NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: 2013 NFL free agency

The best thing we can say about Israel Idonije is that he has been equally effective as a defensive end and a defensive tackle during his career. That makes him a pretty ideal swing player for a Detroit Lions defensive line that has undergone a significant overhaul this offseason.

Idonije
You would assume that Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will start at defensive tackle, while Jason Jones and Ziggy Ansah get significant playing time at defensive end. But Idonije, 32, agreed to terms Tuesday and will give the Lions an experienced hand at both positions, one they scouted first-hand as division opponents during his nine-year tenure with the Chicago Bears.

It's also worth noting that Idonije fits the obvious profile the Lions have set forth in rebuilding their line. He is the fourth defensive lineman the Lions have acquired who stand at least 6-foot-5 (he's 6-6), and while I don't have his arm-length measurements, I can tell you they're long enough to have helped him block eight kicks during his career with the Bears.

Glad you're staying in the NFC North, Izzy. There's no other place to be. And yes, I will join everyone else in looking forward to the moment when Izzy and Ziggy are on the field at the same time.
At this point of the offseason, salary-cap totals don’t mean nearly as much as they did three months ago. But I know there is always interest in cap numbers -- so, thanks to the invaluable John Clayton, I have gotten ahold of the latest figure for each AFC West team:

DENVER BRONCOS

Cap room: $10.6 million

What does it mean? The Broncos can pretty much do what they want. They can easily sign their top draft pick, defensive lineman Sylvester Williams, and add a piece or two as the summer goes on. They could also perhaps give an extension to someone such as Ryan Clady, Demaryius Thomas, Von Miller or Eric Decker.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Cap room: $3.5 million

What does it mean? The Chiefs have had a great offseason, but there is little cap room left. The Chiefs have to sign No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. They are also reportedly hosting linebacker Desmond Bishop this week. The Chiefs may need to restructure a deal or two to get a little more room.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Cap room: $7.6 million

What does it mean? The Raiders have yet to sign their first-round draft pick, cornerback D.J. Hayden; their second-round pick, offensive lineman Menelik Watson; or their fourth-round pick, quarterback Tyler Wilson. They can execute those signings and still have some emergency money.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Cap room: $3.1 million

What does it mean? The Chargers have their entire draft class signed, so they have some decent just-in-case money available.

Takeo Spikes sighting at Rams Park

June, 11, 2013
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ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams own the NFL's youngest roster by average age. They could be interested in adding some veteran seasoning at linebacker, it appears.

Takeo Spikes, 36, was seen at Rams headquarters Tuesday night and was reportedly there for a free-agent visit.

Spikes started all 32 games for the San Diego Chargers over the past two seasons. Before that, he started 44 of 48 games during a three-year run with the San Francisco 49ers. He would presumably play middle linebacker in the Rams' 4-3 scheme, backing up James Laurinaitis, if St. Louis were to sign him.

Spikes has been a starter every season since entering the NFL with Cincinnati in 1998. He has started 215 games overall, averaging 14.3 starts per season during a 15-year career. He missed 13 games in 2005 while with Buffalo, but otherwise he has been remarkably durable and consistent at a physically demanding position.

Spikes played 66.9 percent of the defensive snaps for San Diego last season. He was the starter in San Francisco previously until the team decided NaVorro Bowman was ready to take the job. Bowman became an Associated Press All-Pro selection. Spikes signed with the Chargers after San Diego hired the 49ers' former defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Laurinaitis and rookie first-round choice Alec Ogletree are expected to start for the Rams at linebacker. The team is remarkably young and inexperienced at the position beyond Dunbar and Laurinaitis, however. Spikes' 215 starts are about double the combined total for the Rams' current linebackers (108).
When a big-name free agent is available this offseason, there is a good chance the Miami Dolphins have interest.

Leach
The free-spending Dolphins, who have already handed out contracts worth more than $200 million this year, will host Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on Wednesday, according to the Baltimore Sun. Leach was released Tuesday by the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens after the sides could not agree on a restructured contract.

Miami entered free agency with plenty of room under the salary cap and has signed big-name free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller and linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, a former teammate of Leach. The Dolphins have been extremely aggressive in an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and close the gap with the New England Patriots in the AFC East.

