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PFT’s Week Ten picks

Divisional Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Usually Florio writes the introductions to our weekly PFT picks segments. But with the thorough beating I’ve been giving him in our weekly picks, it’s time for me to take the reins.

Neither one of us had a great week picking games last week, but I went 3-for-3 on the games about which we disagreed. For Week Nine, I went a mediocre 8-5. Florio went a worse-than-mediocre 5-8. That makes me 89-44 on the season, and Florio 82-51.

The good news for Florio is that this week we disagree on a whopping six games, meaning he could close the gap all the way down to one game. Then again, the good news for me is that we disagree on a whopping six games, meaning I could widen the gap all the way up to 13 games, which would be a nearly insurmountable margin through ten weeks.

Read on to see where we agree, where we disagree, and whether Florio is ready to concede that I’m the superior NFL prognosticator.

Redskins at Vikings

MDS’s take: Thursday night’s game matches up two bad teams, but Washington is playing a little bit better recently and is motivated by the slight chance of getting back into the NFC East race. Minnesota is going nowhere but last place in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 24, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  The Vikings are teetering on giving up as Washington is inching toward making a run at a second straight division title.  At this rate, some Vikings fans may want to implode the Metrodome with the team inside it.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Vikings 20.

Seahawks at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Seahawks haven’t been playing particularly well recently, but they’re playing well enough to beat bad teams. That will continue in Atlanta, where the Falcons have totally collapsed.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 17, Falcons 10.

Florio’s take:  Seattle returns to the scene of its January playoff loss, and these two teams couldn’t be in more different situations.  But the Seahawks recently have been flirting with upsets, and beating the Seahawks in November likely will be the closest the Falcons get to another playoff win in 2013.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 20, Seahawks 17.

Bengals at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Bengals are going to struggle down the stretch because they’re missing their two best defensive players, tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall. Unfortunately, the Ravens can’t get out of their own way on offense, and with this loss we can pretty much write off the defending champs.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 20, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are a different team away from home, and the Ravens now have their backs firmly against the wall.  I’m still not ready to give up on a team that has made it to the playoffs five straight times.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 27, Bengals 20.

Lions at Bears

MDS’s take: With the NFC North currently in a three-way tie, this game is huge. I think the Lions, who beat the Bears handily in Detroit, will make it a season sweep and take a big step toward winning their first division title since Barry Sanders was a Lion.

MDS’s pick: Lions 27, Bears 24.

Florio’s take:  With Aaron Rodgers injured, the NFC North could be up for grabs.  While the Lions may be better than the Bears, the Bears have the home-field edge and the boost that comes from knocking off the Packers.  With or without Jay Cutler, the Bears get it done at home, where they’ve beaten the Lions seven of eight times.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 17, Lions 13.

Eagles at Packers

MDS’s take: If both of these teams had their starting quarterbacks, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Aaron Rodgers’s Packers over Michael Vick’s Eagles. But the Seneca Wallace vs. Nick Foles quarterback matchup makes it a lot tougher to call. This one could go either way, but I think the Eagles’ defense has enough holes in it for Packers running back Eddie Lacy to have a big day, and the Packers to overcome the loss of Rodgers.

MDS’s pick: Packers 21, Eagles 17.

Florio’s take:  Philly is 4-1 on the road, 0-4 at home.  More importantly, they head to Lambeau to face a team that has lost its franchise quarterback for a month.  The injuries finally have caught up with the Packers, who’ll suffer the rare indignity of losing twice at home in six days.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 30, Packers 23.

Rams at Colts

MDS’s take: The Colts don’t always look great, but they usually find a way to win. The Rams don’t always look terrible, but they usually find a way to lose. Form will hold in Indianapolis.

MDS’s pick: Colts 27, Rams 17.

Florio’s take:  The family that once owned the Rams now hosts them, and the Rams limp into town with a backup quarterback and a season of failed expectations.  The Colts are rolling, and it’ll take a better team than the Rams to knock them off.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 28, Rams 17.

