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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 2: Denver Broncos

Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Let the games begin.

You couldn’t blame the Broncos for being eager to start the 2013 season. They are heavy division favorites, strong conference contenders and legitimate Super Bowl challengers, and they have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Hey, it’s good to be the Broncos, even with the news of a potential four-game suspension for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller surfacing earlier this week.

The Broncos would be weakened without Miller, but they would still be dangerous. After all, they have Manning, still sharp at 37 years old.

But it won’t always be like this for the Broncos and their quarterback.

So forgive the Broncos if they feel a little urgency as they try to better last season’s disappointing one-and-done postseason experience.

Strengths.

Manning added to his already vast legacy with his remarkable comeback season of 2012. In his first year in Denver – with mostly new skill-position players around him, no less – Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. Moreover, he set a career-high in completion percentage (68.6).

Now, the focus to turns to what Manning and the offense are capable of in Year Two.

The addition of slot receiver Wes Welker further strengthens an already potent passing game. He caught more than two-thirds of the passes thrown his way in each of his six seasons in New England. Opposing secondaries also have the difficult task of matching up with wideout Demaryius Thomas, who hauled in 94 receptions for 1,434 yards and 10 scores in 2012. The Broncos’ other outside receiver, Eric Decker, is quite skilled, too. He comes off an 85-catch, 13-TD campaign.

Manning, a master at dealing with the pass rush and defensive-pressure looks over the years, operates behind a solid Denver line. Left tackle Ryan Clady is one of the game’s best at his position. New right guard Louis Vasquez (ex-San Diego) bolsters the interior.

Indeed, this is an outstanding offense.

And Denver’s defense pulls its weight, too.

Should the Broncos sputter in a key spot, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.  Such flexibility can take a team a long way. The Broncos excelled vs. the run and the pass in 2012 and allowed fewer yards per play than any other team.

Miller, who recorded 18.5 sacks last year, is the standout of this stout defense – already one of the game’s top pass rushers. If Miller is suspended, the Broncos will likely turn to ex-Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, still a capable rusher in his own right (team-high 9.5 sacks for San Diego in 2012). The April signing of Phillips could prove a very valuable investment for Denver whether Miller misses any time or not; the more pass rushers a club has, the better.

The same can be said for cornerbacks, and the Broncos have four capable ones in Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris and Tony Carter.

To review, the Broncos have a Hall of Fame quarterback, a top-caliber passing game, a blue-chip pass rusher and deep, skilled cornerback corps.

There are worse ways to enter a season.

Weaknesses.

The Broncos’ tailback position could prove a strength if rookie Montee Ball or second-year pro Ronnie Hillman emerges as a dependable and playmaking featured runner. However, until that happens, this is an area of concern. Denver was just 25th in yards per rush last season.

Center, where Dan Koppen again gets the call with J.D. Walton out with a persistent ankle injury, is another position to monitor. So is linebacker, where the overall depth has been thinned after the release of veteran middle linebacker Joe Mays.

The Broncos’ defensive end play also needs to be watched. While left end Derek Wolfe showed promise as a rookie, notching a half-dozen sacks, new right end Robert Ayers has never had more than three sacks in an NFL season.

All things considered, though, the Broncos have considerably less to worry about than any other club in the AFC West.

Changes.

In 2012, the Broncos got 16 games apiece and 29.5 combined sacks from Miller and Dumervil. Now, Miller could miss a quarter of the Broncos’ regular-season games, and Dumervil is in Baltimore after “Faxgate.” Make no mistake: the Broncos’ pass rush is still to be respected, especially when Miller is in the lineup. But if Miller misses any games and the rush suffers, it could have a trickle-down effect on the defense, with the pass defense suffering most.

And if the Broncos don’t muster the pass rush they did in 2012, when Dumervil and Miller combined for more than half of the club’s sacks, the inability to keep Dumervil will look all the worse.

