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10 things to know about the franchise tag

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The franchise tag is old enough to vote, and nearly old enough to drink.  The tag made its annual return more than a week ago.  Unlike the Great Pumpkin, the tool for restricting a player’s ability to move from team to team will indeed make an appearance, in multiple NFL cities.

Eventually.  We think.  Perhaps starting as soon as today.

So here are 10 things to know about the tag.  You may have already known them.  You may have known and forgotten.  Or you may not have known at all.

Or perhaps that you didn’t want to know.

1.  The formula has changed.

Under prior labor deals, the non-exclusive franchise tag was determined by calculating the average of the five highest-paid players at each position from the prior year.  Under the 2011 CBA, the franchise tenders come from a more complex procedure.

Under Article 10, Section 2 of the CBA, the number is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position.

So it’s no longer driven by what players at the same position made in the prior season, but by the average cap percentage consumed by the franchise tender over five years.  Then, that percentage will be applied to the 2013 salary cap to determine the franchise tender at each position.

Already confused?  We’ve got nine more.

2.  In some cases, the formula doesn’t matter.

A player getting the non-exclusive franchise tag is entitled to the greater of the formula clumsily explained above (and that was the fourth draft of it) or 120 percent of the player’s cap number from the prior year.

That’s why, for example, the franchise tender for Dolphins tackle Jake Long would be much higher than the franchise tender for an offensive lineman.  Long made enough in 2012 to result in a 20-percent raise, trumping the franchise tender.

This dynamic often applies to players who were taken high in the draft before the implementation of the rookie wage scale.  As rookie contracts expire under the new labor deal, franchise tenders for many of them will be lower.

3.  The transition tag has become meaningless.

Teams can use, in any given year, one franchise tag or one transition tag.  The transition tag gives a team the right to match an offer sheet, but no compensation if the team chooses not to match.

At one point, the transition player’s contract was not fully guaranteed once it was accepted by the player.  It now is.

The fact that the guaranteed pay on the one-year transition tender isn’t much less than the guaranteed pay for the one-year franchise tender, coupled with the lack of draft-pick compensation, has made the transition tag largely meaningless.

4.  Franchise tags can be withdrawn.

The amount of the franchise tender becomes fully guaranteed once the player signs it.  Since signing the franchise tender puts the player under contract, requiring him to show up to all mandatory offseason activities and training camp, some players choose to wait deep into the preseason before inking the offer.

The risk is that the franchise tag can be withdrawn, at any time, before it has been signed.

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented.  Especially in Philly.  In 2002, the Eagles pulled the franchise tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in early April.  Three years later, the Eagles removed the franchise tag from defensive tackle Corey Simon in late August.

The move immediately converts the player to an unrestricted free agent.  But if it comes after the big money has been spent, the player will have a hard time getting the pay day he would have realized on the first day of free agency.

5.  Franchise tender is guaranteed, with one exception.

Once a player signs the franchise tag, the one-year salary becomes fully guaranteed.  But there’s a little-known exception.

Under Article 10, Section 2(c) of the CBA, the contract can be terminated if the player fails “to establish or maintain his excellent physical condition.”

Any effort to do so would result in a review of the situation by a neutral physician and, eventually and inevitably, arbitration.  Still, the franchise tender technically isn’t fully and completely guaranteed.

6.  No non-quarterback will be tagged more than twice.

Former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones once spent three straight years under the franchise tag, pocketing a total of $20 million and then signing a long-term deal that paid him $20 million more guaranteed, back when $20 million was a very big deal for NFL purposes.

Jones rolled the dice on bearing the injury risk for the three franchise years, and he won.  Most players prefer the certainty of a long-term deal.

That’s why the 2006 CBA changed the formula to pay a non-quarterback the quarterback franchise tender if he’s tagged a third time.

Quarterbacks are protected, too.  In the third year of the franchise tag, they get at least a 44-percent raise over their cap number in the prior year.

7.  Arguably, no player can be tagged more than three times.

Last year’s grievance filed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees established that, if a player is tagged once by two different teams, it counts as being tagged twice.  Which would have entitled him to a 44-percent raise in 2013, if he had played under the franchise tag last year for the Saints.  (He was tagged in 2005 by the Chargers.)

Based on the language of the CBA, there’s an argument to be made that no player may ever be tagged more than three times during the course of his career.

Of course, tagging a player a fourth time would entail paying out a second 44-percent raise one year after paying out an initial 44-percent raise.  Which would make it highly unlikely that any team would ever want to use the tag more than three times.

