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Workout Notes: Patriots, Jets, Bills

The Patriots auditioned some players of note this week, including linebacker Akeem Ayers, quarterback Thad Lewis, and wide receiver Jeremy Ross (Twitter link via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com).

Ayers has some history with New England after playing on their 2014 Super Bowl championship team. Last year, Ayers appeared in all 16 games for Indianapolis and recorded two sacks.

Linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and Antwione Williams also showed their stuff for the Pats.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s other workouts from around the NFL:

AFC Notes: Bills, Steelers, Bengals

The Bills sent big-money defensive tackle Marcell Dareus home before their preseason game against the Ravens last week after he violated a team rule, leaving general manager Brandon Beane unsure if the two-time Pro Bowler is part of the solution. Asked this week if Dareus is on board with what the team is trying to build, Beane told Joe Buscaglia of WKBW (via Mark Inabinett of AL.com): “I don’t know. Time will tell. It was disappointing, as I said, after that game. He was contrite yesterday and said the right things. Actions speak louder than words. Time will tell. Hopefully, he is. We hope he’ll play to his potential. We know what kind of player he can be. We hope to see that on the field.” Even if the Bills are fed up with Dareus, who has multiple suspensions on his resume, moving on from the cornerstone defender in the near future would be extremely difficult because of the structure of his contract. The Bills inked Dareus to a six-year, $91.5MM extension in September 2015.

More from two other AFC cities:

  • The Steelers expect the NFL to fully reinstate wide receiver Martavis Bryant in advance of Week 1, GM Kevin Colbert told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette (Twitter link). The league suspended Bryant for all of last season for repeated violations of its substance abuse policy, conditionally reinstated the 25-year-old in April and gave him clearance to participate in the preseason three weeks ago. He hasn’t appeared in a meaningful game since a playoff loss to the Broncos on Jan. 17, 2016.
  • Cornerback Joe Haden‘s $5.75MM signing bonus is the only guaranteed portion of the three-year, $27MM contract the Steelers gave him Wednesday, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. The pact includes base salaries of $1.25MM, $9MM and $10MM, and it comes with a $1MM roster bonus that’s due in March 2018.
  • Linebacker Vontaze Burfict‘s suspensions call his future with the Bengals into question, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com observes. Burfict is set to serve a three-game ban for the second straight campaign, and he has only played 58 of a possible 80 regular-season contests in his five-year career. Cincinnati’s going to have to consider Burfict’s lack of availability when deciding whether to re-sign him by next winter, then. The same goes for tight end Tyler Eifert, whom injuries have limited to 37 of a possible 64 games during his four seasons. Both players make the Bengals better when they’re on the field, which Terrell notes will make for tough decisions in each case.

Extra Points: Bortles, Kap, Rosen, Browns

Blake Bortles has struggled so much this summer that the Jaguars may have to consider benching the quarterback in order to avoid a catastrophic injury that would guarantee his fifth-year option for 2018, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk opines (Twitter link). Such an injury for Bortles this season would leave the Jags on the hook for upward of $19MM a year from now, which even a healthy version of the 2014 third overall pick hasn’t been worth during his three seasons in the NFL. Keeping Bortles away from the field to prevent any chance of the option triggering wouldn’t be a first in the league – the Redskins did it with Robert Griffin III in 2015.

Meanwhile, in light of Bortles’ second straight lackluster performance of the preseason on Thursday, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets that the Jaguars should bring free agent signal-caller Colin Kaepernick in to take the starting job. While Kaepernick’s social activism makes him a tough sell for many teams’ decision makers and fans, he at least possesses a superior on-field resume to both Bortles and backup Chad Henne.

