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NFL morning after: Oh, those crazy Jets

Arizona Cardinals v New York Jets Getty Images

The New York Jets aren’t good. But they are fun.

No, no, they’re not fun if you’re a fan of the Jets — I wouldn’t wish the experience of being a fan of this team on anyone. They’re fun for fans of the NFL’s other 31 teams because no matter what ridiculous thing happens with your team, you can say, At least we’re not the Jets.

Think about it: There are two 11-1 teams in the NFL right now, the Texans and the Falcons, and neither one of them has garnered as much media attention as the 5-7 Jets. Most of that media attention has been about what a clown show the Jets’ quarterback situation is, with Mark Sanchez struggling through another mediocre year and the much-hyped arrival of Tim Tebow turning into a big nothingburger. And then on Sunday, after Sanchez had completed just 10 of his 21 passes for 97 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions, Jets coach Rex Ryan finally decided he had seen enough of Sanchez’s poor play. Except that Tebow was out of the game with broken ribs. So Ryan had no choice but to put in third-string quarterback Greg McElroy.

And then McElroy proceeded to march the Jets down the field and for the only touchdown of the game, leading the Jets to a 7-6 win over the Cardinals. And just like that, a third name was added to the Jets’ quarterback circus.

On the 53-man rosters of the two teams playing on Sunday, there were six quarterbacks: Sanchez, Tebow and McElroy for the Jets, and Ryan Lindley, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton for the Cardinals. McElroy is the only one of the six who had never started an NFL game before, but he’s probably the best quarterback on either team.

Yes, I do think McElroy is the best quarterback on the Jets. Ryan was noncommittal after the game about whether McElroy would start next week, but the Jets might as well give him a full week of practice with the first-string offense and see what he can do in their next game, Sunday at Jacksonville. Because even if you don’t think McElroy is any good, here’s the truth about Sanchez and Tebow: Both of them stink.

That’s what makes the Jets so funny. This whole quarterback controversy is between two guys who aren’t good quarterbacks, two guys who probably aren’t any better than McElroy, a former seventh-round draft pick out of Alabama who until he took the field in place of Sanchez on Sunday had never played in an NFL game.

And McElroy probably isn’t the answer, either. There was a reason that NFL scouts watched him play at Alabama and didn’t think he was a high pick, and there was a reason that the Jets never bothered to put him on the field until Sunday. But McElroy should get the opportunity to prove himself.

Of course, for the Jets, the worst-case scenario might be McElroy playing just well enough down the stretch, against a soft schedule (all four of the Jets’ remaining opponents have losing records), to make people think he deserves to compete for the starting quarterback position next year. Because the only thing crazier than the mess the quarterback situation was this year would be a three-way quarterback battle with McElroy, Sanchez and Tebow next year. But while Jets fans would probably prefer not to have another quarterback controversy, it would give the rest of us a good laugh.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday in the NFL:

The Chiefs did an amazing thing. A day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of coaches and team officials, the Chiefs somehow managed to play — and win — a football game. Romeo Crennel — who witnessed Belcher’s suicide — somehow managed to pull his team together for Sunday’s game. Jamaal Charles — whose wife is the cousin of Kasandra Perkins, the girlfriend Belcher killed — somehow managed to gain 127 yards on Sunday. Crennel called playing football “the best thing we could do, if for no other reason it takes our minds off our misery for a few hours.”

Peyton Manning had the best four-yard completion in NFL history. In the funniest play of the day, Manning was rolling to his right on third-and-1 and not finding anyone open. But just as he was about to get pushed out of bounds by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, Manning saw that running back Knowshon Moreno had been knocked to the ground and was just lying there. So Manning threw the ball right into Moreno’s breadbasket, and although Moreno didn’t even see the ball coming, he did manage to hold onto it for a four-yard gain and a first down. Even the hard-nosed Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano was chuckling on the sideline at the way Manning had just picked up a first down against his team.

Tom Brady gets division title No. 10: Brady is the first player in NFL history to be the quarterback for 10 division-winning teams, after the Patriots clinched the AFC East on Sunday. Brady is ahead of Peyton Manning (who won eight division titles with the Colts and clinched the ninth division title of his career when the Broncos won the AFC West on Sunday) and Joe Montana (who won eight division titles with the 49ers and added a ninth with the Chiefs) as the quarterback with the most division titles.

