearing traditional NFL getups will subtly lend a more legitimate aura to these midweek games.

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8. Aldon Smith Arrested Again

Former All-Pro edge defender Aldon Smith was arrested for the third time in two months on Friday and is being held on a $500k bond.

Maybe this story shouldn’t be on this list considering Smith, whose legal issues arise frequently enough to be considered a lifestyle, was probably never going to play in the NFL again anyway. Sadly, he’ll go down as one of the most talented players to ever wash out of the league.

A few years ago, a 49ers assistant told a friend and me at the combine that Smith is not—I’ll euphemize the language—a “bad guy.” The coach explained some of Smith’s personal demons and lamented Smith’s loneliness and ineptitude in dealing with those demons. This isn’t to excuse Smith’s behavior, which has put others at risk more than a few times. But it is to remind everyone that there is a human side to stories like this. There are people who personally know and care about players like Smith, and they’re hurt by his struggles.

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7. OBJ at Giants Offseason Program

Unlike last year, Odell Beckham Jr. is attending the Giants’ offseason program despite the threat of a contract holdout. Other teams are saying he is no longer on the trade market.

Looks like what appeared to be the biggest story of this offseason might not be a story at all.

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6. Panthers LB Thomas Davis Suspended

The Pro Bowler is suspended for the first four games after testing positive for a banned substance.

Davis, the NFL’s 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year, has long been one of the most admired people in football. It’s an unfortunate blemish that when he takes the field this October, he’ll have been suspended for five of his last six regular season games. The blemish looks worse on paper than it actually is. Davis’s one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Packers wideout Davante Adams last year was deserved, but not because Davis, a repeat illegal hit offender, was being malicious (he wasn’t), but because he was being reckless. It happens sometimes. (Though after that lesson learned, it shouldn’t happen again.)

As for this four-game suspension for PEDs: Davis has said it was for a substance he’s been taking for years that suddenly drew a positive test. He also said the blame is all his. Fine. And if he’s lying and it’s actually for some form of steroidal substance, also fine. Most people really don’t care. (I’ll admit: I don’t.)

Viewing this strictly from a football standpoint: One of the game’s best linebackers is out for a quarter of the season. Normally that would be significant, but the Panthers happen to be the one team that can handle losing a player like Davis. Shaq Thompson was taking Davis’s place in the nickel package anyway, and backup David Mayo has proven he can fill-in adequately in the base 4-3.

• HOW SHOULD WE FEEL ABOUT THE THOMAS DAVIS SUSPENSION: Jonathan Jones on how the veteran’s suspension affects his legacy.

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5. Patriots Officially Acquire WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Jordan Matthews

Patterson, traded from Oakland, will cost $3.25 million. Matthews, signed as a free agent after spending 2017 in Buffalo, will cost $1 million.

These contracts suggest Patterson is expected to have a strong role off the bench and Matthews is expected to only make the team as a No. 4 or 5 receiver. (He’ll likely be behind a now-healthy Malcolm Mitchell in the pecking order.) But both moves are just more evidence that the Patriots are indeed going back to their quick-strike, horizontal passing approach. Yes, Patterson has the speed to attack a defense deep, but he’s most dangerous with the ball in his hands, not chasing it in the air. He’ll be used primarily on screens and end-arounds. Matthews, as Bills fans and especially Eagles fans know, is simply a big-bodied shallow crossing route runner.

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4A. Rams Prepared to Pay Aaron Donald

On The MMQB Podcast with Peter King, Rams GM Les Snead made it clear that the team is prepared to blow away Aaron Donald with a contract, acknowledging the DT as “someone who is on the verge of being the highest-paid defensive player in football.”

The Donald deal will have a significant impact on the economics and politics of pro football, not because it will be record-setting (that record will almost certainly stand for less than a year, like all record-setting NFL contracts) but because it doesn’t have to happen. Donald is on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, at $6.9 million. After this season, he could be franchise-tagged for about $15 million. Then he could be tagged again for about $18 million. That’s three years, roughly $40 million. If Donald becomes history’s highest-paid defensive player, he’d almost surely get around $70 million over the first three years, which means the Rams would be giving him an extra $30 million over three years as a good-faith gesture.

