NFL Nation: Jeremy Zuttah

Veteran center Jeremy Zuttah went from being the odd man out in Tampa Bay to becoming one of the most welcomed additions on the Baltimore Ravens.

Zuttah was traded to the Ravens for a 2015 fifth-round draft pick in March after the Buccaneers signed his replacement, Evan Dietrich-Smith, in free agency. Through the first two weeks of offseason practices, Zuttah has been among the more impressive players on the field.

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Zuttah's athleticism and intelligence significantly boosts the weakest position on the team last season. Gino Gradkowski, a first-year starter, ranked last among centers in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Ravens don't expect Zuttah to a be a Pro Bowl center. They're not envisioning a dominant one, either. What they need is someone who is solid in the middle of the offensive line, which was lacking last season with Gradkowski.

Zuttah, who was No. 22 on PFF's center rankings, could end up being better than he was in Tampa Bay because Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme suits his strengths. While no one knows how he'll hold up physically until the pads come on at training camp, Zuttah has stood out for his quickness and his ability to get to the second level.

Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said Zuttah has fit in "perfectly."

"You’ve got to be able to move, you’ve got to be able to run to do what we do," Monroe said. "He excels at that."

Zuttah, 27, has started 76 games in his six-year career, although only 31 came at center. Last season was his first full one as a starting center.

The Ravens, though, have been impressed with how Zuttah has carried himself at that position.

"Jeremy Zuttah is doing a great job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's smart, really smart, really mature, goes about his business in a mature way. I'm just very impressed with how smart he is."

The Ravens signed Zuttah to a five-year, $18 million contract upon trading for him. The hope is Zuttah is a long-term solution like Matt Birk, who started for the Ravens for four seasons (2009-12).

If Zuttah works out, they are getting a good value for a starting center (an average salary of $3.6 million). If he isn't as much of an upgrade as expected, the Ravens can part ways with him after the 2015 season.

"He’s taking command of what we’re doing on the O-line and doing his best to give us the direction that he has to," Monroe said. "And he’s going to grind. He’s going to work. So, I’m glad to have him.”
Lovie SmithKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCoach Lovie Smith and the Bucs expect to compete for championships starting this season.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There is a very good reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the NFL's most active teams in free agency.

"We thought it would be unfair to ask the fans to be patient with us," general manager Jason Licht said at the NFL owners meetings.

Fire those cannons at Raymond James Stadium and start the parade down Dale Mabry Highway. So far, Licht and coach Lovie Smith, both hired in January, are doing and saying all of the right things. They have signed 11 free agents, highlighted by defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and quarterback Josh McCown.

"We wanted to go out and sign as many good players as we could this year to help our football team and make it competitive this year, and strive to win a championship this year," Licht said. "Not go with, 'Hey, give us a couple years.' We want to do it as soon as we can. The fans deserve it. I found out in a two-month period that these fans are so passionate in Tampa. So we want players that are just as passionate as the fans."

Those fans should be ecstatic to hear Licht's comments. This is a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2007 season, and hasn't won a postseason game since its Super Bowl victory more than a decade ago. The franchise had good intentions in the interim, but the results weren't pretty.

Plans were put in place at various times from the days when Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen tried to win with veterans, to the time when Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris decided to build through the draft, to the days when it looked like Greg Schiano didn't have a plan.

[+] EnlargeAlterraun Verner
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLanding cornerback Alterraun Verner was part of an aggressive free-agent push by the Bucs this month.
But you can look at what Licht and Smith are doing and you see a firm plan that has a chance to work -- and work quickly.

"As you saw last year with Kansas City, sometimes a little change is healthy and successful," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said.

The Chiefs indeed are a good example of a team that turned around its fortunes rapidly. Kansas City was dreadful in 2012, but made the playoffs last season.

For any doubters who say McCown, a career backup, doesn't have what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs, let me remind you that Alex Smith was Kansas City's quarterback last season. I don't see a big difference between Smith and McCown.

