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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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Martavis Bryant has an AC sprain in shoulder

Martavis Bryant AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thinks wide receiver Martavis Bryant can have a bright future as part of the team’s offense, but the team may have to decide how much he’ll be able to do in the present before setting their 53-man roster this weekend.

The fourth-round pick isn’t going to be cut, but he could be headed to injured reserve with the designation to return after suffering a shoulder injury in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Panthers. Bryant was hurt after making a catch on a pass from Landry Jones and did not return to the game.

After the contest, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that Bryant had suffered an AC sprain in his right shoulder. Tomlin added that the significance of the injury was unknown, but it might be tough to keep him on the active roster if it is a multi-week injury to a player who wasn’t expected to play an outsize role on the offense in the immediate future.

Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore have roster spots locked down, leaving Justin Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Derek Moye to join Bryant as aspirants for spots lower on the depth chart.

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Jim Harbaugh wants to keep three QBs, but that’s not his call

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Even though the 49ers and coach Jim Harbaugh have tabled contract talks for now — which he called “refreshing” — it’s still interesting to watch the push-pull of the organization from afar.

So while roster spots for backup quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson might not be headline news, getting both of them would seem to be a win for Harbaugh.

I’d really like to,” Harbaugh said of keeping three, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “We’ve done that most of the time.”

Of course, General Manager Trent Baalke has the final say over the 53-man roster, and the 49ers might not be able to keep a third quarterback with some other spots up in the air.

They’ve kept three in the past, but finished last year with just two, so it’s not clear cut.

They’ve sunk $2 million in guaranteed money into Blaine Gabbert, so they’re probably stuck with him. Gabbert left last night’s game with a shoulder injury, but returned to throw a touchdown. He had X-rays, which were negative.

But Johnson has had an impressive camp, and was 14-of-17 for 135 yards and three touchdowns last night. Johnson played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, so he’s a bit of a pet project.

Harbaugh wouldn’t answer a question on which was the backup, but was adamant that Johnson deserved a roster spot.

“I’ve been convinced of that for a while,” Harbaugh said.

If he can convince Baalke of that this weekend, it could be construed as a positive sign for his own future there, as well.

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Two Redskins go down with knee injuries on Thursday night

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Two players on the roster bubble in Washington may have knee injuries suffered on Thursday bring an end their chances of playing for the team in 2014.

Nose tackle Chris Neild and inside linebacker Akeem Jordan were both forced out of the game against the Buccaneers and the early word from coach Jay Gruden didn’t sound good for either player. Gruden said, via the Washington Times, Neild’s injury “looks like an ACL tear” and Jordan would be evaluated for the same injury after suffering what was initially diagnosed as an MCL sprain.

Both veterans were playing on Thursday night because they had failed to lock down a roster spot heading into the final preseason game. Even if the initial diagnosis is more dire than the actual extent of the injury, any missed time is going to work against their chances of sticking on the 53-man roster after Saturday’s cuts.

On the defensive line, that would seem to make Clifton Geathers staying with the team a likelier option while Jordan’s injury should benefit Will Compton’s bid to make the team this year.

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Friday morning one-liners

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The Bills offense couldn’t find the end zone in the preseason finale.

DT Garrison Smith made a strong final impression on the Dolphins.

Patriots WR Aaron Dobson caught a touchdown in his first preseason action of the year.

If WR Stephen Hill needed a strong game to make the Jets, he’ll have a hard time surviving final cuts.

The Ravens went unbeaten in the preseason for the first time since 2009.

RB Jeremy Hill looks ready for a role in the Bengals offense.

Five Browns who helped themselves in the final preseason game.

Longtime Steelers publicist Ed Kiely died at the age of 96.

Texans CB Andre Hal scored for the second time this preseason.

What will the Colts roster look like after final cuts?

Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts says he’s ready to start the regular season.

The Titans kicking competition continued on Thursday night.

Said Broncos DE DeMarcus Ware of returning to Dallas, “It’s just different. When you’re used to going into a stadium for at least five years and play for a team for nine years, you get accustomed to games. For the first time, going into the stadium to play the opposing team, which is the team you played with for so long [is different].”

The Chiefs hope CB Phillip Gaines‘ play against the Packers serves as a learning experience.

Raiders WR Denarius Moore has made a good case for a roster spot.

The Chargers upped CB Jason Verrett’s reps in the preseason finale.

DT Henry Melton didn’t wind up playing for the Cowboys on Thursday.

A calf injury might have sealed WR Mario Manningham’s departure from the Cowboys.

Eagles RB Chris Polk remained out with a hamstring injury.

