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Dan Rooney defends the rule that bears his name, hints at expansion

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The NFL’s high-level hiring practices have come under fire in recent days, once the current cycle ended with no minority candidates hired for eight head-coaching jobs and seven G.M.-level positions.  And so it’s understandable that the man after whom the Rooney Rule is named would believe that the rule that bears his name isn’t the problem.

And, frankly, it isn’t.

“You can’t saddle these [coaches or owners] and say ‘You have to do this,’ ” Rooney tells the league in-house media company.  “We want minorities to get the job, and we’re willing to say that’s our goal.  But when it gets down to a team, you can’t say to them, ‘This is what you have to do.’  You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it.”

Still, it’s up to the league at large to set the terms of the Rooney Rule.  As currently constituted, the rule requires only that one minority candidate be interviewed for every head-coaching and G.M. job.  There’s a growing sense that the rule must expand.

While the letter of the rule routinely is followed, its spirit often is violated.  In 2003, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knew he was going to hire Bill Parcells.  But Jones had to comply with the Rooney Rule, so he interviewed Dennis Green by phone, prompting the league to tweak the Rooney Rule to require the interviews to be conducted in person.

In late 2009, the Redskins interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the job held by Jim Zorn while Jim Zorn still had the job, at a time when everyone who was paying any attention knew that Mike Shanahan would be the team’s next coach.

This year, the Chiefs provided a perfunctory interview to Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong just before locking on to Andy Reid.  There has been little buzz in the league or the media that Armstrong is a viable head-coaching candidate — primarily because very few special-team coaches ever vault directly to the top job on the sidelines.

Though the NFL has yet to require that teams interview a minority candidate not currently employed by the team (which would be an easy and proper fix, given as Tony Dungy recently pointed out no African-American coach has been hired via an external search since Rooney hired Mike Tomlin in 2007), Rooney seems to be willing to expand the rule to include key assistant coaches, like offensive and defensive coordinators.

“With these eight [new] coaches, now they have to build a staff,” Rooney said. “A lot of people think it’s really difficult and things like that.  They do it quickly.  Where in times, they should look at the whole thing.  Is it necessary to do it as quickly as they’ve done?”

They do it quickly because they line up the staffs before they even get the jobs.  It’s one of the aspects of the interview — if we give you this job, who are you bringing with you?  And when it comes to hiring assistant coaches, diversity routinely takes a backseat to friendships and, frankly, nepotism.

While the guys who get the head-coaching jobs will grumble, that’s the easiest way to start filling the pipeline with diverse candidates, even though in the end the head coach will be free to hire friends and relatives (or relatives of friends) for the jobs on the coaching staff.  So there wouldn’t be, and couldn’t be, a hiring mandate, at any level of the coaching structure.

And that brings us back to the point most commonly raised by those who want to see any talk of minority coaches disappear.  As the argument goes, the teams are hoping to hire the best candidates for these jobs.  So if they believe that a white candidate is the best candidate, so be it.

That argument typically includes reference to the absence of white running backs and white cornerbacks from NFL teams.  But here’s the biggest difference.  NFL coaches and General Managers sift through hundred of players every year, looking for the best 90 to bring to training camp.  Then they carefully study those 90, looking for the best 53.  Then they constantly scrutinize those 53, ensuring that only the best 53 remain on the team and that the top 22 are at all times on the field.

Coaches and General Managers, in comparison to player acquisitions, rarely are fired and hired.  Teams don’t have a razor-sharp structure in place to find candidates and to vet candidates and to scrutinize candidates.  There are no drills or exercises that can be conducted to demonstrate tangible skills.  Even then, there’s no way to see what these candidates can do if they had the job.  Instead, a leap of faith is made based largely on conversations and communications and the “gut feeling” that arises during that process.

The Rooney Rule was promulgated because minority candidates weren’t getting sufficient chances to participate in that process, which prevented them from establishing the kind of rapport with a white owner and/or G.M. that would give the white owner and/or G.M. the “gut feeling” that this candidate is the best candidate for the job.  Since 2007, owners and General Managers ultimately have acquired the appropriate comfort level only with African-American candidates who have worked for the team in a capacity other than head coach (including interim head coach), giving the owner and other key decision-makers an extended opportunity to observe the candidate and to get to know him.

