Report: Jets interested in Quinn

The New York Jets could have some interest in Brady Quinn, says ESPN.

The apparent connection is the friendship Quinn, currently with the Kansas City Chiefs, has with new Jets quarterbacks coach David Lee.

Quinn probably doesn't figure into the plans in Kansas City now that the Chiefs are poised to acquire Alex Smith. The question is can Quinn find a team where he does fit into the plans. The former first-round pick has already been discarded by the Browns and Broncos before latching on with the Chiefs.

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The NFP's top-50 free agents of 2013

One of the most entertaining aspects of the NFL offseason returns March 12 when the feeding frenzy known as free agency gets underway in 31 cities around the country. To better prepare you for the madness, we’ve compiled our list of the top-50 free agents who have a chance to hit the open market.

By chance, we mean that some of these guys will never make it to March 12. Some players, like Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady, will get hit with the franchise tag while others, like Giants offensive tackle Will Beatty, will come to an agreement on a new long-term contract with their current club. In any event, the following 50 players are still eligible for free agency at the current moment. But over the next few days, several of these players will find themselves under contract for the 2013 season.


Updated: Friday, March 1 at 11:50am eastern.

1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens: Flacco’s about to get paid off on one of the greatest gambles of all time, which started last summer when the 28-year-old rolled the dice by saying no to a contract extension from the Ravens. All he’s done since is produce one of the greatest postseason runs imaginable en route to taking home Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors along with a shiny new ring. The Ravens have until March 4 to hit Flacco with either the non-exclusive franchise tag (at approximately $14.6 million) or the exclusive franchise tag (at approximately $20.4 million), but we doubt it comes to that. Baltimore is going to pony up, and rightfully so.

Update: Joe Flacco and the Ravens came to an agreement on a long-term contract extension last Friday.

Ryan CladyJohn Elway has already made it clear that he has no intention of letting Ryan Clady hit the open market.

2. Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos: The three-time Pro Bowler has started all 80 regular season games of his five-year career and consistently grades out as one of the best left tackles in the business (5.2 sacks allowed per season). And you don’t invest in a quarterback like Peyton Manning without ensuring that his blind side is protected, which is why John Elway has made it clear that Denver will slap the franchise tag on Clady this offseason.

Update: Denver has placed the franchise tag on Clady.

3. Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears: The 26-year-old has recorded 13 sacks over his last 29 starts and emerged as one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen in 2012. Melton’s 24 quarterback hurries last season ranked sixth in the NFL among interior defensive linemen, which is impressive when you consider the fact that he took 175+ fewer snaps than four of the players ranked above him. At the moment, all signs point to the Bears shelling out the $8.3 million it will cost to retain Melton under the franchise tag.

Update: Chicago has placed the franchise tag on Melton.

4. Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo Bills: The former Oregon Duck led the AFC in interceptions as a rookie in 2009 (9) and again in 2012 (5), which paved the way for Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in each season. The Bills have plenty of tough decisions to make in the coming weeks that could possibly lead to Byrd avoiding the franchise tag and testing the waters. His agent will likely point to the 56.9 passer rating opposing quarterbacks posted when throwing at his client in 2012. Philadelphia would be wise to make some inquiries, should the opportunity present itself.

Update (3/1 at 12:45pm EST): Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Bills intend to place the franchise tag on Byrd at a cost of $6.9 million.

5. Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions: Avril has amassed 20.5 sacks over his last 32 regular season games with the Lions, but was rated just 55th in the NFL among 4-3 defensive ends by Pro Football Focus in 2012. While some would say he regressed a bit last season, that shouldn’t prevent the versatile 26-year-old from cashing in big come March. After all, Avril has recorded 8.5 or more sacks in each of the last three seasons.

6. Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Wallace failed to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in three years last season and watched his reception totals drop from 72 in 2011 to 64 in 2012. But that won’t stop the Miami Dolphins from making a serious run at one of the game’s most explosive deep threats come March. Wallace is only 26-years-old and has scored 26 touchdowns over his last 47 games.

7. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas Cowboys: Despite appearing in only l4 games last season, the six-year veteran posted career-highs in both tackles (95) and sacks (11). Which begs the question, did Spencer step it up because he was playing for a new contract, or is he ready to play at this type of level on a consistent basis? It looks like the Cowboys are prepared to find out, but will have to clear some cap space before they can pull the trigger.

8. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: Johnson’s first full season as a starter in Cincinnati produced outstanding results, as the 6-7, 270-pounder recorded career-highs in both tackles (52) and sacks (11.5). But the big question in Cincinnati at the moment is whether it will be he or offensive tackle Andre Smith who gets hit with the franchise tag this offseason. Should the Bengals opt to tag Smith, Johnson will enter the market coming off the best season of his four-year career.