S Akeem Davis helped his chances of making the Redskins with his special teams work.

WR Santonio Holmes showed the Bears some positives against the Browns.

Lions QB Kellen Moore played well to close the preseason.

Thursday night was a good one for the Packers backup quarterbacks.

Said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, “I’m especially proud of Christian Ponder because I know there’s been a lot of fans and a lot of people that have really been negative towards him. And the guy’s been nothing but a first-class guy, works hard every single day and went on to perform well tonight.”

Falcons QB T.J. Yates led the team to three touchdowns against the Jaguars.

Four things to like about the Panthers’s final preseason contest.

The Saints haven’t settled on a kicker yet.

Will RB Jeff Demps stick with the Buccaneers?

G Jonathan Cooper and LB Kevin Minter returned from injury for the Cardinals.

Injury avoidance was the focus for the Rams on Thursday.

Josh Johnson threw three touchdowns for the 49ers.

WR Bryan Walters fumbled a punt and caught a touchdown on an uneven night.

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New policy could force more players to choose to stand trial

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With the NFL implementing a sweeping new domestic violence/sexual assault policy that also encompasses “assault” and “battery” generally, a player charged with any of those crimes could face a much more complicated decision when the time comes to accept or reject a plea deal.

Under the new policy, that plea agreement opens the door to a six-game suspension on a first offense, with potential adjustment downward or upward based on factors that, at least for the first few players caught in the gears of the new policy, there will be little or no guidance because there will be little or no precedent.  If/when a player faces a second offense, copping a plea could mean taking a seat for a minimum of a year.

The end result could be more players rejecting plea agreements and taking their cases to trial, since only complete exoneration will avoid a lengthy suspension.  For some players, it could make the suspension moot; they’ll be convicted and go to jail.  For others, the cost of securing an acquittal could approach the net wage loss flowing from a suspension.

Ultimately, it’s a potentially unintended consequence of the new policy, forcing players into a much more precarious game of Door No. 1/Door No. 2.  It’s also a dynamic that judges generally won’t like, since it could become an impediment to the preference to get as many cases resolved as possible, so that the courts aren’t jammed up with trials.

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Michael Sam expects to make the Rams, or some other roster

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After his final preseason game, Rams defensive end Michael Sam said he expects to survive tomorrow’s cutdown and be on the regular-season roster — or to get picked up by some other team if the Rams cut him.

“I’m very confident,” Sam said, via the Associated Press. “I’m going to sleep really well tonight and I’m very confident I’m going to be on a team, the Rams or any other team in the NFL.”

Sam has played well throughout the preseason and played well again on Thursday night against the Dolphins, leading the team with five solo tackles. Unfortunately for Sam, the Rams are deep on the defensive line and won’t be an easy roster for any seventh-round draft pick to make. Sam is widely viewed as competing with fellow rookie defensive end Ethan Westbrooks for the final roster spot, and Westbrooks had a very good preseason finale, with a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.

If Sam gets cut by the Rams when they get down to the 53-player limit on Saturday, he’ll go on waivers and be available to all 31 other teams. Sam has played well enough in the preseason to make a good case that if he doesn’t last with the Rams, some other team should pick him up, and he’ll become the first openly gay player to make a regular-season roster.

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Pettine says Browns will discuss how to use Manziel next week

Mike Pettine, Johnny Manziel AP

Johnny Manziel did some Johnny Manziel things last night for the Browns.

Which is making head coach Mike Pettine think about ways to involve his backup quarterback next week in Pittsburgh.

It’s something we’ll discuss,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily something just because of tonight. We’ll have discussions on how we want to game plan and how we want to use those guys. I think one of the reasons that Brian [Hoyer] and the first team did look better tonight is because we didn’t mix the reps and he got all the reps with the No. 1’s. A big part of tonight was getting those guys playing together and getting that cohesion.”

Hoyer authored a steady 13-play touchdown drive in his one chance to play, but Manziel came through with some highlight plays.

He was 6-of-17 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown, missing a number of open receivers and getting a few others drilled. But he also ran for 55 yards on four carries, and was able to improvise enough to move the offense, getting a pair of field goals and a touchdown in five drives.

“He did [make some big plays],” Pettine said. “I think he had a couple of drops too, so I don’t think his numbers ended up what they maybe should have been. That’s who he is. Somebody said on the sideline, ‘There’s Johnny being Johnny.’ There was one play where it was ‘no, no, no, yes, yes, yes’ — and that was just typical of his playmaking ability.”

That’s what the Browns drafted, and that’s what they need to figure out how to use, for good or for ill.

