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A great day to be an NFL fan

Denver Broncos quarterback Manning speaks with Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Lewis after the Ravens defeated the Broncos in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff football game in Denver Reuters

These are the days that remind us how great the NFL is.

Two playoff classics — the Ravens beating the Broncos in double overtime and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick emerging as a superstar in a win over the Packers — made Saturday a wonderful day to be an NFL fan. It was one of those games that made us nod our heads and say, “Yep, this is why we love football.”

I think the lasting image of this great Saturday in the NFL may be the postgame embrace between Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning. These are perhaps the two best football players of their generation, meeting on the field for the last time, and after a playoff game that went into a sixth quarter, both men looked drained as they hugged and then went their separate ways, Manning hanging his head and Lewis yelling exuberantly.

“I’ve never been a part of a game so crazy in my life,” Lewis said after the Ravens’ field goal in the game’s 77th minute gave them a 38-35 win.

I’ve never watched a couple of games so crazy in my life. That Ravens-Broncos game was simply insane. Double overtime in the playoffs? Broncos return man Trindon Holliday having the greatest game for a returner ever — and the Broncos losing anyway? Manning throwing an awful interception at the worst possible time? Crazy.

And then came Kaepernick, who has been transformed over a couple months from Alex Smith’s backup to one of the brightest young talents in the NFL. Kaepernick still makes some youthful mistakes, including a bad interception on the 49ers’ first drive and a stupid penalty for taunting. But my oh my is he a talented player. He throws with incredible velocity, and he’s such a good runner that he had 181 yards on the ground, more yards than any quarterback had ever had in any game — regular season or postseason — in NFL history. Until Saturday, the all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback was 173 by Michael Vick of the Falcons in an overtime win over the Vikings in 2002. I remember watching Vick in that game and thinking no quarterback would ever do what Vick just did. Kaepernick broke Vick’s record in just his eighth NFL start.

What a day. Here are some thoughts on Saturday’s action:

The Broncos made some appalling mistakes. Denver ended both the first half and the second half by simply running out the clock, even though the Broncos had enough time and timeouts to at least get into field goal range. You’ve got Peyton Manning! Try to score! But going conservative at the end of both halves wasn’t even the worst mistake of all. No, the worst mistake was the inexcusable coverage by the Broncos’ secondary, which somehow allowed Jacoby Jones to get open for a 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter. An emotional Rahim Moore, who was covering Jones, stood up after the game and said, “It was my fault.” Sorry to be harsh, but he’s right: It was his fault.

Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore are the perfect complements to Kaepernick. Crabtree had 119 yards receiving; Gore had 119 yards rushing. I don’t know if any NFL team can be happier with its top quarterback, running back and receiver than the 49ers are right now.

Joe Flacco throws a beautiful deep ball. I’m not totally sold on Flacco as an elite NFL quarterback, but he certainly has a big arm, and he’s made a lot of things happen by throwing deep in these playoffs. Flacco averaged 23.5 yards a completion last weekend against the Colts, and he had touchdown passes of 59, 32 and 70 yards against the Broncos.

Pass interference is ill-defined and inconsistently called in the NFL. It’s frustrating, with how big a penalty pass interference can be, to see how the NFL’s officials can never agree on what is — and what is not — pass interference. We saw that three times in the first 10 minutes of the Ravens-Broncos game, and it went against Denver all three times: Baltimore’s first-quarter touchdown drive was kept alive by a shaky pass interference call on a third-down incompletion, then Corey Graham appeared to commit pass interference but wasn’t flagged on his interception return for a touchdown, then Demaryius Thomas was tripped on a deep pass from Peyton Manning but didn’t get the call. In overtime another questionable pass interference call went against Denver’s Champ Bailey. It’s not so much that any of those calls were blatantly wrong, it’s more that the NFL officials are so inconsistent in the way they call pass interference that no one ever knows when the official will throw the flag and when he’ll keep it in his pocket. On such a pivotal penalty — the only penalty that can give a team more than 15 yards — the NFL has to find more consistency.

The Ravens-Broncos officiating stunk even aside from pass interference. A phantom hold that called off a Broncos first down run. An absurdly long series of conferences while the officials debated an illegal hands to the face call. A referee’s decision to unilaterally abolish the tuck rule. I could go on but I think I’ll stop, because it’s depressing to focus too much on the officials after a great game. The officiating was a mess.

Aaron Rodgers was good on a day the Packers needed him to be great. This loss doesn’t fall on Rodgers. He was fine, completing 26 of 39 passes for 257 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. But the Packers’ defense simply couldn’t stop Kaepernick, so the only way the Packers were going to win was if Rodgers played a perfect game. Instead, he played just a pretty good game. On a great day of NFL action when the starting quarterbacks were Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick, Kaepernick was the best. By a lot. No one could have expected that. And these unexpectedly great days are why the NFL will keep us coming back for more.

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Kirk Cousins sees “a great weapon in the red zone” in Josh Doctson

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  (L-R) Josh Doctson of TCU  holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #22 overall by the Washington Redskins during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Washington’s first-round draft pick, Josh Doctson, has received quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ seal of approval.

Cousins said he has been studying up on Doctson to find out what kind of target he’ll be, and Cousins is already excited about the possibilities for finding Doctson in the end zone.

“I went back and watched some of his highlights from TCU, and he is a special player,” Cousins said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com. “Looks like he can make the contested catch. It’s very natural for him to go up and catch that type of pass. He can run well. He has got great size. I almost thought he was a tight end when he showed up because if his size. . . . Having a guy like Josh could also be a great weapon in the red zone.”

Cousins believes the addition of Doctson gives Washington a very good receiving corps.

“We’ll try to build that chemistry as he’s here and as we can work together and just learn what he does well and what fits him, what he is natural at and try to get him the football,” Cousins said. “We certainly can spread it around with all the talent at the outside positions.”

With Doctson joining receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder, plus tight end Jordan Reed, Cousins sounds like a happy man. For reasons beyond the $20 million he’s making this season.

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Kenjon Barner thriving in Philly, despite absence of Chip Kelly

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06:  Kenjon Barner #34 of the Philadelphia Eagles carries the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2013 who inevitably landed in Philadelphia via a trade with his former college head coach, is still in Philly even after Chip Kelly has gone. Last year, a strong preseason won Barner a spot on the 53-man roster. This year, a strong offseason could be helping Barner even more.

As explained by Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, Barner’s performance coupled with the absences of DeMarco Murray (also gone), Ryan Mathews (recovering from surgery), and Darren Sproles (absent from OTAs and likely gone, eventually) has put Barner in line to potentially become the team’s starting tailback.

Barner’s receiving talents serve him well in coach Doug Pederson’s offense. It also doesn’t hurt that Barner has high-end return skills, which helped him stick with the team in 2015.

Eventually, it could be Barner and rookie Wendell Smallwood vying for playing time and touches in 2016. At a time when the Eagles seem to be intent on shedding as many former Kelly players as possible from the roster, maybe they relish the chance to get the most out of a Kelly’s former Oregon protégé.

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Browns offensive attitude “starts with the run game”

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 07:  Isaiah Crowell #34 of the Cleveland Browns scores a touchdown in front of Darius Butler #20 of the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 7, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Earlier this offseason, Browns coach Hue Jackson called running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnsonas good as I’ve seen” during his time in the NFL.

Crowell and Johnson said that Jackson’s complimentary words gave them a confidence boost heading into the final phase of offseason work and they may get another from running backs coach Kirby Wilson. Wilson says that while Jackson is working on building a passing attack from the ground up, Crowell and Johnson will be responsible for setting the tone offensively in Cleveland.

“We are going to be a run-oriented football team,” Wilson said, via the team’s website. “Everything starts with the run game, our offensive line and our backs. As coach told us, we are going to be a physically dominant, running football team. … We call it ‘big boy football.’ It is all about attitudes and it starts with the run game. You have got to be able to run it, and you have got to be able to stop the run on defense. We are going to take pride in that, being physically superior than our opponent.”

