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Vikings’ Jasper Brinkley fined $21,000 for hit on Calvin Johnson

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Lions complained after their loss to Minnesota that Vikings players took cheap shots at receiver Calvin Johnson and cornerback Chris Houston. The league office agrees with one of those.

The NFL has confirmed that Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley was fined $21,000 for unnecessary roughness for a play on which he made helmet to helmet contact with Johnson while Johnson was a defenseless receiver. It’s the second time this season that a Vikings linebacker has been fined $21,000 for taking a shot at Johnson; Chad Greenway was fined for an illegal hit on Johnson in the teams’ previous meeting.

But as for the hit that Houston complained about it, the NFL said there’s nothing to see there. Houston said Vikings guard Brandon Fusco intentionally took a shot at his ankle, but the NFL has confirmed that Fusco was not fined.

Also fined in the game were Vikings safety Mistral Raymond, who was fined $7,875 for unnecessary roughness for a hit on Lions receiver Mikel Leshoure, and Lions receiver Ryan Broyles, who was fined $10,000 for an illegal crackback block on Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield.

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Isaiah Crowell just hoping an NFL team gives him a chance

Isaiah Crowell, Jerome Howard

In 2011, although South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney immediately made his presence known in college football, the reporters who covered the SEC voted Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell as the conference’s freshman of the year.

Three years later, while Clowney (who was voted freshman of the year by the SEC’s coaches) is a candidate to be the first overall pick in the draft, Crowell is just hoping some NFL team will give him a chance. Crowell was kicked off the Georgia team after he was arrested in the summer after his freshman year, and he spent the last two seasons playing at Alabama State.

Now Crowell tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when he talks to NFL teams, conversations always circle back to his off-field issues, even though charges were eventually dropped in connection with the weapons charges that led to his dismissal at Georgia.

Crowell is talented enough that there would be no doubts about his ability to make it in the NFL if he didn’t have any off-field issues. But because he does have off-field issues, it’s unclear where — or whether — he’ll be drafted. Crowell ran for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns last year at Alabama State, and that performance may have been enough to convince some team that he’s worth a draft pick. Just not as high a pick as he would have been had he stayed out of trouble and stayed at Georgia.

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Source: 49ers haven’t made decision on Aldon Smith’s option

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

On Sunday, we reported that the 49ers haven’t decided whether to pick up the 2015 option on linebacker Aldon Smith’s contract.  Since then, more pessimistic accounts have emerged.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reported that it’s “very unlikely” the option will be exercised.  Earlier on Friday, Adam Schefter of ESPN explained that the 49ers are “not expected” to extend the contract from a four-year deal to a five-year deal.

Per a league source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, however, the 49ers still haven’t made a decision.  And they don’t have to make a decision until May 3, the deadline for picking up the option.

The option-year salary of $9.75 million for Smith would be guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the 2015 league year.  At that point, it would become fully guaranteed for 2015.

Until then, the 49ers would owe Smith the money only if he suffers an injury that would render him unable to play not only this year but next year.  And if they decide to trade him at some point, the 49ers would be able to send to Smith’s new team a contract that covers more than one year.

Other than avoiding the small risk of a two-year injury, the only potential benefit of not exercising the option would be motivational.  The Lions, for instance, aren’t using it for defensive tackle Nick Fairley, in order to prompt him to play hard as he chases a long-term deal.  For Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 career regular-season games, it’s not about on-field motivation; it’s about staying out of trouble.  The opportunity to earn $9.75 million in 2015 should provide all the motivation he needs in that regard.

Regardless, no decision has been made.  Yet.  The 49ers have roughly two weeks to deliberate.

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Texans bringing Teddy Bridgewater in for a visit next week

Teddy Bridgewater AP

The Jaguars will be taking a second look at Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the weekend and one of their AFC South rivals will also be bringing Bridgewater in for a meeting.

Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com reports that the Texans will host Bridgewater next week as they continue to peruse the quarterback options available to them in this year’s draft.

There was a time when Bridgewater was considered a possibility with Houston’s first overall pick, but it is harder to find people who think things will break that way. That doesn’t mean that he won’t wind up in Houston, however.

The Texans also have the first pick of the second round and they could opt to go for Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick before using that pick on a quarterback. Bridgewater could be in play for them if they stay put at the top of the round or if they decide to move back into the first round using that pick as part of a trade package.

That might not be where Bridgewater thought he’d wind up being selected when the process started, but there would be worse landing spots than Houston for a quarterback with designs on starting.

