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Preseason Power Rankings No. 18: Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears Introduce Marc Trestman Getty Images

After missing the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, the Bears showed Lovie Smith the door and decided to start a new era with a new head coach, Marc Trestman. Now it’s time to see how the team Trestman inherited fits with the system he plans to implement.

The good news for the Bears is that there’s abundant talent on both sides of the ball, and on special teams. There are a whole lot of Pro Bowl-caliber players on this roster.

The bad news is that the talent was assembled for a different coaching staff, and the Bears may have some growing pains under Trestman.

Our six-person PFT panel voted the Bears in the bottom half of the league, at No. 18. We explore the reasons below.

Strengths.

Say this for Lovie Smith: The guy knew how to build a good defense. Chicago’s defense was excellent last season, and although Smith and Brian Urlacher are gone, most of the personnel remains.

Cornerback Charles Tillman was one of the best defensive players in the NFL in 2012. He routinely took on the opposing team’s best wide receiver, and almost always got the better end of the matchup. It’s telling that in Calvin Johnson’s record-setting season with the Lions, two of his worst games came against the Bears, when Tillman led the way in holding Johnson to 34 and 72 yards. (Johnson averaged 133 yards a game in the other 14 games of the season.) With Tillman at cornerback, the Bears are in good shape against any wide receiver who comes their way.

The Bears’ defensive front seven is also strong. Julius Peppers is 33, but he doesn’t appear to be slowing down and is still one of the league’s top pass rushers. Chicago should be able to count on Peppers for double-digit sacks. Like Peppers, Lance Briggs will turn 33 this season but remains in fine form. Briggs started all 16 games and had another strong season in 2012.

Henry Melton has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive tackles, with six sacks last year and seven the year before. A former college running back who tips the scales at 300 pounds, Melton has a rare burst for a guy who’s big enough to play defensive tackle in the NFL, and at age 26 he’s in the prime of his career.

The Bears have a very good pair of offensive skill position players in wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, both of whom are among the best in the league at what they do. Marshall is a tough and physical receiver who has long been Jay Cutler’s favorite target, and Forte is versatile enough to be both the Bears’ No. 1 running back and their No. 2 receiver.

Weaknesses.

After Marshall, the Bears don’t have any proven commodities at wide receiver. They’d love to see last year’s second-round pick, Alshon Jeffery, become a solid No. 2 receiver. They’d also love to see Earl Bennett, who plays very well at times but also disappears at times, become a more consistent part of the passing game. But until someone steps up, No. 2 receiver has to be considered one of the Bears’ weaknesses.

Tight end has been a weakness for the Bears the last couple of years, when Kellen Davis averaged barely more than one catch a game. The arrival of Martellus Bennett should make Chicago better there, but Bennett is a long way from elite.

The Bears’ offensive line has long been a weakness, and the No. 1 priority of the offseason was shoring that up. That’s why guard Kyle Long was Chicago’s first-round draft pick, and why left tackle Jermon Bushrod was Chicago’s first priority in free agency. The biggest issue with the offensive line being a weakness has been that it has exposed Jay Cutler to injuries, and backup quarterback has been a major weakness for the Bears. That remains the case this year: If Cutler goes down, Josh McCown will step in, and that’s a significant drop-off.

Changes.

By far the biggest change is the arrival of head coach Marc Trestman, who’s been coaching the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League for the last five years. Trestman has plenty of experience on NFL coaching staffs, but he hasn’t been with an NFL team since he was on the Dolphins’ staff in 2004. It’s not often that NFL teams reach into the CFL ranks for their head coaches, and it will be fascinating to see whether Trestman — who has a reputation as an innovative offensive mind — comes in with fresh ideas that take NFL defenses off guard.

The changes to the coaching staff are also significant, particularly on defense, where Lovie Smith and his Tampa 2 disciples are giving way to Trestman’s new defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker. But Tucker and Trestman have both said that they plan to run very similar schemes to what the Bears have been running during Smith’s time with the team.

The retirement of longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is a major change in the appearance of the defense, but it’s not a change that will have a huge effect on the field. Urlacher was once among the NFL’s best defensive players, but he was noticeably slower last season and didn’t have a lot left. The unfortunate thing about Urlacher’s departure is the way it happened: The Bears decided early in the offseason that they didn’t want him back, while Urlacher didn’t determine until later in the offseason that he was ready to walk away from the game. Urlacher was a great player who deserved the opportunity to say goodbye to the Bears on his own terms, and it was disappointing that it didn’t quite work out that way, as it did for Ray Lewis in Baltimore.

