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Brady hoping “heart and soul” Welker returns

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 ESPNBoston.com. “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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Bills scouts bracing for a post-draft house cleaning

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Although plenty of teams react to a bad season by dumping front-office employees in January, the more sensible approach is to wait until after the draft. That’s when the bulk of the work has ended, and it also prevents the scout from taking to a new team the fruits of the labor performed on the prior employer’s nickel.

In Buffalo, there’s a belief that the Bills will be making extensive moves in the front office when the draft concludes. Per a league source, the team’s scouts are bracing for job changes after the draft. As one scout explained it, “We are all getting fired next week.”

In response to that claim, the Bills provided to PFT the following statement: “Right now, our focus is on the preparation for this week’s draft. Like every year, evaluations of our player personnel staff take place following the draft. And this year will be no different.”

The Bills fired coach Rex Ryan late in the regular season, replacing him with Sean McDermott. Various reports and rumors have indicated that G.M. Doug Whaley could be on the way out.

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John Ross shrugs off durability concerns

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Washington wide receiver John Ross was projected to be a first-round pick throughout his final college season and his record-setting 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis didn’t do anything to lessen those expectations.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network suggested recently that concerns about Ross’ health could lead to a longer-than-expected wait to hear his name called in Philadelphia, however. Ross has dealt with several knee injuries over the course of his career and Mayock reported that teams have dropped Ross down or completely off their draft boards as a result.

During an appearance on PFT Live, Ross said that he believes such concerns are overblown.

“Well there was a lot of reports saying a lot about my knees where I had a sprained MCL, I had two torn ACLs,” Ross said. “Well all that’s kinda true. I just tore my ACL and tore my right meniscus and I played a whole season without it bothering me, without me having to sit out or come out of a game because of my knees or anything. I think the biggest thing was just my shoulder which I previously got fixed and that’s kinda what I was worried about. My knees fell great, they feel better than before I tore them so I’m not worried about that and I think with the world we live in today there’s a lot of great doctors, there’s a lot of great trainers and a lot of good technology you know. So I think it’s much different than before where I can’t get treated for something or if I’m feeling a certain way I can’t get treated for it so I’m really not worried too much about that. You know it’s football everybody is gonna get wear and tear no matter if you tore your knees before or not so I don’t think durability will be that much of an issue if I stay on top of it and take care of my body.”

Even if 31 teams have downgraded Ross, it just takes one for him to wind up as a first-round pick. We’ll know in a little more than 24 hours if that’s the case.

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Report: Davis Webb could entice teams to trade into late first round

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With the annual desperation for quarterbacks about to manifest itself again, it’s time for he annual surprise at a guy getting drafted higher than anyone anticipated.

This time, it might be Cal’s Davis Webb.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, there’s some thought that a team might trade back into the first round to take Webb.

He cites one national scout who said Webb has “Dak-like intangibles,” and there are only a few problems with comparing him to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

First, Prescott was a fourth-round pick who no one knew was anything other than an intriguing project before Tony Romo got hurt. Second, “intangibles” is a common misspelling of “Ezekiel Elliott and the best offensive line in football.”

Other than the inherent silliness of comparing players to guys they don’t share many traits with, there’s something to it. Webb has gained many fans throughout the process because of his work ethic and other coach-on-the-field qualities.

And with more teams looking for quarterbacks than quarterbacks available, he could stand to benefit.

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Trent Dilfer, Danny Kanell among ESPN layoffs

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As the bloodbath continues at ESPN, two former NFL quarterbacks have lost their jobs. Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell both revealed that they were let go in today’s massive ESPN layoffs.

“Laid off by ESPN today. Although sad cause I loved my job, mostly filled with gratitude and appreciation for the nine years,” Dilfer wrote on Twitter.

Kanell also confirmed that he’s been let go.

“Poured my heart and soul into ESPN for last 8 years. Moved my wife and 3 kids to CT to go “all in” 5 years ago. Bummed it ended in 3 minutes,” Kanell wrote on Twitter. “But totally get it. All part of a business that is rapidly changing. Thankful for the opportunity I was given and people I got to work with!”

