TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut cornerback Alterraun Verner on Thursday, freeing up $6.5 million in salary-cap space two weeks before the start of NFL free agency. The move also frees the Bucs from another big free-agent contract that never quite panned out for general manager Jason Licht.

The wheels had been in motion for this move for some time with Verner, who signed a four-year deal worth $25.5 million in 2014, and was scheduled to make $6.5 million in 2017, the final year of his contract in which there was no more guaranteed money. The Bucs could cut him without penalty, which wasn't the case last season, when $2 million of his $6.75 million contract became guaranteed on March 13.

 Alterraun Verner Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs jettisoned CB Alterraun Verner before the final year of his four-year deal.

In three years, Verner saw action in 46 games for the Bucs, finishing with four interceptions and 20 pass breakups. But he started just three games in 2016 and nine in 2015 as he struggled in Lovie Smith's defense. The arrival of Vernon Hargeaves III, who was drafted 11th overall last year, signified the Bucs would likely part ways with him under defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

When Hargreaves began lining up on both the outside and inside and became a Week 1 starter, it reaffirmed the notion that Verner was on his way out. That only intensified when Jude Adjei-Barimah and then Javien Elliott began taking snaps as the starting nickel back, a position Verner was not naturally suited for because he wasn't a "quick-twitch" player and didn't play low enough, bending his knees so he could react quicker to the ball.

Verner's best game came this season when, just 48 hours after his father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, he recorded and interception and two pass breakups in the Bucs' 14-5 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Verner was the seventh-highest paid player on the Bucs, who now have about $68 million in cap space.

Verner is the latest high-priced free-agent signing that has not panned out early in Licht's tenure. Defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and linebacker Bruce Carter all were released one year into multiyear deals. At least in Verner's case, he stuck around for three years, although he never lived up to expectations.

These failed signings might explain why the Bucs were far more conservative with free-agent contracts in 2016.

The Washington Redskins haven’t dismissed the idea of bringing back receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.

The Redskins also haven’t spoken to either receiver and clearly seem content in letting them test the market. Therefore, the possibility of each leaving remains strong.

That’s not news because it’s been true since the season ended. But if they truly do want them back, the Redskins will have to come strong at some point to convince them to stay. At next week’s combine in Indianapolis, agents get a sense of what the market may or may not be for their players.

By letting both players reach this point without legitimate contact, it sends a message and allows them to start considering other teams.
It’s not a death sentence, however. If the Redskins top other offers, they could convince them to stay. But it certainly isn’t cause for optimism, either.

Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders, who has surpassed 1,000 yards each of the past three seasons, signed a new deal in September (at age 29) that averages $11 million per year. That happened a couple weeks after the Los Angeles Rams signed receiver Tavon Austin to a deal worth $10.5 million per year. The cap might increase by $15 million over last year. Heck, two years ago Michael Crabtree (28) received $8.5 million per year from Oakland at the end of the 2015 season. The point: It won’t be a cheap market for two productive wideouts such as Garcon and Jackson.

The Redskins’ risk with this strategy is clear: They’re giving other teams a chance to let the players know of their interest and, therefore, driving up the price. Both receivers will have multiple suitors (my sense: Garcon will have more, though Jackson might get a bigger deal). The Redskins know this, so if there’s a strong desire to keep them around, then there would have been at least one serious talk beforehand. Now? Their return (hard to see both back) remains one scenario of many.

This isn’t about Kirk Cousins’ potential contract. Rather, it’s more about what direction they want to go. Invest in receivers who are 30-years-old (real tough to see them keeping both, however)? Or invest heavily in the defense and fortify other parts on offense (like the run game)? They could keep one and still improve the defense, if they want. But it’s also about roster flexibility now and in the future. One way perhaps helps them more right now; the other way could help them more for a few years, but that requires trust that they’ll spend wisely and build properly.

Then it comes down to their level of confidence in Josh Doctson’s health; Ryan Grant and Maurice Harris’ development and Jamison Crowder’s ability to handle an even bigger load. There would be interest in other free agent receivers, too. Kenny Britt would be one possibility. Who is throwing them the ball? And what if they moved on from Cousins and both receivers? They’d have the money to transform their style of play. Whether that works or not could only be answered starting in September. Certainly, fingers and toes would be crossed.

