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NFL morning after: Peyton Manning is just fine, thank you

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Broncos coach John Fox was asked last week, What’s wrong with Peyton Manning’s arm? Fox got a good laugh out of that question, and it’s a good thing he enjoyed it. Because he probably won’t get that question again.

Manning demonstrated on Sunday against the Raiders that he’s just fine, thank you: More than capable of carving up an opposing defense and leading his team to a big win, which is exactly what he did in completing 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Broncos beat the Raiders 37-6. Fox said afterward that he’s seeing just the kind of weekly improvement from Manning he expected from a player who had to sit out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury.

“He’s getting more comfortable,” Fox said. “Let’s not forget he didn’t play for over a year and this is a new team, new coaching staff, new city, new field, new everything for him. The type of guy he is, he’s going to get better and better.”

Is it possible that Manning has lost a little speed off his fastball? Maybe. But Sunday’s game demonstrated that any talk that Manning no longer had an NFL-quality arm after last year’s neck surgeries was every bit as laughable as Fox made it out to be. And anyway, Manning has always beaten opposing defenses more with his head than with his arm. After a year away, Manning looks like more or less the same player who won four league MVP awards in Indianapolis. Manning’s passer rating so far this season is 96.9 — better than the 91.9 rating he had in 2010, his final season with the Colts.

Up next for Manning is a trip to New England for a Sunday showdown with a Patriots team that was his biggest rival when he was in Indianapolis. When Manning and Tom Brady are squaring off, we’re seeing two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history on the field. And while both Manning and Brady are still playing great football, the reality is that they’re the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and we probably won’t get many more opportunities to see them playing against each other. So when you watch Broncos-Patriots on Sunday, savor the greatness you’ll see from these two quarterbacks.

Here are my other thoughts on this week’s NFL action:

Cam Newton’s touchdown record may only last a year. As a rookie in 2011, Newton set a new NFL record for touchdown runs by a quarterback in a season, with 14. But Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is on pace to top that this year, with four touchdowns in four games. Griffin, who threw for 323 yards and ran for 43 yards in leading his team to a 24-22 win in Tampa Bay on Sunday, is the best athlete ever to play the quarterback position, and it’s easy to see him continuing to average a touchdown a game for 16 games this season — but only if he stays healthy enough to play 16 games this season. Griffin is so confident in himself that he takes some reckless chances with his body when he runs up the middle, and sometimes he takes violent hits. Eventually, he’s going to need to learn that if the end zone is not in reach, he needs to get down, or else he’ll be spending more time on the sideline than in the end zone.

Welcome back, real refs. Ed Hochuli’s bulging biceps were a sight for sore eyes Sunday, and so were the rest of the regular referees, back to work after the NFL wisely ended the lockout of the officials. All those baffling penalties and foolish mistakes from the replacement refs were a thing of the past, and for fans watching at home, it was especially nice having the real referees move the games along quickly: Most of the games that kicked off at 1 p.m. were over before the 4:05 p.m. kickoffs, something that didn’t happen on any of the first three Sundays of the season. Unfortunately, the Packers — who were ripped off by the replacement refs last week — were saddled with the worst regular ref in the NFL, Jeff Triplette. A week after the Packers were robbed of a victory over the Seahawks by the replacement officials, the Packers were nearly robbed of a victory over the Saints by Triplette and his crew. Green Bay overcame major officiating mistakes including a Saints fumble that was wrongly ruled down by contact and an obvious push-off on a Saints touchdown catch that was somehow not called. If bad officiating had cost the Packers another game, there might have been a riot at Lambeau Field.

When Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is inducted into the Hall of Fame some day, Jeff Backus should introduce him. Backus, the Lions’ longtime left tackle, knows better than anyone how hard it is to block Allen. Because Backus has to do it twice a year, and Allen always gets the better of him. Last season, Allen had three sacks in each of the Vikings’ two games against the Lions. On Sunday, in the Vikings’ 20-13 win over the Lions, Allen had a sack and three tackles for loss. There are few bigger mismatches in the NFL than a one-on-one battle between Backus and Allen.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith looks like the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Smith had an absolutely insane stat line against Baylor on Saturday: 45-of-51 for 656 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith has a good arm, he’s a good athlete, and he’s an intelligent young man who should be a quick study in learning an NFL offense. A lot can change between now and April, but Smith looks like the kind of player who will make NFL scouts drool.

