GridironGrit.com http://gridirongrit.com NFL, College Football, NFL Draft and Fantasy Football News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:46:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 You Won’t Believe How Andrew Hawkins Launched His NFL Career http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/you-wont-believe-how-andrew-hawkins-launched-his-nfl-career/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/you-wont-believe-how-andrew-hawkins-launched-his-nfl-career/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:46:05 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27193 Andrew Hawkins lived up to expectations as our breakout candidate for the Cleveland Browns last season, racking up a career-high and team-high 63 receptions and 824 yards with a pair of touchdowns in 2014. A former undrafted product out of Toledo, Hawkins certainly isn’t your average receiver. For starters, he […]

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Andrew Hawkins lived up to expectations as our breakout candidate for the Cleveland Browns last season, racking up a career-high and team-high 63 receptions and 824 yards with a pair of touchdowns in 2014.

A former undrafted product out of Toledo, Hawkins certainly isn’t your average receiver.

For starters, he turns 29 years old next week and only has four NFL seasons under his belt. At 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, “Baby Hawk” is also clearly one of the league’s smallest receivers.

But perhaps the biggest thing that sets Hawkins apart — aside from his work ethic and attitude on and off the field — is the incredible method he used to help launch his NFL career.

Photo Credit: ClevelandBrowns.com

Photo Credit: ClevelandBrowns.com

In an article posted at The Players’ Tribune, Hawkins recalls that in 2007 during Thanksgiving weekend, following his final college game, he made the decision to go all out in pursuit of his NFL dream.

“I vividly remember making that decision: despite the odds, I would go for it, but I’d keep it a secret,” Hawkins wrote. “I’d work out every day and not tell anybody, because I didn’t want people to laugh at me and not take me seriously. It was easy to keep it a secret, too. Nobody was paying attention to me. I wasn’t on any NFL teams’ radars. I didn’t get invited to the combine.

“Hell, I didn’t even have an agent. Agents only recruit guys they think have a shot at making it to the NFL, so nobody was fighting to represent little ol’ me.”

So how does a little-known and seemingly very undersized NFL prospect without connections — long before the existence of massive social media platforms like Twitter — find a way to create enough buzz about himself to where he can land an agent and draw much-needed attention from scouts and coaches around the NFL?

Hawkins set up a pseudo email account and posed as an assistant coach from Toledo, reaching out to several agents about this prospect they should know about named Andrew Hawkins.

Andrew Hawkins' emails to prospective agents - Cleveland Browns

While his efforts weren’t enough to get him drafted, they did help put him on a very unique path to the NFL.

“Before my pro day, I made a pit-stop at Michael’s – you know, the craft store – to pick up some clay,” Hawkins wrote. “I bought clay that matched my skin tone, molded it to the heels of my feet and taped my feet up all the way past the ankle, like I would for a game. When it came time to measure me, it gave me about another inch and a half. Then, when I weighed in, I dropped a two-and-a-half pound weight in each of my pockets, which gave me an extra five pounds.”

That’s pretty deceptive, but it’s quite apparent that Hawkins wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stand in his way as he overcame numerous obstacles in pursuit of his NFL dream.

Last summer, Browns quarterback and now impending free agent Brian Hoyer compared Hawkins to Wes Welker, another receiver who has long held a reputation as a very hard-working, albeit diminutive slot receiver with a strong drive and the game-changing ability to turn simple plays into monster gains.

“The one guy I like more and more every day I work with is Andrew Hawkins,” Hoyer said. “The guy runs his routes so hard. It reminds me a lot of my time in New England with Welker, where the guy runs every route to win. He’s going full blast. You see him out there and you can tell when he walks back to the huddle, he gave his all on every play. He’s just a competitor, and I think the more guys you get like that, the better your team becomes.”

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Seahawks Free Agency: Who Will Replace Byron Maxwell? http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-seahawks-pursuing-tramon-williams/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-seahawks-pursuing-tramon-williams/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 20:16:11 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27197 With impending free agent standout cornerback Byron Maxwell expected to land a big contract elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks need to find an adequate and affordable replacement. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn reports the Seahawks will pursue Tramon Williams. With Maxwell expected to be out of their price range and a […]

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With impending free agent standout cornerback Byron Maxwell expected to land a big contract elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks need to find an adequate and affordable replacement.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn reports the Seahawks will pursue Tramon Williams.

