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Pre-draft Gronkowski concerns could be coming to fruition

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As Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski prepares for a fourth surgery on his forearm and a probable back surgery, we’ve been reminded of the concerns that caused Gronkowski, a potential first-round pick in the 2010 draft, to slide to round two.

While a stellar performance in 2011 blew the red flags away, Gronkowski has had multiple injuries during his time in the NFL.  His career fairly can be characterized as being at a crossroads.

Plenty of league insiders and observers aren’t surprised.  In 2010, several teams had him off the draft board due to his health.  He had missed three games in 2008, and all of the 2009 season after injuring his back while lifting weights.  As late as February 2010, he wasn’t able to run.

Even after the 2009 surgery, Gronkowski had a significant bulging disc in two different areas of his back.  As a result, many believed he would have chronic back issues, and that his NFL career would be short.

After three seasons, it’s unclear when Gronkowski will be ready for his fourth.  And given the injuries he has sustained during those three years, it’s hard not to wonder how many more he has left.

While it makes him look even smarter for signing a long-term contract when he did, the Pats may never have to decide whether to fork over a $10 million option bonus in 2016, because he has to make it through three more seasons before that question even becomes pertinent.

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Report: Cowboys sign Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract

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With Tony Romo coming off back surgery and top backup Kyle Orton absent from the start of the offseason workout program, the Cowboys have added some needed quarterback depth.

The club has signed veteran backup Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract, Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago reported on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Hanie had stints with Denver, Baltimore and Cleveland in 2013. He has appeared in 10 regular season games, all with Chicago from 2009 through 2011. Overall, he has completed 59-of-116 passes for 679 yards with three touchdowns and 10 interceptions in regular season play.

Hanie is perhaps most famous for relieving the injured Jay Cutler and the ineffective Todd Collins in the 2010 NFC title game. While Hanie completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and threw a touchdown pass, he was intercepted twice in the Packers’ 21-14 victory vs. the Bears.

In the short term, Hanie’s ability to take practice reps could be his greatest value to Dallas. If the Cowboys don’t draft a quarterback, and if Orton retires, it’s possible Hanie could compete to stick as the third option on the depth chart behind Romo and Brandon Weeden.

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Report: Giants at Lions opens Monday Night Football

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The 2014 Monday Night Football schedule will reportedly kick off with a couple of NFC teams trying to bounce back from disappointing 2013 seasons.

New York radio station WFAN has what it says is the full Giants schedule, and it begins with a trip to Detroit on Monday, September 8.

Monday Night Football typically kicks off with a Week One doubleheader on ESPN; there’s no word on what the second game is expected to be.

According to the report, this is the full Giants schedule:

Monday, Sept. 8 at Detroit
Sunday, Sept. 14 vs. ARIZONA
Sunday, Sept. 21 vs. HOUSTON
Thursday, Sept. 25 at Washington
Sunday, Oct. 5 vs. ATLANTA
Sunday, Oct. 12 at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 19 at Dallas
Sunday, Oct. 26 BYE
Monday, Nov. 3 vs. INDIANAPOLIS
Sunday, Nov. 9 at Seattle
Sunday, Nov. 16 vs. SAN FRANCISCO
Sunday, Nov. 23 vs. DALLAS, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 30 at Jacksonville
Sunday, Dec. 7 at Tennessee
Sunday, Dec. 14 vs. WASHINGTON
Sunday, Dec. 21 at St. Louis
Sunday, Dec. 28 vs. PHILADELPHIA

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Ryan Broyles practices on second day of minicamp

Ryan Broyles AP

The Lions don’t have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh taking part in their three-day voluntary minicamp this week, but wide receiver Ryan Broyles has made his return to the field after a long absence.

Kyle Meinke of reports that Broyles was on the field taking part in Wednesday’s practice session. It is Broyles didn’t practice on Tuesday, making this his first on-field work since he tore his Achilles in an October game against the Cowboys.

The Achilles tear was Broyles’ third serious injury in the last three years. He tore one ACL in 2011 and then the other one in 2012, wiping out his rookie year with the Lions and leaving him in serious need of showing he can still produce and stay healthy if he is going to carve out a substantial NFL career.

The Lions don’t seem to be counting on that as they’ve signed Golden Tate and spent a lot of the last few weeks talking to pass catchers they might select during the draft, but Broyles can work his way back into the picture if his body cooperates over the next few months.

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Buzz builds for Taylor Lewan to Oakland at No. 5

Taylor Lewan

Former Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is looking like a candidate to be the Raiders’ first-round draft pick.

Oakland owns the fifth overall pick, and Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune reports that the Raiders like Lewan better than either of the other top offensive tackles in this year’s draft, Greg Robinson of Auburn or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M.

That’s surprising, as most draft analysts view Robinson and Matthews as superior prospects to Lewan. It’s also surprising that we’re even talking about the Raiders using their first-round pick on an offensive tackle, seeing as they’ve already signed left tackle Donald Penn to a two-year, $9.6 million contract and signed right tackle Austin Howard to a five-year, $30 million contract.

