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Broncos interested in Mendenhall

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It’s hard to determine with any precision the market for running back Rashard Mendenhall.

For starters, veteran tailbacks who aren’t among the best in the business don’t get paid a lot of money.  As to Mendenhall, his value could be impacted by a torn ACL suffered in Week 17 of the 2011 regular season, his Osama bin Laden Twitter misadventure, and his decision to stay home after being informed he’d be deactivated for Pittsburgh’s December 9 game against the Chargers.

Last week, a source with direct knowledge of the 25-year-old Mendenhall’s situation predicted he’ll definitely draw interest in free agency.  According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Mendenhall definitely has — with the Broncos.

The unknown at this point is the dollar amount Denver would attach to Mendenhall.  Plenty of teams will be interested in plenty of players, at the right price.  It would still be a surprise if Mendenhall makes a major haul in free agency.

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Jets land WR Quinton Patton after visit

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There was little in the 2016 Jets passing game to tantalize free-agent wide receivers this spring, the trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Geno Smith combining for a league-low 67.6 team quarterback rating.

But the NFL is a relationship business.

One of Quinton Patton’s led him to New York.

The former Niners wide receiver has signed with the Jets, the club announced Thursday. He reunites with offensive coordinator John Morton, who was San Francisco’s wide receivers coach during Patton’s first two years in the league.

Patton visited the organization last Saturday.

The 2013 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech set career highs last season with 37 catches for 408 yards. He becomes the Jets’ first wide-receiver signing since Brandon Marshall’s release on March 2. Marshall went on to sign a two-year deal with the Giants.

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Welcome, Michael Gehlken

Five days ago, we said farewell to Zac Jackson. Today, we say hello to Michael Gehlken.

The former Chargers reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune, whose position there went away when the team did, joins us on an open-ended arrangement with the understanding that he may soon secure another opportunity to cover a West Coast franchise.

A San Diego native with a degree from UC Davis (and maybe a Ken O’Brien jersey), Gehlken joined the Union-Tribune in 2012. We’ve long admired his work, and we are very fortunate to have him (and we probably won’t be fortunate enough to have him for very long).

Please give him a warm welcome in the comments. Or make him feel at home by treating him like you treat the rest of us.

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Patriots due to visit White House on April 19

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April 18 is tax day in America. April 19 will be Patriots Day at the White House.

One day after the deadline for submitting those 1040s to Uncle Sam, President Donald Trump will welcome the Super Bowl champions  for the first of his ceremonial sporting-team visits to the White House.

Via NFL.com, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced on Thursday the date for the visit. It will be the fifth trip to the White House for the Patriots.

It remains to be seen how many players stay away, and how many of those who skip the trip will do so for political reasons. (Several, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Devin McCourty, and former tight end Martellus Bennett have said they won’t go.) Now that the date has been set and roughly four weeks remain, look for reporters to start tracking down players to find out whether others won’t be attending.

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Competition Committee not concerned about more ties from 10 minute overtime

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The NFL’s Competition Committee hopes to shorten overtime in the preseason and regular season from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. Coupled with the two-possession rule that applies if the first team to get the ball kicks a field goal, this rule change necessarily will result in more ties.

The Competition Committee disagrees.

“We don’t think it will lead to more ties,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said during a Thursday afternoon media conference call. “Could it? It could. We’re more concerned about player safety.”

If that’s the case, then the two-possession rule should be ditched for all non-playoff games. With it still in place, there definitely will be occasions when: (1) the team receiving the opening kickoff will drive into position for a field goal, consuming half of the 10 minutes or more; (2) the other team will muster a field goal within the remaining time; and (3) there won’t be enough time left after that to break the tie.

So just make it sudden death. Or adopt the college overtime rules. Or come up with something else.

Here’s an idea, possibly inspired by the creative questions asked by Barstool Big Cat and PFT Commenter during the call. One team’s offense and the other team’s defense would go to one end of the field. At the other end of the field would be the other offense and defense.

And then they’d go back and forth attempting two-point conversions, like a hockey or soccer shootout. There could be 20 seconds or so between plays, giving it a frenetic pace that would make it even more exciting. Both teams would get three tries each. If neither team prevails, then it would go back and forth until someone ends up with two more points than the other team.

If anyone has a better idea, offer it up below. If the league wants a shorter (and better) overtime period, now’s the time to start embracing suggestions and thinking outside the echo chamber.

