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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

kaepernick AP

The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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Raheem Morris learning on the fly as he coaches offense for first time

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24:  Head coach Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers watches on during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Raheem Morris had to take a step back to being an assistant after an ill-fated stint as the Buccaneers head coach.

Now with the Falcons, he’s had to step to the other side of the ball.

After a year working with the defensive backs (his area of expertise), Falcons coach Dan Quinn moved his assistant head coach to work with the wide receivers after veteran assistant Terry Robiskie left to become the Titans offensive coordinator

I can bring a different perspective,” Morris said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I can see the ball. I can see the game. I think it’s a great challenge for me.”

“It’s a chance to view more and grow more. I take it as a great challenge. Everything that I’ve done thus far has been a challenge, whether if it was going to the NFL back in 2002 as a young coach from a I-AA program [at Hofstra].”

But Morris said before he went along with the switch, he wanted to talk to both offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Richard Smith about how it would affect the staff, to make sure everyone was comfortable with it. From that point, it was just a matter of changing his own style, and teaching something he’s never taught or played before.

“It’s like being a math teacher and an English teacher,” he said. “You can go out there and get the curriculum and teach what you need to teach. Everybody has their own teaching style.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of what you coach. I think it’s how you coach, the energy you bring, your communication skills, your ability to learn, the ability to use your brain to bring stuff to the table and how you bring it to the table.”

The Falcons clearly needed some shaking up after last season, after an early start was squandered when the offense flatlined. But the bigger boost might come for Morris himself.

If nothing else, the shift makes him more marketable in the future, especially at a time when few minority candidates are pushing through for head coaching jobs.



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Cromartie: I’m not retiring

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Greg Salas #17 of the Buffalo Bills can't make the catch as Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets defends during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Not long after NFL Network reported Monday that a hip injury may keep free agent cornerback Antonio Cromartie from playing an 11th NFL season, Cromartie took to Twitter to say he’s healthy and working towards playing this season.

“Look, I’m not [retiring],” Cromartie tweeted, adding that he’s been busting his backside this offseason to be able to catch on somewhere and help a team in 2016.

“I have a lot of football left,” he wrote.

Cromartie, 32, started 15 games for the Jets last season and all 16 the previous season for the Cardinals. He has 33 interceptions in 158 career games.

Cromartie is one of PFT’s top remaining free agents with training camps opening leaguewide over the next several days.

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Anthony Davis says he’s sent reinstatement letter

TAMPA, FL -  DECEMBER 15:  Tackle Anthony Davis #76 of the San Francisco 49ers sets to block against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 15, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Tackle Anthony Davis sent plenty of hints this offseason that he wants to return to the NFL after sitting out last season, but all of those hints didn’t add up to much unless he formally asked to be reinstated from the reserve/retired list.

Davis sent word on Twitter on Monday that he’s taken that step by sending word of his intention to resume his career to the 49ers and the NFL.

The 49ers control Davis’ rights, although one of his previous forays into social media sent the strong suggestion that Davis would prefer to be playing for another team. There were reports that the 49ers were shopping his rights in a trade earlier this offseason, but Davis said General Manager Trent Baalke told him that those reports weren’t true.

If they do hold onto Davis, offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said “nothing is going to be handed” to the 2010 first-round pick who started all 71 games he played for the 49ers before walking away last year.

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Aldon Smith denies he smoked in front of camera

Aldon Smith AP

Suspended Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith took to Twitter Monday to deny that he was smoking in a strange cell phone video that made the Internet and social media rounds over the weekend.

Good try,” Smith wrote on his verified Twitter account Monday. “Not me.” posted a video of someone holding a hand-rolled substance in what the voice on the video called “a fire session.” Later, that same voice says something to the effect of, “it’s not like people know it’s Aldon Smith.”

Given his history, Smith is in a spot where he’s going to be believed by guilty by many until proven innocent. His tweet indicates he knows he’s on shaky ground with the NFL and he’s going to deny any wrongdoing.

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Eagles want to get Carson Wentz as many reps as possible right now

AMES, IA - AUGUST 30: Quarterbacks Carson Wentz #11 and quarterback Easton Stick #12 of the North Dakota State Bison celebrate with fans after defeating the Iowa State Cyclones 34-14 at Jack Trice Stadium on August 30, 2014 in Ames, Iowa. North Dakota State defeated Iowa State 34-14. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images) Getty Images

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said recently that having rookie quarterback Carson Wentz inactive for regular season games is “probably the direction we’re heading” with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel occupying the top two rungs on the depth chart.

