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Current and former Bears special teams coaches debate style

Joe DeCamillis, Matt Johnson, Tyrone Crawford, George Bryan AP

New Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub likes his move from Chicago, in part because he thinks a 3-4 defense gives him a better cast of players to work with.

But the guy who replaced him in Chicago has taken the opposite approach, saying he’s grateful the Bears are keeping a 4-3 scheme.

“I have worked in both systems now and I would much rather be in a 4-3 system because of the fact that you really have some speed at the linebacker position,” Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said, via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “Most of the time, 3-4 you are playing with bigger people. And, I think the 4-3 is gonna be something that is going to help us and it’s helped this team in the past.”

DeCamillis worked with 3-4 personnel in Dallas, but because of injuries that hit their defense like a plague, he was often working with third, fourth and fifth-option types of players in the kicking game.

Toub voiced the prevailing sentiment among special teams coaches, that a 3-4 gives him an advantage because of the extra linebackers that are part of the game-day active roster (since few defensive linemen have the speed required to play a big role in kick and punt coverage or return teams).

“You will have eight and sometimes nine linebackers active,” Toub said. “Every time we played a 3-4 team I always thought it was rough for us matchup-wise because they always had more linebackers than us. I always thought a 3-4 was the best special teams situation you can be in.

“That is why in a 4-3, when you run special teams, you always have to have a defensive end like Izzy [Idonije] or Corey Wootton. You have to have one of those guys be a good special teams player. In a 3-4 you don’t because you’ve got more linebackers. That is the difference.”

While either system can work, the biggest thing a special teams coach needs is health among the starters on defense. Since the majority of his unit will be the backup linebackers and defensive backs, injuries to those areas on defense can strip away his “starters” and force new guys (which are sometimes signed off the street once the season starts) into new roles.

That instability, more than any schematic decision, can spell doom for a special teams unit.

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Report: Johnny Manziel’s off-field actions have “alarmed” Browns

Johnny Manziel AP

At the outset of Browns training camp comes a published report indicating the organization is concerned about Johnny Manziel’s off-field activities this offseason.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday that the Browns were “alarmed” by Manziel’s off-field actions since joining the organization, with the now-infamous dollar bill picture particularly concerning to the organization.

Moreover, the Plain Dealer reports that Manziel’s play in OTAs “regressed” as the workouts went on — and that members of the organization believed it could be chalked up to Manziel not being diligent enough in his work.

What’s more, the Plain Dealer, citing sources, reported that some in the organization believed Manziel had “lost ground” in the battle to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job.

In more positive news for Manziel, the Plain Dealer reported that Manziel practiced well on Thursday. But it’s clear Manziel’s first professional offseason didn’t exactly go as some in the organization as hoped. Now, it’s on the Browns’ first-round pick to prove any discussion of his off-field habits is much ado about nothing.

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Atkins, Jones still not ready to practice for Bengals

Geno Atkins AP

The good news for the Bengals is that a bunch of players have been elevated to the active roster from the Physically Unable to Perform or Non-Football Injury lists.

The bad news is that none of the seven are named Geno Atkins or Marvin Jones.

Added to the active roster were defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi, guard Clint Boling, cornerback Leon Hall, punter Kevin Huber, receiver Colin Lockett, cornerback Onterio McCalebb, and guard Mike Pollak.

Atkins remains on the PUP list after tearing an ACL during the 2013 season. Jones was placed on NFI after tweaking an ankle while working out away from the facility with quarterback Andy Dalton.

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Vikings sign two receivers, place Captain Munnerlyn on PUP

Green Bay Packers v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Vikings changed out two roster spots Friday, signing wide receivers Andy Cruse and Ty Walker and waiving undrafted rookie offensive tackle Matt Hall and third-year wide receiver Josh Cooper.

Cruse (6-3, 216) spent time on Houston’s practice squad in 2013, while Walker (5-10, 191) had practice squad stints with Green Bay and Seattle a season ago. The 24-year-old Cruse is a Miami (Ohio) product, while Walker, 23, played at Illinois State. Both players entered the NFL last spring as undrafted free agents.