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NFL’s touchback experiment may continue in 2017

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The NFL began an experiment in 2016, pushing the starting line following a kickoff from the 20- to 25-yard line as part of a stated effort to increase the number of touchbacks and decrease the number of player injuries.

Its experiment may continue.

At next week’s league owner meetings, the NFL Competition Committee will present the option to extend the one-year experiment to at least a two-year one. The committee was “pleased” with the 2016 results, said Dean Blandino, senior vice president of officiating.

“Touchbacks were up,” Blandino said in a media conference call Thursday. “The lowest rate of return in NFL history at 39.3 percent. We’re proposing that for another year to get another year’s worth of data and then evaluate that after the 2017 season.”

A second season will help determine if the 2016 touchback figures were a fluke. That possibility seems unlikely, considering each season provides a fairly amply sample size for kickoffs; there were more than 2,600 last year, not including onside kicks.

If the results repeat, the temporary rule may become a permanent one. This benefits offenses. The average starting position following a kickoff was the 24.8-yard line last season, a notable jump from 21.7 in 2015.

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Defenseless player rule could include receivers running routes

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Seven years ago, the concept of the “defenseless player” became a major focal point for the NFL, after a Sunday in October when three big hits to the heads of pass-catchers happened in three different games within a relatively short time frame. Next week, the protection could be expanded in an unprecedented way.

The Competition Committee will recommend the inclusion of receivers running pass routes into the definition of defenseless players. This would prevent those receivers from being struck in the head or neck area, even if they are within the five-yard zone where they legally can be chucked at least one time.

Nothing was said about protections for the defenders who are now prohibited from striking receivers in the head while running routes. Last year, a controversial interference non-call from a Falcons-Seahawks regular-season game based on a hit from cornerback Richard Sherman was preceded by a strong blow to the head at the line of scrimmage on Sherman by receiver Julio Jones.

 

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NFL will consider allowing coaches to challenge all penalties

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A major change could be coming to instant replay in the NFL.

A proposal allowing challenges to every officiating decision will be brought forward jointly by the Bills and Seahawks at next week’s league meeting. If the owners vote in favor of the new rule, all penalties — from holding to pass interference, facemasking to false start — could be challenged.

“That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated and voted on next week,” NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said.

That would be perhaps the most radical change made to instant replay since the NFL began replay reviews. It would allow for all sorts of calls (and non-calls) to be challenged that in the past were never reviewed.

However, it seems like a long shot that the proposal will pass. The NFL is generally very cautious about changes to instant replay. And that change would be significant.

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Chargers re-sign RB Branden Oliver

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Of the Chargers’ four running backs to hit the open market this month, the franchise had interest in re-signing two of them.

One, Danny Woodhead, got away to Baltimore. The other is back.

Branden Oliver has returned to the club on a one-year deal, the team announced Thursday. He joins recent signing Kenjon Barner, Kenneth Farrow and Andre Williams as rotational depth behind Melvin Gordon.

Oliver missed all of the 2016 season to a torn Achilles, which he suffered during an August exhibiton game in Minnesota. Los Angeles chose not to tender the 25-year-old as a restricted free agent.

Still, he was valued. A physical runner despite his 5-foot-8 listed height, he logged 191 carries for 690 yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Former Chargers running backs Dexter McCluster and Ronnie Hillman remain free agents. The team also announced Thursday that safety Adrian Phillips signed his exclusive-rights tender.

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Three people at league office will be available for replay review

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Yes, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino will have final say over the replay review process, if/when at least 24 owners approve of the proposed changes to the process. So what will happen if/when Blandino is reviewing a call from one game when replay review happens in another game?

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, three people will be available for the process. If Blandino is unavailable, one of three will be in place to assist the process.

It will be very rare that Blandino will not at least see what’s happening even if he’s not the one speaking to the referee at the site of the game.

In the past, Blandino and Alberto Riveron were the two persons available to assist the referees. Moving forward, the three on any given Sunday will consist of Blandino and two other officiating supervisors.

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Julio Jones: “The foot’s good”

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Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was on his feet this week, and said everything seems positive after he had foot surgery two weeks ago.

Via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jones said during an appearance at the state capitol that he was recovering nicely from bunion surgery.

“I’m good,” Jones said. “The foot’s good. I’m two weeks out now, I think, but it’s good. . . .

“My thing right now is recovery.”