Raiders at Giants

MDS’s take: Both of these teams stink, but the Giants have been playing competitively recently, while the Raiders are coming off an ugly blowout loss. Throw in the Giants’ home-field advantage, and this looks like a pretty clear third consecutive win for New York.

MDS’s pick: Giants 30, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  The Giants are climbing in to the NFC East hunt just as the Raiders are fading out of the chase for the No. 6 seed in the AFC.  While the Raiders have shown periodic flashes of a promise, the Giants have won two in a row, and they’re gradually getting healthier.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 28, Raiders 17.

Bills at Steelers

MDS’s take: With EJ Manuel back against a bad Steelers defense, I like the Bills to go on the road and pull the upset.

MDS’s pick: Bills 24, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  The struggling Steelers are playing for pride.  There’s a chance that may not be enough.  If they lose this one, it really could be time to clean house.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 17, Bills 13.

Jaguars at Titans

MDS’s take: The Titans are coming off a big win and are, at 4-4, in the AFC playoff hunt. That’s especially true because they still get to play the Jaguars twice. Tennessee will have no trouble with the worst team in the league coming to town.

MDS’s pick: Titans 34, Jaguars 7.

Florio’s take:  The Titans continue to make a play for a postseason appearance.  The Jaguars continue to compete for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Florio’s pick:  Titans 34, Jaguars 9.

Panthers at 49ers

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been playing good football, and if the playoffs started today (which they don’t) the 49ers and Panthers would be the two NFC wild card teams. This should be a tough, physical football game and should show off two of the NFL’s most talented young quarterbacks. I like the 49ers to win in an exciting game.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 30, Panthers 27.

Florio’s take:  The Panthers have beaten five teams with a combined 8-33 record.  Their next two foes are a combined 13-4.  And they’ll each have an extra week to prepare.  And the 49ers are one of the best teams in the league right now.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Panthers 13.

Texans at Cardinals

MDS’s take: I like the spark that Case Keenum has provided the Texans, but the Cardinals’ defense is a lot better than most people realize, and Keenum is in for a rough day in Arizona.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 17, Texans 13.

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals deserve more credit than they’ve gotten.  They can get plenty by delivering what would amount to a knockout punch to the Texans.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 23, Texans 20.

Broncos at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Chargers are one of the many AFC teams in the hunt for the final wild card spot, and if they could pull off the upset of the Broncos they’d firmly establish themselves as playoff contenders. But it won’t happen. The Chargers’ defense just isn’t good enough to keep the Broncos in check.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 42, Chargers 27.

Florio’s take:  Last year, the Broncos used a Monday night comeback for the ages in San Diego to launch an 11-game winning streak.  This year, the up-and-down Chargers have the talent to pull the upset — and they just might.  If they can hold the Broncos under 40 points.  But they can’t.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 41, Chargers 34.

Cowboys at Saints

MDS’s take: This could be an NFC playoff preview, as the Cowboys lead the East and the Saints lead the South. Unfortunately for Dallas, it’s also going to be a preview of the beatdown the Cowboys can expect to get in the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Cowboys 14.

Florio’s take:  Rob Ryan gets his revenge against the team that made him a scapegoat in January.  Especially since the Cowboys can’t/won run the ball and can’t/won try to take away what the opponent does best on offense.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 31, Cowboys 21.

Dolphins at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: It’s the battle of the team whose players get bullied in the locker room against the team whose players get infected in the locker room. Even aside from the off-field issues, this is an ugly Monday night game in a season that seems to have had an inordinate number of ugly prime time games. I see the Dolphins’ defense keeping the score down enough to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 17, Buccaneers 14.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins already have won a game since the Jonathan Martin situation began to unfold.  Like the 2007 Patriots post-Spygate, the situation could pull the team together in an us-against-the-world approach.  But there are still four days to go until the Dolphins and Bucs play, and the off-field distraction could intensify.  It’s fitting that a team like Tampa gets a crack at Miami when it’s dealing with as big a mess as any that Greg Schiano and company have faced this year.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 20, Dolphins 14.

