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ProFootballTalk: Wild card weekend recap

Mike Florio analyzes how the crop of rookie QBs fared during wild card weekend and previews what’s on tap during the NFL’s divisional round.

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Jim Kelly: Sean McDermott gives Bills discipline they haven’t had in a while

AP

Among the things that Sean McDermott did after being named the head coach of the Bills was remove a pool table and video games from the team’s locker room.

McDermott explained the move by saying “this is a business” and that having those diversions on hand weren’t going to help him build “a focused, disciplined and accountable football team.” Bills great Jim Kelly cited one of those traits as a reason why he’s excited about this year’s team.

“I’m excited about the 2017 Buffalo Bills. Coach McDermott brings discipline to the table that we haven’t had in a while,” Kelly said, via the team’s Twitter account.

It’s hard to read Kelly’s comment and not think about McDermott’s immediate predecessor. Disciplined wasn’t frequently used to describe Rex Ryan’s teams and it’s not surprising that a clear difference from Ryan’s style would be appealing given the way the last two years played out.

There was a time, of course, when Ryan’s style suited many people just fine. Kelly was one of them, which probably just serves to underscore that the Bills have tried a lot of different approaches since Kelly’s heyday without hitting on one that’s brought them much success.

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New Gatorade ad champions losing, showcases Matt Ryan

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This isn’t based on an item from The Onion. But I checked several times to be completely sure.

Via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a new Gatorade commercial sells sugar water (with electrolytes) by championing losing, and by reveling in the motivation that comes from failure.

“Make Defeat Your Fuel” is the slogan that drives the ad — and it makes sense, from a market-share standpoint. In every game, there’s both a winner and a loser,  and in every league or conference, most teams end up losing. With so many losers out there, why not market to them directly?

The commercial starts with a closeup of Michael Jordan, a dry-faced mirror-image of the meme that has become synonymous with athletic failure. Jordan, who was cut from his high-school basketball team, is followed by J.J. Watt, who points out that he “started his career a walk-on” (at Wisconsin; he had a scholarship at Central Michigan). Next come the Manning brothers, with Peyton pointing out that went 3-13 as a rookie (the all-time rookie interception record he still holds isn’t mentioned), and with Eli saying he once led the league in interceptions.

Eventually comes Matt Ryan, with a recreation of his walk through confetti that wasn’t falling for the Falcons after Super Bowl LI, followed by a slickly-edited training montage.

It remains to be seen whether the effort to attach the leading sports drink to losing will continue to prompt athletes to buy Gatorade. If the goal was to inspire by latching on to the story of a loser who becomes a winner, the far more effective tactic would have been to digitally add some Gatorade swigging to the unforgettable training montage that came after Adrian emerged from the coma and gave her husband a one-word mandate.

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Report: No way Rams, Trumaine Johnson will reach long-term deal

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Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson will apparently play for $16.7 million this season, then hit free agency next year.

The Rams and Johnson aren’t close on talks about a long-term deal and won’t get a deal done, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

Johnson signed the franchise tender and said he’s happy in Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to believe the two sides being far apart is causing any animosity. It’s just a matter of Johnson thinking he can make more by hitting free agency next year than the Rams are offering him now.

This is the second consecutive year that Johnson got the franchise tag, meaning he’ll get true unrestricted free agency next year. Under NFL rules, franchising Johnson for a third time next year would require the Rams to guarantee him at least $24 million for the 2018 season, which would be prohibitively expensive. So Johnson is one season away from getting to shop his services to the entire league.

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Report: Chiefs to interview Ryan Cowden for G.M. job on Wednesday

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The Chiefs will reportedly interview a candidate for their General Manager opening on Wednesday.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Titans director of player personnel Ryan Cowden will interview with the team on Wednesday. Chiefs co-director of player personnel Brett Veach is also set to interview for the job.

Cowden joined the Titans last year and oversaw all areas of the team’s pro and college scouting departments. He spent the previous 16 years in the Panthers organization.

Seahawks exec Scott Fitterer and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick have been mentioned as other possible candidates for the job, although there have been no reports of interviews being scheduled with either man at this point. The Chiefs fired John Dorsey last week after four years on the job with reports that issues with his communication and management styles led to the decision.

