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Hernandez, Gronkowski struggles make Graham look even better

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Sandwiched between tight ends Rob Gronkowski (round two) and Aaron Hernandez (round four) in the 2010 draft was tight end Jimmy Graham.  A third-round pick of the Saints, Graham was the last tight end selected before Hernandez.

The Saints took Graham with pick number 95, and the Patriots took Hernandez 18 spots later.  In between, four receivers were selected — Mardy Gilyard (Rams; no. 99), Mike Williams (Bucs; no. 101); Marcus Easley (Bills; no. 107); Jacoby Ford (Raiders; no. 108).

It’s unknown whether the Saints wrestled with the choice of taking Graham or Hernandez.  The red flags were well known, and Hernandez’s history easily could have been a factor.  But Graham’s limited football career likely was an issue, too.  He played only one year at Miami.  Hernandez was the far more established and experienced player.

Regardless of how the Saints made their decision, they settled on Graham.  Of the three tight ends, he’s the only one still laboring under his rookie deal.

From Gronkowski’s injuries and surgeries and party-boy tendencies to Hernandez’s legal entanglements, Graham is looking like the best of the bunch.  And the Saints need to acknowledge that with a long-term deal.

To his credit, Graham hasn’t groused.  But if the team and the player can’t work out a multi-year contract, a franchise-tag fracas could be coming over whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver, given the number of times he lines up in the slot.

The best way to avoid that outcome would be to get a new agreement negotiated, and the best time to do it would be sooner rather than later.  The cap is a problem for now; according to NFLPA records, the Saints currently have roughly $5 million in total space.  But with all of their draft picks signed, the Saints wouldn’t have to clear much space to do a long-term deal with Graham, since the signing bonus would be spread over multiple seasons.

Graham’s refusal to make a stink, publicly or privately, about his status puts less pressure on the Saints to take care of him.  In turn, however, this attitude proves that Graham is far more worthy of the security than Hernandez, and possibly even more worthy than Gronkowski.

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Prince Amukamara claims Victor Cruz is faster than ever

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Giants receiver Victor Cruz is only nine months removed from a severe knee injury, but he looks better than ever.

That’s the word from Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, who worked out with Cruz and believes he’s faster now than he was before he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in October.

“I trained with Cruz for one day down in Arizona ‐ and he just came in for a day because he was in town ‐ and I’m telling you, this guy looked fab . . . I’m telling you. Remember that I said this. This guy looks faster now than he did before,” Amukamara said on his podcast, via NJ.com. “I was just looking at him and was like, ‘Man, how is this possible?'”

Honestly, it’s probably not possible. And Amukamara acknowledged that he might just be feeling a little optimistic.

“It could be [he’s faster] or it could be I haven’t seen him run in a long time and he just looks crisp,” Amukamara said. “But I keep telling him. ‘Man, you look faster. You look faster’ and stuff like that. He looks so good, so polished. He does not look like he missed a step.”

Still, Amukamara’s comments come three weeks after Cruz himself said all the medical personnel are telling him he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Considering how ugly that knee injury in October looked, the fact that he’s running at all in July is impressive. If he’s running as well as he did before the injury, that’s incredible.

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Grubman returns to San Diego for more meetings

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As San Diego tries to keep the Chargers and as the Chargers try to leave, NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman is returning for another set of meetings.

Via Scott M. Reid of the Orange County Register, Grubman will meet separately with the city and the team, who have had overtly conflicting agendas for the last month.

San Diego hopes to finagle a public vote in January on partial public funding, but that requires an accelerated Environmental Impact Report. Via Reid, the EIR must be done by next week in order to keep the plan on track.

The Chargers will separately update Grubman on the efforts to build a new stadium in Carson, which the Chargers would share with the Raiders. Last month, the Chargers walked away from direct talks with San Diego due to disagreements regarding the viability of an accelerated EIR and public vote.

Grubman will visit L.A. and Oakland, too, as he makes one last attempt to gather information prior to an August 11 ownership meeting aimed solely at tackling the situation in L.A., a market that quickly has gone from luxury to necessity for the NFL.

