ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have enough salary-cap room at the moment to participate in the early hours of free agency when the biggest checks get written. But they do have to keep an eye on the bottom line as they have plenty of cash already spoken for in the first five days of the new league year.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Broncos have an adjusted salary-cap figure of $150,066,980 for the 2015 season. That includes the salary cap released by the NFL Monday -- $143.28 million per team -- to go with some cap rollover the Broncos have from last season and some other adjustments. With cap commitments of $120.72 million for their top 51 contracts -- teams count the top 51 until final roster cuts are made to start regular season -- to go with $1.813 million in “dead money’’ for salary-cap charges for players who are no longer on the roster, the Broncos opened Monday with about $27.5 million worth of cap space.

With the Broncos using the franchise player tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the $12.823 million cap charge it carries, the Broncos, at the moment, have about $14.715 million worth of workable cap space even as that will have to include enough room for the team's draft picks.

With a week to go until free agency officially opens, the Broncos can still make some additional room with some contract adjustments, including quarterback Peyton Manning’s deal, to go with any players they may release as they work through their plan. One contract that may also get a look is tackle Ryan Clady's, which currently carries the third-highest cap figure on the team at $10.6 million, behind only Manning and Thomas’ franchise tag.

Clady also has a $1.5 million roster bonus due on March 14 and his $8.5 million base salary is also guaranteed on March 14.

The Broncos have several other players whose base salaries are guaranteed within the first week of the new league year, which means when those guarantees take effect the Broncos, by league rule, must put the cash to cover those guarantees into escrow. Manning’s current contract calls for his $19 million base salary to be guaranteed on March 9 while cornerback Aqib Talib has $5.5 million guaranteed on March 10, defensive end DeMarcus Ware has $3.5 million of his $7 million base salary guaranteed on March 14, the same day safety T.J. Ward is slated to receive a $2.5 million roster bonus as his $4 million salary is guaranteed.

All of that together, with Manning’s deal considered before any tweaks that are on the way, would constitute as much as $44.5 million in guaranteed money, in cash, that has to be accounted for by the Broncos within the first week of free agency, outside of any signing bonuses to new additions they bring in during those opening days.
The Buffalo Bills did not use the franchise or transition tag by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The news most closely affects defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is the highest priority among the Bills' 10 free agents. Hughes will now be free to negotiate with other teams beginning Saturday, and can finalize a new deal elsewhere as soon as next Tuesday.

This doesn't mean the Bills aren't continuing to strike a long-term deal with Hughes. Instead, it means the Bills decided that assigning Hughes the franchise tag, which would guarantee him a one-year, $14.813 million deal if he signed his tender, was too expensive.

Elsewhere in the NFL, two prominent defensive ends were assigned the franchise tag Monday: Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul. That thins out the market for defensive ends, which is good news for Hughes as he seeks a lucrative new deal.
The Cleveland Browns declined to use their franchise or transition tags by Monday's deadline.

That means the Browns have until March 10 to sign their free agents or they will hit the market with complete freedom.

It also is appearing more and more likely that the team may not retain any of its unrestricted free agents. The tea leaves say the Browns may try to keep one or two, but the players will at least test the market first.

One name to watch who was not tagged by his team is linebacker Jerry Hughes of Buffalo. He blossomed in Mike Pettine’s system, with 10 sacks each of the last two seasons, and he could be a target for the Browns.

Running down the Browns' most prominent unrestricted free agents:
  • Tight end Jordan Cameron was the only player who might have been franchised, in part because the tight end franchise cost of $8.347 million is lower than that of even a safety ($9.618 million). The Browns declined to tag Cameron, and he will head elsewhere. Cameron grew weary of the revolving door at the quarterback and at coach and in the front office in his four years in Cleveland. He is ready for a change.
  • Cornerback Buster Skrine is a player the team would like back, but he wasn’t worth a franchise cost of $13.07 million that would have put him in Joe Haden territory. Skrine improved every season with the Browns, but he has gone on record saying he will test the market before considering staying in Cleveland.
  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer and the team cut ties when Josh McCown was signed. The Browns preferred McCown, so Hoyer will go to a new team.
  • Linebacker Jabaal Sheard is an underrated player who is well-respected in the locker room. His numbers are not glittering, but a team that wants a professional and productive role player would do well to sign him.
  • Defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin played through an ankle issue a year ago, but the team gives every indication they feel Rubin’s best years in Cleveland are in the past.
  • Wide receiver Miles Austin was a dependable pro in his one year in Cleveland. Even with that, the Browns interest in him seems tepid at best.

