Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Browns

Pending free agents:

Top 15 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Joe Haden, CB: $13,400,000
  2. Joe Thomas, T: $9,500,000
  3. Donte Whitner, S: $8,450,000
  4. Dwayne Bowe, WR: $8,000,000
  5. Alex Mack, C: $8,000,000
  6. Paul Kruger, OLB: $7,700,000
  7. Desmond Bryant, DE: $7,000,000
  8. Tramon Williams, CB: $6,981,250
  9. Karlos Dansby, ILB: $6,500,000
  10. Barkevious Mingo, OLB: $5,201,319
  11. Josh McCown, QB: $5,041,666
  12. Brian Hartline, WR: $3,750,000
  13. Randy Starks, DT: $3,625,000
  14. Justin Gilbert, CB: $3,500,046
  15. John Greco, G: $2,925,000

Notable coaching/front office changes:

Draft:

  • No. 2 overall pick
  • No traded picks

Other:

Overview:

In 2014, the Browns finished out the year with a 7-9 mark and at least showed glimpses of competitiveness. In 2015, there wasn’t much to write home about after a 3-13 campaign. Naysayers around the league whispered about Johnny Manziel‘s off-the-field issues, and the party-loving quarterback proved them all right. Of course, the Browns’ issues ran much deeper than the quarterback position, but their poor play under center has been an issue for decades now and it’s unlikely that they will get back on track until they finally find a solution there.Johnny Manziel (vertical)

Throughout 2014, Browns fans wondered whether it would be Brian Hoyer or Manziel starting at QB for Cleveland in 2015. As it turns out, it was neither. Instead, that mantle was given to offseason acquisition Josh McCown. The 6’4″, 213-pounder spent the 2014 campaign in Tampa Bay and performed poorly in 11 games for a Buccaneers team that finished with the NFL’s worst record. Thanks to a string of injuries, things didn’t go much better for him in 2015. McCown suffered a concussion in Week 1, a shoulder injury in Week 8, a rib injury in Week 9, and a season-ending collarbone injury in Week 12.

As for Johnny Football? The injuries opened up the door for him to show his skills and, for a brief moment, he did. He wound up squandering that opportunity at mid-season, however, after he was caught on video partying and lied to the team about it. There were numerous off-the-field transgressions for Manziel in 2015 and the most recent run-in will probably bring an end to his time in Cleveland.

“We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field,” executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown said in early February. “Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization. His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time.”

Assuming they don’t designate him as a post-June 1 cut, the Browns will take on a ’16 cap hit of about $4.33MM if they release Manziel on or after March 9. Of course, the team could remove that entire figure from its cap if the 23-year-old is claimed on waivers, but that seems extremely unlikely. A first-round pick in 2014, Manziel started eight games during his two years in Cleveland, completing 57% of his passes and throwing seven touchdowns to seven interceptions, for a QB rating of 74.4. While his on-field performance was unspectacular, it was off-field behavior that will cost him his roster spot.

What follows is a detailed look at what lies ahead for the Browns — not just at quarterback, but everywhere else on the field.

Key Free Agents:

Wide receiver Travis Benjamin broke out in 2015, hauling in 68 catches (125 targets) for 966 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, this wasn’t the easiest year for the Browns, but Benjamin has been generally positive when asked about making a future in Cleveland and in December, he said he was 75-80% on the way to reaching a new deal with the Browns.

Tashaun Gipson“I’m not looking for (free agency),” he said in October. “Me and the Browns have a great relationship. I love them, they love me and I love the community so if we get a deal done that’ll be great for me…I love it here, my wife loves it here and we’re just happy to be here.

Safety Tashaun Gipson was the league’s final restricted free agent on the market last offseason and only re-signed with the Browns in June of 2015. The team assigned Gipson a second-round tender worth $2.356MM earlier in the offseason and, despite his protests, he ultimately signed it in order to join his team in training camp. While Gipson wasn’t happy with the RFA tender he received from the Browns, it’s not a huge surprise that he eventually relented and signed it, given his lack of leverage.

