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Ten ways to improve the Hall of Fame selection process

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Every year, on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, 44 men and women gather in the host city and determine the members of the next class of Hall of Famers.

Typically, the panel considers 15 modern-era candidates, which systemically is whittled down to five finalists for an up-or-down vote.  The voters also consider two previously-determined finalists determined by the Seniors Committee, which comes up with two players who, for whatever reason, were passed over during past sessions.

In the end, as few as four and as many as seven secure admission to Canton.

Every year, complaints inevitably arise regarding the persons who make it and those who don’t.  At times, those complaints are aimed at the process.  Usually, the debate fizzles by the next day, when the Super Bowl starts.

This year, largely through the efforts of Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com, the criticism has lingered.  The fact that Whitlock’s opinions have sparked a pointed response from two of the voters has served only to give the discussion ongoing life.

Though some of the voters who perhaps feel a threat to their fiefdom may not like it, any effort to consider whether the process can be improved represents a valuable expenditure of time and effort.  In this vein, we now offer 10 specific ideas for improving the procedure for determining who gets in, and who’s left out of, the Hall of Fame.

1.  Expand the panel.

The panel currently consists only of media members, some of whom are unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.  One voter is assigned for each team, even if the voter has no specific jurisdiction over that team.  For example, Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange holds the vote that corresponds to the Falcons, even though he hasn’t focused his efforts on that team for years.  Ditto for David Elfin, the Redskins’ representative who no longer works for a Washington-focused publication.  Others, like Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, had limited experience covering the NFL but was the only guy at the only paper in the town in which the team is headquartered.

That’s not a knock on Joe, whom we know and like.  But, surely, he’ll acknowledge that he had limited experience covering the NFL when he got the assignment.  Before inheriting the Bengals beat from Mark Curnutte in 2009, Reedy previously covered the Jets for two years (1997 and 1998) at the Post-Star in Glen Falls, New York and the Jaguars for one year (1999) at the Gainesville Sun.  Many would contend that three relatively distant years at non-first-tier publications shouldn’t be enough to secure 2.27 percent of the say as to who makes it to Canton.

The panel also includes one representative of the Professional Football Writers Association and 11 at-large media members.  That’s 44 total voters.

The panel, put simply, is too small.  (And, trust me, I’m not saying that because I’m angling for a seat at the table.  I don’t want one, I don’t expect to ever be offered one — especially after writing this article — and I wouldn’t have the time to do the assignment justice unless and until I become unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, and/or semi-retired.)  Because the human beings who comprise the panel are subject to the same human factors that influence us consciously or otherwise, one way to neutralize those realities is to involve more voters.

As explained below, that doesn’t mean more media members.  To enjoy the full faith and confidence of football fans, the process needs more voices, more perspectives, and less power in the hands of any one voter.

Many of the persons who hold these votes take great pride in the assignment.  As a result, they naturally will be inclined to resist any changes that will make the achievement less significant, such as adding significantly more people to the process.

Regardless, significantly more people need to be added to the process.

2.  Overhaul the Board of Trustees.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is governed by a Board of Trustees.  Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  (One name is recognizable but curiously out of place. ESPN’s Todd Blackledge, whose bailiwick is college football, has a seat on the Board of Trustees.)

There is also a cluster of persons with no connection to the NFL, but who hold positions of prominence in and around Canton, Ohio, the geographic location of the Hall of Fame.

With all due respect to those Canton-area businesspeople, it makes no sense for the policies and procedures of the Hall of Fame to be set by folks whose biggest contribution to the process is the ability to show up for meetings without incurring travel expenses.  Though it makes sense for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to seek the support and involvement of the Canton business community, the Board of Trustees should be composed of folks who have a direct role in the game and who have the best interests of the game at all times in mind.

To the extent that there are some Canton-area businesspeople who have a direct role in the game, such as Packers great and successful Akron businessman Dave Robinson, they should have a seat at the table.  We also realize that some members of the Board of Trustees are instrumental in organizing the events that surround each year’s enshrinement ceremony.  But most of the persons who are setting policy for the Hall of Fame should have names that ardent fans and followers of the sport instantly recognize.

Currently, it’s roughly a 50-50 split.  That needs to change.

3.  Change the bylaws.

The Board of Trustees ultimately determine the contents of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws.  All too often, members of the panel who are faced with criticism of the selection process instantly explain that their hands are tied by the bylaws.

