NFL Nation: Mike Adams

Ben Roethlisberger’s only completion of the game turned into a highlight-reel play thanks to Dri Archer. The speedy rookie caught a short pass on a well-executed bubble screen and looked every bit as fast as advertised in scooting 46 yards and setting up an early field goal in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

The Steelers could not protect a fourth-quarter lead in losing their preseason opener Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. They haven't won a preseason game since 2012.

Roethlisberger played just one series before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski. The offense couldn’t build on a promising start as the Steelers failed to reach the end zone until they scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first-team defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to Rashad Jennings early in the game but didn’t allow much more in the quarter it was on the field.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ first preseason game:
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to be furious after Jennings scooted through a yawning gap on the right side of the Steelers’ defense on the way to the game’s first touchdown. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was knocked out of his gap by a pulling guard, leaving a huge hole and resulting in the kind of big play that made it seem like 2013 all over again for the Steelers’ defense. Coach Mike Tomlin was not happy with his secondary on the play as safety Will Allen had a chance to get Jennings on the ground but couldn’t make the tackle. Jennings outraced cornerbacks Cortez Allen and William Gay to the end zone.
  • Sean Spence, playing in his first game in almost two years, looked terrific. Spence, starting for the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, shot a gap on the first series of the game and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw a third-down pass into the turf. Spence later stuffed Andre Brown for a short gain on a running play that resulted in a holding call in the Giants. Spence, who has returned from a career-threatening knee injury, had one blemish, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on special teams. But the Steelers couldn’t have asked for more from Spence, who is their third-best inside linebacker and solid insurance in case of an injury to Shazier.
  • Markus Wheaton made a nice grab on a post-corner route and his 28-yard reception was the second-longest gain by the Steelers in their preseason opener. Wheaton, however, needs a blocking tutorial or four from former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Wheaton won’t like seeing his blocking efforts on several plays, including one on a 7-yard run by Tauren Poole. Wheaton didn’t lock up on anyone as Poole broke into the open field, allowing the Giants to minimize the damage on Poole’s run.
  • The first-team offensive line played well in limited action, providing a nice push on the Steelers’ first possession of the game when they ran on the Giants first-team defense. The second-team offensive line really struggled. Left tackle Mike Adams did not help himself, getting overwhelmed several times by speed pass-rushers, including two-time Pro Bowl selection Jason Pierre-Paul. Guy Whimper, playing right tackle, was beaten badly on a passing play in the third quarter and center Cody Wallace was flagged for holding in the same period.
  • Outside linebacker Howard Jones and defensive end Josh Mauro were among the undrafted rookies who stood out. Jones recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one for a 28-yard touchdown. Mauro, playing with the second-team defense, blew up a passing play by bull-rushing a running back into the lap of Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. He also appeared to hold his ground at right defensive end more often than not.
LATROBE, Pa. -- A snapshot from the Pittsburgh Steelers' final practice of the week on Thursday offered a tidy summation of Mike Adams' training camp.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsOne goal for Mike Adams during the preseason is to work on his consistency, says Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Adams, playing right tackle during an 11-on-11 drill, got bull rushed by outside linebacker Jason Worilds. Worilds, the Steelers' best pass-rusher, drove the 6-7, 323-pound Adams back so fast that the play never had a chance.

The sequence added to Adams' struggles and reinforced the perception that Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are safe as the Steelers' starting tackles.

The challenge the Steelers are hoping Adams creates for a starting job up front has yet to materialize, and the third-year man has seemingly lost ground instead of closing it since the Steelers reported to training camp two weeks ago.

To be fair, Adams has been alternating between left and right tackle since the Steelers will need him to play both if he doesn't beat out Beachum or Gilbert. Also, the competition for jobs doesn't really start until Saturday night when the Steelers visit the New York Giants for the first exhibition for each team.

"What he needs to do is continue to work on his consistency, push (Beachum and Gilbert) and when he plays to play well," Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. "Put it in our court how we want to handle it, who are the best five or the best six or the best seven."

It would be charitable to put Adams among the Steelers' best seven offensive linemen through the first 11 practices.

And what has to be disconcerting to the Steelers is the 2012 second-round pick has not shown improvement despite rebounding nicely after losing his starting job at left tackle last season and working with Munchak, who is as good an offensive line coach as there is in the game.

