A few personnel moves have happened—or are rumored to happen soon—around the NFC North. Let’s take a look at what everyone’s been talking about recently.
A few personnel moves have happened—or are rumored to happen soon—around the NFC North. Let’s take a look at what everyone’s been talking about recently.
The NFL Scouting Combine is still underway in Indianapolis, which means each team in the AFC North has the draft very much on their minds today. Considering all we’ve seen out of this year’s draft prospects in the past days, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to potential draft targets for all four teams.
Though not all four teams in the NFC North have news to report on the contract negotiation and free-agency fronts today, there have been a few notes worth reporting.
Two come out of Detroit, where the talks between the Lions and their star receiver Calvin Johnson are ongoing. Johnson is set to make $20 million in 2012, the final year of his rookie contract.
The team wants to both lock him down to a long-term deal as well as negotiate a way for his 2012 salary to have less income on the Lions’ cap. The latter is of the most importance, considering the Lions aren’t in the best cap shape and have a number of free agents they’d like to hold onto.
Though the Lions do have a contingency plan in place should a restructure not happen before the March 13 start of free agency, the team is hopeful that it won’t be an issue by that time. The two sides are scheduled to meet at the scouting combine on Saturday.
Also, 2012 is the final year of Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’s contract, and general manager Martin Mayhew says the talks are ongoing and productive and should result in a long-term deal, according to the Detroit Free Press‘ Dave Birkett.
Schwartz’s tenure with the Lions started in 2009 and he helped lead the team to their first winning season since 2000. Birkett notes that Schwartz and the New York Jets’ Rex Ryan are the only two of the 11 head coaches hired in 2009 to still have their jobs.
Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole’s sources have told him that the Green Bay Packers plan to cut offensive tackle Chad Clifton and will retain wide receiver Donald Driver for the 2012 season. It was first speculated the team could part ways with both players or that Clifton would retire and make their decision for them.
Clifton will be 36 at the start of the 2012 season and is still likely to bow out of the league should the team release him. Driver will likely see his contract restructured as the Packers try to free up additional salary cap space.
Forte reportedly was offered a multi-year contract worth around $13 million guaranteed at the beginning of the 2011 season but turned it down. If they cannot get a deal done, Forte will more than likely be franchised on or before March 5.
The best way to get a feel for what’s really going on with an NFL team is to take a look at what the fans are discussing. Here are the hottest topics of the week for AFC North fans, as culled from fan message boards around the web.
Baltimore Ravens fans at Ravens24x7.com are discussing the possibility of running back Ray Rice wanting a $100 million dollar contract, one comparable to that of the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson.
With the Scouting Combine under way, Ravens fans are also talking about which players the team may be giving the most attention to this weekend.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans at the Steelers Fever forums are talking about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s latest contract restructure as well as the potential for wide receiver Mike Wallace to remain a Steeler for life, per general manager Kevin Colbert’s comments yesterday.
Cleveland Browns fans at TheBrownsBoard.com also have Wallace on their minds, discussing whether or not it’s a good idea for the team to use their No. 22 first round draft pick to snag him should the Steelers need to place an RFA tender on him.
They’re also discussing the possibility of the Browns adding free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to their roster this offseason.
Cincinnati Bengals fans at the BengalsZone message boards want nothing more than to have a better running game in 2012, while their counterparts at the Jungle Noise forums are discussing former Bengal Evan Mathis’ comment that Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco weren’t as big of distractions as they were made out to be.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert spoke to the media on Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and the discussion was heavy on the talk of keeping wide receiver Mike Wallace on the roster.
After the announcement that the team successfully restructured the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (for the second time in as many seasons), saving it $8 million, the Steelers are very near or at the salary cap figure for 2012, which is projected to be anywhere between $120 and $124 million.
However, to retain Wallace for 2012, the Steelers still need more money. The franchise tag figure for wide receivers this year is $9.4 million, meaning that the team will have to both restructure more contracts and cut current players to have enough cash to franchise Wallace and pay its rookies.
Despite things still looking bleak—albeit less so than just two weeks ago, when the Steelers were around $30 million over the cap—Colbert is still confident that it’s not a foregone conclusion Wallace won’t stay with the team.
Colbert said the team will do “everything we can to make sure Mike Wallace remains a Steeler,” and though he said it is unlikely that they will be able to use the franchise tag on him, they’re still waiting for the exact salary-cap number before completely ruling it out.
That means Wallace would probably get a contract offer instead of being tagged, though the first-round restricted free-agent tender (worth $3.7 million) is still a real possibility as well.
