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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 26: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles Introduce Chip Kelly Getty Images

Should we be skeptical or optimistic about the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles?

Both feelings seem appropriate. Not buying into the Eagles? We can’t blame you. No team has disappointed more in the last two seasons. The much-hyped 2011 squad finished .500, while last year’s club managed a mere four wins in a playoffs-or-bust year for coach Andy Reid.

With Reid gone, Chip Kelly inherits a roster that’s lately looked better on paper than on the field. But let’s look on the bright side. Can you imagine Kelly’s fast-paced offense with the Eagles’ skill-position players?

And let’s consider the Eagles’ division. The NFC East doesn’t  have one team that stands above the rest. Every one of the clubs seems capable of playing that role in a given week, but in recent years, this division has been contested all the way until the end.

Of course, if the Eagles are to be competitive down the stretch, they must improve on their surprisingly poor recent form.

Strengths.

The Eagles’ depth chart has some top-end skill players at running back (LeSean McCoy) and wide receiver (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin). Their offensive line could be very good if left tackle Jason Peters stays healthy and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson proves a quick study. The Eagles will be strong inside, with guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans an above-average tandem. This could be a dynamite running team; McCoy and Bryce Brown are a nice 1-2 punch, and Kelly oversaw impressive rushing attacks at Oregon.

Even in areas where the Eagles don’t have clarity, they at least have some viable options. Case-in-point: Michael Vick or Nick Foles each have the potential to be serviceable at quarterback — and perhaps more than that. Also, the Eagles should be able to get a solid pass rush from outside linebackers Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, even with Cole and Graham transitioning from defensive end.

Weaknesses.

The Eagles have committed a combined 75 turnovers in the last two seasons. One positive: Eagles quarterbacks threw 10 fewer interceptions in 2012. Prudent passing and better ball security could give the Eagles — who outgained opponents last season despite finishing 4-12 — a bit of a lift.

The Eagles also need to get better in the red zone; they scored touchdowns on just 44 percent of their trips inside the opposition 20 a season ago, fifth-worst in the NFL.

From a personnel standpoint, quarterback is the greatest concern for Philadelphia, which enters training camp without a clear-cut starter. That’s never a particularly comforting feeling. Also, the Eagles’ pass defense could be vulnerable even after investing in the secondary in free agency.

Changes.

The Eagles’ changes aren’t just confined to offense. Their defense is different, too, with a new coordinator (Bill Davis) and a new base scheme (the 3-4). The scheme change necessitated a couple front seven additions in free agency, as the Eagles signed the ex-Texan Barwin and former 49ers nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. However, the Eagles are trying to run the 3-4 primarily with the personnel brought in for various versions of the 4-3 the club employed under Reid and his defensive coordinators.

The Eagles are starting over in the secondary. Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone after disappointing two-season stints, replaced by Cary Williams (ex-Baltimore) and Bradley Fletcher (ex-St. Louis). At safety, the Eagles signed Patrick Chung from the Patriots and Kenny Phillips from the Giants to push incumbents Nate Allen and Colt Anderson. Considering how lackluster the Eagles were against the pass in 2012, wiping the slate clean would be perfectly understandable, but with so many new faces comes the prospect of everyone needing time to get on the same page on the back end of the defense.

On offense, there’s great anticipation about what Kelly has planned. At the very least, the Eagles are likely to play at a quicker-than-average pace. They would also figure to employ some read-option concepts, too. That said, the Eagles’ new offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, is grounded in the West Coast scheme. Philadelphia would seem to have the schematic and personnel flexibility needed to show numerous looks on offense.

Camp battles.

Vick and Foles are the primary contenders for the starting quarterback job, with rookie Matt Barkley seeming likely to hold down one of the reserve roles. Vick, 33, has just one year left on his contract, and he took a big paycut earlier in the offseason. Miscues (15 turnovers in 10 starts in 2012) are the major concern with Vick.

Foles, who’s nine years younger than Vick, got some valuable experience late last season. While Foles did show some potential in a six-game starting stint, he too had some issues with turnovers, and he faltered against a very good Cincinnati defense late in the campaign.

Other positions where there could be competition are safety, cornerback, outside linebacker and defensive end. The Eagles need stability to develop at the secondary positions.

Prospects.

Every team could use 1) a good start to the season and 2) some injury luck. Well, the Eagles really could use these things. Half of the Eagles’ road games are in the first six weeks of the season, including three straight games away from Philadelphia, with trips to the Broncos (Sept. 29), Giants (Oct. 6) and Buccaneers (Oct. 13) in Weeks Four through Six.

