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Jordy Nelson, one of the cornerstones of the Green Bay Packers offense for a decade, is retiring from the NFL after playing last year for the Oakland Raiders.

“We want to congratulate Jordy on an incredible career that included achievements that will result in his eventual induction in the Packers Hall of Fame,” said Packers GM Brian Gutekunst. “He is one of the greatest receivers in franchise history and played a vital role in the team’s success with not only his play on the field but also for what he provided as a great teammate and leader. We wish the best to Jordy, his wife, Emily, and the rest of their family.”

Nelson, who turns 34 on May 31, became a free agent when the Raiders released him on March 14 after just one season with the team.

James Jones, his former Packers teammate, first reported Nelson’s decision.

The former second-round pick of the Packers spent the first 10 seasons of his career in Green Bay, where he caught 550 passes for 7,848 yards and 69 touchdowns. He ranks second in Packers franchise history in touchdown receptions, third in receptions and fifth in yards receiving.

He and Aaron Rodgers hold the franchise record for most touchdowns by a receiver-quarterback combination with 65. They broke the record, formerly held by Antonio Freeman and Brett Favre, during the 2016 season.

Nelson’s breakout came in 2010, when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. Nelson caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Steelers. His best seasons came in 2014 and 2016, sandwiched around a lost year in 2015 when he tore his ACL in a preseason game. He caught 98 passes for 1,516 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014 — his only Pro Bowl season — and won the NFL’s comeback player of the year award after he put up 97 catches, 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016.

How Jordy Nelson runs the back-shoulder fade
Rob Demovsky talks to Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson about how he runs the back-shoulder fade.

The Packers cut him in March 2018 after they couldn’t come to an agreement on a pay cut from the $10.25 million he was scheduled to make in the final year of a four-year, $39 million contract. At the time, Gutekunst said Nelson “will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.”

During the 2017 season, Nelson’s final year in Green Bay, he told ESPN that he believed he had a legitimate chance to get back to a Super Bowl.

“I plan on playing two to four more years, so I think I’ve got two to four more chances,” he said at the time.

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INDIANAPOLIS — When tight end Jason Witten walked away from football last May, his teammates gave him a long, standing ovation, recognizing a successful 15-year career that placed him among the greatest to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

It wasn’t just the catches, yards and touchdowns that made Witten great — it was the example he set in the locker room, at practice and during games.

Several of his teammates wrote an open letter to Witten via ESPN.com expressing their gratitude.

On Thursday, Witten ended his retirement, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cowboys that, according to sources, pays him $3.5 million with a possibility of $5 million with roster bonuses and incentives.

As it was from 2003 through 2017, the excitement regarding Witten’s return isn’t just about his ability to convert clutch third-down catches, but also for what he means off the field.

“When you think of the Dallas Cowboys, you think of him,” Cowboys Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin said. “But more than that, it’s his preparation, his leadership in the locker room, how he pushes himself every day to a new level.”

Witten will turn 37 in May. For more than a decade, he played nearly all of the snaps. With his return, the expectation is he will take a reduced role in the offense, serving as a mentor to young tight ends such as Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin and maybe even a potential draft pick, although coach Jason Garrett did not want to discuss playing time on Thursday.

“Playing football still tugged at his heart. I think he felt there was still some meat on the bone, some things he still wanted to accomplish,” Garrett told reporters. “I just think he loves it and wants to be in this environment. There is no doubt in his mind he can still play, and there is no doubt in my mind he can still play. Excited to have him back.”

In 2017, Witten caught 63 passes for 560 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was added to the Pro Bowl as the first alternate, which meant he was viewed by his NFC peers as the third-best tight end in the conference.

Witten will not be asked to ride to the Cowboys’ rescue upon his return. As much as the Cowboys’ decision to go with a receiver-by-committee approach to replace Dez Bryant failed and necessitated the trade for Amari Cooper, the committee approach at tight end was solid.

Schultz, Jarwin, Geoff Swaim — who is set to be a free agent — and Rico Gathers combined for 66 catches for 710 yards and 4 touchdowns last season, roughly the same as Witten by himself.

