East Notes: Wilkerson, Washington, Battle

Let’s take a look at a few notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • Other writers have opined the same thing, but Darryl Slater of NJ.com definitively asserts that Muhammad Wilkerson, despite some speculation to the contrary, will not be holding out of Jets training camp this month.
  • Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com takes a look at five players who may begin the season on the Washington bench but who could crack the starting lineup before the end of the year. He tabs ILB Martrell Spaight and OLB Preston Smith as particularly intriguing players to watch in the Washington front seven.
  • Similarly, John Keim of ESPN.com believes Smith will ultimately overtake Trent Murphy as a full-time starter at outside linebacker. Washington‘s coaching staff loves Smith’s length, his hands, and his versatility, and Smith appears to have a much higher ceiling as a pass rusher.
  • In the same piece, Keim writes that Kirk Cousins still has fans on the Washington coaching staff and among certain players, but even though he showed flashes of strong play last year, the critical turnovers he made and his inability to respond well to those turnovers have compelled the team to hand Robert Griffin III the starting job.
  • Jordan Raanan of NJ.com does not expect the Giants to be interested in any of the players available in the supplemental draft. We heard yesterday that Clemson OT Isaiah Battle may be a good fit for Big Blue, but Raanan thinks otherwise. Although New York may take a flier on Battle in the sixth or seventh round of the supplemental draft, there are likely a number of other teams who will put a much higher value on his talent.
  • Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe offers her take on the 10 best moves made in the AFC East this offseason.

Dez Bryant Rumors: Sunday

D-Day, the July 15 deadline for the Cowboys and Dez Bryant to work out a multiyear extension, is rapidly approaching. There are a few notes to pass along on those negotiations this morning, and we will update this post throughout the course of the day should there be any further developments.

  • We learned yesterday that the Cowboys and Bryant have a good chance of finalizing a long-term agreement sometime this week, with Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan reporting that while the two sides agreed to break off contract talks over the holiday weekend, the announcement of a new deal could come as early as Monday. However, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (Twitter link) hears that owner Jerry Jones and son Stephen Jones will be out of the country until July 10 or 11, which could hold up the deal until next week.
  • Fisher also wrote that Dallas has “maybe” offered a seven-year, $100MM deal, though he doesn’t specify what the guaranteed money in such a deal would be. As Cole tweets, that would be a pretty favorable structure for the Cowboys, given that Calvin Johnson landed a seven-year, $113MM contract from Detroit in 2012. Of course, Cole points out (via Twitter) that Johnson’s $48MM worth of guarantees is the watermark that Bryant’s camp may be more interested in.
  • Demaryius Thomas is doubtlessly keeping a close eye on the Bryant negotiations, and Troy Renck of The Denver Post wonders (Twitter link) if Bryant can get $36-40MM in guaranteed money from the Cowboys. If so, Thomas will have a clear target in his own contract talks.

Extension Candidate: Bobby Wagner

Compiling arguably the best collection of drafts throughout the decade, the Seahawks have been proactive in keeping their cornerstone players together. This offseason elevates the two-time reigning NFC champions’ investment stakes to another level, obviously, with Russell Wilson‘s contract now the centerpiece of the NFL financial dialogue.

But Seattle’s lurking decision rests on defense, with Bobby Wagner entering his walk year. The Seahawks have an incredibly rare contingent of All-Pros, Pro Bowlers and other upper-echelon contributors that weren’t selected in the first round, so they in a sense face expedited timelines on players like Wilson and Wagner, just as they did on Richard Sherman last summer without the luxury of the fifth-year option safety net. In Wilson’s case, the debate on whether he’s enabled the Seahawks or vice versa wages on, but Wagner’s been a similar boon for the Hawks’ defense and will command a contract that could eclipse all inside linebackers if he enters free agency next March.

