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NFL morning after: Peyton Manning is just fine, thank you

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Broncos coach John Fox was asked last week, What’s wrong with Peyton Manning’s arm? Fox got a good laugh out of that question, and it’s a good thing he enjoyed it. Because he probably won’t get that question again.

Manning demonstrated on Sunday against the Raiders that he’s just fine, thank you: More than capable of carving up an opposing defense and leading his team to a big win, which is exactly what he did in completing 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Broncos beat the Raiders 37-6. Fox said afterward that he’s seeing just the kind of weekly improvement from Manning he expected from a player who had to sit out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury.

“He’s getting more comfortable,” Fox said. “Let’s not forget he didn’t play for over a year and this is a new team, new coaching staff, new city, new field, new everything for him. The type of guy he is, he’s going to get better and better.”

Is it possible that Manning has lost a little speed off his fastball? Maybe. But Sunday’s game demonstrated that any talk that Manning no longer had an NFL-quality arm after last year’s neck surgeries was every bit as laughable as Fox made it out to be. And anyway, Manning has always beaten opposing defenses more with his head than with his arm. After a year away, Manning looks like more or less the same player who won four league MVP awards in Indianapolis. Manning’s passer rating so far this season is 96.9 — better than the 91.9 rating he had in 2010, his final season with the Colts.

Up next for Manning is a trip to New England for a Sunday showdown with a Patriots team that was his biggest rival when he was in Indianapolis. When Manning and Tom Brady are squaring off, we’re seeing two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history on the field. And while both Manning and Brady are still playing great football, the reality is that they’re the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and we probably won’t get many more opportunities to see them playing against each other. So when you watch Broncos-Patriots on Sunday, savor the greatness you’ll see from these two quarterbacks.

Here are my other thoughts on this week’s NFL action:

Cam Newton’s touchdown record may only last a year. As a rookie in 2011, Newton set a new NFL record for touchdown runs by a quarterback in a season, with 14. But Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is on pace to top that this year, with four touchdowns in four games. Griffin, who threw for 323 yards and ran for 43 yards in leading his team to a 24-22 win in Tampa Bay on Sunday, is the best athlete ever to play the quarterback position, and it’s easy to see him continuing to average a touchdown a game for 16 games this season — but only if he stays healthy enough to play 16 games this season. Griffin is so confident in himself that he takes some reckless chances with his body when he runs up the middle, and sometimes he takes violent hits. Eventually, he’s going to need to learn that if the end zone is not in reach, he needs to get down, or else he’ll be spending more time on the sideline than in the end zone.

Welcome back, real refs. Ed Hochuli’s bulging biceps were a sight for sore eyes Sunday, and so were the rest of the regular referees, back to work after the NFL wisely ended the lockout of the officials. All those baffling penalties and foolish mistakes from the replacement refs were a thing of the past, and for fans watching at home, it was especially nice having the real referees move the games along quickly: Most of the games that kicked off at 1 p.m. were over before the 4:05 p.m. kickoffs, something that didn’t happen on any of the first three Sundays of the season. Unfortunately, the Packers — who were ripped off by the replacement refs last week — were saddled with the worst regular ref in the NFL, Jeff Triplette. A week after the Packers were robbed of a victory over the Seahawks by the replacement officials, the Packers were nearly robbed of a victory over the Saints by Triplette and his crew. Green Bay overcame major officiating mistakes including a Saints fumble that was wrongly ruled down by contact and an obvious push-off on a Saints touchdown catch that was somehow not called. If bad officiating had cost the Packers another game, there might have been a riot at Lambeau Field.

When Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is inducted into the Hall of Fame some day, Jeff Backus should introduce him. Backus, the Lions’ longtime left tackle, knows better than anyone how hard it is to block Allen. Because Backus has to do it twice a year, and Allen always gets the better of him. Last season, Allen had three sacks in each of the Vikings’ two games against the Lions. On Sunday, in the Vikings’ 20-13 win over the Lions, Allen had a sack and three tackles for loss. There are few bigger mismatches in the NFL than a one-on-one battle between Backus and Allen.

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith looks like the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Smith had an absolutely insane stat line against Baylor on Saturday: 45-of-51 for 656 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith has a good arm, he’s a good athlete, and he’s an intelligent young man who should be a quick study in learning an NFL offense. A lot can change between now and April, but Smith looks like the kind of player who will make NFL scouts drool.

Rex Ryan had the quote of the day. Describing his Jets’ loss to the 49ers, Ryan said, “I was going to say we got our butt kicked, but really, we got our ass kicked.” Ryan was in too bad a mood to avoid profanity, and it’s hard to blame him. The Jets lost 35-0 and looked like a mess.

