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Team-by-team look at who would/could/should be tagged

Clady AP

On Monday, the two-week window for using the franchise tag opens.  Every team can use the franchise tag (or the rarely-used transition tag) on one player.

Last year, 21 teams took advantage of the franchise tag, which no longer is based on the five highest-paid players at the position but on a far more convoluted (and club friendly) formula.

It’s not a coincidence.  The new formula makes it much cheaper to keep a player off the open market than it would to pay him a multi-year market contract.

Here’s a look at the team-by-team candidates for the 2013 tag, in alphabetical order.

Arizona Cardinals:  The Cardinals need to keep hard-nosed cover corner Greg Toler, but not at anything close to the eight-figure franchise number.  No other pending free agents have the talent or potential to justify franchise money.  Last year, the Cardinals used the tag on defensive end Calais Campbell; they eventually signed him to a long-term deal.

Atlanta Falcons:  Left tackle Sam Baker, drafted in round one the same year as the man whose blind side he protects, has had good years and bad years.  After starting 16 games in 2012, Baker hits the market on a high note.  Still, the glut of tackles in free agency and the draft will make it hard to justify tagging Baker; if he leaves, the Falcons can find a capable replacement after the market softens.  In 2012, the Falcons used the tag on cornerback Brent Grimes, who tore an Achilles tendon in Week One.  Tagging him would cost $12.48 million for 2013.  It would cost nearly half that amount to tag safety William Moore.

Baltimore Ravens:  It’s not a question of if the Ravens will tag quarterback Joe Flacco.  The only remaining unknown is the level of the tag.  And while a lazy look at the situation would lead to conclusively presuming that there’s no way Flacco leaves Baltimore, there’s a chance (slim, but a chance) that the player and the team could be destined for a game of chicken that would result in both cars flying off the cliff.  The Ravens could opt to go non-exclusive, daring Flacco to sign an offer sheet with another team — and assuming that he never would.  Another team with plenty of cap space could easily craft a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens wouldn’t be able to match.  It’s not likely, but anyone who thinks there’s no way Flacco leaves the Ravens hasn’t been paying close enough attention to the far crazier things the NFL has seen in recent years.

Buffalo BillsJairus Byrd has become one on the best free safeties in the league.  With George Wilson gone in a cap move, the Bills need to keep Byrd.  Absent a long-term deal, the tag is the only way to make it happen.  If a long-term deal can be negotiated, guard Andy Levitre becomes a candidate for the tag.  The only impediment would be the fact that interior offensive linemen get the same franchise tender as tackles.

Carolina Panthers:  Their list of potential free agents contains no names that cry out for use of the tag, especially since the Panthers are still dealing with the sins of salary caps past.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears need to keep defensive tackle Henry Melton, but they’ve already got plenty of cap space tied up with defensive players like sackmaster Julius Peppers, cornerback Charles Tillman, and linebacker Lance Briggs.  With Melton regarding himself as the best defensive tackle in the league, a long-term deal could be hard to come by.  Despite his name recognition, linebacker Brian Urlacher isn’t a serious candidate for the tag.

Cincinnati Bengals:  The Bengals are extremely careful with money.  On defense, lineman Michael Johnson is the most obvious candidate to be tagged.  It’s just as likely that the Bengals will be content to go bargain shopping (again) for defensive players to replace their bevy of free agents on that side of the ball, and then hope that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can whip up another batch of chicken salad.  On offense, the tag could be used to keep Andre Smith, who quietly has overcome his notorious Jello run to develop into an elite right tackle.  Last year, the tag was used on kicker Mike Nugent; tagging him again would cost only $3.48 million.  Which could make him the most likely candidate.

Cleveland Browns:  Kicker Phil Dawson was tagged in 2011 and 2012.  Using it a third time would entitle him to quarterback money.  So if it’s used, it won’t be used on him.  Punter Reggie Hodges is hitting the market after three years with the team.  Though his performance doesn’t cry out “franchise tag,” it could be cheaper to squat on him for a year than to sign a replacement on the open market; that’s why so many punters and kickers have been tagged in recent years.

