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John Fox: It’s an important game because it’s the next game

Denver Broncos head coach John Fox reacts to his team's play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half of play in their NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati Reuters

The Broncos head to Carolina to play the Panthers this weekend, which means Broncos coach John Fox will return to the place he used to coach for the first time since being leaving the team after nine years on the sideline.

As you’d expect, Fox is facing questions about his thoughts on the return to Charlotte and, also as you’d probably expect, Fox is answering those questions by downplaying the idea that he’s finding any extra motivation by the circumstances. He said he had great relationships there and that he’s “indebted” to the team for giving him a head coaching job, but insisted the significance of the game had nothing to do with his personal history.

“It’s the most important game, because it’s the next one. You don’t get but 16 of these opportunities. Right now we’re 5-3, and the only guarantee we have is 5-11,” Fox said, via Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post. “So, you know, it will be just like any week from the standpoint of it’s the Denver Broncos against the Carolina Panthers at their place. That’s the only real thing I know. How we prepare will determine that outcome.”

Things didn’t end well in Carolina for Fox in 2010, but things very rarely end well for head coaches in the NFL. Things have worked out pretty well for Fox and the departure of Marty Hurney means Fox’s main adversary in the final season is no longer on the scene, so the motivation of a sixth win should be plenty.

An added twist is that the result of Sunday’s game will help determine the future of Fox’s replacement with the Panthers. Ron Rivera has been put on notice that his tenure with the team could be a lot shorter than Fox’s stay in Carolina.

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Packers had some interest in Freeman if Flynn didn’t stay

Josh Freeman AP

As it turns out, Matt Flynn and Josh Freeman were two men for two jobs.

But they could have easily reversed roles, as it turns out.

Flynn decided yesterday to stay with the Packers, and Freeman just took advantage of the void in New York to agree with the Giants moments ago.

But according to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Packers had some interest in Freeman as well, if Flynn had decided to sign with the Giants instead.

It’s interesting, but not surprising. The Packers were willing to take a look at Vince Young last summer, so bringing in a former first-rounder as a backup wouldn’t have been out of character. And there are plenty of people around the league who think Freeman can be salvaged.

Freeman looked like a wreck once the Bucs decided he wasn’t their guy, and his stint with the Vikings was ill-considered and poorly executed.

But there are still tools there, and the Packers would have offered him a chance to work and improve without the pressure of having to take over a mess of a team.

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Josh Freeman agrees to contract with Giants

Tampa Bay Bucaneers v New England Patriots Getty Images

Josh Freeman is Eli Manning’s new backup quarterback.

Shortly after news broke that Freeman and the Giants were close, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reported that the two sides have agreed to terms.

The Giants were the opponent for Freeman’s only start in a Vikings uniform, and Freeman was terrible: He completed just 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception, and the Vikings lost 23-7. But the Giants must have seen something that day — and in Freeman’s body of work with the Buccaneers — to make them think he has potential.

Freeman will compete with 2013 fourth-round draft pick Ryan Nassib and veteran Curtis Painter for the right to serve as the No. 2 quarterback behind Manning, and Freeman will probably enter training camp as the favorite to win the backup role. At age 26, there’s still time for Freeman to show that he has what it takes to be a starter, but that won’t happen in New York as long as Manning is around.

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Report: “Many in football” believe Browns will take Derek Carr

2014 NFL Combine Getty Images

Perhaps as much as any other team, the Browns are expected to take a quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft.

According to a published report, there’s sentiment in league circles that Cleveland has zeroed in on one particular passing prospect.

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reports the Browns “love” Fresno State’s Derek Carr and that “many in football” believe Cleveland will take him with the second of their two first-round picks (No. 26).

PFT’s most recent mock draft has Carr headed to Cleveland, but at No. 4, not No. 26.

Carr, like numerous other QB prospects, has worked out for Cleveland.

Were the Browns to take Carr with their second first-round pick, it would mark the third time in seven years in which they had used the latter of two No. 1 selections on a quarterback. They took Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden 22nd overall in 2007 and 2012, respectively.

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Giants, Josh Freeman getting close to a deal

Minnesota Vikings v New York Giants Getty Images

Free agent quarterback Josh Freeman is finally getting close to finding a new home.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Freeman and the Giants are working toward a deal that should be completed within the next day or so.

That Freeman is about to sign with the Giants, where Eli Manning is firmly established as the starter, suggests that he hasn’t received any offers from any teams even willing to let him compete for a starting job. That’s quite a downfall for the 26-year-old Freeman, who in his second NFL season, in 2010, threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions and looked like one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

But Freeman was a major disappointment last season, both in Tampa Bay and in Minnesota, and he has a long way to go to rehabilitate his image. In New York he’ll compete with Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib to be the No. 2 quarterback, but he won’t see the field as long as Manning is healthy.

