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With Supreme Court hearing this week, Ayanbadejo, Fujita continue push for gay marriage

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So much for sports figures steering clear of potentially controversial topics.

A handful of NFL players have embraced the issue of gay marriage, and as the constitutionality of California’s ban moves this week toward formal consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court, two of them have made the case on high-profile platforms.

Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo appeared Sunday on Face the Nation to explains that, in his view, gay marriage provides the next frontier in the battle for equality.

“This is something I’ve been speaking about since 2009,” Ayanbadejo said, via Politico.  “In my opinion it’s just the evolution of civil rights and equal rights.  Athletes do a lot to change society and this is something we can make a big difference.  It starts with bullying and kids in elementary school and goes all the way to the legislative, and treating everybody equally. . . .

“This is a fight that myself and a bunch of my colleagues want to take on and we feel like everybody should be treated equally.  We’re not going to stop until everyone is treated fairly.”

Free-agent linebacker Scott Fujita made the case for acceptance in a New York Times op-ed.  Fujita also addressed the question of whether athletes should be involved in controversies of this nature.

“[W]e’re people first, and football players a distant second,” Fujita wrote.  “Football is a big part of what we do, but a very small part of who we are.  And historically, sports figures like Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali have been powerful agents for social change.  That’s why the messages athletes send — including the way they treat others and the words they use — can influence many people, especially children.”

Of course, some people will never be influenced.  But many could be, and those are the persons to whom Ayanbadejo, Fujita, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, and others are directing the message of equality and acceptance.

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Gronk is “full-go” at OTAs

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With so much time spent this week focusing on players not participating in OTAs, one of the best players in the NFL quietly made a major impact in his return to offseason workouts.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, fresh from signing a new deal that gives him the chance to make up to $5.5 million in extra cash for 2017 with no quo for the quid and less than six months removed from back surgery, was “full-go” during a Thursday workout in the rain, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald.

“He looks like Gronk,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, via Guregian.

Coach Bill Belichick was more circumspect (shocker). “I mean, we’ll see how it goes,” Belichick told reporters regarding Gronkowski. “We’ve only practiced a couple days. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Gronkowski also took no drills off, participating in everything the team did. So he’s currently healthy. The real question is whether he can stay healthy.

Gronk has up to $5.5 million riding on it, along with a desire to have a direct hand in achieving what would be the third large ring he places on it.

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Cris Carter explains OBJ’s poor performance in playoffs

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As it turns out, Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter is serving as something more than a mentor for Odell Beckham Jr. Carter also is acting as a mouthpiece, of sorts.

In his comments to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News regarding Carter’s new role, Carter provides an explanation for Beckham’s subpar-by-far performance in a playoff loss to the Packers. Many believe that Beckham was trying too hard to silence critics who questioned his decision to take a day-off trip to Miami for a boat party as the game approached. Carter says that’s not the case.

“He realized he was too hyped for the game and put too much pressure on himself after he dropped the first pass,” Carter said. “That created anxiety. He didn’t play well. He thought he was going to have a great game against Green Bay and destroy them. He tried to do too much after the first drop and that’s when the anxiety came. . . . What about all the [Giants] who didn’t go to Miami and played like horse manure?”

So, to summarize, Beckham has opted to hang out and/or work out with Carter, Johnny Manziel, and Iggy Azalea in lieu of being with his teammates for the first three days of OTAs, Beckham has provided no explanation for his absence, and Beckham’s new mentor has thrown various teammates under the bus for playing “like horse manure” in the postseason.

Will anyone be surprised if the next step is a leak from a source close to Beckham that the player would like to be traded to a new team?

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Despite disappointing rookie year, Cardinals high on Robert Nkemdiche

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Robert Nkemdiche, the defensive tackle who was the Cardinals’ 2016 first-round draft pick, had a disappointing rookie season: He played in just five games and recorded just one tackle as coach Bruce Arians questioned his work ethic and maturity.

But 2017 is looking different. Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said Nkemdiche is looking good in offseason workouts and seems ready to bounce back and show the talent that made him a first-round pick.

I’ve been happy with him,” Buckner added. “I never got down on him. I didn’t expect him to come in and do all that dominating, because I knew the position. It takes time. It takes some guys even longer. He is starting to come around. He’s in great shape. He’s fully back from the ankle. You see the natural ability take over. Now it’s all about Robert.”

Nkemdiche says he didn’t grow frustrated by the coaches’ criticism last year.

