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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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Mike Shanahan continues to heap praise on Kirk Cousins

Robert Griffin, Kirk Cousins AP

In 2012, former Washington coach Mike Shanahan took a fourth-round flier on quarterback Kirk Cousins, in the same year the team gave up three ones and a two to get Robert Griffin III. And it’s possible that Shanahan is laying the foundation to swoop back into the NFL with Cousins as his quarterback.

Shanahan has continuously praised Cousins, at a time when Shanahan has made it clear he wants what would be a fourth NFL head-coaching opportunity. His latest remarks were the most over-the-top yet.

“I think he’s a guy that can take your team and win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan told ESPN 980, via Clinton Yates of the Washington Post. “And that’s the biggest compliment I can give somebody. Does this person have the ability, the ingredients, that if he has the right supporting cast on offense/defense and special teams, can he win you a Super Bowl? And I believe that Kirk Cousins has that ability.”

More immediately, Kirk Cousins may have the ability to get Shanahan what he really wants. Because when teams that inevitably will be looking for new coaches because they invariably have bad quarterback situations will be hiring in January, Shanahan’s plan for any interviews he gets will include getting Cousins to be the team’s quarterback.

Yes, Cousins will be a free agent after the season. And Washington would have to devote nearly $20 million in cash and cap space to keep Cousins off the market for 2016. Which means, unless Washington gets to the Super Bowl or close to it, Cousins is likely to hit the open market. Which will make it easy for Shanahan to recruit Cousins to Shanahan’s new team, if he can land one.

Ultimately, it’s the money that talks. But Shanahan’s chatter surely will make it easier to lure Cousins when the time comes to pick a new team.

For Shanahan’s purposes, landing Cousins is one thing. Using the possibility of landing Cousins to secure an NFL job two months before Cousins becomes a free agent is another. And the only way for Washington to block that will be to sign Cousins to a new contract before the end of the season.

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A Greg Hardy rap video emerges

free-agent-defensive-end-greg-hardy Getty Images

One day after the first Sunday of the 2014 season, TMZ published a Ray Rice video that shook the NFL to its foundation. One day before Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy plays his first game of the 2015 season, TMZ has published another video that won’t have nearly the same impact.

It’s a rap video from Hardy, made during the 2014 season while he was being paid to not play football pending the resolution of his domestic violence charges.

According to TMZ, the song includes these Dr. Seuss-style words of wisdom from Hardy: “What you see is what you get. I’m just me, I’m just real, and that’s what I do.”

The video also reportedly includes the sound of gunfire, because of course it would. It likewise objectifies women, because of course it would.

The video, standing alone, violates no league policies. But it won’t make many in the league office thrilled about the situation, and it will make some primed to pounce with another suspension if/when Hardy gets into real trouble again.

And while the video was created months before Hardy became a Cowboy, it won’t make coach Jason Garrett, who recently told Hardy to watch what he says about guns and women, any happier with Hardy.

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Texans expect Clowney to play next week despite ankle injury

Jadeveon Clowney AP

When Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was spotted in a walking boot on Friday, it was cause for concern: Clowney missed most of his rookie year with a knee injury, and the Texans would hate to lose the 2014 No. 1 overall pick for significant time again.

But Texans coach Bill O’Brien says the walking boot is not a sign of a serious injury, and the Texans expect Clowney to play next week.

“I just saw him just now before I walked in here, and he seemed to be doing well,” O’Brien said, via ESPN. “I think you guys probably saw he had a boot on, but that’s just precautionary. He likes to go play pick-up hoop and things like that. Going to try to avoid doing that this weekend.”

Clowney has shown flashes of the raw talent that made him one of the most exciting defensive prospects ever to enter the draft, including a great tackle on Frank Gore on Thursday night. But he still hasn’t recorded a single sack in his NFL career, which is a huge disappointment for a pass rusher drafted first overall. Perhaps he can do it next Sunday in Jacksonville.

