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Volume 24 No. 157


The Broncos yesterday signed free agents WR Wes Welker and DT Terrance Knighton, making the organization "seem serious in their attempt to move from regular-season champs to Super Bowl participants," according to Mike Klis of the DENVER POST. Welker and Knighton received two-year deals, and the Broncos yesterday also "agreed to terms with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year, $5 million deal." Welker "received $12 million in his two-year package, and Knighton got $4.5 million." Free agency, which started on Tuesday, already has "pulled $63.5 million from owner Pat Bowlen's checking account." Klis: "So much for resting on their 13-3, No. 1 AFC seed laurels." Broncos Exec VP/Football Operations John Elway said, "We wanted to get better." Although Welker is "a big enough star to stir excitement among the Broncos' fan base, it's fair to question whether the team spent good money on a luxury rather than necessity." But Elway said, "You can't pass up a guy who's had the kind of career he's had" (DENVER POST, 3/14). Klis noted Elway called Broncos QB Peyton Manning Monday, and Manning "among other Bronco players honored Elway’s request and made a recruiting call to Welker." Elway said, "I asked Peyton about it yesterday to make sure he was on board" (, 3/13).'s Bill Williamson wrote Elway "showed the NFL, once again, he is as powerful in the front office" as he was on the field. This was a "go-for-it move." Elway "knows what it takes to wins Super Bowls and he knows his chance is now" (, 3/13). Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said, “If John Elway wasn't already in the Hall of Fame as a player, he’d be laying the foundation to be in the Hall of Fame as a GM” (“PFT,” NBC Sports Network, 3/13). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes for the Broncos, it now is "Super Bowl or bust." And the rivalry between the Broncos and the Patriots "just got hotter" (DENVER POST, 3/14).

LOWBALLIN' IN BOSTON? In Providence, Paul Kenyon writes what was "surprising" about Welker signing with the Broncos after six years with the Patriots was how reluctant the Pats were "willing to go to keep him." The only offer the Patriots made was "for $10 million for two years, with incentives." The Broncos were "so happy to acquire Welker" that Elway "announced the signing himself on Twitter." The most "significant aspect of Welker’s contract is that the $12 million is fully guaranteed" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 3/14). In Boston, Greg Bedard writes of Welker's departure from the Patriots, "In the end, it was about respect." Welker "never thought the Patriots showed enough." As of yesterday morning, there was "no market for him; the Patriots appeared to have gauged the market perfectly." Elway might have "played possum so the Patriots would think there were no competitors for Welker." The Patriots "made one last push to retain Welker," as team Owner Robert Kraft "talked to the receiver personally." But the Patriots "did not make a counter-offer, so the decision for Welker was easy" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14). ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi said, “I think everyone right now is looking around in that locker room and saying, ‘What just happened?’" ESPN’s Eric Mangini: “And you lost him for $12 million. You didn’t lose him for a ridiculous contract” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/13). Mangini added, "New England will set a walk-away number and will stick to a walk-away number unlike a lot of other teams” (“NFL32,” ESPN2, 3/13).

: WEEI-FM's Gerry Callahan noted Belichick could have gotten a deal with Welker done at a "good price ... and everyone’s happy and he looks really smart.” But Belichick chose not to because “he doesn’t like Wes Welker." Callahan: "All those other factors, those peripheral factors, enter the minds of most GMs and most coaches. They do not enter the equation when it comes to Bill Belichick.” He added, "This is idiotic, but I have to respect him for his balls. I don’t think Kraft’s happy, I don’t think Brady’s happy, I don’t think any fans are happy. I know Welker’s not happy” ("Dennis & Callahan," WEEI-FM, 3/14). Pro Football Talk's Florio said fans “have to wonder” what motivated Welker to leave the Patriots: whether to “break the bank” or to join the Broncos and “truly stick it to the New England Patriots for not taking care of him the way he thought they should” ("PFT," NBC Sports Network, 3/13).'s Albert Breer writes Welker "finally had enough of the leveraging and squeezing and hardball tactics." So like several other players before him, including Lawyer Milloy, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour, he "told the Patriots where they could stick their value assessment" (, 3/14).

In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes the "perplexing thing is exactly what the Patriots dislike about Welker so much that they wouldn't even spring for an extra $1 million a year to sign him." That part is "stunning." And "why in God's name would you risk alienating" Patriots QB Tom Brady at "this point in his career" (HARTFORD COURANT, 3/14). YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote Welker's departure will "be especially jarring to Brady given the obvious conclusion" that the Patriots "lowballed the receiver in negotiations." The organization "seemed to be daring Welker to test the market, and he took the dare." Silver: "Why, again, did Brady do his bosses a solid by agreeing to that extension?" A source close to Brady said, "He's got so much pressure on his shoulders now -- and again. It's hard not to feel like they've sold him out" (, 3/13). In Boston, Karen Guregian writes, "Little did Brady know when he opted to re-do his contract, and afford the Patriots more cap space to sign players that would help win them the next championship, the plan included handing Welker over to his chief rival Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos." No one "told Brady the Pats didn't value Welker as much as he did" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/14). In N.Y., Judy Battista writes Brady "would have every right to feel fooled" after his extension and now Welker's exit, which "was part of the Patriot Way ... the cold business decisions that really shouldn't surprise anyone anymore" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/14).'s Peter King wrote it is "highly unlikely" that Welker signing with the Broncos for a "relative pittance is what Tom Brady had in mind when he gave the Patriots $15 million in cap relief two weeks ago." King: "Bad, bad decision by New England" (, 3/13).

