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Falcons run over Saints early

Minnesota Vikings v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons’ early offensive approach to taking on the Saints’ defense is simple Run it right down their throats.

On Thursday night in Atlanta, the Falcons’ opening drive consisted of just one pass (a nine-yard completion from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez), with five runs: A 35-yard run by Michael Turner, a five-yard run by Turner, a pair of 14-yard runs by Jacquizz Rodgers, and then back to Turner for a three-yard touchdown.

When the Saints beat the Falcons for Atlanta’s only loss of the season so far, the Falcons managed just 46 yards on 18 carries for the entire game. On Thursday night, Atlanta got 71 yards on five carries on just the first drive.

The Saints’ first possession ended when Drew Brees threw a deep ball into the end zone that Atlanta’s Thomas DeCoud intercepted. Now the Saints’ defense is going to have to step up its tackling, or the Falcons could run away with it.

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Report: “Significant progress” on new Antonio Brown contract

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stiff arms Adam Jones #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter at Heinz Field on December 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Wide receiver Antonio Brown may have had some uncomfortable moments with the Steelers during and immediately after their postseason stay, but that didn’t stop the team from making a new deal for their top wideout a top offseason priority.

Talks got going earlier this month and it sounds like things are moving along at a good clip. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the two sides have made “significant progress” toward a deal that promises to be a very lucrative one for the wideout.

Rapoport adds that the goal is to have the deal wrapped up by the start of the new league year on March 9. There’s no fear of losing Brown as a free agent as he has another year left on his deal, but locking him in would allow the Steelers to take care of the rest of their business with certainty about where things stand for Brown.

That’s not the only date looming large for the Steelers right now. Wednesday’s deadline to use franchise or transition tags is also one they’re up against when it comes to their plans for running back Le’Veon Bell.

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Cardinals franchise Chandler Jones

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers is chased by outside linebacker Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the NFL football game at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals aren’t letting Chandler Jones get away after only one year.

As expected, the Cardinals have placed the franchise tag on Jones, Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reports.

Jones, the defensive end who arrived last year in a trade with the Patriots, is now guaranteed $15 million for the 2017 season if he wants to sign the one-year franchise tender. He can also negotiate a long-term deal with the Cardinals. To leave, he’d have to find a team willing not only to sign him to a long-term contract but also a team willing to give the Cardinals two first-round draft picks. that’s not going to happen.

The Cardinals had already announced that they would franchise Jones, a move that has been anticipated since they traded for him last year, as the trade wouldn’t have made any sense if the Cardinals weren’t committed to Jones for the long run. Now the move is official, and Jones is the first 2017 free agent to get the franchise tag.

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Report: Jets expected to try to trade Sheldon Richardson

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 14:  Defensive end Sheldon Richardson #91 of the New York Jets on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 14, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Jets 31-24.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets have spent plenty of draft and actual currency on defensive linemen lately, and they may be ready to divest.

According to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, the Jets may be looking to trade Sheldon Richardson to clear up some of the financial and positional logjam.

With Muhammad Wilkerson early in his big deal, and Richardson working the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, and 2015 first-rounder Leonard Williams still cost-effective, the Jets have nearly 20 percent of their salary cap tied up in three linemen in a 3-4 front.

Richardson has also created some off-field distractions during his time with the Jets, which might make it easier for them to make a move.

So clearing out Richardson’s 8.1 million might be the solution, since it’s unlikely they’d commit to him long-term after this season, and would risk losing him for just a 2019 compensatory pick. While they’d certainly like a first-rounder (and some ice cream, I guess), they might take less before his salary is guaranteed on March 9.

He gets it too, admitting during last season he’s the “odd man out,” as it pertains to the future.

With Wilkerson and Williams and a cast of serviceable guys in the middle, it might make the most sense to move him now.

