PFT’s Free Agent Top 100

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The following are PFT’s top 100 free agents for the start of the 2018 league year. The rankings include prospective unrestricted and restricted free agents, as well as released players. The list will be updated as events warrant, with signings, tags and re-signings denoted when announced and/or reported.

1. Saints quarterback Drew Brees (re-signed with Saints March 13).

2. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins (agreed to terms with the Vikings on March 13).

3. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (received franchise tag March 6).

4. Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (received franchise tag March 5).

5. Panthers offensive guard Andrew Norwell (agreed to terms with Jaguars March 13).

6. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (agreed to terms with Broncos March 12).

7. Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson (agreed to terms with Bears March 13).

8. Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (received franchise tag February 27).

9. Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (agreed to terms with Rams on March 26).

10. Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (agreed to terms with the Jets on March 13).

11. Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner (received franchise tag March 6).

12. Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder (agreed to terms with the Giants on March 14).

13. Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (agreed to terms with the Vikings on March 15).

14. Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (received franchise tag February 20).

15. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (re-signed with the Bears on March 16).

16. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (signed with the 49ers on March 10).

17. Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (agreed to terms with Titans on March 13).

18. Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron (agreed to terms with the Bills on March 14).

19. Rams receiver Sammy Watkins (agreed to terms with Chiefs March 13).

20. Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe (agreed to terms with the Panthers on March 15).

21. Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh (agreed to terms with the Cardinals on March 16).

22. Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (agreed to terms with Packers on March 13).

23. Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin (agreed to terms with Texans on March 13).

24. Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines (agreed to terms with the Browns on March 23).

25. Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (agreed to terms with Raiders on March 15).

26. Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu (signed with the Texans on March 16).

27. Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.

28. Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (agreed to terms with Bills on March 13).

29. Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (agreed to terms with the Patriots on March 16).

30. Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee (re-signed March 13).

31. Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland (agreed to terms with Panthers on March 13, but failed physical March 16.).

32. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (agreed to terms with Jets on March 13).

33. Patriots running back Dion Lewis (agreed to terms with Titans on March 13).

34. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (agreed to terms with Packers on March 13).

35. Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson (re-signed with the Saints on March 14).

36. Packers safety Morgan Burnett (agreed to terms with the Steelers on March 20).

37. Bears guard Josh Sitton (agreed to terms with the Dolphins on March 15).

38. Giants center Weston Richburg (agreed to terms with 49ers March 13).

39. Dolphins center Mike Pouncey (signed with Chargers March 19).

40. Raiders inside linebacker Navorro Bowman.

41. Chiefs defensive tackle Bennie Logan (agreed to terms with the Titans April 8).

42. Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (agreed to terms with Cardinals March 13).

43. Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers (re-signed with Panthers on March 14).

44. Chargers safety Tre Boston.

45. Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson (agreed to terms with Washington on March 13).

46. Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara (agreed to re-sign on March 13).

47. Colts guard Jack Mewhort (re-signed with Colts on March 21).

48. Ravens center Ryan Jensen (agreed to terms with the Bucs on March 16).

49. Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams (re-signed March 13).

50. Eagles tight end Trey Burton (agreed to terms with Bears March 13).

5`. Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (agreed to terms with Eagles March 13).

52. Titans linebacker Avery Williamson (agreed to terms with the Jets on March 13).

53. Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee (agreed to terms with Washington on March 26).

54. Titans guard Josh Kline (agreed to re-sign with Titans on March 13).

55. Lions tight end Eric Ebron (signed with Colts March 19).

56. 49ers safety Eric Reid.

57. Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (re-signed with the Bengals on March 15).

58. Titans defensive lineman DaQuan Jones (re-signed with the Titans on March 14).

59. Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving (received second-round tender from Cowboys on March 14).

60. Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (agreed to terms with Jaguars on March 15).

61. Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (agreed to terms with 49ers on March 14).

62. 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (agreed to terms with Browns on March 14).

63. Colts cornerback Rashaan Melvin (agreed to terms with the Raiders on March 16).

64. Jets quarterback Josh McCown (re-signed with Jets on March 13).

65. Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham (re-signed with the Eagles on March 14).

66. Washington linebacker Zach Brown (re-signed with Washington on March 15).

67. Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne (re-signed with Jets on March 15).

68. Cardinals receiver Jaron Brown (agreed to terms with the Seahawks on March 16).

69. Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (agreed to terms with the Jets on March 13).

70. Jets linebacker Demario Davis (agreed to terms with the Saints on March 14).

71. Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie (agreed to terms with the Browns on March 14).

72. Chiefs receiver Albert Wilson (agreed to terms with the Dolphins March 13).

73. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. (re-signs with Rams on March 13).

74. Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens (agreed to terms with Chiefs on March 13).

75. Bills receiver Jordan Matthews (agreed to terms with the Patriots April 4).

76. Washington receiver Terrelle Pryor (agreed to terms with Jets on March 22).

77. Bucs defensive tackle Chris Baker (signed with the Bengals).

78. Washington linebacker Junior Galette.

79. Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (re-signed with Texans March 15).

80. Ravens receiver Mike Wallace (agreed to terms with the Eagles on March 22).

81. Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes (signed with the Bucs on March 12).

82. Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (re-signed with Lions on March 13).

83. Bucs tight end Cameron Brate (signed with the Bucs on March 12).

84. Dolphinsjor defensive end William Hayes (re-signed with the Dolphins on March 14).

85. Steelers offensive tackle Chris Hubbard (agrees to terms with the Browns on March 13).

86. Bears receiver Kendall Wright (signed with the Vikings on March 30).

87. Rams outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

88. Washington outside linebacker Trent Murphy (agreed to terms with the Bills March 14).

89. Colts receiver Donte Moncrief (agreed to terms with the Jaguars on March 13).

90. Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead (signs with the Raiders on March 15).

