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NFL may be pushing for a Graham settlement

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

With the Jimmy Graham grievance hearing completed and the outcome now in the hands of an arbitrator, some league insiders believe that the NFL wants to see the player and the team take a page from Terrell Suggs and the Ravens, circa 2008.

Six years ago, Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome and agent Gary Wichard (who died in 2011) resolved among themselves the question of whether Suggs is a linebacker or a defensive end for purposes of the franchise tag.  While the Saints have done a very effective job of creating the impression that they have nothing to do with the position that Graham’s position for franchise-tag purposes should be tight end not receiver, the reality is that the Saints have plenty to gain — and plenty to lose — based on the outcome.  With $5.3 million in cash and cap space hinging on the question of whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver for tag purposes, the Saints undoubtedly want the number to be lower.  Especially since the $12.3 million receiver tag would lay the foundation for a far pricier long-term deal.

With Suggs, the two sides worked out a one-year franchise tender and then struck a long-term deal in 2009.  With Graham, the best outcome for everyone would be a long-term deal forged during this period of uncertainty regarding the outcome of the grievance.

Of course, that would require the Saints to deviate from their apparent preference to work out a new deal on the latest possible date.  In this case, the deadline for a long-term deal arrives on July 15.

The Saints pushed it to the limit two years ago with Drew Brees, losing along the way a grievance that seemed far more winnable than the current one.  Brees argued that, if the Saints (who applied the franchise tag in 2012) were to tag him again in 2013, he’d be entitled not to a 20-percent raise but a whopping 44-percent raise, since it would be the third time in his career that Brees drew the franchise tag.  (The Chargers tagged him in 2005.)  The argument seemed weak and flimsy and unsupported by the plain language of the labor deal.  And yet Brees still won.

Maybe the Saints should consider that precedent now.  While the team has arguments about which it feels very strongly, losing the Graham grievance would be far less surprising than losing the Brees grievance.  If they do, it will cost $12.3 million to keep Graham for 2014, $14.76 million for 2015, and $21.25 million for 2016.

That’s $48.31 million over three years on a year-to-year approach, if Graham chooses to take the Walter Jones approach and assume the injury risk for as long as the Saints are willing to continue using the tag.

If the Saints don’t want to pay a guy they regard as a tight end $14.76 million in 2015 or $21.25 million in 2016, then he’ll hit the open market and go to the highest bidder.

For all those reasons and plenty of others (including the sending of a message to young players that they’ll be rewarded for their efforts without a protracted fight and/or protracted delays), the Saints would be wise to find a way to work this out.

If Graham wins his grievance, they’ll wish they had.

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Mike Pettine: Browns “not going to over-prioritize the QB position”

Mike Pettine AP

There wasn’t a quarterback rumor during the 2015 NFL Draft that didn’t involve the Browns at some level.

Yet they got out of the weekend without one, and Browns coach Mike Pettine said that was fine with him.

That leaves them with Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and Thad Lewis, a group which might not inspire fear in the rest of the AFC North.

“I don’t think we can emphasize it enough that we’re going to build a football team,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We’re not going to over-prioritize the quarterback position.”

Pettine specifically denied the suggestion they were trying to move up in the fourth round to get Bryce Petty, though he admitted trying to trade up into Jacksonville’s spot.
“We had him slated at a certain spot and that wasn’t our place where we wanted to make that move,” General Manager Ray Farmer said of Petty. “The inference came because the team that actually ended up taking the player thought we were going to take their player.”

Likewise, they denied ever being very involved in the Marcus Mariota discussions with Tennessee, and they didn’t leave the weekend with Sam Bradford (because the Eagles couldn’t get to Mariota etiher).

Of course, there’s also a supply and demand issue as well, as only seven quarterbacks were drafted, not all of them very good. But the same could be said of their depth chart.

“We go 11 against 11, we’re not just trotting quarterbacks out on the 50-yard line and thumb wrestling,” Pettine said. “To me there are a lot of different ways to win football games. You just don’t force the situation. If we perceive our quarterback group is not the best in the division, what does that mean? Do we call the league and cancel games? You still gotta play.”

If they can win games that way, that’s a fine stance to take. But if they don’t, they also have to know that the lack of an answer (short-term or long) is going to be one of the reasons why.