Megatron keeps going. The Lions are having a disappointing season, but Calvin Johnson is having a phenomenal season. He’s on pace to break Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards, and on Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to gain at least 140 receiving yards in four consecutive weeks. Johnson had an absolutely incredible one-handed catch on a deep ball along the right sideline, a great catch that came so easily for Johnson that he never even bothered to put his left hand on the ball, even when he was securing it as he was tackled. It doesn’t get any better than Megatron at the receiver position.

Adrian Peterson is keeping pace with Emmitt Smith. Peterson ran for 210 yards on Sunday, putting him over 8,000 rushing yards in his career, in the 85th game of his career. Likewise, Smith went over 8,000 yards in his career in the 85th game of his career. I have no idea if Peterson will have the longevity of Smith, but it’s remarkable that Peterson — who is having the best season of his career — is keeping pace with the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

Aldon Smith moves ahead of Reggie White. Smith, the 49ers’ outstanding second-year pass rusher, had a sack on Sunday to give him 31.5 so far in his two-year career. That’s the most sacks that any player has ever had in the first two years of his career, surpassing White, the Hall of Famer who had 31 sacks in the first two years of his career.

Andrew Luck commands an offense like a 15-year veteran. The poise that Luck showed in throwing two touchdown passes in the final three minutes of Sunday’s 35-33 win in Detroit was stunning. By drafting Peyton Manning in 1998 and Luck this year, the Colts have set themselves up to have a quarter-century or so of superb quarterback play. Think how jealous Jets fans must be.

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Colts tender Jerrell Freeman, Boom Herron, Daniel Adongo

jerrellfreeman AP

The Colts made the necessary offers to hang onto some of their restricted free agents today.

Most notably, the Colts tendered restricted free agent linebacker Jerrell Freeman at the second-round level. That means any team signing Freeman away would have to give the Colts a second-round draft pick. That won’t happen, and the Colts will keep Freeman for a salary of about $2 million this season.

The Colts also made qualifying offers to three exclusive rights free agents: Running back Daniel “Boom Herron,” linebacker Daniel Adongo and linebacker Cam Johnson.

Herron got increasing playing time late last season when the Colts finally began to realize that Trent Richardson simply isn’t good enough, and Herron out-played Richardson down the stretch. (Not that that’s saying much.) With the qualifying offer, Herron will be back in Indianapolis this season, potentially as their starting running back.

Adongo is a former rugby player who’s been with the Colts for two years. He hasn’t done much of anything yet, but the Colts think he has the athletic talent to amount to something, and they’ll give him at least another offseason to see what he can do.

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Jerry Jones is ordered to testify in Super Bowl ticket case

jerryjones AP

The plaintiffs in the Super Bowl XLV ticket case may not get the verdict that they want, but they’ve secured another victory on the path to whatever justice they’ll obtain.

In 2013, the plaintiffs secured the ability to question Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose deposition was played for the jury earlier this week.  Per multiple reports, the judge presiding over the case has now ruled that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be required to testify live and in person at the trial.

Jones resisted the effort to compel his testimony.

The NFL has acknowledged responsibility for the failure to have enough seats in place to correspond to the tickets sold.  At trial, the plaintiffs are trying to demonstrate that the NFL engaged in a sufficiently high level of misconduct to justify punitive damages and/or other compensation above and beyond the out-of-pocket losses suffered by fans who traveled to Dallas, showed up at the stadium, and found out they wouldn’t be watching the game.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Jones’ testimony could be entertaining given his history of extemporaneous speaking and the dangers of billionaires trying to dodge and parry with lawyers asking questions the billionaires don’t want to answer.

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49ers sign Jerome Simpson to two-year deal

Jerome Simpson AP

Jerome Simpson will attempt to jump-start his career in San Francisco.

Simpson, the former Bengals and Vikings wide receiver, has signed a two-year contract with the 49ers, the club said Thursday.

The 29-year-old Simpson has gained 13.8 yards per catch in his six-year NFL career. He was out of football in 2014 after Minnesota released him in September toward the end of a three-game suspension for a violation of the substance-abuse policy. He also served a three-game ban at the start of the 2012 season after a marijuana-related arrest and plea.

