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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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Report: Loucheiz Purifoy was caught with drugs, avoided arrest

loucheizpurifoy AP

Loucheiz Purifoy, a former Florida cornerback who is expected to be drafted next month, reportedly was caught with drugs last month and avoided arrest by agreeing to work as a police informant.

Now the matter of how Purifoy avoided arrest is the subject of an investigation. The Gainesville Sun reports that Purifoy never made himself available to officers to serve as an informant, so the Alachua County sheriff, whose officers originally stopped Purifoy, has asked the Gainesville Police Department to conduct an independent investigation into the matter.

According to the report, Purifoy was caught with marijuana and the synthetic drug known as bath salts. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell wrote in a letter to Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones that after Purifoy failed to act as an informant an arrest warrant issued for him was quashed, and now the matter needs to be investigated.

“Based on probable cause developed by the deputy, an arrest warrant was issued for Loucheiz Purifoy for April 4, 2014, after he failed to fulfill his end of the bargain,” Darnell wrote. “The action to quash the warrant is highly unusual and, as a result, I have numerous questions as to the propriety of how this occurred.”

Purifoy was previously arrested for marijuana possession in February of 2013, and the Gators suspended him for the first game of the season. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, Purifoy has the talent to be a major contributor in the NFL: At Florida he was a starting cornerback, played a little wide receiver and was outstanding on special teams as a returner, on kick coverage and in blocking kicks.

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Tom Savage will not attend the draft

Tom Savage AP

Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage has quickly gone from an unknown to a hot prospect, to the point where he received an invitation to attend the NFL draft. But Savage won’t be there.

Savage has declined his invitation and will not attend the draft, Josina Anderson of ESPN reports.

Just a few weeks ago, no one would have even expected Savage to get an invitation. But the buzz around the league suggests that NFL teams are growing so enamored with Savage’s size and arm strength that some teams may think he’s worth a first-round pick.

Savage started as a true freshman at Rutgers in 2009 and showed a lot of promise, but he suffered a hand injury and lost his starting job in 2010, transferred to Arizona and then transferred again when new coach Rich Rodriguez implemented an offense that didn’t play to his strengths. At Pittsburgh in 2013, he completed 61.2 percent of his passes, threw for 2,958 yards and had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Moving around so much makes Savage one of the toughest prospects in the draft to evaluate, but some people think he’s going to hear Roger Goodell call his name early.

When Savage does hear his name called, it will be on TV.

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Lions keep bringing in guys they can’t draft at No. 10

KHALIL MACK AP

If you assume the Lions aren’t delusional, you can also assume they want to make a move up in the draft.

Because they’re bringing in another top-five caliber prospect for a visit, when they’re picking 10th.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is visiting the Lions next week.

Along with recent visits from South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, it’s clear the Lions aren’t limiting themselves to their present location.

Mack is viewed by many as a more natural fit in a 3-4 defense, but the Lions could use him in a Von Miller-type role as well. Or they could just be establishing a smokescreen in an effort to cut a better deal with someone in the top five.

 

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Raiders plan to cut Pryor on Monday if they can’t trade him

Terrelle Pryor

One way or another, Terrelle Pryor will no longer be an Oakland Raider by the close of business Monday.

That’s the word from Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, who reports that the Raiders will cut Pryor on Monday if they can’t trade him before then. That’s not a big surprise; it had already been clear that the Raiders have no plans for Pryor going forward, and that means it makes sense to send him packing before the start of the offseason training program.

It seems unlikely that anyone would trade for Pryor when the word is out that he’s about to be cut. Then again, he did show flashes of promise last season, and he’s only due a salary of $750,000 this year, so it’s possible that some team might think he’s worth a seventh-round pick.

Pryor is a phenomenal athlete who made some big plays last season, but those big plays were more with his feet than with his arm, and he still has a lot of work to do as a passer. If a team is willing to work with him as he develops, there’s still a chance that he’ll be a franchise quarterback. Just not in Oakland.

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Sankey knows running back position has less value in today’s NFL

Sankey AP

The ongoing devaluation of the running back position could prompt highly-talented athletes to gravitate toward other positions.  Until then, highly-talented athletes who have chosen to play running back will be relegated to making chicken salad out of their NFL prospects.

Washington running back Bishop Sankey realizes that the game is changing.  But he still embraces the challenge of playing running back at the NFL level.

“Obviously last year with there being no running back going in the first round, I think there has just been a bigger emphasis on the pass in the NFL and maybe I’m biased but I feel like running back are just as valuable as anybody else on the field especially on the offense,” Sankey told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk this week.  “We not only contribute on the ground but we also pass protect, protect the quarterback and we can also be used as an asset out of the backfield catching the ball.

