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Michael Johnson optimistic he’ll work out a deal with the Bengals

Max Starks, Michael Johnson AP

Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson had the best season of his career at the right time: Johnson’s 11.5-sack year in 2012 came in the fourth and final season of the rookie contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2009. So now Johnson is one of the best pass rushers hitting free agency, and he’s ready to cash in.

But he hopes to cash in by staying in Cincinnati. Johnson said on NFL AM that the Bengals are a franchise heading in the right direction, and he wants to be a part of keeping the Bengals going in the right direction.

“Everything will work itself out and I’ll be in the best situation — hopefully that’s in Cincinnati,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a good thing going. We’ve got to continue to improve, make some more strides and make even more noise. We’ve done a little bit but there’s a lot more left to do. We’ve got a great group of young guys and I’m a part of that, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of that for many years to come.”

Johnson said he’d prefer to get a long-term deal and doesn’t want the Bengals to put the franchise tag on him, but he knows that isn’t his choice. One way or the other, the Bengals have plenty of cap space, and it seems unlikely that they’ll let a good young player get away.

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Browns release wide receiver Andrew Hawkins

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins #16 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball against cornerback Will Blackmon #41 and inside linebacker Will Compton #51 of the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns on Monday announced that veteran wide receiver Andrew Hawkins has been released.

Hawkins, who turns 31 next month, played a leadership role for a young team last season and caught 33 passes. He had his best year with the Browns in 2014, when he caught 63 passes for 824 yards and two touchdowns.

The Browns pursued Hawkins in 2014 as a restricted free agent and officially brought him on board when the Bengals did not match the offer sheet. He had gone from the CFL and a Michael Irvin reality show to finally catching on and playing a significant role for the Bengals in 2012, when he had 51 catches and four touchdowns.

The Browns drafted four wide receivers last year, a sign that Hawkins was probably in his final year with the team. He also played under Browns coach Hue Jackson when Jackson was an assistant with the Bengals.

“It’s tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you’ve asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership,” Jackson said in the team’s statement on the move. “Hawk was a rock for us last season. He kept our locker room together and led by example as he gave everything he had on the field. Our young players are going to be better players and better people because of the time they spent with Andrew Hawkins.”

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Panthers sign Wes Horton to two-year deal

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11:  Wes Horton #96 of the Carolina Panthers looks on after a play against the San Diego Chargers in the 1st quarter during the game at Bank of America Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers are keeping another defensive end from hitting the open market.

They announced a new contract for Mario Addison on Sunday and Monday brings word of a new deal for Wes Horton as well. The Panthers announced that they have signed Horton to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the end of the 2018 season.

Horton was cut by the Panthers in September, but returned to the team in October and wound up making 10 starts in his 11 appearances with the club. He recorded 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and has 8.5 sacks over his 45 games with the team since arriving in Carolina as an undrafted rookie in 2013.

The Panthers have one more defensive end set for unrestricted free agency in Charles Johnson. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is also on track to become a free agent, although the expectation around the Panthers has been that the team will use the franchise tag to ensure a longer stay for Short.

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Cowboys legends want Ezekiel Elliott to stop with the hurdling

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys hurdles Chris Prosinski #31 of the Chicago Bears while carrying the ball in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott rookie season stood out — even for a franchise which has produced a number of big-time backs.

But those Cowboys legends also had a word of advice for the eager young back — stop trying to hurdle people.

He better stop that. He better stop that. He better stop that,” Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That’s one thing that I don’t like. When you get airborne, you’re at the mercy of the hit, and sometimes you can’t protect yourself. I think as he gets older he may take that out of his repertoire. He needs to stop that. That scares me every time he gets airborne. I’m like oh….”

Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, echoed that sentiment, saying he cringes when he sees Elliott up in the air.

“Get on the ground as quickly as possible,” Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith said. “Every time I watch somebody run, I’m looking very closely, very tentatively, seeing how they fall because a lot of things happen when you fall.”

Elliott was a high school hurdler, and it became a bit of a signature move last season. And while the old guys might get a little nervous, they might also worrying about some of their franchise rushing records.

Elliott led the league in rushing (1,631 yards) and scored 15 touchdowns last year, eclipsing the rookie numbers set by Smith (937) and Dorsett (1,007) when they were rookies.