Camp Battles.

Replacing Urlacher at middle linebacker will fall to either D.J. Williams, the former Bronco signed in free agency, or rookie Jon Bostic, the second-round draft pick from Florida. Neither one of them is going to step right in and be the kind of player Urlacher was at his best, of course, but it’s easy to picture either player being an upgrade over the 2012 version of Urlacher.

As a first-round draft pick, Kyle Long is penciled in as a starting guard, but he’ll have to compete to earn the job. Derek Dennis, Edwin Williams and James Brown will all get an opportunity to beat out Long. Matt Slauson, who started all 16 games at guard each of the last three years for the Jets, is expected to be the other starting guard.

Prospects.

How well does Jay Cutler fit in Marc Trestman’s offense? And can Chicago’s offensive line keep Cutler healthy for 16 games? Those are the biggest questions facing the Bears this season.

Defensively, the Bears should look much like they looked last year, and that’s a very good sign. And the special teams, with punter Adam Podlesh, kicker Robbie Gould and returner Devin Hester, should be solid. There’s a lot of reason for optimism there.

But last year the strong defense and special teams weren’t enough to get the Bears into the playoffs thanks to a disappointing offense, and unless Trestman can make significant progress offensively, the Bears will probably fall just a bit short of the playoffs again this year.

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Texans sign three draft picks

San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin (7) runs with the football while playing against Hawaii in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner) AP

The Houston Texans managed to get half of their draft class signed to contracts on Thursday.

According to Aaron Wilson and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans signed fourth-round running back Tyler Ervin, and fifth-round picks, safety K.J. Dillon and defensive tackle D.J. Reader, to their four-year rookie contracts.

The trio were the final three picks of the draft for Houston. Wide receiver Will Fuller, center Nick Martin and receiver Braxton Miller remain unsigned.

Per the reports, Ervin’s contract is worth $2.877 million with a $547,568 signing bonus, Dillon’s deal is worth $2.574 million with a $234,936 signing bonus and Reader’s contract is worth $2.55 million contract with a $215,380 signing bonus.

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Two-Time Division II player of the year among Jets’ 13 undrafted free agents

In a Sept. 13, 2014, photo provided by Ferris State University, Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan, a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, looks to pass during an NCAA college football game against Northwood in Midland, Mich. Vander Laan is one of the top players in The Associated Press Little All-America team, honoring the top players in Divisions II and III and NAIA. Vander Laan is responsible for 50 touchdowns (30 TD passes and 20 touchdowns rushing) and led Ferris State to the Great Lakes Athletic Conference championship. The Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the top player in Division II, will be presented Friday, Dec. 19. (AP Photo/Ferris State University) AP

Jason Vander Laan, a two-time winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II Heisman), as a quarterback at Ferris State was signed to play tight end by the New York Jets.

Vander Laan (pictured) became the first player in NCAA history to pass and run for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. His 5,953 career rush yards are the most for a quarterback in NCAA history. The Jets are attempting to convert the 6-foot-4, 244 pound athlete to tight end for his jump to the pros.

Vander Laan is among 13 undrafted free agents signed by the Jets.

The Jets have also added Temple wide receiver Robby Anderson, Penn State nose tackle Tarow Barney, Iowa State wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, Temple center Kyle Friend, Utah punter Tom Hackett, Ohio State wide receiver Jalin Marshall, Duke kicker Ross Martin, Western Carolina defensive end Helva Matungulu, Appalachian State safety Doug Middleton, Texas A&M defensive end Julien Obioha, USC defensive end Claude Pelon and Michigan State defensive end Lawrence Thomas.

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Colts sign four more draft picks

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 14: Offensive lineman Austin Blythe #63 of the Iowa Hawkeyes waits to take the field before the match-up against the Minnesota Gophers on November 14, 2015 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

The Colts announced Thursday that they’ve agreed to terms with four more members of their 2016 draft class. They signed first-round pick Ryan Kelly on Wednesday.

Thursday, the team finished deals with fourth-round defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, fifth-round offensive tackle Joe Haeg, seventh-round linebacker Trevor Bates and seventh-round center Austin Blythe.

Ridgeway had 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries last season at Texas. He was the only defensive line pick in a Colts draft class heavy on offensive linemen. Haeg was a two-time All-American at FCS national champion North Dakota State, while Blythe was a finalist for the Rimington Award and a key member of one of college football’s best offensive lines at Iowa.