Yeah, people can talk all they want about how this is a quarterback-driven league and you need a star at the position to be any good. There is some truth to that. But was Russell Wilson really the best quarterback in the NFL last season?

Of course not. Wilson did some very nice things, but there were bigger reasons why the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The defense and the running game had a lot to do with their success.

It's pretty obvious Licht and Lovie Smith are following a plan similar to Seattle's. Smith comes with a defensive background, and he inherited some good talent on that side of the ball. Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy already are in place, and you could make an argument that a pass-rusher was the only thing Tampa Bay needed to be a dominant defense. That is why the Bucs signed Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati in 2012.

On offense, the Bucs have overhauled their line. They parted ways with Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah, and replaced them with Anthony Collins, Oniel Cousins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. The running game should be in good shape, assuming Doug Martin is fully recovered from an injury that cut short last season.

I look at that and I see a team that might be ready to win now. I see a team with a plan that seems to make a lot of sense.

"Jason and Lovie have a plan, and that plan is that they want to win," Glazer said. "That's why we brought them in. We're all in the same boat. We want to win. They have a clear plan to get there, and that's why they were hired. We believe in the plan. We buy into the plan, and we're going to be supportive of the plan."

A few years back, the Glazers were often accused of not spending enough money to bring success. But recently, they have spent big money in free agency. This offseason, the Bucs went on another spending spree.

Licht and Smith frequently are being declared winners in free agency by the national media. They are also winning the news conferences by saying the right things.

Now, if they can go win some games in the fall, their plan could be a masterpiece.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If the Baltimore Ravens lined up for a game today, this is how coach John Harbaugh envisions the starting offensive line:
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Of course, this is subject to change. The Ravens don't play a game that counts until Sept. 7, and the draft in May can alter the Ravens' plans.

At the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday, Harbaugh provided some good insight on what was the weakest part of the Ravens' team last season ...

The Ravens intend on starting Jeremy Zuttah at center. Zuttah, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth-round pick, will replace Gino Gradkowski. Harbaugh informed Gradkowski, who struggled as a first-year starter, of the demotion on Monday. "Jeremy is a more experienced center-guard in this league," Harbaugh said. "The thing I liked on tape -- we studied him pretty hard -- he’s a big, rangy guy. He’s got length, he’s got size in there, he’s got experience and he’s also got, we think, a knack for the scheme we’re going to run offensively. He’s a good fit for us.”

The plan is to start the versatile Osemele at left guard. "That’s where I see him playing next year," Harbaugh said. "Could that change? Certainly, with the draft and that kind of thing. But let’s keep him in there at left guard. He’s got a lot of experience in there right now, he’s comfortable there, he likes playing on the left side. It provides us with some real size inside, some length inside, which is good. We can run all those twists and games and things in there, keep the pocket deep for Joe [Flacco]. That’s where we’re going right now, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Osemele could potentially move to right tackle if the Ravens draft a guard.

