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PFT’s Week 13 picks

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

With 176 games completed, the gap has been cut from seven to two.

After a four-game sweep of our disagreements in Week 11, MDS posted another 3-1 mark in Week 12, making it very interesting over the final five weeks.

This week, we have only one disagreement.  So it’ll be down to one or back to three by Monday.  (I are good at the math.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll be right on the picks on which we agree.  But we’re doing OK.  MDS was 11-5 for Week 12, and I was 9-7.  For the season, I’m at 112-63-1, a 63.6 percent accuracy rate.  MDS is 110-65-1, which equates to 62.5 percent.

Saints at Falcons

MDS’s take: It sounds crazy to say this about a 5-6 team facing a 10-1 team, but right now the Saints are playing better football than the Falcons. Having said that, I have a hunch the Falcons will turn in their best effort of the season at home against the team that gave them their only loss.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 28, Saints 21.

Florio’s take:  An already contentious rivalry will become even more contentious now that eggs have flown into the Saints bus and former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton has declared that his new team, the Saints, don’t regard the rivalry as a rivalry, given that the Saints have won 11 of 13.  With the Falcons closing in on a playoff berth and sensitive about the perception that they can’t win big games at home, it’s time to drop the Saints’ mark against the Falcons to 11 of 14.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 27, Saints 24.

Jaguars at Bills

MDS’s take: Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne has been impressive enough since replacing Blaine Gabbert that I’m tempted to pick the Jags to pull off a home upset. But these are still the Jaguars, and even if Henne has improved the offense, they still have a terrible defense, plus the Bills have a big special teams edge.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Jaguars 23.

Florio’s take:  The Jags are riding a rare one-game winning streak.  The Bill are trying to break a not-so-rare one-game losing streak.  Home team gets the advantage, even though the Jaguars are better with Chad Henne at quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Bills 24, Jaguars 17.

Seahawks at Bears

MDS’s take: This might be the day’s most interesting game, especially if you enjoy watching teams that play tough, physical defense. I think Seattle’s defensive front has the potential to make life a nightmare for Jay Cutler playing behind the Bears’ woeful offensive line, and yet the Seahawks have struggled so much away from home that I’m taking the Bears in a close one.

MDS’s pick: Bears 14, Seahawks 13.

Florio’s take:  It’s chicken salad time for the Chicago offensive line, with failed first-round tackle Gabe Carimi being pressed into service at guard.  But Jay Cutler knows how to avoid the pressure and deliver the ball, and the Seahawks still haven’t learned how to win on the road.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 23, Seahawks 13.

Colts at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions are playing better football than their record suggests, while the Colts are playing worse football than their record suggests. I still think Indianapolis will be a wild card team, but in this game Calvin Johnson will have a huge day against a weak secondary.

MDS’s pick: Lions 31, Colts 20.

Florio’s take:  Assuming that the Lions haven’t folded the tents after a season-crushing Thanksgiving loss, they’ve got the horses to hold off a Colts team that has yet to learn how to win away from Indy consistently.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 27, Colts 20.

Vikings at Packers

MDS’s take: Green Bay had a letdown against the Giants last week, but that won’t happen again. This is the game when the Packers pull ahead of the pack in the NFC wild card race, as well as staying within striking distance of the Bears in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Packers 34, Vikings 13.

Florio’s take:  Minnesota has embarked on its long-expected late-season collapse, and the Packers will be extra salty after getting peppered by the Giants.  This one could get ugly.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Vikings 13.

Panthers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: It’s too late for the Panthers to get back in the playoff race, but I do see them going on a little bit of a late-season run. With Cam Newton playing well, they’ll easily win in Kansas City.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 27, Chiefs 9.

Florio’s take:  The Chiefs can’t lose every game the rest of the season, can they?  Carolina is on the road after a Monday night on the road, cramming two rounds of travel into a short week after a game in which they are feeling better about themselves than they should.  The Chiefs, if they don’t win this one, may not win another.  Ever.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Panthers 16.

