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Saints squeeze in a field goal for 17-14 halftime lead

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Saints offense is on a bit of a roll in the first half, and moved quickly for a field goal just before halftime to take a 17-14 lead over the Cowboys.

The Saints have a ridiculous 317 yards at halftime, with Drew Brees throwing for 261 yards.

The Cowboys continue to exploit an impossible matchup with wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has five catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns at the break.

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Winston lacks no confidence

Jameis Winston AP

Questions remain regarding whether quarterback Jameis Winston will thrive at the next level.  But there should be no questions about his confidence.

Winston displayed that confidence after Tuesday’s Pro Day workout, in response to a question from Paul Burmeister of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.

“On Saturdays, right there on that field, you knew if you won or lost. Right here, it’s a little bit more difficult to tell.  Would you call today a win or a loss for you?” Burmeister said.

“It was difficult to tell if I won?” a perplexed Winston said.

“I thought it looked good,” Burmeister said.

“I know it looked good,” Winston said.  “I know that looked good.  If that was bad, I want to see everybody else Pro Day and I want me and you to sit down and watch what everybody else did and then watch what I did.”

Winston’s Pro Day was far from perfect.  He was grossly inaccurate with at least one swing pass that should have been easily on the numbers, given that he was throwing against air (and, at times, against broom).  But Winston sees it as perfect, or at a minimum as at least as good as anyone else’s.

That confidence can’t hurt him.  Still, it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the inevitable adversity that every NFL player faces, at some point.  What will he say after throwing four interceptions and losing by 20?  How will he react to a three-game losing streak?

As with every other draft pick who ever was drafted, we won’t know how he’ll handle the next level until he gets there.

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Chargers sign guard Michael Huey

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Another of the NFL’s Veteran Combine invitees has found a job in the league.

The Chargers have signed offensive guard Michael Huey, the team said Tuesday. This is his second stint with the club; he spent time with San Diego in the 2011 preseason.

A Texas product, the 26-year-old Huey was with Washington’s practice squad in the second half of last season. His most extensive professional experience has come in the Arena Football League.

Overall, 105 players took part in the NFL Veteran Combine. In addition to Huey, three other Combine invitees have signed on with clubs: tight end Ifeanyi Momah (Arizona), wide receiver Nathan Slaughter (Arizona) and cornerback Deveron Carr (Indianapolis).

In other Chargers roster moves Wednesday, the club waived second-year offensive guard Jeff Baca and first-year nose tackle Chas Alecxih.

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Cardinals sign Chandler Harnish

Chandler Harnish Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have added an extra arm to their roster with Carson Palmer still recovering from an ACL tear.

The Cardinals signed former Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Harnish has not appeared in a regular season game in his three seasons since being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent five games on the Colts active roster in 2012 before being released and re-signed to the practice squad.

Harnish was released by Indianapolis at the end of training camp last season and signed with the Vikings. Harnish completed 53 percent of his passes for 283 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last year in Indianapolis.

Now Harnish reunites with Bruce Arians in the desert. He’ll get a chance to compete with Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas this offseason while Palmer continues to rehab from his knee injuries.

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Bears sign RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Jacquizz Rodgers AP

The Bears secured a contender for a reserve role in their backfield Tuesday, signing tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, the club said.

Rodgers, 25, has played the last four seasons with Atlanta, rushing 305 times for 1,116 yards and five touchdowns and catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five TDs. He has also returned 49 kickoffs for 1,177 yards.

Rodgers joins holdovers Ka’Deem Carey and Senorise Perry among the options behind featured back Matt Forte, who is one of the game’s most versatile and dependable players at his position. Nevertheless, the Bears could use a back capable of taking a handful of touches per game to reduce the hits Forte takes, and the 5-foot-6, 196-pound Rodgers will have a chance to compete for that job.

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Ravens get Schaub for a mere $2 million base deal

Schaub AP

Quarterback Matt Schaub has made plenty of money over the years for playing quarterback at a good but not great level.  In 2015, he’ll make pretty good money by, ideally, not playing at all.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Schaub’s deal with the Ravens has a base value of $2 million, with $1 million to sign and a $1 million salary.  Contrary to a report that the deal is worth $3 million, the final $1 million comes from extra amounts — amounts that will be difficult for Schaub to earn if he’s not playing.

Given that Schaub will be backing up a guy who has started every game of his eight-year career, it’s unlikely that Schaub will unlock any payments based on playing time.

Based on the relative performances of Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub in recent years, the Ravens and their fans surely hope that won’t be happening.

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Report: Texans interested in Antonio Smith return

DENVER BRONCOS VS. HOUSTON TEXANS Getty Images

The Raiders announced the release of defensive lineman Antonio Smith on Tuesday afternoon, clearing $4 million from their salary cap and taking another step away from a 2014 free agent class that failed to bring better results to Oakland.