Leach, a three-time Pro Bowler, would definitely be an upgrade over what Miami currently has a fullback. Jorvorskie Lane is still young -- 2013 will be his second NFL season -- and has battled weight issues in the past.

The Dolphins also claimed former Chicago Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez off waivers -- a clear sign Miami is looking to improve the position.
Quentin Jammer made it clear why he signed with the Denver Broncos.

“A chance to win a championship,” he told reporters in Denver on Thursday after his first practice with the team. The 12-year veteran, who spent his entire career with San Diego, signed with Denver on Wednesday. The 34-year-old is being converted from cornerback to safety and will play rotationally.

“You look at this team and what they did last year, and what Peyton Manning brings to this football team. I get to play with a guy like Champ Bailey. Hands down, if you look across the league, what better place to go than Denver to have a chance to play for a championship?”

Jammer said it wasn’t difficult making the switch to a division rival. He had interest in returning to the Chargers, but the new San Diego brass wanted to go young in the secondary. Denver was looking for veteran help at safety.

“No, it wasn’t really that tough,” Jammer said. “Obviously I had spent so much time in San Diego, to uproot and leave and go somewhere and uproot your family, it’s hard. It’s a difficult thing to do. But when you’re forced to, you have decisions to make. The next decision that you have to make is you have three to four more years left in you. What are you going to do with your life? I want to win a championship. Like I said, I think Denver gives me that opportunity.”

Jammer said he is excited to have his new role in Denver. The Broncos are looking for improvement in covering tight ends, and Jammer will get a chance to help there.

“I can cover (as a) safety, I can cover wide receivers,” Jammer said. “I can pretty much cover anybody on the field. I’ve been doing it for 11 years. Why stop now?”

Jammer received a hearty welcome from his new quarterback upon his arrival in Denver.

“I am excited about Quentin Jammer,” Manning told reporters in Denver on Thursday. “I played against Quentin a number of times. San Diego and Indianapolis were almost like division teams for a number of years playing every single season because we both won the division, and playing in the playoffs. He is a veteran corner. He’s seen it all. I know Coach Fox and Coach (Defensive Coordinator Jack) Del Rio are glad to have him because of the versatility that he brings. Whether he is playing corner, possibly playing some safety, he’s a guy they can put in in the dime package and let him cover an athletic tight end … So, we are glad to have him, and I know he’s excited to be here.”
A week after Charles Woodson opted for more money and a return to the Oakland Raiders, the Denver Broncos filled one of their final remaining needs -- a veteran in the secondary.

Jammer
And they did it with another former San Diego Charger.

Denver added cornerback Quentin Jammer, who had spent the first 11 years of his career with the Chargers. Jammer hoped to return to San Diego, but the new Chargers brass -- including head coach Mike McCoy, who was previously the Broncos' offensive coordinator -- wanted to go young.

The versatile Jammer lands in a place where a veteran can help. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him convert to safety from cornerback in some situations. Denver wanted to add Woodson to cover the tight end (a problem area for the Broncos last season), to be a situational player and perhaps a blitzer from the secondary on occasion. I think that will be Jammer's role.

Jammer, who turns 34 next month, is a durable, physical player who is a leader in the locker room. He will likely be just a role player in Denver, but he should help.

Jammer is the third free agent Denver has signed from San Diego this offseason, joining guard Louis Vasquez and pass-rusher Shaun Phillips. Jammer is the last of our top 10 unrestricted AFC West free agents to sign with a team this offseason.

Interestingly, the man who negotiated the Jammer deal for Denver is Mike Sullivan, the Broncos’ salary-cap man. He was previously Jammer’s longtime agent.
Dannell EllerbeRic Tapia/Icon SMILinebacker Dannell Ellerbe is excited about his chance to be a leader on Miami's defense.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Dannell Ellerbe had to travel more than 1,100 miles south to escape Ray Lewis' large and overwhelming shadow.

Coming off a Super Bowl victory, Ellerbe had a tough decision to make in free agency: He could either be heir apparent to Lewis -- the legendary Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker who retired in February -- or aim to build his own legacy at middle linebacker with the Miami Dolphins.

Ellerbe opted not to spend the rest of his NFL career trying to fill Lewis' shoes in Baltimore. Instead, he signed a five-year, $35 million contract with up-and-coming Miami, where he believes he can make a bigger impact on the field and in the locker room.

