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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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Report: Jets believed to “have an affinity for” Andrus Peat

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With a new head coach (Todd Bowles) and General Manager (Mike Maccagnan) in the fold, and with a host of roster needs, the Jets could go numerous ways with the No. 6 overall pick in Thursday’s draft.

However, a few other clubs reportedly think they have an inkling of a prospect New York especially likes.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, “several” NFL personnel directors suspect the Jets are fond of Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat.

Offensive line would be a logical area for the Jets to address early in the draft. Three of their starters are at least 31 years old, and right tackle Breno Giacomini turns 30 in November. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who enters his 10th season as a starter, will turn 32 in December.

As the Daily News notes, Peat took a pre-draft visit to the Jets, who have six draft selections in 2015. Given their lack of picks, the Jets would seem a logical trade-down candidate.

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John Harbaugh provides passionate defense of football

John Harbaugh AP

As the game of football faces questions about its long-term viability given the fairly recent realization that the inherent risks of football include chronic brain issues that may develop into cognitive impairments, the battle lines have been drawn between those who attack the game and those who defend it.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh defends it zealously in an article recently posted at the team’s official website.

“The question is asked over and over:  Why would anyone want to play football?  And why would anyone let their kids play?” Harbaugh writes.  “Here’s my answer:  I believe there’s practically no other place where a young man is held to a higher standard.”

Harbaugh realizes that the concussion issue has brought football to a “turning point” like the one in the early 1900s that prompted significant changes in response to a rash of deaths and serious injuries.

“We have to continue to get players in better helmets,” Harbaugh writes.  “We have to teach tackling the right way, and that starts at the NFL level.  Change the rules.  Take certain things out of the game.  It’s all the right thing to do.”

Harbaugh focuses his views on high school football, the highest level of the sport in which 97 percent of all players participate.

“How many youth and high school coaches serve as a father figure to their players?” Harbaugh writes.  “How many mothers look to the coaches of their son’s football team as the last best hope to show their son what it means to become a man — a real man?  More than we’ll ever know.”

Some will say that Harbaugh’s decision to articulate his views confirms that those with a vested in football are worried about its future.  Maybe those with a vested interest in football should be worried about its future; of all the sports and other activities that entail risk of short-term or long-term injury, football is one of the few that now comes under regular scrutiny.

Is football dangerous?  Yes.  It always has been, and it always will be.

Obviously, plenty of things are dangerous.  It’s become popular in some circles to distinguish the risk of accidental injury from, for example, riding a bike to the reality that football necessarily entails head contact when it operates as intended.  But head contact doesn’t always lead to concussion and concussion doesn’t always lead to brain damage.  In football, brain damage isn’t inevitable.  In other activities, accidents likewise aren’t inevitable.

A wide range of activities have risks and rewards.  Everyone needs to decide whether the rewards justify the risks.  Regardless of what anyone chooses, it doesn’t mean the activity should be abandoned or outlawed, unless the risks become too great and/or the rewards become too small.

Many people, like John Harbaugh, believe the rewards outweigh the risks, and that the stewards of the game have an obligation to find ways to reduce the risks as much as possible.

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Kevin Johnson could be the first cornerback taken

Johnson Getty Images

Our first (perhaps only) mock draft of the year had Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going 18th overall to the Chiefs, two spots below cornerback Trae Waynes, to the Texans.  The order of their depature from the draft board ultimately could be flipped.

With the draft four days away, we’re told that multiple teams have Johnson ahead of Waynes.  If one of those teams ends up on the clock and decides to take a corner, Johnson will go before Waynes.

Johnson, who entered college at a mere 155 pounds, has steadily added weight.  Reaching 175 last year, Johnson currently spins the dial to 188.

That’s nearly twice what he weighed in adolescence.

“I had ability, I was just a late bloomer,” Johnson has said.  “My freshman year of high school, I was five feet tall and weighed 96 pounds.  So I’m just growing every day.  I’m still growing now.”

His confidence has grown, too.

“I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Johnson said.  “I think I’m a lockdown cornerback.”

Regardless of whether he’s the best cornerback in the draft, he could be the first one taken on Thursday night.

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Unnamed personnel executive: Class of 2015 has “no draftable kickers”

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There have been multiple kickers selected in each of the last three drafts.

