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Anthony Spencer next in line to call plays for Cowboys

Anthony Spencer, Robert Griffin III AP

Teams usually want their an inside linebacker talking to coaches, since they’re the ones in the middle of it all, with the best chance of lining up a defense.

But with the Cowboys running out of those guys, they’ve given the radio communication helmet to outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, adding a layer of responsibility to his job.

Spencer took over play-calling in the second half of last week’s loss to the Redskins when Bruce Carter was injured. Carter had taken over when Sean Lee was injured, giving defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a parade of guys to talk to.

“It went pretty well,” Spencer said, via Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It was louder than I expected. But it went well.”

Asked what was louder, Spencer smiled and referred to Ryan.

“His voice,” Spencer said. “Yes. Him in my head was louder than I expected.”

Spencer had two sacks last week, to match his career high of 6.5. Along with running the defense for the last month, it’s a solid year for the franchise-tagged linebacker, and gives him one more line on the resume when it’s time to negotiate again.

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Competition Committee considers dumping inactive lists for Thursday games

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NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent said Saturday that the Competition Committee considered the proper handling of rosters for Thursday games.

Per a league source, the possible solution is the removal of the inactive list for Thursday Night Football.  If that happens, teams would dress all 53 players on Thursday night games, with no players on the inactive list.

It doesn’t mean that all 53 players would dress for every team in each Thursday night game; players too injured to play but not so injured to be on injured reserve won’t dress.

Presumably, this approach would apply to all Thursday games, including the trio of games played on the fourth Thursday in November.

It’s unclear whether the Competition Committee will recommend elimination of the inactive list for Thursday days.  Ultimately, the owners must vote on any changes to game-day rosters, with at least 24 of them agreeing.

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Jonas Gray determined to avoid inactive list in future

New England Patriots Vs. New York Jets At MetLife Stadium Getty Images

Patriots running back Jonas Gray experienced highs, lows and everything in between during the 2014 season.

Gray started the year on the practice squad, but was bumped to the active roster in October and became an overnight sensation by running for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a November victory over the Colts. Gray was late for practice one day the next week, which led to him being benched for the next game and the arrival of LeGarrette Blount meant he’d run the ball just 20 more times in the regular season.

Gray still led the Patriots in rushing yards for the year, but was inactive for both their playoff opener and the Super Bowl to make for a somewhat bittersweet ending to what had once looked like a breakout season. Gray told the Boston Herald that he’s determined to make sure that he doesn’t have to stand and watch from the sideline again in the future.

“The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should, and not be able to help change the outcome of the game; being helpful. But it’s motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I’ll never get myself in that position again,” Gray said. “When people ask me about the offseason, I tell them, I’m going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn’t enough,” he said. “I’m going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I’m going to outwork everybody. That’s what I hope to achieve.”

Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are set to become unrestricted free agents, so there’s likely to be some changes to the makeup of the Patriots backfield. With Blount due back, though, Gray will have to prove he’s the better option for the weeks when the game plan calls for a lot of running.

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Dan Quinn: Hopefully Sean Weatherspoon will be “big part” of our defense

Sean Weatherspoon AP

Injuries have limited linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to seven games in the last two seasons, but that didn’t stop General Manager Thomas Dimitroff  from calling him “an important part” of the Falcons earlier this month.

Dimitroff’s comments came just after Dan Quinn had officially become the team’s head coach and the intervening weeks don’t seem to have created a difference of opinion in the organization about Weatherspoon’s future. The former first-round pick is set to become a free agent on March 10, but Quinn gave a similar answer to Dimitroff when it came to how he’d like to see things play out.

“With him, it’s that toughness and the speed that he can play with so, yes, definitely someone that we’re talking to,” Quinn said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I know he’s got that kind of attitude. And you know me, just from watching our style of defense, it’s fast and physical. And that’s what Sean is. So, we’re certainly hoping that he can be a big part of it moving forward.”

Quinn admitted to some concern about Weatherspoon’s injury history, but called it a “string of bad luck” and said that the team is “excited to find out” if Weatherspoon is capable of playing at the same level he was at before his injuries. That uncertainty should keep Weatherspoon’s price on the reasonable side, which is good for a Falcons team with plenty of work to do to get their defense where it needs to be.