This past season, Gipson played in (and started) 13 games, racking up 60 tackles, two pass deflections, and two interceptions. The former UDFA could, theoretically, sign a deal with the Browns before the start of free agency, but he has stated in the past that he wants to test the open market to assess his value.

It has been speculated for some time that Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz could be in for a big payday this offseason. For his part, Schwartz recently said he’d like to re-sign with Cleveland. The 26-year-old is a four-year starter at the right tackle position and Pro Football Focus is wild about him, having named him to its “All Third-Year Team” for the 2015 season. The Browns have the money to retain him, but it’s not clear if they’re willing to make him the kind of offer that will convince him to bypass the open market, or if his stated preference to stay in Cleveland is genuine.

Possible Cap Casualties:

As noted above, Dwayne Bowe currently stands as the Browns’ fourth-highest cap hit with an $8MM figure in 2016. And, of course, you’ve seen the math on how much money Bowe has been paid per reception and the end result is not pretty. Bowe’s contract is not just the worst in Cleveland – it’s arguably one of the worst in the entire NFL. Cleveland gave Bowe $9MM in guaranteed money in March of 2015. In September, it was already rumored that coaches were displeased with his work ethic and performance. Bowe, 32 in September, is not wanted back in Cleveland and it would not be a surprise to see him let go.

Outside of Bowe, there are a handful of notable players that would make at least some sense as possible cap casualties. Wide receiver Brian Hartline might not have a major role going forward, but he’s also not too expensive with a cap number of $3.75MM in 2016. He also produced with 46 catches (77 targets) for 523 yards and two touchdowns across 12 games.

Barkevious Mingo would be a possible release candidate if his salary weren’t fully guaranteed. Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant carry high cap numbers ($7.7MM and $7MM, respectively), but they gave Cleveland some decent production last year. Donte Whitner also gets honorable mention in this section, though he doesn’t seem like a strong candidate given his production.

The Browns also shouldn’t be too strapped for space as they will be carrying over ~$20MM in unused cap room from last year.

Positions Of Need:

Obviously, the quarterback position is the No. 1 priority with a bullet for the Browns. Armed with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, the Browns could try their luck again with a rookie QB. The latest word is that Cleveland prefers Carson Wentz to Jared Goffbut they’ll be evaluating all quarterback options over the next few months. If the Browns look to the free agent market for a quarterback, they’re not likely to find any real slam dunk options. Someone like Ryan Fitzpatrick, who seems likely to re-sign with the Jets anyway, would serve only as a transitional option, and that’s something Cleveland already has with McCown.

The Browns will continue to discuss a new deal with Benjamin and the outcome of those talks will largely dictate what they do at wide receiver. If the 26-year-old cannot be retained, the team would have even more room to go out and try to hit a home run at the position. If the Browns are thinking big, they could potentially make a move for Bears free agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. The soon-to-be 26-year-old is primed to cash in soon, be it with the Bears, Browns, or someone else, having accumulated 228 receptions, 3,000+ yards, and 21 touchdowns over the last three years (41 games). Of course, the Browns already have one of the game’s most talented wide receivers in-house: Josh Gordon (more on him later).

Cleveland threw some money at its defense last offseason, but it sure didn’t show. The Browns’ pass defense finished outside of the lower third in the league with 250.8 yards surrendered per game, but that’s partly because teams decided to just run them over instead — opponents averaged 128.4 yards per game against Cleveland, putting the club in a virtual tie for the NFL’s second-worst run defense.

Specifically, the Browns badly need an edge rusher to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Von Miller stands as the most desired free agent player at the outside linebacker position, but few expect him to actually reach the open market since the Broncos reserve the right to use the franchise tag on him. However, Seahawks free agent Bruce Irvin could be available for the Browns, if they’re interested, and he’d cost less than Miller on a long-term deal too. How much exactly? That’s hard to say, but it has been suggested that Vinny Curry‘s recent five-year, $47.25MM ($23MM guaranteed) deal with the Eagles could be a reasonable starting point for talks. Meanwhile, Joey Bosa could be a consideration for them with their top pick.

