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Browns add Quentin Groves to Ray Horton’s defense

AP

New Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton is bringing one of his guys to Cleveland.

Free agent linebacker Quentin Groves, who played in Horton’s defense when they were together in Arizona last year, has come to terms with the Browns, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports.

A 2008 second-round pick of the Jaguars, Groves spent two years in Jacksonville and then two years in Oakland but wasn’t a great player in either stop. In Arizona last year, however, Groves had career highs in tackles (46) and sacks (four) while playing in all 16 games and starting seven.

Now Groves will attempt to repeat that success, and he’ll give Cleveland a player who already knows the new defense.

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Donald Penn says slipping on play Derek Carr was injured continues to stick with him

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Oakland Raiders left tackle Donald Penn can’t shake the memory of the slip he had on the play that ended with his quarterback lost for the season.

According to PFT alumnus Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Penn says the memory of his misstep on the play against the Indianapolis Colts that led to Derek Carr sustaining a broken leg is something that has stuck with him even five months later.

I should have held on (to Colts defensive end Trent Cole) and brought him down with me,” Penn said. “That play sticks with me. I’m going to try to do whatever I can do better to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I’ve never gotten a quarterback hurt before in my life since I’ve been playing. None of my quarterbacks ever got hurt. That was the first. That’s something I take pride in, and I’m going to try my hardest to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Penn had a stellar season in 2016 protecting Carr’s backside from opposing pass rushers looking to inflict damage. The Raiders were cruising into the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Carr was having a great year under center and Penn was doing everything he could to allow Carr the chance to complete passes.

But with Cole coming off the edge, Penn lost his footing as the Colts pass rusher chased down Carr from behind. The sack left Carr with a fractured fibula. The Raiders season was broken in that moment as well.

“You’ve got to try not to think about it too much,” Penn said. “It happened. You wish you could go back and get it back. I’ve done that same (pass) set I don’t know how many times on that same field and never just slipped out of nowhere. I took a little step. I’m not going to put it on myself. I should have been able to do something better. You know me: I’m not going to blame the slip for happening.”

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Roethlisberger laments Le’Veon Bell’s absence from OTAs

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Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell currently doesn’t have a contract. Which means that he can’t, absent a rarely-used (by veteran players) letter of protection, participate in offseason workouts.

That hasn’t stopped quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from publicly lamenting Bell’s absence.

“I’m not worried about the chemistry, but I wish he’d be here just because he’s one of the pieces to our puzzle,” Roethlisberger told reporters, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I know he can’t participate because I don’t think he’s 100 percent healthy, but it would be nice to see him here just in terms of the chemistry and learning and being a part of this process. But obviously, it’s up to him.”

It’s not entirely up to him. The Steelers haven’t signed Bell to a long-term contract. So Bell currently has no contract, since he hasn’t signed his franchise tender, which will pay him $12.1 million in 2017.

As Bell tries to get a long-term deal, his only leverage comes from the withholding of services. Which is what he’s doing.

Which is why he may not fully appreciate getting pressure from a guy who has gotten paid, on multiple occasions, to give up that leverage and show up for offseason workouts.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick’s “musical chairs” comments not as biting as initially reported

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New Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick met with the media for the first time at Tuesday’s OTA session. As initially reported, Fitzpatrick provided a quote that generated plenty of criticism of the backup-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter-turned-backup.

From Roy Cummings of FloridaFootballToday.com, Fitzpatrick said this regarding the loss of his job with the Jets: “[I]t’s a game of musical chairs and they pulled the chair out from under me.” The full quote creates a much different impression regarding whether Fitzpatrick was blaming anyone but himself for no longer being the starter in New York.

Asked whether it was difficult for Fitzpatrick when he realized that he would not be signing with a new team as the opening-day starter, Fitzpatrick said this, via quotes distributed by the team: “I mean, it’s tough, but I’ve been through that before. When I got cut in Buffalo in 2012, I signed on in Tennessee as a backup. The year after that I signed on in Houston as sort of a quarterback competition, and then got traded to the Jets as a backup. I started that 2015 campaign as the backup to Geno [Smith].

“It was a new team, new environment for me and I had to step up when my number was called. It’s the harsh reality of the NFL: There are [only] so many jobs that are available. I can’t complain about it. Last year I was the starter, and if you play well as the starter you continue to play. I didn’t play well and so I lost the game of musical chairs. They pulled my chair out from under me. But I’m happy to be here, and I do just enjoy football. I enjoy the Xs and Os and just the day-to-day interaction. I’m really happy to be in this role and to be here.”

