NFL Training Camp Notebook: Devonta Freeman Deal Sets Market for Le'Veon Bell
Being the highest-paid player at any position used to mean something. Yet the value of a top-tier running back continues to decrease.
This became evident Wednesday when the Atlanta Falcons agreed to a long-term extension with their lead back. Devonta Freeman became the NFL's highest-paid running back even though the actual value of the contract doesn't present the same eye-popping numbers as other positions.
Other top backs now have a measuring stick for future deals.
Freeman's contract status wasn't the only one to create ripple effects. Jay Cutler's signing may hamper the Miami Dolphins from negotiating with one of the team's stars.
Meanwhile, injury updates have been provided for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford.
To top it all off, the Houston Texans meet the Carolina Panthers tonight at Bank of America Stadium in their first preseason contest before the rest of the league starts its exhibition season in earnest Thursday night.
These stories, plus more, defined Wednesday's training camp sessions.
Devonta Freeman Deal Sets Table for Le'Veon Bell
Devonta Freeman is now the NFL's highest-paid running back after agreeing to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension with $22 million in guarantees, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. His newfound status is fleeting, though. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell has yet to sign his franchise tag.
As soon as Bell signs, his $12.12 million annual price tag will make him the league's top-paid back.
A disconnect exists between these two points.
Rapoport also pointed out how the running back market stagnated in recent years. Five years ago, Arian Foster signed a deal with the Houston Texans for a higher average and more guaranteed money during the first three years of each contract.
The position is no longer receiving megadeals because less of an emphasis exists on running the football or primarily on a single back. Adrian Peterson, who is a surefire Hall of Fame inductee, signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and LeGarrette Blount all received one-year prove-it deals.
Bell displayed a disconnect from reality when he turned up his nose at the Steelers' $12 million-per-year offer prior to the franchise deadline July 17, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
"I'm not in a rush to sign for something I'm not valued at if I feel I'm worth more than what they are offering me," Bell said at the time, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
Every player wants to be feel loved by his team and receive fair market value. Bell's price right now is simply too steep. Freeman's contract proves this. The Steelers back is unlikely to receive the same number the organization offered if he enters free agency after the 2017 campaign.
The same is going to apply in Atlanta, albeit with a different back.
Freeman's long-term extension almost certainly signals Tevin Coleman's eventual departure. The 24-year-old runner is a free agent after the 2018 campaign. He's already flashed the potential to become a lead back for another franchise.
The running back market cratered this offseason. Freeman's deal is a product of this. Bell's negotiations are expected to suffer as well.
Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford Is Down but Not Out
If the Dallas Cowboys didn't already have enough problems along their D-line, an injury continued to deplete the team's depth.
Defensive end Tyrone Crawford needed to be carted off the field during Tuesday's practice, per NFL Network's Jane Slater. However, the injury isn't as severe as initially anticipated.
Crawford suffered a lateral ankle sprain and should miss several weeks, yet he'll be ready for the start of the regular season Sept. 10, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill Jr.
Dallas already has three of its defensive ends suspended to begin the season. David Irving will miss the first four games due to violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy. Damontre Moore won't be available for the first two contests after violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Randy Gregory is suspended for the entire season.
With the team's suspect depth, first-round rookie Taco Charlton will receive extra reps to prepare him for the regular season.
Decoding the Jacksonville Jaguars' Running Back Rotation
The Jacksonville Jaguars expect to build their offense around running back Leonard Fournette. If they didn't, they wouldn't have selected him fourth overall in April's draft.
But Fournette isn't the only talented runner in the Jags backfield. Both Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon are competent options. As such, Fournette shouldn't be expected to carry the entire load during his rookie campaign.
"He is expected to eventually be the workhorse back but will likely split carries with Yeldon and Ivory early on," WTLV Jags beat writer Mike Kaye wrote.
Jacksonville signed Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract last offseason, and he could be an early-season touchdown vulture. The 29-year-old will likely serve as the team's short-yardage back to open the campaign, according to Kaye. Yeldon, meanwhile, will be best served in a third-down role.
Fournette has the potential to be a star, but the Jaguars coaching staff is still expected to ease him into the lineup.
Broncos Deny Interest in Bengals QB AJ McCarron
The Denver Broncos' quarterback competition isn't exactly going well.
Trevor Siemian seems to be the favorite, according to practice observations via Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports. But is he anything more than a lower-tier starter better suited as a backup option?
The organization chose Paxton Lynch with a first-round pick in 2016, but he was considered a long-term project at the time of his selection. He's done nothing to change that perception.
The Broncos organization vehemently denied the possibility when general manager John Elway decried its veracity by invoking the hashtag-less fake news.
Is the idea that far-fetched, though?
McCarron isn't an upgrade over Siemian. However, the Broncos should be pursuing every avenue to improve the game's most important position because the team's current options don't inspire much confidence.