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Chargers reach deals with 21 undrafted free agents

Cole Stoudt AP

The son of a former NFL quarterback is among 21 rookie free agents who have reached agreements with the Chargers, the team announced after the draft on its website.

Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt, who threw for 1,892 yards and completed 63.2 percent of his passes in 2014, is set to join San Diego. He is the son of Cliff Stoudt, who had a 13-season NFL career in stints with the Steelers, Cardinals, Dolphins and Cowboys.

In addition, the Chargers reached deals with the following undrafted rookies: Northwestern OLB Ikechi Ariguzo, Boston College CB Manuel Asprilla, Mississippi State OG Ben Beckwth, Minnesota DE Cameron Botticelli, Cincinnati OT Tyreek Burwell, Western Kentucky OT Cameron Clemmons, Central Michigan WR Titus Davis, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo LB Nick Dzubnar, Ball State RB Jahwan Edwards, Marshall TE Eric Frohnapel, Ohio State ILB Curtis Grant, Nevada OLB Brock Hekking, Sacred Heart DB Gordon Hill, Texas A&M PK Josh Lembo, Iowa S Johnny Lowdermilk, Kansas State LB-FB Ryan Mueller, Albany TE Brian Parker, West Virginia RB Dreamius Smith, Western Oregon Tyrell Williams, Arkansas WR Demetrious Wilson.

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For some veteran free agents, draft choices cast doubt on decisions

Hakeem Nicks AP

When the days before the draft grow shorter, it’s a scary time for veteran free agents.

They have to weigh whether to take offers available before the draft, or run the risk of having those offers go away when teams find younger, perhaps better and certainly cheaper alternatives. It’s an expensive game of chicken, and often players will blink at the last minute.

The saying around the league is “get in where you fit in,” but with the 2015 NFL Draft in the books, a pair of veteran wideouts might be re-thinking their decisions.

Of course, Greg Jennings got a pretty lucrative deal from Miami, but both he and Tennessee’s Hakeem Nicks were promptly covered up by the end of the weekend.

When Jennings signed with the Dolphins, it seemed like good business (in addition to the two years and $8 million). Though they acquired Kenny Stills in trade to go with emerging Jarvis Landry, there seemed to still be a chance for him to have more of a role in the offense.

But when they used their first-rounder on Louisville’s DeVante Parker, Jennings became a rather expensive stable pony, a guy whose job will be to mentor young players moreso than catch flying things.

When Nicks picked the Titans, it wasn’t for the same kind of money or fanfare, but it at least looked like he had a chance to contribute behind Kendall Wright and Harry Douglas and Justin Hunter.

But then the Titans used a second-rounder on boom-or-bust Dorial Green-Beckham and a seventh on intriguing project Tre McBride, the depth chart became really crowded.

Nicks didn’t have the same kind of interest in the market as Jennings (who also visited the Saints, Panthers and Jaguars), but it became a lot harder for him to resurrect his career this weekend.

Now he might have to wait for the next crack at free agency to find a team willing to throw the ball to him, a chance that may come as soon as August.

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NFL draft shows again that the best players are in the SEC

toddgurley AP

More than one in five players selected in this year’s NFL draft played their college football in the Southeastern Conference.

As usual, the SEC led all conferences in total draft picks. This year 54 players from the SEC were drafted, meaning that more than 21 percent of all the picks in this year’s draft came from the SEC. This is the ninth year in a row that the SEC has had the most draft picks of any conference.

Although the SEC’s stranglehold on the college football national championship has been broken by Ohio State this year and Florida State last year, there’s little doubt that top to bottom, the best college football is played in the SEC. NFL teams know that.

The SEC was followed by the ACC (47 draft picks), Pac-12 (39), Big Ten (35), Big 12 (25), American Athletic Conference (11) and
Mountain West Conference (10).

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Cowboys weren’t kidding about lack of urgent need for running back

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When Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said before the draft that running back wasn’t an urgent need for his team, it sounded like the kind of attempted smokescreen that teams are so fond of throwing up to cloud their intentions once the draft does get underway.

After all, the Cowboys didn’t re-sign DeMarco Murray and their top running back is the oft-injured Darren McFadden with Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams behind him. Even with a great offensive line, there was an opening for the team to upgrade the talent on hand in the backfield with even a late-round addition.

