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Jermichael Finley’s agent won’t rule out pay cut

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Packers tight end Jermichael Finley said last week that he wouldn’t take a pay cut from the Packers, but his agent says that’s not quite the truth.

Blake Baratz walked back some of what Finley said about not being “the guy who’s just going to sign anything and let anything pass.” The Packers haven’t approached Finley about a pay cut or other restructuring of the deal set to pay him $8.25 million in 2013, but Baratz made it clear that they weren’t going to dismiss the idea out of hand if Green Bay did make an overture.

“I would never just turn my nose up at anything. I will listen and hear anybody about anything and withhold judgment until I do. I can’t say today whether I would, whether I wouldn’t, whether it’s in Jermichael’s best interest, his worst interest,” Baratz said, via Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “There’d have to be a reason why he would have to take a pay cut. Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn’t. It’s all hypothetical until the numbers are there. Is it a one-year deal like it is now? Are we adding years? Are we adding dollars? Are we moving dollars?”

The big question for Finley or any other player who faces a pay cut is whether or not they’d be able to get more money on the open market. Baratz likely has some idea about that now, but the timing of a request from the Packers would also matter. If Finley hits the market next week, there may be a better chance of there being a big offer waiting for him than if he were to hit the market once teams have already spent a fair amount of their cash on the first wave of free agents.

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McCown want to help Manziel grow as a person and player

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On Friday, veteran quarterback Josh McCown opted for the Browns over the Bills.  On the surface, the move seemed a bit surprising.  At a deeper level, it makes more sense.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Browns seemed more eager than the Bills to close a deal reportedly worth $15 million over three years, and McCown viewed the Browns to be the better fit.  Also, the Bills created the impression that they have other plans at the position.

For the Browns, the only clear plans at this point are that Brian Hoyer won’t be part of them.  Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, coach Mike Pettine and G.M. Ray Farmer called Hoyer on Friday to inform him of the arrival of McCown.  While they apparently didn’t say it, it means they won’t be trying to re-sign Hoyer, who is due to become a free agent on March 10.

McCown will be trying to help the guys who technically represent McCown’s competition, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw.

“If you can give of yourself to others to help somebody else in your journey, I think you’ll find so much more peace in life,” McCown told Alex Marvez and Mark Dominik of SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday night.  “And so that’s my approach when I head into a quarterback room, and is just ‘What can I give back to the guys around me to help us be better?'”

McCown specifically wants to help the 2014 first-round pick who currently is going through a serious personal challenge after entering rehab.

“Johnny is a person, and every person that I come across has value to me, and they matter,” McCown said.  “And so I want to help him as much as I can with all parts of it.  To grow as a person and as a player and to help him go on and have a fruitful career.”

That attitude suggests McCown will be ready to do whatever the Browns ask him to do, with no agenda or rivalry or jealousy.  He truly wants to help the Browns win, whether that means McCown, Manziel, or Shaw taking the snaps.

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Chiefs, Houston move closer to franchise tag

Houston AP

Rarely (if ever) does a guy finish his rookie contract with a 20-plus-sack season.  Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston did just that, and now the question becomes whether the Chiefs will find a way to keep him with a long-term deal or apply the franchise tag.

An agreement seems unlikely at this point.  The Chiefs weren’t willing to meet Houston’s position at times when he had far less leverage than he currently enjoys.  Now, the 22 bales of hay are in the barn and Houston’s expectations won’t be any lower than they were during the season, when the Chiefs failed to meet them.

It makes application of the franchise tag, barring a sudden change of heart, a virtual certainty.  And that’s when things could start to get interesting.

During the season, Houston’s plan was to gladly accept the franchise tender, and the $13 million or more that goes along with it.  After one of the best seasons an NFL pass rusher ever has had, Houston is now content to let things percolate.

