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Week 13 Friday 10-pack

Developers of buildings with more than 13 floors develop triskaidekaphobia when it’s time to apply numbers.  The NFL has no such qualms when it comes to the football season.

So welcome, Week 13.  Unleash your bad-luck powers on as many teams as possible.

I’ll be back in a bit.  I’m trying to fit an open umbrella under the stepladder in my office.

1.  Is Big Ben the drama queen back?

Something strange happened on Thursday.  Not long after a report emerged that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a broken bone in his foot, the Steelers issued a statement explaining that he doesn’t.

The disclosure from the team made no sense, especially since it wasn’t required by league rules.  The Steelers must say only whether Roethlisberger practiced on Thursday, and if so whether he fully participated or participated on a limited basis in the session.

So why would the Steelers feel compelled to contradict the published report?

Rewind to January 2005.  After an AFC title-game loss to the Patriots, Roethlisberger claimed that he played with broken toes.  Coach Bill Cowher contradicted him publicly.

And thus was born the legend of Big Ben, drama queen.

Roethlisberger has at times since then embellished an injury or two, and regardless of whether Roethlisberger was the source of the report, the Steelers felt compelled to contradict it.

Of course, there’s also a chance that the Steelers are simply trying to reduce the size of the bull’s-eye on Ben’s foot — regardless of whether he’s exaggerating his condition or not.

2.  It’s finger-pointin’ time again.

When the Chiefs host the Broncos on Sunday, all eyes will be focused on the two head coaches, who punctuated their Week 10 meeting with Kansas City coach Todd Haley sticking a finger in the face of Denver coach Josh McDaniels after a 20-point win by the Broncos.

Haley has tried to downplay the matter, but it’s obvious that he’s not a big McDaniels fan.  (Then again, who is?)  Though some have speculated in the wake of Spygate II that Haley was miffed with conduct that possibly falls within the realm of cheating, it’s generally accepted in league circles that Haley didn’t appreciate the perception that the Broncos were running up the score.

With Denver reeling and the Chiefs peaking, it’ll be interesting to see whether Haley calls off the dogs — and if not whether McDaniels will show an index finger, or possibly a different finger altogether, to Haley.

3.  Beware the Bills.

Vikings fans likely are thinking that their underachieving team will win their second straight game for the first time since November 2009.  Given that the Bills bring a 2-9 record to town makes it tempting to come to that conclusion.

But let’s look at this more closely.  The Bills have pushed three likely playoff teams (the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers) to overtime, and Buffalo lost to the Bears by only three points.  The Vikings, after back-to-back bombs against two NFC North rivals, barely beat the Redskins.

With running back Adrian Peterson hobbled and the Minnesota defense not quite as potent as it has been in past seasons, the Bills could give the Vikings fits, just like Buffalo did the last time they came to the Metrodome in 2002, winning 45-39 in overtime.

4.  Could Packers pull off the Trifecta?

After the Packers beat the Cowboys by 38, Dallas fired coach Wade Phillips.  Seven days later, the Packers beat the Vikings by 28, and Minnesota fired coach Brad Childress.

This week, the Packers host the 49ers.  With Green Bay coming off a disappointing loss to the Falcons, the Pack could be ready to smack around the 4-7 49ers.

If the Packers pummel San Fran, could Niners coach Mike Singletary be the next one to go?  It’s unlikely that it’ll happen on Monday, but Singletary likely won’t sleep very well if he’s on the wrong end of a blowout at Lambeau.

5.  Pats have perfect offense for the Jets.

When the Patriots sent Randy Moss packing in October, plenty of people wondered whether coach Bill Belichick had lost his mind.

Six wins in seven games later, we should all be so crazy.

And so instead of seeing Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis match up with and thus shut down singlehandedly the most potent threat in the Pats’ passing game, New England has diluted its receiving corps, scattering a smattering of players on any given snap who are capable of getting open and catching the ball.

What better way to neutralize a defender who is capable of handling on his own a wideout who commands double coverage than to have him cover a guy who doesn’t?

So with the Jets capable of sending pressure from anywhere and everywhere, while Revis shuts down the No. 1 wideout, the Pats have crafted a system that distributes the ball anywhere and everywhere while happily marooning one guy on each play on Revis Island.

6.  What a difference a year makes.

Last year, when the Cardinals hosted the Rams in December, Kurt Warner’s then-current team had nine wins — and his first-former team had one.

This year, the Rams have five and the Cards have three.  More importantly, the Rams finally have found the long-term heir to Warner, while the Cardinals bumble from first-round bust to unwanted veteran to undrafted rookie who has a long way to go to become worthy of washing Warner’s dancing shoes.

And it’s all happened in only one year.

On one hand, it shows that, no matter how dark things get in a given year for a given team, fortunes quickly can change.  On the other hand, it demonstrates how quickly a “good” team can disintegrate.

7.  Prime-time games have big-time implications.

On the surface, the Monday night game between the Jets and the Patriots looks to be the biggest game of the year.  But the Sunday night contest between the Steelers and Ravens has identical implications.

The winner of each game will be on track to earn a bye.  The losers will slide into the wild-card mix, potentially forcing them to go on the road in order to work their way to the Super Bowl.

The gap will be greater if the Jets and Ravens win, since the one-game leads over the Pats and Steelers, respectively, would essentially be two games, due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.  But even if the Patriots and Steelers win, they’ll each hold a one-game lead with four to play.

Though these playoff-atmosphere games won’t have the same win-or-else stakes, the outcomes will have a lot to do with the degree of difficulty that the teams will experience come January.

8.  Bucs can bunch up the NFC field.

Bucs apologists argue that Tampa’s football franchise hasn’t beaten a playoff-caliber team because they’ll played only four of them.  They get another chance this week, when the 9-2 Falcons come to town.

And the Bucs need to win the game not just to show that they can beat a playoff team.  With four losses and five games to play, the Bucs may not get to the playoffs without beating the Falcons now or the Saints in Week 17.

In past years, 9-7 often would be enough enough to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC.  This year, with a glut of good teams at the top of the conferences, six losses could be one too many.

And if the Buccaneers can deliver to the Falcons their first 2010 loss outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the door would swing open for the Saints to pull even with Atlanta at the top of the NFC South, setting the stage for a high-stakes chase in the final four weeks.

9.  Still time for losers?

Since 1990, 14 teams with a losing record after 11 games have made it to the playoffs.  Most recently, the 2009 Jets started 5-6, finished 9-7, and made it to the AFC title game.

Of the teams that pulled it off, all but two were 5-6; the others were 4-7.  This year, nine teams entered Week 13 at 5-6 or 4-7.  (The Texans already have fallen to 5-7.)  At least one of the nine definitely will make the playoffs, because 5-6 currently represents the best record in the NFC West.

But here’s the thing.  The top-heavy nature of each conference, with wild-card spots currently held by teams in the AFC with records of 9-2 and 8-3 and in the NFC with records of 8-3 and 7-4, will make it even harder for the 5-6 and 4-7 teams to climb out of their current holes.  They’ll need someone like the 8-3 Steelers or 7-4 Giants to collapse down the stretch to have a shot.  (Actually, in the NFC, the losing teams need two of the three 7-4 teams to fall apart in order to open up the No. 6 seed.)

Bottom line?  Though the NFL has mastered the art of manufacturing hope from January through December, there currently may not be much hope to go around for teams that have been unable to win at least six of their first 11 games.

10.  AFC West could send a pair to the postseason.

For most of the season, most have assumed that the AFC West will send only one team to the playoffs.

And while it’s still likely that only the champion of the division will get a seat at the playoff table, there’s a growing chance that both the Chiefs and the Chargers will qualify.