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Supreme Court could remove federal ban to sports wagering

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At a time when Congress has launched an effort to scrap a 1992 law that prevents most states from legalizing wagering on sports, another branch of the government could get the job done more quickly.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that challenges the federal prohibition on expanded betting on sporting events. The case, arising from efforts by New Jersey to enact sports wagering, will be presented as early as October 2017, with a decision coming in the weeks or months thereafter.

While the decision doesn’t mean New Jersey will win, it’s an encouraging sign. New Jersey had lost at every step of the process, and a decision by the Supreme Court not to hear the case would have ended it with an “L” for pro-gambling interests. A victory remains possible, and some will predict that the current makeup of the Supreme Court points to a win.

The argument against the law flows from the notion that states should be permitted to decide whether to allow gambling on sports. The 1992 law was written in a way that allowed places like Nevada to continue to permit sports wagering, forbidding other states who didn’t already allow this form of gambling to join in.

The development puts the NFL in an awkward spot. At a time when it has embraced Las Vegas by allowing the Raiders to eventually move there, many think the league also secretly longs for the day when fans can play the odds via NFL.com and/or each of the various team websites, with the league acting as the bookie at most, middleman at a minimum, for widespread wagering. To get there, federal law first must change, and then the states must embrace betting, one by one.

The NFL had no comment on the news of a new effort in Congress to scrap the federal law prohibiting sports wagering. PFT has submitted a request for comment to the league regarding the Supreme Court’s decision, which on the surface will be met with a profane muttering of frustration but which at a deeper level could prompt a profane shout of joy, thanks to the many billions the league will earn every year if/when it can finally get a piece of all of the money that currently changes hands illegally by people who bet on sports, regardless of what the law allows.

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Ravens announce scouting hires

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At least one of this summer’s ESPN layoffs has found an NFL job.

The Ravens announced they had hired Kevin Weidl as a new area scout for the Southeast and Southwest.

Weidl worked for Scouts Inc. as a draft analyst and did some television and radio work in Charlotte, but was let go as part of the four-letter network’s purge earlier this spring. His brother Andy used to work for the Ravens, but just left to take a job with the Eagles as assistant director of player personnel.

The Ravens also promoted Brandon Berning to an area scout post, after he served as a player personnel assistant.

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Former Chiefs cornerback gets first pro baseball hit

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Tim Tebow isn’t the only former NFL player giving baseball a shot this summer.

Former Chiefs cornerback Sanders Commings, whose football career ended because of injuries, is playing in the Braves farm system. And last night, playing for the Danville Braves, he got his first two professional hits in his second professional start. That gives him a .333 average, and a 113-point edge on Tebow.

It’s impressive because Commings hasn’t played baseball competitively since 2008, when he was in high school in Georgia.

It was a little bit of a sigh of relief,” he said, via Alex Tichenor of the Danville Register & Bee. “Last game, I got two at-bats and got two [strikeouts], so I felt a little bit of pressure to get that first hit. I got a first-pitch fastball today and it dropped in for a double. It feels really good.”

Commings was a fifth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2013. He played two games after breaking his collarbone in training camp. The next year, he broke his ankle in training camp and spent the year on injured reserve. He was waived with an injury settlement in 2015.

He trained with former Major Leaguer Jerry Hairston Jr., and signed a free agent deal with the Braves this year. And apparently the 27-year-old Commings has impressed his teammates who have played more recently.

“I was amazed,” D-Braves shortstop Nick Shumpert said. “His swing is really good for not having played in that long. It looks like a normal baseball swing. When I first saw him, I didn’t know he hadn’t played in a while.”

Of course, he didn’t win a Heisman Trophy, doesn’t have a side job in television, and he wasn’t a quarterback, so he hasn’t been promoted yet.

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Jets name Matt Bazirgan college scouting director

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The Jets are in the throes of a big rebuilding project and part of the responsibility for its success or failure will rest on the people tasked with adding players out of the college ranks in the coming seasons.

There will be a new head of that scouting effort. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the the Jets made Matt Bazirgan their new college scouting director and the team’s website reflects that change.

Rex Hogan was hired after Mike Maccagnan became General Manager in 2015 and held that job for the last two years, but left to take a post in the Colts’ front office this offseason. Bazirgan has worked for the Jets since 2004 and was promoted to pro personnel director following Maccagnan’s arrival in New Jersey.

