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NFL morning after: The unappreciated Jay Cutler

Bears quarterback Cutler is pressured by Vikings defensive end Griffen during the first half of their NFL football game at Soldier Field in Chicago Reuters

If you don’t like Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, you’re not alone. A poll of fans conducted last season found that Cutler was one of the Top 5 most disliked players in the NFL.

And if you’re looking for reasons not to like Cutler, you saw one when the Bears beat the Vikings on Sunday: Cutler committed one of the dumber penalties of the day when he ran out of bounds and then threw the ball at Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Throwing the ball at an opponent is an automatic 15-yard penalty, as every NFL player should know. Yes, Cutler can be an idiot sometimes.

But if you don’t think Cutler is a good quarterback, well, you’re wrong. Cutler’s abilities were on display in Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Vikings, but they were even more on display in the way the Bears completely fell apart without him a week ago against the 49ers. And Cutler’s importance to the Bears is on display in every game he misses: In the last three years, in games Cutler both started and finished, the Bears are 26-9. In games Cutler either missed entirely or was knocked out because of an injury in the first half, the Bears are 1-8.

No, Cutler doesn’t put up the kinds of numbers that the NFL’s elite quarterbacks produce, but Cutler doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of offensive talent surrounding him that the NFL’s elite quarterbacks have. The Bears have had one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines for Cutler’s entire tenure in Chicago, and they only got a high-level wide receiver for the first time this year, when they traded for Brandon Marshall.

I believe it’s that Chicago offensive line and that Chicago receiving corps — as well as, yes, acting like a jerk at times by doing things like throwing a ball at an opponent — that has made Cutler one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL. This is a good quarterback, playing on a team that appears headed toward the playoffs, in the NFL’s second-biggest media market, and he should get more credit than he does.

Cutler has a great opportunity, however, to change the way he’s regarded over the next couple of months. With the Bears right in the thick of the NFC playoff race, Cutler has the chance to do what he didn’t do when a knee injury knocked him out of the NFC Championship Game a couple years ago, and play the best football of his career on the biggest stage. I think Cutler is going to open some eyes in December and January. And maybe by February, he won’t be unappreciated anymore.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:

Robert Ayers was the toughest player in the league on Sunday. Ayers, a backup defensive end for the Broncos, found out late on Saturday night that his father had died suddenly. But instead of heading home right away, he decided to stay in Kansas City to be there for his team against the Chiefs. Ayers played and played well in a 17-9 win in which the Broncos’ defense shut down the Chiefs’ offense, then was awarded a game ball in the locker room afterward and headed home to tend to his family.

Jared Allen got away with a brutal cheap shot. While his teammate Antoine Winfield was returning an interception, Allen launched himself directly into the head of Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis, delivering a hit that knocked Louis out of the game. Allen said after the game that he thought the hit was legal, but he’s wrong. That’s a blatant penalty that the officials somehow missed, but the league office won’t. Allen is in for a big fine.

The Chiefs got too cute. Kansas City’s opening drive against Denver was running smoothly, with an emphasis on running: Out of the Chiefs’ first nine offensive plays, eight of them were runs, and those eight runs produced 48 yards. So what on earth were the Chiefs thinking with the play they called on third-and-3 in the red zone? Instead of running it again, the Chiefs called a bizarre trick play on which running back Peyton Hillis took the snap, ran to his right, then turned around and threw it to quarterback Brady Quinn. Hillis’s pass showed that there’s a reason he’s not a quarterback: He threw an ugly duck that didn’t even get close, falling to the ground a few feet in front of Quinn. That was a dumb play call that stopped a promising drive.

Something has to be done about the officials, Part 1. Everyone saw the horrendous call on Thanksgiving in which the officials somehow ruled that Texans running back Justin Forsett had run 81 yards for a touchdown, even though he was obviously down after just eight yards. But on Sunday not as many people noticed that the opposite mistake was made in the 49ers-Saints game: San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree caught a pass, got hit, put his hand down to steady himself and kept running, about to break a big play — except that the officials whistled the play dead, wrongly thinking Crabtree had been down. If we can’t count on the officials to get it right on a call as fundamental as whether or not a player was down, what can we count on them to get right?

