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Bears defensive injuries piling up

Brian Urlacher AP

The Bears’ playoff hopes went up in smoke last season thanks to injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte.

Things are still looking good for them on that front after 12 games this year, but the injuries are starting to pile up on the other side of the ball. A week after linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman were scraped up, the Bears lost three players from their defense before the end of Seattle’s 23-17 overtime loss.

Cornerback Tim Jennings hurt his shoulder and will have an MRI on Monday while linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has dealt with a knee problem all year, was forced out with a hamstring injury. Safety Chris Conte was felled by the flu, which should clear up without much more missed time. Losing three players from the defense didn’t help the defense hold up against Russell Wilson in the final minutes of regulation or overtime.

“We’re concerned,” defensive end Julius Peppers said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We need everybody on the field. We’ve just got to get everybody healthy and we’ve got to have some guys on the second line step up.”

Tillman, Jennings, Briggs and Urlacher are essential parts of the Bears defense so missing them or getting limited production from them down the stretch would be a very bad development for Chicago’s playoff chances.

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Man faces charges for urinating on Art Modell’s grave

MODELL AP

A Browns fan that made a video of himself urinating on Art Modell’s grave may find himself in jail as a result of his decision to vent his anger in that manner and share it with the world.

Authorities in Maryland said Tuesday that they will charge the man, whose identity has not been revealed beyond being a Browns fan with disorderly conduct in a cemetery. The charge carries a possible penalty of two years in jail and a $500 fine.

“Everyone who has buried a loved one has the right to believe that their final resting place will be treated with respect,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said in a statement, via the Associated Press. “Bringing charges against this individual should act as a deterrent to others and assure the rest of us that no matter who you are, indecencies will not be committed against your final resting place.”

Modell’s son David thanked the police and prosecutors for their work on the case, adding that being angry at his father for moving the Browns to Baltimore doesn’t give people the right to break the law.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

EJ Manuel AP

Jets coach Rex Ryan wasn’t happy when QB Tajh Boyd took a hit in practice: “We don’t hit our quarterbacks, period,” Ryan said. “That’s why they’re in the red jersey. You got to be smart.”

Bills QB EJ Manuel’s position coach thinks the sky is the limit for his potential.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor says he’s OK with his players making mistakes, as long as they learn from them.

Said Tommy Kelly of trying to earn a job on the Patriots’ defensive line, “This is a very hard team to make, so if you don’t go out there and put it on the line every day, you ain’t going to be here. Simple as that.”

The Ravens’ new national anthem singer made his debut at an open practice.

Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu has done a little of everything in practice, including throwing a touchdown pass and taking a handoff in the backfield.

Said Browns RB Ben Tate of taking issue with a defensive player taking him to the ground, “It is a little frustrating but I understand that they need to work. But you know it’s a line and you know when they cross that line offensively we have gotta let them know that its not acceptable. So that is really what it was about just setting the tempo that, ‘Hey, you are not going to bully us. You know what I am saying?’ Everybody’s pro defense, defensive head coach but I am letting them know, ‘It don’t matter, ya’ll not gonna bully us.”

Steelers OL David Snow has been waived/injured after suffering an injury on the first day of camp.

Texans DE J.J. Watt was already the NFL’s best defensive lineman, but he may be getting even better.

Colts QB Andrew Luck may be ready to take a leap forward in his completion percentage.

Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis is having a strong camp.

After eight seasons in Tennessee, Michael Griffin says of this year’s group: “It’s a different team now. It’s a different team in the fact that it’s different all the way around. You see this team in a positive direction, aimed in the right direction. The guys we’ve brought in the last two years, the coaching staff — all of this you can see where this team can go.”

Broncos DE Derek Wolfe is looking healthy and strong in camp.

Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson is hoping to break the all-time franchise record for career tackles.

Matt Schaub is settling in as the Raiders’ starting quarterback.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy believes in giving players plenty of rest during camp.

Eagles QB Nick Foles says his great numbers last year mean nothing this year.

After not playing at all this year, Giants TE Daniel Fells has a chance to be a starter this year.

Cowboys LB Sean Lee is staying involved, even though he’s out for the year with a knee injury.

Washington backup QB Kirk Cousins is driving his grandma’s van.

Here’s a look at the state of the competition to back up QB Jay Cutler in Chicago.