The Dumervil episode aside, however, the Broncos had a very good offseason from a roster-building standpoint. Adding Welker was a coup, and Rodgers-Cromartie has the ability to prove a home-run signing, too, especially on a one-year deal. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (ex-Jacksonville) was a nice under-the-radar pickup.

In addition to bringing in Phillips, Denver did well to bring in ex-Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer late in the offseason. Jammer will be tried at safety, a position where the Broncos perhaps needed another option.

Other than Dumervil and Mays, notable Denver departures included tailback Willis McGahee, linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Tracy Porter. McGahee’s release signaled the Broncos would be going young at running back.

Finally, the club begins training camp short-handed in the front office – not an ideal situation, given all the roster movement late in the summer — after the suspensions of director of player personnel Matt Russell and director of pro personnel Tom Heckert due to offseason DUI arrests. Heckert’s suspension is a month, while Russell’s suspension is indefinite.

Position battles.

Hillman and Ball would each figure to have roles in the Broncos’ backfield, with fifth-year pro Knowshon Moreno also in the mix. A second-round pick in April, Ball’s draft status would suggest the Broncos believe he can play right off the bat. That said, Hillman has a year in the offense to his credit, which cannot hurt his cause. No matter who wins the job, the Broncos need some stability to develop at this position for the stretch run, when passing can become trickier in the elements.

Other positions where there could be competition are defensive tackle, where Knighton, first-round pick Sylvester Williams and veteran Kevin Vickerson are the top options; and safety, where Mike Adams (strong) and Rahim Moore (free) are the incumbents.

Prospects.

The Broncos face five 2012 playoff teams (Baltimore, Indianapolis, Washington, New England, Houston) in a schedule not without its potential challenges. For instance, five of Denver’s final eight games are on the road. Moreover, any stretch without Miller would add to the degree of difficulty.

However, let’s be clear: This is one of the NFL’s most talented teams. They should win the West and host at least one playoff game.

The goals are bigger for Denver, of course, and they are within reach.  If it were Denver’s year to win a third Super Bowl title, it would hardly be a surprise.

It would also be the sort of thing celebrated by anyone who’s ever faced a tough deadline with a lot at stake and gotten the job done. That’s what the Broncos are staring at entering 2013. They have the pieces to win, but they aren’t all going to be assembled this way for all that long.

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Former Jet charged with punching teenager

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Scott Mersereau #94 of the New York Jets rushes the quarterback against Doug Smith #56 of the Los Angeles Rams during a game at Anaheim Stadium on December 17, 1989 in Anaheim, California.  The Rams won 38-14  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) Getty Images

Scott Mersereau, a former Jets defensive lineman, faces charges of punching a 15-year-old boy. Mersereau reportedly believed the boy had egged Mersereau’s home.

Via the Palm Beach Post, Mersereau walked to the boy’s home to accuse him of throwing eggs. The boy denied doing it, the argument escalated,  and the boy allegedly cursed at Mersereau, who pushed the boy in the chest. When the boy told Mersereau to leave, Mersereau allegedly punched the boy in the back of the head with a closed fist.

Several people reportedly witnessed the attack, including the boy’s mother.

A police officer claimed that Mersereau was both belligerent and intoxicated. He faces a charge of child cruelty.

Mersereau, 51, was released on $3,000 bond over the weekend. He spent seven seasons with the Jets, 1987 through 1993. Mersereau was the teammate with whom Dennis Byrd collided in 1992 in an incident that left Byrd paralyzed.

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Report: James Conner gets “clean scan”

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 26:  James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers rushes against Rodney Williams #6 of the Syracuse Orange in the fourth quarter during the game at Heinz Field on November 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner got “a clean scan” Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 but returned to play last season. The news of his clean medical report comes a week before he heads to Indianapolis to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine with a talented class of running back prospects.

Conner scored 56 touchdowns in his time at Pitt, an ACC record, and ranks second in school history in total rushing yards behind only Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.

He was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had a knee injury in 2015 that led to his Hodgkin’s diagnosis, but he was cleared last year.