Head Coach Marvin Lewis Returns to Bengals After Medical Leave
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is back with the team after he missed Tuesday's practice to deal with a cyst found within his knee.
"I was able to return to work last night after receiving great medical care," Lewis said in a statement released by the team Wednesday. "I especially want to thank all of the doctors, nurses and technicians who treated me. I am glad to be back with the team as we prepare to play the Buccaneers on Friday."
According to USA Today's Jim Owczarski, no restrictions have been placed on Lewis, and he'll be on the sideline for Friday's home contest.
"Walking, encouraged; running, encouraged," Lewis said. "It'll absorb itself and go away. The more I do, the better it will be. I have no problem with that. Right away [back at work] at six o'clock this morning, so we're good."
Jay Cutler Contract Complicates Jarvis Landry Negotiation
The Miami Dolphins and wide receiver Jarvis Landry aren't close to a contract extension. According to the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, the two sides haven't even entered into a serious negotiation despite Landry entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Even if both sides were amenable to a long-term commitment, the Dolphins have little wiggle room to sign him to a blockbuster deal after agreeing to terms with quarterback Jay Cutler on Monday.
Miami has roughly $7.9 million in available cap space, per Over the Cap. However, that amount doesn't include the practice squad, roster cutdowns or those on injured reserve.
"They could extend Landry but would need to be somewhat creative and use a big signing bonus to make the numbers work," Over the Cap founder Jason Fitzgerald told the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
The Dolphins weren't sure if they were going to re-sign Landry before Cutler's signing and a recent investigation into a possible battery, per ESPN.com. The possibility now appears even more unlikely.
Do Colts Still Expect QB Andrew Luck to Be Ready for Week 1?
The Indianapolis Colts remain steadfast in their refusal to place quarterback Andrew Luck on the physically unable to perform list to start the 2017 regular season. But the organization is waffling on whether he'll be ready to play Sept. 10 in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams.
"Colts GM Chris Ballard told me all indications are Andrew Luck won't start season on PUP. Play Week 1? Still TBD," NFL Network's Tom Pelissero tweeted.
Indianapolis hasn't provided a definitive timetable for his return from surgery on his right (throwing) surgery in January. But Pelissero reported Luck has progressed in his throwing program even if the team hides him from the public eye.
Meanwhile, Scott Tolzien continues to take first-team reps at quarterback, and he'll be on the Lucas Oil Stadium field Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
"He needs to play," head coach Chuck Pagano said, per ESPN.com's Mike Wells. "All our guys need to play. We get into our team drills out here, and it's a little bit sloppy. There's not a sense of urgency."
4 Teams Show Interest in Free-Agent CB Tramaine Brock
Does your favorite team need secondary help? A veteran cornerback with plenty of experience just became available.
Technically, Tramaine Brock has been available since the San Francisco 49ers released him April 7 following a domestic violence arrest. However, teams around the league were wary of signing the 28-year-old cornerback until his legal status was clarified.
On Tuesday, California prosecutors dismissed the case due to "insufficient evidence" because his former girlfriend—whom he allegedly punched in the face and tried to strangle—"declined to cooperate," according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office (via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News).
The defensive back started 31 games over the past two seasons. In 2016, he was one of three corners with over 750 snaps to allow less than a 50 percent catch rate, per Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke.
Teams all dream about having multiple talented cornerbacks on the roster. Brock is the best available and shouldn't be for much longer.
Eddie Lacy No Longer RB1 for Seahawks
By all accounts, running back Eddie Lacy has done everything the Seattle Seahawks have asked of him since he joined the organization in March. He just hasn't been good enough on the field to hold off his competition among a talented running back stable.
Lacy only received second-team repetitions Wednesday with Thomas Rawls taking over as Seattle's lead back, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta.
The organization never guaranteed Lacy a starting spot, and his contract indicated as such. The veteran back is operating under a one-year, $4.25 million contract, which includes multiple weight clauses.
Rawls is a talented young back. If fully healthy, the 24-year-old is a perfect fit in the system and proved as much during his rookie campaign in 2015, when he rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. But he dealt with the lingering effects of a broken ankle last season.
The fact Rawls earned first-team reps should be viewed as a positive since it indicates he's returned to form.
NFL Finally Moves Forward with Full-Time Officials
Full-time NFL officials are coming this fall.
According to The MMQB's Albert Breer, the NFL Referees Association approved a plan to begin hiring full-time employees during the 2017 campaign.
Breer reported a few full-timers will be on the field at the start of the regular season, and the plan is to eventually hire 21 to 24 total.
The union resisted the move for years because officials enjoyed the luxury of building careers outside the league's purview. While the league will be hiring full-time options, part-timers are expected to still be in the fold.
Of course, human error can't be erased. But a full-time official can immerse himself or herself into the role, which should help the overall quality of officiating.