If the market goes haywire for available pass rushers like Greg Hardy, Jason Pierre-Paul (if not tagged), and Jerry Hughes, Houston’s leverage shoots even higher.  Then there’s defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  If he sets a new high bar for all defensive players, Houston with his average of 1.22 sacks per game over the last two seasons could argue he should at least come close.

The wildcard in Houston’s case will be the willingness of other teams to consider signing him to an offer sheet, knowing that, if the Chiefs don’t match, the price will be a pair of first-round draft picks.  With the Bills giving up a top-10 pick, another first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick to get receiver Sammy Watkins a year ago, why not at least ponder pursuing Houston with a low first-round pick in 2015 and, if a team that finished with a good enough record to be low in the draft order this year has Justin Houston, a low first-round pick in 2016?

The difference, of course, is the investment in the player.  Watkins cost the Bills $19.9 million for four years.  Houston may want $19.9 million per year.

The possibility of another team signing Houston to an offer sheet could prompt the Chiefs to apply the exclusive franchise tag, which would give him the average of the five highest-paid linebackers in 2015.  It also would make a Terrell Suggs-style linebacker-versus-defensive end tag fight more likely, since the gap between the two positions likely will be even higher based on 2015 cap numbers for the two positions.

However it plays out, the application of the tag to Houston likely will be something far closer to the beginning of the process than the end of it.

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More talk in Philly that McCoy may be asked to take a pay cut

LeSean McCoy, Chip Kelly AP

LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the NFL. But he’s also one of the most expensive running backs in the NFL. And there’s talk in Philadelphia that the Eagles may conclude that McCoy isn’t worth the money he costs.

McCoy has already been asked about it this offseason and responded that he’s not interested in taking a pay cut, but Philly.com is raising the question of whether McCoy is in danger of being asked to take a pay cut — and getting cut if he declines.

Under his current contract, McCoy is scheduled to count $11.9 million against the Eagles’ cap this year, which makes him the second-most expensive running back in the NFL for 2015, behind only Adrian Peterson. Darren Sproles is also scheduled to cost $4.1 million against the Eagles’ cap, and the Eagles are expected to tender restricted free agent Chris Polk at $1.6 million for 2015. That would be a total cost of $17.6 million just for three running backs. That’s an awful lot of money to spend on a position that is being devalued around the NFL. And the easiest way to reduce that awful lot of money would be to reduce McCoy’s cap number.

McCoy has already said he’s willing to restructure his deal to lessen his cap hit for this year, but he was clear he just means a simple restructure that pays him the same amount of money, not a new deal that pays him less money. That means that if the Eagles think he’s overpaid, their only real option would be to release him.

It sounds crazy that a player as good as McCoy would be told to take less money or get cut, but then again a lot of people thought it sounded crazy at this time last year when discussions were first raised about the Eagles potentially cutting DeSean Jackson. Eventually, that happened. The two aren’t perfect comparisons because there were reportedly off-field issues that gave the Eagles pause about committing to Jackson, and that isn’t an issue with McCoy. But we saw with Jackson that Chip Kelly won’t hesitate to get rid of a productive player. We may see that with McCoy as well.

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“Safe bet” Demaryius Thomas will be tagged

Thomas AP

With two days to go until the window closes for using the franchise tag and no indication that any of the primary candidates for the tag are poised to strike a long-term deal, one of the biggest names due to hit the market most likely won’t.

It’s a “safe bet” the Broncos will be applying the franchise tag to receiver Demaryius Thomas, per a source with knowledge of the situation.  While the two sides are talking, a deal currently isn’t expected in the next two days.

While the magnitude of the parties’ positions isn’t known, Thomas stands to earn $13 million fully guaranteed in 2015, if the tag is applied and if he signs the franchise tender.  After the tag is applied, the Broncos and Thomas will have until July 15 to strike a long-term deal.

The eventual market for veteran receivers surely will be a major factor in negotiations.  If the coming glut of older pass-catchers sees the willingness of teams to spend plummet in light of the trend toward game-ready rookie wideouts, the Broncos may be less willing to pump up the numbers in order to get a deal done.