"I think now he's locked into what he needs to do," Munchak said. "He's a young player that has, you hate to use the word potential because obviously it's there, but it's just a matter of can we get it out. Can he do it on a consistent basis."

If anyone can unlock Adams' potential it is Munchak, and the former still has plenty of opportunities to show the Steelers he can be a starter at this level -- or at least a solid No. 3 tackle who can also play tight end in the offense's jumbo package.

I don't believe Adams is in any danger of not making the 53-man roster. But he clearly has to show more if he is going to be a viable contributor this season and a part of the Steelers' long-term future.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.
Examining the Indianapolis Colts' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
This is the safest position on the roster for the Colts. They plan to always keep a veteran backup if Luck ever goes down with an injury.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

The Colts will have a solid running combination if -- and we’re saying if until proven wrong -- Richardson can bounce back from a poor first season in Indianapolis and Bradshaw and Ballard can stay injury-free. Havili, a fullback, gets the edge over Mario Harvey, who switched from linebacker to fullback during offseason workouts.

RECEIVERS (5)

The final receiver spot will come down to Rogers and Griff Whalen. If the Colts want to play it safe, Whalen is the guy because he’s familiar with Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, but Rogers has the size and speed the team likes. There’s also the possibility of the Colts keeping six receivers.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Allen, who missed all but one game in 2013, and Fleener have the potential to be one of the top tight end duos in the league. Doyle and Saunders are both familiar with the system after backing up Fleener in Allen’s absence last season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are plenty of questions surrounding the offensive line outside of tackles Castonzo and Cherilus. The one thing general manager Ryan Grigson wanted with this group is depth. The Colts have plenty of it.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

Like the offensive line, the Colts want depth on the defensive line so they can constantly rotate in players, so come the fourth quarter they still have fresh legs to get after the opponent. Jones was the key offseason acquisition for the Colts. Chapman showed flashes last season; now he needs to do it every snap that he’s on the field.

LINEBACKERS (10)

All eyes will be on outside linebacker as the Colts look to find a replacement for Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season. Werner gets the first crack at starting in Mathis’ spot. McNary is a player for whom Grigson has high expectations. It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on how he uses McNary.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

It’s anybody’s guess how the secondary will perform. It’s anybody’s guess who will start alongside Landry at safety. It looked like it would be Howell for most of the offseason, but the Colts signed the veteran Adams in June. Can Toler finally remain healthy? Can Davis live up to his contract? So many questions with no answers at the moment.

SPECIALIST

This only changes if an injury occurs.

Camp preview: Indianapolis Colts

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation’s Mike Wells examines the three biggest issues facing the Indianapolis Colts heading into training camp.

Khaled Holmes: Colts general manager Ryan Grigson took a big gamble in the offseason by not heavily pursuing a veteran center. He signed Phil Costa, who was beaten out by a rookie in Dallas, only to have the veteran suddenly retire before ever playing a snap for the Colts. Even with Costa on the roster, the plan all along for the Colts was for Holmes to start. This is the same Khaled Holmes who managed to play a total of 12 snaps as a rookie, despite poor play by Samson Satele at the position last season. Grigson has constantly defended Holmes ever since, pointing out that the second-year player would be his starter. The goal is for Holmes to team with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck for years to come. Holmes needs to have good chemistry with Luck and control the line of the scrimmage, all while making sure the rest of the offensive linemen know the correct calls. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a player who is basically a rookie, especially when you think about the expectations the Colts have this season.

Safety: Similar to his decision at center, Grigson didn’t look far outside the organization to address a position of need. Veteran Antoine Bethea left Indianapolis to sign with San Francisco, and it appeared Delano Howell was the frontrunner to start alongside LaRon Landry at safety. Things seem to change in the middle of June, when the Colts signed veteran Mike Adams. Adams has started 73 games in his 10-year NFL career, but even though he says he feels like he’s 26 years old, he’s actually 33. Howell has started only four games in his career. And speaking of Landry, he didn’t exactly ease anybody’s mind about whether he’ll be able to rebound from a disappointing first season with the Colts. He didn’t attend any of the voluntary offseason workouts, then showed up at the mandatory minicamp with what was described as a soft-tissue injury. While the offseason workouts are voluntary, it would have helped Landry if he had at least attended a few of the sessions. Grigson and Colts coach Chuck Pagano didn’t criticize Landry for not showing up, but they did point out their preference of wishing he was in attendance. If anything it would have showed that Landry cared about working on chemistry with the rest of his defensive teammates. There are too many questions surrounding the safety position on a defense that was way too inconsistent last season.