91. Saints guard Senio Kelemete (agreed to terms with the Texans on March 14).

92. Broncos inside linebacker Todd Davis (re-signed with Broncos on March 14).

93. Falcons defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (re-signed March 22).

94. Rams center John Sullivan (re-signed with the Rams on March 16).

95. 49ers guard Brandon Fusco (agreed to terms with the Falcons on March 14).

96. Bills linebacker Preston Brown (signed with the Bengals on March 16).

97. Broncos center Matt Paradis (received second-round tender on March 12).

98. Patriots running back Rex Burkhead (re-signed with Patriots on March 14).

99. Cardinals safety Tyvon Branch.

100. Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (signed with the Falcons March 24).

Five franchise tags, one transition tag handed out before deadline

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The deadline for teams to use franchise and transition tags on impending free agents passed at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday with six of them handed out.

Six teams opted to use the tags this year. Five of them went for franchise tags and one transition tag was also used before the deadline passed. The players who received the tag are:

Running back Le'Veon Bell, Steelers – It’s the second year in a row that Bell has gotten the tag, which comes with a $14.5 million salary this year. Bell sat out all of the offseason last year and has talked about sitting out the entire 2018 season, although it will likely be some time before we know if he has any intention of actually doing so.

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Dolphins – Landry has signed his tender, which guarantees a salary of just over $15.9 million for the coming season. He’s also reportedly been given the right to help facilitate a trade, so he may not wind up in Miami when the season starts.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys – Lawrence has also signed his tender. He said on Monday that he’s grateful for the opportunity to “break the bank” next year, which suggests he may wind up playing out the year with the $17.1 million salary mandated by the tag.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah, Lions – Ansah’s tag carries the same $17.1 million salary that Lawrence is now set to make. He has not signed the tender at this point, however.

Safety Lamarcus Joyner, Rams – After tagging cornerback Trumaine Johnson the last two years, the Rams chose to tag Joyner over wide receiver Sammy Watkins. He has not signed the $11.2 million tender.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller, Bears – The Bears opted for the transition tag, which calls for Fuller to make $12.9 million if he does not work out a long-term deal. It also gives the Bears the right to match other offers for his services, but does not come with the compensation of two first-round picks afforded by the franchise tag.

2018 NFL draft: Full selection order, Picks 1-256

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Here is the full 2018 NFL draft order, in round- pick in round- overall pick format:

ROUND 1
1- 1- 1 Cleveland

1- 2- 2 New York Giants

1- 3- 3 Indianapolis
1- 4- 4 Cleveland from Houston

1- 5- 5 Denver
1- 6- 6 New York Jets
1- 7- 7 Tampa Bay
1- 8- 8 Chicago

1- 9- 9 San Francisco
1-10-10 Oakland
1-11-11 Miami

1-12-12 Cincinnati
1-13-13 Washington
1-14-14 Green Bay

1-15-15 Arizona

1-16-16 Baltimore
1-17-17 Los Angeles Chargers
1-18-18 Seattle
1-19-19 Dallas
1-20-20 Detroit

1-21-21 Buffalo

1-22-22 Buffalo from Kansas City

1-23-23 Los Angeles Rams
1-24-24 Carolina

1-25-25 Tennessee

1-26-26 Atlanta

1-27-27 New Orleans

1-28-28 Pittsburgh

1-29-29 Jacksonville

1-30-30 Minnesota

1-31-31 New England

1-32-32 Philadelphia

ROUND 2
2- 1-33 Cleveland

2- 2-34 New York Giants

2- 3-35 Cleveland from Houston
2- 4-36 Indianapolis

2- 5-37 New York Jets
2- 6-38 Tampa Bay
2- 7-39 Chicago
2- 8-40 Denver

2- 9-41 Oakland
2-10-42 Miami
2-11-43 New England from San Francisco

2-12-44 Washington
2-13-45 Green Bay
2-14-46 Cincinnati

2-15-47 Arizona

2-16-48 Los Angeles Chargers
2-17-49 New York Jets from Seattle
2-18-50 Dallas
2-19-51 Detroit
2-20-52 Baltimore

2-21-53 Buffalo

2-22-54 Kansas City

2-23-55 Carolina
2-24-56 Buffalo from Los Angeles Rams

2-25-57 Tennessee

2-26-58 Atlanta

2-27-59 San Francisco from New Orleans

2-28-60 Pittsburgh

2-29-61 Jacksonville

2-30-62 Minnesota

2-31-63 New England

2-32-64 Cleveland from Philadelphia

ROUND 3
3- 1-65 Cleveland

3- 2-66 New York Giants

3- 3-67 Indianapolis
3- 4-68 Houston

3- 5-69 Tampa Bay
3- 6-70 San Francisco from Chicago
3- 7-71 Denver
3- 8-72 New York Jets

3- 9-73 Miami
3-10-74 San Francisco
3-11-75 Oakland

3-12-76 Green Bay
3-13-77 Cincinnati
3-14-78 Washington

3-15-79 Arizona

3-16-80 Houston from Seattle
3-17-81 Dallas
3-18-82 Detroit
3-19-83 Baltimore
3-20-84 Los Angeles Chargers