Something has to be done about the officials, Part 2. Remember during the lockout, how everyone complained that the replacement refs were dragging out the games by taking way too long to make their rulings? No delays from the replacement refs were as bad as the ridiculous delay late in Sunday’s Ravens-Chargers game. After Ray Rice made an amazing play to turn a short pass into a first down on fourth-and-29, the officials delayed the game by a whopping 10 minutes to watch a replay and re-measure the spot of the ball, only to discover that it had been correctly ruled a first down on the field all along. A 10-minute delay late in the fourth quarter of a close game takes all the energy out of the building. Make the call and move on, refs.

Anyone want to help Charlie Batch out? With Batch, the Steelers’ 38-year-old third-string quarterback, pressed into duty on Sunday, the Steelers needed to get big games from their running backs. Instead, Pittsburgh’s four running backs — Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey — combined for just 49 yards on 20 carries, while fumbling six times. Mendenhall and Rainey had two fumbles apiece, while Dwyer and Redman each had one. The Steelers’ eight turnovers were the most for any NFL team in one game since 2001, and the Steelers were upset by the Browns.

Jim Harbaugh made the right decision. Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback than Alex Smith, and if anyone doubted it before, no one should doubt it after Kaepernick led the 49ers to a big win at New Orleans on Sunday. Harbaugh was wise to bench Smith in favor of Kaepernick, who is now 2-0 as a starter with wins over the Bears (playing without Cutler) and Saints. With Kaepernick under center, the 49ers are going to be a tough team to beat in January. Although if they meet again in the playoffs, I like the Bears’ chances with a healthy Cutler.

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Call in the hogs: NFL schedule up against NBA playoff game

Jerry Jones AP

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might not be happy that the NFL is hogging all the attention tonight.

The NFL’s schedule release has become a thing, tonight at 8 p.m.

As noted by David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, in a delightful coincident, Cuban’s Mavericks play the San Antonio Spurs in a playoff game at 8 p.m.

Wonder which will create more buzz?

Of course, tonight’s unveiling of the order of a list we already know the contents of is pretty much Cuban’s point, that the porcine NFL is risking overexposure.

But Cowboys owner and Arkansas alumnus Jerry Jones replied good-naturedly that he thinks everything’s going to be fine with his business.

“I respect Mark,’’ Jones said. But with all due respect, I know more about pigs than Mark does.

“I was taught as a Razorback to be lean and mean, not a little fat pig.’’

Of course, it’s easy for Jones to bring home the bacon, when his schedule release will draw more attention than Cuban’s playoff game.

 

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Mike Wallace: New offense is “my style”

Mike Wallace AP

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace joined his Dolphins teammates for offseason workouts on Tuesday for his first official day of work in the offense put together by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

While coach Joe Philbin downplayed any major changes to the offense, Wallace sang a slightly different tune. After a 2013 season that saw him frustrated at times about the lack of big plays relative to what he pulled off in Pittsburgh, Wallace said he thought this offense fit his abilities well and sounded optimistic about what he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill could do in the system.

“My style: Big-play offense,” Wallace said, via the Miami Herald. “I see Ryan’s excited about it. He’s called me about eight, nine times. I just want to make some plays for my team. Go out and make some plays for my team and have a much better year than last year. We can’t have the kind of year we had last year. We need to be on the same page.”

Tannehill has talked about the offense’s focus on being more consistent on deep balls during the 2014 season, something that would work out well for Wallace and the offense overall. It might also help if Lazor moves Wallace around the field more than Mike Sherman did in 2013, when Wallace lined up outside on the right almost all the time.

If Lazor’s tweaks lead to bigger things for Wallace, it might bring an end to the talk of Wallace’s departure from Miami after two seasons.

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Doug Baldwin hasn’t signed RFA tender, but still working out with Seahawks

Doug Baldwin AP

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin was tendered at the second round level by the Seahawks this offseason, giving him the right to negotiate and sign an offer sheet with any other team in the league as long as he doesn’t sign the tender.

Baldwin hasn’t signed it, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in leaving Seattle. Baldwin has signed a waiver allowing him to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with the team even though he isn’t yet under contract for the 2014 season. During an appearance on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Baldwin confirmed that staying in Seattle was the end result he wanted.

“I want to be a Seattle Seahawk and I want to be a Seattle Seahawk for a long time,” Baldwin said. “I love it here, I love the organization and I’m focused on doing what I can to improve and get ready for this upcoming season, whether that’s with a tender or whether that’s with something else that we work out. Hopefully is with a long-term deal, that’s what I’m hoping for, whether that’s this year or next year.”

