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Mark Sanchez: “I know we’re destined for great stuff here”

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

A miserable season hasn’t dampened Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s confidence.

Sanchez told reporters today that after talking to head coach Rex Ryan, he’s as confident as ever that they’re going to build a great team together.

“I had a good talk with Rex, and I know we’re destined for great stuff here,” Sanchez said. “I know we can be successful here. So that’s what I’m focused on. I’m excited to come back here and do my very best.”

Sanchez’s comments strongly suggest that Ryan told him he should plan to be the Jets’ starting quarterback in 2013. Although Ryan did briefly bench Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy this season, Sanchez’s guaranteed salary makes him a near-lock to be on the team for at least one more season.

And although this season was a disaster, Sanchez would like to point out that it wasn’t all bad.

“There are a lot of things to be proud of: Guys going to the Pro Bowl. Shonn Greene rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight year,” Sanchez said. “But in my opinion, I underachieved and didn’t play the way I’m capable of playing. And unfortunately that led to some losses and things like that so I’ve just got to get better, take some time and get away from the game for a little bit, then come back strong next year.”

If Sanchez is going to stay the starting quarterback, the Jets will need him to come back a lot stronger next year.

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Jets clean house, fire John Idzik along with Ryan

John Idzik AP

The Jets are tearing everything down after a 4-12 season.

Shortly after word broke that the team fired coach Rex Ryan, the Jets made an official announcement that Ryan would not return to the team for a seventh season. That announcement also included the news that General Manager John Idzik has been relieved of his duties after two years with the team.

Neither move is a surprise. It’s the fourth straight year that Ryan has missed the playoffs and he had little chance to do anything other than disappoint this season thanks to the undermanned roster he was provided by Idzik. Idzik did a fine job cleaning up the salary cap mess he inherited from former G.M. Mike Tannenbaum, but he failed to address major needs at cornerback and wide receiver while sitting on ample cap space. Coming up empty on immediate contributors despite adding 12 players to the roster in the 2014 draft didn’t help Idzik nor did fan protests that led to billboard and banners in the sky urging owner Woody Johnson to pull the plug.

And, of course, the Jets never found the quarterback that any NFL team needs to contend in this era. How much Geno Smith’s struggles were exacerbated by playing early with a weak supporting cast is a question worth debating, but neither Smith’s play nor the potentially mitigating circumstances reflects well on the job that Idzik’s done over the last two years.

The Jets have retained the services of former NFL exec Charley Casserly and former Packers G.M. Ron Wolf to advise Johnson as they try to find a coach/G.M. combination that can return them to the right side of .500 in 2015 and beyond.

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Mike Tomlin: We’re thankful Le’Veon Bell injury isn’t major

Le'Veon Bell AP

The Steelers won the AFC North on Sunday night by beating the Bengals, but the victory didn’t come without a dark cloud.

Running back Le’Veon Bell was forced out of the game in the second half with a knee injury. The team said that Bell hyperextended his right knee when he took a shot from Bengals safety Reggie Nelson and Bell didn’t need crutches to get around after the game, which fits with coach Mike Tomlin’s description of the severity of the injury.

“We’ll gather more significant information as we proceed through the week,” Tomlin said, via “We’re thankful that it’s not anything major.”

The definition of major can vary from person to person and the fact that the team is waiting for “significant information” makes it far too early to know if Bell will be available when the Steelers open the playoffs with a renewal of their rivalry with the Ravens.

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Welcome to the offseason

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It’s Black Monday, which means a handful of NFL teams will be making big moves.  For 20 total franchises, it’s over.  No playoffs means football season has come to an end.  Which means planning for 2015 starts now.

The offseason has arrived for all teams not in the postseason, which means that plenty of things will be happening.  And we’ll be following all of it right here, every hour of every day until the season begins again in September.

The goal for the 20 teams who didn’t make it to the Super Bowl tournament will be to begin building hope for 2015.  For the 12 teams still left, the goal will be to try to translate the hope built last year into a championship.