Lions first-round pick Eric Ebron has dropped some passes, but coach Jim Caldwell is not concerned.

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is finding QB Teddy Bridgewater to be a quick study.

Packers S Sean Richardson has been able to overcome a serious neck injury.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has confidence in Atlanta’s revamped offensive line.

Panthers undrafted rookie WR Marcus Lucas is catching a lot of touchdown passes in practice.

There’s pressure in New Orleans on S Jairus Byrd, who comes to the Saints with high expectations.

Said Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith of RB Jeff Demps, “When you have the title ‘fastest man in the NFL,’ you search for ways to do something with him.”

Rams DE William Hayes is recovering from three offseason surgeries.

Cardinals WR Michael Floyd may seem like the No. 2 receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald, but Floyd says there is no No. 1 or No. 2 in Arizona.

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch’s holdout could get expensive.

After a year off, 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd is enjoying being back in the NFL.

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Peterson gets $15.3 million signing bonus

Peterson Getty Images

Usually, a reporter publishes a player’s “guaranteed” money in a new contract without explaining how much is fully guaranteed at signing, how much is guaranteed for injury only, and when injury-only guarantees convert to full guarantees in the future.  For players like Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, the vague, incomplete information has initially come directly from them.

Peterson tweeted late Wednesday that he has signed a five-year, $70 million extension with $48 million guaranteed.  (It’s actually $70.05 million over five, a small difference but also an important one.)  Per a source with knowledge of the contract, only $47.3 million is guaranteed.  Like most contracts of this magnitude, most of the money is guaranteed for injury only, for now.

The best guaranteed money in any NFL contract comes from the signing bonus.  According to the source, Peterson gets $15.3 million from the Cardinals.

Then, by the fifth day of the 2015 waiver period (which comes the week after Super Bowl XLIX), a total of $27.8 million will have become fully guaranteed, for skill, injury, and cap.

By the fifth day of the 2016 waiver period, $42.619 million becomes fully guaranteed.  By the fifth day of the 2017 waiver period, the rest of the $47.3 million becomes fully guaranteed.

It gives the Cardinals three different opportunities to move on before the guarantees fully vest, but the triggers come very early in the offseason, forcing Arizona to make a quick decision in early 2015, 2016, and 2017.  If/when they decide to move on, Peterson would the market more than a month before the start of free agency.  (In contrast, the 49ers have until April 1 each year to make a decision on Colin Kaepernick, three weeks after the start of free agency.)

Again, Peterson finagled this contract with two years left on his rookie deal.  He’s the first first-round pick in the rookie wage scale era to get a second contract.  For the rest, it could be a while until deals start getting done.

 

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Dolphins’ line coach is concerned about his options at center

Mike Pouncey AP

Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is injured and may not return until late in the regular season, and the performances in training camp of Pouncey’s potential replacements have the team worried.

After a practice in which new center Shelley Smith (who has never played center before) had two bad snaps to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and in which backup center Sam Brenner was carted off with a leg injury, Dolphins offensive line coach John Benton acknowledged there are issues.

Obviously, I’m concerned,” Benton said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We’ve got to find a way to be good at that position.”

Benton said he doesn’t know how well Smith is going to play at center but hopes to see a good preseason performance out of him.

“It’s unclear in the sense there’s a lot unclear until you get to that first game,” he said. “We’ll know a lot after that first preseason game. I’m optimistic. To say confident is probably a little stretch.”

To say the Dolphins will have a good offensive line this year is probably a stretch.

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Report: Cowboys fear Demarcus Lawrence has a broken foot

DeMarcus Lawrence AP

For a defense that couldn’t afford to take any more hits after the loss of Sean Lee to injury earlier this offseason, the Dallas Cowboys had to watch another key defensive piece get carted off the practice field.

Second-round defensive end Demarcus Lawrence was taken off the field by cart after going down with an injury during Tuesday’s practice.

According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys fear Lawrence has suffered a broken foot.

While the extent of the damage is still uncertain, it is an injury that can require a substantial recovery period.

Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones missed the final 11 games of last season after breaking a screw in his surgically repaired foot. Houston Texans lineman David Quessenberry missed the entire season after breaking a bone in his foot in practice prior to the start of the season.

Depending on the severity of the injury, the Cowboys could place Lawrence on the short-term injured reserve list for the start of the regular season, which would force him to miss at least eight game before being eligible to play.