Wagner, though, does not play a position that possesses the value that Sherman’s or, obviously, Wilson’s do, so his second contract will be a more reasonable accord than what Wilson’s reportedly seeking. But with a resume that now includes first-team All-Pro, for a 2014 regular season that featured Wagner playing only 11 games, the 2012 second-round pick will receive a massive contract from either the Seahawks or a suitor desperate to pry a top-flight Seattle defender away from the figurative factory in the pacific northwest.Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) celebrates after his interception against the New England Patriots during the third quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In April, it was reported Wagner could command a deal north of $8MM per year, but that figure rose to around $10MM by June. The latter report from CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora indicates the Seahawks and Wagner are closer to an agreement than Wilson is with the team he piloted to two Super Bowls, so the odds of Wagner surpassing Brian Cushing, Lawrence Timmons (league-high $9.6MM per-year average for inside linebackers) and NaVorro Bowman to become the highest-paid inside backer have increased. Wagner’s pact would also be a breakthrough for 4-3 middle linebackers, with the bulk of the highest-paid second-level insiders coming from 3-4 defenses. James Laurinaitis‘ $8.3MM-per-year average with the Rams represents the only 4-3 backer currently in the top 5 among contract values, with Daryl Washington‘s potentially tenuous deal rounding out the quintet.

Entering his age-25 season, Wagner will undoubtedly ascend into this tax bracket soon, be it on an extension, the accepting of another team’s offer, or playing on the franchise tag — which treats all linebacking spots the same and paid $13.2MM to second-level cogs in 2015 — in an unlikely scenario.

The Seahawks’ defense molded back into an elite force once Wagner recovered from his turf toe injury last season, and the team slapped together a menacing eight-game win streak as a result en route to another NFC title. Wagner still cleared the 100-tackle plateau, helped elevate Seattle back to a top-2 perch in terms of DVOA for the third straight season and, in a strange show of respect considering Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt had seemingly more dominant slates, earned an MVP vote from Tony Dungy. Pro Football Focus has also bestowed two top-5 positional finishes (subscription required) on Wagner, for his 2012 (second) and ’14 work (fifth), respectively.

Barring a season-altering injury, Wagner’s value appears pretty clear. But the Seahawks keeping their latest defensive stalwart comes down to a few factors.

One being that while Seattle does a masterful job at keeping its own talent after extending Thomas, Sherman and Kam Chancellor in a span of 13 months, it may not be able to house that many highly paid players. Joining that trio as top-10 players in terms of overall contract value are Marshawn Lynch, who is not a homegrown performer but definitely a home-enhanced one, Jimmy Graham, left tackle Russell Okung and outside backer K.J. Wright, who quietly signed a $6.7MM-per-year extension last December.

That quartet is attached to contracts worth the second-, first-, 10th- and second-most money in terms of average per year at their respective positions, according to OverTheCap. And defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, PFF’s second-best 4-3 end last year and a player who is already displeased with the deal he signed in March 2014, are banking $7MM per year and in the top 15 highest-paid performers at their position.

Seattle’s currently able to get away with these allotments to its top athletes since it’s paying mostly rookie-deal money to its offensive front and after freeing itself from the Percy Harvin contract, doesn’t have a wideout making more than $4.5MM per year. Of course, the main reason the Seahawks have kept this core together and were able to take on the No. 1 tight end contract is because they don’t have an upper-echelon quarterback salary anchoring their payroll.

Might Wagner be the one who suffers from Wilson being paid his due? Seattle has the 10th-most salary cap room in 2016 at $38.01MM, but that figure includes the following starters with expired deals: Wilson, Wagner, Okung, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Jermaine Kearse, Bruce Irvin, J.R. Sweezy and Alvin Bailey. Wilson and Wagner are the highest priorities among this group, but their deals could flood the aforementioned free agent fund and induce potential cuts to other starters, especially if the franchise tag is involved.

Beyond Wilson’s potentially historic demands overshadowing Wagner’s extension talks, do the Seahawks believe Wagner is irreplaceable, or can they get by without him as they believe they can after allowing Byron Maxwell to hit the market? Unlike at cornerback where the team churns out able bodies, the Seahawks don’t really have much depth behind Wagner, with only UDFA Brock Coyle present. This could strengthen Wagner’s bargaining position, but it’s not like a top-tier middle backer is a must-have for contenders, as nickel has become the new base. The Broncos managed to make the Super Bowl with former XFL cog Paris Lenon starting there, while the Patriots won the title mostly without Jerod Mayo‘s services.

Wagner is a three-down linebacker who does well in coverage, and those aren’t the easiest to replace, however. Of the 11 spots on the first-team All-Pro squads during the 2010s, former first-round talents occupied seven of them, and of PFF’s annual top-5 backers during the decade, 14 of those slots went to ex-first-rounders. So while teams shy away from spending prime draft capital on inside backers, affecting the position’s value, the franchises who have done this have largely reaped rewards in recent years.

