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Cowboys cruising early

With the Vikings trouncing the Giants, the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC comes down to two teams:  Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Late in the second quarter of Sunday’s game between the Eagles and the Cowboys in Dallas, the Cowboys have jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

It could be worse; another Dallas drive deep in Philly’s end of the field ended with a batted ball that was intercepted by Joselio Hanson.

But the gaffes have balanced out; with the Eagles threatening, quarterback Donovan McNabb fumbled a shotgun snap, and the Cowboys have recovered.

If Dallas wins, they’ll host a playoff game next weekend.

And it could be the Eagles who return for a second act.

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Dennis Pitta “feeling good,” hopeful about playing in 2015

Dennis Pitta, Manny Lawson Getty Images

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was one of the players in attendance as the Ravens kicked off their conditioning program last week, which is an encouraging sign about his recovery from his second serious hip injury in as many years.

Pitta has fractured and dislocated his hip both times, which has cast doubt on his ability to continue his playing career. Pitta isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be able to play, but he said Saturday that he’s “feeling good in workouts” while waiting to find out if he gets the green light to make a full return to action.

“We still have some time to be able to assess where I’m at,” Pitta said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I sure hope that I’ll be on the field next year. That’s my hope; that’s my goal. We’ll just see if we can get there.”

The Ravens have played down their need for a receiver while being more open about their shortcomings at tight end with Pitta out of the picture. There’s not likely to be any change in his status between now and Thursday’s start to the draft, which means the Ravens have to continue to plan for life without Pitta in the passing game.

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Lyerla makes pitch to get back in NFL

Lyerla Getty Images

It’s hard to call tight end Colt Lyerla a former NFL player because he never really made it to the NFL.  He nevertheless wants back in.  Or simply in.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted on Sunday morning the link to a recent item from Tyson Alger of the Oregonian regarding Lyerla’s recent pitch to the NFL via videos posted on Twitter as part of a series he calls “The Resurrection.”

“To the NFL teams out there, obviously there’s been a lot of bad decisions made in the past,” Lyerla says in the video, which also includes clips from a recent workout in which he runs various pass routes.  “But like I said the past is the past and it’s going to stay in the past.”

The Packers signed Lyerla as an undrafted free agent last year.  He was waived-injured after suffering a knee injury and then reached an injury settlement, which paid him through Week Eight.  Lyerla thereafter was arrested for DUI, which became his latest off-field incident in a string that included an arrest for cocaine possession, suggesting that the Sandy Hook shooting was a governmental conspiracy, assault charges that later were dropped, skipping classes and practices in high school, ultimately quitting the team at Oregon.

Lyerla explains in the video that the DUI charge from last September was “officially dismissed,” but he admits that he has been in the NFL’s substance-abuse program for a year and a half and hasn’t failed a drug test.  (It’s not known precisely how long he has been in the NFL’s substance-abuse program; if he’s truly been in for 18 months, he would have entered the program in October 2013, seven months before he was undrafted.)

As to the injury that ended his time with the Packers — a torn PCL and MCL in his knee — Lyerla says he opted against surgery, allowing it to instead heal on it’s own.  It apparently has; remember J.J. Watt’s recent 61-inch box jump?  Lyerla did 62 inches.

One of several talented players who weren’t drafted last year due to off-field issues, it could be even harder for Lyerla this time around, given that the NFL has shifted its attitude toward players with problems away from the field (i.e., you’ve got to be extremely talented and not just really talented to qualify for an exception) and that he’s competing with a fresh crop of players emerging from the college ranks.

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Martellus Bennett hasn’t been at Bears workouts

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The absence of running back Matt Forte from Bears voluntary workouts when they started on April 13 drew some attention, but another offensive starter’s decision to be elsewhere the last two weeks has gone relatively unnoticed.

Jeff Dickerson of reports that tight end Martellus Bennett has not taken part in workouts with his teammates yet this offseason. There’s no word on any specific reason why Bennett has opted out of the work and no sign that there’s any discontent as he was reportedly at Halas Hall one day last week even though he wasn’t taking part in conditioning work.

Bennett is due nearly $10 million over the 2015 and 2016 seasons as part of a contract he signed before the 2013 season. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Martellus’s brother, has also been absent from this phase of offseason work.

Because they changed coaches, the Bears have a three-day minicamp for veterans in Chicago this week. The work is also voluntary with the only mandatory work before training camp coming during the June minicamp.

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Joe Flacco on wide receivers: I think we’re good with what we have

Joe Flacco AP

At different points this offseason, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta have both downplayed the team’s need to draft a wide receiver after Torrey Smith signed with the 49ers as a free agent.