“Frustrated means that you’re not aware of the lesson you are being taught,” Nkemdiche said. “I wasn’t frustrated. Of course I think things could have gone differently, but they didn’t. That’s what this world set up for me. Last year wasn’t my year to be ready. So I took a step back, learned from it, and got a better understanding about how to be a professional football player.”

This year, Nkemdiche sounds ready to have the kind of season that won’t leave anyone questioning his work ethic or maturity.

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Saints taking it slow with Hau’oli Kikaha’s third ACL tear

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Saints linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha is a talented pass rusher who showed promise as a rookie when the Saints drafted him in the second round in 2015. But he has bad knees, and for now getting his knees healthy is his highest offseason priority.

Kikaha tore his ACL during offseason workouts a year ago, and he also tore his ACL twice in college at Hawaii. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said they’re holding him out of team drills because they want to make sure he’ll be completely healthy when the season starts.

“He’s doing really well. He’s going through some individual drills, he’s taking part in the walk-through,” Allen said. “I think the training staff, I think we’re going to be smart with him.”

Allen said Kikaha, who had four sacks and four forced fumbles in 2015, was off to a good start in the 2016 offseason when he tore his ACL.

“The key is to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go,” Allen said. “Whatever we have to do to have him full go and ready to go through training camp and the season, I think that’s what the plan will be.”

With Kikaha’s history, it’s fair to wonder how long the Saints can expect him to stay healthy. They at least want him to be healthy when the regular season begins.

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Richard Sherman imagined playing for Cowboys, Patriots

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The excellent article from Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine detailing the dysfunction in Seattle includes some news regarding the Richard Sherman trade possibilities. Per Wickersham, Sherman had told friends that he imagined playing for two other teams: The Cowboys and the Patriots.

Sherman hoped that running back Marshawn Lynch would join him in New England. This meshes with the report from former ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder, a Sherman confidant who reported that Lynch’s options for unretirement consisted of playing for the Raiders or the team to which Sherman was traded.

Wickersham explains that both team and player had grown weary of the drama by the time the draft arrived, and that Sherman the the Seahawks have mended fences. For now.

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Superdome renovations could be coming

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With more and more NFL teams getting bigger and better and fancier stadiums, the Saints could end up renovating their current home of 42 years.

Via Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a $422,000 study has been commissioned to determine potential upgrades to the Superdome. The six-month project will result in a master plan/wish list for ways to make the venue better.

“The whole idea of this was not to wait until the last minute,” Saints president Dennis Lauscha told Duncan. “If we’re going to do this, let’s start now. This project is about trying to get the stadium to the next generation of fans and make it fun for them, as well.”

Possible changes include a “re-imagined front door,” removal of parking garages on the east side of the stadium, installation of field-level boxes, improved terrace seating, incorporation of virtual-reality technology, expansion of the visiting team’s locker room, and renovation of the press box.

The overriding goal will be to extend the useful life of the structure for 15 to 20 years at roughly $1 billion less than it would cost to replace the Superdome. It’s also believed that the changes will help the Superdome get another Super Bowl after swinging and missing in the last two tries to bring the game to New Orleans for the 11th time.

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Brandon Marshall believes there will be no problems with the Giants

AP

Giants receiver Brandon Marshall recently took the high road in response to withering criticism from former Jets teammate Sheldon Richardson. Meeting with reporters to conclude Marshall’s first week of OTAs with his latest team, Marshall admitted to past problems, but he predicted there will be none with the other New York team.

“[T]he first couple years of my career, more than the first couple years, really the first five years, I wasn’t responsible with the platform that we have,” Marshall said, via Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. “I’m not a perfect guy, but I worked extremely hard to get in the position I am today. The first couple years of my career was rough, and a lot of it I did myself. I hurt myself. And since that point, once I figured things out, I’ve worked extremely hard to be a better person and work extremely hard to be a better teammate, a better father, a better husband, and I’m proud of where I’m at today.”

Specifically as to his beef with Richardson — or more accurately Richardson’s lingering beef with Marshall, Marshall had nothing to add.

“You know what? That is the third or fourth time we’re going down that path,” Marshall said. “Like I said, it was a tough year for us. In the National Football League, it’s not unique. . . . We had high hopes coming off that first year we were all together in 2015. It kind of blew up in our face. So we all were disappointed.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday recently joined PFT Live to discuss the various dynamics regarding Richardson and Marshall and Marshall and the Giants and plenty of others issues regarding the two New York teams.

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Jets hire Collette Smith as coaching intern

The Jets plan to hire Collette Smith as an intern working with defensive backs during training camp, making her just the third woman to work in a coaching capacity for an NFL team.