Trent Richardson: The excuses are no longer available for Richardson in the Colts organization. The ready-made line of, “Richardson is still learning the offensive system,” is in the trash on the curb. Richardson, who the Colts acquired from Cleveland just days before Week 3 last season, has had an entire offseason to learn the playbook. Now he can use his natural instincts when he’s on the field, instead of constantly trying to remember the plays. The Colts clearly are trailing the Browns in the who-got-the-better-of-the-trade race. Cleveland turned the No. 26 pick into hotshot quarterback Johnny Manziel after using it to trade up to No. 22. The Colts? All Richardson gave them was 2.9 yards a carry and a demotion to the second unit last season. Richardson and the Colts have to hope this season is different. The pressure is on Richardson, because Grigson said earlier this year he would make the trade again if put in the same position. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, had offseason shoulder surgery and will head into training camp as the starter, with Ahmad Bradshaw ready to take some snaps from him if he struggles.
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag. If you have a Steelers' question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail. And away we go ... @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Le'Veon Bell could get 300-plus carries this season but not much more than that even if he plays every game. The Steelers say they are committed to running the ball this season, and I don't think that's just lip service from offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. However, I doubt that the Steelers lean as heavily on Bell as they did last season because of the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. Bell will start at running back but the other two will get touches as well. I like that approach because I think it will extend the number of productive seasons Bell has in the NFL. That's probably not good news for fantasy football owners who covet Bell, but he will still be a prominent part of the offense and the Steelers will put his receiving skills to good use too. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think he will because I expect Mike Adams, who may be the Steelers' most physically gifted offensive tackle, to benefit as much as anyone from offensive line coach Mike Munchak's tutelage. Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert got most of the first-team snaps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, but the real competition along both the offensive and defensive line won't start until training camp. Adams has said he wants the opportunity to start whether it is at right or left tackle and I'd like to see the Steelers give him a shot at unseating Gilbert. I thought Adams played well at right tackle when he made six starts there as a rookie and he could be the future there if the Steelers don't sign Gilbert to a long-term contract before the start of the regular season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: Still pretty quiet on that front but I think the Steelers will re-sign Brett Keisel though it might not be until right before the start of training camp. He would be a terrific mentor for second-round pick Stephon Tuitt and Keisel's presence would allow the Steelers to bring Tuitt along slowly. I agree too that Keisel still has something left, and he could play in a rotation with Cam Thomas and Tuitt with the limited snaps keeping him fresh throughout the season. I know the Steelers are committed to getting younger on defense but Keisel would contribute both on and off the field. I think if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has his way Keisel will be back for one more season. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I think Cortez Allen gets a new contract and that the Steelers let Marcus Gilbert play out the final year of his rookie deal. Allen is the only long-term starting cornerback on the roster right now and the Steelers can't afford to lose him. I think the two sides can reach a deal that is good for both and ensures that Allen is a Steeler well beyond the 2014 season. As for Gilbert, I just haven't seen enough from the former second-round pick to warrant the Steelers locking him up with a long-term deal. Much like outside linebacker Jason Worilds, I think the Steelers want to see more from Gilbert and will take their chances on getting a deal done after the season if he fits into the team's long-term plans. If Gilbert walks after the 2014 season the Steelers have Mike Adams to plug in at right tackle. @ScottBrown_ESPN: I believe that is the case since players are allowed in the building during the span that bridges the end of a season and the start of the team's offseason program. It would make sense too for the coaches to be available to rookies or first-year players who may have questions about the playbook. That availability, however, is limited in the sense that coaches take lengthy vacations not long after the conclusion of offseason practices since it is really the only extended break from football they will get all year. The building is mostly empty too since a lot of players travel somewhere to continue working out, often ratcheting up their training regimen to get ready for camp.
INDIANAPOLIS -- New Indianapolis Colts safety Mike Adams was part of the Denver Broncos team that reached the Super Bowl last season.

But there Adams sat, waiting for a team to sign him during the offseason. He waited. Waited some more. He waited so long that anxiety started to set in. Adams, 33, had never been out of work this long during his 10-year NFL career.