In his first two years as a starter, quarterback Dak Prescott used Witten as a security blanket in tough situations. As Prescott starts his fourth pro season, he once again can look to Witten in those difficult scenarios. Plus, Prescott has completed 73.7 percent of his passes thrown to tight ends in his career, third highest in the NFL in the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“[Witten has] been productive anytime he has stepped on a football field,” Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee told ESPN. “There’s nothing he can’t do at that position, and that’s why he’s a Hall of Fame player.”

Garrett said his discussions with Witten about a return started a few weeks ago. Witten stepped up his workouts to test how his body felt. He wanted to make sure his desire to play matched the physical ability to play.

Witten missed just one game in his career, in his rookie season. He holds franchise records for games played (239), consecutive games (236) and consecutive starts (179). He also rarely missed practices, taking days off during training camp only late in his career at the demand of the coaching staff. He earned awards every year for his work in the offseason program given by the strength and conditioning coaches.

“He knows his body more than anyone else. He knows the demands of the game more than anybody to make an honest assessment of where he was physically,” Garrett said. “He was able to do that over the last few weeks. I think he felt good about it. We certainly feel great about having him come back to the team.”

Witten’s work ethic rubbed off on players throughout the locker room. If he was going to put in the work, they were going to put in the work. That’s why there was not a leadership void in his absence in 2018, because Prescott, Lee, Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyrone Crawford and others carried on what he taught them.

His teammates are excited to have him back.

“He’s definitely still going to be 82,” Crawford said. “He’s probably a little refreshed and ready to roll after taking a year off. I’m sure he’s ready to show what he’s got.”

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The expected salary for quarterbacks with the franchise designation in 2019 is $25 million. The Eagles’ trade options hinge on the franchise designation — they can’t carry Foles on the books at that number as a backup to Carson Wentz. But if there is competition among quarterback-needy teams who wish to sign Foles, the Eagles can put the tag on him and then make a trade. Pro Bowl defenders Jadeveon Clowney and C.J. Mosley are among the other players who are candidates to be tagged this offseason. NFL Nation reporters predict whether teams will use the tag and, if so, on which players (in alphabetical order by team):

Atlanta Falcons: Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. The Falcons keep saying that signing Jarrett to a long-term extension is a top priority, but it hasn’t happened just yet. Talks were tabled during the season but should be in full swing now after the team cleared more than $15 million in cap space following the releases of CB Robert Alford, K Matt Bryant and DE Brooks Reed. If the sides don’t come to an agreement, tagging Jarrett at a price of around $15.5 million for 2019 could be an option, although the Falcons haven’t used the tag freely over the years.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys want to avoid putting the tag on Lawrence for a second year. He made $17.1 million in 2018 on the tag and would make $20.5 million in 2019. The Cowboys wanted to see if Lawrence could repeat his production from 2017 and he did, putting up 10.5 sacks with 39 quarterback pressures and earning a second Pro Bowl nod. A year ago, there seemed to be little hope a long-term deal could be done. This year, there seems be a little more optimism, even with a tight window to negotiate. If the Cowboys use the tag on Lawrence again, they run the risk of him not showing for the offseason program, minicamp, training camp and potentially regular-season games.

