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Sean Payton is cut off from the Saints and the league, in theory

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Though most if not all of this is necessarily implied by the concept of a full-season suspension, it’s worth pausing for a minute to contemplate the meaning of coach Sean Payton’s banishment, which began on Monday.

As Adam Schefter of ESPN explains it, Payton can have no contact with any Saints employees or any employees of any other teams.  If Payton has contact with any employees of the Saints or any other teams, he must communicate that to NFL V.P. Ray Anderson.

That’s fine, but as we’ve written in the past, it’s highly likely that Payton will find a way to discreetly stay in contact with quarterback Drew Brees, interim head coach Joe Vitt, and whoever the interim interim head coach ends up being.

Payton subjectively believes he has been unfairly suspended.  Brees subjectively believes that the team is being improperly persecuted.  It therefore will be easy for the two men to justify continuing their relationship via dummy cell phones or other electronic means.

For now, Brees isn’t even under contract.  He’s not an employee of the Saints or any other NFL team.  Even after Brees signs, good luck ensuring that Brees and Payton won’t continue to maintain a relationship that will persist beyond the conclusion of Payton’s suspension.

The real question is whether the NFL is willing to roll up its sleeves and chase Payton around and monitor his activities and ensure he doesn’t violate the terms of the suspension.  Even if the NFL tries, it will be impossible to prevent Payton and Brees or Payton and Vitt or Payton and G.M. Mickey Loomis or Payton and owner Tom Benson from talking to each other whenever they want, as long as Sean Pamphilon isn’t around to record the conversations.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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A preview of the free agent running backs, including Bills RB C.J. Spiller.

Will the Dolphins be bidders for Ndamukong Suh?

A look at the decisions the Patriots have to make in the secondary.

The Jets are likely to be in the market for a wide receiver again.

Will Ravens WR Torrey Smith’s market be affected by the use of franchise tags on two wide receivers?

A preview of offseason machinations on the Bengals defensive line.

Former Browns FB Ed Modzelewski died at the age of 86.

The Steelers passed on the chance to tag LB Jason Worilds a second time.

Texans teammates past and present started saying farewell to WR Andre Johnson.

Any Colts moves in free agency have to start with players already on the roster.

The Jaguars are happy to have John Idzik in their front office.

An unenthused take on the Titans signing WR/KR Jacoby Jones.

A look at secondary concerns for the Broncos.

Not signing LB Justin Houston last year could prove costly to the Chiefs.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. brings experience and intensity with him to the job.

The Chargers are trying to do a stronger job of player development.

Tight end isn’t a major offseason priority for the Cowboys.

Giants WR Odell Beckham took a negative view of the “respect and morals” on social media via social media.

What’s ahead on the defensive line for the Eagles?

Questioning the Redskins’ ability to build through the draft.

The Bears are in good shape under the cap heading into free agency.

The Lions should look for special teams help this offseason.

T Bryan Bulaga and WR Randall Cobb could be on their way out for the Packers.

The Vikings were well represented at the University of Minnesota pro day.

Forecasting Falcons S Dwight Lowery’s free agency prospects.

Will OL Fernando Velasco remain with the Panthers?

Cuts are likely coming for the Buccaneers.

The Cardinals don’t have much work to do at wide receiver.

Tracing Chris Weinke’s path to his job as the Rams quarterbacks coach.

RB Frank Gore may be getting closer to his departure from the 49ers.

The Seahawks signed LB Mister Alexander to their 90-man roster.

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Jaguars glad to have John Idzik aboard, as they prepare to spend

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Among other things, Jets fans grew tired of former General Manager John Idzik not spending money.

That won’t be a problem for Idzik now, as he’s on with a team looking to make a splash in free agency.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Jaguars G.M. Dave Caldwell said he was eager to get Idzik on board as a consultant.

We’ve got a big undertaking here with our situation,” Caldwell said.

The Jaguars have $64.2 million in cap space, and are looking to spend a big chunk of it this year, the kind of splurge Idzik never took part in while running the Jets. But he started his new gig in Jacksonville Monday, working alongside Jags salary cap guy Tim Walsh.

“He spent the last two years in a very similar situation that we’re in and probably spent the last year or so forecasting having a similar type of cap space that we have,” Caldwell said of Idzik. “He made a great career in Tampa and Seattle of negotiating contracts and working the cap and that’s one area I need help in. . . .