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Report: Rolando McClain expected to work with Ravens soon

Rolando+McClain+San+Diego+Chargers+v+Oakland+EbS0xbCdJoxl Getty Images

Rolando McClain’s comeback attempt didn’t get off to such a hot start, but the Ravens are apparently letting him continue to attempt it.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the plan is for McClain to join the Ravens “as soon as Monday” for the offseason program.

He was reinstated from the reserve/retired list this week, despite reportedly faring poorly in his conditioning test.

At this point, he’s a low-risk/no-risk investment.

If he’s interested in being a football player again, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome (a fellow Alabama man) appears inclined to give him a chance. If McClain doesn’t get in shape, the only thing they’ve wasted is time and a roster spot, of which there are 90.

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Andrew Luck had to get away from football for a few

Andrew Luck, Richard Sherman

Some quarterbacks decompress over the offseason by burying themselves in football (and possibly violating the CBA).

Others take a difference approach.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck spent a few months traveling the world, getting away from football before returning to work next week.

You do have to get away, at least in my mind you do, so I did,” Luck said, via the team’s official website. “I made sure I gave myself a solid month-and-a-half, two months to get back into football shape before starting this voluntary workout session.

“It’s something I think I did better this year than last year. Every year, hopefully [I’ll] continue to do better in balancing that time. I know getting away from football is as important almost as making sure your mind’s fresh and clear as the training aspect.”

Luck said his football itch returned in March, leading him to the feeling of, “I’ve really got to get this thing cranked up again.”

Luck made solid strides from his rookie year to his second, especially in terms of limiting turnovers (at least until the postseason). Now, he has a new weapon with which to work, after the Colts brought in Hakeem Nicks.

“I haven’t had a chance to throw with him. We’ve talked, though,” Luck said. “He’s a winner, a vet, a good football player. I’m very excited.

“Every off-season is key in building rhythm. That’s one of the bigger focuses as a quarterback. [It’s] either build on the rapport you have with guys like a T.Y. [Hilton] or Reggie [Wayne]. Also to integrate the new guys, sort of feel each other out football-wise. The work you put this off-season hopefully will pay dividends when the season comes.”

But for Luck, the work starts next week, when offseason conditioning begins.

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Saints re-sign WR Robert Meachem

Wild Card Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

One of the Saints’ primary deep threats is back for another season in New Orleans.

The club said Friday it had signed wideout Robert Meachem to a one-year contract. The 29-year-old Meachem caught 16 passes for 324 yards and two TDs in regular season play for New Orleans in 2013, then added three receptions for 109 yards in the playoffs.

The Saints’ first-round pick in 2007, Meachem (6-2, 215) has caught 171 passes for 2.800 yards and 27 touchdowns in his NFL career. He has played six seasons with New Orleans, including a five-season stint (2007-2011) at the outset of his career. He signed with the Chargers before the 2012 season but struggled in his time with San Diego, catching just 14 passes for 207 yards and two TDs in his lone campaign away from New Orleans.

Forty-two of Meachem’s regular season receptions have gone for 20 yards or more. What’s more, he had three catches of 40 yards or longer in the 2013 regular season, then hauled in receptions of 40 and 52 yards in the postseason.

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Jaguars doing more homework, working Bridgewater out

Bridgewater AP

The Jaguars have already had Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in for a visit.

Now, they want to see a little more.

According to Josina Anderson of ESPN, Bridgewater will have a second meeting and workout tomorrow with the Jaguars.

This comes right as reports are building that Bridgewater’s stock might not be as high as previously thought.

The Jaguars desperately need a long-term answer at quarterback. They also own the third overall pick in the draft. And the 39th.

Whether they think Bridgewater is more worthy of one than the other may dictate their interest. But after he had a lackluster pro day, he has a chance to convince them on a one-on-one basis tomorrow.

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PFT Live: Falcons talk with D. Orlando Ledbetter, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Mike Smith AP

The Falcons own the sixth pick in next month’s draft and they have sent some pretty clear signals about what direction they’d like to go with their top selection.

They’ve been meeting with the top offensive tackles and defensive front seven players as they try to formulate their plan for May 8. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution will join Mike Florio on Friday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss those options and we’ll find out what Ledbetter thinks is the team’s smartest course of action.

We’re also interested in hearing what’s on your mind as another week draws to a close. We’ll be taking questions from PFT Planet again, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or by giving a call to 888-237-5269 during the show. 

