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Brian Urlacher’s future in Chicago unclear

Brian Urlacher AP

Since arriving as a first-round draft pick in 2000, Brian Urlacher has been one of the Bears’ best and most popular players. But he may not have a future in Chicago.

New Bears coach Marc Trestman was asked twice on Thursday about Urlacher’s future, and he twice declined to commit to anything.

Objectively, I’ve watched the man play for a lot of years,” Trestman said, via the Chicago Tribune. “He exemplifies what being a Chicago Bear is all about. We all know that. When I step out of this room, we’ll begin to study and I’ll talk to [G.M. Phil Emery] about where personnel fits and how it works.”

That might seem like the generic answer a new coach would give about any player, but Trestman was perfectly happy to talk about his plans for coaching other players, including quarterback Jay Cutler, whom Trestman said he was eager to get his hands on.

When asked if he wants Urlacher to be a Bear in 2013, Trestman again declined to commit.

“I recognize certainly what he has meant to this locker room and to the fan base,” Trestman said. “When we get done here, we’ll try to answer some of those questions.”

Urlacher, who will become a free agent in March and turn 35 in May, missed the last four games of the season and said in December that he’ll be sad but not crushed if it turns out that he’s done with the Bears. At that time, however, Urlacher said he believed he’d be back.

Trestman doesn’t sound so sure about that.

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Potential enforcement of federal marijuana laws could reinforce NFL’s rule against it

SAFED, ISRAEL - MARCH 07: (ISRAEL OUT)  A  cannabis plant at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel. In conjunction with Israel's Health Ministry, Tikon Olam are currently distributing cannabis for medicinal purposes to over 1800 people in Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Getty Images

As more and more states have adopted laws permitting the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana, momentum has been building toward softening the NFL’s clear, unambiguous, blanket policy against the substance. That momentum may be slowing down.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew a distinction on Thursday between medical and recreational marijuana, suggesting that the pending federal prohibition regarding marijuana use could be used to push back against states that allow it recreationally.

There’s a big difference between [medicinal marijuana] and recreational marijuana,” Spicer said, via Forbes.com. “I think that when you see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law we need to abide by in terms of when it comes to recreational marijuana.”

That shouldn’t be a surprise, given the appointment of long-time marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions has said in the past, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that legalization of marijuana “is, in fact, a very real danger.” However, at his confirmation hearing, Sessions suggested that a showdown with the states that have legalized marijuana could result in an undue strain on the federal government’s overall resources.

President Trump has said that the marijuana issue should be handled “state-by-state,” and that “medical should happen.” However, it could be that the states now allowing recreational marijuana use (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts) and that those considering joining the jointing trend will be forced to reverse course, sooner than later.

That could throw a wrench into efforts by the NFL Players Association to make the current rules against marijuana “less punitive” regarding recreational marijuana use. At a minimum, it could make the NFL want an even bigger concession to change a policy that both sides agreed to, years ago.

Regardless of whether the federal government rolls back laws allowing the recreational rolling up of cigarettes that don’t contain tobacco, NFL players will continue to smoke marijuana. Under the current policy, players who are smart about when they smoke — and when they temporarily don’t — can smoke marijuana for most of the year without professional consequence. Players who want to smoke apparently will need to continue to be smart and discreet about it, or they eventually will face large fines and lengthy suspensions, culminating in banishment from the league.

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Jim Harbaugh suggests he should get a “medal” for lasting four years with 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers watches his team during their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh never has lasted longer than four years at any of his various coaching stops. For making it last that long in San Francisco, he believes he deserves special recognition.

In an appearance on Tim Kawakami’s podcast, via CSN Bay Area, Harbaugh pointed out that he “set a record for coaching there under the present ownership.”

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

The issue came up because new coach Kyle Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Steve Mariucci in Shanahan’s introductory press conference. Harbaugh said he doesn’t believe he spent enough time with the team to be compared to those other coaches. Harbaugh perhaps would have made it more than four years if he had been working with new G.M. John Lynch.

“I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here [at Michigan], Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common-sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.”

Harbaugh and former 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke didn’t see eye to eye, and that fractured relationship contributed in large part to the “mutual parting” with Harbaugh that came after the 2014 season. The 49ers have hired three coaches in only two full seasons since then.

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Rick Spielman: “Everything’s in flux” with Sam Bradford beyond 2017

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Sam Bradford #8 and Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the game against the Chicago Bears on January 1, 2017 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that the Vikings haven’t decided what they’ll do with running back Adrian Peterson and the same is true when it comes to quarterback Sam Bradford beyond the 2017 season.

Bradford is entering the final year of his contract and the uncertainty about Teddy Bridgewater’s health means that the Vikings will be picking up the $18 million cap hit. The Vikings traded first- and fourth-round picks for him following Bridgewater’s severe knee injury last summer, something Spielman said that he’d do “over in a second” given the position the Vikings were in.

He was less committal about what the team was thinking about for 2018. Spielman included Bradford among players whose contracts needed to be addressed, but gave no indication about the team’s plans.

“Everything’s in flux right now,” Spielman said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “So, I’ll just leave it at that.”

Spielman said “everybody’s hoping” Bridgewater can play again, but that the quarterback hasn’t done any football drills at this point in his recovery. His progress in the coming months will likely play a role in any decision about Bradford’s future, although it will be hard to give up the bird in the hand should the Vikings find their way back to a winning record in 2017.

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Jets release Nick Folk, Breno Giacomini

New York Jets kicker Nick Folk (2) kicks a field goal with punter Lac Edwards (4) holding during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

The Jets have announced that former starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and kicker Nick Folk have been released.

Folk made 27-of-31 field goal attempts last season and ranks as the second all-time leading scorer in franchise history with 729 points. He made 81 percent of his field goal tries for the Jets from 2010-16.

Folk, 32, was due to make $3 million in the one season remaining on his contract.

“It’s a sad day, but that’s the business side of things,” Folk told the Jets’ official website. “I had a great seven years here. I think the only thing that would’ve topped it off would’ve been a couple of Super Bowl wins.”

Giacomini started 37 games in three seasons with the Jets. He was a full-time starter in his first two years but was limited to five games last season by a back injury. He also had one year left on his contract and was due to make $4.5 million in 2017.

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A.J. Bouye: “No telling” what will happen with Texans

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  A.J. Bouye #21 of the Houston Texans intercepts a pass from Connor Cook #8 of the Oakland Raiders during the second half of their AFC Wild Card game at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re going to have a breakout season, you might as well have it when you’re about to be a free agent.

That’s a lesson that cornerback A.J. Bouye is learning this offseason. Bouye had his best NFL season for the Texans in 2016 and heads into free agency poised to cash in on that success via the franchise tag or the open market. Recent word out of Houston is that the Texans aren’t planning to tag Bouye — the salary is expected to be over $14 million with a tag this year — and Bouye says that’s fine with him.

“I talked to my agent, and I’m not mad that they probably won’t franchise me, just because of how much the franchise tag is for a corner,” Bouye said to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. “It’s a lot. At the same time, the situation in Houston, money-wise, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. At the end of the day, I know they want to bring me back, but they have other things they have to address, which I totally understand.”

Breer spoke to an AFC personnel exec who said he believes Bouye will be the “clear king of the class” in free agency once tags are given out and referenced the five-year, $62 million deal that Janoris Jenkins signed with the Giants last year. That’s heady territory for an undrafted player who got his first extended playing time last season, but it doesn’t sound unrealistic given the rising cap and the constant need for cornerbacks around the league.

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Buccaneers cutting cornerback Alterraun Verner

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alterraun Verner #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Buccaneers  40-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Once again, a guy who was once an early free agent big-ticket signing has found his way to the unemployment line.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Bucs are releasing cornerback Alterraun Verner.

It was 2014 when the Bucs made Verner a splash signing, but since then, they found a new flavor of the month. Last year’s first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III made him expendable, though Verner’s own play had contributed to that.

He was benched in his second year in Tampa, and was due $6.5 million this year, so it made sense from a football perspective. But it also serves as a reminder to keep some of the prizes of early March in perspective.

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DeMarco Murray will continue to be “the guy” in Titans backfield

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 27:  DeMarco Murray runs for a touchdown during the second quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on October 27, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans wanted to boost their rushing attack last offseason and addressed that desire by trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry in the second round.

Those moves and ones to shore up the offensive line paid off with a third-place finish in rushing yards as the team went 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011. Murray was the lead back with 293 carries while Henry ran the ball 110 times, something that coach Mike Mularkey suggested will continue to be the arrangement in 2017 when asked about the team’s plans at an event on Wednesday night.

“Derrick is an important part of our offense,’’ Mularkey said, via the team’s website. “Obviously DeMarco Murray is the guy. He has shown he is the guy and he will continue to be that guy. But I will say this:  Each week we put a different game plan together. We spend a lot of hours preparing to play the opponent. And Derrick, and as you saw, some games he was more involved than others. And a lot is based on how we are going to attack the opponent. We know (Derrick) is very special. He is going to have a long, great career here and he is going to be a big part of our offense next year, as he was this year. I like we have a one-two punch to smash it down peoples’ throats to be honest with you.”

The pecking order could change in the coming months, but the Titans are set at running back regardless of which guy is playing the lead role. A reprise of last year’s rushing attack matched with a healthy Marcus Mariota and further improvements to the rest of the roster over the offseason should lead to plenty of optimism in Nashville heading into next season.

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Vikings haven’t decided what to do with Adrian Peterson

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18: Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings hands the ball off to running back Adrian Peterson #28 during the first quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers on September 18, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will Adrian Peterson still be a Minnesota Viking when the team gets to work on the 2017 season? They don’t know yet.

That’s the word from Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, who told reporters today that the team still needs to make its decision.

Unless Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut, it’s hard to imagine that decision will be anything other than cutting Peterson. Peterson is 31 years old, coming off a knee injury and due $18 million in 2017. It would be crazy for the Vikings to pay a declining running back that kind of money.

Whether Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut remains to be seen, but Spielman did say he views Peterson as someone who will always be a Viking. That may be true, in the same sense that Emmitt Smith will always be a Cowboy. But Smith finished his career in Arizona, and Peterson may have to finish his career elsewhere as well.

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Okung’s folly: One year, $8 million, back on the market

Okung AP

Russell Okung didn’t want to pay an agent three percent of a long-term, big-money deal. Instead, he got to keep 100 percent of a one-year, $5 million contract in Denver.

Praised for opting to negotiate his own contract, Okung’s much-hyped five-year, $53 million deal ended up being a one-season prove-it deal. He didn’t do nearly enough to prove to the Broncos that they should guarantee another $19.5 million.

None of the $5 million was guaranteed. Okung, who previously played for the Seahawks, had to participate in 90 percent of the offseason program and be on the roster at the end of it to earn the first $1 million. Then, he had to be on the Week One roster to earn a $2 million roster bonus and a $2 million salary.

So, basically, before he even had a chance to “prove it” as to the $19.5 million, he had to prove that he should be given a chance to earn the first $5 million.

The good news is that he’ll once again be a free agent. The bad news is that many more tackles will be available this year. The worst news is that, if Okung decides to not hire an agent, teams will be allowed to negotiate with the agents representing all of the looming free-agent tackles who have agents during the two-day legal tampering period. During that same window, teams won’t be allowed to negotiate with Okung.

UPDATE 2:25 p.m. ET: By participating in 99 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Okung secured another $3 million in playing-time incentives. So the best tackle on the open market a year ago eventually earned $8 million without a penny of it guaranteed, and he’ll now be back on the market with a lot more competition than a year ago.

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Which owner will give NFL opportunity to Joe Mixon?

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 01:  Joe Mixon #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

As Mike Mayock recently explained it, no team will draft former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon unless the owner approves it. Given the post-Ray Rice realities of the NFL, that’s hardly a surprise; more than 20 years ago, the Patriots renounced the rights to third-rounder Christian Peter after ownership became aware of his history of alleged and actual violence against women.

So with the caveat that Mixon will be an owner’s pick, is there an owner who will pick Mixon?

For some, it may be an issue of the round in which he’s available. As Mixon drops, the relative value increases. At some point, the benefit of having Mixon could outweigh the cost of picking him.

But the cost will be much more than the draft pick invested. P.R. fallout is inevitable, and any team that embraces Mixon will need to have a clear plan in place for explaining why Mixon has gotten a second chance, given the graphic video of a vicious punch to the face of a woman who was accosting him.

On the issue of whether players deserve second chances, keep in mind that, in a 32-team industry with only 53 players per team, giving a player a second chance necessarily means taking away the first chance of someone who most likely hasn’t committed any acts of violence beyond the confines of a football field.

Though not invited to the Scouting Combine (he should be), Mixon will have plenty of chances to make the case for picking him. He’ll get a chance to do that publicly on Monday, when he calls in to PFT Live.

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Cardinals to face Cowboys in Hall of Fame Game

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

With former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017, the NFL has given fans of those teams another reason to got Canton for enshrinement weekend.

The Cardinals will face the Cowboys in this year’s Hall of Fame Game, the league has announced.

The game will take place on Thursday, August 3, two days before the enshrinement ceremony. That’s a departure from past years, when the Hall of Fame Game took place on Sunday. Last year the NFL was left with a big black eye when the Hall of Fame Game had to be canceled because of wet paint on the field in Canton, and the league thinks spreading out the weekend will allow things to run more smoothly from a logistical standpoint — not to mention help Canton do more business with fans staying in town for another day.

