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Hernandez’s red flags never pointed to murder

Hernandez AP

As the nonstop developments in the Aaron Hernandez murder case(s) begin to subside, it’s time to broaden the lens and address a topic that has popped up from time to time over the past two weeks.

Should the Patriots have avoided drafting Hernandez in 2010 and/or giving him a long-term, big-money contract in 2012?

Many are suggesting that the Pats screwed the proverbial pooch on this one, that they negligently brought a potential murderer to Massachusetts and, two years later, made him a multi-multi-millionaire.  But there are multi-problems with that logic.

For starters, there really was no indication that Hernandez was anything other than a kid who:  (1) liked to smoke marijuana; and (2) periodically made mischief.  As the folks at CFT pointed out on Saturday, Hernandez was indeed questioned in connection with a shooting nearly six years ago in Gainesville.  But it was perfunctory and brief.  Other Gators were questioned at the time, including safety Reggie Nelson and the Pouncey twins.

The only true red flag that attached to Hernandez from his college days came from an affinity for inhaling the fumes of a plant that, if anything, make the user less likely to commit violence or do anything other than sit around and eat Fritos.  And if there’s a link between smoking pot and murder, there would be a lot more murders.

Whatever was wrong with Hernandez, he supposedly had been rehabilitated by former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who according to the New York Times personally conducted “daily Bible sessions” with Hernandez in order to turn him around.  Meyer presumably vouched for Hernandez to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.  Given the strong friendship between Belichick and Meyer that likely went a long way to persuading Belichick that Hernandez’s talents justified the risk.

Of course, some are now painting the picture that Hernandez entered the NFL with a pair of six-guns strapped to his side and ink on his arms that not-so-cryptically spelled out plans for his future crime sprees.  But where we these “sources” with knowledge of supposed gang ties and other actual or perceived misdeeds or antisocial tendencies when Hernandez emerged as a fourth-round star in his second NFL season?

That would have been the obvious time for scouts, General Managers, and coaches to cover their collective asses by leaking the notion that, even though Hernandez was playing at a very high level, they avoided Hernandez in rounds one through three because he had more problems than marijuana.  But there was nothing — not until after Hernandez was tied to a murder case and scouts and sources and some in the media all began to join in a hands-across-Whoville chorus of I told you so.

Even if Hernandez’s antics had generated real warning signs beyond marijuana, it’s impossible to connect dots from off-field misbehavior to premeditated murder.  It’s far more reasonable (or, as the case may be, far less reckless) to connect a substance-abuse problem (drugs or alcohol) to the potential for accidental death or dismemberment while driving a car.

Murderers come from all walks of life, with no way to prospectively screen for them — unless they’ve actually killed in the past.  For every Aaron Hernandez there’s a Jovan Belcher, who generated no objective evidence to suggest that he would get into serious trouble before he repeatedly shot the mother of his young child and then killed himself in the presence of his coach and G.M.  Ditto for Rae Carruth, who orchestrated the murder of the mother of his unborn son because Carruth apparently didn’t want to pay child support.  The Chiefs and the Panthers saw neither problem coming, because there’s rarely any reason to suspect someone of having the capacity to deliberately kill someone else, regardless of the person’s history.

For the best proof of this, look no farther than O.J. Simpson.  Revered as a player, beloved as a broadcaster, and celebrated as an actor, he would have been the last man anyone would have regarded as the potential murderer of his ex-wife and a stranger who was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.  (Simpson was acquitted in criminal court, but found legally responsible in civil court for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.)

On one hand, this is an extreme example of how the Modified Patriot Way of buying low — via trades, free agency, and the draft — can go very wrong.  On the other hand, the only way to avoid blame for harboring a potential murderer is to shun any player who has generated at any time any reason to believe that he could do anything wrong as an NFL player.

Even then, there’s still a chance that a player with no red flags will be the next Jovan Belcher, Rae Carruth, or O.J. Simpson.

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Charles Tillman now has a street that crosses RG3′s

Robert Griffin III, Charles Tillman AP

If you’re looking for the intersection of NFL greatness on both sides of the ball, you can always go to Copperas Cove, Texas.

