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Defenses work to stop the read option

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When a quarterback or other offensive player has a big season out of the blue (typically as a rookie), defenses spend the next offseason obsessed with coming up with ways to stop him.  (Or, in the case of the 1999 Packers, devoting the first three rounds of the draft to finding guys who can cover Randy Moss.)

This year, it’s not just a player that will be forcing defensive coaches to burn the midnight oil in order to avoid getting toasted in 2013.  The read option has become the scheme that defenses will be committed to stopping next season.

It’s a simple concept.  The quarterback begins the process of handing the ball to a running back.  The quarterback reads the defensive end’s movement.  If the defensive end reacts as if the ball will be given to the running back, the quarterback takes it back and runs through the spot where the defensive end was.  If the defensive end stays homes or comes at the quarterback, the running back gets the ball.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently explained the manner in which defenses will react over the course of an offseason, pointing out that teams will be looking for cornerbacks who can cover without safety help, so that safeties will be able to support the effort to stop the read option.  Likewise, defensive ends will be asked to take a little steam out of their effort to crush the quarterback and to spend more time studying his movements.  Also, linebackers will be expected to balance preparing for the quarterback to let go of the ball that has been stuffed into the tailback’s gut and reacting to the possibility that the quarterback will yank the ball out and throw it to a receiver.

The Colts, whose desire to keep quarterback Andrew Luck healthy means they won’t be running the read option, nevertheless believe they can stop it.  Coach Chuck Pagano told Greg Cosell of NFL Films at the annual Maxwell Club awards dinner that defensive coaches don’t believe the read option will be a problem, once they have a chance to study it.

And here’s where offensive coordinators have an opportunity to think multiple moves ahead in the game of coaching chess.  As defenses reconfigure to stop the read option, other openings necessarily will arise.

As Cosell accurately observes, it’s still too early to know how the read option will develop and evolve, and whether it’s a fad like the CB radio or a new frontier like the Internet.

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Alex Smith will end contract talks if they’re a distraction

Alex Smith AP

The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith apparently haven’t gotten anywhere on a new contract, and Smith said Wednesday there will come a point when they’ll stop trying.

“You’re getting to the point where either way, you want it to stop being a distraction,” Smith said, via Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star. “You guys know how I feel about this, and it’s the truth. . . .

“You’re finally gonna cross a line where it’s like, it’s just football from here on out and I’m done not only talking about it with you guys, but even behind the scenes as well. “We talk about eliminating distractions and that’s a part of it. The focus needs to be on ball.”

He didn’t specify when that time would be, saying: “No, no hard line. At some point mentally it will come for me where it’s like ‘OK, it’s over’ and let’s just focus on the season.”

Perhaps he should adopt the Bugs Bunny strategy of negotiating, but for now, his talking about it is just a gentle reminder that he’s ready to talk.

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Aldon Smith in L.A. for hearing to wrap up incident at LAX

Aldon Smith AP

49ers linebacker Aldon Smith isn’t facing any charges from an April incident at Los Angeles International Airport, but he still had some housekeeping to take care of regarding the issue on Wednesday.

Bill Williamson of ESPN was the first to report that Smith is in Los Angeles instead of at practice on Wednesday to take part in a hearing that will officially close the case. Smith ran afoul of authorities at LAX when he made reference to having a bomb that he did not actually possess. Coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed Smith was absent, but wouldn’t confirm the reason.

“He’s going through a process,” Harbaugh said, via Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.

Smith was recently sentenced to 12 days in jail on gun and DUI charges from a different incident, but has not yet heard anything about any discipline from the league for his walks on the wrong side of the law. Smith said last week that he expects to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell soon for a discussion on that front.

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Ahmad Brooks restructures to clear cap room for 49ers

San Francisco 49ers Brooks reacts after sacking Baltimore Ravens quarterback Flacco in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans Reuters

The 49ers have several guys they want to pay, one they won’t unless he shows up, and now they have a little more cap room.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, linebacker Ahmad Brooks restructured his deal just before camp to save $2 million in salary cap space.

This was a simple restructure, as he took $3.395 million of his $5.1 million base salary as a bonus, allowing the team to prorate it.