Dallas Cowboys:  Tagged last year at $10.5 million, linebacker Anthony Spencer still hasn’t had the kind of impact that he should, given that he plays across from DeMarcus Ware.  Spencer isn’t worth $12.4 million for one more year.

Denver Broncos:  V.P. of football operations John Elway has said that the tag will be used on left tackle Ryan Clady, and for good reason.  Last year, Clady turned down a five-year, $50 million deal.

Detroit Lions:  It’ll take $12.4 million to use the tag for a second straight year on defensive end Cliff Avril, and it won’t be easy for the Lions to round up the kind of cap space necessary to keep him around.  Safety Louis Delmas doesn’t like being labeled as injury prone, but he is.  And the Lions will have to decide whether they want to make a long-term or short-term (via the tag) investment in the guy who could be this decade’s Bob Sanders.  Tackle Gosder Cherilus also could be tagged, but in a buyer’s market for tackles it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do it.

Green Bay Packers:  Receiver Greg Jennings turns 30 in September.  In other words, the Packers won’t be using the tag on Greg Jennings.  The Packers learned while he was injured in 2012 that they can live without him, and they won’t be inclined to invest $10 million in cap space to a guy who plays a position that, with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, is virtually interchangeable.  If the Packers wanted to keep Jennings, they’d be trying to sign him.  They’re not, which likely means he won’t be tagged.

Houston Texans:  Last year, the Texans passed on tagging linebacker Mario Williams because of the exorbitant tender that the final year of his first-overall rookie contract would have generated.  With linebacker Connor Barwin, much less cap space would be consumed.  After seeing former Texans receiver Jacoby Jones deliver an MVP-caliber performance in the Super Bowl, G.M. Rick Smith may be a little less willing to let quality players walk away in 2013.  Another possible (and cheaper) candidate for the tag is punter Donnie Jones.

Indianapolis Colts:  The man with the self-styled boomstick can be kept off the market for the low, low price of the punter/kicker franchise tag ($2.9 million).  Absent a long-term deal, it’s hard to envision the Colts moving forward without punter Pat McAfee.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  A roster thin on star power naturally doesn’t create many franchise-tag candidates, especially with a new G.M. and (another) new coaching staff.  If linebacker Daryl Smith didn’t miss most of the season, he’d be a potential candidate.  Fullback Greg Jones would be a candidate, if fullbacks weren’t lumped in with running backs for franchise tag purposes.

Kansas City Chiefs:  The Chiefs are trying to work out a long-term deal with receiver Dwayne Bowe; if they don’t, it would cost $11.4 million to keep him around for a second season via the tag.  But receivers are more plentiful than competent offensive linemen, and new Chiefs coach Andy Reid witnessed the hard way in 2012 the consequences of not having competent blockers.  This reality makes tackle Branden Albert a more likely candidate to be tagged.  Then there’s punter Dustin Colquitt, who like most punters and kickers could be cheaper to keep via the one-year franchise tag.

Miami Dolphins:  Tackle Jake Long’s rookie deal makes the cap number for tagging him way too high to justify, especially in light of the gradual decline in his play.  With cornerback Sean Smith looking for big money, the best move could be to tag him instead of Long.

Minnesota Vikings:  G.M. Rick Spielman wants to keep road-grading right tackle Phil Loadholt.  With left tackle Matt Kalil tied up via an affordable rookie deal, the Vikings can afford to pay Loadholt a large chunk of money for at least the next two seasons, before Kalil will be looking for his second contract.  Whether that large chunk of money equates to the franchise tag for Loadholt is a decision the Vikings have to make in light of the realities of the tackle market — and within the context of the impact of the use of the tag on the expectations of receiver Percy Harvin.  They’d also like to keep fullback Jerome Felton, but there’s no fullback franchise tag; they’d have to tender him at the running back level.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots have a trio of players who are potential candidates for the tag.  Whether it’s receiver Wes Welker, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, cornerback Aqib Talib, or no one, it won’t be an easy decision.  Welker would command $11.4 million, given that he was tagged in 2012.  It would be a shock if they tag him.  Vollmer has Marcus Cannon behind him on the depth chart, plus plenty of other tackles available in free agency.  The Pats could be inclined to let Vollmer leave if someone else is willing to overpay him.  Talib presents the biggest conundrum, given his positive impact on the team’s so-so defense.  They need him, but he present plenty of risk given his history of off-field incidents.

