NFL Nation: Eric Decker

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –- When John Elway was asked in recent weeks what he believed the most important part of his job was as the Denver Broncos’ chief football decision-maker, he said it was the salary cap.

And the draft. And the team’s depth chart. And free agency.

Basically he lumped it all together, filed it all under one heading when he said, "I think it’s about trying to stay two steps ahead … to see what we need to do now and how it affects us down the road. To be prepared to do what it takes to keep the Denver Broncos competitive and operated the way [owner] Mr. [Pat] Bowlen wants the team to operate."

Which is exactly why the Broncos have at least started the wheels in motion on new contracts for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas. Both are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after whatever becomes of the 2014 season, which makes them two of the most important steps the team will try to take on the contract front.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Tim Rasmussen/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas has emerged as one of the NFL's elite receivers since Peyton Manning's arrival in Denver, finishing each of the past two seasons with over 1,400 receiving yards and double-digit TDs.
That certainly isn’t a surprise given it’s exactly what Elway said in the days that followed the Broncos’ loss in Super Bowl XLVIII that the team planned to do and what he reaffirmed at the league meetings in March. But since the start of their offseason program, they have begun to start talking at least in general parameters for Julius Thomas and have advanced at least far enough in talks with representatives for Demaryius Thomas that an initial five-year offer has been placed on the table.

The Broncos, as well as the players, are likely looking at roughly a six-week window to finish any deals. Neither side is looking to do anything once training camp starts the clock on what all involved hope is another Super Bowl season. The Broncos' players will report on July 23, and the team will have its first practice on July 24.

To sign either Thomas now, however, the Broncos would have to put enough on the table to entice each to skip a potentially lucrative trip into the open market. But these two are high-priority players on the Broncos’ docket, so much so that the team, at least in part, didn’t make an offer to its own free agents earlier this year, including guard Zane Beadles, running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker, simply to be in a position to work toward deals for the two Thomases.

There is no reason to believe the Broncos won’t have to make Demaryius Thomas one of the highest-paid receivers in the league to keep him off the open market. That neighborhood is just north of $12 million per year, given the deals Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin and Mike Wallace have signed.

And there is the fact Thomas is the only wide receiver in the league to have finished this past season with at least 1,400 yards, 90 catches and a 15 yards per catch average. He’s physical enough to run through tackles, makes catches in a crowd and is fast enough to, as defensive coordinators say, take the lid off a defense deep.

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsTight end Julius Thomas averaged 12.1 yards per catch last season.
Thomas also led all NFL receivers last season with almost 700 yards' worth of yardage after the catch. At the moment, Thomas carries the eighth-highest salary-cap figure on the team for ’14 at $4.7 million; Wes Welker has the biggest cap figure at receiver for the upcoming season at $8 million. A new deal certainly would move Thomas up the ladder, possibly past everybody else except quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Broncos, who are still under the cap with their top 51 salaries, would have to adjust some to squeeze a new deal for Demaryius Thomas under the $133 million bar. Their top 51 salaries -- teams don’t have to be under with all 53 contracts until final roster cuts just before the start of the regular season -- come in at just over $132 million at the moment.

So, to do deals for Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas would require some legitimate salary-cap work to get it all done.

The Broncos do have the option -- one that certainly has been discussed extensively internally -- to sign one of the players before the 2014 season and then use the franchise player tag on the other one just before free agency begins next offseason.

The franchise tag for a wide receiver for 2014 was $12.312 million, and at tight end it was $7.035 million -- those deals would be for one year and are guaranteed from the moment the player signs them. But given as much as Julius Thomas is lined up in the slot and out wide, it’s likely he would take the same stance New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham has taken, that he should be considered as a wide receiver when it comes to salary and not a tight end.

In the end, though, when it comes to the players the Broncos want to keep or sign from elsewhere, Elway and the Broncos' salary-cap guru, Mike Sullivan, have set players’ values and stuck to those numbers, whether it was by handing those players a deal or letting them move on to try to get more elsewhere. But to this point in his tenure, Elway has routinely closed the deals he wants to close.

And he said he wants to close these two, but it just might have to be one offseason at a time to get them both.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Eric Decker was not on the field with his New York Jets teammates Wednesday morning, but we'll all be able to see him later on this evening.

Decker skipped the Jets' latest OTA to be a presenter at the 2014 CMT Music Awards in Nashville, along with his wife, country singer Jessie James Decker.

The wide receiver tweeted the news himself Tuesday:



Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked about Decker's absence following practice Wednesday.

"Well, speaking as a married guy, [I] absolutely recommend it that you would go to that, OK," Ryan said, smirking. "So that would be recommended I think. You know, you ask for their support, you need to support them, too."

Decker signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with the Jets back in March, with the expectation of becoming the team's No. 1 wide receiver. The OTAs are technically voluntary, but almost the entire team was present Wednesday.

"This is really voluntary camp, there’s no doubt about it," Ryan added. "Things like this pop up, this is the time to do it, it’s not like it happened during the season. But again, certainly we support Eric and things, and he’d be treated no different than any other teammate regardless of how much they’re making."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It would seem anybody as big as Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez -- "he's huge," 290-pound defensive end and teammate Derek Wolfe said -- would have a difficult time squeezing anywhere under the radar.

Sure, when Vasquez signed with the Broncos a little more than a year ago, he had been their top target in free agency. Of all the players they reeled in that offseason, he got the longest deal (four years) and the most money ($23.5 million). Yet in all of the chatter around the league about who signed for what that March, it was barely a ripple in the pond.

But Vasquez is a 6-foot-5, 335-pound shining example of how free agency is supposed to work, for the team and for the player.

[+] EnlargeLouis Vasquez
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeLouis Vasquez was the only unrestricted free agent in 2013 who changed teams and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
"We like the way that has worked out," Broncos executive vice president/general manager John Elway said. "We always want them to work out like that."

In theory, if you play well, you get to the open market and you get paid. If you play really well, you get paid really well.

Ideally, you play even better than what you did to draw interest in the first place. And right there is the rub, because the trouble with free agency from a business standpoint is a player who gets signed for big money rarely plays better than he did before he signed the contract.

Think about it. It’s a short list, just a handful of names, of unrestricted free agents who played better after the new deal. Not the same as before. Better.

Take former Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker. The New York Jets didn’t shower a $30-something million deal on him to get the Broncos’ No. 2 receiver. No, they want better. They want a No. 1 receiver.