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Joe Mixon: “Legal team” delayed apology for two years

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs with the ball against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Teams that consider drafting former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon will want to get answers to many questions, including for example whether there’s a chance he may viciously punch a stranger while out and about in his first NFL city. Another question is whether Mixon has true remorse for the assault on Amelia Molitor, or whether he’s saying what he thinks he needs to say now in order to minimize an ugly incident and move on.

As it relates to the existence of remorse, the most obvious question is when did Mixon first apologize to Molitor or her family? Here’s what Mixon said during a Monday visit to PFT Live.

“It was actually about two years later,” Mixon said. “I’ve always wanted to apologize but from my legal team and a couple of people from the legal situation. . . . you know, in the Oklahoma program to media it wasn’t a right time for me, the right time for me to actually apologize. I pretty much told my legal team that if I could do anything for me to at least see her face-to-face you know where nobody is around I could at least apologize and ask her for my forgiveness but they didn’t allow me to do that. The first opportunity I got, you know, I’ve taken the initiative to ask for forgiveness and apologize to her and if I could’ve did it before I would’ve done that.”

If he truly was prevented from apologizing due to advice given by his “legal team” or anyone else, it wasn’t the best advice he could have gotten. In cases where responsibility is in dispute (e.g., a car accident), an apology can be characterized as an admission. In cases where it’s clear that the person did what he’s accused of doing, there’s no reason to stop him from apologizing, if he wants to.

Chances are that teams who meet with Mixon away from the Scouting Combine (by rule, he’s banned from attending) will ask some follow-up questions on this point — if the goal is to determine whether Mixon is truly sorry for what he did, or whether more than two years after the fact he’s saying what he needs to say in order to put the incident behind him. There’s no way of knowing the answer with certainty, but the teams that meet with him will be able to pose questions without cameras and microphones present, and Mixon will be able to answer without everything he says being recorded for future use.

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Which NFL moment most closely relate to the La La Land debacle?

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Actors Faye Dunaway (L) and Warren Beatty speak onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) Getty Images

Setting aside why it happened and whether it was planned (I know, it’s hard to imagine a business premised on fake stories creating a phony moment), last night’s La La Land debacle at the Oscars raises an interesting question: What is the NFL equivalent of it?

My first thought was the Garo Yepremian gaffe in Super Bowl VII, a moment of infamy that has withstood the test of time. Next up was Jim Marshall’s wrong-way run.

But then I thought of crucial strategic mistakes, like the play call at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. While not a blooper, the decision to pass and not run resulted in a sudden momentum swing that caused the presumptive winner to become the clear loser. Ditto for another game involving Seattle, and a misguided overtime boast from Matt Hasselbeck.

But then I realized that the Oscars blunder was less about the participants with a vested interest in the outcome and more about the folk responsible for the process. So the Fail Mary of 2012 became a prime candidate, given the horribly blown officiating call that gave the Seahawks a win over the Packers.

The best answer (which I didn’t think of; MDS among others suggested it) came in 1998, when referee Phil Luckett botched the coin toss at the start of overtime on Thanksgiving in Detroit, giving the Lions the ball when Steelers running back Jerome Betti had appeared to get the call right. The home team drove into field-goal range, kicked the three-pointer, and won the game.

In this case, the person at Price Waterhouse who gave the back-up envelope to whoever gave it to Warren Beatty is the biggest loser, and Price Waterhouse could end up being replaced by another accounting firm for 2017. Beyond those complications, the Oscars win.

Sure, it was embarrassing and unexpected and probably not carefully engineered and planned. But it also provides the kind of Sixth Sense twist that can make movie-making so memorable, and it will result in much more discussion about the 2017 Oscar and much more anticipation for the 2018 Oscars.

Football has for years been the ultimate reality show. Politics has recently supplanted it. For at least one night, the Oscars ruled over all, with Hollywood achieving a real human moment, the likes of which producers, directors, and actors try to alchemize on a regular basis.

