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Aaron Hernandez in, Wes Welker out for second straight practice

Aaron Hernandez AP

For many teams, the reports about player participation in practice serve as a pretty good guideline about their chances of playing on Sunday.

The Patriots are not one of those teams. Tight end Aaron Hernandez has been a perfect example of that this season. He’s played in games after missing two practices over the course of the week and then missed last week’s game against Buffalo even though he was a participant in practice every day. So we’ll simply note that Hernandez practiced for the second straight day on Thursday, Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe reports that he looked good during the portion of the practice open to the media, and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

You could probably do the same with wide receiver Wes Welker, who missed practice for the second straight day with an ankle injury. It could be because the injury is serious enough to require rest or it could be an abundance of caution to ensure he’ll be ready to go against the Colts. The Patriots won’t give any suggestions either way, so we’ll just have to keep waiting to see what develops.

Guards Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins, both of whom left the Bills win with injuries, were also absent from practice for a second day. Phil Perry of CSNNE.com reports that linebacker Tracy White started practice with the team, but left with a trainer a short time later.

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Reports: With free agency nearing, Byron Maxwell changes agents

Byron Maxwell AP

The player widely regarded as the top cornerback in free agency has reportedly changed agents just before he can begin to start officially talking contract with other clubs.

Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell has parted ways with agent Jason Chayut, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported Maxwell was changing agents.

Per NFLPA regulations, Maxwell cannot hire an agent until this weekend, ESPN reported.

Teams can begin to negotiate with free agents on Friday, making the timing of the change less-than-optimal for Maxwell, who is PFT’s 16th-ranked free agent.

With Seattle having considerable resources tied up in its secondary, Maxwell is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, and it would not be a surprise if he were among the first wave of signees. The question now is whether the representation change will affect Maxwell’s ability to start laying the early groundwork for a deal.

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Andre Johnson’s agent says he never asked for a trade

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The sad reality for many Texans fans is that the best player in franchise history is leaving, and as is so often the case, not necessarily on good terms.

Which means now’s the time for the writing of the history, and Andre Johnson’s agent made it clear none of this was really Johnson’s idea.

Agent Kennard McGuire told Sports Radio 610 in Houston that the idea of a trade was broached by the Texans, only after the team told the veteran wide receiver they wanted him to take a reduced role (which normally comes with a reduced rate of compensation).

Andre did not, in the last couple of days, go in and ask for a trade,” McGuire said. “Certain things were expressed to [Andre] in which he didn’t agree with. And at that point in time permission was thusly granted to seek an opportunity elsewhere. That was not something that we asked for. That was something that was presented to us.

“The contractual matters never did come up. The only thing that was discussed was the role and that was in fact that there would be a reduced role.”

While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone would trade anything for Johnson and jump on the hook for his $10.5 million in salary this year, there will certainly be a market for him once he’s cut.

And it’s a terrible look for the Texans, who effectively asked Johnson to take a pay cut, even if those words never came out of their mouths.

While he might not be the same dominant receiver he once was, the idea that he can’t play a significant role doesn’t square with what he’s shown in recent years, especially considering the less-than-ideal quarterback situations he’s been in.

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Still no word on Peyton and the Broncos, but that should change soon

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Three weeks ago, Peyton Manning was reportedly planning to announce within the next week that he would return to the Broncos. Except the next week came and went, and another week came and went, and there was silence from Manning.

So does that mean Manning still might decide to retire?

Actually, probably not. As Mike Klis of the Denver Post said on PFT Live (and as other reporters have noted as well), from all indications Manning and the Broncos have both decided that he will be Denver’s quarterback this year. There are still issues to address — including Manning passing a physical and perhaps restructuring his contract — but everyone seems to agree that Manning will be back, and that an announcement is coming soon.

The biggest question seems to be whether Manning is willing to take a pay cut. If the Broncos are able to convince Manning that taking less than the $19 million he’s owed will make the team better suited to re-sign soon-to-be free agents Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, that might be an idea Manning is amenable to. Manning would probably give up millions if he believed it would make him more likely to win his second Super Bowl, and giving up millions to keep both Thomases might be a sound investment for Manning in the long run.

