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PFT’s 2012 postseason awards

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Associated Press now unveils its postseason awards the night before the Super Bowl, weeks after most people have stopped caring about the winner.

So we announce ours immediately after the regular season ends.

At a time when you still actually are interested in these matters and not, you know, you’ll win the Super Bowl, here are the men who, in our opinion, deserve special recognition for their accomplishments in the freshly-completed regular season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner: Russell Wilson, Seahawks.

Runner-up: Robert Griffin, III, Redskins; Andrew Luck, Colts.

Honorable mention: Alfred Morris, Redskins; Doug Martin, Buccaneers.

The AP award likely will go to either of the top two picks in the draft, but it shouldn’t.  Wilson entered the league short on height and long on smarts and talent and determination.  Russell Wilson commanded the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in Seattle, beating out big-money free-agent Matt Flynn and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, and Wilson then began to prove week-in and week-out that he is as good as his more famous counterparts who were selected much higher.

Despite the 11-5 record for the Colts, Luck had too many turnovers (contributing to a mediocre passer rating of 76.5), and Griffin missed a game and crunch time in another due to an inability to avoid contact.  While Luck broke Cam Newton’s rookie passing yardage record, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes by a rookie — and Wilson showed that he could run the ball effectively (489 yards, four touchdowns) without getting hit or, in turn, hurt.

The best news is that the three rookie quarterbacks all made it to the playoffs, and they’ll all make their postseason debuts on the same day.

Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Winner:  Luke Kuechly, Panthers.

Runner-up:  Janoris Jenkins, Rams.

Honorable mention:  Bobby Wagner, Seahawks; Lavonte David, Buccaneers; Casey Heyward, Packers; Harrison Smith, Vikings.

The ninth overall pick in the draft, Kuechly led the NFL with 164 tackles, finishing 10 short of the rookie record set in 2007 by Patrick Willis.  Kuechly also had 10 games with 10 or more tackles.  In Week Five, he slid from outside linebacker to the middle, where he participated in every snap on defense for the rest of the season.

Jenkins, a second-round steal, instantly became a dangerous cover man and return specialist.  He could soon be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  Some may say he already is.

Coach of the Year.

Winner:  Bruce Arians/Chuck Pagano, Colts.

Runner-up:  Leslie Frazier, Vikings.

Honorable mention:  Mike Shanahan, Redskins; Pete Carroll, Seahawks; John Fox, Broncos; Mike Smith, Falcons.

The best coach routinely is determined based on a team’s actual performance relative to its expected performance.  This year, no team exceeded expectations more than the Colts, who won 11 games a season after winning only two.  Pagano and Arians combined to generate a wild-card berth despite Pagano’s three-month absence due to leukemia treatments, as part of a run that included seven come-from-behind wins.

Frazier and the Vikings improved their win total by seven, going from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff berth secured on the last day of the season against the Packers.  Shanahan and the Redskins reeled off seven straight to secure the NFC East after Shanahan seemingly threw in the towel on the 2012 season.  (And all future coaches whose teams are 3-6 after nine games will do the same.)

In all, three of the six worst teams from 2011 have vaulted to the playoffs only one year later, providing real hope to every other non-playoff team, in 2013 and beyond.

Comeback Player of the Year.

Winner:  Peyton Manning, Broncos; Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

The two greatest comebacks in NFL history came in the same year.  For Manning, the return from multiple neck surgeries was unprecedented.  For Peterson, his performance following a Christmas Eve 2011 ACL tear was equally stunning and unlikely.  Both deserve the recognition, and it’s only fair for them to share it.

It’s also only fair that there be no one else mentioned as the runner-up or otherwise.  Manning and Peterson are in their own class on this one, and no one else comes close.

Executive of the Year.

Winner: John Elway, Broncos.

Runner-up: John Schneider, Seahawks.

Honorable mention: Ryan Grigson, Colts; Rick Spielman, Vikings; Les Snead, Rams.

