How the 2014 draft class could reshape NFL contract
This wide receiver class also includes Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, Jacksonville's Allen Robinson, Miami's Jarvis Landry, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, Green Bay's Davante Adams and, of course, Watkins in Buffalo. It was a big year for wide receivers. Beckham is the most accomplished of the lot and would do well to see where the deals for Landry, Evans, Adams, Robinson and 2013 Texans first-rounder DeAndre Hopkins come in before doing his deal.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
With their 2014 second-rounder (Carr) and third-rounder (Jackson) locked up, it makes sense for the Raiders to get their 2014 first-rounder under contract, right? Mack has a 2018 option worth $13.846 million, which is a nice enough number to allow him to play a little hardball. He'll probably be looking to surpass Justin Houston's six-year, $101 million deal, but if he were to hit the open market (no earlier than 2019, of course) while still playing at his current level, he could try to top Von Miller's six-year, $114.5 million deal.
There has been plenty of talk about this deal already, and from the outside it appears as if Donald might want it done this summer. That would help the Rams' leverage, of course, because they have Donald for $1.8 million this year, $6.892 million on the 2018 option and then the franchise tag in 2019 if they want.
The Titans have money to spend, and they have a couple of years before they need to do anything with quarterback Marcus Mariota's deal. They're clearly prioritizing their young offensive line, and as a result, Lewan could be in position to get a top-of-market tackle deal in the neighborhood of Trent Williams' $13.2 million per year. One look at what tackles got in free agency this year should scare the Titans into locking up Lewan sooner rather than later. And because he missed the top 10 by one pick in 2014, his 2018 option price offers a reasonable starting point of $9.341 million for negotiations. Jake Matthews, picked No. 6 overall by the Falcons in 2014, is scheduled to make $12.496 million on his fifth-year option in 2018.
Bears left tackle Charles Leno, a seventh-round pick who has become a starter,
Guard seems to be the one position where this class has already been scoring deals, but Martin's performance and profile should help him set the pace. He shares an agent with Kevin Zeitler, who just signed a $12 million-per-year unrestricted free-agent deal with Cleveland, and probably will target that number. His option price is $9.341 million for 2018 -- the same as Lewan's, because that formula doesn't differentiate among offensive line positions. So that helps.
Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell will set the new standard atop the running back market, either on his $12.12 million franchise tag or with a new deal in excess of $10 million per year by July 17. While Freeman won't match Bell's contract, he very well could come in ahead of Buffalo's LeSean McCoy, currently the second-highest-paid back behind Bell, at $8.01 million per year.
Weston Richburg, New York Giants
A bit underappreciated after three years as a starting offensive lineman and two as Eli Manning's center, Richburg is in line for an extension. He was a second-round pick, so he does not have a 2018 option. The Giants also have yet to extend 2013 first-rounder Justin Pugh, their starting left guard, and it's possible one of these negotiations impacts the other. Regardless, Richburg should expect a nice raise from the $1.085 million he's making in 2017, the final year of his rookie contract.
The 21st pick in 2014, Clinton-Dix is making $1.557 million this year and $5.957 million on his 2018 option, far less than the top safeties in the league. Doing an extension now or next year probably would keep him from targeting Eric Berry's $13 million per year average, but it's possible that he could land in the $11 million to $12 million-per-year range with another big season in Green Bay.
The 2014 class wasn't a great draft for cornerbacks, but the undrafted Butler could be in a position to cash in with the deal the Patriots didn't want to give him this offseason. He's stuck playing on a $3.91 million restricted free-agent tender, which makes him the 36th-highest-paid corner in the league in 2017.
Avery Williamson, Tennessee Titans
Cleveland signed 2014 third-rounder Christian Kirksey to a four-year, $38 million extension this offseason, and Williamson, a fifth-rounder, could be in line for a similar or larger deal as he gets closer to the market. Williamson will be a steal at $1.797 million this year, and while he's not likely to make Luke Kuechly/Jamie Collins money (about $12.5 million per season), getting an eight-figure average at inside linebacker is possible.
How the NFL justified Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, and what comes next
How did we get here and what happens next? Let's take a closer look.
What exactly did Elliott do?
Perhaps the more precise question is this: What does the NFL believe he did?
OK. What does the NFL believe he did?
According to a letter NFL senior vice president B. Todd Jones sent to Elliott, the league determined that in July 2016, Elliott used physical violence "on multiple occasions" against a woman he had an "intimate relationship" with. These findings violated the NFL's personal conduct policy, which was updated in December 2014 to allow six-game suspensions on the first offense of domestic violence. That baseline can be increased or decreased based on mitigating circumstances.
That's the policy put in place after the Ray Rice incident?
