ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When George Paton was hired in January to be the Denver Broncos‘ top football decision-maker, he became the first person in four decades to hold the job without previously working for the team.
He brings a fresh set of eyes to a franchise that has long preferred its own way of looking at things. His approach to free agency over the long haul remains to be seen, but his first foray as the guy in charge of the checkbook did give a glimpse of what he thought about of the roster he inherited.
The defense needed some immediate attention, and not just a little.
When he said re-signing Justin Simmons was a priority he meant it.
Drew Lock is a better option at quarterback than spending big in free agency.
The draft, which opens April 29, is still a significant portion of the Broncos’ offseason work and how Paton chooses to use the picks will also show what his vision is in his first year on the job.
But with one of the league’s youngest group of skill position players already in place on offense, the team’s defense clearly troubled him. Start with the fact he signed Simmons to the richest deal for a safety in league history with a $15.25 million per year average.
Paton also chose to exercise the option in linebacker Von Miller‘s contract, keeping him with the team for the final year of the six-year, $114.5 million deal signed in 2016. And of the six players the Broncos have signed from the open market to this point, including defensive end Shelby Harris and safety Kareem Jackson who were both with the Broncos last season, five were on defense. Running back Mike Boone, signed to a relatively low impact two-year, $3.85 million deal, is the only player on offense the Broncos have signed in the first month of free agency.
With Simmons’ signing, the Broncos also added cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby in a secondary eroded by injuries last season. In all it was $132.5 million worth of contracts to defensive players even before defensive tackle Shamar Stephen was signed this week.
“It’s a work in progress,” Paton said about the upgrades on defense after Darby’s and Fuller’s arrival. “We’re not there yet. We have the rest of free agency. We have the draft to add good, young players that fit our culture and fit the scheme. We have a ways to go.”
Simmons’ deal — as well as Harris’ three-year, $27 million deal to a certain extent — also provided a message from Paton to the Broncos’ locker room: The Broncos will retain their own free agents if they produce at a high level. That’s not something they have always been able, or willing, to do in recent years — not unless a player, like tackle Garett Bolles or cornerback Chris Harris Jr. or defensive end Derek Wolfe, was willing to sign a new deal before he actually hit the market.
Paton said right from his arrival he wanted to retain Simmons and had even called the franchise player designation for Simmons a “procedural move” on the way to a new deal. As coach Vic Fangio put it: “I was confident that we would have him back.”
As for the quarterback position, Paton has expressed confidence in Lock’s development — he said “fortunately we have a quarterback” when asked about potential moves earlier this offseason — but what happens in the draft is still the 1,000-pound Bronco in the room.
With the No. 9 pick in the first round the Broncos could still make a move up to take a quarterback. It would have to be up to the No. 4 pick because the teams selecting 1-2-3 — the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers — are locked in place with plans to take their own QB. But the Broncos would have to really like one one of the QBs available at No. 4 and be willing to to surrender the substantial number of future picks it would cost to make the move.
The Broncos, other than a short dalliance to see what the price would be in a trade for Matthew Stafford, have remained on the sideline in free agency at quarterback. Veterans such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett and Mitchell Trubisky signed elsewhere and the list of those who could challenge Lock as a starter has almost evaporated.
Paton’s actions to this point have backed up his words, that Lock “is very talented … and has a lot to work on,” but that Lock “really wants to be great.”
The last benchmark will be how Paton approaches the draft weekend and how the depth chart looks at quarterback when the calendar flips to May, a depth chart at the position that, at the moment, looks exactly the same now as it did in January.
Cleveland Browns’ Jarvis Landry says Odell Beckham Jr. looks ‘amazing’ after knee surgery
EASTLAKE, Ohio — Odell Beckham Jr.’s knee looks fine for football. His softball swing still needs work.
The Browns wide receiver, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, took part Saturday in teammate Jarvis Landry‘s charity softball event, which drew 7,000 fans and included Cleveland stars Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield as well as Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.
Beckham struggled in the home run hitting contest, popping up several pitches and completely missing a few, but Landry reported that his speedy teammate looked fully recovered when they worked out together this past week in Austin, Texas.
“Man, he looked amazing,” Landry told reporters. “I can’t wait for you guys to see him. I can’t wait for him to get back out there. He’s in fantastic shape and he’s ready to go. He’s only what, 6½ months [beyond surgery], and he’s already doing some things that will blow your mind away.”
OBJ with a couple swing and misses here pic.twitter.com/nqFcwIyBUg
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) June 12, 2021
The Browns are counting on Beckham as they look to build off a playoff appearance and postseason win last season. Beckham missed out on the fun after suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in the opening minutes of Cleveland’s Oct. 25 game in Cincinnati.
Beckham underwent surgery a few weeks later and was unable to contribute as the Browns ended their long playoff drought, then beat rival Pittsburgh in the wild-card game.
He has been periodically posting social media videos of his rehab progress, and Landry isn’t surprised his good friend appears to be ahead of schedule.