Pro Bowl free safety Tashaun Gipson is the most important restricted free agent. The Browns have until March 10 to tender him an offer that would give the team the right to match an offer sheet he could sign with another team, or receive compensation if he leaves. The Browns are likely to place a high tender on Gipson, probably one that would bring a first-round draft pick as compensation.

The other prominent restricted free agents are special-teamer/safety Johnson Bademosi and defensive lineman Ishmaa'ily Kitchen.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There was one surprise in the last dash to use the franchise or transition tags before 4 p.m. ET Monday, and it’s one that’s potentially very good for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The New England Patriots tagged kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which means free safety Devin McCourty will become a free agent unless the sides work out a new contract between now and 4 p.m. ET March 10. If that doesn’t happen and McCourty does hit the open market, he should be the Jaguars’ No. 1 priority.

There are other big-name players that will be available -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Randall Cobb, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga could top the list -- and the Jaguars likely will pursue some of them. However, the Jaguars can find other, admittedly somewhat lower-caliber options at those positions, either through free agency or the draft.

That’s not the case at free safety. It’s not a particularly good crop in free agency, and the draft pool isn’t considered very good, either. So if the Jaguars are going to fix the biggest issue on defense in 2015 they must go after McCourty.

For Gus Bradley’s defense to perform at its best it must have a physical strong safety who can play near the line of scrimmage and a free safety with the range and athleticism to cover the width of the entire field. Bradley likes to play single high safety a lot, and right now he doesn’t have one that can do that.

Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick in 2013, has started 24 games at the spot but has no interceptions, no forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and just two pass breakups. The 6-foot, 205-pounder also has had issues with tackling, though he improved significantly in that area as the 2014 season progressed and was the Jaguars' third-leading tackler (90) in his second season.

McCourty is a perfect fit. He’s big enough (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), fast enough (he’s a converted cornerback), and smart enough to complete what is turning out to be, at worst, a very solid secondary. It would be a young secondary, too. McCourty is 27, which would make him tied for the oldest among players in the secondary that are under contract for 2015.

McCourty also has the trait that has been missing from the Jaguars’ secondary for a long time: he makes plays. He has 17 interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and 58 pass breakups in his first five seasons, which averages out to 3.4 interceptions, 1.6 forced fumbles, and 11.6 pass breakups per season. The Jaguars’ entire group of defensive backs had three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 26 pass breakups in 2014.

McCourty is unquestionably the top free safety on the market. He’s certainly not going to command Suh money, but the Jaguars might have to spend the kind of money that San Diego did on Eric Weddle (five years, $40 million) and Seattle did on Earl Thomas (four years, $40 million).

They should do it without hesitation.
With Justin Smith apparently still undecided about whether to retire or return to the San Francisco 49ers, the team has decided to start kicking the tires on other Pro Bowl defensive linemen.

Darnell Dockett, released by the Arizona Cardinals last week in a move that saved them $6.8 million in salary-cap space, is visiting the 49ers Monday night, per ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder.

There is no risk in a visit, even with Dockett missing all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp. The three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had only missed two games in his previous 10 seasons, all in Arizona after the Cardinals made him a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004.

Dockett, though, will be 34 on May 27.

In 158 games with Arizona, the 6-foot-4, 293-pound Dockett had 462 tackles, 41 sacks and four interceptions.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Smith, who turns 36 on Sept. 30, would be entering his 15th NFL season and has started all 110 games in which he’s played for the Niners over seven seasons with five Pro Bowl appearances. He has 87 sacks in 221 career games and three interceptions.

Sunday night, Dockett tweeted the following:

He is giving up guaranteed riches and established fame in Australia to go after the unprecedented.

Jarryd Hayne announced last year he is leaving the Australian Rugby League as one of the sport’s biggest stars to try to make it in the National Football League. There have been others who have made this move, but most have either returned to rugby or remained in the NFL as a kicker or punter.

