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INDIANAPOLIS — As the Denver Broncos prepare themselves to make major changes at quarterback, John Elway said the team’s plan is to keep its top two receivers for any new quarterbacks to throw to.

The Broncos’ president of football operations/general manager said at the scouting combine Wednesday that “the plan” was to keep both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the roster. With the Broncos expected to make some salary-cap room with the release of a notable veteran player or two in the coming weeks, there had been some speculation Thomas and Sanders could be among the players let go.

“The plan is to have them back,” Elway said.

Asked if that meant the Broncos would pay a $4 million option bonus to Thomas in the coming weeks that would keep the final two years of his deal (2018 and 2019) in place, Elway said: “That is the plan, yes.”

Elway was critical of the team’s quarterback play last season when the Broncos used three different starters and threw the second-most interceptions in the league (22), and he didn’t absolve the top two receivers from that, either.

Elway said both players must be better in the coming season.

“We want to have them come back and play the way they’re capable of,” Elway said. “They still have a lot of football and still (are) a top receiving pair in the league, so we have got high expectations, but they’ve got to come back and play a lot better.”

Thomas led the Broncos with 83 receptions for 949 yards — his first season with fewer than 1,000 yards receiving since 2011 — while Sanders finished with 47 catches and 555 yards in an injury-marred season. Sanders, who missed four games with an ankle injury, did not have a touchdown reception after Week 2.

Thomas currently has the second-highest salary-cap charge on the team for 2018 at $12.033 million, while Sanders is fourth at $10.938 million.

The return of the two receivers, however, could help the Broncos lure a free-agent quarterback. Because of the league’s tampering rules, team officials cannot openly comment on their desire to sign prospective free agents until the start of the new league year on March 14.

But Elway made it clear any quarterback on the open market will be considered by the Broncos. That would include the likes of Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum.

“Anybody that’s not under contract right now or won’t be under contract,” Elway said.

Asked if that included every quarterback who would be on the market, Elway said, “Yes.”

Then asked if he believed the Broncos had enough salary-cap room — expected to be about $27 million with another $10 million or so rolled over from last season — to handle any scenario with quarterbacks in free agency, Elway quickly said, “Yeah.”

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Lions releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, per reports

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The Detroit Lions are releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, according to multiple reports.

Detroit drafted the former Auburn standout in the second round in 2018. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D’Andre Swift No. 35 overall in 2020, signed free agent running back Jamaal Williams in March and drafted Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson last week.

Johnson ran for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. He also has 61 career receptions for 527 yards and three scores.

Last year, he had 181 yards rushing and two scores on 52 carries. and had 19 receptions for 187 yards receiving and a touchdown.

NFL Network first reported that Johnson would be waived.

The Lions also added a player in free agency, signing tight end Darren Fells on Wednesday. The move gives the team a veteran at the position it can put on the field with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson.

The 35-year-old Fells has 123 career catches with 1,483 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns. The previous two years in Houston, he had a combined 55 catches for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Fells has started 76 games — including 13 with the Lions in 2017 — and played in 102 games with Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and the Texans. He was a rebounding standout at UC Irvine and played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before playing in the NFL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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QB Blaine Gabbert re-signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on 1-year, $2.5 million deal, source says

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TAMPA, Fla. — Once again, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has kept his word.

Days after saying the Bucs would work to re-sign Tom Brady’s top backup, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the team is indeed re-signing Gabbert to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Gabbert, who has played in 60 career games with 48 starts, previously earned $1.187 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019.

Last season, Gabbert, 31, completed 9 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, with all but one of those pass attempts coming in the second half against the Detroit Lions in Week 16, when Arians opted to rest Brady.

The Bucs selected quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft last week, but Arians said that would not preclude them from re-signing Gabbert. The team also re-signed Ryan Griffin, who was last year’s third-string backup, earlier this offseason.

Gabbert enters his third season with the Bucs, after spending 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, 2017 with Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, 2014-16 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2011-13 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Gabbert has had an eventful offseason. In addition to attending the Kentucky Derby with Brady and Griffin on Saturday, he married longtime sweetheart Bekah Mills in Paradise Valley, Arizona, in March.

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NFL sends memo reminding clubs the league will not pay players who suffer injuries away from facilities

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The NFL reminded teams Wednesday that they are not obligated to pay players who suffer an injury away from the team facility, an issue that moved this week to the center of an ongoing dispute between the NFL and NFL Players Association over in-person participation in offseason workouts.

The memo, obtained by ESPN, was prompted by several prominent players who were surprised by media reports about Denver Broncos offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, who tore an Achilles tendon this week while working out on his own and could miss the 2021 season. NFL contracts have long classified such injuries as “non-football,” because they happen away from the team environment, and they are not covered by typical injury guarantees. As a result, the Broncos could withhold James’ salary for as long as he is sidelined. More than $10 million would have been guaranteed if the injury had occurred at the Broncos’ facility.

The NFL has noted this contractual leverage multiple times during negotiations with the NFLPA, which has advised players to skip the voluntary portion of in-person offseason training unless they stand to lose workout bonuses.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was among those who seemed unaware of the full implications of “non-football’ injuries in comments this week on social media.

“According to the media coverage,” the NFL wrote in its memo, “several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”



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