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NFL morning after: The best day of the NFL year, and then the worst

John Fox, Romeo Crennel AP

Is there a better day of the year than the final Sunday of the NFL season?

If you love football, I don’t know if there is. The season’s final Sunday is the only day of the year in which all 32 NFL teams are playing, and it’s a day when so much is happening, all at once. The Bears are holding on to win narrowly at Detroit, briefly keeping their playoff hopes alive, while the Giants are blowing out the Eagles but getting eliminated anyway. The Colts are making a statement that they’re for real in the AFC, while the Texans are reeling and limping into the playoffs. The Vikings are furiously battling the Packers to reach the playoffs, while the Broncos are clinching home-field advantage by beating the Chiefs. The 49ers are clinching the NFC West by beating the Cardinals, while the Seahawks are facing a surprisingly stiff challenge from the Rams.

And to top it off, the night ended up with the Redskins reaching the playoffs by winning the NFC East championship game in Washington.

You might prefer Super Bowl Sunday, but that’s a day when the hype to actual football ratio is about 50:1. Or you might prefer Conference Championship Sunday, but if you’re a fan of one of the 28 teams that have already been eliminated, that day isn’t quite as fun. Or maybe you love NFL draft day, or the first Sunday of the season. If that’s your preference, I won’t tell you you’re wrong. But for my money, it doesn’t get any better than the Sunday of Week 17.

And then comes the Monday after Week 17, which is the worst day of the NFL year. Some people call it Black Monday. The day when a handful of head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches and quite a few team executives find out they’re fired.

Eagles coach Andy Reid, Chargers coach Norv Turner, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and Browns coach Pat Shurmur are almost certain to get fired today, and several other head coaches are in danger of losing their jobs. When you’re an assistant on a team whose head coach gets fired you’re almost always fired along with him, and there are plenty of assistants on other teams who get fired as well. General managers get fired, too. And although most of them don’t know it yet, there are hundreds of NFL players who were on active rosters yesterday and will never play in an NFL game again. It’s part of the business, but it’s depressing thinking about all these people going into a year in which they won’t have jobs.

At this time of year I’m always reminded of the end of the 1998 season, when then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson addressed the media on Black Monday. Johnson’s job was safe, and he was preparing to coach in a playoff game, but he could hardly contain his fury for the carnage in the coaching profession that took place that year, when five coaches were fired on the morning after the end of the season.

“I think it’s disgusting. Some of the better coaches in the NFL got fired today,” Johnson said on the Monday after the ’98 season ended. “I know we’re highly paid, but it’s a shame when coaches’ jobs are dependent on injuries, skyboxes, people in the stands and officiating calls. It doesn’t give me a good feeling about our profession when I see things like I saw this morning.”

These coaches are human beings, after all. They’re men with wives who relocated for their husbands’ jobs — usually men with wives who have already relocated several times, and know they’ll have to do it several more times. They’re men with kids who will go to school and hear taunts about their dads getting fired — kids who will wonder which city they’ll live in, which school they’ll go to, which taunts they’ll hear next year.

Yes, they all make a lot of money, and they’re living their dreams. I’m not playing a violin, taking up a collection or telling a sob story. But I do think that, as we reflect on how much we’ve enjoyed this 2012 season, we ought to reflect a little bit on how many of the men we watched on Sundays this year are losing their job on Monday. This game we love is a cruel, unforgiving business.

All those people losing their jobs are the ones I’m thinking about today. Here’s what else is on my mind:

Calvin Johnson is great — and so is Charles Tillman. I want to say a bit about what an amazing season Johnson had, but first this about Tillman, the Bears cornerback who deserves some consideration for Defensive Player of the Year: Tillman faced Johnson twice this season, and in those two games Johnson had 34 yards (his season-low, in October) and 72 yards (on Sunday). So in the two games when he was covered by Tillman, Johnson averaged 53 yards a game. In his other 14 games, Johnson averaged 133 yards a game.