Inside linebacker will have to be addressed, particularly with Karlos Dansby getting up there in age. A strong second cornerback opposite Joe Haden would also give the Browns’ secondary a much-needed boost — 2014 first-rounder Justin Gilbert hasn’t been that player so far.

Extension Candidates/Contract Issues:

Josh GordonThe Browns have some serious decisions to make when it comes to wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon was suspended for the 2015 season but just a few weeks ago, he applied for reinstatement. Since his entry into the league in 2012, Gordon’s NFL career has been tumultuous to say the least. He missed the first two games of the 2013 season following a drug suspension, but then went on to lead the NFL in receiving yards, finishing with 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns.

Hopes were high for the 2014 season, but Gordon’s off-the-field issues resurfaced, as he was first arrested for DUI, and then suspended for one year after again violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He was eventually reinstated after only 10 games as part of the NFL and the players’ union agreeing to a new drug policy, which reduced the sentences for some players-in-limbo. The Browns subsequently suspended Gordon for the final contest of the season after he reportedly violated team rules, and then a failed alcohol test resulted in the wideout’s ban of at least a year last February.

Will the Browns hang on to Gordon? The old regime was vocal about wanting to build a future with the 6’4″ receiver. However, that will now be up to a group that includes head coach Hue Jackson, lead decision maker Sashi Brown, and (for some reason) former MLB executive Paul DePodesta.

The Browns’ offensive line could look drastically different in 2016 depending on how things play out. While Cleveland’s starting right tackle is a potential free agent, left tackle Joe Thomas said he was considering asking about a way out of the organization before the team hired its new coach and top decision maker. After Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown were chosen, Thomas indicated that he was unlikely to ask for a trade. Still, given that a potential deal that would have sent Thomas to the Broncos for a bevy of draft picks reportedly fell through at last year’s trade deadline, it was fair to wonder if the club might attempt to deal Thomas again.

At last check, Browns center Alex Mack said that he has yet to make a final decision on whether he’ll opt out of his contract this winter. The offensive lineman says he’ll start seriously considering his options after the Super Bowl, with a decision to follow within the next month or so. Ultimately, it stands to reason that Mack will opt out. Even if he wants to remain in Cleveland, he can easily best his current pact which calls for $8MM annual salaries for the next three seasons, with only his 2016 salary guaranteed.

Overall Outlook:

The Browns have already done some major remodeling by showing coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer the door. Now, they’ll have to do even more work to the roster if they hope to compete in 2016. Odds are ’16 will be yet another rebuilding year for the Browns, but they can set themselves up nicely for the future if they make good use of their high draft picks and significant cap space.

Information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Curry, Eagles, Jets, Giants, Fins

Edge rusher Vinny Curry became the latest Eagle to sign a long-term extension with the club this week, inking a five-year deal that will keep him in Philadelphia through 2020. And while the initial guarantee of Curry’s $47MM deal was reported as $23MM, Joel Corry of CBSSports.com reports (via Twitter) that the full guarantee is actually only $18MM — the remaining $5MM is for injury only. Corry also passes along Curry’s cap charges from 2016-2020 (Twitter link): $3MM, $9MM, $11MM, $11.25MM, and finally, $12MM in 2020.