Apart from whether a new stadium is built in Carson (for the Chargers and Raiders) or Inglewood (for the Rams and likely one other team), the league needs to have a viable temporary location for one or two franchises. With the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Angels Stadium in Anaheim reportedly not interested, that leaves few options for a 2-3 year Band-Aid, which could make finding short-term space a bigger challenge for the league than building a permanent NFL venue.

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Dave Gettleman: Cam Newton “developing at a solid rate”

Cam Newton AP

When the Panthers signed quarterback Cam Newton to a contract extension this offseason, General Manager Dave Gettleman said that the team believes that Newton will “take us to the promised land.”

Not everyone is as convinced as Gettleman about Newton’s ability to take the Panthers to those heights with many citing Newton’s career completion percentage of 59.5 as a reason why he won’t get them over the hump. Gettleman acknowledges there’s room for growth in Newton’s game but that it’s just part of the process of growing into his job.

“He’s developing at a solid rate,” Gettleman said, via ESPN.com. “We’re excited about having him. He just needs to continue to hone his game. He’ll get better. [His accuracy is] like anything else, he’ll get better. I get frustrated because everybody wants a guy to be great yesterday. It doesn’t work like that. And oh, by the way, he’s trying to do his job while people are trying to rip his lungs out. People don’t want to get it. We gave him what we gave him because we believe very strongly in him.”

Gettleman also said he thinks this year’s receiving group is the best that Newton has worked with since joining the Panthers, something that should help Newton’s development in his fifth season with the team. Better offensive line play would help as well because nothing will stunt Newton’s growth quicker than an injury that knocks him out of the lineup for an extended period of time.

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Bears sign former L.A. Kiss wide receiver A.J. Cruz

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Detroit might be rock city, but it’s another NFC North team that is extending the Kiss tour.

According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears have filled out their roster by signing wide receiver A.J. Cruz.

That might not have ordinarily been worth more than a line in the transaction agate, but he once played for Florio’s favorite Arena League team — the L.A. Kiss.

He was actually with the Arizona Rattlers this season, but once a member of the Kiss Army, always a member of the Kiss Army. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Cruz was an all-Ivy League player at Brown, a slightly more prestigious academic institution than Gene Simmons Rock School.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

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Corey Graham is ready to make the move to safety for the Bills.

Which cornerbacks will play alongside Brent Grimes for the Dolphins?

A breakdown of the Patriots offensive line.

The Jets are expected to sign WR Austin Hill.

WR Steve Smith is ready for his second training camp with the Ravens.

What goes wrong for the Bengals in the second half of playoff games?

The Browns will be looking for a kicker this summer.

LB Lawrence Timmons has become one of the Steelers’ defensive leaders.

Said Texans DE J.J. Watt, “Training camp’s the greatest. Because it’s a chance for you to try new moves. Try new things. See what’s successful, see what’s not.”

Trent Cole gives the Colts more options at outside linebacker.

Rookie WR Rashad Greene likes his chemistry with Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

The Titans are banking on Perrish Cox improving their play at cornerback.

Broncos rookie T Ty Sambrailo has a lot to learn in a short period of time.

Rookies and quarterbacks report for Chiefs camp on Tuesday.

Jack Del Rio is the latest coach to try to turn things around with the Raiders.

Said Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, “You really want to in this business impose your will on your opponent. What that means is not running it 50 times a game. What it means is running it when you want to run it.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says the team needs to prove itself again this year.

The Giants need T Ereck Flowers to develop quickly.

The Eagles waived RB Matthew Tucker with a non-football injury.

A few things to watch on offense at Redskins camp.

Bears CB Kyle Fuller threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field.

Sledding down volcanoes is the latest offseason adventure for Lions LB DeAndre Levy.

Keeping QB Aaron Rodgers healthy is a Packers priority this season.

Vikings S Anthony Sendejo recommends bringing your own toilet paper to training camp.

Assessing the Falcons cornerbacks ahead of training camp.

The Panthers feel the roster is stronger than it was at this time last year.

How will the departure of LB Junior Galette impact the Saints?

