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New bounty ruling seems destined for return to internal appeals panel

AP

Only one thing is clear in the wake of Tuesday’s re-issued bounty suspensions:  It won’t be over until it’s over, and it still won’t be over for a long time.

Based on public statements we’ve received and private communications in which we’ve engaged over the past 15 hours, it’s clear that the four suspended players, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove, will continue to fight.

And the fight likely will take two separate forms.  Most immediately, the players will appeal the suspensions to Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Presumably, the players will be more engaged in the process this time around, given that the players were more engaged in the pre-discipline process, choosing to meet with Goodell after previously refusing to sit down with him.  (Then again, the players couldn’t be any less engaged in the appeal process before Goodell; they refused to speak at the first appeal hearing in June.)

Given that the league has relied so heavily on the sworn statements of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, they’ll both most likely testify at the appeal hearing.  And that will most likely result in brutally aggressive cross-examinations of both men by lawyers Peter Ginsberg (on behalf of Vilma) and Jeffrey Kessler (on behalf of the other three players).

After Goodell issues a ruling on the appeal of his ruling, the process undoubtedly will land back in federal court, where any still-suspended players will attack the NFL’s process as unfair and not impartial.

While that front in the bounty fight unfolds, it’s highly likely that the players will resort once again to the labor deal between the league and the NFLPA, arguing that the Commissioner once again has strayed from his lane of jurisdiction.  Last time, the internal appeals panel created by the labor deal ruled that the Commissioner has no authority over salary cap violations, drawing the line “between agreeing to injure other players and the agreement to participate in an undisclosed compensation arrangement.”

The league’s statement regarding the re-issued discipline, as we expected, attempts to draw a distinction between offers and payment.  “In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” Goodell wrote to the suspended players.  “In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”  (Emphasis added.)

Obviously, the re-issued discipline doesn’t remove cash from the equation.  The league apparently thinks focusing on “offers” steers clear of the jurisdiction the Commissioner doesn’t have.  The players surely will disagree.

The ultimate question will be whether the appeals panel disagrees.  If the appeals panel indeed disagrees, this will all get thrown back to Goodell once again.  If that happens, the Commissioner’s only viable option could be to blame the players and the union for not taking responsibility for their actions, close the file, and move on.

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Panthers defend letting Cam Newton play through shoulder injury

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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton suffered a shoulder injury in Week 14, and last week decided to have surgery to repair the shoulder. Now the Panthers are facing questions about why Newton played the final weeks of the season after Carolina had been eliminated from playoff contention if his throwing shoulder was injured badly enough that he’d eventually need surgery.

But Carolina G.M. Dave Gettleman says the Panthers still try to win even when they’re out of playoff contention, Newton wanted to play and the medical staff thought he could.

We are in the business of winning,” Gettleman said, via the Charlotte Observer. “That’s what we’re here for. I just know that’s my responsibility – put the best club on the field and to win games, that’s Ron [Rivera’s] job. That’s why we’re all here. You talk about our culture here and the No. 1 priority is winning football games. Those conversations happen. Cam’s a football player. He wanted to play and the medical people felt it was fine, so we did.”

As Newton was playing hurt, the Panthers were shutting down Luke Kuechly with a concussion, but Gettleman says it’s not fair to compare the two situations.

“It’s two different cases and I’m not going to go down there,” he said. “There’s always conversations with injuries. We have this crazy idea we should care about them as people. They’re going to have long lives beyond their NFL careers.”

Unlike a concussion, Newton’s shoulder injury isn’t the kind of ailment that raises concerns about his life after football. And so the Panthers said he could keep going at the end of 2016, even if it affects his readiness when training camp opens in 2017.

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Vegas gambling issues falling on deaf ears within NFL

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When it comes to the potential practical consequences of putting a professional football team in Las Vegas, the NFL isn’t completely ignoring the situation. It seems, however, that not nearly enough people are taking the situation as seriously as they should.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, some are indeed sounding alarms about moving a team to the nation’s gambling capital. Those alarms seem to be obscured by the sound of the league’s looming jackpot.

As noted on Saturday, the NFL can’t (and thus isn’t even trying to) reconcile its desire to put a team in Las Vegas with its supposed aversion to all things gambling. But if, after the owners get together this week with a chance for any opponents to chime in, the league gives the Raiders the green light to leave Oakland for Las Vegas, it will be important for both the team and the NFL to have clear plans in place for plopping players, coaches, executives, and other team employees into a place where gambling is more prevalent than good food quickly.

