Any time the words "best" or "greatest" get tossed into a football sentence, it is usually little more than the starting point to an argument.

And current New York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond, who played for the Seattle Seahawks last season, certainly cranked up one of those arguments Tuesday. As the Giants opened their offseason workouts this week, Thurmond, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with New York in free agency, said: "I'm the best slot corner in the league. I'll say that, for sure."

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Harris Jr. could be "one of the best in the league," according to former teammate Champ Bailey.
Yes, Thurmond has a Super Bowl ring, courtesy of the Seahawks' 35-point win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. And, yes, he's a quality nickel cornerback in the fast-paced, high-contact world of a defensive back who's asked to play in the slot.

But best slot cornerback in the league? No.

For that designation let's go to a 12-time Pro Bowl selection to make the call. And this past season when former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was asked about Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., Bailey said: "Chris has that ability to play on the outside and be one of the best in the league. He's smart, he studies, he's tough and competes on every play. But in the slot, at the nickel, he's the best in there. He can match up with anybody."

Sure, Bailey was Harris' teammate and mentor for three seasons. But Bailey doesn't say anybody is the best at anything if they're not. That's just not how he's wired.

Harris made the Broncos' roster as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and since has simply become one of the defense's most consistent and versatile players. Last season Harris started games on the outside, playing both sides of the formation. When the Broncos went to the nickel or dime, Harris was often in the slot.

And when Bailey returned from a foot injury last season and the Broncos tried to limit his snaps by using him as a nickel corner in the slot down the stretch, Bailey said Harris was a quality resource, "a guy I can talk to about playing in there, because everything happens fast, you almost have to know what the offense is doing as much as the receivers. I definitely can learn from him about playing in there."

Harris, who is still coming back from surgery to repair his ACL, took to Twitter to state his case Tuesday. After seeing Thurmond's comments, Harris sent:
 
Harris, who was an unrestricted free agent, signed his one-year, $2.187 million tender and is rehabbing at the Broncos' complex. The Broncos expect him to be ready for the start of the season.

He will be the starter in one of the outside cornerback positions, with Aqib Talib in the other. But when the Broncos go to their specialty packages, Harris is again expected to get most of the reps in the slot. The Broncos hope Kayvon Webster, a 2013 draft pick, is ready for more work in the defense, but Webster would play in an outside spot when the Broncos go to their specialty looks, leaving Harris to bump down inside when offenses go with three or four wide receivers.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- So what, exactly, is the Oakland Raiders' reputation across the NFL, according to three of the teams’ more respected free-agent veteran signees?

“Man, the impression was they had a lot of talented players but they couldn’t finish,” receiver James Jones said Tuesday, the first day of the Raiders’ voluntary offseason workout program. Jones spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers.

Tuck
Jones
Jones
“Obviously, the record speaks for itself. I wasn’t part of the team back then but as we talked today, 4-12 is not good enough. When we played the Raiders in the past, we’re kind of putting that ‘win’ on the board already. Now, everybody’s got to look at their self in the mirror and we’ve got to understand that we really don’t get no respect, and you’re not going to get no respect when you’re 4-12, so we’ve got to go out there and take it this year. And I believe we’ve got the right guys to do it.”

The Raiders have been among the more busy teams since the new league year began on March 11, having signed 12 free agents and acquiring a new quarterback in Matt Schaub in a trade with the Houston Texans.

Granted, most of the new guys are on the backside of their careers, but to a man they believe they still have a lot in the tank, while acknowledging they have a lot to prove.

“You hear, 'This is a great team, in 2009,'" offered running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who had been with the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2006. "Whatever."

There are more chips on these guys’ shoulders, though, than questions ... or whatevers.

"Being a fan of the Raiders," added Jones-Drew, who grew up in the East Bay and still lives in Oakland, "I was always envious of Darren (McFadden) because he got to wear that (silver and black) jersey and he played well, when healthy.

"We brought the right guys in."

Meaning drama-free vets with championship pedigrees, so to speak. And a knack for knowing how to win, as defensive end Justin Tuck's two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants attest.

And yes, Tuck thought the same as Jones when it came to the Raiders, who have not had a winning season since 2002 and are coming off consecutive 4-12 seasons.

"I would say 'talented,' but hadn’t played together as far as knowing how to win," Tuck said of the recent Raiders. "Beating themselves a little bit. Just like the game up (in New Jersey) last year. They had an opportunity to win, but they couldn’t close it out. That’s the M.O., I guess."

That’s what the veterans were brought to Oakland to do -- reverse the course and teach the team how to win.

“That’s our mentality,” said Tuck, who envisions the Raiders making like last season’s Kansas City Chiefs, who were 11-5 a year after going 2-14.

“A lot of people always say you go to Oakland for your career to die. I’m not looking at it like that. I’m looking at it like this is an opportunity to revive a storied franchise in a city with a great fan base behind this football team. The energy and excitement around this football team should be good. I’m excited about it.”

