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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs

Former Eagles coach Reid poses with Chiefs owner Hunt after a news conference introducing Reid as the Chiefs new coach in Kansas City, Missouri Reuters

The instinct is to treat the Chiefs’ awful 2012 season as an aberration, and that’s probably the right call.

Even just a cursory glance at the club’s depth chart suggests that last season’s 2-14 mark won’t be repeated this year. After all, Kansas City had six Pro Bowlers in 2012, and the roster was strengthened this spring via free agency and the draft.

For new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Kansas City represents a fresh start after two sour seasons to finish a Philadelphia tenure filled with more good moments than bad. The Chiefs’ new starting quarterback, Alex Smith, also gets to the turn the page after being forced out by Colin Kaepernick’s emergence in San Francisco.

There’s little doubt Reid and Smith will help lead a turnaround of some sort relative to 2012. If nothing else, the Chiefs are likely to move out of the AFC West basement. But are the Chiefs capable of quintupling their win total from a season ago? That’s probably what it will take to contend for a playoff spot.

Strengths.

The Chiefs’ defense does not lack for talent. Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston combined for 19 sacks in 2012 and joined inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and strong safety Eric Berry as Pro Bowlers. Cornerbacks Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson are skilled and experienced.

The offense has some top-end players, too, with running back Jamaal Charles (1,509 rushing yards in 2012) a premier game-breaking threat and wideout Dwayne Bowe a legit go-to target. At quarterback, Smith should be an upgrade over Matt Cassel, and the addition of No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher at left tackle strengthens the offensive line. The Fisher-Brandon Albert tackle tandem should be a real asset for the Chiefs.

With the additions of Reid and Smith, the NFL’s worst passing offense from a season ago has new life. That, in turn, should help a running game that thrived even without defenses having to worry much about the Chiefs’ passing attack.

Finally, Reid’s presence should be a major asset both on the sidelines and in the organization. The Eagles won 10 playoff games and registered nine winning seasons in his 14-season tenure. In that same span, the Chiefs didn’t register a single playoff win and had nine losing seasons.

Weaknesses.

While the Chiefs have some very skilled performers on defense, opponents nonetheless had success attacking Kansas City with the run and pass in 2012. To wit: the Chiefs finished 30th in yards per pass and 25th in yards per rush surrendered a season ago. The secondary should be better with Smith and Robinson joining the cornerback corps, but the run defense — especially right up the heart of the front seven — needs to be monitored. Per NFL statistics, opponents gained 4.78 yards per rush up the middle vs. the Chiefs in 2012.

On offense, the concern is the next wave of players beyond the starters. Kansas City is a little thin at the skill positions, especially at running back, where there is no clear-cut backup to count upon if Charles were to exit the lineup. Swift rookie Knile Davis has the talent to be a key contributor in the backfield, but he struggled with injuries and fumbles at Arkansas.

The depth at wide receiver is somewhat shaky until proven otherwise, too. Beyond Bowe, the top options are Donnie Avery, Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster. Avery is fast but comes durability concerns. Baldwin, the Chiefs’ 2011 first-round pick, hasn’t delivered on his potential. McCluster is quick but undersized.

On defense, the primary depth concerns are at outside linebacker, safety and along the defensive line.

Changes

Reid, renowned his work with quarterbacks and a proponent of the West Coast offense, is charged with reshaping the offense. Smith, who’s still not even 30 years old, could benefit form Reid’s tutelage and not having to worry about job security. There is no real threat to replace him on the roster.

In addition to Fisher, new faces on offense include Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano and quarterback Chase Daniel. Avery and Fasano project as regulars, while Daniel, formerly Drew Brees‘ understudy, will be the top backup to Alex Smith.

Rangy Sean Smith, signed from Miami, will start opposite of Flowers at cornerback, with Robinson expected to be the third corner. Robinson should be effective in this role; his experience and physicality ought to serve him well in the latter stages of his career.

