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Michael Turner classy as he leaves Atlanta, says he’s not finished

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner runs the ball against Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker K.J. Wright during the second quarter in their NFL NFC Divisional playoff football game in Atlanta Reuters

Falcons running back Michael Turner was cut by the Falcons today, but he took his release in stride.

Turner praised the Falcons on his way out, saying he was proud of his five years in Atlanta and grateful to the team and its fans.

“I want to thank the Atlanta Falcons for the opportunity to be a part of something great,” Turner wrote on Facebook. “We accomplished a lot during my time here and I will always cherish the memories and relationships I made. I want to thank Mr.Blank for all he’s done for me and my career. He’s a great owner and an even better philanthropist. This is a tough business but I understand its nature and respect the process.”

Turner is 31 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged just 3.6 yards a carry, by far the lowest of his career. But Turner said he believes he still has plenty he can offer to some NFL team.

“I’m excited to begin a new chapter of my career and truly believe I have a lot left in the tank,” Turner wrote. “I also want to take a moment and thank the Atlanta Falcons fans. You guys made it easy for me to come to work every day and give you everything I had. Even though it’s a tough day I’m excited for what the future holds. Thank you, again, to the Falcons organization. I wish you guys nothing but the best.”

Falcons fans will surely wish Turner nothing but the best as well. Even as they realize that cutting an expensive running back on the wrong side of 30 was the right move.

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PFT Live: Bob Glauber, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Eli Manning,  Tom Coughlin AP

The Jets and Giants both opened up their offseason workouts this week after a couple of months spent trying to build themselves into teams capable of making it back to the playoffs.

The Jets added wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick to a roster short on offensive playmakers while the Giants made major changes on offense and in the secondary after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Bob Glauber of Newsday will join Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss those changes and what the teams might do during the draft.

If you’ve got questions about either MetLife Stadium resident, we’d love to hear them as we again throw the door open to questions from PFT Planet. Send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to ask about those teams or any of the 30 others.

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

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Bills hosting Sammy Watkins for visit, would need to deal

Sammy Watkins AP

The Lions might not be the only team thinking about making a move up for one of the top offensive players in the upcoming NFL Draft.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is visiting the Bills today.

The Bills pick ninth, which won’t be high enough to take the playmaking receiver. Like his recent trip to see the Lions, the visit will create some intrigue about the possibility of deals with teams in the top four or five spots.

Watkins said he grew up a Bills fan, and would make a nice pair of deep threats in Buffalo with former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller.

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No extension appears imminent, but Roethlisberger always wants to be a Steeler

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

At different points this offseason, Steelers owner Art Rooney II and General Manager Kevin Colbert have both said that the team wants quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to spend his entire career in Pittsburgh.

That suggested he’d be a candidate for a contract extension as he has two years left on his deal and cap numbers north of $18 million in each of the next two years that could come down for a team than annually has to make adjustments to fit under the cap. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, would secure his football future beyond 2015 while likely bumping his base salary over the $12.1 million he’s set to make during the 2014 season.

The Steelers moved in other directions to do their cap maintenance, however, and Roethlisberger’s $18.895 million cap figure looks like it will be remaining in place for this season. Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner said that discussions are ongoing with the team about a new contract, but said he wouldn’t offer any predictions about when it might be completed. The expectation is that it will be completed, though, because his client doesn’t want to play anywhere else.

“It’s always been critical to him,” Tollner said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “From Day 1 he’s always admired players that could play with one organization and retire with that organization. That’s an underlying goal that always drives him, that he would always be a Steeler.”

Tollner said there was “mutual respect” on both sides regarding the talks about an extension and there’s every reason to think one will eventually get done as long as that remains in place.

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Daryl Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday

Washington Getty Images

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington wasn’t available to start the 2013 regular season, due to a suspension imposed under the substance-abuse policy.  He could be unavailable for the start of the 2014 regular season, for different reasons.

Per the Associated Press, Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday after pleading guilty to aggravated assault.

