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PFT’s Week Zero power rankings

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[Editor’s note:  The five PFT writers will vote each week on every NFL team, top to bottom.  We were going to call it something really cool like Pro32, but the AP beat us to it.  So here they are as we prepare for the first week of the season — power rankings.]

1. Packers (four first-place votes):  The best team on paper entering camp remains the best team on paper entering the season.  But who really uses paper anymore?

2. Giants (one first-place vote):  Lost in their conference, lost in their division, and lost in even their hometown, it’s still impossible to overlook the defending champs, who have a knack for winning when they need to.

3. Patriots:  The best team in the AFC doesn’t need its defense to get much better to make another run at another Super Bowl win.  It’s been eight years since the last one, and nearly all of the guys in the locker room don’t have rings of their own.

4. Ravens:  The offense keeps improving and the defense keeps hanging on.  The best news for the Ravens would be a season from quarterback Joe Flacco that forces the franchise to pay him like the elite quarterback he believes he is.

5. Texans:  Despite plenty of changes, the Texans continue to be among the league’s elite team until they prove otherwise.  And Matt Schaub will continue to be regarded as an injury-prone quarterback until he proves otherwise.

6. Steelers:  If the Steelers were any team but the Steelers, the transition and turmoil they’ve experienced would have been enough to knock them out of the top 15.  But the Steelers under coach Mike Tomlin typically find a way to contend, regardless of the changes.

7. Saints:  The key to getting to the Superdome for the Super Bowl will be making the road to the Superdome go through the Superdome.

8. 49ers:  Perhaps the most complete team in the NFL lacks the one thing it needs to get to the next level — a franchise quarterback.

9. Eagles:  They’ll need to finish higher than ninth to get Andy Reid a 15th season.

10. Falcons:  Better than they’re perceived, the Falcons won’t be taken seriously until they win a playoff game.

11. Bears:  A playoff team in 2012 but for injuries to Matt Forte and Jay Cutler, the Bears are in better position to contend than many realize.

12. Lions:  The ability of this team to take the next step hinges on quarterback Matthew Stafford staying healthy and the defensive backfield finding a way to keep the opponents under 50 points.  And, yeah, the ability of certain players to stay out of jail.

13. Cowboys:  All this talk about when the window is closing presumes it was ever open.  One playoff win in 16 years suggests otherwise.

14. Broncos:  Yes, Peyton Manning is now in town.  Unless he can play like he did before his 2011 neck surgeries, it may not matter much.

15. Panthers:  Ryan Kalil’s prediction of a Super Bowl win could be a little premature, but the arrow is pointing up for a team that could be in possession of the next great franchise quarterback.

16. Seahawks:  Then again, maybe the Seahawks have the next great franchise quarterback.

17. Bengals:  They’ve never made it to the postseason in two straight non-strike seasons.  That streak could end in 2012.

18. Bills:  They haven’t made it to the postseason at all since 1999.  That streak could end in 2012.

19. Chiefs:  If Matt Cassel can play like he did in 2008 and 2010, the Chiefs could be climbing, quickly.

20. Chargers:  Having a franchise quarterback and not much more makes for an interesting experiment in San Diego.  It also could make for a new G.M. and head coach by next year.

21. Titans:  If Chris Johnson can play like he did before 2011, the Titans could give the Texans a real fight for the AFC South crown.  It also would help if Kenny Britt can get healthy, stay healthy, and stay out of trouble.

22. Jets:  In an era of new-school, high-octane offense, a team built on an old-school, ground-and-pound approach seems destined to struggle.

23. Raiders:  To move in the right direction over the long term, this team needed to move in the wrong direction in the short term.

24. Redskins:  After 27 starting quarterbacks in 27 years, the Redskins finally have real hope at the position.  Here’s hoping that there’s not ultimately a repeat of the Shuler-Frerotte fiasco of 18 years ago.

25. Cardinals:  The Cardinals would welcome a Shuler-Frerotte fiasco right about now.

26. Colts:  Andrew Luck looks the part.  Then again, so did Peyton Manning as a rookie.  And he won only three games.

27. Buccaneers:  A year ago, there was plenty of hope in Tampa.  At least they now have an excuse for being unable to sell tickets.

28. Jaguars:  Barring significant improvement, playing one game per year in London won’t necessarily be the best way to build a fan base there.  Or anywhere.

