Broncos use franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas

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The Denver Broncos will ensure keeping Demaryius Thomas in blue and orange for at least one more year after they officially placed the franchise tag on the wide receiver. Thomas has more yards than any other receiver over the past three years, culminating in 2014 when he caught 111 passes for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns.

By tagging Thomas, the Broncos buy more time to work out a long-term contract. Last year, Thomas finished his rookie deal making $4.7 million. Denver has a litany of free agents to take care of, including Orlando Franklin, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Nate Irving and Brandon Marshall, meaning general manager John Elway has his work cut out for him.

Elway will try to keep Thomas around beyond this year, though. He released a statement saying, “This is another step in our efforts to extend Demaryius’ contract and ensure he remains a Denver Bronco. We will continue working toward a long-term agreement with Demaryius, who is a very important part of our team.”

The “nonexclusive” tag was used for Thomas, which means other teams will have the opportunity to negotiate with the receiver. However, any deal struck with the three-time Pro Bowler can be matched by the Broncos. If Denver decided not the match the offer, it would receive two first-round draft picks from the signing team as compensation.

Thomas, 27, will be vying to become one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL. Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald earned the two largest contracts at the position, each getting $113 million with the average annual value at $16 million for both. The main difference in the two contracts is guaranteed money, with Johnson getting $48.75 million and Fitzgerald $27 million. Those deals are far and away the largest in league history at the position The next highest number is $67.8 million for Andre Johnson, who makes $9.68 million on average.

The cap number for receivers is expected to be about $12.8 million, meaning Thomas would play in 2015 under a one-year deal for that amount if a long-term contract isn’t agreed upon by the two sides.

Chiefs apply franchise tag to Justin Houston

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The Kansas City Chiefs have applied the franchise tag to outside linebacker Justin Houston, the team announced. Houston put together a season for the ages in 2014, recording a franchise-record 22 sacks. However, Houston is not expected to sign his franchise tag right away, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Houston is coming off his rookie deal which paid $1.598 million last season. The 26-year-old was a first-team All-Pro for the first time in 2014 and earned his second Pro Bowl appearance, giving him ample leverage with Kansas City while they discuss a long-term deal.

In a statement, general manager John Dorsey made it clear the team wants Houston to stick around for the long haul:

“Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense. Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come.”

It was the nonexclusive tag for Houston, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, which means other teams can still negotiate with the pass rusher, although any deal struck with Houston can be matched by the Chiefs. Even if a team manages to pry Houston away from the Chiefs with a deal that isn’t matched, that team would have to send Kansas City two first-round picks as compensation.

Houston could be looking for a contract in the neighborhood of J.J. Watt, who received a $100 million contract last season. The highest-paid outside linebacker is Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers, with a contract value of $66 million and an annual average of $13.2 million.

For now though, Houston is reportedly debating if he should file a grievance over his position. Presumably, the Chiefs used the franchise tag on Houston as an outside linebacker which is projected to pay him $13.2 million for the 2015 season, but that’s less than the $14.8 million due to defensive ends. If Houston can argue that he is actually a defensive lineman, he would receive an addition $1.6 million guaranteed.

Patriots use franchise tag on Stephen Gostkowski

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The New England Patriots announced that they have placed their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski has been with the Patriots since the team drafted him in the fourth round in 2006, and is coming off a five-year contract signed in 2010.

That contract paid Gostkowski $15.8 million over five years, with an average salary of $3.15 million. By placing the franchise tag on Gostkowski, he’s guaranteed to return to the team for at least the 2015 season, and he’ll enjoy a modest pay raise of $4.56 million, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network. Gostkowski has also been given the nonexclusive tag, which means that he can negotiate with other teams, but the Patriots can match any offer. If another team signs Gostkowski, then it would have to give up two first-round picks, making it an unlikely scenario.

Using the franchise tag on a kicker or punter might sound crazy at face value, but it happens a lot given the reasonable cap number for the position. If a team can set aside any worry about a position at a reasonable cost, it’s usually a small price to pay. Kicker Nick Folk got the tag from the New York Jets in 2014, while punter Pat McAfee got the same treatment from the Indianapolis Colts in 2013.