With Maxwell expected to be out of their price range and a whopping $25.25 million of the 2015 budget already committed to Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, “the Seahawks see Williams as a reliable, durable veteran capable of playing every down outside or inside until help arrives,” per McGinn.

Photo Credit: 49ers.com

Photo Credit: 49ers.com

Williams, a former 2006 undrafted product out of Louisiana Tech, has spent his entire nine-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers, racking up a total of 464 tackles with 115 passes defensed and 28 interceptions returned for 423 yards and a score through 127 contests (99 starts). He’s also recorded 4.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.

The 5-foot-11, 191-pound cornerback would prefer to return top the Packers. But he still recently rejected the team’s two-year, $8 million contract offer, as Williams is seeking a three-to-four-year deal that averages at least $5 million and includes “significant guaranteed money as protection against being released.”

“He just probably won’t get as many years as he wants,” an NFL personnel executive told McGinn. “He went from being really fast to fast. He could still do it. It’s just how long can he still do it?”

Last October, Williams expressed confidence that he could play four more years at a high level.

McGinn notes that Seattle prefers Williams over the rest of the impending free agent cornerbacks (outside of Maxwell, of course) because Seahawks general manager John Schneider “views him as an ideal fit” in Pete Carroll’s aggressive Cover 3 scheme, given Williams’ “ability to play both bump-and-run and off-coverage.”

Currently the No. 40 overall free agent at NFL.com, Williams also reminisced last month about Schneider, who spent nearly a decade in Green Bay as a personnel analyst and the Director of Football Operations, telling him early in his career that “he wouldn’t be dispatched to NFL Europe because Green Bay wanted its coaches to develop him.”

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Cowboys Strengthen Front Seven, Depth On Defense http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/cowboys-strengthen-front-seven-depth-on-defense/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/cowboys-strengthen-front-seven-depth-on-defense/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 01:16:05 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27188 We’re still about a week away from the start of 2015 NFL Free Agency, but some teams around the league are already making moves to improve their roster, including the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have signed linebacker Keith Rivers to a one-year contract Wednesday evening. Rivers hasn’t exactly lived up […]

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We’re still about a week away from the start of 2015 NFL Free Agency, but some teams around the league are already making moves to improve their roster, including the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys have signed linebacker Keith Rivers to a one-year contract Wednesday evening.

Rivers hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype as a former 2008 first round pick (No. 9 overall) out of USC, racking up a total of 291 tackles with just three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble through 74 contests (50 starts).

Photo Credit: DallasCowboys.com

Photo Credit: DallasCowboys.com

After missing the entire 2011 season with a wrist injury, the Bengals traded Rivers to the Giants for a fifth round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Rivers wrapped up his two-year stint with the Giants with a decent 2013 campaign, starting eight games and grading out 18th among 35 qualifying 4-3 OLBs in PFF’s ratings.

He then signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Bills last March, but failed to step up following Kiko Alonso’s season-ending ACL injury, managing just 192 defensive snaps in 2014.

Subsequently, Buffalo decided to release the 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker last month, even though new head coach Rex Ryan fully intended to trade Alonso, who burst onto the scene with a stellar rookie season in 2013.

Alonso, also a former standout at Oregon, was of course shipped off to Philly to reunite with Chip Kelly in a stunning trade for star running back LeSean McCoy on Tuesday.

While Rivers is very unlikely to be a game-changing addition for the Cowboys, it’s worth remembering that Rolando McClain, a runner-up for the 2014 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, was a clear bust before taking his talents to Dallas last spring.

In addition to McClain, two other starting linebackers for the Cowboys — Justin Durant and Bruce Carter — are also scheduled to hit the open market on March 10. Dallas.Cowboys.com staff writer David Helman notes that Rivers “has the flexibility the Cowboys typically covet, as he has plenty of experience” at both weak side and strong side linebacker.

What do you think of the Cowboys’ latest move? Sound off in the comments!