29. Vikings:  The last time the Vikings won only three games, Bud Grant came out of retirement to save the day.  This time around, re-animating Lombardi wouldn’t be enough to make a difference.

30. Rams:  At some point during his first year of getting paid to coach the Rams, Jeff Fisher will long for his year of getting paid to not coach the Titans.

31. Dolphins:  At least they’ll outscore the Marlins.  Most of the time.

32. Browns:  Jimmy Haslam wants to know where the line is to return a $1 billion football team.

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Wintery weather causes Hernandez trial to start a little later on Monday

Aaron Hernandez AP

Yet another wave of wintery weather in Massachusetts has reportedly caused Aaron Hernandez’s trial to reconvene a little later than planned on Monday morning.

According to the Associated Press, court will not re-start until 10:15 a.m. Eastern on Monday.

The 25-year-old Hernandez, a former Patriots tight end, faces a first-degree murder charge in the June 2013 death of Odin Lloyd.

According to the AP, weather issues have led to more than five days of delays for the trial, which is being held in Fall River, Mass. The trial is entering its fifth full week.

The National Weather Service forecasts up to seven inches of snow overnight in the area.

Updates on the trial, as well as a recap of past developments in the case, can be found by bookmarking our link to Hernandez court coverage.

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Richard Dent among 2015 Black College Football Hall of Fame inductees

Richard Dent AP

A Super Bowl MVP who went on to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is among seven members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

Former Bears, 49ers, Colts and Eagles defensive end Richard Dent, a Tennessee State product who captured game MVP honors as Chicago rolled to victory in Super Bowl XX, was one of six former NFL players in the Hall’s sixth class of inductees.

Also inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame were former Rams and Lions defensive tackle Roger Brown (Maryland Eastern Shore), former Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas at Pine Bluff), former Chargers, Oilers and Chiefs defensive tackle Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd (Grambling), former Bengals defensive back Ken Riley (Florida A&M), former Steelers safety Donnie Shell (South Carolina State) and former Jackson State head coach W.C. Gorden.

The inductees were recognized in a ceremony Saturday night in Atlanta.

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Marshawn Lynch seems to think someone didn’t want him to be the “face of the nation”

Lynch AP

One month to the day since the Seahawks opted not to give the football to running back Marshawn Lynch on the doorstep of the New England end zone in Super Bowl XLIX, a video has surfaced showing Lynch explaining his position on the most scrutinized play call in league history.  Under a frustratingly loud translation of his comments into Turkish.

The video mentioned earlier by MDS includes Lynch’s reaction to the decision to throw the ball and to not let him run it with the NFL title on the line.

“To be honest with you, I would be a liar if I didn’t tell you that I was expecting the ball,” Lynch said.  “I think it was more of a — how do I say this?  When you look at me, and you let me run that ball in, I’m the face of the nation.  You know, the MVP of the Super Bowl, that’s pretty much the face of the nation at that point in time.  I don’t know what went into that call.  Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get the ball.  I mean, you know, it cost us the Super Bowl.”

Not too far between the lines of Lynch’s response lurks the notion that he buys in to the popular conspiracy theory (misguided as it may be) that the team wanted quarterback Russell Wilson and not Lynch to be the Super Bowl MVP and, in turn, the “face of the nation.”

But here’s the thing about conspiracy theories.  It doesn’t matter if they’re true; if only matters if people believe them to be true.  If Lynch and other Seahawks players believe that the team chose to throw and not to run in order to prevent Lynch from becoming the MVP of the Super Bowl and in turn the “face of the nation,” coach Pete Carroll will have plenty of additional work to do to get the players to turn the page on the 2014 season and to try to climb back out of the valley of 0-0 in 2015 for a shot at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

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Report: Raiders to part ways with LaMarr Woodley

LaMarr Woodley AP

The Raiders will be cutting one of their free-agent signees of 2014.

Oakland is set to release defensive end LaMarr Woodley, Fallon Smith of CSN Bay Area reported Sunday.

Woodley, 30, notched just five tackles in six games in 2014 before a torn biceps ended his season. Last March, he signed a two-year deal reportedly worth up to $12 million.

Woodley was set to make $3.8 million in salary in 2015, per NFLPA data. Also, he was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 14, according to CSN Bay Area.

Woodley rose to stardom with Pittsburgh, notching double-digit sacks in 2008, 2009 and 2010. However, he has just nine sacks in his last 30 games, and he has not played all 16 regular-season contests since 2010.