NO PAT ON THE BACK: In Boston, Ron Borges writes the Patriots "use every means possible to control the cattle and the minute they relinquish that control you are G-O-N-E." The Patriots "did what they’ve done for years: they rewarded loyalty with a lowball offer and then discarded Welker." The Patriots value "control over all else and thus march to the beat of their own drummer" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/14). Also in Boston, Christopher Gasper writes both Welker and the Patriots "miscalculated and mismanaged the situation." Welker "didn't get the big payday he deserved" in his "last shot to cash in." But a veteran Patriots player wanting a raise had "better be prepared to raise a stink." A conciliatory tone "doesn’t get the Patriots’ attention; inflammatory rhetoric, defamatory statements, and withholding your services does" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14).'s Peter Schrager writes the trade was "about 'The Patriot Way' -- a cold, hard way of doing business." Welker's departure is "in line with the way the Patriots have long done business." No veteran will "ever hold the Patriots' feet to the fire." The "Patriot Way" is to "get everything you can out of a veteran player, negotiate a new deal and then cut bait when the cost gets too high" (, 3/14).

In Baltimore, Mike Preston wrote the Ravens are coach John Harbaugh's "team now." With Ray Lewis retiring following the Super Bowl, this "was the perfect time for Harbaugh to clean house." He "appears to have gotten rid of the most outspoken players on the team." The Ravens this week have traded WR Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and cut S Bernard Pollard, and the team has "yet to re-sign" OT Bryant McKinnie or S Ed Reed. Those five players were the "rabble-rousers, and they didn't hesitate to give their opinion and challenge Harbaugh, even in public" (, 3/13). Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said there is a thought that cutting ties with these players “is part of the retribution” after a “near mutiny” during the ’12 season. Pollard and Reed were seen “as guys who instigated it” (“PFT,” NBC Sports Network, 3/13).

CENTER OF ATTENTION: In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes the changing landscape of the AFC East, which includes the Patriots not re-signing WR Wes Welker, makes the first two days of free agency "a success for the Dolphins." The "narrative only improves by their adding" WR Mike Wallace and "debunking two commonly held, constantly repeated, often overstated myths." The first is Owner Stephen Ross "won't spend for a winner," while the second is free agents "won't come to the Dolphins." It is "fun to be the center of attention like the Dolphins are now." But March is a "fool's month and being its champion means nothing" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/14). ESPN’s Eric Mangini said the Dolphins “wanted to make a splash” in free agency and “get the fan base excited." But with Wallace now being the third-highest paid WR in the NFL, it "creates problems down the road because you only have so much money and the splash you make now it’s going to affect you in future years.” ESPN's Tedy Bruschi: “It better pay off” (“NFL32,” ESPN2, 3/13).

WRATH OF THE TITANS:'s Paul Kuharsky wrote the Titans in free agency have "traditionally sat back, let the market set itself, then reacted as members of the second phase of player acquisition." But "not this time." Titans Exec VP & GM Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak yesterday introduced G Andy Levitre, TE Delanie Walker, DT Sammie Lee Hill and RB Shonn Greene. Webster said that he has been "thrilled with the way things have played out." He said, "(Titans Owner Bud) Adams gave his blessing and allowed us to be aggressive. It was actually fun to set a plan and just go do it" (, 3/13).

THE WAITING GAME: In N.Y., Steve Serby writes Jets fans have "every right to wonder" whether Owner Woody Johnson, GM John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan are "asleep at the free agency switch." What is "unfolding before your bloodshot eyes, Jets fans, is the very reason why the owner should have ushered Ryan out the door with" former GM Mike Tannenbaum. Serby: "You cannot function properly when your general manager has one vision and your head coach has another." But just because "you lay in the weeds at the start of free agency doesn’t mean you don’t have a clue." The "problem is the Jets are the Jets, meaning they are guilty until proven innocent" (N.Y. POST, 3/14).