After the draft wrapped up, Jones said that the team didn’t avoid a running back simply to back up his assertion about the team’s current running backs. Both he and son Stephen said it was simply a case of the best player available to them never being a running back.

“We tried not to push for a particular need,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “We kind of let the draft come to us in a good way and were able to solve a lot of things, take care of a lot of things that we felt like we were short in. I think we really improved our football team. At the end of the day, maybe use the term we let the draft come to us. I think the right guys were there for us. Whenever we had a big question mark and started straying away a little bit, we always went back to who was the best player on the board.”

No one’s going to argue with using five of eight picks to stock the defensive side of the ball, but the Cowboys are going to have to be on the lookout for help at the position that may come as teams reset their rosters in the coming months. That way they won’t find themselves stuck without options should injuries or other calamities turn running back into an urgent need down the road.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Todd Gurley, Amarlo Herrera AP

The Bills said they were satisfied that drafting RB Karlos Williams and CB Ronald Darby isn’t an undue character risk.

RB Jay Ajayi is eager to impress his coaches with the Dolphins.

Versatility is a trait shared by the Patriots’ third day picks.

The Jets are talking about QB Bryce Petty as a long-range prospect.

Nick Boyle became the second tight end drafted by the Ravens this year when they nabbed him in the fifth round.

CB Josh Shaw’s twisty road to the NFL has led him to the Bengals.

The Browns took their first wide receiver since 2012 when they drafted Vince Mayle in the fourth round.

TE Jesse James gets to play for his hometown Steelers.

The Texans didn’t have to go far to find Rice DL Christian Covington in the sixth round.

Colts S Clayton Geathers has plenty of family members with NFL experience.

A rave review for what the Jaguars did over the three days of the draft.

David Climer of the Tennessean tackles what picking Marcus Mariota means for the Titans brain trust.

The Broncos added two new pieces to their offensive line.

Areas of need were addressed by the Chiefs over the last three days.

Trades increased the number of shots the Raiders got to take in the draft.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego thinks the Chargers had a “perfectly appropriate” draft.

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant isn’t taking part in workouts with the team, but stopped by the team’s headquarters to meet CB Byron Jones.

The Giants like the toughness displayed by members of their draft class.

Eric Rowe is the latest tall cornerback for the Eagles.

Said Redskins coach Jay Gruden of second-round LB Preston Smith, “He’s baby-faced but he’s got a big, long body. He’s what we thought. We got a chance to meet him also. Great kid, smart, picks up the game effortlessly, and he’s an exciting prospect.”

The Bears drafted players at several positions they also tried to address in 2014.

Riley Reiff will continue to play left tackle for the Lions.

Pete Prisco of wasn’t too fond of the Packers’ draft.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer got some defensive help in the draft.

The Falcons are trying to help new DT Grady Jarrett recover from a fire at his house.

Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman made moves to draft the players he wanted.

Wide receiver wasn’t an area the Saints addressed in the draft.

Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht added a fellow Cornhusker to the roster on Saturday when he drafted WR Kenny Bell.

The selection of TE Gerald Christian to end the draft meant the Cardinals wrapped up three days without adding an inside linebacker or cornerback.

Going back and forth over the Rams’ selection of RB Todd Gurley.

Offense was the main focus of Day Three for the 49ers.

A review of the Seahawks’ predictable unpredictability in the draft.

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Eagles sign 15 rookie free agents

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The Eagles moved quickly to announce a group of 15 undrafted rookies who will be joining the team as free agents.

Among the group is center Mike Coccia, who played his college ball at Chip Kelly’s old stomping grounds in New Hampshire, and UTEP tight end Eric Tomlinson. Tomlinson’s signing reunites him with second-round pick and high school teammate Eric Rowe, who will be working to carve out a role in the team’s secondary this season.

Coccia is one of several interior offensive linemen on the list. The Eagles also signed UNLV guard Brett Boyko, UCLA guard Malcom Bunche and Nebraska-Kearney guard Cole Manhart.

Delaware Valley wide receiver Rasheed Bailey, UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis, Duke linebacker Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo, Michigan State tight end Andrew Gleichert, Texas wide receiver John Harris, Purdue running back Raheem Mostert, San Jose State defensive end Travis Raciti, Coastal Carolina defensive back Denzel Rice, Oklahoma State punter Kip Smith and UCF tight end Justin Tukes round out the group.

