Highlighting the Latest Buzz Around Every NFL Team This Offseason
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We are painfully close to the start of training camps, with several teams scheduled to open camp as early as July 20.
That means you're running out of time to get caught up on all the latest news around each team.
Don't worry, we've got you covered in this space, as we'll take a quick tour around the league to look at some of the biggest stories, as well as some under-the-radar news you probably haven't heard about just yet.
Here we go.
All contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com, unless otherwise noted.
Rashard Mendenhall is primed to be the top option in the Cardinals backfield.
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The Cardinals dealt with myriad injuries at running back in 2012, and ranked dead last in the NFL in rush attempts, rushing yards and yards per rush attempt. Just a face-lift wouldn't do the trick—the Cardinals needed full-on plastic surgery to fix their look at running back.
Enter Rashard Mendenhall, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, all added by the Cardinals this offseason through free agency and the NFL draft. Now, the Cardinals have a few new options for their backfield.
So who gets to be the No. 1 back? As of right now, it appears to be Mendenhall. According to Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports Radio 910 in Phoenix, Mendenhall has looked “good hitting the holes, good in pass protection, [and] catching a ball the backfield,” and is “clearly the number 1 RB.”
Mendenhall has had a hard time staying healthy himself, but he has the talent to provide a surge for the Cardinals backfield. If not, there are young backs in Taylor and Ellington waiting in the wings.
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Quarterback Matt Ryan is in a contract year, and if the recent deals inked for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (six-year extension, $108 million) and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (five-year extension, $110 million) are any indication, Matty Ice could be headed for a huge payday next offseason.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, “casual talks currently are occurring, with an expectation that things will heat up after the July 4 holiday.”
Well, Independence Day came and went, and if Florio's report is accurate, the negotiations should heat up as we hit the dead of summer.
There's little doubt that the Falcons need to keep Matt Ryan around. While surrounded by talent with the likes of wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, along with veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, Ryan has ranked in the top 10 in passer rating the past two years and has improved steadily over his career.
The Falcons just earned their first playoff victory since 2004, and it would be foolish to move on from Ryan after the team has finally started to make progress.
Ray Rice (left) and Bernard Pierce (top) could be sharing the load this season.
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Ravens running back Ray Rice has surpassed 1,100 yards rushing and 1,600 yards from scrimmage in each of the past four years, but 2012 marked his lowest totals in both categories since 2008, his rookie season. Rice has recorded 1,387 touches in the past four years, and although he is just 26 years old, there is some concern over putting too much wear on the tires.
That's especially true given the five-year, $35 million contract Rice signed just last year.
Although Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens are not planning to "dramatically alter" the distribution of carries in their backfield, running back Bernard Pierce could get a look for more touches. He averaged just 6.8 carries per game as a rookie in 2012, but according to Wilson, Pierce could see that number rise into the double digits in 2013.
Pierce has put on 10 pounds this offseason, going from 218 pounds to 228, but Wilson reports Pierce has shown burst and elusiveness during the Ravens' offseason program. The backup running back averaged a respectable 4.9 yards per carry in 2012, so giving him more touches could not only help keep Rice fresh, but also keep the Ravens offense moving.
Jairus Byrd, one of the Bills' top playmakers on defense, could be on his way out after 2013.
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Safety Jairus Byrd has been hit with the franchise tag, and he's not the least bit happy about it. At least, that's the impression he's giving off amid a holdout that looks like it could get ugly. Byrd has yet to sign the franchise tender, and James Walker of ESPN's AFC East Blog reports that “all has been quiet on both sides” of the contract negotiation.
The Bills have until July 14 to work out a long-term deal with Byrd before he must play the 2013 season on the franchise tag, which would pay him a fully guaranteed $6.916 million for the season.
As I explored on Boston.com in a recent mailbag, the Bills have the cap space to make it work, with roughly $16 million they can put toward signing Byrd and a few bad contracts they can dump to help them create more cap space.
There are other important pending free agents for the Bills, including center Eric Wood and tight end Scott Chandler, both of whom are due for new contracts in 2014. Neither of those contracts should prohibit the Bills from getting a deal done with Byrd.
Cam Newton practicing the ancient art of hand-blowing before a game.