Should they? The business side answer is no. The human side answer is yes. It sends a poor message to your locker room to get stingy with your best player. But the only player who will truly take a stand if Donald doesn’t get paid is Donald. The rest of the team would grumble for a few days, say they support him and then keep going to work, with the distraction eventually fading away. That’s not a problem worth spending an extra $30 million to avoid.

The NFLPA should take a closer look at the franchise tag rules in the next round of CBA negotiations. Either tag values need to rise, or the price another team must pay to sign a tagged player (currently, it’s two first-round picks) needs to come down, incentivizing other teams to sign tagged players. The franchise tag game worked for Kirk Cousins, but remember, he wouldn’t have been the highest paid QB in football before his two tagged seasons. Donald deserves to be the highest paid defensive player now. But if the Rams want, they can make him wait three years.

• THE 10 THINGS PODCAST MOCK DRAFT SERIES: Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling break down all 32 teams heading into the draft.

4B. Khalil Mack Seeking Record Contract

Raiders LB Khalil Mack is not attending voluntary workouts and is holding out for a contract with more than $65 million in guarantees.

Ditto the Donald analysis.

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3. Seahawks Cancel Meeting With Colin Kaepernick

According to ESPN, the team asked Kaepernick if he would stop kneeling during the national anthem; the quarterback declined to answer. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said the team merely asked Kaepernick about how he’ll handle his protest movement going forward and agreed they’ll speak with him at a later date once his plans are fully formed.

Many teams can rightfully say they have no interest in Kaepernick because his style of play does not match their pocket-passing style of offense. The Seahawks are not one of them. Kaepernick would make a solid backup for Russell Wilson. There’s a chance he would have been that last year, but the rumblings about Kaepernick coming to town came about around the time of ESPN’s report about the Seahawks defense’s frustration with Wilson. Perhaps not wanting to stoke a QB controversy, the team shifted its search for a backup to elsewhere.

While some will point to Seattle’s demurring as the smoking gun of Kaepernick’s blackballing, others will say that what is perhaps the most liberal team in the NFL only wants the QB if he won’t kneel (as they presume that if Kaepernick stops kneeling, the media circus that surrounds him will also stop). With Kaepernick’s collusion case against the league ongoing, we’ll have plenty of chances to check in on this story yet again down the road, after more details develop.

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2. San Francisco’s Reuben Foster Charged With Three Felonies

The second-year 49ers linebacker was charged with a felony for an act of domestic violence (prosecutors allege Foster attacked a 28-year-old woman at their Los Gatos home, leaving her bruised and with a ruptured ear drum), another for forcefully attempting to prevent the victim from reporting the crime and a third for possession of an assault weapon. He faces 11 years in prison.

Foster’s legal woes aren’t breaking news—this incident happened in February. The severity of the charges are. The Niners have a lot to figure out here. Whatever they do with Foster will have enormous repercussions, both PR- and football-related. The organization believed Foster was one of the three or four best players in last year’s draft. They must decide what they think of him off the field. Then, if they choose to keep him for now and let the legal process play out, they must closely monitor the public reaction.

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1. Richie Incognito Retires

Bills guard Richie Incognito, not long after taking a pay cut, retired after 12 seasons, citing medical concerns with his liver and kidneys.

The timing and suddenness of this makes you wonder if Incognito’s retirement will hold. Let’s say it does. How should (should, not will) Incognito be remembered? The Jonathan Martin saga will be the first thing that comes to mind, but given what’s happened with Martin’s life since (it’s gone downhill, in an ugly, and lately, threatening way) and what’s happened with Incognito’s life (it’s gone uphill, with minimal off-field incidences and some terrific seasons at left guard in Buffalo), it’s fair to reexamine the historical record on Incognito’s ordeal in Miami.

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