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Atlanta the latest to hear threats of L.A. eyeballing team

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If it was a football play, it would be stopped in the backfield for a loss of yardage, every time it was called, because it is so telegraphed.

But that doesn’t stop the Los Angeles card from being thrown every time an NFL owner tries to extract money from his local government.

It was Charlotte recently, now it’s moved down Interstate 85 to Atlanta, where the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Falcons owner Arthur Blank has told area officials he had been approached by L.A. interests who want to move his team there.

The Falcons just so happen to be in the middle of wrangling for public money to build a new stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, an acceptable if soulless barn which hosts many other events in addition to Falcons games.

“It’s incumbent on us to make sure we don’t lose the franchise,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday. “What it does is emphasize the fact that having a major football team like the Atlanta Falcons is a sought-after commodity. I recognize that fact.”

According to the report, Blank “reportedly” told Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed of the interest from L.A.

But Deal seemed to say Blank hadn’t done that directly, suggesting the implied threat that is so common from people who don’t want to dirty their hands by wringing your wallets dry of cash themselves.

“Arthur Blank has never played that card, and I give him credit for that,” Deal said, adding:  “I have not had any direct conversations about this.”

No one has to have direct conversations, so long as word gets out, “reportedly” or otherwise, about the threat of dropping the big one on an NFL market.

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Chuck Pagano on Andre Johnson: You don’t see a huge dropoff

Andre Johnson AP

Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted his lowest average yards per catch since 2005 while playing for the Texans last season, a development which may have accelerated his departure from Houston in the offseason.

It’s not a problem for the Colts, though. Indianapolis was quick to snap Johnson up once he became a free agent and coach Chuck Pagano says that the team didn’t see a markedly different player on the field during the 2014 season.

“You don’t see a huge dropoff numbers-wise,” Pagano said, via ESPN.com. “Maybe in touchdowns. But you still see a guy who is more than capable of stretching the defense. Certainly somebody who an opponent can’t just line up and say, ‘Don’t worry about Andre Johnson.’ They’re still going to have to tend to him if you will. If they choose to double [T.Y. Hilton] and take him out of the game, you have another guy on the other side, along with the rest of the guys on the roster who can still stretch the defense. He’s a big, possession type guy. He makes contested catches in traffic. He’s got a big catch radius. A big body. Those guys are hard to defend.”

The Colts are likely to get more out of Johnson as a “big, possession type guy” than as someone stretching defenses at this point in his career, but that shouldn’t be a problem at all. With Hilton and Donte Moncrief on hand, the team needs someone to make plays underneath the defense and give Andrew Luck a reliable target to extend drives down the field.

Johnson’s 85 catches while playing with the motley crew of 2014 Texans quarterbacks suggests he’ll be able to do that just fine.

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Dwight Freeney suing Bank of America for $20 million

Dwight Freeney AP

Longtime NFL linebacker Dwight Freeney hasn’t found any action in free agency, but he’s working on a bigger score.

According to Dana Hunsinger Benbow of the Indianapolis Star, Freeney is suing Bank of America, saying they bilked him out of more than $20 million and forced him to close his restaurant business.

The lawsuit claims Freeney was taken advantage of after he trusted the bank’s wealth management division with his assets.

“Although we sympathize with Mr. Freeney as the victim of a crime, the bank had nothing to do with the criminal scheme,” said Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America.

The bank spokesman said two people who had been part of a previous scheme had been convicted in criminal court and ordered to pay restitution. One former Bank of America Merrill Lynch adviser and an associate were arrested in 2012 after fraudulently removing $2.2 million from Freeney’s account.

And in his lawsuit, Freeney said the bank “participated in and aided and abetted” a scheme that began in 2010 to separate him from his money.

If he wins, it’ll be bigger than anything he’s going to make playing football anytime soon, after the Chargers let him walk.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

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Bills RBs Fred Jackson and LeSean McCoy may end up splitting the third down work.

Free agent RB Stevan Ridley visited the Dolphins but didn’t reach a deal.

The Boston Globe has a detailed look at Robert Kraft’s testimony in the Aaron Hernandez trial.

Jets great Joe Namath visited the birthday party of 100-year-old twins.

Steelers great Rod Woodson is auctioning off some memorabilia.

The departure of QB Tyrod Taylor left the Ravens with a hole on the depth chart behind Joe Flacco, which led to the signing of Matt Schaub.

The Bengals would like to add a receiver in the draft.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s truck stop company has settled four rebate fraud cases.

The Houston Chronicle thought it would be funny to run an April Fools article about J.J. Watt running for mayor.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano says of WR Andre Johnson: “He’s a big body guy that can still separate, create separation.”

Here’s a look at players the Jaguars might draft.

The Titans may be better off passing on Marcus Mariota.