They also never used their leaping ability to jump into a giant Salvation Army kettle at the end of a touchdown run. No matter what any old guy says, Elliott should never stop doing that, because it was awesome, that’s why.

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Report: Mutual interest between Cowboys, Josh McCown

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30:  Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during the second quarter against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran quarterback Josh McCown said last week that he’s had “good conversations” with several teams since being released by the Browns earlier this month and it appears one of those teams is the Cowboys.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that there is “mutual interest” between McCown and Dallas about striking a deal for the 2017 season. McCown would be the backup to Dak Prescott under that scenario, but Werder adds any deal would have to wait for the Cowboys to sort things out with the guy who closed out last season as Prescott’s backup.

That’s Tony Romo, of course, and owner Jerry Jones said over the weekend that there’s no decision at this point about what will happen with the longtime Cowboy. Romo could be traded or released with Werder reporting earlier this month that Romo expecting the latter outcome.

McCown is able to sign with a team ahead of the start of free agency, but said last week that he is “gonna take my time” before settling on a home for next season.

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Dolphins bracing for Kenny Stills departure

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins scores a touchdown in the 3rd quarter against the San Francisco 49ers  at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins know that receiver Kenny Stills will get more money from another team than what the Dolphin can or will pay him. The amount of money Stills will get is beginning to come into focus.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the market for Still already is in the range of $12 million per year. This hasn’t kept the Dolphins from officially bowing out, but unless Stills is willing to take less than he could get elsewhere, he’s likely to leave.

As Salguero explained last week on PFT Live, the situation boils down to one simple proposition: Other teams will pay Stills like a No. 1 receiver, and the Dolphins won’t — because their No. 1 receiver is Jarvis Landry.

Salguero now points out that the Eagles are considered to be the favorite to land Stills, which is the latest evidence that tampering is rampant this time of year. Indeed, there should be no information about what the market for Stills would be or could be until next Tuesday, when the legal tampering window opens. But there is, and there always will be.

Especially as the Scouting Combine approaches, where every team and every agent can get together to negotiation in advance of when they are allowed to negotiate.

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Report: Chiefs expected to tag Eric Berry, let Dontari Poe hit free agency

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 18:  Strong safety Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs is introduced prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chiefs safety Eric Berry said Sunday that he doesn’t have high hopes that he and the team would agree to terms on a multi-year contract before the March 1 deadline to use the franchise tag.

A report from Ed Werder of ESPN makes it sound like Berry has good reason for pessimism on that front. Unless there’s a change in the next 48 hours, Werder reports that the expectation in Kansas City is that the team will use the tag on Berry for the second straight season.

Berry said in the past and again on Sunday that he will not play out the year under the tag, which would leave him in position to make around $13 million barring a long-term deal. The two sides would have until July 15 to work on such a contract.

Using the tag on Berry would mean the Chiefs couldn’t use it on defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Per Werder, the expectation is that the Chiefs would then let Poe hit free agency next month. Poe would likely find a good market for his services under that scenario and that could push his price out of range for the Chiefs to hold onto both of their free agent defensive stars.

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Joe Mixon interview re-airs at 11:35 a.m. ET

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Joe Mixon won’t be available for 15-minute interviews with teams at the Scouting Combine. He was available for 15 minutes on PFT Live earlier today.

MDS has summarized some of the key comments from Mixon. The full interview will re-air on NBC Sports Radio at 11:35 a.m. ET (Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, NBC Sports Radio app). We’re also preparing a full transcript of the session, and the interview will eventually be posted at PFT and available for download via podcast.

It will be up to the listener to assess whether Mixon’s explanation of the events seems accurate and honest, and whether his remorse seems genuine. Ultimately, it will be up to the 32 teams to evaluate Mixon for draft purposes. Today’s interview will be one piece (albeit small) of the broader puzzle that will likely result in someone drafting him in April.

After having a chance to digest what he said in further detail, I’ll offer up some of my own opinion about what Mixon said and how he said it.

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Joe Mixon: I made a bad decision, I can’t take it back

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon won’t be at the Scouting Combine this week. The NFL didn’t invite him because of the infamous incident in which he punched a woman, seriously injuring her. But Mixon is hoping to get a chance to tell NFL teams he has learned from the ugly assault.

Mixon said this morning on PFT Live that he has grown as a person and hopes NFL teams will believe that.