That moved the 49ers to around $10 million under the cap.

Whether they intend to use any of it on holdout Alex Boone if he shows up, or whether they’re thinking about putting it toward bigger deals such as for pending 2015 free agents Michael Crabtree or Mike Iupati remains to be seen.

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Two Ravens rookie defensive linemen injured on same play in practice

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Injuries are an unavoidable part of life in training camp, a truth that the Ravens were reminded of twice on the same play during Wednesday’s practice.

Rookie defensive end Brent Urban and rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan were the unlucky members of the squad. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that it looks like Urban, a fourth-round pick, suffered the more serious blow.

Urban needed to be helped off the field by members of the training staff and was then carted back to the team’s facility for further evaluation. Per Wilson, Urban, who had ankle surgery in February, was unable to put weight on his right leg following the injury. Jernigan “appeared to be favoring his back” as he also made his way from the field before the end of practice.

Wilson also reports that linebackers Daryl Smith and Albert McClellan did not practice on Wednesday, although there’s no reason given for either man’s absence.

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Gordon’s appeal could be all-or-nothing proposition

Gordon AP

The substance-abuse policy gives full power over any disciplinary appeals to the Commissioner or his designee.  When it comes to crafting a specific punishment, however, it’s unclear how much discretion the designated hearing officer has.

For players (like Browns receiver Josh Gordon) who are in Stage III of the substance-abuse program, a player who tests positive “will be banished from the NFL for a minimum of one calendar year.”

The language is clear.  “Will” doesn’t imply discretion or the ability to impose a suspension greater than zero games and fewer than 16.

Notwithstanding the apparently clear language of the policy, some league insiders believe the hearing officer can do whatever the hearing officer wants.  We’ve asked the league whether that’s accurate.

A negotiated resolution of less than 16 games is permitted.  The question is whether, absent a settlement, the hearing officer can conclude that Gordon violated the policy based on unique facts and a stringent threshold and suspend him for something less than 365 days.

Either way, the hearing officer’s decision is final, with only limited windows for challenging the suspension through the court system.

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Steelers retiring Joe Greene’s No. 75 jersey

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Nearly a half-century after they last retired a jersey, the Steelers are taking another uniform number out of service.

The club will retire Joe Greene’s No. 75 jersey, the Steelers announced at a Wednesday press conference.

A Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Greene played on the Steelers’ first four Super Bowl-winning teams.

The Steelers haven’t retired a number since October 25, 1964, when officially took defensive lineman Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 out of service. Stautner, like Greene, is a Hall of Famer.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said Wednesday the organization had been reluctant “for a long time” about retiring more jerseys, given the franchise’s rich history and the number of players who might merit recognition.

“Look, we’ve been fortunate down through the years to have many players who could deserve to have their number retired,” Rooney said. “It really was a concern about ‘How many jerseys can you actually retire?'”

For now, though, the club has changed course, deciding to officially put No. 75 away for good.

As for other numbers the club may retire? The Steelers haven’t made those decisions yet.

“We came to the conclusion recently that look, we don’t have to make a decision on how many jerseys we retire,” Rooney said. “I think it’s the right thing to do to retire Joe’s number at this point, and we’ll make other decisions down the road as seems appropriate.”

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Cowboys reach long-term deal with Tyron Smith

Tyron Smith AP

Now that the seal was broken by Patrick Peterson, maybe we’re about to see many more deals for 2011 first-rounders.

The Cowboys have announced they’ve reached a long-term extension with left tackle Tyron Smith.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is calling it an eight-year, $98 million deal, which qualifies it as a mega-deal. With what he had left on his rookie deal, he’ll make nearly $110 million through 2023, per Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com.

Of course, the details of this one will be telling, as always.

What’s clear is the Cowboys have made a priority in recent years of drafting to bolster their offensive line, and now that they have a quality one, they’re going to hang onto it.

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Bills’ linebacker Nigel Bradham suspended for opening game

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With linebacker Kiko Alonso lost for the 2014 season due to a torn ACL, Nigel Bradham has elevated to the top of the depth chart.  But someone other than Bradham will be playing weakside linebacker for the Bills against the Bears on September 7.

