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Absent new deal with Ryan, Falcons will face franchise-tag dilemma in 2014

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So why did March 4 become the real deadline for the Ravens to get a deal done with quarterback Joe Flacco?

Because the Ravens didn’t want to have to choose between the non-exclusive and exclusive level of the franchise tag.

The latter, in light of the recent restructurings by Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, would have put Flacco on track to make more than $74 million over three years, if Flacco opted to take it year to year under the franchise tag.  (That’s more than $24 million per year.)  The former would have opened the door for a front-loaded monster offer from another team that the Ravens couldn’t have matched without dumping plenty of players.

That was enough to persuade the Ravens to get it done before encountering a fork in the road with a pair of paths that led nowhere good.

Unless the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan work out a new deal within the next 12 months, Atlanta G.M. Thomas Dimitroff will face a similar dilemma.

Per a source with knowledge of Ryan’s contract, his cap number in 2013, the final year of his rookie contract, will be $12 million.  Which means that his non-exclusive tender would be no higher than the base quarterback amount for 2014, since a 20-percent raise over $12 million will be only $14.4 million.

The exclusive number will be several million higher, setting the stage for a much higher three-year haul under a formula that would give Ryan a 20-percent raise for the second year of the tag and a 44-percent raise in the third.

The difference in this case is that Ryan is represented by CAA, which handles an ever-growing stream of franchise and highly-paid quarterbacks (Eli and Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Sam Bradford, Philip Rivers, Robert Griffin III) and which consistently emerges from these talks with top-of-market deals, team cap situation be damned.  Now that the contract CAA negotiated in 2012 for Drew Brees has been eclipsed by the non-CAA Flacco deal, the goal will be to get back on top.

It’ll likely happen with Ryan, whether now or later or on the brink of the franchise-tag dilemma.  Or at some point after that.

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Michigan leads all schools with 11 players drafted in 2017

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Jabrill Peppers became the first Michigan player drafted this year when the Browns made him the 25th overall pick on Thursday night. He’d have plenty of company by the time the seventh round came to an end.

Michigan had 11 players selected in the draft, which was more than any other school and a record for Michigan in a single draft. Alabama had 10 players taken and had four first-round picks to two (Taco Charlton went to Dallas) for Michigan. The University of Miami was third with nine players while Florida, LSU and Utah all had eight players selected.

The Wolverines have seen their fortunes on the field change for the better since Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater as head coach before the 2015 season, something that obviously caught the eye of NFL talent evaluators.

The Seahawks took two of the Michigan players in the third round — safety Delano Hill and wide receiver Amara Darboh — and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised the job Harbaugh’s done in Ann Arbor, leading to laughs from reporters and General Manager John Schneider to ask the coach “What’s your deal?” in reference to past bad blood with the former 49ers coach.

Harbaugh’s coaching certainly helped these players, but he’s not the only coach who had a hand in developing the group. They were recruited by Brady Hoke before Harbaugh arrived and their success is one of the few parts of Hoke’s tenure that will be remembered fondly.

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John Elway drafted Chad Kelly after plug from Jim Kelly

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John Elway and Jim Kelly were both first-round picks in the 1983 NFL Draft and they reconnected during this year’s draft, although it was much later in the process.

Elway called Kelly as part of his role as the Broncos General Manager in order to ask Kelly about his nephew Chad, who dealt with off-field issues and injuries during a college career that also featured some strong quarterback play at Ole Miss. The younger Kelly got a plug from his uncle that helped Elway decide to use the final pick of the 2017 draft on the quarterback.

“I called his uncle, and he said, ‘He’s a good kid,'” Elway said, via ESPN.com. “I said, ‘OK, that’s all I need.’ I trust Jim with that. Obviously, there’s been some history there, but we felt comfortable. Chad understands what he’s been through and is ready to take this step and realizes the step that he’s taken is different than when he was in college. We’re full of confidence that Chad’s going to be able to come up here and understand the situation he’s in.”

Elway said the vetting process went beyond talking to Uncle Jim and coach Vance Joseph said he’s confident that Kelly has learned from past “childish mistakes.”

A different review may have pushed the Broncos in a different direction, which would have left Kelly to weigh offers to sign as an undrafted free agent. That could have led to better odds of making a 53-man roster, although Joseph also said Kelly was his favorite quarterback in this year’s draft so Denver might have been the best spot under any circumstances.

