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Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Chicago Bears

Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall AP

The 2013 Bears scored the second-most points in franchise history (445). Only the 1985 Bears tallied more in regular season play, putting up 456 in their bulldozing of all non-Dan Marino-led competition in a 15-1 season.

But for all of their skill on offense, the 2013 Bears were overmatched on defense, surrendering 478 points, 57 points more than any previous Chicago club had given up.

Long before the Packers’ Randall Cobb sprinted through the Chicago secondary en route to the division-clinching touchdown in the regular season finale, the Bears’ defense was broken. Chicago surrendered at least 28 points in half of its games, including 54 to Philadelphia, 45 to Washington, 42 to St. Louis and 40 to Detroit. No team allowed more yards per play than the Bears, and no team was worse against the run.

In the offseason, the Bears set out to bolster that “D,” signing two of the best available defensive ends (Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen) and drafting defensive players with four of their first five picks. On offense, the Bears tried to build continuity. They re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler, signing him to a seven-year contract worth up to $126.7 million in January. In May, they signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a four-year deal worth as much as $40 million.

These were logical moves for Chicago. For once, it was the offense didn’t need much work. Now, the focus turns to whether the defense can provide more resistance in head coach Marc Trestman’s second season on the job.

Strengths.

The Bears’ 2014 offense could be one of the best the franchise has ever fielded. Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs in 2013) and fellow starting wideout Alshon Jeffery (89-1,421-7) were Pro Bowlers a season ago, as were tailback Matt Forte (1,933 combined rushing-receiving yards) and right guard Kyle Long.

Cutler — now in sixth season in Chicago — appears to have taken well to Trestman’s scheme. The strong-armed Cutler connected on 63.1 percent of his throws a season ago, his best completion percentage in six years. He’s quite capable of being the first Bears quarterback to make a Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon 29 years ago.

If Cutler gets an all-star nod, he’ll be aided by strength of his pass catching corps. Marshall and Jeffery form an outstanding tandem. Forte is one of the game’s best receivers out of the backfield. Tight end Martellus Bennett is solid, too.

In Trestman’s inaugural campaign, the Bears’ passing attempts rose nearly 20 percent, but total sacks were down more than 30 percent. Moreover, the club’s completion percentage was up more than five percent. In short, the 2013 Bears threw it more and threw it better — and their quarterbacks hit the ground less. That’s testament to Trestman’s scheme, but it also reflects well on the offensive line, which the club overhauled last year, drafting Long and right tackle Jordan Mills and signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson.

The Bears can only hope their offseason D-line investment will pay similar dividends. And Allen, Houston and ex-Lions end Willie Young should strengthen a defense that got just 20 sacks from its front four a season ago.

Finally, in Robbie Gould, the Bears have one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers. He hit 26-of-29 field goals in 2013, including 9-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond.

Weaknesses.

Even with an upgraded defensive line, the Bears’ defense looms a major concern. The top player in the LB corps, Lance Briggs, will be 34 in November. Shea McClellin, the Bears’ 2012 first-round pick, could get reps at strong-side and middle linebacker in an attempt to jump-start his career. More is also needed from second-year pro Jon Bostic, whether at middle or outside linebacker.

The Bears’ secondary also looks shaky. Per Pro Football Focus grades, the club had two of the four worst starting safeties in 2013 (SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte). Wright departed in free agency, and Conte comes off shoulder surgery. The Bears added four veterans and a draft pick at safety, which at least gives them some options as they try to craft a workable solution on the back end.

The Bears’ cornerback play should also be monitored. The club added some much-needed youth and depth in the draft, taking Kyle Fuller in Round One. Fuller, veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman figure as the top three corners. If the 33-year-old Tillman stays healthy and returns to form, and if Fuller is a quick study, the Bears should be just fine at this key position. But if Tillman misses time, and if Fuller isn’t quite ready for prime time, the Bears could have a problem.

The worries don’t stop there. The Bears’ special teams are quite unsettled entering training camp. The club will have a new punter, holder, long-snapper, punt returner and kickoff returner. And backup quarterback could be a trouble spot after the departure of Josh McCown. Veterans Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer and sixth-round rookie David Fales will vie to back up Cutler. Clausen and Palmer have generally struggled against NFL competition, but Trestman is masterful with quarterbacks.

