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Cap crunch will highlight cash gap between classes of NFL players

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Regardless of the total percentage of revenue that has ended up in the pockets of the players since the new labor deal was reached in 2011, the salary cap hasn’t gone up much over the last three league years.  In 2012, the NFLPA was forced to agree to $46 million in cap penalties for the Redskins and Cowboys merely to ensure that the team-by-team cap number would go up, not down.  (And if the cap number had gone down, a mutiny would have ensued.)

This year, the increase will be modest again, despite past claims from the NFLPA that cap growth will not be primarily flat.  And that has spawned a new argument from the union and some agents:  The cap doesn’t matter and teams who want to spend will find a way to spend.

It’s accurate, to an extent.  A fairly hard cap remains in place.  While it’s possible to spend cash above the cap in any given year, every dollar given to a player must eventually be accounted for under the cap.  And with the cap not going up very much, more and more teams are in cap crunches every year — something that rarely happened under the 2006 CBA.

The next argument is that teams can create cap space if they want to.  And that’s entirely accurate.  As long as teams are willing to squeeze certain players with existing contracts to take less money, to shift their money around, or to cut veteran players prematurely.

In other words, teams are now actually robbing Peter to pay Paul, with “Peter” being a guy who once was “Paul,” and “Paul” being a guy who may eventually be “Peter.”  The process will further highlight the gap between a small handful of star players who will have enormous payouts and cap numbers and the collection of players who actually play in games but who get far less money.

So with Joe Flacco cashing in, other players will be cashing out.  Or cashing less.The new dynamic becomes crystal clear between Flacco and the guy who has snapped him the ball for the last four years, Matt Birk.  With Flacco swinging for the financial fences, the Ravens may not be able to afford Birk’s $2.75 million salary.And with both guys represented by Joe Linta, at a certain point Linta’s push to get one of his clients as much as possible is going to hurt one of his other clients.Other agents will be facing similar dilemmas in other cities.  While, in the end, the teams control how much they pay to their various players, the NFL now consists of four crops of players:  veterans who get paid a whole lot of money, veterans who get paid well and who have to worry constantly about being forced to take less, veterans who get the one-year minimum, and young players laboring under tightly-controlled rookie deals who look forward to the day when they can become veterans who get paid a whole lot of money.

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Vikings trade up to take Dalvin Cook 41st overall

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The Vikings moved on from Adrian Peterson this offseason, and knew they needed a running back.

So they traded in front of the Eagles, and took Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with the 41st overall pick. They traded with the Bengals to get there.

Cook was tremendously productive in college, but his athletic testing numbers didn’t measure up to some of the other backs in the class, and there were concerns about his ball security and some off-field concerns.

But the Vikings added back who has made plenty of big plays, at a time when they desperately needed one.

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Bills now not expected to pick up Sammy Watkins option

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After giving up a bounty of picks to draft Sammy Watkins in 2014, the Bills are prepared to let him test free agency in 2018.

Buffalo is not expected to pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ rookie contract, Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reports. That means Watkins becomes a free agent after the upcoming season.

Watkins is recovering from foot surgery, and fifth-year options are guaranteed for injury. So the decision not to pick up the option indicates that the Bills aren’t so sure Watkins will stay healthy, and they don’t want to give him the $13.3 million injury guarantee that comes with a fifth-year option.

It’s also worth noting that the news broke immediately after the Bills drafted receiver Zay Jones. Buffalo may think Jones makes Watkins expendable.

In any event, it’s a major disappointment for the Bills that they may get only four years out of Watkins after using two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up and draft him three years ago. When you make a move like that, you think you’re going to draft a player who will change your franchise’s fortunes. Watkins, as talented as he is, hasn’t done that.

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Chargers love Lamp

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Yeah I said it.

The L.A. Chargers, whose helmets carry an electrical charge logo, have plugged in to guard Forrest Lamp in the second round of the draft.

Lamp, who already has a lamp deal, slid into round two after plenty of chatter about the possibility of being a first-round pick.

He helps fill a clear need for a team that hopes to get more out of its offense. To do that, the offensive line must be solid.

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Panthers take Curtis Samuel 40th overall, add to team speed

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The Panthers added some more speed in the second round, and another guy without an easily defined position.

With the 40th overall pick, the Panthers took Ohio State running back/receiver Curtis Samuel.

Samuel ran a 4.31-second 40 at the Scouting Combine, and they were in desperate need of speed on offense after losing Ted Ginn again in free agency.

Samuel probably projects more as a receiver, and the pressure is now on offensive coordinator Mike Shula to help “evolve” an offense that grew stagnant.

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Jets double down on SEC safeties with Marcus Maye at No. 39

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The Jets took a safety from the SEC in the first round and they did the same thing in the second round.

Florida safety Marcus Maye was the choice with the 39th overall pick. LSU’s Jamal Adams was the sixth overall pick.

