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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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Antrel Rolle says this year’s Giants may be “most talented team” he’s played for

Giants Camp Football AP

Safety Antrel Rolle won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 2011 and appeared in another Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.

However, Rolle believes the current iteration of the Giants may be the most talented team he’s been a part of in his 10 seasons in the NFL.

According to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, Rolle is bullish on the team’s chances this season.

“Absolutely. I think this is one of the most talented teams I have ever been on, if not the most talented,’’ Rolle said.

“It’s almost to a point where you have to hold yourself back — it’s just the first day of training camp. All of the guys are excited, and we’re trying to get out there and see what we can put together. It’s going to be a very special group we have here.’’

The Giants missed the playoffs for the second straight year in 2013. But after an 0-6 start to the season, the Giants did rally to win seven of their final 10 games with their defense ranking eighth in the league at season’s end.

Rolle was excited by the additions the Giants made to the roster this offseason. Head coach Tom Coughlin hopes the changes on offense can help rejuvenate Eli Manning and spark a unit that flailed frequently last year.

Only time will tell if Rolle’s optimism about the Giants potential is well-founded.

 

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Reports: Former Cowboys RB Robert Newhouse passes away at 64

Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Robert Newhouse, a running back and fullback for the Cowboys from 1972 through 1983, died Tuesday after a bout with heart disease, multiple media outlets reported Tuesday.

A second-round pick out of Houston, Newhouse rushed for 4,784 yards and 29 touchdowns in his 12 seasons with Dallas. He started in three Super Bowls for the Cowboys, and he capped the club’s 27-10 victory vs. Denver in Super Bowl XII with a 29-yard fourth-quarter TD pass to Golden Richards.

“House was a great football player,” Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said of Newhouse, according to Fox 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth. “Off the field, he was a great man, kind and caring, solid as a rock.”

According to published reports, Newhouse is survived by his wife and four children.

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Julio Jones cleared for practice, but will be limited

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones AP

Relegated to spectator duty throughout offseason workouts, Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is getting closer to full strength.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, head coach Mike Smith said Jones has been cleared to practice ahead of the start of training camp on Friday.

However, Jones will be eased back into full duty.

“He will be limited in terms of his snaps,” Smith said. “Our number one goal is to make sure that we’ve got everybody as healthy as we possibly can be, but we know that we have to get these guys some work together and reps. Julio will be out there participating in practice right from the start.”

Jones appeared in just five games for Atlanta last year before a broken bone in his right foot ended his season. Jones had put together an explosive start to the seasons with 41 catches for 580 yards and two touchdowns before the injury. The 41 grabs were already more than halfway to his career-high of 79 catches in 2012.

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Texans sign rookie TE Chris Coyle

Chris Coyle AP

The Texans have re-signed rookie tight end Chris Coyle, the club announced Tuesday.

Coyle (6-4, 243) signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent on May 16, but the club waived the Arizona State product a little more than a month later. He garnered first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior in 2013, catching 29 passes for 423 yards and five touchdowns.

In other roster moves Tuesday, the Texans waived fullback Brad Smelley and defensive end Tim Jackson. According to the NFL’s transactions, Jackson was waived with the “failure to disclose physical condition” designation.

The Texans have 30 rookies on their roster. The club has two open roster spots.

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Report: Jamaal Charles will hold out from Chiefs camp

Jamaal Charles AP

In a surprise move, one of the NFL’s best players has reportedly decided not to report to training camp.

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will not show up when the Chiefs report to camp on Thursday. Charles is holding out for more money, KCTV-5 reports.

Charles still has two more years left on his contract and is due $3.9 million this year. He’s correct if he thinks he’s a lot better than a lot of players who are making more money than him, but the Chiefs may feel that they have no reason to give more money to a player who is under contract through 2015.

If Charles is serious about making his holdout a long one, that would be very bad news for the Chiefs: Charles led the team last year not just in rushing with 259 carries for 1,287 yards, but also in receiving with 70 catches for 693 yards. There may not be any non-quarterback in the league who is more important to his team’s offense than Charles.