Quarterback Joe Flacco joined the chorus on Saturday. Flacco admitted that the team lost something when Smith departed as a free agent, but said it’s not something that needs to be addressed early in the draft, late in the draft or anywhere in between.

“Obviously, without Torrey now, the one thing we probably don’t have as much of is that speed, is that one guy who can stretch the field,” Flacco said, via “But I’m not going to say we need it. I think we got really good guys and I think we’re good with who we have.”

The Ravens are pushing their happiness with their current receiving group hard, but it’s hard to believe they’ll avoid the position next week with 10 picks and four returning players from last year.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Charles Clay, Chris Carr AP

Bills TE Charles Clay doesn’t feel added pressure because of the deal he signed this offseason.

Former Dolphins DE Marco Coleman shares memories of his draft day.

The Patriots have shown a fondness for drafting players who were captains of their college teams.

Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan thinks 3-4 teams need to add edge rushing prospects every year.

A look back at the 2014 Ravens draft class.

Bengals WR Marvin Jones and S George Iloka recall their long waits to be drafted.

Could the Browns take a running back in the first round?

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette doesn’t like WR Antonio Brown’s chances of landing a new deal with the Steelers this offseason.

This portrait of Texans DE J.J. Watt was made very quickly.

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson turns over every rock when looking for players.

The Jaguars offensive line needs to step up its performance in 2015.

A look at the Titans’ offensive needs in the draft.

An offensive lineman could be coming the Broncos way in the first round.

Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin and QB Alex Smith are working on their chemistry.

The Raiders website looks back at the day when the team drafted Eldridge Dickey in the first round.

A preview of wide receiver and tight end options for the Chargers in the draft.

Is there a problem associated with recent draft success for the Cowboys?

Will the Giants stick to their best player available strategy in the first round if a receiver is that player?

The Eagles don’t go to a lot of pro days as a smokescreen.

What’s a realistic win prediction for the Redskins in 2015?

A breakdown of the Bears’ cornerback needs and options in the draft.

Lions LB Stephen Tulloch showed off his pitching arm at a Tigers game.

Getting defensive in the draft could pay off for Packers.

Will the Vikings pick up a linebacker in the draft?

Said Falcons coach Dan Quinn of Georgia RB Todd Gurley, “The attitude and the style he plays with, there are certain guys that jump off to you on tape, and he has certainly been one for me over the last few years.”

Panthers QB Cam Newton is happy with the additions to the offensive line.

What’s the toughest game on the Saints’ schedule?

Buccaneers DE George Johnson has come a long way from doubting his ability to play in the NFL.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim learned several lessons in his first two drafts.

Is Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory a possibility for the Rams?

Oregon State QB Sean Mannion grew up a 49ers fan and wouldn’t mind if they drafted him.

Running through the Seahawks’ draft needs.

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Rick Spielman: Cordarrelle Patterson has “really grown up a lot”

Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Vikings changed the complexion of their receiving corps this offseason when they traded for Mike Wallace and released Greg Jennings and it would change even more if Cordarrelle Patterson made the switch from intriguing talent to consistent performer.

Patterson showed off that talent in the season opener last year when he ran for 102 yards and a touchdown, but he only scored once more all season and his production as both a receiver and kick returner dropped from his rookie year. Patterson said at the end of the year that he’d do anything he could to improve this offseason, a process General Manager Rick Spielman thinks begins with realizing that thriving as a pro is about “more than just relying on your athletic skill set.”

Spielman said he thought Patterson was progressing on that front this offseason.

“There’s no question about the physical ability there. I think Cordarrelle has really grown up a lot,” Spielman said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I know what he has done this offseason dedicating himself to being the best receiver he can be, and how serious he is taking that, we’re very excited about the future with Cordarrelle.”

There’s no question that the Vikings will be a more dangerous team with a more productive Patterson in the offense, but any talk of offseason growth has to be balanced by actual examples of it on the field. We’re a long way from seeing Patterson and the Vikings in action at this point in the offseason and he’ll remain a question mark until that changes.

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If Chip Kelly likes Dion Jordan, now is the time to get him

Dion Jordan AP

In the 2013 NFL draft, the Dolphins loved Dion Jordan, and thought the Eagles loved him, too. Now the Dolphins would love to get rid of Jordan, and would love to have the Eagles be the ones to take him off their hands.

Jordan played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, so the Dolphins thought in 2013 that they’d have to move ahead of the Eagles in order to draft Jordan. And that’s what they did: The Eagles owned the fourth overall pick, so the Dolphins packaged their first-round pick (No. 12) and their-second round pick (No. 42) to move up and draft Jordan with the third overall pick.

Now that looks like a huge mistake. Jordan has been a major disappointment, and the Dolphins are sidestepping questions about whether they see any role for him on the team at all.