The Seahawks have shown a sublime track record at drafting stars, and a future featuring a potential $20MM-per-year salary to Wilson and $10MM/AAV to Wagner will potentially force cuts to key players in the next couple of years and further place a premium on extracting supreme value from first-contract performers. Because if the Seahawks can somehow make that work without suffering mightily at their lesser-compensated positions, they’ve figured out a way to establish long-term success without earning a heartless reputation the Patriots have regarding paying their own talent.

Judging by the reports coming out of Seattle, there is enough to indicate the Seahawks are serious in their efforts to keep Wagner at their defensive forefront. That will affect the ancillary talents that also are up for new contracts, but with the Seahawks’ draft-and-develop track record, paying Wilson and Wagner while starting over at certain spots may be a worthy gamble.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Extra Points: Battle, Broncos, Saints, Jags

There is a strong chance that former Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle will be taken in Thursday’s supplemental draft, which allows NFL clubs to select players who for some reason (academic trouble or disciplinary issues are a couple of examples) were unable to enter the standard draft. If a team does choose Battle, it should be the Eagles, Jets or Giants, opines Mark Eckel of the Star-Ledger.

Battle – who is in need of further seasoning – could learn behind established tackles in the Eagles’ Jason Peters or the Jets’ D’Brickashaw Ferguson before eventually taking over for either, writes Eckel. Meanwhile the Giants have two recent first-round tackles in Justin Pugh and Ereck Flowers, but Eckel believes they’d be wise to follow the example of NFC East rival Dallas and try to stock up even more along the O-line. 

Landing Battle would likely cost any of the above teams a third-round pick, per Eckel, with the Falcons ahead of them in the draft order. Atlanta is the leading candidate to pick the 22-year-old, on whom it could use a fourth-rounder.

More from around the league:

  • Broncos running back C.J. Anderson burst on the scene in 2014, his second season, with nearly 1,200 total yards (849 rushing, 324 receiving) and eight touchdowns in his first true taste of NFL playing time. Anderson enters this season as Denver’s starting back, but Mike Kils of 9News writes that the 24-year-old isn’t resting on his laurels. “I’m going to keep my head down, keep grinding every day and keep pushing. What happened last year, happened last year. That’s completely over and done with,” said Anderson, who will try to fend off Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman for reps.
  • Saints rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson is glad he ended up in New Orleans to serve as Drew Brees‘ apprentice, though the third-round pick from Colorado State also would’ve been happy if the Cowboys or Broncos selected him. “There were three teams that I said I’d love to end up at, and that was the Saints, Cowboys and Broncos,” Grayson told NFL.com, per Christopher Dabe of NOLA.com. “They’ve all got older QBs. Two of them are first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.”
  • Speaking of Brees, the 14-year veteran’s arm hasn’t shown any real signs of decline, ESPN’s Mike Triplett writes. According to Triplett, Brees attempted 35 throws of 40-plus yards from 2009-11 and completed only seven for 356 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Compare that to 2012-14, when Brees went a far better 15-of-35 for 773 yards, seven scores and no picks, and it’s obvious the 36-year-old can still get the ball downfield. That said, in 2014 Brees did put up his lowest yardage and TD totals since 2007 on throws that traveled 20-plus yards, Triplett notes.
  • Although new Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson is tasked with helping turn around a unit that finished last in points and second last in yardage a year ago, he’s encouraged with the results so far.  “Actually, it’s gone a little bit better than I hoped,” Olson said after minicamp, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “It’s a really intelligent football team from position to position and that’s made the transition much smoother for them and me.” For what it’s worth, the Olson-led Raiders were the only team to amass fewer yards than the Jaguars last season, and they managed a mere 15.8 points per game compared to the Jags’ 15.6.

Offseason In Review: Buffalo Bills

Fresh off their first winning campaign since 2004, the Bills’ offseason began with unexpected departures at head coach and quarterback. New owners Terry and Kim Pegula reacted to those exits by flexing their financial muscle in upgrading both the coaching staff and the roster. Thanks to the myriad changes the Bills have undergone from the top down, enthusiasm is in no short supply for their success-starved fans – who purchased a franchise-record 57,500 season tickets in hopes of witnessing the team end its 15-year playoff drought (an NFL worst) in 2015.