Hayne wants to do something different. He wants to be a position player, probably a running back.

[+] EnlargeJarryd Hayne
Ashley Feder/Getty ImagesJarryd Hayne's elusiveness could help him become a special-teams asset, ex-NFL receiver Tim Dwight said.
“It’s going to be really hard for him,” said Carlin Isles, a rugby sevens player for the United States who briefly joined the Detroit Lions' practice squad in 2013. “It depends on his dedication. I think if he’s dedicated, he could speed up the process. But for him, who never played football and to understand the defensive schemes, to understand the holes, the footwork, things like that, it’s going to take some time.

“Especially if you haven’t grown up playing American football, it’s going to take a lot because it is not easy. It’s difficult to understand.”

Hayne has trained in the United States at times since the announcement and has been on the precipice of signing with an NFL franchise for months. Multiple NFL teams have reportedly expressed interest, including the Lions, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

What could intrigue them is what makes him a more attractive candidate to stick on an NFL roster than some of those before him. He is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and according to the National Football Post, ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time, which would place him between fourth and 12th among running backs at the 2015 NFL combine.

“You watch a lot of his highlights and he’s got good change of motion, good direction, seems to know how to get away from people,” said Tim Dwight, a former NFL receiver who worked with Hayne in December. “He seems like he has a lot of mileage still left on him and he has a good attitude.

“He’s going to get knocked down quite a bit, not just obviously physically but mentally wise, learning all the play sets, learning his job, learning his role. You have to get him started early.”

Early is relative for Hayne, who has never played American football in a game and is entering the prime of his career at age 27. Having to learn everything and understanding how to follow blockers are two of the things Isles pointed out as potentially difficult obstacles.

There’s also a difference between looking sharp in workouts and doing it when a 6-2, 235-pound linebacker who runs a 4.4 is sprinting toward you with the aim to dislodge and annihilate. Rugby hits can be rough, but typically they are better wrapped and not coming with the same force or velocity.

Those were some of Dwight’s concerns watching Hayne. He likes Hayne's size. His speed would be adequate, Dwight said, but not game-breaking. But Hayne can catch, and if he were to end up as a kick returner and punt returner, that might be more important than anything.

If Hayne is going to make it -- either on a practice squad or to a 53-man roster -- it’ll likely be based on his ability to play special teams, a unit that is most similar to rugby.

“Special teams is probably where he needs to focus,” Dwight said. “Covering kicks. Returning kicks and, if he’s not a returner, being a guy up front. A lot of those guys are linebackers. Some are fullbacks and some are tight ends, too.

“He’s going to have to learn another trait in there to keep himself on a team because bubble players don’t last very long, maybe a year or two and then they have to move to another team.”

Even with special teams, there are things he would have to learn -- like rushing a punt and then sprinting backward -- that could come in time but would not be instinctual at first. Offensively, after watching him and briefly working with him, Dwight said he felt Hayne could project better as an H-back than a true featured running back.

Dwight’s biggest concern with Hayne is how he adjusts to taking a hit, because running backs and receivers have spent years understanding the nuance of when to fall down and how to absorb vicious contact. Isles said there shouldn’t be as much concern there because of how players hit -- minus pads -- in rugby. Isles believes the lack of experience and understanding of football concepts will hinder Hayne the most.

To deal with this, Dwight actually suggested Hayne go through mock practices and games to gain some sort of feel for what he might encounter. These are questions for teams, too, because it's going to be difficult for an organization to evaluate him. And how long would both a franchise and Hayne be willing to invest to see whether this experiment turns into more than a novelty?

Despite Hayne’s desire and physical tools, he still has a lot of learning to do.

“That’s my main thing,” Isles said. “You have to be patient. He’s going to have to dedicate and work hard, but man, if he understands the NFL, the people in that league, it’s a lot different, explosive and fast and they understand the game so much better.

“It’s going to be tough at first, but he’ll have to work really hard, I’m talking day in and day out, to understand and get the footwork and things like that. He can’t just walk in there and think he’s going to be the man, you know what I mean? Is he dedicated and willing? He’s just going to have to grind ... it’s going to be tough.”
After weeks of speculation, the final salary-cap number is official: $143.28 million per team, it was announced Monday.