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It’s worth noting that the Patriots can still negotiate a long-term deal with Gostkowski. They have until July 15 to get him signed to a long-term deal, though if they miss this deadline Gostkowski would be forced to play under the one-year tag. At 31 years old and coming off the best season of his career, a long-term deal shouldn’t be out of the question. In fact, the Patriots issued a statement that they would like to work out a deal with their kicker:

“Stephen has been extremely productive and a vital component to our success since joining our team in 2006. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal.”

Gostkowski connected on 35 of 37 field goals last season, for a percentage of 94.6, making 12 of 13 from 40-49 yards out. Many thought that team would use the tag on safety Devin McCourty, who was one of the key pieces to New England’s defense and, accordingly, its Super Bowl run this past season.

Eagles sign LB Brad Jones

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The Philadelphia Eagles signed linebacker Brad Jones to a two-year contract on Monday, the team announced. The inside linebacker was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He spent six seasons with the Packers before the team released him two years into a three-year, $11.25 million contract he signed in 2013.

Jones joins an Eagles team that is very thin at the inside linebacker spot. Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho split starting duties this past season, with rookie Marcus Smith moving from outside to inside to provide depth. DeMeco Ryans tore his Achilles in November and has a cap hit of $6.9 million in 2015. He’s been listed as a potential cap casualty throughout this offseason.

Najee Goode, another backup for the Eagles, suffered a season-ending pectoral strain in 2014. Travis Long tore his ACL in the preseason finale, and he was fighting for one of the other backup spots. Obviously, there’s room for a player like Jones to earn a starting role.

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Jones was released by the Packers after a disappointing season in which he was benched after a single game. The team also released A.J. Hawk and are looking at a total makeover of the position. Jones has 258 tackles, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in six seasons in the NFL.

Dolphins place transition tag on TE Charles Clay

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The Miami Dolphins have placed their transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, the team announced Monday. The transition tag is a lot like the franchise tag, except it comes at a reduced rate and doesn’t give the team that uses it exclusivity. Clay’s one-year transition tag number will be worth $7.071 million, but he can sign an offer sheet with another team at any point.

Miami would then have the right to match any competing offer within five days of Clay signing the offer sheet. By using the transition tag, and provided Clay doesn’t sign an offer sheet with another team, the Dolphins save $1.276 million. This year’s franchise number for tight ends comes in at $8.347 million.

Clay has been with the Dolphins since they drafted him in the sixth round in 2011. He’s a capable blocker and a decent receiver, though his career highs of 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns in 2013 aren’t exactly world-beating. Clay played in 14 games in 2014, catching 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns.

It’s not a strong free agent class when it comes to tight ends, and aside from the top guys like Maxx Williams of Minnesota and Clive Walford of Miami, the 2015 NFL Draft isn’t particularly loaded at the position either. Clay would likely have been one of the more coveted tight ends on the market just for lack of options out there. He still could be, but the Dolphins have given themselves some insurance with this tag.

Cowboys place franchise tag on Dez Bryant

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The Dallas Cowboys have officially placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant was one of the top receivers in the league this past season and is likely looking for a big contract, but it’s unclear if the Cowboys will be able to give him what he’s after.

Given that Dallas broke a trend of disappointing seasons to take the NFC East and a spot in the playoffs this season, the Cowboys likely want to keep as much of the team together as possible. The franchise tag will keep Bryant with the Cowboys for one season, paying him the average of the top five salaries for players at his position for the season.

The franchise tag number for wide receivers was $12.41 million in 2014, and will go up slightly with an increase in the cap space this offseason. Bryant will want his long-term deal to place him among the top receivers when it comes to pay, which would put him near that $12 million mark regardless.

Calvin Johnson is the highest-paid receiver in the league at an average of just over $16 million per season, while someone like Mike Wallace currently makes $12 million per season. Bryant would be looking for Wallace-type money, especially after the numbers he put up this last season: 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns.

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Dallas will likely continue working on a long-term deal with Bryant. The one hang-up is the potential off-the-field issues, for which the Cowboys have a “genuine concern,” according to a report in November. That report was followed a week later by another saying that Dallas “won’t lose” Bryant under any circumstances.

The Cowboys will have until July 15 to get a long-term deal signed, otherwise Bryant will have to play the 2015-16 season on the tag. It’s a non-exclusive rights tag, which means Bryant can negotiate with other teams, but if he signs elsewhere, that team will have to give up two first-round picks.

