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PFT’s Week 11 picks

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

That five-game lead over MDS has grown to seven, with seven weeks left.

If anyone is capable of blowing this lead, I am.

This week, we disagree on three games.  Last week, we were 10-3-1 and 8-5-1, respectively.  (I would have predicted the Rams-49ers would end in a tie, if I’d known games could end in ties.)

For the year, I’m now 93-52-1.  MDS is 86-59-1.

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: NFL Network gets the week started with a pretty lousy game, with the Dolphins reeling and falling out of AFC wild-card contention, and the Bills even further behind in the AFC East. I’m expecting the difference in this one to be Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who will do to the Dolphins’ defense the same thing that Titans running back Chris Johnson did to the Dolphins’ defense last week. Spiller will have a big game and lead the way as the Bills win.

MDS’s pick: Bills 28, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins have cooled off.  The Bills were never hot.  It’ll be cold on Thursday night in Buffalo.  More importantly, it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins recovering  from Sunday’s debacle against the Titans in only four days.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 28, Dolphins 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

MDS’s take: The Falcons are no longer undefeated and no longer viewed by many people as the best team in the league, but a home game against the Cardinals should be a nice way for Atlanta to get back in the W column. The Cardinals’ defense might be able to keep this game close, but Arizona’s offense won’t be able to do anything.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 16, Cardinals 9.

Florio’s take:  This is precisely the kind of game the Cardinals could steal.  The Falcons, fresh from their first loss, view Arizona as a show-up-and-win opponent — the puff-pastry appetizer to a two-pack of tough steaks in the form of the Bucs and Saints on a short week.  And the Cardinals have had two weeks to get ready for this one.  If I didn’t have a seven-game lead over MDS entering the week, I’d consider calling for the upset.  Instead, I’ll play a little prevent defense.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 35, Cardinals 21.

Buccaneers at Panthers

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have talented young quarterbacks, but it’s Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman who has taken a big step forward recently, while Carolina’s Cam Newton is looking shaky. The Bucs are entering the NFC playoff conversation with a win in Carolina.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 28, Panthers 14.

Florio’s take:  When the Bucs beat the Panthers 10 weeks ago, it was regarded as a surprise.  When the Bucs beat the Panthers this time, it won’t be.  Tampa has gradually improved, and Greg Schiano could soon be getting some coach of the year buzz.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Panthers 16.

Browns at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This is the first of three straight home games, all against teams with losing records, for the Cowboys. So their schedule is setting up for them to go on a nice little run. After saving their season against the Eagles, the Cowboys won’t blow their season against the Browns.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 23, Browns 16.

Florio’s take:  The Cowboys get ready for their Thanksgiving date with the Redskins by feasting on the team that is the color of sweet potatoes, both fresh and digested.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Browns 17.

Packers at Lions

MDS’s take: When the Lions get their passing game going, they’re as dangerous an offense as there is in the NFL.  The Vikings were doing all they could to stop Calvin Johnson on Sunday, and he still went over 200 receiving yards. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Lions usually don’t get their passing game going until their defense and special teams have already given up an early lead. And the Packers are not the kind of team the Lions want to be playing catchup against.

MDS’s pick: Packers 23, Lions 20.

Florio’s take:  The Packers are ready to make their move to the top of the division.  The Lions already have made their move to the bottom.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Lions 14.

Jaguars at Texans

MDS’s take: Given that Florio is way ahead of me in our season picks contest, I’m tempted to take the Jaguars here because I’m going to need to hit on some big upsets if I’m going to have any chance of catching up. But even though I think the Texans might be due for a letdown after their big win in Chicago, the Jaguars are so bad that the Texans should beat them even if they turn in their worst effort of the season.

MDS’s pick: Texans 20, Jaguars 13.

Florio’s take:  Didn’t this used to be an actual rivalry?  It’s not anymore, thanks to the fact that one team has an 8-1 record, and the other is 1-8.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 41, Jaguars 17.

Bengals at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Cincinnati’s big win over the Giants could be the first step toward a surprise late-season run back to the playoffs, and there’s no way the Bengals will stumble against a terrible Chiefs team.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Chiefs 10.

Florio’s take:  Logic tells us that the winless-at-home Chiefs should fall to a Bengals team that found a way to knock off the defending NFL champions.  But the Chiefs are due to finally get that second pickle.  It won’t do much to make things better in Kansas City, but things won’t get worse — at least not this week.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 23, Bengals 20.

