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Lions trade starting safety Quandre Diggs to Seahawks

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The Detroit Lions traded starting safety Quandre Diggs and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2020 fifth-round pick on Tuesday.

Diggs had been a starter for the Lions since 2017 at slot cornerback and safety. Over the past two seasons he had become one of Detroit’s most reliable players in the secondary, along with Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay.

Diggs, 26, was a Pro Bowl alternate last year after a 78-tackle, three-interception season with eight passes defended. This season, he missed one game and part of another due to a hamstring injury, but had been on the field for a high percentage of snaps otherwise.

He wasn’t playing as well as he did in 2018, but still had 20 tackles through five games for the Lions.

The Seahawks already have a logjam at safety, although starter Bradley McDougald is dealing with back spasms that kept him out Sunday against Baltimore and Lano Hill is expected to miss at least another week with an elbow injury. Rookie second-round pick Marquise Blair impressed coach Pete Carroll on Sunday while making his first career start. Free safety Tedric Thompson, meanwhile, allowed a 50-yard completion on Baltimore’s first possession that Carroll lamented as a “big mistake.”

“I hate that we gave them that,” Carroll said. “There’s no way that should ever happen.”

The Seahawks have an additional 2020 fifth-rounder from the Nick Vannett trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Trading Diggs means the Lions are likely to start third-round pick Will Harris at safety along with Tracy Walker, who replaced the retired Glover Quin in the lineup this season.

Detroit does have an abundance of safeties to use with Walker. Besides Harris, both veteran Tavon Wilson and rookie C.J. Moore could see more work in the defensive backfield, particularly in nickel and dime packages.

But moving on from Diggs makes this the second consecutive season in which Detroit traded a player who was popular in the locker room and with fans. Slay was among Lions players to react on Twitter, calling the trade “bulls—” in one of his tweets.

Last year at the trade deadline, the Lions sent Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round pick. Tate returns to Detroit on Sunday to play the Lions with his new team, the Giants.

Unlike Tate, Diggs was not in the final year of his contract when Detroit traded him. Diggs signed a three-year, $20.4 million extension last season. He is under contract until 2021 and has cap hits of $6,991,666 in 2020 and $7,341,668 in 2021, but no guaranteed money in either season.

ESPN’s Brady Henderson contributed to this report.



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Throwing to buddies, living with parents and Zoom

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is reliving his childhood before he officially joins the real world.

The top overall pick in April’s NFL draft is back home in Athens County, Ohio, living with his parents and looking for empty fields so he can throw passes to his friends. The Heisman Trophy he won while leading LSU to a national championship rests on the floor in a room of the family home.

As if preparing for an NFL starting job as a rookie isn’t hard enough, Burrow is finding different ways to gear up for his rookie season since NFL facilities are closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This means Burrow is on Zoom video calls from the basement of his childhood home, going over film and installations with the Bengals’ coaching staff. Throughout the week, he’s throwing to his former high school teammates. And even though he isn’t with his Bengals teammates, Burrow’s preparation isn’t lacking.

“I mean, it’s his job now,” said Ryan Luehrman, one of Burrow’s childhood friends and receivers. “He’s just solely focused on that even more than I’ve seen than when he was in college and from high school. It keeps growing and growing, his amount of attention to detail and focus.”

Burrow can’t throw to his Cincinnati receivers. Not only are the NFL’s facilities closed, but wideouts such as A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Auden Tate are not in Cincinnati.

Fortunately for Burrow, the fallback option consists of many familiarities.

His receivers are the players who helped him and Athens High School to the Ohio state championship game as seniors in 2014. Ryan and Adam Luehrman are twins who have known Burrow since he moved into town in second grade. They are now tight ends at Ohio University. Zacciah Saltzman, Burrow’s former running back who played at Georgetown, also is part of the training group.

They spread out around town on various days of the week, bouncing between whatever fields are available. It’s reminiscent of their after-school practices during their days at Athens High or in the spring when Burrow wrangled up players and their offensive coordinator for throwing sessions.

Five years after Burrow’s graduation, the group will line up and run through the plays Burrow is learning from the Bengals while also helping the Luehrmans get ready for their final year of college football.

Ryan said if the routes aren’t run to the right depth or they’re being flattened, the play restarts from the top. They enjoy the opportunity to simulate everything as precisely as possible to maximize the entire process.

“I’m thinking when I’m running a deep pass, I’ve gotta really kick it into gear,” said Ryan Luehrman, who caught 28 passes for 360 yards and five scores last season. “A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross, I know they’re flying. So I gotta at least try to get some sort of speed.”