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans got a tattoo of the NFL shield.

QB Drew Stanton feels healthy heading into Cardinals camp.

The Rams have a lot of players in the final year of their contracts.

49ers players hope to prove people wrong this season.

Will Alvin Bailey give the Seahawks what they need at left guard?

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Arians sees Welter hire as a benefit, not a distraction

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The Cardinals have long been at the NFL’s cutting edge when it comes to diversity. On Monday, the franchise tore through a wall that many thought never would budge.

Dr. Jen Welter has joined the team as a training-camp intern, working with inside linebackers for the next six weeks. Though short-term in duration, the assignment could spark permanent change in the manner in which football at every level views the involvement of women as coaches.

Because Welter is the first, the move could be viewed as a potential distraction. And football coaches ordinarily loathe distractions. But Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t see it that way.

“This is not going to be a distraction,” Arians told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “It’s going to be a benefit to our team.”

It will be a benefit because Dr. Welter brings to the table not only football knowledge and experience but advanced degrees in psychology.

“I don’t think the players care, as long as they are being coached to get better,” Arians said. “With her background as a player, a coach and a psychologist, I think our players will realize she can help them. She has a ton of energy and intelligence. We’re looking forward to having her on the staff.”

The move hardly means that the NFL will see an immediate influx of female coaches, in large part because the potential supply is currently very, very small. This gesture from the Cardinals and Arians will prompt more women to regard coaching football as a viable career path at lower levels of the sport, just as the promotion of Sarah Thomas to the NFL level will lead more women into football officiating.

“I think it’s time,” Arians said. “I am not afraid to step out and be different. Jen is a quality coach. She has earned this.”

Because of that, more women will realize that jobs like that are available to be earned. And they’ll begin the process of earning them.

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Cordarrelle Patterson still struggling with consistency

Cordarrelle Patterson AP

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t take the step forward that the team wanted to see last season, leading Patterson to say this offseason that 2015 is going to be a make or break year for him.

If he wants it to wind up in the make column, he still has some work to do. Coach Mike Zimmer said that Patterson improved during offseason work, but that the third-year wideout still needs to figure out how to bring the necessary level of intensity and execution on a daily basis if he’s going to succeed in the NFL.

“Cordarrelle is on a good track right now, OK? Now, can he sustain? Can he continue to sustain what he’s doing? Because like today, I thought he had a good day,” Zimmer said, via USA Today. “In OTAs, I thought he improved. He’ll have really good days, and then he’ll have some not-so-good days. Really, I think what he needs to do is just the consistency every single day and the consistency in studying, the consistency in getting extra help that he needs if he needs it, running the routes the same all the time and understanding that there’s a lot of great athletes that play professional sports, and there’s a lot of great athletes that don’t make it in professional sports because they don’t have the other intangibles. To me, the biggest thing with him is that: Does he want to be ‘Flash’ or does he want to be a great receiver? I’m not trying to dog him or anything, but that’s really what it is.”

Patterson’s behind Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright at receiver with fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs also vying for time on offense. If the Vikings can’t count on consistent practice performances, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be doing anything more than returning kicks as long as he’s in Minnesota.

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Chris Cooley not “holding out hope” of signing with team soon

Chris Cooley AP

Last week brought reports that the Cardinals were interested in the possibility of bringing tight end Chris Cooley onto their roster, but they opted for signing Jermaine Gresham in a move that likely closed the door on Cooley in the desert.

Cooley’s not giving up his hopes of making a comeback, although he’s also not “holding out hope” that he’s going to be signed by any team at any point in the immediate future. Cooley said he did talk to Arizona before they signed Gresham, but that he expects that camp will play out for a while before he’ll pop up on anyone else’s radar.

“I will absolutely continue to work out,” Cooley said, via ESPN.com. “And look towards realistically a later date in someone’s camp after an injury were to occur or even into the season, which I would be fine with. It would probably have to be a team that realistically has a chance of winning this year. Teams that don’t have a chance of winning don’t sign 33-year-old tight ends.”