Update (3/1 at 1:17pm EST): Per multiple reports, the Bengals are expected to place the franchise tag on Johnson at a cost of $11.175 million.

9. Paul Kruger, OLB, Baltimore Ravens: Kruger’s a situational player who has made just seven starts in four professional seasons. But he’s coming off a career-best 9-sack campaign that saw the 27-year-old amass another 4.5 sacks—along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery—during Baltimore’s successful four-game Super Bowl run. That’s called getting hot at the right time. Look for a 3-4 defense in serious need of some pass rushing help to come calling in March.

Dashon GoldsonGoldson is riding back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl into free agency.

10. Dashon Goldson, FS, San Francisco 49ers: Goldson is more of a hard-hitting gambler than a technically-sound player, but that style has helped him earn back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl along with an All-Pro nomination in 2012. The six-year veteran has recorded 14 interceptions over the last four years, amassed a career-high 11 pass deflections in 2012 and allowed opposing quarterbacks to record a passer rating of just 44.8 when throwing his way last season (ninth in NFL). At the moment, it appears as if the Niners don’t intend to use the franchise tag this offseason, which means Goldson will either return to San Francisco with a new deal or make his bones elsewhere in 20

11. William Moore, SS, Atlanta Falcons: Moore has made just 23 starts over the last two years due to injuries, so that could hurt his value on the open market. But the four-year veteran has rolled up 11 interceptions over his last three seasons and made a career-high 75 tackles in 12 starts last year. The 27-year-old appears to be coming into his own with the Falcons, who should make a strong push to re-sign Moore over the next few weeks.

12. Sean Smith, CB, Miami Dolphins: The five interceptions in 63 career games won’t knock you off your seat, but Smith possesses one key attribute that cannot be taught: Size. At 6-3, the 25-year-old fits the bill for any team looking to emulate what the Seattle Seahawks have done with physically imposing cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Speaking of the Seahawks, former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is now the new head coach in Jacksonville, a team that could come calling for Smith’s services once the market opens.

13. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: The best tight end to every play the game, Gonzo has yet to officially decide whether or not he’ll return for a 16th NFL season. It’s clear from his 93-930-8 stat line from 2012 that the 37-year-old still has what it takes to produce at a high level in the National Football League. Should he opt for one more run, expect the Falcons to close a deal rather quickly.

14. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City: Questions regarding work ethic and commitment abound, but it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs parting ways with their most talented receiver now that Alex Smith is in the fold. Bowe flashed big-time potential in 2010 when he racked up 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and a career-best 15 scores, but shaky quarterback play in Kansas City over the last few seasons has caused a drop in the statistics department. Expect Bowe to get hit with the franchise tag for a second consecutive season.

15. Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots: The talent is there, as evidenced by New England’s uptick in secondary play following Talib’s arrival in November. But you have to wonder how high the market is willing to go for a player with the baggage and checkered past that Talib brings to the table. That being said, the 27-year-old has amassed 19 interceptions and four touchdowns in 64 career games and was able to keep his nose clean during his short stint in New England. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots work to bring him back.

16. Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons: Grimes recorded 11 interceptions from 2009-2010 and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl (2010) before opposing quarterbacks started showing him a bit more respect. But an Achilles injury limited the 29-year-old to just one game last season and now that he’s set to turn 30 this July, the market may not come calling the way Grimes’ agent hopes. The six-year veteran is expected to be ready come Week 1, but his age and injury history are definitely worth noting.

17. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots: Is it the system or the player? That’s the critical question that needs to be addressed before determining Welker’s value on the open market. But the answer is simple: It’s both. There’s no doubt that Welker has benefitted greatly from playing alongside future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, but no receiver amasses 672 receptions over a six-year span without possessing both skill and talent. Brady and Belichick would love to have him back, but now is the time for the 31-year-old to focus on what’s best financially for him.

Dannell EllerbeEllerbe stepped up huge when Ray Lewis was lost for the remainder of the regular season.

18. Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Baltimore Ravens: The 27-year-old had just seven career starts in three years under his belt before making a splash when asked to fill in for the injured Ray Lewis. Ellerbe racked up a career-high 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season while making the case that he deserves to start in the NFL. The four-year veteran has publicly declared that he would like to remain in Baltimore, but the Ravens are hamstrung until they wrap up the Joe Flacco situation. If this guy hits the market, don’t be surprised if he commands a whole lot of attention.

19. Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo Bills: He’s started all 64 games of his four-year career, allowing a total of just 11.25 sacks during that time span. In addition, Levitre graded out as the league’s ninth-best offensive guard in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. The 26-year-old has a world of upside and could command big bucks on the open market if the Bills let him get away by opting instead to use the franchise tag on FS Jairus Byrd.

20. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: Expected to void the final year of his contract with the Rams, Jackson is about to hit the open market for the first time in his nine-year career. The 29-year-old has been to three Pro Bowls, been selected as an All-Pro twice and has amassed 1,350+ total yards in each of the last five seasons, all while playing on a bad football team. Age and wear are a concern, but Jackson still has enough left to make for one half of a highly effective 1-2 backfield punch. We’re thinking Atlanta, who is set to part ways with Michael Turner.

21. Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals: It’s hard to imagine that just four years ago Smith appeared to be doing everything within his power to damage his draft stock. But the 26-year-old got his head right, matured and has since developed into one of the best right tackles in all of football. The former Alabama product has surrendered just 12 sacks in 43 career games and graded out as the league’s fourth-best offensive tackle in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals will use the franchise tag on either Smith or DE Michael Johnson this offseason and at the moment, we’d be willing to bet it goes to Smith.

22. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins: The first overall pick of the 2008 draft, Long earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league. But his production has been in decline over the last two years, as evidenced by the fact that the former Michigan Wolverine surrendered a sack every 3.5 games during his first three professional campaigns, but watched that number drop to one sack every 2.08 games from 2011-2012. Production issues aside, Long missed the final four games of 2012 with a triceps injury and is looking for big-time money on the open market. He’s unlikely to get it.

23. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers: Now 29-years-old and having appeared in just 18 games over the last two seasons, there are plenty of questions regarding how much Jennings has left in the tank. But while injuries have been a big problem as of late, Jennings should be more than capable of successfully filling a need for a wide receiver-hungry team…if the price is right. The Jets, Texans, Seahawks, Vikings and Rams could all coming looking to kick the tires.

24. Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New Engl
and Patriots:
Was named second-team All-Pro during a 16-start 2010 campaign and has surrendered a reasonable 11.5 sacks in 51 career appearances. Vollmer has the size (6-8, 320) to develop into one of the league’s more dominant tackles, but he’ll have to work his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery first. Take note that the 28-year-old graded out as the league’s 13th-best offensive tackle in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. We expect New England to bring him back.

25. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans: Versatile in that he can line up in the slot, out wide or along the offensive line, Cook is a solid athlete (6-5, 248) who is likely to catch the attention of any team looking to emulate what New England has been doing the last couple of years. He’s caught 93 passes over his last two seasons, but Cook tends to fly below the radar because the quarterback situation in Tennessee has been less than stellar, to say the least. Cook and the Titans are currently in the midst of a dispute over his franchise tag number (he says wide receiver money, Tennessee says tight end money), so we’ll see if the two sides can work something out before March 12.

Jermon BushrodBushrod hasn't missed a start for the Saints since 2009.

26. Jermon Bushrod, OT, New Orleans Saints: Bushrod has started every game along the New Orleans offensive line for the last three years, earned a trip to Hawaii in both 2011 and 2012 and is surrendering a sack just once every 3.5 games since 2010. The Saints want him back in the fold for the long-term, but don’t plan on using the franchise tag this offseason. That means both sides have just under two weeks to work out a deal, or the 6-5, 315-pounder could bolt for a team like Chicago, which is where Bushrod’s first position coach, Aaron Kromer, is currently employed.

27. Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs: With Alex Smith coming to town and the first overall pick in their back pocket, the Chiefs have to decide who gets the franchise tag between WR Dwayne Bowe, P Dustin Colquitt and Albert. Our money is on Bowe, as Albert missed three games last season with a back injury and this year’s draft class has some quality talent at the offensive tackle position. Albert will be looking for big money on the open market, but take note that he’s never been to the Pro Bowl and graded out as the 25th-best offensive tackle in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.

28. Phil Loadholt, OT, Minnesota Vikings: He’s started every game but one (2009) during his four-year career with the Vikings and was a big reason why Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson ran for over 2,000 yards in 2012. At 27-years-old and considered to be one of the more consistent right tackles in the league, we have a hard time believing the Vikings will let Loadholt skip town.

29. Desmond Bryant, DT, Oakland Raiders: The 6-6, 311-pounder out of Harvard recorded a career-best 36 tackles in 2012 and has amassed 9.0 sacks over the last two years, despite starting just 18 games. Throw in the fact that Bryant graded out as the sixth-best defensive tackle in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus and you have a guy ready to cash in his chips, right? Maybe, but Bryant’s arrest in Miami on February 24 for criminal mischief and goofball mug shot may have some teams thinking twice about shelling out the big-time cheese.

30. Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The former Texas A&M standout was a relative unknown until he started 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2012, amassing career-highs in sacks (9.0), tackles (41) and forced fumbles (3). Tampa Bay is a team that you’d consider flush across the defensive line based on all the draft picks they’ve spent there over the last few years. But Bennett has emerged as one of the brighter stars among that unit, meaning the organization should look to bring him back with a new contract.

31. Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams: The Rams went 5-5-1 with Amendola in the lineup last season and just 2-3 without him, so you have to think the St. Louis front office is interested in bringing the four-year veteran back to town. The 27-year-old is averaging 4.6 receptions per game during his time in St. Louis, but at the moment, he’s the only viable receiving option for soon-to-be-on-the-hot-seat quarterback Sam Bradford. Take note that when Amendola suited up in 2012, the Rams averaged 20.6 points per game. When the wide receiver was out of action, St. Louis scored just 14.4 points per game.

32. Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins: One of Miami’s more consistent defenders, Starks has amassed 22 sacks during his five-year stint in Miami and has started every game but one over the last four seasons. The nine-year veteran’s age (29) may be a bit of a concern, but Starks is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he graded out at 15th in the league among defensive tackles against the rush, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s a prime candidate for the Dolphins’ franchise tag.

Update: Miami has placed the franchise tag on Starks.

33. Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants: At 31-years-old, Umenyiora is looking to cash in on what could be his final NFL contract. He’s started just 11 games over the last two seasons due to the emergence of both Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, but still managed to record 15 sacks with the snaps he’s seen since 2011. Graded out as the 31st-best defensive end in 2012 by Pro Football Focus, there should be a market for this situational pass rusher who still knows how to get after the quarterback.

Ed ReedIs it possible that Reed could leave Baltimore for a team like the Patriots?

34. Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens: He’ll be 35-years-old in September, but take note that Reed has started all 32 regular season games for the Ravens since 2011. His skills may be in decline, but the 11-year veteran brings more to the table than a nose for the football. Reed brings leadership, Super Bowl experience and a commanding presence on defense. If he and the Ravens can’t work something out, look for Reed to resurface with a contender that may be one or two pieces away from completing the puzzle.

35. Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Injuries have limited the four-year veteran to 13 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons, but Cox has intercepted a healthy four passes in three of his four professional campaigns. Playing in Jacksonville hasn’t done anything for the 26-year-old’s marketability and neither will the fact that he graded out as the 71st-best cornerback in the league in 2012, per Pro Football Focus. Still, Cox should generate some interest and could have a new home by Day 3 of free agency.

36. Louis Vasquez, OG, San Diego Chargers: 2012 was the first time that Vasquez completed a full 16-game regular season, allowing just 2.5 sacks and committing zero holding penalties or false starts in the process. And at 6-5, 335 pounds and considered one of the few bright spots along the shaky San Diego offensive line, don’t be surprised if the Bolts figure out how to keep the 25-year-old around for a fe
w more seasons.

37. Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins: Davis tore his left Achilles tendon back on October 21, so there will be plenty of questions as to the tight end’s status as we approach March 12. But the upside is that the five-year veteran has been cleared for running and to “ramp up his physical activity.” Durability has been a concern for Davis over the last few years, but when he’s on the field, he’s more than capable of producing some respectable stat lines (59-796-3 in 12 games in 2011).

38. Jason Jones, DT, Seattle Seahawks: Jones has recorded three or more sacks in each of his five seasons in the league, but didn’t start a single game for the Seahawks during his one year in Seattle (2012). There’s a good chance that at least one team looking for some interior defensive line help will remember the performances the 26-year-old put on tape during his time in Tennessee, which should help to create a market for the five-year veteran’s services.

39. Louis Delmas, SS, Detroit Lions: When he’s healthy, Delmas is one of the more physical, playmaking strong safeties in the league. But after making 30 starts over his first two seasons, the Western Michigan product has been sidelined with a variety of injuries that forced him to miss 13 games over the last two years. The 25-year-old will have to demonstrate that he has the durability to withstand the punishment of a 16-game campaign before somebody is willing to offer a lucrative long-term deal.

40. Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: Credit Bush for finally coming close to meeting expectations during his last two years in Miami, where the former USC standout recorded 2,660 total yards and 15 touchdowns over his last 31 games. But the 27-year-old has proven he’s not an every-down back in the NFL, so he’ll need a suitor who is interested in complementing their already-existing backfield. Keep an eye on the Lions, who are rumored to have an interest in bringing Bush to town.

41. Daryl Smith, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Smith was one of the more underrated outside linebackers in the NFL during a three-year stint from 2009-2011 that saw the nine-year veteran account for 311 tackles, 8.5 sacks and three interceptions while starting 48 of a possible 48 games for the Jaguars. But Smith turns 31-years-old in March and appeared in just two games last season due to a groin injury that kept him out of action until December. Re-signing with the Jaguars and new head coach Gus Bradley makes the most sense.

