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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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Jed York preaches patience, for good reason

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Kyle Shanahan offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons who will be named head coach of the San Francisco 49ers at the conclusion of this season warms ups prior to the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

More than three weeks after explaining his goals for the franchise that needs both a new coach and a new General Manager, 49ers CEO Jed York has address the situation again, at a time when the team still doesn’t have a coach or a G.M.

Via Cam Inman of BayAreaNewsGroup.com, York spoke at a San Jose event on Tuesday. He said all that he could, given that it’s widely believed that a wink-nod agreement exists with a new coach, who will soon be directly involved in picking his G.M. under the guise of a second interview for the job he already has.

“The message is we’re going to re-establish a championship culture,” York said, via Inman.  “We’re not going to do that by filling a job quickly. We need to be patient. We need to be willing to wait.

“And when we get the right people, we’ll start putting everything into place.”

After the Super Bowl, they’ll have the right person to coach the team or, more accurately, the one leading candidate who hadn’t backed out of the job and then leveraged his role as the stand-alone cheese into plenty of cash and other considerations from the club.

While not legally binding and technically prohibited by league rules, the  job belongs to Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In Atlanta on Saturday, Shanahan will meet with Vikings executive George Paton and Cardinals executive Terry McDonough to determine, as a practical matter, which guy will serve as the optimal table-setter for Shanahan. It remains possible that others will get involved (former Bucs G.M. Mark Dominik has been mentioned), now that it’s clear that Shanahan has the job — and that Shanahan will be running show.

Full control over the roster is believed to have been promised to Shanahan. The manner in which the documents are drawn up could deviate from that, however, if Paton, McDonough, or whoever gets the G.M. job needs to have final say in writing in order to leave their current teams. (Dominik wouldn’t need it, because he’s not currently working for a team.)

A similar situation unfolded eight years ago in Cleveland, where coach Eric Mangini unofficially had control and G.M. George Kokinis had contractual control, in order to justify his exit from Baltimore. The friends (former) repeatedly butted heads over personnel decisions, culminating in Kokinis being escorted from the building during their first season together.

The 49ers need to have this one figured out before either Shanahan or the new G.M. enter the building in Santa Clara. Otherwise, it could be Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke all over again.

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With investigation still open, Jerry Jones stands by Elliott

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 02:   Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is seen on the field prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL’s investigation into domestic violence charges against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott remains open, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl Tuesday that he has believed since last summer that Elliott will be exonerated.

“I’m just aware of all the circumstances here,” Jones said, per the Dallas Morning News. “I would want our fans to know that I’m very aware of all the facts and the details and been aware of it since training camp and not one thing has come up or surfaced that in any way gives me any concern, that I actually [in] my mind put to bed at training camp.”

Jones initially went the no-comment route when he was asked about the investigation, but as we know with Jones there are various levels of “no comment,” most of which involve some comments.

Jones said Tuesday that he is “well aware of all of the circumstances involved there” and has “felt good about it since training camp. I’ve seen nothing that in any way would make me think any differently than we felt shortly after it became a point. I don’t want to get into how this comes out one way or the other.”

After the Cowboys’ season ended last week, Elliott told reporters he wanted “closure” and said there was nothing investigators would find if they continued to pursue the investigation. Elliott’s attorney made similar comments last October.

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Dean Spanos on San Diego: “There’s no looking back”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: A San Diego Chargers fan reacts while watching a game against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 1, 2017 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Amid a somewhat bizarre, wholly impractical, and largely incredible report from ESPN.com that “a ton of owners” (literally, 2,000 pounds worth of them) are upset about the relocation of the Chargers, owner Dean Spanos put the chatter to rest on Tuesday.

Asked about the possibility that the team would return to San Diego, Spanos was unequivocal.

That’s not even a consideration,” Spanos told Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News. “There’s no looking back. We’re moving forward.”

Spanos accurately pointed out that the NFL crossed this bridge more than a year ago. “The vote was 30-2, by the way,” he said.