While he did indeed say “they pulled my chair out from under me,” Fitzpatrick also said that he “didn’t play well.” And he didn’t.

And he knows it. As does everyone else.

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Bose renews deal with NFL, with extra exposure coming during replay reviews

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The NFL’s new replay system will give its official tablet provider greater exposure when the device is brought onto the field for the referee to consult with the league office. The NFL’s official headset provider will get a bump, too. And that provider presumably has agreed to pay plenty for that privilege.

The league announced on Tuesday that Bose has renewed its agreement to be the official headphone and headset provider of the NFL. “Headset” is the key, given the constant presence of “Bose” on the equipment worn throughout every game by the league’s 32 head coaches.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The twist comes this year when the referee will be wearing the Bose headset not when squirreled away in the sideline replay machine but in the field when the headset and tablet are brought to him from the sideline. The release from the NFL makes only passing reference to use of the Bose headsets for replay, but a league spokesman confirmed that the Bose headset will be used (in lieu of the earpiece through which the league office currently can talk to the referee) during replay reviews, adding value to the Bose partnership.

Bose acquired the sponsorship in 2014, after a 14-year deal with Motorola (believed to be worth $40 million per year in its final years) had expired. Motorola reportedly had offered $50 million per year to renew in 2013, but the league passed — spending a full year with simply the NFL logo on the headsets.

“Bose” will continue to be the name that millions see during NFL games, both on the sidelines and, starting this year, whenever a referee is hearing from the league office what the outcome of any replay reviews will be.

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Seahawks sign third-rounder Amara Darboh

AP

The Seahawks signed third-round pick Amara Darboh to his four-year rookie contract on Tuesday.

Darboh, one of four third-round picks by the Seahawks, became the seventh member of Seattle’s 11-man draft class to sign with the team. The Seahawks’ top four selections – defensive tackle Malik McDowell (second round), offensive lineman Ethan Pocic (second), cornerback Shaquill Griffin (third) and safety Delano Hill (third) remain unsigned.

Darboh was a second-team All-Big Ten selection during his senior season at Michigan. He led the team with 57 catches for 862 yards and seven touchdowns.

Darboh gives the Seahawks a bigger receiving option to complement Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. If Darboh makes a strong push in training camp, he could push Jermaine Kearse for a larger share of the team’s snaps as well.

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Shanahan: There were never any trade talks about NaVorro Bowman

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When the 49ers denied that linebacker Navorro Bowman was available via trade, the statement permitted a reasonable inference that, while he currently isn’t available, he previously may have been. Meeting with reporters on Tuesday in connection with the commencement of the team’s Organized Team Activities, coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear that there have never been any trade talks involving Bowman.

And in doing so, Shanahan admitted that another veteran 49ers name came up in connection with a potential trade.

“[T]he only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about [tight end] Vance [McDonald] on draft day,” Shanahan told reporters. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing. When it came to NaVorro or any other player on our team, no one’s asked and we haven’t either.”

And so Bowman, who tore an Achilles tendon last season, will remain with the team. He participated in Tuesday’s OTA session, and Shanahan likes what he saw.

“I thought he’s looked real good, kind of what I told you guys the last time I spoke with you,” Shanahan said. “Anytime you’re coming off an Achilles you’re waiting for him to ease into it and from what I’ve seen just watching him, I would have never known that just by watching him. He looks like the guys I’ve seen on tape over the years.”

Bowman signed last year a contract that runs through the 2022 season. He’s due to make $6.75 million in 2017.

McDonald is signed through 2021. He’s due to make $2.1 million this year and presumably remains available in trade. Which maybe should be the real headline of this item but the second period of Penguins-Senators is about to begin.

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Jets sign Marcus Maye, Dylan Donahue

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A couple of Jets rookies signed their first NFL contracts on their first day of Organized Team Activities.

The Jets announced that second-round safety Marcus Maye and fifth-round linebacker Dylan Donahue have agreed to four-year deals with the team. Their signings leave the Jets with two unsigned picks from their nine-player class.

One of those players is safety Jamal Adams, who went in the first round and is expected to join Maye in playing a prominent role right off the bat. Maye broke his arm late in his final season at Florida and was wearing a red jersey during Tuesday’s practice.

Donahue had 25.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for losses while playing at West Georgia over the last two seasons. It’s a big jump from the Division II Gulf South Conference to the NFL — Donahue was the first West Georgia player to be drafted — but the Jets have enough need for pressure off the edge that the rookie should get a chance to show he can make it.

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Teddy Bridgewater working on the field at Vikings OTAs

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The Vikings have resisted putting any timetable on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery from the severe knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2016 season, but Bridgewater appears to be making progress on his path back to playing.

