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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 4: Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Washington Redskins during their NFL NFC wildcard playoff game Reuters

The Seattle Seahawks were the most dominant team in the NFL over the final month of last season. They scored 50 points in consecutive weeks against Arizona and Buffalo and threw in a 42-13 beating of the division rival San Francisco 49ers for good measure. They fell 31 seconds shy of a trip to the NFC Championship game and look to take another step forward toward a second Super Bowl this fall.

Their secondary is as good as any team in football and Russell Wilson has given the Seahawks a quarterback they believe can take them to a championship. The Seahawks added some key veterans on defense to patch some minor holes and brought in Percy Harvin in a trade from Minnesota to add another dimension to an offense that hit its stride late last season.

Expectations are high in Seattle. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t been in very often. Can they deliver?

Strengths.

Seattle’s secondary was arguably the best in the NFL last year. Cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas were both named first-team All-Pro. Cornerback Brandon Browner and strong safety Kam Chancellor were both Pro Bowl selections as well in 2011 and continued to play at a high level last season. With the addition of Antoine Winfield to play the nickel role and Walter Thurmond finally healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, they could be even better this year.

Last year, the Seahawks entered training camp with three quarterbacks vying to be the team’s starter. Russell Wilson was the long-shot, third-round rookie that was “competing” for the job but realistically didn’t appear to have a shot to start over free agent addition Matt Flynn. But Wilson proved he was the best option in training camp and won the job. He never looked back. After some early growing pains, Wilson became incredibly efficient as the Seahawks starter. He completed 67-percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the final eight games of the regular season. He also had four rushing scores over that span. Coincidentally (or maybe not) there is no quarterback competition this year in Seattle.

The Seahawks’ receiving corps gelled together well by the end of last season with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin all contributing to Seattle’s offensive explosion over the last half of the year. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin provided a strong one-two punch for the Seahawks backfield as well. With the acquisition of Harvin from Minnesota and the selection of running back Christine Michael in the second round of the draft, both positions should be even more dangerous this season.

Weaknesses.

Behind starter Zach Miller – who will be the highest paid tight end in the league this season – the Seahawks have mostly unproven talent at the tight end position. Anthony McCoy tore his Achilles during OTAs and will miss the upcoming season. Seattle will need either fifth-round draft pick Luke Willson or 2012 undrafted free agent Sean McGrath to become a trustworthy second option.

It seems odd to say a team that rushed for nearly 2,600 yards as a team last season (third in the NFL) has concerns along the offensive line but it is an area of concern for the Seahawks. Both guard positions are unsettled. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was among the most penalized players in the league last season and depth at tackle behind Giacomini and left tackle Russell Okung is somewhat suspect.

Changes.

The Seahawks made some sizable additions to their roster over the offseason. The trade for Percy Harvin brings a versatile weapon to add to an offense that really hit stride the second half of last season. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were added to try and bolster a pass rush that was inconsistent last season. Cornerback Antoine Winfield signed after nine years in Minnesota to assume the nickel cornerback role after Marcus Trufant was picked on last season.

Seattle has seen significant turnover at the defensive tackle position. Alan Branch signed with the Buffalo Bills after spending the last two years with the Seahawks and Jason Jones signed with the Detroit Lions. Seattle brought in Tony McDaniel from Miami and drafted Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams to add to their interior line depth. Linebacker Leroy Hill was also not extended an offer after being arrested again in January. Trufant also has moved on signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Camp battles.

Backup quarterback. No, seriously. The Seahawks signed Brady Quinn and re-signed Tarvaris Jackson after he was released by the Buffalo Bills. The Seahawks will likely only carry one additional quarterback on the roster so Quinn and Jackson will have to battle for the job. Signs seem to point toward Jackson winning the job. Jackson was signed after Seattle saw Quinn in offseason workouts. Combined with his season as a starter in Seattle in 2011 and his familiarity with the team, he’s likely the favorite to win the job.

