Fri Feb 19 1:15pm ET
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) warms up before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Orchard Park, N.Y., in this Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, file photo. The Buffalo Bills' salary-cap constraints have led starting linebacker Matt Milano to decide he will test free agency next month, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the player and team have been private. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)
Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano (58) tackles Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) during the second half of the AFC championship NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., in this Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, file photo. The Buffalo Bills' salary-cap constraints have led starting linebacker Matt Milano to decide he will test free agency next month, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the player and team have been private. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) is congratulated by teammates after intercepting a pass intended for New York Jets receiver Jamison Crowder (not shown) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard park, N.Y., in this Sunday Sept. 13, 2020, file photo. The Buffalo Bills' salary-cap constraints have led starting linebacker Matt Milano to decide he will test free agency next month, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the player and team have been private. (AP/ Photo Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)
Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) runs a play in the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Orchard Park, N.Y., in this Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, file photo. The Buffalo Bills' salary-cap constraints have led starting linebacker Matt Milano to decide he will test free agency next month, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the player and team have been private. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Starting linebacker Matt Milano will explore free agency next month because of Buffalo's salary-cap constraints, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday.
Milano has been a starter since his rookie season in 2017, and his decision is based on the Bills not being in position to match the offers he is expecting to receive once the NFL's signing period opens on March 17. His decision was confirmed by the person who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the discussions between the player and team have been private.
Milano is projected to be among the top linebackers available on the market, and the Bills are currently estimated to have only $3 million available under a salary cap that is dropping due to revenue losses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.
The league this week informed teams the cap minimum will be $180 million, which is down from $198 million from last season.
The Bills are already expected to create more space by cutting or restructuring existing salaries in order to address other more affordable needs, such as offensive line. The team also needs to free future salary cap space to re-sign quarterback Josh Allen, who is coming off a breakout season and entering the final year of his rookie contract.
General manager Brandon Beane last month raised the prospect of not being able to afford re-signing Milano.
''Listen, we want to keep good players. Matt's a good player, so we'd love to keep him here,'' Beane said. ''But, again, he's earned this right and we'll just have to see how it plays out.''
Buffalo is coming off a 13-3 finish in which it won its first AFC East Division title in 25 years, and reached the conference championship for the first time since 1994.
The 26-year-old Milano was selected by Buffalo in the fifth-round of the 2017 draft and developed into a key contributor when healthy. His versatility at the outside linebacker position to defend against the run and pass made him a valuable three-down player in Buffalo's defensive system.
An assortment of injuries limited him to appearing in just 11 regular-season games and six starts this past year in which Milano still posted career-bests with 3 1/2 sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Including playoffs, the Bills had a 12-1 record with Milano in the lineup last season.
In 2018, he was the NFL's only player with at least 75 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Overall, Milano has five interceptions, five fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in 55 career games, including 39 starts.
A.J. Klein, who has two years left on his contract, would be a candidate to take over the starting job after filling in for Milano this season.
Tennessee Titans impending free-agent TE Jonnu Smith ranks fourth among tight ends with an average of 7.1 yards after catch over the last three seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Smith has the athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses, but he has never been in a high-volume role. He has TE1 upside depending on where he plays in 2021.
The Baltimore Ravens have agreed to re-sign DT Justin Ellis to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with $400,000 guaranteed, according to a source.
Miami Dolphins impending free-agent DT Davon Godchaux would like to re-sign with the Dolphins this offseason, but agent Drew Rosenhaus said he is not sure if the Dolphins will be to offer what Godchaux will be looking for in free agency.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon was released Thursday, March 4.
Denver Broncos general manager George Paton said the team plans to tender impending free-agent running back Phillip Lindsay a contract, but they aren't sure at what capacity yet. An original-round tender for Lindsay would allow the Broncos to match any offer he receives, but it wouldn't bring anything in return. A second-round tender, estimated at $3.4 million, could scare interested teams away or give Denver a high pick in return if Lindsay signs elsewhere. The 26-year-old was a surprise Pro Bowler in his rookie season after going undrafted and he managed 1,000 yards rushing in his first two years, but he took a major step back in 2020. Not only was Lindsay playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon III, but he dealt with nagging injuries all season that limited him to 11 games. If he stays in Denver, he'll be a weak RB3/flex as a Gordon handcuff.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4, worth $2.5 million. The deal can be worth as much as $3 million with incentives.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent DT Shelby Harris will be a priority for the Broncos this offseason, according to general manager George Paton.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons' agent has had contract talks with the Broncos, and general manager George Paton said the goal is to sign Simmons to a long-term contract this offseason.