“Not only that I think a lot of running backs contribute a lot on special teams as well with kick returns, punt returns.  Not even being a returner but also blocking for those guys and it’s kind of the direction the league’s going in now, but for me it’s just like I want to go out there every time I get a chance and eliminate all the questions that the NFL coaches have and really just try and put my best foot forward to give me a good opportunity come draft day.”

This year, there likely will be no running backs taken in round one.  If given the choice between being a first-round pick or the first running back taken, Sankey would take being the first running back selected.

“I think it just speaks high if you’re the first guy to go at your position,” Sankey said.  “It speaks high of what teams think about you and the work that you’ve put in up to this point.”

While it’s highly unlikely any running back will go in the first round, Sankey has a good shot of being the first running back whose name is called.  And then he’ll get a fair chance to show what he can do in September, when his number is called.

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Northwestern union vote coming in six days

Northwestern AP

The question of whether the Northwestern football team can have a union won’t matter unless the players want a union.  The latter question will be resolved soon.

The vote will be conducted on April 25.  For the yes-or-no proposition, a simple majority wins.

As recently explained by Alejandra Cancino of the Chicago Tribune, the vote possibly will be delayed pending full resolution of the question of whether the student-athletes are also employees.  The more likely outcome will be a sealing of the ballots until the legal issue has made its way through the court system.

So it’s possible that, after months of appeals resulting in a decision that the players can have a union, the votes will be counted and it will be determined that the players choose not to unionize.

Still, a ruling permitting unionization will allow other student-athletes at other private colleges to attempt to organize.  And the mere threat of union drives should prompt the NCAA to make changes that would make players less likely to choose against a union.

Those changes could eventually impact the NFL’s free farm system in ways that could make the farm system something other than free.  Or which could prompt the NFL to launch its own developmental league.

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Saturday morning one-liners

Morris Getty Images

The Bills secured preliminary approval for a $3 million class-action settlement arising from allegations that the team’s mobile alert service sent out more texts than the recipients had agreed to receive.

RB Chris Johnson says the Jets told him Geno Smith and Mike Vick will battle it out for the quarterback job.

Count Northern Colorado QB Seth Lobato among the many signal-callers whom the Patriots have examined this year.

The Dolphins seem to have a real interest in Miami QB Stephen Morris.

Ravens DT Terrence Cody says LB Rolando McClain has “humbled himself” and is “ready to play football.”

Steelers DE Nick Williams is working his way back from a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season.

Bengals strength coach Chip Morton is looking forward to the expansion of the weight room.

Browns QB Brian Hoyer participated in a celebrity cooking competition.

Jaguars LS Carson Tinker wrote a book about his experience in the Tuscaloosa tornado of 2011, which claimed the life of his girlfriend.

Injuries hit the Texans harder in 2013 than in 2012.

Colts DE Bjoern Werner recently visited practice at Kentucky.

Titans LB Shaun Phillips strongly prefers the 3-4 to the 4-3.

The Raiders have finalized their exhibition schedule, which includes a nationally-televised game against the Packers.

Former Chargers QB Jesse Freitas, 62, will spend up to three years in a locked mental-health facility after a history of setting fires and other crimes.

The Chiefs use iPad playbooks during the regular season; they may experiment with using them in the offseason, too.

Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio visited Oregon State practice to watch his son, Luke.

Eagles QB Nick Foles will serve as honorary captain for the home opener of the Philadelphia Soul.

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson reportedly celebrated his arrival in D.C. this week with a $20,000 bottle of champagne.  (Who says he doesn’t get it?)

Giants P Steve Weatherford accepted a high-school prom invitation via Twitter.

Cowboys fans aren’t happy that DL Jason Hatcher left for Washington.

The Vikings are kicking in another $1.2 million to get bigger and better video screens at their new stadium.

The Bears are sniffing around former Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir.

The failure of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh to show up for the offseason program is bad; the team’s apathy about his absence is worse.

Should Packers Hall of Famer Bart Starr gotten more of a chance when coaching the team?

After undergoing back surgery last August, Panthers DT Linden Gaydosh couldn’t sit for a month.

Buccaneers S Keith Tandy will host a football camp this summer in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a new mock draft that predicts the Falcons will trade up to No. 2 for OT Greg Robinson.

Saints CB Champ Bailey will make his public debut Tuesday at a local celebrity golf tournament.

The turf has been installed at the 49ers new stadium.

The Seahawks will be keeping a close eye on the development of RB Christine Michael this offseason.

Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar calls 2013 a “wacky year.”