Put simply, the ridiculous views that got Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder fired by CBS are continuously undermined by a process that is put in place to find the best of the very best professional football players.  But the ridiculous views that got Al Campanis fired by the Dodgers (and I’d forgotten how great Ted Koppel was in response to Campanis) could still be lurking in the hearts and minds of some of the elderly white billionaires who own football teams, primarily because the opportunities to prove those warped attitudes incorrect are, in comparison to player turnover, few and far between.

In the end, the only solution may be the passage of time, as a new generation of men (or women) with more diverse backgrounds and experiences accumulate the wealth and the influence to purchase NFL teams.  The only way to accelerate that process could be a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit fueled not as much by a vague and convoluted sausage-making process as by the obvious output of the meat grinder.

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Hall of Fame to consider adding contributor category

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Seven new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will get their yellow blazers this weekend, but there could be eight members enshrined when the football world converges on Canton again in 2015.

At their board meeting on Friday, the Hall of Fame will consider an amendment that would create a contributors category that would be considered separately from the senior and modern day groups that are currently in place for the voting process. If the amendment is adopted, the maximum number of inductees each year would rise to eight.

There are currently 19 contributors in the Hall, 11 of whom are owners, and Hall of Fame president Dave Baker says that may not be a fair reflection of the contributions that non-players and coaches have made to the game of football.

“Obviously, during the last 30 years there has been more growth in the game than ever before,” Baker said, via the Denver Post. “There are a lot of people who are responsible for that, but unfortunately, what often happens is a contributor gets compared to a modern-day player [on the ballot] and it’s not really a fair comparison. It’s apples and oranges. It’s what happens on the field and what happens around the field that makes that game happen.”

The Hall of Fame voters currently vote on a list of five modern-day candidates and two seniors candidates and it is still to be determined if there would be one contributor up for election each year or if there would be two with the seniors only getting one name in the ring. All candidates need to get 80 percent of the votes from the selection committee to be elected.

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Lovie Smith “pretty pleased” with Da’Quan Bowers

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During the offseason, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said that defensive end Da’Quan Bowersneeds to prove” that he’s good enough to have a role on the Tampa defense in the 2014 season.

Bowers had no argument with the coach’s assessment and Smith said Thursday that the early results from training camp have been promising for the 2011 second-round pick. Smith said that he has been “pretty pleased” with what he’s seen from Bowers, particularly his ability to play both inside and outside on the defensive line.

“He could help us quite a bit because, as a general rule, we’ll [dress] three [tackles] and three ends and we’ll want our seventh [lineman] to be able to play both inside and out,” Smith said, via the Tampa Tribune. “And that’s what you have in Da’Quan. He’s right in between — big enough to rush inside on third downs and a good anchor outside on first down. So he gives us some flexibility. And I know he’s been injured a lot, but he hasn’t missed a beat since I’ve been here.”

Bowers will need to stay healthy and keep his motor high if he’s going to continue to earn playing time on Tampa’s defensive line this season, but it certainly seems to be there for the taking if he’s able to tap into the talent that made him such a high pick in the first place.

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Jones-Drew finds it “hilarious” that people think he’s getting old

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Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew is 29 years old and coming off a 2013 season in which he had a career-low 3.4 yards a carry and never looked like he was all the way back to full speed after a foot injury cut short his 2012 season. But he insists that he’s not getting old.

In fact, Jones-Drew thinks it’s “hilarious” that some people don’t think he has what it takes to carry the load in the Raiders’ offense.

“I know what I have left,” Jones-Drew told the San Jose Mercury-News. “I know the work I put in this offseason to get to where I need to get to be able to play at a high level. I stopped worrying about what people were saying.”

Jones-Drew is competing with Darren McFadden for the starting job in Oakland. Although McFadden is only 26, he appears to be slowing down just as much as Jones-Drew: McFadden has been plagued by injuries and averaged just 3.3 yards a carry in each of the last two seasons.

The Raiders need one of those running backs to get back to full speed. If both of them are up to speed, Oakland may have one of the better 1-2 punches in the backfield. But given their recent performances, fans can be forgiven if they think the thought of the Raiders having a great offense is hilarious.

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Tom Brady likes the challenge of Pats’ new secondary

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Things are getting a little more heated in Patriots practices, with a new secondary making things a little harder for the offense.

And while quarterback Tom Brady’s a perfectionist, he knows having Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis working over his receivers is making them better.

