Tag:Michael Bush
Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:30 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:46 pm
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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: February 23, 2012 9:05 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:28 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Running back rankings

Players are willing to get the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in their future. (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 running backs.

1. Ray Rice

Breakdown: Ray Rice told CBSSports.com back in October that "I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands." As it stands, Rice is a free agent. And it appears that while the Ravens may eventually "do the right thing" and sign him to a long-term contract (though almost certainly nowhere near Adrian Peterson-type money), the short-term plan is to franchise him. At 25, Rice hasn't yet reached his prime, which is all the more reason the Ravens should find a way to keep him in Baltimore for the next five years.

NFL Draft prep
The problem, of course, is that running backs are fungible. We've beaten this dead horse beyond recognition but it's worth repeating: teams can find relatively productive backs for little money. Knowing that, it doesn't make sense to use a non-trivial part of the salary cap to pay running backs, even those well above replacement level. It's why were were adamant last summer that the Titans shouldn't pay Chris Johnson. (They did and he was underwhelming in 2011, rushing for 1,047 yards -- 4.0 YPC -- and four touchdowns.)

That said, Rice isn't your typical back. In addition to his ability to run the ball, he's also a dangerous pass catcher. How dangerous? He led Baltimore in receptions in 2011 (76), was second behind Anquan Boldin in 2010 (63), and first in 2009 (78). For all the talk about Joe Flacco wanting a new deal, the Ravens' offense goes through Rice.

Potential landing spots: Ravens. That's it. If he gets away, Baltimore deserves whatever fate awaits them. Rice fits any system but is especially dangerous when he's utilized. That seems obvious but it's something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot at various points during the 2011 season.

2. Matt Forte

Breakdown: Forte missed the final month of the 2011 season with a knee injury but it won't have any impact on what the Bears think he's worth. They have no plans to let him hit free agency -- earlier this month team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And while #paydaman was the Twitter meme of the '11 season for Forte, he seems amenable to the franchise tag if it leads somewhere beyond a one-and-done deal.

"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said a few days after Phillips' comments above. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

Plus, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz gone and Mike Tice named as his replacement, the offense shouldn't require six weeks to find its rhythm. Ideally, a healthy mix of pass and run will keep Cutler upright and the Bears competitive in the NFC North. Forte, clearly, is a big part of that.

Potential landing spots: The Bears have no intentions of letting Forte get away, but like Rice, he'd fit in pretty much any offense. He's a capable pass-catcher and north-south runner.

3. Arian Foster

 Foster wants to stay in Houston '100 percent' (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wants to be back with the Texans and it sounds like the Texans 100 percent want him back.  As of early January, the two sides hadn't made progress on a new contract, and like Forte, Foster doesn't seem averse to the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in his future. Unlike Forte, Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the Texans have the option to sign him to a tender offer, which would be much less than the one-year franchise-tag value of $7.7 million.

Could the Texans' offense survive without Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing leader? Yeah, sure. They still have Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate. But Foster is only 25, and he's played on an undrafted free agent's salary the last two seasons. He's certainly outperformed his previous deal, now it's up to Foster's agent and the organization to find some middle ground.

Potential landing spots: The Texans. The franchise tag guarantees that other teams won't even get a shot at landing him. That said, he'd fit perfectly in the Redskins' scheme (they run virtually the same offense as the Texans, just with less talented players).

4. Marshawn Lynch

Breakdown: In the wacky world of Pete Carroll, trading a second-rounder for Charlie Whitehurst makes sense. So too does signing Tarvaris Jackson. To Carroll's credit, he said "thanks but no thanks" when his Heisman-winning quarterback during his USC days, Matt Leinart, was dumped by the Cardinals. And he had something to do with bringing Marshawn Lynch to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-rounder and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Lynch carried the Seahawks to a playoff win over the Saints in 2010, and rushed for 12,04 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.

Lynch was Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon last season (this explains the Peyton Manning scuttlebutt) and earlier this week the word on the street was that the team was in "deep" contract talks with Lynch and would consider using the franchise tag if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

We're not sure that's the best use of resources for an offense with plenty of issues. Unlike the Ravens, Bears and Texans -- all teams with top-15 quarterbacks -- the Seahawks might want to take that $7.7 million they'd use on Lynch and address other needs (quarterback, wide receiver, or a couple running backs, for example).