Elway wanted Peyton Manning in large part because it gave Elway cover to dump Tim Tebow.  The gamble (in light of Manning’s recent medical history) paid off in a major way, making other teams (like perhaps the Texans) wish they’d done more to land one of the greatest players in NFL history.  Though making the move for Manning is enough on its own, hiring coach John Fox in 2011 after a two-win season in Carolina, picking linebacker Von Miller in last year’s draft, and not giving up on Knowshon Moreno are icing on a cake that Elway has been masterfully baking for the past two season — even though Elway entered the job with fry-cook credentials.

Schneider found a quarterback who could become one of the best current signal-callers in the league in round three of the draft, five spots after the Jaguars picked a punter.  Schneider likewise rolled the dice in round one on Bruce Irvin, a controversial pick who panned out as a rookie.  Throw in linebacker Bobby Wagner in round two and the prudent decision to re-sign Marshawn Lynch, and Schneider had a lot to do with the team’s unexpected success in 2012.

Grigson quickly turned around a talent-challenged roster with a strong draft and the ability to make good decisions about who should stay and who should go, bringing back Reggie Wayne and keeping Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  His success will make more owners opt for young, grinding scouts.

Offensive player of the year.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-upCalvin Johnson, Lions.

Honorable mentionDrew Brees, Saints; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks.

Peterson is the easy and obvious choice, given that he rushed for 2,097 yards, the second most in NFL history.

Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yardage with 1,964, and Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the third time in his career.  Lynch’s performance gets lost in Peterson, but the guy the Bills gave away has become one of the best running backs in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year.

WinnerJ.J. Watt, Texans.

Runner-up:  Von Miller, Broncos.

Honorable mention: Aldon Smith, 49ers; Charles Tillman, Bears.

Watt was a wire-to-wire disruptive force for the Texans.  Beyond his league-leading sack total (20.5), Watt has shattered the mold for 3-4 defensive ends.  Miller is becoming one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL, and Smith has emerged as the top 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker.

Amazingly, all three players are in only their second seasons in the NFL.

MVP.

Winner:  Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Runner-up: Peyton Manning, Broncos.

Honorable mention: J.J. Watt, Texans; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Tom Brady, Patriots; Matt Ryan, Falcons.

Many have wrestled with this one for weeks, determined to give it to Manning but keeping an open mind for Peterson.  It would have been easy to say Peterson gets it only if he sets the single-season rushing record.  It’s harder to accept that he missed it (by 27 feet) but still deserves it.

In the end, Peterson’s value to his team simply outweighs Manning’s — even though Peyton once again has had a season to remember, shrewdly picking a talented team with an easy schedule and pushing the franchise to the top seed in the AFC.  Last year, however, the Broncos made it to the final eight without Manning.  This year, the Vikings would have been nothing without Peterson, a man who overcame a serious knee injury to become better than he ever was.

Moreover, at a time when we are more sensitive than ever before to the damage inflicted on the bodies of NFL players, Peterson earned every yard, foot, and inch that he gained.  Even the long runs came after he ran through a potential tackler.  Or two.  Or five.

So that’s the full list.  Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

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Rudolph gets $6.5 million to sign on deal with maximum value of $40 million

Rudolph AP

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has a new five-year extension, announced tonight by the team and reportedly carrying a base value of $36.5 million.  A source with knowledge of the terms has shared some additional details with PFT.

Rudolph gets a $6.5 million signing bonus.  Along with a technically non-guaranteed but as a practical matter fully guaranteed base salary of $956,343 for 2014, Rudolph definitely will earn $7.456 million in the next five months.

Per the source, the deal has another $12 million in injury-only guarantees that eventually convert to full guarantees on the third day of a given league year.  (The number of years over which the guaranteed money is spread isn’t currently known.  Until the relevant dates pass and the money becomes fully guaranteed, it’s not actually or practically guaranteed.)

On the back end, Rudolph earns an extra $750,000 for each year in which he catches 80 passes, and $500,000 for each year he makes it to the Pro Bowl.  Over five years, that’s a total of $6.25 million in available incentives, but the total he can earn through these accomplishments is capped at a total of $3.5 million.

The base new-money value of $7.3 million puts him behind only Jimmy Graham ($10 million in new money), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million), Jason Witten ($7.4 million), and Vernon Davis ($7.35 million).  A single 80-catch season will throw another $0.25 million on the annual average, vaulting Rudolph ahead of Witten and Davis.

