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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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Jack Steadman, former Kansas City Chiefs GM, dies at 86

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Jack Steadman, the general manager in charge for the only Super Bowl victory in Kansas City Chiefs history, has died at the age of 86.

The team announced Steadman’s passing on Sunday with a statement from team CEO Clark Hunt.

“My entire family is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jack Steadman. Jack was more than a dedicated and talented businessman, but a dear friend to my family. He was one of my father’s greatest business associates and the two of them accomplished much during the more than four decades they worked together. Jack played a key role in the development of the American Football League and was also an influential figure in the success of the Chiefs. During his tenure as General Manager, the team won four championships including Super Bowl IV.

“I had the privilege of knowing Jack my entire life, and he taught me much about both business and life. He always brought a strong, innovative perspective to the room. Jack was an outstanding man of character, who greatly valued his faith and family. While today we are saddened by his passing, his contributions to the Chiefs, the Kansas City community and my family will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Judy, and the entire Steadman family.”

Steadman was a member of the organization from the founding of the franchise in the AFL in 1960 as the Dallas Texans until his retirement in 2007. He also served as the team’s president, vice president and chairman during his 47 years with the organization.

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Florida State dumps DeAndre Johnson

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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has developed plenty of quarterbacks into NFL prospects. De’Andre Johnson won’t be one of them.

Johnson has been dismissed from the school. The move was announced tonight.

Florida State previously suspended Johnson indefinitely. After Monday’s footage surfaced of Johnson punching a female at a Tallahassee bar, Johnson was kicked out.

Named Florida’s Mr. Football as a senior in Jacksonville, Johnson now will have to look for another school to give him a second chance. But second chances in sports have become far less easy to obtain for men who commit violence against women — especially when the violence is preserved via video.

If no major college gives Johnson a second chance, it becomes easier for the NFL to avoid giving him a first chance. But even if Johnson goes the Randy Moss route, transferring from Florida State to an FCS school, playing right away, and becoming a superstar, Johnson will still have a very hard time getting an NFL team to roll the dice on a guy who punched a member of the opposite sex while a camera was rolling.

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Report: Packers plan to keep Andrew Quarless

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With Packers tight end Andrew Quarless likely headed for leave with pay, the Packers apparently don’t intend to ask him to leave without pay.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, citing two unnamed sources, reports that the Packers have no plans to release Quarless after a July 4 arrest including allegations that he fired a gun twice during a dispute with a car full of females.

Per Demovsky, the gun was legally registered to Quarless. This doesn’t change the fact that Quarless used the gun in an illegal way, allegedly or actually.

The Packers have issued the perfunctory no-comment comment about Quarless, and the NFL has said nothing about the situation.

It’s unclear when Packers G.M. Ted Thompson will say something about the situation, or whether a member of the Green Bay media will appropriately ask him what happens if Quarless fires his gun into the air in Wisconsin and kills someone?

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Rivers hopes PED suspension doesn’t hurt Gates’ reputation

Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers believes Antonio Gates when he says that his four-game suspension was the result of accidentally taking a banned substance.

Rivers says that although he can’t be positive that Gates wouldn’t cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs, he thinks he knows Gates well enough to know that’s not the kind of person Gates is.

“Can I 100 percent say that? I don’t know that I can, but I feel like our relationship is such that if it was intentional, he would say, ‘I messed up. I’ve been doing this, I made a mistake, I just couldn’t do it anymore the way I was doing it.’ You know what I mean? I feel like he would say that to me. So that’s why I say I know, and that’s the only reason I say it. Could I be wrong? I guess. But I don’t think so. I don’t think so. The trust and relationship and the friendship that we’ve built over 12 years, he’d have no reason to tell me anything but the truth,” Rivers said on The Mighty 1090 AM.

Rivers said Gates told him before the suspension was announced on Thursday. Rivers said he and the Chargers will have a tough time with the loss of their longtime starting tight end.

“I knew it was coming, I had talked to him beforehand. It’s really tough,” Rivers said. “Any time you lose one of the top tight ends to ever play, and one of our best players, for four games, it’s certainly going to have an effect.”

Rivers said he hopes Gates’s reputation isn’t tarnished.

“As a friend you just hate it for him. I feel for him as a friend. I really do,” Rivers said. “You hate it for him because of what perception and what thoughts people are going to have that you can’t really change their minds on. And me, knowing him, the kind of guy he is, I know it was without knowing that he was doing that. He’s first class in every way. So it’s tough knowing that he’s going to have that tied to him in some way and some people will always think something about it.”