Potential landing spots: Seahawks, Bengals, Jets, Redskins

5. Michael Bush

Breakdown: Darren McFadden played in just seven games last season but the Raiders' rush offense still ranked 11th in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Much of that was due to Michael Bush, who ran for 977 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns, and added 418 yards receiving.

Still, despite his '11 success, when training camp begins, McFadden will be atop the depth chart. Running backs-by-committee are en vogue so it's reasonable to think that Bush will get plenty of work but he wants to be a starter (likely because it comes with starter money). And for that reason, the Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran wrote last week that Bush might prefer the franchise tag to a long-term deal. Corkran pointed out that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has a knack for developing running backs, which could mean that Bush will be elsewhere next season.

Potential landing spots: Bengals (former Raiders coach Hue Jackson is an assistant there), Buccaneers, Redskins

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Breakdown: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss broke down Green-Ellis' situation nicely last week: "The view from here is that the Patriots would like Green-Ellis to return and have a price in mind. The question then becomes if that price is attractive enough that it sparks Green-Ellis to sign before hitting free agency."

Free agency starts March 13. There will be a glut of running backs on the market and there's no promise that Green-Ellis will get more in free agency than he would from the Pats. It's more likely that New England will offer something less than market value because a) they typically handle the salary cap well, and b) they'll sell it as "we're a winner, if you go elsewhere you'll be in rebuilding mode."

And then there's c): the Pats drafted two running backs last April -- Shane Vereen in Round 2, Stevan Ridley in Round 3 -- and should they not be able to re-sign Green-Ellis they'd have plenty of depth at the position (something they seem oddly incapable of at wide receiver). As always, as long as Tom Brady is on the field, the Patriots will have a good chance to win. It would be nice to have Green-Ellis behind him but New England's offense will survive either way.

Potential landing spots: Patriots, Chiefs (Scott Pioli's the GM)

7. Cedric Benson

Breakdown: It's seldom players go to Cincinnati to revitalize careers but Benson isn't your typical NFL running back. The Bears' former No. 4 pick in 2005, he was considered a bust until he joined the Bengals in 2008. He rushed for 1,251 yards in 2009, 1,111 in 2010 and 1,067 last season.

This offseason, the organization has talked about getting backup Bernard Scott more touches next season. Benson, meanwhile, has taken to publicly calling out the Bengals -- not the best negotiating strategy.

“We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on," Benson said during an appearance this week on SiriusXM. "When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

As for Benson's future in Cincy, we think this comment pretty much says it all: “I’m not sure [where things stand]. We haven’t had any talks about a new deal.”

Last offseason, the organization dumped Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton and made the playoffs. The in-with-the-new personnel philosophy will apparently continue this offseason, too.

Potential landing spots: Benson's skills have diminished to the point that he's probably not worth more than a veteran minimum deal. Given his baggage, it makes more sense for a team looking for running back depth to sign a young player.

8. Peyton Hillis

Cleveland wants to keep Hillis? (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Whether Hillis was a victim of the Madden curse (he thinks he was) or he just got really bad really fast, the fact remains: he cost himself a lot of money in 2011. Hillis was traded from the Broncos to the Browns for Tim Tebow's No. 1 fan, Brady Quinn, and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He played in just 10 games last season, rushing for 587 yards and three scores.

Not good. Not good at all.

There were concerns during the season that Hillis let his impending contract negotiations affect his decision to play. As you might expect, that didn't go over well with teammates or fans. Still, the Browns said last month that they want Hillis back after he "worked his way into the team's good graces" over the final six weeks.

A source tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that the organization might even consider franchising (!) Hillis if they come to terms with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. That sounds, well, silly but then again, we're talking about the Browns.

Potential landing spots: Browns, Patriots (where derailed careers get back on track), Broncos (two Tebows, one backfield)

9. Ryan Grant

Breakdown: The team appeared to favor James Starks but he's had trouble staying on the field. In 2011, Grant had 14 starts and rushed 134 times for 559 yards and two touchdowns. Not particularly noteworthy, but then again, he played in Aaron Rodgers' offense. He'll be 30 in December and while he rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009, an ACL injury sidelined him for all but one game in 2010.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel wrote that "Packer general manager Ted Thompson won't make a heavy investment in a running back Grant's age… So Grant will test free agency, and he is unlikely to return unless there's little interest on the open market."