Patriots at Dolphins

MDS’s take: I like a lot about the way the Dolphins are playing, especially defensively. And the Patriots’ secondary has a bad tendency to leave receivers wide open, so Ryan Tannehill may have a decent statistical game. But New England’s offense is such a well-oiled machine that I like the Patriots to get into the end zone five or six times.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Dolphins 28.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins will win if the sprinklers come on again.  And if the are loaded with hydrochloric acid and aimed at the eyes of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  Otherwise, advantage Pats.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Dolphins 24.

Cardinals at Jets

MDS’s take: This is a stinker of a game between two teams with all kinds of problems at the quarterback position, but it says something about how far the Cardinals have sunk that Mark Sanchez is easily the top quarterback in this game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 20, Cardinals 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s easy to assume the Jets will continue their implosion.  The schedule suggests they could win five in a row.  They may not get to 9-7, but 5-7 is looking pretty promising.

Florio’s pick:  Jets 30, Cardinals 17.

49ers at Rams

MDS’s take: I don’t think this game is going to be easy for the 49ers because St. Louis isn’t an easy place to play anymore, but in the end San Francisco just has too much power on both sides of the ball for the Rams to have much of a chance.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Rams 13.

Florio’s take:  They pick up where they left off after five quarters that ended in a tie.  The Rams try to extend their 3-0-1 record in the NFC West.  The Niners are simply a better team with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 31, Rams 23.

Texans at Titans

MDS’s take: The Titans fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer this week, as if that will fix anything. The Titans’ problems go much deeper than the offensive playcalling, and the Texans — getting a well deserved three extra days of rest following their back-to-back overtime games the last two weeks — will look fresh and win this one handily.

MDS’s pick: Texans 41, Titans 20.

Florio’s take:  Yes, before the season I thought the the Titans, who were unexpectedly 9-7 in 2011, were poised to topple the Texans.  It hasn’t happened.  And it won’t happen for the Titans on Sunday, not with the Texans closing in on their second straight playoff berth.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Titans 14.

Buccaneers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Bucs are thin in the secondary after trading away Aqib Talib and losing Eric Wright to a suspension, and Peyton Manning is the last quarterback you want to face when you’re thin in the secondary. Manning will pick the Bucs’ defense apart. The best chance the Bucs have of keeping this game close is to control the ball by running Doug Martin, but in the end Manning will just have too much for Tampa Bay.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Buccaneers 24.

Florio’s take:  With Eric Wright suspended and Aqib Talib long gone, it’ll be a long day for the Bucs’ porous pass defense.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 31, Buccaneers 21.

Steelers at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Steelers need this one, but they’re not going to get it. Without Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers just aren’t a very good team, and I expect the Ravens to earn a big win that helps them pull away in the AFC North.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 23, Steelers 7.

Florio’s take:  With or without Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens are tough to beat at home.  And even though it would be fitting for the Steelers to win in Baltimore after the Ravens won in Pittsburgh, the Ravens are the better team — and the Steelers are on the verge of a late-season implosion.  All that’s left is for coach Mike Tomlin to vow to “unleash hell.”

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 19, Steelers 13.

Browns at Raiders

MDS’s take: Both teams are 3-8, but they’re a different 3-8. The Browns are a 3-8 team that is playing competitive football and has a lot of young guys who look hungry. The Raiders are a 3-8 team that just wrapped up an 0-4 November in which their four losses came by a total of 90 points. The Browns will go into the Black Hole and come out with their first road win of the season.

MDS’s pick: Browns 21, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  The Browns are better than their record suggests.  The Raiders are worse.  With Browns players trying to save the job of their head coach (and in turn their own jobs), Cleveland has more incentive to try to emerge with a win.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Raiders 13.

Bengals at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Bengals are rolling and the Chargers are reeling. Marvin Lewis will take another step toward the playoffs while Norv Turner takes another step toward the unemployment line.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Chargers 14.

Florio’s take:  San Diego’s AFC North tour continues, and they wish it wouldn’t.  After losing to the Browns and to the Ravens, a surging Cincinnati team is ready to keep pushing toward their first consecutive playoff appearances in non-strike years.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Chargers 17.