What does that mean for the New York Jets? Well, it means they have a lot of money to spend. Let's explain exactly how much.

The Jets' adjusted cap is $156.15 million, according to the NFLPA. That figure includes the carryover from last season, $12.6 million -- i.e. unused cap space. Former general manager John Idzik got ripped for being frugal, but there was a method to his madness, so to speak. Unfortunately for him, he's not around to reap the benefits of his plan.

Right now, the Jets have $97.5 million committed to the 2015 cap, according to ESPN research.The amount of "dead" money (old contracts still on the cap) also must be factored into the equation. For the Jets, it's $3.4 million, per ESPN. These numbers will vary slightly, depending on the source. I can't really explain why; it's just one of the mysteries of the salary-cap world in which we live.

Anyway, when you crunch these numbers, it comes out to $55 million in cap space. The Jets will recoup another $10.5 million if they release wide receiver Percy Harvin.

As we explained in a previous post, the Jets have to dole out some serious cash to stay in line with the league's minimum-spending requirement. Their cash payroll for 2015 and 2016 needs to average about $141 million to remain in compliance. To hit $141 million this year, they'll have to raise the actual payroll by more than $60 million.

In other words, they can re-sign David Harris, extend Muhammad Wilkerson's contract, sign two or three top free agents and take a cruise around the world without even sweating the cap.
Don't expect the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback plans to stop with Josh McCown's signing last week.

After asking around, I’m hearing Cleveland plans to add at least one more quarterback to the 2015 meetings rooms, a role filled through the draft or free agency.

Trading up for Marcus Mariota would likely require a hefty load of draft picks, leaving the team’s best option as drafting a quarterback in the second round or somewhere in the middle rounds.

The Browns are intrigued by Sam Bradford, but many believe he won’t be attainable without -- once again -- valuable draft picks. Giving up first- or second-rounders is difficult for a build-through-the-draft team such as Cleveland.

Free agency plays for Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker seem unlikely at this point.

Save Bradford, a home-run quarterback signing doesn’t really exist for Cleveland. But they can dig through the bargain bins and hope for the best.

A plausible rotation for Cleveland’s quarterback room is Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and a rookie quarterback such as Colorado State's Garrett Grayson or Baylor's Bryce Petty.

The Browns have been burned by spread quarterbacks before, but I’m told they had productive meetings with the former Baylor star at the Senior Bowl.

McCown, who last week signed a three-year deal worth $14 million, seems ready to support any quarterback in the Browns' facility.

"Whatever I can do to help somebody, I can do that," McCown said.
IRVING, Texas -- With the salary cap set at $143.28 million for 2015, the Dallas Cowboys officially have a cap of $148,298,313, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information.

That gives them $19.15 million in cap room, but that does not include the $12.823 million franchise tag tender for Dez Bryant.

So the closer number is $6.328 million in room, but that does not take into account possible restricted free-agent tenders or money to sign the draft picks.

But cap room is always a fungible number, to use a Jerry Jones term.

Fear not, the Cowboys still can create plenty of cap room by restructuring the contracts of left tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Tony Romo, and they will gain room by either designating Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut or by agreeing to a re-worked deal with the cornerback that will lower his cap figure from $12.7 million.

The Cowboys would rather not create the maximum amount of room possible with a restructuring of Romo’s contract because of the dead money it will add to the deal down the road.

Also, if the Cowboys reach a deal with Bryant on a long-term contract, then his 2015 cap number would be lower than the franchise tag as well, creating more room.

The Cowboys want to re-sign several of their own free agents, starting with DeMarco Murray, however, the chances of reaching a deal before March 10 are slim. The Cowboys also have eyes on deals for Doug Free, Justin Durant, Rolando McClain and have to make decisions on restricted free agents, like Cole Beasley, who could receive a multi-year deal, Sterling Moore, Lance Dunbar and Chris Jones.

As for free agents outside the building, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on numerous occasions recently, “free agency is not the answer,” when it comes to building a roster because the value never equals the cost. (See Carr, Brandon.)
A few thoughts on the New England Patriots not placing the franchise tag on safety Devin McCourty, instead assigning it to kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which was foreshadowed earlier in the day:

Bottom-line view. The franchise tag for McCourty was $9.6 million and this tells us, more than anything, that the Patriots aren’t comfortable with that one-year cap hit for McCourty. Thus, McCourty is now free to test the open market and the Patriots, more than ever, are at risk of losing him to another club.

