Private: Cleveland Browns to trade for Bills QB Tyrod Taylor
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Cleveland Browns to trade for Bills QB Tyrod Taylor

The Rams’ overhauled defense may have taken center stage in the week leading into the new league year, but Friday belongs to the Browns.

Just hours after landing wide receiver Jarvis Landry from Miami, Cleveland has pulled the trigger on two more trades.

The Browns have acquired Tyrod Taylor from the Bills in exchange for the No. 65 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports, via a source informed of the situation. In turn, new general manager John Dorsey dealt quarterback DeShone Kizer to the Packers, netting cornerback Damarious Randall in return, sources involved in the trade confirmed to Rapoport.

The Bills did well to land an early third-round pick for a player they weren’t intent on keeping. Buffalo is now flush with five choices (Nos. 21, 22, 53, 56, 65) in the draft’s first 65 selections. General manager Brandon Beane has the ammunition for a trade that will net the franchise a high-profile quarterback in next month’s draft.

From the Browns perspective, Taylor figures to slot in as the veteran bridge quarterback, keeping the seat warm for the quarterback of the future — likely drafted with the No. 1 or No. 4 pick. Striking before the onset of free agency also allowed Dorsey to outflank the competition, eliminating a fallback option for the Broncos and Cardinals.

Although Taylor’s penchant for leaving throws on the field led to a midseason benching last season, he balances that deficiency by avoiding turnovers, moving the chains with his legs and making big plays via the deep ball. He kept a less talented Bills outfit in games, managing an admirable 22-20 record in 42 starts over the past three years.

His addition is bad news for former Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron, previously viewed as the apple of Hue Jackson’s eye. On the other hand, the arrival of a veteran field general is good news for All Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, who is wrestling with the idea of retirement.

The Browns‘ 0-16 record last season belies a competitive week-to-week outfit undone by untimely turnovers and poor decision-making in the red zone. Even if Taylor isn’t the long-term answer in Cleveland, he offers respectability as an instant upgrade on the raw, mistaken-prone Kizer.

With Taylor under center and a first-round pick likely to be waiting in the wings, Kizer was the odd man out. Dorsey spun an expected third-string quarterback into Randall, a former first-round pick with 30 NFL starts under his belt and the talent to push Jason McCourty as the No. 1 cornerback in Cleveland.

Armed with Taylor, Landry, a full season of Josh Gordan and a stockpile of early-round draft picks, Jackson’s offense is primed for a dramatic turnaround in 2018. A coach who spent 2017 on the hot seat suddenly has a fighting chance to pull out of a 1-31 tailspin.

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Also Read: Manning sells stake in Papa Johns

Private: Peyton Manning Sells Stake in Papa John’s Locations, Remains Spokesperson
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Peyton Manning Sells Stake in Papa John’s Locations, Remains Spokesperson

 

Former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning sold his stake in 31 Papa John’s pizza shops in the Denver area last month before the NFL switched to Pizza Hut as an official sponsor.

Papa John’s spokesman Peter Collins confirmed the news to Tamara Chuang of the Denver Post on Tuesday and noted Manning will remain a “celebrity spokesperson and brand ambassador” for the company.

The longtime NFL star, who originally purchased 21 stores in 2012, sold his stake to an existing franchisee who already owned locations in other U.S. markets, per Collins. The new owner expected to rehire all of the existing employees.

Manning has appeared in numerous commercials with Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, who stepped down as the company’s CEO in December, over the years.

Schnatter was also on the field following Super Bowl 50 in 2016 to congratulate Manning for the Denver Broncos’ victory over the Carolina Panthers.

On Feb. 28, the NFL announced the change from Papa John’s to Pizza Hut as its pizza sponsor.

“We know many of our fans enjoy pizza while watching NFL games, and we are thrilled to have Pizza Hut, an industry leader and one of America’s favorite brands, as an official league sponsor,” commissioner Roger Goodell said.

“With a focus on family, friends and fun, Pizza Hut has the creativity we are looking for in a partner, and we look forward to working together with them to make the at-home NFL experience more exciting than ever for our fans.”

