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Atlanta’s offense in midseason (not postseason) form

Atlanta Falcons v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The wheels fell off for the Chiefs in the second half.

But the Falcons kept rolling.

Matt Cassel had the Chiefs in game at halftime, but a pair of second-half interceptions allowed Atlanta to storm to a 40-24 win in the first game to go final Sunday.

There were only two punts the entire game, one for each side.

But the biggest takeaway from this one is how smooth the Falcons looked on offense, in new coordinator Dirk Koetter’s first game calling plays.

Granted, the Chiefs were short-handed because of injuries and a suspension to Tamba Hali, but you can’t attribute the Falcons’ work to anyone else.

Matt Ryan was a clean 23-of-31 for 299 yards and three touchdowns, spreading it to six different receivers. Julio Jones had 108 yards and two scores, and tight end Tony Gonzalez added a score.

Ryan had grown comfortable with Mike Mularkey as his coordinator, the only one he’s had as a pro, but he also hadn’t won a playoff game. Whether Koetter’s able to change that remains to be seen, but for the moment, they were spreading the ball around beautifully.

The Falcons also committed just two penalties, and didn’t turn it over. They also did it without a huge day from Michael Turner (11 carries for 32 yards), but they didn’t need to run.

Because of their lack of playoff success, they’ve been undervalued this offseason, but they proved Sunday they’ll be able to score with anyone.

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Steelers intend to address Roethlisberger’s contract after season

Ben Roethlisberger AP

There were smatterings of discussion about an extension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is signed through the 2015 season with cap hits of $18.895 million and $18.595 million, but nothing wound up happening on that front.

That’s not because the Steelers lack interest in keeping Roethlisberger around, however. Steelers president Art Rooney II said that he spoke with Roethlisberger before the team announced the extension for center Maurkice Pouncey to be sure that the quarterback knew where the team stood in regard to continuing a relationship that has netted the team a pair of Super Bowl victories.

“And so I talked to Ben, and then we talked with his agent Ryan Tollner about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben’s contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of players who were going into their last year in 2014,” Rooney said, via the team’s website. “I think Ben understands that’s our intention and the way we’d like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation.”

Rooney said that the fact that the cap is expected to go up again next season played a role in the team’s thinking as they’ll have more room to deal with Roethlisberger’s contract after being in a tough cap situation this offseason. It will be a while before there’s more discussion of Roethlisberger’s contract, but it should be one of the bigger stories of the next Pittsburgh offseason.

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Panthers hoping to find a left tackle among in-house guys

Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers clean slate at wide receiver has gotten more attention, but the bigger issue this year will be who ends up starting at tackle, and whether that person can keep Cam Newton upright.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident he’s going to find an answer among what is on hand.

Via the Charlotte Observer, Rivera said he expects to find a left tackle among existing options Byron Bell, Nate Chandler and Garry Williams.

 

“We think those three guys give us an opportunity to find a starter out of that group,” Rivera said. “But it most certainly is going to be a competitive position. It will be one we will watch for obvious reasons.”

Bell has started at right tackle the last three years, but wasn’t particularly good at it. Chandler is a converted defensive tackle, who they signed to a cheap contract extension betting on his upside. Williams keeps getting hurt every time they give him a chance to win the job.

In short, they’re going to miss the retired Jordan Gross, regardless who ends up starting there. The top tackles were gone long before they picked in the first round. They inquired about free agent Anthony Collins before he signed with the Buccaneers, but they were otherwise limited in what they could do to fix the line.

Now they’ll go to camp, and wait, and hope.

 

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Andre Johnson received “some comfort” on his future security

Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans Getty Images

Texans receiver Andre Johnson showed up for training camp without anything more than (most likely) a waiver of the $70,000 in fines he racked up for missing a mandatory minicamp.  So why did he do it?

For starters, he surely didn’t want to lose any more money, after squandering a $1 million roster bonus by staying away from the offseason program.

Per a source with direct knowledge of the situation, “[Johnson] reported after getting some comfort on direction and comfort on his future security.  He got a strong word from ownership that his future is strongly secure.”

That comfort came from communications with the team.  Via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, those communications included a meeting last Friday with owner Bob McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, and G.M. Rick Smith.

While none of that is legally binding, it suggests that Johnson will get all or most of his $11.5 million in 2014, even though the salary carries with it a $16.1 million cap number, due in large part to past team-friendly restructurings.  And even though the Texans could still renege on whatever “comfort” he was provided regarding his future security, it would send a horrible message to the rest of the locker room.

Johnson also feels confident that the team isn’t rebuilding.  Whether he feels that way after the season depends largely on how the season goes.

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EverBank extends Jacksonville naming rights deal through 2024

EverBank Getty Images

As the Jaguars prepare to unveil gigantic new video boards, they’re renewing their vows with an existing sponsor.