After spending 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback, Dilfer covered the NFL for ESPN for nine seasons. Kanell, who spent seven seasons in the NFL, has co-hosted a radio show with Ryen Russillo for the last two years. Russillo is reportedly not being laid off but is having his role at ESPN reduced.

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Marshawn Lynch confirms he’s heading to Oakland

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The last time there were reports that Marshawn Lynch was on his way to officially joining the Raiders, Lynch threw cold water on them and said that he’d let us know when “s–t gets REAL.”

Wednesday morning brought more reports that the deal was done and this round included trade terms between the Seahawks and Raiders. Lynch, who was in Haiti this week, didn’t offer any immediate updates as to the veracity of those reports, but that ended with a tweet later in the day.

Lynch wrote “It’s time” on a tweet that also included a screenshot of a message that thanked Seahawks fans and confirmed that he was going to play in his hometown in his inimitable style.

“Yes Lawd 12th man I’m thankful but s—t just got REAL I had hella fun in Seattle … But I’m really from Oakland doe like really really really from Oakland doe … town bizzness breath on me.”

The Seahawks and Raiders will exchange third-day draft picks in 2018 and Lynch will reportedly have a base salary of $3 million with the Raiders with incentives that can push the deal as high as $8.5 million. Omar Ruiz of NFL Media reports that Lynch is at the team’s facility and took a physical earlier on Wednesday so a team announcement, which is unlikely to include the phrase “town bizzness breath on me,” may be coming soon.

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Jason Witten on extension: I will always take things a year at a time

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Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said recently that he was glad to hear that Tony Romo retired and added that he wished the quarterback’s longtime target Jason Witten had made the same decision.

Witten’s offseason has things moving in the other direction, however. Witten signed a four-year extension to his contract with the Cowboys that leaves him signed through the 2021 season and said Wednesday that he’s “confident that I can play and continue to play” when asked about Parcells’ comments.

Witten also said that he’ll reevaluate that feeling each year to make sure he continues to feel that way.

“I think you always take it a year at a time,” Witten said, via the Dallas Morning News. “You always take that approach. But certainly I feel like I’m a part of this group that’s continuing to build. I never looked at it from the standpoint that, ‘Hey, this is the end.’ I know my role within that and this group and I’m anxious to get started. I don’t know how many years that entails but I certainly feel a big part of it.”

The deal Witten signed added no new guaranteed money, so the Cowboys won’t be left on the hook salary cap-wise in the event Witten’s confidence about his ability to play should dissipate before his contract has run its course.

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Patriots bring former Vikings blocker Brandon Fusco in for a visit

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Since the Patriots don’t really have anything to do draft-wise until Friday, they’re working on some free agency today.

According to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Patriots are hosting former Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Fusco today.

Fusco, who can play center or guard, was a salary cap cut in February. They signed him to a big extension in 2014, but he had a down year last season which made him expendable there.

The Patriots traded their first-round pick to the Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and swapped out their second to the Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy and a third, so they won’t be on the clock until the 72nd overall pick, which should be late Friday night.

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Cardinals pick up Deone Bucannon’s fifth-year option

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Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon has been a starter in all three of his NFL seasons, so it’s no surprise that Arizona wants to keep him around.

The Cardinals officially picked up Bucannon’s fifth-year option today. That means Bucannon gets an $8.7 million salary for 2018, and that salary is guaranteed for injury, although the Cardinals could still choose to release him if he’s healthy.

Bucannon’s 2016 season was cut short by an ankle injury, but he started the first 13 games. He started all 16 games in 2015.

The cardinals took Bucannon with the 27th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

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ESPN’s layoff timing is odd

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ESPN has launched it’s long-expected layoffs, with the biggest news so far being that long-time NFL reporter Ed Werder has been let go. While the moves will presumably affect all aspects of the network and the sports it covers, the timing is odd.

Roughly 100 employees are being laid off only one day before the draft, which is one of the biggest annual events for ESPN. The three-day affair will result in millions consuming ESPN television, radio, and online content. And it’s all happening one day after what will be the biggest one-day exodus of talent in the history of the network.