So change the bylaws.

Every year, the NFL changes multiple rules in the hopes of making the game better.  In the past half-decade, the only meaningful change to the bylaws occurred when the modern-era finalists were increased from 13 to 15.

The bylaws shouldn’t be used as a shield for avoiding change, but as a sword for implementing it.  All too often, the bylaws become an excuse for the status quo, not the impetus for improvement.  For that reason alone, the powers-that-be need to be willing and able on an annual basis (or more often) to look for ways to improve the rules that govern the selection process.

4.  Include Hall of Famers.

Every year, the winner of the Heisman Trophy acquires the ability to vote on all future winners of the award.  The logic is simple, and undeniable.  Winning the Heisman represents membership in an exclusive club, and the men who have won it should have a say in who gets it.

The argument applies even more strongly to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame coach John Madden believes that the busts talk to each other at night.  If they do, the first comment when a new crop joins them shouldn’t be, “Who in the hell let that guy in?”

They say it takes one to know one, and a Hall of Famer is in the best position to know another Hall of Famer.  Though giving Hall of Famers votes would introduce the possibility of biases and prejudices, those factors surely apply from time to time (or, as the case may be, every year) to the 44 men and women who currently have the keys to Canton, especially when players who earn a reputation for being hard on the media seem to have a hard time getting into the Hall of Fame.

The only requirement?  To vote, the Hall of Famer must attend the meeting.  No proxies or absentee ballots.  If they show up, they get a say in the process.

5.  Include coaches and other established football minds.

In responding to Jason Whitlock’s column calling for change, Bob Gretz argued that “Rick Gosselin has forgotten more football in a week than Whitlock has known in his life.”  That same observation likely applies to many of the folks currently on the selection committee.

And that observation probably would apply to all of them if, say, guys like Joe Gibbs or Ron Wolf or Bill Parcells or Chuck Noll were in the room.

So why not give people who have devoted their careers to coaching football and/or running football teams a direct say in who should and shouldn’t land in the Hall of Fame?  For those not already in the Hall of Fame, they’d have to forfeit their own eligibility for the Hall until two years after leaving the committee.

Frankly, those folks are far better suited to picking the new members of the Hall of Fame than pretty much everyone on the selection committee as its currently constituted.

6.  Categorize the candidates.

Every year, the finalists are thrown into a vat regardless of the position they played, with the new members of the Hall emerging from a stew that can’t distinguish between pancake blocks and pick-sixes.  It would make more sense to allow one new member per year from each of the various positions on the field:  quarterback, running back, receiver/tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and coach/G.M./contributor.

The finalists would be determined by position, with the list of candidates trimmed to three-to-five before the selection meeting, and with no requirement that a person be admitted from each position group.

This would expand the potential maximum size of the class from seven to eight, but the high-water mark of seven per year has been in place since 1964, the year after the charter class was inducted.  At the time, the NFL and AFL had only 22 teams.

Today, the NFL has 32 franchises, as a result of the addition of two in 1966, one in 1967, one in 1968, two in 1976, two in 1995, one in 1999, and one in 2002.  Moving the maximum annual class from seven to eight in light of the growth of the league isn’t simply justified, it’s overdue.

7.  Scuttle the Senior Committee.

The Senior Committee serves the purpose of allowing the selection committee to revisit two players from past seasons who fell through the cracks.  In other words, it gives the selection committee to right past wrongs.  By improving the selection process, there would be no reason to clean up past messes by devoting two of seven annual spots to guys who failed to get in when competing directly with their peers.

In his response to Jason Whitlock’s criticisms, Bob Gretz unwittingly proved our point.

Gretz explained that, ever year, a pair of Hall of Famers join the Seniors Committee to assist in the process of whittling down the previously overlooked players to two finalists, who seem to almost always get in.  For the 2011 class, Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham and Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders worked with the Seniors Committee.

Ham, per Gretz, made a strong case for linebacker Chris Hanburger.

“Ham told the group that when he went to the Steelers in the 1971 NFL Draft out of Penn State, the Pittsburgh coaches gave him film of Hanburger to study,” Gretz writes.  “There was no doubt in Ham’s mind that Hanburger was a legitimate candidate.  Whose word are your going to take on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or Jason Whitlock?”

Gretz essentially is admitting that the selection committee screwed up by not putting Hanburger in the Hall years earlier.  With the involvement on the selection committee of guys like Hall of Famer Jack Ham convinced that Hanburger should get in, that wouldn’t have happened.

