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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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49ers reach 53-man roster limit

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are the latest team to reach the NFL-mandated limit of 53 players on the roster.

San Francisco announced that 19 players were released on Saturday: T Carter Bykowski, TE Asante Cleveland, WR Lance Lewis, LS Kevin McDermott, CB Darryl Morris, G Al Netter, DL Lawrence Okoye, WR Kassim Osgood, T Michael Philipp, NT Mike Purcell, G Ryan Seymour, LB Shayne Skov, RB Alfonso Smith, G Adam Snyder, S C.J. Spillman, LB Chase Thomas, S Bubba Ventrone, WR L’Damian Washington and RB Glenn Winston.

The 49ers also placed cornerback Kenneth Acker and fullback Will Tukuafu on injured reserve.

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Broncos get to 53-man limit, keep just two QBs

Zac Dysert AP

The Broncos have a pretty good quarterback, so they’re only going to keep two.

The Broncos waived third quarterback Zac Dysert, leaving only Brock Osweiler and some guy named Peyton Manning.

Otherwise, the Broncos’ cuts were pretty by the book. They terminated the contracts of five veterans: Tight ends Jameson Konz and Cameron Morrah, cornerback Jerome Murphy and defensive linemen Brian Sanford and Kevin Vickerson.

They also waived 14 other players, placed rookie defensive end Kenny Anunike on injured reserve and kicker Matt Prater on reserve/suspended.

The waived players included: Linebacker Shaqil Barrett, running back Kapri Bibbs, safety John Boyett, linebacker L.J. Fort, wide receiver Bennie Fowler, defensive tackle Sione Fua, safety Duke Ihenacho, guard Ryan Miller, guard Vinston Painter, wide receiver Nathan Palmer, center Matt Paradis, tight end Gerell Robinson, cornerback Jordan Sullen and cornerback Louis Young.

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Browns announce initial 53-man roster

Connor Shaw, Austen Lane AP

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said recently that he thought the Browns should put Connor Shaw into the mix for the starting quarterback job.

The Browns may have seen the Gamecocks get steamrolled by Texas A&M on Thursday night or they may have just dismissed Spurrier’s NFL acumen based on his experience in Washington because they decided to move on from Shaw on Saturday.

The undrafted free agent was one of the players cut in Cleveland as the Browns set an initial 53-man roster that includes Rex Grossman as the third quarterback behind Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

In addition to the previously reported departures of running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Nate Burleson, running back Chris Ogbonnaya and cornerback Leon McFadden, the Browns also parted ways with defensive back Josh Aubrey, defensive lineman Calvin Barnett, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel, offensive lineman Justin Staples, offensive lineman Reid Fragel, offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey, offensive lineman Donald Hawkins, linebacker Zac Diles, linebacker Jamaal Westerman, tight end/fullback MarQueis Gray, offensive lineman Alex Parsons, offensive lineman Abasi Salimu, wide receiver Willie Snead and tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi. Cornerback Isaiah Trufant was placed on injured reserve.

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Stephen Hill’s agent disappointed in Ryan and Idzik, thinks Browns will be interested

Stephen Hill, Curtis Marsh AP

The Jets cut wide receiver Stephen Hill, a 2012 second-round pick, on Saturday and Hill’s agent Alan Herman was less than thrilled with the team’s decision.

Herman argued that the team’s quarterbacks and offensive schemes were to blame for his client’s struggles in his first two seasons. Hill had 45 catches and four touchdowns in 23 games for the Jets.

“He didn’t have a chance that first year with that whole Tim Tebow-Mark Sanchez fiasco,” Herman said, via USA Today. “His second year, Geno Smith was learning how to play quarterback. So they never threw the ball deep because they wanted to simplify things for Geno.”

No one will argue that the Jets have had good quarterback situations the last two years, but Hill’s hardly blameless. He had too many drops and too hard a time staying healthy to be a reliable part of any offense.