The Vikings also placed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, tight end Chase Ford, and safety Andrew Sendejo on the active/physically unable to perform list. According to coach Mike Zimmer, Munnerlyn has a “slight” hamstring ailment, while Sendejo has ankle and lower back ailments. Ford is dealing with a foot injury.

The Vikings are at the 90-player limit.

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Rob Gronkowski: I’m not changing my style one bit

Rob Gronkowski AP

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s right knee is feeling well enough that the Patriots felt confident that he didn’t need to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Gronkowski said Friday that isn’t the same thing as being 100 percent.

Gronkowski expects to be limited in practice when the team is in full pads as he works to make sure he’s totally healthy in time for the first game of the season. That wasn’t the case last year, when Gronkowski’s back and forearm surgeries conspired to keep him off the field early in the year. Once Gronkowski is fully operational, he says that the slew of injuries won’t impact his playing style.

“Nah, I ain’t changing that one bit,” Gronkowski said, via WEEI. “I’m going to go full speed when I’m out there and I’m going to keep smashing and dashing in everything I do. Maybe if it’s not necessary one single bit I’ll go down [to the ground]. But if I can make some plays and make some extra yards and get in the end zone, I’m definitely going to go full speed and do everything I can.”

While Gronkowski and the Patriots would be wise to eliminate unnecessary risks, there aren’t that many of those involved in the life of an NFL tight end who is essential to his team’s offensive success. Gronkowski is going to get hit when he has the ball, he’s going to get hit when he’s blocking and he’s going to be left in vulnerable positions while trying to catch balls, all of which are integral to doing his job and going less than 100 percent in any area is going to lead to more bad outcomes than good ones.

That may mean more injuries, but that risk comes with the rewards of having Gronkowski in the lineup.

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Rolando McClain sentenced to 18 days in jail, appealing

Rolando McClain AP

The Cowboys are trying to give linebacker Rolando McClain another fresh start, but he still has to account for past mistakes.

According to Paul Gattis of al.com, McClain was found guilty Friday of two misdemeanor charges from a 2013 incident in his hometown, and was sentenced to 18 days in jail.

(Man, when the Ravens hear about this, they might try to trade for him, just by reflex.)

McClain’s lawyer’s filed an immediate appeal to get to a jury trial, which will allow McClain to return to Cowboys training camp.

The charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest came after he allegedly yelled “F— the police” in a crowded park in Decatur.

There was apparently tape of that being said, but whether it was clearly McClain is in some dispute, according to his lawyer.

Police video did show McClain telling officers: “You can’t expect to be arrested 3 times in 3 years and play in NFL.”

Maybe he knew something we didn’t.

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Schneider confirms Lynch holdout, team’s lack of interest in giving him new deal

Schneider AP

Earlier today, the Seahawks announced that they had reached the 90-man roster limit.  Before too long, they’ll go back to 89 by placing running back Marshawn Lynch on the reserve/did not report list.

In an interview with ESPN 710 in Seattle, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, that Marshawn has “made a decision not to be here.”  Schneider’s comments also indicated that the team has made a decision not to do anything about it.

“There is a specific plan in place here and it’s my responsibility to [owner Paul Allen] and the fans to try to provide a consistent championship-caliber football team, one that the fans feel we have a shot every year,” Schneider said.

“[J]ust two years ago Marshawn was one of our first guys we were able to reward in terms of this plan going forward,” Schneider said, referring to Lynch’s four-year, $30 million contract.

So if Lynch doesn’t show, the Seahawks will rely on the next man up.  Schneider pointed out that coach Pete Carroll and his staff “do a good job of teaching young players and getting them ready to play.”

Does that mean Christine Michael and/or Robert Turbin can get it done if Lynch doesn’t show?

