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Cameron Jordan sacks 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

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In trying to create views during the off-season, new CBS analyst Tony Gonzalez has been using hyperbole to support the cause of Jimmy Graham in the matter of compensation for NFL tight ends. The truth is, the Saints tight end is being paid like an elite WR.

Having failed to make the postseason after signing with the Atlanta Falcons for one year in search of a Super Bowl ring, the maybe-retired Tony Gonzalezhas been using star tight end Jimmy Graham’s contract situation as a platform on which to try breaking into the sports media scene.  Gonzalez is a future Hall of Fame candidate who signed two contracts considered the most lucrative deals ever awarded a tight end at the time.  As such, his opinions on the contract situation faced by the star New Orleans Saints TE are expected to draw attention.  But whether his hyperbole is more self-serving as someone who may want to play again as a tight end or as someone looking to garner views in his new job, there seems to be a mirror or two in the smoke.  In an article titled “NFL’s backwards salary system hurts elite players like Jimmy Graham,” Gonzalez claims:

let’s do some quick math. I anticipate he will sign somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million per year over five years, which is great money. But an elite wide receiver will make $14 million-$16 million per season.

The CBS analyst is mostly right when he says an elite wide receiver will make $14 million to $16 million per season.  At least he would be if he were using it in the sense of “there isan elite wide receiver who will make that much,” and not in the sense of, “any elite receiver will make this much.”  There are actually two wide receivers in the NFL who have contracts providing an average annual salary over $13 million:  Calvin Johnson andLarry Fitzgerald.  And, including those two, only six wide receivers in the league — meaning the top 1.5% out of nearly 400 NFL wide receiver contracts — average over $10 million per year.  How many of those wide receivers would have been offered those same contracts if they had torn their plantar fascia the year prior?

How do you define elite, anyway?

In his article, Gonzalez uses the nebulous and oft-overused term “elite.”  What defines a given individual as being an elite example at his position? Using the former Falcon’s own yardstick:  Gonzalez himself said earlier this year that Matt Ryan is not elite, but almost elite.  So does being better than Matt Ryan make a quarterback elite? You can’t have close to ten elite quarterbacks in a 32-team league.  By definition, an elite individual is a member of a small and disproportionate group.  So we need to narrow it down a bit.

Most football fans would agree that Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady andAaron Rodgers are elite.  Strong arguments could be made for a couple of others to be included in that list, and often are by fans of their respective teams.  So out of 32 teams, many NFL fans would agree that at least five starting quarterbacks are elite.  Top Five makes sense, and mirrors the criteria for the franchise tag nicely.  But is being elite really a matter of pure integers, or is it more a matter of percentages?  Are the top five percent — the best one out of every twenty — from any group considered elite?

Of the 132 quarterbacks on NFL rosters, the top five percent equates to 6.6 quarterbacks.  Conversely, the top five quarterbacks in the league — the NFL’s elite — represent the best 3.8% of their position group.  If we want to get even more restrictive with our definition of elite:  the top five tight ends in the league represent only the top 2.7% of the 182 players currently designated at that position.

JIMMY GRAHAM’S GUARANTEED SALARY PLACES HIM ABOVE ALL BUT THE TOP FIVE CONTRACTS FOR ALL WIDE RECEIVERS.

There are few who would argue that the top 2.7% of any statistically significant group would not be considered elite.  So how many elite wide receivers are there? The top 11 wide receivers represent roughly the same elite percentage of the approximately 400 players in their position group.  And where did the star tight end for the New Orleans Saints land in comparison? His new contract would be considered the seventh-highest deal among all receivers, based on yearly average.  Furthermore, Jimmy Graham’s guaranteed salary places him above all but the top five contracts for all wide receivers.

Even so, Tony Gonzalez is keeping his name in the headlines by claiming:

If you look at the numbers and production and what he means to that team, I think he’s underpaid still.

