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Titans beat Lions in a thrilling overtime classic

Detroit Lions v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

If the late NFL Films President Steve Sabol is up there in the great editing room in the sky, he’s having a wonderful time preparing to put together the highlights of today’s Lions-Titans game, and he’s writing an amazing script for the late NFL Films “Voice of God” narrator, John Facenda. Because today’s Lions-Titans game had everything that NFL Films has always celebrated — everything we love about football.

In as exciting a football game as you’ll ever see, the Titans beat the Lions 44-41 in overtime, a final score that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.

The Titans scored touchdowns on a 65-yard punt return by Tommie Campbell, a 61-yard catch by Jared Cook, a 105-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud, a 71-yard catch by Nate Washington and a 72-yard fumble return by Alterraun Verner to beat the Lions. The Titans became the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of more than 60 yards in one game.

And yet the Titans almost lost, thanks to a furious final 18 seconds of the fourth quarter from the Lions in which quarterback Shaun Hill, in for an injured Matthew Stafford, threw a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, then (after the Lions recovered an onside kick) heaved one into the end zone where it was caught by Titus Young to tie the score on the final play of regulation.

That sent the game into overtime, where the Titans methodically marched down the field but stalled deep in Detroit territory and had to settle for a field goal. On the Lions’ ensuing possession, they too methodically marched down the field but stalled deep in Tennessee territory. But the Lions, when faced with a fourth-and-1, shockingly called for a quarterback sneak instead of a field goal to extend overtime. That quarterback sneak went nowhere, and the Titans won.

Some of the statistics from this game look insane. Not only the five long touchdowns by the Titans, but the fact that Hill didn’t even come into the game until after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, but still passed for 172 yards. There’s also the fact that the Titans spent all day focusing all their coverage on Johnson — and yet he still caught 10 passes for 164 yards.

Basically, there were big plays from all the offensive playmakers except the guy who is supposed to be one of the NFL’s biggest playmakers, Titans running back Chris Johnson. The Lions’ defense bottled up Johnson, limiting him to 24 yards on 14 carries.

There were 46 points scored in the game’s crazy fourth quarter, and the game still hadn’t been decided by the end of that. It was an amazing game, the kind of game that left both teams exhausted as they walked off the field and shaking their heads about what they had just participated in. This was the kind of game that deserves to be immortalized by NFL Films.

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Report: Ravens reach two-year deal with Christo Bilukidi

Christo Bilukidi AP

The Ravens have reportedly reached a deal with a player who could have been eligible for restricted free agency.

The club has agreed to a two-year contract with defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Friday.

Bilukidi (6-5, 320) appeared in four games as a reserve for Baltimore in 2014. The 25-year-old Georgia State product has also seen regular-season action with Oakland (2012-2013) and Cincinnati (2013). He was a sixth-round pick of the Raiders in the 2012 NFL Draft. According to Wilson, an ankle injury ended Bilukidi’s 2014 campaign.

Bilukidi figures to vie for playing time in the Ravens’ defensive line rotation in 2015.

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Falcons waive Jonathan Massaquoi

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons have followed up three deletions on the offensive side of the ball by dropping a member of their defense.

Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi has been waived after three years with the team. Massaquoi was the 164th pick of the 2012 draft out of Troy and had a year left on his rookie deal.

The Falcons were starved for pass rush help last year, but usually looked elsewhere in hopes of finding it. Massaquoi saw 333 snaps on defense last season and had two sacks, which leaves him with six for his three-year career. The new coaching staff obviously didn’t think that was a mistake on the part of the previous regime and Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Massaquoi upset people last year for skipping treatments on his foot.

There’s minimal cap savings with Massaquoi out of the way, but the above suggests this wasn’t a financially motivated move. Massaquoi can be claimed on waivers by any team and will become a free agent if no one avails themselves of that option.

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Lions hang onto the “Nolan Ryan of long snapping”

Nolan Ryan, Robin Ventura AP

Friday afternoon’s when you’re supposed to dump your bad news, like the Cardinals did today.