“I think it’s a fair question,” Schneider said.  “But I think obviously Marshawn Lynch is a heck of a running back, you know what I mean?  But it’s just like we had players at different positions, like last year we ran into the deal with [cornerbacks] Brandon Browner and [Byron] Maxwell steps up and has to go. . . .  I think that the players and teammates think that they are comfortable with the next player.  And that’s no disrespect to Marshawn — everybody knows what he can do.”

Soon, we all may find out what Turbin and Michael can do.

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Belichick on Jerod Mayo: He’s the guy that the team revolves around

Jerod Mayo AP

There’s been a big focus on the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, something that makes sense given how much better the New England offense was when Gronk was in the lineup last season than it was when he was out of action.

Gronkowski wasn’t the only key member of the Patriots to miss large portions of last season, however, and coach Bill Belichick spent some time Friday explaining how important one of the other returning players is to the team. Belichick says that linebacker Jerod Mayo is vital to what the team hopes to accomplish on both sides of the ball.

“I think he means a lot to our team. He’s, I’d say, really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player. Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that but I think he touches pretty much everybody, not just the defensive players but all the guys; not just the older guys but the younger guys,” Belichick said in his Friday press conference. “He’s got great work ethic, great presence on the football field and great personality that’s, I’d say, in a very good way professional but also has a good rapport with all the players and the coaches. I think he’s as well respected as any player in the locker room. I’d say one of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of a glue chemistry guy I’d say that I’ve been around.”

The Patriots like to attack teams in multiple ways defensively, something that was difficult last year when Mayo was out of the lineup for 10 games with a torn pectoral muscle. With Mayo back as a mentor for Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower and other young members of the front seven, Vince Wilfork back from an Achilles injury and Darrelle Revis joining the secondary, the Pats have a defense that looks as good as any they’ve had since the early days of Belichick’s tenure as head coach.

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Andre Johnson says he couldn’t walk away from football

Andre Johnson AP

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson felt more secure in returning to the Texans after talking to owner Bob McNair, but he said Friday that he ultimately couldn’t leave the game.

“I love playing the game of football,” Johnson said, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t plan on walking away from this.”

Which is fine, except he did all summer, after openly questioning the future of the franchise.

“I feel very comfortable with the way things are going,” Johnson said. “What I said in the offseason had to do with things that happened in the past eight or nine years.”

Johnson didn’t get into specifics about his conversations with management or McNair, but it’s clear that new coach Bill O’Brien handled this one well.

The rookie coach never threw gas on the fire or issued any ultimatums, and that might have helped smooth the road that led Johnson back home.

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How PFT’s power rankings stack up with Vegas Super Bowl odds

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpte5m2y3mzdmmmqwm2fjytyzotnjmzhlnde3odazmwuw AP

You may have seen that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin doesn’t agree with PFT placing his club next-to-last in our preseason power rankings.

“I don’t think he knows the guys in our locker room or the guys that come to work in this building every single day from top to bottom,” Philbin said of PFT putting the Dolphins 31st, according to the Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero.

That Philbin took up for his team is to be respected. And ultimately, the Dolphins will get their shot to prove the ranking wrong. And isn’t that a beautiful thing about sport? Sometimes, the doubters get theirs, and even the doubters themselves have to tip their caps.

But back to the Dolphins’ ranking. The whole deal got us thinking: how does Miami’s rating compare to its odds to win Super Bowl 49?

First, here’s a primer on how the odds are determined.

The opening odds are set by various Nevada sports books in the winter. From there, the betting public — any person with the cash on hand to make a minimum future-book bet of five bucks or so — goes to work. The odds move as the public places their bets.

At the Caesars Entertainment sportsbooks, the Dolphins were listed at 50-1 to win the Super Bowl as of the beginning of this week. From an odds standpoint, this places them in a tie for 25th among the 32 NFL clubs.

The Dolphins’ 50-1 price is the same one offered when the odds were first posted.

However, that’s not the story for every other club.

The following 18 clubs have lower Super Bowl odds than when betting began: the 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles, Colts, Bengals, Bears, Steelers, Ravens, Giants, Lions, Rams, Cowboys, Texans, Vikings, Jets, Browns and Raiders. In short, something happened to convince Caesars to cut the price, to make it a little less sweet of a deal for bettors.

