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Saints roll to 3-0 start

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Once again, the Saints’ defense more than held up its end of the bargain.

Once again, New Orleans reaped the rewards.

After allowing the Cardinals (1-2) to score the game’s first touchdown, the Saints shut out Arizona the rest of the way en route to a 31-7 rout on Sunday in New Orleans.

The Saints have held opponents to a combined 37 points in the first three games. They are now 3-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2009.

In victory, the Saints sacked Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer four times and intercepted him twice. Arizona also could not get much going in the ground game.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was sharp, throwing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. Tight end Jimmy Graham had a huge game, catching nine passes for 134 yards and two TDs.

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Blake Bortles working to “grow together” with Julius Thomas

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars rushes against  Dwight Lowery #33 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

For the second straight season, the Jaguars made a splash in free agency by signing a player away from the Broncos.

They’ll be hoping for a smoother start from defensive tackle Malik Jackson than they got from tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas broke a bone in his hand in the preseason, missed the first four games of the regular season and went on to average under 10 yards a reception while catching five touchdown passes.

Thomas averaged 11.8 yards per catch and scored 24 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Broncos and the Jags would like to see something more in that arena in Thomas’ second season in Jacksonville. Quarterback Blake Bortles said that he and Thomas have been working to develop the kind of chemistry that leads to a spike in production.

“We had a chance this offseason to sit down multiple times, watch film and talk about things,” Bortles said, via ESPN.com. “Talk about what he wanted from me and what I wanted from him and how we can quickly get on the same page to grow together. He’s been unbelievable. He’s obviously a freak athlete and he’s continued to prove that and make plays.”

A major statistical leap may not be in Thomas’ future. With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns at receiver, the Jaguars don’t need to force the ball in anyone’s direction to move it in the air. There’s also a hope that the ground game and defense will improve enough to keep the team from throwing the ball quite as often as they did in 2015.

If he can be more productive around the end zone, though, that will likely be enough to make his second year with the team a more successful one.

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Lions giving Taylor Decker a shot at left tackle

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  (L-R) Taylor Decker of Ohio State holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #16 overall by the Detroit Lions during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Lions are likely to leave Riley Reiff at left tackle, where he has started every game but one the last three years. But when Organized Team Activities opened this week, Reiff wasn’t playing left tackle with the first-string offense.

Instead, first-round draft pick Taylor Decker was playing left tackle with the first string. Reiff was at right tackle with the first-string offense.

Decker started 28 games at left tackle at Ohio State, and by putting him there at the start of OTAs, the Lions are showing that they believe he has the potential to start there in the NFL.

When the season starts, however, Reiff is likely to be back in his familiar spot as the starting left tackle, while Decker is likely to line up on the right side.

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Ricky Williams opening a marijuana-friendly gym in San Francisco

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If you ever wanted to combine your “wake and bake” with your “rise and grind,” Ricky Williams has an idea for you.

The former NFL running back and marijuana enthusiast is launching a weed-friendly gym in San Francisco this fall, according to Time magazine.

Granted, the 49ers better not be caught there, since the NFL and NFLPA’s collectively bargained drug policy prevents players from enjoying that which is legal in two NFL cities.

But if the idea of a little pot with your kettle bells appeals to you, you now have an option.

The gym will be called Power Plant Fitness, and encourages customers to vape cannabis or consume edibles, though there are plans for a smoking area on an outdoor balcony.

“It won’t be a place to get high and just screw around,” said Jim McAlpine, founder of the 420 Games and Williams’ partner. “We are focused on the athletic side, not the cannabis side.”

McAlpine is also pushing some science, offering a “cannabis performance assessment” to determine how marijuana affects workouts.

“We will be helping our members figure out how is best for them to ingest their cannabis,” McAlpine said.

There’s no word as of now whether Williams and McAlpine will also be opening a Taco Bell next door.

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Keenan Reynolds’ service deferred, cleared to play this season

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen celebrates after scoring a first half touchdown against the East Carolina Pirates on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Ravens were hopeful that sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds was going to be given clearance to play for them this season, and they got final word today.

The Ravens announced that the former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has been cleared by United States Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to play this season.

Like all graduates of the Naval Academy, Reynolds has a military service commitment, but that has been deferred so he can play this year.

The Ravens list the versatile Reynolds as a receiver/return man, and his background as a passer/runner/receiver makes him an intriguing chess piece.

“It is a blessing to hear the news from Defense Secretary Carter today,” Reynolds said. “I am truly excited to proudly serve my country while having the ability fulfill my dream of playing for the best organization in the NFL.

