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Back come the Pack

After falling into a 21-point hole early in the third quarter of Sunday’s playoff game in Arizona, all hope was seemingly lost for the Packers.

And it might just be that the Packers had the Cardinals right where they wanted them.

After driving 80 yards in ten plays to cut the margin to 31-17, the Packers pulled off a surprise onside kick, recovered it, and drove 57 yards in eight plays to make the score 31-24 with plenty of time left.

To win, the Packers will have to find a way to stop Cards quarterback Kurt Warner, who has completed 15 of 17 passes for 192 yards and three scores.

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2017 49ers already have outspent 2016 49ers in free agency

JAMESTOWN, CA - APRIL 29:   "How To Find Gold" booklets on display at Gold Prospecting Adventures on April 29, 2011 in Jamestown, California. As the dollar continues to fall gold continues to rise settling at a record high $ 1,556.40 an ounce at the close of the market on Friday April 29, 2011. Gold is considered the ultimate storer of wealth bringing out more part time prospectors to strike their claims. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images) Getty Images

Free agency hasn’t even begun yet, but the 2017 49ers are making their mark. How much of a mark have they made? Already, more than they did in all of 2016.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com points out that the 49ers under new G.M. John Lynch already have spent more in free agency than G.M. Trent Baalke did a year ago. Just this week, the 49ers signed defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (formerly of the Dolphins) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (formerly of the Browns).

In 2016, the 49ers added one veteran free agent: Offensive lineman Zane Beadles.

Because both Mitchell and Williams were released by their respective teams, their arrivals won’t count toward the formula that will determine the 2018 compensatory draft picks. (Beadles had been released a year ago, too; the 49ers ended up with an extra fourth-round pick in 2017 due to the departure of guard Alex Boone.)

With $38.7 million in cap space carried over from 2016, the 49ers will have plenty more money to spend as they try to improve on a 2-14 debacle of a year ago. But spending money on newcomers is just one piece of a team-building puzzle that for most successful franchises continues to be based on drafting and developing their own young players.

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Jets decline Erin Henderson’s option

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19:  Linebacker Erin Henderson #58 of the New York Jets walks off the field after being injured during the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 19, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Jets 22-18.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets made headlines by releasing center Nick Mangold on Saturday, but that wasn’t only decision they made regarding a veteran’s future with the franchise.

According to multiple reports, the Jets have decided not to pick up the option on linebacker Erin Henderson’s contract for the 2017 season. That will make Henderson an unrestricted free agent next month.

Henderson only played in five games last season before being placed on the non-football injury list for reasons that weren’t publicly disclosed. He played all 16 games for the team in 2015 and spent six years with the Vikings before missing the entire 2014 season following his release in the wake of a DUI arrest.

The move creates $2.57 in salary cap space for the Jets, who have been in cost-control mode of late with the departures of Henderson, Mangold, Breno Giacomini, Ryan Clady and Nick Folk.

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Sunday morning one-liners

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1:  Vincent Rey #57 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Kyle Juszczyk #44 of the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will S Robert Blanton be back with the Bills?

A couple of guards that could interest the Dolphins in the draft.

Any NFL prospect with a lacrosse background is going to hear about Patriots WR Chris Hogan.

C Nick Mangold’s time with the Jets has come to an end.

Ravens FB Kyle Juszczyk is headed for free agency.

CB Dre Kirkpatrick may be leaving the Bengals next month.

Browns DT Danny Shelton would love to see more defensive linemen arrive in the draft.

Pass rushing remains an area the Steelers would like to improve.

A review of the Texans wide receivers.

One player can’t fix the Colts, but nailing their first-round pick would still help.

Will the Jaguars consider a running back in the first round?

Assessing the need for a new backup for Titans QB Marcus Mariota.

Setting the stage for the Broncos ahead of the combine.

Running through some mock draft predictions for the Chiefs.

Raiders G Kelechi Osemele is having an adventurous offseason.

Which needs will the Chargers address in the draft?

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson celebrated the 25th anniversary of a Cowboys Super Bowl title together.

Alabama TE O.J. Howard pops up on a list of draft prospects for the Giants to ponder.

A look at what the Eagles may do at safety this offseason.

Linebackers for the Redskins to watch at the combine.

Bears RB Jordan Howard donated $10,000 to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in honor of his late father.

The Lions have cap space to make moves in free agency.

The Packers got a fifth-round compensatory pick after losing CB Casey Hayward in free agency last year.

The oversight board for the Vikings stadium is at full strength after new additions.

