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Vikings, Taylor still talking

NFL_taylor2.jpgIt has become a foregone conclusion of late that, come midnight, the Vikings and running back Chester Taylor will part ways.

Still, Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that agent Ken Sarnoff is still talking to the Vikings, even as Sarnoff undoubtedly is fielding (at a minimum) hypothetical offers from other teams who can’t officially talk to him about Taylor until 12:00 a.m. ET.

Taylor, who arrived in 2006 and served as the starter for one season before the drafting of Adrian Peterson, has remained a key contributor.  But perception possibly outpaces reality when it comes to gauging his true value.  Taylor averaged only 3.6 yards per carry in 2009, and he contributed only 727 total yards and two touchdowns.  His two fumbles in 138 touches equates to a 1.44-percent ball-dropping average — not dramatically lower than Adrian Peterson’s 1.96-percent rate.

There there’s this just-ate-popcorn moment against the Steelers, which resulted in a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown.  Though the blame properly rests on Taylor, the stat sheet reflects a pick-six for Brett Favre.

And Favre surely is a key factor in whether and to what extent the Vikings will cough up considerable money for Taylor.  We believe that, if Favre definitely wanted Taylor to return, the Vikings already would have signed him. 

If Favre is fine with Chester leaving and if someone else wants to pay Taylor starter-level money, the Vikings would need only to find another guy who can contribute 150 or fewer touches, who can take over as the lead dog if/when something on Adrian snaps, crackles, or pops, and who can catch passes and pick up blitzers on third downs — ideally without letting any of those balls squirt through his hands like a greased gourd.

Again, if Favre is fine with letting Taylor go, then he won’t be back.  In that case, look for Brian Westbrook — who is only 20 days older than Taylor — to get a long look, and for the Vikings to bolster the position via the middle rounds of the draft.

In this regard, don’t forget about Percy Harvin, who played plenty of tailback at Florida.  If the Vikings have another wideout who can properly work out of the slot on third downs, Percy could slide from time to time into the backfield, which would make the offense potentially even more dynamic.

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Cowboys cut Lucky Whitehead, whose agent says wasn’t in Va. at time of supposed arrest

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The Cowboys cut Lucky Whitehead, even though the receiver’s agent said Whitehead wasn’t in Virginia at the time of his supposed arrest.

Whitehead’s agent, Dave Rich, showed NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport flight records that have Whitehead flying to Dulles at 7:20 a.m. on June 22, six hours after Whitehead supposedly was arrested in Prince William County, Va.

Whitehead was accused of taking less than $200 worth of items from a convenience store.

On July 6, Whitehead failed to show for an appearance related to the June 22 arrest, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The court date has been rescheduled for Aug. 10.

As Whitehead was escorted off the practice field Monday by a member of the team’s public relations staff, Whitehead told reporters he didn’t know what they were talking about.

I didn’t even know about that,” Whitehead said, via Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

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Antonio Brown has another message for Le’Veon Bell

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The Steelers don’t need to spend much time trying to persuade running back Le’Veon Bell to sign his franchise tender. Receiver Antonio Brown is doing the heavy lifting for them.

After public comments that followed a private conversation that created the clear impression that Brown wants Bell to accept the pending $12.1 million offer and to be “committed to the cause,” Brown has taken to Twitter with a “let’s go”-style plea for the teammate Brown wants to see at training camp.

The fact that Brown feels compelled to lobby Bell to show up confirms that a holdout is indeed possible. But Brown would be wise to tread lightly here.

The window on a long-term deal for Bell closed last Monday. Unless the Steelers plan to offer Bell more than $12.1 million for 2017 or to promise not to use the franchise tag again in 2018, there’s nothing more the Steelers can do to get him signed. Which means that Brown’s plea, absent a similar message to management aimed at getting them to sweeten the one-year pot, could be interpreted by Bell as an effort to pressure him to accept a franchise tender that, to date, he has decided to reject.

Brown has now gotten a pair of multi-year deals without ever having to play out a contract or operate under the franchise tag. Bell has yet to get any kind of long-term security. Whatever Bell’s plan for enhancing his financial position, Brown’s effort to get Bell to take the offer squeezes him to alter his approach. Perhaps more importantly, Brown’s well-intentioned exercise in teamwork could turn fans already inclined to embrace rookie James Conner against Bell.

So if Brown is going to continue to try to get Bell to show up, at some point he needs to publicly urge the people who have paid Brown millions to offer Brown another $3 million or so more for 2017.

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Patriots place Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch on PUP

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The Patriots placed linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Alan Branch on the physically unable to perform list.

