NFL Nation: Nate Burleson

DEARBORN, Mich. -- There was a chance that Willie Young could have returned to Michigan much earlier than Saturday, that his cameo appearance at Stephen Tulloch's charity softball game would have been just another weekend.

Young spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, first as a reserve defensive end before blossoming into a starter in 2013. Then, with a chance to move on after last season, he took it, he departed for the division rival Chicago Bears during free agency.

Even if staying in Detroit was an apparent option.

Young
“They did [show interest] but we definitely broke ways on good terms,” Young said. “I definitely enjoyed my years here, I can say that. Thankful for the opportunity I was able to create for myself here and landing me in Chicago right now.”

Thus far, his time with the Bears has been uneventful. He lives by the team’s practice facility. He said in his first month or so of living in Chicago, he has been downtown twice.

He’ll eventually get down there more often, but he said he has spent his time trying to learn his second NFL playbook with his second NFL team and to be comfortable with all of the new things he is learning. He said the Bears’ scheme, a 4-3 like what the Lions ran under Gunther Cunningham, isn’t too much different than what he played in during his time in Detroit.

But getting used to new surroundings is still a change.

One thing that won’t change for Young this season is Thanksgiving. Even though he’ll be part of the opponent, he’ll spend his fifth straight Thanksgiving playing football at Ford Field -- this time as part of the Bears.

“It’s a little bit more than another game,” Young said. “I keep saying it’s just another game, but the thing is you’re playing against guys that you practiced against for so many years.”

Young felt a bond formed there. It’s part of the reason why even though he left the Lions, he drove the four-plus hours -- including, he said, traffic and a flat tire -- to show up at Tulloch’s charity event.

He wanted to show support and visit with his former teammates, much the same as Cleveland wide receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson was released by the Lions in February but also showed up at the game to hang out with the Lions.

To both men, this showed there was something more to their time in Detroit other than football.

“It definitely means a lot. It does. It absolutely does. Just to know that guys go against each other, all day every day,” Young said. “On Sundays, it looks like we’re out to decapitate each other but at the end of the day, somewhere along the way, some people lose sight of the fact that it’s a brotherhood to me.

“I don’t know, man. I really just, you feel the brotherhood and it doesn’t change. Especially with the guys you sweat with every day, line up with every day, put your hand in the dirt with every day, fight with, all that.”

That’s why Young was welcomed back, even if he’ll be playing for a rival next season. He was once a part of them and even though his jersey may have changed -- that bond still remains.
DEARBORN, Mich. -- He spent four seasons with one highly-touted, highly-drafted quarterback, and now Nate Burleson might end his career playing for another one.

Stafford
Stafford
Manziel
After four seasons working with Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Burleson is now catching passes from the most well-known player taken in the first round of the 2014 draft, Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel.

While Burleson joked he’s going to stay out of the spotlight of Manziel -- he’s too old for that now as he turns 33 in August -- he sees one similarity between Stafford and Manziel, who are otherwise very different quarterbacks in terms of style.

“The one thing they are quite comfortable in is that they are quietly cocky, which is a great characteristic to have at the quarterback position,” Burleson said. “You want to walk in the huddle and know that the guy throwing you the ball, you’re, like, he’s the best.

“Johnny has that. Matt has that. We’ll see what happens. But [Brian] Hoyer’s playing great right now and he’s coming off an ACL, not even 100 percent and he’s playing at a high level, so we have a great quarterback position. We’ve got some good things going up in Cleveland.”

At least from the outside, Manziel is rarely described as quiet. Has he been described by some as cocky? Sure. Confident? Absolutely. Someone who could end up being Cleveland’s starter? Possibly.

But quiet is not something you often hear about Manziel.

“From what I’ve seen [he is],” Burleson said. “Outside looking in, everybody has their misconceptions about him. He’s acting like a rookie should, which is don’t say nothing.

“But I know what he’s thinking. I know he’s like, ‘I’m the man.’ He’s supposed to think that. Now he’s not acting like that. He’s not walking around with his chest out. Rookies don’t do that. He understands the role he’s in. But I can tell he knows how good he is, and he should be. He’s a talented dude.”

