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Nathaniel Hackett: You’ve got to make the quarterback comfortable

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The Bills introduced their new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on Thursday and, as you’d expect, he faced a lot of questions about what kind of offense the team would run with him at the controls.

There’s been talk about ratcheting things up in Buffalo, including the occasional mention of the old K-Gun offense from the days of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas. Hackett didn’t delve into any specifics about schemes, but he did reveal what he thought was the most important thing he needs to do in Buffalo.

“You have got to make the quarterback successful,” Hackett said, via the team’s website. “He’s such a critical part in all games. He touches the ball every single time in the run game and the pass game. Anything you can do to help him feel more comfortable back there, because when you’ve got 11 guys coming after him and the crowd is screaming at him. He has to feel so comfortable out there and he has to be willing to take on the world at that moment. I think that the more comfortable you can make the quarterback feel the better he’s going to be out there.”

With a good running game and offensive line in place, the Bills need to work on receivers to up the comfort level for whoever they wind up picking at quarterback but that choice figures to be the one that determines how successful. Hackett evaded questions about Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Nassib, who will be in the draft after playing for Hackett and head coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse, by talking about the need to evaluate everything on the team.

You wouldn’t expect anything different publicly at this point, but even vague answers say much about the biggest offseason need for the Bills.

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Former Bears LB Doug Buffone passes away at age 70

Doug Buffone, Walter Payton, AP

Doug Buffone, a Bears linebacker for 14 seasons, died Monday at age 70, the club said.

Buffone passed away due to natural causes, police said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Buffone played 186 games from 1966 through 1979, intercepting 24 passes. Early in his career, he was a part of a Chicago linebacking corps that included Dick Butkus.

After retirement, Buffone worked in media, perhaps most notably for Chicago sports radio station WSCR, for which he handled postgame coverage with fellow former Bear Ed O’ Bradovich.

“He will always be celebrated as one of the Bears greats for his contributions to his team and the fans who loved him,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said of Buffone in a statement on the club’s website. “There was no one tougher on Sundays than Doug Buffone.”

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DeAndre Hopkins has no interest in talking about Andre Johnson

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For the first time since 2003, receiver Andre Johnson plays for a team other than the Texans.  And the receiver who arrived in Houston via round one a decade after Johnson isn’t inclined to talk about his one-time mentor.

Asked by reporters on the first day of the offseason program to discuss what it’s like not having Johnson on the team, DeAndre Hopkins said, “No comment.”

Asked later about being the No. 1 receiver with Johnson now gone, Hopkins said, “No comment.”

When the question didn’t include Johnson’s name, Hopkins said plenty.  For example, when asked to explain how it feels to be a leader of the receivers this year, Hopkins said, “It feels great.  My motto is I’m going to go out and work every day no matter who is here.  It’s a mentality that I always play with since I’ve been playing football.”

Later, when asked about helping new receivers learn the ropes, Hopkins managed to avoid saying Johnson’s name, referring to him only by number.

“I told those guys they could come to me,” Hopkins said.  “Coaches are going to help them transition into this offense, but a lot of wide receivers in there look up to me because we don’t have 80 here anymore.  I like that chip on my shoulder.”

The phrase “chip on my shoulder” doesn’t really apply in this specific context, but given Hopkins’ reluctance to answer questions mentioning Johnson and Hopkins’ decision to not even refer to Johnson by name hints at some possible tension between the former face of the franchise and the first-round pick who eventually supplanted him.

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Pierre-Paul to skip offseason program

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With all 32 offseason programs now open, the players most likely to make news are the players who aren’t there.  For players who have received the franchise tag and who have not yet accepted it, their absence isn’t surprising.  But it’s still worth mentioning.

In New York, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul hasn’t signed the franchise tag, so he’s not under contract and won’t be participating in the offseason program, as noted by Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.

Pierre-Paul, per Ranaan, will continue to work out on his own.  Which entails some risk; if he suffers a serious injury while doing his own thing, the Giants would immediately rescind the tag, and JPP would be SOL.  If he signs the tender and shows up for offseason workouts, that same fluke injury would result in his full salary of $14.8 million being paid.

There’s a middle ground that a player can utilize.  An unsigned player subject to the franchise tag may attend the offseason program, subject to the understanding that he’d receive his full pay if he suffers a season-ending injury.  Most franchise players, however, choose to withhold services by staying away.