The Eagles quarterbacks went through a workout at the team’s facility Monday and Pederson said that’s still the plan as the team heads toward the formal start of training camp. While the Eagles may have Wentz as their No. 3, Pederson said that the team wouldn’t show less urgency about getting him ready to play.

“Right now, we’re just going to get Carson as many reps as we can,” Pederson said, via “Get him caught up. Get him to where he needs to be. I’m very comfortable and excited with where Sam left OTAs and where he’s coming in now. Chase is a solid two. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens down the road. … You want [Wentz] to be in a position where if there’s an injury or somebody goes down, you plug him in and you don’t have any worries.”

Pederson said that Wentz needs to improve in “little things” like his drop, footwork and progressions in order to get ready to play in the NFL and suggested that he’ll get plenty of chances to do so while playing in the team’s first two preseason contests.

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Hip injury may keep Antonio Cromartie from playing again

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27:  Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets reacts in the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Antonio Cromartie is one of the best free agents available as training camps open, but his days in the NFL may be done.

Concerns about his hip may keep Cromartie from ever playing again, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

Last year Cromartie started 15 games for the Jets, but this offseason has been relatively quiet for him. Despite a few reports of teams showing interest, he has remained unsigned.

A 2006 first-round pick of the Chargers, Cromartie played four years in San Diego, then four years with the Jets and one year with the Cardinals before returning to the Jets last year.

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NFLPA: Peyton Manning isn’t in our union, he can do what he wants

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos addresses the media at Super Bowl Opening Night Fueled by Gatorade at SAP Center on February 1, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Why did Peyton Manning fully cooperate with the NFL’s investigation into allegations that he used performance-enhancing substances, when the other four players named in an Al Jazeera documentary are refusing to talk to the NFL? Because Manning is no longer in the players’ union.

The NFL Players Association released a statement this morning noting that Manning is no longer a member of the union and therefore isn’t part of the union’s effort to fight the NFL over this investigation.

“As a former player, Peyton Manning is free to do whatever he believes is in his best interest. The Union knows that he understands the rights of players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would never do anything to hurt or undermine active players in support of those rights,” the NFLPA’s statement said.

Left unsaid in that statement is whether the union would have preferred that Manning refuse to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation, in solidarity with the union that represented him until he retired this offseason.

The NFLPA is still fighting on behalf of Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, Steelers linebacker James Harrison and free agent defensive end Mike Neal, all of whom were named in the same Al Jazeera documentary as Manning, although the specific allegations against those four players were different than the allegations against Manning. The league and the union may be headed for another protracted battle over those four players, even as the league has already cleared Manning.

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Money is surely a factor in “early retirements”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1:  Phil Loadholt #71 of the Minnesota Vikings takes the field against Chicago Bears on December 1, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last year’s surprising decision by 49ers linebacker Chris Borland to retire after only one year (and to pay back a significant chunk of his signing bonus) sparked a new narrative for the NFL: The early retirement.

Since then, plenty of media members who would like to see football diminish or disappear along with some media member who presumably have a vested interest in its continued existence has crammed plenty of square-pegs into the round hole of “early retirement,” harping on the notion that the player chose health and safety over fame and fortune. Lost in this narrative (probably because it undermines the narrative) is the reality that, for plenty of players who are choosing to leave football before football leaves them, they’d still be playing if they were getting more money.

The latest example of this dynamic comes from Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt, who is opting for retirement over $2 million for another season in Minnesota. If he hadn’t been squeezed to drop his pay from $5.4 million, would Loadholt be walking away? My guess is that he wouldn’t be.

So, basically, Loadholt agreed to a pay cut and then decided that he wouldn’t be agreeing to a pay cut.

For other players who have opted for “early retirement,” would an enhanced financial offer have changed their minds? If someone were offering tackle Eugene Monroe $10 million per year, would he still be playing? Monroe didn’t retire until after the Ravens cut him, and then he had a chance to explore the market.

With former Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the answer is more clear. If the team hadn’t tried to reduce his salary for 2016, he would never have walked away.

Which brings me to the biggest name from the 2016 “early retirement” pool. Receiver Calvin Johnson. In a recent interview with ESPN, Johnson suggested that, if the Lions were contenders, he possibly would have kept playing.

He also possibly would have kept playing if the Lions weren’t intent on reducing his cap number of $24 million and his salary of $16 million, amounts that clearly overshoot what his value would have been to the team in 2016.