For a defense that was ranked dead last in 2013, it’s a blow the Cowboys couldn’t afford to take.

UPDATE 1:00 a.m. ET: According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, Lawrence did suffer a broken foot and is expected to miss 8-10 weeks. The injury will require surgery to repair the damage.

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Peterson’s deal technically makes him the highest paid corner in new money

Peterson AP

Continuing a trend among highly-paid cornerbacks to announce their new contracts via Twitter with basic financial information, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has informed the tweet-watching world that he has signed a five-year, $70 million extension with $48 million guaranteed.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the deal is actually with $70.05 million over five years, a minor distinction that makes him the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL based on a new-money analysis.  Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman signed in May four-year, $56 million extension, worth $14 million a year in new money.  Peterson’s average is $14.01 million.

While Peterson was a little low on the total amount, he’s also a little high on the guaranteed money.  We hope to have more details about the guaranteed money in the morning.

The key for Peterson comes from both shifting the injury risk to the team and getting a big-money extension with two years left on his rookie contract.  Sherman and Browns cornerback Joe Haden got their new deals with one year left on existing deals.  Peterson becomes the first 2011 first-round pick to get a long-term deal despite having two years remaining under contract.

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Patrick Peterson announces five-year extension with Cardinals

Cardinals Camp Football AP

Cornerback Patrick Peterson has reached an agreement with the Arizona Cardinals on a five-year contract extension.

Peterson had two more seasons left on his rookie deal with the Cardinals after Arizona picked up the fifth-year option on his contract earlier this offseason. Peterson announced his new deal via his Twitter account.

While we won’t know what the deal is truly worth until getting a closer look at the numbers, Peterson’s deal is right in line with the extensions given to Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns this offseason.

According to Peterson’s self-reported numbers, Peterson would bring in more total guaranteed money ($48 million) than Sherman ($40 million) or Haden ($45 million). However, not all of that money is likely fully guaranteed.

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Cam Thomas faces a Ron Mexico-style lawsuit

Thomas AP

Two years before Mike Vick became known as a dogfighter, he was sued for giving a woman herpes.  The case introduced the football-following world to Ron Mexico, the alias Vick allegedly used when seeking treatment.

Now, Steelers defensive lineman Cam Thomas faces a similar lawsuit.  Without the creative alternative name.

Via 10News.com in San Diego, a woman filed on May 30 a civil complaint against Thomas for sexual battery, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud through intentional concealment, and negligence.

The woman, who sued under the name Adrienne E., accuses Thomas of attempting to shove her from a moving car, using a “hot flat iron on her hair” during an argument, and choking her until she passed out.

Adrienne E. also claims that the couple had unprotected sex on multiple occasions, and she contends that she at one point asked Thomas about bruises and sores in the area of his genitalia.  He allegedly explained that the condition arose from the “girdle he wears in practice and during workouts.”  She claims that she contracted herpes from Thomas.

Via TMZ, a lawyer who represents Thomas claims that the plaintiff is a “bitter girl” who is “angry, vindictive and mean” because Thomas has “another woman, and a baby in his life.”

Thomas becomes the second Steelers player this year accused of assaulting a female.  Last week, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and his twin brother, Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, were sued by a trio of persons who contend they were assaulted at the brothers’ birthday party in Miami.  Maurkice allegedly punched a woman in the face, rendering her unconscious.  He denies the allegations.

Thomas signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers in free agency.

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Patrick Peterson says NFC West ripe for the taking

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Patrick Peterson feels the NFC West is more than just the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

In Peterson’s mind, the Arizona Cardinals have as good of a shot as anyone to win the NFC West this season.

The Cardinals finished 2013 as one of the league’s hottest teams, winning seven of their final nine games. Arizona finished with a 10-6 record but missed out on a playoff berth. Four of Arizona’s six losses came to NFC West rivals. They were 0-2 against the 49ers and split with the Seahawks and St. Louis Rams. In fact, the Cardinals are the only team to win a game on the road in Seattle over the last two seasons.

Peterson feels the Cardinals are right there with the Seahawks and 49ers and don’t need to close a massive gap to the division’s best teams.

We gave San Fran two games last year. Gave them two games last year,” Peterson said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “Came out slow and played Seattle slow in the first game, and we still ended up climbing back in the game to the fourth quarter and we kind of tucked our tail again. We went up to Seattle (and won). And lord knows we gave the Rams the first game we played them.”

