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Cris Carter: Larry Fitzgerald is the only receiver with hands like mine

AP

Newly elected Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter isn’t shy about proclaiming himself the receiver with the best hands in the history of the game. But he’s gracious enough to acknowledge that there’s one receiver who’s in the same ballpark.

In a first-person feature written with Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Carter says that Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the one and only receiver whose hands are worthy of being compared to Carter’s own.

“Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is the only person I’d say is comparable. I have never said anybody had better hands than me. No, I haven’t seen that. Catching the football is a gift. You can’t teach that. But Larry is the only one that’s comparable,” Carter said.

Although Carter won’t win any awards for humility, the first-person feature is a fascinating look back at his career. He mentions, for instance, that he admires his old coach Buddy Ryan and thinks Ryan has gotten a bum rap for cutting Carter in Philadelphia and saying, “All he does is catch touchdowns.”

“If I can go back in time, I’d probably go right before Buddy Ryan cut me, to change it. I would do exactly what I did with the Vikings [get clean, which would have meant] I never would have come to the Vikings,” Carter said. “I knew exactly what Buddy was doing. He told me he would never reveal my past [drug and alcohol abuse] to anyone. Someone asked him a question, ‘Why did you cut him?’ And he said, ‘Well, he only caught touchdowns. He wasn’t a complete receiver.’ It was what he decided to do to try to protect me.”

Carter also puts the blame for the fact that he never got to a Super Bowl squarely on a pair of teammates who blew a pair of plays in the 1998 NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons.

“If I can change one thing about my life, Gary Anderson would make that damn kick,” Carter said. “And then Jimmy Hitchcock would not get beat on a third and 9 on an out and up.”

Fifteen years doesn’t seem to be long enough for Carter to get over that loss.

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Cowboys rookie Jourdan Lewis headed to trial next week

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Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis will be in court next week instead of on the practice field.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Lewis will be expected in court Monday and Tuesday for a trial, after a hearing Thursday ended without a settlement.

The domestic violence charges against him (and a second complaint by the same woman which didn’t lead to charges) didn’t deter the Cowboys from taking the Michigan cornerback in the third round. Lewis was accused of dragging his girlfriend across the floor and grabbing her by the neck at their apartment.

Lewis has said throughout he’s innocent of the charges, and the Cowboys have defended their process of research before picking him.

Owner Jerry Jones said they “thoroughly looked at his situation” and that “We feel real good about the pick.”

“Outstanding off-the-field character throughout his life, great strength of character,” Jones said of Lewis. “We were satisfied we would be OK there.”

Of course, they’ve made a number of similar statements about other players in recent years, so the backing isn’t out of character.

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16 different players have the best-selling jersey in at least one state

AP

You know Aaron Rodgers has the best-selling NFL jersey in Wisconsin and Marcus Mariota has it in Tennessee. But can you guess the best-selling jersey in all 50 states?

NFL Shop has released the best selling jerseys by state, and they provide an interesting glimpse into which players’ names fans are putting on their backs right now.

Tom Brady leads the way with 17 different states favoring his jersey. That includes every state in New England as well as some surprises, like Louisiana and Florida. That doesn’t mean Brady is the most popular player in all those states, just that he’s the player whose jerseys have sold the most so far this year. Drew Brees is surely more popular in Louisiana, but the fans who want his jersey already have it, while more fans are buying Brady jerseys after his latest Super Bowl MVP performance.

Up next is Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who has the best-selling jersey in 14 states. The whole West Coast is going for Lynch, as are some surprising states like Indiana and Iowa. Lynch’s return to the NFL has made his jersey a must-have for many fans.

Dak Prescott has the best-selling jersey in Texas and Oklahoma, with plenty of Cowboys fans, as well as Mississippi, where he played his college football. College football also led Clemson-turned-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to take the jersey lead in South Carolina and North Carolina. Also owning the jersey sales lead in two states are Von Miller and Odell Beckham.

Players whose jersey sales lead in one state are Rodgers, Mariota, Adrian Peterson, Matthew Stafford, Greg Olsen, James Conner, Carson Wentz, Julio Jones and Ezekiel Elliott.

