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Mike Tomlin: Sean Spence will “have a full recovery” from knee injury

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Last week, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler suggested Sean Spence, the club’s 2012 third-round pick, might never play again after suffering a serious knee injury last summer, with Butler saying it would be “miraculous” if Spence were to come back in 2013 or 2014.

However, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Saturday he’s optimistic about the prospect of a return for Spence.

“I did hear the opinion regarding Spence,” Tomlin said, according to the Steelers. “My opinion differs. I think he’s going to have a full recovery, but now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions. Do with it what you wish.”

In his remarks last week, Butler called Spence a “great kid” who merited an opportunity to stay with the club as he worked to return to the field, and Butler also expressed some hope that Spence could possibly return.

“He’s not only a very intelligent football player but he is going to provide some intangibles in our locker room that we desperately need, I think,” Butler said, according a transcript from the club. “We’re going to ride with him for another year, I think. Hopefully his knee will respond and he can play again.”

This much is clear: the Steelers would very much like Spence to make a comeback, and they believe there is value to having him around the club. On Saturday, Tomlin noted that the injury rehabilitation for Spence, tight end Heath Miller (knee) and Marcus Gilbert (ankle) “is going according to plan.”

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Panthers receivers blocking out the criticism

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Every wide receiver who caught a pass for the Panthers last year is gone this year, and the replacements aren’t exactly a group of superstars. In fact, the Panthers are viewed by many as having the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL.

But the Panthers’ new receivers say they’re blocking out that criticism and eager to show what kind of group they are. Panthers receiver Tiquan Underwood says he and his fellow receivers are focused on their jobs, not what anyone on the outside is saying about them.

“We’re going to do what we did in OTAs and minicamp: just come in each day and go to work. That’s it,” Underwood told USA Today. “Don’t worry about what the media is saying. Don’t worry about what even your own family is saying. You’ve got to block it out. Just go to work.”

Underwood said he thinks he and fellow receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin can get on the same page with quarterback Cam Newton before the season starts.

“We have no choice,” Underwood said. “This is what we get paid to do, so we’ve got to make it happen.”

The Panthers’ receivers and quarterbacks are getting together next week in Charlotte to do some pre-training camp work. Panthers fans have to hope that goes well. The Panthers’ receivers have a lot of work to do.

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Maurice Jones-Drew: London deserves an NFL team

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Running back Maurice Jones-Drew made the trip to London last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars for their regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Now with the Oakland Raiders, Jones-Drew will make another trip to London this season as the Raiders will face the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in September.

The talk about the possibility of a full-time NFL team based in London has grown over the past several seasons as the league as expanded its presence in England. Jones-Drew believes the time for an NFL team in London is getting closer.

You know what? I think they deserve one.” Jones-Drew said, via Neil Reynolds of BritViewNFL.com.“…I think the fans deserve it and London deserves it because it is a great city.”

For the first time, the NFL hosted two games in London in the same season last year as the Jaguars played the 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Minnesota Vikings. That program continues to grow this year with three games in London. The Raiders and Dolphins will meet Sept. 28, the Detroit Lions will face the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 26 and the Dallas Cowboys will face the Jaguars on Nov. 9.

The Jaguars are already locked into playing games in London in 2015 and 2016 as well.

Jones-Drew understands the difficulty inherent to basing a team in London when the rest of the league plays in the United States. He said the travel would be the most difficult factor to overcome in making an English franchise a reality.

“My only worry is the toll it would take for a team to go back and forth and how would you get that done?” Jones-Drew said. “There are some things they would have to work on – they might have to bring the Concorde back and cut that time in half. But you never know.”

The NFL is obviously intrigued by the possibility a London franchise presents. The league has played eight games in London over the past seven years with each game drawing at least 75,000 in attendance. It’s a shiny, lucrative potential market the league hopes to tap into in the future.

However, there are still hurdles to clear before that dream can become realized.

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Packers’ net income falls 41 percent

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The Packers’ net income dipped 41.3 percent in the last fiscal year, according to figures disclosed by the club on Thursday.

According to the club’s website, the team’s net income was $25.3 million, compared to $43.1 million over the same 12-month period a year earlier. (Per the Milwaukee Business Journal, the club’s last fiscal year ended on March 31, 2014.)

This is the first time net income for Green Bay has dipped under $40 million in a fiscal year since 2011. Net income was $42.7 million in 2012.

Spending on players increased by $35 million in fiscal 2013-14, per Packers.com. The club signed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields to new deals in the last fiscal year, with all three players receiving at least $12.5 million in signing bonuses.

Overall, the Packers reported $324.1 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, according to the club’s site. That’s an increase of about $16 million, or 5.2 percent, over the fiscal year ending in March 2013.

More than 350,000 people own shares of the Packers, according to the club.

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Report: Texans propose to demolish Astrodome

Astrodome AP

The Houston Texans would reportedly like to turn the old home of the Houston Oilers into a large open space.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have proposed knocking down the Astrodome, leaving an outdoor space to be used for a variety of events, including concerts. The proposed changes would cost $66 million, per the Chronicle.

The Astrodome is adjacent to NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium), the home of the Texans.

The Oilers played in the now-condemned Astrodome from 1968 through 1996.

According to the Chronicle, any decision on the future of the dome would fall to the Harris County (Tx.) Commissioners Court.

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Mark Murphy: Extending Ted Thompson’s deal “a top priority”

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Ted Thompson is entering his 10th season as the Packers’ General Manager.

And according to Packers president Mark Murphy, the club would like Thompson’s service to extend well into a second decade in Green Bay.

According to Fox Sports Wisconsin and other media outlets, Murphy said Thursday that a new contract for the 61-year-old Thompson was “a top priority” for the franchise.

Thompson’s current deal is believed to run through 2016, according to Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin.

The Packers have made the playoffs five seasons in a row, winning the Super Bowl in 2010.

“Ted’s been instrumental in the run we’ve had,” Murphy said Thursday, per Packers.com.

Murphy has previously indicated a new deal for Thompson would come before a new contract for head coach Mike McCarthy, whose deal runs out after the 2015 campaign.

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Packers have talked to Favre, but no jersey retirement this year

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Some day, Brett Favre will return to Lambeau Field to have his No. 4 jersey retired in a ceremony before Packers fans. But it won’t be this year.

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there have been “good conversations” with Favre, but a jersey retirement ceremony isn’t happening until 2015 at the earliest.

Although Favre was once the most beloved athlete in Green Bay, much changed when he retired, un-retired and ultimately returned in the rival Vikings uniform. Murphy acknowledged that some fans have hard feelings toward Favre, and that could be a problem for any retirement ceremony.

“He wouldn’t want to come back to be booed,” Murphy said.

But while it won’t happen this year, there’s a good chance it will happen next year: Murphy said he’d like to retire Favre’s number before Favre is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will happen in the summer of 2016.

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NFL names Matt Birk director of football development

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Upon his retirement as a player following the 2012 season, former Vikings and Ravens center Matt Birk took a job working for as an appeals officer jointly approved by the NFLPA and NFL.

For his second post-retirement year, Birk will only be working for the NFL. The league announced Thursday that Birk has been named the league’s director of football development. His new job will have him working with players, coaches and front office personnel to develop the game and he will also assist in game day operations.

“I’m very excited to begin this next chapter of my football career,” Birk said in a release from the league. “It’s a real honor for me to be entrusted with developing the game in so many different ways.”

Birk joins Merton Hanks, Dwight Hollier, Patrick Kerney, James Thrash, David Tyree, Troy Vincent and Charles Way as former NFL players who now work for the league.

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Jim Kelly has spoken to groups wanting to buy Bills

Jim Kelly AP

Appearing at his annual youth football camp Thursday, former Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly told multiple media outlets he’s spoken to various figures with interest in purchasing the Bills.

“I’m just doing what I can to make sure the Bills stay in Buffalo,” Kelly said, according to Syracuse.com. “Things really haven’t changed. Yes, I’ve met with different people. I hope it gets to a point where we get somebody that’s really committed to Buffalo and to turning this program. And to play football in January.”

Kelly indicated Thursday he has not joined an ownership group, per multiple reports.

The Buffalo News reported Thursday that investor Jeffrey Gundlach has talked to Kelly about joining his potential bid for the Bills. Kelly’s brother, Dan, said in April that prospective buyers of the club had reached out to the former Bills quarterback, per the News.

Kelly, who has undergone treatment for oral cancer, said Thursday he has lost 51 pounds, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV in Buffalo.

“I just started eating real food within the last week,” Kelly said, according a video clip on the WGRZ-TV website.

Kelly, noting that he was told to be “patient” as he goes through his recovery, noted: “I’m not that patient kind of guy.”

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Crabtree on Sherman: I don’t talk, I concentrate on football

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Michael Crabtree will not engage with Richard Sherman until their teams meet on the field.

Crabtree, the 49ers wide receiver who has a long history with Sherman, declined to get into it when he was asked this week about Sherman’s recent comments about his personal animosity toward Crabtree. Instead, Crabtree said he would rather focus on preparing to face Sherman on the field.

“I don’t get into talking about these guys. I concentrate on football. It’s my life. I don’t have too much to prove when it comes to talking on TV. I’m a baller,” Crabtree told ESPN.

Whether Crabtree and Sherman talk about each other or not, when they play each other it will be must-see TV. The first of their two regular-season meetings will be on Thanksgiving night in San Francisco. We know Sherman will have plenty to say, but Crabtree will try to let his play do the talking.

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Calvin Johnson: Lions feel we could win the Super Bowl

Calvin Johnson AP

Another day, another Lion who thinks his team has what it takes to win a title.

Lions safety James Ihedigbo said his team has “championship DNA,” and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh agreed. Now Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is saying he thinks the Lions can win a championship.

“We need to win a Super Bowl,” Johnson said on NFL Network, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “That’s the No. 1 thing. That’s the No. 1 thing [and] should be for every team going into the beginning of the year. We’re definitely in a place where we feel we could do that.”

Johnson said new head coach Jim Caldwell has inspired the team through a strong offseason.

“It’s an overall change and vibe here, and we love it,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go out and bust our butts every day because Jim is such a great guy, a great leader for our team. And he’s helped bring us together, and we’re doing a lot of stuff on our own off the field to keep that camaraderie going.”

In his previous head-coaching stint, Caldwell got the Colts to the Super Bowl in his first season in Indianapolis. The team Caldwell has inherited Detroit is nowhere near as good as that team in Indianapolis, but the players’ public comments suggest that if nothing else, Caldwell has instilled confidence.

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So why are the Texans playing hardball with Andre Johnson?

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If the Texans could have brought receiver Andre Johnson back into the fold by simply giving him a way to earn back the $1 million roster bonus he had forfeited by skipping the early phases of the offseason program, why didn’t they?

Before delving into the question, consider this.  It’s true and accurate, as first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, that Johnson offered to show up for OTAs and minicamp in exchange for a way to earn back the $1 million roster bonus — and that the Texans said thanks and no.  Johnson’s olive branch came after he took some time to get to know the knew coaching staff, and after he concluded that the franchise hasn’t plunged into a full-blown rebuilding process.  Johnson was ready to show up and get to work, with his only request being that the organization give him a way to earn the money that hinged on his full participation in the offseason program.

That was it.  That’s all he wanted.  And the Texans said no.

For now, the fracture has become a full-blown schism.  After the team refused to give him a way to earn back the money, Johnson became committed to the idea of playing elsewhere.

So why didn’t the Texans simply let Johnson save a little face and in turn a lot of money?  If there’s a rational explanation, the explanation has yet to make its way into the eyes and ears of the media.  While it shows the other players on the team that contracts will be honored as written, it undermines, and potentially poisons, the relationship with Johnson.

Maybe he eventually decides to not lose any additional money, and to show up and happily cash $10 million in game checks.  Maybe, by Johnson asking for the $1 million back, the Texans have gambled on Johnson not giving up $30,000 per day in fines for skipping training camp and, ultimately, more than $588,000 per week for missing games as of September.

Or maybe the Texans have decided that they don’t want Johnson — and they’ve opted to take a hard line on the $1 million so that they’ll be able to unload via trade his $10 million salary.

