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ESPN fires Hank, who claims he quit

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Though ESPN’s decision to yank Hank Williams, Jr. from the opening theme music to Monday Night Football initially seemed to be a one-week suspension, it’s a little more permanent than that.

OK, it’s a lot more permanent than that.

ESPN has parted ways with Williams.  The network announced the decision on Thursday, via John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal.

“We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams, Jr.,” ESPN said in a statement.  “We appreciate his contributions over the past years.  The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.”‬‬

Hank, of course, sees it differently.  He claims that he has pulled his song from the show.  Says Hank on his website:  “After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision.  By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You [ESPN] stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE.  It’s been a great run.”

Um, right.  Hank apologized on Tuesday in the hopes of keeping the only thing that has kept him relevant for the last 25 years.  And now that he’s being pushed, he’s trying to make it look like he jumped.

The sad part is that plenty of people will believe that Hank wasn’t fired, and that he actually did quit.

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The full, 70-minute Thomas Dimitroff interview

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Earlier this week, Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff visited 30 Rock in New York City for an extended, no-time-limit interview on PFT Live. Ultimately, we talked for 70 minutes.

Pieces of that discussion have been posted here, and broadcast on Friday’s show. Now, you can see and hear the entire interview.

All 70 minutes, start to finish. Uninterrupted, unedited (as far as I know), unabridged.

Thanks to Thomas for taking the time to create it, and thanks to you for taking the time to listen to it. You’ll know a lot more about football, Dimitroff, and the Falcons if you do.

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Mike Zimmer: Bridgewater progressing as well as could be expected

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Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t at the team’s Organized Team Activities this week, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was in attendance and, as seen in a video posted on the Vikings website, working on the field.

General Manager Rick Spielman noted that Bridgewater has not been fully cleared after last year’s knee injury and that there are plenty on unknowns about how things will play out from here, but the video provided some optimism about Bridgewater’s ability to return to action. Zimmer, whose plans to return to the team after eye surgery were announced on Friday, counted himself among those pleased by what they saw when asked about Bridgewater in a conference call.

“I saw that tape, too,” Zimmer said, via ESPN.com. “He’s throwing the ball well. He’s got good velocity, accurate. He’s working his rear end off. It just makes you proud for him. He’s still got a long ways to go. But he’s progressing as well as anybody could expect, I would think.”

The Vikings have been guarded about discussing any kind of timeline for Bridgewater’s recovery and they’ll likely remain that way until there’s enough evidence that talking a return to action has moved from an optimistic thought to a realistic one. This week felt like a step toward that point and the quarterback will be watched closely the rest of the offseason for others.

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Others told Seth Wickersham he “nailed it” on Seahawks

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Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman took issue with Seth Wickersham’s ESPN The Magazine article regarding the dysfunction in Seattle. Others didn’t.

“I don’t blame him for having that reaction,” Wickersham said during a Friday visit to PFT Live regarding Bennett. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I mean, he knows what’s going on. I got so many texts from players and people in the Seahawks building yesterday telling me how I nailed it.”

If anything, Wickersham is surprised by the idea that anyone would dispute the idea that there have been problems with the Seahawks.

“I was not being some sort of expert detective here,” Wickersham said. “I mean, this stuff is an open secret in the NFL,  and I just spent a couple weeks trying to show it as best I could and talk to as many people as I could in the building; I took two trips out to Seattle.”

The deeper problem is that the offense hasn’t been taking enough trips to the end zone.

“You see [Russell] Wilson after games, he’s relentlessly positive and on message, and he’ll say, ‘You know we made a lot of great plays in this game, we just came up short.’ He said that after they played the Rams, and they scored three points. And here’s a defense, in an era of offense, keeping them in these games, thinking that they’re going to make everybody forget the Steel Curtain, and the offense is putting three points up on the board and he’s being treated in the building like he’s their Aaron Rodgers. That to me I think is the biggest deal. Those defensive players are smart, they’ve played against the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and they know the difference between very, very good and future Hall of Fame.”

The ability of some of those defensive players to make the Hall of Fame may hinge on winning more championships. If the offense isn’t pulling its weight, if the defense knows it, and if the coaching staff won’t do anything about it, it will be hard to keep everyone on the same page.

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Dolphins may cut Leonte Carroo a year after trading up for him

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Last year, the Dolphins traded a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick to the Vikings to acquire Minnesota’s third-round draft pick, which Miami used on receiver Leonte Carroo. Obviously, the Dolphins thought highly of Carroo’s talents to make a trade like that.

