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NFL morning after: Don’t overlook the Packers

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With 11 NFL games played simultaneously early Sunday afternoon, there were half a dozen big ones with playoff implications. The Vikings pounded the Texans. The Bengals snatched the final AFC playoff spot away from the Steelers. The Redskins held on to beat the Eagles. The Cowboys lost a thriller to the Saints. The Colts clinched a return to the playoffs in Kansas City. The Patriots struggled to put away the pesky Jaguars.

Those were all good games, so you can be forgiven if you overlooked the Packers’ 55-7 blowout of the Titans, a snoozer that was over a few minutes after it began. But for my money, the Packers made a stronger statement about their status as a Super Bowl contender than any of the teams in those other games I mentioned.

Yes, the Titans are a bad team, but even against the bad teams, you can be impressed with the way a good team plays. And I have to be impressed when I see Aaron Rodgers go 27-for-38 for 342 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. I have to be impressed when I see three wide receivers — James Jones, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings — all catch touchdown passes, while tight end Jermichael Finley had his best game of the season, with 70 receiving yards. I have to be impressed when running back Ryan Grant, last year’s starter who just re-signed in Green Bay three weeks ago, gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns.

But we already knew the Packers would be fine on offense, as long as Rodgers is around. Even more importantly, I was impressed with a Green Bay defense that saw six different players — A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Dezman Moses and Sam Shields — sack Titans quarterback Jake Locker. And I was even impressed by the special teams — which had been the biggest weakness of the Packers this season — stepping up on Sunday. Jeremy Ross had a 58-yard punt return, while Mason Crosby finally settled down and made both of his field goal attempts, although his 48-yarder bounced off the upright before falling through.

Does all that add up to the Packers being the best team in the NFL right now? I don’t know. If I had to pick a best team right now I’d probably go with Seattle, which pounded San Francisco on Sunday night for its third straight blowout win. But I’m not sure how relevant the title of “best team” is at this time of year. We often see that the universally recognized best team in the league in late December isn’t still standing in early February — as the Packers found out the hard way last year.

What I do think that is that if I were a fan of a playoff team, the Packers — who have now won four straight and nine of their last 10 — are the team I’d least want to be playing when the postseason starts. This Green Bay team is really, really good, and remember: If we have a rematch of that Seahawks-Packers “Fail Mary” replacement ref debacle in the postseason, the rematch will most likely be at Lambeau Field. A Seahawks-Packers playoff rematch would be a matchup of the two NFC teams that are playing their best football right now, and in Green Bay, I’d pick the Packers.

That 55-7 Packers score was what really made me sit up and take notice on Sunday. Here are the other items that caught my eye:

The NFL’s schedule makers dropped the ball with Sunday afternoon’s slate. Putting 11 games in the 1 o’clock kickoff slot and only three games in the 4 o’clock kickoff slot is a dumb way to divide up the afternoon games. With a bunch of good games in the early window, it was hard to follow all the action. And with three lousy games in the late window, the end of the day felt like a letdown.

Jamaal Charles tops Jim Brown. Charles didn’t just rush for 226 yards in the Chiefs’ loss to the Colts. He also broke Jim Brown’s half-century old record for the highest career yards per carry average for a running back. In the official NFL Record and Fact Book, a player needs 750 career carries to qualify for the all-time record, and among running backs, Jim Brown’s career average of 5.22 yards per carry has always been the gold standard. But on Sunday, Charles got his 750th career carry and jumped ahead of Brown in the record book. Charles now has 770 career carries for 4,483 yards, an incredible career average of 5.82 yards a carry. Any time a running back tops Jim Brown, he has done something special. To top Jim Brown’s longstanding record average by more than half a yard per carry is stunning.

