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Lambeau expansion nearly complete

NFL Draft Packers Football AP

There is loyalty, and there is inertia.

Either way, the persistence of a large bloc of Packers fans has been rewarded, as 5,000 names are being taken off the team’s season-ticket waiting list, the most in one offseason.

The Packers gave a glimpse of the expansion of Lambeau Field yesterday, which includes 7,000 new seats. The bulk of those are going to people who have been waiting to get in for decades.

“The folks coming off the list have been on for 30 years, so there’s some patience on their part. That’s the great thing with the support the Packers have,” Packers director of public affairs Aaron Popkey said, via WBAY.

Team officials said the project, which includes suites, escalators, new concession stands and standing room areas is 98 percent finished, and should be complete before the team’s shareholders meeting in late July.

While they took pride it making it look like it blended into one of the league’s most traditional buildings, they think it’s going to be even louder than before.

“I think it’ll be pretty dramatic in that top area,” said Stuart Zadra,vice president of Hammes Company, the contractor on the project. “It’s got metal behind it that’s just going to reflect, and I’m sure people are going to be pounding on that metal cheering on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.”

And with 7,000 new voices, the effect should be dramatic.

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Leonard Williams is the No. 1 prospect, but no one knows where he’ll go

Leonard Williams AP

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is the consensus best player in the 2015 NFL draft. Mike Mayock thinks so, Mel Kiper thinks so, and most of the lesser-known draft “experts” who pop up around this time of year think so.

But where there’s widespread agreement that Williams is a great player, there’s no agreement at all about which team will draft Williams on Thursday night. And there’s even a chance that the best player in the draft could drop.

The Buccaneers appear to be set on Jameis Winston, so Williams won’t go first overall.

The Titans seem to be leaning toward drafting Marcus Mariota, or trading the second overall pick to a team that wants Mariota.

The Jaguars have been widely reported to be fond of Florida pass rusher Dante Fowler at No. 3.

The Raiders would make a lot of sense for Williams, but there are also plenty of reports that Oakland wants Alabama receiver Amari Cooper at No. 4.

Could Williams fall to Washington at No. 5? Could he fall even further than that? It’s hard to imagine that the consensus top player would drop that far.

But as we close in on Draft Day, we just don’t know where Williams will go.

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Adrian Peterson trade continues to look unlikely

Britain Steelers Vikings Football AP

Before and after running back Adrian Peterson was cleared to make a full return to the NFL for the 2015 season, the Vikings have insisted that they want him back for the 2015 season.

Peterson’s been less enthusiastic about returning to the only team he’s played for as a professional, but the signs continue to point toward his rerun to Minnesota for another season. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Vikings continue to say “publicly and privately” that Peterson will be playing for them or no one in 2015. As a result it would take “maybe too much” in a trade offer to tempt them to change their minds.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports also reports that the price tag for a Peterson trade and the Vikings’ own desires will make it tough to get a deal done. Per Robinson, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman “feet are in cement” when it comes to holding onto the running back and that a “sledgehammer” of an offer is the only way to change that.

Robinson leaves open the possibility that the Cardinals may change their mind about dealing their first-round pick if they want and miss out on Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, something Rapaport mentions as well, but points out that getting a deal of this type done in a short time frame on Thursday night might not work out.

All of that points to no deal getting done, unless it is a financial one that involves making Peterson happier about playing out his contract with the Vikings.

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Add Amari Cooper to the list of Chicago no-shows

Amari Cooper AP

Florio mentioned last week that in addition to quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, at least 10 other players have declined invitations to the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago.

Via Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is among that group, having decided to skip the trip to the Windy City.

Individually, the absences might not mean as much.

But if the first three picks in the draft go by without anyone hopping on stage to hug commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s going to be a bad look for a league that has put so much into this road show.

Whether Cooper would have attended if the event was still in New York’s unclear, but it’s obvious that something’s amiss, as we’ve suddenly had three top players decide en masse to bypass the red carpet.

Of course, if there’s a trade in the top two, and someone makes a move for a quarterback, we probably won’t miss the grip-and-grin shot with Goodell and a player, even one as talented as Cooper.