This isn’t yet about what demands the players have, whether how much per year or how many years. It’s hard to know that without any talks. Real hard. Both receivers likely know they’ll be playing on a three-year deal anyway -- it allows them to perhaps get something more front-loaded with the ability to cash in one more time before they retire.

Regardless, the Redskins would certainly be starting as a much different team than the one that relied on their passing game to keep them in games. That’s a lot of change and adjustment. If it doesn’t lead to success, there will be more.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last offseason, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said general manager Ted Thompson "might shock you this year" when it came to free agency. That turned into exactly one significant free agent signing, tight end Jared Cook.

If the Packers make any moves this offseason, Pro Football Focus thinks it could be at cornerback. The analytics website, in a piece for ESPN Insider Insider, picked one free agent for every team. For the Packers, it was Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

Trumaine JohnsonAP Photo/Stephen BrashearRams cornerback Trumaine Johnson would be a welcome addition to a Packers secondary that struggled last season.

The Packers still have high hopes for the trio of Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter -- who all played extensively last season as second-year pros -- but they would be taking a big chance if they didn’t make a significant addition at a position that struggled mightily last season.

Johnson would offer the Packers a tall cornerback (he’s 6-foot-2) who could help offset the loss of Sam Shields, who was released this month after he missed all but one game last season because of a concussion.

Johnson, a former third-round pick of the Rams, played last season under the franchise tag of $13.952 million. If the Rams tagged him again, it would cost nearly $17 million. The website Spotrac estimated that Johnson’s market value would be $12.4 million per season.

In 2016, Johnson had just one interception in 14 games. In the same number of games in 2015, he picked off seven passes.

PFF had another possible free agent cornerback target, A.J. Bouye of the Texans, going to Carolina. His market value was estimated at more than $11 million per season.

The Packers surely need help at cornerback after their pass defense ranked 31st in the NFL last season, but even if it did come in free agency, it would seem unlikely that Thompson would spend that kind of money.

It isn't quite sliding down a volcano or wing-walking or even Matthew Stafford skydiving on his honeymoon in 2015, but Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron has been having an adventure of his own the past couple of weeks.

And he has been posting about it often on Instagram and Twitter.

Ebron, who is entering his fourth season in the league, has been in Dubai and generally seems to be enjoying himself traveling with Lions receiver Andre Roberts, who will be heading to free agency in under two weeks. And they've clearly been having fun.

Take this, which Ebron posted Wednesday, of him and Roberts sliding down what appears to be a sand dune on snowboards.

#InternationalBron #Winner @drerob

A post shared by Eric Ebron (@ericebron) on

He also posted a photo of him and Roberts alongside dune buggies in the desert, holding a bird and on a boat. Meanwhile, Roberts has been posting pictures of touring Dubai as well with high-octane cars and on the beach.

Ebron also posted on Twitter that he met tennis legend Roger Federer while he was in Dubai.

It has been an eventful offseason for Ebron, who had his best season in 2016 with 61 catches for 711 yards. He told ESPN late last season his goal for 2017 is to have a 1,000-yard season, which would be the first of his career.

The Lions also have some business with him as well. Detroit must make a decision this offseason whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Ebron's contract. If the Lions do, he would be signed with the Lions through the 2018 season. If the Lions do not -- and the last time they didn't was with former first0round pick Nick Fairley -- Ebron will be entering the 2017 season as a contract year.

FRISCO, Texas -- Visions of Jason Pierre-Paul in a Dallas Cowboys uniform might dance in some fans' heads, but Pro Football Focus offered up a different pass-rusher to wear the star -- Nick Perry.

In picking one free agent for every team, PFF selected Perry Insider, who put up 23.5 sacks in his first five seasons with the Green Bay Packers, including a career-high 11 in 2016.

Brock OsweilerBenny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsPackers pass-rusher Nick Perry had a career-high 11 sacks last season.

If it’s been said once it’s been said a million times, the Cowboys need pass-rush help. As I laid out on Wednesday, however, do the Cowboys need to go to the deep end of the free agency pool to find help? After all they had one more sack than the Giants, who paid big money to keep Pierre-Paul and sign Olivier Vernon.

The Cowboys have committed big dollars to Tyrone Crawford, but injury and inconsistency have not led to the production they expected when they signed him to a five-year, $45 million extension. But there is a play-time component to consider should the Cowboys attempt to go after one of the better pass-rushers available.

