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Preseason Power Rankings No. 6: Cincinnati Bengals

Green AP

The Bengals rarely are the trendy pick to do anything other than not be very good.  Heading in to the 2013 season, the Bengals are better than very good.  The Bengals are becoming one of the elite teams in the NFL.

Even at No. 6, there’s a long way to go to get to the top of the mountain.  For starters, the Bengals need to end a postseason losing streak that dates back to the game in which they ended Bo Jackson’s football career by destroying his hip on a routine tackle.  And they need to get past the other elite teams in the AFC, like the Ravens, Broncos, and Patriots.

Regardless of whether it happens, the Bengals have become something they haven’t been for more than a generation:  Relevant.  And to the teams they’ll play this year:  Dangerous.

Strengths.

Receiver A.J. Green quickly has become one of the very best receivers in the league, after only two NFL seasons.  He’s Randy Moss without the play-when-I-wanna-play-goalpost-butt-rubbing-I-wouldn’t-feed-this-to-my-dog attitude.  If Green played for a big-market team, he’d already be one of the faces of the league.

The tight end position became much stronger, too, with the selection of first-rounder Tyler Eifert to go with former first-rounder Jermaine Gresham.  Look for the Bengals to get both of them on the field often, taking advantage of the extra attention paid to Green.

On defense, tackle Geno Atkins anchors an underrated line that includes franchise-tagged end Michael Johnson and end Carlos Dunlap, whose 20 sacks despite two career starts helped him earn last week a five-year, $40 million extension.  Coordinator Mike Zimmer, whose inability to get a head-coaching job has worked to Cincy’s benefit, knows how to get the most from all his players, making the Bengals as balanced as any team in the league.

Weaknesses.

Quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t a weakness per se, but he’s not a strength, yet.  More importantly, in a league that has two types of teams (those with franchise quarterbacks and those looking for franchise quarterbacks), Dalton needs to become a franchise quarterback or he’ll eventually be replaced.  Like Christian Ponder in Minnesota, the influx of weapons makes it harder for the quarterback to blame anyone but himself if he doesn’t step up in year three.

The offensive line is more strength than weakness, but there’s a chance the recent surge from right tackle Andre Smith may have been a mirage.  He re-signed for something other than the big-money deal he wanted, and yet by all appearances he’s acting like he got paid.  Chances are he never will.

Beyond A.J. Green, the depth chart at the receiver position remains muddled.  Mohamed Sanu emerged last year as a rookie, but a foot injury ended his season prematurely.  If he’s healthy, he should be the starter across from Green.  The rest of the wideouts need to find ways to contribute, or the Bengals could decide to use plenty of Green-Gresham-Eifert looks.

Changes.

Former Steelers 3-4 linebacker James Harrison provides depth and flexibility for the Bengals’ 4-3 defense, where he can play outside linebacker in non-passing situations and slide to defensive end (or blitz effectively while stacked on a defensive end) on passing downs.

Rookie running back Giovani Bernard diversifies the rushing attack and short passing game, and Bernard possibly could knock BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the bench.  Rookie tight end Tyler Eifert helps make the offense even more dynamics.

Beyond that, there weren’t many major changes, which is a good thing for a team that has been to the postseason for two straight years for the first time in franchise history when one of those years wasn’t shortened by a strike.  Coach Marvin Lewis enters his 11th season with the franchise, and his third with offensive (Jay Gruden) and defensive (Mike Zimmer) coordinators.  For plenty of the team’s free agents, Cincinnati’s patience was rewarded — and the end result is even more continuity.

Position battles.

Running backs Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will battle each other for playing time, and the rest of the skill-position players for touches.  Ditto for tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, who may also take reps and touches away from the team’s receivers if the team’s receivers can’t get it done.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has been durable, but if he gets injured it’ll be Josh Johnson or John Skelton replacing him.  Johnson could earn some opportunities in a Wildcat-style package.

