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ProFootballTalk: NFL needs uniform playing fields

After FedEx Field has taken much scrutiny for its playing surface in the Seattle-Washington wild card game, Mike Florio calls for the NFL to make all fields uniform.

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Bears agree to terms with Victor Cruz

AP

Victor Cruz will be doing his salsa dancing in Chicago this year.

Cruz, the veteran wide receiver who has spent his entire career with the Giants, has agreed to terms with the Bears, according to multiple reports.

The 30-year-old Cruz was once among the NFL’s elite receivers, but he was plagued by injuries in 2014 and 2015, and although he made it through 2016 healthy, his production slipped significantly. The Bears, however, apparently think he has something left.

In Chicago, Cruz joins a receiver depth chart that also includes Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Cameron Meredith, Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle.

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Von Miller sets his sights on being the greatest of all time

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Broncos linebacker Von Miller has accomplished an extraordinary amount for a guy who just turned 28 years old: He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, a rookie of the year, a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro. But his ambitions are even higher.

“I want to be the best player in the National Football League. That’s what I go out there to be every time I play,” Miller said, via ESPN. “Over time, my play and the type of person I am will speak more to that. Maybe when I’m done, after playing 17 years or whatever, we can revisit this and see. I want to be the best player, no question. I want to be a GOAT-type [greatest of all time] player, like the guy upstairs.”

The guy upstairs Miller refers to is John Elway, the Broncos’ G.M. and Hall of Fame quarterback who is generally recognized as the greatest player in franchise history and one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game. Miller, who said his offseason work this year was designed to “push my body to a spot where it’s never been before” thinks he has a chance to be that kind of player.

“You’re never guaranteed that working hard will translate to on-the-field success, but that’s what I’m hoping for,” Miller said.

An even better version of Von Miller is a scary thought for opposing quarterbacks.

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Malcolm Butler on Pats future: Whatever happens, happens

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Cornerback Malcolm Butler is back with the Patriots for another season, but there was a time when another year in New England was in doubt.

Butler was a restricted free agent this offseason and met with the Saints about signing an offer sheet for a long-term deal, but the Saints would have had to give up the 11th overall pick of the draft and nothing wound up happening before Butler signed his tender from the Patriots. That leaves Butler set to play out this year before he can become an unrestricted free agent and the cornerback isn’t talking about whether he might want to ply his trade elsewhere should that come to pass.

“The past is the past,” Butler said, via WEEI.com. “I am just here to do a job and do anything to help the team win. Just moving forward. Whatever happens, happens. … I can’t control any of that. Everything is one day at a time. Just take it one day at a time. You can’t predict the future, so just have to go with the flow.”

With an entire season to play and the franchise/transition tags at the Patriots’ disposal, Butler is right that there are too many moving parts to have a solid grip on what the landscape will look like come March beyond knowing it will look pretty good if his fourth NFL season looks like the first three.

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Vikings “really pleased” with Laquon Treadwell’s progress

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In February, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that the team expected wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to make a big jump after a quiet rookie season.

Shurmur revisited Treadwell’s status during OTAs this week. Treadwell has been working with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in three-receiver sets and Shurmur said that is a sign of how much the team has liked what they’ve seen from the 2016 first-round pick this offseason.

“He’s had a great, in my opinion, five-and-a-half weeks,” Shurmur said, via ESPN.com. “He came back and he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally. He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball. Understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”

The Vikings aren’t putting all of their eggs in Treadwell’s basket. They signed Michael Floyd this month as another option at receiver and he should get opportunities once he’s had more time in the system. He’s likely to be suspended early in the season for last year’s DUI arrest, however, and continued progress for Treadwell could close the door on further chances come the regular season.

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Belichick declares Patriots to be fully caught up

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After winning their fifth Super Bowl, Patriots coach Bill Belichick declared that his team was about five or six weeks behind. In a Thursday media appearance, Belichick declared the deficit to be gone.