Eagles at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Eagles have given up on the season. At this point I don’t think I’d pick them to beat anyone, and I certainly won’t pick them to win on the road against a Cowboys team that still has slim playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 28, Eagles 20.

Florio’s take:  Philly is in a full-blown free fall.  After seeing them lose to the lowly Panthers, I’m done picking them until next September at the earliest.  The Cowboys aren’t much better, but they’re good enough (and sufficiently healthier) to get it done.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 34, Eagles 20.

Giants at Redskins

MDS’s take: The Redskins have done a great job of pulling themselves back into NFC East contention, and if you want to see an interesting playoff race in December you should be rooting for the Redskins to beat the Giants on Monday night. But Robert Griffin III playing so well as a rookie has masked the fact that the Redskins have big problems on both sides of the ball. The Giants will be too much for them.

MDS’s pick: Giants 34, Redskins 17.

Florio’s take:  The Giants have awoken from their slumber.  That may not be enough to contain a streaking RG3 in his Monday night debut.  Forced to make a choice, however, let’s stick with the team that has shown that it still has the ability to periodically play up to its potential.  Especially when it has to.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 31, Redskins 27.

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Browns may use Manziel in a specialty package

Manziel AP

For a guy who lived through the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow debacle in New York, Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn’t seem to be concerned about his quarterback competition in Cleveland becoming a potential two-man show.  In fact, it looks like that’s what Pettine wants.

During his interview with Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com, Pettine said that the team is considering using Manziel as a Wildcat-style change-of-pace in his rookie year.

We’ve already talked about it,” Pettine said regarding the possibility of using both Manziel and Brian Hoyer in the same game.
“We’ve already installed elements of it in the spring.  We ran some of the zone-read stuff in practice and Kyle [Shanahan] incorporated some of the mobile quarterback elements of what he did in Washington.  We’re still going to go back to the beginning in pads, but as we get going, some of the stuff that’s more game-plan-specific that we don’t want to show, we might work on in our walk-throughs as opposed to a public practice.”

Pettine wisely didn’t point to the Sanchez-Tebow experiment as justification for doing it.

“That’s how Colin Kaepernick got his start in the NFL, as a package quarterback,” Pettine said of the former 49ers backup.  “On the other side of the ball, I’ve seen that give defenses some trouble.  I think there’s positives and negatives to it.  You’re taking your starter off the field.  You have his rhythm and continuity to take into account, but at the same time defensively you’re now forcing a team to basically come up with two game plans.  I mean, there are pluses and minuses to it and it’s something I’m sure will be discussed at some point.”

In theory, the Jets wanted Tebow because of the pressure that preparing for two quarterbacks puts on a defense.  And if former offensive coordinator Tony Sporano had any faith at all in Tebow, the Jets may have actually used him.

The Jets and Pettine nevertheless got a first-hand look at the challenge of dealing with two quarterbacks in September 2012, when Kaepernick rushed five time for 50 yards and a touchdown coming off the bench and showing the Jets how to properly employ a two-quarterback system.

If the Browns could pull it off, the dilution of the ability of the opposing defense to fully prepare for each guy could help both guys thrive.  The only downside is that, as Manziel has more and more success, more and more fans will be clamoring for him to be something other than a part-time player.

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Marcell Dareus passes physical

Marcell Dareus AP

Bills defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch passed physicals on Thursday, per the NFL’s transactions.

By passing their physicals, Dareus and Branch are now cleared to practice. The 24-year-old Dareus failed a conditioning test last week and had been placed on the non-football injury list, while Branch was placed on the non-football illness list.

ESPN’s Field Yates first reported Dareus and Branch had passed physicals.

Dareus and Branch are key members of the Bills’ defensive line, with Dareus (7.5 sacks in 2013) a potential standout. However, off-field issues have been a concern with Dareus, the Bills’ 2011 first-round pick.

In other Bills roster moves, the club waived/injured first-year cornerback Brandon Smith and was awarded undrafted rookie center Jared Wheeler on waivers from Carolina. Wheeler is a Miami (Fla.) product.

