Category:NFL
Posted on: March 5, 2012 7:18 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 9:03 pm
 

Colts, Mathis come to terms on new contract

Indianapolis franchised Mathis but only as a formality while they hammered out the details of his new deal.  (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Last week, talks were reportedly heating up between the Colts and free-agent defensive end Robert Mathis but the two sides didn't come to an agreement until Monday afternoon, the team announced in a statement. As a formality, Indianapolis designated Mathis as their franchise player while finishing up the paperwork for the new contract.

Mathis' deal is reportedly worth $36 million over four years with a $15 million signing bonus, according to the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell.

As for what Mathis brings to the Colts' defense, we'll repeat what we wrote last week: New Colts head coach Chuck Pagano comes to Indy from the Ravens where he was the defensive coordinator. Historically, this is an organization that has eschewed defense and deferred to Peyton Manning -- and for good reason. Prior to the 2-14 egg the team laid in 2011, the Colts had won 10 games or more 11 times in Manning's 13 seasons, making the postseason 11 times and winning the whole thing in 2006. Prior to Manning's arrival -- and since the Colts came to Indy in 1984 -- they made three postseason appearances.

But the Manning era is just about done, and Pagano understands that a good defense can carry an average offense featuring a young quarterback a long way. Joe Flacco is the most obvious example, but Ben Roethlisberger was the beneficiary of a stout defense early in his career, and Mark Sanchez made two straight AFC Conference Championship game appearances in large part because of the Jets defense.  With Andrew Luck next in line in Indy, bolstering the defense only makes sense.

But Mathis is 31, not an ideal fit in the 3-4 defense Pagano will install, and will tie up valuable salary-cap dollars with a new deal. That said, he's played at a high level for all but one of his nine years in the league; he had 9.5 sacks in '11 and 11 the year before that. Not counting his rookie season, Mathis has averaged 10 sacks a season. It's reasonable to conclude that he's still a capable pass-rusher, a commodity defenses can never have enough of.

Plus, in his annual list of the top 50 free agents, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco writes that Mathis "has improved against the run and could easily make the transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 rush 'backer."

Looking at the bigger picture, one of Pagano's goals was to keep Mathis and Dwight Freeney together on the Colts' defensive line.

"First and foremost, we're going to make sure that we put both of those guys in position to make plays," Pagano told reporters at last week's combine (via the Associated Press). "I don't think it would be very smart on my part or anybody else's part to make sure that doesn't happen."

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 6:27 pm
 

Report: Drew Brees is livid about tag, won't sign

This is Drew Brees' 'Wait, you really did franchise me?!' face. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

There were reports last week that the Saints and franchise quarterback Drew Brees were about $5 million per year apart on a new contract. General manager Mickey Loomis, who according to a Yahoo story thought of Brees as "very good" but not great, later told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “I have always thought of Drew as a great player. Always."

New Orleans' forgettable offseason
Four days ago, this was easily the organization's biggest issue.

Then news broke that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was involved in a "pay for performance" bounty program, head coach Sean Payton and Loomis knew about it, and the Brees situation suddenly seemed less important. But the franchise tag waits for no man; scandals or not, the Saints had until 4 p.m. ET Monday to work out a new deal with Brees, franchise him, or let him hit the open market. New Orleans opted for the franchise tag and Brees isn't happy about it.

Details via CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Larry Holder:

"Brees is 'livid' about being … tagged and not receiving a long-term contract, according to WIST-AM in New Orleans. The radio station cites sources in the Brees camp that he will not sign the franchise tag deal. Brees and the Saints have until July 15 to hammer out a long-term deal. If a deal isn't struck, Brees must sign the franchise tag deal or hold out. "

It's rare that holding out is in the player's best interests; in general, the team has all the power but this could be a case where Brees is in a position to get exactly what he wants (and maybe more). Exacerbating matters for the Saints: the possible league sanctions the organization could face in light of the bounty program. If players are suspended and draft picks forfeited, New Orleans will need Brees more than ever. (It gets worse: two of the Saints' best offensive players, Carl Nicks and Marques Colston, are headed for free agency.)

Under the franchise tag that Brees reportedly has no intentions of signing, he's scheduled to make $15 million. In theory, the two sides have until July 16 to bang out a long-term contract but if Brees really is "livid" he may be in no mood to negotiate. Never mind the impending sanctions Roger Goodell might have in store for New Orleans, if Brees isn't the quarterback, the 2012 Saints will look a lot like the 2011 Colts. (Upside: they'll be perfectly positioned for a run at Matt Barkley!)

