Month: April 2024

NFC East Notes: Murray, Manning, Eagles

The Cowboys entered the offseason knowing that two of their best players, wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray, were unsigned and scheduled to become free agents March 10. Dallas will solve one of those problems, at least temporarily, when it officially places the franchise tag on Bryant on Monday. Doing so will enable the Cowboys to keep Bryant for the 2015 season at approximately $12.8MM. That figure will take a significant portion from the team’s cap space, which will affect Murray, writes the Dallas Morning News’ David Moore. The 27-year-old Murray led all NFL rushers in yards (1,845) and tied for first in touchdowns (13) last season, and he’ll soon test the open market as one of the top skill players available.

“I think DeMarco wants to be in Dallas. We want him here,” said Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, according to Moore.

Regardless of what Dallas wants, it’s tough to envision the club matching any potential mega-offers Murray might receive. Nevertheless, if an enticing offer for Murray to sign elsewhere comes, Jones hopes the four-year veteran gives the Cowboys an opportunity to keep him.

“There’s an expectation that he will get back to us before he signs with another club,” Jones said. “But that would be unfair to him and for other clubs to say he’s going to bring something back.”

While Murray’s time in the NFC East could be on the verge of ending, here’s more from his current division:

  • Dan Graziano of answered fans’ questions in a Twitter mailbag. One of the subjects Graziano touched on was the future of Eli Manning, who is due to count a team-high $19.75MM against the cap in 2015 – the last year of his contract. Per Graziano, if the Giants sign Manning to an extension this offseason, it could save them as much as $11MM on the cap. However, given their sufficient spending space (roughly $25MM) and “no big-money necessities outside of Jason Pierre-Paul,” it might not be necessary. The Giants are “comfortable” with Manning taking up a large chunk of their cap, according to Graziano, and could wait to sign or tag the two-time Super Bowl winner until next year.
  • In a series of pieces highlighting potential free agent targets for the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Geoff Mosher of examined whether the team should have interest in two safeties – Da’Norris Searcy (Bills) and Tyvon Branch (whom the Raiders recently cut) – and Browns linebacker Jabaal Sheard. Frank and Mosher had differing opinions on Searcy, while they both endorsed signing Branch to a short-term deal and expressed no interest in Sheard.
  • Tarik El-Bashir of took a look at possible free agent outside linebacker options for Washington. El-Bashir doesn’t think new general manager Scot McCloughan will pay big money for a free agent OLB, but he could see the team re-signing Brian Orakpo to a “prove-it deal.”

Offseason Outlook: San Francisco 49ers

Pending free agents:

Top 10 2015 cap hits:

  1. Colin Kaepernick, QB: $15,265,753
  2. Aldon Smith, OLB: $9,754,000
  3. Patrick Willis, ILB: $8,268,000
  4. NaVorro Bowman, ILB: $7,654,000
  5. Ahmad Brooks, OLB: $7,055,000
  6. Vernon Davis, TE: $6,967,920
  7. Anquan Boldin, WR: $6,909,000
  8. Justin Smith, DE: $6,436,668
  9. Joe Staley, T: $6,400,000
  10. Stevie Johnson, WR: $6,025,000

Notable coaching changes:


  • No. 15 overall pick
  • Acquired fourth-round pick from Broncos in deal for Cody Latimer.
  • Acquired seventh-round pick from Colts in deal for Cam Johnson.
  • Owe fourth-round pick to Bills in deal for Stevie Johnson.
  • Owe seventh-round pick to Dolphins for Jonathan Martin.



The 2014 season was a massive letdown for the 49ers, whose recent stretch near the top of the NFL standings surprisingly came to a halt. San Francisco was expected to contend last year after a three-year stretch from 2011-13 that included a combined 36-11-1 regular season record, three straight NFC championship games, and a Super Bowl appearance. Instead, thanks primarily to an ineffectual offense, the 49ers finished an uninspiring 8-8 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2010. That spurred the conclusion of a coaching era and, as the offseason progresses, will surely prompt noteworthy roster modifications.