Hill’s big and fast, though, and that should land him other chances. Herman says he “would think” the Browns will be interested because of Josh Gordon’s suspension and head coach Mike Pettine’s previous relationship with Hill when both men were with the Jets. Herman also told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer that he thinks Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl would have a positive impact on his client and much has been made this summer about the thin receiver depth chart in Carolina.

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Giants keep some young projects instead of veterans

Giants Jets Football AP

The Giants cut some big names, but kept some young players who fit their mold of finding talent in unusual places.

They were able to keep undrafted rookie wide receiver Corey Washington and defensive end Kerry Wynn, after explosive preseason performances.

Washington had 10 catches for 155 yards and four touchdowns (three game-winners), setting him up to be the Giants’ next Victor Cruz-level breakout star. Wynn had a pair of sacks, and replaced veteran Israel Idonije.

They’re great stories and that’s what this thing is all about,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, via the team’s official website. “Your needs are much deeper than seven picks in the draft or sometimes you’re not in position to help yourself in free agency because of the cap, so this is still the source. And when a young guy comes along and they look like they’ve got a high end, you’re excited about it. Especially when they work hard, they study hard, it’s important to them and they have great desire. You can see it on some of these kids’ faces that this means so much to them, and quite frankly it re-energizes me.”

In addition to the previously reported cuts of veteran quarterback Curtis Painter, fullback John Conner, tight end Kellen Davis and Idonije and placing wide receivers Trindon Holliday and Mario Manningham on injured reserve, the Giants waived-injured tackle Rogers Gaines, placed guard Eric Herman and cornerback Jayron Hosley on reserve/suspended and waived tackle Mark Asper, running back Michael Cox, defensive back Chandler Fenner, linebacker Dan Fox, running back Kendall Gaskins, defensive back Thomas Gordon, tackle Adam Gress, defensive back Bennett Jackson, guard Jamaal Johnson-Webb, linebacker Terrell Manning, defensive tackle Kelcie Quarles, defensive end Jordan Stanton, wide receiver Julian Talley and cornerback Bennett Jackson.

Jackson, a sixth-rounder from Notre Dame, was their only 2014 draft pick released.

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Bears cut Kelvin Hayden, set initial 53-man roster

Kelvin Hayden, Larry Fitzgerald AP

Cornerback Kelvin Hayden re-signed with the Bears after missing the entire 2013 season with a hamstring injury, but he won’t get a chance to play for them in 2014 unless the team has a change of heart.

Hayden was one of the players let go by the Bears on Saturday as they set their initial 53-man roster. The 2005 Colts second-round pick played 16 games for the Bears in 2012 and was competing for a backup cornerback job in Chicago this season, but Sherrick McManis and Demontre Hurst remain on the roster.

The Bears also released safety M.D. Jennings with an injury settlement and released defensive end Austen Lane.

In addition to the previously reported cuts, the Bears also waived wide receiver Josh Bellamy, defensive tackle Brandon Dunn, defensive tackle Tracy Robertson and cornerback Al Louis-Jean.

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Dolphins put Mike Pouncey on active 53-man roster

Mike+Pouncey+g0hwub0Gbh9m Getty Images

When Dolphins center Mike Pouncey needed offseason hip surgery, there was talk that he’d have to miss most of the season. But the Dolphins think he’ll be back soon.

The Dolphins released their roster cuts today, and the big news was that Pouncey wasn’t involved in any transactions. He is on the 53-man roster, rather than the physically unable to perform list. That means the Dolphins expect him to play at some point in the first six weeks of the season.

Players waived by the Dolphins on Saturday included DT Isaako Aaitui, G David Arkin, C Sam Brenner, WR Kevin Cone, G Evan Finkenburg, CB Kevin Fogg, S Jordan Kovacs, QB Seth Lobato, TE Kyle Miller, DE Tevin Mims, DE D’Aundre Reed, K Jake Rogers, DT Garrison Smith, LB Andrew Wilson and TE Evan Wilson. Rookie free agent Kamal Johnson was placed on injured reserve and veteran offensive lineman Tony Hills had his contract terminated.

