Here's a look at some of the top rumors for Tuesday, Feb. 23:
With agents, coaches and executives all in attendance, this week's combine is often a kickstarter for contract discussions, and it should be no different for the Denver Broncos. NBC Denver's Mike Klis reports the team will begin negotiating with quarterback Brock Osweiler's agent this week about an extension for the pending free agent. He adds that the team will also negotiate with representatives for several other free agents, namely Von Miller and Malik Jackson. Discussions with Osweiler have not yet taken place in part out of deference to Peyton Manning and his potential retirement, but with free agency approaching, it seems John Elway & Co. are ready to get the ball rolling. Klis adds that talks about an extension for Miller have been minimal -- as both sides are expecting the franchise tag to be used -- but discussions about a new deal for Jackson have been "serious." Jackson will almost certainly be the toughest to retain of those three, so it makes sense that he's been the team's top priority so far. The Broncos sure have plenty of work to do, but they have a decent amount of cap space and figure to get some more once Manning's situation has been resolved. Klis writes that -- as many have suggested -- "there is no 2016 scenario" in which Manning will make the scheduled $19 million, so if the 39-year-old returns for another season, it will be either at a lower price or with another team.
In other Broncos news, guard Evan Mathis opened up in an email exchange with Klis, part of which detailed his disapproval of former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. But Mathis also revealed several other interesting nuggets: First, the 34-year-old is unsure if he will retire this offseason, but he will have surgery on a bothersome ankle on Wednesday and prepare as if he's playing until he makes a decision. Second, the pending free agent noted that while he hasn't thought much about where he might play, there are "zero reasons right now why Denver wouldn't be first on my list." Mathis also detailed the ailments he played through in 2015 and expressed confidence that the surgery would help him significantly if he does come back for a 12th NFL season. It's unclear if the Broncos will want Mathis back, but if the price is right, another one-year deal could make sense. He finished 2015 as Pro Football Focus' top-ranked guard in run blocking for the fourth time in five seasons. Denver also has Louis Vasquez -- who played through several of his own injuries last season -- and 2015 fourth-rounder Max Garcia, who started five games and played 552 snaps during his rookie campaign.
It appears the Dallas Cowboys' experiment with defensive end Greg Hardy will end after just one season. Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan hears from sources that Dallas "has decided not to retain Hardy," primarily because Hardy's behavior and attendance were "a bit too erratic." It's hardly surprising news considering the frequency with which Hardy made headlines in 2015, and not for his play on the field (six total sacks). We also heard late in January that the DE's representatives didn't expect him back in Dallas, in part because he "partied a lot" and "was not in great physical shape" in 2015. Without a suspension hanging over his head, Hardy is arguably in a better position than he was a year ago when he hit free agency, and it's fair to expect some team to gamble on his talent. However, his repeated behavioral missteps will immediately rule most teams out, which should make for a quiet market, especially early on.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that "no substantial talks have taken place" between the two sides and Gipson is "preparing to move on," even though the safety has "made it clear" he'd like to stay in Cleveland. Cabot adds that the return of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who ran Cleveland's defense in 2013 and has said he'd like to keep Gipson, made the safety even more interested in staying, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards. It's a curious approach from the Browns, who need all the young contributors they can get and often struggle to keep in-house talent from leaving. Two years ago, Cleveland passed up homegrown safety T.J. Ward -- who went to Denver for four years, $22.5 million -- for free-agent signee Donte Whitner (four years, $28 million). The result wasn't a disaster, but it certainly didn't fit the "build from within" approach that most elite teams follow. Gipson might not be as talented of a player, but he's shown a nose for the football, nabbing 13 interceptions in 29 games over the last three seasons. It's unclear what the Browns, who should have more than $35 million in cap space, plan to do on the back end if Gipson departs in free agency.
Both of the Cincinnati Bengals' starting safeties are pending free agents, and it's unclear if either will return, but Reggie Nelson is certainly open to staying in Cincy. Geoff Hobson of the team's official website writes that Nelson has made as much clear, saying: "I would love to be a Bengal. I did my part. I played football. It's time to handle business and we'll go from there." We often hear similar language from players who wind up cashing in elsewhere, but the 32-year-old doesn't sound ready to go to the highest bidder, despite coming off a career year with eight interceptions in 2015. Per Hobson, the Bengals would like to bring the safety back, noting they "particularly covet Nelson’s experience in the scheme and fit" with Kevin Coyle, who coached the secondary from 2001-2011 and will return in 2016. Hobson expects safety George Iloka and cornerback Adam Jones to be high on Cincinnati's priority list as well, with discussions coming this week at the combine. With around $35 million in cap space, the Bengals have a good chance to reach agreements with the players they deem most important to keep, especially because owner/GM Mike Brown rarely dips into free agency to acquire players.
The New York Jets parted ways with cornerback Antonio Cromartie for the second time in as many years on Monday, but that doesn't necessarily mean the 31-year-old is gone for good. Darryl Slater of NJ. com hears from a league source that Cromartie would likely be willing to take less money to return to the Jets -- if the team is interested -- "because he loves the Jets organization and coach Todd Bowles." Slater adds "it's not clear" what New York's plans are at the position, so it's anyone's guess if Gang Green would be amenable. It doesn't sound like the team approached Cromartie about a pay cut prior to his release, but perhaps a modest deal would interest the Jets. A hip injury bothered Cromartie for much of last season, but he's still a talented player who could be useful when healthy.
As Jerry McDonald of Inside Bay Area observed, pending free-agent tackle Donald Penn removed all references to the Raiders from his social media accounts over the weekend, suggesting he's preparing to join a new team. We heard a few weeks ago that Penn is expecting a significant pay raise this offseason after playing out a two-year, $14.3 million deal. His play has made that a reasonable expectation: The 32-year-old finished 10th out of 76 qualifying tackles in 2015 and 7th out of 84 qualifiers in 2014 in Pro Football Focus' rankings.