Changes.

The defensive depth chart got a makeover. The Bears released defensive end Julius Peppers and didn’t bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton or linebacker James Anderson. The Bears’ most expensive free agent signings — Houston and Allen — are defensive ends, a nod to the premium that ready-made pass rushers command. To bolster the defensive tackle depth, the Bears turned to the draft, selecting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds, respectively.

The Bears took a value shopping approach at safety. Free agent additions Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson are all slated to make less than $1 million in salary this season, per NFLPA records.

On offense, the changes were reserved to backup spots. McCown left to be the Buccaneers’ starter, while tailback Michael Bush and Earl Bennett were released. Rookie Ka’Deem Carey could help replace Bush, while former Washington wideout Josh Morgan was signed to bolster the WR depth.

The Bears underwent several major shakeups in the kicking game. Long-time star returner Devin Hester signed with Atlanta. Punter Adam Podlesh was released, and the club spent a draft pick on a potential replacement (Pat O’Donnell, Round Six). Then, late in the offseason, 16-year long-snapper Patrick Mannelly retired, adding another layer of uncertainty to the special teams.

Camp battles.

Here are the positions and players to watch:

— Safety: Ex-Giant Mundy might have the edge at strong safety, but Wilson is a wild card if he has something left after missing the 2013 season with an Achilles injury. Rookie Vereen is the biggest threat to the incumbent Conte at free safety.

— Cornerback: The progress of Fuller must be monitored. There are plenty of snaps to be had in this secondary if he’s up to it.

— Defensive tackle: Can Ferguson or Sutton push starters Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea? If not, can the rookies at least prove capable rotation players?

— Linebacker: Will Bostic, McClellin and second-year outside linebacker Khaseem Greene step up their play? The Bears didn’t draft a linebacker and added only veteran backup Jordan Senn in free agency.

— Wide receiver: Morgan and second-year pro Marquess Wilson appear the favorites to replace Bennett as the third receiver.

— Running back: Carey and second-year pro Michael Ford will compete for the little work that won’t go to Forte, a true three-down back.

— Quarterback: Palmer, Clausen and Fales will compete for no more than two reserve roles. The question is, which of this trio most quickly applies Trestman’s lessons?

— Returner: Eric Weems is the most experienced option in the competition to return kickoffs and punts.

— Punter: O’Donnell will try to hold off veteran Tress Way.

— Long-snapper: First-year pro Brandon Hartson and CFL veteran Chad Rempel will battle it out.

Prospects.

The Bears must hang tough early. Six of their first nine games are on the road, including trips to visit the 49ers (Week Two), Falcons (Week Six), Patriots (Week Eight) and Packers (Week 10).

If Chicago can get through that nine-pack in decent order, there’s a real chance to close with gusto. From November 16 through December 21, the Bears play five home games and take just one road trip — Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears end their season at Minnesota — no picnic, yes, but not the worst draw ever.

It all looks fairly cut-and-dried with the Bears. If their defense is better, and if their offense hums along, they are serious contenders for a playoff spot. But if the defense remains a sieve, and if the offense regresses, they are vulnerable.

The Bears aren’t the youngest of teams. Tillman and Briggs don’t have many NFL years left. Cutler and Marshall aren’t kids, either, and Forte is approaching 2,000 career touches. There ought to be a real sense of urgency to get into the playoffs with an offense this talented. As Bears observers with any sense of history would tell you, scoring points traditionally hasn’t been a Chicago strength.

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Kirk Cousins won’t sign new deal before application of franchise tag

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 24:  Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins looks to pass the football in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Washington has nine days to apply the franchise tag to quarterback Kirk Cousins. One way to avoid using it would be to sign Cousins to a long-term deal before then.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Cousins won’t be doing that.

As explained last week in reference to all players facing the tag, there’s no reason to do it before the player is tagged. The formula for doing a long-term deal doesn’t change after the tag is applied, and the deadline for turning the tag into a long-term contract continues to be July 15.

Absent a significant premium, Cousins has every reason to sit tight and draw a second franchise tag. By rule, he’d be essentially insulated from ever being franchise-tagged again, since he’d be entitled to a 44-percent raise over his franchise tag or a similar markup upon application of the franchise tag for the third time in his career.

