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Frustrations starting to show in un-Steelers-like start

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Getty Images

It’s a good thing they still have the iconic black and yellow uniforms, and all those trophies in the case.

Because at the moment, the Steelers don’t look very much like, well, the Steelers.

The frustrations are already beginning to build after their 20-10 loss to the Bengals last night and their first 0-2 start since 2002 — meaning neither coach Mike Tomlin nor quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have ever experienced it.

We are a frustrated group right now,” Tomlin said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We got work to do. There’s a certain amount of misery that comes with the position we’re in. We’re aware of it.”

Part of the problem is, the traditional things they’ve relied on in the past aren’t there anymore.

It was just the second time in 13 games they’ve lost at Cincinnati.

The Steelers have always been a run/stop-the-run team, and they’re doing neither well at the moment. They had 44 on the ground, but watched the Bengals put up 127.

For the second straight game, they produced no turnovers on defense, and the only sack they have this season came last week.

That  had some players circling the wagons and some worried about the immediacy of their problems.

“We still have 14 games left,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “There is no need to panic. We’re not in trouble.”

“If we don’t shore some things up,” safety Ryan Clark said, “if we don’t play better than we played tonight, we won’t win A game.”

The thought of the Steelers being 0-16 seems ridiculous. But so does the thought of them doing the things they’ve always done so well so poorly now.

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Nine-year SEC draft streak in jeopardy tonight

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01:  Laremy Tunsil #78 of the Mississippi Rebels scores runs in a touchdown during the second quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

With plenty of guessing still going on past the top two picks in tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft, an impressive college-related streak is in jeopardy.

A player from the Southeastern Conference has been selected in the top five in every draft since 2007. If the Chargers at No. 3 or Jaguars at No. 5 don’t take Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil tonight, it’s not likely that streak will continue.

The SEC has had more players drafted than any other conference has in those nine straight years. Four SEC players in that time — JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Jadeveon Clowney — have been the No. 1 overall pick.

The timing fits. An SEC team won college football’s national championship every season from 2006-12, and Alabama won its third in five seasons in 2015 after a two-year “drought.”

AL.com ran down a bunch of SEC-related numbers and streaks Thursday morning. An SEC player has been selected in 169 consecutive rounds of the draft. The second round in 1993 was the last without an SEC player being selected.

In 10 straight drafts a different SEC program has provided the first player from the conference drafted. If Tunsil goes first that streak will hit 11. If Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is picked first, it will end.

The SEC had 54 players drafted last year; the ACC was next with 47. The SEC had a record 63 players drafted in 2013.

The top-five streak started in 2007 after an outlier year. The first SEC player drafted in 2006 was Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, at No. 11. Only one other SEC player, Tennessee safety Jason Allen, went in the top 20 in 2006 after nine of the top 25 came from the SEC in 2005.

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Cowboys exercise Travis Frederick’s 2017 option

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Last week, there was a report that the Cowboys planned to exercise their team option on center Travis Frederick’s contract for the 2017 season before the draft started.

The team didn’t leave much time on the clock before the Rams are on the clock, but the deed is done. The Cowboys announced Thursday that they have exercised the option on the 31st overall pick of the 2013 draft.

There’s a nice bit of timing to exercising the option on Frederick just before the start of the first round. When Frederick was drafted, the Cowboys took a lot of criticism for a player that was perceived as a reach at that point in the proceedings. Three years later, there aren’t many players that would go ahead of Frederick if teams were drafting again and it would be a surprise if the option is just a precursor to a longer deal with their starting center.

It’s something to keep in mind in the next few days when people decide to declare draft winners and losers before a player has stepped foot on the field in the NFL.

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Cowboys “struggling” with whether to take Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 12:  Running back Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after scoring a 33 yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Oregon Ducks during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two years ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones desperately wanted to use a first-round pick to obtain quarterback Johnny Manziel. Someone ultimately persuaded Jones to come in from that specific ledge.

This year, it’s widely believed that Jones wants running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the draft. As one source with knowledge of the team’s deliberations tells PFT, the Cowboys are currently “struggling” with whether to take Elliott.

Elliott, who plays a position that has talented players available at every round of the draft and beyond, could instantly give the Cowboys a dangerous running game. Coupled with the team’s already potent passing attack (if quarterback Tony Romo stays healthy), that could help Dallas improve dramatically from last year to this year.

It’s no surprise that Jones would want Elliott. Jones has a much stronger “win now” vibe than others in the organization (such as team executive V.P. and heir to the throne Stephen Jones), who are more likely to take a longer-term view of the situation.