Wagner is penciled in at right tackle to replace Michael Oher, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency. A fifth-round pick a year ago, Wagner played 12 percent of snaps last season. "We put him in that role as a move tight end with the extra offensive lineman down at the goal line in short-yard situations, and he was very bad at it early and he became very good at it toward the end," Harbaugh said. "You start to learn how a guy thinks, so you learn how to teach him a little bit. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to need a lot of reps to gain his confidence. And once he gains confidence in his techniques, he’ll be really good at it. Juan [Castillo] is a great trainer of offensive linemen, one of the best in the league, if not the best, at training guys in techniques. We think that Rick’s going to really benefit from that.” Jah Reid is in the mix at right tackle as well.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- All of the AFC coaches met with reporters Tuesday morning, and here are the highlights of the hour-long breakfast with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh:
    Harbaugh
  • Harbaugh acknowledged he was surprised when owner Steve Bisciotti offered him a one-year contract extension last month.
  • Ray Rice was as heavy as 217 pounds last season, according to Harbaugh. The Ravens would like Rice to be around 207 pounds this season. Harbaugh reiterated that Rice "will be part of our team."
  • Harbaugh was very strong on three player arrests in a month span were "unacceptable."
  • Jeremy Zuttah, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been brought in to be the starting center. Harbaugh talked with Gino Gradkowski, last year's starter, to break the news.
  • The plan is to start Kelechi Osemele at left guard, which is where he is most comfortable. But, depending on what the Ravens do in the draft, Osemele could still play right tackle.
  • As of right now, Rick Wagner would start at right tackle. Wagner was a fifth-round pick from last year. Of course, the draft could change this.
  • Asked how the Ravens would replace defensive tackle Arthur Jones in the starting lineup, Harbaugh talked about starting Brandon Williams alongside Haloti Ngata at defensive tackle. He also mentioned using Kapron Lewis-Moore as well.
  • Harbaugh has been "disappointed" in how backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has played, but he said Taylor's best football is ahead of him. Given that Taylor has one year left on his contract, the Ravens are looking at quarterbacks in free agency and the draft.
  • Joe Flacco has workouts scheduled with his receivers, but Harbaugh doesn't know when they will occur.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens aren't done in free agency. "I think we're actively engaged with a number of guys, some on our team and some who are free agents," he said.
  • In terms of tight ends, the Ravens have Owen Daniels and Ed Dickson on their radar.
  • The Ravens are looking to extend the contracts of cornerback Jimmy Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith. The team will pick up the 2015 option on Jimmy Smith in May.
  • Harbaugh is in favor of expanding the replay system. He likes Patriots coach Bill Belichick's proposal of having everything subject to a coach's challenge.
  • The Ravens haven't talked to inside linebacker Rolando McClain about a potential return. Harbaugh, though, said he would welcome McClain if he can help the team. It depends on how hard McClain is working and how much he has matured, Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens will have a tougher and more physical training camp this year because his players are younger.
  • The seventh-round pick acquired from the Miami Dolphins in the trade for offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie is for the 2015 draft, Harbaugh confirmed. It was originally reported it was for the 2014 draft.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are optimistic that guard Carl Nicks will be ready to take part in the team’s offseason program, which begins in April.

“We certainly hope so,’’ general manager Jason Licht said Monday.

Nicks missed all but two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a bout with MRSA.

“He’s moving along pretty good,’’ Licht said. “So far, we’ve been pleased with his progression. He’s continuing the rehab and we’ll see where that goes.’’

Nicks’ progress might be part of the reason the Bucs traded away center/guard Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore on Sunday. A healthy Nicks would fill one guard position.

At the moment, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins would be the top candidates to start at the other guard position. But Licht said it remains possible the Bucs could draft a guard.

“I think that’s going to be an open competition,’’ Licht said. “I think we’re going to go with who the best player is.’’
The Baltimore Ravens weren't going to get back to the playoffs without fixing their offensive line, and the Ravens weren't going to get better on the line without upgrading at center.

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This is why the Ravens' trade for Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeremy Zuttah on Sunday is so significant.

Zuttah, who turns 28 in June, isn't a Pro Bowl center and is coming off a below-average season. But what's important to the Ravens is that he's an upgrade over Gino Gradkowski, who struggled mightily in his first season as a starter.

At 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, Zuttah adds more size on the interior, which was a priority for the Ravens. Gradkowski got pushed around too often.

He brings more experience and stability than Gradkowski. In his six-year career, he has 76 starts including 32 the past two seasons.

Zuttah is also athletic and quick, which makes him a great fit for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme.

This was a creative way for the Ravens to fix their dilemma on the offensive line.

General manager Ozzie Newsome wanted to get bigger on the interior of the line, but the free-agent class for centers was underwhelming. So, instead of overpaying for someone, the Ravens traded a mid-round pick for Zuttah.