The 6-5 Chargers have three straight games at home, including a Week 14 showdown against the Chiefs.  They next hit the road for Cincinnati and Denver.

The 7-4 Chiefs host the Broncos, Titans, and Raiders, wrapped around trips to San Diego and St. Louis.  Though K.C.’s path isn’t as easy as it once appeared, both could end up 10-6 or 11-5.  And if the losers of this weekend’s prime-time games commence a free-fall (like the Jets did two years ago when 8-3 became 9-7), both of the top two teams in the West could win berths in the playoffs.

We recommend wagering nothing of value on the proposition, unless you are getting really, really good odds.

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Jim Caldwell isn’t interested in Kaepernick, but believes in him

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The Lions don’t have a veteran backup to quarterback Matthew Stafford. They’re nevertheless not interested in adding Colin Kaepernick.

Via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, coach Jim Caldwell recently said that Kaepernick won’t be pursued by the team.

“[W]e have the guys that we want at this point in time,” Caldwell said.

Who they have other than Stafford is 2016 sixth-rounder Jake Rudock and 2017 sixth-rounder Brad Kaaya. That doesn’t mean Stafford believes Kaepernick to be unable to play well.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’s capable,” Caldwell said. “I was on the other side of the field [with the Ravens]. Actually, I was in the press box, but nevertheless when he was playing for the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That was only a couple years ago. So, I don’t think that his skill level has diminished to the point where he would be completely ineffective in this league, so we’ll see.”

If Stafford gets injured, Caldwell will be facing more pointed questions about why the team doesn’t have a quarterback with playing experience, whether it’s Kaepernick or someone else. For now, the “someone else” list is down to the likes of Robert Griffin III, Christian Ponder, Shaun Hill, Luke McCown, and Dan Orlovsky.

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Former Packers president dies at 98

Judge Robert J. Parins, a former Packers president credited with transforming the franchise after 20 years of struggles, has died. He was 98.

Upon his retirement, Judge Parins pushed for the hiring of Bob Harlan to take over the team. It marked a dramatic shift in the 66-year practice of entrusting the publicly-owned company to a local civic leader. Under Harlan, the franchise became a perennial contender, winning a pair of Super Bowls and appearing in another.

That was one of the great things he did,” Jack Koeppler, a deceased member of the Packers’ board of directors, said in 2006, via Cliff Christl of Packers.com. “It’s too big a business.”

Judge Parins also was responsible for removing full authority over the football operations from the head coach, instituting the current strong-G.M. arrangement.

Judge Parins is survived by his wife of 76 years, five children, 11 grandchildren, and 27 great-grandchildren. We extend our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Judge Parins, and to the Packers organization.

[Photo credit: Packers.com]

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Jalen Robinette faces “non-criminal disciplinary proceeding” at Air Force Academy

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The mystery regarding NFL hopeful Jalen Robinette’s omission from graduation at Air Force Academy is a bit closer to being resolved. But not by much.

Via the Denver Post, Robinette’s football agency has disclosed that Robinette “is currently awaiting a determination on a non-criminal disciplinary proceeding.”

“Due to privacy-related concerns, we are unable to comment on the circumstances,” the Air Force Academy said in a statement issued to the Post. “We can say that the circumstances do not involve any allegations of criminal wrongdoing and are unrelated to cadet Robinette’s professional football pursuits.”

Since the NFL draft, the unselected Robinette participated in rookie minicamps with the Bills and Patriots. He did not receive a job offer from either team.

The resolution to his status with the Air Force potentially could allow him to pursue professional football unfettered by the new requirement that at least two years of active duty be served. If Robinette is deemed ineligible to graduate or be commissioned as an officer in the Air Force, he could be given the option to reimburse the government for his education (valued at more than $400,000) and exit the military or enlist as a non-officer.

Ultimately, the final decision on Robinette’s graduation and commissioning will be made by the Air Force. After that, more will be known about whether Robinette will be permitted to play pro football.