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Jaguars’ Ace Sanders says he’s facing a four-game suspension

Ace Sanders AP

Jaguars second-year wide receiver Ace Sanders disclosed Tuesday that he’s in line for a four-game NFL suspension.

Sanders, whom the Jaguars placed on the non-football illness list Tuesday, said he will not participate in training camp and will seek counseling, according to a team-issued transcript of his remarks to reporters.

“I’ve made some mistakes that I do regret, that I do honestly regret,” Sanders said, according to the club. “I could have handled situations a little differently. I’m still just dealing with it. I’m trying to be a better person and a better teammate for everybody and everybody around me.

“I decided to go seek that help, get that attention that I need, hopefully somebody can help me out and I should be okay. I should be fine. I just want to get better and come back and be ready to play.”

Sanders was second on the Jaguars in receptions (51) as a rookie. The Jaguars drafted wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in May, and the club also returns leading receiver Cecil Shorts III (68 catches, 777 yards, three TDs in 2013). However, this is another setback for a receiving corps already without 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon, who’s serving a substance-abuse suspension handed down last fall.

Sanders said he would not appeal a suspension. He also declined to disclose the nature of the NFL violation.

“I have some personal issues that I am dealing with,” Sanders said. “I’m trying to get everything straightened out. It’s been really tough. It’s been a tough road for me the past couple of months.”

In opening his remarks, Sanders publicly apologized to the organization and fans. He also said he was heartened by the support of the team during this tough time, including that of his fellow receivers.

“That room is just like a brotherhood. They rallied behind me and told me that they were sending prayers and to just do what I have to do to get back and that when I get back that we’ll just play ball like we’ve been playing,” Sanders said. “It just made me feel loved and feel good inside to know that they still have my best interest whether I’m out there with them or trying to get myself together.”

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PFT’s preseason power rankings, sorted by division

Jeff Fisher, Bruce Arians AP

PFT wrapped up our 2014 preseason power rankings Tuesday by unveiling our top-ranked team, the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the top two teams are out of the same division, with the San Francisco 49ers — NFC West and NFC runners-up a season ago — taking the No. 2 spot.

With the ultratough West in mind — what a challenging draw for the Cardinals and Rams — here’s a division-by-division look at the power rankings. Teams are ordered within their divisions by their overall ranking:

AFC East

4. New England Patriots. (AFC rank: 2.)

19. New York Jets. (AFC rank: 9.)

28. Buffalo Bills. (AFC rank: 12.)

31. Miami Dolphins. (AFC rank: 15.)

AFC North

7. Baltimore Ravens. (AFC rank: 3.)

9. Cincinnati Bengals. (AFC rank: 5.)

15. Pittsburgh Steelers. (AFC rank: 6.)

22. Cleveland Browns. (AFC rank: 10.)

AFC South

8. Indianapolis Colts. (AFC rank: 4.)

25. Houston Texans. (AFC rank: 11.)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars. (AFC rank: 13.)

30. Tennessee Titans. (AFC rank: 14.)

AFC West

3. Denver Broncos. (AFC rank: 1.)

16. San Diego Chargers. (AFC rank: 7.)

17. Kansas City Chiefs. (AFC rank: 8.)

32. Oakland Raiders. (AFC rank: 16.)

NFC East

13. Philadelphia Eagles. (NFC rank: 8.)

18. New York Giants. (NFC rank: 10.)

23. Washington Redskins. (NFC rank: 13.)

24. Dallas Cowboys. (NFC rank: 14.)

NFC North

5. Green Bay Packers. (NFC rank: 3.)

12. Chicago Bears. (NFC rank: 7.)

21. Detroit Lions. (NFC rank: 12.)

27. Minnesota Vikings. (NFC rank: 16.)

NFC South

6. New Orleans Saints. (NFC rank: 4.)

10. Carolina Panthers. (NFC rank: 5.)

14. Atlanta Falcons. (NFC rank: 9.)

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (NFC rank: 15.)

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks (NFC rank: 1.)