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

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Lots of teams looking at Demarcus Lawrence

M.J. McPeek, Demarcus Lawrence AP

The ability to get after the quarterback is prized by every team in the league, so it probably shouldn’t come as much surprise that Boise State defensive end/linebacker Demarcus Lawrence is taking a lot of visits ahead of next month’s draft.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Lawrence is expected to meet with the Redskins, Cowboys, Saints, Vikings, Steelers, 49ers and Jets before the draft. In addition, he’s also met with the Falcons and done private workouts with the Saints and Seahawks as teams try to determine where Lawrence will come off the board.

The variety of teams showing interest in Lawrence and the variety of the schemes they run suggest a feeling that Lawrence can fit as an edge rusher in either a 4-3 or 3-4 base defense. Lawrence’s college production backs up that feeling, although teams are likely also interested in finding out whether the off-field issues that led to three one-game suspensions for Lawrence at Boise are under control as he moves into the professional ranks.

Lawrence has been projected as a second-round pick, but could move into the first day if a team decides he’s the answer for their pass rushing needs.

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Manning, Gase “visit” to Saban may have violated offseason rules

Manning AP

The meeting between former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning and current Alabama coach Nick Saban will raise plenty of eyebrows among Volunteers fans who voluntarily wear on Saturdays in the fall an objectively unattractive shade of orange.

The session also should raise some eyebrows at 345 Park Avenue, for entirely different reasons.

As Saban explained it, Manning was accompanied by offensive coordinator Adam Gase.  Saban also said that Manning and Gase were “making some visits.”

“To be honest with you, [Manning] was just trying to learn so he could be a better player,” Saban said.  “I think a lot of people would say, ‘Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, and certainly from a career standpoint probably about as good as anybody’s been in the history of the league.  After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he’s going out and trying to seek more knowledge and understanding of the game of football so he can play better.”

That’s admirable.  It’s also a potential CBA violation.

The new labor deal, struck in 2011, places clear limits on offseason activities.  Under Article 21, Section 2(a)(ii), players “are not permitted to participate in . . . group or individual meetings with coaches” prior to the start of the team’s official offseason workout program.

The Broncos have yet to start their official offseason program.  Gase and Manning aren’t allowed to meet.  Either Saban is lying (because “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach“), it looks like they met.

Per a league source, Saban’s characterization of Manning and Gase making arm-in-arm visits to college coaches could be incorrect.  The Manning-Gase-Saban meeting at Alabama may have happened by chance, with Manning coming in to meet Saban and Gase, who once worked for Saban, happening to be in the area at the same time.

Regardless, it appears there was a meeting between player and coach before the start of Denver’s offseason program.

The Broncos declined comment on the issue.  The NFL has not yet responded to an email message seeking confirmation that the rules prohibit meetings between players and coaches prior to the start of the team’s offseason program.

Then again, confirmation likely isn’t necessary.  The rule is clear.  In the three years since the rule was created, it’s the first time evidence has arisen of a potential violation.

UPDATE 11:27 a.m. ET:  NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT that the league is looking into the situation.

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NCAA’s leaders are sealing its fate

Emmert AP

When things go badly, human nature searches for someone else to blame.  Even when responsible party does the right thing and admits fault for an undesirable outcome, the internal wiring at a minimum sparks with the temptation to pin it all on another person.

When the NCAA suffers the fate that inevitably is coming, on a timetable much faster than anyone envisioned, president Mark Emmert should have no temptation to blame lawyers or unions or judges or senators or agents or parents or the media or anyone else.  Emmert’s ongoing remarks about the state of college athletics, where more and more people are realizing that the “student-athlete” label has been for decades a scam to get free (or at least very cheap) labor, are serving only to broaden and strengthen the notion that something must be done to protect current and future student-athletes from being exploited by a system that pays everyone except the student-athletes.

Most recently, Emmert made an ill-advised appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning.  Our friends at CFT have chronicled some of the highlights (lowlights), capped by the notion that student-athletes are “taking seats from a paying student.”

Yes, Emmert actually said that.  By saying that, Emmert clumsily painted student-athletes, whose collective efforts bring in far more dollars per person than those paying full freight, as freeloaders.

Emmert and the conference commissioners and the university presidents and the athletic directors would be far better off saying nothing.  That would at least delay the day of reckoning, giving the NCAA and the schools ample time to plan for change — and more opportunities to profit obscenely from the structure that currently is in place.

Instead, Emmert’s effort to stop the slow bleed could nick an artery, resulting in a public outcry for change so big and so loud that someone in a position of power will see a tangible political benefit to accelerating the process of bringing sweeping change to the world of college athletics.

Which in turn will bring change of some sort to the NFL, which continues to benefit from the free farm system known as college football.  If/when (when) college football players must be paid fair market value, the farm system may not be free.  And it may not be nearly as vast as it currently is.