“Tim Walsh is great, but with the amount of cap room we have moving forward and if we do some deals in free agency, I thought we needed the extra help because Tim’s the only guy in our [cap] department right now.”

After taking the medicine in New York to try to fix a bloated cap and get them in competitive shape, Idzik should enjoy being with a team that’s ready to see the other side of it.

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Hernandez’s lawyer may have opened the door for evidence of another shooting

Trial AP

When fashioning arguments, tactics, and strategies for trial, it’s critical that a lawyer carefully consider the ramifications of every word that may come out of his or her mouth.

In the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, the former Patriots tight end’s lawyers may have failed to be as careful as they should have been.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports explains the latest fascinating turn in the case arising from the death of Odin Lloyd.  By consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, Hernandez’s high-priced lawyer may have inadvertently allowed evidence of another time Hernandez shot a supposed friend to be introduced.

The prosecution, per Wetzel, has filed paperwork asking Judge E. Susan Garsh to reconsider the question of whether evidence of the alleged February 13, 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley will be utilized in the Lloyd case.  The prosecution contends that Bradley was Hernandez’s “friend and confidante” but that Hernandez allegedly shot Bradley in the face “in an isolated industrial area,” dumped Bradley’s body on the ground, and fled the scene.

Bradley survived, suing Hernandez in civil court for the shooting not long before Odin Lloyd’s murder.

Despite Judge Garsh’s prior decision to prevent such evidence, the prosecution contends that Hernandez’s lawyers have “opened the door” by consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, with the clear message being that Hernadnez wouldn’t shoot a friend.

Ordinarily, evidence of other conduct by a criminal defendant can’t be used to make the defendant look generally like a bad guy.  Rule 404(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Evidence (like the Rules of Evidence in most if not all states) provides that evidence may be admissible to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.  In Hernandez’s case, the goal would be to show motive — specifically, that Hernandez would shoot a friend over the flimsiest of actual or perceived indignities.  Bradley claims he was shot after a dispute over a bar bill that led to Hernandez refusing to take Bradley back to the bar to get the phone he’d left there that led to Bradley making “disrespectful remarks” about Hernandez.

The problem with Rule 404(b) evidence is that it can create a trial within a trial, with the trial of the main case being placed on hold while a mini-trial emerges on the question of whether the defendant did the other thing he’s accused of doing.  The bigger challenge comes from the requirement that the relevance of the evidence to the current case must substantially outweigh any unfair prejudice arising from it.

There will be plenty of prejudice to Hernandez flowing from proof that he shot another “friend” under circumstances similar to the shooting of Odin Lloyd.  The question becomes whether the prejudice is unfair to Hernandez — and whether the notion of Hernandez having a hair trigger with so-called friends supplies sufficient proof that Hernandez had a similar overreaction to something Lloyd said or did.Judge Garsh will be tempted to reiterate her prior exclusion of the evidence because it’s the kind of ruling that could result in a conviction of Hernandez being overturned by a higher court.  The judges on the higher court, however, would have to be able to set aside the overall evidence suggesting that Hernandez truly is a bad guy, and that society may be much better off with him permanently kept out of it.

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Jairus Byrd expected to be 100 percent in a few weeks

Terrance West, Jairus Byrd AP

It’s almost time for free agency to get underway, which means we’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of safety Jairus Byrd’s arrival in New Orleans.

Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million deal with the Saints early in free agency, a move that the team hoped would boost their defense to a level that would help them make a playoff run. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Byrd missed time in the offseason after back surgery, struggled along with the rest of the defense in the first month of the season and then was done for the season after four games because of a torn meniscus.

They’d like a better showing the second time around and it would start with Byrd being fully healthy. That’s expected shortly, according to coach Sean Payton.

“He’s doing well,” Payton said, via Jen Hale of FOXSports New Orleans. “His rehab is on schedule. He’ll be cleared for minicamp. We’re looking at about 2 or 3 weeks from him being 100 percent.”

The Saints have some work to do to get their cap in shape for the start of the new league year and it’s unclear how much they can add to the roster even after they make those moves, a situation that makes a full return from last year’s big-ticket addition all the more important.

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Over half the NFL owners represented on Forbes billionaire list

paulallen AP

Apparently, the NFL is a good place to get rich, or at least to play once you’re already rich.