If the Cowboys take Elliott that high, it will create plenty of pressure for the rookie. He welcomes it.

“There will be some pressure because there’s gonna be some high expectations but my whole life I’ve had high expectations,” Elliott recently told PFT Live. “Going to a university that demands competing for a championship every year like Ohio State has created high expectations and I think as an athlete that’s something we look forward to. We look forward to the high expectations, we look forward to proving people wrong and no one would want it easy. Everyone wants something to work for.”

Reminded that being picked that high means he’s expected not to just be great but to be an all-time great, Elliott didn’t flinch.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “That’s the way I was raised to be. To be exceptional at everything, to be excellent and I demand excellence of myself so I wouldn’t say that anyone else’s expectations are more than my own expectations for myself.”

The best expectations for the Cowboys’ pick and the bulk of Thursday night will be to expect the unexpected. Most fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

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NFL once again directs broadcast partners not to tip picks

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t want anyone to screw up the ultimate reality show’s ultimate offseason reality show. So the NFL has once again told the companies that give the NFL billions of dollars every year to not let their employees report on or otherwise “tip” draft picks before Commissioner Roger Goodell announces those picks from the podium at the draft in Chicago.

Ryan Glasspiegel of TheBigLead.com reports that the NFL has reiterated its request from a year ago, and that it applies beyond NFL Network and ESPN, which will be televising the draft.

A year ago, this didn’t bother me. I decided in 2013 not to tip picks, because the audience overwhelmingly doesn’t want it. The audience wants to preserve the moments of manufactured drama that come from the slow walk to the podium and the announcement of the pick (which may or may not entail the accurate pronunciation of the draft pick’s name).

Moreover, the act of getting the information previously didn’t entail Pulitzer-level reporting procedures. Most folks in most draft rooms are simply sitting around and waiting on the first night of the draft (or, after their team’s pick has been made, sitting around and not waiting). The teams know the picks before the picks are announced, and the announcement is delayed by the fact that it’s a TV production that necessarily entails the picks being known by plenty of people but held until the time comes to declare them.

That said, it apparently is getting harder to get the information early enough to screw the NFL’s proverbial pooch. As one source tells PFT, the picks in 2015 arrived to the various team draft rooms only “seconds before” the picks were announced. Also, the Ray Rice and Ted Wells investigations have created a Breaking Bad vibe for many when it comes to cell phones, making them leery about sending sensitive information via anything other than a disposable device or a non-NFL email account maintained on truly personal digital equipment that falls beyond the reach of Big Shield.

Maybe next year I’ll send a “burner” to a trusted source inside a draft room or otherwise lay the foundation for getting the information. Fortunately (for the NFL, for me, and/or for both), there’s not enough time to implement the plan I’m suddenly very tempted to implement.

Until then, let’s see if the audience’s mood has changed. Three years ago, 85 percent of you didn’t want to know the picks before the Commissioner announced them. How do you know feel about that?

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Report: Ryan Fitzpatrick would rather not play than accept current Jets offer

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Getty Images

The standoff between the Jets and free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been going on for quite a while now and Fitzpatrick appears to be trying a new tactic to get the Jets to offer him more money.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Fitzpatrick has told people that he would “rather not play football” than play for the Jets under the terms of their current offer. The Jets have reportedly offered Fitzpatrick somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million while Fitzpatrick is reportedly seeking considerably more to return for a second season with the team.

That gap has been in place for the entire offseason and the Jets have visited with a couple of other quarterbacks — Robert Griffin III and Brian Hoyer — without signing either one. Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan said last week that re-signing Fitzpatrick remains the team’s focus, but there’s been no sign that they’re reversing course on their offer.

Schefter’s report doesn’t specify if Fitzpatrick would play for another team for the money the Jets are offering, but there hasn’t been any sign that anyone else is going to top what the Jets are willing to pay him. Brian Costello of the New York Post reports that Fitzpatrick “wants to play” and is not willing to sit out, although it’s not clear what he’d do if their offer remains the best one on the table.

The draft could bring a change if the Jets have their eye on an incoming quarterback and aren’t able to acquire him, but it’s not clear what else might shift their view of Fitzpatrick’s value at this point.

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Colin Kaepernick makes on-field appearance at 49ers minicamp

Colin Kaepernick AP

It doesn’t look like there will be a trade that sends quarterback Colin Kaepernick from the 49ers to the Broncos during the draft, something that may remain the case well after the draft as well if Kaepernick’s salary for the 2016 season continues to be more than the Broncos want to pay.

Another issue that could stand in the way of Kaepernick getting traded away from the 49ers is his health. Kaepernick had multiple surgeries after the end of the 2015 season and has not been cleared to resume football activities at this point.