From a production standpoint, Cleveland would likely take Stafford’s statistics over the past five seasons. In a pass-first offense, Stafford has completed 1,485 of 2,497 passes for 17,457 yards, 109 touchdowns and 73 interceptions.

But as Stafford is a passer who won’t look to run very often at all, Manziel has that capability, which makes him a more dangerous quarterback in some ways. But if one thing carries Manziel as it did Stafford, Burleson is correct: That confidence Manziel has will absolutely help.
DEARBORN, Mich. -- Walking in from the distance, slowly creeping closer to his former teammates and still friends for part of this reunion weekend, Nate Burleson looked like a giant traffic cone.

This may have been a charity softball game put on by Detroit Lions Stephen Tulloch and Dominic Raiola, but the former receiver made sure that even as he visited his old team, he wanted to make sure everyone knew where he went as well.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsFormer Lions WR Nate Burleson said he's glad to serve as a mentor to his new teammates in Cleveland.
Hence the orange shirt, orange shorts and straw hat with an orange piece of cloth on it. Make no mistake, Burleson is a Cleveland Browns wide receiver now. Detroit may feel like his second home, but his job is now a state away.

“I’m enjoying it, man. I’m having a good time,” Burleson said before the Tulloch charity softball game Saturday. “We’re a young team. We’ve got a good team. It’s good to be a part of a team that’s doing something.

“It’s similar to the situation when I came here. It wasn’t a desirable place, but Cleveland is one of those places where they deserve to have a good season.”

Much like he tried to do with the Lions the past few seasons, Burleson is aiming to be a mentor to a young team with stars like Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel. Considering Burleson was close to retirement after being released by Detroit in February -- he said he had conversations with a television network for an analyst role this season -- he understands part of his role with the Browns is to teach the young players to become professionals.

Even as he started his time in Cleveland, he wasn’t sure how everything would go. He looked around and saw players a decade younger than him. Then he worked through one-on-one drills and everything still felt like it was working out well.

So he knew he made the right decision to return for at least one more season in the NFL. After all, television networks aren’t going anywhere even if he was on the move from the Lions.

Burleson had indicated throughout last season he wanted to finish his career in Detroit. He had made plans to do so, but understood he was an injury risk after missing almost half of the 2013 season with a broken forearm suffered in a pizza-related crash on Interstate 696 in Michigan. The season before, he broke his leg on Monday Night Football.

For a team that is focused on winning now, they couldn’t take that risk. Burleson played in 15 games the past two seasons, totaling 66 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns.

“There’s no hard feelings, I think mostly because of the injuries,” Burleson said. “When I was on the field I was productive. I feel I was a great complement to Calvin [Johnson]. Just too many injuries and as an organization, I understand it. It would have been great to have me back for one more year but there’s such a big question mark, 'can he stay healthy?' Unfortunately, that’s part of the game and I was OK with it.”

There wasn’t anything wistful for Burleson about his return to Michigan this time. He continued to mesh with his old teammates on offense -- they were Team Raiola in the softball game -- but his next trip back might carry a bit more emotion.

The Lions and Browns play in the preseason opener, meaning the first-ever game for Manziel, the first-ever game for Jim Caldwell as the coach of the Detroit Lions and in a small sidebar, the return of Burleson to a place he outwardly seemed to love.

“Have I thought about it? Are you kidding me? Man, I’m racking my brain figuring out what celebration I’m gonna do because I’m gonna get a fine,” Burleson said. “I’m gonna get a fine. Seriously. I'm going to go to my coach and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m going to get a fine. I’m going to do something crazy.’

“It’s going to be a little bit of an appreciation celebration to the fans and the city of Detroit. It’s also going to be kind of a poke in the back saying you should of kept me because I’m still ballin'. Nah, you know me, I’m a prideful individual so I’m going to do something that’s representing Cleveland, representing Ohio, and it’s going to be fun and classy.”
Ray Farmer does not rest.

The week after the draft, the Cleveland Browns' general manager signed Joe Haden to a contract extension and added two receivers.

As the world of folks who must keep track of the Browns turns, the team has almost completely remade its corps of receivers.

Bennett
Austin
Josh Gordon is facing a season-long suspension after another failed drug test, this time for marijuana. Let's assume that he is suspended, which is not a big leap -- especially after the news that Miles Austin agreed to terms and Earl Bennett signed. The talent of any one player does not approach Gordon's, but the Browns have more than they had at 3 p.m. Thursday. The fact that the Browns added two guys who have been on the market for months probably says all that needs to be said about Gordon's season -- and that is, he won't be with the team.