Notable signings:

The Bills set out to improve their offense via free agency after finishing 26th in the league in yardage in 2014. Their first move was to to sign guard Richie Incognito in an attempt to repair a horrible offensive line. Incognito sat out the lion’s share of 2013 and all of ’14 because of unbecoming off-field conduct with the Dolphins. To his credit, the 31-year-old was a solid lineman prior to his short-term ouster from the sport, and he shouldn’t have much trouble serving as an upgrade over the dreadful guard play Buffalo received last season.

Accompanying Incognito are a couple more familiar faces from the AFC East: ex-Dolphins tight end Charles Clay (Incognito’s former and current teammate) and erstwhile Jets receiver Percy Harvin. The latter’s production hasn’t been much to write home about since his reign as a feared playmaker with the Vikings from 2009-12 ended. Still, the more options the better, and Harvin gives the Bills a field-stretching complement to go with young star Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods – not to mention a potentially dangerous gadget for new offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

As for Clay, the Bills succeeded in stealing him from Miami, which placed the transition tag on the 26-year-old before concluding that a five-year, $38MM offer sheet was too rich for its blood. Clay broke out in 2013 with career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (six). He followed that with 58 catches last season and ranked as the 14th-best tight end in the league out of 67 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Elsewhere on offense, the Bills are hoping two less-heralded additions (fullback Jerome Felton and quarterback Tyrod Taylor) pay major dividends. The Bills’ questions along the offensive line don’t bode well for their desire to build a dominant running attack, but having another capable blocker in Felton – who contributed somewhat to Adrian Peterson‘s past success – should help. And while the chances of Taylor turning into a viable starting QB after signing for a relative pittance are quite low, his odds of winning the job aren’t bad. In terms of playing style, the 25-year-old is the closest thing the Bills have to the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick – whom Roman coached in San Francisco. Moreover, the former Raven and Joe Flacco backup has a fan in new Bills coach Rex Ryan.

“I actually tried to trade for [Taylor] when I was with the Jets,” Ryan told Toronto’s SportsNet 590, per ESPN’s Mike Rodak. “I’m not gonna say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him, where he’s able to run zone reads and pull the ball down and be effective.”

The Bills don’t know what they’ll get from Taylor, but they’re confident Jerry Hughes will continue as a menacing pass rusher. Otherwise they wouldn’t have re-signed him for $45MM. Hughes, who struggled with the Colts from 2010-12, has flourished in Buffalo since joining the team in a 2013 trade. Hughes tallied 19.5 sacks the last two years while playing both defensive end and linebacker. He’ll work as a linebacker this season and should once again be a double-digit-sack threat in Ryan’s quarterback-attacking scheme.

Notable losses:

Even though he’s not the most talented player they lost during the offseason, the Bills could end up hit hardest by the departure of Kyle Orton, who retired after 10 seasons. The 32-year-old wasn’t exactly stellar last season, his only one with the Bills, but he did eclipse the 3,000-yard mark and toss 18 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. It’s not unreasonable to think those numbers will be superior to the ones the Bills’ QBs put up this year. It’s also not unreasonable to think the team would be in better hands right now with Orton entrenched as the starter entering training camp, as opposed to the oncoming three-man battle among Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Taylor. That’s less a statement of praise for Orton than an indictment of Cassel, Manuel and Taylor.

The Bills’ biggest loss as far as name recognition goes is running back C.J. Spiller, whom they let walk in free agency after he totaled just 425 yards (300 rushing, 125 receiving) and one touchdown in nine games last season. Spiller, Buffalo’s top pick in 2010, had moments of brilliance as a Bill but fell short of expectations overall. With LeSean McCoy in the fold, the Bills are unlikely to miss Spiller going forward.

Defensively, the Bills are hoping the losses of linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Da’Norris Searcy aren’t felt. Spikes played in just 46 percent of snaps last season because of his unreliability in pass coverage, but he’s a fantastic run defender who helped the Bills go from 28th against opposing ground games in 2013 to 11th in his lone season with them. Searcy turned a breakout 2014 (65 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles) into a $24MM deal with the Titans. Without Searcy, the Bills are betting they’ll be fine at safety with a duo of Aaron Williams and Corey Graham.