But in truth, only one player on the team is paid more than Jimmy Graham’s $10 million per year:  Drew Brees.  Even though it has been pointed out time and again that elite quarterbacks like Brees can make even average players look like star receivers, the Saints have still made Drew’s favorite target — a somewhat emotionally fragile tight end with a torn plantar fascia — the second-highest paid guy on the team.  So, other than the intelligent tactic of keeping his name in people’s minds, or possibly trying to bag on a team to which he consistently lost for five years, what exactly is Gonzalez hoping for with a statement like this?

Did being labeled a tight end cause discrimination against Jimmy Graham, and prevent him from getting paid like an elite wide receiver? Considering that his contract stands among the top 1.5% of all wide receivers, and approximately the top 1% of all receivers and tight ends combined… no, it did not.

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NEW ORLEANS — As we look forward to the start of training camp in West Virginia and anxiously await the outcome of the Jimmy Graham contract saga, here are 10 things I think about the 2014 New Orleans Saints:

1. On paper, GM Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton appear to have assembled a team that should win the NFC South and contend for a berth in Super Bowl XLIX, despite being faced with significant salary cap problems upon entering the offseason.

2. Seattle and San Francisco are still the teams to beat in NFC.

3. Saints will finish 13-3: 7-1 at home — losing to San Francisco — and 6-2 on the road — losing to Detroit and Carolina.

4. Rob Ryan’s defense will finish in top 5 league-wide for fewest yards allowed for the second consecutive year.

5. With the addition of S Jairus Byrd and CB Champ Bailey, defense will get at least 30 takeaways this season after only recording 19 in 2013.

6. Ryan will draw serious head coaching interest after the season from Oakland.

7. RB Mark Ingram, whose fifth-year option in 2015 was not picked up, reaches the proverbial fork-in-the-road in New Orleans. He either plays himself out of the Big Easy this season or into a new long-term deal.

8. WR Marques Colston (age 31, $9.7 million cap number in ’15) may be playing his last season in New Orleans.

9. Graham’s production declines from 2013; does not justify distinction as the highest paid tight end in NFL history.

10. Darren Sproles who? Top draft pick WR/PR Brandin Cooks will contend for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

ONE FOR THE ROAD: QB Drew Brees throws fewer than 600 passes for the first time since the Super Bowl XLIV championship season of 2009 when he threw 514. He has thrown 658, 657, 670 and 650 passes in seasons 2010 through 2013, respectively.

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Jimmy Graham is back, and it’s only going to cost the Saints some relief pitcher money. $21 million guaranteed is a lot for a tight end, but an incredible bargain for Graham. In other Saints news, they are set to open training camp at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs. That seems like a pretty nice place to spend a few weeks. Their own brand new facility, a PGA Tour golf course, fine dining and a fucking casino? If it weren’t for the intense physical and mental toll, I’d totally do that.

In April, The Greenbrier began construction on three fields (two grass, one FieldTurf) and an adjoining 55,000 square-foot building that will house the team’s meeting rooms, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, training rooms, medical facilities, dining room and weight room.

Justice, who purchased the resort in 2009 and rescued it from bankruptcy, had been actively pursuing the Washington Redskins’ training camp for years. But when Saints coach Sean Payton caddied for PGA Tour pro and friend Ryan Palmer in last year’s Greenbrier Classic, the wheels were instead set in motion for another team.



Read more: http://kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com/2014/07/best-weekworst-week-the-saints-and-the-the-49ers.html#ixzz380uQIfRz

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As we go from season to season, faces change around the New Orleans Saints locker room. While many stay familiar to Who Dat Nation, there are always those players that exit the franchise for one reason or another. Some like Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins and Will Smith may be forever remembered as Saints, while others like Darren Sproles, Will Herring, and Jed Collins served their respective roles with the team and moved on.

With the loss of many veterans during the offseason, it’s time for other players to step up. However, not all of the players are a ‘safe bet’ for success in 2014. We wonder, ‘Can we really expect the same production out of this player?’. Many Who Dats have their reservations about a particular player for one reason or another. Today, I’m giving you five players you should ‘bet on’ to have a strong 2014 season.