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Seahawks “expect” to have Bruce Irvin for a long time

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seahawks may not be picking up the 2016 option on linebacker Bruce Irvin’s contract, but that doesn’t mean they are in a rush to have him off their team.

That was the message sent by coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider when they met the media after they wrapped up the draft on Saturday. Reports last week indicated that the team would pass on the $7.8 million option, something they wouldn’t confirm Saturday while saying that the plan is to hold onto him whether they use it or not.

“We met with Bruce yesterday before we got going, and it went very well,” Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. “We discussed what our plan is and what we are planning on doing, still knowing that maybe something could happen that could change the decision. It has nothing to do with the statement of how we feel about him in our program. We expect him to be here for a long time and we will work to get that done.”

Schneider compared the situation to the team’s decision not to exercise guard James Carpenter’s option last year, although those who would like to see Irvin remain in Seattle will likely note that the Seahawks failed to re-sign Carpenter before he left for the Jets.

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Steelers add 12 undrafted free agents

Tyler Murphy, Jeffrey Jay AP

The Steelers have reached contract agreements with 12 undrafted rookie free agents, the club said Saturday evening.

Among the 12 free agent additions is former Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy, who is listed as a wide receiver and ostensibly will be changing positions. Murphy (6-2, 213) passed for 1,623 yards for the Eagles in 2014, but he added 1,184 yards rushing, and his mobility will be his ticket if he’s able to successfully transition to receiver with Pittsburgh. Murphy began his collegiate career with Florida before joining Boston College for one year.

The Steelers also announced agreements with Texas A&M tight end Cameron Clear, Saint Augustine’s defensive tackle Nigel Crawford-Kinney, Liberty defensive end Dominique Davis, Penn State offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach, Auburn offensive guard Reese Dismukes, Kansas State center B.J. Finney, Illinois State defensive end Brandon Pate, Indiana offensive guard Colin Rahrig, Louisville wide receiver Eli Rogers, Lafayette running back Ross Scheuerman and Utah State offensive tackle Kevin Whimpey.

With eight draft picks also joining the Steelers, the Steelers could be adding 20 rookies to a roster that was at 72 veterans entering the draft, so a couple roster moves could be coming.

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Cardinals select Louisville TE Gerald Christian with “Mr. Irrelevant” pick

Gerald Christian, Ryan Janvion AP

All things considered, “Mr. Irrelevant” didn’t get a bad draw this year.

With the final selection in the 2015 NFL Draft — long dubbed the Mr. Irrelevant pick — the Cardinals took Louisville tight end Gerald Christian 256th overall.

The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Christian appears to have a puncher’s chance to make the Cardinals’ roster. Arizona doesn’t have exceptional depth at tight end, and Christian might have a shot at winning the third spot on the depth chart behind Troy Niklas and John Carlson.

A four-star recruit, Christian began his college career at Florida before transferring to Louisville. In two seasons with the Cardinals, Christian hauled in 60 passes for 710 yards and nine touchdowns.

The final pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, safety Lonnie Ballentine, is currently on the Texans’ roster. He spent the 2014 season on injured reserve with Houston.

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Steelers address defense in draft

Doran Grant AP

When a defense allows the third-most yards per play in the previous regular season, the subsequent draft would figure to bring to reinforcements.

Such was the case for the Steelers, who selected six defensive players in eight picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Half of the defensive selections were defensive backs: Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson (Round Two), Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant (Round Four) and Louisville safety Gerod Holliman (Round Seven). Golson and Grant have a chance to vie for roles right off the bat, while Holliman has a chance to make the roster, what with safety not one of the Steelers’ deeper positions.

The Steelers began the draft selecting an edge-rusher, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree, in Round One. Other front seven picks were Miami (Fla.) outside linebacker/defensive end Anthony Chickillo (Round Six) and Central Michigan defensive tackle Leterrius Walton (Round Six). Dupree, Walton and Chickillo all face a learning curve as they learn the Steelers’ defense, but if they can play, there are reps to be had.

Whether the Steelers’ defensive picks pan out remains to be seen. But leaning defense was the play in 2015, and it may have been the only one, given the depth chart.

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Collins plans to sign, once he’s cleared

LSU v Arkansas Getty Images

As expected, LSU tackle La’El Collins went undrafted on Saturday.  And it appears that’s exactly what he wanted.

