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Nathaniel Hackett: E.J. Manuel has to work on everything

EJ Manuel AP

In an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio last weekend, Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel said that he found the Bills offense was easier to learn than the one he was in at Florida State and he’s picking it up quickly as a result.

If that’s the case, it’s the one thing Manuel can rest easy about when it comes to his transition to the NFL. Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett didn’t address that claim directly on Tuesday when he spoke to reporters, but he did make it clear that he thinks Manuel has plenty of work to do in order to get himself ready to play at the professional level.

“Everything,” Hackett said, via the team’s website. “He’s a young man that’s got to work on a lot of things from footwork to progressions to plays to formations, everything. Defenses in the NFL are obviously a little different. He’s got to work on that too. He’s got to work on everything.”

There’s no great reason for concern about Hackett’s assessment of the first-round pick nor are Hackett’s thoughts reason to suspect Manuel won’t be the starter this year. You wouldn’t expect any player to come from the college ranks as a finished product, especially not a quarterback who is going to be dealing with faster defenses capable of showing more looks than he was exposed to before coming to the NFL. You’d expect even less to hear one of his coaches say that all was well before a significant time has been spent working with the rookie.

If Hackett’s saying the same things about Manuel in August, there will be more of an impact but, for now, it sounds like Manuel’s pretty much where he’s supposed to be in his progression to the NFL game.

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Elway takes another shot at Fox

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Broncos G.M. John Elway hasn’t been bashful about the reasons for his decision to move on from coach John Fox after the 2014 season.

This is why we made the decision,” Elway said this week. “This was the idea — to get better and get past the first round.

In an interview with Phil Simms of CBS that aired during an endless pregame show (yeah, NBC did the same thing last year — and will do it again in two years), Elway was even more specific in his criticism of Fox.

“I just didn’t like two out of the last three years we lost in the first round with home field advantage,” Elway said. “And so to me that hurts. If you can’t get guys excited about playing in the playoffs that time of year, something’s wrong.”

That last sentence was the most potent. And it meshes with what receiver Demaryius Thomas told PFT Live in the days preceding last week’s Super Bowl.

“I feel like some guys, you know, didn’t have the fight or whatever it was,” Thomas said. “I think one thing was, I feel like guys kind of looked over the Colts. You had guys always talking the night before the game, you had, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to New England and play New England.’ And I think that was one of the big things.”

Elway saw it, and so Elway decided to make a change. And Elway has decided to be incredibly candid about that, given that the change has taken the Broncos back to the Super Bowl.

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Rivera’s handling of Manning helped him become a head coach

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Before Ron Rivera became the head coach of the Panthers, PFT regularly pointed out that anyone in the AFC South who is looking for a new coach should consider Rivera, because Rivera had done very well against Manning as the defensive coordinator of the Chargers.

The dynamic culminated in a 36-14 win over Manning and the Colts in Indianapolis on November 28, 2010, with Rivera’s defense holding Manning to 14 points and picking him off four times.

It pushed the Chargers to 4-1 against Manning during Rivera’s time with the Chargers, including a pair of playoff wins over Manning and the Colts. While Manning beat Rivera and the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, Manning was good but not great in that game, completing 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

In 2012, Manning’s Broncos faced Rivera’s Panthers. Denver won (coincidentally, by the score of 36-14), but Peyton threw only one touchdown pass.

Rivera and Manning meet again in the postseason on Sunday. If Rivera can do against Manning what Rivera did when with the Chargers, the Panthers will be hoisting a Lombardi. Otherwise, the Sheriff will be walking off into the sunset with that trophy under his arm, matching the one from nine years ago.

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Report: C.J. Anderson to get starting nod at running back for Broncos

Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, right, is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Justin Coleman during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) AP

Running back C.J. Anderson hasn’t started for the Denver Broncos since Week 6 of the regular season, but he’ll get the call to start Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers, per Mike Klis of 9News.

While Ronnie Hillman was the more productive back during the regular season, Anderson has been the rock in the playoffs. Anderson has carried 31 times for 144 yards and a touchdown in the postseason. Meanwhile, Hillman has just 54 yards on 27 carries in the playoffs.

Anderson, who grew up in nearby Richmond, had 720 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season for Denver.

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Mike Shula deserves plenty of credit for Cam Newton’s growth

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Whether he did or didn’t want to interview for head-coaching jobs this year, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula deserved to be considered, for one significant reason: His work with Cam Newton.

At a time when more and more college quarterbacks struggle to adjust to the pro game, Shula has helped Newton get there. It started in 2013, during Shula’s first year as the team’s offensive coordinator. After the offense struggled, Shula had an idea — as coach Ron Rivera explained it on PFT Live in December 2013.