On defense, a deep and talented defensive line (along with James Harrison, who could play some defensive end) provides a great rotation.  How the opportunities ultimately shake out will hinge in some respects on how well the various players perform during training camp and the preseason.

In the secondary, it’s Leon Hall at one corner and Dre Kirkpatrick, Pacman Jones, and Terence Newman vying for the other starting job.

Prospects.

But for the Broncos, who enter the second year of the Peyton Manning experiment, it would be tempting to predict that the Bengals will make it to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season.  It’s more likely that the Bengals will get back to the playoffs for a third straight year — and perhaps finally win a postseason game.

If  the break the curse of Bo Jackson’s broken hip, coach Marvin Lewis could be destined to lose one or both of his coordinators.  Also, any free agents will be more attractive to other teams, forcing the Bengals to do something other than wait for them to not get offered more money elsewhere.

So this may be the year to go all in, which means the Bengals should be willing to take chances every week in order not just to get to the playoffs but to position themselves for success when they get there.  Which could lead them all the way to New York, for an open-air Super Bowl with conditions that could resemble the 1981 AFC title game against the Chargers.

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Colts sign first-round pick Ryan Kelly

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The Colts announced Wednesday night that they’ve agreed to terms with their first-round pick, Ryan Kelly.

The Colts selected Kelly with the 18th pick last Thursday. He was a three-year starter at Alabama who did not allow a sack in his final two college seasons.

Kelly won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last fall. He was a second-team All-American, a first-team All-SEC pick and a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy that’s awarded to the nation’s top lineman.

He started 36 of 46 career games at Alabama and figures as the immediate starter at center for the Colts.

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Mathis tutoring potential replacement as Colts switch DE to OLB

Robert Mathis AP

The Colts used four draft picks on offensive linemen last week, addressing one major area of need.

That means the team still has a pretty glaring need for pass-rush help, and Zak Keefer of the Indy Star wrote Wednesday that one way the Colts are addressing that is switching second-year player Earl Okine from defensive end to outside linebacker.

In making the switch, Okine is following and learning from veteran pass rusher Robert Mathis, who learned the outside linebacker spot in 2012 after nine years as a 4-3 defensive end. Mathis, 35, shared the team lead with seven sacks last season.

He’s probably a pretty good teacher for Okine, 26, who played just 59 snaps last season. Mathis has 118 career sacks in 178 games.

Okine called Mathis the greatest pass rusher of all-time said learning from Mathis “is all I do in meetings. I ask him everything.”

Okine has played in the CFL, the FXL and the Arena League over the last three years. He was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster by the Colts last October, and now he’s looking at a four-month trial period that could determine whether he’ll stick around.

“I’m pretty confident in myself,” Okine said. “I’m ready.”

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Adrian Peterson partners with Salvation Army to raise funds for Palestine, TX floods

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The most famous native of Palestine, Texas is doing what he can to help his hometown in an hour of need.

Flash flooding in Palestine over the weekend killed six people, including four children. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who went to school with one of the adult victims, has partnered with the Salvation Army to raise awareness to the problem and funds for those in need.

Peterson has donated $100,000. He’ll also match all fan donations on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to another $100,000.

Fans can donate by texting “AP28” to 51555 or by visiting the Salvation Army page created for contributions.

Every dollar you give gets doubled, up to $100,000. Any amount helps.

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Former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman hospitalized

2 Nov 1997:  Brett Perriman of the Miami Dolphins in action against the Buffalo Bills during a game at Rich Stadium in  Orchard Park, New York.  The Bills defeated the Dolphins 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport

Former NFL wide receiver Brett Perriman collapsed and was taken to a Miami-area hospital Tuesday night, per multiple reports.

CBS Radio in Miami reported that Perriman, 50, collapsed due to “extremely high blood pressure” and quoted an unnamed family member as saying Perriman had shown “small signs of progress” from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Perriman played 10 NFL seasons and played for the Saints, Lions, Chiefs and Dolphins. He was a second-round pick of the Saints in 1988.