Baldwin indicated that there haven’t been talks about a long-term deal and the possibility of signing with another team disappears on May 2, so playing out the year on the $2.187 million tender seems like a likely option.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning leaves the field after being defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game in East Rutherford Reuters

The Bills have settled a class-action lawsuit brought by fans who said the team inundated them with text messages; the team will give the fans vouchers to buy items at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin of starting offseason work, “It’s kind of like the first day of school. Everybody loves seeing their old buddies and getting re-acclimated to football.”

Said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, “There’s a lot to be excited about. There’s some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while. All that is on paper. It really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together. We have a long ways to go.”

Will the Jets consider a tight end in the first two rounds of the draft?

It might make sense for the Ravens to trade down.

Will Cleveland have to choose between street repairs and refurbishing the Browns’ stadium?

Says Cincinnati’s Wallace Gilberry of former teammate Michael Johnson signing with the Bucs, “He’s still our guy, he’s just wearing different colors. When we play Tampa, he’s not our guy. He knows that. That’s no secret. But he’s our guy.”

Expect the Steelers to draft a linebacker or two no matter regardless of whether Jason Worilds gets a contract extension.

Another mock draft says the Texans will take Jadeveon Clowney.

Will the Colts bolster the secondary in the draft?

Should the Jaguars pass on a quarterback this year and look to the 2015 draft?

Don’t expect the Titans to find a replacement for RB Chris Johnson in this year’s draft.

Said new Broncos DE DeMarcus Ware of Peyton Manning, “Peyton’s one of those guys who puts in the effort, not just on the field, but off the field, trying to figure it out. He has a bad taste in his mouth from last season and doesn’t want it to happen again.”

Chiefs DE Mike DeVito is still not over the playoff loss to the Colts.

The Raiders have begun their offseason work.

Chargers LB Donald Butler calls it “a huge disappointment” that he has only played 12 games a year the past couple seasons.

Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar says he’s good to go.

Giants QB Eli Manning says his ankle injury was not basketball-related.

Former Eagles LB Garry Cobb, who now works as a radio analyst and is running for Congress, has made contradictory comments about whether he suffers from memory loss stemming from his football career.

Golfer Notah Begay says Dan Snyder’s support for Native American causes is nothing more than “a gimmick.”

Bears DE Shea McClellin is “a different man” after tough offseason workouts.

One local columnist says the Lions are “scared” to tell Ndamukong Suh he needs to show up to voluntary offseason workouts.

The Packers would like to get more offseason work done, but the NFL limits what they can do.

Will the Vikings pick up Christian Ponder’s fifth-year option?

Here are some pictures of the Falcons’ workouts.

Panthers QB Cam Newton views fellow Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson like a big brother.

Shayne Graham is ready to compete to be the Saints’ kicker.

Bucs CB Johnthan Banks is adjusting to the changes with new coach Lovie Smith’s defense.

The Cardinals may use a high pick on a quarterback.

Will Richard Sherman get more than $12 million a year, which the Patriots and Darrelle Revis have established as the going rate for a top cornerback?

Rams WR Chris Givens says he was cocky as a rookie but is now humbled.

Everyone will watch the schedule announcement to find out when the 49ers’ two games with the Seahawks will take place.

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Phil Costa: I retired at 26 because football took a toll on my body

Phil Costa AP

Phil Costa, the 26-year-old center who abruptly announced his retirement just weeks after signing as a free agent with the Colts, says he did it because football wore him down.

“Unfortunately, the day-to-day physical rigor of the NFL season has taken a toll on my body and has been a driving force behind my decision,” Costa said in a statement, via the Dallas Morning News.

Costa missed most of the 2012 season with the Cowboys because of back and ankle injuries, and he struggled to return to form in 2013. But Costa doesn’t sound like he has hard feelings toward the NFL.

“As I look forward to the next chapter of my life, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have played in the league,” Costa said.

It wouldn’t be surprising if, after some time, Costa decides that he wants to give football another shot. If he really is finished playing, however, we wish him well in whatever he does in the next phase of his life.

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Terrelle Pryor to play a different position? Not so fast says John Schneider

Oakland Raiders v New York Jets Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks made a somewhat curious decision to trade for Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor on Monday.