A look at the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires shows plenty of familiar football names.

The list is topped by Seahawks owner Paul Allen (who was Microsoft rich with $17.5 billion, 51st in the world, before he decided to dabble in sports).

But he’s not alone, as more than half the NFL is owned by billionaires, with 16 other owners making the chart.

Forbes lists 1,826 people with a net worth of $1 billion or more (though they obviously left out Florio).

The other NFL names to make the list, with their net worth and rank: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ($6.5 billion, 216th), Rams owner Stan Kroenke ($6.3 billion, 225th) Jaguars owner Shad Khan ($4.5 billion, 360th), Patriots owner Robert Kraft ($4.3 billion,381st), Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ($4.2 billion, 393rd), Bills owner Terry Pegula ($3.8 billion, 452nd), Browns owner Jimmy Haslam ($2.8 billion, 663rd) Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti ($2.7 billion, 690th), Falcons owner Arthur Blank ($2.5 billion, 737th), Texans owner Bob McNair ($2.4 billion, 782nd), Saints owner Tom Benson ($1.9 billion, 1,006th), Colts owner Jim Irsay ($1.75 billion, 1,105th), Washington owner Daniel Snyder ($1.7 billion, 1,118th), Lions owner Martha Ford ($1.5 billion, 1,250th) Chargers owner Alex Spanos ($1.25 billion, 1,500th) and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie ($1.1 billion, 1,638th).

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Devin McCourty: It would be bittersweet to leave the Patriots

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Safety Devin McCourty had no argument with getting what he called a “player-friendly” franchise tag from the Patriots, but things played out a different way on Monday.

The Patriots opted to use the tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski instead, a move that McCourty said he didn’t know was coming until the Patriots made it. McCourty said there was “no real information” from the team ahead of time about where they’d go with the tag and correctly surmised that the chances he winds up playing elsewhere are greater in light of the move.

As for that, McCourty said he wants to remain with the Patriots but he knows that the best deal may be coming from somewhere else.

“It would definitely be bittersweet,” McCourty said, via Josina Anderson of ESPN. “You stay somewhere for five years and really make a name for yourself in that place. I’ve gotten a lot of help. I know a lot of people in the area, built great relationships, so it will definitely be bittersweet. But my mom always reminds me that comes with the territory. That’s part of being in the NFL, that change is always coming.”

With the Patriots still working out cornerback Darrelle Revis’s situation for the 2015 season, it seems likely that McCourty is going to be talking to other teams come the weekend. As the top safety hitting the market, there’s a good chance that one of them will make him an offer that leads to bittersweet feelings.

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Woody Johnson leaning on his G.M. to bring Darrelle Revis back

Woody Johnson, Mike Maccagnan AP

Woody Johnson was quick to say he “misspoke” last year when he blatantly “tampered” with Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Apparently, he’s still talking about Revis, but keeping it within his building.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News,  Johnson “has been involved in serious internal discussions” with General Manager Mike Maccagnan to make a push for Revis if and when he becomes available.

The Patriots would have to pick up a $20 million option bonus by March 9, part of the “placeholder” deal that helped Revis win his first Super Bowl. They’re working on a long-term deal to keep Revis there, and if nothing else, reports of Jets interest will at least make it more expensive.

But the Jets need Revis perhaps more than ever, since new coach Todd Bowles depends on his corners playing press-man so he can blitz more.

So it’s one thing for Johnson to say he’d “love to have Darrelle back,” but it’s easier to put that plan into motion now. The Jets have $51 million in cap room, and the means to bring him back.

Now they just have to get him away from the Patriots, and every other team in the AFC with a link to him and a need (Rex Ryan in Buffalo and Mike Tannenbaum in Miami).

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Andre Johnson not happy with idea of reduced role in Houston, still feels he’s a starter

Andre Johnson edit AP

One way or another, Andre Johnson’s time in Houston will soon come to an end.

The Texans granted the franchise’s all-time leading receiver the ability to seek a trade. If no deal can be struck, the Texans will release Johnson and allow him to move on.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Johnson said he was told he would be given a significantly reduced role in 2015 if he remained on the roster.

“I don’t know how you tell a guy who catches 85 balls that he’ll only probably catch 40,” Johnson said. “I feel like the role they were trying to put me in I’d be held back from maximizing my talents. I feel like that was the best thing for both sides.”