By contrast, the Broncos, Cardinals, Chiefs, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Titans and Jaguars all have higher odds than when betting started.

The Jaguars, at 200-1, are the longest shot on the board at Caesars — and it’s not close. To wit: every other club has odds of 75-1 or lower.

Below are the Super Bowl odds at the Caesars Entertainment sportsbooks as of July 21 with PFT’s rating of each club in parentheses. The teams are ordered by their odds to win Super Bowl 49 at Caesars:

T-1) Seattle Seahawks: 5-1. (PFT rank: 1.) Opening odds: 5-1.

T-1) Denver Broncos: 5-1. (PFT rank: 3.) Opening odds: 4-1.

3) San Francisco 49ers: 5.5-1. (PFT rank: 2.) Opening odds: 6-1.

4) Green Bay Packers: 7-1. (PFT rank: 5.) Opening odds: 15-1.

5) New England Patriots: 8-1. (PFT rank: 4.) Opening odds: 8-1.

6) New Orleans Saints: 14-1. (PFT rank: 6.) Opening odds: 15-1.

7) Philadelphia Eagles: 15-1. (PFT rank: 13.) Opening odds: 30-1.

T-8) Indianapolis Colts: 18-1. (PFT rank: 8.) Opening odds: 30-1.

T-8) Cincinnati Bengals: 18-1. (PFT rank: 9.) Opening odds: 20-1.

T-8) Chicago Bears: 18-1. (PFT rank: 12.) Opening odds: 30-1.

11) Pittsburgh Steelers: 20-1. (PFT rank: 15.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-12) Baltimore Ravens: 25-1. (PFT rank: 7.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-12) New York Giants: 25-1. (PFT rank: 18.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-12) Detroit Lions: 25-1. (PFT rank: 21.) Opening odds: 40-1.

15) St. Louis Rams: 28-1. (PFT rank: 20.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-16) Dallas Cowboys: 30-1. (PFT rank: 24.) Opening odds: 35-1.

T-16) Houston Texans: 30-1. (PFT rank: 25.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-18) Arizona Cardinals: 35-1. (PFT rank: 11.) Opening odds: 30-1.

T-18) Kansas City Chiefs: 35-1. (PFT rank: 17.) Opening odds: 30-1.

T-20) Carolina Panthers: 40-1. (PFT rank: 10.) Opening odds: 25-1.

T-20) Atlanta Falcons: 40-1. (PFT rank: 14.) Opening odds: 20-1.

T-20) San Diego Chargers: 40-1. (PFT rank: 16.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-20) Washington Redskins: 40-1. (PFT rank: 23.) Opening odds: 40-1.

T-20) Minnesota Vikings: 40-1. (PFT rank: 27.) Opening odds: 75-1.

T-25) New York Jets: 50-1. (PFT rank: 19.) Opening odds: 75-1.

T-25) Cleveland Browns: 50-1. (PFT rank: 22.) Opening odds: 75-1.

T-25) Miami Dolphins: 50-1. (PFT rank: 31.) Opening odds: 50-1.

T-25) Oakland Raiders: 50-1. (PFT rank: 32.) Opening odds: 150-1.

29) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 60-1. (PFT rank: 26.) Opening odds: 50-1.

T-30) Buffalo Bills: 75-1. (PFT rank: 28.) Opening odds: 75-1.

T-30) Tennessee Titans: 75-1. (PFT rank: 30.) Opening odds: 50-1.

32) Jacksonville Jaguars: 200-1. (PFT rank: 29.) Opening odds: 150-1.

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Eagles excuse Keelan Johnson from camp after arrest

keelanjohnson

When Riley Cooper made headlines for a videotaped racial slur just before camp last year, the Eagles sent him away for a few days until things cooled down.

They’re likewise parking safety Keelan Johnson.

The team announced that they have excused Johnson “for an undetermined amount of time as he tends to matters related to his arrest in Arizona last weekend.”