“I would like to thank the Navy for allowing me to represent them while taking advantage of this unique opportunity. I would also like to thank Mr. Bisciotti and the Ravens organization for believing in me and giving me this chance.”

Having players such as Reynolds playing their sport at the highest level is also a valuable public relations tool for the armed forces, one that the government doesn’t have to pay for, either.

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Breshad Perriman: The last year made me a better person and player

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 30:  Breshad Perriman of the UCF Knights holds up a jersey after being picked #26 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 30, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman’s rookie season was over before it started thanks to a knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp that was initially shrugged off as nothing serious.

The knee never improved and Perriman wound up missing the entire regular season, something that left him in what he described as being in a “dark hole.” Things didn’t get much better for Perriman in the offseason as teammate and friend Tray Walker was killed in a dirt bike accident and his father Brett was hospitalized this month after collapsing, but Perriman says that things have brightened.

His father is feeling better and Perriman says that staying on top of his playbook while he was injured has helped him hit the ground running now that he’s healthy enough to resume football activities.

“I feel much stronger,” Perriman said, via the team’s website. “I feel like I went through a lot last year, and it made me a better player and a better person. … It’s been crazy. I’ve been through a lot this offseason, but it’s just making me stronger again and just learning to keep faith and pray a lot more. It’s been rough. It still is rough from time to time, but I’m steady getting through it, pushing through it and keeping faith.”

With Perriman back on the field, Mike Wallace joining the team, Steve Smith putting off retirement and tight end Dennis Pitta potentially coming back to join new arrival Benjamin Watson, the Ravens passing game is going to have a different look than it did last season. Assuming they remain on the field, it should be a better one as well.

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How much public money will be available for Vegas stadium?

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With Raiders owner Mark Davis committed to exploring opportunities in Las Vegas, the question becomes whether Las Vegas will provide Davis with the kind of opportunity he wants. And that question hinges on whether and to what extent the powers-that-be in Las Vegas will cough up the cash to build a stadium.

During a Thursday meeting of local tourism experts, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman made clear the reality that things are currently very unclear regarding finances.

“We’re a little bit in the weeds right now talking about the numbers,” Goodman said, via News3LV.

The city’s contribution would come from increased hotel taxes on visitors to Las Vegas.

“Can we afford an increase to the room tax so the tourists still keep coming here?” Goodman said. “Those are the dollars we’re talking about strictly for the stadium and the Raiders.”

The loose formula currently consists of the Raiders and the NFL kicking in $500 million, the Las Vegas Sands paying $150 million, and the taxpayers picking up the remaining $750 million.

By August, more information is expected regarding the taxes necessary to meet the public portion of the project. In theory, a stadium could be completed by 2020.

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Chris Johnson: Cardinals can have best RB tandem in league

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 22: Running back Chris Johnson #23 of the Arizona Cardinals runs past defensive end Will Clarke #93 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Before breaking his tibia in Week 12, running back Chris Johnson turned in a strong performance for the Cardinals that showed he had something left in the tank after less impressive seasons for the Titans and Jets.

The Cardinals offense didn’t miss him all that much, however. Rookie David Johnson picked up the torch by running for 442 yards and scored five of his Cardinals rookie record 13 touchdowns. The elder Johnson re-signed with Arizona as a free agent this offseason and believes that having both Johnsons could leave the Cardinals with the best running back duo in the league.

“I feel like me and him can probably be the best tandem in the NFL this year,” Chris Johnson said, via ArizonaSports.com.

With 1,038 yards from scrimmage last year, David Johnson showed signs that he can be one of the most productive backs in the entire league so it stands to reason that the Cardinals’ 1-2 punch will be an effective one. There are several other strong tandems around the league, but being in the conversation should be enough to keep the Cardinals offense humming at a level that keeps them in the hunt for bigger team honors in 2016.

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Memorial Day weekend is here; will there be a bad news dump?

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It’s Friday afternoon of the first three-day weekend of the (unofficial) summer. And so before it’s (officially) OK to wear white, the NFL has a prime opportunity to bury some bad news in the sweater drawer.

The NFL at times insists that there is no habit of dumping bad news on a Friday afternoon. If there isn’t, there should be. Why not air the dirty laundry at times when the fewest people possible are paying attention? By Tuesday, there will be plenty of other things to talk about, especially in the aftermath of Game One of the Stanley Cup Final and in anticipation of Game One of the NBA Finals.

Some would say that the NFL made its Memorial Day bad-news dump a day early, with the revelation of the penalties imposed on the Ravens for violating the offseason workout rules. If the league had made the announcement today, it would have been too obvious.