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Spike Lee is 0-for-1 as NFL reporter

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Spike Lee, Rob Lowe. Rob, Spike. (It’s not quite as poetic as the time David Letterman introduced Oprah and Uma.)

Five years after Rob Lowe incorrectly “reported” that Peyton Manning would retire, Spike Lee has “incorrectly” reported that the Seahawks have signed Colin Kaepernick.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Seahawks have not signed Kaepernick.

Lee has deleted the Instagram post that makes the claim. The tweet is still up.

Just as Lowe eventually was right (four years later), Lee could eventually be right, too. Kaepernick recently visited the Seahawks, and the Seahawks are the only team that has brought him to town in more than two months since he became a free agent.

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Vikings are looking for a kick returner

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The Vikings have had great kickoff returners for most of the last decade, with first-round receiver yielding to first-round receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Now, for the first time since Harvin arrived, it’s unclear who will be returning kickoffs for the Vikings.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some very talented returners who have played for us here in Minnesota,” special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer recently told the team’s official website. “I think when you have a good returner, that makes everyone else around them better. They listen more attentively during the meetings, they study harder.”

The Vikings currently may have a good kickoff returner. They just don’t know who it is.

“At the end of the day, there’s been a lot of talented guys that have been here and they’re fun to coach, but we’re going to find someone that’s a pretty special kickoff returner,” Priefer said.

The candidates include fifth-round receiver Rodney Adams and seventh-round receiver Stacy Coley, along with veteran punt returner Marcus Sherels (pictured).

“Maybe it’s by committee,” Priefer said. “We have several candidates and I’m excited about that. We drafted two guys who could do it. We’ve got guys on the roster that want to do it.”

Every team has guys on the roster that want to do it. The question is whether they can catch the ball, make a good decision as to whether to bring it out of the end zone (where applicable), gain enough yardage to give the offense the boost it needs, and not cough the thing up.

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Michael Vick plans to sign a one-day contract, retire as a Falcon

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It’s been a decade since Michael Vick went from a Falcons superstar to a convicted felon, and after his release from prison he’s been an Eagle, a Jet and a Steeler. But he’ll be remembered for his greatness in Atlanta, and that’s where he wants his career to come to an official end.

Vick told CBS Radio in Atlanta that he has talked with the Falcons about signing a one-day contract and officially retiring with the team that chose him first overall in the 2001 NFL draft.

Hopefully soon,” said Vick.

Vick hasn’t actually officially retired yet, but he said he has now turned his attention to working with young people. He regularly makes appearances at schools and youth organizations to urge children not to make the kinds of decisions that he made, which landed him in prison.

“I think I got my fill,” said Vick. “Working with the kids allows me to decompress.”

Although Vick’s exit from Atlanta was ugly, 10 years later a one-day return to Atlanta would be a day that many Falcons fans would celebrate.

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William Gay is still at corner for the Steelers

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32-year-old cornerback William Gay could be moved to safety or, possibly, released by the Steelers. As noted by Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, neither has happened — yet.

Gay continues to be the slot corner for the Steelers, with Artie Burns on the outside. That could change in time, based on the development of Senquez Golson and/or rookie Cameron Sutton.

Gay participated in 80.7 percent of the snaps in 2016 for a team that won the division and nearly got to the Super Bowl. He spent five years with the Steelers (winning Super Bowl XLIII) and one with the Cardinals before returning to Pittsburgh in 2013.

Last year, Gay went from starter to slot corner. He’s due to earn $2 million this year and $1.75 million in 2018.

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Saturday one-liners

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Cowboys RB Alfred Morris is still driving the 1991 Mazda that he bought for $2. (Take that, Vanny Woodhead.)

Is Cris Carter a mentor or an enabler for Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.?

Eagles DE Brandon Graham is ready to mentor rookie Derek Barnett.

