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The Month In NFL News: February

A rundown of the NFL news from February that you need to know and why it matters

NFL

The NFL awarded compensatory picks for the 2017 draft to 16 teams, including four each for Cleveland, Kansas City, Denver and Cincinnati

Why It Matters: Compensatory picks are tradeable now under NFL rules, so these teams will have more power in the draft to go after their targets in the early rounds. Miami was the next biggest winner with three picks, including the first compensatory pick, #97. It's impressive that the Chiefs could improve after losing enough in free agency last year to merit four compensatory picks.

AFC

Buffalo - NFL Insider Ian Rapoport from the NFL Network has reported that there is a better chance than not that the Bills keep QB Tyrod Taylor.

Why It Matters: The Bills decision on Taylor will be one of the cogs that make the quarterback carousel turn this offseason. He has proven to be worth the 30+ million guaranteed he will get if the Bills pick up his option by March 11. A former Bills beat writer, Tyler Dunne has guessed that the team is going let him walk and go with a low-cost veteran, and the Buffalo News has reported that Buffalo GM Doug Whaley finds the plan of going with 2016 fourth-round pick Cardale Jones "appealing". The outcome is far from clear, but we still think like Rapoport, that the most likely outcome is that Taylor remains in Buffalo.

Cincinnati - Paul Dehner from the Cincinnati Enquirer “feels confident” OG Kevin Zeitler will play “elsewhere” in 2017.

Why It Matters: The Bengals aren’t expected to use their franchise tag, according to ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. That means that their stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth is also likely to be allowed to test the market. The Bengals' offensive line play dropped off in 2016, and if they let their two best offensive linemen leave in free agency without obvious quality replacements on the roster, it could make things worse. 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi and second-round pick Jake Fisher might be asked to do more soon, but we still expect Whitworth to come to Cincinnati. Zeitler will be one of the prizes of free agency.

Cincinnati - Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com thinks RB Giovani Bernard will avoid the PUP list to open the season.

Why It Matters: Hobson had good things to say about Bernard's ACL surgery rehab and expects Bernard to miss one or two games at the most, but he also expects the team to draft a running back "fairly early". Jeremy Hill has been disappointing and we can't take a full return to health for Bernard for granted. The Bengals backfield could undergo some big changes in the next two years with Hill a free agent in 2018 and Rex Burkhead a free agent this year.

Cleveland - The Browns tendered RFA RB Isaiah Crowell at a second-round level for 2.81 million dollars.

Why It Matters: The team has been assigned running backs in some mock drafts, but they are reportedly in long-term contract talks with Crowell, and their tender ensures that they will get a second-round pick if anyone signs Crowell to an offer sheet that they don't match - so he's almost certainly going to be a Brown in 2017 and maybe beyond. Crowell was outstanding in 2016 and if the Browns improve at all, he could be a solid RB2 in the same role.

Jacksonville/Miami - The Jaguars traded TE Julius Thomas to the Dolphins in exchange for a 2017 7th round pick. The Dolphins traded OT Branden Albert to Jacksonville for a 2018 7th round pick after declining the team option on OT Kelvin Beachum.

Why It Matters: Thomas was a free agent bust and will likely go undrafted in fantasy leagues this year. The Jaguars have a vacancy at tight end that they could address in the draft or free agency. They had a vacancy at left tackle after letting Beachum walk, but Albert will likely fill that after the trade becomes official on March 9. 

Kansas City - The Chiefs signed RB CJ Spiller.

Why It Matters: Spiller is probably an afterthought after bouncing around the league last year, but the Chiefs backfield is far from set, assuming they don't bring back Jamaal Charles. Spencer Ware was adequate, but not great. Spiller is unlikely to be any kind of answer for Kansas City, but it's a reminder that the Chiefs' backfield moves are worth watching and you never know with a talent that once played at the level Spiller did earlier in his career.

Kansas City - The Chiefs signed S Eric Berry to a six-year, 78 million dollar deal.

Why It Matters: New all-time high contracts are going to get set at almost every position this year and next year. Berry made some huge plays and gave up some huge plays, but he is obviously a key member of the Chiefs defense. He has returned to the top of the game after beating cancer.

Kansas City  - The Chiefs have released RB Jamaal Charles.