Crawford played in 58.9 percent of the snaps last season, which was second-highest among Cowboys defensive linemen. He missed the final two games with a shoulder injury. Before the injury he checked in at 68 percent of the defensive snaps.

In order to get their money’s worth from a defensive end, 70 percent of the snaps should be the baseline. It would make no sense to pay a lot of guaranteed money to a pass-rusher and have him check in at 55 percent of the snaps.

Perry played in 58.6 percent of the snaps last season for the Packers. He missed two games because of a hand injury and has yet to play a full season. Before 2016, he never had more than four sacks in a season.

Injuries aside, the Cowboys also have to worry about the one-year wonder theory. Perhaps Perry’s injuries are a thing of the past and he is about to hit a level of play Jerry Hughes hit with Buffalo in 2013 and ’14 when he had 20 sacks and cashed in with a five-year, $45 million deal. In Anthony Spencer's first five years with the Cowboys, he had 21.5 sacks. The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him in 2012 and '13, paying him nearly $20 million. He had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012, but played in just one game the following season because of a knee injury.

So how do you come to the right price? In analysis done by the Spotrac, Perry is looking at a $8.5 million-a-year average based on comparable players in terms of age and production.

Perry could be a good fit for the Cowboys. He appears to be a hard worker, which is a must under Rod Marinelli. He also ranked 10th among edge defenders against the run, according to PFF. That’s a must for Marinelli, too.

It makes sense, but would the Cowboys use the dollars?

Alvin KamaraRandy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsTodd McShay sees Tennessee's Alvin Kamara as the third-best running back available in this year's draft.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Running back is on the list of needs for the Colts when you look at their roster. It’s not the biggest need; that honor goes to a number of positions (defensive line, linebacker, secondary) on defense. But running back does need to be addressed at some point in the offseason.

It’s not that Frank Gore doesn't have anything left in the tank; he did rush for 1,025 yards last season, after all. But the reality is, no matter how hard Gore trains -- many have said he’s one of the hardest workers -- he turns 34 in May. He’ll get his carries next season, but the Colts also have to find a way to reduce some of his workload and find a replacement for when he’s no longer part of the organization.

There have been several mock drafts, including one from ESPN’s Todd McShay, that have the Colts taking Florida State running back Dalvin Cook when they select 14th or 15th (a coin flip with Philadelphia will decide the order). There is a strong consensus that this year’s running-back class is deep enough that there will be quality options still available after the first round. That’s good news for the Colts, because it’ll allow them to work on their atrocious defense with earlier picks.

Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey headline this year’s running-back group, but there's quality depth.

Here’s a look at some other running backs who could be available through the first few rounds of the draft:

Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

College stats: 210 carries, 1,294 yards, 16 TDs

Quick take: Kamara averaged 5.8 yards a pop last season at Tennessee. But you have to wonder how he'll handle being a featured back after only 210 carries in his two seasons with the Volunteers. That’s more than 400 fewer than Fournette, McCaffrey and Cook each had in their college careers.

D'Onta Foreman, Texas

College stats: 433 carries, 2,782 yards, 20 TDs

Quick take: Foreman carried the load in Texas’ backfield last season, rushing for 2,028 yards (6.3 yards a carry) and 15 touchdowns. He had only seven receptions for 75 yards, however, and he lost six fumbles.

Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

College stats: 300 carries, 2,027 yards, 17 TDs

Quick take: Talent can’t be questioned when it comes to Mixon. It’s his behavior off the field that could end up scaring many teams, including the Colts, away. Whatever team is willing to take a chance on Mixon will surely face some public-relations issues.

Here’s a look at the top 10 running backs according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. You can expect the Colts to give this group plenty of attention during next week’s combine in Indianapolis.

The Baltimore Ravens might release tight end Dennis Pitta over his $5.5 million salary, according to the NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

This doesn't come as a major surprise because it's been assumed the Ravens were going to approach Pitta about taking a pay cut. Pitta, 31, led all tight ends last season with 86 catches, but there is some concern that he lost a step after averaging 8.5 yards per catch (28th among tight ends).

AP Photo/David RichardIf Dennis Pitta doesn't agree to a lower salary, the Ravens would have to make him a post-June 1 cut to get the best possible financial result for the team.

