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Andre Brown’s playing time limited by his pass protection

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Giants running back Andre Brown ran the ball very well when Ahmad Bradshaw got hurt early this season, but when Bradshaw was healthy enough to play again on Sunday, Brown went back to the bench. The Giants say that’s a reflection on Brown’s blocking.

Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride told the Star-Ledger that the Giants don’t trust Brown enough in pass protection, which is why he was limited to nine offensive snaps on Sunday against the Eagles. Brown carried the ball on five of those nine snaps, while Bradshaw was on the field for 58 offensive snaps and carried 13 times.

Brown said he knows he needs to do a better job pass blocking so that the coaches are comfortable with him on the field in passing situations.

“It’s all about gaining the trust and keep going out there every week and letting them know that I can pass-protect and picking up all my blitzes,” Brown said. “I just got to keep going out there and taking advantage of all the opportunities that I have and continuing to grow on that side of the game and keep continuing to gain their trust so they can leave me out there.”

Brown leads the Giants with 38 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns this season, but he says what he really needs to do is become a better blocker.

“I’m progressing. I’m still going to go out there every week and work hard, and I know it,” Brown said. “I feel like if I continue to go out there each week and just continue to keep showing progress, I’ll be all right. Eventually, one day I’ll be out there and I’ll gain their trust.”

Until he does gain their trust, Brown will spend most of his time on the bench, as long as Bradshaw is healthy.

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Larry Fitzgerald only focusing on 2014 with Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald AP

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the greatest players to wear a Cardinals uniform in any of the towns that the team has called home, but there’s been talk of late about the end of his time in Arizona.

Some of that is just the practical matter of Fitzgerald entering his 11th professional season and the unavoidable fact that he’s closer to the end of the line than the start of his career. There’s also lingering memories of trade chatter from last year to go with a huge $23.6 million cap number for next season to fuel speculation that Fitzgerald may not be in the desert forever, but, for now, Fitzgerald says his only focus at the moment is on the 2014 season.

“Like I view every year. I just cherish every moment I have on the field,” Fitzgerald said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “It’s what I love to do. I really enjoy it. It’s fun to go out there and compete and be around the guys every day. I just cherish that. So, whatever happens after the season, happens after the season. But most of that stuff is out of my control anyway.”

Fitzgerald remains a productive receiver for Arizona, although Michael Floyd’s emergence has changed his role. Fitzgerald lined up out of the slot more often in 2013, which left him shy of 1,000 receiving yards even as he caught 10 touchdowns.

Would a repeat of that year be enough to keep him in Arizona without a revised contract? Probably not and that’s sure to be a big storyline early in the 2015 offseason.

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Peyton Manning an early favorite to win his sixth MVP

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In 2009, Peyton Manning became the only player in NFL history to win four Most Valuable Player awards. In 2013, Manning became the only player in NFL history to win the award five times.

Now Manning is the favorite to become the first player to win six MVPs.

The offshore sports book Bovada is taking bets on the 2014 regular-season MVP in the NFL, and Manning, with 3-1 odds, is a significant favorite. Considering that Manning has won the MVP in five of his last 10 seasons, taking Manning at 3-1 odds may actually be a pretty good bet.

After Manning, the top MVP candidates according to Bovada are, in order, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. The top non-quarterback candidates are LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson, all at 25-1. Johnny Manziel, the only rookie on the board, is listed at 100-1.

As for Manning, he could become just the fifth player in the history of North American sports to win six MVPs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only player to win six MVPs in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky are the only players to win six MVPs in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) is the only player to win six MVPs in Major League Baseball. Manning is in some very elite company.

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RG3: Alfred Morris is our biggest offensive weapon

Alfred Morris AP

Quarterback Robert Griffin III has drawn more attention than anyone on Washington’s roster since the Redskins made him the second overall pick of the 2012 draft and nothing really changed on that front this offseason.

Whether it was the impact of the coaching changes or the move to sign DeSean Jackson, much of what the Redskins have done has been viewed through the prism of what it means for Griffin. There’s more to the Redskins than just the quarterback, however, and Griffin thinks that people have been paying too little attention to what running back Alfred Morris can do when they discuss the biggest weapon on offense.

“I think everyone would lean towards DeSean or Pierre [Garçon] or Jordan Reed,” Griffin said, via the team’s website. “I think it’s Alfred. With him, defenses have to make a decision whether to puts guys in the box to stop him or leave the box light and allow Alfred to go between the tackles and lure in the safeties. I think it will be interesting to see what defenses do against him.”

Whichever choice defenses make against the Redskins this year, the offense seems better prepared to find a mismatch to exploit. Andre Roberts has also joined the receiving corps, giving Jay Gruden plenty of ways to attack opponents who may find themselves stretched too thin this fall.