New Orleans Saints:  Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is the most obvious candidate for the tag.  But the Saints don’t have the cap space to spare.  They easily replaced guard Carl Nicks with Ben Grubbs last year, and the tackle market is far more plentiful in 2013 than the market was for guards last season.  Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis doesn’t project to nose tackle in the team’s new 3-4 defense, but he could be a candidate to play defensive end in Rob Ryan’s defense, if the Saints want to fork over the money necessary to keep him around.  Things would get interesting if the Saints tag Ellis as a tackle despite a desire to move him to end, since there’s a $2.6 million gap between the two tenders.

New York Giants:  But for the likely existence of collusion in the restricted free agency market, the Giants should be thinking about tagging receiver Victor Cruz.  Since teams have abandoned in recent years the pursuit of RFAs, there’s no reason for the Giants to double the compensation they’d get if someone else swipes Cruz.  Left tackle Will Beatty becomes a candidate for the tag, along with safety Kenny Phillips.  The cheapest of all would be tight end Martellus Bennett, who didn’t get the long-term deal he wanted a year ago in free agency, opting instead for a one-year stay in New York and another shot at the market.

New York Jets:  Safety LaRon Landry is the only guy who merits the tag, but his one-year deal from last year expressly prevents the team from using it.  No one else who is due to become a free agent deserves it.

Oakland Raiders:  There’s a major problem with using the franchise tag on punter Shane Lechler, apart from the fact that the Raiders have landed in a salary cap black hole.  While the franchise tag for punters and kickers will be an affordable $2.9 million in 2013, Lechler’s cap number last year was $4.9 million.  Under the CBA, he’s entitled to a 120 percent raise over that number, which translates to a cap number of $5.88 million.  It could be time for the much cheaper Marquette King, a converted receiver who has drawn comparisons to the monster-legged Reggie Roby.  Either way, it’s hard to imagine that the cap-strapped Raiders would pay a punter twice the amount of the base franchise tag for punters.

Philadelphia Eagles:  The Eagles don’t have many looming free agents, which means that they don’t have many candidates for the franchise tag.  Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be one, if he was, you know, better.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers have said they won’t use the franchise tag.  Which means that receiver Mike Wallace will hit the open market.  Which means that someone will overpay him on the first day of free agency.

San Diego ChargersLook at their free agents.  Though cornerback Quentin Jammer has been a mainstay in San Diego since 2002, he’s not worth what it would cost to keep him via the franchise tag.  No one else with an expiring contract justifies the tag, which is one of the reasons why there’s a new G.M. and head coach.

San Francisco 49ers:  Safety Dashon Goldson doesn’t want to be tagged again, but what he wants and what he gets could be two different things.  Absent a long-term deal, the Niners have to keep Goldson around — even if using the tag for a second time virtually guarantees he’ll hit the market in 2014.  If Goldson gets a new deal, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Niners would use the tag on their second-string but highly versatile tight end, Delanie Walker.

Seattle Seahawks:  The ultra-low kicker tag of $2.9 million could be used to keep the strong-legged Steven Hauschka.

St. Louis Rams:  Receiver Danny Amendola has become one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, but his injury history and the eight-figure franchise tender for wideouts likely will scare the Rams away.  Still, if Amendola hits the market, he won’t be there long.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The Bucs plans to spend on keeping their own guys.  When it comes to using the tag, it’s a toss-up between tackle Jeremy Trueblood and defensive end Michael Bennett, or neither.

Tennessee Titans:  The Titans reportedly are expected to use the tag on tight end Jared Cook, absent a multi-year deal.  Kicker Rob Bironas also is a possibility, but he had a cap number of $3.675 million in 2012.  Which means that the tag would cost the Titans $4.41 million in 2013, $1.5 million more than the base tag for kickers and punters.

Washington Redskins:  With $18 million in missing cap space, the Redskins can’t afford to use the tag.  Especially since tagging tight end Fred Davis again would bump his 2012 tender by 20 percent — a year after he suffered a torn Achilles tendon.  Punter Sav Rocca is a slim possibility, but even the $2.9 million will be more than the Redskins can justify with their cap situation.