His son, Breshad Perriman, was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2015. Also a wide receiver, Breshad Perriman was injured early in training camp last summer and did not play as a rookie.

CollegeSpun.com collected some tweets showing support for Perriman, including one from his son.

Brett Perriman had a career-best 1,488 receiving yards in 1995 with the Lions. In that season, Perriman and Herman Moore became the first teammates in NFL history to each record more than 100 receptions and more than 1,400 receiving yards in the same season.

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Eagles sign five picks

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 07:  Wendell Smallwood #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers rushes for a 16 yard touchdown in the first half during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 7, 2015 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

The bad old days when it took weeks or months to sign a draft class are long gone.

The latest reminder of that came on Wednesday when the Eagles announced that they’ve signed five players they selected last week.

Running back Wendell Smallwood is the highest pick to agree to a deal. He was drafted in the fifth round after leading the Big 12 in rushing last season. He’ll try to earn time on offense along with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.

The Eagles also signed two safeties, sixth-rounder Blake Countess and seventh-rounder Jalen Mills. Seventh-round defensive end Alex McCalister and seventh-round linebacker Joe Walker round out the group.

That leaves three players unsigned, including second overall pick Carson Wentz. Once upon a time that contract negotiation could drag into camp, but Wentz will be joining today’s quintet soon enough.

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Johnny Manziel turns himself in, posts a $1,500 bond

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Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has taken a break from whatever he’s been doing lately, to turn himself into authorities.

According to the NBCDFW.com, Manziel has been booked and posted bond for his domestic violence case in Texas. He faces his first court hearing tomorrow.

His attorney said Manziel had posted his $1,500 bond in Highland Park, and will appear in a Dallas County courtroom tomorrow.

Manziel was indicted by a grand jury for misdemeanor assault family violence for allegedly hitting then-girlfriend Colleen Crowley.

If he’s convicted, he faces a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Obviously, it’s been more costly to him professionally, as the former first-rounder is radioactive to NFL teams.

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Lions add Andre Caldwell

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As the Lions try to prepare for life after Calvin Johnson, they’ve added another receiver to the depth chart.

Per a league source, Detroit has signed former Broncos receiver Andre Caldwell to a one-year deal.

Caldwell, who actually is older than Calvin Johnson, arrives after four seasons in Denver and four before that in Cincinnati.

His best season came in 2009, when Caldwell caught 51 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Caldwell caught only 10 passes for 72 yards and a pair of scores in the regular season. He also added three catches for 36 yards in the postseason, including a 22-yard reception in Super Bowl 50.

The catch and run came on a third down during the opening drive of the game, which resulted in a field goal.

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Drew Nowak among five waived by Seahawks

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20:  Center Drew Nowak #62 of the Seattle Seahawks during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The Packers defeated the Seahawks 27-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Drew Nowak opened last season as the Seahawks’ starting center, but he lost his spot to Patrick Lewis during the regular season.

Now he’s lost his spot on the roster altogether. The Seahawks made Nowak one of five cuts from the roster on Wednesday as they made changes to accommodate their incoming group of rookies.

Nowak made seven starts in the first eight weeks of the 2015 season, but was benched as the Seahawks tried to find a more productive offensive line group after a rocky start to the season. The offensive line remained a concern and continues to be a weak spot for the team, but the offense and quarterback Russell Wilson in particular took off over the final eight games.

Nowak ended the year on the practice squad after being waived from the active roster in December and signed a futures deal with the Seahawks early in the offseason. Running back Cameron Marshall, tight end Ronnie Shields, defensive end Josh Shirley and wide receiver Tyler Slavin were also let go.

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Dave Caldwell says Myles Jack currently is “full go”

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The NFL wants its new players to be as healthy as possible. Before the NFL pounds them to smithereens.

