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T.Y. Hilton punt return gives Colts early lead

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The Bills scored their only touchdown in Week 11 on a Leodis McKelvin punt return.

They need to hope the Colts aren’t saying the same thing at the end of this week’s game. After the Bills went three-and-out on their first possession of the game, T.Y. Hilton took a punt 75 yards to put the Colts ahead 7-0 in the first quarter. It’s the first time the Colts have returned a punt for a touchdown since T.J. Rushing did it in the 2009 season.

Hilton was drafted in part because of his return skills, although he’s also proven to be a strong part of the offense in his rookie season. He has one catch for 18 yards on Sunday and has 33 catches on the season.

The Colts’ first drive ended with a punt as well and they were able to keep McKelvin from breaking off a long return. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick on third down to force the punt team onto the field.

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Clock is ticking loudly for Raiders, Marshawn Lynch

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More than a month ago, running back Marshawn Lynch made major waves with tales of his potential unretirement. Now, only three days before the draft, the prospect of a return seems no stronger than it was when the news first surfaced on St. Patrick’s Day.

The only reasonable explanation resides in the inherent unpredictability of Marshawn Lynch. When he’s pushed in one direction, he seems to be more inclined to go the other way. So with the Raiders pushing him to make a decision before the draft, Lynch’s natural inclination may be to not make a decision before the draft. Which, if the Raiders pick a running back early in the process, could result in the door naturally closing on Lynch.

From Lynch’s perspective, it may simply be a matter of calling the team’s bluff. If the Raiders have decided that they want him as a player and need him as an ambassador of sorts to the city the franchise soon will be fleeing for good, maybe they won’t pull the trigger on another tailback. Maybe they’ll keep waiting for Lynch because they know he’ll help them through an awkward, slow-motion, conscious uncoupling with a home city that also is Lynch’s hometown.

So, basically, it’s hard to imagine Lynch giving in, given what we know of Lynch. The real question is whether the Raiders will make the issue moot by picking a running back in an early round, or whether they’ll continue to wait for Lynch to choose to finalize and to formalize his return to the NFL.

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Jake Long announces his retirement

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Former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long realized that coming back from a torn Achilles as he approaches his 32nd birthday was going to be a struggle.

So Monday, he decided to call it a career.

Long tweeted out his thanks to friends and family, but said he wouldn’t be trying to play again.

“As I continue with my recent rehab,” he wrote, “I realize that although my heart and mind still want to play, my body is telling me something completely different.”

Long signed with the Vikings last year when injuries hit, but was lost for the season in November.

The top pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Dolphins, Long also played for the Rams and Falcons. He was a perennial Pro Bowler during his days with the Dolphins, but injuries derailed his career.

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Giants picking up Odell Beckham’s 2018 option

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Odell Beckham has caught 288 passes for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns over his first three seasons with the Giants, which likely meant that the team’s decision-makers spend more time on the average workday figuring out what to have for lunch than they did figuring out whether to pick up their option for 2018 on Beckham’s contract.

Kimberly Jones of NFL Media reports that the Giants are picking up that option, which will be guaranteed against injury only for the 2014 first-round pick. Beckham joins Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin as wideouts from that year’s first round to have their options picked up with word still pending on plans for Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks.

The future for the Giants and Beckham will likely involve discussions about a long-term deal that would keep Beckham on the team for a long while.

Those statistics listed above make the case for why the Giants would be interested in doing that while some would use his outbursts on the field, on the sidelines and in Lambeau Field hallways to argue that Beckham’s volatility works against a long-term investment. The Giants have occasionally complained about those outbursts, but co-owner John Mara said earlier this year that Beckham is the “last guy” he worries about and that would seem to suggest that his play will carry the day.

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Washington linebacker Will Compton signs his tender

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With the window to sign offer sheets with other teams passed, restricted free agents don’t have many choices at this stage.

So most of them go ahead and sign.