In the end, only one team will be satisfied.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to satisfy your thirst for information and analysis throughout the coming offseason, and beyond.

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Top 20 picks in 2015 NFL Draft now in order

Harold Lloyd clock (sepia)

With the 12 playoff teams settled and ready to embark on the tournament, the other 20 can get down to personnel business.

Specifically, the top 20 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft are now settled.

The Buccaneers earned the top spot with a stirring come-from-ahead loss yesterday, and the top of the draft will have a southern accent, with the Titans picking second and the Jaguars third.

The Browns have a pair of first-rounders after last year’s trade with the Bills, and they’ll pick 12th and 19th.

The rest of the draft order will be filled in as the playoffs go along, with the wild card weekend losers taking spots 21-24, and divisional round losers 25-28.

Here’s a look at the full order as we know it.

1. Tampa Bay (2-14)

2. Tennessee (2-14)

3. Jacksonville (3-13)

4. Oakland (3-13)

5. Washington (4-12)

6. N.Y. Jets (4-12)

7. Chicago (5-11)

8. Atlanta (6-10)

9. N.Y. Giants (6-10)

10. St. Louis (6-10)

11. Minnesota (7-9)

12. Cleveland (7-9)

13. New Orleans (7-9)

14. Miami (8-8)

15. San Francisco (8-8)

16. Houston (9-7)

17 Kansas City (9-7)

18. San Diego (9-7)

19. Cleveland (from Buffalo 9-7)

20. Philadelphia (10-6).

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LeSean McCoy on future with Eagles: I’m sure we can work something out

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Eagles season came to an end without a playoff spot, but running back LeSean McCoy finished with a 99-yard effort to help beat the Giants in Week 17.

That left McCoy with 1,319 rushing yards for the season, the second-best total of both his career and his two years playing for head coach Chip Kelly. Given the team’s frequently toasted secondary and turnover issues at quarterback, it would seem that McCoy’s future with the organization would be low on the list of things to worry about heading into the offseason even with some questions early in the season about a drop in production.

After the game, though, McCoy sounded like a man who wasn’t totally convinced that he’d be back in Philadelphia for the 2015 season. McCoy is set to make $9.75 million next year with a cap charge north of $11 million, but said that he’s open to discussions about restructuring the deal because he wants to remain with the team.

“The season just ended, and . . . I’m an Eagle. I love it here,” McCoy said, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. “My six years here have been excellent. I’ve been very, very, very productive here. I have a great relationship with my coaches, the owner. We’ll see what happens. It’s a business. Anything can happen; I know that. But I’m sure we can work something out. And hopefully, everything does work out. They know how I feel about them. I know how they feel about me. So we’ll see what happens. At the end of the day, it’s a business.”

The Eagles spent all season plugging holes along their offensive line, something that certainly impacted McCoy individually and the offense as a whole over the course of the season. That doesn’t mean that McCoy won’t be reworking his deal in the coming months, but Kelly said on WIP Monday that he wants McCoy back and a parting of the ways would be a much bigger surprise that last offseason’s jettisoning of DeSean Jackson.

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League office to review Suh step on Monday

Suh Getty Images

Last Monday, the NFL suspended Lions center Dominic Raiola for one game after he blatantly stomped on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.  This week, the NFL will be taking a closer look at another Lions-related incident involving a player with a more notorious history of on-field misconduct and discipline.

The incident involving Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be reviewed on Monday.  Per a league source, the NFL will strive for consistency and will adhere to its desire to remove certain types of play from the game.

Replays show Suh stepping twice on Rodgers’ leg.  The first, with the right foot, appears to be clearly accidental.  The second, when studied in slow motion, appears to be intentional, with Suh moving his left foot backward, pressing it into Rodgers’ lower leg, pushing down, and then lifting the right leg off the ground to increase the force applied.