Police contend that Washington choked the mother of Washington’s daughter, and that Washington caused the woman to fall and break a collarbone.

He faces probation to up to 18 months behind bars.  The lawyers have agreed to recommend probation.

The recommendation won’t be binding on the presiding judge, and it definitely won’t be binding on Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Once the matter has concluded, Washington will be subject to discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy.

Four years ago, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended after two allegations of sexual assault; he was never arrested or charged with any crime.  So what happens to a guy who was arrested for aggravated assault of a female, who pleaded guilty to an assault charge, and received some type of criminal penalty for it?

It probably won’t be a fine.  And it shouldn’t be a fine.  Tonight, the Cardinal will know how their schedule unfolds.  Eventually, they’ll know how many of those games they’ll have to play without Washington.

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PFT takes a look at the Raiders’ biggest draft needs

Justin Tuck AP

In studying the Raiders’ personnel entering the 2014 draft, something became quite clear: the club’s off-season additions have done well to bolster some areas of the roster.

On paper, the Raiders have a decent starting lineup, one that could very well allow Oakland to improve upon its 4-12 record from a season ago. After all, the Raiders did suffer three four-point losses in 2013; with a stronger roster, perhaps they close out a couple more games in 2014.

The performance of the Raiders’ veteran additions will likely define Oakland’s 2014 season. For instance, if quarterback Matt Schaub returns to top form, the club will be materially better than a season ago. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley have each been standouts on their best; so has running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Wide receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn have been good starters for other clubs. They can help Oakland.

Still, there’s no doubting the importance of the 2014 draft to the Raiders’ future. A strong class of rookies will help the Raiders skillfully retool their starting lineup on the fly — and those sort of changes will be coming soon. The Raiders’ free agent haul surely helps them in 2014, but which of the veterans will be left to contribute a few years down the road?

In short, the Raiders’ draft needs are a consideration of both their present and future roster, which explains why quarterback, even with Schaub likely to hold down the position for 2014, is atop the list.

Which brings us to the poll question: should the Raiders take a quarterback at No. 5? Cast your votes and share your comments below.

 

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E.J. Manuel says his knees feel fine, knows he has a lot of growing to do

EJ Manuel AP

It has been a year since the Bills drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft and they approach his second season without a clear idea of what the future holds for him.

Injuries to both knees affected Manuel from training camp through the end of the regular season, leading to six missed games and lost time that would have helped him develop as a quarterback. Manuel said Tuesday that he’s participating in workouts without any limitations this spring, which means he can devote all of his attention to improving into the quarterback the Bills want him to be.

“I definitely agree there’s a lot out there for myself as a quarterback to get better. I had some success. And I had some bad games as well. It’s obvious,” Manuel said, via the Associated Press. “I’m eager about it. I’m excited. I know there is a lot of area for me to grow. That’s why I took these last four months to allow that growth.”

The Bills have built a solid defense over the last few years, but it won’t be enough to carry them if the offense isn’t able to be more productive in 2014. Manuel will have a big hand in determining that outcome and the future trajectory of his career along with it.

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Aldon Smith reports for offseason duty

Smith Getty Images

With plenty of unknowns surrounding 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, one fact has become clear:  He will participate in the team’s offseason program until he’s told not to.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported that Smith was present for the launch of offseason workouts.

Unless Smith is suspended by the team or the league or incarcerated, Smith has every right to report for voluntary workouts, which pay $175 per day.  The structure and support could be useful to him at a time when his career, and his life, could go in one of two different directions.

Having Smith in the building also gives coaches (initially, strength and conditioning coaches only) and teammates an opportunity to get a close look at him, to see how he’s doing.  And to assess whether he’s possibly having ongoing struggles with alcohol, which placed him in rehab for more than a month last season.

His recent arrest at LAX resulted in an observation from police that it appeared Smith had been drinking earlier in the day.  If the 49ers decide Smith needs further intervention, he could be placed on the non-football illness list at some point.

Smith’s presence at offseason workouts comes at a time when the team is still deciding whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Smith’s rookie contract.  The deadline for exercising the option arrives on May 3.