Why It Matters: Charles will join Adrian Peterson as legendary running backs available in free agency at the tail end of their careers. Charles is still an excellent receiving back and he could end up in Philadelphia with Doug Pederson. Mike Garofolo of NFL.com reports that Charles will want to sign with a Super Bowl contender, including the Cowboys, who would be "high on his list".

Los Angeles Chargers - The Chargers have used the non-exclusive franchise tag on OLB Melvin Ingram.

Why It Matters: Ingram joins Chandler Jones and Jason Pierre-Paul on the list of edge rushers who have been franchise tagged this year. Ingram isn't a household name, but he was very productive last year, and even with a strong draft class coming up, edge rushing presence is probably second to only quarterback play in importance, because it is the most direct way to slow down quarterbacks.

Miami - The Dolphins signed DE Cameron Wake to a two-year, 19 million dollar extension with 11 million dollars guaranteed.

Why It Matters: Wake was eased in after recovering from a 2015 achilles tear, but he regained his form by year's end and earned another payday. The team released Mario Williams this month, but retaining Wake helps make up for the free agent miss in Williams.

New England - TE Rob Gronkowski said he will “for sure” be ready for Week 1.

Why It Matters: Gronk's third back surgery has caused worries about his overall level of play and 2017 return. His reassurance is comforting if you are drafting him early, but it's premature to rely on that. We'll be cautious heading into the summer and bullishly adjust his ranking upward if he returns in training camp without incident.

New England - Reports are all over the place about the future of Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

Why It Matters: Garoppolo is another key cog in the quarterback drama about to unfold this offseason. Longtime Patriots beat writer Tom Curran thinks the Pats need to have the "doors blown off" to deal him and ESPN's Ed Werder doesn't expect a trade, while CBS Sports Jason LaCanfora expects the Bears to make a "strong concerted effort" to land Garoppolo. With Tom Brady turning 40 this summer, the Patriots would be smart to hold Garoppolo if they think he is a franchise quarterback, but if they have doubts, his value will never be higher. This one is tough to call, but given the shrewdness of the Patriots, they will get more than people expect if they do indeed deal Garoppolo.

New York Jets - DB Darrelle Revis was charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor and turned himself in after an altercation in Pittsburgh

Why It Matters: The Jets big free agent reunion with Revis from 2015 is going south quickly. The team might release him before a two million dollar roster bonus due on March 11. Pittsburgh has been mentioned as possible destination for Revis assuming he is released, but most assume he will have to move to safety after a rough year at corner in 2016. 

New York Jets - The team released C Nick Mangold, OT Breno Giacomini, and PK Nick Folk

Why It Matters: The Jets had a brush with the playoffs in Todd Bowles' first year as head coach in 2015, but this looks more like rebuilding mode. We'll see if the team's move at quarterback reflects this approach, or if they seek a veteran like Jay Cutler.

Oakland - RB Latavius Murray is expected to test the free agent market, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson

Why It Matters: Murray could be joined by Adrian Peterson in a somewhat thin market for starting running backs after Eddie Lacy and LeGarrette Blount. The market will set his price and the Raiders might not be willing to match with a strong class coming up in the draft and the lukewarm feeling the team has had for Murray on and off over the last two years. His fantasy went up in 2016 because of the improvement in the Raiders offense, but if he goes to a poor team, he might see a decrease in fantasy value despite an increased role. One time long-time Raiders beat writer, Vic Tafur, doesn't expect Murray to return.

Pittsburgh - GM Kevin Colbert said the team expects TE Ladarius Green to be back next season. 

Why It Matters: Jesse James was playing well at the end of the season and verging on consistent fantasy value. Green's season ended with yet another concussion, and there are no assurances that he will play again, but the Steelers are clearly holding out hope. They also brought back ERFA Xavier Grimble, so there is some continuity and depth even if Green isn't cleared until the fall like last seaosn.

Pittsburgh - The Steelers signed WR Antonio Brown to a four-year, 68 million dollar extension.

Why It Matters: He's now the highest-paid receiver in the league, as he should be. That might not last for more than a year with salaries continuing to escalate, led by a rising salary cap. Brown should be one of the top two or three receivers and top five or six picks in drafts again this year.

Pittsburgh - The Steelers used the exclusive-rights franchise tag on RB Le'Veon Bell.

