Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is coming back to Buffalo after re-signing with the Bills. And returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick remains part of the team's future for now.
In announcing Jackson's signing, new coach Doug Marrone ended a month of speculation regarding his plans at quarterback by saying he intends to have Fitzpatrick and Jackson compete for the starting job.
"I spoke with Ryan and Tarvaris and told them we will have an open competition at the quarterback position — similar to what we will do at all positions," Marrone said, in a statement released by the team. "I believe that our players will embrace this challenge."
This was Marrone's most definitive statement regarding Fitzpatrick's future since he took over last month. Marrone, credited for turning around a struggling Syracuse program over the past four years, replaced Chan Gailey, who was fired after three consecutive losing seasons.
Jackson signed a one-year deal after completing the final year of his contract, and was eligible to become a free agent next month. He's gone 17-17 in seven NFL seasons as a starter, but did not play a down for Buffalo after spending all of last year as the team's third-stringer.
Jackson elected to return because of the opportunity to compete for the starting job. He also referred to a conversation he had with general manager Buddy Nix, who had expressed an interest in re-signing him last month.
"You want to feel wanted," Jackson said. "To get a chance to compete, that's very important."
Jackson's no stranger to quarterback competitions. The Bills gave up a draft pick to acquire him in a trade with Seattle in August after Jackson lost a three-way competition with Seahawks eventual starter, rookie Russell Wilson, and backup Matt Flynn.
And it makes no difference to Jackson that the Bills have already indicated a desire to add a third person into the mix by selecting a quarterback in the draft.
"Somebody's got to go," Jackson said. "And I know that personally just from the situation last year. I guess we'll just see how everything plays out."
Fitzpatrick's status in Buffalo had been in question as a result of the coaching change and after the quarterback struggled in his second full year as starter. Fitzpatrick and the offense's production regressed last year. The Bills finished 19th in the NFL in yards gained after finishing 14th the previous season. In four seasons in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick is 20-33 as a starter.
Though he joined Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly last year in becoming only the second Bills quarterback to throw 24 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons, Fitzpatrick's inconsistency has remained a question. In 55 games in Buffalo, he's thrown 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions, including a career-worst 23 in 2011.
Another knock against Fitzpatrick is an expensive contract. He signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension in October 2011, and is due a $3 million bonus if he remains on the team's roster next month.
The Bills are expected to approach Fitzpatrick in a bid to restructure the deal, but that had not happened as of last week.
In re-signing Jackson, the Bills have, at the very least, added depth to the quarterback spot.
Selected in the second round of the 2006 draft by Minnesota, the Alabama State product has appeared in 51 games, and has starting experience with both the Vikings and Seahawks. Jackson's best season came in 2011, his one and only year with Seattle. He went 7-7, putting up career highs with 14 touchdowns, 271 completions and 3,091 yards.
Marrone's background is on offense. He's a former NFL offensive lineman who spent the 2006-08 seasons as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator. Though he didn't call the plays, his arrival in New Orleans coincided with the team signing star quarterback Drew Brees.
Jackson's already begun studying film of Marrone's offense at Syracuse, and is looking forward to getting another shot to prove himself as an NFL starter.
"I'm very confident in myself, but I'm not taking anything away from anybody else," Jackson said, when asked to compare himself to Fitzpatrick. "That's not really for me to say. That's really the coach's job to say who's best for the team. So I just leave it at that."
GOODELL CASHES IN
Nice job, Roger Goodell. Here's your pay: $29.49 million.
NFL owners nearly tripled the commissioner's compensation in the 2011 tax year and likely made Goodell the best paid commissioner in U.S. sports.
According to the league's most recent tax return, much of Goodell's pay comes in the form of a $22.3 million bonus. His base pay was $3.1 million. The NFL was scheduled to file the return Friday.
While the league declined comment on specifics, it must, by law, make the return available upon request.
In 2011, the NFL went through a long lockout prior to the season. Goodell helped work out the new 10-year labor deal that ended the labor strife. That was followed by lucrative new TV contracts with CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC.
For the year beginning April 1, 2011, and ending March 31, 2012, Goodell was paid $29,490,000, which included $3,117,000 in base pay, $22,309,000 in bonus and incentive compensation, and most of the rest in "other reported compensation," the tax return said.
Goodell earned a total of $11.6 million in 2010.
"The NFL is the most successful and best-managed sports league in the world," said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who is chairman of the league's compensation committee, in a statement. "This is in no small part due to Roger's leadership and the value he brings to the table in every facet of the sport and business of the league. His compensation reflects that."
By comparison, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the league's highest paid player with a five-year deal averaging $20 million.
Goodell's compensation was first reported by SportsBusiness Daily.
The next-highest paid NFL official in 2011 was general counsel Jeff Pash. He earned $8.829 million, including $5.93 million in bonus compensation. Pash was the chief labor negotiator during the collective bargaining agreement talks.
Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue received $8.58 million, all but $1 million in retirement and deferred compensation.
It is believed Major-League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and NBA Commissioner David Stern earn somewhere in the mid-$20 million range, but neither league's tax returns are public. Both leagues are set up as for-profits.
"Unlike most CEO's of major companies, who are compensated with stock options, the NFL does not provide that," said Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp, which does consulting work with the NFL. "So a performance-based bonus is another way of compensation."
PACKERS RELEASE WOODSON
Charles Woodson is on the market.
The Green Bay Packers released the 36-year-old defensive back Friday with two years left on his contract.
"We are grateful for all that Charles has given to the Green Bay Packers over the past seven years," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He has been an integral part of the Packers' success and our Super Bowl title in 2010 would not have been possible without his contributions. A once-in-a-generation talent as a player, he is also a great leader and ambassador for the organization off the field."
The Packers clear about $10 million in cap space by releasing Woodson. Carl Poston, Woodson's agent, said the veteran wasn't done yet.
"The Packers told Charles they're going in a different direction," Poston said. "Charles told me he still wants to play — for a Super Bowl contender."
Woodson signed a five-year deal before the 2010 season that was worth as much as $55 million. He missed nine games during the 2012 regular season because of a broken right collarbone and played in two postseason games for the Packers in his seventh year with the franchise.
"We had a good run," Woodson wrote to ESPNWisconsin.com in a text message.
Woodson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him out of Michigan with the No. 4 overall pick.
He's the only player in NFL history with touchdowns off interceptions in six straight seasons, a feat he pulled off each year from 2006 to 2011, and leads the league with nine touchdowns off interceptions since 2006. He went to the Pro Bowl every year from 2008-11.
Woodson was productive for the Packers, but they have some tough decisions to make this offseason to manage the salary cap. Woodson had a year left on his lucrative deal and linebacker A.J. Hawk is under contract next year for a team that probably wants to give long-term deals to receiver James Jones, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji because each of the relatively young standouts could potentially be free agents following next season.
Despite his age and recent injury, Woodson will likely be an in-demand free agent. He was injured last October, bounced back in time to defend two passes in the playoffs.
"Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," Hawk said in January. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."
Woodson had a career-high nine interceptions in 2009 and picked off seven passes in 2011 and made one interception in seven games during last year's injury-shortened season.
The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner led Michigan to the 1997 national championship and has donated more than $2 million to the University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital, where he supports pediatric clinical research. With the Packers, he was a leader as one of the best players on the team and as a mentor to younger players.
"He's like a big brother to all of us," former Green Bay safety Nick Collins once said.