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Patriots call Gronkowski doubtful, Amendola probable for Week One

AP

It looks like the 2013 debut of tight end Rob Gronkowski will not happen in Week One.

Gronkowski has been practicing in a limited fashion with the Patriots this week, but he was listed as doubtful on Friday’s final injury report before Sunday’s game against the Bills. Per league guidelines, that gives him just a 25 percent chance of playing in this weekend’s game and it’s hard to find anyone who is around the Patriots on a daily basis that believes the tight end will be in the lineup against Buffalo.

If Gronkowski can’t play, the Patriots will have Michael Hoomanawanui and undrafted rookie free agent signing Zach Sudfeld at tight end. Sudfeld drew a lot of good reviews for his work this summer and will likely get many chances to make good on them in a game that counts.

Gronkowski’s absence hurts, although it wasn’t unexpected and it won’t be compounded by the absence of wide receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola practiced fully on Friday and is probable for Sunday’s game. The same is true of rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who was slowed by a hamstring injury earlier in the week.

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Eagles still expected to cut Ryan Mathews, but not at this moment

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The Eagles are still expected to cut Ryan Mathews, but just not yet, as they attempt to save some cash.

According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, the veteran running back is expected to hang around the roster for another few weeks, even though he isn’t expected to take the field.

Rookies, quarterbacks and veterans coming off injuries reported to Eagles camp Sunday. Since Mathews is coming off neck disk surgery, he’s not going to be on the field for practice Monday, or probably not ever.

If the Eagles cut him with a failed physical designation now, they’d be on the hook for $1.1 million. If they cut him later when he’s ready to pass a physical, they’d still eat the $1 million in dead money against the cap, but wouldn’t have to pay him if he passes a physical. His doctors apparently want to reevaluate him in August, so the Eagles seem inclined to wait.

They’ve moved on already, in terms of the depth chart. They signed veteran running back LeGarrette Blount, and drafted Donnell Pumphrey in the fourth round.

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Jerry Jones reiterates support for Ezekiel Elliott

AP

At a time when Ezekiel Elliott is reportedly bracing for a suspension, his boss may be bracing for a fight.

Cowboys owner and G.M. Jerry Jones addressed with reporters on the first day of camp the one-year-old allegations of domestic violence against Elliott. And Jones has not wavered from his belief that Elliott is innocent.

“I have reviewed everything and there is absolutely nothing — not one thing — that had anything to do with domestic violence,” Jones said, via Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

This statement implies that Jones hasn’t truly reviewed everything, because the alleged victim’s version of the events undoubtedly has something to do with domestic violence. Otherwise, there would be nothing to investigate.

While Jones technically has no control over what happens, that won’t keep him from trying to push the outcome in a given direction. Or, more accurately, to continue to pressure the league office to exonerate Elliott.

It’s believed that he’s already made it clear that he won’t be as compliant as Patriots owner Robert Kraft was when the league suspended Tom Brady four games, and Jones’ comments from earlier this afternoon make it clear that the passage of time has put Jones in the mood for a compromise or any other outcome that entails not having Elliott available to play football for the Dallas Cowboys.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 5: Oakland Raiders

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The biggest news of the Raiders offseason had little to do with the team they’ll be putting on the field in September.

That news was, of course, that they’ll be moving to Las Vegas after a long and fruitless attempt to find a stadium deal in Oakland. The fact that they’re on their way out hasn’t done much to damper excitement about what lies ahead for the team in 2017, however.

General Manager Reggie McKenzie’s rebuilding effort was a lengthy one, but it has resulted in a team positioned for a long run of success wherever they are playing their home games. Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, a talented offensive line and 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack are the foundation of that promise and will be major drivers for the team again this year.

Adding running back Marshawn Lynch was an intriguing move as the prospect of putting Beast Mode behind that line is one that leads to visions of great offensive success. We’ll have to see what’s left in the tank after Lynch sat out last season, however, and the Raiders’ ultimate hopes rest heavily on a defense that remains a work in progress outside of Mack.

Biggest positive change: Carr ended last season on the sideline because of a fractured fibula, which created a painful game of “What if?” for the Raiders after a 27-14 playoff loss to the Texans with Connor Cook at quarterback. Had Carr avoided injury, the Raiders were well positioned to win the division and get a bye that would have allowed them to open the postseason on their home field.

While there’s no way to guarantee that he’ll remain that way, Carr is healthy now and his contract extension further cements him as the biggest reason to believe that the Raiders can fulfill the highest of expectations for the 2017 season.

