Can the Texans win for the first time ever in Indianapolis? Does the cold weather favor the Patriots over the Dolphins? The Bears need a win over the Lions, will they get it? The PFT guys answer these questions and more as they make their Sunday picks.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
ProFootballTalk: PFT Sunday picks
The Panthers offense was already pretty good last year, thanks to an MVP season from quarterback Cam Newton.
It might be even better today.
Benjamin was a force his rookie year, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
But even though they went 15-1 and made it to the Super Bowl, their lack of a guy who could get open and catch it if he did was exposed by the Broncos in that final game.
Getting Benjamin back, along with the development of Devin Funchess, gives the Panthers the chance to improve significantly in the passing game.
Baylor is firing head football coach Art Briles amid multiple accusations of sexual assault against football players, a surprising development for a coach who has turned a historically weak program into a national powerhouse.
The allegations about the Baylor football program are so serious that it may be difficult for any college to justify hiring Briles. But Briles is widely regarded as one of the most innovative minds in the game of football, and so it would not be at all surprising to see some NFL team hire him.
Briles’ offense was once viewed as gimmicky and unsuited to the NFL. But it has worked long enough at the college level, and produced enough NFL players, that there may now be NFL teams that would look to add Briles as an assistant coach or offensive consultant.
The 60-year-old Briles has no NFL experience, and the results of the ongoing investigation at Baylor could make him too toxic for the NFL. But the reality is that NFL teams look for any edge they can get. If some team thinks Briles can improve its offense, Briles will have a job in the NFL.
When the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they gave cornerback Josh Norman, there was immediate discussion about the Panthers using some of the money earmarked for Norman toward an extension for defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Short is entering the final year of his rookie contract and a report earlier this month had discussions about that new deal getting underway. Short said this week that his contractual situation isn’t his chief concern at this point in the calendar.
“If it happens, it happens, but we haven’t focused on that,” Short said, via the team’s website. “I’ve still got a lot I need to do. I’ve put myself in the position, but at the same time, I’m not where I want to be. We’re not rushing the issue.”
Outside of protection against a serious injury, there’s not much reason for Short to race into a long-term deal at the moment. The Panthers have the franchise tag in their pocket in the event a deal can’t be struck and there will be no shortage of suitors for his services should Carolina opt against using the tag.
On-field practices during OTAs are supposed to be non-contact, but they’re never non-risk.
According to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Vikings defensive tackle B.J. Dubose suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during Wednesday’s workout, and is expected to miss the entire season.
The injury happened during an 11-on-11 drill.
A sixth-round pick last year from Louisville, he spent most of last year on the practice squad, but was promoted to the 53-man roster prior to the playoff loss to Seattle.
The report said Dr. James Andrews repaired a torn labrum that Adbullah had suffered during a mid-December game. The report also said Abdullah is ahead of schedule in his rehab but the team intends to proceed with caution through the rest of the spring.
Abdullah figures as the starting running back this season for the Lions. He led the team with 597 rushing yards last year as a rookie and also led the NFL in kick return yardage with 1,077.
A second-round pick last spring, he played in all 16 games, carried 143 times and caught 25 passes.
The place where the Miami NFL franchise plays has been known by many names. From Dolphins Stadium to Joe Robbie Stadium to Pro Player Stadium to Pro Player Park to Dolphin Stadium to Land Shark Stadium to Sun Life Stadium to a stadium that currently has no naming-rights partner, the venue has carried plenty of labels since it opened in 1987.
Soon, it could have another new name.
During a Wednesday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said that Hard Rock International may buy the rights.
Later in the same show, Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel offered this response to a question on the status of the naming rights: “I can’t disclose who the companies are [negotiating], but I can tell you we’re in sort of what I call late-stage discussions with a few different companies. I’m optimistic that we’ve got to get one into the end zone here, but I think we’re in the red zone and pushing towards the goal line. So hopefully we get one done soon and [I’m] excited about the potential of getting a new name on it.”
Getting a Super Bowl necessarily makes the naming rights more valuable to any company that thinks there’s value in having its name attached to a stadium. Fortunately for major sports teams throughout the world, more than enough corporations see the value treating a place where football is played like a giant billboard.
As Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins waits for a big-money, long-term deal, he’s getting a close look at a guy to whom the organization recently gave a big-money, long-term deal. But it’s not the first time Cousins has witnessed the work of cornerback Josh Norman — apart from last season’s loss to Carolina.
“I was able to train in the same place as him before the draft back in the spring of 2012,” Cousins told reporters on Wednesday regarding Norman. “We would go out and do one-on-ones with several really good receivers who are higher NFL draft picks and had great careers. He would lock a lot of them up in one-on-ones back then. So you could see his ability four years ago, and obviously he’s proven that through his time with the Panthers and hopefully continues that with us. But, it’s exciting to have a player of that caliber to go against every day.”
Every day gets Cousins and the team closer to July 15, the deadline for signing him to a long-term contract. Cousins had nothing new to say about the status of negotiations.