The Lions, however, did something awesome.

Via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, the Lions re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach to a new one-year contract.

That’s not the awesome part, though. The awesome part is his nickname, as they refer to him as the “Nolan Ryan of long snappers.”

Former Lions General Manager Matt Millen gave Muhlbach that moniker to honor the velocity with which he flings a football upside down and between his legs. And, Muhlbach is from Texas, so there’s that, too.

We do not know, however, if Muhlbach has ever given a beatdown to Robin Ventura.

Long snapping is also the kind of job you could ostensibly do into your 40s, so maybe Muhlbach will have the same kind of longevity as the baseball Hall of Famer.

Then again, if you’re a long snapper, the only thing better than a cool nickname is total anonymity — since it means you didn’t screw up.

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Adrian Peterson issues statement

Peterson Getty Images

On Thursday, Judge David Doty overturned the arbitration decision upholding the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  While Peterson is not yet reinstated (and who knows when he will be?), he has been returned to the Commissioner-Exempt list, which allows him to speak to the Vikings.

On Friday, he spoke publicly, via press release.  Here’s the full content of it:

“I was pleased to learn about Judge Doty’s decision.  It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players.  It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love.  As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day.  I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler, and my agents Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue, and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

Peterson says nothing about whether he does or doesn’t want to return to the Vikings.  Last week, he confirmed that he has some misgivings about returning to Minnesota, which holds his rights for the next three seasons.

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Dockett could indeed return to Cardinals

Dockett AP

The Cardinals released defensive tackle Darnell Dockett on Friday.  That doesn’t mean he won’t be back in Arizona.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the impasse arose because the team and the player couldn’t agree on fair market value for a defensive tackle recovering from a torn ACL.  He was due to make $6.8 million in 2015; the Cardinals thought that was too much, and Dockett thought their best offer wasn’t enough.

So how much is enough?  Dockett will find out on the open market.  And if someone else offers him more than the Cardinals were willing to pay, Dockett can join that team.  If someone else doesn’t, he can take whatever the Cardinals were willing to pay.

Arizona’s offer won’t decrease now that he’s been cut.  Because Dockett was in the final year of his deal, the team assumed no additional cap acceleration by releasing him.

While Dockett is getting a chance to test the market before free agency starts, he may not want to make any final decisions until the process gets rolling.  Ndamukong Suh and other defensive linemen could take whatever market currently exists and spike it even higher.  Likewise, teams that miss out on Suh and other defensive tackles may be willing to pay Dockett more later than they’re willing to pay him now.

 

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With three days left, no tags yet

Suh Getty Images

The window for using the franchise or transition tags opened 11 days ago.  It closes in three.  So far, not a single player has been tagged.

With time still left to try to negotiate long-term deals before application of the tag, it makes sense to wait those three additional days.  After that, however, time could be on the side of the players who are tagged.

With no further injury risk (other than the day-to-day risk of off-field trauma), players who are tagged can wait until after the market opens to see how much money is spent on other players.  If, for example, the Lions don’t (and they shouldn’t) tag defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, why wouldn’t the other elite, game-changing players who merit application of the tag wait to see what Suh gets before negotiating a long-term deal?

There’s another reason to wait.  Two words:  Sammy Watkins.

Last year, the Bills gave up the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, a first-round pick in 2015, and a fourth-round pick in 2015 to get an unproven receiver.  There’s already talk that one or more teams will at least consider signing a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet and giving up a pair of first-round picks, especially if this year’s first-round pick falls at the bottom of the round.

Alternatively, a team can wait until after the 2015 draft to sign a franchise-tagged player to an offer sheet.  Then, the compensation if the offer isn’t matched would be first-round picks in 2016 and 2017.

Sure, it would cost a lot more to sign the franchise-tagged player than it costs to sign a first-round pick.  But for teams hoping to win now, the combination of draft picks and cash could merit taking rolling the dice and rolling out the green carpet.

