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Plaxico: “Where do I need to be, what do I need to do?”

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Plaxico Burress might be in a familiar setting, but the offense is brand new.

So the newest-old Steelers wide receiver knows he has to dive into offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook if he’s going to make any kind of splash with Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery injured.

“I’ve seen some fast, talented guys through the years, but they couldn’t grasp the mental part of the game that would allow their physical ability to show,” Burress said Wednesday, via Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “If you don’t know what you’re doing out there, you can’t play. It doesn’t matter how good you are.

“So I picked up the playbook and start asking ‘Where do I need to be, what do I need to do?’”

Burress’ first phone call upon his return was to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it would be Charlie Batch throwing him the ball this weekend.

“There’s no doubt he can come in and do that [contribute immediately],” Batch said. “He’s not a rookie. He’s played and won in this league and the speed of the game is not going to be new to him. It’s just a matter of when you say the play and break the huddle, can he get lined up and go out there and play without thinking about it? We all know he’s capable of doing that.”

Burress caught eight touchdowns for the Jets last year, so it’s not as if it has been years since he produced. But coming in cold this week, without a training camp or much practice, and with a third-string quarterback makes it hard to imagine how much of an impact he can have.

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Cowboys hope to have extension for Zack Martin before camp ends

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The Cowboys hope to have a contract extension with Zack Martin completed during training camp. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects to meet with Martin’s agent, Tom Condon, while in Southern California.

“We’d love to get Zack Martin done,” Jones said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’ve made that real clear, and we’ll be going to work on him. I think he’s an important part of our future. He represents everything we want our players to be about. He’s not only a great player on the field, he’s a great person off the field. We’ll be hard at it, trying to do it.

“At the same time, it’s important. It’s going to be a big number, as we all know, and it has to be right in terms of not only for us, but for him. I feel confident that we’ll get something worked out.”

The Cowboys signed their other two All-Pro offensive linemen — left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick — to contract extensions during recent training camps. So it’s a good bet the Cowboys will get Martin locked up before they head home Aug. 18.

Martin likely becomes the highest-paid guard in the NFL, topping Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler, who has a five-year, $60 million deal.

Martin enters the fourth year of his four-year, $8.968 million rookie deal due to make $1.643 million in base salary this season. The Cowboys exercised their fifth-year club option on Martin, putting him in line to make $9.3 million in 2018 if the sides can’t agree on an extension.

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NFLPA message: “Save now. Fight later”

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At a time when NFL players seem to be realizing that better pay will come only through labor strife, the NFL Players Association has a message for its membership: “Save now. Fight later.

The union recently posted a video on Twitter with that message. The message to save money is a sensible one even without a potential work stoppage in four years.

But the fundamental problem continues to be this — many of the players who may be expected to go without pay in 2021 have none to save now because they’re currently playing in college or high school. So they will have saved little or nothing, or otherwise may have nothing, if/when a strike happens. Still, plenty of guys presently in the NFL will still be in the NFL in four years, and if as many of them as possible have enough money to go a year without playing, the players have a chance of winning.

It’s nevertheless a small chance, in part because the league would likely hire replacement players and continue to stage games, like the league did in 1987. And as the games go on and players who want to play are tempted to return and get paid to play football, it can all fall apart. Like 1987.

Then there’s the “fight later” aspect of the message. Frankly, players can fight now. (Or, more accurately, in about nine months.) None of them are required to show up for the voluntary portion of the annual offseason program, which is essentially a license to legally strike from every April through June. If they can’t muster the will to collectively boycott the offseason program at some point over the next three offseasons, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to launch and maintain a work stoppage after the next four football seasons.

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Browns sign first-round pick Jabrill Peppers

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With rookies arriving in Cleveland for the start of training camp on Sunday, the Browns have finally reached an agreement with first-round pick Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers signed his contract with the Browns Sunday evening. It was first reported by the NFL Network.

The Michigan defensive back was the 25th overall pick in the NFL Draft back in April. While the Browns managed to get N0. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett and No. 29 overall pick David Njoku under contract earlier this offseason, Peppers’ deal took a bit longer to get worked out.

PFT’s Mike Florio reported that disagreement regarding guarantees in the contract were the reason for the hold up on Peppers deal. But with veterans not due to report until Wednesday, the Browns still got the contract done in plenty of time.

Only four draft picks now remain unsigned: 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas (No. 3 overall), Titans receiver Corey Davis (No. 5 overall) and Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley (No. 24 overall). The Raiders’ second-rounder, Obi Melifonwu, also remains unsigned.