Smith may not have to wait long to find a new place of employment. He also might not have to familiarize himself with a new city.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans are interested in bringing Smith back to Houston. Smith played in 79-of-80 regular season games for the Texans while he was a member of the team between 2009 and 2013 and he was productive in a fair number of them as the Texans advanced to the playoffs twice with Smith in the fold.

Smith has played inside and outside during his career, which would allow him to provide the team with solid depth behind projected starters J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork and Jared Crick. Smith had three sacks and 20 tackles while starting all 16 games in his one season with the Raiders.

McClain suggests that the Broncos may also have interest in Smith now that former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and defensive line coach Bill Kollar are all in Denver.

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Mike Tannenbaum: Winning the offseason “really doesn’t mean anything” come September

Stephen Ross AP

For three teams in the AFC East, March has brought some major changes to their rosters.

The Jets brought back cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie while also trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bills traded for running back LeSean McCoy and signed several players, including tight end Charles Clay, while the Dolphins landed the biggest fish on the free agent market by signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The Dolphins have made several other moves as well in executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum’s first year with the team, leaving Tannenbaum to quip that he’s been so busy that he hasn’t noticed the weather in Miami. The moves have left the Dolphins and their fellow 2014 AFC East also-rans looking better on paper, but Tannenbaum knows that has limited value once the season starts.

“Look, it really doesn’t mean anything sitting here in March,” Tannenbaum said, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “What’s important is what it looks like on opening day and every week. [The Patriots are] going to look different come the regular season like we are, so we’ve got a long, long way to go.”

Tannenbaum was with the Jets for many years and had several splashy offseasons while serving as the team’s General Manager without winding up where the Patriots were in February, so he knows well that winning in the offseason doesn’t guarantee anything in the regular season. He also knows that as much as things may change for the Patriots, they’ll have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady when the regular season does roll around and that’s proven to be too much to handle for the rest of the division for most of the last two decades.

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June 1 free-agency deadline moved to May 12

May12

Years ago, June 1 had extreme significance on the NFL calendar.  Teams looking to reduce the cap hit from cutting a veteran player would wait until June 1, resulting in half or more of the acceleration to hit the cap in the following league year.

In 2006, the NFL changed the rule, allowing teams to cut two players per year before June 1, with a June 1 designation.  Few teams currently have cap issues; as a result, the entire notion of using the designation or waiting until June 1 to cut a player has become largely irrelevant.

June 1 had continued significance for another reason.  After June 1, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams don’t count toward the compensatory draft-pick formula.  Starting this year, that date will move from June 1 to May 12, according to the league office.

The Competition Committee had been considering shifting the date from June 1 to May 1.  With the draft still happening as of May 1, it makes sense to let the draft end and to let the dust settle before allowing free agents to sign without the move helping their former team or potentially hurting their new one.

The shift gives free agents more of an opportunity to participate in the offseason program.  It also gives teams reason to wait on adding some of the currently available free agents, in order to avoid reducing their potential haul of compensatory picks.

The Ravens have mastered the craft of waiting to sign unrestricted free agents until the deadline has come and gone.  Today’s addition of quarterback Matt Schaub doesn’t change that.  Because he was cut by the Raiders, Schaub’s addition neither helps the Raiders nor hurts the Ravens when it comes to determining compensatory selections.

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Colts sign former Chargers third-rounder Vincent Brown

Vincent Brown, Charles Woodson AP

Vincent Brown, a once-promising wide receiver whose career has been plagued by injuries, has landed in Indianapolis.

The Colts announced today that they’ve signed Brown to a free agent contract.

The Chargers drafted Brown in the third round in 2011, and he made some big plays in limited action as a rookie, catching 19 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. But he missed his entire second season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason.

In 2013 Brown got back on track, with 41 catches for 472 yards. But in 2014 a calf injury forced him to miss all of training camp, and the Chargers waived him with an injury settlement. He ended up catching on with the Raiders, but had only 12 catches for 118 yards.

If Brown can get healthy, the Colts may have gotten a bargain on a low-priced contract. But Brown’s history makes that a very big “if.”

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Raiders release Antonio Smith

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Raiders added several free agents in an attempt to solidify their defense last season, but the results weren’t what Oakland hoped.

The team finished last in the league in points allowed on their way to another losing season and another offseason spent bringing in new faces while getting rid of players who were part of the problems last year. The Raiders added another name to the discard pile on Tuesday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team has released defensive lineman Antonio Smith. Smith started all 16 games for Oakland last season, recording 20 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Smith had a particularly tough time against the run last season, but he’s been a durable player and effective pass rusher throughout his career so he may earn another look before the offseason is out.

