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“Fail Mary” still looms over the postseason

Laurie Larson AP

The good news for the folks who work at 345 Park Avenue is that the Seahawks’ postseason berth, clinched with a week to play, won’t be tainted by the Week Three win that everyone except card-carrying members of the 12th man believe the team didn’t deserve.

The bad news is that the 14-12 win over the Packers could still be viewed as spoiling the final playoff seeding.

If the Seahawks beat the Rams, if the Packers lose to the Vikings, and if the 49ers fall to the Cardinals, Seattle will win the NFC West — and catch the Packers with an 11-5 record.

Breaking the tie would be Seattle’s ill-gotten head-to-head win over the Packers from Week Three, giving Seattle a bye and a home game in the divisional round.

Then, if the Falcons fall in divisional round, Seattle would host the NFC title game.

Right or wrong, it would all be traced back to a Monday night in September.

Seahawks fans don’t like it when we remind them of the potential impact of the win over Green Bay on the perception that Seattle’s standing has received an undeserved boost.  And that’s understandable.

But the league office openly has acknowledged that offensive pass interference should have been called on the play.  Moreover, Golden Tate could not have has simultaneous possession of a ball on which he had one hand while M.D. Jennings had two.  As a result, objective fans will continue to believe that the final game of the officiating lockout has given the Seahawks an undeserved advantage when it comes to the configuration of the postseason field.

They may be right, they may be wrong.  Either way, fans will believe it.

In the end, it likely won’t matter.  The 49ers host the Cardinals.  The 49ers should easily beat the Cardinals.  If that happens, Seattle will be a wild card and the “Fail Mary” will have no impact whatsoever on the postseason field.

Surely, that’s the outcome the league office secretly is rooting for.

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Schedule release now planned for Wednesday, maybe Thursday

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The NFL still doesn’t have a firm plan for the release of the 2014 regular-season schedule.  A source with knowledge of the process that the current target is Wednesday, with the possibility it will be nudged to Thursday.

As of last week, Tuesday was the target, with a caveat that the release date could slide to Wednesday or Thursday.

One factor that surely will influence the process is (or at least should be) the daily schedule of NHL and NBA playoff games.  By not releasing the slate of games last Tuesday, before the postseasons in basketball or hockey, the NFL squandered a chance to clearly own the day.

Instead, the NFL will be trying to box out two other sports that have advanced to their postseasons.  If the league fails to build the kind of buzz it usually does by adding the “when” to the “who” and “where” for 256 regular-season games, guys like Mark Cuban will have another reason to crow.

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Draft Day a dud at the box office

Costner AP

After 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested eight days ago for claiming he had a bomb with him in an airport security line, some of you said, “Draft Day already is on DVD?”

Whether it’s dubbed a bomb or a dud, the movie isn’t doing very well.

According to, Draft Day has made less than $20 million through its first 10 days of release.  After opening with a tepid $9.7 million, the film grossed a mere $5.9 million over Easter weekend.  And with an estimated cost of $50 million, that makes it a major disappointment.

It also could make the league think twice before signing off on the use of its logos and team names and colors for a project that, while paying the NFL on both ends, may not be something that the fans find worthy of the league’s involvement.

Football movies generally don’t do well, probably since fictionalized football isn’t much of a substitute for the real thing.  They definitely won’t do well if they come off not as the real thing but as a sanitized infomercial for the proverbial shield.

It’ll be interesting to see whether other scripts will end up being dropped over the transom at 345 Park Avenue, and whether the NFL will have any interest in attaching itself to a story that won’t deliver the audience, even if luminaries like Kevin Costner and Ivan Reitman are involved.

If the league wants to really make a mark with a movie, they should get DeNiro and Scorcese to do a film version of Playmakers instead.

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Arthur Brown aiming for starting job as Ravens start workouts

Arthur Brown AP

When the Ravens made Arthur Brown a second-round pick last season, there were some that thought he’d step right into a starting role at inside linebacker with Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe both leaving the team after winning the Super Bowl.

