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Special Monday 10-pack: Winners and losers in free agency

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Only six days ago, the free-agent market opened.  One of the biggest classes of veteran players, with some of the biggest names, landed on the market.

Apart from the Peyton chase, much of the dust has settled.

And so now we’re required by the laws of football analysis to tell you who won and who lost, even though we won’t really know the answer until they start playing games.

Which, you know, will feature winners and losers.

1. Winner:  Eagles.

Last year, with a compressed offseason and a new defensive coordinator who had been an offensive line coach for 14 prior seasons, the Eagles foolishly embarked on a spending spree, bringing in a bunch of big-name players and setting the stage for a Wonderlic pick-sixer blurting out the dreaded “Dream Team” label.

Apart from the challenge of getting a bunch of new employees on the same page quickly, the move surely caused some of the men already under contract to wonder why they weren’t getting a share of the free-agency windfall.

This year, the Eagles have focused on taking care of their own, which is a much better way to ensure that a true spirit of team will take over the locker room.

Perhaps most importantly, the Eagles have set the stage for receiver DeSean Jackson to turn back the clock to 2009, when he wasn’t concerned about staying healthy and/or getting paid.  The Eagles have addressed those concerns via a long-term deal that, in comparison to some of the too-heavy contracts given to lesser receivers and in light of Jackson’s rocky recent history, looks like a win-win.

Maybe that means “win” will be a more common term in the term’s vocabulary this season.

2.  Winner:  Packers.

G.M. Ted Thompson rarely makes a big splash in free agency.  The biggest exception came in 2006, when at the very public urging of quarterback Brett Favre the team signed cornerback Charles Woodson.

Other than that, the Packers under Thompson take a very conservative approach, building through the draft and using free agency on a limited basis, with low-cost talent addressing specific needs.

It’s not sexy this time of year.  But this isn’t the time of year when championships are won.  Unlike downtrodden organizations (such as the Packers themselves in 1993, when Reggie White chose Green Bay from a long list of suitors), the Packers don’t need to do anything to fire up the fan base or breathe life into the franchise.

It’s the right approach for this specific team.  The Packers have won, once again, by doing nothing.

3.  Winner:  Bills.

Speaking of downtrodden organizations, no team needed a big-ticket free agent like Mario Williams more than the Bills.  And they went all in, pulling out all the stops and persuading Williams to spend two nights in town and eventually getting the job done.

It gives Buffalo and the Bills a major boost, igniting intense local interest and legitimate national attention.  It also makes good football sense; defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt now has a player around whom the team’s new 4-3 defense can be built.

It wasn’t cheap, and it may prove to be a mistake.  But it was a risk the Bills needed to make if they ever hope to become relevant again.

4.  Winner:  Patriots.

At first, it looked like the Pats would follow the Pack’s “closed for business” approach to the early days of free agency.  But with needs at receiver, they’ve added a player in Brandon Lloyd who’ll have a far bigger impact than Chad Ochocinco (then again, the bar is low), and they’ve given Wes Welker a little cause for concern by landing a candidate to play slot receiver in Anthony Gonzalez.

They’ve also addressed an area of need on defense, adding the once-promising Trevor Scott to the rotation of recently underachieving pass rushers.

The Pats could still use a true deep threat to clear out all the underneath traffic.  But even if Lloyd is the biggest addition, the team that nearly won the Super Bowl in 2011 will be contending again in 2012.

5.  Winner:  Chiefs.

Yes, they were denied admission to the Peyton chase.  But let’s not forget that, despite all the dysfunction and key injuries of 2011, the Chiefs weren’t far away from winning the weakest division in the NFL.

Unlike most teams, the Chiefs found bargains even before the market softened, adding running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year, fire-under-butt-lighting $2.6 million contract, tight end Kevin Boss for three years and $9 million, right tackle Eric Winston, and backup quarterback Brady Quinn.