Hightower missed the offseason program with an undisclosed injury. He missed three games last season with injuries and played only one full, 16-game season in his first five seasons.

The Patriots, though, signed Hightower to a four-year extension with more than $17 million guaranteed in the offseason.

Branch did not attend the team’s voluntary offseason program. He returned for the mandatory minicamp last month, but the Patriots held him out of practice.

Branch, 32, signed a two-year deal this offseason that included $3 million in guaranteed money.

The Patriots also placed offensive tackle Andrew Jelks on the non-football injury list.

New England can remove Hightower, Branch and Jelks from the lists at any time.

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Saints bring back Michael Mauti, place four on PUP list

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Linebacker Michael Mauti’s 2016 season with the Saints ended early when he had surgery to treat ulcerative colitis, which he said was the best move for his long-term health and would not stop him from playing in 2017.

Mauti’s attempt to continue his career will come with the Saints. Mauti shared a picture of his contract signing with the team on social media Monday.

Mauti saw most of his action on special teams in eight games last year and all 16 in 2015 after joining the Saints as a free agent. He blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown during a 2015 game against the Falcons.

The Saints also placed four players on the physically unable to perform list. Left tackle Terron Armstead, center Max Unger, guard Senio Kelemete and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe are all eligible to be activated at any point. Armstead is expected to miss a large chunk of the season after having shoulder surgery in June, however.

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John Elway: This is a special place, and the Broncos are home to me

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The Broncos officially announced the signing of John Elway to a new five-year contract through 2021.

“We’re pleased to reach an agreement on a five-year contract with John to continue leading our football operations,” president and CEO Joe Ellis said, via the team press release. “During these last six seasons, John’s clearly established himself as one of the best general managers in all of sports. He’s demonstrated impressive football instincts, a strong business acumen and a consistent ability to build competitive teams.

“There’s no doubt John means a great deal to the Broncos, our fans and the entire community. It was important for us to reach this long-term agreement, and we’re all excited to now turn our full attention toward the 2017 season.”

Elway, entering his seventh season as the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations/General Manager, has overseen a team that has the second-most overall wins (73) in the NFL since 2011. Denver has five AFC West titles and two Super Bowl appearances in that span.

The Broncos say that Elway ranks as the only GM in the NFL in the past six years to acquire future Pro Bowl players through the NFL Draft, street free agency, unrestricted free agency and college free agency.

Elway, who has made Denver home since a 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Broncos, never was leaving. But both sides appear happy to have a long-term deal in place.

“I appreciate the trust and confidence that Joe has shown in me,” Elway said. “[Owner] Pat Bowlen has always put outstanding leadership in place, and I’m grateful for the support Joe gives us to compete for championships each and every year.

“This is a special place, and the Broncos are home to me. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, I’m excited about the future of this team and this organization.”

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When will Cowboys hold misbehaving players “accountable”?

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On Sunday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett addressed the issue of players getting in trouble. And then word emerged on Monday of yet another player getting in trouble.

“There’s a standard that we have here with the Dallas Cowboys — behavior on and off the field and how we’re going to handle those things,” Garrett said, via the team’s official website. “We’re going to hold those players accountable to what those standards are, regardless of what the circumstances were that were involved.”

The words send a clear message. The video and audio have a clear tell. Watch the clip attached to this post; Garrett does the classic hard gulp before saying the word “accountable.” Possibly because he knows damn well that the Cowboys aren’t about to hold anyone accountable.

It’s a point made here a few weeks ago, and nothing has changed. The owner calls the shots, and the owner is willing to tolerate boys being boys in order to put his fingerprints on a trophy earned by a team that he built.

So the coach is toothless when it comes to making an example out of anyone or everyone who crosses the line. The truth is that there is no line, or if there is it’s going to take a lot more than what has happened to date for someone to step over it.

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Report: Greg Olsen won’t hold out

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Panthers tight end Greg Olsen wants a contract that he feels has a better ratio of productivity to compensation and he didn’t rule out holding out of training camp in order to press his case, but it looks like that won’t be how things play out in Charlotte.

Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that Olsen plans to report to the start of camp at Wofford University with the rest of his teammates on Tuesday.

Olsen became the first tight end in league history with three straight seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards when he caught 80 passes for 1,073 yards last season. He’s set to make base salaries of $6.5 million in each of the next two seasons.

