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2011 Hall of Fame class has a little of everything

Hall of Fame AP

One of the reasons to like the 2011 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that the seven men being inducted today encapsulate every aspect of NFL greatness: Flashy offensive playmakers and hard-hitting defenders. Players who entered the league as stars and players who had to fight just to make a roster. Old-school veterans who have been largely forgotten by today’s fans, and modern players who ushered in a new era of NFL stardom.

Plus the man who did more than anyone to document the NFL’s history.

Here’s our primer on the seven men whose Hall of Fame busts will be unveiled this evening in Canton, Ohio:

Richard Dent was a key member of the great 1985 Bears team, recording a league-leading 17 sacks that season and turning in a three-sack performance in Super Bowl XX, earning him the game’s MVP award. Few players in all of football caused opposing teams as much concern as Dent, who was a major threat to every quarterback he faced. Dent had more than 10 sacks in eight different seasons with the Bears.

Marshall Faulk was a unique offensive threat in NFL history: There may never have been a player who could be so productive as a runner while simultaneously being a serious deep threat as a receiver. Everyone remembers that Faulk was a great player on a great team when he got to the Rams in 1999, but it’s often overlooked that he was also a great player on a bad team with the Colts before that: Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the best player in football when he led the league in scrimmage yards with the 3-13 Colts in 1998. Faulk is one of only two players ever to have 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, and the only player ever to have more than 12,000 rushing yards and more than 6,000 receiving yards in his career.

Chris Hanburger was an 18th round pick of the Redskins in the 1965 NFL Draft, and he didn’t just make the team: He quickly became a team leader and the defensive signal caller. Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah once called Hanburger “the smartest player in the league,” but he wasn’t just a cerebral player. He was also a vicious hitter who earned the nickname The Hangman.

Les Richter was a star guard and linebacker at Cal in the early 1950s and the Dallas Texans selected him second overall pick in the 1952 NFL draft. He served in the Army for two years before heading to the NFL, and the Los Angeles Rams thought so highly of him that they traded 11 players to acquire him. Richter played nine seasons with the Rams as a linebacker and kicker and was chosen to eight Pro Bowls. Richter died last year at the age of 79.

Ed Sabol created something extraordinary with NFL Films. Until Sabol came along, no one ever dreamed that you could take highlights of a football game, add an operatic musical score and booming-voiced narration, and actually make it feel more exciting than the experience of watching the game live. NFL Films’ style wonderfully captures the drama of football, and Sabol had a stroke of genius when he decided to put microphones on players and coaches, showing the fans far more about what goes on at field level than they ever could have known. And don’t overlook just how much fun Sabol had with football: Before NFL Films introduced Football Follies, the concept of a blooper reel was viewed as an insult to the players whose mistakes were chronicled. But the way NFL Films presented the bloopers had everyone laughing too hard to take offense.

Deion Sanders was a star unlike anything the NFL had seen before. On the day the Falcons drafted him fifth overall he was wearing more gold around his neck than Mr. T, and he talked more about what he would do with his signing bonus than what he would do on the field. But Sanders was more substance than style: He quickly emerged as a dominant shutdown cornerback and game-changing kick returner for the Falcons, then left for the 49ers and helped them win a Super Bowl, then left for the Cowboys and helped them win a Super Bowl, too. Sanders retired after playing the 2000 season with the Redskins, then came back for two more years with the Ravens in 2004 and 2005, before finally walking away for good at the age of 38.

Shannon Sharpe was a big part of the offense on three Super Bowl-winning teams, two with the Broncos and one with the Ravens. No one could have predicted that when Sharpe entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick out of Savannah State, known mostly as the little brother of then-Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe. (Shannon said this week that he thinks he’s the only Hall of Famer who isn’t the best football player in his family.) But Sharpe quickly established himself as a great player in his own right, a powerful blocker and major receiving threat. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in catches (815), receiving yards (10,060) and receiving touchdowns (62) by a tight end.