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Texans make 22 roster moves, many more on the way

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The Texans made 22 cuts this weekend to get to the 53-man roster limit.

But since they hold the first spot in waiver-claim order and need plenty of help, they’ll likely make many more over the coming days and weeks.

Other than former second-rounder Brandon Harris, there weren’t many surprises among the lot.

The list of the released includes: Kicker Chris Boswell, tight end Zach Potter, safety Jawanza Starling, fullback Toben Opurum, wide receiver Travis Labhart, tackle Mike Farrell, outside linebacker Quentin Groves, wide receivers E.Z. Nwachukwu and Lacoltan Bester, guard Alex Kupper, center James Ferentz, tight end Anthony Denham, guard Bronson Irwin, tackle Matt Feiler, nose tackle Ricardo Mathews, inside linebackers Max Bullough and Chris Young, outside linebacker Chris McAllister, cornerback Marcus Williams and defensive ends Keith Browner and Julius Warmsley.

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Patriots release 19, but keep quarterback Ryan Mallett

Mallett Getty Images

The Patriots finished business with 19 cuts Saturday, but left the door open to future business by keeping quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Mallett slipped behind second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo, and could still be trade bait down the road if a team has an injury early in the season. Otherwise, they’ll sit on the former third-rounder through the final year of his contract.

The Patriots released two of their draft picks, offensive lineman Jon Halapio and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.

The Patriots also released long snapper Danny Aiken, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive lineman Jake Bequette, wide receiver Josh Boyce, tight end Steve Maneri and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, along with offensive lineman Braxston Cave, linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, safety Kanorris Davis, running back Jonas Gray, defensive Daxton Swanson, running back Roy Finch, safety Shamiel Gary, defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, offensive lineman Chris Martin, linebacker Taylor McCuller and defensive lineman L.T. Tuipulotu, and placed linebacker James Morris on injured reserve.

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Jets cut Matt Simms, leaving Smith and Vick as only quarterbacks

Koa Misi, Matt Simms AP

The Jets waived sixth-round pick Tajh Boyd on Saturday, but that wasn’t the only quarterback shuffled off the roster.

The team announced that they have also waived Matt Simms, who spent last season as Geno Smith’s backup and relieved him during one poor performance. That leaves Michael Vick as the only other quarterback on the roster, although either Boyd or Simms could be back with the team on the practice squad.

The Jets placed third-round corner Dexter McDougle on injured reserve earlier and kept nine of their 11 other draft picks on Saturday. Boyd and sixth-round corner Brandon Dixon were the only draft picks waived by the team.

In addition to the previously announced cuts of Boyd, wide receiver Stephen Hill, cornerback Dimitri Patterson and others that can be found on our roster tracker, the Jets also waived guard Will Campbell, linebacker Troy Davis, defensive tackle Tevita Finau, wide receiver Clyde Gates, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, linebacker Garrett McIntyre, safety Rontez Miles, tackle Brent Qvale, cornerback Jeremy Reeves and offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff. The Jets also moved linebacker Antwan Barnes to the regular season PUP list.

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Bills release Jeff Tuel, nine others

Jeff Tuel AP

The changes continue to the Bills’ QB depth chart.

Second-year quarterback Jeff Tuel, who competed for the top backup job this summer, was among 10 players released by the Bills on Saturday, the club announced.

Tuel, who started one game as a rookie, is subject to waivers. He is also eligible for the practice squad.

Tuel’s departure comes one day after the team reached a deal with Kyle Orton, who will back up EJ Manuel. Orton and Manuel are the only quarterbacks on the roster.

The Bills also parted ways Saturday with wide receiver T.J. Graham, center Doug Legursky, offensive guard Antoine McClain, safety Deon Broomfield, linebacker Jimmy Gaines, wide receiver Caleb Holley, defensive end Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, defensive end Bryan Johnson and safety Kenny Ladler.

