Potential landing spots for Alex Mack

Every year, there is a premier talent that hits the open market in the NFL. Turns out that the hottest commodity is one we did not expect.

Alex Mack
Mack started every game in six out of his seven seasons with Cleveland.

Alex Mack announced at Pro Bowl practice that he would like to opt out of his current deal with the Cleveland Browns. Mack is a three-time Pro Bowler and a former All-Pro. He is widely regarded as a top five player at his position.

Mack is set to make $8 million with his current deal, but he and his agent believe that he is worth a lot more than that and that he can get a lot more than that. With few other centers expected to be available in free agency, we could see that boost Mack’s value even more.

While this does not mean that Mack is definitely leaving the Browns, the possibility now exists. So I figured it was time to find a couple of good fits for when he hits the free agent market. Something to note is that Mack definitely fits better as a pass blocker than a run blocker, so that needs to be considered.

Hue Jackson
Jackson should make retaining Mack a priority in his first days as coach.

Cleveland Browns
Obviously, Mack would have just opted out of his Browns deal, but it seems more monetary than distain for Cleveland. With the Browns under a new direction with Hue Jackson at head coach, Mack might be enticed into hanging around. The Browns would need him too. The closest thing to a backup center is either long-snapper Charley Hughlett or rookie right guard Cameron Erving, who played center at Florida State. Mack would be a center piece on a developing offense that needs a huge makeover already.

Russell_Wilson
Wilson suffered the most sacks of his career this season.

Seattle Seahawks
This past offseason, Seattle outsmarted itself in trading for Jimmy Graham. It was assumed that the former All-Pro tight end would push the Seahawks of the brink and turn them into a true powerhouse. However, the lack of a steady offensive line proved to be the constant issue for the offense all year. Part of the deal to acquire Graham involved sending Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans. Bringing in Mack would truly make Seattle’s offense scary. If they cut down on the 46 sacks allowed this past season and give Russell Wilson more time to pick apart offenses, look out.

Blake Bortles
Bortles was sacked 106 times over the last two seasons.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Even though spending big every season in free agency hasn’t seemed to work, adding Mack could be a savvy move for this young Jaguars squad. Blake Bortles is clearly coming into his own and the skill positions for Jacksonville look to be improving. Solidifying the offensive line by signing a proven veteran like Mack would make a major impact. Jacksonville allowed the fourth most sacks in the league this season and failed to impress in the running game. Mack would immediately remedy both of those issues, along with replace soon-to-be free agent Stefan Wisniewski. In the end, Jacksonville should push very hard to sign Mack.

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Tennessee Titans
Mariota only managed to start 12 games in his rookie season.

Tennessee Titans
Another AFC South team could use some help on the offensive line, especially when you consider the circumstances. Tennessee has a young quarterback in Marcus Mariota who got banged around this season and missed some time with various injuries. The Titans also match up twice a year with the Houston Texans, which means a nice dosage of J.J. Watt. The Titans allowed the most sacks by any NFL team this season and had a ground game that was average at best. Plugging in Mack and then drafting Laremy Tunsil first overall makes this group look like one of the better ones in the league. Mack’s presence could make a huge difference in whether the Titans continue to falter near the bottom or start showing signs that the rebuild has worked.

Free agency is still a long way off but Mack seems intent on exploring his options. If Mack does leave Cleveland, I think his first choice would be to play in Seattle, but I would not be surprised to see him land in Jacksonville either.

Advertisements

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wildcard Round

I wish I had a rooting interest in this year’s playoffs, but all the same, this is going to be a year to remember. There are tons of great storylines and some incredible games to be played and that starts today with Wildcard Weekend. Let’s start predicting some matchups.

Kansas City vs. Houston
2014 NFL Pro BowlFar from the sexiest matchup of the wildcard round. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the least exciting. Still well worth watching though, which lets you know how great these playoffs will be. This projects to be more of a defensive struggle. Duane Brown’s injury is already a big blow to the Texans offense. Houston overall was lucky to make the playoffs. I think Alex Smith will show everyone his ability to handle the pressure of a playoff game. Charcandrick West and Stephen Ware should also help wear down a stout Texans defensive front. Mixing a mediocre Houston offense and the league’s third best scoring defense sounds like a recipe for disaster. I think the Chiefs will win this comfortably, 24-10.

Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
DeAngelo_WilliamsNothing beats a divisional battle in the playoffs. If it couldn’t be Steelers-Ravens, (one of the best rivalries in NFL history) then I’m happy it could at least be Steelers-Bengals. These two split the season series, with the road team winning each matchup. I don’t think we are going to see that trend continue. I know Cincy is still without Andy Dalton but an even bigger blow comes on the other side. Pittsburgh will be without DeAngelo Williams, meaning that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will be carrying the load for the Steelers. For as much as this team relies on Ben Roethlisberger, I think they are going to be too one-dimensional. Throwing the ball constantly doesn’t allow you to control the game offensively and I don’t think the Steelers will be able to close it out late. A.J. McCarron has had a few weeks to learn the offense. Hue Jackson is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league and I think he will have a plan to upend the rival Steelers. Final score, Bengals 31 – Steelers 27

Seattle vs. Minnesota
Russell_WilsonMany are pointing at the midseason meeting between these two teams as the reason for why Seattle will win again. I don’t think it means anything how these two previously played. The Seahawks rode Thomas Rawls for a good portion of that victory. Rawls will not be playing on Sunday and neither will Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson is truly going to have no running game to support him in this one. Christine Michael will be the starting running back for the Hawks. Going up against a defense like Minnesota’s, that doesn’t bode well. That being said, this defense knows how to bottle up Adrian Peterson and will force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them with his arm. Bridgewater does not have a ton of weapons of his own in the passing game that will likely win one-on-matchups with this Seattle secondary. If this is a duel between Bridgewater and Wilson, I am taking Wilson every time. Seattle wins this blizzard bowl 21-10.

Green Bay vs. Washington
Kirk_CousinsThis is not a game many would have predicted at the beginning of the year. I for one though Washington would not come anywhere near the playoffs. I doubt many would have guessed that Green Bay would be on the road either. As much as I like Aaron Rodgers, especially in the playoffs, I don’t think he will be leaving the nation’s capital with a win. The Packers have failed to find any consistency on offense, whether it be running or passing. On the flip side, Kirk Cousins has been on fire for Washington. He’s been yelling, “You like that!” a lot, which is good news for this DC team. I think Washington’s passing attack will prove too much for an underwhelming Packers’ secondary to handle. Momentum has a lot to do with this one. Washington has won four straight while Green Bay has dropped its last two.  It will be close but I think Washington will win its first playoff game in 10 years, 27-24.

Seattle tried to fix what wasn’t broken

Jimmy_Graham
Graham joined the Seahawks this offseason after five years in New Orleans.

On paper, it seemed like it would boost them to another level. No one would be able to touch the Seahawks after adding Jimmy Graham.

Fast forward a few months and Seattle finds themselves on the losing end of a game with the Rams in which the defending NFC champions they allowed Russell Wilson to be sacked six times. On a critical fourth and one, the offensive line got absolutely no push and Marshawn Lynch was stopped in the backfield. In the process of trying to elevate their offense to another level, the Seahawks created a whole new issue.

Max_Unger
Unger was elected to the Pro Bowl twice in his five years with the Seahawks.

Landing Graham was a big addition but it completely gutted the offensive line. As part of the deal, Seattle had to send All-Pro center Max Unger and a first round pick to the Saints. Remember also that left guard James Carpenter left this offseason in free agency and right tackle Breno Giacomini hit the road a year earlier. Suddenly, Seattle only has two of its offensive linemen that won the Super Bowl in 2014.

These problems should not come as a surprise to the Seattle front office either. The Seahawks have been great at finding the next man up to fill the void but that can only work so often. They rolled out a very inexperienced line. Center Drew Nowak made his first career start. Right tackle Gary Gillman made his second. Justin Britt entered only his second season as the starter. Everyone has to get their first start at some point but usually you don’t throw that many inexperienced players out to play at once and expect a good result.

Now, they look like a team without an identity on offense, stuck between wanting to join the vertical passing trend and sticking to their hard-nose grind it out approach they’ve had for the last five years. It has created a difficult situation for Seattle’s offense.

Between all four preseason games and the season opener, the Seahawks’ offensive line has allowed 20 sacks. That’s an average of four sacks a game and that doesn’t even take into account how many other times Wilson gets hit. Sure, the preseason does not count but more often than not, those tendencies you see in the preseason can continue to persist come the regular season.

Graham, over the course of the season, should prove to do well over the course of the season but not enough to justify dismantling the offensive line. I also don’t think Graham will ever be as effective as he was in a Saints uniform.

In addition to trading away Unger, Seattle could have spent that pick to improve their line even further with players like Nick Morse, Donovan Smith and Jake Fischer still on the board at number 31. Even if they weren’t starters, they could end up with some good line depth. Especially with Gillman listed as questionable heading into the season. The only depth they have is the inconsistent Alvin Bailey. Had they gone that route, we would be looking at the Seahawks offensive line as a strength rather than a weakness.

