NFL business will not happen in the next three years

Our ESPN Insiders have provided an expert assessment of how NFL teams are positioned to compete during the next three seasons. That will bring us to the year 2020, the dawn of a new decade and the start of a key period for owners and players as they posture for the expiration of their 10-year collective bargaining agreement. (Assuming they don’t agree on an extension before the current CBA expires after the 2020 season.)
What will the NFL look like at that point? What advances will it have made? What issues will it have solved, and what problems might still remain? Let’s take a closer look.

Roger Goodell's position as the league's "judge, jury and executioner" has fueled countless public dust-ups and legal disputes. Will the commissioner's power change in the future?

Roger Goodell’s position as the league’s “judge, jury and executioner” has fueled countless public dust-ups and legal disputes. Will the commissioner’s power change in the future?

Guaranteed contracts

You’ve heard the argument: NFL players have the shortest careers — less than four years, on average — while playing a game that maims some of them. Yet their contracts are never fully guaranteed, meaning teams can release them at any time without paying the full amount due. But establishing a fully guaranteed paradigm is not a matter of changing policy. (It’s not mentioned in the CBA.) It would require a fundamental change in the market. Players have long agreed to these terms during individual negotiations. What would incentivize owners to guarantee contracts fully when they don’t have to? A high-profile player could hold out and force a one-off concession, but it’s tough to imagine all players benefiting in the same way. And even if owners changed their approach, it’s fair to wonder if they would simply reduce multiyear, partially guaranteed offers to one-year, fully guaranteed deals. In short, it’s difficult to conceive a meaningful path to fully guaranteed multiyear deals across the league.

Predict the best newcomer for each NFL department

This summer, NFL Nation reporters are answering the biggest questions for every team in divisional roundtables.

Monday’s question: Who will be the best newcomer?

AFC East

The rich kept getting richer. The New England Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks, who has the eighth-most receiving yards in the NFL since 2015. He’s an ideal wide receiver for the Patriots’ offense — undersized but explosive, capable of turning a short crossing route into a 30-yard gain.

After a season off, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the potential to be the best newcomer in the AFC West.

After a season off, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch has the potential to be the best newcomer in the AFC West.

AFC North

The Cleveland Browns need the answer to be Myles Garrett, the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Garrett had 31 sacks in college and is considered one of the best defensive prospects in years. But there are plenty of wide receivers who are new to the division as well.

AFC South

There is no consensus here. The Jaguars added potential impact players in defensive end Calais Campbell, running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback A.J. Bouye. They hope the influx of new blood helps them rebound from last season’s 3-13 finish.

AFC West

As long as he is more Beast Mode than Bust Mode and more rested than rusted, the easy answer is Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch. After retiring from the Seahawks and taking a season off, he returns to his hometown of Oakland.
NFC East

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery comes to the Eagles from the Chicago Bears. When healthy, he’s a Pro Bowl player and a difference-maker who had more than 1,400 receiving yards in his second professional season. Others have a chance to make an impact.
NFC North

This is a tough question because there are a lot of players with similar levels of importance. Vikings running back Latavius Murray and Packers tight end Martellus Bennett top the list of candidates. Who else makes the grade?

NFC South

DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard could be the one-two punch the Bucs’ receiving game needs. But this division has many newcomers that could have an impact to choose from. Read more

NFC West

The San Francisco 49ers did a ton of work to rebuild under a new GM and coach. Receiver Pierre Garcon, linebacker Reuben Foster and defensive end Solomon Thomas all have potential. The Rams also made a big investment at left tackle.

Rudy Gay agrees with the Spurs’ two-year contract of $ 17.2 million

Free-agent forward Rudy Gay has reached agreement on a two-year, $17.2 million deal with the San Antonio Spurs, league sources told ESPN.

The deal includes a player option on the second year, league sources said.

Gay has discussed deals with several winning teams, including Oklahoma City and Utah, in recent days, league sources said. The market tightened on him in the aftermath of a season-ending Achilles injury, but Gay ultimately chose the Spurs for a chance to contend in the Western Conference.

With what is essentially a one-year deal, Gay has the ability to make a full recovery, play well and return to free agency next summer.

Gay appeared to confirm the agreement in an Instagram post on Thursday.
An 11-year NBA veteran, Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30 games with the Sacramento Kings in 2016-17 before suffering a complete tear of his left Achilles tendon Jan. 18 against the Indiana Pacers.

Gay, who turns 31 in August, is actively rehabilitating the Achilles tear, and there’s an expectation that he should be ready to return sometime in the fall. Gay opted out of $14 million in the final year of his contract with the Kings, simply ready to move on from the organization.