Which brings me back to the nagging belief that all of this was staged to perfection by an industry that is in the business of making it look like like things that didn’t happen actually did. And if it was indeed an inside job, the 2017 Emmys need to create a special categories for the 2017 Oscars.

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Browns release wide receiver Andrew Hawkins

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins #16 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball against cornerback Will Blackmon #41 and inside linebacker Will Compton #51 of the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns on Monday announced that veteran wide receiver Andrew Hawkins has been released.

Hawkins, who turns 31 next month, played a leadership role for a young team last season and caught 33 passes. He had his best year with the Browns in 2014, when he caught 63 passes for 824 yards and two touchdowns.

The Browns pursued Hawkins in 2014 as a restricted free agent and officially brought him on board when the Bengals did not match the offer sheet. He had gone from the CFL and a Michael Irvin reality show to finally catching on with the Bengals in 2011 and playing a significant role in 2012, when he had 51 catches and four touchdowns.

The Browns drafted four wide receivers last year, a sign that Hawkins was probably in his final year with the team. He also played under Browns coach Hue Jackson when Jackson was an assistant with the Bengals.

“It’s tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you’ve asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership,” Jackson said in the team’s statement on the move. “Hawk was a rock for us last season. He kept our locker room together and led by example as he gave everything he had on the field. Our young players are going to be better players and better people because of the time they spent with Andrew Hawkins.”

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Panthers sign Wes Horton to two-year deal

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11:  Wes Horton #96 of the Carolina Panthers looks on after a play against the San Diego Chargers in the 1st quarter during the game at Bank of America Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers are keeping another defensive end from hitting the open market.

They announced a new contract for Mario Addison on Sunday and Monday brings word of a new deal for Wes Horton as well. The Panthers announced that they have signed Horton to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the end of the 2018 season.

Horton was cut by the Panthers in September, but returned to the team in October and wound up making 10 starts in his 11 appearances with the club. He recorded 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles and has 8.5 sacks over his 45 games with the team since arriving in Carolina as an undrafted rookie in 2013.

The Panthers have one more defensive end set for unrestricted free agency in Charles Johnson. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is also on track to become a free agent, although the expectation around the Panthers has been that the team will use the franchise tag to ensure a longer stay for Short.

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Cowboys legends want Ezekiel Elliott to stop with the hurdling

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys hurdles Chris Prosinski #31 of the Chicago Bears while carrying the ball in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott rookie season stood out — even for a franchise which has produced a number of big-time backs.

But those Cowboys legends also had a word of advice for the eager young back — stop trying to hurdle people.

He better stop that. He better stop that. He better stop that,” Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That’s one thing that I don’t like. When you get airborne, you’re at the mercy of the hit, and sometimes you can’t protect yourself. I think as he gets older he may take that out of his repertoire. He needs to stop that. That scares me every time he gets airborne. I’m like oh….”

Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, echoed that sentiment, saying he cringes when he sees Elliott up in the air.

“Get on the ground as quickly as possible,” Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith said. “Every time I watch somebody run, I’m looking very closely, very tentatively, seeing how they fall because a lot of things happen when you fall.”

Elliott was a high school hurdler, and it became a bit of a signature move last season. And while the old guys might get a little nervous, they might also worrying about some of their franchise rushing records.

Elliott led the league in rushing (1,631 yards) and scored 15 touchdowns last year, eclipsing the rookie numbers set by Smith (937) and Dorsett (1,007) when they were rookies.

They also never used their leaping ability to jump into a giant Salvation Army kettle at the end of a touchdown run. No matter what any old guy says, Elliott should never stop doing that, because it was awesome, that’s why.

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Report: Mutual interest between Cowboys, Josh McCown

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30:  Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during the second quarter against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran quarterback Josh McCown said last week that he’s had “good conversations” with several teams since being released by the Browns earlier this month and it appears one of those teams is the Cowboys.