A run-first approach doesn’t come as a surprise based on the situation at quarterback and wide receiver in Cleveland, but it also fits with what Jackson did in Cincinnati over the last few years. The Bengals ranked in the top eight in rushing attempts in each of the last three seasons, which suggests Crowell and Johnson won’t be lacking for chances to confirm Jackson’s assessment of their abilities.

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Payton agrees with Brees’ decision not to talk contract during season

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 24:  Head coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints watch the replay screen during the first quarter of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 24, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently applied a deadline for extending his contract, which currently is entering its final year. Once the regular season starts, Brees won’t be interested in talking.

His head coach agrees with that approach.

“Just having seen the interview and his comments, they totally make sense,” Sean Payton said on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “It was the case [five] years back. You don’t want to be, A, as team or, B, as a player focusing on player contracts right during the middle of the season. . . . I wouldn’t say that there hasn’t been a sense of urgency with [G.M.] Mickey [Loomis] and [agent] Tom [Condon]. Those guys are the ones that are in contact and are the ones that are doing it. . . . I just know how Drew is and his focus and his ability to work and concentrate on the task at hand that won’t be altered, and that’s a strength of his.”

The strength of the final year of Brees’ contract becomes a potential weakness for the team, if the deal isn’t done before Week One. Come 2017, his $30 million cap number for 2016 becomes a $43.2 million franchise tender. Which makes it very unlikely that the franchise tag would be used again on Brees, like it was in 2012.

Many will say it’s far more likely that the two sides will work something out long before it’s time to use the tag. Of course, many also thought the deal would be done before Brees’ $30 million cap figure hit the books on March 9.

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Ronald Leary sends unmistakable message to Cowboys

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 14: Ronald Leary #65 of the Dallas Cowboys gets pulled out of the pile during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 14, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys guard Ronald Leary, who has lost his starting job to La’El Collins, wants out of Dallas. The Cowboys have made it clear they want fair value in return for Leary, which means (duh) they won’t be inclined to trade him unless they get fair value.

Leary meanwhile has made it clear that he doesn’t care about what the Cowboys get; he just wants out. The latest tangible piece of evidence comes from Leary stripping all references to the Cowboys from his Twitter page, via the Dallas Morning News.

But here’s the problem for Leary. He chose to sign his one-year restricted free agency tender last month, which puts him under contract for 2016 at a salary of $2.553 million. So while he can boycott voluntary workouts without consequence, he faces significant fines if he stays away from mandatory minicamp or training camp.

Leary had options. He could have, for example, refused to sign the tender and then skipped the offseason program, mandatory minicamp, training camp, etc., hopeful that Dallas would withdraw the tender.

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Doug Baldwin is “most certain” Marshawn Lynch isn’t coming back

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  Doug Baldwin #89 and  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate after Lynch scored a fourth quarter touchdown against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on September 29, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Now that running back Marshawn Lynch is retired, plenty of speculation has emerged as to whether he will unretire. Only days after Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said he won’t predict what the always-unpredictable Lynch will do, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin is willing to go out on a limb, at least as it relates to Lynch’s most recent team.

I’m most certain that he’s not coming back,” Baldwin said regarding Lynch during a Friday appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

If Baldwin is talking about Lynch not coming back to the Seahawks, Baldwin should bet the farm on it. Even if Lynch unretires, there’s no way the Seahawks will want to carry his $9 million salary, especially after taking a $5 million cap hit due to the pre-June 1 processing of his retirement.

That doesn’t mean Lynch won’t decide to return and play for another team, and most speculation has centered on Lynch joining forces with his on-the-upswing hometown Raiders. If the team is indeed leaving Oakland, Lynch could help give the fans something to really remember.

The safest course with Lynch is to expect anything, because no one ever really knows what he’s going to do. There’s a good chance that, at this point on the calendar, even he doesn’t know.