Not an end game. This doesn’t mean McCourty’s time with the Patriots is over. The Patriots know what they’d be comfortable paying McCourty, and now McCourty will have a chance to see how much more (if at all) another team is willing to exceed that number. Then McCourty can make the decision that suits him best. It would be a surprise, from this viewpoint, if the Patriots and McCourty strike an extension before the start of free agency on March 10.

Understanding the safety market. Deals for top safeties average between $8-10 million per season as the market has spiked the past two years. McCourty is viewed as the top free-agent safety this offseason and it's also notable that the draft class is considered weak at the position, so he could be set to receive a big-time offer from another team. My viewpoint is the Patriots would be close to the bottom of that $8-10 million range with any offer for McCourty. Would that be enough to close the deal once he hits the open market?

Patriots' track record. The decision to forgo the tag on McCourty will generate some debate, as he's a core player who has served multiple years as a captain. But the team's track record in these situations warrants a mention: It is strong. The Patriots tagged receiver Wes Welker in 2012 at $9.5 million and later regretted it because of the expectation it set with Welker the following offseason. One could draw a parallel between that situation and this one.

Why the kicker? Gostkowski's franchise-tag figure is $4.5 million. That is computed based on a 120 percent increase of his 2014 salary-cap charge and easily makes him the NFL's highest paid kicker on an average-per-year basis. That's rich, but still manageable on a team's salary cap. Meanwhile, the sides can work on an extension that potentially could be a win-win by giving Gostkowski more long-term security and bonus/guaranteed money while also lowering his cap charge. But until that happens (if it does), the tag buys more time for an experienced player who is important to the Patriots because of his strong leg on kickoffs and accuracy on field goals.

Adam Schefter's take on Darrelle Revis

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was a guest on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd” program on Monday morning, and the topic of cornerback Darrelle Revis was brought up. Schefter pointed out that Revis is technically under contract for 2015 with a $25 million cap charge, and then said, “It would surprise me if New England picked that up."

Schefter then talked about Revis hitting the open market because of that, where he is projected to be “another coveted free agent.”

Schefter’s thoughts on the Patriots possibly retaining Revis?

“This is all comes down to what Darrelle Revis wants to do. He’s got a Super Bowl ring. His career has been validated. He’s got one more big score left; big score in terms of big contracts. So does he want to go take that big contract with a team like the New York Jets, who are dying to make a run at Darrelle Revis? Or the Buffalo Bills? Or is he willing to take less to go back to play with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and be in the environment he’s been in in New England? That’s a call that only he can make," Schefter said.

"At this point in his career, he has made a ton of money. A ton of money -- all together with marketing, contracts, he’s probably made $100 million. So what do you want to do in your very last big deal? That’s the decision that Darrelle Revis has to make.”

IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, what’s next?

One of Bryant’s agents, Tom Condon, laid out several possibilities without offering up which direction they will go while speaking on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday.

Unless Bryant signs the tender, which is worth $12.823 million, then he does not have to show up to anything. While extremely unlikely, Bryant could skip the first 10 games of the season, play the final six and still get an accrued season to his credit.

The offseason workout program is voluntary, as are the organized team activities. If Bryant does not sign the tender, he would not be required to show up for the mandatory June minicamp either, because he would not be under contract.

“There’s a lot of different options,” Condon said. “There’s a substantial number of moving parts.”

Condon was asked what his advice to Bryant will be.

“I probably shouldn’t disclose the plan, don’t you think?” he said.

Condon also wondered whether a team would be willing to give up two first-round draft picks for Bryant should the Cowboys not match an offer sheet.

“He’s a special player, so if you’re picking late in the first round, let’s say you’re in the last four, five picks of the first round and you know that Dez Bryant is a superstar, do you give up a very late pick in the first round this year and a very late pick in the round next year to ensure that you’re competing for the Super Bowl for the next several years?” Condon said. “That part of it is pretty interesting.”