Hillis and Quinn played for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Cleveland, adding some familiarity to the new Romeo Crennel regime.  Winston addresses a key area of need, and Boss gives the Chiefs a second pass-catching tight end, which apparently is now a mandatory requirement for any team that hopes to be highly successful in the passing game.

Next up, don’t be surprised if Crennel lures another former Brown to Kansas City, with linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on the market.

6.  Loser:  Dolphins.

Peter King of SI.com chronicles a decade of bizarre personnel moves by the Dolphins, but the organization is now developing another troubling reputation:  anyone with options won’t opt for Miami.

It began last year with owner Stephen Ross clumsily pursuing coach Jim Harbaugh, which painted a vivid picture of disloyalty to coach Tony Sparano.  It continued in 2012 when Ross tried, and failed, to lure coach Jeff Fisher to town.  And it spread to the ranks of players in 2012, with Peyton Manning showing tepid interest at best in joining the team (even though some believed it was a done deal that he’d be a Dolphin).  Then, Matt Flynn’s decision to play for the Seahawks instead of former Packers coordinator/Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin did more than raise eyebrows — especially when followed by Steelers safety Ryan Clark proclaiming that “no one” wants to play for the Dolphins.

It’s possible that Philbin simply wasn’t all that interested in Flynn, and that Philbin knows  Flynn’s pair of high-end performances (one in 2010 and one in 2011) won’t translate to being an effective week-in, week-out starter, once opposing defenses have a chance to study enough of his film and figure him out.  If that’s the case, the Dolphins shouldn’t have even brought him to town for a visit.  By doing so, it creates the impression that they wanted him — and that yet again they failed to get their man.

Correct or not, there’s now a perception that no one of significant consequence wants to work for the Dolphins.  And the harder Ross tries to turn the page by making a “big splash,” the more likely it is that he’ll continue to swing the bat and hit himself in the face with it.

7.  Loser:  Saints.

With Bountygate lingering, the Saints had even more reason to work out a new, long-term deal with Drew Brees.  And yet the Saints continue to fail to find a middle ground with their franchise quarterback.

There’s a chance Brees simply wants too much.  But here’s the problem:  He deserves it.  The best NFL quarterback of the last six years, if he wants to max out his contract, then he should.

And as to the idea that he needs to leave some money behind so that the Saints can field a competitive team given the salary cap, here’s one important point:  It never stopped the Colts from being competitive when Peyton got every last dollar he could.

And while it’s good that the Saints kept receiver Marques Colston, they lost Robert Meachem.  And while it’s good that they lured Ben Grubbs away from Baltimore, the lost Carl Nicks.

More importantly, they’ve yet to do anything to address needs on defense, which could become even more significant once the suspensions come down.

8.  Loser:  Vikings.

Good teams can afford to sit on the sidelines in the early days of free agency.  The Vikings are not a good team.

With plenty of cap room and a tenuous stadium situation and a fan base that may choose to do things other than attend or watch Vikings games this season, the franchise needed to make a splash.  Not a Mario Williams cannonball; but something more significant than a John Carlson dog paddle.

It’s doesn’t mean the Vikings should go hog wild.  But they should have made it a priority to land one big-name player, even if it meant overpaying a little.

The offseason is about selling hope.  Teams like the Packers, Patriots, Giants, and Steelers can afford to do nothing in March; the hope is implied.  For teams that have fallen, March is an opportunity to prove that they’re at least trying to get up.

9.  Loser:  Ravens.

The Ravens had four players in the PFT Hot 100 free-agency list.  Three already have bolted for greener pastures:  defensive end Cory Redding, linebacker Jarret Johnson, and guard Ben Grubbs.

To make matters worse, guard Evan Mathis opted to stay with the Dream Team in lieu of joining a team that, on paper, seems to have a better chance of making its dreams come true.

Then there’s the lingering possibility that someone will make restricted free agent cornerback Lardarius Webb an offer the Ravens can’t afford to match.

