CINCINNATI -- Now that Vontaze Burfict's contract extension is official, the Cincinnati Bengals project to be slightly over the salary-cap limit for this season.

With the approximate $5.5 million cap hit the Bengals will take in 2014 on Burfict's newly completed deal, the club now anticipates spending a little more than the $133 million the NFL will allow teams to dole out this season.

The $133 million figure the Bengals believe they are at is not an official one since none of that money has to be paid until the end of the season. It includes what the team projects practice-squad and injured-reserve spending will end up being. If you take the roughly $6 million or so the Bengals likely will dole on their practice squad and injured reserve group, they have just enough money under the cap as of now to pay player salaries.

Of course, with some cuts still to take place before this weekend and other personnel changes sure to come between now and the end of the season, the current cap figure most certainly will change. That's one reason why determining a team's exact salary-cap figure on any given day is far from an exact science.

If you were to take a look at the NFL Players Association's latest cap numbers, you would see where the Bengals had $125.6 million devoted to cap spending before Burfict's deal went through. You also would see where the NFLPA reported that the Bengals had a little more than $16 million left in cap space. What you wouldn't see is that the $16 million takes into account the $8.7 million or so of carryover money the Bengals don't factor into their spending for now. A good chunk of that money likely will end up going toward paying the practice-squad and injured-reserve debts outlined above.

So that means, using the NFLPA numbers -- which don't take into account practice-squad and injured-reserve spending -- the Bengals actually had closer to $7 million to spend just before Burfict's deal. That would have been enough to put them just shy of the cap limit. According to the Bengals' projections, ones that include the other spending, this deal now puts them slightly over.

The bottom line is this: Regardless which numbers you use, just know that the team is right at the salary cap.

How does that affect the rest of the team? It means that barring any departures of major players who aren't owed guaranteed money in 2014, the Bengals are probably done for now with their extensions and free-agent deals. A.J. Green already has been expected to finish his initial four-year rookie deal this year and make his $10 million next season as part of the fifth-year option he was granted. Any preexisting plans to restructure his deal in a way that will lock him up for long term with big bucks may have to be put on ice temporarily.

Don't worry about that too much, though. The Bengals have proven in recent years that when they feel the time is right, they'll make the right move to keep their big-money man. That time for Green probably won't be next March.

But it could be next summer. The Bengals' last four mega deals were all executed in June (Carlos Dunlap, 2013), early September (Geno Atkins, 2013) and August (Andy Dalton and Burfict, 2014).

Packers Camp Report: Day 21

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
6:15
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • For the final practice of camp on Wednesday, the Packers went through their new day-before-the-game practice in helmets and shorts. It lasted 61 minutes. That brought their total time on the practice field for training camp to 35 hours and 30 minutes dating to the first practice on July 26. When told of that number, one former Packers' player from the 1980s said: "We used to practice that much the first week [of camp]." The longest practice of the summer was their fourth one of camp on July 30. It lasted two hours and 36 minutes. The only other practice lasted more than two-and-half hours. It was a two hour-and-31-minute session in July 30. They went longer than two hours and 15 minutes only twice after Aug. 1. The shortest practice of camp was a 58-minute session on Aug. 21, the day before the preseason home opener against the Raiders.
  • As has been their custom following the final practice of training camp, the players thanked the fans for attending practice by going over to the stands and shaking hands with them.
  • Despite not having another kicker to compete with, Mason Crosby got almost the exact same number of training camp field goals as he did last year, when the Packers had two other kickers in camp. Crosby finished camp by making all three of his field goals (33, 38 and 43 yards) in Wednesday's practice to finish camp 53 of 63 (84.1 percent). Last summer, he was 53 of 67 (79.1 percent) in practice.
  • After reducing their roster to 75 on Tuesday by putting six players on injured reserve, there were only four players who did not practice on Wednesday. They were: cornerback Demetri Goodson (concussion), linebacker Brad Jones (quadriceps), center JC Tretter (knee) and tight end Brandon Bostick (leg). None is expected to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and several other veteran starters also are not expected to play. Rodgers took mostly scout-team reps in practice this week.
  • Thursday's game against the Chiefs at Lambeau Field kicks off at 6 p.m. local time.
CINCINNATI -- There's a nugget buried in our Wednesday afternoon news story on Vontaze Burfict's now-official contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals.

You have to read near the bottom in order to find it.