Johnson caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns last season for Houston. For his career, Johnson averaged 96 catches and 1,297 yards for every 16 games he played. Johnson feels like that production doesn’t warrant a reduced role.

“I don’t see why I wouldn’t be a starter in this league,” Johnson said. “It didn’t make sense to me. I’m pretty sure it won’t make sense to a lot of other people.”

That reduced role almost certainly would have come with a reduced paycheck as well. Johnson is scheduled to make $10.5 million next season on his current contract. That contract will also make it difficult for Johnson to find any teams willing to deal for him this offseason.

However, if (when) Johnson is released, he will surely get interest on the open market.

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Sean Payton: Saints “want to keep” Mark Ingram

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The Saints have been in contact with tailback Mark Ingram as free agency nears and would reportedly like to work out a deal.

During an interview at the Pelicans-Mavericks game Monday night in Dallas, Saints head coach Sean Payton indicated the club wanted to re-sign Ingram.

“Obviously he’s someone that we want to keep,” Payton told Fox Sports’s Jennifer Hale, according to Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate. “Hopefully we can do that.”

According to the Advocate, Payton told Hale he had spoken with Ingram on Monday and that the club had a good working relationship with the tailback’s agent, Joel Segal.

The 25-year-old Ingram rushed for a career-best 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. He ranks 38th among PFT’s prospective free agents in the Class of 2015.

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Rugby star Jarryd Hayne to sign with 49ers

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Jarryd Hayne left his Australian rugby team, the Parramatta Eels, in October in hopes of beginning a football career in the NFL.

That career will begin with the San Francisco 49ers.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Hayne announced his intentions at a press conference in Australia Tuesday (Monday night in the states). Much in the same way a high school recruit announces his commitment with a hat ceremony, Hayne donned a 49ers hat to reveal his decision.

“You have to be all in — I have all my chips on the table,” Hayne said. “ I have no back up plan.”

Hayne said he received a $100,000 guarantee from the 49ers, which is substantial considering he’s never played football before.

Hayne had visited the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks as well. According to his agent, Jack Bechta, 16 teams showed interest.

It will likely be a massive climb for Hayne to make it onto the 49ers 53-man roster next season. He will likely compete at running back and on special teams.

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Report: Andre Johnson will be released if Texans can’t find trade partner

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One of the standout wide receivers of his generation is set to leave Houston.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are allowing Andre Johnson to seek a trade. If Johnson is not dealt, he will be released, the Chronicle reported.

According to the Chronicle, the Texans told Johnson he would have a lesser role in 2015, which led him to ask for his departure from Houston.

Johnson is slated to make $10 million in salary in 2015, per NFLPA data.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Johnson has played his entire 12-season career with Houston, catching 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 TDs. He has made seven Pro Bowls.

While Johnson turns 34 in July, he should nonetheless appeal to clubs looking to add a proven veteran presence to their receiving corps. He caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three TDs in 2014.

A Miami (Fla.) product, Johnson quietly starred on a string of mediocre-to-poor Texans teams early in his career. Houston finally made the playoffs in 2011, his ninth NFL campaign.

If Johnson’s Texans career is indeed at an end, he will leave having caught 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in his final game with the club, a 23-17 victory over Jacksonville in December. Though the Texans took care of business in the season finale, they fell just short of the playoffs. In many ways, it was an apt end to Johnson’s run in Houston — the star wide receiver doing his job well while the team fell just short in the end.

With Johnson likely gone, third-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins will become the Texans’ go-to receiver, a role he’s probably ready to assume.

Nevertheless, it will be jarring to see Andre Johnson, one of the Texans’ all-time greats now and forever, playing for someone else.

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Specialist franchise-tag trend continues with Gostkowski

Gostkowski AP

When the Patriots gave placekicker Stephen Gostkowski the franchise tag Monday, it marked the third time the club had placed the tag on a kicker.

It also marked the seventh consecutive offseason in which an NFL team used the franchise tag on a kicker or punter.

Last season, the Jets gave kicker Nick Folk the franchise tag. The previous offseason, Colts punter Pat McAfee got the tag.

In 2012, four teams tagged kickers: Cincinnati (Mike Nugent), Cleveland (Phil Dawson), Denver (Matt Prater) and Jacksonville (Josh Scobee). Also, the Giants extended their franchise tag to punter Steve Weatherford.