Dwight FreeneyFreeney has enough left in the tank to contribute as a situational pass rusher.

42. Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts: The seven-time Pro Bowler’s numbers took a significant hit when Freeney was asked to move from defensive end in a 4-3 system to outside linebacker in new head coach Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme. But don’t let the age (32) or the wear and tear (11 seasons, 163 games) fool you. Freeney still has enough left in the tank to contribute as a situational pass rusher, especially if he signs with a 4-3 defense. The big question is, how much cash will he be looking for? Players in both Denver and Atlanta began recruiting Freeney the day he was released by Indianapolis.

43. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: DRC was a total bust during his two seasons in Philadelphia, which is why it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see the Eagles let him walk. Rodgers-Cromartie graded out as the 98th-ranked cornerback in the league in 2012 and the 86th-ranked CB in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus. Still, we have a feeling that at least one NFL team is going to overpay badly for this 26-year-old come March. If the guy ever figures out how to improve his shoddy tackling, he may have a shot at getting back to the Pro Bowl.

44. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets: Caught 120 passes and scored ten touchdowns from 2010-2011, but caught the injury bug during last season’s contract year and appeared in only eight games. The Jets would probably like to keep the five-year veteran around for a while longer, but the problem is that the team is cash-strapped at the moment and looks to be in rebuilding mode. If Jared Cook gets hit with the franchise tag in Tennessee, that should help Keller’s stock on the open market.

45. Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego Chargers: The 26-year-old posted a career-high 73 tackles in 2012, has recorded 12 interceptions during his five years with the Bolts and amassed 45 pass deflections over his last 48 games. Those are pretty solid numbers until you look at the 98.0 passer rating opposing quarterbacks posted when targeting Cason in 2012. The problem is that he’s a bit of a gambler, which means high-risk/high-reward results. Could fit nicely in an aggressive, press-coverage system.

46. Martellus Bennett, TE, New York Giants: One day Bennett may finally wake up and realize that he possesses a tremendous physical advantage over the guys trying to cover him. But until that time comes, the 26-year-old will be nothing more than an inconsistent pass-catcher who displays flashes of big-play potential. The upside is that the five-year veteran is coming off a career-year that consisted of 55 receptions for 626 yards and five scores, so there will definitely be a few teams interested in negotiating.

47. Shaun Phillips, OLB, San Diego Chargers: Coming off a 9.5-sack season in which he started all 16 games for the Chargers, you would think that we might be hearing a bit more about Phillips in the weeks leading up to free agency. But the bottom line is that he’ll be 32-years-old when Week 1 finally arrives. Phillips recorded an impressive 69.5 sacks during his nine years in San Diego, but the Bolts are strapped for cash and have younger OLBs in Melvin Ingram, Jarret Johnson and Larry English that the team can turn to. Look for potential interest out of the Browns and Cardinals.

48. Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons: Baker started all 16 regular season games for the Falcons in 2012, surrendering just 3.5 sacks and grading out as the 27th-best offensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. But injuries have been a bit of a problem and to make matters worse for Baker, there is a deep pool of offensive tackle talent heading to market this March. Re-signing with the Falcons could be the most likely outcome here.

49. Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The 26-year-old from Oregon State started just one game during his first three years in the league before being thrust into action for 16 starts in 2012, where he made a name for himself as a physical presence on the Pittsburgh defense. Although he failed to record a single interception last season, Lewis rolled up 69 tackles and 23 pass deflections while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 80.7 when throwing in his direction. The cash-strapped Steelers will try their best to retain Lewis’ services, but that doesn't mean he won't have the opportunity to hit the open market coming off a very respectable season.

50. Dunta Robinson, CB, Atlanta Falcons:

Bills' Kelsay announces retirement

Veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay announced his retirement from the NFL on Wednesday after spending 10 years with the club.

“I want to thank Mr. Wilson for the opportunity he gave me 10 years ago to be a Buffalo Bill,” said Kelsay via the Bills website. “One of my goals was to finish my career with the team that drafted me and that came to fruition. I feel very blessed to say that.”

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Terry McCormick covers the Titans for

Johnny Jolly reinstated by NFL

Johnny Jolly has a chance to resume his career in the NFL.

The NFL has reinstated the defensive lineman from suspension this week. Jolly tweeted out a letter informing him he is able to seek employment in the league again.

The Green Bay Packers retain the rights to Jolly, who has not played in three years following a series of arrests for possession of codeine. Jolly turned 30 earlier this month.

In June, Jolly told the National Football Post he had been sober for eight months and that he hoped to get a second chance from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He applied for reinstatement at that time.

