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The Gruden leverage game accelerates

New Orleans Saints v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Next week, when the Panthers and Eagles prepare to square off on Monday Night Football, one of the guys from the ESPN broadcast team eventually could end up being a candidate to coach either of the teams that will be playing.

Awkward.

Indeed, on a night when Eagles fans will be loudly and continuously calling for the ouster of Andy Reid, they also will be welcoming Gruden back to Philly with pleas that he return to the franchise where he served as offensive coordinator before Reid was hired to serve as head coach.  It will make for an interesting production meeting between the pair of former Packers assistant coaches, and every word Gruden utters from the booth will be parsed for clues as to what he plans to do.

Actually, anything and everything he says — and doesn’t say — over the balance of the season should be regarded that way.  With reports mounting that Gruden is preparing a return to coaching, the public silence from Gruden regarding his plans speaks volumes.

The latest report, which gives no credit to the pre-existing reports, comes from CBS, and it expands the Gruden universe to include college jobs at Arkansas and Tennessee.  Which means that Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, is trying to ensure the best possible terms for a Gruden return, both from a cash and power and quality-of-program standpoint.

That’s why Gruden has pulled punches over the last few years from the broadcast booth.  He knows that, when he finally returns, maximum options will lead to maximum leverage, which will allow him to pick the best situation — with the ability to win and get paid a ton of money and have a lot of power all rolled in to one big giant of mojo.

Until Gruden says that he’s not returning, the presumption should be that he is.  And the coaches of the teams he’ll visit for the remaining MNF games should be understandably leery.

After all, they could be competing with Gruden before too long.

If it ever becomes a problem, ESPN can announce another exclusive contract extension with Gruden, while continuing to refuse to elaborate on whether the exclusivity means he can’t leave the four-letter network for a job in a three-letter football league.

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Should the Vikings draft a first-round quarterback?

Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel AP

Will the Vikings draft a quarterback with the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft? That’s the big question as we examine the Vikings’ draft needs.

Three years ago, the Vikings used their first-round pick on a quarterback, Christian Ponder. Although Ponder remains on the roster, no one thinks he’s the franchise quarterback of the future. That raises the question of whether the Vikings will use this year’s first-round pick on a quarterback. If they do, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M are all candidates.

But quarterback is far from the only need for a team that also has question marks at several other positions and is coming off a very disappointing 2013 season. The Vikings may be better off turning elsewhere at No. 8.

Tell us what you think the Vikings should do, and check out our look at the Vikings’ draft needs here.

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Ravens agree to deal with WR LaQuan Williams

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

The Ravens have reportedly reached a deal with wide receiver LaQuan Williams, who played 23 regular season games for the club from 2011 through 2012.

Williams indicated he would be returning to Baltimore on his verified Twitter account. The Baltimore Sun and WNST-AM in Baltimore also reported Williams’ agreement with the Ravens. According to Aaron Wilson of the Sun, Williams will receive a one-year contract.

The 25-year-old Williams notched nine special teams tackles and caught four passes for 46 yards in his two seasons with the Ravens. The club waived him in September 2013. After his departure from Baltimore, Williams had a 10-day stint with the Patriots during the 2013 regular season.

A University of Maryland product, Williams seems likely to compete for the reserve wideout and special teams coverage roles he had in his previous stint in Baltimore.

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Bears worked out Darius Reynaud on Wednesday

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The Bears, who signed tailback Shaun Draughn on Wednesday, also took a look another veteran running back with kick-returning experience yesterday.

According to Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange, the Bears tried out Darius Reynaud, who had stints with the Jets and Titans a season ago. Other media outlets have also reported Reynaud’s workout for Chicago.

The 29-year-old Reynaud has made his biggest impact as a kickoff and punt returner on the NFL level. The sixth-year pro from West Virginia has returned 104 kickoffs for 2,347 yards, and he has brought back 102 punts for 985 yards. He has three career return touchdowns: two on punts and one on a kickoff.

The Bears allowed Devin Hester to leave in free agency, leaving the club a little more unsettled at the returner positions than it’s been in some time. However, the Bears do have multiple players with return experience on the roster, with Draughn, Eric Weems and Josh Morgan among the potential candidates to return kicks.

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Goodell: Playoff expansion to be discussed at next owners meeting

Goodell AP

An expanded NFL playoff field is probably inevitable, even if it’s not imminent.

But don’t tell that to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell told Bob Glauber of Newsday that owners would discuss the proposal at their May 20 meeting in Atlanta, with a vote possible.

Of course, even the owners involved aren’t sure it can be fast-tracked for the 2014 season, with Giants president John Mara saying this week he wasn’t sure there was time to implement such a plan for the coming season.

Then there’s also the matter of getting the players to sign off.

Mara noted “my guess is that it’s going to pass at some point,” and that’s probably the right approach to take. Even if some believe the NFL risks oversaturation by fiddling with a good product, the move to 14 teams looks like something that’s happening, and the only real discussion is the when.

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No holes in Vikings schedule, despite presence of Gophers

Minnesota v Indiana Getty Images

Making an NFL schedule is complicated enough, but with the Vikings in someone else’s building, it added a layer to the proceedings.