Biggest negative change: The Raiders didn’t lose any major contributors this offseason and the biggest staff change involved bumping quarterbacks coach Todd Downing up to offensive coordinator. That move seems unlikely to lead to much of a difference for a unit with talent across the board.

As mentioned, the defense doesn’t have the same kind of talent and the Raiders added former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano to Ken Norton’s defensive staff in hopes of maximizing what is on hand. Should the unit fail to improve and friction exist between them, it could put a cap on the team’s upside.

Coaching thermometer: Jack Del Rio took over a team that went 3-13 in 2014 and went 7-9 in his first year on the job before taking the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. That’s enough to avoid any concerns about a coaching change and the desire to keep building around a strong core of talent should keep it that way unless things go terribly wrong in the near future.

We’d like to crack a beer with … Gabe Jackson. Jackson also got a lucrative extension this offseason, which makes him part of that strong core and another example of how well Oakland’s rebuild has turned out. For these purposes, though, the right guard is the representative of a line that can sometimes get undervalued due to the other star power. We’ll give him the chance to shed some light on a big reason for the Raiders’ success.

How they can prove us wrong: Lynch having nothing in the tank would be a blow, but the biggest obstacle to the Raiders taking a spot at the top of the AFC would almost certainly be another year with a defense that forces the offense to be nearly flawless in order to win games.

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Steve Atwater rejoins Broncos, in multiple roles

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One of the greatest defensive players in Broncos history has returned to the team.

Safety Steve Atwater will become both an insider for the team-owned website fan development manager, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Atwater, 50, spent 10 years with the team, winning a pair of Super Bowls and making it to the Pro Bowl eight teams. He was one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

He also was responsible for one of the most memorable hits in league history, flattening monstrous Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.

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Sam Bradford feels more comfortable in Vikings offense this year

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Though it was hard to tell, Sam Bradford struggled to learn what was expected of him last year.

But even with a mid-season change at coordinator complicating his hi-nice-to-meet-you first season with the Vikings, Bradford still set a record for highest completion percentage (71.6) in league history.

The good news is, he feels a little more settled this year.

“Obviously last year was pretty unique, I have never been in that situation, and I don’t think many people have been in that situation,” Bradford told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But just to be here this offseason, to be able to go through the program, go through the meetings, the installs, really sit down and learn this offense and what we’re trying to do, it’s a much better situation than showing up here however many days, eight or nine, before the first game last year and trying to learn everything on the fly.”

While the trade from the Eagles just before the season was a shock to him, he benefited from the next change, as his background with Pat Shurmur eased the next transition after the departure of Norv Turner.

“I think the later we got in the year the better I felt with it,” Bradford said. “Obviously going through the change that we did kind of halfway through the season, having worked with Pat, I think that really helped me just because we have a really good relationship and I felt like we were able to communicate. Towards the end of the year I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on things.”

He responded with career highs in passer rating (99.3) and passing yards (3,877), but enters another season with uncertainty looming over him. Between the fact he’s entering the last year of his contract and the recovery of former starter Teddy Bridgewater from last year’s traumatic knee injury, Bradford knows there’s little beyond the immediate in his control, which makes familiar surroundings a good thing.

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OBJ visits Texas cancer patient, thanks to social media

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Say what you will about social media, but it allows for connections to be made that previously were impossible.

Case in point, via NJ.com: Through social media, Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. learned about a boy in Texas with a rare form of cancer. So Beckham visited him.

Danny Richburg, the father of Giants center Weston Richburg, got the assist, bringing to Beckham’s attention via twitter a Facebook post regarding Jayro Ponce’s wish to meet Beckham. Beckham responded almost immediately, and only a few days after it all got started, Beckham was in Amarillo to meet with the boy.

If you’re inclined to kick in a little cash to help with Jayro’s treatment, feel free. It will be a lot cheaper and take a lot less time than hopping a plane to Texas.

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Bills hoping Sammy Watkins is close to 100 percent for camp

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The Bills are bringing veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin in for a visit Monday. But the receiver they most want to see next week is one already on their roster.

One of the biggest questions for the Bills this season will be the availability of Sammy Watkins, after he underwent a second surgery on his left foot earlier this offseason. He hasn’t spoken to reporters this spring, though he did do some team drills near the end of the minicamp, creating the expectation that he should be at least close to 100 percent when camp opens later this week.