“I think everything I could possibly say on the matter of the contract has already been said,” Cousins said. “I’m positive, very confident, that when or if something gets done you guys will be notified. . . . So stay tuned, but I really don’t have anything to add to what’s already been said.”
All that needs to be said is that Cousins has a $19.95 million guaranteed payday in hand for 2016. The question becomes whether the team will offer the kind of long-term deal will get him to trade in both the $19.95 million for 2016 plus either a 20-percent raise in 2017 or a shot at the open market.
The Buccaneers Thursday announced the signings of cornerback Javien Elliott and safety Kimario McFadden.
Elliott is an undrafted rookie out of Florida State. He’s a former walk-on who became a productive player at Florida State last season and previously had tried out for the Steelers as part of their rookie minicamp earlier this month.
McFadden has been on and off the Buccaneers roster. He played in three games last season, recording two special teams tackles. McFadden, 25, broke into the league as an undrafted rookie with the Falcons in 2014.
Washington is encouraged by the progress Junior Galette has shown in his comeback from a torn Achilles, but they’re not going to let him push it.
According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, the recovering pass-rusher won’t practice until training camp in late July.
While the rest of his teammates were going through OTAs, Galette was working on the side with trainers. Coach Jay Gruden said Galette probably could have practiced, but they want to make sure to give him time to strengthen his leg instead.
“So anxious,” Gruden said of Galette. “He’s like a kid at Christmas, sitting up waiting for Santa Claus and he hasn’t come yet.”
Galette declared himself “85, 90 percent,” and said he understood erring on the side of caution, after missing last season.
“But we’re just being extra careful right now and taking our time instead of rushing into OTAs,” he said. “I could play right now; we’re just being careful. I don’t feel like it’s to my advantage to come out here and really rush and have those sore days.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been, probably as excited as I was in 2010 as an undrafted rookie. I’m very excited.”
If Galette can return to form, he adds a dangerous pass-rusher to a defense that also added free agent cornerback Josh Norman this offseason, providing a potentially big boost.
Defensive end Mario Williams‘ 2015 season with the Bills was marked by his complaints about what the team was asking him to do on defense and complaints from others that Williams wasn’t giving the team everything he had.
That unhappy mix and Williams’ big cap number led the Bills to part ways with Williams once the season came to an end. Williams landed with the Dolphins as a free agent and he’s singing a different tune when it comes to fitting into a defense than he was last season.
“At the end of the day, whatever scheme that defensive coordinators have or whatnot, you have to take it and adjust to it and run with it,” Williams said, via ESPN.com. “It could be anything. It varies not just [for] myself, but my teammates. They’ve been other places and experienced other things.”
The reason behind Williams’ change of heart isn’t difficult to figure out. The Dolphins want Williams to rush the passer first and foremost, which eliminates his biggest bone of contention from last year.
“I think the biggest focal point and exciting for us is knowing that [we can] cut it loose,” Williams said. “It’s almost like saying, ‘Go! Every time, just go. We’re going to put you in the best position for you to get after it and everything else is going to trickle downhill from there.'”
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of positivity from Williams about his role since he joined the Dolphins. That probably won’t make for many smiles in Buffalo, but it could be the foundation for a rebound from Williams in Miami.
Earlier this week, the NFL parlayed the interest of five cities into three Super Bowls via a process that, as a practical matter, results in the submission of competitive bids. Even with the loose, wink-nod quid pro quo that calls for a city with a new stadium to be included in the currently non-rotating Super Bowl rotation, cities need to bring something more to the table.
Case in point: The “wish list” for Super Bowl LII to be played at the soon-to-be christened venue in Minneapolis. Building the stadium should have been enough to get the game. As uncovered by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in December 2014, however, the NFL wanted a lot more than that. From free police escorts for team owners to 35,000 free parking spaces to presidential suites at no cost in high-end hotels, the league wasn’t bashful about asking for all sorts of stuff in exchange for the privilege of hosting the league’s premier annual event.
So what similar inducements were made by the cities vying for the trifecta of Super Bowls awarded on Tuesday via the submission of formal bids?
“We do not make them public,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said via email.
There’s a reason for that. Apparently, the bids include all sorts of extra stuff that could embarrass the league at best and invite scrutiny from relevant outside governmental agencies at worst. For example, one source with knowledge of the bids tells PFT that the failed New Orleans proposal for Super Bowl LIII included a $50,000 per-team credit for ground transportation, parties, and related expenses during Super Bowl week. Given that most teams inevitably will be spending that kind of cash during a week in New Orleans prior to the Super Bowl, it’s essentially a $50,000 gift given to each and every franchise — a total of $1.6 million in free money offered to the league by the New Orleans host committee for giving the city the Super Bowl.
Although every Super Bowl host committee relies on privately-raised funds to offset the costs for staging the games (I wonder whether the folks who donate know exactly how the money is being used), there’s a fine line between reimbursing costs and stuffing the already deep pockets of the league’s owners with more cold, hard cash. For that reason, it would be interesting to see each of the bids that were submitted in connection with Super Bowl LIII, LIV, and LV.