Why It Matters: Bell will remain a Steeler for at least this year, and no other team can negotiate with him, so perhaps the team can negotiate a long-term deal that is favorable to them. GM Kevin Colbert has expressed that the team has no reservations about Bell and he has apparently avoided surgery for the groin injury that ended his 2016 campaign. He'll be one of the top three running backs drafted in 2017 fantasy leagues. 

Tennessee - Head coach Mike Mularkey said “Obviously DeMarco Murray is the guy. He has shown he is the guy and he will continue to be that guy.” when asked if Derrick Henry would be more involved next season.

Why It Matters: It might not be wise to take Murray assuming he will reproduce his elite RB1 numbers, but we also shouldn't pencil Henry in a for big leap in 2017. Chances are Murray will be slightly underdrafted and Henry overdrafted, but if Murray breaks down this year, Henry could be a league-winner. 

NFC

Arizona - Team president Michael Bidwell said WR John Brown, who struggled with sickle-cell trait-related health issues in 2016 is “very healthy, looks like they found the issue… We’ll get Smoke back the way we had him.”

Why It Matters: Brown was considered a rising star heading into 2016, but health issues dogged him all season. If Bidwell is right, Brown could grow into a strong WR2 with Michael Floyd no longer in Arizona, although JJ Nelson will also play a larger role this season.

Arizona - QB Carson Palmer announced that he is returning to the team for the 2017 season.

Why It Matters: This was a foregone conclusion after Larry Fitzgerald announced he would return. This could be the last run for the Palmer Cardinals after a disappointing 2016. The team has a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball and might struggled to return to the playoffs after coming one game short of the Super Bowl in 2015.

Arizona - The Cardinals used a non-exclusive franchise tag on OLB Chandler Jones.

Why It Matters: This comes as no surprise, as the second-round pick the team gave up for Jones last year indicated a long-term commitment. The team will attempt to sign him to a long-term deal before July 15.

Atlanta - The Falcons hired Steve Sarkisian to be their offensive coordinator.

Why It Matters: It seemed like a surprise with Chip Kelly in the running and candidates on staff to take over for Kyle Shanahan. Sarkisian's offense has similar terminology and won't require much in the way of transition, but he has very little NFL experience. It's hard to see the Falcons offense maintaining their dominance in 2017, but they should still be one of the best.

Carolina - The Panthers re-signed DE Mario Addison to a three-year, 22.5 million dollar deal and used the franchise tag on DT Kawann Short.

Why It Matters: The productive Addison was re-signed before the market could set his price, so he wanted to come back to Carolina. The contract should look reasonable by 2017 standards, and cheap by 2018 standards. Short wants a lucrative long-term deal, but fellow starter Star Lotulelei is up for an extension next year, so the Panthers may not fully open the purse strings. Last year's franchise tag drama ended with the team rescinding it and allowing CB Josh Norman to walk and sign with Washington. 

Carolina - When speaking about next season, head coach Ron Rivera said “We’ve got to get Jonathan Stewart rolling.”

Why It Matters: Stewart is about to turn 30 and releasing him would open up 6.25 million in cap room, but the Panthers have more than enough room right now with almost 50 million in space to play with. The team sounds intent on keeping Stewart, but it shouldn't rule out an early draft pick on a running back, maybe even as high as #8.

Chicago - Jeff Darlington of ESPN reports that the Bears have started to “actively shop” QB Jay Cutler.

Why It Matters: Cutler will be a “second tier” quarterback option for a team in the market for a starter after Jimmy Garoppolo and Tony Romo. Darlington explained that because Cutler isn’t owed any guaranteed money, he has an effective “no trade” clause via the option to retire. It's difficult to see any deal getting done, but this is important because according to Darlington, this is the “beginning of the end” of the relationship between Chicago and Jay Cutler.

Chicago - TE Zach Miller should be ready for OTAs, according to a report by Chris Boden of CSN Chicago.

Why It Matters: This was far from clear after Miller suffered a season-ending foot injury, so the Bears can exhale a small sign of relief about their weakest offensive position. They desperately tried to sign Josh Hill and Jermaine Gresham last year, and should still look for help in free agency and the draft with Miller turning 33 this year. He'll be on the fringe of draftable fantasy tight ends.