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Lions set at running back, with Ameer Abdullah the starter

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The Lions had one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks last season, and it was a surprise to some that they didn’t try to upgrade by drafting a running back. But General Manager Bob Quinn says he’s confident in the top running back he has.

Quinn confirmed after the draft that Ameer Abdullah is the Lions’ starter. Abdullah was off to a promising start last season before he was lost for the year with a foot injury in Week Two, and the Lions think the key is getting Abdullah back and healthy, not getting someone else to replace him.

Between Abdullah and Theo Riddick the Lions think they have a good 1-2 punch, with Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington likely the other two running backs to make the 53-man roster and Mike Burton at fullback. Quinn doesn’t think they need much more than that.

“There were a couple running backs we looked at in the middle part of the draft but no one that we felt was really going to come in and really unseat any of the guys we have on our roster,” Quinn said. “It’s a tough balance, but I think Ameer’s injury last year was sort of a fluke thing. He’s back 100 percent. Theo’s dealing with a few things, but we think he’s ready to go, too. You can’t carry 10 running backs. You’ve got 90 guys on the roster, and you’ve got to split them up as best as you see fit.”

What Quinn sees is a roster that already has enough players at a position that has been increasingly devalued in the NFL in recent years. He’s not interested in expending any more draft capital there.

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Panthers sign Ben Boulware, Fred Ross as undrafted free agents

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Linebacker Ben Boulware played college football at Clemson, which isn’t too far from where he’ll get his chance to make it in the NFL.

The Panthers announced that they have signed Boulware, who was not selected over the three days of the draft despite being named the Jack Lambert Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. Boulware had 113 tackles for the national champions last season.

“He’s instinctive. He’s tough. He will tag your fanny,” General Manager Dave Gettleman said. “He’s smart. He’s all the stuff we’re looking for.”

The Panthers also announced the addition of wide receiver Fred Ross. Ross caught 12 touchdowns for Mississippi State last season and finished his college career as the school’s leader in catches and receiving yards.

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Sunday morning one-liners

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Draft weekend made it clear how much power coach Sean McDermott has with the Bills.

The Dolphins draft had more steadiness than sizzle.

The Patriots drafted another defensive lineman from Arkansas.

Trading down was the theme of the final two days of the draft for the Jets.

The Ravens passed on drafting a wide receiver.

WR John Ross and other draft picks bring speed to the Bengals.

Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi is the first player drafted from UNC-Charlotte.

LS Colin Holba was surprised to learn the Steelers drafted him in the sixth round.

Said Texans G.M. Rick Smith, “I think our football team is better. If there’s a theme about this group, there is a leadership and production throughout the class along with some accomplishment throughout the class.”

Is Marlon Mack a future starter at running back for the Colts?

A fast combine time didn’t help CB Jalen Myrick get drafted until the Jaguars called late on Saturday.

The Titans made three trades on the final day of the draft.

The Broncos made three picks they think will add speed to their offense in 2017.

Having a professional athlete for a father helped mold Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.

Raiders T David Sharpe denied reports that he’s legally blind in one eye.L

S Rayshawn Jenkins thinks he’ll play a Kam Chancellor-type role on the Chargers defense.

Channing Tatum gets Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer in the mood to play football.

Giants DE Avery Moss was arrested for public indecency while playing for Nebraska in 2014.

The Eagles expect WR Mack Hollins to make an immediate impact on special teams.

Robert Davis is the third tall wide receiver the Redskins have added this offseason.

Bears RB Tarik Cohen was nicknamed “The Human Joystick” while at North Carolina A&T.

The Lions stayed local by drafting DE Pat O’Connor out of Eastern Michigan with their final pick.

LB Vince Biegel went from Packers fan to Packers player this weekend.

Did the Vikings draft Cordarrelle Patterson’s successor on kick returns?

Said RB Brian Hill after being drafted in the fifth round by the Falcons, “We know they had two good running backs and didn’t think they were shopping for a running back, but I’m grateful that they were.”

New Panthers teammate Michael Oher influenced T Taylor Moten’s choice of automobile.

Will the Saints be shopping for a veteran corner?

DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is the oldest draft pick in Buccaneers history.

There was a lot of talk about quarterbacks before the draft, but the Cardinals didn’t pick one.

The Rams didn’t draft any offensive linemen.

The 49ers were open to trading TE Vance McDonald during the draft.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson announced the birth of his daughter.

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David Parry pleads guilty to two charges, avoids jail time

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Colts defensive tackle David Parry reached a plea deal in Arizona to resolve some of the charges he faced as a result of stealing a golf cart after hitting the driver earlier this year.