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Victor Cruz says he’s at 80 percent in his recovery from knee injury

Victor Cruz Getty Images

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz recently began cutting and running routes in recent weeks on his road to recovery from a torn patellar tendon last season.

According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, Cruz estimates he’s at 80 percent now as he continues to progress toward full strength.

“I’m about 80 percent there. I think it’s just a matter of continuing to build the strength for the last leg of it,” Cruz said. “I’ve been running some routes for about two weeks now, and there’s been no pain, no swelling or anything like that, which are all good signs.”

Cruz injured his right knee against the Philadelphia Eagles last October. Cruz had 23 catches for 337 yards and a touchdown in six games before the injury ended his season.

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Lawyer says no restraining order was served on McDonald

raymcdonald AP

With the exception of Al Pacino in And Justice For All, no lawyer has ever publicly declared his client to be guilty as charged. So it’s no surprise that Steve Defillippis continues to claim that former 49ers and Bears defensive lineman Ray McDonald is a law-abiding citizen.

Via Josina Anderson of ESPN, Defillippis claims that McDonald never received the restraining order he alleged violated on Wednesday, which resulted in McDonald’s second arrest in three days.

“When Ray McDonald was released from jail he was not served with a restraining order,” Defillippis said. “They say there is a restraining order now, but they never served him with it.”

Based on the applicable California law and procedure, it’s possible Defillippis has a point. It’s also possible he’s hiding behind a technicality, claiming McDonald didn’t officially receive a piece of paper containing the language prohibiting him from returning to his ex-fiancée’s residence even if McDonald knew he was banned from going back there.

Regardless of whether a court of law buys the excuse, the NFL surely won’t. If McDonald’s career wasn’t already over after Monday’s arrest, it definitely is after Wednesday’s.

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Browns release center Nick McDonald

Cleveland Browns v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Browns have parted ways with an offensive lineman who started seven games at center a season ago, releasing Nick McDonald, per the NFL’s Wednesday personnel notice.

McDonald was released with an injury settlement, according to the league. He has a knee injury, the Browns said. The club also announced McDonald’s departure.

The 27-year-old McDonald stepped into the lineup when Alex Mack suffered a season-ending broken leg in October. However, the Browns drafted Florida State center Cameron Erving in Round One in April. Moreover, reserve veteran offensive lineman Ryan Seymour can also play center.

McDonald’s previous regular season experience came with the Patriots, for whom he played 16 games (three starts) from 2011 through 2012.

The release of McDonald leaves the Browns with one open roster spot.

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Ray McDonald is arrested yet again

McDonald Getty Images

If the Bears hadn’t already cut defensive lineman Ray McDonald, they’d be doing so tonight.

According to Katie Nelson of the San Jose Mercury News, McDonald was arrested Wednesday by Santa Clara, California police. McDonald allegedly violated a restraining order.

The restraining order, issued after McDonald’s Monday arrest, required him to stay away from the residence of his ex-fiancée.While his past incidents allow for a certain degree of gray area regarding the things that did and didn’t happen, it’ll be much harder for McDonald to claim innocence if he violated the fairly bright line of returning to premises from which he was ordered to stay away.

The 49ers cut McDonald after a pair of allegations against him last year. The Bears gave him another chance, but they promptly cut him after the Monday arrest for domestic violence and child endangerment.

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Adrian Peterson: I’m trying to secure my future with the Vikings

Adrian Peterson AP

On Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer gave a blunt answer to a question about running back Adrian Peterson’s outlook for the 2015 season.

“He’s got two choices. He can play for us or not play,” Zimmer said.

Peterson is not taking part in the team’s offseason workouts and a report earlier this week indicated the running back wanted to be traded away from the team. Peterson spoke to Josina Anderson of ESPN Wednesday evening and said that wasn’t the case, explaining that his absence is about a desire for security in Minnesota.

