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David Caldwell: Gabbert still has upside

Indianapolis Colts  v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The big story out of Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell’s introduction to the media was his firm statement that Donald Duck has as much chance of being a member of the Jaguars this season as Tim Tebow.

Tebow wasn’t the only quarterback who came up for discussion, though. Blaine Gabbert, who finished his second season with the Jaguars on injured reserve and didn’t do much to encourage confidence that he was the man for the future before that, was also on Caldwell’s list of talking points. Caldwell plans to have four quarterbacks on the roster in camp and said there would be an open competition for the quarterback job, but said that wasn’t something to interpret as writing off Gabbert altogether.

“He is still young. He’s had two different offensive coordinators in his first two years. Get a coach in here and get some sustainability for him. I think it’s important to see what he can do. Look at some quarterbacks. It takes maybe more than two years, three or four years. He came out as a junior and he’s a very young quarterback and he still has a lot of upside,” Caldwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “I always thought Blaine was going to be a long-term project when he came out anyway. I studied him when he came out and he came out from the spread offense. I felt like it was going to be a longer process for him. Look at the quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning, they spent a full five years in college. Blaine should be a rookie coming out this year. Let’s work with him.”

There’s a long time between now and camp, to say nothing of the start of the season, so any plans are in their infancy at this point. Gabbert may yet wind up being passed over, but it sounds like he’ll get another chance or two to prove himself before the new Jaguars regime is convinced they have to pull the plug.

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A.J. Green present at Cincinnati’s Friday practice

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As the Bengals embarked on their final on-field work of the week, their go-to receiver was among those dressed to work out.

Wide receiver A.J. Green (biceps) was seen at the club’s Friday practice in uniform, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reported.

Green suffered the arm injury in the Bengals’ Monday night win vs. Denver. He did not practice on Wednesday, but he was able to go through a limited workout on Thursday.

The Bengals (10-4-1) will capture the AFC North with a win or tie at Pittsburgh on Sunday night (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

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Report: Drew Stanton being treated for infection

Arizona Cardinals v St Louis Rams Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals, who seemed to have perfected the art of “next man up,” suddenly can’t catch a break.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, quarterback Drew Stanton had to have an arthroscopic procedure to fight an infection, and may be done for the year.

That’s bad news for the Cardinals hopes for anything beyond simply making the postseason, such that Stanton himself was the answer.

They were planning to bench Ryan Lindley in favor of rookie Logan Thomas, but Thomas got the quick hook this week in practice.

Of course, it’s worse news for Stanton, who suffered a knee injury and then an infection.

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Antrel Rolle knows finishing well no guarantee 2015 will be any better for Giants

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants have found a winning formula over the last three weeks, bumping their record to 6-9 and raising hopes that they can ride a strong finish into a better 2015 season.

With rookies and young players like Odell Beckham, Jonathan Hankins and Devon Kennard stepping up in the second half of the year, it’s easy to understand why the Giants would feel like better things await in the new year. As Paul Schwartz of the New York Post points out, however, the Giants have now played four straight games in which neither team had any hope of making the playoffs and will close out the year with another one against the Eagles.

Winning those games is certainly better than losing them, but they aren’t any more predictive of future success than closing out last season 7-3 turned out to be. Safety Antrel Rolle has been around for a long time and knows that each season tends to be independent of the one that came before.

“Each and every year presents its own different year and own different set of challenges,” Rolle said, via the New York Post. “I would love to say yes, but knowing how this game is and knowing how things shake out, that’s not a guarantee. I think the future for this team is very promising. I think all the injuries and allowing all the younger guys to step in and play and to get their feet wet and understand what it takes to actually produce in this league, I think it’s definitely helped them out a lot, helped our team out a lot.”

Rolle’s view on the promise of the future is on target, but history is littered with teams that showed promise in December before failing to make good on it the next time around. It is a long time between games and the Giants need to spend a good portion of it improving on the areas that led them to start the year with nine losses in their first 12 games.

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Torrey Smith: “Horrible feeling” that this could be last game with Ravens

Kareem Jackson, Torrey Smith, Whitney Mercilus AP

The Ravens need a win and some help to make the playoffs, which means that Sunday’s game against the Browns could wind up being their final game of the 2014 season.