8.  It’s cheap to tag kickers and punters.

There’s a belief among some fans that the use of the franchise tag meant that the player was a “franchise player.”  And so, when a team uses the tag on a punter or a kicker, fans are confused and/or amused.

But the formula for calculating franchise tenders has made it cheaper to use the tag than to sign the player to a market-value deal.

At $2.9 million for 2013, more kickers and punters could find themselves being regarded as “franchise players.”

9.  Long-term deals can be negotiated, through July 15.

Previously, the window for a team signing its franchise player to a long-term deal closed not long after the free-agency period started and then opened again on July 15.  Now, the window remains open until July 15.

After July 15, the franchise player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.  It can be for more than the franchise tender, and it can include other terms, like playing-time or performance triggers that would prevent the tag from being used again.

But the duration can be no more than one year.

10.  One offer sheet may be signed, through July 15.

For a player carrying the non-exclusive tag, he can negotiate with any other team.  Ultimately, one offer sheet can be signed.

Once it’s signed, the situation simplifies considerably.  The player’s current team will match the offer and keep him, or the player’s team will not match the offer and collect a pair of first-round picks from the new team.

The two first-round picks given as compensation must be the team’s original picks — not any picks obtained via trade or otherwise.

And there’s a loophole which, eventually, a desperate coach or G.M. may use.  The period for signing franchise players to offer sheets lingers beyond the current year’s draft.  Thus, for example, a team that wants to sign quarterback Joe Flacco (if the Ravens use the non-exclusive tag) could, in theory, wait until after the draft, sign Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet that the Ravens can’t match, and then surrender not the 2013 and 2014 first-round picks, but the first-round picks for 2014 and 2015.

There’s nothing in the labor deal that prevents this from happening until July 15, after which date the player can sign only a one-year deal with his current team.

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Whisenhunt says it’s too early for a Titans depth chart

Drew Allen, Ken Whisenhunt AP

The Titans don’t have any starters, any backups, any fourth-stringers just functioning as extra bodies at training camp. Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt says it’s way too early for the Titans to have any depth chart at all.

Whisenhunt told the Tennessean he won’t be releasing a depth chart to the media because he doesn’t even have one himself. He needs time to take a look at every one of his players before he knows who’s likely to be in the starting lineup in Week One.

“I kept coming up with this depth chart that had a bunch of slashes and a bunch of different names on the first line,” he said. “And I said that it’s just not worth doing that and we’ll let it settle out. I told the players . . . ‘Don’t pay attention to the depth chart. You’re going to control that.’ “

Whisenhunt doesn’t want young, inexperienced players to think they’re going to have to back up the veterans.

“Everybody has an opportunity here, and we’re going to play our best guys,” he said.

And July 29 is too early for Whisenhunt to say who his best guys are.

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Andre Reed has very strong words for Bon Jovi

Reed Getty Images

You know group hug we suggested earlier today to salvage Jon Bon Jovi’s bid for the Buffalo Bills?  The one with Bon Jovi and Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith and Andre Reed?

It might be a good idea to not invite Reed to the party.

[F]–k Bon Jovi!” Reed tells New York Magazine, via ESPN.com.  “”You might as well just take this city, throw it in the river, and let it go down Niagara Falls.”

We’ll interpret that as a “no” vote from Reed on Bon Jovi’s candidacy to buy the Bills.

Reed will be inducted into the Hall of Fame speech on Friday night.  Hopefully, he won’t grab the mic and utter similar profanities.

Then again, hopefully he will.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday night, Reed may have given the Buffalo faithful three words that will become the prevailing chant that echoes from Fawcett Stadium out to I-77 when the Bills play the Giants on Sunday night in Canton.

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Return to camp a short one for Panthers’ Tre Boston

Tre Boston AP

It’s not a good week for the Panthers’ draft class.

First-rounder Kelvin Benjamin scared everyone by needing an MRI (it’s just a minor bone bruise), and then they lost sixth-rounder Tyler Gaffney to a season-ending injury and ultimately the Patriots.

They got fourth-round safety Tre Boston back on the field today, but it wasn’t a long stay.

Boston, who was just activated from the physically unable to perform list after sports hernia surgery, was carted off before the end of practice. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he may have aggravated the injury, according to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.

The Panthers brought in veteran safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud this offseason, but were hoping Boston was going to be able to contribute. Now, they have to wait to see when that might be.

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Jets want to give Chris Ivory plenty of goal-line chances

Chris Ivory AP

The Jets are confident — as they are with all things — that Chris Johnson will get plenty of touches and gain plenty of yards.

But he might lose some chances near the goal line to Chris Ivory, for what running backs coach Anthony Lynn said was good reason.