Vasquez has been better, a win-win for the Broncos. He was the only unrestricted free agent in 2013 who changed teams and was selected to the Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro. He was the first Broncos guard to be named first-team All-Pro since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

In short, the Broncos scouted a player who fit what they wanted and also had the makeup to improve once he arrived. He was young enough to have room on the developmental curve to grow, and the ability to flourish with an expanded role in a more diverse offense than what he was in before he arrived.

Vasquez, who played his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, got a top-tier contract for a team in the Super Bowl conversation. Everybody was, and still is, happy.

Asked this week if he believes he truly played better with the opportunity to play in a high-flying, record-setting offense, or if folks simply noticed him more as the Broncos roared toward 606 points, Vasquez was understated, as usual.

"That’s kind of hard for me to say," Vasquez said. "I feel I learn something new every year. I pick up something to add to my game. So every year I like to think I’ve built on the previous year before."

"We were having trouble with teams getting stunts on us, teams were getting penetration, then the loopers were getting to us," Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "When we watched him on tape in those situations before he got here, he was just snatching those guys and shutting it down right there, and then he could pass a guy off and take over the next guy. Then we saw him in the run game, so powerful. We knew he was going to bring a different element."

Vasquez also holds a rather remarkable distinction of having been flagged just five times in 70 regular-season games, and only four of those penalties were assessed. He was flagged three times last season -- two false starts and a holding penalty -- but none was after Week 7. Before he arrived, he had been flagged just twice -- a false-start penalty on a field goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots, and a holding call in Week 6 of his rookie season that was declined.

"Just [having] great technique, that’s my biggest focus, is playing with technique, every play, every down," Vasquez said. “The results show for themselves. My only concern is to play with good technique and everything else will follow."

Said Gase: "He’s a hard guy to get around, he does a good job of moving his feet, and when he gets his hands on you, he’s able to keep himself out of trouble. That’s where you get holding calls or just penalties in general, when a guy gets an edge on you and you have to react to recover and drag people down.

"He’s a really good athlete. And I just didn’t realize how big he was. Some guys are listed big, made themselves big, [Vasquez] is just big, physical, he looks the part. Well, really, he's everything you want in the part."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordy Nelson gambled and lost -- if you can call cashing in $12.6 million a loss -- three years ago when he signed a contract extension with the Green Bay Packers.

Except he does not see it that way.

At the time, he was a 26-year-old receiver whose best season was 45 catches for 582 yards and two touchdowns.

What happened over the next three years turned the deal into a bargain for the Packers. Nelson went over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2013 and would have done so in 2012 had injuries not kept him out of four games.

In the last three seasons, only three other NFL receivers -- Dallas' Dez Bryant, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Denver's Eric Decker -- have more touchdown catches than Nelson (30). He's 12th in yards (3,322) and sixth in yards per catch (16.45) among all receivers during that same stretch.

[+] EnlargeNelson
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsBefore signing his current deal, Jordy Nelson's best season was 582 receiving yards and two TDs. He has topped 1,000 yards receiving twice since, and in 2011 had 15 receiving TDs.
Under his current contract, which averages $4.2 million per season, Nelson ranks 34th in pay among all NFL receivers, which makes it look like he left money on the table the last time around.

"When I signed it, I don't think I did," Nelson said Tuesday. "I think everyone when I signed thought it was a good deal. No one would have known I'd have 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns [in 2011]. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 but, again, I'm not worried about that at all. I've been comfortable with my decision.

"I've talked to other guys who've given me a hard time about it and they've been in the same situation of getting re-done with a year left and like, what to do. You've just got to live with your decision, one way or the other. You sign it, you've got to be happy. If you outplay it, you've got to deal with it. If you don't sign it and you get hurt, you've got to deal with that."

Financials aside, Nelson's last contract put him in a difficult spot age-wise for his next deal. Last week, he turned 29 -- an age at which Packers general manager Ted Thompson has been known to let receivers walk away. James Jones turned 30 just weeks after the Packers let him leave in free agency this offseason, and Greg Jennings was 29 when he left the Packers for the Minnesota Vikings the previous offseason.

Nelson, however, argues his last contract put him in prime position for another big deal.

"I heard the other day, a doctor told me that 28 to 32 is the prime age for a male athlete," Nelson said. "I was actually surprised by that."

"On my end, if you do outplay it right away, you'll be right back up there in two, two-and-a-half, three years," Nelson added. "Even on the organization's side, it allows them to sign someone. ... Maybe they don't quite have a full grasp of what they're going to be like so we'll give him three years and maybe we can figure out more about him. Yeah, I think it was great on both sides, and I look forward to talking to them again."

Nelson said Tuesday he believes those talks will heat up soon.

However, the Packers might be more inclined to do a deal with fellow receiver Randall Cobb first. Cobb, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, is just 23 years old.

For his part, Nelson is doing everything he can to stay young. He says he weighed in Tuesday at 210 pounds -- seven pounds below his listed playing weight. But he insisted that has nothing to do with him being in a contract year.

"They know everything about me," Nelson said. "They know we don't want to leave, so I'm not worried about saying it. You just want to make sure you get it done."
Running back Chris Johnson sent New York Jets fans into a Twitter frenzy Tuesday night, tweeting that the Jets should trade for disgruntled Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.



A Johnson & Johnson attack for the Jets? Catchy. For obvious reasons, owner Woody Johnson probably likes the sound of it, but this is strictly fantasy football chatter at this point.

It's highly unlikely the Texans would trade Johnson, their best offensive weapon and arguably the most accomplished player in franchise history. As promised, he skipped a voluntary practice Tuesday, intensifying the speculation about his future in Houston. Johnson, reportedly unhappy with the direction of the team, recently wondered if he's still a fit.

The Jets spent big money to sign Eric Decker, but they could still use another quality wideout -- and they don't come much better than Johnson. Despite a terrible quarterback situation, he caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards last season. Johnson is a pro's pro and would help the Jets on many levels.

But keep dreaming, Jets fans.

The cold reality is that Johnson turns 33 in July and he's still owed $33.5 million over the next three seasons -- a huge number even for the Jets, who have about $23 million in cap room. For cap purposes, it makes no sense for the Texans to trade Johnson. Also remember that new coach Bill O'Brien is a Bill Belichick disciple, which means he probably won't be eager to accommodate the selfish desire of one player if it hurts the team. And a trade would hurt the Texans because there's no way they'd get fair-market value in return for the effective, but aging, receiver. If they did decide to move him, it would make sense to send him out of the AFC.