Extensions will keep a couple of potential Falcons free agents off the market.

Darrel Young could be the Panthers’ fullback in 2017.

Will the Saints pay up for a pass rusher in free agency?

The Buccaneers need to find some new playmakers.

A special teams primer for the Cardinals.

The Rams may not have a first-round pick, but they still have plenty to do at the combine.

Free agency hasn’t opened, but the 49ers have already been busier than they were in last year’s session.

Offensive line isn’t the only area the Seahawks need to address this offseason.

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Bleacher Report caves in to Mark Cuban, a bad sign for sports media

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17: Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the NFL banned Barstool Sports from covering Super Bowl week events, PFT made an issue of it because we think independent media should be able to cover the sport without constraints from the league. Now the NBA has provided an example of what can happen when a sports league gets too heavy-handed with the media, and the media lacks the will to push back.

Bleacher Report has deleted a tweet joking about Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks shooting an airball, not because there was anything wrong with the tweet, but because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told them to, and they didn’t have the guts to stand up to Cuban’s bullying.

It started on Friday night, when Bleacher Report tweeted a short video clip of Nowitzki’s airball with the caption, “DIRK FOREVER.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We frequently laugh about players making mistakes. Bloopers are some of the most popular sports highlights.

Cuban, for some reason, took offense. And instead of shooting back at Bleacher Report with a tweet of his own and being done with it, Cuban decided to flex his muscles, perhaps knowing that Bleacher Report wouldn’t have the stomach for a fight with him. Cuban sent a profane email to Turner President David Levy (Turner is Bleacher Report’s parent company) and copied NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, ordering Bleacher Report to take the tweet down. Cuban made a vague threat that he would “communicate with the millenials [sic]” if Bleacher Report didn’t comply.

If Bleacher Report had any integrity, Levy would have told Cuban that independent media outlets don’t take orders from the people they cover, and that would have been the end of it. Amazingly, Bleacher Report followed Cuban’s orders, deleted the tweet and put up a fawning tweet about what a legend Nowitzki is.

That is a shocking capitulation and raises some ugly questions about Bleacher Report. We know about this time that Bleacher Report backed down to a powerful owner because this particular powerful owner chose to publicize it. What we don’t know is this: How many other times has Bleacher Report quietly backed down to owners or leagues? How many critical stories have Bleacher Report writers worked on, only to have the higher-ups put the kibosh on them when an owner or commissioner caught wind of it? If Bleacher Report is too spineless to stand up for itself on something as innocuous as a tweet about an airball, how quickly does Bleacher Report fold when there’s a complaint about something really serious?

And it relates to the NFL because, we’re happy to say, we’ve never encountered anything like this in the football world. We hear from NFL owners, teams, league executives, players and coaches who are unhappy with something we publish from time to time, but a demand from an owner to delete a tweet, coupled with a veiled threat, is something we haven’t experienced.

If we did, we’d stand up for ourselves. If we get something wrong we of course correct the record, but we don’t change what we publish simply because a thin-skinned owner doesn’t like it.

It’s important to have independent media outlets that aren’t afraid to step on a few toes, and won’t kowtow to the establishment. That’s why we thought the NFL stepped wrong when it banned Barstool Sports: Once a league starts picking and choosing which outlets can cover it, it begins to go down a dangerous path toward the league is dictating the coverage.

That’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. With the NBA and Bleacher Report, it’s a line that has already been crossed.

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Ravens’ Matt Elam arrested on drug charges

Antonio Brown, Matt Elam AP

Ravens safety Matt Elam has been arrested on drug charges in Miami.

According to Miami-Dade police records, Elam was booked at 3:45 a.m. today on charges of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis, possession of cannabis with the intent to sell or deliver, and possession of a controlled substance.

Police say they initially pulled Elam over for reckless driving and found 126 grams of marijuana and three grams of oxycodone in his vehicle.

The 25-year-old Elam was the Ravens’ first-round draft pick in 2013. The Ravens did not pick up Elam’s fifth-year option, so he becomes a free agent next month.

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Jaguars grew tired of “non-existent” blocking from Julius Thomas

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 11: Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on August 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Jaguars 17-13. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Julius Thomas is on the way out in Jacksonville, just two years into a five-year contract. A big part of the reason for that is he never became the receiving threat for the Jaguars that he had been for the Broncos.

But another part of it is that the Jaguars grew tired of Thomas’s limitations as a blocker, and the effect that had on the Jaguars’ offense.

