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30 percent rule still looms over uncapped year

With the salary cap disappearing in 2010, plenty of players still under contract might be looking for new deals.

If, after all, there’s no spending limit and fewer free agents are available and guys are operating under deals done when a cap was in place, some of them might expect a big raise.

But there’s a problem, as one league source pointed out in response to our recent suggestion that the decision of Steve Smith (the young, good one) to change agents could be a sign that he wants to strike it rich.

The 30 percent rule applies to the renegotiation of any contracts.

It means that the player’s salary in 2010 can’t be more than 30 percent greater than the player’s salary in 2009.  For players still operating under the minimum base salaries of a slotted rookie deal, that’s a problem.  A big problem.

But there’s a loophole.  NFL director of corporate communications Dan Masonson has confirmed for us that signing bonuses won’t count toward the 30 percent rule.  Still, it means that the bulk of a player’s compensation would have to be funneled to him via a signing bonus, with limited base salaries in future years.  While the player might be fine with that in 2010, the player might feel a lot differently in the out years of the deal.

Then there’s the looming lockout.  Why would a team want to front load a deal with a huge signing bonus in 2010 if there might be no football in 2011?  Every player who receives such a deal is one less player who will have to face the prospect of living game check to game check with no game check.

So keep an eye on this angle as the uncapped year begins.  Plenty of players under contract will want more money.  It’s unlikely that many will get it.

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Logan Thomas settles down after shaky start to practice

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals will give rookie Logan Thomas his first NFL start at quarterback this weekend against the 49ers as they try to close their regular season with a win that could give them the NFC West title and that means he’s getting his first extended time with the first team at practice this week.

Things were a bit rocky out of the gate on Wednesday. Coach Bruce Arians termed Thomas’s outing “shaky” in the early portion of practice, something that Thomas agreed with while also agreeing with Arians that “it got better and better” as he took more reps. Thomas said that it is different learning the offense as the third-stringer he’s been for much of the season and actually executing it, something Arians indicated would be the rookie’s biggest challenge.

“He’s worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better,” Arians said, via ESPN.com. “But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that’s two totally different things.”

The Cardinals remain hopeful that Drew Stanton will be healthy enough to start their first playoff game, which will be at the NFC South winner if they can’t win and get help from the Rams on Sunday. If Stanton can’t go, though, they’d feel a lot more comfortable with their situation if Thomas’s fundamental improvement translates to a competent performance in Week 17.

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A.J. Green’s injured arm “feeling a little better”

A.J. Green AP

A big game from wide receiver A.J. Green would go a long way toward helping the Bengals secure the AFC North title in Sunday night’s game against the Steelers, but the chances of getting that big game have a lot to do with the status of Green’s injured arm.

Green bruised his right biceps when he got hit by Broncos safety T.J. Ward early in last Monday night’s victory and didn’t have a catch while trying to play through the injury. Green didn’t practice on Wednesday, but said the arm was “feeling a little better” a couple of days after suffering the injury.

Green still expects to play on Sunday night, which comes at the end of a trying season. The wideout missed three games and almost all of another because of a toe injury that has kept Green, who said he was surprised to make the Pro Bowl, from feeling totally comfortable this season.

“It was definitely the most challenging, because you’ve missed so many games and you have to work back into the groove,” Green said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You don’t have time to get all the timing you need.”

Green’s not the only Bengal dealing with medical issues this week. Quarterback Andy Dalton went home with the flu on Wednesday and three other members of the team — tight end Jermaine Gresham, cornerback Terence Newman and safety Reggie Nelson — were also under the weather.

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Ryan Tannehill: I feel I’ve improved across the board

Ryan Tannehill AP

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s third NFL season is coming to a close and he’s got reason to feel good about his performance this season.

He’s en route to setting new bests in completion percentage, yards per attempt and just about every other positive metric used to measure the success of a quarterback, which is a pretty good way to cap a year that started with plenty of doubts about whether Tannehill would be the right man to lead the offense in Miami.

“I feel like I’m better all-around,” Tannehill said, via ESPN.com. “I think I’ve grown throughout the season and gotten better each week. The guys around me have been playing well at the same time. When the whole offense elevates its play, it’s easy to get better.”

The Dolphins will be making a decision about Tannehill’s 2016 option in the coming months, something that represents the start of serious contemplation about whether he’s the franchise quarterback the Dolphins wanted with the eighth pick of the 2012 draft. Tannehill made his strongest case yet that he can be that quarterback, which likely helped Joe Philbin keep his job and the continuity should in turn help Tannehill continue to grow as a player.

