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Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: Vikings

Peterson Reuters

The Vikings start the 2013 season smack in the middle of the pack.  They likely won’t finish there.

The unlikely 2012 wild-card team will get either a lot better with the development of a strong passing game, or a lot worse without it.

And so the focal point of the entire franchise becomes the man who is the most important player on every NFL team:  the quarterback.

The Vikings will go as far as Christian Ponder will take them.  And before we go much farther with that point, let’s defer to the various categories we use for every team.

Strengths.

The Vikings’ biggest strength comes from an offense built around Adrian Peterson, the reigning league MVP.  If Peterson, who came within nine yards of the single-season rushing record despite tearing an ACL on Christmas Eve of 2011, runs in 2013 like he ran during the second half of 2012, he could put up 2,500 yards or more.

Helping him try again to topple Eric Dickerson’s record is an offensive line that returns all five starters, even though questions swirl around John Sullivan’s knee, which required microfracture surgery to simulate cartilage growth.  They stepped up to pay right tackle Phil Loadholt, and Matt Kalil had a solid rookie season at left tackle.

Elsewhere on offense, the tight end position features tight end Kyle Rudolph and fullback Jerome Felton.  Both made it to the Pro Bowl; Rudolph was the game’s MVP.

The defensive line continues to be a strong suit for the Vikings, but the winds of change are blowing like that big horn that blares whenever a touchdown is scored.  Defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams enter contract years.  The Vikings need rookie Sharrif Floyd to make a quick impact, and they need guys like Brian Robison and Everson Griffen to show that they can get it done if/when Allen is elsewhere in 2014.

The safety position went quickly from perennial weakness to strength with the arrival in 2012 of Harrison Smith.  If he can continue to develop, the Vikings could soon have one of the strongest last lines of defense in the league.

The Vikings have one of the best kickers in the league in 2012 rookie Blair Walsh, and they could have one of the best punters in 2013 rookie Jeff Locke, who was deemed to be good enough after one minicamp to justify jettisoning veteran Chris Kluwe.

Weaknesses.

The Vikings’ biggest weakness, like their biggest strength, comes from an offense built around Adrian Peterson, the reigning league MVP.  Similar to the pre-Favre years, the Vikings have been unable to take advantage of the attention paid to Peterson with a passing game that stretches the field, in turn making it easier for Peterson to pile up even more yards.

Despite all the bouquets being thrown to third-year quarterback Christian Ponder, he enters a distinct “prove it or lose it” campaign in Minnesota.  And the verdict could come even before the end of the coming season.  If Ponder, the 12th overall pick in 2011, stinks it up badly enough, Matt Cassel could get a chance to resurrect his own once-promising career.

It’s hard to label the receiver position as a strength or a weakness in isolation, but it doesn’t matter.  Together with Ponder, the unit will be viewed as a weakness until they prove otherwise, with Ponder reaching his potential, free-agent Greg Jennings staying healthy and playing effectively, raw rookie Cordarrelle Patterson making an impact more like Randy Moss and less like Troy Williamson, and veteran Jerome Simpson living up to the hype that made him a free-agent arrival in 2012.

On defense, middle linebacker isn’t a weakness as much as it’s unsettled, with Erin Henderson sliding in from the outside and newcomer Desmond Bishop hoping to get healthy and reacquainted with the 4-3 defense.

The cornerback position also has question marks with the departure of Antoine Winfield, but first-round rookie Xavier Rhodes bolsters a group that features quietly improving former second-rounder Chris Cook.

Changes.

The release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield could be the first gust that will impact the defense in the coming years, with standouts like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams likely making way for cheaper, younger players.  Two of those guys came via round one, with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes joining a gradually improving defense.

With Jasper Brinkley gone for Arizona, the middle linebacker spot is wide open.  Former Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop joins Erin Henderson as the primary candidates to fill the void.