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Ravens will unlikely get immediate salary-cap room from parting ways with Pitta. Baltimore could say goodbye to Joe Flacco's favorite target and then have to wait three months before being able to use the created cap space.

Here is the reason why: It makes no sense to cut Pitta without a June 1 designation because that would free up only $3.3 million in cap space and add on $4.4 million in dead money. If the Ravens designate him as a post-June 1 cut, they would open up $5.5 million in cap room and spread the dead money into two seasons ($2.2 million in 2017 and $2.2 million in 2018). The only problem with that scenario is the Ravens wouldn't then be able to use the additional cap space until after June 1.

So why would the Ravens cut Pitta? Baltimore doesn't want to pay him the sixth-highest base salary for a tight end in 2017. Pitta wasn't much of a factor in the red zone (two touchdowns) or downfield (more than 68 percent of his receptions went for under 10 yards).

Baltimore would probably be open to keeping Pitta at a reduced cost. He agreed to a $4 million pay cut last year ($3 million of which he later recovered in incentives) because he didn't play in 2015 after having two hip surgeries. The questions are whether Pitta would do this again after setting a career high in catches, and what would the Ravens do if Pitta declined a pay reduction.

If Baltimore cuts Pitta, it would show a lot of confidence in an unproven young tight-ends group and possibly signal the return of Benjamin Watson. He is coming off season-ending Achilles injury and was considered a potential cap cut because he represents $3 million in cap savings. Watson, 36, caught a career-best 74 passes and six touchdowns in 2015.

The rest of the Ravens' tight-ends group is filled with young prospects such as Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore and Darren Waller. But all four have a history with injuries and suspensions, which means the Ravens will best served to keep Watson or Pitta. The economics appear to favor Watson, whose $3 million salary is nearly half of Pitta's in 2017.

The Ravens, who currently have the fifth-worst cap space in the league, are expected to make several moves before the start of free agency March 9 in an effort to free up salary and get younger. Among the tougher decisions looming for Baltimore is what the team will do with Pitta.

Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesOne year after losing guard Kelechi Osemele in free agency, Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner is projected to attract a lucrative deal.

The Baltimore Ravens might be a couple weeks away from watching another starting offensive lineman receive a lucrative payday elsewhere.

Rick Wagner, the Ravens' starting right tackle the past three seasons, could become the NFL's second highest-paid right tackle. He is projected to make $6.9 million per season, according to Spotrac.

This would come one year after Kelechi Osemele signed the most lucrative contract ever for a guard (an average of $11.7 million per season).

The Ravens would prefer to keep Wagner after he produced one of his best seasons since being selected in the fifth round by Baltimore in 2013. Wagner, 27, was rated as the ninth-best right tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He gave up three sacks, four quarterback hits and 25 hurries in 2016.

By the March 9 start of free agency, Baltimore has to determine whether Wagner is worth that type of money or if there is more value in finding another starting right tackle at a lesser cost. The Lions' Riley Reiff, a 2012 first-round pick, is the second-best right tackle available and is projected to make $5.3 million per season. Other starting right tackles in free agency include the Patriots' Sebastian Vollmer (a likely cap cut) and the Panthers' Mike Remmers.

One concern about committing so much money to Wagner is his inconsistency. He had his best NFL season in 2014, and he then followed it up with one of his worst. In 2015, he allowed a career-worst 52 quarterback pressures.

But Wagner should draw interest because of the number of teams looking to solidify the right side of their lines. The Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are among the teams looking for starting right tackles. Wagner has a connection in Seattle after protecting Russell Wilson's blind side when they were at Wisconsin.

The highest-paid right tackle is the Eagles' Lane Johnson, but he received $11.252 million per season because Philadelphia will likely move him to left tackle at some point. The true market price for right tackles is an average over $6 million per season, which is what five are currently earning: the Packers' Bryan Bulaga ($6.75 million per season), the Chiefs' Mitchell Schwartz ($6.6 million), the Jaguars' Jermey Parnell ($6.4 million), the Falcons' Ryan Schraeder ($6.3 million) and the Steelers' Marcus Gilbert ($6.1 million).