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Titans like Mariota, unless there’s a deal to be made at No. 2

Marcus Mariota AP

With the clock ticking (lurching, crawling, staggering) toward the start of the 2015 NFL Draft Thursday night, we’re in the final phases of the will-they-or-won’t-they game of the top two picks.

And at last, there’s some clarity.

The Titans seem comfortable taking Marcus Mariota. Unless they trade the pick.

That’s via Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who has talked to a lot of people and come to the conclusion that it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen.

The Titans are still open to dealing the pick, but apparently haven’t gotten the right kind of offer yet.

That’s ostensibly why they’ve been talking up quarterback Zach Mettenberger all offseason, to convince people they really are fine making a deal, if the right one comes along.

But they’re also confident in Mariota’s ability to transition to a pro offense, with an Oregon source telling King the Titans were the most thorough team researching him throughout last season and offseason. There, they learned that Mariota was more comfortable in the pocket than many think, as he threw 23 of his 36 passes against Florida State in the national semifinal from the pocket.

What does all that mean?

The Titans are clearly sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring, with nothing bigger than the direction of their franchise in the balance.

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Report: Jets believed to “have an affinity for” Andrus Peat

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With a new head coach (Todd Bowles) and General Manager (Mike Maccagnan) in the fold, and with a host of roster needs, the Jets could go numerous ways with the No. 6 overall pick in Thursday’s draft.

However, a few other clubs reportedly think they have an inkling of a prospect New York especially likes.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, “several” NFL personnel directors suspect the Jets are fond of Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat.

Offensive line would be a logical area for the Jets to address early in the draft. Three of their starters are at least 31 years old, and right tackle Breno Giacomini turns 30 in November. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who enters his 10th season as a starter, will turn 32 in December.

As the Daily News notes, Peat took a pre-draft visit to the Jets, who have six draft selections in 2015. Given their lack of picks, the Jets would seem a logical trade-down candidate.

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John Harbaugh provides passionate defense of football

John Harbaugh AP

As the game of football faces questions about its long-term viability given the fairly recent realization that the inherent risks of football include chronic brain issues that may develop into cognitive impairments, the battle lines have been drawn between those who attack the game and those who defend it.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh defends it zealously in an article recently posted at the team’s official website.

“The question is asked over and over:  Why would anyone want to play football?  And why would anyone let their kids play?” Harbaugh writes.  “Here’s my answer:  I believe there’s practically no other place where a young man is held to a higher standard.”

Harbaugh realizes that the concussion issue has brought football to a “turning point” like the one in the early 1900s that prompted significant changes in response to a rash of deaths and serious injuries.

“We have to continue to get players in better helmets,” Harbaugh writes.  “We have to teach tackling the right way, and that starts at the NFL level.  Change the rules.  Take certain things out of the game.  It’s all the right thing to do.”

Harbaugh focuses his views on high school football, the highest level of the sport in which 97 percent of all players participate.

“How many youth and high school coaches serve as a father figure to their players?” Harbaugh writes.  “How many mothers look to the coaches of their son’s football team as the last best hope to show their son what it means to become a man — a real man?  More than we’ll ever know.”

Some will say that Harbaugh’s decision to articulate his views confirms that those with a vested in football are worried about its future.  Maybe those with a vested interest in football should be worried about its future; of all the sports and other activities that entail risk of short-term or long-term injury, football is one of the few that now comes under regular scrutiny.

Is football dangerous?  Yes.  It always has been, and it always will be.

Obviously, plenty of things are dangerous.  It’s become popular in some circles to distinguish the risk of accidental injury from, for example, riding a bike to the reality that football necessarily entails head contact when it operates as intended.  But head contact doesn’t always lead to concussion and concussion doesn’t always lead to brain damage.  In football, brain damage isn’t inevitable.  In other activities, accidents likewise aren’t inevitable.

A wide range of activities have risks and rewards.  Everyone needs to decide whether the rewards justify the risks.  Regardless of what anyone chooses, it doesn’t mean the activity should be abandoned or outlawed, unless the risks become too great and/or the rewards become too small.

Many people, like John Harbaugh, believe the rewards outweigh the risks, and that the stewards of the game have an obligation to find ways to reduce the risks as much as possible.