Coaching Changes:

The 49ers were mired in an eight-year playoff drought when they named Jim Harbaugh their head coach in 2011. The team went an embarrassing 46-82 USATSI_8331329_168380616_lowresand mustered just one .500 season during that time frame. Harbaugh’s arrival brought dramatic improvement in the on-field product, as he helped guide the Niners to a tremendous 44-19-1 regular-season mark and three playoff berths. However, his relationship with CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke deteriorated over time and became particularly discordant in 2014. That culminated in December with the end of the coach’s four-year stint in the Bay Area.

After interviewing several outside candidates, the Niners hired from within and chose longtime assistant Jim Tomsula to succeed Harbaugh. The 46-year-old Tomsula had run the 49ers’ defensive line since 2007 and was their interim head coach for one game back in 2010 (a 38-7 win over the Cardinals).

Tomsula stayed in the organization to replace Harbaugh’s departed coordinators, Greg Roman (offense) and Vic Fangio (defense), with Geep Chryst and Eric Mangini.

Chryst, San Francisco’s quarterbacks coach the past four years, has previous experience as a coordinator – he oversaw the Chargers’ offense from 1999-2000. Although Mangini was an offensive consultant with the 49ers in 2013 and their tight ends coach last season, most of his coaching career has been spent on defensive staffs.

Key Free Agents:

The start of the free agent period on March 10 could bring about the exits of three players who have long been 49ers offensive pillars — running back Frank Gore, left guard Mike Iupati and wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Gore, the longest-tenured member of the trio, has spent all 10 of his pro seasons in San Francisco. Even at 31, he finished last year ranked ninth in the league in rushing (1,106 yards) on a respectable per-carry average of 4.3. Baalke has indicated that the 49ers want Gore back for his age-32 season. “I talked to him the other day on the phone and we’re going to do what we can to get him back as a 49er,” Baalke said earlier this month, according to the 49ers’ official website. Jason La Canfora of has reported that Gore, who made $6.45MM last season, is seeking $4MM per annum and that people around the league believe San Francisco is the likeliest team to meet his asking price.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, chances are they’ll have a harder time retaining Iupati. The three-time Pro Bowler is primed to become one of the NFL’s top-paid guards this offseason, and, with little cap space to work with, the 49ers seemingly aren’t in the right position to outbid the market for the 27-year-old’s services.

Then there’s Crabtree, the only one of the group who is coming off a subpar season (698 yards, 10.3 YPC). Tomsula recently said he would “absolutely” like Crabtree back, but both the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows and Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole (video link) have reported the six-year veteran will probably end up elsewhere.

As is the case on offense, the 49ers’ defense also has important pieces scheduled to hit free agency. Those defenders happen to be both of the Niners’ starting cornerbacks from last season, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. The pair excelled in 2014, combining for nine interceptions and ranking well above average in Pro Football Focus’ grading system (subscription required) — Culliver was 14th and Cox 35th out of 108 qualifying corners. San Francisco is going to have difficulty keeping both, per Matt Maiocco of, and the one who’s expected to cost less (Cox) has a better chance of returning.

Positions Of Need:

The 49ers’ offense was the main culprit behind their woes last season, as mentioned earlier. The unit ran the ball effectively, but averaged a meager 19.1 points per game (25th in the league) and its Colin Kaepernick-led passing attack finished 30th in yardage and 22nd in Football Outsiders’ rankings. To Kaepernick’s credit, he greatly aided San Francisco’s ground game with 639 yards, second only to the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson among quarterbacks. The four-year veteran was merely middle of the pack in most relevant passing statistics, though.

In order for Kaepernick to realize his vast potential, the 49ers are going to have to surround him with more weapons. It starts at receiver, where Baalke has already acknowledged that the 49ers are seeking downfield threats. Further, the 49ers’ receivers coaches were among the few members of their staff who attended the recent scouting combine.

Given their dearth of cap space, the 49ers could have trouble filling their receiver void via free agency. That means they probably won’t be able to take advantage of a deep class of established wideouts, which would make drafting one with their first-rounder – the 15th overall selection – a strong possibility. The 49ers need to find a complement to (and potential long-term replacement for) 34-year-old Anquan Boldin, and they might land one in DeVante Parker (Louisiville) or Kevin White (West Virginia) with their top pick.