However, there’s some feeling that not a single kicker merits being selected in the upcoming draft, which starts Thursday in Chicago.

In a story published Sunday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an unnamed personnel executive panned the kickers in the Class of 2015.

“There’s no draftable kickers,” the executive said, according to the Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn. “The combine was probably the worst display of kicking talent I’ve ever seen. It was, like, ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t develop a kicker?’ ”

In his 2015 NFL Draft Preview, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki gave six kickers draftable grades, with Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton getting the highest mark. However, only Manton received a grade equating to a “fair chance to earn a roster spot,” with the other five kickers graded as “capable of battling for a roster spot.”

It’s uncommon to have a draft without a kicker selected. The last was in 2010, which snapped an 11-year streak of at least one kicker drafted per spring.

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PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Amari Cooper’s draft position: 4.5

Amari Cooper AP

Leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, we’ll put on our oddsmaking hats and Ace Rothstein glasses and set one proposition “bet” per day for PFT Planet to ponder. At the conclusion of the draft, we’ll see how PFT Planet did on the wagers, which are for entertainment purposes only.

Here’s the second in our series of five draft-related props:

PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper’s draft position in Round One: 4.5.

Cooper is certain to be one of the top receivers taken on Thursday. Though quite unlikely to be the No. 1 overall pick, Cooper could seemingly appeal to a variety of other clubs selecting early, including Tennessee at No. 2 or Oakland at No. 4. In fact, Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris has the Raiders taking Cooper in his latest mock.

However, Cooper could also fit with teams after Oakland in the draft order, with Washington (No. 5), the Jets (No. 6) and Bears (No. 7) all logical landing spots.

So where does Amari Cooper land in Round One? The poll is open, as are the comments.

Previous draft props

PFT Draft Prop No. 1: Over-Under on first-round RBs: 2.5

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Kluwe says Peterson hasn’t handled his situation well

Kluwe Getty Images

One of Adrian Peterson’s always-outspoken former teammates says that Peterson needs to do a better job of handling his personal issues and his pending return to the NFL.

Chris Kluwe, the former Vikings punter who played with Peterson for six seasons, believes that Peterson should show public remorse for abusing his son.

“Obviously, AP can still play, but I think he needs to show that he understands he did something wrong and that he wants to work to change that, which I don’t know that he’s really shown yet,” Kluwe told the Pioneer Press.

One thing that Kluwe and Peterson have in common is that they’ve both clashed with the Vikings’ front office. But Kluwe seems to think Peterson is the one who bears most of the blame for his ongoing dispute with the Vikings.

“[Peterson] also feels that he’s been treated kind of unfairly, which I can see from a player’s perspective,” Kluwe said. “You think that the organization has your back. You think that these people have your back and then you get hung out to dry. I think there’s blame to go around on both sides, but AP hasn’t handled it particularly well. He’s probably valid in thinking he didn’t get some of the support that he thought he was going to get, but he’s the one who made the mistakes and he’s the one who needs to own up to it.”

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Colts take pride in scouring globe for unconventional players

Ryan Grigson AP

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson loves to find unconventional players , or at least players with unconventional backgrounds.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise last week when he worked out a 380-pound Australian shot-putter.

It’s kind of the norm for a G.M. who has signed four CFL players, two former college basketball players and a Kenyan rugby player as he looks to bolster a roster headed by the best young quarterback in the game.

If you have elite athletic traits, you can do this,” Grigson told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. “This isn’t one of those specialized sports, like golf. If you have a level of toughness and you can move and you have instincts, if you have those at an elite level, you’re going to get a chance.”

Of course, the pursuit of bottom-of-the-roster talent is fine, as the presence of Andrew Luck gives them a little latitude. And there are other G.M.s who like to give chances to athletes who happen to not be football players, such as Trent Baalke’s attempted development of English discus thrower Lawrence Okoye.

But Grigson takes pride in searching the globe for talent, and they even have a scout dedicated to the strange and unusual (special projects scout Jon Shaw).

Finding a diamond in the rough is the ultimate prize — any scout can point to Luck and say “That guy is good at football.”

Then again, Grigson has turned his last two first-round picks into running back Trent Richardson and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, neither of whom were active for the Colts’ latest playoff loss.

So as fun as finding unconventional players might be, a better effort toward the conventional ones might help the Colts more.