The Cowboys did just that for Joey Galloway in 2000 after the Seattle Seahawks placed the franchise tag on the wide receiver. The Cowboys gave Galloway a seven-year, $42 million deal and the Seahawks turned those draft picks to select running back Shaun Alexander and Koren Robinson.

Galloway suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his first game, Troy Aikman retired after the season and the Cowboys went through three straight 5-11 finishes.

The Cowboys’ hope with Bryant is to sign him to a long-term deal by July 15. They had their first face-to-face meetings with Condon and Kim Miale last week with the promise of more discussions. At the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he hopes the tag is a “placeholder” until a multiyear agreement is reached.

“The Cowboys have given us every indication that they don’t want to lose the player,” Condon said, “and that they value him very much.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Monday’s deadline for NFL teams to place the franchise tag on players for 2015 was a reminder of how the Carolina Panthers were burned for using the tag on defensive end Greg Hardy a year ago.

It also could be considered a reminder of how fortunate the Panthers were that they didn’t sign a player no longer in their future plans to a long-term deal instead.

The Panthers used the tag that guaranteed Hardy $13.1 million because it was cheaper for the then-salary-cap strapped team than signing the 2013 Pro Bowl selection long term.

It became a wasted investment as Hardy played only one game while waiting for his domestic violence case to be resolved.

Hardy remains Carolina’s most high-profile free agent again this season, but he is not in the team’s future plans.

It makes sense.

The Panthers wanted to keep Hardy last year to keep intact the front seven that finished second in the NFL in total defense. The front seven of a unit that finished 10th in the league this year without Hardy is intact.

The biggest decision is whether to re-sign aging defensive tackles Colin Cole, 34, and/or Dwan Edwards, 33.

Hardy is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10. He remains on the NFL’s exempt list, where he has been since mid-September, while the league conducts its own investigation into whether he violated the personal conduct policy.

A league source told ESPN.com on Friday that Hardy is seeking immediate reinstatement, but since Hardy hasn’t been suspended the league insists there’s nothing to be reinstated from.

The league hasn’t set a timetable on when its investigation will end. As reported by ESPN.com on Feb. 19, evidence the NFL sought from Hardy’s July 15 trial could not be obtained because it already had been returned to the district attorney’s office and Hardy’s lawyers.

The district attorney’s office told ESPN.com it does not return evidence. There’s no reason for Hardy’s attorney to share evidence from a trial in which a Mecklenburg County judge found his client guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder in July.

That verdict was set aside when Hardy asked for a jury trial. The charges were dropped on February 9 because Holder would not cooperate with the office of the district attorney, who said the accuser reached a financial settlement with Hardy.

Hardy still faces possible suspension by the league.

Any team that pursues Hardy in free agency will have to deal with that.

Monday was just a reminder of what the Panthers dealt with in 2014.
The Baltimore Ravens cut reserve cornerback Victor Hampton a day after team officials learned he was arrested for driving while impaired in Charlotte, North Carolina.

This comes 38 days after the Ravens announced the release of backup nose tackle Terrence Cody when it was revealed that he was under investigation for animal cruelty.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at the end of last season that the "threshold of tolerance" has changed with off-the-field behavior, and the Ravens have certainly backed that up with their swift actions this offseason.

Of course, the true test of the Ravens' stance will come when it's someone more valuable to the team than a little-used nose tackle and a recently signed cornerback from a practice squad. The Ravens are sending a message to the rest of the team by reacting so fast in these matters, but they are also setting a precedent by cutting ties with Cody and Hampton before they were convicted of a crime.

The expectation now is that the Ravens will act just as decisively if a starting wide receiver or high-priced linebacker gets charged with a DWI or is under investigation for a serious matter like animal cruelty.

It was a different course of action last offseason, when five players were arrested. The Ravens didn't release running back Ray Rice, offensive lineman Jah Reid, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and cornerback Jimmy Smith after their run-ins with the law. No one expected the Ravens to release three players over misdemeanors, but Rice and Thompson faced felony charges. Still, the team's response was the same: the Ravens were gathering information and there are two sides to every story.