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Vince Young wants to own the rights to “Make Vince Great Again”

AUSTIN, TX - AUGUST 30:  Quarterback Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans, holds up his Texas Longhorns jersey as his number is retired before a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on August 30, 2007 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The guy who applied the term “Dream Team” to the Eagles six years ago has a new catch phrase.

Via NFL.com, quarterback Vince Young has applied for the federal trademark rights to “Make Vince Great Again.”

On the other side of the coin from the point in the political sphere that the thing that hopefully will be made great again never stopped being great, Young arguably never really was a great pro quarterback.

He recently launched a comeback, hiring agent Leigh Steinberg and talking to CFL teams. The CFL is, frankly, the place Young should have gone when the quarterback-needy NFL decided it didn’t want him five years ago. Now, at age 33, Young will have a hard time engineering a second act.

So unless there’s some other Vince out there who was once great and who has a chance to return to glory (McMahon, Vaughn, Neil, van Gogh), Vince Young may have a hard time making money from his new side business.

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Alterraun Verner says he’s already getting calls from other teams

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alterraun Verner #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers walks out to the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.   The Cardinals defeated the Buccaneers  40-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers released cornerback Alterraun Verner on Thursday afternoon, creating $6.5 million in cap space for themselves and giving Verner a head start on free agency to find a new team.

During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kerwin shortly after his departure from Tampa became official, Verner said he was disappointed that things didn’t work out with the Bucs but thanked them for the “professionalism” they showed by releasing him at this point in the calendar.

Verner also said he’s already hearing interest from clubs that could provide the next stop in his career.

“My agent’s been getting calls from multiple teams already,” Verner said. “It’s exciting to see what’s going to be happening next. It’s going to be exciting to see where I can go and hopefully contribute and put forth an effort to try to get to a Super Bowl.”

Verner’s play didn’t match the contract the Bucs signed him to in 2014, but there will likely be enough memories of his better days with the Titans to get him another shot heading into next season.

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Seven 2017 prospects chosen for Gruden’s QB Camp series

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

ESPN has announced the seven quarterbacks from this year’s draft class who will participate in the annual Jon Gruden QB Camp series that will begin airing two weeks before the draft.

DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Brad Kaaya will be this year’s participants. All seven will spend time in the film room and on the field with Gruden, a former NFL head coach turned television analyst, and he will address their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in segments that will ultimately air across various platfotms.

This is the eighth year for the QB Camp series, and in the past it has produced some pretty interesting and revealing moments.

As he does, Gruden praised the entire class in the press release for the show, but had especially high praise for Watson.

“There are some unknowns this year, but this class starts with Deshaun Watson,” Gruden said. “His body of work is as impressive as any quarterback we’ve had come through QB Camp. I got the chance to see him live and I think he has a ton of ability. There are some underclassmen coming out who have questions that need to be answered. That’s why this process is exciting. But three or four years from now, I expect people will be saying this is a pretty good quarterback class.”

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Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have a preferred team, officially

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 14:Patrick Mahomes #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates  touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 14, 2015 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 59-44. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) Getty Images

Hiding in plain sight among the NFL’s various P.R. gaffes is one the most brilliant masterstrokes in the history of shaping opinion: The idea that it’s somehow an honor to prevent a football player from selecting the pro football team for which he’ll play.

The draft process, which runs counter to the American notion of open markets and freedom of choice, prevents employees from selecting the company for which they will work. Instead, the employees are assigned to their employers based on a rotation that allows the employers to secure dibs on them.

The draft has become part of the league’s bedrock, even though it’s relevance to competitive balance in the age of free agency and the salary cap is minimal. And the employees who aspire to be drafted as high as possible are wired to take a step back and ask, “Shouldn’t I be picking the team instead of the team picking me?”

I posed that question to former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II on Thursday’s PFT Live. He provided the same response that, frankly, I would have given at the age of 21, while on the brink of hoping to be picked as early as possible.

