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Cardinals running backs won’t be catching many passes

LaRod Stephens-Howling, Lance Briggs AP

The headline to this post sounds like the setup to a punchline.

“And neither will anyone else given the quarterbacks in Arizona.” Ba-dum-dum.

That’s an unintended benefit, however. It really has to do with the offensive philosophies of new head coach Bruce Arians. Arians was asked about what role the team’s running backs would play in the passing game and said it was going to be a minimal one outside of blocking long enough to give the team a chance to make plays to the wideouts.

“They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it’s doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving.”

That’s pretty much par for the course in an Arians offense. Colts running backs had just 34 catches as a group last season and, outside of a couple of years with Mewelde Moore having 40+ receptions, Arians’ Steelers teams didn’t throw much to backs either.

Arizona has Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells on the roster with LaRod Stephens-Howling set to become a free agent next month. Stephens-Howling would seem to be the one hurt the most by Arians’ dislike of throwing to backs, but he handled himself well as a starter last season and his special teams contributions may still make him a player that the Cardinals want to keep.

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After talking to Sapp, McCoy knows the pressure’s on him

Gerald McCoy AP

Gerald McCoy promised yesterday that he wouldn’t let a contract issue keep him from training camp.

That’s in large part because he’s looking to replicate the work done by a Hall of Famer.

McCoy said a recent conversation with former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp had him excited about the prospects for himself and the team under new coach Lovie Smith.

“I talked to Sapp the other day, and I told him, ‘I can see now why you loved this defense so much,’’’ McCoy said, via Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. “I said, ‘This is going to be fun,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s not going to be easy, because you have a lot of work ahead of you. You have a lot of responsibility as the under tackle.’

“What he meant was, this defense is going to run how I run, so I have a lot of responsibility. I’m going to see most of the one on ones. And when you depend on four guys to get to the quarterback the way we will and the under tackle is supposed to be the key guy, well, I have to get there. But I’m still excited about it.’’

McCoy began to show some Sapp-ish tendencies (the good, on-field kind) last season, when he had 9.0 sacks and earned All-Pro honors. Now, he’s looking to lead a turnaround for the Bucs, getting them back to the old ways.

“First day we got started here, I pulled the whole defense together before we even started to stretch or anything and told them we have to have a different type of mind set this year,’’ McCoy said. “I told them that if this team is going to get to where we want to be, then (just like) the Buccaneers teams of the past, we have to be known for having a great defense.’’

If McCoy can have the kind of sustained success Sapp had in Tampa, the chances of that are a lot better.

 

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Lessons learned from the Alex Mack offer sheet

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

In extending an offer sheet to center Alex Mack, the Jaguars apparently relied on Mack’s supposedly intense desire to leave Cleveland — and the Browns potential willingness to let him walk because of it.

Now that the offer has been matched, Mack says he never wanted to leave.  Even if he created a very strong impression to others that he did.

Ultimately, Mack didn’t really want to leave.  Or getting $18 million guaranteed changed his mind.  Or the Browns didn’t care one way or the other.

The offer signed by Mack and matched in Cleveland pays out $18 million fully guaranteed over two years and, if not voided by the player, another $8 million fully guaranteed in year three.  League insiders have now digested the terms, and it has sparked a few ideas about how a team could use a device like this in the future in a way that would deter a match.

The most obvious reaction was that the offer didn’t force the Browns to pay enough money.  The Browns are guaranteed to have Mack for two years at $18 million, or for three at $26 million.  Absent a long-term deal, Mack would have made $10 million in 2014 under the transition tag.  If tagged again in 2015 (transition or franchise), Mack would have made $22 million over two years.  If not tagged, he would have hit the open market next year.

It’s unclear what it would have taken to get the Browns to pass, but in hindsight the offer sheet made it a lot cheaper for the Browns to keep Mack for the next two years.  And if Mack is telling the truth about wanting to stay in Cleveland, he won’t void the deal after two years — and they’ll keep him for three years at only $4 million more than it would have cost to keep him for two years under the tag.

The pay-as-you-go nature of the offer, which has become more prevalent as teams pay more attention to the minimum cash spending requirements of the 2011 CBA, also made it more likely that the Browns would match the offer.  By using structure with much of the total compensation over the first two or three years shifted to a signing bonus payable in full within a day or two after the contract becomes official, a team with offseason cash-flow issues and/or concerns about satisfying the minimum spending requirements in future years could be less likely to match.

