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Thursday morning one-liners

Tony Romo AP

The Bills will be plugging in two first-time starters on the offensive line this week.

Dolphins rookie Jonthan Martin is excited about switching from RT to LT after the injury to Jake Long.

Jets backup QB Tim Tebow reached out to a teen who was injured in an auto accident, after the hashtag #TebowCallMatt began trending nationally.

Patriots WR Donte Stallworth is happy to be back in one of his former homes.

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs wasn’t the only player missing from practice yesterday.

Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap is part of a wave of linemen who have helped the Bengals to a league-high 39 sacks.

Browns RB Trent Richardson said he’s getting used to wearing a flak jacket to protect his ribs, but he’s also looking forward to losing it.

Steelers rookie CBs Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown are being thrust into bigger roles with Ike Taylor injured.

Texans DE J.J. Watt is so good he even gets sacks in the middle of the week.

The Colts will be without S Tom Zbikowski and RB Donald Brown against the Titans this week.

Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was linked to the vacant University of Wisconsin job.

Another week, another shuffle on the offensive line for the Titans.

Broncos S Rahim Moore has played the highest percentage of defensive snaps this year, to his own surprise.

The Chiefs tried to return to a normal practice routine, as hard as that may be.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen returned to practice Wednesday after the death of his father.

Chargers coach Norv Turner said signing players who had been in camp with them to patch the offensive line was “the only way you can go.”

Cowboys QB Tony Romo donated $1 million to Urban Alternative, a group that helps churches adopt public schools to provide counseling and mentoring to chidren in need.

Somebody call Phil Simms. Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo described Giants QB Eli Manning as “elite.”

The Eagles defensive line is getting a crash course in a new scheme for the final month of the season.

Redskins QB Robert Griffin III was the center of attention at a Wizards game this week (and watching a guy in the stands usually beats watching the Wizards).

Bears QB Jay Cutler is singing the praises of third-stringer Josh McCown for his help.

New Lions WR Lance Long has the nickname of the day, as he was dubbed the “Vanilla Gorilla,” by receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has so many injuries he can’t keep up with them individually: “I’m timelined out, frankly. They’re getting better. I don’t know if they’ll be ready this week.”

Vikings QB Christian Ponder confirmed his engagement to ESPN’s Samantha Steele, so at least somebody in Minnesota is getting a ring this year.

Falcons S William Moore was held out of practice with a hamstring injury.

Panthers WR Louis Murphy is ready if Brandon LaFell can’t play this week.

The Saints are getting healthier with just three players missing practice Wednesday.

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan denied interest in the Boston College job.

Defensive end Calais Campbell said that barring a “hiccup,” he’ll return to the lineup this week after missing three games with a calf strain.

The Rams know they’ll have to stop the run coming down the stretch this season.

It’s a good thing the 49ers have six No. 1 WRs, since Mario Manningham’s down now.

To fill the roster spot created by Brandon Browner’s suspension, the Seahawks signed CB Ron Parker off the Panthers practice squad, bringing back one of their own.

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Bucs preparing this week as if Jeff Tedford won’t be there

Jeff Tedford AP

No one can be sure what to expect from the Buccaneers’ offense this year, with a new head coach, a new coordinator and a new quarterback.

The fact we don’t know who’ll call the plays this weekend adds to the mystery.

According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Buccaneers are preparing this week as if offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford won’t be there for the opener against the Panthers.

The 52-year-old Tedford has been out since he was hospitalized for an undisclosed surgery last week. He stopped by the team facility over the weekend, but hasn’t returned to a full work schedule yet.

“Obviously, Jeff’s been leading our offense through the whole offseason, so any time you take a piece away, there can be some disruption,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “But the coaches seem like they are, so far, doing a great job picking up the slack and doing what we need to do.”

Head coach Lovie Smith said Tedford has been working part-time from home, and wouldn’t rule him out of appearing Sunday.

“With technology, you don’t have to be here every second to get work done,” Smith said. “Jeff is involved in what we’re doing right now, having as much input, pretty much as he would have if he was here.”

Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo called the plays in Thursday’s preseason finale, and would again if Tedford’s not on site.

Arroyo’s never called a play in an NFL game. Then again, neither has Tedford. At this stage, you hope he gets himself well, and doesn’t insert himself into a high-pressure environment before he’s physically able.

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Greetings from Seattle

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Football really starts this week.  And PFT is on the scene in Seattle for the Thursday night opener against the Packers and Seahawks.

Which means that I had to muster the nerve, fueled by something strong enough to power a jet engine, to walk into a plane (actually, two of them) and to make the long trek west from West Virginia.

Now that I’m here, I’ll be heading over to CenturyLink Field for PFT Live at 9:00 a.m. PT (noon ET) and Pro Football Talk on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET).

On Tuesday, Curtis Crabtree joins me from the set for PFT Live, and we’ll also answer your questions.

Later in the week, I’ll be joined by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent for PFT Live.

It all leads up to Thursday night, when the ball gets kicked to start the season.

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Report: Derek Cox back with Ravens

Derek Cox, Kenny Britt AP

When cornerback Derek Cox was released by the Ravens over the weekend, word was that the team would be bringing him back to the active roster in time for the first week of the regular season.

It looks like that move has come to pass. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Cox has re-signed with the team on a one-year deal under the NFL’s minimum salary benefits provision that will have him count $570,000 against the cap while being paid $730,000.

Wilson reports that Cox drew interest from an AFC South team in the last couple of days, but opted to return to the team that signed him shortly after he was released by the Vikings earlier this summer.

With Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson back at practice this week, the Ravens should be at full strength at corner for the season opener against the Bengals. How much time that will leave for Cox is up in the air, but the Ravens probably wouldn’t be bringing him back if they didn’t have a role in mind for him.

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Jacques McClendon named starting center in Jacksonville

Josh Scobee, Jacques McClendon AP

Thanks to Brad Meester, the Jaguars haven’t had to worry about finding a starting center for quite a while.

That changed this year, though. Meester retired after a 14-year career and the Jaguars had to find a replacement for the middle of their offensive line. Their first choice was Mike Brewster, but he struggled so much in the first two preseason games that he wound up being waived off the roster entirely over the weekend. They then turned to Jacques McClendon for the third game and liked his work enough to hand him the starting job for the regular season.

“I don’t have any time to revel about that,” McClendon said, via the Florida Times-Union. “We came in and tried to attack this game plan for the Eagles. I’m really looking forward to making sure we’re on top of our P’s and Q’s and are ready for the game on Sunday.”

McClendon, a 2010 fourth-round pick, made the first two starts of his career at guard for the Jaguars at the end of last season and actually played more guard than center this summer. That should have the Jaguars line growing on the fly as they are starting rookie Brandon Linder at right guard, newcomer Zane Beadles at left guard and Luke Joeckel at left tackle after he opened his NFL career on the right side.

Quarterback Chad Henne will bear some of the brunt of any growing pains in front of him, which likely went into the thought process behind letting Blake Bortles begin his professional days on the bench.

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ESPN clumsily moves on from Michael Sam shower report

Sam AP

As Michael Sam waits for an NFL opportunity that may never come, some think that the reluctance of other teams to add the SEC defensive player of the year to the practice squad flows from the ESPN report regarding his shower habits.

While his shower habits and anything else unrelated to his football skills should have no relevance as to whether he should hold one of the 2,016 jobs currently available in the NFL, the extra attention and potential for external disruption connected to a member of the practice squad could be making some (or perhaps many) teams shy away.

We’ll never know whether Sam would be on a roster if ESPN hadn’t inadvertently complicated his situation by haphazardly trying to share some of its details, even if those details weren’t fully developed.  But we do know more about how the story came to be, courtesy of Richard Deitsch of

Deitsch explains how the story of Sam’s habits could have been a real story, if it had been reported the right way — and of course if the facts had supported a conclusion that Sam deliberately was avoiding the shower room when teammates were present.