The Ravens truly made the best of a bad situation. They could've paid more than they wanted for journeyman Brian de la Puente or gambled with a stopgap like banged-up David Baas. And it was unlikely that they were going to pry Alex Mack away from the Browns because of the transition tag.

Zuttah was the best possible option, which is why it cost the Ravens a draft pick.

The Ravens still need to make another move on the offensive line. They have to add either a left guard (which moves Kelechi Osemele to right tackle) or a right tackle (which allows Osemele to stay at left guard).

Still, the Ravens solidified themselves at left tackle by re-signing Eugene Monroe and improved themselves at center by trading for Zuttah. They're moving in the right direction.
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent out a strong signal that they expect guard Carl Nicks to be healthy for the upcoming season.

The team traded away center/guard Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore for a 2015 mid-round draft pick on Sunday, a day before the NFL owners meetings begin.

Nicks missed all but two games of last season after dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Zuttah spent last year playing center, but also has experience at guard. The Bucs previously addressed their center position by signing free agent Evan Dietrich-Smith. The fact the Bucs were willing to trade Zuttah shows they’re confident Nicks will be back for the 2014 season.

The Bucs are looking at Nicks as one of their starting guards. Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are the candidates for the other starting guard spot. But the Bucs still could make a move for a guard in free agency or the draft.

Bucs begin O-line overhaul

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made one major move on their offensive line Saturday afternoon and they might not be finished.

In a move that came as no surprise, the Bucs reportedly have released veteran guard Davin Joseph. The move instantly freed up $6 million in salary-cap space. The Bucs now will have more than $24 million in cap space as they head into free agency.

Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler, had been with the Bucs since 2006. But Joseph became expendable after not playing up to his previous level last season. That might have been due to a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season.

Joseph’s release might only be the first of significant moves on Tampa Bay’s offensive line. Left tackle Donald Penn (a cap figure of more than $8 million) and center Jeremy Zuttah (a cap figure of more than $4 million) also could be candidates for release or contract restructures.

The future of guard Carl Nicks is uncertain. He missed all but two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a staph infection. Tampa Bay’s offensive line was supposed to be a strength in 2013. Instead, the offensive line underachieved.

That’s why the Bucs released Joseph and that’s why there could be more moves on the horizon. Tampa Bay could look to free agency and the draft to make several moves on the offensive line.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Whenever the Buccaneers get around to hiring a general manager, one thing is going to jump out at him when he sits down and looks at the payroll.

The offensive line is taking up a ton of space toward the 2014 salary cap.

Four offensive linemen -- Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Jeremy Zuttah -- are scheduled to count a combined $27.09 million against the cap.

That would be fine if this was a star-studded offensive line. But the fact is the offensive line wasn't very good in 2013. The running game never found any consistency and the pass blocking wasn't great.

It's a pretty safe assumption that the coaching staff and front office will decide to make changes to the offensive line. The area could be addressed in the draft or free agency or a combination of the two.

And it's possible the Bucs will either restructure the contracts of some of their high-priced offensive linemen or decide to release them. Joseph ($6 million), Penn ($7.733 million) and Zuttah ($4 million) could be released with almost no salary cap implications.

Nicks is a little trickier. His scheduled cap figure is $9.357 million, but $6 million of his base salary is guaranteed against injury. Nicks missed most of last season with MRSA and a toe injury and there's uncertainty about whether he'll be able to get back to 100 percent.

Right tackle Demar Dotson is the only member of the projected starting offensive line who doesn't have a big cap figure. Dotson is scheduled to count $1.25 million against the cap and that amount is fully guaranteed.

Vincent Jackson probable for Sunday

December, 13, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We’ve got an injury update that might impact the world of fantasy football.

Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) practiced fully on Friday. Coach Greg Schiano said Jackson is probable for Sunday’s game against San Francisco. Jackson didn’t practice Wednesday and was limited in Thursday’s session. But all indications are that Tampa Bay’s top wide receiver will be playing Sunday.

In other injury news, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (knee) and center Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder) practiced fully after being limited on Thursday.

