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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 4: Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Washington Redskins during their NFL NFC wildcard playoff game Reuters

The Seattle Seahawks were the most dominant team in the NFL over the final month of last season. They scored 50 points in consecutive weeks against Arizona and Buffalo and threw in a 42-13 beating of the division rival San Francisco 49ers for good measure. They fell 31 seconds shy of a trip to the NFC Championship game and look to take another step forward toward a second Super Bowl this fall.

Their secondary is as good as any team in football and Russell Wilson has given the Seahawks a quarterback they believe can take them to a championship. The Seahawks added some key veterans on defense to patch some minor holes and brought in Percy Harvin in a trade from Minnesota to add another dimension to an offense that hit its stride late last season.

Expectations are high in Seattle. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t been in very often. Can they deliver?

Strengths.

Seattle’s secondary was arguably the best in the NFL last year. Cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas were both named first-team All-Pro. Cornerback Brandon Browner and strong safety Kam Chancellor were both Pro Bowl selections as well in 2011 and continued to play at a high level last season. With the addition of Antoine Winfield to play the nickel role and Walter Thurmond finally healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, they could be even better this year.

Last year, the Seahawks entered training camp with three quarterbacks vying to be the team’s starter. Russell Wilson was the long-shot, third-round rookie that was “competing” for the job but realistically didn’t appear to have a shot to start over free agent addition Matt Flynn. But Wilson proved he was the best option in training camp and won the job. He never looked back. After some early growing pains, Wilson became incredibly efficient as the Seahawks starter. He completed 67-percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions over the final eight games of the regular season. He also had four rushing scores over that span. Coincidentally (or maybe not) there is no quarterback competition this year in Seattle.

The Seahawks’ receiving corps gelled together well by the end of last season with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin all contributing to Seattle’s offensive explosion over the last half of the year. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin provided a strong one-two punch for the Seahawks backfield as well. With the acquisition of Harvin from Minnesota and the selection of running back Christine Michael in the second round of the draft, both positions should be even more dangerous this season.

Weaknesses.

Behind starter Zach Miller – who will be the highest paid tight end in the league this season – the Seahawks have mostly unproven talent at the tight end position. Anthony McCoy tore his Achilles during OTAs and will miss the upcoming season. Seattle will need either fifth-round draft pick Luke Willson or 2012 undrafted free agent Sean McGrath to become a trustworthy second option.

It seems odd to say a team that rushed for nearly 2,600 yards as a team last season (third in the NFL) has concerns along the offensive line but it is an area of concern for the Seahawks. Both guard positions are unsettled. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was among the most penalized players in the league last season and depth at tackle behind Giacomini and left tackle Russell Okung is somewhat suspect.

Changes.

The Seahawks made some sizable additions to their roster over the offseason. The trade for Percy Harvin brings a versatile weapon to add to an offense that really hit stride the second half of last season. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were added to try and bolster a pass rush that was inconsistent last season. Cornerback Antoine Winfield signed after nine years in Minnesota to assume the nickel cornerback role after Marcus Trufant was picked on last season.

Seattle has seen significant turnover at the defensive tackle position. Alan Branch signed with the Buffalo Bills after spending the last two years with the Seahawks and Jason Jones signed with the Detroit Lions. Seattle brought in Tony McDaniel from Miami and drafted Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams to add to their interior line depth. Linebacker Leroy Hill was also not extended an offer after being arrested again in January. Trufant also has moved on signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Camp battles.

Backup quarterback. No, seriously. The Seahawks signed Brady Quinn and re-signed Tarvaris Jackson after he was released by the Buffalo Bills. The Seahawks will likely only carry one additional quarterback on the roster so Quinn and Jackson will have to battle for the job. Signs seem to point toward Jackson winning the job. Jackson was signed after Seattle saw Quinn in offseason workouts. Combined with his season as a starter in Seattle in 2011 and his familiarity with the team, he’s likely the favorite to win the job.