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Report: Texans have no plans to trade Andre Johnson

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Sometimes lost in the fervor over a player asking for a trade is the reality that the team has to go along with that idea.

Thus, it doesn’t appear the Texans are inclined to move disgruntled wide receiver Andre Johnson just because he wants to.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans don’t plan to move Johnson for several reasons, all of which are better for them than him.

There’s the simple pragmatism that they’re better with him than without him, especially in a year in which they’re scraping by with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Plus, they want the 33-year-old receiver to finish his career there.

But perhaps most importantly, they don’t want to create a dangerous precedent.

That pride is probably as significant as any other factor, because as good as Johnson is, he’s unlikely to be the difference in them making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.

Now we’ll see whose pride can take the hit between the Texans and Johnson, as we see who blinks first.

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Calais Campbell: Cardinals still have top defense

Alameda Ta'amu, Calais Campbell AP

The Cardinals defense was the biggest reason why the team won 10 games last season, but there’s been some discussion about a drop in production this year.

Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Daryl Washington is suspended for the year, leaving the team without a pair of key linebackers from last year’s unit, and safety Tyrann Mathieu’s 2014 debut may be delayed as he rehabs from a torn ACL. Despite the absences, defensive end Calais Campbell believes that the unit will be just fine when the bell rings.

“We have Kevin Minter stepping up, who did great for us, but we’re still talented all the way around,” Campbell said on ESPN, via NFL.com. “The defensive line, DBs, keep the job easier. John Abraham, he had a good year last year. We’ll still be a top defense. And offense got way better this year.”

That last point is the key one for the Cardinals. Even with the defense performing at a high level last year, the Cardinals fell short of the playoffs and things don’t look any easier in the NFC West this time around. If the Cardinals can’t put up points on a consistent basis, the defense won’t be enough to get them to the postseason all by itself.

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The complications of “simple restructurings”

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Every year, multiple players receive the opportunity both to help the team and, immediately, to help themselves.  It’s called a “simple restructuring,” with a large chunk of salary for the coming season converted to a signing bonus — giving the team cap relief and the player a large check with his name on it.

The player gets the same dollars for the year.  He just gets the money faster, which in turn essentially guarantees that the player will be on the team for the coming season.

But there’s a catch.  Actually, two of them.

As mentioned by Nick Wright of 610 SportsRadio in Houston during my weekly 8:00 a.m. ET visit with him and John Lopez, restructurings drop a player’s cap number in the current year — but increase the cap number in future years.  For Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who restructured his contract in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the end result is a $16 million cap number in 2015, which could prompt the Texans to move on (if Johnson and the Texans find a way to work out their differences in 2014).

The other complication of a simple restructuring comes from the amount of money a player who retires would have to repay.  For Johnson and Cowboys quarterback Kyle Orton, taking one for the team in the past has made it harder to walk away in the present, since that chunk of cash converted to a signing bonus gets added to the total bill that the team can tender to the player who decides to call it a career.  (Bonus forfeiture also becomes more costly is the player is suspended under the substance-abuse or PED policies.)

So beware, NFL players, of that simple restructuring.  Like so many other things that seem to be too good to be true, taking a big chunk of money now could create some unexpected costs down the road.

That doesn’t mean players should refuse to do them.  But ut’s important that players understand their options when agreeing to a restructuring.  For some players, extra terms or compensation could be justified when accepting a higher cap number in future years and/or narrowing the window for a decision to retire.

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The Cowboys come in at No. 24 in PFT’s preseason power rankings

Jason Garrett AP

The Cowboys went through the offseason just like every other team in the NFL.

Players came and players went and they made changes to their coaching staff, but things don’t look too different at the end of the day in Dallas. Jason Garrett is still the head coach, Tony Romo is still the quarterback and the defense still looks like it is going to have a hard time stopping anyone.

That’s why the Cowboys have landed at the 24th spot in PFT’s preseason power rankings. There’s only so much optimism to muster up for a defense that was bad last year and lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee from the ranks over the course of the offseason. The offense balanced things out enough to get the Cowboys their third straight Week 17 shot at a division title, but will they be able to do the same again in 2014?

Our panel doesn’t think so and you can find out why right here, but we’d like to hear what you think. How about them Cowboys?

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Hue Jackson says he and Dalton are “joined at the hip”

Dalton AP

The at-time kooky effort to coax a higher level of play out of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in his fourth season has generated the kookiest observations yet from his new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson.

We are joined at the hip,” Jackson recently told Mike Silver of NFL.com.  “We are tethered together.  And I’ll jump off a building with this guy, because I believe in the things he’s trying to accomplish with his career, and I think I can help him.”

Yes, they’re joined at the hip.  Unless Dalton and the Bengals do so well under Jackson’s tutelage that Jackson gets offered a head-coaching job elsewhere.  At that point, the twins will become unconjoined and Dalton will be on his own.