However, on a day in which cuts headline transactions around the league, the Bills also made a signing, announcing the addition of punter Colton Schmidt. The Bills released punter Brian Moorman on Friday.

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Falcons finalize roster with 10 more cuts

Jeremy Ebert AP

The Falcons did most of their work yesterday, and the moves they made Saturday to get to the final 53-man roster were not major.

The team announced they released cornerback Ricardo Allen, safety Sean Baker, wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, guard Harland Gunn, tackle Terren Jones, wide receiver Bernard Reedy, defensive tackle Travian Robertson, tight end Mickey Shuler, and linebacker Jacques Smith. The reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Geraldo Boldewijn.

The moves leave them with just two tight ends (Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe), and after the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, that’s probably an area they’re going to need to add to.

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Derek Cox out in Baltimore, but he’s expected back

Jerick McKinnon, Derek Cox AP

The Ravens released cornerback Derek Cox on Saturday, but he may not be away from the team for long.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Cox, who signed in Baltimore after getting cut by the Vikings, is expected to re-sign with the team as soon as Sunday and described Saturday’s transaction as a procedural move. That would explain why the team kept only four corners on their initial 53-man roster. They kept seven wide receivers, so that may be another spot that’s changing.

The majority of the other moves announced by the Ravens on Saturday had either been reported previously (you can catch up with their moves and the moves of every other team on our roster tracker right here) or were also of the procedural variety. Running back Ray Rice and safety Will Hill were both placed on the suspended list as they will miss the first two and six games of the season respectively. Defensive tackle Terrance Cody was also moved to the regular season PUP list, which means he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of the season.

Baltimore also placed wide receiver Jeremy Butler on injured reserve and waived tackle Parker Graham.

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Former starting safety Robert Lester among Panthers cuts

Robert Lester, Kony Ealy AP

The Panthers cut a pair of former contributors to last year’s No. 2-ranked defense as part of final cuts.

Safety Robert Lester, who started last year after making the team as an undrafted rookie was waived, along with cornerback Josh Thomas.

In addition to the previously reported guard Chris Scott, the Panthers also waived linebacker Denicos Allen, cornerback Carrington Byndom, guard Derek Dennis, cornerback James Dockery, linebacker Adarius Glanton, wide receiver Tavarres King, wide receiver Marcus Lucas, tackle Andrew McDonald, safety Tom Nelson, defensive tackle Drake Nevis, running back Darrin Reaves, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, linebacker D.J. Smith, defensive tackle Casey Walker, and fullback Michael Zordich.

They also waived-injured tackle Kevin Hughes, and waived tight end Mike McNeill and safety Anderson Russell with injury settlements.

Defensive end Frank Alexander is on reserve/suspended, and will miss the first four games because of a violaltion of the league’s PED policy.

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Colts get down to 53 after trade with Seahawks

burley AP

A rare cut-day trade has helped the Colts get down to the NFL roster limit of 53 players.

Indianapolis sent cornerback Marcus Burley to Seattle in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The 24-year-old Burley has never played in a regular-season game, and it’s a little surprising that the Seahawks were willing to give up a draft pick to acquire him — especially considering that Seattle isn’t exactly needy at cornerback. But the Seahawks evidently liked what they’ve seen of Burley and thought he was worth a late-rounder.

Indianapolis waived the following 17 players: DE-Gannon Conway, RB-David Fluellen, QB-Chandler Harnish, DE-Tyler Hoover, OLB-Phillip Hunt, ILB-Andrew Jackson, WR-Ryan Lankford, WR-Josh Lenz, C-FN Lutz, S-Dewey McDonald, DT-Nnamdi Obukwelu, CB-Sheldon Price, ILB-Rob Ruggiero, TE-Weslye Saunders, ILB-Kelvin Sheppard, TE-Erik Swoope and G-Josh Walker.

The Colts also released NT-Brandon McKinney, waived-injured T-Matt Hall and S-Delano Howell and placed OLB-Robert Mathis on the reserve/suspended by commissioner list. That gets them down to 53.

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