That’s the class of 2011, a great cross section of NFL greatness.

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Lions bring back Dan Orlovsky

Buffalo Bills v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Dan Orlovsky didn’t play any offensive snaps as the backup to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2014.

The team liked what it saw because they announced Monday that Orlovsky has been re-signed to a one-year contract. Orlovsky said during the season that he felt he was playing an important role despite his lack of playing time.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the value of it,” Orlovsky said, via the team’s website. “There is an enormous value in being a good teammate. It’s important for me to understand my role. I talk to the younger guys. I talk to the defense and offer them a nugget here and there. Over 16 games, if one or two players can make a play here and there, that’s the difference between going on and going home.”

Orlovsky hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2012, when he threw seven of them for the Buccaneers. His last run as a starter came in 2011 with the Colts and he also started seven games during the Lions’ winless 2008 campaign. Orlovsky’s most memorable moment came that year when he ran out of the end zone for a safety in a two-point loss to the Vikings.

Third-stringer Kellen Moore isn’t expected to be tendered as a restricted free agent, so the Lions may still add some new blood to the quarterback depth chart.

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Eagles sign ex-Packers LB Brad Jones

Brad Jones AP

Less than two weeks after being released by the Packers, linebacker Brad Jones has a new home.

The Eagles have signed Jones to a two-year deal, the team said Monday.

The 28-year-old Jones played 13 games for Green Bay in 2014, recording 18 tackles. He’ll vie for playing time in Philadelphia’s inside linebacking corps. The Eagles, like the Packers, employ a 3-4 scheme, with two inside linebackers in the base defense.

Jones appeared in 76 games (36 starts) in six seasons with Green Bay, notching 258 tackles and 10 sacks.

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Darnell Dockett scheduled to meet with the 49ers tonight

Darnell Dockett AP

The Cardinals left the door open for defensive tackle Darnell Dockett to return when they cut him last week.

And he’s going to test their will to do so quickly.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Dockett is scheduled to meet with the 49ers tonight.

The 33-year-old Dockett missed all of last season with a torn ACL, which gave the Cardinals pause about paying him $6.8 million.

The 49ers aren’t sure if they’ll have veteran Justin Smith back next season, as they still want to sit down with him and discuss their plans.

But whether Dockett is a replacement or a complement, he’d represent a swing in the NFC West defensive arms race, assuming he’s recovered from the knee injury and can get back to his old form.

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Bucs will owe Anthony Collins $3 million if he’s cut

Collins Getty Images

The Buccaneers typically don’t use signing bonuses for their free-agent contacts.  Instead, they rely on guaranteed salaries.  For tackle Anthony Collins, who was signed in free agency a year ago, the guaranteed money extended beyond the $6 million he received in 2014.

Per a source with knowledge of the contract, $3 million of the $6 million base salary due and owing to Collins already is fully guaranteed, with no offset language.  If he’s cut instead of traded, the Buccaneers will owe him the full $3 million — regardless of whether he signs with a new team.

The Buccaneers are trying to move on because the other $3 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year.  So instead of paying him $6 million to play for the team in 2015, they’ll pay him $3 million to not play for the team in 2015, unless they can find someone to trade for him.

Collins started 10 games last season, his first in Tampa.  He previously spent six with the Bengals, never becoming a full-time starter.

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Dolphins use transition tag on Charles Clay

Charles Clay, Nickell Robey AP

Last year, the Steelers pulled a surprise move just before the deadline to use franchise and transition tags by dusting off the rarely-used transition tag for linebacker Jason Worilds.

The Dolphins are taking a page from that book. They announced that they have placed the transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, who was set to become a free agent next week.

The transition tag differs from the non-exclusive franchise tag in that it offers teams a chance to match other offers for the player without any compensation coming their way in the event they choose not to match the offer. The tag pays the average of the top 10 at the position as opposed to the franchise tag, which is generated by a certain percentage of the overall cap number that is designated to each position group for its franchise figure.

