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Week 17 Monday 10-pack

Green Bay Packers quarterback Flynn hands off the ball against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFL football game in Green Bay Reuters

It’s the first Monday of the year, and it’s the last Monday 10-pack of the year.

I miss the days when football season ended before December 31.

As a setup goes, that’s all I got.  Let’s get on to the 10 takes from a 32-team season-ending Sunday.

1.  Packers should strongly consider franchising Flynn.

In 2008, after the first annual Brett Favre retirement, the Packers drafted two quarterbacks.  The gesture was interpreted by some (i.e., by us) as a bolting of the door behind Favre and the blocking of it with large pieces of furniture.

Brian Brohm, who entered the 2007 college football season as one of the top prospects, slid to the Packers in round two, pick 56.  LSU’s Matt Flynn was an afterthought, with pick number 209 in round seven.  Four seasons later, Brohm is long gone — and Flynn showed on Sunday that he’ll be the hottest commodity in the 2012 free-agent market.

If he gets there.

Like Matt Cassel of the Patriots in 2009, the Packers should think about slapping the franchise tag on Flynn, in order to trade him to a quarterback-needy team.  With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III the best options in the draft, teams like the Redskins and Dolphins and Browns and maybe the Seahawks will be clamoring for a proven commodity like Flynn.

The risk, of course, is that Flynn would sign the franchise tag but no serious offers would come for his services, given that the starting point for a long-term deal would be the one-year guaranteed salary of $14.5 million or so in 2012.  If that would happen, the Packers would be stuck with a backup earning roughly $6.5 million more next year than starter Aaron Rodgers, who is due to earn a base salary of $8 million next season.

The other side of the coin is that Flynn will walk away with plenty of coins in his pockets — and zero compensation to the team that transformed him from a seventh-round pick into a guy who’ll be the most coveted quarterback not named Luck or Griffin.

2.  Rex should be on the hot seat.

Though it’s too early to fire Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has two appearances in the AFC title game in three seasons as a head coach, he deserves the pressure that goes along with the accountability for guaranteeing a Super Bowl win (and, even more importantly in New York, a win over the Giants) and failing to deliver.  Only so many times can a head coach protect his players and assistants by saying “put the blame on me” until someone decides to put the blame on him.

Yes, his players seem to still believe.  More importantly, the owner seems to still believe.  But the players and the owner may believe a little less in 2012 — especially if Rex emerges from a disappointing 2011 season (in light of the expectations fueled by Ryan) as brash and bold as ever.

Beyond the boundaries of his team, Rex has become a caricature.  (Some would say he already was one.)  If that sense ever makes its way into the locker room, and eventually it should, it’ll be time to move on.

Apart from all the words, it’s one specific action that could, as a practical matter, put Rex in a position to be coaching for his job in 2012.  The misguided decision to make receiver Santonio Holmes a captain, given that Holmes spent much of the year not acting like a captain, could come back to haunt Ryan.

Arguably, it already is.  And now Rex has a mess on his hands, especially since a guy who spent much of Sunday acting like he didn’t want to be with the Jets signed a long-term, big-money deal before the season.

3.  Steelers fleeced Jets on Holmes.

Speaking of Santonio, Steelers fans didn’t care much for the abrupt decision to trade Holmes to New York for a fifth-round pick in 2010.  With a four-game suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy coming on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger’s misadventures in Milledgeville, it was perceived that the Steelers’ decision was driven less by football strategy and more by public relations sensitivities.

But the Steelers were looking ahead.  With Holmes due to miss the first four games of the 2010 season and one wake-n-bake away from a one-year suspension, the Steelers opted to unload a potential headache — especially since the Steelers knew they’d never tie their hands by giving Holmes a huge contract.

And so the Steelers didn’t simply get a fifth-round pick.  The Steelers also received the peace of mind that comes from dumping a wideout who would have been a major pain in the butt for the balance of 2010, and who simply no longer factored into their plans.

Meanwhile, the Steelers traded that fifth-round pick to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick.  And with that sixth-round pick the Steelers found their 2011 MVP in round six of the same draft.  Receiver Antonio Brown has become almost everything Holmes was as a player, without creating any of the headaches or other issues that go hand in hand with having Holmes on the team.

Advantage Steelers.

4.  Texans-Bengals game could be the key to the AFC playoffs.

I’ve been concerned throughout much of the 2011 season that, once the Texans get to the postseason, a lack of playoff experience would keep them from being successful.  But their first opponent is the Bengals, a team with young players having no playoff experience and, by all appearances, no players having any positive playoff experiences.