The Chiefs will continue to use the 3-4 as their base defense, but Bob Sutton has taken over at coordinator, and some new wrinkles are to be expected.

Camp battles.

For a 2-14 club with a new head coach, the Chiefs don’t figure to have much camp-competition drama. Most starting spots are ably filled.

The offensive line could be the most unsettled position on the team. At center, third-year pro Rodney Hudson would seem to have the edge at center; he began 2012 as the starter before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. However, second-year left guard Jeff Allen got some work in the middle in the offseason, per the Kansas City Star. Allen started 13 games a season ago but graded out as the second-worst run-blocker among qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson are other potential options at guard.

Inside linebacker is another position that could have some intrigue if rookie Nico Johnson can push ex-Eagle Akeem Jordan.

Finally, Davis will get a look at kickoff returner, a position where the club could use more playmaking ability. However, he needs to hold onto the ball.

Prospects.

If Kansas City is playoff-caliber, it will show early. The Chiefs face one 2012 playoff team (Houston) in their first nine games. Five of their first six AFC games before their Week 10 bye are against the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Browns and Bills — teams Kansas City should be able to beat.

The Chiefs are going to need to take care of business in the first two months. Their post-bye schedule includes two games against Denver in three weeks. Kansas City also draws Washington and Indianapolis down the stretch. The season finale at San Diego won’t be easy, either.

Overall, though, it’s a manageable schedule for the Chiefs. And it’s probably safe to assume the bottom doesn’t fall out again this year – though we wouldn’t blame Kansas City fans for knocking on wood, given how last season went.

Really, though, the Chiefs’ 2012 form was so bad it cannot be taken at face value. Clearly, they are capable of more.

How much more is the question.

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Mike Wallace not willing to take a pay cut

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The Dolphins have paid receiver Mike Wallace $27 million since signing him nearly two years ago.  Due to make $9.85 million in 2015, Wallace reportedly isn’t willing to take a penny less.

Via Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Wallace won’t restructure the contract.

It’s unclear whether that means he won’t take less money or whether it means he won’t take a large chunk of his salary now as a signing bonus, allowing the cap dollars to be spread over future years of the deal.  His cap number currently is scheduled to be north of $12 million.

For the Dolphins, there’s no specific deadline for action before Week One of the regular season.  Of the $9.85 million salary, $3 million is fully guaranteed.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, there’s no roster bonus or other trigger in March that would entitle Wallace to cash in hand or to more guaranteed money.

If Wallace won’t reduce his salary, and if the Dolphins aren’t willing to spend $9.85 million in 2015 in the hopes of justifying $27 million spent in 2013 and 2014, a trade makes sense — if the Dolphins can find a suitor.  At $9.85 million in base salary with plenty of options on the free-agent market and a trend toward rookie receivers making an impact right away, that’s unlikely.

If a trade isn’t possible, the Dolphins would be wise to cut Wallace sooner rather than later.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the $3 million guarantee has offset language, meaning that the Dolphins will avoid the obligation if he gets at least $3 million from someone else.  The sooner he’s on the market, the more likely he’ll exceed that number.

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NFL adds to its Washington office, hiring a Republican lobbyist

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The NFL is on a bit of a losing streak in the judicial branch of government lately, but they’re hoping to do a bit better in the legislative.

Toward that end, the league is hiring Nicole Gustafson as its chief Republican lobbyist, according to The Hill.

Gustafson is an established Capitol Hill presence, working for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and previously for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Her title will be vice president for public policy and government affairs, a new position in the league’s Washington office.

“Anyone who knows me knows that my passion for politics is only trumped by my love of football. I’m so excited to merge the two in this new opportunity with the NFL, and to be able to work with an amazing team on a diverse set of issues,” she said in an emailed statement. “It is bittersweet to be leaving such a great team here, but I look forward to continuing to work with them and all my Hill friends in this new capacity.”