The best approach, despite the potential for hard feelings among teams and not-so-subtle disapproval from the league at large, would have been to park a huge roster bonus in Year Two, and for Mack to make it clear to the Browns that he would not restructure the deal to give the team cap relief come 2015.  Implicit in the situation would have been a willingness by Mack to convert the roster bonus to a cap-friendly signing bonus next year.

Ultimately, the Jaguars chose a path less likely to ruffle feathers, hopeful that Mack truly wanted out of Cleveland and that the Browns would factor that desire into their assessment of the situation.  If/when a similar situation arises in the future, the team that tries to lure the player away should be less willing to bank on non-financial considerations and more inclined to craft an offer that the player’s current team can’t not refuse.

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Mark Murphy: Packers “hopeful” to have Brett Favre back at Lambeau soon

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Brett Favre hasn’t been back to Lambeau in anything other than a Vikings uniform since he left the Packers for the Jets before the 2008 season, but president Mark Murphy said that isn’t because the team isn’t interested in honoring their former quarterback.

Murphy said he wanted to have Favre “back in the family” last year and Favre also opened the door to a reconciliation, although the question of when he’ll walk through it remains unanswered.

While speaking at the team’s Tailgate Tour on Tuesday, Murphy said that the Packers wanted to have Favre back for a game during the 2013 season but that his gig as offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School got in the way when the team advanced to the state title in Mississippi. That made a return to Lambeau impossible, but Favre is reportedly stepping down for that job and Murphy hopes that means the long-awaited reunion can finally take place.

“We do have ongoing communications with him, and I think relations are good,” Murphy said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We’re hopeful to have him come back soon. We wanted to have him come back to a game last year, (but) his team kept winning and winning, so it kind of made it tough to find a time where it worked.”

Favre is likely to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, his first year of eligibility and Murphy’s words make it seem likely that his return to Green Bay will come before he gets enshrined in Canton.

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Cowboys think Anthony Barr can play defensive end

Anthony Barr AP

UCLA’s Anthony Barr’s only been playing defense for two years, but at least one team thinks he’s ready to make another switch.

After transitioning from running back to outside linebacker the last two seasons for the Bruins, Barr said during a visit with the Cowboys that defensive end Rod Marinelli think he’s a 4-3 defensive end.

“I spoke with him at length today,” Barr said of Marinelli, via the team’s official website. “He showed me a lot of tape of (Julius) Peppers and Simeon Rice and (Warren) Sapp, so I think he wants me playing that defensive right end position to go after the quarterback, and that’s something I’m all for.”

Never having played in a 4-3 doesn’t seem to bother them, as Barr has flashed plenty of pass-rush potential, with 23.5 sacks in two seasons.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Barr might be a little leaner than some ends, but the recent comparison to DeMarcus Ware might not be off the mark.
The problem for the Cowboys will be being able to get to him, as he’s a possible top 10 pick, when they’re at 16 unless they make a move.
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Agent says Clowney may do one private workout

Clowney AP

Yes, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has opted not to assume any additional injury risk in advance of next month’s draft.  With one small caveat.

“He may do one more thing, for one team, maybe a five-minute workout,” agent Bus Cook told USA Today.  “It doesn’t make sense to do more than that, given the fact of what happened to the Clemson kid.  If they weren’t at the Pro Day or Combine, where are they?”

So what will Clowney do in those five minutes?

“Just say there will be no heavy lifting,” Cook told Jarrett Bell of USA Today.  “Nothing that will risk injury.”

If Clowney was concerned about injury, he shouldn’t have played at all in 2013.  Clowney quite possibly was perceived to be taking it easy last year because he was actually playing it safe.  Not wired to skip a season, Clowney nevertheless wanted to emerge from his final year of uncompensated football healthy enough to be one of the first players drafted in 2014.

Of course, Cook disputes the idea that Clowney experienced a dip in production last year.

“At the Senior Bowl, two NFL scouts who have been around for a long time came to me and said, ‘Bus, this business about this kid not going all-out is not the case,’” Cook said.  “One of them said, ‘Please, tell me what games are they referring to?’”

The notion that 2013 Clowney wasn’t the same guy as 2012 Clowney seems to be a given.  Fueling that perception/reality were the passive-aggressive comments from coach Steve Spurrier about Clowney’s work ethic.

Still, Clowney has shown what he can do.  And the Texans or the Rams or the Jaguars or the Browns (if he makes it past the first three) will be smart enough to realize that Clowney was in a no-win situation last year, forced to stay in school and understandably concerned about what could happen to his draft stock if suffered the same fate as former South Carolina teammate Marcus Lattimore.