With Michael Crabtree set to be a free agent and Stevie Johnson’s future in San Francisco in question, the 49ers’ receiving corps could undergo some real changes this offseason. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Simpson’s size and athleticism can make him a field-stretching threat, and he certainly has the talent to make the roster, but he’ll probably need to do the little things well, too, in order to stick with San Francisco.

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Panthers sign Greg Olsen to three-year contract extension

Greg Olsen AP

The Panthers entered the offseason needing to add offensive weapons.

But their first move was to hang onto their most explosive one.

The Panthers announced that tight end Greg Olsen had signed a three-year extension to keep him in place through the 2018 season.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus told PFT the deal was worth $22.5 million with $12 million to sign.

It’s really a dream come true,” Olsen said. “Since we’ve come to Charlotte, we very quickly realized that this is home. This community quickly embraced our family, so we put down roots here. We love it here. This is home for us.

“Now to have this contract that guarantees that I’ll play the rest of my career in Charlotte is a tremendous blessing. We’re just so thankful for the team believing in me and wanting me to still be a part of this. As a team, we have a lot of special times ahead of us.”

Originally acquired in a trade with the Bears, Olsen’s coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance after an 84-catch, 1,008-yard season.

He was Cam Newton’s most dependable receiver last season, as they’re developing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

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Maurice Jones-Drew announces retirement

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

Maurice Jones-Drew is calling it a career.

Jones-Drew, a nine-year NFL veteran and a long-time Jaguars standout running back, announced his retirement Thursday on Twitter.

“Football has been a central part of my life for the past 24 years,” Jones-Drew wrote. “But, now I’m excited about and looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

One of the most unique backs of any era, the 5-foot-7, 210-pound Jones-Drew amassed 11,111 rushing-receiving yards and 91 touchdowns. A second-round pick of Jacksonville in 2006, Jones-Drew burst on the scene as a rookie, scoring 15 touchdowns, which endeared him to Jaguars fans and fantasy-football enthusiasts alike.

And Jones-Drew’s tenacity made a mark, too. Look no further than his clean, de-cleating block of the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman early in his career.

After eight seasons with Jacksonville, Jones-Drew joined the Raiders for the 2014 season, but he mustered just 96 yards on 43 carries.

Now, the 29-year-old Jones-Drew’s career is at a close, by his choice, and there will forever be a place for him in the game’s lore as a back who, for many years, played bigger than his program weight and height.

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Jets, Titans slated for visits with Cary Williams

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Cornerback Cary Williams isn’t lacking for interest in the wake of his release from the Eagles.

Williams is visiting with the Seahawks on Thursday and he’ll have two more visits lined up if he doesn’t strike a deal with the defending NFC champs. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Williams is scheduled to meet with the Jets next, assuming no other actual jet mishaps or winter weather force further closures of airports in the area, and then go to see the Titans on Monday.

Should Williams land with the Jets, he’ll surely get plenty of opportunities to share his feelings about the Patriots. Last summer, Williams made headlines by calling New England “cheaters” and returned an interception for a touchdown in a preseason outing.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Ravens have shown some interest in a reunion with one of their former players and that the Steelers may also move into the mix for Williams’s services.

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Bills tender WR Chris Hogan, two other exclusive-rights free agents

Chris Hogan AP

The Bills have tendered one-year contracts to three exclusive-rights free agents: wide receiver Chris Hogan, defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and wide receiver Justin Brown. The club announced the contract offers Thursday.

The 26-year-old Hogan emerged as a regular member of the club’s WR corps in 2014, catching 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Bryant, 26, notched 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 16 games as a defensive line reserve.

A sixth-round pick of the Steelers in 2013, Brown caught 12 passes for 94 yards this season for Pittsburgh. The Bills added the 23-year-old Brown on waivers in February.

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Land for Carson stadium will be purchased this month

Land Getty Images

Regardless of whether the Chargers and Raiders move to a new stadium to be built in Carson, California, the Chargers will own a large piece of land there.

According to Nathan Fenno and Tim Logan of the Los Angeles Times, the Chargers already have agreed to purchase from Starwood Capital Group the property on which the stadium would be built.

“There are no contingencies, there is no option,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told the Times.  “We have to buy it.  Starwood has to sell it.”