If/when Demaryius Thomas gets the tag, the stage will be set for tight end Julius Thomas to hit the market.  While many believe Julius is destined to no longer wear orange (yeah, I said it), quarterback Peyton Manning’s willingness to restructure possibly comes with a specific request to keep both Thomases around for 2015.

If that’s the directive, the smarter move could be to work out something with Demaryius Thomas before Monday, and then to use the franchise tag on Julius.  If agent Todd France anticipates the receiver market will soften to the point that the Broncos may actually offer less by late March or beyond, maybe the best move will be to take the best offer they’re willing to make now.  And maybe the Broncos’ best move will be to throw just enough extra on the pile to get Demaryius under contract — and then to keep Julius around with the tag.

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Bucs haven’t asked Vincent Jackson to take a pay cut

Jackson Getty Images

With so many veteran receivers in line for potential pay cuts, a myth has emerged that the Buccaneers have asked veteran receiver Vincent Jackson to take a pay cut.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, they haven’t.

While that technically doesn’t preclude the Buccaneers from doing so in the not-so-distant future, consider this:  They really like Jackson, they consider him to be part of the team, they believe they need him in order to be successful this year, and they consider his $9.77-million salary to reflect current market value.

Things could get interesting if/when the veteran receiver market goes the way of the veteran running back market, with teams realizing young, cheap wideouts can now be expected to do more than ever before, making them reluctant to pay enormous amounts to players like Jeremy Maclin, Randall Cobb, and/or Michael Crabtree.

Some of the speculation regarding a looming request to take less surely comes from the trade chatter that emerged last season regarding Jackson.  But the Buccaneers, we’re told, never actually shopped him.  Instead, they listened to all offers for any players.  If a team like the Eagles made an offer for Jackson and the Bucs didn’t trade him, that says plenty about their desire to keep him around in 2015.

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Ridge had no problem with Eagles stadium in Philly flight path

green-stadiums-super-bowl-lincoln-financial-field-philadelphia-pennsylvania_31990_600x450 AP

One of the companies trying to build a stadium in L.A. has paid former Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to prepare a report that finds a competing project to present an unacceptable risk of terrorism due to its presence in the LAX flight path.

Former Director of Homeland Security and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge once arranged for the use of public money to help build a stadium in Philadelphia that, you guessed it, sits in the local airport’s flight path.

A source with knowledge of Ridge’s efforts — and apparent lack of concern — regarding the placement of the Eagles stadium has pointed out the inconsistency.  In fairness to Ridge, Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, which means that the wheels were in motion well before the events of September 11, 2001 significantly heightened concerns regarding the potential use of airplanes as weapons.

NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman has said of the issue “the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye.”  Ridge’s opinion was purchased by the non-independent and clearly biased AEG, which has been trying unsuccessfully to build a stadium in downtown L.A. for the past several years.  The NFL eventually will purchase (if it hasn’t already purchased) one or more opinions from truly independent experts.

And then the NFL will keep those opinions under wraps for as long as possible (if they’re not favorable), in order to not disrupt the momentum that flows from the current race to build a stadium in Los Angeles.

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Reggie Wayne unsure if he’ll play in 2015

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Longtime Colts receiver Reggie Wayne doesn’t know yet if his NFL career has reached its conclusion.

Wayne said after the Colts lost the AFC Championship Game that he didn’t have a plan for 2015, and he still doesn’t. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Wayne had triceps surgery and is still mulling whether to play in 2015.

If Wayne does want to play, it’s unclear whether it will be in Indianapolis. Wayne becomes a free agent on March 10 and there has been no talk of any contract discussions with the Colts.

Wayne started 15 games last year, but he was limited to 64 catches for 779 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are his worst across the board for any full season of his 15-year career. So if the 36-year-old Wayne wants to play, it’s unclear whether any team will want him.