Russell_Wilson
Wilson signed a four-year $87.6 million contract this offseason.

Over time, this offensive line can develop some chemistry and gain confidence. This was not the start they needed or one that should have happened. Seattle did not have a proper contingency plan in place to deal with these major losses. Instead, they brought in Graham, who does not fit the system at all. On top of that, the Seahawks just invested a ton of money in Wilson, but what good is that if he consistently finds himself on his back. Wilson is definitely mobile enough to avoid the pressure but he cannot be counted to do that on every play.

The Seahawks panicked after the Super Bowl and tried to make a major change. If you ask me, Seattle just greatly shortened their championship window. Marshawn Lynch probably won’t play more than another two years in the league and now Seattle is trying to recreate their offensive line rather than making that push to win another title.

The saying goes though, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. Clearly that wasn’t something John Schneider heard enough in Seattle.

How much do you pay for a franchise quarterback?

Two Super Bowl appearances. One ring. Two-time Pro Bowler. Yeah Russell Wilson has a pretty impressive resume for a player entering only his fourth season. Yet he ranks 44th among quarterbacks in terms of how much he is paid. Wilson is paid less than Kellen Clemens, Bruce Gradkowski and Blaine Gabbert who combined attempted 13 passes all year for a grand total of 60 yards. In fact, Wilson only stands to make $200,000 more than Tavaris Jackson, Seattle’s backup quarterback.Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy

Obviously, Wilson is being grossly underpaid. His earnings for the 2015 season will come out to about six percent of what Drew Brees stands to make on the year. The Seattle signal caller obviously benefits from a strong running game and a smothering defense but the reality is that Wilson has put up nearly 10,000 career passing yards and 72 touchdowns in three years. And that’s while throwing to a group of largely unspectacular receivers. In his three seasons, Wilson has played with 12 different wideouts, who combined for three Pro Bowls among all of them. None of those Pro Bowl appearances were in a Seahawk uniform either.

It is only a matter of time before Wilson lands a big pay day. Between his spectacular play and his entering the final year of his rookie contract, there is no doubt it will be coming soon. The question that has started to form in many minds though is will it be from Seattle?

The Seahawks have negotiated with Wilson for several months now and it appears that the two sides are at a bit of a stalemate. Seattle wants to lock their franchise quarterback up for the next five or six years but they are trying to be creative with how they do so. The team has a number of other high profile players, mainly on defense, who could be in line for a new contract soon as well. If Wilson’s deal becomes too cap consuming then Seattle would likely have to watch a lot of talent walk out the door.

That isn’t sitting too well with Wilson though. He has always come off as a team player and an excellent teammate but he is maintaining that he wants to be paid like the high-profile quarterback he is. Wilson has gone as far as to say that he wants to be paid like a free agent now, despite still being under contract. It is a really interesting scenario that the Seattle front office finds itself in as they try to keep their Super Bowl window open.

Russell_WilsonWhat eventually comes from this situation could greatly alter the NFL landscape for the foreseeable future. It is starting to look possible that the Seahawks will let Wilson play out the last year of his contract. That could pay off as it allows Seattle to keep their financial flexibility and make another Super Bowl run with their plethora of talent.

Seattle could also choose to resign Wilson but to an unconventional contract. The general thinking is that the Seahawks could offer Wilson a deal that would only pay him 14 million dollars per year but that would be mostly or fully guaranteed. For example, if Seattle gave him a fully guaranteed 5-year, $70 million contract, this would offer an interesting balance. The $70 million total would rank as the 14th richest contract among quarterbacks. However, Wilson would have more guaranteed money than any quarterback in history. This appeals to Seattle as well because Wilson’s cap hit wouldn’t skyrocket. He would be tied with Tom Brady for the 14th largest hit in the league.

Should the latter occur, then we could see the model for which teams attempt to sign star players transform. By giving deals that focus less on lucrative incentives and more on less, but fully guaranteed, money teams would be able find more cap flexibility. It is certainly a risky move on the part of the team who would be locked in to paying the player all of the money regardless of performance, but it would be a high-risk, high-reward move. By avoiding having an exorbitant cap hit at the quarterback position would allow the team to pursue talent at other positions. For Seattle this could mean finding a way to pay Bruce Irvin as well as Wilson, prolonging the team’s Super Bowl window even further.

The outcome of Wilson’s contract could take some time to pan out. We really might not find an answer until next summer if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. The whole situation could really alter the playing field though in the NFL. If Wilson decided to walk away from Seattle, then we could start to see the NFL trend toward resembling the NBA with star players frequently switching teams. It is a bit of a stretch but it a conceivable trend.