Keep this in mind:  Whoever leaked news of the $1 million bonus also leaked that four teams are interested in trading for Johnson.  Which means that the leak probably came from someone who wants to see Johnson traded.

Usually, that points to the player and/or his agent.  In this case, there’s a chance that the Texans have decided that they don’t want to pay $10 million to a 33-year-old receiver, and that now is the best time to turn the asset into something of value.

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Texans come in 25th in our Preseason Power Rankings

Jadeveon Clowney AP

The Texans could have filled their biggest need with the first pick in the NFL Draft.

Instead, they took the best player.

The Texans may have created one of the NFL’s most dangerous defenses by choosing South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, but they also left themselves with plenty of uncertainty.

Largely because they lack a stable quarterback, they’re slotted at No. 25 in our Preseason Power Rankings (you can read the full preview by clicking right here).

If they can get even moderate play out of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, they will be good enough on defense to be in the mix of an unsettled division.

You can weigh in on the poll below, and in the comments whether you think Fitzpatrick’s capable of that.

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A.J. Green: I only want to catch passes from Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green AP

Quarterback Andy Dalton’s quest for a new contract has been a frequent topic of conversation during the Bengals’ offseason and plenty of people have weighed in with opinions on what the team should do with a player that has gotten them to the playoffs in all three of his NFL seasons without winning a game during any of the trips.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been one of Dalton’s loudest supporters, saying that he’s seen the quarterback improve continually since joining the Bengals and going as far as calling Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green the best quarterback-wide receiver combination in the entire league. Those comments didn’t get Dalton the contract he wants, but perhaps the words of the receiver half of that combo will move the needle a bit.

“We came in together and that is the great thing for me and him,” Green said on NFL Network. “I know he’s my guy. I don’t want any other quarterback throwing me the ball. I think he feels the same way about me.”

Green is under contract through next season after the Bengals exercised their option for a fifth year on his rookie contract and the Bengals will likely want to extend the stay of one of the league’s top receivers beyond that point. Keeping a quarterback who Green likes playing with would probably help them do that, but Green’s opinion alone probably won’t be enough to get the deal done. Dalton hasn’t totally convinced the skeptics in Cincinnati and his best chance of doing that will come on the field rather than from the endorsements of others.

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Austin Seferian-Jenkins confident foot will be ready for training camp

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kevin Smith AP

The Buccaneers didn’t get much of a chance to work with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins after selecting him in the second round of May’s draft.

Seferian-Jenkins was forced to stay away from the team during most of the program because NFL rules barred him from practice until the University of Washington completed its academic year and he wasn’t able to do much during rookie minicamp after February foot surgery. That leaves Seferian-Jenkins with a fair amount of catching up to do once camp gets underway.

It’s good news, then, that the rookie feels confident he’ll be ready to go once camp opens in a couple of weeks.

“I feel really good. My foot feels really good,” Seferian-Jenkins said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve been running route, doing all the exercise and workout drills that they’ve asked me to do. I feel very comfortable and confident that I’ll be ready to go when it comes to training camp.”

The Bucs added Seferian-Jenkins and Mike Evans to Vincent Jackson this offseason to give them three plus-sized receivers to use as targets for Josh McCown this season. If the two rookies can make a quick transition to the NFL game, it should mean a major improvement in the passing game over the dismal results that Tampa turned in last year.

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Supplemental draft comes and goes with no selections

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Just as it did last year, the NFL supplemental draft has yielded a grand total of zero players selected.

The supplemental draft came and went quickly this afternoon, with no players selected.

Four players were eligible to be selected: New Mexico wide receiver Chase Clayton, North Carolina linebacker Darius Lipford, Virginia-Lynchburg defensive tackle Lakendrick Ross and Southern Methodist running back Traylon Shead. None of those players is considered a particularly good prospect, so it’s not surprising that no team was even willing to give up a 2015 seventh-round pick to acquire one of them.

Now Clayton, Lipford, Ross and Shead are all unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team. All four of them have a good shot of at least getting a training camp invitation, but they’ll all be viewed as long shots to make a 53-man roster.

The last time anyone was picked in the supplemental draft was 2012, when the Browns gave up their 2013 second-round pick to acquire Josh Gordon.

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