Minnesota Vikings: Linebacker Anthony Barr. The Vikings knew they’d face a tough decision with Barr when they opted not to extend the former first-rounder last offseason, which then put him in the position to play out his fifth-year option. Minnesota has to decide whether it wants to spend the estimated $15 million on a franchise tag to keep Barr around — or possibly plan to trade him soon after. Barr smoothed out an up-and-down season toward the end of 2018, recording the first multiple sack game of his NFL career and generating 23 total quarterback pressures on 94 rushes, according to Pro Football Focus. While he has said he wanted to return to Minnesota, Barr expressed a desire to keep all of his options open if he hits free agency. “I know my worth and I know what I got to do I’ve got to do it for me,” Barr said at the Pro Bowl. Though Barr has been an integral part of Mike Zimmer’s defense since he was drafted in 2014, for a team up against the salary cap, spending that amount to retain Barr doesn’t seem realistic when there are other more pressing needs as well as the likelihood that the Vikings will be able to find his replacement in the draft or elsewhere.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Running back Le’Veon Bell. Designating Bell the franchise player for the third straight year is unlikely. Bell’s yearlong holdout broke goodwill with the team, and with many around the league believing his third tag is worth $20-plus million, Bell’s holdout notwithstanding, the Steelers either wouldn’t want to pay that or wouldn’t allocate the cap space to keep the tag in place. The transition tag is more tenable, especially if the Steelers can prove it’s worth around $9.5 million instead of $14.5 million because of Bell’s absence in 2018. But Bell can’t be traded unless he signs the tag or the Steelers utilize an offer sheet for a convoluted sign-and-trade plan, which is risky if other teams aren’t interested in the offer sheet’s numbers. Plus, the NFLPA would argue such a move violates the spirit of the tag and the collective bargaining agreement.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive end Frank Clark. The franchise tag has seemed likely since Clark’s agent told ESPN.com in October that his client is willing to wait for a deal that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid pass-rushers, even if it means playing on a tag first. “We plan on Frank being with us,” coach Pete Carroll said at the end of the season, seemingly an indication that the Seahawks will tag Clark if they have to. Clark turns 26 in June. He’s coming off his best season and his 32 sacks since 2016 are ninth most in that span, so it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Seahawks letting him get to free agency. With well over $50 million in projected 2019 cap space, the Seahawks can easily absorb the $17 million to $18 million cap charge that would come with the tag.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Offensive tackle Donovan Smith. Smith will be back with the Bucs in 2019. The question is whether it’s under the franchise tag or a long-term deal. He has started 64 consecutive games, tied for second most of any left tackle in the league behind Jake Matthews. That would make Smith the top left tackle in the free-agent market. Yes, he has shined at times, but he has also had some issues with consistency. Still, at just 25 years old, the Bucs believe he has not reached his ceiling and his greatest asset is his durability.

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DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins have found their coach in Brian Flores. The next search is for their franchise quarterback. During the past seven seasons, the Dolphins have bet on Ryan Tannehill as their undisputed franchise quarterback. But in 2019 — under Flores and headed in a different direction while embracing a rebuild — Miami is expected to move on without their first-round pick from 2012. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said it’s not “fair” to say with certainty that Tannehill will be released this offseason, because Flores just got to Miami and he hasn’t even completed the hiring of the staff that will evaluate the 30-year-old, oft-injured quarterback. Grier left the door open if the new coaching staff believes they can fix Tannehill, but he made clear that the Dolphins are in the market for a new franchise quarterback.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last month that the Dolphins were eyeing and trying to land one of the quarterbacks expected to be in the 2020 draft, such as Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert. NFL scouts and football fans in general have been impressed by the playmaking ability, accuracy and potential of those college underclassmen. But Grier said on Monday that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Miami selecting a quarterback this April. He mentioned there is still plenty to learn about the prospects in what has been considered by many scouts as a weak quarterback draft class. “We might get through the process and fall in love with a couple guys,” Grier said. “Last year, we liked two guys a lot, and they both had good success this year. It could be at that point we may say, ‘We feel this is the guy.’” The two quarterbacks whom Grier spoke of last season — one was Baker Mayfield — were drafted before Miami’s No. 11 pick, and the Dolphins decided to select defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. This year, they might face a similar decision: Trade up to get your guy or take the best player left on your board at your No. 13 pick.

The Dolphins don’t have much in the quarterback stock room. Outside of Tannehill, Luke Falk (a 2018 sixth-round pick, originally with the Tennessee Titans, who spent most of the season on injured reserve in Miami) and Jake Rudock (a 2016 sixth-round pick of the Detroit Lions, who signed with Miami on a futures deal last month) are the only two quarterbacks under contract for the 2019 season. They have combined to throw five passes in NFL regular-season games. Miami could decide to draft a quarterback in both the 2019 and 2020 drafts, maximizing their chance of finding a franchise quarterback and increasing the long-term depth behind that guy. As we’ve seen with Nick Foles in Philadelphia, a backup role is a crucial spot to fill. Grier was promoted a month ago, and he now holds full football decision-making power. Flores received the only five-year guaranteed contract among head coaches hired in this cycle, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, showing the Dolphins’ faith in him. Flores and Grier mentioned shared “core beliefs” as a key reason that their new power duo will excel through a rebuild. The two believe they have the organization’s patience in finding their QB and making Miami a long-term contender.