Outside linebacker will be a focus for the Seahawks as well. Seattle is converting Bruce Irvin to outside linebacker in a move that could indicate the Seahawks will have more of a 3-4 feel than previously seen. Irvin and Mike Morgan have worked as the rush linebackers in offseason workouts but Irvin was serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Meanwhile, Malcolm Smith has taken the majority of the first team work in Seattle’s more traditional base defensive looks and would appear the be the starter at that spot. How the Seahawks mix and match the groupings of players under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be something to keep an eye on.

Seattle also has several options at guard. James Carpenter is expected to be ready to go after knee surgery and will battle with Paul McQuistan at left guard. On the right side, John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy will continue their battle for the starting job. If Carpenter settles back in on the left side, McQuistan could also move to the right side adding to the logjam there.

Prospects.

The Seattle Seahawks enter the 2013 season with perhaps more expectations placed upon them than any season in their 37-year franchise history. They were the most dominant team in the league over the final month of last season and won their first road playoff game since 1983. A tough division slate stands in their way and road trips to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta will be difficult tests as well as the Seahawks attempt to dethrone the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West. The Seahawks hope the additions of Harvin, Avril, Bennett and Winfield allow them to knock off the 49ers and take the next step toward getting back to the Super Bowl for the second time in team history.

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Michael Sam: “I am not the only gay person in the NFL”

Michael Sam AP

Michael Sam was going to be the first openly gay player in the NFL, when he was drafted by the Rams last year.

But he said he quickly found out he’d have been far from the only gay player in the league.

During an appearance at an event in Dallas last night, Sam declined to offer a number, but said there were many players who reached out to him last offseason to thank him.

I am not the only gay person in the NFL,” Sam said, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I’m just saying there is a lot of us. I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.

“Was it a risky move? Yes. But at that moment, the reason why I came out is I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Maybe I was naive. Maybe I thought it was 2014, and people will understand that there’s gay NFL players. There’s gay athletes everywhere. But I was clearly wrong. It was a huge deal.

“The players who have reached out to me and told me about their sexual orientation, it just means a lot. But I will never say anything about who they are, what teams they are [on]. I’m just saying there’s some famous people, and I’m not the only one.”

Of course, Sam’s not an NFL player at the moment, and after his subpar showing at last week’s veteran combine, he might not be one anytime soon. But he said he was confident he’d play this season, indicating a stint in the CFL might be in his future.

Sam had a stint on the Cowboys practice squad after the Rams cut him, and doesn’t have anything pending this season. He said he didn’t think the reason was his sexual orientation, but thinks his unemployment could be the reason others haven’t made the decision to come out.

“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said. “I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can. So, I’ll leave it at that. . . .

“Dancing with the Stars is my employer. That’s my main source of income. … I’m unemployed, and I don’t believe I’m out of the NFL because I’m gay. But if it was a reason, it can hurt their livelihood, and you don’t want to take that chance.”

Regardless his personal life, Sam’s lack of prototype size and speed is the primary reason he doesn’t have a spot on an NFL roster at the moment. He was a good college pass-rusher (11.5 sacks and the SEC defensive player of the year), and a stint in Canada might help him put together enough game tape to get another shot at the NFL.

And if he does, perhaps others will join him in his openness.

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John Fox: Cutler will have to earn the job in an open competition

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The Bears are on the hook to pay Jay Cutler a guaranteed $15 million this year and $10 million next year. But that doesn’t mean Cutler is their long-term starter. It doesn’t even mean Cutler is the Bears’ Week One starter.

Bears coach John Fox says Cutler will have to beat out Jimmy Clausen and David Fales if he’s going to be the starter because everyone on the roster will get an equal chance to earn the starting job.

It’s all an open competition,” Fox said, via CSNChicago.com. “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and my experience in football, really in anything, it’s not where you start a competition; it’s where you finish it. But we’ve got to start the race with some kind of lineup. We have not discussed that in depth. We have not presented it to our players yet. I kind of have it in my brain and then they compete.”

Cutler was benched for Clausen late last season, but it’s awfully hard to believe that Clausen could win the starting job this year. Fox may say he wants everyone to compete in training camp, but the Bears aren’t paying Cutler all that money to hold a clipboard.