“I’m over the top. I’m humbled and I’m proud,” Smith, a lifelong Jets fan, told the New York Daily News. “This could have happened with any NFL team. But it just so happened that it was with my beloved New York Jets. This is bigger because of that. God forbid it would have been with the Patriots. But I still would have done it.”

The 44-year-old Smith played three seasons for the New York Sharks of the Independent Women’s Football League. She spent some time last year observing Jets practices and speaking with head coach Todd Bowles, who was impressed enough from their discussions to offer her a role with the team during camp.

Smith joins Jen Welter, a coaching intern with the Cardinals in 2015, and Kathryn Smith, a quality control coach with the Bills in 2016, as the only women to work on NFL coaching staffs.

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Chiefs announce front office additions

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After a few defections this offseason, the Chiefs have announced some additions to their personnel staff.

The team announced a number of moves, including hiring Chris Shea as the club’s salary cap and legal executive and Tim Terry as director of pro personnel.

Shea was most recently with the Eagles, while Terry joins from the Packers (with General Manager John Dorsey dipping into his background there.

The Chiefs have also promoted Brandt Tilis to director of football administration, named Ryan Poles director of college scouting, Ryne Nutt assistant director of college scouting, Dan Zegers college scouting coordinator, and Jim Noel pro scout. Daniel Ricci has been added as a player personnel assistant.

The Chiefs lost Chris Ballard to the Colts, among other changes.

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Philip Rivers happy with left side of his line

AP

If the Chargers plan to contend in 2017, they need better blocking. They may be on the verge of getting it on the left side of their line.

“[Russell Okung] and [Matt] Slauson there together on that left side have been fun to watch in practice,” River’s told the team’s official website. “I think those two can cause some problems for a defense.  They both really seem to already work well together.  You’ve heard me say I think more than quarterback [and] receiver getting on the same page, it’s those linemen [that’s more important].  So, in the short time that Slauson has been back at left guard and Russell’s been here [it’s been awesome].  They communicate all the time.  They enjoy that part of it. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Rivers is particularly pleased with the arrival of Okung, who joined the Chargers after a year with the Broncos.

“Russell’s been awesome,” Rivers said.  “He’s been what you expect.  I didn’t know him, but I’ve known of him [from] his time in Seattle and last year in Denver. He’s a true pro.”

Slauson slides to left guard after spending his first year with the Chargers at center. If they can stay healthy (which has been an across-the-board problem for the Chargers in recent years), the Chargers could improve enough not only to climb out of the basement of the AFC West but also to get themselves in contention for the postseason.

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Report: Saints give Zach Strief a raise

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The Saints took a tackle in the first round of this year’s draft and Ryan Ramczyk will be a starter up front at some point if all goes according to plan, but Zach Strief is still the top guy at right tackle and the Saints have reportedly funneled a little more money his way.

Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate reports that the team has bumped Strief’s base salary by $700,000 to $1.7 million for the 2017 season. He’s also reportedly getting another $300,000 in roster bonuses, which makes him eligible to make another $1.7 million if he’s on the active roster every week this season.

Strief’s cap hit goes from $5.1 million to $6.1 million as a result. He has a $5.1 million cap charge for the 2018 season as well.

Strief, a 2006 seventh-round pick in New Orleans, has started every game he’s played since the start of the 2011 season and has only missed two games over the last four seasons.

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Cris Carter mentors OBJ

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Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has opted to skip voluntary offseason workouts with the team. Arguably, he’s getting even better preparation for what he’ll be facing in the fall from Josh Norman and others.

As explained by Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, Beckham spent Thursday not at OTAs but working out with Hall of Famer Cris Carter, who is using tough love in an effort to help Beckham better deal with the verbal abuse he gets from opponents.

“I told him, ‘It’s the first time you’re the second best wide receiver in the building. I know you don’t like that, but get used to it. I’m the one with the [gold] jacket,” Carter told Myers. “His mind is in a great place. He knows what’s at stake. He wants to work out to get better. Sometimes a personal trainer is better than the strength coach for the team.”

Carter realizes that Beckham faces extra agitation because of who he is and how he has reacted in the past.

“With Odell, they go to extremes because it is him,” Carter said. “In 108 days, he will be ready to play against the Dallas Cowboys. Is he with the Giants at OTAs? I don’t care. It’s not my job. My job as a former player is to help young players understand about the business. I’m committed to helping Odell get better. So as far as OTAs, that’s somebody else’s responsibility.”