On offense, two new receivers — veteran Greg Jennings and first-rounder Cordarrelle Patterson — make it harder for Christian Ponder to cite a lack of weapons if the passing game doesn’t improve.  They replace Percy Harvin, who was shipped to Seattle for more than the Vikings, who made their playoff push without him in 2012, should have gotten.

Finally, one of the most intriguing players on the roster isn’t a new arrival, but he has a new position.  Three years after switching Joe Webb from receiver to quarterback after his rookie minicamp, Webb has returned to the receiver position, where he’ll have to win a roster spot any way he can.

Position battles.

On offense, many of the jobs are set.  Christian Ponder enters the season as the unquestioned starter; questions will arise only if he stinks it up.

The depth chart at receiver starts with Greg Jennings and continues with a cluster of guys who’ll earn their playing time during training camp and the preseason.  Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright will battle for playing time.

The biggest question comes at the bottom of the depth chart, where converted quarterback Joe Webb will have to earn his roster spot.  If he can contribute on special teams (he could be returning punts), it’ll help his cause.

First-round rookie Sharrif Floyd will have a chance to take reps from last year’s starters at defensive tackle, Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion, even if Floyd doesn’t get a starting job himself.  Generally speaking, the rotation on the defensive line needs to be determined, with the Vikings hoping to get defensive end Everson Griffen on the field.

At linebacker, Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop will battle both in the middle and elsewhere, since the guy who loses out on the chance to replace Jasper Brinkley could end up starting on the strong side, across from Chad Greenway.  Don’t rule out Gerald Hodges for some playing time, since he had a very strong offseason.

In the secondary, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson will fight for a starting spot across from Chris Cook.  A.J. Jefferson could have a chance, too. Robinson also will battle Jacob Lacey for the nickel position.

At safety, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, and Robert Blanton will compete to start alongside Harrison Smith.

Prospects.

The Vikings won three games in 2011 before rebounding in unexpected fashion with a playoff berth in 2012.  The team currently lands somewhere in the middle, and it will skew toward good or bad based on Christian Ponder’s ability to develop into a consistent starting quarterback.

At a time when parity has allowed any team to get to the playoffs, only teams with franchise quarterbacks win Super Bowls.  Still, the Vikings have the ability if Ponder is merely competent to become an elite team, thanks to the skills and abilities of Adrian Peterson, an underrated defense, and a young kicker and punter who can contribute three-pointers and field position.

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Palmer tells Goff to be patient, prepare diligently

OXNARD, CA - MAY 06:  Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback coach Chris Weinke discuss a play during a Los Angeles Rams rookie camp on May 06, 2016 in Oxnard, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

As a former No. 1 overall pick who didn’t play immediately, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has been where Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff is.

Palmer’s advice for Goff includes maximizing his time on the sideline and studying for Sundays knowing he won’t be a backup or a spectator for long.

“You have a chance to watch how you prepare as a starter, how you go about your business as a starter, especially if you’re coming from a very non pro-style offense,” Palmer said Wednesday. “Seeing how offenses prepare, seeing the different pressures you’re going to see and the different defenses you’re going to see…it’s tough if you’re not ready and you get thrown in there. If you struggle it can linger, so I think it’s important.”

The Bengals made Palmer the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft. He spent his entire rookie season watching from the sideline before taking over in 2004. Goff, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, is currently waiting behind Case Keenum.

Palmer said he understands every situation is different and said that while Goff waits, he needs to make sure he’s improving and mastering the offense.

“There’s such a fine line between throwing a guy in there, making him play…and he knows he’s going to go in and struggle because the team is not good like some guys have been,” Palmer said. “The Rams are different. That’s a very good team. They don’t need to throw a rookie in there and him learn on the run and the team suffer.”

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Russell Wilson fully participates in practice

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 37-18.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

High ankle sprain? Big deal. MCL sprain in the other leg? So what?

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has shrugged off both injuries to fully participate in practice on Wednesday.

The development is an encouraging sign regarding Wilson’s potential availability for Sunday’s game at the Jets.