Meanwhile, an effort has been launched to secure 8,041 signatures, which would result in a ballot initiative landing in the lap of the Carson City Council.  If the members of the council approve the effort, the public would then vote on the plan.

The initiative would create a public authority that would own the team and lease it to the Chargers and Raiders.  Despite the public ownership of the venue, no tax money would be spent on the project.  Goldman Sachs and others have loaned $850 million to the effort, with the money being repaid from stadium revenues.

The Carson project currently is competing with a project in Inglewood for the privilege of building an NFL stadium.  AEG still hopes to build a stadium in downtown L.A.

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Bengals extend Rey Maualuga

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Veteran linebacker Rey Maualuga is staying in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have announced that Maualuga, who was slated to become a free agent next week, has signed a three-year contract to remain with the team.

Maualuga has had his share of injury issues but has always been a starter when healthy, since the Bengals chose him in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. Last year Maualuga played 12 games in the regular season, and the Bengals’ playoff game.

The 28-year-old Maualuga would have drawn some interest elsewhere, but he’s been a mainstay in Marvin Lewis’s defense and can now return to his spot in the starting lineup in Cincinnati.

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Falcons hold onto Charles Godfrey

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons picked up safety Charles Godfrey after he was released by the Panthers during the season and they saw enough they liked to bring Godfrey back for another year.

The team announced Thursday that they have re-signed Godfrey to a one-year deal that Albert Breer of NFL Media reports will pay him $1.5 million.

Godfrey appeared in five games after coming to the Falcons last season and played seven for the Panthers before getting released. He was seeing action in the slot in Carolina before his departure, a spot that didn’t seem to suit him a year after he missed 14 games because of a torn Achilles. Godfrey played seven years for the Panthers overall after they made him a third-round pick in 2008.

Dwight Lowery is a free agent after making 15 starts in Atlanta last year and his departure would leave Kemal Ishmael, Dez Southward and William Moore (assuming he’s over last year’s shoulder troubles) at safety along with Godfrey.

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Buccaneers re-sign Mike Jenkins

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

A pectoral injury limited cornerback Mike Jenkins to one game during the 2014 season, but he’ll get another chance to play in his home state.

The Buccaneers announced Thursday that they have re-signed Jenkins to a one-year contract after his first season in Tampa was wiped out because of his injury. Financial terms weren’t announced, but Jenkins signed with the Bucs for $1.5 million last year.

Jenkins was a first-round pick in Dallas in 2008 and spent five years in the Cowboys secondary, much of it as a starter. He then moved on for 15 starts with the Raiders in 2013 before coming home to play for the Bucs last year. He may not be guaranteed more than a shot at making the 53-man roster, but the Bucs don’t have much experienced depth to go with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.

The Bucs also announced that they have tendered contracts to exclusive rights free agents Bradley McDougald and Danny Lansanah. McDougald started the last five games of the season at safety while Lansanah made 11 starts at linebacker and both will at least compete for starting spots again this year.

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Carson Palmer says he’ll be ready for the start of training camp

carsonpalmer AP

The Cardinals were rolling last year until they ran out of quarterbacks.

But they had some good news Thursday, as the best one of the lot said he planned on being ready for the start of the 2015 season.

I’ll be ready for training camp,” Carson Palmer said, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website.

Palmer said his recovery from last November’s torn ACL was going well, and he’s running and cutting now. As with many players in his spot, he wants to push things a bit, saying “you want to jump into everything and you have to slow yourself down.”

Palmer said he hopes to get some reps during OTAs, though he knows coach Bruce Arians will likely hold him back.

But a simple physical recovery isn’t all he’s doing to help them. Palmer said he restructured his contract this offseason to create some salary cap room, which the Cards can use to stock more parts around him.

That will be a benefit, and Palmer said he was confident the Cardinals would do something next week to make the team better.

“We know we have a shot. And there are a lot of teams that don’t,” Palmer said. 

While some free agent additions would help, a healthy Palmer is the biggest step toward that goal.

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Dolphins remain expected frontrunners for Suh

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

There’s no reason to doubt Mike Silver’s report that the Raiders are “planning” to host defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for a visit next week.  (“That’s not the stench of raw sewage in the locker room . . . it’s just a bad batch of potpourri.”)  But there’s also no reason to believe the Dolphins aren’t the frontrunners for Suh’s services.