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Peyton Manning says Montee Ball’s ready to do more

Montee Ball, Robert Steeples AP

Peyton Manning’s been around long enough to know that rosters are always going to change.

But he gave his blessing to one of the Broncos’ young players, who will have to carry a bigger share of the load next season.

Manning told reporters that second-year back Montee Ball was ready to replace the departed Knowshon Moreno.

“I thought Montee had a great year,” Manning said. “I thought he learned a lot in his first year. In my past, I’ve seen a lot of development in guys from their first year to their second year. There is no question with the loss of Knowshon—who was just nothing short of awesome for us this past year and was a great teammate—that Montee is going to have more responsibilities and I think he will answer that challenge.

“I think he has the work ethic, I think he has the mental capabilities to handle the workload and I look forward to having a full offseason with him. He didn’t have a full one last year because of being a rookie so I look forward to getting even closer with him as far as being on the same page.”

Ball got himself in the doghouse with early fumbles, but was able to return to a larger role in the playoffs. Earning the trust of Manning is not insignificant for him, and his future role.

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PFT Live: Jets talk with Manish Mehta, PFT Planet calls and tweets

chris-johnson-Titans-300x225 Getty Images

The Jets hosted running back Chris Johnson on a visit on Tuesday, but Johnson left without signing a contract with the team.

On Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live, Mike Florio will welcome Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News as a guest to discuss the possibility that Johnson will wind up in the Jets’ backfield for the 2014 season. Mehta reported that the Jets won’t “overpay” for Johnson and we’ll see what kind of parameters they’re working with for a potential deal.

We’ll also delve into some draft talk during Mehta’s visit and we can do a lot more if that’s what PFT Planet wants to hear about. Florio will again be fielding your questions during the show, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets underway at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Peyton Manning on Super Bowl loss: “You have to move forward”

Peyton Manning AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been relatively quiet this offseason, but when he spoke at an event in Denver this morning, he said his focus is putting the Broncos’ ugly performance in the Super Bowl behind him.

You have to move forward. You have to kind of reestablish your identity as the 2014 team; 2013 was a good season in a lot of ways, there’s no question,” Manning told USA Today. “It did not end the way we wanted it to, but we have to build off that and try to take it a step further, try to finish. There’s no question, we kind of have to start over and reestablish the chemistry on this team with all the new players. That’s important, and that really starts on Monday.”

Part of moving forward is a roster shakeup that has seen several veterans leave.

“We lost some great players and some great friends,” Manning said. “It’s been a real pleasure to play the last two years with Champ [Bailey] and Knowshon [Moreno], Eric [Decker], Wesley Woodyard, Chris Kuper retiring, Zane Beadles has been great. . . . That’s the worst part about football, when you form some friendships with these guys and really put a lot of hard work in, and just the business side comes into play.”

The good news for Manning is that the free agents who arrived, including defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders, give the Broncos a good chance of getting back to the Super Bowl. And playing better than they did two months ago.

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Some draft talk with Corey Chavous

Chavous Getty Images

Of all the self-styled draft experts, few have actually worked for NFL teams.  Even fewer have lasted as employees with NFL teams.

Even fewer have played for NFL teams.  Only one has played in the NFL at a high level, while devoting his free time to studying the next wave of incoming players for fun.

Corey Chavous, who spent 11 seasons in the NFL, now runs  He joined PFT Live by phone on Tuesday to talk about some of the bigger names in the 2014 draft pool.

So for Corey’s take on the top-shelf quarterbacks, the Jadeveon Clowney versus Khalil Mack question, the conundrum of first-round receivers being busts, and the player most likely to be a candidate for the Hall of Fame, click the thing in the thing below.

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Golden Tate thinks he’ll be a “more explosive” Lance Moore in Joe Lombardi’s offense

Golden Tate AP

Wide receiver Golden Tate hasn’t played a game as a member of the Lions yet, but a couple of weeks of offseason work has led him to think that their offense will prove to be an excellent fit for his skills.

Tate said that he has been watching film of the Saints’ offense over the last few years to get a sense of what offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who joined the Lions after serving as the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans, is going to do in Detroit. Tate said he thinks it will be a better fit for his skills than the offense in Seattle and explained why he’s feeling that way.

“I watched some tape on the Saints over the last few years and just looking at that — I haven’t talked to coach Lombardi that much — I see myself being a Lance Moore type of player, but just more explosive and able to do a few more things,” Tate said, via the team’s website. “That’s exciting, because Lance Moore caught a lot of balls and he’s a terrific player that did a lot for the Saints. That’s kind of how I see myself having the best receiver in the league [Calvin Johnson], and one of the best to ever to play the game, opposite of me or sometimes on the same side.”