“Credit to Sammy, credit to our training staff and the way he’s attacked the rehab with them,” coach Sean McDermott said then, via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. “That has to continue, though. This is one step in that process of getting Sammy back to where he needs to be and where we need him to be.”

The Bills will likely keep the reins pulled back on Watkins, so as not to create any setbacks in what has been a career marked by injuries.

He played in the first two games last year before foot problems sent him to injured reserve. He came back to play the final six games of the season, but was far from the dynamic player they anticipated. Because of that, and the lingering health questions, they didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

He’s shown when he’s been well that he can be a playmaker. He just hasn’t been often enough, making this a crucial season for him.

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Richard Sherman confirms choice words in practice for Russell Wilson

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The Seahawks may dispute talk of hard feelings in the locker room toward their quarterback, but one of their most prominent players doesn’t deny using a little locker-room talk toward Russell Wilson.

In an interview with Josina Anderson of ESPN, cornerback Richard Sherman admitted that, during a June 2014 practice, he intercepted Wilson and shouted “you f–king suck!” at him.

“That’s 100% true, and I’ve said worse,” Sherman said, via TheBigLead.com. “I’ve said worse to Doug [Baldwin], I’ve said worse to [Jermaine] Kearse. Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another. . . . I’m sorry that our competition, that the way we sharpen our iron, isn’t pretty and cordial. I’m sure if you went to see bad teams, they probably get along great, probably slapping high fives, but then you go 4-12.”

Sherman is right, but the whole “iron sharpens iron” thing doesn’t apply only to rough words or flared tempers. The notion that the best try to get the best out of those around the best includes the reality that if the best isn’t being generated by the best, there should be accountability.

Which gets back to one of the primary points made in the disputed story from Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine that led with the “you f–king suck” quote. For the same reason Sherman would bark that at Wilson in the heat of the moment, Sherman and other teammates also would reasonably expect the coaching staff to coach Wilson as hard as the other players on the team are coached, and not to have any sacred cows or untouchable teammates who don’t get the same treatment.

Iron sharpens iron. So if a piece of iron is being sharpened with a velvet glove, it’s not going to be a sharp as it could be.

But Sherman and his teammates won’t admit that. They shouldn’t admit that. It all goes back to iron sharpening iron, and it’s a process that those who are iron believe those who aren’t iron would misunderstand, turning into something that it isn’t.

It’s not personal. It’s not mean spirited. It’s not petty. It’s about winning games, pursuing championships, and cementing legacies.

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PFT Live returns Monday, with a vengeance

My mandatory vacation is nearly over. And while four weeks of the PFT Live podcast (plus several interviews during the break, including sit-downs with Dak Prescott, Bruce Arians, Adam Gase, Rob Ninkovich, Wes Welker, and Drew Rosenhaus) helped fill the void, there was no replacement for three hours per day, five days per week, of radio and TV.

It resumes Monday morning, when I’ll be joined by Barstool Big Cat. The co-host of the wildly popular Pardon My Take podcast will be in studio for the final two hours of Monday’s and Tuesday’s show. And maybe we’ll open the phone lines at some point for a phone call from his podcast partner and my Internet son, PFT Commenter.

So join us at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and/or at 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN, as we all get ready for the 2017 season.

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Latavius Murray finds motivation in memory of friend

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Vikings running back Latavius Murray was believed to be the successor to Adrian Peterson, until the team drafted Dalvin Cook. With Murray’s role now vague and undetermined, especially since he was unable to participate in the offseason program, one thing is clear — he finds motivation from the memory of a friend who died last year in a shooting.

Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the story on Murray’s tumultuous November, when his best friend, Jonathan Diaz, was shot and killed.

“You’re used to talking to somebody every day, telling him everything and you spent so much time with a person, and then they’re just not there,” Murray said last month. “It’s an unreal feeling. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Murray, then playing for the Raiders, suited up in the next game after Diaz died. He gained only 45 yards on 19 carries against Carolina.

“I went to work and was a mess,” Murray said. “I felt I had no choice. A part of me feels guilty, but what do you do in that situation? It also put it into perspective the game of football. I didn’t care for nothing that game. But I had to be out there, I guess.”

Murray now must also process the reality that the man who killed Diaz was acquitted of murder, based on self-defense. And Murray’s decision to change from No. 28 to No. 25 means he’ll be wearing Diaz’s high-school number.

The extra motivation to honor Diaz can’t hurt. But here’s the reality: Murray’s three-year, $15 million contract is actually a one-year deal worth as little as $3.4 million. Those financial realities should be more than enough reason to Murray to practice and play as well as he can.

