The Bengals said they have no intention of releasing LB Vontaze Burfict.
Why It Matters: Burfict is facing yet another suspension, this one for four games for performance-enhancing drugs, and the team could save 5.75 million in cap room this year if they release him. That would of course leave a big hole in their defense, one that the team has indicated they are not going to create. The fantasy matchup for opposing running backs facing the Bengals is likely to be improved for the first four games, but not longer.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was told by a friend of Browns GM John Dorsey that the team was taking Wyoming QB Josh Allen #1 and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley #4, assuming the Giants don’t take Barkley at #2.
Why It Matters: We shouldn’t believe anything we hear about a team’s draft plans in April, but this is at least notable because it goes counter to the prevailing belief that the Browns will select USC QB Sam Darnold #1. If Allen goes #1, in addition to some Browns fans jumping ship and draft analysts heads exploding, the Giants could then take Darnold #2, the Jets Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, which would then leave one for the Broncos at #5 unless the Browns decided to trade down from #4 to Buffalo or Arizona, or even Denver to ensure that no one jumps them. The bottom line is that there are still countless scenarios in play and they could be in play until the Browns are on the clock at the end of the month.
Reports of TE Rob Gronkowski’s discontent with the team and lack of a commitment from the 2018 season are increasing the chances that he gets traded in the offseason. Greg Bedard from the Boston Sports Journal reported that a “Belichick friendly source” said that the longer Gronkowski goes without committing to the team, the more likely it is that the team trades him.
Why It Matters: This item seems less important after the Patriots traded away Brandin Cooks. Gronkowski is essential to keep pressure on defenses and provide a threat in the middle of the field that opponents can’t easily defend. The idea of cracks in the Patriots culture is still one to file away, and Gronkowski getting worn out on the Patriots way could come up again in the future.
LaAdrian Waddle, 2017 third-round pick Antonio Garcia, and 2017 UDFA Cole Croston will all be part of the competition to be the Patriots left tackle in 2018.
Why It Matters: The Patriots don’t have a ready-made replacement for Nate Solder on the roster, and we’ve seen Tom Brady’s advantages disintegrate when teams can consistently get pressure on him from the edge, even as recently as the game at Miami last year. The play and development of whomever ends up in this spot will be a key factor to monitor this summer. The team could and should draft a tackle, but that player probably won’t be significantly better this year than the current trio on the roster.
The Patriots traded WR Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick to the Rams for the #23 overall pick and a sixth-round pick.
Why It Matters: The passing production pie in New England is probably getting smaller with Cooks and the way he opens up the field for his teammates. The Patriots do have Phillip Dorsett to deploy as an off-brand Cooks, and don’t forget about Cordarrelle Patterson. Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell will have a larger opportunity to make an impact, but the pass offense is going to run through Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski. This makes Tom Brady a less attractive early quarterback target. The Patriots likely had clarity that they weren’t going to sign Cooks long-term next year and took advantage of the Rams interest (they had been trying to deal for Cooks last year) to basically get Cooks as a cheap one-year rental in exchange for taking their first-round pick a year later and dropping a few rounds on the third day.
The Patriots signed TE Troy Niklas (Arizona).
Why It Matters: Niklas was once thought highly of enough to go in the second round. The Patriots will use his blocking and sometimes functional pass-catching to push Dwayne Allen and his 4.5 million dollar salary for the #2 tight end job. With Rob Gronkowski’s injury history, there’s some chance that Niklas will be fantasy relevant at some point this year - assuming he himself can stay on the field and avoid the trainer’s table.
New York Jets
The Jets signed RB Thomas Rawls (Seattle).
Why It Matters: As a rookie, Rawls was a fantasy sensation, but he hasn’t been the same since suffering a broken ankle late that season. The Jets have Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, and Elijah McGuire on the roster, so even making the team will be difficult for Rawls, but he’s only 24 (turning 25 in August) and if his ankle is sound, he could still have room to improve and make the team.
Why It Matters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins was not retained, so the team had last year’s fifth-round pick Jordan Leggett and 2017 holdovers Eric Tomlinson and Neal Sterling on the roster going into last week. Walford is the best all-around prospect of the group, but has failed to gain momentum since an ATV accident in the 2016 offseason. Hodges plays like a big receiver with some speed to threaten downfield and has the most fantasy intrigue. Chances are, no fantasy relevant player will come from the spot after Seferian-Jenkins broke a long drought for Jets tight ends in fantasy leagues.
Felony charges against WR Robby Anderson have been dropped.
