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PFT’s Week 16 picks

Titans AP

I entered the week eight games behind MDS.  I exited the week eight games behind MDS.

And now I have only 32 games left to make up an eight-game gap.

But it’s not time to surrender.  A sweep this week gets me halfway to a tie, since we disagree on four games.

We each went 9-7 in Week 15.  For the year, he’s 147-77.  I’m 139-85.

All picks appear below.  As they always do.

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: Going to Buffalo in December won’t be an easy road trip for Miami, as the Bills’ defense is playing well. But it’s hard to pick a team with nothing to play for against a team that just needs to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  Buffalo already beat the Dolphins in Miami.  With Thad Lewis at quarterback.  Lewis is back at quarterback, and the rematch occurs in Buffalo.  But the weather won’t be all that frightful, and the Dolphins have come a long way since losing to the Bills in October.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Bills 17.

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Saints looked lousy away from home last week, and I expect them to look lousy away from home again this week. That’s bad news in New Orleans, because losing this game likely means losing the division, which in turn means the Saints will spend the postseason on the road.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 23, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  New Orleans squandered a chance to nail down the division and secure a bye by losing badly to the Rams.  The Panthers now get them outside in Charlotte for the biggest game at Bank of America Stadium in a long time.  A win puts Carolina in the driver’s seat that the Saints squandered, and the Panthers have the defense to disrupt Drew Brees’ timing.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Saints 20.

Vikings at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Vikings are actually looking like a decent team with Matt Cassel at quarterback, while the Bengals turned in a lousy effort last week against the Steelers. But with the Bengals suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs, Marvin Lewis will have his team ready for a big game.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Vikings 21.

Florio’s take:  Relegated to spoiler, the Vikings have played that role well, tying the Packers, beating the Bears, and upending the Eagles.  But Cincinnati hasn’t lost at home this year, and they are one of the best teams in the league when properly focused.  They’ll be focused on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Vikings 13.

Broncos at Texans

MDS’s take: The Broncos are two wins away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans are two losses away from clinching the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Both teams will get halfway there on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  In 2012, Peyton Manning wanted to come to Houston.  But the Texans didn’t want him.  On Sunday, Houstonians will get to see what they’ve been missing.  A lot.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Texans 20.

Titans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: This game is utterly meaningless unless you care who comes in second place in the AFC South. I’ll take the Titans to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Titans 24, Jaguars 21.

Florio’s take:  The Titans aren’t in the losing business.  In Jacksonville, they’ll be in the not winning business.  If they’re really lucky, they’ll be in the tying business.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 30, Titans 27.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: In this likely preview of a wild card playoff game in two weeks, the surging Chiefs will prove that they’re a whole lot better than the slumping Colts.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 35, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:   They seem to be locked in as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, but the Chiefs still have some incentive to play hard.  If they win and the Broncos stumble only once, the No. 1 seed remains within reach for a team that won only two games in 2012.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 28, Colts 20.

Browns at Jets

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is any good on offense, but the Jets are decidedly better on defense and special teams, and I’ll pick them on the strength of that.

MDS’s pick: Jets 17, Browns 13.

Florio’s take:  The 2014 preseason has begun for both teams.  Flip a coin.  Throw a dart.  Light a match.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Jets 10.

Bears at Eagles

MDS’s take: The NFC North leaders visit the NFC East leaders in a game that figures to showcase the weaknesses of Chicago’s defense. I expect Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy to have a huge game as the Eagles roll to a big win.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Bears 17.

Florio’s take:  Even with linebacker Lance Briggs expected to be back for the Bears, Chicago doesn’t have the defense to slow down LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Philly offense.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 31, Bears 24.

Buccaneers at Rams

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have shown more fight late in the season than I expected, so this game may be interesting to watch even though it doesn’t mean anything to the playoff race. I like the Rams, who are a last place team in the NFC West but would be contenders in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Rams 27, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  The consistently inconsistent Rams stunned the Saints last week.  And so it would be fitting for the Rams to stumble against the Bucs, especially with a trip to Seattle looming.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Rams 21.

Cowboys at Redskins

MDS’s take: Dallas’s D is terrible, but Washington is terrible on offense, defense, and special teams. Advantage: Cowboys.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Redskins 20.

