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Vikings sign Rhys Lloyd

Well, the Minnesota Vikings finally have made some noise in free agency.

Kicker Rhys Lloyd has announced on his Twitter page that he’s a Viking.  Lloyd will be a kickoff specialist in Minnesota, assuming that coach Brad Childress decides to devote roster spots to two kickers.

Lloyd is a restricted free agent who was not tendered by the Panthers.  The Vikings were able to sign him without regard to the “Final Eight Plan,” which applies only to unrestricted free agents.

As the Vikings learned in the NFC title game, having a kicker who can put the ball into the end zone can make a huge difference.  Minnesota kick returner Percy Harvin consistently was forced into taking a touchback — and the Vikings’ inability to do so to start overtime made it easier for the Saints to get in position for the game-winning field goal.

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Jalen Ramsey had knee surgery Tuesday

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 6: Aaron Miller #12 of The Citadel Bulldogs stiff arms Jalen Ramsey #8 of the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaguars first-round pick Jalen Ramsey solicited additional medical opinions this week after suffering a tear to the meniscus in his right knee and the result sent him to the operating room.

The Jaguars announced on Tuesday that Ramsey had surgery on his knee earlier in the day that they termed successful. The team added that the expectation is that Ramsey will be healthy enough to return “by training camp.”

Given the inability to travel back in time and keep Ramsey from getting injured at all, that outcome would represent as good a case for Ramsey and the Jaguars as they could hope for. According to multiple reports, the surgery, which was performed by Dr. James Andrews, involved trimming the meniscus rather than a full repair that would have kept Ramsey off the field for a longer period of time.

While he’ll miss some on-field time in the near future, he’ll get plenty of time to acclimate himself to playing cornerback in the Jacksonville defense.

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NFL passes minor expansion of replay rules

instant-replay-story Getty Images

As expected, NFL owners have made a change to the replay rules. As not expected, the NFL didn’t dramatically change the paradigm, with the list of reviewable plays scrapped in favor only of a list of non-reviewable plays.

Along the way, the owners expanded replay review, slightly, to include certain administrative matters. Items now subject to replay review that weren’t previously subject to replay review are as follows: (1) penalty enforcement; (2) proper down; (3) the spot of a foul; and (4) the status of the game clock.

The list of non-reviewable plays also has been revised to include the following situations: (1) the spot where an airborne ball crosses the sideline; (2) whether a player was blocked into a loose ball; (3) advance by a player after a valid or invalid fair catch signal; (4) whether a player created the impetus that put the ball into an end zone. The quarterback “spike” for the purposes of killing the clock, which previously was on the list of non-reviewable players, has been removed.

Apart from including these items within the formal replay-review system, the replay official and designated members of the league office may now consult with the on-field officials “to provide information on the correct application of playing rules, including appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, proper down, and status of the game clock.”

The new rule otherwise streamlines the replay rules, eliminating plenty of verbiage that arguably was unnecessary to the process of determining what could and couldn’t be reviewed. Also, the order of the relevant rule has been modified, with the list of non-reviewable plays now preceding the list of reviewable plays. (Previously, the reviewable plays came first.)

It’s hardly a major revision to the process. However, there’s one specific facet of the new rule that justifies further attention, in a separate post.

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Bills unveil stricter media policy for practices

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Head Coach Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills works the sideline against the New York Jets during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Every NFL team has policies about what can be reported by media members attending practices and they usually include a ban on mentioning trick plays or exotic formations and guidelines for when players and coaches are available to speak to the media.

As anyone who follows NFL beat reporters on social media is well aware, they normally stop well short of barring reporters from reporting on whether passes are completed during practices and what players are on the field. The Bills would like to change that at their practices this season.

Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News shared the new policy distributed by the Bills on Tuesday which puts things like the identity of players who drop passes, complete passes, throw interceptions, rush the passer, or line up with the first team on a list of things that are “strictly prohibited.”

The Bills are holding a practice on Tuesday and reporters are handling things in different ways. We’ve learned that Manny Lawson and Reggie Ragland are among the first-team linebackers and that Jordan Mills is seeing a lot of time at right tackle. There’s also dispatches like the one below.

