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The official start to 2018 NFL free agency is nearly here, so every report and rumor we’ve seen over the past several days is about to come true, right?
While it’s rare that teams or players back out of agreements between the start of the legal tampering period and the new league year (4 p.m. Wednesday), there is room for it to happen. Therefore, it’s impossible to view anything as fact when it comes to rumored signings or trades.
Some rumors are downright lies. Floating supposed interest or intention is a great way for a team or agent to gain leverage.
Sifting through the smoke this time of year can be difficult, but that’s exactly what we’re here to do. We’ll examine the biggest reports and rumors heading into the start of free agency and rate their truthfulness on our B.S. Meter. This is a 1-10 scale with 1 meaning it’s truth and 10 meaning it’s pure, unadulterated crap.
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Heading into the offseason, soon-to-be-former Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was viewed as the top available signal-caller. There was no shortage of QB-needy teams out there.
The New York Jets need a long-term solution, the Arizona Cardinals must find a replacement for Carson Palmer, and the Minnesota Vikings have to fill Case Keenum’s vacancy. The New Orleans Saints are expected to re-sign Drew Brees but risk losing out on him to a higher bidder.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, only the Jets and Vikings were seriously invested in the Cousins chase. And it seems like Minnesota is going to win out.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Cousins is expected to sign a fully guaranteed three-year deal with the Vikes.
Minnesota would almost certainly give Cousins a better chance to win now, but New York has more cap room and could offer a bigger contract. Therefore, the guaranteed portion of the contract could be the tiebreaker.
Cousins’ next contract is widely expected to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL, and the Vikings aren’t the only team willing to guarantee money, per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
“At least two teams are prepared to offer the free-agent QB a three-year, fully guaranteed contract if that’s what it takes,” Rapoport tweeted. “At least one other team will do a similar deal nearly fully guaranteed.”
Fully guaranteed contracts are virtually unheard of in the NFL. If Cousins lands one, they could become more commonplace. It feels just as likely, however, that such a deal would be fully guaranteed for injury only. It’s hard to imagine a team handing Cousins close to $90 million without the ability to save itself if he stinks.
This is a possible deal, but it’s one we’ll believe when it’s cemented.
B.S. Rating: 3
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The Buffalo Bills have agreed to trade starter Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns. They aren’t going to land Cousins. They also aren’t going to land Keenum, who is headed to the Denver Broncos. That leaves Buffalo looking for a quarterback who can compete with the unproven Nathan Peterman for the starting job.
Well, the Bills may have a plan in place to find that guy. According to Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, Buffalo will trade up in the draft.
“The Buffalo Bills will explore trade scenarios to move into the top five picks in the NFL draft (QB-needy Jets hold sixth pick),” Robinson tweeted. “Talks are expected to materialize after first week of free agency and intensify at the Orlando owners’ meetings.”
Buffalo is giving itself the ammunition to make such a move. The Bills will gain the first pick in the third round by moving Taylor. They will also move up to the 12th overall pick by trading offensive tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bills now own the 12th, 22nd, 53rd, 56th and 65th picks in the draft.
We’re buying the idea that they are enamored with at least one of this year’s rookie prospects and want to move up to snag him. The moves they’ve made have set the stage, just as the Philadelphia Eagles’ transactions did leading up to their selection of quarterback Carson Wentz a couple of years ago.
Philadelphia first moved up to the No. 8 overall pick by trading with the Miami Dolphins. It then parlayed that move into the second overall pick to grab Wentz.
Whether or not Buffalo is falling in love with the right quarterback remains to be seen, but when you identify your guy, you go get him. It certainly seems the Bills are doing that.
B.S. Rating: 1
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One reason why the Browns have struggled so much since returning to the league is the fact they’ve failed to identify a starting-caliber quarterback in the draft and go get him. They own the first pick in this year’s draft, and even though they’ve traded for Taylor, conventional wisdom says they should use it to get their guy.
The Browns, however, may pass on the opportunity.
Rapoport reported that former Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is “firmly in the Browns’ plans at No. 1.”
Barkley is regarded by many as the safest and most talented player in this year’s draft. That’s how pass-rusher Myles Garrett was viewed last year, and Cleveland scooped him up with the No. 1 pick. Therefore, it’s fair to assume the Browns are at least thinking about Barkley at No. 1.
Here’s the thing, though. Cleveland has an old-school football guy in charge in new general manager John Dorsey. While he undoubtedly knows the value of a top-tier running back in today’s NFL, he also knows his team cannot afford to miss out on another Wentz or Deshaun Watson.
Dorsey should also recognize this draft class is deep at running back. While the Browns might not be able to get a potential generational talent like Barkley in the second round, they have a much better chance of landing a starting running back there than a starting quarterback.
Yes, Cleveland also owns the fourth overall pick, but there’s zero guarantee the quarterback it wants will still be available then. Our guess is that the Browns grab a signal-caller first overall. If Barkley is still there at No. 4, great. If not, they can move on to Plan B. That’s better than gambling on Plan B at quarterback.
B.S. Rating: 8
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Drafted as a quarterback, Ohio State product Terrelle Pryor Sr. made the successful transition to wide receiver two seasons ago. In his first year as a full-time starter at the position, he racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards for the Browns.
Instead of inking a long-term deal with Cleveland, though, Pryor took his chances on the open market. He ended up landing a one-year, $6 million deal with the Redskins. Pryor was undoubtedly betting on himself to produce another standout campaign and to increase his value, but it was not to bee.
Injuries and inconsistent play caused him to miss seven games and to produce just 240 yards and one touchdown in 2017.