One of this year’s most debated cases of damaged goods was former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. Appearing on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, G.M. Dave Caldwell discussed the thought process that resulted in a trade up in round two to get Jack — and the prognosis for his knee.

“As we started to get to the late 20s [in round one] I was relatively surprised because we still had [Jack] in our top five players,” Caldwell said. “So we were looking at him as a possible trade back in to the first round. I didn’t really want to give up the fourth-round pick [to trade into round one] because I knew there would still be good defensive players on the board.

“After we slept on it, I reached out to a few teams picking in front of us and I just said, ‘Hey, if our guy’s there, it’ll be a fifth-round pick if guys are willing to do it,’ and Baltimore graciously was willing to do it. They did a nice job, too, because they then parlayed it into another trade-back scenario.”

So what about the concern that Jack may need microfracture surgery at some point?

“I think there’s a lot of information out there, and all the information out there is not accurate,” Caldwell said. “We feel really good about the research that our doctors have done, our medical staff, our trainers. We’ve consulted some of the best cartilage specialists in the country, and we have a plan for him.”

The plan for now is to let Jack, who tore a meniscus last season, get ready for his rookie season.

“Right now, he’s full go,” Caldwell said. “If he was in spring ball, he’d be able to participating at UCLA’s practice, according to his operating surgeon. We look forward to getting him out here and practicing and if something does arise we do have a good plan for it. I don’t think the plan involves microfracture [surgery]. I feel confident with the kind of people we’ve consulted and our medical staff. I don’t think he’s a candidate for that from what I’ve been told, but there may be need to be a procedure somewhere down the line. As of right now he looks good, he feels good, and he’s ready to go.”

Caldwell also pointed out that the Jaguars don’t need Jack to become a major contributor right out of the gates, thanks to the presence of Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith.

“We would like [Jack] too but if something were to arise it’s not like our cupboard’s bare there,” Caldwell said. “So we look forward to having him come in and compete, and we think that with his skill set . . . he’ll come in and help us.”

So the Jaguars were willing to roll the dice on Myles Jack. If it works out, Jack could end up making a huge difference for the Jaguars as the team tries to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.

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Cowboys’ team doctor is confident in Jaylon Smith’s knee

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 06:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a tackle for a loss against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 6, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan 31-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys took a big chance when they took linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round of the NFL draft, as Smith is recovering from a very serious knee injury.

Except that the surgeon who performed Smith’s surgery also happens to be the Cowboys’ head team physician, and he’s very confident that Smith will heal completely.

The Cowboys’ website reported that Cooper was a major part of the decision to draft Smith, and Cowboys Executive V.P. Stephen Jones said today on Mike & Mike that Cooper gave Smith a positive prognosis, leading the football people to get on board with the idea that he’s worth a second-round pick — even if he won’t play until 2017.

Dr. Cooper sat us down and walked us through other injuries where the nerve didn’t fire right away and then ultimately it did and ultimately they made a full recovery to be the player they had been before the injury,” Jones said, via the Dallas Morning News.

Cooper is staking his reputation on his belief that Smith will return to full speed and get on the field in a year. And the Cowboys believe in their team doctor.

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Cardinals cut Aussie import Joel Wilkinson, three others

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 06:  Joel Wilkinson of the Suns runs with the ball during the round 15 AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns at The Gabba on July 6, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals drafted six players last week and they agreed to terms with 16 undrafted free agents, leaving them with more players than they had room for on their 90-man roster.

They began remedying that problem on Wednesday by parting ways with four players. They’ll need to make one more move in order to have room for all the rookies as the undrafted signings don’t count against the roster until they officially sign their contracts with the team at the start of rookie minicamp on Thursday.

Three of the players the Cardinals dispatched are listed as cornerbacks, including Joel Wilkinson. Wilkinson is an Australian Rules Football player who was trying to make the same jump that running back Jarryd Hayne made with the 49ers. Kevin White and Tyrequek Zimmerman were also cut after their chances of making the team took a hit when the Cardinals drafted a pair of corners.