“I wanted to come to a team where I can be a leader, where they needed me, and I can be a voice on the team,” Ellerbe told ESPN.com’s AFC East blog this week. “Basically, [the Dolphins] showed me that they really wanted me. ... They want me to be a leader of this defense.”

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Ellerbe, 27, is entering the prime of his career and brings much-needed championship experience to the Dolphins. Although he chose not to replace Lewis in Baltimore, Ellerbe learned a lot from the future Hall of Famer and plans to bring that knowledge and leadership to Miami.

He is already making a good first impression with the Dolphins' coaching staff during the start of organized team activities.

“I like a lot of things that I see. He’s a bright guy,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He’s very business-like in the building. He comes in, gets his work done and very, very attentive. You’ve got to be strong down the middle, offensively and defensively, and he’s a guy that we’re looking for to help coordinate that front seven. We like what we’ve seen thus far.”

The Dolphins had a near-complete makeover at linebacker this offseason. Miami spent a combined $61 million on Ellerbe and former Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler, 28. They will replace aging veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were released. Miami’s 2010 second-round pick Koa Misi, 26, is the other starting linebacker. He's playing out the final year of his rookie contract.

The Dolphins had the NFL’s 27th-rated pass defense in 2012 and struggled defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Linebackers Ellerbe, Wheeler and Misi are much more athletic and have the potential to grow together.

According to ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Williamson, the Dolphins certainly got “younger and faster” in the middle by replacing Dansby with Ellerbe.

“He can play 4-3 middle linebacker or 3-4 inside linebacker with [rookie first-round pick] Dion Jordan on board,” Williamson explained. “Ellerbe is best coming downhill. He’s a good blitzer and runs well in a straight line.”

Ellerbe is part of a strong free-agent class for the Dolphins that also includes Wheeler, former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller, and receivers Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace, who was a former rival of Ellerbe.

Wallace and Ellerbe had some heated battles the past four years as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens. Pittsburgh-Baltimore is one of the league's most intense rivalries. Wallace joked during his introductory news conference that he doesn’t like too many Ravens but must get along with Ellerbe now that they are teammates.

“I’m with him every day and we speak every day -- it’s not anything personal,” Ellerbe said with a smile. “It’s a business. The only way it would be a problem is if we were still with the Ravens and Steelers. As long as he didn’t go to Georgia Tech, I don’t have any problems with him.” (Ellerbe starred at Georgia.)

This is an important year for the Dolphins, who haven’t made the playoffs or won the AFC East since the 2008 season. On paper, this is the strongest roster Miami has had in recent memory.

It is also a good year for the Dolphins to try to make a push in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are the perennial favorites but may have taken a step back, particularly on offense with the loss of 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and injuries at tight end. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets also have significant changes on their rosters and coaching staffs. It could take another year or two for the Bills and Jets to get their franchises back on track.

Ellerbe will be an important factor in the Dolphins' success this season. He never missed the playoffs in four years in Baltimore and does not want his streak to end in Miami.

“The sky is the limit,” Ellerbe said of Miami’s potential. “I haven’t been around here long enough to see exactly what’s going on. But from what I see in the film room and the statistics the coaches are putting up in the first week of OTAs, I feel like the sky is the limit for us. ... It’s a lot of good things we have to build on around here.”

Charles Woodson returning to Raiders

May, 21, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Free-agent defensive back Charles Woodson has signed a one-year contract with the Oakland Raiders, a return to his original team.

Woodson
Woodson's deal is worth a maximum of $4.3 million and includes a $700,000 signing bonus, ESPN's Josina Anderson reported.

The move will be popular with Raiders fans, many of whom staked out the team's facility Tuesday to greet Woodson on his visit and urge him to sign with Oakland.

They got their wish a few hours after he arrived when the team announced the deal.

Woodson, the fourth overall pick in the 1998 draft by Oakland, returns to a vastly different franchise than the one he left following his eighth season with the team in 2005. Owner Al Davis died in October 2011 and the team is now run by Davis' son, Mark. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is the only player left from Woodson's eight years in Oakland that included three consecutive AFC West titles and a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.

For the full story, click here.
The St. Louis Rams said they would rather sign a couple big-money free agents than several mid-priced ones.