So there are still issues to work out before Manning’s return for 2015 becomes official. But those issues should be resolved soon.

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Panthers bring back veteran defensive tackle Colin Cole

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The Panthers are hanging onto one of their stable of talented defensive linemen.

No, not that one.

According to John Clayton of ESPN, the Panthers have agreed to a one-year deal with veteran defensive tackle Colin Cole.

The $1.05 million deal falls under the veteran benefit category, which means they get a salary cap break and he gets a chance to hang around another year.

Cole’s a solid contributor to a deep line, and worth keeping around at bargain rates. Fellow backup Dwan Edwards is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and they formed a good complement to young starters Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Of course, the Panthers are going to need to restock outside, as they’re going to let defensive end Greg Hardy slide, and they need someone to go with the steady Charles Johnson. General manager Dave Gettleman was talking up 2014 second-rounder Kony Ealy at the Scouting Combine, but the Panthers are always looking for line help.

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Eagles release CB Cary Williams

Cary Williams AP

The Eagles have said goodbye to one of their defensive starters, announcing the release of cornerback Cary Williams on Tuesday.

Williams started all 16 games for Philadelphia in the each of the last two years, recording 126 tackles, defending 21 passes and picking off five passes. He played over 1,100 snaps in both seasons, per Pro Football Focus data.

However, while dependable on the field from an availability standpoint, the 30-year-old Williams was set to make $6.5 million in 2015, according to NFLPA salary records. He was also involved in a number of controversies in his two seasons in Philadelphia, such as when he criticized the team’s practice regimen early in 2014 campaign.

The departure of Williams means the Eagles will have at least one new secondary starter in 2015. Moreover, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen are also set to test free agency. In all, it’s quite possible the Eagles will remake their defensive backfield in the offseason, with safety Malcolm Jenkins the lone holdover from 2014.

Williams, for his part, figures to draw some interest in free agency, given his production and experience. Clubs in need of cornerback depth include the Ravens, with whom Williams was a two-season starter (2011, 2012) before joining Philadelphia.

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Report: Falcons sign LB Nate Stupar to one-year deal

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The Falcons have signed one of their core special teams players to a new contact.

Atlanta has inked linebacker Nate Stupar to a contract extension, the club said Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Stupar played in 15 games for Atlanta a season ago, notching nine special teams tackles, per the club.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports the contract is for one year and $585,000.

Stupar entered the NFL as a seventh-round selection of Oakland in 2012. He has also appeared in regular season games with Jacksonville and San Francisco, with both stints occurring in 2013.

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PFT Live: Josh McCown, Broncos/Cowboys offseason to-do lists

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Things didn’t work out for Josh McCown in Tampa in 2014, but he didn’t have to wait long after being released to find a new home.

The Browns snapped up the veteran quarterback as an option along with Johnny Manziel for the 2015 season and we’ll talk to McCown about what led him to Cleveland when he joins Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live. Al Michaels and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith are also set to join the program.

Florio will also keep the offseason to-do lists rolling with a look at what’s ahead for the Broncos and Cowboys in the next few months. Peyton Manning, DeMarco Murray and much more will be up for discussion for a pair of teams trying to get back to the playoffs in 2015.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Report: Ray Rice got another $1.588 million from the Ravens

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In the two years preceding the elevator incident from more than 12 months ago, the Ravens paid running back Ray Rice $25 million.  They also paid him another $1.588 million after cutting him and resolving the grievance he filed challenging his release.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, who recently interviewed Rice as he tries to get the attention of a new NFL team, the Ravens paid what amounts to 44.9 percent of the $3.529 million Rice sought from the team.  The argument was the Rice had already been disciplined by the NFL, and that any additional discipline from the Ravens violated the terms of the labor deal.

The Ravens will now absorb a cap charge of $1.588 million; they’d been holding $1.44 million under Rice’s name.

While some may not be thrilled with the idea that Rice got extra money after being released for an off-field incident of misconduct, the Ravens didn’t cut Rice until after the video of the incident was released publicly.  Some in the organization knew exactly what happened in the elevator, and the team clearly could have (and should have) seen the video before deciding to recommit to Rice.