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Ezekiel Elliott’s accuser speaks out, a year after alleged abuse

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A year after Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott allegedly engaged in domestic violence five times in a six-day period, his accuser has spoken out.

“Exactly 1 year ago today my life changed forever,” the woman accusing Elliott of domestic violence posted on social media, via TMZ. “I finally got the strength to be the strong woman I was and got myself out of a very toxic relationship. Ladies never think you’re too in love or too scared to leave because at one point that was me. There’s plenty of opportunities out there for you. Love yourself first. Speak up and stop domestic violence.”

The statement underscores the reality that, if the NFL doesn’t take action against Elliott, the alleged victim may decide to tell her full and complete story, either by doing an interview or filing a lawsuit. Which would put the league in the awkward spot of having to decide whether to leak or publish details that would refute her claims — or whether to weather the inevitable P.R. storm.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 6: Dallas Cowboys

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Dak Prescott has proclaimed the Cowboys are going to win the NFC East again. If so, they will accomplish some things they haven’t in a long time.

The Cowboys haven’t repeated as division champions since 1996, the year after the franchise’s last Super Bowl championship; they have not posted back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09; and it’s been since 1995-96 that the Cowboys have had back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins.

However, because of their talent on offense, the Cowboys head into 2017 as Super Bowl contenders.

Prescott won offensive rookie of the year honors with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions; Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing as a rookie with 1,631 yards, earning him six MVP votes; Dez Bryant remains a big-play threat; and the Cowboys have three All-Pro offensive linemen.

It’s the lack of talent on defense that invites questions about how far the Cowboys will go this season. They lost six defensive players in free agency who combined for 64 starts last season, and the Cowboys spent seven draft picks on defensive players to replace them. The Cowboys are younger on defense than last season, but are they better?

Biggest positive change: The Cowboys lost 11 players in free agency and two more to retirement. They didn’t make any ballyhooed moves. But Tony Romo’s retirement assures two things: The Cowboys don’t have to worry about their all-time leading passer winning a Super Bowl elsewhere; and the quarterback controversy of last season is over. Dak Prescott won the job after Romo injured his back in the preseason, but even after Romo read a concession speech upon his return, a quarterback controversy remained. Romo’s departure leaves no question: This is Prescott’s team. The Cowboys veterans turned the keys over to Prescott this offseason, empowering him as their leader.

Biggest negative change: The Cowboys offensive line has earned the right to call itself the NFL’s best. Three linemen made first-team All-Pro honors last season. However, while center Travis Frederick, left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin return, the Cowboys lost the other two starters with whom they ended last season. Left guard Ron Leary signed with Denver in free agency, and right tackle Doug Free retired. The Cowboys moved left guard La’el Collins, who started the first three games last year before season-ending toe surgery, to right tackle and have often-injured Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick of the Cardinals, competing at left guard. The Cowboys might need some time to adjust to the changes.

Coaching thermometer: Jason Garrett enters the third year of a five-year deal with job security after last season’s 13-3 finish and NFL coach of the year honors. Garrett, though, has only a 58-46 record with two playoff appearances and one playoff victory in six full seasons as head coach. If he doesn’t get the Cowboys to the championship game this season, the heat will be on for next season.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Jason Witten. Truly one of the NFL’s all-time good guys. He is all about team on the field, and all about helping others off it. In 2012, he won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Five years after Witten’s retirement, Hall of Fame selectors will discuss his career. Witten has missed only one game in his career, sitting out a game against the Eagles his rookie season with a broken jaw, and he rarely misses practice. Who can forget his signature play from 2007 against the Eagles when Witten ran helmet-less down the field for a 53-yard gain?

How they can prove us wrong: Cowboys fans are painfully aware their team hasn’t made the NFC Championship Game since 1995, which was the last time they won the Super Bowl. They are 3-9 in the postseason since. As good as Tony Romo was, becoming the team’s all-time leading passer, he was 2-4 in the postseason. The Cowboys’ past two playoff losses – in 2014 and 2016 – came against the Packers when they couldn’t get enough consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Getting to the passer continues to be a trouble spot for the Cowboys.

Dallas has not had a player with double-digit sacks since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013, and it has not had a “war daddy” pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys drafted Taco Charlton in the first round, but he isn’t that. Rod Marinelli instead will rely on a rotation of pass rushers that includes Demarcus Lawrence, Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa and Charles Tapper, with hopes of wearing down offensive lines.