Guard Carl Nicks (staph infection) was the only player who didn’t practice.

Injury update: Vincent Jackson limited

December, 12, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to move gradually when it comes to wide receiver Vincent Jackson’s injured hamstring.

Jackson took part in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s session. Jackson also missed a couple of practices last week, but was able to play in Sunday’s victory against Buffalo.

Coach Greg Schiano said Jackson’s hamstring is better than it was a week ago at this time.

“Our goal is to get him back to being full,’’ Schiano said. “But I want to be real careful because, with him, his legs are everything.’’

Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (knee) and center Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder) also were limited in Thursday’s practice. Guard Davin Joseph (knee and shoulder) returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday.

Tampa Bay's injury update

December, 11, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The interior of Tampa Bay’s offensive line could have a new look when the Buccaneers host the San Francisco 49ers.

Center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Davin Joseph both are dealing with shoulder injuries. Coach Greg Schiano said Zuttah and Joseph were limited in practice Wednesday. If Zuttah can’t play, the Bucs likely would turn to Ted Larsen. If Joseph is out, Larsen can play guard and Gabe Carimi also could be an option.

Schiano also said wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (knee) were limited in practice.

Rookie defensive end William Gholston still is going through the league’s protocol after suffering a concussion Sunday. But Gholston was able to participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Buccaneers exploring options at guard

September, 2, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Although coach Greg Schiano said it’s too early to tell if guard Carl Nicks will be able to play in Sunday’s regular-season opener, it seems like a long shot.

Nicks is battling a staph infection and Schiano said his status is uncertain for the game with the New York Jets. But even before the staph infection, Nicks didn’t see any preseason action and was limited in camp as he recovered from a foot injury that cut his season short last year.

That means the Bucs need an alternative if Nicks isn’t ready.

“We have guys on our roster on the offensive line and we’ll just choose one of them,’’ Schiano said. “They all can play guard so one of them will be the starting guard if Carl can’t play.’’

The Bucs have several options. Gabe Carimi, who has spent most of his career at tackle, has gotten some practice time at guard recently. Another scenario would be moving center Jeremy Zuttah to Nicks’ spot and inserting Ted Larsen at center. That’s a move the Bucs have done in the past, but Schiano wouldn’t say if that’s the plan.

“It’s always an option because we’ve done it,’’ Schiano said. “But I wouldn’t say that’s the way we’re going to go or that’s not the way we’re going to go. Right now we just have to get the best five on the field. We’ll evaluate that when we know definitively about Carl.’’

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.

Escalators and the NFC South

February, 19, 2013
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One of the many reasons the New Orleans Saints are in a difficult salary-cap situation is that six of their players triggered escalators that will cost the team nearly $4 million in 2013.

Kicker Garrett Hartley earned a $1.432 million escalator and safety Malcolm Jenkins earned a $1.25 million raise. The other Saints to hit escalators were receiver Lance Moore ($100,000), tackle Zach Strief ($300,000), tight end Jimmy Graham ($700,000) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($195,000).

I’ve also got the numbers on escalators that were triggered elsewhere in the NFC South. In most cases, the escalators were based on players meeting specified playing-time levels in 2012. But, in some cases, the escalators were triggered by playing time in previous years.

Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who could end up being a salary-cap casualty, had his base salary escalate by $1.4 million. Defensive end John Abraham triggered a $1 million escalator. The other two Falcons to earn escalators for this season are defensive tackle Corey Peters ($600,000) and cornerback Asante Samuel ($200,000).

Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy had his team’s largest escalator ($775,000). Receiver Brandon LaFell earned a $700,000 escalator and offensive lineman Garry Williams will pick up an extra $125,000.

The Tampa Bay players to hit escalators were offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah ($250,000), tackle Demar Dotson ($500,000), receiver Mike Williams ($800,000), offensive lineman Ted Larsen ($700,000), safety Cody Grimm ($625,000, which was based on his 2010 playing time) and fullback Erik Lorig ($425,000).

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