That vote allowed the Rams to move from St. Louis to L.A., and it gave the Chargers a one-year window to do the same, joining the Rams in a state-of-the-art stadium that blew away the room in comparison to the project jointly proposed for Carson by the Raiders and Chargers.

The only plausible explanation for the ESPN.com report is that someone in the league office wants to be able to say “I told you so,” if/when the Chargers fail in L.A. Regardless, the owners had a chance to keep it from happening, and roughly only 400 pounds wanted to.

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49ers freeze season-ticket prices for 2017, 2018

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 6:  San Francisco 49ers fans express their dissatisfaction during a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter on November, 6 2016 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.  The Saints won 41-23. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Getty Images

The 49ers have an answer to those “traffic problems” that suppressed attendance at home games in 2016.

Via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, the 49ers have announced the season-ticket prices will remain constant for two straight seasons, 2017 and 2018.

“49ers season ticket pricing will be frozen through the 2018 season,” the team said in a letter to their season-ticket holders. “Invoices for your 2017 season tickets will be made available to view and pay online in the coming weeks.”

The 49ers have yet to increase season tickets since opening the venue in 2014.

Of course, the cost of season tickets doesn’t matter in many cases; the obligation to pay the price attaches automatically to those who purchased Personal Seat Licenses, which ranged from $2,000 to $80,000 each.

During a Thursday night game in October against the Cardinals, Jim Nantz of CBS notoriously attributed images of a sparse crowd at Levi’s Stadium to “traffic problems” in Santa Clara. Those “traffic problems” persisted throughout a lost season; somehow, however, fans of visiting teams like the Patriots were able to properly and successfully navigate the streets and highways to ensure timely arrival to the games.

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DeMarcus Lawrence to have back surgery again

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 25:  Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys in action against the Seattle Seahawks during the preseason game at CenturyLink Field on August 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence was limited to nine games this season due to a suspension at the start of the year and a back injury in the final weeks of the regular season, which helps explain why he went from eight sacks in 2015 to one sack in 2016.

Lawrence will address the back problem by having surgery this offseason. It’s the second straight year that Lawrence will have offseason back surgery.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones relayed that information from the Senior Bowl and added that defensive tackle Cedric Thornton is recovering from shoulder surgery.

“I’m not comfortable talking about people’s medical conditions until we release it,” Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “So just don’t get into [the details of] all of that. … We’re not worried about any of them, let’s put it that way.”

Even with a healthy return from Lawrence and Thornton, defense figures to be the major focus for the Cowboys this offseason as they try to find players who can give them the same boost that running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott gave to the offense.

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Jay Gruden: We totally anticipate Kirk Cousins coming back

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 29: Head coach Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins talks with quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins in the fourth quarter of a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/ Getty Images) Getty Images

With Sean McVay heading to the Rams as their new head coach, the Redskins have promoted Matt Cavanaugh to offensive coordinator for the 2017 season.

It doesn’t look like Cavanaugh will be taking over the play calling duties, however. Speaking from the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, head coach Jay Gruden said that he was “excited” to take on that responsibility this season. He also shared his feelings about who will be relaying those plays to the rest of the offense.

Kirk Cousins played out the 2016 season on the franchise tag, leaving the Redskins with a decision to make about franchising him again, working out a long-term deal in the next few weeks or letting him the open market. Gruden didn’t say which of the first two options was likelier, but did say he expects Cousins to be running the plays.

“I totally anticipate him coming back to the Washington Redskins,” Gruden said, via CSNMidAtlantic.com.

Some have wondered if Kyle Shanahan might take a run at bringing Cousins to the 49ers, which could happen via trade or by signing him away at the cost of two first-round picks if Washington franchises Cousins again this offseason. Of course, Shanahan hasn’t been hired by the 49ers at this point and that’s just one of many things still to play out before we’ll know for certain what uniform Cousins is wearing next season.

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Mike Tomlin: Le’Veon Bell injury “wasn’t significant” prior to Sunday flare-up

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 24:  Le'Von Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during the 28-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Tuesday that the groin injury that knocked star running back Le’Veon Bell out of the AFC Championship went from something minor to something that left one of the NFL’s best players unable to continue.