The Indianapolis Star reports Parry pleaded guilty to attempted unlawful means of transportation, a low-level felony charge, and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, last week. He will avoid jail time and find out how long he’ll be on probation in late May. He still faces a DUI charge — the golf cart was legal for street use — in a different court.

Parry is also eligible for league discipline and players with DUI charges generally face two-game suspensions absent extenuating circumstances.

Parry has started every game for the Colts the last two seasons, but the additions of Johnathan Hankins, Margus Hunt and fourth-round pick Grover Stewart could mean a different direction on the defensive line in Indianapolis.

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Bills fire General Manager Doug Whaley

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Doug Whaley is done.

Whaley, the Bills G.M. who had reportedly been on thin ice all offseason, was officially fired early Sunday morning.

“After a thorough review of our football operations over the past several months, Kim and I informed Doug this morning that we will be moving in a new direction,” Bills owner Terry Pegula said in a statement. “We have enjoyed working with Doug. He is a good person and we want to thank him for his work and commitment to our football team. This was my decision. It was not an easy decision but I believe it’s the right one for the future of the Buffalo Bills. Our search for a new general manager will begin immediately.”

Almost immediately after the Bills hired head coach Sean McDermott, there was talk coming out of Buffalo that McDermott and Whaley didn’t see eye to eye, and that Pegula sided with McDermott when the two disagreed. Pegula reportedly gave McDermott control of the draft, and now that the draft is over, Whaley is out.

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Ty Montgomery “absolutely” the starting running back in Green Bay

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The Packers went into the third day of the draft with three running backs on the 90-man roster.

They ended it with twice as many after drafting three running backs in the final four rounds. They took BYU’s Jamaal Williams in the fourth round, Texas-El Paso’s Aaron Jones in the fifth and Utah State’s Devante Mays in the seventh to increase their backfield options for the 2017 season.

For now, though, those players are only options for the No. 2 job on the depth chart. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Saturday that Ty Montgomery remains the starter after making the permanent move from wide receiver last season.

“Absolutely, [Montgomery] is our starting running back,” McCarthy said, via the Wisconsin State Journal. “The goal is to have the most competitive 90-man roster as you possibly can and you want that competition as high as it possibly can be in each position room. We obviously had some positions where numbers were not very high, and now after these three days, I think we have a competitive roster — a very competitive roster.”

Montgomery only carried the ball more than 10 times in a game three times last season and while that will likely change now that he’s working exclusively out of the backfield, he’s unlikely to turn into a one-man band in the backfield. That will leave room for the newcomers to contribute if they prove to be more intriguing options than Christine Michael or Don Jackson.

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Bears won’t pick up the option on Kyle Fuller’s contract

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The Bears started the draft weekend with a major surprise, but wrapped up business Sunday with something that was clearly #asexpected.

Via John Mullin of CSNChicago.com, the Bears said they were not picking up the fifth-year option on 2014 first-rounder Kyle Fuller.

Fuller didn’t play last year because of knee problems, and the Bears signed free agents Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper this offseason.

The Bears didn’t seem thrilled with Fuller’s efforts to come back last year, when the window was open for him to be activated from IR. Now, it’s reasonable to wonder how long he hangs around at all.

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More and more signs of changes in the air in Buffalo

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With the draft now over and Bills General Manager Doug Whaley nowhere to be seen, the speculation about his future in Buffalo is only ramping up.

Coach Sean McDermott was the lone voice throughout the draft process this weekend for the Bills, and when he came out last night, he was asked if he was prepared to give Whaley and the scouting staff a vote of confidence.

“Right now, I’m focused on this draft,” McDermott said, via Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News. “Honestly, I’m going to focus on this draft and what we have in front of us going on right now with this priority free agent market.”

He then added: “I will say, Doug and his staff did a phenomenal job.”

For a first-time head coach to even be commenting on the status of the G.M. probably tells you everything you need to know about the direction things are pointing in Buffalo.

But according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, Bills scouts and personnel men are being called in for a meeting this morning, with some anticipating major changes.

If Whaley or any degree of the staff is flushed out, the speculation will turn to Carolina, where McDermott spent his last six years. Panthers assistant G.M. Brandon Beane has been mentioned as a possibility, but he’s well thought-of there and they’d like to keep him if they could. He’s risen through the ranks there, and stayed on during the transition to G.M. Dave Gettleman, adding authority as time has passed.