Baltimore signed Daryl Smith, though, and Jameel McClain got the majority of the starts alongside him as Brown came off the bench in passing situations. His coverage skills served him fairly well in that role, but there’s an opening for Brown to start and play all three downs with McClain now a member of the Giants. Brown plans to do what he can to grab it.

“It’s an honor to even be considered and compete for that spot,” Brown said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I’m looking forward to it. Some strengths to my game are my explosiveness, my speed and being a sideline-to-sideline defender that has a high motor and has great instincts to the ball. I take that into account and play to my strengths and work on the other levels of my game to make me the complete package as a player. That’s what I’m working on. Last year, was a stepping stone for me and a lot of the other rookies to learn and gain from our experiences. I’m looking forward to making a greater impact and a greater contribution this year.”

The Ravens haven’t closed the door on other options at the position. Rolando McClain has been reinstated from the retired list and the team met with Alabama’s C.J. Mosley recently, but Brown was drafted last year in hopes that he’d move into a leading role for the defense. He’s gained some weight ahead of what should be an extended chance to show he’s the man for the job this spring and summer.

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Evan Mathis scheduled to voluntarily appear today

Evan Mathis AP

As most of the league begins (voluntary) offseason workouts today, reporters are calling  roll, starting with the reportedly disgruntled.

So it’s worth noting that when the Eagles show up, guard Evan Mathis will be among them, according to Geoff Mosher of

Mathis was hoping for a new contract this offseason, but instead, got permission to seek a trade.

Since that hasn’t happened, he’ll hang around for his scheduled $5.15 million this season.

And he’s voluntarily appearing now, so he must be at least sufficiently gruntled.

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Dominique Easley set for visit with Cowboys

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The Cowboys have met with a lot of defensive linemen over the last few weeks, which could be a draft smokescreen if not for the overwhelming need for help up front in Dallas.

The list of visitors is expected to get a little longer this week as Todd Archer of reports that Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley will stop in for a visit. Easley was on his way to a lofty draft position heading into the 2013 season, but he tore his left ACL in September to wipe out his final year with the Gators and create uncertainty about his future.

Easley also tore his right ACL earlier in his career, leaving him with a pair of medical red flags to go with the ability to generate the kind of pressure up the middle that teams love to have on their offensive lines. That’s kept his draft status from dropping too much, leaving many considering him a likely pick on the second day of the draft.

It would be a risk for the Cowboys to draft a player with medical concerns after two years of watching their defense fail in part because of players missing time with injuries. At the same time, though, Easley would offer them potentially high reward to go with that high risk and the Cowboys are really in need of a talent boost on their defensive line. It’s one of many tough calls teams will have to make in a couple of weeks and this week’s meeting should help guide Dallas to one side of the fence.

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Report: Romo will be present for start of offseason workouts

Romo Reuters

While quarterback Tony Romo’s surgically-repaired (twice) back could affect his ability to perform at some point in the future, he continues to recover from the most recent procedure.

Calvin Watkins of reports that Romo will be present for the launch of the team’s offseason program on Monday, his 34th birthday.

That doesn’t mean Romo would be ready to play in a game.  It means he’s able to do whatever it is that will be prescribed for him during the lifting-and-conditioning sessions that launch the offseason workouts.  He quite possibly will be confined to ongoing rehab exercises for his back.

Romo’s status and his future will continue to be a topic of conversation, especially when the on-field portion of the workouts commence next month.  Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who retired at age 34 due not to concussions but back problems, has repeatedly sounded the alarm regarding Romo’s ability to continue to take an NFL-style pounding after multiple back surgeries.

He’ll be even more of a topic of conversation if the Cowboys land someone like Johnny Manziel in 17 days.  If the Cowboys emerge from the draft with an apparent heir to Romo, the two men have to coexist for at least one year.

As pointed out previously, a Romo trade before June 1 would trigger a cap charge of $32.5 million.  After June 1, the Cowboys would carry more than $10 million in 2014 in dead money, with the balance hitting the cap next year.