According to Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the league had to work around a number of requests from the University of Minnesota while the Vikings are using TCF Bank Stadium.

The agreement between the Vikings and the school said that the Vikings could only have one weeknight game when class was in session (which they avoided by playing their Thursday night game on the road).

They also have to work preseason games around move-in week in August, and finals in December. The Vikings play at Detroit while Minnesota students are studying for finals.

The Vikings and Gophers will only have one shared weekend of home games, when the University plays Northwestern on Oct. 11 and the Vikings host the Lions the next day.  (So much purple in Minneapolis that weekend, even Prince will be confused.)

Perhaps most importantly, they were able to avoid conflicts with the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept. 1).

For the sake of the enthusiasts of walleye-on-a-stick and rhubarb pie contests, we can all breathe a sigh of relief for that.

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Report: Bucs would seriously consider Manziel at No. 7

Manziel Getty Images

Since the draft should be today but won’t be today because the NFL moved it to two weeks from today, we’ll spend today and the next 13 tomorrows wondering what will happen when draft day finally is today.

The guy about which everyone wonders the most is quarterback Johnny Manziel.  Though some continue to insist Manziel won’t be taken in round one, we’d be shocked if he’s on the board when Thursday night ends.

We won’t be shocked if Manziel hears his name called in the top 10.  The latest team to join the list of potential top-10 teams that could take Manziel is the Buccaneers.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that the Buccaneers would “seriously consider” taking Manziel, if he’s on the board at No. 7.  The Bucs see Manziel as being “very unique,” having a “good arm and accuracy,” and generally being a “great athlete.”

That all may be true, but we can’t help but “seriously consider” whether the Bucs would like to see someone cut the line in front of the Buccaneers and take Manziel, pushing down the board a player the Bucs actually prefer.  There’s otherwise no reason to let it be known that the Bucs would take Manziel.

But since we’ve got two more weeks to go, get ready for more smokescreens and obfuscations (hey, watch your mouth) before the time comes to pick the players.

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Paul McCartney to perform at final concert at Candlestick Park

Paul McCartney AP

The headliner at Candlestick’s Park final concert is a legendary musical performer who has some experience playing at the soon-to-be closed stadium.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Paul McCartney will play the closing show at Candlestick Park on Thursday, August 14, a website dedicated to the artist’s work announced Thursday.

The show, according to PaulMcCartney.com, has been tabbed “Farewell to Candlestick: The Final Concert.”

PaulMcCartney.com bills itself as the “Official Website” of the 72-year-old performer.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle had reported that the 49ers had wanted McCartney to perform the first show at Levi’s Stadium.

According to McCartney’s website, The Beatles’ final concert was at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.

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Spurrier thinks the Texans “have to” take Clowney

Steve Spurrier AP

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier says the Houston Texans have only one option with the first overall pick in the NFL draft: Select former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

“Yeah, I think you have to,” Spurrier said when asked by Dan Patrick if the Texans should take Clowney.

Spurrier said if there was a franchise quarterback like Andrew Luck in this draft, it might be a different story. But Spurrier doesn’t believe any of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft is that kind of elite talent, and as a result he says CLowney is the clear choice.

“He’s a really good football player, and obviously pass rushing is what he does best,” Spurrier said. “He’s a pass rusher like nobody I think I’ve ever seen in college football.”

Spurrier has been candid about Clowney not always having the best work ethic, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no question about who the most talented player in this draft is. That’s Clowney.

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Report: Patriots sign Josh Hull

970e5d8a1342b9813e117b6a9541927f-1 AP

Linebacker Josh Hull was released by the Redskins earlier this month, but it looks like he’s landed a new job.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Patriots have signed Hull to a one-year deal.

No financial terms were disclosed, but it is unlikely that Hull got more than the minimum salary for a player with four years in the league. Hull had 14 tackles in 11 games for the Redskins last year in a special teams role. The 2010 seventh-round pick also played 28 games for the Rams before they cut him at the end of the summer.

His work in St. Louis was mostly on special teams as well, so you’d expect that New England will be asking him to compete for a role on those units in 2014.

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More physicals in Indy for some top prospects

Scott Crichton AP

It seems like the Scouting Combine was forever ago, but some prospects are heading back to Indianapolis for one of the final steps in the pre-draft process.

According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among a group of players going back to Indy for a medical re-check.

Players are given vigorous and thorough examinations at the Combine, and teams view those checks as the main benefit of the event. Any players with red flags then are brought back in for a re-check later.

Crichton had a stinger, which was the reason he has to head back, but said he had no serious neck issues.

Assuming the physical confirms that, Crichton could be a second-round selection.

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PFT Live: Draft preview with Corey Chavous, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Sammy Watkins AP

The NFL Draft kicks off two weeks from tonight and we’ll be looking ahead to it on Thursday’s PFT Live.

Former NFL defensive back Corey Chavous of DraftNasty.com will join Mike Florio to break down the latest about what he’s hearing about how things will play out over three days next month. They’ll take a look at players who could go earlier and later than expected, profile some lesser known prospects and more when Chavous drops by the show.