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Antonio Cromartie dubs Odell Beckham Jr. a “one-year wonder”

Odell Beckham AP

Later this year, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie will get a chance to battle Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on the field. For now, Cromartie will have to settle for throwing darts at Beckham off it.

Right now he’s a one-year wonder,” Cromartie said Friday on ESPN, via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. “I’m just being honest. It’s just one year. I need to see it on an every-game basis, not him getting penalties or something like that or sucker-punching somebody. I think it’s all about how you carry yourself throughout your whole entire career.”

Beckham can show Cromartie that the second-year player is something more than a one-year wonder when the Jets and Giants get together on December 6. Unless, of course, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis exclusively covers Beckham.

“He’s very young. Has he had production in 16 games? Yes, I give him the utmost [credit] for that,” Cromartie said. “He’s had the most production out of any receiver I’ve seen in [his first] 16 games since Randy Moss. But you have to do it week-in and week-out and depend on that person. No matter if you’re getting double or triple-teamed. Randy Moss didn’t complain when he [was] triple and double-teamed, and people went after him, also.”

Beckham has had to adjust to teammates ribbing him and opponents targeting him. After scoring an average of one touchdown per game in his 12 appearances from 2014, Beckham has two touchdown receptions in four games this season.

Still, that gives him 14 touchdowns in 16 career games. Which is a strong start. By the time December 6 rolls around, it’ll be interesting to see whether Beckham’s production supports Cromartie’s theory.

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Trent Robinson not fined for hits on defenseless players

Trenton+Robinson+uC6np5l57jcm Getty Images

During Sunday’s game against the Eagles, Washington lost 30 yards of field position on a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties called against defensive back Trent Robinson.

According to the NFL (and as Washington safety Dashon Goldson suggested during a recent appearance on PFT Live), Robinson was fined for neither hit.

The first foul, arising from a hit on Philadelphia receiver Jordan Matthews in the third quarter, appeared to be a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. The second foul, occurring on the first play of the fourth quarter, happened when Eagles tight end Zach Ertz caught a past and lowered his head into Robinson’s chest.

The lack of fines suggests that the flags were thrown in error, which is more evidence that these fouls should be subject to replay review. With 15 yards given to the offense whenever one of these penalties is called, the defense should have a way to obtain a more deliberate review of what often occurs on a bang-bang basis.

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Jarvis Landry fined for abusive language to official

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Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes wasn’t the only player from the AFC East who was fined for directing abusive language to an official. Per multiple reports, Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry was fined, too.

The standard fine for a first offense under the 2015 fine schedule is $23,152. For a second offense committed this season, the amount doubles.

Landry drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct late in Miami’s 27-14 loss to the Jets in London. The defeat sparked the termination of Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

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Seahawks decided to give Marshawn Lynch more time to heal

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Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will miss a second straight game with a hamstring strain. Coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Friday that Lynch possibly could have played.

“It’s just two weeks now,” Carroll said. “He’s just getting over it. We’ve seen some guys around the league try to come back. He could try to come back and play, but we think he’d be vulnerable. He needs another weekend to get through it. Then by next week, by Wednesday or something, we think we can get him going again. He’s just about over the hump. He’s worked very diligently, like I’ve said, to get it done. So we just have to wait a couple more days.”

Carroll makes a good point about the importance of resting a hamstring injury. The Bills rushed running back LeSean McCoy back too quickly, and now he’s out for another month or so.

“You’ve just got to wait it out,” Carroll said of Lynch. “He’s very close, but we can’t guarantee that he can make it through the game. That means we could get set back again, so we’re just going to wait it out and see if we can get him right next week.”

The Seahawks host the Panthers next Sunday. Seattle then has a Thursday night game against the 49ers in Santa Clara.

Without Lynch, it’ll be Thomas Rawls and perhaps Fred Jackson carrying the load; Jackson is questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.