3-21-85 Carolina from Buffalo

3-22-86 Kansas City

3-23-87 Los Angeles Rams
3-24-88 Carolina

3-25-89 Tennessee

3-26-90 Atlanta

3-27-91 New Orleans

3-28-92 Pittsburgh

3-29-93 Jacksonville

3-30-94 Minnesota

3-31-95 New England

3-32-96 Buffalo from Philadelphia
3-33-97 Arizona (Compensatory Selection)

3-34-98 Houston (Compensatory Selection)

3-35-99 Denver (Compensatory Selection)

3-36-100 Cincinnati (Compensatory Selection)

ROUND 4
4- 1-101 Cleveland

4- 2-102 New York Giants

4- 3-103 Houston
4- 4-104 Indianapolis

4- 5-105 Chicago
4- 6-106 Denver
4- 7-107 New York Jets
4- 8-108 Tampa Bay

4- 9-109 Denver from San Francisco
4-10-110 Oakland
4-11-111 Miami

4-12-112 Cincinnati
4-13-113 Washington
4-14-114 Green Bay

4-15-115 Chicago from Arizona

4-16-116 Dallas
4-17-117 Detroit
4-18-118 Baltimore
4-19-119 Los Angeles Chargers
4-20-120 Seattle

4-21-121 Buffalo

4-22-122 Kansas City

4-23-123 Cleveland from Carolina
4-24-124 Los Angeles Rams

4-25-125 Tennessee

4-26-126 Atlanta

4-27-127 New Orleans

4-28-128 San Francisco from Pittsburgh

4-29-129 Jacksonville

4-30-130 Philadelphia from Minnesota

4-31-131 Miami from New England through Philadelphia

4-32-132 Philadelphia
4-33-133 Green Bay (Compensatory Selection)

4-34-134 Arizona (Compensatory Selection)

4-35-135 New York Giants (Compensatory Selection)

4-36-136 New England (Compensatory Selection)

4-37-137 Dallas (Compensatory Selection)

ROUND 5
5- 1-138 Cleveland

5- 2-139 New York Giants

5- 3-140 Indianapolis
5- 4-141 Seattle from Houston

5- 5-142 Denver
5- 6-143 San Francisco from New York Jets
5- 7-144 Tampa Bay
5- 8-145 Chicago

5- 9-146 Seattle from Oakland
5-10-147 New Orleans from Miami
5-11-148 Pittsburgh from San Francisco

5-12-149 Washington
5-13-150 Green Bay
5-14-151 Cincinnati

5-15-152 Arizona

5-16-153 Detroit
5-17-154 Baltimore
5-18-155 Los Angeles Chargers
5-19-156 Philadelphia from Seattle
5-20-157 New York Jets from Dallas

5-21-158 Buffalo

5-22-159 Cleveland from Kansas City

5-23-160 Los Angeles Rams
5-24-161 Carolina

5-25-162 Tennessee

5-26-163 Denver from Atlanta

5-27-164 New Orleans

5-28-165 Pittsburgh

5-29-166 Buffalo from Jacksonville

5-30-167 Minnesota

5-31-168 Seattle from New England

5-32-169 Philadelphia
5-33-170 Cincinnati (Compensatory Selection)

5-34-171 Dallas (Compensatory Selection)

5-35-172 Green Bay (Compensatory Selection)

5-36-173 Dallas (Compensatory Selection)

5-37-174 Green Bay (Compensatory Selection)

ROUND 6
6- 1-175 Cleveland

6- 2-176 New York Giants

6- 3-177 Houston
6- 4-178 Indianapolis

6- 5-179 New York Jets
6- 6-180 Tampa Bay
6- 7-181 Chicago
6- 8-182 Denver

6- 9-183 Miami
6-10-184 San Francisco
6-11-185 Oakland

6-12-186 Green Bay
6-13-187 Cincinnati
6-14-188 Washington

6-15-189 New Orleans from Arizona

6-16-190 Baltimore
6-17-191 Los Angeles Chargers
6-18-192 Oakland from Seattle
6-19-193 Dallas
6-20-194 Los Angeles Rams from Detroit

6-21-195 Los Angeles Rams from Buffalo

6-22-196 Kansas City

6-23-197 Carolina
6-24-198 Los Angeles Rams

6-25-199 Tennessee

6-26-200 Atlanta

6-27-201 New Orleans

6-28-202 Tampa Bay from Pittsburgh

6-29-203 Jacksonville

6-30-204 Minnesota

6-31-205 New England

6-32-206 Philadelphia
6-33-207 Green Bay (Compensatory Selection)

6-34-208 Dallas (Compensatory Selection)

6-35-209 Kansas City (Compensatory Selection)

6-36-210 Oakland (Compensatory Selection)

6-37-211 Houston (Compensatory Selection)

6-38-212 Oakland (Compensatory Selection)

6-39-213 Minnesota (Compensatory Selection)

6-40-214 Houston (Compensatory Selection)

6-41-215 Baltimore (Compensatory Selection)

6-42-216 Oakland (Compensatory Selection)

6-43-217 Oakland (Compensatory Selection)

6-44-218 Minnesota (Compensatory Selection)

ROUND 7
7- 1-219 Cleveland

7- 2-220 Pittsburgh from New York Giants

7- 3-221 Indianapolis
7- 4-222 Houston

7- 5-223 Miami from Tampa Bay
7- 6-224 Chicago
7- 7-225 Denver
7- 8-226 Seattle from New York Jets

7- 9-227 San Francisco
7-10-228 Oakland
7-11-229 Miami

7-12-230 Jacksonville from Cincinnati
7-13-231 Washington
7-14-232 Green Bay

7-15-233 Kansas City from Arizona

7-16-234 Carolina from Los Angeles Chargers through Buffalo
7-17-235 New York Jets from Seattle
7-18-236 Dallas
7-19-237 Detroit
7-20-238 Baltimore

