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PFT’s postseason awards

AP

In past years, we’ve delayed the PFT postseason awards until after the conclusion of the postseason.  But with the Associated Press now unveiling its postseason awards the week before the Super Bowl, we’ve decided to announce ours in one fell swoop.

We’ll engage in a more comprehensive debate, with PFT Planet polling, when the AP recipients are named.

For now, at a time when you still actually care about these things, here are the men who, in our opinion, deserve special recognition.

1.  MVP.

Winner:  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Runner-up:  Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Honorable mention:  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

I joked during Football Night In America that Sunday’s performance from Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn arguably revealed Rodgers as a system quarterback.  And it’s possible that some of the 50 AP voters will downgrade Rodgers based on the perception that he’s not all that much of an upgrade over Flynn.

But that would be unfair to Rodgers, who took a team that climbed to the top of the mountain in February 2011 and, with no offseason training and a truncated training camp, led them out of the valley of 0-0 to a 13-game winning streak.  Along the way, Rodgers had only one clunker — the Week 14 loss at Kansas City.

For the season, Rodgers generated an uncanny 122.5 passer rating, with 45 touchdown passes and six interceptions.  Making the assumption that Rodgers would have performed at least as well as Flynn on Sunday against the Lions, Rodgers would have finished the year with 5,163 yards and 50 touchdown passes, tying Brady for the all-time single-season record.  Though Rodgers obviously didn’t churn out those numbers, he shouldn’t be punished for the fact that he plays for a head coach who, unlike Pats coach Bill Belichick and Saints coach Sean Payton, isn’t willing to expose a key player to injury in meaningless games in the name of statistical achievement.

We strongly considered a Brees/Rodgers co-MVP.  In the end, however, we decided that there should be only one MVP — even though the AP voting system is conducive to ties, since it employs only 50 total votes and permits voters to split their ballots.

And here’s one last point, aimed specifically at the AP voters who are contemplating following the lead of NFL Magazine and voting for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning based on the demonstration of his value via his absence.  With momentum building for Brees, a Ralph Nader-style vote would disrespect the legitimate contenders.  In the end, a wasted ballot on Peyton could determine the outcome of the entire voting.

2.  Offensive player of the year.

Winner:  Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Runner-up:  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Honorable mention:  Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Though the MVP vote likely won’t be unanimous, this one should be.  Brees obliterated the 27-year-old single-season passing yardage record with 5,476, he became the only player in league history to throw for 5,000 or more yards twice in his career, and he broke his own record for completion percentage, connecting on 71.2 percent of his throws.  Brees also completed more passes (468) than the previous single-season record holder, Peyton Manning (450, in 2010).

Brees’ efforts easily overcome noteworthy performances from Brady (5,235 passing yards), Stafford (5,038 passing yards), Jones-Drew (1,606 rushing yards), and Gronkowski, who set single-season tight end records for receiving touchdowns (17) and total yards (1,327).

3.  Defensive Player of the Year.

Winner:  Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Runner-up:  Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

Honorable mention:  Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Tying for fifth in sacks and delivering three of them in a season-opening shellacking of the Steelers and during the prime-time Harbowl on Thanksgiving night, Suggs has become the latest great player on a Ravens defense that is poised to make a serious run at a Super Bowl.  He did enough to squeak past Pierre-Paul, who went from first-round project in 2010 to Pro Bowler (who wasn’t even on the ballot) in 2011.  Disruptive and showing the kind of potential that could make him the franchise’s best defensive player since Michael Strahan or maybe Lawrence Taylor, Pierre-Paul will win this award once or twice, eventually.

But for the fact that the Vikings won only three games this year, Allen would have captured this award easily.  His 22.0 sacks on an otherwise punchless defense represents a tremendous accomplishment, and he deserves credit for continuing to play hard even as plenty of teammates failed to recognize and emulate his example.

4.  Coach of the Year.

Winner:  Jim Harbaugh, 49ers.

Runner-up:  Mike McCarthy, Packers.

Honorable mention:  Gary Kubiak, Texans; Marvin Lewis, Bengals; Jim Schwartz, Lions; Bill Belichick, Patriots; John Fox, Broncos.

Harbaugh did the unthinkable.  Though some (i.e., me) predicted that the Niners would win the NFC West, the prediction came more from a “none of the above” vibe.  No one expected the Niners to emerge with 13 victories, especially with Harbaugh’s first year being hampered by the lockout.

But Jim Harbaugh would make nor accept excuses, and the team’s performance reflected that attitude.