Florio’s take:   The Cowboys are coming apart, and the Redskins have nothing to lose.  Especially since they’ve already lost their first-round draft, which pick belongs to the Rams.  Kirk Cousins riddles the Dallas defense and London Fletcher lifts the Washington defense in his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 35, Cowboys 31.

Giants at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have choked away their NFC North lead, but they at least have a slight chance to get to the playoffs. The Giants, on the other hand, are playing like a team that just wants this bad season to be over with already.

MDS’s pick: Lions 34, Giants 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to blow another game they need to win.  But they play the Giants.  And the Giants aren’t good.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 30, Giants 20.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Give Arizona a lot of credit for staying in the NFC playoff race a lot later into the season than most people expected, but the Seahawks will crush the Cardinals’ hopes on Sunday and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 14.

Florio’s take:  The best team to not make the playoffs will give the Seahawks a great tuneup for their coming playoffs games.  While the Cardinals have done great things this year, no one will be beating Seattle in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 24, Cardinals 10.

Steelers at Packers

MDS’s take: With the Packers now having a clear path to the NFC North title, they’ll take care of business against an inconsistent Steelers team.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take:  The last time the Packers rallied for a playoff spot, they beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  While the Super Bowl is a long way away, a win over the Steelers could at least propel the Pack toward a fifth straight postseason berth.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Steelers 31.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Chargers still have an outside shot at a wild card, and if they somehow get into the playoffs I think they’d be a dangerous team. It probably won’t happen, but they will take care of business against a Raiders team that has nothing left to play for.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 38, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Even if the Chargers don’t make it to the playoffs (and they likely won’t), they’re laying the foundation for future competitiveness.  The Raiders aren’t.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Raiders 17.

Patriots at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Patriots have been the better team for most of this season, but the Ravens are playing their best football at the right time, while New England is struggling. I like the Ravens to win a tough, physical, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 14, Patriots 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens have won four in a row.  The Patriots have suffered one too many injuries to remain highly competitive.  Baltimore moves another big step closer to a sixth straight playoff appearance.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 22, Patriots 17.

Falcons at 49ers

MDS’s take: In the most lopsided game of the week, the 49ers will roll to an easy win, while the Falcons will wish this disaster of a season could end already.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 45, Falcons 7.

Florio’s take:  The last game at Candlestick Park comes against an opponent that is neither nimble nor quick.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 35, Falcons 21.

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PFT Live: Bob Glauber, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Eli Manning,  Tom Coughlin AP

The Jets and Giants both opened up their offseason workouts this week after a couple of months spent trying to build themselves into teams capable of making it back to the playoffs.

The Jets added wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick to a roster short on offensive playmakers while the Giants made major changes on offense and in the secondary after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Bob Glauber of Newsday will join Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss those changes and what the teams might do during the draft.

If you’ve got questions about either MetLife Stadium resident, we’d love to hear them as we again throw the door open to questions from PFT Planet. Send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to ask about those teams or any of the 30 others.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Bills hosting Sammy Watkins for visit, would need to deal

Sammy Watkins AP

The Lions might not be the only team thinking about making a move up for one of the top offensive players in the upcoming NFL Draft.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is visiting the Bills today.

The Bills pick ninth, which won’t be high enough to take the playmaking receiver. Like his recent trip to see the Lions, the visit will create some intrigue about the possibility of deals with teams in the top four or five spots.

Watkins said he grew up a Bills fan, and would make a nice pair of deep threats in Buffalo with former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller.

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No extension appears imminent, but Roethlisberger always wants to be a Steeler

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

At different points this offseason, Steelers owner Art Rooney II and General Manager Kevin Colbert have both said that the team wants quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to spend his entire career in Pittsburgh.

That suggested he’d be a candidate for a contract extension as he has two years left on his deal and cap numbers north of $18 million in each of the next two years that could come down for a team than annually has to make adjustments to fit under the cap. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, would secure his football future beyond 2015 while likely bumping his base salary over the $12.1 million he’s set to make during the 2014 season.

The Steelers moved in other directions to do their cap maintenance, however, and Roethlisberger’s $18.895 million cap figure looks like it will be remaining in place for this season. Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner said that discussions are ongoing with the team about a new contract, but said he wouldn’t offer any predictions about when it might be completed. The expectation is that it will be completed, though, because his client doesn’t want to play anywhere else.