Grant seems to understand the situation. "We'll see," he said. "I know I have a lot left. I think I showed that at the end of the year here. Would like to be back . . . but we'll just have to see."

Potential landing spots: Teams looking for running back-by-committee members willing to play for the veteran minimum. Barring injuries, not sure there will be much of a market.

10. Honorable Mention

Unrestricted free agents: Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, Thomas Jones

Restricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

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Posted on: February 14, 2012 9:07 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 9:59 am
 

What players will get franchise tagged in 2012?

Brees reportedly won't be happy if he gets tagged. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday February 20, NFL teams can begin to apply the franchise tag to players. They can do so up until March 5 at 4 p.m. ET. For those that don't know, the franchise tag is a method of keeping players from hitting the open market. Previously, the franchise-tag number was generated by averaging the top-five salaries at a position to determine a number for that position.

This year, the franchise tag value will be a percentage of the overall salary cap figure for the previous five years. As such, NFL.com (the league's official website, making the figures trustworthy, one would hope) the following figures, plus figures from last year that we've included:

Position 2012 Franchise Tag Value*
2011 Franchise Tag Value
Quarterback
$14.4 million $16.1 million
Running Back
$7.7 million $9.6 million
Wide Receiver
$9.4 million $11.4 million
Tight End
$5.4 million $7.3 million
Offensive Line
$9.4 million $10.1 million
Defensive End
$10.6 million $13 million
Defensive Tackle
$7.9 million $12.5 million
Linebacker
$8.8 million $10.1 million
Cornerback
$10.6 million $13.5 million
Safety
$6.2 million $8.8 million

*The only instances this doesn't apply: when a player already made more than the franchise-tag value, or when a player receives the franchise tag for the second-straight year, in which case tagging said player would cost 120 percent of their previous base salary.

Aside from the asterisked exception above, it's clearly much more cost effective to utilize the franchise tag on a player in 2012 than it was in 2011. Wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston might not be tag candidates at $11.4 million. At $9.4 million, they certainly are.


With all of that in mind, let's look at some possible franchise-tag candidates, in order of likelihood to be tagged.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Marques Colston or Carl Nicks

The Saints are all but guaranteed to use their franchise tag. Brees is a free agent and there is a zero percent chance that they let him walk into free agency. This is an absolute zero; losing Brees would not only be a disaster for the franchise in terms of winning, it would result in riots on Bourbon Street.

Various reports have emerged about where Brees and the Saints stand. (His agent, Tom Condon, is involved in a small contract situation surrounding Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.) As CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote last week, "the road could be rockier than initially thought" when getting Brees a new deal.

If the Saints can't get a deal done by the tag deadline, they will use the tag on Brees and sort out a deal later. If they can negotiate a deal with Brees before then, either Colston or Nicks will likely get tagged. My money's on Nicks, who could be a steal at less than $10 million given his age and his performance on the interior line the last two years.
DeSean might finally catch that money. (Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson

Reports are already rolling in that Jackson will be tagged and that the team will seek to trade him once they place the tag on Jackson. Philly better be comfortable rolling with D-Jax if they can't find a suitor, though, because the wide receiver is a good bet to swoop in and sign his tender quickly. The $9.4 million represents more than triple what Jackson's made in his entire career thus far, and you can bet he'd like to see some guaranteed money.

Worst case, of course, is that Philly ends up giving its top playmaker one more "contract year" at turning in a big performance before hitting free agency. $9.4 million is a lot to pay for a wideout, but it's better than a) doling out a big contract to someone new and/or a malcontent, or b) letting Jackson walk for nothing in return.

Chicago Bears: Matt Forte

The rumors of Forte getting tagged began long ago as the Bears said they simply won't let him get to free agency. And they can't: Mike Tice replaced Mike Martz, but that could mean Chicago becoming more dependent on Forte's skills as a rusher and pass-catcher.

Forte said he's OK with the franchise tag provided it leads to further contract negotiations. Those appear to be more successful this time around, without Jerry Angelo on the other side of the table. But if Forte struggles early in his return from injury (an MCL sprain) things could get dicey.

Regardless, he's a steal at $7.7 million in 2012.