While I do encourage you to do me a favor and still click the link above and read the full story, I've decided to go on and include it right here, high in this column, to help make everything else I'm about to write make sense. The nugget is in the quote below.
"It's unusual to sign a player this early in his career to a contract extension, but Vontaze is a player who merits this," Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. "He has proven to be an exceptional find for us and we are happy to reward him now for his accomplishments. It's good for him and good for our team."

There's your nugget: Burfict's extension is "unusual."

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesVontaze Burfict could be considered the best player in one of the top defenses in the league.
It's so unusual that thanks to the latest collective bargaining agreement, we may not see many other players get the type of contract extension Burfict just landed at such an early stage in their careers. In fact, because of the CBA and its limitations on the rookie contracts of draft picks, we definitely won't see a drafted player in the near future receive a more than $20-million raise after just two seasons in the league.

"It's rare," as one source familiar with Burfict's deal put it to me Wednesday afternoon, "in today's NFL for a young player to get a contract extension of any kind after two years. He's certainly on the path to be heavily financially rewarded."

Burfict's deal puts him in rare company, good company. He has no one to thank for that other than himself.

After just two seasons the former undrafted prospect from Arizona State -- one who was bashed by his college head coach before the 2012 combine, blasted by draftniks during it for his incredibly slow 40-yard time, and belittled after it by fans and sportswriters alike for having apparent maturity issues -- has certainly made a name for himself. He's cleaned up his image off the field, and completely shirked the "overlooked" label he once carried on it.

How has he done all of that? By putting his head down, keeping his mouth shut and playing some pretty good football.

Through two seasons, Burfict has recorded 298 tackles, trailing only Luke Kuechly (320) and Paul Posluszny (301) in that span. The next closest Bengal to Burfict is fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga who is 101 tackles behind with 197 since 2011.

Oh, and yeah, Burfict's also been to the Pro Bowl.

If you looked at those facts alone, you could make a good case for why Burfict ought to be considered the best player on a defense that ranked third in the league last season. His defensive coordinator and former position coach, Paul Guenther, wouldn't out-right disagree. Guenther has called Burfict his smartest pupil, and has valued his input throughout his transition this year to the Bengals' top defensive assistant's position.

When Guenther first started coaching Burfict, he saw a leader who didn't really know how to lead.

"He's so competitive that he would get mad at guys," Guenther said. "I said, 'Look, you can't do that because now that's going to set him off, which is going to set a fire.' I really worked on his leadership abilities and how to go about it in different ways."

As a reward for that and other lessons, Burfict had Guenther tag along when he went to the Pro Bowl.

With the potential for more Pro Bowls on his horizon, Burfict has positioned himself nicely the next several years of his career. Had he not signed an extension this year, he could have slipped into restricted free agency in March. Even if offered the highest possible tender, he still would have been grossly underpaid what he was worth for the 2015 season. He also would have had to wait until 2016 to see any real free-agency pay day. With this newly signed deal, the money he'll get in 2016 when he can start renegotiating should be more than he could ever fathom.

Burfict is indeed in good financial company and in rare company. And he has no one to thank but himself.
The Cleveland Browns released the following statements from general Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine about the NFL's decision to uphold Josh Gordon's one-year suspension:
Farmer: "While we may have strong feelings on the timing and the process of this decision, we have also consistently communicated that we will focus on what we can control in our day to day approach. Right now that is preparing our team for the 2014 season and at the same time, supporting Josh however we are able under NFL guidelines during his suspension."

Pettine: "We will continue to support Josh and we understand that there is accountability for one's actions. Our job and that of the team is to focus on what we can control. Our philosophy in building this team and the mentality we're establishing is that we're going to have to overcome challenges and situations throughout the course of a season. We'll continue to be relentless in our approach, in how we work and focus on our goal of returning winning football to Cleveland."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne will "probably not" play in the team's Thursday preseason finale, executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said.

Claiborne
This would mark the second consecutive preseason that Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, did not play a down. The Cowboys coaches hoped to get him some action Thursday against the Denver Broncos after Claiborne missed one game with knee tendinitis and the last two due to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.

"Just not worth the risk to go backwards," Jones said after the team's kickoff luncheon. "You know those shoulder injuries; they get sore on you quickly. After really going over it with our trainers and doctors, probably the better decision here is to let him get fully healed and then put him out there."

Claiborne returned to practice this week, saying Tuesday that he's ready for game action despite still feeling soreness in the shoulder.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the team's other starter who has yet to play this preseason, is expected to get some snaps against the Broncos.