That has led to talk that the Dolphins could trade Jordan to the Eagles, but there’s just one problem: We really have no reason to believe that Kelly wants Jordan, other than the fact that Kelly seems to like his old Oregon players. Just because Kelly likes Oregon players who have been productive, like Kiko Alonso, that doesn’t mean he would like an Oregon player who has been a bust, like Jordan.

So if Kelly does like Jordan, the Dolphins would surely be happy to trade him to Philadelphia at a bargain price. But that’s a big “if.” All the talk about Kelly’s interest in Jordan seems to be based on assumptions, and we’ve learned this offseason that we should never assume we know what Chip Kelly will do.

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Tebow as a two-point option makes no sense

Tebow Getty Images

In the six days since Tim Tebow’s 19-month NFL exile ended, a popular theory has emerged regarding Chip Kelly’s plan:  Tebow will be the team’s two-point quarterback.

With NFL owners potentially moving the two-point conversion closer next month in order to entice more teams to eschew the near-automatic one-point try, the thinking is that Kelly would use Tebow as his quarterback in that situations.

But here’s where the logic falls apart.  A two-point conversion from the one-yard line wouldn’t be a novel play for the NFL.  It would simply be another situation in which teams face short yardage.  So if Tebow is going to be the two-point quarterback, wouldn’t he also be the guy who takes the snaps on third-and-one or fourth-and-one or third- and fourth-and-goal from the one?

But Kelly may welcome the belief that he has signed Tebow as a two-point quarterback if that perception makes the league’s owners (who would benefit financially from Tebow having relevance to the NFL once again) more inclined to move the two-point conversion closer.  It’s no secret that Kelly likes the two-point try; he presumably would go for it more often if it were closer.  And if the owners think that would mean more Tebow, that could be the factor that pushes the change through.

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DeSean Jackson gets a reality show

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

There’s something about former Eagles receivers and reality TV.  Joining Terrell Owens and Hank Baskett, DeSean Jackson will be appearing on television in a capacity other than playing football.

Via Clinton Yates of the Washington Post, Jackson will appear on a new BET series dubbed Home Team, which will show that Jackson’s life is “run by a core group of women.”

Now in his second year with Washington, Jackson’s career is run by a core group of men who may not think it’s a good idea for the player to be distracted by being the star of a reality TV show.  Which means their reaction could make for a good reality TV show.

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Shaq Thompson getting a close look from the Panthers

Thompson Getty Images

One of the most intriguing prospects in the upcoming draft pool played multiple positions in college.  He intends to focus on only one in the NFL.

Washington safety/linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson won the 2014 Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the most versatile player in college football.  As he explained this week on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Thompson has made the “business decision” to play defense.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision; Thompson averaged 7.5 yards per carry in 2014, with 456 yards rushing on 61 carries.  Against Colorado, he generated 174 yards rushing on only 15 carries, an 11.6-yard average.

Thompson has nevertheless gotten plenty of attention as a defender.  But Thompson disclosed on PFT Live that only one team brought in him for a visit and also gave him an on-campus workout:  the Panthers.

Thompson’s ability to play safety and linebacker makes Carolina an obvious potential fit, given that the Panthers drafted Thomas Davis as a safety 10 years ago and made him into a linebacker.

That doesn’t mean Thompson will refuse to make a cameo appearance at running back.  He didn’t rule out the possibility when the topic came up on PFT Live.  Still, he regards himself as a defensive player, because he knows that defensive players can play a lot longer than running backs.

For the full interview, click here, select PFT Live, and select Hour Three of the April 22 show.

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Twenty-two years ago Saturday, the Giants found a Hall of Famer in Round Two

Michael Strahan #92 Getty Images

Twenty-two years ago Saturday, quarterbacks went 1-2 in the 1993 NFL Draft, and a club that gave up its first-rounder in search of a solution at quarterback ended up with a defensive end who helped the franchise win a Super Bowl.

The 1993 NFL Draft began on a Sunday, and it kicked off with Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe landing with New England and Notre Dame’s Rick Mirer going to Seattle. Bledsoe ended up having the stronger NFL career, leading New England to four playoff berths, including a spot in Super Bowl XXXI.

A pair of teams came away with future Hall of Famers in Round One, with the Saints selecting offensive tackle Willie Roaf eighth overall and the Rams taking tailback Jerome Bettis two spots later. However, Bettis would have his greatest success with Pittsburgh later in his career, and Roaf would finish his career by making four Pro Bowls as part of an outstanding Kansas City offensive line that featured another future Hall of Famer: offensive guard Will Shields, a third-round pick of Kansas City in that same ’93 draft.