That doesn’t mean other bad news is or isn’t coming later today. Regardless, it makes sense for the NFL to consider doing it. And it makes sense for the rest of us to be on the lookout for it.

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Russell Wilson says “collective” leadership necessary to replace Marshawn Lynch

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Sure, the retirement of running back Marshawn Lynch makes quarterback Russell Wilson the focal point of the Seattle offense. But Wilson, who always says all the right things, can’t say that. Instead, Wilson needs to project the notion that not having Lynch is a bad thing.

Which is what Wilson did on Thursday.

“Well, obviously, losing Marshawn is one of the hardest things that can happen because he was one of the most talented players in the National Football League when he was playing,” Wilson told reporters on Thursday.

So how will the team respond to Lynch leaving?

“I think the biggest thing is everybody stepping up, everybody leading, very similar to when we couldn’t have Marshawn last year when he was battling through his injuries,” Wilson said. “Guys stepped up and were leaders. Guys like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, Kam Chancellor, all the way down the line – Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett. There’s so many guys I could name – [Richard Sherman], Earl [Thomas]. So we’re going to have to have that collective group of leadership. That’s going to be a great thing. I think it makes the team really focus on each other and really get stronger too in that way.”

Apparently, it’s working. So far.

“The energy out there is unbelievable,” Wilson said regarding the team’s OTA sessions. “It feels like we’re in midseason [form], just how we’re practicing. All the receivers, the tight ends making plays. And the running back group, even though they’re young, they’re really catching on quickly and the offensive line too. And then the defense, they just bring so much energy too. So it’s really competitive out there in a good way and that’s what we’re loving about it.”

Some think the window is closing on the Seahawks, but they continue to be one of the best teams in the league. Although Lynch helped make them better, they were better than fine without him for much of 2015, and they’ll be better than fine without him in 2016.

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Fourth-round safety signs with Browns

FORT WORTH, TX - DECEMBER 06:  Safety Derrick Kindred #26 of the TCU Horned Frogs scores on a 44 yard touchdown interception during the third quarter of the Big 12 college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Amon G. Carter Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. The Horned Frongs defeated the Cyclones 55-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Browns announced the signing of fourth-round safety Derrick Kindred Friday.

Kindred was a 30-game starter and played in 50 games over four years at TCU. He had eight career interceptions and was an All-Big 12 pick last season.

With the Browns releasing veteran safety Donte Whitner and letting Tashaun Gipson leave for Jacksonville via free agency, Kindred should immediately compete for playing time with the Browns.

Kindred’s signing comes a day after the Browns signed second-round linebacker Emmanual Ogbah. The Browns have now signed eight of their record 14 draft picks.

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Roger Goodell encourages New Orleans to keep bidding for Super Bowls

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NFL owners did not bestow upon New Orleans another Super Bowl, but commissioner Roger Goodell wants to make sure they keep trying to get one.

According to Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Goodell sent Saints owner Tom Benson a letter this week congratulating him on an impressive bid, one which fell to “strong and unique” competition.

“Thank you to you and your team for the hard work and impressive bid by New Orleans to host Super Bowl 53 in 2019,” the letter reads. “The vision for a ‘Big, Easy, Super Bowl’ was well articulated and presented. It is clear to all owners that New Orleans is a top-notch Super Bowl city with talented leadership representing the Saints and the community.

“Although you did not secure the 2019 game against unusually strong and unique competition, we would look forward to working closely with you and your community in bringing a Super Bowl back to New Orleans soon. There is a reason New Orleans has been the home of 10 Super Bowls, and we know that it is in a strong position to host more in the future.

“Thank you for your leadership and your many contributions to the success of the league. Our office and the Super Bowl Advisory Committee will continue to support your efforts.”

While New Orleans is one of the easiest places to have a good time at a Super Bowl (not to mention among the most logistically convenient), the city is falling behind in the stadium arms race.

While they poured $336 million into the Superdome beginning in 2011, it’s still among the league’s oldest stadiums. And the memory of the lights going out in the middle of Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 isn’t something people are going to forget.

So with new buildings or dramatically renovated ones being rewarded with Super Bowls, the Saints are faced with a long drought between games. They’re already promised out the next five games through 2021, and Dallas is already planning a bid for one of the games in the next wave. Tampa will possibly join them, having not hosted since 2009.

But there were people who liked the New Orleans bid — and love having competition to create better value — so making sure the Saints stay in the loop is clearly in the league’s best interest.