 

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Cardinals release Darnell Dockett

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

The Cardinals were able to reach agreement with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a new contract that lowered his cap hit for the 2015 season significantly and they hoped to do the same with defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Arizona announced Friday that they have released Dockett, who missed the entire 2014 season because of a torn ACL. Dockett had $6.8 million coming his way from the Cardinals before the move and he was set to count $9.8 million against the cap.

Dockett joined the Cardinals as a third-round pick out of Florida State in 2004 and has been a fixture in the starting lineup since his arrival. He made one All-Pro team and was selected to three Pro Bowls while helping to spearhead the Cardinals Defense during his decade in the desert.

Dockett turns 34 in May, but the inability to work out a new deal suggests Dockett likes his chances of landing a better contract than the Cards were offering once on the open market. If he can’t, Darren Urban of the team’s website reports that the Cardinals remain interested in a Dockett return at a lower price tag.

Should Dockett not land a job at all for some reason, he can occupy his time advising the youth of America about the dangers of hanging out in strip clubs.

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Dolphins drop Brandon Gibson

Denver Broncos vs. Miami Dolphins Getty Images

Mike Wallace is running out of veteran company in the Dolphins wide receiver corps.

Brian Hartline was sent packing on Friday morning and the Dolphins said farewell to another receiver in the afternoon when they announced the release of Brandon Gibson. Gibson was due to make $3.26 million with a cap hit of $4.3 million and the difference will go as dead money on Miami’s 2015 cap.

Gibson signed a three-year deal with Miami before the 2013 season and caught 30 passes in his first seven games with the team before a knee injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year. He had 29 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown in 14 games last year as rookie Jarvis Landry passed him in the team’s pecking order.

The team’s been noncommittal about their plans with Wallace, but word out of Miami is that they’d like to either trade him or convince him to take a pay cut. If he does wind up leaving, Landry will be joined by Matt Hazel and Rishard Matthews in a receiving group that will surely be a focus for the Dolphins this offseason.

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Cruz, Newton, Kaepernick part of fruit/vegetable endorsement

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If this is a real thing, it’s certainly better for us than another beer or soda commercial.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz are part of Team FNV, which appears to be a campaign designed to push healthy food choices.

From looking at their website, what we know now is that it’s the product of some slick marketing minds, who know how to package an ad.

Their website has shots of Cruz catching a big apple (I see what they did there), Kaepernick playing with a pineapple, and Newton pushing carrots.

There appear to be numerous other celebrity and athlete endorsers involved as well.

Their website is new and their Twitter feed (@TeamFNV) launched yesterday, so it seems to be in the early stages.

But if they can make my kids eat the colorful stuff on their plates without calling me the worst parent ever, how bad can it be?

Photo credit: Team FNV, via Black and Blue Review.

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Stephen Bowen joins Barry Cofield on discard pile in Washington

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The Redskins signed defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois on Thursday, a move that seems to have made two members of their defensive line expendable.

On Friday, the team confirmed that defensive tackle Barry Cofield has been released and also announced that defensive end Stephen Bowen’s reached the end of his time with the team. Bowen was set to count $8 million against the cap in 2015 and the team gets his $5.5 million in salary and bonuses back to use for other purposes. When you add that to the savings for cutting Cofield, the Redskins gained almost $10 million in cap space.

Bowen signed a five-year deal with the Redskins before the 2011 season and started all 32 regular season games in his first two seasons with the club. Injuries limited him to just 18 games over the last two years, however, and the Jean Francois signing signaled the team’s intention to look elsewhere for help at end in 2015.

The Redskins also announced that they have signed right tackle Tom Compton to a one-year deal. Compton started nine games for Washington last season and was set to become a restricted free agent next month.

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Packers open up Lambeau Field for Favre jersey retirement

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

The Lambeau Field Atrium is not big enough for all the Packers fans who want to cheer on Brett Favre when he has his number retired this summer.

After the 1,600 tickets for the ceremony at the Atrium quickly sold out, the Packers have announced that fans can also sit inside the bowl at the stadium and watch the Favre jersey retirement ceremony on the big screen. Those tickets will cost $4, with proceeds going to Favre’s foundation.

