Let’s keep this one short and sweet. Between my various Draft Guide assignments, being away at my cousin’s bachelor party all weekend (which also happened to coincide with his 30th birthday) and my largely unsuccessful attempts at ignoring last night’s Warriors/Raptors epic, I am running on absolute fumes.
The NFL has also been largely silent with some teams off until training camp and the rest putting the finishing touches on mandatory minicamp. With summer approaching, temperatures outside are rising and so are tensions as several of the league’s disgruntled stars have taken to holding out from team activities or in a few especially dire cases, demanding trades. There’s a lot of posturing going on here and most of the contract standoffs are about being the first to call the other side’s bluff. But even if most of these offseason squabbles go the way of other short-lived NFL phenomenons like Tim Tebow and Monday Night Football’s ill-conceived Booger Mobile, a few could still have wide-ranging consequences.
For instance, what began as a minor inconvenience for the Steelers last year quickly morphed into an all-consuming, season-altering distraction as Le’Veon Bell drew a clear line in the sand, sitting out the entirety of 2018 in protest of his second straight franchise tag. The Steelers are still licking their wounds from the Bell fiasco, a year-long nightmare that annihilated team morale while emboldening Antonio Brown to flesh out his own diva tendencies. That’s the extreme end of the spectrum but we see these blow-ups happen from time to time. In that spirit, let’s hop around the league and take an inventory of which players might be amenable to a peace offering and which ones are firmly on the war path.
Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, Houston Texans
The former first overall pick has kept his distance from the team since being slapped with the $15.967 million franchise tag, which he has yet to sign. The sides have reportedly made little if any progress in extension talks leading up to the July 15 deadline and all signs point to Clowney ducking this week’s mandatory minicamp, which, of course, is not mandatory for him since he’s technically not under contract. A three-time Pro Bowler with 29 NFL sacks to his credit, the five-year vet has certainly proven his worth, though his lengthy injury history (he’s played a full 16-game slate on just one occasion) could complicate his pursuit of a lucrative, long-term deal. Houston’s current state of front office upheaval—the Texans are currently interviewing candidates to replace fired GM Brian Gaine—won’t help in their efforts to woo Clowney, or at least find a workable middle ground that would get him back on the field. As is, this saga could drag on well into training camp and even the regular season depending on how rebellious Clowney feels.
Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers
Kickers are known to be pretty compliant relative to other positions (the diva wide receiver stereotype perpetuated by ego-driven stars like Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown has long been a part of the NFL’s inner fabric), but that hasn’t stopped Robbie Gould from asserting every ounce of leverage he has over the 49ers. Insulted by the team’s low-ball contract offers, the rocket-legged 36-year-old has cut off negotiations with the Niners while requesting a trade out of San Francisco. Whether that desire comes to fruition remains to be seen but if there was ever a time for Gould to puff out his chest, this is it. The former Penn State Nittany Lion has been unstoppable since his arrival in the Bay, drilling 72 of his 75 attempts (96 percent) as a 49er. He’s one of the best the NFL has to offer right now, though kicker has never been a high priority for teams and even if he really digs in his heels, Gould is unlikely to win this standoff. The veteran won’t be on hand for mandatory minicamp this week, a no-brainer given that he’s yet to sign his franchise tender. Understandably, Gould prefers the security of a multi-year deal, but the $4.971 million salary he’d receive under the franchise tag—good for second-highest among kickers—is nothing to sneeze at. As fervently as Gould believes in his principles, ultimately, it’s hard to see him passing on that kind of loot. I’d expect him to cave sometime before training camp begins next month.