“I think we’re probably caught up to where we are now,” Belichick told reporters. “I think it’s the being behind in draft, free agency and that type of thing. I think at this point, we’re ready for OTAs. We’ll be ready for training camp. I think that part of it we’ll be on schedule on. It’s the catching up on all the spring projects, draft and free agency. It’s the initial part of it.”

That was the newsiest answer from the 18-question press conference, which featured four questions about lacrosse and none about last week’s stunning claim from Gisele Bundchen that her husband, quarterback Tom Brady, had suffered a concussion during the 2016 season and others before that. There wasn’t even anything general on the topic, like “how hard is it to get players to self-report concussion symptoms?” or “how much progress have you seen in changing the culture of playing with concussions?”

That’s one of the basic problems with a press conference, especially when the subject has a habit of rolling eyes or providing biting responses or otherwise shutting down when asked a question he doesn’t want to answer. None of the reporters present for the exchange wanted to be the guinea pig on this topic, and so none of them asked specific or general questions about the elephant constantly sitting in the room next to Belichick.

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Bills announce Gerald Hodges signing

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Thursday started with word that linebacker Gerald Hodges was on his way back for a second visit with the Bills that coach Sean McDermott said had a “good chance” of ending with a contract for the former 49er.

McDermott’s prediction turned out to be right on the money. The team announced that he has signed a contract and been added to the 90-man roster.

Hodges, who played for Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, played inside linebacker while making 12 starts for the 49ers last season and appears to be ticketed for the weak side in the 4-3 alignment that McDermott has installed in Buffalo. Ramon Humber has been working with the first team this offseason.

The Bills released cornerback Charles Gaines to make room for Hodges. Gaines wore No. 40 for the Bills and Hodges will take over that number as well as Gaines’ roster spot.

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Luke Kuechly says he’s done talking about concussions

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Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has missed nine games over the last two seasons because of concussions with the last few of those came after he was cleared to return last year.

The Panthers chose to hold Kuechly out as a precaution with the playoffs out of reach in a decision that didn’t do much to lessen concern about the potential for more serious issues at some point down the line. Kuechly isn’t interested in discussing those concerns or anything else about his concussion history anymore, however.

“Everybody knows I want to play,” Kuechly said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “Everybody knows the decision was made by the coaches so hopefully we can move on from that and not ask any more questions about concussions because I’m done with that.”

As long as Kuechly remains out of the concussion protocol, he should be able to avoid talking about head injuries. Should he find himself back there at any point this year, though, he’ll be facing more questions about his health and future than he has in the past.

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Bills concerned with Charles Clay’s “knee situation”

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The Bills signed a tight end on Wednesday with Wes Saxton joining the team as part of a series of roster moves and coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that the move was not made because of the team’s concerns about Charles Clay’s knee.

That’s not to say that the team has no concerns about Clay’s knee, however. Clay has dealt with chronic knee problems since joining the team as a restricted free agent in 2015 and McDermott acknowledged that the issue is one the team will be keeping an eye on as the year unfolds.

“We are concerned with Charles’ knee situation,” McDermott said, via the Buffalo News. “It’s something we have to manage moving forward in order to have him on the field for us, which is important moving forward. He’s a weapon for us.”

The knee didn’t keep Clay off the field much last season as he played nearly 82 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Top backup Nick O’Leary was at 35 percent and they are short on other experienced players at the position, which provides plenty of reason to take it easy with Clay whenever possible.

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Odell Beckham still not at OTAs, despite report he would show today

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Despite a report that he planned to show up today, Giants receiver Odell Beckham is still skipping Organized Team Activities.

Today’s OTA session is open to the media, and reporters on the scene say Beckham is not participating in the voluntary workout.

Beckham has complained this week that media coverage is making things up, but he hasn’t said what, specifically, has been reported inaccurately. There’s a perception that Beckham is skipping workouts because he’s unhappy with his contract, but he hasn’t actually said so. He’s heading into the fourth year of his rookie deal and owed a salary of $1.8 million this season, and he’ll make $8.5 million next year in the final year of his rookie contract.

