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The 2019 NFL Offseason Tracker: The Ravens Cut Eric Weddle

The Ringer’s offseason live blog will keep track of the deals, trades, cuts, rumors, predictions, and everything else you need to know about free agency and the draft. Check back for the latest news from around the league both ahead of the so-called legal tampering period (which begins on Monday, March 11) and after players can begin signing (Wednesday, March 13, at 4 p.m. ET).

Baltimore Ravens Are Parting Ways With Eric Weddle

March 5, 6:26 p.m. ET

Danny Heifetz: The Baltimore Ravens released safety Eric Weddle on Tuesday, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Weddle was entering the final year of a four-year, $26 million contract he signed with Baltimore in 2016 after spending nine seasons with the Chargers. He has been one of the best and most reliable safeties in the league, and though he turned 34 in January, he has started 170 of 176 regular-season games in the past decade, including all 48 since he arrived in Baltimore. His release marks the first tough decision made by new general manager Eric DeCosta, who became just the second GM in Ravens franchise history when he replaced the legendary Ozzie Newsome this offseason. The move frees up $7.5 million in cap space, which might help Baltimore re-sign inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Ravens did not place the franchise tag on Mosley before Tuesday’s deadline, but they may still hope to strike a deal before free agency begins next week.

Weddle (plus his spectacular and slightly horrifying beard) is the latest addition to what is suddenly a loaded group of free-agent safeties. Seattle’s Earl Thomas, New York’s Landon Collins, Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu and Tre Boston, the Los Angeles Rams’ Lamarcus Joyner, Washington’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro are all set to hit the open market. The flood comes a year after a number of big-name free agents at the position had trouble finding contracts that paid them what they thought they were worth.

New England Won’t Use the Franchise Tag on Three Free Agents

March 5, 4:10 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The New England Patriots are Patriots-ing. Adam Schefter and Field Yates reported that, barring any late changes, New England plans to let defensive end Trey Flowers, tackle Trent Brown, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit free agency rather than use the franchise tag on them.

This news doesn’t mean all three are leaving. Gostkowski, New England’s kicker since 2006, was franchise-tagged in 2015 and went on to eventually sign a four-year deal, which expires this month. Gostkowski has been shakier than his reputation would indicate, missing an extra point or field goal in each of the Patriots’ last three Super Bowl appearances. It would not be surprising to see the Patriots re-sign Gostkowski within the next week, but if they don’t, those misses might have something to do with it.

Flowers would be a bigger loss. He’s the perfect Patriot, but could also command the kind of contract in free agency that New England has historically declined to match, especially considering pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Demarcus Lawrence, and Frank Clark have all received the franchise tag from their teams. That leaves Flowers as the best pass rusher available, and where other teams may see a player who is worth up to $50 million, New England may see a player they drafted no. 101 overall in 2015 as one that can be replaced by one of their six (!) draft picks inside the top 101 this year.

Trent Brown will be one of the top tackles available now that Donovan Smith re-signed with Tampa Bay. Brown is not nearly as consistent as Flowers, and he won’t be as hard for the Patriots to replace (Brown gave up the second-most quarterback hits of all tackles in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus). The Pats acquired Brown from the 49ers last season as a cheaper replacement for Nate Solder, who signed with the Giants in free agency. Teams chasing a left tackle might be wise to pursue a similar strategy instead of paying Brown big money.

Tampa Bay Sets the Tackle Market With Donovan Smith Deal

March 5, 1:56 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have re-signed tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year deal with $27 million guaranteed at signing that could be worth as much as $41.3 million, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Monday.

Smith was drafted 34th overall in 2015 and has started every game since he entered the league. Of the 49 tackles who played 800 or more snaps in 2018, Smith was graded 32nd by Pro Football Focus in pass protection and allowed the fourth-most pressures in that group. He’s not an elite player, but he’s consistently on the field and serviceable, which is enough to get paid to block on the outside. The Buccaneers are changing their offense with new head coach Bruce Arians taking over and offensive coordinator (and Grit Legend) Byron Leftwich on the sidelines. Arians’s offenses have traditionally targeted receivers deep downfield, which requires the pass protection to give the quarterback enough time in the pocket for plays to develop.