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The Panthers have come under scrutiny for investing too heavily in the running back position over the years. Now, we're finding out why that scrutiny is valid.
Running back Jonathan Stewart had surgery on both of his ankles this offseason, and according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman has been ambiguous as to whether he'll be ready or not.
“We'll see. Time will tell.”
Thus, with running back DeAngelo Williams already restructuring his deal and Mike Tolbert splitting first-team reps with Williams this offseason, the running back spot is a question mark—despite the dollars they've spent there.
Certainly, it would not be the end of the world for the offense to be focused on quarterback Cam Newton, who has ranked outside the top 12 in pass attempts his first two years in the league. He has proven he can create explosive plays in the passing game, with a league-leading 13.8 yards per completion in 2012 and 57 pass plays of 20 yards or more, tying for sixth in the league with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Stewart's salary is guaranteed for the next two seasons, so moving on from him wouldn't be an option either way, but he will be under a microscope once he finally gets back on the field and we get a look at how he's recovering following his surgeries.
It's put-up or shut-up time for Jay Cutler as the Bears franchise quarterback.
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The Bears gave up quite a bit to land quarterback Jay Cutler in a trade with the Denver Broncos back in 2009. Four years later, all they have to show for it is a few winning records, one playoff trip and one playoff win. Cutler has been pedestrian, and that would be giving him a great deal of credit. He has put up just an 81.9 passer rating in his time with the Bears.
Now, Cutler may be facing a do-or-die season much like Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco last season.
“You've got to win games to earn those contracts,” said Cutler, according to ESPN Chicago. He added, "We'll play it out and see how it goes.”
Hopefully for Cutler, his season plays out fully. If he stays healthy and doesn't miss time, it would be the first time since 2009 he's played all 16 games. Unless he severely increases his play, the Bears likely won't invest big dollars in him if they don't feel he can stay healthy for a full season.
Giovani Bernard could have an instant impact in the Bengals offense.
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The Bengals offense looks to continue to trend upward, having added tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard in the second round.
Bernard has been the topic of much discussion for his role in the offense. Not only did running back coach Hue Jackson laud Bernard's versatility and ability to be an every-down player, but he also stated that Bernard could split out wide.
Bernard showed that kind of versatility at North Carolina, where he had 92 receptions in his two-year career and averaged 10.4 yards per reception in 2012—a number more closely resembling a wide receiver than a running back.
Of course, much of their improvement will depend on whether quarterback Andy Dalton can make the next step from a very good to a great or even elite quarterback, but it will be of a huge help to Dalton if he gets help from the players around him. Bernard figures to play a big role in the offense as one of those players.
All eyes are on Brandon Weeden.
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If second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden can't hold down the starting job, the Browns will be on their fifth different starting quarterback in the past six years.
Weeden played well in several games, although interestingly, his three best statistical games were all losses (at Bengals, at Colts, at Cowboys).
Going beyond the stats, though, ESPN's Ron Jaworski came away impressed after watching all of Weeden's throws from 2012. He even went so far as to say Weeden "will be a rock-solid NFL starter in Norv Turner's offense," according to Evan Silva of Rotoworld.
Jaws added, "There's no question in my mind that his throwing skill set and Turner's quarterback-friendly system will mesh effectively."
If that's the case, the biggest question for the Browns for over a decade will finally be answered.
How will Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense fit his new personnel in Dallas?
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The Cowboys have fielded a 3-4 defense for the past eight years and are making the switch to the 4-3 front under Monte Kiffin. One significant question is whether the front seven can make the switch as presently constructed.
Len Pasquarelli of National Football Post said, "The bet around the league is that opponents will test the new front four in the running game," likely as a result of the Cowboys' lack of size up front.
Defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will likely weigh in between 260 and 270 pounds. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is the only player on the defensive line who clears 300 pounds, and he does so just barely at 302.
The Cowboys were exposed against the run in 2012, allowing over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. At over 4.5 yards per carry, the Cowboys ranked sixth-worst in the NFL. Unless the Cowboys' front four plays bigger than their britches, they could suffer a similar fate in 2013.
Ryan Clady (right) provides great protection for Peyton Manning (left) from the blind side.
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Negotiations between the Denver Broncos and left tackle Ryan Clady have been ongoing for the past couple of seasons, and according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, those negotiations have resumed.