Johnson fell short of 2,000 receiving yards this season, but he still finished the season with 1,964 yards, blowing away Jerry Rice’s old single-season record of 1,848. And Johnson outdistanced the rest of the NFL by a margin unseen in more than 60 years: Johnson ended up leading the league by a whopping 366 yards; the No. 2 receiver in the NFL, Houston’s Andre Johnson, had 1,598. The last time a player led the league by more yards than Johnson this year, it was Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch in 1951, gaining 1,495 receiving yards in a year when the No. 2 spot was held by San Francisco’s Gordie Soltau, who gained 826 receiving yards. Johnson is nothing short of amazing.

The Falcons should have rested their starters. Atlanta had home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs locked up, so they had nothing to play for on Sunday against the Buccaneers. But the Falcons didn’t rest their starters, instead trying to keep the momentum going with a season-ending win over the Buccaneers. That didn’t go as planned. The Falcons lost to the Bucs, looked bad doing it, and can’t feel good about themselves heading into the playoffs. I sure don’t feel good about the Falcons going into the playoffs: The road to the Super Bowl may go through Atlanta, but I’ll be very surprised if this Falcons team gets to the Super Bowl.

Michael Vick was rusty. Vick, the Eagles quarterback who had been sidelined for the last six games, returned to the Eagles’ starting lineup on Sunday for what is presumed to be his final game with the team. He looked lousy. A Vick interception ended the first Eagles drive and set up the first Giants touchdown, and Vick completed just 19 of 35 passes for 197 yards in the Eagles’ 42-7 loss. It’s widely expected that the Eagles will release Vick after the season, and if Vick was hoping to showcase himself for some other team, he didn’t do a very good job of that on Sunday.

The AFC is coming down to Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, again. Seven of the last nine seasons, the AFC leader in passer rating has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Eleven of the last 14 seasons, the AFC leader in passing touchdowns has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Ten of the last 15 seasons, the AFC leader in passing yards has been either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. And seven of the last 11 seasons, the AFC Super Bowl team has been quarterbacked by either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. With Manning’s Broncos having the No. 1 seed and Brady’s Patriots having the No. 2 seed, it appears that it’s going to be eight of the last 12 years with either Manning or Brady in the Super Bowl.

I’m ready for the playoffs. Today will be distasteful in the NFL, as we’ll spend most of the day talking about people losing their jobs. But tomorrow comes a New Year and a new NFL postseason. After binging on 16 NFL games yesterday, we only have 11 more games to enjoy until September. Let’s savor the playoffs.

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Seahawks complete draft class with signings of Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett

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The Seattle Seahawks signed their top two draft picks on Tuesday to finalize their rookie class.

Defensive end Frank Clark and wide receiver Tyler Lockett each signed their contracts after taking part in the first OTA of the offseason Tuesday afternoon. Per league rules, the contracts are four-year deals.

Clark – selected with the No. 63 overall pick in the second round –  has worked at both defensive end spots and inside at defensive tackle during his first few practices with the team.

The Seahawks sent four picks to Washington to move up to No. 69 overall in the third round to grab Lockett. He’s expected to be the team’s kickoff and punt returner in addition to adding to the team’s depth at receiver.

Seattle signed their six other draft picks soon after the draft.

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Mario Williams “ecstatic” about playing for Rex Ryan

Mario Williams AP

Bills pass rusher Mario Williams is excited about the new defense in Buffalo.

Williams said that as he learns new coach Rex Ryan’s scheme, he sees it as a perfect fit for what he does.

“Understanding the defense, I love it,” Williams told the Buffalo News. “It gives everybody ample opportunities to just do different things and just be able to bring different looks, different angles, and attacks, stuff like that. So I’m ecstatic.”

The Bills’ defense was plenty good last year as well, but Williams thinks Ryan has what it takes to make it better.

“Obviously, with the scheme, with Rex, anything’s possible. So I think right now, we’re just doing building blocks. But the sky’s the limit, so I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of changes and things as we progress and become readapted to a hybrid defense,” Williams said.

Ryan always exudes confidence as a coach. His players are taking after him.