The team posted a video and photos from Tuesday’s first Organized Team Activity of the year that show Bridgewater taking snaps from center and dropping back to throw passes. There’s only so much you can tell from brief moving and still images of a practice in shorts, but Bridgewater appeared to be moving smoothly with a large brace on his left knee and any signs of progress are heartening given how seriously Bridgewater was hurt last summer.

Tuesday’s session was not open to the media, so there was no chance to hear from Bridgewater or Vikings coaches. Wednesday’s session will have media in attendance, however, and Bridgewater’s status will likely be a popular topic of conversation although head coach Mike Zimmer, who is recovering from eye surgery, won’t be there.

The Vikings did not pick up Bridgewater’s contract option for the 2018 season, which opens up the possibility that he’ll be a free agent next offseason. He may also see his contract for this year roll over to next year if he’s placed on the physically unable to perform list to start the regular season, so there’s a lot to play out as the Vikings watch to see how Bridgewater fares physically while taking on a bigger workload.

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Buccaneers ink a trio of draft picks

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On the same day that the Buccaneers launched their annual offseason Organized Team Activities, a trio of players signed their rookie contracts.

Agreed to terms were third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith (pictured), fifth-round running back Jeremy McNichols, and seventh-round defensive tackle Steve Tu’ikolovatu.

The Buccaneers recently signed first-round tight end O.J. Howard. (That doesn’t really mean anything to the story. I just hated to not have three full paragraphs. Now I do.)

And there’s four.

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J.J. Watt doing everything at OTAs

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The Texans have a big piece of their defense back on the field for Organized Team Activities, but two other key players were on the sidelines as the team moved into the final phase of their offseason work.

Defensive end J.J. Watt missed the final 13 games of the regular season and both playoff games after having his second back surgery of 2016, but is back to doing all the drills at Texans practice. Watt said during the offseason that he’d be more cautious with his individual workouts and reiterated that Tuesday while adding that he’s taking a different approach to team work.

“I think the slow pace applies a little more to the weight room than it does to the field,” Watt said, via the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t like to play slow. The best part is just being back out here with my teammates. It’s so much fun to be in the meetings, to be on the field and be back with the guys. I feel great. I’m sure we’ll have some sort of program where I take a day off here and there, but as far as when I’m allowed to be on the field, I feel awesome.”

Linebackers Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus were not on the field with Watt during Tuesday’s practice. Cushing had shoulder surgery early in the offseason and was working on the side.

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Rams OK with Tampa leapfrogging L.A. in Super Bowl order

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Los Angeles lost the 2021 Super Bowl to Tampa today, as the NFL’s owners voted to delay the L.A. Super Bowl by a year because of construction delays on the new stadium. The Rams, who are building the stadium with owner Stan Kroenke’s money, say they’re fine with that.

Rams COO Kevin Demoff said in a statement that the Rams support the NFL’s decision and will now focus on getting the stadium ready a year later than planned.

“As work continues on the transformational sports and entertainment district being built at Hollywood Park, we are looking forward to moments such as a grand opening during the Summer of 2020 and the Super Bowl’s return to Los Angeles after nearly three decades,” Demoff said. “In the past week, we have worked with the NFL on the resolution that was presented today and are supportive of the NFL Owners’ decision to play Super Bowl LV in Tampa and to have Los Angeles host Super Bowl LVI in 2022. Over the next 90 days, we will continue to work with our partners across the Los Angeles region, including the Chargers, to deliver the elements promised in the bid that was approved last year.”

The Rams didn’t have much choice, as the NFL’s rules require a stadium to be open for two full seasons before it can host a Super Bowl. The NFL’s other owners could have voted to give the Rams a waiver and let them host the Super Bowl in the stadium’s first season, but they didn’t do that at today’s owners meeting. Instead, L.A. has been leapfrogged by Tampa, and Los Angeles is still nearly five years away from hosting a Super Bowl.

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Patriots, Gronkowski agree to 2017 incentive package

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Last year, the Patriots and tight end Rob Gronkowski began the process of negotiating a new contract. His latest back surgery derailed that process, and also prevented as a practical matter a new deal in 2017.

That said, the Patriots agreed to the unusual step of giving Gronkowski an incentive package with nothing in return: No reduced salaries, no restructuring, no extra terms. Instead, it’s simply more money based on performance, on top of the money Gronkowski already was due to earn.

Gronkowski had been due to make $5.25 million in 2017, roughly $8.5 million in 2018, and $9 million in 2019. As it now stands, he has a three-tiered incentive package for 2017.