In other words, if Ham and the other Hall of Famers had a seat at the table, perhaps Hanburger wouldn’t have been erroneously passed over.

After all, whose word should the Hall of Fame been taking on this subject:  Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham, or any member of the media?

8.  Embrace transparency.

Though many voters seek refuge in the bylaws and regard them as if they’d been etched onto stone tablets by the hand of God, many also will acknowledge the validity of Whitlock’s complaint that the process unfolds in secrecy.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, who has nothing but the best interests of the process in mind (and I say that not because he’s a friend and a colleague but because I’ve spent enough time around him to know that’s who he is and how he operates), would welcome transparency.

I’d be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn’t want us to do,” King wrote in his February 7 Monday Morning Quarterback column.  “The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn’t vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it’s incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we’re going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.”

If one of the most respected members of the NFL media believes that the process should be more transparent, then it’s fair to say that the process should be more transparent.  With an expanded panel of voters, anyone who covers the team on which a player played most or all of his career could abstain from voting, thereby addressing the biggest concern that King raised.

9.  Involve the NFL.

As mentioned above, the Commissioner and various owners occupy seats on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees.  But the NFL should be even more involved than that.

Though it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s essentially the NFL Hall of Fame, and the NFL should be in position to propose changes to bylaws and initiate procedural enhancements aimed at improving the process of determining each class of enshrinees.

One change the NFL would likely make relates to the consideration of off-field conduct.  Currently forbidden by the bylaws, the reality is that plenty of voters consider the things a candidate did when not playing football, especially in close cases.  The bylaws, then, should change to reflect the reality of the process.

If the NFL is the perpetual custodian of the highest levels of the sport, the NFL should have much greater involvement in and dominion over the museum that celebrates those who made the biggest impact on the game.

10.  Commit to continuous improvement and change.

Most of the criticisms of the current selection process arise from a perception that the system is stale and stagnant, in large part because change doesn’t happen often and doesn’t seem welcome.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly explains that the league constantly must look for ways to enhance and improve the game.  That same attitude must infect, and overtake, the Hall of Fame.

So many things about the selection process need to be changed because so little change has happened in the 48 years since the Hall of Fame opened.  Egos and agendas and pride and any other factor that stands in the way of change needs to be set aside, and folks need to look for ways to make the process better, and ultimately more fair.

We’re not advocating change for the sake of change.  But in this case there has been little or no change.  Changes need to be made, and then the Hall of Fame needs to be willing to consider future change without external calls for it.

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Bears could be looking for long-term linebacker answers in the draft

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As the Chicago Bears attempt to fix quickly a defense that performed poorly in 2013, the franchise could be applying a longer-term view to one of the positions for which its renowned.

Linebacker.

As explained by Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears may need to target a middle linebacker in 2014 with a plan to use him in 2015.  For now, D.J. Williams (pictured) remains the man in the middle, with Lance Briggs still holding down the weak side and Shea McClellin getting a crack at taking over the strong side.  By next year, Briggs and Williams could be gone.

Drafted last year to be a middle linebacker, Bostic is headed to the outside this year.  He’ll likely get a chance to develop into a potential replacement for Briggs.  That leaves a hole behind Williams in the middle.

Finley pegs round three as the point at which the Bears could start looking for a future middle linebacker.  Plenty of factors come into play, including whether many potential middle linebackers remain after the first two rounds.

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The McNabb trade, four years later

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The relative solitude of Easter Sunday in 2010 was disrupted by a stunning bit of NFL news.  The Eagles traded franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins.

In return, the Eagles picked up a 2010 second-round pick and, ultimately, a fourth-round pick in 2011.  Philly fans feared several years of being pummeled twice per season by McNabb and his new team.  McNabb emerged victorious in his return to the place he called home for 11 years, but then the Eagles and Mike Vick put a beating for the ages on their division rivals on a Monday night.

McNabb later was benched for Rex Grossman, and the Redskins traded McNabb to the Vikings after the 2011 lockout ended.  His stint in Minnesota was even less memorable.

The two trades resulted in the Eagles selecting safety Nate Allen in the second round of the 2010 draft.  He has appeared in 59 of 64 regular-season games, with 54 starts.