After Donovan Smith and his family, the person happiest to hear this news might be Miami Dolphins free agent Ja’Wuan James, who will be the best tackle in free agency. James has not played like an elite tackle, but he could be in line to get a massive contract from a pass-protection-needy team. (Nate Solder, for example, landed a five-year contract with $34.8 million guaranteed from the Giants last offseason.) After James, the best tackles left are New England’s Trent Brown and, well, a lot of guys you probably don’t want as your starting left tackle no matter the price.

The Chiefs Are Reportedly Tagging Dee Ford, but Could Trade Him

March 4, 7:35 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Kansas City Chiefs will use the franchise tag on Dee Ford, ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported on Monday.

The franchise-tag value for an outside linebacker this year is $15.4 million. Unlike other talented defenders who were reportedly tagged on Monday—Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, and Grady Jarrett—there’s a serious chance Ford could be traded rather than suit up for the Chiefs next year, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Saturday.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport confirmed on Monday that a Ford trade was still a possibility.

Kansas City’s defense gave up the second-most passing yards in the league last season, but that could largely be blamed on their offense. The Chiefs defense took the field with an 8.13-point lead on average, the highest mark in the league, and teams often abandoned their game plan and began passing earlier than usual in an attempt to make up the deficit. That would seem to be an argument for keeping their second-most prolific pass rusher, but there’s also an argument for selling high on Ford. He had a career-high 13 sacks in a season in which he could rush the passer without worrying about stopping the run because of the score. But racking up 13 sacks for the 2018 Chiefs may be the football equivalent of being the fifth starter for the Warriors: Many players might be able to put up similar numbers in a perfect situation.

But the team might be getting a discount on Ford’s services. The franchise-tag value for a defensive end this year is $17.1 million, but Ford was tagged as an outside linebacker, which would pay him $15.4 million in 2019 despite having similar responsibilities. There’s a chance Ford could contest his position and seek the roughly $2 million difference. (The Texans preemptively resolved the same potential issue with Jadeveon Clowney by giving a $1 million bonus at the end of 2018.)

With the Chiefs transitioning to a 4-3 base defense under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who replaced longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton in February, it’s unclear whether Ford will be a great fit, plus there’s a chance he caught lightning in a bottle in 2018. Factor in that Patrick Mahomes II and Tyreek Hill are all still on their rookie deals and could command record contracts at each of their positions soon, and it’s easy to see why the Chiefs are hesitant to commit in the long term.

The Ford trade rumors come after Kansas City had reportedly been shopping fellow pass rusher Justin Houston. Houston led the league with 22 sacks in 2014 but has just 30 sacks in the four seasons since, as he’s struggled to fully recover from a 2015 knee injury. When healthy, Houston is still an excellent (if no longer elite) pass rusher, but his $21.1 million cap hit this season makes it tough to for Kansas City to keep him. On Monday, Matt Verderame of FanSided reported that the Chiefs were releasing Houston, but NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that was not the case—at least, not yet. Releasing Houston would save the Chiefs $14 million in cap space. If the team does part with Houston, it may be wise to hold onto Ford to preserve at least some of the pass rush that kept its defense respectable. If the Chiefs end up trading Ford and releasing Houston in the same offseason, perhaps they have their eyes on one of the many pass rushers in this year’s NFL draft as a replacement—or think they can score so many points in 2019 it won’t matter.

Landon Collins Reportedly Set to Become a Free Agent Because Dave Gettleman Hates the Franchise Tag

March 4, 7:35 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The New York Giants are not expected to tag Landon Collins and will let him become a free agent, NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones and Ian Rapoport reported on Monday.

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who was hired last offseason, said at a press conference last week that using the franchise tag would be a headache.

“So let’s go to the conversation of eliminating distractions,” Gettleman said. “You tag a guy. He’s mad. And that’s all you guys are going to write about. For six months, it’s what it’s going to be. So I have to say to myself, ‘Is it worth it?’”