Chicago - Ian Rapoport from NFL Network reports that the Bears are not expected to use the franchise tag on WR Alshon Jeffery.

Why It Matters: Receiver of Jeffery's talent level don't usually hit the market, and especially not at age 27. The Bears will get a compensatory pick, but for his time in Chicago to end this way shows a failure on his and the team's part to make this work. The team has plenty of cap room and 2015 first-round pick Kevin White has been sidelined for most of his short career. Look for Philadelphia, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Rams, and San Francisco to be the main suitors for Jeffery's services.

Dallas - ESPN’s Ed Werder reports that QB Tony Romo expects to be released.

Why It Matters: Romo is the third major piece of the quarterback picture that will come into focus soon. Most agree with Werder because the organization will want to do right by Romo and allow him to pick his next team. Houston is one of the more interesting places associated with Romo as he likely looks for his second NFL team soon.

Los Angeles Rams - RB Todd Gurley asked for RB coach Skip Peete to be retained and new head coach Sean McVay listened. Gurley and Peete agree that patience, discipline, and pass blocking are all areas where Gurley can improve in 2017.

Why It Matters: It's good to see that McVay considers Gurley a central piece, and he could try to feature him to take pressure off of Jared Goff. Gurley could get more reps on passing downs if he works on his pass blocking and the team doesn't retain Benny Cunningham in free agency.

Los Angeles Rams - The Rams hired former Atlanta QB coach Matt LaFleur as their offensive coordinator.

Why It Matters: LaFleur will be tasked with rebuilding the worst offense in the NFL. He has worked with Rams head coach Sean McVay for four years back in Washington, so the two know each other well.

Minnesota - The Vikings announced that they will not exercise the 2017 option on RB Adrian Peterson's contract.

Why It Matters: For now, Jerick McKinnon is the starter for the Vikings, and Peterson is a free agent. He could still return to Minnesota after testing the market. Dallas, the New York Giants, and Houston are among the possibilities if he doesn't come back.

Minnesota - GM Rick Spielman said “everybody’s hoping” QB Teddy Bridgewater will play again, but that the team has not put a timetable on his return.

Why It Matters: This doesn't confirm or disconfirm Bridgewater playing in 2017, but it does sound like the team is moving forward with Sam Bradford as their entrenched starter. Bridgewater's future still being uncertain this far removed from his gruesome knee injury is not a good sign.

New York Giants - The Giants released RB Rashad Jennings and WR Victor Cruz.

Why It Matters: Paul Perkins is the starter for the time being, but the Giants will almost certainly bring in another back in free agency or the draft. Perkins came on at the end of the season, but he's not a true three-down back.

New York Giants - The Giants used a non-exclusive franchise tag on DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Why It Matters: Other teams can negotiate with Pierre-Paul and if they sign him to an offer sheet that the Giants don't match, they would get two first-round picks. He has gotten most of the way, if not all the way back since his 2015 fireworks accident that cost him part of his right hand.

San Francisco - The 49ers have hired former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their head coach.

Why It Matters: Shanahan is tasked with turning around a franchise that has hit rock bottom. His first task will be finding a quarterback, and that could be via a trade for Kirk Cousins, a pick at #2, or waiting a year and bringing in a veteran stopgap.

San Francisco - Mike Garofolo of NFL Network reports that the 49ers signed DT Earl Mitchell to four-year, 16 million dollar deal with 5.5 million guaranteed.

Why It Matters: The 49ers got an early start in fixing their poor run defense when Mitchell was released by the Dolphins. Denver and Seattle were also interested, but Mitchell chose to return to familiar faces from his days in Houston, including defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Seattle - The Seahawks signed free agent PK Blair Walsh.

Why It Matters: Walsh famously missed a chip shot that would have eliminated the Seahawks from the 2015 postseason, and that seemed to be his undoing in Minnesota. Steven Hauschka is a free agent, and it appears that the Seahawks do not plan on bringing him back.

Washington - NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he would not be shocked if the 49ers and Washington agreed to a trade involving QB Kirk Cousins.

Why It Matters: Cousins could change the draft board greatly if he goes to San Francisco, especially if Washington recoups the #2 pick in return. Jason Reid of the Washington Post reported that Cousins doesn't want to be Washington long-term. John Keim of ESPN reports that San Francisco is Cousins' preferred trade destination