Eighty catches won’t be a breeze, but in Norv Turner’s offense it’s a distinct possibility.

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Vikings strike five-year deal with Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph AP

The Vikings have signed one of their core offensive players to a contract extension.

The club confirmed Sunday night it had reached a new deal with 24-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was entering the final year of his contract.

According to FOX’s Jay Glazer — who first reported news of the extension — Rudolph received a five-year, $36.5 million contract from Minnesota.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports the new deal makes Rudolph the game’s fifth highest-paid tight end.

Rudolph has hauled in 109 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns in three NFL seasons, all with Minnesota. The Vikings selected Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Notre Dame.

“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said in a statement issued by the club Sunday night. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”

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Christine Michael bangs up shoulder

Seahawks AP

As the Marshawn Lynch holdout lingers, his leverage spikes if/when any of the team’s alternatives at tailback gets injured.

If became when on Sunday, when second-year running back Christine Michael left practice with a shoulder injury.

“He just banged his shoulder a little bit,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after practice.  “They think he will be ready to go on Tuesday.”

The injury serves as a reminder that Plan B can quickly becomes Plan C and so on, unless and until Lynch returns to the fold.  There’s been no progress along those lines, with Lynch wanting a new contract and the Seahawks refusing to rip up the last two seasons of a four-year, $30 million deal.

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Ron Rivera: De’Quan Menzie is retiring

Arizona Cardinals v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Panthers waived defensive back De’Quan Menzie on Saturday.

And now, it appears the third-year pro could be electing to end his career.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated Sunday that the 24-year-old Menzie was retiring.

Menzie’s verified Twitter account had the following post Sunday: “Officially done….”

An Alabama product, Menzie (5-11, 200) was a fifth-round selection of Kansas City in 2012. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve (hip flexor). After being waived by Kansas City in May 2013, Menzie had a brief stint with Detroit before being waived in August 2013. The Panthers signed Menzie to a futures contract in January 2014.

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LaMichael James carted off during 49ers practice

James Getty Images

Another day, another injured tailback in San Francisco.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, third-year running back LaMichael James was carted off during practice with an apparent wrist/arm injury.

James, who has appeared in only 14 regular-season games in two NFL seasons, has a chance to show that he can contribute to the base offense following the season-ending ACL injury suffered on Friday by Kendall Hunter.  While the specific nature and severity of the injury isn’t known, guys usually don’t get carted off with arm/wrist injuries.

Before practice, coach Jim Harbaugh said that the team has “complete and total confidence” in James, who along with Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde will be counted on to make an impact, especially with Hunter done for the year.

In two seasons, James has only 39 regular-season rushing attempts for 184 yards.  He has caught five passes for 45 yards.  His primary contributions have come as a kickoff and punt returner, with 49 total returns in two season.

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McCoy, Cole downplay practice-field fracas

McCoy AP

On Sunday, during the second practice of camp and a day before the pads go on, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy took issue with a hit from defensive end Trent Cole, sparking the first fight of the year.  After the session ended, Cole and McCoy downplayed the exchange of pleasantries.

I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Cole said, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com.  “That’s my brother, man.  We were just playing around.  We’re competitors.  We’re very competitive.”

McCoy was a little less willing to let it all go.  But he seems to have moved on, too.

“The whole camp so far, it’s been touching a little too much,” McCoy said. “I’m trying to let them know, ‘It’s OK if you can’t cover me.’”

Defensive end Brandon Graham, who was in the middle of the melee but called himself a spectator, initially tried to describe the hit as a “nudge.”

“You know, it wasn’t really a nudge because it was 270 [pounds] against 200,” Graham said.  “I wasn’t taking it that seriously because it was just a regular catfight.”

But Graham admitted there’s no place for fighting or otherwise hurting teammates.

“You gotta draw the line,” Graham said.  “You gotta take care of each out out here.  Even when we get pads on you can’t just be out here trying to kill everybody, because we do got to have them for the season.  But [Monday] is gonna be a lot of aggression.”

Coach Chip Kelly isn’t a fan of aggression that results in fights — cat-style or otherwise — between guys who wear the same uniform.  Kelly may need to send a clear message to his players to keep things from getting out of control.