Put simply, players and their families will be moving into a place where gambling is everywhere. While some have argued that nearly any player on any team already is within driving distance of a casino, casinos in most places are destinations. In Las Vegas, where both casino games and sports betting are legal, a player can’t walk out of his apartment without being smacked in the face by the “here it is, why aren’t you here?” prevalance of it.

At some point, the lure of gambling will tempt everyone — even those who believe they are sufficiently self-disciplined to avoid it. At some point, someone connected to the team will develop a gambling problem. At some point, someone with a gambling problem will develop a significant gambling debt. At some point, someone with a significant gambling debt will be ripe to be compromised.

The league needs to be ready to prevent it (which may be impossible) and to spot it when it happens (which may be just as difficult). And even if the league manages to keep it from ever happen for the duration of the Raiders’ stay in Las Vegas, the league needs to be ready to hear more of the same-old conspiracies about corrupt officiating and points shaving, realizing that a layer of craps-table felt will make the tin-foil hats seem less nutty.

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Seahawks keep adding linebackers

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The Seattle Seahawks have used 2017 free agency to load up in one specific area of the roster. They’ve now added three veteran linebackers to the team.

Via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, the Seahawks have signed Terence Garvin. The former West Virginia defender (he played there with former Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin) spent 2016 with Washington. Before that, Garvin had three years with the Steelers.

He joins Arthur Brown and Michael Wilhoite as new Seattle linebackers. Beyond adding depth to the linebacking corps, Garvin will help on special teams. As Condotta notes, the departure of tight end Brandon Williams created a need on the third leg of the football stool.

Garvin, 26, has played in 59 career regular-season games with one start in four NFL seasons.

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Franco Harris: I have no pain, but if I ever do I’ll use marijuana

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Franco Harris played in the NFL into his mid-30s, carried the ball more than 3,000 times, and often lined up as a blocking fullback on plays when he didn’t get the ball. He also played in an era of full-contact practices that would make today’s players weep. Throw in his status as a three-year starter at Penn State and his high school football career, and it’s safe to say he was in tens of thousands of collisions on the football field.

And he has something surprising to say: At age 67, he feels fine, mentally and physically.

“Even during my playing days, I really didn’t have to do anything with pain management,” Harris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ve never had any long-term pain. I’ve been pretty lucky all the way back to high school. I’m even more amazed that at 67 I’m not dealing with more issues.”

But Harris knows the time may come when an old football injury — or just age — catches up with him. And as a result, he’s become an advocate for marijuana as a safer painkiller than opioids.

“I will tell you this, if it ever comes to a point where I do need pain management, I’d feel very lucky and happy now that we have medicinal marijuana in Pennsylvania,” Harris said.

Harris is urging the NFL to take marijuana off its banned substance list and allow players to use it if prescribed by a doctor, which is now legal in most states.

“The NFL is reviewing its position on medical marijuana,” Harris said. “They’re really reviewing their whole pain management regimen and how those things are handled, but if you don’t mind me giving you my personal feeling, I feel in any state that has approved medical marijuana, the league should remove medical marijuana from being a banned substance. I feel that recreational marijuana should be a banned substance in the NFL, but medical marijuana has a different composition.”

As the NFL continues to face criticism over widespread use of painkillers distributed by team doctors, it’s surprising that the league hasn’t been more willing to consider permitting medical marijuana. Players like Harris speaking out may change that.

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Michael Irvin: Ezekiel Elliott has to learn how big being a Cowboy is

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Hall of Fame Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin thinks there’s a special kind of scrutiny that comes with being a star player on the Dallas Cowboys, and Ezekiel Elliott needs to learn that.

Irvin said on KRLD that Elliott has to understand that the kind of attention he got as a star player in college will be dwarfed by the attention he’s getting now that he’s a star player in Dallas. Irvin said the incident in which Elliott pulled a woman’s top down in public demonstrated a kind of immaturity that isn’t acceptable for a Cowboys star.

“Not to ever make an excuse for anybody, but he’s a young guy,” Irvin said, via the Dallas Morning News. “And I don’t mind a guy having fun and all of that. But I need him to understand the enormity of everything surrounding him. I know Ohio State is huge, but the Dallas Cowboys are something different. Everything you do, anything you do . . . that’s going to get out, that’s going to be a story. And you have to try to stay away from that. As I was watching it, I remember when I first saw it . . . I checked my calendar. Is this Mardi Gras? When you watch it, you can see the wheels turning in his head . . . don’t do it; don’t do it. But he does it. He just has to be careful, man.”