Ultimately, it would seem that avid Bills fans who enjoy getting this information will be the ones most affected by shutting down the flow of information from practices as it seems unlikely that future Bills opponents will be changing game plans based on whether Robert Woods is able to hold onto a ball at a May practice session.

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Bubba Smith had CTE

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The list of deceased NFL players officially diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has now reached 90.

Via Ken Belson of the New York Times, the late Bubba Smith has been diagnosed with CTE. Smith, who died in 2011, spent nine years in the NFL. The first overall pick in the 1967 draft, Smith played for the Colts, Raiders, and Oilers.

Smith, who became an actor after his football career ended, had Stage 3 CTE, according to the findings of researchers. The scale consists of four total stages.

Few are surprised to learn that players from the years before the NFL began to regard head trauma seriously had CTE. Much still remains unknown about the condition, however, including the specific symptoms that it causes.

Reports of deceased players having CTE will continue to emerge periodically. The real challenge for the NFL will arise if/when a test for CTE in living patients is developed — and if it detects the disease on a sufficiently widespread basis to impact the supply of willing participants in professional football.

Coincidentally (or not), the National Institutes of Health study over which the league allegedly attempted to exert undue influence relates to detecting CTE in living patients.

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After dumping Brian Hartline, Browns add a receiver

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 03:  Wide receiver David Richards #4 of the Arizona Wildcats during the college football game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Arizona Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Roadrunners 42-32. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

With four draft picks devoted to the receiver position, the Browns decided not to pay veteran Brian Hartline $3 million for 2016. But they still need bodies at the position.

The Browns have announced that the team has added receiver David Richards to the roster.

Signed earlier this month by the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona (and obviously cut), Richards faces a steep uphill climb to make it onto the 53-man roster, especially with 11 other receivers on the team and Josh Gordon potentially returning in August.

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Steelers, Lions to practice together ahead of preseason game

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 17 :  Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions runs for a first down in front of Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 17, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 37-27.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions did not hold joint practices with other teams in Jim Caldwell’s first two years as the team’s head coach, but that will change this summer.

The Lions and Steelers announced that the teams will practice together on August 9 and 10 at Steelers camp at Saint Vincent College before facing off in their preseason opener on Friday, August 12 in Pittsburgh. Joint practices have become popular in recent years as teams have found benefits in varying their practice routine by working against outside competition after weeks of banging heads with teammates.

The Patriots are frequently among the teams holding these sessions, which may explain why the Lions are shifting course from the last two years. They hired General Manager Bob Quinn out of the New England front office this offseason.

It’s the second time that the Steelers are holding workouts with another team under head coach Mike Tomlin. They last did it with the Bills in 2014.

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Roger Goodell will be earning his money on Tuesday

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 2: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY)  In this handout image supplied by Carnival Cruise Lines, film extras surround a huge pinata, which has broken the Guinness Record for the world's largest pinata, on November 2, 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The giant mock donkey measures 60 feet, 4 inches long; 23 feet, 10.5 inches wide and 61 feet, 10.25 inches tall and is filled with 8,000 pounds of candy. A wrecking ball will be used later on Sunday to smash the pinata during a public event. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines via Getty Images) Getty Images

On Monday, a Congressional report slammed the NFL for trying to improperly influence a National Institutes of Health study regarding the possible detection of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in living patients. On Tuesday, the man PFT’s Darin Gantt calls the world’s highest-paid piñata could be spewing candy all over the place.

Whether it happens during his post-meeting press conference or whether it occurs behind closed doors with his bosses, Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to be facing tough questions on Tuesday in Charlotte regarding the conclusion that the league crossed the line by trying to tie a supposedly no-strings-attached donation to the selection of a researcher that the league deemed to be acceptable — and then by yanking $16 million for the study when the league didn’t get its way. Goodell also may be asked to explain to those who pay him why the league didn’t respond to the report more quickly and more aggressively.