In the meantime, we'll reiterate what CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote last week: "What the hell are the Saints doing? I've said this before. 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?"

Why indeed.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:33 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers

Jackson's a big winner Monday, as he escaped the franchise tag like it was a defensive back. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

A record 21 players received a franchise tag in advance of Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, including six kicker-types. You can see everyone that got tagged at our 2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker. Let's break down the winners and losers below.

Winners

Vincent Jackson: Jackson held out most of 2010 because he wanted to get paid. He then signed his franchise-tag tender in 2011 because he wanted to get guaranteed money. Now that the Bolts declined to tag him, he's going to get filthy rich as one of the top two wide receivers to hit the free-agent market on March 13. Jackson and Marques Colston are the two top talents on a market that features several teams -- the Redskins, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, and Seahawks, to name a few -- in need of a wideout.

Carl Nicks: Nicks reportedly hasn't heard anything on a new deal from the Saints and with New Orleans not reaching a deal with quarterback Drew Brees before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, Nicks is going to hit the open market on March 13. He's 26, a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team in

Matt Flynn: Flynn wasn't expected to receive a tag from the Packers, but it's official now, and that means he'll hit the free-agent market. This is critical for Flynn given the number of quarterback-needy teams out there. It's also critical because the Packers won't control his next destination; if they tagged Flynn for the price of $14.4 million guaranteed (which he would sprint to sign), then they'd almost certainly end up trading him. Now Flynn gets to land a bigger contract on the open market.

Brandon Carr: The Chiefs decided to use their franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe. That's a smart move, considering they signed cornerback Stanford Routt recently. But it also means that Carr, a 25-year-old defensive back coming off his best season in 2011, will have the chance to hit the open market. Young free-agent cornerbacks are a coveted commodity, and Carr should expect to get paid handsomely.

Stevie Johnson: The leverage of the guaranteed money involved with using the franchise tag on a wide receiver ($9.4 million) coupled with the deadline on Monday really escalated the talks with the Bills and Johnson, and he ended up netting a deal worth $7.25 million per year. That's not exactly on par with the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL, but

Losers

Wes Welker: The Pats could very well end up getting Wes Welker signed to a long-term deal, but he can't be happy about being put in a situation that could have him not reaching full free agency until he turns 32 (he'll turn 31 in May of this offseason) if the Patriots simply want him to play another year on the franchise-tag value. Welker would've hit a market that paid him handsomely and it might be difficult for the Patriots to pay him the money he wants over longer period of time. We could see a holdout here.

New Orleans Saints: As if things weren't bad enough for the Saints -- see here, here, here, here, here and, whew, here -- they're likely going to lose their top wide receiver (Marques Colston) and one of their top offensive linemen (Nicks) to free agency. Their quarterback (Drew Brees) is not happy with his contract situation, and losing two weapons like that won't do much to improve his mood. So once they get done with BountyGate, there should be plenty of more fun to deal with.

Cliff Avril
: Detroit should be thrilled that they bring Avril back, but that doesn't mean the defensive end has to be happy. He's not, because he knows he'd kill on the open market this season. He'll get more than $10 million guaranteed next year and that's why it seemed possible that the Lions could let him walk -- they've got more than half their salary cap tied up in Avril, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson next year. So there's some good news: the Lions very much would like to lock up Avril to a long deal.

Houston Texans
: The Texans locked up Arian Foster to a five-year deal that takes him through his 30-year-old season, which is perfect timing for a running back. But it's also giving a lot of money to a running back. (Foster is a tremendously talented guy, a perfect fit for what the Texans do, a great pass-blocker, a great pass-catcher and many other things. But he is still a running back.) On that same day, they were unable to secure Mario Williams, who was their No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Super Mario will become a free agent, and unless he's willing to take a serious discount to stay with the Texans, it's hard to fathom how they keep him.