Clady was hit with the franchise tag this offseason, and if the two sides are unable to reach a new deal by the July 14 deadline, Clady will play the 2013 season under the $9.823 million guaranteed salary that comes with the tag.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Clady allowed just one sack all season and ranked fourth in pass-blocking efficiency, a rating that "measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed."
The Broncos would be hard-pressed to find a better long-term option at left tackle than Clady.
Complicating matters is the labrum surgery Clady underwent this offseason after playing through the injury the final two games of the season. Klis states that the Rams signing Jake Long to a deal that averages $8.5 million a year doesn't bode well for Clady, but Clady doesn't nearly have the injury rap sheet that Long has.
In fact, Clady has not missed a single game in his five-year career. At just 26 years old, there's no reason not to keep Clady in the fold for the next four to five years.
Will Matthew Stafford (in the huddle) once again carry the burden of the Lions offense?
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"Their entire team's success is on [quarterback Matt] Stafford."
That's a quote from an NFC scout, according to ESPN's Seth Wickersham.
That was plainly obvious from the fact that Stafford has led the league in pass attempts each of the past two seasons and has ranked in the top three in passing yards both times.
What's less obvious is whether the Lions will have enough receiving threats around Stafford. Calvin Johnson's dominant campaign ended with him setting the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964, which amounted to 39.5 percent of Stafford's passing yards.
Wide receiver Ryan Broyles is on the mend from ACL surgeries and is "way ahead of schedule" in his rehab, according to DetroitLions.com. He is expected to participate in training camp and be ready for Week 1. Ideally, though, the Lions can be a bit less one-dimensional. Defenses have begun to pick up on it and are daring the Lions to run. Per Wickersham:
A study by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert showed that the Lions faced six or fewer 'inside the box' defenders a league-high 855 times. Teams dared the Lions to run, and they couldn't, tying with the San Diego Chargers for last in the NFL with only four runs of 20 yards or more.
The Lions will have to find more balance on offense, or they could find themselves shut down by the better defenses that can take away the one-dimensional aspect of their offense.
Green Bay Packers
Derek Sherrod could be just what the Packers need, but he has to get on the field.
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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-leading 51 times in 2012. That statistic is a little misleading, as he was pressured on 29.9 percent of his drop-backs, the 12th-lowest average in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That being said, protecting him better should be a primary concern for the Packers.
The Packers drafted offensive tackle Derek Sherrod in the first round in the 2011 NFL draft. He played just five games his rookie season before a broken leg cut his season short. He couldn't get back on the field in 2012, and according to Fox Sports Wisconsin, he spent May and June watching Packers minicamp from the sidelines.
It's not time to write Sherrod off completely yet, as he could return to health and get back on the field for training camp, but the Packers can't be satisfied that a first-round pick sits on the sideline while questions remain about their depth at his position.
Can the Texans keep up with the elite offenses in the NFL?
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Are the Texans a run-first team? That was the question posed by Stephanie Stradley of The Houston Chronicle on her blog last week. She makes a lot of valid points and lands on the conclusion that the Texans are neither pass-first nor run-first—they are balanced, or at least that's what they want to be. They finished with 554 pass attempts (18th in the NFL) and 508 rush attempts (fourth). Different in ranking, but similar in volume.
Read it, especially if you're a Texans fan, but the one thing I wondered at the end is, what does it all mean?
The Texans' undoing in 2012 was their inability to play catch-up. They came from behind to gain the lead in several games last year (at Colts, at Lions, vs. Jaguars) but did not create the explosive offensive plays necessary to keep up with high-scoring juggernauts like the Packers and Patriots.
In drafting wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the draft, the Texans took a necessary measure to improve their passing game. If Hopkins is anything like what we saw at Clemson, he will be making defenses pay for putting him in single coverage.
Reggie Wayne (left) and T.Y. Hilton (right) went opposite directions at the end of 2012.
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Patrick Daugherty of Rotoworld recently laid out a list of fast finishers and slow closers from the 2012 season in an effort to shed light on some fantasy studs and duds.
The Colts were prominently featured, with both a fast finisher in wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and a slow closer in Reggie Wayne. Hilton caught fire with 32 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns over the final nine games of the season, some eye-popping numbers for a rookie in any stretch.
