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Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:57 am
 

Falcons place franchise tag on Brent Grimes

Since he's been franchise-tagged, Grimes can expect to make $10.4 million next season. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

In a move that doesn’t surprise, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff announced Friday morning that the team will place its franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes.

Grimes has become one of the better defensive backs in the NFC South, and though he missed four games last year because of a knee injury, he’s started the last 28 games in which he’s played. After a standout 2010, when he made 87 tackles, five interceptions and 23 passes defensed (in a reserve role, he actually had six interceptions in 2009), his numbers decreased last year -- he recorded 49 tackles, one pick and 14 defended passes.

[RELATED: NFL Franchise Tag Tracker]

Grimes -- No. 2 on our list of free agent cornerbacks -- also will turn 29 before next season, so there might be some concern in the organization about giving him a long-term deal after a so-so 2011. Especially since the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson to a six-year contract worth $57 million in March 2010.

With the tag, Grimes should expect to make about $10.6 million next season. If he signs it, that is. Which, according to his agent, he's not wanting to do at this point.

“We have no plans to sign the tag at this time,” Ben Dogra told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We hop[e] to be able to continue to disscuss through all the issues at the appropriate time.”

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:34 am
 

Roethlisberger, Haley quickly becoming BFFs

Haley, left and Roethlisberger, center, had a good phone conversation, which must have pleased Tomlin. (US PRESSWIRE)
By Josh Katzowitz

Because the drama for when new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley would call quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first time was so heavy -- it took more than two weeks after Haley was hired! -- we felt compelled to follow up with the news of how well the phone meeting actually went.

You, of course, will be happy to know that it went really, really well*.

*Just pretend we’re having this conversation in a high school hallway, and we’re gossiping about the potential newest power couple in class. Then, the enthusiasm shown above makes a little more sense.

"It was a really good talk," Roethlisberger, who spoke with Haley for about 15 minutes, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "Unfortunately, we can't talk football right now and that's one of the big things I wanted to talk about.

Pittsburgh's offensive upheaval
"So it was just me talking to him, about golf, his family, my family, him having been a ballboy here, just things like that. It was a good start and I felt it was a good step in the right direction.”

Initially, Roethlisberger blew off the call because he didn’t recognize the phone number that popped up on his ID. But after listening to the voice message, he immediately called back Haley to have a chat.

According to NFL rules, the two can’t actually talk football until mid-April, so instead, they began to build a relationship -- personal or otherwise.

“I think it will be a good working relationship -- and good friendship, who knows," Roethlisberger said.

Look, CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson had it right when he wrote that this so-called controversy wasn’t a big deal. But at the same time, if Roethlisberger felt disrespected by Haley’s decision not to make contact for a few weeks, it becomes a bigger story. Especially when you remember this quote from Roethlisberger after Haley was hired to replace Bruce Arians, a Roethlisberger favorite: “I've gotten a lot of calls and texts and emails from people around the league, both good and bad about him. Everybody has an opinion, as we all know, and they're letting me know what their interaction with him was -- good, bad and indifferent. I've heard a lot of things and I'm looking forward to meeting him and forming my own opinion.”

Now that they’ve finally met and talked, it seems like, so far, the Roethlisberger’s opinion is a positive one. And maybe this story, at least until training camp begins, can be left alone for a while.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 11:09 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 1:19 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker

Franchise tags are coming fast and furious for some big names. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Previously I broke down what players we thought would be given the franchise tag (I nailed 11 of the 21; take out the six punters and kickers and that's 11 of 15, which isn't too shabby). You'll see many of them below, as the franchise season has now ended.

Check out our winners and losers from the franchise deadline right here and look below for the franchise tags that were put on players, in chronological order:

Team Player, Position Tag Salary Analysis

DeSean Jackson, WR $9.5 million
Jackson was one of the big names that everyone expected to be tagged. And he was hit with the tag on Thursday. The question is whether or not the Eagles will shop him or look for a long-term deal.

 Brent Grimes, CB $10.4 million
 Although Grimes had a standout 2009 and 2010, his play fell off a bit last year, and Atlanta might be worried about giving him a long-term deal.