Austin immediately becomes a starter. Opposite him would be either Nate Burleson (if healthy) or Bennett, a productive slot guy who was stuck behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago.

Andrew Hawkins would be the third receiver, with either Burleson or Bennett seeing time as the fourth.

Bennett's situation is dicey. Most view him as a No. 3, though perhaps he's one of the guys Farmer had in mind when he said sometimes players just need a chance.

If -- and it's a gigantic and unlikely if -- Gordon can somehow reduce or avoid the suspension, the receiving corps might have more than something.

The problem is this: The hardest thing to do in the NFL is to bring a completely new group of receivers in with a new quarterback and expect it all to jell immediately.

The timing required is too precise, and understanding each other is too important to expect immediate results. Add in the fact that everyone involved is learning a new offense, and the challenge increases.

That reality should not, though, temper the reality that Farmer knew he had a need, and he tried to address it as best he could. He advised fans to be patient, and acted. And there's still time for him to address the position again.

Without Gordon, the Browns lose their best player and their big-play threat. They become a team dependent on defense and a physical running game.

But at least now the team has veteran receivers. Whether they can contribute remains to be seen.

At this point, this something is better than nothing.
The first day of the Cleveland Browns draft ended amid jubilation and celebration.

It turned depressing and mysterious before the first player had even been taken on Day 2.

When word broke via ESPN’s Outside the Lines that Josh Gordon was facing a one-year suspension for failing another drug test, the effect was deflating.

Later in the night, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen broke the news that Nate Burleson had a fractured arm and would miss the offseason but would be back for training camp.

If Gordon does miss a year and assuming Burleson returns, the Browns right now have Burleson, Greg Little and Andrew Hawkins as their prime receivers.

General Manager Ray Farmer said he was not concerned about the team’s depth at receiver, though.

“We play games in September,” Farmer said. ”Right now there’s still plenty of opportunities for us to acquire players and to make things happen.”

There’s only one draft, though, and the team’s decision in hindsight to trade down for cornerback Justin Gilbert and not take Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans looms larger if Gordon is suspended. Gordon is the team’s star and playmaker, and the receiving corps would have to depend on guys doing things they haven’t done in the past to succeed.

The Browns didn’t want to comment on Gordon’s situation, and in fairness the league handles the drug-testing program and teams are not supposed to comment on the details.

“Whenever we do have clarity we will express our sentiments then,” Farmer said.

He also did not get into whether he knew about Gordon’s situation but said he drafts based on the team’s draft board and not on need or a player’s health situation.

“We organize the players, we rank them, we stack them and we stick to it,” Farmer said. “We believe that you do the work for a reason. You take the best players available. You establish your team by going through that process in making sure you draft the best guys in how you had them ordered in who are the best players in college football.”

The Browns went through the second day drafting an offensive lineman, a linebacker and a running back, but no receivers. Farmer said that was because of the way the team rated its players.

“We stuck with our board,” Farmer said. “As we looked at that board when it was our turn to select, we took the name that was the best name for us at that time.”

Thus, the Browns passed on Watkins and Evans because they liked Gilbert better. They passed on receivers on the second day because they liked offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, linebacker Christian Kirksey and running back Terrance West better.

The decision may come back to haunt them. In a sense it’s classic hindsight to look back -- except that Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam knew of Gordon’s situation before the draft started, according to Mortensen and ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.

Farmer simply believes he can still address the situation.

“Whether it’s trades, drafting someone the [third] day, players that get cut or we acquire somebody from the street,” Farmer said “there’s always opportunities to acquire players.”

There aren’t a lot of Josh Gordons, and if the Browns lose their top playmaker they may be left trying to win games with potentially a rookie quarterback, and a receiving group without its star.

That could leave the team relying on defense and the run game to win.

It can work, but without Gordon, well, the highs from Manziel sure seemed to dissipate in a hurry.
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.
Nate Burleson AP Photo/Duane BurlesonNate Burleson's contributions on and off the field could be an asset in Cleveland.
The newest version of the Cleveland Browns recognizes the importance of responsible veterans.