Outside linebacker will be a focus for the Seahawks as well. Seattle is converting Bruce Irvin to outside linebacker in a move that could indicate the Seahawks will have more of a 3-4 feel than previously seen. Irvin and Mike Morgan have worked as the rush linebackers in offseason workouts but Irvin was serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Meanwhile, Malcolm Smith has taken the majority of the first team work in Seattle’s more traditional base defensive looks and would appear the be the starter at that spot. How the Seahawks mix and match the groupings of players under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be something to keep an eye on.

Seattle also has several options at guard. James Carpenter is expected to be ready to go after knee surgery and will battle with Paul McQuistan at left guard. On the right side, John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy will continue their battle for the starting job. If Carpenter settles back in on the left side, McQuistan could also move to the right side adding to the logjam there.

Prospects.

The Seattle Seahawks enter the 2013 season with perhaps more expectations placed upon them than any season in their 37-year franchise history. They were the most dominant team in the league over the final month of last season and won their first road playoff game since 1983. A tough division slate stands in their way and road trips to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta will be difficult tests as well as the Seahawks attempt to dethrone the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West. The Seahawks hope the additions of Harvin, Avril, Bennett and Winfield allow them to knock off the 49ers and take the next step toward getting back to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history.

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Jerry Jones is ordered to testify in Super Bowl ticket case

jerryjones AP

The plaintiffs in the Super Bowl XLV ticket case may not get the verdict that they want, but they’ve secured another victory on the path to whatever justice they’ll obtain.

In 2013, the plaintiffs secured the ability to question Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose deposition was played for the jury earlier this week.  Per multiple reports, the judge presiding over the case has now ruled that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be required to testify live and in person at the trial.

Jones resisted the effort to compel his testimony.

The NFL has acknowledged responsibility for the failure to have enough seats in place to correspond to the tickets sold.  At trial, the plaintiffs are trying to demonstrate that the NFL engaged in a sufficiently high level of misconduct to justify punitive damages and/or other compensation above and beyond the out-of-pocket losses suffered by fans who traveled to Dallas, showed up at the stadium, and found out they wouldn’t be watching the game.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Jones’ testimony could be entertaining given his history of extemporaneous speaking and the dangers of billionaires trying to dodge and parry with lawyers asking questions the billionaires don’t want to answer.

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49ers sign Jerome Simpson to two-year deal

Jerome Simpson AP

Jerome Simpson will attempt to jump-start his career in San Francisco.

Simpson, the former Bengals and Vikings wide receiver, has signed a two-year contract with the 49ers, the club said Thursday.

The 29-year-old Simpson has gained 13.8 yards per catch in his six-year NFL career. He was out of football in 2014 after Minnesota released him in September toward the end of a three-game suspension for a violation of the substance-abuse policy. He also served a three-game ban at the start of the 2012 season after a marijuana-related arrest and plea.

With Michael Crabtree set to be a free agent and Stevie Johnson’s future in San Francisco in question, the 49ers’ receiving corps could undergo some real changes this offseason. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Simpson’s size and athleticism can make him a field-stretching threat, and he certainly has the talent to make the roster, but he’ll probably need to do the little things well, too, in order to stick with San Francisco.

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Panthers sign Greg Olsen to three-year contract extension

Greg Olsen AP

The Panthers entered the offseason needing to add offensive weapons.

But their first move was to hang onto their most explosive one.

The Panthers announced that tight end Greg Olsen had signed a three-year extension to keep him in place through the 2018 season.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus told PFT the deal was worth $22.5 million with $12 million to sign.

It’s really a dream come true,” Olsen said. “Since we’ve come to Charlotte, we very quickly realized that this is home. This community quickly embraced our family, so we put down roots here. We love it here. This is home for us.

“Now to have this contract that guarantees that I’ll play the rest of my career in Charlotte is a tremendous blessing. We’re just so thankful for the team believing in me and wanting me to still be a part of this. As a team, we have a lot of special times ahead of us.”

Originally acquired in a trade with the Bears, Olsen’s coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance after an 84-catch, 1,008-yard season.

He was Cam Newton’s most dependable receiver last season, as they’re developing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

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Maurice Jones-Drew announces retirement

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

Maurice Jones-Drew is calling it a career.