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Seven schedule hot spots

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We reported last week that the NFL plans to release the 2014 regular-season schedule on Tuesday, with the caveat that it could be nudged to Wednesday or Thursday.

Regardless of the moment the dates and times for 256 contests become known, we’ll instantly scan the list seven specific pieces of information.

1.  The Thursday Night Opener.

The Seahawks will host the first game of the season on Thursday night, September 4.  They’ll play the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Packers, Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, or Raiders.

I think it’ll be the Packers; PFT Planet picked the 49ers in the aftermath of the Super Bowl.

2.  The Sunday Night Opener.

The first full day of regular-season action usually is capped with a quality game on NBC.  Last year, the Giants played the Cowboys in Dallas.  The year before, Peyton Manning made his debut with Denver against the Steelers.

This year, the 49ers open a new stadium, not too far down the road from where the NBC equipment and crew will be on Thursday night.  While that would take San Fran out of the mix to open the season in Seattle, the opening Sunday night game could feature the Cardinals, Rams, Redskins, Eagles, Chiefs, Chargers, or Bears visiting the so-called Field of Jeans.

3.  The Monday Night Doubleheader.

Since 2006, ESPN has launched the season with a six-plus-hour football extravaganza.  Usually, it’s an East Coast game at 7:00 p.m. ET and a West Coaster at 10:00 p.m. ET.

These games usually have a more meat-and-potatoes feel.  Either way, it’s two more games of football to end the first week of the season.

4.  The Week Two Thursday Night Game.

With the first half of the Thursday night package simulcast in 2014 on CBS, the NFL reportedly plans to pick marquee games for the maximized audience that comes with broadcast TV.

Which means that there could be a very good game played in the first short-week contest of the season.

5.  The Thanksgiving Games.

Reportedly, the Bills will face the Lions to start the day.  (It’s either Buffalo or Miami this year, because the game will be televised by CBS.)

The Cowboys will host the second game, against one of their six NFC opponents:  the Redskins, Eagles, Giants, Cardinals, Saints, and 49ers.

The third game has no set rotation, although the Ravens have been involved for two of the last three years.  Since the nightcap moved to NBC in 2012, the third Thanksgiving game has featured division rivals, a technique that helps keep the game intense even if the records of the teams involved aren’t stellar.

6.  The Flex Games.

From Week 11 through Week 16, the NFL has the ability to swap out the games earmarked for Sunday night on NBC for better contests.  Games nevertheless are pegged for the spots in advance, and in most cases those games end up being very good games without the need for a flex.

7.  Week 17.

The last week of the season features each team playing a game in the same division.  Typically, all 16 games are played on Sunday, with no pre-set game on NBC.  Instead, the league picks the final game of the season the prior week, hopeful to select a matchup that will have clear playoff implications independent of the other 15 games.

For the last three years, the last game of the season has been the de facto NFC East championship game.  In 2011, the Cowboys lost to the Giants.  In 2012, the Cowboys lost to the Redskins.  In 2013, the Cowboys lost to the Eagles.  This year, it could be back to Giants-Cowboys.

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Kicking off our draft previews with a look at the Texans

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The Texans are intent on making this interesting.

Usually by this point, there’s a consensus on what the team with the top pick is going to do. (Of course, by this point, they’ve usually already drafted.)

But the Texans haven’t tipped their hand, as to whether they’re taking a quarterback or another position with the top spot. And with recent reports, their idea of the best player available might not match everyone else’s.

But there’s no doubt they have a number of needs. Click here to read the full breakdown, and cast your ballot below for what you think the Texans should do with the No. 1 pick.

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Packers paying out bonuses to get guys to workouts

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Talking players into spending their offseasons in scenic Green Bay isn’t the easiest thing to do.

So the Packers are paying their guys to do it.

According to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Packers paid out more in veteran workout bonuses than any team last year, and appear to be doing so again this year, with more than 20 veterans having substantial bonuses for showing up for offseason conditioning.