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Lions shouldn’t tag Suh

Suh Getty Images

With the list of franchise-tagged players due to be finalized on Monday, one name never should be on it:  Ndamukong Suh.

During Friday’s (maybe Thursday’s, probably Friday’s) PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, I harped repeatedly (to the undoubted delight of the audience) on the potential consequences of investing $26.8 million for one more year of service from Suh.

The biggest problem is that it would guarantee only one more year of service from Suh.  At $26.8 million for 2015, the only way to keep Suh off the market in 2016 would be to pay him 20 percent more than $26.8 million.  That’s $32.16 million.

Our friend Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press argues that the Lions nevertheless should tag Suh and then try to sign him to a long-term deal.  However, guaranteeing Suh $26.8 million for 2015 and setting him up for $32.16 million in 2016 makes the logical starting point for any negotiation on a long-term deal $58.96 million fully guaranteed for the first two years.

That’s the problem with using the tag; the amount of the tag in the current year and the expected amount of the tag in the next year becomes the starting point for a long-term deal.

So if the Lions are going to keep Suh, they need to rule out the franchise tag and put together an offer that will match or exceed the package that the Raiders or Jaguars or some other team looking to make a franchise-transforming cannonball into the free-agency pool will put together.  While it won’t be cheap to win the Suh sweepstakes on the open market, it won’t nearly be as costly as a long-term contract with $26.8 million as the starting point.

That’s why the Lions should have made it clear from the moment the two sides decided to table negotiations until after the season that there’s no way the franchise tag was ever being used.

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Competition Committee explores banning chop block

Blocking Getty Images

For years, pro football has allowed cut blocking.  One type of cut blocking is chop blocking.  And chop blocking now may be going the way of the dodo bird, Ray Rice, and the “how many fingers?” concussion test.

At their Saturday meeting in Naples, Florida, the NFL’s Competition Committee discussed getting rid of the chop block completely.

“The chop block has been banned from both the high school and college game,” NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent recently wrote.  “We have a generation of players coming to the NFL who never used the chop block, yet they may be expected to initiate this technique that could result in a career-ending injury.  We strongly need to consider removing this technique from the game.”

A chop block occurs when two offensive players attempt to impede a defensive player with a high-low technique.  One hits the defender above the waist, while the other strikes him in the thigh or lower.

The first reaction by some (like me) may be, “Wait, I thought the chop block already was banned?”  It most situations, it is. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 identifies three specific circumstances where the chop block is permitted, in running plays only.

First, two players initially aligned next to each other on the line of scrimmage may do it.  Second, two players not initially aligned next to each other may do it if the flow of the play is toward the block.  Third, two players may do it if one player was initially aligned in the backfield and hits the defender low while another player is blocking the defender high, as long as the action occurs outside the area initially occupied by the tight end on either side of the line.

Cut blocks (i.e., blocks at the thigh or below) have received plenty of criticism in recent years for the risk of knee and other leg injuries they create.  At a time when the NFL has obsessed over protecting certain offensive players from potential head injuries, defensive players rightfully have complained that the NFL has no regard for their below-the-waist safety.  Eliminating the chop block completely would confirm that the NFL has decided to take the issue seriously absent the same political pressure, liability, and/or threat to the future supply of football players that concussions present.

Some would say the cut block should be completely eliminated from the game.  That viewpoint overlooks the reason for its addition to football in the first place.  With football players coming in all shapes and sizes based on their vastly different roles and responsibilities, a small player typically can only impede a much larger player by taking him out at the legs.

If the NFL takes out that maneuver entirely, the league may see the current balance between offense and defense slide away from the current preference for the gaining of yards and the scoring of points.  To anyone who nevertheless wants to see that happen, maybe the fair tradeoff would be to eliminate the tackling of a ball carrier by diving at his knees.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Darrelle Revis AP

Perusing quarterback candidates for the Bills to add this offseason.

Wayne Diesel has been named sports performance director for the Dolphins and Dennis Lock was promoted to director of analytics.

What will the Patriots do regarding CB Darrelle Revis?

Don’t expect QB Michael Vick to be back with the Jets.

A couple of tight end possibilities for the Ravens to consider.

Are the Bengals planning more cuts for cap purposes?