Though there’s a long way to go before September, it’s hard not to think that, at least for now, the Ravens have faded a bit closer to the pack in the AFC.

10.  Loser:  Bengals.

By capping 2011 with an unlikely playoff berth, it can’t be said that Paul Brown Stadium routinely was less than full due to the fact that the team was bad.  Instead, the fan base is fed up with owner Mike Brown.

Even though the team is laying a solid foundation of youthful players, Bengals fans think it’s not because of Brown but in spite of him.  And with a huge cap surplus for 2012, the Bengals haven’t done much to persuade anyone that they’re willing to spend.

The good news is that, after several days of inaction, the Bengals have gone bargain shopping, adding offensive lineman Travelle Wharton and defensive back Jason Allen.  They also managed to keep free-agent safety Reggie Nelson, who had attracted an offer from the Jets.

But this is the one playoff team that needed to at least chase a marquee free agent.  They didn’t have to land the guy.  Mike Brown simply needed to show that he’s willing to move from the nickel slot machines over to the no-limit poker table.

The Bengals may once again be competitive in 2012.  The fans won’t embrace the franchise they way they should, however, until they see large chunks of their money being reinvested in players who can help the team compete for a championship.

11.  Loser/Winner:  Redskins.

I know.  I said there would be only 10 winners and losers.  But I didn’t say anything about the team that lands in both categories.

The $36 million in unexpected cap charges for treated the uncapped year too literally makes the Redskins losers.  Their refusal to shrug their shoulders when they did nothing wrong makes them winners.

Their ability to still find a way to spend money makes them winners.  Their decision to give so much money to the likes of Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan makes them losers.

Their willingness to move up to No. 2 and get the franchise’s first true franchise quarterback since Sammy Baugh possibly will make them winners.  Mortgaging the future by giving up three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick possibly will make them losers.

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Concussion timeline creates some doubt about RG3 in the opener

Robert Griffin III AP

At this stage, assuming there’s anything logical or normal about the Washington quarterback situation would be a mistake.

But with every passing day, it gets stranger and stranger.

Tonight’s statement from an independent neurologist that Robert Griffin III wasn’t actually cleared to play because of the thing that he wouldn’t acknowledge as a concussion, was weird enough on its own merits.

But as pointed out by Rich Tandler of CSNMidAtlantic.com, the one- to two-week period mentioned by the doctor today could easily put the regular season opener in jeopardy.

Two weeks from today would be two days before the start of the regular season, and you’d think coach Jay Gruden would like his starter to work with the ones all week (they need the work).

But while Gruden has gone out of his way to not create a quarterback controversy, circumstances have absolutely created one.

If Kirk Cousins (or, heck, why not Colt McCoy) plays well in the rest of the preseason and takes all the work the week before the opener, it’s easy to justify starting him instead of an RG3 who may or may not be physically able, or prepared to go.

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Break up the Jaguars: Blake Bortles looking impressive in preseason

Blake Bortles AP

Much in the same way we should probably not overreact to Tom Brady’s preseason struggles, maybe we should temper our expectations of those who are doing well.

Otherwise, you’d be inclined to think the Jaguars might be good at football this year.

As noted by Mark Long of the Associated Press, the Jaguars first offense has looked exceedingly competent, scoring on seven of eight preseason possessions.

Blake Bortles has led a pair of impressive touchdown drives against the Lions tonight, and has looked remarkably settled in the process.

The Jaguars might still be a year away from having the kind of personnel around him to make them a contender, but they’re definitely making progress, and that’s something they haven’t enjoyed in Jacksonville in some time.

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Tom Brady isn’t really looking like Tom Brady this preseason

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If he hadn’t won four Super Bowls and a couple of MVPs, you’d almost think Tom Brady was distracted by something.

The Patriots quarterback has looked a bit shaky this preseason, and has already thrown two interceptions against the Panthers.

