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Ron Schwane/Associated Press
The NFL dominates headlines no matter what time of the year it is. The draft may be in the rearview mirror, but plenty of hanging plotlines remain after the league’s annual spring cleaning.
Within days following the conclusion of the draft:
- The league suspended Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins six games for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
- The New Orleans Saints completed a three-year, $33 million deal with safety Tyrann Mathieu, per Schefter.
- Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a new three-year, $51 million contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, per NFL Netwrok’s Ian Rapoport.
This “offseason” has been unlike any other—a whirlwind of player movement as teams across the league attempt to outmaneuver one another. They certainly aren’t done simply because the incoming draft class will be added to the mix.
Multiple high-profile trade requests and free agents are still on the table. How they shake out could affect an already drastically changed NFL landscape.
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The Cleveland Browns made the highest-profile and most controversial move of the offseason when the organization traded three first-round picks, a pair of fourth-rounders, and a third-round selection to the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson, despite the quarterback facing 22 civil lawsuits from women alleging sexual assault and misconduct.
The franchise’s disregard for the likely inevitable fallout—which could eventually include a lengthy league suspension for Watson—shows how desperate the Browns are to compete for a Super Bowl.
To do so, two moves may still be necessary.
First, the Browns must re-sign Jadeveon Clowney after the defensive end experienced a bounce-back campaign in his first season with the franchise. His nine sacks last year tripled his previous two seasons’ worth of output. He also stayed relatively healthy by playing in 14 games.
Myles Garrett is an elite defender. He may even be the best the league has to offer beyond Aaron Donald. Yet, the Browns’ All-Pro can’t do it by himself. The rest of Cleveland’s defensive front is currently comprised of castoffs, a former first-round disappointment and mid-round draft picks. Joe Woods’ defensive scheme is reliant on his defensive ends to create havoc and set the tone up front.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns’ wide receivers are Amari Cooper and…
Cleveland added little to this position outside of David Bell’s third-round selection. Jarvis Landry’s return remains a possibility after being released for salary-cap purposes, though there’s not currently any movement on this front, according to the Orange & Brown Report’s Brad Stainbrook.
“We’ll continue to keep our thumb on the pulse on all of the veteran markets,” general manager Andrew Berry told reporters after the draft.
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Odell Beckham Jr. looked well on his way toward winning Super Bowl MVP before fate intervened. The wide receiver suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter after a pair of catches for 52, including the game’s opening score.
Now, Beckham’s career is in limbo. The Los Angeles Rams remain open to a return, though they signed Allen Robinson II as the crown jewel of this year’s free-agent class.
“We would definitely appreciate him being a part of that diversity of [pass-catchers] we were talking about, and coming in obviously later in the season and kind of finishing things off with him,” Snead said of Beckham. “So similar to last year, although different circumstances.”
Due to the timing of the knee injury, Beckham is unlikely to be ready for the start of the 2022 campaign and may be forced to wait and sign with another squad midseason.
Multiple injuries have cost the wide receiver recently. He’s now going on three years since his last 1,000-yard campaign. However, his latest injury may have actually turned into a positive.
“When Odell tore his ACL with the [Cleveland] Browns the surgery didn’t go as well as anyone had hoped,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said during an interview on the Pat McAfee show. “This past surgery went really well and probably will extend his career.”
When the Browns released Beckham six months ago, the wide receiver wanted to join a “playoff contender” and play “in a winning environment,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Beckham can bide his time, get healthy and look at his options based on what happens between now and this fall. Maybe the Green Bay Packers decide to bring in another veteran target, or the San Francisco 49ers decide to trade Deebo Samuel. Speaking of which…
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The San Francisco 49ers have two significant decisions to make in the next few months, and possibly doing nothing may be the best course of action in both instances. Both wide receiver Deebo Samuel and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo have been mentioned as possible trade targets.
In Samuel’s case, he asked to be traded. The 49ers responded with mixed messages.
“I can’t ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo,” general manager John Lynch told reporters. “You put yourself through the exercises of, even though we don’t have a first-round pick, you have to be thorough in this process and prepare for everything. So, you go through it and do that. He’s just too good of a player.”
Meanwhile, head coach Kyle Shanahan seemed a little more open-minded.
“You’ll consider anything,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got a responsibility to help your organization the most you can, but there’s no player like Deebo. It’s hard to see how that helps your organization. So, you try to look into all the aspects of it and what people are willing to do, and nothing was even remotely close that we thought it would be fair for the Niners.”
Samuel is unique in his utilization as a hybrid receiver/running back. Last season, the offensive weapon posted a 1,405-yard receiving campaign, plus 365 rushing yards at 6.2 yards per clip. He won’t be easily replaceable, and it’s clear the Niners will only consider a potential move for a windfall in return.
Garoppolo is different in that the veteran quarterback isn’t in high demand since he brings a $24.2 million base salary, depending on how much San Francisco is willing to eat in a potential deal.