In the event the 49ers don’t take a receiver at 15, speedsters like Phillip Dorsett (Miami), Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Sammie Coates (Auburn) are potential targets who could be available after the first round. There’s also Dorial Green-Beckham, whom Bucky Brooks of sees as a possible fit for San Francisco. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Green-Beckham has elite size to accompany 4.49 speed. Despite that enticing combination, he might drop in the draft because of past off-field transgressions – ones that led to his dismissal from Missouri’s football team in 2014.

Other than receiver, San Francisco doesn’t have any glaring offensive holes. If Gore leaves, the 49ers have an in-house option in Carlos Hyde, a second-round pick last April who averaged 4.0 yards per carry as a rookie and scored four touchdowns. Replacing Iupati would be a tougher task, but another player from last year’s draft class (third-rounder Brandon Thomas) would have the inside track to take the reins at left guard. The 24-year-old Thomas was thought to be better than a third-round prospect before tearing his ACL a few weeks prior to the draft.

Defensively, the Niners were terrific last season, ranking fifth in both yardage and DVOA and 10th in points allowed. Ideally, they’ll be even better in 2015 with full seasons from brand-name linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Those three combined to miss 35 games last season (Bowman lost all 16 because of a torn ACL and MCL), but they’ve also combined to make 10 Pro Bowls in the past. In 2013, when each of them played the majority of the season, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Bowman and Willis first and third, respectively, among 3-4 ILBs, while the site graded Smith as the fifth-best 3-4 OLB. Having those three and a pair of outstanding second-year men in Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch gives the 49ers an embarrassment of riches at linebacker.

The prospect of a deep and dominant linebacking corps is certainly a plus, but the 49ers do have defensive needs. Those needs begin along the line, where one end (Ray McDonald) has already been released and another (Justin Smith) is considering retirement. Although McDonald ranged from good to great during his eight-year 49ers career, the team cut him in December because of poor off-field conduct. Smith, 36 in September, has missed just two games since joining the Niners in 2008. His advanced age aside, Smith was still a crucial part of San Francisco’s defense last season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) agreed, ranking him as the league’s 11th-best 3-4 end in 2014.

The 49ers have already tried to combat some of their D-line issues by bringing back one of their former players, Ricky Jean-Francois. The Colts released the six-year veteran and four-year Niner earlier this month, but he chose to sign with Washington. Regardless, it’s clear that the 49ers are aware of their line problems. They’ll likely continue trying to address them as the offseason moves forward.

San Francisco’s other defensive questions lie at cornerback, given the nebulous statuses of Culliver and Cox. On the bright side, the secondary will get Tramaine Brock back at full strength next season. Brock broke out in 2013 with five interceptions as a nickel back, which led to the 49ers giving him a four-year, $16 million extension, and then missed 13 of 16 games last season with toe and hamstring injuries. Brock’s return will be a boon to a pass defense that managed to finish 10th without him. Brock’s comeback won’t mean as much if both Culliver and Cox walk, obviously, but even if the Niners can only keep one of the two, they should still be in decent shape at corner.

Possible Cap Casualties/Contract Restructurings:

Odds are the 49ers will release Ahmad Brooks this offseason, considering his recent below-average play and the team’s wealth at the linebacker position. If the 49ers drop Brooks on June 1, they’ll save $4.71MM on next season’s cap.

Receiver Stevie Johnson‘s roster spot is also in jeopardy, even though San Francisco is weak at wideout. Moving on from Johnson, who caught just 35 passes last season, would avail north of $6MM in cap room for the 49ers.

Regardless of whom they part ways with, the 49ers should look to restructure some of their veterans’ deals this offseason. Aldon Smith, Willis and Bowman are scheduled to have the second-, third- and fourth-highest cap hits on the team next season. Combined, they’ll take up roughly $25MM. Both Willis and Bowman have restructured their contracts in the past to create spending space for the club, so there’s precedent with both of them.

Extension Candidates:

The 49ers will have decisions to make regarding the futures of Aldon Smith, Vernon Davis and Alex Boone in the coming year. All three are scheduled for free agency in 2016.