At a time when none of the other players in the draft pool look to be sure-fire success stories at the next level, Clowney could be the best option at the top.  Which may be why some anonymous scouts are hoping to raise just enough concern about Clowney to prompt him to slide into the draft slots occupied by their teams.

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Calvin Pryor: I can bring physical play to the Bears defense

Rutgers v Louisville Getty Images

The Bears have added three safeties in free agency, but they aren’t believed to be done addressing needs at the position after getting poor play there throughout the 2013 season.

One possible addition is Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, who is expected to join Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a first-round pick next May. Pryor visited with the Bears on Tuesday and said after it was over that he thought the team was missing “certain pieces” to be a playoff team in 2014. Pryor thinks his physical play in the secondary could be one of those pieces.

“I bring a certain type of physicalness to the defense,” Pryor said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “The Bears are already known to be physical. That playmaker ability, that’s what I can bring to the team. … If I get added to the team.”

The Bears signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy this offseason while watching Major Wright leave for Tampa and Chris Conte undergo shoulder surgery that will keep him out for several months. It’s a spot the Bears are sure to bolster next month, although their needs on the defensive line may keep them from addressing it until Pryor is off the board.

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Kelcy Quarles denies report of involvement in bar fight

Florida v South Carolina Getty Images

Faced with the possibility of having his draft stock harmed by a report of a police investigation, one of the South Carolina players involved in a TMZ report said he’s innocent.

The initial report said that police wanted to find a group of South Carolina players “for questioning at the very least” after an incident outside a New York nightclub last week. South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton  were named in the report, which said a club promoter suffered facial injuries in an attack.

When reached by The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.,, Hampton hung up on a reporter, but Quarles said he never went to the bar mentioned in the report and wasn’t in a fight.

“I’m [mad] about it because it’s going to hurt my draft status,” Quarles said. “I’m about to do everything I possibly can to get my name cleared because it’s not fair. I had nothing to do with this.”

Quarles and Hampton, along with former teammates Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington and Chaz Sutton, were in New York last week for an ESPN The Magazine photo shoot.

Quarles said he thought police wanted to talk to Sutton, but Sutton said he wasn’t there either.

“No, I actually hung out with my friends that night,” Sutton said. “I wasn’t even involved or there so I couldn’t really tell you. I don’t know what is going on.”

The police will sort this one out eventually, but at the moment, the one that looks worst is Hampton, who refused the first opportunity to proclaim his innocence.

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Carson Palmer will understand if the Cardinals draft a quarterback

Arizona Cardinals v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said early this offseason that he didn’t think the team could afford to take a quarterback early in the draft and General Manager Steve Keim said the team would have to be totally in love with a quarterback to take one with Carson Palmer still on the team, and when you take those comments together it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will be adding a quarterback in the first few rounds.

But it isn’t impossible, something that Palmer knows well after 10 years in the NFL. So while he’d love to see the team add skill position players that can add to the weapons at his disposal, Palmer says he understands if things fall in a way that leads to a new quarterback in Arizona.

“If you are in a position to draft the best player on your board, and that’s the best position to be in as an organization, and [a quarterback] is the best player on the board, you are not only making your team better by creating competition but you are helping out the future,” Palmer said, via the team’s website. “I know I’m not going to play forever. It’s hard for us players to admit that. The older you get the harder it is to admit it. You don’t see it happening. You still feel good, you still feel confident, you still feel healthy. But that’s the reality. That’s the business. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”

It’s a healthy attitude for any player to have because teams are rarely shy about replacing them when they think that it’s best for the organization and that’s probably even more true for a player who has thrown 59 touchdowns and 52 interceptions over the last three seasons. The Cardinals have more pressing needs, which will likely leave any quarterback additions for the middle rounds and that would likely have more immediate impact on Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley than Palmer.

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Lloyd could have a chance to shine in San Francisco

Lloyd Getty Images

Eleven years ago, the 49ers drafted a receiver who would become one of the great NFL enigmas of the decade.

Underachieving for most of his career, difficult for some to deal with throughout it, receiver Brandon Lloyd nevertheless has talent.  But that talent has emerged only in flashes, and only when the right coach is pressing the buttons.

The right coach turned out to be Josh McDaniels.  In 2010, after generating a total of 2,370 receiving yards in seven seasons with four different teams, Lloyd racked up a league-high 1,448 yards receiving as a member of the Broncos.  His quarterbacks were Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.

The next year, after McDaniels was fired, Lloyd landed in St. Louis, where McDaniels had arrived as offensive coordinator.  Lloyd accounted for 683 yards in 11 games.