Wayne, meanwhile, took a downturn over the final five games, with 22 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Hilton's numbers were not much better than Wayne's, but quarterback Andrew Luck looked more comfortable spreading the ball around.
Wayne will remain a reliable security blanket for Luck, but the second-year quarterback will have to mesh with the younger targets in the best interest of the long-term future of the offense. Wayne is 34 years old and has two years left on his contract.
Blaine Gabbert (left) and Justin Blackmon (right) need to lift the Jaguars' anemic passing game.
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The questions are mounting around the Jaguars' passing game. Blaine Gabbert is expected to win the starting quarterback job, according to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, but that's a question mark in and of itself: Can Gabbert be the quarterback the Jaguars thought they were getting when they drafted him 10th overall in 2011?
It could be tougher without solid options in the receiving game. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III emerged for the Jaguars last year, but there's uncertainty elsewhere. The team already parted ways with Laurent Robinson just one year after inking him to a big deal, and 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon recently underwent groin surgery, and his status for training camp is unknown.
It would be hard for Gabbert to be much worse than the 70.2 passer rating he's put up in his first two years, a number that ranks 47th out of 55 quarterbacks to throw at least 100 passes. Without his top receiving threats in top shape, though, it will be hard for Gabbert to be any better.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles could be catching a lot more passes this season.
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If there's one thing Andy Reid knows how to do, it's using an athletic and versatile running back to the fullest of his abilities.
Ask running backs Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, both regarded as explosive backs with ability in the receiving game. Each enjoyed at least one season of over 1,600 yards from scrimmage under Reid, and Westbrook enjoyed two such seasons, even leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,104 in 2007.
That's why there's little surprise in seeing a report from Sean Keeler of Fox Sports Kansas City, which says running back Jamaal Charles figures to be “here, there and everywhere” in the Chiefs' new offense. In fact, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson confirmed that the Chiefs will get Charles more involved in the passing game.
Westbrook and McCoy averaged 77 receptions per season from 2004 to 2011, so it would be a shock if Charles' role in the passing game doesn't significantly increase.
Brent Grimes is just one of many new faces in the Dolphins secondary.
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The offense has garnered a lot of attention this offseason, but one spot that's not receiving the attention it deserves is the defensive secondary. The Dolphins have completely turned over the cornerback position over the past two offseasons, trading Vontae Davis to the Colts and allowing Sean Smith to walk in free agency.
MiamiDolphins.com takes a look at the Dolphins secondary, where it added three new cornerbacks who could all compete for significant playing time in Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
Last year was a bit of a transition phase for the Dolphins secondary, and it gave up yards in bunches, allowing 60 passing plays of 20 yards or more on its watch (fourth-most in the NFL) in 2012. Despite that, it ranks right around the middle of the pack in defensive passer rating at 83.4 (13th). Head coach Joe Philbin has emphasized the Dolphins' need to create more turnovers on defense, and with a secondary that picked off just 10 passes in 2012, there's plenty of room for improvement.
The defense was a large reason for many of the Dolphins' wins last season, and thus there will still be pressure on that unit along with the offense, which has been the source of much of the Dolphins' spending spree this offseason.
Christian Ponder is the man under center. For now.
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How safe is quarterback Christian Ponder's job in 2013? According to Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Rotoworld), Ponder can rest easy for now, but he shouldn't get too comfortable in his chair:
There are enough people around the league that believe Matt Cassel is good enough to challenge Ponder. ...[Cassel] could unseat Ponder at some point this season. ...[it's] a situation that bears watching.
Let's not kid ourselves. Were it not for the heroics of running back Adrian Peterson nearly breaking the single-season record for rushing yards less than a year after a torn ACL ended his season, the Vikings would not have been a good team in 2012. In fact, they totaled just 117 yards more through the air than on the ground and averaged more yards per rush attempt than yards per pass attempt.
The addition of wide receiver Greg Jennings is expected to help, but losing WR Percy Harvin certainly won't be doing the offense any favors. Even if Ponder plays more like the first seven games (67.2 percent completions, 7.01 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT) than the final nine (57.1 percent completions, 5.17 YPA, 7 TD, 8 INT), the Vikings will still need a big season from their All-Pro running back if they want to return to the playoffs in 2013.