Unless, of course, the Bengals don’t sign Dalton to a long-term deal and decide not to use the franchise tag (which would cost north of $16 million or so for 2015), which then would allow Jackson to bring his protege to Jackson’s new place of business.  (Or maybe the Bengals would use the tag, knowing that Jackson would try to engineer another Carson Palmer-style trade for Dalton.)

Jackson will cross that bridge and/or jump off that building when the time comes, since it falls squarely in the category of good problems to have.  Until then, Jackson needs to find a way get the most out of Dalton — which means pressing the right buttons and setting the right mood.

“The first thing he said was, ‘You’re my guy. We’re gonna do this thing together,’” Dalton told Silver.  “‘You’re the guy that’s gonna take us to where we want to go.’  It’s exactly what I wanted to hear, and exactly what this team needs.  You want to know, from the top down, that they’ve got your back.”

Every smart team has its starting quarterback’s back.  Until it doesn’t.  The goal is make the starting quarterback think the team has his back so that his play won’t suffer as he worries about whether his next incompletion or interception or other bad decision will be his last one.

For Dalton, there’s only one way for the Bengals to prove they’ve truly got his back.  But that would require a financial investment that owner Mike Brown may not currently be willing to make.  Until that happens, it’s all talk.

Which may be just good enough to let Jackson talk his way into another head-coaching job.

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Friday morning one-liners

Phil Emery, Kyle Long AP

Catching up with former Bills WR Donald Jones as he lives a life without football.

A look at how Dolphins LB Koa Misi transitioned to a new position.

Setting the scene at safety for the Patriots.

How will Chris Ivory handle the arrival of Chris Johnson in the Jets backfield?

LB C.J. Mosley may not start for the Ravens, but he’s likely to play a good amount.

The Bengals wide receivers bonded with each other and QB Andy Dalton this offseason.

The trip back through the Browns’ quarterback history book lands on Kelly Holcomb.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and plenty of other NFLers will be in Virginia for the 6th Gridiron Legends Tailgate Party this weekend.

Texans S Lonnie Ballentine wants to make sure he’s only called Mr. Irrelevant for comic reasons.

The “King of Cleats” is ready for Colts training camp.

When will the Jaguars sign rookie WR Marqise Lee?

Titans LB Shaun Phillips is no stranger to proving himself.

A preview of what to expect from the Broncos defensive line.

Debating Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles‘ value to fantasy football players.

Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie’s son Kahlil will play football at the University of Tennessee.

Former Chargers DE Wilbur Young died earlier this month.

Michael Irvin expects Dez Bryant to put up another big season for the Cowboys.

The Giants are looking for a jolt in their return game.

Catching up with former Eagles WR Harold Carmichael.

Is Kai Forbath’s hold on the Redskins kicking job secure?

Will Kyle Long see any time at tackle for the Bears?

Eight Lions practices will be open to the public this summer.

Bob Mann shares his experiences as the first African-American member of the Packers.

Matt Blair and other former Vikings will be impacted by the settlement of the concussion lawsuit.

Falcons RB Steven Jackson’s photography will be shown at a show in Los Angeles.

The finals of Panthers QB Cam Newton’s 7-on-7 tournament for high school players are this weekend.

The Saints don’t quite measure up to the Panthers at linebacker.

Will WR David Gettis land a roster spot with the Buccaneers?

Revisiting Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald’s high school days.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of QB Sam Bradford to the Rams in 2014.

Said 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke, “The interesting thing about any sport is you can look better on paper but not perform as well as a team. How we do in 2014 is going to be dependent on how quickly we can become a team. Individuals don’t win games. Teams win games. That’s all we’re trying to do is get a little bit better every day as a team.”

A look at what went into making the Seahawks’ Super Bowl ring.

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Panthers receivers blocking out the criticism

kelvinbenjamin AP

Every wide receiver who caught a pass for the Panthers last year is gone this year, and the replacements aren’t exactly a group of superstars. In fact, the Panthers are viewed by many as having the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL.

But the Panthers’ new receivers say they’re blocking out that criticism and eager to show what kind of group they are. Panthers receiver Tiquan Underwood says he and his fellow receivers are focused on their jobs, not what anyone on the outside is saying about them.

“We’re going to do what we did in OTAs and minicamp: just come in each day and go to work. That’s it,” Underwood told USA Today. “Don’t worry about what the media is saying. Don’t worry about what even your own family is saying. You’ve got to block it out. Just go to work.”

Underwood said he thinks he and fellow receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin can get on the same page with quarterback Cam Newton before the season starts.

“We have no choice,” Underwood said. “This is what we get paid to do, so we’ve got to make it happen.”

