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Jets pluck lineman from Colts practice squad

Hayworth Hicks, Zane Taylor AP

A year ago at this time, any member of the Colts organization would have welcomed a one-way ticket out of town.  This year, there’s a far different vibe; the Colts arguably are the best story of the first half of the season.

But when opportunity knocks for a guy on the practice squad to join an NFL roster, it’s hard not to answer the call — even if a player is going from a great situation in Indy to the dysfunctional Jets.

The Jets have announced that guard Hayworth Hicks has been signed to the active roster, from the Colts’ practice squad.

Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Colts, he was cut after the preseason and signed to the Indy practice squad, where he spent the first nine weeks of the 2012 season.

Apart from the pay raise and the opportunity that goes along with it, Hicks may have liked his team’s recent trip to New York.  And maybe Hicks thinks the Jets are better; after all, one of the Jets’ three wins featured a 35-9 thumping of the Colts.

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Report: Jags have heard non-Dolphins interest in Julius Thomas trade

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13:   Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars catches a pass against the Houston Texans during the game at EverBank Field on November 13, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

The most recent report regarding a potential trade between the Dolphins and Jaguars has tackle Branden Albert going to Jacksonville in exchange for a draft pick.

That’s an update from word over the weekend that the Jags were going to send tight end Julius Thomas to Miami in return, but Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported that won’t be the case in an Albert deal. Salguero did add that Thomas is a player the Dolphins “would be interested in.”

They apparently have company on that front. Mike Kaye of First Coast News reports that the Jaguars have heard interest from a team or teams other than the Dolphins when it comes for dealing for the tight end.

It’s possible that the Jags are putting that word out in hopes of getting the Dolphins to reconsider a deal involving Thomas or otherwise gin up interest in Thomas so that they can get something in return rather than just cutting him. There’s a good chance that would take Thomas revisiting his contract, which calls for him to make $7 million in 2017. Thomas might prefer getting cut and choosing his own landing spot, however.

Thomas signed with the Jaguars before the 2015 season and has caught 76 passes for 736 yards and nine touchdowns while missing 11 games over his two years in Jacksonville.

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Former Giants wideout Victor Cruz visits the Panthers

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) catches a pass before an NFL preseason football game against the New York Jets on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

Sometimes the dots connect themselves.

Former Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is looking for a job, and the Panthers are looking for a productive slot receiver to go along with their occasionally productive big ones on the outside.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Cruz visited the Panthers this weekend and met with General Manager Dave Gettleman (who used to work for the Giants).

Cruz left town without a contract and is believed to have at least one other visit scheduled.

The veteran wideout was released by the Giants since they didn’t want to pay him $7.5 million after he came back with a moderately productive year after knee and calf problems the previous two years. He said he thought he had “a lot of good football” left in him. The Panthers could certainly use someone like him, even if it doesn’t turn out to be him.

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Jaguars cutting defensive lineman Jared Odrick

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 11: Yannick Ngakoue #91 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates his sack of Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets with Jared Odrick #75 during the first quarter of an NFL preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

This is the time of year when certain veterans get a head-start on the free agent market, but it takes becoming unemployed.

According to a tweet by his agent, veteran defensive lineman Jared Odrick has been released by the Jaguars.

The 29-year-old was two years into what was billed as a five-year, $42.5 million deal. He was due a $2 million roster bonus on March 13 and a $6.5 million base salary this year, of which $3.5 million would have been guaranteed.

He led the Jaguars in sacks in 2015 (which is relative), but played in just six games last year after an elbow injury.

He’s been a productive interior player in the past, and should find some interest before the rest of the veterans have a shot at the market.

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TV executive talked to Roger Goodell about speeding up NFL games

Tony Corrente AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t short on advice from TV executives about how to improve ratings.

In addition to a suggestion from FOX that the league has too many broadcast windows, CBS chairman Les Moonves said he talked to Goodell about speeding up games, potentially by reducing the number of commercial breaks.

“If there are ways of doing advertising in different ways that are equally beneficial, we’re looking at that, and we’re trying to make the game as good an experience as we could make it,” Moonves said, via Fortune.

The idea of “doing advertising in different ways” will not mean fewer commercials, but it may mean fitting the commercials into the game differently so that there are fewer delays, or shorter delays. Moonves also discussed with Goodell ways that the referees could see the replays more quickly so that replay reviews would be shorter.

Although the NFL remains the most popular programming on American television, last year’s ratings decline early in the season caused some consternation. The TV networks and the NFL don’t want to see another decline in 2017.

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Broncos decline comment on claim Emmanuel Sanders lied about missed practice

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 06:  Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field before their game against the Oakland Raiders on November 6, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

An ugly divorce for Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders is causing an awkward moment with his employer.