Colts at Patriots

MDS’s take: I’m a believer in the Colts, in the sense that I believe they are going to make the playoffs this season. But that’s largely because the Colts have an easy schedule the rest of the way, with four games remaining against teams that currently have losing records. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, this is one of the toughest games the Colts still have to play, and I just don’t think the Colts’ defense is good enough to keep Tom Brady and company in check. This game may be a first-round playoff preview, but it’s not a close game.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 28, Colts 10.

Florio’s take:  A year after the annual Colts-Patriots game lost its luster with the absence of Peyton Manning, the arrival of Andrew Luck could help restore the sizzle.  With the Colts better than folks realize and the Pats not quite as good as believed, the Colts could steal this one.  They likely won’t, but they could.

Florio’s pick:    Patriots 28, Colts 24.

Jets at Rams

MDS’s take: Neither one of these teams is very good, but the Rams have a lot of young guys who look like they’re hungry and playing as hard as they can in every game, while the Jets have a bunch of veterans who look like they give up when they fall behind and anonymously snipe at each other in the media. Advantage Rams.

MDS’s pick: Rams 21, Jets 17.

Florio’s take:  Last week, Pete Carroll got a little revenge against the team that once fired him as its head coach.  This week, Brian Schottenheimer gets a shot at revenge against the team that fired him without really firing him as its offensive coordinator.  The fact that the Rams currently are good and the Jets aren’t will make it easier.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 20, Jets 10.

Eagles at Redskins

MDS’s take: Stick a fork in the Eagles. They’re already on the first five-game losing streak of Andy Reid’s career, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that losing streak extend all the way to the end of the season.

MDS’s pick: Redskins 28, Eagles 13.

Florio’s take:  The struggling Philly offense finally finds an equally struggling defense.  And the struggling Philly defense finally finds digs deep and finds a way to avoid getting torched.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 24, Redskins 21.

Saints at Raiders

MDS’s take: There’s not much doubt after the Saints beat the Falcons that New Orleans has turned this thing around. It should be easy to keep things going against a Raiders team that looks like it has given up on the season.

MDS’s pick: Saints 38, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  Dennis Allen knows the Saints offense well, given the time he spent there as a defensive backs coach.  Unfortunately, he lacks the personnel to slow it down.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 34, Raider 20.

Chargers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos may be playing the best football in the league right now. Peyton Manning has the offense humming, of course, but Von Miller is a defensive player of the year candidate, and Trindon Holliday is one of the most dynamic special-teams players in the NFL — at least as long as he remembers that you’re supposed to cross the goal line before you start celebrating your touchdown. This is a complete football team, and the Broncos will all but wrap up the AFC West with an easy win over the Chargers.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Chargers 13.

Florio’s take:  This one will look a lot more like the second half of their last meeting, not the first half.  And it could be the final two halves of football for Norv Turner in San Diego.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, Chargers 17.

Ravens at Steelers

MDS’s take: Ben Roethlisberger’s injury came at the worst possible time for the Steelers.  Before Big Ben got hurt, I was expecting the Steelers to beat the Ravens both this week in Pittsburgh and two weeks from now in Baltimore, and to take the lead in the AFC North. But with Byron Leftwich in for Roethlisberger, I like the Ravens.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 17, Steelers 13.

Florio’s take:  The Steelers have played the Ravens close without Ben Roethlisberger.  And that’s when the Ravens actually had a great defense.  If the Steelers can run the ball effectively and if Byron Leftwich can start his elongated throwing motion quickly enough to get the ball out before Terrell Suggs plants him into the ground, the Steelers can hold serve at home.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 17, Ravens 13.

Bears at 49ers

MDS’s take: In a battle of teams that may be playing without their concussed starting quarterbacks, I have more faith in the 49ers’ ability to win by running the ball and playing good defense.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Bears 16.

Florio’s take:  Though the Bears likely won’t have another five-game free fall like they did last season, the losing streak will extend at least to two — regardless of who ends up playing quarterback for either team.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Bears 13.

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Dwayne Bowe plans a career revitalization

Na'il Diggs, Dwayne Bowe AP

Receiver Dwayne Bowe has said he plans to take his new team, the Browns, to the next level.  He also plans to get himself back to an old level.

With 13 total receiving touchdowns in four full seasons since catching 15 in 2010, Bowe plans to turn back the clock to an earlier phase of his career.

I have a chance to revitalize myself,” Bowe told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.  “Just sit back and watch.”

Bowe believes a reunion with former Chiefs executive (now Browns G.M.) Ray Farmer will make it happen, based on film review conducted when Bowe visited the Browns in March.

“Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that,” Bowe said of Farmer.  “I couldn’t showcase that last year.  He was pulling up old plays, saying, ‘We are going to use you just like that.’  Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays.”  (Insert “and if it’s not working Farmer will text different instructions to the sideline” joke here.)

If all goes according to plan, Bowe can came up for some wasted years.  But he doesn’t view them as wasted.

“It’s been up and down, but it’s been fun,” Bowe said.  “I don’t regret nothing.  People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver — I feel I still have a good four more years in me.”

After scoring no touchdowns in 2014, the Browns would settle for one good year.  Or at least one touchdown.

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Popp hopes Michael Sam chooses CFL’s Alouettes

South Dakota State v Missouri Getty Images

The Montreal Alouettes hold defensive end Michael Sam’s rights in the CFL.  Their General Manager believes Sam may indeed choose to give Canadian football a try.

“The CFL is cut out perfectly for his style,” Popp told the Montreal Gazette.  “It would give him the opportunity to do what he does best.

“His agent knows.  They’re ready.  They know this may be what it is.  It’s Michael who has to make the decision — and he might never come.”

Popp is hesitant because it appeared in 2014 that Sam may join the CFL, but he didn’t.

“The indications were he was ready to come last fall, and he’s still not with us,” Popp said.  “So I really don’t know.  Seriously, I’d say our chances are 50-50.”

If Sam wants to play in the NFL, it should be more like 100-0.  Unwanted by the NFL after leaving Penn State in 2005, Cameron Wake went to the CFL, became a star pass rusher, signed with the Dolphins in 2008, and became a star pass rusher.

So if Sam is serious about getting to the NFL, Sam can show up for the Veteran Combine every year and wait for a call that’s never going to come, or he can go to the CFL and try to play his way to the NFL.  Of course, there’s a chance he may fail.  But if he’s determined to get to the NFL, that shouldn’t stop him from trying.

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Marcus Mariota also not attending the NFL Draft

Marcus Mariota Getty Images

Following in the footsteps of Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has also decided to forgo attending the NFL Draft on April 30.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Mariota has elected to remain home in Hawaii instead of attending the draft in person in Chicago.

Per Schefter, Mariota feels it’s important for him, personally and culturally, to go through the experience at home.

Winston has elected to remain at home as well because his grandmother has type-2 diabetes and cannot travel to the event. With Mariota also electing not to make the trip, it could very likely mean the top two selections in the draft will not be in attendance to shake hands and provide a photo opportunity with Roger Goodell.

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Winston lacks no confidence

Jameis Winston AP

Questions remain regarding whether quarterback Jameis Winston will thrive at the next level.  But there should be no questions about his confidence.

Winston displayed that confidence after Tuesday’s Pro Day workout, in response to a question from Paul Burmeister of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.

“On Saturdays, right there on that field, you knew if you won or lost. Right here, it’s a little bit more difficult to tell.  Would you call today a win or a loss for you?” Burmeister said.

“It was difficult to tell if I won?” a perplexed Winston said.

“I thought it looked good,” Burmeister said.

“I know it looked good,” Winston said.  “I know that looked good.  If that was bad, I want to see everybody else Pro Day and I want me and you to sit down and watch what everybody else did and then watch what I did.”

Winston’s Pro Day was far from perfect.  He was grossly inaccurate with at least one swing pass that should have been easily on the numbers, given that he was throwing against air (and, at times, against broom).  But Winston sees it as perfect, or at a minimum as at least as good as anyone else’s.

That confidence can’t hurt him.  Still, it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the inevitable adversity that every NFL player faces, at some point.  What will he say after throwing four interceptions and losing by 20?  How will he react to a three-game losing streak?

As with every other draft pick who ever was drafted, we won’t know how he’ll handle the next level until he gets there.

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Chargers sign guard Michael Huey

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Another of the NFL’s Veteran Combine invitees has found a job in the league.

The Chargers have signed offensive guard Michael Huey, the team said Tuesday. This is his second stint with the club; he spent time with San Diego in the 2011 preseason.

A Texas product, the 26-year-old Huey was with Washington’s practice squad in the second half of last season. His most extensive professional experience has come in the Arena Football League.

Overall, 105 players took part in the NFL Veteran Combine. In addition to Huey, three other Combine invitees have signed on with clubs: tight end Ifeanyi Momah (Arizona), wide receiver Nathan Slaughter (Arizona) and cornerback Deveron Carr (Indianapolis).