7-21-239 Green Bay from Buffalo

7-22-240 San Francisco from Kansas City

7-23-241 Washington from Los Angeles Rams
7-24-242 Carolina

7-25-243 Kansas City from Tennessee

7-26-244 Atlanta

7-27-245 New Orleans

7-28-246 Pittsburgh

7-29-247 Jacksonville

7-30-248 Seattle from Minnesota

7-31-249 Cincinnati from New England

7-32-250 Seattle from Philadelphia through Seattle and New England
7-33-251 Los Angeles Chargers (Compensatory Selection)

7-34-252 Cincinnati (Compensatory Selection)

7-35-253 Cincinnati (Compensatory Selection)

7-36-254 Arizona (Compensatory Selection)

7-37-255 Tampa Bay (Compensatory Selection)

7-38-256 Atlanta (Compensatory Selection)

The 2018 franchise tag values are set

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The NFL announced that the salary cap for the 2018 season will be $177.2 million for each team, which means there are no more projected salaries to attach to players who get the franchise tag before Tuesday’s deadline.

Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry is set to make $15.982 million under the terms of the tag, but he may be signing a new contract with a new team if the Dolphins’ attempt to trade him is successful. Landry has already signed his tender.

Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence also signed his tender shortly after getting it on Monday. He and Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who hasn’t signed his tender, stand to make $17.143 million if they play out the year under the tag.

The number for running backs was set at $11.866 million, but that doesn’t apply to Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell after he was tagged last season. Bell will stand to make $14.5 million if the Steelers use the tag as expected.

The rest of the positions are as follows:

Quarterback – $23.189 million

Tight end – $9.846 million

Offensive line – $14.077 million

Defensive tackle – $13.939 million

Linebacker – $14.961 million

Cornerback $14.975 million

Safety $11.287 million

Kicker/Punter – $4.939 million

Should any team want to use the transition tag, which allows teams the right to match another contract offer without receiving compensation if they opt against it, those figures are:

Quarterback – $20.922 million

Running back – $9.63 million

Wide receiver – $13.924 million

Tight end – $8.428 million

Offensive line – $12.525 million

Defensive end – $14.2 million

Defensive tackle – $11.407 million

Linebacker – $12.81 million

Cornerback – $12.971 million

Safety – $9.536 million

Kicker/Punter – $4.493 million

How many teams are really interested in Kirk Cousins?

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Six years ago, teams lined up for a chance to have quarterback Peyton Manning reject them. Now, with Kirk Cousins hitting the market as the first healthy franchise quarterback on the right side of 30 in the history of free agency, the universe of interested teams sits at four. One eighth of the entire league.

But how many teams are actually interested in Cousins? The Cardinals, as of a week ago, thought Cousins would be too expensive for their budget. Now, they’re back in it. Supposedly.

Here’s a theory/hypothesis/whatever: Only the Jets are seriously interested, and the other three teams are essentially leverage. The Cardinals, Broncos, and Vikings would be willing participants in this dance, because showing interest in Cousins could help them leverage other arrangements.

If Case Keenum wants too much from the Vikings, the Vikings can shrug and say, “We’ll sign Cousins instead.” If A.J. McCarron wants too much from the Cardinals, the Cardinals can shrug and say, “We’ll sign Cousins instead.” If the Browns want too much from the Broncos for the first overall pick in the draft (a possibility that he has been making the rounds), the Broncos can shrug and say, “We’ll sign Cousins instead.”

Some think the Jets will offer the most to Cousins, but that he’ll choose to go somewhere else. In the end, the gap between the Jets and everyone else may be too big to justify saying no to New York.

Really, any team would be interested in Cousins if the price were low enough. The fact that the Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have emerged as finalists suggests that they’ve essentially been pre-qualified via intended offers that are in the vicinity of the ballpark of what Cousins wants.

Ultimately, however, it may be only two teams that are seriously motivated to sign him. Or maybe it’s only one, with the Jets being forced to pay more than they want under the threat that Cousins will choose a better team.

Jerry Jones is about to get a taste of NFL justice

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The owner of the Dallas Cowboys soon will experience frontier justice, Big Shield style.

On Monday, Jerry Jones will testify under oath before Commissioner Roger Goodell in a proceeding aimed at determining whether and to what extent Jones and the Cowboys owe the NFL and its member clubs reimbursement for legal fees incurred in connection with his threatened litigation over Goodell’s new contract and running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s actual litigation over his six-game suspension.

Speaking with reporters who cover the Cowboys on Saturday, Jones expressed an idealistic — and arguably delusional — view of what the process will entail.

“A hearing before the Commissioner is like a courtroom,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News. “You separate the wheat from the chaff, and you get right into the facts as they are, and I welcome that.

“Looking forward to my time with him regarding both the issues of how we were involved or not involved in the Ezekiel Elliott issue as well as the issue of what we did or didn’t do relative to his contract negotiation. Those will be the subject areas, but the key thing is it’s really factual . . . you . . . address the facts. I know he wants to know that, and I want him to know what the facts are.”

That would be great, if the facts matter. But they don’t matter.

Well, they do matter, but only insofar as they need to be massaged and twisted and squished into fitting the predetermined narrative, which leads to the preselected outcome. That’s how it has gone in the past, from Bountygate to Spygate to the ruling Jones experienced six years ago, when the league decided that Dallas and Washington treated the uncapped year like (who knew?) an uncapped year, stripping them of millions in cap space.