If Cooley is on a roster for the first week of the season, his salary is guaranteed for the entire year so it’s probably a good bet that teams would be hesitant to bring him on board before that point. And it won’t be a return to the Redskins regardless of their circumstances at the position (or their chances of winning this year) as Cooley is barred from playing for them because the team employs him in a broadcasting role.

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Texas authorities still investigating Antonio Smith as camp nears

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The Broncos report to camp Thursday, which means they need to make some decisions on where certain players stand.

That’s harder, since a set of local authorities in Texas are moving with Goodell-like speed on an investigation that began in February.

According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the Fort Bend (Texas) County district attorney has not determined whether he’ll charge Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith for anything.

The complaint is still under investigation and no determination has been made to formally charge Mr. Smith at this time,” the Fort Bend, Texas District Attorney said Monday.

The Broncos excused the veteran lineman from OTAs after he was accused of criminal child sexual abuse, clearly not wanting to associate their brand with someone under investigation. But if they don’t hear something soon, it creates an interesting decision for them as players are about to show up for work.

They’ve stayed in contact with Smith throughout the offseason, so it’s unclear if they’re ready to part ways. From a purely football standpoint, they could use him, especially after Derek Wolfe was suspended four games for a PED violation.

But this case is obviously more sensitive, which is why some guidance from the legal system is something they’d probably prefer.

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Seahawks may be offering Wilson $21 million in “new money”

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When it comes to the negotiations between the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson, hard facts have been difficult to come by. There’s one fact that, if true, will make it hard to get a deal done by Friday’s artificial-but-real deadline.

Multiple reports have indicated that the Seahawks are offering Wilson $21 million per year. As one league source with experience negotiating quarterback contracts (but with no direct role in the Wilson talks) explains it, the $21 million most likely isn’t the total annual value at signing; it’s the “new money.”

In other words, if the Seahawks are offering Wilson a five-year deal with $21 million per year in “new money,” that average applies to the four new years — making the total value in the range of $85.5 million. Which would give the offer a total value of $17.1 million.

If the Seahawks were offering a contract with a total value of $21 million per year, the “new money” average (i.e., $105 million minus $1.5 million divided by four new years) would be $25.625 million. And the reports, as the source believes it, undoubtedly would be that the Seahawks are offering more than $25 million per year, not $21 million.

As a result, the source contends that the recent analysis of the offer from ESPN’s John Clayton is incorrect, because it presumes the Seahawks are offering $21 million in total value, not in new money.

The “new money” analysis is a subtle distinction that has major ramifications for a guy who has a one year left on a four-year slotted third-round rookie deal at only $1.5 million. As a general rule, teams like the “new money” characterization before a deal is done, because it makes the offer look better than it really is. Players and their agents like the “new money” characterization after a deal is done, because it creates the impression that the player got more than he actually received.

All the major quarterback extensions (such as the Aaron Rodgers $22 million-per-year deal and Ben Roethlisberger’s $21.85 million annual package) have been described that way by looking only at the “new money.” If, as the source insists, the Seahawks have offered Wilson $21 million not in total value but in “new money,” the gap between the two sides is considerably wider than previously believed — and the chances of Wilson playing out the 2015 season are greater than they otherwise would be if the total package were worth $21 million per year.

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Sio Moore heads to PUP list

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The start of camps brings a flood of players to the various lists designed for rehabbing injuries or illness and Raiders linebacker Sio Moore is among those who will spend some time on the physically unable to perform list.

Moore finished last season on injured reserve and is recovering from February hip surgery that kept him out of most of the team’s offseason workouts. The hope was that Moore would be ready for the start of camp, but that didn’t come to fruition.

The good news for the Raiders and Moore is that it isn’t expected to be long before he’s back in action. Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com reports that the Raiders medical staff doesn’t believe it will be long before Moore is activated and on the practice field.

Moore had 90 tackles and three sacks in 11 starts for the Raiders last season and projects as the starter across from Khalil Mack again this season. Malcolm Smith will likely take his place until he’s ready to return to practice.