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Le’Veon Bell faces a maximum suspension of four games

Le'Veon Bell AP

The new substance-abuse policy imposes a two-game suspension for a first-offense DUI.  By landing on probation for a July 2014 DUI arrest arising from marijuana use, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is expected to be suspended for two games.

But there’s a catch that could result in a doubling of Bell’s expected punishment.  The new substance-abuse policy makes a two-game suspension the standard penalty for a DUI arising from alcohol use.  For violations of the law involving other substances of abuse, a first offense exposes the player to a suspension of “up to four” games.

It’s unclear whether the NFL will give Bell, who becomes the test case for the new substance-abuse policy, four games, three, two, or fewer.  The prior substance-abuse policy also exposed players to a suspension without pay of “up to four” games for violations of the law for substances other than alcohol.  Still, it would be a surprise if Bell gets less for DUI-marijuana under the new policy than he would get for DUI-alcohol under the new policy.

But don’t be surprised if he gets more, especially since alcohol is legal in Pennsylvania and marijuana currently isn’t.

Either way, the Steelers need to have a solid plan in place for replacing the team’s workhorse tailback for at least two and as many as four regular-season games in 2015.

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Key free agency date could move up a month

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In addition to conversations about tinkering with roster size and getting rid of inactive lists for Thursday games, the NFL’s Competition Committee is considering the acceleration of a key date on the free-agency calendar.

Currently, players who become unrestricted free agents on the first day of the league year and who are not signed by June 1 (and not tendered a one-year contract by their prior teams) aren’t included in the formula for determining compensatory draft picks.  As a result, any signing after June 1 won’t make the prior team eligible for greater compensation or the new team eligible for less.

Per a league source, the June 1 line of demarcation could move to May 1.  The goal would be to give players who otherwise won’t be employed until June 1 a chance to participate in the bulk of the offseason practices.  By signing after June 1, the players get limited opportunities for offseason reps.

Over the years, teams like the Ravens have become experts at finagling this technique, waiting patiently until June 1 comes and goes before going bargain shopping.  That’s how they acquired linebacker Daryl Smith, who started 16 games in 2013, re-signed last year, and started 16 games in 2014.

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Ravens defensive back arrested for DWI

Bengals AP

Last month, the Ravens signed defensive back Victor Hampton, an undrafted free agent in 2014.  He likely will be cut before he ever shows up for an offseason training session.

According to WSOC-TV, Hampton has been arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in Charlotte.  He reportedly was driving 100 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone on Interstate 77.  Hampton’s blood-alcohol content was determined to be 0.10 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08.

Under the revised substance-abuse policy, Hampton, who initially was signed by the Bengals and who spent time on the Giants’ practice squad last year, faces a two-game suspension, if ultimately found to be responsible for driving while intoxicated.  To be suspended, however, he first has to be on a regular-season roster.  Given the new charges, that may never happen.

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Josh McCown: I get people thinking I’m not good enough to start

Josh McCown AP

New Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown says that if some people doubt he’s the man to turn the Browns around, he understands that.

The Buccaneers went 1-10 in games McCown started in 2014, and McCown realizes that some people think that means the Browns are going to suffer a similar fate if he’s their starter in 2015. But McCown points out that he played well the year before in Chicago, and he thinks he can play well in Cleveland.

I get it,” McCown told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “I understand people’s perceptions of me. I don’t back off it or shy away from [the 1-10 record in 2014]. I understand people’s frustration. But my mindset is to come in here, grow and improve as a football player, and help this team win football games. When I’ve been able to operate in a system that’s organized and been around for awhile like I did in 2013 with the Bears, I’ve been able to play at a high level.”

McCown did operate at a high level in 2013 with the Bears, throwing 13 touchdown passes and just one interception. But in the rest of McCown’s career, he has totaled 48 touchdowns and 58 interceptions. The Browns have to hope they get a quarterback who looks like the Josh McCown of 2013.

McCown will have more to say on Monday, when he is scheduled to join PFT Live.

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Roger Goodell’s absolute power over players is a myth

Goodell AP

There’s a popular view among some in the media that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enjoys complete and total power over the league’s players, especially on matters of discipline.  That popular view also is not accurate.