And in the biggest surprise on the map, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen has the best-selling jersey in North Dakota.

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Browns stadium may be a fire hazard

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The stadium where the Cleveland Browns play may be a fire hazard.

That’s not any sort of Factory of Sadness-style wisecrack, or a gratuitous rehashing of the Cuyahoga conflagration. According to the Associated Press, First Energy Stadium in Cleveland may have the same aluminum panels that were present on a London apartment building that became quickly engulfed in flames. Although authorities are still investigating the role of the Reynobond panels in the spread of the fire that killed 80 people, the AP item notes that the panels “are not recommended for use in buildings above 40 feet because they are combustible.”

Arconic Inc., which manufactures the Reynobond panels, identifies First Energy Stadium as a facility that utilizes the product in promotional materials.

“If the materials used on a building appear similar to a known hazard, people need to know that,” fire protection engingeer Douglas Evans told the AP. “Anybody who is inside of these buildings has a right to know.”

A spokesman for Cleveland’s mayor wouldn’t (or maybe couldn’t) say whether First Energy Stadium was built with Reynobond panels, deferring all questions “until after the investigators finish their report on the fire in London.”

For now, then, it’s unclear whether the structure poses any type of enhanced fire risk. But it’s clear that getting an answer should be a major priority for Cleveland, the Browns, and the NFL.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 12: Denver Broncos

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The Broncos lost their quarterback after the 2015 Super Bowl season. They lost their coach after last season. Coach Gary Kubiak retired with health issues a year after Peyton Manning retired.

General Manager John Elway hired Vance Joseph as head coach, with Joe Woods taking over the defense from Wade Phillips and Mike McCoy returning as offensive coordinator. The offense, which finished 27th in total offense and had the fourth-most three-and-outs, will look different with more shotgun, more power schemes and more motion, among other changes. The quarterback could change, too, with Paxton Lynch competing with Trevor Siemian for the starting job.

Whether it’s Lynch or Siemian, an improved running game should help. The Broncos signed Jamaal Charles; C.J. Anderson returns from a torn meniscus; and Denver drafted De’Angelo Henderson. They also sought to fix their offensive line, with a new position coach and three key additions.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed in Denver is the defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest points last season in keeping the Broncos competitive. Von Miller, Shane Ray, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, among others, are back. They have put an emphasis on improving their run defense after ranking 28th last season.

The defense will keep the Broncos in the hunt this season, but it all depends on the quarterback play.

Biggest positive change: The Broncos offensive line needed an overhaul after last season, and it got it. Vance Joseph hired Jeff Davidson as the position coach, and he expects to use more power blocking. The Broncos committed $24.15 million in guarantees to former Cowboys guard Ron Leary and former Raiders tackle Menelik Watson. They drafted Garett Bolles in the first round to play left tackle.

Biggest negative change: Under coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos ranked fourth in total defense and fourth in points allowed last season and first in total defense and fourth in yards allowed in 2015. Phillips left for the Rams, earning secondary coach Joe Woods a promotion. Yes, the Broncos had their issues against the run, ranking 28th, and in first-drive points, allowing 55, but General Manager John Elway said the team’s No. 1 priority was to “stay great” on defense. It is Woods’ job to keep them there.

Coaching thermometer: Vance Joseph will get a honeymoon. It might not last long seeing that the Broncos won a Super Bowl so recently, but Joseph will get time. Joseph, who was the Dolphins defensive coordinator last season, is preaching toughness and the players bought in during the offseason.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Von Miller. He’s one of the NFL’s good guys aside from, you know, wanting to kill quarterbacks. He’s got personality and a smile to match, which is why he became a face of the league after earning Super Bowl 50 MVP honors.

How they can prove us wrong: The defense figures out how to stop the run again. To that end, they got bigger in free agency, adding Domata Peko (325 pounds) and Zach Kerr (334 pounds). Rushing the passer, with Von Miller and Shane Ray, and defending the pass, with Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward, remain strengths. The Broncos defense is going to keep them in games and keep them as contenders in the AFC West. How much improvement the offense shows will determine just how good the Broncos are.

