Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
- A look at the top five franchise-tagged players.
- The Jets' options with Jamal Adams.
- How Chase Young could rejuvenate Washington.
But first, weighing how Antonio Brown could fit in with the Seattle Seahawks ...
If you're surprised by the Seattle Seahawks' interest in Antonio Brown, you haven't been paying close attention to how Pete Carroll and Co. have built a perennial contender in the Pacific Northwest. The Super Bowl-winning head coach isn't afraid to take on ultra-talented players with troubled backgrounds if they are hardworking, competitive and willing to buy into a team-first attitude.
Brown certainly checks off a few boxes on that list, as a four-time All-Pro with seven 1,000-yard seasons and four 10-plus touchdown campaigns with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's an explosive playmaker capable of scoring from anywhere on the field on a variety of vertical throws and catch-and-run concepts. The 31-year-old Brown's electric playing style jumps off the screen when studying the game tape.
However, looming over Brown's future is the investigation being conducted by the NFL into the civil sexual assault and rape allegations that led to his release last year from the New England Patriots. Any team, including the Seahawks, that considers signing him will have to take that ongoing investigation into account, as well as the potential that Brown could face discipline and a possible suspension as a result of the investigation, or from the burglary and battery charges to which he pleaded no contest earlier this month.
Separately, teams will have to consider the sideline tantrums and cryptic social media posts that cloud his evaluation, as well as the contentious end to both his time with the Steelers and his brief tenure with the Raiders. I obviously am not privy to the debate that is surely being waged in the Seahawks' meeting rooms. But presuming his off-field situation plays out in a way that allows them to proceed, I believe Brown would enhance their chances of making another run at a Super Bowl.
Here are three reasons the Seahawks should consider signing Brown:
1) Brown could thrive in the Seahawks' culture.
Despite the acrimonious way the All-Pro closed out his relationships with the Steelers and Raiders (which included clashes with ex-Pittsburgh teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster and Raiders general manager Mike Mayock), and depending on how his off-field situation plays out, the team could come to view Brown as a great fit, due to his talent, work ethic and energy. Over the bulk of his career, the 11th-year pro developed a reputation as a worker bee that is second to none, someone whose competitive spirit as a football player would mesh with the team's persona. Moreover, Brown is an elite playmaker with the kind of talent that encourages teams to explore ways to make it work.
Last year, the Seahawks considered bringing Brown on board after he was released from the Raiders. Seattle's interest took some observers by surprise, but it went hand in hand with Carroll's plan to improve the roster at every turn.
"Why wouldn't you?" Carroll told reporters after word leaked out about the team's interest in Brown following his release from the Raiders. "He's a great player. Not everything is always what it seems. You've got to check into stuff and figure out what's going on. I have confidence in our guys and (GM) John (Schneider), and our coaches that we can figure those things out and see what's best. I don't mind getting real close to the edge of it and figuring it out."
Although Carroll walked that statement back a few weeks later, after Brown was released by the Patriots, it speaks to the mentality of the Seahawks coach and their team-building approach. The ultra-energetic leader is resolute in his desire to add blue-chip players to the roster, even if it means sometimes entering into risk-reward scenarios.
Remember, the Seahawks added Marshawn Lynch when he was considered a malcontent at the end of his tenure with the Buffalo Bills. The team also took an apparent risk in drafting Frank Clark, who was dismissed from Michigan because of domestic assault allegations, and Clark played four full seasons before being traded to the Chiefs for a first-round pick.
Again, Seattle will have to take into account Brown's past issues. But he has also demonstrated that he can be a competitive, hard-working player with a dynamic game that produces fireworks on the field. His practice regimen is considered legendary in football circles, with few players capable of matching his energy, intensity and tempo. The diligent work helped the veteran become the undisputed top player at his position as recently as 2018.
In Seattle, Brown's energy and competitiveness could fit well on a team built on individual and collective competitiveness. The 'Hawks sprinkle in competitive periods throughout practice, including one-on-one and seven-on-seven periods, with the starters competing against each other. With Brown known to embrace on-field challenges while diligently prepping for the next game, the four-time All-Pro is built to play for a team and coach who embody the "Always Compete" mantra.
2) The Seahawks' passing game could go from good to great.
Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf combined for 140 catches, 1,957 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns as the Seahawks' primary playmakers on the perimeter a season ago, but those numbers pale in comparison to Brown's production for most of his career.