“I don’t expect nothing less from Odell,” Landry said. “That’s his character and that’s who he is. He’s a guy who’s always going to train hard and be prepared.”
During the workouts in Texas, which were hosted by Mayfield, Beckham showed Landry he’s where he needs to be.
“He ran a post route, sticking off the same injured leg and exploding out of it, then going up, jumping off that same leg and making a catch, doing his thing — what he does with one hand,” Landry said. “You sit back and you’re like, ‘Wait. He’s even better than he was last year.'”
Beckham is expected to be at mandatory minicamp this week with the Browns.
Kelce, a proud Clevelander, showed love to his hometown by wearing an Indians jersey and cap. He wasn’t taking any chances.
“I’m at home, but it’s still enemy territory,” Kelce said. “It’s so weird. It’s a weird feeling.”
He has watched the Browns upgrade their roster over the past few months. And while he’s not ready to call them a rival, he’s seen enough to consider them a threat.
“I would say they’re definitely a contender, without a doubt,” he said. “It’s definitely there. Baker and the gang have upped the ante, made this team an unbelievable team and a team you have to prepare for and take serious. I think that moving forward without a doubt I can see a lot more playoff games between us.
“I think the Browns and Chiefs are definitely neck and neck for sure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Stephon Gilmore’s contract status in spotlight at New England Patriots camp – New England Patriots Blog
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Gilmore’s mindset: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower‘s return to the practice field Thursday after opting out of the 2020 season represented a key piece falling into place for the Patriots, and this week could provide clarity on another big one — cornerback Stephon Gilmore‘s mindset on playing for the team at his current salary.
Gilmore is required to report for the start of the three-day mandatory minicamp Monday or will be subject to fines that could total $93,085 — which breaks down to $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.
For players seeking a sweetened contract, or who might be displeased with the pace of negotiations or with their situation with a team, staying away from mandatory minicamp is often a first leverage point of sorts — a way to let the team know there is an intention to dig in with negotiations.
Gilmore is entering the final year of his five-year, $65 million pact and is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million — well below market value for a player of his caliber.
But part of the reason for the low figure is the club previously moved $4.5 million of his 2021 base salary into 2020. That was an acknowledgment from the Patriots that Gilmore’s original 2020 salary ($10.5 million) was worthy of an adjustment after he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Gilmore hasn’t been attending voluntary organized team activities this year (he has in the past), although it’s unclear how much of that is tied to the contract.
Now, will Gilmore show up to mandatory minicamp? And if he doesn’t, could an excused absence be a consideration from the team?
Answers should help fill in the all-important context of how both sides view the situation.
2. Cam’s return: When the Patriots return to the field Monday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cam Newton is back under center, which reflects that his right hand injury isn’t serious. Teammates welcomed Newton at Friday’s voluntary OTA, and word is the QB1 threw the ball around a bit.
3. No ‘Love’ for ‘Mac’: In the Green Bay Packers‘ final practice of their mandatory minicamp last week, quarterback Jordan Love took 26 of the 31 total repetitions in 11-on-11 drills, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. Contrast that to the Patriots’ practice Thursday and Mac Jones getting 8 of 34 repetitions in what might be viewed as “competitive” 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills.
It highlights differing philosophies of the coaching staffs, with Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur saying he wants to get Love as many reps as possible in case he is needed in place of Aaron Rodgers. In New England, coach Bill Belichick has stressed the spring is a time for teaching all players, which sets them up best to compete for jobs in July’s training camp.
4. Uche in the nickel: Linebacker Josh Uche seemed to be practicing at an elevated tempo from the linemen across from him in practice the past two weeks, which might be a reflection of his excitement to be on the field after a rookie season in which he usually wasn’t.
The 2020 second-round draft pick from Michigan doesn’t necessarily fit in the traditional box for a Patriots inside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense, nor does he carry the weight (255 to 260 pounds) that former Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich says is critical to setting the edge at that position. But after watching three spring practices, the best way to view the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Uche might be more through the lens of the nickel defense, which the Patriots play 85% (or more) of the time anyway.
Uche’s knack for bending the edge as a rusher, and his athleticism to play more in space are assets to tap in a six-man box. Seems as if it has been a solid spring for Uche.
5. Where’s Wino? While Uche rises, 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich seems to be falling into a different category. Not seeing as much of him. The free-agent signings of linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, paired with Uche coming on and Hightower returning Thursday, have Winovich looking at a different picture than this time last year.
6. Mills’ versatility: The past two practices provided a nice snapshot of why assistant coach Brian Belichick said of free-agent signee Jalen Mills: “If anyone is a pure DB, it’s him, because he’s played everywhere.” Mills had been working at safety alongside 2020 top pick Kyle Dugger early in spring practices, but with veteran safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips returning last week, he moved to cornerback. Mills did get twisted around on one long sideline catch by wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson on Thursday.
