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Victor Cruz pushing Giants to re-sign Hakeem Nicks

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Getty Images

When the Giants offense has been at its best in recent years, it has featured Hakeem Nicks winning battles on the outside often enough to draw extra defensive attention that would then open things up for Victor Cruz to do damage out of the slot.

That didn’t play out all that often in 2013. Nicks was injured at times and ineffective at others, leaving defenses to pay more attention to Cruz while they were pressuring Eli Manning by overwhelming an overmatched offensive line. The highlight reel touchdown catches and salsa dancing were replaced by interceptions, dropped passes and a losing season.

The Giants have responded to that by making several changes on their offensive coaching staff, but Cruz hopes those changes don’t extend to the receiving corps. Cruz wants Nicks back in 2014 and he’s let the Giants know how he feels.

“I have,” Cruz said, via the Newark Star-Ledger. “Selfishly, I would love for him to stay.”

Alas, you can’t always get what you want. The Giants aren’t expected to try too hard to bring Nicks back once free agency opens and the chances are good that Cruz will be working with a different partner come next season.

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Andre Johnson not happy with idea of reduced role in Houston, still feels he’s a starter

Andre Johnson edit AP

One way or another, Andre Johnson’s time in Houston will soon come to an end.

The Texans granted the franchise’s all-time leading receiver the ability to seek a trade. If no deal can be struck, the Texans will release Johnson and allow him to move on.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Johnson said he was told he would be given a significantly reduced role in 2015 if he remained on the roster.

“I don’t know how you tell a guy who catches 85 balls that he’ll only probably catch 40,” Johnson said. “I feel like the role they were trying to put me in I’d be held back from maximizing my talents. I feel like that was the best thing for both sides.”

Johnson caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns last season for Houston. For his career, Johnson averaged 96 catches and 1,297 yards for every 16 games he played. Johnson feels like that production doesn’t warrant a reduced role.

“I don’t see why I wouldn’t be a starter in this league,” Johnson said. “It didn’t make sense to me. I’m pretty sure it won’t make sense to a lot of other people.”

That reduced role almost certainly would have come with a reduced paycheck as well. Johnson is scheduled to make $10.5 million next season on his current contract. That contract will also make it difficult for Johnson to find any teams willing to deal for him this offseason.

However, if (when) Johnson is released, he will surely get interest on the open market.

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Sean Payton: Saints “want to keep” Mark Ingram

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Saints have been in contact with tailback Mark Ingram as free agency nears and would reportedly like to work out a deal.

During an interview at the Pelicans-Mavericks game Monday night in Dallas, Saints head coach Sean Payton indicated the club wanted to re-sign Ingram.

“Obviously he’s someone that we want to keep,” Payton told Fox Sports’s Jennifer Hale, according to Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate. “Hopefully we can do that.”

According to the Advocate, Payton told Hale he had spoken with Ingram on Monday and that the club had a good working relationship with the tailback’s agent, Joel Segal.

The 25-year-old Ingram rushed for a career-best 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. He ranks 38th among PFT’s prospective free agents in the Class of 2015.

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Rugby star Jarryd Hayne to sign with 49ers

NRL Rd 25 - Knights v Eels Getty Images

Jarryd Hayne left his Australian rugby team, the Parramatta Eels, in October in hopes of beginning a football career in the NFL.

That career will begin with the San Francisco 49ers.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Hayne announced his intentions at a press conference in Australia Tuesday (Monday night in the states). Much in the same way a high school recruit announces his commitment with a hat ceremony, Hayne donned a 49ers hat to reveal his decision.

“You have to be all in — I have all my chips on the table,” Hayne said. “ I have no back up plan.”

Hayne said he received a $100,000 guarantee from the 49ers, which is substantial considering he’s never played football before.

Hayne had visited the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks as well. According to his agent, Jack Bechta, 16 teams showed interest.

It will likely be a massive climb for Hayne to make it onto the 49ers 53-man roster next season. He will likely compete at running back and on special teams.

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Report: Andre Johnson will be released if Texans can’t find trade partner

Philadelphia Eagles v Houston Texans Getty Images

One of the standout wide receivers of his generation is set to leave Houston.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are allowing Andre Johnson to seek a trade. If Johnson is not dealt, he will be released, the Chronicle reported.

According to the Chronicle, the Texans told Johnson he would have a lesser role in 2015, which led him to ask for his departure from Houston.

Johnson is slated to make $10 million in salary in 2015, per NFLPA data.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Johnson has played his entire 12-season career with Houston, catching 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 TDs. He has made seven Pro Bowls.