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49ers Expected To Pursue Top Free Agents http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/49ers-expected-to-pursue-top-free-agents/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/49ers-expected-to-pursue-top-free-agents/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 00:07:06 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27184 The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly interested in signing free agent edge rusher Trent Cole, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS sports. The 49ers, who are trying to secure Darnell Dockett, will also be players in the market for Cole from what I hear. — Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) […]

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The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly interested in signing free agent edge rusher Trent Cole, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS sports.

Cole, 32, was officially released from the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday. The bold move freed up a whopping $8.425 million in cap space for Chip Kelly’s club, which looks to be extremely aggressive in free agency, as well as the draft.

The Eagles have also recently parted ways with veteran guard Todd Herremans, cornerback Cary Williams, tight end James Casey, as well as star running back LeSean McCoy via trade with the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Cole has spent his entire 10-year NFL career in the City of Brotherly Love, amassing a total of 569 tackles with 85.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and one interception, which resulted in a pick-six.

Photo Via PhiladelphiaEagles.com

Photo Via PhiladelphiaEagles.com

While the 6-foot-3, 270-pound edge rusher has averaged under six sacks over the past three seasons, Cole has continued to bring intense pressure in the form of hits and hurries even after making the switch to 3-4 OLB the past two years.

His scheme versatility, continued production, as well as his impressive durability — having starting 138 of a possible 144 regular season contests since his second year in the league (2006) — will make him a very appealing option on the open market.

The former 2005 fifth round pick (No. 146 overall) out of Cincinnati has also been linked to the Jets, as New York’s new head coach Todd Bowles worked with Cole in Philly two years ago.

San Francisco has also placed ILB Michael Wilhoite on the trade block, per the Sacramento Bee.

Adding Trent Cole and Darnell Dockett to a front seven that will also feature a healthy Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Chris Borland next season would strike fear in opposing offenses. The biggest obstacles for San Francisco this offseason is overcoming the departures of Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree and quite possibly Frank Gore.

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Andrew Luck Almost Unrecognizable After Shaving Legendary Neckbeard http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/andrew-luck-almost-unrecognizable-after-shaving-legendary-neckbeard/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/andrew-luck-almost-unrecognizable-after-shaving-legendary-neckbeard/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 22:26:43 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27174 It’s only been a month since the Super Bowl, but one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks has changed his appearance so much that he’s almost unrecognizable. OK, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck does look quite different since we last saw him […]

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It’s only been a month since the Super Bowl, but one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks has changed his appearance so much that he’s almost unrecognizable. OK, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck does look quite different since we last saw him at the fourth annual NFL Honors show, where his legendary neckbeard was a memorable punchline of Seth Myers.

Luck, who lost count of how many countries he visited last spring, is taking advantage of the opportunity to see more of the world during the offseason and is currently traveling through Australia.

“Making sure your mind is fresh and clear, is almost as important as the football training aspect,” Luck said last April.

Some Aussie NFL fans spotted Luck and took pictures with the now beardless star quarterback.

Gone (at least temporarily) are the civil war general jokes. But his leftover mustache is already drawing comparisons to Ron Jeremy.

What do you think of Luck’s decision to ditch his legendary neckbeard? Sound off in the comments!

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49ers Could Strike Gold With Latest Bold Move http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/49ers-could-strike-gold-with-latest-bold-move/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/49ers-could-strike-gold-with-latest-bold-move/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 16:15:41 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27171 The San Francisco 49ers have just signed a 27-year-old player with no NFL experience. In fact, their latest addition has never even played American football, and the Niners had to beat out the Lions and Seahawks in order to land Hayne to a futures contract, which contains $100,000 guaranteed. If you’re […]

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The San Francisco 49ers have just signed a 27-year-old player with no NFL experience. In fact, their latest addition has never even played American football, and the Niners had to beat out the Lions and Seahawks in order to land Hayne to a futures contract, which contains $100,000 guaranteed.