It appears he’s making progress toward that green light, however. The 49ers wrapped up a three-day minicamp on Thursday and Kaepernick was on the field while the team’s other quarterbacks were running drills. Kaepernick didn’t run or throw and wasn’t wearing a helmet, but did mimic the quarterback’s motions on each play.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that Kaepernick has also resumed working out in the weight room. The expectation is that he’ll be cleared to do more at some point next month and we may also have more certainty about where he’ll be doing more by then as well.

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Cardell Hayes indicted for second-degree murder of Will Smith

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 17:   Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints  during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 17, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The man who shot former Saints defensive end Will Smith has been indicted on murder and attempted murder charges by a grand jury in New Orleans.

Cardell Hayes was indicted on Thursday while a probable cause hearing was going on in a separate courtroom. That hearing was being held to determine if there was reason to charge Hayes, so the news of the indictment obviously interrupted those proceedings.

Hayes was indicted on second-degree murder for shooting Smith and on second-degree attempted murder for shooting Smith’s widow Racquel, who was hospitalized and attended Smith’s funeral in a wheelchair as a result of her injuries.

Hayes has been jailed since the April 9 shooting, which took place after Hayes’ car allegedly rear-ended Smith’s car. An argument ensued, followed by gunshots that the Orleans Parish coroner said left Smith shot once in the chest and seven times in the back. Hayes’ lawyers don’t dispute Hayes fired those shots, but have argued that their client is “legally not guilty” of murder.

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Seahawks make moves in case they trade out of first again

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17:  Phillip Gaines #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs tackles Brandon Williams #86 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carolina won 28-16.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks actually have a first-round pick this year, at least for the moment.

But they’ve covered themselves with some transactions, just in case they end up not using it again.

The team announced they had signed former Panthers tight end Brandon Williams and former Saints defensive end Tavaris Barnes.

Williams is the accomplished one of the pair, having caught four passes in parts of three seasons with the Panthers, but he finished the year with the Dolphins.

The Seahawks pick 26th overall, but they’ve traded down the last four seasons and out of the first round altogether the last three years, so these might be the only guys they end up adding today.

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Chargers say they’ve been locked in on one player all along

Tom Telesco AP

With the Rams and Eagles set to take Jared Goff and Carson Wentz with the first two picks in the draft, the real intrigue starts at No. 3. But for all the talk that the Chargers have plenty of options with the third pick, they say they’ve always known which prospect they like best.

Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco told Brit McHenry of ESPN that he has been locked in on one player all along.

What we don’t know is who that player is. The hot name is Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, but various mock drafts have the Chargers taking Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey or Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.

Telesco also said there’s a real possibility the Chargers could trade down, but he doesn’t want to move down too far. So if another team with a Top 10 pick is willing to give up a lot to move up to No. 3, Telesco will take that call. If not, the Chargers will take the player they identified as their pick long ago.

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Report: Reggie Ragland flagged for enlarged aorta

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31:  Linebacker Reggie Ragland #19 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after stopping the Michigan State Spartans on third down in the first quarter during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland pops up in the first round of most mock drafts, but a medical issue may cause some teams to think twice about picking him.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Ragland has been “flagged” by some teams because he has an enlarged aorta. The condition requires yearly monitoring and can put one at risk of developing aneurysms and could require surgical intervention to help avoid that outcome.

Per Rapoport, some teams have pushed Ragland down their draft board as a result of the condition. He also cites seven teams that don’t believe it will impact his football career as long as he is monitored closely over the years.

Ragland took over for Ravens 2014 first-round pick C.J. Mosley as a physical presence in the middle of the Alabama defense and could see a lot of playing time early in his career if he shows he can be the same player at the professional level.

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Prep for the draft with PFT Live podcasts

PFTLive

There’s still plenty of time before the draft starts. Which means there’s plenty of time to catch up on this week’s editions of the PFT Live podcast.

The shows for all four days are posted. Guests include Adam Gase, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Connor Cook, Matt Forte, DeMaurice Smith.

You can download all episodes at iTunes or audioBoom.

We’ll be back with another three-hour edition of the program on Friday morning, breaking down round one of the draft and getting ready for the next two rounds. Plus talking about whatever else happens between now and then.

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Raiders owner pledges $500 million for Las Vegas stadium

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is seen during warm ups before his team competes against the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mark Davis is probably getting comped on this trip to Las Vegas, because he’s willing to drop half a billion dollars there.

Via Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders owner told the Southern Nevada Tourism and Infrastructure Committee meeting that he was ready to commit $500 million toward a stadium there to bring his team to the desert.