“We got what it takes. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the personnel. We’ve got the great coaching staff, front office. We have everything in the pot that we need to help us win ballgames.”

Arizona’s only two losses over the final two months of the season each came by just a field goal to a pair of playoff teams. The Cardinals lost 24-21 on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles and lost 23-20 to the 49ers at home in Week 17.

However, the Cardinals lost two key pieces on their defense that could be difficult to replace in Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby.

Arizona is a very talented team and could very well challenge for a playoff spot this season but supplanting the 49ers and Seahawks for the division crown may prove to be too tall a mountain for the Cardinals to climb.

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Mark Davis acknowledges San Antonio visit

Davis AP

Yes, Raiders owner Mark Davis recently took a trip to San Antonio.

We know this because the Raiders posted a three-part message on the matter at the team’s Twitter page, in response to the report from the San Antonio Express-News that the team could move to Texas.

“I was in San Antonio to honor Cliff Branch on his induction into the [Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association Hall of Fame],” Davis said.  “Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros is a friend, and Henry suggested I take the opportunity to meet with some of the city officials while we were in town.”

Meet about what?

“I have nothing further to discuss on the topic,” Davis said.

Despite Davis slamming the door, San Antonio has more to say, via a memo sent by City Manager Sheryl Sculley to City Council after the news of the visit broke on Tuesday.

“I was asked to meet two weeks ago with the owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, and members of his staff,” Sculley wrote.  “Mr. Davis has expressed interest in a possible relocation of his NFL team to San Antonio and we are engaged in preliminary due diligence.  The agenda for this visit included a tour of the Alamodome and meetings with local business leaders.”

Davis has been careful not to talk too much about possibly moving the team, because he doesn’t want to be perceived as making threats.  By meeting with officials from other cities about a possible relocation, he’s nevertheless exploring options and/or exerting leverage and/or laying the foundation to leave.

With a one-year lease at the O.co Coliseum, Davis could in theory leave Oakland after the 2014 season.  But at least 23 other owners would have to support the move.  The two already in Texas may not be thrilled with the potential dilution of the overall marketplace.

The NBA team in San Antonio also may not be thrilled with the dilution of its own fan base.  Per the Express-News, the Spurs are concerned that the Raiders (who wear the same colors as the Spurs) could impact the financial success of the defending NBA champions.

While it’s easy to assume nothing will happen with the Raiders and San Antonio, something has to happen for the team in Oakland or something will happen for it in some other city.

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Bears sign WR Dale Moss

Chicago Bears v Denver Broncos Getty Images

The Bears have brought back a wide receiver who has experience in Marc Trestman’s offense.

The club announced the signing of Dale Moss, who spent part of the 2013 offseason with Chicago. He was also on the Bears’ practice squad for a portion of the 2012 regular season.

The 25-year-old Moss entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012. The South Dakota State product has played with Green Bay (2012), Tampa Bay (2012) and Carolina (2013). Moss was last in the NFL with the Panthers, who waived him in August 2013.

Moss is one of 11 receivers on the Bears’ roster. The Bears have filled all 90 roster spots.

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New Dolphins T-shirt carries lengthy credo written by the players

Dolphins

As the Dolphins try to put a challenging 2013 season behind them, they realize that they’re not that far away from becoming a true contender.  Their effort includes a T-shirt carrying a stream of slogans that were devised not by the coaching staff but by the players.

“It started in the offseason when [Coach Joe Philbin] came to a group of guys, veterans on the team, reiterating that this is our team,” defensive end Cameron Wake told PFT by phone on Tuesday night.  “If you go around any locker room, they’ll have all the mantras and the sayings.  From my experience, it’s been coach-driven, what they want the team statement to be.  He said it should come from you guys.  We sat down as a group of men, teammates, brothers and came up with a group of statements about what the Dolphins are and should be.”

Wake said that “everybody” was involved in coming up with slogans, which were collected and discussed.  The team then picked the best.

The end result, a “Miami Dolphins Credo,” has been placed onto a T-shirt.

“I am a Miami Dolphin,” the T-shirt reads.  “I am a warrior and a member of an unbeatable team.  I will always place the team first.  If I see something — I will say something — I commit to call it as it is.  I will develop undying trust with the man to my left and right.  I will never accept defeat.  I will never quit.  I am the change that I want to see in my team.  I live respect and truth telling.  I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, and proficient in my position tasks and drills.  I am a professional.  I am a Miami Dolphin.”