But the Raiders are often unconventional, so if their draft board looks different than most teams’ draft boards, that’s par for the course.

Most mock drafts haven’t had Lewan in the Top 5, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper suggested today that the Rams could take Lewan with the second overall pick. So it’s possible that Lewan won’t even be there for the Raiders at No. 5. But if he is, don’t be surprised if the Raiders take him.

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Seahawks leaning against picking up Carpenter option

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Like several teams that have yet to pick up the 2015 option on an eligible 2011 first-round pick, the Seahawks have yet to decide what to do with offensive lineman James Carpenter.

Per a league source, the Seahawks currently are leaning against it.

Carpenter, who made 18 appearances and 12 starts last season (including the Super Bowl), had been limited during his first two years by injuries.  With a price tag north of $7 million for 2015, the Seahawks likely will shy away from that kind of investment for one more year with Carpenter under contract.

It means that Carpenter will enter his contract year in 2014.  If he has a big year, the Seahawks could have a hard time signing him to an affordable long-term deal.  Even so, they’d likely be able to get him for less than the $7 million they’d have to pay if they were to pick up the option.

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Team-by-team draft previews wrap up today on NBCSN

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It’s a busy day for NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk.

We’ve got the last of the team-by-team draft previews, with the Broncos and Seahawks going under the microscope.  We’ve got interviews with Denver coach John Fox and G.M. John Elways and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

We’ve got an interview with Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy.

And we’ll be looking at the latest news of the day and the looming schedule release.

The show ends with a look at the Thursday night opener poll question.  The show starts at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Tune in.

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Saints players not concerned with Jimmy Graham’s absence

Jimmy Graham AP

To no one’s surprise, tight end Jimmy Graham has not joined his Saints teammates at the team’s offseason workouts.

Graham hasn’t signed his franchise tender and would like to negotiate a long-term contract with the Saints before the July 15 deadline for franchise-tagged players to do so. Absent a contract, there’s not much chance that he’ll be joining the team before that date and that’s just fine with tackle Zach Strief.

Strief said that the team isn’t affected by Graham’s absence now because so much offseason work is focused on improving yourself and that his teammates understand that this is just how the business side plays out for a player in Graham’s position.

“Look, I think all of us understand and I think it’s the hardest thing to understand from the outside. It is a business. Neither side is right, neither side is wrong. It just is what it is. I think that everyone knows that the first game of the season, Jimmy will be there and be ready to go,” Strief said, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “That’s all you really want at the end of the day. You forget all of a sudden that he wasn’t there for OTAs and all of those other things. Hopefully they get something done for Jimmy’s sake, for the team’s sake. I think it’s best for everybody and they all agree with that. But we’ll see how it plays out.”

The Saints went through something similar with quarterback Drew Brees a couple of years ago, so there shouldn’t be any panic about how things will play out over the next couple of months. As Strief said, Graham will almost certainly be there when the games start and that’s when the Saints will need him the most.

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Trent Richardson remains confident after a bad year

Trent Richardson AP

Trent Richardson was nothing short of terrible after the Colts traded a first-round draft pick for him last season. But Richardson hasn’t lost his confidence.

Richardson told reporters today that when he looks in the mirror, he sees the same running back who was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect heading into the draft two years ago.

“As far as confidence, man, I can’t wait. There’s a lot that I want to do,” Richardson said. “I’ve been playing football my whole life. I never thought it would become a struggle for me. I look back at it and I say, ‘Hey, you’re still the guy, you’re still the Trent Richardson you’ve always been. Just keep your mindset right.’”

Now Richardson needs to do something to inspire confidence in the Colts’ coaches, who phased him out of the offense as the season wore on. He sure didn’t do that last year, when he played 14 games for the Colts and totaled just 458 yards on 157 carries — and followed that with an even worse performance in the postseason, with four carries for one yard and one fumble. If Richardson isn’t a whole lot better than that this year, he belongs on the bench.

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Bills plan to address web blunder “internally”

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If Donald Trump owned the Bills, he’d likely be spouting off his catch phrase today.  In the interim, someone else may be doing the same thing.

A day after the team’s website prematurely posted a story disclosing that coach Doug Marrone has cancer, the team said it’s looking at the situation.

“We are continuing today to discuss the unfortunate situation we experienced last night with our website and will address the matter internally,” the Bills said in a statement released Wednesday, via Mike Rodak of

It’s unclear whether Marrone publicly would have revealed the removal of a cancerous mole if the issue hadn’t been forced by the accidental posting of a live web link.  If Marrone hadn’t made a decision about whether to publicly acknowledge the disease, the mistake left Marrone with no realistic option.

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Cardinals don’t think Tyrann Mathieu will be ready for camp

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The Cardinals lost safety Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL and LCL last December, creating some doubt about his status for the start of the 2014 season.