There, you can roll down the newly named Charles Tillman Way, which intersects with Robert Griffin III Boulevard.

According to KWTX, Tillman had his street named after him last week. The NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year said he was flattered by the recognition of his hometown.

I really am humbled and thankful that you guys allowed me to be an ambassador for Copperas Cove,” the Bears cornerback said. “I will continue to do my part and try and change as many lives as we can.”

Now we just need an investigation to see if any strings were pulled.

During an interview with his fellow Copperas Cove graduate, Tillman joked that Griffin was a much bigger deal in his hometown.

“It’s him!” Tillman said in February, via the Washington Post. “Ask me do I have a street named after me.”

Griffin then replied: ““We’re gonna start the campaign today to get Charles Tillman a street in Copperas Cove.”

Whether Griffin had anything to do with it or not, it’s still a neat way for the town to honor two of its most prominent natives.

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Colts haven’t retired No. 88, but they won’t let Nicks wear it

Marvin Harrison AP

Technically, the Colts have not retired the 88 jersey which the team’s all-time leading receiver, Marvin Harrison, wore during his 13 seasons in Indianapolis, and which Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey wore for nine seasons in Baltimore. But the Colts aren’t giving No. 88 out anymore.

That became clear when the Colts’ website announced that Hakeem Nicks, the newly arrived free agent who wore No. 88 with the Giants, will instead wear No. 14 with the Colts.

Nicks had previously said he wanted to keep wearing No. 88 but that he didn’t know if he could in Indianapolis.

“Everybody knows I love those eights on my chest, but we’ll have to see how that pans out,” Nicks said when he signed with the Colts.

The Colts are running out of numbers in the 80s, with Raymond Berry’s 82 and Gino Marchetti’s 89 both retired, and Reggie Wayne’s 87 likely to be retired some day as well. But they should also retire 88, and when they do they should honor both Harrison and Mackey.

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Arizona judge denies bail for Darren Sharper

Sharper AP

Former NFL player Darren Sharper currently has so many legal problems that even former NFL player Aaron Hernandez would say, “That guy’s got a lot of legal problems.”

Sharper’s problems became more complicated on Thursday.

Via Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today, a judge in Arizona determined on Thursday that Sharper should not be released on bail for the rape charges he’s facing in that state.  Sharper also has been accused of rape in California and Louisiana, with potential charges also in Nevada and Florida.

In Arizona, Sharper’s conduct resulted in three alleged victims, labeled as A, B, and C.

“The court finds proof evident and the presumption great that Victim B was the victim of a sexual assault committed by Mr. Sharper,” Granville said. “The court will therefore affirm the no-bond finding with respect to [sexual assault].”

The evidence consists of DNA material matching Sharper.

He currently remains in jail in California while the wheels of justice churn in three different jurisdictions.  He is expected to be tried initially in California.

Sharper played for the Packers, Vikings, and Saints.  He was a key member of the 2009 New Orleans team that won Super Bowl XLIV.  Most recently, Sharper worked as an analyst for NFL Media.  Initially suspended after the California case came to light, the league fired Sharper after an arrest warrant was issued in Louisiana.

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Meeting of the minds: Peyton visits Saban at Alabama

Nick Saban AP

It’s not uncommon for coaches to pick the brains of one another in the offseason.

But Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning joined the loop, putting at risk his God-like status in the state of Tennessee.

According to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com, Manning and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase spent two days with Alabama coach Nick Saban last week, a visit Saban called mutually beneficial (of course).

“A lot of people would say, ‘Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, from a career standpoint and about as good as anyone has been in the history of the league,’ ” Saban said. “After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he’s going out to try and seek more knowledge and understudying of the game of football so he can play better.”

Of course, Saban wasn’t just generously sharing his own wisdom, as his teams have been picked apart by the kinds of no-huddle attacks Manning is so good at running.

“Since they’re a no-huddle team, we had a lot of questions for them, in terms of what gives them problems and what defensive teams do that give them problems,” Saban said. “That was a mutual benefit. I know it was a benefit to us. I hope it was a benefit to them as well.”

