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Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea skip minicamp too

R. Mathis.jpgReggie Wayne isn’t the only Pro Bowl member of the Colts to sit out this weekend’s minicamp.

Defensive end Robert Mathis is also staying away because he’s unhappy with his contract.  Safety Antoine Bethea, who is an unsigned restricted free agent, continued his offseason absence by not attending.  (Bethea is not required to be there, and cannot be fined.)

Mathis is in the area and participated in a charity event Thursday night, so the absence is clearly contract related.  Wayne and Mathis both have two years left on their respective deals and have to understand they won’t get paid until Peyton Manning does.

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Patriots announce signing of rookie Welch

The Patriots have announced the signing of seventh-round pick Thomas Welch, an offensive lineman out of Vanderbilt.

Welch weighed in at 6-foot-6 and 307 pounds at February’s Scouting Combine.  A two-year starter for the Commodores, Welch played right tackle as a junior and on the left side as a senior.  The Patriots project him as a versatile reserve, though his primary position is expected to be guard due to a lack of ideal athleticism.
He managed just a 5.46 forty time in Indianapolis.
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Jets sign the Terminator Conner

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports the Jets have signed rookie fullback John Conner, a fifth-round pick, to a four-year contract.
Per Mehta, the deal is worth $1.99 million in base value.  Rookie base salaries on the usual four-year deal add up to $1.79 million, indicating Conner’s signing bonus is for roughly $200,000.  Mehta says another $740,000 is available through escalators, probably in the final year of the deal.
Conner earned the nickname “Terminator” at Kentucky for obvious reasons, but he was also considered the top pure lead-blocking fullback in this year’s draft.  At 5-foot-11 and 246 pounds, Conner ran a 4.72 forty-yard dash at February’s Scouting Combine.  He also repped 225 pounds 24 times.

Conner is viewed as the heir apparent to 38-year-old Tony Richardson in New York.

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Bucs sign rookie wideout Mike Williams

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Bucs have signed rookie wide receiver Mike Williams to a four-year contract.

Schefter has presumably gotten good vibes from people close to the Bucs about Williams’ early offseason work.  Schefter predicts Williams “is going to be good.”
At least based on Williams’ play as a sophomore and the first half of his junior season, he should be.  The 6-foot-2, 204-pound receiver caught 60 passes, averaged 13.9 yards per catch, and scored 10 touchdowns in 2008.  Before (allegedly) quitting Orange coach Doug Marrone’s team after seven games last year, Williams was on pace for a 77-catch, 1,173-yard, 10-touchdown campaign.
In Tampa Bay, Williams is competing for the starting receiver position opposite second-round pick Arrelious Benn.  Williams’ competition includes Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton, and Reggie Brown.
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Eagles reel in three draft picks

Adam Caplan of Scout.com reports that the Eagles have come to terms with seventh-round picks Jamar Chaney and Jeff Owens.

Chaney, a linebacker out of Mississippi State, was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, leading the team with 90 tackles as a senior.  His draft stock was likely hurt by a junior season in which he missed all but one game after breaking his leg.  Chaney stands an impressive 6-foot-1, 241, and ran an even more impressive forty time of 4.54 at February’s Scouting Combine.
Caplan reports Chaney’s signing bonus slightly exceeds $60,000.
Owens, a defensive tackle from Georgia, was originally a monster recruit out of high school, but never made an All-SEC team in five years as a Bulldog.  He faces an uphill battle to make the Eagles’ roster behind Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Trevor Laws, and fellow rookie Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.  Te’o-Nesheim, a third-round pick and college defensive end, is ticketed for interior pass-rushing duties in Philadelphia.
Caplan reports Owens’ signing bonus is worth just over $44.000.
UPDATE: The Eagles also announced the signing of fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley, a cornerback out of Kentucky.  Versed in press coverage, Lindley is competing for snaps in the Birds’ nickel and dime packages.
The Eagles have signed four five of their 13 draft picks.
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Seahawks sign rookie safety Chancellor

Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network reports that the Seahawks have signed fifth-round safety Kam Chancellor.  

ESPN’s Adam Schefter came through with the details; it’s a four-year pact with a maximum value of $2.83 million.
An over-sized safety built in Taylor Mays’ likeness, Chancellor goes 6-foot-3, 231.  He just doesn’t possess Mays’ speed.  Chancellor ran a 4.62 forty at February’s Scouting Combine.  Mays “officially” came in at 4.43.
In Seattle, Chancellor figures to focus on covering kicks behind starters Earl Thomas and Jordan Babineaux.  If Chancellor eventually does earn playing time on defense, he’ll likely serve as an “in the box” safety.
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Report: Pierre Thomas deal "will get done"

In a subscriber-only piece for ESPN Insider last Friday, Len Pasquarelli indicated that contract talks between unsigned restricted free agent Pierre Thomas and the Saints had broken down.