Brown had six straight seasons with at least 100 catches and 1,000 yards prior to his abbreviated 2019 campaign. He's twice led the NFL in catches and receiving yards, while also pacing the league with 15 receiving touchdowns during his final full season (2018). His dominance as a WR1 should make him the center of attention whenever he steps onto the field, particularly from defensive coordinators attempting to slow him down on the perimeter.
With that in mind, Brown's presence would not only give quarterback Russell Wilson another dynamic weapon to target in the passing game, but he would create more one-on-one opportunities for Lockett, Metcalf and new tight end Greg Olsen. Defensive play-callers would undoubtedly use double teams on Brown or instruct the safety to lean in his direction on obvious passing downs. These tactics would give Lockett and Metcalf more space to work against CB2s and CB3s on the outside. The duo already combined for 28 plays of 20-plus receiving yards (including seven 40-plus yard receptions) as the team's top options in 2019 -- those numbers could skyrocket with the tandem facing lesser talents on the perimeter.
Remember, the threat of the Seahawks' potent running game poses a problem by forcing opponents to drop an extra defender into the box to slow down Chris Carson and Wilson on the zone-read. With Brown also commanding attention as a blue-chip playmaker, the Seahawks' aerial attack could overwhelm opponents that lack the personnel to match up with the emerging track team on the outside.
3) Brown's sandlot game meshes with Wilson's improvisational playing style.
When building an offense around the QB1, it is important to surround him with playmakers who complement his talents. Brown's spontaneity and creativity should work well with Wilson's impromptu playmaking ability outside of the pocket.
As an electric player with a sandlot game built on improvisation, the All-Pro pass catcher made a number of plays in Pittsburgh on an assortment of broken plays. Brown would change his routes on the fly when he sensed Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was in trouble in the pocket. The impressive telepathic communication between the duo made them nearly impossible to defend.
In Seattle, Wilson's improvisational skills and running ability should lead to more broken plays, with Brown shaking free from defenders on freestyle routes. The veteran pass-catcher has a combination of instincts, awareness and stop-start quickness that makes him hard to shadow when he's given more time and room to operate. If Brown's spontaneity is combined with Wilson's athleticism, improvisation and accuracy, the Seahawks could torch opposing defensive backfields with an assortment of scramble tosses thrown over the heads of defenders frantically attempting to shadow the pass catcher down the field.
On plays outside the tackle box, Wilson leads the NFL in passing attempts (333), completions (171), passing yards (2,308) and touchdown passes (21) over the past three seasons, according to Next Gen Stats. He also ranks second with 18 touchdown passes on the run (behind Jameis Winston's 19) over that span. Considering he's done it without a top 10 receiver at his disposal, the addition of Brown could push Wilson over the top as an MVP candidate.
TOP FIVE TAGGED PLAYERS: Who's most valuable?
The clock is ticking for a group of guys hoping to sign mega contracts after being hit with the franchise (or transition) tag this offseason. Players have until 4 p.m. ET on July 15 to work out and sign a multi-year deal with their respective teams, otherwise they're relegated to playing out the 2020 campaign on the one-year guaranteed tender.
Although the tags typically carry a significant short-term payday, they're typically a point of frustration for players because they delay the opportunity for more lucrative, long-term security. With the deadline fast approaching, I decided to study the 15 players who received a tag this offseason and rank the five who I think most deserve to break the bank with a big-money deal. (If you want a full refresher on how the three different tags work -- transition, non-exclusive and exclusive -- check out this in-depth guide.)
It's rare for a quarterback to receive the franchise tag (just eight guys since 1993) and even rarer for one to play on the short-term deal (only Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins have, with the latter doing it twice). But if the Cowboys can't work out a multi-year deal with their franchise passer before the deadline, then we could see him pull a Cousins and push his value significantly higher next offseason. Prescott is the first quarterback in NFL history with 90-plus pass touchdowns (97) and 20-plus rush touchdowns (21) in his first four seasons. In addition, the fifth-year pro is tied with Russell Wilson for the second-most QB wins (40) since 2016, with a pair of NFC East titles on his resume. Although his detractors will suggest he's unable to carry Dallas without the assistance of a five-star supporting cast (SEE: Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and the O-line), the two-time Pro Bowler has the Ws, the stats and the tape to show he's a top-level QB1.