Doubling down on safeties probably doesn’t bode well for Calvin Pryor’s future with the team. Tom Pelissero of USA Today reported Friday that the Jets are looking to trade him and you’d imagine there’s little to no chance they exercise Pryor’s option before this week’s deadline. Their other veteran safety Marcus Gilchrist could also be on shaky ground if the Jets decide to go with both rookies.

Whether it happens immediately or not, Maye would seem to fit in as the free safety playing alongside Adams in what the Jets hope is the base for better secondary play in the years to come.

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Bills trade up with Rams, pick Zay Jones

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The Rams waited more than a full round to take a pick in the 2017 draft. They decided to keep waiting.

The Rams have traded out of the 37th pick in the draft, and the Bills sprung up to get East Carolina receiver Zay Jones.

Jones, the nephew of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, bolsters a depth chart led by Sammy Watkins. The arrival of Jones could be a factor in the decision, due May 3, on whether the Bills will pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ rookie deal.

Buffalo sent the 44th pick and pick No. 91 to the Rams, in exchange for the 37th selection and pick No. 149.

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Seahawks finally make a pick, add Malik McDowell

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The Seahawks took their time, but they’ve finally taken their first player of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Seattle traded down for the third time since the start of the first round when they were on the clock with the 34th pick, but only dropped one spot in the process. They took Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell with that selection.

McDowell’s best game film from his days with the Spartans makes him look like a surefire Top 10 pick, but it is intermixed with several less impressive performances that led teams to take a dim view of taking McDowell that high. The Seahawks will hope that playing alongside Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril helps him take the next step at the professional level.

Thanks to all those trades, they have 10 picks left to fill out their draft class before things wind up on Saturday.

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Cardinals trade up to take safety Budda Baker

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Arizona lost five starters on defense to free agency, and they’re beginning to reload in the draft.

Instead of taking a quarterback to eventually replace Carson Palmer, they’ve used their first two picks on defense.

In the second round, they took Washington safety Budda Baker to go with last night’s first-rounder, linebacker Haason Reddick.

Baker’s the kind of rangy safety they needed after losing Tony Jefferson to the Ravens. They added veteran Antoine Bethea in free agency, but needed some young legs as they begin to backfill.

The Cardinals traded up nine spots to get him, giving up a fourth- and sixth-rounder to move from the 45th overall spot to the 36th.

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Ron Jaworski can’t get the fans to stop booing Roger Goodell

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When it comes to helping the Commissioner avoid the inevitable in-draft boo birds, the NFL tried a half-measure on Friday night. And it didn’t work.

Roger Goodell brought former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski to the podium in Philadelphia to start round two. The crowd, which seems to be nearly as large as it was on Thursday night, didn’t pull back in the face of the bespectacled human shield. Instead, they continued to relentlessly boo Goodell.

Things changed dramatically when Goodell turned the floor over to Jaworski, who was cheered loudly and who had the kind of presence and energy that gets a crowd going. He said that people of Philadelphia will eventually embrace those who do the right thing, and he expressed confidence that the City of Brotherly Love will eventually show something other than hatred for Goodell.

And then Goodell came back to the podium, and the booing instantly became as loud as ever.

Goodell can ignore the noise as much as he wants, but the owners surely don’t like it. Efforts to laugh it off or playfully welcome more booing have legitimized it. The only way to end it is to keep the Commissioner out of sight, and to have people who will be embraced by the locals call out the picks.

I’ve previously suggested that folks like Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliott get the assignment. With the draft going on the road, the folks calling the picks should be local, starting with a well-known favorite son (like, for the first round in Philly, Sylvester Stallone) and then incorporating others, like Jaworski, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, etc., etc.

It won’t be cheap, because unlike the players these folks will want to be compensated to be part of the reality show. Still, as the draft grows and the crowd grows and the booing becomes sport, the smart move would be the keep the Commissioner backstage and to use people who will spark the kind of reaction Jaworski did. Insisting on trotting out Goodell to an ocean of boos isn’t a good look for Big Shield, and isn’t Big Shield supposedly what it’s all about?

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Jaguars jump up to draft Cam Robinson

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The Seahawks were on the clock for the third time in the first two nights early on Friday night, but they remain without a new addition to their roster after the announcement of the 34th pick.

Seattle traded down for the third time in three opportunities and the Jaguars moved into the spot to select Alabama tackle Cam Robinson. The Jaguars sent a sixth-round pick to the Seahawks in order to move on one spot, so the Seahawks are on the clock once again.

Robinson will be blocking for a former SEC rival after the Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette in the first round on Friday night and both players signal a clear sign that Tom Coughlin wants to build a more physical football team in his return to Jacksonville. Robinson will also play a role in protecting Blake Bortles, something Coughlin said was essential for the quarterback to improve on last year’s results.

Where he’ll be doing those things might be up in the air. The Jaguars traded for left tackle Branden Albert, but he hasn’t been at offseason work out of reported unhappiness with his contract, but Robinson could also wind up at right tackle ahead of Jermey Parnell or the Jaguars could push someone inside to guard.