Washington’s Will Compton is the latest to take care of the paperwork, signing his today according to John Keim of ESPN.com. RFA running back Chris Thompson signed his Friday.

Compton got the original-round tender of $1.797 million, and wouldn’t have cost another team anything in compensation since he was undrafted.

But with Washington signing Zach Brown, Compton may return to a reserve role.

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Tim Barnes scheduled to work out for 49ers

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The draft is the main attention-getter in the NFL this week, but teams are taking care of business on other fronts with offseason workout programs underway across the league.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the 49ers will have former Rams center Tim Barnes in for a workout on Tuesday. Barnes was released earlier this offseason before the Rams signed former Viking John Sullivan.

Barnes started every game for the Rams over the last two seasons, but the new coaching staff in Los Angeles opted to replace him as part of a series of changes to the line this offseason.

The 49ers have also made moves on their offensive line, including a trade with the Ravens that brought center Jeremy Zuttah to the team. Zuttah’s presence would likely put any 49ers interest in Barnes as a depth option, although any thoughts on that front are likely premature until the 49ers put Barnes through his paces this week.

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Unnamed scout suggests small market will be better for DeShone Kizer

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As the draft approaches, it’s important to remember that “anonymous scouts” may have a Machiavellian agenda, saying bad things about players they hope other teams won’t draft and good things about players they hope some other sucker will select. With that caveat, consider this fairly harsh criticism from an unnamed scout of Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer.

He’s a pure millennial,” the anonymous scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He’s caught up in being more of a quarterback image than being a quarterback. If he goes to the right spot with the right coach, he’ll ascend. They’re going to have to get him to focus on football. I honestly think this guy would do better in a small market. If he goes to a big market he’ll enjoy everything else that comes with the position. The one position in the building you don’t want to worry about whether he’s going to be focused on football is quarterback.”

Since we don’t know who the unnamed scout is, it’s possible he works for a team that is in a small market and that hopes to land Kizer, who is regarded as having a potentially big upside. And the upside is the key, since teams without franchise quarterbacks know that the draft is one of the few places to find one.

As to going to “the right spot with the right coach,” that’s true of anyone, really. Dak Prescott instantly became Dak Prescott in part because he was picked by the Cowboys and not by a team that didn’t have the offensive line, the running back, the receivers, the tight end, and the coaching staff.

For Kizer and any other quarterback, that should be the primary hope this week — to land in the right spot with the right coach, regardless of which round that happens in.

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Saints still talking to Adrian Peterson

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Discussions about free agent running back Adrian Peterson have cooled as the draft approaches, but at least one team remains interested.

The Saints and Peterson are still talking about a contract, Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune reports.

How soon a contract could be agreed upon remains to be seen. The Saints may want to wait and see if a running back they like is available in the draft, which could make them less interested in Peterson. And Peterson may want to see if a team that misses out on its preferred running back gives him a call.

But at a time when other teams aren’t showing a lot of interest in Peterson — or in any of the available veteran running backs, for that matter — the Saints remain interested.

ESPN would surely love to see the Saints sign Peterson, as their first opponent is the Vikings, on Monday Night Football.

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Corey Davis says he’s close to 100 percent after ankle surgery

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In this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback column for TheMMQB.com, Peter King quotes Mike Mayock of NFL Network as saying that there is “more medical concern with high draft picks than I’ve ever seen in a draft before.”

One of those picks is Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. Davis is at the top of the list of wide receivers available for selection this year, but ankle surgery at the start of the offseason kept him from working out for teams over the course of the pre-draft process.

Davis said at the Scouting Combine in early March that he was confident he would be “good by minicamp” and he offered another update recently. Davis told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com that he expects to be 100 percent in a “few weeks,” which would allow him to get some work in with his new team ahead of training camp this summer.

We’ll find out how much the injury impacted Davis’ draft standing later this week. He visited with the Ravens, Browns, Eagles and Titans, all of whom are thought to be good bets to add a receiver before the draft is out.