That’s a great way to get guys to volunteer for the voluntary work, especially in a place where I think polar bears are still roaming the streets in late April.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields will each make $500,000 for offseason participation, while 13 other players will get six-figure bonuses for showing up.

Paying off key leaders to be there has a double benefit, because it will increase the peer pressure on other players to show up, even if they’re not cashing in.

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Rick Spielman: Quarterback decision is “torturous”

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There was a point when it seemed this year’s draft was going to be the perfect one for teams looking for a quarterback.

Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley decided to return to college, though, and teams found that Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel were not the sure things that you want to find when spending a high first-round pick on a player to build your team around. The Vikings are one of the teams looking for a franchise quarterback, leaving General Manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the brass to figure out if there’s a quarterback worth taking with the eighth pick or if they’re better served filling another hole while addressing quarterback later in the draft.

Peter King of quoted an NFL coach as saying that the quarterback decisions are “tortuous” this year, something Spielman agreed with while saying that there’s more pressure to make the right call this year than in the past.

“That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks … nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning,” Spielman said. “It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feelings, why don’t you just wait till later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now? I agree with that coach, whoever it is. It is torturous this year.”

Spielman said that if the Vikings do take a quarterback this year, they’d like him to sit and learn in 2014 before ascending to the starting job. That’s a tough thing to do when you use a top 10 pick on a player, which may push the Vikings and others toward different positions come May 8.

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Monday morning one-liners

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Taking a look at Donald Trump’s Buffalo ties in relation to his possible interest in buying the Bills.

Clemson WR Martavis Bryant is on the Dolphins’ list of visitors.

G Josh Kline made a quick positive impression on his Patriots teammates.

The Jets start offseason work and their quarterback competition on Monday.

Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome offered some advice to Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

How have the Bengals addressed their run game this offseason?

Browns LB Brandon Magee talks about playing both football and baseball.

The Steelers are one of eight teams without anyone left from their 2009 draft.

The Texans are one of the teams that should be looking for help at defensive tackle.

Colts wide receivers coach Charlie Williams watched Colorado WR Paul Richardson’s pro day workout.

An argument in favor of the Jaguars selecting QB Johnny Manziel.

The Titans website profiles Michigan T Taylor Lewan and Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan.

T Ryan Clady is one of the healthy Broncos that will be welcomed back to the field this week.

There are no pressing running back needs for the Chiefs.

The Raiders’ rundown of all their jersey numbers nears its end.

The Chargers’ website takes a look at Indiana WR Cody Latimer.

Are the Cowboys drafting too low to get a top defensive lineman in the first round?

The new look Giants get to work on Monday.

Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins would like to face the Redskins in Week One.

Does WR DeSean Jackson make up for the Redskins not having a first round pick?

Are the Bears in the market for a wide receiver in this year’s draft?

Georgia Tech DE/LB Jeremiah Attaochu could be a fit with the Lions.

The Packers are fond of paying workout bonuses to players for their offseason participation.

Should the Vikings trade down or bolster their defense in the first round?

TE Levine Toilolo is a player to watch as the Falcons get back to work.

Utah DE/LB Trevor Reilly said he had a good meeting with the Panthers.

Saints G Ben Grubbs recently visited Angola prison.

Buccaneers linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson sees some of himself in LB Lavonte David.

Buddy Morris is ready for his first year as the Cardinals’ strength and conditioning coach.

Nick Wagoner of took his shot at guessing the Rams’ schedule.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee calls for tough love and no contract extension for 49ers LB Aldon Smith.

Washington State S Deone Bucannon is reportedly making the short trip to visit the Seahawks.

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Report: Texans G.M. prefers Khalil Mack to Jadeveon Clowney

Khalil Mack AP

When the longer-than-ever pre-draft process began, the general assumption was that the Texans would draft a quarterback.

Then, as everyone began to realize what a generational talent Jadeveon Clowney was, the pendulum of conventional wisdom swung that way.

Turns out, neither may be the case in two and a half weeks when the draft finally starts with the Texans on the clock.