Rice said he’s working out regularly and hoping for a second chance.  As PFT reported over the weekend, Rice won’t be attending this month’s veteran combine, which could be Rice’s best chance to get another team’s attention.

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Business trip: Jameis Winston meeting with Bucs owners

Jameis Winston AP

We’re roughly two months from the 2015 NFL Draft, but a big piece of the puzzle could fall into place this week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is in Tampa Bay today as part of a meeting with Buccaneers officials.

He’ll spend plenty of time with ownership while there, in an effort to convince them he’s worth the risk.

Winston has already invited all the investigation any team wants to do, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith signed off on the character questions at the Scouting Combine.

Now Winston has to convince the guys who sign the checks, and this week is his chance.

UPDATE 10:49 a.m. ET: Bucs officials tell PFT it’s a one-day visit, rather than a longer one as Schefter previously reported.

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NFL admits responsibility for Super Bowl seating fiasco

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The first day of the Super Bowl XLV seating fiasco included a development that should surprise no one.  The NFL has admitted responsibility for the gap between paid tickets and actual seats.

“The NFL let them down.  The NFL takes full responsibility, and the NFL agrees they should be compensated,” defense lawyer Thad Behrens said during opening statements on Monday, per the Dallas Morning News.

The question becomes how that responsibility translates to compensation.  Behrens told the jury that some of the plaintiffs want more than the law entitles them to receive.  He pointed out that one plaintiff spent $35,000 on a charter flight, hotel, hospitality, and tickets.  The plaintiff was forced to move to a different seat, and the plaintiff wants the full $35,000.

Behrens also explained that the NFL has tried to reimburse fans for actual losses, including tickets, airfare, hotel, meals, transportation, and related costs.  While some of the plaintiffs may be overreaching for their out-of-pocket expenses, the plaintiffs undoubtedly are seeking compensation for the annoyance and inconvenience arising from the indignity of traveling to Dallas, showing up at the game, standing in a long line for multiple hours, and ultimately not being given the thing that they believed they were getting when buying the ticket.  Unless the two sides can agree to put a price on that specific aspect of the damages to be paid, the jury will have to decide how much the NFL should pay.

It could be a little.  It could be a lot.  It could be nothing. It could be a number so big that the judge or an appeals court reduces the award.  Regardless, that’s the real battleground in this specific brouhaha.

And that’s why the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Michael Avenatti, is focusing the jury’s attention on the NFL’s alleged “obsession” with setting a Super Bowl attendance record — and on evidence that the NFL realized a “debacle” was looming due to “gross incompetence.”  Those facts and arguments may influence the jury to take money from the NFL and give it to the plaintiffs in this modern-day process of Robin Hood (not Dennis Moore) style wealth redistribution.

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C.J. Spiller: EJ Manuel was too “buddy buddy” with other players

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Running back C.J. Spiller is headed for free agency and doesn’t know if he’ll be playing with quarterback EJ Manuel again in 2015, but he does think the Bills quarterback learned a valuable lesson after being benched for Kyle Orton last season.

When Orton took over the offense, some Bills players remarked about the difference that came with having a veteran like Orton in the lineup. They talked about the way he told players what he needed them to do, something that Spiller says Manuel didn’t do when he was the starter in his first two seasons.

“He learned that you can’t be buddy buddy with everybody,” Spiller said during an appearance on NFL Network. “You’re the face of the franchise, you’re the quarterback so you have to demand everything…I think early on he didn’t really didn’t understand how to step on guys’ toes. Once Kyle took over, he saw what Kyle did and it helped him.”

Spiller said Manuel is a “tremendous worker” and that he thinks he can be a successful quarterback in the NFL if he works things out on the leadership side of the board. Spiller said that the ball is in Buffalo’s court as to whether he’ll be sharing a backfield with Manuel when and if that happens, but the chances of Manuel getting another shot will keep looking better the longer the Bills are without a viable alternative.

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Ray Ventrone joins Patriots coaching staff

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The Patriots were the only team in the league without a former NFL player on their coaching staff in 2014, something that didn’t stand in their way of winning the Super Bowl.