2. San Francisco 49ers. (NFC rank: 2.)

11. Arizona Cardinals. (NFC rank: 6.)

20. St. Louis Rams. (NFC rank: 11.)

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Jameel McClain OK after injury scare at training camp

mcclain AP

There’s good news on Giants linebacker Jameel McClain, who was carted off the field on Tuesday at training camp.

According to multiple reporters on the scene, X-rays were negative and McClain is believed to have nothing more serious than soreness in his foot. If McClain is still in pain tomorrow he’ll get an MRI on the foot, but it appears that the Giants’ starting weak side linebacker will be fine.

It wasn’t all good news on a hot and humid day at Giants camp, as coach Tom Coughlin said he was disappointed that multiple players had to step off the practice field for heat-related reasons. But in the case of McClain, things have turned out OK.

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Ravens expect NFL to be “fair” and “judicious” to Ray Rice

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens are bracing themselves for being without running back Ray Rice.

But they’re not worried about how long, at least not yet.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t think the timing of Rice’s punishment (for assaulting his now-wife) would be a problem for the team, as long as they knew by the middle of the preseason.

“It’s not my decision to make or any of us here,” Harbaugh said, via Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. “It’s in other people’s hands. I’m sure there’s a lot of complications making those kind of decisions. There are many sides to every story, and there are a lot of factors. There are other people involved.

“There are other disciplinary situations involved around the league. That has to be weighed and taken into context They’re going to have to sort through that to be fair about the whole thing. I know the league is really judicious about that. I think they work really hard to do the right thing. I don’t think they worry about public opinion too much. I think they want to do the right thing by the people involved and see where it goes.”

Of course, if the Ravens were concerned about public opinion, they might not have live-tweeted Rice’s wife apologizing for getting knocked out.

But that’s just one of the issues they’ve faced this offseason, as they led the league with five arrests.

Asked how he addressed that surge in off-field activity, Harbaugh replied: “I think the point has been made.”

Now we get to sit back and see if it is heeded.

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Coughlin thinks Giants will be rejuvenated under new offense

coughlin AP

The oldest coach in the NFL wanted some fresh blood in his offense.

That’s why, Giants coach Tom Coughlin told Josina Anderson on ESPN, he decided to hire Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. Coughlin said he thinks McAdoo’s playbook will go a long way toward making Eli Manning look more like he looked in the Giants’ two Super Bowl seasons, and less like he looked during his 27-interception 2013 season.

“I felt like this would be an opportunity for us to rejuvenate those veteran players who were here, Eli for one, to force all of us to learn, again, a new system, a new communication process,” Coughlin said. “For 10 years we had used the same system — we got two Super Bowls and accomplished an awful lot of things offensively — but last year wasn’t one of those years. We turned it over way too much.”

Coughlin was careful not to make it sound like he was taking shots at former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. But it’s clear that Coughlin believed a change was in order.

“I just felt like after Kevin retired that this might be the time to make a wholesale change and in so doing reinvigorate the entire system, the coaches that were kept, the veteran players who have been here, to put new energy into their preparation,” Coughlin said.

Rejuvenating the Giants’ offense this year may be Coughlin’s last hope of making a run at his third Super Bowl ring.

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Texans, Andre Johnson’s agent are communicating

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans Getty Images

On Monday, Texans receiver Andre Johnson reportedly was back in the building.  On Tuesday, agent Kennard McGuire declined to address those reports.

“I am not refuting, confirming or denying any reports or stories,” McGuire told Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston.  “Per the collective bargaining agreement there’s a period in which veteran players are not allowed to participate or be in their team’s facilities.”

As explained earlier in the day, veteran players currently may work out on their own at team facilities.  Which is all that Johnson could have been doing, under the CBA.

While not addressing whether Johnson visited the team’s facility, McGuire admitted that he has been talking to the Texans on Johnson’s behalf.

“While I am personally in contact with the Texans organization, those conversations will remain between myself, the organization and Andre Johnson,” McGuire told Berman.

Johnson reportedly was willing to report for OTAs, but the Texans refused to give him a chance to earn back a $1 million roster bonus that Johnson forfeited by missing the first two phases of the offseason workout program.  That impasse caused Johnson to skip all remaining offseason activities, including a mandatory minicamp.  The question now becomes whether Johnson will show up for training camp.

