49ers To Release Earl Mitchell

The 49ers are not picking up the contract option for veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Mitchell provided the Niners with a solid locker room presence, but they’ll have to find that leadership elsewhere. 

The Niners used D.J. Jones as their nose tackle down the stretch of the season so it’s likely that Jones will continue to be the team’s answer in the middle, unless they replace him with someone better between now and September. Mitchell leaves the Bay Area two years into a four-year deal.

At the time of signing, Mitchell’s contract was reported to be a straight-up four-year deal with no option years. Instead, the deal was believed to be a four-year, $16MM pact with a $4.45MM cap figure for the 2019 season. Releasing Mitchell under those terms would call for a $1.5MM dead money charge with $2.95MM in cap savings. Regardless of whether there is an option or not, the outcome is likely the same.

Mitchell finished out the 2018 season with 28 tackles across 14 games (12 starts).

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Panthers Re-Sign DE Efe Obada

The Panthers re-signed Efe Obada to a one-year deal, the team announced. The defensive end was set to be an exclusive rights free agent this offseason, so he would not have hit the open market anyway unless the Panthers renounced his rights. 

Obada made history when he became the first player to move from the league’s International Pathway Program to an active roster. The defensive end, who has also had stints with the Chiefs, Falcons, and Cowboys, finished out the year with two sacks. He also earned NFC defensive player of the week honors for his September performance against the Bengals in which he recorded a sack and an interception. That game marked his NFL debut and it could not have gone better for him.

I’m very grateful. It’s another opportunity to contribute to the team and obviously support myself and my family,” said the Nigeria-born player, who plans to spend most of his offseason in England.

In 2019, Obada says he’s eager to take another giant step forward.

The main thing for me is being consistent and trusting my training,” Obada said. “I’m going to work on my weaknesses – knowledge of the game, just recognizing things a bit quicker in terms of my keys against the run and things like that. I definitely want to step into a more secure role, into a leadership role on this team. That’s what I’m working toward.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Rumors: Martin, Cook, Trgovac

Here’s the latest out of Oakland:

  • The Raiders say they want to hold onto Marshawn Lynch, but they are also still intent on keeping pending free agent Doug Martin, Vic Tafur of The Athletic writes. Martin finished out the year with 723 rushing yards, four touchdowns, and a yards per carry average of 4.2, his best showing since 2015. In late November, Jon Gruden was adamant about re-signing Martin, so it’s little surprise to hear that he remains in the team’s plans.
  • Gruden also said the Raiders will work hard to re-sign tight end Jared Cook, Tafur writes. “I had a good meeting with Jared before he left,” Gruden said. “And we’ll do the best we can to get him back. It will be competitive. I’m sure there are a lot of teams who look at the tape and put him on their wish list.” Cook was named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate after he hauled in a career-high 68 catches for 896 yards and six TDs.
  • Former Buccaneers defensive line coach Brentson Buckner has taken the same job with the Raiders, but former DL coach Mike Trgovac is still in the team’s plans. Gruden says he’ll remain with the club in an advisory role.

Latest On Cowboys, Demarcus Lawrence

Last year, the Cowboys and Demarcus Lawrence were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal, which resulted in Lawrence playing out the season on the one-year franchise tag. This time around, it sounds like the Cowboys are much more eager to get something done.

I wouldn’t say we were a long ways apart; we were apart,” Jones said of last year’s talks (via Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas News). “Certainly DeMarcus has done his part to make us feel more comfortable. He put together now two back-to-back, double-digit sack seasons. Of course he’s a leader by example. … Nothing’s changed in terms of my opinion, except for the better.”

Lawrence was plagued by back issues earlier in his career, but he has now turned in two consecutive healthy seasons. In 2017, he had 14.5 sacks, 58 total tackles, and four forced fumbles. This year, he had 10.5 sacks, 64 stops, two forced fumbles, and an interception. The Cowboys asked for a repeat of ’17 and they more or less got it, which has made them comfortable with a longer arrangement.

Last year, Lawrence earned $17.143MM under the franchise tender, but he has already said he’s not open to playing on the tag in 2019. Both sides now seem on the same page, but a new deal for Lawrence won’t come cheap. The Cowboys defensive star may have his eye on deals signed by Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, which each exceeded the $22MM/year mark.