“I made a bad decision,” Mixon said. “Ever since that night I have to live with it. I’ve got to re-live it every day. You can never forget something like that. It still haunts me to this day, but it’s what you do from that point on. You can’t take it back. I can replay it in my head a thousand times, and if I could take it back I would, but I can’t.”

Mixon said he still believes he can be a good role model and wants to earn the privilege of playing in the NFL.

“I’m trying to educate youth throughout the community and having them learn from my mistakes,” Mixon said.

No one doubts that Mixon is good enough to play in the NFL, but there are some doubts about whether any owners will want the video of Mixon knocking a woman to the ground playing on the local news, which will happen in any city where the team drafts Mixon. He’s hoping that by speaking publicly now, he can convince a team that drafting him won’t be a public relations nightmare.

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Mario Addison: Only thing I needed was the opportunity

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Addison #97 of the Carolina Panthers sacks quarterback Case Keenum #17 of the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter of the game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

Defensive end Mario Addison won’t be hitting free agency when the new league year opens next week.

Addison has a new three-year contract with the Panthers worth a reported $22.5 million, which means a player who entered the league as an undrafted free agent has found a home after bouncing through three other teams in his first two NFL seasons. Addison didn’t get many chances with the Bears, Redskins or Colts, but has seen his playing time with the Panthers go up steadily while recording 22 sacks over the last three seasons.

“If you bounce around here and there, it kind of makes you discouraged,” Addison said, via the Charlotte Observer. “And I will be the first to admit that I got a little discouraged in the beginning of my career. I never gave up, because I know the things I could do. The craziest thing about it was, I was playing on teams that had young guys like me that were just drafted. And I kept thinking to myself, ‘You are better than those guys. Only thing you need is the opportunity.'”

Addison has remained a situational player for the Panthers, but may be called on to do more over the life of his new contract. It’s something he said he believes he can do, because “the sky is the limit” for a player who has already exceeded many expectations.

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Monday morning one-liners

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:   Nick Mangold #74 of the New York Jets takes the field for their game against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Which free agent wide receivers will be on the Bills’ radar?

The Dolphins are running short on time to keep WR Kenny Stills from hitting the open market.

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski appeared to be enjoying himself at the Daytona 500.

Will going young put Jets coach Todd Bowles in a tough spot?

S Matt Elam’s arrest guarantees he’ll rank among the Ravens’ worst draft picks.

Would the Bengals consider a receiver in the first round?

The Browns have a lot of scouting work to do this week.

Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert wants the combine to be a scouting event first and entertainment second.

The promise of J.J. Watt’s return makes the Texans defensive line an imposing unit.

Is a taller wideout in the cards for the Colts?

Toughness was a big theme of Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin’s press conference last week.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey is keeping his eye on the rest of the AFC South.

LB Steve Russ is the only player from Air Force who has been drafted by the Broncos.

The Chiefs inducted WR Carlos Carson into their team Hall of Fame.

Breaking down the Raiders tight ends.

Former Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson was the honorary starter at the Daytona 500.

Former Cowboys running backs would like to see the new one do less hurdling.

A look at what the Giants might do at linebacker this offseason.

A handful of guards that might interest the Eagles in the draft.

Is C Nick Mangold a possibility for the Redskins?

Quarterback and defensive back are both big needs for the Bears.

The Lions should be watching the safeties at the combine.

A call for the Packers to address defensive needs through free agency.

The Vikings want to win more battles inside the 5-yard-line.

A look back at the combine workout that helped Vic Beasley land with the Falcons.

More moves are likely coming on the Panthers defensive line.

The musts, needs and wants of the Saints offseason.

Examining whether C Nick Mangold would be a fit with the Buccaneers.

Nick Folk could factor into the Cardinals’ kicking decisions.

Some suggested areas for the Rams to focus on in their draft evaluations.

Will the 49ers follow a similar blueprint to the one the Raiders used in recent years?

Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse has been spending time with high school kids this offseason.

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Report: Bears not expected to tag Alshon Jeffery again

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31:  Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

There’s no doubt Alshon Jeffery has talent, and hasn’t had the best supporting cast around him lately. But it doesn’t appear the Bears are willing to invest more than $17 million for a year to make sure he stays.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Bears are not expected to use the franchise tag again on the wide receiver.

This one is practically #asexpected, mostly because Jeffery hasn’t been very good the last two years. He’s missed 11 games with a combination of injuries and a PED suspension, and he’s barely topped 800 yards in each of them.