Janoris Jenkins has had a remarkable rookie season. Jenkins entered this year’s NFL draft widely regarded as one of the most talented players available, but also as an off-field problem child who could turn out to be more trouble than he’s worth. Well, the Rams drafted Jenkins in the second round, and he has had some off-field trouble — Rams coach Jeff Fisher benched him for one game for missing curfew — but no one could possibly argue that Jenkins is more trouble than he’s worth anymore. Jenkins has been a fantastic cornerback on an improving St. Louis defense, and on Sunday he scored his fourth defensive touchdown of the season. Do you know how hard that is to do? Deion Sanders is the best defensive player I ever saw at making plays after turnovers, and even Deion never scored four defensive touchdowns in a season. Jenkins is one of only three players in NFL history to have three interception returns for a touchdown in his rookie season, and the other two — Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If Jenkins can steer clear of off-field trouble, then Fisher is going to look back on drafting Jenkins as the single most important decision he made in his first year as the Rams’ coach.

Blair Walsh has had a remarkable rookie season, too. Never before in NFL history had anyone kicked more than eight 50-yard field goals in a season. Walsh, Minnesota’s rookie kicker, booted his ninth field goal of 50 yards or longer when he connected from 56 yards against the Texans on Sunday. Everyone knows the Vikings are playoff contenders because they have the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson. But don’t overlook the importance of having the NFL’s best kicker in Walsh.

The Broncos are doing it at the right time. We that the six AFC playoff teams will be the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, Ravens, Colts and Bengals. But the only one of those six teams that really looks like it’s playing its best football late in the season is Denver. The Texans got pushed around by the Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots followed a loss to the 49ers last week with an ugly win over the Jaguars this week, the Ravens played well on Sunday but have struggled through most of the last month, and the Bengals and Colts barely squeaked by in their wild-card clinching wins on Sunday. I see big question marks about those five AFC playoff teams, but no major questions about the Broncos, who played great offense and great defense in pounding the Browns on Sunday. How does Peyton Manning leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers sound?

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NFL players support protesting Texas youth team

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Much like Colin Kaepernick, the Beaumont Bulls paid a price for their protest.

But unlike the unemployed-for-no-valid-reason quarterback, the Bulls are getting some NFL backing and are back on the field.

According to Tim McManus of ESPN.com, a group of NFL players donated $20,000 to help the Texas youth team, after their season was canceled last year after taking a knee during the national anthem.

Last September, the Beaumont Bulls 11-12-year-old team took a knee. The Bay Area Football League promptly suspended coach Rah Rah Barber. This year they’re back as the Southeast Texas Oilers, as members of a different organization.

Malcolm Jenkins and Torrey Smith of the Eagles; Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty; and free-agent wide receiver Anquan Boldin were among the players who wrote the checks to support their start-up. Jenkins and Boldin heard about the situation during a panel discussion in Houston  during Super Bowl week set up by Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (That’s Ross as in Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.)

“We wanted to make sure that we sent those kids the message that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t want them to walk away from the season feeling punished for trying to do the right thing. We wanted to make sure that was rewarded and acknowledged and encouraged, so that was our main motivation for helping.”

The donation covered the cost of equipment needed for the team to take the field this fall.

Oilers vice president April Parkerson said the movement began with her son Jaelun, who was troubled by the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota by a police officer. And following the example set by Kaepernick, the team decided to take a knee as he did.

“We thought about it long and hard because we are a military family,” April Parkerson said. “We had the support of friends and family and we all believe in doing the right thing and we all took a knee together. It just took off from there.”

The team told the Bay Area Football League about the planned protest before a Sept. 10 game, but opinions changed quickly against them, including death threats coming in by social media.

Jenkins was among the players to lodge similar protests last year, raising a fist during the anthem for all but one game.

“As role models, when you step out there and you demonstrate something, especially something as big as what happened last year with the protests in the NFL. . . . I think it’s definitely the responsibility of those out in front to think about the impact that it has on everyone behind them,” Jenkins said. “Because some of these kids and coaches and youth teams don’t have the same protections and securities that we have. And so I think it’s definitely a responsibility to at least thoroughly explain why you demonstrated, why you’re doing what you’re doing, so that people understand the risks and consequences, and that you also encourage them and support them.”