For Clay, that salary would be $7.071 million although he’d have to sign the tag to eliminate the possibility that the Dolphins rescind it and move in a different direction. Clay had 58 catches for 605 yards in 2014 and was expected to be one of the top tight ends on the open market. Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron now look like the best players at the position who will be set free on March 10.

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Report: Patriots use franchise tag on Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski

Safety Devin McCourty may be hitting the open market.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Patriots have placed their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which means they’ll either have to sign McCourty to a new contract by the start of the new league year on March 10 or risk losing him to another team on the open market. Should McCourty get to that point, he’s expected to be pursued by several teams as he’ll be the top safety available.

If Gostkowski plays out the season under the tag, he’ll make $4.1 million. The tag for safeties is $9.6 million, which may have influenced the decision if the Patriots know that they have other things they want to do with that money.

Gostkowski made 35-of-37 field goals for the Super Bowl champions in 2015, his ninth season with the club. It’s the third time the Patriots have used the tag on a kicker with Adam Vinatieri getting it in 2002 and 2005.

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Lions hang onto veteran defensive end Darryl Tapp

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

While it’s not the name they might have been hoping for, the Lions did keep a defensive lineman today.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions have re-signed veteran Darryl Tapp.

Tapp signed a minimum salary benefit deal, which pays him just over $1 million, while counting just $655,000 against the salary cap.

Of course, that’s a far cry from the guy and the amount of money heading out the door with their decision to not tag defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The 30-year-old Tapp is versatile enough to play inside or outside, and pitched in at defensive tackle a bit last year.

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Cowboys officially place franchise tag on Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Over the weekend, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said it “would be a stretch” for the team to reach agreement on a long-term deal with wide receiver Dez Bryant before the deadline to use the franchise tag.

There were no last-minute surprises and Dallas officially placed the tag on Bryant on Monday afternoon. If Bryant plays out the year under the terms of the tag, he’ll make $12.8 million in 2015 and be on track to become a free agent again next year.

During an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon on Monday, Bryant’s agent Tom Condon said that the tag was not a “terrible” thing and that talks will continue with the Cowboys on a multi-year extension. Condon gave no hint about Bryant’s plans to sign the tag, but he probably won’t be doing so immediately.

Bryant, who caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, joins Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos as receivers who have received the franchise tag on Monday.

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Broncos use non-exclusive franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas

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The Broncos have done the expected on Monday and placed their franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

The move comes as little surprise after several reports out of Denver indicated that the two sides weren’t close to agreement on a long-term deal that would keep Thomas in Denver for years to come. General Manager John Elway indicated weeks ago that the team would use the tag if that’s how things played out.

Denver announced that they used the non-exclusive tag, which means other teams can make a run at Thomas as long as he doesn’t sign it. The Broncos would have the right to match any offer and a team signing Thomas away would have to give the Broncos two first-round picks to make it happen.

Thomas will make $12.8 million under the tag, which he can sign at any point. There’s also a window to agree to a multi-year deal until July 15 and Thomas would be on track for free agency again next year if he fails to do so.

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Giants franchise Jason Pierre-Paul

Houston Texans v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants have officially placed the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

The move comes as no surprise, as it’s been reported for weeks that Pierre-Paul would get the tag if he and the Giants don’t first come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension.

If Pierre-Paul wants, he can sign the franchise tender and play the 2015 season on a one-year contract with a guaranteed salary of $14.8 million. He would then either hit free agency next year or get franchised again, which would give him a 2016 salary of $17.8 million.

Pierre-Paul may think he can do better than that if he bides his time and convinces the Giants to give him a long-term deal, but one way or the other, he will remain with the Giants in 2015.

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Super Bowl ticket lawsuit finally goes to trial

Super Bowl Football AP

More than four years ago, folks who had bought tickets for Super Bowl XLV showed up for the game only to learn that the seats corresponding to the tickets didn’t exist.