The Raiders added Dan Williams and re-signed C.J. Wilson on the defensive line in free agency. Adding another defensive lineman is a possibility at the top of the draft, although the Raiders may also opt to bolster their offense by adding Amari Cooper or Kevin White to their receiving corps.

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Jason Licht gushes about Jameis Winston’s Pro Day workout

Jameis Getty Images

If the Buccaneers already were planning to pick quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft, nothing that happened during the player’s Pro Day workout changed the team’s position.

If anything, the Bucs are even more determined to draft Winston.

“Very good. Excellent. Had a great day,” G.M. Jason Licht said regarding the workout, via JoeBucsFan.com.  “This was outstanding.  He threw a full nine innings.”

Licht said Winston displayed sufficient strength and endurance to end talk about whether he’s in shape.

“He showed his arm strength to throw No. 1 to throw 100 and whatever it was,” Licht said, adding that he was most impressed with Winston’s “leadership and arm strength and conditioning.”

The Buccaneers could, in theory, work out a contract with Winston and make him the first overall pick at any time.  It now appears to be a matter of time until that happens.

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Panthers add linebacker, special teams depth in Jason Trusnik

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Panthers continued to add bargain free agents to help shore up their special teams.

They announced they had signed unrestricted free agent linebacker Jason Trusnik to a one-year deal.

Trusnik spent the last four seasons with Miami, and has also played with the Jets and Browns. He started five games for the Dolphins last year, but they’re looking for depth and kicking game help with this one.

“Jason is an experienced player who adds more competition to the linebacker position and has also been a special teams ace,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I expect him to come in and be a leader. Even though he is new to us, he’s got veteran savvy to him.”

The Panthers could use that, as they try to improve a team that went to the playoffs the last two seasons from the bottom third of the roster up.

Trusnik fits in with guys such as Ted Ginn, Teddy Williams and Kurt Coleman as players brought in primarily with special teams roles in mind.

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Medical timeout rule likely won’t increase risk of fake injuries

Arm

Last week, the NFL gave the ATC spotter assigned to each game the power to stop the action and remove a player who requires medical attention, if the officials and/or training staffs don’t notice that a player is in distress.

Because any stoppage initiated by the spotter doesn’t result in a charged time out, teams could be tempted to instruct, for example, defensive players who are facing a no-huddle attack to pretend to be disoriented in order to get a break in the action without consequence.  But the spotter is a safety net; to avoid a charged time out in the final two minutes of a half or the game, the player would have to fake the injury so that no one on the field notices, but that only the spotter does.

So while the temptation to fake injuries exists, the new medical timeout rule does nothing to make a fake injury even more enticing — unless game officials decide to stop looking for potentially woozy players and to defer to the spotter.  If that happens, with spotters becoming not the last line of defense but first, a greater incentive to fake injuries will arise, since there will be no lost timeout or 10-second runoff if it happens late in a game.

Either way, fake injuries will happen from time to time.  For now, it’s unlikely that the new rule will result in more of them.

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Jameis Winston’s coach said a team “shadowed” him on plane

Spy

NFL teams are going to do anything they can to get background on a player before they draft him.

Including, apparently, stalking.

According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, Jameis Winston’s quarterback coach George Whitfield pulled the curtain back on the kind of scrutiny Winston is under.

Whitfield said he was told Winston was “secretly shadowed” on one of his Scouting Combine flights by a team.

Of course, having team personnel on flights into and out of Indianapolis that week isn’t an unusual occurrence. (Connecting in Atlanta on my way home, there were a handful of assistant coaches and about half the SEC wide receivers on my plane.)

And if people were eyeballing Winston in the Indianapolis airport, he might have left them with a positive impression.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic was also leaving Indy after the Combine when he saw Winston help an old man in a wheelchair.

So unless the mystery team caught Winston hogging both armrests or refusing to buckle his seat belt when the light was on, it’s hard to know what they were looking for.

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Eli Manning: We will be taking offense to another level this year

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants entered last offseason with an offense that team co-owner John Mara called “broken,” a new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning in need of ankle surgery, but things wound up coming together nicely on that side of the ball by the time the season came to an end.

The team may have finished with a dismal record and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, but Manning cut his interceptions sharply while putting up some of the best numbers of his career. That came with Odell Beckham setting the league on fire as a rookie, but without the injured Victor Cruz and that’s part of the reason why Manning thinks things will be even better this time around.

“This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” Manning said, via the team’s website. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it, but there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head — throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

The addition of Shane Vereen gives the Giants another weapon to use in the passing game, which should be strong with Cruz returning to the lineup. For the Giants to break their trend of subpar finishes, though, they’ll need the defense to make a similar rebound to the one that the offense experienced in 2014 and there’s not much Manning and company can do to make that happen.

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