The offensive line and running back positions appear improved on paper, and the Broncos still have dangerous receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Mike McCoy’s return as coordinator will help. The question remains at quarterback where Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch take their battle into training camp.

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Absent commercial break, game will start no more than 65 seconds after score

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The NFL wants to move games along, to help keep millennials from moving along to something else. The new rule book explains exactly how that will happen following a score.

A “Note” inserted after Rule 4, Section 6, Article 2 (who said the rule book is too long and complicated?) states that, after a post-touchdown try or a field goal, “the teams will have 40 seconds to align prior to the ball being made ready for play,” and that “[w]hen the 40 seconds have elapsed, the 25-second play clock will begin.”

This provision won’t apply when a commercial break happens following a try or a field goal.

It means that the kickoff and kick return teams will have to be in place before the 40 seconds expire, and that at that point the 25-second window for kicking off shall start. Which means that 65 seconds will be the maximum lag from score to kickoff, and that it could be a lot shorter than that.

 Which means that, if you’re going to hit the bathroom between score and kickoff, you may want to put a TV in there.
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Raiders, Gareon Conley talking

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Ideally, Raiders first-round cornerback Gareon Conley would know whether he’ll be charged with sexual assault before he signs a contract with the team. The ideal scenario may not be happening.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Raiders and Conley are talking. According to another source, Conley has still not learned whether he’ll face formal charges arising from an incident occurring in April.

The Raiders drafted Conley with full knowledge of the existence of the allegation. And the Raiders presumably assumed (or at least hoped) that the case would be closed (or that charges would be filed) before the opening of training camp. With eight days to go, that hasn’t happened.

So the question remains: Will the Raiders sign Conley before the case is resolved and, if so, what protections will they seek for a situation that they knew about when they made Conley the pick? The player has every right to hold firm with the position that he should get exactly what any other player would have gotten as the 24th pick in the draft. But the Raiders have every right to refuse to do that, and to move forward without him — until the team knows that he won’t be facing indictment, trial, and possibly conviction and incarceration.

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Ron Rivera: Marty Hurney is right guy for this situation

AP

The Panthers shook things up this week by firing General Manager Dave Gettleman, but their choice of a short-term replacement ensured that they won’t be in uncharted water during the 2017 season.

Marty Hurney was introduced as the interim General Manager on Wednesday, which should prove to be an easy enough fit given Hurney’s decade as the team’s G.M. before being fired in 2012. Hurney acquired quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly and others still with the team during that span and he was on the job when coach Ron Rivera was hired, which Rivera thinks will help keep this week’s front office machinations from being “a big distraction.”

“I think right now, this is the right guy for the right time and situation,” Rivera said, via the team’s website. “He understands our culture, he understands most of these players — a lot of these players he has been around. I’m excited about it.”

Another change will come at the end of the season when the Panthers will look for a permanent replacement for Gettleman. The team’s results between now and then will likely determine whether or not that would be of greater concern for Rivera.

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No finding of guilt in Trevone Boykin probation violation case

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Seahawks quarterback Trevone Boykin has a court date in August on marijuana possession and public intoxication charges, but a probation violation arrest stemming from those charges is no longer an issue.

Boykin was arrested in March on the first two charges and arrested again the next month for violating the probation he received for a 2015 arrest in San Antonio. There was the possibility of a year of jail time as a result of that violation, but Boykin will not be serving any time.

Boykin pleaded no contest to the charge earlier this month and was fined $1,500 to close the case. Boykin’s attorney said, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, that there was “no finding of guilt” in terms of the probation violation.

The hearing  on the other charges is set for August 22 in Dallas, which falls between two Seahawks preseason games although it is unlikely Boykin will be required to attend the preliminary courtroom session.

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Takk McKinley not expected to be ready for start of camp

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The Falcons believe first-round pick Takkarist McKinley can bring the same kind of energy to their defense that he brought to the draft.