I think that’s what defenses do,” Brady said, via Tom Curran of CSNNE.com. “We’ll go into games and say, ‘Look, these guys hold on every play. They grab you, they clutch you, they hold you, but we still have to figure out a way to get open. It’s not flag football. Their hands are going to be on you, and the refs, they’re only going to call it when you pass the limit of where they think the limit is.’ ”

The Patriots were strafed by the Broncos last year in the AFC Championship Game, and then watched the Seahawks outmuscle the Broncos in the Super Bowl. So that was a not-subtle reminder to a defense that has traditionally played off receivers more often.

“I think all of those guys are veterans,” Brady said. “They know how to get away with certain plays. Like [offensive] holding for example – it happens every play, so if you look close enough you’re going to find holding. There is an edge that you can always push it to. If you look at the offensive line, there’s holding on every play. That’s just the way football is. You’ve just got to do it in a way where the refs don’t see it and don’t call it. But that same thing goes for the defensive backfield. If there is a way to gain leverage on a particular route then you’re going to use it. The veterans know how to do it better; they know right where the limit is.”

And that’s testing the limits of Brady’s patience in practice, even if he knows they’ll be better for it.

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John Mara: Giants planned for not having David Wilson

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There’s a lot of pessimism around the Giants when it comes to running back David Wilson’s chances of playing this season after he suffered a burner in one of his first practices after getting cleared to return to action after spinal fusion surgery, but not a lot of surprise.

The long wait for Wilson to get clearance and the nature of his injury gave the team plenty of reason to plan for the possibility that Wilson would not be part of the mix. Co-owner John Mara said it would have been foolish for the team to proceed any other way.

“I think given what he went through, the surgery he went through, it would have been foolish not to be [prepared],” Mara said on ESPN Radio, via the Newark Star-Ledger. “We signed Rashad Jennings, we drafted Andre Williams, we signed Peyton Hillis again, so we do have some depth there. We have Michael Cox there, so someone is going to have to step up and do it now. Rashad Jennings is a good NFL running back and Peyton Hillis has been a good NFL running back and we’ve got some good young guys behind them, so we do have some depth.”

None of those backs have the same speed and big-play threat that Wilson brings to the table, but Mara’s words suggest that the Giants were looking at those things as a bonus for the coming season. It looks like Jennings will be the starter with Hillis serving as his backup and Williams challenging for short-yardage and goal-line work as a rookie. It isn’t the most imposing group, but may not have to be if Eli Manning and the passing game get back on track.

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Tony Romo might not play in preseason opener

Tony Romo

Even though Dr. Jerry Jones has proclaimed Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo100 percent,” it’s far from certain he’ll play a full preseason schedule.

Via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, Romo said he will play at some point in the preseason, though he’s not sure if he was going to suit up for the Aug. 7 opener against the Chargers.

“You’re constantly evaluating it and you’re constantly, I don’t want to say adjusting because you stick to the plan, but it’s a progression,” Romo said. “It’s leading up to San Francisco [regular season opener]. I am going to play in the preseason, obviously. I think it’s important. The first game, we’ll talk about it as we move into the weekend.”

Romo’s getting periodic days off after offseason back surgery, and everyone says he’s going to be fine. He said it was more of a matter of adapting to a new routine of strengthening his back and supporting muscles,

“It’s just a little unknown so you’d rather play it safe than be silly and just go out and do everything over and over again and all of a sudden have to sit out for a week or so,” Romo said. “I think more than anything we’re playing the long game and I think that’s smart.”

It’s probably early to start the panic, as he didn’t play in last year’s preseason opener either. But until he proves the owner right and shows that he’s 100 percent, it’s reasonable have concern.

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Difference of opinion on Lynch fines

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There’s no dispute that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch returned to the fold on Thursday with an adjusted contract that moves money around but gives him no new dollars, in theory.  (It nevertheless makes $1 million a lot easier to earn, and nudges $500,000 from 2015 to 2014.)

In contrast, there’s a sharp dispute over whether Lynch’s fines in the amount of $30,000 per day will be collected.  One source with direct knowledge of the situation tells PFT the fines will be forgiven.  Another source with direct knowledge of the situation tells PFT the fines won’t be forgiven.

As former Steelers receiver Hines Ward said in June on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk, teams routinely opt not to enforce the fines associated with training-camp holdouts.  For his own holdout in 2005, Ward said that the team did not collect the money.