So the Texans, who beat the Bengals last month after trailing 16-3 at the half and 19-10 after three quarters, will have a very good shot at holding off the No. 6 seed.  Taking a broader look at the AFC field, the outcome of that game could have a huge bearing on the determination of the eventual conference champion.

If Houston holds serve at home, it will be time for a return to Baltimore, where the Ravens’ eight regular-season wins included a trouncing of the Texans.  The Steelers, after most likely beating Denver, will head to New England.

Though Baltimore would have to face one of those two potent teams (either Pittsburgh at home, where the Ravens won 35-7 in Week One or the Patriots in New England, where the Ravens won in the playoffs two years ago, 33-14), the Ravens wouldn’t have to play both of them.  Which, for the Ravens, is nice.

If, in contrast, the Bengals upset the Texans, Cincinnati would head to Foxboro — and Pittsburgh would return to Baltimore with a burst of momentum and a shot at becoming the latest wild-card winner to catch a division rival flat-footed after a bye week and knock them out of the playoffs.  If Baltimore manages to beat the Steelers for a third time this year, the reward would be a trip to New England.

The converse is true for the Pats.  A win by the Bengals keeps New England from having to play both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  If Houston wins, the Patriots would have to face a Steelers team that gave New England one of its three 2011 losses before inviting the Ravens back to town.

One way or the other, the outcome of Saturday’s game will make the path to Indy considerably easier for New England or Baltimore, by sending the Steelers to one place or the other.

5.  Crossroads for Daniel Snyder.

The Redskins became the property of Daniel Snyder in 1999.  In the 13 seasons since then, Snyder has employed (excluding interim hires) six head coaches.  Other than Snyder’s boyhood hero, Joe Gibbs, no coach has made it more than two seasons on the job.

Mike Shanahan has just completed his second season on the job.  Recently, Shanahan has been subtly justifying his two losing seasons by explaining that much work needed to be done to improve the bad team he inherited.  And while there’s no indication that Shanahan will be fired, there likewise was no indication that the end was coming three years ago for Shanahan in Denver.

The bigger question for Snyder is whether he’s willing to stay the course not only now but after the 2012 season.  If Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen position themselves to land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the draft, it would be foolish to give Shanahan only one year to work with the new quarterback.

And so Snyder needs to realize that, by deciding to keep Shanahan now, Snyder essentially is deciding to keep Shanahan for 2013 — and possibly for 2014.

6.  Another Manning/Leaf dilemma coming?

Speaking (twice now) of Luck and Griffin, what once was a one-man show at the top of the draft quickly has become another Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf conundrum.  On Sunday’s Football Night In America, former Colts coach Tony Dungy explained that Colts vice chairman Bill Polian has shown a willingness to go against conventional wisdom in the draft, taking Edgerrin James in 1999 over Ricky Williams and Dwight Freeney over Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

Dungy even said he’d personally lean toward Griffin, the Heisman winner and architect of a 67-point explosion in Baylor’s bowl win.

Luck still has one more chance to create some separation, when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Despite the obsession over measurables and the things a guy can do when not wearing pads, scouts seem to be influenced heavily by performances on the big stage.

What Luck does with it could ultimately determine whether Luck and Griffin will become another Manning and Leaf dilemma, which despite being a no-brainer in hindsight was a much closer call in 1998.

7.  Pay the Cruz.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz has made, in two seasons, the unlikely climb from undrafted free agent to superstar.  Nearly as shrewd as the Giants’ decision to give him a chance was their decision to sign him to a three-year contract.

And so Cruz remains contractually obligated to show up for mandatory offseason workouts and training camp in 2012, despite being slated to earn a paltry $490,000.

But the Giants need to send a message to the locker room that stellar play will be rewarded.  While they could force Cruz to continue to prove himself — and to bear the injury risk — for the final year of his rookie deal and a season as a restricted free agent, the best move would be to find a way to pay him a fair salary that reflects not only his skills and abilities but also the contributions he made during a season that seemed destined for failure again.

In each of the last two games, a long-yardage catch-and-run from Cruz gave the Giants the upper hand.  It’s only right to put a lot more money in the guy’s pockets.

8.  Broncos should get Quinn ready to play Sunday.

Tebowmania landed with a thud 15 days ago, with the Patriots providing the rest of the league with the blueprint for turning the page on the NFL’s flavor of the month.

As a result, Tim Tebow has played worse than poorly the last two weeks, with as many turnovers against the Bills and Chiefs (six) as Tebow had in his 10 prior games combined.