The Eagles open the season at defending NFC East champion Washington on Sept.9 — the first of three games in 11 days for Philadelphia. Home tilts vs. San Diego (Sept. 15) and Reid-led Kansas City (Sept. 19) are games the Eagles have to believe they can win — and they may very well need to win them with that challenging road stretch thereafter.

The Eagles do not get their bye until Week 12 — hence the need for that run of good collective health — but they do have the benefit of having their week of rest sandwiched between three home games: Washington (Nov. 7), Detroit (Dec. 1), Arizona (Dec. 8).

By then, we’ll have a good idea of how Kelly’s offense looks. If Kelly’s personnel takes to his scheme and opposing defenses are caught a little off-guard, the Eagles could be a sleeper in the NFC East. However, if the Eagles sputter early, they could be left with too much work to do down the stretch.

The other major storyline to watch, of course, is whether a quarterback emerges as a solid starter. If not, the focus turns to how the Eagles address the position in 2014.

For now, though, there’s the matter of whether Kelly can get more out of a team that’s left us wanting more the last two seasons.

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Report: Vick Ballard tore his Achilles

Vick Ballard AP

The Colts saw running back Vick Ballard get carted off the field at practice on Friday and initial reports are that Ballard has suffered a severe injury for the second straight season.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Ballard tore his Achilles tendon during the workout. That sets up another lost season for Ballard, who tore his ACL in the first week of the 2013 season and missed the remainder of the season.

It also leaves the Colts looking a bit shaky at running back heading into the preseason. Trent Richardson did not impress anyone after arriving in Indianapolis in a trade with the Browns after Ballard got hurt last season and Ahmad Bradshaw ended last season on injured reserve with a neck injury. Bradshaw has also dealt with foot troubles throughout his career, which creates further reason to worry about their depth.

Dan Herron, Chris Rainey and Zurlon Tipton round out the running back group, which makes it seem likely that the Colts will be looking for help outside the organization if and when they confirm Ballard’s diagnosis. Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee are some unsigned veteran options that could be of interest to the Colts.

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Pete Carroll on Marshawn Lynch: It’s called a contract for a reason

Marshawn Lynch, Pete Carroll AP

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his contract and expressing that displeasure by staying away from training camp, an approach that General Manager John Schneider says that the team isn’t planning to give him another one with two years to go on the current pact.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Schneider’s comments on Friday, saying that the deal they gave Lynch in 2012 was part of the organization’s long-term plan to build a winning team and that they expect Lynch to hold up his end of that contract.

“It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them,” Carroll said, via USA Today. “We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect them to do the same.”

Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and other players released by the Seahawks with time and money left on their contract would probably be interested to know that the Seahawks’ policy is to honor every contract until the moment it expires, especially since they were doing Lynch one better and showing up for work before they were cut loose. USC might feel the same way about Carroll leaving the school for the Seahawks while still under contract.

Carroll’s skewed view of the way contracts work is beside the point when it comes to the Lynch situation, though. Right now, the Seahawks have made it clear that they’ll move on with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael before giving Lynch any more money and Lynch has made it clear he won’t show up until he gets more money. Someone is going to have to change their mind if Beast Mode is going to run again this season.

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Patriots release TE Nate Byham

Nate Byham, Haruki Nakamura AP

Less than a week after signing tight end Nate Byham, the Patriots have let him go.

The club released Byham on Friday, five days after adding the ex-Buccaneers tight end to their roster.

The move leaves the Patriots with one open roster spot. They have five tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Justin Jones, Asa Watson and D.J. Williams.

A fourth-year pro from Pittsburgh, Byham (6-4, 265) is a vested veteran, leaving him free to immediately sign elsewhere. He has played 29 NFL regular season games, catching 11 passes for 83 yards and a touchdowns. After beginning his career with San Francisco (2010-2011), Byham spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay.

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Steelers place Mike Mitchell on PUP list to start camp

Mike Mitchell AP

The Steelers will open camp without a pair of players, including one of their rare free agent splurges.

The team announced that safety Mike Mitchell and running back Alvester Alexander would begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Mitchell parlayed a solid season with the Panthers into some security, with the Steelers stepping out of form with a five-year, $25 million deal.

He showed last year he’s not averse to coming up and making big hits (though he thinks Roger Goodell is targeting him for fines), but will have to play more of a coverage role paired with Troy Polamalu.