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Kaepernick apologizes for insensitivity to Houston flooding

Kaepernick Getty Images

Earlier today, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a bizarre remark regarding the flooding in Houston on social media. He has now apologized for it.

I’m so sorry about my insensitive post earlier today,” Kaepernick said. “I didn’t fully understand how many people are struggling in Houston right now and I feel horrible. My prayers are with everyone there.”

It’s good that Kaepernick apologized. It would have been much better if he’d realized not to use the Houston flooding or any other natural disaster as the punchline for the promotion of his vow to be a much better player in 2015.

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911 call: Ray McDonald broke down door, tried to take baby

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The mother of Ray McDonald’s ex-fiancée called 911 early on Monday morning to report that McDonald had acted violently toward her daughter, broke down a door when she locked herself inside to avoid him, and tried to forcibly take their baby.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that an emergency call made at 3:48 a.m. said that the 6-foot-3, 290-pound McDonald “broke down” the door and tried to take the baby.

“She said she received a call from her daughter . . . advising that her boyfriend Ray McDonald was being violent,” a dispatcher said on a call relaying the call from McDonald’s ex-fiancée’s mother. “She tried to lock herself in her bedroom but he broke the door down . . . Ex is trying to leave now with her infant.”

Police showed up to the ex-fiancée’s apartment, but by that point she and the baby were safe, and McDonald had left. Police determined that the woman had been assaulted, and they found McDonald at a San Jose home registered to his former 49ers teammate Justin Smith. McDonald was arrested and has since been released on $15,000 bail. He was released by the Bears hours after his arrest.

McDonald was also arrested and accused of assaulting his ex-fiancée nine months ago, while she was pregnant. He was ultimately not charged in that case after she declined to cooperate with the investigation.

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Browns sign OL Eric Olsen, LB Mike Reilly

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The Browns have added some experienced offensive line depth, signing fourth-year pro Eric Olsen on Tuesday, the club said.

The 26-year-old Olsen has appeared in 23 NFL regular season games, making four starts as an extra blocker with New Orleans in 2012. He was most recently with the Titans, playing five games for Tennessee last season. Olsen (6-4, 306) has also had stints with Denver, Washington and Pittsburgh.

The Browns also announced the signing of rookie linebacker Mike Reilly, who notched 27 sacks over the last three seasons at William and Mary. The 6-foot-3, 261-pound Reilly tried out for the Browns two weekends ago at the club’s rookie minicamp.

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Kaepernick makes weird remark about Houston flooding

Kaepernick Getty Images

At times, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has come off as sort of a goofball. Some thought that his public persona reflected the influence of former coach Jim Harbaugh, who came off as sort of a goofball more frequently.

Now that Harbaugh is gone, the question is whether Kaepernick will still come off as sort of a goofball at times. Today, the answer is yes.

Via Samer Kalaf of Deadspin, Kaepernick used a photo of the flooding in Houston as the backdrop for this message: “I warned you the #7tormsComing,” with a #Houston hashtag.

Kaepernick then regained his senses and deleted the Instagram version of the message. But he didn’t get rid of the corresponding Twitter entry. And then he added, “No disrespect intended! Prayers up!”

And then Kaepernick applied the foam to the faux pas with a shirtless photo of himself and this kernel of random inspiration: “Just livin! #WhoDoYouLove #IDontGetTired.”

The trio of messages likely makes many 49ers fans long for the days of Kaepernick showing up on Twitter wearing a Dolphins hat. And it possibly makes some 49ers fans long for the days when he won’t be wearing a 49ers helmet.

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Cowboys sign third-round pick Chaz Green

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The Cowboys have finished a contract with their third-round pick, signing Florida offensive tackle Chaz Green on Tuesday. The transaction was announced in the NFL’s personnel notice.

Green (6-5, 300) made 30 starts for Florida from 2011 through 2014, making starts at right and left tackle in his final season. He could serve as a backup on a deep Dallas offensive line that also added former LSU standout offensive tackle La’El Collins after the draft.