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Mike Tannenbaum: No decisions on Ryan Tannehill option for 2016

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We’re a week away from the deadline for teams to decide whether or not to exercise their options for the fifth year of their 2012 first-round pick’s contracts and several teams are still weighing their decisions.

The Dolphins say that they are one of them. The team has shown plenty of faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill and has been engaged in conversations with him about a long-term agreement, which would seem to make the call to pick up his option an easy one. At a press conference on Friday, though, executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said that no call has been made about the $16 million option for 2016.

“Look, Ryan is here, we’re excited he is here, we haven’t made any decisions yet,” Tannenbaum said. “We know when the deadline is and we’ll make those decisions when we get there. Obviously one of the other axioms you’d like to use this time of year is the tape sets the floor and the character sets the ceiling, and for all of the resources Mr. Ross gives us to put into a player, you want to make sure that player is taking all of those resources and Ryan is just a great example of that.”

There’s not much downside to picking up the option on Tannehill’s contract. It’s guaranteed against injury only, so the Dolphins could change course if things go south on the field next season, and does nothing to limit their ability to reach a longer deal with the quarterback. Given those conditions (and barring an extension in the next few days), it would be a surprise if May 3 passes without the option being exercised.

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Chris Long could be heading into his last year in St. Louis

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No NFL team has invested more resources in its defensive line than the Rams. But the centerpiece of that defensive line may be heading into his last season in St. Louis.

Chris Long, the Rams’ 2008 first-round draft pick who has developed into a very good defensive end, could be looking at a make-or-break year in 2015. Nick Wagoner of ESPN writes that unless Long has a big year in 2015, the Rams may decide he’s not worth the money and release him in 2016.

The money the Rams have invested in Long is substantial: Last year he counted $12.9 million against their cap despite playing in just six games and finishing the season with a grand total of one sack. This year his cap hit is $12.5 million, and next year his cap hit is $14.25 million. If Long isn’t playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2016, that $14.25 million would be hard to justify in 2016.

The Rams have an expensive defensive end on the other side of the line in Robert Quinn, and they’ve spent first-round picks on defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. On top of that, last month they signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Add it all up, and the Rams have invested a lot in the defensive line.

Eventually, teams that invest that much in one position group find that they have to allocate some of their resources elsewhere. Next year may be the time that the Rams decide they need to spend on other positions, and move on from Long.

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NFL clears Ray McDonald in domestic violence case

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Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy were both accused of domestic violence last year. Both got the same results from the legal system, ultimately having their charges dropped. But the NFL’s brand of justice has been radically different.

Hardy was banished with pay by the Panthers for 15 games last season and has now been suspended an additional 10 games without pay this season. But McDonald was allowed to play for the 49ers amid the domestic violence accusation last year and will not be suspended at all this year.

The NFL has confirmed that it investigated McDonald, who is now with the Bears, and cleared him of any violation of the personal-conduct policy.

“We have completed that [domestic-violence] investigation,” NFL general counsel Jeff Pash told the Associated Press Sports Editors. ‘‘[Special counsel for investigations] Lisa [Friel] and her team completed that investigation [and] did not establish a violation of the personal-conduct policy. We informed the player and the [NFL] Players Association.’’

However, that doesn’t mean McDonald is totally out of the woods. He is also being investigated in connection with a sexual assault. McDonald has not been charged in that case and says he will sue the woman who accused him.

‘‘Just to be clear, Ray McDonald had two issues, as you may remember — one related to a domestic-
violence incident and one related to an alleged sexual assault,’’ Friel said. ‘‘It’s the domestic-violence incident that we have finished investigating and didn’t find sufficient evidence to say that he violated the personal-conduct policy. The sexual-assault incident, that investigation is ongoing. That has not been completed, nor has the district attorney’s office in Santa Clara County completed their investigation into that matter.’’

The second accusation against McDonald led the 49ers to cut him. But as far as the the NFL is concerned, he’s not in any trouble with the personal-conduct policy. At least not yet.

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Bucs did extensive vetting of Jameis Winston

Jameis AP

If the Buccaneers don’t make Jameis Winston their latest potential franchise quarterback in four days, they’ve managed to concoct an impressive smoke screen.