It would be surprising for the Giants to not try to retain Collins considering they have already floated moving on from pass rusher Olivier Vernon. Releasing Vernon would create $11.5 million in cap space that would cover all of Collins’s $11.3 million price in 2019. It’s also shocking considering the team traded a fourth-round pick to the Rams last season for Alec Ogletree, who has the third-highest average salary ($10.7 million) in the NFL for inside linebackers, but was the 81st highest-graded linebacker by Pro Football Focus.

If Collins does leave, the only player the Giants drafted between 2011 and 2015 still on the team would be Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants traded up to the first pick of the second round in 2015 to draft Collins, a national champion under Nick Saban at Alabama. Collins overcame pre-draft concerns about his coverage skills to become a first-team All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2016. In 2018, Pat Shurmur’s first season as Giants head coach, Collins was named a team captain.

Gettleman shocked the football world as GM of the Panthers in 2016, when he rescinded the franchise tag of cornerback Josh Norman, a reigning first-team All-Pro. When Gettleman was fired from the Panthers in 2017, many former Panthers players were happy to stomp on his grave on social media.

By Tagging Frank Clark, the Seahawks Focus on Keeping Their D-line Intact

March 4, 6 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Seahawks have franchise-tagged defensive end Frank Clark, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported on Monday.

Clark and the Seahawks will have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal or else Clark will play under the $17.1 million tag price for defensive ends in 2019. That one-year salary would be more than four times as much as Clark has made in his career to date. Clark has the same number of quarterback hits since 2016 as Khalil Mack, who was named Defensive Player of the Year and signed the biggest contract in NFL history for a defender in that span. Clark is coming off a career year with 13 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles.

With Earl Thomas set to leave in free agency, Clark and linebacker Bobby Wagner are the defenders the Seahawks are counting on this year. Clark’s 13 sacks led the team, and while Jarran Reed is a promising player who had 10.5 sacks in 2018, no other Seahawk had more than three. The team traded away defensive end Michael Bennett to the Eagles last offseason, and last week, the team released 2017 second-round draft pick defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who suffered serious injuries from an ATV accident before his rookie season and never played for the team. By keeping Clark, Seattle is ensuring it will have a suitable pass rush in 2019.

Clark was drafted by Seattle in the second round (no. 63 overall) in 2015. He was considered a first-round talent, but fell during the draft in part because of a 2014 incident at a hotel for which he was charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence. That charge was dropped when Clark reached a plea agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to disorderly conduct.

The Falcons Tag Jarrett and Could Face More Contract Decisions on D

March 4, 6 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Falcons have franchise-tagged defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Monday.

Jarrett had little chance of reaching free agency after emerging as one of the league’s best—and most undervalued—defenders. Taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, he tied for the fourth-highest-graded interior defender in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has said this offseason that it is a priority to sign the team captain to a long-term deal. The 2019 franchise tender for defensive tackles is expected to come in at $15.2 million.

Atlanta has a lot of young, talented defenders who will need big contracts soon, including linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell and safety Keanu Neal (likely one of the reasons the team is expected to let running back Tevin Coleman go in free agency). The team is negotiating with Jarrett to keep the Georgia native in town—and also to set the precedent for the rest of their core players’ negotiations.

Cowboys Reportedly Plan to Tag Demarcus Lawrence

March 4, 5 p.m. ET

Justin Sayles: The Dallas Cowboys plan to use their franchise tag on defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Monday.

The news comes one day before the deadline for teams to use their tags. This would mark the second consecutive year the Cowboys have tagged Lawrence, which means he would be in line to make $20.5 million for the 2019 season. The team would have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract with Lawrence. While Dallas COO Stephen Jones said last week that he was confident the two sides would reach an agreement on a multiyear deal, The Athletic’s Calvin Watkins reported that they were “far apart” on Monday.

Lawrence, a second-round pick by the Cowboys in 2014, led a resurgent Dallas defense with 10.5 sacks in 2018. How to handle his contract is just one of several key decisions the team may have to make this offseason, as quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and wide receiver Amari Cooper are all set to play on deals that expire after this coming season.

Texans Hit Jadeveon Clowney With Franchise Tag

March 4, 2:28 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Houston Texans placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney on Monday.