I can’t believe the Cardinals are 4-0. And I also can’t believe the Saints are 0-4. But that’s what makes the NFL so fun: We spend all offseason obsessing over coaching changes and free agency and the draft and training camp battles, and we’re sure we know how the league stacks up this year, and then by the time the season is a quarter of the way over, impossible things have happened. Like a team we knew was bad starting undefeated, or a team we knew was good starting winless, or an aging and injured quarterback still playing like a great one.

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Brian Robison: Opening night against Adrian Peterson will be “electric”

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When running back Adrian Peterson was on the Vikings, the defense didn’t tackle him during practices which means defensive end Brian Robison has to reach way back in the memory bank to recall a time when he brought Peterson down.

That came when Robison was playing for the University of Texas against Peterson’s Oklahoma Sooners, but Robison and the rest of the Vikings defenders will get their chance to try their luck against Peterson soon enough. Peterson is joining the Saints and will open the season in Minnesota on a Monday night, which Robison predicts, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, will be an “electric atmosphere.”

It will also be an opportunity to answer a question that was debated while Peterson still played for the Vikings.

“He always said he could run on us, we say he could never run on us … something has to break,” Robison said, via Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The first game of the season is always one that generates a lot of interest and nationally televised games get an extra boost, but Peterson’s decision will push his first game with the Saints well beyond the usual levels of anticipation.

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Sidney Jones’ doctors target a possible September return to action

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Washington cornerback Sidney Jones got very bad news last month, when he tore an Achilles tendon while conducting his Pro Day workout. He’s continuing to get good news about his prognosis.

Medical reports have been sent to all teams regarding the status of the injury following surgery to repair the tendon. According to information submitted by Dr. Robert Anderson and Dr. Ed Khalfayan, Jones will be fully recovered in as soon as four months and as long as six. This could put Jones back on the field in September.

Jones recently expressed optimism about a September return during a visit to PFT Live. It’s one thing for the player to express that kind of optimism; it’s quite another for multiple physicians to do so.

A report from Dr. Anderson indicates that the surgical site has “completely healed” only four weeks after the procedure, and that he has initiated range of motion exercises.

Jones was regarded as a first-round prospect before the injury. The possibility that he’ll play in 2017 could help him move back in that direction.

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Texans’ Day 3 draft picks will be announced from outer space

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Day Three is the most boring day of the NFL draft, and so the league tries to spice things up by finding unusual ways to announce picks. This year’ they’ve hit on something very unique: Draft picks will be announced from outer space.

Houston is home of the Johnson Space Center, and this year the Texans’ draft picks will be announced from outer space, by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Currently aboard the Space Station are Commander Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer from the United States, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Russia’s Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Novitskiy. Whitson is on her 535th day in outer space, the longest for any American astronaut ever.

The NFL did not announce which astronauts will announce the picks, but we assume the job will be shared by Whitson and Fischer while Pesquet, Yurchikhin and Novitskiy wonder why Americans care enough about the names of football players being announced that it would rise to the level of something astronauts should be spending their time on.

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Where the Redfern grows? Detroit, for now

The Lions signed a punter. Adjust your mock drafts accordingly.

The team announced they had signed Kasey Redfern, who has previously been with the Jaguars, Chargers, Panthers, and Browns. He’s actually been traded, as he was the body the Panthers attached to a fourth-round pick when they took Andy Lee off Cleveland’s hands.

Redfern was also a kicker in college at Wofford, so he’s at least a one-stop shop for a camp leg.

The Lions are well-covered for specialists, with punter Sam Martin and kicker Matt Prater.

(Photo credit: Panthers.com)

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Jamaal Charles’ agent reminds teams his client is available

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Adrian Peterson has agreed to a deal with the Saints, leaving the free agent market with one less veteran back with the draft getting underway in a couple of days.

One of the remaining unsigned backs is trying to drum up interest in his services as well. Agent David Mulugheta posted a video of client Jamaal Charles doing drills with the caption “its not a matter of “IF” but a matter of “WHEN”! #ComebackSeason.” Charles tore his ACL in October 2015 and returned for three games last year before needing more knee surgery that ended his season.

Charles visited the Seahawks in March, but Seattle opted to sign Eddie Lacy as a free agent instead. There haven’t been any other public expressions of interest in the longtime Chiefs back, which is something that Charles and his agent would obviously like to change.

Showing he’s healthy can’t hurt on that front, but the draft will satisfy the backfield needs of several teams and LeGarrette Blount is another free agent option without Charles’ injury history who could take a job before Charles finds a new home.