Adams’ phone finally rang last week when the Colts put safety Corey Lynch on injured reserve.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsVeteran safety Mike Adams has started 73 games in his 10-year career.
"The pieces are in place and we have a chance to hoist (the trophy) at the end," Adams said. "That’s my goal. I came here to win. That’s Chuck Pagano’s philosophy and that’s what they want to do here. That’s what it all boils down."

Adams has gone from being unemployed to having a chance to be one of the Colts' starting safeties when they take on his former team, the Broncos, in the season opener on Sept. 7.

"Bottom line is I want to compete for a job," Adams said. "I want to earn these guys' respect. I’m going in (Year 11). Its’ a different locker room, new system I have to learn. I want to earn that. I don’t want it given to me. I told coach and I told the (general manager Ryan Grigson), 'I appreciate you telling me I don’t have the job. I appreciate that.' I was the underdog my whole career. I love competing and proving people wrong."

Safety has been a legit concern for the Colts since long-time fixture Antoine Bethea signed with San Francisco on the first day of the free agent signing period in March.

The Colts didn’t address the position during free agency or the draft. They constantly talked about having confidence in Delano Howell, who has been working with the first team during the offseason workouts.

But Howell lacks experience on a defense that was too inconsistent last season. The same goes for Sergio Brown, David Sims and Colt Anderson.

Enter Adams.

He has started 73 games in his 10-year career. The question about Adams is how much does he have left in his tank at the age of 33. He admits his age might have caused teams to shy away a little bit.

"I feel like I’m 26,” he quickly says. "You're going to see the way I move. Once guys see my film. I was talking to the GM and he said, 'I had to watch your film' and he said, 'You’re 33?' and I was like, 'yeah I am 33,' but when you watch the film it doesn’t look like I’m 33."

Adams is versatile. He can also play cornerback, nickelback or be the dime.

Now he has to see if he’s versatile enough to get the number he wants. Adams, who currently has No. 42, has worn No. 20 throughout his career, but cornerback Darius Butler has that number.

"I’ll have to sweet-talk him," Adams said. "Have to take him out to dinner; wine and dine him."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The final significant days of the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts (outside of when commissioner Roger Goodell disciplines owner Jim Irsay) starts Tuesday at the team's facility when they begin the first of three days of mandatory minicamp before breaking up for the final time prior to reporting for training camp July 23.

Let's take a look at several things to pay attention to during the camp:

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsThe competition at running back, including Trent Richardson, won't be decided in this week's mandatory minicamp.
Offensive line battle: You can go ahead and put Khaled Holmes down as the starting center, but with Donald Thomas (quad, bicep) still working his way back, the starting guard positions could end up taking some time. Hugh Thornton, who took Thomas's spot after he was injured last season, has been working with the first team at right guard during organized team activities. Lance Louis had been working with the first team at left guard, but rookie Jack Mewhort, the Colts' second-round pick, moved ahead of him last week. The competition will intensify during training camp.

Running back competition: Just like the battle for the starting guard position, we won't get full competition for the starting running back position because Vick Ballard (knee) isn't expected to take part, as he's still working his way back from ACL surgery. Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw, the other two primary candidates, both wore red non-contact jerseys during OTAs. So this is another competition that won't pick up until training camp. All three players will get playing time, but keep in mind that coach Chuck Pagano said earlier in the offseason they want a workhorse in the backfield.

Landry sighting: Safety LaRon Landry has been the most significant healthy player missing during OTAs. It's not required for players to attend OTAs and Landry prefers to work out on his own during the offseason. But it still would have been good if he would have popped in for some of the workouts because of the need for improvement for the defense, the transition from a seasoned veteran in Antoine Bethea to possibly Delano Howell, who lacks significant experience, and Landry simply didn't have a great first season with the Colts. The offense, as long as Andrew Luck is the quarterback, will be fine. He's shown he can be effective even without good blocking. The same can't be said about a defense that finished 20th in the league last season.

The Bjoern factor: The fact linebacker Robert Mathis (suspension) won't be with the Colts the first four games of the season has definitely sunk in. Now it's up to second-year player Bjoern Werner, who gets the first shot to start in Mathis's absence, to prove he was worth the Colts selecting him in the first round after an inconsistent rookie season. "This year it's just knowing the defense and to feel comfortable in the defense," Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "Now it's just his ability to get to the passer, which it's kind of you want him to do that in these OTAs, but he's never really going to get there because you don't have the pads on. But he's been doing a great job at least from the calls and signals and getting everything lined up and knowing exactly what he's supposed to do. It's a great situation for him."