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Harrison says the problem isn’t Brady but his supporting cast

Brady AP

So what’s wrong with Tom Brady?  A former teammate says the real question is what’s wrong with the guys around him.

Tom Brady can still play,” NBC’s Rodney Harrison told WEEI in Boston on Tuesday, via ESPN.com.  “But when you surround him — there’s a reason why Brandon LaFell was let go [by Carolina]. He’s not a great player. He’s a young guy, and he has to make his way in this league.

“And Danny Amendola, you look at him, no one ever said he was a great player. He’s always been hurt. The history is behind it.  Rob Gronkowski obviously coming off that ACL injury, he’s been hurt.  So it’s not like when you look at the Patriots on paper they just have all these weapons and teams are afraid of them.”

Then there’s the blocking.  Or lack of it.

“I think it’s one of those situations where Brady, he’s really, really frustrated,” Harrison said. “He doesn’t have any confidence in his offensive line.”

As a result, Harrison thinks Brady is “scared to death” in the pocket.

“But at the end of the day, Tom needs to play better,” Harrison said.  “The offensive line needs to protect him, but Tom — we’ve said it week in and week out — he’s missing opportunities that are there; he’s just floating the ball in the air.”

The ball may be floating some more on Sunday night.  Fresh off a 41-14 thrashing by the Chiefs on national TV, the Pats return home to face the 3-0 Bengals on Sunday Night Football.

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Bears waive two, promote WR Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Jaylen Watkins AP

The Bears waived two players off the roster and promoted a player from the practice squad on Tuesday, releasing wide receiver Rashad Ross and linebacker Terrell Manning and signing receiver/returner Chris Williams. The moves were announced in the NFL’s daily transactions.

Williams, 27, was on the Bears’ roster for the Week Two victory vs. San Francisco, logging one snap on offense. His promotion comes with starting wideout Brandon Marshall dealing with an ankle injury. Were Marshall out or limited for Sunday’s game at Carolina, Santonio Holmes would see more playing time on offense, which could limit his use on special teams; the ex-Jets wideout is the Bears’ top punt returner. Williams (5-8, 175) could also be in line to replace the departed Ross on kickoffs.

Ross and Manning appeared in the Bears’ last two games. Ross, 24, played 17 snaps (10 on offense, seven on special teams) in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, returning two kickoffs for 43 yards. The 24-year-old Manning played 11 special teams snaps vs. the Packers, his former club.

The Bears have one open roster spot.

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FCC considers banning Washington name from broadcast TV

Redskins Getty Images

With the blackout rule now scuttled, the FCC can turn its attention to another NFL-related item of business:  Preventing broadcast networks from using the name of the Washington NFL franchise.

On Tuesday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that the league will be considering a petition filed earlier this month alleging that the term is indecent.

“We will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we will be responding accordingly,” Wheeler said, via the National Journal.

George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf argued in the petition that the term constitutes a “racist, racially derogatory word.”  A decision that the term is indecent would block over-the-air networks (CBS, FOX, CBS, and ABC) from using the term.  The word could still be used in cable broadcasts.

But it wouldn’t matter.  A ruling from the FCC that the term is indecent would force the NFL to change the name.

To be clear, acknowledgment that the issue will be addressed doesn’t mean that the FCC will decide to characterize the term as indecent.  But it may, and that would be far more significant than today’s ruling that the little-used blackout rule no longer can be enforced by the NFL against the networks.

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Marshall apologizes for not talking to the media

Marshall AP

When Bears receiver Brandon Marshall decided not to talk to the media after Sunday’s loss to the Packers, it was obvious he’d talk about the situation during his in-week gig with Inside The NFL.  And he does.

“People in Chicago have really treated me well, and I need to give them a little more,” Marshall said during the show that debuts at 9:00 p.m. ET on Showtime.  “I tried to channel my inner emotions and it didn’t work. . . .  It’s been haunting me for the past three weeks and I know I have to give [the press, the fans, Chicago] a little more. . . .  I have to do a better job. . . .   I’ve done a great job my whole career, but these past few months I really haven’t talked to the media at all. . . .  I’ll do a better job.”

