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Brady hoping “heart and soul” Welker returns

AFC Champiohship Football AP

Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said he’s “not sure” about his future with the team, but his quarterback made his feelings known this morning.

During his weekly interview on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show, Tom Brady was careful to say it wasn’t his call, but voiced his support anyway.

“Everybody knows how I feel about Wes, our whole team feels that way about Wes,” Brady said, via “He’s just one of the best players I’ve played with and played against. He’s just a phenomenal player, and he’s been the heart and soul of what our team is all about. He’s been so selfless and the way that he carries himself and commits himself to help our team win, it’s second to none.

“But like I said, those aren’t my decisions.”

Welker played out this year under a $9.5 million franchise tag, and they could always tag him again for $11.4 million this coming season.

Welker had a team-high 118 catches this season, and has averaged 112 per year with the Patriots.

You’d think they’d want to take care of him, but going into the offseason, you wonder if they’ll use his age (31) and some high-profile playoff drops against him.

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Sunday morning one-liners

Darrelle Revis AP

Perusing quarterback candidates for the Bills to add this offseason.

Wayne Diesel has been named sports performance director for the Dolphins and Dennis Lock was promoted to director of analytics.

What will the Patriots do regarding CB Darrelle Revis?

Don’t expect QB Michael Vick to be back with the Jets.

A couple of tight end possibilities for the Ravens to consider.

Are the Bengals planning more cuts for cap purposes?

The Browns’ winning bid for QB Josh McCown shows how shallow the pool of available quarterbacks is this offseason.

The Steelers have been able to consistently find receivers to plug into the offense.

Have we seen the best that Texans DE J.J. Watt has to offer or can he still improve?

Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star thinks it is unlikely that the Colts trade for RB Adrian Peterson.

The Jaguars believe they need to generate more pressure to generate more turnovers.

Nashville wants better communication with the Titans on issues having to do with LP Field.

On Demaryius Thomas and other wide receiver-related free agency topics for the Broncos.

Former Chiefs CB Gary Green will be enshrined in the team’s Hall of Fame this year.

The playbook that then-Raiders coach Jon Gruden used for a 1998 minicamp is available for viewing.

Forecasting Chargers WR Seyi Ajirotutu’s chances of re-signing with the team.

The Cowboys could shop for another backup quarterback.

Does the No. 9 pick give the Giants leverage in contract talks with DE Jason Pierre-Paul?

Todd Herremans said farewell to Eagles fans after announcing his retirement.

One of DL Ricky Jean Francois’s first tasks after signing with the Redskins was learning what “HTTR” means.

There are plenty of free agent prospects for the Bears to look at this month.

The Lions like the growth they saw from CB Darius Slay in 2014.

There’s not much reason for the Packers to let OL Don Barclay go as a restricted free agent.

What’s next at left guard for the Vikings?

QB T.J. Yates is likely to remain with the Falcons.

Will the Panthers have room for DT Colin Cole in 2015?

A position-by-position look at what the offseason could bring for the Saints.

QB Vinny Testaverde looks back at the last time the Buccaneers had the first overall pick.

UCLA QB Brett Hundley is from Arizona and would love to play for the Cardinals.

G Justin Blalock could be a player under consideration by the Rams.

A look at what WR Stevie Johnson’s exit would mean for the 49ers’ offseason plans.

Sorting through offensive line needs for the Seahawks.

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Stephen Jones: DeMarco Murray talks are slow, he’ll test the market

DeMarco Murray AP

If DeMarco Murray signs a new contract with the Cowboys this offseason, it will only be after testing the free agent market.

That’s the word from Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, who said the Cowboys’ talks with the agents for the free agent running back have been “slow.”

“[Murray] is probably going to, you know, get some peace and see what’s out in the market and then we’ll talk and see. I do believe deep down he’d love to stay in Dallas,” Jones told FOX Sports.

Murray may want to stay in Dallas, and the Cowboys may want to keep him, but that doesn’t mean the two sides are going to come to an agreement. The Cowboys won’t have a lot of salary cap space after franchising Dez Bryant, and Murray may find that some other team is going to give him more money than the Cowboys are offering.