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Peyton Manning was “pretty close” to picking Titans in 2012

BRISTOL, TN - APRIL 17:  Former NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

The late Bud Adams made no secret of the fact that he wanted Peyton Manning to sign with the Titans when Manning was a free agent in 2012 and the failure to land him reportedly contributed to the franchise’s founder and owner’s decision to fire General Manager Mike Reinfeldt after that season came to a close.

Manning wound up signing with the Broncos, of course, and went to two Super Bowls with Denver before retiring in the wake of their Super Bowl win earlier this year. The Titans haven’t had anything close to that kind of success in the last four years, which will likely have some of their fans wondering what might have been after Manning revisited that pursuit at the Middle Tennessee Sports Awards in Nashville on Thursday night.

“I was pretty close,” Manning said of joining the Titans, via the Tennessean.

That decision would have led to a lot of other what ifs around the league including what things would look like for the Titans, Broncos, Texans, Marcus Mariota and others had Manning made a different decision. Those what ifs don’t make for much other than conversation topics to while away an afternoon, but long holiday weekends usually offer an opportunity to do just that.

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Dont’a Hightower wants to “get better,” not talk contract

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cornerback Malcolm Butler is reportedly planning a push for a new contract with the Patriots and he’s not the only member of the defense who will be dealing with issues on that front in the near future.

Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are heading into the final year of their contracts, leaving the Patriots with some work to do to keep everyone on hand beyond the 2016 season. For now, though, Hightower says that he’s only focusing on on-field matters.

“I don’t have anything to do with any of that,” Hightower said, via the Providence Journal. “I’m just out here trying to get better with my teammates.”

Reporters pointed out to Hightower that he does have something to do with whether he remains with the Patriots, which he conceded before adding that “there’s a time and place for everything” and repeated that this is the time to get better.

The only real negative about Hightower’s last two seasons have been injuries that kept him from playing in eight games, but his contributions when healthy have made him an integral defensive piece in New England. That would make it a surprise if a deal doesn’t get worked out when the appropriate time and place present themselves.

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Jets, Giants planning to bid on another Super Bowl

012214-8-NFL-MetLife-Stadium-snow-OB-PI.vadapt.664.high.53 Getty Images

The NFL made a lucky roll of the dice two-plus years ago when it staged an outdoor Super Bowl in New Jersey in early February. With the league apparently getting ready to cozy up to Las Vegas, the league may be ready to gamble once again with the crown jewel event of the year.

According to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, the Jets and Giants have informed the NFL of interest in hosting one of the next two games that will be awarded, in 2018: Super Bowl LVI and LVII, to be played in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

“We have informed them of our interest in both games,” Giants co-owner John Mara told Myers. “We hope to pursue another Super Bowl. We’re not sure yet of the date.”

The last time the NFL awarded a Super Bowl to New York/New Jersey, a blizzard struck the area the morning after the game. Even without snow on game day, organizers erroneously estimated the use of public transportation, resulting in massive crowds trying to get to and from the game.

There’s a long way to go before the folks in New Jersey need to crystallize plans for adding a lot more trains. For now, the potential interest could be more about ensuring that places like Tampa and New Orleans in 2018, when the owners award a pair of championship games. If, as expected, Dallas returns to the table and New York/New Jersey does the same, there will be four cities jockeying for two games, at a minimum.

Then, if Tampa and New Orleans get the games, the Cowboys, Jets, and Giants will get personalized letters telling them to keep trying.

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Sunday morning one-liners

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 01:   Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Chicago Bears receives an 11 yard pass in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on November 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jerry Hughes says he’s happy moving back to linebacker with the Bills.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase likes what he’s seen from CB Byron Maxwell.

A look at how QB Jimmy Garoppolo has fared in Patriots OTAs.

A Ron Burgundy quote gets applied to the standoff between the Jets and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Three takeaways from the first week of Ravens OTAs.

Why didn’t Bengals TE Tyler Eifert have surgery earlier in the offseason?

Bernie Kosar spoke to Browns rookies last week.

Steelers rookies spent some time at the Mel Blount Youth Home.

A social media campaign helped Texans LB Whitney Mercilus find his lost dogs.

Who will join Robert Mathis as pass rushers for the Colts?