Damon Harrison, DT, Detroit Lions
Veteran run-stuffer Snacks Harrison, who arrived in a midseason trade from the Giants last year, has been a ghost this offseason (a difficult trick to pull off when you’re listed at 353 pounds), avoiding anything to do with the Lions including last week’s mandatory minicamp. Harrison, who counts as the league’s 13th-highest-paid defensive tackle, is seeking an upgrade to his current deal, which expires after 2020. All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay, who finds himself in a similar contract bind, has also been absent from team activities this offseason and seems intent to hold his ground, even if it means missing training camp. Slay isn’t exactly earning chump change—he’s due an eminently reasonable $22 million over the final two years of his contract. But after seeing Xavien Howard and similar talents cash in with monster extensions, Slay is ready for a second helping. Though it’s true that Harrison and Slay are both underpaid relative to their peers, both are victims of wishful thinking as the Lions have no obligation to compensate either one and would probably be willing to call their bluffs if pressed. With Belichick disciple Matt Patricia calling the shots in Detroit, Harrison and Slay might be barking up the wrong tree with their contract griping.
Malcolm Jenkins, S, Philadelphia Eagles
Jenkins has been such an integral part of the Eagles’ recent success that it’s hard to remember him ever playing for New Orleans, the first stop on his NFL journey after arriving as a first-round pick in 2009. The three-time Pro Bowler has cherished his time in Philadelphia, emerging as a veteran leader while making enormous contributions to the Eagles’ title-winning team in 2017. But Jenkins, who has yet to miss a game since joining Philadelphia in 2014, was a surprise no-show at OTAs. While Jenkins has remained mum on the subject, the prevailing wisdom is that his absence from team workouts was directly tied to contract unrest. Like the rest of us, Jenkins watched from afar as fellow safeties Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas all struck free-agent gold, dwarfing his own five-year, $40.5 million contract penned in 2016. Jenkins wasn’t willing to take the financial hit that results from skipping mandatory minicamp, which he arrived at on Monday, and perhaps his show of good faith will motivate the Eagles to accommodate his financial wishes or at least meet him halfway. Coming off another standout year in 2018—he garnered PFF’s fourth-best coverage grade among safeties—Jenkins remains an indispensable presence in the Eagles’ secondary.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns
We all want to be wanted. It’s a simple premise but in an environment where winning trumps all, human elements like loyalty and respect can often get back-burnered. Which explains Johnson’s growing resentment toward the team that drafted him in 2015. Johnson has never missed a game in his four years as a Brown and has also proven highly capable, establishing himself as one of the premier receiving backs in all of football. Even after enduring a slew of miserable seasons including a winless 2017 campaign, the 25-year-old doubled down on Cleveland by committing to a four-year extension last summer. But instead of rewarding Johnson’s loyalty by making him an offensive focal point, the Browns have done their best to bury him, installing Nick Chubb as their workhorse while taking a free-agent flyer on troubled Chiefs alum Kareem Hunt. Johnson reluctantly reported to mandatory minicamp last week and had plenty to say upon his arrival, skewering the Browns in a lengthy monologue while reiterating his trade request from earlier this offseason. He may not be a happy camper right now, but with Hunt suspended half the year, Johnson figures to be a crucial component of Cleveland’s rushing attack and an ideal complement to Chubb, who has traditionally struggled as a pass-catcher. In the absence of a Godfather trade offer, Duke is probably staying put.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Jones held out the first day of training camp last summer before the Falcons appeased him with a contract restructure, but that tweak was little more than a temporary measure. The Falcons lifer has maintained an active dialogue with the front office while working toward a long-term extension this offseason, though nothing appears imminent. Some worried Julio would blow off mandatory minicamp in response to the glacial pace of contract negotiations, but last year’s NFL receiving yards leader was indeed present for the start of workouts Monday (a foot injury kept him from actually practicing). Currently the league’s 12th-highest-paid receiver behind names such as Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry and Stefon Diggs, it’s surprising the six-time Pro Bowler hasn’t made a bigger stink about his long overdue extension, though a resolution should come soon enough. Meanwhile teammate Grady Jarrett has exercised similar patience, accepting his $15.209 million franchise tag in hopes of securing a long-term agreement before the July 15 deadline. Jarrett, who earned PFF’s No. 4 mark among 112 qualifiers at defensive tackle last season, is a difference-making defender and a key piece of the team’s long-term puzzle. But when a future Hall of Famer and franchise icon like Julio Jones knocks on your door, you better run and answer it.