The Tampa Tribune has published extensive details of the vetting of Winston by the Buccaneers, which could be viewed as a deliberate effort to address any lingering concerns about Winston’s character.

Via the Tribune, G.M. Jason Licht said the Buccaneers “spoke to upwards of 75 people” about Winston.  The Tribune has determined that those “upwards of 75 people” include “family members, friends, teammates, former high school coaches, former college coaches and an assistant state attorney.”

“[W]e all couldn’t feel more confident about the process we have gone through,” Licht said.

The process, as PFT previously has reported, included contact with assistant Tallahassee district attorney Georgia Cappleman, who spoke to the Bucs not only about Erica Kinsman (who claims Winston sexually assaulted her) but also about a second victim to whom Kinsman’s lawsuit against Winston refers.

“I advised them that there was another woman who received some counseling services from Florida State University as a result of an encounter with Mr. Winston that was of a sexual nature,” Cappleman told the Tribune.  While Cappleman hasn’t personally spoken to the second victim, Cappleman said the second victim “doesn’t even consider herself a victim.”

As to Kinsman, the Buccaneers haven’t spoken to her or to her lawyers.

“When vetting any potentially credible accusation of off-field misconduct, I’d expect NFL teams to learn both sides and not just listen to the player, agent, and coach,” Kinsman lawyer Baine Kerr told the Tribune. “Due diligence should include learning the facts from the accuser’s point of view.”

While it’s important to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, it’s a no-win proposition for the Buccaneers to communicate directly with persons having a clear bias and financial incentive against Winston.  If the team gets too close to the controversy, the team becomes a pawn in the legal chess/checkers/chicken game between Winston and Kinsman.

We can’t believe that the Buccaneers still made Winston the first overall pick despite all the information we shared with them.

Some would say that the mere existence of so many questions about Winston, from the BB gun incident to the crab-leg caper to the sexual-assault allegation to the shouting of the vulgar Internet memo to the recent change in the crab-leg explanation is enough to justify passing on Winston and selecting someone else with potentially equivalent talent but zero off-field entanglements that require investigation and explanation.  But franchise quarterbacks are hard to find in the draft, and the Buccaneers in nearly 40 years of existence never have.  As Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said on a recent edition of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the Buccaneers have never given a second contract to any quarterback they drafted.

That list includes, working backward, Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms, Joe Hamilton, Shaun King, Trent Dilfer, Craig Erickson, Mike Pawlawski, Pat O’Hara, Vinny Testaverde, Mike Shula, Blair Kiel, Steve Young, Mike Ford, Chuck Fusina, Doug Williams, Randy Hedberg, and Parnell Dickinson.

That’s 20 quarterbacks in 39 drafts.  Winston apparently will become No. 21, and the franchise seems to be ready to assume the risk that Winston could be yet another Buccaneer bust, whether due to on-field play or off-field problems.

If he is, maybe the 22nd quarterback drafted by the franchise will be the one to get a second contract.

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No talks between Eli Manning, Giants

San Francisco 49ers v New York Giants Getty Images

When 2015 began, each of the trio of first-round quarterbacks from the 2004 draft who have become NFL superstars were entering the final year of their second contracts.  One of them (Ben Roethlisberger) has gotten another big deal.  Another one (Philip Rivers) claims he doesn’t want one until 2016, if then.  The third says nothing is happening, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.

Nothing has been brought up,” Manning said Sunday, via Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.  “I haven’t made a big deal about it.”

Eli also said he won’t be insulted if he doesn’t get a new contract before the current one ends, pointing out that his brother, Peyton, has done that before.

Peyton has, twice before in Indianapolis.  But Eli got his current contract before his own rookie deal expired.  This time around, the Giants may decide to wait and see what happens in 2015.

“[The contract] is not something I’m going to argue about or make a fuss about,” Eli said Sunday.

Eli is due to earn a base salary of $17 million in 2015, with a cap number of $19.75 million.  That gives Eli plenty of leverage, since it would cost the Giants $23.7 million in 2016 under the non-exclusive franchise tag — and probably even more under the exclusive version of the tag.  Which means that the Giants would be paying plenty if Eli opts for a year-to-year arrangement, which would increase the tender by 20 percent in 2017 and 44 percent in 2018.