Extensions and restructures:

The Bills’ lone offseason extension went to longtime defensive stalwart Kyle Williams. The four-time Pro Bowler has been a member of the Bills since they drafted him in 2006 and, if he sees his extension through, will be with them for at least three more seasons. Williams is entering his age-33 season but hasn’t shown signs of decline, as Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him seventh out of 81 qualifying D-tackles in 2014. He’ll continue to be an integral part of a line that features fellow linchpins Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams.

Trades:

The Bills addressed their anemic ground game in a big way when they acquired McCoy, a three-time Pro Bowler who surpassed the 1,300-yard plateau three times in six years as an Eagle and proved to be one of the league’s premier workhorses during that time span. However, adding McCoy cost the Bills an outstanding linebacker in Kiko Alonso, who burst on the scene as a rookie in 2013 before missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Obviously, given that Buffalo had an excellent defense last year without Alonso and has terrific, similarly aged LBs in Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown, the team felt losing Alonso permanently was worth what should be a marked upgrade to its offense. One has to wonder, though, if McCoy will be as effective as he was in Philadelphia. The soon-to-be 27-year-old has plenty of tread on his tires, having accrued 300-plus carries in back-to-back seasons and nearly 1,500 during his career, and won’t have the benefit of running behind a top-level offensive line (the Eagles had the best run-blocking O-line in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus – which ranked the Bills last in the same category).

Distributing the ball to McCoy could be Cassel, an 11th-year man whose play has been woeful since 2010. As a member of the Chiefs that year, Cassel threw 27 touchdowns against a meager seven interceptions, helped lead Kansas City to the playoffs, and made the Pro Bowl. Aside from that season and 2008, when he played well for the Patriots in place of an injured Tom Brady, Cassel has fared poorly as a starter. He was the Vikings’ No. 1 quarterback going into 2014 and had a lousy three-game stretch before suffering a season-ending foot injury. But Buffalo’s hope – if Cassel wins the job – is that surrounding the 33-year-old with a talented cast of playmakers and a fearsome defense will help mask his deficiencies. That better prove true for Cassel’s sake, as Rodak reported last month that he’s not a lock to make the Bills’ roster. An uninspiring summer showing could send him looking for work elsewhere.

Draft picks:

  • 2-50: Ronald Darby, CB (Florida State): Signed
  • 3-81: John Miller, G (Louisville): Signed
  • 5-155: Karlos Williams, RB (Florida State): Signed
  • 6-188: Tony Steward, OLB (Clemson): Signed
  • 6-194: Nick O’Leary, TE (Florida State): Signed
  • 7-234: Dezmin Lewis, WR (Central Arkansas): Signed

Although the Bills had the third-ranked pass defense and sixth-most interceptions in the league last year, that didn’t stop them from using their top pick on Ronald Darby. The ex-Florida State Seminole will join Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin at the cornerback position and allow the Bills to move Graham to safety. Darby should reach his potential under Ryan, who is an advocate of fast, physical corners capable of handling one-on-one situations. Regarding Darby, Bills general manager Doug Whaley said (per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle), “He’s physical, not only with the ball carriers, but as a press guy and Rex is a big press guy.” 

Unlike Darby, third-rounder John Miller isn’t entering into an overly promising group of players at his position. Outside of signing Incognito, the Bills didn’t do anything prior to the draft to upgrade at guard. That’s good news for Miller, the leading candidate to start at whichever guard spot Incognito doesn’t occupy. Miller started 47 games at left guard during his career at Louisville and quickly won the favor of his new coach during offseason workouts. “He might be the opening guy there. He’s been very impressive,” Ryan said, according to WGR 550 (audio link).

Other:

Buffalo’s offseason got off to a peculiar start when Doug Marrone opted out of his contract after just two years as its head coach. Marrone went 15-17 during his tenure, including a 9-7 mark in 2014, and hoped to parlay that into another head coaching job elsewhere. His gambit backfired, though, as he ultimately had to settle for an assistant’s role in Jacksonville. The Bills interviewed at least a dozen candidates to succeed Marrone before giving $27.5MM to Ryan, who coached the division-rival Jets from 2009-14 and helped lead two smash-mouth squads to AFC championship games. Ryan is no stranger to less-than-ideal QB situations and he’s inheriting another in Buffalo, where he hopes to mimic his early success with the Jets and win with a team built on a prolific running game and a suffocating defense.