Smith has demonstrated immense ability during his four-year career, totaling 44 sacks in 50 games. Unfortunately, the four-year veteran’s on-field accomplishments have come with serious off-field negatives. The latest, an April 2014 incident between Smith and TSA agent at the Los Angeles Airport, led to a nine-game suspension for the 25-year-old last season. Despite Smith’s problems, Baalke recently referred to him as “a great young man.” Smith will count $9.75MM against San Francisco’s cap this year. Whether Smith is in Baalke’s long-term plans is likely to depend on how he fares both on and off the field in 2015. If all goes well, Smith will have a strong chance to become one of the highest-paid 3-4 OLBs in the league. At the moment, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews has the richest contract at the position in both total and annual value ($66MM and $13.2MM, respectively). Matthews signed that deal in 2013 as a four-year vet with 42.5 sacks in 58 games.

As for Davis and Boone, both expressed dissatisfaction in regards to their contracts during holdouts last year. Davis skipped the team’s voluntary and mandatory minicamps, while Boone sat out the entire summer and reported to the 49ers a week before the regular season started.

The 31-year-old Davis is just two years removed from a 13-touchdown showing, but 2014 was his worst season since 2008. He amassed a paltry 26 catches with all-time lows in yardage and YPC, while his two TDs tied a career worst. Even if he bounces back in 2015, the odds of San Francisco giving Davis a sizable contract extension don’t seem high. Although he has been among the top tight ends in the league for the better part of his nine-year career, it’s fair to wonder if Davis’ best days are behind him.

Unlike Davis, it’s clear Boone has plenty left in the tank. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated the 27-year-old as the 17th-best guard in the league in 2014 – just three spots behind Iupati – out of 78 qualifiers. Boone will make $3.74MM in 2015, the final year of his contract. That’s just below the value of the 10th-highest-paid right guard in the league (Washington’s Chris Chester at $4MM). In all likelihood, an extension for Boone would mean signing him to a deal that would at least get him into the top 10 in total value, yearly value and guaranteed money. With Iupati’s time as a Niner on the brink of ending, San Francisco would be wise to get Boone locked up at some point in the next year. For a team that has prioritized running the ball, losing its two outstanding guards in a 12-month span would be quite a setback.

Overall Outlook:

Despite the failures of last season and the resulting coaching change, the 49ers are still more talented than the majority of teams around the league. Because of that, they’ll have a shot to return to the playoffs in 2015 – particularly if Kaepernick rebounds and Tomsula doesn’t end up drowning in his new role. Nevertheless, the ultra-competitive NFC West certainly won’t make life easy for Kaepernick, Tomsula or the rest of the 49ers.

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

Maclin: “I Want To Be Here In Philadelphia”

The Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin was one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL last season, setting new career highs in receptions (85) and yardage (1,318) and tying a previous best with 10 touchdowns. Fresh off that sterling campaign and his first Pro Bowl invitation, the six-year veteran is scheduled to become a free agent March 10. However, if the 26-year-old has his way, he’ll remain an Eagle.

“I’ve always said I want to be here in Philadelphia, but also I’ve always said it’s a business,” Maclin said Saturday, according to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. “But both sides have made it known that we want each other back, so the rest is in God’s hands. If it’s supposed to happen, it’s supposed to happen. I want to be here.”

If no deal is reached this weekend, Philadelphia has until Monday to place the franchise tag on Maclin. Bowen views that as “unlikely,” though, given the fact the two sides haven’t discussed it as a possibility. What’s more, per Bowen, the tag for receivers in 2015 has an estimated worth of $12.8MM and the Eagles might not view using so much cap room on one player as a palatable option. According to, the Eagles have $27.61MM of spending space.

Regarding the possibility of being a recipient of the franchise tag, Maclin told Bowen, “It’s part of the business. I’m very attuned to what’s going on, I’m very attuned to how everything works.”

If the Eagles do tag Maclin, he’ll play his second straight season on a one-year deal. Last February, he signed a short-term pact worth $6MM with Philly after missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL.

Although the clock is ticking toward free agency, Maclin isn’t worried about the pace at which the contract negotiations between his agent, Tom Condon, and the Eagles are going.

“What’s the rush? We’re going to do this thing, we’re going to do it right,” Maclin said. “That’s how you want it to happen, that’s how you want it to be. We want both sides to be happy.”