Losing Wagner would continue an unwanted trend of players leaving Baltimore after being developed there for four seasons. In the last four offseasons, another team has given at least one Ravens free agent more than $12 million in guaranteed money. Linebackers Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, wide receiver Torrey Smith and Osemele received a total of $91.9 million in guaranteed money.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Many of the odds that have come out of Las Vegas in recent weeks had given the Kansas City Chiefs the fifth- or sixth-best chance among NFL teams to acquire quarterback Tony Romo when he gets his trade or release from the Dallas Cowboys.

That seems reasonable. While the Chiefs need to at least look into the possibility of acquiring Romo and they may indeed be intense players when this sweepstakes gets serious, they should not be considered favorites. Other teams, most notably the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, may be more motivated to make such a move and could be more attractive destinations to Romo than Kansas City.

Tony Romo Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Online gaming site Bovada made the Chiefs their No. 2 favorite to acquire Tony Romo.

Then Bovada comes out Wednesday with odds of 7-2 that Romo will be playing for the Chiefs when the 2017 season begins. Those odds are second behind only the Broncos at 3-1.

While the Chiefs certainly can’t be dismissed yet from this competition, it’s a bit much to suggest that they’re one of the favorites to land Romo -- for a variety of reasons.

Not that this will necessarily be the determining factor, but it’s interesting to note the Chiefs are the only team among Bovada’s favorites that have an established starting quarterback. Denver will otherwise choose between Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, Houston between Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler. The Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets don’t or probably soon won’t have a legitimate candidate to be a starter on their roster.

The Chiefs are committed, at least publicly, to Alex Smith.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be more determined to acquire Romo than the other teams. It does mean they have more to lose than any of the others in chasing Romo and missing out.

If any of the other teams bid for Romo and don’t get him, they’ve lost nothing. They’ll either find their starting quarterbacks by -- in the cases of the Broncos and Texans -- choosing among existing options, or they will have to look elsewhere.

The Chiefs face some serious and perhaps irreparable damage if they’re involved with Romo and lose. Then they’ve publicly declared with their actions, if not their words, that they don’t think Smith is good enough, and that easily could turn into a problem in their locker room.

The Chiefs are really the only ones on Bovada’s list of favorites that would be pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table by going after Romo. So they need to tread carefully here.

That’s why I wouldn’t consider them favorites for Romo at this point. They may indeed not get involved in this at all unless they’re convinced they will win.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Wade Phillips played in a 4-3 defensive scheme in college, as a linebacker at Houston in the 1960s. But he went on to become a defensive coordinator who would specialize in implementing the 3-4 scheme, one he will transition the Los Angeles Rams to in 2017.

He just thinks it's a better defense.

"When you have a 4-3, you have four linemen, those are the four guys that are rushing," Phillips said. "When you have a 3-4, you have three linemen and somebody else is coming from somewhere because it’s going to be a four-man rush most of the time. It gives an advantage of them not knowing, protection-wise. I think it helps you, pass defense-wise. If you look at our pass defenses over the years, you look at our sacks over the years, they’ve all been top of the league. And I think that’s the key to beating people is stopping the passing game in this league. That’s why I’ve stuck with the 3-4."

Wade PhillipsPhoto by George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesWade Phillips has presided over 20 top-10 defenses since joining the NFL in 1976.

Phillips has presided over 20 top-10 defenses since joining the NFL in 1976. The Broncos unit he oversaw was the game's best each of the last two years, benefiting from a lockdown secondary and a devastating pass rush that didn't require blitz packages to get to the quarterback. Phillips, 69, has incorporated concepts of the 4-3 and the 46 defense over the years, but all within the structure of a 3-4 set.

His defense isn't expected to change much for the Rams' players, even though they used four down linemen and mostly five defensive backs under former coordinator Gregg Williams, a master at disguising pass rushes.

Aaron Donald will remain a three-technique, and though veteran defensive end Robert Quinn may no longer operate out of a three-point stance, he's still expected to spend most of his time getting around the edge to pressure the quarterback. New defensive line coach Bill Johnson, most recently with the Saints, was with the Falcons when Phillips converted their defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2002. He remembers there being a lot of angst about the transition, but the Falcons went from 26th to 12th in defensive DVOA in Phillips' first season.

The 3-4 defense will only provide "more multiplicity," Johnson believes.