Ryan will attempt to execute his plan with an accomplished offensive coordinator in Roman. The former Niners O-coordinator should acquit himself better than Marrone’s protege, the in-over-his-head Nathaniel Hackett. On the other hand, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman has a harder act to follow in replacing Jim Schwartz. The Bills finished last season fourth in both yards and points allowed and third in takeaways. They’ll try to match or better that while transitioning from Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme to the 3-4 of Ryan and Thurman. Bear in mind that the Bills operated under a scheme similar to Ryan’s when one of his disciples, Mike Pettine, ran their defense in 2013. That year, they were 10th in yardage surrendered and third in takeaways. So, given that and the talent the defense possesses, Schwartz’s exit shouldn’t prove deleterious.

One of the defenders at the disposal of Ryan and Thurman will be Gilmore. The Bills exercised his fifth-year option, ensuring he’ll be a pillar of their defensive backfield for at least two more seasons. The 2012 first-round pick intercepted a career-best three passes last season and finished an impressive 26th out of 108 qualifying corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system (subscription required). That was a vast improvement from the previous two years, when he ranked in the 70s.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Mario Williams, DE/OLB: $19,400,000
  2. Marcell Dareus, DT: $8,060,000
  3. Kyle Williams, DL: $6,950,000
  4. Eric Wood, C: $6,650,000
  5. Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB: $6,175,000
  6. LeSean McCoy, RB: $5,500,000
  7. Charles Clay, TE: $5,000,000
  8. Leodis McKelvin, CB: $4,900,000
  9. Matt Cassel, QB: $4,750,000
  10. Sammy Watkins, WR: $4,530,819

On paper, this year’s Bills team is the most talent-rich squad the franchise has had in a long time. The problem is that the game’s foremost position, quarterback, looks primed to weigh them down yet again. They’ve missed the playoffs for the entire 21st century because they’ve gotten nothing from a slew of failed passers. Whether it’s Cassel, Manuel or Taylor, someone has to grab the reins and perform respectably in a game manager role. That would allow the Bills to finally break their playoff drought on the strength of a better coaching staff, a big-name running back and a loaded defense.

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

Andrew Quarless Arrested

4:42pm: An affidavit stated just before Quarless fired the shots, he and another man left their vehicle and approached the women, and witnesses heard the women yell for Quarless and his friend to leave them alone, per the Associated Press.

A tweet from Pro Football Talk questions if the Packers will cut the sixth-year tight end soon before they have to pay him not to show up by putting him on the Commissioner-Exempt list.

11:33am: Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was arrested earlier this morning in Miami for discharging a firearm in public, according to Tim Elfrink of Miami New Times.

According to the report, the 26-year-old fired a pair of rounds following an argument with two women at a South Beach parking garage. When police pursued the vehicle he was riding in, Quarless tried to hide outside a restaurant and conceal his weapon in a potted plant.

As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com notes, the league’s new Personal Conduct Policy could result in paid leave (“pending the resolution of these charges and the imposition of league discipline”) and a subsequent unpaid suspension for Quarless.

The Penn State alum was drafted by the Packers in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. In four seasons (he missed the 2012 season with a knee injury), Quarless has compiled 85 receptions for 909 yards few six touchdowns. In 2014, he set career highs in yards (323), touchdowns (three), and first downs (20).

The Packers haven’t had the easiest offseason, with Datone Jones getting a one-game suspension and Letroy Guion potentially facing discipline for an arrest earlier this year.

AFC Notes: Mariota, Bowe, Manuel, Raiders

Offset language continues to represent why Marcus Mariota hasn’t come to terms with the Titans on his rookie contract, the last such holdout. Whether or not Mariota would draw two salaries if cut by the Titans — a highly unlikely event considering Jake Locker finished his four-year deal in Tennessee — and signed by another team is slowing down the process, writes John Glennon of the Tennesseean.

No. 1 pick Jameis Winston‘s contract does contain offset language, which determines whether or not a second team’s payment would help the Titans offset the amount owed to 2015’s No. 2 selection in this scenario, but No. 3 choice Dante Fowler Jr.‘s does not, Glennon reports.

In a decade that’s featured far fewer first-round contract issues than the last due to the clearer structure of the new CBA on rookie salaries, the Titans have been the last team to sign their first-rounder in each of the past three seasons, with Chance Warmack and Taylor Lewan coming to terms late in the summer on their respective deals in 2013 and 2014. First-rounder Kendall Wright missed three days of training camp in 2012 after becoming the second-to-last player to sign that year.