Should Wallace receive the RFA tender, he would be offered contracts from interested teams; if he accepts one of them, the Steelers would receive that team’s first-round 2012 draft pick as compensation.
Keeping Wallace on the team is the Steelers’ top offseason priority. They’re closer than they were two weeks ago from making that happen, but there’s still much work to do before his staying on the roster in 2012 and beyond is guaranteed.
Roethlisberger’s restructure has saved the team around $8 million, according to Scott Brown of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The team has several options to get comfortably under the cap, including restructuring linebacker James Harrison’s contract, or cutting guard Chris Kemoeatu, receiver Hines Ward or linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote.
The Steelers might not have to cut any of these players to get under the cap, it’s likely that one or more of them will become financial collateral damage while the team continues to pursue a new deal with wide receiver Mike Wallace, who becomes a restricted free agent in March.
To franchise Wallace would cost the Steelers over $9 million, and signing him to a long-term deal could cost the team significantly less in 2012, depending on how it is structured.
Right now, cap zero is the Steelers’ most pressing financial situation, and they’re extremely close to accomplishing it. Next is getting under the cap enough to pay their 2012 rookie class and then having enough money to make a worthwhile offer to Wallace.
It seemed nearly impossible two weeks ago for the Steelers to get under the cap. Now that they’re nearly there, the rest of their offseason goals seem less out of reach.
The 2012 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off tomorrow, and representatives of all 32 teams will be watching every drill, physical result and interview intently to determine just who will be a good fit for their respective squads.
Given the needs of each team in the AFC North and who they are likely to be targeting with early round picks, here are the top combine invitees who will get the closest looks at in the coming days.
The chances for wide receiver Mike Wallace to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012 and beyond are looking slimmer each day.
While the team has worked over the past two weeks to try to improve their salary cap situation, and still has a number of moves to make, it still doesn’t look likely they’ll be able either to extend him a long-term offer or use the franchise tag on him in the offseason.
As of now, the Steelers are around $10 million over the projected salary cap, and as much as $15 million over. To franchise Wallace in their current situation would mean another $9.4 million.
Even if they can restructure the salaries of linebacker James Harrison and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger while cutting a number of other, relatively expensive veterans, it still may not provide the team with enough cash to retain Wallace via contract or franchise tag while still having enough left over to pay their rookie class.
This means the Steelers will have to use a first-round restricted free agent tender on him and hope they don’t find themselves outbid for his services—a gamble they aren’t likely to win.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Ed Bouchette doesn’t see this situation to be as gloomy as many of the team’s fans do. He argues that Wallace isn’t worth the $9.4 million the franchise tag would pay him, nor would he be worth that amount yearly in a long-term contract.
Bouchette notes Wallace’s 2011 season, in which he appeared on pace for 1,600 receiving yards based on his performance in the first half of the season. By the second half, however, Wallace’s production dropped.
Bouchette wonders if this has to do with defenses figuring out the best way to stop him—that is, forcing him to run inside, making sure he is double covered and keeping a safety deep.
Wallace is generally an outside runner whose speed allows him to outrun seemingly every defender when he’s running go routes. Inside, however, he struggles against coverage.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has mentioned a number of times that Wallace needs to be a more multidimensional receiver, and the fact that he hasn’t seemed to develop into one makes it less of a hit to the team if Wallace were to move on, at least from Bouchette’s estimation.
Bouchette makes a valid point here. While Wallace has been effective in his three seasons, his limitations have become increasingly more apparent, while fellow receiver Antonio Brown has ascended to become the team’s No. 2 receiver and bigger all-around threat.
Brown will find himself in the same situation next offseason that Wallace is in now, and perhaps the Steelers are more willing to part ways with Wallace this year than to lose the more versatile Brown in the next.
Needless to say, the combination of Brown and Wallace on the field made the Steelers’ passing offense one of the most deadly in the league in 2011, and losing Wallace will drastically alter how the Steelers approach their offensive game plan in 2012.
The gamble could pay off for the team, however, if Wallace truly wants to remain in Pittsburgh. Wallace is under no obligation to sign any contracts offered him from other teams and could choose instead the nearly $4 million he’d get in a one-year tender from Pittsburgh.
But, as it stands now, it’s going to take some serious financial jiu-jitsu for the Steelers to both afford to keep Wallace as well as stay under the salary cap. It’s not an ideal situation for the team to lose their top wideout, but as long as they keep the possibility in mind, they will have time to adapt accordingly.
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