“We’d love to keep him in Dallas; just see how things play out,” Jones said.

It things do play out to keep Murray in Dallas, it will only be after Murray sees how much he can make elsewhere.

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Ex-Raider Kaluka Maiava serving 15 days in jail for assault

maiava AP

Kaluka Maiava, a free agent linebacker who started two games for the Raiders last season, is currently in jail in Hawaii for assault.

Maiava turned himself in Monday afternoon to the Maui Community Correctional Center to begin serving a 15-day jail term, according to the Associated Press. Maiava pleaded no contest to assault charges stemming from a 2013 incident at a Maui bar.

The Raiders cut Maiava in November and he is currently a free agent. Maiava’s attorney, Ben Lowenthal, asked the judge not to impose a sentence that would make it difficult for Maiava to sign with another NFL team.

“This conviction will have an adverse effect on his ability to join another team and continue playing professionally — despite being in good condition and healthy to play,” Lowenthal said. “A conviction should not be the final factor that leads to an early end to a professional football career.”

The judge, however, said Maiava should not get special treatment “because he is an NFL player, makes a lot of money, has a lot of friends.”

Maiava, who is the nephew of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Browns in 2009.

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Reports: Dez Bryant set to receive franchise tag

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys are reportedly ready to give their top wide receiver the franchise tag.

Dez Bryant is likely to be designated the Cowboys’ franchise player on Monday, club COO Stephen Jones said Saturday, according to Mark Lane of Fox Sports Southwest.

“I still think that it’s probably, you know, would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline,” Jones told Fox Sports Southwest, indicating the club was “eyeing” giving Bryant the tag.

Also, ESPN Dallas’s Todd Archer reported Jones had said the club had informed Bryant’s agent the tag was coming.

The top offensive player in PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100, the 26-year-old Bryant hauled in 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He has exceeded 1,200 receiving yards and caught at least a dozen touchdowns in each of the last three seasons for Dallas, which captured the NFC East in 2014.

The deadline for clubs to use the franchise tag is Monday.

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PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100 has five new names

St Louis Rams v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

With numerous veterans hitting the market in recent days, PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100 has gotten an update.

For now, we’ve added five players to our list of the top free agents, including ex-Lions tailback Reggie Bush and ex-Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

The still-swift Bush could appeal to clubs looking to add depth at tailback, but Langford could be a name to watch, too. Langford (6-6, 313) has never missed an NFL game, and he turned 29 in January. As released free agents go, he has a good number of attributes working for him.

For those wanting to keep track of all of the veteran cuts as free agency nears, check out PFT’s Veteran Cuts Tracker, which we will update as more names hit the market. Both the tracker and free agent rankings are right on PFT’s home page, and you will want to bookmark all of these for ease-of-use as the offseason drama ramps up.

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Competition Committee explores improving London games

The clock face of Big Ben reads 20:12 at Getty Images

Before NFL owners can decide on which rules to change (or not to change) for 2015, the balls must be teed up by the Competition Committee.  While not binding in any way on the folks who sign the checks, the Competition Committee’s recommendations typically carry plenty of weight when the time comes to determine whether 24 of 32 owners will alter one or more rules.

The Competition Committee met on Saturday in Naples, Florida.  According to NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, the session included potential improvements to the games played in London.

Vincent didn’t identify specific potential possibilities for making the game better.  As the annual series has grown from one game per year to three, the NFL has begun kicking off earlier, with games becoming Sunday morning nationally-televised events.  There also has been talk of possibly eliminating the automatic bye week following all London games, with the goal of assessing one of the potential consequences of moving a team to London and requiring visiting teams to play without a bye on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Brian Cushing has had three surgeries this offseason

Brian Cushing AP

Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was healthier last season than he had been for the previous two years, but he was still dealing with plenty of injuries.

In fact, Cushing has already had three surgical procedures this offseason: One to repair a broken right wrist, one arthroscopic procedure on his left ankle and a procedure on the left knee that has plagued him for years.