Ray Rice, RB $7.7 million
 Rice wants Adrian Peterson money (or, ahem, $100 million), but we think he's worth closer to what DeAngelo Williams makes (five years, $43 million).

 Dashon Goldson, S
$6.2 million

 After having to sign a one-year, $2 million deal for 2012 (after turning down a five-year, $25 million offer), it seems that Goldson might have to wait a little longer before a long-term deal comes his way.

Calais Campbell, DL $10.6 million
Campbell was a top priority for Arizona to keep, and the Cardinals would like to sign him to a long-term deal. For now, though, he'll have to be content with the tag.

 Mike Nugent, K
~$2.6 million
Nugent, 30, converted 87 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2011 and added an impressive 36 touchbacks.

Phil Dawson, K 
$3.8 million

The going rate for franchised kickers is about $2.6 million but Dawson was franchised in 2010 too, so he's set to make $3.8 in '11. Seems like a high price to pay for a 37-year-old who had two kicks blocked and managed just 10 touchbacks. 

Fred Davis, TE 
$5.4 million

Davis missed the final four games of the 2011 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but he still had a career year: 59 catches, 796 yards and three TDs in 12 games. The thinking: RG3 (or, more generally, QBs not named Rex or John) is going to need somebody to throw to, right?

Tyvon Branch, S 
$6.2 million

The Raiders informed Branch, one of the team's best players last season, that he would likely be tagged and Friday it happened. The move means that RB Michael Bush is headed for free agency.

Matt Forte, RB 
$7.7 million

No surprise here. The two sides couldn't come to an agreement before the season and then Forte went down with a knee injury late in the season.

Drew Brees, QB
$14.4 million
 This move is an utter failure in the negotiations between Brees and the Saints on a long-term deal, but both sides have to be hopeful they can still work out a deal. The problem here is that the team probably will lose guard Carl Nicks with this move.

Connor Barth, K
$2.6 million
Barth's reportedly reportedly tagged a year after knocking down 92.7 percent of his field goals for the Bucs. But yes, it's still not usually a good thing when a team has to tag its kicker.

Josh Scobee, K
$2.6 million
Scobee was the biggest point-scorer on an anemic Jags offense in 2011, and knocked down 92 percent of his field goals, making him a solid target for the tag, even if he is a kicker.

Matt Prater, K
$2.6 million
Prater only hit 76 percent of his field goals, but he nailed some long, clutch kicks for Denver. Also, he was worshipped by Jesus in a Saturday Night Live skit. That alone is worth a tag.

Cliff Avril, DE
$10.6 million
Avril would've made a fortune on the free-agent market, but Detroit isn't letting him walk. They tagged him on Monday morning and desperately need to work out an extension.

Michael Griffin, S
$6.2 million
Griffin, not cornerback Cortland Finnegan, got the franchise tag from the Titans on Monday. At $6.2 million, that's quite a nice value for the team.

Anthony Spencer, LB
$8.8 million
The Cowboys tagged Spencer late on Monday even though he hasn't been that productive of a player since being a first-round pick. However, Dallas feels that the market will be tough for pass-rushing linebackers.

Wes Welker, WR
$9.4 million
No surprise here as our Pats Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard reports that Welker got the tag. New England simply can't afford to lose their best wideout.

Dwayne Bowe, WR
$9.4 million
The expectation after the Chiefs signed Stanford Routt was that Bowe would be franchised. The Chiefs announced that he was given the tag on Monday afternoon.

Steve Weatherford, P
$2.5 million
Weatherford became just the third punter to ever receive the franchise tag when the Giants hit him with it on Monday.

Robert Mathis, DE
$10.6 million
The Colts haven't "officially" announced the move, but they've reportedly tagged Mathis and have tentatively agreed to a long-term deal.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:54 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:23 am
 

Report: Saints, Brees $5M apart per year on deal

GM Mickey Loomis reportely thinks Brees is a 'very good' quarterback. (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com/US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

We're 12 days away from free agency, and the Saints and franchise quarterback Drew Brees are "roughly $5 million a year apart" on a new contract, according to Yahoo.com's Jason Cole.

CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman said as much Wednesday, adding that the differences could lead New Orleans to franchise Brees. It's an odd way to treat the guy primarily responsible for saving the organization in post-Katrina New Orleans. The same guy, by the way, who is two months removed from breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing record, and two years removed from leading the Saints to a Super Bowl.

All this prompted Freeman to ask: "What the hell are the Saints doing?"

Fair question.  "I've said this before," Freeman continued. "There are certain players, only a handful, where you open the vault and roll out the cash. You give them a blank check. Brees is one of those players. Franchising Brees is going to anger him, no question. Players despise the tag because it limits their earning potential. So you've ticked off your best player. For what? Why?"

Because, in an inexplicable turn of events, the Saints, according to Cole, are "privately trying to sell itself on the notion that Brees is simply a 'very good' quarterback."

Oh my. A quick refresher: between 1967 and 2005 (the year before Brees arrived), New Orleans made the playoffs a grand total of five times. In 38 years. They've been to the postseason three times since, including one Lombardi Trophy.

Cole writes Thursday that the "very good" quarterback meme "was the word coming out of the NFL scouting combine this past week, when Saints general manager Mickey Loomis tried to define Brees as 'very good' when the quarterback was called “great,” according to three league sources. All three sources were asking Loomis why it was taking so long to sign Brees to a contract extension. Loomis’ answer spoke volumes."

Cole thinks Loomis' foot-dragging will necessitate owner Tom Benson stepping in to fix things. Fortunately, he remembers what the pre-Brees Saints were like.

“Benson knows where this team was 15 years ago and he sees where it is now. He has to make the call. Mickey is not going to do it," a league insider told Cole.

This also means that the team can't move forward with Marques Colston or Carl Nicks, two important pieces to New Orleans' high-powered offense. It's likely that Colston will hit free agency while the team will franchise Nicks (not surprisingly, he's against it), but this assumes that a Brees deal gets done before March 5 (the last day a team can use the franchise tag).

The latest news coupled with the Colston/Nicks situation prompted CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco to tweet this:

PriscoCBS
Just a thought: If Drew Brees really is Mr. New Orleans, shouldn't he get a long-term deal done so others can get signed?
3/1/12 8:03 PM

PriscoCBS
Having said that, If Brees is smart he won't do it.
3/1/12 8:03 PM

Whatever happens, the Saints have to sign Brees. Because without him, this team will be our early favorites for the Matt Barkley sweepstakes. (Hey, it worked for the Colts!) By the way: if Brees is "very good," what does that make backup Chase Daniel?

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 8:12 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:21 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Cornerback rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings here (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the cornerbacks.

The NFL is a passing league, which puts a premium on quarterbacks and wide receivers on offense, and pass rushers and cornerbacks on defense. Incidentally, these positions are among the league's highest paid, too. Go figure.

1. Cortland Finnegan

Breakdown: The former seventh-round pick out of Samford has turned a draft-day oversight into a career fueled by motivation. Finnegan's on-field skills are sometimes overlooked by his trash-talking and knack for playing just past the whistle. But there's no disputing his ability. And if the Titans don't re-sign him (the two sides were reportedly far apart on a deal earlier this week), expect a CB-needy team to pony up. Like, say, the Cowboys.

Possible landing spots: Cowboys, Titans, Texans (for the sheer Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter awkwardness)

2. Brent Grimes

UPDATE: The Falcons franchised Grimes Friday

Breakdown:
Another small-school player who has emerged as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. The Falcons are working to re-sign Grimes (worst case: they'll franchise him), who played opposite Dunta Robinson in recent seasons. ProFootballFocus ranks Grimes as their No. 1 free-agent CB, noting that he allowed just 258 total receiving yards in 2011.

Possible landing spots: Falcons

3. Carlos Rogers

Breakdown: Perhaps it's coincidence that Rogers' breakout performance came a year after he left the Redskins, the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2005. In Washington, he was considered a bust, a cornerback who got beat too often and dropped too many should-be interceptions. In San Francisco, he looked like the player the Skins envisioned they were getting on draft day. Rogers recorded six interceptions (he had eight in six previous seasons) and 18 passes defended in 2011, and said recently that he hopes to get a deal down with the 49ers before free agency. If not, he's a candidate for the franchise tag, assuming that honor doesn't go to safety Dashon Goldson

Possible landing spots: 49ers, Cowboys

4. Brandon Carr

Breakdown: Carr was taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft as a Cover-2 cornerback. In three years, he's emerged as one of the Chiefs' best defenders and if he doesn't return to K.C. (the organization hopes to keep him), the Cowboys have grand plans of bringing him to Dallas (yes, just like Finnegan). Kansas City signed Stanford Routt in February but GM Scott Pioli said during a recent radio interview that "The signing of Stanford Routt does not impact where we’re at with Brandon Carr. As a matter of fact, Romeo and I both reached out to Brandon yesterday as this was unfolding and talked to him."

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Cowboys

5. Lardarius Webb

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: After a solid rookie campaign in 2009, Webb regressed in Year 2 only to have his best NFL season in 2011. The Ravens appear set to tender him as a restricted free agent and have him play opposite 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Williams. According to PFF, he didn't allow a single touchdown last season. Webb is also a capable return man.

Possible landing spots: Ravens

6. Terrell Thomas

Breakdown: Thomas suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason but the Giants could choose to re-sign him and let former first-rounder Aaron Ross walk. Thomas' 2010 season can kindly be described as disastrous, but he played well in 2009and at 27, he has plenty of upside. CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan tweeted Thursday that the Giants and Thomas are closing in on a deal.

Possible landing spots: Giants

7. Tracy Porter

Breakdown: Porter is best known as "that guy who was on the receiving end of the Peyton Manning Super Bowl gift," but he hasn't lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick. That's not to say he's been a disappointment just that he hasn't been a breakout player. In his top-50 free-agent rankings, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco offers an apt description: "He is a good, solid starting corner, and those guys get paid. The Saints probably won't be able to keep him. He turns 26 in August."

Possible landing spots: Lions

8. Aaron Ross

Breakdown: Ross, like former teammate Thomas, has been plagued by injuries. He's also one of the six Giants cornerbacks set to hit free agency. But unlike Thomas, the former first-rounder may have played his last down in New York. As the New York Daily News noted earlier this week, "(Thomas) was the starter over Ross before he tore his ACL in August. The Giants had even expressed an interest in extending his contract last summer before he got hurt." Still, like we said at the outset: this is a passing league, which means that even mediocre cornerbacks won't have trouble finding work. If Ross can stay healthy, he'll have a job.

Possible landing spots: Lions, Cowboys

9. Tim Jennings

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Breakdown: At first glance, Jennings is undersized and outmatched. That explains why the Colts parted ways with him in 2009, four years after they drafted him in the second round. It's with some irony then that Jennings' performed well in the Bears' defense. As PFF points out, Jennings is primarily a Cover-2 cornerback, a potential limitation given that teams are moving away from that scheme. Even though he was benched last year, Jennings didn't allow a touchdown. While he's not a starter, he provides quality depth in the right system.

Possible landing spots: Cover-2 teams looking for a nickel or dime back

10. William Gay

Breakdown: Gay, like most names at the bottom of this list, isn't an NFL starter. The Steelers tried that in 2010 with disastrous results. But Gay is a pretty good nickel back who can serve as a spot starter. Given that Pittsburgh has invested five years into him learning Dick LeBeau's scheme, they might try to bring him back. If not, he won't have any issues landing with another team.

Possible landing spots: Steelers, Lions

Honorable Mention

Richard Marshall, Eric Wright, Rashean Mathis, Ronde Barber, Marcus Trufant, Phillip Buchanon, Jason Allen, Kelly Jennings, Adam Jones, Antwaun Molden, Cary Williams (RFA), Jacob Lacey (RFA), Keenan Lewis (RFA)

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:30 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:46 pm
 

Report: Raiders will franchise Tyvon Branch

This means RB Michael Bush could be headed for free agency. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The Raiders have informed safety Tyvon Branch that he will be franchised, the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported Thursday. Branch was the Raiders' leading tackler in 2011 and if the organization does tag him it will mean that running back Michael Bush, at one time thought to be a franchise-tag option, will hit free agency unless the team re-signs him (Bush was fifth in our Eye on Football free-agent RB rankings).

As CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore explains, Branch can expect to earn $6.2 million under the franchise tag, which is $2.2 million below the going rate for franchised safeties in 2011. The new collective bargaining agreement comes with a new formula for determining the position-by-position tag value.

Branch was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Connecticut. In related news: he ran a 4.31 40 at the combine. (We were shocked too.) His pre-draft scouting report explains how the college cornerback ended up as an NFL safety:

"Despite his impressive 40 time and success as a kick returner, Branch struggles changing directions. An instinctive, physical defensive back, Branch is best suited to playing cornerback in a two-deep scheme or making the transition to free safety."

Turns out, it was the right move. Branch has started every game since 2009, and had 109 tackles, four passes defended, a sack and an interception last season.  And CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco writes that Branch "should have been on the Pro Bowl team last year. He had an impressive season at a weak position in the NFL. It makes sense for the Raiders to keep him."

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:08 pm
 

Report: Steelers to release DE Aaron Smith

Ward and Smith were the two remaining players the organization had drafted in the 1990s. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Steelers' veteran purge continues: a day after Pittsburgh announced that they would release wide receiver Hines Ward, defensive end Aaron Smith is next in line, according to NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.

NFL News, Notes
Smith, like Ward, was drafted in the 1990s, and was an integral part to the team's success for much of the 2000s. But after starting every game but one from 2000-2006, Smith missed five games in 2007, and played in just 15 games from 2009-11 while he recovered from an assortment of injuries. In Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, the defensive ends aren't pass-rushing specialists; instead, they're responsible for taking on blocks (and often double-teams) while the linebackers behind them make the tackles.

At the height of his career, Smith was considered the prototypical 3-4 end. And while he wasn't a household name, his talents didn't go unnoticed; Patriots head coach Bill Belichick once singled him out as one if his favorite players to watch. But that was before injuries and age caught up to him.

Now 35, Smith's fate doesn't come as a surprise. In four games in 2011, he wasn't nearly the player the Steelers had watched for more than a decade. And with the organization's current salary-cap situation, there were going to be some roster casualties. On Wednesday, it was Ward, one of the best players in team history. Thursday it appears to be Smith. And in the coming weeks and months, linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote, and nose tackle Casey Hampton could also see their careers in Pittsburgh come to an end.

But the Steelers have been preparing for this day; they drafted defensive linemen Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011. Hood started nine games in 2010 and 14 games last season, while Heyward saw action in 16 games as a rookie.

Every offseason comes with player turnover, but the Steelers roster could look much different in 2012, especially if Mike Wallace ends up elsewhere.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 4:33 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 4:49 pm
 

Eagles place franchise tag on DeSean Jackson

Jackson

By Josh Katzowitz


The first franchise tag has been placed, and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson is the lucky recipient of it.

Well, lucky in as much, as he’ll make about $9.5 million for 2012, but not so lucky in that Jackson has badly wanted a long-term deal for the past two seasons. Lucky in that Jackson can begin to rebuild his reputation after a terrible end of 2011 when we wondered about his bad attitude. Unlucky in that if Jackson were to suffer a significant injury, his prospects for a big-time deal after 2012 will diminish greatly.

“We want DeSean to be an Eagle for the long haul and this is a step in the right direction to accomplish that,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in a statement. “DeSean is a talented player and a proven playmaker in this league and we look forward to him continuing his career in Philadelphia. It’s our understanding that he has the same desire. We will continue our efforts on getting a long-term deal done with him.”

DeSean's forgettable season
Before the end of last season, the Eagles might have felt they needed to reward Jackson -- ranked No. 6 in our free agent wide receiver rankings -- with the long-term deal in order to keep him happy. After all, he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2009-10, but his play fell off last year when he caught only four touchdown passes.

More damaging than that, though, was his attitude. He missed meetings, the Eagles benched him in the fourth quarter of the Patriots game, and teammates openly questioned his effort.

Jackson and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said all along he was a top-five receiver, but he certainly didn’t play like -- or act like -- one.

For his part, Jackson later apologized for his actions and, when asked if he was OK if the Eagles tagged him, he said “Why wouldn’t it? Hey, it’d be all right. God’s got a plan, brother. I’m going to roll with it.”

Looks like the rolling with it part begins right now.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com