NFL Nation TV back for seconds

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Join us today at 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT, as ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s second Spreecast airs live. Hosts Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guest Pat McManamon (Cleveland Browns reporter) take on topics ranging from Terrelle Pryor to Johnny Manziel to Donald Trump to Vernon Davis to Chad Johnson's attempted CFL comeback. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
 
The Oakland Raiders' trade of quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday to the Seattle Seahawks for the Super Bowl champions’ seventh-round draft pick garnered the Raiders a total of seven selections in May’s NFL draft.

It also gave Oakland three seventh-round choices. Following is where the Raiders currently sit:
  • First round (No. 5 overall)
  • Second round (No. 36)
  • Third round (No. 67).
  • Fourth round (No. 107)
  • Fifth round (No. 146 sent to Seattle for QB Matt Flynn in 2013)
  • Sixth round (No. 181 sent to Houston Texans for QB Matt Schaub on March 21)
  • Seventh round (No. 219, No. 235, from Arizona Cardinals for QB Carson Palmer in 2013, No. 247, from Seattle for Pryor)

And to answer the question, no, Pryor was not traded for the pick that will become the NFL’s Mr. Irrelevant, or, the final pick in the draft. Rather, there are nine compensation picks that follow the pick the Raiders now own.
Dwight FreeneyAP Photo/Paul SpinelliAfter missing most of last season, Dwight Freeney is preparing for a return to action in 2014.
SAN DIEGO -- The defensive backfield of the San Diego Chargers rightfully received criticism for its uneven play last season.

But the defense’s inability to create consistent pressure on the quarterback also deserved scrutiny.

Edge rusher Dwight Freeney's focus is on changing that outcome in the upcoming season.

The former Indianapolis Colt and seven-time Pro Bowler says he is healthy heading into the beginning of San Diego's offseason workout regimen, which begins Tuesday.

Freeney, 34, believes this is the most important offseason of his 13-year professional career. And while he plans on taking a methodical approach to getting back on the field, Freeney said he'll be ready for San Diego’s season opener.

"It's the most important offseason because it's the next offseason," Freeney said. "Obviously, I want to keep improving. It's going to be a gradual thing. The main thing is to be ready for the first game of the year.

"There's no reason to rush. You have to give your body rest and work yourself into game shape. The doctors have said that I've healed completely. So now it's all about getting my strength back."

Even though he's a bit long in the tooth, the Chargers believe that Freeney still has some gas left in the tank. Freeney said he took notice this offseason when three of the top six active leaders in sacks switched teams -- with DeMarcus Ware moving to Denver, Jared Allen signing with Chicago and Julius Peppers with Green Bay.

The 30-something pass-rushers did not sign the type of high-dollar contracts they once commanded in their primes. However, each player joined a team that believes it can win now.

Freeney is in a similar situation as that trio. No. 6 on the active list in sacks with 108, Freeney agreed to a contract restructure that will pay him less money to stay with the Chargers, making a total of $2.5 million in total compensation in the final year of a two-year deal.

"It's really interesting seeing some of the elite older guys moving around," Freeney said. "It just tells us that it's a young man's game. We all understand it. We all get it. We might not like it, but that's what it is.

"We're still performing. We're still playing well. But teams don’t want to pay that type of money for the age. But we still have value. For teams that want to win now, that's what's happening."

The Chargers, who finished eight quarters away from a Super Bowl last season, believe they are one of those teams.

In 2013, Freeney finished with just two tackles and half a sack before suffering a torn quad that required surgery in a Week 4 contest against Dallas, effectively ending his first season in a Chargers uniform.

The Chargers and Freeney are in a bit of a drought when it comes to sacks. Freeney hasn’t finished with double-digit sacks since totaling 10 in 2010.

San Diego has not had a player finish with double-digit sacks since Antwan Barnes totaled 11 in 2011. The Chargers have been in the bottom third of the league in sacks for two of the past three seasons, including tied for 23rd last year with 35.

Freeney doesn’t put much stock in sack totals.

"I've always said in my career that numbers are just a product of whatever is happening at the time," Freeney said. "You can make a lot of plays in one year from a statistical standpoint, and it could have nothing to do with how good you played.

"It can depend on the coverage, or if the quarterback is holding onto the ball too long. There’s always different things that are happening where statistics don't tell you the entire story. So double-digit sacks are always a good thing to have, but ultimately I want to contribute to the team winning."

The oldest player in his position group, part of Freeney's role will be to serve as mentor for up-and-coming pass-rushers such as Melvin Ingram. Freeney was signed in May of last year to help replace Ingram after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason training.

Ingram returned sooner than expected at the end of the 2013 season. Freeney said he's looking forward to playing with Ingram.