If that doesn’t pay off in a winning season in 2015, continuity probably won’t be the order of the day so the charge for next season in Miami is clear.

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Merry Christmas to all

Whoville

Sources close to me tell me it’s Christmas morning.  Hopefully, sources close to you will allow you to have a memorable, safe, and happy day, spending it with family and friends.

We’ll be working sporadically or more throughout the day, in large part because it’s not really work.  And because we realize that plenty of you have new computers, laptops, tablets, phones, and whatever newfangled Electro-Who-Cardio-Floox allows you to connect to the Internet and get updates on your favorite teams and players as Week 17 looms.

So have a cup of cheer and sit back to see if we have a few too many cups of cheer before typing up a post.  Again.

And thanks as always for your support.  You’ve helped make this thing whatever it is that it is, and we’ll always be grateful for whatever that is that that is.

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Panthers coach and family replaced gifts for break-in victims

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington did something far more important than design a gameplan for the Falcons this week.

He did the work of Santa Claus for a family in need too.

According to Rad Berky of WCNC, Washington and his family saw a report about a Charlotte family whose home was broken into. Crystal Davis was a single mother of five children, working a pair of jobs to buy presents for her children. But they were stolen by thieves last Sunday.

Washington’s family, including wife Amy and sister Angela, was so moved by the story they went shopping to replace all the gifts.

Oh thank you so much, we are your number one fans,” Davis said. “This has turned out to be an awesome Christmas. I think its the best one yet.”

“We are just so thrilled to be able to share the holiday with Ms. Davis and her family,” Amy Washington said. “We think every child should wake up and have a smile on Christmas morning.”

Thanks to their generosity, another family did.

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Rex Ryan thinks Aaron Donald can’t hold Sheldon Richardson’s jock

Richardson Getty Images

Rex Ryan is going out in a blaze of glory.

The soon-to-be-former Jets head coach met with the media on Christmas Eve, one day after the NFL announced the players who qualified for the Pro Bowl.  And Ryan objected to the failure of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to make it by questioning the skills of a guy who did.

After saying Ryan was “kind of shocked” by the snub of Sheldon, Ryan took an indirect shot at Rams rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“If it kept him out of the Pro Bowl because some guy had ‘X’ amount of sacks, and that guy can’t hold his jock as a player, to be honest with you, I think that’s kind of strange to me,” Ryan said, via Dom Cosentino of NJ.com.

Ryan didn’t name names, but he said, “I guess you guys will figure out who I’m talking about.”  Cosentino, citing an unnamed source, explains that Ryan was indeed talking about Donald.

“Clearly, the guys missed on Sheldon Richardson,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to look at the big picture … I see the tapes. This guy deserves to be in there. There’s no doubt about it.”

A combined vote of players, coaches, and fans determines the Pro Bowlers.

While Donald and Richardson play in different conferences, the Pro Bowl players currently are compiled without regard to AFC or NFC.  So Donald took a spot that could have gone to Richardson.

While Richardson didn’t specifically call out anyone who made it instead of him, the second-year player admitted that his reaction to not making the team was “too explicit for TV.”

Apparently, he didn’t watch Hard Knocks when the Jets were the featured team and Ryan was the star.

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Michael Crabtree can’t wait to see what happens this offseason

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The 49ers season came apart weeks ago, leaving little for anyone to look forward to other than the end of the season-long Jim Harbaugh saga or their own future if their contract is coming to its conclusion.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is in the latter group. Crabtree will be a free agent this offseason and said Wednesday that he hasn’t had any talks with the team about returning. He evaded a question about whether he wants to return, saying that “it depends,” but did say that he’s excited to see what happens come the offseason.

“I’ve grown a lot, seen a lot,” Crabtree said, via CSNBayArea.com. “I feel like we’ve done a lot as a team. I feel like I’ve contributed a lot to the team. Feel like the sky’s the limit for me, and I’m taking it one day at a time. I can’t wait to see what’s next, the next chapter in my career. I’m going to go hard every day. I’m going to go hard every year, try to get better. Try to maximize my talent.”

Crabtree isn’t heading into free agency on a high note. He’s caught 64 passes for 657 yards, a career-low in average yards per catch, and has never built on what looked like a breakout season in 2012. The overall offensive issues with the Niners surely didn’t help, but Crabtree’s appeal to the league come March isn’t an obvious one thanks to his middling production this year.

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Odell Beckham picks up $10,000 fine

St. Louis Rams v New York Giants AP

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has notched a lot of firsts during his rookie season, but not all of them are positives.