There’s more news from the East divisions, so let’s dive in:

  • The Jets have hired Jeff Hammerschmidt as assistant special teams coordinator, the club announced via press release. Hammerschmidt spent the past four years as Colorado State’s special teams coach, and also worked with the team’s running backs and tight ends. He’ll serve under Brant Boyer, whom New York hired away from the Colts earlier this week.
  • In his latest offseason preview, Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap takes a look at the Giants, noting that the club’s main goal in the next few months should be working out contract solutions with receiver Victor Cruz and tackle Will Beatty. A strong effort during the free agent period, opines Fitzgerald, will be key if Big Blue wants to compete in 2016.
  • Ryan Tannehill was essentially banned from calling audibles last season, so much so that receiver Greg Jennings isn’t sure anyone knows what the young Dolphins quarterback is really capable of, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “[H]e hasn’t been given the reins to where he has the liberty and freedom to call his shots sometimes,” said Jennings. “It’s almost like taking a baby who’s six years old and he still has a bottle in his mouth. Gotta take it out and see if he can drink out of a cup.”

West Notes: Lynch, Irvin, Nolan, Cardinals

Appearing on Dave Mahler’s radio show on 950 KJR, former Seahawks fullback (and current NFL Network commentator) Michael Robinson said “it’s fair to assume” that Seattle will part ways with running back Marshawn Lynch prior to next season, per Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk. Seahawks general manager John Schneider said last month that Lynch may retire, but the smart play for Beast Mode is probably to force the team to release him, as he wouldn’t have to return signing bonus money if he’s cut. If Seattle does release Lynch, they’d save $6.5MM against their 2016 salary cap.

Let’s take a look at a few more notes from the West divisions:

  • Vinny Curry‘s recent extension with the Eagles is a good sign for Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, opines Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. Curry’s contract — five years, $47MM, $18MM guaranteed — could set a target for Irvin, who is heading for unrestricted free agency, and as Kapadia notes, is probably a more versatile player than Curry. Irvin did suggest last month that he’d accept less money to stay in Seattle.
  • Longtime NFL coach Mike Nolan expressed interest in the 49ers defensive coordinator position earlier this year, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com (Twitter link). Nolan, of course, served as San Francisco’s head coach 2005-08, but spent last season as the Chargers’ linebackers coach. He’s been linked to the Cowboys’ defensive backs position this offseason.
  • Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill believes that with a “couple more pieces,” his club will be a Super Bowl contender in 2016, writes Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. Bidwill voiced his faith in Arizona’s “core players,” which makes it sound as though the club will target upgrades on the margins. Indeed, head coach Bruce Arians said last month that while the Cardinals will look for pass rush help this offseason, they don’t expect to make a big splash in free agency.
  • In their efforts to complete a deal for a new stadium, San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and Chargers owner Dean Spanos have spoken by phone this week, but have yet to meet face-to-face, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The two sides are expected to begin more formal talks soon, per Acee.

Police Investigating Johnny Manziel

The off-field struggles of Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel dominated the early-morning headlines — not only did Manziel’s agent part ways with him, but the Cleveland signal-caller reportedly refused to enter a rehabilitation clinic. There’s now a bit more news on the embattled Browns QB, so let’s take a look at the latest:

  • The Dallas Police Department has in fact opened a criminal investigation regarding the domestic violence clams against Manziel, the DPD announced.
  • While reports yesterday indicated that no charges would be filed against Manziel, Crowley has given a statement to the Dallas Police Department and has indeed requested that charges are filed, according to Lopez (Twitter link).

Earlier updates:

  • A judge has issued a protective order that requires Manziel to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, for two years, and also mandates that him to pay $12K in legal fees, reports Rebecca Lopez of WFAA (Twitter link). Manziel was involved in an incident with Crowley last month — the disturbing details of which have recently come to light — and the judge found that there “was reason to believe that family violence occurred,” tweets Lopez.
  • Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has tried to reach Manziel on several occasions, and received no response, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), who adds that Haslam seemed “frustrated [and] emotional.” Rapoport also passes along the full text of Haslam’s comments to the media via Twitter.
  • The Cowboys had no interest in acquiring Manziel even before his latest off-field troubles, as team sources tell Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Manziel “was never on [the Cowboys’] radar.” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has long been rumored to be intrigued by Manziel, but Hill reports that Dallas’ front office remains steadfast in its opposition to bringing in Manziel, who is expected to be cut by the Browns. For his part, Manziel reportedly has expressed a desire to play for the Cowboys.