“In the right hands and with the right reporting, it can be a story,” co-founder Jim Buzinksi told Deitsch. “If one were to determine that Sam was in fact not showering with his teammates and that his behavior is different from the showering habits of the other Rams, that could be a legit story. But it has to be seriously reported and sourced. What Josina Anderson did was throw out one anonymous player who said Sam ‘seemed’ to be holding back showering, then quoted another saying there could be a million reasons why this is. . . .

“It was junk food reporting, devoid of journalistically nutritional value. When Jon Stewart makes you a punchline, you know you have swung and missed.”

ESPN doesn’t seem to be willing to further dissect its K.  ESPN declined to make reporter Josina Anderson available to Deitsch, and she separately declined comment when Deitsch contacted her directly.

That’s a bad decision, on both fronts.  While it’s obvious that ESPN has decided that not talking about the story will end the discussion of it, ESPN needs to fully own it and discuss it and debate it if the media in general is going to actually learn from it.

Deitsch separately learned that Anderson didn’t ask about Sam’s shower habits, and that a player brought up the shower issue in response to a question regarding how Sam is fitting in.  While it hardly excuses the decision to publish those details, which carried many more fingerprints than Anderson’s, it helps paint the full picture about what happened.  If ESPN had cooperated with Deitsch in the same way ESPN hopes that teams and players will cooperate with ESPN, the picture would be even more complete.

Deitsch has other great details that help tell the story about how a story that shouldn’t have been told came to be.

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Cardinals begin stocking practice squad

Patrick Chung, Brittan Golden AP

The Cardinals lost wide receiver Walter Powell to the Jets after putting him on waivers, but they have been able to bring several other players cut on the way to 53 players back to the practice squad.

Wide receiver Brittan Golden is the most experienced member of the squad among the players announced by the team. Golden joined the team last season as a member of the practice squad, but eventually graduated to the active roster. Golden played in five games and made four catches for 136 yards, but the arrivals of John Brown and Ted Ginn made the numbers game a losing one.

The Cardinals haven’t announced the return of defensive tackle Christian Tupou, but Mike Jurecki of FOX Sports 910 reports he’ll also be back with the team. Tupou, claimed on waivers during the offseason, had three tackles in five games for the Bears last year.

Arizona also brought back linebacker Jonathan Brown, tight end Andre Hardy, cornerback Jimmy LeGree, tackle Kelvin Palmer and guard Anthony Steen. There are three spots left to fill on the practice squad.

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$30.87 million fully guaranteed at signing for Watt

Watt Getty Images

More details are trickling in regarding the new contract for Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Per a source with knowledge of the deal, Watt will receive $30.87 million fully guaranteed at signing.  The source says that the balance converts at the beginning of the 2016 league year.

Which means that, after two more seasons, $51.876 million will be fully guaranteed for Watt.  That’s a far better structure than the Colin Kaepernick deal, which won’t see the injury-only guarantees fully flip for five years.

The structure beyond 2016 still becomes important, because at some point the Texans may have to choose between Watt and linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.  The bigger Watt’s cash and cap numbers after Clowney finishes his third season, the less the Texans will have to pay both of them.

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Texans fill their practice squad

Travis Labhart, Steven Johnson AP

The Texans have named 10 players to their practice squad, including a pair of wide receivers who played their college ball in state.

Texas A&M products EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart are two of the players who will be joining the team for practices this year. Both Labhart (pictured) and Nwachukwu were part of the team’s final round of cuts, something they share with the other eight players named to the squad.

Defensive end Keith Browner, linebacker Max Bullough, tight end Anthony Denham, tackle Matt Feiler, center James Ferentz, guard Alex Kupper, fullback Toben Opurum, and cornerback Marcus Williams.

None of the players were drafted by the Texans, who found room for nine of their 2014 picks on the 53-man roster while safety Lonnie Ballentine wound up on injured reserve.