Giants use the franchise tag on Jason Pierre-Paul

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The New York Giants used their franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team officially announced. Pierre-Paul is coming off an impressive season, but hasn’t yet received a big deal due to the inconsistencies over the course of his rookie contract. He’s had two really great years, separated by a few down seasons in which he was essentially invisible.

Unless the two sides work out a long-term deal before applying the tag or by the July deadline if they do tag Pierre-Paul, the tag ties him to the Giants for one season and a fully guaranteed salary. Said tag pays the player the average of the top five players at his position or 120 percent of his previous year’s salary, whichever is higher. The franchise tag for a defensive end is around $15 million.

That’s a hefty price tag for anybody, but is Pierre-Paul worth it? He finished the 2014 season with 12.5 sacks, and at 26 years old, his best football could certainly be ahead of him at this point. The problem is that there’s a lot of risk in giving him the kind of money that would likely need to come in a long-term contract.

Maybe the Giants would be overpaying him to some extent with this franchise tag, but it might pay off in the end if they get more time to evaluate him and learn that he is or is not worth that big contract.

After tagging JPP, the Giants will have until July 15 to get Pierre-Paul signed to a long-term contract if that is their ultimate goal this offseason. After that date, he’ll have to play under the franchise tag or not at all in 2015. The team can either use the exclusive rights franchise tag, which means he can’t negotiate with other teams, or the non-exclusive rights tag, which means he can negotiate with other teams, but that team would ultimately have to give up a pair of first-round draft picks to sign Pierre-Paul away.

If Pierre-Paul does sign a long-term deal, it’s unclear what kind of money he would be looking at. Mario Williams makes an average of $16 million per year, while Chris Long, Trent Cole and Charles Johnson are in the $12 million per year range. Pierre-Paul would likely be looking for something north of that, but whether he makes it to the next three — Greg Hardy ($13 million per year), Robert Quinn ($14 million per year) and Williams — is anybody’s guess.

NFL hot seat watch: Rex Ryan still struggling, Doug Marrone auditioning heading into Week 6

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Prior to Week 5, we said that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan could be next on the chopping block after Dennis Allen was fired by the Oakland Raiders. Ryan is most definitely on the hot seat at this point, and we noted that he’ll need to turn things around sooner rather than later if he’s going to have any chance of keeping his job through to the end of the season.

The Jets then went out and lost to the San Diego Chargers, 31-0.

On top of that, you have veteran quarterback Michael Vick, the backup tasked with coming in if Geno Smith is injured or otherwise benched, stating that he didn’t take preparation for the Chargers seriously enough. As poorly as that should reflect on Vick, it also continues to bring questions about Ryan and his decision-making.

Ryan has continually hitched himself to poor quarterbacks from Mark Sanchez to Matt Simms to Smith and now to Vick. Tim Tebow was even a legitimate topic of discussion at one point. Now the Jets have the No. 32 passing offense in the league and despite strong showing in other stats, they’re still sporting a 1-4 record with no solutions in sight.

Below, we’ll take a look at the coaches on the hot seat, how they performed in Week 5 and how things are looking heading into Week 6:

The Hot Seat

Rex Ryan, New York Jets (1-4)
Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills (3-2)
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams (1-3)

Probably Safe, But Not Doing So Great

Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5)
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons (2-3)

We already talked about Ryan and the Jets, but if you need some more on just how bad they were in Week 5, we’d be glad to oblige. Smith completed just four passes with an interception before he was benched, and Vick managed to complete just eight of 19 pass attempts, putting up 47 yards. Undrafted rookie running back Branden Oliver went off on the Jets, putting up 114 yards and a touchdown off of 19 carries. Philip Rivers threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Jets running back Chris Johnson coughed up a fumble, which San Diego recovered.

The Jets were never expected to beat the Chargers, but some semblance of competitiveness was at least required for even a modicum of confidence directed at Ryan. That didn’t happen.

Buffalo ownership change

Doug Marrone’s Buffalo Bills are actually doing pretty well this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that the man is on the hot seat. Marrone is in his first year, but there’s new ownership in Buffalo, and with that comes the potential for an overhaul. Marrone is doing well thus far, tied for first place in the AFC East with a 3-2 record. In the event that he is auditioning for a future job, this showing could go a long way. A solid 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 5 helped things considerably.

