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.

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

Bills fire GM Doug Whaley, scouting staff

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Whether it was sitting together in a golf cart watching training camp or sharing dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant, Bills owner Terry Pegula and general manager Doug Whaley were nearly inseparable last summer.

Some nine months later, their professional relationship soured to such an extent that Pegula fired Whaley and his entire scouting staff on Sunday.

The decision was reached shortly after the two met at 8 a.m., a day following the NFL draft, and it completed a front-office purge that began with coach Rex Ryan being fired in the final week of last season.

Pegula's voice cracked briefly with emotion when discussing the latest move, saying: "There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He's a good guy."

But not good enough to keep his job, with Pegula saying he reached the conclusion following a lengthy offseason review.

It's a shake-up that further solidifies the influence rookie coach Sean McDermott has gained in the three months since being hired. The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.

Pegula said the timing coincided with the end of the draft, but he declined to detail the reasons why the overhaul was necessary. Nor would Pegula explain his reasoning for showing Whaley the door while praising the collaborative approach that took place between the GM and McDermott in the draft room.

"We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in," Pegula said. "(Whaley's) a smart man, but we made the decision. And the reasons remain private to us."

Pegula said "things change," when asked why he signed Whaley to a four-year contract extension in January 2016, and then backed him this January after Ryan was fired.

Pegula also took the emphasis off McDermott's authority by saying the decision to fire Whaley was made by him and his wife, Kim.

The Bills also dismissed player-personnel director Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, the team's former amateur scouting director who had previously been demoted to an advisory role.

Pegula will immediately begin a GM search and said it was too early to speculate on candidates. He said McDermott would have some input.

One possible candidate is Carolina Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane because of his ties to McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the team's defensive coordinator.

McDermott on Saturday praised Whaley's role in the draft process but sidestepped questions regarding the GM's job security.

The Bills made six picks and swung several trades in addressing immediate and long-term needs.

Buffalo opened by acquiring two selections, including a first-rounder next year, in a trade with Kansas City to move back 17 spots and select LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White at 27th.

The Bills have now gone through six general managers during their 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports. It's the first GM search for the Pegulas, who retained Whaley when they purchased the team in October 2014.

Whaley worked up the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers, before the Bills hired him as an assistant general manager in 2010. He was groomed to become the GM and took over the job in May 2013 when Buddy Nix stepped down.

The Bills' drafting history had been spotty this decade.

Of the 35 players Buffalo drafted from 2010-13, only defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn remain on the roster.

Whaley has been second-guessed on a number of selections, including the decision to trade two draft picks -- including Buffalo's 2015 first-round selection -- to Cleveland to move up five spots and pick receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth selection in the 2014 draft.

It was considered a high price to pay in a draft that produced a bounty of top-flight receivers.

Whaley acknowledged he took a gamble and suggested his tenure in Buffalo might well be judged on that one move.

Both of Pegula's Buffalo-based sports franchises are hitting the reset button. Pegula fired Sabers GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma 10 days after the NHL season ended two weeks ago.

Without going into detail, Pegula said he is close to hiring a general manager.

Between the two teams, the Pegulas have now employed a combined seven coaches and three GMs since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011.

Pegula chalked up the rate of change as being common in sports, and disputed the notion it reflects poorly on him.

"We're going to try to make the best decision we can in the future," Pegula said. "We've made big decisions all our lives."

Grading the Eagles' 2017 NFL draft haul

Grading the Eagles' 2017 NFL draft haul

The 2017 NFL draft is over, so naturarally it's time for the national experts to grade teams' draft classes before any of the draftees ever hit the field. Here's what the experts are saying about the Eagles' draft:

Mel Kiper, ESPN, B+
Kiper says the Eagles "needed to shore up the defense and did that pretty well" with the picks of first-round DE Derek Barnett and second-round CB Sidney Jones.

Pete Prisco, CBS: B+
Prisco loves the Barnett pick in the first round, calling Barnett possibly "the best pass rusher in this class," but believes the Eagles took a risk with Jones in the second.

Nate Davis, USA Today, C+
Davis likes third-round pick Rasul Douglas' big-play ability, but questions whether fourth-round running back Donnel Pumphrey can withstand the rigors of a full NFL season.

Chris Burke, Sports Illustrated, B+
Burke likes that the Eagles addressed their needs at defensive end and cornerback and says that Pumphrey "could be Darren Sproles 2.0."

Chad Reuter, NFL, A-
Reuter's only gripe with the Eagles' haul is the health of Jones, who might miss his rookie season while recovering from an Achillies' injury, "but will be a good corner down the road."

Dieter Kurtenbach, Fox Sports, B+
Kurtenbach says Barnett is a "solid, if not spectacular pick" and Douglas is a "boom-or-bust" prospect at CB.

Mark Maske, Washington Post, B-
Maske questions Barnett's athleticism, but says "getting DT Elijah Qualls in the sixth round was an excellent value."