While Johnson turns 34 in July, he should nonetheless appeal to clubs looking to add a proven veteran presence to their receiving corps. He caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three TDs in 2014.

A Miami (Fla.) product, Johnson quietly starred on a string of mediocre-to-poor Texans teams early in his career. Houston finally made the playoffs in 2011, his ninth NFL campaign.

If Johnson’s Texans career is indeed at an end, he will leave having caught 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in his final game with the club, a 23-17 victory over Jacksonville in December. Though the Texans took care of business in the season finale, they fell just short of the playoffs. In many ways, it was an apt end to Johnson’s run in Houston — the star wide receiver doing his job well while the team fell just short in the end.

With Johnson likely gone, third-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins will become the Texans’ go-to receiver, a role he’s probably ready to assume.

Nevertheless, it will be jarring to see Andre Johnson, one of the Texans’ all-time greats now and forever, playing for someone else.

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Specialist franchise-tag trend continues with Gostkowski

Gostkowski AP

When the Patriots gave placekicker Stephen Gostkowski the franchise tag Monday, it marked the third time the club had placed the tag on a kicker.

It also marked the seventh consecutive offseason in which an NFL team used the franchise tag on a kicker or punter.

Last season, the Jets gave kicker Nick Folk the franchise tag. The previous offseason, Colts punter Pat McAfee got the tag.

In 2012, four teams tagged kickers: Cincinnati (Mike Nugent), Cleveland (Phil Dawson), Denver (Matt Prater) and Jacksonville (Josh Scobee). Also, the Giants extended their franchise tag to punter Steve Weatherford.

In 2011, only the Browns (Dawson) tagged a kicker. This came after Pittsburgh (Jeff Reed) and Seattle (Olindo Mare) used the tag on placekickers in 2010. In 2009, Cincinnati tagged kicker Shayne Graham, with Atlanta tagging punter Michael Koenen.

Before tagging Gostkowski Monday, the Patriots had previously used the franchise tag on one other kicker: Adam Vinatieri, who received it in 2002 and 2005.

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Titans to cut Bernard Pollard

Travis Benjamin, Bernard Pollard AP

A month ago, Titans safety Bernard Pollard asked to be released. Now the Titans have told Pollard they’ll take him up on that.

The Titans let Pollard know today that he’s being cut, Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports. The move isn’t official yet, but it may just be a matter of making sure that Pollard, who ended last season on injured reserve with a torn Achilles, can pass a physical.

Pollard wasn’t a happy camper in Tennessee, complaining after the season that when the Titans fired executive Lake Dawson, they fired the wrong person. Now Pollard will be free to see if some other team is interested in his services.

The 30-year-old Pollard was scheduled to make $3.1 million this season.

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Falcons interested in Orakpo

Brian Orakpo AP

Washington, despite having a new G.M., would like to extend its relationship with pass-rusher Brian Orakpo.  Unlike last year, however, Scot McCloughan will have competition when it comes to keeping Orakpo around.

Per a league source, at least four teams are interested in Orakpo.  For now, the leaders are believed to be Washington and the Falcons.

The Falcons desperately need help on the edge of the defensive line, a year after former coach Mike Smith successfully lobbied for the investment of offseason funds on interior defensive linemen.  New coach Dan Quinn is emphasizing speed in all phases of the game.

Orakpo had 10 sacks in 2013.  Last year, had managed only 0.5 sacks in seven starts under the franchise tag in D.C.

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NFL’s 12-team playoff format was enacted 25 years ago this week

Super Bowl XL - Pittsburgh Steelers vs Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

As PFT’s Mike Florio reported last month, the NFL would like to expand the postseason field in 2016. Any addition of playoff entrants would be the first such change made by the league in at least a quarter-century, and it would undoubtedly lead to an increase in television money for the NFL and its clubs.

The NFL last moved to expand the postseason field 25 years ago this week. On March 1, 1990, the league added two teams to the playoff pool, increasing the number of entrants from 10 to 12 — six per conference. The expansion went hand-in-hand with the league striking a new broadcast rights deal with NBC, ABC, Turner, ESPN and CBS.

At the time, the NFL had three divisions per conference (West, Central, East), making the sixth postseason entrant a third wild-card club. Twelve years later, the NFL added one division per conference and reduced the wild-card entrants by one per conference, keeping the total field at 12 teams.

All things considered, the addition of the sixth postseason berth worked out well for the league and its teams. For one thing, the extra playoff games gave the NFL more content to sell to the networks.