In other Chargers roster moves Wednesday, the club waived second-year offensive guard Jeff Baca and first-year nose tackle Chas Alecxih.

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Cardinals sign Chandler Harnish

Chandler Harnish Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have added an extra arm to their roster with Carson Palmer still recovering from an ACL tear.

The Cardinals signed former Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Harnish has not appeared in a regular season game in his three seasons since being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent five games on the Colts active roster in 2012 before being released and re-signed to the practice squad.

Harnish was released by Indianapolis at the end of training camp last season and signed with the Vikings. Harnish completed 53 percent of his passes for 283 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last year in Indianapolis.

Now Harnish reunites with Bruce Arians in the desert. He’ll get a chance to compete with Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas this offseason while Palmer continues to rehab from his knee injuries.

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Bears sign RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Jacquizz Rodgers AP

The Bears secured a contender for a reserve role in their backfield Tuesday, signing tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, the club said.

Rodgers, 25, has played the last four seasons with Atlanta, rushing 305 times for 1,116 yards and five touchdowns and catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five TDs. He has also returned 49 kickoffs for 1,177 yards.

Rodgers joins holdovers Ka’Deem Carey and Senorise Perry among the options behind featured back Matt Forte, who is one of the game’s most versatile and dependable players at his position. Nevertheless, the Bears could use a back capable of taking a handful of touches per game to reduce the hits Forte takes, and the 5-foot-6, 196-pound Rodgers will have a chance to compete for that job.

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Ravens get Schaub for a mere $2 million base deal

Schaub AP

Quarterback Matt Schaub has made plenty of money over the years for playing quarterback at a good but not great level.  In 2015, he’ll make pretty good money by, ideally, not playing at all.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Schaub’s deal with the Ravens has a base value of $2 million, with $1 million to sign and a $1 million salary.  Contrary to a report that the deal is worth $3 million, the final $1 million comes from extra amounts — amounts that will be difficult for Schaub to earn if he’s not playing.

Given that Schaub will be backing up a guy who has started every game of his eight-year career, it’s unlikely that Schaub will unlock any payments based on playing time.

Based on the relative performances of Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub in recent years, the Ravens and their fans surely hope that won’t be happening.

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Report: Texans interested in Antonio Smith return

DENVER BRONCOS VS. HOUSTON TEXANS Getty Images

The Raiders announced the release of defensive lineman Antonio Smith on Tuesday afternoon, clearing $4 million from their salary cap and taking another step away from a 2014 free agent class that failed to bring better results to Oakland.

Smith may not have to wait long to find a new place of employment. He also might not have to familiarize himself with a new city.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans are interested in bringing Smith back to Houston. Smith played in 79-of-80 regular season games for the Texans while he was a member of the team between 2009 and 2013 and he was productive in a fair number of them as the Texans advanced to the playoffs twice with Smith in the fold.

Smith has played inside and outside during his career, which would allow him to provide the team with solid depth behind projected starters J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and Jared Crick. Smith had three sacks and 20 tackles while starting all 16 games in his one season with the Raiders.

McClain suggests that the Broncos may also have interest in Smith now that former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Kollar are all in Denver.

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Mike Tannenbaum: Winning the offseason “really doesn’t mean anything” come September

Stephen Ross AP

For three teams in the AFC East, March has brought some major changes to their rosters.

The Jets brought back cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie while also trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bills traded for running back LeSean McCoy and signed several players, including tight end Charles Clay, while the Dolphins landed the biggest fish on the free agent market by signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The Dolphins have made several other moves as well in executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum’s first year with the team, leaving Tannenbaum to quip that he’s been so busy that he hasn’t noticed the weather in Miami. The moves have left the Dolphins and their fellow 2014 AFC East also-rans looking better on paper, but Tannenbaum knows that has limited value once the season starts.

“Look, it really doesn’t mean anything sitting here in March,” Tannenbaum said, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “What’s important is what it looks like on opening day and every week. [The Patriots are] going to look different come the regular season like we are, so we’ve got a long, long way to go.”

Tannenbaum was with the Jets for many years and had several splashy offseasons while serving as the team’s General Manager without winding up where the Patriots were in February, so he knows well that winning in the offseason doesn’t guarantee anything in the regular season. He also knows that as much as things may change for the Patriots, they’ll have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady when the regular season does roll around and that’s proven to be too much to handle for the rest of the division for most of the last two decades.

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June 1 free-agency deadline moved to May 12

May12

Years ago, June 1 had extreme significance on the NFL calendar.  Teams looking to reduce the cap hit from cutting a veteran player would wait until June 1, resulting in half or more of the acceleration to hit the cap in the following league year.