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Texans offensive line dedicates season to Quessenberry

Quessenberry Getty Images

As Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry prepares to endure his third round of chemotherapy, his teammates have found a way to honor him.

“Absolutely, we have dedicated this season to him as a line,” left tackle Duane Brown told FOX 26 and the Houston Chronicle.  “He’s in the ultimate battle right now.”

Center Chris Myers intends to take it a step farther, finding ways to raise money and awareness for lymphoma.

“With everything going on with David right now this season is obviously going to be dedicated to him,” Myers said.  “He’s on our minds 24-7, and that’s not going to stop. . . . It’s going to go throughout the whole season and for us to be able to do something special this season would be huge for him.”

“Hey, every night we go to bed, we say a prayer for the man,” guard Ben Jones said. “Every day we try to reach out to him because he means a lot  to us.  We want him to know we’re behind him.”

The support from his teammates has had a major impact on Quessenberry.

“It’s hard to put into words what it means to have the support of your brothers on the team,” Quessenberry said. “It’s humbling.  Truly it’s an honor.  I want to do them proud. I want to come back stronger and come back and help these guys when I do come back eventually.  “This year I got blind-sided getting diagnosed with cancer.  Just knowing that my teammates and my brothers got my back is truly something special.”

A sixth-round pick in 2013, Quessenberry was diagnosed with lymphoma in June.  We wish him the best as he continues the battle.

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DeMarcus Ware has a lower leg injury

Ware AP

During his time with the Cowboys, defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware played through plenty of injuries.  He’s already dealing with one in Denver.

Ware was held out for roughly half of Sunday’s practice due to what coach John Fox called a lower leg injury.  Fox told reporters it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Of course, “doesn’t appear” leaves the window slightly open for the possibility that it is.  And as Broncos fans learned four years ago with former Denver pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, a season-ending injury can happen out of nowhere in the early stages of training camp.

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Patrick Peterson’s days on offense and special teams are done

patrickpeterson AP

In training camp last year, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said cornerback Patrick Peterson could be one of the Top 5 receivers in the NFL. But at training camp this year, Arians has decided to put a stop to the experiment of giving Peterson snaps on offense.

Arians told Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ website that the addition of speedy receivers Ted Ginn in free agency and John Brown in the draft means that Peterson won’t be needed to make plays on offense. That’s no surprise: Peterson didn’t do much of anything on offense last season, catching six passes for 54 yards and carrying the ball four times for 21 yards. If that’s all the Cardinals are going to get out of Peterson on offense, it’s probably not worth the time and energy it takes for Peterson to work with the offense.

Peterson added that not only will he not be a wide receiver anymore, but he won’t return punts either. That decision is a little more surprising because Peterson is an outstanding punt returner who led the league with 699 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. But Ginn and Brown can both return punts as well, and taking Peterson off punt returns will allow him to focus on his most important job, at cornerback.

As for talk that Peterson is due for a pay raise and a long-term contract extension soon, Peterson said he’s not worrying about that.

“I’m here to play football,” Peterson said. “I have two years left on my deal and I want to do the best I can to help this team win. I haven’t been to the playoffs since I’ve been here & that’s my first goal.”

Arians thinks Peterson can do more to help the Cardinals make the playoffs if he’s doing nothing other than playing defense.

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Panthers sign running back Fozzy Whittaker

RB-Fozzy-Whittaker-AP-Photo-by-Cleveland-Browns AP

Though it sounds strange to see given their track record, the Panthers found themselves short at running back.

So they solved that problem for the moment by bringing in former Browns running back/return man Fozzy Whittaker. (Waka! Waka!).

The Panthers had an immediate need with Jonathan Stewart on the shelf with a hamstring and sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney going on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Whittaker has some return ability, but has been looking for work since the Browns cut him in May.

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Redskins cut the cord on 2013 draft pick Brandon Jenkins

Washington Redskins v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Players with value get chances. Players without value get made into examples.

The Redskins released 2013 fifth-round pick Brandon Jenkins Sunday, less than a week into his second training camp.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com, Jenkins “had a particularly poor effort in Sunday morning’s one-on-one battle drills,” and was released hours later.

The former Florida State linebacker had one tackle in six games last season, and barely played in the second half of the season, since he didn’t contribute on special teams.