Whether or not Gates’s reputation around the NFL has taken a hit, it’s clear that Rivers remains a big believer in his longtime tight end.

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Fireworks injury could force Jason Pierre-Paul to miss start of season

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Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul suffered serious hand injuries while setting off fireworks over Fourth of July weekend, 10 weeks before the season opener. And it’s looking like those injuries might take more than 10 weeks to heal.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, there’s concern that Pierre-Paul could miss the start of the regular season. At this point the team is still awaiting more medical information, but his availability for Week One against the Cowboys is in doubt.

If Pierre-Paul’s injury keeps him off the field, the Giants can put him on the non-football injury list and decline to pay him for any games he misses. Pierre-Paul is currently not under contract, and the Giants have placed the $14.8 million franchise tag on him. If he plays the 2015 season under the franchise tag but misses some games because of the fireworks injury, each game he misses will cost him more than $870,000 in lost salary.

Pierre-Paul led the Giants with 12.5 sacks last season and was expected to be their top pass rusher this year as well. He’ll be hard to replace, but it’s looking likely that the Giants will have to replace him, at least at the start of the season.

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Michael Irvin Jr. heading to The U

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Michael Irvin is one of the greatest players in the history of the University of Miami football program before going on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cowboys.

His son is going to try to follow in his father’s early footsteps. Michael Irvin Jr. announced on Monday that he will attend his father’s alma mater after finishing high school next year.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Irvin Jr. said, via 247Sports.com. “I like the coaches. They told me I would play all over for them. In the backfield, at tight end and at receiver. [My father] was proud of me when I told him of my decision and he thinks it will work out for me just like it did for him going there.”

Irvin Sr. is the Hurricanes’ all-time leader in touchdown catches and finished his career as their all-time leader in catches and receiving yards, although Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss later topped Irvin’s numbers in those categories.

Irvin Jr. is ranked as the No. 80 wideout in his class by Rivals.com and the No. 27 tight end prospect by 247Sports.

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Russell Wilson says God spoke to him right after Super Bowl interception

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That new Russell Wilson interview, nearly a full hour in all, contains plenty of interesting things. Along with multiple examples of Wilson hearing the voice of God, directly and audibly.

The one that surely will get the most media attention comes from Wilson’s claim that God told Wilson not to have premarital relations with his new girlfriend, Ciara. But Wilson also says God spoke to him after that fateful interception at the end of Super Bowl XLIX.

“The play happens, and they pick the ball off. And I take three steps,” Wilson said. “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you. . . . I want to see how you respond. But most importantly I want them to see how you respond.”

Plenty of athletes and non-athletes over the years have claimed to have a direct pipeline to God. For those of us who believe in God but haven’t heard Him speak in an audible voice but have felt His nudge at a more vague and visceral level, a claim that He uses actual words with others can be both confusing and a bit off-putting. For those who believe that God doesn’t care about the outcome of sporting events, a claim that He is preparing an athlete for similar situations in the future can be both confusing and off-putting.

Regardless, Wilson seems to be saying that, above the din and the chaos of the moment, he heard God say, “I want to see how you respond. But most importantly I want them to see how you respond.”

I’m not sure I want to see how some of you will respond in the comments.

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Rob Konrad rejects chance to make movie out of odyssey at sea

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Former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad’s story seemed like it was something out of a movie, which is why a lot of people thought it would be one.

But Konrad told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald he had turned down a movie offer and several book deals, refusing to cash in on the tale of his 27-mile swim to safety after he fell off his boat six months ago.

“There were some big name folks involved,” Konrad said. “But I made the decision I wasn’t going to go that route. It’s nothing I want to capitalize on. I don’t have the time and desire. I’m running three [financial] companies in Florida and one in Chicago.”

Konrad said he’s writing a long “memo” to detail the incident, since he wants his children and grandchildren to read about it. But he said his plan right now is to not turn it into a book.

And even though being adrift at sea for 16 hours would be enough to make most people move to Oklahoma, Konrad said last week he was taking his boat to Cape Cod for the Fourth of July weekend.

“I’ve been on a boat a bunch since then,” he said. “My wife has made me upgrade the technology and promise to always bring someone with me.”

And if he’s in the Atlantic right now, hopefully he takes the shark repellent as well.

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Russell Wilson’s preference between football and baseball? “Both”

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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to do a lot of talking, and he’s talking more and more about baseball.

Following last week’s admission to Jimmy Kimmel that Wilson would consider playing football and baseball at the same time if his baseball rights were traded to the Seattle Mariners, Wilson spent the better part of an hour at The Rock Church in the San Diego area on Sunday, and he once again talked about playing baseball.