Seattle sent their seventh-round draft pick, No. 247 overall, to the Raiders in exchange for Pryor. It’s the last pick of the draft that can be traded, and the remaining selections are compensatory picks that cannot be dealt. It was a minimal investment for a player the Raiders intended to release before the start of their offseason workout program.

Seahawks general manger John Schneider joined Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon on SiriusXM NFL Radio to discuss why the team elected to bring Pryor to Seattle.

We’re always trying to improve competition at every position and we saw this as an opportunity to do that,” Schneider said. “Rare athlete, size and speed. . . .  We’re just excited about his upside and the type of athlete that he is. We knew that if he was released [by Oakland] there was no way we were going to have an opportunity to claim him.”

Basically, Seattle’s thought process was that they couldn’t get an athlete of Pryor’s caliber with the 247th pick anyway, so why not take a shot?

Seattle appeared to be mostly set at quarterback. Russell Wilson is entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract and the team re-signed backup Tarvaris Jackson to a fully guaranteed one-year deal that will pay more than both Wilson and Pryor are set to make next season. It led to a thought that Pryor may be earmarked as a player that may be asked to play a position other than quarterback.

Schneider said that speculation may be a little premature.

“We haven’t had those conversations,” Schneider said. “But if there was ever an athlete that would be able to play a slash role, if you will, it would be this kind of player. That may a little bit fantasy football at this time of the year. He’s a quarterback. He’s been a quarterback, but no we haven’t gotten into that. This guy is a very talented athlete and we can’t wait to put our hands on him and have our staff spend some time with him.”

For now, Pryor will be of an experiment with Seattle. He’ll join B.J. Daniels as the quarterbacks behind Wilson and Jackson’s on Seattle’s roster.

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Doug Marrone recently had cancerous mole removed

Bills Patriots Football AP

Bills coach Doug Marrone has disclosed that he recently had a cancerous mole removed from his skin.

“During a recent doctor’s visit, it was discovered that I had a cancerous mole on my skin, which has since been removed,” Marrone said in a statement posted on the team’s website. “The only follow up required is to have my moles checked every three months and that basically is the end of the story. The recent extraction procedure will have no effect on my ability to coach the team moving forward.”

Marrone, 49, did not specify the location of the mole or the type of cancer, which was discovered during a recent doctor’s visit.  Some forms of skin cancer, like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are very treatable, if caught early.  Even the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, can be cured if detected and treated before it spreads.

Jim Johnson, former Eagles defensive coordinator, died due to melanoma in 2009 at the age of 68.

Marrone’s situation serves as an important reminder to examine all skin at least once per month for any abnormal moles or growths.  Ask your doctor to do a skin examination during check-ups and physicals.  And be sure to get any suspicious areas checked as soon as possible by a dermatologist.

As my dermatologist said in January after slicing from my leg a small growth that turned out to be benign, “A little paranoia can save your patients’ lives.”

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Kony Ealy says he is the best defensive end in the draft

Kony Ealy AP

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is widely considered the top defensive line prospect in the NFL Draft. Clowney could even be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

However, another pass rusher from the SEC believes he is the best defensive end in this year’s draft class.

According to Tom Pelissero of the USA Today, Missouri defensive end Kony Early says that he believes he is the best at the position in this year’s draft class.

“I feel like I’m the best guy in this draft, period,” Ealy said. “And that’s not a cocky thing — that’s just a confidence thing. It’s not just talk. It’s been proven. My numbers show for it. My size and speed and agility show for it. What else can you want?”

Ealy is also considered to be a first round selection and did produce more statistically than Clowney did last season. Ealy had 9.5 sacks for the Tigers while Clowney posted just three sacks for South Carolina. However, college production doesn’t necessarily equate to the highest projection when it comes to the NFL.

Nevertheless, Ealy is still extremely confident in his own abilities.

“There’s no knocking [Clowney],” Ealy said. “But I’m the best defensive end in this draft. I may not have a whole lot of hype, but I don’t [need] anybody to acknowledge me.”

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Gil Brandt suggests draft-and-trade scenario for Texans at No. 1

Manziel Getty Images

Ten years after the Chargers made Eli Manning the first pick in the draft and then shipped him to the Giants for Philip Rivers plus more, a similar strategy could be unfolding in 16 nights at Radio City Music Hall.