That question will likely remain unanswered into the summer. Mathieu said Wednesday that he’s pushing to be ready for the start of training camp, but coach Bruce Arians said it is more likely that Mathieu will be sidelined when camp gets underway.

“I think Ty is going to up to the wire,” Arians said, via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. “I still anticipate him on PUP, but he refuses to believe it. That’s a good thing.”

Mathieu and the Cardinals feel he’s on schedule to make it back in time for the start of the season, but there’s a lot of time between now and September for a snag in his rehab to slow things down. With Yeremiah Bell still weighing whether or not he wants to return, the Cardinals have Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson as their top safeties until Mathieu’s back at full speed.

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Bears sign RB Shaun Draughn

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The Bears have added a running back who might also be able to contribute on special teams, signing Shaun Draughn to a one-year deal, the club said Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Draughn has played for Washington (2011), Kansas City (2011-2013) and Baltimore (2013). He appeared in three games for the Ravens last season, rushing four times for two yards. The Ravens waived him in October.

Draughn had his most productive pro season in 2012, rushing 59 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns, catching 24 passes for 158 yards and returning 23 kickoffs for 537 yards.

The Bears were in need of RB depth. Before Draughn’s addition, they had just two backs on the roster: Matt Forte and backup Michael Ford. Draughn could also get a shot on kickoffs, where the Bears must replace the departed Devin Hester.

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Continuing our draft preview series with a look at the Falcons

Mike Smith AP

The Falcons had methodically turned themselves into one of the NFC’s most consistent teams of the last half-decade, and even won a playoff game.

But it all came crashing down last year, when injuries exposed them as a bit of a house-of-cards team.

This offseason, they’re determined to become more physical on both lines, and the early free agent acquisitions of Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson are evidence of that.

There’s still more work to be done, as they have a number of missing parts to fill in on both sides of the ball, and they’re not afraid to make aggressive moves to fill them. How should they best go about it?

You can click here for the full preview, and vote below on what you think they need to do with the pick.

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Jets add Jimmy Garoppolo, two tight ends to visit list

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The Jets have set up a quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Geno Smith for this summer, but they’re still doing some due diligence on the position before the draft.

Rich Cimini of reports that Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is visiting with the Jets on Wednesday. Garoppolo has been a busy man the last few weeks as he’s made the rounds of teams wondering if he might be the answer to their need at quarterback now or somewhere in the near future.

Whether or not the Jets are one of those teams has a lot to do with what Smith does in his second season, which may preclude another early pick on a quarterback. Vick’s arrival gives them another option for 2014 if Smith fails to progress and there are plenty of other needs they can address in May.

One of them is a pass-catching tight end to go with Jeff Cumberland and the Jets have met with two players who fit the bill. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro is also visiting on Wednesday while reports that North Carolina’s Eric Ebron was in on Tuesday. Ebron probably won’t be around for the 18th pick, but Amaro could be a second round possibility for the Jets.

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Report: NFL to expand flex scheduling by two games

Jairus Byrd AP

Earlier this afternoon, NFL PR executive Brian McCarthy teased the coming schedule announcement by promising: “Some interesting twists.”

One of them is apparently two more flex games.

Somehow or another, the NFL’s own website obtained one of the juicy little details, that flex scheduling is being expanded, giving them a chance to change a pair of NBC’s Sunday Night Football matchups.

According to the report, the league now has the option to flex two games during the period from Weeks 5-10, adding some more drama (“Will they flex this week? We’ll reveal, after the break.”) to a process that has plenty already.

The Week 11 and beyond flex scheduling is wide open, as before.

But this gives the league a chance to avoid a clunker, as well as a chance to remind you that you’re a slave to its powers.

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Cowboys could pounce on Manziel

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From the moment the Joneses who own the Cowboys started gushing about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, we began to pay attention to the possibility that the Cowboys would be inclined to add the potential franchise quarterback a year after giving Tony Romo a franchise quarterback contract.

Ed Werder of ESPN fuels that notion, explaining on SportsCenter that, if Manziel falls to No. 16, the Cowboys could take him.

Let’s take a step farther.  We think that, if Manziel slides past the Vikings at No. 8, the Cowboys could be inclined to trade up to get Manziel.  In 20 of 25 drafts, Jerry Jones has made a move with a first-round pick.  This year, moving up for Manziel could give the Cowboys the kind of offseason shakeup they surely covet.

Said Werder on the air, “Jerry Jones was raving about [Manziel] this weekend . . . in front of Romo.”

It would be a circus, a distraction, a potential mess to have Romo and Manziel on the roster.  Cap considerations would make a trade of Romo difficult if not impossible this year.  The cap hit would be stiff next year but not insurmountable, if the Cowboys were to move Manziel to the starting lineup and move Romo out of the building.

With an extended lull resulting from the league’s insistence on delaying the draft by two weeks, it’s fun to consider what may happen.  It would be even more fun to cover the efforts of Romo and Manziel to coexist as the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart of America’s Team.

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