And so the flow chart for Washington is simple through March 1: Tag him or don’t tag him. If he’s tagged, Cousins will rush to sign it, adding $23.94 million to the $19.95 million he earned last year. Then, talks on a long-term deal likely will consist of Cousins receiving $23.94 million fully guaranteed in 2017, plus a 20-percent raise (reflecting the increase arising from use of the transition tag) fully guaranteed for 2018. It’s a total of $52.67 million over two years; for anything less than that, Cousins should again take it year to year.

Before anyone accuses Cousins of being greedy, unreasonable, or not “worth” a contract that would make him the highest paid player in the NFL history, he’s simply playing the cards he has been dealt under the CBA and the salary cap. Washington could have signed him to a very reasonable long-term deal after his third season or during his fourth season. One he completed his rookie contract healthy and effective, the leverage swung to Cousins — and he has taken full advantage of it.

If fans are inclined to blame Cousins for that, the blame is better directed at the team, for not giving Cousins a reasonable degree of financial security until he was in position to finagle nearly $44 million over two years.

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Scott Turner will join Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 3: View of a Michigan Wolverines football helmet before their game against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

After being fired by the Vikings last month, Scott Turner will land on Jim Harbaugh’s staff at the University of Michigan, TheMMQB.com reported Monday.

Turner was the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach the last three seasons. Per the report, he’ll be an offensive analyst at Michigan under Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton, who left his job as quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach with the Browns last month to join Harbaugh’s staff as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

Turner is the son of former Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who resigned during the 2016 season. Prior to that, Turner was the wide receivers coach with the Browns in 2013 when his father was the offensive coordinator. He had coached in high school and in the college ranks before getting his first NFL job as quality control coach with the Panthers in 2011.

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Running back franchise tender won’t drop if Adrian Peterson is released

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands off to Le'Veon Bell #26 during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field on January 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the franchise tag deadline approaches, the Steelers haven’t ruled out using it on running back Le’Veon Bell. If they do, the price of it will have nothing to do with the future of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Under the 2011 CBA, the non-exclusive franchise tenders are determined based not on what any one player made in 2016 or will make in 2017, but on the five-year average of the percentage that the tenders for each position consume under the total cap. For running backs, the 2017 franchise tender will equate to 7.257 percent of the overall cap. At a salary cap of $165 million, that’s a tender of $11.9 million.

NFL Network has suggested that a decision by the Vikings to cut Adrian Peterson will cause that number to drop to $8 million. It won’t. Peterson’s $18 million cap number for 2017 is relevant only to the exclusive tag, which is based on the average of the five highest cap numbers at the position the coming year.

Via Spotrac.com, the five highest running back cap numbers for 2017 belong to Peterson, Bills running back LeSean McCoy ($8.875 million), Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ($8.25 million), Texans running back Lamar Miller ($6.5 million), and Titans running back DeMarco Murray ($6.25 million). Even with Peterson’s $18 million, the next four drag the average down to $9.5 million If Peterson is cut, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles replaced Peterson at No. 5, with a cap number of $6.187 million. That reduces the average to $7.2 million.

As it relates to the exclusive version of the tag, none of that matters; under the CBA, the exclusive tender can be no less than the non-exclusive tender. (The same dynamic applied a year ago to Broncos linebacker Von Miller.)

The broader lesson from this quick excursion is that the Steelers should consider applying the exclusive version of the tender to Le’Veon Bell, sealing off his opportunity to negotiate with other teams and potentially signing an offer sheet elsewhere. Then again, if the Steelers could get two first-round picks for Bell, they should consider pouncing on the opportunity, since a pair of first-rounders (theirs and someone else’s) could be needed to trade up to get their next franchise quarterback, in 2017 or 2018.

Either way, it will cost them 7.257 percent of the salary cap to squat on Bell’s rights for one more year. No specific player’s cap number for 2016 or 2017 will make it any less than that.

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Victor Cruz says Panthers visit “went well,” but nothing is imminent

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 18:  Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants celebrates a catch against the Detroit Lions  during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 18, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Giants receiver Victor Cruz is looking for a job, and his first stop happened with former Giants executive Dave Gettleman.