Jones-Drew, a nine-year NFL veteran and a long-time Jaguars standout running back, announced his retirement Thursday on Twitter.

“Football has been a central part of my life for the past 24 years,” Jones-Drew wrote. “But, now I’m excited about and looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

One of the most unique backs of any era, the 5-foot-7, 210-pound Jones-Drew amassed 11,111 rushing-receiving yards and 91 touchdowns. A second-round pick of Jacksonville in 2006, Jones-Drew burst on the scene as a rookie, scoring 15 touchdowns, which endeared him to Jaguars fans and fantasy-football enthusiasts alike.

And Jones-Drew’s tenacity made a mark, too. Look no further than his clean, de-cleating block of the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman early in his career.

After eight seasons with Jacksonville, Jones-Drew joined the Raiders for the 2014 season, but he mustered just 96 yards on 43 carries.

Now, the 29-year-old Jones-Drew’s career is at a close, by his choice, and there will forever be a place for him in the game’s lore as a back who, for many years, played bigger than his program weight and height.

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Jets, Titans slated for visits with Cary Williams

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Cornerback Cary Williams isn’t lacking for interest in the wake of his release from the Eagles.

Williams is visiting with the Seahawks on Thursday and he’ll have two more visits lined up if he doesn’t strike a deal with the defending NFC champs. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Williams is scheduled to meet with the Jets next, assuming no other actual jet mishaps or winter weather force further closures of airports in the area, and then go to see the Titans on Monday.

Should Williams land with the Jets, he’ll surely get plenty of opportunities to share his feelings about the Patriots. Last summer, Williams made headlines by calling New England “cheaters” and returned an interception for a touchdown in a preseason outing.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Ravens have shown some interest in a reunion with one of their former players and that the Steelers may also move into the mix for Williams’s services.

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Bills tender WR Chris Hogan, two other exclusive-rights free agents

Chris Hogan AP

The Bills have tendered one-year contracts to three exclusive-rights free agents: wide receiver Chris Hogan, defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and wide receiver Justin Brown. The club announced the contract offers Thursday.

The 26-year-old Hogan emerged as a regular member of the club’s WR corps in 2014, catching 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Bryant, 26, notched 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 16 games as a defensive line reserve.

A sixth-round pick of the Steelers in 2013, Brown caught 12 passes for 94 yards this season for Pittsburgh. The Bills added the 23-year-old Brown on waivers in February.

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Land for Carson stadium will be purchased this month

Land Getty Images

Regardless of whether the Chargers and Raiders move to a new stadium to be built in Carson, California, the Chargers will own a large piece of land there.

According to Nathan Fenno and Tim Logan of the Los Angeles Times, the Chargers already have agreed to purchase from Starwood Capital Group the property on which the stadium would be built.

“There are no contingencies, there is no option,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told the Times.  “We have to buy it.  Starwood has to sell it.”

Meanwhile, an effort has been launched to secure 8,041 signatures, which would result in a ballot initiative landing in the lap of the Carson City Council.  If the members of the council approve the effort, the public would then vote on the plan.

The initiative would create a public authority that would own the team and lease it to the Chargers and Raiders.  Despite the public ownership of the venue, no tax money would be spent on the project.  Goldman Sachs and others have loaned $850 million to the effort, with the money being repaid from stadium revenues.

The Carson project currently is competing with a project in Inglewood for the privilege of building an NFL stadium.  AEG still hopes to build a stadium in downtown L.A.

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Bengals extend Rey Maualuga

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Veteran linebacker Rey Maualuga is staying in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have announced that Maualuga, who was slated to become a free agent next week, has signed a three-year contract to remain with the team.

Maualuga has had his share of injury issues but has always been a starter when healthy, since the Bengals chose him in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. Last year Maualuga played 12 games in the regular season, and the Bengals’ playoff game.

The 28-year-old Maualuga would have drawn some interest elsewhere, but he’s been a mainstay in Marvin Lewis’s defense and can now return to his spot in the starting lineup in Cincinnati.