While Manning helping an SEC rival won’t sit well with his orange-clad brethren, the fact Manning’s out looking for fresh perspectives on the game also illustrates his commitment to the game. Coming off a record-breaking season, he could have easily claimed some down time to rest, but continues to work.

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Report: Kaepernick, Niners contract talks on hold

Colin Kaepernick, Thomas Davis AP

The 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have been talking about a contract extension this offseason, but those discussions have reportedly been tabled for the time being.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the reason why things have come to a halt is the incident in Miami involving Kaepernick, two other NFL players and a woman who filed a report with police saying she woke up in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. Neither Kaepernick nor anyone else has been accused of any wrongdoing and has strongly denied doing anything wrong, but things will apparently remain on hold until the police wrap up their investigation.

Rapoport also reports that the two sides were far apart in talks on a contract that Kaepernick surely wants to be among the top in the league after his first two seasons as a starting quarterback. As of now, it doesn’t look like the Miami “incident report” is going to do anything to lower his asking price so the resumption of talks may not lead to a quick resolution of Kaepernick’s contract.

Quick or not, talks should pick up once police finish their work in Miami and a Kaepernick extension is likely to remain a top order of business as long as that investigation clears him.

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Friday morning one-liners

Logan Mankins AP

Bills WR Brandon Kaufman hinted at a move to tight end.

Everything you ever needed to know about Dolphins G.M. Dennis Hickey.

Patriots G Logan Mankins hopes he has a few years left in his career.

Is taking a safety a possibility for the Jets in the first round?

Wisconsin DT Beau Allen and Bowling Green TE Alex Bayer visited with the Ravens.

Marvin Lewis Sr., father of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, died Thursday at the age of 78.

The Browns have completed their medical staff for the 2014 season.

Steelers T Mike Adams is working to rebound from a disappointing 2013 season.

Breaking down the makeup of the Texans defense.

G Joe Reitz shared some thoughts on the Colts’ offseason after signing his restricted free agent tender from the team.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was the subject of praise from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Running through the 20 highest-paid members of the Titans.

Former Broncos RB Otis Armstrong was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

A lot of people think the Chiefs are drafting a wide receiver in the first round.

LB Kaelin Burnett signed his exclusive rights free agent tender from the Raiders.

The Chargers announced the dates and times of all their preseason games.

Stanford DL Josh Mauro would love to play for the Cowboys.

The Giants were one of the teams watching Florida DT Dominique Easley work out on Thursday.

What is the Eagles’ biggest strength right now?

Redskins WR DeSean Jackson and an oversized bottle of champagne.

Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch will work out for the Bears at the team’s pro day for local prospects.

The Lions look forward to seeing what KR Jeremy Ross can do after an offseason with the team.

The Packers are looking for more consistency on their special teams.

A call for the Vikings to be cautious in their pursuit of a quarterback.

Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix doesn’t seem like a possibility for the Falcons in the first round unless they trade back.

A judge ruled the Charlotte city council did not break the law when they voted privately to offer the Panthers tax incentives.

Saints CB Champ Bailey, RB Mark Ingram and T Zach Strief will be playing in a celebrity golf tournament.

Buccaneers QB Josh McCown showed off his hoops skills for a charity game.

Former Cardinals T and longtime NFL broadcaster Dan Dierdorf will now announce University of Michigan games.

The Rams are watching Clemson WR Sammy Watkins work out on Friday.

The 49ers had a pre-draft visit with Miami T Seantrel Henderson.

WR Sidney Rice was happy to see his Seahawks locker was left untouched during his brief time off the roster.

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Marqise Lee visits Detroit, says he’d be happy there, or anywhere

Marqise Lee AP

Former USC receiver Marqise Lee visited Detroit this week and said he had a great time getting to know the Lions’ coaching staff, saying afterward that he’d be thrilled to go there — or anywhere else.

