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Off the Snap: Ryan Tannehill's 'improvement has been amazing'

Ryan Tannehill threw for just 12 touchdowns during his rookie year with Miami. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)Ryan Tannehill threw for just 12 touchdowns during his rookie year with Miami. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Catching you up on the latest must-read news and analysis from around the web….

• The AFC East may be there for the taking this season, with the New England Patriots struggling through a difficult offseason and QB Tom Brady down several of his favorite receivers from 2012. The Miami Dolphins would love nothing more than to swoop in and steal a division crown, which is why GM Jeff Ireland spent money in abundance this offseason.

In reality, though, Miami's playoff chances likely come down to the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If that is the case, the Dolphins may be in pretty good shape, says WR Brian Hartline.

"He’s really taken a huge step," Hartline told team season-ticket holders, according to the National Football Post. "He’s making every throw, his deep ball looks awesome, intermediate ball is great, he has great touch ... his improvement has been amazing."

Tannehill started all 16 games last season for the Dolphins, in his rookie year in the league. He finished with a respectable 7-9 record but tossed just 12 touchdown passes and barely topped 200 yards-per-game passing.

Given Miami's win-now approach to 2013, the expectations will be elevated for Tannehill from the get-go. Any early stumble might push the Dolphins to turn to experienced backup Matt Moore, who opted to re-sign with the franchise rather than pursue a starting gig elsewhere.

Hakeem Nicks skipped the Giants' recent OTAs -- a move that he claimed was not related to his hunt for an extension on his contract, which expires at the end of this season. Whatever the reason for Nicks' absence, coupled with Victor Cruz's mini-holdout over his own contract, it left QB Eli Manning without his top targets in early practices.

Nicks has been trying to remedy that problem recently. He told The Star Ledger that he's "hooked up twice this week already" to work out with Manning, in preparation for training camp next month.

• The NFL Network unveiled the remainder of its "Top 100 Players of 2013" list on Thursday night, with Adrian Peterson unsurprisingly taking the top spot following his spectacular return from injury. But there were some curious choices in the top 10 behind Peterson, with Peyton Manning landing No. 2 and J.J. Watt claiming the No. 5 spot, one ahead of Aaron Rodgers.

• In a week that has seen Aaron Hernandez arrested and charged with murder, the NFL's image has come under a little fire. Perhaps that's why Tim Graham of the Buffalo News felt compelled to author a piece Thursday, advising Bills defensive end Mario Williams to remove from Instagram photos of himself firing what Williams calls a "Fully auto m16 silenced."

SBNation's Buffalo Rumblings blog countered, arguing that Graham's issue was much ado about nothing. Of course, the NFL might be more annoyed with a different Instagram post by Williams, which depicts Hernandez as a "Grand Theft Auto" character.

• Troubled Dallas defensive tackle Josh Brent was jailed Thursday after drug tests showed marijuana in his system, a violation of the probation slapped on Brent following an intoxicated-manslaughter charge in December. The Cowboys, though, continue to hold onto Brent and seemingly have no plans to release him, even after his latest legal hiccup.

Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News believes that is a huge mistake, calling the Cowboys "arrogant" and questioning why the franchise "continues to needlessly embarrass itself on a national scale".

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