“I guess you could say that but at the same time it’s really exciting,” Mahomes said. “You get to go into draft day, it’s gonna be a dream come true. I’m gonna get to sit there and watch the draft and hopefully get that phone call and get drafted. I mean you’re gonna be excited to go no matter where it is. They’re all great teams, all great cities and I just wanna get there now and hopefully get to the right team with the right coaching.”

At the tail end of the answer came a whisper of deviation from the standqard pre-draft talking point. He wants to get to the “right team with the right coaching.” But if that happens, it won’t be the product of Mahomes’ decision-making process; it will be a result of the right team with the right coaching deciding Mahomes is the right guy. What if the wrong team with the wrong coaching picks Mahomes? For at least four and maybe five years, there’s nothing he can do about it.

“There’s definitely no team that I’d prefer not to play for,” Mahomes added. “I really just want a team that has great coaching and that can really help me develop to be the best quarterback I can be and hopefully win a few championships.”

The truth could be at Mahomes simply isn’t able at this point to identify which teams will, and which teams won’t, help him fulfill that objective. And since neither he nor any other draft pick will have any say over where he will be, there’s no reason for Mahomes to try to figure out where he’d like to be drafted, and where he wouldn’t like to be drafted. The draft culture compels the players to compete for the false honor of being drafted as high as possible, with the hope that their NFL careers won’t be derailed by the wrong team and the wrong coaching at the wrong time.

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Potential enforcement of federal marijuana laws could reinforce NFL’s rule against it

SAFED, ISRAEL - MARCH 07: (ISRAEL OUT)  A  cannabis plant at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel. In conjunction with Israel's Health Ministry, Tikon Olam are currently distributing cannabis for medicinal purposes to over 1800 people in Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Getty Images

As more and more states have adopted laws permitting the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana, momentum has been building toward softening the NFL’s clear, unambiguous, blanket policy against the substance. That momentum may be slowing down.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew a distinction on Thursday between medical and recreational marijuana, suggesting that the pending federal prohibition regarding marijuana use could be used to push back against states that allow it recreationally.

There’s a big difference between [medicinal marijuana] and recreational marijuana,” Spicer said, via Forbes.com. “I think that when you see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law we need to abide by in terms of when it comes to recreational marijuana.”

That shouldn’t be a surprise, given the appointment of long-time marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions has said in the past, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that legalization of marijuana “is, in fact, a very real danger.” However, at his confirmation hearing, Sessions suggested that a showdown with the states that have legalized marijuana could result in an undue strain on the federal government’s overall resources.

President Trump has said that the marijuana issue should be handled “state-by-state,” and that “medical should happen.” However, it could be that the states now allowing recreational marijuana use (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts) and that those considering joining the jointing trend will be forced to reverse course, sooner than later.

That could throw a wrench into efforts by the NFL Players Association to make the current rules against marijuana “less punitive” regarding recreational marijuana use. At a minimum, it could make the NFL want an even bigger concession to change a policy that both sides agreed to, years ago.

Regardless of whether the federal government rolls back laws allowing the recreational rolling up of cigarettes that don’t contain tobacco, NFL players will continue to smoke marijuana. Under the current policy, players who are smart about when they smoke — and when they temporarily don’t — can smoke marijuana for most of the year without professional consequence. Players who want to smoke apparently will need to continue to be smart and discreet about it, or they eventually will face large fines and lengthy suspensions, culminating in banishment from the league.

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Jim Harbaugh suggests he should get a “medal” for lasting four years with 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers watches his team during their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh never has lasted longer than four years at any of his various coaching stops. For making it last that long in San Francisco, he believes he deserves special recognition.

In an appearance on Tim Kawakami’s podcast, via CSN Bay Area, Harbaugh pointed out that he “set a record for coaching there under the present ownership.”

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

The issue came up because new coach Kyle Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Steve Mariucci in Shanahan’s introductory press conference. Harbaugh said he doesn’t believe he spent enough time with the team to be compared to those other coaches. Harbaugh perhaps would have made it more than four years if he had been working with new G.M. John Lynch.