Running back Thomas Rawls (fibula) didn’t practice. Limited were tight end Jimmy Graham (knee), tight end Nick Vannett (ankle), guard Germain Ifedi (ankle), receiver Tyler Lockett (knee), and linebacker Mike Morgan (hip).

Running back CJ Prosise (wrist) and defensive end Cliff Avril (hamstring) fully participated.

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Brian Cushing returns to practice, could play Sunday

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  Brian Cushing #56 of the Houston Texans leaves the field after their 30-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The good news for the Texans, if there can be any on the day three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt landed on IR, is that linebacker Brian Cushing could be back in the lineup, as soon as Sunday.

Cushing has returned to practice, two weeks and three days after injuring his MCL.

“It’s really good to get him back,” coach Bill O’Brien told reporters. “He looked good today. Moving around and looks like he’s ramping it up to be able to play in the game.”

O’Brien was noncommittal regarding whether Cushing will play against the Titans.

“The expectation is that he’s going to practice tomorrow and we’re going to see where that is,” O’Brien said. “Then he’ll practice Friday and we’ll see where that is.”

“[J]ust a lot of hard work,” Cushing said when explaining his ability to return so quickly. “I didn’t want to believe it would be four to six [weeks]. I’m not saying I’m all the way back yet. I’m not saying for sure what I’m doing, but I know I practiced today. I know I felt good. I’m happy about the progress, that’s for sure. I’ve been hurt too much in my career, in my opinion. It’s something that I don’t want to do anymore, or want to be, so anything I can do to get back and get out there as soon as I possibly can and be healthy and be effective, I’ll do. Just excited to be back out there with the guys.”

Cushing said there’s a “possibility” he’ll play Sunday, but that they’re “taking it day by day.”

The Texans may be a little hesitant to put Cushing back on the field so quickly, after what happened to Watt. But Cushing said that, structurally, his knee is “great.” If so, there’s no reason for Cushing to not play.

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Spiller plans to sign with Seahawks

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 13: Running back C.J. Spiller #28 of the New Orleans Saints runs with the ball in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** C.J. Spiller Getty Images

Veteran running back C.J. Spiller will sign with the Seahawks, per multiple reports.

The Saints cut Spiller earlier this month. The Seahawks have been hit hard by injury at the running back position, so taking a flyer on Spiller makes sense.

Spiller, 29, played for the Saints last season after five seasons in Buffalo. He has 12 rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns in his career.

The Seahawks are planning to be without injured starter Thomas Rawls for a few weeks, so Spiller will probably get a chance to play on third downs behind Christine Michael while he catches up with the offense.

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Dolphins cut Justin Hunter

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 23: Justin Hunter #15 of the Tennessee Titans runs for a touchdown after making a catch in the second quarter of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 23, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Dolphins released wide receiver Justin Hunter on Wednesday.

The Dolphins play in Cincinnati Thursday night. The timing of Hunter’s release indicates the Dolphins need a roster spot due to injury or other circumstances and could promote someone from their practice squad.

Hunter was released by the Titans in early September and claimed by the Dolphins. He played in one game this season and did not record a reception.

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Jets waive Dee Milliner from injured reserve

New York Jets v San Diego Chargers Getty Images

The disappointing Jets tenure of Dee Milliner has now officially come to an end.

Milliner, the former No. 9 overall pick in the draft, was waived/injured before the start of the regular season, and when he cleared waivers he went to the Jets’ injured reserve list. Now the Jets have waived him off their injured reserve.

That means if any team wants Milliner, he can be claimed on waivers. If he goes unclaimed he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and can play this season, assuming he’s healthy enough to do so. If he had stayed on the Jets’ injured reserve he wouldn’t have been able to play this year.

An excellent cornerback at Alabama, Milliner was a big disappointment in the NFL. He may still have a chance to catch on somewhere else, but he’s now officially done as a Jet.