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice

Another no-brainer for the team here: Rice is one of the most dynamic backs in football and accounted for a large chunk of the Ravens offense. Rice's league-leading 2,068 yards from scrimmage accounted for 38.2 percent of the Ravens 5,419 yards, to be exact.

Rice lead the team in rushing ... and receptions. The Ravens need him and it's unfathomable that they'd let Rice walk. He probably won't be happy about playing for $7.7 million in 2012 and it seems obvious that Ozzie Newsome would like to lock down a guy who's averaged just shy of 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the three years he's been a starter for the team.
Will Welker's drop hurt his value? (Getty Images)

New England Patriots: Wes Welker

Welker's taken a lot of grief for his now-infamous drop in the Super Bowl. But just because the guy missed one catch doesn't mean we should forget what he's done for the past five years in New England: Welker averaged 111 catches and 1,221 yards per season since arriving from Miami.

Here's where it gets interesting though: Welker will be 31 when 2012 begins. He's considered a "slot" receiver. But he reportedly wants to be paid like an "elite" receiver. (It's, uh, kind of hard to blame him.) Lots of people think Welker wouldn't be as successful without the Patriots system, but how successful would the Patriots be without Welker?

In other words, we might be headed to an old-fashioned standoff, where the Pats use the franchise tag on Welker (it's all but certain they will, mainly to avoid him landing with an AFC East rival), and Welker refusing to play. Our Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard's speculated as much previously, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Welker sit out the first few weeks if the Pats aren't willing to give him a long-term deal.

Washington Redskins: Fred Davis

Davis had a big year in 2011, catching 59 passes for 796 yards in just 12 games (with Rex Grossman and John Beck throwing him the ball). He missed four games when he was suspended under the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But that actually works in Washington's favor here, since they can commit just $5.5 million to Davis without any fear of long-term blowback.

Buffalo Bills: Stevie Johnson

I spoke with Johnson at the Super Bowl and he said he'd be amenable to playing under the franchise tag in 2012. And it's hard to imagine Buffalo letting one of the more talented and underrated receivers in the game simply walk away. Johnson, depending on the market, could be one of the top wide receivers available.

Given the nature of Buffalo's weapons on offense, $9.4 million isn't all that steep for someone who's produced as steadily as Johnson has over the past two seasons. He took a small step back in receptions, yardage and touchdowns in 2011, but part of that can be attributed to the injuries to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Bills late-season swoon.

And if he's willing to ditch the penalty-inflicting celebrations? He's worth it.

Bowe's a fan favorite in KC -- for good reason.(Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe or Brandon Carr

This is quite the conundrum for KC: does new coach Romeo Crennel, recently promoted from defensive coordinator, push to keep the 25-year-old defensive back, or does he sit back while the franchise lets Carr walk and hangs onto it's top wideout?

Bowe quietly put together another monster season in 2011, catching nine more balls than he did in 2010 and only three yards less. Granted, he found the end zone 10 times less this past season, but chalk that up to the Chiefs stupid-easy schedule against the pass in 2010. Oh yeah, and because he was catching balls from Tyler Palko for a quarter of the season.

Bowe's a better value at his franchise cost ($1 million less) I suppose, but Carr will be harder to retain in free agency, because of the nature of cornerbacks on the open market.

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes or Curtis Lofton

The Falcons, not so quietly, have a ton of guys up for free agency this year. Grimes, Lofton, defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann and center Todd McLure lead the list. One of Grimes or Lofton surely will get the franchise tag.

For the same reason as listed with the Chiefs, Grimes makes the most sense -- he'll simply be harder to retain in free agency. Lofton would be $2 million cheaper but Grimes is more important to the Falcons defense. A logical move might be to feel out contract negotiations with both players (provided the Falcons want to keep both of them anyway), work out an extension with one as quickly as possible, franchise the other defender and look to cut a deal with them down the road.
It's hard to put a price on Avril's pass rush. (Getty Images)

Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril

Avril's made no bones about the possibility of being franchised, and isn't happy with the notion. But the franchise tag actually doesn't exist simply to keep a guy around for another year without paying him big money. It's to keep a guy around while you work out a long-term contract.

That's what Avril, who will turn 26 in April, wants, and it should be what the Lions want too, given their dependence on a strong pass rush on the defensive end of things. At $10.6 million he would provide nice value. Provided he played the whole season anyway.

Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis

Chuck Pagano's a defensive guy, and even though he's coming into a rebuilding project, it's hard to see he and general manager Ryan Grigson passing on a shot to keep a talented pass-rusher like Mathis around for one more year at a reasonable rate.

Mathis probably said it himself over the weekend on Twitter when he noted that "The #TAG is an honor but personally if i was tagged now id feel they didnt want me but just have not found my replacement yet." Prepare to be honored sir.

Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer

According to one report out of Texas, the Cowboys are at least considering franchising Spencer. The logic isn't that the outside linebacker, drafted 26th overall in 2007, is a monster and worth $8.8 million next year. He's not.

But Spencer might be worth holding onto if the Cowboys don't believe they can fill that spot with a reliable enough player through free agency and don't want to force themselves into selecting an outside linebacker early in the draft and forcing him to play.

Giving Spencer that sort of cash at least provides a safety net for Rob Ryan's defense.

Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley

Finley's case is a fascinating one. At $5.5 million, the tight end is a no-doubt-about-it franchise tag choice. But what about at $9.4 million? I ask because Finley's reportedly ready to argue that he's actually more of a wide receiver than a tight end, based on the number of snaps he takes from a wide receiver position. (He may want to remove the words "best tight ends in the league" from his website then.)

The Packers don't seem ready to give Finley a long-term deal yet, but they're also not willing to let him go. That tune could change if Finley's awarded the same price as a wide receiver in arbitration.
Wallace's RFA status is a concern. (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Wallace

Wallace is actually on a restricted free agent, but as Wilson pointed out on Tuesday's podcast, there's been a lot of discussion in Steelers-land about the possibility of using the full-blown franchise tag on Wallace regardless of his status.

Here's some hypothetical logic: the Steelers use the non-exclusive tag on Wallace, the Patriots, with two first-round picks in the coming draft, negotiate a deal with Wallace and force the Steelers to match said deal or take one of the picks from the Pats. The pick isn't that high and Wallace is a stud, so Pittsburgh, who wants to lock down Wallace anyway, would be letting the Pats (or whomever) negotiate for them.

Lest you think this is silly, look no further than a guy we already talked about: Welker. The Patriots obtained him via trade, but only after the Dolphins used the restricted tag on Welker. After they did, the Pats negotiated with Welker to work in a provision in his contract that would include a monster bonus if he played X games in the state of Florida (AKA "a poison pill"). The Dolphins caved and simply dealt Welker to the Pats instead of trying to play chicken.

The downside is that the Steelers would be forced to paying $7 million extra in 2012 for their No. 1 wideout. The upside is not getting poison-pilled by an AFC rival who'll then hijack the Steelers for the deep threat they need. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Oakland Raiders: Michael Bush

The idea of paying Bush more than Darren McFadden's been bandied about, and it makes sense given Run-DMC's injury history. It doesn't make sense when you consider that new GM Reggie McKenzie would suddenly have a ton of money committed to two running backs. But here's an idea: tag Bush, trade McFadden and then give Bush a new contract. You keep him off the market, you recoup some of those Carson Palmer draft picks and you keep the back best suited for Greg Knapp's zone-rushing attack.

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 6:43 pm
 

Will Cedric Benson return to Bengals in 2012?

BensonBy Josh Katzowitz

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has wanted to get backup running back Bernard Scott more playing time, and if this Cincinnati Enquirer report is any indication, it sounds like that might happen in 2012. But it might happen because starter Cedric Benson – who’s hit the 1,000-yard milestone the past three seasons -- might not return to Cincinnati.

“From a consistency standpoint you’d like to get Bernard more carries, more touches and Cedric has earned the right to be a feature back in this offense the last couple of years,” Gruden said. “The more you give it to Bernard the more you’ve got Cedric over there scratching his head and not real happy. Really, to me, on a good football team nobody should worry about who’s scoring or who’s getting the ball so long as the team is moving.”

If that seems like a subtle shot at Benson from Gruden, that certainly could be the case. Gruden inherited Benson, and though Benson has resurrected his career with the Bengals, the team might really want to see what they got when they drafted Scott with the sixth-round selection in 2009.

But the fact is that the Bengals have pounded Benson the past three years. In 2009 and 2010, he carried the ball 301 and 321 times, respectively, and though that number decreased to 273 this seasno, he still had the fourth-most attempts of any AFC running back.