The two sides will have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. If a deal hasn’t been reached by then, Clowney will sign the franchise tender and play on a one-year guaranteed deal in 2019. The franchise tender for linebackers is set at $15.4 million, though Clowney reportedly will make slightly more. (He could opt not to sign the tender, à la Le’Veon Bell, but he will almost certainly not go that route.) The Texans are placing a nonexclusive tag on Clowney, which means he can sign a long-term offer with another team and the Texans would have the right to match. If the Texans were to decline to match an offer from another team, they’d receive two first-round draft picks as compensation. It’s highly unlikely another team would part with two first-rounders to sign Clowney to a massive contract; the Bears offered two first-rounders for Khalil Mack (who went four spots after Clowney in the 2014 draft) in a more traditional trade last September before signing him to a $141 million extension.

Clowney has been a strong defender for Houston but has fallen short of the world-wrecking expectations he entered the league with after being drafted no. 1 overall in 2014 out of South Carolina. He has never had more than 9.5 sacks or forced more than two fumbles in a season. Clowney played in 17 of 33 possible games in the first two years of his career (including the playoffs) but has suited up for 48 of the 51 possible games in the past three seasons.

Kyler Murray–to-the-Cardinals Is Heating Up

March 4, 1:34 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The prospect of the Arizona Cardinals selecting Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the no. 1 pick gained steam at the NFL combine. On Saturday, NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones reported that teams believe “almost universally” that Arizona is going to draft Murray no. 1. An unnamed general manager told ESPN’s Mike Sando: “Arizona is going to take Murray no. 1. I’m not betting. I’m telling you, it’s going to happen.” New Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is an admirer of Murray’s game, but does that mean the team is preparing to move on from Josh Rosen, whom the team selected with the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft? Cardinals GM Steve Keim didn’t exactly strike down the speculation over Rosen’s future at his press conference last week. When asked whether Rosen was Arizona’s quarterback, Keim responded, “right now, for sure.”

Murray’s rise from baseball prospect to NFL draft curiosity to possible no. 1 pick is happening quickly. His measurements at the combine dispelled some doubts about his stature, and he impressed during his interviews. The Heisman Trophy winner is expected to participate in a full workout at Oklahoma’s pro day March 13. If the Cardinals do look to trade Rosen, Washington would make sense as a destination. It’s unclear whether Alex Smith will be available in 2019 after suffering a spiral leg fracture last year, and, even if he is healthy, he’ll be 35 this season.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s players being offered in trades from other teams,” Washington president Bruce Allen told reporters Friday. “We’ve listened to that.”

Rosen is a young, promising quarterback who might be available for a discount, which is everything Washington could ask for given its situation. Peter King reported Monday that the Cardinals might not get more than a third-round pick in return for Rosen, though they would almost certainly ask for (and get) a better price than that a year after giving up a third- and fifth-rounder to move up five spots to draft Rosen. It’s possible that Arizona is fueling these reports because it wants to trade down from no. 1 and raise the price for teams interested in Murray. It’s also possible that it’s unexpectedly stumbled into its franchise quarterback and Rosen is collateral damage.

Nick Foles Appears to Be Jacksonville-Bound

March 3, 10:09 p.m. ET

Sayles: Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles is expected to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars once free agency begins, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

Despite speculation that teams such as Washington and Miami may have interest in the 30-year-old quarterback, Jacksonville appears to be the only team vying for his services, the report said. The details of the contract are still being worked out, but it may not make Foles one the league’s richest quarterbacks, as a lack of QB-needy teams has meant that a market has yet to fully materialize for him.

In Jacksonville, Foles would be reunited with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was the Eagles’ quarterback coach during his legend-making playoff run two seasons ago. Assuming the deal gets done, Jacksonville will be hoping for a vast improvement over last year’s disappointing finish. The Jaguars went 5-11 in 2018 just one year after making the AFC championship game. The defense that anchored that run remains largely intact, but Blake Bortles and the offense regressed mightily last year, dropping from 16th to 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Bortles, the third overall pick in 2014, was benched twice last year for Cody Kessler. Heading into this offseason, neither was seen as a viable starter for the Jaguars, making them a logical destination for the soon-to-be-former Eagle.