Don't let Jones' 2019 injury woes and drop-off in sack production fool you; he is still the best interior disruptor in football outside of Aaron Donald. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive tackle has 24.5 sacks, 49 QB hits and nine passes defensed since 2018 (29 games). He abuses interior guards with his violent hands and explosive strength while also flashing better-than-anticipated quickness and movement skills for a 300-pounder. Jones destroys offensive game plans with his constant disruption at the point of attack. Teams that don't figure out how to contain him typically don't stand a chance against the Chiefs' defense.
The 2019 NFL sack leader is coming off an all-time breakout season, with 19.5 sacks, 37 QB hits and six forced fumbles. Although his remarkable surge in production has prompted some to dub Barrett a one-year wonder (he had just 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles in five years with the Denver Broncos), I think the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder flashed an impressive combination of first-step quickness, violent hands and body control last season, showing he's the real deal. With a crafty "Euro-step" also in his arsenal, the Buccaneers' top pass rusher appears to have developed into the total package.
Despite declining sack production in each of the past two seasons, the fifth-year pro remains a disruptive force off the edge as a hyper-athletic pass rusher. Ngakoue not only possesses outstanding first-step quickness and snap-count anticipation, but he is also a high-energy playmaker with a nonstop motor. Although Ngakoue appears ready to move on from the Jags, the team should be making every effort to keep the steady producer with game-wrecking potential in Jacksonville.
The reigning NFL rushing champ has become one of the most feared offensive players in the game. The 6-foot-3, 247-pounder is a no-nonsense, downhill runner with a combination of speed and power that overwhelms defenders on the perimeter. Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including a 1,540-yard campaign with 300-plus rushing attempts, the football world wants to know if Henry can sustain his pace and production as an old-school RB1.
JAMAL ADAMS: Hardball might be Jets' best play
It's business, not personal.
That seems to be the message the New York Jets are sending All-Pro safety Jamal Adams. The fourth-year pro is one of just two players (J.J. Watt is the other) since 2000 to log 200-plus tackles, 10-plus sacks and 25-plus passes defensed within the first three seasons of their career, but the Jets have been unwilling to grant his contract wishes or fulfill his request to be traded.
Why? Why won't the Jets reward their best player and unquestioned leader when he's been an all-star on and off the field for them?
Adams won't like the answer, but the Jets aren't forking over a lucrative long-term deal because they don't have to yet. The two-time Pro Bowler is due just under $3.6 million on the fourth year of his rookie contract, and the team has already picked up his fifth-year option at $9.86 million in 2021. The team will have the option of using the franchise tag to keep its top defender in the fold in 2022 without committing to a long-term deal that's loaded with guarantees.
So, with the highest-paid safeties commanding about $14 million annually, the Jets save money by playing the wait-and-see game with Adams. He ranks as one of the league's best values given the salary he's due on the remainder of his rookie deal, and using the tag on him the following year would still save the Jets a few bucks down the road.
Adams can make trade demands and holdout threats, but the new collective bargaining agreement severely limits his leverage, with hefty fines for holdouts ($50,000 per day) and the loss of an accrued season toward free agency for failing to show up on the mandatory reporting date for camp.
Hardball tactics might not endear the Jets' management team to the players in the locker room, but pursuing them could be a fiscally responsible way to build a championship team. Sam Darnold will be eligible for a contract extension in 2021, when there will be the potential for the salary cap to drop due to the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarterback's new deal could top the $30 million mark annually and force the team to prune the trees to keep the books balanced.
Given those circumstances, and considering the position he plays, Adams could eventually be the odd man out for the Jets, despite his impeccable resume. Keep in mind that safeties aren't viewed as essential building blocks in most scouting circles. Box safeties, in particular, are rarely considered impact players despite their ability to rack up tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, pass breakups and interceptions while playing as a pseudo linebacker within the tackle box.
Evaluators routinely cast box safeties aside during the evaluation process due to the increased emphasis on the passing game and generating turnovers, particularly interceptions. That's why ballhawks like Eddie Jackson and Kevin Byard didn't have any issues getting new deals from their original teams in the last two offseasons, while box players like Tyrann Mathieu and Landon Collins were forced to go elsewhere to land paychecks that matched their production.
I understand the fascination with ballhawks, but to me, box safeties are more valuable than ever, with defenses tasked with defending mobile quarterbacks while utilizing nickel defenses. Box safeties play like linebackers in those schemes, with defensive play-callers featuring more safety blitzes and dogs off the edges.