If you’re scratching your head, Hayne is a former Australian rugby star who dropped a “bombshell” last fall when he decided to quit rugby and pursue his NFL dream.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL, and at my age, this is my one and only chance at having a crack at playing there,” Hayne said last October, via NRL.com. “I’m excited about the potential opportunities that lie ahead. I’ve known the deadline has been looming for me to make this call, and I believe the right time is now.”

Photo Via Deadspin

Photo Via Deadspin

It’s been assumed for months that Hayne would sign with the Lions, but something apparently changed over the past week. According to Michael Chammas of the Sydney Morning Herald, Hayne preferred the “lifestyle” in San Francisco over Detroit.

Hayne has been named the best player in the National Rugby League twice and looks forward to competing for a spot as a return man and a running back. But he knows the transition from rugby to the NFL will be tough.

“This is a huge risk,” Hayne said, via NFL.com. “I’m taking a massive leap of faith.”

At his pro day last December, Hayne measured at 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, impressive and rare numbers for a 27-year-old NFL running back.

Former Chargers receiver Tim Dwight has been assisting Hayne’s quest to the NFL.

“You watch a lot of his highlights and he’s got good change of motion, good direction, seems to know how to get away from people,” Dwight told ESPN.com on Monday. “He seems like he has a lot of mileage still left on him and he has a good attitude. He’s going to get knocked down quite a bit, not just obviously physically but mentally wise, learning all the play sets, learning his job, learning his role. You have to get him started early.”

Carlin Isles, a former rugby player who briefly joined the Lions’ practice squad in 2013, said “it’s going to be really hard” for Hayne to make the NFL transition because of the learning curve, but added that ultimately “it depends on his dedication.”

Hayden Knowles, a former trainer for the Parramatta Eels (Australian rugby team) who flew to the U.S. when Hayne began his NFL pursuit last October, revealed that he saw an incredible level of dedication from Hayne the moment he departed home soil.

“From the minute we got on the plane, he threw his iPad on and started studying the game,” Knowles said.

“He lived and breathed NFL from when he got on that plane. The first day we got there we went and bought an NFL ball and he wanted to go the park straight away. The first thing he did at night was to get me to read out the running routes of a playbook. As soon as I read them, Jarryd knew them and ran them correctly. He prepared for that pro day like he was in fight camp. It was like a world title preparation, he was so professional and so hungry.”

What do you think of the 49ers’ decision to sign Hayne? Sound off in the comments!

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Report: Texans Parting Ways With Andre Johnson http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-texans-parting-ways-with-andre-johnson/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-texans-parting-ways-with-andre-johnson/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 04:06:52 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27168 The Houston Texans are reportedly parting ways with future Hall of Fame receiver Andre Johnson. Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans told Johnson that he would have a reduced role next season, and the seven-time Pro Bowler subsequently requested a trade or his release from the team. […]

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The Houston Texans are reportedly parting ways with future Hall of Fame receiver Andre Johnson.

Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans told Johnson that he would have a reduced role next season, and the seven-time Pro Bowler subsequently requested a trade or his release from the team.

The news comes as a surprise to some, partially because just last Christmas, the Houston Chronicle reported that Johnson was willing to take a pay cut to remain with the team in 2015.

“We understand it’s a business, and we’re willing to deal with that,” Johnson’s longtime adviser Andre Melton said.

“I hope it all works out, where I can finish my career here and hopefully get this organization a Super Bowl before I retire,” Johnson said. “If it doesn’t, then I’d hate to see it end that way. But you have to just keep moving forward.”

Photo Credit: HoustonTexans.com

Photo Credit: HoustonTexans.com

The former 2002 first round pick (No. 3 overall) out of Miami (FL) has hauled in a whopping 1,012 receptions in his 12 seasons in Houston, ninth-most in NFL history. His 13,597 receiving yards rank 12th all-time. And even though he wasn’t the NFL’s biggest touchdown threat, his 64 career receiving touchdowns still have him tied for 58th all-time with Plaxico Burress and Keyshawn Johnson.

Also an awesome role model and active member in the Houston community, Johnson posted a farewell message to Texans fans on his Instagram account Monday evening.

If Houston can’t find a trade partner, Johnson will become an intriguing option on the open market.