Carroll also said that the Seahawks may add a running back before Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. Rod Smith, and undrafted free agent from Ohio State, is on the practice squad. Also, the Seahawks worked out running back Cyrus Gray on Friday, per a league source.

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Colts trumpet their ability to neutralize “Justin James” Watt

J.J. Watt AP

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was frustrated after last night’s loss to the Colts. He may be feeling a different emotion after seeing what the Colts had to say about his performance.

The Colts trumpeted via “daily notes” distributed to the media their ability to “neutralize” Watt, holding him to no sacks and no solo tackles for only the second time in his NFL career. Also, tight end Dwayne Allen has opted to refer to Watt by only his first and middle names.

“Justin James is arguably the greatest defensive player in this league and for him to have a quiet night, attributed [sic] to a short week and great coaching,” Allen said. “He’s definitely a guy we have to game plan for as a game wrecker. We tried our best to keep him from affecting plays.”

“Justin James” will next get a chance to affect plays on December 20, when the Texans travel to Indianapolis in the hopes of beating the Colts there for the first time in franchise history.

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Week Five injury report roundup

Joe Haden, DeAndre Hopkins AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week Five of the 2015 season.

Redskins at Falcons

Four Redskins — cornerback Chris Culliver (knee), cornerback DeAngelo Hall (toe), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring), and tight end Jordan Reed (concussion, knee, ankle) — have been ruled out for this Sunday. Linebacker Perry Riley (calf) is questionable to return to the lineup. Running back Tevin Coleman (ribs) is probable to return for the Falcons, who ruled out linebacker Justin Durant (elbow). Wide receiver Julio Jones (toe, hamstring) is questionable, although there’s been nothing to suggest he’ll be anywhere but on the field come Sunday.

Browns at Ravens

Browns cornerback Joe Haden (ribs, finger) is questionable after unexpectedly missing last week’s game and safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) has been ruled out. Linebacker Craig Robertson (ankle) is out as well and running back Shaun Draughn (back) is doubtful. It doesn’t look like Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (back, doubtful) will play, which would leave him on the sideline with defensive end Chris Canty (calf), tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf) and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee). Tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) is probable to play for the first time since the opener.

Seahawks at Bengals

It will be another week without running back Marshawn Lynch (hamstring) for the Seahawks, who also ruled out cornerbacks Tharold Simon (toe) and Marcus Burley (hand). Running back Fred Jackson (ankle) is questionable and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday that he’s hopeful the veteran can play. The Bengals are healthy with three probables to go with the questionable defensive end Wallace Gilberry (calf) and safety George Iloka (ankle).

Rams at Packers

Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (ankle) is going to be out for multiple weeks and safety Maurice Alexander (groin) is doubtful. The Packers look like they’ll have tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) in the lineup, although they listed him as questionable along with wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle), safety Morgan Burnett (calf) and cornerback Demetri Goodson (hamstring). Safety Sean Richardson (neck) is out and reportedly will miss the rest of the season.

Bears at Chiefs

The Bears will have plenty of decisions to make on Sunday. They listed 13 players as questionable, including quarterback Jay Cutler (hamstring), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and linebacker Pernell McPhee (shoulder). They were a bit more definitive about safety Antrel Rolle (ankle, doubtful) and were willing to rule out tackle Jermon Bushrod (concussion). Tight end Travis Kelce (groin, thumb) is probable for the Chiefs, who won’t have linebacker Josh Mauga (groin, Achilles).

Saints at Eagles

The Saints ruled out tackle Terron Armstead (knee) and punter Thomas Morstead (quadricep), but hope to have guard Jahri Evans (knee) back in the lineup after listing him as questionable. Eagles tackle Jason Peters (quadricep) is questionable, but said he expects to play. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) is out after getting hurt last week.