Quality over quantity was the rationale.

That approach helps explain why the Rams rank sixth among NFL teams in contractual commitments for unrestricted free agents signed from other teams this offseason despite landing just two of them in Jake Long and Jared Cook.

Maximum potential contract value can be misleading, but in general, the more aggressive teams will commit larger total dollar values toward free agents. As the chart shows, St. Louis ranks relatively high in total dollar values despite signing fewer UFAs than any other team ranked among the top 10.

ESPN.com's John Clayton takes a closer look in his column Sunday. While the Rams focused their UFA resources narrowly, the Arizona Cardinals added a long list of players at relatively low cost. Clayton liked the approach from a value standpoint.

"Three winners emerged from the post-frenzy shopping market -- Arizona, Chicago and Tennessee," Clayton writes. "Based on playing time from last year, I'd give the Cardinals the slight edge from the post-March 17 market."

The chart below, updated from the version published here March 27, lists playing time and contract information for all the UFA players Arizona has signed or re-signed this offseason.

Give the San Diego Chargers credit. They were forced into a bad situation and they answered it by securing arguably the best player remaining on the free-agent market.

Pushed into a corner, rookie San Diego general manager Tom Telesco responded with his highest-profile acquisition of the offseason by signing pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on Saturday. He agreed to a two-year contract according to ESPN’s Ed Werder. Telesco and Freeney were together in Indianapolis since 2002.

The reunion had little chance of occurring until 2012 San Diego first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in a non-contact OTA on Tuesday. It was a crushing blow. Not only did the Chargers think Ingram was ready to dominate, but he was their top pass-rushing option after the free-agent departures of Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes.

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports At 33 years old, can Dwight Freeney give San Diego's pass rush steady production?
San Diego has a young, exciting defense but the Ingram injury left a glaring hole. No NFL defense can truly succeed without a legitimate pass rush. There were no better pass-rushing options available than Freeney.

Yes, he is aging at 33 and he has just 13 of his 107.5 career sacks in the past two years. There is no doubt that Freeney, who is known for having one of the best spin moves in the history of the game, is near the end. But this paring makes sense simply out of desperation. The Chargers weren’t going to find a better replacement for Ingram than Freeney and Freeney was not going to get a better situation than San Diego. There were few places Freeney would have had a bigger role.

There are questions of whether Freeney is an ideal fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. He played in it last season in Indianapolis and wasn’t as strong of a fit as he was in the 4-3.

I don’t think it is going to be an issue. San Diego coach Mike McCoy told Werder that the team would adjust to Freeney. That doesn’t mean the Chargers (whose defensive coordinator is John Pagano -- the brother of Chuck Pagano, who was Freeney’s coach in Indianapolis last year) are going to totally scrap the 3-4 for a 33-year-old player. It means the Chargers are multiple in their pass-defense looks and Freeney will likely often line up in his customary 4-3 defensive end position.

In short, the Chargers will put Freeney in his comfort level. Many think he will succeed in San Diego.

“I like it and I do think he has something left,” ESPN’s Matt Williamson said. “The Chargers are not a super strict 3-4 and Freeney did show that he can still be disruptive last year. … I wouldn’t give him all the snaps, but he certainly should be useful.”

ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen this: "There's no question he can fit with that scheme. There are no strict 3-4 defenses, or not many … You take Dwight, you get his hand on the ground and play him for 30 to 40 snaps, let him get after the quarterback."

One of the quarterbacks Freeney will be going after is close friend Peyton Manning, twice a season. The two were longtime teammates with the Colts. Manning tried to recruit Freeney to Denver this offseason after Elvis Dumervil departed to Baltimore. Denver was considered the front-runner for Freeney, but the two sides couldn’t come to a financial accord. Ironically Denver signed Phillips from San Diego instead. Had Freeney ended up in Denver, it would have likely been Phillips who would have replaced Ingram. USA Today reported Denver had late talks with Freeney, but I suspect those were more cursory just to gauge if it could steal Freeney at the last moment.

In the end, I’m not sure if the Chargers are better than they were before Ingram’s injury. They spent more money than expected, especially with a hole at left tackle. The team is still talking to Max Starks and the Chargers will get some cap relief June 1 as part of the Jared Gaither cut.