Wednesday's Jets practice is open to the media, which means Johnson can expect a lot of questions about his tweet. It also wouldn't be a surprise if he receives a message from John Idzik, who may tell Johnson to leave the GMing to him. After all, Johnson's job is to accumulate yards, not players.
No team in NFL history scored more points in a season than the Denver Broncos did in 2013. The 606 points made them the first offense in the league to top the 600-point barrier.

And in an unheard of distribution they had five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns. No team had ever had more than three players reach the 10 touchdown barrier.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Lyons/Getty ImagesProtecting Peyton Manning -- and cutting down on his fumbles lost -- was emphasized in the offseason.
In short, the Broncos were ruthlessly efficient when they had a chance to score touchdowns. Yet as they take the field this week for their first full on-field team workouts of a new season, they are still left to wonder what could have been.

Had they taken care of the ball better, the numbers would have been even more staggering. Sure they could have run the ball more efficiently and protected their prized quarterback better.

But the bottom line is the Broncos need to go back to the most basic of basics: They need to hold onto the ball.

"We have to do a better job as a group with that," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "That was a big downfall for us early, where the ball was on the ground way too much. It's almost two seasons in a row and we have to address that right away. We've got to be so much better as far as holding onto the ball as a group."

Those numbers are almost just as startling from last season. The Broncos led the NFL in lost fumbles in 2013 with 16 in a year when no other playoff team had more than 10.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, whose grip was somewhat affected by his spinal fusion surgery, led the team with six lost fumbles. But Manning only had two lost fumbles in 2012, his first season with the Broncos, and Denver has tried to address protection issues up front this offseason.

Left tackle Ryan Clady will return to the lineup after missing all but two games with a foot injury and Orlando Franklin has been moved from right tackle to left guard to try and bolster the Broncos' protection schemes on Manning's doorstep. If they can limit the clean hits in the pocket on Manning, his fumble total should be closer, the Broncos hope, to his 2012 work.

Gase has said ball security will be addressed right from the start with the team's running backs -- the running backs had four lost fumbles last season, three by Montee Ball. Ball did not lose a fumble following the Nov. 24 loss in New England. But the Broncos need Ball to get close to Knowshon Moreno's performance.

Moreno, who was allowed to leave in free agency, did not lose a fumble last season in 241 carries as well as 60 receptions.

The Broncos' wide receivers can do their part as well. Despite all of the quality work the Broncos did in the passing game last season, their top receivers dropped more than their share of passes as well.

Granted, the Broncos were second in pass attempts last season -- the Cleveland Browns were first -- so more opportunity certainly could lead to more drops. But their top three receivers -- Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker dropped a combined 20 passes.

Video review showed Welker was near the top of the league with nine drops, while Decker had six drops on in-frame passes -- another drop could have been added if a more liberal approach was taken -- and Thomas had five drops. Decker and Welker each had games with three drops and overall the Broncos had two games with at least six dropped passes in the regular season -- six against Tennessee and seven against New England.

Emmanuel Sanders will replace Decker in the team's three-wide look this year and the Broncos used a second-round pick on wide receiver Cody Latimer in the draft earlier this month. And most teams had Latimer as one of the most reliable receivers catching the ball in this year's draft class -- one of Latimer's coaches at Indiana was quoted as saying Latimer may have had just one drop last season in practice or in a game.

"That's always one of my emphases, just to catch the ball, that's why I play receiver," Latimer said. "You don't want to waste any passes. That's the emphasis we had. My coach, we kept track of drops and he always let me know, 'You didn't have any drops,' or, 'You dropped this,' but it wasn't many. So it was just something we focused on as receivers."

"I think you're always going to feel like you left some points out there sometimes, even with what we did," is how Thomas put it. "We can always be better."

In the end, with Manning back at quarterback, with Sanders adding some elusiveness and athleticism in the offense, with an offseason to tinker with all that they did last season, there is no reason to believe the Broncos should be one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league once again.

But if they take care of the ball better than they did last season, they'll pick up some of the points they left behind.

Jets offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Jets' offseason moves:

Best move: The Jets doled out $7 million a year for Eric Decker, but he's an upgrade over the previous No. 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes, a diminished diva whose sour attitude won't be missed. Decker is a 6-foot-3 target whose catching radius will help Geno Smith, who struggled last season with his accuracy. No doubt Decker benefited from having the Broncos' Peyton Manning as his quarterback the past two seasons, but he's still a quality player who can help in a variety of ways. For instance: Decker had seven red zone touchdown catches last season, only one fewer than the Jets produced as a team.

[+] EnlargeDimitri Patterson
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeThe Jets hope Dimitri Patterson can fill the void created when Antonio Cromartie departed.
Riskiest move: They're counting on journeyman Dimitri Patterson, signed from the Dolphins, to replace Antonio Cromartie at cornerback -- a big gamble. Patterson, 31, has missed 33 of his past 48 games, so the Jets are taking quite a leap by thinking he will stay healthy. What's more, he's best suited for the slot, not one of the outside positions. General manager John Idzik mismanaged the cornerback market. Knowing the importance of corners in Rex Ryan's man-to-man system, Idzik should've made a stronger commitment to the position. He flirted with some big names but wound up with Patterson, who will be playing for his sixth team in 10 years. To exacerbate the issue, Idzik waited until the third round before drafting a corner.

Most surprising move: The Jets bill themselves as a young, ascending team, yet they allowed one of their ascending players to walk out the door -- right tackle Austin Howard, who signed with the Raiders. The Jets found him on the scrap heap, invested three years of development and watched him become an above-average player with upside. And then he was gone. Howard's replacement, Breno Giacomini, formerly of the Seahawks, is a comparable player -- and cheaper. Statistically, he's a better run-blocker than Howard but is not quite as adept in pass protection. Here's the big difference, though: Howard, 27, is two years younger than Giacomini, meaning he would've been a better fit in the long-term plan.