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seemed like the Steelers decision to go on a cutting spree and get below the salary-cap line would result in them using the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, who's a restricted free agent. They didn't and because of a confluence of events, they could be in trouble. One, Stevie got $7.2 million a year just now. Two, Jackson and Colston will get big money in free agency. And three, various tags on other high-profile wide receivers will draw more interest for teams that could consider giving Wallace an offer sheet. He may very well end up staying with the Steelers, but there's at least reason to be concerned.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:30 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 5:38 pm
 

Players come to Gregg Williams' defense

Then-Jags defensive coordinator Gregg Williams signals a play during training camp in July 2006. It was a simpler time.  (AP)

By Ryan Wilson

Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was summoned to the NFL's Manhattan headquarters Monday to discuss further the league's findings that the Saints (where Williams was the defensive coordinator from 2009-2011) had a "pay for performance" bounty program that rewarded players for injuring opponents.

Williams issued an apology Friday, hours after the the news broke, and in the hours and days since everybody has weighed in on the matter. Oft-fined and once suspended Steelers linebacker James Harrison tweeted Sunday: “We’ll see how concerned the NFL is about player safety when they decide what the punishment for the saints is. I’ll just say this, if that was me I would have been kicked out of the NFL!”

New Orleans' forgettable offseason
Later that day, Harrison retweeted this from teammate Ryan Clark, who played for the Redskins when Williams was the coach there: "Never in my career has a defensive coach singled out a player and put $ on his head. I've never been offered $ to put a player out of a game."

During a Monday appearance on ESPN, Clark finished his thought (via PFT.com): ‘If you knock out this guy we will give you a certain amount of money for it.’ Whether it was my head coach Joe Gibbs, whether it was Gregg Williams, I was never, ever approached to take a guy out. …

“If these things are going on, you speak up while they’re happening,” Clark said. “If you’re in a meeting and a coach comes in and says, ‘Hey, No. 16, whoever he is, if you knock him out of the game we’re going to pay you x amount of dollars.’ Then you blow the whistle then and say, ‘Look, I’m not going to be a part of this. If we continue to do this, I will report it.’ To me, that’s making a statement, that’s making a stand and that’s being loyal to all the players in this league.”

Another former Redskins defensive back, Fred Smoot, also came to Williams' defense.

“First of all I want to correct everybody,” Smoot said Monday after calling into 106.7 The Fan (via the Sports Bog). “It was never a system. And let me tell you something: this was a thing that I think started in training camp with us as players. It started off with who could get the most interceptions, who could get the biggest hit or who could get the sacks, and we took it into games."

NFL rules prohibit monetary incentives for interceptions and sacks, too. Although Williams probably wouldn't have been sitting in commissioner Roger Goodell's office Monday if that's all he was accused of. Smoot continued:

“Gregg never said take out this player or take out this player," he said. "But I’m sorry, back when I played football, we used to actually hit people. It was legal to go out and hit people. And we wanted to be the most physical team, and we wanted to inflict pain, but in no way possible did we ever want to go out there and endanger anybody’s career or take somebody truly out of the game....

“It was more or less we would start a pot in the defensive backfield of who could get the most forced fumbles or who could get the most interceptions, who could do that. It was never a bounty; it was more or less a pot that all of us players put in. Gregg never put in a dime. Gregg never came in and said do this, do this, do that. We did that ourselves, as a way to kind of pump each other up to go make more plays.”

Smoot admitted that he understood why the league might frown upon bounty programs but reiterated that “I never saw anyone paid for knocking someone out of the game. Did we as players put in pots to make plays, what we called the Big Splash Plays Pot? Yeah, we did that. WE did that. Players. That started by the captains on the team…."

Smoots remarks runs counter to a Washington Post report from Friday. Mark Maske wrote that three former Redskins players "described a coach (in Williams) who doled out thousands of dollars to Redskins defenders who measured up to Williams’s scoring system for rugged play, including 'kill shots' that knocked opposing teams’stars out of a game. 'You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits,' one former player said. Compensation ranged from 'hundreds to thousands of dollars' with the biggest payout thought to be $8,000."

Wherever the truth lies, things could end badly for Williams. And to a lesser extent, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, who had knowledge of the reported bounty program, and the Saints' organization.

If it's any consolation to Williams (and we can't imagine it is but we're including it here for completeness), Weight Watchers spokesman Charles Barkley is appalled by former players anonymously ratting Williams out.

“You have to be a punk to snitch that out,” Barkley said during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show. “That’s like giving a reporter an anonymous quote. That makes you a punk, if you do anonymous, but also, you don’t bring that out X amount of years later. I mean you don’t compete in it if you don’t want to be in it. But I’ve seen at least three or four well-known NFL players say all teams have bounties. So I’m glad they came to Gregg Williams’ defense. Because I’m pretty sure all teams have that.”