But the Ingram injury and Freeney signing are prime examples of the always-changing NFL world. The Chargers were put in an emergency situation. I don’t think they could have responded better than securing a potential Hall of Famer as a solution.
NFL.com reports the Denver Broncos have offered safety Charles Woodson a contract, but will likely need to up the offer. Next week, Woodson is planning to visit Oakland, where he spent the first eight years of his career.

I would be surprised if the Raiders engage in a bidding war. They have not done so this offseason as they have begun to rebuild their roster.

They are giving players short, inexpensive deals. Trying to win a bidding war for a 36-year-old player doesn’t seem like it would fit the plan of G.M. Reggie McKenzie. But if Oakland thinks Woodson can help on the field and in the locker room, perhaps McKenzie will change course. Denver is still considered by many league observers as a favorite to land the future hall of famer.

NFL32: Charles Woodson's options

May, 16, 2013
5/16/13
10:24
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Suzy Kolber and Chris Mortensen discuss where free agent Charles Woodson could end up; Adam Schefter breaks down the quarterback situation with the Jets; and the NFL32 crew discusses the most intriguing QB competition.
The San Diego Chargers signed a pass-rusher in its attempt to bolster their roster after losing 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram for the season with a torn ACL.

No, the team didn’t add Dwight Freeney. Not yet, at least.

The Chargers announced they signed Thomas Keiser. The Stanford product spent the past two seasons in Carolina. He played a total of 12 games. His season was cut short after four games last year.

Keiser does have some pass-rushing ability. He had four sacks in eight games as a rookie. So, there is potential there. Keiser will have a chance to earn a roster spot to provide depth.

Still, the team has a need for a reliable replacement for Ingram. Freeney visited Wednesday and Thursday, and the team remains interested in him.
Tom Telesco is not wasting any time.

Freeney
Hours after losing key pass-rusher Melvin Ingram for the 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a non-contact drill, the San Diego Chargers general manager is bringing in Dwight Freeney in for a visit Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting. Telesco was with the Colts organization when Indianapolis drafted Freeney in 2002 and the two were together there through last season.

This isn’t a meet-and-greet. The Chargers are bringing Freeney in because Telesco is ready to make a move.

Freeney would be the team’s best and likely its most-used outside edge rusher. That was going to be the role for Ingram, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2012. Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes both left in free agency.

At age 33, Freeney is best suited to be a rotational player; he wasn't at his best in the 3-4 defenses the Colts used last season. The Chargers also use a 3-4 defense. But this is a desperate time for San Diego, and Freeney hasn’t gotten a lot of interest.

I expect the two sides to work hard to get a deal done. The Chargers have to be careful not to overpay Freeney, because they also need help at offensive tackle and are talking to Winston Justice and Max Starks.
An AFC West battle for Charles Woodson is brewing.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported on Tuesday that the future hall of famer is flying to Denver for a visit this week. Later, Anderson reported the Raiders sent Woodson an initial offer. Woodson spent his first eight years in the NFL in Oakland. He knows Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie from their Green Bay days.

The strong safety was cut by Green Bay in March and has received little interest. But it is heating up. Anderson reports Carolina is also involved.

If it comes down to Denver and Oakland, it will be interesting to see what happens. I think the playing time in both places would be about similar. Finances could be an issue, but I don’t see either team offering him too much. Oakland has been very cost-conscious, has been mostly giving out one-year deals, and most of those have been to younger players. I don’t see Oakland breaking the bank to get Woodson.

An advantage Denver might have is it is expected to be a Super Bowl contender, while Oakland isn’t. Oakland could have an advantage because of Woodson's familiarity with McKenzie and the franchise.

If Denver decides it wants to sign Woodson, it could try to finalize a deal during his visit to keep him from considering other offers.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chiefs cut 2012 fifth-round pick, safety DeQuan Menzie. He didn’t play last season. It’s not surprising. Late-round picks from a previous regime usually aren’t safe when the new regime comes in. The Chiefs concentrated on adding to the secondary this offseason.

This ESPN video looks at a possible free-agent fit for the division.

The Jets don’t believe Josh Cribbs is recovered from a knee injury. He has visited with four teams in the past week, including Oakland. It will be interesting to see of the Raiders feel the same way.

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