Bates had 7.5 sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown last season at Maine.

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Dolphins finalize contract for 7th round QB

BOWLING GREEN, KY - NOVEMBER 27: Brandon Doughty #12 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers passes against the Marshall Thundering Herd in the first half of the game at L.T. Smith Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins have agreed to terms with rookie quarterback Brandon Doughty, the Miami Herald reported Thursday.

The Dolphins drafted Doughty in the seventh round last weekend, with pick No. 223. The 6-foot-3 Doughty led the NCAA in passing yards in each of his final two college seasons at Western Kentucky. He’s a native of Davie, Fla., where the Dolphins conduct their day-to-day operations.

Doughty is the first quarterback the Dolphins have selected since drafting Ryan Tannehill in 2012.

Teams across the league have been busy signing draft picks. The Falcons signed their entire draft class Thursday, becoming the first team to do so.

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Falcons become first team to sign all their draft picks

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 24: Linebacker Deion Jones #45 of the LSU Tigers looks to sack quarterback Brandon Doughty #12 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on October 24, 2015 at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Falcons have become the first team to sign every member of their 2016 draft class to their rookie contracts.

Atlanta got the ball rolling with safety Keanu Neal on Wednesday and announced on Thursday evening that they have secured deals with their other five picks. At the rate that rookies have been signing around the league, they shouldn’t be the only team with every pick signed for too long.

Second-round linebacker Deion Jones, third-round tight end Austin Hooper, fourth-round linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, sixth-round guard Wes Schweitzer and seventh-round wide receiver Devin Fuller joined Neal as Falcons selections this year.

Jones is slated to play middle linebacker, where he could push aside incumbent starter Paul Worrilow and bring some speed to a defense that needs it. Hooper could also see a lot of playing time early after showing at Stanford that he can make plays as a receiver and can use size to be an effective blocker.

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Tom Benson again points out “ingratitude” of family members

Tom Benson AP

On Thursday, the members of Saints owner Tom Benson’s family who continue to hope to overturn his desire to exclude them from ownership of the Saints or the NBA’s Pelicans claimed that “the truth will come out” about Benson’s health condition, urging that anyone “with relevant information” about Benson’s alleged capacity “should continue to come forward.”

The allegations come thee days after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of the latest ruling upholding changes to Tom Benson’s will that froze out his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. Although the challenge to the new will seems to be over, the comments from the family members reveal that hard feelings remain.

Tom Benson has fired back with a statement that further underscores the acrimony among the family members.

“We are in Louisville this week where my wife’s GMB Racing operation will start Mo Tom and Tom’s Ready this Saturday in the running of the 142nd Kentucky Derby,” Tom Benson said in a statement issued by the Saints. “We had the privilege today to discuss potential business relationships with a number of horse farms in the area.

“Gayle and I could not be more excited in our preparations for the Kentucky Derby. And equally so — we are thrilled to bring this excitement to everyone in New Orleans. We are blessed to have a great team of loyal executives and friends. Our three trainers are from New Orleans and our two jockeys come from Louisiana. This is important to me. We are having the time of our lives here in Louisville.

“While certain members of my family continue to harass me with negative threatening statements, I continue to plan for the future. Nevertheless, the ingratitude shown by certain members of my family, despite the vast financial and other benefits I have given them, is very hard to accept.”

Tom Benson issued a statement in February that made similar points regarding his estranged family members.

As it now stands, Gayle Benson will assume control of both the football team and the basketball team after Tom Benson passes. Subject, of course, to further changes to the will. It’s safe to say Tom Benson won’t be changing his will to bring Renee Benson, Rita LeBlance, or Ryan LeBlanc back into the picture.

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Andrew Luck loses big in annual slow-time player poll

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With the draft over, the only dead spot on the calendar is approaching for the NFL. What better way to fill the void than to devote 10 weeks to a made-for-TV player poll that is sufficiently flawed to fulfill the objective of generating conversation?

NFL Network’s annual “Best Players Of [Same Stuff, Different Year]” poll debuted last night, with the unveiling of No. 91 through 100. Coming in at No. 92 was, somehow, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

Luck fell a full 85 spots from 2015.

The Colts currently intend to make Luck the highest-paid player in the history of the sport, if/when team and player can agree on how much more he should be paid than anyone else ever has been paid. But he’s regarded as the 92nd best player in the NFL.