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Connor Shaw added to Browns’ practice squad

connorshaw AP

Connor Shaw’s college coach, Steve Spurrier, thinks Shaw should be the Browns’ starting quarterback. That’s not going to happen, but Shaw is staying in Cleveland despite failing to make the 53-man roster.

Shaw has been added to Cleveland’s practice squad, the team announced.

An undrafted rookie out of South Carolina, Shaw played very well in limited action in the preseason, going 8-for-9 for 123 yards with a touchdown, and also running for 34 yards. He’s no threat to Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, and if the Browns need another quarterback they’d probably bring back Rex Grossman before they’d promote Shaw to the 53-man roster, but Shaw has at least done enough to make the Browns decide to take a longer look at him.

Other new members of the Browns’ practice squad include linebacker Justin Staples, linebacker Keith Pough, defensive lineman Jacobi McDaniel, tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi, offensive lineman Karim Barton, receiver Charles Johnson and offensive lineman Patrick Lewis.

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Nick Fairley down to 305 pounds, back in starting lineup

Nick Fairley AP

The Lions released their first depth chart since the cut to 53 players on Monday and there was a change at defensive tackle.

Nick Fairley has returned to the first team after being dropped to the second rung during camp in favor of C.J. Mosley. Fairley’s ballooning waistline was given as the reason for the switch, but Fairley has reversed the trend of late. He said being benched “opened my eyes up” and he hired a chef to provide him with a week’s worth of healthier meals that he’s eaten while dropping back down to 305 pounds after getting as high as 320 earlier in camp.

“I feel a whole lot better just by not putting that bad stuff in my body,” Fairley said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You feel the energy, you feel it out there at practice.”

Fairley said he didnt think being heavier compromised his play too much, although he did say it hurt his consistency and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Fairley’s play picked up as he got healthier over the course of the preseason. That’s a good development for the Lions defense, which needs a productive Fairley to reach their optimal level of play. If the get that, it will work out well for Fairley too as he can become a free agent after the team declined its fifth-year option on his contract.

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Randall Cobb to balance punt return duties again this year

Randall Cobb AP

The Packers would love to not have to use Randall Cobb on punt returns.

But they haven’t found anyone better to do it.

According to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, special teams coach Shawn Slocum said Cobb and Micah Hyde are the options, and Cobb’s first on the depth chart for a reason.

Before becoming an offensive star in 2012, Cobb was a solid return man, averaging 25.0 yards per kickoff and 9.9 yards per punt with two touchdowns. He only caught one punt for no gain in the preseason for no gain.

While it’s certainly a risk to put a player — especially a player in a contract year — on special teams, the Packers don’t seem to have a problem.

Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this year they had to “get away from that thinking” that they can’t use their best players on returns.

As long as Cobb can safely navigate them on his way to his wide receiver payday, he should he happy to help.

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Carter predicts one-year suspension for Irsay

Jim-Irsay-APstoryJuly-4 AP

At some point this week, the hammer could fall on Colts owner Jim Irsay, whose plea deal on DUI charges is expected to become official on Tuesday.

Prior reports suggested that Irsay could be suspended anywhere from six-to-eight games.  On Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Cris Carter called his shot, predicting a one-year suspension and a heavy fine.

On the surface, Carter doesn’t know.  At a deeper level, he’s got access to a small army of reporters and other analysts who collectively have a pretty good feeling regarding which way the proverbial wind is blowing.

A full year for Irsay would be a stunner.  But it would show that Irsay has indeed been held to a higher standard than any player, since no player has ever been suspended for a year as a result of a DUI that didn’t result in death.

Still, the fine aspect will show whether, when it comes to the money lost, the league will treat an owner like a player.  To be fair to a player in the same predicament, whatever Irsay makes from owning the team in a given year should be withheld.  That number would likely be staggering — but it would be the appropriate simulation for a one-year loss of player income that, for the player and his family, is indeed staggering.