Davis also brought some rhetoric with him, saying Las Vegas: “would not just be getting a football team, they would be getting everyone who has worn the silver and black for the last 56 years.”

Of course, shaking the tree and waiting for the money to fall out isn’t the only problem for Davis, who would still need to convince 23 of his fellow owners to approve a move. But the reaction to Las Vegas has been more positive (or at least less negative) than it has been in the past.

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Nine former players file further appeal of concussion settlement

Healthy_Brain_getty_website2

Retired NFL players who have been waiting since August 2013 for concussion settlement proceeds will be waiting even longer.

Nine former NFL players have filed yet another appeal regarding the settlement, seeking a rehearing before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit regarding the recent decision of a three-judge panel to uphold agreement to provide retired players with certain specific health conditions.

Via Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the nine players who have decided to continue the objection to the settlement include Cleo Miller, Judson Flint, Elmer Underwood, Vincent Clark Sr., Ken Jones, Fred Smerlas, Jim Rourke, Lou Piccone, and James David Wilkins II. Their lawyer, John Pentz, now claims that, because the science regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy is in its infancy, the class action lacks an adequate representative plaintiff because it cannot be determined with sufficiency that any of the living plaintiffs have CTE.

But here’s the problem. How could a jury be expected to award damages to any living former player with CTE if there’s no way to prove that the player has CTE? Moreover, with no way to link CTE to specific future conditions or symptoms, it will become even harder to determine a proper award if the case proceeds.

Meanwhile, former players with real, significant conditions continue to have their compensation tied up in court as a small handful of players delay the resolution of the settlement.

“We believe the Third Circuit should deny the request for [a] rehearing, as these objections have now been heard and overruled by both the District Court and a three judge panel from the Third Circuit,” lead plaintiff’s counsel Christopher Seeger said in a statement. “This meritless appeal carries devastating consequences for the thousands of retired NFL players suffering from neurocognitive injuries, and those concerned about their future, as they will be forced to wait even longer for the immediate care and support they need and deserve. This latest appeal is heartbreaking news for the 99 percent of the retired player community that has supported this agreement. We will continue to forcefully defend this important settlement through the appeals process.”

When considering the slim chance of overturning the pending outcome, the slim chance of overcoming each and every legal obstacle the league will place in the plaintiffs’ path if the settlement is scrapped and litigation continues, and the amount of time it would take to resolve the case through litigation, it makes sense for the nine men who continue to impede the settlement to accept the outcome of two levels of the federal court system and move on.

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Report: Giants likely to take tackle at No. 10

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31:  Offensive tackle Jack Conklin #74 of the Michigan State Spartans looks on before taking on the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

We’re getting close to the point where we’ll know who teams actually take in the first round of the draft, but the hours until things get going in Chicago offer a final chance for reporters to dig up information about what might happen.

Gary Myers of the New York Daily News has such a report about the Giants, who select 10th overall after finishing 6-10 last season. Myers reports that the team “will for sure” go with the best offensive tackle left on the board with their selection.

Myers adds that it looks like that will be Jack Conklin of Michigan State with Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss and Ronnie Stanley expected to get drafted before the Giants are on the clock. If it is Conklin, he would be the second straight tackle taken in the first round by the Giants and third in the last four years. The Giants have since moved Justin Pugh (their top pick in 2013) to guard while Ereck Flowers started on the left side last year.

The Giants loaded up on defense in free agency and there have been no shortage of predictions that they’ll continue to go that route in the first round, something that would probably be the case if all three tackles are gone. The consensus is that there will be productive defenders available on the second day, which could help push the Giants to add to their blocking power on Thursday night.

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Joe Thomas says Browns told him they have no plans to trade him

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 3: Tackle Joe Thomas #73 and center Alex Mack #55 of the Cleveland Browns celebrate after defeating the Buffalo Bills during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 3, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bills 37-24. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Few players have been linked to trade talks more often than Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, a veteran All-Pro whose career has been spent on a rebuilding team that never seems to rebuild. But despite the talk, it appears that Thomas will stay put.

Thomas told Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com that team officials have told him they have “no plans” to trade him.

Of course, plans can change, and just because the Browns have no such plans now, that doesn’t mean they won’t end up trading him if some team offers the right compensation. The 31-year-old Thomas has three seasons left on his contract, with a cap hit of $9.5 million this year and $10 million in both 2017 and 2018.

The Browns are in another rebuilding mode with another regime, and so it might make sense to deal one of the most valuable assets they inherited from the old regime. But for now, it doesn’t appear that such a trade will take place.

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