Jaguars at Buccaneers

Wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring), linebacker John Lotulelei (concussion) and running back Denard Robinson (knee) are all out for Jacksonville and tight end Julius Thomas (hand) is expected to join them after being listed as questionable. Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (knee) and linebacker Paul Posluszny (ankle) are also questionable. The Bucs don’t expect to have cornerback Johnthan Banks (knee), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), wide receiver Russell Shepard (hamstring) or center Evan Smith (ankle) after listing them as doubtful. Guard Logan Mankins (groin), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (shoulder) and tight end Luke Stocker (hip) are all questionable.

Bills at Titans

Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) is questionable after missing last week’s game. Tight end MarQueis Gray (forearm), running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring), safety Bacarri Rambo (quadricep) and running back Karlos Williams (concussion) are all going to miss the game and safety Aaron Williams (neck) is probable to return to the lineup. Cornerback Jason McCourty (groin) should play for the first time this season, but the Titans will likely be without defensive tackle Sammie Hill (knee). Guard Chance Warmack (knee) is questionable.

Cardinals at Lions

Running back Andre Ellington (knee) is one of seven probable Cardinals, tight end Darren Fells (hip) and wide receiver J.J. Nelson (shoulder) are questionable and coach Bruce Arians said Friday he anticipates everyone being healthy enough to play. The Lions ruled out running back Joique Bell (ankle), tight end Eric Ebron (knee) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (calf) for this Sunday. Safety James Ihedigbo (quadricep) and guard Larry Warford (ankle) are questionable.

Patriots at Cowboys

The Patriots return from their bye in good shape. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher (hamstring) and defensive end Trey Flowers (knee, shoulder) are questionable and the rest of the injury report is made up of probable players. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (concussion) is probable to return, but wide receiver Dez Bryant (foot), wide receiver Brice Butler (hamstring) and defensive end Randy Gregory (ankle) are all out of the lineup.

Broncos at Raiders

Broncos tackle Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) will miss a second straight game and guard Evan Mathis (hamstring) is questionable to play. Wide receiver Cory Latimer (groin) has also been ruled out. The Raiders will play without defensive tackle Denico Autry (concussion), cornerback T.J. Carrie (chest), defensive tackle Justin Ellis (ankle) and running back Taiwan Jones (foot).

49ers at Giants

Word on Friday was that linebacker Ahmad Brooks will miss Sunday’s game following the death of his sister, but the 49ers listed him as doubtful. Tight end Vernon Davis (knee) definitely won’t play and tackle Joe Staley (knee) is questionable. The Giants ruled out defensive end Robert Ayers (hamstring), wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) and defensive end George Selvie (calf). Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (calf), cornerback Jayron Hosley (concussion) and cornerback Trumaine McBride (groin) are all questionable.

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Eric Ebron out for Lions on Sunday

Eric Ebron AP

As the Lions try to get their first win of the season, they’ll have to do it without a key piece of their passing game. Tight end Eric Ebron is out for the game with a knee injury.

Ebron reportedly suffered no structural damage to his knee as a result of a Monday night injury in Seattle. Ebron did not practice at all this week.

Regarded as a disappointment during his rookie season, which included only 25 receptions for 248 yards and one touchdown, Ebron already has generated 15 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns in four games this year.

The good news for the Lions is that tight end Brandon Pettigrew is on track to return to action. He injured a hamstring in Week One, and he hasn’t played since then. Pettigrew is listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the 3-1 Cardinals.

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Prop rule comes from desire to “prevent things from escalating”

Josh Norman AP

The Week Four games contained a pair of touchdown celebrations that included the use of the ball as a prop. One of them (Panthers cornerback Josh Norman pretending to ride a horse with the ball apparently serving as the horse) drew a flag. One of them (Rams receiver Stedman Bailey taking a nap with the ball as a pillow) didn’t.

In the league’s weekly officiating video, NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explained the purpose for the rule.

‘This is a rule that was put in place to prevent things from escalating,” Blandino said. “We had situations where players were using the ball as a prop. It was getting elaborate, it was getting extensive. And we were creating this animosity with the team that scored and then the team that got scored upon, and we were ending up with altercations, and this got out of control.”