“[Bell] was doing a great job of managing it,” Tomlin said. “It didn’t cause him to miss any practice time, let alone game time. It was something to manage. When you look at the journey that is the season, I think just about every guy down there is dealing with and managing something in an effort to stay on the grass.”

Bell said when he had a flare-up Sunday he had “no burst” and though he wanted to stay in the game, he felt he would be holding the team back if he did. He finished with 20 yards on five carries after setting franchise playoff rushing records in the team’s first two postseason games.

The NFL might have some questions for the Steelers because Bell said he’d been playing through an issue but was not showing up on the team’s official injury reports. Tomlin insisted that it had not been something the Steelers worried about until Sunday.

I was aware of it,” Tomlin said. “It wasn’t significant to the point where it affected planning or the anticipation of planning in any way. It’s unfortunate that it became an issue in game.”

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Jerry Jones: Cowboys need to “cool it” on Tony Romo talk

gettyimages-135521475 Getty Images

Nine days in to the offseason, the biggest question for the Dallas Cowboys continues to be the future of quarterback Tony Romo. On Tuesday, the team’s ordinarily loquacious owner made it clear that he and the rest of the franchise are done talking about the issue in public.

I’m not going to get into that at all — whether we’ve talked or not,” Jerry Jones said at the Senior Bowl, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’re at a juncture now that, we need to just cool it in our public conversations about what we’re going to be doing or not doing there with Tony.”

Jones is wise to not talk about it, because the more he does the more sensible it will become to simply release Romo’s rights without trying to trade him. That’s what Romo surely will want, and that could be what Jones ultimately does — reluctantly.

Cowboys executive Stephen Jones made it clear last week that Jerry and Tony will work out the situation between them, and it remains distinctly possible that Jones and Romo will agree: (1) that the player will be released; and (2) that Romo will give his word to avoid certain teams, like Washington or other Dallas rivals. It would be unenforceable and, technically, impermissible.

Still, it would be something that Romo could either honor and preserve a relationship that will likely generate plenty of revenue for him after he retires or disregard and lose his standing with Jones.

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Matt Patricia praises Julio Jones

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22:  Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons makes a catch in the third quarter against Jake Ryan #47 and LaDarius Gunter #36 of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Patriots surely have gone to work on a defensive game plan aimed at neutralizing the Atlanta passing attack and, specifically, receiver Julio Jones. There’s a chance that, no matter how New England configures the X’s, the O named Julio will still find a way to catch passes, gain yards, and potentially score touchdowns.

On Tuesday, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia didn’t say that specifically when praising Jones, but the point came through Patricia’s remarks, loud and clear.

“[W]e saw him a couple of years ago and studied him,” Patricia told reporters. “He’s probably just one of the most dynamic players in the league. I usually don’t wind up comparing him to other people; I wind up comparing other people to him just because of his skill set and his ability.”

Specifically, the Patriots saw the Falcons in September 2013, for a game in Atlanta. Jones caught six passes for 108 yards; the Patriots, however, won the game, 30-23. Of course, that was before the Falcons underwent an offensive explosion with Kyle Shanahan drawing up the attack.

“The things that he does for them and what he can do is he does a great job of moving around into different positions,” Patricia said. “Coach Shanahan puts him in different spots. He’ll try to get him working different positions to get a matchup that he likes, or a particular formation that gives the defense problems, and then they’ll really use him in a variety of ways. He can run underneath routes, he has great speed, he has great hands, he has great body control, and he’s very, very strong. A bigger corner, smaller corner, whatever it is, he can push on the [defensive backs], lean and be able to play physical at the line of scrimmage, plus physical downfield with them, and still come up with the ball. He does a great job of tracking the ball in the air, can go up and high point it and get it.”

In other words, Julio Jones can be “covered,” and he can still make the catch.