Why It Matters: This might not allow Anderson to avoid a suspension, but it should reduce it. The Jets signed Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa will be back after a neck injury took away his 2017. They are also bringing back Jermain Kearse and 2017 draft picks Ardarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. There should be a spirited battle for playing time at the position, and as long as Josh McCown is healthy, there will be some production to go around.
The Cardinals signed WR Brice Butler (Dallas) to a two-year contract.
Why It Matters: Larry Fitzgerald is the only proven wide receiver on the Cardinals roster, so Butler can compete with significant playing time with JJ Nelson and 2017 third-rounder Chad Williams. Butler was highly productive and efficient on limited targets in Dallas, but the team didn’t give him more playing time or choose to retain him in free agency, instead signing Deonte Thompson to be a deep threat. If Sam Bradford can stay healthy, Butler could make a bigger splash this year.
The Cardinals have extended a contract offer to WR Jordan Matthews (Buffalo).
Why It Matters: Matthews is taking visits elsewhere, so the offer couldn’t have been that rich. Matthews is getting little interest in free agency despite being only 25, perhaps because he is probably only a slot receiver and coming off of an injury-plagued season. He could be waiting a long time to get signed if he’s not on a roster before the draft.
OL Kyle Long had elbow, neck and shoulder surgeries since his last game.
Why It Matters: Long is turning 30 this year, but his body might feel a lot older after these surgeries. The offensive line also has to replace Josh Sitton, so they need Long to be ready for Week 1 and his old self soon after. They recently signed Earl Watford (Arizona), but he is only a depth player.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams acquired WR Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick from the Patriots for the #23 overall pick and a sixth-round pick.
Why It Matters: The Rams are clearly going for the Super Bowl this year. Cooks might be an upgrade from Sammy Watkins, and certainly adds value to Jared Goff’s fantasy stock. He doesn’t detract as much from Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp as you might think, as Watkins served more as a decoy and to cancel out the opposition’s best outside corner last year, allowing Kupp and Woods to be consistent producers. The Rams plan on signing Cooks long-term. If they don’t, they will have given up their first and second-round picks this year for one-year rentals. They need to get one of Cooks and DT Aaron Donald signed long-term by next year because they only have one tag to use per year and would likely lose one in free agency.
The Vikings signed WR Kendall Wright (Chicago).
Why It Matters: Wright projects as the #3 or #4 receiver depending on the development of 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell. Wright will replace Jarius Wright, who signed in Carolina for more money. If Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen miss time, Wright could matter in fantasy leagues, and he gives the Vikings a competent, versatile player for cheap to improve their three-wide sets.
New York Giants
ESPN’s Adam Schefter said he believes the Odell Beckham trade talk is “very real” and that his “personal guess” is that Beckham is traded with the draft as an “artificial deadline”.
Why It Matters: This story has become less exciting with the Rams trading for Brandin Cooks. Cooks was available for cheaper than what the Giants were asking for Beckham, and if they weren’t willing to pay it in their feverish “win now” state, then there probably isn’t a team that will meet the Giants demands. The Patriots have the ammunition now, but acquiring Beckham doesn’t match their usual way of doing business. It looks like Beckham will be a Giants this year, which means it’s very likely he’ll be a Giant for years to come because it makes no sense for them to keep him this year if they don’t intend on signing him to a long-term extension.
The Eagles signed TE Richard Rodgers (Green Bay).
Why It Matters: The Eagles lost Trey Burton in free agency and released Brent Celek, so they had little at tight end behind Zach Ertz. Rodgers is merely a functional receiver who offers little in the way of athleticism, but he could have fantasy relevance if Ertz misses time because of the quality of the Eagles offense and production they had at tight end spread out among three players last year.
Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area believes that RB Joe Williams will have an “uphill battle” to make the final roster.
Why It Matters: Williams was a feel good story after the 49ers made a strong play for him early in the third day of last year’s draft. He had a good skillset and athleticism for Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone running game, but UDFA Matt Breida overshadowed him right away. Now the team has added Jerick McKinnon to replace Carlos Hyde, and they could still draft another back this year. Williams isn’t an obvious hold in dynasty leagues heading into draft season.
Head coach Jay Gruden said TE Jordan Reed had a procedure done on his toes.
Why It Matters: This explains why Reed is not expected to participate in OTAs. His season officially ended because of a hamstring, but a toe issue plagued him from the beginning of camp last year. Hopefully this helps his long-term durability, but Reed isn’t shedding the “fragile” label and his depressed ADP is probably appropriate with us not knowing what kind of condition he’ll be in at the beginning of camp and his long history of slow healing and injury accumulation.