McCarthy merits consideration because he managed to motivate a team that had every right to be complacent.  Kubiak overcame a mine field of obstacles to take the Texans to the playoffs for the first time.  Lewis helped the young Bengals scratch and claw their way to the playoffs.  Schwartz led the Lions back to the postseason for the first time since 1999, reversing more than a decade of futility.  Belichick the coach made chicken salad out of the roster that Belichick the personnel guru assembled.  And Fox was willing to change the offense to suit Tim Tebow, winning an unlikely division title because of it.

5.  Comeback Player of the Year.

Winner:  Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

Runner-up:  Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil.

Honorable mention:  Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

There’s a chance that some AP voters may choose to vote to Stafford, citing his return from two years of injuries and influenced by his strong late-season showings against the Raiders, Chargers, and Packers.  But “comeback” implies that there was a pre-existing NFL standard set by the player.  Stafford, due to injuries, had no baseline.  (Under that logic, Giants receiver Victor Cruz would get some votes, too.)

Jackson did.  And he finished second in the league in tackles after missing all of 2010 with a torn left pectoral muscle and 10 games in 2009 due to the same injury on the right side.  He also provided a rare bright spot in a dreary Browns’ roster.

Dumervil gets the second-place nod because he made it back to the Pro Bowl a year after missing the full season with a torn pectoral of his own, getting back to elite level even though the Broncos hired a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator — and shifted from the 3-4 back to the 4-3 alignment.

Smith went from 554 receiving yards and a presumption he’d be traded or released to 1,394 yards.

6.  Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner:  Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Runner-up:  Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

Honorable mention:  Bengals receiver A.J. Green, Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith, Falcons receiver Julio Jones.

Newton had the greatest rookie season of any quarterback in league history, giving him the edge over Dalton and his first-year playoff berth.  Passing for a rookie record 4,051 yards, accounting for a rookie record 35 touchdowns, and rushing for an all-time quarterback record of 15 touchdowns, Newton showed a combination of talent, competitiveness, and leadership that will draw free agents to Carolina for years to come.

Dalton made Bengals fans quickly forget about Carson Palmer, but the presence of Green gave rise to the chicken-egg question regarding whether a great quarterback makes a great receiver, or vice-versa.

In Dallas, Smith has become a key contributor at right tackle, good enough that he could end up being the team’s long-term left tackle.

For the Falcons, Jones had a strong year despite chronic hamstring injuries.  The jury is still out on whether the trade up to get him was worth the investment.

7.  Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner:  Broncos linebacker Von Miller.

Runner-up:  49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

Honorable mention:  Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

Miller quickly became one of the leaders of the Denver defense.  Though Smith has more sacks (14.0 vs. 11.5), Smith didn’t start a single game.  Miller started 15.

Watt and Kerrigan became disruptive forces on their respective defenses.  All four men could be perennial Pro Bowlers.

8.  Executive of the Year.

Winner:  Bengals president Mike Brown.

Runner-up:  49ers G.M. Trent Baalke.

Honorable mention:  Lions G.M. Martin Mayhew, Texans G.M. Rick Smith.

By picking receiver A.J. Green in round one and quarterback Andy Dalton in round two, Brown landed a cornerstone combination that should fuel the passing game for years to come.  And by fleecing the Raiders for a first-round pick and a second-round pick in exchange for the rights to a quarterback who never would play again for the Bengals, Brown put himself in position to further lay the foundation for a bright future.

In San Francisco, Baalke has been closely involved in the building of a roster that underachieved in 2010, but that found its full potential in 2011.  Under Mayhew, the Lions have steadily improved since the ouster of Matt Millen.  And the Texans did enough to upgrade their defense in order to do what no Texans team had ever done — get to the playoffs.

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OBJ is a no-show for Day One of OTAs

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Uh-oh, OBJ.

The Giants receiver, entering his fourth NFL season, skipped the first day of the team’s Organized Team Activities, according to Dan Duggan of NJ.com. Duggan says the reason for the absence isn’t known, and that it’s likewise unknown whether he’ll show up for any of the other nine OTA sessions.

The practices are voluntary, but as the on-field culmination of the offseason program they take on greater importance than other April-to-June workouts. With Beckham eligible for a new contract following the completion of his third season, it’s possible that he’s choosing to stay away in order to get paid.

The Giants have another OTA on Tuesday, and then again on Thursday. Thursday’s practice will be open to the media. Coach Ben McAdoo technically can’t say or do anything to suggest that presence is required; however, some coaches have a way of making their frustration known, private or publicly.