That’s precisely what will happen to Jones now, especially because this entire proceeding supposedly was instigated not by Goodell but by influential owners who want to see Goodell whack Jones for being so disruptive last year. Whatever Jones says or does, Goodell likely will decide that threatening litigation in a way that causes the league and its member clubs to incur legal fees constitutes initiating a lawsuit within the confines of Resolution FC-6, and that whatever the Cowboys did in connection with Elliott’s cases constitutes “substantial assistance of” his litigation under that same provision.

It’s the kind of thing that Jones complained about when objecting to the Commissioner’s new contract. The league office has too much power, and the league office all too frequently uses that power to selectively utilize a smorgasbord of rules in order to justify doing whatever the league office wants to do.

In this case, the league office wants to punish Jones and to make an example of him, in an effort to warn other owners not to behave in similar ways in the future. Resolution FC-6 provides the league with a procedure for picking his pocket for $2 million-plus, thanks in large part to the Commissioner’s full and complete power over the process.

So, yes, the facts will come out on Monday. But those facts won’t change the fact that the appeal process is more of a rubber stamp than a blind search for the truth.

 

With tag deadline two days away, two players have been tagged

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The tag deadline arrives on Tuesday, in only two days. And only two guys have been tagged since the window opened 12 days ago.

On the first day, the Dolphins applied the franchise tag to receiver Jarvis Landry. More recently, the Lions used the franchise tag on defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Here’s a list of the other hot spots as the final 48 hours of the process loom.

The Steelers tried to impose a February 20 artificial deadline on running back Le'Veon Bell to get a long-term deal done, and it didn’t happen. There’s a chance, maybe slim, they’ll get something done before having to make the tag/no tag decision on Tuesday. If not, the Steelers will have to choose between $14.5 million for Bell in 2018 or letting the market set his long-term value.

Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson could be tagged, either franchise or transition, if the Jags can’t get a deal done in the next two days. With Blake Bortles signing a reasonable deal, the Jaguars have more flexibility to keep Robinson around.

Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will be franchise tagged if he doesn’t agree to a long-term deal by Tuesday.

Washington has made it clear that it won’t tag quarterback Kirk Cousins for a third straight year, proving that even dysfunction has its limits.

With Giants G.M. Dave Gettleman dropping strong hints that a big deal will be coming for Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh likely won’t be getting tagged.

The Vikings reportedly won’t use the franchise tag on quarterback Case Keenum; they probably also won’t use the transition tag, either.

Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, whose fifth-year option wasn’t picked up by the team a year ago, could be franchise tagged after a strong 2017.

The Panthers reportedly are considering using the franchise tag on kicker Graham Gano.

The Seahawks reportedly won’t be tagging defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson.

The Rams reportedly are more inclined to tag safety Lemarcus Joyner than receiver Sammy Watkins.

At the outset of the process, we set the over-under for tags at 5.5. At this point, Lawrence is the only sure thing, barring a long-term deal. Bell, Robinson, and Joyner are strong possibilities. Fuller and Gano could happen as well. Eight could be the ceiling, which means that up to six more tags could be coming in the next two days.

Of course, in the effort to by comprehensive, we’ve probably overlooked someone. Feel free to point out the omission in the comments. As if you ever need to be asked.

Commissioner has “final and binding” power to determine legal fees to be paid by Jerry Jones

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The effort to recover legal fees, reportedly in excess of $2 million, from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones does not arise under the rule that allows Commissioner Roger Goodell to impose punishment for conduct detrimental to the game. Instead, the authority comes from Resolution FC-6, adopted in 1997.

Resolution FC-6 specifically relates to any effort by “any member club or any entity controlled by any direct or indirect owner of an interest in a member club” that becomes involved in litigation against the NFL or any of the member clubs. The resolution, a copy of which PFT has obtained, applies not only when a member club initiates litigation against the league or other member clubs but also when a member club “joins, has a direct, football-related financial interest in, or offers substantial assistance in any lawsuit or other legal, regulatory, or administrative proceeding” against the league or other member clubs.

Resolution FC-6 gives the Commissioner or his designee “final and binding” authority” to “determine the amount of said legal fees, litigation expenses, and costs,” after the club to be charged those amounts has “notice and an opportunity . . . to be heard.”

So what do these provisions mean, as it relates to the effort to collect more than $2 million from Jones?

First, the claim won’t be against Jones directly, but against the Cowboys. It’s a distinction without a difference, but the reports indicating that the effort will be targeted against Jones personally makes it feel more like revenge or retribution than it would be if the effort were reported more accurately as a claim only against the Cowboys.

Second, as it relates to the Jones’ effort to block the Commissioner’s contract extension via threat of litigation, no lawsuit was ever filed. Resolution FC-6 applies only when a member club “initiates, has a direct football-related financial interest in, or offers substantial assistance to any lawsuit or other legal, regulatory, or administrative proceeding.” The flurry of letters and communications that occur under the threat of a potential lawsuit (a common practice in civil litigation) do not constitute actual litigation. Thus, the Cowboys/Jones will be able to argue that none of the fees incurred in connection with his retention of lawyer David Boies and the back-and-forth arising from the mere possibility of litigation fall within the scope of Resolution FC-6.

Third, the Cowboys/Jones specifically refrained from becoming involved in the Ezekiel Elliott litigation. Team executive Stephen Jones characterized the team as “observers” in the litigation initially filed by Elliott in Texas, which was followed by the league filing a lawsuit of its own in New York.