Schnatter had drawn criticism for comments he made about the NFL players’ protests during the national anthem hurting the company’s sales. No reason was given for the sponsorship switch, however.

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Also Read: Billion Dollar e-sports business

Private: Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: Who Will the Browns Draft at No. 1?
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Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: Who Will the Browns Draft at No. 1?

The Browns face a conundrum at the top of the draft, a sleeper to pay attention to and uncovering the real Josh Rosen. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.

1. What will the Browns do at No. 1?

For the past two decades, there has been one overarching theme in the NFL. No, not that Joe Flacco is elite.

It’s that the position of quarterback holds the key to everything.

Quarterbacks rule the draft. They rule on NFL fields. They rule with fans. The highest-paid players in the sport are quarterbacks. Competent play at the position determines whether you can contend.

Maybe that’s why since 1998, there have been 20 No. 1 overall draft picks, and 14 of them have been quarterbacks.

But will that remain the case in the draft this year? Could we see Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb overtake the quarterbacks for that No. 1 spot?

It’s not totally unusual, of course, for a non-quarterback to go first. Just last season, the Browns took defensive end Myles Garrett, and in 2014, the Texans took Jadeveon Clowney. It happens.

Yet this year, at least before the scouting combine, it seemed almost a lock that a quarterback would be taken.

Now, teams believe there could be a massive shake-up near the top. A quarterback may not even go in the top three, several teams tell me.

B/R’s Matt Miller digs into just that scenario in his latest mock draft. I’d trust Miller with my life when it comes to anything NFL, and he captures a lot of the thinking some teams have when it comes to the top pick.

Both Barkley and Chubb were so incredible at the combine, so awe-inspiring, it’s possible they could help push the quarterbacks out of the top spot.

Still, it remains likely, several teams tell me, that the Browns stay traditional and take a thrower. (It’s also wise to remember that teams frequently lie this time of year. They will tell you that the Earth is flat.)

What I do know is that there are a few non-QBs viewed as so good, they have created confusion about what will—or should—happen at the top of the draft, and it may stay that way until draft day.

So get your popcorn ready.

2. Draft sleeper alert! Draft sleeper alert!

The best wide receiver you may not know is on the phone, and he’s laughing while telling a funny story.

Teo Redding, from Bowling Green, was asked about the oddest question he received from an NFL team at the combine. His answer was a doozy:

“If one of my friends killed someone, would I tell anyone?” Redding recalled.

Wait, what?

“How do you even answer that?” he laughed.

So, how did he answer it?

“Of course, I would tell someone,” he said.

Silly questions aside, what you need to know about Redding is he may be one of the best sleepers in the draft.

Quarterbacks and other highly touted prospects may grab everyone’s ears at this time of year, but it’s the players drafted after Day 1 who make the NFL go. They don’t come into the league as stars but become them. Redding has a good chance to do just that.

Redding is training at the TEST Football Academy, located in Martinsville, New Jersey. The facility, run by owner and CEO Kevin Dunn and Director of Football Operations Geir Gudmundsen, has trained dozens of NFL players prior to the draft, including Patrick Peterson, Flacco, Duron Harmon, Jamaal Westerman, Stevan Ridley and Brian Hoyer, among others.

“The last wide receiver I’ve seen run these kind of smooth routes and one-handed catches was Odell Beckham Jr. at the LSU pro day,” Dunn said of Redding. “We’ve clocked him using our laser timing system with 4.3 speed, making him a faster version [of Beckham]. This kid is going to be the steal of the draft.”

Added Gudmundsen: “One of the most explosive athletes I’ve had the pleasure to work with. No doubt in my mind he was one of those kids that was snubbed for a combine invite. He will surprise scouts, general managers and head coaches with his explosiveness and athleticism.”

Last year at Bowling Green, Redding had 45 catches for 624 yards. His eight touchdowns led the team, and as he did throughout his time at the school, he punctuated his season with a series of acrobatic catches. His work even made it onto SportsCenter‘s top 10 plays several times, including an Odell Beckham-like one-handed grab.

“[Last] summer, I really worked at my game even harder than normal,” Redding said. “I lived in the weight room. I watched more film. I worked on my eating habits.”