Based on Marshall’s apology, it sounds like his silence has gone on for more than a week.  Which could put him in line for a fine, if the media in Chicago ever complain about his silence.

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Santana Moss says “it hurts” to sit on the bench

Santana Moss AP

Washington receiver Santana Moss has been inactive for each of the first four games of the season, and he doesn’t like the feeling of being a bench warmer.

Honestly, man, it hurts. It does,” Moss told 106.7 The Fan. “I’m not sure if it hurts more because I know these years count so much to me, or it’s just me knowing that I put so much in to be ready. And to be able to accept coming in knowing that it was going to be harder to just say, ‘Yeah, I’m on this team.’ And all the other stuff, man, to finally be here and then sitting here and not being able to be a part of wins and losses. It’s just tough.”

It’s surprising that Washington kept Moss on the roster if he wasn’t going to be active on game days. Usually the players who are on the roster but inactive on Sundays are young guys who are still developing as players, not 35-year-old veterans like Moss.

Perhaps Washington still thinks Moss provides an insurance policy in case another receiver gets injured, or perhaps the team hopes Moss could be traded to another team that finds itself in need of a veteran receiver. (Cleveland, where Moss knows the offense of coordinator Kyle Shanahan, is a destination that could make sense.) But for now, Moss remains in Washington. Which means he remains on the bench.

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Mark Davis thinks the Raiders job will be “enticing” for a new coach

Mark Davis AP

Raiders owner Mark Davis believes a good coach will want to work for him.

Davis, whose team fired coach Dennis Allen and promoted Tony Sparano to interim head coach today, said he believes the Raiders, thanks to a great deal of cap space, are a team that NFL coaches will be interested in coaching.

“The organization itself is in a very good position to move forward, whether Tony Sparano wins this year and becomes the permanent head coach of the Raiders or we bring in another head coach,” Davis said. “I believe the salary cap, contracts, all of those things, I think we’re going to have $60-$65 million in cap space next year and so it’s quite an encouraging thing and enticing for a new head coach if in fact we find one and go through a search that this could be an organization they would want to be with.”

Davis may be right about the attractiveness of ample cap space, but the Raiders job hasn’t been enticing in many years. Getting a coach to come to Oakland may be a tougher sell than Davis realizes.

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Sparano says they need to let players do what they do best

Sparano Getty Images

The press conference announcing the firing of a head coach and the promotion of a guy the fired coach had hired to serve as an assistant always entails some tightrope-walking by the new coach, who needs to express regret that his boss is gone while also expressing enthusiasm and preparation to embrace the challenge for cleaning up the mess that the new coach helped create.

On Tuesday, new Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano offered a clue as to how his approach may differ from Dennis Allen’s.

“We’ve got a lot of good players here,” Sparano said.  “We need to let them do what they do best.”

Assuming for the sake of argument that the Raiders have a lot of good players (quit laughing, Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers fans), Sparano’s comment could be interpreted as a disclosure that, under Allen, players were expected to fit the schemes.  By saying that the Raiders need to let the players do what they do best, Sparano could be saying that he’ll design plays and concepts based on the strengths and weaknesses of the players.

This assumes that the players have enough strengths (and sufficiently few weaknesses) for that to matter.

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LaMichael James lands in Miami

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Getty Images

Running back LaMichael James appeared to be on his way out of San Francisco for much of the offseason, but the team wound up keeping him on their roster to start the regular season.

It was a brief stay, however. James was dropped after the first week of the regular season and has been looking for work since then. One spot he looked was Miami, where he worked out for the Dolphins a couple of weeks ago.

Nothing happened at the time, but it seems James did make a positive impression on the team. James’s agent Jeff Sperbeck announced on Twitter Tuesday that his client has signed with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins haven’t announced anything yet and they are on their bye week, so it may be a while before we find out what kind of role they have in mind for the former 49er. Knowshon Moreno isn’t thought to be far off from rejoining Lamar Miller in the backfield, so a role as a returner might be part of the plan for James in South Florida.

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Raiders coach Tony Sparano “very excited about where we’re going”

tonysparano AP

New Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano says he believes he can turn the team in the right direction after an 0-4 start led to the dismissal of former coach Dennis Allen.