The NFL schedule was released on Wednesday night and we’d like to hear what PFT Planet thinks about it, the draft and everything else in the NFL. Florio will be responding to those thoughts during the show, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 to share what’s on your mind. 

Whether you have a question or not, it all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Sherman changes his tune about Crabtree rant

Sherman AP

In the aftermath of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s on-field tirade against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after the NFC title game, Sherman vowed to stop belittling other players.

Now, Sherman is singing a different tune.

In January, in an item that he wrote for TheMMQB.com, Sherman suggested that he’d be turning a new leaf when it comes to verbally tearing opponents a new orifice.

“No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is,” Sherman wrote at the time.  “That’s not mine.  It belongs to Irvin Himmel.  Somebody tweeted it at me after the NFC Championship Game.  If I could pass a lesson on to the kids it would be this:  Don’t attack anybody.  I shouldn’t have attacked Michael Crabtree the way I did.  You don’t have to put anybody else down to make yourself bigger.”

On Wednesday, Sherman expressed no remorse for his verbal assault on Crabtree.

I don’t regret anything,” Sherman said during a panel discussion at Harvard Business School, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.  “People said I had no class.  What is class in sports?  What exactly is it?  Do I say great game and go cookie cutter?  No.  I don’t think he played a great game. . . .  If it was Larry [Fitzgerald], and the same situation happened, I wouldn’t have said a thing.  Because I respect Larry.”

So which is it, Richard?  Have you learned not to put someone else down?  Or would you — and will you — do it again, to Crabtree and others whom you deem to be unworthy of your respect?

Often inappropriately, Sherman has been called many things in recent months.  One thing he can’t currently be called is consistent.

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Bernie Kosar: Concussions cost me a broadcasting job

Bernie Kosar, Rick Sponaugle AP

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar says concussions suffered during his NFL career have caused him to develop a speech problem, which in turn led to his dismissal as the color commentator for Browns preseason games.

“I was informed yesterday by the Cleveland Browns and WKYC that I have been replaced as a 2014 preseason game day color commentator,” Kosar said in a statement, via Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I believe that this decision stems from my slurred speech impairment, which is a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL.”

Kosar’s slurred speech was noticeable when he was hired for the job, however, which raises the question of why he would get fired for it now if the Browns and WKYC didn’t have any problem with his speech at the time they hired him. It seems much more likely that Kosar’s unprofessional comments during a preseason game last year, and the DUI Kosar got a month later, caused the Browns and WKYC to conclude that he’s not someone they want representing them.

But Kosar believes he’s the right person for the job.

“I would hope that WKYC would reconsider utilizing my in-game talents and overlook my concussion-induced impairment,” Kosar said.

That’s probably not going to happen. But Kosar’s comments will, if nothing else, cause the lawyers for the Browns and the NFL to take notice: At a time when concussion litigation is a major concern in pro football, this is a prominent former player claiming that concussions are costing him the opportunity to make a living now that his playing days are over.

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Phil Taylor would like the Browns to pick up his 2015 option

Cleveland Browns v New York Jets Getty Images

Several players picked in the first round of the 2011 draft have already found out whether or not their teams will be exercising options for the fifth year of their contracts by May 3, but others are still waiting to see what will happen.

Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor is in the latter group and he knows what he wants the Browns to do. Taylor would like to have his option, which would set him up to make about $5.5 million, exercised so that he can remain in Cleveland.

“I would love to be here, but that’s not up to me,” Taylor said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “So we’re going to wait and see what [the front office] is going to do about it.”

Taylor started 15 games last season, but only played 555 snaps as a two-down player used to thwart opposing running games. The switch to Mike Pettine as head coach will bring a different defensive look and could bring Taylor more playing time, but, obviously, Cleveland has to make a call on Taylor before they see how he fits into the new scheme. That option is guaranteed against injury only, which gives the Browns some flexibility but they may prefer the freedom to hold off on any call until the season has played out.

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Steve Slaton joins the Toronto Argonauts

Charles Clay, Steve Slaton, Jamaal Westerman, Shelly Lyons AP

The CFL has popped up on our radar a few times in recent weeks.

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is trying to keep his professional football career going in Montreal and he may be catching passes from former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who is trying to get his own pro career going after being ignored by the NFL last year. The Alouettes aren’t the only team adding familiar names to their roster, though.

The Edmonton Eskimos signed former West Virginia and Dolphins quarterback Pat White last month and now one of his former college teammates has also decided to try his luck in the land of poutine and Labatt’s.

The Toronto Argonauts have announced the signing of former Texans and Dolphins running back Steve Slaton. Slaton’s career started with a bang — 1,282 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns as a rookie for the Texans in 2008, but lost his starting job the next year and it has been a while since we’ve seen Slaton on the field. He was let go by the Dolphins before the start of the 2012 season and wasn’t part of a team in 2013 either, leaving the 28-year-old with few options that didn’t include using his passport.

Slaton joins former Falcon Jerious Norwood in the backfield for the Argonauts.

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