So which does he prefer? “Both,” Wilson said.

Will he ever play both?

“I have no idea,” Wilson said. “I believe if anybody could do it, I could. And I believe God’s put me — gave me the ability to do it. I’ve done it my whole life.”

Wilson also pointed out that he turned down the opportunity to make a million dollars when first drafted to play baseball, opting to play football and baseball at the same time in college. Given that things worked out fairly well with that million-dollar gamble, perhaps Wilson will be even more inclined to make a $1.5 million gamble this year, turning down whatever the Seahawks offer him before the season, realizing that if he plays for $1.5 million this year, he’ll make a lot more on the back end.

And for those of you who ask why we keep writing about Wilson’s situation, here’s the answer: Unlike the vast majority of quarterbacks in similar situations, Wilson keeps talking about it.

This time around, the discussion about baseball came fairly early in the interview. So there may be more to come from this one.

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Graphic De’Andre Johnson punch video likely means no NFL for him

Johnson Getty Images

As noted earlier today regarding the lingering lack of interest in running back Ray Rice, we all know what an assault looks like. But when we can see it, that changes everything.

For Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who in theory could have become the next NFL quarterback groomed for success by coach Jimbo Fisher (joining the likes of first-rounders JaMarcus Russell, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, and Jameis Winston), Johnson’s chances of ever making it to the NFL have decreased dramatically now that visual evidence has surfaced of the violent blow he delivered to the head of a woman at a bar in Tallahassee last month.

The Tallahassee Democrat has obtained surveillance video showing Johnson punching the female (fast forward to roughly 1:50 to see the full exchange), who apparently was trying to buy a drink and past whom Johnson was trying to push.

Local authorities had come under fire for releasing the victim’s name but redacting Johnson’s name from the police report that was made available to the public.

“[W]e had to release the victim’s name because she did not fall into an exemption, and we’re not allowed to just take their names out,” Tallahassee Police Department spokesman David Northway told the Democrat on Friday. “And we had to — we had — to redact the suspect’s name in the case because it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Regardless of what Florida State does with Johnson, whatever he accomplishes on a football field at FSU or elsewhere, or however the prosecution is resolved, the NFL likely will have to shun Johnson, simply because anyone can see what we already knew he did.

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Bengals DC Paul Guenther impressed by Steelers offense

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The AFC North has generally been a strong defensive division over the years, but 2015 saw things go the other way.

None of the four teams ranked higher than 18th in total defense and the Steelers won the division thanks to their potent offense putting up enough points to overcome a lagging defense. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will be tasked with trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again this season and it’s a task that he believes will be difficult.

One of the lead reasons why is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who Guenther thinks became even more effective last season. Roethlisberger was sacked less frequently in 2014 than in any other year of his career, leaving him able to take full advantage of the weapons at his disposal.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Guenther said, via ESPN.com. “He’s taken a lot of shots and keeps getting up … He was getting hit a lot in the past while trying to throw some stuff downfield. The ball’s coming out a little faster, particularly on third downs. That’s probably part of it. He’s not running as much and he has enough pocket presence where he keeps a play alive. You’re talking about tight ends and wide receivers and running backs and an improved offensive line, that’s a pretty good combination. They’ve gotten better up front and run the ball effectively, which helps them. The ability for them to run the ball, mix it up and keep teams honest probably got him more looks.”

The Steelers beat the Bengals twice last season, including a Week 17 win that clinched the division for Pittsburgh and left the Bengals as a Wild Card visitor to Indianapolis. The Steelers gained 889 yards in those games, 667 of them through the air, and Guenther will need to come up with a better answer this time around to keep Cincinnati ahead of their rivals.

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Three Colts linemen pose naked to show they’re not fat slobs

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Colts offensive lineman Todd Herremans is listed at 321 pounds. Anthony Castonzo is listed at 311. And Jack Mewhort is listed at 308. But unlike most 300-pounders, they have athletic bodies that they’re happy to show off.

The three linemen appear together, naked, in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue, saying they jumped at the chance because they want the world to see that offensive linemen are athletes, not just fat guys.

“I think the view of offensive linemen from the public is that we are all just fat slobs,” Herremans said. “Which is what it used to be, kind of. But now the game has evolved into more fit, athletic offensive linemen. So I would say that Anthony is probably the leanest out of all of us, and I’m probably the chubbiest. Jack is somewhere in the middle.”

Mewhort says his body moves much more fluidly than you’d expect for a guy his size.

