Eagles

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have signed Antonio Brown to a five-year deal that will reportedly make him the highest paid wide receiver in the league.

The Steelers did not release terms of the contract, but multiple media outlets reported that it is technically a four-year extension worth $68 million.

The contract takes Brown, who earned first-team All-Pro honors for the third consecutive year in 2016, through the 2021 season.

Steelers place franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell
The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed an exclusive rights franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, ensuring he'll remain with the team in 2017.

The tag gives the Steelers time to work out a long-term deal with Bell, who could have become a free agent next month. The 25-year-old led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage last season and became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game.

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month the Steelers want to keep Bell with the organization "for life." The team has until July 15 to reach an agreement with Bell on a new contract. If not, he will make the average salary of the top five running backs in the league in 2017 (see full story).

Browns release veteran WR Andrew Hawkins
The Cleveland Browns have released wide receiver Andrew Hawkins after three seasons.

The team terminated Hawkins' contract on Monday, cutting ties with one of its most respected players.

Hawkins had 33 catches for 324 yards and three touchdowns last season for the 1-15 Browns. But his contributions went beyond the field, as Hawkins helped mentor Cleveland's young receiving corps. He was also heavily involved in community activities.

Browns coach Hue Jackson says it's "tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you've asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership." Jackson says Hawkins "was a rock for us last season."

Hawkins signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2014 after three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 30-year-old, who played college ball at Toledo, played in 39 games with Cleveland, recording 123 catches for 1,424 yards and five TDs.

Cardinals: Chandler Jones receives franchise tag
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The "non-exclusive" tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

Panthers: Horton re-signed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Panthers are trying their best to keep their defensive line intact, re-signing defensive end Wes Horton to a two-year contract.

Financial terms were not released Monday.

The move comes less than 24 hours after the Panthers re-signed defensive end Mario Addison to a three-year contract on Sunday night. Addison was set to become an unrestricted free agent, while Horton would have been a restricted free agent.

Carolina is likely to use the franchise tag to keep Kawann Short if they can't reach a long-term deal with the defensive tackle before Wednesday's deadline.

The 27-year-old Horton started 10 games last season and had 11 tackles with 2 sacks. Horton has started 27 games since joining the Panthers in 2013 as an undrafted rookie and has 8 career sacks.

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

Carson Wentz feels 5-1 Eagles 'just wired different this year'

There's something special going on around here, and Carson Wentz isn't afraid to say it.

“We’re made different this year," Wentz said after practice Thursday. "We have a different character makeup in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness. So we’re going to go out there every day and attack it.”

The Eagles, 5-1, go for their fifth straight win Monday night against the Redskins, who they beat on opening day at FedEx Field.

Wentz, in only his second season, has elbowed his way into the NFL MVP conversation. His emergence as the unquestioned leader of this team has mirrored the team's emergence as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Wentz spoke Thursday about how he sensed something different, something special, as far back as spring workouts.

“You could just see it, even going back to OTAs," he said. "You could see the competitive nature, even in practice. You couldn’t wear pads. You couldn’t even press cover outside. You could just see the competitive nature.

"And then through training camp, it just kept getting elevated even more. You could just see it from the leadership on down. We’re just wired different this year.”

When Wentz tells his teammates to strive for greatness, they listen, because here's a kid who in just 22 career games has established himself as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. He has 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year and has posted a passer rating of 90 or higher in five of six games.

“It’s something that we always strive for," Wentz said. "And really, in everything we do in life, you strive for greatness.

"When we’re sitting where we’re at right now, we can just never let that slip. We can never let that slip from our preparation in the film room, the meeting room, the weight room, in practice, so that’s just something I feel like we have to always keep focusing on.

"Never settle, never settle, and just keep striving for that greatness.”

Wentz said he didn't feel anything lacking last year, when the Eagles went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a third straight year.

It's just that head coach Doug Pederson is in Year 2, coordinators Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz are in Year 2 and Wentz is in Year 2.

The whole program is in Year 2 and there's a confidence, an attitude, a swagger that was nowhere to be found last year or really the last few years.

“I think it was just a natural growth," Wentz said. "You go back and look at last season again. We were so close in so many of those ballgames but [it's] just the natural growth that’s taken place both from coach and just really all of us being in this together and having a year under our belt."

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

Ronald Darby gets cheers from fellow DBs in 1st practice since injury

There was a little more buzz around the Eagles' defensive backs at practice on Thursday. 

All eyes were on No. 41. 

For the first time since he left the season opener in Washington following a gruesome right ankle dislocation, cornerback Ronald Darby practiced on Thursday. He was limited and it seems rather unlikely he'll be able to play on Monday night, but it was still a boost for his teammates to see him back out on the field. 

"We were all just joking and letting him know the spotlight was on him," safety Rodney McLeod said. 

Doug Pederson said the "stars have to align" for Darby to play on Monday night against Washington (see story). So it seems unlikely. Still, it was a good sign to get him back to practice.

Darby was with the team from the start of Thursday's practice and went through the entire warmup and stretching period. He wore high black socks and didn't appear to have any sort of brace on his injured right ankle. 

When the Eagles broke into the individual portion of practice, Darby went through all of the backpedal drills; he was the last to go through each. 

So how did he look? 

"He looked good," corner Jalen Mills said. "The guy had some clean breaks. We did a couple deep-ball drills, you know, he jumped up and high-pointed the ball. A lot of DBs, we got excited when we saw him, cheering him on. He looked good."

Mills was maybe a little overly excited about how good Darby looked on Thursday. It was, after all, just his first day back. 

Defensive back Jaylen Watkins said Darby looked "better" but acknowledged it's "going to take time." Watkins pointed out Darby's recovery is largely about being able to trust his ankle and getting back into a groove. 

"He didn't do much but I think this is his first time being back with us in that capacity," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think he looked decent. I don't really know what to compare it to. Hopefully he feels good. I'm just concerned with him not having any kind of setbacks. I think he looked fine." 

What all of his defensive back teammates agreed on was that it was pretty crazy to see Darby practicing just seven weeks after he was carted off the field in Washington. At the time of the gruesome injury, it looked to be pretty obvious that Darby's season was over. 

When the play happened, Mills was on the other side of the field so he didn't see how bad the injury looked until after the game. He credited the training staff and Darby's dedication for getting him back on the field so soon. 

"In that moment, what you feel, for him to even be back out there at all, to have a possibility to get him back, is great," Jenkins said. "Because I think at first glance, everybody probably thought he was done for the season. Obviously, whenever he is 100 percent, he's going to instantly make our defense better."