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League’s decision not to fine Williams makes plenty of sense, for the wrong reasons

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I missed the news of the decision not to fine Ravens cornerback Cary Williams for shoving an official during the Super Bowl because I took Mrs. PFT to see Silver Linings Playbook.

You know, the movie starring Bradley Cooper that Bradley Cooper was promoting last year in part with an appearance on Rich Eisen’s podcast that was scrubbed completely by the NFL because Robert DeNiro’s character plays a Philly “bookmaker” who for some reason always needs the Eagles to win, which makes zero sense because typically the local bettors put more money on the home team, which makes the bookies root for the home team to lose.

Anyway, where was I?

Right, Cary Williams.  There’s a common thread between the Silver Linings thing and the non-fine for Cary Williams.  All too often, it’s all about appearances for the NFL.  By not fining Williams, the NFL draws less attention to the fact that Williams did something for which he was neither flagged nor ejected, both of which should have happened.

Think about it.  By confirming on a Saturday night that Williams won’t be fined, the story will barely register on the national radar screen.  But if the NFL had fined Williams, it would have landed on the Associated Press wire and everyone would have known about it and perhaps eventually more members of the media would have been pointing out that the Ravens shouldn’t have had the services of Cary Williams for the balance of the game.

Or, as one source with knowledge of how things get done put it more succinctly, the decision not to fine Williams is “just more of the farce that led to [referee Jerome] Boger getting the game,” and “now they’re propping up him and his crew.”

Boger was a controversial choice to preside over the game, with some insisting that he lacked the objective qualifications and that, even if he possessed the prerequisites, he clearly wasn’t the best NFL referee from the 2012 season.

In this specific case, it’s even more important than usual to not draw attention to any officiating deficiencies, because plenty of 49ers fans (and players and coaches) continue to insist that Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith intefered with 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on San Fran’s final play from scrimmage.  If Williams had been ejected, the guy his replacement was covering possibly would have been wide open on that play.

And on plenty of others.

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Do the Falcons have a Devonta Freeman problem?

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When we had the opportunity last month to have a 70-minute conversation with Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff (the video is embedded in this item), one of the areas of inquiry focused on the presence of players on the roster who may have a hard time getting over the devastating manner in which Super Bowl LI ended. Dimitroff expressed confidence that they’ll have no issues in this regard.

He may want to now revisit that.

The recent appearance by running back Devonta Freeman on SiriusXM NFL Radio, some of which was chronicled a day ago in this spot, contains clear traces of Marshawn Lynch, post-Super Bowl XLIX.

Said Lynch on (where else?) Turkish TV in the aftermath of the Seattle loss to New England fueled by a fateful decision to throw a pass at the goal line: “To be honest with you, I would be a liar if I didn’t tell you that I was expecting the ball. I think it was more of a — how do I say this?  When you look at me, and you let me run that ball in, I’m the face of the nation.  You know, the MVP of the Super Bowl, that’s pretty much the face of the nation at that point in time.  I don’t know what went into that call.  Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get the ball.  I mean, you know, it cost us the Super Bowl.”

Said Freeman on SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week regarding not only the decisions to pass and not run while in field goal range and leading by eight points late but also his curious second-half disappearance from the running game, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I hate to go there but I was supposed to be the MVP this year of the Super Bowl, but it’s all good, we got another shot. . . . I don’t want to make this no competition thing with me and my quarterback. I’m just talking about from based off that game. Let’s [say] it like this: if I would have kept getting the ball, if I would have stayed in the game, I don’t know why I got out of the game actually. But if I would have stayed in the game, I would have got MVP. I’m looking at my stats and I see my numbers didn’t lie. Look at my numbers.”

Freeman had six carries for 71 yards in the first half of Super Bowl LI. In the second half, he had five carries for four yards.

Making Freeman’s remarks even more stunning was that they came in the wake of quarterback Matt Ryan declaring that the team has put Super Bowl LI behind it.

“When we started as a team in April, we got together before that as players down in Miami,” Ryan said. “It was time to move on. It was time to look forward. Anytime that we kind of dwell on that is wasted time. We have to focus on trying to become the best football team that this group can be.”