Olsen’s push for a new deal has been going on at the same time as linebacker Thomas Davis‘ quest for his own and the way those things were being handled have been cited by some as reasons why the Panthers fired General Manager Dave Gettleman last week. Marty Hurney, who returned to the G.M. job on an interim basis after Gettleman’s firing, was in the job when the Panthers first acquired Olsen in a trade with the Bears.

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Saints WR Willie Snead signs tender

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Saints receiver Willie Snead already said he would report to training camp with his teammates. He still wants a long-term deal, but Snead signed the exclusive rights free agent offer Monday, protecting him while he practices.

Snead is scheduled to make $615,000.

Snead has 141 catches for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns the past two seasons and expects to play a big role in the offense again this year. Minus a multi-year deal, Snead will become a restricted free agent in 2018.

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Panthers fire longtime pro personnel director Mark Koncz

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The Panthers fired longtime pro personnel director Mark Koncz, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

Former General Manager Dave Gettleman promoted Koncz to director of player personnel in May. A week after the Panthers fired Gettleman and a day before players report to training camp, interim GM Marty Hurney relieved Koncz of his duties.

Koncz, 50, has served as the team’s pro scouting director since 2000, but his employment with the team goes back to the start of the franchise. Koncz beganas an intern in the ticket office in 1994 before moving to football operations a year later. He joined the pro scouting department in 1998.

The Panthers have had turnover this offseason, with former president Danny Morrison leaving in February, assistant GM Brandon Beane departing in May to become GM in Buffalo and Gettleman’s firing last week.

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Mark Murphy says Pro Bowl may stay in Orlando

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On the same day the Packers CEO Mark Murphy made a roundabout guarantee about his team’s possible appearance in the Super Bowl, he made another attention-grabbing remark about the future of the game that comes before it.

Murphy said during the annual meeting of Packers shareholders that the Pro Bowl could remain in Orlando for good.

“It could be a permanent home for the Pro Bowl,” Murphy said, via SportsBusiness Daily.

The success of the game in Orlando will surely be a factor, even if the players strongly prefer the trip to Hawaii. Of course, the continued presence of the game in Orlando could get the powers-that-be in Hawaii to come up with a better deal. Other communities that would like to host the game could do the same.

So, basically, it’s safe to say the Pro Bowl will never have a permanent home. Permanence sacrifices leverage, and the NFL loves its leverage.

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John Elway signs contract extension

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John Elway will continue to run the Broncos for years to come.

Elway, the Hall of Famer who led the Broncos to two titles as a quarterback before coming back to run the front office and leading them to another championship, has signed a contract extension.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, it’s a five-year contract that keeps him in Denver through the 2021 season.

Although teams rarely if ever release financial details of their executives’ contracts, Elway is surely one of the highest-paid personnel people in the NFL. He has done solid work after taking over the front office, and the Broncos’ ownership loves having the biggest star player in franchise history running the franchise.

Elway’s contract situation had begun to bubble up as an issue facing the Broncos heading into 2017, but now it’s done, and Elway and the Broncos can turn their focus to the start of training camp.

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Broncos place Shaquil Barrett, Jake Butt, Chad Kelly on NFI list

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Two of the Broncos’ eight draft picks will open their first NFL training camp on the non-football injury list.

The Broncos announced on Monday that tight end Jake Butt and quarterback Chad Kelly will both be on the list. Butt, a fifth-round pick, tore his ACL in Michigan’s Orange Bowl loss to Florida State last year. Kelly also tore his ACL last year and then had right wrist surgery shortly before the draft.

Denver also placed linebacker Shaquil Barrett on the NFI list. He hurt his hip while working out on his own in May and word at the time was that he would be out of action for several months.

Nose tackle Kyle Peko is on the physically unable to prepare list after breaking his foot this offseason and linebacker Josh Banderas was waived to round out the Broncos’ moves.

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Eagles sign Canadian rugby player Adam Zaruba

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The Eagles signed a tight end on Monday who will need to brush up on more than just his playbook in order to make the team this summer.

Adam Zaruba is trying to make the jump from a spot on Canada’s national rugby sevens team to a place in the NFL. Zaruba has not played football since he was in high school, but jumped at the chance to try for a switch when it was offered in May and spent the last couple of months working out ahead of a tryout with the Eagles over the weekend.

“It will be a really awesome thing for me as an athlete,” Zaruba said of his chance to try out, via The Province. “The window here is very small.”

At 6’5″ and 265 pounds, Zaruba has plenty of size and his rugby background speaks to his athletic ability. Those traits won’t make up for the lack of experience, but they should be Zaruba’s biggest pluses as he tries to make a big leap.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 3: Green Bay Packers

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Seven years ago, the Packers barely made it to the playoffs. And then they went on the road for three straight playoff games, made it to the Super Bowl, and won the whole damn thing. Since then, the Packers rarely have had to struggle to get to the postseason, but they’ve been unable to get back to the Super Bowl.

