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 NFL News - Wednesday, January 2,2008
... Broncos, Ravens and more...
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Broncos left tackle Lepsis retiring after 11 seasons

The Denver Broncos have more work to do in rebuilding their
once-touted offensive line after left tackle Matt Lepsis told
coach Mike Shanahan he's retiring. Lepsis, who turns 34 this month,
acknowledged his play slipped in his 11th season after returning
from ACL surgery on his right knee. The operation ended his 2006
season shortly after he signed a four-year, $25 million contract
extension. "Mike would call me out for not playing very well,
and I had to agree with him," Lepsis told the Denver Post. "...
I didn't want to go make all that money and not give the team
what I was supposed to." Lepsis' agent, Ethan Lock, declined
to comment Tuesday when reached by the Associated Press.
Lepsis' decision leaves more than $9 million on the table.
Lepsis joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 1997
after a standout career at the University of Colorado, where
he was a tight end. He became a starter in 1999 and developed
into one of the best left tackles in the NFL before tearing
his right anterior cruciate ligament in the seventh game.
Lepsis said his knee held up this season, but his play slipped
below his standard. Among his potential replacements are
Ryan Harris, a third-round draft pick from Notre Dame, and
Chris Kuper, who played left guard in 2007 after starter Ben
Hamilton suffered a season-ending concussion in training camp.
Hamilton hopes to return next season, as does center Tom Nalen,
who missed most of the season with a torn biceps and was replaced
by Chris Myers. Harris, a highly touted third-round pick from
Notre Dame who had back surgery before the season, said he's
ready for a bigger role heading into his second season.
"Lepsis and Nalen teach people. They help the younger people
get better," Harris told the AP. "They teach you and you learn
from their practice habits and play.

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Ravens fire head coach Billick after 5-11 season

Brian Billick never came close to duplicating the success he
enjoyed early in his career as head coach of the Baltimore
Ravens, and it finally cost him his job. Billick was fired
Monday, less than 24 hours after his team concluded a season
of high expectations with a disappointing 5-11 record. His
entire staff, including defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, also
was dismissed. "I believed that it was time for a change, I
believed that we have the nucleus of a team that can get back
to the Super Bowl, and we felt that in the next five years we
had a better chance with a new coach than leaving Brian in
that position," said owner Steve Bisciotti, who made the
decision after consulting with team president Dick Cass and
general manager Ozzie Newsome. Billick won the 2001 Super Bowl
in his second season with the Ravens, but since Bisciotti took
over full ownership in 2004, Baltimore was 33-33. That included
two losing seasons and only one playoff appearance, a one-and-
out performance in 2006. "It's a gut feeling. I have one job
here, and that's to have a leader that I think gives us the
best chance," Bisciotti said. "We have been losing more than
winning lately." Billick led the Ravens to a franchise-best
13-3 record in 2006. But Baltimore lost a team-record nine
consecutive games this season before ending the skid Sunday
with a 27-21 win over Pittsburgh. Bisciotti said he made the
decision to fire Billick hours before kickoff, and carried
out the move Monday morning in a meeting at the team's
practice facility. "He had to make a hard decision, and he
did what he believes is best for the Ravens," Billick said
in a statement. "We are friends and will remain friends."
Billick had three years left on a contract that pays $5 million
per season. Bisciotti determined a few weeks ago that he would
give Billick a chance to right things in 2008, but changed his
mind after talking with Cass, Newsome and other NFL owners.

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Chargers give GM Smith a five-year extension

After building the San Diego Chargers into a consistent
playoff contender — if not yet a postseason success — general
manager A.J. Smith received a five-year contract extension
Tuesday that will keep him with the team through 2014.
Details weren't announced, but various reports said the
extension was worth $11 million. Smith didn't return phone
calls seeking comment. Team president Dean Spanos was traveling
and unavailable for comment, his secretary said. Smith's
previous contract was due to expire following the 2009
season. He was promoted in April 2003 after John Butler
died of cancer. The Chargers have won the AFC West for the
third time in four seasons under Smith. They'll try to break
a four-game postseason losing streak dating to January 1995
when they host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in the wild-
card round. Two of those playoff losses have come on Smith's
watch. Although it was Butler who drafted star running back
LaDainian Tomlinson, Smith has proven to be a strong talent
evaluator by drafting star players such as outside linebacker
Shawne Merriman, quarterback Philip Rivers and cornerback
Antonio Cromartie. He's also signed undrafted players who
developed into Pro Bowlers, most notably tight end Antonio
Gates, a three-time All-Pro. Two other free agent pickups,
guard Kris Dielman and special teams player Kassim Osgood,
have developed into Pro Bowlers. Smith is probably best
known for holding his ground when Eli Manning's representatives
told the Chargers just before the 2004 draft that the quarterback
wouldn't play for San Diego if it took him with the first
overall pick. Smith drafted Manning anyway, then swapped his
rights to the New York Giants for the rights to Rivers, as
well as picks he used to take kicker Nate Kaeding later in
that draft and Merriman the following year.

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