How does that happen? The explanation is surprisingly simple. Unless NFLN has changed the procedure for compiling the list (and if it ain’t fixed, why break it?), the 100 names came from a stream of players who, while passing through the NFL Media car wash over the past several months, at some point scrawled onto a piece of paper a knee-jerk list of the best 20 players in the NFL.

With Luck out of sight for much of last season due to shoulder, rib, and kidney injuries, he would have been out of mind on most of the ballots. Which resulted in Luck nearly being shunned entirely.

Of course he’s better than No. 92. And of course the fact that he landed there is further evidence that the entire process is a waste of time.

But there’s plenty of time to waste between now and the start of training camp. If the goal is to waste that time with stuff that people notice (even if they notice it for the wrong reasons), there’s only one thing to say: Mission accomplished.

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Chargers sign fifth-round linebacker

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 11:  NFL Rookie Ladarius Green #89 of the San Diego Chargers holds his helmet at arms length after participating in drills during a minicamp workout on May 11, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Count the Chargers among the teams that have started signing their draft picks.

Linebacker Jatavis Brown, a fifth-round pick, signed a four-year deal with the Chargers on Thursday.

Brown was not invited to the Scouting Combine last February but was the 2015 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Akron. He set school records last season with 20 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.

Brown grew up in Belle Glade, Fla., with new Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin.

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Lawyer wants to see Manziel and ex-girlfriend “kiss and make up”

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It’s a football career that has induced plenty of cringes in the last 24 months. So it makes sense that the lawyer representing unemployed quarterback Johnny Manziel would offer up a sound bite on Thursday that induced even more cringes.

Asked by reporters to identify the preferred outcome of Manziel’s pending criminal case involving allegations of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, attorney Robert Hinton said he hopes that “[e]verybody would kiss and make up.”

And that wasn’t even the most problematic thing Hinton said. He added that Manziel likely would return to Los Angeles at some point. Which provides further proof that Manziel isn’t willing or able to make the changes he needs to get back to the NFL. Indeed, it shows he still hasn’t recognized that changes are even needed.

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Junior Seau’s nephew among 19 undrafted players signed by Rams

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 29:  Defensive end Ian Seau #8 of the Nevada Wolf Pack sits on the bench during the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl against the Colorado State Rams at Arizona Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wolf Pack defeated the Rams 28-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The nephew of one of the greatest players ever to play college football at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will get a chance to play pro football at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Ian Seau, a defensive end who played his college ball at Nevada-Reno, has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Rams. Seau is the nephew of the late Junior Seau, who played at the Coliseum as a star linebacker for USC and then had a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

The Rams also announced that they’ve signed 18 other undrafted free agents: Texas A&M K Taylor Bertolet, Wake Forest LB Brandon Chubb, Colorado State-Pueblo DE Morgan Fox, Arkansas S Rohan Gaines, TCU RB Aaron Green, Pitt LB Nicholas Grigsby, Vanderbilt LB Darreon Herring, Missouri Western DB Michael Jordan, Washington LB Cory Littleton, Iowa FS Jordan Lomax, Southeast Missouri State WR Paul McRoberts, Northwestern State OL Pace Murphy, Tennessee WR Marquez North, Washington State LB Kache Palacio, Tennessee S Brian Randolf, New Mexico State CB Winston Rose, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce and Kentucky OL Jordan Swindle.

Two tryout players, LS Jeffrey Overbaugh and WR Jimmy Worton, will get a shot to show what they can do at the Rams’ rookie minicamp.

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Buccaneers get deals done with a pair of their draft picks

Tampa Bay Bucaneers v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Buccaneers joined the pick-signing party, reaching deals with a pair of their own.

The team announced they had signed fourth-round defensive back Ryan Smith, and agreed to terms with fifth-round offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch. The Bucs have five more picks to sign, and there’s no reason to think it’ll be complicated.

Smith, from North Carolina Central, was his school’s all-time leaders in tackles and kickoff return average, adding some speed to the Bucs secondary. They plan to try him at safety, and he should have a chance to help on special teams immediately.

Benenoch was a three-year starter at UCLA, and could offer depth at tackle and guard.

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Marshawn Lynch can unretire, but Seattle controls his rights

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks stands on the sidelines before their game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 22, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

After weeks of delay that invited speculation of a desire by Marshawn Lynch to be released, the Seahawks have placed Lynch on the reserve-retired list. It doesn’t mean Lynch is prohibited from changing his mind.

As the football-following world learned in 2008 with Brett Favre’s First Annual Unretirement, a player who wants to return needs simply to file a request for reinstatement with the league office. Once reinstated, he’s back on his prior team’s roster, at the $9 million salary he was due to earn.