I know that the NFL doesn’t need me,” Jolly said at the time. “I need it way more than it needs me. I really want to be a part of it and I am hoping to go back and show that I am a good reliable citizen that the league and others can depend on and trust.

“It was very hard and painful being in jail,” Jolly said. “Being away from your family, it hurt me bad. Everyone looks up to you is like … it hurts them too. It’s so hard to adjust. But when I was in there I learned that I had to find out who my real friends was, to sit down and go over myself and examine myself and see who I really was.

“I just want to show everyone that I am a reliable person and I am trustworthy and responsible,” he said. “I am willing to talk to kids and tell them about the things that I’ve went through, not only the kids but there might be other guys that might have a problem and I’d be able to talk to those guys as well.

“I am pretty sure a lot of guys have been through a lot of things, but I feel like I’ve got some experience with it, what I’ve been through. I can let these guys know ahead of time before they go down a road of destruction, to keep them on the right path.

“I just hope I can get a chance.”

His chance has arrived. Now, we’ll see if there is a club willing to give Jolly a chance, starting with the Packers.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

14 Players Who Helped Their Draft Stock Most At Combine

1. Tavon Austin, WR/RET, West Virginia: Austin arrived in Indianapolis having to prove he had the elite athleticism to warrant a first round pick in spite of his lack of size. While he did not get any taller, his workout convinced everyone we spoke to that he is the real deal and will no doubt be a big play, game changer in the NFL. Not only impressive athletically, Austin caught the ball excellently and impressed in interviews. After coming to the Combine with questions, Austin heads home as a definite first rounder.

GIOVANI BERNARDUS PRESSWIRENorth Carolina running back Giovani Bernard changes directions running in the open field.

2. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: In a battle with Andre Ellington and Montee Ball to be the second running back drafted and trying to prove worthy of a first round pick, Bernard put his best foot forward in Indianapolis. Although comparing players to Pro Bowl players is risky, NFL personnel expressed to us how much Bernard reminded them of Ravens’ running back Ray Rice during his positional workout. Not only did Bernard separate himself from Ellington and Ball, but he did so well that he may be able to challenge Lacy to be the first back drafted.

3. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Despite already viewed as a first round pick, Floyd’s performance at the Combine was still so great that it caught people by surprise. His ability to COD and explode in the other direction while maintaining balance is that of a rare athlete. Combined with his size and the strength he showed on film, Floyd proved he is an elite talent worthy of being a top ten pick in the 2013 Draft.

4. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas: After a good 2011 season there were high expectations for Gragg entering the 2012 season, but he did not have a good year and scouts were down on his draft prospects. However, after an excellent display of athleticism during the positional workout in Indy, NFL personnel think Gragg may be able to return to his previous form. Showing quickness and precision running routes along with good hands and body control, Gragg showed the tools to potentially make an impact as a receiving tight end in the NFL.

5. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: Following up an excellent week at the Senior Bowl, Jones proved that he is the most polished of the 275+ pound defensive ends in this year’s Draft. Remarkably light on his feet, Jones was able to change directions quickly and displayed rare explosiveness for a man his size. After his performances in Mobile and Indy, there is no doubt that Jones will be a first round pick.

DION JORDANUS PRESSWIREOregon's Dion Jordan lays out to make tackle against Wisconsin.

6. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: Tall and linear, Jordan came to Indianapolis viewed as somewhat of a “tweener,” which had NFL personnel trying to figure out where he fit best and if he had the athleticism to overcome his thin frame. However, after an outstanding workout that had scouts calling him a superstar he is in position to be a top ten pick. Explosive going forward rushing the passer, Jordan ability to move and adjust so smooth and easily out in space during linebacker drills was exceptional and left everyone watching confident he can be an impact player in the NFL.

7. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: Although no one doubted that Milliner was a high end cornerback before the Combine, there were questions about his top end speed and explosiveness. After blazing an incredibly fast 40 time and then displaying elite explosiveness, body control and speed throughout the positional workout Milliner left no doubt that he is not only the best cornerback in the Draft, but will not get out of the top ten.

8. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: While questions no doubt still persist about Mingo’s lack of elite production at LSU, there are no questions about his having Pro Bowl caliber athleticism. When I spoke to NFL personnel after the DL/LB workouts, they could not stop raving about Mingo’s workout. His ability to maintain knee bend and good balance while explosively changing directions impressed scouts. He proved he has the athleticism to excel as a rush linebacker in a 34 scheme and as an under-sized defensive end in a 43 defense.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: An explosive and highly productive gap shooting defensive tackle at Missouri, NFL teams wanted to determine if he has the high end athleticism to be as productive in the NFL. After a workout where NFL personnel said he moved around like a running back, no doubts he has the talent to be an impact player in the NFL. Throughout the positional workout Richardson showed the flexibility to maintain bend while adjusting and changing directions with ease. Not only was his workout outstanding, but he impressed during interviews with his smarts, passion and intensity, which assures he will be a top 20 pick.

10. Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan: Robinson showed at the Senior Bowl that making the switch to slot receiver was not going to be an easy road as his routes were raw and he struggled catching the ball. However, in Indy he proved to everyone that he has been working extremely hard to improve as his routes were better and his hands were significantly improved. While he still has a way to go to become polished and consistent receiver, the improvement he showed since January puts him back in position to potentially be selected as high as the third round.

ACE SANDERSUS PRESSWIRESouth Carolina's Ace Sanders explodes after changing directions.

11. Ace Sanders, WR/RET, South Carolina: Tavon Austin may well have laid claim to being the best slot receiver / returner in the Draft, but Ace Sanders had an outstanding workout himself. Viewed as not having the top end talent to make up for his lack of size, Sanders’ showed explosive acceleration, sharp route running ability and soft, natural hands throughout positional drills. His performance will not move him into the first or second round, but it likely put him in position to be a third or fourth round selection.

12. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona: Many of the bigger names quarterbacks failed to impress at the Combine, but Scott definitely showed that he has to be considered one of the better developmental prospects. Regarded more as a run first quarterback whose strength was his athleticism, Scott’s quick releas
e, strong arm and accuracy were much better than expected. Scott still needs a big pro day, but if he throws as well as he did in Indy then I believe he will end up climbing to the top of day three on Draft day.

13. Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State: Constantly referred to as “the other cornerback” at Mississippi State where he played opposite Johnathan Banks, Slay outperformed Banks in Indy to make NFL personnel stand up and take notice. A tall cornerback himself at 6’0, Slay’s quick feet, loose hips, speed and ball skills really impressed throughout positional drills. While we still expect Banks to be selected higher in the Draft, Slay’s performance in Indy likely will lead to him being selected one the second day of the Draft.

14. Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame: While nearly everyone in the media is smashing Te’o saying he had a terrible combine because he ran in the low 4.8’s, our sources tell us that those reports could not be farther from the truth. During the most of the remaining measured drills, Te’o was better than average and near the top in some. During the positional drills, Te’o proved that he is a good all-around athlete with smooth movement skills, not elite athleticism. But most importantly, Te’o stood out in team interviews displaying good leadership and football intelligence. Everyone we spoke to told us that they are confident after this week that he can be a solid starting linebacker in the NFL as either an MLB in a 43 defense or an ILB in a 34 scheme.

Email Russ at and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE

Report: Chiefs give up two picks for Smith

The trade that will send Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers to the Chiefs apparently will cost Kansas City a second-round pick in this year's draft and another second-rounder in 2014, per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

The second-rounder in this year's draft is a pretty valuable pick, considering the Chiefs 2-14 record, as it would be the 34th overall choice. The value of the 2014 pick obviously remains to be seen, depending upon how much Smith and new head coach Andy Reid can improve the Chiefs this season.

By acquiring Smith, the Chiefs may have solved their biggest dilemma before the draft, especially seeing that there was no quarterback in this year's draft regarded as a sure-fire prospect, the way Andrew Luck was seen last year when the Colts chose him first overall.

Follow me on Twitter @TerryMc13

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for

Giants lock up Will Beatty with five-year deal

The New York Giants created needed salary-cap space earlier this month when they cut some star-name veteran contributors like running back Ahmad Bradshaw and defensive lineman Chris Canty.

Today, they used some of that room to make sure another high-profile player does not exit via free agency. The Giants signed left tackle Will Beatty, who would have been one of the better players at his position available in free agency beginning March 12, to a five-year contract. That ensures the blind side protection for quarterback Eli Manning remains in place.

Beatty’s five-year deal is worth a base value of $37.5 million and includes $19 million fully guaranteed, according to Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger. He can earn an additional $1 million in incentives.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Five notes from the 2013 NFL Combine

Each and every combine has it’s own feel. This year’s theme seemed more businesslike than usual. In years past, one attending the Combine always sees or hears stories of how the recent Super Bowl champs were celebrating their victory. One year for example, after the Saints had their first victory, you could spot the staff and brass really having fun enjoying the ride. This year the Ravens staff kept a fairly low profile.

Here are some observations made while in Indy:

1) Mayock’s the man: If draft analyst Mike Mayock was in a horse race with Mel Kiper and Todd McShay he just passed them up. Although all three guys are respected throughout media circles, Mike is becoming more of an insider with coaches, scouts and GMs. He talks their language, watches a lot of college football tape and is a good listener. It seems like his analysis of players is gaining credibility with agents and NFL decision makers.