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Tyrann Mathieu says he’s 6-8 weeks away from returning

Tyrann Mathieu AP

The Cardinals placed safety Tyann Mathieu on the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier this week, a procedural move that confirms he’s not ready to start practicing after last year’s torn ACL.

The team can remove the designation and allow Mathieu to practice at any point during camp, but it doesn’t sound like that’s imminent. And it might not happen at all.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports that Mathieu said Friday that he thinks he is 6-8 weeks away from playing, a time frame that fits with coach Bruce Arians’ earlier comment that he wasn’t expecting to have Mathieu back before October 1.

The question for the Cardinals, then, will be whether they activate Mathieu from the PUP list at all or if they will have him remain on the list into the regular season. If they opt for the latter route, Mathieu will not be allowed to play or practice for the first six weeks of the season and the Cardinals could fill his roster spot with another player.

It’s premature to make any assumptions about which way they’ll go, but it is certainly a possibility if Mathieu is going to miss the first month of the season.

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Carl Nicks, Buccaneers part ways

Carl Nicks AP

Two years ago, the Buccaneers pilfered free-agent guard Carl Nicks from the Saints with a five-year, $47.5 million contract.  Now, Nicks is a free agent again.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that the Bucs and Nicks have struck a deal to end his time in Tampa.  Glazer calls the situation an “amicable settlement,” which implies that something other than an outright release happened.

It’s possible Nicks has given back some of the $25 million he has received for appearing in only nine games.  It’s possible that the Bucs gave him a little more money to resolve any potential claims arising from the staph infection he contracted last year.

Either way, Nicks will be able to continue his career with another team, if/when he has fully recovered from last year’s illness.

Nicks was due to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2014.

UPDATE 5:03 p.m. ET:  The Buccaneers have announced the move, and Nicks’ comments create the impression that he will not be continuing his NFL career.

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New Vikings stadium raises bird concerns

Birds Getty Images

The new Vikings stadium will resemble in many respects a gigantic terrarium, with plenty of glass under which humans will be potentially baking.  But that’s still better than what it may do to the birds.

Deadspin recently pointed out a press release from Audubon Minnesota, which accuses the Vikings of creating a “death trap” for our fine, feathered friends (except when one of those bastards craps on my toupee).

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds –- and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” Audubon Minnesota Executive Director Matthew Anderson said.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds.  The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ – surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap.  We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

The issue isn’t a new one.  For months, concerns have been raised regarding the importance of making sure that birds won’t fly into what they believe to not be a giant slab of glass.

Per the release, Audubon Minnesota “communicated regularly with stadium developers until April 2014, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used.”  The meeting allegedly was canceled, and on July 17 Audubon Minnesota was told that there would be no change in the stadium glass.

Apparently, someone decided it would be cheaper to pay someone to pick up all those dead birds from the stadium grounds over the next 30 or 40 years than it will be to fix the glass.  Those costs may go up when dead birds start landing on toupees.

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Falcons waive Darius Johnson

Darius Johnson AP

The Falcons have waived a wide receiver who started a pair of games for Atlanta a season ago.

The club announced Friday it had released second-year pro Darius Johnson, who hauled in 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 games after being promoted from the practice squad October 19.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old Johnson played 412 regular season offensive snaps for Atlanta. However, PFF gave him the lowest rating of any of the club’s wide receivers. Johnson (5-10, 175) was targeted 43 times, according to NFL statistics.

The roster move leaves the Falcons with 89 players, including 12 wide receivers.

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Drew Brees wants to play until he’s 45

Buffalo Bills v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

No one in New Orleans is talking about a future without Drew Brees at quarterback just yet and it will be a good while before anyone starts the conversation if Brees gets his way.

Brees has seen quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre remain productive into their late 30s and believes that he can follow in their footsteps. In fact, Brees, who turns 36 in January, thinks he can last even longer than Favre, who turned 41 during his final season with the Vikings.

“No doubt. There’s no question,” Brees said, via Albert Breer of NFL Network. “I’m not getting ahead myself, like it’s a pipe dream, at 45. I understand the challenges that come along with that. But why not? If I can stay healthy, and I’m having fun and playing at a high level, why wouldn’t I wanna do that? The biggest challenge is physically, the maintenance, the recovery, the way you train. You gotta hope that you stay healthy, but why not?”