Considering he lost some carries to Scott from the previous two years, Benson wasn’t happy with his team’s direction.

“I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Benson told the paper. “Granted I don’t make those decisions or calls and I have to find a way to make it work. It was something they started soon after the first game. There was a vision where they saw the offense going. I may not like it or agree with it but I’ll make it work if given the opportunity.”

Thing is, he might not get the opportunity. He signed a one-year, $3 million deal before the 2011 season, and that means he’s an unrestricted free agent who could make pretty decent money on the open market.

But considering these are some of the free agent running backs that will emerge this offseason -- Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, and Mike Tolbert -- Benson has to worry about oversaturation. And if that’s the case, maybe he’s better off taking a few less carries and staying in Cincinnati

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Posted on: December 7, 2011 2:28 pm
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 14's finer points

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Broncos vs. Bears
Perhaps after this Sunday’s game, Tim Tebow can help Bears right tackle Lance Louis pray for quicker feet. After seemingly stabilizing Chicago’s nightmarish right tackle situation over the past month, Louis, a converted guard, completely fell apart in the loss to Kansas City. He was culpable for most of Kansas City’s seven sacks and also had a holding penalty just outside his own goal-line. It was a performance that would have made even Winston Justice circa 2007 cringe.


It’s not like the Chiefs did anything complex against Louis, either. They didn’t stunt defenders near him or feign blitzes in his gaps. They simply lined players up mano-a-mano and won (Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and even lowly Tyson Jackson all got through; by the fourth quarter, Romeo Crennel was putting players on waiting list for reps at left defensive end/outside linebacker).

Things won’t get much easier for Louis this week. His Bears travel to Mile High, where they’ll meet rookie Von Miller, the AFC’s answer to Clay Matthews (assuming Miller returns from the thumb injury that sidelined him against Minnesota). Miller, in fact, has an even better burst than Matthews.

If Miller is unavailable, the matchup in the trenches will be more even but still tilted in Denver’s favor. The Broncos have gotten great play out of their defensive line in recent weeks, particularly inside with active tackles Broderick Bunkley, Marcus Thomas and, on passing downs, Ryan McBean. These three cause congestion that allows the speed of Miller, D.J. Williams, Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers to flourish.

Even with adequate pass-rushing resources, the Broncos are willing to manufacture pressure through design. They blitz Brian Dawkins a few times each game and, on some occasions, have surprised offenses by bringing Miller from the inside. At times, execution and assignment identification have been problematic for the Bears O-line. The Broncos will be eager to exploit that.

Packers vs. Raiders
The Raiders traded a bounty for Carson Palmer so that they could get away from the elementary, run-only offensive gameplans they used early in the year with Jason Campbell. Aside from a putrid outing at Miami last week, where Palmer played jittery in the pocket because of a justified lack of trust in his protection, the ex-Bengal has been much better than his numbers suggest.

That said, the Raiders need to return to a ground-only approach when they travel to Green Bay this Sunday. Their only chance to win the game is to shorten it. For the last two weeks, we’ve focused on how a quality four-man pass-rush in front of good, aggressive coverage could give a defense a chance to stop Aaron Rodgers.

Well, the last two weeks, Rodgers & Co. have had no trouble against the Lions and Giants, owners of arguably the two best four-man pass-rushes in football. It’s wishful to think that the Raiders’ front line, which is remarkably powerful but deprived of genuine edge speed, can dictate the action this Sunday.

It might be wishful to think the same thing about Oakland’s offensive line. That unit, even with frequently used sixth blocker Stephon Heyer, was unable to move Miami’s three-man front last Sunday. But ground-in-pound is Oakland’s best bet against the Pack. And last week was likely an aberration. The Raiders are athletic on the left side up front with tackle Jared Veldheer capable of exploding at the second level and guard Stefan Wisniewski possessing intriguing short-area mobility.

And they have a workhorse in Michael Bush. He was methodical and effective three weeks ago against the stingy Vikings, rushing for 109 yards on 30 carries. The week before, he toted the rock 30 times for 157 yards at San Diego.

The Packers front line is hard to move; B.J. Raji is a beast, and Ryan Pickett and backup Howard Green have nose tackle size at the end positions. But if you CAN move them, you’ll also move the clock. That, along with great special teams (which the Raiders have) might – MIGHT – be enough to sorta maybe kinda have some form of an outside shot at possibly coming close to beating the seemingly unbeatable Packers offense.