NikeNike's newest 40 cleat, the Vapor Laser Talon.

2) Turf wars: If you tuned in to watch the 2013 “Under Armor” Combine you saw that the lead sponsor was using a “Shock and Awe” Campaign to get their brand noticed. However, the participants could wear whatever shoe they wanted to workout in and the majority chose a Nike shoe. The lime green shoe worn by many of this year’s speed demons was called the Laser. The shoe was so new and secret that players had to return after using it because they didn’t want it to fall into competitors hands.

Nike’s method of marketing is more personal and surgical. Each year, Nike has a suite at the Combine where players can come by for free shoes and cleats. In typical Nike fashion, they can also get a massage, a haircut, refreshments and get to know the Nike reps. Adidas also had a suite in Indy but they seem to be there just to check the box. Under Armor’s steady glacier like move into football is impressive but Nike is still the reigning king with the players.

3) The O-linemen were the talk of the week: If you didn’t get a chance to see the O-linemen work out, you missed, pound for pound, the most athletic group at the Combine. These were not your father’s O-linemen. They were trim, fast, strong and athletic. Many scouts that I spoke with said this class was impressive from a pure athletic standpoint and many of them can back it up with tough solid play. There may be more offensive linemen drafted in the first three rounds of this draft than ever before in the history of the draft. The TE’s were also an impressive group.

4) Struggles with the cap: The race for cap space was obvious with many cuts coming prior to Indy. Those cuts and restructures were made so teams can hold on to their own players and stay under the new cap. The consensus thinking on Tom Brady’s restructure was that it was done with the motivation to hold on to Wes Welker. Many think it was Tom’s idea. I didn’t hear as much buzz about going after priority free agents as I have in the past. With a very small increase in the salary cap, teams aren’t getting that instant built in relief that was just given to them with big cap increases of the past. Seems to me that teams are coveting their valuable draft picks and holding on to their own vets.

5) More work and less play: As I bounced around Indy’s hotels and restaurants for meetings, I noticed a lot less NFL brass and coaches consuming adult beverages compared to years past. Mo’s looks to be the new St. Elmo’s for team staff dinners and the place where the top of the NFL food chain meets to unwind. This year’s Indy was more quiet than usual. With about one third of the league having new front offices and/or coaching staffs there was little time for play.

I was happy to see my clients perform well this year. And also happy to see former clients working hard as coaches. The 2013 Combine is in the books. Next up, pro days at the universities.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

49ers have wealth of options with 15 picks in April draft

The San Francisco 49ers found a desperate trading partner in the Kansas City Chiefs for the Alex Smith deal.

That is evident with multiple reports that the Chiefs are sending the 34th overall pick in the draft to the 49ers along with a conditional 2014 draft choice in exchange for the quarterback. The clubs agreed to the deal today and it will become official March 12 at the outset of the new league year.

The Niners now possess 15 total draft picks in this April’s draft. That gives them ample ammunition to trade for veteran players in advance of the draft and be active during draft weekend moving up and down the board. General manager Trent Baalke could also stockpile selections in future drafts.

Some have already speculated the 49ers could become a trade partner with the New York Jets for cornerback Darrelle Revis. But just considering the picks alone, it’s hard to imagine the Niners having a use for all 15 this year.

Coach Jim Harbaugh was asked at the NFL Scouting Combine if he envisioned a scenario where 14 picks – the number the club had at the time – could make the 2013 roster.

“Do I see it?”Harbaugh said. “Do I envision it? Is it possible? I mean, it's certainly possible. We're here to draft the best football players that we can. Feel good about having that many picks.”

He also admitted it could make the team very active during the draft.

“Uh, I think you can certainly assume that it would,” Harbaugh said. “You comparing to last year? Seven picks last year? To say we'd be more active in the draft this year wouldn't get going out on a limb by saying we'll be more active this draft. I think that's true.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Report: 49ers have a trade in place for Alex Smith

The San Francisco 49ers have a deal in place for Alex Smith.

When the new league year begins March 12, the Niners will execute a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for the veteran signal caller, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

The compensation the 49ers will receive is not certain at this point. Many figured San Francisco might be able to get a mid-round pick for Smith, who was solid starting for the 49ers for the first half of the 2012 season before he was replaced by Colin Kaepernick.

Now, Chiefs coach Andy Reid has a quarterback familiar with the West Coast offense. The Chiefs have a proven running attack and will need to keep Dwayne Bowe or find a replacement at wide receiver so Smith can settle into a situation where he can excel.

The Chiefs have been the most likely destination for Smith all along. The Arizona Cardinals had some interest but San Francisco was unlikely to make a trade with a division foe.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune