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Schedule could be a little tricky for the 49ers

Colin Kaepernick , AP

The NFL gave the 49ers a schedule with a few quirks. It is nothing they can’t handle, and they are quite capable of handling it with the sort of ease that makes them clear Super Bowl favorites when the calendar hits January.

Nevertheless, they have the sort of schedule that could cause them an uneasy moment or two.

In late September, the Niners have the unenviable task of playing at St. Louis just four days after hosting Indianapolis in San Francisco. Fourteen of the 17 Thursday games in 2013 pit teams either in the same time zone or just one time zone apart, with the 49ers, the Ravens (who travel to Denver in Week One) and Raiders (at Dallas on Thanksgiving) the exceptions.

Later in the campaign, the 49ers play 4-of-5 games on the road, with a bye and home game vs. Carolina sandwiched between contests at Tennessee (Week Seven), at Jacksonville in London (Week Eight), New Orleans (Week 11) and Washington (Week 12). The New Orleans and Washington matchups look the sternest tests of this four-pack of road trips, though the 49ers already have road wins against both opponents in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.

A challenging road game could come in Week 15, when the 49ers play at Tampa seven days after hosting rival Seattle. If the 49ers are drained after a slugfest with the Seahawks —  who are exceptionally skilled and major contenders in their own right — then Buccaneers could give them trouble.

The Niners’ season finale at Arizona also appears tricky. The previous Monday, the 49ers host the Falcons in a game that could be material to the NFC playoff picture. The Cardinals can be tough at home and figure to be up for the game whether contending or playing out the string.

Of course, by Week 17, the 49ers could be resting starters, the NFC West title again in their grasp. If that’s the case, they will have aced some tests lesser teams would have flunked.

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Connor Cook addresses pre-draft criticism

6cf09b6943f7366ac10c83bebdec51bb_crop_north Getty Images

Some (including former Raiders and Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden) regard former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook as the best option at the position he plays. But Cook has faced relentless criticism in the weeks preceding the draft.

Cook addressed the criticism during a Thursday visit to PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, starting with the criticism that he believes is the silliest.

“My character and people wanna say that I’m cocky or I’m arrogant and I don’t even know where they get that from,” Cook said. “I mean, it’s not like I’m talking trash out on the field or showboating. I just go out there and I play the game that I love. I lead my team to victory, try to lead them every single week to victory, and just go out there and play with passion and play with heart.

“So I think the crazy thing is they just want to knock my character and my personality. They’re saying things that are just basically the complete opposite of what they are. Someone wants to say, ‘Oh he’s cocky,’ and ‘Oh he doesn’t get along with his teammates,’ and ‘In the locker room his teammates don’t like him. Have they even been in the locker room? No. So how would they even know that?”

Of course, the best scouts find out the truth without being in the locker room because they get reliable information from trustworthy sources inside the locker room. That doesn’t mean the criticism of Cook is accurate, however. Especially since teams that want a player always have an incentive to try to induce a slide.

“There was a period during the season where there wasn’t a whole lot of talk,” Cook said. “Then all of a sudden as the season started to end it started to pick back up, and then all of a sudden once the season ended it just magnified times a hundred. So I was pretty surprised.”

The biggest criticism is that Cook was never a captain of his team.

“Not all captains are good leaders,” Cook said. “Like coach Gruden said on [his pre-draft] show not all head coaches are good leaders. You don’t need a title to lead. I think I showed that this year. I wasn’t voted team captain but did that hinder me from leading? No. Did that hinder from leading our team to a 12-2 record and a Big Ten title? No. So it didn’t effect the way I played. It didn’t affect the way that I went about my business or the way that I prepared. If anything it made me hungrier to want to go out there and prove people wrong for what they were saying, and I think I did that. It’s crazy how people just get caught up on, ‘Oh, you must be a captain to lead,’ ‘Oh you’re a good leader you must be a captain.’ It’s stuff like that. Pretty crazy how it all kinda took off, but looking forward to it being over.”

It could be over as soon as tonight, if Cook is picked in the first round. He said he’s entering the process expecting not to be, and he added that he won’t start getting nervous unless and until round two comes and goes without Cook getting a phone call.

For more from his phone call to PFT Live, you know what to do.

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Report: Browns, Cowboys trying to trade into back end of first round

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The Browns and Cowboys are both on the board in the first eight picks of the first round, but they reportedly have interest in making another trip to the podium before Thursday night is over.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the teams are making calls to move back into the later part of the round.

There’s a variety of reasons why the teams could want to make such a move, but it’s probably a decent bet that they would have their eyes on acquiring a quarterback that they feel would be a reach at the very top of the draft. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will be long gone by that point, which leaves Paxton Lynch of Memphis, Connor Cook of Michigan State and Christian Hackenberg of Penn State as the next set of quarterbacks on most lists of the top players at the position.

Of that trio, Lynch has been the one most frequently mentioned as a first round prospect. Schefter suggested earlier on Thursday that Lynch might have a hard time finding a landing spot in the first round, but revised that report with the start of the draft closing in.

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Goodell sounds a cautious note about expanding the playoffs

Roger Goodell AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said in the past that the league would consider expanding the postseason from 12 to 14 teams. But as the league has continued to study the matter, Goodell sounds skeptical about how feasible postseason expansion is.

In an interview today on ESPN, Goodell said that the Competition Committee has explored all the possibilities relevant to expanding the playoffs, and that there’s concern that it could lead to watering down the regular season.

“You’ve got to be really careful with this,” Goodell said. “You know how important the regular season is to us, and the number of teams that qualify for the postseason affects that. We want every game to mean something in the regular season and we want our postseason to be as dramatic as possible. Right now we have a pretty good formula.”

NFLPA President Eric Winston said this month on PFT Live that the players’ union hasn’t been presented with any type of plan to expand the postseason. The owners may not be presenting such a plan because they don’t have a good one.

If 14 teams made the playoffs, it would likely mean only one team getting a bye in each conference, and six playoff games during wild card weekend. That could be difficult to schedule, and it could make for more 8-8 or 7-9 teams getting into the postseason. Right now the NFL’s postseason is great. Two more teams could be too much of a good thing.

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Nine-year SEC draft streak in jeopardy tonight

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:  Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Mississippi Rebels scores runs in a touchdown during the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

With plenty of guessing still going on past the top two picks in tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft, an impressive college-related streak is in jeopardy.

A player from the Southeastern Conference has been selected in the top five in every draft since 2007. If the Chargers at No. 3 or Jaguars at No. 5 don’t take Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil tonight, it’s not likely that streak will continue.

The SEC has had more players drafted than any other conference has in those nine straight years. Four SEC players in that time — JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Jadeveon Clowney — have been the No. 1 overall pick.

The timing fits. An SEC team won college football’s national championship every season from 2006-12, and Alabama won its third in five seasons in 2015 after a two-year “drought.”

AL.com ran down a bunch of SEC-related numbers and streaks Thursday morning. An SEC player has been selected in 169 consecutive rounds of the draft. The second round in 1993 was the last without an SEC player being selected.

In 10 straight drafts a different SEC program has provided the first player from the conference drafted. If Tunsil goes first that streak will hit 11. If Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is picked first, it will end.

The SEC had 54 players drafted last year; the ACC was next with 47. The SEC had a record 63 players drafted in 2013.

The top-five streak started in 2007 after an outlier year. The first SEC player drafted in 2006 was Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, at No. 11. Only one other SEC player, Tennessee safety Jason Allen, went in the top 20 in 2006 after nine of the top 25 came from the SEC in 2005.

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Cowboys exercise Travis Frederick’s 2017 option

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Last week, there was a report that the Cowboys planned to exercise their team option on center Travis Frederick’s contract for the 2017 season before the draft started.

The team didn’t leave much time on the clock before the Rams are on the clock, but the deed is done. The Cowboys announced Thursday that they have exercised the option on the 31st overall pick of the 2013 draft.

There’s a nice bit of timing to exercising the option on Frederick just before the start of the first round. When Frederick was drafted, the Cowboys took a lot of criticism for a player that was perceived as a reach at that point in the proceedings. Three years later, there aren’t many players that would go ahead of Frederick if teams were drafting again and it would be a surprise if the option is just a precursor to a longer deal with their starting center.

It’s something to keep in mind in the next few days when people decide to declare draft winners and losers before a player has stepped foot on the field in the NFL.

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Cowboys “struggling” with whether to take Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 12:  Running back Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after scoring a 33 yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two years ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones desperately wanted to use a first-round pick to obtain quarterback Johnny Manziel. Someone ultimately persuaded Jones to come in from that specific ledge.

This year, it’s widely believed that Jones wants running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the draft. As one source with knowledge of the team’s deliberations tells PFT, the Cowboys are currently “struggling” with whether to take Elliott.

Elliott, who plays a position that has talented players available at every round of the draft and beyond, could instantly give the Cowboys a dangerous running game. Coupled with the team’s already potent passing attack (if quarterback Tony Romo stays healthy), that could help Dallas improve dramatically from last year to this year.

It’s no surprise that Jones would want Elliott. Jones has a much stronger “win now” vibe than others in the organization (such as team executive V.P. and heir to the throne Stephen Jones), who are more likely to take a longer-term view of the situation.

If the Cowboys take Elliott that high, it will create plenty of pressure for the rookie. He welcomes it.

“There will be some pressure because there’s gonna be some high expectations but my whole life I’ve had high expectations,” Elliott recently told PFT Live. “Going to a university that demands competing for a championship every year like Ohio State has created high expectations and I think as an athlete that’s something we look forward to. We look forward to the high expectations, we look forward to proving people wrong and no one would want it easy. Everyone wants something to work for.”

Reminded that being picked that high means he’s expected not to just be great but to be an all-time great, Elliott didn’t flinch.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “That’s the way I was raised to be. To be exceptional at everything, to be excellent and I demand excellence of myself so I wouldn’t say that anyone else’s expectations are more than my own expectations for myself.”

The best expectations for the Cowboys’ pick and the bulk of Thursday night will be to expect the unexpected. Most fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

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NFL once again directs broadcast partners not to tip picks

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t want anyone to screw up the ultimate reality show’s ultimate offseason reality show. So the NFL has once again told the companies that give the NFL billions of dollars every year to not let their employees report on or otherwise “tip” draft picks before Commissioner Roger Goodell announces those picks from the podium at the draft in Chicago.

Ryan Glasspiegel of TheBigLead.com reports that the NFL has reiterated its request from a year ago, and that it applies beyond NFL Network and ESPN, which will be televising the draft.

A year ago, this didn’t bother me. I decided in 2013 not to tip picks, because the audience overwhelmingly doesn’t want it. The audience wants to preserve the moments of manufactured drama that come from the slow walk to the podium and the announcement of the pick (which may or may not entail the accurate pronunciation of the draft pick’s name).

Moreover, the act of getting the information previously didn’t entail Pulitzer-level reporting procedures. Most folks in most draft rooms are simply sitting around and waiting on the first night of the draft (or, after their team’s pick has been made, sitting around and not waiting). The teams know the picks before the picks are announced, and the announcement is delayed by the fact that it’s a TV production that necessarily entails the picks being known by plenty of people but held until the time comes to declare them.

That said, it apparently is getting harder to get the information early enough to screw the NFL’s proverbial pooch. As one source tells PFT, the picks in 2015 arrived to the various team draft rooms only “seconds before” the picks were announced. Also, the Ray Rice and Ted Wells investigations have created a Breaking Bad vibe for many when it comes to cell phones, making them leery about sending sensitive information via anything other than a disposable device or a non-NFL email account maintained on truly personal digital equipment that falls beyond the reach of Big Shield.

Maybe next year I’ll send a “burner” to a trusted source inside a draft room or otherwise lay the foundation for getting the information. Fortunately (for the NFL, for me, and/or for both), there’s not enough time to implement the plan I’m suddenly very tempted to implement.

Until then, let’s see if the audience’s mood has changed. Three years ago, 85 percent of you didn’t want to know the picks before the Commissioner announced them. How do you know feel about that?

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Report: Ryan Fitzpatrick would rather not play than accept current Jets offer

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

The standoff between the Jets and free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been going on for quite a while now and Fitzpatrick appears to be trying a new tactic to get the Jets to offer him more money.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Fitzpatrick has told people that he would “rather not play football” than play for the Jets under the terms of their current offer. The Jets have reportedly offered Fitzpatrick somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million while Fitzpatrick is reportedly seeking considerably more to return for a second season with the team.

That gap has been in place for the entire offseason and the Jets have visited with a couple of other quarterbacks — Robert Griffin III and Brian Hoyer — without signing either one. Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan said last week that re-signing Fitzpatrick remains the team’s focus, but there’s been no sign that they’re reversing course on their offer.

Schefter’s report doesn’t specify if Fitzpatrick would play for another team for the money the Jets are offering, but there hasn’t been any sign that anyone else is going to top what the Jets are willing to pay him. Brian Costello of the New York Post reports that Fitzpatrick “wants to play” and is not willing to sit out, although it’s not clear what he’d do if their offer remains the best one on the table.

The draft could bring a change if the Jets have their eye on an incoming quarterback and aren’t able to acquire him, but it’s not clear what else might shift their view of Fitzpatrick’s value at this point.

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Colin Kaepernick makes on-field appearance at 49ers minicamp

Colin Kaepernick AP

It doesn’t look like there will be a trade that sends quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the 49ers to the Broncos during the draft, something that may remain the case well after the draft as well if Kaepernick’s salary for the 2016 season continues to be more than the Broncos want to pay.

Another issue that could stand in the way of Kaepernick getting traded away from the 49ers is his health. Kaepernick had multiple surgeries after the end of the 2015 season and has not been cleared to resume football activities at this point.

It appears he’s making progress toward that green light, however. The 49ers wrapped up a three-day minicamp on Thursday and Kaepernick was on the field while the team’s other quarterbacks were running drills. Kaepernick didn’t run or throw and wasn’t wearing a helmet, but did mimic the quarterback’s motions on each play.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that Kaepernick has also resumed working out in the weight room. The expectation is that he’ll be cleared to do more at some point next month and we may also have more certainty about where he’ll be doing more by then as well.

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Cardell Hayes indicted for second-degree murder of Will Smith

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 17:   Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints  during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 17, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The man who shot former Saints defensive end Will Smith has been indicted on murder and attempted murder charges by a grand jury in New Orleans.

Cardell Hayes was indicted on Thursday while a probable cause hearing was going on in a separate courtroom. That hearing was being held to determine if there was reason to charge Hayes, so the news of the indictment obviously interrupted those proceedings.

Hayes was indicted on second-degree murder for shooting Smith and on second-degree attempted murder for shooting Smith’s widow Racquel, who was hospitalized and attended Smith’s funeral in a wheelchair as a result of her injuries.

Hayes has been jailed since the April 9 shooting, which took place after Hayes’ car allegedly rear-ended Smith’s car. An argument ensued, followed by gunshots that the Orleans Parish coroner said left Smith shot once in the chest and seven times in the back. Hayes’ lawyers don’t dispute Hayes fired those shots, but have argued that their client is “legally not guilty” of murder.

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Seahawks make moves in case they trade out of first again

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17:  Phillip Gaines #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs tackles Brandon Williams #86 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carolina won 28-16.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks actually have a first-round pick this year, at least for the moment.

But they’ve covered themselves with some transactions, just in case they end up not using it again.

The team announced they had signed former Panthers tight end Brandon Williams and former Saints defensive end Tavaris Barnes.

Williams is the accomplished one of the pair, having caught four passes in parts of three seasons with the Panthers, but he finished the year with the Dolphins.

The Seahawks pick 26th overall, but they’ve traded down the last four seasons and out of the first round altogether the last three years, so these might be the only guys they end up adding today.

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Chargers say they’ve been locked in on one player all along

Tom Telesco AP

With the Rams and Eagles set to take Jared Goff and Carson Wentz with the first two picks in the draft, the real intrigue starts at No. 3. But for all the talk that the Chargers have plenty of options with the third pick, they say they’ve always known which prospect they like best.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco told Brit McHenry of ESPN that he has been locked in on one player all along.

What we don’t know is who that player is. The hot name is Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, but various mock drafts have the Chargers taking Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey or Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.

Telesco also said there’s a real possibility the Chargers could trade down, but he doesn’t want to move down too far. So if another team with a Top 10 pick is willing to give up a lot to move up to No. 3, Telesco will take that call. If not, the Chargers will take the player they identified as their pick long ago.

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Report: Reggie Ragland flagged for enlarged aorta

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31:  Linebacker Reggie Ragland #19 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after stopping the Michigan State Spartans on third down in the first quarter during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland pops up in the first round of most mock drafts, but a medical issue may cause some teams to think twice about picking him.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Ragland has been “flagged” by some teams because he has an enlarged aorta. The condition requires yearly monitoring and can put one at risk of developing aneurysms and could require surgical intervention to help avoid that outcome.

Per Rapoport, some teams have pushed Ragland down their draft board as a result of the condition. He also cites seven teams that don’t believe it will impact his football career as long as he is monitored closely over the years.

Ragland took over for Ravens 2014 first-round pick C.J. Mosley as a physical presence in the middle of the Alabama defense and could see a lot of playing time early in his career if he shows he can be the same player at the professional level.

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Prep for the draft with PFT Live podcasts

PFTLive

There’s still plenty of time before the draft starts. Which means there’s plenty of time to catch up on this week’s editions of the PFT Live podcast.

The shows for all four days are posted. Guests include Adam Gase, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Connor Cook, Matt Forte, DeMaurice Smith.

You can download all episodes at iTunes or audioBoom.

We’ll be back with another three-hour edition of the program on Friday morning, breaking down round one of the draft and getting ready for the next two rounds. Plus talking about whatever else happens between now and then.

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Raiders owner pledges $500 million for Las Vegas stadium

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is seen during warm ups before his team competes against the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mark Davis is probably getting comped on this trip to Las Vegas, because he’s willing to drop half a billion dollars there.

Via Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders owner told the Southern Nevada Tourism and Infrastructure Committee meeting that he was ready to commit $500 million toward a stadium there to bring his team to the desert.

Davis also brought some rhetoric with him, saying Las Vegas: “would not just be getting a football team, they would be getting everyone who has worn the silver and black for the last 56 years.”

Of course, shaking the tree and waiting for the money to fall out isn’t the only problem for Davis, who would still need to convince 23 of his fellow owners to approve a move. But the reaction to Las Vegas has been more positive (or at least less negative) than it has been in the past.

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