New England Patriots
Could Shane Vereen emerge in a larger role with Aaron Hernandez officially gone?
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Aaron Hernandez's tenure with the Patriots may be over, but his impact will still be felt as the team tries to replace him this offseason.
Replacing him will not be a one-person job, as he was used in multiple roles as a tight end, split out at wide receiver and even at running back on occasion, either running the ball or running a route out of the backfield.
What made Hernandez so unique was the athletic ability to create matchup problems wherever he lined up. Field Yates of ESPN suggests running back Shane Vereen should be under close watch as the team scrambles to find a similar player in that mold. Patriots.com also reports that Vereen lined up at receiver in practice and got matched up with a linebacker.
Another name to watch is Zach Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent who turned heads at spring practices. His size more closely resembles Rob Gronkowski, but if the Patriots want to continue running a two-tight end formation that poses the threat of the run and the pass, Sudfeld would be a good bet in that role.
There's a long list of names that could emerge with Hernandez gone, but it's fair to have doubts about the Patriots offense with so many changes across the board.
New Orleans Saints
How will the Saints defense take to the new scheme of Rob Ryan?
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The 2012 Saints defense was the worst the NFL has ever seen, allowing an historic 7,042 total yards. The Saints figure the most prudent changes to make are of the wholesale variety, switching from a 4-3 look to an aggressive, blitzing-style 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
This means a lot of things for a lot of different players, but one in particular who's been in focus is outside linebacker Will Smith. Formerly a defensive end, Smith is listed at 6'3” and 282 pounds, which is a bit big for an outside linebacker. Nonetheless, he has been running with the first-team defense at his new position this offseason.
Questions about his new position are compounded by questions about his diminishing pass-rush ability after he logged 6.5 or fewer sacks in each of the past three seasons.
The quandary around Smith involves not just his new position or lack of production, but also his economic value to the team. He already had to take a $6 million pay cut back in March to stay with the Saints, and he is due $10.4 million in salary in 2014.
Unless he turns out to be a great fit at his new position and suddenly rediscovers the pass-rushing dominance that made him a Pro Bowl defensive end, the Saints could be looking to younger options for their edge rush. Look for the likes of Victor Butler and Martez Wilson to get their share of looks at outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defense.
New York Giants
Will Hakeem Nicks be back in 2014?
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Both of the Giants' top two wide receivers are due for new contracts next offseason, but according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Giants have come to terms with one of them.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz was inked to a first-round tender of $2.879 million as a restricted free-agent back in March. That's not anywhere close to his worth, and as such, the Giants agreed to terms with Cruz on a six-year, $45.879 million contract.
Now, the question is, what does that mean for Hakeem Nicks, the second of the two receivers due for a new contract next offseason? Assuming Cruz counts for around $7.6 million (his yearly average) against next season's cap, the Giants will be left with just around $13 million to work with for resigning Nicks and other players.
They have the space to sign him, but at that point, they would be right up against the cap with little room to make other moves.
A recent report from the New York Daily News highlights the lack of progress in contract talks between Nicks and the Giants. Although the Giants would absolutely love to keep both of their 1,000-yard receivers, unless they make some cuts or rework some contracts, it may not be financially feasible to do so.
New York Jets
Will Stephen Hill emerge in his second year in the NFL?
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The battle at quarterback between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith has stolen much of the headlines, but one question mark that remains pertains to who that quarterback will be throwing the ball to.
Yes, the Jets have options at receiver in Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley, but without a return to form for Holmes, improvement from Kerley and drastic improvement from Hill, the Jets aren't much better off at receiver than they were last year with one of the league's worst passing offenses.
Hill is taking measures into his own hands, according to Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger. Vorkunov writes that Hill is working out with cornerback Antonio Cromartie out in California this offseason. That can only mean good things for Hill, who has all the physical tools in the world but could benefit from being coached on technique by one of the game's best cornerbacks. Hill said:
Coach Dennis [Thurman] told me to go out there. I was like "OK, I guess that's what I'm going to have to do." And I saw the way Cro, during camp last year, I saw his work ethic and how he lasted all year without missing practice. I know that's what I need. I really need that type of workout.