Arizona also drafted center Evan Boehm in the fourth round, which likely helped them decide to waive center Valeran Ume-Ezeoke.

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Broncos release journeyman tight end Richard Gordon

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 3: Richard Gordon #89 of the Kansas City Chiefs makes a catch against Bryce Hager #54 of the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter during a pre-season game at the Edward Jones Dome on September 3, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Broncos didn’t draft any tight ends last weekend, but they deemed one expendable Wednesday anyway.

The team announced they had waived tight end Richard Gordon, who made a cameo appearance for them last season when they were short at the position.

Gordon’s a blocker by trade, who will turn 29. He’s spent time with six different organizations, with stints with the Raiders, Steelers, Chiefs, Titans, Chiefs again, Broncos, Ravens and Broncos again. He has four career receptions, none since 2013.

He played five snaps in the one game he appeared in last year, before being cut when they needed safety help. He was re-signed this offseason, but they parted ways today.

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NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller resigns

15940746-mmmain-1 Getty Images

The man who has been charge of NFL Security for nearly a decade is moving on.

Per multiple sources, NFL V.P. of security Jeffrey Miller has resigned. The NFL has confirmed that Miller is leaving.

“He informed the league last month that he was going to take a job on the West Coast with a private security firm,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “He worked the draft, will work at the league meeting and subsequent training session. He will leave the NFL next month.”

As one source put it, the move has nothing to do with performance, and it wasn’t initiated by the league. “This guy is awesome, really competent,” the source said.

Miller has taken a position that will allow him to move to the West Coast. He joined the league in 2008, after serving as Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner.

Plenty of scrutiny came Miller’s way in 2014, after the Ray Rice elevator video surfaced the day after the regular-season opener. The Associated Press reported in September 2014 that the video had been sent to Miller before it surfaced at TMZ.com. An independent investigation found no evidence that Miller or anyone else had received the video.

The NFL has not decided on a replacement, according to one source with knowledge of the situation.

For clarity, the Jeffrey Miller who is leaving the NFL runs security. The Jeff Miller who serves as executive V.P. of player health and safety remains on the job.

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Falcons, first-rounder Keanu Neal agree to terms

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Four 2016 draft picks are now under contract. Only one was a first-round pick.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal, the 17th overall selection in the draft, has agreed to terms on the standard four-year deal, with a fifth year option to be exercised by May 3, 2019. The contract will be signed Thursday.

Per a league source, Neal told the Falcons he wanted to focus on getting ready to play football and not on negotiating a contract. So the two sides got the deal done quickly, and Neal is now under contract for all offseason activities.

The move proves that all draft picks can — and should — be signed before they report for offseason workouts. Otherwise, they’re working out for free.

Neal played college football at Florida, entered the draft after three seasons of college football. At age 20, he’s one of the youngest players in the entire draft class.

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Vikings get Mackensie Alexander under contract

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Mackensie Alexander #2 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after breaking up a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings were the first team to sign its entire draft class in 2015 and they are pushing to finish first in 2016 as well.

The latest pick to agree to terms is cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who, per multiple reports, will formally sign his contract with the Vikings on Thursday. Seventh-round defensive end Stephen Weatherly is also expected to sign Thursday and the team has already agreed to deals with their other seventh-rounder and both of their sixth-round picks.

With those five players done, the Vikings only have to wrap up deals with first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers and fifth-round linebacker Kentrell Brothers to have the entire class under contract.

Alexander got some buzz as a potential first-round pick after wrapping up his career at Clemson, where he played with Vikings seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse. He lasted until the 54th overall pick, however, and the Vikings are expected to start him out as a backup to slot corner Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn can be a free agent after the season, which should leave Alexander wit the job if he earns the staff’s trust as a rookie.

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