Via the Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars will announce on Friday a deal with EverBank that will keep the financial institution’s name on the stadium where the team plays through 2024.

Technically, it’s a 10-year extension to the five-year, $16.6 million contract signed in 2010.  The average value of the new deal is expected to exceed the $3.32 million per year average of the current contract.

It’ll possibly need to go up a lot for the Jaguars to see a net gain.  Jacksonville agreed to sacrifice its right to 25 percent of the money under the first contract.  The Jaguars will have to negotiate that term all over again in the new deal.

The Jaguars quietly have surged in the local market since the sale of the team from Wayne Weaver to Shad Khan.  Rumors of relocation have subsided if not disappeared, even though the team currently plays one game per year in London.  Ticket sales are up, the team is improving, and a solid front office and coaching staff are in place, with Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley leading the way.

Throw in a weak AFC South, and the Jags could make a run at their first playoff berth since 2007.

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It seems Mike Shanahan didn’t have fun in Washington

Redskins Camp Football AP

For a guy who went 24-40 in his last job, including a 3-13 dumpster fire which included alienating the franchise quarterback, Mike Shanahan is kind of picky.

The former Redskins coach told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that he wanted to coach again, but only if things are just right.

“If I get back into coaching, it would have to be a situation where there was a realistic opportunity to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said.

Beyond that shot, Shanahan’s thoughts for future employment shines some light on how dysfunctional things might have been with the Redskins.

Asked about quarterback Robert Griffin III, he said: “I’m not going down that road. I’m going to let that play itself out. We’ll see as time goes on.”

He also said he’d like a team with salary cap room, which is something he didn’t enjoy in Washington thanks to their penalty for circumventing the salary cap in 2010.

“It would have to be with the right ownership,” Shanahan added, a not-at-all-veiled shot at his old boss Dan Snyder.

He also mentioned working for Pat Bowlen, who fired him from the Broncos in 2008, saying: “He let you do your job. Every resource that he had, he’d give it to you.”

When he puts it like that, it’s almost like things in Washington last year were exactly as bad as they looked from the outside.

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Sam Bradford is “full-go” for camp

Sam Bradford AP

The Rams hold their first practice of training camp on Friday and there won’t be any restrictions on quarterback Sam Bradford when they do.

Bradford is coming off a torn ACL, but coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that there wouldn’t be any limits on the quarterback during practice.

“Sam is in great shape,” Fisher said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s ready to go. We don’t have [reservations] — right now as we speak, as camp starts — he’s full-go. If we need to back him down here and there, we’ll back him down.”

One place where the Rams might back Bradford down will be in the first preseason game, which Fisher suggested would go on without the starting quarterback while also saying that Bradford would see preseason action. Whatever action he does see, Bradford will need to use it to build a strong foundation for a season that will see him try once more to prove that he’s the franchise quarterback that the Rams wanted when they took him first overall in 2010.

If Bradford can’t do that, it will likely be time for the Rams to look in another direction under center after spending the last few years concentrating on overhauling the rest of the roster.

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Stephen Jones says Cowboys will run the ball more

Murray AP

It’s fitting, we suppose, that as 34-year-old Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and his twice-cut-open back prepare to lift the team to unprecedented heights over the next four-to-five years, one of the team’s top executive says they won’t be relying on Romo as much as they used to.

We will be running the ball more,” Cowboys V.P and COO Stephen Jones said Thursday, via Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think our offensive line is better than it was last year and I think we ran the ball pretty well last year.  I think we’ll run it better this year and I think there will be a bigger commitment to running it.”

If it’s true, why announce it to the world?  While the million who play fantasy football will appreciate the head’s up, opposing defensive coordinators will appreciate it even more.

For that reason alone, it’s possible that Jones is trying to make opposing defensive coordinators think that the Cowboys will be running the ball more, if for no reason other than to take some of the heat off of Tony Romo and his twice-cut-open back.

So before burning a high pick on DeMarco Murray in that upcoming fantasy draft, keep in mind that Jones simply may be providing cover for the quarterback whose back may or may not allow him to perform at a high level, or at all, for a lot longer in the NFL.

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Andy Levitre out two weeks after appendectomy

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Titans guard Andy Levitre has become quite familiar with the operating room over the last couple of years and he added another entry to his medical records on Thursday.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Levitre had his appendix removed this week and that he will miss a couple of weeks of camp while he recovers from the procedure. Per Wyatt, Levitre began having discomfort on Wednesday and doctors determined that he needed laparoscopic surgery to remove the offending appendix.

Levitre had knee surgery before camp last year and hip surgery after the year was out, although he didn’t wind up missing any games during the regular season. The hip surgery did limit Levitre during the offseason program, however, so he will be a bit behind in terms of preparation for the coming season once he is able to return to practice.