Ed Werder of ESPN reports that there is “mutual interest” between McCown and Dallas about striking a deal for the 2017 season. McCown would be the backup to Dak Prescott under that scenario, but Werder adds any deal would have to wait for the Cowboys to sort things out with the guy who closed out last season as Prescott’s backup.

That’s Tony Romo, of course, and owner Jerry Jones said over the weekend that there’s no decision at this point about what will happen with the longtime Cowboy. Romo could be traded or released with Werder reporting earlier this month that Romo expecting the latter outcome.

McCown is able to sign with a team ahead of the start of free agency, but said last week that he is “gonna take my time” before settling on a home for next season.

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Dolphins bracing for Kenny Stills departure

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins scores a touchdown in the 3rd quarter against the San Francisco 49ers  at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins know that receiver Kenny Stills will get more money from another team than what the Dolphin can or will pay him. The amount of money Stills will get is beginning to come into focus.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that the market for Still already is in the range of $12 million per year. This hasn’t kept the Dolphins from officially bowing out, but unless Stills is willing to take less than he could get elsewhere, he’s likely to leave.

As Salguero explained last week on PFT Live, the situation boils down to one simple proposition: Other teams will pay Stills like a No. 1 receiver, and the Dolphins won’t — because their No. 1 receiver is Jarvis Landry.

Salguero now points out that the Eagles are considered to be the favorite to land Stills, which is the latest evidence that tampering is rampant this time of year. Indeed, there should be no information about what the market for Stills would be or could be until next Tuesday, when the legal tampering window opens. But there is, and there always will be.

Especially as the Scouting Combine approaches, where every team and every agent can get together to negotiation in advance of when they are allowed to negotiate.

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Report: Chiefs expected to tag Eric Berry, let Dontari Poe hit free agency

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 18:  Strong safety Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs is introduced prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

Chiefs safety Eric Berry said Sunday that he doesn’t have high hopes that he and the team would agree to terms on a multi-year contract before the March 1 deadline to use the franchise tag.

A report from Ed Werder of ESPN makes it sound like Berry has good reason for pessimism on that front. Unless there’s a change in the next 48 hours, Werder reports that the expectation in Kansas City is that the team will use the tag on Berry for the second straight season.

Berry said in the past and again on Sunday that he will not play out the year under the tag, which would leave him in position to make around $13 million barring a long-term deal. The two sides would have until July 15 to work on such a contract.

Using the tag on Berry would mean the Chiefs couldn’t use it on defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Per Werder, the expectation is that the Chiefs would then let Poe hit free agency next month. Poe would likely find a good market for his services under that scenario and that could push his price out of range for the Chiefs to hold onto both of their free agent defensive stars.

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Joe Mixon interview re-airs at 11:35 a.m. ET

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

Running back Joe Mixon won’t be available for 15-minute interviews with teams at the Scouting Combine. He was available for 15 minutes on PFT Live earlier today.

MDS has summarized some of the key comments from Mixon. The full interview will re-air on NBC Sports Radio at 11:35 a.m. ET (Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, NBC Sports Radio app). We’re also preparing a full transcript of the session, and the interview will eventually be posted at PFT and available for download via podcast.

It will be up to the listener to assess whether Mixon’s explanation of the events seems accurate and honest, and whether his remorse seems genuine. Ultimately, it will be up to the 32 teams to evaluate Mixon for draft purposes. Today’s interview will be one piece (albeit small) of the broader puzzle that will likely result in someone drafting him in April.

After having a chance to digest what he said in further detail, I’ll offer up some of my own opinion about what Mixon said and how he said it.

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Joe Mixon: I made a bad decision, I can’t take it back

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon won’t be at the Scouting Combine this week. The NFL didn’t invite him because of the infamous incident in which he punched a woman, seriously injuring her. But Mixon is hoping to get a chance to tell NFL teams he has learned from the ugly assault.

Mixon said this morning on PFT Live that he has grown as a person and hopes NFL teams will believe that.