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Unnamed first-round prospect faces sexual assault allegation in Cleveland

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A bizarre story has emerged in Cleveland only two days before the draft.

Via WOIO-TV, a woman has accused an unnamed NFL prospect of sexual assault. The player is expected to be selected in round one. WOIO-TV has decided not to name the prospect, pending the issuance of a police report. WOIO-TV also has emphasized that the player has not yet been charged with a crime.

Here’s where it gets weirder. The story quotes the lawyer for the unnamed player, but still doesn’t name the player. Kevin Spellacy represents the unnamed player, and Spellacy calls the allegation “ludicrous and ridiculous.”

“In my opinion this young lady is an opportunist and it’s actually despicable,” Spellacy said.

Spellacy told WOIO that the unnamed player was never alone with the alleged victim at the Westin Hotel in Cleveland, the site of the alleged incident. Spellacy also said that the unnamed player has three witnesses who claim the unnamed player did nothing wrong. Spellacy said he’s willing to make the player available for an interview with police immediately after the draft.

Why not do it before the draft? Because if the player is interviewed — and if the news get out as to who the player is — a potential La’El Collins situation could emerge. Two years ago, Collins was questioned in connection with a murder. Because he wasn’t cleared from involvement before the draft, he tumbled completely out of the draft, even though he was never accused, arrested, or charged with any crime.

If the unnamed player in this case isn’t cleared before Thursday night, he could tumble even if he’s not guilty.

This makes it incumbent on every agent of every player who isn’t the subject of the investigation to say clearly and loudly and in no uncertain terms that their guy isn’t the guy who is facing this investigation. As to agent who represents a player who was in or around Cleveland on April 9, the date of the alleged incident, there should be a shouting of the player’s non-involvement even more loudly, along with a demand that WOIO disclose the accused player’s name ASAP. With a small, defined universe of players who may be the player facing the accusation, failure to identify the player indirectly defames the other players who it could be, but who it isn’t.

As to the 32 teams, someone unwittingly will be picking a player who brings negative publicity and, potentially, a prosecution and a guilty verdict to town. Thus, they each should be seeking clear assurances from each player they are considering that the player they are considering isn’t the guy who is accused of sexual assault.

Although WOIO has taken steps to keep the player’s name out of it, the mere existence of the story necessarily will pull the player’s name into it. With more than 48 hours to go until the draft begins, it’s inescapable.

Even if the name isn’t leaked to the media (and chances are it will be), the teams definitely will know who it is, When that player slides, so will everyone else.

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Deshaun Watson: Pick Mitchell Trubisky over me and live with the consequences

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The suspense will likely end on Thursday night for the top players in this year’s group of draft-eligible quarterbacks as the first round kicks off and teams start adding rookies to their roster ahead of the 2017 season.

Two of the quarterbacks at the top of that list are North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, neither of whom has established himself as the clear No. 1 choice across the board a couple of days ahead of the draft. Watson was on NFL Network Tuesday and shared his message for any team that might opt for Trubisky over him.

“You’re gonna have to live with the consequences that come with it. That’s how I see it,” Watson said. “I try to stay in my lane. I try not to take the path. I respect Mitch and what he’s done and all the hype he’s getting, but at the same time, my result speaks for itself. I feel like I’ve accomplished everything that I could. I guess if that’s who they’re gonna roll with, so be it.”

Among the biggest differences between the two quarterbacks is experience. Trubisky started for one year in Chapel Hill while Watson led Clemson to two straight national title games to give him a big edge in time as a starter. That is just one of the data points that teams will have to consider and it’s clear what side of the fence Watson believes is the more significant one.

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LeGarrette Blount apparently is available, so why doesn’t anyone want him?

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Now that Adrian Peterson, who played in three games and rushed for 1.9 yards per carry with no touchdowns, has a new gig in New Orleans, the best available free-agent running back is the guy who led the league in rushing touchdowns a season ago. (He arguably was the best available free-agent running back before Peterson signed.)

LeGarrette Blount, with 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns, became a free agent in early March and has remained on the market since then. With the Patriots adding Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee in free agency, it appears that they’ve moved on from Blount.

The question now is when/if Blount moves on from the Patriots. Previously, it could have been argued that other teams weren’t sniffing around Blount because no one believed he’d actually leave New England. Now, with Blount likely not having a path back to Foxborough even if he wanted one, maybe other teams will begin to do more homework on possibly adding Blount.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media claims that the Giants and Blount have mutual interest. Other teams may get involved too, especially if they don’t get any of the guys they want in the draft.