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Falcons hold onto Charles Godfrey

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons picked up safety Charles Godfrey after he was released by the Panthers during the season and they saw enough they liked to bring Godfrey back for another year.

The team announced Thursday that they have re-signed Godfrey to a one-year deal that Albert Breer of NFL Media reports will pay him $1.5 million.

Godfrey appeared in five games after coming to the Falcons last season and played seven for the Panthers before getting released. He was seeing action in the slot in Carolina before his departure, a spot that didn’t seem to suit him a year after he missed 14 games because of a torn Achilles. Godfrey played seven years for the Panthers overall after they made him a third-round pick in 2008.

Dwight Lowery is a free agent after making 15 starts in Atlanta last year and his departure would leave Kemal Ishmael, Dez Southward and William Moore (assuming he’s over last year’s shoulder troubles) at safety along with Godfrey.

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Buccaneers re-sign Mike Jenkins

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

A pectoral injury limited cornerback Mike Jenkins to one game during the 2014 season, but he’ll get another chance to play in his home state.

The Buccaneers announced Thursday that they have re-signed Jenkins to a one-year contract after his first season in Tampa was wiped out because of his injury. Financial terms weren’t announced, but Jenkins signed with the Bucs for $1.5 million last year.

Jenkins was a first-round pick in Dallas in 2008 and spent five years in the Cowboys secondary, much of it as a starter. He then moved on for 15 starts with the Raiders in 2013 before coming home to play for the Bucs last year. He may not be guaranteed more than a shot at making the 53-man roster, but the Bucs don’t have much experienced depth to go with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.

The Bucs also announced that they have tendered contracts to exclusive rights free agents Bradley McDougald and Danny Lansanah. McDougald started the last five games of the season at safety while Lansanah made 11 starts at linebacker and both will at least compete for starting spots again this year.

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Carson Palmer says he’ll be ready for the start of training camp

carsonpalmer AP

The Cardinals were rolling last year until they ran out of quarterbacks.

But they had some good news Thursday, as the best one of the lot said he planned on being ready for the start of the 2015 season.

I’ll be ready for training camp,” Carson Palmer said, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website.

Palmer said his recovery from last November’s torn ACL was going well, and he’s running and cutting now. As with many players in his spot, he wants to push things a bit, saying “you want to jump into everything and you have to slow yourself down.”

Palmer said he hopes to get some reps during OTAs, though he knows coach Bruce Arians will likely hold him back.

But a simple physical recovery isn’t all he’s doing to help them. Palmer said he restructured his contract this offseason to create some salary cap room, which the Cards can use to stock more parts around him.

That will be a benefit, and Palmer said he was confident the Cardinals would do something next week to make the team better.

“We know we have a shot. And there are a lot of teams that don’t,” Palmer said. 

While some free agent additions would help, a healthy Palmer is the biggest step toward that goal.

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Dolphins remain expected frontrunners for Suh

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

There’s no reason to doubt Mike Silver’s report that the Raiders are “planning” to host defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for a visit next week.  (“That’s not the stench of raw sewage in the locker room . . . it’s just a bad batch of potpourri.”)  But there’s also no reason to believe the Dolphins aren’t the frontrunners for Suh’s services.

PFT continues to hear that the team with the best chance of landing Suh is the Dolphins.  And for good reason; owner Stephen Ross previously whiffed on coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Peyton Manning, and coach Jeff Fisher.  Ross wants to make a splash, as does new executive V.P. of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.

Ross won the rights to receiver Mike Wallace two years ago, but that hasn’t worked out very well.  Suh could end up working out even better.  Or maybe not.  Until we know whether Suh gives the Dolphins a realistic bump in their on-field fate, Suh will nevertheless create plenty of buzz and sell plenty of tickets and move plenty of merchandise in Miami.

When it comes to a contest between the Raiders and the Dolphins, Ross has ultimate ace in the hole — the absence of state income taxes in Florida.  In California, the rate for the really rich is 13.3 percent.

So if Suh signs a deal that pays him $15 million per year in California, the Golden State will withhold $1.995 million in taxes.  Per year.  In Florida, the Sunshine State will take the grand total of zero dollars and zero cents from Suh’s game checks.