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Larry Fitzgerald not thinking 2017 is his last, while acknowledging it could be

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Larry Fitzgerald turns 34 next month. The Cardinals receiver reported to his 14th training camp still going strong, having caught 107 passes for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns last season.

I can still play at a high level,” Fitzgerald said Sunday, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN. “If my number is called, I can still make a play.”

Fitzgerald made it clear he isn’t going into this season thinking it’s his last, but he acknowledged it could be. He wants to decide on his own terms when he walks away, pointing to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and NBA player Tim Duncan as examples.

“The end is never really pretty for elite athletes,” Fitzgerald said. “It never looks good for the most time. You watch Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform or see Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos or Shaquille O’Neal playing for the Boston Celtics. It’s weird because you’re used to seeing them play at their most dominant stage, or Willie Mays running around with bad knees 20 years in. It’s not pretty. But for me, I really want to be able to play and do things at a high level and be able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level.”

With 1,125 receptions for 14,389 yards and 104 touchdowns, Fitzgerald already has Canton numbers. What he lacks is a championship. He played in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.

“That’s huge,” Fitzgerald said of winning a title. “That’s the only reason I’m playing at this point. From a personal standpoint and the things I’ve accomplished, they’re fine. But the thing that you will say is out of you control because you’re in a team sport, is a championship.”

Coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer’s futures after this season are uncertain, too, but Fitzgerald said that won’t play a part in whether he returns in 2018.

“I don’t really make any decisions based on anybody else,” Fitzgerald said. “I never really have. I don’t know what the future holds. That’s why this year is so much more important because we don’t have to think about what we’re doing after Feb. 4. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the day until then and how we can improve and get better and do what we need to do to give ourselves an opportunity to just get into the playoffs and possibly win the division and try to win the NFC championship game and get to the Super Bowl.

“That’s really what’s important. The long term doesn’t mean anything at this point.”

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Jerry Jones dismisses allegations from Ezekiel Elliott’s accuser

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The initial quotes that emerged from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ Sunday remarks to the media suggested that he attached no credibility to the accusations made against running back Ezekiel Elliott. Other quotes make it obvious that Jones has decided that the alleged victim simply isn’t telling the truth.

“My opinion is there’s not even an issue over he said/she said,” Jones said, via Todd Archer of ESPN.com. “There’s not even an issue there.”

Given that the alleged victim clearly believes something happened, it’s clear Jones doesn’t believe her. More accurately, it’s clear Jones believes Elliott.

And that’s the way this one will go, truth be damned. Those who want to see Elliott on the field for the Cowboys will be inclined to believe him, those who don’t like the Cowboys will be inclined to believe the alleged victim, and whatever actually happened doesn’t matter because there’s only two people who know for sure and they’re locked in to their versions of the events.

A full-blown he said/she said hasn’t really emerged yet, because the “she” in that equation has yet to go public with specific claims and contentions against Elliott. Jones’ decision to publicly dismiss her story could potentially prompt her to react by telling her story, fully and completely.

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Titans’ Sebastian Tretola suffers minor injury in shooting

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Titans guard Sebastian Tretola suffered a minor injury early this morning when he was shot in the leg.

The Titans released a statement saying Tretola was grazed by a bullet.

“We are aware of the reports that [Tretola] received treatment for a wound when he was grazed by a bullet,” the statement said, via Paul Kuharsky. “He has been released from the hospital and is thankful for only a minor injury.”

The shooting took place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Tretola played his college football for the Razorbacks. Tretola was a 2016 sixth-round pick of the Titans who played in one game as a rookie.

Tretola has recently been in the news because he and Titans receiver Tajae Sharpe were accused of assaulting a man outside a Nashville bar. Tretola and Sharpe say they defended themselves after the man attacked them, and they have filed a lawsuit against the man alleging that he falsely accused them.

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Eagles make moves as camp opens

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The Eagles commence the process of digging out of the NFC East basement, where they landed with a respectable 7-9 record, by making some moves before the opening of camp.

Gone is cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who joined the team last December. His roster spot was taken by quarterback Dane Evans, who has now officially signed with the team, several weeks after agreeing to terms.

Also, the Eagles have placed cornerback Sidney Jones and defensive tackle Beau Allen on the active/non-football injury list. Jones was drafted in April while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered at his Pro Day workout. Allen suffered a torn pectoral muscle while working out on his own in April.

The overriding question for both players will be whether they move to the active roster before Week One. If not, they’ll be required to spend at least six weeks of the regular season on the NFI list.

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DeAndre Hopkins expected to report to Texans camp unlike Duane Brown

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While the impasse between the Texans and left tackle Duane Brown likely will continue into training camp, receiver DeAndre Hopkins will report, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.