Johnson met with coach Chip Kelly, and is still on the roster, and the team’s not saying anything else.

Johnson was arrested in Arizona for assaulting a police officer.

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James Brown says Washington should “do the right thing and change the name”

Brown Getty Images

CBS has given its announcers the green light to apply the red light to the use of the Washington team name.  It sounds like NFL Today and Thursday Night Football host James Brown could be taking Les Moonves up on his offer.

“I firmly believe that this is a people issue,” Brown said at a CBS News symposium, via Scott Allen of the Washington Post.  “If, in fact — to me, this is my opinion only, not representing CBS Sports, or News — if the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It’s as simple as that.”

Brown doesn’t buy one of the strongest arguments for keeping the name:  That the name has been in place for more than 80 years.

“Yeah, well, the civil rights issue was one where ‘that’s just the way it was’ for a long period of time, right?  So that holds no basis and substance to me. Do the right thing,” Brown said.

“You know, a number of years ago, when I was a kid, there was a restaurant chain called Sambo’s, which, as I understand was the last name of two guys who owned the restaurant chain.  But it was offensive to black people, so they changed the name, except for the one franchise in California I believe it was.  Well, so, if in fact it’s offensive to Native Americans — and there doesn’t have to be unanimity on this, and don’t just have a intractable attitude saying, ‘I’m not going to change’ — that’s wrong as far as I’m concerned.  I’ll get in trouble with that, but I stand on principle.”

Brown’s principle will be tested at least once this season, when Washington hosts the Giants on Thursday, September 25.  There’s also a 50-percent chance that the Philly-Washington game on Saturday, December 20 will be played in prime time, with Brown serving as the studio host.

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Belichick doesn’t get the NFL’s emphasis on certain rules

belichickref AP

Every offseason the NFL tells its officials about certain rules that will be emphasized that season — rules that haven’t actually changed, but that the league thinks officials need to call more strictly, or more consistently. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t like that.

Belichick says that if the NFL is changing a rule, it makes sense to make sure every official is clear on what the new rule is. But Belichick says there’s no need to place an emphasis on a particular rule because the officials should always be enforcing every rule consistently.

“If it’s a clear-cut rule that’s going to change — the kickoffs from the 30 [yard line] to the 35 — that’s pretty cut and dried,” Belichick said, via CSNNE.com. “But if it’s a rule that maybe has some gray area, or a rule that’s not a rule change, which is pretty common — you know, the league does this every year [when] it doesn’t change the rule, it says ‘we’re just going to emphasize it differently.’ Well I don’t really know what that means. We’ve tried to play by the rules from the beginning. We’re trying to play within the rules, but now they’re saying we’re going to emphasize the rule differently and I don’t really know what that means.”

Belichick sees players having to figure out on a game-by-game basis whether the officials are going to call a lot of penalties or not, and he doesn’t think that should be the case.

“We go out there and basically try to play the same every week,” Belichick said. “It’s not like we change our techniques or any other team does. We’ll see a game one week that has 19 penalties, and then the next week you’ll see a game that has eight penalties. Is one team fouling a lot more? Or is it being called a little bit differently? I don’t know. I think some of that is just — we see it in all sports, I’m not just singling out football. Some of it is just, as the game gets going, just understanding this is going to be called tight or they’re gonna kind of let them play today. It’s a little bit of figuring out on their own.”

Belichick knows first-hand about how changing the emphasis on a rule can change the way the game is played. After the Colts complained that their receivers were getting mugged by Belichick’s Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the NFL emphasized illegal contact penalties with its officials, and those penalties dramatically increased the next season — even though the rule hadn’t changed. Belichick thinks that if the rule stays the same, the enforcement should stay the same, every game and every season.

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NFLPA again blames lack of HGH testing on the NFL

HGH AP

With training camps opening for the fourth time since the NFL and NFLPA agreed to conduct HGH testing, the NFL and the NFLPA have still not implemented HGH testing.