“The reason I’m not attending OTAs has nothing to do with wanting to be traded,” Peterson said. “It’s about securing my future with the Vikings. It’s business, not personal and I understand that firsthand. Go Vikings.”

It’s not the first time the subject of Peterson’s contract has come up this month. Peterson’s agent Ben Dogra called for the team to show Peterson “a commitment” to making him a Viking for his entire career.

Peterson is set to make $12.75 million this season and his contract runs through 2017, but none of the $32 million beyond this season is guaranteed so it would be easy for the Vikings to move on at that point. Guaranteeing some of the money would provide some of the security that Peterson says he’s seeking, although there’s been little sign from the Vikings about their willingness to go that route.

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Orlando Franklin: Philip Rivers is “more approachable” than Peyton Manning

Rivers Getty Images

A very strong will to win coupled with a wide range of facial expressions have earned Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers a certain reputation for being a bit of a jerk. He isn’t, and former Broncos tackle Orlando Franklin can attest to that.

Franklin, who joined the Chargers as a free agent after four with the Broncos, compared Rivers to Peyton Manning in a Wednesday interview with Paul Burmeister of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.

“[O]ne thing I noticed immediately when I got here is that Phillip Rivers is definitely more approachable than Peyton,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if it was because I was a lot younger being that I met Peyton in my second season and now meeting Phillip going into my fifth season but definitely I will say Phillip is more approachable than Peyton.”

It doesn’t make one guy a better leader than the other; they’re just different. Last year, receiver Emmanuel Sanders said Manning is a “far better leader” than Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.Franklin’s assessment lends credence to the idea that Manning, at this stage of his career, is more coach than player. And it therefore becomes a little harder for the players — especially younger ones — to connect right away with a guy who may at times seem to be more aligned with management than labor.

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Greg Hardy appeal hearing starts Thursday morning

Greg Hardy AP

While the football-following world waits for a date to be picked in the Tom Brady appeal hearing, the official review of another high-profile suspension will begin on Thursday.

Commencing roughly at 10:00 a.m. ET, arbitrator Harold Henderson will consider the appeal of Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy’s 10-game suspension for violating the Personal Conduct Policy. While the NFL Players Association has concerns about Henderson’s independence, an effort will be made to persuade Henderson to reduce the suspension dramatically. Some of the key points that likely will be raised appear below.

First, the NFLPA likely will argue that the league applied the new Personal Conduct Policy retroactively to Hardy, despite a claim that the 10-game suspension arises under the old policy. The old policy ordinarily would have triggered a two-game suspension for a first-offense involving domestic violence, and the NFL has admitted that investigative procedures adopted since the Ray Rice video emerged last September were applied to Hardy. The NFLPA will argue that rules and punishments adopted post-Rice were applied retroactively to Hardy, too.

Second, the NFLPA likely will argue that the league’s reference to the presence of guns at the time of the incident shows that the league applied the new policy to Hardy, since the guns were legally owned. Under the new Personal Conduct Policy, the presence of guns can be an aggravating factor in the discipline to be imposed. Under the old policy, the presence of legally-owned firearms wouldn’t have mattered.

Third, the NFLPA likely will attack the investigation that triggered the suspension, pointing out the absence of any recording of the interview of the lead detective in Hardy’s criminal case or of the key witness who allegedly admitted that she was under the influence of one or more substances when overhearing the interaction between Hardy and his alleged victim.

Fourth, the NFLPA likely will rely on a three-hour interview of the alleged victim conducted by detectives on the morning of the incident, which allegedly conflicted with her testimony at the bench trial that resulted in the much-publicized “conviction” of Hardy. The NFLPA will argue that the three-hour interview of the alleged victim from the morning of the incident wasn’t given to the judge who presided over the bench trial, and that Hardy’s lawyers first received it four days before the jury trial that was schedule to begin in February.