Freeman clearly hasn’t moved on. At a time when Freeman is clamoring for a new contract, it’s hard not to wonder whether the Falcons will move on from him.

If nothing else, Freeman’s comments are a sign that, despite the proclamations of Ryan and others in the organization about everything being OK, someone needs to have a candid conversation with Freeman regarding his current attitudes and beliefs, and whether those attitudes and beliefs will impact the team in a negative way in 2017 or beyond.

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Falcons expect experience to pay off in tougher defense

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The Falcons defense didn’t wind up with impressive rankings compared to the rest of the league last season, although any hand-wringing about that was rendered fairly moot by the fact that the Falcons won the NFC.

Their chances of doing so again would be helped by a thornier unit this time around and safety Ricardo Allen points to the passage of time as a reason to expect that growth. Six of the defense’s Super Bowl starters were in their first or second season in the NFL, which Allen said left them “learning on the run” over the course of the season.

He expects that learning experience to pay off this season.

“This year, it’s more of we know what we are going to see,” Allen said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We know that we’ve seen it all. We were blessed enough to play later than a lot of people, so we’ve got a couple more games than a lot of people. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be really good.”

The offense, which provides a tough practice test for the defense, was really good last season and has the pieces in place for more of the same in 2017. If the defense takes the jump Allen is expecting, the Falcons’ chances will look really good as well.

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Thursday morning one-liners

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Bills CB Kevon Seymour is making a good first impression.

Dolphins G Jermon Bushrod has the support of his coaches.

The Patriots now have plenty of options at LB after signing David Harris.

Perhaps Jets fans shouldn’t worry about losing Harris to their hated rivals.

The Ravens finalized their training camp schedule.

The Bengals aren’t going to be burdened by high expectations.

Looking back at the Browns 1999 expansion draft (and wondering how different it was than last year).

Steelers T Jerald Hawkins is making up for lost time.

Taking a look at the Texans’ WR situation.

The Colts are encouraged by their WR depth.

The Jaguars are hoping to create more turnovers this year.

The Titans have become a trendy pick.

The Broncos want WR Demaryius Thomas to be more of a leader.

The Chiefs left Jeremy Maclin a voice mail telling him he was cut.

The Chargers are going to be honored at Del Mar.

Raiders OLB Khalil Mack was floored by meeting Dick Butkus.

The Cowboys’ locker room chemistry was crucial to their success last year.

Taking a look at some underdogs heading into Giants camp.

The Eagles think LB Jordan Hicks can get even better.

There will be big expectations for Washington rookie Jonathan Allen.

The Bears are putting more emphasis on creating turnovers this year.

The Lions made varying investments in their replacement OTs.

Packers LG Lane Taylor isn’t changing his preparation now.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s more involved with his rebuilt offensive line.

Former Falcons QB Michael Vick’s father was indicted on federal drug distribution charges.

The Panthers have a generation gap in line drills.

Voice of the Saints Jim Henderson is going into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston’s accuracy may not be as big a deal as some think.

Are Cardinals fans getting worse?

Rams G.M. Les Snead is building a quick rapport with new coach Sean McVay.

49ers SS Eric Reid is excited about his new role in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense.

The Seahawks will have some division of labor issues at RB.

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Which teams have faced ridiculously high expectations?

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In the same way that the abrupt decision of the Jets to cut linebacker David Harris created the impression that the Jets are taking a nosedive in 2017, the abrupt decision of Harris to join the Patriots becomes a layer of icing on top of the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake in New England.

The Patriots have firmly entered “crown their ass” territory, with the coming season seemingly an exercise in watching and waiting for whether enough injuries will derail the inevitable.

So with the Patriots facing ridiculously high expectations, here’s your PFT Live question of the day: Which teams from the past have had ridiculously high expectations?

I’ve got a few ideas, but I’ll be happy to take a few of yours off your hands. Chime in below.

We’ll ponder the issue during Thursday’s show, which launches at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio and continues on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET.