“One of the things that Mike and the offensive staff did was they went back and looked at — we have a library of all of Cam’s plays from college — they looked at what Cam did extremely well and said, ‘You know what, let’s adapt a couple of these ideas and incorporate them into what we do,'” Rivera said.  “[Shula] took three or four things that [Newton] did really well and we’ve incorporated that and put that into what we do as an offense.  Mike has made it work and that has really helped us.”

Not coincidentally, the Panthers have won every NFC South title since then, with their run now at three and counting. By the end of Sunday, the Panthers could have their first Super Bowl title. And Shula’s fingerprints will be all over the trophy, literally and figuratively.

It’s Carolina’s gain, and the rest of the league’s loss, that someone else hasn’t realized that Shula might be able to do the same thing for another young quarterback that he did for Newton.

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No surprises among Super Bowl 50 inactives

Carolina Panthers Derek Anderson (3) warms up before the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tim Donnelly) AP

There were no players listed as anything other than probable on the final injury report of Super Bowl week, which didn’t leave any question marks on the health front for either team on the way to Sunday’s game.

A look at the inactive lists for both the Broncos and Panthers reflects the lack of suspense once the coaches confirmed players like Thomas Davis, T.J. Ward, Jared Allen and Darian Stewart would be able to play.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian, cornerback Lorenzo Doss, cornerback Taurean Nixon, running back Juwan Thompson, offensive lineman Sam Brenner, defensive lineman Robert Myers and defensive lineman Darius Kilgo are the inactive players for the Broncos.

For the Panthers, wide receiver Bersin, cornerback Lou Young, safety Dean Marlowe, running back Brandon Wegher, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, wide receiver Kevin Norwood and defensive end Ryan Delaire will be limited to observer roles.

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Goodell interview adds nothing to Manning HGH discussion

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Last year, Commissioner Roger Goodell passed on an invitation to be interviewed by Bob Costas of NBC during the Super Bowl pregame show, a move that wasn’t surprising in the early days of #DeflateGate. This year, Goodell opted to sit for an interview with James Brown of CBS.

There was limited real estate for the interview, and a chunk of it was devoted to the pending allegation from Al Jazeera that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning used HGH in 2011.

Here’s the question that Brown asked: “The investigation linking Peyton Manning with HGH, and while the source has recanted we know that there are other agencies investigating this. Specifically, what’s the role of the NFL in the investigation?”

Here’s the answer from Goodell: “Well, we are conducting our own investigation. We started that immediately when we got the first reports on this. There are other players, other leagues involved. We will work together in a cooperative fashion to make sure that we get the facts. We’re not going to speculate on what they are at this point in time, but we’re going to take it very seriously as we do anything that impacts on either the safety of our players or the integrity of our game.”

It’s unclear how much more could have been gotten from Goodell, but with a question that came off as a perfunctory checking of boxes, it’s no surprise that the answer felt the sam way. Faced with the standard, basic, what’s-up-with-Peyton-and-HGH? question, Goodell provided the standard, basic hand-crafted-talking-point response.

Not surprisingly, the question carried a bit of the implicit derision that many major media outlets have added to the case, with Brown specifically pointing out that Al Jazeera’s source recanted. Phrasing it that way creates the impression that it was all one big lie, and that there’s nothing to anything that Charles Sly said while being secretly recorded.

But here’s the thing. The excellent item from the Washington Post regarding the mobilization of the Manning machinery to combat the allegations before the story broke includes a report that Sly recanted “without knowing exactly what he was recanting.” So, in order words, Sly said, “I lied when I said all those things to that guy. I don’t know what specifically I said at this point but all of it was a lie. None of if was the truth. Although I’m not quite sure what I said.”

Why does it seem so hard for the media to process the difference between truly recanting and covering one’s ass? According to the Post, two men hired by Manning’s lawyers showed up at the house of Sly’s parents, wearing black overcoats and claiming to be law enforcement officers. Hired P.R. gun Ari Fleischer insists (predictably) that Manning’s lawyers in no way coerced or influenced Sly’s recanting, which happened one day after the men in black overcoats interrogated Sly.

No, they didn’t influence or coerce Sly. They simply showed up at his parents’ house and sufficiently alarmed them to spark a 911 call. Common sense permits the blanks to be filled in from there regarding the content of the ensuing conversations between Sly and his parents.