Regardless of the reasons for the departures (and in any business where revenue is dramatically shrinking, costs must be slashed), making the moves right now makes it a head-scratcher. Perhaps the thinking is that the moves will be noticed less than they would have been given the pendency of the draft, and that the intensity of the draft coverage will make the audience forget by Monday that the layoffs even happened.

The real question is whether the audience even cares. People in the media do because people in the media know many of the people who are being affected by these moves, and they can sympathize/empathize with the situation. At an operation like ESPN, however, people come and go all the time without the average consumer even noticing.

Despite the timing, it’s a sad day for many ESPN employees and their families. It’s also a reminder that every media entity is a for-profit operation. If not enough profit is being generated for those who hold the equity, reductions will have to be made.

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Will someone roll the dice on Gareon Conley being cleared?

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Barring a clear and unequivocal public declaration in the next 24 hours or so from the alleged victim that she was not sexually assaulted on April 9 by Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, Conley will enter the draft with a cloud hanging over his NFL future. But with plenty of evidence available and with teams having the resources to find out even more, it’s possible that someone will take a calculated risk on Conley, if the team develops a sense that he’s innocent, and/or that the alleged victim doesn’t intend to press the issue.

The police report indicates that the alleged victim declined to be interviewed by police at a local hospital, after previously telling them her version of the events. Whether and to what extent the authorities convince her to cooperate and, eventually, to testify in court will go a long way toward determining whether Conley will be prosecuted. If the allegation persists in her refusal to continue to assist the investigation, the criminal case will go nowhere.

If the case proceeds, Conley could have a serious problem. The police report cites a rape statute, which makes the alleged crime a first-degree felony. Under Ohio law, that would result in a sentence of three to 11 years.

Conley has witnesses who claim that he “never touched” the alleged victim, and that she became upset after she was kicked out of the room. The rape kit that was administered to the alleged victim will shed more light on whether contact occurred, but ultimately it will be impossible to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt without cooperation and testimony from the alleged victim.

The victim’s name isn’t publicly known, but the teams either have or can get access to it. As a result, teams have been to do research regarding the alleged victim. It’s also possible that one or more teams will try to contact her directly in order to explain the importance of knowing by Thursday night what will happen with the situation before making a multi-million-dollar investment in Conley.

Regardless of what happens, the teams have every incentive to ensure that they aren’t squandering one of their most important assets. The stakes are high for everyone involved, and the sooner the truth emerges the better off everyone will be.

For Conley, the biggest problem is that, if he’s innocent, irreversible damage likely is going to be done to his NFL career. If he’s guilty, he rightfully should have far bigger problems than sliding in the draft.

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Mike Williams worked out for Chargers, Titans

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Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams is among the players that will be watching the first round of the NFL Draft closely because he’s widely expected to find out where he’ll be starting his NFL career before Thursday night’s festivities in Philadelphia come to an end.

Williams made a late bid to sway minds with a couple of teams over the last week before the big night. Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL Media report that Williams had a pair of workouts with teams picking in the top 10.

Williams worked out for the Chargers last Thursday and then showed his stuff for the Titans on Saturday. He previously spent time with both teams during meetings at the combine in Indianapolis or at the team’s facilities.

The Chargers have the No. 7 pick on Thursday while the Titans are scheduled to pick fifth and 18th — which is where Mike Florio projected Williams to land — in the first round. They could be moving down, however, and there are sure to be some developments that could impact where Williams winds up coming off the board in a draft that is light on certainty with kickoff a little more than 24 hours away.

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Seahawks and Raiders flip 2018 fifth- and sixth-rounders for Lynch

AP

Because of the relationship between the General Managers involved in the soon-to-be-finished Marshawn Lynch deal and the urgencies each side felt, the compensation didn’t figure to be complicated or excessive.

And it’s not.

According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Seahawks will get Oakland’s 2018 fifth-round pick and the Raiders will acquire Seattle’s 2018 sixth-rounder and Lynch, once he’s completed his physical and the trade becomes real.