It’s no accident that the list begins and ends with “I am a Miami Dolphin.”

“Whatever you do, bad, good, great, terrible, it’s going to be attributed to the Miami Dolphins,” Wake said.  “Whatever you do, wherever you go, you are going to be representing this organization.”

The different sizes were used in large part to ensure that each sentence fit entirely on one line, and the large “I will never quit” sentence catches the eye.  And for good reason; last year’s scandal involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito was sparked by Martin essentially quitting on the team.  But Wake says that line is not about Martin.

“It never crossed my mind and never had anything to do with him whatsoever,” Wake said.  “I think about games like the Cincinnati game, like the Patriots game.  Where we have to fight until there’s no time left on the clock.”

The line “If I see something — I will say something — I commit to call it as it is” also invites speculation that it was influenced by the Martin/Incognito ordeal.  Wake says it’s actually about day-in and day-out efforts to hold teammates accountable in every way.  He explained that the new mindset resulted in 99-percent participation in the offseason program, and in a more vocal locker room and practice field when it comes to making sure everyone is doing everything he can to push the Dolphins to the next level.

“We’re not a zero-win team,” Wake said.  “We were a good football team that lost games we shouldn’t have.  To go in and tweak that small percentage to gain that extra yard, touchdown, gain hopefully comes from this whole effort.”

Whether intended or not, an effort to ensure accountability on and off the field will ensure that the 2014 Dolphins won’t be dealing with avoidable distractions like the one that may have ultimately affected the team’s ability to clinch a playoff berth after heading into the final two weeks at 8-6.  If the new attitude remains in place through the inevitable adversity that nearly every team encounters, maybe the Dolphins will end up being a lot better than expected this year.

 

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DeMarcus Lawrence carted off from Cowboys practice

Lawrence AP

An historically bad Cowboys defense won’t get any better in 2014 if its players can’t stay healthy.  While no injury this year can be as bad for the effort as the one suffered in the offseason by middle linebacker Sean Lee, each and every additional injury makes it harder for the Cowboys to turn things around.

The latest injury happened at practice on Tuesday night, with rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence exiting practice via cart ride, per multiple reports.  Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it could be an ankle injury.

Whatever the specific injury, it’s not a good development for a team that had an embarrassingly bad defense in 2013.

Lawrence, the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is expected to help fill the void created by the release of DeMarcus Ware, a rare bright spot who was dumped due to concerns that his salary is to high — and who then got more money this year from the Broncos.

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Stephen A. Smith gets a one-week suspension

espn-first-take-18

Ray Rice’s suspension has spawned another one.

Stephen A. Smith, who foolishly suggested that women may play a role in provoking illegal violence from the men in their lives and then doubled down on Twitter before finally apologizing via teleprompter, has been suspended for a week by ESPN.  He won’t appear on ESPN2’s First Take or ESPN Radio (which he’s leaving for Sirius Mad Dog Radio anyway) until August 6.

“I believe his apology was sincere and that he and we have learned from what we’ve collectively experienced,” ESPN president John Skipper said, via the Associated Press.

While Smith’s apology may have been sincere, it apparently wasn’t a one-time slip of the tongue.

Given that the suspension came four days after the comments were uttered, the suspension likely was the result of a more lengthy and detailed conversation that possibly considered other options.  Those options may have included a longer suspension, or maybe a permanent one.

On one hand, stupid opinions and/or good opinions articulated stupidly can be stupid enough to result in tangible employment consequences.  On the other hand, the “embrace debate” premise of First Take creates an environment in which stupid opinions and/or good opinions articulated stupidly are encouraged, if not required.

Last year, stupid opinions about Robert Griffin III on First Take got Rob Parker fired.  Now, Smith has been suspended and possibly placed on a leash so short that he’ll have to tiptoe on eggshells to avoid stepping on a land mine.

Maybe the problem isn’t Parker or Smith but the show itself.  Debate should be authentic and organic.  When a network demands that a pair of analysts come up with diametrically opposed and yet equally hot takes on multiple topics per day, it’s somewhat amazing that the format hasn’t claimed more careers.