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Jeremy Maclin’s gone, but says “I still believe in Chip”

Maclin AP

When LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans made plans to attend a fundraiser last night, they were Eagles. Since then, they became former Eagles, part of a flurry of offseason activity that sent them all packing, along with quarterback Nick Foles.

That means their starting quarterback and leading receiver and rusher have all departed in a short time.

“If you would have told me two years ago that that would be the case, I would have laughed,” Maclin said, via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is a business, man. Things like that happen.”

Of course, Maclin made his own business decision, taking a $55 million deal from the Chiefs, of which he said: “It wasn’t really about money.”

As much as anything, it was about coach Chip Kelly’s vision for the team, which Maclin said he still had confidence in.

“I still believe in Chip,” Maclin said. “I think Chip’s going to do great things here. I have the utmost respect for him. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get something worked out. But at the end of the day I’m very excited about playing for Kansas City and playing for Big Red [Andy Reid].”

Having a comfortable place to land was a help, because Kelly’s showing there are few sacred cows in his herd, which will lead to many more Eagles becoming former Eagles.

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Dont’a Hightower to miss 6-7 months after shoulder surgery

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

When the Patriots open their offseason program in a few weeks, they’re going to be without a few key players after their Super Bowl run.

But one important part of their defense is up in the air for the start of the regular season.

According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who will miss around six or seven months after surgery to repair a torn right labrum on Feb. 10.

That puts the opener in doubt  for Hightower, who played nearly every snap down the stretch for the Patriots. He sat out the finale against the Bills since there was nothing on the line, but played 321 of a possible 327 over the final five games he played, including a touchdown-saving tackle of Marshawn Lynch near the goal-line.

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also had surgery to repair a torn labrum, though he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp.

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Chiefs owner: We’re going to get Justin Houston signed

Justin Houston AP

Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston would love to leave Kansas City in free agency, but the franchise tag makes that a long shot. Which might be why Chiefs owner Clark Hunt is confident that in the end, Houston will stay where he is.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

If Houston doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he can try to work something out with another team, although that would be hard to do because the Chiefs would have the right to match any offer, and would receive two first-round draft picks from Houston’s new team if they don’t match the offer. Houston could also sit out all of training camp and the preseason and then sign the franchise tender just before Week One and still make his full $13.1 million salary. And if Houston really doesn’t want to play for the Chiefs, he could wait until Week 10 to sign the franchise tag and play just six games while still accruing enough service to become a free agent again next year.

But Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said the team thinks things will work out with some patience, and Hunt echoed that.

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said. “And the negotiating process in these type of situations, as John has said, takes some patience. You just have to have patience. It will work out.”

The only question is whether Houston agrees. It takes two to sign a contract.

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Wilf family pledges additional $19.5 million for new Vikings stadium

Vikings AP

The Wilf family, owners of the Minneosta Vikings, has pledged an additional $19.5 million toward the construction of the new Vikings stadium.

According to the Associated Press, the additional funds will go toward enhancements in the plaza, food service equipment, entertainment areas in the stadium, upgrades to retractable seating and a deck that will overlook downtown Minneapolis.

The extra money brings the total contribution from the Vikings to $551 million, which is approximately 52 percent of the total cost of the project.

The team announced the extra contribution Thursday night.

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Hearing over Hardy exhibits is postponed

Hardy AP

Next Tuesday, the dispute between the NFL and North Carolina prosecutors over documents introduced into last July’s trial in Greg Hardy’s criminal case had been scheduled to go to court.  That now won’t happen.

Via David Newton of ESPN.com, the two sides agreed to delay the effort.

“The hearing was postponed so that we could discuss an amicable resolution of our request for documents,” said Monroe Whitesides, Jr., a Charlotte lawyer hired to handle the case for the NFL.

The NFL wants to review the documents (possibly including photographs of the alleged victim’s possible injuries) before reaching a conclusion regarding Hardy’s punishment, if any, under the personal conduct policy.

Hardy spent 15 games last season on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list, receiving his full base salary while not playing.  The criminal charges against him were dismissed after the alleged victim failed to show up for a February jury trial; Hardy reportedly reached a civil settlement with her.

He signed last week with the Cowboys.  Owner Jerry Jones told PFT Live on Wednesday that the team received no indication regarding Hardy’s fate before adding him to the roster.