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Eli Manning wants to reinvent himself this season

Eli Manning AP

Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions last season, the most in his career and the most any NFL player had thrown in any season in the last eight years. But Manning thinks things will change this year.

At the first day of the Giants’ offseason workouts, Manning said this season will provide himself and his teammates with an opportunity to show that last year’s 7-9 record doesn’t define who they are.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to come back and change what occurred last year, some of the difficulties, and bounce back and have a clean slate, prove yourself again and play at a high level,” Manning said.

Manning is recovering from ankle surgery and not able to work out with his teammates, so he’ll get a late start on reinventing himself. The Giants need him to get healthy, and to play a whole lot better than he did last year.

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John Mara: Not expecting playoff expansion vote this year

John Mara AP

While expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14 seems inevitable, it won’t be happening this year.

Though such a sudden change hasn’t been ruled out by commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants president John Mara, a member of the competition committee, said a change this year would be unlikely.

I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” Mara told Bob Glauber of Newsday. “I think it’s kind of late. We have a May [20th owners] meeting [in Atlanta], but I sense that we’ll wait a year before we do that. It hasn’t been voted on yet. . . .

“[The league] would notify us in advance, but I’m thinking it’s probably not going to happen for another year or so. My guess is that it’s going to pass at some point.”

Since the topic didn’t come up in recent meetings between the NFL and the NFLPA, it seems everyone’s content to let this one slide for a year, though a larger playoff field is coming.

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As schedule approaches, all eyes on September 4

Seahawks Getty Images

The 2014 schedule consists of 256 regular-season games.  The first one will be played on the Thursday after Labor Day in Seattle.

Later today, we’ll know which of the eight teams to visit CenturyLink Field this season will be there on the night they raise the championship banner.  The options are the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, Raiders, and Packers.

If it’s the 49ers, then the 49ers won’t be opening that swanky new stadium in Santa Clara until Week Two.  And the NFL would be giving up one of the truly marquee games of the season right out of the gates.

Typically, the defending champion doesn’t open the season against a division rival.  A Super Bowl rematch makes sense, but given the outcome of the Super Bowl maybe it doesn’t.  The Cowboys always draw a crowd on TV, but the Cowboys have taken a step backward this offseason.

That’s why I continue to think it’ll be a rematch of 2012′s Fail Mary game, with the Packers coming to town for a playoff game that has seemed inevitable the last two years, but that hasn’t happened.  It’ll happen this season — and it could happen on the first Thursday of the season.

Here’s where you say what you think, as we re-post the poll that first appeared while the confetti was still in the air at MetLife Stadium.

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MJD: No reason Darren McFadden and I can’t be one of the best duos in league

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

When Maurice Jones-Drew was making the free agent rounds this offseason, he found teams that wanted him to serve as a mentor for younger backs on their roster.

Jones-Drew told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that he was almost sold on that role by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin before changing his mind and signing with the Raiders in hopes of playing a larger on-field role. How big his role will be in Oakland will be somewhat dependent on Darren McFadden as the two players will likely be splitting carries. However that split works out, Jones-Drew thinks it has the potential to be a fruitful partnership.

“But first, we’re going to compete,” Jones-Drew said. “Let’s see if someone can win the job. I expect us both to be better coming out of training camp because of that competition. It’s going to be fun. There’s no reason we can’t be one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.”

He said that his foot feels “phenomenal” one year after surgery and that his goal for 2014 is to show that he’s still the explosive runner he was earlier in his career. If he realizes that goal and McFadden is healthy, it would be quite a 1-2 punch. Two big ifs, to be sure, but vital ones for the Raiders offense.

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First Lions minicamp has a “calm feeling” even without stars

Jim Caldwell AP

The Lions opened their first minicamp under new coach Jim Caldwell Tuesday, without their best player on either side of the ball on the field.

But while Ndamukong Suh was away while a contract gets sorted out and Calvin Johnson is still rehabbing from finger and knee surgeries, the Lions are far from panicked.