“He’s got great hands and like I said, does a great job after the catch,” Patricia said. “Just his ability to get the ball, get vertical into the defense towards the end zone, stiff-arm a defender, break a tackle, run away from guys, it’s just he’s such a dynamic player in that aspect that he can give you a lot of problems. He’ll go vertical, he’ll run the intermediate routes, he’s very good at the top of the route, he does an unbelievable job of stemming and using his skill set to get separation at the top of the route in both man-to-man, and he does a great job of seeing zone coverage and sitting down. He and Matt Ryan have great chemistry where the route might be changed [because of] something that was called but because of the coverage, they’ve adjusted it and he’s been able to work himself into open space and then Ryan will get him the ball. He’s a great player.”

Yes he is, and it’s going to be a challenge unlike any the Patriots have encountered in a Super Bowl since they somehow outscored the Greatest Show on Turf in early 2002.

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Eagles “want to make sure” Carson Wentz on board with offseason moves

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defatted the Cowboys 27-13. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Eagles made a big move ahead of the draft last year when they swung a deal with the Browns for the second overall pick in order to select quarterback Carson Wentz.

That move didn’t sit well with then-quarterback Sam Bradford, whose agent Tom Condon said after the deal that “it would have been nice” if the Eagles let Bradford know what was going on. Bradford demanded a trade and rescinded it before ultimately being dealt to the Vikings.

The circumstances are quite different this offseason, but the Eagles plan to consult with their current quarterback about this offseason’s moves. Vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on WIP that he wants to hear Wentz’s voice as they move toward his second season, particularly when it comes to players who might be catching his passes.

“The way the league rules are, you’d love to be able to bring him down and throw to these guys,” Roseman said. “That would be unbelievable. It just doesn’t work that way. But from our perspective, we want to make sure that he’s on board with some of these things, and he’s looking at some … probably more in free agency than in the draft, because it’s hard for him to get caught up on the draft prospects.”

Roseman has already made it clear that the Eagles are building around Wentz, so it makes some sense to make sure the players being acquired are a good fit on his end. Given how little help he got from his receivers in 2016, Wentz may even upgrade the evaluation process.

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Dabo Swinney: If Browns pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 hugs head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 to win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says there’s no doubt that his star quarterback should be the first overall pick in the draft.

In fact, Swinney says that if the Browns don’t use the No. 1 pick on Deshaun Watson, they’re making a historic mistake that will haunt the franchise for years.

“He’s humble, the same guy every day, and always ready,” Swinney said of Watson. “He comes to every meeting prepared. That’s how you change things, you change the culture, through — for me it’s through discipline and recruiting, staffing and all that stuff. For them, it’s decision-making, it’s who you pick. And I’m just telling you: They pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan. I mean, I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I’m just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot.”

Two teams did pass on Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft: The Houston Rockets took Akeem Olajuwon first overall, and he became a Hall of Famer who led the Rockets to NBA titles in the two years when Jordan left the Chicago Bulls. But the Portland Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie second overall before the Bulls took Jordan third, and the Bowie selection is often remembered as one of the worst picks in draft history.

If the Browns choose Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, the odds-on favorite to be the first overall pick, they’ll be hoping he’s more an Olajuwon than a Bowie. But Swinney says they should just take Watson, and get football’s Michael Jordan.

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Colts want to interview Ravens’ Eric DeCosta for G.M. job

John Harbaugh News Conference Getty Images

Eric DeCosta has been the right-hand man to Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome for two decades, and for most of that time other teams have viewed DeCosta as a strong candidate to become a G.M. himself. Unfortunately for those other teams, DeCosta has consistently declined opportunities to leave Baltimore.

The Colts hope to change that: Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reports that the Colts have requested permission to interview DeCosta for their G.M. opening.

Would DeCosta have any interest in working for the Colts when he has shown little interest in leaving Baltimore for other teams? He might, for a couple reasons.

For one, he has a good relationship with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who was a Ravens assistant for four years before he went to Indianapolis. For another, the Colts have Andrew Luck, which would mean the hardest part of a G.M.’s job — finding a franchise quarterback — is already done in Indianapolis.

Still, getting DeCosta to Indianapolis seems like a long shot. DeCosta has indicated many times that he’s happy where he is, and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has indicated that DeCosta will get the top job in the Baltimore front office when Ozzie Newsome retires. Getting DeCosta to change course and move on to the Colts would be a big coup for Jim Irsay.