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O.J. Simpson will have July parole hearing

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The Juice could be loose, again.

Via Andrew Blankstein and Daniella Silva of NBC News, Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson will have a parole hearing in July. He has served nine years of a 33-year sentence on charges arising from a bungled effort to reclaim memorabilia that he believed was stolen from him.

Some contend the Nevada justice system threw the book at Simpson due to the perception that he got away with a double murder in California, with the alleged killing of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ronald Goldman.

The key question regarding Simpson’s potential freedom will be whether and to what extent discretion may be exercised by the parole board. That discretion will allow anyone who thinks he should be serving life without parole for the 1994 killings to justify keeping him behind bars for more of that 33-year term.

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Ameer Abdullah could be headed for a featured role in Detroit

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The running back the Cardinals wanted to draft before drafting David Johnson may soon get a chance to have an impact similar to Arizona’s 2015 Plan B option.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah recently said he’d be better than any other option the team may bring in. They didn’t bring anyone in via free agency or the draft, which per the team’s official website has created the impression that Abdullah will have a featured role in 2017, his third NFL season.

The question is whether he can stay healthy. Abdullah finished his rookie season (with 16 appearances and 597 rushing yards) needing shoulder surgery. Last year, a Week Two foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.

Other options are Theo Riddick (who had 357 yards rushing in 2016), Zach Zenner (334 yards), and Dwayne Washington (265 yards). Collectively, the Lions generated 1,310 rushing yards (30th in the league), with an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

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Nevada, NFL may be at odds over mobile betting at Raiders games

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It won’t be easy for the NFL to keep gambling at arm’s length when the Raiders are playing in Las Vegas.

The latest example of that comes from the Nevada Gaming Commission, which plans to allow fans to place bets inside the Raiders’ new stadium, using mobile apps that are legal within Nevada state lines.

The NFL, of course, isn’t keen on that, and the Raiders’ lease in the stadium specifically prohibits “any Gaming or Gambling, the maintaining or operating of a Gaming Establishment and/or sports wagering or any wagering on racing or other non-sports events.” But Nevada Gaming Commission chairman Tony Alamo told ESPN that his commission, not the league’s lease with the stadium authority, would make the rules about where mobile betting is allowed.

“The NFL has not approached me for any policy decisions,” Alamo said. “The Nevada Gaming Commission is the policy maker for the state of Nevada and gaming, and they have not approached us in any shape, way or form.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN in the Raiders “are required to abide by League rules on the matter.” But do the Raiders have the authority to prevent people from betting on mobile apps if the Gaming Commission allows it? That’s one of many questions that is sure to come up as the anti-gambling NFL navigates the uncharted territory of playing in America’s gambling capital.

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Chiefs sign Tourek Williams

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The Chiefs got a look at linebacker Tourek Williams when he played for the Chargers and now they’ll be getting a closer view.

The NFL’s transaction wire brought word on Monday that the Chiefs have signed Williams to their 90-man roster. Linebacker Victor Ochi was waived in a corresponding move.

Williams was a sixth-round pick of the Chargers in 2013 and saw action in 44 games over the last three seasons, although a broken foot kept him off the field for the entire 2015 season. He played in every game last year and had 14 tackles and a sack while seeing more time on special teams than on defense.

Ochi played two games for the Jets last year and had two tackles.

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Aaron Donald not at OTAs as contract talks go on

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The Rams exercised their option on defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s contract for the 2018 season, but General Manager Les Snead said that a lucrative, long-term contract extension was “definitely coming.”

Snead also said that “whether he gets a raise or not,” Donald would show up and “do the things he does.” That wasn’t the case on Monday, the first day of the team’s Organized Team Activities.

Donald was not at the team’s practice, which is voluntary, and coach Sean McVay declined to discuss the reason for his absence beyond saying it was not related to an injury. Steve Wyche of NFL Media reports that “all indications” are that Donald is staying away for contract reasons and General Manager Les Snead seemed to confirm that while also saying that a deal may not be far off.

“We’re at the serious stages of renegotiating,” Snead said, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very hopeful this will get done.”

If a deal does get done, Donald will move way up the list of best-paid defensive players in the game and could nudge Broncos linebacker Von Miller out of the top spot once pen is put to paper.

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Patriots add another receiver

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The New England Patriots have cornered the market on skill-position players in 2017. They’ve now added another. Sort of.