As it relates to the suspension of Greg Hardy, the NFLPA will argue that the investigation and discipline never mention or deal with the contradictions between the three-hour interview with detectives and the alleged victim’s testimony at the bench trial.

On one hand, the circumstances suggest Hardy did something he shouldn’t have done. On the other hand, Hardy and all players are entitled to fair and consistent procedures based on the rules that were in place at the time the relevant conduct occurred. Fairness and justice aren’t always popular, and in some cases the NFL may be hiding behind popular opinion to justify unfair outcomes.

Or, perhaps more accurately, the NFL is determined to never again be criticized for not going far enough when punishing a player — and that the NFL has no qualms about being criticized for going too far.

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Santana Moss talking to Dan Snyder about a future in Washington

Santana Moss AP

Longtime Washington receiver Santana Moss wants to keep playing. But he may have to settle for doing something else for the team.

Moss has said that he’d like to play one more year in Washington, but he also said on 106.7 The Fan that he has talked to team owner Dan Snyder about the possibility that he’ll find some other role on the team.

“I went up there and met with Dan a little before the draft, and we just talked basically about life, football, everything,” Moss said, via the Washington Post. “Dan has always been special to me from Day One when I became a Redskin, and he knows how much I love him and I appreciate him. So we sat down and talked for hours, and he just told me, ‘I know that you want to play so I’m not sure how things are gonna go, but if you’re not a ‘Skin, whenever you’re done, I want you back here to retire and everything. And when you’re done with that, if you want to do something with the team, give me a holler.’ And I appreciate that, because I feel like my life has been around football for so long that it’s hard to just walk away, even when it’s time for me to walk away.”

It probably is time for Moss to walk away: He’s about to turn 36 and managed just 10 catches last season. But Snyder values Moss’s contributions to the franchise, and will likely find some role for him going forward.

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Raiders sign LB Horace Miller

Horace Miller AP

The Raiders made four roster moves Wednesday, signing linebacker Horace Miller and wide receiver Milton Williams III and waiving cornerback Travell Dixon and wide receiver Austin Hill. The club announced the transactions this afternoon.

Miller (6-1, 210) was most recently with the Panthers, who waived him on April 1. He spent time on the Panthers’ active roster and practice squad in the 2014 regular season but didn’t appear in any games. A UTEP product, Miller signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent last May.

Williams (6-2, 218) is back with the Raiders after being waived by the club on May 12. The former Delaware State player signed with Oakland as an undrafted free agent on May 8. He caught 50 passes for 586 yards and five touchdowns in his final collegiate season in 2014.

Hill and Dixon are undrafted rookies. Both played at Pac-12 schools, with Hill an Arizona product and Dixon a former Washington player.

The Raiders have all 90 roster spots filled.

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No date yet for Tom Brady appeal hearing

Fans Attend "Free Tom Brady" Rally Getty Images

Under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL and the NFL Players Association must pick a date for the appeal of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension within 10 days after the filing of the appeal. The deadline is today. And it hasn’t happened yet, per a source with knowledge of the situation.

It could still happen today. If it doesn’t, the two sides can agree to postpone the deadline to selecting a date for the hearing.

The NFLPA hopes to get the hearing completed in June, with the goal of leaving enough time to challenge via legal action a decision by Commissioner Roger Goodell to uphold all or part of the suspension.

Look for a date to be selected fairly soon. Especially since the month of June begins fairly soon.

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Shane Ray sitting out, but Broncos think he’ll be ready soon

shaneray AP

Broncos first-round pick Shane Ray fell on some draft boards because of a toe injury that some teams thought would require surgery. And that injury is, in fact, keeping Ray sidelined at the start of Organized Team Activities.

That doesn’t mean the Broncos are worried. Head coach Gary Kubiak said today that he expects to see Ray doing pass-rush work soon.