“It’s always been critical to him,” Tollner said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “From Day 1 he’s always admired players that could play with one organization and retire with that organization. That’s an underlying goal that always drives him, that he would always be a Steeler.”

Tollner said there was “mutual respect” on both sides regarding the talks about an extension and there’s every reason to think one will eventually get done as long as that remains in place.

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Daryl Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday

Washington Getty Images

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington wasn’t available to start the 2013 regular season, due to a suspension imposed under the substance-abuse policy.  He could be unavailable for the start of the 2014 regular season, for different reasons.

Per the Associated Press, Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday after pleading guilty to aggravated assault.

Police contend that Washington choked the mother of Washington’s daughter, and that Washington caused the woman to fall and break a collarbone.

He faces probation to up to 18 months behind bars.  The lawyers have agreed to recommend probation.

The recommendation won’t be binding on the presiding judge, and it definitely won’t be binding on Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Once the matter has concluded, Washington will be subject to discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy.

Four years ago, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended after two allegations of sexual assault; he was never arrested or charged with any crime.  So what happens to a guy who was arrested for aggravated assault of a female, who pleaded guilty to an assault charge, and received some type of criminal penalty for it?

It probably won’t be a fine.  And it shouldn’t be a fine.  Tonight, the Cardinal will know how their schedule unfolds.  Eventually, they’ll know how many of those games they’ll have to play without Washington.

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PFT takes a look at the Raiders’ biggest draft needs

Justin Tuck AP

In studying the Raiders’ personnel entering the 2014 draft, something became quite clear: the club’s off-season additions have done well to bolster some areas of the roster.

On paper, the Raiders have a decent starting lineup, one that could very well allow Oakland to improve upon its 4-12 record from a season ago. After all, the Raiders did suffer three four-point losses in 2013; with a stronger roster, perhaps they close out a couple more games in 2014.

The performance of the Raiders’ veteran additions will likely define Oakland’s 2014 season. For instance, if quarterback Matt Schaub returns to top form, the club will be materially better than a season ago. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley have each been standouts on their best; so has running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Wide receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn have been good starters for other clubs. They can help Oakland.

Still, there’s no doubting the importance of the 2014 draft to the Raiders’ future. A strong class of rookies will help the Raiders skillfully retool their starting lineup on the fly — and those sort of changes will be coming soon. The Raiders’ free agent haul surely helps them in 2014, but which of the veterans will be left to contribute a few years down the road?

In short, the Raiders’ draft needs are a consideration of both their present and future roster, which explains why quarterback, even with Schaub likely to hold down the position for 2014, is atop the list.

Which brings us to the poll question: should the Raiders take a quarterback at No. 5? Cast your votes and share your comments below.

 

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E.J. Manuel says his knees feel fine, knows he has a lot of growing to do

EJ Manuel AP

It has been a year since the Bills drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft and they approach his second season without a clear idea of what the future holds for him.

Injuries to both knees affected Manuel from training camp through the end of the regular season, leading to six missed games and lost time that would have helped him develop as a quarterback. Manuel said Tuesday that he’s participating in workouts without any limitations this spring, which means he can devote all of his attention to improving into the quarterback the Bills want him to be.

“I definitely agree there’s a lot out there for myself as a quarterback to get better. I had some success. And I had some bad games as well. It’s obvious,” Manuel said, via the Associated Press. “I’m eager about it. I’m excited. I know there is a lot of area for me to grow. That’s why I took these last four months to allow that growth.”

The Bills have built a solid defense over the last few years, but it won’t be enough to carry them if the offense isn’t able to be more productive in 2014. Manuel will have a big hand in determining that outcome and the future trajectory of his career along with it.

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Aldon Smith reports for offseason duty

Smith Getty Images

With plenty of unknowns surrounding 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, one fact has become clear:  He will participate in the team’s offseason program until he’s told not to.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported that Smith was present for the launch of offseason workouts.

Unless Smith is suspended by the team or the league or incarcerated, Smith has every right to report for voluntary workouts, which pay $175 per day.  The structure and support could be useful to him at a time when his career, and his life, could go in one of two different directions.