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Patriots Likely To Hire Greg Schiano

It sounds like Greg Schiano is on his way back to the Patriots. Schiano is likely to join the Patriots in a top defensive role, sources tell James Palmer and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). 

Once the deal is completed, Schiano will be stepping into the position left open by Brian Flores‘ forthcoming defection to the Dolphins. Flores was the Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator and Schiano is expected to become the team’s new defensive chief. It remains to be seen whether Schiano will formally be given the DC title, however.

Schiano’s first made a name for himself at Rutgers, taking the program from a laughing stock to a bowl game contender. Most recently, he served as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. Along the way, Schiano built a close relationship with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and formed a pipeline that led RU players such as Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan to New England.

Around this time year, it was rumored that Schiano would be leaving OSU to join the Pats’ staff, but that ultimately did not happen. With that in mind, this could be a fluid situation worth monitoring.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals Re-Sign Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald will return for his 16th season. On Wednesday, the Cardinals announced that Fitzgerald is back in the fold with a brand new one-year deal. 

No player has meant more to this franchise or this community than Larry Fitzgerald,” said Cardinals President Michael Bidwill. “In my discussions with him, it was clear that he is as driven and passionate as ever. We are thrilled he’ll be back for 2019.”

Fitzgerald was once again on the fence about retirement, but it appears that the team’s hiring of Kliff Kingsbury helped convince him to continue playing.

Hell of a coach. … Look at his resume,” Fitzgerald said this week. “He’s innovative offensively. That’s the wave of the future right now, so I’m excited for the chance to meet him.”

Fitzgerald, 36 in August, was held to just 69 catches for 734 yards and six touchdowns last year as the Cardinals’ offense sagged. If the Cardinals are able to get back on track and balance things with David Johnson, Fitzgerald will likely be able to get back to his old form. In 2017, his age-34 season, Fitzgerald managed 1,156 yards off of 109 catches with six TDs.

Fitzgerald, in theory, could have tested the open market, but he has repeatedly stated that he’s only willing to play in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Packers, Lions, Vikings

The Packers tried to hire Ravens scout Milt Hendrickson last year, but then-GM Ozzie Newsome blocked the move. Last month, Green Bay was rumored to have a more successful approach lined up. On Tuesday, Hendrickson and the Packers reached an agreement that will bring him to Wisconsin with a promotion. A Ravens scout for 14 years, Hendrickson will become the Packers’ director of football operations, Michael Cohen of The Athletic tweets. This was Eliot Wolf‘s title before he relocated to Cleveland. Hendrickson and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst have been friends for more than 20 years, per Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who adds it is believed Hendrickson allowed his Ravens contract to expire so he could join Gutekunst with the Packers. Prior to Newsome hiring Hendrickson in 2005, Gutekunst helped him land a scouting internship with the Packers. Hendrickson served as a regional and national scout with the Ravens. He will join co-directors of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan and John Wojciechowski as top Gutekunst assistants in the Green Bay front office.

Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • Six-season Jaguars special teams staffer Mike Mallory interviewed for ST positions with the Packers, Silverstein notes, adding the Packers are talking to two other candidates as well — possibly to fill two ST positions. Mallory served as Jacksonville’s head ST coach from 2013-16 before the team hired Joe DeCamillis to serve in that role. The Jags kept Mallory on as DeCamillis’ assistant the past two years.
  • On the subject of this division’s special teams leaders, the Lions announced they are bringing back John Bonamego as their ST coordinator. Bonamego left the Lions after the 2014 season to take over as head coach of his alma mater, Central Michigan. However, the Chippewas fired him after the 2018 campaign. He was previously Detroit’s ST boss from 2013-14. Interestingly, he was Mallory’s predecessor as Jaguars ST coordinator. He also served in this role for the Packers, Saints and Dolphins since 2003. The Lions fired Joe Marciano as their ST coordinator midseason.
  • While the Vikings again selected a cornerback in the first round last year in Mike Hughes, perhaps their offensive line needs should have won out. In an ESPN.com redraft, Courtney Cronin wrote Bears interior lineman James Daniels would have been the better choice (ESPN+ link). Daniels became a full-time starter with the Bears as a second-round rookie, being a first-string presence in Chicago’s final 10 regular-season games. ESPN also gave the Lions a different offensive lineman with their first pick, Michael Rothstein pulling the trigger on Giants guard Will Hernandez instead of Frank Ragnow.