The Bills are at the 90-player roster limit.

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Knowshon Moreno on PUP list, but “won’t be too long”

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Dolphins made a couple of procedural moves on Thursday, placing running back Knowshon Moreno and center Mike Pouncey on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Pouncey is a good bet to remain on that list into the regular season after having hip surgery that will reportedly keep him out for half the year. Pouncey can go on the regular season version of the PUP list, which will require him to miss practice for at least six weeks but he won’t count against Miami’s 53-man roster.

Moreno’s stay shouldn’t be that long. The veteran back had knee surgery during the offseason and coach Joe Philbin said his conditioning needed some work, but Philbin doesn’t think it will be long before Moreno is in the mix with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas.

“Not full throttle 100% reps yet but won’t be too long,” Philbin said, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.

Moreno signed with the Dolphins after running for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, his best production in any of his five NFL campaigns. Doing the same without Peyton Manning running a high-powered passing game may be difficult, especially if any other issues cut into his ability to compete for playing time this summer.

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Ray Rice not expected to appeal suspension

Rice AP

By rule, Ravens running back Ray Rice has the right to appeal the two-game suspension and one-game fine imposed on him by Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the personal-conduct policy.  Per a league source, initial indications are that Rice will not appeal the ruling.

Since the appeal is handled by the person who made the decision in the first place, the chances of getting the discipline reduced are small.  Likewise, the strong media and fan reaction to the ban as being too lenient would shift more directly and forcefully to Rice if Rice were to fight a suspension that his G.M., Ozzie Newsome, has been criticized for calling “fair.”

Rice has three days to appeal, so he has a couple of nights to sleep on it.  Until a final answer comes, share your thoughts on whether the suspension went far enough.

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Antonio Gates practices a day after his sister died of lupus

Antonio Gates AP

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates missed much of the team’s offseason program while dealing with a family situation that unfortunately had a sad ending.

Gates’ sister Pamela died at the age of 22 on Wednesday after a long battle with lupus. Gates also flew home after games last season to spend time with his sister, but was with the Chargers at practice on Thursday. Gates explained that he enjoyed being back on the field with his teammates while dealing with what he called the toughest thing he’s faced in his life.

“It puts me at ease, with all the things I’ve had to deal with from my family’s standpoint and a personal standpoint,” Gates said, via ESPN.com. “This is where I’m comfortable at — competing and doing the things I’m accustomed to doing playing football. And it takes a lot off of your mind.”

Everyone at PFT wishes Gates and his family well while dealing with Pamela’s loss.

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Raiders will cut Kevin Burnett

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kevin Burnett AP

The Raiders won’t have cornerback D.J. Hayden in the lineup for a while after foot surgery and they won’t have linebacker Kevin Burnett in the lineup at all.

Multiple reports from Raiders beat writers have the team parting ways with the veteran linebacker. Burnett missed a portion of the team’s spring work because of an ankle injury and Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com reports that he was never medically cleared to participate in practices this summer.

The Raiders signed Burnett to a two-year, $5.25 million deal before last season and Burnett started all 16 games for the team last year. He didn’t play particularly well and the Raiders will go with either Sio Moore or Miles Burris across from rookie Khalil Mack this season.

Burnett was a second-round pick in Dallas in 2005 and has played for the Chargers and Dolphins in addition to the Cowboys and Raiders. If he’s healthy, he could get a look from a team in need of an experienced hand on defense later this summer or during the season.

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Low preseason ranking ruffles feathers in South Florida

Dolphins Getty Images

Some of you were surprised to see that the average vote of the PFT staff placed the Dolphins at No. 31 on the preseason power rankings.  That group included Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

As explained by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Ross was sufficiently concerned about the placement to pick up the phone and call coach Joe Philbin, who apparently said something along the lines of, “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“I don’t think he knows the guys in our looker room or the guys that come to work in this building every single day from top to bottom,” Philbin said to Salguero, with the “he” actually being the “we” who voted on the best to worst franchises entering the 2014 season.