According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski can earn another $5.5 million, another $3 million, or another $1 million under the following formula: (1) if he participates in 90 percent of the offensive snaps OR catches 80 passes OR gains 1,200 receiving yards OR scores 14 touchdowns OR is named a first-team All-Pro, Gronkowski will earn the extra $5.5 million; (2) if he participates in 80 percent of the snaps OR catches 70 passes OR has 1,000 receiving yards OR scores 12 touchdowns, he gets the extra $3 million; or (3) if he participates in 70 percent of the snaps OR catches 60 passes OR has 800 receiving yards OR scores 10 touchdowns, he gets the extra $1 million.

The extra payments would be due in February, with the cap charge applying in 2018.

Gronkowski is a three-time first-team All-Pro, he has two seasons with 90 or more catches, one with more than 14 touchdowns, two with 12 or more, and three with 1,000 or more. Every time he has appeared in at least 15 games (with the exception of his rookie year), Gronkowski has had more than 1,000 receiving yards, and he has been named a first-team All-Pro.

It’s a true win-win, giving Gronkowski something more than what he was entitled to and ensuring that the Patriots will have a happy and motivated player. Talks on a potential extension for the 28-year-old will now be tabled until 2018, and his performance in 2017 will be a major factor in those discussions.

Based on his history, a healthy Gronkowski enhances the chances of the kind of season that will help him become a first-team All-Pro, delivering the $5.5 million regardless of playing time, catches, yards, or touchdowns. The only question is whether, given the various offensive additions the Patriots have made, the ball will come his way often enough to allow him to achieve the kind of performance that gets him enough All-Pro votes.

Given the size and reliability of the target he gives to quarterback Tom Brady, that presence of other options shouldn’t be a major issue.

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NFL will have medical evaluation tent on sidelines

On a day when the NFL would have been wise to borrow college football’s overtime procedures, pro football is instead adopting something else from the amateur game.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters at the conclusion of the ownership meeting in Chicago that the league will use a medical tent on the sidelines in 2017. The University of Alabama first employed the device in 2015, aimed at preventing fans or media from seeing physical examinations that otherwise would in plain view of opponents, media, and fans. Other programs began to adopt the device in 2016.

While useful for the evaluation of various physical ailments without taking him to the locker room, it may not be an appropriate substitute for a locker-room concussion evaluation, which benefits from the player being removed from the noise and the elements of the playing area, possibly with a chance to remove his shoulder pads and relax a bit, allowing for a meaningful assessment of his cognitive abilities.

The tent will inject a high degree of secrecy to the medical evaluation process, putting the media and fans at the mercy of the accuracy of the in-game updates by hiding what sideline reporters or binocular-equipped journalists in the press box otherwise would be able to observe in plain view. While some teams may still do basic evaluations and manipulations in the open, it makes plenty of sense to use and device available to keep prying eyes from nothing anything more than the bare minimum about a given player’s health.

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Goodell still doesn’t think Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed

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At the league meeting two months ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he doesn’t think Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed. Two months later, nothing has changed: Kaepernick is still unemployed, and Goodell still doesn’t think he’s being blackballed.

“It’s the same thing I said before, which is each team makes individual decisions about how they can improve their team. And if they see an opportunity to improve their team I think they do it. They evaluate players, they evaluate systems and coaches, and they all make those individuals decisions to try to improve their team,” Goodell said.

Goodell said he hasn’t given any thought to having a conversation with Kaepernick.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to speaking to him but I haven’t,” Goodell said. “It’s certainly something that I could do but it’s not something I’ve thought about.”

The NFL has taken a lot of criticism over Kaepernick’s continued unemployment, but Goodell sees no reason that he needs to get involved.

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Goodell thinks players will prove Marvin Lewis wrong on celebrations

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Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn’t happy that the NFL has loosened up its rules on celebrations, but Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks Lewis will change his mind when he actually sees the new rule in place.

Goodell said today that while he understands that Lewis is concerned about allowing poor sportsmanship, Goodell believes players can celebrate without making themselves, their teams or the league look bad.

“I’ve heard it from Marvin before. We’ve had these discussions over the last couple years. I think the players will prove him wrong on that. I think the players will be responsible, show good sportsmanship and do it in a way that is entertaining but also respectful,” Goodell said.

Lewis is surely not the only coach who wants to crack down on celebrations: Football coaches by their very nature dislike anything that draws attention to an individual instead of the entire team. But on this one, Goodell seems to have the support of both players and fans, who think the game should be fun. Even if coaches think it’s deadly serious.

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