In 2011, only the Browns (Dawson) tagged a kicker. This came after Pittsburgh (Jeff Reed) and Seattle (Olindo Mare) used the tag on placekickers in 2010. In 2009, Cincinnati tagged kicker Shayne Graham, with Atlanta tagging punter Michael Koenen.

Before tagging Gostkowski Monday, the Patriots had previously used the franchise tag on one other kicker: Adam Vinatieri, who received it in 2002 and 2005.

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Titans to cut Bernard Pollard

Travis Benjamin, Bernard Pollard AP

A month ago, Titans safety Bernard Pollard asked to be released. Now the Titans have told Pollard they’ll take him up on that.

The Titans let Pollard know today that he’s being cut, Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports. The move isn’t official yet, but it may just be a matter of making sure that Pollard, who ended last season on injured reserve with a torn Achilles, can pass a physical.

Pollard wasn’t a happy camper in Tennessee, complaining after the season that when the Titans fired executive Lake Dawson, they fired the wrong person. Now Pollard will be free to see if some other team is interested in his services.

The 30-year-old Pollard was scheduled to make $3.1 million this season.

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Falcons interested in Orakpo

Brian Orakpo AP

Washington, despite having a new G.M., would like to extend its relationship with pass-rusher Brian Orakpo.  Unlike last year, however, Scot McCloughan will have competition when it comes to keeping Orakpo around.

Per a league source, at least four teams are interested in Orakpo.  For now, the leaders are believed to be Washington and the Falcons.

The Falcons desperately need help on the edge of the defensive line, a year after former coach Mike Smith successfully lobbied for the investment of offseason funds on interior defensive linemen.  New coach Dan Quinn is emphasizing speed in all phases of the game.

Orakpo had 10 sacks in 2013.  Last year, had managed only 0.5 sacks in seven starts under the franchise tag in D.C.

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NFL’s 12-team playoff format was enacted 25 years ago this week

Super Bowl XL - Pittsburgh Steelers vs Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

As PFT’s Mike Florio reported last month, the NFL would like to expand the postseason field in 2016. Any addition of playoff entrants would be the first such change made by the league in at least a quarter-century, and it would undoubtedly lead to an increase in television money for the NFL and its clubs.

The NFL last moved to expand the postseason field 25 years ago this week. On March 1, 1990, the league added two teams to the playoff pool, increasing the number of entrants from 10 to 12 — six per conference. The expansion went hand-in-hand with the league striking a new broadcast rights deal with NBC, ABC, Turner, ESPN and CBS.

At the time, the NFL had three divisions per conference (West, Central, East), making the sixth postseason entrant a third wild-card club. Twelve years later, the NFL added one division per conference and reduced the wild-card entrants by one per conference, keeping the total field at 12 teams.

All things considered, the addition of the sixth postseason berth worked out well for the league and its teams. For one thing, the extra playoff games gave the NFL more content to sell to the networks.

Also, the expansion has allowed 25-of-32 NFL clubs to garner a playoff berth they otherwise would not have earned under the old system. The Vikings have used this final playoff spot to make the postseason on four different occasions since 1990, with the Jets, Falcons, Chiefs, Dolphins, Lions, Ravens and Washington all earning the sixth seed three times.

No. 6 seeds have been especially competitive in recent years. Since divisional realignment in 2002, the final wild-card teams are 21-24 in postseason play, with at least one No. 6 seed winning in 8-of-13 seasons (2002, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014).

Two No. 6 seeds have won Super Bowls — the 2005 Steelers and the 2010 Packers. Three other final wild-card entrants have won multiple games: the 2008 Ravens and Eagles and the 2010 Jets.

This is not to say No. 6 seeds have been smashing successes. Overall, they are 28-48 in postseason play. Indeed, most of the final wild-card entrants have gone tamely.

Still, without the sixth playoff spot, we wouldn’t have had Brett Favre heaving a cross-field bomb to Sterling Sharpe to beat the Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1993, or Michael Vick leading a memorable upset in the snow in Lambeau Field in 2002, or the 2010 Jets knocking off the heavily favored Patriots in Foxborough.

Looking forward, the question is whether the seventh-seeded teams can provide these little bursts of drama, too. They will probably get their chance before long. We know this much: the playoff ranks aren’t getting any smaller, given the popularity of the NFL and the amount of money the league’s games can draw.

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