Draft picks usually get a longer leash, especially in their first two seasons. But he might be more useful to the Redskins as an object lesson than as a player.

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Jason Pinkston absent, and neither he nor Browns will say why

Pinkston Getty Images

Hard to believe as it may seem, the Browns currently employ football players not named Johnny Manziel.  As to one of them, a question has arisen regarding his employment.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, offensive lineman Jason Pinkston isn’t around.  And no one will say what’s going on.

“I can assure you I’m in no legal trouble and retiring hasn’t come up,” Pinkston said via Twitter.  “As far as my situation, I’ll leave it to them to explain.”

The only problem is that the Browns won’t explain.

“Pinkston’s unavailable to practice and due to his circumstances I cannot comment on it any further,” Pettine said.  “I want to give you more, but just given the circumstances, I can’t.  That’s where we are with Jason.”

Agent Neil Schwartz, who has a history of holding players out (including 49ers guard Alex Boone), couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Cassel, Bridgewater “pretty much splitting reps”

Cassel AP

After being called out by Peyton Manning for his smedium shirt and all-access pass to Broncos training camp, FOX’s Jay Glazer took his bus-defacing training-camp tour to Mankato State University.  He liked what he saw and heard of Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Per Glazer, Bridgewater and veteran Matt Cassel are “pretty much splitting reps” at practice, and “[h]ugeee” (maybe the tight shirt made the button stick) optimism exists for Bridgewater’s future.

It doesn’t mean that Bridgewater will be the Week One starter.  It does mean that, the longer the rep-spitting lasts, the less prepared the Week One starter will be.

Though in different conferences, the Vikings and Browns will provide an intriguing apples-and-apples quarterback comparison in 2014 and beyond, given that both were interested in Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.  Cleveland ultimately traded up to get Manziel before the Vikings could, and Minnesota moved back to round one to get Bridgewater.

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Chargers throw water on idea of NFL-owned stadium in L.A.

Spanos Getty Images

If the Chargers stay in San Diego, the last thing they want is one or two teams headquartered 90 miles up the road in L.A.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Chargers don’t believe the NFL would ever solve the generation-old L.A. stadium problem by building its own.

It’s pie in the sky,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told Nick Canepa of U-T San Diego.

It’s also nothing new, according to team president Dean Spanos.

“It’s an idea that has been floated before,” Spanos said.  “There’s nothing new to it.  For the past 20 years we’ve been hearing about it.”

Regardless of who builds and owns the stadium, the Chargers clearly aren’t interested in encouraging the arrival of franchises that will compete for the same eyeballs and $100 bills.

“[T]he league has been successful without a team there and so has L.A.,” Spanos said.  “There are a lot of issues.  And you have to sell 24 of the 32 owners that it’s a good investment.  It’s a ways down the line, and I’m not sure it has the votes.”

In contrast, Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently said he wants to see a team return to Los Angeles within two or three years.  For now, we’ll take the over.  And if Spanos has his way, the over will be never.

Unless, of course, the Chargers are the team that moves to L.A.

 

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Cowboys hope to go from 32nd to first in NFL defensive rankings

morrisclaiborne AP

The Cowboys ranked dead last in the league in total defense last season, allowing more than 415 yards a game in a year when no other defense even allowed 400. This year, the loss of linebacker Sean Lee to a knee injury and the departure of top pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in free agency makes it seem unlikely that the Cowboys’ defense could get much better.

But that’s not the way the Cowboys see it. According to cornerback Morris Claiborne, the guys in the Cowboys’ defensive meetings have greed that they’re shooting to be not just better than last year, but the best defense in the NFL.

“We were last in the league in defense and we’re trying to be No. 1,” he said, via the Dallas Morning News. “That’s our goal. We’re not shying away from it.”

Claiborne says the Cowboys feel terrible about the way they played last year, but that doesn’t mean they have terrible talent on defense.

“It’s definitely embarrassing,” Claiborne said, “especially when you know the type of talent you have on the team, but it’s just not showing up.”

It’s not realistic to think the Cowboys could be the No. 1 defense in the league this year. If the Cowboys could even be average on defense, that would be an enormous improvement.

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