A year later, Carroo has been so disappointing that he may not even make the 53-player roster.

That’s the word from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who reports that it is far from certain that Carroo will make the team at the end of the preseason.

The Dolphins gave Carroo every opportunity to contribute as a rookie, putting him in the starting lineup in Week One. But after catching two passes in that game, he caught just one more pass for the rest of the season and was inactive for the last two games of the regular season, and for the playoffs.

That was a disappointing first season in Miami, and if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry, he won’t even have a second season in Miami.

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With another “bad cop” period looming, NFL is currently playing “good cop”

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A narrative has emerged from the relaxation of the celebration rules, and it should cause the league’s players to keep one hand on their wallets.

As explained by Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, the effort to change the “No Fun League” to the “Now, Fun League” comes from a desire by Commissioner Roger Goodell to mend fences with players.

“The Commissioner has made an effort to do it,” Giants co-owner John Mara told Breer. “Going around and meeting with them on the celebration rule, I think, is just one example. That’s important. We try to engage with them on the Competition Committee with the rules changes every year. We get good feedback and put a lot of that into effect.

“So I think that’s always important to do that, and I know Roger has made that a priority, and hopefully that’ll pay off for both sides in the end.”

“Pay off” is the key word, because it doesn’t take an excessive dose of cynicism to realize that the NFL realizes that the labor deal expires in less than four years. And so before Goodell and his partners can once again be the “bad cop” at the bargaining table, Goodell needs to spend some time playing the role of “good cop.” Especially since the fumes are still lingering from Goodell’s Judge Dredd approach to the bounty scandal and #DeflateGate — not to mention a fairly blatant instance of the NFL playing fast and loose with the accounting.

“The players’ perspective is important — we truly are partners in the business,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told Breer. “And that’s something certainly from an ownership standpoint that we’ve never lost sight of. I think the Commissioner’s initiative here in recent years to try and include them more in the decision-making process is a positive. That should serve us both well going forward.”

It will definitely serve the owners well if the players can be persuaded to believe that take-and-take has become give-and-take until the time comes to take and take and take some more. And that time comes in fewer than four years.

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Fabian Moreau signs to wrap up Washington’s draft class

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There are plenty of people working in politics in Washington, D.C. who can’t agree on anything, but that’s not the case for the football team.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau signed with the Redskins on Friday, leaving them with all of their draft picks signed heading into Memorial Day weekend. Moreau, a third-round pick in April and one of 10 overall selections, agreed to the standard four-year deal for players drafted outside of the first round.

Moreau started 40 games at UCLA and is coming off a two-interception season as a senior. Moreau turned in a fast 40 time and showed well in other drills during the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which likely helped him move up a bit come draft day.

Moreau is one of eight corners on the Washington roster and will vie for snaps behind Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland as a rookie.

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Vikings sign three more draft picks

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The Vikings started signing draft picks yesterday, and now they’re nearly halfway finished with the process.

The team announced deals with three more picks today, giving them five of their 11 selections with signed contracts.

Today’s signings include fourth-round defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, fourth-round linebacker Ben Gedeon, and fifth-round guard Danny Isidora.

They had previously signed fifth-round wide receiver Rodney Adams and seventh-round defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo.

The Vikings dealt in bulk this draft, without a first-rounder but four sevenths, giving them plenty of guys to sift through.

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Mike Zimmer plans to return to Minnesota June 4

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Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is taking some time away from the team in the wake of his eighth eye surgery.

At the time of his departure, the team said they anticipated he would be back to work in a few weeks and they provided more information about the timeline on Friday.

The Vikings announced that Zimmer, who is recuperating at his ranch in Kentucky, plans to return to Minnesota on June 4. He has an appointment with doctors on June 5 and hopes to receive clearance to resume working at that point.

If that happens, Zimmer, who General Manager Rick Spielman said is in regular communication with the rest of the staff, will be back in time for the final set of OTA practices and the team’s mandatory minicamp, which runs from June 13-15.

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Damarious Randall: You’ll see why Packers believe in me this year

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The Packers took a pair of defensive backs in the second round of this year’s draft, which didn’t come as a huge surprise after they lost a couple of members of last year’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

One returning member of the cornerback corps says that it won’t just be new faces who are responsible for better results this time around, however. Cornerback Damarious Randall missed six games because of injury last season and says that a return to health is going to lead to a more effective season on the field.