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Todd Gurley: 2016 a “nightmare” I don’t want to experience again

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, right, runs the ball while under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Eric Murray during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang) AP

Shortly before the Rams fired Jeff Fisher as their head coach, running back Todd Gurley shared his feeling that the team was running a middle school offense and that some players on the team were just going through the motions as a losing season ran its course.

While Gurley’s comments about the offense would seem to be directed at the people in charge of installing it and calling the plays, he said on The Rich Eisen Show Tuesday that his frustration was with the players. There were “too many mental errors from everybody, including myself.”

It’s not anything that Gurley wants to experience again.

“Like a nightmare. I still can’t believe the season,” Gurley said. “It was definitely a tough year, a learning experience for me. To be 4-12 this year? I don’t want to feel that feeling again.”

The Rams have a new coach in Sean McVay and one of the first things he can do to help chart a winning course is find a way to get Gurley back to the kind of effectiveness he had as a rookie. Gurley ran for 1,106 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry in 2015, but dropped to 3.2 yards per attempt in 2016 while never hitting 100 yards in a game, leaving plenty of room for improvement for a player expected to be a building block of better Rams offenses.

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Mike Tomlin didn’t see Antonio Brown pouting, will “continue to challenge him”

KANSAS CITY, MP - JANUARY 15: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers congratulates wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 following the Steelers win against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Getty Images

After a week filled with plenty of discussion about his decision to post video from the team’s locker room on social media, wide receiver Antonio Brown had a quiet game in the Steelers’ season-ending loss to the Patriots.

The aftermath of that game hasn’t been without some drama where Brown is concerned, however. Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Media reported that the Steelers are concerned that Brown puts too much focus on his personal statistics and not enough on what’s best for the team. The report went on to say Brown was pouting after a DeAngelo Williams touchdown against the Patriots and that coach Mike Tomlin spoke to Brown about the issue in 2015.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Tomlin said that he didn’t see Brown pouting during the game and was asked more generally about where things stood with Brown heading into the offseason.

“We all need to get better in all areas,” Tomlin said. “I am going to continue to challenge him in the way I have challenged him over the course of his career to continue to find new ways to be an impact player for us. To continue to grow within the role that is his role on this team. He is a dynamic player. There are responsibilities that come with being a dynamic player, I am going to ask him to continue to grow in those areas.”

Tomlin said those things were important for all players, but they seem particularly big for Brown as he enters the final year of his current contract. When discussing the locker room video, Tomlin said incidents like that are “often why you see great players move from team to team.”

With Ben Roethlisberger talking about the possibility of not playing next season and issues involving Brown front and center, there will be plenty of attention on how things play out in Pittsburgh over the coming months.

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Brandon Spikes disputes lawsuit from The Fish Guy

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 28:  Brandon Spikes #51 of the Buffalo Bills warms up before a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

There are two sides to every story, and soon-to-be-free agent linebacker Brandon Spikes disputes the claims of The Fish Guy who is carping about not getting paid.

Instead, Spikes is portraying Joshua Wolfson as a bit of a fish-killer.

Spikes’ agent David Canter said that Spikes hired Wolfson to service his tank in 2011, and that he moved his tank three times. The first resulted in a failure of the tank and the death of about half his fish, but fish die sometimes, so Spikes continued to employ him.

When it was time to move to Buffalo, Wolfson advised Spikes to buy a new tank and installed it, at which point more fish died. A local fish tank service in Buffalo said the filters were improperly set up and the tank was all wrong for the type of fish Spikes had, leading Spikes to buy another tank in an effort to save the remaining fish.

Since he lost a bunch of fish and had two buy two tanks, Spikes decided to not pay The Fish Guy, which led to a threat of countersuit. When Spikes rejoined the Bills and had paychecks again, The Fish Guy filed a motion to garnish his wages, and Spikes’ lawyers have filed a motion to vacate that judgement.

As you can tell, this is different from Wolfson’s story of the veteran linebacker being a piker, and not just something they’re doing for the halibut.

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