Enter the Steelers, who have made crafted their legacy over the past two decades by methodically building a lead and then gradually choking off the opposing offense.

As a result, if the Broncos want to have a realistic shot at advancing, it may be prudent to be ready to pull off a Rocky-style switch to southpaw, by switching from the southpaw to Brady Quinn.

This isn’t a long-term indictment of Tebow.  It’s a recognition of the fact that, at least for now, he has bumped up against his ceiling.  The goal on Sunday is to win one game, and it could be that the only way to do that will be to know when to flip the switch from the unconventional quarterback to the guy whose abilities would defy the Steelers’ preparation.

9.  MJD deserves high praise.

Every year, there’s a sense that Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has reached the limit of his abilities, and that a regression is coming.  Every year, he simply continues to play at a high level.

This year, on a team with no passing offense to draw safeties away from the box, Jones-Drew piled up 1,606 rushing yards, more than 240 yards better than Ray Rice, who finished at No. 2.  Jones-Drew added 374 receiving yards, which gives him 1,980 yards from scrimmage.

At a time when former USC tailback Reggie Bush is still trying to become the best running back in the game, the former UCLA running back who entered the league in the same draft as an afterthought to Bush is what Bush has always wanted to be.  Unfortunately for Jones-Drew, the Jaguars may not be able to develop a decent passing game before the window closes on his prime.

10.  Packers defense is even worse than the Patriots.

All year, the media has harped on the Patriots’ porous defense, barely noticing the Swiss cheese sieve in Green Bay.

At the end of the season, the numbers don’t lie.  The Patriots gave up 411.1 yards per game, and the Packers gave up 411.6.

The Packers also finished with a worse pass defense, giving up 299.8 yards per game.  The Pats surrendered, on average, 293.9.  That’s 34.1 yards per game more than the third-worst pass defense, the Saints.

Fittingly, the three worst pass defenses are complemented by the three best pass offenses.

And so, if the top two seeds make it to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl (or if the Saints get there instead of the Packers), it could be time to reduce the field from 100 yards to 50, put up nets at either end, and just call the game what it will be — arena football.

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Jacquizz Rodgers visiting Bears

Jacquizz Rodgers ,Kevin Minter AP

The Bears have Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey on the top two rungs of their running back depth chart and it appears they’re open to adding a little veteran depth to go with that duo.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Jacquizz Rodgers is visiting with the Bears. Rodgers spent four years with the Falcons after Atlanta drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

Rodgers was of most use in the passing game during his tenure with the Falcons, catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five touchdowns while also playing the role of pass blocker when the situation called for it. He didn’t add nearly as much as a runner, but that’s probably not the chief concern in Chicago with Forte and Carey already on hand.

The Falcons parted ways with Steven Jackson, leaving Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith in Atlanta’s backfield at the moment.

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PFT Live: Kevin White, PFT Planet calls and tweets

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Kevin White is expected to be one of the first two wide receivers off the board in the first round on April 30 and we heard his thoughts on why he should go before Amari Cooper during a visit with PFT on NBCSN on Monday evening.

During Tuesday’s PFT Live, they’ll be an opportunity to hear even more from White. He’ll talk to Mike Florio about his preparations from the draft and what he’s heard from teams as we move closer to finding out where this year’s top prospects will land.

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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Patriots security chief confirms Hernandez’s alibi attempt

Hernandez AP

At the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft was followed to the witness stand by Patriots security director Mark Briggs.  And Briggs confirmed the most important aspect of Kraft’s testimony.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Briggs (like Kraft) testified that Hernandez said he didn’t kill Lloyd, and that Hernandez was at a “club.”

He swore on his baby’s life he was telling the truth,” Briggs said of Hernandez.

Hernandez definitely wasn’t telling the truth about his whereabouts.  The prosecution will now hope that this will help the jury conclude he also wasn’t telling the truth about his innocence.

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Mark Ingram “looking forward” to splitting time with C.J. Spiller

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Mark Ingram got the most work of his NFL career during the 2014 season and responded with 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the final year of his rookie contract.

Ingram parleyed that success into a new four-year, $16 million deal with the Saints, but not into a role as an offensive workhorse. The Saints gave a similar deal to C.J. Spiller a couple of days after signing Ingram, all but ensuring that the two backs will be shuffled in and out of the lineup over the course of the season.

Ingram’s been in that position with the Saints before and says he’s not bothered about being in the same spot after his successful 2014 campaign.