More from around the game:

  • The NFL may soon have another Kaepernick on its hands in UCLA passer Josh Rosen, a scout told Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Rosen, a junior, could end up as a first-round pick in next year’s draft, though his outspoken views might cause him to slide down the board, Miller notes. To cite one example, Rosen has openly derided President Donald Trump, who happened to appoint Jets owner Woody Johnson as an ambassador to the United Kingdom. The QB-deficient Jets figure to end up with a high pick in next year’s draft, which could make for an intriguing situation if Rosen draws their interest. UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. discussed his unique prospect as a guest Thursday on PFT Live, saying: “I’m never going to stifle his opinions. I just want to make sure he’s aware when he does say things publicly there are going to be ramifications.”
  • There’s a chance the Browns will have to open the season without one of their top players, Danny Shelton. The nose tackle suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for three to six weeks, Field Yates of ESPN reports (on Twitter). Shelton, the 12th pick in 2015, was a full-time starter for Cleveland in each of his first two seasons and posted a breakout 2016, ranking 15th in performance among Pro Football Focus’ 125 qualified interior D-linemen. He also piled up 59 tackles, 23 more than he amassed in 2015, and the first 1.5 sacks of his career.
  • Justin Britt‘s three-year, $27MM extension with the Seahawks includes $15MM in injury guarantees and $5MM fully guaranteed at signing, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

AFC North Notes: Bengals, Steelers, Browns

When the NFL handed Bengals cornerback Adam Jones a one-game suspension last week, it appeared he would fight the ban. That won’t be the case, though, Jones announced Thursday. “You know, I take all accountability for what I did and my actions and my words. I accept it — the one game suspension — and I’m ready to move on, man,” Jones told reporters, including Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The 33-year-old’s suspension came after he was charged with three misdemeanors and a felony, though he was able to avoid jail time after pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

More from Cincinnati’s division…

  • Although the league conditionally reinstated Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant from a year-plus suspension in April, it still hasn’t cleared him to participate in training camp. General manager Kevin Colbert addressed the situation Thursday, stating: “Upon his conditional reinstatement in April, Martavis Bryant was made aware it was only the beginning of a process toward a return to being a full contributing member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We have been informed by the NFL that Martavis is still in the process of being fully reinstated. Until that time, Martavis will be permitted to take part in off-the-field team activities at training camp, but he will not be permitted to practice or play in any games.”
  • As expected, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not show up at training camp Thursday, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com was among those to report. The franchise-tagged star has not signed his $12.12MM tender, meaning he’s under no obligation to attend camp. Bell could follow in the footsteps of Chiefs safety Eric Berry and not report until the regular season is on the verge of beginning. That’s what Berry did last summer when he was unhappy with the fact that he had to play the season under the tag in lieu of a multiyear contract.
  • Browns wide receiver Ricardo Louis has hired super-agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (Twitter link). As a fourth-round rookie last year, Louis started in three of 16 appearances and logged 18 catches for 205 yards. With three years left on his rookie deal and unspectacular production to date, a pay raise isn’t imminent for Louis.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Cowboys Notes: Martin, Smith, Witten

The latest out of Dallas:

  • ESPN.com’s Todd Archer opines wonders how much Gabe Jackson‘s new five-year, $56MM deal with the Raiders will impact Zack Martin‘s negotiations with the Cowboys. Martin is positioned to become the highest-paid guard in the NFL, but Dallas could theoretically control him through 2021 through the fifth-year option and three consecutive franchise tags. Finding the middle ground will be tough, but Archer notes that the team’s strong relationship with agents Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser could help speed things along. There have only been preliminary talks so far, but that could change early on in training camp.
  • More from Archer, who writes that making Jaylon Smith a two-down linebacker might be the best way for the Cowboys to work him into the lineup. Currently, Archer feels that expectations are probably a bit too high for the Notre Dame product considering the seriousness of the injury he is battling back from. Scaling back his workload could allow him to ease into the pace of the NFL game.
  • Looking down the road, the Cowboys still lack an obvious successor to tight end Jason WittenKate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News writes. The Cowboys are hoping that youngster Rico Gathers will turn into a quality tight end, but it’s not clear if the ex-basketball player has made enough strides on the gridiron to make this year’s roster and actually see his first taste of live NFL action. The Cowboys also have James Hanna and Geoff Swaim on the TE depth chart. They’re probably comfortable with their tight end situation for 2017, but it’s something they may have to address down the line.