The Broncos are expecting Bradley Roby to take a step forward this season.

Some possible options for the Chiefs in the draft.

Raiders DB Charles Woodson is promoting his line of wine.

Former Chargers LB Dwight Freeney says he was ripped off by Bank of America, to the tune of $20 million.

Here’s a scenario in which the Eagles could draft Marcus Mariota.

Giants QB Eli Manning is avoiding questions about his contract.

Cliff Harris, a great Cowboy of the 1970s, says when he thinks about today’s game, “I’m trying not to think about the eight to 10 million a year I would be making if I were playing today.”

Washington may try to draft the replacement for Brian Orakpo, who left for Tennessee in free agency.

New Bears RB Jacquizz Rodgers is an equally dangerous threat as a runner and receiver, with 1,116 career yards rushing and 1,104 receiving.

The Lions’ defense was good in coordinator Teryl Austin’s first season, but he expects it to be better this year.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is defending himself from people who think he shouldn’t be cheering for Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament.

A year later, the Vikings say QB Teddy Bridgewater’s bad showing at his Pro Day didn’t matter at all.

The Falcons seem relieved that they got off easy for Noisegate.

A young Panthers fan who wants Cam Newton moved to running back has become an Internet sensation.

The Saints are taking a look at Miami Hurricanes LB Denzel Perryman.

The Bucs liked what they saw at Jameis Winston’s Pro Day.

Kentucky pass rusher Alvin Dupree could be a fit for the Cardinals in the first round.

Akeem Ayers and Jo-Lonn Dunbar will compete for a starting linebacker spot in St. Louis.

Here’s how the Seahawks’ starting lineup on defense looks right now.

Michael Wilhoite and Navorro Bowman look like the 49ers’ starting inside linebackers.

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Lions fine with DeAndre Levy walking on wings of airplanes

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Earlier this week, video of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady jumping off a cliff in Costa Rica made the internet rounds but he isn’t the only player to spend some portion of their offseason finding thrills off of the football field.

As mentioned in one-liners on Monday, Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy shared some pictures and video of his experience walking on the wings of a biplane. There’s a standard clause in player contracts that says players cannot “engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury,” but the team doesn’t have any problem with Levy’s new pursuit.

Lions president Tom Lewand said on Tuesday that the team’s official position was “don’t fall” and coach Jim Caldwell remained unfazed by the linebacker taking a mid-flight stroll.

“I think he was strapped in pretty well,” Caldwell said, via ESPN.com. “As a matter of fact, I just saw the photo for the first time. He’s that kind of individual. He’s afraid of nothing. He takes some pretty exotic trips in the offseason and as long as he’s coming back healthy, we’re going to pray for him. He’s an integral part of our team.”

Despite their accepting attitude, we imagine the Lions will ask Levy to fly inside the plane on road trips during the 2015 season.

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Miles Austin was finally healthy, right up until he wasn’t

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Miles Austin’s career has almost been defined by his injuries as much as his potential

But after changing his stretching routine and making some other changes, the new Eagles wide receiver finally seemed past a litany of hamstring and other soft-tissue problems.

Then he got shivved, for all practical purposes, suffering a lacerated kidney which landed him on the Browns injured reserve list.

“I felt healthy last year,” Austin said, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com. “I don’t even know how you lacerate a kidney without stabbing yourself. I fell on my side really hard. I don’t know what happened. . . .

“I felt healthy last year with the routine I was going through before practice. I’m going to incorporate it into whatever is going on here. I know what helped me last year and that’s something I’m going to regardless always incorporate.”

Of course, Eagles coach Chip Kelly has a thing for damaged goods, and his magic sports science smoothies seem to be just the thing for players who come to him broken so he can make them whole.

If Austin can stay on the field, he has a chance to help the Eagles in some capacity. He said he didn’t know what his role would be, and hopes his experience makes up for the lack of pure speed he once had.

“I’m 30 now so I’m sure I’ve probably lost some bit of explosiveness from being 22 years old,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s that much. I feel good. I feel healthy.

“I feel like with a slight loss — maybe, potentially, I don’t know … even with slight loss of burst or whatever we were talking about — I think the fact that I know the game more I can still do what needs to be done, if that makes sense. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything because I’ve gained things mentally.”

And as long as he can avoid any oddball injuries, hopefully he’s figured out how to keep his legs underneath him.

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Tony Romo would have taken a pay cut for DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray AP

The Cowboys weren’t going to pay DeMarco Murray what he thought he was worth.

But Murray’s friend Tony Romo said he was willing to take less than he was worth to keep him.