The Browns’ winning bid for QB Josh McCown shows how shallow the pool of available quarterbacks is this offseason.

The Steelers have been able to consistently find receivers to plug into the offense.

Have we seen the best that Texans DE J.J. Watt has to offer or can he still improve?

Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star thinks it is unlikely that the Colts trade for RB Adrian Peterson.

The Jaguars believe they need to generate more pressure to generate more turnovers.

Nashville wants better communication with the Titans on issues having to do with LP Field.

On Demaryius Thomas and other wide receiver-related free agency topics for the Broncos.

Former Chiefs CB Gary Green will be enshrined in the team’s Hall of Fame this year.

The playbook that then-Raiders coach Jon Gruden used for a 1998 minicamp is available for viewing.

Forecasting Chargers WR Seyi Ajirotutu’s chances of re-signing with the team.

The Cowboys could shop for another backup quarterback.

Does the No. 9 pick give the Giants leverage in contract talks with DE Jason Pierre-Paul?

Todd Herremans said farewell to Eagles fans after announcing his retirement.

One of DL Ricky Jean Francois’s first tasks after signing with the Redskins was learning what “HTTR” means.

There are plenty of free agent prospects for the Bears to look at this month.

The Lions like the growth they saw from CB Darius Slay in 2014.

There’s not much reason for the Packers to let OL Don Barclay go as a restricted free agent.

What’s next at left guard for the Vikings?

QB T.J. Yates is likely to remain with the Falcons.

Will the Panthers have room for DT Colin Cole in 2015?

A position-by-position look at what the offseason could bring for the Saints.

QB Vinny Testaverde looks back at the last time the Buccaneers had the first overall pick.

UCLA QB Brett Hundley is from Arizona and would love to play for the Cardinals.

G Justin Blalock could be a player under consideration by the Rams.

A look at what WR Stevie Johnson’s exit would mean for the 49ers’ offseason plans.

Sorting through offensive line needs for the Seahawks.

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Stephen Jones: DeMarco Murray talks are slow, he’ll test the market

DeMarco Murray AP

If DeMarco Murray signs a new contract with the Cowboys this offseason, it will only be after testing the free agent market.

That’s the word from Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, who said the Cowboys’ talks with the agents for the free agent running back have been “slow.”

“[Murray] is probably going to, you know, get some peace and see what’s out in the market and then we’ll talk and see. I do believe deep down he’d love to stay in Dallas,” Jones told FOX Sports.

Murray may want to stay in Dallas, and the Cowboys may want to keep him, but that doesn’t mean the two sides are going to come to an agreement. The Cowboys won’t have a lot of salary cap space after franchising Dez Bryant, and Murray may find that some other team is going to give him more money than the Cowboys are offering.

“We’d love to keep him in Dallas; just see how things play out,” Jones said.

It things do play out to keep Murray in Dallas, it will only be after Murray sees how much he can make elsewhere.

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Ex-Raider Kaluka Maiava serving 15 days in jail for assault

maiava AP

Kaluka Maiava, a free agent linebacker who started two games for the Raiders last season, is currently in jail in Hawaii for assault.

Maiava turned himself in Monday afternoon to the Maui Community Correctional Center to begin serving a 15-day jail term, according to the Associated Press. Maiava pleaded no contest to assault charges stemming from a 2013 incident at a Maui bar.

The Raiders cut Maiava in November and he is currently a free agent. Maiava’s attorney, Ben Lowenthal, asked the judge not to impose a sentence that would make it difficult for Maiava to sign with another NFL team.

“This conviction will have an adverse effect on his ability to join another team and continue playing professionally — despite being in good condition and healthy to play,” Lowenthal said. “A conviction should not be the final factor that leads to an early end to a professional football career.”

The judge, however, said Maiava should not get special treatment “because he is an NFL player, makes a lot of money, has a lot of friends.”

Maiava, who is the nephew of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Browns in 2009.

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Reports: Dez Bryant set to receive franchise tag

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys are reportedly ready to give their top wide receiver the franchise tag.

Dez Bryant is likely to be designated the Cowboys’ franchise player on Monday, club COO Stephen Jones said Saturday, according to Mark Lane of Fox Sports Southwest.

“I still think that it’s probably, you know, would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline,” Jones told Fox Sports Southwest, indicating the club was “eyeing” giving Bryant the tag.