In other words, Wayne’s great career may have come to an end. Even if he doesn’t know that yet.

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AEG says Inglewood stadium presents terrorism threat

LAX Getty Images

In the Gumball Rally that has emerged as Inglewood and Carson race to build stadiums in the L.A. area, the company that has been trying to build a downtown venue for the past several years has thrown a fistful of nails into the path of the project proposed for the now-defunct Hollywood Park.

Via Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, a study commissioned by AEG concludes that the Inglewood site presents an unacceptable risk of terrorism.

The study, performed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, warns that terrorists may try to hijack or shoot down a plane landing at LAX, with the goal of crashing it into the stadium.  Ridge calls the possibility a “a terrorist event ‘twofer.’”

The NFL is aware of the report, but it doesn’t seem to be ready to endorse it.

“We feel that the best approach is to look at these things with an independent eye,” NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman told the Times.  “You should assume the NFL has its own experts hired and at work to assess any potential NFL site, in any city, regarding these matters.  And it is that advice that we will rely on.”

AEG has a clear bias; it wants to build the stadium in which one or two NFL teams will play.  But the concerns shouldn’t be dismissed.  The Inglewood site is in the LAX landing path.  If/when a Super Bowl is played there, any and every plane that passed by becomes the potential weapon for mayhem and destruction that would rival — and possibly surpass — the events of September 11, 2001.

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Browns sign Josh McCown

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Josh McCown is a Cleveland Brown.

The veteran quarterback and the Browns have agreed on a contract today, the team and McCown’s agent Mike McCartney both confirmed on Twitter.

McCown was released this month after a rough first year in Tampa Bay. He previously had a very promising showing during the 2013 season while filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cleveland has to hope it’s getting the Chicago version of McCown, and not the Tampa Bay version of McCown.

Cleveland also has to hope that McCown can work well with Johnny Manziel, teaching Manziel what it takes to become an NFL quarterback but also starting for the Browns this season if Manziel isn’t ready.

The arrival of McCown in Cleveland will almost certainly mean that free agent Brian Hoyer, Cleveland’s starter for most of last season, is going to sign elsewhere.

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Sean Payton envisions virtual reality training for quarterbacks

VR Getty Images

During multiple coach and G.M. interviews at the Scouting Combine, I spitballed about the possibility of the NFL eventually developing a flight simulator-style approach to preparing quarterbacks for game reps.  For a change, the spitball stuck to the wall.

Appearing on a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Saints coach Sean Payton suggested that a tool like that could be in the offing.

“The challenge we have all the time is that it’s the one position where there’s only one of them in the game the entire time,” Payton said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com.  “The game ends, and how do you get those guys snaps, real-time snaps?  Much like we develop pilots — they do a lot of simulator work — I think the opportunity exists [in football].  Especially when you’re able to accurately show movement with chips, exactly how it unfolds with the defense.”

If anything, it seems overdue that these billion-dollar businesses have yet to develop a way to expose young quarterbacks (especially incoming rookies who have been running spread and/or one-read offenses in college) to the blender of choices that must be made before and during a play at the next level.

From making the right pre-snap read to adjusting the offensive line as needed to keeping an eye on whether the blocking scheme works to keeping an eye on the strong safety to making the progression through the primary, secondary, and tertiary (nerd!) receiving options to hoping the running back picked up any blitzing linebackers to sensing whether the blind side defensive end is about to flatten him, finding a way to simulate that process without exposing the quarterback to any physical risk makes a lot of sense.

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Report: Ravens reach two-year deal with Christo Bilukidi

Christo Bilukidi AP

The Ravens have reportedly reached a deal with a player who could have been eligible for restricted free agency.

The club has agreed to a two-year contract with defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Friday.

