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NFL morning after: This is the Reggie Bush we’ve been waiting for

Reggie Bush, Major Wright AP

It’s been eight years now, so you can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten, but there was a time when Reggie Bush wasn’t just expected to be a good NFL player, wasn’t even expected to be a great NFL player, but was expected to be a transcendent NFL player. When Bush was running wild at USC in 2005, people talked about him like he was going to be some combination of Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers in the NFL, a player who had the talent to be the NFL’s best running back, the NFL’s best slot receiver and the NFL’s best kick returner, all in one package.

It didn’t happen, for a variety of reasons ranging from the fact that the team that drafted Bush, the Saints, really didn’t need him to be an every-down running back, to the fact that it was basically impossible for anyone to live up to the kinds of expectations that were on Bush coming out of college.

But what has happened in this, Bush’s eighth NFL season and first with the Lions, is that we’re finally getting the Reggie Bush we’ve been waiting for. The Lions have the right offense to take advantage of Bush’s skills, both as a runner and as a receiver, to get him the ball in space and to let him cut and spin and start and stop and hurdle and sprint to the end zone.

Bush did all of that and more on Sunday against the Bears, a game that might have been the best of his NFL career. Bush had 18 carries for 139 yards and added four catches for 34 yards, but those numbers don’t do justice to how electrifying he was. Bush’s 37-yard touchdown, on which he took a handoff up the middle, ran past defensive end Cornelius Washington before bouncing to the outside, hurdled safety Major Wright and then outraced cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman to the end zone was one of the most beautiful plays of this NFL season.

The Lions have made Bush their featured back in the running game and are giving him plenty of opportunities to carry the ball, and they’re also throwing him a lot of passes, not just out of the backfield but lined up as a slot receiver. Opposing defenses give so much respect to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson that Bush isn’t going to see many eight-man fronts, and he’s going to have a lot of room to make plays all season. Bush has only played two and a half games so far because he missed half of Week Two and all of Week Three with a knee injury, and durability will have to be a concern for Bush in Detroit, just as durability is a concern for any running back who gets the kind of workload the Lions are giving Bush. But if he can stay healthy the rest of the way, he has the potential to lead the league in yards from scrimmage, and lead the Lions to the playoffs.

Bush was my favorite player in any game on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s games:

The Jets need to do more pushups. With all the Jets’ penalties last week, Rex Ryan implemented a new policy that whenever anyone committed a penalty in practice, everyone had to do pushups. It didn’t work. The Jets committed 10 more penalties on Sunday. Through four games this season, the Jets have committed 44 penalties, putting them on pace to commit 176 this year. The all-time NFL record is 163 penalties in a season, set by the Raiders two years ago.

Chip Kelly needs to be Chip Kelly. The reason I was so excited about Kelly leaving Oregon to coach the Eagles was that we had never seen a coach like Kelly in the NFL before. But while the Eagles’ fast-paced offense is fun to watch, for the most part I see Kelly coaching in Philadelphia like he did in college. At Oregon, Kelly wasn’t afraid to go for it on fourth down from anywhere on the field. But on Sunday in Denver, when the Eagles had a fourth-and-6 at Denver’s 37-yard line while trailing 21-13, Kelly took a delay of game penalty and then punted. Why not go for it? You’re playing the best team in the NFL on the road. You’re going to need to take some chances to pull the upset. I didn’t see the Eagles taking many chances on Sunday, when they punted four times, attempted three field goals and never went for it on fourth down despite trailing all game. Although the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-1 and got the first down on their first drive of the season, in the opening Monday night at Washington, Kelly has gone for it on fourth down just once since that very first drive. It’s disappointing to see Kelly turn into a conventional, risk-averse NFL coach.

Sean Lee is that rarest of creatures, an underrated Cowboy. Usually players on America’s Team are overhyped, but if anything Lee, a linebacker in his fourth year in Dallas, doesn’t get enough hype. Lee’s 2012 season was cut short by a toe injury after six games, but this year Lee is looking healthy and faster than ever, as he displayed on his 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. Lee did get beaten in coverage on a touchdown by Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, but that play aside he’s having a strong season, and if he stays healthy he’ll make his first Pro Bowl.

Kiko Alonso leads the league in interceptions. Alonso, the Bills’ second-round draft pick out of Oregon this year, came into Sunday’s game with two interceptions on the season and added two more of Joe Flacco in Sunday’s win over the Ravens. He now has four, tied with Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner for the most of any player in the NFL through four weeks. In addition to his interceptions, Alonso has been a tackling machine. The Bills look like they got a keeper. Alonso’s college coach Chip Kelly should have drafted Alonso in Philadelphia — the Eagles need all the help on defense they can get.

As usual, the Super Bowl hosts stink. The Super Bowl will be played in New Jersey at the end of this season, and we won’t be having any talk about a team playing a Super Bowl on its home field, as the Giants are 0-4 and the Jets are an ugly 2-2. This is probably more a coincidence than anything else, but the Super Bowl host team almost always has a lousy season. No Super Bowl host team has even made the playoffs since Tampa Bay in 2000, and not only has no team ever played in the Super Bowl on its own home field, but no team has ever even reached the conference championship in a postseason when the Super Bowl was on that team’s home field. The Cardinals host next season’s Super Bowl, the 49ers the year after that and the Texans the year after that. Sorry to fans in Arizona, San Francisco and Houston, but you can probably pencil in a disappointing season for your teams when the Super Bowl is coming to town.