It’s unclear whether Beckham has any plans to participate in any voluntary offseason work for the Giants.

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Buccaneers, Jaguars to hold joint practices in August

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The Jaguars and Buccaneers will be spending some practice time together for the second straight year.

The teams announced on Thursday that they will spend two days practicing together in Jacksonville this summer. They will practice on August 14 and 15 before facing off in a preseason game at EverBank Field on August 17.

The announcement comes a couple of days after the Jaguars announced that they will be practicing with the Patriots for two days during the previous week.

“We look forward to hosting Coach Koetter and the Buccaneers for two practices during training camp,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Having the opportunity to practice with the Patriots and the Buccaneers during training camp will allow us to see a lot of different looks, matchups and scenarios and we believe these joint sessions will make us a better football team.”

Both of the sessions will be open to the public and the media.

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“Good chance” Gerald Hodges signs with Bills

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The Bills expect to add another player to their linebacking corps.

Gerald Hodges visited the Bills earlier this week before moving on to meet with the Giants and Bills coach Sean McDermott said Thursday that Hodges is on his way back to Buffalo for another meeting with the team. McDermott said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, that there is a “good chance” that this meeting ends with Hodges signing a contract with the team.

If that’s the case, one of the few unsigned players left of PFT’s Hot 100 list of the top free agents will finally find a home for the 2017 season. He’s coming off a strong season for the 49ers that saw him record 83 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions while starting 12 games.

He’d join Ramon Humber, Lorenzo Alexander, Reggie Ragland, Preston Brown, fifth-round pick Matt Milano and sixth-round pick Tanner Vallejo at linebacker in Buffalo.

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Victor Cruz: Giants kept him down to make it easier to cut him

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Victor Cruz’s ascension from undrafted rookie to star wide receiver is one of the great stories in Giants history.

But now that he’s gone, there’s an ugly final chapter.

During an appearance on 105.1 FM, Cruz said he thinks the Giants intentionally kept the ball away from him last season so it would be easier to justify cutting him at the end of the season.

“I felt it all year long,” Cruz said. “Halfway through the year I’m ballin’, the other half I’m not getting the ball. And you’re just like, ‘what’s going on?’ It was like ‘ok, I see what’s happening. They don’t want me here anymore.’  A lot of people probably don’t know this, . . . Let’s say I played well – was a 1,000-yard receiver last year – it would have been more difficult from a fan perspective to cut me. . . .

“If I am a 1,000-yard guy, they’re like ‘why are you cutting Cruz? He just 1,000 yards and five or six touchdowns. That doesn’t make sense.’ But if I have 500 yards or whatever the case may be, it’s a little easier on the fans.”

Cruz finished the year with 39 receptions for 586 yards and a touchdown.

In the first seven games of the season, he had 24 receptions for 331 yards and his only touchdown.

Over the final nine games, that leaves 15 receptions for 255 yards and no scores, which makes it look a little suspicious.

Of course, Cruz is also 30 years old and coming off two years of injuries, so it’s hard to know how much of the slowdown in production was on him. He also said he had incentives in his contract which would have cost the Giants more money if he’d have hit them.

“It hurt, to be real. I gave so much to them. Seven years,” Cruz said. “It definitely hurt . . . but every run has to stop at some point.”

Cruz said he didn’t think quarterback Eli Manning was involved in any conspiracy to keep the ball away from him, though he clearly believes one exists. The Giants did have some guy named Odell Beckham Jr. to get the ball to, along with a promising rookie in Sterling Shepard who carved into Cruz’s catches.

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Friction lingers between Seattle defense, offense

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Under coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have done as good a job as any team when it comes to keeping internal strife under wraps. Which makes the details of Seth Wickersham’s deep dive into the dysfunction there even more stunning.

The Senior Writer at ESPN The Magazine has taken a closer look at the Richard Sherman situation in Seattle. Along the way, Wickersham fleshed out plenty of nuggets regarding manifestations of the defense’s resentment of the offense — and, specifically, the resentment of Russell Wilson.