If anyone who has them wants to pass them along with a clear and unwavering commitment of anonymity and full protection, we’re easy to find.
Running back Jeremy Langford had more than 800 yards of total offense in 2015 and joined Gale Sayers and Walter Payton as the only Bears rookies since 1960 to run for touchdowns in four straight games.
Langford did that work as a complement to Matt Forte in the Bears backfield, but Forte has moved on to the Jets as a free agent. That leaves an opening at the top of the running back depth chart in Chicago and it’s one that Langford says he wants to fill by applying some of what he learned during his year with the veteran back.
“Even last year, I think I prepared a lot, you know, just in case,” Langford said, via ESPN.com. “Playing running back, you never know what can happen. So I prepared a lot to know the whole offense and be the starter if I have to. But this year, it’s really just trying to become more of a leader at the position, being a running back in Chicago. Being more of a leader and really just not being that secondary guy. Acting like more of a veteran and know the whole offense. I learned a lot from Forte, being the guy he was, so you ain’t got to be a hoo-rah guy all the time. Being a young player, it’s just being in the right place at the right time and doing what you got to do. Really helping younger guys coming in, or even the guys following you, being a leader by example.”
The Bears have talked about using a committee of backs from a group including Langford, Ka’Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Jordan Howard. Langford says he’s fine with that, calling competition “always a good thing” as he prepares to do whatever he can to win it.
The NFL refers to kickoff returns as the most dangerous play in the game, and has changed rules to try to minimize them.
To Devin Hester, that’s almost like an unfair restraint of trade.
The Falcons return man said he’s personally never been hurt while returning a kickoff, and since he’s really good at it, he’s naturally skeptical about the change. The league has tweaked rules this year, allowing touchbacks to be placed at the 25 to try to encourage more teams to not return kickoffs.
“It’s like taking away a job from people,” Hester said, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I got a concussion making a block at receiver. But I never got hurt taking hits back on kickoffs.”
Hester’s currently rehabbing a toe injury which apparently wasn’t suffered on a return. He has five career kickoff return touchdowns, and a 92-yarder in the Super Bowl.
So with a 24.9-yard career average on kickoff returns, you’ll pardon him if he’s not interested in a free crack at the 25-yard line.
“If we’re clicking, we can bring it back from pretty much anywhere; real talk,’’ Hester said. “If our return game is doing good, it’s pretty much the green light. The deepest I’ve fielded one [with Falcons] has been 7 or 8 yards in. The normal is about 4 or 5 yards deep.
“As far as how the other team kicks off, it’s all going to depend on one type of returner you have back there. If they believe in their coverage team they are going to try it.’’
Hester’s hoping they do. His job depends on it.
There are plenty of big names missing from Jets OTAs this week, but defensive end Sheldon Richardson isn’t among them.
Richardson is taking part in the team’s practices and met with the media after Wednesday’s session, which meant he faced questions about whether he’d be absent from any games during the regular season. Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest in January to resolve an arrest from last summer for driving 143 m.p.h. while evading police with a 12-year-old in the car. Police also reported smelling marijuana, although neither drug possession nor child endangerment charges went forward.
On Wednesday, Richardson said he’s spoken to the league “here and there” but doesn’t know whether he’ll be suspended for any portion of the 2016 season.
“Positive vibes, man,” Richardson said, via ESPN.com. “If I get a letter saying I’m suspended, I’m suspended. I don’t really hang my hat on that. That happened last year, last offseason. [It’s] a new year, you know? I’m past it. I’m ready to play football.”
Richardson dropped 11 pounds from last year’s playing weight while preparing himself to play football in a season that will be factored into any long-term contract talks that might get underway with the Jets. Staying on the field would be a plus for Richardson — who was suspended four games in 2015 for a substance abuse violation — on that front because his off-field indiscretions have been the only thing to give pause about a new deal to this point in his career.
Wide receiver Wes Welker was out of football all of last offseason, but always insisted he wanted to continue playing despite the series of concussions he’d suffered over the course of his career.
Welker eventually signed with the Rams in November, although you’d be forgiven for having no memory of his eight games and 13 catches for a team playing out the string on a season and a city. Welker is a free agent once again and said during an appearance on NFL Network that his “heart and mind” are still going back and forth on whether he wants to pursue a 13th season.
“That’s kind of the million dollar question right now in trying to figure that out,” Welker said. “I think I’m weighing my options and really trying to figure out where to go with life next. But there are some days I wake up and I’m like ‘OK, I’m done.’ And other days I wake up and I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe one more year.’ But I’m trying not to rush into any decision but at the same time, know that and prepare myself for not playing.”
Given the lukewarm interest in Welker’s services last year, it’s hard to imagine teams are beating down his doors with offers to play and that could offer the final push that Welker needs to flip the switch from active NFL player to the next stage of life.