The team has announced signing of receiver DeAndrew White. But White isn’t a new arrival. After being cut by the 49ers last September, White spent most of the year on the New England practice squad.

White appeared in four game as an updraft rookie in 2015, catching two passes for 18 yards. White also returned six kicks for 142 yards and returned one punt for four yards.

He’s one of 11 receivers currently on the roster, with Brandin Cooks being the highest profile arrival in 2017, by far.

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Doug Whaley claims credit for “parting gift” of two first-round picks

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Former Bills G.M. Doug Whaley broke his silence after being fired three weeks ago. Some would say he shouldn’t have.

Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com), Whaley made this claim regarding the trade that saw the Bills drop from No. 10 in round one to No. 27: “As a parting gift, we left them with two [first-round picks] next year.”

This implies that Whaley, who would be fired less than three days after the trade was made, actually had any say over the decision to swap the top-10 pick that the team’s subpar performance earned for the selection belonging to one of the final-eight franchises. That’s how the Bills picked up a second first-rounder in 2018.

Even if Whaley was involved, it wasn’t a “gift”; it was the result of a deliberate decision-making process fueled by a very strong desire on the part of the Chiefs to land quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Whaley likely was trying to be loose or funny or whatever. After his disastrous January press conference, however, his words will now be as scrutinized as his personnel decisions if/when he’s ever considered for other G.M. positions. On that point, Whaley said that if he ever gets another job of that kind in the future, he’ll have a clear objective from the get-go. “I would make sure I secured a franchise QB, quickly.”

If it were only that easy. As more than a few teams have proven more than a few times each, it’s not like ordering a new sweatshirt on Amazon.

Whaley surely thought he had found a franchise quarterback in 2013, when the team made EJ Manuel the first quarterback drafted. Whaley got it wrong, which could make it a lot harder for him to ever get another chance to find a franchise quarterback.

That doesn’t mean Whaley shouldn’t be gainfully employed in the NFL. He did very well in the Pittsburgh front office, well enough to become a G.M. He has a place in the league, just not one that requires speaking extemporaneously in public or securing franchise quarterbacks.

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Jets waive Devin Smith after torn ACL

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The Jets haven’t gotten much return on the second-round pick they used on wide receiver Devin Smith in the 2015 draft and that wasn’t going to change this season.

Smith tore his ACL in April and the team waived him with an injury designation on Monday. Should Smith pass through waivers unclaimed, he will revert to injured reserve. The Jets could also reach an injury settlement with Smith and cut him loose altogether, although that decision could wait until they see how his recovery progresses.

It’s the second time Smith has torn his ACL since joining the Jets. He suffered the first injury late in the 2015 season and missed 12 games last year while he was rehabbing. He caught one pass for 20 yards to go with nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown during his rookie season.

The Jets signed wide receiver Deshon Foxx, who they signed in January and waived earlier this month to make room for undrafted free agent signings.

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Matt Elam arrested for grand theft, battery

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Former Ravens first-round pick and current free agent Matt Elam has landed in legal trouble for the second time this year.

Elam was arrested and booked in Delray Beach, Florida on charges of grand theft and battery. TMZ Sports first reported news of the arrest and details beyond the $4,500 bond for Elam’s release aren’t known at the moment.

Elam was also arrested on charges of marijuana possession with the intent to sell or deliver and possession of hydrocodone in February.

Elam became a free agent a short time later as his rookie deal was up and the Ravens opted not to exercise their option on his contract for the 2017 season. The 2013 first-round pick had four tackles in nine games last year and there haven’t been any reports of interest in his services as a football player this offseason. That seems unlikely to change given Monday’s developments.

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Rams sign two ahead of OTAs

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The Rams will kick off their organized team activities this week with a couple of new players on the roster.

The team announced the moves on Monday along with a pair of deletions from the roster. They have signed defensive tackles Omarius Bryant and A.J. Jefferson while waiving offensive lineman Kwayde Miller. They also announced that defensive back Dravious Wright has left the team.

This will be Bryant’s second stint with an NFL team since going undrafted out of Western Kentucky. He was initially signed by the Ravens earlier this month, but was waived a few days later when the Ravens needed roster space for others.

Jefferson had 35 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks during his four years at Mississippi State.

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Reggie Bush still wants to play

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Reggie Bush had one of the worst seasons in NFL history last year, becoming the first running back ever to carry the ball more than 10 times and finish with negative rushing yardage. But he still thinks he has something to offer.