"Really and truly, to me, it’s techniques," Johnson said. "They [the four down linemen from the 4-3 scheme] are going to be playing the very same techniques. And I sort of had the same thing in Atlanta -- this is a four-man front, how are we going to fit these players?

"I learned that you can be more multiple and you can attack protections better. I learned a lot of football with Wade that first time. And I think the advantage is we’ll be able to take our players and match them up in different positions that give us even better matchups."

videoCHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was a time late in the 2016 season when I was convinced it made sense for the Carolina Panthers to cut ties with running back Jonathan Stewart.

ESPN's John Clayton still believes it does, arguing this week (above) that Carolina should make the "bold move" and release the 13th pick of the 2008 draft.

It would be a bold move.

It also would be a bad move.

Clayton's arguments are sound. Stewart is a month from turning 30, an age when the production of running backs typically starts to decline. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry, the second lowest of his career, this past season.

Cutting him would clear $6.25 million from the salary cap and this is a good year for running backs in the draft.

It all makes sense.

Dannie Walls/ Icon SportswireJonathan Stewart has proven value as a pass-blocker for the Panthers.

But then you have to consider that the Panthers are in the process of evolving the offense to take the running load off of quarterback Cam Newton. They are trying to provide Newton, who has been hit more than any quarterback in the NFL since entering the league in 2011, more protection.

Do you really want to leave that in the hands of a rookie?

Forget Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott. What he did this past season as a rookie, leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards, was amazing. It also was more of the exception than the rule. Elliott played behind arguably the best offensive line in the league. The Cowboys didn't have to depend on him to protect rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Newton played behind an offensive line that, in the words of coach Ron Rivera, suffered "position catastrophe" in term of injuries. Imagine how much worse it would have been for Newton if Elliott as a rookie had been asked to help out with protection.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott had a 60.1 grade in pass blocking on 66 pass-blocking snaps. Stewart got a grade of 85.3 on 99 pass-blocking snaps. No other back scored higher.

That's a big reason the Panthers shouldn't cut Stewart. Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman will be the first to say it is "rare" that a rookie back is a dependable pass-blocker coming out of college.

"They really are [rare]," Gettleman said in 2014 as he debated the value of keeping Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert on the roster while counting $13.9 million against the salary cap. "There are some guys you can watch 10 tapes on and they never pick up the blitz. They're gone.

"Blitz pickup is a huge issue. It's big."

What Stewart offers in terms of pass blocking is offset by any decline he may have in production.

And there's no guarantee Stewart's production will decrease. He rushed for 824 yards, 19th most in the NFL, despite missing three games and playing behind a makeshift offensive line.

Stewart showed he can be effective with 132 rushing yards on 25 carries in a December Monday night win at Washington.

Williams, who was released following the 2014 season, proved there is life for a back after 30. He rushed for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns and added 367 yards receiving for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015.

He was 32.

Stewart may have even more tread on his career. He missed much of the 2012 and '13 seasons with injuries, and prior to that he shared the load with Williams for four years.

The Panthers should consider a running back in a deep draft. They should consider LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick.

They need to prepare for life after Stewart.

But it's rare that one back plays all 16 games. Only eight of the top 20 in rushing did this past season.

And to be fair, Stewart has played in 13 games each of the past three seasons. That's not bad.

Put Stewart with a dynamic rookie and the Panthers have created an offense in which Newton doesn't have to run so much. That makes more sense than pairing a rookie with Fozzy Whittaker or Cameron Artis-Payne.

Whittaker is no better than a third-down back, and he's still unsigned. The only three games Artis-Payne was active last season were those that Stewart missed. He had 85 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns against Tampa Bay, but was otherwise underwhelming.

The final argument for keeping Stewart is the Panthers really don't need the cap space. They're already more than $50 million under the cap.

So as much sense as it once seemed to move on from Stewart, it makes more sense to keep him.

Arizona's Bruce AriansMatt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsSome of the Cardinals' in-game decisions this past season confused Bruce Arians.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the 2016 season fading further behind in the Arizona Cardinals' rear-view mirror, it's become clear to coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim what went wrong during a 7-8-1 campaign that occurred only a season after coming within a game of the Super Bowl.

"When you look at the close losses and why, there was a lack of discipline at times," Arians said. "There was a lot of guys trying to do too much instead of just doing their job. We missed some kicks we should've made.