“I was hurt. But last year is last year,” Randall said, via ESPN.com. “Obviously moving forward, I am healthy and hopefully I’m going to stay healthy. And people are going to see why I was drafted in the first round. People are going to see why the Packers believe in me and why they kept putting me out there. People will see. My game is going to speak for itself. If I come back and be an All-Pro guy, a Pro Bowler, then people are going to say, ‘Ohhhhh, it was the injuries’ and this and that. But I’m just going to let them talk.”

Randall was the team’s first-round pick in 2015, a year after they took safety HaHa Clinton-Dix in the first round and a round before they added cornerback Quinten Rollins, and the addition of two more high picks this year means Green Bay has used a lot of draft capital on defensive backs recently. Getting the desired return on that investment would do a lot for their hopes of repeating as the NFC North champions.

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Brandon Jacobs: Jim Harbaugh didn’t know what he was doing

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Jim Harbaugh has had success everywhere he’s coached, but one of his former players was not impressed with their time together.

Brandon Jacobs, the retired running back who spent time playing for Harbaugh’s 49ers in 2012, left San Francisco not thinking highly of Harbaugh.

“Jim, I had a lot of respect for Jim when I was there – before I got to know him,” Jacobs said on CBS Sports Radio. “I enjoyed my time there, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye. I knew a little bit more about football than what they led on.”

Jacobs said Harbaugh didn’t have much of a grasp of the Xs and Os of coaching and that the assistants deserved more of the credit.

“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” Jacobs said. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won. Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man.”

Jacobs was injured at the start of his 49ers tenure, a bench warmer once he got healthy, and eventually got suspended by the team and then released for complaining about his playing time on social media. So it’s not exactly a surprise that he doesn’t have fond memories of his time with Harbaugh.

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ESPN hires Chip Kelly

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The two-time former NFL coach with a pair of buyouts will be getting paid by a network in 2017.

ESPN announced Friday that Kelly has joined the operation as a studio analyst. He’ll be part of the Saturday college football cooperate, and he’ll appear Sundays on SportsCenter to provide NFL analysis.

“I spoke with a lot of people this offseason about different situations for me — in coaching and TV,” Kelly said in a statement, via the Associated Press. “I had various opportunities in both. In the end, I have had a relationship with ESPN for many years from when I was coaching and after speaking with them, I decided it was the best step for me to take.”

In March, Kelly auditioned for a job at FOX. He wasn’t hired there. He also was considered for offensive coordinator jobs in the NFL, but likewise didn’t end up with a new team.

For starters, ESPN should get Kelly to a studio so that he can explain his assessment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment, Kelly’s opinions regarding Kaepernick’s skills and abilities, and whether and to what extent current NFL coaches and/or executives have called Kelly for his input on the still-unemployed quarterback. If, that is, ESPN is willing to risk ongoing ankle-biting from those who insist that the recent layoffs flow not from a seismic shift in the cable TV industry but from a perceived lean to the left.

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LeSean McCoy looks forward to catching passes in new Bills offense

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As the Bills implement a new offense, questions remain regarding whether running back LeSean McCoy will be able to adjust his running style to the one-cut approach that coordinator Rick Dennison employs. There’s no question about McCoy’s level of excitement regarding the new air attack in Buffalo.

“The running backs getting the ball in the passing game,” McCoy told reporters on Thursday. “That’s something I’ve been a part of, but it’s been a while since I’ve actually got the ball a lot in the air — we do a lot of that. [Rick Dennison is] big on that, you look at all the successful running backs that’s been in his offense, from Arian Foster who I’m a big fan of, he did it on the ground and in the air.”

One thing that will help the Buffalo offense is the fact that, before the snap, there won’t be many clues about what’s coming.

“Everything looks the same,” McCoy said. “Actually talking to Sean [McDermott] about why he hired [Rick Dennison], the biggest thing is – he said that it’s harder to defend because everything looks the same, as a defense, they look for alignments, they look for different cheats, different formations, and everything looks the same in our offense and it’s hard, if it’s a pass or run, you can’t tell. Being a part of that, is special to me because you don’t know what it is, and then the ability to get the ball to you running backs in open field with routes against linebackers, it’s an easy win.”

It will be an easy win if McCoy develops into a Foster-style weapon. McCoy’s biggest year as a pass catcher came in 2010, when while part of Andy Reid’s offense McCoy caught 78 passes. McCoy averaged 41 catches per year with Rex Ryan as the head coach.