The NFL needs all the help it can get in Washington, as they face challenges on issues as diverse as player safety, drug policies, their tax-exempt status and blackout legislation.

The report says the league has spent “about $10.12 million” lobbying since 2007, and  $1.22 million last year, a number that will certainly continue to climb.

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J.J. Nelson, Combine’s fastest player, hopes Olympics are an option

Nelson AP

The fastest receivers at the Combine rarely become productive NFL players, but former UAB wide receiver J.J. Nelson has a fallback plan if the NFL doesn’t work out for him.

Nelson, whose 4.28-second 40-yard dash was the fastest at this year’s Combine, told Yahoo Sports that if he’s not drafted and doesn’t sign on as an undrafted free agent, he would like to turn his attention to track and see if he can make the Olympics.

“I have a lot of interest in that,” he said. “Whatever happens with football, I was considering running in the Olympics.”

Realistically, that’s a long shot. Nelson is obviously fast but being fast enough to make it the U.S. Olympic team is a whole other level of speed. Nelson was a good track runner in high school, but he didn’t run track in college.

Still, it’s worth thinking about, especially considering that Nelson weighed in at just 156 pounds at the Combine. He might simply be too small for the NFL. The Olympics would be a nice fallback plan.

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Dolphins to release Brian Hartline

Brian+Hartline+joSHV28qxugm Getty Images

At a time when it’s still unclear what the Dolphins will do with receiver Mike Wallace, it’s very clear what they’ll do with receiver Brian Hartline.

They’ll cut him.

According to agent Drew Rosenhaus, the Dolphins have said Hartline will be released on Friday.

Hartline was due to earn a base salary of $5.9 million this year, the third of a five-year, $30 million contract.  He received $7 million to sign; $4.2 million must still be accounted for on the salary cap.

In his first season under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Hartline had the lowest yardage output of his career with 474, despite starting all 16 regular-season games in 2014.  He surpassed 1,000 yards in 2013 and 2012.

The move gives the 28-year-old a 10-day head start on the open market.  It’ll be interesting to see how much teams are willing to pay for veteran receivers, given that rookies seem to be making a bigger impact right out of the gates.

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Falcons release Harry Douglas

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The Falcons are no longer wild about Harry Douglas.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the team has released the veteran wide receiver as they continue to get their house in order ahead of the start of the new league year. The move comes a day after the Falcons parted ways with running back Steven Jackson.

Douglas was set to make $3.5 million in the final year of the four-year contract he signed with the Falcons in 2012. None of that money was guaranteed, so the Falcons will be able to put it toward other uses this offseason.

Douglas battled injuries while playing in 12 games for the Falcons last season and finished the year with 51 catches for 556 yards and two touchdowns. He had 85 catches for 1,067 yards in 2013 as he stepped into a larger role with Julio Jones out of the lineup, but he’s been best suited for a complementary role on offense over the course of his career.

He’ll likely have a few teams interested in giving him a chance to fill one and Douglas is free to sign with them before other free agents flood the market on March 10.

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Kiko Alonso: I’ll be full go for camp and expect to win a lot of games in 2015

Buffalo Bills v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Bills Defense turned in a strong performance during the 2014 season, leaving one to wonder how good the unit might have been had linebacker Kiko Alonso been in the lineup.

Alonso missed the entire season after tearing his ACL last summer, which cost him a chance to build on a standout rookie season and help a Bills team that missed the playoffs after finishing 9-7. Alonso said the group “played great” last season and he’s certain that he’ll be back on the field to help them turn in another strong year.

“I anticipate being 100 percent before camp,” Alonso said, via the team’s website. “By camp, I definitely feel I’ll be at 100 percent. I feel very good with where I’m at. By camp I’ll be full go.”

Alonso said he’s rehabbing four or five days a week and it will be more than a year since the injury when camp opens, so he should be able to meet his prediction. Given their shared history, Rex Ryan’s defense shouldn’t ask him to do things too differently than he did them while playing for Mike Pettine and that may be part of the reason why Alonso thinks the team is capable of doing big things in 2015.