Norman’s use of the ball as a prop definitely triggered animosity from the crowd in Tampa; at 8:16 of the video, a hand showing a middle finger to Norman appears in the foreground of the video.

Blandino acknowledged that Bailey’s conduct, like Norman’s, should have been penalized.

“We have continue to work to be consistent, in not just this area but every area, so we want both of these to be called,” Blandino said. “We certainly don’t want to take the fun out of the game. Players can celebrate, they can high five, they can fist bump, whatever it is. But they cannot use the football as a prop, they can’t do anything that would be considered in poor taste, something that would be mimicking a violent gesture, whether that’s a throat slash, whether that’s . . . a six shooter. Using the ball as a prop is a foul, and officials are being directed to call it when they recognize it.”

It’s unclear why the officials didn’t recognize Bailey using the ball as a prop. Then again, it’s still unclear why the back judge in the Lions-Seahawks game didn’t recognize the illegal bat that occurred right in front of him.

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NFL fines Xavier Rhodes $17,363 for a horse collar tackle

Mike Evans, Xavier Rhodes AP

Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is lighter in the wallet after committing a horse collar tackle on Sunday.

Rhodes was fined $17,363 for the foul, the NFL has confirmed.

On the NFL fine schedule, horse collar tackles are considered in the second-tier of seriousness, along with roughing the passer and leg whips, all of which result in a $17,363 fine for a first offense. Less serious infractions like facemasking and chop blocks result in fines of $8,681, while more serious offenses like spearing, hitting a defenseless player and blindside blocks result in a fine of $23,152. Fines typically double for a second offense.

Rhodes also cost the Vikings 15 yards for the penalty, which he committed while tackling Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

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Report: Sean Richardson out for season with neck injury

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18:  Sean Richardson #28 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after the Packers intercept a pass in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers safety Sean Richardson missed a lot of time after having fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck during the 2012 season and he reportedly suffered the same injury.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Richardson will not play again this season and that his career may be at risk. Richardson missed the first 10 weeks of the 2013 season while recovering from the first neck surgery, but played down the stretch that year and saw action in all 16 games last season.

Richardson practiced on Wednesday and was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s session. Per Silverstein, he began experiencing pain on Thursday and went for an MRI.

The Packers have a lot of recent history with neck injuries bringing careers to a premature end. Tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Nick Collins and running back Johnathan Franklin all saw their playing days end after similar injuries.

Green Bay has only ruled Richardson out for this week at this point. They’re also expected to be without safety Morgan Burnett, who is listed as questionable with a calf injury, when they face the Rams.

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Saints left tackle Terron Armstead out, Andrus Peat to start

Terron Armstead, Brett Ingalls AP

If the Saints are going to double their win total for the season, they’re going to have to do it with a rookie at left tackle.

Terron Armstead is listed as out for Sunday’s game against the Eagles with a knee injury picked up last week.

That leaves Drew Brees‘ blind side and recently sore shoulder in the hands of first-rounder Andrus Peat, who failed to win a starting job from either Armstead or Zach Strife in the preseason.

Guard Jahri Evans is listed as questionable, but worked on a limited basis Friday.

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Vernon Davis will miss another game

San Francisco 49ers v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The 49ers announced Friday that tight end Vernon Davis will miss a second straight game Sunday due to a knee injury.

Davis had been able to participate in practice on a limited basis earlier in the week, but he’s been ruled out for Sunday night’s game at the Giants. Garrett Celek was the primary tight end target with Davis out last week.

The team listed linebacker Ahmad Brooks as doubtful. His absence from practice this week has been listed as family leave following the death of his sister.

Aaron Lynch and Corey Lemonier will start at outside linebacker.

Starting tackle Joe Staley (knee) and backup wide receiver Quinton Patton (concussion) are listed as questionable.