If both sides don’t end up happy and Maclin hits the market, he’s sure to have plenty of suitors. Maclin has kept an eye on which clubs are weak at his position. “I know on paper what teams look like they need receivers,” he stated.


Unless the Eagles and Maclin find common ground soon, those other teams will come knocking when open negotiations begin March 7.

Ray Rice “Optimistic” About NFL Future

Ray Rice‘s NFL future has been uncertain since his domestic violence incident resulted in a season-long suspension last year. He was reinstated with time left in the 2014 regular season, but none of the 32 teams decided to pick him up for the home stretch or a playoff run.

Despite this, Rice is looking forward to free agency this offseason. He spoke to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun in a rare interview, to discuss the last year of his life as well as his plan going forward.

Here are some highlights from his conversation with Wilson.

On getting a second chance in the NFL:

“I’m optimistic that I’ll get a second chance. I don’t think this boils down to whether I can play football or not. Obviously I know that. I just think there’s so much more that comes with it. I know the PR side of it will be tough. I understand that. I just know that if a team that really truly genuinely looks at me and understood that this guy made a horrible mistake then they can structure a plan for me. I don’t like to be singled out, I like to be part of the team, if they can understand that I’ll do anything to help the situation and go out and give them the best football I got, I think I’ll get a second chance.”

On if he has good football ahead of him:

“I can vouch that. I need somebody else to put their stamp of approval on that.”

On taking a reduced role with a team in 2015:

“Whatever, I know that I can play all three downs. At the same time, I know the load of a running back. Whatever the situation is going to be, I just want to get on the field and contribute. If that door opens for me to be a primary ball carrier, I can do it. If that situation comes to me to do third down, run routes out of the backfield, I’ve done that.’

On what he would tell a coach or general manager interested in signing him:

“First off, I would own my mistake. I would tell them about my mistake. I would let them know all the steps I’ve done to become a better person and not figure everything out like I was perfect. I would tell them about my counseling. I would tell them about my wife. I can’t buy my wife, no matter what . I’ve known her since high school. There was no money that was going to appease her. If this was that bad of a situation, then my wife wouldn’t be with me and I know that and that would have crushed me more than losing football. I would just reassure them that the person that created this, that committed that horrible act of violence that’s not the person, that’s not who I am.”

On a bad 2013 season that diminished his playing value:

“I guess now because I’m a free agent, I don’t have any confidentiality, I can’t get in the doghouse for talking about my injuries, I had a Grade 3, rectus femoris tear (torn quadriceps) and I played the whole season with that. When I went down in Cleveland that was a pain I can’t even describe. I get told in the locker room that, ‘Let’s see, it’s a two to three week injury, but it lasted the whole year. I was basically playing with one leg and I’ve always taken the approach of never blaming anybody else. I was out there. I knew I wasn’t myself. I put myself out there. That’s what’s on the tape. If I had a chance to fend for myself, I would tell you I played through an injury I probably should have sat through. If a guy was suffering from a hamstring and that hamstring kept tearing that’s what I had in my leg, all the way from the hip flexor to the quadriceps.

“Basically, it would get better during the week. As soon as I would go out and play, I was basically re-tearing it. It would take me until Thursday to feel like myself knowing I had to get all taped up, put all kind of medicine in my body, it didn’t feel good. The reason why I played through it is I didn’t want to let my teammates down. They just felt like No. 27 is going to be out there and he’s going to make a difference. If you notice, the one game against Chicago that year, I only felt good running one way and that was to the left. Anytime I ran to the left, it was easy for me to point. If I ran to the right, I had to drag my leg. I didn’t like running to the right. So, I made that know. It was a very big deal. My strength was running to the left.”

On how he would have fared in Gary Kubiak’s zone running scheme in 2014:

“I got in the shape I got in because I just couldn’t take being told, ‘You were out of shape, overweight, lost a step.’ Where did this come from? I just made a Pro Bowl the year before. I had to keep my silence and take the criticism because I couldn’t talk about my injury. I was hurt. Last year was probably primed to be one of the best seasons of my NFL career in that offense. Justin Forsett is my guy, we have a great relationship, but I was primed to have one of the best seasons of my career.”