Adrian Peterson breaks long runs like no one else, ever. Peterson’s 60-yard touchdown on Sunday was his 12th touchdown of 60 yards or more. No one else in NFL history has had even 10 touchdown runs of 60 or more yards. Jim Brown, who had nine 60-yard touchdown runs, is second in NFL history.

Peyton Manning is amazing. I know I said earlier that Bush was my favorite player in the NFL on Sunday, but I should probably add that I could say that about Manning every Sunday. Manning completed 28 of 34 passes for 327 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles, and he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter. His 16 touchdown passes are the most ever for any quarterback four weeks into the season. The Broncos have scored 179 points through four games, putting them on pace for 716 points this season, which would obliterate the 2007 Patriots’ NFL record of 589. This may be Manning’s best year yet — an amazing thing to say about a guy who has four league MVP awards.

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Colts tender Jerrell Freeman, Boom Herron, Daniel Adongo

jerrellfreeman AP

The Colts made the necessary offers to hang onto some of their restricted free agents today.

Most notably, the Colts tendered restricted free agent linebacker Jerrell Freeman at the second-round level. That means any team signing Freeman away would have to give the Colts a second-round draft pick. That won’t happen, and the Colts will keep Freeman for a salary of about $2 million this season.

The Colts also made qualifying offers to three exclusive rights free agents: Running back Daniel “Boom Herron,” linebacker Daniel Adongo and linebacker Cam Johnson.

Herron got increasing playing time late last season when the Colts finally began to realize that Trent Richardson simply isn’t good enough, and Herron out-played Richardson down the stretch. (Not that that’s saying much.) With the qualifying offer, Herron will be back in Indianapolis this season, potentially as their starting running back.

Adongo is a former rugby player who’s been with the Colts for two years. He hasn’t done much of anything yet, but the Colts think he has the athletic talent to amount to something, and they’ll give him at least another offseason to see what he can do.

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Jerry Jones is ordered to testify in Super Bowl ticket case

jerryjones AP

The plaintiffs in the Super Bowl XLV ticket case may not get the verdict that they want, but they’ve secured another victory on the path to whatever justice they’ll obtain.

In 2013, the plaintiffs secured the ability to question Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose deposition was played for the jury earlier this week.  Per multiple reports, the judge presiding over the case has now ruled that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be required to testify live and in person at the trial.

Jones resisted the effort to compel his testimony.

The NFL has acknowledged responsibility for the failure to have enough seats in place to correspond to the tickets sold.  At trial, the plaintiffs are trying to demonstrate that the NFL engaged in a sufficiently high level of misconduct to justify punitive damages and/or other compensation above and beyond the out-of-pocket losses suffered by fans who traveled to Dallas, showed up at the stadium, and found out they wouldn’t be watching the game.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Jones’ testimony could be entertaining given his history of extemporaneous speaking and the dangers of billionaires trying to dodge and parry with lawyers asking questions the billionaires don’t want to answer.

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49ers sign Jerome Simpson to two-year deal

Jerome Simpson AP

Jerome Simpson will attempt to jump-start his career in San Francisco.

Simpson, the former Bengals and Vikings wide receiver, has signed a two-year contract with the 49ers, the club said Thursday.

The 29-year-old Simpson has gained 13.8 yards per catch in his six-year NFL career. He was out of football in 2014 after Minnesota released him in September toward the end of a three-game suspension for a violation of the substance-abuse policy. He also served a three-game ban at the start of the 2012 season after a marijuana-related arrest and plea.

With Michael Crabtree set to be a free agent and Stevie Johnson’s future in San Francisco in question, the 49ers’ receiving corps could undergo some real changes this offseason. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Simpson’s size and athleticism can make him a field-stretching threat, and he certainly has the talent to make the roster, but he’ll probably need to do the little things well, too, in order to stick with San Francisco.

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Panthers sign Greg Olsen to three-year contract extension

Greg Olsen AP

The Panthers entered the offseason needing to add offensive weapons.

But their first move was to hang onto their most explosive one.

The Panthers announced that tight end Greg Olsen had signed a three-year extension to keep him in place through the 2018 season.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus told PFT the deal was worth $22.5 million with $12 million to sign.

It’s really a dream come true,” Olsen said. “Since we’ve come to Charlotte, we very quickly realized that this is home. This community quickly embraced our family, so we put down roots here. We love it here. This is home for us.

“Now to have this contract that guarantees that I’ll play the rest of my career in Charlotte is a tremendous blessing. We’re just so thankful for the team believing in me and wanting me to still be a part of this. As a team, we have a lot of special times ahead of us.”

Originally acquired in a trade with the Bears, Olsen’s coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance after an 84-catch, 1,008-yard season.