While Philbin can get plenty of mileage in the locker room out of the lack of perceived respect inherent to the ranking, he actually should be glad that expectations are so low.  The lower the expectations, the easier it is for a coach to exceed them and, in turn, to remain the coach.

While reasonable minds may differ on whether the Dolphins currently sit below every NFL team not located in Oakland, there’s plenty of reason to think the Dolphins won’t take a step forward from last year’s 8-8 finish, which was punctuated by a pair of losses in winnable games.  The organization showed serious signs of dysfunction in the early portion of the offseason, via multiple reports creating the impression that G.M. Jeff Ireland lost a power struggle with V.P. of football administration Dawn Aponte, who had reportedly aligned with Philbin after Ireland reportedly tried to get Aponte fired.  The perception that no one wanted to succeed Ireland as the team’s G.M. bolstered the sense that things aren’t going so well in South Florida.

Then there’s the aftermath of the Jonathan Martin situation, with Richie Incognito gone but Mike Pouncey still there, showing signs that he really hasn’t learned anything from the experience and that he blames the controversy on the media.  The Dolphins looked the other way on Pouncey because Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league.  And of course he’s now out through at least the middle of the season after hip surgery.

When the Dolphins finished 27th in yardage and 26th points and allowed 58 sacks, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took the fall.  Which means that his former pupil at Texas A&M, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, has to learn and adapt to a new offense.  Which may or may not work out.

Receiver Mike Wallace was a malcontent last year, his first after signing a big-money deal to jump from Pittsburgh to South Florida.  The offensive line is a work in progress at best, especially with Pouncey out.  And the defense, which finished in the bottom quarter of the league in points allowed but near the top 10 for yardage surrendered, has a long way to go before it can win games without much support from the offense.

So with no teams other than the Raiders standing out as having deep and profound deficiencies, it made sense to put the Dolphins behind the likes of the Titans, Jaguars (who should have been higher than 29, in my own assessment), the Bills, the Vikings, and the Buccaneers.  Ultimately, that’s the task for anyone who disagrees with the Dolphins at No. 31:  Point out a team other than the Raiders that is currently in worse overall shape.

Again, that’s good news for Philbin.  It gives him a way to get his players to affix a chip to their shoulders, and it gives him cover in the event the Dolphins don’t make it to the playoffs this year.  If they do — or even if they get close but don’t qualify — Philbin will have overcome major talent and organizational challenges that hopefully the organization led ultimately by Ross will be able to appreciate and reward.

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Floyd Reese: Fearing Al Davis, Bud Adams wanted to trade up with New Orleans for Vince Young

2006 NFL Draft Getty Images

It’s long been known the late Bud Adams coveted Vince Young in the 2006 NFL Draft.

And the Titans’ owner was even willing to trade up to get his man.

Via ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, ex-Titans G.M. Floyd Reese recalled Thursday how badly Adams wanted Young, who had led Texas to the national title months earlier.

“The night before he draft, [Adams] goes, ‘You gotta call New Orleans and trade up,’” Reese remembered Thursday in an interview with 104.5 FM “The Zone” in Nashville.

The Titans held the No. 3 pick, while the Saints had the second overall choice. And as Reese recalled, Adams believed Raiders owner Al Davis had designs on trading into New Orleans’ spot.

Reese, as the former Titans’ executive told “The Zone” on Thursday, couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“I said, ‘WHAT?’” Reese recalled.

Adams, Reese said, insisted he check in with New Orleans and make an offer. And so the Titans’ G.M. did as he was told.

Now it was the Saints’ turn to be surprised.

“So I called ‘em and I said — and trading one spot — I said, ‘I need to trade with you guys, and I will give you a ‘two,’” Reese said. “They said, ‘A TWO?’ I said, ‘Yep, a two.’ They go, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘We want that spot.’”

Reese continued: “And he goes, ‘You know something we don’t.’ He goes, ‘We’re not going to trade.’”

Said Reese, concluding his story: “I laughed about that forever.”

In the end, the Saints took Reggie Bush second overall, and the Titans selected Young with the next pick. The Titans got their quarterback, and they didn’t have to give up a second-rounder.