"It's going to be fun," Freeney said. "He has a lot of energy and plays with the right attitude. I've been in the league a while and have learned some things and tricks, and I think I can help him out. And I'm more than willing to share."

Freeney can look to someone such as John Abraham for inspiration. Released by the Atlanta Falcons last year, the active leader in sacks signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with Arizona. The 35-year-old Abraham showed his worth, finishing with 11.5 sacks in 2013 and helping to anchor an Arizona defense that led the Cardinals to a surprising 10-6 campaign.

In terms of team success, the Chargers can look to how effectively the Seattle Seahawks generated pressure against Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl for a blueprint on how to create more pass rush in the upcoming season.

The Seahawks played pass-rushers in waves. Seattle's top edge rushers, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, played an average of 55 percent of the team's snaps during the 2013 regular season. In his first three games for San Diego before suffering a quad injury, Freeney played 74 percent of the defensive snaps.

So the Chargers could benefit from limiting Freeney's snaps to make him more productive.

"The more depth you have, the better pass rush you can create as a team," Freeney said. "The more people that you have that can do what you can do, that keeps you from being out there so that you're not wearing yourself out. I think that's the big thing. From a hockey perspective, you keeping changing those lines and keeping rotating guys to keep those lines fresh."
With just 14 words fired off over Twitter on the first day of the Denver Broncos' offseason program, Orlando Franklin confirmed a move in the offensive line the team's decision-makers have considered for quite some time.

Franklin, whose Twitter profile begins simply with; "Right Tackle for the Denver Broncos," confirmed his move to left guard Monday, the opening day of the Broncos' team workouts in 2014. Following the team's first full gathering with the team's strength and conditioning coaches since the 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Franklin sent:

 

Though Franklin learned of the decision Monday, this is something Broncos officials had considered last spring and were considering once again shortly after the season ended, when they had made the decision to let guard Zane Beadles test the free-agent market. Beadles signed a five-year deal worth $30 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars shortly after free agency opened last month, a deal worth far more than the Broncos would have been willing to spend.

The Broncos made no offer to Beadles' representatives, though Beadles had played in every game and started every game but two in his four years with the team. That departure left a hole in the team's plan up front.

The Broncos, searching for more power in the middle of the offensive line for much of the past two season, had considered moving Franklin to guard during the 2012 offseason. They worked him there at times during training camp, and head coach John Fox has said Franklin took some reps inside during last year's regular season as well.

The Broncos then jumped out a year ago to sign Louis Vasquez to a four-year deal -- the longest free-agent deal the Broncos signed last March -- and in return Vasquez gave the Broncos an All-Pro season at right guard. But the defenses that gave the Broncos the most difficulty, most notably the Seahawks in the title game, often did so with pressure in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeOrlando Franklin
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsOrlando Franklin will give the Broncos more pop in the run game at left guard. With his long reach he will be difficult for inside defenders to handle in the pass game as well.
As a result the Broncos are trying to answer lineup questions at left guard and will take a look at center as well.

Franklin has started 47 games at right tackle since he was the second of the Broncos' second-round picks in the 2011 draft (the 46th pick overall). At the league meetings last month, Fox said Franklin "was prepared to play guard last year."

It won't be an unfamiliar position for Franklin, who started 25 games at left guard in his career at the University of Miami before starting at left tackle in his senior season. And there were many scouts who believed when Franklin entered the '11 draft he would be a better guard in the NFL over the long haul.

Franklin is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season. He will give the Broncos more pop at the point of attack in the run game. His reach -- he is 6-foot-7-inches tall -- will make him tough to handle for opposing defensive tackles on the inside in pass protection. His chief hurdle will be to block on the move in the run game when the Broncos go to more of a zone look, but the Broncos have been of the mind it will help them overall to move him inside.

With Ryan Clady's return at left tackle, Chris Clark will get the first look at right tackle and Will Montgomery, who signed as a free agent, will battle Manny Ramirez in early offseason work for the starting center spot. When the Broncos signed Montgomery in the second week of free agency, they did so with the feeling he would push, and could win, the starting center job.

But make no mistake, the Broncos will still give a long look to potential swing tackles in the draft as well as swing players inside who can play both center and guard. In the latter scenario, the Broncos won't have to look far for a player who could fit the bill in Colorado State's Weston Richburg.

Richburg started 50 consecutive games for the Rams and never missed a game -- a streak that included him snapping with his left hand at times during the 2011 season after he had fractured his right hand. Richburg is athletic, savvy and only added to his quality résumé on the field by performing well at his pro day in Fort Collins, Colo., last month.

The Broncos also believe Vinston Painter, a 2013 draft pick who spent much of last season on the team's practice squad, is a potential fit at right tackle down the road as well.

In the end, Fox has said they will use only one criteria to pick Peyton Manning's personal protectors. Fox said they are "trying to get our best five on the field and there will be a lot of different formulas for that ... we'll work a million combinations."

And on the first day of offseason work Franklin's shift to the left was the opening move.
Surprised that Terrelle Pryor has been let go by the Oakland Raiders? You shouldn’t be. Not if you were reading the Silver and Black tea leaves.

At least the Raiders were able to get something in return by working out a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Otherwise, Oakland faced the prospect of merely cutting Pryor loose with no return on Al Davis’ final draft pick.

Or, as one league source wondered Monday afternoon, “Would you want him?”

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Tony AvelarThe Raiders replaced quarterback Terrelle Pryor with Matt McGloin once teams began to figure out Pryor.
The Raiders will receive a seventh-round pick from Seattle and now have seven picks again -- Nos. 5, 36, 67, 107, 219, 235 and 247 -- in the upcoming NFL draft.

Now, this is not meant as a slam on Pryor. Not at all. You cannot question his work ethic. His decision-making on the field? Sure. His blonde locks of late that tweaked the Raiders, even if he was merely following through on a lost bet? Absolutely.

But it has been painfully obvious since last summer that the Raiders, for lack of a better term, have not liked Pryor as a quarterback. At least, not as their quarterback.

Not even after he started nine of 11 games and finished with 1,798 passing yards in completing 57.4 percent of his passes. He had seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions while setting a franchise rushing record for a quarterback with 576 yards. His total QB rating of 30.5 was third-lowest in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks last season.

Sure, Pryor won the starting gig last preseason over Matt Flynn, but with Flynn’s arm hurting and Oakland’s offensive line leaking like a sieve at the time, the more mobile Pryor simply gave the Raiders their best chance at success.

And he was more than exciting, his NFL record-for-a-quarterback 93-yard touchdown run in Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers serving as his apex for the Raiders.

But when opponents began figuring him out -- he likes to roll out to his right -- his success quickly diminished. A sprained knee and what many in the organization saw as a pouting act following a loss at the New York Giants sent Pryor to the bench in favor of an undrafted rookie whose skillset -- a more polished, pure dropback passer -- better fit the type of offense the Raiders wanted to run.

Matt McGloin is not the answer, either. That’s why the Raiders traded for a veteran, Matt Schaub, to run their offense.

It was just another sign that Pryor was on the Raiders’ backburner -- if they were keeping him warm at all. He is liked in the organization well enough, but he would frustrate many with his improvisational ways and how he would often take to social media and the traditional media to get his message across as a pseudo QB of the People.

He works hard. He’s giving away a coffee machine and, well, he works hard.

From Day 1, I compared Pryor to Tim Tebow, rather than the likes of Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson.

You have to wonder, though, if Pryor will have a similar NFL fate to Tebow's.

Now, though, he’ll ostensibly learn at the knee of Wilson. And, oh yes, the Raiders play at Seattle this coming season.
Technically, the offseason workout program and practices are voluntary to Kansas City Chiefs players. According to the bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA, the only offseason event players are required to attend and participate in is the three-day minicamp the Chiefs will hold in June.

Most if not all players will attend when the program begins Monday and attendance will be something close to perfect throughout. The Chiefs, like the other 31 teams, prefer players to be working out under their guidance and frown upon those who don't attend and participate.

Many players also have financial incentives to work out with their teammates in Kansas City. Thirty-three players will receive a bonus if they complete a certain percentage of the workouts. These bonuses range from significant ($300,000 to safety Eric Berry) to "pocket change" ($8,000 for linebacker Nico Johnson and defensive back Sanders Commings).

 
They all dream of finding the next star player, the one nobody else knows about. That’s how football scouts kill the endless hours on the road. But the reality? It just doesn’t happen much anymore. In the age of YouTube, it’s as easy for fans to research players as scouts.

That doesn’t stop them, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey included, from trying. His team is no different from any of the others but perhaps a little more inclined to look for players in obscure places.

The Chiefs’ roster is well stocked with players from tiny football schools as well as those in the so-called power conferences. They have one player from Alabama, but also one from West Alabama. They have one each from Penn State and Pittsburgh but two from California of Pennsylvania.

They have two former Ivy Leaguers, a guy who before joining the Chiefs never played beyond junior college and one who didn’t play football in college at all. He was a basketball player.

[+] EnlargeJohn Dorsey
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsFrom the CFL to college basketball, Chiefs GM John Dorsey has used numerous avenues to find talent.
While a scout for the Green Bay Packers, Dorsey twice went to Australia to find a punter. One of them didn’t work out but the other, Chris Bryan, kicked for a time in the NFL, not with the Packers but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We all have our avenues to find players," Dorsey said. “There are different ways of doing it. It’s my responsibility to the Kansas City Chiefs to do everything within our power to make sure we’ve got everything covered. We’re going to do that because if you’re not out there working, somebody else is and they’ll find those guys. Everybody does such a thorough job now.

“In today’s football, it’s really hard because all 32 teams are doing their due diligence in terms of working to unearth talent. The objective is to get real players. Anybody can go and find obscure players but they have to be able to play at the end of the day."

The ability to mine players from out-of-the-way places isn’t a bad one to have this time of year, with the draft looming. The Chiefs are down to six picks this year, having sent their second-round choice to the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.

So they could use a late-round or undrafted player to come through and replace at least some of the long-term production they probably would have received from that second-round pick.

Perhaps that player is already on their roster. He might be Weston Dressler, a tiny but quick slot receiver the Chiefs signed over the winter after he played several seasons in the Canadian Football League. It could be Mike Catapano, a seventh-round pick last season from Princeton who showed uncommon ability to rush the quarterback for a one-time Ivy Leaguer.

Yet another candidate is tight end Demetrius Harris, who played basketball but not football in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It’s no longer rare for football teams to try to make a tight end from a former power forward, but Harris, who was once a standout high school football player in Arkansas, attracted the attention of the Chiefs in a typical Dorsey way.

“I was down at the [high school] all-star game maybe two or three years ago, Texas vs. the Nation. I happened to be out to dinner and was talking to some gentleman and he started talking about great high school players from Arkansas who didn’t play football in college. He said to keep an eye on [Harris] because he was all-state and this and that. I always have a Franklin planner with me where I keep notes. I just wrote down his name with the note to research him when he was eligible for the draft.

“I have a lot of those notes in that planner from conversations I’ve had about players who might not be eligible for the draft for two or three years."

The Chiefs last spring looked into Harris, who had finished his collegiate eligibility. They were in on him early and aggressively.

Word eventually spread around the NFL about Harris and though neither the Chiefs nor any other team drafted Harris, he became the object of a post-draft signing battle with Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens among the finalists.

Harris signed with the Chiefs as much out of loyalty for their early interest as anything else.

“Demetrius just felt comfortable there," said Matthew Pope, Harris’ agent. “We needed a long-term commitment and the Chiefs were willing to give us their word on that.

“John’s history is that he’s not going to look at where the player comes from. He’ll just look at what the player does."

Harris spent his rookie season on the Chiefs’ practice squad. Much of that time was spent getting reacquainted with football. But late in the year he showed signs of developing into a player.

“He did a nice job in his year on the practice squad," Dorsey said. “Remember that he hadn’t played football in four years. He started to get in the groove about Week 12 or 13. He started to feel comfortable and get back in football shape."

The odds against Harris ever becoming another Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates are great. But if he does, give Dorsey some credit for finding a great player who at least for a time nobody else knew about.
As he progressed through his offseason work, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning watched with great interest as his team opened free agency in high gear.

Manning is known to quickly call and/or text the team's newest acquisitions, welcoming them aboard. This offseason, Manning quickly reached out to cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders after they signed.

The Broncos are set to open their offseason program Monday, and despite all the new acquisitions, Manning said this past week one of the biggest "additions" to this season's lineup will be the return of Ryan Clady. The left tackle had foot surgery that ended his 2013 season after two games.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
Rich Kane/Icon SMI"You always want to have your good players in the lineup. And he's one of our best," Broncos coach John Fox said of Ryan Clady.
“We lost some players and we're getting some players back that were injured last year,'' Manning said. "It's almost like Ryan Clady was a free-agent acquisition. He didn't play last year [after injuring his foot in Week 2]."

Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently said in recent weeks the Broncos expect Clady to be at full speed by the time the season rolls around. Clady has progressively stepped up the work in his rehab, even after the Broncos had closed out the season with a loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

But even as the Broncos blistered the league's single-season record book with Manning's 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards to go with the team's 606 points overall, the Broncos were not always what they could have been if Clady were healthy. The Broncos used a three-wide receiver look as their base offensive set -- with Chris Clark playing in place of Clady -- but Manning didn't always have time to explore all of his options.

Manning was actually sacked fewer times with more pass attempts in 2013 than in 2012 -- he was sacked 18 times this past season with 659 pass attempts as compared to 21 times in 2012 with 583 pass attempts. The Broncos believe Clady's return will enable them to expand some of what they did last season. That includes their ability to run the ball more efficiently out of their open formations and give Manning more time to see more options when he does throw the ball.

Manning's ankle troubles this past season were a result of hits taken from his blind side, from rushers Clady would have been blocking had he been in the lineup. Manning's sack totals don't always tell the story, and the Broncos want to address the hits he took in 2013.

With his preparation, anticipation and pre-snap recognition of what the defense has to offer, Manning has always been able to limit sacks -- almost no matter what the offensive line has looked like in front of him. He has been sacked 20 or fewer times in 10 of his seasons as a starter; fewer than 15 times in five of his seasons. Defenses have never sacked Manning more than the 29 times they got him in 2001, a season the Indianapolis Colts finished 6-10.