The Vikings on Tuesday traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seahawks, and's Kevin Seifert reported at the moment there are "no indications" the team plans to "host a free agent who would command a big salary," according to Kevin Seifert of A financial "cutback would represent a 180-degree reversal from" Owner Zygi Wilf's previous approach. To think it would "come less than a year after approval" of $498M in public subsidies for a new stadium would be "downright conspiratorial." The Vikings have "spent nearly $1 billion (in cash, not cap space) on player salaries since Wilf bought the team from" previous Owner Red McCombs in '05. Their "raw payroll figure" of $922M ranks second among all NFL teams over that span, a "status that should at least give the Vikings the benefit of the doubt at the moment." GM Rick Spielman said the "philosophy here is putting an emphasis on signing your own back." Seifert noted if that is "the case, the Vikings eventually will spend big on contract extensions." In the "overall arc of team-building, the Vikings are at an inexpensive stage" (, 3/13).

TIME TO DELIVER: The Lions yesterday signed several free agents, notably RB Reggie Bush, and in Detroit, John Niyo writes there is "no denying this point: With Bush signed, the Lions have to do more than just tease their fans with highlights this time" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/14). ESPN’s Adam Schefter said, “Bill Polian already said, with Reggie Bush playing running back in Detroit, the Lions now become the greatest show on turf” (“NFL32,” ESPN2, 3/13).

SAVING GRACE: In Dallas, Rick Gosselin writes free agency is "the most overrated aspect of the NFL calendar year." Teams can "still find some complementary pieces in free agency but not the impact players." Gosselin: "Certainly not players worth the contracts they are being paid." Yesterday's free-agent signings "become tomorrow’s salary-cap casualties." So having "no money this off-season is saving" Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones "from himself" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/14).

Colts officials said that their season-ticket renewal rate “is approaching 95 percent” ahead of today’s deadline to have renewals postmarked, according to Anthony Schoettle of the INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL. That figure “matches the rate at which Colts fans renewed season tickets” during former Colts QB Peyton Manning’s “salad days in Indianapolis.” And it is “not just seats that are selling hot for the Colts.” The 13 Lucas Oil Stadium luxury suites “which were available this off-season also have been sold.” The strong renewal rate “means the Colts only have a few thousand remaining tickets to sell.” Colts COO Pete Ward said that after “taking the next month to offer an opportunity for existing season ticket holders to upgrade their seats,” the team will “offer the remainder for sale as season tickets.” If there are “still tickets available, the team will hold an open house during a mini-camp practice on June 12 to let prospective ticket buyers check out the available seats.” Only after the season-ticket sale “ends in the summer -- and if there are any remaining tickets available -- will single game tickets go on sale.” The Colts last year at this time “had about 8,200 tickets to sell and still had 1,600 to sell for the season opener about a month before the 2012 season kickoff” (, 3/13). In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell notes Colts Owner Jim Irsay “has a message” for fans abojut free agency that he left in a voicemail. Irsay said he spent “with the top of the top” and had his wallet open “matching everyone else’s.” Irsay “earmarked more than $81 million” for free agency. He spent “heaviest” on OT Gosder Cherilus, whose five-year contract signed yesterday is worth $35M with $16.5M guaranteed. Irsay said, “I made Cherilus the highest-paid right tackle in football. Enough said” (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/14).

The Mariners yesterday unveiled their ‘13 lineup of six TV commercials under a new "True to the Blue" tagline, according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. This year's “best spot might involve a nonhuman.” In the “Wise Ol' Buffalo commercial, an actual 2,600-pound American bison comes on the field and has a conversation with shortstop Brendan Ryan.” The buffalo commercial “looks to be a hit.” The team “rented the showbiz bison,” and the plotline to the commercial “is that the buffalo can speak English only after eating some special cookies prepared by Ryan -- or at least, that's what Ryan thinks.” It turns out the buffalo “is only relaying the voice of Tom Wilhelmsen through a speaker the Mariners closer has secretly planted on the animal.” Baker writes Ryan's acting “seems the best of any of the nine players in the six spots.” Meanwhile, Mariners P Felix Hernandez “still has his own spot,” and he touts something called "King Felix's High Heat" hot sauce in a commercial titled "Hottest Thing in Town." 2B Dustin Ackley has a spot titled "Ackley Fan Mail" in which he “has to deal with fans making special requests of him.” LF Michael Morse, CF Michael Saunders and 3B Kyle Seager share a spot called "Focused and Relaxed" in which they “discuss clothing items needed to find inner peace and balance on the field.” LF Raul Ibanez makes “a quick appearance” in a spot titled "One Wish" that mainly features a non-player actor. Another non-player spot called "The Lineup" is about “a fan who names his children after Mariners players.” The commercials are “again a collaboration between the Mariners and the Seattle-based Copacino+Fujikado ad agency,” and were directed by “Ron Gross of Mercer Island-based Blue Goose Productions” (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/14). The six spots were released yesterday via the team's website, where viewers can vote for their favorite ad. The spots will begin airing on Sunday during Root Sports' Mariners-Rangers Spring Training telecast and will run throughout the season on local and regional channels (Mariners).