NFLPA Discussed Alternative League As Lockout Contingency

The NFL’s been operating on the latest CBA since the 2011 season, one that saw its offseason condensed due to the lockout. The NFLPA discussed a radical option should another lockout ensue when the league and the union are involved in the next CBA negotiations, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report.

Cole reports (via Twitter) a few among NFLPA brass discussed for more than two years the prospect of staging an alternative league that would operate if the owners lock the players out again. Said league would be a way for players to compensate for potential missed game checks, a factor that played into the negotiations during the 2011 lockout, but Cole notes this endeavor would require a major financial commitment from an outside party to fund the effort.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk broached this subject this weekend, one that’s continued to see windfall sums go to NBA players. NBA salaries, which mostly come fully guaranteed, are usually a talking point for NFLers during the offseason. This week brought the likes of Otto Porter and Tim Hardaway Jr. cashing in as restricted free agents, with the Wizards matching a Nets four-year, $106.5MM offer sheet to Porter and the Hawks declining to match a Knicks four-year, $71MM sheet for Hardaway.

Porter’s $106MM is fully guaranteed. No NFL player guaranteed to make as much as a zero-time NBA All-Star — and a player who’s served as the No. 3 scoring option on his own team — would naturally create some questions. Hardaway’s contract ensures he will make more per year than any NFL wide receiver is currently scheduled to receive.

Noting players’ fear of losing out on game checks weakened the NFLPA’s position in the 2011 negotiations, Florio writes the union needs to be planning ahead to dig in on a longer work stoppage this time. The CBA expires after the 2020 season, and the PFT writer offers that the players need to publicly pursue TV deals and stadium agreements to strengthen their stance against the owners for a better agreement on the next CBA. Greater percentages of contracts being guaranteed figures to be a key point in the ensuing negotiations.

The NBA-vs.-NFL argument has to factor in roster sizes, making NBA players’ skills inherently more valuable. But the NFL does bring in billions more in revenue. Chris Baker of the Buccaneers, who signed for three years and $15.75MM, and former Redskins teammate Terrance Knighton are among the latest to discuss the disparity between the leagues’ contracts (Twitter link). Neither made the point NBAers should make less, only that the NFL should pay its players more.

There is some precedent for NFL players staging outside games. The NFLPA organized two all-star games during the 1982 strike, one that wiped out seven games of the NFL season, but fewer than 10,000 fans attended each.

No CBA Talks Yet Between NFL, Union

The NFL and the NFLPA are more than halfway through the latest rendition of the collective bargaining agreement which was signed in 2013. It’s probably still early to sweat things, but union president Eric Winston tells PFT that there have been no talks yet between the two sides on an extension of the deal.

We’re still trying to figure out how and when that’s going to happen,” Winston said.

So far, Winston says the two sides are “talking about talks” with “nothing substantive,” and that verbiage may indicate some frustration on the part of the NFLPA. Part of the holdup can be explained by the open-ended future of the league’s broadcasting agreements. The NFL’s current TV deals go through the 2022 season, after the CBA expires in 2021. Neither side knows how much money will be coming in on the next deal, making it hard to come to an agreement beforehand.

Recently, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah indicated that the union will talk directly to the TV networks about things may change for the 2023 season and beyond. That conversation could give the union some much-needed insight on what’s ahead and may even help to spur talks.

East Rumors: Jets, Pats, Switzer

Rich Cimini of ESPN.com recently expounded on last week’s discussion of the Jets‘ QB battle, and while he does not believe the team’s insistence that it will be an open competition is a charade, he does reaffirm his (and everyone’s) belief that Josh McCown is the heavy favorite to open the season under center. But in his latest post, Cimini goes into a little more detail as to how he believes the next few months will play out. He believes that, by the end of minicamp in mid-June, McCown will be the clear-cut front-runner and Christian Hackenberg will be the No. 2. When training camp opens, head coach Todd Bowles will remove Bryce Petty from the starting competition, as it’s hard enough to have a competition among two quarterbacks, much less three. Cimini also believes Hackenberg will get plenty of action in the team’s first two preseason games, but that Bowles, with his job on the line, will ultimately give the job to McCown, though Hackenberg will get the nod at some point this year.