Browns Discussing Deals With Rashard Higgins, Breshad Perriman, Greg Robinson

The Browns signed former first-round picks Greg Robinson and Breshad Perriman on low-cost, one-year deals in 2018. They are interested in longer-term partnerships.

John Dorsey said (via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com) discussions with both players’ representatives are ongoing, along with RFA-to-be Rashard Higgins.

Robinson said recently he wants to stay in Cleveland. The former No. 2 overall pick has not come close to living up to that draft slot but did start the final eight Browns games at left tackle, replacing rookie UDFA Desmond Harrison in the team’s first post-Joe Thomas season. Pro Football Focus graded Robinson as its No. 63 tackle (out of 80 full-time qualifiers) this season.

Sometimes you have to be a little patient with guys like that. You have to earn their trust,” Dorsey said of Robinson. “He did everything he was asked and everything we thought he would since we signed him in late June.”

Added after a dismal Ravens stay, Perriman averaged 21.3 yards per catch with the Browns. Two of his 16 receptions went for touchdowns. While Perriman’s stock is nowhere near what it was coming into the league, the oft-injured wideout played well down the stretch with Cleveland. He recorded two two-catch, 75-plus-yard games in the Browns’ final four contests. If retained, Perriman would fit in as an auxiliary weapon alongside Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway.

Although Higgins was a Sashi Brown-era investment, he may figure into Dorsey’s plans — either on a tender or longer-term pact. The former fifth-round pick enjoyed his most productive season in 2018, hauling in 39 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns. While Higgins was the Browns’ fourth-leading receiver, each of those figures represented career-high marks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Rumors: Fitz, Raiders, Broncos, Brown

After the Cardinals trudged through their worst season in 18 years, Larry Fitzgerald‘s latest retire-or-not decision now features another new coach and offensive system in the equation — this one with no NFL coaching experience. But the future Hall of Fame receiver has not distanced himself from the process that brought Kliff Kingsbury to Arizona. Fitz has exchanged text messages with his new coach, the 35-year-old wideout told TMZ recently (via the Arizona Republic).

Hell of a coach. … Look at his resume,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s innovative offensively. That’s the wave of the future right now, so I’m excited for the chance to meet him.”

Fitzgerald played out his contract and is a free agent. While it would seemingly be tempting for the 15-year veteran to see if he could land with a team better positioned to compete for a championship, the career-long Cardinal has said multiple times he will only play for the Cards. Fitz continues to deliberate about the possibility of retiring or coming back for a 16th season.

Here is more from the West-division teams that have been working on their offseason strategies.

  • Former Broncos offensive lineman Chris Kuper will return to Denver as the team’s assistant offensive line coach. Kuper spent the previous three seasons coaching under Adam Gase in Miami. He retired following the 2013 season with the Broncos, who deployed him as a starter for most of his career. Kuper will work under Mike Munchak.
  • The 49ers are the Las Vegas frontrunners to land Antonio Brown, and The Athletic (subscription required) agrees with that assessment. San Francisco should be viewed as the clubhouse leaders to acquire the disgruntled Steelers wideout, per The Athletic’s Matt Barrows. Kyle Shanahan balked at paying high prices for this past year’s UFA crop, and Barrows writes the 49ers will not be giving up their No. 2 overall pick for a soon-to-be 31-year-old wideout. However, he cautions a team picking in the late first round may be able to outflank a San Francisco trade offer, regardless of the 49ers’ need at this position.
  • Brentson Buckner‘s position with the Raiders will be defensive line coach, Jon Gruden said Tuesday (via ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez). Buckner, who coached the Buccaneers’ defensive linemen last season, will replace Mike Trgovac. The latter, however, will be promoted in some capacity, per Gruden. As for the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach position — vacated by Brian Callahan‘s move to become the Bengals’ OC Tuesday — the team might wait until the Combine to fill that position.
  • Gruden believes Daryl Worley underwent shoulder surgery recently after ending his season with a torn labrum, Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal tweets. Worley, a starter this season prior to landing on IR, is expected to receive an RFA tender from the Raiders.

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