Glennon views Mariota’s camp as holding the leverage in these talks, with the Titans coming off a 2-14 season and ready to have the face of their franchise and advertising campaign suit up.

Here are some more items being mentioned across the AFC as Independence Day winds into the afternoon. We’ll continue with a couple of quarterback assessments.

  • This could be the typical preseason hype before any negatives come to light, a time-honored tradition across sports, but Dwayne Bowe had an interesting observation as he prepares for his first training camp with the Browns. “With Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, we’re going to have a lot of time to hit that deep ball even in the red zone,” Bowe told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a piece centered on the ex-Chiefs wideout’s 17-game span without a touchdown. “I never had a quarterback like Josh (McCown) that was that tall and could see the mismatch and really go to it. He’s got my confidence level high right now.” It’s true Bowe hasn’t exactly had the best passers throwing to him in Brodie Croyle, Matt Cassel and Alex Smith, but the latter duo are 6-foot-5 and 6-4, respectively, while McCown also stands 6-4. Perhaps it’s a sign McCown has shown a penchant to take more risks than the two checkdown-based artists displayed during Bowe’s time in Kansas City.
  • In analyzing Winston, former Buccaneers Pro Bowler and current FOX analyst Ronde Barber made his presumptive stance on the Bills‘ starting quarterback battle known. “The guy that preceded (Winston) at Florida State, EJ Manuel, I did a couple of games of Buffalo over these two years that I’ve been working at FOX, and he is the other way. He’s timid. He holds the ball. He’s scared to deliver it when he needs to,” Barber told Kevin Patra of NFL.com. “This guy is the complete opposite, maybe to a detriment at times; he throws a lot of interceptions. But he has that “it,” that bravado, that gunslinger mentality, if I could use that (tired) cliché, to be a great quarterback in this league.” 
  • Elvis Dumervil collected an extra $1MM in incentive cash with his 12th sack last season, and the 10th-year pass-rusher can earn an additional $3MM by hitting that plateau again this season for the Ravens, reports Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. The two-time first-team All-Pro matched his career high with 17 sacks last season, and in doing so began a push for his contract signed before the 2013 season to inflate to its full value of $33MM over five years.
  • Behind Latavius Murray, who will receive the first chance to start and build on the momentum he showed at the end of his second season, in the Raiders backfield are Trent Richardson and Roy Helu. The latter has a clearer path to steady playing time, with a proven track record as a passing-down back, writes Steve Corkran of Raiderbeat.com. Marcel Reece, however, may not despite the seventh-year fullback coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns. As is the case in many NFL attacks today, the fullback does not make frequent cameos in Bill Musgrave‘s system.

AFC Mailbags: Browns, Bills, Titans, Raiders, Colts

Earlier today, our Ben Levine pored over some of the NFC mailbags; here are some notes from the AFC side.

  • The Browns‘ front office no longer expects Josh Gordon to operate at the superstar level he showed in 2013, writes Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The longtime Browns scribe notes the team will consider trading the fourth-year wideout who’s perpetually afoul with the league if he proves he can come back to the team sober.
  • Cabot envisions Josh McCown winning seven or eight games if things go well this season and only sees Johnny Manziel re-emerging on the field if the Browns are slumping down the stretch. She does not, however, view Connor Shaw as a legitimate threat to the former Heisman Trophy winner’s backup job, noting third-stringers rarely receive sufficient practice reps and that Manziel will at least work plenty with the scout team as the No. 2 quarterback.
  • The Bills will probably approach Mario Williams about restructuring his $19.4MM cap number, which jumps to $19.9MM in 2016, in order to make room to re-sign Marcell Dareus, writes Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. Additionally, the Bills writer suggests extending Matt Cassel ($4.75MM cap number in 2015) if he wins the starting job, and possibly cutting guard Kraig Urbik ($2.2MM), among others, to clear a payment path for Dareus to join Williams as one of the league’s highest-paid defenders.
  • Zach Brown appears to be fully recovered from the torn pectoral injury that ended his 2014 campaign after just four snaps, offers Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. Coverage hasn’t been an issue for the fourth-year linebacker that came to the Titans as a second-round pick, but run-stoppage consistency has, per Kuharsky.
  • ESPN.com Raiders reporter Bill Williamson doesn’t think the Raiders will add another guard to compete on the right side before training camp, with the team being satisfied with J’Marcus Webb, Khalif Barnes and rookie Jon Feliciano. With Gabe Jackson coming off a solid rookie slate, the right side is indeed in need of a production uptick. Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which took scant pleasure in watching the Raiders last year, tagged Barnes as the Raiders’ worst starting lineman in 2014. Waived by the Vikings after being beaten on a blocked field goal in December, Webb’s started just one game since 2012 but is being offered the chance to compete at guard rather than his customary tackle spot.
  • Michael Crabtree‘s in a year-long preseason of sorts, with each game serving as part of the inconsistent wideout’s audition to either return to the Raiders or earn the long-term contract he coveted this offseason, writes Williamson.
  • Fourth-round safety Clayton Geathers has the talent to usurp Dwight Lowery in the Colts‘ starting secondary, writes ESPN.com’s Mike Wells. Wells viewed the Central Florida rookie as the No. 2 first-year attraction behind Phillip Dorsett and notes that Chuck Pagano mentioned the possibility of Geathers working as a dime linebacker.