Jones was in a walking boot, but wasn’t using crutches. He had surgery in Charlotte on March 6, after dealing with foot and toe problems for much of his career. He missed two games last year.

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Report: Fabian Moreau suffered torn pec during pro day

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The pre-draft workout process may have claimed another player’s rookie season.

According to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau’s chest injury was apparently quite serious, as he suffered a torn pectoral muscle and has already undergone surgery.

Those are usually four-to-six-month injuries, so it’s conceivable that he could return to the field at some point this season. But it should still be enough to harm the draft stock of a player who might have been a first-round pick.

As injuries go, it’s certainly better than the torn Achilles Washington cornerback Sidney Jones suffered during his pro day. He’s vowed to return to the field at some point this year, but that’s not a decision he’s able to make for himself at this point.

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Replay change still requires approval from 24 owners

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Commissioner Roger Goodell has done enough writing and talking about changes to the replay system to cause many to assume it’s a done deal.

It’s not.

A source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed to PFT that the proposed alterations to the process require the approval of at least 24 of the owners. Which means either that Goodell knows he has the votes, or that he’s using an eleventh-hour media blitz to help deliver votes from those who also employ and pay him.

While it’s unknown how other owners feel about shifting final say over the process from the referee to the league office, multiple league sources consistently have expressed concern about involving anyone not at the game site.

“Who’s in the replay room?” one source asked PFT this morning. “Still nebulous answer. Bad idea.”

Whoever wrote Goodell’s “Dear Fans” letter may be sensitive to the potential criticism of the change in who makes the decision. Consider this key sentence: “Instead of a fixed sideline monitor, we will bring a tablet to the Referee who can review the play in consultation with our officiating headquarters in New York, which has the final decision.”

The most important aspect of the adjustment is tacked onto the end of the sentence, with the subtle use of “has” instead of “will have” or “would now have” or anything else that would highlight that the change is far more significant that the removal of the peep-show booth and the enhancement to Microsoft’s product placement investment.

By early next week, it will be more clear as to whether nine teams or a number close to that oppose the change. Before the end of the week, the change that for now is only a proposal will be an official rule. Unless it isn’t.

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Bengals bringing back running back Cedric Peerman

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The Bengals have seen plenty of players leave this offseason, but they’re hanging onto to one of their own.

According to Zac Jackson of TheAthletic.com (the name’s not familiar, but the face rings a bell), the Bengals are bringing back running back Cedric Peerman.

Peerman’s a solid addition to their special teams, and in the absence of Rex Burkhead could have him take on some degree of role in offense.

They considered him valuable enough to use their designated for return spot on him last year, so they obviously value him around there.

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Celebration violations could be flagged and not fined

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Earlier this morning, I argued that the NFL should handle improper celebrations not with penalties imposed against the team but with fines imposed against the player. And, of course, the opposite is actually what may happen.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL actually may dump the fines but still throw penalty flags.

That approach would eliminate a large amount of the criticism that the NFL experiences, with the No-Fun-League no longer picking player pockets. Still, moving the kickoff point from the 35 to the 20 could have a major impact on a game. What if there’s a borderline celebration after a go-ahead touchdown late in a Super Bowl, resulting in the team that’s losing getting an enhanced chance at tying the game or winning it? (Under current rules, that should have happened at the end of Super Bowl XLIII.)

Also, a penalty for illegal celebrations essentially guarantees that there will be an extra kickoff return. With the NFL trying to legislate that play out of the game, that’s definitely a reason for penalty flags not to be thrown for celebration violations.

As a practical matter, this approach shifts the focus to the teams, and it gives the teams an even greater incentive to insist on compliance and accountability. With the league no longer punishing the player who celebrates in a manner that draws a flag, maybe the coach will be more willing to do so himself.

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Jerry Richardson skipping owners meetings again

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When NFL owners convene Sunday in Phoenix, Panthers founder Jerry Richardson won’t be with them. Again.

According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, the 80-year-old Richardson will not be in attendance, but the team will send a six-member team of personnel to vote for the team.

Richardson skipped last year’s meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., having scheduled shoulder surgery the same week. Team spokesman Steven Drummond said Richardson’s health was good, but he didn’t feel up to the demands of two cross-country flights. Richardson’s been dealing with knee issues as well. He had a heart transplant in 2009.

Of course, when he was absent last year, they had a team president. But since then, Danny Morrison has resigned, and they haven’t named a replacement.

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