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 4:18 pm
 

No franchise tag for Chargers WR Vincent Jackson

Jackson's time with Rivers might be at an end. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline for franchise came and went and Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson did not receive the franchise-tag designation, the team announced.

Jackson's arguably the top wideout on the market (though Marques Colston obviously has a case) but because the Chargers tagged him in 2011, another year would've been prohibitive, as the Chargers note it would have cost $13.7 million to franchise Jackson.

Now he'll hit the free-agent market, and he should get straight paid.

"We discussed it again this morning, and nothing changed," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said Monday. "We did not like the franchise number, never did. Vincent will enter the market, and we will see what happens. We would like to have him continue on with us, but other teams now will enter the picture. We will now evaluate our contract proposal, and proceed accordingly."

The Chargers have stated repeatedly that they'd like Jackson back in 2012, and it's hard to blame them. Jackson recorded 1,000-plus yards in three of the past four years. The one year he didn't surpass 1,000 yards was in 2010, when a holdout and suspension resulted in him missing the first 11 games of the season.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 4:00 pm
 

Chiefs place franchise tag on wideout Dwayne Bowe

Bowe got the franchise tag from KC. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Dwayne Bowe on Monday afternoon, the team announced.

"Today was the league’s deadline to designate a franchise player and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Dwayne," Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said in a statement released by the team.

Bowe was one of many top-flight wide receivers who could hit free agency; that group has dwindled significantly over the past few days with franchise tags applied and new contracts signed.

The Chiefs top pass-catcher the past few years, Bowe seemed like a lock to receive the franchise designation once KC signed free-agent cornerback Stanford Routt. This likely means that cornerback Brandon Carr is headed for a big payday in free agency if he doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Chiefs.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 3:24 pm
 

Anthony Spencer gets franchise tag from Cowboys

The NFL denied Harrison's appeal of his one-game suspension(Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday afternoon, the Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on linebacker Anthony Spencer, the team announced. That means if Spencer signs the deal, he'll receive a one-year deal with a guaranteed $8.8 million in 2012.

As noted by our Cowboys Rapid Reporter Nick Eatman, the Cowboys "beat the NFL deadline to tag Spencer by nearly an hour." In other words, the Cowboys weren't locked into doing this like the Ravens were with Ray Rice.

Which is understandable: Spencer hasn't been entirely productive since the Cowboys drafted him with the 26th overall pick in the 2007 draft, recording just 21.5 sacks in that time. But he's a pass-rushing outside linebacker, and Dallas likely felt it would be difficult to retain or replace him. Spencer understands that, telling Eatman that it's a "good and bad thing" to get the franchise tag.

"That's a good thing and a bad thing," Spencer said. "It's good because it shows how much they think of me. But you don't want to be playing on a one-year contract. You want a longer deal and the security that gives your family. But hey, I understand. It's a business.''

Spencer would've attracted some interest on the market, for sure. And he'll probably attract some long-term interest from the Cowboys too: the Cowboys won't be thrilled at the idea of taking a cap hit of nearly $9 million.

And since Dallas until July 15 to work out a deal with Spencer, don't be surprised if they wait to see who they acquire in April's draft before deciding to pour money into such a deal.

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Posted on: March 5, 2012 2:59 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 3:36 pm
 

Wes Welker franchise tagged by Patriots

Welker's been franchised by New England. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

At one point in time, it seemed like the Patriots might let wideout Wes Welker test the free-agency market. When it seemed like the market for Welker's services would be busy, that tone changed and according to our Patriots Rapid Reporter Greg A. Bedard, the Pats have officially decided to place the franchise tag on Welker.

Earlier on Monday, Bedard reported that Welker would receive the tag some time around Monday afternoon, so the news that Welker's been hit with the tag isn't a huge surprise.

"Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007," the Patriots said in a statement released by the team. "Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come."

The only issue for New England will be whether or not Welker's willing to sign his tender and play for a one-year contract that guarantees him $9.4 million.

As we've previously noted, Welker would very much like to receive longer deal that pays him in the same range as the other top wideouts in the NFL. Bedard points out that "both sides would prefer a multi-year contract."

The issue is whether or not the Patriots are willing to give Welker, who will turn 31-years-old in May, a deal that will carry him past the age of 35.

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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