Any no-fine arrangement typically entails a no-talk-about-the-no-fine provision, which ensures that other players don’t believe they’ll be able to stay away from training camp without consequence.

In this case, with the Seahawks very concerned about the precedent that would be set by giving Lynch a new contract only two years into his current one, the Seahawks are likely just as concerned about the precedent that would be set by giving Lynch a pass on his fines.

Bottom line?  The Seahawks are forgiving the fines, unless they aren’t.

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Texans add a pair, including former Panthers fourth-rounder

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As training camps drag into their second week, teams find themselves needing cover at certain positions.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans signed wide receiver Joe Adams and offensive tackle Brice Schwab.

Schwab spent time with the Bucs and on the Patriots practice squad, while Adams has a little more pedigree.

A former Panthers fourth-round pick from Arkansas, he had explosive return ability, but also treated the ball like it was about to explode. That fumbling problem led him to the CFL, where he played for Edmonton.

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Julio Jones on contract: I want to make Falcons want me for rest of my career

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The Falcons and wide receiver Roddy White agreed on a contract extension this summer that will likely keep White in a Falcons uniform until he’s done playing.

Julio Jones would like to see his career end the same way. The Falcons exercised their fifth-year option on Jones’ rookie deal, so they’re not at risk of losing him before the end of the 2015 season. That means there’s not a tremendous amount of urgency to get an extension done right now and Jones says he’ll use the time to offer more arguments in favor of keeping him in Atlanta for the long term.

“That’s on them to decide. I just have to come here and show up and work every day. I’ve got to make them feel like they want me here for the remainder of my career. The only thing I can do is keep working and keep my nose clean and just do the right things,” Jones said, via ESPN.com. “When it comes, I’ll deserve it. I don’t like anybody giving me anything. I like to work hard for everything I get.”

If Jones makes a full return from last year’s foot injury, it is hard to imagine the Falcons letting him go at any point in the near future.

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Friday morning one-liners

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The Bills only have two healthy tight ends for the Hall of Fame Game.

Shelley Smith is trying to learn a couple of positions on the Dolphins offensive line.

The Patriots offense hopes to benefit from facing a physical defense in practice every day.

Jets T D’Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold have forged a strong bond after entering the league together.

Fitzgerald Toussaint looked good on punt returns for the Ravens in Thursday’s practice.

Strong practice performance is key for players hoping to get a shot on special teams with the Bengals.

S Jim Leonhard just signed with the Browns for what he expects will be his final NFL season.

LB Terrence Garvin hopes versatility earns him a role with the Steelers.

Texans RB Jonathan Grimes and LB Trevardo Williams were cleared to practice on Thursday.

The Colts are short on experience on the interior of their offensive line.

Jaguars S Winston Guy says that he’s learned from his mistakes.

The Titans cranked up the noise during practice for the first time this summer.

Broncos players and coaches got a rules review from officials on Thursday.

Can Cairo Santos beat out Ryan Succop for the Chiefs kicker job?

Chimdi Chekwa has stepped in at cornerback for the Raiders with D.J. Hayden injured.

S Eric Weddle thinks he has seen the Chargers secondary take strides this summer.

G Ronald Leary has started practicing for the Cowboys.

If David Wilson is out, it could create opportunities for Giants RB Michael Cox.

The Eagles won’t have great depth on the offensive line early in the season.

Things are blander around the Redskins this year.

Bears CB Tim Jennings is battling a quad injury.

Said Lions C Dominic Raiola of the offensive line, “Who are you? Are you going to be the same group? Because now, if we fall off any, we’re going to hear it. So we have to keep our level of play up there or better, because we don’t want to be the group that holds this team back.”

The Packers are looking for more production from their recent first-round picks.

Kain Colter is trying to catch on as a punt returner with the Vikings.

Falcons LB Pat Angerer will miss some time with a concussion.

C Ryan Kalil has taken over as the leader on the offensive line for the Panthers.

T Terron Armstead looks comfortable on the left side of the Saints offensive line.

Buccaneers LB Mason Foster is adjusting to a leaner frame and a new defense.

Five former Cardinals players are coaching interns with the team this year.

Rams T Jake Long and DL William Hayes took part in team drills for the first time this year.

CB Perrish Cox had a pretty good day practicing against the 49ers offense.

The Seahawks and their fans were treated to a Helocast demonstration by Marines following Thursday’s practice.