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Mike Pettine on Ray Farmer: We are “singing from the same hymnal”

Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer AP

A recent report from Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland had Browns coach Mike Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer butting heads within the organization and that their poor relationship helped lead to the recent departure of director of player engagement Jamil Northcutt.

Things haven’t always run smoothly between the two men, with Farmer’s in-game text messages from last season standing out as a big example of where things went the wrong way. On Monday, though, Pettine said that the two men “work very well together” and that the Browns’ losing record made it easy to “extrapolate [Northcutt’s departure] out so it has a negative connotation” while denying any rift exists between the two men.

“When you look at the roster moves we’ve made, from the beginning here, though this past draft and even adding Terrelle Pryor here, right up to some of the things we’re doing now around camp, we’re singing from the same hymnal virtually on every decision,” Pettine said, via Cleveland.com. “To say we agree on everything would not be accurate, but to say there’s a rift or a power struggle or a tug of war, that would be completely inaccurate.”

Pettine also said that he recently invited Farmer to join him on vacation, which may not be the best way to get away from work but does suggest that the two men aren’t at one another’s throats. Now all they need to do is figure out a way to win enough games that they can avoid being sent on an extended vacation together.

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Jerry Jones recovering well from hip replacement surgery

Tony Romo, Jerry Jones AP

The Cowboys have at least one big name who may not be ready to pass his pre-training camp physical, though they hope he’s back to 100 percent soon.

Via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had hip replacement surgery July 21 (a week ago), but he’ll be in Oxnard tomorrow ready to give his state of the team news conference.

He’s doing better than he ever expected,” Cowboys vice president of communications Rich Dalrymple said. “[He’s] moving around well, without assistance, and looking at the possibility of having his other hip done before the season starts. . . .

“He doesn’t plan on missing anything during camp or the season.”

The 72-year-old owner has kept a busy schedule, including flying to New York meet with Dez Bryant’s representatives just before his surgery. He’s reportedly had a noticeable limp this offseason, and scheduled the surgery some time ago. But he did make sure he had Bryant’s deal in hand before he went under the knife.

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Start of camps bring start of domestic violence education for teams

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Teams show up for training camp, they take physicals, they fill out paperwork, but now there’s another rite of summer.

According to Lindsay Jones of USA Today, teams are also going through domestic violence and sexual assault education programs as the season begins.

The programs are for all players and team employees, a mandatory one-hour session which all teams will complete by the end of September.

There’s obviously more emphasis on it this year after a year which gave us Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald. This year, the programs goes beyond defining the problems to showing how these crimes impact both victims and perpetrators, their families and teams, according to NFL vice president of wellness and clinical services Dwight Hollier.

“Historically speaking, with domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault, those are the kinds of issues that have thrived when people would look the other way and not engage,” Hollier said. “It’s about recognizing in any situation that may be close to you — in your family or with your friends.”

The program also includes a section of drink driving prevention, and includes first-hand stories from people who have been impacted by these crimes both as the perpetrator and the victim, such as Titans tight end Delanie Walker talking about losing loved ones to drunk drivers.

“They thrive in the darkness, and we’re trying to shine a light on these issues by doing something that hasn’t generally been done a lot — which is having conversations about these topics and talking about what kinds of things you can do to speak up and speak out,” Hollier said.

While you could argue the program might be better placed earlier in the offseason (before players scatter for the spring and summer), the contents of the program are valid and useful any time they can be presented.

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Dominique Easley among nine placed on PUP/NFI lists by Patriots

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Former first round pick Dominique Easley is among nine players placed on either the physically unable to perform or non-football injury lists by the New England Patriots on Monday.

Easley landed on injured reserve last December after suffering a knee injury. He did not have surgery this offseason but still missed all of the team’s offseason workouts this summer. Easley was one of eight to be placed on the PUP list by New England.

In addition, linebacker Dane Fletcher, defensive tackle Chris Jones, wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Matt Slater, defensive tackle Vince Taylor, center Ryan Wendell and linebacker Chris White were also placed on PUP on Monday.

Quarterback Matt Flynn was placed on the non-football injury list.

Players on PUP/NFI count against the 90-man roster limit and can be activated any time during the preseason.

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