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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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Dolphins “confident” they’ll land Suh

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With the 2015 free agency period looming, the biggest defensive fish since Reggie White could soon be playing for the team named after an aquatic mammal.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the Dolphins are “confident” they’ll land Suh.  Per Salguero, the Dolphins don’t believe it’s a certainty because they believe that they’ll have competition from teams like the Raiders, Jaguars, Colts, and perhaps the Titans.  As we hear it, however, the only real competition will be the Lions, and the Lions won’t provide much competition.

Per Salguero, Suh’s target falls in the range of $102 million over six years.  Whether he gets that depends on how many other teams truly pursue Suh.  Some may kick the tires aggressively once the three-day window opens, but for now the team most likely to pony up the most cash for Suh resides in Miami.

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Bears trade Brandon Marshall to the Jets

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The Bears made good on their promise to “explore trade options” for Brandon Marshall, by trading him.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, they’ve dealt the mercurial wideout to the Jets.

The Colts and Browns had also shown interest, but the Jets make sense on a number of levels.

First, they need players. And his going to New York to tape a weekly television appearance won’t be as much of an issue when he’s already there.

The Bears were intent on getting out from under the $7.5 million guaranteed if he’d have been on the roster March 12, but at that salary and $7.9 million and $8.3 million for the following two years, he’s reasonable compared to what the top wideouts will get in free agency.

For the Jets, it gives them an established playmaker to put alongside Eric Decker, giving Geno Smith (or whoever’s playing quarterback) a better chance to succeed.

His numbers were down last year with injuries and an ineffective Jay Cutler, but he had 218 catches for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns the two previous years.

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PFT Live: King Dunlap, Dolphins talk with Armando Salguero

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Free agency is almost upon us and teams can begin talking to players from other teams on Saturday and it sounds like the Dolphins will be making some calls to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald will join Mike Florio on Friday’s PFT Live to discuss the Dolphins’ expected pursuit of the top free agent in this year’s class. Salguero reported Friday that the Dolphins are confident they will land the disruptive lineman and he’ll tell us why during his visit.

Chargers tackle King Dunlap will also be on the show and he’ll explain why he chose to re-sign with San Diego rather than explore what the rest of the league might have paid him as a free agent. Former NFL safety Robert Griffith will also drop by to talk about his candidacy for executive director of the NFLPA.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Reggie Wayne won’t be back with Colts

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No one has ever played more games for the Colts than wide receiver Reggie Wayne, but he won’t be adding to his lead in that category.

The Colts announced Friday that they will not re-sign Wayne, who is set to become a free agent on Tuesday. Outside of his outsize role in the history of the franchise, there isn’t much reason for surprise at the announcement.

Wayne looked like a much lesser version of his former self on his way to 64 catches for 779 yards and two touchdowns in 2014 and became an afterthought on offense as the season wound down. Wayne ends his run with the Colts with 1,070 catches (7th in NFL history) for 14,345 yards (8th in NFL history) and 82 touchdowns and the team celebrated his career in an announcement about their decision.

“Reggie is one of the greatest men to ever wear the horseshoe, and we have been blessed to watch him play for the past 14 years,” owner Jim Irsay said. “When he first took the field with us in 2001, we knew this day would eventually arrive.  That reality is one of the things that makes pro football such a tough business.  We feel this decision is in the best interests of the team and for Reggie as it will allow him to seek a better opportunity for playing time elsewhere if he so chooses. Reggie is beloved by the Colts organization and our fans and he will always be a part of the Colts family.  I look forward to the day in the near future when our great number 87 enters the Colts Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Wayne recently had surgery to repair a torn triceps and is reportedly unsure about continuing to play in 2015. If he doesn’t want to suit up for a team other than the Colts for the first time since college, we’ll have seen the last of Wayne after a brilliant NFL career.

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Report: Marques Colston restructures, will remain with Saints

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The Saints released running back Pierre Thomas this week and there have been reports that they’re shopping linebacker Curtis Lofton in a trade, but they can also clear the money they need off their cap by getting players to rework their current deals.

Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reports that wide receiver Marques Colston has done just that. Colston has reportedly restructured his contract and will remain with the Saints for the 2015 season.