Irvin had plenty of his own off-field problems during his time as a Cowboy, so some would say he has no standing to criticize Elliott. But perhaps Irvin is uniquely qualified to understand why Elliott needs to clean up his off-field act. There’s a perception around Elliott that he needs to grow up, and Irvin is only the latest to say so.

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Cardinals doing their homework on incoming quarterbacks

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The Cardinals know that the end is near for quarterback Carson Palmer. Because, as Cardinals G.M. Steve Keim said during a recent appearance on PFT Live, Palmer is willing to mentor a young quarterback, it makes sense to bring a young quarterback into the fold which Palmer is still playing.

It therefore also makes sense for the Cardinals to be taking a close look at the incoming crop of signal callers. Which, as explained by Kent Somers of azcentral.com, they are doing. They’ll be doing it with private workouts.

“I would stray away from Pro Days if I could,” Keim said, via Somers. “They’ve become so big that you don’t have the individual attention you need. You’re wasting some time.”

The Cardinals will be investing some private time in working out Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and presumably the rest of the quarterbacks at the top of the class.

“I think there are five or six really good arms in this draft,” coach Bruce Arians said, via Somers. “Whether there are five or six quarterbacks, that’s what we have to find out. I’m feeling more and more there are a couple of sleepers who, because of their offenses, didn’t show as much as they are capable of.”

In other words, folks are trying to make sure the perceived second or third cut of quarterbacks doesn’t include another Dak Prescott. Over the past decade or so, the Cardinals have done very well when acquiring established quarterbacks in the waning years of their careers (Palmer, Kurt Warner). They’ve struggled when drafting quarterbacks (Matt Leinart, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas) or rolling the dice by trading for — and paying — and unproven guy (Kevin Kolb).

The stakes are high in 2017. The perennially downtrodden Cardinals have been competitive and relevant in recent years only when they’ve had Palmer and Warner. They need someone who will play as well as either guy, and stick around a lot longer.

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NFL to consider unlimited challenges, as long as they’re successful

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Under current NFL rules, a coach may challenge two calls per game, and if replay reviews prove him right on both of them, he gets a third challenge. Three is the limit.

If a proposal before the Competition Committee this week is approved, there will be no limit, and coaches can keep challenging as long as they’re successful.

Washington has proposed a rule that would permit an unlimited number of successful challenges. If the challenges are unsuccessful, the limit would still be two.

That rule proposal would seem to have a lot of headwind in an offseason in which the NFL has made faster-paced games a top priority. More challenges means more replay delays, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has acknowledged that replay delays are a problem.

So it seems unlikely that the rule would be adopted. A team challenging four, five, six or more times a game could slow the game to a crawl, even if the coach is correct. Of course, the real issue is that officials shouldn’t be making enough mistakes that a coach could have four, five or six successful challenges in the first place.

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Talk in Buffalo that Doug Whaley could be on the way out

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Bills General Manager Doug Whaley appears to be on the hot seat, raising questions about who’s really calling the shots in Buffalo heading into the draft.

Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News writes that it seems only a matter of time before Whaley gets moved out. Sullivan suggests that owners Kim and Terry Pegula have decided to give more authority to new head coach Sean McDermott, and Whaley’s power is limited. Sullivan even suggests that it could be that the only reason Whaley hasn’t resigned is he wants the Pegulas to fire him so they’ll be forced to keep paying him until his contract expires.

The Bills have decided that McDermott, not Whaley, will address reporters at the official annual pre-draft media event. Typically the person who answers questions in that setting is the person who’s calling the shots, and the Bills choosing McDermott to talk to the media on the team’s behalf suggests that McDermott, not Whaley, is calling the shots.

A similar situation played out in Washington in February, when G.M. Scot McCloughan was kept away from the media. A month later, McCloughan was fired.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Whaley is the next NFL G.M. to lose his job.

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Roger Goodell sends ominous letter to Oakland mayor

AP

There are certain words and phrases a city would prefer not to hear from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the days before a critical relocation vote involving its local franchise.

Such language is now in the Oakland mayor’s possession.

Goodell reportedly sent a letter Friday to Mayor Libby Schaaf, a transmission Schaaf received after having sent the NFL her own letter in which she characterized the latest effort to keep the Raiders in Oakland as a “viable and responsible proposal.” Clearly, Goodell did not agree.

“Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution,” Goodell said in the letter, which the East Bay Times reportedly obtained Saturday. “It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.”