Foles, who began his career in Philadelphia in 2012 and spent time with the Rams and Chiefs before returning to the Eagles as a backup in 2017, effectively became a free agent when he declined to exercise his $20 million mutual option with the team. While some expected the Eagles to franchise-tag Foles in hopes of trading him, Howie Roseman said last week the team wouldn’t.

Foles leaves the Eagles after replacing starting QB Carson Wentz for significant portions of the past two seasons, leading them into the postseason each time. In addition to helping the franchise win its first Super Bowl title in February 2018, he led the Eagles this past season to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they fell to the Saints. He’ll be best remembered for the Philly Special play, which inspired a statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field and countless tattoos.

What Should We Look Out for in the Coming Weeks?

March 3, 10:09 p.m. ET

Heifetz: The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team carrying their weight with offseason drama. If not for Le’Veon Bell thirsting for teams to sign him and Antonio Brown’s trade demands, we’d have spent February listening to Stephen A. Smith yell that Kyler Murray is Jordyn Woods, the Arizona Cardinals are Tristan Thompson, and Josh Rosen is about to be Khloé Kardashian. (Actually, I’d love to hear Stephen A. talk about this.)

February was a one-team show, but March should be a leaguewide affair. The 2019 salary cap is projected to come in just shy of $190 million, the highest figure ever. Indianapolis’s projected available cap space this offseason ($106 million) is higher than the total salary cap when the team won the Super Bowl after the 2006 season ($102 million). Every team has so much money to play with that they can make any signing or trade possible, no matter how burdensome their cap situation may seem. Subsequently, general managers and coaches around the league are more willing to gamble in the trade market. Add those two ingredients together—flexibility and risk-taking—and the NFL offseason is as wide open as ever. Keep that in mind for these top stories to watch over the next few weeks.

Will Antonio Brown be traded? Antonio Brown has made it clear he wants to play somewhere else. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert didn’t even rule out trading Brown within the division if that was the best offer on the table.

Where will Le’Veon Bell sign? Bell forfeited $14.5 million by refusing to play on the franchise tag for a second consecutive year and sitting out the 2018 season. But he avoided another 400-touch season and ensured he’d be healthy for free agency. Now we can see if it was worth all of the trouble—and anxiously await the release of his latest album.

How will the rest of the free-agent dominoes fall? With Philly’s real-life Rocky, Foles, apparently set to go to Jacksonville, attention will turn to the rest of this year’s class, which includes defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Earl Thomas, safety Tyrann Mathieu, running back Mark Ingram, receiver Golden Tate, linebacker Anthony Barr, running back Tevin Coleman, pass rusher Terrell Suggs, pass rusher Clay Matthews, receiver Randall Cobb, receiver Michael Crabtree, and running back Adrian Peterson.

Will Rob Gronkowski retire? Gronk’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN on February 19 that Gronk’s decision may come in the next couple of weeks, though Gronk seems to live by his own schedule. He’s one of the few NFL players we can count on to stay in our feeds after he stops playing.

Who will sign contract extensions? Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and A.J. Green will all be unrestricted free agents after the 2019 season and could be in line for massive contract extensions with their teams. Pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, and Dee Ford may be franchise-tagged, and they could sign large deals as well with their teams in the coming months.

Will we have any drastic rule changes? Despite the Saints pass-interference debacle in the NFC championship game, owners are unlikely to change replay rules. But after the Chiefs lost the AFC championship game when they didn’t get the ball in overtime, the franchise will propose an amendment to granting both teams a possession in OT.

And while we wait for these story lines to unfold, here are some key dates to keep in mind:

Tuesday, March 5: The deadline for teams to franchise tag players.

Monday, March 11: Teams can negotiate with free agents, but not officially sign them during a period called “legal tampering.”

Wednesday, March 13: The new league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET. Free agents can be signed and trades, like the one of Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-rounder, are officially processed.

Thursday, April 25–Saturday, April 27: The NFL draft takes place in Nashville, Tennessee.

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