The new video boards being installed at the Cardinals stadium will be triple the size of the original screens.

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Patriots continue showing interest in quarterback prospects

Seth Lobato AP

The Patriots don’t have an immediate need at quarterback, but they’re continuing to show interest in drafting one.

Our list of pre-draft visits shows that the Patriots have spent time with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. According to Boston.com, the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have spent time with at Pro Day workouts also includes Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Ball State’s Keith Wenning.

And the latest name to the list of quarterbacks the Patriots have been linked to is Northern Colorado’s Seth Lobato, a raw, 6-foot-6 former basketball player.

The Patriots might be thinking now about what they’ll do at quarterback when Tom Brady retires. Or they could be trying to light a fire under Brady. Or they could be trying to pick the brains of as many quarterbacks as they can, as offensive schemes increasingly migrate from college to the NFL. Whatever the reasons, by the time of the draft in three weeks, it appears that the Patriots will have talked to just about every available quarterback.

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Mike Tice’s Midnight Hawk the 4-5 favorite in $500,000 Illinois Derby

Sham Stakes Horse Race AP

Midnight Hawk, a three-year-old colt co-owned by Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, is the heavy favorite to capture Saturday’s $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Midnight Hawk has been installed as the 4-5 favorite on the track’s morning line, which is an estimate of how the race will be bet. No other horse in the eight-horse field is lower than 5-1.

The winner’s share of the purse is $300,000. A gray horse, Midnight Hawk will break from post position No. 3.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team plays the St. Louis Blues at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday in a game televised on NBC, is another co-owner of Midnight Hawk.

Midnight Hawk has won 2-of-5 career races, with two second-place finishes and one third-place finish. He finished second in his lone other try at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Illinois Derby.

Midnight Hawk has 52 qualifying points toward running in the Kentucky Derby and would make the field if trainer Bob Baffert and ownership elected to run. However, the Kentucky Derby is in just two weeks, which makes Midnight Hawk’s participation perhaps questionable. The Preakness, which is run on Saturday, May 17, could be another logical next race for Midnight Hawk if he performs well at Hawthorne, which is about 10 miles to the southwest of downtown Chicago.

Tice told the Chicago Tribune that the Illinois Derby was a logical spot for Midnight Hawk, who has been competitive throughout his career but has yet to win beyond a mile.

“Joel and I are coaches and when you’re a coach you look for the best matchups. You should take a horse and look at it the same way, which is what Bob Baffert did,” Tice told the Tribune.

Post time for the Illinois Derby is 6:42 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

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Report: Dolphins targeting Cyrus Kouandjio in the first round

Cyrus Kouandjio

Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is the target of the Dolphins in the first round of the draft, if one local report is to be believed.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey prefers Kouandjio to the other offensive tackles who are expected to be available with the Dolphins’ first-round pick, No. 19 overall. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are among the other offensive tackles who have been projected as potential Dolphins picks.

Dennis has got a love for Kouandjio and he should be sitting there for them,” a source told the paper.

As with all reports of this nature, it’s fair to ask whether it’s just a smokescreen. If the Dolphins really are high on Kouandjio, they should be keeping that a secret so some other team that loves Kouandjio doesn’t move ahead of them in the first round.

What is clear is that the Dolphins aren’t done rebuilding their dysfunctional offensive line. And of the offensive linemen they’re considering, Hickey reportedly thinks Martin makes a better guard than a tackle, Moses reportedly has a less-than-stellar relationship with Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (who coached Moses at Virginia) and Lewan may not be available for the Dolphins at No. 19. By process of elimination, that would leave Miami with Koundjio.

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Saban claims Manning and Gase visits were separate

Nick Saban AP

When Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had visited the Crimson Tide, it raised eyebrows as a potential violation of the NFL rules preventing players and coaches from meeting before the start of the offseason program. But now Saban says Manning and Gase didn’t meet together.

I am surprised to hear that anyone thought that what they were doing was in any way wrong. That’s what people get for assuming,” Saban told the Denver Post. “We did not talk Broncos football at all, other than Peyton asking questions about how he could get better as a player.”

Asked if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello.”

Gase got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant for Saban at LSU, and Saban characterized their meeting as personal, not professional.

“I only talked to Adam about his family. He talked to our assistant coaches,” Saban said.

The Denver Post story suggests that it’s not an issue because “Manning’s idea of vacation is talking football,” and so Manning won’t complain about it. But the rule doesn’t only exist to protect players from being forced by their coaches to do extra offseason work. It also exists to provide a level playing field for all 32 NFL teams. If Manning and Gase are permitted to travel together to study defenses during what’s supposed to be the players’ time off, they’re getting an unfair advantage over the teams that strictly obey the rules prohibiting any coaching from taking place at this point in the offseason.