According to Peter King of, one “Friend of Rick Smith” (the Texans’ General Manager) said that Smith preferred Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack to Clowney, but his preference in quarterbacks was unclear.

While Clowney might be a better fit in a 4-3 defense than in a 3-4 such as Houston’s, that’s still a bold call.

In fact, it’s almost like the kind of thing that gets out there on purpose this time of year, as the Texans hope that someone calls a Friend of Rick Smith and says “Hey, if you don’t want that pick, we do.”

We only have 17 more days to wait to find out.

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Jeff Fisher: Everyone says they’re ahead of schedule, Bradford really is

Sam Bradford, Jeff Fisher AP

In the last few years, so many players recovering from torn ACLs have been described as “ahead of schedule” that it seems like everyone in the league has begun viewing ACL tears through rose-colored glasses. But in the case of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, coach Jeff Fisher says he really, truly is ahead of schedule.

“You’re not gonna hear a head coach say he has a player on his team that’s not ahead of schedule coming off an ACL. Everybody says they’re all ahead of schedule. But he is realistically way ahead of schedule. He’s working hard,” Fisher said of Bradford, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Still, a torn ACL is serious business, and when the Rams open their offseason program today, Bradford won’t be able to do everything. Bradford is, however, on pace to be throwing during Organized Team Activities.

“Sam’s in a very good place considering what happened last year,” Fisher said. “I thought he was off to a great start. Had he stayed healthy his projected numbers could’ve been quite impressive. He’s worked hard through the process, and I would expect him at some point to be throwing in OTAs.”

Bradford tore his ACL six months ago, on October 20.

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Bears could be looking for long-term linebacker answers in the draft

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As the Chicago Bears attempt to fix quickly a defense that performed poorly in 2013, the franchise could be applying a longer-term view to one of the positions for which its renowned.


As explained by Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears may need to target a middle linebacker in 2014 with a plan to use him in 2015.  For now, D.J. Williams (pictured) remains the man in the middle, with Lance Briggs still holding down the weak side and Shea McClellin getting a crack at taking over the strong side.  By next year, Briggs and Williams could be gone.

Drafted last year to be a middle linebacker, Bostic is headed to the outside this year.  He’ll likely get a chance to develop into a potential replacement for Briggs.  That leaves a hole behind Williams in the middle.

Finley pegs round three as the point at which the Bears could start looking for a future middle linebacker.  Plenty of factors come into play, including whether many potential middle linebackers remain after the first two rounds.

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The McNabb trade, four years later

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The relative solitude of Easter Sunday in 2010 was disrupted by a stunning bit of NFL news.  The Eagles traded franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins.

In return, the Eagles picked up a 2010 second-round pick and, ultimately, a fourth-round pick in 2011.  Philly fans feared several years of being pummeled twice per season by McNabb and his new team.  McNabb emerged victorious in his return to the place he called home for 11 years, but then the Eagles and Mike Vick put a beating for the ages on their division rivals on a Monday night.

McNabb later was benched for Rex Grossman, and the Redskins traded McNabb to the Vikings after the 2011 lockout ended.  His stint in Minnesota was even less memorable.

The two trades resulted in the Eagles selecting safety Nate Allen in the second round of the 2010 draft.  He has appeared in 59 of 64 regular-season games, with 54 starts.

The fourth-round pick in 2011 was shipped to the Buccaneers in exchange for a pair of fourth-round picks, one in 2011 and one in 2012.  With the 2011 pick, the Eagles selected linebacker Casey Matthews.  The 2012 fourth-rounder was traded to the Texans for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has started every game during his two years with the team.  Matthews, who began his rookie season as a starter, was benched after three games but nevertheless has appeared in all 48 of his career regular-season games.

The Redskins, who got the short end of the first McNabb trade, did well with the second McNabb trade, landing the sixth-round pick that became running back Alfred Morris.  He has started 32 regular-season games and generated 2,888 rushing yards in two years with the team.

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