Via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, the Broncos have no comment on the contention that Sanders lied about missing a November 6 practice for the birth of his child. Sanders allegedly used the excuse “so he could go out partying.”

The allegation comes from court documents obtained by TMZ arising from the divorce of Emmanuel and Gabriella Sanders. She claims widespread adultery, including the expenditure of “thousands upon thousands of dollars on girlfriend and wasting the community estate.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Broncos take any action against Sanders, if he indeed lied in order to miss practice. With $6.75 million fully-guaranteed for 2017 and another $6.9 million in 2018 salary due to become fully guaranteed on March 14, a team-imposed suspension could void the guarantee and set the stage for a parting of the ways, either this year or next year.

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Andrew Whitworth talking to Bengals about return

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Teammates Andy Dalton #14 and Andrew Whitworth #77 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate after a 23-22 victory over the New York Jets during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bengals drafted two tackles in the first two rounds of the 2015 draft, which likely left many people with the feeling that Andrew Whitworth’s time as the team’s left tackle was close to its expiration date.

While there were flirtations with a move to guard, Whitworth stayed at left tackle through the 2016 season while Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher saw time on the right side of the line. This offseason offers a potential parting of the ways with Whitworth set for free agency next month, but the door hasn’t been closed.

Appearing on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Alex Marvez and Solomon Wilcots, Whitworth said that he’s talking to the Bengals and that he hopes it works out for him to stay in Cincinnati. He also said that the discussions have been about him remaining as the team’s left tackle.

Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler is also set to become a free agent, so there may be multiple changes up front on offense as the team tries to get back to the playoffs after their five-year streak of postseason appearances came to an end in 2016.

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Revis tape oozes reasonable doubt

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The bizarre video that contains images of two men knocked out cold and the sound of another man claiming that he did it and threatening to do it again apparently is the closest thing to a smoking gun in the case against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. It also proves that, as to the most serious charges pending against him, Revis likely will walk.

The defense lawyer contends that the voice on the tape doesn’t belong to Darrelle Revis. Teammate Brandon Marshall agrees. (So do I.)

As a practical matter, the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Revis is the person claiming credit for the knockout punches. Before it ever gets to that point, the prosecutor will have to believe that such an outcome is likely to justify the time and expense of taking the case to trial.

It’s not. Revis will hire a voice-recognition expert to explain to the jury that it’s not Revis. At best, the expert hired by Revis and the expert retained by the prosecution will cancel each other out, creating more than enough doubt to support an acquittal.

While that could take care of the assault charges, Revis would still faces charges of conspiracy, robbery, and the making of terroristic threats. If Revis is willing and able to identify the person who threw the punches in exchange for all charges being dropped, he could potentially walk away.

Of course, Revis may not be willing to say anything at all. If he’s not, it will become harder for the prosecutor to find a way to save face without Revis pleading guilty to one of the charges or entering a diversion program or otherwise doing something to accept partial responsibility for a portion of the incident.

Accepting any responsibility could make Revis more susceptible to punishment by the league, however. And with the NFL generally unwilling to negotiate discipline as part of the effort to negotiate a plea arrangement, Revis eventually could be required to roll the dice.

However it plays out for Revis, the video helps his case. Whether it delivers an outright victory remains to be seen.

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Report: Branden Albert to Jags for a draft pick, not Julius Thomas

Branden Albert AP

The Dolphins and Jaguars are talking about a trade which would send left tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville, but it appears he is the only player involved in the deal.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the teams have agreed to a deal that would send Albert north for a late-round pick in 2018.

The deal isn’t necessarily complete, and Albert continues to talk to the Jaguars about a way to sweeten his deal to get him to avoid the freedom of the open market.

While the Dolphins might have some degree of interest in Thomas, they might not at his current contract terms, and the Albert-for-pick swap might be a way around that.

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Bruce Arians: Ben Roethlisberger should be “ready to roll”

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 18:  Head Coach Bruce Arians of the of the Arizona Cardinals and Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talk before the game at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had go through a few anxious moments this offseason, wondering if his beat-up veteran quarterback was going to come back.

So coupled with his experience in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, he expects the Steelers quarterback to be back on the field this season after previous musing about retirement.

“I think given time, he’ll be ready to roll,” Arians said, via ESPN. “He’s in a time where he’s making decisions, too. He’s got the three kids and I think, like [Cardinals quarterback] Carson [Palmer], he got beat up.”

Roethlisberger didn’t take the abuse Palmer did last season, but he has accumulated a lot of hits over a career that has seen him be willing to leave the pocket and take more. Five of those seasons were with Arians as his offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, giving the Cardinals coach a bit of insight.

