The 37th overall pick of the 2013 draft, Giovani Bernard spent eight seasons in Cincinnati before being handed his walking papers Wednesday. 30 later this year (in November), Bernard was entering the final year of his contract, one that was paying him like a No. 1 back rather than the pass-catching and blocking specialist No. 2 that he was for the Bengals. He was due to make $3.7 million in 2021, and the release saved the Bengals $4.1 million against the cap. There were rumors teams were calling the Bengals about Bernard’s availability last month, but that was obviously false and an attempt to drum up interest. The Bengals got nothing for him and resorted to saving the money and freeing Bernard up to seek another job.
In Cincinnati, the release of Bernard is a potentially huge move for Joe Mixon and his every-down ability. In the six games Mixon was healthy for in 2020, he averaged 23.3 touches per contest, and that included a pair of 30-touch outings. Coach Zac Taylor had really committed to Mixon as his bell cow dating back to the middle of the 2019 season. Mixon’s season-ending foot issue could obviously change the way Taylor thinks about his running back moving forward, but the Bengals did pay Mixon $12 million per year with a new extension ahead of last year. They obviously view him as a clear-cut No. 1 back capable of shouldering an offense. By all accounts, Mixon should be ready for a normal 2021. With Joe Burrow back from his torn ACL and Cincinnati adding RT Riley Reiff to gel with previous starting combo LT Jonah Williams-LG Michael Jordan-C Trey Hopkins-RG Quinton Spain, this offense has the ability to take off, and Mixon should be a huge part of it. He has top-six RB1 upside if health cooperates.
As for Bernard, his best days are behind him, but he will likely latch on somewhere as a tandem back to fill a third-down, pass-catching role. He’s averaged 3.8 yards per attempt or worse four of the last five seasons. But he has shown he can handle 15-18 touches in a pinch if injuries happen ahead of him. Bernard is easily one of the best running backs available, joining James Conner and a couple others. They all may have to wait until after the draft later this month.
Jets Ship Darnold to Panthers for Picks
Our very own Patrick Daugherty dove into this trade and its ramifications in a Fantasy Fallout piece earlier this week following the big move, but as you all know, the Jets finally ended their very short marriage to Sam Darnold by flipping him to the Panthers for a 2021 sixth-rounder and 2022 second- and fourth-rounders. With the trade, the Jets made it clear they’re taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall, and the Panthers are committing to Darnold for at least 2021 after they failed to trade for Deshaun Watson, who is now in a whole lot of legal trouble. It’s hard to not like the swing the Panthers are taking here. Darnold is still just 23 years old and will turn 24 in June. He’s younger than some of the prospects still coming into the NFL, and he has three seasons under his belt. Darnold was a colossal nightmare in New York, but it’s hard to put all the blame on him. Ex-coach Adam Gase has never shown an ability to call an offense and only ever received head-coaching interest because he was with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning in Denver. It’s exciting to see if the upstart Panthers can tap into the potential and upside that made Darnold the No. 3 overall pick in 2018. His supporting cast is already lightyears better with the Panthers than it was with the Jets. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson make an exciting one-two combo out wide, and Christian McCaffrey is the best playmaking running back in football. Carolina also added playmakers WR David Moore and TE Dan Arnold in free agency while keeping stud RT Taylor Moton. With the Darnold acquisition, the Panthers have allowed Teddy Bridgewater to seek a trade. He’s not a starter in this league but a very good No. 2.
Bears Still Trying to Trade Anthony Miller
Last month, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Bears were “likely to deal” contract-year WR Anthony Miller. Nothing has come of it yet, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says the team continues to “discuss” a deal. No interested teams have been identified, but it’s clear Miller’s time is running out in Chicago. He’s set to make just over $1.2 million in the final year of his deal and was leapfrogged on the depth chart last year by late-round rookie Darnell Mooney. Even though they haven’t added anything at the position this offseason, the Bears seem done with Miller. The former No. 51 overall pick has only caught passes from Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, and Nick Foles in his career, so it would be interesting to see what he could do if he can escape this wretched Bears Offense. Miller caught seven touchdowns as a rookie and then had a strong five-game stretch Weeks 10-14 in the 2020 season when he posted a 33-431-2 line on 52 targets. Miller obviously has skill. A change of scenery could do him well.
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Quarterback & Running Back Quick Slants
Rams GM Les Snead sees Matthew Stafford quarterbacking the team for the next 5-8 years. Stafford is 33 and under contract for two more seasons after being acquired from the Lions. An extension could be in the works. … Nike has suspended its endorsement deal with Deshaun Watson while he fights his legal battles. … Coach Jon Gruden continues to hype Kenyan Drake’s versatility. There’s word the Raiders will use Drake as a pass-catcher complement to Josh Jacobs. … Following their acquisition of the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, ESPN’s Adam Schefter expects the 49ers to select Alabama QB Mac Jones. … The Eagles re-signed RB Jordan Howard to a one-year deal. He’ll compete for a deep depth job in Philly’s backfield. … The Niners signed QB Nate Sudfeld to a one-year contract. Sudfeld will look to make the 49ers’ roster as the No. 3 behind a rookie and Jimmy Garoppolo should San Francisco keep Garoppolo.
Wide Receiver & Tight End Quick Slants
Free agent Antonio Brown remains unsigned, and there’s “still no sign” he and the Bucs are close to a new deal. AB is really the only piece left for the Bucs to “run it back” with essentially the same group. … New Ravens WR Sammy Watkins expects OC Greg Roman to “open up” the offense this season. Watkins previously played for Roman in Buffalo. Watkins needs a healthy and strong season if he wants to cash in as a free agent next spring. … Many around the league expect free agent Larry Fitzgerald to retire this offseason.
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