John the Deliberate: Overall, Idzik had a solid offseason, adding several new pieces on offense (let's not forget about running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick) -- but the second-year GM didn't spend as much money as he could've. After dumping Holmes' and Mark Sanchez's contracts, the Jets were among the league leaders in cap space, but Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, relying on a 12-player draft haul to upgrade the roster. Unlike some GMs, who overpay for second-rate talent, he refuses to deviate from his long-term plan. It's the right approach for a franchise previously obsessed with quick-fix moves, but it's not foolproof. The cornerback situation will come back to bite him.
Checking up on the New York Jets:

1. Woe-ffense: For too long, the Jets have been playing offense with hand-me-downs from other teams -- free-agent pick ups, trade acquisitions and an assortment of castoffs. The list is long: Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, etc. The Jets' best offensive player of this generation, Curtis Martin, came from the New England Patriots. Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick are the latest to join the recycled crowd, although Decker was a premium free agent. There's no law that says you can't build this way, but the lack of homegrown talent is both alarming an mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCould North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron be the homegrown skill player the Jets desperately need?
Try to wrap your brain around this: The last-drafted skill-position player to make the Pro Bowl on offense was wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the first overall pick in 1996. As Keyshawn himself would say, "Come on, man!" They've drafted some "almosts" over the years, players such as Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller, but they never hit it big for various reasons. Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles made the Pro Bowl, but they did it with the Washington Redskins. The point is, the Jets never will escape also-ran status until they draft and develop their own stars. They should keep that in mind when they start drafting in 11 days.

2. Dreaming of a tight end: The Jets really like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. They see him as a wide receiver/tight end hybrid that would be a matchup nightmare in a flexed position. Problem is, it's hard to imagine him falling to 18th. The Buffalo Bills (ninth) and New York Giants (12th) need a tight end and could take Ebron. If he gets past the Bills, what would it take to get ahead of the Giants? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their third rounder and their two non-compensatory fourth-round picks to move up to the 11th spot, currently held by the Tennessee Titans. That's a lot to give up for a tight end.

2.a. Scouting term of the week: In a conference call with the NFL Nation reporters, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used the term "buffet blocker." What is a buffet blocker? "He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested," McShay said. In case you're wondering, he was referring to Ebron.

3. The Fab Four: If I had to select the four most likely picks for the Jets at 18, I'd say: wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. That could change by draft day, of course, but that's what I'm hearing right now.

4. Don't forget the D: For those who believe the Jets absolutely must go heavy on offense in this draft, consider this: The Jets recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You know what that tells me? The "Sons of Anarchy" could use some help.

5. Q's time is now: The Jets made the no-brainer decision by exercising the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson ($6.97 million). Next year, the decision might not be so cut-and-dried with 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has yet to approach his potential. The fixed salary won't be set for another year, but they're looking at about $7 million for Coples. They're expecting big things this year from Coples, whose development was impeded last season with the switch to rush linebacker.

6. Double rejection: Rex Ryan is popular coach, evidenced by his fourth-place finish in a 2013 ESPN.com survey that asked players across the league to name the coach they'd most like to play for. But the notion all players are dying to play for Ryan and the Jets is a bit ridiculous. For instance: They were spurned by two free agents that took less money to play for other teams. Wide receiver Sidney Rice, who recently visited with the Jets, said he decided to return to the Seattle Seahawks (one year, $1.4 million) even though the Jets offered him more. Safety Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings (one year, $900,000) after visiting the Jets, said the Jets offered some guaranteed money. The Vikings didn't, but he opted for them anyway. Apparently, some players can resist Ryan's charm and the Jets' money.

7. Cornering the market: If the Jets don't pick a cornerback in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised if they explore the possibility of acquiring a veteran, perhaps in a trade. There has been speculation about the Dallas Cowboys trying to deal the disappointing Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, but they'd take a major cap hit. Right now, his cap charge is $4.4 million, but it would explode to $9.6 million if they trade him, counting the bonus acceleration. The Cowboys would have to receive an offer they can't refuse to absorb that kind of hit.

8. From the what-if dept.: This never became public, but the Jets showed interest in wide receiver Julian Edelman during free agency. Ryan, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of stealing a weapon from the rival Patriots. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots for $17 million over four years. Landing Edelman would've been quite a coup.

9. Sign of the times: In 2014, the Jets will pay kicker Nick Folk ($3.6 million) almost as much as running back Chris Johnson ($4 million), once regarded as one of the elite players in the league. It's a tale of two markets: Kicker salaries are increasing, running-back prices are plummeting.

10. Not what you think: I've heard coaches over the years say they prefer to face teams with new head coaches early in the season, figuring they still will be getting acclimated to new schemes. This may surprise you, but there's no evidence to suggest those particular teams are more vulnerable early in the season than late. Since 2000, new head coaches have a .453 winning percentage in the first month, followed by .427 in October, .455 in November and .451 in the final month, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets play three teams with new coaches, only one of which comes early -- the Detroit Lions (Sept. 28). They also have the Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 7) and Tennessee Titans (Dec. 14).
SteelersAP Photo/David RichardDenver hopes Emmanuel Sanders can not only replace, but also exceed Eric Decker's production.
When the Denver Broncos prepared themselves for free agency, they did what any team in the supply and demand business of roster spots would do: The decision-makers looked at their free agents and assigned each a value.

Then executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said those free agents would be allowed to test the market. And what that often really means is the team believes those players will get more in the open market than it would be willing to pay to keep them.

That turned out to be true for guard Zane Beadles as well as running back Knowshon Moreno and it really turned out to be true for wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker got a five-year, $36.25 million deal from the New York Jets that includes $15 million guaranteed.

The Broncos then signed Emmanuel Sanders, the player who at the moment is Decker's replacement, to a three-year, $15 million deal. The Broncos see Sanders as a more versatile, more athletic player overall than Decker, one who can play both outside and in the slot.

Decker did play in the slot at times in his tenure with the Broncos, but the current regime saw him as an outside receiver only. Sanders has quick-twitch ability with the ball and creates missed tackles with the hope of more catch-and-run yardage.

Both he and Decker have had difficulties at times with drops. But the coming season may, or may not, show how much of Decker's emergence as a receiver with back-to-back 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons had to do with playing in an offense with Manning.

And for his part Sanders will have the chance to show if he can go from a guy whose top two seasons have been 626 yards in 2012 and 740 yards in 2013 to something more.

Manning got his first up-close look at Sanders in recent workouts at Duke University -- where Manning's long-time friend and former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe, is head coach. By all accounts Manning came away feeling good about Sanders' potential in the offense.

Or as Manning put it Wednesday morning, before he spoke at a fundraising breakfast for the Boy Scouts at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver: "I had a chance to throw with Sanders down there in North Carolina and I'm excited about playing with him."

At first blush unless the Broncos add a bigger receiver in next month's draft, they are smaller, as a group, with the Sanders-for-Decker swap. Decker is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds as compared to Sanders' 5-11, 180 pounds.