The Bengals drafted Burrow to be their next franchise quarterback. Andy Dalton, who was the starter since 2011, was released this offseason and signed with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year deal.

If it were a typical NFL offseason, Burrow would have been among the rookies arriving at their team facilities shortly after the draft. But with the leaguewide lockdown, the meetings are done via video conferencing.

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the plan in June will be for Burrow to call plays on a conference call as if he’s in a huddle, look at a screen depicting a defensive formation and then make the pre-snap calls.

“It remains to be seen how effective that will be, but it’s better than not doing it,” Callahan told ESPN. “Now, at least those guys can hear each other communicate, and that’s the biggest thing we try to get to.”

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The 2020 NFL draftees pass their team hats to one another on a mass Zoom call.

Burrow’s early assignments were seemingly the simplest: Learning snap counts, getting the ball snapped and teaching formations. Cincinnati spent all three days of rookie minicamp going over one day’s worth of installations.

Callahan said the first couple of weeks can feel incredibly boring and tedious, even as the staff uses educational games such as Kahoot! to teach concepts and review what words mean in the team’s system (one word can mean two very different things, depending on the offense).

Callahan said Burrow has been “exceptional” during the virtual learning.

“He has a really, really good feel for understanding protection schemes and how to get himself protected and where his issues are in the protection scheme, so that part has been really impressive,” Callahan said. “He’s dialed in. He comes into the meeting and competes.”

The Bengals are maximizing the benefits of the adjustments required for this year’s offseason, Callahan said. Instead of ripping through an installation during a 90-minute session and having the quarterbacks work on it the next day, they are able to use the five-hour daily period allotted by the NFL to go over things such as footwork and watch examples from others around the league.

Everyone is trying to squeeze out the positives during an unusual offseason. That also goes for Burrow’s parents, Jimmy and Robin. The extra time with their 23-year-old son, much like Burrow’s 2019 season that yielded award after award, has been unexpected.

“We’ve got to spend more time together certainly during this time than we spent at one time in the last five years,” Jimmy Burrow said. “It’s just something that we’ll always look back on.”

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The NFL and NFLPA could be headed toward another showdown

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We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the logistics of getting an NFL season off the ground in the pandemic era, but one of the most important discussions between the league and its players hasn’t happened yet. It revolves around (surprise!) money, because even if there is a 2020 season, owners are confronting the likelihood of lost revenue.

Canceled games, rescheduled games, games in either empty or partially filled stadiums — all of those possibilities point to revenue losses for the league, even as it retains its optimism that the season will start on time. How significant those losses will be remains unknown, but the expectation is that they will be hard to swallow.

Which is why the league believes, as one ownership source put it recently, “If revenues are going to be drastically reduced because of the pandemic, there’s going to have to be a negotiation about how to share the pain. And that’s not going to be an easy discussion.”

Your first thought upon hearing that might well be of the current ugly dispute between Major League Baseball and its players over compensation for their yet-to-be-scheduled season. Back-and-forth proposals that quickly become public with each side seemingly dug in to their stances have raised concerns that baseball might tank its entire season over economic issues.

And sure, it may well be that a similarly ugly situation looms ahead for the NFL. But the economic structure of the NFL differs from that of MLB in ways that benefit the owners and ways that give NFL players significant leverage. Patrick Rishe, who directs the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis, estimated that gameday spending on tickets and other items accounts for roughly one-third of NFL revenue, which means that playing games without fans would hurt but would still be worth it for the league. There’s no chance that any “share the pain” discussion in the NFL would threaten the start of the 2020 season — just the 2021 salary cap. The question of whether such a conversation even needs to be had depends on which side you ask.

“There is not going to be a conversation,” a source on the players’ side said, “about reducing our shares of revenue.”

The NFLPA held a conference call Tuesday evening with its executive board. A source said the issue of the owners wanting to discuss potential revenue implications came up in the call, but that the players agreed they were prioritizing safe-return-to-work issues at the moment and not prepared to discuss financial ones.

The NFL’s owners and players are locked in to a collectively bargained revenue-sharing agreement. According to the league’s CBA, which was ratified in March and runs through 2030, the salary cap is calculated annually by a formula directly tied to league revenues. A certain collectively bargained percentage of those revenues is designated for player costs. There are factors, such as TV revenue increases and stadium credits, that can alter the overall revenue calculations in either direction, but the CBA mandates that the players’ share of all league revenue not fall below 47% in 2020 or 48% in 2021 and beyond. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL review the revenue projections every year and settle on a salary cap figure.