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Still sick, Jim Kelly won’t miss Andre Reed’s enshrinement

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Jim Kelly, the great quarterback of the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s, is still ailing as he battles cancer. But no matter how sick Kelly is, he wouldn’t dream of being anywhere other than Canton, Ohio, this weekend to witness his receiver Andre Reed’s induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kelly’s wife, Jill Kelly, told the Buffalo News that it won’t be easy for Jim.

He’s pushing it,” Jill said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if he’s all better and good to go. There’s still the looming test in August, the not knowing if treatments worked, the fact that he’s still on a feeding tube. His life is still in that place of uncertainty, not knowing really what’s going to happen with all of this. So he’s still beat down; he’s still tired, he still gets sick quite a bit. But he would not miss this for the world.”

Kelly wants to be there for Reed in large part because Reed has been there for Kelly, traveling with him to support him during cancer treatments.

“Andre was at the hospital,” Jill Kelly said. “He was at the house the day we flew to New York City. He came to New York and again when we got back. Every time Andre was there, Jim was down and out, struggling. But it was always the conversation. It was a given that Jim was going to be at the Hall of Fame.”

Kelly will stay in Canton for a day after Reed’s enshrinement, as he’s been chosen to toss the coin at the start of the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night.

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Expect more defensive holding, illegal contact flags this year

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NFL rules have already done plenty to favor the passing game, but this year may be the biggest passing season yet.

That’s because, as explained by veteran referee Ed Hochuli, NFL officials are planning to emphasize defensive holding and illegal contact this season. Hochuli said that early in the year, when defensive backs haven’t yet learned how strictly the officials are going to call the penalties, the flags will fly frequently.

“I would expect there may be more fouls called in the first preseason game and the first regular-season game,” Hochuli told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The big one is holding. We’ve also tightened up the rule on illegal contact. We’ve always given a little leeway on that.

Opposing offenses complained last season that the Super Bowl champion Seahawks were grabbing and holding and not getting flagged for it. This year the Seahawks may have to adjust their style. And offenses across the league may put up even bigger numbers than ever before.

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Report: Seahawks workout tight end Steve Maneri

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The Seattle Seahawks could be on the lookout for additional help at the tight end position after veteran Anthony McCoy suffered a torn left Achilles tendon on Tuesday.

While the team isn’t pursuing Jermichael Finley, the team did bring in another veteran tight end for a workout this week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the Seahawks brought in Steve Maneri for a workout on Thursday.

Maneri is a former offensive tackle that was converted to a tight end by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012. In five years, Maneri has played for the Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Maneri was released by the Buccaneers in May. With his former offensive line background, Maneri is a proficient blocker at the tight end position. Behind starter Zach Miller, the rest of Seattle’s current tight end group is far more proficient as pass catchers than blocking options.

Maneri has six receptions for 51 yards in 23 career games.

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Michael Vick wants to play until he’s 40 years old

Michael Vick AP

On the heels of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees saying he wants to play until he’s 45 years old, another veteran quarterback has expressed a desire to play into his 40’s.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick says he wants to play until he’s 40.

Vick, 34, signed a one-year deal with the Jets earlier this offseason to serve as a veteran backup to second-year starter Geno Smith.

While Vick doesn’t view his skills as being relegated to that of a backup quarterback, he has accepted his role as a backup and mentor to Smith for the Jets.

“You never envision yourself being in this role (when you’re younger),” Vick said. “But as you grow older, you start to (realize) it’s inevitable. You know it’s going to happen. At the same time, I just try to keep myself in shape and keep trying to be the best that I can be, because you never know what can happen.”

Vick threw for 1,215 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions in seven games for the Philadelphia Eagles last season before an injury handed the starting job to Nick Foles.

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Bears sign offensive tackle Dennis Roland

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The Bears added a right tackle with starting experience Thursday, announcing the signing of Dennis Roland to a one-year deal.

The 31-year-old Roland has played in 71 regular season games (30 starts). He has experience both as a tackle and an extra blocker. Roland appeared in five games for Cincinnati a season ago, all as a reserve.

Roland’s most extensive starting experience came in 2009 and 2010, when he made nine starts apiece at right tackle.

Roland’s signing comes one day after Bears reserve tackle Eben Britton suffered a hamstring injury.

In a corresponding roster move Thursday, the Bears waived undrafted rookie free agent tackle Cody Booth.

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