The next year, McDaniels returned to New England.  The Patriots signed Lloyd, and Lloyd had the second best season of his career, with 911 yards.

And just like that it was over.  A free agent in 2013, teams were interested in signing Lloyd but Lloyd wasn’t interested in playing.  Then, out of the blue, Lloyd has been lured to the 49ers.

Coach Jim Harbaugh apparently has a knack for saying the right things to spark a dormant fire in a wideout.  Harbaugh did it in 2012, supplying Randy Moss with one final burst of “I play when I wanna play.”  Inevitably, Moss reverted to his old ways, moody and crabby and unhappy with his role.  The 49ers managed to delay the eruption until the days preceding Super Bowl XLVII, when the media obligations overwhelm even the most secretive organizations.

It remains to be seen whether Lloyd becomes a secret weapon in San Francisco.  With Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree serving as Colin Kaepernick’s primary targets, Lloyd will surely see plenty of single coverage.  The real question becomes whether Lloyd can find a way to click with Kaepernick, and vice-versa.

Either way, the move provides a low risk for the 49ers.  It’s our understanding that the deal pays the one-year veteran minimum to Lloyd, possibly with some incentives.  While he may not be the last piece of the puzzle, his willingness to join the effort prior to the launch of the offseason program suggests that he’s serious about playing and conscientious about learning the offense and becoming a contributor.

At a time when the 49ers have been dealing with a lot more bad news than good, Lloyd’s arrival provides a thin flash of silver on the underbelly of the dark cloud that popped up in the past week over a team that otherwise has plenty of great things to look forward to in 2014, as it prepares to christen a brand-new stadium and make a run for Super Bowl title No. 6.

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Kevin Williams leaves Giants visit without a contract

Kevin Williams AP

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams visited with the Giants on Monday night and Tuesday, but he’s still available for any other team that wants to talk to him about coming aboard for the 2014 season.

Williams flew out of New Jersey on Tuesday night after wrapping up the visit without agreeing to a deal to join a Giants defensive line that lost defensive tackle Linval Joseph to the Vikings in free agency. The Vikings were Williams’ former team, of course, but they have moved in other directions while Williams tries to find a new home. That’s not the Giants at the moment, but Williams wasn’t ruling anything out.

“Had a good visit and gonna see what happens,” Williams told Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Williams turns 34 in August and said he’d retire if he didn’t find the deal he was looking for this offseason, which suggests the Giants weren’t willing to meet his desired price. There hasn’t been much other buzz around the veteran, so it may take a change in fortune on the line for a team to pay up to that level.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

ray-lewis Getty Images

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle is bullish about the chances of keeping the Bills in Buffalo.

Said Dolphins G.M. Dennis Hickey of his draft philosophy, “The important part to us … is evaluating the player and assigning the value of the player. Then you work towards the best player available.”

Players on the Patriots joined other Boston athletes to commemorate the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.

With three 30-year-old starters, don’t be surprised if the Jets draft an offensive lineman.

Former Ravens LB Ray Lewis sold his oceanfront mansion in Florida for $4.77 million, $500,000 less than he paid for it in 2004.

Lots of people think the Bengals will draft Ohio State CB Bradley Roby.

It’s been a year since the feds raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s family business, and no one knows where the investigation will end.

The Steelers drafted nine players in 2009, and none of them are still in Pittsburgh.

The Texans have now signed six unrestricted free agents: DT Ricardo Mathews, DT Jerrell Powe, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, FS Kendrick Lewis, SS Chris Clemons and RB Andre Brown.

The Colts, who already used their first-round pick on RB Trent Richardson, might try to trade down in the second round to acquire more picks.

Jaguars coach Gus Braadley is talking up Jadeveon Clowney’s passion for the game.

Titans WR Nate Washington embraces the “old man” role in the locker room.

Broncos LB Von Miller is working hard at rehabbing his image.

A receiver or safety would make sense for the Chiefs in the first round.

The Raiders are showing interest in former Oregon S Terrance Mitchell.

The Chargers are working out local prospects today.

Does Cowboys coach Jason Garrett concentrate on the wrong things?

The Giants remain in the market for a backup quarterback after one of their targets, Matt Flynn, signed with the Packers.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is accused by one writer of letting his ego get in the way of making the right personnel decisions.

Washington would like to draft a tall receiver, but that’s not the team’s top priority.

Notre Dame DT Louis Nix could be a draft target of the Bears.

Should the Lions trade up to draft Clemson WR Sammy Watkins?

Although he’s struggled elsewhere, Matt Flynn always seems to fit in Green Bay.