DeMarco ended up asking me, ‘Why don’t you take a pay cut?‘” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com. “I was like, ‘I will. I will take a pay cut to go do this.’ I was like, ‘They’re going to restructure me and the whole thing,’ that’s the same thing in some ways just for salary-cap purposes. He was like, ‘OK, now we’re back to being friends.’ ‘You’re really worried about me? I would take $5 million less if it meant getting you back’. He knew that.”

If one of the conditions of friendship is sacrificing your own salary so someone else can get more, it might explain why I don’t have so many (OK, maybe that’s not the only reason).

But the Cowboys never asked Romo to move off the $17 million he’s due this year in any effort to keep the league’s leading rusher.

Instead, they stood on a four-year, $24 million offer to Murray, who eventually signed a five-year, $42 million deal with the Eagles.

That principle and fiscal responsibility is admirable, but it’ll be interesting to see if they value the running back position thus if, say, an Adrian Peterson became available.

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St. Louis County taxpayers won’t commit money to keep the Rams

Stan Kroenke AP

In what may be another step toward the Rams moving to Los Angeles, St. Louis County has said it will not devote $6 million of taxpayer money toward a new stadium.

With Rams owner Stan Kroenke planning to build a Los Angeles stadium, St. Louis officials are discussing a new stadium that would convince the Rams to stay. The current plan for a new stadium downtown has a budget of $985 million, so the $6 million that was planned to come from the county was a drop in the bucket. But the fact that one government entity is declining to fork over taxpayer funds is one more indication that this plan may not come to fruition in time to keep the Rams in town.

NFL owners have indicated that they expect to approve a plan for at least one team to move to Los Angeles soon. The top contenders are the Rams, Raiders and Chargers, with the Rams having a key advantage in that Kroenke can afford to build a stadium in Los Angeles with his own money, while Raiders and Chargers ownership would need to work out deals to finance the building of a stadium.

If the Rams do move, it’s possible that St. Louis could go forward with a new stadium plan — and try to convince the Raiders or Chargers to move to St. Louis.

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Robert Mathis still hopes to be ready by training camp

Robert Mathis AP

Indianapolis Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis suffered a bit of a setback in his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2014 season before it ever began.

But despite the difficulty with the injury, Mathis still hopes to be ready in time for training camp.

In an interview with Alex Marvez and Bill Polian on Sirius XM NFL radio, Mathis said he still anticipates being ready by July.

It’s not going as fast as I would like to but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp. That’s my plan unless you’ve heard anything else,” Mathis said.

Marvez referenced Colts owner Jim Irsay’s comments from the league meetings in Arizona last week saying that Mathis may not be ready to play until November.

Mathis said he’s planning to be back much sooner than that.

“Yeah, very much so,” Mathis said. “I’m a competitor so if I can get out there with one Achilles, I’ll do it.”

Mathis had a career-high 19.5 sacks in 2013. However, a PED suspension due to fertility drugs forced Mathis to miss the first four games of the season. He then suffered the Achilles tear while working out on his own during that span and was lost for the year.

Mathis is now 34 years old and coming off a major injury. What he’ll be able to produce at this stage of his career will be a significant question mark.

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Dwayne Bowe plans a career revitalization

Na'il Diggs, Dwayne Bowe AP

Receiver Dwayne Bowe has said he plans to take his new team, the Browns, to the next level.  He also plans to get himself back to an old level.

With 13 total receiving touchdowns in four full seasons since catching 15 in 2010, Bowe plans to turn back the clock to an earlier phase of his career.

I have a chance to revitalize myself,” Bowe told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.  “Just sit back and watch.”

Bowe believes a reunion with former Chiefs executive (now Browns G.M.) Ray Farmer will make it happen, based on film review conducted when Bowe visited the Browns in March.

“Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that,” Bowe said of Farmer.  “I couldn’t showcase that last year.  He was pulling up old plays, saying, ‘We are going to use you just like that.’  Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays.”  (Insert “and if it’s not working Farmer will text different instructions to the sideline” joke here.)

If all goes according to plan, Bowe can came up for some wasted years.  But he doesn’t view them as wasted.

“It’s been up and down, but it’s been fun,” Bowe said.  “I don’t regret nothing.  People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver — I feel I still have a good four more years in me.”

After scoring no touchdowns in 2014, the Browns would settle for one good year.  Or at least one touchdown.

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Popp hopes Michael Sam chooses CFL’s Alouettes

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The Montreal Alouettes hold defensive end Michael Sam’s rights in the CFL.  Their General Manager believes Sam may indeed choose to give Canadian football a try.

“The CFL is cut out perfectly for his style,” Popp told the Montreal Gazette.  “It would give him the opportunity to do what he does best.

“His agent knows.  They’re ready.  They know this may be what it is.  It’s Michael who has to make the decision — and he might never come.”

Popp is hesitant because it appeared in 2014 that Sam may join the CFL, but he didn’t.