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Five questions: Cleveland Browns

Manziel AP

Since returning to the NFL in 1999 after a three-year hiatus, the Browns have had more lows than highs.  One playoff appearance a dozen years ago, one other winning season, and otherwise futility.

In recent years, the futility has flowed in large part from inconsistency, with four coaches and four General Managers since 2009.  Before the Browns can contend, the front office and the coaching staff need to stabilize.  It’s unclear whether that will happen.  But that’s not one of the five specific questions I’ve selected to address as the season approaches.

These are.

1.  Who will be the quarterback?

After the Browns traded up from No. 26 to No. 22 in round one to snag Johnny Manziel, the Browns opted not to install Manziel as the starter.  It’s possible, if not likely, that it was part of the effort to short-circuit the immediate ascension of Manziel to the same kind of power Robert Griffin III had (and likely still has) in Washington.

Nevertheless empowered by the team’s apparent acceptance of a “Work Hard, Play Harder” two-sided offseason T-shirt motto, Manziel eventually took it too far, hanging out with Justin Bieber and rolling up a dollar bill after the team told him to tone it down.

With an owner who isn’t bashful about handing out pink slips but with termination not an option, the next best way to send a message to Manziel becomes sending him to the bench.  Which is what the Browns now apparently plan to do, given the ongoing praise heaped upon Brian Hoyer.

It’s a dangerous game, for multiple reasons.  First, making Manziel the backup means exposing him to injury in the preseason behind the No. 2 offensive line.  Second, it opens the door for another Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn do-si-do that could delay the date on which Manziel ascends to the job they surely want him to have.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have drafted him.

2.  Who will run the ball?

Ben Tate arrived via free agency, Terrance West comes to Cleveland through the draft.  Tate presumably will get the first crack at becoming the primary ball carrier, but his contract doesn’t point inescapably to Tate being the clear-cut bell cow.

“Competition is needed to have a good team,” Tate recently told reporters.  “You look at San Francisco. You look at Seattle. There’s competition at every position. Obviously you know who their guy is, but there are guys behind them that are good that can push them.  That’s what’s needed so I don’t see it as a threat.”

It’s only a threat for Tate if the competition results in a conclusion that West is a better option that Tate.

3.  What’s the plan at receiver?

Josh Gordon may or may not be suspended for the year, and the Browns haven’t done much to plan for life without him.  Miles Austin and Nate Burleson arrived via free agency, but both guys aren’t who they used to be.

G.M. Ray Farmer has defended the failure to make a move to replace Gordon by explaining that Super Bowl champs rarely have dominant receivers.  Of course, Super Bowl champs also often don’t have elite left tackles, but it’s unlikely that the Browns will be cutting Joe Thomas any time soon.

Perhaps the Browns ultimately played it right, if Gordon’s low concentration of marijuana metabolites and luck-of-the-draw “A” bottle/”B” bottle discrepancy results in a short suspension or none at all.  One way or another, we’ll know the answer soon enough.

4.  Will Kyle Shanahan be more flexible with Manziel?

The Browns possibly would like a Mulligan when it comes to drafting Manziel.  New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan possibly would like a Mulligan of his own when it comes to taking a job with the team that drafted Manziel.

Kyle Shanahan ensured two years of RGIII in D.C., with plenty of dysfunction fueled by a quarterback who wouldn’t or couldn’t be coached the way Shanahan wanted to coach him to the degree that Shanahan likes to coach/control all of his quarterbacks.

Shanahan wants everything done according to his plan.  Manziel does some of his best work when the plan disintegrates into no plan at all.  Whenever Manziel plays, Shanahan will need to become more flexible, or he’ll lose whatever is left of his mind after 2012 and 2013.

5.  How good is the defense?

Pretty good.

Lost in all the talk about the team’s offense is a defense that finished in the top 10 both for yards and points allowed.  Sure, coordinator Ray Horton is gone after a year, and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and safety T.J. Ward have been swapped out for Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, respectively.  But head coach Mike Pettine, who made a major impact during his only season with the Bills after stepping out of Rex Ryan’s shrinking shadow, could push the finished product to even greater heights.

To get there, Pettine needs to get more out of pass rushers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo.  If forgotten top-10 cornerback Justin Gilbert can make a quick impact, he and Joe Haden could quickly become of the best tandems in the league.

The end result could be a defense that’s even better than it was a year ago, and in turn an offense that benefits from fewer points allowed, better field position, and more turnovers.

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