Seahawks G.M. John Schneider and Raiders boss Reggie McKenzie used to work together in Green Bay, and the familiarity made the trade part of the transaction easy.

Plus, with Schneider getting Lynch off the books and McKenzie getting the kind of human shield in Oakland that may help fans forget for a moment the team’s leaving soon, everybody wins whether Lynch is a productive runner again or not.

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Vikings are suddenly in play for a quarterback in the draft

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Technically, the Vikings already have selected a quarterback in the 2017 draft. They did it by sending their first-round pick (and more) to Philadelphia last year for Sam Bradford, whose contract expires after the coming season.

With the news that 2014 first-round selection Teddy Bridgewater likely won’t have his fifth-year option exercised, the Vikings will now be in play to use another 2017 pick on another quarterback.

The Vikings currently have eight selections in the 2017 draft, including three in the top 90. Their first selection comes at No. 48 in round two.

In 2014, the Vikings vaulted back into the bottom of round one to get Bridgewater. Six years ago, they used the 12th overall pick on Christian Ponder.

The fact that the Bridgewater decision, which doesn’t have to be made until May 3, already has been leaked (with the qualifier of “likely”) invites speculation as to whether the Vikings are trying to create the impression that they may go for a quarterback in one of the early rounds, in order to maximize the overall unpredictability and confusion regarding their plans.

Ultimately, that’s the smartest move for any team — conceal your actual plans for as long as possible, and embrace anything that will naturally make those plans seem even less certain. This Bridgewater news adds a position to the various ones the Vikings could target, and it definitely makes the drafting of a quarterback more likely if a quarterback is deemed to be their best player available when they pick at No. 48.

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Joey Bosa has a specific plan for his offseason work, and it seems to work

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Joey Bosa takes preparation seriously. Last year when he was getting ready for the draft, he even practiced for the Wonderlic, before logging the kind of score that would make people who care about such scores nod approvingly.

“I’m not as dumb as I may sound or look,” Bosa said.

Along those lines, the Chargers defensive end has a concrete plan about his offseason, which he has taken pains to keep team officials abreast of. It was noted that he wasn’t around for the start of voluntary workouts last week, but he has since returned.

I’ve been over-communicating with everybody for months now,” Bosa said of his plan, via Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News. “It’s no secret to anybody.”

Bosa told all his coaches well in advance that he was going to continue the conditioning work offsite with his own trainer (who didn’t want to be named, in a rare lack of self-promotion in that industry). Bosa worked with the same trainer last year and emerged from a long contract standoff to win defensive rookie of the year honors, with 10.5 sacks despite missing the first four games.

“I just found a guy who really knows what he’s talking about, and my body changed in ways I could never have imagined last year,” he said. “Pain in certain parts of my body that I’ve had chronically for years and years was suddenly gone after going through this process and this program.

“After that and after the year I had last year, I saw no reason why I would ever change what I’m doing.”

Considering his production, the Chargers ought to be fine with it, and appear to be. And considering the lengths he’s gone to to explain his participation in a process that’s supposed to be voluntary, everyone else should be as well.

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Report: Vikings unlikely to exercise Teddy Bridgewater’s 2018 option

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Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman met the media on Tuesday and one of the topics of conversation was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s attempt to come back from last season’s severe knee injury.

Spielman said that there is still no timeline for Bridgewater to resume a full workload of football activities after last August’s injury. That injury was serious enough that it has created doubt about Bridgewater’s ability to return at all and that uncertainty will play into the team’s decision about their option on Bridgewater’s contract for the 2018 season.

That decision needs to be made by the middle of next week and Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Vikings are unlikely to pick up the option. The option is guaranteed against injury and, as you’d likely imagine, that’s a sticking point for the Vikings as they’d prefer not to be on the hook for more than $11 million in salary for a player who isn’t able to play.

Sam Bradford is in the final year of his contract as well, which may lead the Vikings to consider a quarterback addition in the draft this week as they plan for all eventualities at the most important position on offense.

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