The Spurs used their full midlevel exception on Gay and recruited him hard since the start of July 1 free agency to finally secure a deal Thursday night, league sources said. San Antonio is desperate for athletic wing players to join All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to try to defend the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.

Former Super Bowl-winning 49ers punter Max Runager died at the age of 61

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Max Runager, the former NFL punter who helped the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl following the 1984 season, has died. He was 61.

The 49ers announced Runager’s death on Sunday, and The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg reported that he was found dead Friday in his car in a parking lot in South Carolina. No foul play is suspected.

Runager played 11 seasons in the NFL after being drafted out of South Carolina by Philadelphia in the eighth round in 1979. He spent his first five years with the Eagles, losing the Super Bowl following the 1980 season before joining San Francisco in 1984.

The Niners went 15-1 his first season and beat Miami for the title. Runager played four seasons for San Francisco and came back for one game in 1988. He also played four seasons for Cleveland.

Runager finished his career with 661 career punts and a 40.2 yards-per-punt average.

NFC North Q & A: Which top of the top QB is Matthew Stafford?

There’s little argument that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the top two quarterbacks in the NFL, but what about the next tier? Where does Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions fit in? ESPN’s NFC North reporters weigh in.

Matthew Stafford passed for 24 touchdowns and a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016.

Matthew Stafford passed for 24 touchdowns and a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016.

Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: How many playoff wins does Stafford have? That’s right, zero. Zip. Zilch. He’s 0-3 in playoff starts. Now, that’s not the only measure of a quarterback. After all, Mark Sanchez has four playoff wins. But for Stafford to make that jump into the next category with quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, he’s going to need to do something in the postseason. He might never be in the category of Rodgers or Brady, or even Drew Brees or Eli Manning, but some playoff success would elevate his status.

Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: I think Stafford sneaks into the top 10. My past issues with him were based solely on turnovers. To me, Stafford looked like an out-of-control gunslinger with all those crazy arm angles. But he has become a more efficient and smarter quarterback. Stafford had a career-low 10 interceptions in 2016. That’s a great sign for Lions fans. And Stafford is only 29. It feels like he has been in the league forever, but the best might be yet to come. So, right now, I’d rank Stafford ninth or 10th among NFL QBs.

Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: He looked like one of the best in the league before he was injured late last season. But until he does more to help the Lions get out of the first round of the playoffs, it’s tough to put him in the top group of QBs. In the parlance of Mike Sando’s annual quarterback survey of talent evaluators around the league, I’d put Stafford as a Tier 2 QB: good enough to reach the playoffs, but maybe not the Super Bowl. He’s certainly not in the league of a Brady, Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger. I’d put Russell Wilson, Ryan and Newton (and maybe Derek Carr) above him. Brees might still be ahead of him, too, though Brees’ rising turnover numbers are concerning. Stafford is probably in a realm with Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Alex Smith.

Tom Brady is ranked first in the NFL

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was voted the league’s top player in the NFL Network’s annual top-100 poll, a ranking based on a tabulation of 902 players.

Tom Brady is the only player to be voted first in the NFL Network's annual top-100 poll multiple times.

It marks the second time that Brady has ranked No. 1 and makes him the only player to be voted first multiple times since the poll debuted in 2011. He was No. 2 last season, behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Brady was also voted No. 1 in 2011. He was fourth in both 2012 and 2013 and third in both 2014 and 2015.

“Best ever. Best in the game,” cornerback Darrelle Revis remarked Monday night on the television show that counted down the top players.

New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis added, “As long as Tom Brady is here, he’s got that No. 1 spot.”

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller was second, followed by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack rounding out the top five.

Brady, who will turn 40 on Aug. 3, was named MVP of Super Bowl LI after he led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons. In 12 games in the 2016 regular season, Brady went 291-of-432 for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and two interceptions. In three playoff games, he was 93-of-142 for 1,137 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Bakhtiari: The packer’s playoff troubles began to disappoint me

The Green Bay Packers have made the playoffs every year since David Bakhtiari entered the league in 2013, including two NFC Championship Game appearances in the 2014 and 2016 seasons.

For most NFL players, that’s a good start to a career. For the Packers offensive lineman, it’s nowhere near good enough.

“It’s starting to [tick] me off a little bit,” Bakhtiari said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “You’re not guaranteed another year. Keep getting close and not making it is stressful. We’ve got to collectively — we’ve got to do more. … The Green Bay Packers — I mean, the trophy is the Lombardi Trophy. We have to get back there and win it.”