5. Victor Butler, linebacker

Before Butler went down with an injury last year, we were all high on his potential with the Saints. By now, you might have forgotten about Butler’s tenure with the Cowboys. As a refresher, from 2009-2012, Butler would see more snaps season over season, and ultimately his Pro Football Focus Grade would increase. It just so happens that Butler really thrived and was starting to get noticed more when Rob Ryan came into the picture in 2011.

Butler is likely to battle veteran Parys Haralson as the outside linebacker opposite of Junior Galette this season, but could find himself inserted into more passing down coverage over those two. Butler has already been labeled as a ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ candidate, and should show everyone why he was brought in to the Saints organization in the first place.

4. Kenny Stills, wide receiver

The biggest question surrounding Kenny Stills is if he’s really a number two receiver. Stills led the league in yards per catch (20.0 yards/catch) last season with receivers that had at least 30 receptions. Stills has been pegged as a breakout candidate by many, but a few aren’t exactly buying the hype. Stills only had two dropped passes last season as per Sporting Charts, which was right in line with Pierre Thomas, Nick Toon, and Lance Moore. Some believe that rookie Brandin Cooks will hurt his production, and that Stills could only see upwards of 70 targets in the offense. However, there’s a lot to love about Kenny Stills this season, as Drew Brees calls him the ‘younger Lance Moore’.

In the Saints offense, it’s a ‘pick your poision’ type threat. If you key all of your efforts on one player, Drew Brees is sure to find the other receiver that you don’t account for. Brees can exploit the mismatches, and Stills will take advantage of this. 

3. Junior Galette, linebacker

Junior Galette has increasingly performed year over year since 2011. Despite finishing sixth in the league in sacks last year (only a half sack behind teammateCameron Jordan), Galette was missing from the Pro Bowl chatter. Galette has used things like a very low ranking from Bleacher Report to help motivate him for this season. He’s playing in a contract year, and should be playing sack for sack with Cam Jordan again. By contract year, what we mean is this:

Galette can void the rest of his contract after 2014 if he tallies 12 or more sacks and plays more than 60 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season. Galette essentially gambled on himself in his current contract. The gamble could hit, and hit big.

Junior Galette will be playing like a man possessed in 2014, and opposing quarterbacks should account for him at all times.

2. Corey White, cornerback

The average fan is down on Corey White, and I can understand some of what you’re saying. White’s had trouble locating the ball, and gave up a few big plays. However, you’re missing the good that he brings: athleticism, tackling, and overall football sense. White stepped in for Jabari Greer last season, and actually performed better than Greer did with more targets against him.

White’s in an ideal situation. Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd are the two best things to happen to White since the addition of secondary coach Wesley McGriff, who ‘oh by the way’ is also responsible for the Saints defensive turnaround, as the secondary went from 293 passing yards allowed per game in 2012 to 194.1 passing yards allowed per game in 2013. White should lock down a job as a solid nickel corner.

1. Terron Armstead, left tackle

Some fans were left wondering if it was just a late season fluke when Terron Armstead was able to put together a strong finish to the year after being ripped apart against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16. It was certainly one of the rougher outings for a rookie in recent memory, but Armstead battled back to put together a string of three straight games where he was nearly impenetrable. Armstead is certainly the ‘younger’ man of the New Orleans Saints offensive line, but that won’t stop him from replicating success in 2014. He’s better than Charles Brown by leaps and bounds.

Armstead enters the season with the starting gig, and I believe there’s no better person to protect Drew Brees’ blind side. As if there weren’t enough good things to say about Armstead, check out our Sophomore Spotlight article on him.

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Jo-Lonn Dunbar Arrested: Latest Details, Mugshot and More on Rams LB

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St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was arrested Sunday morning after being charged with battery and disorderly conduct, per CBS Miami.   

Most of the details surrounding the incident are unknown at the time of writing. All that’s been made public is that Dunbar and former Sacramento Kings player Donte Greene were involved in an altercation outside of Dream Nightclub in Miami Beach.