If that’s the case, it will be time to start making plans for the offseason. One of the decisions that the team will have to make concerns wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose contract expires after the end of the season. Smith said this week that he would like to remain with the Ravens.

“As bad as it is not going to the playoffs, that’s a horrible feeling knowing that it’s a possibility that I might not be here next year,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “But I’m not really worried about that. I’m trying to win this game and see what happens.”

Smith lamented how inconsistent he’s been this season on the way to 45 catches, 684 yards and 10 touchdowns and vowed that next year will be different whether he’s in Baltimore or on another team. That inconsistency won’t help him a top-tier contract, but it might wind up helping his chances of staying with the Ravens if the team also wants to continue the relationship.

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Louis Murphy gets three-year extension from Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

There’s not much to look back fondly on for the Buccaneers this year. But they found another part they want to keep around.

The Buccaneers announced they signed wide receiver Louis Murphy to a three-year contract extension.

The journeyman wideout caught 31 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, before they put him injured reserve with an ankle injury.

He’s always teased teams with his deep speed, and this was his most productive season since 2010, when he caught 41 balls for the Raiders.

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Mark Ingram pleased he showed he can handle big workload this season

Mark Ingram AP

Drew Brees remains confident in the direction that the Saints are taking as a franchise despite a disappointing 2014 season and he’s not the only member of the team looking ahead to better days.

Running back Mark Ingram is wrapping up the final year of his contract with the team and preparing to head into free agency after his best NFL season. Ingram missed three games early in the season, but has since held up well under a heavy workload caused by injuries other backs. Ingram has set career highs in attempts, yards, receptions and touchdowns and thinks he’s sold himself well in the process.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good thing, seeing that I could carry the ball and be out there doing whatever they ask me to do for a stretch of time and be healthy,” Ingram said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Running backs have not found a friendly market in free agency in recent years, so Ingram will have to buck that trend to land a big contract. That will be tough in a year when DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and Frank Gore are also set to make up a crowded free agent market at the position, but coming off his best pro season shouldn’t hurt when it comes time for Ingram to talk contract.

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40 days and no NFL arrests

Elf

In early 2007, at a time when more and more players seemed to be getting arrested more and more frequently (which would result in the April 2007 unveiling of a new personal conduct policy), PFT decided to start keeping track of the arrests — and to adopt a twist on a device commonly used in workplaces to track the numbers of days without an injury.

At first, I was concerned that the “days without an arrest” tracker didn’t allow for three digits.  For a while, however, it rarely needed a second digit.

Today, for the first time since its debut, the tracker has hit 40.  (Former 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, cut last week after his home was searched reportedly in connection with a rape accusation, has not yet been arrested, and currently is not in the NFL.)  Whether that’s cause for celebration (you did it!) or a golf clap is a matter of debate.  As a matter of fact, the tracker is now less than two months away from finally needing that previously unneeded triple digit.

Maybe it’s a fluke.  Maybe I just jinxed it by pointing it out.  Or maybe players have realized through the experiences of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and others that real consequences arise when misbehavior happens.

The chances of misbehavior increase as of Monday, when the offseason begins for 20 teams — and when all players are left to their own devices into April.  Here’s hoping that the few who make the many look bad will take advantage of the various resources available to NFL players in order to avoid trouble for as long as possible into 2015.

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Jim Caldwell: No concerns about starting a rookie center

Detroit Lions Rookie Minicamp Getty Images

The Lions will take another shot at ending their long Lambeau Field losing streak on Sunday afternoon without starting center Dominic Raiola.

Raiola has been suspended one game after stepping on Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in last weekend’s game, leaving the Lions to start Travis Swanson at center for the first time in his NFL career. Swanson said that he’s been getting help from Raiola and other veterans on the offensive line as he prepares to face the Packers and coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday that he has no concerns about how Swanson will handle his responsibilities.

“I have none,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I have none at all. I’ve been different places where, you know, I’m always drawing up on old experiences, where we’ve had guys in the first part of the season that were young players, rookies that stepped in and played for us on some very good teams. I think for the most part, we expect him to be good, we expect him to get his job done just like we did when [rookie tackle Cornelius] Lucas stepped in there very early. … We’re expecting the same thing from Swanny. He’s got a great work habit. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You can’t be perfect in this league.”