Josh Robinson Tears Pectoral Muscle

A year after pectoral injuries besieged the Vikings’ offensive line, Josh Robinson looks set to miss time due to a similar ailment, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.

The fourth-year corner who’s started 21 games has a partially torn pectoral muscle, suffering the malady just before minicamp, per Goessling. Robinson served as the nickel corner behind Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn in Minnesota last year.

The Vikings’ depth chart this season appears more equipped to handle an injury, with Terence Newman arriving as a free agent and Trae Waynes coming in as the No. 11 overall draft pick.

Robinson’s potential recovery time frame is unclear, especially with it being just a partial tear, but Darren Wolfson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press said the injury is likely not season-ending (Twitter link). Regardless, Waynes figures to receive a chance to contribute sooner than expected after working with the second team throughout minicamp.

A 2012 third-round pick slated to earn $1.52MM this season, Robinson received the second-highest grade among Vikings corners, behind Rhodes, from Pro Football Focus last season.

Minnesota placed right tackle Phil Loadholt and guard Brandon Fusco on injured reserve last season due to torn pectoral muscles.

Panthers DC on Thompson, Tillman, HC Gigs

Since defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was hired by the Panthers following the 2011 season, the team’s defense has steadily improved. Prior to his signing, the Panthers placed 27th in points allowed. Since then, the team has moved up the rankings, culminating in allowing the second-fewest points in 2013.

The future is clearly bright for the Carolina defense, and the 41-year-old defensive coordinator added some useful pieces to his unit during the offseason. McDermott sat down with Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer to discuss some of those moves. We’ve highlighted the notable soundbites below…

On the Panthers selection of linebacker Shaq Thompson (25th overall), and how he fits into the team’s system:

You always go through that. I know Dave (Gettleman) and Ron (Rivera) talk a lot about fit. That’s part of the fit for a player. Where do you play him?

I’ve been in the league long enough to know sometimes a player falls to you and you say, pick him. Yeah, well, have you gone through the makeup? Have you gone through the whole (process) and answered all those tough questions? Well, you’ve got him. Now what are you going to do with him?

That’s always an important part of all those conversations leading up to the draft.

On the signing of veteran cornerback Charles Tillman:

Part of being a good coach is putting people in a position to be successful. With Charles, we’ve got a guy that’s played a lot of football. He’s been successful. He’s got some size to him that we feel like can help us.

You look at the division, right down the road in Atlanta, and Tampa, more and more you find these receivers have some vertical size to them. So that certainly helps us in that way. And then Bené [Benwikere], with what he’s shown in terms of tracking the ball, certainly helped as a rookie the last how many games he was out there for. We feel like we’ve got some options at this point. …

Really defense is a game of matchups. If we get a guy in the slot that’s quick, Bené could match up inside for us. And let’s not forget about Colin Jones and what he brings to the table.

On whether he was surprised at the lack of inquiries from other teams regarding his interest in head coaching:

Nah. That stuff, it goes in waves. I’m so dialed in on this team and this season.

Believe it or not, after about four or five days of being off, I’m already itching to get going here. I’m excited for the season. I’m excited for the group of guys we have on defense. It’s a terrific group of guys on the whole team.

They’re high-character, young men that just make it a joy to be around them everyday. I’ll say the same thing with the coaching staff, it’s a great group of men in our organization and I’m extremely happy to be a part of it.

I can’t wait to get training camp started.

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