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City, county uniting in effort to keep Chargers

la_g_qualcomm_stadium_b1_300 Getty Images

In the Bay Area, the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda have come together in an effort to keep the Raiders in town.  In the southern end of the state, the city and county of San Diego likewise are joining forces to try to retain the Chargers.

Via Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Thursday that the two governmental entities will work together in an effort to device a solution to the stadium situation.

“This partnership helps make it official, that the entire San Diego region is united,” Faulconer said.  “We are coming together, and there is real progress that is being made.”

But making progress and reaching the goal are two different things.  With Faulconer determined to put any proposal to a public vote (a simple majority is necessary if the project requires no public money; if taxpayer funds are involved, two thirds of the voters must approve the measure), the project necessarily will take time — perhaps more time than the Chargers currently have to make a decision on whether they’ll leave San Diego.

And the buzz at the league meetings was clear and unmistakable.  The Chargers believe San Diego has had more than enough time to fix this problem, and that any effort now is simply too little and too late.

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More countries could be hosting regular-season games

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The NFL’s international series has focused in recent years on building a presence in London.  But that’s not the only foreign country in which the league is willing to ignore that “N” is for “National.”

Via Albert Breer of NFL Media, the league is considering the staging of regular-season games in Mexico and Germany, in addition to the recent suggestion that the 2017 Pro Bowl could be played in Brazil and ongoing efforts to play in Canada and China.

“The work we’re doing now is to ask, ‘How do we accelerate the agenda in Mexico, Canada and China?'” NFL executive V.P. of international Mark Waller told Breer.  “Those would be our next stage, and we have offices in those three countries.  And then, after those, where should be our focus?  I think we’ve concluded that Brazil and Germany are the next two frontier markets, which is where the Pro Bowl idea comes from.”

Ten years ago, more than 103,000 fans showed up for a Cardinals-49ers game in Mexico City, but the league has not yet played another game there.  Security concerns often have been cited as one of the reasons for no sequel, yet.

If the league decides to play games that count while playing three games per year (and possibly more) in London, the league will need more teams to give up home games.  Apart from the fairly new rule that teams hosting a Super Bowl must give up a home game, Breer points out that teams relocating to a new market must sacrifice one home game per year while playing in a temporary venue pending the construction of their new stadium.

This could give the NFL up to two extra exportable games per year for several seasons, if two teams move to L.A. in 2016.

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Jerry Jones believes Darren McFadden can be a difference maker

Raiders running back McFadden is tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Texans linebacker Reed during NFL game in Houston Reuters

The Cowboys let running back DeMarco Murray, a third-round pick in 2011, walk away via free agency.  They replaced him with running back Darren McFadden, the fourth overall selection in 2008.  Murray led the NFL in rushing last season, with a franchise-record 1,845 yards.  McFadden, in contrast, sputtered to a mere 534 yards in 2014.

So why do the Cowboys regard McFadden as a competent replacement?

“[Y]ou’ve got a good chance to not live up to expectations,” Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones told PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio regarding the lackluster career of McFadden, who has only one 1,000-yard campaign in seven seasons.  “Because when you are drafted that high, people think that you are going to be the next Jimmy Brown.  So, yes he would have liked to have had a more productive career.  But the kinds of skills that got him drafted with the fourth pick in the draft, he still has.

“You worry about injury, but we were worried about injury with Murray.  In eight seasons, four in Oklahoma and four with the Cowboys, Murray only had two injury free seasons.  And so the position is one you have to take into consideration no matter what the skill level is, they take a lot of hits, lot of punishment, and you got a good chance to have an injury issue.  And that’s why we couldn’t make that kind of commitment of dollars to that position.”

The team’s position on not investing a lot of cash in an injury-prone position would also suggest that the Cowboys won’t make a play for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  But Jones wouldn’t confirm that Peterson won’t be a Cowboy.

“I get in enough trouble in a lot of areas anyway with this mouth but I’m not going to talk about that,” Jones said.

He doesn’t need to say it.  There’s no way the Cowboys will make a major financial investment in the tailback position with Adrian Peterson or anyone, hoping instead to get the most out of underpriced talent running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Regardless of how it works, it will be one of the great experiments of the 2015 season.