“He’s a special player,” Ingram said, via ESPN.com. “He’s a game-breaker, can take it to the house no matter where he is on the field, punt return, kick return, pass, run. So I’m looking forward to it. … So it wasn’t anything strange or anything when we signed him. I talked to him before it even got announced.”

Ingram and Spiller bring different things to the offense, which should provide plenty of room for both of them to thrive without being asked to do things outside their skill set. Given Spiller’s receiving ability, they could even share time on an offense that figures to take on a different shape with Jimmy Graham now plying his trade in Seattle.

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Kraft tells jury Hernandez said he was in “club” during shooting

Hernandez AP

Testifying on Tuesday in the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, Patriots owner Robert Kraft provided a piece of evidence that could be very useful for the prosecution.

Via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, Kraft told jurors that Hernandez denied involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd, explaining that he was in a “club” at the time of the shooting.

As Wetzel notes, the evidence introduced to date makes it clear that Hernandez wasn’t in a “club” at the time of the shooting.  Which indicates Hernandez lied to Kraft.

Hernandez may dispute that he gave a false explanation to the man who at the time of the shooting was Hernandez’s ultimate boss.  But Hernandez has only one way to rebut the testimony from Robert Kraft — by taking the witness stand.

That’s where the right to remain silent creates a huge dilemma for a criminal defendant.  While the accused isn’t compelled to testify in court, anything he has said out of court can be used against him.  Since it’s a statement from a party to the lawsuit, it’s not hearsay.  And as it relates to one-on-one communications, it’s unchallenged unless the defendant chooses to waive the right against self-incrimination and testify.

Hernandez most likely won’t be testifying at all.  To do so would expose him to cross-examination. Which could quickly erase any chance his lawyers have of identifying “reasonable doubt” during closing arguments.

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Golden Tate: Losing Suh doesn’t add to pressure on the offense

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

The Lions Offense struggled at times in 2014, but the team was able to advance to the postseason thanks to one of the best defenses in the league.

That unit won’t have Ndamukong Suh back in the middle of the defensive line in 2015, something that wide receiver Golden Tate reasonably considers “a big hit” to the team as they prepare for the coming season. Tate doesn’t think that the loss of Suh is going to put extra pressure on the offense to carry the load, however.

“No, I don’t think it adds any pressure,” Tate said, via ESPN.com. “We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week. We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There’s no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football.”

Suh wasn’t the only reason why Detroit’s defense thrived last season. He was a big one, though, and some slippage is a reasonable expectation now that he’s gone. That might not put any more pressure on the offense to improve than there would be if he was still in Detroit, but the need to improve exists either way.

Having a healthy Calvin Johnson would help on that front as would progress from tight end Eric Ebron in his second season. Throw in a running game that underwhelmed last year and there’s three places where the Lions offense could show growth that can help offset their big offseason loss.

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Robert Kraft takes the stand at Aaron Hernandez murder trial

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots, NFL Getty Images

The Patriots had largely been able to keep themselves at arms length from the Aaron Hernandez murder trial, until today.

Via multiple reports, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is in the Fall River Justice Center today, and has been called to the stand.

Trainer Brian McDonough was called to the stand in late February to testify about a series of text messages he exchanged with Hernandez. McDonough doesn’t work for the team, but worked with a number of players at Gillette Stadium.

Coach Bill Belichick and linebacker Brandon Spikes are also on the witness list, though it’s unclear if they’ll actually be asked to testify.

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Tyrann Mathieu: I want to let everyone know I’m back

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was able to return to the lineup in Week Two last season, which marked a relatively quick turnaround after he tore his ACL late in his rookie season.

Mathieu didn’t immediately return to a prominent place in the lineup and then missed a couple of games late in the season when he broke his thumb just as he was finding his stride on the field. Coach Bruce Arians said it “was very frustrating” for Mathieu to not be the player he was used to being last year and Mathieu said he felt he didn’t make enough plays to help the team, but things are looking up.

Arians said he sees “a gleam” in Mathieu’s eyes that was missing in 2014 as the safety prepares to restore what was missing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said, via the team’s website. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This [year] is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

How Mathieu will fit into the lineup isn’t entirely clear since the Cardinals have Tony Jefferson, Deone Buccannon and Rashad Johnson at safety in a defense that’s been creative about utilizing all of them. If he’s back to his old playmaking ways, though, he’ll be filling a major role one way or another.

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Jameis Winston will be on center stage again at pro day today

Jameis AP

For a moment today, Jameis Winston won’t have to answer questions about his past or his maturity or his ability to be the face of a franchise.

For a moment today, he’s going to get to do the thing he’s very good at — throw a football.

Winston will be on center stage today for Florida State’s pro day, and that might come as a reprieve for him after all the digging and poking that teams have done at him since the process began.

Now, as soon as the workout’s over, that will begin again for another month. But today might serve as a reminder for the teams at the top of the draft of what he can offer.

He’s big and strong. Can make all the throws. Has shown good football IQ and led his team to a 26-1 record and a national championship in two years as the starter at Florida State.

So in the tightly scripted world of quarterback auditions, the chance he’ll look bad during this workout seems slim.

But the entire league will be watching, and monitoring his every move, just to see how he responds to the pressure of it all.

Again.

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Stevan Ridley visiting Dolphins on Tuesday

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We heard over the weekend that running back Stevan Ridley had lined up his first visit of the free agency season and Tuesday brings word that it will be with a team he faced quite often while he was a member of the Patriots.

James Walker of ESPN.com reports that Ridley will be in Miami to visit with the Dolphins.

Ridley is recovering from a torn ACL that ended his 2014 season after six games. Ridley ran for 340 yards and two touchdowns before his injury as a lead part of the backfield rotation in New England. The Patriots moved on to LeGarrette Blount after Ridley’s injury and there hasn’t been much sign that the Pats are interested in bringing him back for a fifth season.

Lamar Miller ran for 1,099 yards last season, but the Dolphins didn’t have a good complement for him in the backfield once Knowshon Moreno was lost for the season to a torn ACL of his own. Ridley could provide that complement for 2015 at an attractive price while he tries to show he’s healthy enough to earn a bigger commitment heading into the 2016 season.

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Browns may make a move for Mariota, or try again for Bradford

Mariota AP

In yet another sign that those around the Browns do not see Johnny Manziel as the franchise quarterback, a recent report out of Cleveland suggests that the Browns may try to move up in the draft for Marcus Mariota, or try again to acquire Sam Bradford.

Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes that the Browns are fully prepared to start Josh McCown this year, but they’re also not done trying to get better at the quarterback position. In fact, Cabot thinks the Browns will try to trade up in the draft for Mariota, and may also make another run at Bradford.

The Browns offered the Rams a first-round draft pick for Bradford and the Rams declined, deciding instead to take the Eagles’ offer of Nick Foles. But the Browns could see if the Eagles would trade Bradford. There’s been talk that what Chip Kelly really wants is to move up and draft Mariota, his old Oregon quarterback. If the Browns, who own two first-round picks, could help give Kelly the ammunition to move up and get his guy, Kelly might be willing to part with Bradford.

But if the Browns have the ammunition to move up for Mariota, they might just do that themselves. Bradford comes with an expensive 2015 salary and becomes a free agent next year. If the Browns can get Mariota, they’ve got their franchise quarterback for years to come.

Of course, that’s what they thought last year when they drafted Manziel. Instead, Cabot writes that the Browns are down on him and may not even be able to get much for Manziel in a trade. Cabot speculates that maybe Jerry Jones is interested in Manziel.

Or maybe Chip Kelly is interested in Manziel.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

New England Patriots v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

What will an extension for DT Marcell Dareus cost the Bills?

Renovations at the Dolphins’ stadium are rolling right along.

Assessing Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt’s fit with the Patriots.

Todd McShay of ESPN has the Jets taking LB/DE Randy Gregory in his latest mock draft.

The Ravens are still looking for help at tight end.

The Bengals have received good reviews for their offseason moves.

An argument that the Browns should be thankful for a light penalty for General Manager Ray Farmer’s in-game texting.

Former Steelers RB Baron Batch has transitioned to a business career in Pittsburgh.

What areas does Texans coach Bill O’Brien want to see improve in 2015?

The Colts looks set for a competition for the starting center job.

There are still some intriguing free agents available for the Jaguars.

Titans General Manager Ruston Webster doesn’t think the team’s draft board will change much in the next month.

T Michael Schofield has added weight as part of his push for playing time with the Broncos.

Chiefs LB Tamba Hali and WR Jeremy Maclin met up with the Mexican national soccer team.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio thinks his staff can boost the play of the team’s cornerbacks.

Chargers DE Corey Liuget showed off a new part of his offseason workout routine.

The Cowboys website touts RB Darren McFadden’s affordability as a replacement for DeMarco Murray.

Giants WR Odell Beckham’s basketball skills have caught the notice of others in the NFL.

Analyzing the impact of LB DeMeco Ryans’s extension with the Eagles.