“Think I did pretty well, left a good impression, so hopefully, at the end of the day, I end up going there. If not, wherever I end up,” Lee said. “Honestly, to tell you the truth, I’m going to be happy wherever I go down. If it’s 10, it’s 10. If it’s 29, it’s 29. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as I get the opportunity to actually go out there and play.”

Lee had a brilliant sophomore season in 2012, catching 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns and winning the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football. If not for the NFL’s rule requiring players to be three years out of high school before they can be drafted, he probably would have been a Top 10 pick in last year’s draft.

But he struggled in 2013 after suffering an early-season knee injury, catching 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns. As a result, his stock has dropped, and now he’d be seen as something of a reach if the Lions took him with their first-round pick, No. 10 overall. Lee says he’s now fully healthy, and teams should expect him to look more like he did in 2012 than in 2013.

“I’m 100 percent,” Lee said. “One of the issues I ran into, a lot of people didn’t think I was healthy, my knee issue. But before I even got started to train for the combine, I went to go see doctors, and they let me know I was going to be 100 percent and I would have no more problems with it.”

When healthy, Lee was a great player at USC. Maybe great enough that the Lions would consider him at No. 10.

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Teddy Bridgewater falls to second round in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft

Teddy Bridgewater, Corey Jones AP

For most of the fall, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was talked about as being almost a lock to be the first quarterback selected in the NFL Draft and perhaps the first overall selection by the Houston Texans.

As the draft has drawn closer, that sentiment no longer seems to be the case. However, Bridgewater still seems likely to be one of the first few quarterbacks when the draft finally gets here on May 8. That hasn’t stopped a somewhat unexpected projected from Mel Kiper in his latest mock draft for ESPN.com on Thursday.

Kiper has Bridgewater falling out of the first round with the Houston Texans selecting him with the first pick of the second round.

Kiper’s reasoning is as follows:

“Let me be clear: This is the top-rated quarterback on my Big Board, a player I have rated higher than Bortles, Manziel or Carr,” Kiper wrote. “But my reading of the tea leaves in speaking with many evaluators around the league is that Bridgewater could drop if he slides past a couple of points early on. If I could project trades, I’d have someone taking him later in Round 1 having moved up. Obviously, he’s a steal at this point.”

Perhaps this is the tangible result of the draft being pushed back an extra two weeks. More time is available for front offices to out-think themselves or for teams to disparage a prospect in the hope he falls farther down on the draft board. It seems somewhat crazy that a quarterback some people still rank as the best in this draft could fall out of the first round based on a non-stellar pro day or workout instead of the performances at Louisville that grabbed the attention of scouts in the first place.

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Chargers pick up option on Corey Liuget

San Diego Chargers  v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers have joined the group of teams to exercise their fifth-year options on 2011 NFL Draft selections.

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Chargers have picked up their team option on defensive tackle Corey Liuget.

Liuget was the 18th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Liuget $6.969 million in 2015, per NFLPA records.

Liuget has started every game over the last two seasons for the Chargers. Liuget had 7.0 sacks for San Diego in 2012 and 5.5 sacks in 2013.

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Jets pick up option on Muhammad Wilkerson

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Jets Getty Images

With the deadline approaching for picking up fifth-year options for 2011 draft picks, the New York Jets have picked up their option on defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.

The Jets had always intended on picking up Wilkerson’s option year. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, that decision has been officially exercised.

Wilkerson was the 30th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Wilkerson $6.969 million in 2015.

Wilkerson racked up 10.5 sacks and 63 tackles with two forced fumbles and an interception for the Jets last season. He was named a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl alternate.

Wilkerson has said he wants to be a “Jet for life” and the option year could give the two sides more time to come to terms on a long-term extension.

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Report: Cowboys to pick up option year for Tyron Smith

Dallas Cowboys v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith has blossomed into one of the premier offensive linemen in the NFL over his first three seasons in the league. Smith was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season and was also named a second-team All-Pro.

As such, the Cowboys want to make sure he’s in Dallas for the foreseeable future. According to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, the Cowboys have exercised their team option on Smith for the 2015 season.

Smith was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. As per terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, all draft picks sign four-year contracts with first-round selections having a team option for a fifth season. For 2011 draft picks, teams have until May 3 to exercise their options for the 2015 season.