The Panthers’ receivers and quarterbacks are getting together next week in Charlotte to do some pre-training camp work. Panthers fans have to hope that goes well. The Panthers’ receivers have a lot of work to do.

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Maurice Jones-Drew: London deserves an NFL team

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Running back Maurice Jones-Drew made the trip to London last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars for their regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Now with the Oakland Raiders, Jones-Drew will make another trip to London this season as the Raiders will face the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in September.

The talk about the possibility of a full-time NFL team based in London has grown over the past several seasons as the league as expanded its presence in England. Jones-Drew believes the time for an NFL team in London is getting closer.

You know what? I think they deserve one.” Jones-Drew said, via Neil Reynolds of BritViewNFL.com.“…I think the fans deserve it and London deserves it because it is a great city.”

For the first time, the NFL hosted two games in London in the same season last year as the Jaguars played the 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Minnesota Vikings. That program continues to grow this year with three games in London. The Raiders and Dolphins will meet Sept. 28, the Detroit Lions will face the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 26 and the Dallas Cowboys will face the Jaguars on Nov. 9.

The Jaguars are already locked into playing games in London in 2015 and 2016 as well.

Jones-Drew understands the difficulty inherent to basing a team in London when the rest of the league plays in the United States. He said the travel would be the most difficult factor to overcome in making an English franchise a reality.

“My only worry is the toll it would take for a team to go back and forth and how would you get that done?” Jones-Drew said. “There are some things they would have to work on – they might have to bring the Concorde back and cut that time in half. But you never know.”

The NFL is obviously intrigued by the possibility a London franchise presents. The league has played eight games in London over the past seven years with each game drawing at least 75,000 in attendance. It’s a shiny, lucrative potential market the league hopes to tap into in the future.

However, there are still hurdles to clear before that dream can become realized.

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Packers’ net income falls 41 percent

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The Packers’ net income dipped 41.3 percent in the last fiscal year, according to figures disclosed by the club on Thursday.

According to the club’s website, the team’s net income was $25.3 million, compared to $43.1 million over the same 12-month period a year earlier. (Per the Milwaukee Business Journal, the club’s last fiscal year ended on March 31, 2014.)

This is the first time net income for Green Bay has dipped under $40 million in a fiscal year since 2011. Net income was $42.7 million in 2012.

Spending on players increased by $35 million in fiscal 2013-14, per Packers.com. The club signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields to new deals in the last fiscal year, with all three players receiving at least $12.5 million in signing bonuses.

Overall, the Packers reported $324.1 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, according to the club’s site. That’s an increase of about $16 million, or 5.2 percent, over the fiscal year ending in March 2013.

More than 350,000 people own shares of the Packers, according to the club.

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Report: Texans propose to demolish Astrodome

Astrodome AP

The Houston Texans would reportedly like to turn the old home of the Houston Oilers into a large open space.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have proposed knocking down the Astrodome, leaving an outdoor space to be used for a variety of events, including concerts. The proposed changes would cost $66 million, per the Chronicle.

The Astrodome is adjacent to NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium), the home of the Texans.

The Oilers played in the now-condemned Astrodome from 1968 through 1996.

According to the Chronicle, any decision on the future of the dome would fall to the Harris County (Tx.) Commissioners Court.

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Mark Murphy: Extending Ted Thompson’s deal “a top priority”

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Ted Thompson is entering his 10th season as the Packers’ General Manager.

And according to Packers president Mark Murphy, the club would like Thompson’s service to extend well into a second decade in Green Bay.

According to Fox Sports Wisconsin and other media outlets, Murphy said Thursday that a new contract for the 61-year-old Thompson was “a top priority” for the franchise.

Thompson’s current deal is believed to run through 2016, according to Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin.

The Packers have made the playoffs five seasons in a row, winning the Super Bowl in 2010.

“Ted’s been instrumental in the run we’ve had,” Murphy said Thursday, per Packers.com.

Murphy has previously indicated a new deal for Thompson would come before a new contract for head coach Mike McCarthy, whose deal runs out after the 2015 campaign.

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Packers have talked to Favre, but no jersey retirement this year

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Some day, Brett Favre will return to Lambeau Field to have his No. 4 jersey retired in a ceremony before Packers fans. But it won’t be this year.

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there have been “good conversations” with Favre, but a jersey retirement ceremony isn’t happening until 2015 at the earliest.

Although Favre was once the most beloved athlete in Green Bay, much changed when he retired, un-retired and ultimately returned in the rival Vikings uniform. Murphy acknowledged that some fans have hard feelings toward Favre, and that could be a problem for any retirement ceremony.

“He wouldn’t want to come back to be booed,” Murphy said.

But while it won’t happen this year, there’s a good chance it will happen next year: Murphy said he’d like to retire Favre’s number before Favre is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will happen in the summer of 2016.

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