“I have very high expectations,” Alonso said. “We have a great defense and a great offense as well. I expect nothing less than to go out there and win a lot of games.”

There may not be many people lining up behind Alonso to say the Bills have a great offense, but his healthy return helps make another winning record a realistic expectation all the same.

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Simeon Rice: There’s no Hall of Fame without me in it

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There were 113 nominees as Modern-Era candidates for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year and none of them were named Simeon Rice.

Rice recorded 122 sacks in 12 NFL seasons, which wasn’t enough for him to be deemed worthy of consideration alongside defensive linemen like Jevon Kearse, Steve McMichael and Ted Washington. Whether you feel Rice should be in the Hall of Fame or not, it’s hard to believe he’s not worth the same thought that voters gave those three men. Rice feels his career was worth a lot more.

“You can’t have a Hall of Fame without me being in it. It’s just not legitimate,” Rice said in an interview with SBNation.com. “There is no Hall of Fame without me in it. It’s just one of those things.”

It’s not the first time that Rice’s Hall of Fame credentials have come up for discussion. His Buccaneers teammate Derrick Brooks called him one of the best, if not the best, pass rushers of his generation. Warren Sapp also banged the drum for Rice a couple of years ago, mostly by comparing Rice’s work against left tackles favorably against that of the since-enshrined Michael Strahan against right tackles.

Rice, who said he “set the standard” for defensive ends in his era, didn’t resist taking a swipe at Strahan.

“I didn’t have nobody falling down to help me get sacks,” Rice said in obvious reference to Brett Favre settling to the turf like an old man easing into a bath as Strahan set the single-season sack record. “I didn’t have that. I had to earn everything I got.”

A head-to-head comparison would go beyond simply pass rushing numbers, but the fact that Strahan’s in the Hall helps make the case that Rice should at least have his name in the mix when voters consider the best players not currently in the Hall.

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James “Shack” Harris retires from the NFL

Harris Getty Images

The man who became the first African-American quarterback to start a regular-season opener and who went on to lead an NFL front office has ended his career in football, 46 years after entering the league through the draft.

Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions senior personnel advisor James “Shack” Harris has retired at age 67.

An eighth-round pick of the Bills in 1969, Harris was a Pro Bowler with the Rams in 1974, the year he led the Rams to the NFC Championship game.

He became a scout with the Buccaneers in 1987. After six years in Tampa, he became assistant G.M. with the Jets. In 1997, Harris was hired as director of pro personnel in Baltimore. From 2003 through 2008, Harris served as V.P. of player personnel in Jacksonville.

Birkett notes that Lions G.M. Martin Mayhew said last week at the Scouting Combine that Harris was instrumental in persuading the team to take defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh over Gerald McCoy with the second pick in the 2010 draft.

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Former Dallas County D.A. claims no knowledge of Wal-Mart incident

Watkins AP

The man who would have been ultimately responsible for prosecuting any crimes that may have been committed in the early morning hours at a Lancaster, Texas Wal-Mart on July 11, 2011 says he no knowledge of the incident.

Via Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said that he “had no knowledge of there being an incident, let alone a video tape.”

“Because there was no arrest and no complainant, the incident never comes to the District Attorney’s office,” Watkins said. “I never saw a video tape and I have serious doubts that one exists.”

The current Dallas County District Attorney has not addressed the issue, from the potential existence of any video to the preservation in 2011 of any video that Wal-Mart surveillance cameras would have created to the possible existence of video created by a bystander with a cellphone to the question of whether, based on the police report published Thursday by NFL Media, the police officer who responded to the scene should have inspected the Wal-Mart surveillance system to determine whether the alleged victim’s claim that she was not assaulted “in any way” meshes with whatever prompted someone to call police at 6:08 a.m. local time on a Monday morning and say a woman was being pulled from a car registered to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and dragged to another car.