His blocking was non-existent,” a source told the Florida Times-Union. “If he was on the field, he was the second tight end and that meant a receiver came off the field and the team speed went down. And if he was on the field with Robinson, Hurns and Lee, it was a clear giveaway to defenses that it was a pass or a run away from him because he couldn’t be at the point of attack.”

Thomas will now go to Miami, where head coach Adam Gase, who previously coached Thomas in Denver, apparently thinks he can make it work with a tight end who is a liability on running plays.

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Jerry Jones: No decision has been made regarding Tony Romo

Former Dallas Cowboys, from left to right, Charles Haley shows a painted portrait of Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones to Jones, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett during the 25th Anniversary of Super Bowl XXVII at Gilley's in Dallas, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP

The Cowboys celebrated on Saturday night the 25th anniversary of their 1992 Super Bowl championship team. Looming over the franchise continues to be the immediate future of the best quarterback in franchise history to not win a Super Bowl.

His future is undecided, according to the man who will eventually decide it.

Via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, owner Jerry Jones said no decision has been made regarding the future of quarterback Tony Romo.

It’s believed that Romo wants to be released. The Cowboys presumably want to get something in return for him. It won’t be nearly as easy as flipping a switch; if the Cowboys intend to trade Romo to a place where he doesn’t want to play, the new team may not be all that enthused about finalizing the transaction.

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Trevor Siemian sheds his sling

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 06:   Trevor Siemian #13 of the Denver Broncos warms up on the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

When Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian paid a visit to PFT Live during Super Bowl week, he was wearing a large sling on his left arm after surgery to repair his AC joint. The sling has now been shed.

Siemian gave Troy Renck of Denver7 an update regarding his status.

I am out of the sling and everything is going really well so far,” Siemian said. “I should be good for OTAs but we’ll see. I’ll touch base with the [doctor] at the end of March and see how I am doing.”

Whether Siemian is available for the offseason program should go a long way toward determining whether he’ll be a viable contender to remain the starter. With a new coaching staff and a new offensive system, second-year first-rounder Paxton Lynch could get a leg up if Siemian’s left arm keeps him from getting reps during Organized Team Activities.

Potentially complicating the competition is the possible arrival of a veteran like Tony Romo or Jay Cutler.

Regardless of which quarterbacks are taking the reps in the offseason, Siemian’s chances of playing in September will be boosted if he’s able to practice in April, May, and June.

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Civil lawsuit against Pouncey twins set for trial on March 6

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 09: Center Maurkice Pouncey #53 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lines up against the New York Jets during a game at MetLife Stadium on November 9, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when their former Florida teammate is facing a much more serious criminal trial, NFL offensive lineman Maurkice and Mike Pouncey soon will be standing trial in a civil case arising from a 2014 brawl at their birthday party.

Per multiple reports, the trial against the twins starts on March 6 in Miami-Dade County. The case brought by Ricquan James and Niya Pickett claims that the Pounceys  and their security team beat the plaintiffs and subjected them to homophobic slurs. Among other things, the lawsuit specifically contends that Steelers center Maurice Pouncey (pictured) punched James in the face and said that James “was ruining his party by acting gay.”

At the 2013 edition of their birthday party, which happened not long after Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder in Massachusetts, the Pounceys created a stir by wearing “Free Hernandez” hats. While the Pounceys faced no criminal charges, the lawsuit could end up being far more costly than whatever they have incurred in legal fees — especially with a standard of proof that is far less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Will Jets release Darrelle Revis before they have to?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 18:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets looks on after a game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on October 18, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether the Jets will keep or cut cornerback Darrelle Revis. They have until March 11 to decide whether to pay a $2 million roster bonus for the privilege of paying him a $15 million base salary in 2017.

They owe him $6 million in fully-guaranteed base salary even if they cut him, but with offset language in the deal, they can recoup some of that based on what he earns elsewhere.

What he earns elsewhere will be maximized the earlier the Jets release him. Releasing him early gives him an enhanced chance to get even more than $6 million in 2017, since it would give him a head start on free agency.

So with long-time Jets center Nick Mangold cut on Saturday, giving him nearly two weeks before the 2017 free agents can be signed, will the Jets extend the same courtesy to Revis?

It helps Revis but, given the offset obligation, it helps the Jets, too. This assumes that the Jets can look past any frustration or resentment with Revis and make a decision that helps both sides.

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Change to Scouting Combine exclusion rule could be coming

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Maybe Baker Mayfield will be going to Indianapolis next year, after all.

As the 2017 Scouting Combine approaches, criticism is intensifying regarding the rule that keeps incoming draft picks with certain types of past off-field misconduct away from all league-sponsored events. The teams will evaluate the players regardless of whether they are invited to Indianapolis; they prefer that the players be available in one place at the same time.