The fourth-round pick in 2011 was shipped to the Buccaneers in exchange for a pair of fourth-round picks, one in 2011 and one in 2012.  With the 2011 pick, the Eagles selected linebacker Casey Matthews.  The 2012 fourth-rounder was traded to the Texans for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has started every game during his two years with the team.  Matthews, who began his rookie season as a starter, was benched after three games but nevertheless has appeared in all 48 of his career regular-season games.

The Redskins, who got the short end of the first McNabb trade, did well with the second McNabb trade, landing the sixth-round pick that became running back Alfred Morris.  He has started 32 regular-season games and generated 2,888 rushing yards in two years with the team.

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Recalling when a CFL club outspent Jerry Jones

Raghib Ismail #81 Getty Images

Imagine this: a CFL club outspending Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a top player.

Well, 23 years ago Sunday, this happened.

Yes, on April 20, 1991, the Toronto Argonauts signed Notre Dame wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to a four-year contract reportedly worth up to $26.2 million with $18.2 million in guarantees.

The Cowboys, who acquired the No. 1 overall pick from New England, could not strike a deal with Ismail. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Cowboys wouldn’t give Ismail the five-year, $14.5 million guaranteed contract he sought. (Before dealing the No. 1 pick, New England also could not reach an agreement with Ismail.)

“Rocket is a fine, fine player, and we wish him a lot of luck,” Jones said after Ismail’s deal with Toronto, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We asked and received an offer from Ismail’s agents. It was very apparent when we got their offer that Rocket was legitimately headed to Canada. His numbers were totally out of our range. Basically, we wanted to see if there was a chance of an NFL team being able to sign him.”

Ismail played two seasons in Toronto, earning Grey Cup MVP honors after his kickoff return touchdown helped the Argonauts win the 1991 CFL title.

In 1993, Ismail would join the Los Angeles Raiders, who held his NFL rights after drafting him two years earlier in Round Four. Interestingly enough, Ismail would finish his pro career with Dallas, and he would set career-highs in catches (80) and yards (1,097) for the Cowboys in 1999.

The Cowboys, for the record, would take defensive lineman Russell Maryland No. 1 overall in 1991. He played on all three of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl-winning clubs of the 1990s. Also, the Cowboys’ other No. 1 pick in 1991, Alvin Harper, started in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII for Dallas.

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Rams could be planning to draft a quarterback

Murray AP

At the Scouting Combine in February, Rams G.M. Les Snead told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk that there’s no way his team would take a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft.

That doesn’t mean the Rams aren’t thinking about beefing up the position later.

As explained by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Rams are “strongly considering” drafting a quarterback next month.  They’ve been spending time eyeballing the likes of Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (pictured), SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

While the Rams by all appearances remain committed to Sam Bradford, he’s recovering from a torn ACL and under contract for only two more years.  Likewise, backup Shaun Hill has signed a deal that covers only one year.

If they land a rookie who develop quickly and quietly, it’s possible that, come next year, the Rams may be rethinking their commitment to Bradford.

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Josh McCown sees young QBs as “nice kids,” ready to be a mentor

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Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown was brought in to be the starter, but he knows it may just be a matter of time before he’s replaced by a younger player, perhaps one the Bucs draft next month.

And McCown is fine with that. The Buccaneers have brought in some young quarterbacks for visits, and McCown likes what he sees from them.

They all seem like nice kids. They look so young,” McCown told the Tampa Bay Times. “It was cool to say hello to them; just briefly with Johnny [Manziel] and Teddy [Bridgewater] and Jimmy [Garoppolo]. Just, ‘Hey. How’s it going?’ and wish them well. It’s funny. You look at them, and you think back a few years and remember how fast it can go.”

The Bucs have another “nice kid” currently on the roster in Mike Glennon, and McCown will mentor Glennon as well. While McCown was out of the league in 2012 he briefly served as a high school coach, so he has experience as a mentor, and that’s a part of the job he welcomes. Even if the better he does mentoring, the sooner he could lose his job as the Bucs’ starter.

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Brandon Marshall expects big things from Marquess Wilson

Marquess Wilson AP

The release of Earl Bennett in Chicago opens up a clear path for Marquess Wilson to be the Bears’ third receiver next season.

Coach Marc Trestman would only say that Wilson will have “a chance to compete” for that job, but one of the two receivers definitely ahead of Marshall on the depth chart is expecting a bit more than that. Brandon Marshall said in an interview with CBSSports.com that he’s feeling good and looking forward to his “best year ever,” but the subject of Wilson was more exciting for him.