On the possibility of playing for the Steelers:

“It’s safe to say I would play for anybody right now. I know Baltimore wouldn’t like it, but I would play for anybody right now. You think about the applause and I played in front of 70,000 people. I just want to play for pride now. I want to win the respect of a locker room. I want to show these guys that no matter what they got somebody in their corner that’s going to be there for him.”

Browns Agree To Terms With Josh McCown

3:25 pm: The full value of the deal has been released, as it has been revealed to be a three-year deal worth $14MM and up to $20MM with incentives, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Twitter). He adds that $6.25MM is guaranteed, and $5.25MM is guaranteed in the first year.

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that the salary is the same he would have had in Tampa Bay this year had he not been released, and that McCown gained an additional $1MM in guaranteed money (via Twitter). He also writes that the incentives are based on playing time and the team making the playoffs (via Twitter).

SATURDAY, 10:05 am: The team has officially announced the move, via Andrew Gribble of McCown

“Josh is your consummate professional,” said general manager Ray Farmer said. “He’s known to be a great guy in the locker room and will be great for the quarterback room. He knows how to get an entire offense on the same page and get a team to rally behind him. He has been exposed to a lot of different types of offenses and we think still has the drive and skill set to be a successful quarterback in this league.
“We are excited to get him and believe he will help continue to move us in the right direction and help us build the type of team that will bring winning football to Cleveland.”

FRIDAY, 5:27 pm: The Browns have agreed to terms with free agent quarterback Josh McCown, according to the player’s agent, Mike McCartney (Twitter link). The deal will be for three years, Mike Garofalo of Fox Sports tweeted. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the contract will pay McCown in the ballpark of $5MM per year.

Cleveland and Buffalo were two of the known candidates vying for the services of the 35-year-old McCown. Per Ian Rapoport of, it appeared McCown was leaning toward joining the Bills, but strong recruiting by Browns brass (general manager Ray Farmer, head coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) convinced him to sign with Cleveland.

The Browns will be McCown’s ninth franchise since he entered the league in 2002 and third in the last three seasons. The 6-foot-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. He threw for 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and completed only 56.3% of his passes – good for a dismal 70.5 rating. The Bucs subsequently cut McCown earlier this month.

McCown’s arrival in Cleveland is expected to draw the short-lived Brian Hoyer era to a close. With McCown aboard, Hoyer – who’s set to hit the free agent market March 10 – is sure to look for work elsewhere. The 29-year-old spent the past two years with the Browns and put up McCown-esque numbers in 2014 (55.3 completion percentage, 12 TDs, 13 INTs and a 76.5 rating in 14 games).

As Hoyer’s replacement, McCown will likely compete with second-year man Johnny Manziel for the Browns’ starting quarterback position in 2015. Given Manziel’s struggles on and off the field, including a stint in rehab this winter, the inside track for the job would seemingly belong to McCown – at least for now. Regardless of whether he starts, McCown is willing to serve as a mentor to Manziel and the Browns’ other young passer, Connor Shaw, according to Cabot – who tweeted that the Browns still might add another veteran QB this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Willing To Move On From Greg Hardy

With the league still deciding whether or not to suspend Greg Hardy, the Panthers have reportedly already made a decision on the All-Pro defensive end’s future with the team. The Panthers will not re-sign Hardy, instead allowing him to hit the open market during free agency, reports Bill Voth of the Black and Blue Review.

Voth writes that this official stance is not breaking news, but more of a closing the book on any chance of his return. According to Voth, owner Jerry Richardson is having difficulty coming to terms with the situation Hardy was in and does not want to deal with the potential suspension that will come out of it.

The Panthers are willing to let Hardy walk and accept the compensatory pick they receive for seeing him go in free agency.

Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk writes that if this was strictly about football that Hardy would be one of the marquee free agents available this March. Many teams would be interested in him, including the Falcons, Jaguars, Raiders, Bengals and Buccaneers. However, with no decision yet on his suspension, he will likely have a complicated status as a free agent.