So what happens if, as we expect is likely in 2020, actual revenues fall short of the projections? There are “true-up” provisions in the CBA that account for this. As an ultrasimplistic example: If the league projected $16 billion in revenue for 2020 and the actual revenue turned out to be $14 billion, that $2 billion gets taken out of the 2021 projections when determining the 2021 salary cap.

It stands to reason, then, that significant revenue losses in 2020 would lead to a reduction in the 2021 salary cap — possibly a big one. This year’s cap is $198.2 million per team. If the NFL had to play an entire season without fans, sources estimate the cap could drop into the $170 million range. (It goes without saying that canceled games probably would drive that number down much more.) That’s not as significant a historical setback as it might sound — the cap was $167 million in 2017 and $177.2 million in 2018.

Both sides expect any 2020 revenue losses to be a one-time blip, with the 2022 cap potentially rising well over its current level once the league renegotiates its TV deals. But since the cap has risen by at least $10 million every year since 2013, any reduction (or even flattening) of the cap would impact the way teams do business.

The uncertain financial landscape is already doing that. As of Tuesday, only two of the league’s 32 first-round draft picks had signed their contracts. If that sounds like a small number, that’s because it is. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, 20 of the first-rounders in 2019 had signed by June 2 of last year, and on average 19.4 first-rounders have signed by June 2 over the past five years.

That doesn’t mean that teams are in danger of not signing its first-round pick. All 32 will sign, and their contracts are slotted into specific values depending on where they were picked. But the lack of big-money draft pick signings this year is absolutely tied to concerns about short-term cash flow and potential revenue loss.

Agents who represent first-round picks say they believe teams are waiting for clarity on their finances before doing the deals. For example, No. 1 pick Joe Burrow‘s contract with the Cincinnati Bengals will include a signing bonus of roughly $24 million. If you were operating in an uncertain short-term financial landscape and you had a choice between writing a $24 million check right now or waiting a couple of months to do it, might you not decide to wait? No one’s missing any practice time right now anyway.

So the owners are already being hesitant with their spending, and the feared revenue losses haven’t even happened yet. What they will seek, when they approach the NFLPA for this “share the pain” conversation, is a plan, or a series of plans for dealing with the various eventualities. No one wants the salary cap to go down, they will say. What can we do to make sure it doesn’t?

That question won’t be easy to answer. And just 2½ months after a bitter CBA negotiation that came down to a close player vote just as the pandemic was tightening its grip, the owners might not find the players overly eager to help them out. NFL.com published a story Tuesday that suggested the owners might approach the players about salary cuts for 2020. But sources on the players’ side suggest that’s a non-starter, and the structure of NFL player contracts varies so widely, it would be impossible to do it equitably. Example: The contracts of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Derek Carr all average $25 million a year. But because of the way their bonuses were paid out, their 2020 salaries are $2 million, $13 million, $15 million and $18.9 million, respectively. If the players agreed to, for example, 5% pay cuts, that would cost Brees $100,000 and Carr $945,000. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

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Dan Graziano reports on the news that the NFL has asked its teams to hold training camps at their respective facilities instead of traveling.

There might be devices that allow for some degree of compromise and flexibility. The final salary cap number usually changes at the last minute each year due to a negotiation over performance-based pay, for example, and it’s possible the union could agree to forgo that in 2021, which could puff up the cap by a couple of million dollars or so. The two sides could negotiate something around teams’ minimum cash spending floors, perhaps making short-term adjustments in exchange for assurances of long-term corrections. There are some who believe that any new agreements the league might make with its TV network partners over the next year or two could be front-loaded as a means of offsetting short-term revenue losses (though those negotiations would be between only the league and the networks, with the players not involved).

In short, expect the NFL to approach its players in the coming weeks or months about ways to deal with potential pandemic-related revenue losses and an effort to save the 2021 salary cap. But as of now, the two sides don’t even necessarily agree that such a conversation needs to take place. That could make for some testy talks, even as the 2020 NFL season continues to race closer to reality.

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Tim Jernigan says deal with Texans off, still free agent

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HOUSTON — Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan will not be signing with the Houston Texans after agreeing to a deal in principle with the team earlier in the offseason, he announced on Instagram.

“Guess I’m not goin to Houston..but the show not ova,” he wrote.

On April 1, Jernigan’s agent said the defensive tackle and the Texans had agreed to a one-year contract worth up to $3.75 million with $1.25 million guaranteed.

The Texans had a need at defensive tackle after losing D.J. Reader, who agreed to a four-year, $53 million free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in March.

Houston did add depth to the defensive line in the draft, selecting defensive tackle Ross Blacklock in the second round.

Jernigan was acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens in 2017. He was limited to 10 games in 2019 due to a foot injury.



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