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At 83, Sonny Jurgensen will slow down but not stop

Sonny Jurgensen was a Hall of Fame quarterback whose NFL career spanned 18 seasons, and now his career calling football on the radio in Washington has doubled that length. But at age 83, Jurgensen is not ready to call it quits.

Jurgensen told the Washington Post he’ll still be calling games in Washington this season, after initially thinking he was going to retire from broadcasting.

“I had thought about hanging it up because I’d been doing it 35 years,” Jurgensen said. “I came to Florida, and I thought about it. I said, ‘I’ve got to have something to do. I was somewhat bored. So I went back to ‘em and said, ‘You know, I’m a little bored.’”

So Jurgensen, who turns 83 in August, agreed with the team that he’ll work the eight home games in Washington but not travel to any road games. Team President Bruce Allen told Jurgensen the team would let him work whatever schedule he liked.

“It’s very nice of them,” Jurgensen said. “I’m looking forward to it, I really am.”

Jurgensen was drafted by the Eagles in 1957 and was a first-team All-Pro for them in 1961. He was traded to Washington in 1964 and played there until 1974. He is in both teams’ halls of fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Tramon Williams says he wanted out of unstable Cleveland environment

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Cornerback Tramon Williams was released by the Cleveland Browns in February after spending the last two seasons with the club.

Williams started 22 out of a total 27 games played for the Browns over that span, recording 105 total tackles with two interceptions.

However, Williams said he was as ready to move on from the Browns as the team was from him at the end of last season. In an interview with John Clayton and Pat Kirwin on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Williams felt the situation in Cleveland wasn’t exactly ideal.

“At the end of the day, those guys were just going in a different direction,” Williams said. “From the start of training camp to the beginning of the season, they were going in a different direction. And it came a point during the season to where I wanted to be released. That’s why we got released because it wasn’t a stable spot. It’s not a stable spot. You don’t know who’s going to be the coaches from year to year, and I didn’t know that so I didn’t want to be one of those veterans who is stuck in a spot and at the end of the day, I’m not going to be able to get a job because I was on a bad team. That’s why I wanted to get out of there.”

Williams had two different head coaches – Mike Pettine and Hue Jackson – and two different defensive coordinators – Jim O’Neil and Ray Horton – in his two years in Cleveland. Williams would have had to adjust to a third defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams should he have remained with the Browns in 2018. Considering Williams came from a nine-year run with the Green Bay Packers that featured little flux in the coaching staff over that span, it’s hardly surprising he would view the Browns environment as chaotic.

Williams thanked the Browns for allowing him to move on and seek a different opportunity. He added that he’s been in contact with several teams about playing for the upcoming season.

“I’m ready to get to one of these teams and help out,” Williams said. “And the team that I’m look for is going to be a team, obviously, that is stable and wants to win, so that’s kind of what I’m looking for at this point.”

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Seahawks expecting fierce competition at running back in training camp

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The Seahawks are still searching for an answer in their backfield in the post-Marshawn Lynch era. Seattle struggled to find consistent success on the ground last season as injuries to Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise and Russell Wilson sapped much of the team’s rushing potential.

Now with the addition of Eddie Lacy this offseason, the Seahawks are expecting a strong battle to ensue in the fight for roster spots.

“I think it’s an exciting group,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve never been this strong with this many guys who can compete and do things. We have a variety of different guys that have different strengths that they bring.”

In addition to Lacy, Rawls and Prosise, the Seahawks added Chris Carson in the draft and return last year’s fifth-round pick Alex Collins as well. Mike Davis and receiver-convert J.D. McKissic will also be fighting for spots.

Rawls had a hairline fracture in his tibia that forced him to miss seven games. Prosise broke a bone in his wrist and fractured his scapula during the season, which caused him to sit out all but six games as a rookie. Collins was too heavy last year and is much better positioned to contribute this year as well.

“Once we’re able to go past those first two days (of training camp) and get the pads on and start to be able to get to the combative part of the game, then we’ll learn more,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. We like how they’re running, we like how they’re moving around. We have a good feel for how they hit holes and the vision that they have, but there’s still another step to come.”

Lacy has been limited so far as he continues to recover from ankle surgery last season. It won’t be until training camp when the Seahawks can get a true feel for how he fits into the mix.