Odds are that Brees’ luck on the health front won’t be charmed enough for him to play another 10 years, but there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to play at a high level through the end of his current deal with the Saints. The team seems to agree, moving to add players like Jairus Byrd, Brandin Cooks and Champ Bailey this offseason in hopes of maximizing the championship window opened by having an elite quarterback that has already brought one title to town.

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Evan Mathis feels he had leverage, but didn’t want to strong-arm team

Howard Mudd, Evan Mathis AP

Eagles guard Evan Mathis reported for camp this week despite his desire for a new contract and his feeling that he was well-positioned to force the team’s hand because of right tackle Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension.

Had Mathis held out, the Eagles would have faced the possibility of replacing two starting offensive linemen on the fly and that could have softened their stance against reworking Mathis’ deal. Mathis, who is set to make $5 million this year in the third year of a five-year deal, still wants a new deal but said that he didn’t want to do so by potentially hurting the team at a moment when they were already missing a starter.

“It gave me plenty of leverage, if I was to hold out. The fines had nothing to do with it. But what I’d be doing to my teammates and coaches — that’s the ultimate reason,” Mathis said, via CSNPhilly.com. “I’m not trying to strong-arm the team. I’m not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m not really worried about it. Hopefully it works out. If it doesn’t, I’m still going to be the same football player.”

Mathis’ presence will make it easier for the Eagles offense to succeed while Johnson is out of the lineup and it could help get things moving with the Eagles if they feel Mathis needs to be in camp to talk about a revised deal, but the two remaining years beyond this one on the contract give them plenty of reason to wait with Mathis giving up whatever leverage he may have had.

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Pounceys sued by three people after alleged incident at nightclub

Pouncey Getty Images

Somehow, the Pouncey twins’ birthday party featuring the “Free Hernandez” hats ended up being less eventful than this year’s self-celebration of survival for another 365 days.

Andy Slater of 940 WINZ in Miami has obtained a copy of the civil complaint filed by Riquan James, Brantley Williams, and Niya Pickett against Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey over an incident that allegedly occurred at their 2014 birthday party at the Cameo nightclub in Miami.

James alleges in the lawsuit filed Friday in the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County Florida that the Pounceys and their security detail addressed him with “derogatory and homophobic remarks and anti-gay slurs,” and that the Pounceys “began to push and shove” James. When James asked them to stop, Maurkice allegedly “struck James in the face several times” before the Pounceys and their security detail began “to punch, hit and kick James while he was laying in a fetal position.”

Pickett allegedly tried to intervene, but Maurkice “punched her in the face and knocked her unconscious.” (Two-game suspension, anyone?)  Williams was a bystander into whom James and/or Pickett were thrown.

The alleged injuries to James and Pickett include “blunt force trauma to the head, neck, chest and back” and “multiple contusions and bruises over a great extent of their bodies.” Pickett allegedly suffered an eye injury, and James allegedly suffered broken teeth. Williams allegedly suffered “contusions and bruises over the great extent of her body and a laceration to her right leg, which required several stitches.”

The Pounceys have been sued for their own alleged conduct and for the alleged misconduct of their security personnel. The nightclub has been added to the suit, based on the claim that management failed to protect patrons from foreseeable criminal activity.

The Pounceys’ lawyer previously has claimed that there was no altercation with James on the evening in question, and that “[i]f the accuser continues to perpetuate these lies, we will bring an action against him.”

Presumably, surveillance video will go a long way toward confirming or debunking the allegations. Regardless, the presence of two additional plaintiffs means that there will be testimony corroborating James’ version of the events.

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John Idzik maintains Jets quarterback competition isn’t tilted to Geno Smith

Michael Vick, Geno Smith AP

It wouldn’t be a Jets training camp without beat writers painstakingly counting first-team reps for the players aspiring to be the team’s starting quarterback and the practice has continued in 2014.

Geno Smith has taken 75 percent of the snaps with the first team in the early days of camp, which would seem to lend credence to the widely held belief that he has an edge over Michael Vick. It’s a belief held by Vick and one that many members of the Jets have also espoused since the start of camp, but General Manager John Idzik continues to insist that the team is not leaning in any direction.

“I don’t think it’s tilted at all,” Idzik said, via the New York Daily News. “It’s not just purely quantifiable like that and reading the playtime and the reps and drawing assumptions from that.”

Vick has a much longer track record than Smith and it is understandable that the Jets would feel less of a need to see him in action right now, especially since he has already played for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. When every other sign points to it being Smith’s job to lose, though, it points more to the Jets wanting Smith to avoid any complacency that could come with having the job than the kind of open competition that the team has said it is at other points this offseason.