WR Terrelle Pryor Sr. is fitting in nicely in Washington.

The Bears are still searching for their next Devin Hester.

Lions offensive players are getting more comfortable playing Cooterball.

Former Packers TE Mitchell Henry, 24, is battling leukemia.

The Vikings’ top two draft picks remain unsigned due in part to a disagreement over contract language.

The 2017 rookie class in Atlanta has graduated from Falcons University.

The father of Panthers rookie FB Alex Armah hoped Carolina would draft his son, and they did.

The Saints’ cornerbacks are “ready to roll.” (Which is better than being ready to be rolled, again.)

Here are the top 10 photos to come from the first week of Buccaneers OTAs.

Cardinals WR Jaron Brown wants to reward the team for its faith in him.

Commissioner Roger Goodell will speak at a Rams event on June 15; tickets are $550 or $5,000 for a table of 10.

The late Cortez Kennedy had his best season after switching his Seahawks number from 96 to 99 in honor of Jerome Brown.

49ers LB Navorro Bowman is back at full strength and ready to compete in the team’s new defense.

Bills S Joe Powell’s quest to make the roster was aided by a good decision in Tuesday’s OTA practice.

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and WR DeVante Parker are developing great chemistry.

Patriots LB Jonathan Freeny continues to work his way back from a season largely lost to injury.

New Jets OT Kelvin Beachum isn’t healthy enough to participate in OTAs.

Steelers rookie LB T.J. Watt has been taking first-team reps at ROLB, but James Harrison continues to own that spot.

Browns QB DeShone Kizer will spend time between OTAs and training camp working with Tom House, at the suggestion of coach Hue Jackson.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants the offensive line to “prove a lot of people wrong.”

The Bengals are breaking in some new linebackers.

Texans DE J.J. Watt approves of the promotion of Mike Vrabel to defensive coordinator.

Former Colts DT Cory Redding allegedly was swindled out of $4.5 million.

Titans WR Rishard Matthews has changed his mind about Colin Kaepernick.

Jaguars WR Allen Hurns hopes to rebound from a season plagued by drops and injuries.

Jon Gruden claims he had no influence over former colleague and current Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s decision to trade up and draft QB Patrick Mahomes.

Raiders WR Amari Cooper is keenly aware of the major dip in production in the second half of each of his first two NFL seasons.

Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy says that rookie receivers Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie are “swimming” in their effort to pick up the offense. (Which is always better than “sinking.”)

Chris McCain could be the answer for the Chargers at the LEO position in Gus Bradley’s defense.

 

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Cowboys plan “significant” role for Ryan Switzer

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The Cowboys drafted a slot receiver when they already have a slot receiver. But rookie Ryan Switzer won’t simply be the backup to Cole Beasley.

Via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys plan to put both players on the field at the same time.

“He’s a classic slot receiver,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, via Machota. “He has a similar game [to Beasley], but he has his own things. We would really like those two guys to be able to complement each other and run real similar route trees. Certainly a huge bonus with him is his ability to be a returner in our special teams.”

With Beasley taking care of a sore hamstring, Switzer has been getting first-team reps in the slot.

“His role is significant,” Lineman said. “You can see right now he’s getting reps that we wouldn’t have . . . if he wasn’t here. He complements Beasley and also gives us some big-time needed depth at that position.”

Switzer also has big-time skill. Earlier this week, he made a one-handed catch at the sideline and got both feet in before stepping out.

It makes sense to have two slot receivers, beyond depth concerns. There are two slots, and the notion of having Beasley on the inside of one wideout and Switzer on the inside of the other creates fascinating possibilities for the offense, regardless of whether Ezekiel Elliott is lined up in the backfield or Jason Witten is playing tight end.

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Lions add Matt Asiata to running back depth chart

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A month after passing on running backs in the draft, the Lions have decided to add one in free agency.