Melton, whose final season with the Chicago Bears ended early due to a torn ACL suffered in September, missed the last two weeks because of a strained groin. Jones said Melton indicated he wanted to play in the preseason finale to chip off some rust before the regular season begins.

"He's ready to go and I think he just wants the peace of mind that he's going to feel good when he starts against the 49ers," Jones said.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The fourth and fifth Kansas City Chiefs players have popped up on ESPN's rankings of the top 100 defensive players. Safety Eric Berry is in at No. 21 and outside linebacker Tamba Hali checks in at No. 27.

Both players are deserving of top 100 ranks. So are the other top Chiefs defensive players, nose tackle Dontari Poe at 35, outside linebacker Justin Houston at 42 and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson at 62.

So how did the Chiefs' defense do a huge nosedive the last half of last season and waste a 28-point, third-quarter lead in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Houston missed five games last season because of a dislocated elbow but his absence alone doesn't explain why the Chiefs were so bad defensively over the season's second half.

There's a huge disconnect between the talent level and the way the Chiefs have played on defense. The Chiefs have five premier defensive players and filled in the other spots around them with decent players (other than perhaps cornerback, an important position). So if the Chiefs don't play better on defense this season, they'll someday look back at these times and regret a wasted opportunity.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Many of the current Miami Dolphins were children when quarterback Dan Marino dominated the football scene in South Florida. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was still working his way up the coaching ranks in the 1980s and 1990s.

Marino remains the best and most popular player in franchise history, and last weekend the team hired the Hall of Famer as a "special advisor." The reaction from players and coaches has been positive.

"I'm elated that he's part of the organization," Philbin said this week. "He's always kind of been an unofficial part of the organization. I had a chance to visit with him earlier today. He's excited about it. I'm sure there are a lot of things he can contribute to the organization in whatever roles Steve (Ross) and those that are in charge want that to be. He's always welcome here."

Marino's role with the Dolphins has not been defined publicly. There was no fanfare about the hire other than a news release, and there wasn't a news conference that allowed the media to ask Marino questions about his new job.

What is known is Marino will work in a variety of capacities. As time goes on, we will most likely know more about his role in Miami.

"I don't know. I don't know exactly what his role even is," Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitted. "No one has really even told me that. But, if he's open to some time, I'd love to pick his brain a little bit."

Regardless of his role, hiring Marino is a big win for the players. It's a rare resource to have a Hall of Famer who has been in current Dolphins' shoes readily available. Marino brings instant credibility as a person who's played the tough quarterback position as good as anyone in NFL history.

"Any time you have a guy like that just being around the organization is positive for you," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. "He's a legend, so any time he can come into this building and see a guy like that around is going to motivate you and help you play. You know he's going always to give you a couple of tips and nuggets, so that's always good."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Red Bryant understands the business side of the NFL and why the Seattle Seahawks released him in late February, less than a month after the team won the Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeRed Bryant
John Raoux/AP PhotoRed Bryant, who is entering his seventh pro season, is a new face on the Jaguars' team this season; the Seahawks released him in February.
That doesn't mean it didn't bother him a bit and it's not preventing him from using it as incentive in his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"It definitely motivates you," Bryant said. "In my situation, me being a captain for the last two years, and then after winning the Super Bowl and in the offseason being released, it adds fuel to the fire. But that's the business of football. Like I always tell people, it isn't what happens to you it's how you respond.

"So if I respond in the right way, if I can prove Gus [Bradley] and Dave [Caldwell] right for wanting to pick me up, I'll feel like I accomplished something."

Bryant was a salary-cap casualty in Seattle -- he was due a $4 million roster bonus in March -- so his release wasn't related to his performance. So far this preseason, Bryant has shown that the Jaguars' decision to sign him to a four-year, $17 million contract less than two weeks after he was released looks pretty good. The Jaguars ranked 29th in the league in rush defense (131.8 yards per game) and gave up at least 150 yards rushing seven times in 2013. The 6-foot-4, 323-pound Bryant has helped drop that number to 113 yards per game in three preseason games.

Roughly a quarter of the 339 rushing yards the Jaguars have allowed this preseason came on Reggie Bush's 86-yard touchdown run last Friday night. Several players, including safety Johnathan Cyprien and linebacker Telvin Smith, were out of position on that play. Otherwise, the Jaguars' run defense has been solid.