“I’m excited,” Sparano said at his introductory press conference. “Very excited about where we’re going right now, what we’re trying to do.”

Sparano praised Allen as an “outstanding football coach” and said it was tough to see the man who was his boss until yesterday lose his job.

“This is obviously a bittersweet moment for me right now in that a great friend of mine and a person I respect a great deal in Dennis Allen was let go,” he said. “That’s unfortunately part of our business but this is the situation we’re in right now.”

Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie also spoke highly of Allen but said the move had to be made.

“I had a good talk with Dennis,” he said. “I just want to say that I appreciate everything he’s done. He worked hard, very diligent, but I had to make the move and I did that yesterday. Moving forward, I’m excited to bring before you a new interim head coach, Tony Sparano. I’m excited about the experience he brings, the leadership he brings, the passion he brings to get this organization, the Raider organization, to what we need to do, and that’s win.”

The Raiders haven’t won at all this season and haven’t won consistently since the Jon Gruden days. Unless Sparano can oversee a miraculous turnaround, fans may be clamoring for a return of Gruden after Sparano coaches out the last 12 games of 2014.

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More support for Harbaugh from 49ers locker room

Jim+Harbaugh+cpUYrtG9pt2m Getty Images

Deion Sanders says 49ers players want coach Jim Harbaugh to go.  Harbaugh says it’s a bunch of crap.  The jurors (i.e., the players) are beginning to chime, and the early verdict is . . . .

Crap.

He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around,” tackle Jonathan Martin said, via the San Jose Mercury News.  “Even though he might be cheesy at times with slogans and sayings, his enthusiasm rubs off on players.  And his record speaks for itself.”

Of course, Martin would be likely to say that, since Harbaugh coached Martin at Stanford and helped resurrect Martin’s pro career after he decided to walk out on the Dolphins as the result of intense bullying in 2013.  But Martin, who said he has seen no evidence of discord, wasn’t alone.

“Everything’s great,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “I mean, we play, he coach. We can’t really control anything else.”

(It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s also no evidence that players want Harbaugh gone.)

Ditto from punter Andy Lee: “I don’t see that anywhere in this locker room.  From my point of view, everything is normal.”

And from linebacker Michael Wilhoite: “His attitude is the attitude we take. That toughness, that grind, that grit — it’s been bred in us since I first got here. It was known we were going to be tough. It was known we were going to have a callous that we had built up. It was known that we were very physical, we ran the ball, we stopped the run, we played good football and we were disciplined.”

So maybe Deion is simply wrong.  Or maybe there’s a small pocket of malcontents who won’t complain about Harbaugh on the record.

Or maybe Deion is playing a psychological game with one of the various teams for which he once played, like Tom Jackson once claimed he did when picking the Jets to lose to the Patriots in the playoffs.

Regardless, Deion’s “report” that the players don’t like their coach seems to be galvanizing the 49ers.  Maybe in February Harbaugh will snub Deion after winning the Super Bowl like Bill Belichick once did with Jackson, who had proclaimed in September that the Patriots players “hate their coach.”

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Jadeveon Clowney thinks he’ll be back in a few weeks

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans are 3-1 even though they’ve only had rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney in the lineup for the first half of the first game of the season and the first overall pick in this year’s draft said it has been “very tough” to be on the sideline for the last three weeks.

Clowney is recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, a procedure that left him with a four-to-six week timetable for his return to the lineup. We’re closing in on the front end of that projection, but Clowney said Tuesday that it will still be a bit more time before he thinks he’ll be ready for a return to action.

“Everything is starting to come along just like I want it to. … I think I’ll be back in a few weeks — that’s the goal,” Clowney said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Right now I’m just taking it day by day, just trying to get back healthy. Rehab is coming along good. My leg feels a lot better. I’m just taking it a day at a time right now.”

J.J. Watt’s weekly feats of strength have made it easier to forget that Clowney is supposed to be on the field causing more havoc for opposing offenses. If he can get back without too much rust accumulating on his game and the Texans can keep winning in his absence, Clowney’s return could be a big factor in how the AFC South race plays out this season.