On the other side of the ledger is Beckham’s first fine as an NFL player. Giants players have received word from the league about fines levied for their behavior during a chaotic game with the Rams that featured three ejections after a brawl on the sideline.

Beckham was hit late by Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree to touch off that brawl and he’s been fined $10,000 for kicking at Ogletree when Ogletree was on the ground after the tackle. Ogletree was penalized for a late hit, but said Wednesday that he hasn’t heard from the league about a fine.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said that he thought Giants kicker Josh Brown should have been ejected for kicking at a Rams player, but he was penalized and fined $8,200 instead. Brown said, via the Associated Press, that he plans to appeal.

Defensive end Damontre Moore joined wide receiver Preston Parker with a $15,000 fine after getting ejected for throwing punches during the melee and long snapper Zak DeOssie was fined for a late hit. With defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins also picking up a fine for roughing the passer, Giants players wound up handing over more than $72,000 for their actions in a game that saw players on both teams lose control of themselves far too often.

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Thursday morning one-liners

Devonta Freeman AP

Bills players are redefining the definition of “home for the holidays.”

The numbers show the Dolphins have made great strides on offense.

The Patriots practiced in full pads on Christmas Eve.

Jets QB Geno Smith wants to be part of the solution.

I want the Ravens Christmas Album under the tree.

The Bengals are a sick ward, with four players sent home with the flu.

For Browns K Garrett Hartley, kicking was the easiest part of last week.

The Steelers have one goal (which is shared by 31 other teams).

Texans CB Kareem Jackson has been part of the team’s bounceback season.

The Colts are all business this week, even with nothing to gain.

Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon has sold his Jacksonville home.

Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton apologized for his side’s showing.

Broncos S T.J. Ward took part in practice, though there were no pads or helmets.

Chiefs S Eric Berry is getting strong support from his teammates.

The Raiders’ rookie class continues to shine.

Chargers CB Steve Williams credits his bigger game to bigger pants.

The Cowboys are happy to bump up the pick they owe the Ravens for what they’ve gotten from LB Rolando McClain.

There’s plenty of meaning for the Giants in a meaningless finale.

Eagles OLB Trent Cole wants to retire there, just not yet.

Washington has fundamental problems on defense.

Does Bears G Kyle Long have a future at T?

Lions RB Joique Bell was limited in practice with an Achilles injury.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers didn’t let a sore calf keep him from pulling the sleigh.

The Vikings have sold 30,000 PSLs for their new stadium.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan thinks RB Devonta Freeman deserves more touches.

Panthers QB Cam Newton played Santa before leading his team to his hometown this weekend.

The Saints practiced without both starting OTs yesterday.

Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster doesn’t want to leave.

One prognosticator has an uncanny knack for the Cardinals.

The Rams face a critical offseason on offense.

49ers S Eric Reid was held out yesterday because of his concussion.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson can move into the top five in QB rushing yards for a season this week.

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Jim Harbaugh says his future’s no distraction at all

Jim Harbaugh AP

With his own local media, Jim Harbaugh has grown terse, having covered the ground about his future often.

But while he didn’t exactly drop any clues in his conference call with Arizona reporters, he at least dropped his guard a bit.

When asked the inevitable question about how difficult it was to coach amid the swirl of reports about his future, the for-now 49ers coach said it wasn’t.

“The interesting thing is if you don’t look at the Internet and you don’t watch TV, you really do not know that it’s going on,” Harbaugh said, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “That has been exactly what I have done. Put the focus on the week of preparation, put the focus on the players and the coaches and what we are trying to get done here. It works if you really don’t pick up.

“On the way home, you don’t turn on the talk radio and you don’t look at the Internet, you can be completely unaware that anything is swirling. I walk by people and I see their faces. I know something is going on.”

There was a laugh after that part, and he was then asked what it was like to be the only American not watching TV or on the internet.

“There has to be another American beside myself,” Harbaugh said. “Don’t you think? Yeah, I bet there is. I would think there would be plenty of Americans who probably focus on another task at hand and dedicated to the mission they have and excelling and not having distraction.”

If there were, we might not be having as Merry Christmas here. So thanks Jim, for being unique.

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Adam Vinatieri’s workouts have evolved, leading to his best year at 41

Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee AP

Adam Vinatieri is doing something almost unheard of not just in football, but in all of professional sports: He’s having the best year of his career while he’s in his 40s.

Vinatieri, who will turn 42 on Sunday, is a perfect 28-for-28 on field goals this season. Vinatieri told the New York Times he’s taking good care of his body and the results speak for themselves.