Bush, the free agent running back, told NFL Media he’s eager to sign with an NFL team and expects to be in the league in 2017.

“That’s my plan,” Bush said. “Going into year 12, I still feel like I have a lot left to prove, a lot left to give this game before I’m done. I don’t want to put a number on how many years I have left. I think once you get past year 10, you just gotta take it one year at a time and go from there. I’m still excited, still looking forward to playing football again this season, still staying in shape, still working out. I plan to be somewhere in September.”

Bush, who played in 13 games for the Bills last year and finished with 12 carries for negative three yards, said some teams are interested.

“I’ve spoken to a few teams, yes,” Bush said. “But I’m gonna be patient and make sure I make the right decision for me and for my family.”

The 32-year-old Bush was one of the most exciting players in college football history at USC and has had a solid if somewhat disappointing NFL career. It’s hard to believe he has much left, but he doesn’t want anyone else telling him he’s done.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick “excited” to join Buccaneers

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While it wasn’t quite the same 44-shot uzi-spray that a Jets quarterback once used on the way through the door, a former Jets quarterback has repeatedly uttered the E-word when talking about his new team.

New Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, in comments to the team’s official website (EXCLUSIVE!) used the term “excited” five times.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come to a team that’s really on the rise, with a great young quarterback in Jameis [Winston], just to come and try to provide some of my experiences,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just met him for the first time today. He seems like a great kid, though, lots of energy. I’m very excited to work with him and I think he’s excited to have me here. We’ll get to work pretty soon. . . .

“I think both sides were excited because there are a lot of good pieces here. I just wanted to be a part of it and I’m happy they have me here. . . . I’m excited to be here, I’m excited to get to work.”

The Bucs will be excited if Fitzpatrick doesn’t actually have to play. He’s there to mentor Winston and to be ready to go if/when Winston’s physical style of play gets him injured. (Fitzpatrick also may be expected to coax Winston to play with a little less physicality.)

The fans will be excited if the Buccaneers, regardless of who the quarterback is, can get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. That would definitely have Fitzpatrick feeling excited, given that Fitzpatrick has yet to be on a playoff roster despite 12 prior NFL seasons and now seven different teams.

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Undercover visit with Bears helped Mitchell Trubisky land in Chicago

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One of the biggest curveballs in the first round of the draft came when the Bears traded up to the second overall pick in order to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

49ers General Manager John Lynch traded the pick to the Bears and wondered whether the Bears would take defensive tackle Solomon Thomas (who ultimately went third to the Niners), which made sense because there weren’t too many people linking the Bears with Trubisky. It helped that the team’s trip to Chapel Hill to work out Trubisky went down with plenty of cloak and dagger employed.

Dan Wiederer of Chicago Tribune got the details of the trip, including a note that Trubisky made a dinner reservation for the group under the name James McMahon. That reference to Bears history struck General Manager Ryan Pace as a “cool” move and Pace also used some misdirection during a workout on an intramural field on the North Carolina campus.

Someone asked if Pace and company were from the Cowboys and Pace said they were and then didn’t dispute the questioner’s guess that head coach John Fox was Paul Pasqualoni. It’s good luck for Pace and company that the man wasn’t aware Pasqualoni hasn’t coached for the Cowboys since 2010. Pace’s biggest worry was that fans who spotted Fox, who used to coach the Panthers, at the airport might put pictures on social media that spilled the beans on their visit.

That doesn’t seem to have happened and the Bears obviously liked what they saw and learned from Trubisky, even if Wiederer’s consistently entertaining and engaging story makes it clear he had to combat with a talkative Fox over steaks and red wine at that aforementioned dinner. If he can do as well against NFL defenses, the Bears will have the quarterback spot locked down for a while.

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Michael Oher’s absence not just concussion-related

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Panthers left tackle Michael Oher, whose career resurgence was derailed by an early-season concussion that caused him to miss 13 games and counting, continues to be absent from the team. But it’s more than the concussion keeping him away, reportedly.

Via Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers aren’t expecting Oher to show up on Tuesday for the launch of OTAs. Person reports that the absence isn’t solely related to the concussion.

Oher also is dealing with personal issues. Those included an April altercation with an Uber driver in Nashville. As Person notes, Oher also seemed to be out of shape in the mugshot arising from the Uber incident.

The Panthers haven’t written Oher off, but between the signing of Matt Kalil and the drafting in round two of Taylor Moton, Carolina seems to be preparing to move on without Oher.

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