The NFL has announced that Bradham has been suspended for the first game of the 2014 regular season for violating the substance-abuse policy.

The suspension most likely arises from Bradham’s August 2013 arrest for marijuana possession, since a one-game suspension is the standard punishment for that offense.

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Ted Thompson signs extension with Packers

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The Packers made a contract extension for General Manager Ted Thompson a top priority for their offseason and their work paid off on Wednesday.

Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy announced that the team has agreed on a multiyear extension that will keep Thompson in charge of the front office operations. There were no details about the compensation or the length, but it’s a good bet that it will wind up being the final contract the 61-year-old signs in the role of architect of the Packers roster.

“I’m pleased that we were able to enter into this contract extension with Ted,” Murphy said. “His outstanding work has been the key factor in the success that we’ve enjoyed in recent years. I have tremendous respect for Ted, and am confident that we will continue to contend for championships under his leadership.”

Thompson became the Packers general manager in 2005 and the team has won one Super Bowl and advanced to the playoffs six times, including the last five seasons, under his stewardship. Mike McCarthy has been coach for eight of those seasons and an extension for him is likely to be on the to-do list for the Packers now that Thompson’s deal is done.

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The full Patrick Peterson contract details

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It took a little while, but we’ve gotten our hands on the full details and financial terms of the Patrick Peterson contract.

As Peterson first reported last night (Pulitzer!), it’s a five-year extension worth $70 million.  (Actually, $70.05 million, and the $0.05 million is important.)  The signing bonus is $15.361 million.  Coupled with a fully-guaranteed base salary of slightly more than $888,000, Peterson is guaranteed to receive $16.25 million at signing — all of which will be earned in 2014.

For 2015, he gets a $100,000 workout bonus and a base salary of $11.619 million.  Guaranteed for injury only at signing, the 2015 base salary converts to a full guarantee on the fifth day of the 2015 waiver period.

In 2016, Peterson is eligible for a $250,000 workout bonus.  His base salary of $9.75 million is fully guaranteed for injury only.  It converts to a full guarantee on the fifth day of the 2016 waiver period.

The same base terms apply in 2017, with the base salary fully guaranteed by the fifth day of the 2017 waiver period.  (Apparently, a sizable chunk of the 2017 base salary becomes fully guaranteed in 2016.)

In 2018, Peterson can earn a $250,000 workout bonus and an $11 million non-guaranteed base salary.  Ditto for 2019.

For 2020, there’s a $250,000 workout bonus, a $250,000 reporting bonus, and a non-guaranteed base salary of $12.05 million.

It add ups to $14.01 million per year over the five new years on a new-money analysis.  For the full seven years, Peterson will earn $83.019 million.  That’s an average of $11.859 million per year, with the two existing contract years included in the calculation.

So how does Peterson’s deal compare to other big cornerback deals?  We’ll put some together that breaks the deals down from a variety of angles later this afternoon.

And the over/under on the number of you actually anxious to see that is 2.75 percent.

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NFL makes Cris Carter, Michael Irvin Pro Bowl captains

Former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Irvin unveils Madden 13 during the Electronic Arts news conference as part of E3 in Los Angeles, California Reuters

For the second year in a row, the NFL will eschew the traditional AFC-NFC Pro Bowl format and instead use Hall of Famers as team captains. The league announced today that Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will pick Pro Bowl squads this year.

The Pro Bowl will take place on Sunday, January 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, which will also host the Super Bowl a week later. The Pro Bowlers will be selected using votes of players, coaches and fans, but the teams will be divided not by conference but by Carter and Irvin conducting a “draft” and choosing their own rosters.

Carter was an eight-time Pro Bowler who was enshrined in Canton last year. Irvin was a five-time Pro Bowler who was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.

Although the Pro Bowl is often derided for its low quality of play, the NFL likes to boast that it has been America’s most-watched All-Star game for four years in a row. The gimmick of using retired stars as team captains is an effort to make the game feel less stale, and help keep those TV ratings high.

Let’s just hope Carter and Irvin can get through the draft without Carter saying anything to Irvin’s wife.