“It’s not uncommon for stuff like that to happen. It’s just little things here and there, the residual effects of two major surgeries and injuries, the wear and tear of playing throughout the season,” Cushing told the Houston Chronicle. “There were still some things bothering me a little bit. Just went in there and had real good success in both areas and looking forward to a very healthy and productive season. We have the technology and the doctors, especially in Houston, to do a simple, minor procedure like that. Go in, clean whatever needs to get out of there and just feel better.”

Cushing said he’s confident he’ll be healthy enough to participate in the Texans’ offseason program.

“It’s coming along real well,” he said. “I’m going to start working out a little bit. From a pain standpoint, there’s really nothing going on there. I’m real happy about that. I’m real happy to get the cast off and start doing some physical therapy on it, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

The Texans have to hope the 28-year-old Cushing can get healthy and stay healthy. It’s been a long time since he’s looked like the same player he was early in his career, before injuries took their toll.

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Ray Rice won’t be attending veteran combine

Ray Rice AP

With the offseason maximum roster size at 90 players per team, a total of 2,880 jobs currently are available.  Like Michael Sam and Vince Young, running back Ray Rice hasn’t received an offer for one of them.

Unlike Sam and Young, Rice won’t be working out for teams next month.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Rice does not plan to attend the March 22 veteran combine.

While for many reasons it makes little sense for Sam and Young to show up for a mass workout when any interested team could fly the players to town at any time for a private tryout, neither Sam nor Young carry the baggage Rice does.  Any NFL franchise sufficiently curious about Rice’s current talent and fitness level to watch him run and jump and cut and catch would have to endure the criticism that would come from flirting with the man whose on-camera elevator knockout of his then-fiancée became a national lightning rod in September 2014.

By watching Rice work out at a mass gathering of players no one currently wants, an interested team could discreetly eyeball Rice without taking heat for it.  So it would make sense for Rice, who still hopes to return to the NFL, to show up and work out.

Indeed, showing up and working out would make a lot more sense — and be a lot more effective — than a Hail Mary interview with the local newspaper in the city where he used to play.

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Ray Rice talks, tries to hustle up a little sympathy

rayrice AP

As Ray Rice tries to work his way back into the NFL, he’s trying to work up a little positive P.R.

The former Ravens running back told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun that the last year has been incredibly difficult for him (as opposed to how hard the moment was for his wife when he punched her in the face in the elevator, and then watched her apologize for her role in the assault at a press conference).

“The big picture of it all, being the person that I am, I really felt horrible,” Rice said. “You almost want to punish yourself. I know I’m never going to win the battle of public opinion. Honestly, I almost felt like at one point that it wasn’t worth living. I see why people commit suicide.

“It hurt that bad. I was low, real low. It hurt that bad because you worked your whole life to do all the right things and then you’re the world’s most hated person. It was really tough. My daughter, oh Lord, I grew up without a father, there’s no way I could check out on my own family.”

And yet, he did. Now that he’s lost his $35 million job, and trying to hustle up another way to support his family, the public act of contrition is predictable.

Rice also said his relationship with his wife Janay is now on more solid footing, and that he’s grown since the two had a drunken row at an Atlantic City casino. He avoided criminal charges by getting into a pretrial intervention program in New Jersey, but became radioactive in the eyes of the Ravens (who previously, vigorously supported him) when the video of the incident became public.

“It’s tough, I realize that’s a battle I’m going to have to face for the rest of my life,” Rice said. “Time does heal everything, but I don’t think people are going to forget this. I want people to not forget about the incident, but I want people to see there’s a human being on the other side. This is not a monster, a guy who’s a repeat offender. I’m not the guy they stereotype me to be. I’m not excusing what I did.”

Rice said he agonized over how he’d eventually explain the issue to his daughter, and talked about how hard it would be to leave Baltimore to move closer to his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y.

And while many are skeptical as to whether another team will give him a chance — though the Ravens wish someone would (if only to take them off the hook) — Rice said he understands it won’t be about whether he can still play football.

“I’m optimistic that I’ll get a second chance,” Rice said. “I don’t think this boils down to whether I can play football or not. Obviously I know that. I just think there’s so much more that comes with it. I know the PR side of it will be tough. I understand that. . . .

“I don’t want my career to be defined by this one moment. I’ve been smart with money and the NFL is a great-paying game, but I really want to get back out there for my pride and to be able to leave the game with dignity. I don’t ever want to feel exiled out because I wasn’t that guy. … I know I’m not ready to call it quits yet.”