Oakland and its partners submitted Friday a revised $1.3 billion development proposal that Goodell wrote is not “clear and specific, actionable in a reasonable time frame, and free of major contingencies,” according to East Bay Times.

A vote that could relocate the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas is expected as early as Monday at the NFL’s annual spring meeting in Phoenix. Twenty-four of the league’s 32 owners must vote in favor of the relocation for it to be approved.

It’d be the latest relocation for the league. On Jan. 12, the Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. The Rams moved from St. Louis to L.A. last year.

Goodell’s full letter has not been published in its entirety at this time, but its largest excerpt reads as follows, per the East Bay Times:

“We have been prepared for nearly two years to work on finding a solution based on access to land at a certain cost, without constraints on the location of the stadium or timing of construction, and clarity on the overall development,” Goodell wrote.

“However, at this date, there remains no certainty regarding how the site will be fully developed, or the specific and contractually-defined nature of the participation by Fortress or other parties. In addition, the long-term nature of the commitment to the A’s remains a significant complication and the resolution of that issue remains unknown.”

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Martellus Bennett pledges to donate jersey sales profit

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The Packers’ official online team store is full of jersey options for potential buyers, its stock including Aaron Rodgers’ top-selling No. 12, Jordy Nelson’s No. 87, Randall Cobb’s 18 and Clay Matthews’ 52.

Martellus Bennett’s jersey is not yet available.

There is added reason for that soon to change.

The new Packers tight end announced Saturday an incentive for fans interested in wearing his No. 80. He pledged on social media not to pocket a cent off whatever commission he’ll receive from jersey sales in 2017, allocating his profit instead to “after school programs that I’m working to put together.”

He added that his older brother, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, inspired him.

Michael pledged this month to donate all endorsement money earned in 2017 “to help rebuild minority communities through s.t.e.a.m programs, as well as initiatives that directly affect women of color in hopes that we can create more opportunities for our youth and build a brighter future.” He also committed 50 percent of his jersey profit to fund inner-city garden projects.

Fans generally have to be mindful when investing in a player jersey.

As a hypothetical, former Packers running back Eddie Lacy’s jersey was $99.95 to begin the year. After his contract expired on March 9, it’s down to $69.97. A player’s roster longevity is often directly correlated to the jersey’s value.

Martellus does not necessarily shine in that category. He is 30. As part of a three-year contract he signed this month, the Packers can avoid paying him a $2 million roster bonus if he’s released before the start of the 2018 league year. In 2019, he is due a $5.65 million salary.

But the factors to purchase his or his brother’s jersey now extend beyond that.

They’ve turned profit into philanthropy.

Notably, the brothers are neither the first nor surely last NFL players to make such commitments. Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for example, announced he would donate all jersey profits in 2016 amid a surge in sales.

“The only way I can repay you for the support is to return the favor by donating all the proceeds I receive from my jersey sales back into the communities!” Kaepernick said on Instagram. “I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!”

Others around the league, including Chargers safety Darrell Stuckey, have donated game checks to specific causes.

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Eagles withdraw four of their five rule change proposals

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The Eagles were among the most active teams at proposing rules changes to be voted on at the upcoming league meeting, but now they’re pulling back most of their proposals.

According to CSNPhilly.com, the Eagles have withdrawn four of the five changes they had proposed.

The only rule change the Eagles aren’t withdrawing is the rule against players leaping over the line to block field goals or extra points. That idea has broad support and is expected to pass.

The proposals the Eagles are withdrawing include a rule giving long snappers additional protection, a rule expanding the definition of “crown of the helmet,” a rule that would give coaches more opportunities to make instant replay challenges and a resolution to allow teams to use alternate color helmets.

The Eagles withdrawing those proposals doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t eventually be taken up: The league could still ultimately decide to adopt one or all of those proposals. But it does mean the Eagles won’t be pushing for a vote next week.

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Bengals release LB Rey Maualuga

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The Bengals are the only NFL team Rey Maualuga has known.

That is about to change.

Cincinnati announced Saturday it has parted with its long-time linebacker. Maualuga, a second-round pick in 2009 out of USC, has spent his entire eight-year career with the club.

There were clues, however, there wouldn’t be a ninth.

The Bengals added former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter a week ago. Maualuga, 30, is coming off a season in which he started a career-low six of 14 games played. In all, he started 104 of 114 games for Cincinnati, racking up 580 tackles, four sacks, seven interceptions and six forced fumbles.

Maualuga also was entering the final season of a three-year contract. It featured a $3.15 million base salary and $300,000 workout bonus due in 2017.