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Marshawn Lynch to miss second straight game

Marshawn Lynch AP

Marshawn Lynch returned to practice for the Seahawks on Thursday, but his hamstring isn’t ready for him to return to game action when they face the Bengals on Sunday.

The Seahawks have ruled Lynch out for the second straight week, the first time that’s ever happened during his time in Seattle. Thomas Rawls ran 17 times for 48 yards against the Lions last Monday and may be in for an even heavier workload this weekend.

Fred Jackson is listed as questionable with an ankle injury that has kept him out of practice for the last two days. The Seahawks had not completed Friday’s practice before releasing their injury report, so there’s no word on whether Jackson was able to do something during the final session of the week. Rawls is the only other running back on the 53-man roster with Rod Smith available from the practice squad if the Seahawks make a roster move.

Cornerbacks Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley are also out for Seattle while cornerback Tye Smith, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis are all doubtful.

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Julio Jones questionable, but expected to play against Washington

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The Falcons might list Julio Jones as questionable, but there’s no indication the Falcons are going to have to put their 4-0 record on the line without him.

According to Vaughn McClure of, Jones went through drills Friday and gave no indication he wouldn’t be able to go against Washington.

He’s been limited this week with toe and hamstring issues, though they don’t think it’s serious or related to previous issues.

The Falcons are also getting rookie running back Tevin Coleman back after a rib injury in Week Two, though it’s unclear how often he’ll get the ball behind Devonta Freeman, who leads the NFL with seven touchdowns.

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Josh Norman fined $8,681 for TD celebration

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  Josh Norman #24 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after defeating the New Orleans Saints 27-22 at Bank of America Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman didn’t expect to draw a penalty flag for riding the football like a horse after returning an interception for a touchdown last Sunday, but he should have been expecting a fine from the league once he did.

Norman got that fine, which Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports is for $8,681. Norman said that he spoke to Hall of Fame linebacker and NFL/NFLPA fine appeal officer Derrick Brooks about the celebration before kickoff and that Brooks said Norman “was fine.”

That may help him if he tries to appeal, unless a Three’s Company-style misunderstanding resulted from Brooks telling Norman that he would be fined. It was still a good week for Norman, who followed up his NFC defensive player of the month honors for September by being named the conference’s top defender of the week.

Person reports that defensive end Ryan Delaire was fined $8,681 as well for a late hit on Buccaneers running back Doug Martin during the Panthers victory.

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Expensive week for Jerry Hughes

Jerry Hughes AP

Not much went right for the Bills last Sunday vs. the Giants.

The expensive aftermath for Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes includes fines totaling more than $30,000.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Hughes was fined $8,681 for unnecessary roughness and $23,152 for using abusive language towards an official. Fines stemming from the previous Sunday are generally delivered to players at the end of the week.

Hughes is a second-time offender on the abusive language front. He was fined $22,050 last November for a similar offense.

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Brian Hoyer back in the saddle for Texans

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Brian Hoyer #7 of the Houston Texans reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to end the second quarter of play against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on October 8, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

It didn’t happen in a room closed to all but Hard Knocks cameras this time, but Texans coach Bill O’Brien has again named Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback in Houston.

Hoyer relieved Ryan Mallett on Thursday night after Mallett came out of the game following a hit to the chest and piloted the Texans the rest of the way in the 27-20 loss to the Colts. Hoyer was 24-of-31 for 312 yards, two touchdowns to rookie Jaelen Strong and an ugly interception on the team’s final offensive play, which was enough for O’Brien to put him back in the starting lineup against Jacksonville.

“We are moving on to Jacksonville. Brian Hoyer will start the game and we will go from there,” O’Brien said.

The Texans have played both of their quarterbacks in three of their first five games this season, which suggests that this may not be the last change we see in 2015. Hoyer’s play on Thursday night was the best work either has turned in during any of those appearances, which probably made for an easy short-term decision for O’Brien.

All of the shuffling means the long-term problem remains for Houston and an answer isn’t likely to come until the offseason.

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