And now, thanks to Reese, we have quite the footnote to add to the history of the 2006 NFL Draft.

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Raiders put D.J. Hayden on PUP list after foot surgery

D.J. Hayden AP

A number of teams might have been worried about D.J. Hayden’s heart scare prior to last year’s NFL Draft.

But Hayden’s biggest problem at the moment is all the other parts.

According to Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders cornerback suffered a stress fracture in his foot which had to be surgically repaired.

The surgery was done four weeks ago, and Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Hayden’s recovery was estimated at between four and eight weeks. For now, he’s on the active/physically unable to perform list.

That could well take him out of training camp altogether, which would be a blow for the team and last year’s 12th overall pick.

It’s a big setback,” veteran defensive back Charles Woodson said Wednesday, before it was known Hayden had surgery. “As I’ve said many times, the most important thing in this game is being out on the field. There’s only so much being in the film room and studying plays can do for you. It can only take you so far. You need to be out there. . . .

“Hopefully it’s not anything that’s going to hold him out the whole camp. Hopefully he doesn’t have to worry about being on a [physically unable to perform list] or anything like that. He’s a guy we feel can help us out around here. It has the potential to be a setback. Hopefully it’s not.”

After fighting through the heart injury which nearly killed him, and complications from an abdominal surgery last season, Hayden hardly needs any more hurdles.

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Charles gets $8.3 million guaranteed

Charles Getty Images

Omitted from the news regarding the new contract obtained by running back Jamaal Charles from the Chiefs was the amount of the four-year, $28 million contract that is guaranteed.

It was possibly omitted because it wasn’t an eye-popping number.

Per a league source, only the first year of the deal is guaranteed, which it would have been as of Week One of the regular season anyway.  The total amount is $8.3 million, a dramatic increase in the $3.9 million Charles was due to earn in 2014.

Nothing beyond 2014 is guaranteed.  So if the Chiefs were to cut Charles after this season, he’d hit the market with $8.3 million in his pocket from the upcoming season.

Charles probably could have given up some of the total dollars in exchange for getting some injury-only guarantees in future years.  But why bother?  The money only gets paid in the event of a serious injury.  For what the player would have to sacrifice by way of salary, it makes more sense in some situations to simply buy a disability policy.

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Griffin takes another shot at the Shanahans

Griffin AP

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III has made little effort to conceal something that should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the team — Griffin and former coach Mike Shanahan and former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t see eye to eye.

Last month, Griffin applauded the absence of “ulterior motives” in the organization this year.  On Thursday, Griffin took a more direct, but still passive-aggressive, dig at the Shanahans, when asked by reporters about Griffin’s supposed inability to read defenses.

“You don’t go from the ability to read defenses one year and not have that ability the next, so I don’t believe that one bit,” Griffin said.  “And it’s really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you.  Sean and Jay have done a great job.  They’ve given me a lot on my shoulders in that quarterback room and I cherish that.  You want to be asked to do more or just to do the bare minimum.”

The comments imply that the Shanahan didn’t “believe” in Griffin, and that they wanted him to do “the bare minimum” when running the offense.

Then again, the latter observation could be a reflection of Kyle Shanahan’s approach to the quarterback position, given that past pupils like Rex Grossman have described Kyle as wanting the quarterback to run the offense precisely the way Shanahan wants it to be run, with limited discretion or thought on the part of the quarterback.  It’ll be interesting to see whether Kyle Shanahan insists on that kind of structure from his latest pupil, the man named Johnny Football who plays some of his best football when the predetermined plan has landed in the johnny.

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Aldon Smith says he’s remained sober, expects to meet with Goodell soon

Aldon Smith AP

With word of Ravens running back Ray Rice’s two-game suspension being announced on Thursday, we may be drawing closer to learning what kind of discipline the league has in store for 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

Smith pleaded no contest to three weapons charges and a DUI this offseason and reports were that he’d meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell soon to discuss his situation. On Thursday, Smith confirmed, via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, that he expects to have a meeting with Goodell soon but that no date has been set yet.