Collins intends to meet with police on Monday for questioning in connection with a murder case that now involves two deaths — a 29-year-old woman and her infant child.  Collins is not a suspect in the case, but because he has not been cleared, no one could touch him in the draft.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Collins plans to sign with a team after he is cleared.

Making Collins less attractive in the draft was a vow to sit out the year and re-enter the draft in 2016, if he were drafted this year.  Ultimately, that may have been a ploy aimed at ensuring he wasn’t drafted at all.

Ultimately, Collins can salvage the early portion of his career by signing the standard three-year deal as an undrafted rookie.  While he’d be eligible for restricted free agency after three years, the numbers suggest that he’ll do fairly well, given the current amount and the historic growth of the restricted free agency tenders.

If the tenders continue to increase at a rate of five percent annually, Collins could make more than all drafted players except the top 41 picks, based on three years of minimum salaries and the first-round tender for 2018.  With the second-round tender, he’ll make more than all but 52 of the picks.  With the original-round tender, he’ll make more than all but 65 of the picks.

It’s a formula that demonstrates how little draft picks make beyond round one, relative to undrafted playera.  That said, the balloon payment in year four requires the undrafted player to earn one of the three RFA tenders.  But Collins already has a leg up on the guys who typically slide through seven rounds; he has skills that would have potentially made him a first-round pick but for the unusual circumstances that unfolded in the past few days.

The analysis has one important caveat.  Players taken in rounds three through seven are eligible for the proven performance escalators, which bumps their salary for the fourth year of their rookie deal into the range of $1.5 million.  Still, Collins can end up getting a decent four-year rate of pay even as an undrafted player — and he’ll be eligible for a new contract after only two seasons.  Drafted players have to wait for three.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, Collins gets to pick his NFL team.  No drafted player gets to do that.

For now, none of this matters until he’s cleared.  That process begins Monday.

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Seahawks sign 34-year-old Green Beret Nate Boyer

nateboyer AP

Moments after the NFL draft ended, the Seahawks signed an undrafted free agent whose story will be an inspiration to many.

Nate Boyer, a long snapper from Texas, is the newest member of the Seahawks. But Boyer is much more than that: He’s a 34-year-old who served with the Green Berets in Iraq and Afghanistan and had never played organized football at any level until he decided in his late 20s that he’d like to go to college and try playing football, and it occurred to him that learning to long snap could be a way to do that.

Boyer is a long shot to make an NFL regular-season roster, but he says he’s committed to putting in all the work it will take.

“I’m just thrilled to get an opportunity,” Boyer said on NFL Network. “This is the best athletes in the world, and just to get an opportunity and be able to compete, play for a great team in a great city, I couldn’t be more thrilled, just for the chance.”

It’s a chance Boyer has earned by following a long and winding path to the NFL.

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La’el Collins goes undrafted

Kentucky v LSU Getty Images

At the start of this week, La’El Collins looked like a sure-thing first-round draft pick. When the 2015 NFL draft concluded today, Collins was undrafted.

NFL teams decided that they simply couldn’t take a chance on Collins, who is scheduled to meet with police on Monday as they investigate the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend. Police have not identified Collins as a suspect, but he hasn’t been exonerated either, and until he is teams do not want anything to do with him.

Collins’s agents asked that he be allowed to enter the supplemental draft this summer, and also said that they’d rather he re-enter the 2016 draft than be a late-round pick this year. But neither of those things will happen. Collins is only eligible to join the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and teams are limited in how much they can pay undrafted free agents. His fall will cost him millions of dollars, even if it turns out that he’s completely innocent.

If Collins is not charged in connection with his ex-girlfriend’s death, he will be perhaps the most sought-after undrafted free agent in NFL history. But right now he has a far more important situation to deal with.

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Cable says Graham is committed to learning to block

Graham Getty Images

Who says Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham doesn’t block?  Well, Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable does.

OK, Cable didn’t say it.  But he strongly implied in Saturday comments to reporters.

Via Curtis Crabtree of KJR radio and PFT, Cable said that Graham is committed to learning to block.  Which means that he doesn’t really know how to block.  Which means he doesn’t really block.

Which means that guys like Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett were right when they said that Graham “doesn’t help in the blocking game.”

Graham is an incredible athlete and there’s no reason he can’t become a better blocker.  Surely, however, the Saints tried to make him one during his five years there.

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