Again, it’s far from time to worry about what this means for the regular season, regardless how many games he plays because of his #DeflateGate suspension.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact he’s looked rather un-Tom-like so far.

In his first two games, four of his five drives were three-and-outs, while completing just 3-of-9 passes. If it’s possible, he’s been even worse tonight, throwing a pair of picks to a Panthers defense which is good but missing a number of key pieces.

It feels mandatory to say this is not a time to panic. It’s still Tom Brady. But it’s also reasonable to wonder whether the time he’s spent defending himself this offseason has caused him to not be singularly focused on the game, such that he ever has to be during the preseason.

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Jonathan Kraft: We never apologized to Chris Mortensen

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Maybe 11 of the 12 calls were apologies.

Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft said during an interview tonight on 98.5 The Sports Hub that while he’s not mad at Chris Mortensen, that he never apologized to the ESPN star reporter though Mortensen said he did.

“I think that throughout the whole situation that transpired, a lot of respected reporters have received information that was false and really could have only been leaked by the league,” Kraft said during the team’s pregame show. “And in the ordinary course we’ve talked to some of those reporters and we told them that we don’t blame them for the misinformation. We blame their sources for using them.”

While Mortensen said earlier this week the Kraft and his father had apologized, the son made it clear that didn’t happen. But rather than banging on Mortensen himself, Kraft reiterated their anger was with the league for not correcting the erroneous reports that 11 of the 12 balls used in the AFC Championship Game were significantly deflated.

“Still, it hasn’t been corrected publicly. I think when the Wells report came out, some of those details were made public,” Kraft said. “We’ve still never gotten an explanation from the league why the erroneous reports weren’t corrected. And I think the sources for the misinformation are the only ones who should be apologizing to the reporters. We haven’t, and we really have no need to.”

So while Mortensen’s version of the apology may not square with Kraft’s version of events, the salient point remains that Mort should not be the focus of this situation — the league officials who fed him the bad information should be.

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Robert Griffin III not cleared to play after all

Robert Griffin III AP

Amid questions about whether Robert Griffin III really suffered a concussion last week comes word tonight that not only is Washington saying Griffin did suffer a concussion, but that he still hasn’t been cleared to play in this week’s preseason game.

In a statement issued by the team on Friday night and attributed to NFL independent neurologist Robert N. Kurtzke, it was revealed that Griffin can’t play yet.

“Per discussion with Neuropsychologists and with Anthony Casolaro M.D., we had anticipated yesterday that the patient would be cleared for full participation in gameplay this weekend; however, upon further scrutiny today of the neuropsychology data, I agree with the neuropsychologist that he should be held from gameplay this weekend and be retested in one-two weeks before a firm conclusion to return to gameplay can be made,” the statement said.

So now Griffin won’t play this week. And despite coach Jay Gruden’s claims that Griffin is the starter, it raises the question of whether Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy could do enough in the third preseason game to take the starting job away from Griffin. The Washington quarterback saga is far from over.

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NFL suspends R.J. Dill for taking testosterone while not in the NFL

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NFL players remain subject to the league’s strict performance-enhancing drug-testing policy even after they think their careers have ended, as a little-known player named R.J. Dill has found out the hard way.

Dill, an offensive lineman with the Cowboys who was suspended for the first four games of this season, said in a statement today that the banned substance he took — prescription testosterone — was something he needed for medical reasons, and he only took it after he failed to make a roster last year and thought his career was over. That doesn’t matter to the NFL. Testosterone is banned by the NFL except when a player gets an exemption for extraordinary circumstances (such as a player whose body stopped producing testosterone because he lost his testicles to cancer), and so when Dill returned to the NFL and tested positive for testosterone, he was suspended.