“Obviously we don’t get to see the part that we think is going to be the best about him, that bruising nature that he has,” Bevell said. “He has caught the ball really well, that’s something that’s kind of jumped out at me. We’re really excited to have him.”

Along with wide receiver and Seattle’s secondary, running back figures to be one of the biggest points of contention of the roster in training camp.

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Eric Ebron feels Lions’ additions at tight end will help him maximize production

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With the additions of Darren Fells in free agency and the selection of Michael Roberts in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions have added some heft to their tight end position behind starter Eric Ebron.

Ebron, who posted career-highs in receptions and yards last year for Detroit, feels that bringing Fells and Roberts into the group should help him be used in a matter that better suits his skill set.

I think it’s going to play a significant role for me to allow me to do the things that I’m best at,” Ebron said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Ebron had 61 catches for 711 yards last year for the Lions. However, he was also usually the only tight end on the field as Detroit frequently employed personnel groupings with three wide receivers and one running back. A revolving door of reserve options did little to contribute to the group either.

Detroit’s roster is better situated to allow Jim Bob Cooter to be a bit more diverse with his formations and personnel groupings this year. If it allows Ebron to become more productive, it will be a plus for the Lions.

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Byron Jones provides steady hand in Cowboys secondary

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The Cowboys lost Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency. Those four contributed 39 starts, 254 tackles, five interceptions and 28 pass breakups last season. The Cowboys had Orlando Scandrick on the trade block on draft day. He started 10 games last season and made 46 tackles, an interception and nine pass breakups.

That leaves free safety Byron Jones as the one constant in the Cowboys secondary.

“Like all things in life, when you’re having a good time it goes by fast,” Jones said, via the team website.

Jones has started 27 of a possible 32 games since the Cowboys drafted him in the first round in 2015. He played in the other five games. That gives him a leg up on most of the other defensive backs on the roster.

The Cowboys drafted four defensive backs and are counting on second-year cornerback Anthony Brown. Safety Jeff Heath, the projected starter opposite Jones, has started only 10 games in four seasons. That leaves Jones, Scandrick and free agent addition Nolan Carroll as the most veteran players in the team’s secondary.

“It’s nuts,” Jones said. “I remember when I came in I was looking at a guy who was in his third year, thinking, ‘Wow, he’s played a lot of football.’ Within an instant, I’m that guy.”

Jones plans on becoming a leader, filling a role Church had in the secondary as a team captain.

“It’s an opportunity to step up,” Jones said. “You’ve got older guys that are gone. What am I going to do to respond? For me, it’s stepping up and leading the young guys and steering them in the right direction so we can win some games.”

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Could Tajae Sharpe be on the bubble in Tennessee?

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Titans receiver Tajae Sharpe could be going from Week One starter in 2016 to off the roster in 2017.

As explained by Jason Wolf of the Tennessean, the guy who contributed as a fifth-round rookie a year ago may be in danger of missing the final cut in September. The problem arises from the players the Titans have added at the position, including rookie first-rounder Corey Davis and, more recently, veteran Eric Decker, whose contract has a structure that essentially guarantees him a roster spot.

Complicating matters for Sharpe are a civil lawsuit and companion criminal investigation into an off-field issue and a stress fracture in his foot that, following surgery, caused Sharpe to miss a chunk of the offseason program, and that will make it harder on him when training camp opens.

“Some of them like Tajae [are] going to have a hard time,” coach Mike Mularkey said last week regarding players who will be unable to exercise as usual. “Obviously he’s not going to run right now, but he’s got to do something to stay in shape. You can’t come back and expect to get in shape in training camp. It’s not like the old days. Training camp is short. You used to be able to build into it in the training camps. You can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to be ready to go. No matter what your injury is, there’s something you can do, cardio-wise, to train.”

Ultimately, Sharpe will need to perform, during practice and preseason games. Last year, he caught 41 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games, with 10 starts. This year, the Titans surely want more from a spot that high on the depth chart, which means Sharpe could end up lower in the pecking order. Which could ultimately hinge his employment on the extent to which he’s expected to contribute to special teams.