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Logan Mankins surprised by trade, but knew it was possible

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Like most of us, Logan Mankins admitted that he was surprised he was traded to the Buccaneers.

But the 32-year-old guard also spent enough time in New England to know that the Patriot Way is built on pragmatism as much as anything else, so swapping a big salary for a fourth-round draft pick and a spare tight end is the way they work.

Once you’ve been around this business long enough, you know anything’s possible,” Mankins said, via Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune. “It’s a business, first and foremost. If you don’t understand that it’s a business, you’re lying to yourself.”

Once the trade was finalized, Mankins called his now-former quarterback Tom Bradywho clearly was not pleased — to say his goodbyes.

“I’ll miss Tom for sure and I had a lot of good friends there,” Mankins said. “It’s a sad day not to be with those guys, but I’ve got new teammates here that I’m looking to develop relationships with.”

He was putting on a brave face for his new team, which is clearly in a different spot in the process as the Patriots are.

“They’ve had a little dry spell here, but I’ve looked at the roster and there’s some guys I’ve got a lot of respect for,” Mankins said.

But the Bucs are also not asking for any of his money back, and are grateful for the leadership and protection he has to offer.

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Former NFLPA president surprised by domestic violence policy

Kevin Mawae

Former NFL Players association president Kevin Mawae was surprised to hear about the NFL’s new domestic violence policy yesterday.

Not because he’s opposed to tougher standards, but because he didn’t expect commissioner Roger Goodell to admit he was wrong in the giving Ray Rice just a two-game suspension for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious.

The new policy includes a six-game suspension for first time offenders, and a possible lifetime ban for seconds. The league’s policy also includes the consideration of mitigating factors which could reduce the punishment.

My initial reaction is, ‘Really?‘ ” Mawae told Jim Corbett of USA Today. “I can’t believe he admitted he got something wrong. With that whole Ray Rice situation, it was a pretty common thought that it was a lenient sentence when guys get suspended six games for far lesser issues. . . . For him to backtrack, my question is what does this do for Ray Rice? Are they going to impose a stronger penalty on him? Or is it ‘Oops, our mistake. But going forward we’re going to be more strict.’

“I think it’s the right move as far as making guys accountable. There’s no reason to physically abuse your spouse, your girlfriend or a woman. That to me is intolerable.”

The NFL isn’t getting into specifics about the new plan, and whether Rice will be considered a second-time offender, or where Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (convicted, pending a scheduled November appeal) stand in the system.

But having been through a lockout and watching the league dig in on certain points, Mawae was pleased to see the flexibility from the NFL. Goodell had previously cited “precedent” when defending the Rice punishment.

“Domestic violence is intolerable for anybody, whether you’re a football player or not,” Mawae said. “I think anybody would say Ray Rice got off with a slap on the wrist by comparison to less major issues that got far heavier punishment during Goodell’s tenure.

“I don’t have a problem with the six-game suspension for domestic violence. I like the idea of mitigating circumstances. There’s a difference if you and your wife got in an argument, and you nudged her out the door and between knocking your wife out in an elevator. . . . And I’m all for your ability to appeal for reinstatement after a year if you’ve done your counseling and looked at your own personal demons.”

And to Mawae’s trained eye, that’s in a way also what Goodell has done, realizing a mistake and trying to make amends for it.

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Despite watching them play, Jerry Jones says Cowboys defense “much improved”

Jerry Jones AP

The Dallas Cowboys set franchise records last season for defensive ineptitude that included allowing 415 yards per game to opposing offenses.

They lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee off of that defense a year ago and the struggles have continued this preseason.

Dallas has allowed 29 points per game this August – with Kansas City’s 32.8 points per game being the only team allowing more points this preseason. They are allowing a league-worst 158.2 rushing yards per game and a league-worst eight rushing touchdowns in four games. No other team has allowed more than six. Their 13 touchdowns allowed overall is third-worst.

Somehow those performances have led Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to believe his defense is on the upswing.

I think the defense is much improved, much improved,” Jones said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “…This is a better defense. We know our limitations. We know our scheme better and we got players that can execute. We’ve got better players, healthier players to execute the scheme. Even the ones who aren’t healthy, including them, we’ve got healthier players that can do it.”

If you say so, Jerry.

Now, the Cowboys were so bad on defense last year that it will be tough for the team to go anywhere but up this season, but expecting them to be “much improved” without much evidence to support it probably a bit overly optimistic.

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Seahawks scored on 11 of 13 drives led by Russell Wilson this preseason

Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

After leading the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl victory last February, quarterback Russell Wilson appears to have elevated him game significantly entering his third season in the NFL.