And when the men in black overcoats talked to Sly, they didn’t tell him to recant. Common sense permits the blanks to be filled in for there regarding what they possibly told him regarding what might happen if the story is published in its current form, based on the things that Sly recanted the next day. Sly could be sued. His career could be derailed if not destroyed based on the extreme lack of discretion that his comments revealed.

So they didn’t influence or coerce. They just stated facts and Sly influenced or coerced the recantation out of himself, with any further assistance.

As a practical matter, the HGH investigation doesn’t really matter at this point, because Manning likely will retire after Super Bowl 50. Assuming the league eventually gets the information it needs from the Guyer Institute (chances are it won’t), a finding of a violation becomes relevant to Manning only if he’s working for another team and the league decides at that point to discipline him for things that he did as a player.

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It’s warm and sunny in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50

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The weather isn’t going to be an issue for Super Bowl 50.

It’s warm and sunny at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and expected to stay that way for the rest of the afternoon as the Panthers and Broncos vie for the NFL title. The condition of the playing field has been issue at times since the 49ers moved into the stadium, but the league put down a new playing surface and field director Ed Mangan said this week that things should be fine.

“I think we’re in great shape,” Mangan said, via the Washington Post.

The PFT team is here and in (mostly) great shape as well. We’ll bring you everything from the game and all of the postgame reactions from both the winners and the losers. It’s been a blast sharing another season with all of you and we’re planning to go out with a bang on Super Bowl Sunday with the readers that have helped us grow over the years.

[Photo: Josh Alper]

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J.J. Watt has a message for his doubters

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In the wake of a debate (real or contrived) regarding whether and why Cam Newton is so polarizing, another guy who isn’t viewed as a lightning rod continues to periodically say things that should be drawing 50,000-degree bolts of electricity, but aren’t.

Texans defensive J.J. Watt, universally regarded as a good guy and who has never seen a camera for which he wouldn’t mug, has a history of utterances far more inflammatory than anything that ever has come from the mouth of Newton.

Newton, who draws the most real (or embellished) criticism from a habit of on-field exuberance, has never said anything negative about an opponent, apart from a joking, cartoonish reference to Ndamukong Suh as “Donkey Kong.” (It quickly became a thing — complete with a mind-boggling suggestion of racism — and Newton promptly apologized.)

Watt, in contrast, has wrangled with opponents multiple times, from picking a fight with Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger about photos he posted on social media to scoffing openly at offensive linemen trying to block him offering up a carefully-planned-but-poorly-executed post-game comedy routine comparing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to a Red Ryder BB gun. He has never apologized; instead, he replied to Mettenberger’s reaction by saying a lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of sheep.

Most recently, during a Saturday night awards show no one ever watches, Watt capped a short speech accepting his third career defensive player of the year award with a stunning lack of grace.

It started the right way, with Watt talking about the great players he emulated while growing up, playing football in the front yard, and expressing hope that there could be kids out there today emulating him. Then it took a turn.

“The funny thing to me is I was a two-star recruit coming out of a high school going into college, and now I have three defensive player of the year trophies,” Watt said. “So screw all you guys who doubted me.”

Let’s stop for a second and consider what the actual or perceived reaction would be if Newton or anyone else said something like that. So why doesn’t Watt provoke the same thing?

Some will suggest that race has something to do with it. I’d like to think it’s not quite that simple, but only because I’d like to think football fans care only about the colors their favorite team wears. (I know I’m being naïve.)

Watt, drafted ten picks after Newton in 2011, entered the NFL with a compelling story. After starting his college career at Central Michigan, Watt made an all-in bet on himself at Wisconsin, walking on and earning a scholarship and delivering pizzas to make ends meet. Despite his imposing size and the ominous brace he wears on his arm, Watt comes off to many as non-threatening. Possibly because he’s always smiling.

You know, like Cam does. But whether it’s because there were no stolen laptops or scathing scouting reports or suggestions that the smile was fake or any other possible factor (including race), Watt gets a pass when making comments for which Newton, if he said the same things, would get ripped through more letters to the editor and more finger-wagging gas bags and more petitions to ban him from cities like Seattle.

My goal isn’t to solve this one. But it would be irresponsible to not at least point out that there seems to be a weird, national blind spot when it comes to J.J. Watt.

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Eagles interested in bringing back Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Eagles want to undo much of what Chip Kelly did in his disastrous year running team personnel, and they may try to undo the biggest move Kelly made.

A year after trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, Philadelphia may let Bradford walk and bring Foles back. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Eagles are not expected to use the franchise tag to keep Bradford, and that they are interested in acquiring Foles.