As the quarterback goes, so goes the offense, but any quarterback would love to have a 6'4”, 215-pound athlete to throw the ball to on the outside. Hill will have to improve on his 21 catches, 252 yards and three touchdowns of a year ago.
is Denarius Moore a viable No. 1 receiver?
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In the 2011 NFL draft, Al Davis' final draft with the team, the Oakland Raiders took a fifth-round flier on wide receiver Denarius Moore. It was no surprise, as Moore clocked a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the combine, one of the 10 fastest among receivers in 2011.
Thus far, the investment has panned out, as Moore improved on his 2011 production in 2012 and looks poised to be the team's top target.
"He's a guy that we're counting on being our No. 1 receiver," Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Moore, according to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times. "But we need all those guys. ... At the end of the day, we'll have five, maybe six receivers that have a chance to help this football team."
Moore was benched for poor performance late in his second season, so these words could be interpreted as either supporting Moore or reminding him that there are plenty of guys behind him who could earn playing time.
The third year is often regarded as the year in which players begin to come into their own, so there is some pressure on Moore to prove he is capable of being an ultra-reliable target in the passing game.
None of it will matter unless the Raiders get better production at quarterback, though, and with Carson Palmer out the door, the Raiders will field their sixth different Week 1 starter at quarterback in the past eight years.
Michael Vick may be on the hot seat as early as July.
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Much has been made of the offensive genius of new Eagles coach Chip Kelly, but he has done a remarkable job of not revealing anything thus far.
It will likely be based around who wins the starting quarterback job, and despite a $12.2 million cap hit in 2013, Michael Vick is not a shoo-in for that spot with rookie quarterback Matt Barkley and second-year signal-caller Nick Foles in the fold.
In fact, Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly went as far as to speculate that Vick "could be a roster casualty if Kelly is sold on Nick Foles and the promise of Matt Barkley."
Vick turned the ball over 33 times in 23 games over the past two seasons, and while Chip Kelly has said "It's not about winning the turnover battle," surely he'd like to have fewer of them if possible. Vick himself will certainly have to do better if he wants to earn he starting job and keep it throughout the 2013 season.
The Steelers will go as far as a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will take them.
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has missed time in several seasons due to injury, but he will not miss time in training camp after having a minor knee surgery in June.
It was evident just how minor that surgery was when Roethlisberger said a week later that he "could play Sunday if I had to," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It's a good thing, because the Steelers' season may hinge on his health. They were 6-3 in their first nine games of 2012 before he got injured. During those three games, the Steelers went 1-2, and Roethlisberger was far from the same. He completed just 56.4 percent of his passes for 7.4 yards per attempt, nine touchdowns and four interceptions over the final four games of the season.
San Diego Chargers
Can Philip Rivers return to form and put a smile back on the face of Chargers fans?
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Well, now that the false report of Ryan Mathews' arrest has been put to rest, we can focus on the real stories at hand.
The big question surrounding the Chargers is whether quarterback Philip Rivers can turn it around after two lackluster seasons. He posted over a 100 passer rating in three consecutive seasons and is one of just four quarterbacks, along with Steve Young, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, to accomplish that feat.
Since then, he has put up an 88.7 passer rating, and his 47 turnovers are fewer than only Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in that span.
Some change could do him good, and new head coach Mike McCoy is known for molding his offensive philosophies to fit his players. He should be a great fit for Rivers. That being said, any offensive philosophy that can help keep Rivers off his back (sacked 49 times in 2012, second-most in the NFL) has to be a good thing for the Chargers.
San Francisco 49ers
Might Ahmad Brooks (right) miss time in 2013?
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49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh caused a stir with a recent comment over the string of substance-abuse suspensions to Seahawks players for Adderall.
One of his own players, however, may be facing a suspension for assault on a teammate.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks allegedly assaulted teammate Lamar Divens on June 8, 2013, in front of Brooks' home. Divens originally contemplated pressing charges before changing his mind, but in a separate report, the Sacramento Bee says the Santa Clara District Attorney's office is close to deciding if it will file assault charges over the incident.
Then, of course, there's the question of whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will impose a suspension on Brooks for violation of the league's ever-looming personal conduct policy, which probably applies to charges being pressed over assaulting a teammate.
Brooks came to the 49ers with character concerns after a few brushes with authority as a member of the Bengals and at the University of Virginia. He has avoided trouble since then and has started 37 consecutive games for the 49ers, including the playoffs.