Rodgers’ real-time reaction suggests a strong belief by the quarterback that it was no accident, even if Suh managed to convey nonchalance while doing it.  In some respects, the move resembled Suh’s application of a foot to the crotch of former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub during a 2012 Thanksgiving game.  Suh’s leg swung naturally in Schaub’s direction as Suh fell to the ground after being blocked.  But once Suh’s foot was in the vicinity of Schaub’s groin, Suh subtly pushed the shoe into Schaub.

Suh was fined $30,000 for the Schaub maneuver.

Suh’s history includes a two-game suspension for stomping on the arm of former Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving 2011 and a $100,000 fine for an illegal low block on Vikings center John Sullivan in September 2013.  Suh escaped punishment for a blow to the head of former Cardinals tackle Eric Winston that same month, possibly because the league failed to notice the move.

That history surely will be used against him, both in determining whether it was an accident and in assessing punishment.  Suspension for Sunday’s playoff game against the Cowboys would be surprising, but few players in the league would justify serious consideration of such an outcome.

Either way, more will be known, most likely by the end of the day.

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Monday morning one-liners

Frank Gore AP

The Bills’ first win at Gillette Stadium turned out to be a hollow victory.

A call for the Dolphins to weigh parting with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

Patriots DT Vince Wilfork hit his playing time incentives.

Said Jets WR Eric Decker, “You can’t play the what-if game. I thought today was a testament to finishing strong.”

Ravens CB Lardarius Webb came up with his first interception of the year.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of his two interceptions, “The first one I shouldn’t have thrown. The next one I left high. It was my fault. You have to be better. You can’t turn the ball over.”

Rookie QB Connor Shaw earned good reviews from his Browns teammates after his first NFL start.

The Steelers Defense came up with three key turnovers on Sunday night.

Texans WR Andre Johnson closed an uneven season with a big game.

The Colts topped 300 yards of offense for the first time in three games.

The final game of the Jaguars season went much like the first 15 as the defense outpaced the offense.

Which players played their final game with the Titans on Sunday?

Broncos CB Chris Harris said it’s “the real deal” now that it is playoff time.

The Chiefs aren’t going to the playoffs, but LB Justin Houston closed the season on a high note.

An argument in favor of the Raiders making Tony Sparano the permanent head coach.

Special teams woes hurt the Chargers on Sunday.

Injured LB Sean Lee traveled with the` Cowboys for their regular season finale.

Ten things to know about Giants WR Odell Beckham’s rookie season.

QB Mark Sanchez called starting for the Eagles an “awesome experience.”

Redskins WR Santana Moss is pondering his future as an NFL player.

CB Charles Tillman said thanks as his time with the Bears may have come to an end on Sunday.

Lions RB Joique Bell started fast, but fell out of the game plan as Sunday night progressed.

RB Eddie Lacy helped power the Packers to a win over the Lions.

A disappointing season continued for Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan joined Blake Bortles and Geno Smith as the only quarterbacks to have multiple interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same 2014 game.

Said Panthers DE Charles Johnson, “I’ve been here too long. This is not the end. I don’t want this to be the end. We are on a roll, and we need to keep it going.”

The Saints’ resolve appeared too late to get them into the playoffs.

RB Doug Martin had another effective game for the Buccaneers.

Cardinals LS Mike Leach played in his 200th straight game.

The Rams Offense couldn’t do enough to end the season with a win.

RB Frank Gore made his case for another year with the 49ers.

Rookie wide receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood stepped up for the Seahawks.

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Gruden to wait before deciding on Haslett and staff

NFL Washington Redskins vs Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

In some precincts, the bad news is going to hit Monday.

In Washington, it may take a few days to slide in.

According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, team officials and coach Jay Gruden are going to wait a few days before deciding on any pending staff changes.

“Everybody, top to bottom, in this organization is going to get evaluated, and it’s going to be a thorough evaluation,” coach Jay Gruden said, after his team has hammered by the Cowboys to finish 4-12.