Wilson – who has won more games than any quarterback in history in their first two seasons in the league – has been under center for 13 offensive possessions in Seattle’s four preseason games. They scored points on 11 of those possessions and punted just once.

Those 13 possessions ended with nine touchdowns, two field goals, a missed field goal and a punt.

In his only possession against Oakland Thursday night, Wilson led the Seahawks on a four-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Wilson was a perfect 3-for-3 for 77 yards and a touchdown on the drive, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Luke Willson.

For the entirety of the preseason, Wilson was 33-for-42 for 437 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 61 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns. His passer rating for the preseason is 133.8.

Wilson has been nearly flawless this preseason. If Wilson and the Seahawks offense can carry this production over to the regular season to pair with their already strong defense and special teams units, they could be nearly unstoppable this season.

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Watkins re-injured ribs

Watkins AP

Bills receiver Sammy Watkins returned from a rib injury to suffer a new rib injury.  To the same ribs.

The Bills disclosed that Watkins departed the preseason shutout finale against the Lions with the same injury that knocked him out of the team’s third preseason game (of five) against Pittsburgh.

Watkins’ availability will now come into question for Week One at Chicago, with coach Doug Marrone not wanting Watkins to talk about the situation and with Marrone required to commence filing an injury report as of next Wednesday.

Watkins finished the preseason with three catches for 21 yards, all of which came against the Panthers in the first week of the preseason, after the Bills opened the exhibition slate in the Hall of Fame game.

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Derek Carr leads Raiders to four touchdown drives against Seahawks

Derek Carr AP

Derek Carr is making the most of his final preseason opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks.

The rookie quarterback has led the Oakland Raiders to four consecutive touchdown drives to open the game against the Seahawks.

Carr led a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 7-7 after Seattle took an early lead. Carr converted a pair of 3rd-and-10 opportunities on the drive before Latavius Murray capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Oakland’s special teams then helped set up two more scores.

Keith McGill stripped Seattle kick returner Bryan Walters on the ensuing kickoff  which Oakland managed to recover. It took just one play for Carr to connect with Denarius Moore for a 36-yard touchdown behind former Oakland cornerback Phillip Adams for a touchdown.

After a Seattle three-and-out, T.J. Carrie returned the punt 45 yards into Seattle territory. Again, it took one play for Carr to strike as tight end Mychal Rivera reeled a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith for a 20-yard touchdown.

Another three-and-out by Seattle led to another touchdown by Oakland. Carr marched the Raiders 61 yards on eight plays with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Moore to cap the drive and give the Raiders a 28-7 lead.

Carr’s night was done after the fourth touchdown drive of the game and was replaced by Matt McGloin. Carr finished 11-for-13 for 143 yards and three touchdowns. With Matt Schaub battling a sore elbow, Carr put together a terrific final impression before the start of the regular season that may cause second thoughts as to who should start the season opener against the New York Jets.

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Bruce Arians delegates play calling in preseason finale

Bruce Arians AP

Be wary of playing poker with the man in the Kangol.

Arizona head coach Brian Arians gave play calling duties to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin in preseason finale against San Diego, Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website reported Thursday night.

As Urban noted, part of the reasoning for Arians’ decision could be that the Cardinals and Chargers play again in less than two weeks in the regular season opener. And, of course, Thursday’s game is meaningless in the standings. So it’s a dry run for Goodwin, should he ever need to call plays, and it could also be a nice bit of strategy from Arians.

So good hand, Coach Arians. If we see you at the two-five no-limit table at the Wynn, we’ll just head to the coffee shop instead, thank you very much.

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Santonio Holmes impresses in Bears’ exhibition finale

Santonio Holmes, Justin Gilbert AP

In the span of a little less than 10 minutes in Thursday night’s exhibition at Cleveland, new Bears wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a pair of plays that suggest he’s got some good football left to play.

First, the 30-year-old Holmes turned a short reception into a 32-yard touchdown when Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert took a bad angle. Then, minutes later, Holmes broke a 30-yard punt return, running through two tackle attempts, keeping his balance and finding plenty of open space toward the Browns’ sideline. The return set up a Chicago field goal.

Off the field, Holmes did something notable, too. According to Bears sideline reporter Lou Canellis, Holmes gave the ball from his first Bears TD to rookie quarterback David Fales, who threw the pass. It was Fales’ first scoring throw as a pro, and Holmes wanted him to have the ball as a keepsake, Canellis said on the Bears’ telecast of the game.

In all, it was a good stretch for Holmes, who’s trying to find a role with the Bears after being released by the Jets earlier in the offseason.

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