There are no details about the changes to the deal, which called for Colston to make $6.9 million and count $9.7 million against the cap in the 2015 season. Coming off a year that saw him catch 59 passes for 902 yards and with some foot problems in the not-too-distant past, a straight pay cut seems like a reasonable guess.

With Colston sticking around, the Saints will have him, Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills back at wideout to go with tight end Jimmy Graham. That should leave other areas as bigger priorities once they’re under the cap and ready to add bodies to their 2015 roster.

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Three-day legal tampering period starts tomorrow

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In recognition of the rampant illegal tampering that occurs in the weeks preceding free agency, the NFL has created a three-day window for legal tampering, prior to the start of free agency.  This year, that window opens on Saturday, March 7.

Given the rampant reports of agreements in principle that emerged during a similar time span following the lockout but before deals could be signed, it was believed when the NFL launched the legal tampering process that a similar dynamic would occur.  That hasn’t happened, in large part because the NFL annually has reminded teams to refrain from announcing agreements in principle.  The NFL has even instructed teams to refrain from making actual offers during the three-day period.

Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize the concept of negotiating with the ban on actually making offers during negotiation, since the making of offers is necessarily part of the negotiating.

The version of the memo sent last year permits a team to “[s]ubmit a written summary of the club’s negotiating position,” to “[e]xpress its position as to signing bonus, length of contract, amounts of signing bonus and yearly compensation, and other items,” to “[a]djust its negotiating position in response to a certified agent’s position,” and “[e]ngage in an oral exchange of positions.”

However, the team must say that it is simply articulating a “negotiating position,” not “making an offer.”  Under the 2014 memo, no offers can be made, and no express or implied agreements can be reached.

Despite the unnecessary complexities the NFL has added to the process, the three-day window benefits looming free agents.  As one G.M. told PFT on Friday morning, the legal tampering period has helped plenty of players get paid plenty of money.

Last year, for example, news that the Vikings had re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a monster deal during the three-day window shocked many fans.  For the Vikings, the move was justified by the information Griffen’s agents was able to obtain during the three-day window.

This year, there’s a good chance that multiple impending free agents will do deals to stay with their current teams based on the “negotiation positions” that emerge during the three-day window.  There’s an even better chance that the “negotiation positions” in many cases will transform into an unofficial agreement in principle with a new team, to be finalized at 4:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The best chance is that teams and agents will continue to keep the cards close to the vest in deference to the league’s very strong desire that the news of new players in new cities stays under wraps until the market officially opens.  Some league insiders insist it’s part of the NFL’s vision for an eventual college-style “signing day.”

While it’s inevitable that certain nuggets and/or tidbits will emerge in the coming days, the trend suggests that the only hard news will come if/when players re-up with their current teams.

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Byron Maxwell: Eagles scheme “definitely fits me”

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Cornerback Byron Maxwell is expected to be a popular man when teams are allowed to start talking to impending free agents this weekend and plenty of speculation about which team will be hottest on his trail has centered on the Eagles.

Philadelphia is in serious need of help at corner and their recent moves to clear out a lot of cap space hasn’t done anything to stop people from connecting the dots with Maxwell. Maxwell’s comments during an appearance on CSN Philly won’t slow things down either.

“Their stye of defense is very similar to what we play in Seattle,” Maxwell said. “Lot of man-press, cover 3. They allow their corners to play and get physical. Their scheme definitely fits me.”

Maxwell said he’s only heard good things about Philadelphia from the fans to the cheesesteaks. If he hears more good things from the Eagles over the weekend, he might be heading there for a heavy dose of both.

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Jermaine Kearse gets second-round tender from Seahawks

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Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse caught the pass that put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl and the team will either have him or a second-round pick to help them in an effort to make it back to the big game.

Field Yates of ESPN.com reports that Kearse has received a second-round tender from the Seahawks before becoming a restricted free agent. That sets him up to make $2.356 million next season unless another team makes him an offer that Seattle isn’t willing to match while also sending a second-round pick to the defending NFC champs.

Kearse’s overtime heroics in the NFC Championship game don’t make that a particularly likely development. The draft is thought to be a good one for wide receivers, which makes the draft pick compensation a lot to give up on top of a contract for a player with 63 catches in the last three seasons.