Gil Brandt of NFL.com suggests that the Texans could take defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall selection, and then trade him to a team that takes a predetermined player with its own first-round pick.

The approach makes much more sense than the Texans trading down to a specific spot before the draft, since that would invite speculation from other teams regarding the player the Texans would target, along with a possible leapfrogging of the Texans.  By taking then trading Clowney, the Texans would more likely to get the guy they want later, since the team that takes the player the Texans would pick may not be expected to pick that player.

Appearing on Tuesday’s PFT Live, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle explained that, in his view, the Texans will take Clowney or quarterback Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick.  If they decide on Manziel and if Manziel remains in play until the team to which Clowney would be traded can get him, the Texans would emerge with Manziel plus more.

And if the team that would trade for Clowney can’t get the other player the Texans want, the Texans presumably would keep Clowney — or possibly trade him to someone else for a different package.

For the full appearance and insight from McClain, click the box below.

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Bills website posts, then deletes, article announcing that coach Doug Marrone has cancer

Marrone Getty Images

In an unusual development that the team has not yet explained, the Bills website posted on Tuesday an article with the following headline:  “Coach Marrone announces he has cancer.”

The article, which consisted of two sentences and then a spot for a quote from Marrone, said that the unspecific cancer is “not aggrive [sic]” and “highly treatable.”

Attributed to Anna Stolzenburg in a screen shot posted by Deadspin, the link that previously contained the article currently is blank.

Media publications routinely prepare content in advance of an event that is expected or likely.  While it’s possible someone was simply playing an extremely unfunny prank, it’s also possible that the team was preparing to disclose that Marrone is fighting a highly treatable form of cancer.

One way or the other, the Bills need to address the situation, sooner than later.

UPDATE 11:13 p.m. ET:  Marrone has disclosed that he recently had a cancerous mole removed.

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Woodley declares Raiders to be a playoff team

Woodley Getty Images

It’s still 0-0 time in the NFL, with every fan of every team able to conjure hope for the coming season, plausible or otherwise.  Raiders fans, already buoyed by an aggressive pursuit of veteran free agents, got more reason for hope on Tuesday from one of the new arrivals.

“I can definitely see [us] as a playoff team,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley told 95.7 The Game on Tuesday.  “Last year going back and watching some film on the Raiders, there were a lot of opportunities here where they just didn’t close it out.  Some games good in the first half; they just didn’t close it out at the end of the game.  So now we just have to learn how to close out games and it’ll be more wins than losses.”

The Raiders closed it out against Woodley’s old team, the Steelers.  Otherwise, the Raiders had plenty of struggles.

This year’s potential struggles become a lot more tangible on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.  Though the Raiders’ opponents for 2014 have been known since the moment the 2013 regular season ended, the specific list of weeks and dates and times comes soon.

Perhaps that’s when Raiders players and fans will realize that, in 2014, the Raiders play three games against last year’s Super Bowl teams.  Five games against the four conference finalists.  Nine games against teams that made the playoffs in 2013.

And 12 games against teams with non-losing records a season ago.

That’s the end result of facing the Broncos twice, the Chiefs twice, the Chargers twice, the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Patriots, the Cardinals, the Rams, the Jets, the Bills, the Rams, the Dolphins, and the Browns.

Yes, every year is different.  For the Raiders, every year since 2003 has been the same.  This year’s schedule suggests it won’t be easy to break the cycle.

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Snyder says team name isn’t an issue, Halbritter disagrees

Snyder AP

When it comes to the Redskins name, the two sides have become as entrenched as they can be.  The question becomes whether enough folks who don’t have an opinion — and enough of those who have an opinion but not a strong one — will ever swing one way or the other.

Until then, the team will continue to defend the name, and the opponents of the name will continue to challenge it.

On Tuesday, owner Daniel Snyder revisited the topic, from the perspective of the foundation that recently was created to assist Native American tribes.

“We understand the issues out there, and we’re not an issue,” Snyder said in rare public remarks, via the Associated Press.  “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter has responded to the remarks.

“If Dan Snyder thinks it is acceptable for a billionaire to market, promote, and profit off of a dictionary defined racial slur, then he’s living in an alternate universe,” Halbritter said in a press release.  “If he wants to focus on reality, here’s a reality check:  The longer he insists on slurring Native Americans, the more damage he will keep doing to Native American communities, and the more he will become synonymous with infamous segregationist George Preston Marshall, who originally gave the team this offensive name.”