“I made a bad decision,” Mixon said. “Ever since that night I have to live with it. I’ve got to re-live it every day. You can never forget something like that. It still haunts me to this day, but it’s what you do from that point on. You can’t take it back. I can replay it in my head a thousand times, and if I could take it back I would, but I can’t.”

Mixon said he still believes he can be a good role model and wants to earn the privilege of playing in the NFL.

“I’m trying to educate youth throughout the community and having them learn from my mistakes,” Mixon said.

No one doubts that Mixon is good enough to play in the NFL, but there are some doubts about whether any owners will want the video of Mixon knocking a woman to the ground playing on the local news, which will happen in any city where the team drafts Mixon. He’s hoping that by speaking publicly now, he can convince a team that drafting him won’t be a public relations nightmare.

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Mario Addison: Only thing I needed was the opportunity

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Addison #97 of the Carolina Panthers sacks quarterback Case Keenum #17 of the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter of the game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on November 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

Defensive end Mario Addison won’t be hitting free agency when the new league year opens next week.

Addison has a new three-year contract with the Panthers worth a reported $22.5 million, which means a player who entered the league as an undrafted free agent has found a home after bouncing through three other teams in his first two NFL seasons. Addison didn’t get many chances with the Bears, Redskins or Colts, but has seen his playing time with the Panthers go up steadily while recording 22 sacks over the last three seasons.

“If you bounce around here and there, it kind of makes you discouraged,” Addison said, via the Charlotte Observer. “And I will be the first to admit that I got a little discouraged in the beginning of my career. I never gave up, because I know the things I could do. The craziest thing about it was, I was playing on teams that had young guys like me that were just drafted. And I kept thinking to myself, ‘You are better than those guys. Only thing you need is the opportunity.'”

Addison has remained a situational player for the Panthers, but may be called on to do more over the life of his new contract. It’s something he said he believes he can do, because “the sky is the limit” for a player who has already exceeded many expectations.

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Monday morning one-liners

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05:   Nick Mangold #74 of the New York Jets takes the field for their game against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium on December 5, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

Which free agent wide receivers will be on the Bills’ radar?

The Dolphins are running short on time to keep WR Kenny Stills from hitting the open market.

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski appeared to be enjoying himself at the Daytona 500.

Will going young put Jets coach Todd Bowles in a tough spot?

S Matt Elam’s arrest guarantees he’ll rank among the Ravens’ worst draft picks.

Would the Bengals consider a receiver in the first round?

The Browns have a lot of scouting work to do this week.

Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert wants the combine to be a scouting event first and entertainment second.

The promise of J.J. Watt’s return makes the Texans defensive line an imposing unit.

Is a taller wideout in the cards for the Colts?

Toughness was a big theme of Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin’s press conference last week.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey is keeping his eye on the rest of the AFC South.

LB Steve Russ is the only player from Air Force who has been drafted by the Broncos.

The Chiefs inducted WR Carlos Carson into their team Hall of Fame.

Breaking down the Raiders tight ends.

Former Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson was the honorary starter at the Daytona 500.

Former Cowboys running backs would like to see the new one do less hurdling.

A look at what the Giants might do at linebacker this offseason.

A handful of guards that might interest the Eagles in the draft.

Is C Nick Mangold a possibility for the Redskins?

Quarterback and defensive back are both big needs for the Bears.

The Lions should be watching the safeties at the combine.

A call for the Packers to address defensive needs through free agency.

The Vikings want to win more battles inside the 5-yard-line.

A look back at the combine workout that helped Vic Beasley land with the Falcons.

More moves are likely coming on the Panthers defensive line.

The musts, needs and wants of the Saints offseason.

Examining whether C Nick Mangold would be a fit with the Buccaneers.

Nick Folk could factor into the Cardinals’ kicking decisions.

Some suggested areas for the Rams to focus on in their draft evaluations.

Will the 49ers follow a similar blueprint to the one the Raiders used in recent years?

Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse has been spending time with high school kids this offseason.

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