Wickersham sets the tone with a rewind to June 2014 and a notoriously chippy offseason practice that eventually would become one of multiple offseason practices deemed by the NFL to violate the rules. Sherman at one point intercepted a Wilson pass, threw the ball back at him, and shouted, “You f–king suck!”

And that was before Super Bowl XLIX.

Sherman took the outcome of the last-minute pull-a-rabbit-from-a-hat-then-boil-it-Fatal-Attraction-style loss to the Patriots hard. As evidenced by his in-game brouhaha with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell from last December, Sherman still has strong feelings about the pass-over-run decision that prevented Seattle from winning back-to-back Super Bowls. That mindset contributed to the team’s open willingness to be open for business in the offseason regarding the possibility of trading Sherman.

“He’s always looking at what other people are doing,” a former Seahawks assistant coach told Wickersham regarding Sherman. “He’s made it personal. It’s your fault we’re not winning. It wears guys thin.”

Wilson’s inauthentic, manicured persona looms over the article, as does the perception that coach Pete Carroll protects a quarterback whose offense doesn’t score enough points as often as it should.

“A lot of guys, not just on defense but on offense, want Russell to fit into a mold that’s not him,” former running backs coach Sherman Smith told Wickersham. “Why is everyone allowed to be themselves but Russell?”

That sense has been there since Wilson arrived, with a string of interviews and press conferences that Wilson always finishes by saying, “Go ‘Hawks!” — a habit, as PFT has heard for years, that prompted some in the locker room to mock Wilson behind his back with a high-pitched version of his catch phrase.

Sherman all along has had his own catch phrase, even if he only used it that one time he caught a pass Wilson didn’t mean to throw to Sherman. The full article makes clear the reasons for the team’s willingness to shop Sherman, and it will invite speculation as to whether the page truly has been turned, and whether things will be any better now that Sherman begins his seventh NFL season.

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Kaepernick’s Seattle trip was a visit only, not a workout

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Some confusing lingers regarding precisely what it is that happened in Seattle when quarterback Colin Kaepernick came to town. Despite a suggestion in at least one corner of the NFL universe that Kaepernick would be working out for the Seahawks, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Kaepernick merely visited the team.

Significant because it was the first free-agency visit of Kaepernick’s first free-agency tour, it was still only a visit, with no eyeballing of Kaepernick’s current running or throwing abilities. Some would say that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll knows as well as anyone what Kaepernick can do, but it would make sense before signing him to a contract to be the understudy to Russell Wilson to kick the tires a bit.

It’s still unclear what the Seahawks will do, or whether any other team will bring Kaepernick to town for a visit or a workout or, ultimately, an indefinite stay as an employee of the team.

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Four teams get to carry extra international practice squaders

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The four teams in the NFC South get to carry an extra practice-squader this year, as the league continues to promote its product internationally.

The catch is the 11th player is picked for them, as part of the NFL’s international player pathway program. The players can’t be activated to the regular roster, but get to hang around for the year.

The Falcons get English rugby player/tight end Alex Gray, the Panthers get defensive end Efe Obada, the Saints get defensive end Alex Jenkins while the Buccaneers drew German linebacker Eric Nzeocha.

The players have been training in Florida alongside some other hopefuls, under the tutelage of former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Aden Durde, the head of football development for NFLUK (who was in camp with the Panthers in 2005 as a linebacker).

“This is going to change people’s lives,” Umenyiora said in a release. “They have a great opportunity. They are going to be seen not only by their new teams but by everyone who might imagine they can be NFL players. They will inspire people around the globe; people who never thought they had a chance to make it to the NFL. Now they see they have a viable pathway. These guys have worked very hard for this chance and I am confident they will make a great contribution to their teams while improving their skills and understanding of the game.”

The only downside to the program is the time spent by coaches with players who aren’t yet NFL caliber (and some coaches will gripe about wasting time because coaches gripe). But if that’s the biggest thing coaches gripe about, the league is willing to bear it for the larger goal of growing the game beyond our borders.

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