But then there’s his season in Pittsburgh, which started with a Cheech & Chong incident with Le’Veon Bell and ended in a haze of confusion as the Steelers cut Blount, who then returned to the Patriots and won a Super Bowl.

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Davis Webb preparing to coach once he’s through with his playing career

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California quarterback Davis Webb has been a popular guy this spring. And it might be because coaches just want to meet with a future peer.

In a story about his study habits by Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Davis revealed that he’s taken several previously unreported visits and workouts, spending time with the Ravens and working out with the Panthers, Buccaneers, and Chargers.

He had previously worked out or visited with the Chiefs, in addition to the Jets, 49ers, and Seahawks.

With all those meetings, he’s accumulated plenty of notes over the past few months, which he hoards as he tries to build upon his base of knowledge.

“When I get into the zone – because I’m focused, I’m determined, I’m driven – yeah, I’m going to come across [like a coach], because it’s important to me,” Webb said. “That’s my job. If it’s not important to you, then something’s wrong with you.

“I want to coach for 40 years. I want to play for 20. It’s what I want to do.”

Webb’s certainly made an impression on teams this offseason with his reputation for work. Some have compared his fascination with preparation to Peyton Manning, and his former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury called him “a sociopath work ethic guy.”

We’ll find out later this week how much of an impression he made during his tour.

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Leonard Fournette says football saved his life

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NFL teams look for players with a passion for the game of football, and worry about players who don’t consider the game their top priority. On that score, teams should like LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

Fournette said today on PFT Live that he loves football so much he considers it a literal life-saver. Fournette said that it wasn’t until he got to ninth grade and was good enough to start on the varsity that he started to realize he had a future that many others in his New Orleans neighborhood didn’t have.

“I could have been like any knucklehead out here selling drugs, a criminal or doing whatever. But no, I was on the football field 24/7,” Fournette said.

Fournette certainly sounds like the kind of player NFL teams will love. Asked what it is he wants to do in the NFL, Fournette didn’t hesitate to answer, “Win a Super Bowl.”

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Mike Maccagnan has “no problem” taking players off board due to violence

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It won’t be long before we know which team is willing to look past the video of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching a woman in the face to draft him to their roster, but we’re getting some idea about where he won’t be winding up.

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff suggested Atlanta was not a landing spot and his Jets counterpart Mike Maccagnan did the same during a Monday press conference. Maccagnan wouldn’t reveal whether Mixon is off the board, but said the Jets don’t take domestic violence lightly and referenced his “personal experience” from Houston when a friend was killed by her husband.

That incident led Maccagnan and his wife to begin working with the One Love foundation to combat domestic violence and Maccagnan explained some of his process for dealing with players with a history of violence.

“We vet this stuff as thoroughly as we can,” Maccagnan said, via the New York Daily News. “We try to make sure we’re accurate in terms of passing our verdict on if we think they’re guilty or bad or whatever. We take that very seriously. In the end, I have no problem whatsoever taking players off the board from that standpoint. I’d rather make sure we focus on players that are good players and ideally good people and good members of our society.”

Some have opined that the Jets would be a good landing spot for Leonard Fournette with the No. 6 overall pick. They may not go that way, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be because they are waiting to take Mixon later in the process.

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How much does Adrian Peterson help the Saints?

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From Adrian Peterson’s perspective, signing with the Saints doesn’t make a lot of sense. From the team’s perspecitve, adding a future Hall of Famer makes a lot of sense — if he has gas in the tank and a chip on his shoulder.

But how much will adding Peterson truly help the Saints in 2017? The oddsmakers previously had them at 75-1 underdogs to win the Super Bowl. (Quarterback Drew Brees feels very differently about that; last month, Brees told PFT Live that he believes the Saints are “very close” to winning another championship.)

So here’s an impromptu, seat-of-the-pants, PFT Live question of the day: Are the odds now lower, higher, or the same?

Answer below, and then tune to NBCSN for more Peterson talk, along with visits from Leonard Fournette, Deshaun Watson, and Ryan Leaf.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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Mike Gillislee’s departure opens up a bigger role for RB Jonathan Williams with the Bills.

A look at all the players who visited with the Dolphins in the pre-draft process.

The Patriots’ offseason moves de-emphasized the draft.

The Jets aren’t saying if they will pick up S Calvin Pryor’s option for the 2018 season.

What’s on the line for the Ravens in this year’s draft?

Assessing whether Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon will land with Bengals.

If the Browns don’t draft Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick, what defensive players could they get at No. 12?

The Steelers could add competition at inside linebacker in the draft.

Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins won’t be watching the draft.

Will the Colts roll the dice on players with character risks?

Five things the Jaguars need for a successful 2017 season.