“I saw my doctor, and blood tests revealed that my testosterone levels were very low,” Dill said. “My doctor suggested that I undergo testosterone replacement therapy, and I accepted the recommended treatment. I completed one round of testosterone replacement therapy in November of 2014, and almost immediately, I felt like my old self again. At this time I was not under contract with any NFL team, nor was I actively pursuing an NFL career.

“Then, in January of 2015, I unexpectedly received a call from the Dallas Cowboys. They were interested in signing me to a futures contract, and after passing a physical, I signed a contract and immersed myself in training for the 2015 NFL season. Unfortunately, my excitement was subdued when in May 2015 I was told by the NFL that I had failed a drug test. While my doctor had told me that the residual amounts of the testosterone would be out of my system about eight weeks after treatment, that was not accurate, and I failed a drug test a full six months after I had received the prescribed treatment.”

Dill attempted to get a therapeutic use exemption, but the NFL declined it, and so he is suspended. Realistically, Dill probably wasn’t going to make the 53-player roster anyway, and there’s a good chance he’ll get cut soon and be out of the league anyway.

The league’s rules are tough for players who have a legitimate medical need for testosterone and tough for players who use substances while they’re not even under contract to an NFL team, but that’s how it should be. Handing out permission slips for players to take otherwise banned substances would lead to huge numbers of players using those substances to get an edge. And allowing players to get out of the PED-testing policy by declaring their retirement would lead to a rash of players calling themselves retired, using banned substances, and then coming out of retirement and returning bigger and stronger thanks to PED use.

“It is very difficult for me to accept that a suspension is imposed by the NFL after I followed treatment prescribed by a medical professional during a time when I was not employed by an NFL team,” Dill said.

It’s easy to see why Dill feels that way. But it’s also easy to see why the NFL feels that it has to suspend him.

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Colts activate Donald Thomas from PUP list

Donald Thomas AP

The Colts felt good enough about guard Donald Thomas’s future to sign him to a four-year, $14 million contract before the 2013 season, but they’ve gotten very little return on that investment.

Thomas tore his quadriceps two games into the 2013 season and missed the rest of the year before returning to camp the next year just long enough to tear his quad again. Thomas missed all of last season as well, leaving him with little to show for his time with the Colts.

He’ll get a chance to change that now that the team has activated him from the physically unable to perform list. With a little over a week left before the cut to 53 players, Thomas is going to have to show the Colts he’s capable of helping them pretty quickly.

Thomas is due $3.5 million in base salary this season and it becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster at the start of the regular season. While that salary looks like a lot for a player who has played as little as Thomas, the Colts haven’t been thrilled with the play of their line and that could allow him to stick around.

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Michael Bennett fined for hit on Alex Smith

Michael Bennett AP

During a radio interview earlier this week, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett complained about the different treatment afforded to quarterbacks when it came to salaries and protection from officials.

Bennett referenced Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’s much-discussed hit on Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford and wondered “what makes [a quarterback’s] life better than mine” since Bennett gets hit in the legs on every play. Given his feelings about the rules governing hits to quarterbacks, Bennett probably wasn’t pleased to find out that the league has fined him for a hit in last week’s game.

Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports that Bennett has been fined $17,363 for a hit to the head/neck area of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Bennett was flagged for roughing the passer on Kansas City’s first offensive play of the game and later got a sack of Smith that went unflagged by the officials.

Bennett can appeal the fine and/or use it as the centerpiece for another entertaining radio spot at some point down the line.

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Saints aren’t sweating the Falcons getting a new Mercedes-Benz

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Even though their neighbors in the NFC South just got a newer model, the Saints might extend their lease on their current Mercedes-Benz.

The luxury carmaker already had naming rights to the Superdome, and recently announced they had purchased the naming rights to the Falcons’ new stadium as well.

The Falcons move into their new building in 2017, but Saints president Dennis Lauscha said that didn’t mean the Saints deal with Mercedes-Benz couldn’t be renewed beyond its current 2021 expiration, and that they weren’t caught off guard. Lauscha said he talked to Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon before the Falcons announcement.