The team that used to be one of the youngest in the league added another 30-something player when it agreed to terms on a one-year deal with wide receiver Nate Burleson, who last played for Detroit.

In Burleson, the Browns add a respected veteran who has played for three other teams. He can provide a locker room presence, as well as contribute on the field -- provided he stays healthy.

Burleson missed 17 games the past two seasons to a broken leg and arm, but prior to those two seasons, he caught 73, 55 and 63 passes in 2011, 2010 and 2009 in Detroit (two years) and Seattle.

After returning from a broken arm in 2013, Burleson played nine games and caught 39 passes. He clearly still can be productive, and he still can be a leader. But whether he's a full-time player at the age of 33 remains to be seen.

Put him with Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and perhaps a young receiver taken in the draft and the Browns have upgraded the position considerably since they were throwing to Brian Tyms at the end of last season.

Even if Burleson simply fills a role as the third or fourth wideout, his addition could help.

Free agency primer: Lions

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

.Key free agents: QB Shaun Hill; RB Joique Bell (restricted); WR Nate Burleson; TE Brandon Pettigrew; DE Willie Young; CB Rashean Mathis; S Louis Delmas.

Where they stand: Of Detroit’s major free agents, Bell is almost certainly returning to the team and Burleson and Delmas almost certainly will not after being released as cap cuts last month. The rest are likely headed toward free agency when it opens Tuesday. Detroit already took care of some of its free agents, Dominic Raiola and Don Muhlbach, bringing them back with one-year deals. Pettigrew and Young are likely to test the market fairly heavily and should have multiple suitors. Mathis’ age is a question, but he will end up somewhere next season. Whether it is in Detroit is an unknown. Hill has to make a decision if he wants to go somewhere he can push for a starting gig or if he is content backing up Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s other free agents either won’t be back with the team or should come cheap if the Lions want them back.

What to expect: The Lions are going to make a run at wide receivers and potentially some secondary help in free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit try to bring back Pettigrew, and to do it sooner in free agency before he can talk to more teams as one of the top free agents at his position. Pay attention to sure-handed wide receivers, as that was a major issue with the Lions last season. Also, the team could go after a mid-level safety and possibly a mid-level cornerback if either is available at the right price. Other than that, Detroit might look at value plays to bolster the offensive line and front seven. Backup quarterback could be interesting -- Luke McCown could be a target -- but again, that has to be at the right price.
Since the end of the regular season, and certainly since the release of Nate Burleson, one of the main priorities for upgrading the Detroit Lions has been centered on the wide receivers.

Entering free agency and the draft, the position is Calvin Johnson and a bunch of complementary players with some question marks. Can Kris Durham take another step or is his production as a good depth receiver and plug-in starter? Can Jeremy Ross become more than a return man?

Will Ryan Broyles recover from his third straight season-ending injury?

This will lead Detroit to make plays at the position both in free agency (beginning Tuesday) and potentially in the first round of a receiver-rich NFL draft. While Clemson’s Sammy Watkins likely isn’t going to be around at No. 10, Todd McShay’s pick for the Lions at No. 10 in his third mock draft should be.

Texas A&M’s Mike Evans offers a massive complement on the opposite side of Johnson and would give Detroit three huge targets for Matthew Stafford between Johnson and Evans on the outside and 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria over the middle and in the red zone. That could turn the Lions’ offense into an explosive group between the size on the outside and over the middle and the speed/strength combination between running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell on shorter routes and running the ball.

If Evans is available at No. 10, Detroit will need to take a long look there, provided Watkins is unavailable.

The interesting thing with McShay’s latest mock is the Lions would have to make an actual decision at No. 10. In his draft, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would all be available to be taken.

McShay goes with Evans – I’d likely do the same – but if the right trade offer was around, I’d look to drop down a few spots and possibly grab one of the safeties or Barr in Round 1 and nab a receiver and tight end in the second and third rounds.

But if the Lions were to stay at No. 10, with the options available, Evans should be the pick at this point. Of course, there are still around two months to go until the draft.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It is at once both a priority and somewhat of a luxury, an odd situation when you’re the Detroit Lions and you have the consensus top wide receiver in the game.