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Plenty of receiving duos are great; which is the best?

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Offenses that boast a pair of high-end receivers have a tremendous edge, because it’s impossible to double-team both of them. On Wednesday, former Colts punter and Barstool Sports contributor Pat McAfee and I teamed up to pick the best 1-2 punch at receiver in the league during PFT Live.

We disagreed, as the video demonstrates. One of us went with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson of the Buccaneers, while the other opted for Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.

And that shouldn’t be viewed as a slight to the many other great receiving duos, from Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to Golden Tate and Marvin Jones to Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills (or Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker) to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb (or Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams . . . or Randall Cobb and Davante Adams) to several others that are or have the potential to be great.

If you didn’t chime in early, make your voice heard now in the comments. Especially if you agree with me.

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Rams waive DB Brian Randolph

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The Rams waived defensive back Brian Randolph, leaving them with 85 players on their roster.

Randolph signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee last offseason. He spent the 2016 season on injured reserve after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament on the opening kickoff of a preseason game against the Cowboys.

In his final college season, Randolph started all 13 games, made 70 tackles, broke up five passes and had two interceptions.

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Darryl Tapp gets snaps at DT in Nick Fairley’s absence

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If Nick Fairley’s heart condition keeps him out this season, the Saints might tap into Darryl Tapp’s versatility. Tapp, despite his size, saw some snaps at defensive tackle in 2014 when Fairley was lost to a season-ending knee injury while both were with the Lions.

Tapp also took some reps inside last week with Fairley out of minicamp, as did defensive end Mitchell Loewen.

“The more things you can do to make yourself valuable to a team, the better off you are,” Tapp said, via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Tapp, now in his 12th season, has played defensive end, outside linebacker and on special teams during his career. He has shown he can fill in at defensive tackle, too, if necessary. The Saints hope “if necessary” doesn’t come to pass, and doctors clear Fairley to return to action. Fairley has sought a third opinion on whether he should continue playing with an enlarged heart.

The Saints have Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata at the position and use four in their rotation.

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Whitney Mercilus has figured out how to get to the QB

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It took awhile, but Whitney Mercilus has figured out how to get to the quarterback: Any way possible.

Mercilus made 18 sacks his first three seasons combined. Not bad, but not what the Texans expected after making him a first-round choice in 2012. In his past 25 games, though, Mercilus has 19.5 sacks using a variety of moves.

He can beat you several ways,” Texans linebackers coach Bobby King said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “He can beat you with speed; he can beat you with power; he can also drop; he can rush over the center, the guard, the tackle. He’s just a hard matchup, and he’s a true pro, too. He really studies the game, and he’s a good football player.”

Mercilus, who holds the franchise record with six postseason sacks led the Texans with 7.5 sacks last season, should see fewer double teams this season with J.J. Watt returning from from back surgery.

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All quiet regarding Gareon Conley case, for now

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Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley should soon learn whether he will, or won’t, be charged with sexual assault in Ohio.

After the first-round rookie met with police in early May, Conley’s lawyer said that a decision from authorities is expected within 6-8 weeks. Seven weeks have passed.

It’s likely no coincidence that the Raiders have yet to sign Conley to a rookie contract. Why give him a signing bonus and guaranteed salaries for three years and part of a fourth if Conley ultimately may not be available to play?

The situation will become extremely murky for the Raiders if Conley is charged. The league can’t discipline him for pre-draft misconduct, but how can the NFL allow a person charged with felony rape to show up for work? The image-obsessed league office will twist arms to get Conley off the field, similar to what the league did in 2014 after the Ray Rice debacle led to extended leaves of absence with pay for Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson while both were facing unresolved criminal charges.

If Conley hasn’t signed, the safest approach for the league would be to nudge the team to not sign Conley but also not to rescind the draft pick. The Raiders would hold his rights until the next draft, and the team’s hope would be to see the situation fully and completely resolved by then.

Regardless of how it plays out, the Raiders will have only themselves to blame if prosecutors eventually can persuade a grand jury that sufficient evidence exists to indict him. They can’t say they weren’t aware of the risk that Conley would be charged.

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