After totaling 2,554 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns the two years before, he seemed poised to break the bank. But it appears he’ll get a chance at the market now.

There should still be plenty of interest in the 27-year-old Jeffery, but it appears the Bears aren’t willing to pay a premium price for one more season of him.

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Adrian Peterson’s father lobbying for a way to keep son a Viking

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 1: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Rams on September 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Rams 27-25. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The lobbying effort to keep Adrian Peterson in Minnesota has begun, and it appears the Vikings running back is willing to be flexible in terms of how much he’ll make next year.

Via ESPN, Peterson’s father Nelson Peterson said he hopes his son gets to wrap up his career where it started.

“Finishing your career in one place [has value],” the father said. “I look at how Arizona treated Larry [Fitzgerald], how they are taking care of guys who have been there.”

Fitzgerald may have given the Cardinals a bit of a break in his last extension, and played for $11 million last year. He responded with a league-high 107 receptions.

Peterson’s under contract for $18 million this year, including a $6 million roster bonus due March 11. The degree to which he’s prepared to bend off those obviously inflated numbers may determine how willing they are to keep him, if they don’t want to release him.

Peterson’s 31, and because of injuries and suspension, he’s had one good season and two lost ones in his last three. He led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015 with 1,485 rushing yards, but was averaging just 1.9 yards a carry last year before he got hurt.

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Rob Gronkowski wants Martellus Bennett to break the bank

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 07: Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots celebrate during the Super Bowl victory parade on February 7, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl 51. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski doesn’t want his fellow Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett to take a team-friendly deal to stay in New England this offseason.

Instead, Gronkowski is urging Bennett to try to strike it rich in free agency.

“I’m hoping that he breaks the bank,” Gronkowski told ESPN. “Whenever you see a tight end break the bank, it’s good for the industry; it’s good for the position. You want to see the position grow.”

Bennett doesn’t like it when people tell him he should take less money to stay in New England, but he may like hearing Gronkowski’s thoughts. Even if Bennett will have to leave New England to break the bank.

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Joe Mixon visits PFT Live on Monday

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 12:   Running back Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners warms up before the game against the Baylor Bears November 12, 2016 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Baylor 45-24. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL won’t let Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon visiting the Scouting Combine. As Scouting Combine week begins, he’ll be visiting PFT Live instead.

The man who was captured on video with a vicious knockout punch to a young woman in 2014 is one of the most controversial draft prospects in recent years. Some say he would be a second-round or maybe even a first-round prospect if his off-field record were clean. Now, it’s far less clear — in part because plenty of teams won’t consider drafting him in any round.

If he is drafted, the team that takes him needs to be prepared for a backlash that could potentially force the team to renounce its rights to Mixon.

Regardless of whether and when he’s drafted, Mixon should be in Indianapolis this week, going from room to room and being grilled in 15-minute increments about the incident and whether he has shown true remorse or whether he’s simply saying what he thinks teams want to hear. I plan to ask him some of the same questions he’d face if he were in Indianapolis, based on information obtained from multiple teams about the questions they would be asking, if Mixon were there.

He’ll be calling the show at 8:35 a.m. ET. Before that, we’ll talk to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as we take a look at the offseason priorities for the teams of the AFC North. The show begins at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, with the NBCSN simulcast commencing at 7:00 a.m. ET.

Listen at Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, the NBC Sports Radio app, and on any of the many terrestrial stations that carry the show.

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Eric Berry: “Not getting my hopes up” about long-term deal

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a play against the Carolina Panthers in the 1st quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The deadline for teams to use the franchise tag comes this Wednesday and one player who would like to see the day pass without the tag being used is Chiefs safety Eric Berry.

Berry played out the 2016 season under the terms of the tag and is a candidate to get it again unless he and the team can agree to a deal before the March 1 deadline. There have been talks and Berry said Sunday, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, that his choice would be to sign a multi-year contract in the next few days, but he didn’t sound terribly optimistic that they’ll strike a deal.

“I’m just being patient because you never know…I’m not getting my hopes up,” Berry said.

Tagging Berry would set his salary at around $13 million, although he reiterated that his vow not to play out another year on the tag. A second tag for the safety would also leave them a little less than a week to talk about a contract with defensive tackle Dontari Poe before other teams can open up dialogue with the impending free agent as well.

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