Jeff Fisher and the free pass

There’s plenty of people who talk about Jeff Fisher as though he’s guaranteed another season because Sam Bradford was lost for the year due to injury.

That said, Fisher needs to draw some flack for even making the decision to stick with Bradford as opposed to trying to look elsewhere. Bradford has under-performed for much of his career and had an injury history already. Fisher may be more in danger than some will admit. The Rams fought gamely with the Philadelphia Eagles coming off a bye week, but still fell, 34-28, and dropped to 1-3 on the season.

Coaches on the fringe

In addition to the three core guys we have on the hot seat, there’s a couple other coaches who at least deserve a mention.

Gus Bradley wasn’t expected to turn around the Jacksonville Jaguars quickly or anything like that, but they’re currently winless and not showing a whole lot of potential. Mike Smith’s Atlanta Falcons started the season off well, but they’ve looked more like the poor team they were a season ago than the juggernaut they were the year before that. Guys like Marc Trestman of the Chicago Bears and Ken Whisenhunt of the Tennessee Titans deserve mention as well, though they’re a ways off from being on the hot seat.

Looking Ahead

If Ryan can make any argument to attempt to save his own skin, it’s that the Jets have a tough schedule. In Week 6, the team will face the 3-1 Denver Broncos. At this point it seems like Ryan doesn’t have a whole lot of hope, but if there’s any, it hinges on beating the Broncos. That doesn’t seem entirely likely, however.

For the Bills, Marrone can do nothing for himself that would get him more goodwill with the new ownership than beating the New England Patriots. Buffalo and New England are both 3-2 and the AFC East is up for grabs. It’s going to be a tough one for them to win, but it is a home game.

Similarly, the Rams are taking on the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers in prime-time on Monday Night Football. While St. Louis appears to be out of contention for the division right now, the Rams were built specifically to beat the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. That would be a good first step for Fisher.

When it comes to the other teams, the Jaguars have the most-winnable game. They’re up against the Titans, coached by the aforementioned Whisenhunt. Tennessee is 1-4 on the season and they’ve showed little in their losses, while the Jaguars have had a few decent performances in losing efforts. Mike Smith and the Falcons have a winnable game against Trestman and the Bears on Sunday as well.

NFL schedule: Cowboys, Seahawks headline strong Sunday in Week 6

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Only two teams are on their bye week in Week 6 and with one game already played — Thursday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans — we’ve got a full slate of 13 games on Sunday. There promises to be plenty of action and plenty of ways to watch the action as well.

The slate of morning games does feature a couple less than stellar matchups. The Tennessee Titans (1-4) will be taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) in an effort to see which team is the least bad, but there’s also the good games, like the surprisingly relevant match between the New England Patriots (3-2) and the Buffalo Bills (3-2). How many people expected the division lead to be on the line in that game?

We’ve also got another strong divisional game as the Cleveland Browns (2-2) take another shot at the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2). Cleveland came just short of beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 1, but they fell short when the Steelers managed a field goal with five seconds left in the contest. With the division still close, the Browns can make themselves relevant with a win at home.

The afternoon features a showdown between the Dallas Cowboys (4-1) and the Seattle Seahawks (3-1). That game features the two most-productive rushing offenses in the league and should be exciting to watch, at least more-so than the pending squash match between the San Diego Chargers (4-1) and Oakland Raiders (0-4).

To see which game is on in your area, check out 506 Sports.

Here’s an overview of where to watch each game (all times ET):

Time Away Home TV Announcers
Sun, 1 p.m. Jacksonville Tennessee CBS Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein
Sun, 1 p.m. Baltimore Tampa Bay CBS Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Sun, 1 p.m. Denver New York Jets CBS Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Sun, 1 p.m. Detroit Minnesota FOX Mike Goldberg, Brendon Ayanbadejo
Sun, 1 p.m. New England Buffalo FOX Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Sun, 1 p.m. Carolina Cincinnati FOX Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Sun, 1 p.m. Pittsburgh Cleveland CBS Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Sun, 1 p.m. Green Bay Miami FOX Sam Rosen, John Lynch
Sun, 4:05 p.m. San Diego Oakland CBS Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Sun, 4:25 p.m. Chicago Atlanta FOX Justin Kutcher, David Diehl
Sun, 4:25 p.m. Dallas Seattle FOX Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman
Sun, 4:25 p.m. Washington Arizona FOX Dick Stockton, Brady Quinn
Sun, 8:30 p.m. New York Giants Philadelphia NBC Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

Bye week: Kansas City, New Orleans

Watch online

If you have a subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket, you can access all Sunday afternoon games online, even if you are not a DirecTV customer. Fox is streaming all of its games both online and through its app, Fox Sports GO.