TE Nic Jacobs returned to the Jaguars 15 pounds lighter than he was last season.

Titans receivers know they are facing extra scrutiny.

Former Broncos QB Jake Plummer shares his thoughts on the current team.

Chiefs CB Marcus Peters won’t rest on accolades from his rookie season.

LB Bruce Irvin says Raiders rookie S Karl Joseph plays bigger than he is.

Position coach Ollie Watson breaks down the Chargers running backs.

RB Darren McFadden is helping rookie Ezekiel Elliott adjust to life with the Cowboys.

What role or roles will Will Johnson play for the Giants?

WR Chris Givens hopes his speed earns him a spot in the Eagles offense.

Could RB Pierre Thomas return to the Redskins?

WR Alshon Jeffery hasn’t been at Bears workouts, but he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Saturday’s Cubs game.

Rookie Anthony Zettel is learning from the veterans on the Lions defensive line.

The Packers have given their defense several new pieces to work with this season.

A few things to look for in Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s third season.

S Ricardo Allen hopes to put knowledge gained last year into action in the Falcons secondary.

Panthers QB Cam Newton is getting his own mobile game.

Saints WR Michael Thomas explains what drew him to Ohio State.

Said Buccaneers K Roberto Aguayo, “Pressure is built from inside. I’m competitive. I want to make every kick. At the end of the day it’s your kick. So I just [say] it internally; ‘I have to make this kick, this is what I have to do.'”

Cardinals DE Chandler Jones needs a more desert-appropriate wardrobe.

Offensive coordinator Rob Boras shares some thoughts on the Rams offense.

WR Bruce Ellington is identified as a possible breakout player for the 49ers.

Seahawks rookie OL Germain Ifedi threw out the first pitch at a Mariners game.

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John Harbaugh: “All good” with Dennis Pitta

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 07: Tight end Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by middle linebacker Vincent Rey #57 of the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on September 7, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Cincinnati Bengals won, 23-16. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

We checked in with one Ravens pass catcher returning from an injury last week and wide receiver Breshad Perriman said he was feeling strong in his return from the knee injury that kept him from playing at all last season.

Tight end Dennis Pitta has been out of the lineup even longer. Pitta last played in a game on September 21, 2014 and has been trying to return from a second dislocated hip since that point. That comeback attempt is playing out in Baltimore’s practices this offseason and Pitta said the on-field activity has been “very encouraging.”

Coach John Harbaugh seems to agree with that assessment.

“He looks like Dennis Pitta to me,” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “If you’re asking for a comparison to what he was when when he was playing to what he was now, he’s removed from football for a couple of years and we’re in — this is nothing. As far as the stability of the hip, how he feels about it, running around, making catches, looking like a football player, it’s all good.”

Pitta will be in for different tests in training camp and especially preseason games when he’s taking hits to the hip that’s caused him so much trouble in the last three years. His body’s response to that will determine how far he goes in his return to the field.

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Malcolm Butler wants a new contract

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24:  Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos makes a catch for a first down over Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is heading into the third and final year of the contract he signed as an undrafted rookie in 2014, and he’d like to be paid more like the Super Bowl hero and Pro Bowler that he is than like an undrafted free agent.

Mike Reiss of ESPN reports that Butler has told teammates and friends that he plans to push for a new contract before the start of the regular season.

Under his current deal, Butler is slated to make $600,000 this year and then become a restricted free agent next year, when the Patriots could keep him with a relatively low-cost tender offer. So he doesn’t have a lot of leverage, with the Patriots able to keep him for the next two years.

The one way Butler could get some leverage is by not coming in to work. Butler did not attend Thursday’s Organized Team Activities, although it’s unclear whether his contract had anything to do with that.

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Goodell urges Tampa to keep bidding for Super Bowls, too

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Five cities competed this week for a trio of Super Bowls. The two losing cities got the NFL’s equivalent of a participation ribbon: A personal letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell urging them to keep bidding for future Super Bowl.

In addition to New Orleans, Tampa also has received a “good job/nice try/get ’em next time” missive from the Commish, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.