“He contacted us and said, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to do this. We want to let you know we’re going to do this. We certainly mean no disrespect in any way, shape or form,'” Lauscha said, via Evan Woodberry of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“Not that I’m aware of. I would go so far as to say is that we actually have our head of sponsorship in New York meeting with them (this week),” Lauscha said. “I don’t want to suggest that we’re signing a long-term or anything. I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just saying the relationship is very good. We’re very happy and they’re very happy.”

Of course, Mercedes-Benz is also going to be parking in a nicer driveway soon, so that might change.

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Lesser charges for Justin Hunter

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The charges against Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter stemming from a July 3 incident in Virginia Beach have been lessened to misdemeanor assault and battery, per The Tennesseean.

His trial begins next week, and a Friday statement from state prosecutors said information gathered from interviews with witnesses “better supports the charge of assault and battery.”

Prosecutors said that Hunter punched another man several times, which led the alleged victim to go to the hospital to be treated for a broken jaw. After being released on a $25,000 bond, Hunter was placed under a court-ordered curfew that runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and barred from drinking alcohol.

The Titans are hoping this can be the year Hunter puts it all together on the field. The NFL has monitored the case but Hunter has not been subject thus far to any league or team discipline.

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O’Brien says Mallett remains the No. 2 quarterback

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Oversleeping may have relegated Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett to third-string for Friday. But the move won’t be permanent, at least not yet.

Coach Bill O’Brien told reporters on Friday that Mallett remains the second-string quarterback, behind starter Brian Hoyer.

Beyond that, O’Brien didn’t have much to offer.

“[T]he situation with Ryan not being at practice [Thursday], that’s between Ryan and I,” O’Brien told reporters. “There are a lot things that I will explain to you and I realize that you have a job to do, I really do. I said that in the very first meeting with you this year. I have a lot of respect for you and your profession and what you’re trying to do with information and all those things. I get it. But some things are left within the team, and this is one of them. I’m not going to take any more questions on [Thursday] as it regards to Ryan Mallett.”

It’s no surprise that O’Brien either sent Mallett home or told him to stay home after showing up late for work; O’Brien’s former boss in New England routinely does the same thing in response to tardiness, even if the tardiness is the result of a blizzard.

Perhaps Tuesday night’s edition of Hard Knocks will have more details about Mallett’s sleep habits, or other topics aimed at keeping the audience awake.

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Not much precedent for notable August QB trades

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With the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, immediately installed as starters for their respective teams, it’s easy to assume that there’s been outside interest in young quarterbacks already on those rosters, Mike Glennon of the Bucs and Zach Mettenberger of the Titans.

In a league with more teams than quality starting quarterbacks and even fewer legitimate backup options, Matt Flynn and Michael Vick, just to name a couple, have recently found work. So a player like Mettenberger, for example, who’s in his second season and has shown he shares at least some traits with successful starters across the league would and should draw outside interest.

Earlier this week, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt sounded like Mettenberger isn’t going anywhere.

“In the league today it is very hard for one quarterback to make it through the whole season, so you better have a plan in case your starter doesn’t go,” Whisenhunt said. “So we certainly feel very fortunate that we have Zach, and what Zach brings to the table.”

While the Browns and Jets and Bills, possibly among others, might have good reasons to explore possibilities for boosting their quarterback stables over the next week or so as rosters are trimmed and decisions are made, history says teams don’t trade quarterbacks at this time of year, at least not good ones.

Ryan Mallett was traded last Aug. 31 from the Patriots to the Texans. Mallett started two games last season before getting hurt, then no-showed a practice this week after it was announced he’d lost a training-camp battle with Brian Hoyer for the starting job in Houston.

There have been nine August quarterback trades in the last 15 years. The vast majority of them involved journeymen such as Kelly Holcomb, Sage Rosenfels, John Beck and Brooks Bollinger. The Packers trading Brett Favre to the Jets in 2008 stands out as an exception, but that was a soap opera all its own after Favre, then 38, basically refused to report to the Packers.