In the end, no one went to trial. Their cases were either dropped or the player was accepted into a pretrial diversion program: Rice (felony aggravated assault, accepted into pretrial diversion program), Reid (misdemeanor battery, accepted into pretrial diversion program), Thompson (felony possession of marijuana, charges dropped), Taliaferro (misdemeanor destruction of property, drunk and disorderly, case dismissed) and Smith (misdemeanor disorderly conduct, case dismissed).

Ravens officials said last month that they believe the arrest-filled 2014 offseason was an aberration. In Harbaugh's previous six years as the head coach, there were only four reported arrests of Ravens players, according to the San Diego Tribune-Review's arrest database.

But, if a high-profile player does get in serious trouble, the Ravens have to either follow their precedent or face criticism for making an exception to the rule.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Whenever a name from the Denver Broncos' hefty list of prospective free agents has been tossed toward John Elway, the team’s executive vice president of football operations/general manager has almost always answered the same way.

Something on the order of, "Sure, we want (insert free agent’s name here) back," but then Elway added -- every time -- something about how the open market would set the price tag for the player.

He would then add something about how difficult it is to sign a player before the market value for the player has been established, and how difficult it is for a player to sign before he knows how much he can get. In short, he has characterized it as: How much you want? I don’t know, how much you got? I don’t know.

He has said that about every prospective Broncos' free agent except one -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas isn't going anywhere, and the franchise player tag is proof. The Broncos know what they have in Thomas, they know what he means in their offense, and they want him to stay.

Now, they have to close the deal. The franchise player tag essentially keeps Thomas on the roster.

It’s a one-year deal for $12.797 million guaranteed the moment Thomas signs it. And there is the rub.

A player, especially an elite player like Thomas, would always prefer a long-term deal with guaranteed money.

A franchise player tender is a hefty bag of change, but it’s not a long-term deal. And long-term deals for a player like Thomas look like the seven-year, $113 million deal Calvin Johnson signed in 2012 that is significantly back-loaded and includes $48.8 million in guaranteed money.

Or the seven-year, $67.8 million deal that Andre Johnson signed in 2010, or Mike Wallace's five-year, $60 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) signed in 2013.

Elway has said he could easily see a scenario where the Broncos used the franchise player tag, then the sides agree to a long-term deal after free agency opens.

After free agency opens the market will dictate what the likes of Randall Cobb. Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree receive, and those would only be handy reference points for where the Broncos will have to go on Thomas.

For Thomas, the team has tinkered with a five-year deal. So, start at the $12.787 million of the tag (UPDATE: the actual amount based on the confirmed 2015 salary cap is $12.823 million) -- the Broncos have already shown they believe Thomas is worth that -- and multiply by the years on any prospective deal, and bump it a bit.

So, the Broncos are likely looking at a deal averaging more per year than the recent deals for elite wide receivers, save for Calvin Johnson's $16 million per-year average.

Despite the temporary relief the Broncos get from the franchise player tag, at least in terms of keeping Thomas off the open market, it’s still eats a little less than half their current available salary-cap space, and it's still best for all involved to get a long-term deal done.

They have spent the past few weeks outlining to quarterback Peyton Manning how a new offense, with a new playbook and at least some new terminology, would be of benefit to him. And they have also likely outlined what they could do if they were to get some salary-cap relief by tweaking his contract.

Thomas is Manning’s No. 1 receiver, and as a quarterback who has long extolled the virtues of repetition in developing the on-field chemistry, Manning wants to throw to that No. 1 receiver -- a lot.

Thomas doesn’t have to sign the franchise tender any time soon, until Week 10 of the regular season in the most extreme of cases. The Broncos have until July 15, roughly two weeks before training camp opens, to sign Thomas to a long-term deal. If that deadline passes, they'd have to wait until they’ve played their last regular-season game in ’15 to try again.

Most players who receive the franchise tag don’t sign the tender early because they want time to work on a long-term deal. And those players usually, at minimum, take a pass on the team’s offseason work if no new deal is done.

That’s not something Manning would be excited about; that’s not something a team trying to put in a new offense should be excited about; and it’s not something that would help anyone on any side of the equation. The Broncos have had success in this position before, having used the franchise tag on tackle Ryan Clady and kicker Matt Prater in previous years before signing each to long-term deals before the start of training camp.

So, it means when free agency opens, the Broncos will really need to get down to the business of signing the guy they’ve already shown is their top priority.