That's due in large part to Bryant, who anchors the outside of the defensive line as a five-technique end. He hasn't played an entire game yet, but Bryant certainly upgrades the defensive front. He is coming off a season in which he made 30 tackles, recorded a career-high 1.5 sacks, and had a career-high four tackles for loss.

The Jaguars are counting on him to not only boost the run defense but to mentor some younger players such as Abry Jones and Tyson Alualu, as well.

"It takes a while to know what type of impact you have," Bryant said. "I just try to keep the younger players encouraged because this is a talented group. It's deep at every position and that's always a great starting point when you're trying to build something. I feel like Gus and Mr. Caldwell got this program on the right track in terms of trying to build a consistent winner. If I could just keep the younger guys encouraged of what it takes I feel like I'll be doing my job."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts already have an inexperienced interior offensive line. And to make things even worse, those same inexperienced players are also dealing with injuries.

Former Pro Bowl guard Richie Incognito is available, and Colts coach Chuck Pagano did not rule out the possibility of the team having interest in him Tuesday afternoon.

Incognito
 “I think anybody that’s on the street right now after cut downs this weekend, anybody that comes available we’ll discuss,” Pagano said. “We will not ... say yay or nay based on history. If it makes sense, if it’s going to help us win, and it’s the best thing for the team and this organization, it doesn’t matter if it’s Richie or anybody else, we’ll do what’s right for this organization, for what’s best for this team. What gives us the best chance to win.”

The Colts would be taking a risk in pursuing Incognito because he has baggage going back to his hazing and bullying of Jonathan Martin while with the Miami Dolphins last season.

An issue that could come up is that Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Griff Whalen and Delano Howell were teammates of Martin at Stanford.

Incognito was cleared by the NFL to return to the league Monday and met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the same day.

The Colts have a history of signing players with baggage. Look at Chris Rainey, LaVon Brazill, Da’Rick Rogers and Nu’Keese Richardson in recent years.

The difference between Incognito and those players is that he’ll make an impact in the game.

The Colts aren’t looking to just make the playoffs. They’ve done that each of the past two seasons with Luck. They want to win a Super Bowl. The interior part of their offensive line leaves a lot of doubt.

Starting center Khaled Holmes has been out almost three weeks with a sprained ankle, rookie guard Jack Mewhort has missed time because of a knee issue and fellow guard Hugh Thornton did not practice Tuesday.

The Colts have enough veterans inside the locker room where Incognitio wouldn’t need to do anything other than block. Luck, linebacker Robert Mathis, receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive lineman Cory Redding have the leadership part already taken care of. Those players won't put up with Incognito trying to bully or haze any of his teammates. As cornerback Vontae Davis said last season, the Colts have a "brotherhood" inside the locker room.

Incognito’s job would be to help block to give Luck time to throw to his arsenal of weapons on the outside and open up holes for the running backs.

At this point, it's worth the Colts taking a flyer on Incognito because you would like to think he realizes he's under the microscope and has little room to mess up again.

 
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- As heated protests boiled over in Missouri after the controversial shooting of an black teenager, Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew made a statement in Green Bay, Wisconsin, last Friday night.

Jones-Drew
At the end of a 40-yard touchdown run during the Raiders’ 31-21 loss at Green Bay, the longtime NFL star put his head down and put his hands up and stood silently. Jones-Drew is using a screenshot of the pose as his Twitter avatar. The stance has become a symbol for in the protests of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month.

Speaking about the pose to reporters this week, Jones-Drew said he felt like he needed to stand up and make his feelings known.

“My goal is always to create awareness,” Jones-Drew said.

The Ferguson incident hit close to home for Jones-Drew. He was in Florida during the Trayvon Martin shooting and when a teenager was shot at a Jacksonville gas station because he was playing loud music.

“I know what it’s like to get pulled over when you’ve done nothing wrong,” Jones-Drew said. “I’ve been through those things. When you’re raising three young boys, you have to think about those things. When they get older and they go out at night, am I going to have to be the one to get that phone call? Those are things you worry about. That’s what I worry about as a father and what my mother worried about when I was growing up.”

Jones-Drew said he is unsure if he will continue to mark his touchdowns with the "hands up" pose.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network's many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league's top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense.

Talib
Talib
Ware
In the end, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

Today, players ranked No. 30 down to 21 are featured, and in this segment, the voters certainly believe the Denver Broncos made a significant defensive upgrade for the coming season.