Cruz told Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com that the visit to the Panthers “went well.” Stapleton adds that no deal is imminent, even though interest is mutual. Other visits could occur; currently, none are scheduled.

The Panthers need a slot receiver, and Cruz could fit the bill. With a head start on the open market, however, it makes sense for him to consider his options.

Undrafted out of the University of Massachusetts in 2010, Cruz became a star in 2011 with 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns during the team’s most recent Super Bowl season. In 2012, he generated 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. The following year, Cruz got within two yards of 1,000 despite missing two games.

Injuries wiped out most of the next two seasons. Last year, Cruz managed only 586 yards as the third fiddle behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.

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Texas governor retreats from law that would force NFL players to stand for anthem

DALLAS, TX - JULY 08: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at Dallas's City Hall near the area that is still an active crime scene in downtown Dallas following the deaths of five police officers last night on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Five police officers were killed and seven others were injured in the evening ambush during a march against recent police involved shootings. Investigators are saying the suspect is 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas. This is the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The governor of Texas recently attacked the NFL for trying to squeeze the Lone Star State into not passing a bathroom bill. Part of the response included a threat to push for a law that would apply to a certain kind of stand-or-sit decision that some NFL players have begun to make.

“The NFL has coddled its players who refused to stand for the national anthem,” Greg Abbott said on FOX News, via CBSSports.com. “Imagine this, if the NFL decides to come down on the state of Texas, I might just pass a bill here in the state of Texas mandating that all NFL players have to stand and put their hand on the heart when the national anthem is played.”

After some pointed out that such a law would be grossly unconstitutional, a spokesman said that Abbott was engaging in “intentional hyperbole” aimed at “demonstrating the NFL’s own shortcoming of how they are disconnecting with their fan base by allowing players to disrespect the U.S. flag.”

So, basically, Abbott can’t pass a law forcing players to stand for the anthem, but he apparently would if he could, since the NFL’s fan base apparently believes players should be forced to stand for the anthem. Constitution notwithstanding.

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Julius Thomas has meeting, physical set in Miami Tuesday

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The expected trades of tight end Julius Thomas from the Jaguars to the Dolphins and offensive tackle Branden Albert from the Dolphins to the Jaguars are awaiting final details, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday evening.

Thomas will be in Miami Tuesday for a physical, one of the final steps to the trade being finalized. Rapoport tweeted that Thomas has agreed to re-do his contract.

Per the report, the Jaguars will give up a 2018 late-round pick for Albert, who spent Monday in Jacksonville and is expected to discuss his contract with team officials Tuesday. Though it was originally reported that a player-for-player swap could happen, these trades are expected to be processed separately.

The Dolphins will give up a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft for Thomas, who had his best seasons in 2013-14 with the Broncos when Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator in Denver.

No trades can be made official until the new league year opens March 9.

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Joe Williams briefly quit football at Utah, wants NFL to know why

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Joe Williams #28 of the Utah Utes runs with the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers during the Foster Farms Bowl game at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the odder stories of the 2016 college football season came when Utah running back Joe Williams announced that he was quitting the team and quitting the sport of football — only to come back a month later and become one of the best players in the country, rushing for 1,300 yards in seven games.

Williams will be at the Scouting Combine next week, and he’s eager to explain to NFL teams that his brief departure doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the sport.

Instead, Williams told Tom Pelissero of USA Today, quitting football was necessary because grief and guilt he felt over the death of his sister a decade earlier had finally reached the point where he simply had to step away to focus on his mental health.

“People make it a big deal that I quit on the team. To me, it was necessary,” Williams said. “I was learning to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t my fault. I’m 23 years old now, and I can’t blame myself for something that occurred 10 years ago, no matter how painful or traumatic it was. It would be bigger to honor her in a much more meaningful way.”

Williams’ 7-year-old sister died in her bed in the middle of the night of what her family later learned was a disease that caused inflammation of her heart. Williams says he spent years thinking of himself as responsible — not because that’s a rational thought, but because as a boy grieving his sister, he couldn’t think about her death rationally.

“That’s where the guilt comes in,” Williams said. “Because maybe if I had got out of my bed and maybe I’d held her or she knew I was there, maybe she would’ve woken up. That was the biggest reason of why I blame myself.”