Rex Ryan had the quote of the day. Describing his Jets’ loss to the 49ers, Ryan said, “I was going to say we got our butt kicked, but really, we got our ass kicked.” Ryan was in too bad a mood to avoid profanity, and it’s hard to blame him. The Jets lost 35-0 and looked like a mess.

I can’t believe the Cardinals are 4-0. And I also can’t believe the Saints are 0-4. But that’s what makes the NFL so fun: We spend all offseason obsessing over coaching changes and free agency and the draft and training camp battles, and we’re sure we know how the league stacks up this year, and then by the time the season is a quarter of the way over, impossible things have happened. Like a team we knew was bad starting undefeated, or a team we knew was good starting winless, or an aging and injured quarterback still playing like a great one.

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Source: No deal yet between Marshawn, Seahawks

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It’s currently expected that the Seahawks and running back Marshawn Lynch will strike a new deal pursuant to which Lynch will return to the team for at least one more year.  But that hasn’t officially happened yet.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the meeting between Lynch and the Seahawks is due to start at 2:00 p.m. PT.  It’s believed that an agreement will be finalized at that time.

It’s also believed that the contract will commit Lynch to the Seahawks for at least one more year, at a significant increase over the $7 million he was due to earn in 2015.

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Report: Marshawn Lynch will return for another year in Seattle

Marshawn Lynch AP

Beast Mode is back for another run.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has agreed to a new contract and will return for another season in Seattle, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

Lynch has been noncommittal over the last month about whether he wants to keep playing football, and there had been talk that he might decide to retire. But the Seahawks have apparently enticed him to stay by offering him more money. Seattle also agreed to re-do Lynch’s contract last year to get him to show up to training camp.

Most players can’t get away with threatening to quit if they don’t get more money year after year, but Lynch is not most players. He’s one of the best players in the league, and one of the most important players to the Seahawks. And now they have him back.

UPDATE 5:00 p.m. ET:  PFT has learned that the deal is not yet done.  But it’s expected to be, soon.

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Bengals plan visit with A.J. Hawk for next week

A.J. Hawk AP

The Bengals re-signed Rey Maualuga on Friday, but they may not be done making moves at linebacker.

Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reports that the Bengals plan to bring A.J. Hawk in for a visit next week “as they rate veteran linebacker depth” in free agency. Hawk was released by the Packers last week, although Green Bay is reportedly open to a return at the right price.

With Emmanuel Lamur tendered at the second-round level, the interest in Hawk could be a hedge against anything less than a full return from Vontaze Burfict next season. Burfict had an injury-riddled 2014 season with a pair of concussions followed by a pair of knee surgeries, including a microfracture procedure that could delay his return to the practice field if not the lineup for the regular season.

Given the way Hobson framed the visit, Hawk likely won’t be the only linebacker under consideration for a job in Cincinnati once the market is flooded with free agents.

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Colts want to bring Trent Cole in if he leaves Tampa

Trent Cole AP

The Buccaneers were quick to show interest in former Eagles pass-rusher Trent Cole.

But they’re far from his only suitor.

Via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the Colts want to bring Cole in for a visit if he leaves Tampa today without a deal.

The Colts have cap room to make moves, and need to add pass-rushers in the worst way, though Cole has been better as a 4-3 end than as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4.

Of course, the Bucs also have the opportunity to keep him from making that trip, if they throw enough money his way.

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Raiders staying in Oakland . . . for a year

New York Jets v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Good news, Raiders fans in Oakland and the Bay Area. The team isn’t leaving.

Bad news, Raiders fans in Oakland and the Bay Area. They still might.

The Joint Powers Authority in Oakland has approved a one-year lease that will allow the Raiders to play at O.Co Coliseum, via NBCBayArea.com. The move was expected because the window for submitting a relocation application has come and gone. It was a given that the Raiders would remain in Oakland for one more year.

The question becomes what they’ll do in 2016. The Chargers and Raiders are collaborating on a stadium they would share in Carson, California.

The powers-that-be in Carson and Inglewood currently are racing for the ability to build an NFL stadium in the L.A. area. The Chargers, Raiders, and Rams hope to be the two teams that end up there.