Swanson isn’t totally without experience after making three starts at guard earlier this year, but there are still adjustments that will have to be made as he moves into the lineup at center. Making them as painless as possible will be important to the Lions’ chances of becoming the first team this year and the first Lions team in decades to earn a win in Green Bay.

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Roethlisberger’s knee apparently is fine

Ben AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethsliberger gave Pittsburgh fans a scare on Sunday when a leg whip from a Chiefs lineman resulted in the oversized quarterback crumpling to the ground and heading to the locker room — after delivering a touchdown pass.

Roethsliberger eventually didn’t miss any time, but the question of whether he’d emerge from the game with a possible problem as Week 17 approached hovered over a team that otherwise would be entrusting the position to Bruce Gradkowski.

Wednesday’s initial injury report from the Steelers didn’t contain Roethlisberger’s name, which means he fully participated in practice with no injuries or ailments or problems.

The Steelers host the Bengals on Sunday night; the winner captures the AFC North, and the loser goes on the road in wild-card weekend.

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Christian Ponder looks back on “roller coaster” career

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

There once was a time when Christian Ponder was the future of the Vikings.

Now that he’s been replaced by the next future of the Vikings, he’s coming to terms with his four years in Minnesota.

I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity I was given,” Ponder said, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Vikings didn’t bother picking up the option on the 2011 first-rounder’s contract, meaning he’ll be a free agent in March. But with Teddy Bridgewater showing well down the stretch, Ponder is realistic about what’s next, though he hasn’t ruled out coming back.

Ponder has seen it from every angle in Minnesota, from getting drilled as a rookie to leading his team to the playoffs, only to miss that game with an injury.

“One of my fondest memories was beating Green Bay to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Such a fun night. Beating Green Bay at home to get into the playoffs. Of course I couldn’t play the next week.

Last year was such a weird season. Bringing Josh {Freeman] in, not starting well. Starting Matt [Cassel]. Starting Josh. Concussion against Chicago and then Matt started rest of the year.

One way to describe is up and down. It’s really been a roller coaster.”

The severe lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL probably means Ponder will get another shot somewhere else. Whether he ever has a better chance than the one he had remains to be seen.

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Friday morning one-liners

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

Running the ball has not gone well for the Bills.

The Dolphins like what they’ve seen from Dion Jordan at linebacker.

Contract notes about QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman and other Patriots with bonuses, guarantees and incentives on the horizon.

Jets QB Matt Simms hasn’t played much, but feels he’s still made progress this season.

Ravens DT Timmy Jernigan tries to never play mad.

The Bengals Defense will get a second chance to slow down Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell.

QB Connor Shaw hopes to get thrown into the fire by the Browns this weekend.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons reflects on his first Pro Bowl selection.

J.J. Watt took some time away from the Texans to ring in Christmas with former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The Colts have nothing to gain in the standings, but they say that won’t change their approach to Week 17.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has cut down on his interceptions.

Who is going to be the Titans quarterback next year?

Broncos players aren’t worried about QB Peyton Manning.

The Chiefs website wants you to know a bit more about LB Joe Mays.

Will RB Latavius Murray have a long run as the top Raiders back?

Chargers coach Mike McCoy is looking for the best outing of the season from his team.

They didn’t have any Pro Bowl selections, but the Cowboys Defense is looking good at the right time.

Rookie WR Corey Washington thought he’d do more for the Giants this season.

Eagles RB LeSean McCoy incorrectly “thought this was the team” to make a playoff run.

Five storylines for the Redskins in their season finale.

Tracing where things went wrong for the Bears this season.

The Lions will be trying for a rare interception of Aaron Rodgers this weekend.

Members of the 1991 Packers remember the last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field.

Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn is trying to finish strong.

The Falcons can’t afford another injury in the secondary.

Panthers K Graham Gano doesn’t doubt himself after missed kicks.

RB Charles Sims has gained confidence at the end of his rookie season with the Buccaneers.

What do the Saints need to do to end their season with a win?

Said Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, “Week to week, different quarterback, do you like it? No. But it is what it is.”

Rams DB Lamarcus Joyner has had a humbling rookie season.

A look at the unraveling of the Jim Harbaugh era with the 49ers.

Seahawks S Kam Chancellor wore a microphone during last week’s win.

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Frank Gore excited about future of 49ers, and his own

San Diego Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

For an aging running back on a team full of uncertainty, Frank Gore is confident.