Updating a previous report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger signed a restructured contract Thursday, March 4. He agreed to reduce his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022, per source. The moves lowered his cap hit to $15 million in 2021, giving the team more flexibility.
The Pittsburgh Steelers officially signed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract for the 2021 season on Thursday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14 million from $19 million in the final year of his deal, spreading his cash payment through 2022, according to a source. The move lowered Pittsburgh's salary cap hit by over $15 million, allowing them to make other moves to remain as competitive as possible. Big Ben was initially set for an exorbitant cap hit of $41.25 million. The 39-year-old will have one more shot at a championship and will likely retire after the 2021 season. Pittsburgh's offense could lose wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason and Roethlisberger is pretty injury prone, so he'll mostly be targeted as a fantasy backup as he heads into what will likely be his final NFL season.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald could return for an 18th season with the team, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Thursday, March 4, that the wide receiver's status remains a mystery. 'I don't know anything,' Kingsbury said in a news conference, adding it's been honor to work with Fitzgerald and hopes he plays five more years.
Fantasy Spin: Once an annual locked-in WR2, Fitz hit career season lows across the board last season at age 37 with 54 grabs for 409 yards and one TD and is off the fantasy radar outside of deeper leagues if he does play in 2021.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is not being 'shopped,' according to a source Thursday, March 4, but calls from other teams interested in trading for Wilson have been answered.
Fantasy Spin: Translation: The Seahawks have every intention of sticking with Wilson unless they're absolutely blown away by an offer. Then it would be a matter of Wilson approving the deal as well. It remains an ongoing offseason hot topic, but it's most likely Wilson and his QB1 talents remain in the Pacific Northwest.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, March 4, signed a restructured contract with the team and will return for an 18th season. Terms of the new deal were not immediately available. 'We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,' general manager Kevin Colbert said in a story posted on the team's website. 'We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same - to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.'
Fantasy Spin: Roethlisberger's return boosts the fantasy value of the team's pass-catchers, but Big Ben's own fantasy value at age 39 is now in the mid-QB2 range.
Detroit Lions CB Desmond Trufant on Thursday, March 4, was informed by the team that he will be released at the start of the new league year later this month, per a source.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson has totaled 131 receptions resulting in first downs since the start of the 2019 season, third most in the league according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson's 12.4 yards-per-catch average in Chicago (three seasons) has dipped from his 14.1 average from his four seasons in Jacksonville, but he's caught 53 more passes in one fewer season with the Bears. The bottom line is that Robinson possesses one of the league's strongest all-around WR skill-sets and is a legit fantasy WR1 if he can finally get better QB play.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce leads the league with 145 receptions resulting in first downs since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus data.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce is fantasy gold. He has been a top-two fantasy tight end in each of the last five seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. He's a legit top-25 pick as the first non-RB or WR off the board in drafts.
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who shares the same agent as Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, said on the Huddle and Flow podcast that, "I highly doubt (Deshaun Watson) will suit up in a Texans uniform again. He's extremely serious." The Texans and Watson are in a standoff, with Houston saying they will not trade the 25-year-old signal-caller. But Watson remains steadfast in his trade demands and wants out of Houston. Eventually, something has to give. If this continues to play out, the Texans may have no choice but to find the best available offer for the star quarterback. Watson was still a top-five fantasy QB without All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins in 2020, so he should be drafted as an elite quarterback again in 2021. A trade out of Houston could make him even more attractive.
The New Orleans Saints restructured kicker Wil Lutz's contract on Thursday to create $1.74 million in salary cap space, according to a source. New Orleans continues to maneuver around the lowered 2021 salary cap, but they still have plenty of work left to do as the new league year approaches on March 17. The 26-year-old kicker made 23 of his 28 field-goal tries in 2020 and also was successful on 57 of his 58 extra points last season. The Saints offense should be pretty solid under either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston in 2021, which should at least make Lutz a low-end fantasy kicking option. Lutz finished as the No. 9 fantasy kicker in most leagues in 2020.
Free-agent DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, March 4.
Free-agent LB Thomas Davis (Football Team) will sign a one-day contract with the Carolina Panthers March 11 to retire with the team.