Finally, the case is going to trial.

Jury selection, opening statements, and testimony are expected Monday in federal court in Dallas. The lawyer representing the plaintiffs issued a statement over the weekend explaining that Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to be one of the first witnesses called.

Presumably, the lawyers will be playing Goodell’s videotaped testimony for the jury from August 2013. The lawyers also contend that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial.

The NFL tried aggressively to resolve the claims of aggrieved customers in the aftermath of the Super Bowl ticket fiasco. But the question is whether the law entitles the customers to more than the NFL offered, especially when taking into consideration the full range of costs incurred to travel to Dallas to attend the Super Bowl but not being allowed to do so.

A jury will eventually decide whether and to what extent the customers should be compensated.

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Jaguars carry over the most money into 2015 cap

Shad Khan AP

The NFL has announced that the salary cap for the 2015 season will be $143.28 million per team, although that number doesn’t depict how much money each team actually has to spend.

Teams have the right to carry over unused cap space from last season, which means that there’s a wide range of adjusted cap totals. The NFLPA has released those figures and the Jaguars are bringing the most money with them into the new league year.

The Jags have elected to carry over $21,768,205 and other adjustments from the 2014 season bring their adjusted cap total for 2015 to $168,486,107. The Browns are next at $161,767,400 million and the Eagles are third at a shade under $160 million. The Jets and Titans joined those teams in carrying over more than $10 million and round out the top five.

The Rams are at the other end of the spectrum as they elected to carry over no money from last year, leaving them with an adjusted cap of $144,673,387 for this year. That’s not the lowest in the league as the Chargers have $142,972,612 after adjustments from last year’s cap ate away most of their carried over money.

A team-by-team list of adjusted cap figures can be found right here.

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Dolphins cut veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan

Finnegan Getty Images

If you’re an NFL veteran on the wrong side of 30 with a big cap number but without a clean bill of health, you might not want to answer your phone this week.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have released cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Finnegan played just 12 games last year because of injuries, and was due $5.475 million this season, making it an easy call for the Dolphins.

The 31-year-old Finnegan may not be quite ready for the wake, but his big-earning days are certainly behind him.

The Dolphins have cleared out a number of veteran contracts lately for cap purposes. Wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson got it last week, and more moves could be on the way.

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Report: Washington working on Brian Orakpo return

NFL-New York Giants at Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Redskins used the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo last year to ensure he would remain in Washington for the 2014 season, but it doesn’t look like they’ll go down that road again this time around.

Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington reports that the team will not tag Orakpo for the second straight year. That’s not a big surprise with Orakpo recovering from a torn pectoral muscle for the third time in his career.

That injury limited Orakpo to seven games and a half-sack last season, although Russini reports that the team is still interested in bringing Orakpo back. They’re reportedly working on reaching agreement on a deal that Orakpo would sign before hitting the open market next week.

The top of the market for edge rushers will be impacted by franchise tags as Justin Houston has been tagged while Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes could join him before Monday afternoon’s deadline. Greg Hardy is the biggest name expected to hit March 10 with the ability to sign anywhere he wants with Orakpo, Brandon Graham and Jason Worilds somewhere behind him on the list.

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Report: Brad Jones visited Titans, visiting Eagles on Monday

Matt Forte, Brad Jones AP

Players who have been released by their teams since the end of the season are free to sign with other teams ahead of the start of free agency next week and linebacker Brad Jones is trying to take advantage of that opportunity.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Jones recently visited with the Titans and is scheduled to meet with the Eagles on Monday. Wyatt adds that other teams have shown interest in Jones, who was released by the Packers in February.

Jones played in 76 games at inside linebacker for the Packers over the last six seasons.

The Eagles currently have Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans (recovering from a torn Achilles) and Emmanuel Acho at the position, so Jones could provide depth while taking on the big role on special teams he played with the Packers. The Titans, who have Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard among others on the depth chart, showed interest in Jones last year before he re-signed with Green Bay.

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