Also, the expansion has allowed 25-of-32 NFL clubs to garner a playoff berth they otherwise would not have earned under the old system. The Vikings have used this final playoff spot to make the postseason on four different occasions since 1990, with the Jets, Falcons, Chiefs, Dolphins, Lions, Ravens and Washington all earning the sixth seed three times.

No. 6 seeds have been especially competitive in recent years. Since divisional realignment in 2002, the final wild-card teams are 21-24 in postseason play, with at least one No. 6 seed winning in 8-of-13 seasons (2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014).

Two No. 6 seeds have won Super Bowls — the 2005 Steelers and the 2010 Packers. Three other final wild-card entrants have won multiple games: the 2008 Ravens and Eagles and the 2010 Jets.

This is not to say No. 6 seeds have been smashing successes. Overall, they are 28-48 in postseason play. Indeed, most of the final wild-card entrants have gone tamely.

Still, without the sixth playoff spot, we wouldn’t have had Brett Favre heaving a cross-field bomb to Sterling Sharpe to beat the Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1993, or Michael Vick leading a memorable upset in the snow in Lambeau Field in 2002, or the 2010 Jets knocking off the heavily favored Patriots in Foxborough.

Looking forward, the question is whether the seventh-seeded teams can provide these little bursts of drama, too. They will probably get their chance before long. We know this much: the playoff ranks aren’t getting any smaller, given the popularity of the NFL and the amount of money the league’s games can draw.

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Suh situation shows the complication of simple restructurings

Suh Getty Images

The slow growth of salary cap in the wake of the new labor deal resulted in plenty of teams having salary-cap issues in recent years.  Which resulted in plenty of teams conducting the so-called “simple restructuring” of contracts, pushing cap dollars in the current years into the future.

But simple restructurings of big-dollar contracts can lead to potential complications.  Eventually, those contracts expire.  And the bloated cap numbers in the final years of those deals make it considerably more expensive to use the franchise tag on that player.

That’s why the Lions ultimately couldn’t use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  His salary for 2014 was $12.5 million; his cap number was $22.4 million.  Since the franchise tag guarantees the player a 20-percent raise over Suh’s salary in the prior year, the Lions would have had to invest $26.9 million for one more year with Suh.

And that would have become $32.25 million for 2016 under the tag.  Which means it simply became too expensive to play the tag game with Suh — unless the Lions would have been content to keep him for only one more year at an exorbitant salary.

Next year, a string of simply restructurings could result in an unmanageable cap number for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.   Though he’ll make only (only?) $11.6 million in 2015, his restructurings-fueled cap number of $18.395 million will result in a franchise tag of $22.074 million in 2016.

So while fans tend to exhale when teams find a way to restructure contracts in order to create cap space in the current year, those efforts could result in some eventual puckering and, in the case of Suh, the possible end of his tenure with the team.

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Five players get the franchise tag, one player gets the transition tag

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

All 32 teams have the ability to tag a player and keep him from hitting unrestricted free agency. But 26 teams declined to do so.

In the end, only five players got the franchise tag before today’s 4 p.m. deadline. One other player got the transition tag.

No one got the “exclusive” franchise player tag, which comes with a higher price tag but prevents the player from negotiating with any other team. All five franchised players got the non-exclusive tag, which means they can negotiate with other teams and sign elsewhere, but if they do sign with another team, the current team gets to choose between either matching the offer and keeping the player, or declining to match the offer and getting two first-round draft picks from the player’s new team.

Here are the five players who got the non-exclusive franchise tag, and the amount of the tender offer for each:
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul ($14,813,000)
Chiefs OLB Justin Houston ($13,195,000)
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant ($12,823,000)
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas ($12,823,000)
Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski ($4,126,000)

Additionally, one player got the transition tag, which comes with a lower price tag and allows the team to match any offer to the player — but does not result in any draft pick compensation if the player signs elsewhere and the team declines to match. That one player was Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, who gets a one-year, $7,071,000 tender offer.

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Bills opt against tagging Jerry Hughes

Buffalo Bills v Denver Broncos Getty Images

Jerry Hughes broke out after coming to the Bills in a trade before the 2013 season, but back-to-back 10-sack seasons weren’t enough to convince the Bills to use a franchise or transition tag on the edge rusher Monday.

While the Giants and Chiefs chose to use the franchise tag to hold onto Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston, respectively, Buffalo will move toward the start of free agency next week with no claim on Hughes’s services. A franchise tag would have entitled Hughes to a salary of $14.8 million if and when he signed the tender.