You can see Dunbar’s mugshot below, via Andy Slater of WINZ 940 in Miami:

According to Vivian Thayer, a Miami Beach Police Detective, no other arrests connected to the incident were made, per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

Dunbar is a six-year veteran of the NFL, spending four years with the New Orleans Saints before joining the Rams in 2012. He’s started 26 games in St. Louis and is entering his seventh season in the league.

The 29-year-old missed the first four games of the 2013-14 season after getting suspended for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

"I sincerely apologize to my teammates (and) the organization," said Dunbar at the time, per the AP, via NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus. “I am deeply saddened by this. But I plan to serve my four-game suspension and get back to playing football as soon as possible.”

Dunbar appeared in 12 games and started in 10 after returning. He made 33 tackles and assisted on another six.

According to Spotrac.com, he’s signed on for two more years with the Rams, earning a base salary of $751,157 in 2014 and $999,999 in 2015, which is “voidable with written player notice, 50% of playing time, or if the Rams make the playoffs in 2014.”

Dunbar is listed as the starting right outside linebacker on the Rams’ official depth chart, so his arrest may have a big impact the team going forward.

Fortunately, St. Louis has a deep defensive line, which may help soften the blow to some extent if he misses any time. Still, this incident is sure to affect both Dunbar and the team.

Note: All stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com

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Brandin Cooks at Saints Practice. The best cooks always go to New Orleans.

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New Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks does impossible things on the football field. Here’s one:

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Jairus Byrd Injury: Updates on Saints DB's Recovery from Back Surgery

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The New Orleans Saints pushed their chips to the middle of the table by signing safety Jairus Byrd to a $56 million contract this offseason. It’s yet to be determined, though, if fans will have to wait to see their new defensive star in action. 

ESPN’s Mike Triplett reported Monday that it is still possible for Byrd to be limited at the opening of training camp despite his recovery from back surgery going well:

Byrd, 27, underwent a procedure in May to clean up an issue with an injured disc. The organization maintained that it was an elective surgery, which the team hoped would have him at full strength heading into training camp. Head coach Sean Payton told reporters Byrd would have been able to play through the injury in the regular season: 

This is something after the doctors looked at it, and the specialists out in [Los Angeles] looked at it, [they] felt this was one scenario that would kind of take care of it rather than try to [keep managing it]. If it was during the season, you wouldn’t go through the procedure. You would treat it symptomatically then.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Byrd became the Saints’ surprise spring acquisition in March. Despite New Orleans needing to part with veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Roman Harper in free agency to clear cap space, the team gave Byrd a six-year, $56 million deal with $28 million guaranteed.

The Saints also signed veteran cornerback Champ Bailey as they attempt to shore up their secondary. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s schemes are built on a blitz-heavy outlook that can often leave defensive backs on an island. Adding Bailey and Byrd to a defense that ranked second in passing yards against and sixth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings puts New Orleans near the top of NFC favorites.

Triplett ranked Byrd fourth on his ranking of best Saints players:

"[H]e’s been a turnover machine, which made him especially attractive to the Saints. Byrd’s 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over the past five seasons, and he has forced 11 fumbles in his career.”

Byrd spent his first five NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, a relationship that became more contentious by the year. He made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams as a rookie in 2009 and established himself among the league’s premier coverage safeties. After making his second Pro Bowl team in 2012, Byrd and the Bills came to a standstill when the team gave him the franchise tag.

Numerous reports surfaced indicating that Byrd had requested a trade. The rumor mill filled up with possibilities, but nothing of substance came to pass and he played out the 2013 season on the franchise tender. Byrd made 48 tackles and four interceptions while appearing in 11 games. He dealt with a plantar fasciitis injury for most of the season.   

The Saints will hope Byrd can return to the apex of his abilities in 2014. While still effective, he struggled mightily against the run last season, ranking 45th among safeties in run stop percentage, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). New Orleans was a below-average unit against the run and will need improvement at every position after the mass exodus of veterans.  

With his recovery going as expected, Byrd should find his rightful place among the game’s best safeties. Given what they’re paying him, the Saints better hope so.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter. 

Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com

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