Since Manning's arrival two years ago, defensive coordinators routinely talked about the difficulty in matching up with Decker, Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229) and tight end Julius Thomas (6-5, 250) in the red zone where Manning can put the ball up for his guys to go get it. That was particularly true from the doorstep with five of Decker's 11 touchdown catches this past season were for three or fewer yards.

The Broncos hope, however, Sanders can win some of those battles with quickness to give Manning the room/opportunity to throw to him in the more confined spaces once the Broncos' offense is inside the opponents' 15-yard line.

Whether he was running across the formation or worked to the side where he lined up, Decker's catches were fairly well dispersed all over the field this past season. He made 34.5 percent of his catches to the offensive right, 41.4 percent to the offensive left and 20.7 percent in the middle of the field.

Sanders, too, would project a similar dispersal given his ability to line up anywhere the Broncos want him to in their three-wide look. The Broncos, though, believe Sanders can do even more after the catch even as the Broncos receivers led the NFL in that category overall last season.

Decker had 47 percent of his catches go for 10 or fewer yards last season, 69 percent for 15 or fewer yards. The Broncos hope Sanders can push a higher percentage of his catch-and-runs toward bigger yardage totals, but for Sanders' part he will have to be ready to play more snaps than he has in the past.

Decker was in the 1,000-snap club last season -- 1,050, or 87 percent of the Broncos plays -- and had 15 games when he played at least 50 snaps. Only Thomas played more than Decker (1,106 snaps) among the Broncos' pass-catchers.

Wes Welker played 770 snaps, or 63.8 percent of the plays, before missing games down the stretch with a concussion and Julius Thomas checked in at 901 snaps (74.6 percent).

The Broncos threw more than the Steelers did in '13, 675 pass attempts as compared to the Steelers' 586, and Sanders played at least 50 snaps in nine of 16 games last season. When the Steelers still had Mike Wallace in 2012, Sanders played at least 50 snaps in five games.

Sanders has played in 16 games in each of the last two seasons, but has never started more than 10 games in any season of his career.

But if things go as the Broncos want, and need them to go, he'll certainly have the chance to change that this time around.
John Idzik and Rex RyanAP Photo/Bill KostrounWill Jets GM John Idzik draft the starting-caliber cornerback that Rex Ryan needs?
The biggest cliché you will read or hear over the next few weeks will be from NFL experts explaining that this will be a critical draft for (insert any team name).

Hello? They're all critical because they happen only once a year.

The second-biggest cliché will be from smart-alecks like me reminding you it's a cliché.

That said, I'll probably incur a penalty flag for writing this, but there are special cases -- see the New York Jets -- where there is simply no way to minimize the importance of a particular draft.

This is one of those years for the Jets. Because of their deliberate approach in free agency -- some might say cheap -- they have raised the stakes for the upcoming draft. May 8-10 will be the three biggest days of the year for a franchise in Stage 2 of its rebuilding project.

Despite having enough salary-cap room to pay an entire small-market baseball team, general manager John Idzik chose to save most of his money, counting on a bountiful draft to fill the many holes on the Jets' roster.

You might say he's putting most of his eggs in one basket, and it happens to be a complete dozen -- 12 draft picks. He'll have yolk on the face if he blows this draft, because he passed up a lot of potential upgrades in free agency.

Many fans are restless because they are not accustomed to this way of doing business. Under Idzik's predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets owned the New York back pages in March, titillating the fan base with sexy trades and expensive signings.

Tannenbaum knew how to feed the beast, but there was a method to his madness. His research told him they were better off spending the money on proven commodities instead of stockpiling draft choices, figuring the bust rate of draft picks -- especially in the late rounds -- didn't validate the risk-reward.

In the past six drafts under Tannenbaum, 2007 to 2012, the Jets added 31 players -- an average of roughly five per year. If Idzik keeps his full allotment of choices, which includes four compensatory selections and a pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, he'll be up to 19 picks in two drafts.

Tannenbaum's plan damn near worked, as the Jets reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, but the talent base eventually eroded and he was fired. Now they have the anti-Tannenbaum in Idzik, building at a glacial pace through the draft.

"The football offseason is like an event, a circus act, and fans in general want to see something," a longtime personnel executive said this week. "With John, he takes the air out of the balloon. It's not exciting, but he does it his way. You have to respect that."

Idzik's way is similar to those of the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, three successful organizations that rely on the draft more than free agency. In Wisconsin, you're more likely to see a March thaw than a flurry of free-agent signings. The signing of Julius Peppers last month was a stunning departure from the norm, a rare walk on the wild side by GM Ted Thompson.

Their usual philosophy: Draft. Develop. Extend. In other words, use your money to re-invest in your homegrown talent.

"He's modeling those organizations," the former personnel executive said of Idzik.

Idzik has to yet to make a long-term commitment to an ascending player, although you could make the case that the Jets haven't had anyone worthy of a contract extension. That will change when defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson gets a new deal, this year or next. For now, the objective is to find more Wilkersons.

Their list of needs is long, perhaps too long, considering they began free agency with close to $40 million in cap room. They upgraded the No. 2 wide receiver spot by signing Eric Decker, and they fortified the quarterback position by adding Michael Vick. But where are the playmakers? If the Jets are counting on Decker to be a difference-maker, they misspent their guaranteed $15 million.

Defensively, the personnel is worse than it was at the end of the season, specifically at cornerback. The mistake wasn't cutting Antonio Cromartie and making no effort to re-sign him; after all, he played poorly last season. No, the mistake was failing to come up with a better replacement than the aging and injury-prone Dimitri Patterson.

Defense will drive the Jets as long as Rex Ryan is the coach, and his defensive system is driven by cornerbacks. Idzik knows that, but he obviously held back in free agency, knowing he has an XXL draft to attack the team's weaknesses.

The second-year GM and his revamped scouting department enjoyed a solid first draft, so there is hope, but the challenge is greater this year because the expectation level is higher. If you're going to be frugal in free agency, you had better own the draft.

The Jets need to come away with a starting-caliber cornerback, a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end. With six choices among the top 137, they have the bargaining chips to wheel and deal. Idzik has enough ammo to take control of the draft, cherry-picking the players he covets most. A Justin Gilbert-Allen Robinson-Jace Amaro troika would be a nice start.