Veterans are due to report in Houston on Friday.

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Saints sign two undrafted rookies

Tyrone Ezell AP

The Saints have added two undrafted rookies who had previous short stints with other NFL clubs, signing linebacker Marcus Thompson (ex-Dolphins) and nose tackle Tyrone Ezell (ex-Texans) on Tuesday, the club said.

A Rutgers product, Thompson (6-1, 250) recorded 5.5 sacks in 2013 and was one of the team’s defensive MVPs. The Dolphins waived him on July 1.

Ezell (6-4, 305) had a three-day stint with Houston in May. He was a 12-game starter for the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and was a team captain.

In corresponding roster moves, the Saints waived/injured third-year outside linebacker Cheta Ozougwu and undrafted rookie nose tackle Moses McCray.

The Saints have all 90 roster spots filled.

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Pat Angerer signs with Falcons

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the Falcons lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the season, there were several veteran free agents mentioned as possible signings to shore up the team’s inside linebacker group.

Former Colt Pat Angerer was on that list and he worked out for the team on Tuesday. The workout apparently went well because Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that Angerer is the newest member of Atlanta’s roster.

Angerer ended the 2013 season on injured reserve after hurting his knee and required microfracture surgery to repair the injury. That kept him from shopping himself as a free agent this spring, but things have obviously progressed well enough to satisfy the Falcons.

Angerer, a second-round pick in 2010, played 54 games and made 39 starts during his time with the Colts. The Falcons have Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu and rookie Prince Shembo among the in-house options who will compete with Angerer to fill the starting linebacker jobs come the regular season.

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Shoulder healed, Eric Fisher gets back to left tackle

Fisher AP

When the Chiefs made Eric Fisher the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, they didn’t intend for Fisher to be the team’s long-term right tackle.  Now that Branden Albert has exited via free agency, Fisher can flip back to his natural position.

“It’s like riding a bike,” Fisher told reporters on Tuesday regarding the change.  “I felt good out there today. It’s a lot more natural for me. I’m really excited about it.”

Fisher has been permitted to show up early for camp because of the shoulder injury that resulted in surgery.  His weight is at 315 pounds, he’s been lifting again since before OTAs, and he’s ready for his second NFL season.

“I’ve been working my butt of and am just glad to be out here,” Fisher said.  “I never really lost strength.  I’ve been in there working and when you can’t bench there’s other things you can do and that’s what I was doing.”

Fisher said his shoulder is healed and he’s “ready to go.”  Fisher believes he’ll take part in the first padded practice of the year, on Saturday.

Apart from the injury, Fisher struggled at times as a rookie, creating real concerns as to whether he’s ready to play left tackle for the Chiefs.

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Doug Marrone indicates there’s competition to back up EJ Manuel

Jeff Tuel,EJ Manuel,Thad Lewis AP

The Bills’ backup quarterback situation is one to watch, even if only for the events of a season ago.

Starter EJ Manuel missed six games because of injury in 2013, and key veteran Kevin Kolb suffered a career-ending concussion in the preseason, leaving Thaddeus Lewis (five starts) and then-rookie Jeff Tuel (one start) to carry the load at times.

An undrafted free agent from Washington State, Tuel struggled in his first NFL season, completing just 26-of-59 passes (44.1 percent) with three interceptions and just one score. Lewis, who had prior NFL stints in Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit, fared somewhat better after taking over as the top backup. He was far more accurate, completing 59.5 percent of his attempts (93-of-157). However, he had more turnovers (six) than touchdowns (five).

However, if Lewis is going to win the top reserve role once again, he may have to hold off a challenge from Tuel, who reportedly got some work with the second-team offense on Tuesday. Afterwards, Bills coach Doug Marrone told reporters there was competition for the primary backup job behind Manuel.

“Sure, we have a battle for the second team quarterback,” Marrone said, according to a transcript of his post-practice remarks from the club. “We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs, and he’s earned himself some more reps.”

The Bills carried just two quarterbacks to begin the 2013 season. And that means Tuel, Lewis and fourth-stringer Dennis Dixon could potentially be fighting for just one spot.

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