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Lions bring back 10 of their cut players to practice squad

Emil Igwenagu AP

Some teams like to pick through players cut from other teams while filling out their practice squads while others prefer familiar faces from the summer.

The Lions are in the latter group. They’ve signed 10 players to their practice squad and all 10 were part of the team’s final cut of the preseason.

Not all of them spent a long time with the team this summer, though. Fullback Emil Igwenagu was claimed off of waivers from the Eagles after the cut to 75 players last week and showed the Lions enough that they wanted to keep him around a little bit longer. They also brought back tight end turned tackle Michael Williams, who was a seventh-round pick in 2013.

The Lions also signed guard Rodney Austin, running back George Winn, wide receiver Andrew Peacock, cornerback Mohammad Seisay, tight end Jordan Thompson, linebacker Julian Stanford, safety Nate Ness and defensive tackle Xavier Proctor.

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Alex Smith on extension: It is fair both ways

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith have reached agreement on a contract extension that is scheduled to pay Smith an average of $15.1 million over the next five years, a deal that’s structured differently from the extensions signed by Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick earlier this year.

Those deals essentially become year-to-year propositions with less guaranteed money than the $30 million Smith gets for signing a deal. There’s another $15 million guaranteed for injury only coming his way in 2015, which puts Smith in the top 10 in guarantees while his average salary falls into the middle of the pack for current quarterbacks. Smith thinks that structure is one that works well for him and the Chiefs.

“It was about something fair both ways,” Smith said, via the team’s website. “As a quarterback, you certainly don’t want to hamstring your team in any way because — I know this more than anyone — you rely so heavily on those playmakers around you. You certainly don’t want to do anything like that, but at the same time, you do want something that’s fair.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid and General Manager John Dorsey both raved about Smith’s decision making and leadership, which fits with the usual review of Smith’s intangibles being more impressive than his athletic abilities. His contract shows the Chiefs put a high value on those traits and they’ll need to use any money that might have been left on the table to make sure they are put to the best possible use by surrounding Smith with talented players.


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NFLPA supports blackout rule, too

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The NFL and the NFLPA currently don’t agree on very much.  Recently, they’ve come together on a topic that remains largely unpopular among the league’s fan base.

According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFLPA quietly sent a letter to the FCC in July opposing the proposed elimination of the blackout rule.  The correspondence came with no press release or other comment, including no comment in response to Kaplan’s request for comment.

The AFL-CIO sent a letter opposing the elimination of the rule last week, along with a press release.

NFLPA public policy counsel Joe Briggs wrote in July that elimination of the blackout rule, which blocks local broadcast of home games if the local stadium isn’t sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, “will threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television, hurting football fans and threatening the business model that has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed.”

The last part of the sentence proves that, even without the blackout rule, the games will remain on free, over-the-air television.  That’s what “has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed.”  Without free, over-the-air broadcasts, games become less widely viewed and the sport becomes less popular.

But still the notion persists that elimination of the blackout rule will “threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television.”  We’ve asked the league office to help us better understand how the dominoes fall in a way that starts with the elimination of the blackout rule forcing free, over-the-air broadcast of games that haven’t been sold out and ends with the NFL fleeing from free, over-the-air broadcasts, presumably to a cable or pay-per-view model.

It appears that the NFLPA has opted to reluctantly cooperate with the effort, even if the NFLPA’s position isn’t as zealous and public as the league had hoped.  Per Kaplan, Sports Fan Coalition chairman David Goodfriend said in 2012 that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Goodfriend that the league had asked the NFLPA to support the blackout rule, and that Smith had declined.  Asked by Kaplan whether the NFL had pushed for the NFLPA to support the cause, the league office sent an email that didn’t really address the question asked.

And so the question remains whether an eradication of the blackout rule will result in million of fans who watch TV only through the signals coming through the airwaves at no cost losing access to the nation’s most popular sport.  Without more information, it’s not unfair to assume that the NFL and the NFLPA have opted to huff and puff, knowing that ultimately no one’s TV antenna will be blown off the roof.

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