“We either want to have Jimmy playing for us, which we’re alright with, or we want him to get the value,” Lynch said during an interview with KNBR’s Jake Hutchinson.
Considering the quarterback’s salary and the fact he recently underwent offseason shoulder surgery, it’s fair to say the 49ers won’t get excellent value in a trade.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals exercised the fifth-year option on quarterback Kyler Murray’s rookie contract on Monday. The move was a formality, but the next step isn’t.
Now going into his fourth season, Murray is free to negotiate a long-term contract as long as the Cardinals feel obliged to reciprocate the overture. The quarterback certainly hadn’t bee shy with his feelings regarding his current contractual status.
In February, Murray’s representation issued a lengthy statement to makes Murray’s intentions known. In it, agent Erik Burkhardt relayed Murray “absolutely wants to be” the Cardinals’ long-term quarterback, but “it is now simply up to the Cardinals to decide if they prioritize” an extension.
Well, a new deal didn’t materialize before the draft.
Also, the statement came after a report from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo about the team’s desire for the 2019 No. 1 overall pick to show more maturity and leadership. Before those wishes became public, Murray scrubbed his Instagram account of all team mentions after feeling like he’d been scapegoated by the organization for the team’s disappointing playoff loss.
Considering the back-and-forth bickering through media outlets, the Cardinals, specifically owner Michael Bidwill, stated publicly they have no interest in trading their star quarterback. Arizona’s front office remains hopeful that Murray will play this fall even if a new deal isn’t reached.
Murray has yet to report to voluntary workouts, potentially foreshadowing a holdout when mandatory camps begin.
The Cardinals don’t have too many options if Murray decides to sit out for an extended period. While not perfect, the dual-threat quarterback is clearly one of the game’s best young signal-callers. He appears to be the present and future of the franchise. An early contract extension may be the only solution in this particular case.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
Tom Brady’s decision to unretire changed the math for the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.
The franchise went from possibly trying to compete without a slew of other veteran contributors to a few key performers immediately returning to the fold. So far, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh aren’t counted among those who re-signed this offseason.
Like Brady, Gronkowski stepped away from the game once already. It’s no secret the future Hall of Fame tight end enjoys his time away from the field. The Buccaneers are willing to give him space for now.
“I’m still giving him that time,” general manager Jason Licht told reporters. “We still talk. I think it didn’t matter if we drafted two tight ends. It wouldn’t matter. I think Rob welcomes that—the more, the merrier for him. So that doesn’t show our hand on or foretell what’s going to happen in the future.”
The Buccaneers drafted a pair of tight ends in Cade Otton and Ko Kieft with the fourth- and sixth-round picks, respectively. Neither should factor into the decision. They simply cover the team’s bases if Gronkowski chooses not to return. At this point, it’s difficult to see the five-time Pro Bowler playing anywhere else with Brady still in uniform.
As for Suh, the 35-year-old defender has been rather transparent with what he’d like to do.
“Congrats to Todd Bowles on becoming head coach of a great team that still feels one man light on talent,” Suh tweeted when news broke of Bowles’ promotion to head coach.
The added eyeball emoji emphasized Suh’s final point.
One more run just may be in order for everyone mentioned. The NFC is far weaker than its counterpart, and the Buccaneers are still talented enough to claim a conference title, especially if all their veterans return and continue to contribute.
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The Cleveland Browns didn’t find any takers for Baker Mayfield during this year’s NFL draft, and the situation could drag out much longer than either party would probably like.
Currently, neither side holds much leverage. Potential suitors are limited after the latest rendition of musical chairs with the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers all acquiring starting quarterbacks.
At this juncture, only a handful of legitimate landing spots exist, while those who might be interested know the Browns owe Mayfield $18.9 million, and there’s no reason to pay full price when they can make a better deal at a discounted rate.
The best hope for Cleveland is possibly holding onto Mayfield, and a team becomes desperate at quarterback for whatever reason, be it injury, poor play, whatever. Currently, the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers remain the best options as potential trade partners since neither is settled behind center.
Frankly, the current setup is the fault of both parties. The Browns didn’t have a plan in place to move Mayfield as soon as they began their pursuit of Watson, and the quarterback didn’t handle his eventual ousting well by going public with his complaints. Both could have dealt with the situation much better. Now, they’re stuck with one another.
To be clear, last season’s performance from both the quarterback and the team was disappointing, though Mayfield played through a torn left labrum after Week 2. Still, the Browns had every right to try and upgrade the game’s most important position, but the front office should have done so knowing the ripple effects that would inevitably occur.
Due to a miscalculation regarding interpersonal relationships, both parties are stuck in a holding pattern with no clear path toward an inevitable divorce. Eventually, Berry will take some deal to save face, gain some type of asset and save a little money toward the salary cap. But the Browns shouldn’t expect a significant return.