This is a critical draft for the Jets. Sorry about the cliché, but it's the truth.
When the Denver Broncos didn't make wide receiver Eric Decker an offer in free agency, they were making a fairly public admission that they simply wanted to spend their available dollars elsewhere.

And that they could spend those dollars elsewhere to fix some holes in the depth chart and somehow replace Decker in the offense.

For it all to work as they hope, those major investments -- DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib -- will certainly have to lift the defense. But for the plan to go from drawing board to deep in the postseason, preferably a return trip to the Super Bowl, the Broncos will simply have to be right about Emmanuel Sanders.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders had a career-best 67 receptions last season, but the Broncos believe he can do more in their system.
The wide receiver was among their top offensive targets when the Broncos made their wish list before free agency opened. They see him as a versatile, fast, quick-twitch receiver who is ready to benefit from Peyton Manning's presence behind center.

Or as John Elway has put it: “When we looked at him, and I've said this to our guys, too, you saw a guy who has only scratched the surface. He's young with a lot of potential, even on top of what he's already done."

Decker's departure leaves a fairly large gap in what the team did on offense last season. At least in the regular season, anyway. Decker's totals dipped in the postseason, as Manning focused elsewhere, but Manning looked Decker's way 137 times in the regular season. Demaryius Thomas was the only Broncos receiver targeted more in 2013. Thomas isn't going anywhere in the pecking order. The Broncos see him as a special player who still has room to grow, even after his 1,430-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2013.

Tight end Julius Thomas was the fourth-most targeted player in the Broncos' offense last season. He missed two games with a knee injury in the regular season, but was far more active in the playoffs. He will be a bigger part of the offense in the coming season.

Wes Welker missed the final three games of the regular season while recovering from a concussion, but he was the third-most targeted player in the offense.

Sanders' ability as a slot receiver, as well as his ability to line up out wide, should help the Broncos create more matchups to get Julius Thomas the ball down the hashmarks. It was Sanders' ability to line up all over the formation, as well as his after-the-catch performance, that made him the Broncos' top target on the offensive side of the ball once free agency opened.

Sanders had a career-best 67 catches last season, but the Broncos believe he can go far north of that total in their offense, given the choices Manning has before the ball is in the air. Still, all of those plans are built around the idea that Sanders has to be up for the job, too.

The Broncos may feel like Sanders is quicker in the short area, faster in the open field and better after the catch than Decker. But Decker was on the finishing end of touchdown passes 24 times in the two seasons he played with Manning.

Some of that was Manning's ability to work the Broncos' scheme and find the favorable matchup. There is a long list of receivers who have put up career-best numbers with Manning. Still, Decker's production will have to be replaced. The Broncos lined up in a three-wide receiver set on 73.6 percent of their offensive snaps last season.

The Broncos lined up in a three-wide set even more than that as the season wore on, including all but one snap against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round. And even with their intentions to run the ball better next season, Sanders will be key in how successful the Broncos are in making the transition from how the formation looked in 2013 to how it will look in 2014.

Questions surround Welker, who enters the season with two concussions in 2013 to go with a concussion history from before he signed in Denver. There is always a chance he will miss some time in the coming season.

In the end, the New York Jets put a $36.25 million contract in front of Decker and the Broncos signed Sanders to a $15 million deal. The Broncos did their comparison shopping, looked at the balance in the checkbook and made Sanders their choice.

 
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Penny pinchers: For those not happy with John Idzik's conservative approach to free agency... well, you may not want to read this. It will raise your ire to a new level.

[+] EnlargeIdzik
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM John Idzik has a new style this offseason: less spending, more scouting.
Right now, the Jets have the lowest cash payroll in the NFL -- $86.1 million, according to overthecap.com. We're not talking cap dollars, we're talking actual cash spending for 2014. They're $50 million under than the top-spending team, the Baltimore Ravens. The paltry number makes the Jets seem like the New York Mets of the NFL.

In 14 months, Idzik has systematically dumped many of the highest salaries. Their once-top-heavy cap has thinned to the point where only three players have cap charges of at least $7 million -- D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($11.7 million), Nick Mangold ($7.2 million) and David Harris ($7 million). It's telling that the fourth- and fifth-highest cap numbers belong to players no longer on the roster -- Antonio Cromartie ($5.5 million) and Mark Sanchez ($4.8 million).

The Jets flirted with several big-name free agents (Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), but missed out, in part, because they failed to show them the money. (Pardon the Jerry Maguire-ism.) What conclusions can be drawn? Either the Jets are cheap or Idzik is budgeting for the future. It's probably more of the latter. Know this: Starting this year, teams are required to spend at least 89 percent of the cap in cash over a four-year period. It looks like the Jets will have some catching up to do in future years.

2. DeSean update: Unless they pull a 180, the Jets won't be a factor in the DeSean Jackson sweepstakes -- a smart move. He's not a fit for them. They held internal discussions on Jackson, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg giving his blessing. Mornhinweg, who coached him with the Philadelphia Eagles, told people in the organization that Jackson -- known for his bad-boy reputation -- wouldn't be a problem in the locker room. That apparently wasn't enough to sway Idzik, who reportedly hadn't reached out to Jackson's agent as of Saturday. Jackson is scheduled to visit Monday with the Washington Redskins. The Oakland Raiders might be interested as well.

3. On the road again: Idzik has popped up at a number of the high-profile pro days, most recently the Johnny Manziel extravaganza at Texas A&M. He's taking more scouting trips than he did last offseason, when he was new on the job and felt obligated to work from the office as he familiarized himself with the operation and the staff.

4. For Pete's sake: I caught up with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the league meetings and asked for a scouting report on right tackle Breno Giacomini, who left the Super Bowl champions to sign with the Jets. Carroll: "Great competitor. Really fierce. A really smart player. Tough. Great finisher. Physical. He's legit. We hated losing Breno. We would've liked to (have kept him), but we couldn't do it. We had no intention of wanting to lose him, but he's one of the guys we had to transition out of the organization. He's worth it (for the Jets). He got paid well and he deserves it."

Translation: We liked him, but not at four years, $18 million.

5. Cro is for the birds: With All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson locking down one side of the field, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expects opponents to attack former Jet Antonio Cromartie -- and he's just fine with that.

"I love the fact that there's going to be a lot of balls thrown at him, because I didn't throw that many when I was playing against him," Arians said at the league meetings, expressing confidence in Cromartie's coverage ability.

He'll rue that statement if Cromartie doesn't cover better than he did last season.