He’s close,” Kubiak told the Denver Post. “I think next week you’ll see him do some individual (work) and those types of things. We fitted him with some orthotics. He’s feeling good. He’s done some work. He’s done a lot of treatment.”

Ray thinks he might take the field as soon as Thursday or Friday.

“But it’s a process and it’s not something we want to rush. We want to make sure that when I do come back, I can be me,” Ray said.

The Broncos will take it slow in May, in the hopes that Ray can be the player they drafted by September.

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Matt Forte: All I can do is play football

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Running back Matt Forte is back with the Bears after skipping the early phases of the team’s voluntary offseason work while working out on his own.

Those workouts, described as “rigorous speed training,” came as Forte enters the final year of his contract and that led to speculation that Forte’s absence was designed to get the Bears to extend his contract. Forte said he does want a new contract, but that he wasn’t staying away as leverage to get it and that he wouldn’t hold himself out of mandatory practices.

Forte stuck to that script Wednesday.

“All I can do is play football. I’ve come to the realization that any run or catch I have could be my last in a Bears uniform. If they don’t want to re-sign me, I’ll have to play football somewhere else,” Forte said, via CBS Chicago. “Nobody wants to play on a one-year deal, especially with the uncertainty of how football is. You just figure, a guy who’s been there since day one, has put in hard work and continues to produce, that guy should be rewarded. But it’s a business, and that doesn’t always happen.”

It rarely happens for running backs who have turned 30 and Forte will hit that milestone in December, which will likely make 2015 a season-long audition for Forte to show the Bears and the rest of the league his worth.

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Report: Michael Campanaro sustains quad injury

Michael Campanaro AP

One of the Ravens’ young wide receivers is reportedly on the mend.

Second-year pro Michael Campanaro sustained a quadriceps injury in Wednesday’s organized team practice activities, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports. The degree of the injury is not yet known, the Sun said.

The 24-year-old Campanaro caught seven passes for 102 yards and one touchdown in four games as a rookie in 2014 for Baltimore, which traded a 2015 sixth-round pick to Cleveland to take Campanaro in Round Seven. He’s likely to at least be one of the Ravens’ top five wide receivers in 2015.

The Ravens’ OTAs this week run through Thursday.

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Which NFL team is best poised to end its city’s championship drought?

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With the Cavaliers qualifying for the NBA Finals, the city of Cleveland could finally shed most of its Factory of Sadness sports vibe.

Which brings me to Wednesday’s PFT Planet poll question: Which NFL team is best positioned to end a drought of 20 years or more in its current city?

Pick an answer, and then tune in to Pro Football Talk on NBCSN at 5:30 p.m. ET to see the answer. And to hear more about the latest NFL news, with Paul Burmeister, Ross Tucker, Jason Taylor, and yours truly.

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Marcell Dareus on contract: We’ll wait and see what Bills do

Marcell Dareus AP

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said Wednesday that he is happy to be able to move forward after the announcement of his one-game suspension because he can prepare for the season without something that was “hanging over my head for a while.”

Dareus’s attention won’t be limited to on-field matters, however. He’s entering the final year of his contract and admitted that thoughts about his future in Buffalo or elsewhere are on his mind as a result.

“We’ll wait and see what the Bills do,” Dareus said, via the team’s website. “It weighs on me heavily. Heavily. I’ve got to go out there and really perform and do what I have to do, which I always do — really have fun with it. Whatever the outcome is, is the outcome. However they want to play it is how they play it. I’m excited. I’m excited for the upcoming year.”

Bills General Manager Doug Whaley has said that an extension for Dareus is the team’s top priority at this point in the offseason and he told the Associated Press that he planned to speak with senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf on Wednesday about talks with Dareus’ camp.

That should give Dareus a better idea of what the Bills will do, but he thinks the team already knows what it needs to know about him. He said his play “speaks for itself” and the message it’s sent in the last couple of years suggests that someone will be giving Dareus a lot of money at some point in the near future.

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