Green is the sixth Cowboys draft pick to finalize a contract. Only Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones (Round One) and Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson (Round Four) are unsigned.

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Antonio Brown: “Not my business” to discuss contract, but “I’ve got enough” money

Antonio Brown AP

Last month, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s absence from the start of the Steelers’ voluntary offseason workout program was accompanied by reports that he was thinking about staying away from the team for a while in hopes of landing a new contract.

That turned out to be incorrect as Brown was back a week later after spending time with his newborn, but Brown still fielded questions about his contract as the Steelers started OTAs on Tuesday. Brown said it was “not my business” to talk about his contract and referred questions about his deal to agent Drew Rosenhaus, although he was willing to offer his opinion that all is well for him financially.

“This is a community that I love,” Brown said, via ESPN.com. “My kids go to school here. I want to keep a good reputation. Obviously money’s not important to me. I’ve got enough. The organization has extremely blessed me. I’m ready to play football.”

Brown signed a six-year deal with the Steelers before the 2012 season, which leaves him with three years to go on the pact and little leverage to force the Steelers to address the deal by staying away from practice this offseason.

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Browns waive two players

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The Browns released two players on the first day of organized team practice activities Tuesday, waiving defensive lineman Calvin Barnett and linebacker Keith Pough, the club said.

Barnett (6-2, 317) was on the Browns’ practice squad to begin 2014 before suffering a shoulder injury. An Oklahoma State product, Barnett signed with Cleveland as an undrafted rookie in May 2014.

Pough (6-2, 236) has had stints with the Bills and the Browns since entering the NFL in 2013. He played collegiately at Howard. Pough was waived with an “injured” designation, which means he could revert to injured reserve if he goes unclaimed on Wednesday.

The Browns now have two open roster spots.

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Carson stadium won’t have eternal flame for Al Davis

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As originally designed, the proposed NFL stadium in Carson, California that would be shared by the Chargers and Raiders would have included a permanent flame that honors the late Al Davis. As currently designed, the flame has been extinguished.

Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, current Raiders owner Mark Davis agreed to remove the tribute to the team patriarch, who also was a pariah of sorts in league circles. As Kaplan explains it, “many in the league . . . were not pleased” by the decision to commemorate a man who had a habit of suing his partners.

Kaplan writes that the former 49ers and Browns exec Carmen Policy recently joined the project in part to address “the apparent tone deafness” of Mark Davis to the importance of abandoning the tribute.

Carson and Inglewood currently are competing for the privilege of building an NFL stadium; the Chargers and Raiders would play in Carson, and the Rams (and possibly one other team) would play in Inglewood. While dumping the flame may not be enough to seal the deal in Carson, it apparently would have been harder for the Chargers-Raiders effort to prevail if Mark Davis hadn’t decided to relent.

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Chris Clemons doesn’t take part in first Jaguars OTA

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The Jaguars had one healthy player fail to report for organized team activities last season and they had one player missing again on Tuesday as they kicked off this year’s sessions.

It has been defensive end Chris Clemons both times and the big difference this time around is that Clemons let the Jags know ahead of time that he wouldn’t be there. That didn’t make coach Gus Bradley sound any happier about Clemons’s absence, however.

“We’ve communicated and he continually communicates with [defensive line coach Todd] Wash; obviously we’d like to have everybody here, but we touched base and he knows our feelings,” Bradley said, via the Florida Times-Union. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘It’s OK for Chris Clemons [to not attend].’ We want everybody here. And he knows that. It’s a choice he’s made. It’s voluntary. We’ll take advantage of the time getting a look at other guys and see how they’re doing. I have faith in Chris Clemons. He’s never not come back ready to go. But I don’t want to assume that. I would like to see him back here, but we’ll work through it.”

With Dante Fowler already gone for the season, the Jags will certainly need Clemons to be at his best for the coming season. Bradley said that the team is working to get Clemons to change his mind about joining the team by “challenging him on” his feelings about the best way to prepare for the coming season, but added that there’s no word on whether he might be coming around.