Of course, plenty of players wonder aloud about their futures in the immediate aftermath of the season, but after the soreness subsides (making them better able to reach for their future fatter wallets) many guys end up forgetting about that talk.

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On T.O. Hall of Fame opposition, the goalposts are moving

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 2:   Goal post is bent over after a player hangs onto the post before a game between the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers at the Soldier Field on October 2, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bears beat the Panthers 34 to 29.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) Getty Images

The biggest problem with the recent “T.O. dropped too many passes” excuse for keeping him out of Canton isn’t that it’s a stupid argument (it is), it’s that it feels like a Plan B effort from Hall of Fame voters to justify the snub.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com, who supports T.O.’s case for Canton, fleshed out the drops-based case for exclusion in his weekly column. And while King reiterates his position that Owens should make it, King argues that drops are relevant to the overall case.

If so, why did it take two weeks for drops to become part of the public discussion? It seems like the voters (regardless of whether they oppose Owens) have decided to supplement the extra-statistical scuttlebutt with something rooted in objective fact, now that the threshold justification for keeping Owens out of the Hall of Fame has largely failed to resonate with fans or with media members who don’t have a Hall of Fame vote.

In a close case, drops would be highly relevant. Locker-room misbehavior would be relevant, too. In situations where the performance clearly justifies enshrinement, these paper-thin barriers become even more flimsy when they emerge as a reaction to the intense criticism arising from the omission.

When Hall of Fame quarterback and Hall of Fame voter Dan Fouts went public with his opposition to Owens, Fouts said nothing about drops. Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, the first voter to reduce his opposition to writing, said not one word about drops.

Drops first fell into the discussion after the rejection of the “horrible teammate” and “teams couldn’t wait to get rid of him” narratives began to crumble. The drops-based argument should quickly crumble, too.

Again, in a close case, drops on the field and conduct from the sideline to the parking lot is relevant. In a slam-dunk situation, it’s not.

Consider Brett Favre. He’s the all-time leader in interceptions. He had a reputation for doing his own thing, ignoring the instructions of coaches and winging it. At least one of his former coaches — Jerry Glanville — surely would have some bad things to say about him. (Brad Childress and Eric Mangini might, too.) Favre was hardly a model teammate, as Jeff Pearlman’s Gunslinger demonstrates regarding Favre’s alleged treatment of Aaron Rodgers. Favre tormented the Packers with his annual will-I-or-won’t-I retirement musings, setting the stage for the arrival of Rodgers.  Favre eventually retired and then unretired, creating a mess for the Packers before being traded to the Jets, where a workplace sexual harassment situation resulted in Favre being fined for lying to the league office.

Did any of that keep Favre out of Canton? Nope. Favre got in on the first ballot, without even a discussion or debate. (It literally took 30 seconds to put Favre’s case to rest.)

For Owens, the debate continues. The fact that the goalposts keep moving demonstrates how weak the case against him is.

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Steve Smith rejecting requests to help other players train

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 1:  Steve Smith Sr. #89 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by Adam Jones #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steve Smith announced his retirement from the NFL after the 2016 season and took a job with NFL Network to remain involved in the game moving forward.

He’s had other offers to keep his toe in the football world as well. Smith told James Lofton and Brad Hopkins of Sirius XM NFL Radio that he’s heard from wide receivers and defensive backs interested in watching film and doing on-field work with him in hopes of improving their games. He’s also heard from agents of draft prospects interested in polishing their clients’ games, but Smith is resisting all inquiries.

“And I had to take a step back and I said, ‘You know what?’ If I do all these things, now I’m getting my mind and body to say I can still play,'” Smith said. “So I had to text some guys and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to watch film with you and work out and train with you because that means I’m telling myself and my family I’m about to go play again. And I don’t want to go through that process. I’m done playing.’ So if I’m training anybody, their last name is Smith, meaning my kids. I’m just going to love on them, and that training is less intense. The goal is so lesser. It’s, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we’re drinking water, fluid, and all that stuff.’ Out there, when you’re training for ball, it’s a different animal. So I said, ‘No.'”

There will always be players who could benefit from the tutelage of an undersized player who carved out a 16-year career that ended with 1,031 catches. For now, though, they’ll have to look elsewhere because Smith isn’t ready to share his tricks of the trade.

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Darren McFadden thinks Cowboys wouldn’t mind keeping him

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 03:   Darren McFadden #20 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The biggest topic around the Cowboys in the opening weeks of the offseason has been the fate of quarterback Tony Romo, but he wasn’t the only Dallas starter who saw a rookie take over his spot in the lineup last season.

Running back Darren McFadden was brushed aside by Ezekiel Elliott even before he injured his elbow during the offseason and missed the majority of the season while recovering from the injury. McFadden returned for the final weeks of the season and told Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan of Sirius XM NFL Radio that he feels he has a lot to give a team in 2017.