While it’s unclear how the internal opposition to the rule will manifest itself, the rule could be modified or flat-out dumped. The Competition Committee could be addressing the issue later this year, with the anticipation of some sort of a change coming by 2018.

As to the current rule, a league source who objects to the rule has raised an interesting question: How many league employees would be banned from working the Scouting Combine under the same standard that has resulted in players being ejected from it? How many media members likewise would be barred?

Potential hypocrisies aside, the teams want to be able to evaluate all players deemed talented enough to participate in the Scouting Combine. Keeping them away due to past misconduct won’t change that. If anything, it provides a solid chunk of evidence that could be used if a player with a a criminal record who eventually goes undrafted alleges collusion.

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Jets release center Nick Mangold

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Nick Mangold #74 of the New York Jets takes the field against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Nick Mangold, a fixture for the Jets since arriving in the first round of the 2006 draft, will be release in the near future, per multiple sources.

At this point, the only question is the timing of the move. It could happen as now as today, or it could happen later in the week.

The Jets appear to be willing to let Mangold announce the move before they do.

He has one year left on his contract at a salary of $6.075 million. The Jets will carry $3 million in dead money under his name for 2017.

The move, when it happens, will give Mangold a brief head start on the open market, which arrives on March 9.

UPDATE 2:44 p.m. ET: And Mangold has announced the move. Next, the Jets will.

UPDATE 4:32 p.m. ET: And the Jets have.

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49ers announce deal with Earl Mitchell

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 28:  Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell #90 of the Miami Dolphins and running back Damien Williams #34  walk with teammates to the field before the Dolphins met the New York Jets in a game at Sun Life Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Maybe the Dolphins could have traded Earl Mitchell, too.

Miami stopped short of cutting tackle Branden Albert when it became clear that someone would trade for him. The 49ers, given the zeal with which they pursued Mitchell, possibly would have done the same.

The 49ers have announced the acquisition of Mitchell on a four-year deal.

“As soon as Earl hit the open market, he became a priority for us to sign,” 49ers G.M. John Lynch said in a release. “A man of high character, he represents everything we want to be as a football team. Earl is a tone-setter who plays the game with a tremendous passion and the effort necessary to win in this league. We believe those qualities are contagious and will help to make our team stronger. We look forward to the impact Earl will have on the field, in the locker room, and in our community.”

That’s a far different assessment than the one the Dolphins had of Mitchell. As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald noted last night on Twitter, the Dolphins weren’t impressed with Mitchell in 2016 and expected a decline in 2017.

And so the performance of Mitchell in 2017 will help the football-following world decide whether the Dolphins or the 49ers are better at evaluating veteran defensive linemen.

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2017 salary cap currently pegged at $166-169 million

Printing US dollar banknotes Getty Images

On the surface, the salary cap seems to be an objective, unambiguous formula. In reality, the specific team-by-team spending limit is finalized via back-and-forth negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

For 2017, the final number will be announced soon, since each team must be in compliance with it by March 9. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the cap currently is expected to be in the range of $166 million to $169 million.

Last year, the cap was $155.27 million. In 2015, the cap was $143.28 million. The year before, $133 million. In 2013, it was $123 million.

Prior to that, the cap was going up much more slowly; in 2012, the cap was $120.6 million per team.

The end result, assuming the low end of the currently projected range for 2017, is a total increase of 37.6 percent in only five years. Which means a lot more money for teams to spend — and a lot more money for players to make.

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Georgia sophomore star Trenton Thompson leaves school

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 19: Anthony Jennings #11 of the Lousiana-Lafayette Rajin' Cajuns is pursued by Trenton Thompson #78 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Trenton Thompson, a sophomore defensive tackle at Georgia who is viewed as a future high NFL draft pick, has left school because of health problems.

Thompson ended his sophomore season in December by being named MVP of the Liberty Bowl, but his college coach told the Athens Banner-Herald that Thompson has had “several shoulder surgeries” in the last two months and is continuing to deal with medical problems.

University police at Georgia said Thompson was discovered “wandering on the roadway,” and “unsteady on his feet,”with “very bloodshot eyes” on Thursday. Thompson told police he took “two oxies,” but the school later said he was tested at the hospital and was negative for OxyContin.

Georgia says Thompson will need “an extended hospital stay,” although his high school coach said he remains optimistic that Thompson will play football again in the fall. Thompson will be eligible for the 2018 NFL draft.

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