Having Smith in the building also gives coaches (initially, strength and conditioning coaches only) and teammates an opportunity to get a close look at him, to see how he’s doing.  And to assess whether he’s possibly having ongoing struggles with alcohol, which placed him in rehab for more than a month last season.

His recent arrest at LAX resulted in an observation from police that it appeared Smith had been drinking earlier in the day.  If the 49ers decide Smith needs further intervention, he could be placed on the non-football illness list at some point.

Smith’s presence at offseason workouts comes at a time when the team is still deciding whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Smith’s rookie contract.  The deadline for exercising the option arrives on May 3.

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Eli Manning wants to reinvent himself this season

Eli Manning AP

Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions last season, the most in his career and the most any NFL player had thrown in any season in the last eight years. But Manning thinks things will change this year.

At the first day of the Giants’ offseason workouts, Manning said this season will provide himself and his teammates with an opportunity to show that last year’s 7-9 record doesn’t define who they are.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to come back and change what occurred last year, some of the difficulties, and bounce back and have a clean slate, prove yourself again and play at a high level,” Manning said.

Manning is recovering from ankle surgery and not able to work out with his teammates, so he’ll get a late start on reinventing himself. The Giants need him to get healthy, and to play a whole lot better than he did last year.

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John Mara: Not expecting playoff expansion vote this year

John Mara AP

While expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14 seems inevitable, it won’t be happening this year.

Though such a sudden change hasn’t been ruled out by commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants president John Mara, a member of the competition committee, said a change this year would be unlikely.

I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” Mara told Bob Glauber of Newsday. “I think it’s kind of late. We have a May [20th owners] meeting [in Atlanta], but I sense that we’ll wait a year before we do that. It hasn’t been voted on yet. . . .

“[The league] would notify us in advance, but I’m thinking it’s probably not going to happen for another year or so. My guess is that it’s going to pass at some point.”

Since the topic didn’t come up in recent meetings between the NFL and the NFLPA, it seems everyone’s content to let this one slide for a year, though a larger playoff field is coming.

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As schedule approaches, all eyes on September 4

Seahawks Getty Images

The 2014 schedule consists of 256 regular-season games.  The first one will be played on the Thursday after Labor Day in Seattle.

Later today, we’ll know which of the eight teams to visit CenturyLink Field this season will be there on the night they raise the championship banner.  The options are the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, Raiders, and Packers.

If it’s the 49ers, then the 49ers won’t be opening that swanky new stadium in Santa Clara until Week Two.  And the NFL would be giving up one of the truly marquee games of the season right out of the gates.

Typically, the defending champion doesn’t open the season against a division rival.  A Super Bowl rematch makes sense, but given the outcome of the Super Bowl maybe it doesn’t.  The Cowboys always draw a crowd on TV, but the Cowboys have taken a step backward this offseason.

That’s why I continue to think it’ll be a rematch of 2012′s Fail Mary game, with the Packers coming to town for a playoff game that has seemed inevitable the last two years, but that hasn’t happened.  It’ll happen this season — and it could happen on the first Thursday of the season.

Here’s where you say what you think, as we re-post the poll that first appeared while the confetti was still in the air at MetLife Stadium.

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MJD: No reason Darren McFadden and I can’t be one of the best duos in league

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

When Maurice Jones-Drew was making the free agent rounds this offseason, he found teams that wanted him to serve as a mentor for younger backs on their roster.

Jones-Drew told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that he was almost sold on that role by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin before changing his mind and signing with the Raiders in hopes of playing a larger on-field role. How big his role will be in Oakland will be somewhat dependent on Darren McFadden as the two players will likely be splitting carries. However that split works out, Jones-Drew thinks it has the potential to be a fruitful partnership.

“But first, we’re going to compete,” Jones-Drew said. “Let’s see if someone can win the job. I expect us both to be better coming out of training camp because of that competition. It’s going to be fun. There’s no reason we can’t be one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.”

He said that his foot feels “phenomenal” one year after surgery and that his goal for 2014 is to show that he’s still the explosive runner he was earlier in his career. If he realizes that goal and McFadden is healthy, it would be quite a 1-2 punch. Two big ifs, to be sure, but vital ones for the Raiders offense.