“I don’t get under a heavy squat rack or do a lot of heavy power cleaning anymore,” he said. “It’s hard on the joints, and when you get a little bit older, you can do other things that doesn’t take quite as much strain on your body. I do a lot of core stuff to keep my core and hips loose and limber and strong. The workouts have evolved.”

If Vinatieri doesn’t miss a kick in Sunday’s season finale, he’ll join Gary Anderson of the 1998 Vikings, Jeff Wilkins of the 2000 Rams and Mike Vanderjagt of the 2003 Colts as the only kickers who have kicked a full season without a miss. Not bad for the NFL’s oldest player.

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Peyton Manning fully participates in practice

Peyton Getty Images

On the same day Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said he doesn’t plan to retire after the current season, he was able to fully prepare for his next game.

Manning fully participated in practice despite a thigh injury suffered in Week 15.

He practiced less than two days after a Monday night game during which he once again seemed to be not the same Peyton Manning, fueling speculation that there’s something wrong with him beyond the thigh injury that appears on the report.

Still, his ability to fully participate in practice on Wednesday suggests he’ll be in better physical condition on Sunday against the Raiders, which possibly means he’ll throw fewer than four interceptions and in turn lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

Also fully participating despite injury were running back C.J. Anderson (ankle), safety David Bruton (calf), tackle Ryan Clady (thigh), tackle Chris Clark (back), running back Ronnie Hillman (foot), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (foot), receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle, hip), tight end Julius Thomas (ankle), running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), cornerback Kayvon Webster (shoulder), and defensive end Derek Wolfe (knee).

Tackle Paul Cornick (toe), receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip), and safety T.J. Ward (neck) practiced on a limited basis.    Linebacker Lamin Barrow (illness), linebacker Brandon Marshall (foot), center Manuel Ramirez (illness), and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (illness) didn’t practice.

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Bears re-sign Austen Lane to replace Willie Young

Austen Lane Getty Images

The Chicago Bears have re-signed defensive lane Austen Lane to replace starter Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a torn Achilles.

Lane spent the preseason with Chicago before being released during cuts.

Lane has played in 30 games in his career since being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lane has also spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions.

Young leads the Bears with a career-high 10 sacks this season. He injured his Achilles in last week’s loss to the Lions.

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Why aren’t other teams lining up for Jason Garrett?

Garrett Getty Images

Rarely if ever does a head coach become a free agent.  Rarely if ever does a free-agent head coach find a high demand for his services elsewhere.  Usually, it’s because the free-agent coach is a free agent for a reason.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, whose contract expires after the season, could be the most desirable lame duck to ever hit the market.  With 11 wins and a division title while working under General Manager Jerry Jones, why isn’t Garrett showing up on the short list for other teams?

Sure, Garrett generated mediocre results during his first three years on the job, struggling at times to juggle the micro of play calling and the macro of, you know, not icing his own kicker with a time out.  But Garrett has found his way in 2014 (he no longer calls the plays on offense), presiding over a team that arguably has exceeded expectations more than any other — which should put Garrett in line for coach of the year consideration.

But Garrett isn’t being mentioned as a candidate for looming or possible vacancies in San Francisco, Oakland, New York (Jets or Giants, though a Tom Coughlin termination seems like likely), Chicago, and Atlanta.  Maybe it’s the perception that Garrett doesn’t want to leave Dallas.  Maybe it’s the belief that there’s already a wink-nod extension in place.  Or maybe he’s just not getting the credit he deserves.

Every year, the coordinators of the best teams land on the A- or B-list for coaching vacancies.  Shouldn’t the head coaches of the best teams be there, too, in those rarest of circumstances when the head coach of one of the best teams has a contract that’s about to expire?

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49ers’ Anthony Davis seems to have a problem with Greg Roman

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

As the 49ers’ season comes to a close and the team prepares for a big shakeup in the offseason, offensive tackle Anthony Davis sounds like he hopes he’s not coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman next season.

Davis went on Twitter today and seemed to take a shot at Roman, recalling a time when Roman first became offensive coordinator that Roman said something that got under Davis’s skin.

“Greg Roman to me when I was 21: ‘You know we can get someone off the street to do what you do,'” Davis tweeted.

Davis then tweeted, “The irony.” Perhaps he was suggesting that the 49ers are about to get someone off the street to do what Roman does, although Davis later deleted that tweet, so it’s not quite clear what he was trying to say.

In any event, Davis seems to have some kind of a problem with Roman, the kind of problem that could fester on a team — except that Roman is probably only going to coach Davis for one more game before they go their separate ways.

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