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How can NFL reconcile loving Las Vegas and loathing betting lines?

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A mere four years ago, the NFL wanted nothing to do with staging any games in Las Vegas. Then, once Las Vegas emerged as a viable candidate to lure the Raiders from Oakland, the nation’s gambling capital suddenly became acceptable for at least 10 NFL games per year.

No one seems to be troubled (or even curious) by the about-face. Indeed, hardly anyone ever questions how and why it happened — especially since Commissioner Roger Goodell insists that the league can shift its attitude toward Las Vegas without shifting its attitude toward gambling.

“We’re obviously very sensitive to that, but we’re also going to evaluate the Raiders case on the relocation application in what’s in the overall best interests of the league,” Goodell told reporters in January. “But one thing we can’t ever do is compromise on the game. That’s one of the things we’ll do is to make sure the policies we’ve created, if we did in any way approve the Raiders, I don’t see us compromising on any of the policies.”

Compare that to this shrug of the shoulders from an unnamed AFC owner in comments made to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.

“From a gambling standpoint? That’s a joke to even say that’d be a problem,” the unnamed owner told Breer. “That was an issue decades ago. Now? Sports gambling is going to be legal. We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution, rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be above-board.”

And so it could be that, just as abruptly as the league pulled a 180 on Vegas, the league may abruptly flip its flop on gambling. Which could make it much harder for the league to continue to sue each and every state that tries to adopt betting on sports.

“We oppose further state-operated gambling on individual NFL games because it presents a threat to the integrity of those games and to the long-term relationship between the NFL and its fans,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in 2009, as the NFL fought to keep sports betting out of Delaware. “If you make it easier for people to gamble then more people will. This would increase the chances for people to question the integrity of the game. Those people who are upset will question whether an erroneous officiating call or dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or official.”

Those people who are upset will question whether an erroneous officiating call or dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or official.

The owners who will convene in Arizona this weekend should consider that quote and ask themselves that question, especially with more than 50 players eventually living in a place where gambling will be everywhere they go.

While putting a team in a place where gambling is legal is technically different than embracing gambling, “Las Vegas” and “gambling” are too synonymous to permit the average perception-is-reality fan to engage in the mental gymnastics necessary to tell the difference between the two. Which precisely why, as recently as 2013, the league shunned Vegas.

Even without the quote from the unnamed AFC owner, it was going to be very hard to remove the stigma of gambling from the dropping of a franchise into Las Vegas. That quote will make it damn near impossible — especially as more and more similar quotes are harvested on- and off-the-record as reporters descend on Arizona to (hopefully) ask pointed questions about how the NFL plans to walk the tightrope between loving Las Vegas and loathing betting lines.

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Bengals re-sign Wallace Gilberry

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The Bengals re-signed running back and special teams stalwart Cedric Peerman this week and he’s not the only member of the 2016 roster returning after hitting free agency.

Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry’s agents announced that Gilberry will be back with the team in 2017.

Gilberry first joined the Bengals in 2012 and played in Cincinnati through the 2015 season before heading to the Lions as a free agent last year. He played four games for Detroit before going on injured reserve and then landed back with the Bengals in November after the Lions released him.

Gilberry had 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games for the Bengals last year and he had 17.5 sacks during his first stint with the team. That production as a pass rusher should have him back as a reserve behind starting defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.

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Jonathan Stewart: “Open arms” to Panthers drafting a running back

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The Panthers and running back Jonathan Stewart agreed to a one-year contract extension this week, but that didn’t do much to quiet the notion that the Panthers will be adding a running back in the draft this year.

Stewart is 30 and entering his 10th season with the team, so the team needs to think about a future without Stewart on top of the need to have a complementary back to help the team put together the kind of running game that coach Ron Rivera felt was lacking last season. Given those realities, it wouldn’t matter much if Stewart was opposed to the team moving in that direction but the veteran is on board with a youthful infusion to the backfield.

“I mean, it’s a good thing,” Stewart said, via the team’s website. “You always want fresh legs. Fresh legs mean a lot, especially in the fourth quarter. Having somebody potentially come in here … there are a lot of good running backs in this draft class, a lot of talent. Definitely open arms to get somebody in here that wants to win and understands that. We’re better as a fist than we are as an open hand.”

Running back isn’t the only area that Carolina is expected to address at some point in the draft. Stewart pointed out that “the main thing we have to do better is protect” quarterback Cam Newton. A better running game would help accomplish that and boosting the performance on the offensive line should remain a priority for the team heading into the 2017 season.

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