Former Vikings running back Matt Asiata has agreed to terms with the Lions, who worked him out early this month.

“Anybody knows who has seen him work, he’s a good special-teamer,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Asiata. “He’s tough. He’s a very good pass protector and he carries the ball. He runs behind his pads. He’s always been a very, very effective player in this league.”

Asiata is, along with John Kuhn, one of only two running backs in the NFL who has averaged less than four yards a carry in each of the last five seasons. So it’s safe to say the Lions won’t be counting on Asiata to break many long runs. But as a short yardage back and special teams contributor he may be able to help the Lions. He joins a depth chart in Detroit that also includes Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington.

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OBJ drops a hint as to his mindset, otherwise remains silent

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Let me begin by saying this: Odell Beckham Jr. has every right to not show up for voluntary workouts. The problem at this point isn’t his absence but his failure to provide any explanation for it.

Often, players stay away in order to exert leverage, with the goal of getting a new contract. Also, and as PFT has recently pointed out, if all players were to band together and boycott voluntary workouts, they’d quickly get a major concession from the league in order to make those mandatory-as-a-practical matter practices truly mandatory. The problem as it relates to Beckham’s decision to treat voluntary-in-name-only workouts as optional is that he has provided no information, directly or via leaks from his representatives to the media, as to the reason(s) for his absence.

Regardless of whether no player must be present, Beckham’s teammates are. As they do things they’d probably prefer not to do but feel like they should do in order to properly prepare for the coming season, it would be useful to at least know why one of their highest-profile teammates believes he doesn’t need to join them. (If any of them had access to Beckham’s reasoning and wanted to knock down the criticism of Beckham, those teammates would be the ones sharing with the public the reason(s) for Beckham’s absence.)

Instead, Beckham has built a mystery, opting to work out with people like Johnny Manziel and Cris Carter in the very same week that OTAs began. The obvious reaction to the timing is why wait until the very week when OTAs began to work out with Manziel and Carter?

Likewise, and as noted here on Friday, Beckham’s decision to engage in workouts and drills away from the team puts his 2017 salary and his fifth-year guaranteed-only-for-an-injury-happening-at-work option a risk. As a result, more than $10 million is riding on Beckham not suffering, for example, a Teddy Bridgewater-style catastrophic knee injury while not on Giants property.

And yet the silence from Beckham as to the reason(s) for his absence continues. Most recently, Beckham has added a twist of defiance and hinted at his mindset, retweeting via his Twitter page messages attacking those who have criticized Beckham for not showing up.

Consider these tweets from Roland Martin that were repeated by Beckham: (1) “If the workouts are VOLUNTARY, then he doesn’t have to show up“; (2) “I’m sick of folks acting like star athletes must always do what a coach asks“; and (3) “When training camp is mandatory, then show up.”

At a time when the Giants have made it clear that they expect Beckham to mature, it’s fair to ask whether Beckham is handling his business in a mature way. Yes, he has every right to stay away. But his stubborn silence has created a vacuum for hot takes, assorted speculation, and ultimately another distraction.

If Beckham were to simply announce his plans and, if he doesn’t plan to show up until the workouts become mandatory, some tangible reason other than “it’s voluntary,” the cottage industry arising from trying to figure out where he is and what he’s doing and why he’s not with the team and whether he’s going to join his teammates will grow. As will the questions for his coach and teammates who are left to explain that which Beckham, for whatever reason, won’t.

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Gronk is “full-go” at OTAs

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With so much time spent this week focusing on players not participating in OTAs, one of the best players in the NFL quietly made a major impact in his return to offseason workouts.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, fresh from signing a new deal that gives him the chance to make up to $5.5 million in extra cash for 2017 with no quo for the quid and less than six months removed from back surgery, was “full-go” during a Thursday workout in the rain, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald.

“He looks like Gronk,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, via Guregian.