The opposition to the team’s name, which has lingered for more than 20 years, gained momentum in 2013, fueled in part by Snyder’s aggressive “all caps NEVER” position on when the name will change.  A high-stakes P.R. game has followed, with the Redskins spending plenty of money and effort to shape their message, and the opponents of the name spending plenty of money and effort to fight the name.

The issue will continue to percolate until the name changes, or until the opponents grow weary of the effort.  It doesn’t appear that either will happen any time soon.

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NFL announces 30 players will attend the draft

NFL logo and set are seen at New York's Radio City Music Hall before the start of the 2013 NFL Draft Reuters

More players than ever before will attend this year’s NFL draft.

The league announced today that 30 prospects have confirmed they will attend, the most ever. That includes four quarterbacks — Blake Bortles (Central Florida), Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) — as well as top prospects like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. (It’s a sign of the times that no running backs were among the 30 players invited.)

The other players confirmed to attend this year’s NFL Draft: LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, USC receiver Marqise Lee, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews, Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Texas Christian cornerback Jason Verrett.

Bringing more players to the draft gives the NFL more opportunities to promote its stars of the future, but it also makes it more likely that several players will go through the awkward experience of remaining in the “green room” throughout the first round and into the second or third round. It’s even possible that a player among the 30 invited could drop all the way to Day Three of the draft.

But most of the players invited will hear Roger Goodell call their names during the first round. And as the NFL continues to grow the draft into not just the league’s biggest offseason event but one of the major parts of the sports year, more players than ever before will be there.

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Kurt Coleman says he turned down better deals to sign with Vikings

Kurt Coleman

Kurt Coleman thought Minnesota was the best place for him, even if the Vikings’ offer wasn’t the best one he received in free agency.

Coleman, a safety who signed with the Vikings last week, accepted a deal in Minnesota that pays a salary this year of $900,000, with nothing guaranteed. Coleman said both the Colts and the Jets offered him some guaranteed money, and that he got one offer with a higher base salary as well.

“But for me it was more important about finding the right opportunity and the right staff and an organization that believes in you,” Coleman told the Pioneer Press. “And I think in the long term I’m betting on myself to succeed, and I think I will. The money wasn’t there that I wanted, but that’s OK because I know that it will come around. . . . It’s about reasserting myself as a starter in this league and being a top performer as a safety.”

Even though the Vikings’ starting safeties from last season, Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, are still in Minnesota this year, Coleman believes there’s a better opportunity for him to have an impact in the Vikings’ defense than there would have been anywhere else.

“Of course, I want to start,” Coleman said. “I’m a competitor. I want to get out there and I want to start and I want to be the best player that I can be, and I think I have plenty more room to grow.”

If Coleman grows into a player who can contribute to the Vikings’ defense, then Minnesota got a great deal.

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Lovie Smith praises his players for choosing to show up for voluntary work

Smith AP

NFL rules prohibit coaches from chastising players who choose not to show up for voluntary work.  But the rules say nothing about praising those who do.

On the first day of a voluntary minicamp, two weeks after the offseason program launched, new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said that his new team has had perfect attendance in the offseason program, so far.

“Yes, everyone is here,” Smith said.  “Everyone has been here all offseason really and that’s what you expect.  It’s voluntary work, but if you want to get better, why would you pass up an opportunity?  I appreciate that from the team — again they want to do something.  All you can do at this time in April is just show up each day and get better and they’ve done that.”

The Bucs have a minicamp now because teams with new coaches are permitted to have an extra voluntary camp.  Smith recognizes the value of that.

“I think it’s a must,” Smith said. “That’s the good part about being a new staff, when you get this extra minicamp in.  It’s one thing to watch guys on video, but you want to see them on the football field to know in a lot of ways.  Of course, we want to see our roster but, too, with the draft coming up, to see exactly what we need.  Maybe we’re not as strong or maybe we’re a little scrawny at some of the positions.  And that’s what they’ll tell us during these next two days.

“So I can’t tell you how much it helps.  And, for the team, they’re wondering, ‘What is it like?  What’s the practice routine?  How are these guys going to coach?’  And they know that now.  So we’ve gotten a lot of those questions answered quickly.”

We won’t get answers about whether the Buccaneers are any better until September, when the real games start.

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