Former Jaguar tackle Tony Boselli announced the arrival of the new tackle from the stage in Philadelphia. However they line up, Coughlin will hope the pick works out somewhere close to as well as the one that brought Boselli to Jacksonville.

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Bengals pick up fifth-year option on Darqueze Dennard

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Darqueze Dennard hasn’t developed into the kind of player the Bengals hoped he’d be when they chose him in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. But the Bengals still think he has promise.

Cincinnati showed faith in Dennard today by announcing that his fifth-year option has been picked up. That gives him a 2018 salary of $8.5 million, although that salary isn’t guaranteed, and the Bengals could cut him last year, unless he’s injured.

So far in his three-year career, Dennard has only started four games. He would likely have to emerge as a starter this season for the Bengals to pay him that $8.5 million in 2018.

The Bengals took Dennard with the 24th overall pick in 2014.

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Packers keep the 33rd pick, take cornerback Kevin King

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The Packers tried to trade the first pick of the second round, but were unable to.

So they decided to take a guy who could help them immediately instead.

With the 33rd overall choice, the Packers took Washington cornerback Kevin King.

The 6-foot-3 King helps fill an immediate need for the Packers, who were running out of bodies in the secondary late in the season and the playoffs. While he’s taller than most at his position, the Packers clearly thought he was a value that wasn’t worth adding a few more mid-round picks.

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Fournette aims to bring championships to Jacksonville

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No NFL player will ever be successful without supreme confidence. Which means that pretty much every NFL player is supremely confident. Which means that not every player is going to fulfill the promise of that supreme confidence.

Regardless, it’s noteworthy when new NFL players full of supreme confidence arrive at the next level and begin to issue over-the-top proclamations. Sometimes, like when Randy Moss promised to “rip up” the NFL, it happens. Other times, it doesn’t.

In Jacksonville, fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette showed up on Friday with a big proclamation: He wants to deliver championships, plural, for a team that has never even been to the Super Bowl in 20-plus years in the NFL.

“Any player wants that for themselves and their team,” Fournette told reporters. “I didn’t mean to stir anything up, but that is my goal. My whole life, I came from a winning program at LSU. In high school, [too]. I come from a winning foundation. I think it is time to get back on that track. I think that is what Jacksonville needs — championships. I think I am the guy for the job.”

The fact that Fournette has been chosen to do the job could be bad news for some of the other running backs on the roster. But with Chris Ivory, a 2016 free-agent addition, having a guaranteed salary of $4.5 million in 2017 and with T.J. Yeldon in the third year of a wage-scale deal, they could be keeping all of them — or maybe trying to trade one of them.

Regardless, the future is Fournette. And the future is now.

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Reuben Foster hung up on the Saints when the 49ers picked him

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New 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was so close to becoming new Saints linebacker Reuben Foster that he was on the phone with Saints officials making plans to go to New Orleans when he got the call informing him he was heading to San Francisco.

“I clicked over for the San Francisco 49ers and I think I said, ‘Hello?’ while the New Orleans Saints were still on the line. But I wanted to be a 49er so bad,” Foster said today.

Foster said that while the Seahawks were on the clock with the 31st pick, the Saints informed him that they were taking him 32nd. When 49ers General Manager John Lynch called, Foster initially thought Lynch was calling to tell him that the 49ers would take him in the second round, and Foster started to tell Lynch that the Saints were taking him with the last pick in the first round.

“They wanted to pick me but it was too late,” Foster said. “I told John Lynch it was too late.”

That’s when Lynch explained to Foster that the 49ers had traded up with the Seahawks. Foster said he was excited and thought the 49ers were the best team for him.

Foster said the Saints were so sure that they would pick Foster that not only were the Saints’ football people talking to him about the role he was going to play on their defense, but a Saints official called Foster’s girlfriend to talk to her about making a home in New Orleans.

Asked if he had to have an awkward conversation with the Saints after Lynch got through to tell him he wouldn’t be going to New Orleans after all, Foster answered, “No. I hung up.”

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Ravens exercise 2018 option on C.J. Mosley’s contract

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The Ravens took an Alabama player in the first round on Thursday night when they made cornerback Marlon Humphrey the 16th overall pick of the NFL draft.

The last time the Ravens took a member of the Crimson Tide in the first round was in 2014 when they selected linebacker C.J. Mosley with the 17th pick and they are in no hurry to part ways with him. Field Yates of ESPN.com reports that the team has exercised their option on Mosley’s contract for the 2018 season.

Mosley has started every game he’s played since arriving in Baltimore and has been voted to two All-Pro second teams in addition to being selected for two Pro Bowls. That makes it easy to understand why the Ravens have gone ahead and picked up the option for a player who would seem to be a good bet for a long-term extension at some point in the not-too-distant future.

If Humphrey works out as well, the Ravens will have a couple of pieces to build their defense around for several years to come.

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