Still, with Beckham’s effort to work with people like Johnny Manziel (“Odell needed someone to throw him the ball,” Carter explained) and Carter coming one some of the same 10 days when the Giants have full-squad offseason practices aimed at preparing for the season, some are wondering whether he still doesn’t get it, whether he still hasn’t matured the way the team wants.

“Odell is going to grow up,” Carter said. “That why’s he is bringing other people in his life so he can grow up. If he wasn’t trying to grow up, he wouldn’t be calling Cris Carter. He’s getting people to tell him all the right stuff. He wants to be better. Not only as a player, but emotionally, as a son, friend and teammate. He’s in the process of doing that.”

Some would say Carter also has some growing up to do as a mentor, given that past stints have included a too-outlandish-to-be-true effort to advise incoming rookies to avoid criminal scrutiny by pre-arranging for a designated-driver-style “fall guy.”

“Being a mentor, that was one of the worst moments I’ve had,” Carter said. “You never want it to affect your ability to get access to young kids. I deeply regret the word choice. What I was trying to get across was these guys have crews. Stop driving the car. Stop having drugs in the car. Smart people realized what I was trying to say. The choice of words was bad and I would never, never give anyone advice about breaking the law.”

The “smart people” who realized what Carter was trying to say apparently didn’t include Carter himself, given that he seemed to realize what he said and what it meant when he profusely apologized for the remarks after they came to light.

“It’s really hard to go through my thought process,” Carter said in August 2015. “I can’t make an excuse for what my mindset was. My heart was in the right place. I didn’t use words that I was very proud of. It’s not the kind of advice I would offer young people. I would never tell young people to break the law or avoid prosecution. It was bad advice. I really, really regret my words when I heard them come back to me. And more importantly it hurt young people and it hurt them in their approach to the National Football League. So I take it very, very seriously. I do regret that day. I hope moving forward that the NFL still has enough trust in me and has me connected to their young people.”

Here are the comments that caused the kerfuffle: “If you all got a crew, you got to have a fall guy in the crew. If you all have a crew, one of those fools got to know, he’s the one going to jail. We’ll get him out.”

So while Carter likely won’t urge Beckham to get a “fall guy,” he’s also not urging Beckham to show up for OTAs.”

“I recommend he should do what he wants to do,” Carter said.

Beckham doing what he wants to do is one of the reasons he’s in a position where everyone watches what he chooses to do, because he’s done too many things that have caused problems for the team and for him. His latest choice — to work out away from team property — could become problematic more for him than the team, because a serious injury suffered while working out with Manziel or Carter or anyone else would jeopardize both Beckham’s $1.839 million salary for 2017 and his injury-guaranteed fifth-year option of $8.459 million.

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Raiders start signing draft picks

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The Raiders are finally joining the majority of the NFL in signing draft picks.

According to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Raiders are signing three seventh-round picks today.

Safety Shalom Luani, tackle Jylan Ware, and defensive lineman Treyvon Hester are putting their names on contracts. The team also announced the signing of fourth-round tackle David Sharpe, fifth-round linebacker Marquel Lee, and seventh-round running back Elijah Hood, leaving three unsigned picks.

That leaves just the Saints and Rams as the only two teams who haven’t signed picks yet (the Vikings started this week). The Rams have held back on the process in the past to allow players to go through some financial orientation before they put bonus money in their hands.

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Broncos sign Carlos Henderson to wrap up draft class

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The Broncos have signed all of their draft picks.

Mike Klis of KUSA reports that third-round wide receiver Carlos Henderson has agreed to terms on his four-year rookie deal with the team, which leaves all eight members of their draft class with contracts.

Henderson was one of two wide receivers (fifth-rounder Isaiah McKenzie was the other) and one of two Hendersons (along with sixth-round running back De’Angelo) to join the Broncos in the draft. He caught 82 passes for 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns at Louisiana Tech last season and also finished second in the nation in kickoff return average.

Special teams work is often the surest way for rookies to get on the field and Henderson figures to get a long look as a returner. With no sure third receiver behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the rookie could also land a nice role on offense if he impresses during the preseason.

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The full, 70-minute Thomas Dimitroff interview

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Earlier this week, Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff visited 30 Rock in New York City for an extended, no-time-limit interview on PFT Live. Ultimately, we talked for 70 minutes.

Pieces of that discussion have been posted here, and broadcast on Friday’s show. Now, you can see and hear the entire interview.

All 70 minutes, start to finish. Uninterrupted, unedited (as far as I know), unabridged.

Thanks to Thomas for taking the time to create it, and thanks to you for taking the time to listen to it. You’ll know a lot more about football, Dimitroff, and the Falcons if you do.

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