Lynn called Ivory “the best power runner in the game,” which means Rex Ryan might not win the annual award for hyperbole.

“If we were playing tomorrow, Chris Ivory would be on the goal line, obviously,” Lynn said, via Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. “Sometimes in those situations you have an extra defender that you can’t block, and you need a back that can take him on.”

All exaggerations aside, Ivory has proven himself a tough runner in the past, specifically as a guy who doesn’t go down on first contact.

“Some guys have that unique ability to get skinny in a hole, find a soft spot,” Lynn said of short-yardage backs. “It’s not necessarily a power back.”

So while some might prefer an Adrian Peterson or a Marshawn Lynch, the Jets are going to give Ivory plenty of chances at the goal line, it seems.

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PFT Live: Lions talk with Dave Birkett, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Getty Images

Lions president Tom Lewand announced Monday that the team was putting a pin in negotiations with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season, a move that raises the chances that Suh will be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press will join Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the Lions’ decision and share his thoughts on how he thinks things will play out once the sides revisit the issue. They’ll also catch up on other developments from Lions camp, including the progress new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is making with the installation of his scheme.

From there, the course is up to PFT Planet. Florio will be answering your questions during the show, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 while things are in progress.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Lardarius Webb’s back injury “lingering a little bit”

Mike Wallace, Lardarius Webb AP

The Ravens shrugged off the severity of cornerback Lardarius Webb’s back injury over the weekend, but the level of concern in Baltimore has gone up after Webb remained out on Monday.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that coach John Harbaugh said that Webb, who was forced out of Friday’s practice, is expected to have further evaluation of the problem in the coming days.

“He’s got some back things that we’re looking at right now,” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Backs are a little weird. At first, it was no big deal. It’s lingering a little bit, so we’ll find out what’s going on with it.”

Webb bounced back well from a 2012 ACL tear and is slated to start across from Jimmy Smith this season. The Ravens lost Aaron Ross to a torn Achilles and Dominique Franks is on the NFI list, leaving them without much experienced depth at corner right now. That should help some younger players develop, but would be a problem if Webb’s back injury were to linger more than a little bit.

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Watered-down settlement reached in NCAA concussion suit

Brain Getty Images

NCAA football players get far less compensation than their professional counterparts.  That same dynamic will apply to their respective concussion lawsuits, at least for now.

Via the Associated Press, a pending college football class action has resulted in a settlement.  But the settlement won’t actually pay any benefits.  Instead, it will establish a $70 million fund for testing current and former college athletes for brain injuries.

The lawsuit also creates a uniform policy for returning to play, and it makes baseline neurological testing mandatory.  And, of course, it will pay the lawyers a nice chunk of change.

The class covers all male and female football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, wrestling, field hockey, and lacrosse players.  Current and former players qualify for testing.

While damages won’t be paid, lawsuits may still be filed by those who have injuries.  And the testing could fuel eventual liability.  But unless the settlement says otherwise (and it’s unclear at this point whether it does), the NCAA and any member schools also presumably would be able to advance all available defenses.  In many cases, the question of whether the case was filed within the applicable statute of limitations could be an important threshold argument for the plaintiff to overcome.

Like the NFL concussion settlement, the process now shifts to a federal judge for preliminary approval.  Which, as we learned with the NFL concussion settlement, could take a while.

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Aaron Dobson had screw inserted in foot during March surgery

Aaron Dobson AP

The Patriots continue to wait for wide receiver Aaron Dobson to make his training camp debut and a new detail about his March foot surgery sheds some light on why things are progressing slowly.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports that Dobson had a permanent screw inserted into his left foot to aid in his recovery from a stress fracture. The timetable for that recovery was supposed to be 2-3 months, but Dobson didn’t start running until July and hasn’t advanced to the aggressive planting and cutting that he’ll need to do on the field this season.

There’s no firm timetable for Dobson to make his return as the medical staff waits for signs that he’s not at an increased risk of suffering another injury to the foot. That leaves the offense without a receiver that they’d like to see make a step forward in his second NFL season and it increases the need for Josh Boyce or Kenbrell Thompkins to make that step in their sophomore campaigns.

Dobson is one of four Patriots players on the PUP list right now and he could remain on the list into the regular season if the team doesn’t feel that his foot is sound enough for him to resume playing.

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Lions asked Nick Fairley to lose weight, but 295 is too skinny

nickfairley AP

Not many people who weigh 295 pounds are told that they need to gain weight, but Nick Fairley is not like most people.

