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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 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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Jordan Cameron, Bernard Pierce questionable for Sunday

Jordan Cameron AP

Both the Ravens and Browns have a key offensive contributor listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup in Cleveland.

Ravens tailback Bernard Pierce (thigh) is questionable after putting in a full practice on Friday, while Browns tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) received the same designation after a limited workout today. Cameron missed the Browns’ Week Two win vs. New Orleans with his injury.

Also questionable for Cleveland is outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who was limited with a shoulder ailment Friday.

In other Browns injury news, the club has officially ruled out tailback Ben Tate (knee) for a second straight game. Rookie Terrance West will start in his place.

For the Ravens, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is doubtful. However, quarterback Joe Flacco (illness) and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (concussion) are probable.

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Arian Foster questionable for Sunday’s game vs. Giants

Arian Foster AP

The status of the AFC’s leading rusher for Week Three is somewhat in flux, per the injury report.

Texans tailback Arian Foster (hamstring) is questionable for Sunday’s game at the Giants, according to multiple reporters, including Deepi Sidhu of Texans Radio.

According to Sidhu, Foster was limited Friday, as he was on Wednesday and Thursday.

Foster has racked up 241 yards on 55 carries for AFC South-leading Houston, which is off to a 2-0 start.

Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes and Ronnie Browns are the Texans’ other tailbacks.

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Roger Goodell insists he never considered quitting

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell News Conference Getty Images

There may be a lack of certainty coming from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell right now, but he’s absolutely clear on one thing.

He won’t be giving up his job.

Asked directly if he considered giving up his job, Goodell said no.

“I have not,” he replied. “I am focused on doing my job. We have work to do. That’s my focus.”

He again defended his willingness to admit wrongdoing, and promised bold action.

But the fact he has such support from owners made it a bit of a moot point, as there was very little indication anything would come from the numerous calls for him to step aside.

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Goodell: “Everything on the table” in terms of his role

Goodell AP

Among the most glaring errors of the NFL over the last two weeks has been the problem of unilateral power.

But during his press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seemed willing to cede some ground.

“Everything is on the table,” Goodell replied when asked if he was willing to yield some of the decision-making power.

Announcing that he planned to remake the personal conduct policy in conjunction with the union (with a stated goal of having it done by the Super Bowl) is a solid first step.

But the idea that he has to include more voices in the process seems apparent.

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Goodell: I got it wrong, I’m sorry and now I will get it right

Roger Goodell AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged his own missteps and admitted that he needs assistance in overseeing the league’s personal conduct policy in a Friday press conference designed to stem the wave of criticism the NFL has faced over high-profile domestic violence cases involving players.

“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter and I’m sorry for that. I got it wrong on a number of levels, from the process that I led to the decision that I reached. But now I will get it right and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that,” Goodell said.

Goodell said that everyone affiliated with the NFL — both at the team level and the league level — will go through training to help reduce domestic violence. And Goodell said he hopes the NFL will become a leader in fighting against domestic violence throughout American society.

“These incidents demonstrate that we can use the NFL to help make change, not only in our league but in our society with respect to domestic violence and sexual assault,” Goodell said.

Goodell also acknowledged that the league office itself dropped the ball in investigating the Rice case, and he said the NFL will cooperate fully with former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation of the matter.

“We will get our house in order first,” Goodell said.

The NFL is now pledging to work with outside groups and to work with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The league has pledged to provide the resources the Hotline needs — resources that have been strained in recent days as domestic violence has become a topic of conversation around the league.

The arbitrary nature of the NFL’s personal conduct policy has also been criticized in recent weeks, and Goodell vowed to get that right.

“We will make it happen,” Goodell said. “We will implement new conduct policies. They will have a set of clear and transparent rules for league and club personnel, owners and players. My goal is to complete this by the Super Bowl.”

Goodell spoke forcefully and expressed confidence that the league can move forward.

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Josh McCown getting MRI, but will still start when he’s healthy

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Josh McCown hasn’t played very well, and now he’s hurt.

But when he’s well, he’s still the Buccaneers starter.

That’s what Bucs coach Lovie Smith said today, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

McCown is getting an MRI on his injured thumb, which he injured in last night’s drubbing at the hands of the Falcons.

But Smith declared “Josh is our quarterback,” ending any mystery about the starting job.

McCown was 5-for-12 for 58 yards and an interception before the injury. Mike Glennon was 17-of-24 for 121 yards and a touchdown, in relief, but the game was so far out of hand at that point it’s hard to gauge what it meant.