For hours on Monday, the league was silent. Which suggests that the NFL didn’t realize the report was coming or wasn’t otherwise prepared to counter the potential determination that the league had engaged in allegedly unsavory behavior. Which could spark some tough questions from owners on Tuesday regarding the league office’s handling of the issue.

It’s still unclear where this specific issue will go. Unlike most other NFL-related controversies, it won’t entail a judge banging a gavel or a jury reading a verdict. But it’s another example of the part-bullying, part-wagon-circling ways of the NFL on issues of head trauma, which will undoubtedly give the opponents of the league even more reason to continue to search for more evidence of the same kind of behavior.

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Report: Dwight Freeney to work out for Bengals

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 and defensive end Frostee Rucker #92 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate after a play during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney went on ESPN recently to market himself to teams that might be looking for a little bit more off the edge this season and said his preference is to join a winning team.

Freeney’s quest for that job will reportedly take him to Cincinnati. Coley Harvey of reports that Freeney will work out for the Bengals this week.

Freeney had a team-high eight sacks and also added three forced fumbles in 11 games for the Cardinals after signing with them during the 2015 season. That production came in a situational role that showed Freeney hasn’t lost much of his ability to get to the quarterback after 14 years in the NFL.

Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are set to start at defensive end in the base 4-3 scheme that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther runs in Cincinnati, but the loss of Wallace Gilberry in free agency opens a role in sub packages that Freeney could fill.

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If Brady deserves punishment, why not the same as for Stickum?

Tom Brady AP

Remember when Buccaneers running back Errict Rhett was caught violating league rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football? You probably don’t, because in that case the NFL didn’t launch a months-long, multimillion-dollar investigation that concluded with Rhett being suspended and the Buccaneers being stripped of draft picks. No, when Rhett was caught putting Stickum on his jersey, the NFL responded by fining him $5,000.

With that decision, the NFL established a clear precedent that when a player commits an equipment violation, there’s a policy in place: He gets fined, and that’s the end of it. So why, when the NFL found that Tom Brady was caught violating the rules by tampering with equipment in an effort to give himself a better grip on the football, did the league have such a drastically different reaction?

That’s a question Ted Olson, the former United States Solicitor General who’s now part of Brady’s legal team, would like to have answered. Olson appeared this morning on PFT Live and pointed out that the Collective Bargaining Agreement already provides for players to get fined if they break a rule related to equipment. If the NFL thinks Brady broke an equipment rule, the punishment should have been a fine, not a four-game suspension.

“There’s a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with respect to equipment violations, and that’s what Brady is accused of,” Olson said. “We feel — and the evidence is very strong — that Tom Brady did not do anything wrong with respect to that. But if he did, and that’s what he’s accused of, those provisions are the appropriate provisions to apply. They call for a fine. . . . Instead, this very draconian punishment of a four-game suspension was imposed, instead of referring to the very provisions in the Agreement for people accused of violating the rules with respect to equipment. And the commissioner did not even discuss why he was not turning to that provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

It’s a strong argument on Brady’s side, one that the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit finds persuasive. And although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn’t say so, it’s easy to wonder whether, in hindsight, he had just put this whole thing behind him a year and a half ago by fining Brady and moving on.

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Bills have no immediate plans to look for outside help after injuries

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13:  Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills got two pieces of bad injury news recently with wide receiver Sammy Watkins‘ broken foot and linebacker Shaq Lawson’s shoulder issue.

During an appearance on WGR 550 on Tuesday, General Manager Doug Whaley said that there hasn’t been a firm timetable established for either player’s recovery at this point but did say Lawson is expected to miss at least the early part of the regular season. Whaley said they don’t anticipate Watkins will miss any time come September, but the team will have to prepare for that possibility in the coming months.

For now, neither that preparation nor the effort to replace Lawson will include an addition from outside the organization. Whaley was asked about signing veterans like Dwight Freeney and Anquan Boldin and said that the team wants to see how the players already on the roster fare before considering any move to bring in a new face.