Now if they can just find a team willing to support the guy who started the movement.

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Deshaun Watson calls his work ethic a lifestyle

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The Texans drafted former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson in the hopes that he’d be the same kind of leader in the NFL that he was in college, where he led his team to a national championship. The early returns are very, very positive on that front.

John McClain, the longtime NFL reporter who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle, wrote on Twitter that Watson has been everything the Texans wanted in a franchise quarterback, and more.

“I can’t overstate how hard rookie QB Deshaun Watson worked in the offseason. Stayed after practice. Worked on days off. What a work ethic!” McClain wrote.

Watson saw that tweet about his work ethic and added, “It’s a lifestyle.”

Whether Watson can develop into an NFL-quality passer remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that he will put in the work.

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Browns see improvement from 2016 fourth-round pick Ricardo Louis

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Wide receiver Ricardo Louis was one of 14 draft picks to make the Cleveland Browns last season. However, Louis, a fourth-round pick out of Auburn, had some difficulty making the transition to the NFL and only managed 18 catches for 205 yards in his rookie campaign.

But with a year under his belt, the Browns and Louis feel like he’s better situated to contribute for the team this season.

Now he lines up at the line of scrimmage and hears the play and sees the defense and recognizes the coverage, he goes 100 miles per hour,” wide receiver coach Al Saunders said, via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. “He’s a talented young man. I’m thrilled he feels really comfortable in what he’s doing and am really excited when we get him to the preseason and take that transition and get into real physical football and play the game when things aren’t what you expect it to be.”

Head coach Hue Jackson echoed the sentiments, saying Louis has “really improved” since last season. Louis agreed that he’s taken a sizable step forward as well.

“There’s a lot of things that you have to be very specific on when it comes to being in the NFL,” Louis said. “You have to be detailed with everything you do as far as preparation and taking the next step.”

That 14-man class will have to be significant contributors eventually for the Browns to build toward contending status. A jump forward from year one to year two is typically expected from players moving into the pros. Louis appears situated to be a more trusted option in 2017.

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Family suing Broncos Stadium after deadly fall last October

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The family of a man who died in a fall at the stadium formerly known as Sports Authority Field at Mile High last October is suing the Metropolitan Football Stadium District seeking an unstated amount of damages.

According to 9NEWS, the family of Jason Coy filed a claim dated April 11, 2017 alleging that the staircase when Coy fell to his death was “inherently dangerous to patrons” of the stadium.

“On October 24, 2016, while attending a Denver Bronco’s football game as an invitee inside the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Mr. Coy fell to his death in a fire escape corridor and staircase, inside the North East concourse of the stadium,” the suit states. “The subject corridor was designed, built, and maintained as a fire evacuation escape route and egress method for invited game attendees. The corridor and staircase contained a vault and open shaft that was inherently dangerous to patrons, and Mr. Coy slipped over a handrail near the top of the staircase, falling to his death, at or near the base below. We believe the Stadium District, and others, failed to make the subject staircase and stairwell, reasonably safe for invited guests/patrons, and this failure led directly to Mr. Coy’s fatal injuries.”

Coy was attending a game between the Houston Texans and Broncos the night he fell.

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Jeremy Kerley isn’t fond of former Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey

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San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jeremy Kerley isn’t going to mince words when it comes to his opinion on Chan Gailey.

Kerley played under Gailey with the New York Jets in 2015. It was his worst season as a pro as Kerley caught just 16 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns with the Jets.