At least one of those teams will be the odd man out. If it’s the Raiders, they may be stuck in Oakland for a lot longer than 2015.

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Tyvon Branch scheduled for visit with Chiefs

Tyvon Branch, Benson Mayowa AP

The Chiefs saw a lot of safety Tyvon Branch when he played for the Raiders and they may be interested in seeing a lot more of him during the 2015 season.

Branch has visited with the Colts and Redskins since being released by Oakland and Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reports that he’s scheduled to visit with the Chiefs next. With Eric Berry’s future uncertain as he continues his battle with lymphoma and Ron Parker set for free agency, the Chiefs could use some help at the position.

When he’s healthy, Branch was a good safety for the Raiders and he was particularly strong against the run. That was a weak spot for the Chiefs last season, so Branch fits on that front as well.

The major caveat is that he’s played just five games in the last two years. Whoever signs him will be rolling the dice that he hasnt lost anything while on the sideline and that it won’t be more of the same in 2015, so it’s not too surprising that the teams showing the most interest right off the bat are squads with serious needs at the position.

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It’s good to be King Dunlap

kingdunlap AP

Two weeks ago, veteran left tackle King Dunlap opted to eschew a shot at the open market and to stay in San Diego.

Even if the Chargers won’t be staying in San Diego.

Dunlap joined Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio to discuss his decision to sign a four-year deal, whether he has splurged yet with his new money, whether the potential move to L.A. by the team is a distraction, whether his quarterback gets enough credit, what he’d do if he were the team’s G.M. on Tuesday, whether he hoped Peyton Manning wouldn’t return to Denver, whether he hopes Justin Houston won’t return to Kanas City, and the toughest guy to block.

For the whole segment, click the thing in the thing below.

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Tarvaris Jackson would like to back up Teddy Bridgewater

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Tarvaris Jackson spent the last two years backing up Russell Wilson in Seattle and he thinks that experience would serve him well in a return to the Vikings.

Minnesota traded Matt Cassel to Buffalo this week and Christian Ponder is set to become a free agent on Tuesday, leaving the team without a backup for Teddy Bridgewater for the 2015 season. Jackson said while he still aspires to be a starting quarterback in the league, he would “definitely love to come back” to the place where he started his NFL career.

“I think I could really help [Bridgewater],” Jackson said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “I think I could help put things in perspective for him with football and outside of football. … I feel I can help him just making the game a little easier and kind of learning from my mistakes and stuff.”

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said after Cassel was traded that the team had a plan in mind for securing a backup to Bridgewater, although he didn’t elaborate on that plan. Jackson will join veterans like Mark Sanchez, Shaun Hill and Matt Moore as free agents, although some of them may be less willing to sign up for a role with little chance of starting absent a serious injury.

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Lions tender George Johnson as restricted free agent

Drew Stanton, George Johnson AP

The Lions have made contract offers to a pair of their free agents.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit has tendered a contract to defensive end George Johnson, a restricted free agent.

Johnson has been given a right-of-first-refusal tender, which entails a one-year contract offer for about $1.54 million, per the Free Press. Teams can negotiate with Johnson until he signs his tender, but the Lions can match any offer extended by another club.

The 27-year-old Johnson became an important part of the Lions’ defensive line rotation in 2014, notching a career-best six sacks.

The Lions have also offered a contract to exclusive-rights free agent returner/wide receiver Jeremy Ross, the club’s website said. Ross, 26, caught 24 passes for 314 yards and one TD in 2014 for Detroit. He averaged 25.4 yards on 23 kickoff returns and 8.9 yards on 32 punt returns.

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Chiefs re-sign Josh Mauga

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs released linebacker Joe Mays this week, but they’ve secured the rights to another member of the position group with the same initials for the next three years.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team has re-signed Josh Mauga to a three-year deal worth $8 million. There’s no word on signing bonus or guarantees in the deal.

Mauga started all 16 games for the Chiefs last season after signing with the team in July. He had 103 tackles, a half-sack and three passes defensed  in his first year with a Kansas City defense that struggled to stop the run. Mauga played 29 games for the Jets between 2010 and 2012 before spending the entire 2013 season on injured reserve.