That decision’s not up to Rice, and whether anyone gives him that chance will depend in part on whether they believe him to be sincere.

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Report: Panthers are done with Greg Hardy

Greg Hardy AP

We don’t know at the moment whether Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will or won’t be suspended.

And we can’t know until at least the March 10 start of free agency to know where he’ll play, whenever he’s eligible.

But it seems we know where he won’t be playing next season.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, the Panthers are out of the running for last year’s franchise player, deciding to let him walk into the market, and willing to simply accept whatever 2016 compensatory pick comes their way.

While a number of players went to bat for Hardy with management after his domestic violence case was thrown out to create a glimmer of hope, “that slim possibility quickly cooled and eventually ended last week.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, happened within the last seven days to erase the last shred of hope that he’d return. But you could see the writing on the wall at the Scouting Combine, when General Manager Dave Gettleman was discussing the importance of evaluating character and said “Who wants a ticking time bomb?

The Panthers were already wary of him, unwilling to invest in a long-term deal last year. Then their $13.1-million franchise tag gamble backfired, when he played one game and spent the rest of the year on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Hardy’s lately been retweeting fans begging the team to bring him back, but it seems like he’s going to have to find another fanbase to do his passive-aggressive online panhandling for him.

If this was just a football decision, he’d be one of the most sought-after players in the market. He’s still 26, and had 15.0 sacks the last time he played a full season.

Teams such as the Falcons, Buccaneers, Bengals, Raiders and Jaguars have the means and needs to pursue him, but his market will be fascinating to watch since no one’s sure when or whether Roger Goodell will rule on his status.

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Report: Rita Benson LeBlanc grabbed, shook Gayle Benson before December game

Benson AP

The Benson Family Feud features hard feelings and strong opinions and high stakes and plenty of lawyers, sparked by Saints owner Tom Benson’s decision to re-write his will in a way that altered the succession plan for his NFL and NBA franchises.  A new report indicates that the change from Benson’s daughter and her two children to Benson’s current wife was sparked by a December confrontation between Rita Benson LeBlanc (right in the photo) and Gayle Benson (left).

According to Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times Picayune, LeBlanc (Mr. Benson’s granddaughter, who previously was pegged to run the Saints after his passing) and Gayle Benson (Mr. Benson’s third wife) had a disagreement in the presence of others in a suite at the Superdome before the Week 16 game against the Falcons.  Duncan reports that LeBlanc was the aggressor, and that she eventually “grabbed Gayle Benson by both shoulders and shook the then-67-year-old repeatedly during a confrontation that lasted several minutes.”

“[Rita] was shaking [Gayle] to emphasize her point and to be heard,” a source who witnessed the incident told Duncan.  “It was pretty ugly.”

Duncan reports that, six days after the encounter, Mr. Benson “mailed a letter to [daughter] Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc and [grandson] Ryan LeBlanc telling them he never wanted to see them again and banning them from his business operations.”

In January, Mr. Benson finalized the change to his will that shifts ownership of the Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans to Gayle Benson after his passing.  That move prompted a lawsuit from Renee Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc, and Ryan LeBlanc challenging his mental capacity to alter his plans for the future control of the teams.

While the incident between LeBlanc and Benson has no direct relevance to the question of whether Mr. Benson had the appropriate mental capacity to alter his will, it helps explain why he made the decision — and it likely will prompt plenty of fans in New Orleans who haven’t chosen a side in the Benson Family Feud to side with Gayle Benson.

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Saturday’s a good day to catch up on PFT Live


Every Monday through Friday, three full hours of (mostly) NFL-related chatter emerges on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.  For those who aren’t in position to listen to the radio or the online stream from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET during the workweek, you’re in luck.  And presumably not bad luck.

All PFT Live shows are available via the on-demand player that can be accessed right here, or through the “on demand” button at the NBC Sports Radio.  Which means you can listen to all of the shows while doing whatever it is you do on Saturday when you’re not at work.

PFT Live (the web show) has been around for more than four years.  The three-radio NBC Sports Radio tour has finished its eighth week.  Week Nine starts Monday, only eight days from the start of free agency.