The report has been disputed by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Duncan reports that the Saints have made Thomas a long-term contract offer, and negotiations are ongoing.  “It’ll get done,” Duncan wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Pasquarelli had asserted that Thomas was seeking Steven Jackson-like money, or something in the range of $44.805 million over six years.  Jackson averaged 25 touches per game compared to Thomas’ 13.3 last season, so Thomas isn’t considered as vital a part of New Orleans’ offense as Jackson is in St. Louis.
The Saints also extended only a second-round tender to Thomas as a restricted free agent, indicating that they don’t necessarily see him as indispensable.
Still, Thomas has been highly effective in his limited role.  Among running backs with over 120 carries in 2009, only Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson averaged more yards per rushing attempt.  
Thomas’ role is also expected to expand this year with Mike Bell gone.  He remains a priority re-signing for the Saints.
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Bengals bring back Isaac Sowells

The Bengals announced Tuesday that they have signed offensive lineman Isaac Sowells, a former fourth-round pick of the Browns.
Once the subject of legitimately strong debate in Cleveland, Sowells’ position was an oft-discussed topic in newspapers like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon-Journal throughout the 2006-2008 offseasons.  Seemingly no one could decide whether Sowells would play guard or tackle.  He was a tackle at Indiana University, but only goes 6-foot-3, 320.
Eventually, it was determined that Sowells couldn’t play, period.  With in-house supporters Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel gone, Sowells was among the Browns’ 2009 final roster cuts.  He spent the entire season out of football.
Sowells is probably a long shot to last until September in Cincinnati.
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Ronnie Brown not sweating contract status

It’s refreshing to hear pro athletes focusing on their performance before pay, much as Cowboys receiver Miles Austin recently indicated he would do instead of holding out for a new contract.

As an unsigned restricted free agent, Dolphins tailback Ronnie Brown is in a position similar to Austin’s.  Of course he’d like a long-term extension, but he’s participating in offseason workouts anyway because he wants to get better.  
Imagine that.
“When you worry about outside things is when you become affected on the field with how you’re playing,” said Brown.  “I try not to worry about that and not let things bother me.  … When it comes, you address it at the time.  But I just got to keep playing football, and that’s what I get paid to do.”
Brown, rehabbing from a Lisfranc foot fracture, estimated that he’s currently at 80-percent health.  Unfortunately, running backs coming off foot surgeries don’t get long-term deals.  And especially not at age 28.
Though Brown has been highly productive whenever on the field, he’s been off it too much.  Through five years in the NFL, he has just one 16-game season.  He’s suffered season-ending, surgery-requiring injuries in two of the last three years.
Brown may go down as one of the most effective per-play backs of this generation to never receive a post-rookie contract pay day that reflected it.
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Andre Johnson hires an agent

A. Johnson.jpgAndre Johnson’s uncle won’t be helping to negotiate the receiver’s next contract.

A.J. hired Houston-based agent Kennard McGuire, according to Houston-based reporter John McClain.  Texans G.M. Rick Smith was scheduled to meet with Johnson’s uncle Andre Melton Friday to talk contract.

It’s unclear if this news prevented that meeting from happening or the meeting resulted in Johnson finally getting outside help. 

Either way, it’s a good thing for Johnson long-term.  ESPN’s Michael Smith points out to us on Twitter that Smith and McGuire have a “very friendly” relationship.

We don’t know if Johnson can squeeze any money out of the Texans right now, but this greatly helps his chances.

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Broncos sign seventh-round pick Thompson

The Broncos signed the first of their nine draft picks on Friday, inking seventh-rounder Syd’Quan Thompson, a cornerback from Cal.

The folks at NFL.com called Thompson one of the most physical cornerbacks in the draft.

We are going to defer to their knowledge on this one, because we don’t really know much more about him.  The first-team all Pac-10 player started every game possible during his four year college career, a school record of 52 starts.

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Bears sign rookie tackle Webb

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears have signed seventh-round pick J’Marcus Webb to a four-year contract.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.  Webb becomes the second rookie drafted in April to sign a contract.  Texans sixth-round pick Trindon Holliday put pen to paper on a four-year deal late last week.
Webb appeared in 12 games (0 starts) for the Texas Longhorns as a true freshman in 2006.  He’d transfer to community college, and ultimately landed in the Division-II ranks at West Texas A&M.
Webb took over as the Buffaloes’ starting left tackle as a junior, protecting Rams 2009 sixth-round pick Keith Null’s blind side.  Last season, Webb was honored as an Associated Press third-team Little All-American, which awards players from Division II, Division III, and NAIA.
West Texas A&M uses a shotgun-heavy spread offense.  Also factoring in the relatively weak competition Webb has faced and his draft status, the 22-year-old may be headed for Chicago’s practice squad this season.
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Patrick Willis contract solid but not spectacular

After linebacker Patrick Willis signed a five-year, $50 million extension with the 49ers, coach Mike Singletary proclaimed that the three-year veteran “may go down as one of the best” to play the position.