And they’re willing to wait for it.

According to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report, McKinley “is scheduled to sit out the early days of training camp” because of his surgically repaired shoulder.

The Falcons report to camp next Wednesday.

McKinley had surgery on March 3 to correct the torn labrum he played through at UCLA. He said at the combine his recovery was expected to take 4-6 months. The front end of that has obviously already passed, but the latter estimate would push up against the start of the regular season.

He had 10.0 sacks last year for the Bruins while playing through the injury, so they’re hoping he can complement Vic Beasley and add to a young defense.

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Thursday morning one-liners

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Gauging the expectations for Bills DE Shaq Lawson this season.

The Dolphins’ improvement has people there excited about being a football town again.

Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s contractual future could become messy, soon.

The Jets are hoping to get more from the TE position this year.

A look at some breakout candidates in Ravens camp.

A man tried to use former Bengals WR Chad Johnson’s identity at a Louis Vuitton store in Colorado.

A rebuilt offensive line is one reason for optimism for the Browns.

With big money comes big expectations for the Steelers offense.

Texans G Jeff Allen has something to prove, according to teammates.

The latest update on Colts QB Andrew Luck’s shoulder isn’t much of an update.

The Jaguars WRs have a lot on the line this year.

A list of 50 things about the Titans, which seems like an awful lot.

The Broncos hope to sweeten up their defense this year.

Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt will carry a heavier burden than some rookies this year.

The Chargers look at their own offensive line (though they should have done so before now).

Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch has added a local institution soul food restaurant to his portfolio.

The Cowboys are offering a limited number of free tickets to training camp practices.

Giants WR Odell Beckham responded to pleas to reach out to a fan fighting cancer.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson doesn’t foresee giving up play-calling duties this year.

Washington WR Josh Doctson is under pressure to perform after his injury plagued rookie year.

How will the Bears adjust to a new-look WR corps?

The Lions have some competition for LB jobs.

Former Packers CB Casey Hayward is still salty about his departure.

Vikings LB Eric Kendricks can’t wait to see old friend Adrian Peterson in the opener.

Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff to host a build-a-bike day.

The Panthers are encouraged by QB Cam Newton’s progress in his shoulder rehab.

Taking a look at how the Saints’ special teams stack up.

The Buccaneers have some new faces in the secondary to create competition.

There are some legitimate questions about the Cardinals offense heading into camp.

The Rams could struggle until they stabilize their offensive line.

49ers legend Joe Montana thinks it was a mistake to let Jim Harbaugh leave.

Will the Seahawks K change prove to be a good move?

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Wes Welker doesn’t fear that his brain “is going to explode”

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Former wide receiver Wes Welker suffered at least six documented concussions during his 12-year NFL career, and he admits there were some things he’d do differently as a player, in hindsight.

At the same time, he’s trying not to worry about what’s in store for him in the future as a result of those persistent head injuries.

“I can’t sit here and worry about it; I don’t want to live my life that way,” Welker said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. “Is there a possibility [of long-term implications]? Maybe, I don’t know. We’ll have to see how everything kind of happens, I guess.

“I’m going to try to do everything I can to put myself in a position where I’m healthy and hopefully good. If I’m good, then great. At the same time, I’m not going to live my life worrying if my brain is going to explode at any second.”

Welker used to refer to himself as the “poster child” for concussions, and went through a stretch of three in nine months beginning with the start of the 2013 season. And while he was hailed as a player for his toughness and willingness to go across the middle, that also put him in harm’s way.

“I don’t know if I’d really change much — who I am or how I went about my business — because a lot of that aggressiveness and the reason [for success] was because of the way I played,” he said. “When I felt like I wasn’t playing that way, I wasn’t playing to my best ability.”

“Do I wish, looking back, [that I] would have gone out of bounds or gotten down, earlier in my career especially? There’s always a warrior mentality, but trying to be smart about some of those things; I mean, yeah, I probably would have. When you don’t have any concussions and you’re just kind of going out there recklessly, you’re 20-something years old, you don’t think about it. You just go play.”