“I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here [at Michigan], Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common-sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.”

Harbaugh and former 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke didn’t see eye to eye, and that fractured relationship contributed in large part to the “mutual parting” with Harbaugh that came after the 2014 season. The 49ers have hired three coaches in only two full seasons since then.

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Rick Spielman: “Everything’s in flux” with Sam Bradford beyond 2017

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Sam Bradford #8 and Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the game against the Chicago Bears on January 1, 2017 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that the Vikings haven’t decided what they’ll do with running back Adrian Peterson and the same is true when it comes to quarterback Sam Bradford beyond the 2017 season.

Bradford is entering the final year of his contract and the uncertainty about Teddy Bridgewater’s health means that the Vikings will be picking up the $18 million cap hit. The Vikings traded first- and fourth-round picks for him following Bridgewater’s severe knee injury last summer, something Spielman said that he’d do “over in a second” given the position the Vikings were in.

He was less committal about what the team was thinking about for 2018. Spielman included Bradford among players whose contracts needed to be addressed, but gave no indication about the team’s plans.

“Everything’s in flux right now,” Spielman said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “So, I’ll just leave it at that.”

Spielman said “everybody’s hoping” Bridgewater can play again, but that the quarterback hasn’t done any football drills at this point in his recovery. His progress in the coming months will likely play a role in any decision about Bradford’s future, although it will be hard to give up the bird in the hand should the Vikings find their way back to a winning record in 2017.

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Jets release Nick Folk, Breno Giacomini

New York Jets kicker Nick Folk (2) kicks a field goal with punter Lac Edwards (4) holding during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

The Jets have announced that former starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and kicker Nick Folk have been released.

Folk made 27-of-31 field goal attempts last season and ranks as the second all-time leading scorer in franchise history with 729 points. He made 81 percent of his field goal tries for the Jets from 2010-16.

Folk, 32, was due to make $3 million in the one season remaining on his contract.

“It’s a sad day, but that’s the business side of things,” Folk told the Jets’ official website. “I had a great seven years here. I think the only thing that would’ve topped it off would’ve been a couple of Super Bowl wins.”

Giacomini started 37 games in three seasons with the Jets. He was a full-time starter in his first two years but was limited to five games last season by a back injury. He also had one year left on his contract and was due to make $4.5 million in 2017.

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A.J. Bouye: “No telling” what will happen with Texans

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  A.J. Bouye #21 of the Houston Texans intercepts a pass from Connor Cook #8 of the Oakland Raiders during the second half of their AFC Wild Card game at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re going to have a breakout season, you might as well have it when you’re about to be a free agent.

That’s a lesson that cornerback A.J. Bouye is learning this offseason. Bouye had his best NFL season for the Texans in 2016 and heads into free agency poised to cash in on that success via the franchise tag or the open market. Recent word out of Houston is that the Texans aren’t planning to tag Bouye — the salary is expected to be over $14 million with a tag this year — and Bouye says that’s fine with him.

“I talked to my agent, and I’m not mad that they probably won’t franchise me, just because of how much the franchise tag is for a corner,” Bouye said to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. “It’s a lot. At the same time, the situation in Houston, money-wise, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. At the end of the day, I know they want to bring me back, but they have other things they have to address, which I totally understand.”

Breer spoke to an AFC personnel exec who said he believes Bouye will be the “clear king of the class” in free agency once tags are given out and referenced the five-year, $62 million deal that Janoris Jenkins signed with the Giants last year. That’s heady territory for an undrafted player who got his first extended playing time last season, but it doesn’t sound unrealistic given the rising cap and the constant need for cornerbacks around the league.

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Buccaneers cutting cornerback Alterraun Verner

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alterraun Verner #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Buccaneers  40-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Once again, a guy who was once an early free agent big-ticket signing has found his way to the unemployment line.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Bucs are releasing cornerback Alterraun Verner.