Fairley, the Lions defensive tackle who was told by the team that he needed to lose weight this offseason, took his conditioning seriously — and even took the weight-loss thing too far. Fairley slimmed down from more than 320 pounds at the end of last season to 295 pounds during offseason work, and coach Jim Caldwell said the team actually expressed concern to him that he might be getting too small to do the job of an NFL defensive tackle properly. Fairley put on about 10 pounds between the end of Organized Team Activities and the start of training camp, and Caldwell says the Lions now think he’s just the right size.

“We’ve given him a range, his range wasn’t 295, he was far below it at that particular point in time,” he said. “So the concern is a little bit different in that regard.”

Fairley said he thinks 305 is the right weight for a man of his build, although he added that there is more to conditioning than just getting his weight right.

“I think my body is kind of a 305-type of guy,” Fairley said. “I feel great. Of course I have to get into a little more shape but that’s camp. . . . One thing I’m going to harp on this year is being consistent and showing up each and every day.”

The Lions declined to pick up the $5.5 million option on Fairley for the 2015 season, meaning he will be a free agent next year. The Lions thought a contract year would be just that thing to get Fairley motivated, and it appears that they were right. If an in-shape Fairley has a big season, either the Lions or someone else will pay him more than $5.5 million next year.

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NFLPA president gets another NFL gig

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

It took a while, but veteran tackle Eric Winston finally has a new gig.  In addition to being the president of the NFL Players Association.

Winston, per a league source, has signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks.

The move keeps Winston in the NFC West.  Last year, he started all 16 games with the Cardinals.

Winston actually has started all 16 games in every NFL season since 2007.  After appearing in 12 games with seven starts as a Texans rookie in 2006, Winston hasn’t missed a game or a start in seven seasons, five in Houston, one in Kansas City, and one in Arizona.

Earlier this year, Winston became the new president of the NFLPA, despite concerns that players who occupy the position don’t get much play from NFL teams.  It’s likely an unrealistic complaint, given that the NFL typically doesn’t shy away from members of the Executive Committee or Board of Player Representatives.

Seattle lost starting right tackle Breno Giacomini to the Jets in free agency.  By getting to camp early, Winston has a chance to continue that streak of starts.

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Buffalo backlash building against Bon Jovi

YoungBonJovi Getty Images

As the deadline arrives on Tuesday for potential buyers of the Bills to formally express interest in acquiring the franchise, one of the biggest names of the bunch faces a building backlash in Buffalo.

As explained by Eric Adelson of Yahoo! Sports, Jon Bon Jovi currently doesn’t have many fans in the city where the Bills currently reside, due to the perception that Bon Jovi’s Toronto-based ownership group would move the team there.

“It’s a big threat,” 49-year-old truck driver Charles Pellien told Adelson. “He’s aligned with guys from Toronto. They’ve got more money than everybody else. We don’t believe they will keep the Bills in Buffalo. Why would they?”

From a perception standpoint, he’s right.  If Bon Jovi were aligned with a group based in Los Angeles, it would be a given that the group wants to move the team there.  With Bon Jovi, a New Jersey native, becoming the front man for Toronto money, it’s impossible to not think that Bon Jovi’s group would move the team to Ontario at the first legal opportunity.

Pellien has organized a grass-roots group to keep Bon Jovi’s group from winning the team.  Coupled with Bon Jovi’s ongoing silence about his plans or intentions, it makes it hard for anyone to believe the reports that Bon Jovi and company intend to keep the team in Buffalo.

“It’s the Buffalo Bills, and they will do everything they can to make that work there,” consultant to the Toronto group recently told the Buffalo News.

Which doesn’t make it any better.

“They will do everything they can to make that work there” possibly means, “They’ll dog paddle in Buffalo, saying all the right until the lease allows them to load up the Mayflowers and declare, ‘Well, we did everything possible to make it work there.  Bye.'”

Bon Jovi, who seems to be doing all the right things behind the scenes to position himself to have a legitimate shot at the team, should have been doing all the right things in front of the scenes, too.  Free concerts.  Donations to local charities.  Other public appearances.  Radio interviews.

For a guy who has made millions and millions working the crowd, he has blown it on this one.  His silence has invited suspicion, and as the suspicion mounts and the silence continues, the suspicion gets even stronger.

At this point, nothing short of a public group hug involving Bon Jovi, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith will commence the process of getting folks in Buffalo to believe that Bon Jovi is buying the Bills not because they’re in Buffalo but because they can be taken, eventually, to Toronto.