Minor NFL Transactions: 2/5/16

The NFL offseason hasn’t yet officially begun, but clubs are still making small moves as they wait for the beginning of the new league year. Let’s dive into the latest:

  • The Buccaneers have signed four players to reserve/futures deals, inking defensive tackle Davon Coleman, defensive tackle Cliff Matthews, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, and receiver Bernard Reedy, the club announced. Matthews, 26, has the most experience of the bunch, having played in 32 games over the past three seasons with the Falcons (former Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, notably, is Tampa Bay’s new defensive coordinator).
  • Former Lions running back Mikel Leshoure is back in professional football, but it’s with the CFL as opposed to the NFL. The 25-year-old Leshoure has signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, reports Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (link). A former second-round pick, Leshoure’s best season came in 2012, when he ran for nearly 800 yards and nine touchdowns with Detroit.

Latest On Peyton Manning

As he prepares to make his fourth Super Bowl appearance this Sunday, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning‘s NFL future seems to be garnering more headlines than does the upcoming title game. Manning’s father — and former NFL quarterback — Archie Manning recently spoke on Peyton’s possible retirement, as did Peyton’s brother — and Giants signal-caller — Eli Manning.Peyton Manning (vertical)

Appearing on Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio, Archie Manning hedged a bit when asked if Peyton was fully committed to calling it a career after the Super Bowl. “Maybe not totally,” he said, according to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. “He probably envisions himself getting good and healthy. If he is good and healthy, can he play? I think he pretty much knows that it wouldn’t be with the Broncos and that would be another thing, to change teams.

“Now, he had some offers last year from teams, some teams talked to him,” Archie continued. “But I think that was going to be a lot of drama, again, to change teams, that he didn’t want to go through. He did do that once, so I don’t know that he would want to do that.”

The Broncos obviously haven’t said that they’d like to move on from Manning after this season, but given his declining level of play, his $19MM base salary for 2016, and the fact the club will likely attempt to retain backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, it’s not surprising that Manning doesn’t believe he’ll back in Denver next season. But Archie Manning did tell Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network that he expects Peyton to “leave a little avenue open” to playing next year, especially if he can regain his 2014 level of health.

[RELATED: Peyton Manning has told friends he expects to retire]

The fact that Manning “had some offers” from other clubs probably amounts to tampering, as Manning was still under contract with Denver throughout last offseason. He was asked — and agreed to — accept a $4MM pay cut, but given that he wasn’t released, other teams shouldn’t have been allowed to speak with Manning. But given that any such talks likely happened over a year ago (and had yet to be reported), no consequences will likely arise.

Eli Manning agreed with his father on the idea of Peyton playing in another city in 2016, telling Paul Schwartz of the New York Post that while he can’t speak for his brother, it “would be tough” to imagine Peyton joining another club (Twitter link). One team that has reportedly kicked the tires on the idea of acquiring Manning is the Rams, as the veteran quarterback would add a level of intrigue to a team set to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016.

Meanwhile, moving to a separate Peyton Manning story, Will Hobson and Justin Moyer of the Washington Post report that Manning hired private investigators to locate and interrogate the source of the HGH allegations levied against the Broncos quarterback. Manning apparently paid for a duo of investigators to speak with Charlie Sly, the pharmacist source in an Al-Jazeera documentary, five days before the documentary aired, and also sent a lawyer to the Guyer Insitute in Indianapolis to review he and his wife’s medical records.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tony Romo Mulling Collarbone Surgery

FEBRUARY 5: Add another wrinkle to the story, as Romo tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that he hasn’t decided whether or not to have the operation. Like Archer reported below, Romo will wait three or four weeks before making a final determination, using that time to “find the bone density and see how strong it is.”