That’s not to say that every player who retires early definitely would choose to stay if the pot were a little sweeter. However, for many guys who opt to walk before they’re chased off, “early retirement” wouldn’t happen quite so early if more money were on the table.

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Dave Caldwell confirms no imminent plans to sign Greg Hardy

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 8: Greg Hardy #76 of the Dallas Cowboys goes against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first half at AT&T Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

After the Jaguars worked out defensive end Greg Hardy last week, the word was that the team wasn’t going to make an immediate move to add him to the roster.

General Manager Dave Caldwell confirmed that on Monday. Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Todd Wash met with Hardy and watched him work out in what Caldwell described as a chance to find out more about where Hardy is at the moment.

“It was an opportunity for us,” Caldwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “Here was a guy who was a franchise defensive end that was on the street and we tried to find out the facts of where he’s at, the truth behind him and everything that surrounds him and just do our homework. It’s not often you get to work out a player of that caliber. We have no imminent plans of signing him at this point. But it was good to get him in and find out about him.”

Caldwell said that the look at Hardy wasn’t done because the team is concerned about what young defensive ends Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue can do this year, although the increased desire to win now in Jacksonville may clash with a desire to see how things develop for two players with no regular season experience. If it does, Hardy’s name could come up again in Jacksonville.

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Report: Jets have given Ryan Fitzpatrick “multiple offers” to pick from

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 27:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets throws a pass in the third quarter against the New England Patriots during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 27, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick spent the weekend golfing and that will likely continue to be part of his athletic schedule as long as he and the Jets remain unable to agree on a contract for the 2016 season.

The chances that the status quo remains in place likely hinges on Fitzpatrick’s response to the latest communication from the team. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets have made “multiple offers” in hopes of Fitzpatrick liking one of them enough to return to the team.

There are no details outlining how these offers differ from the three-year, $24 million offer that would pay Fitzpatrick $12 million for the 2016 season and has been in play for a while. Whatever those details may be, the most significant one at the moment is that Fitzpatrick hasn’t liked any of the offers enough to actually go ahead and sign with the Jets, which leaves them set to open camp with Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg on the depth chart at quarterback.

The Jets haven’t gone public with any deadline to get Fitzpatrick back in the fold before they’ll move on for good, so more offers and options may still be put on the table. If those offers aren’t fundamentally different from what’s already come down the pike, though, there won’t be much reason to expect a different reaction from the quarterback.

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NFL exonerates Peyton Manning

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos addresses the media at Super Bowl Opening Night Fueled by Gatorade at SAP Center on February 1, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Al Jazeera linked multiple NFL players to PED use last December, the report resonated nationally for one of them. And that player has become the first one to be cleared.

“Following a comprehensive seven-month investigation into allegations made in a documentary by Al-Jazeera America, the NFL found no credible evidence that Peyton Manning was provided with or used HGH or other substances prohibited by the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, it was announced today,” the league said in a statement.

“The Mannings were fully cooperative with the investigation and provided both interviews and access to all records sought by the investigators. Initiated in January, the investigation was led by the NFL’s security and legal teams with support from expert consultants and other professionals. The investigation involved witness interviews, a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review. Separately, the NFL’s investigation continues into the documentary’s allegations made against other NFL players, which involve different lines of inquiry and witnesses.”

The league didn’t disclose exactly what happened during the “seven-month” investigation. Manning, who loudly denied HGH use in multiple interviews given after the story first emerged, undoubtedly denied it loudly during his interview with the NFL.

The only way for the NFL to know definitively whether Manning did or didn’t use HGH would be to receive full and complete records from the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis regarding treatment received by and medication provided to Manning and his wife, Ashley, during the relevant time period. The statement from the NFL doesn’t specifically identify those records, explaining only that the Mannings “provided access to all records sought by the investigators.” If, in theory, the investigators didn’t seek the right documents, the investigators wouldn’t have gotten the right information.

The report comes at a time when the NFL continues to insist that the other players implicated in the report — Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal — must submit to interviews even though the only publicly known evidence of HGH use comes from the Al Jazeera report. It will be hard for some (specifically Patriots fans) to reconcile the league’s ongoing investigation of these four players if the NFL already has concluded that the since-retracted claims of Charles Sly, a former Guyer Institute employee who was recorded without his knowledge, are not credible as to Manning.

If they’re not credible as to Manning, how can they be credible as to anyone else?