That typically results in the franchise-tagged player missing the entire offseason program and then signing (or not signing) a long-term deal just before the July 15 deadline for inking a multi-year contract.  At the latest, the franchise-tagged player shows up for Week One, since no one wants to miss those gigantic game checks, which for Pierre-Paul will be $870,588.

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Eric Weddle not present for first day of voluntary workouts

Eric Weddle AP

The Chargers’ top defensive back was a no-show for the first day of the team’s voluntary workouts Monday.

Safety Eric Weddle, a three-time Pro Bowler, is seeking a new contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Kevin Acee, Weddle expressed unhappiness with the Chargers’ unwillingness, at least at this point, to come to the table with a new deal. Weddle is the final year of his contract and set to make $7.5 million in 2015.

“I feel highly, highly disrespected,” Weddle told the Union-Tribune in a story published Monday.

Weddle, 30, told the Union-Tribune he wanted to stay in San Diego for the remainder of his career, but he also felt a need to show the Chargers that he was “not very happy” regarding the lack of progress in negotiations.

The matter of how to pay Weddle in the next deal could be tricky for San Diego. By the 2016 postseason, he will be 32 years old. However, he has not missed a game since 2009.

Weddle notched 119 tackles and intercepted one pass a season ago for San Diego, for which he’s been a starter the last seven seasons.

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Greg Hardy asks for expungement of his criminal case

Greg Hardy AP

In February, criminal charges against Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed on the first day of trial, after his accuser failed to show up in court — which happened after Hardy reportedly reached a settlement with her.  Hardy now wants the State of North Carolina to pretend that none of it ever happened.

Per multiple reports, Hardy has filed a request that all records regarding the case be expunged.

“He’s been found guilty of absolutely nothing and he’s entitled to have a record of that charge eliminated,” attorney Tony Scheer said, via WSOC-TV.

If granted, everything related to the case would be removed from the Mecklenburg County court system — from Hardy’s mugshot to the conviction issued by a judge at the conclusion of a bench trial last year.  Given the intense coverage of the case and the long memory of the Internet, it’s a meaningless gesture; the accusations against Hardy will live a much longer and more noticeable life beyond the walls of the Mecklenburg County courthouse.

Most importantly, they’ll live long enough at 345 Park Avenue to result in a potential suspension of Hardy for the outset of the 2015 regular season.

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Dion Jordan does not attend first day of Dolphins’ workouts

Dion Jordan AP

Dion Jordan wasn’t there when the Dolphins reported to offseason workouts today.

Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that Jordan wasn’t there, although it wasn’t immediately clear why.

It could simply be that Jordan chose not to attend the voluntary workouts. That’s his right, although it would be a disappointment to the Dolphins, who are considering giving him more work at linebacker this offseason in the hopes that he can be a better contributor there once the season starts. Jordan has played primarily at defensive end in his first two NFL seasons, and has been a disappointment.

The Dolphins packaged both their first-round pick and their second-round pick in 2013 to move up and draft Jordan third overall, and in his first two seasons Jordan has only started one game and recorded three sacks. They’re counting on getting more from him this year, but this year is not off to a good start.

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Chris Harris says new defense will put corners on an island more

Harris Getty Images

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has the kind of confidence that only comes from making it in the NFL despite being an undrafted, five-foot, ten-inch defensive back.  That confidence will serve him well in the team’s new defense under coordinator Wade Phillips.

“We’re going to be out there on an island a lot, so there is a lot of responsibility on us to be able to shut our guys down,” Harris told reporters on Monday.  “Jack [Del Rio] put us on an island too, so it’s something that if you play corner you’re going to have to be on an island. In this defense, we’re just so aggressive that we’re going to be on an island even more.”

Harris still wishes he’d been on an island against T.Y. Hilton when the Broncos lost to the Colts in the playoffs.

“You always want to cover a guy like him,” Harris said.  “He’s small and shifty.  That’s what God put me on this earth for — for guys like him.  I was definitely irritated, but it’s a new year.  We’re going to play them again.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be on him this year.”

If Harris and Talib can both stay healthy and perform at a high level and cover their men with little or no help, the other nine members of the defense will be able to do other things aimed at keeping opposing offenses from scoring points.  Which will take pressure off the offense, and make it easier for the Broncos to make good on what multiple members of the team insist is a “Super Bowl or bust” season.