“I really want to talk about Marquess Wilson,” Marshall said. “He came down and trained with us the whole offseason. We’re really looking for him to do some big things. This guy, he’s probably the steal of the draft last year. I’m going to say that. He came in, he put in the work, he looks like a body builder. Fast, strong, explosive. I’m looking forward to seeing him in OTAs.”

Wilson is 6-4, which would make him, Marshall and Alshon Jeffery one of the taller receiving trios in memory. Bennett wasn’t targeted all that often last season, but the Bears offense will be tough for defenses to measure up to in multiple ways if Wilson lives up to Marshall’s hype.

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Jason Verrett slated for visit with Jets

Jason Verrett AP

The Jets have either met with or set up meetings with a lot of prospective first round wide receivers and cornerbacks recently and that trend that will continue on Monday.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that TCU cornerback Jason Verrett will visit with the team a few days before Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard also drops by the team’s headquarters. Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby have also drawn interest from a team looking for help at cornerback after cutting Antonio Cromartie earlier this offseason.

Verrett is expected to go in the latter half of the first round despite shoulder surgery in March. He’s expected to be ready to go in time for training camp, which is a similar timeline to the one Jets cornerback and 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner followed last offseason.

The Jets are also expected to have receivers Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham and Marqise Lee, in for visits this week which means they could just sort things out by having everyone go one-on-one to determine the best fit for the 18th overall pick.

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One owner says Trump’s confirmation wouldn’t be a slam dunk

Trump AP

Recently, an NFL ownership-level source told PFT that it could be difficult to muster nine votes to keep Donald Trump out of the world’s most exclusive club of billionaires.  Another owner has told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News something very different.

He did try to bring the NFL down,” the unnamed owner told Myers.  “Certainly, a lot of owners aren’t around anymore.  Maybe some of the new guys wouldn’t bear the same type of resentment that some of the older guys would.  Do you think he would be a good partner for us or be somewhat of a maverick and be in it for himself?  All questions that have to be asked.  It’s not just the USFL stuff.  Who knows how serious he is.  He likes to have his name out there.  Let’s put it this way:  I don’t think his confirmation would be a slam dunk.”

Myers notes that 15 of the NFL’s 32 teams are still owned by the same person or family who owned those teams when Trump and his USFL cronies filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league.  Of the 32 teams, 24 owners must approve the sale of the Bills to Trump.  And Trump arguably has given some of the owners more incentive to oppose him with the intelligence-insulting claim that the USFL, not Trump, sued the NFL.
The AFL, with owners including the late Ralph Wilson, once battled the NFL toe-to-toe for players and fans and attention.  Ultimately, the AFL and NFL put their differences behind them and made a stronger league.  Trump would be wise to own what he did 30 years ago, and to hope that the owners who vividly recall the battles of the 1980s would be willing to treat Trump the way the AFL owners ultimately were treated.
“[Trump] said a lot of stupid things, and a lot of us still remember it,” said the unnamed owner, who reportedly laughed at Trump’s claim that he didn’t sue the NFL.  “If he ends up being the only guy interested in buying the Bills, then he could be it. I know Jon Bon Jovi is a serious contender. I think there will be some competition.”
Bon Jovi may be a serious contender, but he may not have the cash.  Trump apparently has the cash, but it’s unclear whether he’s serious about buying the Bills or whether he’s simply serious about generating free publicity by talking about buying the Bills.
Either way, if he’s going to try to buy the Bills, Trump’s best move would be to quit talking and start writing a check.
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Lions looking for a few good closers

Golden Tate AP

When a team is talking about looking for closers, the natural inclination is to assume that we’re talking about baseball.

This year’s draft will feature one team looking for football versions of Mariano Rivera, however. The Lions lost six of their final seven games last season and they held a fourth-quarter lead in all six of those losses, which is leading vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White to look for players who can help them finish out a lead in free agency and the draft this offseason.

“You saw six games out of seven where we did not finish. So we’re going to be looking for closers,” White said, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. “Look for them in free agency — guys who have been there, guys like our coaching staff that have been there, guys that will not quit. We have some now, but we need some additional players that have that same kind of mind-set. That’s what we’ve done so far, and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Wide receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo were both brought in via free agency and they each won Super Bowl rings in the last two years, which is likely the kind of closing kick the Lions would like to see from their team in the future.