Fourth, the question will become whether the Cowboys/Jones crossed the line into offering “substantial assistance” to Elliott via the declaration filed by Cowboys general counsel Jason Cohen (who testified that the Cowboys would suffer irreparable harm if Elliott is suspended and who corroborated the alleged effort to conceal the opinions of league investigator Kia Roberts from Goodell) or other specific help that the Cowboys provided.

Fifth, the Cowboys/Jones will have an opportunity, if they so desire, to pore over all of the various invoices and other itemizations of charges to argue that the lawyers charged too much for their services or otherwise engaged in unnecessary or irrelevant projects. If the details of any invoices showing excessive legal charges make their way into the hands of the media, that could prove to be embarrassing to the league.

Sixth, Resolution FC-6 specifically preserves the ability of the Commissioner to impose punishment against Jones for conduct detrimental to the league. Thus, the issue of legal fees may be not the end of this effort to recover money from Jones for his behavior in 2017, but the beginning.

Seventh, while Resolution FC-6 gives the Commissioner the sole power to determine the amount of fees to be paid, it’s silent as to the process for resolving the question of whether a member club has actually triggered the reimbursement obligation. Ultimately, then, the Cowboys/Jones eventually could file litigation aimed at proving that the Cowboys/Jones never filed litigation or substantially assisted litigation filed by Elliott.

Half of league spent above the cap in 2017

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Far more important than the annual salary cap is the actual cash spent each year, by every team. Last year, with the cap at $167 million, half of the teams spent more than the cap, and another half of the teams were under it.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, teams collectively spent $5.274 billion in 2017, an average of 98.69-percent of the total cap. The highest spenders were the Lions, at $204.46 million, or 122.4 percent of the cap.

At the other end were the Cowboys, who spent only $115.65 million. That’s only 69.26 percent of the cap.

The difference between cash and cap comes from prorated bonuses paid out in past year (for those currently spending under the cap in cash spending) or prorated bonuses paid out in the current year (for those currently spending over it).

Here’s the full list of cash spent in 2017:

1. Lions, $204.46 million (122.4 percent).

2. Panthers, $198.76 million (119.02 percent).

3. Packers, $183.23 million (109.72 percent).

4. Jaguars, $181.44 million (108.65 percent).

5. Dolphins, $179.43 million (107.44 percent).

6. Bears, $179.23 million (107.32 percent).

7. Browns, $177.1 million (106.05 percent).

8. 49ers, $174.57 million (104.53 percent).

9. Falcons, $173.88 million (104.12 percent).

10. Washington, $173.78 million (104.06 percent).

11. Raiders, $173.29 million (103.76 percent).

12. Vikings, $172.86 million (103.51 percent).

13. Eagles, $170.64 million (102.18 percent).

14. Patriots, $168.97 million (101.18 percent).

15. Seahawks, $168.61 million (100.96 percent).

16. Cardinals, $167.86 million (100.51 percent).

17. Steelers, $165.07 million (98.85 percent).

18. Titans, $164.24 million (98.35 percent).

19. Giants, $162.64 million (97.39 percent).

20. Bengals, $160.81 million (96.29 percent).

21. Chargers, $160.58 million (96.15 percent).

22. Rams, $159.2 million (95.33 percent).

23. Buccaneers, $156.87 million (93.93 percent).

24. Saints, $155.93 million (93.37 percent).

25. Broncos, $152.55 million (91.35 percent).

26. Bills, $150.59 million (90.15 percent).

27. Ravens, $149.28 million (89.39 percent).

28. Texans, $144.04 million (86.25 percent).

29. Colts, $143.41 million (85.88 percent).

30. Jets, $143.08 million (85.68 percent).

31. Chiefs, $141.99 million (85.02 percent).

32. Cowboys, $115.657 million (69.26 percent).

Will free-agent quarterbacks fall victim to collusion?

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For the first time since the NFL launched a system of free agency that relies heavily on a salary cap, a healthy complement of veteran quarterbacks soon will hit the open market. And even though recent growth in the salary cap indicates that someone already should be making more than $30 million per year at the quarterback position, there’s a not-so-subtle sense emerging that teams will refuse to overspend.

It could be coincidental, fueled by a mutual realization based on Jacksonville’s decision to keep Blake Bortles at $18 million per year that it becomes impossible to contend if too much money is devoted to the quarterback position. It also could be deliberately coincidental; it could be the product of collusion.

Yes, collusion happens. Yes, it’s hard to prove collusion. (Colin Kaepernick‘s pending grievance may prove otherwise.) Regardless, the league has a built-in structure for communicating to teams cautionary tales of overspending, and for nudging them away from blowing the curve. Coincidentally (or not), reports have emerged in recent days that teams like the Jets won’t give Kirk Cousins a blank check — and that teams like the Cardinals aren’t even interested in joining what could become a runaway bid process for the first healthy franchise quarterback under the age of 30 to hit the open market.

This dynamic could impact other quarterbacks, like Drew Brees. A team intent on competing to win the Super Bowl this year should offer him $30 million per year. Don’t be surprised if people start talking about his age or otherwise picking nits about the current state of his game, as a precursor to no one offering dramatically more than whatever the Saints will pay.

Ditto for lesser options like Case Keenum and A.J. McCarron. Some now believe that each guy will be hard pressed to get more than Bortles got from the Jaguars.

Then there are the red-flag veterans, competent players with lingering knee problems. The money simply may not be there for Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, if the money isn’t as big as it was expected to be for Cousins, Brees, Keenum, and McCarron.