Coming off of arguable his best season, Kerley didn’t bother to blunt his opinion on his former offensive coordinator during an interview with Alex Marvez and Phil Savage on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

What changed a lot for me was in my fifth year, in New York, somebody telling me that, for whatever the reason was, I wasn’t good enough to play in that offense or I wasn’t a fit for that offense,” Kerley said. “And even though I knew I was, it still pissed me off to the point where I was just like, you know, what can I do to try to separate myself or stand out more. And I think, just from that point on and 2015 was by far my worst year in the league. I absolutely hated the NFL. I wasn’t getting any playing time at receiver; I was just strictly punt return. Me and Chan Gailey were always … we didn’t see eye-to-eye. I didn’t have a lot of respect for him. It was probably the same for him.”

Gailey was hired to serve as offensive coordinator after Todd Bowles was brought in to replace Rex Ryan as head coach. Gailey served in the role the last two seasons before retiring at the end of the year. Unsurprisingly, Kerley lasted just one season playing in Gailey’s offense before moving on to the 49ers last year (after a brief stop in Detroit).

“Chan was just one of those type of guys that he has his mind set up before he sees whoever’s there,” Kerley said. “I mean, he just wasn’t a fit for me, so when we came in it was kind of like, I had just signed a four-year, $16-million extension. So I’m assuming this is my time, I’m going to play or I get to maximize my play. And it was the exact opposite. I can’t speak highly of a guy who never really let me have an opportunity to prove. And then the fact that he would always bring in guys that were my same height or my same size after guys went down or whatever happened, it brought me to believe that maybe he just doesn’t really like me.

“For whatever the reason was, I just feel like we were going to bump heads after that. I don’t say this about a lot of people, but I don’t really have a lot of respect for that and how that situation went.”

Kerley ended up in a much better situation with the 49ers. He caught a career-high 64 passes for 667 yards and three touchdowns last year for San Francisco. The three touchdowns matched a career-high. The showing earned his a new three-year deal with the 49ers this offseason.

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Who are the best five quarterbacks in the NFL, right now?

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With Derek Carr getting paid, the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL are set. Based on the disputed (but widely recognized) “new money” analysis, they are: (1) Carr; (2) Andrew Luck; (3) Drew Brees; (4) Kirk Cousins; and (5) Joe Flacco.

That doesn’t necessarily (or actually) make them the five best quarterbacks. Identifying the five best quarterbacks in the NFL will be the focal point of Friday’s PFT Live question of the day.

We’re not looking for five quarterbacks you’d start a team with. We want your five quarterbacks based on guys you would take right now to help you win a game.

Former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn will join the show, which will be the last radio/TV show featuring yours truly until July 24. (The TV show is preempted for most of the next month due to that Tour de France thing.) I’ll explain over the weekend the plan for fresh video and audio content during my supposed vacation, since I never actually take a vacation because my job isn’t really a job.

Join us at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio. The show then shifts to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

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Woody Johnson nominated for Ambassador to UK, with brother set to run Jets

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The Jets confirmed Christopher Johnson will become chairman and CEO if the Senate confirms Woody Johnson as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. President Donald Trump nominated the Jets owner on Thursday, 153 days after he unofficially named Johnson to the diplomatic post.

Christopher Johnson, Woody’s brother and also a team owner, will directly oversee all day-to-day team operations in his brother’s absence.

“The New York Jets have been an integral part of our family since 2000, but this is a unique opportunity for Woody. His patriotism and commitment to our country have always been a passion of his,” Christopher Johnson said, via a team press release. “Over the years, we have learned that ownership of the New York Jets is a special responsibility. Personally, if Woody is nominated and confirmed, I would be honored to oversee the organization, continuing to build a team on and off the field that our fans are proud of and deserve.” 

Woody Johnson, now 70, and his family purchased the Jets on Jan. 18, 2000. Woody, a fourth-generation member of the founding family of Johnson & Johnson, is a veteran Republican fundraiser.

“On behalf of the entire organization, we would be extremely proud to see Woody nominated and confirmed as U.S. Ambassador. We could not be more excited for him and his family,” Jets President Neil Glat said in the release.