That’s no surprise: Bradford hasn’t played well enough to justify the $20 million salary that would come with the franchise tag. And Foles played well enough at times in Philadelphia that the Eagles may think he could win for them again.

The Rams, however, control Foles for now, as he’s under contract for 2016. But Foles has a $6 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year, and after he was benched for Case Keenum last year, the Rams may decide to cut Foles and set him free in 2016.

If that happens, Foles may find himself back in Philadelphia, playing for new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach in Foles’ rookie year.

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Dungy lands in Canton, joins PFT Live Tuesday

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On Friday, Tony Dungy visited the set of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. On Saturday, he made it to the Hall of Fame.

Coincidence? Well, yeah. It was.

But he’ll be back on Tuesday, for the second show in the brand-new time slot that starts Monday. Three hours live, from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET. The final hour will be simulcast on NBCSN, and Coach Dungy will join the proceedings at 8:35 a.m. ET.

There will be plenty to talk to Tony about by then, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game. On Friday, he said plenty about Peyton Manning’s future, Super Bowl 50, and the then-looming Hall of Fame vote. I also asked him the one question I get asked the most often about him: Does he ever get upset?

I’ll be upset if you don’t see and hear everything he had to say on Friday.

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Peyton became “very emotional” in Saturday night team meeting

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I’d expected the endless hours of pre-Super Bowl programming to at some point consist of a report that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning told teammates on Saturday night that he intends to retire after the game. He apparently sent that message without using those words.

Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reports that Manning became “very emotional” during the Saturday night session with players and coaches.

“Peyton told a few jokes to lighten the mood, but then he got very emotional,” team president Joe Ellis told Paolantonio. “And so did DeMarcus [Ware]. The room was silent. It was a very emotional gathering.”

According to Paolantonio, an unnamed source said that Manning didn’t state that he’ll retire after Super Bowl 50. The source told Paolantonio that Peyton didn’t need to.

It feels like the planets are lining up for Peyton Manning to finish a task that seemed unthinkable only five weeks ago. If it happens, I won’t be one of the many saying, “We should have seen it coming.”

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Marshawn Lynch contemplates retirement, again

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Stop me if you’re heard this one before. (Actually, you have. But I’ll keep going anyway.)

Marshawn Lynch is telling people close to him that he intends to retire, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It’s the third straight offseason involving talk of Lynch retiring. Two years ago, Lynch reportedly had told teammates he may retire if the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII (they did). Last year, former teammate Michael Robinson said repeatedly that Lynch could walk away.

Last year, Robinson laughed and said it’s a “good hypothesis” that Lynch possibly was pondering retirement in order to squeeze more money out of the Seahawks. This year, the talk of retirement comes at a time when the Seahawks undoubtedly are planning to dump Lynch’s $9 million base salary, especially since heir-to-the-‘Mode Thomas Rawls will make only $525,000 in 2016.

Which means it makes more sense for Lynch to do nothing, unless and until the Seahawks cut him. If he retires, he’ll owe the team $2.5 million. At a minimum, he should negotiate a retirement scenario that entails giving the Seahawks the cap savings they’d receive by cutting him without forcing him to pay back bonus money. And if the Seahawks could persuade Lynch to agree to a term that would require him to pay back the $2.5 million if he ever plays for another team, Seattle would save a little face if Lynch decides to suit up for the Raiders or someone else in 2016.

If Lynch has any desire to explore playing for another team in 2016, he should resist retiring and wait for the Seahawks to cut him. Which they inevitably will do.

The real question is whether Lynch indeed would like to play for another team. The decision could hinge on how much money a new team would offer. Ravens running back Justin Forsett, a close friend of Lynch’s, was tight-lipped on the subject during a visit to PFT Live, repeatedly “pleading the Fifth” as to Marshawn’s plans.

Which means there’s a real chance Lynch, a first-round draft pick of the Bills in 2007, will suit up in 2016 with his third NFL team.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Former NFL player Barry Sanders arrives at the 5th annual NFL Honors at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in San Francisco. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for NFL/AP Images) AP

A look back at how the Bills landed Marcell Dareus in the 2011 draft.

Former Dolphins DE Jason Taylor hits the Hall of Fame ballot next year.

Patriots CB Malcolm Butler has won the respect of his peers.

Jets DL Leonard Williams got a vote for defensive rookie of the year.

Vonta Leach has gone from blocking for the Ravens to working in real estate.

Anthony Munoz reminisces about the Bengals’ Super Bowl XXIII loss to the 49ers.

Browns C Alex Mack will be a top free agent at the position if he opts out of his contract.

The Steelers have a pair of ties to this year’s Hall of Fame class.