11:02am: Romo still intends to have surgery on his left clavicle, but will wait to determine what kind of procedure he needs, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.

Source tells Moore that two options are in play — Romo may have a plate surgically attached over the collarbone to limit the potential for recurring injury, or doctors could opt for a “Mumford procedure,” which involves shaving off or removing a portion of the distal clavicle.

As Archer notes below, the Cowboys and Romo intend to reassess their options in about four weeks.

FEBRUARY 3, 8:35am: The Cowboys and Romo have decided to postpone the decision on whether or not the quarterback will undergo surgery on his collarbone, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Romo’s collarbone will be re-evaluated in four weeks before a final determination on surgery is made, sources tell Archer.

As noted below, if Romo does eventually go under the knife, the recovery period is expected to be about six to eight weeks, which would still put him on track to participate in offseason workouts in May.

JANUARY 24: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will undergo offseason collarbone surgery, according to Ed Werder of ESPN.com, who reports that Romo will have a plate inserted in his left collarbone in order to prevent future injuries. Romo has fractured his left clavicle three times in the past five seasons, most recently in November 2015.Tony Romo (Vertical)

A report yesterday indicated that Romo would undergo a CT scan this week, and Werder says that scan will help determine if Romo’s clavicle has healed enough to support that hardware that doctors will insert into his collarbone. “I think we know which way we’re siding and some of the things,” Romo said Saturday, in regards to the possibility of surgery. “We’ve had exhaustive discussions about it.

Cowboy management expects a six-to-eight week recovery period from the date of the surgery, adds Werder (Twitter link). So depending on when the actual operation occurs, Romo should clearly be available for the beginning of the 2016 regular season. It’s unclear how much of Dallas’ offseason program Romo will be able to participate in, but it’s likely that the club will take a cautious approach.

On a macro level, the Cowboys are widely expected to add a quarterback via the draft this year, as the club has been devastated by a lack of options behind Romo (Dallas posted a 1-11 record in the absence of Romo in 2015). Romo, 36 in April, said yesterday that he expects to remain in the NFL “for awhile,” but the team plans to acquire more depth, especially given that Matt Cassel, last year’s No. 2 quarterback, is an unrestricted free agent.

North Notes: Megatron, Lions, Forte, Browns

Much has been made of the fact that new Lions general manager Bob Quinn has yet to reach out to Calvin Johnson as the star wide receiver considers retirement, with some observers speculating that perhaps the GM prefers the extra cap room the team would pick up if Megatron retires. It hasn’t been complete radio silence between the Lions and Johnson though. Team president Rod Wood said today that he has been in touch with the 30-year-old wideout.

“While it’s out there that Bob Quinn has not talked to him, I have talked to him a couple times,” Wood said, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “And so we are staying in touch. I’ve talked to Bus (Cook, Johnson’s agent) a couple times. Nothing has changed in what we announced before. We’re still giving him time. I’m hoping to introduce him to Bob within the next week or so, at least hand that off to him to start talking to Calvin.

“The nice thing about private conversations is they’re private, so I won’t tell you exactly what we talked about,” Wood added. “But I have been in touch with him. I was texting with him on Wednesday.”

Here’s more on the Lions and a couple other North teams:

  • The Lions still need to add a quarterbacks coach to their staff, and one of Jim Bob Cooter‘s former office-mates, Broncos offensive assistant Brian Callahan, could be a candidate for the job, Birkett writes for the Free Press.
  • Bears running back Matt Forte says he has “no idea” whether or not he has a future in Chicago, telling Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times that he hasn’t heard from the team in recent weeks. The longtime Bear is eligible for free agency this winter.
  • Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com tweets that he has heard “on the Super Bowl grapevine” that the Browns intend to make another hire for their player personnel staff at some point, though it’s not clear yet what position that new addition would hold.