Tate averaged four catches a game for the Seahawks last season, the highest total of his career thus far, and Moore had at least that many in four of the six years that he played in the majority of the Saints’ regular season games. Tate figures to see more snaps than Moore did in New Orleans and see more advantageous matchups than he saw in Seattle with Johnson on the other side, which should add up to numbers as good or better than Moore put up in his best days with New Orleans.

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A.J. McCarron is the latest QB to work out for the Browns

AJ McCarron AP

The Browns are expected to kick the tires on every quarterback prospect before the NFL draft, and next in line is Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.

McCarron is conducting a private workout today for the Browns, Adam Schefter ‏of ESPN reports.

Although McCarron was a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Alabama, he wouldn’t appear to be an option with the Browns’ first pick, No. 4 overall. He would also seem like a reach with the 26th overall pick, which the Browns acquired from the Colts in the Trent Richardson trade.

But he could be an option for the Browns with their second-round pick, or with either of their picks in the third round (the Browns have their own third-round pick and Pittsburgh’s, which it acquired in a draft-day trade last year when the Steelers wanted an extra pick to take safety Shamarko Thomas.)

The Browns currently have only two quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney) on the roster and will almost certainly draft at least one. If the Browns decide to go in another direction in the first round, McCarron could be the choice on Day Two of the draft.

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After talking to Sapp, McCoy knows the pressure’s on him

Gerald McCoy AP

Gerald McCoy promised yesterday that he wouldn’t let a contract issue keep him from training camp.

That’s in large part because he’s looking to replicate the work done by a Hall of Famer.

McCoy said a recent conversation with former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp had him excited about the prospects for himself and the team under new coach Lovie Smith.

“I talked to Sapp the other day, and I told him, ‘I can see now why you loved this defense so much,’’’ McCoy said, via Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. “I said, ‘This is going to be fun,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s not going to be easy, because you have a lot of work ahead of you. You have a lot of responsibility as the under tackle.’

“What he meant was, this defense is going to run how I run, so I have a lot of responsibility. I’m going to see most of the one on ones. And when you depend on four guys to get to the quarterback the way we will and the under tackle is supposed to be the key guy, well, I have to get there. But I’m still excited about it.’’

McCoy began to show some Sapp-ish tendencies (the good, on-field kind) last season, when he had 9.0 sacks and earned All-Pro honors. Now, he’s looking to lead a turnaround for the Bucs, getting them back to the old ways.

“First day we got started here, I pulled the whole defense together before we even started to stretch or anything and told them we have to have a different type of mind set this year,’’ McCoy said. “I told them that if this team is going to get to where we want to be, then (just like) the Buccaneers teams of the past, we have to be known for having a great defense.’’

If McCoy can have the kind of sustained success Sapp had in Tampa, the chances of that are a lot better.

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Lessons learned from the Alex Mack offer sheet

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

In extending an offer sheet to center Alex Mack, the Jaguars apparently relied on Mack’s supposedly intense desire to leave Cleveland — and the Browns potential willingness to let him walk because of it.

Now that the offer has been matched, Mack says he never wanted to leave.  Even if he created a very strong impression to others that he did.

Ultimately, Mack didn’t really want to leave.  Or getting $18 million guaranteed changed his mind.  Or the Browns didn’t care one way or the other.

The offer signed by Mack and matched in Cleveland pays out $18 million fully guaranteed over two years and, if not voided by the player, another $8 million fully guaranteed in year three.  League insiders have now digested the terms, and it has sparked a few ideas about how a team could use a device like this in the future in a way that would deter a match.

The most obvious reaction was that the offer didn’t force the Browns to pay enough money.  The Browns are guaranteed to have Mack for two years at $18 million, or for three at $26 million.  Absent a long-term deal, Mack would have made $10 million in 2014 under the transition tag.  If tagged again in 2015 (transition or franchise), Mack would have made $22 million over two years.  If not tagged, he would have hit the open market next year.

It’s unclear what it would have taken to get the Browns to pass, but in hindsight the offer sheet made it a lot cheaper for the Browns to keep Mack for the next two years.  And if Mack is telling the truth about wanting to stay in Cleveland, he won’t void the deal after two years — and they’ll keep him for three years at only $4 million more than it would have cost to keep him for two years under the tag.

The pay-as-you-go nature of the offer, which has become more prevalent as teams pay more attention to the minimum cash spending requirements of the 2011 CBA, also made it more likely that the Browns would match the offer.  By using structure with much of the total compensation over the first two or three years shifted to a signing bonus payable in full within a day or two after the contract becomes official, a team with offseason cash-flow issues and/or concerns about satisfying the minimum spending requirements in future years could be less likely to match.