The ’93 draft also featured a pair of star defenders selected after Round One. The Giants struck it big in Round Two, taking Texas Southern’s Michael Strahan, who would go on to break the single-season sack record with New York in 2001. He finished his career on a high note, playing a key role in the Giants’ historic upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Strahan was the Giants’ first pick in the ’93 draft; their first-round pick was surrendered in the previous supplemental draft to take Duke quarterback Dave Brown.

The Buccaneers had their first-round pick, using it to take Alabama defensive end Eric Curry. But their biggest score came at the end of Round Three, when they selected safety John Lynch, a standout through thick-and-thin for the Buccaneers and an important part of the club’s lone Super Bowl winning team in 2002. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Lynch one day joined Roaf, Strahan and 2015 inductees Bettis and Shields in Canton, too.

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Reggie McKenzie: Raiders have taken some calls about No. 4 pick

Reggie McKenzie AP

The Raiders have a young quarterback they like at the moment (and haven’t ruined yet), so they have some options when Thursday rolls around, when they’re on the clock with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

One of those options is not using the fourth pick at all.

Via Scott Bair of, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie said he has taken some calls about the availability of his choice.

“My phone line is always open,” McKenzie said. “You hear everybody out. If it makes sense and it’s going to help the Raiders, we’ll do a deal.”

Again, the Raiders have multiple needs, though getting one of the top wide receivers makes a lot of sense, giving second-year quarterback Derek Carr a better chance to progress.

But if they decide they can find help deeper in the first round, and add assets, it might be the prudent play to buy in bulk.

Or at least create the impression that’s what you want to do, in an effort to make the phone ring more often.

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PFT Draft Prop No. 1: Over-Under on first-round RBs: 2.5

Melvin Gordon AP

After two consecutive years without a running back being selected in Round One, it’s likely the 2015 NFL Draft will have at least one first-round tailback, with Georgia’s Todd Gurley seemingly the favorite to be the first back off the board some time Thursday.

The question is, what other backs will be selected in Round One? Will Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon hear his name called among the first 32 picks? Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris sees Gurley, then Gordon, getting picked in the first round next week.

And if Gordon goes second, who will be the third back off the board? Could a back like Boise State’s Jay Ajayi be a late first-rounder? How about Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah or Indiana’s Tevin Coleman? Will some team trade back into Round One to secure the runner of its choice before Thursday ends, a la Detroit five years ago for Jahvid Best?

The first-round running back question, then, is a perfect way to start PFT’s Draft Props series. Here’s the idea: We set a number and the odds on each side of the props, and we put it to PFT Planet to vote on which side they would prefer. Each vote will count as one unit of measure. When the draft ends, we’ll tally the results.

With this in mind, here is our Over-Under on first-round tailbacks: 2.5.

And here are the odds we’ve set:

PFT Draft Prop No. 1: How many running backs will be selected in Round One of the 2015 NFL Draft?

OVER 2.5 running backs — +200

UNDER 2.5 running backs — -240

As always, go ahead and give us your take in the comments and via the poll below.

UPDATE: After 131 of the first 138 votes were for UNDER, we’ve adjusted the odds to OVER +150 and UNDER -170. We’ll score the first votes under the old odds (+125/-145) accordingly.

UPDATE No. 2: With 1,229-of-1,323 votes for UNDER, we’ll move to +200/-240.

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Peyton Manning gives $3 million to University of Tennessee

UT Getty Images

Peyton Manning gave up $4 million in salary to the Broncos in March.  He’s now giving up $3 million more to his alma mater.

Manning has donated $3 million to the school in honor of university employees Gus Manning and Carmen and Deborah Tegano.  Gus Manning has served the UT athletic program for 64 years, Carmen Tegano has spent 31 seasons at the school, and Deborah Tegano was one of Manning’s professors.

The donation will create the Gus Manning Gate at Neyland Stadium, and it will place the names of the Teganos on a dining hall to be added to a dorm currently under construction.

At a time when more and more people are noticing the gross imbalance between the value generated by highly successful college athletes and the compensation they receive, it’s admirable any time any of them give anything beyond what they’ve already given.

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Panthers pick up fifth-year option on Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly AP

Some decisions on whether to pick up the fifth-year option on a first-round pick can be agonizing ones.

The call to extend Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s contract through 2016 was not likely one of them.

Carolina has officially picked up the option of Kuechly, its star middle linebacker, the team announced Saturday afternoon.

The 24-year-old Kuechly has played and started every regular season game for the Panthers since entering the NFL in 2012, notching 473 tackles, defending 27 passes, recording seven interceptions and racking up six sacks.

Kuechly will now be due $11.1 million for 2016. The Panthers are likely to work to sign him to a longer extension at some point.

Teams have until May 3 to exercise fifth-year options on first-round picks in the Class of 2012.

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