The ultimate leverage for most quarterback-needy teams will be the draft, where potential quarterbacks can be found at very affordable five-year deals. Look at the list of annual pay rates for quarterbacks; the bottom third of it is full of players operating under the terms of assembly-line deals crafted by a system aimed at preventing busts from stealing money — and that also allows teams to squat on talented players for four or five years at well-below-market rates.

Salary cap is expected to be at least $178 million, could exceed $179 million

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With the new league year approaching, the NFL and NFL Players Association soon will be finalizing the salary cap number for 2018. In December, the NFL projected a range of $174.2 million to $178.1 million for the cap.

As often is the case, the actual salary cap likely will exceed those projections.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the cap will at least be $178 million. It also could exceed $179 million.

The specific number, generally driven by revenues in the prior years, ultimately becomes the product of negotiation between the NFL and NFLPA. Last year, the parties set the cap at $168 million.

The cap has been experiencing significant growth in recent years, even with a decline in TV ratings. With the Thursday night broadcast package spiking from $450 million to at least $550 million annually as of 2018, the increases likely will continue.

Bortles is first, but several 2014 first-round picks will get bigger contracts

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When Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles signed with the Jaguars on Saturday, he became the first member of the 2014 class of first-round draft picks to sign a second contract with his team. He won’t be the last.

Several first-round picks from 2014 will get even bigger deals on their second contracts. The class of 2014 is heading into its fifth year, and we look below at each of the 2014 first-round picks whose fifth-year options were picked up:

Jadeveon Clowney: The first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft is set to make $13.8 million this year, and he has lived up to his promise enough that he’ll be one of the highest-paid players in the NFL when he gets his second contract.

Khalil Mack: The Raiders chose to prioritize locking up their 2014 second-round pick, Derek Carr, first. But they should prioritize getting Mack done soon. He heads into 2018 set to make $13.8 million.

Jake Matthews: The Falcons’ left tackle is set to make $12.5 million this season.

Mike Evans: The Buccaneers and Evans haven’t started talking about an extension. This year he’ll make $13.3 million.

Anthony Barr: Barr was chosen to his third consecutive Pro Bowl this year and is under contract with the Vikings for $12.3 million this year.

Eric Ebron: Although he’s been a disappointment for the Lions, they picked up his $8.25 million fifth-year option. It remains to be seen whether the Lions will want to keep him around.

Taylor Lewan: The Titans’ left tackle is still a good deal at $9.3 million this year. They’ll likely want to keep him signed to keep protecting Marcus Mariota‘s blind side for many more years.

Odell Beckham: He said last year that he wanted to be the highest-paid player in the league, but an injury-plagued 2017 season may force him to play for $8.5 million in 2018 and wait until 2019 to get a bigger deal.

Aaron Donald: One of the best players in the NFL, Donald is a bargain at $6.9 million. He held out last year, and this year he will certainly want to get paid what he’s worth.

Ryan Shazier: The focus for Shazier will be rehabbing from the serious spinal cord injury he suffered last season. His fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury, so he will receive his $8.5 million salary in 2018.

Zack Martin: The Cowboys want Martin to be part of their offensive line for many years to come. He’s set to make $9.3 million this year.

C.J. Mosley: When the Ravens picked up Mosley’s fifth-year option, coach John Harbaugh said Mosley would be part of the Ravens for many years. This year he’ll play for $8.7 million.

Ja'Wuan James: The Dolphins put James on injured reserve last year. This year he’s due $9.3 million.

Brandin Cooks: Traded from the Saints to the Patriots, Cooks is set to earn $8.5 million on his fifth-year option in New England.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: The Packers picked up the fifth-year option that pays Clinton-Dix $5.6 million this season.

Dee Ford: He’s set to play for the Chiefs for $8.7 million this season.

Darqueze Dennard: The Bengals are set to pay Dennard $8.5 million this season.

Jason Verrett: The Chargers are set to pay Verrett $8.5 million this season.

Deone Bucannon: The Cardinals are set to pay Bucannon $8.7 million this season.

Kelvin Benjamin: When the Bills acquired Benjamin in a trade with the Panthers, they also acquired his $8.5 million salary for 2018.

Jimmie Ward: The 49ers are set to pay Ward $8.5 million this season.

Bradley Roby: The Broncos are set to pay Roby $8.5 million this season.

The 2018 starting quarterbacks, ranked by APY

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The three-year deal with a base value of $54 million gives Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles an average of $18 million per year. That sounds good in isolation, but it puts him near the bottom of all NFL starting quarterbacks not constrained by a slotted rookie deal.

Here’s the list of 2018 starters by annual average, with actual numbers for those with contracts and projected numbers for those who will still be signed.

1. Kirk Cousins: $29 million per year (projected). The number could go higher depending on the number of suitors and the zeal with which they pursue him.

2. Drew Brees: $28 million per year. Whether he signs with the Saints or someone else, Brees always has gotten paid handsomely. As he should. If the Saints want to keep him, they’ll possibly need to match or beat the package given to the guy who has started seven largely inconsequential games.

3. Jimmy Garoppolo: $27.5 million per year. The highest paid player in the NFL won’t be the highest paid for long. He may not be in the top five for long.

4. Matthew Stafford: $27 million. He’ll have another chance to get to the top of the market when he signs his fourth big-money, multi-year NFL contract in a few years.

5. Derek Carr: $25 million. If the Raiders hadn’t signed him last year, the Raiders would be faced with a fascinating decision. Keep Carr or pursue someone like Cousins, most recently coached by Jon Gruden’s younger brother?