They still have exclusive negotiating rights with Hughes through next Saturday, when a three-day window opens for teams to talk to the agents of impending free agents.

A deal could be struck between now and then and reports from Buffalo are that the Bills are working hard to strike a deal. With the start of free agency so close, though, it makes sense for Hughes, who is No. 9 on PFT’s list of the top 100 free agents, to hear what other teams are willing to offer him with two of the top pass rushers all but off the market.

Greg Hardy, Jason Worilds, Pernell McPhee, Brandon Graham and Brian Orakpo are some of the other pass-rushing options still ticketed for free agency next week.

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No tags for Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

There were four wide receivers ranked among the top 15 players on PFT‘s list of the top 100 players headed for free agency this year.

Two of those players — Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant and Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas — were given franchise tags on Monday that make it highly unlikely that they’ll be switching teams this offseason.The Packers chose not to go that route with Randall Cobb, however, and the Eagles passed on applying either the franchise or transition tag on Jeremy Maclin.

That doesn’t mean those players are certain to be on the open market come March 10. The Packers and Eagles are the only teams that can sign those players this week, although other teams can open up conversations with the representatives for both players on March 7.

Maclin said over the weekend that he wants to return to the Eagles after showing he was healthy while playing on a one-year deal after a torn ACL knocked him out for the entire 2013 season. Cobb is thought to be looking for a contract in the neighborhood of the four-year, $39 million extension that Jordy Nelson signed in Green Bay last year. The Raiders are reportedly interested in him should he hit the market, although they’ll likely have plenty of company in that pursuit.

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Goldman Sachs to finance Chargers possible move

Goldman Getty Images

It’s unclear whether the NFL will get behind the Chargers’ potential return to L.A.  One of the world’s biggest investment banks has decided to do so.

According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, Goldman Sachs will finance the move, “including covering any operating losses suffered by the team in the first few years in that city as well as costs for any renovations needed in a temporary venue.”

The involvement of Goldman Sachs demonstrates the financial viability of the stadium project in Carson.  It also provides the Chargers with some security if/when a move happens.

Most importantly, the development indicates that Goldman Sachs wants the move to happen.  Which means that Goldman Sachs will be working aggressively and diligently to push the project to completion — and the relocation to reality.

The Raiders and Chargers, if they can’t secure new stadiums in their current markets, hope to play in a privately-financed, $1.7-billion stadium in Carson.  Rams owner Stan Kroenke hopes to build a new stadium in Inglewood.  AEG, which has been involved for several years in a downtown L.A. project, could end up SOL along with Ed Roski and his shovel-ready project in the City of Industry.

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Dolphins release Nate Garner

Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Getty Images

The Dolphins were busy on Monday, using the transition tag on tight end Charles Clay and releasing a pair of veteran players.

As previously reported, cornerback Cortland Finnegan is out in Miami. On Monday afternoon, the team announced offensive lineman Nate Garner is out as well.

Garner had been with the Dolphins since 2008 and saw time at center, guard and tackle over the course of his time with the team. A head injury knocked Garner out for the second half of last season, however, and the Dolphins cleared $1.65 million under the 2015 cap by parting ways with him at this point in the offseason.

With guard Daryn Colledge and center Samson Satele headed for free agency (and Mike Pouncey likely moving back to the position), the Dolphins could be looking for two new starting guards in the coming months.

Finnegan and Garner join wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson as veteran players discarded by the Dolphins recently.

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Eagles exec V.P. of football operations moves office out of football operations

Howie Roseman AP

It’s been a strange offseason for the Eagles.  And it just got a little stranger.

In January, owner Jeffrey Lurie resolved a power struggle between coach Chip Kelly and G.M. Howie Roseman by giving Kelly more power and Roseman a promotion (possibly after clunking their heads together like Moe Howard).  Roseman emerged not as the G.M. but as the executive V.P. of football operations.  Although Kelly now has final say over the roster and the draft, Roseman manages the team’s salary cap and contract negotiations.

It has the potential to be awkward, with new V.P. of player personnel Ed Marynowitz necessarily serving as the liaison between Kelly and Roseman.  At a minimum, it will involve more walking.

According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the office of the executive V.P. of football operations has moved out of football operations, to the business end of the NovaCare Complex.  Roseman previously was located only two doors down from the head coach; Kelly for the last two years and Andy Reid before that.

The move underscores the reality that the executive V.P. of football operations doesn’t really have much if any power over football operations.  Which makes his comments from last week regarding the folly of trading up even more conspicuous, especially if the guy who now has the power to do so in Philly chooses to do so.

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