Ravens vs. Colts
For many fans, filling out the offensive line section of the Pro Bowl ballot can be challenging. Often it involves just clicking on whatever linemen hail from the best teams. If the running back is good, his offensive linemen must be good as well (so the thinking goes).

This is the kind of misguided logic that sends underachievers like Bryant McKinnie to Hawaii. (McKinnie made the Pro Bowl in 2009, even though he was benched at times down the stretch.)

McKinnie’s first season as a Raven has actually been much better than his last several seasons as a Viking. At 6’7”, 350-something pounds (give or take), the 10th-year veteran would not seem to be a great fit for Baltimore’s movement-oriented zone-blocking scheme. However, as it turns out, the zone-blocking scheme capitalizes on McKinnie’s natural size and also masks his timidity.

McKinnie’s built like a monster but plays like a milquetoast. He’s never exerted the explosive power or vicious hand-punch of an elite lineman. That’s been detrimental to his run-blocking. But in a system that has him move before making contact in the run game, McKinnie can get away with playing soft because his momentum, working with his sheer size, generates natural power. It’s physics.

Don’t vote McKinnie to this season’s Pro Bowl, though. DO, however, vote his teammate, Marshal Yanda. The 27-year-old right guard has drastically elevated his already-impressive game since signing a five-year, $32 million contract in July. In fact, lately, Yanda has been the best guard in all of football. He has great footwork and the rare ability to land multiple well-angled blocks on a single play.

As this week goes, he’s perfectly suited to dominate against a fast but undersized defense like Indy’s.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 12:03 am
Edited on: November 13, 2011 11:17 am
 

Old Carson shows up, looks great in Raiders win

Palmer was the best quarterback on the field Thursday night. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's been 23 days since Carson Palmer hoisted himself off his couch to resume his football career. After nine months off, the first six quarters of Palmer's comeback were highlighted by indecisiveness, incompletions, sacks and interceptions (six of them to be exact). And then against the Chargers, it clicked.

Palmer missed on his first two throws then proceeded to connect on 13 consecutive passes, including two touchdowns to rookie Denarius Moore and completions of 41, 46, 33 and 55 yards. It was as if Palmer hopped in a time machine, set course for 2005, and that guy suited up for the Raiders Thursday night against the Chargers in a game Oakland would win 24-17.

Maybe Hue Jackson really does know what he's doing.

San Diego, meanwhile, continues to flounder, although their fourth straight loss had nothing to do with quarterback Philip Rivers. One of the league's best passers, Rivers admits that he hasn't played well this season. The 14 interceptions through eight weeks are a testament to that.

Against the Raiders, it was injuries along the offensive line that doomed San Diego's chances. Left tackle Marcus McNeill went down midway through the first quarter, which prompted NFL Network color analyst Mike Mayock to predict a long evening for McNeill's replacement, Brandyn Dombrowski --and by extension, Rivers.

"All day long Dombrowski is going to have trouble if he doesn't get some help. And at halftime they gotta get that kid some help," Mayock said.

Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had three first-half sacks, all coming against Dombrowski who did little to slow him up.

Despite all that, Rivers had the Chargers in position to tie the game late. Trailing 24-17 with just over three minutes to go and the ball on the Raiders' 42-yard line, Rivers threw a ball into the end zone looking for Vincent Jackson. Except Jackson appeared to lose the ball in the air. Safety Matt Giordano (who was replacing the injured Michael Huff) had no such trouble and came up with the interception.

Two plays later, the Chargers had a chance to get the ball back. Facing third and 11, Carson From the Past calmly stood tall in the pocket, before stepping up and finding tight end Kevin Boss over the middle … for a 24-yard gain.

San Diego got the ball back for one more series, with 1:04 on the clock. Rivers drove them to midfield and then, as if scripted, Wimbley sacked him on the penultimate play and Tommy Kelly sealed the Chargers' fate with another sack a snap later.

The six sacks are a season high for Oakland, who now sit atop the AFC West at 5-4. The Chargers, losers of four straight, fall to 4-5.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Palmer put on a clinic. And while his story of redemption makes for a swell After School Special about never giving up, the best offensive player for the Raiders Thursday was running back Michael Bush.