Can Adams help: The Colts signed veteran safety Mike Adams over the weekend to take Corey Lynch's spot on the roster after placing him on injured reserve. Howell is leading the race to start, but Adams has started 73 games in his career. The question about Adams is: Does he have enough left in his 33-year-old body to help the Colts and possibly supplant Howell as the starting safety alongside Landry?

Who won't be there: Barring a sudden change of events, here are the players -- not including those on injured reserve -- you won't see taking part in minicamp. Receiver Reggie Wayne (knee), Ballard (knee) and Thomas (quad, bicep).

PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analyst Todd McShay labeled Bradley Roby as "a classic boom or bust" player in the 2014 NFL draft.

And that was before a report surfaced that the Ohio State cornerback faces a charge of operating a vehicle while impaired.

Roby already had some baggage when he declared for the draft following an inconsistent junior season at Ohio State, one in which he missed the opener because of a suspension.

The latest incident, which occurred last Sunday in Columbus, could cost Roby a chance of going in the first round. And he may experience something similar to what happened to former Buckeyes offensive tackle Mike Adams two years ago.

Adams, a first-round talent, slid to the Steelers in the second round, in part because he failed a drug test at the combine. Could Roby, whom the Steelers recently hosted for a pre-draft visit, fall to them in the second round in two weeks?

It's hard to imagine the Steelers considering Roby at No. 15 overall because the pick would be fraught with risk. But Roby's physical skills are undeniable, and he may be too talented for the Steelers to pass on him in the second round if he lasts that long.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Roby as the 39th-best player in the draft, and McShay said, "I actually think he might be the most athletic corner in this draft."

But McShay also issued a caveat emptor when it comes to Roby, who is 5-foot-11, 194 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

"I'd be real nervous to pull the trigger on him because I don't know what I'm getting," McShay said. "It's a young man that has some growing to do. I think he's got to become more focused and there's just a lot of inconsistent tape on him.

"He's a wild card. He could be the best defensive back in this class five years from now or he could wind up being another first-round cornerback that doesn't pan out in the league because he didn't need to do what he had to do mentally and from a preparation standpoint."
When he was behind center for the Denver Broncos, John Elway was a 30-something player, was one for quite some time in fact. He was a Super Bowl starter as a 37- and a 38-year-old as the Broncos won back-to-back titles in the final two years of his playing career.

So he knows the value a productive, respected, proven veteran player can bring to a team, on the field and in the locker room.

But as an executive charged with spending Pat Bowlen’s money wisely and keeping the Broncos relevant in the Super Bowl chase every season, Elway has been particular about handing out the team’s biggest checks in free agency to the over-30 crowd.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/James D. SmithJohn Elway on signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware: "We feel like he's got a lot of football ahead of him."
In fact, three trips into free agency in his current job, the list is essentially two -- Peyton Manning and now DeMarcus Ware -- and Elway is pretty clear on why he made them exceptions to the rule.

“I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders," Elway said.

In 2011, Elway’s first year in his role as the team’s chief football decision-maker, the Broncos only dabbled in free agency, sticking with short-term deals for the likes of Marcus Thomas, Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario.

In 2012, the Broncos dove in for Manning for a $96 million deal that included a pile of guaranteed money when Manning was ready to turn 36 following four neck surgeries. That has worked out with back-to-back 13-3 seasons and back-to-back division titles with some NFL single-season records tossed in.

The rest of the deals in 2012 were largely short-term, low-impact contracts. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen received three-year deals. Tamme turned 27 just after signing his deal, and Dreessen was 29 when he signed. The 30-and-over crowd of Keith Brooking, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen and Brandon Stokley received one-year deals.

Safety Mike Adams was 30 when he signed and received a two-year deal. Adams, however, had played in at least 15 games in five of the previous six seasons before arriving in Denver. The rest, players such as Shaun Phillips and Quentin Jammer, both 30 or older, received one-year deals without signing bonuses.

In 2013, the Broncos’ biggest contract in free agency (four years, $23.5 million) went to guard Louis Vasquez, who was 25 when he signed his deal and went on to be named All-Pro. Terrance Knighton received a two-year deal, as did Wes Welker.