The bottom line remains that Wilson will get paid, one way or another. It is simply a matter of when not if. He has threatened to join the MLB but realistically he won’t make the jump. Seattle struggled for year’s to find Matt Hasselback’s replacement. If they fail to play their cards right, they could be scrambling to find Wilson’s successor next year.

Processing the NFL’s crazy 24 hours

Everyone new that the start of the new league year was sure to bring some fireworks. I don’t think anyone saw that coming though. We are only a little over 24 hours into the 2015 NFL league year and the chaos is only now beginning to subside. We saw the Seahawks land the highest paid tight end in history. Darrelle Revis rejoined his old team for a small fortune. The Eagles continued to wheel and deal under Chip Kelly. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick changed teams (wait that happens pretty much every offseason). Time to take a second look at some of the teams involved in the fray after the dust has started to settle.

Winners:
This does not mean these teams won free agency, which, according to Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report, may not really matter. Either way, these are the teams who are in the best shape following the first day of signings.

Seattle Seahawks: No matter what you give up, getting arguably the best tight end in the NFL is a good deal. The Seahawks did give up All-Pro center Max Unger and their first round pick, but centers tend to be easier to replace than tight ends and with an historically week tight end class scheduled to hit the NFL next year, this was a good move. The Seahawks really need to work to rebuild that offensive line as both Unger and Carpenter are in new homes heading into next year. Still, for the defending NFC champions, this makes Russell Wilson even more deadly. Bringing in Cary Williams as a nickel corner doesn’t hurt either.

New York Jets: It is hard to look at the Jets and not think that this team looks infinitely better than it did on Sunday. The Jets have shelled out a lot of picks and money to do so but New York has made major strides in its rebuilding process. The secondary immediately becomes one of the best in the league signing Revis and Buster Skrine. The offense looks a lot better with the addition of Brandon Marshall. James Carpenter could prove to be an asset as well. The Jets were also smart to release Percy Harvin rather than give him the $10.5 million he was due. Bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Geno Smith, especially under Chan Gailey. There is still more work to be done but the change is drastic.

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and his mega contract is gone. In return, the Rams now have Nick Foles suiting up. Both of these players are coming off of injuries but you would have to imagine that Foles is in much better shape. Bradford tore his ACL for the second straight season while Foles broke his collarbone. The Rams also managed to avoid giving up anything more than a fourth round pick this year. They might potentially lose a second rounder next year if Foles meets certain criteria but as a Rams fan, I am much happier having Foles as my prospective starter.

Losers

Philadelphia Eagles: On one hand, I look at the Eagles defense and I am impressed with how much better it looks now. Signing Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and trading for Kiko Alonso will do that for you. However, I flip to the offensive side of the ball and I cringe. The Eagles are now without their starting quarterback, running back or leading receiver from a season ago. Pair that with Todd Herremanns leaving for Indianapolis and the Eagles have a lot of holes to fill. Signing Ryan Matthews could be the answer at running back but he is very injury prone, as is new quarterback Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly has taken the couple of questions surrounding Philadelphia and multiplied them ten-fold.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos did not make any splash signings and no one really expected them too. But the players they let walk away really hurt. Denver lost starting tackle Orlando Franklin to the division rival Chargers. Terrance Knighton also informed the Broncos that he would not be returning next year. Couple those two departures with Julius Thomas signing with Jacksonville and suddenly the Broncos are down three starters from 2014. With Nate Irving and Rahim Moore still unsigned, the Broncos could lose a few more starters before free agency is all said and done.

Indianapolis Colts: Indy has spent a combine total of $64.2 million on four players. The average age of those four players is roughly 32. These players all have big names but none of them are likely to make the impact the Colts are paying for. Andre Johnson is not going to return to Pro Bowl form any time soon. Neither is Frank Gore. Kendall Langford is a nice addition to the defensive line but pairing Trent Cole across from Rasheed Mathis give the Colts one of the oldest starting outside linebacker duos. With better players available, the Colts could have found a way to spend this money a little more wisely.

Free agency is far from over but after the first day or so of player signings, mixed with all of the crazy trades, this how the league appears to be trending. Some other things to note would if Oakland lands DeMarco Murray, the free agent class suddenly looks much better. New England will once again sit out on over spending for free agents, but don’t be surprised to see a trade involving the Patriots to surface. Lastly, the Saints have actually set themselves up fairly well for the coming future but their moves in the coming days will dictate whether or not this can continue to be a successful offseason. I will definitely be back with more in the coming days as more agents begin to sign.