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Raiders, who have yet to announce Derek Carr deal, call Friday press conference

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The Raiders have yet to officially announce Derek Carr has a new deal, but they have called a press conference for 10:30 a.m. PT on Friday at the team facility. Although the team doesn’t specify the reason for the press conference, it will come as no surprise when they announce Carr’s signing.

Besides Carr’s tweet confirming the deal was done, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio tweeted his congratulations to Carr: “Congrats w extension!! Continue to be the great teammate and leader you R. God Bless you & your family! #RaiderNation #ReturnToGreatness”

Carr will become the highest-paid player in NFL history when he signs the five-year, $125 million deal, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed at signing. According to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Carr was out of the country on vacation but is on his way home.

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Patriots announce David Harris signing, cut DeAndrew White

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Linebacker David Harris is officially a member of the Patriots.

Word of Harris’ agreement with the defending champions came on Wednesday, but the move was announced by the team on Thursday along with the roster move they made to clear space for Harris’ arrival. They have waived wide receiver DeAndrew White.

Harris, who was released by the Jets earlier this month after 10 seasons with the team, signed a two-year deal with New England with a reported base value of $5 million. He’s the latest acquisition in a busy offseason that has seen New England use their cap space to add veterans all over a roster that was already coming off of a Super Bowl title.

White made the 49ers as an undrafted rookie in 2015 and played in four games. He caught two passes and returned six kickoffs in those appearances and moved on to the Patriots practice squad after getting cut last year. He’ll now have the chance to catch on elsewhere before training camp and may face shorter odds than he did with a Patriots team well-stocked with wideouts.

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Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert competing to backup Carson Palmer

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The Cardinals will have an interesting training camp battle between two players they hope never see the field. Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert will compete for the job behind starting quarterback Carson Palmer.

Considering Carson is 38 and entering his 14th season, the Cardinals could choose to keep both backups on the 53-player roster. Coach Bruce Arians said the decision about how many quarterbacks to keep will depend on whether the third quarterback is better than another reserve at another position.

Who’s the best player, regardless of position?” Arians said, via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN. “Obviously, he’s not going to help special teams, and if you think there’s one you really, really like for the future [you keep him].”

Stanton has served as the team’s backup the past four seasons, while Gabbert signed with the Cardinals on May 11.

The Cardinals started four quarterbacks in 2012 and three in 2014, but Palmer has started all but one game the past two seasons.

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Report: Amazon to charge $2.8 million for TNF ad packages

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Those who hope to advertise their goods and services during Thursday night games streamed by Amazon now know what it will cost. It’s still not clear to the rest of us what they will get.

According to Reuters, Amazon will charge $2.8 million for ad packages.

Amazon reportedly can sell 10 30-second spots per game. It’s unclear what an advertiser precisely will receive in exchange for the $2.8 million. Per the report, the $2.8 million package consists of 30-second ads throughout the 10-game slate that will be streamed by Amazon. Reuters notes that published reports indicated Twitter sold packages a year ago at prices ranging from $2 million to $8 million. Without more details are to everything that each package provided to advertisers, it’s impossible to compare Twitter’s deal to Amazon’s.

Twitter reportedly paid $10 million to stream 10 games last year. Amazon reportedly will be paying $50 million for the 10 games, along with (again, reportedly) $30 million in free marketing.

Sources familiar with the deal separately have insisted PFT that the $50 million and $30 million figures are inaccurate, raising the question of whether someone is pumping up the perceived price to be paid by Amazon in order to create the impression that the right to carry the games carries greater value than it actually does. With the current broadcast deals expiring across the board in five years and with real questions lingering about where the multiple billions will come from the next time around, it makes plenty of sense to create the impression that companies continue to pay way too much for the ability to show NFL games. Even if, you know, they aren’t.

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What’s next for John Dorsey?

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Despite today’s news of his ouster in Kansas City, there’s a chance John Dorsey will be landing on his feet, sooner than later.