Could Pryor return to the Browns and head coach Hue Jackson, who helped him transition to wide receiver in the first place? According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns are interested in finding out.
“The Browns will pursue Pryor, who never wanted to leave here in the first place last year,” Cabot wrote. “… Jackson likes Pryor and actually tried to get him back in a trade before the deadline in October.”
Cleveland has Josh Gordon and recently agreed to acquire Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins, but it still has a need at receiver. That’s especially true if it parts with 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman. According to Kyle Kelly of Browns Wire, Coleman is on the trade block.
Even if Cleveland decides to retain Coleman, a Browns-Pryor reunion almost makes too much sense for it to not happen.
B.S. Rating: 2
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The Green Bay Packers should have quarterback Aaron Rodgers back under center for the start of the 2018 season. However, they’ll be without at least one of his familiar targets.
The Packers parted with longtime wide receiver Jordy Nelson on Tuesday.
“We cannot thank Jordy enough for all that he has given the Green Bay Packers and our community for the past 10 years,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said in a statement, per Schefter.
Gutekunst wants to take a more aggressive approach to free agency than Green Bay has in the past. Parting with Nelson gave him room to do that. Per Schefter, the Packers will sign tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal.
Nelson may not be the only veteran Packer pass-catcher Gutekunst tinkers with this offseason, however. According to Rapoport, Green Bay has discussed the possibility of an extension with receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is just 27 years old and should have several solid years ahead of him. An extension would likely be as much about freeing up more cap space as locking in the player, as Cobb will have a cap hit of $12.7 million in 2018.
A restructured contract with an extension would be a double win for Packers fans, as it would give the team more financial breathing room and keep a familiar face in town. Now that Nelson has been released, however, it feels more likely that the Packers will let Cobb play out the final year of his contract and decide on his future after the coming season.
B.S. Rating: 8
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New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder is one of the top offensive lineman available in free agency, and he plays the most important position on the line. So, it’s no surprise he’s getting a lot of interest on the open market.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Texans are making a “serious run” at Solder. This makes perfect sense because Houston wants to protect quarterback Deshaun Watson and because head coach Bill O’Brien was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator during Solder’s rookie season—meaning there’s at least some familiarity there.
The Browns, who are waiting to find out whether Joe Thomas will retire, could also be in the Solder market. They certainly have the cap space to pursue him.
It’s also possible, however, that Solder returns to New England.
“Nate Solder situation feeling reminiscent of Devin McCourty situation in 2015,” Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweeted. “Patriots let him get to market, he received significant deals from multiple teams, and McCourty thought he was gone. Patriots stepped in at the last minute with their own significant offer and kept him.”
The Patriots are in the bottom half of the league in terms of cap space, so it’s unlikely they can offer Solder the best deal. Would the left tackle take less money to return to New England? If the cash difference isn’t significant, he just might.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Solder would prefer to stay with the Patriots but will leave if their offer “isn’t competitive.”
Our guess is that unless a team flush with cap space blows away Solder with an offer, the Patriots’ bid will be competitive enough to retain him—just like they retained Dont’a Hightower last offseason.
B.S. Rating: 3
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The Patriots could retain Solder, but they apparently will lose wideout Danny Amendola and running back Dion Lewis.
New England may well have a reason for allowing these losses. Miami is expected to release defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh when free agency officially opens, and the Patriots may be interested in adding the five-time Pro Bowler to their line.
Matthew Cannata of Phinsider Radio reported New England “would not budge with Amendola’s request for more money” because it wants Suh.
“I don’t have any info on Suh, but I could see it,” Howe tweeted. “Might sound crazy, but I’m not dismissing it.”
It might not be ridiculous for the Patriots to add Suh. Defense was New England’s weakness last season, and the lack of a dominant line was one of the biggest weaknesses on that defense. Suh has plenty of ability to create interior pressure, and he can also clog running lanes with the best of them.
The Patriots have already agreed to acquire defensive tackle Danny Shelton from the Browns, so adding Suh would give New England one of the biggest and most powerful interior defensive lines in the league. While it wouldn’t fix every hole the Patriots have on that side of the ball, it would be a big first step in the right direction.
This is a potential move we can buy.
B.S. Rating: 2
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The San Francisco 49ers cemented their quarterback situation five weeks ago by signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million deal. Now they need to focus on putting some top-tier weapons around him. One of those weapons could be recently released Packers receiver Nelson.
According to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports, San Francisco is interested in Nelson. And Nelson wants to continue playing, according to Schefter. Per Schultz, the Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks are also interested in Nelson.
The 49ers would be an attractive landing spot for Nelson. He’d get to play for a bright young offensive mind in head coach Kyle Shanahan, he’d get to play with an up-and-coming quarterback, and he’d possibly earn himself a sizable payday since San Francisco has quite a bit of cap space to play with.
The 49ers, in turn, would get a veteran receiver who has experience playing with a dynamic, athletic quarterback. While Nelson is 32 years old and entering the twilight of his career, he would almost certainly help Garoppolo grow as a franchise quarterback.
“I think it’s only natural as players get older, you see some physical decline,” Gutekunst said, per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press Gazette. “But I think Jordy is a very good player. He’ll contribute for somebody next year.”
The problem is Nelson likely doesn’t have many years left in the league, and he just might have a desire to go to an established contender. According to Schultz (h/t Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk), Nelson knew he was going to be released and has targeted the Patriots.
Could Nelson contribute for the 49ers next season? It’s possible, but our guess is he’d rather target a seemingly better opportunity to win now.
B.S. Rating: 7
All contract and cap information via Spotrac.com.