“It is clear the Tampa Bay region will be in excellent position to contend for Super Bowls in the years to come,” Goodell wrote. “Thank you for your leadership and many contributions to the success of the league. Our office and the Super Bowl Advisory Committee will continue to support your efforts.”

Of course it will; the NFL needs to constantly have more cities bidding on Super Bowls than it has Super Bowls to award. Otherwise, the NFL won’t get the kind of competitive offers that include free presidential suites for owners and $50,000 in per-team “credits” for expenses teams inevitably will incur. Once the supply of viable candidates to host the games matches the demand, the jig will be up for the NFL.

Which is why the NFL needs to constantly encourage the losing cities to keep trying — and why the owners of every team need to cajole the local politicians and business leaders into aspiring to host the game. The more cities at the table, the more free stuff for the people in each city who already can afford to buy their own stuff, over and over again.

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Winston eating better, estimates he’s lost 18 pounds

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 01:  Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass outside the pocket during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome on November 1, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Four weeks after teammate Johnathan Banks said he went from “fat” to “looking like a defensive back,” Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston shared some details of how he’s dropped an estimated 18 pounds over the last three months.

Winston told ESPN.com he’s focused on portion control in his diet, has avoided late-night snacks and has tried to make the most of high-intensity workouts with renowned trainer Tim Grover, to whom Winston reached out early in the offseason.

“I heard from around the league that most rookies that come in, if they have a great year, they don’t have a plan for the offseason,” Winston said. “I had never handled an actual offseason before.”

Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, played baseball in the spring during his college career at Florida State. He first had to convince Grover he would be committed to getting in better shape, then had to make some adjustments to follow Grover’s diet plan.

“He’s a special individual from a knowledge standpoint,” Grover said. “He just didn’t know it. He’s gone so long on natural talent, he didn’t know how to take care of his body, what to eat, what to drink or how to get his rest.”

Winston said he started in the “upper 240s” and that Grover developed a exercise and diet plan with an ideal weight range of 225-229 in mind. The Bucs list Winston at 231 pounds.

“My body feels much better,” Winston said. “When you’re working out consistently and staying in shape, you never have to get in shape. That’s the biggest thing.”

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Teammates seeing more leadership from Geno Smith

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Geno Smith #7 of the New York Jets warms up before playing against the Houston Texans on November 22, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets are expected to agree eventually on a contract that will make Fitzpatrick the starting quarterback. But until that gets done, Geno Smith is running the first-string offense. And teammates think he’s showing the kind of leadership qualities they need to see.

Jets receiver Brandon Marshall has previously said Smith is acting like more of a professional recently, and safety Calvin Pryor has seen the same thing.

“I definitely agree,” Pryor told NJ.com. “He’s always on time. He’s always doing the right things. At first [in previous years], I saw that Geno really didn’t talk to too many people. But now he speaks and he goes about things the right way. That’s what you have to do when you want guys to believe in you. You have to make sure you talk with everyone. You have to have everybody’s trust, everybody believing in you. Because we’re only going to go as far as you’re going to take us, along with this defense. Every great team, you have to see great quarterback play.”

That Smith is getting praise for being on time isn’t exactly a huge endorsement, but Smith seems to have more faith in the locker room than he did last year, when he lost the starting job when teammate IK Enemkpali punched him and broke his jaw. Pryor says the Jets now believe they can win with Smith.

“I do,” Pryor said. “He has to believe that as well. I think he’s very confident. Before the [Enemkpali] incident happened last year, I think he was having a great camp. I think he was buying guys in. In this locker room, guys were believing in him. I’m pretty sure everything happens for a reason. He learned from that moment. And I think he’s better. Guys are confident that he can get the job done. He just has to be confident in himself, and I think he is. So far, I’m happy with the results.”

As the Jets leak details of their contract order to Fitzpatrick in an attempt to gain leverage in the ongoing negotiations, these comments could also help the Jets on that front. Everyone wants Fitzpatrick to return as the Jets’ starter, but some are saying that if Fitzpatrick doesn’t return, Smith is up to the task.

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