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Texans sign a running back

Tim Cornett AP

The Texans haven’t expressed any concern that the hamstring injury that kept running back Arian Foster out of practice on Monday is a big deal, but they have made a move to make sure they aren’t left short at the position in the event things develop in a different way.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Texans have signed running back Tim Cornett. Cornett signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent this spring, but didn’t last long on the roster in Arizona. Cornett finished his collegiate career as UNLV’s all-time leading rusher and will compete with Dennis Johnson and Alfred Blue for a roster spot behind Foster and Andre Brown.

The Texans also signed offensive tackle Mike Farrell, who played for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State. He spent time with the Broncos and Steelers in 2013.

Houston cleared room on the roster for the new arrivals by releasing linebacker Ricky Sapp and making procedural moves with injured guard Cody White and wide receiver Alan Bonner. White tore his Achilles and Bonner injured his leg during training camp practices.

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Suh says his contract won’t be a distraction

Suh AP

With the Lions tabling Ndamukong Suh’s contract talks until after the 2014, his future with the team instantly becomes one of the top stories surrounding the franchise.

Suh would like other employees of the franchise to not be asked about his future with the team.

“I would ask you guys to not bother my teammates about something that they have nothing involved in,” Suh told reporters on Monday.  “So, for sure, I definitely don’t want them to have to answer any questions about it.  It’s really a tough situation, more so for them.  They have no clue, they’re blindsided or whatever it maybe is, as most people are blindsided about things that come out in the media, and that’s the way it is.  So I’d ask you all not to ask them questions about it and let it be a distraction to our team.  As I don’t think it will.  It won’t be a distraction to me.”

Of course, they won’t be “blindsided” by questions about Suh’s contract because everyone knows that the talks are being tabled until after the season, which in turn increases significantly the possibility that Suh won’t be a Lion come 2015.

It could be that Suh doesn’t want his teammates to be asked about the situation because he doesn’t want them talking about it, on or off the record. By not doing a new contract, Suh accounts for more than 16 percent of the team’s total cap space. That’s money that could have been spent on other guys at other positions of need, like cornerback. In a room full of players having the ability to talk to a reporter under the condition of anonymity, it’s inevitable that someone would say Suh is being greedy.

The high cap number increases the possibility that Suh will leave in 2015 because the Lions could force him to stay only via the franchise tag, which under the rules would entitle him to a 20-percent raise on his 2014 cap number. Which would give him more than $26 million for one more year.

He’s not worth that much, and the Lions won’t pay him that much. But every offer the Lions make necessarily will be compared to the $26 million he’d get under a franchise tag the team will never use. Which means that the only way to determine his actual value will be to let Suh negotiate with other teams. Which increases the probability that someone else will offer more than the Lions, or that Suh will choose to go to a team that offers as much or less.

That’s the bottom-line in this one. With the Lions as a practical matter unable to use the tag on Suh and unwilling to negotiate further until the 2014 season ends, why should Suh do a deal with Detroit until he knows what someone else will pay?

Along the way, Suh hopes that his teammates: (1) don’t realize it’s likely his last year in Detroit; and (2) won’t say negative things about him when asked about his contract or anything else about Suh, such as the report from earlier this year that Suh has been uncontrollable, a contention that his teammates previously denied because that’s what good teammates do.  If/when Suh’s teammates realize he won’t be a teammate beyond 2014, he may no longer get the benefit of that specific provision in the unwritten rules of team sports.

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Report: Odell Beckham out at least another week

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

Giants coach Tom Coughlin is going to have to deal with being beyond disappointed about first-round wide receiver Odell Beckham’s absence from the practice field a little bit longer.

Jordan Raanan and Conor Orr of NJ.com report that Beckham will miss at least another week as a result of the hamstring injury that troubled him in the spring and then flared up again during one of the opening practices of camp. That news won’t make Coughlin any happier, but there was some good news on Monday as an MRI came back negative for a more serious injury.

With the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday and another preseason game a week from Saturday, it would seem that Beckham will miss at least two preseason games. That won’t do him any favors as he tries to earn playing time ahead of Jerrel Jernigan and other receivers once the regular season gets underway.

Given the plans to utilize Beckham’s speed in the passing game, it doesn’t do the Giants’ offense any favors either.

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Jairus Byrd up and moving for the Saints

JairusByrd Getty Images

The Saints appear close to realizing some of their investment in Jairus Byrd.

The free agent safety, who was sidelined by offseason back surgery, is on the field this morning in pads, according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com.

Byrd also tweeted out he was “thankful for this day,” which seems like a more grateful version of #riseandgrind.

After giving him a six-year, $54 million contract this offseason, the Saints need him healthy. If he is, he should join with Kenny Vaccaro to give them a dynamic pair of safeties, which they’ll need to continue to make strides as a defense.

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