Manny Lawson is expected to be the first man up at linebacker while the unrelated Lawson recovers from shoulder surgery. Greg Salas, Leonard Hankerson and rookie Kolby Listenbee are some of the receivers who will see more time while Watkins is out of the lineup.

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Head of NFL’s head, neck and spine committee slams Congressional report

Capitol Getty Images

The NFL’s lead concussion doctor feels like he’s been blindsided.

In an interview with Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, who co-chairs the league’s head, neck and spine committee, denies he tried to direct funds for a research grant on the NFL’s behalf and said he wasn’t contacted before the Congressional report critical of the league’s role was released.

Ellenbogen said his two phone calls with National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke director Dr. Walter Koroshetz were related to the research protocols, and not to influence whether a $16 million grant went to researchers at Boston University instead.

“We know there are long-term risks of traumatic brain injury, and we need to know the incidence and prevalence,” Ellenbogen said. “Is it one in a million or is it 100 in a million? That was the entire thing that got blown up.

“I never talked to Congress. No one ever asked me my opinion. I had two private conversations with Walter, and this is a lesson I guess: Big Government can crush you if you disagree with them. I’m trying to protect the kids.”

The Democratic staff report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized the NFL, saying they tried to influence the direction of research funding.

The league has denied the allegations in the report, saying they were “deeply committed to continuing to accelerate scientific research and advancements in this critical area, and we stand ready to support additional independent research to that end.”

Ellenbogen, who said he isn’t paid by the NFL, defended his work studying concussions in youth players, and said he hoped for longitudinal studies to provide more information. He’s taken up the cause after a patient of his (Zackery Lystedt) nearly died because of a brain hemorrhage after he re-entered a game following a concussion. He’s advocated for a law that requires youth athletes who suffer concussions to receive written approval from a doctor before returning to play.

“Why would I go and lobby 50 states to pass the Zack Lystedt law if I wanted to hide the [issue]?” Ellenbogen said. “We put protection in place for kids. That’s what I do. I’m there to make sports safer. Sports are good for kids. I want to make it safer. That’s my role. Period.

“I had no delusions [about influencing the grant selection]. But as long as it’s America, I get to express my opinion. And Congress never asked me. That’s pretty interesting – guilty until proven innocent, huh?”

While the report may have been partisan, it’s certainly an embarrassing visual for the league, and something owners will certainly want to learn more about from commissioner Roger Goodell at today’s league meetings in Charlotte.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by  Byron Maxwell #41 of the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills’ right tackle competition will heat up at OTAs.

Former Dolphins RB Larry Csonka was involved in the pitch for bringing a Super Bowl to Miami.

Three undrafted cornerbacks are trying for spots with the Patriots.

Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t be there, but plenty of eyes will be on the quarterbacks at Jets OTAs this week.

WR Breshad Perriman and TE Dennis Pitta will try to prove to the Ravens that they can stay on the field.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of WR Brandon LaFell, “Ever since he walked in it feels like he’s been here the whole time. When we’re calling plays it’s not like he’s second guessing himself. He knows what he’s doing. He’s going to help us a lot this year.”

The arrival of four wide receivers in the draft led to the end of the line for WR Brian Hartline with the Browns.

Steelers LB Arthur Moats believes younger players have a better chance to contribute under defensive coordinator Keith Butler than they did under Dick LeBeau.

Texans LB Whitney Mercilus and G Jeff Allen were college roommates.

Scott Tolzien is getting used to life as a Colts backup quarterback.

Jaguars CB Davon House has high hopes for Jalen Ramsey’s recovery speed.

Habitat for Humanity will hold an event in conjunction with the Titans.

The Broncos spent Monday on the golf course.

Taking stock of the Chiefs cornerbacks.

More offensive balance is a Raiders goal this season.

Chargers LB Joshua Perry is keeping a diary of his first NFL season.

OTAs offer a chance to see how Byron Jones is settling in at safety for the Cowboys.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo is naming drill periods at practice after former players.

S Rodney McLeod is feeling at home in the Eagles defense.

Have the Redskins improved their defense enough?

Bears CB Kevin Peterson hopes to prove the NFL wrong for passing him over in the draft.