The Titans report to camp on Friday and have their first practice of the summer on Saturday.

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David Wilson had no doubts he’d return from neck surgery

David Wilson AP

Players come back from injuries all the time in the NFL.

But even though there’s a significant difference between his career-threatening neck injury and your basic torn ACL, Giants running back David Wilson is taking a low-key approach to his comeback.

I always felt fine and capable of doing my job,” Wilson said, via Ralp Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. “You want to come out here and be safe as well. You have a long life after football, and football is something I love, so as long as I can play it, I want to play it.”

That kind of determination impressed the Giants, who often had to remind him to slow himself down after a potentially life-altering procedure.

“Quite frankly, he’s an amazing kid,” Giants coach Coughlin said. “I know we’re talking about a very, very serious injury, but about two weeks after he’s had the surgery he’s in the weight room and I have to slow him down. He’s over there doing stuff with his legs. [I say] ‘David, do you have any idea what just took place here?’

“Hopefully — hopefully — it will go [well] as we bring him along. He wants to do everything now. He’s out there running back and forth like it’s nobody’s business.”

Wilson might have never wavered, but the Giants covered themselves this offseason by signing running back Rashad Jennings. But the explosiveness he showed in the past gives him the potential to be special, such that his comeback doesn’t already.
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Andre Roberts gets first crack at kick/punt returner in D.C.

Roberts AP

Maybe Andre Roberts would have signed with Washington again, after all.

Roberts, who recently said the arrival of DeSean Jackson would have been a factor in the former Cardinal’s free-agency decision-making progress, has been thrown a bone.  Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Roberts has landed at the top of the depth chart for both kickoff and punt returns.

Right now, I am,” Roberts said.  “You never know during training camp what they’re going to do.  [It could] depend on how much they use me on offense. . . .  Right now, I’m on top. But we’ll see.”

We’ll definitely see, because DeSean Jackson has been a game-breaking return specialist in the past.

“I would like to be the kick returner and the punt returner but, you know, everybody doesn’t get what they want,” Roberts said last month. “Preferably, probably kick returner.”

Roberts signed a four-year, $16 million in March with $5.25 million guaranteed at signing.  The real question is whether he does enough this year to prompt the team to keep him beyond the 15th day of the 2015 league year, at which point his $2.75 million base salary for 2015 becomes fully guaranteed.

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Saints say no awkwardness with Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham, Keith Tandy, Dashon Goldson AP

All offseason, the concern for the Saints was whether they could make the numbers work with *tight end Jimmy Graham.

But when he showed up for work, he posted another number that reminded them of his value.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Graham had the “low time” in the team’s pre-camp conditioning test.

“That was significant. I told him to stay in Miami every offseason,” Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “I mean, it was outstanding.”

Both Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis said the difficult negotiation (which led to discussions of how far he lined up from the tackle) was simply part of the process, and the $10 million a year deal now has everyone happy.

“Look, it was a tough negotiation, obviously, but it ended well,” Loomis said. “Obviously going to an appeal hearing over the position argument was unique. But otherwise it was a negotiation. You know, all of these negotiations are tough. Obviously when it’s a high-profile guy, there’s more written about it. And those are personal issues for the players, in particular, and we understand that. But that’s behind us. We’re glad to have it done. I’m sure Jimmy’s glad to have it done.

“It’s just a process that we had to go through. And, look, I think both sides are pretty pleased with the outcome.”

Given that both Payton and Loomis testified in an arbitration hearing against Graham’s assertion that he should be a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes, there was the potential for awkwardness.

But now that business has been taken care of, they can get back to the business of football, and Graham is apparently ready.

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Andre Johnson reports for camp

Andre Johnson AP

Andre Johnson was spotted at the Texans’ facilities earlier this week, leading many to believe that the wide receiver would end his self-imposed exile from the team and report to training camp.

That’s how things have played out. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Johnson appeared at the team’s facility again on Friday and reported on time for the start of camp.

Johnson’s agent didn’t comment on his client’s plans earlier this week, but did say that he and the Texans were communicating. Part of those discussions likely center on whether Johnson can recoup a $1 million roster bonus he lost by not taking part in voluntary portions of the offseason program, although Johnson’s gripes with the direction of the Texans and what it means for his future in Houston may also be on the agenda.

Those talks can continue, but the important news for the Texans is that they won’t have to go into coach Bill O’Brien’s first season without their top wide receiver.

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Friday morning one-liners

Dwight Freeney AP

WR Chris Hogan is trying to carve out a role with the Bills.

The Dolphins offensive line is about to get to work.

Vince Wilfork thinks the Patriots’ young defensive linemen grew a lot last year.

Jets players are calling it QB Geno Smith’s team.

Ravens LB Elvis Dumervil says he will be forever grateful to Pat Bowlen.