Apart from the reality that all discipline for on-field infractions falls under the jurisdiction of Ted Cottrell or Derrick Brooks, who were jointly appointed and are jointly paid by the NFL and NFLPA, the recently-revised PED and substance-abuse policies feature unprecedented use of third-party arbitration for most offenses.

Of course, the Commissioner retains full authority over the personal-conduct policy, a power that has had for years.  But while many (including us) routinely have characterized Roger Goodell’s authority as reflecting “judge, jury, and executioner” status, it’s important to remember one key point:  In three recent high-profile executions, the guy swinging the axe has missed the mark.

In 2012, Goodell yielded his authority over the discipline imposed on players in the Saints bounty scandal following an aggressive legal challenge.  Faced with compelling arguments that Goodell should be recused from handling the appeal of the punishments because he had prejudged the case, Goodell handed the baton to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  And Tagliabue overturned the punishments with a subtle rebuke that apparently has destroyed whatever relationship the former Batman-and-Robin-style partners once enjoyed.

In 2014, Goodell agreed preemptively to designate a neutral party to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, given Goodell’s status as a witness in the case.  (A witness who fought hard not to testify in the case.)  Former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones overturned the punishment by finding that the main justification for it — that Rice had lied to the Commissioner in June 2014 regarding Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée — was not factually accurate.

Last week, current U.S. Judge David Doty found that Goodell and his hand-picked arbitrator, Harold Henderson, incorrectly determined that the unilaterally-revised personal-conduct policy could be applied retroactively to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Pending appeal and/or further proceedings before Henderson, Goodell’s suspension of Peterson could end up being thrown out.

So while the emperor may have clothing, it’s covering far less muscle that most realize.  With the Saints players, with Rice, and with Peterson, Goodell believed he had the ability to impose whatever ruling he wanted to impose.  In each of those cases, Goodell and the rest of us learned that Goodell’s powers has real limits.

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Howie Roseman doesn’t like trading up (but it’s not up to him)

mariotakelly AP

Amid talk that Eagles coach Chip Kelly would like to trade up in the draft and select his former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Eagles Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman is saying that trading up isn’t a good idea.

Roseman said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that when two teams make a draft trade, it’s usually the team trading down that gets the better end of the deal.

“When you’re looking at trading up, at some point, your board drops off so dramatically in terms of how you evaluate that player,” Roseman said, via Philly.com. “But the history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn’t good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it.”

Unfortunately for Roseman, it isn’t up to him. When he and Kelly had a power struggle at the start of this offseason, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Kelly the final say over personnel, which means that if Kelly thinks Mariota is worth a boatload of draft picks, then Kelly will trade a boatload of draft picks to move up and acquire Mariota whether Roseman likes it or not.

So if that trade does happen, it will be one more sign that Roseman doesn’t have much influence in the Eagles’ front office. That doesn’t sound like a trade that Roseman would make.

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Marshawn Lynch visits Turkey, gives lengthy interview

Marshawn Lynch AP

Marshawn Lynch will gladly talk to the media. When he’s on a promotional tour of Turkey.

Lynch is in Turkey helping the organization American Football Without Barriers, and while he was there he sat down for a long interview with a Turkish sports network.

“I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Lynch joked before getting serious about why he wanted to work at a Turkish youth football camp and help promote football in Turkey. Lynch said he sees the work he’s doing overseas as similar to his efforts to promote football in his hometown.

“With the camp, I do this back at home myself, in Oakland, California, and when I got the word they were doing something here, it gave me a chance to spread my wings. I hold a camp at home, like I said, with about 850 kids and it’s been growing. This is an opportunity for me to come out and spread my brand as well. I’m here, like I said, to spread football across the world and at the same time help people in need,” Lynch said.

Lynch joked that when someone at the football camp was working wanted to find out what it was like to get hit by an American football player, he decided to go “Beast Mode in Turkey” and run the guy over. But Lynch also said he was impressed with how quickly Turkish athletes were picking up the sport. And he shared some thoughts about how much football meant to him when he was a Pop Warner player and a high school player, adding that he’d like to give young people in his hometown and across the world the same opportunities.

The full interview (with Lynch, Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams speaking English and a Turkish translator speaking over them) is below:

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Todd Herremans isn’t retiring

Herremans Getty Images

As noted in the Sunday one-liners, former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans has said farewell to the fans of Philadelphia in the aftermath of his release.  But Herremans won’t be saying farewell to football.