With Mays gone, the Chiefs now have Mauga, Derrick Johnson and James-Michael Johnson at inside linebacker. Derrick Johnson missed 15 games last season after tearing his Achilles, but should return to a starting spot if he’s healthy. Mauga will likely be in the mix to start alongside him.

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Panthers fill left tackle void with Michael Oher

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Based on the way he played for the Titans, left tackle Michael Oher wouldn’t have been an upgrade for many teams.

Fortunately for Oher, the Panthers were there for him.

The Panthers announced they signed the former Ravens first-rounder to a two-year deal.

He’ll replace the replaceable Byron Bell at left tackle for the short term, and there are reasons to think it might work. Back when Oher appeared to be good at football, he was being coached by John Matsko, who’s now coaching the Panthers linemen.

And, he’s going to a place where expectations have been lowered by the shoddy line they put in front of Cam Newton last year.

“I’m excited to be joining an organization that knows how to win. They’ve won the past two division championships, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Oher said. “When I came here on a visit, the culture was great. They’re very into winning and doing everything possible to win.”

Signing Oher keeps them from reaching for a left tackle in the draft, and crosses a box off for the short term, though there are no illusions he’s going to be a Pro Bowl-level player.

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Browns hold onto Spencer Lanning, Shaun Draughn

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Not every roster move in the next few weeks will be a splashy one, as evidenced by a pair of signings the Browns announced on Friday.

The team announced that they have re-signed running back Shaun Draughn and punter Spencer Lanning. Both players were exclusive rights free agents, so the ball was in the Browns’ court and they opted to hold onto both players.

Draughn joined the Browns for the final four games of the 2014 season and played mostly on special teams. He returned five kickoffs for 115 yards and made a tackle in kick coverage. Draughn saw time with the Chargers and Bears last season as well and has also played for the Chiefs and Ravens while bouncing around the NFL.

Lanning has been the punter in Cleveland for the last two seasons. In 2014, he averaged 44.3 yards per punt and dropped 25-of-93 kicks inside the 20-yard line. He also took a foot to the face from Steelers punt returner Antonio Brown during a September game, although the Browns punt coverage typically didn’t put him in position to make tackles while limiting opponents to seven yards a return.

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Report: Chargers release LB Reggie Walker

Andrew Luck, Reggie Walker AP

The Chargers are letting go of one of their backups on defense.

Inside linebacker Reggie Walker has been released, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Friday.

Walker was scheduled to make $1 million in 2015, per NFLPA data. According to the Union-Tribune, the release of Walker nets the Chargers a corresponding savings of $1 million against the salary cap.

The 28-year-old Walker appeared in 11 games as a reserve in 2014 for San Diego, with the club crediting him with six tackles on defense and five on special teams.

Walker (6-0, 244) played his first four NFL seasons with Arizona before joining the Chargers in 2013. He could appeal to teams looking for linebacking depth in 3-4 schemes.

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Chiefs cut defensive tackle Vance Walker

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Just because a team makes an early move last year for you doesn’t mean you’re a priority.

The Chiefs are releasing defensive tackle Vance Walker, according to his agent Chad Speck.

The move clears $1.75 million off the cap, and erases a bad deal from a year ago.

The Chiefs signed Walker away from the Raiders on a three-year deal which was reported to be worth up to $13 million.

But it didn’t take long for them to regret it, as he started just two games last year. He’s a solid enough player, but hardly worth what the Chiefs invested a year ago.

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Jets re-sign David Harris to three-year deal

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Jets aren’t waiting until free agency to start filling up their cap space.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the team has re-signed linebacker David Harris to a three-year deal worth a total of $21.5 million. Harris got the first two years of the deal fully guaranteed at $15 million.

The move comes shortly after the team swung a trade with the Bears for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is set to make $7.7 million during the 2015 season.

Harris has spent his entire eight-year career with the Jets since they took the Michigan product in the second round of the 2007 draft. There had been a fair amount of speculation that Harris might follow former Jets coach Rex Ryan to Buffalo once free agency opened, but he obviously felt that the Jets’ offer satisfied his needs. He should continue to be a centerpiece of their defense under new coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers.

The Jets still have a lot of money to spend and should get $10.5 million more by moving on from Percy Harvin, who is expected to be released after the acquisition of Marshall.

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