6. Andrew Luck: $24.594 million. He hasn’t done much to earn his money, but that should change this year.

7. Joe Flacco: $22.133 million. But for a crippling cap hit, the Ravens would be considering replacing the Super Bowl MVP from five years ago.

8. Aaron Rodgers: $22 million. When it’s all said and done, he’ll be north of $30 million.

9. Russell Wilson: $21.9 million. He’s already overdue for a new deal.

10. Ben Roethlisberger: $21.85 million. The Steelers have mentioned the possibility of an extension. As more and more quarterbacks get paid, Roethlisberger may demand one.

11. Alex Smith: $21.7 million. Combining a four-year, $94 million extension with a 2018 salary of $14.5 million puts Smith on the fringe of the top 10.

12. Eli Manning: $21 million. A middle-of-the-pack quarterback has nearly middle-of-the-pack pay.

13. Philip Rivers: $20.812 million. Dollar for dollar one of the biggest bargains in the league.

14. Cam Newton: $20.76 million. The new Carolina owner’s first order of business should be to address Newton’s deal.

15. Matt Ryan: $20.75 million. The 2016 league MVP is grossly underpaid.

16. Case Keenum: $20 million (projected). That’s 10 times what he made a year ago.

17. Ryan Tannehill: $19.25 million. And now you know why the Dolphins aren’t rushing to get rid of him.

18. A.J. McCarron: $19 million (projected). Not bad for a guy with four career starts.

19. Blake Bortles: $18 million. Kind of puts it the new contract in perspective, doesn’t it?

20. Andy Dalton: $16 million. The Red Rifle may be looking for more green, soon.

21. Tyrod Taylor: $15.25 million. Whether he plays for the Bills or someone else, it’s a pretty good deal.

22. Tom Brady: $15 million. Fake Don Yee was right.

23. Mitch Trubisky: $7.258 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2017, as the No. 2 pick.

24. Jared Goff: $6.984 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2016, as the No. 1 pick.

25. Carson Wentz: $6.669 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2016, as the No. 2 pick.

26. Jameis Winston: $6.337 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2015, as the No. 1 pick.

27. Marcus Mariota: $6.053 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2015, as the No. 2 pick.

28. Patrick Mahomes: $4.1 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2017, as the No. 10 pick.

29. Deshaun Watson: $3.463 million. Slotted rookie deal from 2017, as the No. 12 pick.

30. Dak Prescott: $680,000. By rule, he can’t sign a new deal until after 2018.

The list doesn’t include 32 quarterbacks, given the possibility that one or more rookie quarterbacks will be Week One starters. Wild cards include Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, and Nick Foles, any of whom could also be starting when the season begins.

With predictable play calling, Colts botched fourth-quarter leads like no other team

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The Colts were one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2017, but they were a particular kind of bad: They were actually a decent team for the first three quarters of games, but they self-destructed in the fourth quarter.

Indianapolis had the lead at the start of the fourth quarter in nine of its 16 games in 2017. To finish with a 4-12 record when you’re leading most of your games in the fourth quarter requires some lousy fourth-quarter decision making, and that’s exactly what the Colts had.

Warren Sharp has laid out a litany of trends that show just how dumb the Colts were in the fourth quarters of games.

The Colts became incredibly predictable in the fourth quarters, all but announcing to opposing defenses that they were going to run the ball to protect their leads. In fact, when the Colts lined up with fewer than three wide receivers on the field while leading in the fourth quarter, they ran the ball 100 percent of the time. Those runs averaged just 1.9 yards per carry. Those are the kinds of trends that opposing teams notice, and you can bet that opposing defenses realized that they could sell out against the run to stop the Colts in those situations.

On those runs, the Colts went to Frank Gore much more often than they went to Marlon Mack — even though Mack’s fourth-quarter runs were more successful than Gore’s. It’s not surprising that Mack, a younger player who got fewer carries than Gore over the course of the 2017 season, was more fresh in the fourth quarters of games. It is surprising that the Colts didn’t realize Mack was their fresher player, and kept going to Gore late in games even when Mack’s runs were more successful.

The result of that predictability is that the 2017 Colts are the only team in the last 27 years to lose at least seven games they led at halftime, and the only team in the last 20 years to hold a lead entering the fourth quarter at least nine times, but finish 4-12 or worse.

The good news for the Colts is that new head coach Frank Reich comes from the Eagles, a smart team when it comes to making key decisions late in games. If Reich follows an approach similar to his old boss Doug Pederson, it’s easy to envision the Colts being a lot better in the fourth quarters of games in 2018 than they were in 2017. With, they hope, a healthy Andrew Luck back on the field, and smarter decision making late in close games, they should be a lot better. When it comes to fourth-quarter decision making, they could hardly be worse.

Full list of compensatory draft picks awarded for 2018 NFL Draft

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Here’s a look at the full list of compensatory picks allocated for the 2018 NFL Draft, which the league announced Friday:

(Round-overall selection, team)

3-97 Cardinals

3-98 Texans

3-99 Broncos

3-100 Bengals

4-133 Packers

4-134 Cardinals

4-135 Giants

4-136 Patriots

4-137 Cowboys

5-170 Bengals

5-171 Cowboys

5-172 Packers

5-173 Cowboys

5-174 Packers

6-207 Packers

6-208 Cowboys

6-209 Chiefs

6-210 Raiders

6-211 Texans

6-212 Raiders

6-213 Vikings

6-214 Texans

6-215 Ravens

6-216 Raiders

6-217 Raiders

6-218 Vikings

7-251 Chargers

7-252 Bengals

7-253 Bengals

7-254 Cardinals

7-255 Buccaneers

7-256 Falcons