Williams says he is in a better place mentally now, and is eager to keep playing the way he did after returning to his team last year. He wants NFL teams to know that he’s now more focused on football than ever.

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Trades negotiated now are non-binding

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates a touchdown following an interception during the game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field on October 18, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

So how are the Dolphins and Jaguars working out trades more than two weeks before trades are allowed? They’re not, officially.

Unofficially, they’ve agreed to agree to a trade that will send tight end Julius Thomas to the Dolphins as of March 9 at 4:00 p.m. ET. Unofficially, they eventually may agree to a trade that will send tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville at the same time.

Officially, they’ve agreed to nothing — and either side can back out without consequence. To the extent that Thomas and/or Albert will agree to new contracts contingent on trades being finalized, the players can back out, too, potentially derailing the broader deals.

While such an outcome would be viewed as a breach of the wink-nod etiquette that allows trades to be negotiated before they can officially be consummated, the teams and players have an out, if they choose to use it.

The same thing happened four years ago, when the 49ers and Chiefs worked out a trade for quarterback Alex Smith before the new league year began. Until both teams independently communicated the trade to the league office after the opening of the trading period, either team could have backed out.

Six year ago, the Bears failed to finalize a draft-day trade they had agreed to conduct with the Ravens, prompting sharp criticism from coach John Harbaugh. Still, the league won’t treat a trade as a binding agreement until both teams communicate the transaction to league headquarters.

And so, at any point in the next 17 days, either team can walk away without anything other than hard feelings or an aggressive sound bite that will fall on deaf ears at 345 Park Avenue.

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The Revis tampering from 2015 was pretty much what everyone thought it was

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New England Patriots celebrates after an interception in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

A new column that spends plenty of time wagging a finger at Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis for “embarrassing” the team’s owner with “late-night shenanigans” that may or may not ever result in a conviction, guilty plea, suspension, or fine contains new details about the events that resulted in Revis becoming a Jet in 2015.

Basically, it unfolded exactly the way everyone thought it did. Which is pretty much the way it always does.

“Team officials in stealth mode communicated with Revis, Inc., through private cell phones and face-to-face covert meetings at the 2015 Scouting Combine rather than make calls from the team’s landlines at their Florham Park facility,” writes Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “No paper trails were a must. [Owner Woody] Johnson, the driving force behind bringing back Revis to right a wrong in his mind, endorsed all of it.”

That’s how tampering works, every year with most if not all teams. Paper trails never exist, and face-to-face meetings occur at the Scouting Combine, with no effort by the league to ensure that agents and teams are talking only about clients currently on the roster and not about clients currently on another roster.

In 2015, even after Johnson committed a clear tampering violation by declaring the team’s interest in a Revis reunion (the Jets eventually were fined $100,000), Johnson was pushing the team to bring back Revis, before the Patriots decided whether to pick up a $20 million option for the coming season.

Mehta separately points out that the courtship of Revis ended up being a “colossal mistake.” Based on the way Revis performed in the second year of the contract, that’s a given. The recent arrest doesn’t make his return any more or less of a blunder; indeed, if Revis were still playing at a high level, the Jets would be circling the wagons and defending their star player.

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Julius Thomas to Dolphins reportedly back on

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mark Twain is credited as saying, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes,” and the same may be said of reports about a trade involving the Dolphins and Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas.

On Sunday, word was that Thomas would be involved in a deal that sent tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville. Monday brought word that the deal would involve Albert and not Thomas, who was reportedly being targeted by other clubs.

A little more time has passed and now Thomas again appears to be on his way to Miami. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Thomas will be traded to the Dolphins and Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the Jaguars will get a late-round pick in the 2017 draft in return.

Salguero previously reported Albert will be traded to Jacksonville for a late-round pick in 2018 in what may go down as two separate moves rather than one big trade.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Thomas has agreed to a revised deal, something that was reportedly a consideration when discussions about a deal began, but no terms are known. The deal can’t be formalized until the new league year starts on March 9, so there’s time for further details to get ironed out.

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Cowboys create cap room by restructuring contracts

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Cowboys’ annual game of kick the can has begun in earnest.

According to Todd Archer of ESPN.com, the Cowboys have freed up $17.3 million in short-term cap space by restructuring the contracts of left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick.