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Amid trade talk, Rivers gets to work with the Chargers

Philip Rivers AP

Despite talk that he could be traded before next week’s draft, Philip Rivers is at work in San Diego.

The Chargers opened their offseason program today, and Rivers was in attendance. Although there’s been speculation that Rivers could be traded to the Titans for the No. 2 overall pick, and that the Chargers could then use that pick on quarterback Marcus Mariota, everyone in San Diego seemed to believe that’s nothing more than talk.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego quoted multiple Chargers players as saying Rivers is their leader.

“That’s our quarterback. That’s our quarterback,” left tackle King Dunlap said.

Running back Danny Woodhead told reporters he hasn’t followed the Rivers rumors.

“No offense, I’m not too much into media. I’m sure you guys are great writers and stuff,” Woodhead said.

New arrival Jacoby Jones has already started working out with Rivers and likes what he sees.

“I’ve never seen a quarterback work like he does in the offseason,” Jones said.

If the Chargers are thinking about trading Rivers, they’ve done a good job of concealing that fact from their players. Because everyone in the locker room seems to think Rivers will remain their teammate.

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Russell Wilson continues to lead the NFL in merchandising

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

How much he’s paid in relation to other quarterbacks will be determined at some point in the future.  How much fans are paying for his merchandise in relation to other quarterbacks has been determined:  Russell Wilson is the king of the NFL.

For the second straight year, Wilson leads all players in merchandise sales, according to figures released by NFL Players, Inc. for the period of March 1, 2014 through February 28, 2015.

Quarterbacks dominated the top five, with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers following Wilson.  The next five were Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, and Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Via Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III fell from No. 4 to No. 25.  Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson each fell 14 spots.

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Arrest video from Warren Sapp’s prostitution charges emerges

Warren Sapp AP

We hate to do this to you so close to the dinner hour on the East Coast, but the news breaks when the news breaks.

There’s video of Warren Sapp, regarding his Phoenix prostitution arrest, where he refers to getting naked.

Thankfully for all of us, the video obtained by TMZ is of his interview with Phoenix cops, and everyone is fully clothed.

Sapp was arrested during Super Bowl week after allegedly agreeing to terms with a pair of prostitutes. (There must have been a breakdown over the bonus language — or something.)

In the police video, Sapp told the cops: “I put the $600 dollars on the table, everybody got naked.”

(This is where we really need a disposable bag sponsor, or perhaps a good disinfectant.)

Sapp, ever the romantic, also said that he told one of the prostitutes to stop talking, saying: “Why don’t you use your mouth on me, instead of using it?”

At a later stage in the video, Sapp gets emotional, likely around the time he realized he was going to get arrested and lose his job. At that point, he cackled wildly to himself and pulled his shirt up over his head, exposing his belly.

Thankfully, that’s all we saw. And with that, we leave you to your appetizer course.

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Andy Reid on Justin Houston: It will all work out

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers AP

The Chiefs and linebacker Justin Houston haven’t been talking about a long-term contract since the Chiefs used the franchise tag to keep Houston from becoming an unrestricted free agent last month, but that’s not causing coach Andy Reid to lose his optimism about having Houston on hand to help the team in 2015.

The Chiefs have pledged patience since the beginning of the process and that was the message Reid sent on Monday as well. The coach spoke to the media as Chiefs players other than Houston arrived at the team’s facility for the start of offseason workouts and said that he thinks a deal that keeps Houston in town remains the likeliest outcome.

“We want him here, that’s been stated before. He’s a good person and a good player…sometimes these things take time,” Reid said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. “He knows this is a good place for him. We know this is a good place for him. They’ll get it all worked out.”

Houston’s unhappiness with the tag was reported even before he officially got it and there’s been talk about soliciting an offer sheet from other teams, although the two first-round picks another club would have to hand over to K.C. makes that an unlikely turn of events. Houston could hold out into training camp and the regular season before signing the tag, something that we haven’t seen happen often but it isn’t every year that a player hits free agency after a 22-sack season.

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Eagles officially announce signing of Tim Tebow

teboweagle

Tim Tebow is officially a Philadelphia Eagle.

The Eagles announced the signing today, bringing Tebow back to the NFL after a lengthy absence. Tebow was last on a team in the 2013 preseason when he played for the Patriots. He last played in a regular-season game in 2012 with the Jets.

Tebow’s contract is a one-year deal. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but it is presumably a league-minimum salary.