Bilukidi (6-5, 320) appeared in four games as a reserve for Baltimore in 2014. The 25-year-old Georgia State product has also seen regular-season action with Oakland (2012-2013) and Cincinnati (2013). He was a sixth-round pick of the Raiders in the 2012 NFL Draft. According to Wilson, an ankle injury ended Bilukidi’s 2014 campaign.

Bilukidi figures to vie for playing time in the Ravens’ defensive line rotation in 2015.

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Falcons waive Jonathan Massaquoi

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

The Falcons have followed up three deletions on the offensive side of the ball by dropping a member of their defense.

Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi has been waived after three years with the team. Massaquoi was the 164th pick of the 2012 draft out of Troy and had a year left on his rookie deal.

The Falcons were starved for pass rush help last year, but usually looked elsewhere in hopes of finding it. Massaquoi saw 333 snaps on defense last season and had two sacks, which leaves him with six for his three-year career. The new coaching staff obviously didn’t think that was a mistake on the part of the previous regime and Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Massaquoi upset people last year for skipping treatments on his foot.

There’s minimal cap savings with Massaquoi out of the way, but the above suggests this wasn’t a financially motivated move. Massaquoi can be claimed on waivers by any team and will become a free agent if no one avails themselves of that option.

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Lions hang onto the “Nolan Ryan of long snapping”

Nolan Ryan, Robin Ventura AP

Friday afternoon’s when you’re supposed to dump your bad news, like the Cardinals did today.

The Lions, however, did something awesome.

Via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website, the Lions re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach to a new one-year contract.

That’s not the awesome part, though. The awesome part is his nickname, as they refer to him as the “Nolan Ryan of long snappers.”

Former Lions General Manager Matt Millen gave Muhlbach that moniker to honor the velocity with which he flings a football upside down and between his legs. And, Muhlbach is from Texas, so there’s that, too.

We do not know, however, if Muhlbach has ever given a beatdown to Robin Ventura.

Long snapping is also the kind of job you could ostensibly do into your 40s, so maybe Muhlbach will have the same kind of longevity as the baseball Hall of Famer.

Then again, if you’re a long snapper, the only thing better than a cool nickname is total anonymity — since it means you didn’t screw up.

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Adrian Peterson issues statement

Peterson Getty Images

On Thursday, Judge David Doty overturned the arbitration decision upholding the suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  While Peterson is not yet reinstated (and who knows when he will be?), he has been returned to the Commissioner-Exempt list, which allows him to speak to the Vikings.

On Friday, he spoke publicly, via press release.  Here’s the full content of it:

“I was pleased to learn about Judge Doty’s decision.  It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players.  It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love.  As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day.  I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, NFLPA, Jeffrey Kessler, and my agents Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue, and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

Peterson says nothing about whether he does or doesn’t want to return to the Vikings.  Last week, he confirmed that he has some misgivings about returning to Minnesota, which holds his rights for the next three seasons.

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Dockett could indeed return to Cardinals

Dockett AP

The Cardinals released defensive tackle Darnell Dockett on Friday.  That doesn’t mean he won’t be back in Arizona.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the impasse arose because the team and the player couldn’t agree on fair market value for a defensive tackle recovering from a torn ACL.  He was due to make $6.8 million in 2015; the Cardinals thought that was too much, and Dockett thought their best offer wasn’t enough.

So how much is enough?  Dockett will find out on the open market.  And if someone else offers him more than the Cardinals were willing to pay, Dockett can join that team.  If someone else doesn’t, he can take whatever the Cardinals were willing to pay.

Arizona’s offer won’t decrease now that he’s been cut.  Because Dockett was in the final year of his deal, the team assumed no additional cap acceleration by releasing him.

While Dockett is getting a chance to test the market before free agency starts, he may not want to make any final decisions until the process gets rolling.  Ndamukong Suh and other defensive linemen could take whatever market currently exists and spike it even higher.  Likewise, teams that miss out on Suh and other defensive tackles may be willing to pay Dockett more later than they’re willing to pay him now.

 

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