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23 cities are interested in hosting the draft

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Now that the NFL has realized that it can do with the draft what it does with the Super Bowl, cities are lining up to get a chance to host the league’s annual offseason tentpole event.

Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the number of locations interested in hosting the draft exceeds 20.

“We have gone out multiple times to all 32 clubs to get their expression of interest in hosting the draft,” NFL senior V.P. of events Peter O’Reilly told Kaplan. “The number of interested . . . markets are 23, which is inclusive of Canton.”

For now, the NFL pays most of the freight when it comes to hosting the draft. As more cities compete for that privilege, the league could soon dictate terms, like it does with the Super Bowl.

The draft also could be hosted in a given year by several different cities. That’s a possibility the league has mentioned in the past. As interest grows, it makes even more sense to consider it.

New York City had a hammerlock on the draft from 1965 through 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the draft was held in Chicago. This week, the draft will be held in Philadelphia.

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Report: Trumaine Johnson won’t be traded

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Not every player who is available for trade gets traded.

And at a certain point, the team realizes it can’t reach a deal, and begins the process of rebuilding a bridge.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Rams won’t be dealing cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

The Rams have previously offered up their twice-franchised corner, and after a month or so, acknowledged that a long-term contract was a possibility.

That’s sensible, since having him on the books for one year at $16.7 million is a tough number for any team to swallow. But even if they don’t do a deal, they need to make sure he feels integrated into the team, and putting out word that they’re keeping him seems like part of that process.

And it’s also possible that with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman available at a more amenable contract, the Rams simply weren’t getting the right kind of offers.

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Falcons not limiting to “angelic souls,” but won’t draft Joe Mixon

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The Falcons are willing to take chances on certain players, who have certain character questions.

But they won’t be drafting Joe Mixon this week, in what sounds like a directive from far above the scouting level.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Oklahoma running back who was captured on video punching a woman in the face is not on the Falcons draft board at all.

And though he may have been responding to an unrelated question when he said the following, Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff made it clear where such decisions come from.

“That doesn’t just come from a head coach and General Manger,” Dimitroff said in general of such decisions about players with red flags. “Believe me, that comes from higher than us for sure. [Owner Arthur] Blank is very direct about it.

“I think that’s important for this organization and this community to know that.”

Dimitroff understands that not every prospect is going to be clean. For instance, last year’s second-round pick (cornerback Jalen Collins) failed multiple drug tests in college.

“You are never going to be 100 percent correct,” Dimitroff said. “Sometimes, things fall through the cracks, but we do all we can to make sure we are [making good] acquisitions. Again, they are not all angelic souls. I get that. . . .

“We really are proud of the type of people we bring in here. We think it’s important. Of course, I’ve said this time and again: We aren’t looking for angels. We are looking for guys who are real. We are looking for guys who ultimately will fit into the brotherhood. . . . We are particular about looking at the character situation and how they fit. It’s a big thing, of course.”

With Mixon, it might have been as simple as watching one video. But one particular person apparently saw it, and he won’t be going to Atlanta.

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Jerry Jones: I have more to offer now than 25 years ago

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Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989. Now, at age 74, he says he’s as sharp as ever.

“I have just got a lot more to offer today than I did 25 years ago,” Jones recently told Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m not bragging. I am just saying it’s from sheer input. And I’m thankful I have got the health and thankful that I’ve got the enthusiasm. I should be better. Not only should I be better in the draft room, but I should be better in almost any aspect.”

Those other aspects include league-level issues for which Jones has received plenty of credit of late, from helping the Rams get to L.A. to helping the Raiders get to Las Vegas. The effort resulted in a recent ESPN item that told the story of the Raiders’ relocation to twice refer to Jones as the “shadow commissioner.”