The result is a player drawing attention from a host of NFL teams. Redding says he’s drawn the most interest from the Bears and Eagles.

No matter who drafts him, Redding is a name you should expect to hear more from—a lot more.

3. The truth about Josh Rose

Like others, I’ve heard the veiled (and not so veiled) criticisms of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen.

He’s arrogant.

He’s a rich kid, and rich kids aren’t hungry.

He’s too politically active.

In a season in which foolish ideas swirl heavily, the ones about Rosen are among the most absurd.

Several teams told B/R, however, that when they interviewed Rosen at the combine, he was smart, down to earth and clearly loved football. These teams, at least, had no concerns about him.

That won’t stop the silliness of this season, but at least, for some teams, a portrait of who Rosen really is and what he cares about is a lot clearer than a week ago.

4. A dynamic duo in San Francisco

If the Jaguars don’t work out a long-term deal with receiver Allen Robinson and he enters the free-agent market, one place that makes sense for him is San Francisco.

The 49ers are building a nice team and doing so pretty quickly now that they have secured their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. A Robinson-Garoppolo combo would be a darn good tandem.

Robinson hasn’t left the Jaguars behind yet, but if he does, a trip west makes a lot of sense.

5. Kirk Cousins leaving his options open

The soon-to-be free-agent quarterback has ruled no teams out and has been willing to talk to anyone. The front-runner may be the Vikings, as Ralph Vacchiano of SNY reported, but I keep hearing he is keeping his options open.

The bottom line remains we still don’t have a clue where Cousins will sign. At least not yet.

6. Will the NFL ever get the player protest issue right?

There was an interesting paragraph in a column from the Houston Chronicle‘s Jerome Solomon about the Texans and player protests from this past season.

“I spoke with two NFL agents this week,” Solomon wrote, “who said word is the Texans aren’t interested in any players who participated in pregame kneeldowns in protest of police brutality.”

The Texans vehemently denied the report. (For what it’s worth, their head of public relations, Amy Palcic—who issued the team’s denial—is one of the most honest and decent people in the sport.)

Still, considering that Texans owner Bob McNair basically called players “inmates” (for which he later apologized) and player agents apparently feel the team wants players who won’t create waves, it’s apparent the league is still fumbling about with how to deal with the player protest issue.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told the New York Daily News that his players would stand during the anthem. Later, Ross said his comments were misconstrued, and he would not force players to stand for anthem.

So what is it the league wants from players? And why can’t it acknowledge the importance of why players are kneeling? The league clearly doesn’t have answers, and that’s a problem for an issue that isn’t fading away.

7. The true value of Le’Veon Bell

There are many reasons why Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is so valuable, but the excellent Aditi Kinkhabwala from the NFL Network may have best summarized it with this piece of information:

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is for an offense to know a back can stay on the field almost nonstop. And not only stay on the field, but also scare defenses while he’s on it.

8. One disturbance too many for Aldon Smith

The Raiders announced Monday they were cutting linebacker Aldon Smith, a move people in the league believe will end his NFL career.

This week an arrest warrant was issued after he was accused of assault last weekend. These are just the latest troubling charges for the 2011 first-round draft choice. Smith hasn’t played since 2015 and is currently suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies.

Smith’s talent kept him around football longer than he probably deserved given his off-field behavior.

That doesn’t look to be the case anymore.

9. Another week, another player concerned about head trauma

Add Beanie Wells’ name to the growing list of players wondering what football has done to their minds. Wells said on 97.1 The Fan’s Tim and Beanie Show in Columbus, Ohio, he had recently undergone an MRI after experiencing headaches and problems with his speech and memory.

“I’m still not out of the woods yet, but it’s coming,” Wells said, via ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg. “I’m hopeful.”

These types of stories used to happen a few times a year. Now they seem to pop up every few months.

On the positive side, it shows that players are continuing to educate themselves on how the sport impacts their mental wellness. They’re paying attention. That’s a good thing.

10. Jerry Glanville is back

Few coaches in NFL history were bigger showmen than former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville.

He left tickets for Elvis at will-call and dressed in all black. As coach of the Oilers from 1985-89, his teams made the playoffs three times. In Atlanta, Glanville made the 1991 divisional playoff round but went 6-10 the following two years and was gone.