For Sunday Night Football, NBCSportshas all the action. Monday Night Football can be seen at WatchESPN.com. Finally, for those who can’t watch, Sirius XM Radio has all the action covered.

Sunday Night Football, Giants vs. Eagles 2014: The battle for the NFC East takes over primetime

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Just like that, the NFC East is no longer the laughing stock of the NFL. After suffering through a cumulatively miserable 2013, the division is off to a fast start this season (with the exception of 1-4 Washington, of course).

The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have each jumped out to 4-1, but the biggest surprise may be the New York Giants. Left for dead after an 0-2 start, the G-men have reeled off three consecutive wins to pull themselves above .500 for the first time since December of 2012, setting up a surprisingly meaningful game this Sunday night. Eli and Co. head to Philly to take on Chip Kelly and Nick Foles in a game that could reshuffle the division standings.

The Eagles are looking to find more secure footing after a shaky victory over the St. Louis Rams in Week 5. Philadelphia allowed St. Louis to crawl back into the contest despite establishing a 34-7 lead in the third quarter. In fact, the Rams had a chance to pull out a win at the end of the contest but Philly managed to hold onto a 34-28 win.

Digits

You would think that a 4-1 start means the Philly offense has been running smoothly all season, but it’s actually been a bit up and down. After averaging 310 passing yards through their first three games, the Eagles have mounted just 191 and 207 yards through the air against the 49ers and Rams, respectively. The running game has been even more problematic — a year after leading the league in rushing, the Eagles rank 23rd with just 98.6 rushing yards per game. But yardage doesn’t decide games, and Philadelphia is doing just fine in the only offensive category that really matters: they’re second in the league with 31.2 points per contest.

The Giants are putting up points themselves (26.6 per game), and while it’s easy to point to Eli Manning’s steadily improving ball protection (just one interception in the three wins) or the emergence of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams in the ground game, the real key has been the offensive line. Early on it looked as though the O-line was as miserable as last season, but they’ve bounced back in a big way. They rank in the top 11 in both adjusted offensive line yards (a stat that gives credit to the line for rushing yards) and adjusted sack rate at Football Outsiders.

Who to watch

Larry Donnell, Giants TE

The Giants had serious concerns at the tight end position before Donnell exploded onto the scene early this season, piling up 236 yards and four touchdowns in the first four weeks. But he disappeared entirely last week against the Falcons, failing to tally a single target in the game. The Eagles defense has been stingy against tight ends, so Donnell will be hard-pressed to get back on track this week.

Odell Beckham Jr., Giants WR

One explanation for Donnell’s disappearance against Atlanta was the emergence of Beckham Jr., who finally made his injury-delayed NFL debut. The rookie first-rounder made the most of his opportunities, going for 44 yards and a key touchdown against the Falcons. His involvement should only increase as he gets more live reps with the offense.

Darren Sproles, Eagles RB

Sproles has provided a key spark to the struggling Eagles running game, to the point that Kelly had to address muffled whispers of a running back controversy this week. While LeSean McCoy is averaging 2.9 yards per carry, the electric Sproles sits at 6.9 and has also chipped in 198 receiving yards. The thought of McCoy getting benched is laughable, but his struggles do leave room for an increased workload for Sproles.

How to watch

Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Announcers: Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Michel Tafoya

Radio: Giants Radio Network | Eagles Radio Network

Online streaming: SNF All Access

Odds

The Eagles opened up as three-point favorites at home, according to OddsShark. The over/under for the game opened at 50.

Preliminary judgment

SB Nation’s panel of seven experts is leaning heavily toward Philadelphia. Stephen White, Joel Thorman, David Fucillo, Danny Kelly and PFT Commenter all picked the Eagles to win, while Ryan Van Bibber and Matt Ufford are going with the G-men. For all of the Week 6 picks, go here.

Further reading

For more on the Giants, head on over to Big Blue View. If you want to read up on the Eagles, check out Bleeding Green Nation.