The inability to finish what his team started helped seal former coach Jim Schwartz’s fate. Should 2014 feature more of the same, his won’t be the last head to roll in Detroit as they try to build a team that can go the distance.

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Seahawks QB coach: Regardless of record, we saw imperfections

Russell Okung AP

The Seahawks start their offseason workouts on Monday, which marks the first official work for the team since they were crowned Super Bowl champions.

That title and the Seahawks’ limited losses from the roster during the offseason would seem to leave the team with few concerns heading into next season. Coaches don’t get paid to say that all is well and that practice will be little more than a necessary evil, however, so it’s no surprise that quarterbacks coach Carl Smith is focused on the few negatives he saw on film from last season as the Seahawks get back to work.

“What we saw was lots of problems, regardless of the end result,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “We saw the imperfections and there’s a lot of work that we’ve still got to do. What we did get cleaned up during our playoff run were penalties and our protections. We had problems with both of those during the season and it made a lot games harder than it could have been.”

The Seahawks protected Russell Wilson much better in the second half of the season, likely because left tackle Russell Okung, center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini returned from injury and forced backups back to reserve roles. Giacomini is now with the Jets, so his replacement will have to keep things rolling but the overall concern with the line should be mitigated a great deal if everyone stays healthy this time around.

If they do, the Seahawks’ attempt to become the first team in a decade to repeat will be enhanced and Smith will have to dig a little deeper next season.

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Marcus Lattimore: “I’m ready”

Marcus Lattimore

A year after the 49ers took him in the fourth round of the NFL draft, running back Marcus Lattimore says he’s healthy enough in recovery from the gruesome knee injury that ended his college career that he could take the field today.

Lattimore said his next steps aren’t about rehabbing his knee, they’re just about convincing 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh that he deserves significant playing time.

“If he wants to put me in, he’ll put me in,” Lattimore told GoGamecocks.com. “If I prove it in practice, I don’t think there’s no excuse why I can’t play. I’m ready.”

The knee injury Lattimore suffered in 2012 was so serious that sitting out his rookie season, as he did last year, was far from his biggest concern. When he first got hurt, Lattimore feared he’d never play football again.

“After my injury, I just wanted to walk again,” Lattimore said. “It was tough, very tough. We’re a playoff team, so we play 20-plus games. Being on that sideline, we got so close to the Super Bowl title the last three years. But I’m blessed to be in this situation. Never would have thought in a million years I’d be in this situation.”

Lattimore has heard the reports that backup running back LaMichael James is not in the 49ers’ long-term plans, which means Lattimore would move up to third on the depth chart behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.

“If that happens, it does put me in that No. 3 spot,” Lattimore said. “But I’ve just got to go in there and work hard. I can pass-protect and run the ball. I’ve got to show that.”

If he can run now the way he ran at South Carolina, Lattimore will show a lot in San Francisco this year.

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John Harbaugh joins “Cradle of Coaches”

Harbaugh AP

Last year, Ravens coach John Harbaugh won a Super Bowl.  This year, he secured something even more rare.

On Friday, a statue was unveiled in his honor at Miami of Ohio’s “Cradle of Coaches,” a bronze gallery of tributes to coaching legends who played college football at the school.

“There’s nothing like the Cradle of Coaches.  I don’t think there’s a bigger honor in coaching,” Harbaugh said, via the team’s official website.   “People may not understand that, but once you take a look at it, it means a lot.”

The Ravens’ website has video of the unveiling, which fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) wasn’t disrupted by Mr. T.

The throng of 260 family members, friends, and colleagues who attended a Friday night dinner in Harbaugh’s honor included a surprise visit from John’s brother, Jim, head coach of the 49ers.

“There have been a lot of proud moments but I’ve never been more proud of him than I am today,” Jim said at the celebration.  “I always prided myself on being the tallest Harbaugh, but that all changed today when they unveiled that statue.”

John Harbaugh played college football at Miami in the early 1980s.

“I wasn’t a really good football player, but I was the best football player I could ever be,” John Harbaugh said. “And there were a lot of challenges and a lot of difficult things.  But then 10 years later, or 15 years later, or 30 years later, you have a chance to look back and you understand why you were there at that time with those people.”

Harbaugh’s likeness joins Paul Brown, Bo Schembechler, Weeb Ewbank, Earl Blaik, Carm Cozza, Paul Dietzel, Ara Parseghian and John Pont in the grove of statues outside Yager Stadium.