The Cowboys need more than 36 sacks and more than nine interceptions on defense, and they need Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to continue to do what they did last season on offense.

The Cowboys will be hard pressed to win 13 games again, especially if Elliott misses any games because of an NFL suspension. But with a defense expected to feature four players who have yet to play a down in the NFL, the Cowboys actually could be better going into the 2017 postseason than they were in 2016 when they went four weeks between meaningful games.

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Carson Palmer believes he has more zip, velocity than a year ago

AP

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians believes quarterback Carson Palmer wore out his arm during offseason workouts in 2016. This year, Palmer did a lot less — and he consequently has a lot more in the tank as preparations commence for the season to come.

You feel like you have more zip, more velocity,” Palmer said before Saturday’s initial training-camp practice, via the Associated Press. “I feel like I can go out and throw 150 balls in practice. I don’t think I felt that way coming into camp last year.”

That’s good news, especially in light of Palmer’s advanced age. Which he refuses to regard as advanced age.

“In football years, I think it’s perceived once you get to 35 you’re old,” Palmer said. “But if you can still put it on every day and play and work out and train and prepare mentally, I look at is as being experienced and mature.”

But the end is obviously coming for the 37-year-old Palmer, who entered the league in 2003 as the first overall pick in the draft. And the question is whether the Cardinals can reverse what was a disappointing 2016 season, which Arians believes came off the rails with a Week One loss to the Patriots.

Don’t assume they can’t. Even with a tired arm entering camp last year, Palmer threw for 4,233 yards — the third highest total of his career.

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Josh McCown respects Brandon Marshall’s dim view of the Jets

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Former Jets receiver Brandon Marshall recently said he wouldn’t have made it through another season with the team “knowing that we didn’t have a chance.” The man who likely will be the Week One starting quarterback, and who played with Marshall in Chicago, has reacted to that assessment of his new team.

That’s Brandon’s opinion and Brandon is a friend of mine,” Josh McCown said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. “I love him and he’s entitled to his opinion. I wish him the best at the Giants. We’ve got a direction we’re headed and excited about. I really don’t pay too much attention to it just because guys have different opinions about things, and that’s his. I don’t agree with it, but as a friend, hey, I respect it.”

That’s a fairly mild, and sort of boring, assessment of the situation from McCown. The real question is whether the Jets will be privately reacting to the external criticism and dismissals differently, and whether comments from people like Marshall and most of the media will become motivation for a team that many view as the worst in the league.

Whether ownership secretly wants them to be at the bottom of the NFL, and in turn the top of the draft order, is one thing. Whether the players will go along with that is another. They may not have the talent that they need, but they definitely will have plenty of reason to try to prove plenty of people wrong.

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Bucs soon to begin effort to be “badass”

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Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter declared after the draft that he wants his team to be “badass.” The effort begins this week, with the NFL Films/HBO cameras rolling and microphones engaged.

But first the players need to be on the same page as to what it means to be badass.

“A badass team means someone is going to go out there and fight,” left tackle Donovan Smith recently said, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “Grit. Down to the nitty gritty and go after it. Lean on teams. Get after them. Make them feel us all four quarters. When I hear that, that’s what it means to me.”

G.M. Jason Licht sees it another way, and he compares Koetter’s ability to push buttons to some of the best coaches in the game.

“We’re doing this together,” Licht said. “We need everybody to stay together and stay focused on the plan. I think that that message has really taken in from what Dirk is telling the team. We want, obviously, very competitive guys that want to win and want to win at all costs. That’s the identity that I want every player to have and Dirk as the head coach wants every player to have on this roster.

“Dirk has a rare blend of being direct and calculated and genuine in the message he delivers. It’s got a theme and every week. The guys I thought are the best at it is Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Bruce Arians. They have a fresh message every week. Dirk is right there with them.”

He’s not yet right there with them yet regarding postseason accomplishments; the Bucs haven’t made it to the postseason since 2007. But Koetter has been the coach for only one season, and the Bucs nearly got there in 2016.

Although plenty assume it will happen for the Bucs in the 10th anniversary of the last time it did, the NFC South features the last two NFC champions in Carolina and Atlanta and a New Orleans franchise that hopes it will be able to get back to where it was in 2009, when it made it to the Super Bowl and won it.

Arguably the most wide open division in the NFC, the Buccaneers will continue to reside on the fringe of playoff contention until they find a way to bust through to the final 12. If they manage to get there while constantly competing with the likes of the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints, maybe the Buccaneers will be able to do some badass things if they get there.

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