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Rams claim Marqui Christian off waivers from Cardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 01:  Defensive back Marqui Christian #25 of the Arizona Cardinals in action during the preseaon NFL game against the Denver Broncos aat the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Broncos 38-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals and Rams will square off this Sunday and the Rams have added a former member of the Arizona secondary to their roster ahead of the game.

Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Rams claimed safety Marqui Christian off of waivers on Wednesday, a day after the Cardinals dropped him as part of a series of transactions. The Cardinals said the move was due to the need to bring in another punter while Drew Butler is recovering from ankle and Achilles injuries.

Christian was a fifth-round pick by the Cardinals in April. He starred at Division II Midwestern State and was named the top small college defensive player last year, but hasn’t played in the regular season as it appears the leap in levels to the NFL has been a big one.

He may have some insight into the Cardinals that the Rams could find useful over the next couple of days, however.

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Chargers list Bosa as limited again

San Diego Chargers rookie defensive end Joey Bosa trains during an NFL football rookie training camp Friday, May 13, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) AP

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice due to a hamstring injury.

That means it’s a new week but the same story for Bosa, who’s still trying to get healthy enough to make his NFL debut.

The No. 3 pick in last year’s draft participated his first practice in pads last week but was ultimately held out of last weekend’s game. Bosa missed almost all of training camp and the preseason due to a contract dispute, then was injured in his first practice back.

Veteran tight end Antonio Gates remained out of practice with a hamstring injury. Offensive tackle King Dunlap missed practice due to migraines, coach Mike McCoy told reporters.

The Chargers host the Saints on Sunday.

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Hue Jackson won’t say whether Alvin Bailey will play on Sunday

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Tackle Alvin Bailey #78 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field on September 22, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two days after offensive lineman Alvin Bailey was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, it’s unclear whether the Browns will take action against him for it.

“We will see,” coach Hue Jackson told reporters on Wednesday. “Obviously, this is a league matter. Those kind of things that happen, I’m not very excited about it at all. There will be consequences for it, but we have to follow league protocol as far as that is concerned. We will do what we feel is right.”

Alcohol offenses fall under the NFL’s exclusive jurisdiction, via the substance-abuse policy. A first offense generally results in a two-game suspension.

While teams can’t fine players accused of DUI or suspend them without pay, players can be released for arrests (like the Bucs did last week with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins), they can make them inactive on game day, and they can choose not to play them, even if they are active.

So will Bailey play on Sunday against Washington?

“You will find that out on Sunday,” Jackson said.

The Browns may have a separate problem in this case. Bailey reportedly told police he drank on the team flight back from Miami. Nine years ago, however, the NFL banned teams from providing alcohol on team flights.

There’s currently no evidence the team provided alcohol to Bailey or any other player. However, there’s also no evidence that Bailey or any other player snuck a bottle of booze or a six-pack of beer onto the charter, either.

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NFL, Tom Coughlin’s agent deny meeting with Pegulas occurred

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants reacts in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at MetLife Stadium on January 3, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

If Tom Coughlin eventually will be getting back into coaching in 2017 (or sooner), there’s no current effort in Buffalo to make that happen.

Both Coughlin’s current employer (the NFL) and Coughlin’s agent (Sandy Montag) have denied a report that emerged over the weekend indicating that Coughlin had met with Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

“This meeting did not happen,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email on Wednesday.

“I do confirm that a meeting did not occur,” Montag told PFT via email.

The Bills opted to say nothing, citing a “longstanding practice not to respond to media posts based on rumors.” While accounts of the Coughlin-Pegula meeting may have begun as rumor, Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that a meeting occurred.

The fact that the Bills scored an unlikely win over the Cardinals likely contributed to the fizzling of the rumor/report. But if the Bills struggle again, talk of Coughlin could resurface. Regardless of what happens in the future, the NFL and Coughlin’s agent have been unequivocal: No meeting happened.