Of course, he has an opportunity to share that wisdom now, as he’s taken a job as an offensive/special teams assistant with the Texans. Hopefully he can convince some of the players he’s working with to do as he says and not as he did.

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Jay Cutler expected to call Bears’ Week One game

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What does Jay Cutler really think of his former team? We’ll find out in Week One.

FOX is planning to assign Cutler, along with Charles Davis and Kevin Burkhardt, to the Week One Bears-Falcons game. Cutler retired this offseason to work for FOX after 11 NFL seasons, the last eight of which were with the Bears.

Cutler is also expected to make his preseason debut calling a Bears game.

If he’s willing to be candid and honest, Cutler should have some good insights about his former teammates and coaches. Cutler didn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone in Chicago, and that should make for more interesting commentary than a former player who only has positive things to say about his old team.

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Bruce Arians says Carson Palmer wore out his arm throwing too much last offseason

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The Arizona Cardinals scaled back Carson Palmer’s workload in practice last season and have limited him in offseason practices as well this spring and summer. According to head coach Bruce Arians, the biggest reason for that was Palmer had thrown so much last year that he wore down quickly once the season started and his production suffered.

He’s one of the hardest working dudes I’ve ever been around, so we had to really pull the reins back on him,” Arians said on the Rich Eisen Show. “He’ll overwork all the time. Last year, he came in to September, he had already worn his arm out by overthrowing all summer. We found a nice regimen, (by) November and December he was playing as good as he’s ever played.”

Palmer averaged 284 yards passing per game with just seven touchdowns and five interceptions through his first six starts last season. His passer rating was just 83.4 through that stretch. In five December starts, Palmer had an 11-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio as his rating improved to 95.9.

Finding a way for Palmer to perform at a peak level with be of paramount importance for the Cardinals this year. If easing back on his workload helps that come to fruition, the Cardinals will have made the right call.

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Saints place Travin Dural, Devaroe Lawrence on non-football injury list

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With rookies reporting for training camp on Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints placed wide receiver Travin Dural and defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence on the non-football injury list.

The non-football injury list is for physical ailments sustained outside of the NFL work environment. Both Dural and Lawrence dealt with injuries in college at LSU and Auburn, respectively.

The NFI list works similarly to the physically unable to perform list in which players still count against the 90-man roster limit in preseason and can be activated any time before the start of the regular season upon completion of a physical. Players must be on the NFI or PUP lists from the start of training camp in order to be eligible for the in-season versions of the lists, which would require the players to miss the first six weeks of the regular season before being eligible to return.

Dural caught 37 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns with LSU in 2014. He appeared in 38 career games, catching 100 passes for 1,716 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Lawrence appeared in 21 games with Auburn, recording 45 tackles with 1.5 sacks.

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Ike Taylor: “Strong possibility” Le’Veon Bell will hold out

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Former Steelers cornerback and current NFL Network analyst Ike Taylor knows Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell well. And Ike seems to know Bell well enough to know what he is thinking about doing when training camp opens for the Steelers.

Appearing Wednesday night on Total Access, Taylor said there’s a “strong possibility” Bell will hold out.

Taylor added that Bell wants to be paid like a No. 1 running back and a No. 2 receiver combined, given that Bell finished second on the team last year in receptions and receiving yards. Taylor also seemed to suggest what it would have taken to get a deal done; by saying that the team should offer Bell $3 million more per year and given that the team’s last offer reportedly averaged $12 million annually, it looks like Bell wants exactly what he suggested he wanted in a rap song last summer: $15 million per year.

Although the Steelers and Bell currently can’t sign a long-term deal until after the regular season ends, the Steelers can offer Bell more than his current $12.1 million franchise tender on a one-year deal. So they could still, if they want, increase the tender to $15 million — and Bell has every right to stay away until they do.

Indeed, he can stay away until only days before the start of the regular season, and still get his $12.1 million. The only question is whether the Steelers would become exasperated and decide to assign the duties of No. 1 running back (and No. 2 receiver) to someone else.

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