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Teddy Bridgewater held out of Vikings practice again

Bridgewater Getty Images

The Vikings have sounded optimistic, and they’ve sounded cautious.

The Packers are just assuming.

But those are subjective measures.

In the cold, calculating world of the NFL injury report, the news is quantifiable.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did not participate in practice today, according to the Vikings’ report submitted to the league. Linebacker Chad Greenway and tight end Kyle Rudolph didn’t either, but that’s not what you’re here to read about.

With just one more day between doing nothing and playing the Packers Thursday night, the chances of Bridgewater playing might not appear great. But that’s part of the reaility of short-week games anyway.

If he can’t go, the Vikings would have to start Christian Ponder, and promote one of their practice squaders so they’d have a viable backup.

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Belichick bears the blame for current Patriots’ mess

Belichick Getty Images

When reporters asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick about a burgeoning quarterback controversy, he shouldn’t have scoffed.  He should have been grateful.

The focus on Tom Brady has kept many from looking at the guy squarely responsible for the current state of the team — Belichick himself.

The head coach and de facto G.M. has been heralded as a genius for much of the last 13 years, and rightfully so.  Belichick has found a way to keep the team competitive on a consistent basis in an age of parity and a salary cap.

But the quality of the roster has eroded in recent years.  The offensive line presently stinks.  While the departure of long-time line coach Dante Scarnecchia likely played a role in the ability of the line to play its role the right way, the players aren’t good.  Which makes the decision to dump guard Logan Mankins after he refused to take a pay cut even more bizarre.  Belichick miscalculated the ability of the line to thrive without Mankins, and as a result the Patriots could miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.

No one can question Belichick’s coaching ability.  But when it comes to handling the personnel side of the operation, he’s either losing his fastball or he needs more help.  Because it’s not enough to find ways to trade down or to draft backup quarterbacks lower than perhaps they should have gone.  At some point, the players need to be good enough to play.

Right now, they’re not.  And that lands at the feet of the guy who runs the show.

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Texans part ways with Shiloh Keo

Chris Johnson, Shiloh Keo AP

The Texans have made a change at safety.

According to multiple reports, the team has waived safety Shiloh Keo and promoted Josh Aubrey to the 53-man roster.

Keo was a 2011 fifth-round pick in Houston who saw action in every game for the team in 2012 and 2013. He spent much of the 2013 season as a starter after the team’s move for Ed Reed failed to pan out, but did little to suggest that he has a future in the league as a first-team defensive player. Keo had 63 tackles and an interception last year, but saw most of his other work on special teams and that’s probably where any NFL future lies as well.

Aubrey had one tackle in six games with the Browns last year. He didn’t make the team out of camp this year and spent a brief spell with the Seahawks before landing on Cleveland’s practice squad.

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McKenzie announces that Allen has been fired

McKenzie AP

It’s not entirely Dennis Allen’s fault that the Raiders stink.  And so it was fitting that the guy who shares in the blame for the current state of the team made the official announcement that Allen has taken the fall for the team’s predictable 0-4 start.

“After thorough evaluation, we have determined to move in another direction,” G.M. Reggie McKenzie said in a statement released by the team.  “We appreciate Dennis Allen’s dedication to the organization and wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

The different direction, at least for now, will be offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who took the Dolphins to a 29-33 record over four years before being fired after the 2011 season.  It’s hard to imagine the outcome being any different with Sparano than with Allen, given the lack of talent and other issues with the franchise.

But Sparano will have a far more extended opportunity to earn the job on an ongoing basis, given that 12 games remain on the schedule.  That’s actually better for the Raiders; it makes an artificial improvement in performance from players who prefer to keep the current staff less likely.  Far too often, the interim coach has success in the last 2-3 games of the year, secures the job, and then the wheels come off.

The Raiders have scheduled a press conference for 5:00 p.m. ET.  Even though the press release didn’t include any quotes from owner Mark Davis, he presumably will be there.  There’s even a slim chance we’ll see an overhead projector.

That last part is a joke.  I think.  It nevertheless will be interesting to see whether Mark Davis continues his father’s habit of trying to find ways to stiff fired coaches out of the balance of their remaining salary.

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