This past week, the Broncos were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, but they still largely stuck to the younger-is-better plan when the big money was in play. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward are 27 (Sanders turned 27 this week), and cornerback Aqib Talib is 28.

“It’s not [win] for now. We want young football players who are going to be here for a long time," Elway said. “... The age thing is big."

But in Ware, the Broncos saw a durable, high character player with 117 career sacks who has been a team captain and performed over the long haul. Ware, who soon will be 32, received a three-year, $30 million deal from the Broncos.

For that deal not to sting the salary cap, however, Ware simply has to play at least two of those seasons and be a major contributor. But the Broncos like that Ware’s preparation is unquestioned and that he has missed just three games in his career -- all in 2013.

“With 117 sacks, yeah, we feel like he’s got a lot of football ahead of him," Elway said. " ... We think he's going to perform at a high level, and with the way he practices, prepares and his knowledge of the game, he's going to help us on a lot of levels."

Elway the player made a career of taking risks with the ball and often turning those opportunities into history. Elway the executive has been more prudent -- a guy looking down the road, avoiding the franchise-crushing confines created by a we'll-worry-about-it-later approach to the salary cap.

“You have your wish list," Elway said. “We’re fortunate enough on our wish list we were able to X off a lot of guys on our wish list and [they] were able to come here. ... We want to plug in the right guys, the guys that make sense for us as an organization and guys who can be here and help us win for a long, long time."

Safety market thins for Redskins

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
12:30
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The Washington Redskins need to find two starting safeties, which could be tougher after the first day of free agency. There is always the draft, but they will still need to add a veteran -- or two -- capable of starting. They could always re-sign Reed Doughty as a backup/special-teamer. Or perhaps bring back Brandon Meriweather on a one-year deal.

Here are six safeties of note still on the market:

Clemons
Chris Clemons: Miami is letting him walk and signed bad-kneed Louis Delmas. Part of the problem is that Clemons wasn’t viewed as a free safety, and it sounds as if that is what the Dolphins wanted. The Redskins could use him more in the box. He’d be an upgrade.

Thomas DeCoud: Atlanta, which needs secondary help, cut DeCoud after a rough 2013 season. He’s also probably best in the box.

Mike Adams: Again, Denver struggled in the secondary and decided to let him leave, signing T.J. Ward instead. Adams is rather average.

Nate Allen: Philadelphia selected him with the second-round pick obtained in the Donovan McNabb trade with Washington. The Eagles let Allen walk and signed Malcolm Jenkins. I can’t imagine Allen is the answer. He’s better against the run.

Roman Harper: He’s 31 and coming off a knee injury that cost him nearly half the season. That is a tough combination. But he’s a two-time Pro Bowler best used in the box. Here is what ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett had to say about him in a recent article: “I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.”

Ryan Clark: If the Redskins had a young free safety worthy of grooming, I’d consider Clark as a mentor. But he’s 35 and the Redskins don’t have that player (I don’t view Bacarri Rambo as that guy).
The Denver Broncos are in need of some help at linebacker and -- with enough salary cap room to take a look at a proven veteran player at the position -- they are on linebacker D'Qwell Jackson's travel itinerary in the coming days.

The Broncos are selling the prospect of a Super Bowl team with Peyton Manning at quarterback, but they will have plenty of competition for Jackson.

Jackson
The 30-year-old Jackson was released, in large part, by the Cleveland Browns Wednesday because he had a $4 million roster bonus due March 16. Jackson had signed a five-year contract extension with the Browns two seasons ago when current Broncos' pro personnel director Tom Heckert was the team's general manager.

Jackson also played alongside Broncos safety Mike Adams during Adams' tenure in Cleveland. Adams is one of the Broncos' 16 unrestricted free agents this year.

Two league sources said Thursday Jackson was expected to begin what was initially described as a five-team tour on Friday. But the Tennessee Titans are first on the list and have to be considered the leader for Jackson before he even steps on a plane. Jackson's former defensive coordinator in Cleveland, Ray Horton, is on Ken Whisenhunt's staff in Nashville and is expected to play much the same scheme there as Horton ran with the Browns.

The Broncos are scheduled to get their chance Monday and project Jackson as a middle linebacker.

The Broncos are poised to give plenty of attention -- in both free agency and draft -- to the team's defense. At linebacker alone, Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon are free agents and the team has six defensive backs who are either restricted or unrestricted free agents. And Jackson fits the profile Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway believes free agency should have.