Donald Penn Wants To Talk Contract With Raiders

Raiders left tackle Donald Penn will see his two-year deal with the team expire next month, making him a free agent if he doesn’t have a new extension in place by then. Rather than reaching the open market, Penn would prefer to get something done with Oakland, but he has yet to hear from the team regarding contract negotiations, according to Scott Bair of CSNCalifornia.com.Donald Penn

“I’m not going to lie. I’m a little disappointed in the Oakland Raiders right now,” Penn said. “That’s just me being honest. I don’t talk to my agent about deals during the season because I like to focus on my play. But, going into the offseason we talked and my agent said he talked to the team and they said they want me back. That’s what they told me before I left, but I haven’t heard from them since the season ended.”

The Raiders and Penn still have a few more weeks to open negotiations and try to finalize a new contract for the veteran tackle, and general manager Reggie McKenzie said this week that there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. Nonetheless, Penn is getting anxious, and is starting to consider the possibility that he may have other suitors in March.

“I’m really disappointed, and I’m starting to look at other opportunities,” Penn said. “As man and a player, we have to start looking at other things. Me and my agent are starting to put together a group of teams that need a left tackle and things like that.”

Despite the fact that he has been one of the most reliable left tackles in the NFL over the last two seasons, Penn hasn’t been paid like it, since his two-year pact with the Raiders earned him just over $10MM in total. The Utah State product isn’t getting any younger – he’ll turn 33 in April – but he should still be in line for a nice raise, whether he re-signs with the Raiders or joins a new team. So while he’d like to be back in Oakland, Penn isn’t losing sight of that fact.

“We’ll see what happens next,” Penn said. “I did everything I could. I had two great seasons, two of the best of my career. You know, it’s a great time to be a free agent for me.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Goodell, Raiders, Jags, London

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell conducted his usual pre-Super Bowl press conference today, and even though he took questions from reporters for nearly 45 minutes, he didn’t provide many noteworthy updates. Goodell did drop the occasional interesting nugget, announcing that the Raiders and Texans will play in Mexico City on November 21, and revealing that he has recommended to the competition committee that a player who commits two person fouls in a game is automatically ejected.

When it came to questions about the NFL’s PSI study, stadium plans for San Diego and Oakland, potential changes to the league’s drug policy, and the NFL’s investigation into Al Jazeera’s HGH allegations, Goodell declined to get into specifics, offering only general answers. According to Goodell, the PSI checks didn’t turn up any violations, the NFL wants to keep the Chargers and Raiders where they are, the league doesn’t expect any marijuana-related policy changes, and the HGH-allegation investigation (in conjunction with WADA and other leagues) is ongoing.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the NFL:

  • NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the union will reach a resolution with the NFL over a change in Goodell’s role in player discipline, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweets. The commissioner was characteristically evasive today when asked about that issue.
  • Smith also projected another $10MM boost for the league’s salary cap in 2016 (Twitter link via Stephen Holder of Indianapolis Star), and and singled out the Raiders and Jaguars as two teams that are well below the 89% cash spending floor. According to Smith (link via Barry Wilner of The Associated Press), Oakland is $41MM below the threshold and Jacksonville is $28MM below. Those teams could be active in free agency this offseason to get to the necessary level, but they don’t have to be in compliance until March 2017, so extensions next winter for 2014 draftees like Derek Carr and Khalil Mack (Raiders) or Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson (Jaguars) could do the trick.
  • Sheldon Adelson, the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has installed Craig Moon as the paper’s publisher, and Moon’s early editorial decisions have had an impact on stories about Las Vegas’ proposed stadium, according to Politco’s Ken Doctor. With Adelson hoping to lure the Raiders or another NFL team to the proposed stadium, the Review-Journal has been forced to edit or kill stories about what could turn out to be a $600MM public investment.
  • The NFL came close, in recent weeks, to adding a fourth London game to its 2016 schedule, a source tells Albert Breer of the NFL Network (Twitter links). However, scheduling conflicts – not to mention the challenge of finding a fourth team willing to give up a home team – forced the league to put that plan on hold.

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