Cornerback Aqib Talib checks in at No. 30 while defensive end DeMarcus Ware is at No. 23 -- both players were signed in this past offseason's free-agency binge by the Broncos. Safety T.J. Ward, who was also in the shopping spree this past March, was earlier ranked No. 59.

"I think there's no question, players like Aqib, DeMarcus and T.J. change what your defense is," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They're all good players, proven guys who have shown what they can do in this league. You bring them in because you think they have things to offer to help what you do. No question, we believe they'll help what we do."

Thus far, ESPN's ranking project has shown the Broncos' current regime is a little light on homegrown players on the defensive side when it comes to the upper crust in personnel. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who just completed his fourth draft with the team in May and has consistently stated his long-term goal for the team is "to compete for world championships every year and we know the draft is a key part of that. We know that's our core."

And their hope is they see the fruits of those labors in the seasons to come. But in this year's rankings, between No. 100 and No. 31, the Broncos have had four players ranked with Terrance Knighton at No. 78 to go with Ward, Talib and Ware. All four of those players were signed in free agency -- Knighton last year to go with the three this past March.

One would expect linebacker Von Miller's name to appear in the coming days somewhere in the top 20 rankings, and as a whole the voters likely short-changed linebacker Danny Trevathan as well. Lead a 13-3 Super Bowl team in tackles with equal effectiveness along the line of scrimmage or in coverage and you are likely a top-100 player.

Both Trevathan and Miller are Elway draft picks and the team believes in the futures of players such as cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who were the team's last two first-round picks.

But it does show when the Broncos wanted to repair their defense this time around, they had to use their checkbook -- and not their depth chart -- to do it.
Nine San Francisco 49ers players have already been listed on our #NFLRank Top 100 players ranking, and left tackle Joe Staley and defensive tackle Justin Smith are the 10th and 11th.

Smith
Staley
Staley, who is entering his eighth season, checks in at No. 24 among all offensive players, a year after being No. 25.

“Staley has started every game and made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons,” per ESPN Stats & Info. “The 49ers scored a league-high five rushing touchdowns on designed runs outside the left tackle last season.”

Smith, meanwhile, is No. 26 among defensive players. He was No. 11 in 2013.

“Last season, the 49ers recorded a sack on 7.4 percent of pass attempts with Smith on the field compared with only 4.3 percent when Smith was on the sideline,” according to ESPN Stats & Info. “Since Smith joined the 49ers in 2008, opposing quarterbacks’ Total QBR is nearly 20 points lower when he is on the field (42.9) compared with off (60.5).

Following are the 49ers players listed so far on the #NFLRanks project, and their respective rankings.

OFFENSE

No. 81: RT Anthony Davis

No. 54: WR Anquan Boldin

No. 53: LG Mike Iupati

No. 51: WR Michael Crabtree

No. 43: RB Frank Gore

No. 33: QB Colin Kaepernick

No. 24: LT Joe Staley

 

DEFENSE

No. 97: SS Antoine Bethea

No. 74: LB Ahmad Brooks

No. 71: FS Eric Reid

No. 26: DT Justin Smith
METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Johnson went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, when he signed as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.

So needless to say, it’s a bit of a surprise that Johnson now stands as the New Orleans Saints’ likely starting fullback heading into this season. But that is indeed the case after the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has taken advantage of his opportunity to replace injured starter Erik Lorig during training camp.

[+] EnlargeAustin Johnson
AP Photo/Sam RicheAustin Johnson helped his cause to start for the Saints with a TD in last Saturday's preseason game.
Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown reception last Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts showed off his versatility as an agile pass-catcher and a powerful hitter. Johnson drove through linebacker Erik Walden to reach the goal line.

"I like to show that I can do it all and that I'm not like a stiff, not-able-to-move fullback,” Johnson said. “You know, I can run, I can catch and I can also block. So I try to show that throughout my game."

Johnson played fullback early in his career at Tennessee before switching to linebacker. So teams looked at him in both roles as he came out of college. When he didn’t make the Ravens’ roster, the Saints later signed him the following January with the intention of switching him to fullback. He spent most of last season on New Orleans’ practice squad.

Johnson figured his best chance to crack the Saints’ roster this year would be through special teams. But when Lorig suffered a leg injury a week into practice, he became the No. 1 fullback.

The extent of Lorig’s injury is still unknown, though he hasn’t even appeared on the sidelines during practice yet. And Johnson will still have to fend off 13-year veteran fullback Greg Jones, whom the Saints signed in the wake of Lorig’s injury.