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Ravens PR chief, owner rise to the defense of Ray Rice

images

After leading the league in offseason arrests, enduring the backlash that stemmed from a punishment which practically no one agrees is fair (and then signing a three-time violator of the league’s drug and PED policies), the Ravens have taken the obvious next step in a fabulous week for their image.

They’ve had their senior vice president of public relations write 1,200 words about what a great guy Ray Rice is.

No, really.

To his credit, longtime PR man Kevin Byrne understands that he’s not going to change many minds, but apparently felt compelled to share some personal reflections about all the good things Ray Rice has done.

Then again, he also oversees the messaging for a team that thought it would be a good idea to live-tweet Janay Rice’s apologizing for getting knocked out, bringing victim-blaming rushing into the 21st century with a deft social media flourish.

He also used his position to get a nice EXCLUSIVE with his boss, Ravens owner Steve Biscioitti, after asking if he thought this was a good idea.

“That’s your call,” Bisciotti said. “I don’t think Ray needs it, and I don’t think you’ll change the minds of those who don’t want to have anything to do with Ray. . . . How sad we all are that he tarnished his image. No one outside, I’ve learned, can understand how we look at these guys as our sons and close friends as opposed to just employees.

“I saw that clearly when we lost the AFC championship at New England [at the end of the 2011 season],” the owner continued. “I had friends tell me, ‘You must hate Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff. They cost you a trip to the Super Bowl.’ It was the opposite – we felt for Lee and Billy. I wished that they’d get another chance. I felt the need to protect them like I would one of my sons. It’s not like that in my other businesses.

“Don’t we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret? Ray showed great character for the six years I’ve known him. He has shown remorse after a bad incident. It was out of character. I don’t think now is the time to abandon him. You say we are a Ravens’ family. I’ve come to believe that.”

This is followed by the kind of things you’d expect someone who likes Ray Rice to tell you, about his remorse and civic concern, and another affirmation from Bisciotti that taking care of their own was a good idea.

But it’s probably not, if only for the fact it underscores how tone-deaf the Ravens have been throughout this entire incident.

Having a press-conference with no questions allowed was a sham, a clumsy effort to divert attention on a Friday afternoon. Live-tweeting Rice’s wife trying to jump on a grenade for her husband that day was tasteless at best. John Harbaugh’s tone of mild annoyance in discussing Rice’s two-game absence was cringe-worthy.

And frankly, trying to explain away the negative reaction to domestic violence is beneath them.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

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Vick Ballard carted off at Colts practice

Vick Ballard, Tracy Porter AP

Running back Vick Ballard got the green light to participate in training camp this week, a little less than 11 months after he tore his ACL in the season opener last season.

Ballard’s return to work has taken a turn for the worse, however. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star reports that Ballard was carted off the field during Friday’s practice.

Chappell and colleague Stephen Holder are both speculating that Ballard injured his ankle, with Holder reporting that Ballard wasn’t able to put any weight on his left foot.

We’ll wait for something more official from the Colts, but any extended absence for Ballard would put more pressure on Trent Richardson to live up to the price — a first-round pick — that the Colts paid to acquire him in a trade with the Browns last season. The Colts have expressed plenty of optimism that Richardson will do so, but having Ballard would make life much easier on Indy this season.

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Report: Johnny Manziel’s off-field actions have “alarmed” Browns

Johnny Manziel AP

At the outset of training camp comes a published report indicating the Browns’ organization is concerned about Johnny Manziel’s offseason off-field activities.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday the Browns were “alarmed” by a few of Manziel’s off-field actions since joining the organization, with the now-infamous dollar bill picture particularly of concern to the club.

Moreover, the Plain Dealer reports that Manziel’s play in OTAs “regressed” as the workouts went on — and that members of the organization believed it could be chalked up to Manziel not being diligent enough in his work.

What’s more, the Plain Dealer, citing sources, reported that some in the organization believed Manziel had “lost ground” in the battle to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job.

In more positive news for Manziel, the Plain Dealer reported that Manziel practiced well on Thursday. But it’s clear Manziel’s first professional offseason didn’t exactly go as some in the organization as hoped. Now, it’s on the Browns’ first-round pick to prove any discussion of his off-field habits is much ado about nothing.

But for now, before the games have begun, it is definitely something — especially when there’s now a report from one of the club’s long-time beat writers indicating there’s concern he wasn’t putting in the necessary time this offseason.

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