7. Asiasi’s growth: Second-year tight end Devin Asiasi looks like a different player, and he is one of several Patriots who stand out when considering the benefits of spring practices for younger players. Wide receiver Isaiah Zuber and Uche are among the others who fall into that category.
Asiasi (6-foot-3, 257 pounds) had one of the best plays of practice Thursday, hauling in a deep pass from Brian Hoyer, with Dugger in coverage. The play sparked a thought: For all the possibilities a two-tight-end set of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry presents, there’s also intriguing potential with a three-tight-end package that includes Asiasi, the 2020 third-round pick.
8. Adams a sleeper? At one point in Thursday’s practice, fifth-year defensive tackle Montravius Adams was on the field with Judon, Hightower, Van Noy and Uche, which could be an early sign he is a player to watch in the competition for a roster spot. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound player was a 2017 third-round draft pick by the Packers out of Auburn, and he has made an early impression on D-line coach DeMarcus Covington with his work ethic and by buying into the team’s culture. Adams dealt with a painful toe injury last season and recently said: “Since I’ve been here, they’ve helped me with the injury. My toe is starting to get a lot better.”
9. Weather helps: Bill Belichick pointed out how some “good Boston weather” helped the team in spring practices from a conditioning standpoint. He might have had practices on Monday and Tuesday of last week in mind, as they were held in uncharacteristically humid 90-degree conditions for this time of year. Over 10 sessions, the average temperature was right around 80 degrees, and practices would sometimes end with players running the hill.
10. Did You Know? In overall circumference, footballs used in college can be up to 1 1/4 inches smaller than in the NFL, which was a point highlighted by undrafted rookie Patriots kicker Quinn Nordin of Michigan when he said: “You’re hitting a different ball now. I’m still learning, trying to figure out the new balls. The college balls are skinnier.”
For Ravens’ Patrick Queen, full offseason means full speed ahead – Baltimore Ravens Blog
Queen’s score against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 last season represented more than his first career touchdown. It was surprisingly the first time he felt like he was up to speed physically.
“It’s insane. Last year, I didn’t go into the season in shape at all,” Queen said. “I came in like 240-something, couldn’t catch my breath when we were running.”
One of the top rookies in the league last year, Queen made this startling statement to explain the biggest difference between last year and this one. The pandemic led to the cancellation of all in-person workouts last spring and an abbreviated training camp, all of which put Queen and a lot of first-year players behind.
This year, Queen already had three weeks of workouts prior to Baltimore’s mandatory minicamp. He’s been taking rep after rep in the heat while wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
“It’s just so hard when you’re not doing any football activity outside of working out, so that last offseason was terrible,” Queen said. “I came into [last] season, and I was like, ‘Bro, this is going to be a long season for me to get in shape.’ So, it took me like five games to get in shape, finally.”
Queen’s first season was filled with plenty of splash plays and some stumbles. He finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting — behind Washington’s Chase Young and Carolina’s Jeremy Chinn — which irked him. “Top 3 my a–,” Queen tweeted immediately afterward.
The 28th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Queen led the NFL’s No. 7 defense with 105 tackles. To put that in perspective, that’s five fewer tackles than what Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis had as a rookie.
Queen’s most memorable hit was when he met a leaping Washington running back Peyton Barber at the goal line with his right forearm, knocking Barber backwards off the pile. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he became the first rookie in more than two decades to record at least 100 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one defensive touchdown.
But Queen struggled at times when covering running backs and tight ends in coverage, and shedding blocks. He was briefly taken off the field after being beaten in coverage by Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and whiffing on him in the open field.
“For me, during the offseason, I already have thinking problems — I like to think too much about stuff,” Queen said. “Stuff is always on my mind, 24/7. Once something happens, it’s always on my mind. So, you think about that the whole offseason, and that’s a long time. That’s like four or five months before you come back and you can communicate with your teammates, so you really take that personally.”
Queen likes to sit down with coaches to go over his mistakes and talk about what he could have done differently. The change this year is his position coach is now Rob Ryan (the brother of Rex), who won a couple of Super Bowls with the New England Patriots as their inside linebackers coach and spent 12 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator.
Ryan is constantly telling stories about past players, and shows that he cares about his players like a father, Queen said.
“The inside linebackers will play better than what they have in the last two years because [Ryan is] that good of a coach, and he’s going to make that big of a difference,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said.
The Ravens certainly know how to find premier players at that position. Before Queen, the last two middle linebackers drafted by the Ravens in the first round — Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley — combined for 16 Pro Bowls.
Could Patrick Queen follow that same path?
“I’m proud of myself. It’s hard to make it to this level — let alone be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year,” Queen said. “So, I’m proud of myself, and I’m still hard on myself. As I look back, pass coverage, stuff is so easy that I’m getting now, that last year I was just messing up time and time and time again. Now, it’s just simplifying everything. I really can’t wait for the season to start, so everybody could see how much work I’ve put in to be better.”
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