Johnson’s impending departure — whether in the form of a trade or release — will save the Texans $8.825 million against the salary cap, giving the team $21.9 million in cap room. McClain notes that the Texans will have to find a replacement on the open market (Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith and Michael Crabtree are clearly the top impending free agent receivers) or through the draft. This year’s WR draft class looks almost as tremendous as last year’s, and the Texans would have plenty of appealing options in the middle of the first round.

NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus believes that Johnson “could command a deal similar to the three-year, $12 million deal Steve Smith got last year from the Ravens” if he doesn’t get traded and adds that he would be surprised “if he doesn’t land with an expected Super Bowl contender.”

Johnson turns 34 in July and is coming off his first sub-1,000-yard season since 2005. While age has played a key part in his inevitable recent decline (like it does with all players), Johnson’s decreased production isn’t solely due to getting older. DeAndre Hopkins’ emergence has also played a role, as well as the Texans’ turbulent state at the quarterback position.

Just when the team looked to be on track and headed for the playoffs last season, starting quarterback Ryan Mallett went down with a season-ending injury in Week 12. Three weeks later, Ryan Fitzpatrick and third-string rookie QB Tom Savage suffered the same fate, forcing the Texans to bring back Case Keenum, who was released from the team during final cuts last August.

Mallett is tentatively expected to open the season as the team’s starting quarterback after showing some real promise in his very brief time under center last year in first-year head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense.

Given that Johnson seems to just be searching for a prominent role on a team with a strong chance at heading to the Super Bowl, don’t expect the two-time first-team All-Pro receiver heading to really WR-needy teams like Cleveland or Oakland.

Some of the more cap-strapped teams like New England, Seattle and Dallas seem to make the most sense. though there are some other teams that could enter the mix, like the Chiefs, Chargers or 49ers. Even the Ravens, Packers and Eagles would make sense if impending free agent receivers Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin take their talents elsewhere.

What do you think of Johnson’s decision to move on and where should he sign? Sound off in the comments!

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Miami Dolphins Have ‘Real Shot’ At Ndamukong Suh? http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/miami-dolphins-have-real-shot-at-ndamukong-suh/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/miami-dolphins-have-real-shot-at-ndamukong-suh/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 00:56:41 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27161 The Miami Dolphins have a “real shot” at landing Ndamukong Suh, per ESPN’s Mark Dominik. “State taxes are a big part of it,” Dominik said on SportsCenter on Monday. “When you are talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida, and you’ve got that up your sleeve, […]

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The Miami Dolphins have a “real shot” at landing Ndamukong Suh, per ESPN’s Mark Dominik.

“State taxes are a big part of it,” Dominik said on SportsCenter on Monday. “When you are talking about state taxes and you’re in Tennessee, Texas or Florida, and you’ve got that up your sleeve, any one of those teams have a real shot.”

Dominik, a former general manager of the Buccaneers with over 20 years of NFL front office experience, also compared Suh to the late Reggie White as a “generational type of free agent” who could draw interest from every team in the league.

Nevertheless, Dominik narrowed the list of teams with a “real shot,” to three, which included Miami.

Photo Credit: Gavin Smith/DetroitLions.com

Photo Credit: Gavin Smith/DetroitLions.com

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Dolphins in the mix for the four-time first-team All-Pro defensive tackle.

Earlier Monday afternoon, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal mentioned Miami as one of the top six landing spots for Suh (along with the Lions, Bears, Raiders, Jaguars, Colts) and included the Browns, Bills, Jets and Giants as wild card options.

“They have cleared plenty of salary cap space and could be in a position to make a big splash,” Rosenthal writes on the Dolphins in his piece on Sun’s potential landing spots. “We wonder if new Dolphins head honcho Mike Tannenbaum will be as aggressive in Miami as he used to be with the Jets. The Dolphins need to rebuild their interior defensive line.”

The Lions have until March 10, the start of free agency and the new league year, to sign Suh to a long-term deal. It’s not set in stone yet, but it seems likely Suh will hit the open market and become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

Do you think the Dolphins should make a strong push for Suh? Sound off in the comments!