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First Lions minicamp has a “calm feeling” even without stars

Jim Caldwell AP

The Lions opened their first minicamp under new coach Jim Caldwell Tuesday, without their best player on either side of the ball on the field.

But while Ndamukong Suh was away while a contract gets sorted out and Calvin Johnson is still rehabbing from finger and knee surgeries, the Lions are far from panicked.

There’s a calm feeling around the building,” 14-year-veteran center Dominic Raiola said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You just get a sense that this guy’s been there, done that. And he has. I mean, look at his track record; but more so being around him, not just hearing about it. It’s fun to be around him and be back in here.”

Caldwell was brought in, in part because of his steadying influence. After the frenetic years of not-much-happening of the Jim Schwartz era, that’s probably welcome to many.

But several players noted the pace of actual work, even without the high-profile stars.

“The energy today was good, man,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “I’ve never been a part of fast-tempo day like this on a first day. Guys are receptive of it and did a good job.”

Caldwell getting the extra minicamp to implement systems and instilling his calmness will help, but keeping those stars happy and healthy will be more important to his success in Detroit.

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Call in the hogs: NFL schedule up against NBA playoff game

Jerry Jones AP

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might not be happy that the NFL is hogging all the attention tonight.

The NFL’s schedule release has become a thing, tonight at 8 p.m.

As noted by David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, in a delightful coincident, Cuban’s Mavericks play the San Antonio Spurs in a playoff game at 8 p.m.

Wonder which will create more buzz?

Of course, tonight’s unveiling of the order of a list we already know the contents of is pretty much Cuban’s point, that the porcine NFL is risking overexposure.

But Cowboys owner and Arkansas alumnus Jerry Jones replied good-naturedly that he thinks everything’s going to be fine with his business.

“I respect Mark,’’ Jones said. But with all due respect, I know more about pigs than Mark does.

“I was taught as a Razorback to be lean and mean, not a little fat pig.’’

Of course, it’s easy for Jones to bring home the bacon, when his schedule release will draw more attention than Cuban’s playoff game.

 

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Mike Wallace: New offense is “my style”

Mike Wallace AP

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace joined his Dolphins teammates for offseason workouts on Tuesday for his first official day of work in the offense put together by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

While coach Joe Philbin downplayed any major changes to the offense, Wallace sang a slightly different tune. After a 2013 season that saw him frustrated at times about the lack of big plays relative to what he pulled off in Pittsburgh, Wallace said he thought this offense fit his abilities well and sounded optimistic about what he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill could do in the system.

“My style: Big-play offense,” Wallace said, via the Miami Herald. “I see Ryan’s excited about it. He’s called me about eight, nine times. I just want to make some plays for my team. Go out and make some plays for my team and have a much better year than last year. We can’t have the kind of year we had last year. We need to be on the same page.”

Tannehill has talked about the offense’s focus on being more consistent on deep balls during the 2014 season, something that would work out well for Wallace and the offense overall. It might also help if Lazor moves Wallace around the field more than Mike Sherman did in 2013, when Wallace lined up outside on the right almost all the time.

If Lazor’s tweaks lead to bigger things for Wallace, it might bring an end to the talk of Wallace’s departure from Miami after two seasons.

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Doug Baldwin hasn’t signed RFA tender, but still working out with Seahawks

Doug Baldwin AP

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin was tendered at the second round level by the Seahawks this offseason, giving him the right to negotiate and sign an offer sheet with any other team in the league as long as he doesn’t sign the tender.

Baldwin hasn’t signed it, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in leaving Seattle. Baldwin has signed a waiver allowing him to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with the team even though he isn’t yet under contract for the 2014 season. During an appearance on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Baldwin confirmed that staying in Seattle was the end result he wanted.

“I want to be a Seattle Seahawk and I want to be a Seattle Seahawk for a long time,” Baldwin said. “I love it here, I love the organization and I’m focused on doing what I can to improve and get ready for this upcoming season, whether that’s with a tender or whether that’s with something else that we work out. Hopefully is with a long-term deal, that’s what I’m hoping for, whether that’s this year or next year.”

Baldwin indicated that there haven’t been talks about a long-term deal and the possibility of signing with another team disappears on May 2, so playing out the year on the $2.187 million tender seems like a likely option.

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