While Bakhtiari is probably being a little hard on himself, expecting rings and not relishing the feat that he and his teammates have accomplished thus far in his short career, his comments reflect some quiet hand-wringing that has to be going on in Green Bay.

The Packers have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Yet there’s only one Super Bowl ring to show for Aaron Rodgers’ sterling career so far. The team has also won the NFC North five out of the past six years, but has only advanced out of the divisional round of the playoffs twice in those seasons.

With Rodgers slated to turn 34 during the 2017 season, there’s certainly more pressure to add more Super Bowls before Father Time catches up to the All-Pro. As Bakhtiari points out, the anxiety level is only going to continue to rise as long as the Packers only have that one ring — and several disappointing playoff finishes — to show for all of Rodgers’ team’s flare the past decade.

Ex-Jets WR Eric Decker agrees to join Titans

Tennessee Titans and former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker have reached agreement on a one-year deal, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Jets released Decker on June 12 after unsuccessfully attempting to trade the veteran wide receiver.

Veteran wide receiver Eric Decker is joining the Titans on a one-year contract, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Decker, 30, underwent hip and shoulder surgeries last fall, but he is healthy and had been practicing before his release by the Jets.

He was limited to three games last season but caught 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015. He also had two seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit touchdown totals for the Denver Broncos, who selected him in the third round (87th overall) of the 2010 draft.

In seven NFL seasons he has 385 receptions for 5,253 yards and 52 touchdowns.

Cowboys ‘very fortunate’ for well-attended OTAs

With a noticeable amount of high-profile players opting out of voluntary workouts this spring, the Dallas Cowboys are lauding their near perfect attendance.

According to ESPN.com, “during the two sessions open to the media so far, every player has been accounted for.” Coach Jason Garrett said that has extended to the workouts without media present.

“We’ve been very fortunate — we have near 100 percent attendance of everything we do in the offseason program and we have a lot of guys who live here and a lot of guys who don’t live here, get here,” Garrett said. “They’re the right kind of guys. We have guys who care about football, care about this football team and care about getting better — and that’s a manifestation of that.”

This is a volatile, and ultimately fruitless debate to dip ones toes in this time of year. The fact remains that voluntary workouts are voluntary, and that some players prefer to keep this time to themselves and spend it with private trainers.

Of course, should the Cowboys succeed, stories like this one from ESPN will take on a higher amount of significance:

Last Tuesday, (Dez) Bryant walked by the film room and saw (Dak) Prescott in there alone. He joined his quarterback and soon (Ezekiel) Elliott walked in too. They were able to study what happened in that practice, see some mistakes and attempt to improve the next day.

If the Giants falter — the moment Odell Beckham and Eli Manning miscommunicate on a route — Beckham’s absence from offseason training activities will come up right or wrong. So far, Beckham missing practices and workouts have not seemed to matter much.

Team building in the NFL is a hazy concept — even the coaches believed to be the best at it like Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have their struggles. There is no perfect formula. But in any situation, it’s paramount not to put too much stock in one element of the offseason that is directed more toward younger players grasping the playbook before the start of training camp.

Brock Osweiler a ‘pleasant surprise’ in Browns camp

A little more than a week ago, I wrote a post exploring whether the Browns would actually keep Brock Osweiler as their third quarterback.

But life comes at you fast.

On Wednesday, Browns head coach Hue Jackson talked up the former Texans divorcee. The comments added to what has been an Osweiler boost of late, altering already scrambled perceptions of who, exactly, is winning the job this preseason. At the least, Osweiler no longer seems second fiddle to the second-round draft pick the Browns received for taking him.

#Browns Hue Jackson said Brock Osweiler has been “pleasant surprise. Everybody has a reputation. He’s not that. He has a good feel to him.”

— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) May 31, 2017
I’ve heard Brock has been excellent, as well. Yes, it’s OTAs. But at least, they are getting more out of him than anticipated. https://t.co/5H74T3VKTx

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 31, 2017
There’s always a chance that Osweiler was the quarterback that Broncos vice president John Elway projected him to be, but myriad factors in Houston got in the way. At the least, he is average to slightly-above-average, which is more than the Browns can say about their current crop of otherwise unproven, young passers.

There is also a chance that Jackson is finally getting an idea of what he wants from this version of his offense and who might be able to get him to that vision.

Because we’re deep into spring football minutiae, the Browns quarterback race could change a dozen more times before opening day. But for now, the competition seems as wide open as ever.