"But overall, I don't want to use the word stupid but we played stupid at times and that cost us."

Among the many reasons for Arizona's dramatic drop from 13 wins in 2015 to seven in 2016 was a lack of attention to detail, Keim pointed out on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

"There were mental mistakes," Keim said. "Certain times where guys had to step up and make plays and they didn't do it. That's the nature of the business that's tough."

Instead of fulfilling expectations of a Super Bowl run and even a world championship, Keim felt the Cardinals regressed. He didn't lay the blame on the Cardinals' coaching staff, though.

"I have a tremendous amount of faith in our coaching staff," Keim said. "I know they do a great job with our players and it's shown over the last four years -- 10, 11 and 13 wins -- and then we took a step back this year. We didn't coach them any different."

Keim added: "We didn't make the plays that we needed to."

Keim, the architect of Arizona's three straight double-digit wins seasons, shouldered the blame for that.

"Ultimately, I'm the one that has to provide our coaches with the players to succeed and I didn't do a good enough job," Keim said. "I challenge myself every day to make sure that moving forward that we won't be in that position again."

Arians agrees. He sees the 2016 season as an anomaly, especially after how Arizona finished it with an upset win over the Seattle Seahawks and a blowout of the Los Angeles Rams, both coming on the road with a slew of backups in the Cardinals' lineup.

Last season was Arians' first losing season as an NFL head coach dating back to the 2012 season in Indianapolis, when he was the Colts' interim head coach for 12 games, going 9-3 and leading them to the playoffs. Arians went 10-6, 11-5 and 13-3, respectively, in his first three seasons in Arizona.

Losing was foreign to Arians, who said he took the veteran roster he had for granted because he never heard it complain.

"I knew losing sucks, but now you really know," Arians said. "I don't like it."

CARSON, Calif. -- Ken Whisenhunt is a man with options.

With more than 29 years of NFL experience, including stints as a head coach for the Arizona Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans, Whisenhunt would have been welcome at a number of spots around the league.

Instead, the Georgia native chose to stay put when Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn indicated he wanted Whisenhunt to remain part of his staff.

Whisenhunt, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and special-teams coordinator George Stewart all were introduced to reporters at the Chargers’ new home, the StubHub Center, on Wednesday.

Ken WhisenhuntKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOffensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt thinks the Chargers are close to being able to contend in 2017.

Lynn and the rest of his new coaching staff also drove by the team’s new headquarters in Costa Mesa before making their way north to Carson.

Whisenhunt said at this point of his career, relationships are important. He pointed to his positive working atmosphere with quarterback Philip Rivers and a budding chemistry with Lynn and the rest of the team’s coaching staff as reasons for staying with the Chargers.

“One of the things I know for sure about Anthony is he’s a tremendous person, because some of my closest friends in coaching have worked with him,” Whisenhunt said. “And we’ve had discussions about Anthony before outside of this environment. And you feel really good about that, so I think that was a big piece of it.”

With Whisenhunt, receivers coach Nick Sirianni, quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen and tight-ends coach John McNulty all remaining on the Chargers’ staff, the team should see continuity on offense.

However, Whisenhunt said, one of the things the Chargers must address is curbing turnovers and finishing games.

The Chargers led the league in turnovers last season with 35. And since the start of the 2015 season, the Chargers have a 7-18 record in games decided by eight points or less.

If the Chargers can get those issues cleaned up, Whisenhunt believes they can compete for an AFC West title.

“One of the things that was really exciting about our football team is even though our record wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be, there were a lot of games that we were in those games at the end,” Whisenhunt said.

“We’ve got to find a way to win those games. But one of the biggest things in this league is having the opportunity to do that. If we can get over that hump, we can flip our record and put us in position to make a run at our division, and obviously the playoffs. So that’s an exciting part of it.”

• Chargers chief marketing officer Kent Derrett also was part of the presentation to reporters. Derrett said Chargers season-ticket holders will have a dedicated guest-services representative assigned to them for the entire year to answer questions about their account, training camp, merchandise and community events.

Season-ticket holders also will have preferred access to the new Inglewood Stadium once those seats become available in 2019.

“We’re expecting tickets to go very quickly, and we don’t think there will be any single-game seats available this year,” Derrett said.

The Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins remain at an impasse, with one week left before the deadline for the franchise tag. It’s not exactly a surprising spot, considering the leverage of one side and the clear doubts on the other. And it makes sense for Cousins to stay unsigned.

So says a veteran of NFL front offices, Joe Banner.

He spent 17 seasons as president of the Philadelphia Eagles; two years as the CEO of the Cleveland Browns and two more years as a front office consultant to the Atlanta Falcons. He offers a unique perspective and understands the dilemma facing the Redskins -- and Cousins’ unique position.

Kirk CousinsDaniel Kucin Jr./Icon SportswireKirk Cousins may not want to sign a long-term deal with the Redskins this offseason, knowing that he could hit the open market a year from now.

“If I was the agent, I’d want to see if they tag me before I did anything,” Banner said. “If they don’t tag me, I’d love to hit the open market and if they do tag me, use that as the base to open the negotiations. It’s pointless to negotiate now until the player and agent know whether or not they’re getting tagged.”

Here’s why: If the Redskins somehow let Cousins hit the open market, Banner said it would result in a big payday.

“He’d get a huge deal and would become the highest-paid QB by a moderate amount,” he said.

Cousins' potential, and just how good he already is, has led to many debates. Banner places Cousins in the good-but-not-great camp. That doesn't mean his pay would be commensurate.

“We’ve all wondered if a quality quarterback actually hit the market in his 20s where he had six or seven years left to play and total unrestricted free agency, what is his real market value?” Banner said. “We don’t know that. No one has had that opportunity or had the patience to get tagged twice. He’s now very close and in complete control and whether or not that happens, that’s a powerful place to be.”

Banner said the options here are clear. The Redskins can let Cousins walk (which he said he doesn’t believe they’re considering), tag him or do a long-term deal.

And that would lead to a deal that will cost quite a bit.

“The only way you get it done is if you pay him,” Banner said. “You probably have to make him the highest paid, at least to this point. Losing him is a terrible option. Keeping him on a one-year deal is the best under the circumstances, but it’s not a great option and having to overpay with a long-term deal with a huge signing bonus. If you think he’s the answer, it’s a no-brainer. But if you think he’s good but not good enough to carry the team, that’s problematic.”

The question is: If the Redskins tag Cousins, would there be a trade market? Banner said he could see someone wanting to trade for Cousins, but to a point. There will be other choices for teams in need of a quarterback, whether via trade (New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo), free agency (if Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick become free) or the draft.

“How high the picks would be,” said Banner of a possible deal involving Cousins. “Could you get meaningful compensation in a trade? Here’s the problem with quarterbacks: It’s as big a difference-making position in all of sports and there’s a big short of talent versus the number you need. … The problem is if they trade him, where are they at the position that most defines your ability to win or lose?”

Some of that depends on how they view other solutions -- and if they believe Cousins is truly worth $20 million more than backup Colt McCoy.

Still, Cousins is in a unique position. He’s had success -- how much is due to him is part of the debate -- who plays the most important position and who is willing to play on one-year deals knowing the potential market that exists.

And that leads to this thought: Even if the Redskins come close to the offer Cousins is seeking, he might not sign. After all, a year from now he would have freedom to choose the best situation, which may or may not be Washington.

“Why would you take a deal [now] unless you really, really love where you are and think you have a chance to win big? You love your coaches, you love everything,” Banner said. “Let’s say they tag him and he hits the market [in 2018], that doesn’t preclude him from signing with the Redskins. So I’m sure that’s part of their private conversations. And you’re betting that you play reasonably well.

“If they tag him this year and he got hurt and it’s not career-ending but consequential but he’ll be fine for 2018? He still gets a massive deal. The risk of playing under the tag for a year is pretty small and the potential upside is very large. I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to negotiate on behalf of the Redskins.”

The Miami Dolphins will re-sign several former players to one-day contracts on Wednesday, the team announced. Among the group were Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Bob Griese.

These are ceremonial contracts that do not have anything to do with the football product. But it will allow these players to officially retire as Dolphins, and the goal is to increase their bond between Miami’s great players of the past and current generation of players.

In addition to Marino and Griese, the full list of players also include former receiver Nat Moore, former guard Larry Little, former defensive end Kim Bokamper and former cornerback Sam Madison.



Sunday, 2/5