But so far, Johnson has done his best to make the decision easy for the Saints’ coaches.

"I knew nothing was going to be easy. I knew that I was going to have competition, and when they brought in Greg, I just knew I needed to keep playing well. I knew they weren’t just going to give me the starting spot,” Johnson said. “We’re still competing for that spot. And I’m just trying to go out there and show them what I can do and hopefully give them enough confidence that I can play.”

Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees certainly had enough trust in Johnson to target him on that touchdown play Saturday -- which is no small thing, considering it was Brees’ first drive of the preseason, and he was no doubt eager to cap it off with a touchdown.

"He’s done a great job all camp. Obviously Erik Lorig going down was tough, but Austin has stepped in and done a great job whenever called upon in whatever role, whether that be the fullback position or special teams, you name it," Brees said. "He's one of those lunch-pail guys, comes to work, ready to do whatever's asked of him. He’s done that very, very well."
The Baltimore Ravens are hurting at cornerback. This is not a news flash.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe Ravens have had success containing Browns receiver Josh Gordon. His year-long suspension is further relief for Baltimore's banged-up secondary.
What might help the Ravens early in the season is that opposing teams won't be at full strength at wide receiver, either.

The year-long suspension of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is just another break for the Ravens. Baltimore's banged-up secondary won't have to cover Cincinnati Bengals receiver Marvin Jones in the season opener because he's expected to miss the season's first four weeks with a broken foot.

The big blow is the Browns losing Gordon, the NFL's leading receiver last year. The Ravens have held Gordon in check, limiting him to six catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns in three games. Still, the Browns rely heavily on Gordon. Last year, Browns quarterbacks threw nine touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting Gordon, and they threw 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions when targeting others.

When the Ravens play the Browns this season, they just have to worry about defending Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins on the outside. These three receivers combined for 75 catches and one touchdown in 2013, which is less than what Gordon produced alone (87 catches and nine touchdowns ).

In comparison, the Ravens have had more trouble containing the Bengals' Jones, who has 11 catches and two touchdowns against them in four games. The Bengals, of course, still have starting wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.

It doesn't look as if the Ravens will catch any breaks from the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. If the Steelers decide to suspend either of their running backs (Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount face charges over marijuana possession), they'll probably only miss the season opener against the Browns, according to ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown.

Some may suggest the Ravens got their biggest break when running back Ray Rice was suspended only two games for his alleged domestic violence incident. When the Ravens play the Browns in Week 3, Rice will be coming off suspension while Gordon will be in the early stages of his year-long absence.

A few follow-ups on Logan Mankins

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
1:40
PM ET
video 

A few follow-ups on the trade that sent Logan Mankins from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Mankins' Tampa Bay introduction likely Thursday: With Mankins scheduled to arrive in Tampa later Wednesday night, his official Buccaneers introduction isn't expected to take place until Thursday. Tampa Bay hosts Washington in its preseason finale Thursday night, so Mankins' introduction figures to trump any action on the field.

Sides had discussed contract situation: One of the questions that came up after the trade is whether the Patriots and Mankins' representatives had discussed a reworked contract before the deal. Mankins was due to earn a base salary of $6.25 million this season, $6.75 million in 2015 and another $6.75 million in 2016; discussions would have included some type of concession from Mankins similar to what unfolded with defensive lineman Vince Wilfork earlier in the offseason. As others have reported, the issue was indeed discussed privately between Patriots management and Mankins' representatives. This adds context to the surprising nature of the trade itself, as the contract (more so than the assets received in return) appeared to be a primary catalyst for the deal.

Leadership, enforcer-type mentality now missing: I think the Patriots, Buccaneers and most independent observers would agree that while Mankins might no longer have been playing at an elite level, he was still effective. His presence will make an offensive line better. It's more than the play that I think the Patriots will miss most; it's the leadership and enforcer-type mentality. Mankins brought a toughness, attitude, and you're-not-going-to-mess-with-us type approach to the field that is going to be hard to duplicate. I don't see anyone on the current Patriots' line who could fill that void right now.

Different dynamic for new offensive line coach to work with: One final thing that probably shouldn't be overlooked is how the Patriots' linemen have been adjusting to a new coach, Dave DeGuglielmo, this year. I think that has been more of a challenge for some players than might be perceived, as assistant Dante Scarnecchia was widely regarded as one of the game's best teachers. Now with Mankins out of the mix, it only further adds to what has been a major transition with the team. This bears watching in the weeks to come.

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