NFC Links: Willis, Bowman, Johnson, Cobb

The 49ers have a pair of decisions to make on their All-Pro inside linebackers, who are scheduled to make nearly $14MM in 2015. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman both missed significant time with injuries last year, but replacements Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite filled in admirably. However, general manager Trent Baalke is confident both Willis and Bowman will be back next season, writes Matt Maiocco of“I think if you look into those numbers, they’re not as daunting as you might think,” Baalke said.

Here are some more links from around the NFC:

  • The 49ers also have a decision to make on veteran receiver Stevie Johnson. There is much debate over whether the team will release him or ask him to take a pay cut to stay with the team, writes Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Florio adds that the club is unlikely to release him without first trying to negotiate a new contract number.
  • The Packers have a huge question mark on offense as the team has not made progress in extension talks with Randall Cobb, but the team is still focused on re-signing the star slot receiver, writes Rob Demovsky in his mailbag for ESPN.
  • There has also been rumors that the Buccaneers have asked star wide receiver Vincent Jackson to take a pay cut, but that is not true according to Florio. He writes that the team could ask him to do so down the line, but more than likely won’t since they believe he is an important part of the team and that his contract reflects the current market for wide receivers.

FA Notes: Weatherspoon, Thomas, Houston, Forsett

As we heard yesterday, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is hoping the organization can keep linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, citing the player’s athleticism and attitude.

“With him, it’s that toughness and the speed that he can play with so, yes, definitely someone that we’re talking to,” Quinn said (via Vaughn McClure of “I know he’s got that kind of attitude. And you know me, just from watching our style of defense, it’s fast and physical. And that’s what Sean is. So, we’re certainly hoping that he can be a big part of it moving forward.”

However, the coach acknowledged that he is worried about the veteran’s past injuries, including an Achilles tear last season.

“I think you always are,” he said. “But at the same time, what’s the rehab like? You can tell when a guy is going for it in that way, too. All that factors in. 

“By the same token, he hit a string of bad luck. Can he come back and play at a level that he’s capable of? That’s what we’re excited to find out.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes pertaining to this year’s free agent class…

  • As expected, the Broncos will likely slap receiver Demaryius Thomas with the franchise tag. Sources tell Mike Florio of that it’s a “safe bet” the team will place the tag as they try to work on a longterm deal. Meanwhile, Florio wonders if Peyton Manning‘s rumored restructuring could mean a return for tight end Julius Thomas.
  • Following news that the Chiefs and Justin Houston were working on a multi-year dealFlorio says such a deal is unlikely at this point. Instead, the All-Pro linebacker seems destined for the franchise tag, and Florio notes that the 26-year-old’s leverage will rise when similar free agents start receiving lucrative deals.
  • For the time being, Reuben Frank and Geoff Mosher of believe the Eagles shouldn’t invest money in a linebacker like Brandon Spikes. However, if the team decides to move on from DeMeco Ryans, the team would be in the market for a starting linebacker, in which case Spikes could be a viable option.
  • Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome made it clear that he’d like to keep running back Justin Forsett in Baltimore. “We would like to retain Justin,” Newsome said (via Jamison Hensley of “I’ve learned something since the end of the season about Justin that I didn’t really know. He has mentored some very good, young backs, starting with Arian Foster,Marshawn LynchMaurice Jones-Drew when he was in Jacksonville. Having Justin here — and with the opportunity [of] also bringing in hopefully another young running back — to have Justin be around that guy would be an asset also. So, we will work to try to retain Justin.” If the team loses out on Forsett, Hensley suggests free agents Frank GoreC.J. Spiller, and Mark Ingram as potential replacements.

NFC Mailbags: Rams, Panthers, Lions, Packers

We took a look at’s AFC mailbags earlier this morning. Let’s now shift focus to the NFC…