Wal-Mart, which would have created and could have preserved the video, has not addressed the situation.

Likewise, the various witnesses named in the police report have not yet addressed the situation beyond the things they told the responding officer, including Carl King, Christopher Mitchell, Alex Penson, and the alleged victim.

While the situation may be news to the former Dallas County District Attorney, reports continue to emerge that the Cowboys have known about it. The report from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media indicated that the Cowboys know about the situation. Per Fisher’s sources, the Cowboys have known about the incident since it happened.

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Earnest Byner’s fumble recovery is by far his most impressive play

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Former Packers tight end Brandon Bostick became a historical footnote (and a former Packer) by mishandling an onside kick in the NFC Championship Game.

And the now-Vikings tight end said yesterday that another player with a famous mistake, Earnest Byner, had helped him through the last few weeks of guilt.

For Byner, the decision to reach out was an easy one, after the years he’s lived with “The Fumble.”

I felt like I had to speak to him,” Byner said, via Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The legendary Browns running back got in touch with his old friend Sam Gash, the Packers running backs coach, to exchange numbers with Bostick. A week after the game, the two spoke by phone, with Byner pointing out all the many factors that led to the loss that weren’t Bostick’s fault.

The empathy was appreciated, even if Bostick had no recollection of why Byner was being empathetic.

“He was like ‘I wasn’t even born yet,'” Byner said with a laugh of the Jan. 17, 1988 AFC Championship Game, which was just over 16 months before Bostick came into the world.

Byner too changed teams, being traded to Washington, which he said was necessary.

“I needed the change at that time,” Byner said. “[The Fumble] grew and it was weakening me emotionally and spiritually. . . .

“When we talk he listens very intently. But I need to meet him to feel his spirit. We’re going to go about making this connection. We might do some training. I want to get into his mind a bit so I can help him best.”

Byner has certainly already done that, and his willingness to help others through his experiences shows that while some Cleveland fans might define him by a fumble, his recovery has been far more impressive.

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Friday morning one-liners

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

Bills RB Fred Jackson said he spoke to impending free agent C.J. Spiller about remaining with the team.

Defensive tackle will be a spot to watch in free agency for the Dolphins.

WR Aaron Dobson is working to put himself in better position to help the Patriots.

What should the Jets do in the first round if they don’t take a quarterback?

Checking out the Ravens’ offseason plan at tight end.

The Bengals should feature the same two running backs that they did last season.

The Browns are one of the teams waiting to see what QB Josh McCown wants to do.

LB Arthur Moats would like to remain with the Steelers.

The home of the Texans needs some sprucing up before Super Bowl LI.

The Colts need defensive line help in free agency and/or the draft.

Jaguars VP Tony Khan purchased a sports analytics company that counts the team among its clients.

Waiting for the Titans’ makeover to stop looking like the same old thing.

A call for Broncos G.M. John Elway to stop “haggling over nickels” with Peyton Manning.

The departure of Anthony Fasano should open up more playing time for Chiefs TE Travis Kelce.

The Raiders have money to spend and a mandate to use it.

If the Chargers want a running back in the draft, they may not need to go after one early.

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon suggested the Cowboys hold onto RB DeMarco Murray.

Shaq Thompson’s NFL position is unclear, but should the Giants draft him anyway?

Jeremy Maclin and the rest of the Eagles’ offseason decisions at wide receiver.

Richmond has come up with the money needed to keep Redskins training camp in town.

Jon Gruden thinks it is time for a new quarterback with the Bears.

The deadline for the Lions to use the franchise tag on DT Ndamukong Suh is fast approaching.

Is WR Randall Cobb going to be too expensive for the Packers?

There’s still much to determine about RB Adrian Peterson’s future with the Vikings.

TE Bear Pascoe is unlikely to re-sign with the Falcons before free agency.