Also, ESPN Dallas’s Todd Archer reported Jones had said the club had informed Bryant’s agent the tag was coming.

The top offensive player in PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100, the 26-year-old Bryant hauled in 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He has exceeded 1,200 receiving yards and caught at least a dozen touchdowns in each of the last three seasons for Dallas, which captured the NFC East in 2014.

The deadline for clubs to use the franchise tag is Monday.

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PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100 has five new names

St Louis Rams v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

With numerous veterans hitting the market in recent days, PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100 has gotten an update.

For now, we’ve added five players to our list of the top free agents, including ex-Lions tailback Reggie Bush and ex-Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

The still-swift Bush could appeal to clubs looking to add depth at tailback, but Langford could be a name to watch, too. Langford (6-6, 313) has never missed an NFL game, and he turned 29 in January. As released free agents go, he has a good number of attributes working for him.

For those wanting to keep track of all of the veteran cuts as free agency nears, check out PFT’s Veteran Cuts Tracker, which we will update as more names hit the market. Both the tracker and free agent rankings are right on PFT’s home page, and you will want to bookmark all of these for ease-of-use as the offseason drama ramps up.

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Competition Committee explores improving London games

The clock face of Big Ben reads 20:12 at Getty Images

Before NFL owners can decide on which rules to change (or not to change) for 2015, the balls must be teed up by the Competition Committee.  While not binding in any way on the folks who sign the checks, the Competition Committee’s recommendations typically carry plenty of weight when the time comes to determine whether 24 of 32 owners will alter one or more rules.

The Competition Committee met on Saturday in Naples, Florida.  According to NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, the session included potential improvements to the games played in London.

Vincent didn’t identify specific potential possibilities for making the game better.  As the annual series has grown from one game per year to three, the NFL has begun kicking off earlier, with games becoming Sunday morning nationally-televised events.  There also has been talk of possibly eliminating the automatic bye week following all London games, with the goal of assessing one of the potential consequences of moving a team to London and requiring visiting teams to play without a bye on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Brian Cushing has had three surgeries this offseason

Brian Cushing AP

Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was healthier last season than he had been for the previous two years, but he was still dealing with plenty of injuries.

In fact, Cushing has already had three surgical procedures this offseason: One to repair a broken right wrist, one arthroscopic procedure on his left ankle and a procedure on the left knee that has plagued him for years.

“It’s not uncommon for stuff like that to happen. It’s just little things here and there, the residual effects of two major surgeries and injuries, the wear and tear of playing throughout the season,” Cushing told the Houston Chronicle. “There were still some things bothering me a little bit. Just went in there and had real good success in both areas and looking forward to a very healthy and productive season. We have the technology and the doctors, especially in Houston, to do a simple, minor procedure like that. Go in, clean whatever needs to get out of there and just feel better.”

Cushing said he’s confident he’ll be healthy enough to participate in the Texans’ offseason program.

“It’s coming along real well,” he said. “I’m going to start working out a little bit. From a pain standpoint, there’s really nothing going on there. I’m real happy about that. I’m real happy to get the cast off and start doing some physical therapy on it, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

The Texans have to hope the 28-year-old Cushing can get healthy and stay healthy. It’s been a long time since he’s looked like the same player he was early in his career, before injuries took their toll.

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Ray Rice won’t be attending veteran combine

Ray Rice AP

With the offseason maximum roster size at 90 players per team, a total of 2,880 jobs currently are available.  Like Michael Sam and Vince Young, running back Ray Rice hasn’t received an offer for one of them.

Unlike Sam and Young, Rice won’t be working out for teams next month.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Rice does not plan to attend the March 22 veteran combine.

While for many reasons it makes little sense for Sam and Young to show up for a mass workout when any interested team could fly the players to town at any time for a private tryout, neither Sam nor Young carry the baggage Rice does.  Any NFL franchise sufficiently curious about Rice’s current talent and fitness level to watch him run and jump and cut and catch would have to endure the criticism that would come from flirting with the man whose on-camera elevator knockout of his then-fiancée became a national lightning rod in September 2014.

By watching Rice work out at a mass gathering of players no one currently wants, an interested team could discreetly eyeball Rice without taking heat for it.  So it would make sense for Rice, who still hopes to return to the NFL, to show up and work out.