Such moves are standard operating procedure in Dallas, where they’re always pushing money into future years for present relief. They do it by turning base salary into bonuses, allowing them to prorate the hit over future years.

The moves would have them under the suggested salary cap of $168 million.

Of course, they have a lot more accounting to do, as they try to figure how and when to allocate the coming hit for quarterback Tony Romo, when they eventually move on from him.

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Garςon’s social media post acknowledges the obvious

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Pierre Garcon #88 of the Washington Redskins is tackled by Anthony Brown #30 of the Dallas Cowboys after catching a pass in their game at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Much has been made — and inferred, or is it implied? — about Washington receiver Pierre Garςon’s seemingly  lighthearted Instagram post that generally asked, “#YALLHIRING?”

The message ultimately says nothing other than Garςon, a pending free agent, currently doesn’t have a deal to return to the team. With 17 days to go until free agency opens (and, perhaps more importantly, 15 days until his agent can talk to other teams), the team is apparently playing the waiting game.

The waiting game becomes the tampering game next week in Indianapolis, when teams and agents begin to meet and to discuss hypothetical (or actual) offers for looming free agents, setting the market and allowing the player’s current team to determine whether it will or won’t pay him what he can get elsewhere.

For Washington, it’s a complicated question. With both Garςon and Jackson becoming free agents, it’s unclear whether either or both will stay. That likely will depend on what it will cost to keep them.

Regardless, it’s too early to call the Instagram post anything more than it is — a recognition by the player that the team has yet to sign him. They may, they may not. Either way, time will tell.

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Report: Jags have heard non-Dolphins interest in Julius Thomas trade

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13:   Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars catches a pass against the Houston Texans during the game at EverBank Field on November 13, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The most recent report regarding a potential trade between the Dolphins and Jaguars has tackle Branden Albert going to Jacksonville in exchange for a draft pick.

That’s an update from word over the weekend that the Jags were going to send tight end Julius Thomas to Miami in return, but Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported that won’t be the case in an Albert deal. Salguero did add that Thomas is a player the Dolphins “would be interested in.”

They apparently have company on that front. Mike Kaye of First Coast News reports that the Jaguars have heard interest from a team or teams other than the Dolphins when it comes for dealing for the tight end.

It’s possible that the Jags are putting that word out in hopes of getting the Dolphins to reconsider a deal involving Thomas or otherwise gin up interest in Thomas so that they can get something in return rather than just cutting him. There’s a good chance that would take Thomas revisiting his contract, which calls for him to make $7 million in 2017. Thomas might prefer getting cut and choosing his own landing spot, however.

Thomas signed with the Jaguars before the 2015 season and has caught 76 passes for 736 yards and nine touchdowns while missing 11 games over his two years in Jacksonville.

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Former Giants wideout Victor Cruz visits the Panthers

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) catches a pass before an NFL preseason football game against the New York Jets on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

Sometimes the dots connect themselves.

Former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is looking for a job, and the Panthers are looking for a productive slot receiver to go along with their occasionally productive big ones on the outside.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Cruz visited the Panthers this weekend and met with General Manager Dave Gettleman (who used to work for the Giants).

Cruz left town without a contract and is believed to have at least one other visit scheduled.

The veteran wideout was released by the Giants since they didn’t want to pay him $7.5 million after he came back with a moderately productive year after knee and calf problems the previous two years. He said he thought he had “a lot of good football” left in him. The Panthers could certainly use someone like him, even if it doesn’t turn out to be him.

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Jaguars cutting defensive lineman Jared Odrick

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 11: Yannick Ngakoue #91 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates his sack of Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets with Jared Odrick #75 during the first quarter of an NFL preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

This is the time of year when certain veterans get a head-start on the free agent market, but it takes becoming unemployed.

According to a tweet by his agent, veteran defensive lineman Jared Odrick has been released by the Jaguars.

The 29-year-old was two years into what was billed as a five-year, $42.5 million deal. He was due a $2 million roster bonus on March 13 and a $6.5 million base salary this year, of which $3.5 million would have been guaranteed.

He led the Jaguars in sacks in 2015 (which is relative), but played in just six games last year after an elbow injury.

He’s been a productive interior player in the past, and should find some interest before the rest of the veterans have a shot at the market.

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