McCown’s packing a 65.2 passer rating, with two touchdowns and four picks for the winless Bucs. But they have so many other problems at the moment, making it his fault would be overly simplistic.

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Jamaal Charles practices Friday, decision to come on his status

Chiefs Training Camp AP

For the second straight day, Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles took part in practice as the club started to wind down its preparation for Sunday’s game at Miami.

Charles suffered a high-ankle injury in the Chiefs’ Week Two loss at Denver, raising fears he could miss some time, as such ailments are often multi-week injuries. But four days after the injury, Charles was back on the field, and he followed that with another day of work Friday.

Coach Andy Reid said Charles’ status would be determined after the club observed how he came out of today’s workout.

“He did OK,” Reid said. “He looked a little sore, but he did OK.”

One of the game’s top all-around backs, Charles has been limited to just 23 yards on nine carries in two games this season. He received just 11 touches in a 26-10 loss to Tennessee in Week One, then suffered the injury early in the 24-17 setback at Denver last week.

The Chiefs face Miami (1-1) at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday. Inactives will be released 90 minutes before the game. Second-year pro Knile Davis is the top backup to Charles.

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Cecil Shorts says he’s ready to play “the whole game”

Cecil Shorts, Sherrod Martin AP

Somebody call Roddy White and let him know for his fantasy team — Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts is back.

I plan on playing the whole game,” Shorts said, via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “Let’s go.

“The last few days went really well. It’s exciting to go back out there with my teammates and play again. It’s been a long wait with an up-and-down off-season.”

Shorts has missed the first two games with a hamstring strain, and is listed as probable for this week against the Colts. But since that’s the same as a virtual certainty he’ll play, there’s no real mystery.

He missed time in OTAs with a calf strain and three weeks of training camp with a hamstring problem, before pulling the other hamstring most recently.
The Jaguars obviously need any offensive boost they can find, but unless he can play offensive line (Chad Henne has been sacked 13 times), it’s hard to imagine he’s a one-man fix.
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Falcons knew Devin Hester still had “gas in the tank”

Hester Getty Images

When free agency began in March, receiver Devin Hester wasn’t near the top of anyone’s list.  Anyone except the Falcons.

“We’d been talking for a number of years about what we’re going to do with our return specialist situation and what we’re going to do with our receiver group,” G.M. Thomas Dimitroff told PFT Live on Friday.  “We thought if we could land a legitimate return guy, both punt and kickoff return, and then mix him into that group of three or four [receivers], that was going to help our production on the offensive side of the ball as well.  Our feeling was that with Devin, he is an electric type of player as we all know, and that we truly felt that he still had gas in the tank, he still had the explosiveness, and we saw last night, when he gets in the open space how he creates is something that is unparalleled quite honestly, and it’s fun to watch him.”

So how did the Falcons evaluate a guy’s potential on offense when he hasn’t played much offense lately?  Last year with the Bears, Hester didn’t participate in a single snap from scrimmage.

“I’m a big believer in assessing the athleticism, the movement, the ability to start, stop, the body control,” Dimitroff said.  “That’s something that there’s no question he has.  The fact that he can catch the ball naturally is another big point.  And you have an assistant head coach in Terry Robiskie here and [offensive coordinator] Dirk Koetter, who are creative minds.  It’s putting him in the right spot to be successful.  We all know how important that is and some of the best coaches in this league are able to do that.  Know the talent, know their strengths, and accentuate their strengths. . . .

“We’re getting out of him what we wanted and more, no question about it.”

There’s also no question that the 2014 Falcons look to be much better than their 2013 counterparts.  For more from Dimitroff, click the box below.

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Dee Milliner has quad tightness in addition to ankle sprain

Dee Milliner AP

The Jets got cornerback Dee Milliner back in the lineup against the Packers last week after Milliner missed a good chunk of time with a high ankle sprain, but Milliner didn’t finish the game after he felt the ankle tighten up in the second half.

That’s created some uncertainty about his ability to play against the Bears on Monday night and that uncertainty will only grow now that quad tightness has been added to the ankle injury as the reason why Milliner missed practice on Friday.

The Jets have an extra day to prepare for Chicago, but they’ll need to think long and hard about the risks involved with Milliner playing given the frequency that he’s been banged up in his short NFL career. Having him on Monday to help defend Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery would be ideal, but not if he’s too compromised to play at a high level and the move could come back to haunt them if Milliner aggravates an injury during the game.

As evidence of the potential for a setback, the Jets need only look to wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker missed practice again with the hamstring injury that he aggravated last Sunday, which isn’t a great sign for his chances of playing even though coach Rex Ryan said, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, that the wideout didn’t have to practice in order to play.