PFT continues to hear that the team with the best chance of landing Suh is the Dolphins.  And for good reason; owner Stephen Ross previously whiffed on coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Peyton Manning, and coach Jeff Fisher.  Ross wants to make a splash, as does new executive V.P. of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.

Ross won the rights to receiver Mike Wallace two years ago, but that hasn’t worked out very well.  Suh could end up working out even better.  Or maybe not.  Until we know whether Suh gives the Dolphins a realistic bump in their on-field fate, Suh will nevertheless create plenty of buzz and sell plenty of tickets and move plenty of merchandise in Miami.

When it comes to a contest between the Raiders and the Dolphins, Ross has ultimate ace in the hole — the absence of state income taxes in Florida.  In California, the rate for the really rich is 13.3 percent.

So if Suh signs a deal that pays him $15 million per year in California, the Golden State will withhold $1.995 million in taxes.  Per year.  In Florida, the Sunshine State will take the grand total of zero dollars and zero cents from Suh’s game checks.

Over the course of a seven-year deal (if Suh is there for all seven), the difference becomes $13.965 million.  In other words, he’d be working nearly one full year out of seven to pay for the privilege of living and working in Califoria.

The only way the Raiders can compete with the Dolphins and $15 million per year would be to enough to get Suh to the same net after federal and state taxes.  Which would be roughly $18 million per year.

The primary alternative for Suh will be staying put with the Lions.  In Michigan, the state income tax rate is only 4.25 percent, meaning that Suh would contribute $637,500 to the state budget every year on a deal worth $15 million annually.

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Age, contract, production, reputation make Marshall hard to move

Brandon Marshall AP

The Bears are trying to trade wide receiver Brandon Marshall. That won’t be easy.

Although Marshall is a five-time Pro Bowler, what he’s done in the past isn’t particularly relevant to what a team would be willing to give up for him now. What’s relevant is that Marshall’s production is declining with age, that he has an expensive contract, and that his reputation around the NFL is less than sterling.

Marshall will turn 31 this month, and last season he had his worst season since his rookie year. Marshall caught just 61 passes for 721 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in the 13th game of the season. That’s a sharp decline in production for a guy who had entered 2014 on a streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Like most players, Marshall has slowed down after his 30th birthday.

Another issue is Marshall’s contract, with a $7.5 million guarantee that comes due on March 12. Any team trading for Marshall would be inheriting that contract, unless Marshall is willing to restructure his deal. Marshall’s cap hit for 2015 is $9,575,000, which is the 16th biggest cap hit for a wide receiver in the NFL. If you’re going to pay a guy Top 16 money, that means you think he’s an above-average No. 1 receiver. Marshall has been an above-average No. 1 receiver in the past, but he’s not anymore.

There are also off-field questions that any team mulling a trade for Marshall would have to consider. Those issues go beyond the legal trouble Marshall faced multiple times early in his career: Marshall has spoken openly about his battle with mental illness, and he deserves credit for seeking treatment. But even if Marshall is now avoiding legal problems, there have been more recent reports that Marshall was a negative presence in the Bears’ locker room last season. Marshall has a reputation as a malcontent, and that’s not the kind of locker room presence teams want to acquire.

Add it all up, and it’s hard to see any team trading for Marshall. If the Bears don’t want him, they may have to cut him.

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Report: Raiders “planning” to host Ndamukong Suh next week

Maurice Jones-Drew, Ndamukong Suh AP

The Raiders are said to have designs on huddling with the top free agent in the Class of 2015.

According to Mike Silver of NFL Media, the Raiders are “planning” to meet with Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next week, the first of free agency.

Per NFL rules, teams cannot begin to negotiate and have contact with the agents of other clubs’ prospective free agents until 4 p.m. Eastern on Friday, so it’s unclear whether the Raiders are simply being hopeful about meeting with Suh.

Nevertheless, this is a signal that the Raiders, as expected, want to be players for Suh, PFT’s No. 1 free agent. Oakland certainly has the salary cap space to strike a deal. Per Spotrac.com. the Raiders are set to be $58.8 million under the cap in 2015.

Teams can start to host players on free agent visits starting Tuesday, when the new league year begins.

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