Central to the speculation is defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who somehow has hung on there for five years. He has a long-standing personal relationship with Gruden (Haslett hired him in the UFL), but that might not be enough to buy him a sixth year.

He might not be the only shoe to fall, however, if shoes start falling in Washington.

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If Rob Ryan’s going out, he’s going out his way

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Much like his brother, if Rob Ryan was going out yesterday, he was going out guns blazing.

The Saints defensive coordinator fired up his guys and led the Saints to a comeback win over a sort-of trying Buccaneers team yesterday.

Ryan’s impassioned halftime speech was cited by some as the reason for his comeback, as he lit into players, telling them: “Act like you want to be here,” Ryan yelled.

Rob came in and chewed us out,” Galette said, via Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It’s like ‘Hey, this guy really cares.’ You know he cares. You know how passionate it is. And we started playing as a team and just played with our technique, we were gap-sound and they couldn’t do anything.”

While it might not make much of a difference as to his job security, he at least has players on his side, which is a trick his brother has mastered as well.

“I’d be shocked,” Galette said, when asked about the possibility of Ryan being fired.

Perhaps, but enough happened over the previous 15 games to mean few others would be.

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Panthers believe anything is possible now

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

People doubted the Panthers this year for many reasons, not the least of which is no one had ever repeated as NFC South champions.

But they had their own problems, from losing franchise cornerstones Steve Smith and Jordan Gross, to getting Cam Newton back from an offseason surgery to losing 10 percent of their salary cap when defensive end Greg Hardy went on the commissioner’s exempt list for a domestic violence arrest.

So they’re not apologizing for being 7-8-1.

“I’m very proud of this football team first and foremost in spite of all the things we have dealt with this year,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “The adversity we have faced as a football team, the resilience of this football team with the men in that locker room was on display today. They did things that we needed to do to give ourselves the opportunity to win and to put ourselves in this position by winning in December was a part of going forward as we step into the playoffs now.”

Longtime Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (who knows about coming back from things, with his three torn ACLs) said now that they’ve achieved their goal, they’re not worried about records.

“We start this season off and hear all the talk about, it can’t be done; it won’t be done, and we’re here. We’ve done it.,” Davis said. “It’s not the end of it, but we had to make it to the playoffs, first and foremost. Now we’re going to get a chance to host a game next week. . . .

“I feel like we’re a team that is playing as well as any team in the league now. Anything can happen.”

Anything can, especially against an Arizona team with uncertainty at quarterback. How much farther they might go is debatable, but they’ve already gotten farther than most thought.

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Marcus Cannon channels Marshawn Lynch, sort of

Cannon Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t quite know how to handle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and his desire to not cooperate with the media.  For now, the league has opted not to fine Lynch for his meaningless yeah/nope/thanks-for-asking routine, in part because the NFL believes most other players won’t be inclined to follow Lynch’s lead.

Last week, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson tried — but he apologized the next day.  On Sunday, Patriots offensive lineman Macus Cannon tried to do the same thing.

Via Jimmy Toscano of CSN New England, Cannon provided general answers to a pair of questions before shutting it down.

We played football today,” Cannon said initially. “We had a football game today.”

Asked about the offensive line, Cannon said, “We snapped the ball.”

Then, Cannon was done:  “I answered two questions, right?  I can’t get fined now.”

The league office likely will continue to tread lightly in cases like this.  By fining players, the league invites attention, criticism, and further copycat behavior.

Besides, Cannon isn’t exactly the kind of player from whom the media is clamoring to hear.  Nothing he could have said Sunday would have generated anything close to the kind of attention he’s getting for saying nothing.

Which, in a weird sort of way, could prompt more second-tier players to say nothing in order to get noticed.