The best approach, despite the potential for hard feelings among teams and not-so-subtle disapproval from the league at large, would have been to park a huge roster bonus in Year Two, and for Mack to make it clear to the Browns that he would not restructure the deal to give the team cap relief come 2015.  Implicit in the situation would have been a willingness by Mack to convert the roster bonus to a cap-friendly signing bonus next year.

Ultimately, the Jaguars chose a path less likely to ruffle feathers, hopeful that Mack truly wanted out of Cleveland and that the Browns would factor that desire into their assessment of the situation.  If/when a similar situation arises in the future, the team that tries to lure the player away should be less willing to bank on non-financial considerations and more inclined to craft an offer that the player’s current team can’t not refuse.

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Mark Murphy: Packers “hopeful” to have Brett Favre back at Lambeau soon

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Brett Favre hasn’t been back to Lambeau in anything other than a Vikings uniform since he left the Packers for the Jets before the 2008 season, but president Mark Murphy said that isn’t because the team isn’t interested in honoring their former quarterback.

Murphy said he wanted to have Favre “back in the family” last year and Favre also opened the door to a reconciliation, although the question of when he’ll walk through it remains unanswered.

While speaking at the team’s Tailgate Tour on Tuesday, Murphy said that the Packers wanted to have Favre back for a game during the 2013 season but that his gig as offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School got in the way when the team advanced to the state title in Mississippi. That made a return to Lambeau impossible, but Favre is reportedly stepping down for that job and Murphy hopes that means the long-awaited reunion can finally take place.

“We do have ongoing communications with him, and I think relations are good,” Murphy said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’re hopeful to have him come back soon. We wanted to have him come back to a game last year, (but) his team kept winning and winning, so it kind of made it tough to find a time where it worked.”

Favre is likely to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, his first year of eligibility and Murphy’s words make it seem likely that his return to Green Bay will come before he gets enshrined in Canton.

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Cowboys think Anthony Barr can play defensive end

Anthony Barr AP

UCLA’s Anthony Barr’s only been playing defense for two years, but at least one team thinks he’s ready to make another switch.

After transitioning from running back to outside linebacker the last two seasons for the Bruins, Barr said during a visit with the Cowboys that defensive end Rod Marinelli think he’s a 4-3 defensive end.

“I spoke with him at length today,” Barr said of Marinelli, via the team’s official website. “He showed me a lot of tape of (Julius) Peppers and Simeon Rice and (Warren) Sapp, so I think he wants me playing that defensive right end position to go after the quarterback, and that’s something I’m all for.”

Never having played in a 4-3 doesn’t seem to bother them, as Barr has flashed plenty of pass-rush potential, with 23.5 sacks in two seasons.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Barr might be a little leaner than some ends, but the recent comparison to DeMarcus Ware might not be off the mark.
The problem for the Cowboys will be being able to get to him, as he’s a possible top 10 pick, when they’re at 16 unless they make a move.
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Agent says Clowney may do one private workout

Clowney AP

Yes, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has opted not to assume any additional injury risk in advance of next month’s draft.  With one small caveat.

“He may do one more thing, for one team, maybe a five-minute workout,” agent Bus Cook told USA Today.  “It doesn’t make sense to do more than that, given the fact of what happened to the Clemson kid.  If they weren’t at the Pro Day or Combine, where are they?”

So what will Clowney do in those five minutes?

“Just say there will be no heavy lifting,” Cook told Jarrett Bell of USA Today.  “Nothing that will risk injury.”

If Clowney was concerned about injury, he shouldn’t have played at all in 2013.  Clowney quite possibly was perceived to be taking it easy last year because he was actually playing it safe.  Not wired to skip a season, Clowney nevertheless wanted to emerge from his final year of uncompensated football healthy enough to be one of the first players drafted in 2014.

Of course, Cook disputes the idea that Clowney experienced a dip in production last year.

“At the Senior Bowl, two NFL scouts who have been around for a long time came to me and said, ‘Bus, this business about this kid not going all-out is not the case,’” Cook said.  “One of them said, ‘Please, tell me what games are they referring to?’”

The notion that 2013 Clowney wasn’t the same guy as 2012 Clowney seems to be a given.  Fueling that perception/reality were the passive-aggressive comments from coach Steve Spurrier about Clowney’s work ethic.

Still, Clowney has shown what he can do.  And the Texans or the Rams or the Jaguars or the Browns (if he makes it past the first three) will be smart enough to realize that Clowney was in a no-win situation last year, forced to stay in school and understandably concerned about what could happen to his draft stock if suffered the same fate as former South Carolina teammate Marcus Lattimore.

At a time when none of the other players in the draft pool look to be sure-fire success stories at the next level, Clowney could be the best option at the top.  Which may be why some anonymous scouts are hoping to raise just enough concern about Clowney to prompt him to slide into the draft slots occupied by their teams.

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