The option would pay Smith equal to the amount of a transition tag for offensive linemen in 2015, which is $10.039 million. The two sides could also work out a long-term extension before the option year would go into effect.

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Donald Jones turns to baseball after kidney transplant

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Getty Images

Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones was forced to retire from the NFL last August after discovering he had a kidney disease that made it impossible to continue playing football.

Now just four months after a kidney transplant, Jones is trying to make his way back onto the field in a different sport.

According to Mike Ashmore of MyCentralJersey.com, Jones is playing outfield for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

After being released by the New England Patriots last July, Jones set up a workout with the Indianapolis Colts but had his blood pressure skyrocket during a stress test that ultimately convinced him he could no longer keep playing football. He was diagnosed with Berger’s Disease and required a transplant or kidney dialysis. He received a donor kidney from his father.

“It was scary, to say the least,” Jones said. “But I came to terms with everything, it was going to be what it was going to be. I was excited to get the whole thing over with and I was happy I didn’t have to do the dialysis.”

Jones was coming off his best season with the Bills in 2012. He caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns In his three years in Buffalo, he caught 82 passes for 887 yards and six touchdowns.

Jones played baseball through high school and is currently just working out with the Somerset Patriots.

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Bengals, A.J. Green not talking about a new contract yet

Green Getty Images

By May 3, the Bengals inevitably will exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green’s contract.  The bigger question is whether the Bengals will be extending Green’s contract by more than a year.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, talks on an extension for Green have not yet begun.  The fourth overall pick in 2011, Green has a strong argument that he deserves the contract now that he didn’t get three years ago under a rookie wage scale aimed at preventing busts from sucking millions out of the system.

But the Bengals hold his rights for two more years, giving them no reason to break the bank prematurely.  Even in 2016, they can use the franchise tag to hold him in place while working out a long-term deal.

Before that happens, Green could boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp.  The former isn’t very expensive; the latter would cost $30,000 per day.  For that reason, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.

Lewis said so during an interview at the recent league meetings in Orlando.  The clip that was televised Thursday on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk appears below.

Still, a holdout hasn’t been ruled out.  The source tells PFT that it’s too early to tell whether that will happen, and that the topic hasn’t been discussed yet.

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Report: 49ers not planning to release Aldon Smith

Smith AP

The 49ers may not be inclined to extend linebacker Aldon Smith’s stay until 2015, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with him in 2014.

The team currently doesn’t plan to release Smith, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

It’s not a surprise.  Cutting Smith would mean he would get a second chance with another team — possibly another team in the NFC West.  Since he doesn’t have four years of service, however, Smith would be subject to waivers.

Before cutting Smith, the 49ers surely would try to trade him.  Every player with talent gets a second chance, and every coach thinks he’s the guy who can get through to a player who doesn’t get it.

As we’ve previously explained, a pair of off-field incidents falling under the Personal Conduct Policy makes Smith susceptible to a suspension even without resolution of his pending charges.  Also, the 49ers could put Smith on the non-football injury/illness list if the team believes that his alcohol issues have returned, and that he needs further treatment.

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Ravens exercise 2015 option on Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith AP

The Ravens have indeed exercised their right to keep cornerback Jimmy Smith under contract through 2015.

According to Field Yates of ESPN.com, the Ravens have picked up the fifth-year option on Smith, their 2011 first-round pick. Smith is now slated to make $6.898 million in 2015, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

In March, Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated the team would be picking up Smith’s option.

The 25-year-old Smith started all 16 games for Baltimore in 2013, defending 15 passes, recording two interceptions and notching 58 tackles. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Smith has ideal size for the position and seems likely to sign a lucrative multi-year contract at some point, given his skill and the demand for cornerbacks.

The Ravens took Smith 27th overall in 2011. They held the No. 26 pick, but time ran out on the pick after a trade with the Bears fell through. (Then-Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo took responsibility for the mishap.) The Chiefs, who had the 27th pick, took receiver Jonathan Baldwin at No. 26.

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