Favre said this month that he was hoping the ceremony would take place in the stadium so that as many fans as possible could see it. That won’t happen — the tickets for the more intimate Atrium event are already sold — but this ensures that tens of thousands of fans can be there at Lambeau for the event.

The ceremony, which takes place on Saturday, July 18, will also be shown on NFL Network and streamed at Packers.com.

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Chris Canty plans to play in 2015

Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Ravens released defensive end Chris Canty on Friday, a move that came a bit more than a month after Canty said he wasn’t sure if he would continue his NFL career for an 11th season.

Canty has done some broadcasting work since the end of the season and looks forward to moving into that arena at some point, but he said Friday his plan for the immediate future is to continue his playing career.

“It’s the business of the NFL, and we move on,” Canty said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I loved it here. I thanked Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh for giving me an opportunity to be part of the great tradition of this franchise. I had a ball. I rediscovered my passion for football. I had a lot of fun. I’m grateful. I’m just looking forward to the next opportunity to continue my playing career.”

In a statement announcing the release, coach John Harbaugh credited Canty for adding maturity and leadership to the team “with intelligence and in a first-class manner.” Other teams looking for that kind of veteran influence may be giving Canty a call now that he’s confirmed he plans to keep playing.

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Vikings release guard Charlie Johnson

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Vikings had a guard named Charlie Johnson and a wide receiver who goes by Charles Johnson on their roster in 2014, but only one will remain on the roster in 2015.

The team announced Friday that they have released Charlie Johnson after four years with the team. Johnson was due to make a non-guaranteed $2.5 million in salary and bonuses next season.

Johnson started all 61 games he played for the team in that run, mostly at left guard although he did play left tackle during his first year with the team in 2011. His performance left room for improvement, but the Vikings couldn’t find a player to bump him out of the starting lineup. Now they’ll be forced to find someone else to hold down the position.

2014 fifth-round pick David Yankey is on the roster as a possibility, although the Vikings will likely look for help across the line this offseason after allowing 51 sacks last year.

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Falcons release veteran guard Justin Blalock

Atlanta Falcons v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Falcons are in the midst of clearing cap space and re-tooling a roster, so the Steven Jackson cut was far from the last one.

The team just announced they had released veteran guard Justin Blalock.

Blalock, their 2007 second-rounder, had started 125 games for the Falcons.

But he was due $4.75 million this year, and might not have been a perfect fit as they transition to more of a zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

The 6-foot-4, 326-pounder has been a durable player, missing just three games in eight seasons.

The Falcons have also cut Jackson and wide receiver Harry Douglas already, some significant changes for an offense that was the strength of the team the last few years.

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NFL considering changes to combine drills

Trae Waynes AP

The NFL scouting combine just wrapped up its frenzy of 40-yard dashes, shuttle runs and other drills, but it may be the last time that the event goes according to that familiar schedule.

While speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on Friday, NFL director of player development Matt Birk and Saints coach Sean Payton said the league would look at the traditional drills this offseason to see if they can be made more useful to teams. For example, Birk said that the only reason anyone ever gives for running the 40 is that it is the way it’s always been done.

“That’s a project we’ll be working on this offseason,” Birk said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “Once we look at the data that was gathered in-game this year, it may be important to know how fast a wide receiver or defensive back can go 60 yards. Maybe for an offensive lineman it’s only 20 yards. We can actually see that in-game: how far are these guys running? What are the real or improved measures of importance and value as it relates to evaluating players and whether or not they should be drafted in the first round or the sixth round?”

Payton also talked about position-specific changes to the drills in order to get the best gauge on how players will transition to the NFL as well as using data about body types to improve scouting for particular needs. Whatever changes the league undertakes as a whole when it comes to the scouting combine, it’s a good bet that teams will also be using their own proprietary methods — as mentioned in Friday’s one-liners, Jaguars vice president Tony Khan recently bought a sports analytics company — to get an edge on the competition.

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