Hopkins held out one day last year as he seeks a new contract.

Negotiations on a long-term deal for the Pro Bowl receiver have been quiet as the Texans head to camp, according to Wilson, but both sides are highly motivated to reach an agreement.

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown signed a four-year, $68 million deal that included a $19 million signing bonus in the offseason. Brown’s $17 million average tops all NFL receivers, with A.J. Green making $15 million a year, Julio Jones $14.3 million a year and Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas both at $14 million a year.

Brown, though, is expected to continue to stay away after skipping the voluntary offseason program. The collective bargaining agreement allows for fines of $40,000 for each day missed.

Brown’s deal has two years remaining, including a non-guaranteed base salary of $9.65 million this season. The Texans have an unofficial policy not to renegotiate deals with two years left, with J.J. Watt and Andre Johnson being the exceptions.

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Eagles still expected to cut Ryan Mathews, but not at this moment

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The Eagles are still expected to cut Ryan Mathews, but just not yet, as they attempt to save some cash.

According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, the veteran running back is expected to hang around the roster for another few weeks, even though he isn’t expected to take the field.

Rookies, quarterbacks and veterans coming off injuries reported to Eagles camp Sunday. Since Mathews is coming off neck disk surgery, he’s not going to be on the field for practice Monday, or probably not ever.

If the Eagles cut him with a failed physical designation now, they’d be on the hook for $1.1 million. If they cut him later when he’s ready to pass a physical, they’d still eat the $1 million in dead money against the cap, but wouldn’t have to pay him if he passes a physical. His doctors apparently want to reevaluate him in August, so the Eagles seem inclined to wait.

They’ve moved on already, in terms of the depth chart. They signed veteran running back LeGarrette Blount, and drafted Donnell Pumphrey in the fourth round.

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Jerry Jones reiterates support for Ezekiel Elliott

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At a time when Ezekiel Elliott is reportedly bracing for a suspension, his boss may be bracing for a fight.

Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones addressed with reporters on the first day of camp the one-year-old allegations of domestic violence against Elliott. And Jones has not wavered from his belief that Elliott is innocent.

“I have reviewed everything and there is absolutely nothing — not one thing — that had anything to do with domestic violence,” Jones said, via Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

This statement implies that Jones hasn’t truly reviewed everything, because the alleged victim’s version of the events undoubtedly has something to do with domestic violence. Otherwise, there would be nothing to investigate.

While Jones technically has no control over what happens, that won’t keep him from trying to push the outcome in a given direction. Or, more accurately, to continue to pressure the league office to exonerate Elliott.

It’s believed that he’s already made it clear that he won’t be as compliant as Patriots owner Robert Kraft was when the league suspended Tom Brady four games, and Jones’ comments from earlier this afternoon make it clear that the passage of time has put Jones in the mood for a compromise or any other outcome that entails not having Elliott available to play football for the Dallas Cowboys.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 5: Oakland Raiders

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The biggest news of the Raiders offseason had little to do with the team they’ll be putting on the field in September.

That news was, of course, that they’ll be moving to Las Vegas after a long and fruitless attempt to find a stadium deal in Oakland. The fact that they’re on their way out hasn’t done much to damper excitement about what lies ahead for the team in 2017, however.

General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s rebuilding effort was a lengthy one, but it has resulted in a team positioned for a long run of success wherever they are playing their home games. Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, a talented offensive line and 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack are the foundation of that promise and will be major drivers for the team again this year.

Adding running back Marshawn Lynch was an intriguing move as the prospect of putting Beast Mode behind that line is one that leads to visions of great offensive success. We’ll have to see what’s left in the tank after Lynch sat out last season, however, and the Raiders’ ultimate hopes rest heavily on a defense that remains a work in progress outside of Mack.

Biggest positive change: Carr ended last season on the sideline because of a fractured fibula, which created a painful game of “What if?” for the Raiders after a 27-14 playoff loss to the Texans with Connor Cook at quarterback. Had Carr avoided injury, the Raiders were well positioned to win the division and get a bye that would have allowed them to open the postseason on their home field.

While there’s no way to guarantee that he’ll remain that way, Carr is healthy now and his contract extension further cements him as the biggest reason to believe that the Raiders can fulfill the highest of expectations for the 2017 season.

Biggest negative change: The Raiders didn’t lose any major contributors this offseason and the biggest staff change involved bumping quarterbacks coach Todd Downing up to offensive coordinator. That move seems unlikely to lead to much of a difference for a unit with talent across the board.