Adams plays that role with the Jets in Gregg Williams' ultra-aggressive defense. He roams all over the defensive front, bluffing and blitzing from every angle. He attacks ball-carriers in the hole while terrorizing quarterbacks as a surprise rusher from the second level. The role is perfect for his diverse game, and it helped him play at a gold-jacket level in 2019, his first year in the system. That fact was not lost on Williams, who spoke glowingly of his star defender during a conference call with reporters this week.
"I think the world of him," Williams said. "I've had a chance to coach a lot of really good players. Some that are already in the Hall of Fame. And many others that are going to go in the Hall of Fame. And he's going to have a legitimate chance staying healthy to be one of those guys later on that we'll all talk about."
Given Williams' sentiments, it would appear that Adams is an integral part of the Jets' resurgence, but GM Joe Douglas will ultimately determine whether the All-Pro stays around and receives the pay raise that he desires.
"I've made it known that ... the plan would be for Jamal to be here long term," Douglas said during a pre-draft conference call with reporters in April. "I've also made it known I have to do what's in the best interests of the team."
On Friday, Jets coach Adam Gase declined to discuss Adams' trade and contract requests with reporters, but did say he wants Adams to remain with the team.
"It's no secret Jamal was not involved (in the offseason program)," Gase said. "We have to get to a place where we can get him back in the right spot and ready to go."
Adams certainly deserves a new contract with a hefty pay raise as an All-Pro player, but this business doesn't care about fairness or feelings. The Jets aren't obligated to reward Adams for his play, and there's not much he can do to force their hand.
CHASE YOUNG: 'Skins resurgence in the offing?
If No. 2 overall pick Chase Young is as good as advertised, the Washington Redskins are on their way toward becoming a Super Bowl contender.
Before you belly laugh at the thought of the 'Skins, who haven't won a playoff game in 14 seasons, being in the title race in the next few years, you should understand the impact of the players Young is being compared to as a pass rusher -- and the source of the comparisons.
The 6-foot-5, 264-pound rookie is being compared to Julius Peppers and Von Miller as a playmaker, and the hype is coming directly from his head coach!
"He's not quite as big as Julius was," Rivera said during a recent edition of the Redskins' Offseason Update Live, per the team's website. "He's built like him; he's a mini version of him. He's got a little bit more of that initial explosion. Julius was very long and his explosion was good, but because of his length, it seemed even better than it really, truly was. I mean Julius was phenomenal, and this is a young man who could be that type of player."
If the comparison to the three-time All-Pro isn't enough to fuel the hype train, the connection to another three-time All-Pro with 106 career sacks (in nine seasons) will certainly keep the engine going.
"Von Miller comes to my mind when I watch Chase and I watch him work out and I watch the tape he's putting out," Rivera added, "so I'm pretty excited about seeing him."
As a member of the Carolina Panthers' scouting department during the John Fox era, I remember how the grizzled coach revered Peppers as a playmaker. And I also recall how Fox viewed Miller when the Broncos selected the Texas A&M star No. 2 overall in 2011 to anchor his defense. Fox believed a dominant pass rush was essential to building a championship team, and landing Peppers and Miller in the draft helped each of his squads reach the Super Bowl.
That's why my ears perked up when I heard Fox's former defensive coordinator and the current Redskins DC, Jack Del Rio, also sing Young's praises after working with Peppers and Miller during his stints with the Panthers and Broncos, respectively.
"The best toolbox I've ever seen coming out of the draft," Del Rio said of Young during the Redskins' Virtual Draft Party, via the team's website. "I haven't seen a guy come out with that many tools. I've seen talented players come out, but not with a complete toolbox like he has."
Wow! That's quite the compliment for a rookie entering the league with only three seasons of experience at Ohio State. The scary thing is, while Young was highly productive for the Buckeyes, finishing his career with 30.5 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles, he might now be coming into his own as a pass rusher.
As an athletic freak with a rare combination of speed, strength and explosiveness, Young has the capacity to win with finesse or power off the edge. He flashes violent hands and superb body control executing a series of ballerina-like moves on the way to the quarterback. For a young player with only 34 college games under his belt, Young's mature play and polished technique should enable him to dominate from Day 1.
"I've watched enough tape. He's going to be a real good player for us," Del Rio said in a late May video conference call with reporters. "When you have special players like that, they're impactful players, particularly if they're about doing it the right way. And everything we've gathered in terms of trying to make the decision to take him where we did indicates that he's a guy that loves football and is going to be a great teammate for us."
After watching Peppers and Miller take the league by storm as rookies while elevating their respective squads, the Redskins could enjoy a resurgence, with Young leading the way.