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Von Miller: Wade Phillips will make Denver’s defense more aggressive

Von Miller AP

Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller thinks Wade Phillips is just the defensive coordinator to let him make the most of his talents.

Miller told the team’s website that he thinks the new defense Phillips is installing will let him do what he does best, and attack the quarterback.

“I think we’ll be a little more aggressive,” Miller said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be pretty exciting.”

started all 16 games last season and had 14 sacks, but he said he believes he’ll be in better shape in 2015 because last year he spent his offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL.

“I’ve been working extremely hard this offseason,” Miller said. “Last year I couldn’t really do as much with the ACL surgery but now I’m 100 percent and I’m doing all I can every single day. I’m looking forward to my teammates and all the guys leaning on me to make some plays.”

The Broncos’ offense is still faced with the enormous question of whether Peyton Manning will come back, as well as questions about free agents Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. But on defense, there’s little question that the Broncos have good talent, and a good new defensive coordinator.

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49ers haven’t asked Stevie Johnson to take a pay cut, yet

Johnson AP

As the veteran receiver market grows via the release of multiple veteran receivers under contract, more and more receivers will be facing a take-a-pay-cut-or-take-a-hike ultimatum.

The group of veteran receivers facing that dilemma includes 49ers receiver Stevie Johnson.  Acquired via trade in 2014, Johnson never became fully engaged in the San Fran offense, resulting in only one start, 35 catches, 435 yards, and three touchdowns.

With a new coaching staff, a base salary of $5.5 million, a $275,000 workout bonus, and a $250,000 roster bonus due in March, the 49ers want Johnson to take a pay cut, per a league source.  According to another source, however, a request to accept less has not yet been made.

Diana Russini of NBC 4 in Washington reports that the 49ers are expected to release Johnson.  It’s possible he’ll simply be cut without any discussion about taking less.  Chances are, however, that a cut would be preceded by a negotiation.  Eventually, Johnson most likely will be asked to take less in order to stay.

Any analysis regarding a reduced offer includes gauging the market elsewhere.  It’s tampering for other teams to tell Johnson’s agents what they’d pay for him, but it’s prudent for the agents of any players facing this Let’s Make A Deal conundrum to try to peek behind Door No. 2 before rejecting Door No. 1.

The growing glut of veteran receivers coupled with the instant impact made by rookies likely means Johnson won’t be getting $6.05 million from the 49ers (or likely from anyone else) in 2015.  Look for something to be finalized before the roster bonus comes due on the fifth day of the new league year.

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McCown wants to help Manziel grow as a person and player

McCown Getty Images

On Friday, veteran quarterback Josh McCown opted for the Browns over the Bills.  On the surface, the move seemed a bit surprising.  At a deeper level, it makes more sense.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Browns seemed more eager than the Bills to close a deal reportedly worth $15 million over three years, and McCown viewed the Browns to be the better fit.  Also, the Bills created the impression that they have other plans at the position.

For the Browns, the only clear plans at this point are that Brian Hoyer won’t be part of them.  Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer called Hoyer on Friday to inform him of the arrival of McCown.  While they apparently didn’t say it, it means they won’t be trying to re-sign Hoyer, who is due to become a free agent on March 10.

McCown will be trying to help the guys who technically represent McCown’s competition, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw.

“If you can give of yourself to others to help somebody else in your journey, I think you’ll find so much more peace in life,” McCown told Alex Marvez and Mark Dominik of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday night.  “And so that’s my approach when I head into a quarterback room, and is just ‘What can I give back to the guys around me to help us be better?'”

McCown specifically wants to help the 2014 first-round pick who currently is going through a serious personal challenge after entering rehab.

“Johnny is a person, and every person that I come across has value to me, and they matter,” McCown said.  “And so I want to help him as much as I can with all parts of it.  To grow as a person and as a player and to help him go on and have a fruitful career.”

That attitude suggests McCown will be ready to do whatever the Browns ask him to do, with no agenda or rivalry or jealousy.  He truly wants to help the Browns win, whether that means McCown, Manziel, or Shaw taking the snaps.

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