Which Bengals have the most to gain in training camp?

There are some concerns about the Browns linebackers.

Five questions for the Steelers to answer in training camp.

The Texans added DT David Hunter to the roster.

Colts WR Reggie Waynefelt pretty doggone good” in his return to the field.

The Jaguars named Luke Butkus as their interim offensive line coach.

Dexter McCluster expects to get carries with the Titans.

The Broncos hope S T.J. Ward brings some toughness to their defense.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles doesn’t sound like he was totally committed to a holdout.

The Raiders suffered some injuries during their conditioning test.

Chargers LB Dwight Freeney is pleased with how well he’s moving.

The Cowboys think they can have good success in the running game.

Giants RB Rashad Jennings traces his journey from “fat kid” to the NFL.

Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin is confident that his knee is sound.

The Redskins took things inside during part of Thursday’s workout.

S Adrian Wilson is eager to get to work with the Bears after a lost 2013 season.

OL Bryce Quigley is working quickly to learn the Lions scheme.

The Packers are considering variable pricing for the 2015 season.

DE Everson Griffen feels comfortable stepping into a bigger role with the Vikings.

Falcons DT Corey Peters still has designs on playing in the opener.

Byron Bell remains the favorite to be the Panthers’ left tackle.

Golfer Bubba Watson helped welcome the Saints to West Virginia.

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown thinks the team is ready for any adversity.

The Cardinals are excited to get training camp underway.

The Rams are involved in a fundraiser honoring the late Philip Lutzenkirchen, who spent time with the team last summer.

49ers rookie DB Jimmie Ward had an interception early in his first training camp practice.

Projecting the Seahawks’ 53-man roster for the 2014 season.

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Lions not optimistic about Suh deal

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Getty Images

When the Lions passed on Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 10th overall pick in the draft for yet another offensive weapon, their intention to keep defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh became even more obvious — especially since they decided not to pick up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley in order to give him incentive to play harder this year (until he gets paid and can underachieve again).  But with the season approaching, the Lions have yet to extend Suh’s rookie contract.

Per Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the Lions aren’t optimistic that they’ll get Suh re-signed.  The problem ultimately flows from his $22.4 million cap number, which gives Suh the hammer of a 2015 franchise tag in the amount of $26.88 million.  Which makes it hard to sign him to a long-term deal that pays out market value, especially with the market not exactly soaring at the defensive tackle position.

That cap number has been artificially increased by efforts to create cap space that included restructuring Suh’s contract and loading more dollars into 2014.  Indeed, Suh will earn only (only?) $12 million in 2014.  But good luck getting Suh, agent Jimmy Sexton, and/or marketing agent Jay-Z to negotiate the first year of a long-term extension based on the lower number.

It all points to Suh finishing his rookie contract, not being tagged, entering the mini-tampering period and finding out what other teams would pay, and either taking the Lions’ offer or signing elsewhere, for the same money or more (or possibly less, if other factors come into play).

Regardless, it quite possibly will be Suh’s last year in Detroit, thanks in part to the efforts of the team to do business while having three top-two picks from the last four years of the windfall system that existed before the rookie wage scale.  They’ve extended two of them (Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford), and it looks like the third one will be walking away.

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Rice caught a break on his one-game fine

Rice AP

For the many who believe Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t go nearly far enough by suspending Ravens running back Ray Rice only two games for knocking out the woman who would later become his wife, Rice got another piece of favorable treatment.

Via ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the one-game fine attached to the two-game suspension will be calculated based on Rice’s 2013 base salary of $1 million, not his 2014 base salary of $4 million — even though the incident happened in 2014 and the suspension was imposed in 2014.

It reduces the fine from $235,529 to $58,823, a savings to Rice of $176,706.

That wrinkle wasn’t mentioned in the press release announcing the punishment, creating the reasonable impression that the money was coming from 2014:  “[H]e will be suspended without pay for the first two 2014 regular season games and fined an additional game check.”

Meanwhile, some have defended the league’s wrist-slap for Rice’s chin-punch by pointing to other language from the release:  “In May, Rice resolved the charges by entering into a pretrial intervention program. Under this program, he will not be prosecuted and is not required to serve jail time or pay any fine. After one year, the charges will be expunged and will not be part of Rice’s record.”

If the punishment from the league was truly intended to simulate the punishment imposed by the criminal justice system, why was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suspended four games for a civil lawsuit in 2009 and allegations that never culminated in an arrest in 2010?  The obvious explanation is that the NFL did its own investigation and concluded that unacceptable behavior occurred, and that Roethlisberger had become a repeat offender.  Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the contents of the still-unleaked video of Rice punching the woman who became his wife supports the notion that Janay had crossed the line repeatedly before Ray reacted.

Maybe it’s time for that video to be released, since it happened in a public place and has become a matter of public concern.

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