“I still feel fresh,” McFadden said. “Like you said I didn’t get a lot of wear and tear on my body from the season. I only played in the last three regular season games and the playoff game. I feel like I have a lot that I can offer any team. As far as being out there and a guy that can carry the load, I don’t feel like I’ve lost a step at all. I feel like that any team that want to take a shot at me I don’t think it’d be a bad deal for them.”

McFadden isn’t ruling out the Cowboys from teams that might want to take a shot at him. He said he feels the team “wouldn’t mind keeping me,” although the draft will offer less expensive options for a team that has some work to do on defense if they want to sustain their winning ways of 2016.

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Athletes skipping White House trip is nothing new

gettyimages-736362 Getty Images

As Patriots owner Robert Kraft pointed out last week, every New England NFL championship team has had players who skipped the traditional White House trip. As explained by Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, the phenomenon of players boycotting the ritual is hardly new.

For example, former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird once skipped a trip to the White House when Ronald Reagan was in office, saying that “[i]f the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me.” Likewise, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas opted not to visit the White House under Barack Obama, pointing out that government “has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.”

Four years ago, former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk opted not to visit the White House over Obama’s support of Planned Parenthood.

Despite the history, there’s a sense that the immediate future will feature more athletes skipping the Rose Garden photo op. With multiple players making a political statement in a league that has been largely avoiding politics, what will happen after the NBA, whose players and coaches have been far more vocal about political issues, crowns a champion?

Ultimately, each player has the right to attend or not attend. And people who oppose the decision to attend or not attend have the right to weigh in on the decision — as Patriots defensive lineman Chris Long recently learned.

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NFL spread itself thin with more broadcast windows than ever

NFL Union TV Complaint Football AP

A record 203 million Americans watched NFL games last season, yet average ratings were down. If those two data points seem contradictory, that’s because most people don’t fully understand how TV ratings are calculated.

That total of 203 million people represents everyone who ever watched an NFL game at all, while the average ratings are about the average number of people watching a game at any given moment. That the former increased while the latter decreased suggests not that the NFL has a shrinking fan base but that the NFL has a problem with more and more fans deciding that they don’t need to watch every game as consistently as they used to.

This data comes from FOX Sports’ Mike Mulvihill, who writes at Sports Business Journal that the NFL’s biggest problem in 2016 was that more viewers were turning away from football to watch election news: The league’s ratings were down 13 percent from 2015 before Election Day but were virtually identical to 2015 after Election Day. But the second-biggest problem, and the one the NFL has some control over, is that the league has too many broadcast windows.

For the 2016 season, that meant a total of 110 NFL television windows when you add up the three every Sunday, plus Monday nights and Thursday nights, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sunday morning games from London and so on. That’s more than the league has ever had before, and the ratings data suggest that some fans felt that football was spread so thin that they simply couldn’t keep up with it all, and they were more choosy about which games to watch.

The NFL may realize that’s a problem, and there are already indications that the league is looking at scaling back, first by moving the London games back to Sunday afternoon, and perhaps by scaling back on some other broadcast windows as well.

If the NFL scales back the schedule slightly to get back to its bread and butter of Sunday afternoons and nights, and if nothing in the news in 2017 captures America’s attention the way the election did in 2016, average ratings should improve in the season ahead. If ratings decline again, however, that’s a sign that the NFL has a real problem on its hands.

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Captain Munnerlyn hopes Vikings “value my talent”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn #24 of the Minnesota Vikings in action during the game against the Green Bay Packers on September 18, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings have picked cornerbacks early in the draft in three of the last four years, but a pair of older players ranked second and third in snaps played at the position in 2016.

Both Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn are set to become free agents this offseason, which leaves the Vikings with a decision to make about going with more of their homegrown players or bringing back the guys that filled the top roles last season. Munnerlyn did most of his work in the slot and cited an interview with Patriots coach Bill Belichick about the increased importance of the nickel corner while making his case to return.

“To see coach Belichick say that, I was pumping my fist,” Munnerlyn said, via ESPN.com. “They are finally realizing that it’s a big position. You’re playing nickel 80 percent of the time of the game. If teams game plan you, they might not do that; they might try to keep a linebacker out there, but this is a passing league. Everybody wants to throw the ball. Everybody wants to see the scoreboard light up so hopefully teams see that. [I’m] definitely hoping the Vikings see that because we play it a lot, I hope they value my position and value my talent and bring me back.”

The Vikings are expected to meet with free agent K’Waun Williams this week and he’d likely come cheaper than Munnerlyn at a time when the team also has to think about extending Xavier Rhodes‘ contract. That may mean Munnerlyn finds better value outside of Minnesota once free agency gets underway.

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