6. Sleeper with speed: It was overshadowed by the Jackson news and the Sanchez signing, but the Jets picked up an interesting player Friday -- cornerback Jeremy Reeves. After a four-year career at Iowa State, where he intercepted five passes (two returned for touchdowns), Reeves was eligible for the 2013 draft. But he tore a pectoral muscle, missed his pro day, wasn't drafted and wasn't signed by anyone. After working out on his own for a year, he participated in Iowa State's pro day last week and burned the 40 in 4.29 seconds, according to school officials.

He's only 5-7, 167 pounds (picture Darren Sproles at corner), but that kind of speed -- even if not totally accurate -- turns heads. The Jets have a good feel for Reeves because Jeff Bauer, the director of college scouting, is an Iowa State alum, plugged into the Iowa scene.

7. Flying with the Eagles: Former Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (it feels weird typing that) made a good point in his introductory news conference in Philadelphia: He believes he could thrive in Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense because of past success in the hurry-up. Sanchez was at his best in two-minute situations, when he didn't have to read the entire field and was required to make quick decisions. So maybe there's hope for him in Philly. On the other hand, his career record against NFC teams isn't sterling -- 10 touchdown passes, 21 interceptions.

8. Reality star: Eric Decker's reality show -- "Eric and Jessie: Game On" -- kicks off its second season Sunday night. (Jessie is his wife, a country-music singer, in case you didn't know.) I asked Rex Ryan if he's worried the show could become a distraction for his new wide receiver. He laughed, but his answer was no. Ryan said the show never came up in conversation with Decker prior to him signing.

9. More teams, wealthier coaches: Ryan is in favor of expanding the playoff field. "Absolutely," he said. "When you look at the fact that bonuses are probably tied into it, absolutely." He laughed, but he wasn't joking. In his new contract extension, Ryan can trigger incentive bonuses for 2016 with playoff wins.

10. Changing times: The Jets have 12 draft picks. In Ryan's first three seasons (2009 to 2011), with Mike Tannenbaum as the GM, they had a total of 13.
Rex Ryan Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJets ownership expects Rex Ryan to improve on last season's 8-8 record.
If Rex Ryan didn't feel playoffs-or-bust pressure for 2014, he does now.

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who only 10 months ago pleaded for "patience" from the fans, unwittingly turned up the heat on his coach Sunday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, saying it's a win-now mentality.

"I’m not going to use the word ‘patient’ anymore,” Johnson told reporters. “We want to do it now."

For older Jets fans, Johnson's candid remarks may stir memories of the late Leon Hess, in 1995, growling, "I'm 80 years old. I want results now." He made those comments at Rich Kotite's introductory news conference. Hess had to wait a few years for those results, and they didn't happen until Bill Parcells came to town.

Ryan doesn't have that much time. If he misses the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, it would be difficult to see him keeping his job. Yes, he received a contract extension after a better-than-expected season, but all that did was give him an extra year of security, with guaranteed salaries through 2015.

Clearly, Johnson expects better than 8-8 this season, and he has a right to feel that way. Patience was the way to go last season because it was the first year of John Idzik's rebuilding project. He tore the roster apart, handing Ryan a five- or six-win roster. Ryan squeezed out eight wins, a terrific coaching job. But now his boss has become impatient with being patient, revealing a greater sense of urgency than his top football man, Idzik.

Idzik keeps talking about building a team that has sustainable success, avoiding quick fixes and working from a long-term plan. Now there's a mixed message, with Johnson suggesting the league is so parity-driven that championships should always be the goal. It's a departure from last May, when he implored the fans, "Yes, be patient. Be patient and trust that we’re doing the right thing for your team."

Demonstrating his win-now approach, Johnson confirmed the team's interest in Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who reportedly is on the trading block. It was stunning because of tampering rules -- team officials aren't supposed to comment on opposing players -- and because of the Jets' secretive ways.

[+] EnlargeWoody Johnson
Mario Tama/Getty ImagesWoody Johnson expects the New York Jets to have a winning season in 2014.
I say, "Good for him." Finally, a straight answer from a Jets official.

That Johnson went public tells me the Jets are very interested in Jackson. He said they'd rather not surrender a draft pick -- meaning Jackson would be more attractive if he gets released -- but that could mean they're not willing to give up the exact pick the Eagles are demanding. It's called posturing.

Jackson doesn't seem like an Idzik kind of guy, with his enormous contract and his diva behavior. But Jackson would give the Jets a much-improved offense. With Jackson and Eric Decker, you're talking about a legit receiving corps. Johnson loves offense. Most owners do. It puts rear ends in the seats.

Meanwhile, Ryan must be thinking, "How 'bout a cornerback?" He has the right to be concerned about the giant hole in his defense. If the owner is making this a win-now season, the least he could do is give his defensive-minded coach a couple of proven corners. Right now, they have Dee Milliner and a lot of questions. You could argue that Milliner is a question, too.

The Jets have acquired three new players in free agency, all on offense -- Decker, quarterback Michael Vick and right tackle Breno Giacomini. The defense is worse than it was at the end of last season. The Jets still have the draft, and still have time to plug holes. But the expectations are higher than 2013. They got even higher Sunday, when Johnson opened his mouth.

"Look at the difference between last year and this year,” Johnson said. “The team can turn very fast in the NFL. You saw Seattle. I’ve seen a lot of teams that came from the bottom ... that weren’t doing that well, to winning Super Bowls. So, it’s there. I think we’re trying to put ourselves in position to accomplish those objectives."
Many happenings around the New York Jets:

1. Waiting on DeSean: If the Jets want wide receiver DeSean Jackson, they have the resources to be a major player. They have the need, the cap space (more than $30 million) and the right recruiter (Michael Vick). The question is, do they have the desire?

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesDo the positives outweigh the negatives for a marriage between the Jets and receiver DeSean Jackson?
The sense I get from talking to league sources is the Jets have a measured interest in Jackson, which will intensify if he's released by the Philadelphia Eagles -- a distinct possibility if no one is willing to trade for his contract. He has three years, $30 million remaining on the deal. He reportedly is unwilling to renegotiate his deal, which makes a trade less likely. Jackson may not be motivated to re-work the deal because he knows it will force his release, allowing him to reunite with Vick. It's possible that Vick picked the Jets, knowing his former teammate wouldn't be far behind. Could this all be part of John Idzik's master plan?