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Texans running back Arian Foster “talks” to reporters, sort of

Arian Foster AP

I tell my kids at least a dozen times a day “It doesn’t have to be that hard.”

If someone in Houston could share that wisdom with Arian Foster, we’d appreciate it.

The Texans running back came back after missing two practices with an undisclosed injury, and “talked” to reporters.

Sort of.

I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be,” he said in response to every question, via Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle, who didn’t have much tape to transcribe.

Foster had declined all interview requests from the local media since the end of last season, and refused to talk during the opening days of training camp.

Maybe he’s just trying to adapt to new coach Bill O’Brien’s Belichickian ways, or maybe he saw Marshawn Lynch play peek-a-boo with his media responsibilities during the Super Bowl and thought it was cute.

Whatever it was, it was pointless.

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Pete Carroll urges rugby-style tackling in instructional video

petecarroll AP

The NFL’s emphasis on tackling with the shoulders, instead of the head, isn’t just about player safety. According to the coach of the best defense in football, it’s also the most effective way to bring a ball carrier down.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has released an instructional video showing the way his coaching staff teaches tackling.

“Our tackling system features shoulder tackling and a renewed emphasis on taking the head out of tackling. We’ve found our style to be successful in the NFL and in college, and we believe it can be employed at all levels,” Carroll said.

Carroll pointed to rugby — in which players don’t wear helmets — as the sport with the best tackling techniques.

“We have found that we can practice and drill our tackling without pads or a helmet,” Carroll said. “This system of tackling was recently inspired by those who play rugby around the world. Rugby players have truly taken the head out of the game and truly exemplify shoulder tackling.”

If the techniques used in rugby are safer than the techniques in football, that raises a question: Did all of the additional equipment given to football players through the years, supposedly for player safety, actually make the American style of football less safe than it would be if, like rugby, it had eschewed protective equipment through the years?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell probably isn’t going to propose doing away with the helmet any time soon, but he does like what Carroll is preaching.

“Coach Carroll sent me the video and I thought it was terrific,” Goodell said. “It’s a great thing for our game to have the head coach of the Super Bowl champs teaching tackling techniques that protect the head and making it available to everyone. I hope players, coaches and parents at all levels of the game take the time to watch it.”

Carroll says in the video that “We are a shoulder-tackling team.” Goodell wants the NFL to have 32 shoulder-tackling teams.

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Charles Woodson finally feels like he’s playing safety

Charles Woodson AP

Charles Woodson was one of the best cornerbacks in the league for so long, shifting inside to safety as he aged seemed like a smooth transition.

But Woodson admitted it was largely winging it when he first moved.

“When I moved to safety a couple of years ago, I was really playing the position as an athlete,” Woodson told FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I was just going back there and doing it because I can play football and for the most part put myself in the right position. But what [Raiders assistant] Marcus [Robertson] is doing is molding me into a safety and allowing me to see the game from the middle of the field and understanding angles from that position.
“I’m loving it because I’m growing. If you’re not growing in this game, you’re not getting better. I plan on getting better.”

Woodson has been playing safety the last three years, but he said he feels like this is his first season where he feels like a safety.

Robertson said he was a “little apprehensive” about coaching a player of Woodson’s magnitude at first, but likes that the 37-year-old is so fully invested in the transition.

“The one thing about him is the guy wants to learn,” said Robertson, the former Titans safety. “He’s eating it up and working on it. And he’s been extremely coachable.
“It’s a beautiful thing. He’s going to have a big year.”

Having veteran players with something to prove is a common thread among the Raiders this year, but Woodson’s example is something their young players should clearly benefit from.

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PFT Live: Kyle Rudolph, PFT Planet calls and tweets

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What did Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph do after he signed his five-year contract extension with the team this week?

You can find out on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live. Rudolph will join Mike Florio to discuss why he decided to commit his future to the Vikings. Was it the presence of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner or the promise he’s seen in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? We’ll ask about that and much more during Rudolph’s visit to the show.

And then it will be Florio’s turn to answer the questions instead of asking them. PFT Planet is invited to send in questions on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to share what’s on your mind.

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

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