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Kevin Johnson could be the first cornerback taken

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Our first (perhaps only) mock draft of the year had Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going 18th overall to the Chiefs, two spots below cornerback Trae Waynes, to the Texans.  The order of their depature from the draft board ultimately could be flipped.

With the draft four days away, we’re told that multiple teams have Johnson ahead of Waynes.  If one of those teams ends up on the clock and decides to take a corner, Johnson will go before Waynes.

Johnson, who entered college at a mere 155 pounds, has steadily added weight.  Reaching 175 last year, Johnson currently spins the dial to 188.

That’s nearly twice what he weighed in adolescence.

“I had ability, I was just a late bloomer,” Johnson has said.  “My freshman year of high school, I was five feet tall and weighed 96 pounds.  So I’m just growing every day.  I’m still growing now.”

His confidence has grown, too.

“I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Johnson said.  “I think I’m a lockdown cornerback.”

Regardless of whether he’s the best cornerback in the draft, he could be the first one taken on Thursday night.

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Unnamed personnel executive: Class of 2015 has “no draftable kickers”

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There have been multiple kickers selected in each of the last three drafts.

However, there’s some feeling that not a single kicker merits being selected in the upcoming draft, which starts Thursday in Chicago.

In a story published Sunday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an unnamed personnel executive panned the kickers in the Class of 2015.

“There’s no draftable kickers,” the executive said, according to the Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn. “The combine was probably the worst display of kicking talent I’ve ever seen. It was, like, ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t develop a kicker?’ ”

In his 2015 NFL Draft Preview, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki gave six kickers draftable grades, with Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton getting the highest mark. However, only Manton received a grade equating to a “fair chance to earn a roster spot,” with the other five kickers graded as “capable of battling for a roster spot.”

It’s uncommon to have a draft without a kicker selected. The last was in 2010, which snapped an 11-year streak of at least one kicker drafted per spring.

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PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Amari Cooper’s draft position: 4.5

Amari Cooper AP

Leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, we’ll put on our oddsmaking hats and Ace Rothstein glasses and set one proposition “bet” per day for PFT Planet to ponder. At the conclusion of the draft, we’ll see how PFT Planet did on the wagers, which are for entertainment purposes only.

Here’s the second in our series of five draft-related props:

PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper’s draft position in Round One: 4.5.

Cooper is certain to be one of the top receivers taken on Thursday. Though quite unlikely to be the No. 1 overall pick, Cooper could seemingly appeal to a variety of other clubs selecting early, including Tennessee at No. 2 or Oakland at No. 4. In fact, Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris has the Raiders taking Cooper in his latest mock.

However, Cooper could also fit with teams after Oakland in the draft order, with Washington (No. 5), the Jets (No. 6) and Bears (No. 7) all logical landing spots.

So where does Amari Cooper land in Round One? The poll is open, as are the comments.

Previous draft props

PFT Draft Prop No. 1: Over-Under on first-round RBs: 2.5

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Kluwe says Peterson hasn’t handled his situation well

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One of Adrian Peterson’s always-outspoken former teammates says that Peterson needs to do a better job of handling his personal issues and his pending return to the NFL.

Chris Kluwe, the former Vikings punter who played with Peterson for six seasons, believes that Peterson should show public remorse for abusing his son.

“Obviously, AP can still play, but I think he needs to show that he understands he did something wrong and that he wants to work to change that, which I don’t know that he’s really shown yet,” Kluwe told the Pioneer Press.

One thing that Kluwe and Peterson have in common is that they’ve both clashed with the Vikings’ front office. But Kluwe seems to think Peterson is the one who bears most of the blame for his ongoing dispute with the Vikings.

“[Peterson] also feels that he’s been treated kind of unfairly, which I can see from a player’s perspective,” Kluwe said. “You think that the organization has your back. You think that these people have your back and then you get hung out to dry. I think there’s blame to go around on both sides, but AP hasn’t handled it particularly well. He’s probably valid in thinking he didn’t get some of the support that he thought he was going to get, but he’s the one who made the mistakes and he’s the one who needs to own up to it.”

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Colts take pride in scouring globe for unconventional players

Ryan Grigson AP

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson loves to find unconventional players , or at least players with unconventional backgrounds.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise last week when he worked out a 380-pound Australian shot-putter.