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Odell Beckham has visits with Eagles and Dolphins this week

Odell Beckham Jr., Taveze Calhoun AP

On Saturday, MDS passed along a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald regarding the Dolphins’ interest in draft-eligible wide receivers and what it might mean for Mike Wallace’s future in Miami.

One of the receivers mentioned in the report is LSU wideout Odell Beckham and the Dolphins will get some more information about Beckham this week. During an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio on Saturday, Beckham said that he will be visiting with the Dolphins on Friday and Saturday as he winds up a busy week. Beckham confirmed that he will visit with the Jets on Monday and Tuesday before moving on to talk to the Eagles in the middle of the week.

“It’s been a fun process,” Beckham said. “It’s been a little tough at times to be able to catch your workouts because you’re traveling for days at a time. It’s been fun to go around and meet coaches and general managers and just be able to reach out.”

Beckham also said that he has already met with the Bills, which he called a “fun experience,” and Bengals while making the rounds of interested teams. There will likely be other interest as well as Beckham is almost certainly going to be off the board before the first round comes to an end on May 8.

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Manziel worked out for Browns Saturday, will meet with them this week

Johnny Manziel AP

It took the Browns some time to get around to checking out Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but they’ll have plenty of information about one of the draft’s top signal callers by the end of the week.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Browns watched Manziel work out in College Station, Texas on Saturday, giving them a taste of what they missed at Manziel’s pro day earlier this offseason. Schefter also reports that Manziel will be in Cleveland for a meeting with Browns brass during the week.

Once that’s complete, the Browns will have met with and/or worked out all of the top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. There have been reports that Fresno State’s Derek Carr has caught the team’s eye, but any final decision will likely have to wait until the Browns have a full picture of what Manziel brings to the table.

With the fourth and 26th picks in the first round and three more picks in the next two rounds, the Browns have plenty of options when it comes to adding a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job. The audiences with Manziel should play a big role in which of those options they wind up choosing.

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Sunday morning one-liners

John Harbaugh AP

The Bills helped the United Way set new fundraising records.

What kind of impact will offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have on the Dolphins?

Cracking the Patriots roster won’t be easy for rookies.

Said Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson, “We finished 8-8. People expected us to finish worse than that, so we exceeded their expectations but not ours. It was a good way to finish the season but hopefully we’ll roll it over into the upcoming season.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was overwhelmed by a statue of him going up at Miami (Ohio) University.

Coley Harvey of ESPN.com doesn’t think the Bengals should take a quarterback in the first few rounds.

Digging into the Browns’ reported love for Fresno State QB Derek Carr.

He won’t make it to the 15th pick, but the Steelers could use Texas A&M WR Mike Evans.

Injuries were a big factor for the Texans last season.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off played a role in former Colts OL Ryan Diem’s NFL career.

Jaguars LS Carson Tinker has written a book about his experience when tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama while he was in college.

Mulling a trade down the draft board for the Titans.

Mike Klis of the Denver Post reveals a reason why the Broncos shouldn’t trade out of the 31st overall pick.

Will the Chiefs draft a quarterback this year?

Raiders T Austin Howard lands on this list of players overpaid in free agency.

There are 52 Pro Bowlers on the Chargers’ schedule in 2014.

What will the Cowboys be looking at when they settle on their draft picks?

Running through some of Giants General Manager Jerry Reese’s greatest hits.

A look at some linebackers that might interest the Eagles in the draft.

Former Redskins RB John Riggins gets busy in the kitchen.

Safety continues to look like the Bears’ biggest remaining need.

An argument in favor of the Lions trading back in the first round.

The Packers’ Tailgate Tour returned to Lambeau Field.

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson shares some thoughts on the team’s future at quarterback.

The Falcons might be able to use Missouri DE Kony Ealy, but they’re unlikely to land him in the draft.

Some Panthers draft questions and answers.

Looking ahead to the release of the Saints schedule.

Buccaneers DE Michael Johnson has been watching tape of Simeon Rice.

Colorado State C Weston Richburg drove home to Texas after a meeting with the Cardinals in Arizona.

It looks like the Rams will be drafting a quarterback at some point next month.

49ers fans want the color of seats on BART trains to change to something less reminiscent of Seahawks colors.

CB Dwayne Harper ranks No. 19 on this list of the best Seahawks draft picks of all time.

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