“I’m pretty good at yoga, actually,” he said. “I’ve been getting into it recently. Anthony got me into it. I did a back bend the other day. I had some assistance from the instructor, but I still thought it was pretty cool.”

It’s pretty cool that these three big guys are willing to show off their physiques. They may not have washboard abs, but they have bodies to be proud of.

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Teddy Bridgewater: We have high expectations, but a long way to go

Teddy Bridgewater, Cordarrelle Patterson AP

Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner was among the people impressed by the way that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater wound down his rookie season in Minnesota.

Turner said Bridgewater was “much more decisive” in his final six starts last season and complimented the rookie for making gains while playing behind a shifting offensive line and without running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson’s return from suspension, guard Brandon Fusco’s return from injury, the presence of a healthy Kyle Rudolph at tight end and the arrival of rookie T.J. Clemmings join the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace as reasons for optimism that Bridgewater will continue on an upward trajectory this season.

Bridgewater said in early June that he was excited about the team’s offseason, but cautioned that it was too soon to talk about them as a contender. The final practices of the offseason didn’t do anything to make him change his mind about avoiding overly rosy projections well before the season gets underway.

“I have high expectations for myself, and this team has high expectations also,” Bridgewater said, via USA Today. “Right now, we’re not as good as what we think. We know that the ceiling is very high and the expectation level is very high — not only for the players, but from a coaching staff also. We know what’s being asked of us, but we have a long way to go.”

It’s not the kind of pom-pom waving we often see when the regular season is still somewhere over the horizon, but that’s not a bad thing for a Vikings team that has posted losing records four of the last five years. The Vikings have to prove they’re good before they can talk about being good, even though the need to toot their own horns won’t be too great if their on-field work lives up to expectations.

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Albert Haynesworth: Washington cost him his “passion for football”

Albert Haynesworth AP

Albert Haynesworth was happy to take the money. But in hindsight, he wouldn’t have taken it from Dan Snyder.

The former defensive tackle, who was known as differently motivated during his playing career, wrote a first-person letter to his younger self for The Players Tribune in which he admits regrets over taking the $100 million contract Washington offered in 2009, saying: “You will lose your passion for football in Washington, and it will be impossible to get back.”

“If nothing else, listen to me on this, Albert: Do not leave the Tennessee Titans,” he wrote (such that players write for themselves there). “Your defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a mastermind. No matter how much I tell you this, you’ll probably never realize it until your career is over, but it’s true. You’re like a system quarterback. You thrive in a very specific scheme.”

Haynesworth also said the Buccaneers offered him a $135 million deal, but called the contract a “huge burden,” saying: “Take less and stay in Tennessee where you belong.”

Haynesworth suggests that he was dismayed when then-coach Mike Shanahan asked him to clog up the middle of the field rather than rush the passer as he had done with the Titans.

“You’re going to look at this famous NFL head coach in total disbelief and say, “You want to pay me $100 million to grab the center?” the letter read. “And he’s going to say, with a straight face, “Albert, if you have more than one sack this season, I’m going to be pissed.”

“The last thing you’ll say before walking out of the office is, “Can’t you just pay someone $300,000 a year to do that?”

The piece also mentions the fact that much of that money was gone, blaming an unscrupulous financial advisor. But it also portrays a player who now realizes the grass isn’t always greener, years after he took all the green.

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Giants yank long-term offer Pierre-Paul wasn’t inclined to accept

JPP Getty Images

With Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul still hospitalized two days after a fireworks accident, the Giants have commenced the process of protecting the franchise from its current franchise player.

Via Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, the Giants have removed the pending offer on a long-term deal for Pierre-Paul.

And so the $60 million deal is gone; whether a five-year or four-year package, Pierre-Paul wasn’t going to accept it, not with $14.8 million for 2015 and $17.76 million for 2016 as a starting point. That’s $32.56 million over two years on the franchise tag, and quarterback money or $25.5 million for 2017. Which equates to nearly $60 million in only three years.

The question now becomes whether the Giants will make another run at signing Pierre-Paul to a contract that takes the uncertainty regarding his health into account, or whether he’ll sign the franchise tender and play for $14.8 million this year and, if they tag him again, 20 percent more than that in 2016.

The possibility that the Giants could place Pierre-Paul on NFI and not pay him a single penny for the 2015 season could prompt Pierre-Paul to stay away until he gets a clean bill of health, missing regular-season games not as a leverage play against the Giants but to ensure that, when team doctors examine his fingers, they’ll give him a thumb’s up.

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