NFL news roundup: Ravens cut McClain, Leach; Playoff expansion gaining steam

Larry French

It was an eventful Thursday around the NFL: The Ravens made room to go after Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe, the NFL proposed subtle changes to the postseason and the Eagles re-signed Riley Cooper while wrestling with Jeremy Maclin.

The Baltimore Ravens released linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach on Thursday in moves that will save even more money against the 2014 salary cap. The organization is approaching a pivotal free agency period, and is looking to re-sign two players in particular, according to Jason Butt at Ravens blog Baltimore Beat Down:

In order to bring back soon-to-be free agents Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe, and to potentially bring in a free agent at a position of need, the Ravens were going to have to find a way to free up some money.

Assuming the reports of a $132 million salary cap in 2014 are true, the Ravens were an estimated $22 million under before these moves. Cutting McClain saves the organization $3.2 million in 2014 and releasing Leach saves $1.75 million. In total, this move creates $4.95 million in savings.

With nearly $26 million in cap space, Baltimore might be able to retain two of its more important offensive pieces.

Pitta was set to be a go-to weapon for Joe Flacco last season before suffering a dislocated hip during training camp. The Ravens' offense floundered thanks in part to a hamstrung passing game, and Pitta immediately became a heavy-volume target upon his Week 14 return, earning at least seven targets in three of four appearances.

Monroe will potentially be even more coveted than Pitta if he hits the free agent market given the premium value placed on an elite left tackle. The Ravens want Monroe back, but they may have a difficult time wresting him away from teams like the Miami Dolphins, who are in desperate need of help along the offensive line and have nearly $40 million of cap space to burn.

McClain and Leach, meanwhile, will be forced to test free agency. For McClain, however, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens are interested in bringing him back, albeit at a price that's friendlier to the salary cap.

NFL proposes expanded playoffs

The NFL is mulling over expanding its current 12-team playoff format, possibly as soon as 2015. The current proposal would add an extra playoff team to each conference, bumping the total number of playoff participants to 14 teams. As a result, only one team, not two, would receive a first-round bye. Four teams in each conference would be left after first-round play to set up standard single-elimination play all the way through the Super Bowl.

This past season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals would have snuck into the playoffs under the proposed format. The Cardinals had perhaps the most right to complain about a playoff snub after finishing 10-6 during the regular season. That record was stronger than that of two other playoff teams -- the 9-7 San Diego Chargers and 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers -- and tied the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles, who had the benefit of finishing first in a bad NFC East. The Cardinals finished third in the NFC West behind the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, arguably the two best teams in football last season.

Of course, the primary objective of the NFL's proposal may not necessarily be fairness. Expanding the playoffs would mean two extra playoff games, i.e., more viewers, ad revenue, merchandise sales, etc. The NFL has flirted with exploiting its massive popularity in other head-scratching ways in the past, including extending the regular season to 18 games (while simultaneously claiming to take cumulative head trauma seriously) and adding a team in London. Relatively speaking, expanding the playoffs is an innocuous proposal.

But since we're already talking about expanding the playoffs, SB Nation's own Kenneth Arthur has a few suggestions as to how to spice things up even further, including:

The 28-team playoff system

Every franchise except for the BillsBrownsRaiders and Lions vies for the right to be the Super Bowl champion!

Nah, this is too similar to our current system.

Bills, Giants to play 2014 Hall of Fame Game

If we're being honest, the Hall of Fame Game typically features some of the worst football one may see all season. The game pits two teams that have barely begun training camp, and lets them unleash unheard-of and under-prepared players at one another. If we're still being honest, after seven football-less months, you won't care.

This year, the game will pit the Buffalo Bills against the New York Giants on Aug. 3 at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, where the game has been held since 1962. The game will take place before the other 30 teams begin their preseason schedules, meaning that the Bills and Giant will each play five preseason games as opposed to the customary four.

Both teams had former players inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014 -- Andre Reed for the Bills, Michael Strahan for the Giants -- so the selection of the two teams is no shock. For the Giants, the game will give the offense more reps to become accustomed to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, according to Giants blog Big Blue View. For the Bills, the game is a chance to revisit an odd piece of history.

Via Brian Galliford at Buffalo Rumblings:

Buffalo last played in the Hall of Fame Game in 2009, when team owner Ralph Wilson and defensive end Bruce Smith were inducted into the Hall. The Bills lost that game to the Tennessee Titans, 21-18, in a game remembered now not just for the fact that two of Buffalo's all-time greats were enshrined that weekend, but because of this fake punt play that made the Bills look stupid on national television a little more than three months before they'd fire head coach Dick Jauron in-season.

Eagles re-sign Riley Cooper, at impasse with Jeremy Maclin

No, you (whoever you are) had no idea before the 2013 season began that Riley Cooper would eventually sign a five-year extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. After he was caught on tape dropping a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert last summer, there was talk that the wideout might be released despite the Eagles' lack of depth following Jeremy Maclin's torn ACL.

However, after profuse apologies and an 835-yard season that took off after Nick Foles assumed the starting quarterback position, Cooper indeed was given a long-term deal that averages a healthy $5 million per season. With Cooper in the fold, the Eagles can now turn their attention to Maclin, who is giving the organization some trouble.

According to Brandon Lee Gowton at Eagles blog Bleeding Green Nation, the two sides may be at an impasse over the length of the potential extension.

It's possible that Maclin wants to sign a short, one-year deal which ideally would allow him to put up big numbers in 2014 so he can hit free agency hard after the season. The Eagles could have also have interest in that type of deal because it mitigates risk in the short-term, but at the same time, it prevents the Eagles from locking up Maclin for longer at a cheaper rate.

The situation is the exact opposite of the usual player-team standoff, where a player demands the security of a long-term contract while the team tries to force a show-me season. Maclin missed the 2013 season, however, and likely believes that he can earn more money as an unrestricted free agent coming off a healthy and productive 2014 season.

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