Even if Kearse is back, receiver is expected to be a spot where the Seahawks look to add help this offseason. There were too many moments last season when the team struggled to get receivers open and Paul Richardson is looking at an extended absence after tearing his ACL in January.

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Bengals use higher tender to hang onto Emmanuel Lamur

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A year ago, a desire to save less than a million bucks cost the Bengals a player they had developed.

They learned that lesson the hard way, but at least they learned.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Bengals have used the second-round level of restricted free agent tender on linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.

That’s worth $2.356 million, and virtually guarantees he’ll stay with them another year, as no one’s likely to give up a two for him.

If they’d have used the low tender of $1.542 million, he could have been poached without compensation, as he entered the league as an undrafted rookie.

That’s what happened to them last year, when they used the low tender on wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, whom the Browns were able to sign without giving up anything (other than a four-year, $13.6 million contract).

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Saints not expected to tender Tyrunn Walker as restricted free agent

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Defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker didn’t see a ton of playing time for the Saints last season, but he did well with what he got by recording 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 306 snaps up front for New Orleans.

It looks like he’ll have a chance to parley that into a deal with a new team. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com reports that the Saints aren’t planning to make a tender offer to the impending restricted free agent, although they would be open to a return at a price below the $1.54 million minimum tender.

That’s not particularly surprising, given the Saints’ cap situation calls for them to cut money rather than add it at the moment, but it also wouldn’t be terribly surprising if they don’t get that chance with a 25-year-old who could fit into a rotation for either a 3-4 or 4-3 team and showed improvement in his third season with the Saints.

Running back Travaris Cadet and offensive tackle Bryce Harris are the other two impending restricted free agents in New Orleans and Triplett suggests they’ll wind up in the same boat as Walker.

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Colts bringing offensive lineman Todd Herremans in for visit

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Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson is going back to his Philadelphia roots to try to fix one of his biggest problems in Indianapolis.

According to Tim McManus of PhillyMag.com, the Colts are bringing in former Eagles guard Todd Herremans for a visit today.

The 32-year-old Herremans has a few good years left in him, and the Colts need all the stability they can find up front. He said on PFT Live earlier this week he wanted to play for a contender, and the Colts certainly fit that requirement as long as Andrew Luck’s upright.

Grigson was a regional scout when the Eagles drafted Herremans in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, and both rose to bigger jobs there.

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Friday morning one-liners

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What’s ahead for the Bills on the offensive line?

Dolphins T Jason Fox agreed to a new contract while volunteering in Haiti.

Some memories of DT Vince Wilfork’s time with the Patriots.

Should the Jets be vying for WR Andre Johnson’s services?

Making the case for WR Torrey Smith’s departure from the Ravens.

A special teams snapshot as the Bengals head into free agency.

Is WR Dorial Green-Beckham a draft possibility for the Browns?

S Troy Polamalu wouldn’t be the first longtime Steelers star shown the door.

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins is one of the league’s top players under the age of 25.

A pessimistic view of the Colts’ chances of signing Ndamukong Suh.

A review of Jaguars G.M. Dave Caldwell’s past forays into free agency.

The Titans have some decisions to make about their defense.

The Broncos will likely be in the market for a tight end.

A roundup of Chiefs picks in a variety of mock drafts.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio called Maurice Jones-Drew one of his favorite players after Jones-Drew announced his retirement.

The Chargers kick return game needs a spark.

Who will be back at linebacker for the Cowboys?

Giants LB Jameel McClain is a finalist for the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White award for community service.

His moves since taking over personnel duties leads to a comparison between Eagles coach Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick.

Previewing the offseason moves at skill positions for the Redskins.

It’s never a bad time to watch some highlights of Walter Payton’s exploits with the Bears.

The Lions had a visit with Indiana RB Tevin Coleman.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com thinks the Packers will lose T Bryan Bulaga in free agency.

LB Chad Greenway hopes he’s playing for the Vikings and with RB Adrian Peterson in 2015.

Will TE Bear Pascoe return to the Falcons?

TE Greg Olsen’s extension could be the first of a few for the Panthers.

The Saints could look to USC for another running back.

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson will be the grand marshal for an IndyCar race.

Saying farewell to longtime Cardinals DL Darnell Dockett.

A call for QB Sam Bradford to give the Rams the pay cut they want.