Said Titans RB DeMarco Murray to the incoming rookie class, “Nothing is going to be given to you, no matter what you did in college, no matter how many yards, records you’ve broken, what kind of guy you were, all of that.”

Broncos G.M. John Elway said it is a deep tight end class in this year’s draft.

A look at the Chiefs’ draft-day trades under G.M. John Dorsey.

Some inside linebacker possibilities for the Raiders.

Said Chargers G.M. Tom Telesco of drafting a quarterback, “We’ve done that same amount of work this year.  Whether it lines up in this draft or not, I don’t really know.  Whether it lines up in next year’s draft in 2018 or 2019, I don’t really know.  But I know we’ll be prepared with the work we’ve done in case that arises.”

Not everyone is buying what the Cowboys are selling regarding LB Jaylon Smith.

Giants WR Odell Beckham responded to the team picking up his 2018 option.

S Malcolm Jenkins would like to see the Eagles add another Ohio State player.

Will the Redskins improve their defense in this year’s draft?

Making 13 cases for the Bears drafting a quarterback at No. 3.

This year’s running back class looks like a good one for the Lions.

The Packers may be adding to the defensive line again.

Running through the biggest draft steals in Vikings history.

Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu got a nice note after a recent flight.

Edge rusher prospects for the Panthers to consider.

A vote for the Saints taking Tennessee DE Derek Barnett in the first round.

Linebacker isn’t a big draft need for the Buccaneers.

With compensatory picks expected in 2018, the Cardinals could use some of next year’s picks to move up this year.

Jackie Slater and Jack Youngblood will be involved with the Rams’ draft festivities.

49ers G.M. John Lynch finds value in mock drafts.

Germain Ifedi is happy to be back at right tackle for the Seahawks.

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Adrian Peterson: Saints “just felt right within my spirit”

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There are several reasons to wonder why veteran running back Adrian Peterson would choose the Saints, and it’s clear that this one came down to a gut feeling for him.

Peterson told ESPN’s Josina Anderson upon agreeing to a two-year deal that he felt at home in New Orleans, for a number of reasons.

“Most importantly, I chose this team because it just felt right within my spirit,” he said. “Additionally, my wife and family added their confirmation with the same feelings. On offense, it goes without saying that the Saints are really solid behind Drew Brees. I feel like my skill set can make them even more dominant as a unit. They have a great offensive line, which is something that stood out to me as well. I could tell from talking to head coach Sean Payton over the last two weeks that he did his due diligence in evaluating how I could contribute.

“I also did a lot of homework on the defense as well. While I know that injuries have played a role in performance, I also see areas of potential with a lot of younger guys having the ability to step up. Lastly, it goes without saying that the Saints have an amazing fan base and I look forward to making them proud and creating everlasting memories.”

After being shown the door in Minnesota after a long and productive career, and flirting unsuccessfully with other teams earlier this offseason, it sure seems like Peterson just wanted to be wanted. And it’s apparent that Payton was able to do just that, to bring in a former MVP as a backup running back on the kind of deal that would have been unimaginable for Peterson not that long ago.

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Seahawks G.M. on Richard Sherman trade talk: “Neither side is super urgent”

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As casually as they came up, the Seahawks sort of dismissed the Richard Sherman trade rumors yesterday.

All of which makes it an extraordinary piece of non-business in the NFL, with both sides openly acknowledging a potential divorce, while vowing to stay together for the kids if that’s what it takes. They seem to shrug as if either outcome is fine, even though it’s unlike just about anything we’ve ever seen.

“Richard may see it as a fresh start for him and we may see it as a way to clear some cap room and get younger, but neither side is super urgent about it,” Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said, via Stephen Cohen of SeattlePI.com.

Schneider said that once the rumors got out there in March, there was no point denying the obvious — that they’d part ways with the veteran corner for the right price.

“We didn’t really feel like there was anything to hide,” Schneider said. “People say, ‘Well, why do you have your business out the open?’ It was basically out there. People had been talking about it, and there were rumors about it. . . .

“We would consider it because it’s been a mutual thing. It’s OK, and we feel like it would clear cap room and we would be able to get younger, but that’s the only reason we’d do it. The guy’s one of the top cornerbacks of the league. You don’t just like give him away, you know?”

Though things with Sherman haven’t always been peaceful, Schneider said “time heals all wounds” when asked about the relationship with the star cornerback.

Of course, by talking so openly about it, Schneider also keeps Sherman’s name in the news. And with that kind of top-of-mind awareness, someone might make a late call, which they’ve already admitted they’d listen to.

And the honesty continues to amaze us, which probably says more about the NFL in general than the Seahawks in particular.

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