  • Nick Wagoner says the Rams would like to re-sign tight end Lance Kendricks, but the writer wonders if the rumored $4MM annual salary the player is seeking is too pricey.
  • The Panthers need a speedy wideout to pair with Kelvin Benjamin, and David Newton suggests free agents Eddie Royal, Ted Ginn Jr. and Michael Crabtree, although he warns that the former 49ers receiver may not be a “Dave Gettleman guy.”
  • With Cam Newton‘s contract situation being a priority in Carolina, Newton says the Panthers likely won’t make any progress on an extension for Luke Kuechly until next season.
  • The Lions releasing Reggie Bush is not an indication that they’ll draft a running back early, says Michael Rothstein. The team still has Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, so there doesn’t need to be any panic from the organization to replace the former second-overall pick. With the said, Rothstein still believes the team will select a running back, albeit much later in the draft.
  • Dan Graziano believes Bush would be the type of running back the Giants would be looking to acquire. However, the writer says that the team wasn’t among the organizations that displayed initial interest in the veteran.
  • Rob Demovsky says the Packers could keep both Tramon Williams and Davon House, but he notes that it’s unlikely for both players to remain on the roster. After all, the team is looking to expand Casey Hayward‘s role, meaning one of the two defensive backs would be on the outside looking in.
  • John Keim opines that Washington needs to improve their tight end depth. The writer says the team can’t rely on Jordan Reed, and he adds that Logan Paulsen is most productive as a blocker. Keim points to former Eagles tight end James Casey, noting that Washington has already shown interest in the 30-year-old.

Adrian Peterson Returns To Exempt List

SATURDAY, 11:25 am: Peterson has released a statement regarding the judge’s ruling, but he doesn’t mention the league’s anticipated appeal (via the Vikings website):

“I was pleased to learn about Judge Doty’s decision. It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players. It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love. As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day. I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler, and my agents Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue, and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

THURSDAY, 5:21pm: The Vikings released a statement regarding Peterson (via Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune on Twitter):

Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization. Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”

4:17pm: The league has officially announced that it believes Judge Doty’s ruling on Peterson is “incorrect” and confirmed it has filed an appeal to have the decision reviewed by the Eight Circuit Court (Twitter link via Garafolo). In the meantime, the Vikings running back has been placed back on the commissioner’s exempt list.

2:23pm: The NFL is expected to appeal the ruling handed down by Judge Doty, reports Ian Rapoport of (via Twitter).

12:04pm: The NFLPA has released the following statement in response to today’s ruling from Judge Doty:

“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”

11:29am: Judge David Doty has ruled in favor of the NFL Players Association and Adrian Peterson, granting the union’s motion to overturn the decision on the running back’s suspension, reports Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (Twitter link). As Adam Schefter of tweets, that means Peterson should have his suspension lifted and will be reinstated, well before the April 15 date the NFL had originally planned on.NFL: Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams

After Peterson’s legal case concluded in the fall, he was removed from the commissioner’s exempt list and was suspended for the remainder of the 2014 season, with no opportunity to be reinstated until April. Arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the league’s ruling, but the NFLPA challenged Henderson’s decision, arguing that the NFL had arbitrarily changed its rules when it disciplined Peterson. It seems Doty agreed with that assessment.

While being reinstated several weeks early wouldn’t have an impact on whether or not Peterson will return to the field for 2015 – which he would have done either way – the decision should significantly affect the Vikings’ plans for him. When it looked as if Peterson wouldn’t be reinstated until at least April 15, Minnesota retained a certain amount of leverage, since the number of potential suitors for the 29-year-old would been limited — most clubs would have completed their major free agent spending by that point.

Now that Peterson figures to return to the Vikings’ active roster immediately, the team will likely make a decision on him around the time the free agent period begins. The former MVP currently counts for a $15.4MM cap hit on the Vikings’ 2015 books, and it’s unlikely the club will want to carry such a large figure for a running back who essentially sat out the entire 2014 season. The two sides could begin discussing the possibility of a pay cut, a contract restructure, or a trade, with an eye toward reaching a resolution sometime in the near future.

Of course, as is often the case with legal proceedings, Doty’s decision doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the ongoing Peterson saga. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tweets, the NFL has appeal rights on the judge’s ruling. Albert Breer of the NFL Network notes (via Twitter) that the league can seek an injunction to keep Peterson from being reinstated. For now, the league has simply said that it is reviewing Doty’s decision, and hasn’t suggested whether or not that decision will be challenged.

It wouldn’t be a total surprise if the NFL elected to stand down and cut its losses at this point, recognizing that Peterson will be back on the field in September regardless of whether his reinstatement comes in February or April. But it’s not a good look for the league to be overruled on this matter after having the same thing happened during Ray Rice‘s case back in November.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.