There’s a calm feeling around the building,” 14-year-veteran center Dominic Raiola said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You just get a sense that this guy’s been there, done that. And he has. I mean, look at his track record; but more so being around him, not just hearing about it. It’s fun to be around him and be back in here.”

Caldwell was brought in, in part because of his steadying influence. After the frenetic years of not-much-happening of the Jim Schwartz era, that’s probably welcome to many.

But several players noted the pace of actual work, even without the high-profile stars.

“The energy today was good, man,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “I’ve never been a part of fast-tempo day like this on a first day. Guys are receptive of it and did a good job.”

Caldwell getting the extra minicamp to implement systems and instilling his calmness will help, but keeping those stars happy and healthy will be more important to his success in Detroit.

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Call in the hogs: NFL schedule up against NBA playoff game

Jerry Jones AP

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might not be happy that the NFL is hogging all the attention tonight.

The NFL’s schedule release has become a thing, tonight at 8 p.m.

As noted by David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, in a delightful coincident, Cuban’s Mavericks play the San Antonio Spurs in a playoff game at 8 p.m.

Wonder which will create more buzz?

Of course, tonight’s unveiling of the order of a list we already know the contents of is pretty much Cuban’s point, that the porcine NFL is risking overexposure.

But Cowboys owner and Arkansas alumnus Jerry Jones replied good-naturedly that he thinks everything’s going to be fine with his business.

“I respect Mark,’’ Jones said. But with all due respect, I know more about pigs than Mark does.

“I was taught as a Razorback to be lean and mean, not a little fat pig.’’

Of course, it’s easy for Jones to bring home the bacon, when his schedule release will draw more attention than Cuban’s playoff game.

 

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Mike Wallace: New offense is “my style”

Mike Wallace AP

Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace joined his Dolphins teammates for offseason workouts on Tuesday for his first official day of work in the offense put together by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

While coach Joe Philbin downplayed any major changes to the offense, Wallace sang a slightly different tune. After a 2013 season that saw him frustrated at times about the lack of big plays relative to what he pulled off in Pittsburgh, Wallace said he thought this offense fit his abilities well and sounded optimistic about what he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill could do in the system.

“My style: Big-play offense,” Wallace said, via the Miami Herald. “I see Ryan’s excited about it. He’s called me about eight, nine times. I just want to make some plays for my team. Go out and make some plays for my team and have a much better year than last year. We can’t have the kind of year we had last year. We need to be on the same page.”

Tannehill has talked about the offense’s focus on being more consistent on deep balls during the 2014 season, something that would work out well for Wallace and the offense overall. It might also help if Lazor moves Wallace around the field more than Mike Sherman did in 2013, when Wallace lined up outside on the right almost all the time.

If Lazor’s tweaks lead to bigger things for Wallace, it might bring an end to the talk of Wallace’s departure from Miami after two seasons.

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Doug Baldwin hasn’t signed RFA tender, but still working out with Seahawks

Doug Baldwin AP

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin was tendered at the second round level by the Seahawks this offseason, giving him the right to negotiate and sign an offer sheet with any other team in the league as long as he doesn’t sign the tender.

Baldwin hasn’t signed it, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in leaving Seattle. Baldwin has signed a waiver allowing him to participate in voluntary offseason workouts with the team even though he isn’t yet under contract for the 2014 season. During an appearance on 710 ESPN in Seattle, Baldwin confirmed that staying in Seattle was the end result he wanted.

“I want to be a Seattle Seahawk and I want to be a Seattle Seahawk for a long time,” Baldwin said. “I love it here, I love the organization and I’m focused on doing what I can to improve and get ready for this upcoming season, whether that’s with a tender or whether that’s with something else that we work out. Hopefully is with a long-term deal, that’s what I’m hoping for, whether that’s this year or next year.”

Baldwin indicated that there haven’t been talks about a long-term deal and the possibility of signing with another team disappears on May 2, so playing out the year on the $2.187 million tender seems like a likely option.

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