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Ron Rivera learns NASCAR lessons can apply to football

RonRivera AP

When it’s the offseason, NFL coaches are limited in the work they can do with players, so they have to learn from each other.

But instead of turning to other football coaches, Panthers coach Ron Rivera spent time with NASCAR crew chief Chad Knaus, who has led Jimmie Johnson to six titles.

The geographic proximity makes it easy, but Knaus also had some experience in a similar situation to the one Rivera’s in now.

In 2010, with three races to go in the season, Knaus once replaced his entire seven-man pit crew, which — without knowing much about car racing — seems vaguely analogous to Rivera blowing up his wide receiver corps this offseason.

This guy may jack the car up a 10th of a second faster, but he doesn’t work as well together with others,” Rivera said via David Newton of ESPN.com, “while this guy may be a 10th of a second slower, yet he works well with everybody. We’re the same way. It’s about, ‘How does this guy fit in the locker room?’”

That sound you hear is a bus being driven over Steve Smith, an obvious shot at the best player in franchise history, who was cut earlier this offseason for reasons that had nothing to do with football.

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Chuck Pagano: It’s an important offseason for Trent Richardson

Trent Richardson AP

The Colts kick off their offseason program on Monday and it promises to be a big one for running back Trent Richardson.

Richardson’s in-season arrival in a trade with the Browns cost the Colts a first-round pick and got them a back who wound up being benched in favor of Donald Brown near the end of the season. The Colts have maintained faith in Richardson and the back said after the season that he thought his struggles were due in part to insufficient time to pick up the offense, something coach Chuck Pagano says Richardson has to do this offseason.

“It’s going to be very, very important for [Richardson] to be here for the offseason program and to dive into this thing full steam ahead, which he will,” Pagano said, via the team’s website. “He wants to be great. He’s got all the talent. He’s got all the ability. We would have never done what we did if we didn’t believe that deep down in our core. So we look for him to have a great offseason and to have a great 2014 campaign.”

Brown is in San Diego now, but Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw are back in Indy and we’ve already seen the Colts move on from Richardson when they felt there were better options. There’s no reason to expect anything different next season if Richardson hasn’t shown that his slow start with the team was just a matter of being in unfamiliar surroundings.

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Jimmy Clausen looking for a second chance to compete

Jimmy Clausen AP

When the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round of the 2010 draft, the hope was that he’d develop into their starting quarterback.

That never happened. Clausen played poorly in 13 games as a rookie and the Panthers drafted Cam Newton after going 2-14, leaving Clausen with a seat on the bench that he never relinquished the next two seasons. Clausen then hurt his shoulder in preseason last year, forcing him to injured reserve before his contract with the Panthers came to an end.

Clausen is working out with trainers and says his shoulder is almost 100 percent, but that hasn’t helped him get a job yet this offseason. Clausen hopes that changes so that he can resume his quest for a starting job in the league.

“That’s what I want. The only thing I can ask for is an opportunity — a legit opportunity to compete to be a No. 2 and hopefully work my way up,” Clausen said, via USA Today It’s tough. Obviously, I’m a competitor and want to get somewhere and compete.”

There hasn’t been much tape of Clausen for teams to evaluate since that dismal rookie year and there hasn’t been so much as a murmur of interest in his services around the league this offseason, which doesn’t bode well for a resurrection of his stalled career. Perhaps that changes if a team feels the need for an extra arm in camp this summer, but things look dim for Clausen on the second chance front.

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Popp says Johnson isn’t trying to get back to the NFL

Chad AP

Former NFL receiver Chad Johnson/Ochocinco/Johnson has become new CFL receiver Chad Johnson.  (Or, perhaps eventually, Chad Quatre-Vingt-Cinq.)

Regardless, Johnson supposedly has no aspiration to parlay his arrival in the CFL into a return to the NFL.  That’s what long-time Alouettes G.M. Jim Popp told Ross Tucker and Brad Hopkins of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday.

Popp also insisted that adding Johnson, who last spent time in the NFL nearly two years ago with the Dolphins after a lackluster 2011 season with the Patriots, isn’t a publicity stunt.

It may not be a stunt, but it’s definitely generating publicity.  The question is whether it will result in productivity.  While plenty of young players have used the CFL as a way to attract the attention of the NFL, precious few aging NFL players have gone to Canada and made an impact.  If Johnson plays at a high level, it will be noteworthy in large part because it will be unprecedented.

Until then, NFL fans and NFL media will pay more attention to the CFL.  Which means more publicity.  Even if the goal wasn’t to get more publicity.

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