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Bengals sign a guard

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The Bengals have added a player to their offensive line group ahead of training camp.

The team announced on Tuesday that they have signed guard Cameron Lee to their 90-man roster.

Lee went undrafted after completing his career at Illinois State last season. He started every game during his final two seasons in college and signed with the Saints after the draft, but was dropped from New Orleans’ roster earlier this month.

The Bengals signed Andre Smith this offseason with designs on him switching from tackle to take over for Kevin Zeitler, who signed with the Browns as a free agent. Lee will be competing for a reserve spot or a chance to continue working with the Bengals as a member of their practice squad come September.

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Vince Young still doesn’t close door on football

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The Vince Young CFL Experiment ended poorly, with a hamstring injury resulting in Young being released by the Saskatchewan RoughRiders before the launch of the regular season. But even after that experience, Young isn’t slamming the door on playing football.

Maybe I’ll play football again,” Young told Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated in an article that chronicles the quarterback’s more-lows-than-highs career. “You never know.”

You never know because Young knows (or at least thinks) that he is as good or better than guys currently playing in the NFL.

“I’d see a quarterback and be like, ‘Dude is garbage, and I’m over here in the kitchen cooking turkey necks?’” Young said. “I hate to name-drop, but [Ryan] Fitzpatrick is still playing? He leads the league in interceptions, and he’s still f–king getting paid? I mean, what the f–k is going on?”

The full article paints a picture that isn’t surprising but is nevertheless informative. Entitled and coddled as a young star quarterback, Young didn’t do enough to maximize his talents. Then, after things fell apart for him in Tennessee, he didn’t do enough to prove himself all over again.

The self-awareness that led him to Canada came too late. If he’d done it a few years ago, maybe he’d be the one leading the league in interceptions. For now, he’ll continue to have as many interceptions in the NFL as he’s had touchdown passes, passing attempts, completions, and rushing tries since 2011: None.

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Cam Newton: I know I need to be better

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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton resumed throwing last week for the first time since having right shoulder surgery and said there’s “no doubt” that he’ll be fully ready for training camp next month.

When Newton does get on the field with the rest of the team, he’ll be working on getting the one thing he says is missing from his life. That would be a Super Bowl ring and the 2015 NFL MVP said that he believes getting there will call on him to step up his game.

“The more I reflect on who I am or what I have become and what I can still become — I need to be better. I know I need to be better,” Newton said to Bill Voth of the Panthers website. “I want to be better because me being my best me helps everything else around me, including this organization.”

One way Newton thinks he can be better is by putting less of the pressure to get things done on his own back. While the Panthers offense is always going to run through Newton, the quarterback said that the “hardest thing” about his maturation in the league has been the realization that “my job is not necessarily to always be the playmaker.”

The Panthers drafted running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the first two rounds this year and that has helped Newton feel that the team has the kind of talent around him to make that happen.

“When you look at quarterbacks and where I’m at right now, I want to commit everything to the game of football,” Newton said. “I want my diet to display that. I want my life to display that. I don’t want to look back when I’m 40 and be like, ‘Dang, when I was 28 and we had this talent around us, I didn’t maximize it.”

If everything falls into place on the offensive line in Carolina, Newton should have the time and opportunity to get the ball to others so that they can do more of the heavy lifting. Should things play out the other way, though, it may be hard for Newton to resist trying to make things happen on his own when he’s under fire.

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Latavius Murray: This is my time

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The Vikings signed running back Latavius Murray as a free agent shortly after they released Adrian Peterson, but Murray’s time as the clear frontrunner to replace Peterson as the No. 1 back in Minnesota this season didn’t last long.

Some could point to Murray’s ankle surgery as a reason, but the arrival of rookie Dalvin Cook in the second round of the draft would have changed the equation even if Murray was 100 percent this offseason. The Vikings have enjoyed what they’ve seen from Cook thus far and Murray concedes that Cook has a leg up thanks to his time on the field this spring, but the veteran said on NFL Network Tuesday that he’s not conceding anything else.

“You’re looking at it from his aspect, ‘This older vet is coming off this injury, it’s time for him to step aside. I want this, and I should be the guy,'” Murray said. “I’m looking at it from my perspective, like, look, this is my time, this is my new opportunity and this is what I want. When it comes Game 1, I need to be back there in the “I” lining up.”