The Dolphins are expected to hire New England Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea as offensive coordinator. O’Shea was the Patriots’ red zone coordinator with a reputation of maximizing his position group. One of O’Shea’s biggest supporters is Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, whom O’Shea helped mold from a college quarterback and a seventh-round pick to one of the NFL’s best slot receivers. Jim Caldwell, who has had two stints as NFL head coach and a history of getting a lot from his quarterbacks, is also expected to join the staff. He’ll provide a respected, veteran voice for Flores in his first head-coaching gig. O’Shea and Caldwell will each bring perspectives on what they want in a quarterback. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray are currently considered the top quarterback prospects in this draft. Murray is in a similar mold as that of Mayfield and he might be the more obtainable of the two, given Miami’s draft position. The Dolphins would have to be OK with Murray’s size (listed as 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds by Oklahoma) and his commitment to football, given he was an Oakland Athletics first-round pick in June. Grier also mentioned being impressed with some of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks, and selecting a second-tier QB could make it easier for Miami to double dip in the 2019 and 2020 drafts and then going with the more promising quarterback as the franchise signal-caller.

The Dolphins aren’t close to competing for championships. They have many holes to fill, notably rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines; that will be a huge priority over the next two seasons. But nothing will be as essential and draw as much attention as finding a quarterback.

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For the 16th time in the past 18 seasons, the AFC will be represented in the Super Bowl by a team led by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger.

The grip held over the conference by those top quarterbacks — Brady for the past three seasons — will eventually loosen. Manning is retired, Brady will turn 42 before next season and Roethlisberger will be 37. Brady’s foe in the AFC divisional playoffs this season, Philip Rivers, is also 37.

What was true a year ago remains in effect: There soon will be an opportunity in the AFC for a team with a younger quarterback to take charge.

The Kansas City Chiefs, with 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes, and the Indianapolis Colts, with 29-year-old Andrew Luck, are best positioned to challenge Brady in the short term and potentially replace the Patriots at the top of the conference in the long term. Deshaun Watson, 23, has put the Houston Texans on track to do the same.

The next group of AFC teams that could make a similar run to the top are the four that drafted quarterbacks in the first round in 2018: the Cleveland Browns (Baker Mayfield), New York Jets (Sam Darnold), Buffalo Bills (Josh Allen) and Baltimore Ravens (Lamar Jackson).

In Allen, the Bills believe they have a building block who can allow the club to focus on other areas of need this offseason. Allen finished the 2018 season with a 52.0 Total QBR, second best to Mayfield among rookies and 12th best among rookie quarterbacks since ESPN began tracking Total QBR in 2006.

“It’s definitely different than 12 months ago,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane told the team’s official radio program Wednesday. “You sleep easier at night.”

No longer wandering the desert in search of their next quarterback, the task for Beane and his AFC counterparts in similar situations — the Jets included — will be finding the right pieces to pair with their potential franchise signal-callers.

The Bills have assets to help Allen but are not alone in that category. With a projected $83 million in salary-cap space, the Bills will rival the Colts ($117 million), Jets ($93 million) and Browns ($82 million) in spending power this offseason. At No. 9, Buffalo will draft behind the Jets (No. 3) but ahead of the Browns (No. 17) and Colts (No. 26).
Unlike the Jets, who changed coaches, the Bills have spent January as one of the NFL’s quietest teams. After making the playoffs in his first season, coach Sean McDermott’s job was never in jeopardy despite Buffalo finishing 6-10 in 2018. The Bills did not need to tweak their staff of their second-ranked defense, and Buffalo’s 30th-ranked offense showed some late-season promise, especially given its limited resources for first-year coordinator Brian Daboll.

Offensive line coach Juan Castillo, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie and special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman were the only position coaches whom McDermott chose not to retain for 2019. Castillo was replaced by former Colts assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson, and McDermott hired Carolina Panthers assistant special-teams coach Heath Farwell to fill Crossman’s role. No replacement for Robiskie has been named.

The Bills’ won four of their final seven games after beginning the season with a 2-7 record, and that created a sense of optimism around the organization that could shape the offseason. Instead of digging down in the coming months, expect the Bills to build up and around Allen.