New Vikings strength coach Evan Marcus has the players working more with free weights and less with machines.

Auburn DE Dee Ford could make sense for the Falcons.

The Panthers need a receiver, and one mock draft has them getting USC WR Marqise Lee.

The Saints are looking at bolstering the secondary in the draft.

Buccaneers RB Mike James says he’s recovering from a broken ankle and, “I’ve got a good opportunity to do what I need to do to get back in the swing of things and get acclimated with everything.”

After just missing the playoffs last year, expectations are high in Arizona for the upcoming Cardinals season.

The 49ers’ signing of WR Brandon Lloyd represents his career coming full circle.

The Rams have honored a local middle school for its students’ commitment to physical activity.

The Seahawks are showing a lot of interest in wide receivers during the pre-draft process.

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Houston schools stop using “Redskins” and other insensitive names

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

As the NFL team in Washington continues to defend its use of the name Redskins, the franchise often points out that many high schools use the name. What the team doesn’t point out is that many schools are dropping the name, too.

Despite the team’s claim that “70 different high schools” use the name Redskins, several reports have indicated that the number is actually lower than that, and the Redskins are counting high schools that have already stopped using the name. The latest school to drop the name is Lamar High School in Houston, which announced this week that it will stop going by the name Redskins and start calling its teams the Texans.

That decision was part of a new policy announced by the Houston school district, preventing schools from using team names that are viewed as insensitive. Teams called the Indians, Warriors and Rebels are also changing their names.

The Washington Redskins, however, say they will never change.

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Blake Bortles in Houston for meeting with Texans

Blake Bortles AP

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has long been connected as a possibly fit for the Houston Texans with the No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

The Texans need a quarterback. Bortles is a quarterback. It kind of makes sense, right?

After meeting with the Oakland Raiders on Monday, Bortles arrived in Houston Tuesday night for a meeting with the Texans on Wednesday.

Bortles met with Texans’ brass at the combine and general manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien were both on hand for Bortles’ pro day workout as well.

They’ve been great,” Bortles said from the William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, via James Palmer of CSNHouston.com “He’s a great guy and a great coach. I’m just excited to get here, meet everybody and sit down and talk with everybody again. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater are the three likely selections the Texans have to choose between if they want to take a quarterback with their top selection in the draft. Houston also has scheduled a pre-draft visit with Manziel set for next week.

The Texans know they are taking a quarterback at some point in the draft. If it will be at No. 1, Bortles and Manziel seem to have become the two options Houston is focusing on the most.

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Report: Pair of South Carolina prospects wanted for police questioning

Coastal Carolina v South Carolina Getty Images

A pair of prospects from the University of South Carolina is apparently wanted for questioning by police in relation to an incident at a New York City nightclub last week.

According to TMZ, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton are “wanted for questioning at the very least” stemming from an alleged attack at Greenhouse nightclub.

A club promoter allegedly suffered “extensive facial injuries” after being allegedly attacked by three men. No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

With less than four weeks to go until the NFL Draft, college prospects are still directly under the spotlight of teams as they continue to adjust and tweak their draft boards. While the investigation is still in its preliminary stages, it likely won’t benefit Quarles and Hampton to have their names tied to a police investigation.

Both players are expected to be drafted based on projections. However, if they are found to be involved in this incident it could affect just when teams decided to take a chance on the,.

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Chris Johnson says Jets visit went well but no decision yet

Cory Redding, Chris Johnson AP

Free agent running back Chris Johnson visited with the New York Jets on Tuesday. It was his first visit since being released by the Tennessee Titans earlier this month.

After visiting with the Jets, Johnson decided to take in Tuesday night’s game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. While at the game, he spoke with multiple reporters regarding his visit.

Per Josina Anderson of ESPN, Johnson said “I had a great visit with the Jets. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Johnson reiterated those thoughts to Peter Botte of the New York Daily News but added he’s “not ready to make my decision.

Johnson had a down year in 2013 for Tennessee but still posted his sixth straight 1,000-yard season. However, the 3.9 yards per carry were the lowest mark of his career.

The Jets ranked sixth in the league in rushing last season with Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory as the primary options out of the backfield. Johnson would likely work in as part of a rotation alongside Powell and Ivory should he elect to sign with the Jets. But, Johnson is also a home run threat whose speed could be a real addition to the lineup.

For now, Johnson isn’t ready to make a decision as he’s possibly holding out for a better offer from the Jets or another team. However, if he doesn’t make a decision soon, teams may elect to wait until after the draft to re-evaluate their needs and Johnson may have to wait to find a new home.

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