Johnson
Calvin Johnson is always going to draw attention and, since 2009, has counted at least $8 million or more against the Lions' salary cap -- including $13.058 million in 2014. But one of the main lessons for the Lions in 2013 is how the team fared when Johnson was limited or not in the game.

The results were ugly, so while Detroit has a lot invested in one star at the position, the team also knows they need to put more resources there in order to have a successful offense.

The Lions’ offense struggled without Johnson at points in 2013, so as the team evaluates talent at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, receiver will be a position of interest to assist their star.

“It’s something obviously that we have to really take a real strong look at, obviously, because of the fact that he’s one that’s going to draw a little extra attention in terms of double coverage like he’s always done,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “And with that being the case, we have to find a way to make certain whoever is on the other side that may be getting singled in some situations can do some damage against the defenders.

“I think that’s extremely important, so I think that’s something that obviously we’ve taken a good hard look at and one way or another we’re going to come up with a guy that’s going to give us some balance in that area.”

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew dismissed the suggestion that part of the search for a young receiver on the outside in this draft could be viewed as a potential replacement for Johnson in a few years.

The 28-year-old has put up three straight seasons of 1,400 yards or more. He routinely draws multiple defenders and potential scheme changes when opponents face them. But he has had knee issues the past two seasons and healthy knees are critical for wide receivers to keep their speed, agility and jumping ability -- and therefore, their success.

“We want quality across the board,” Mayhew said. “We want guys that, if, for whatever reason Calvin is getting doubled or he’s not playing in a particular game that he can go out and make plays by himself. That was one of our things last year, when Calvin was injured, we struggled offensively a lot of times to get off or other players to get off.

“We’re going to be looking for receivers who can win one-on-one battles, win one-on-one matchups and make plays down the field.”

Mayhew didn’t have a height-weight-speed metric for what the team would like in a receiver, either through free agency or the draft, but Caldwell has typically had only starting receivers over 6 feet during his time in Indianapolis and Baltimore. That goes for both on the outside and in the slot.

Mayhew’s focus is more on whether the receiver can get separation, get open and make tough catches when necessary. That, and being able to potentially deflect attention away from Johnson, are the most important qualities.

There is a reason a rookie might be a better fit here than a veteran, though, despite the typical inexperience that comes with anyone entering the NFL. Any rookie or younger player coming to the Lions has a built-in advantage of knowing he won’t be receiving the majority of the attention, kind of like what happened in Cincinnati in 2012 and 2013.

With A.J. Green attracting a lot of attention from defenses, it allowed Marvin Jones to catch 18 passes for 201 yards as a rookie and then 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

And some rookies notice the situation could be a beneficial one for whomever the Lions select.

“I would love to play with a guy like Calvin Johnson because you know he’s going to get all the attention,” said former UCLA receiver Shaq Evans, who talked with the Lions at the Senior Bowl. “It’s going to make you have to step up your game and that’s what you want to do.

“You want to have that role where you step up your game because you know they are going to double Calvin and you’re a guy that can step in for that No. 2 spot or No. 3 spot.”

After releasing Nate Burleson last week, the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers are the likely spots the team is looking to fill. Now, the Lions need to figure out who they want for those spots, either through a deep free-agent pool or a deep rookie class.

“There are a lot of different ways to go about it. One way to look at it is we have a big receiver in Calvin, let's get a smaller guy who can run routes and get open and slide into the slot on third downs,” Mayhew said. “Another way to look at is what Chicago did with two big guys.

“So it really can go either way. It's kind of who you can get.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Detroit Lions released receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas last week, it seemed like there was at least a chance Delmas could return to the team at some point.

Burleson
Burleson
Delmas
After Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell spoke on Thursday afternoon at the NFL combine, that possibility might be a bit slimmer.

“I think in this business you never say never,” Caldwell said. “But we’ll see what happens.”

Detroit released Delmas, 26, in part because of the $6.5 million salary-cap number he was scheduled to make in 2014. His ailing knees, which limited him to one practice a week throughout the season, also likely played a factor in the decision to release him.

Caldwell sounded like he had multiple conversations with people about both players before the team chose to cut them.

“Well, obviously they are two good men when you look at those two guys with leadership and those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “I could tell the preparation to play them and also just talking to the guys on the team and understanding the great contribution that they made to the team overall. But we have to take a look at everything, and evaluate everything obviously, just in terms of our personnel office and coaching, etc. and see where things fit, and we have to make some adjustments along the way.

