Rounding Up the Latest NFL Offseason Buzz and Speculation

Nick KostosContributor IMay 25, 2014

Rounding Up the Latest NFL Offseason Buzz and Speculation

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    As the calendar marches inexorably toward September, it's worth remembering that the NFL has no true offseason, as there are always fresh developments and storylines for fans and media to sink their collective teeth into. With that said, it's time to round up the latest NFL buzz and speculation.

    Training camp might be a few months away, but OTAs (organized team activities) are about to hit full swing, so you'll soon get a glimpse of your favorite players doing what they do best on the field. It's an exciting time of year that breeds hope and confidence and doesn't bring any shortage of drama.

    In this column, we'll examine the (very different) quarterback depth charts of two teams trying to break through into the postseason and determine what their best course of action is. We'll also discuss the potential ascent of an AFC signal-caller, ascertain the likelihood of a big-name backup being traded, tab an NFC squad to make the playoffs and figure out why a certain big-name receiver in the Lone Star State is so darn unhappy.

    Here is a roundup of the latest NFL offseason buzz and speculation.

Browns QB Johnny Manziel Taking Third-String Reps

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Three weeks ago, the Cleveland Browns traded up in the first round of the NFL draft and selected Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to be their quarterback of the future—and likely the present.

    But per NFL Media's Aditi Kinkhabwala (h/t NFL.com's Marc Sessler), Manziel took third-team reps at the team's recent OTAs.

    That decision by Browns coach Mike Pettine fits with the desire of owner Jimmy Haslam for Manziel to "act like a backup."

    There's only one problem with everything written above: None of it matters in the least. Regardless of what Haslam says and Pettine's construction of the OTA depth chart, Manziel is going to start the vast majority of games for the Browns this year, not Brian Hoyer.

    The team didn't trade up for Manziel so he could hold a clipboard during the fall. Browns fans would riot if Manziel were third on the depth chart when the calendar turns to September. There's simply no chance of it happening.

    When it comes to the noise emanating from Berea concerning Manziel, we urge you to ignore the noise. 

    He will be Cleveland's primary starting quarterback this season.

Cowboys, QB Kyle Orton in Standoff over Retirement

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo is 34 years old and is coming off a second back surgery, making the backup signal-caller an extremely important member of the team's 53-man roster.

    At this point, it's unclear who the reserve passer will be, as incumbent Kyle Orton has informed the team of his plans to retire, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling).

    But it won't be that easy for the 31-year-old Orton to just walk away from Big D. If he does indeed hang up the cleats, he'll have to forfeit $3 million of his $5 million signing bonus.

    Now, Orton must decide whether an early retirement is worth losing $3 million, and it's a critical decision for the Cowboys. The team's current third-stringer is former Browns passer Brandon Weeden, who owns a career starting record of 5-15 and has tossed only 23 touchdown passes against 26 interceptions.

    If Romo were to miss any significant period of time, forcing the Cowboys to turn to Weeden, the season would surely be lost. While Orton isn't a franchise-caliber quarterback, he's capable of keeping a team afloat. Weeden isn't.

    This situation looms as an important one for Cowboys fans to monitor. The hope has to be that Orton chooses money over retirement and comes back for the 2014 season.

Texans WR Andre Johnson Won't Be at Voluntary OTAs?

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    In his 11 seasons with the Houston Texans, wide receiver Andre Johnson has established himself as arguably the best player in the history of the franchise.

    But as he heads into his 12th campaign, he doesn't appear happy with the direction of the club.

    A few weeks ago, Johnson vented his frustrations to the media, via Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:

    I just look at my career. … I’ve only been to the playoffs twice. I think we’ve only had three winning seasons. I don’t think any player wants to experience that. I think over time it can become very frustrating. And this offseason has been very frustrating for me; beginning of the offseason, I should say. That’s just kind of where I’m at right now.

    As expected, Texans coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith are working to allay Johnson's concerns, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. The duo is hoping that Johnson will show up for the team's voluntary OTAs this upcoming week.

    It's hard to blame Johnson for feeling unfulfilled, as the Texans have only made the playoffs twice in his career and had the NFL's worst record last year.

    Texans fans shouldn't be stressing these developments too much, as it would be a titanic upset if Johnson played anywhere but Houston this season. If the Texans were to trade Johnson, they'd take an $11.96 million hit against their 2014 salary cap, per Spotrac.

    As Dan Hanzus of NFL.com states, "The smart money still has Johnson going nowhere this summer."

    Happy or unhappy, Johnson will likely spend the fall catching passes from whomever the Texans quarterback ends up being.

Bears Looking Like a Playoff Team

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Last season, the Chicago Bears blew a golden opportunity to win the NFC North, falling to the Packers in heartbreaking fashion in Week 17.

    Ultimately, the defense was the albatross slung around the club's collective neck, as it finished the season ranked 30th overall and allowed a ridiculous 5.3 yards per carry.

    But general manager Phil Emery has improved the unit leaps and bounds this offseason with the free-agent signings of defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, as well as the selection of Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th overall pick in the draft. When coupled with what's sure to be an explosive offense keyed by quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears have the look and feel of a playoff team.

    Add Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush to the chorus of those impressed by Chicago's offseason, as he told CSN Chicago's SportsTalk Live that the Bears have "gotten better" and are a "really good team."

    Bush is 100 percent right.

    The offense, with Cutler, running back Matt Forte, receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, is sure to light up scoreboards. The defense can't be any worse than it was in 2013 and actually looks to be much improved.

    The Green Bay Packers and the rest of the NFC need to take notice.

    The Bears are for real and are absolutely one of the best six teams in the NFC.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton Needs to Make "The Leap"

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    David Kohl/Associated Press

    Earlier this week, I wrote that no AFC quarterback has more to prove in 2014 than Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.

    To his credit, it appears Dalton is aware that he must elevate his level of play in order to push the Bengals to the next level.

    In an interview with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, new Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had this to say regarding Dalton's offseason work:

    (Dalton) wants to be great. He’s not interested in being good anymore. Good has gotten us three playoff appearances with no wins. I think he wants to be great and he’s working at it. That’s all you can hope for at this point.

    Bengals fans should be very pleased to read that quote, as it shows that Dalton gets it. He has been nothing short of putrid in his three postseason starts (one touchdown pass against six interceptions) and simply must play better in critical spots to avoid being the anchor weighing the club down.

    If Dalton can indeed "be great" in 2014 and beyond, the Bengals will be a perennial Super Bowl contender.

    Jackson is confident Dalton's ascension will begin this fall.

Patriots Aren't "That Interested" in Trading QB Ryan Mallett

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    While many (including yours truly) expected the New England Patriots to trade backup quarterback Ryan Mallett during the draft, the event came and went with Mallett still a member of coach Bill Belichick's team.

    That doesn't mean Mallett can't or won't be traded over the remainder of the offseason.

    In an interview Thursday with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Belichick had this to say regarding a potential trade of Mallett: "That's not something we're that interested in."

    The inclusion of the second "that" would seem to indicate that Belichick does indeed have some level of interest in moving Mallett, and it more likely means that he hasn't yet received an offer he deems suitable enough to ship his backup passer elsewhere.

    With the Patriots having selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round and Mallett entering the final year of his rookie deal, Mallett is certainly expendable. Belichick might be waiting for a quarterback-needy team to come calling as the season moves closer before potentially dealing him away.