CB Perrish Cox thinks WR Michael Crabtree’s time with the 49ers is over.

The Seahawks are preparing for life without CB Byron Maxwell.

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Packers add an inside linebacker

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The Packers have said goodbye to a pair of veteran inside linebackers since the end of the regular season with Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk both getting their walking papers after long runs with the team.

There’s word that Hawk could wind up back in Green Bay at some point this offseason, but the Packers could also lose Jamari Lattimore as a free agent and started adding other options at the position on Thursday. The team announced the signing of Josh Francis, who comes to Green Bay after stops with Winnipeg in the CFL and with Wichita Falls of the Indoor Football League.

Francis finished his collegiate career with West Virginia in 2012, he was teammates with Packers tackle Don Barclay, and led the team with 15 tackles for losses. He was overlooked by the NFL at the time, but will get his chance to impress Green Bay and earn a job this offseason.

He should have more company in the coming weeks as the Packers add to their options other than Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford and moving Clay Matthews inside after giving him some time there last season.

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Victor Cruz wants Odell Beckham Jr. to watch his words

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Victor Cruz knows all about becoming an overnight sensation in New York, and has been able to channel that positively.

And he said he needs to talk to young teammate Odell Beckham Jr. about making sure it stays positive.

After Beckham went on a Twitter tirade this week about people trying to “steal my joy in life,” many were trying to interpret his words for hidden meanings. That kind of microscope is tough to live under.

I just told him to make sure he watches his words and make sure that he’s mindful of the things that he says, because anything that he says can be a headline,” Cruz said during an interview on Sirius XM, via NJ.com. “Anything that he talks about, they can take a snapshot of and it can become a headline so he just has to be very, very careful of that, even when he means well and wants to say the right things.”

“I just want him to keep a level head and make sure he keeps his family first and make sure he gets his mind right because this city and this media can sometimes swallow you whole. He’s done a good job so far, he’s a young kid and he’s gonna make mistakes and do things that he’s emotional about and things like that, but he’s definitely a good kid and he’s done a good job so far.”

Cruz has become a star in New York, and hasn’t really been bitten by the attack-dog media. Now he wants to make sure Beckham can say the same.

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Former Broncos tight end says NFL should lift marijuana ban

Cannabis Expo At Local Hotel Getty Images

Nate Jackson played in a state where it’s now legal to smoke marijuana.

And he thinks the NFL would be better off if it followed suit.

Granted, Jackson was speaking at the Cannabis Business Executives Breakfast in Denver when he said it, but he was upfront that he smoked during his career rather than rely on painkillers.

It kept my brain clean,” Jackson said, via the Associated Press. “I feel like I exited the game with my mind intact. And I credit that to marijuana in a lot of ways and not getting hooked on these pain pills that are recklessly distributed in the league when a guy gets an injury.”

Jackson played six years in the NFL (2003-08), and said his self-medication was easy to pull off since the league only tested for street drugs once a year. To his view, that makes the league at least willing to look the other way, if not complicit.

“They’re aware that probably over half of their players smoke weed,” Jackson said. “They’ve been doing it since they were teenagers. The fact that they’ve been doing it that whole time and still made it to the NFL and are able to satisfy the demands of very, very strict employers on a daily basis means that their marijuana use is in check.

“Marijuana is not a problem in their lives.”

Jackson said the league’s biggest problem is players “smashing their skulls over and over and over again.”

He said allowing marijuana would be a “compassionate” move by the NFL, to help many former players deal with the pain inherent in being a former NFL player.

As you might imagine, the league isn’t necessarily eager to declare itself pro-weed.

An organization as image-conscious as the NFL isn’t going to start marketing Broncos-logo bongs or Seahawks-brand rolling papers anytime soon (although the revenue possibilities might be the thing that changes their minds). And a league spokesman noted it consulted with its medical experts, who didn’t suggest allowing marijuana as a pain-management option.

But the reality is a large portion of the league is already smoking, and it apparently isn’t hurting the popularity of the game, or the athletic abilities of those using.

“Michael Phelps is the best swimmer that the Earth has ever produced by far,” Jackson said. “And he smokes weed. That should tell us something.”

Totally, dude. Somebody call Peyton. We need a pizza.

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