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Stephon Gilmore won’t hold out of camp

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7:  Cornerback Stephon Gilmore #24 of the Buffalo Bills intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore was asked in June about whether he planned to report for the start of the team’s training camp, he didn’t commit to arriving on time.

Gilmore is heading into the final year of his deal and didn’t take part in the voluntary portion of the team’ offseason work. Gilmore did show up for mandatory minicamp, avoiding a fine that he says he’ll also be avoiding when the Bills report to camp on Friday.

“I’m planning to go out to training camp,” Gilmore said to Josina Anderson of ESPN. “I know what I am. [A new contract will] happen eventually.”

The Bills have thus far resisted the chance to bump Gilmore’s salary into the top tier for cornerbacks and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported last week that the cornerback will likely play out this year at his $11.082 million salary. From there, the Bills could use the franchise tag in the event a longer extension remains out of reach.

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Greg Jennings announces his retirement

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Veteran receiver Greg Jennings has announced his retirement.

“Football is over. I’m done,” Jennings said in a video on YouTube. “At least within the lines of a football field, I’m done. I’m excited to be done. The past 20 years of my life has been football, but today that all changes. This smile is not going to be removed, it’s going to be enhanced. The same dedication, the same work ethic that I put into pursuing that sport, I’m pursuing everything else with the same mindset.”

The 32-year-old Jennings believes he’s still capable of contributing to some NFL team, but he thinks it’s time to try something else with his life.

“Physically I know I can still do it, I can still play, I’ve been training hard,” he said. “But I feel as though I would be going back to football, versus moving forward.”

Jennings played for the Packers from 2006 to 2012, for the Vikings in 2013 and 2014 and for the Dolphins in 2015. Last year he played in all 16 games but had career lows in catches (19), yards (208) and touchdowns (one).

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Report: Seahawks to meet with Michael Bennett’s agent this week

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Defensive end Michael Bennett has not been shy about expressing his desire for a new contract from the Seahawks, including his recent comment that “if you don’t think I’m valuable, then just get rid of me.”

The Seahawks haven’t come up with more money for Bennett to this point, but conversations on the topic are reportedly set for this week. Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that the Seahawks will meet with Bennett’s agent Doug Hendrickson “early this week.”

Bennett signed a four-year, $32 million contract with Seattle in 2014, so there are two years left on his current pact and that is usually not a moment when the Seahawks pony up more money. Coach Pete Carroll did say that “we’d like to reward everybody” when talking about Bennett this year, although Carroll followed up by saying they “can’t always do that.” The willingness to consider it could bear some fruit when the two sides have a conversation.

Bennett said earlier this offseason that “of course” he’ll be at training camp, but there’s certainly time for that to change if Bennett and Hendrickson don’t like what they hear from the team. It would cost Bennett $40,000 a day in fines to go that route, however, and that cost is a high one to pay without any guarantee of a new deal coming his way.

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Le’Veon Bell says he won’t be missing games

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on October 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is indeed facing a four-game suspension for missing a drug test. But Bell continues to insist that he hasn’t missed a drug test — and that he won’t be missing any games.

In a comment to an altered photo on Instagram of Bell wearing a gas mask with a bong, Bell said from his verified account that “I’m not gonna miss games, trust me.”

Many will scoff at the proclamation, given the lingering perception that Commissioner Roger Goodell retains final say over all player disciplinary issues. In 2014, however, the league agreed to use a panel of neutral arbitrators for all punishments arising under the substance-abuse and PED policies. So Bell will have a chance to have a truly independent party assess whether the league’s conclusions are warranted.

Of course, that will become harder if, as NFL Media reported over the weekend, Bell has missed several drug tests.

Stop me if you’re heard this one before (actually, don’t bother because I’m going to say it again anyway): The substance-abuse policy has a clear confidentiality provision that is supposed to keep people from knowing that a player is facing a suspension until the suspension has been finalized through the appeal process. With NFL Media confirming the initial ESPN report regarding the suspension and with NFL Media advancing the story by reporting that Bell missed multiple tests, the NFL — which owns and operates NFL Media — is violating its own policy. And no one seems to be bothered by that. Ever.

It should bother Bell, his agent, the league, the Steelers, and the NFL Players Association. Bell’s case should have been handled no differently than any other situation in which a guy faced a suspension. If he prevails on appeal, no one ever would have known that anything was amiss.

That has happened in plenty of cases over the years. If Bell ultimately wins the appeal, it’s what should have happened in his case.

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