In 2011, a franchise-best 15-1 record evaporated into a one-and-done Lambeau loss to the Giants. In 2012, another division title and a wild-card win led to a shredding in San Francisco by a quarterback now deemed to be unfit to play. The next year resulted in another division title (despite an 8-7-1) record and another home loss, this time to the same team, and the same currently-unemployed quarterback.

The Packers went 12-4 in 2014, culminating in a defeat-snatched-from-victory’s-jaws NFC title game loss in Seattle. The next year, a wild-card berth resulted in an overtime loss in a division-round game for the ages in Arizona. Last year, the Packers caught fire after a 4-6 start and made it to the NFC title game again, running out of steam in Atlanta.

This year, they again sit near the top of the stack as the season approaches. And their CEO believes that, after two NFC title-game appearances in the last three years, this time they’ll punch through, making the short trip across the border and playing for their fifth Super Bowl trophy in the Vikings’ living room. They’ll definitely get at least close. Whether they can finish the job is another issue entirely.

Biggest positive change: Ted Thompson hasn’t signed many free agents over the years, but when tight end Jared Cook made a cash grab, Thompson said sayonara and signed Martellus Bennett. While Bennett may not make a spectacular postseason catch that takes out the Cowboys in Dallas, Bennett likely will be an upgrade, especially since Bennett has had the better overall career. With Cook’s performance perhaps finally persuading Thompson of the value of having a competent pass-catching tight end (something they haven’t had since Jermichael Finley), Bennett becomes the guy who maybe can make the difference for an offense that is loaded at plenty of other positions, primarily the one responsible for throwing the football to guys like Bennett.

Biggest negative change: Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang jumped to the Lions in free agency, months after the Packers dumped guard Josh Sitton and he landed with the Bears. While some would say interior linemen are fungible, it’s not easy to let quality guys like Lang and Sitton (and center JC Tretter) leave and hope that the next man up will help keep the quarterback from being the next man down.

Coaching thermometer: Who the hell knows? The standard for Mike McCarthy doesn’t seem to be the same as it is elsewhere, where a single owner can decide in any given year (or on any given day) that the coach isn’t getting the most out of the roster. In Green Bay, it’s different. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether the individual owner would make good or bad decisions about keeping or changing coaches.

But here’s one thing that’s hard to dispute. A traditional owner likely would have pushed Thompson to push McCarthy to push defensive coordinator Dom Capers out the door. And many would say that the consistent failure of the defense to properly complement Rodgers and the offense justifies a new approach during however many years Rodgers has left.

We’d like to have a beer with . . . Mike Daniels. The underrated and outspoken interior defensive lineman would hopefully loosen up and share his insights on what’s going right and what’s going wrong with a Packers team that always gets close but can’t get over the top. Is Rodgers a good leader? Where could he do better?

When Rodgers said last year that the team lacked energy on the sideline and then said there needs to be a healthy fear of getting cut, did the players see that as a shot at McCarthy?

Who isn’t carrying his weight? Is Capers the problem?

It may take more than a few beers to get to the bottom of this one. But we’d sure love to try. Even if I’d be passed out before Daniels begins baring his soul.

How they could prove us wrong: If Bennett and Rodgers simply don’t mix (and their personalities are clearly different), that could create a layer of dysfunction that could make it hard to get through what has been an annual stretch of underachievement and adversity. And if running back Ty Montgomery can’t take the week-in, week-out   pounding now that he has made the full-time switch from receiver, they may regret letting Eddie Lacy walk — and not making a run at Adrian Peterson. Chances are, though, that they’ll still find a way to still be standing when the field is cut to eight or four. The question remains whether they can keep it together when the field gets cut to two.

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Chiefs DL Chris Jones will start on PUP after knee surgery

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Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, according to Chiefs head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star.

Jones, who made 11 starts and had 28 tackles and two sacks last season, had arthroscopic knee surgery July 12.

Tight end Travis Kelce, who had offseason shoulder surgery, and linebacker Derrick Johnson, who ruptured his left Achilles tendon last December, will not have to go on the PUP list. Burkholder said Johnson can do a “good bit” already.

Offensive guard Parker Ehinger, who tore an ACL last November, and linebacker Dadi Nicolas, who ruptured his patellar tendon in January, both will start camp on PUP.

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