In January, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dubbed Dorsey, a former Packers executive, as the “best bet” to succeed Ted Thompson as the General Manager in Green Bay. The more immediate question is whether the Packers will be inclined to bring Dorsey back into the fold before such a move is made.

For his part, Dorsey subsequently called his time with the Chiefs the “greatest four years of my life,” and he expressed a desire to stay with the team long enough for his six-year-old son to graduate high school.

Dorsey, who has a year left on his Chiefs deal, can take the year off with pay, stay put in Kansas City, and plan his next move. A respected figure in league circles, he’ll surely find something, somewhere.

He may end up finding the G.M. job that arguably has more job security than any other, since there’s no one person in Titletown who can get up on the wrong side of the bed or catch a wild hair and fire the head of the football operation.

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Tyrunn Walker under investigation for sexual assault

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The Rams’ decision to cut defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker today came just moments before news broke that he is under investigation in a sexual assault case in Louisiana, where he grew up and previously played for the Saints.

The New Orleans Advocate reports that two women told police they were drinking with Walker and another man at a Mardi Gras celebration on February 28 when they began to feel disoriented, and that all four people ended up in a hotel room where the two women can remember little more than waking up and finding Walker and the other man sexually assaulting one of the women.

The local prosecutor confirmed that his office has received the police investigation and is reviewing whether to present the case to a grand jury.

The two women, an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old who are both college students, have filed for a restraining order against Walker and the other man, Justin Williams. Both women spoke to the New Orleans Advocate and indicated they think they were drugged.

Although he is no longer under contract to an NFL team, Walker could be subject to NFL discipline even if he is not charged in connection with this case.

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Chiefs hope to replace John Dorsey by the start of training camp

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When the Chiefs hired coach Andy Reid and then hired G.M. John Dorsey, many assumed that Reid had the same setup he enjoyed in Philadelphia, where he ran the show. In Kansas City, that wasn’t — and isn’t — the case.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Reid and Dorsey separately reported directly to owner Clark Hunt. According to the source, it was Hunt who made the call based on a full review of the all factors to make the move now.

Of course, that won’t keep people from speculating that Reid found a way to make it known in conjunction with his willingness to sign an extension that he wanted to see a change made. The bang-bang timing of the Reid news and the Dorsey news invites that.

A search will commence immediately for a G.M. who will have the same role and authority that Dorsey possessed, reporting directly to Hunt. Internal and external candidates will be considered, with a loose goal of getting the job filled by the start of training camp.

And while it’s very late on the offseason calendar to be making such an important change (it’s the first June firing of a G.M. in a very long time), the quiet spot between the end of the offseason program and the opening of training camp is really the only time of the year when a G.M. isn’t actively working to make the roster better.

Speculation surely will center on people who have experience working with Reid or for Reid. Whether and to what extent there’s familiarity between Reid and the new G.M. will shape the impression as to whether the G.M. has true independence when it comes to shaping the roster.

One name to watch, as one league source has suggested, is co-directly or player personnel Brett Veach. (If Chris Ballard hadn’t left for the Colts, he likely would have been the leading candidate.) But there surely will be plenty of candidates for the chance to put the finishing touches on a franchise that has been knocking on the door for the last four years.

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Kenny Vaccaro not satisfied with career so far

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Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro has been versatile and productive in his four seasons. But it’s not what he wanted or expected.

Vaccaro has yet to make All-Pro or even the Pro Bowl, goals for this season.

I was a top-15 pick,” Vaccaro said, via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I should be a Pro Bowler. That’s just the way it goes.”

The Saints selected Vaccaro 15th overall in 2013. They have played him at several positions, and Vaccaro has 235 tackles, six sacks, 22 pass breakups and five interceptions. But it has left him wanting.

“I haven’t met any of my goals, and it pisses me off, really,” Vaccaro said. “I want to really, really, really work hard this summer and prepare for the season that I need to have because I feel like a lot of people know it’s in me. A lot of people know I’m good, but I haven’t earned the respect that I need and I want that.”

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