The 49ers did a wonderful job of assembling depth on defense through the draft, and they could plug in one of their rookies such as Tank Carradine or Corey Lemonier if Brooks misses time.
Some have doubts as to whether Bruce Irvin can play strong-side linebacker.
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Speaking of the Seahawks and suspensions, Seattle will be without star defender Bruce Irvin for four games to start the 2013 season after he failed a drug test for Adderall.
Irvin played primarily defensive end for the Seahawks in 2012, contributing as a nickel rusher off the edge. The Seahawks added defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to help ease the loss of defensive end Chris Clemons, so they should be OK without Irvin in the lineup, but Clark Judge of CBS Sports has other things on his mind:
Frankly, it's not so much Bruce Irvin's four-game suspension for PEDs that's the issue; it's whether he can play strong-side linebacker. It's a gamble, and [head coach Pete] Carroll knows it. He also knows that the suspension will affect the learning curve. "But that preseason will be hugely important for him," he said. No kidding. Concern going to be Aaron Curry part II.
The Seahawks will get a peek at that transition during training camp and preseason, but they'll have to wait until Week 5 of the regular season to see the finished product.
St. Louis Rams
Could the Rams be playing their final two seasons in St. Louis?
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This weekend, news broke through the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the Rams had been denied on their $700 million proposal to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome.
Among other things, Jim Shrewsbury, chairman of the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, said, "We simply don’t have the money to do it."
What's next? According to the Post-Dispatch, the Rams are bound by their lease to remain in Edward Jones Dome for two more seasons, but following the 2014 season, the Rams could either leave or move to a year-to-year lease.
Shrewsbury indicated that the situation is "still fluid," but unless things take a drastic turn, the Rams could be on their way out of St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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There's been much speculation as to whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer at quarterback. The Buccaneers invited that speculation, even with regard to the short-term when they drafted North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round.
While the 2013 season may prove to be Freeman's last shot, the doubt is dwindling in regard to his prospects of being the starter this season.
"We only have one [quarterback]," Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano said on NFL Network. "It's Josh Freeman."
Of course, that should all be read with one giant caveat: for now. In fact, Schiano said he believes in competition, and insinuated that Glennon will be a good quarterback "in his time." But at least from this perspective, it looks like Schiano would rather go with the guy who has more experience in the system.
The Buccaneers could make a postseason push if Freeman plays up to the level he has shown earlier in his career, but Freeman needs to become more consistent if he wants to earn the job for the long term and if the Bucs want to compete.
Jake Locker better hurry up if he wants to prove himself as the starting quarterback of the Titans.
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Quarterback Jake Locker is entering his third year, and it's time for the training wheels to come off.
At least, that's the impression being given off by Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who said he wants Locker to be less reliant on his wristband to call plays in 2013.
"My thing with the wristband is I believe the quarterback should know the game plan well enough," Loggains said, according to Nashville's The City Paper. "If the headset goes out, then he should be able to call the game."
Overall, head coach Mike Munchak believes "there is a lot on" Locker in 2013, according to The Tennesseean, but with solid receiving threats in Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter to go along with dynamic running back Chris Johnson and a vastly improved offensive line, the Titans seem to have all the pieces in place (save for losing tight end Jared Cook to free agency this offseason).
Locker has two years left on his rookie deal, but he's due just $4 million in 2014, an expendable number no matter how you slice it. If Locker doesn't show significant signs of improvement in his third season, he could be gone.
What do we have to look forward to from Robert Griffin III?
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The only buzz that matters coming out of Redskins camp is around the health of quarterback Robert Griffin III as he rehabs from a torn ACL.
First, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins chimed in on NFL Network (via Pro Football Talk) to say he thinks RG3 will “be on the field for Week 1.”
Recently, former Redskins Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Theismann said RG3's rehab is “ahead of schedule,” according to Rich Tandler of CSN Washington.
It's hard not to be encouraged by all the positive reports around his rehab, but it's important to remember that the true health of Griffin's knee will remain in question until the Redskins, their fans and the nation at large sees him on the field in preseason.
Once that happens, we'll have a good sense of where his rehab actually stands and where the Redskins' chances lie of repeating as NFC East champions in 2013.