But after four neck surgeries and turning 38 years old, every hit on Manning is potential trouble.

Broncos head coach John Fox has said, in the wake of the departure of left guard Zane Beadles in free agency, the team will try plenty of combinations up front during offseason workouts and even into training camp -- "a million," he said -- but that the "best five" will be the starters. And as they get down to business Monday, all of those plans are based on having a healthy Clady at left tackle, handling his business on his own so the Broncos can slide the help elsewhere if necessary.

Or as Fox put it: "You always want to have your good players in the lineup. And he's one of our best. We did a lot of good things when he was out last season, but we'll be able to do even more good things with him back in there."
The Kansas City Chiefs will gather as a group at their practice facility on Monday for the first time since losing their wild-card playoff game to the Indianapolis Colts in January. The Chiefs are among the NFL teams that will begin their off-season workout program.

The first two weeks of the program will mainly consist of strength, conditioning and physical rehabilitation for players who need it. Over the subsequent three weeks the Chiefs may get on the practice field, but no team offense vs. defense drills are permitted.

Practice begins for the Chiefs on May 24 with the start of a three-day rookie camp. Full-squad practice begins on May 27.

The program concludes with a three-day mini-camp that begins on June 17.

Training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph will begin in late July.
This has always been a critical year in the relationship between Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.

With Miller still recovering from ACL surgery and slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season, team officials face their first major decision about Miller's contract. The team has until May 3 to exercise an option year in Miller's rookie deal that would put him under contract for 2015. With 15 days before the deadline, the Broncos had not yet reached a decision as Friday's business day drew to a close.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesDenver has two weeks to decide whether it will exercise an option on Von Miller's rookie contract.
In 2011, the first year of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams were given the option of a fifth year for first-round draft picks as part of the transition to the new rookie wage scale.

The "fifth-year option" must be engaged by May 3 and the option-year salary doesn't become guaranteed until March of 2015. So, it is possible for teams to engage the option year and potentially release the player at a later date before the base salary is guaranteed.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that the San Francisco 49ers did not plan to engage the fifth-year option on defensive end Aldon Smith, who was the No. 7 pick of that draft, but several players have been informed their teams would pick up the option. This includes Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (the No. 11 pick), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 5) and San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (No. 18).

The Broncos made Miller the No. 2 pick of that draft, behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. With 30 sacks over his first two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller looked to be on the fast track to elite status in the league.

Miller then opened the 2013 season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- a violation that now subjects him to testing up to 10 times a month for the rest of his career. Several off-the-field issues, including an arrest last summer on a failure-to-appear warrant and several traffic violations, also dogged him last year.

He then tore his ACL against the Texans' in December and again raised some eyebrows with the team when he tried to attend a Seattle Seahawks victory party following the Broncos' 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

For the first 10 picks of the 2011 draft, the salary for the option is this year's transition tag salary in free agency at their respective positions. The figure is calculated as an average of the top 10 salaries at those spots. For Miller that would mean a $9.754 million salary if he's on the roster when the new league year begins next March.

If the Broncos decline the option and Miller returns from his injury and shows his former speed and explosiveness and more maturity off the field, the team could still use the franchise tag to keep him.

That scenario would cost slightly more since the franchise tag salary for linebackers was $11.455 million this year and could be higher next season. A franchise player's salary is guaranteed the moment the player signs the tender. Some players sign them as soon as they receive them to guarantee the money, and some wait until training camp, hoping a long-term deal is worked out instead.

The Broncos and Miller could, if both sides found some common ground, still negotiate a long-term extension.

Miller said at an appearance for his foundation Monday that he continues to work hard to return from his knee injury, and that he wants to return "a better player" than he was. The Broncos open their offseason conditioning program Monday, but Miller will not participate. He will continue with his knee rehab with the team's trainers and strength and conditioning staff.
The Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 overall pick, are in full draft mode with less than three weeks to go until the first round goes down on May 8. But with free agency still open for business, we’ve updated our Raiders tracker to include reported visits to the team compound by college players as well as updates with their six tendered exclusive-rights free agents:

Raiders free agents

LT Jared Veldheer -- signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals on March 11.

DE Lamarr Houston -- signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Chicago Bears on March 11.

RB Rashad Jennings -- signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the New York Giants on March 12.

CB Tracy Porter -- signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Washington on March 13.

RB Darren McFadden -- signed a one-year, $4 million deal to return to the Raiders, with $100,000 guaranteed and $2.25 million in incentives on March 15.

FS Charles Woodson -- signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract to return to Raiders on March 21.

DT Vance Walker -- signed a three-year contract with Kansas City Chiefs worth a maximum of $13.75 million, guaranteed at least $3.75 million on March 14.

DT Pat Sims -- signed a one-year, $1.45 million contract to return to Raiders on March 28.