“Not all of them are going to be pretty, and so obviously that’s where we are today.”

Cowboys won't rush roster moves

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- When will the Dallas Cowboys start making decisions on the future of players?

“Til it’s time to get under the cap,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Teams do not need to be compliant with the salary cap until March 11, but some teams have already started cutting players to create cap savings, like the Detroit Lions did last week in cutting Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson and the New Orleans Saints with Will Smith, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer.

In addition to using the time at this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis to look at draft prospects, the Cowboys will use the time to discuss the futures of players like DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin and how they want to pare their salary cap by $20 million-$25 million before the first day of the league year.

Several others could have their contracts restructured, like Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Jason Witten, and others could be cut, like Justin Durant, to make room.

“We continue to look at them and we continue to look at what’s available out there, what’s going to be available out there, and we’re looking at a lot of tape with [assistant director of player personnel] Will [McClay] and the pro guys are looking at the tape on all those guys and what’s likely to be available in the draft,” Jones said. “All these things affect the decision.”
IRVING, Texas -- When the Detroit Lions released safety Louis Delmas and wide receiver Nate Burleson on Thursday, most of the attention of Dallas Cowboys' fans went to Delmas.

It makes sense. The Cowboys need safety help. Delmas is young, though a bit injury prone. He had a career-high three interceptions in 2013 and was set to make $5.5 million in 2014.

Burleson
Burleson
When considering any free agent, you always have to factor in cost. There will be a team with more cap space than the Cowboys willing to pay Delmas more. I wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to be huge players in the free agent market.

To me, however, Burleson makes more sense.

Let’s go with the premise that Miles Austin will not be around in 2014. We have talked about that a few hundred times already. The Cowboys have Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams ready to be their top two wide receivers. They like Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, but both of those players have limitations. They could look at a receiver early in the May draft, like they did in selecting Williams in the third round, but most of the time receivers don’t hit the ground running. Williams and Bryant did, however, hit the ground running in their rookie years.

To me, adding a veteran receiver makes sense should the Cowboys lose Bryant, who has had back troubles no matter how minor they have been, or Williams for a good stretch.

Burleson caught 39 passes for 461 yards and a touchdown in nine games last season. He suffered a broken forearm in a car accident when he was attempting to stop a pizza from sliding off the seat. He suffered a broken leg in 2012.

Burleson’s defense of Calvin Johnson last year came at the expense of Bryant before the Cowboys and Lions made some headlines, but it meant little.

He is 32, which might be too long in the tooth, but the connection with Scott Linehan, who is the Cowboys’ new passing game coordinator and playcaller, is interesting.

Burleson and Linehan spent five years together with the Lions, and Burleson caught 194 passes for 2,083 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His price might be a lot more palatable to the Cowboys, especially compared to what Delmas should get.
Over the phone earlier this week, Nate Burleson sounded genuinely excited. Unlike last season, when he had to continue to rehabilitate the broken right leg he suffered in October 2012, he was healthy. He was fresh.

And right after the Super Bowl ended, he had the pangs to start training for this season. He knew then it wasn’t a lock that he would return to Detroit. He wanted to come back, had ingrained himself in the community that has become almost a second home to him.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsNate Burleson was slated to have a cap number of $7.5 million for the 2014 season.
But as we spoke Tuesday afternoon, there was at least a little bit of doubt that he would actually get to do what he had campaigned for toward the end of the season and beyond, which was to have the team restructure his deal so that he could stay with the Lions and finish his career with the club. His $7.5 million cap number for 2014 was a massive one, even if the team decided to work with him on a restructure.

And as of Tuesday, he had not heard from the Lions about his status, which likely was not a good sign in retrospect, even though it was a similar situation a year ago. But with a new coaching staff, that was probably a sign that his time in Detroit would end.

Now, after the team's decision to release him on Thursday, that won’t happen and he’ll join a deep free-agent pool of receivers looking to find work on March 11. It is an unfortunate ending for him with Detroit, though, almost more because of what he meant to the Lions off the field.