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Buccaneers LB Danny Lansanah signs ERFA tender

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers’ second-leading tackler in 2014 has signed his contract offer from the club.

Linebacker Danny Lansanah, an exclusive-rights free agent, has officially signed his one-year tender from Tampa Bay. The transaction was listed in the NFL’s Thursday personnel notice.

The 29-year-old Lansanah comes off the best season of his career. The fourth-year pro from Connecticut notched 82 tackles (61 solo), starting 11-of-16 games. He could compete for a starting role at strong-side linebacker next season, with Orie Lemon potentially also in the mix.

Lansanah was one of the success stories of the United Football League, playing a three-year UFL stint (2010-2012) after five regular season games with the Green Bay Packers in 2008. He has been with the Buccaneers since December 2013.

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Reports: Vikings reach deal with Terence Newman, who’s likely to sign Friday

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Vikings will reportedly soon finalize a contract with a cornerback whom head coach Mike Zimmer knows well.

According to Darren Wolfson of KSTP-TV in St. Paul, Minnesota is likely to sign Bengals corner Terence Newman on Friday.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports Newman has agreed to a deal worth $2.5 million ($750,000 guaranteed).

Newman, 36, played in Zimmer-led defenses in Dallas (2002-2006) and Cincinnati (2012-2013). He notched 72 tackles, 14 passes defensed and one interception in 2014 for the Bengals. The Cowboys’ No. 1 pick in 2003, Newman has started at least 10 games in all 12 of his NFL seasons.

Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson are the primary holdover options at cornerback in Minnesota, and Newman’s experience in Zimmer’s scheme would figure to give him a solid shot at a contributing role.

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Derrick Shelby signs restricted free agent tender with Dolphins

Derrick Shelby AP

Defensive lineman Derrick Shelby has signed his restricted free agent tender with the Miami Dolphins.

The team announced the signing on Thursday.

Miami placed a second round tender on Shelby prior to the start of free agency that is worth $2.4 million. The tender is non-guaranteed. Shelby can no longer negotiate with other teams.

Shelby has missed just one game in three seasons with the Dolphins. For his career, he’s appeared in 47 games with 68 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

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Vikings waive Justin Anderson, Jordan McCray

New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

The Vikings have parted ways with two second-year pros signed to reserve-future contracts after the 2014 season, waiving linebacker Justin Anderson and offensive guard Jordan McCray on Thursday.

The roster moves were disclosed in the NFL’s Thursday personnel notice.

Anderson and McCray were originally signed to Minnesota’s practice squad in December. Anderson (6-2, 232) played colleglately at Louisiana-Lafayette, while McCray (6-3, 322) is a Central Florida product. Both entered the NFL as an undrafted free agents in 2014. Anderson also played for the Giants last year, with McCray seeing time with the Packers in 2014.

The Vikings currently have 71 players on the roster. This does not include tailback Adrian Peterson, who is on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Also on Thursday, the Vikings signed offensive tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi, who has quite the unique back story.

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Hernandez’s fiancée due to testify on Friday

Jenkins AP

Apart from Thursday’s bomb threat, the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial hasn’t generated much news in recent weeks.  The circumstantial evidence points to Hernandez as the killer (or at least present during the killing) of Odin Lloyd, but there’s still no clear motive apart from Hernandez being generally reckless, completely unpredictable, and randomly violent.

Things could get far more interesting soon, when Hernandez’s fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins, shows up to testify.  Per multiple reports, Jenkins is due to take the stand on Friday.

Jenkins has received immunity, which gives the prosecution the power to compel her to testify — or to put her behind bars for contempt of court.  The question becomes whether she goes out of her way to be helpful, or whether she has truly flipped on the father of her child.

One factor that could make Jenkins flip?  A babysitter testified earlier this month that Hernandez once hit on her.  Coincidentally (or not), Jenkins hasn’t been seen in court since March 6.

If Jenkins has indeed flipped, she could testify that she disposed of a box that contained the murder weapon that still has not been found.  Prosecutors believe that’s exactly what she did.

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