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Patriots fans wanted to see Ravens lose a draft pick

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For committing a blatant violation of the offseason workout rules, the NFL imposed more than $480,000 in fines against the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh and stripped the team of a week of Organized Team Activities. For some fans (i.e., Patriots fans), that wasn’t enough.

Patriots fans, for good reason, wanted to see the Ravens lose a draft pick or two for putting putting players in pads during rookie minicamp, in blatant violation of the rules regarding offseason workouts.

Here’s why it didn’t happen. Under Article 21, Section 8(d)(ii), a second violation in the same league year results in the forfeiture of a fourth-round draft pick. For the first violation in a given league year, no draft picks are taken.

Still, some Patriots fans would point out that the NFL could ignore the offseason workout rules and impose whatever penalty the league wants to impose in the interests of promoting and preserving the integrity of the game. Some would say that’s precisely what the NFL did in the #Deflategate case, ignoring the rules regarding equipment violations and imposing far stricter penalties.

It wouldn’t have been that difficult, if the league had decided to hammer the Ravens. The argument would have been that the use of pads during offseason workouts is so grossly beyond the scope of what is and isn’t permitted that the blatant use of pads justifies much more serious penalties.

The fact that the league didn’t do it doesn’t mean the league couldn’t have done it, if the league had wanted to do it. Which continues to be the basis for Patriots’ fans loudest complaints in the aftermath of #Deflategate.

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Jace Amaro plans a lot of involvement in Jets offense

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 09:  Tight end Jace Amaro #88 of the New York Jets celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game at MetLife Stadium on November 9, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Jets drafted tight end Jace Amaro in the second round of the 2014 draft, the hope was that he’d fill the receiving role that Dustin Keller had played for the team from 2008 to 2012.

Things haven’t worked out that way thus far. Amaro had 38 catches as a rookie, he would have had more if he’d been more consistent when it came to catching the ball, and then missed all of last year after having shoulder surgery. He’s healthy and working with the team this spring ahead of a year that he expects will bring better things.

“I’ve really only played one year,” Amaro said, via the Associated Press. “This is a big year for me. Especially with the way we played last year as a collective group, it’s a big year for all of us. I know that we plan on getting more involved this season. I plan on getting involved a lot this season.”

Jets tight ends had just eight catches last season and the team hasn’t brought in anyone that’s sure to play ahead of Amaro, so he should get opportunities to show he should be in a big role this season. For now, though, coach Todd Bowles says that Amaro is competing for a roster spot and that it will be “interesting to see what he does” with the chance to impress the coaches.

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This offseason seems to be giving the Broncos the finger

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24:   Brandon Marshall #54 of the Denver Broncos rushes in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

Now that they’ve gotten the rings, the Broncos are suddenly getting the finger.

According to Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was limited this week in OTAs because of offseason finger surgery, the third player on the team to need a digital fix this offseason.

Marshall’s work was on his right index finger, and he’s going to be re-examined next week by Dr. Randy Viola (who also operated on quarterback Mark Sanchez’s left thumb).

“Right now I’m just rehabbing and focusing on getting my range of motion and my strength back,” Marshall said. “So they’re just holding me out so I don’t do any more damage — because I don’t want to get another procedure on it.”

Marshall was bothered by a 2014 Lisfranc injury throughout last season, and one of the screws inserted into his foot to stabilize the injury snapped. He injured his right index finger in Week Two of the regular season, but started all 16 games.

Tight end Virgil Green also had finger surgery and will miss part of OTAs.

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Warren Sapp not thrilled Timmy Jernigan wearing No. 99 as a tribute to him

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  NFL television commentator Warren Sapp is on the sidelines before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play  against the Miami Dolphins November 11, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wore No. 97 during his first two years in the NFL, but is sporting No. 99 this season after it became free following Chris Canty’s departure from the team.

Jernigan explained that he made the switch because he admired Hall of Famer Warren Sapp when he was growing up and “definitely wanted to model my game after him.”

“Nasty, ferocious, he came every play,” Jernigan said, via ESPN.com. “You definitely knew he was there and when he made a play. Another thing, he played down in Florida, too, so he was definitely one of the greats from our state.”

If you thought Sapp would appreciate a young player offering a reminder of how good Sapp was on the field rather than the less impressive headlines Sapp has made away from the field, it appears you would be wrong.

Sapp didn’t elaborate as to why he’s bothered by Jernigan’s gesture. Jernigan went to Florida State and Sapp went to Miami, so that could have something to do with a less than gracious response to Jernigan’s nod in his direction.

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