The 27-year-old Tebow faces an uphill battle just to make the Eagles’ roster. At the moment, Sam Bradford appears to be the favorite to start for the Eagles and Mark Sanchez looks like Bradford’s backup. Tebow will have to compete with Matt Barkley and GJ Kinne for the No. 3 quarterback spot.

The Eagles begin offseason work today with a roster that has been radically overhauled by coach Chip Kelly. The signing of Tebow isn’t the most important move for the Eagles this offseason, but it may be the one that garners the most attention.

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Packers looking at NFC Championship loss as tool for motivation and education

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The Packers got back to work as a team on Monday for the first time since they dropped the NFC Championship game to the Seahawks.

It has been three months since the Packers blew a 19-7 lead with less than five minutes left in the game and that bad end to the season hasn’t faded from memory yet. Wide receiver Randall Cobb said that no one is talking about the loss, but he admitted that he’s thought about it throughout the offseason when he needs to summon up a bit more energy for a workout.

“I thought about it in my training these past couple months whenever I reached that point of fatigue or feel like I can’t go no more,” Cobb said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Just having those thoughts in the back of my head and knowing that next rep may be the next rep that’s going to excel us past that moment. You use it as motivation. You have to. You find ways to fuel yourself in the offseason and that’s one of mine.”

Defensive end Mike Daniels has also been going back to the game over the last few months. He regrets the taunting penalty he picked up after a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix interception would have set the Packers up on the four-yard line and said he hopes that his teammates have also gone back to learn from what went wrong in the loss.

“You have to learn from it and seeing how that’s the last game of the season you don’t get a chance to go over it and evaluate it as a group,” Daniels said. “So guys find some time to watch it, break it down and move past it. There’s a lot of great learning points from it, just like any other game. So that’s the way we have to take it and the next game is the next week.”

The Packers will find out when their next game is on Tuesday when the league reveals the schedule for the 2015 season. It could be a home date against those same Seahawks, which would make it hard to avoid looking back as they look forward to the start of the new year.

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ESPN reporter complains that Tebow didn’t hand scoop to ESPN

Tebow Getty Images

On Sunday, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that Tim Tebow had agreed to terms with the Eagles. Tim Tebow separately is employed by ESPN.  Which makes the fact that Glazer scooped ESPN regarding an ESPN employee even more noteworthy.

And that has been noticed by other ESPN employees. John Barr of ESPN griped on Twitter about Tebow’s failure to hand the scoop to his other employer.

“What gets me is how people take $$$ from the WWL then let OTHERS break news of their career changes,” Barr said on Twitter. “Lookin at u Tebow & Parcells.”  (Though an unverified account, ESPN has confirmed that it belongs to Barr.)

On one hand, it would make sense for someone who gets paid by ESPN to hand the news of a career development to ESPN.  On the other hand, it’s not required.  It also assumes that, in this specific case, Tebow consciously chose to give the news to Glazer and not to Adam Schefter.  It’s entirely possible that Glazer got the information independent of Tebow.

With or without knowing whether Tebow was Glazer’s source, it’s not the best look for an ESPN reporter to publicly complain about it.  Especially on the same day Schefter explained that, if given commissioner powers over the sports media for a day, he’d have members of the media stop speculating about the sources for reports.

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Ex-49er Chris Culliver dissagrees with Boone’s criticism of Harbaugh

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San Francisco offensive lineman Alex Boone said recently that ex-coach Jim Harbaugh eventually wore out his welcome within the 49ers’ locker room. But not everyone in the locker room agrees with that.

Chris Culliver, who spent the last four years in San Francisco before signing in Washington this offseason, says that Harbaugh is a good coach, and players shouldn’t criticize him after the fact.

Writing on Instagram, Culliver posted a picture of a headline noting Boone’s critique of Harbaugh and then added his own thoughts, noting that people are talking about Harbaugh now, when he isn’t around, but were quiet when they were face to face with Harbaugh. Culliver also noted that the 49ers went to at least the NFC Championship Game in three of their four seasons with Harbaugh as their coach, and said that he respects Harbaugh and considers him a good coach.

There was clearly a deep divide over Harbaugh in San Francisco: Owner Jed York and G.M. Trent Baalke could barely conceal their feelings that Harbaugh’s act had worn thin, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that players were divided over Harbaugh as well. The 49ers now have to hope that Jim Tomsula is a coach who can unite their locker room.

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