Going back to last winter, Glennon rumors started swirling as soon as it became clear the Bucs would use the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft on a quarterback. The Bucs ended up cutting Josh McCown and keeping Glennon, who’s been playing as the No. 2 behind Winston.

Speaking of McCown, he was traded from Miami to Carolina in August 2008. With Johnny Manziel injured and likely done for the preseason, Thad Lewis moves to the No. 2 spot behind McCown with the Browns. Lewis was traded in August 2013 from Detroit to Buffalo.

So, these August movers do not form an elite club. And though there could be talks and even a few calls made over the next week to 10 days, what Whisenhunt said about the Titans keeping Mettenberger has generally been the rule. The same reasons teams would be interested in a young quarterback are the same reasons his current team would have an awfully high asking price.

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Chris Johnson returns to practice

Chris Johnson AP

When Chris Johnson hurt his hamstring last week, word from the Cardinals was that he was expected to miss a week or two before returning to the field.

Johnson has made it back on the early end of that timeframe. According to multiple reports from Cardinals practice on Friday, Johnson is in pads and taking part in practice with the team.

Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders might be too quick a turnaround for Johnson to get in his first game action with the team, but he could see a few carries next week if his hamstring holds up well after practicing.

Whether Johnson plays in the preseason or not, he should still compete for snaps in the backfield with Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson as Arizona looks for a more effective running game than they featured last year. The younger Johnson ran 13 times for 66 yards last week while Ellington has had five carries as the starter in both preseason outings.

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Saints spending one-fifth of their cap space on players not on the team

Jimmy Graham AP

Every NFL team has some dead money on its salary cap, money that is allocated to a certain player who’s no longer on the team. But no team is allocating cap space like the Saints.

In New Orleans, 20 percent of the cap is dead money, according to Spotrac. Among the players who count huge amounts against the Saints’ salary cap even though they’re no longer on the team are tight end Jimmy Graham ($9 million), guard Ben Grubbs ($6 million), linebacker Junior Galette ($5.45 million) and linebacker Curtis Lofton $5 million).

The Saints’ cap situation has been problematic for a while now, and the problem isn’t going away. Based on the contracts they already have, the Saints are projected to be $7.3 million over the cap next year.

The team with the lowest dead cap number is the Bengals, who have less than $1 million allocated to players no longer on the team. Bengals owner Mike Brown has been criticized at times for being miserly, but if you’re going to criticize the Bengals for that, you also have to credit them for being smart enough to make the playoffs four years in a row while not mortgaging the future with high-priced contracts for players who don’t last.

The player with the league’s highest dead-cap number is Ndamukong Suh, who counts $9.737 million against the Lions’ salary cap this year even though he signed with the Dolphins in March. After Suh, the highest dead cap number in the NFL is $9.5 million, the amount of the Ravens cap that is allocated to Ray Rice.

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Reggie Wayne on playbook: They’re throwing a lot at me right now

Reggie Wayne AP

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne is wrapping up his first week as a member of the Patriots and it’s been full of new things.

Wayne is wearing a new number on a new team after spending 14 years with No. 87 on the back of a Colts jersey and he’s also trying to lear a new offensive playbook with limited time to cram in all the new information before the start of the regular season. The scheme may be new but the experience brings back some old memories.

“Like a rookie,” Wayne said, via the Boston Herald. “They’re throwing a lot at me right now. I’m not getting very much sleep. I feel like a rookie all over again.”

Other veteran wideouts have struggled to pick up the Patriots offense quickly enough to make an impact for the team, so it’s not surprising to hear that Wayne’s working hard to pick everything up. With Brandon LaFell on the PUP list and Julian Edelman out of action for almost all of August, the Patriots may need that work to pay off early in the season.

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