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Pete Carroll would be surprised if Russell Wilson doesn’t play

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs out of the grasp of outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks #55 of the San Francisco 49ers the first quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle,Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that quarterback Russell Wilson would be on the practice field Wednesday to kick off the on-field preparation for Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Nothing changed on that front over the last two days and Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Wilson will be working with the rest of the team after going through a morning walkthrough. The quarterback added a sprained MCL to an ankle injury during last Sunday’s victory over the 49ers, but, as reported by Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com, he has been working with a physical therapist who has been living in his house this week.

Carroll said Wilson is feeling well at this point in the week.

“He’s upbeat and feeling good,” Carroll said, via Curtis Crabtree of PFT and 950 KJR. “We’ll know more after today.”

Carroll went on to say that he would be surprised if Wilson doesn’t play, something that’s supported by the fact that the team opted against working out any quarterbacks who could join Trevone Boykin as options in the event Wilson isn’t in the lineup.

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Foster, Cameron, Pouncey, Misi out for Miami

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Arian Foster #29 of the Miami Dolphins carries the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Dolphins face the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday night, four players will definitely not be playing.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), linebacker Koa Misi (neck), and center Mike Pouncey (hip) officially are out for the first game of Week Four.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (groin) is doubtful, as is guard Anthony Steen (ankle).

Ten other Dolphins are listed as questionable, including receivers Jarvis Landry (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (hamstring), safety Reshad Jones (knee), tight end Dion Sims (ankle), and tackle Branden Albert (ankle).

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Edelman coy about his role on Sunday

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots throws a touchdown pass on a flea flicker play during the second half of the 2015 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Getty Images

If either Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett can’t suit up on Sunday, receiver Julian Edelman will serve as the backup quarterback, again. If both can’t go, Edelman will be the starter.

In a Wednesday conference call with Buffalo media, Edelman was asked whether he has spent time this week practicing at quarterback.

“It’s a team policy that we’re not allowed to talk about where we’ve been practicing, but I can tell you that what we have been doing has been tough because of the opponent, the Buffalo Bills and coach [Rex] Ryan, and what he does, he does so much,” Edelman said. “It’s one of those things where we have to really tap in in the classroom and bring it to the grass in practice and translate that into regular drills, team drills, and all those types of things because we know it’s going to be against a tough opponent this week.”

Asked later by Ryan himself (who identified himself as Walt Patulski of the Buffalo News) whether Edelman will play quarterback this week, the receiver said, “I’m going to do whatever the coaches ask me to do. If they ask me to go out and give a glass of water to someone on the sideline, I’m going to do that with a smile on my face if it helps our team win. You can ask coach [Bill Belichick] that one.”

Ryan had a smile on his face, because Edelman didn’t realize Ryan was the one posing the questions.

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Bengals list Eifert, Kirkpatrick as doubtful for Thursday

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 5:  Tyler Eifert #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Cleveland 31-10.(Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert’s return will likely wait at least another week.

The Bengals are listing Eifert as doubtful for Thursday night’s game vs. the Dolphins. Eifert had returned to practice last week.

Eifert had ankle surgery last spring after being injured in the Pro Bowl. Last week marked the first time he had practiced in a team setting.

The Bengals are also listing starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick as doubtful. Kirkpatrick has a hamstring injury and will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Darqueze Dennard.

Safety Derron Smith, who has a chest injury, is listed as questionable.

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Saints bring back veteran tackle Khalif Barnes

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Khalif Barnes #69 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 22, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Raiders 20-12. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Saints are thin in a number of spots, but made a move Wednesday to shore up their offensive line.

According to Herbie Teope of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints are signing veteran tackle Khalif Barnes.

Barnes was in camp with the Saints this summer, but was released as they got the roster down to 53.

The 34-year-old Barnes started one game for Oakland last year, but has 117 career starts with the Jaguars and Raiders.

Left tackle Terron Armstead has been out with a knee injury, and Andrus Peat started in his place Monday night. That was fine, until replacement left guard Senio Kelemete left with a hamstring injury and didn’t return, leaving them thin.

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