Per a source with knowledge of Herreman’s plans, he fully intends to play elsewhere in 2015.  And he fully intends to be in another team’s starting lineup as a guard or right tackle on Week One.

A fourth-round pick in 2005 from Saginaw Valley State, Herremans has been a full-time starter since his second NFL season.  With the man who drafted Herremans a decade ago needing an upgrade at offensive line in Kansas City, it makes sense for Herremans to reunite with Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

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Rosters could expand to 55

Roster Getty Images

The Competition Committee’s annual pre-league meeting get-together includes, for 2015, examination of roster size.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Competition Committee is considering expanding rosters from 53 to 55.

Opposition to larger rosters previously came from the fact that more than a few teams were having trouble staying under a salary cap that was flat and/or “smoothing.”  In recent years, the salary cap has been increasing more quickly.  Coupled with the impact of the rookie wage scale on the market for veterans (many are paid less and less because quality rookies are cheaper than ever), there’s plenty of extra cash available under the cap to pay two more players per team.

The NFL Players Association would have a voice in roster expansion.  At one level, the union should welcome it; more roster spots means more jobs.  More jobs means more employees.  More employees means the union grows.

But more jobs under a hard cap means fewer available dollars per employees.  That said, expanding the pool of full-time workers from 1,696 to 1,760 shouldn’t have much of a total impact on employees sharing a maximum available annual payroll of more than $4.5 billion, and climbing.

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Stephen Tulloch “way ahead of schedule” in ACL rehab, hopes he stays with Lions

Stephen Tulloch AP

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was lost for the season early in 2014 when he tore his ACL while celebrating a sack, but he said Sunday that he’s on track for a full return this year.

Tulloch told Alex Marvez and Zig Fracassi of Sirius XM NFL Radio that he’s “way ahead of schedule” in his return from the knee injury and that he feels like his knee may be stronger than it was before he got hurt. He also said he hopes that he’ll be back playing behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next season.

That may be about more than just the Lions re-signing Suh. Tulloch, who has a cap hit of $5.8 million, was asked about the possibility that the team might look in his direction to provide more money to put toward signing Suh. He said neither he nor his agents had heard anything from the team to suggest he won’t be there for the start of offseason workouts.

“I hope I am [back with the Lions]. I hope my body of work speaks for itself,” Tulloch said. “I’ve put a lot of work in this team and I’ve been there through it all. It’s the first time in my career I’ve ever been on this side with the unknown, but I know the organization will do what’s best for them.”

The Lions would save $3.2 million by releasing Tulloch, something that seems like an option after they had one of the best defenses in the league with Tahir Whitehead starting in Tulloch’s place last season.

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Keeping secondary intact would cost the Pats a fortune

revismccourty AP

With free agency starting next week, the Patriots are in an interesting position: They can keep the three best players in their secondary but spend a fortune, or they could take the frugal route and risk losing Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and Brandon Browner.

The good news for the Patriots is that they have the choice to keep both Revis, McCourty and Browner, if they want to. Revis is under contract for 2015, and the Patriots can pick up his deal by paying him a $12 million roster bonus on March 9. Browner is under contract for $5.5 million in 2015, of which $2 million comes in a roster bonus next week. McCourty becomes a free agent on March 10, but the Patriots can keep him by using the franchise tag. McCourty has indicated that if the Patriots franchise him, he’ll sign the one-year, $9.6 million franchise tender.

The bad news for the Patriots is that picking up the second year on Revis’s contract would give him a $25 million cap hit for 2015. No other cornerback even has a cap hit of $15 million for 2015. Revis is great, but is he so great that the Patriots want to spend $10 million more on him than the Cardinals are spending on Patrick Peterson, and $13 million more than the Seahawks are spending on Richard Sherman or the Browns are spending on Joe Haden?

Throw in the $9.6 million for McCourty and the $5.5 million for Browner, and the Patriots would be spending more than $40 million on three players in their secondary.
Last year the Packers paid more for defensive backs than any other team, at $26.6 million for the 11 players in their secondary. Do the Patriots really want to blow up their cap to such an extent that they’re paying $14 million more than that just for the top three players in their secondary?

Maybe they do. But if they do, it’s a departure from the Patriots’ longtime practice of emphasizing depth and spreading the wealth around their roster, rather than spending a lot of money on a few key players. The Patriots have some big, and potentially expensive, decisions to make by next week.

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