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Ty Montgomery getting used to being a running back

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As it turns out, the only thing Ty Montgomery didn’t change this offseason was his uniform number.

The Packers wide receiver-turned-running back is sticking with the position he was forced into out of necessity last year, and he’s sticking with his familiar number 88 jersey.

But he’s now a full-time running back, and he’s had to adjust many things because of it, including his own expectations.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d be, as of right now, the starter for an NFL team at the running back position,” Montgomery said, via Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin. “Actually, I was thinking about that today. I was just like, ‘Man, I’m going into my third year, but it feels like I’m going into my second year.’ It feels like I’m coming off a rookie year.

“I like speaking things into existence and being positive, but I don’t want to be — I don’t know if arrogant is the right word — but I don’t want to overthink it. I’m excited. I’m hopeful. I’m ready to get this thing rolling this year.”

The Packers would be happy with him continuing his performance from last year, when he turned 77 carries into 457 yards (5.9 yards per). And he said he feels more natural now in the 220-pound range, after having to work to stay under that number in the past (Eddie Lacy: “You rang?”).

But the starting job is all his now, with the official declaration coming after Lacy left town and they cut veterans James Starks and Christine Michael, leaving him atop a depth chart which includes three draft picks and two undrafted rookies.

He was happy to learn he’d get to keep his number, since the league allows players to keep their original number (as long as they aren’t switching between ineligible and eligible positions).

“It was, ‘I want to keep it, is there any way I can keep it?’ Because I’ve seen guys out of position based on their number before,” Montgomery said. “So I just started doing the research myself. It’s who I am. It’s me. It’s been my number, and if I don’t have to change it, why should I?”

As long as he continues to perform the way he did last season, they should be fine with that.

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Ben McAdoo: Not accurate that Giants avoided throwing to Victor Cruz

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Wide receiver Victor Cruz got a new job on Thursday when he signed a deal with the Bears for the 2017 season, but he made headlines before that thanks to a radio interview in New York.

Cruz said that his response to a reduction in passes coming his way halfway through the year as “they don’t want me here anymore” and shared his belief that cutting his role made it easier to cut him this offseason because there would be fan backlash if they released a 1,000-yard receiver. A host on 105.1 pointed out that it was hard to believe Eli Manning would not throw to him if he was open and Cruz agreed, but added “that’s the only way” it made sense.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo was asked about Cruz’ comments on Thursday and initially said he wouldn’t answer before going ahead with a denial of Cruz’s suggestion.

“Do you believe it’s accurate? There’s no accuracy to it,” McAdoo said, via NJ.com.

Cruz tried to put some toothpaste back in the tube later in the day, saying that he is “forever grateful” to the Giants and that he never said he felt “sabotaged” by the team. He didn’t use that word, but he made it clear in the interview that he didn’t feel good about the way the team handled him last season.

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Eric Mangini would vouch for Colin Kaepernick, if a team asked

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Eric Mangini spent three years as an assistant coach on the 49ers and got to know Colin Kaepernick well, and he wishes some team would call him to ask for advice about Kaepernick. Because Mangini thinks Kaepernick is a player who deserves a chance.

“I haven’t personally talked to anybody about it, but what I will say about Colin is I had a really good experience with Colin,” Mangini said this morning on PFT Live. “I wasn’t there over the last season where the protest and the different off the field issues became more of a focal point. But as a player, his numbers last season weren’t that far off from the year he brought the team to the NFC Championship Game. And he should get an opportunity. I think he’s got to get an opportunity.”

Mangini still believes that at some point before the season, some team is going to realize it has a need at quarterback that Kaepernick can fill.

“I think as the market settles and people start looking at these young quarterbacks they brought in and start evaluating the quarterback situation, they might realize it may not look as good as they hoped it would be,” Mangini said. “I always thought he would be a good fit for the Browns. Hue [Jackson’s] system is multiple shifts and motions, and that’s what he did in San Francisco. Hue has an element of quarterback-driven runs, I think Colin is excellent as that. As a candidate, him vs. RGIII a year ago, I’d take Colin 10 times out of 10.”

The Browns apparently don’t agree, because they’ve shown no interest in Kaepernick. So far only the Seahawks have been identified as a team giving Kaepernick a look. Mangini thinks a lot of other teams are being foolish by ignoring a quarterback who could make a difference.

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