Murray added that competing with Cook won’t stop him from offering the rookie help should he need it this summer, but made it clear that he expects his work in camp and the preseason to earn him a place in the lineup for the first snap of the regular season.

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Marty B’s top QBs: 1-Rodgers, 2-Brady, 3-Cutler, 4-Eli, 5-Romo

AP

Packers tight end Martellus Bennett has played with a lot of good quarterbacks in his NFL career. Heading into his 10th NFL season, Bennett has played with Tony Romo on the Cowboys, Eli Manning on the Giants, Jay Cutler on the Bears, Tom Brady on the Patriots and Aaron Rodgers on the Packers.

So which one is the best?

Bennett chose the quarterback he’s playing with now, Rodgers, in an appearance on NFL Network.

“Aaron, I love you,” Bennett said. “He’s a really smart guy, he’s just really laid back, really cool and it’s been fun working with him so far.”

Bennett chose Brady as the No. 2 quarterback he has played with. At No. 3 is a big surprise: Cutler, whom Bennett played with for three years in Chicago. And Bennett says Manning, who was his teammate for only one year in New York, was better than Romo, Bennett’s quarterback during the first four years of his NFL career in Dallas.

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Kevin Greene hopes to get more out of Lorenzo Mauldin

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The name of Jets linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin has been in the news several times recently, for the wrong reasons. Hall of Famer Kevin Greene hopes to get Mauldin’s name into the news for the right reasons.

Greene has been working with the Jets defensive players to get more heat on the quarterback.

“I was a finesse player,” Mauldin said recently, via Darryl Slater of NJ.com. “I think I’m going to throw that into the trash can this year. I think I’m going to go with more power this year.”

That’s exactly what Greene wants from a former third-round pick whose sack production dropped from four in 2015 to 2.5 in 2016.

“Everybody at this level has skill, correct?” Greene said, per Slater. “They’re all athletic, and agility and dexterity and all that stuff. Well, what separates people initially is their physical level of play. That’s always our first step, is we have to play more physical than whoever is in front of us, because we’re all athletic. . . .  It’s based on physicality. It’s based on drive and desire.”

The Jets continue to wait for Mauldin to become a force as a pass rusher. Greene thinks that Mauldin is still overwhelmed by the relative complexity of the pro game.

“It’s the hardest thing to do, going from a three-point stance up into a staggered, two-point stance,” Greene said. “And now expanding your vision [to locate receivers who may need to be covered] and understanding how that can change your job, depending on formation, motion, or any number of factors. So that’s where the growing pain comes.”

Having great players around Mauldin helps, too. Despite the recent exodus of veteran talent, the Jets still have Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams, which could make it easier for Mauldin to find favorable matchups when he pins his proverbial ears back and chases the passer.

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Mike Matthews approaching Steelers shot the right way

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Being part of one of the first families of football has given Mike Matthews the chance to learn plenty of lessons.

But the perspective he gained last year gave him a chance to teach one to his Hall of Fame father.

The son of legendary offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Mike is fighting for a chance to make the Steelers roster this year. He spent last fall out of football and selling shoulder pads, after being released by the Browns.

And his father Bruce told Max Bultman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a recent conversation with his son that suggested that he’s in good shape, regardless.

“I still want to play, passionately, but I realize that this is a very small part of my life, even if it does go great,” Bruce said Mike told him. “It was kind of humbling to me, because I’m thinking, ‘Oh gosh. I should have said that to him instead of he to me.’ ”

If Mike is going to make it, it will be under the eye of someone the family knows well. Steelers line coach Mike Munchak played with Bruce on some great Oilers lines and hired him as an assistant when he was coaching the Titans, but won’t be cutting the kid of a friend any slack. Munchak has cut one of Matthews’ kids before (Kevin, in Tennessee), so that much is known.

“For me, it was weird to see that side of football,” Mike said. “Because my dad played 19 years, and it’s like, ‘You play until you don’t want to play any more,’ and that was what I thought.”

Mike has an outside shot to make the Steelers this year, working at guard as well as center. But whether he makes it or not, he’s learned that nothing is owed to him because of his family name, and that whatever happens will be a short chapter in his story.

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