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Ron Rivera again concerned about Kelvin Benjamin’s weight

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Weight problems are again affecting Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who said two years ago that Benjamin had shown up heavy to offseason workouts, said on Saturday that Benjamin is overweight again.

“He is a little heavy. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. We talked about what he has to do, and he’s done a great job,” Rivera said, via the Charlotte Observer. “Am I concerned? Yes, because he is heavy. I’m going to admit that right now. But is he working hard? Absolutely. He’s been there everyday and done the things we’ve asked him to do, and it’s all strictly on a voluntary basis.”

Benjamin has had weight problems going back to his freshman year at Florida State, and there has been talk that poor conditioning has led to hamstring injuries. Showing up overweight to offseason workouts again this year is not a good look for Carolina’s No. 1 receiver.

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Air Force players were led to believe they could head to the NFL

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On Saturday, it became publicly known that the Air Force has changed its policy regarding football players from the Air Force Academy with NFL opportunities, requiring them to spend two years on active duty before playing professional football. It was news to the Air Force players, too.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the players had been led to believe throughout the pre-draft process that they could join the NFL. As a result, they spent time and money training for the selection process. Air Force receiver Jalen Robinette even participated in the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine under the clear impression that he would be permitted to play in the NFL. Several other Air Force players went through the pre-draft process, including a Pro Day workout held at the Air Force Academy on March 21.

The players believed NFL opportunities could be pursued, and as recently as Thursday they continued to be under that impression. Most if not all became aware of the change through the Denver Post article communicating the sudden shift in Air Force policy.

Coaches aren’t happy. Apart from negatively impacting future recruiting efforts, the change comes after a new class of recruits signed up under the impression that they’d have a path to pro football, too, if they play well enough in college.

The situation could make for a somewhat awkward visit by Air Force players to Washington on Tuesday, where they will receive The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from the Commander-in-Chief.

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Jerry Jones “very skeptical” of report Randy Gregory failed drug test

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated on Saturday evening that he didn’t believe the report that came out Saturday morning saying Randy Gregory has failed another drug test.

I would be very skeptical,” Jones said of the TMZ report, via the Star-Telegram.

Drug testing is handled at the league level, not at the team level, and it’s unclear how much information Jones has been given on Gregory’s situation. But Jones said the report’s claim that Gregory blew off NFL officials is incorrect, and that Gregory is working within the league’s substance abuse program.

“That’s just not right,” Jones said. “He is getting a lot of support. He is not void in any way. He’s got in my mind a better method of support than he had most of last year. I’m very comfortable with his support and we are trying to stay in communication with him.”

Gregory is suspended for the entire 2017 season, but Jones said the Cowboys remain supportive of Gregory and still hope he’ll play for them in the future.

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Jourdan Lewis: I’m completely innocent of domestic violence charge

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The Cowboys picked up three cornerbacks during the draft, including Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis with the 92nd overall pick.

Lewis is facing a July trial on a domestic violence charge stemming from a March incident in Ann Arbor. Lewis is accused of dragging his girlfriend across a room by the neck and holding her down on the floor during an argument and has been charged with a misdemeanor.

Lewis plead not guilty and said he was confident that the matter will be resolved in his favor.

“I completely think that all charges will be dropped and I think I will be exonerated from everything,” Lewis said, via ESPN.com. “I’m completely innocent. I believe that wholeheartedly. And I’m just going to have to see what happens in my next trial date.”

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team had their general counsel Jason Counts involved in the investigation into Lewis’ case and they had an in-house reference on Lewis in safeties coach Greg Jackson, who was Michigan’s defensive backs coach in 2015.

Lewis will not face league discipline as the Personal Conduct Policy does not apply to players before they are drafted.

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Broncos make Chad Kelly Mr. Irrelevant

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Chad Kelly was far from irrelevant, as a guy who made plenty of plays, plenty of headlines and had a Hall of Fame uncle.

But now, he’s Mr. Irrelevant.

The Broncos took the injured Ole Miss quarterback with the 253rd and final pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

He’s not going to be able to throw for at least two more months after undergoing wrist surgery earlier this month. And he was coming off a torn ACL suffered last season anyway, so it’s hard to tell how much he’ll be able to do anytime soon.

Kelly, the nephew of former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, was an accomplished passer but had issues off the field as well.

Now, he goes to a place where they have an established quarterback competition, with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at the top of the depth chart.

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