Over the course of a seven-year deal (if Suh is there for all seven), the difference becomes $13.965 million.  In other words, he’d be working nearly one full year out of seven to pay for the privilege of living and working in Califoria.

The only way the Raiders can compete with the Dolphins and $15 million per year would be to enough to get Suh to the same net after federal and state taxes.  Which would be roughly $18 million per year.

The primary alternative for Suh will be staying put with the Lions.  In Michigan, the state income tax rate is only 4.25 percent, meaning that Suh would contribute $637,500 to the state budget every year on a deal worth $15 million annually.

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Age, contract, production, reputation make Marshall hard to move

Brandon Marshall AP

The Bears are trying to trade wide receiver Brandon Marshall. That won’t be easy.

Although Marshall is a five-time Pro Bowler, what he’s done in the past isn’t particularly relevant to what a team would be willing to give up for him now. What’s relevant is that Marshall’s production is declining with age, that he has an expensive contract, and that his reputation around the NFL is less than sterling.

Marshall will turn 31 this month, and last season he had his worst season since his rookie year. Marshall caught just 61 passes for 721 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in the 13th game of the season. That’s a sharp decline in production for a guy who had entered 2014 on a streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Like most players, Marshall has slowed down after his 30th birthday.

Another issue is Marshall’s contract, with a $7.5 million guarantee that comes due on March 12. Any team trading for Marshall would be inheriting that contract, unless Marshall is willing to restructure his deal. Marshall’s cap hit for 2015 is $9,575,000, which is the 16th biggest cap hit for a wide receiver in the NFL. If you’re going to pay a guy Top 16 money, that means you think he’s an above-average No. 1 receiver. Marshall has been an above-average No. 1 receiver in the past, but he’s not anymore.

There are also off-field questions that any team mulling a trade for Marshall would have to consider. Those issues go beyond the legal trouble Marshall faced multiple times early in his career: Marshall has spoken openly about his battle with mental illness, and he deserves credit for seeking treatment. But even if Marshall is now avoiding legal problems, there have been more recent reports that Marshall was a negative presence in the Bears’ locker room last season. Marshall has a reputation as a malcontent, and that’s not the kind of locker room presence teams want to acquire.

Add it all up, and it’s hard to see any team trading for Marshall. If the Bears don’t want him, they may have to cut him.

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Report: Raiders “planning” to host Ndamukong Suh next week

Maurice Jones-Drew, Ndamukong Suh AP

The Raiders are said to have designs on huddling with the top free agent in the Class of 2015.

According to Mike Silver of NFL Media, the Raiders are “planning” to meet with Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next week, the first of free agency.

Per NFL rules, teams cannot begin to negotiate and have contact with the agents of other clubs’ prospective free agents until 4 p.m. Eastern on Friday, so it’s unclear whether the Raiders are simply being hopeful about meeting with Suh.

Nevertheless, this is a signal that the Raiders, as expected, want to be players for Suh, PFT’s No. 1 free agent. Oakland certainly has the salary cap space to strike a deal. Per Spotrac.com. the Raiders are set to be $58.8 million under the cap in 2015.

Teams can start to host players on free agent visits starting Tuesday, when the new league year begins.

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Report: Patriots join teams showing interest in Brian Hartline

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Dolphins didn’t want to bring wide receiver Brian Hartline back for $5.9 million, but they are reportedly still interested in having Hartline return at a lower price tag.

They have plenty of company on that front. Hartline has already visited with the Browns and Bears and is slated to travel to Houston to meet with the Texans, but the list of teams doesn’t end there.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Patriots are also interested in the former Miami wideout. New England receivers Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are all under contract for 2015 and the team still has 2013 picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce on their roster.

Cabot adds that the Colts might also decide to get involved in the Hartline chase. Any further additions to the mix will obviously be contingent on whether Hartline strikes a deal with any of the teams he’s already had conversations with, but the fact that he hasn’t signed anywhere at this point is a pretty good sign that there’s still room to make him an offer he won’t refuse.

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