Redskins DT Stephen Paea once downed a 52-ounce steak in one sitting.

Bears QB Jimmy Clausen has shared some of his wedding video with the masses.

Texas A&M T Cedric Ogbuehi visited with the Lions.

Some thoughts on the Packers bringing back defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji.

Waffle fries are one of the new things Vikings T and Poland native Babatunde Aiyegbusi is experiencing after signing with the team.

LB Brooks Reed likes the defensive mindset of the Falcons coaching staff.

A look at Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart’s contract situation.

UCLA DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa is scheduled for a visit with the Saints.

The Buccaneers will get another look at Florida State QB Jameis Winston at his pro day.

An early projection of the Cardinals starting lineup on offense.

The Rams are making things simpler on defense.

Will the 49ers take a cornerback in the first round?

A look at center options for the Seahawks.

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Browns, Falcons penalties likely won’t be relevant to #DeflateGate

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The punishments imposed Monday on the Browns and Falcons for their violations of game-integrity provisions suggested a surprising degree of lenience from the league.  Sure, the teams will pay a combined $600,000 into the NFL’s coffers (fine money typically is used for charitable endeavors), but between them only one draft pick was lost — a fifth-round selection in 2016.

So this is good news for the Patriots, who still face potential punishment for allegedly tampering with the air pressure in footballs during the AFC championship, right?

Maybe not.  The Browns and Falcons admitted guilt quickly, allowing the situations to be resolved without further fattening Ted Wells’ fees.  The Patriots, in contrast, have strongly and vehemently denied wrongdoing.

And the Patriots very well may face no punishment at all, if Wells concludes they did nothing wrong.  But if Wells eventually finds a smoking gun or concludes based on the circumstantial evidence that the infraction occurred, the league may go harder on the Patriots, relatively speaking, since the Patriots failed to acknowledge their misconduct.

Regardless of how it plays out, the Patriots aren’t likely to get a slap on the wrist.  Either they’re innocent and there will be no punishment, or they’re guilty (which would make their strong denials hollow at best, false at worst) and there will be a significant punishment.

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Chiefs visit with Brandon Tate

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The Chiefs didn’t get any touchdown catches from their wide receivers in 2014, which left the position as an obvious area to look for help this offseason.

Kansas City signed Jeremy Maclin away from the Eagles and re-signed Jason Avant to continue the veteran’s long relationship with Andy Reid, but that doesn’t appear to have quenched their thirst for other options at the position. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports the team visited with Brandon Tate recently.

Tate caught 17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in 16 appearances for the Bengals last season, modest totals that represented a big jump over the 14 catches he mustered while playing every game in the three previous seasons. Speed has been his calling card in the NFL, but those catch totals illustrate how rarely it has led to big plays on offense.

Tate’s main role in Cincinnati came as a punt and kickoff returner, but the Chiefs are well stocked at those spots with De’Antony Thomas and Knile Davis. Tate would give them some depth to go with an option in the passing game if he signs, but his addition would hardly erase the need for receiver help in Kansas City.

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Mike Tomlin has a “coaching brother” in Pittsburgh, with Pirates

Kentucky Football Pro Day AP

For a young coach who has run off a few veteran mentors, it’s good to know Mike Tomlin still has a sounding board in town.

While visiting the Pirates’ spring training camp in Florida, the Steelers boss talked about his relationship with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

It’s good to have a coaching brother,” Tomlin said of Hurdle, via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a guy who’s right-minded. We share a lot of philosophical thoughts on how to lead men. It’s been fun to watch him develop these groups over the years, and I’m excited to watch him do it again this year.”

Hurdle said the two discuss every aspect of the coaching business, including building relationships with players and coaches. That’s particularly interesting since the Steelers farmed out longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau this offseason (sending him out to pasture in Tennessee). It’s not completely unlike when Tomlin pushed out an offensive coordinator he thought was too old, who has won a couple of coach of the year awards since (Bruce Arians).

Hurdle said he and Tomlin discussed the LeBeau situation specifically.

“Mike said, ‘Man, it’s hard, but you have to do it. I miss him every day,’ ” Hurdle said. “We talk about different challenges that we have in leadership positions. It’s great that he’ll listen and he reaches out to me. I really like the opportunity to pick up the phone every now and then and say, ‘Hey, have you ever dealt with this?’ ”

The Steelers had Keith Butler waiting in the wings, and there might never have been a good time for the organization to move away from LeBeau. So it’s good to know that Tomlin’s at least talking it over with someone.

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