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DeSean Jackson “very limited” in practice, questionable for Sunday

DeSean Jackson AP

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson may play when the Redskins roll into Philadelphia on Sunday, but he isn’t going to be 100 percent.

Jackson was listed as questionable on Washington’s final injury report of the week. Jackson, who injured his shoulder against the Jaguars last Sunday, was able to practice for the first time this week on Friday, although coach Jay Gruden said he was “very limited” during the workout.

“He did good today, but we’ll see,” Gruden said, via “He was very limited, as you well know. But I think it was a step in a positive direction. We’ll get another look at him tomorrow with the trainers, then we’ll gauge him on Sunday morning and see where he’s at.”

Jackson has vowed to play in the game, which is his first opportunity to play against the Eagles since they released him in the offseason.

Tight end Jordan Reed remains sidelined with a hamstring injury for Washington, who will also be without quarterback Robert Griffin III, linebacker Akeem Jordan and cornerback Tracy Porter. Neither Jordan nor Porter has played in a regular season game this year.

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Eagles rule out Mychal Kendricks

Mychal Kendricks, Trent Richardson AP

The Eagles may give first-round pick Marcus Smith some playing time this weekend.

Smith has been working at inside linebacker at practice this week, which was seen as a sign that the team was pessimistic about Mychal Kendricks’s chances of playing against the Redskins on Sunday.

That pessimism was justified. Kendricks was ruled out by the Eagles on Friday after missing the entire week of practice because of a calf injury suffered in Monday night’s victory over the Colts.

Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho have been seeing time in Kendricks’s place at practice this week, although Smith has been the Eagles’ choice for the nickel package since both Matthews and Acho struggle in pass coverage. Smith was drafted in May to help bolster the team’s pass rush, but didn’t get on the field the first week and was inactive on Monday night as he’s not ready to help the team in that area yet.

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Goodell press conference will be televised on NBCSN

NBCUniversal Logos

At roughly 11:00 a.m. ET on Friday, the NFL announced that Commissioner Roger Goodell will conduct a press conference at 3:00 p.m. ET.  While that didn’t leave me with enough time to make it from West Virginia to Midtown Manhattan, NBC keeps some of its cameras a lot closer.  And those cameras will be connected via satellite to the NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

The pictures and words sent via satellite will be broadcast on NBCSN, in a special edition of Pro Football Talk.  Paul Burmeister and yours truly will react to and analyze the opening comments from Goodell, the questions he receives, and the answers he provides.

Look for Goodell to answer any and all questions, and to accommodate every media member who shows up for the event.  After the events of the last two weeks, Goodell can’t let one of the league’s P.R. representatives cut off the conference before all questions have been answered.  Which explains the fairly short notice; he plans to answer all questions, and by announcing the event only four hours before it happened, the universe of questions will be smaller.

Whatever the questions and answers, you’ll see and hear them all on NBCSN at 3:00 p.m. ET.  And then you’ll see and hear us talk about what it all means.

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Colts defensive starters Jerrell Freeman, Arthur Jones out Sunday

arthurjones AP

The Colts will be down two defensive starters on Sunday against the Jaguars.

Jerrell Freeman and Arthur Jones have both been ruled out, coach Chuck Pagano confirmed today.

Freeman has been nursing a hamstring injury that also forced him to miss Monday night’s game against the Eagles. Jones suffered an ankle injury in that game and has been out of practice this week.

The good news for the Colts is that the Jaguars’ offense has been inept this season: Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne has been sacked a league-high 13 times, while running back Toby Gerhart has gained just 50 yards on 25 carries. Even shorthanded, the Colts should be able to handle the Jaguars.

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John Abraham placed on injured reserve

John Abraham, Kellen Clemens, Calais Campbell AP

John Abraham’s season has reached a close.

The Cardinals placed the veteran outside linebacker on injured reserve Friday, the team’s website said. The 36-year-old Abraham suffered a concussion in the Cardinals’ Sept. 8 win vs. San Diego.

A 15th-year pro from West Virginia, Abraham has recorded 133.5 career sacks. He is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Given his age and his health, it’s reasonable to wonder if he will return to NFL play in 2015.

To replace Abraham on the roster, the Cardinals re-signed punter Drew Butler, who has kicked in each of the first two games. The re-signing of Butler suggests Dave Zastudil’s status for Sunday’s game vs. San Francisco could be in doubt because of the groin injury that’s ailed him.

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