CB Mike Jenkins -- signed a one-year contract worth up to $2 million with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 20.

CB Phillip Adams -- reportedly agreed to one-year contract with Seattle Seahawks on March 27.

S Usama Young -- signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract to return to Raiders on March 19.

WR Jacoby Ford -- signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the New York Jets on April 1.

DT Daniel Muir

OT Tony Pashos

DE Jason Hunter

C/G Andre Gurode

TE Jeron Mastrud

Exclusive rights free agents

FB Jamize Olawale -- team announced he signed tender on March 25.

RB Jeremy Stewart -- team announced he signed tender on April 2.

LB Kaelin Burnett -- team announced he signed tender on April 17.

SS Brandian Ross -- reportedly he signed tender on March 8 (team hasn't announced).

CB Chimdi Chekwa -- reportedly he signed tender on March 5 (team not announced).

OT Matt McCants

Who else is gone?

RG Mike Brisiel cut by Oakland on April 1, saving the Raiders $1.38 million in salary-cap space, though he'll still carry a cap number of $3.93 million.

Who's new?

OL Rodger Saffold (St. Louis Rams) -- agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal ($21 million guaranteed) with the Raiders on March 11. Deal voided with Oakland's concerns over Saffold's shoulder the next day. He re-signed with the Rams immediately.

OL Austin Howard (New York Jets) -- signed a five-year, $30 million deal ($15 million guaranteed) with Raiders on March 12.

DE Justin Tuck (New York Giants) -- signed a two-year, $11 million deal with Raiders on March 13.

LB/DE LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers) -- signed a two-year contract worth up to $12 million with Raiders on March 13.

CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco 49ers) -- signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

DL Antonio Smith (Houston Texans) –- signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

WR James Jones (Green Bay Packers) -- signed a three-year, $11.3 million deal with Raiders on March 17.

OL Kevin Boothe (New York Giants) -- signed a two-year, $2.625 million contract with Raiders on March 17.

LT Donald Penn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) -- signed a two-year, $9.6 million deal, with $4.2 million guaranteed, with Raiders on March 19.

QB Matt Schaub (Houston Texans) -- acquired in a trade for a sixth-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft on March 21.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) -- signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Raiders on March 28.

DL C.J. Wilson (Green Bay Packers) -- signed a one-year, $795,000 contract with Raiders on March 28.

CB Carlos Rogers (San Francisco 49ers) -- signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with Raiders on March 31.

P Daniel Zychlinski (Stanford) -- camp leg signed on April 4.

Who’s visited or will be visiting ... reportedly

DT Jason Hatcher (Dallas Cowboys) -- signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington on March 13.

DE Henry Melton (Chicago Bears) -- signed a four-year, $29 million contract with Dallas Cowboys on March 19.

RB Andre Brown (New York Giants) -- signed a one-year, $645,000 contract with Houston Texans on April 7.

LB Dane Fletcher (New England Patriots) -- signed a one-year, $2 million contract with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 16.

LB Rob Jackson (Washington) -- re-signed with Washington to a one-year, $795,000 contract on April 4.

DB Terrell Thomas (New York Giants)

Reported college player visits to Alameda

QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)

QB Tom Savage (Pittsburgh)

QB Blake Bortles (Central Florida)

WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)

CB Dexter McDougle (Maryland)

CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)

WR Cody Latimer (Indiana)

* Contract figures culled from numerous reports.
St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher often tells veteran players they will have to expend 10 percent more effort in an upcoming offseason than they did in the one before, if they plan to maintain their ability to compete for the same amount of playing time.

Essentially, the message is that the status quo can't be on the agenda, that every time you roll over and hit the snooze button, the guy who wants your job already is out of bed and has put the proverbial nose to the grindstone.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Hyoung Chang//The Denver Post/Getty Images"Just because you were there last year in the [Super Bowl], it doesn't guarantee you anything," Peyton Manning said.
And this week, sprinkled through Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's first public comments in Colorado since the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was fairly easy to discern Manning's theme for the coming weeks and months.

Manning has been known to rattle the cage of a teammate a time or two about what needs to be done, or surprise someone with a pop quiz in the hallway about their responsibilities on a third-and-long. He dropped the word “work" 10 times into his comments in the span of just a few minutes, and that included a couple of references to both “hard work" and “good work."

It was a preview of sorts, because the Broncos will open their offseason conditioning program Monday and the vast majority, if not all, of their healthy players are expected to take part. These are technically “voluntary" gatherings; the Broncos can only declare offseason workouts mandatory for a three-day minicamp in June. But this is "voluntary" -- as in, you "voluntarily waive your right to play any significant snaps when training camp rolls around."

Last season, the Broncos worked off the premise that the double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round would be the fuel for the offseason in 2013. That worked, at least until the season's last game, when the Broncos arrived at the Super Bowl seemingly without their mojo in their luggage.