It was 2014 when the Bucs made Verner a splash signing, but since then, they found a new flavor of the month. Last year’s first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III made him expendable, though Verner’s own play had contributed to that.

He was benched in his second year in Tampa, and was due $6.5 million this year, so it made sense from a football perspective. But it also serves as a reminder to keep some of the prizes of early March in perspective.

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DeMarco Murray will continue to be “the guy” in Titans backfield

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 27:  DeMarco Murray runs for a touchdown during the second quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on October 27, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans wanted to boost their rushing attack last offseason and addressed that desire by trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry in the second round.

Those moves and ones to shore up the offensive line paid off with a third-place finish in rushing yards as the team went 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011. Murray was the lead back with 293 carries while Henry ran the ball 110 times, something that coach Mike Mularkey suggested will continue to be the arrangement in 2017 when asked about the team’s plans at an event on Wednesday night.

“Derrick is an important part of our offense,’’ Mularkey said, via the team’s website. “Obviously DeMarco Murray is the guy. He has shown he is the guy and he will continue to be that guy. But I will say this:  Each week we put a different game plan together. We spend a lot of hours preparing to play the opponent. And Derrick, and as you saw, some games he was more involved than others. And a lot is based on how we are going to attack the opponent. We know (Derrick) is very special. He is going to have a long, great career here and he is going to be a big part of our offense next year, as he was this year. I like we have a one-two punch to smash it down peoples’ throats to be honest with you.”

The pecking order could change in the coming months, but the Titans are set at running back regardless of which guy is playing the lead role. A reprise of last year’s rushing attack matched with a healthy Marcus Mariota and further improvements to the rest of the roster over the offseason should lead to plenty of optimism in Nashville heading into next season.

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Vikings haven’t decided what to do with Adrian Peterson

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18: Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings hands the ball off to running back Adrian Peterson #28 during the first quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers on September 18, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will Adrian Peterson still be a Minnesota Viking when the team gets to work on the 2017 season? They don’t know yet.

That’s the word from Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, who told reporters today that the team still needs to make its decision.

Unless Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut, it’s hard to imagine that decision will be anything other than cutting Peterson. Peterson is 31 years old, coming off a knee injury and due $18 million in 2017. It would be crazy for the Vikings to pay a declining running back that kind of money.

Whether Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut remains to be seen, but Spielman did say he views Peterson as someone who will always be a Viking. That may be true, in the same sense that Emmitt Smith will always be a Cowboy. But Smith finished his career in Arizona, and Peterson may have to finish his career elsewhere as well.

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Okung’s folly: One year, $8 million, back on the market

Okung AP

Russell Okung didn’t want to pay an agent three percent of a long-term, big-money deal. Instead, he got to keep 100 percent of a one-year, $5 million contract in Denver.

Praised for opting to negotiate his own contract, Okung’s much-hyped five-year, $53 million deal ended up being a one-season prove-it deal. He didn’t do nearly enough to prove to the Broncos that they should guarantee another $19.5 million.

None of the $5 million was guaranteed. Okung, who previously played for the Seahawks, had to participate in 90 percent of the offseason program and be on the roster at the end of it to earn the first $1 million. Then, he had to be on the Week One roster to earn a $2 million roster bonus and a $2 million salary.

So, basically, before he even had a chance to “prove it” as to the $19.5 million, he had to prove that he should be given a chance to earn the first $5 million.

The good news is that he’ll once again be a free agent. The bad news is that many more tackles will be available this year. The worst news is that, if Okung decides to not hire an agent, teams will be allowed to negotiate with the agents representing all of the looming free-agent tackles who have agents during the two-day legal tampering period. During that same window, teams won’t be allowed to negotiate with Okung.

UPDATE 2:25 p.m. ET: By participating in 99 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Okung secured another $3 million in playing-time incentives. So the best tackle on the open market a year ago eventually earned $8 million without a penny of it guaranteed, and he’ll now be back on the market with a lot more competition than a year ago.

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