Taylor Decker’s spot on the offensive line is one thing to watch at Lions OTAs.

How much will Packers WR Jordy Nelson be doing during OTA practices.

Year Three is shaping up to be a big one for Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater.

Falcons CB Jalen Collins discussed the “mistake” that resulted in a four-game suspension.

The Panthers’ home field is undergoing some maintenance.

How will the pieces fit in the Saints backfield?

The Buccaneers are working on developing options at center.

Cardinals CB Brandon Williams used to be a member of Carl Lewis’ track club.

Sifting through the Rams’ injury questions heading into the final stretch of offseason work.

The 49ers have the makings of a competition at inside linebacker.

Do the Seahawks have their backup quarterback on the roster right now?

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Colts draft bust Bjoern Werner is having more fun in Jacksonville

Bjoern Werner from Florida State Uni holds an Indianapolis Colts jersey after being selected by Colts as the 24th overall pick in NFL Draft in New York Reuters

The Colts spent a first-round draft pick on pass rusher Bjoern Werner in 2013, and he was a huge disappointment, with just 6.5 sacks before he was released this year. But Werner, who has signed with the Jaguars, says he’s now in the right place.

That doesn’t just mean Jacksonville instead of Indianapolis — though it doesn’t hurt to be closer to Florida State, where he played his best football. It mostly means back at defensive end, his college position, rather than outside linebacker, where the Colts tried to play him.

“It’s just reminding me of being back in my college days because the last three years was a lot of standing up,” Werner told the Florida Times-Union. “It makes it so much more fun putting your hand down.”

Although some would say it was dumb of the Colts to put a square peg in a round hole by drafting a defensive end and moving him to outside linebacker, Werner says he takes responsibility for his failure in Indianapolis.

“I wasn’t good enough for the team, I guess,” Werner said. “I had never really experienced that part of the game before. I’m here and now I’m the outside guy looking in. I’m just trying to make the team.”

If he can play defensive end like he did in college, he has a good chance.

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Luke Joeckel out to prove he can still be left tackle of the future

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Jaguars have done everything to suggest to Luke Joeckel this offseason that he’s not their left tackle of the future.

But the former No. 2 overall pick is determined to prove he can still be the left tackle of the present.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Joeckel said he’s fighting to keep the job expected of him since the 2013 NFL Draft, when he was the second player off the board, ostensibly to become a franchise cornerstone.

I’m going in planning on winning the job,” Joeckel said. “I’m competing for a spot – that’s what this program is based on. I have to go out there and improve myself each and every day.”

He’ll have to. Already this offseason, the Jaguars went out and signed former Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum, and yesterday they gave Joeckel snaps at guard as part of the kind of experiments you try in the spring.

But the toughest blow was when they didn’t pick up the 2017 option on his rookie contract, since they didn’t want to guarantee $11.9 million a year from now to a guy they didn’t know what to do with.

“I don’t know if insulted is the right word for it,” he said. “[General manager] Dave [Caldwell] was honest with me the whole time.

“You do take it personally, for sure. But I want to stick in Jacksonville. I like it here. It all comes down to my play and I know that.”

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he could see a difference in Joeckel this spring, saying: “It feels like he’s on a little bit of a mission.”

A mission for a new contract, and to convince the Jaguars he can still be the guy they thought they were getting in 2013.

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J.J. Watt still working on the side as Texans begin OTAs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 04:  J.J. Watt attends the J.J. Watt At Mizzen+Main Pop-Up Shop In San Francisco on February 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Mizzen+Main) Getty Images

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has a cool new logo, and also some free time on his hands.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Watt wasn’t among the Texans practicing at the start of OTAs, as he recovers from offseason groin surgery.

Watt, the defending NFL defensive player of the year after a 17 1/2-sack season which also included a broken hand, worked out on the side while his teammates got started on the field.

He wasn’t the only Texans star on the sidelines, as left tackle Duane Brown continues to recover from a torn quadriceps tendon. Brown has said he’ll be ready by the start of the regular season.

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