In a letter sent to all players, a copy of which PFT has obtained from a league source, the NFLPA blames the lack of testing on the NFL’s ongoing refusal to “commit to fair due process for players who choose to appeal NFL discipline for alleged drug policies violations.”  That refers to the lingering impasse regarding whether the Commissioner will handle the appeals of discipline imposed for violations of the PED and HGH policy arising from something other than a positive test.  The union wants the league to extend its willingness to conduct third-party arbitration of positive PED and HGH test results to violations arising from proof of PED or HGH use coming from, for example, a BALCO or Biogenesis-style scandal.

“Players deserve a fair system, similar to Major League Baseball’s, which includes neutral arbitration for all alleged offenses of our drug policies,” the letter explains.  “Currently, the NFL has agreed to neutral arbitration for appeals based on an alleged any positive drug test, but the Commissioner wants to act as the arbitrator in the cases where a violation of the policies is not based on a positive tests (e.g., a violation of law involving banned substances or where NFL believes there is material evidence of a violation of law involving banned substances.)  Our union is committed to a fair, clean and safe game, but we are also committed to protecting your rights.”

The letter also points out that, because of the disagreement regarding appeal rights, the plug has remain pulled on a population study for determining the normal HGH concentration of NFL players, which then will help determine the permissible limits of HGH in player bodies.  Everything else is ready to go.

“[T]he Players and NFL have agreed to hGH testing, including the storage, analysis, timing, and ultimate destruction of blood tests,” the letter states.

But HGH testing still isn’t happening, because the two sides can’t resolve the question of whether violations unrelated to positive tests will stay on the Commissioner’s desk both for the punishment and for the appeal.  “[W]e are on the verge of another year without a safer and cleaner game,” the union writes.

If the NFL wants HGH testing as badly as it claims to, why not yield on that last point or at least come up with a fair compromise?  While the same argument could be turned against the union, the NFL already has agreed to third-party arbitration for the far more common circumstance of positive test results.  What’s wrong with using a neutral third party for all PED and HGH violations?

Meanwhile, the players continue to be on the honor system when it comes to using HGH, which means that they can use it as long as they don’t get caught up in a BALCO or Biogenesis-style scandal.  Coincidentally (or not), high school students are using more HGH.

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Dolphins replacing Pouncey with a guy who’s never snapped

shelleysmith

With Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey likely out an extended part of the regular season and the fallout of last year’s bullying scandal, the Dolphins figure to start a brand new offensive line this year.

So why not go build around a guy who has never done his particular job?

According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins are going with free agent pickup Shelley Smith as their starting center.

But Smith said he’s never played center at any level.

He’s started eight games in the NFL, all at guard.

At a certain level, it’s not that big of a change for a competent lineman. But springing it on him just before training camp almost makes it appear it wasn’t a fully developed plan.

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Muhammad Wilkerson: I’m underpaid, but that’s part of the business

Muhammad Wilkerson AP

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, but he isn’t paid like it.

Wilkerson is set to make $1.2 million this year and the team has already exercised their option for 2015, which is worth just under $7 million. They could then conceivably use the franchise tag on Wilkerson for the 2016 season and spend a little more than $21 million for the next three years of Wilkerson’s service, something that would be a tremendous bargain if Wilkerson remains as productive as he’s been through his first three seasons.

Wilkerson is aware of that, but says he’s “a patient man” who wants to stay with the Jets and who believes that a contract more in line with his play will come.

“Do I feel that I’m underpaid right now? Yeah,” Wilkerson said, via the New York Daily News. “But that’s part of the business. My time will come when I get a new contract. But right now I’m just worried about becoming a better player, a better teammate and a better leader.”

Wilkerson is part of the first group of first-round picks to have the fifth-year options included in their rookie deals and it will be interesting to see how teams handle extensions for those players over the next year. With the players essentially tied to the teams for two more seasons, there’s not much urgency to get an extension done although teams like the Jets have to balance that with the potential benefits of sending the message that players that perform well for the team will see their work rewarded.

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