In 2006, the NFL changed the rule, allowing teams to cut two players per year before June 1, with a June 1 designation.  Few teams currently have cap issues; as a result, the entire notion of using the designation or waiting until June 1 to cut a player has become largely irrelevant.

June 1 had continued significance for another reason.  After June 1, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams don’t count toward the compensatory draft-pick formula.  Starting this year, that date will move from June 1 to May 12, according to the league office.

The Competition Committee had been considering shifting the date from June 1 to May 1.  With the draft still happening as of May 1, it makes sense to let the draft end and to let the dust settle before allowing free agents to sign without the move helping their former team or potentially hurting their new one.

The shift gives free agents more of an opportunity to participate in the offseason program.  It also gives teams reason to wait on adding some of the currently available free agents, in order to avoid reducing their potential haul of compensatory picks.

The Ravens have mastered the craft of waiting to sign unrestricted free agents until the deadline has come and gone.  Today’s addition of quarterback Matt Schaub doesn’t change that.  Because he was cut by the Raiders, Schaub’s addition neither helps the Raiders nor hurts the Ravens when it comes to determining compensatory selections.

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Colts sign former Chargers third-rounder Vincent Brown

Vincent Brown, Charles Woodson AP

Vincent Brown, a once-promising wide receiver whose career has been plagued by injuries, has landed in Indianapolis.

The Colts announced today that they’ve signed Brown to a free agent contract.

The Chargers drafted Brown in the third round in 2011, and he made some big plays in limited action as a rookie, catching 19 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. But he missed his entire second season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason.

In 2013 Brown got back on track, with 41 catches for 472 yards. But in 2014 a calf injury forced him to miss all of training camp, and the Chargers waived him with an injury settlement. He ended up catching on with the Raiders, but had only 12 catches for 118 yards.

If Brown can get healthy, the Colts may have gotten a bargain on a low-priced contract. But Brown’s history makes that a very big “if.”

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Raiders release Antonio Smith

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Raiders added several free agents in an attempt to solidify their defense last season, but the results weren’t what Oakland hoped.

The team finished last in the league in points allowed on their way to another losing season and another offseason spent bringing in new faces while getting rid of players who were part of the problems last year. The Raiders added another name to the discard pile on Tuesday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team has released defensive lineman Antonio Smith. Smith started all 16 games for Oakland last season, recording 20 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Smith had a particularly tough time against the run last season, but he’s been a durable player and effective pass rusher throughout his career so he may earn another look before the offseason is out.

The Raiders added Dan Williams and re-signed C.J. Wilson on the defensive line in free agency. Adding another defensive lineman is a possibility at the top of the draft, although the Raiders may also opt to bolster their offense by adding Amari Cooper or Kevin White to their receiving corps.

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Jason Licht gushes about Jameis Winston’s Pro Day workout

Jameis Getty Images

If the Buccaneers already were planning to pick quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft, nothing that happened during the player’s Pro Day workout changed the team’s position.

If anything, the Bucs are even more determined to draft Winston.

“Very good. Excellent. Had a great day,” G.M. Jason Licht said regarding the workout, via JoeBucsFan.com.  “This was outstanding.  He threw a full nine innings.”

Licht said Winston displayed sufficient strength and endurance to end talk about whether he’s in shape.

“He showed his arm strength to throw No. 1 to throw 100 and whatever it was,” Licht said, adding that he was most impressed with Winston’s “leadership and arm strength and conditioning.”

The Buccaneers could, in theory, work out a contract with Winston and make him the first overall pick at any time.  It now appears to be a matter of time until that happens.

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Panthers add linebacker, special teams depth in Jason Trusnik

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Panthers continued to add bargain free agents to help shore up their special teams.

They announced they had signed unrestricted free agent linebacker Jason Trusnik to a one-year deal.

Trusnik spent the last four seasons with Miami, and has also played with the Jets and Browns. He started five games for the Dolphins last year, but they’re looking for depth and kicking game help with this one.

“Jason is an experienced player who adds more competition to the linebacker position and has also been a special teams ace,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I expect him to come in and be a leader. Even though he is new to us, he’s got veteran savvy to him.”

The Panthers could use that, as they try to improve a team that went to the playoffs the last two seasons from the bottom third of the roster up.

Trusnik fits in with guys such as Ted Ginn, Teddy Williams and Kurt Coleman as players brought in primarily with special teams roles in mind.

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