They're hoping disappointment can once again help power them through spring and into summer.

“Just because you were there last year in the game, it doesn't guarantee you anything," Manning said. “It does take a lot of hard work and sacrifice."

Manning, certainly the analytical type when it comes to the game, is also still a big believer in the elusive power of football chemistry -- that somehow teammates who have invested time together will eventually also play better together, particularly when the ride gets bumpy.

“I think forming that chemistry takes time," Manning said. “Certainly working together in the weight room is part of it. [Aqib] Talib getting to know Chris Harris; DeMarcus [Ware] getting to know [Kevin] Vickerson and [Derek] Wolfe and Von [Miller] -- the guys he's going to be rushing with; for me, getting to know [Emmanuel] Sanders. It's not an overnight process. That's something that we have done in the past. I think that's been a big part of some of the wins we've had -- is our offseason work and how guys have spent time together and put the time in together."

In the post-spinal-fusion portion of his career, Manning has always said he would keep playing if he believed he could still compete at the level he wants, and as long as he still enjoyed the preparation as well as the effort it takes physically to get ready to play.

So while the regular season is still a long way off, Manning, having already worked with the team's pass-catchers while at Duke, has made it pretty clear he's ready to get back to business -- and that the expectation is everyone else will be, too.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted last year for the first time with John Dorsey as their general manager and Andy Reid as their head coach. This will be a much different draft for the Chiefs, who had four of the top 99 picks last year. They have just one of the top 86 this year.

But a look back can provide some idea of what the Chiefs can expect from this year’s draft.

 

The season behind: The Chiefs didn’t get much from this group when they were rookies. In fact, their rookie of the year was a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marcus Cooper. Fisher started 13 games at right tackle but his season wasn’t what could reasonably be expected from the first overall pick in the draft. His play was uneven at best, particularly earlier in the season. He struggled as a pass-blocker against stronger opponents and their power moves. He proved unreliable, missing three regular-season starts plus the playoff game with injuries ranging from shoulder to concussion to groin. The Chiefs were counting on productive playing time from Kelce and Commings before injuries cost them all of their rookie seasons. Kelce in the preseason developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery. Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp. The Chiefs were hopeful Johnson could be a starter at inside linebacker, but a preseason injury set him back and he never made a serious challenge. Kush and Catapano were drafted as developmental players and that’s the role both settled into, though injuries forced the Chiefs to use Catapano at times and he showed some pass-rush ability. Wilson was a huge disappointment, even as a sixth-round pick. He was cut during the preseason and the Chiefs didn’t think enough of him to bring him back to their practice squad.

The seasons ahead: Fisher may be the only full-time player from this group again in 2014, but it’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs could still get some production from the others -- Wilson being the exception. The Chiefs are confident that despite his rocky debut season, Fisher will eventually become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He will move over to left tackle after playing on the right side and should benefit greatly from an offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program. Commings could wind up as the starter at free safety if the Chiefs don’t draft a player to fill that position. Otherwise, the Chiefs will look for ways to get him on the field. He was going to challenge for playing time in their nickel defense last year before his injury. The Chiefs are eager to get Kelce involved in their passing game. He was very involved before his injury. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots to best use his ability to get down the field and beat coverage to make catches. Davis became more involved as last season went on and should get more playing time this year, assuming the leg he broke in the playoff game allows him to and his fumbling habit doesn’t reappear. Eventually, Davis could be the replacement for Jamaal Charles. At 227 pounds, he’s bigger and more powerful than Charles and he’s fast for a player his size. He probably won’t ever give the Chiefs what Charles delivered as a pass receiver last season. It speaks to what the Chiefs think of Johnson that one of their first moves in free agency was to sign veteran Joe Mays to be a starter at inside linebacker. Johnson may be a special-teamer for whatever remains of his Chiefs career. Catapano may never develop into a full-time player but his ability as a pass-rusher gives him a shot at a lesser role. Similarly, Kush may continue to be a backup, but watch what the Chiefs do with starting center Rodney Hudson, who is scheduled to become a free agent next year. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, Kush could inherit the spot if he develops as the Chiefs hope.

Best pick: As expected for the first overall pick, Fisher should become this draft’s best player. Despite his struggles last season, he frequently showed the athletic ability a great offensive tackle needs. But Kelce should eventually become the best pick from a value standpoint. He could become the Chiefs’ best pass receiver at tight end since the traded Tony Gonzalez.

Worst pick: Since Wilson couldn’t hang around until the end of his rookie preseason, he has to qualify, for now. The others still have a chance to be productive players. But the situation doesn’t look good for Johnson, either. As an inside linebacker, he would be a part-time player, coming out of the game on passing downs. But the Chiefs evidently believe he’s not advanced enough to handle it yet.

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