As mentioned, the defense doesn’t have the same kind of talent and the Raiders added former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano to Ken Norton’s defensive staff in hopes of maximizing what is on hand. Should the unit fail to improve and friction exist between them, it could put a cap on the team’s upside.

Coaching thermometer: Jack Del Rio took over a team that went 3-13 in 2014 and went 7-9 in his first year on the job before taking the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. That’s enough to avoid any concerns about a coaching change and the desire to keep building around a strong core of talent should keep it that way unless things go terribly wrong in the near future.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Gabe Jackson. Jackson also got a lucrative extension this offseason, which makes him part of that strong core and another example of how well Oakland’s rebuild has turned out. For these purposes, though, the right guard is the representative of a line that can sometimes get undervalued due to the other star power. We’ll give him the chance to shed some light on a big reason for the Raiders’ success.

How they can prove us wrong: Lynch having nothing in the tank would be a blow, but the biggest obstacle to the Raiders taking a spot at the top of the AFC would almost certainly be another year with a defense that forces the offense to be nearly flawless in order to win games.

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Steve Atwater rejoins Broncos, in multiple roles

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One of the greatest defensive players in Broncos history has returned to the team.

Safety Steve Atwater will become both an insider for the team-owned website and the fan development manager, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Atwater, 50, spent 10 years with the team, winning a pair of Super Bowls and making it to the Pro Bowl eight teams. He was one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

He also was responsible for one of the most memorable hits in league history, flattening monstrous Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.

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Sam Bradford feels more comfortable in Vikings offense this year

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Though it was hard to tell, Sam Bradford struggled to learn what was expected of him last year.

But even with a mid-season change at coordinator complicating his hi-nice-to-meet-you first season with the Vikings, Bradford still set a record for highest completion percentage (71.6) in league history.

The good news is, he feels a little more settled this year.

“Obviously last year was pretty unique, I have never been in that situation, and I don’t think many people have been in that situation,” Bradford told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But just to be here this offseason, to be able to go through the program, go through the meetings, the installs, really sit down and learn this offense and what we’re trying to do, it’s a much better situation than showing up here however many days, eight or nine, before the first game last year and trying to learn everything on the fly.”

While the trade from the Eagles just before the season was a shock to him, he benefited from the next change, as his background with Pat Shurmur eased the next transition after the departure of Norv Turner.

“I think the later we got in the year the better I felt with it,” Bradford said. “Obviously going through the change that we did kind of halfway through the season, having worked with Pat, I think that really helped me just because we have a really good relationship and I felt like we were able to communicate. Towards the end of the year I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on things.”

He responded with career highs in passer rating (99.3) and passing yards (3,877), but enters another season with uncertainty looming over him. Between the fact he’s entering the last year of his contract and the recovery of former starter Teddy Bridgewater from last year’s traumatic knee injury, Bradford knows there’s little beyond the immediate in his control, which makes familiar surroundings a good thing.

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OBJ visits Texas cancer patient, thanks to social media

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Say what you will about social media, but it allows for connections to be made that previously were impossible.

Case in point, via NJ.com: Through social media, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. learned about a boy in Texas with a rare form of cancer. So Beckham visited him.

Danny Richburg, the father of Giants center Weston Richburg, got the assist, bringing to Beckham’s attention via twitter a Facebook post regarding Jayro Ponce’s wish to meet Beckham. Beckham responded almost immediately, and only a few days after it all got started, Beckham was in Amarillo to meet with the boy.

If you’re inclined to kick in a little cash to help with Jayro’s treatment, feel free. It will be a lot cheaper and take a lot less time than hopping a plane to Texas.

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Bills hoping Sammy Watkins is close to 100 percent for camp

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The Bills are bringing veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin in for a visit Monday. But the receiver they most want to see next week is one already on their roster.

One of the biggest questions for the Bills this season will be the availability of Sammy Watkins, after he underwent a second surgery on his left foot earlier this offseason. He hasn’t spoken to reporters this spring, though he did do some team drills near the end of the minicamp, creating the expectation that he should be at least close to 100 percent when camp opens later this week.

“Credit to Sammy, credit to our training staff and the way he’s attacked the rehab with them,” coach Sean McDermott said then, via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. “That has to continue, though. This is one step in that process of getting Sammy back to where he needs to be and where we need him to be.”

The Bills will likely keep the reins pulled back on Watkins, so as not to create any setbacks in what has been a career marked by injuries.

He played in the first two games last year before foot problems sent him to injured reserve. He came back to play the final six games of the season, but was far from the dynamic player they anticipated. Because of that, and the lingering health questions, they didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

He’s shown when he’s been well that he can be a playmaker. He just hasn’t been often enough, making this a crucial season for him.

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