Given Eli’s stated desire not to leave the Giants, it’ll be very interesting to see whether New York would roll the dice with the non-exclusive tag, since that would open the door for another team willing to give up two first-round picks to make a run at Eli.

In other words, the Browns would make a run at Eli.

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Irsay “not really” surprised #DeflateGate investigation has taken so long

Irsay Getty Images

The owner of the team that sparked the #DeflateGate investigation recently talked about the absence of closure in the case.  And Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn’t seem to be concerned about the fact that more than three months have passed since G.M. Ryan Grigson complained to the league about the air pressure in the footballs used during the first half of the AFC title game against the Patriots.

“I know that they are still finishing up their investigation, and there’s really nothing new to report,” Irsay told reporters at the third annual Chuckstrong gala on Friday night.  “It could be a few days, it could be a month or more.  I really don’t know.  They’re working to be, again, comprehensive and thorough, and when [Ted] Wells gets done with it, he’ll let us all know.”

Is Irsay surprised it has taken this long to wrap up the investigation?

“You know, probably not really,” Irsay said.  “He’s a very thorough investigator, and he’s gonna do what he thinks, sort of in his vacuum, so to speak.  He’s not concerned about when he gets the results, how long it takes.  He wants to be thorough.  So I know he operates that way.  So it’s not a shock, but I think everyone has wondered exactly when he’ll come through and let us know what he’s learned.”

Some suspect that a truly thorough investigation might reveal that the Colts took additional air out of the ball that was intercepted by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson during the first half of the game.  The NFL previously has declined to comment on whether Ted Wells is exploring that angle.  Others currently believe that the NFL has turned the investigation back on itself, hoping to placate Patriots owner Robert Kraft by determining how so many leaks of information that would tend to incriminate his team made their way to the media.

Regardless, it’s been more than a month since Commissioner Roger Goodell said the investigation is “getting near the end.”  With the draft less than a week away, it’s starting to feel like the end will arrive on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

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Jags have no update on Justin Blackmon’s status

Jacksonville Jaguars Media Access Getty Images

In January, Jaguars owner Shad Khan said that he was “very optimistic” about wide receiver Justin Blackmon returning to the field for the 2015 season and that he felt good about having Blackmon return to the team after missing more than a season on an indefinite suspension for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

We’re closing in on the end of April and the Jags have started their offseason workouts, but there’s still no word on whether Blackmon will have that ban lifted by the league. While speaking to the media last week, Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell said that the team didn’t know whether Blackmon has applied for reinstatement or much else about the receiver’s status.

“Our process hasn’t changed,” Caldwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “Plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges and he’s going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we’re able to get some news, but if not, we weren’t planning on it, we’re just going to go.”

The Jaguars have no reason to close the door on a Blackmon return until there’s actually a return to contemplate and the lack of movement on that front suggests Caldwell’s right to devote his attention to other matters.

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Eagles still not showing real commitment to Bradford

Bradford AP

After the Eagles surprisingly traded for quarterback Sam Bradford in March, coach Chip Kelly insisted that Bradford wasn’t a stepping stone toward getting up the board to reunite with Marcus Mariota.  Since then, the Eagles have done nothing to take that possibility off the table.

As PFT reported on Wednesday, no meaningful contract talks have occurred between the Eagles and Bradford, who is due to make $12.985 million in 2015, the final year of his pre-wage-scale rookie deal.  The Eagles would like to knock down the cap number, and Bradford would like a chance to re-establish himself.  While money is a factor, security is, too; Bradford wants any new deal would to ensure that he won’t be shipped to the Browns or elsewhere, especially since a multi-year contract would make Bradford more valuable to a team that would acquire his rights for more than one season.

The absence of a true commitment to Bradford keeps the possibility of another trade in play.  Recently, PFT laid out the pieces of a three-way deal that would put Bradford in Cleveland, Mariota (and possibly Johnny Manziel) in Philly, and multiple picks in the pocket of a team that trades out of the top five.

The Eagles possibly could get there by giving up Bradford, the 20th pick in 2015, a first-round pick in 2016, and maybe another pick or two.  Whether that amounts to mortgaging the future isn’t known.

That said, why is a mortgage a bad thing?  For most, it’s the only way to buy a house.  For the Eagles, a mortgage for Mariota could not only buy a house but also eventually put a Lombardi Trophy in the case.

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