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Dorial Green-Beckham, Sammie Hill injured at Titans practice

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The Titans drafted wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham despite character questions from his college career because they believe he’s talented enough to boost their offense, but they’ll need to get him healthy and on the field consistently for that bet to pay off.

So far, Green-Beckham’s had a hard time pulling that off. Green-Beckham strained his hamstring at the team’s rookie minicamp earlier this month and missed last week’s workouts before returning to the field on Tuesday. His return was a brief one, however, as Green-Beckham again tweaked the hamstring and left the field.

“He felt a little pull,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said, via the Tennessean. “You walk that line of saying, `OK, get back in there.’ But if you pull it, you lose him for all the OTAs. You don’t want him missing any more time because you want him in there. We pulled him, but I think he’ll be all right.”

Green-Beckham will definitely miss Thursday’s workout as he’s going to be part of the NFLPA’s Rookie Premier in Los Angeles and precaution likely dictates he’ll sit out Wednesday’s session as well. Defensive tackle Sammie Hill could be on the shelf as well after he hurt his knee on Tuesday. Hill said he’ll likely have an MRI to determine the extent of damage.

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Andy Reid: Eric Berry “doing well” after finishing cancer treatments

Eric Berry AP

With players filtering back in to OTAs, we’re getting updates on guys recovering from torn ACLs and other football injuries.

But for the Chiefs, the latest medical news has been even better.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters today that safety Eric Berry was “doing well,” and had completed his treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma and was awaiting test results.

“He’s going to get his big end-of-the-school [year] exam down here,” Reid said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. He’s been through all the treatments, so now the doctor is going to sit down with him and go over exactly what the results of all that are.

“So we don’t have that, and Eric doesn’t have that quite yet, but everything up to this point has point has been very positive from the doctor and from Eric. So I think we’re heading in the right direction with that.”

That’s fantastic news for the Chiefs safety, who left the team last November complaining about discomfort in his chest. But to this point, all indications have been positive, and we hope they continue that way.

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Roethisberger: It won’t be the same without Brady in opener

Ben Roethlisberger AP

The football world is waiting to hear what happens when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension is heard and the Steelers figure to be paying as close attention to the result as anyone else.

Pittsburgh will open the season at Gillette Stadium on September 10 and they’ll be facing Jimmy Garoppolo in Garoppolo’s first regular season start if Brady’s suspension isn’t totally wiped out by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. That may be an advantage to the Steelers’ chances of starting the season with a victory, especially after a Brady-led offense put 55 points and 610 yards on the board against Pittsburgh in 2013, but it sounds like one that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would rather not enjoy.

“He’s a guy, I’ve said for a long time, he’s the best in the business, and he proved it again last year winning his fourth [Super Bowl],” Roethlisberger said, via ESPN.com. “If he’s not out there, it’s not the same. I have a lot of respect for him on the football field and some of the unbelievable things that he’s done. I guess we’ll wait and see what’s finally going to happen.”

Roethisberger didn’t share any further thoughts on the league’s discipline of Brady, but his opinion isn’t likely to count for much once Goodell does hear Brady’s appeal.

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Evan Mathis still absent from Eagles practices

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Guard Evan Mathis didn’t join the Eagles for the start of offseason work and turning the page to organized team activities hasn’t led to a change of heart.

Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer remained absent on Tuesday for the first OTA of the Eagles offseason. The practices have all been voluntary so there’s no required work being missed, although Mathis’s absence isn’t solely about a desire to work out on his own.

The Eagles have reportedly been open to moving Mathis in a trade in each of the last two offseasons with Chip Kelly saying that no one has made the Eagles an offer for Mathis’s services. Mathis, meanwhile, hasn’t been happy about his contract and McLane reports that he’s “believed to be in search of performance-based incentives that would make him among the five highest-paid guards in the NFL.”

Mathis is set to make $5.5 million this year and $6 million next year and he’ll have a decision to make before next month’s mandatory minicamp as long as the team remains opposed to sweetening the pot.

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