Glanville’s time in the NFL was more talk and flash than actual winning, but hoooo doggy, could he be entertaining. Recently hired as the defensive coordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League, it’s clear Glanville can still make a memorable impression.

He told a story to Steve Milton from 3DownNation that had me spitting water. It was the 1970s, and Glanville drove a Harley-Davidson from Atlanta to Quebec City to stay at a high-class hotel. It was a trip of about 1,300 miles.

“I walked in wearing cowboy boots, overalls and no shirt,” he said. “And they said, ‘Are you sure you have a room here?'”

They’re going to like Glanville in Canada.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

 

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Private: NFL Franchise Tag: Who’s Tagged, Who’s Not and What Does It All Mean?
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NFL Franchise Tag: Who’s Tagged, Who’s Not and What Does It All Mean?

The franchise tag deadline has come and gone. Some teams did the obvious, some had to make some difficult financial decisions that will create a major domino effect on the free agent market and some teams tried to get cute.

So let’s break it all down, examining what this means moving forward:

TAGGED

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (exclusive)

The stage is set for an absolutely memorable game of contractual ping-pong all offseason. Bell doubling down on his threat to retire, the Steelers talking up RB James Conner, Bell possibly holding out and all the glorious, agent-driven dirt that is sure to surface in the meantime. What complicates matters? Neither side is in the wrong. Bell is the best running back in football, and is maybe one of the 15 best wide receivers—and he wants a deal that reflects as much. The Steelers, with a troika of highly-paid offensive players, are finding it hard to envision a long-term deal for a 26-year-old running back that has a history of significant injuries as well as suspensions.

It’s far more convenient for Pittsburgh from a financial perspective to take this one year at a time until the franchise tag jumps a third time next year. By then, Bell will be 27 and unlikely to secure as lucrative a long-term deal. In this matchup between an unstoppable force and immovable object, the only way Bell wins is by legitimately convincing the Steelers he’s done if he doesn’t get the long-term deal. Can that happen given Ben Roethlisberger’s age and a closing Super Bowl window?

Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions (non-exclusive)

The Lions and Ansah may talk about a long-term deal, but it would be surprising to see something signed before the July deadline. This is an ideal rental period for new head coach Matt Patricia, who is just now figuring out how he wants to stack this Lions defense. Ansah will be 29 years old before the season starts, and while his production has been elite at times, it has also been sporadic (Sacks per year: 8, 7.5, 14.5, 2, 12). Under the non-exclusive tag, Ansah gets more than $17 million for the season and another double-digit sack season could propel him into free agency at the preventative but not obsolete age of 30.

BENOIT: A Complete Ranking of the Best Free Agents on the Market

DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys (non-exclusive)

Lawrence has handled this situation beautifully, and almost seems welcome to the prospect of playing out the year for $17.1 million. He recently told NFL Network, “I feel like they have given me the opportunity to really break the bank next year.”

The defensive end will turn 25 in two weeks, meaning that if he doesn’t strike a long-term deal this season, he’ll hit the open market in his contractual prime. This creates a hard decision for Jerry Jones, who must weigh Lawrence’s potential (he went from a previous high of eight sacks in 2015 to 14.5 last year) against his consistency. Given Jones’s admiration for home grown stars, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at least make a run at locking down the “War Daddy” pass rusher he’s always wanted. But Lawrence and his agents weren’t born yesterday. Agent David Canter facilitated Olivier Vernon’s record-breaking five-year, $85 million contract with the Giants back in 2016. Lawrence will cost more.

Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins (non-exclusive):

The tagging of Landry has been more directly linked with trades given Miami’s inability to sign the highly-productive wide receiver. ESPN reported that five teams, including Baltimore and Chicago, have at least checked in on a possible deal. Making a move for a franchise tagged player isn’t easy, and it may occur after the meat of free agency is over. Clearly there are teams starved for wide-receiver talent that would be interested in someone who posted two seasons of 110 or more catches.