It’s kind of the norm for a G.M. who has signed four CFL players, two former college basketball players and a Kenyan rugby player as he looks to bolster a roster headed by the best young quarterback in the game.

If you have elite athletic traits, you can do this,” Grigson told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. “This isn’t one of those specialized sports, like golf. If you have a level of toughness and you can move and you have instincts, if you have those at an elite level, you’re going to get a chance.”

Of course, the pursuit of bottom-of-the-roster talent is fine, as the presence of Andrew Luck gives them a little latitude. And there are other G.M.s who like to give chances to athletes who happen to not be football players, such as Trent Baalke’s attempted development of English discus thrower Lawrence Okoye.

But Grigson takes pride in searching the globe for talent, and they even have a scout dedicated to the strange and unusual (special projects scout Jon Shaw).

Finding a diamond in the rough is the ultimate prize — any scout can point to Luck and say “That guy is good at football.”

Then again, Grigson has turned his last two first-round picks into running back Trent Richardson and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, neither of whom were active for the Colts’ latest playoff loss.

So as fun as finding unconventional players might be, a better effort toward the conventional ones might help the Colts more.

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Mike Tannenbaum: No decisions on Ryan Tannehill option for 2016

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We’re a week away from the deadline for teams to decide whether or not to exercise their options for the fifth year of their 2012 first-round pick’s contracts and several teams are still weighing their decisions.

The Dolphins say that they are one of them. The team has shown plenty of faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill and has been engaged in conversations with him about a long-term agreement, which would seem to make the call to pick up his option an easy one. At a press conference on Friday, though, executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said that no call has been made about the $16 million option for 2016.

“Look, Ryan is here, we’re excited he is here, we haven’t made any decisions yet,” Tannenbaum said. “We know when the deadline is and we’ll make those decisions when we get there. Obviously one of the other axioms you’d like to use this time of year is the tape sets the floor and the character sets the ceiling, and for all of the resources Mr. Ross gives us to put into a player, you want to make sure that player is taking all of those resources and Ryan is just a great example of that.”

There’s not much downside to picking up the option on Tannehill’s contract. It’s guaranteed against injury only, so the Dolphins could change course if things go south on the field next season, and does nothing to limit their ability to reach a longer deal with the quarterback. Given those conditions (and barring an extension in the next few days), it would be a surprise if May 3 passes without the option being exercised.

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Chris Long could be heading into his last year in St. Louis

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No NFL team has invested more resources in its defensive line than the Rams. But the centerpiece of that defensive line may be heading into his last season in St. Louis.

Chris Long, the Rams’ 2008 first-round draft pick who has developed into a very good defensive end, could be looking at a make-or-break year in 2015. Nick Wagoner of ESPN writes that unless Long has a big year in 2015, the Rams may decide he’s not worth the money and release him in 2016.

The money the Rams have invested in Long is substantial: Last year he counted $12.9 million against their cap despite playing in just six games and finishing the season with a grand total of one sack. This year his cap hit is $12.5 million, and next year his cap hit is $14.25 million. If Long isn’t playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2016, that $14.25 million would be hard to justify in 2016.

The Rams have an expensive defensive end on the other side of the line in Robert Quinn, and they’ve spent first-round picks on defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. On top of that, last month they signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Add it all up, and the Rams have invested a lot in the defensive line.

Eventually, teams that invest that much in one position group find that they have to allocate some of their resources elsewhere. Next year may be the time that the Rams decide they need to spend on other positions, and move on from Long.

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NFL clears Ray McDonald in domestic violence case

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Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy were both accused of domestic violence last year. Both got the same results from the legal system, ultimately having their charges dropped. But the NFL’s brand of justice has been radically different.

Hardy was banished with pay by the Panthers for 15 games last season and has now been suspended an additional 10 games without pay this season. But McDonald was allowed to play for the 49ers amid the domestic violence accusation last year and will not be suspended at all this year.

The NFL has confirmed that it investigated McDonald, who is now with the Bears, and cleared him of any violation of the personal-conduct policy.