In his own future, as well as the future of his quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Gore told Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com that after a conversation with 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke, that he had a clearer picture of his role with the team in 2015.

“We were just talking about football, and basically, he was saying, ‘Next year we gotta do this, we gotta do that.’” Gore said. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m going to be here next year then?” He said, ‘Yeah, I want you back here next year.’”

That’s some degree of news in an of itself, given that the 31-year-old is entering the final game of his contract with the team, and they have younger options available.

But even with the coaching uncertainty, Gore thinks the team will rebound next year.

“I know there will be changes, but I think the guys at the key positions, that’s what matters,” he said. “Next year, I think Kap will get back to himself. Anquan Boldin will come back. Stevie Johnson is still under contract. Vernon Davis is still under contract. Joe Staley, Anthony Davis. I look at Patrick Willis will be back, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, for the season. So I think the guys at the key spots are good enough for me to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be back.’”

Injuries have derailed the 49ers this season, among other problems. But getting Kaepernick back on track will be critical for whomever ends up coaching them.

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Andy Dalton returns to practice, but other Bengals still sick

Andy Dalton AP

The Bengals had two big pieces of their offense back at practice on Christmas Day.

Quarterback Andy Dalton was a full participant in practice after missing Wednesday’s session after the team sent him home sick. Dalton’s one of several Bengals players who have spent Christmas week battling illness and tight end Jermaine Gresham joined him in making a return after taking a day to convalesce.

Cornerback Terence Newman and safety Reggie Nelson remained out of work on Thursday, however, and kicker Mike Nugent and cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris were added to the list of those under the weather. There’s still ample time for everyone to get better in time for Sunday, although they may continue to do it away from the team to ensure germs don’t continue to spread.

Wide receiver A.J. Green hasn’t been sick, but he has been battling an arm injury since Monday’s victory over the Broncos. Green missed practice Wednesday, but joined Dalton in making a Thursday return to the field. Green was limited, but looks like he’s on track to play on Sunday.

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Report: Steven Jackson unlikely to play this week

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

If the Falcons are going to the playoffs, it appears they’re going to have to get there without running back Steven Jackson.

According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Jackson is expected to be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Panthers because of a quadriceps injury.

An MRI done this week spoiled some of the initial optimism about his prognosis, and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad, so they may be planning to go without Jackson.

If Jackson can’t go, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman will have to carry more of the load, with the NFC South title and the playoffs on the line.

“We’ve got to get both of those guys ready to go,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “And I think both of them, if they have to play, will be prepared and ready to go.”

Freeman has made enough plays to earn the notice of teammates, but being without a veteran in such an important game is still a blow for the Falcons.

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Andre Johnson “doesn’t mind” a pay cut to stay with Texans

Lardarius Webb, Andre Johnson, C.J. Mosley AP

Earlier this month, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said that he wanted to play 15 years in the NFL before retiring and that he wanted to play all 15 of those years with the Texans.

It was a change from the offseason, when Johnson was asking to be traded because he wasn’t sure about the direction of the franchise with a new head coach coming aboard. The Texans still lack a quarterback, but Bill O’Brien’s done well to give the Texans a shot at a 9-7 record heading into the final week of the season and it’s easy to understand being more convinced of the path that the team is on at this point.

Complicating Johnson’s ability to stick around for his entire career is the $10.5 million he’s supposed to make in 2015 while counting a little more than $16 million against the cap. That doesn’t fit with a player whose production has slowed this season or with a team that has DeAndre Hopkins ready to be their No. 1 receiver. Johnson’s uncle and advisor Andre Melton, who served as Johnson’s de facto agent early in his career, said that Johnson is willing to take less to remain in Houston.

“We understand it’s a business and we’re willing to deal with that. And Andre doesn’t mind having a pay cut,” Melton said, via the Houston Chronicle. “They’re going to come in the offseason and say, ‘Hey, Andre: This is what we need to do,’ If we can come to some type of common ground with everybody where everybody can be happy, then we’ll work on that, that’ll be fine. And if we can’t, it will be sad to say. … But we’ll see who can give [us] a shot at a ring.”

Agreement on pay cuts can sometimes be tough to find, but it would appear there’s a way to work out a continued stay in Houston if Johnson’s motivations have been accurately represented.

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