Saban says that’s not how it happened. Saban is saying exactly what he needs to say to clear Manning and Gase of any wrongdoing, but the NFL has said it will look into the matter.

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Peyton gets paid $105,000 to speak at Oklahoma State

Peyton AP

Alabama coach Nick Saban got Peyton Manning’s time for free.  Oklahoma State had to pay a bit more.

According to the Tulsa World, Manning received $105,000 for a 30-minute speech and a 30-minute question-and-answer session in Stillwater.  The money was paid by the OSU Speakers Board.

So what did they get in return?  Apparently, a laundry list of fairly obvious lines that appear in any of the various motivational books that can be purchased for 99 cents on the clearance shelf.

“I challenge each of you in this arena tonight to invest your time to become a game-changer.  A game-changer looks deeper and senses something others don’t and then acts on it.”

“You either get better or worse every day.  You don’t stay the same.”

“Enjoy the journey, not the destination.”

“This is your world.  Own it.”

Actually, this isn’t our world.  It’s Peyton’s world.  The rest of us are just paying the rent.  At $105,000 per hour.

Seriously, though, we’ll never complain about a guy finding a way to get paid for his time.  We’re all worth whatever someone will pay, and OSU’s Speakers Board decided Manning is worth $105,000 per hour.  There’s not a thing wrong with Peyton collecting the cash.

But here’s the bigger issue.  At a time when the NCAA and various member institutions are fretting about how to afford the inevitable obligation to pay student-athletes, the fact that $105,000 can be scraped together by Oklahoma State for 60 minutes of cliché and rah-rah reconfirms that, when the time comes to cough up fair market value to the kids who are bringing in millions, the schools will find a way.

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Newton in a boot, still recovering from ankle surgery

Newton AP

It’s been a month since the surprise announcement that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs ankle surgery.  So how’s he doing four-plus weeks after having the procedure?

Darin Gantt of PFT, who covered the Panthers 14 years before joining this establishment nearly two years ago, reported during Friday night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that Newton remains in a boot — and that the team remains hopeful Newton will be back to 100 percent in time for training camp.

Of course, Newton may still miss all of the practice reps of the offseason program, which becomes more critical as the Panthers break in a bunch of new receivers.

The next time we hear Newton’s name inevitably will be when the Panthers exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will pay him $13 million for 2015.  It’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pay him a lot more than that.

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Dominik predicts a slide for Manziel

Manziel Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only 2014 quarterback prospect who received a dire prognosis from former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik on Friday.  Via Rotowold, Dominik also had some bad news for Johnny Manziel.

Dominik, who now works for ESPN, said on the air that Manziel “will fall a little more than people think” in the draft.

This assessment presumes that a consensus currently exists as to where Manziel will go.  It doesn’t.

As time passes, it seems less likely the Texans would use the first overall pick in the draft on Manziel.  After that, it gets fuzzy.  Could a team spring in front of Jacksonville (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) to get Manziel with the No. 2 selection currently held by the Rams?  Possibly.

If he gets past No. 2 (and he likely will), the hot spots become Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland at No. 5 (very unlikely), Tampa Bay at No. 7, Minnesota at No. 8, and Tennessee at No. 11.

The Cowboys at No. 16 could be very intrigued by Manziel.  Perhaps sufficiently intrigued to trade up.

If Manziel makes it past the first half of the round, the question then becomes whether a team from round two would trade up in front of the Browns at No. 26, if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 4.  After the Browns, it then becomes possible if not probable that a team springs into the first round, where a four-year contract and a one-year option would apply.

We’d be shocked if Manziel isn’t taken in the first round.  His actual placement in round one, whatever it may be, won’t be a surprise.

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Reggie Wayne: If you say I’m over the hill, I’ll prove you wrong

Reggie Wayne AP

As Colts receiver Reggie Wayne recovers from last season’s torn ACL, one thing is motivating him to work harder than ever: Knowing that people doubt he can do it.

Wayne told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that “naysayers” in the media are pushing him through his rehab.

“It’s you guys,” Wayne said. “You guys motivate me. You guys say that I can’t do it. I’m 35. I’m over the hill. No way I can come back the same. I wasn’t a big newspaper reader, but I’ve become one. Next time I read it maybe you’ll be saying I’ve found the fountain of youth.”

Wayne has previously said that he believes he’ll be ready to go full-speed during offseason workouts, but that Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling him to take it easy and not to push himself too hard. Whenever Pagano is ready to let Wayne go, however, Wayne sounds ready to show that he still has a lot left in him.

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