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Report: Redskins Interested in Signing Ndamukong Suh http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-redskins-interested-in-signing-ndamukong-suh/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/report-redskins-interested-in-signing-ndamukong-suh/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:23:48 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27159 The Washington Redskins are reportedly interested in signing All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. If the Lions can’t agree to a long term extension with Ndamukong Suh, the Redskins are interested per sources with the organization. — Dianna Marie Russini (@NBCdianna) March 2, 2015 This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as […]

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The Washington Redskins are reportedly interested in signing All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as team owner Daniel Snyder seems to believe games are won in the spring.

Photo Credit: Gavin Smith/DetroitLions.com

Photo Credit: Gavin Smith/DetroitLions.com

It’s not exactly a pipe dream to think the Redskins could land Suh, who is considered the best defensive free agent to hit the open market since Deion Sanders nearly 20 years ago. But they’re not one of the front-runners.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal mentioned the Lions, Bears, Raiders, Jaguars, Colts and Dolphins as the top six landing spots for Suh on Monday, and included the Browns, Bills, Jets and Giants as wild card options.

According to Spotrac.com, Washington is currently in the middle of the pack in the NFL in terms of cap space with about $25 million to spend this offseason. So they can afford Suh, but signing the former 2010 first round pick (No. 2 overall) out of Nebraska would seriously limit new GM Scot McCloughan’s options to make additional improvements at other positions.

Suh is looking to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player when he hits the open market on March 10. Texans DE J.J. Watt currently owns that title after signing a $100 million deal last September that included $51.8M guaranteed.

Do you think the Redskins should make a strong push for Suh? Sound off in the comments!

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Jaguars Looking To Make Huge Statement, Upgrades in Free Agency http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/jaguars-looking-to-make-huge-statement-upgrades-in-free-agency/ http://gridirongrit.com/2015/03/jaguars-looking-to-make-huge-statement-upgrades-in-free-agency/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 19:36:56 +0000 http://gridirongrit.com/?p=27155 The Jacksonville Jaguars are clearly looking to make a massive statement on the open market. Not only is the team in hot pursuit (along with Oakland and Tampa Bay) for the top-rated impending free agent, Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but Jacksonville also has its sights set on Julius Thomas. The […]

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are clearly looking to make a massive statement on the open market.

Not only is the team in hot pursuit (along with Oakland and Tampa Bay) for the top-rated impending free agent, Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but Jacksonville also has its sights set on Julius Thomas.

Photo Credit: Jaguars.com

Photo Credit: Jaguars.com

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end is NFL.com’s No. 7 overall free agent, and four of the guys listed ahead of him (JPP, Justin Houston, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas) just received the franchise tag.

Thomas, 26, has dealt with some ankle injuries and doesn’t bring much to the table as a blocker. However, he’s been to back-to-back Pro Bowls after hauling in 108 receptions for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns through 27 games (24 starts) over the past two seasons. Some argue his numbers are inflated because Peyton Manning’s been throwing him the football.

While that’s a reasonable argument, Manning also spread the ball around to prolific wide outs Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders, so it’s uncertain that “Orange Julius” couldn’t continue to produce even better numbers in another place like Jacksonville, where he would be surrounded by less dangerous and productive options out wide.

A former 2011 fourth round selection (No. 129 overall) out of Portland State, Thomas is a nightmare mismatch for opposing defenses due to his incredible frame and terrific ability to create space over the middle of the field and rack up yards after the catch. He’s a difference-maker who is clearly in the prime of his career and would be a welcome addition for quarterback Blake Bortles, who looks to take a second-year leap.

The Jaguars are expected to be armed with the most cap space in the NFL when free agency kicks off on March 10. Jacksonville’s defense needs some improvements, and Suh could certainly help take the unit to the next level.

But the offense should be a bigger focus this offseason after the team scored the fewest points in the league last season and finished next-to-last in passing yards. There was an injection of optimism in Jacksonville last spring on the heels of an impressive finish to the 2014 season and a rock-solid performance on the open market under the guidance of general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.

But the club failed to progress last season and Caldwell and Bradley could both be entering the 2015 season on the hot seat after posting a 7-25 record in their first two seasons. Making major upgrades through the draft and free agency is a must for the Jags.

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