A week until the NFL combine in Indy, here are a few notes from around the league…
• That Darius Slay is on the block, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Monday, should come as a surprise to exactly no one. Before the trade deadline, the Lions made him available. They weren’t shopping him, but they were listening. Ultimately, their asking price was too steep then. Slay, 29, can still play. His financials for 2020, a contract year, are manageable ($10 million base, $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses, $250,000 workout bonus). But how hard a bargain Detroit is driving will be a factor here, as will how much he’s looking for in a long-term deal, with the leverage he’d have if he were traded. That is to say, it’s a little complicated.
• Why would the Lions do this? Slay may not be the perfect fit for Matt Patricia’s program, so that’s to be considered. But there’s also where the team is logistically. If Slay is looking for more than Detroit is willing give him in a new deal, then going forward would make him, in effect, a one-year rental. The Lions also can sit where they are, at No. 3 in the draft, knowing they’d be able to draft Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, if it were too difficult to replace Slay with another vet. All in all, Detroit’s got the flexibility to sit tight here and let things develop. And it may be that their best offer comes from a team that strikes out on the cornerback market in free agency.
• Pro Football Talk mentioned this on Monday, and I reiterated the sentiment: The urgency to get a new CBA from the owners is, first and foremost, about starting to work on new broadcast deals. Once they get new TV deals done, then they can work on monetizing gambling. Add it up, and it’s easy to see why some owners have privately started to say that a labor conflict isn’t worth getting mixed up in. Because the CBA is, and I have heard this specific phrasing attached to it, small potatoes compared to what the league believes will come next. Another reason why there would be urgency here: A new NFLPA president will be voted in between March 7-10, and that president certainly could be less magnanimous toward key points (see: 17 games) in how the negotiations have been framed to this point.
• The league’s internal cap report currently has five teams over $200 million in cap commitments for 2020—the Saints, Jaguars, Bears, Chiefs and Steelers—while the Falcons, Vikings, Rams, Eagles and Patriots are right there (Philly, via cap credits, is in the best shape among those teams). Meanwhile, in terms of current cap commitments, the Colts, Dolphins, Bills, Bucs and Cowboys, in that order, are the teams with the most breathing room. There’ll be a lot of movement on this front over the next couple weeks.
• Credit to Mike Tomlin for going to bat for Mason Rudolph. His sense for the moment, and when guys need him, is one reason why his players love him, and why he’s been able to pretty consistently keep his team together through turmoil—and he was tested the last couple years in this area. I’ve said it before, but there’s no question a big piece of Tomlin’s value is right there. He can connect with, and get the most out of, many different types of guys, which allows Pittsburgh to cast a wide net in talent acquisition.
• These things normally aren’t a coincidence, but all four of the players that the Browns released on Monday (T.J. Carrie, Ardarius Taylor, Demetrius Harris and Eric Kush) were acquired by former GM John Dorsey. That’s the same Dorsey who marginalized Andrew Berry’s role in the organization. Berry, of course, left for Philly last May and just returned as GM. Harris and Kush were even guys that Dorsey brought with him from Kansas City. (All of this said, not all these guys were in the good graces of the previous brass. Carrie, for one, was on the block before the trade deadline.)
• NFL types’ interest in the XFL developing players was particularly trained on two positions going into the new league’s season—quarterback and offensive line. In that regard, through two weeks, Cardale Jones and P.J. Walker are two guys that seem to be on their way to getting another shot in the big league.
• I neglected to mention any defensive backs in my under-the-radar free agents lists in the MMQB, maybe because I think it’s fairly straightforward that guys like Minnesota’s Anthony Harris and Denver’s Justin Simmons at safety, and Dallas’s Byron Jones at corner will get paid. So if you didn’t know, now you know.
• One thing that’s interesting in regards to the weeks ahead: The Titans have two guys who were cornerstones of their success in 2019, in Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, and only one franchise tag to use on them. They’ll have to make a call on that before March 10 and the tag, it would seem, would be ideal for someone like Henry, who plays a position with a short shelf-life, and had outsized production relative to his previous three seasons, in a contract year. But can the Titans afford to let their starting quarterback get to the free market? (If they plan to pursue Tom Brady, they can.)
• One leftover from my conversation with Nick Saban, which led the MMQB… When we were talking, I thought about how he said, in the HBO doc on his relationship with Bill Belichick, that very few NFL teams ask him for his opinion on his players, which I thought was a staggering revelation. So I figured I’d ask him, flat out, if I’m an NFL coach, what are you telling me about Tua Tagovailoa? His answer: “You’re getting a great person who’s gonna represent the organization in a first-class way, who will do everything that you ask of him as a player at his position to try to give you the best opportunity to be successful and win. And he’s capable of doing it at a high level.” So there you have it.
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