INDIANAPOLIS — Defensive end Chris Long announced he won’t be returning to the Patriots after his first season with the team in 2016.

Long signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract last year and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent March 9. He’ll turn 32 this month.

Long appears to be leaving on strong terms with the organization and referred to Bill Belichick as “the GOAT” in his statement on social media. He later tweeted that his playoff snaps mostly occurred on third down, and he was used as an interior rusher. He appears to prefer to play for a team that wishes to use him on the edge.

“This has zero to do with money, etc.,” Long wrote in his statement addressed to fans. “It’s the right move in my heart because I want to get back to being the player I was before. I’m thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I’m itching to do what I do best. It was important to say thank you personally. You may not remember me much, but I’ll always remember y’all.”

Long had four sacks in 16 games and played in the playoffs for the first time in his nine-year career. He led the Patriots with 29 quarterback disruptions (four sacks, eight QB hits, 17 pressures) in the regular season, and he made two standout plays during his tenure, forcing a fumble to secure a Week 12 victory against the Jets and drawing a holding penalty that ultimately forced the Falcons to punt from the Patriots’ side of the field in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

 As expected, the Patriots declined to use the franchise tag on any of their free agents before the deadline Wednesday.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was considered the most likely to receive the designation. He would have received about $15 million under a one-year franchise deal for 2017. The Boston Herald reported that Hightower and the team were still negotiating on a long-term contract, but the sides were not close enough for New England to feel comfortable committing to the one-year franchise number.

Martellus Bennett and Logan Ryan are also expected to draw strong interest from other teams if they do not re-sign with the Patriots before unrestricted free agency begins on March 9.

STEELERS: James Harrison will be back.

The 38-year-old outside linebacker, has a new deal worth $3.5 million over two years, the Steelers announced Wednesday.

Harrison, already the oldest linebacker in the NFL, led the team with five sacks last season, giving him 79.5 for his career and setting the Steelers record.

Harrison turns 39 on May 4 and this contract will have him playing at 40. Only two linebackers have played in the NFL at age 40 – Junior Seau and Clay Matthews Jr.

BROWNS: Team executive Sashi Brown has been in touch with suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon since he entered rehab, but does not know if the former Pro Bowler will apply to the NFL for reinstatement.

Gordon’s business manager, Michael Johnson, told ESPN the 25-year-old will appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell to allow him back in the league.

Gordon hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since 2014. The 25-year-old was days away from returning to Cleveland’s roster last season but voluntarily entered a rehabilitation facility in September, saying he wanted to “gain full control of my life and continue on a path to reach my full potential as a person.

He completed a 30-day stay at a facility for an unspecified condition.

BRONCOS: Vance Joseph doesn’t really see a veteran quarterback such as Tony Romo following in Peyton Manning’s footsteps to Denver.

The Broncos’ new coach said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine that he likes his two young QBs, Trevor Siemian, who’s recuperating from (non-throwing) shoulder surgery, and Paxton Lynch, who’s recovering from a disappointing rookie season.

Many have speculated the oft-injured Romo , supplanted by Dak Prescott in Dallas, will land in Denver much like Manning did in 2012 for his comeback.

“I think having a veteran quarterback who’s won games in the past, it brings excitement to your locker room and your city. That being said, we’ve got two young guys that played last year that won nine games combined – and probably should have won more,” Joseph said.

RAMS: Los Angeles placed the franchise tag on cornerback Trumaine Johnson for the second straight year Wednesday.

Johnson and the team can negotiate a long-term deal until July 15, or he can play next season under the franchise tender as the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback.

Although Johnson has never made a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, he is a solid cover cornerback for the Rams’ defense. He had just one interception last season after getting seven in 2015. Johnson also had 57 tackles while making $13.952 million in 2016.

THE NFL salary cap for the upcoming season will be $167 million per team, up more than $12 million over last year.

The league and the NFL Players Association compile the cap from specific revenues, and it has risen annually. It was $143.28 million two years ago.

This is the fourth consecutive year the cap has risen at least $10 million.

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