Oakland was without Darren McFadden for the second straight game and all Bush did was rush for 157 yards and haul in another 85 yards receiving. He softened up the Chargers' defense, made the Raiders' play-action passing game effective, and perhaps most important, kept Rivers off the field. (By the way, Bush's 242 yards from scrimmage is a new team record, surpassing Bo Jackson's mark of 235, set in 1987 against the Seahawks.)

After the game, Bush sounded thankful for the opportunity.

"You know, today, I think a lot of people doubted me. Darren's hurt -- he is a big part of our offense, and I miss him just like everybody else misses him -- but today the o-line did a great job, Carson did a great job, and coach called some great plays and we got a win," Bush said.

When NFL Network's Alex Flanagan asked Bush what he proved to his doubters, he said, "That's what they get. I laugh at them. I work hard just like every back in the league and I come out here and try to have fun."

We're only midway through the season but this game is a vindication of sorts for Jackson, who staked his reputation -- and the Raiders' future -- on Palmer. It took three games but Palmer looks legit and Jackson looks like a genius. How long it lasts remains to be seen, but for now Jackson has silenced his critics.

A month ago Palmer, in his words, was "hitting up Norv (Turner) for tickets to a game -- I was going to take my son." Now he's the quarteraback of the first-place Raiders.


Cris, Phil, and Warren go into overtime to complete their set of predictions for Week Ten. Watch a web-exclusive from SHOWTIME's Inside the NFL.

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Posted on: November 4, 2011 6:49 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 8:06 pm
 

Andre Johnson won't play -- once again

JohnsonPosted by Josh Katzowitz

For the fifth straight week, Texans receiver Andre Johnson won’t play, but according to coach Gary Kubiak, he’s getting ever so much closer. Which is basically what we’ve been hearing the past couple weeks (about a month ago, Johnson said he wanted to return in two weeks).

“He’s very close,” Kubiak said in quotes released by the team. “I know ya’ll are tired of hearing that, but he is very close, but he will not go this week.”

Asked if Johnson had a setback this week with his hamstring, Kubiak said, “No, I wouldn’t say that at all. I just think that was as hard as we’ve pushed him and there’s obviously levels you have to reach to get back on the field and when he got pushed Monday, the response was, ‘No, not yet.’ So, we backed off him, but today he was excellent. The spirits are back up and he’s in a great mood, felt good about what happened today. We’ll get there.”

Kubiak wouldn’t say if Johnson would be ready for next week, but Johnson's reaction to Monday's workout wasn't very encouraging.

“We kind of had a little setback from our Monday workout,” Johnson said. “I have been sore for a couple days. I went out and ran today, so it felt pretty good.  … It was more of just soreness. It had got pretty sore, probably a little sorer than it’s ever been, so they gave me a couple days rest. Went back out there today, did some running, did some things on the bungee cord, felt pretty good, so we’re just going to keep working. Just like everybody else, I wish this process could be a lot faster than what it’s been, but like I said, I’m going to just keep working through it and just try and stay positive.”

In other news about injured standout offensive weapons for AFC teams who are west of the Mississippi, Raiders running back Darren McFadden will miss Oakland’s game Sunday, Hue Jackson said today. Michael Bush will start in his place.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 2:48 pm
 

Darren McFadden to miss Week 9 against Broncos?

Posted by Will Brinson

Darren McFadden hasn't played since the Raiders first offensive series in their Week 7 loss to Kansas City. And he hasn't practiced since then either, although we've seen him in a walking boot and on crutches.

That includes Wednesday when McFadden, as noted by our Raiders Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore, sat out practice. And there's some belief that McFadden won't be back for Sunday's game against Denver either.

"Looking more and more like Raiders intend on resting RB Darren McFadden for Broncos game and hoping he returns healthy for Chargers game," Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

From a perspective of effectively maximizing McFadden's health, this makes a lot of sense.

The Raiders aren't a lock to beat the Broncos Sunday -- although most of our NFL experts picked them to win this week anyway -- but they certainly need McFadden more against San Diego than they do against Denver.

Michael Bush is a capable backup and a bruising, physical runner, and if Oakland can get out to a lead early, he should see plenty of work for the Raiders on Sunday.

Obviously the most important thing for the Raiders is getting their star running back fully healthy before bringing him back out on the field. If the timeline for that happens to coincide nicely with their strength of schedule, well, that's just gravy.

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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