Frankly, I think it would be out of character for Idzik. Jackson is a problem child, the ultimate risk-reward gambit. The mere fact Chip Kelly is holding a fire sale for his best receiver should tell you something about how badly he wants to rid himself of Jackson. This is Santonio Holmes revisited. The talent makes the player oh-so-tempting, but is he worth the aggravation? Even if Jackson's market dries up and he accepts a team-friendly deal, he'd be complaining next offseason about wanting a new contract. He's a headache waiting to happen, but the Jets appear willing to stock up on aspirin.

2. The Marty factor: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows Jackson better than anyone in the Jets' building, having coached him in Philly, but I wonder about that relationship. In May, 2010, Jackson told the Sporting News, "Our offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, said some things, trying to question my toughness" -- a reference to a 2009 game in which he sat out with a head injury. "I was like, 'Coach, I just got a concussion. This (is) my brain. If it's something else -- my shoulder, whatever -- I'm going to play.'" Based on the quote, it doesn't sound like they're the best of buds.

By the way, Jackson suffered two concussions in 2009 and 2010, including a severe concussion that resulted in memory loss -- another factor the Jets should consider.

3. 3-21: So on the two-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow trade, Mark Sanchez gets cut, Greg McElroy announces his retirement and Vick joins the team. That has to be cosmos, right?

4. Polarizing player: Opinions on the Vick signing are sharply divided among fans and media, which isn't a surprise. I happen to think it's a good deal, but I spoke to one longtime front-office executive who believes Vick, 33, is washed up.

"The Jets already have a guy like him ," said the executive, referring to Geno Smith. "If you bring Vick in, you're not thinking. It makes no sense. He's a good kid. He's more mature, he's not a distraction and the players respect him, but he doesn't bring anything to the table anymore -- nothing. He can't win with his legs anymore, he has to win with his head. His arm is good enough, but unfortunately, the arm isn't connected to the head."

An AFC personnel scout said of the Vick-for-Sanchez move: "I don't know what to think, to be honest. You swap one out for the other. There's still no long-term solution."

5. Penalty pals, revisited: Based on their track records, the Willie Colon-Breno Giacomini tandem on the right side of the offensive line will produce a lot of penalty flags. Colon was penalized a team-high 12 times for 82 yards last season. Giacomini, playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was flagged six times for 39 yards -- in only nine games, mind you. (In addition, he had two holding calls in the postseason.) In 2011 and 2012, he combined for 21 penalties for 172 yards. Unless they change their ways, Colon and Giacomini will invite comparisons to the original Penalty Pals, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, circa 1993.

6. Keeping their own: Penalties notwithstanding, the Jets made a good move to re-sign Colon, who received a one-year, $2 million contract. Only $500,000 is guaranteed; he can also earn $1 million in base salary, plus another $500,000 in roster bonuses if he plays every game. They gave a similar deal to linebacker Calvin Pace, who can make $2.625 million in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract.

All told, the Jets retained seven free agents for a combined total of only $5.255 million in guarantees -- Pace, Colon, Nick Folk, Jeff Cumberland, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls and Leger Douzable. That's what you call bargain shopping.

7. John the Rigid: The biggest criticism of Idzik, according to some agents and league insiders, is that he shows little or no flexibility in negotiations. He assigns a monetary value to a player and refuses to adjust, they say. That style may help in certain situations, but there are times when you have to examine the big picture and ask yourself, "Do we really want to lose this player over X amount of money?" Idzik's conservative approach probably cost him cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed with the New York Giants. So now they have a gaping hole at the position. Barring a trade, or a veteran unexpectedly shaking free, the Jets will have to rely on the draft.

8. Bad things come in threes: In a span of 12 days, Idzik jettisoned three of the cornerstone players from the last playoff team, cutting Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. That's a stunning player dump, considering they're all 30 or under. The downside is the amount of "dead" money on the cap. The three players are counting $12.78 million, nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap.

9. Small-school sleeper: Remember this name -- Terrence Fede. The former Marist defensive end is trying to become the first player in his school's history to be drafted. The 6-foot-3, 276 pounder was a stud pass rusher as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school, recording 30.5 career sacks. He has an impressive burst on the edge. He performed for scouts recently at the University of Buffalo pro day, clocking a 4.79 in the 40. All 32 teams were in attendance, including Jets scout Cole Hufnagel. Even if he's not drafted, Fede will be a priority free agent.

10. The Jets' new dogma: Everybody knows about Vick's sordid history with dog fighting, a crime that resulted in him spending nearly two years in a federal prison. Well, here's something interesting and ironic: One of his new receivers is a dog lover. Eric Decker has a foundation called "Decker's Dogs," which provides service dogs to returning military vets with disabilities. Decker and his wife, Jessica, raise money to help train rescued dogs. They believe rescued dogs have the same success rate as dogs bred for service.

Free-agency review: Broncos

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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Ware
Most significant signing: The Broncos went for the big splash in the opening days of free agency, reeling in four high-profile players -- DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. The most important addition, both on the field and in the locker room, may carry the biggest risk as well. Ware, 31, was the oldest player the Broncos signed last week, and he is coming off an injury-marred 2013 season. But Ware has 117 career sacks and has missed just three games in the previous nine years. The Broncos see him as still being an elite edge rusher worth a $30 million deal.

Most significant loss: On the field, wide receiver Eric Decker was the biggest loss. But in the locker room, it was linebacker Wesley Woodyard. The Broncos believe Sanders, if he gets up to speed quickly in the playbook, can be a more versatile receiver in their scheme than Decker was. Decker, however, is taller and had 24 touchdowns the past two seasons combined thanks to his work in the red zone. In the locker room, Woodyard was the first player since Hall of Famer Floyd Little to be a captain each of his first six seasons with the team. Woodyard's outlook, work ethic and ability to relate to his teammates will be missed.

Talib
Talib
Sanders
Biggest surprise: Most in the league expected the Broncos to be active once the bidding opened last week. But they were able to reel in two players -- Talib and Sanders -- after they appeared to be heading elsewhere. The Broncos were negotiating with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during the first hours of free agency before they zeroed in on Talib. Sanders took four team visits but signed his deal with the Broncos shortly after he arrived at the team's complex Sunday.

What's next? The Broncos were able to address some of their most glaring needs on the depth chart at defensive end, wide receiver and cornerback. It will allow them the freedom to take the best player available in May's draft, no matter the position. The Broncos will still give a long look to a deep class of receivers in the draft and will likely take a cornerback as well. They are largely done in free agency unless they see an offensive lineman who piques their interest.

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