The Seahawks, who drafted at last count 17 running backs last week (actually, three), would then have to decide whether to keep him, trade him, or cut him. If he’s cut, Lynch becomes a free agent, able to sign with any team.

But there’s a caveat. If Lynch decides to wait until the regular season unfolds in order to ensure that he’ll land with a contender, unretiring after the trade deadline would result in Lynch being exposed to waivers, if/when he’s released.

This means that, if the Seahawks cut Lynch so that Lynch can, for example, join his hometown team (the Raiders), another team would be able to block that maneuver by claiming Lynch’s contract.

That’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Deion Sanders wanted to unretire and climb aboard the Oakland bandwagon for a Super Bowl run. After Washington released his rights, the Chargers claimed the contract on waivers.

The Chargers made the move because Sanders had retired in 2001 due to a lack of desire to play for Marty Schottenheimer, who had been hired earlier that year. Fired after one season, Schottenheimer was the head coach in San Diego in 2002.

With Lynch, another team likely would be inclined to block him from hand picking his next team not for spite but for strategic reasons. Regardless, Lynch will eliminate that risk if he returns long enough before the trade deadline to ensure that he’d be cut without having to pass through waivers.

Even if he’s not truly ready at that point to join a team, Lynch would be smart to ensure that he has the pieces in place before the trade deadline to make a late-season debut with a team that is on track for the Super Bowl and in need of a difference-maker at tailback.

Unless he’s truly done playing. With Lynch, however, no one ever really knows what he’s going to do. Which makes it even more sensible to keep an eye on all possible outcomes.

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Eagles sign 16 rookie free agents, waive a pair

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 24:  Wide receiver Cayleb Jones #1 of the Arizona Wildcats is tackled by cornerback Marcellus Pippins #27 of the Washington State Cougars after a reception during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 45-42. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Eagles are the latest team to announce their crop of rookie free agent signings.

The team has brought in 16 players to fill out their 90-man roster, although making room for all of them led to the release of a pair of players who will need to pursue their NFL futures elsewhere. The Eagles waived running back Kevin Monangai and defensive tackle Travis Raciti, both of whom spent time on the practice squad last year.

Among the new Eagles is wide receiver Cayleb Jones, who caught 128 passes for 1,923 yards and 14 touchdowns at Arizona over the last two seasons. According to multiple reports, they also used bigger guarantees than usual to sign San Diego State guard Darrell Greene and Incarnate Word linebacker Myke Tavarres after they went undrafted last weekend.

The rest of the signings are West Virginia long snapper John DePalma, Rutgers linebacker Quentin Gause, LSU tight end Dillon Gordon, Maine center Bruce Johnson, Texas wide receiver Marcus Johnson, Oregon running back Byron Marshall, Valdosta State running back Cedric O’Neal, Utah State wide receiver Hunter Sharp, Stanford defensive tackle Aziz Shittu, North Dakota State cornerback C.J. Smith, Lousiana Tech wide receiver Paul Turner, Washington State defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao and Boston College defensive tackle Connor Wujciak.

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Joe Anderson needs a new sign after being waived by Jets

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 29: Joe Anderson #19 of the Chicago Bears celebrates a touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on August 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Browns defeated the Bears 18-16.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Last year, former Bears wide receiver Joe Anderson was spotted outside of the Texans stadium holding up a sign asking for another shot from an NFL team.

Anderson got one a short time later when the Jets signed him to their practice squad in December. He’ll need to either take the sign out of storage or make up a new one for the 2016 season, however.

The Jets announced Thursday that they have waived Anderson from their 90-man roster in the kind of move to clear space for incoming rookies that we’ve seen all around the league this week.

Anderson played nine games for the Bears in 2012 and 2013 seasons without catching a pass, although he did return five kickoffs and see other time on special teams.

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Steelers sign their seventh-round picks

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Tyler Matakevich #8 of the Temple Owls walks off the field after the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Getty Images

The check-listing of rookie contracts is in full effect, and has taken hold in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers announced they had signed seventh-rounders DeMarcus Ayers and Tyler Matakevich to their four-year rookie deals.

With draft picks descending on Pittsburgh for rookie minicamp this weekend, it was easy enough to get them signed.

Ayers, a wide receiver from Houston, could provide some help on returns this year. Matakevich is a linebacker from Temple, who was the school’s all-time leading tackler and won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nargurski Trophy.

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