The Cowboys are always a strong television draw, and the league will surely be glad to open the 2017 preseason with Dallas on national television. As long as there’s no wet paint on the field.

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Report: Broncos won’t pick up option on Russell Okung

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 08:  Running back C.J. Anderson #22 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with offensive tackle Russell Okung #73 after Anderson scores on a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

The free agent left tackle market keeps getting deeper.

According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the Broncos will not pick up the option on left tackle Russell Okung, which will turn him into the open market.

The $1 million option would have activated the next four years at $48 million, with $20.5 million in guarantees, and that was too high a price for the Broncos to pay.

Okung can now go represent himself in a market that also includes players such as Ryan Clady, Matt Kalil, Andrew Whitworth and Kelvin Beachum, and that kind of crowd might make a guy want to hire an agent.

It also sets the stage for an extensive rebuild for the Broncos, whose offensive line was a major issue last year.

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Ryan Tannehill’s knee is healed (as healed as it will ever be)

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 25: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins looks on during a game against the Houston Texans at Sun Life Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

Good news, Dolphins fans. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s knee is healed.

Bad news (maybe), Dolphins fans. Tannehill’s knee is as healed as it will ever be, absent reconstructive surgery.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald explains that Tannehill, who suffered a second-degree MCL sprain and a slightly-torn ACL after taking a low hit from Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell in December, has “passed a battery of tests” regarding the stability and functionality of the knee and “is now ready to go.” Still, the ACL is partially torn, and ACL’s don’t heal on their own.

Here’s the key point, which Salguero made earlier this week during a visit to PFT Live: “Tannehill will not be any more susceptible to a future ACL tear in his left knee following his completed rehabilitation than if he’d had a reconstructive surgery.” Putting it another way, Tannehill is as susceptible to a full ACL tear as he would be if he had a full reconstruction.

So the chance remains that a full tear will happen, and that he’ll need a full reconstruction. Given the risks associated with full reconstruction, the Dolphins have decided that there’s no reason to do it unless and until the ACL completely goes.

Salguero also reports that Tannehill will wear a brace on his left knee in 2017, as a preventive measure. The end result is that Tannehill will be ready to go for the entire offseason program; if he had surgery on the knee, he surely would have been out of commission until training camp at the earliest.

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Josh McCown has had “good conversations” with several teams

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30:  Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the second quarter against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Veteran quarterback Josh McCown is free to sign with any team because he was released by the Browns, but he doesn’t expect anything to happen right away.

McCown said during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Ross Tucker and Greg McElroy that he has had “good conversations with four or five teams” since being cut loose in Cleveland. He said he’s excited about the prospect of playing for some of those teams, but thinks it will likely be closer to or after the draft before things move forward with any of them.

“I’m gonna take my time,” McCown said. “Having played this long, for me right now it’s being in the right situation. As we talked to teams and had some initial conversations, everyone is waiting to see how and where the quarterback market goes.”

McCown said “location is a factor” because of his desire to be close to his family, but that the structure of the organization and a chance to win would also be significant considerations for him this year.

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Marcus Mariota rehabbing in Oregon, “on pace” to return

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 24: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans waves as he is carted off the field after fracturing his fibula during the second half of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 24, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) Getty Images

In his first public comments since breaking his fibula in Week 16, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said he’s rehabbing in Oregon and expects to be back to Nashville soon.

In a taped message played at a banquet for Titans season-ticket owners last night, Mariota struck a positive tone.

“I wish I could be there with you guys to relive the 2016 season. It was an incredible one, filled with a lot of fun moments,” a bearded Mariota said, via Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. “I’m currently here in Oregon, getting healthy and going through my recovery process. I look forward to getting back to Nashville and getting the 2017 season underway. I think it’s going to be a great one.”

Of course, it’s February, so the fact he’s at his alma mater now probably isn’t that big of a deal, and coach Mike Mularkey said he was still “on pace” to be ready for the start of the regular season.

“I’d say probably the thing I am most concerned about him is he’s probably in there 10 to 12 hours trying to get this thing [healed],” Mularkey said. “He’s probably overworking. I want him to make sure he’s being smart about it. Because you know his work ethic — he’s probably going to try to come back as quickly and better than ever.”

The Titans have said they’re going to be “overly cautious” with his recovery, and Mularkey said he’s been in regular contact with both Mariota and the training staff at Oregon. He’s nearing the two-month mark for putting weight back on his right leg, and Mularkey said he’s seen video of the quarterback walking on a treadmill pool.

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