Breaking down the Panthers’ cap situation ahead of free agency.

Do the Saints need to change the look of their helmet?

Buccaneers CB Alterraun Verner likes the sound of Jameis Winston as the first overall pick.

The Cardinals need better red zone running options.

Rams RB Benny Cunningham had a memorable career at Middle Tennessee State.

Defensive backs coach Tim Lewis talks up his plans with the 49ers.

The Seahawks are hosting a team-themed cruise to Alaska.

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Rex Ryan will be rolling Rex Ryan style in his new truck

B-yCRVTXEAAHoML

I’m not sure if you all are aware of this, but Bills coach Rex Ryan isn’t averse to attention.

And he’s going to get plenty of it, driving the streets of Buffalo.

Ryan will be rolling in a customized pickup truck bearing the Bills’ logo and colors, a splashy move from a guy prone to them.

Photos of the big Ford truck started making the internet rounds the last day or so, and Tim Graham of the Buffalo News said he had spoken with Ryan about them, confirming this was a real thing.

Ryan has immersed himself in Bills culture since taking the job, which is good, since many coaches and players seem like temps there.

From walking the Scouting Combine halls in a Thurman Thomas jersey to driving around in a rolling billboard to saying he wanted to move to the neighborhood with the most snow, Ryan is all in.

And anyone on the streets of Western New York is going to know it.

Photo credit: Brandon Baker on Twitter

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Lions expected to sign Phillip Hunt

Phillip Hunt, Julian Edelman AP

The Lions signed defensive end George Johnson as a free agent last year after Johnson missed the entire 2013 season and were rewarded with six sacks off the bench on the way to the playoffs.

Johnson is a restricted free agent this offseason, so he should be back in Detroit for another year coming off the edge. That’s not stopping the team from hoping to find another contributor from the fringes.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Lions will sign former Eagles defensive end Phillip Hunt. Hunt is coming off an even longer layoff than Johnson as he last played in the NFL in 2012 thanks to an injury in 2013 and failing to make the Colts last summer. Hunt does have three NFL sacks in 22 games to his credit, which is three more than Johnson had in his career before last season.

Hunt also had 16 sacks for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2010 and perhaps moving closer to Canada will help spark his productivity in the pass rush.

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New Rams QB coach Chris Weinke talks up Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford AP

Despite reports that the Rams might trade or release quarterback Sam Bradford, everyone in St. Louis insists that the team is fully committed to its franchise quarterback.

That includes new Rams quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke, who says he accepted the job in large part because he’s enthusiastic about coaching Bradford.

Love him. Love him,” Weinke told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when asked about Bradford. “Historically, I look back at every guy that I’ve evaluated coming out of college. A few years ago when Andrew Luck came out they said who would you compare him to? And I said the closest I would see is Sam Bradford. And I say that without knowing Sam. I’d never met Sam until this process. Looking at his physical skill set. And then obviously talking to people and understanding his mental capacity and his football IQ, and all those different things. Sam by far has had the best pro day out of any guy I’ve ever evaluated from a physical standpoint. And he was coming off an injury at that point in time. So when you look at a guy who’s a pure passer of the football from a physical standpoint, he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever evaluated.”

Bradford’s $13 million salary in 2015 is awfully expensive, but the Rams’ coaches and executives are talking like they’re willing to pay that money. Bradford is their guy.

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Report: Kyle Wilson not expected back with Jets

Kyle Wilson AP

Kyle Wilson has largely been a disappointment for the New York Jets since being selected in the first round out of Boise State in the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Jets seem to be ready to move on from Wilson this offseason.

According to Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday, Wilson isn’t expected to return to the Jets next season.

Despite his draft status, Wilson only spent one season as full-time starter in New York. In five seasons with the Jets, Wilson managed just three interceptions and never developed into a replacement option for the departed Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie.

Wilson appeared in every game over the last five years for New York with 28 starts. He recorded 162 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

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