“The indications were he was ready to come last fall, and he’s still not with us,” Popp said.  “So I really don’t know.  Seriously, I’d say our chances are 50-50.”

If Sam wants to play in the NFL, it should be more like 100-0.  Unwanted by the NFL after leaving Penn State in 2005, Cameron Wake went to the CFL, became a star pass rusher, signed with the Dolphins in 2008, and became a star pass rusher.

So if Sam is serious about getting to the NFL, Sam can show up for the Veteran Combine every year and wait for a call that’s never going to come, or he can go to the CFL and try to play his way to the NFL.  Of course, there’s a chance he may fail.  But if he’s determined to get to the NFL, that shouldn’t stop him from trying.

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Marcus Mariota also not attending the NFL Draft

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Following in the footsteps of Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has also decided to forgo attending the NFL Draft on April 30.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Mariota has elected to remain home in Hawaii instead of attending the draft in person in Chicago.

Per Schefter, Mariota feels it’s important for him, personally and culturally, to go through the experience at home.

Winston has elected to remain at home as well because his grandmother has type-2 diabetes and cannot travel to the event. With Mariota also electing not to make the trip, it could very likely mean the top two selections in the draft will not be in attendance to shake hands and provide a photo opportunity with Roger Goodell.

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Winston lacks no confidence

Jameis Winston AP

Questions remain regarding whether quarterback Jameis Winston will thrive at the next level.  But there should be no questions about his confidence.

Winston displayed that confidence after Tuesday’s Pro Day workout, in response to a question from Paul Burmeister of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.

“On Saturdays, right there on that field, you knew if you won or lost. Right here, it’s a little bit more difficult to tell.  Would you call today a win or a loss for you?” Burmeister said.

“It was difficult to tell if I won?” a perplexed Winston said.

“I thought it looked good,” Burmeister said.

“I know it looked good,” Winston said.  “I know that looked good.  If that was bad, I want to see everybody else Pro Day and I want me and you to sit down and watch what everybody else did and then watch what I did.”

Winston’s Pro Day was far from perfect.  He was grossly inaccurate with at least one swing pass that should have been easily on the numbers, given that he was throwing against air (and, at times, against broom).  But Winston sees it as perfect, or at a minimum as at least as good as anyone else’s.

That confidence can’t hurt him.  Still, it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the inevitable adversity that every NFL player faces, at some point.  What will he say after throwing four interceptions and losing by 20?  How will he react to a three-game losing streak?

As with every other draft pick who ever was drafted, we won’t know how he’ll handle the next level until he gets there.

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Chargers sign guard Michael Huey

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Another of the NFL’s Veteran Combine invitees has found a job in the league.

The Chargers have signed offensive guard Michael Huey, the team said Tuesday. This is his second stint with the club; he spent time with San Diego in the 2011 preseason.

A Texas product, the 26-year-old Huey was with Washington’s practice squad in the second half of last season. His most extensive professional experience has come in the Arena Football League.

Overall, 105 players took part in the NFL Veteran Combine. In addition to Huey, three other Combine invitees have signed on with clubs: tight end Ifeanyi Momah (Arizona), wide receiver Nathan Slaughter (Arizona) and cornerback Deveron Carr (Indianapolis).

In other Chargers roster moves Wednesday, the club waived second-year offensive guard Jeff Baca and first-year nose tackle Chas Alecxih.

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Cardinals sign Chandler Harnish

Chandler Harnish Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have added an extra arm to their roster with Carson Palmer still recovering from an ACL tear.

The Cardinals signed former Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Harnish has not appeared in a regular season game in his three seasons since being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent five games on the Colts active roster in 2012 before being released and re-signed to the practice squad.

Harnish was released by Indianapolis at the end of training camp last season and signed with the Vikings. Harnish completed 53 percent of his passes for 283 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last year in Indianapolis.

Now Harnish reunites with Bruce Arians in the desert. He’ll get a chance to compete with Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas this offseason while Palmer continues to rehab from his knee injuries.

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Bears sign RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Jacquizz Rodgers AP

The Bears secured a contender for a reserve role in their backfield Tuesday, signing tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, the club said.

Rodgers, 25, has played the last four seasons with Atlanta, rushing 305 times for 1,116 yards and five touchdowns and catching 155 passes for 1,104 yards and five TDs. He has also returned 49 kickoffs for 1,177 yards.

Rodgers joins holdovers Ka’Deem Carey and Senorise Perry among the options behind featured back Matt Forte, who is one of the game’s most versatile and dependable players at his position. Nevertheless, the Bears could use a back capable of taking a handful of touches per game to reduce the hits Forte takes, and the 5-foot-6, 196-pound Rodgers will have a chance to compete for that job.

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