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Bruce Arians “much more comfortable” with Ryan Lindley after second start

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Cardinals were down to their third starting quarterback of the year on Sunday and they briefly flirted with going with a fourth quarterback during the week, so you can forgive them from accentuating the positives of their situation with a playoff game coming next weekend.

Ryan Lindley had a good first half against the 49ers, throwing the first two touchdown passes of his career to send the Cardinals to the locker room with a 17-13 lead. Things would not go so well in the second half, though. Lindley threw two interceptions and the Cardinals didn’t score as the 49ers gave Jim Harbaugh one last win as their coach.

After the contest, Lindley said that he thought the offense gained confidence during the game. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that both Lindley’s play and the way he handled the team’s momentary fling with Logan Thomas left the team feeling better about the situation.

“Obviously, we’re all much more comfortable with Ryan after his performance today. And we look forward to the challenge,” Arians said, via the Arizona Republic. “Ryan was very cool last week, and I thought he was extremely poised, [and] knew the game plan today. And all that situation that happened Wednesday was my fault. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”

Arians hasn’t shut the door on Drew Stanton despite the complications with his knee injury that popped up last week, but it seems likely that Lindley will be the man leading the offense against the Panthers in the opening round of the postseason. For that reason alone, it would be a good idea to pump up belief in Lindley and Arians didn’t have to reach quite as far to get it done thanks to Lindley’s improved play in his second start of the season.

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Mike McCoy: We couldn’t make one play to get going

Philip Rivers AP

The Chargers were a win away from a postseason berth on Sunday, but they couldn’t manage to get it against a Chiefs team that gave them plenty of opportunities to grab hold of the game.

Philip Rivers was sacked seven times and threw two interceptions, Nick Novak missed a field goal and the defense couldn’t force a Kansas City offense quarterbacked by Chase Daniel into a turnover. After the 19-7 loss, Chargers coach Mike McCoy lamented those missed opportunities to grab a game that was there for the taking.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” McCoy said, via U-T San Diego. “With everything that was at stake and for us to play the way we did … We couldn’t make the one play to get it going.”

It was hard not to see the impact of injuries on the Chargers Sunday. The seven sacks and inability to pick up a yard on a key fourth down play came behind an offensive line that was on its fifth center while also starting a rookie at right guard. The top two running backs and top wide receiver were also on the shelf, leaving Rivers and company with “not exactly the offense we expected to have.”

That didn’t stop them from being in position to win in Kansas City, but it may have stopped them from being able to execute and they’ll have a long time to ponder better ways to get the job done in 2015.

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NFL morning after: Seahawks ready to repeat

russellwilson AP

Seventeen weeks of the NFL season have come and gone, and we’re left with this: The best team at the end of this season is the same as the best team at the end of last season.

The Seattle Seahawks are poised to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots a decade ago. The Seahawks are getting the same great play out of their defense they were a year ago and the same great play from quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they’re going to be a very, very tough team to beat.

This season hasn’t always gone according to plan in Seattle. Through six games they were 3-3, and at times early in the year their defense looked like it had taken a step backward. It was reasonable to question during the middle of the season if Seattle was as good as it was a year ago. It was even reasonable to question whether Seattle would make the playoffs at all.

But that’s all over now. With Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks finished the season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins by double digits. The Seahawks aren’t just beating teams, they’re beating teams up. They’re winning the way great teams win.

And I think they’ve got three more wins left in them. On February 1, the Seahawks will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Again.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s game:

Break up the Panthers! I never thought I’d say this about the NFC South champions, but the Panthers might actually be a pretty good team. Yes, they’re lucky that they’re in a bad division, and that’s the only reason they’re in the playoffs at 7-8-1. But they’ve won four in a row to enter the playoffs, including a pair of 31-point road wins at New Orleans and at Atlanta to seal the division title. The Panthers, who host the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, might just advance.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell is terrible at challenges. When Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts, Indianapolis hired former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel solely to serve as an advisor on instant replay challenges. The Colts’ brass knew Caldwell wasn’t good at it and wanted to get him some help. Maybe the Lions should do the same, after Caldwell made an absolutely ridiculous decision to challenge an obviously correct call on which Packers running back Eddie Lacy had the ball knocked out of his arms while he was on the ground and was correctly ruled down by contact. Throwing away a timeout in the second half of a close game is inexcusable, but that’s what Caldwell did. Caldwell is good at the slower, more deliberative aspects of coaching — game planning, getting his players prepared during the week, that kind of thing. But Caldwell just isn’t good at split-second decisions, and that’s easy to see when he throws his challenge flag.

Where did that Geno Smith come from? Smith, in what may very well have been his last game as the Jets’ starting quarterback, went 20-for-25 for 358 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a perfect passer rating. But here’s the amazing thing about Smith: He was also the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a 0.0 passer rating. Smith is so inconsistent that there’s just no way the Jets can count on him going forward. Even though he had a great game on Sunday.

J.J. Watt’s great season overshadowed Justin Houston’s great season. Watt was such a force of nature for the Texans that not only will he win the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he’s a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award as well. But while we praise Watt, we shouldn’t overlook Houston, who had four sacks on Sunday for the Chiefs and finished the season with 22.0 sacks, just half a sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record. Watt is the first player to record 20 sacks in two different seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, and Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. But don’t forget Houston when listing the best defensive players in football.

Odell Beckham is the best receiver in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ sensational playmaker, isn’t just the best rookie in the NFL. He’s the best receiver, period. Beckham had 12 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and he finished the year with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury. Beckham averaged 108.8 yards a game this season, the best of any receiver in the NFL. There is no receiver in football who made plays as consistently as Beckham did over the last three-fourths of the season, and he was doing it in an otherwise substandard Giants Offense. Beckham is amazing.

DeMarco Murray breaks an Emmitt Smith record. Murray finished this season with 1,845 rushing yards, the most in Cowboys history. When you’re breaking a record set by Smith, that’s pretty good. Murray will have a tough task in the Cowboys’ playoff opener against a good Lions rush defense. But that Lions rush defense will have an even tougher task dealing with Murray.

Russell Wilson is running like no other quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 849 rushing yards, the fifth best total for a quarterback in NFL history, and by far the best total of any quarterback in the NFL this season. Wilson is running better than any other quarterback in the league right now. He looks ready to run Seattle into the Super Bowl.

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Jerry Jones: No one knows what worries me about Dez Bryant contract

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News had the latest in a periodic set of reports about concerns that the Cowboys have about wide receiver Dez Bryant’s life away from the football field.

All of those concerns are aired against the backdrop of Bryant’s impending free agency and what it might mean for the deal that he ultimately winds up with in Dallas. Bryant set the team’s record for receiving touchdowns in a season during Sunday’s victory and provided another entry for his highlight reel with a toe-dragging touchdown.

After the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that any worries he might have about signing Bryant to a long-term deal were worries that he hasn’t shared with anyone in the media and suggested that those worries were similar to ones he has any time he’s negotiating multimillion dollar commitments.

“I told you I’m not going to get into issues regarding any contract, but nobody knows what I’m worried about,” Jones said, via “And I don’t know that I’ve ever signed a contract that I didn’t have things to worry about, but nobody talked about them. You can’t make business decisions, especially multimillion dollar business decisions without having a nice little worry list over on the right. Everybody does. So it’s wrong to say that that is an issue. That’s not an issue relative to overall getting it done. We just want to get it done.”

Jones has already said that the team is prepared to use the franchise tag on Bryant in the event they can’t get a long-term deal done by the deadline to use the tag this offseason, so there’s no fear that Bryant will be leaving the team this offseason. Given the issues involved with reach an agreement, it wouldn’t come as a great shock to see the tag used to buy more time for contract talks designed to make sure Bryant’s highlights continue to benefit the Cowboys.

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