Barrows also reports that Smith said he has remained sober since checking into a rehab facility after being arrested for DUI last September. Smith missed five games while in rehab, something Goodell said could be a factor in any penalty that is ultimately handed down.

The sobriety may also help persuade Goodell to opt for lesser discipline, but Smith has racked up enough negatives that it would be surprising if he’s in the 49ers lineup for the first few weeks of the regular season.

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Mike Priefer: I’ve learned a hard lesson

Minnesota Vikings Media Access Getty Images

The Vikings suspended special teams coach Mike Priefer last Friday night after an investigation into claims by the team’s former punter Chris Kluwe that Priefer made homophobic remarks while speaking to the team.

Priefer made his first public comments about the suspension, which is for three games with the potential to go down to two games after Priefer completes sensitivity training, and said he made a mistake that went “way below the bar” by making the remarks. Priefer reiterated the apology that he made on Friday and said he’s learned a lesson.

“I’m not going to change the way I coach and I’m not going to change the way I teach,” Priefer said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But I’ve learned a lesson. I have learned a lesson here. That’s a great thing about this situation, I’m going to look back and say something good had to come from this. But I learned a hard lesson, I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say and that’s not going to happen again.”

Priefer didn’t go into specific detail about what he said and will undergo sensitivity training during the first week of the regular season. General Manager Rick Spielman indicated that the team considered firing Priefer, but thought a suspension was more appropriate. Coach Mike Zimmer said he stands behind Priefer because he’s a good person that made a mistake.

“We all make mistakes,” Zimmer said. “We all try to learn from our mistakes. And I think this guy is a very high-character, quality person that I want to stand behind. Honestly, I want to stand behind him because I know what is inside of him, I know what’s in his heart. And he made a mistake, and if anyone here hasn’t made a mistake, I want you to raise your hand, because I know I’ve made plenty.”

Kluwe and the Vikings are working toward a settlement that would avoid a lawsuit from Kluwe alleging wrongful discharge and defamation of character. Should that happen, Priefer and the team will be closer to fulfilling Priefer’s desire to “move on” from the investigation.

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Pierre-Paul says he’s “110 percent,” thinks he’ll remain with Giants past 2014

Jasn Pierre-Paul AP

After going 7-9 last season, there are several Giants veterans on the spot heading into the 2014 season.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is right at the top of that list. Pierre-Paul battled injuries early and late while putting forth performances far below the standard he set on the way to a Super Bowl title in 2011, leading him to call it a “lost year” on Thursday. Getting Pierre-Paul back to form is big for a team that doesn’t have many proven pass rushers and it’s big for Pierre-Paul as well.

He’s entering the final year of his contract and what was once assumed to be a big extension is less certain after Pierre-Paul’s poor 2013. The defensive end says he’s “110 percent” now, though, and expects to remain with the team.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Pierre-Paul said, via the New York Post. “Seeing Tuck gone, it’s on my mind a little bit. I think I’m going to be here next year. Honest. Because I know how I play and I know what kind of game I bring.”

Listing the players who are 110 percent or in the best shape of their lives heading into training camp would take most of the month, so such statements should always be taken with an oversize grain of salt. Pierre-Paul has to produce once the whistle blows or his future, Giants or otherwise, is going to be a lot dimmer than it was 12 months ago.

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Report: Jordy Nelson’s looking for $10 million a year

Jordy Nelson Charity Softball AP

Jordy Nelson is definitely a wide receiver.

And he wants to get paid like one of the best.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, a source familiar with the negotiations said Nelson wants a deal “worth at least $10 million per season.”

Nelson’s currently working on the final year of the three-year, $12.6 million deal he signed in 2011, and his $4.2 million per season average is 34th among all receivers.

And since he signed that deal early during the 2011 season, he’s averaged 67 catches, 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns per season.

With Roddy White cashing in with the Falcons today, the bar was raised again for Nelson, who just turned 29 years old.

The Packers would like to keep Nelson and Randall Cobb (who is also up for free agency after this season), but they might find themselves in a spot where they can afford one or the other, but not both.

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