Lamarcus Joyner, S, Los Angeles Rams (non-exclusive):

Joyner’s tag means WR Sammy Watkins will be able to test the waters. Unfortunately, Watkins’s best option might be signing a high-end, one-year deal similar to those signed by Alshon Jeffery or Terrelle Pryor during last year’s free agency. And really, the best place for him to end up might be back in Los Angeles playing for an explosive offensive mind like Sean McVay. The $11.2 million tag number for a safety is not overwhelmingly prohibitive if the Rams were interested in working out a longer-term deal before the deadline (the tag makes Joyner the fifth-highest paid safety in APY right now).

TRANSITION TAGGED

Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears:

A potentially smart move for the Bears, who save $2 million up front by not using the franchise tag but still give themselves a chance to match any offer Fuller receives. The former first-round pick needs a healthy season to skyrocket himself near the top of the cornerback market next offseason.

NOT TAGGED

Allen Robinson, receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars: Coming off an injury, Robinson, like a few of the high-profile receivers last year, may be on the market for a one-year prove it deal.

Graham Gano, kicker, Carolina Panthers: Gano signed a long-term, four-year deal on Tuesday.

Andrew Norwell, guard, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were not going to repeat mistakes of the past and get themselves wrapped up in a financial crisis. Norwell would be too expensive under the tag and will now go break the bank in free agency.

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Private: Antonio Cromartie announces retirement from NFL after 11 seasons
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Antonio Cromartie announces retirement from NFL after 11 seasons

Antonio Cromartie has retired from the NFL.

The four-time Pro Bowl player last played Oct. 2, 2016, while with the Colts. He was released two days later and was not signed by a team for the 2017 season.

“Today is the day I knew I would eventually have to face, but one I never wanted to accept. After 27 years of playing football, today I say farewell,” Cromartie, 33, wrote, in part, in an Instagram post. “God blessed me with the opportunity to play in the NFL for 11 years, and after much consideration and prayer, I’d like to officially announce my retirement.”

Today is the day I️ knew I️ would eventually have to face, but one I never wanted to accept. After 27 years of playing football, today I say farewell. God blessed me with the opportunity to play in the NFL for 11 years, and after much consideration and prayer, I’d like to officially announce my retirement. Throughout my career so many people have helped strengthen and guide me. I’d love to send my sincere thanks to my Coaching Staff, Trainers, Chaplains and Fellow Teammates. To my agents Gary Wichard (Rest Easy G), and Ben Dorga, thank you for not only guiding me throughout my career, but also for making me feel like family and not a client. To The San Diego Chargers and the Spanos Family, thank you for believing in me. Thank you for taking a chance on a young kid from Tallahassee, Florida who did not play much in college. You believed in my ability and my potential to play at a professional level, and I️ will forever be grateful. To all the Charger Fans; thank you for your love, your support and never giving up on me throughout my career. To my “Bird Gang Family, “The Arizona Cardinals” and the Bidwell Family; although my time with you was short, I️ enjoyed my year there and I loved the opportunity you gave me. It was an honor to play for such a great organization. To my J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS, The Best NFL Team in New York, The Jets Organization. You became my home and my family. I grew as a player, a man, and as a leader. The brotherhood I️ built here was undeniable. My heart will forever embrace the feeling of running through the tunnel and out onto the field with my brothers. My family and I will forever Bleed Green. JETUP, JET NATION. To my lovely wife Terricka, thank you for your support through the ups and downs of my career. You were always there to encourage me, and push me. Because of you I became a better player, and a man. I thank God, for a praying wife for I know it was your prayers that sustained me, and protected me while I was on the field. As we take on this next chapter of our lives, I will hold onto your words.. “Football is your Platform Antonio; It’s Not Your Purpose”. The Time has Come for me to Focus on my Purpose. God Bless

A post shared by Antonio Cromartie (@antoniocromartie31) on

A first-round pick of the Chargers in 2006, Cromartie burst on the scene with 10 interceptions in his second season to earn his first Pro Bowl berth. The former Florida State cornerback retires with 31 career interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He also returned a missed field goal an NFL-record 109 yards for a touchdown in 2007.

Cromartie left the Chargers after four seasons to join the Jets in 2010 and spent five seasons with Gang Green. Cromartie, who also played for the Cardinals, thanked each organization in his post.

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