Said Texans DE J.J. Watt of his third defensive player of the year award, “To be one of only two players to accomplish this is very special, especially after only five years. It’s pretty insane to have been in the league for five years and to earn this award after three of them.”

The Colts will be well represented at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Jaguars WR Allen Robinson enjoyed his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

The Titans see things in the Panthers that they’d like to emulate.

The Broncos hope that “defense wins championships” rings true on Sunday.

A look at the legacy of former Chiefs coach Hank Stram.

Raiders fans are celebrating Ken Stabler’s election to the Hall of Fame.

Candidates with Chargers ties fell short of getting into the Hall of Fame.

What are Cowboys TE Jason Witten’s thoughts on when he might retire?

Giants QB Eli Manning was a runner-up for NFL Man of the Year.

Doug Pederson’s road to becoming Eagles coach started a while ago.

A few things the Redskins need if they want to end their Super Bowl drought.

DE Mario Addison has found more success in Carolina than he had with the Bears.

Former Lions RB Barry Sanders thinks WR Calvin Johnson following in his early retirement footsteps would be “devastating.”

A sampling of reactions to former Packers QB Brett Favre making it to the Hall of Fame.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson won an award for running backs on Saturday.

WR Roddy White’s future with the Falcons remains a question mark.

The season of the dab continued for the Panthers on Saturday.

Former Saints K Morten Andersen remains optimistic that he’ll eventually enter the Hall of Fame.

When John Lynch started his career with Buccaneers, he wasn’t thinking about getting to Canton.

Cardinals assistant Tom Pratt has seen plenty of changes to the coaching profession over his long career.

It’s not breaking news, but the Rams need a quarterback.

Eddie DeBartolo got into the Hall of Fame in the city the 49ers played in when he owned them.

Seahawks CB Richard Sherman and LB Bobby Wagner had to settle for a different kind of game this Super Bowl week.

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Multiple big Broncos fines from AFC title game

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The 2014 AFC title game spawned #DeflateGate, which resulted in major fines and draft-pick forfeiture and a four-game suspension (pending legal appeals) of quarterback Tom Brady. The 2015 version sparked not nearly the same level of controversy.

Still, the league office will be collecting a nice chunk of change from the paychecks of a trio of Denver players.

Via multiple reports, linebacker Von Miller, safety T.J. Ward, and safety Shiloh Keo were each fined $23,152 for actions in the win over the Patriots.

Ward was fined for spearing, and Keo was fined for a hit on a defenseless receiver. Miller, who was fined $11,567 during the regular season for a Key and Peele-style pelvic thrust celebration, was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct, presumably arising from what he did after one of his 2.5 sacks of Brady.

While Miller’s fine had nothing to do with his play on the field, the fines imposed on Ward and Keo suggest that, with a championship on the line, some members of the Broncos defense will be willing to dance on the line — if not dive over it — in order to get the 50th edition of the NFL’s ultimate prize.

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Broncos may use familiar formula with Von Miller

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Win or lose, the Broncos have some tough decisions to make after Super Bowl 50 ends. Here’s the easiest: Applying the franchise tag to linebacker Von Miller.

There will be other candidates for it, in theory. But Miller, the second overall pick in 2011, makes the most sense, by far. Also, with a franchise tender of roughly $14 million for Miller and nearly $20 million for quarterback Brock Osweiler (who if all goes as planned on Sunday won’t even play), the Broncos get far more bang for the buck by tagging Miller.

Given the team’s history under G.M. John Elway (with left tackle Ryan Clady and receiver Demaryius Thomas), the formula will go like this: Tag Miller in February, and sign him to a long-term deal on July 15, the deadline for doing so.

Elway could choose to alter that strategy in 2016, given his frustration with the fact that players not under contract don’t participate in the offseason program. But that could require Miller’s agents to take in April what they’d take later. From Miller’s perspective, it would be easy to argue that, if the team wants him there for the offseason, they need to give him a little more than they’d give him on July 15.

If Elway and the Broncos choose to accelerate the signing of Miller into February, they could then tag Osweiler. But that would make his pay for 2016 the starting point on a long-term deal, putting him at or near the top of the market before he has truly proven he belongs there.

Keep this in mind: Coach Gary Kubiak inherited both Osweiler and Peyton Mannng. As Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports in Denver told PFT Live during the 2015 regular season, the Broncos were interested in signing Tyrod Taylor last year, which would suggest that they are at least considering other options at the position.

At outside linebacker, there is no other option. They need to do what they have to do to keep Miller for the long haul. And they surely will.

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