“We have completed that [domestic-violence] investigation,” NFL general counsel Jeff Pash told the Associated Press Sports Editors. ‘‘[Special counsel for investigations] Lisa [Friel] and her team completed that investigation [and] did not establish a violation of the personal-conduct policy. We informed the player and the [NFL] Players Association.’’

However, that doesn’t mean McDonald is totally out of the woods. He is also being investigated in connection with a sexual assault. McDonald has not been charged in that case and says he will sue the woman who accused him.

‘‘Just to be clear, Ray McDonald had two issues, as you may remember — one related to a domestic-
violence incident and one related to an alleged sexual assault,’’ Friel said. ‘‘It’s the domestic-violence incident that we have finished investigating and didn’t find sufficient evidence to say that he violated the personal-conduct policy. The sexual-assault incident, that investigation is ongoing. That has not been completed, nor has the district attorney’s office in Santa Clara County completed their investigation into that matter.’’

The second accusation against McDonald led the 49ers to cut him. But as far as the the NFL is concerned, he’s not in any trouble with the personal-conduct policy. At least not yet.

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Bucs did extensive vetting of Jameis Winston

Jameis AP

If the Buccaneers don’t make Jameis Winston their latest potential franchise quarterback in four days, they’ve managed to concoct an impressive smoke screen.

The Tampa Tribune has published extensive details of the vetting of Winston by the Buccaneers, which could be viewed as a deliberate effort to address any lingering concerns about Winston’s character.

Via the Tribune, G.M. Jason Licht said the Buccaneers “spoke to upwards of 75 people” about Winston.  The Tribune has determined that those “upwards of 75 people” include “family members, friends, teammates, former high school coaches, former college coaches and an assistant state attorney.”

“[W]e all couldn’t feel more confident about the process we have gone through,” Licht said.

The process, as PFT previously has reported, included contact with assistant Tallahassee district attorney Georgia Cappleman, who spoke to the Bucs not only about Erica Kinsman (who claims Winston sexually assaulted her) but also about a second victim to whom Kinsman’s lawsuit against Winston refers.

“I advised them that there was another woman who received some counseling services from Florida State University as a result of an encounter with Mr. Winston that was of a sexual nature,” Cappleman told the Tribune.  While Cappleman hasn’t personally spoken to the second victim, Cappleman said the second victim “doesn’t even consider herself a victim.”

As to Kinsman, the Buccaneers haven’t spoken to her or to her lawyers.

“When vetting any potentially credible accusation of off-field misconduct, I’d expect NFL teams to learn both sides and not just listen to the player, agent, and coach,” Kinsman lawyer Baine Kerr told the Tribune. “Due diligence should include learning the facts from the accuser’s point of view.”

While it’s important to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, it’s a no-win proposition for the Buccaneers to communicate directly with persons having a clear bias and financial incentive against Winston.  If the team gets too close to the controversy, the team becomes a pawn in the legal chess/checkers/chicken game between Winston and Kinsman.

We can’t believe that the Buccaneers still made Winston the first overall pick despite all the information we shared with them.

Some would say that the mere existence of so many questions about Winston, from the BB gun incident to the crab-leg caper to the sexual-assault allegation to the shouting of the vulgar Internet memo to the recent change in the crab-leg explanation is enough to justify passing on Winston and selecting someone else with potentially equivalent talent but zero off-field entanglements that require investigation and explanation.  But franchise quarterbacks are hard to find in the draft, and the Buccaneers in nearly 40 years of existence never have.  As Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said on a recent edition of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the Buccaneers have never given a second contract to any quarterback they drafted.

That list includes, working backward, Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms, Joe Hamilton, Shaun King, Trent Dilfer, Craig Erickson, Mike Pawlawski, Pat O’Hara, Vinny Testaverde, Mike Shula, Blair Kiel, Steve Young, Mike Ford, Chuck Fusina, Doug Williams, Randy Hedberg, and Parnell Dickinson.

That’s 20 quarterbacks in 39 drafts.  Winston apparently will become No. 21, and the franchise seems to be ready to assume the risk that Winston could be yet another Buccaneer bust, whether due to on-field play or off-field problems.

If he is, maybe the 22nd quarterback drafted by the franchise will be the one to get a second contract.

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