So why isn’t Willis being paid better than any of the men who currently play the position?

After details as to the Willis deal were reported, several league insiders expressed surprise regarding the fact that the contract fails to set a new high-water mark for linebackers.  Some believed that Willis ultimately would be paid not as the best linebacker in the game, but as the best defensive player in the game, regardless of position.

It didn’t happen.  Our goal in this regard isn’t to trash the deal or praise the contract, but to set forth both sides of the story, because we think each side has some appeal.

The naysayers point out that, when it comes to cash paid out after the first three and four years, Willis lags behind three other linebackers:  Karlos Dansby, Bart Scott, and DeMeco Ryans.  Though the gap based on three and four years isn’t huge, the objectively undeniable fact that Willis is better than any of the others makes the objectively undeniable fact that he didn’t get more than each of them glaring.

“Willis is the next Ray Lewis,” one league source said.  “This is like the contract Ray Lewis signed in 2003.  It isn’t much better.”

But there’s an important difference to keep in mind.  Dansby got his deal as an unrestricted free agent, after six years in the league and two under the franchise tag.  Scott received his contract as a unrestricted free agent.  Ryans was a restricted free agent, but the fact that he had no contract allowed him to be paid without regard to the 30-percent rule.

Willis had two years left on his rookie deal.  Apart from the complications presented by the 30 percent rule, Willis was saddled with the risk — for 32 regular-season games, eight preseason games, many offseason, preseason, and in-season practices, and up to eight postseason games — of a serious injury that would have dramatically harmed his market value.  So he instead inked a deal after only three seasons and at age 25 that will pay him nearly $30 million over four years.

Could he have gotten more if he’d played for roughly $800,000 in 2010 and $2.5 million in 2011 and (most likely) the franchise tender in 2012 (and possibly 2013)?  Sure.  But at some point in the next two, three, or four years, he also could have gotten seriously hurt — and thus never received the kind of monster payday that sets him and at least a generation after him up for life, especially if he invests the money conservatively and doesn’t spend lavishly or recklessly.

So while other agents may regret that Willis didn’t blow out the market, since it would have helped other players get more money, the fact remains that Willis had to make the best decision for himself and his family.  Under the specific circumstances that he faced, we probably would have made the same choice.

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Patrick Willis strikes gold with the Niners

NFL_willis1_250.jpgIn only three NFL seasons, Patrick Willis has established himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL.  And now he’s going to be paid accordingly.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that Willis has agreed to terms on a five-year, $50 million extension.  (It’s probably not a coincidence that Glazer and Randy Couture helped get Willis ready for the 2009 season with MMA training.)

His rookie deal runs through 2011.  The new deal puts him under contract through 2016.

It’s not yet clear how the 49ers navigated the 30-percent rule, which applies to all renegotiations signed in the uncapped year.  Per NFLPA records, Willis was due to earn a base salary of $760,000 in 2010, and $2.75 million next year.

We’ll break it all down once we get our hands on the contract.

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Jason Taylor has $100,000 incentive to work out, can trigger $10 million roster bonus

As the debate continues regarding whether the Miami Dolphins made a legitimate effort to persuade linebacker Jason Taylor to return for another season (Taylor’s agent insists they didn’t), we’ve tracked down the full details on his contract.

In 2010, Taylor’s base salary of $1.75 million is fully guaranteed.  The amount drops by $100,000 if he doesn’t participate in the balance of the offseason workout program, which likely means that his base salary will reduce to $1.65 million.  Last year, Taylor walked away from millions in D.C. in order to avoid the offseason program.

In 2011, Taylor’s base salary moves to $2.275 million, with $750,000 guaranteed.  The guarantee voids if he has fewer than seven sacks in 2010.  It increases to $1.25 million if Taylor has 10 sacks.  The guarantee increases to $2 million if he has 12 sacks.

There’s also a whopping $10 million roster bonus in 2011 based on playing time and individual performance levels.  The payment, due on the fifth day of the 2011 league year, is aimed at giving Taylor a crack at the open market next year if he has a strong season in 2010 — or leverage to secure a raise in New York.
 
The fact that Taylor will receive $1.75 million from the Jets in 2010 means that kicker Jay Feely also received total compensation of $1.75 million (or more) from the Cardinals.  Under the “Final Eight Plan,” the Jets’ were prevented from exceeding the first-year compensation paid to Feely, the only unrestricted free agent who has left the team during the uncapped year.  The increase from $1.75 million to $2.275 million matches the maximum 30-percent raise that Taylor can be given under the “Final Eight Plan.”

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