Perhaps one of Jones’ best moves happened last month, as he found a way to tap the brakes on releasing Tony Romo just long enough to steer him out of football without damaging the relationship. Plenty of league insiders believe that the CBS decision to offer Romo the No. 1 analyst position resulted at a minimum from aggressive efforts by Jones to sing Romo’s praises as a budding broadcaster, in the hopes of cajoling CBS into making Romo an offer he couldn’t refuse. Which in turn kept him from playing for the Texans, Broncos, or anyone other than the Cowboys.

For Jones, a secret to remaining vital is avoiding any outward reminders that his body doesn’t match his state of mind.

“One of the things I don’t do is I don’t look in mirrors because I think I look like you do,” Jones told Hill. “I think I can do the same thing you can do out there. . . . What is amazing to me, I have never felt like I have worked a day in the last 28, 29 years. I’m not patronizing you guys, but I’m having fun right now.”

He should be. The team is doing well, the league is doing well, and Jones will start the 2017 season by getting a bronze bust in Canton. With three Super Bowl championships and the unprecedented growth of the NFL on his watch, Jones is operating on house money.

Still, the journey won’t be complete until he wins a championship with a team that he built, not with a team that was assembled and honed by Jimmy Johnson. Jones is closer than he’s ever been to achieving that goal, and 2017 could be the year in which it finally happens.

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Report: Malcolm Butler trade “less attractive” to Saints

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The Saints have shown interest in Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler for some time this offseason and met with him before he signed his restricted free agent tender with New England, but the need to send the 11th overall pick to the Patriots if they signed him to an offer sheet that the Patriots didn’t match was a big obstacle to bringing him to New Orleans.

Now that Butler has signed his tender, the Saints could negotiate different compensation with the Patriots in a trade. The chances of that happening may not be great, however.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com reports that the Saints still have interest, but that the thought of dealing picks for Butler before signing him to a big contract extension “is less attractive than it once seemed.” Per King, the Saints don’t want to deal any of their top three picks (No. 11, No. 32 and No. 42) because they believe they can get immediate contributors at every one of those spots.

The Saints also have a pair of third-round selections, but the Patriots will likely be positioned to get a third-round compensatory pick if Butler leaves as a free agent after the season so they’d likely be looking for more in return in a trade.

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Father of draft prospect Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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What should be one of the best weeks of Travis Rudolph’s life has turned tragic.

Rudolph, a Florida State wide receiver who is viewed as a third-day prospect in this week’s NFL draft, lost his father in what police say is an accidental shooting.

Darryl Rudolph, a repairman, was working in a nightclub on Friday morning making repairs. He was shot and killed because, police say, an employee of the club in an adjacent room was moving a loaded gun off a shelf and it went off accidentally. Police say they are still investigating but there is no reason to believe the shooting was intentional.

Travis Rudolph made national headlines last year when he visited a Tallahassee elementary school and joined an autistic boy who was sitting alone at lunch. The boy’s mother thanked Rudolph on Facebook, and her post went viral.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 500 Americans a year die in accidental shootings.

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Short fight looming over Las Vegas Raiders trademark

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Raiders owner Mark Davis had the foresight in 1998 to squat on the LasVegasRaiders.com domain name. Davis did not do the same regarding the trademark rights to his team’s eventual new name. In part because he didn’t have to

Via the Associated Press, several people unaffiliated to the Raiders have filed applications for federal rights to the phrase. The cost for doing so is only $275, but the upside could be much more significant than that.

The upside is highly unlikely, however. At some point, the Raiders will make their move to secure the obvious trademark rights that they own. And those who have forked over $275 will have nothing to show for their roll of the dice.

It wouldn’t have been so simple if someone else had obtained the rights to LasVegasRaiders.com. The Dallas Cowboys still don’t own the rights to Cowboys.com, a domain for which they declined to pay $275,000 several years ago and that was, as of 2012, a male dating site.

It’s currently available, at a minimum offer of $500,000. LasVegasRaiders.com would likely fetch that kind of payment now, if Davis hadn’t spent the $10 or so to get the name back when anyone could have gotten it.

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