“With free agency, we're always trying to get ourselves in a position where when we go into the draft -- we don't have a glaring weakness where we are reaching for somebody in the draft,'' Elway said in recent days. "So I think it's important for free agency, in my opinion, to try to pick up the places where you think you have glaring holes and fill those holes and then when you go to the draft be able to draft the best players that you hope are going to have great careers in the NFL.”

Jackson, who will turn 31 in September, has had five 100-tackle seasons in his career. He missed all but six games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons because of torn chest muscles, but has started 16 games in four of his seasons.

He was a second-round pick by the Browns in the 2006 draft.

Steelers all-in on Big Ben

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
3:15
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PITTSBURGH -- Another public affirmation of the Steelers' commitment to Ben Roethlisberger provided more proof that the team plans to go all-in on its franchise quarterback.

Kevin Colbert's comments Wednesday about the organization needing to do its part to help Roethlisberger dovetail with recent ones the general manager made about the Steelers having to surround Big Ben with as much talent as possible to maximize his remaining years.

And they again point to the Steelers fetching the tall wide receiver Roethlisberger has long coveted or a game-breaking one early in the 2014 NFL draft.

The offense around Roethlisberger is mostly set, but it could use another wide receiver, especially if Emmanuel Sanders, who started opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown last season, signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

A draft class that is deep, in general, looks particularly strong at wide receiver. And the Steelers, picking at No. 15 overall, could have their choice of wide receivers after Clemson's Sammy Watkins -- from rangy ones such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- to smaller but polished ones such as Southern Cal's Marqise Lee.

The Steelers theoretically could help Roethlisberger by taking a left tackle with their first pick. But it's not a glaring need after the way Kelvin Beachum played in 11 starts last season, and the Steelers have invested two first-round picks and two second-round picks since 2010 on their offensive line.

It's time to let new offensive coach Mike Munchak, one of the best hires of the offseason, to get the most out of those players, particularly tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.

Any number of positions on defense also could be addressed with the first-round pick, and even if the Steelers target a pass-catcher at No. 15, they might find North Carolina's Eric Ebron too tempting to pass on if he is still available.

The NFL scouting combine, which starts Thursday, should provide more clarity for the Steelers. They will get an extended look at the underclassmen as a group and will presumably fill in more blanks as they start to assemble their draft board.

It is too early to tell where the Steelers will find help for Roethlisberger in this draft. But it has become clear that giving him the best chance of succeeding in the coming seasons has become as much of a priority for the Steelers as addressing a defense that is in need of reinforcements.

Franchise/transition tags: Broncos

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
8:00
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In each of the previous two years, the Denver Broncos used the franchise tag on an impending free agent they hoped to lock up to a long-term deal but just needed a little more time to cross all the T's and dot all the I's in the contract.

In 2012, it was kicker Matt Prater, who got the tag before he signed a new multiyear deal with the team. Last year it was left tackle Ryan Clady, who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery when the Broncos placed the tag on him.

Clady, who would have earned $9.828 million on that one-year deal had the tag remained in place, eventually worked out a five-year, $52.5 million contract with the team just before training camp.

But don’t look for the Broncos to use either of the tags this time around. Their most prominent free agents -- most notably running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- have been productive starters with the team, but none are so deep in the team’s plans that the Broncos would use the tags to have them guaranteed of being on the roster next season.

Decker has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, but the franchise-tag salary on a one-year deal at wide receiver was $10.537 million last year and is expected to be slightly higher this time around.

At running back, the franchise tag was $8.219 million last season, and at linebacker, it was $9.619 million.

The Broncos will make offers to most of their impending free agents, but it’s likely all of their more high-profile unrestricted free agents could get better offers, in terms of overall money, elsewhere.

Decker, Moreno, guard Zane Beadles and defensive end Robert Ayers are among the team’s free agents who, next month, will complete deals they signed with the Broncos as rookies. It will be their first opportunity in the open market. Woodyard, who has been a team captain in each of his six seasons with the Broncos, just finished his second contract with the team, while other unrestricted free agents, like Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, linebacker Paris Lenon and defensive end Shaun Phillips, came from elsewhere.

Part of the issue for the Broncos this time around is securing the players who are set to become free agents following the 2014 season, a group that includes wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
2:00
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video Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.

 

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