Burleson was the player you could count on to show up at charity functions. He was, from a media perspective, one of the most readily available players on a team full of guys who were often gracious with their time. And you could ask Burleson anything about any topic -- even Thursday, the day of his release, he was quoted on ESPN.com about Michael Sam -- and he would give a thoughtful, intelligent answer.

He also meant a lot to his teammates. He was the player a lot of young guys on the roster, regardless of position, could go to for advice and guidance. He often stressed to younger players the value of saving their money and investing and finding other outlets to do business, as he did with his Lionblood clothing line.

Burleson had taken on the roles of mentor, locker-room leader and on-field leader. He complemented Calvin Johnson well. As quiet and unassuming as Johnson is, Burleson was the guy who could be loud and get the team focused and energized. He and safety Louis Delmas often were the ones leading the pregame huddle and giving speeches.

On the field, when Burleson was healthy, he was a reliable target for quarterback Matthew Stafford. This past season, he had a 73.6 percent reception rate, second-best among qualifying receivers in the NFL and by far the highest among receivers on the Lions. He was also a good underneath option for Detroit to counterbalance the deep threat of Johnson.

It will be interesting to see how the Lions plan to replace Burleson from a production and leadership standpoint. Only two experienced slot receivers are likely to be on the roster: Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross, assuming he is extended a exclusive-rights free-agent offer. Broyles is coming off the third straight year in which surgery ended his season. Ross is a dynamic returner who can grow into the receiver role, but he doesn’t have much experience there. So the returning options have major questions attached to them.

This could be a large indication that the team is going to revamp the receiving corps to complement Johnson. It also almost guarantees that the Lions are going to be heavily targeting receivers in May’s draft, perhaps looking for a slot receiver as well as an outside receiver.

It could mean the team is planning to target a different, perhaps younger, slot receiver in free agency. Jacoby Jones, who played under Lions coach Jim Caldwell in Baltimore, is a free agent and could be an option.

The free-agent pool of receiving targets is deep, and this could have been another reason for Burleson's release. If the Lions thought they could find a younger, perhaps cheaper, option in a deep free-agent and draft class for wide receivers, they had to make this move.

That’s a tough call to make, but one Detroit clearly made.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- One final time, Jim Schwartz got up in front of his team right around noon on Monday and spoke to the players he would no longer coach.

Not this season. Not ever again as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. The players went into the meeting unsure of what was going on, of whether or not Schwartz would remain with Detroit for a sixth season or if this was it after plummeting to 7-9 from 6-3 and falling out of the playoffs.

“Kind of just took the air out of everybody,” defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “Of course we heard and it was lingering in the air, but the realization just kind of hit everybody in shock.

“It’s not like we have a bad team. Just, it’s tough. It’s tough for all of us. He’s the reason why a lot of players are here, including me.”

Almost the entirety of the Lions locker room was brought in under Schwartz’s time as coach as the team had less than a handful of leftover players from the 2008 team that went 0-16 under Rod Marinelli.

And the players, even after Schwartz was fired, continued to hold themselves culpable for what happened to the Lions over the second half of the season, saying it was as much their fault as the coaching staff's.

And as Schwartz said his goodbyes, saying he was proud to coach the Lions, he became emotional.

“He got a little choked up, which is fitting,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “He’s emotionally tied to this organization and he has been very passionate about this team and the guys he brought in and the things we’ve accomplished.

“So it was tough to deal with, I’m pretty sure, for him.”

For the players, too. Burleson said the announcement “kind of caught everybody off guard” and that they were anticipating saying goodbye for the season, not potentially forever.

Even as players walked into the Lions practice facility on Monday morning, they said they still didn’t know the fate of their head coach. So when they eventually found out what was happening, the disappointment was obvious.

“It’s tough, we put a lot of hard work into this,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Players, coaches, everybody. For five years, he’s been here and done a great job.

“From where we were in 2008 to where we are now is a big difference.”

But it wasn’t enough of a difference for Schwartz to continue to coach the Lions. And now, as the Lions search for a new coach, the players are left to wonder how it all unraveled for them to reach this point and where things are going to be headed for the future.

“Oh man. It was, it was a very heartfelt message he gave us,” safety Glover Quin said. “Sad news. Never want to see something like this happen and obviously we didn’t do enough to prevent it.

“So, now we just, I don’t know, wait around and see what happens.”

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