Coach Bill Belichick was more circumspect (shocker). “I mean, we’ll see how it goes,” Belichick told reporters regarding Gronkowski. “We’ve only practiced a couple days. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Gronkowski also took no drills off, participating in everything the team did. So he’s currently healthy. The real question is whether he can stay healthy.

Gronk has up to $5.5 million riding on it, along with a desire to have a direct hand in achieving what would be the third large ring he places on it.

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Cris Carter explains OBJ’s poor performance in playoffs

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As it turns out, Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter is serving as something more than a mentor for Odell Beckham Jr. Carter also is acting as a mouthpiece, of sorts.

In his comments to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News regarding Carter’s new role, Carter provides an explanation for Beckham’s subpar-by-far performance in a playoff loss to the Packers. Many believe that Beckham was trying too hard to silence critics who questioned his decision to take a day-off trip to Miami for a boat party as the game approached. Carter says that’s not the case.

“He realized he was too hyped for the game and put too much pressure on himself after he dropped the first pass,” Carter said. “That created anxiety. He didn’t play well. He thought he was going to have a great game against Green Bay and destroy them. He tried to do too much after the first drop and that’s when the anxiety came. . . . What about all the [Giants] who didn’t go to Miami and played like horse manure?”

So, to summarize, Beckham has opted to hang out and/or work out with Carter, Johnny Manziel, and Iggy Azalea in lieu of being with his teammates for the first three days of OTAs, Beckham has provided no explanation for his absence, and Beckham’s new mentor has thrown various teammates under the bus for playing “like horse manure” in the postseason.

Will anyone be surprised if the next step is a leak from a source close to Beckham that the player would like to be traded to a new team?

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Despite disappointing rookie year, Cardinals high on Robert Nkemdiche

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Robert Nkemdiche, the defensive tackle who was the Cardinals’ 2016 first-round draft pick, had a disappointing rookie season: He played in just five games and recorded just one tackle as coach Bruce Arians questioned his work ethic and maturity.

But 2017 is looking different. Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said Nkemdiche is looking good in offseason workouts and seems ready to bounce back and show the talent that made him a first-round pick.

I’ve been happy with him,” Buckner added. “I never got down on him. I didn’t expect him to come in and do all that dominating, because I knew the position. It takes time. It takes some guys even longer. He is starting to come around. He’s in great shape. He’s fully back from the ankle. You see the natural ability take over. Now it’s all about Robert.”

Nkemdiche says he didn’t grow frustrated by the coaches’ criticism last year.

“Frustrated means that you’re not aware of the lesson you are being taught,” Nkemdiche said. “I wasn’t frustrated. Of course I think things could have gone differently, but they didn’t. That’s what this world set up for me. Last year wasn’t my year to be ready. So I took a step back, learned from it, and got a better understanding about how to be a professional football player.”

This year, Nkemdiche sounds ready to have the kind of season that won’t leave anyone questioning his work ethic or maturity.

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Saints taking it slow with Hau’oli Kikaha’s third ACL tear

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Saints linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha is a talented pass rusher who showed promise as a rookie when the Saints drafted him in the second round in 2015. But he has bad knees, and for now getting his knees healthy is his highest offseason priority.

Kikaha tore his ACL during offseason workouts a year ago, and he also tore his ACL twice in college at Washington. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said they’re holding him out of team drills because they want to make sure he’ll be completely healthy when the season starts.

“He’s doing really well. He’s going through some individual drills, he’s taking part in the walk-through,” Allen said. “I think the training staff, I think we’re going to be smart with him.”

Allen said Kikaha, who had four sacks and four forced fumbles in 2015, was off to a good start in the 2016 offseason when he tore his ACL.

“The key is to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go,” Allen said. “Whatever we have to do to have him full go and ready to go through training camp and the season, I think that’s what the plan will be.”

With Kikaha’s history, it’s fair to wonder how long the Saints can expect him to stay healthy. They at least want him to be healthy when the regular season begins.

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