Now for more from the league’s east divisions:

  • The Jets picked up tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins after he was waived by the Buccaneers last September, and while he posted only 10 catches in seven games for New York last season, the team believes the light has finally come on for the former second-round pick. As Cimini writes, ASJ has dropped 25 pounds, he was a diligent participant in the offseason conditioning program, and his performance has caught everyone’s eye at OTAs. Now that the Jets have an offensive coordinator who utilizes the tight end as a pass catcher, ASJ is a dark horse candidate for a breakout season, especially as he enters his contract year.
  • Mike Reiss’ of ESPN.com reports that Andrew Hawkins‘ one-year deal with the Patriots is a minimum salary benefit pact, meaning his base salary will be $900K, his bonus won’t exceed $80K, and his salary cap charge won’t be more than $695K. Reiss says that Hawkins passed up more lucrative opportunities with other clubs because New England was his top choice.
  • Ben Volin of the Boston Globe applauds the Patriots‘ recent decision to add a healthy incentive package to Rob Gronkowski‘s current contract even though they had no need to do so, as he believes it’s simply smart business to keep Gronk healthy and motivated. Volin does wonder, though, whether the incentives will compel Gronkowski to push himself more than he otherwise would throughout the regular season, thereby reducing his effectiveness when the playoffs roll around.
  • Ryan Switzer, whom the Cowboys selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft, took first-team reps as the slot receiver during the first week of OTAs, as Cole Beasley was held out due to hamstring soreness. But as Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News writes, the Cowboys have big plans for Switzer even when Beasley returns, and they are working on packages for both to be on the field at the same time. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Switzer, “He’s a classic slot receiver. He has a similar game [to Beasley], but he has his own things. We would really like those two guys to be able to complement each other and run real similar route trees. He complements Beasley and also gives us some big-time needed depth at that position.”

NFL To Allow Two Players To Return From IR

NFL owners have passed a resolution allowing two players to return off of the Injured Reserve list, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Previously, the league only allowed teams to activate one player from IR.

The Redskins have been pushing this change for years now and the league has finally come around to their proposal. The IR-DTR (Injured Reserve-Designated To Return) rule has gone through multiple changes over the years, giving team’s additional flexibility with each tweak. Initially, teams had to declare their one IR-DTR player in advance and could not move the tag to another player after that point. Then, teams were allowed to consider all IR players for return without calling it first, but the rule still limited teams to just one returning player. Now, two players may come back midseason if they are healthy enough to do so.

Other regulations pertaining to the IR-DTR rules are presumably still in place. As it stands, IR-DTR players may return to practice only after six weeks spent on IR and return to game action after eight weeks on IR.

In related news, the NFL has passed a rule change moving overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, according to a league official who spoke with Rapoport (Twitter link).

NFL Eliminates 75-Man Cutdown

Fans everywhere are rejoicing over the league’s Tuesday morning decision to allow players more leeway in their touchdown celebrations. Meanwhile, a vote that is garnering less attention on Twitter is cause for NFL coaches to celebrate. The league will be doing away with the 75-man cutdown, as Albert Breer of The MMQB tweets.

Previously, teams were mandated to trim their rosters from 90 to 75 in late August or early September. Days later, the final cut would be made from 75 to a 53-man roster. Now, there will be only one cut as teams go from 90 to 53.

This decision will give coaches additional time to evaluate players as they try to put together the best Week 1 roster. The vote probably also sits well with the NFLPA. For at least a few extra days, roughly 480 players that would have been released otherwise will be under NFL employment.

Prior to today’s ruling, teams would have had to get down to a 75-man roster by August 30. Now, teams only have to worry about the 53-man date on September 3.