Yes. The NFL was embarrassed when it saw the video of Rice -- a Baltimore Ravens running back at the time -- punching his then-fiancée while in an elevator. Prior to the video's widespread release, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Rice only two games -- the standard first-offense penalty at the time.
What sort of legal trouble is Elliott facing?
None. In September 2016, the Columbus city attorney's office announced it would not pursue charges, citing "conflicting and inconsistent information."
No charges? Does the NFL know more than the justice system?
Not necessarily. It does not need to meet the same legal threshold. The league employs its own investigative structure. In this case, it used an advisory panel made up of two attorneys, a retired player (Hall of Famer Ken Houston) and the CEO of The Women of Color Network (Tonya Lovelace).
The investigation yielded what the NFL found to be credible photographic and digital evidence of domestic violence. The league has the institutional right to penalize players regardless of the legal outcome.
Really? I'd like to see that in writing.
The NFL's personal conduct policy states in part: "[E]ven if your conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, if the league finds that you have engaged in conduct [prohibited by the policy], you will be subject to discipline."
So the NFL Players Association is OK with this?
It apparently raised concerns during the investigation, but there really is no getting around the policy as it's written. Plus, the union must walk a fine line between defending its members and maintaining its opposition to domestic violence. But the NFLPA, and Elliott's representatives, will look closely at the execution of the policy in this case to determine whether the NFL remained within its rights.
What about the accuser? How does the NFL know she is telling the truth? How does the NFL know that Elliott caused the injuries in the photographs?
In his letter, Jones acknowledged the concerns expressed by Elliott's representatives about the credibility of the accuser and "alternative causation." However, Jones wrote, "there has been no persuasive evidence presented on your behalf with respect to how [the accuser's] obvious injuries were incurred other than the conjecture based on the presence of some of her bruising which pre-dates your arrival."
"No persuasive evidence presented on your behalf."
Yes. This line speaks to the NFL's lower threshold for discipline relative to the legal system. The city attorney cited "conflicting" information in deciding not to press charges. The NFL said Elliott didn't provide evidence to support a different explanation. In other words, Elliott was unable to prove his innocence. In court, he would have to be proven guilty. This is an issue that has arisen frequently in NFL discipline.
What is Elliott saying about this?
His attorneys released a statement saying that the NFL's findings are "replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions." The attorneys also said the accuser was "lying" about one of the incidents.
Wasn't Elliott also involved in some kind of incident in March?
Yes. According to the NFL, Elliott pulled down the shirt of a woman, exposing and touching her breast, while watching a St. Patrick's Day parade in Dallas. "This incident was captured on video and posted on social media," the league said in its letter to Elliott. The letter said the incident was "inappropriate" and "disturbing" and "reflected a lack of respect for women."
Can Elliott appeal this decision?
Absolutely. He has three business days to file it, and the appeal will be heard either by Goodell or by a designated representative. As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, retired NFL executive Harold Henderson has often filled this role. The arbitrator, be it Goodell, Henderson or someone else, is obligated to provide a ruling within 10 days.
So Elliott should get an answer before Week 1?
Does he have any chance to win?
Based on the details contained in the letter, the NFL appears to have compiled an extensive amount of physical evidence. You can infer its confidence via the decision to suspend him for six games, when for many other players it has utilized the "mitigating factors" language to issue suspensions of one, two or four games. The pattern imposed by the St. Patrick's Day incident also played a role in maintaining the six-game baseline.
It's worth noting that the direct and accusatory tone of the attorneys' statement suggested consideration of more than a simple appeal, including possible legal action against the league.
Didn't Josh Brown, the former New York Giants place-kicker, get a one-game suspension last year for domestic violence?
Yes, a reflection of the NFL's determination not to follow a one-size-fits-all policy.
So what happens to Elliott if the discipline stands under appeal?
He can return as soon as the Cowboys' seventh game. But if he is found to be guilty of another violation, the NFL can suspend him indefinitely, according to the policy.
It seems that the NFL is constantly roiled by discipline stories.
Indeed. At this time last year, the New England Patriots were preparing for quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension. This makes two years in a row where arguably the biggest story entering the season involves the suspension of a star player -- albeit under significantly different circumstances. (Brady was suspended for his role in the incident that led to the "Deflategate" investigation.)
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is arguably the most powerful man in the NFL. Will he do anything about this?
You never know. Jones said last month that he had seen no evidence of domestic violence in the incidents described. He might find sympathy from some other powerful owners, notably the Patriots' Robert Kraft, who have also vehemently disagreed with NFL discipline in recent years. Kraft and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson (Bountygate) can make room for him at their table of protest.