Indeed, showing up and working out would make a lot more sense — and be a lot more effective — than a Hail Mary interview with the local newspaper in the city where he used to play.

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Ray Rice talks, tries to hustle up a little sympathy

rayrice AP

As Ray Rice tries to work his way back into the NFL, he’s trying to work up a little positive P.R.

The former Ravens running back told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun that the last year has been incredibly difficult for him (as opposed to how hard the moment was for his wife when he punched her in the face in the elevator, and then watched her apologize for her role in the assault at a press conference).

“The big picture of it all, being the person that I am, I really felt horrible,” Rice said. “You almost want to punish yourself. I know I’m never going to win the battle of public opinion. Honestly, I almost felt like at one point that it wasn’t worth living. I see why people commit suicide.

“It hurt that bad. I was low, real low. It hurt that bad because you worked your whole life to do all the right things and then you’re the world’s most hated person. It was really tough. My daughter, oh Lord, I grew up without a father, there’s no way I could check out on my own family.”

And yet, he did. Now that he’s lost his $35 million job, and trying to hustle up another way to support his family, the public act of contrition is predictable.

Rice also said his relationship with his wife Janay is now on more solid footing, and that he’s grown since the two had a drunken row at an Atlantic City casino. He avoided criminal charges by getting into a pretrial intervention program in New Jersey, but became radioactive in the eyes of the Ravens (who previously, vigorously supported him) when the video of the incident became public.

“It’s tough, I realize that’s a battle I’m going to have to face for the rest of my life,” Rice said. “Time does heal everything, but I don’t think people are going to forget this. I want people to not forget about the incident, but I want people to see there’s a human being on the other side. This is not a monster, a guy who’s a repeat offender. I’m not the guy they stereotype me to be. I’m not excusing what I did.”

Rice said he agonized over how he’d eventually explain the issue to his daughter, and talked about how hard it would be to leave Baltimore to move closer to his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y.

And while many are skeptical as to whether another team will give him a chance — though the Ravens wish someone would (if only to take them off the hook) — Rice said he understands it won’t be about whether he can still play football.

“I’m optimistic that I’ll get a second chance,” Rice said. “I don’t think this boils down to whether I can play football or not. Obviously I know that. I just think there’s so much more that comes with it. I know the PR side of it will be tough. I understand that. . . .

“I don’t want my career to be defined by this one moment. I’ve been smart with money and the NFL is a great-paying game, but I really want to get back out there for my pride and to be able to leave the game with dignity. I don’t ever want to feel exiled out because I wasn’t that guy. … I know I’m not ready to call it quits yet.”

That decision’s not up to Rice, and whether anyone gives him that chance will depend in part on whether they believe him to be sincere.

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Report: Panthers are done with Greg Hardy

Greg Hardy AP

We don’t know at the moment whether Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will or won’t be suspended.

And we can’t know until at least the March 10 start of free agency to know where he’ll play, whenever he’s eligible.

But it seems we know where he won’t be playing next season.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, the Panthers are out of the running for last year’s franchise player, deciding to let him walk into the market, and willing to simply accept whatever 2016 compensatory pick comes their way.

While a number of players went to bat for Hardy with management after his domestic violence case was thrown out to create a glimmer of hope, “that slim possibility quickly cooled and eventually ended last week.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, happened within the last seven days to erase the last shred of hope that he’d return. But you could see the writing on the wall at the Scouting Combine, when General Manager Dave Gettleman was discussing the importance of evaluating character and said “Who wants a ticking time bomb?

The Panthers were already wary of him, unwilling to invest in a long-term deal last year. Then their $13.1-million franchise tag gamble backfired, when he played one game and spent the rest of the year on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Hardy’s lately been retweeting fans begging the team to bring him back, but it seems like he’s going to have to find another fanbase to do his passive-aggressive online panhandling for him.

If this was just a football decision, he’d be one of the most sought-after players in the market. He’s still 26, and had 15.0 sacks the last time he played a full season.

Teams such as the Falcons, Buccaneers, Bengals, Raiders and Jaguars have the means and needs to pursue him, but his market will be fascinating to watch since no one’s sure when or whether Roger Goodell will rule on his status.

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