They may have just been waiting for the right player to end his playing career. The Patriots have announced the addition of Ray Ventrone to their coaching staff as an assistant special teams coach a little more than two weeks after he was playing for the 49ers.

The move allows Ventrone to start his post-playing career in the same place he started his playing career. Ventrone was signed by the Patriots in 2005 as an undrafted safety out of Villanova and made his first regular season appearance for the team in 2007.

Ventrone bounced on and off the 49ers roster multiple times last season before ending the year on injured reserve with a groin injury. Ventrone saw a lot more time on special teams than in the secondary when he was in the lineup, which was the case for the majority of his playing career. All told, Ventrone played 97 games over nine seasons with New England, Cleveland and San Francisco and recorded 57 tackles.

 

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Gus Malzahn: Nick Marshall can play QB in the NFL

Nick Marshall AP

Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is being encouraged by NFL teams to learn to play defensive back if he wants to make it in the pros. But Marshall’s coach doesn’t think that’s necessary.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on NFL Network that Marshall could play quarterback in the NFL, if a team puts him in an offense that fits his talents.

“I know he can be a quarterback at the next level,” Malzahn said. “It needs to be in the right system. You’re talking about a guy that’s probably one of the best zone-read quarterbacks in the history of college football. He’s got a unique skill set. He broke the school record against the most talented defense we faced last year [passing for 456 yards against Alabama]. So he’s got the ability, he’s got the knack to win games, when the game’s on the line, that very few quarterbacks have. So I believe he can play quarterback in the right system.”

The key words in that quote are “in the right system.” No one is saying Marshall can transform himself into the classic NFL pocket passer. That’s just not where his talents lie. But the NFL is increasingly finding room for quarterbacks who aren’t classic NFL pocket passers. A coach like Chip Kelly might decide to take a shot on Marshall in the later rounds of the draft and see what he can do in an innovative system.

Of course, Marshall does have some limitations as a passer, which is why there’s even a question about the position he’ll play in the NFL. But another reason there’s a question about it is that Marshall is a good enough athlete that he could play elsewhere. Malzahn sees that as a legitimate option.

“He’s a great athlete. He can play defensive back, he can play receiver, he’s got a great attitude, he’s a team player, and he just wants to help someone win,” Malzahn said.

More likely than not, Marshall will help someone win in the NFL by playing defense and special teams. But if a team is willing to put Marshall in the right system, and be patient while Marshall develops, there’s a chance that he may be an NFL quarterback.

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Bernard Pollard: I want another ring

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Safety Bernard Pollard got what he wanted on Monday when the Titans told him that they’d release him after Pollard requested his walking papers in the wake of a torn Achilles during a 2-14 season.

Pollard told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean that he feels like he was no longer a fit with the Titans because the team wanted to go young and that “a lot of mistakes have been made and they need to be fixed to put a defense together.” Pollard said he’d like to go somewhere that puts him in position to win as he sees his career having two or three years left.

“They are going to try and get some pieces, and they know they have work to do. But it was time for me to exit and go elsewhere,” Pollard said. “This was a business move for me. I don’t see fans argue when teams cut players under contract. This is a business. I am my own agent, and I have to do what is right for me and my family. I want more hardware, I want another ring.”

Pollard says he’s running after his Achilles injury and feels he could pass a physical, although he knows that some people will have their doubts about his ability to make a positive impact. Pollard promises to “bring heart and passion” and “a physical nature” to his next team, although it’s unclear who might be looking for such an addition to their secondary.

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Cardinals offered Darnell Dockett deal worth up to $4 million

Dockett AP

With former Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett visiting the 49ers, the floor has been set in his negotiations.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals had previously offered Dockett a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, with a chance to earn up to $4 million with playing time and performance incentives.

Since he was scheduled to make $6.8 million with the Cardinals, the difference shows why they didn’t agree and he was allowed to see what was out there.

Dockett’s apparently drawn significant interest from other teams, but there’s no word about any other visits at this point.

He could still return to the Cardinals if he doesn’t find a better offer, but he at least had the benefit of a head start on the free agent market to find one.

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