He was Cam Newton’s most dependable receiver last season, as they’re developing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

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Maurice Jones-Drew announces retirement

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

Maurice Jones-Drew is calling it a career.

Jones-Drew, a nine-year NFL veteran and a long-time Jaguars standout running back, announced his retirement Thursday on Twitter.

“Football has been a central part of my life for the past 24 years,” Jones-Drew wrote. “But, now I’m excited about and looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

One of the most unique backs of any era, the 5-foot-7, 210-pound Jones-Drew amassed 11,111 rushing-receiving yards and 91 touchdowns. A second-round pick of Jacksonville in 2006, Jones-Drew burst on the scene as a rookie, scoring 15 touchdowns, which endeared him to Jaguars fans and fantasy-football enthusiasts alike.

And Jones-Drew’s tenacity made a mark, too. Look no further than his clean, de-cleating block of the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman early in his career.

After eight seasons with Jacksonville, Jones-Drew joined the Raiders for the 2014 season, but he mustered just 96 yards on 43 carries.

Now, the 29-year-old Jones-Drew’s career is at a close, by his choice, and there will forever be a place for him in the game’s lore as a back who, for many years, played bigger than his program weight and height.

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Jets, Titans slated for visits with Cary Williams

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

Cornerback Cary Williams isn’t lacking for interest in the wake of his release from the Eagles.

Williams is visiting with the Seahawks on Thursday and he’ll have two more visits lined up if he doesn’t strike a deal with the defending NFC champs. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Williams is scheduled to meet with the Jets next, assuming no other actual jet mishaps or winter weather force further closures of airports in the area, and then go to see the Titans on Monday.

Should Williams land with the Jets, he’ll surely get plenty of opportunities to share his feelings about the Patriots. Last summer, Williams made headlines by calling New England “cheaters” and returned an interception for a touchdown in a preseason outing.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that the Ravens have shown some interest in a reunion with one of their former players and that the Steelers may also move into the mix for Williams’s services.

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Bills tender WR Chris Hogan, two other exclusive-rights free agents

Chris Hogan AP

The Bills have tendered one-year contracts to three exclusive-rights free agents: wide receiver Chris Hogan, defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and wide receiver Justin Brown. The club announced the contract offers Thursday.

The 26-year-old Hogan emerged as a regular member of the club’s WR corps in 2014, catching 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Bryant, 26, notched 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 16 games as a defensive line reserve.

A sixth-round pick of the Steelers in 2013, Brown caught 12 passes for 94 yards this season for Pittsburgh. The Bills added the 23-year-old Brown on waivers in February.

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Land for Carson stadium will be purchased this month

Land Getty Images

Regardless of whether the Chargers and Raiders move to a new stadium to be built in Carson, California, the Chargers will own a large piece of land there.

According to Nathan Fenno and Tim Logan of the Los Angeles Times, the Chargers already have agreed to purchase from Starwood Capital Group the property on which the stadium would be built.

“There are no contingencies, there is no option,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told the Times.  “We have to buy it.  Starwood has to sell it.”

Meanwhile, an effort has been launched to secure 8,041 signatures, which would result in a ballot initiative landing in the lap of the Carson City Council.  If the members of the council approve the effort, the public would then vote on the plan.

The initiative would create a public authority that would own the team and lease it to the Chargers and Raiders.  Despite the public ownership of the venue, no tax money would be spent on the project.  Goldman Sachs and others have loaned $850 million to the effort, with the money being repaid from stadium revenues.

The Carson project currently is competing with a project in Inglewood for the privilege of building an NFL stadium.  AEG still hopes to build a stadium in downtown L.A.

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Bengals extend Rey Maualuga

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Veteran linebacker Rey Maualuga is staying in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have announced that Maualuga, who was slated to become a free agent next week, has signed a three-year contract to remain with the team.

Maualuga has had his share of injury issues but has always been a starter when healthy, since the Bengals chose him in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. Last year Maualuga played 12 games in the regular season, and the Bengals’ playoff game.

The 28-year-old Maualuga would have drawn some interest elsewhere, but he’s been a mainstay in Marvin Lewis’s defense and can now return to his spot in the starting lineup in Cincinnati.

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Falcons hold onto Charles Godfrey

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons picked up safety Charles Godfrey after he was released by the Panthers during the season and they saw enough they liked to bring Godfrey back for another year.

The team announced Thursday that they have re-signed Godfrey to a one-year deal that Albert Breer of NFL Media reports will pay him $1.5 million.

Godfrey appeared in five games after coming to the Falcons last season and played seven for the Panthers before getting released. He was seeing action in the slot in Carolina before his departure, a spot that didn’t seem to suit him a year after he missed 14 games because of a torn Achilles. Godfrey played seven years for the Panthers overall after they made him a third-round pick in 2008.

Dwight Lowery is a free agent after making 15 starts in Atlanta last year and his departure would leave Kemal Ishmael, Dez Southward and William Moore (assuming he’s over last year’s shoulder troubles) at safety along with Godfrey.

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Buccaneers re-sign Mike Jenkins

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

A pectoral injury limited cornerback Mike Jenkins to one game during the 2014 season, but he’ll get another chance to play in his home state.

The Buccaneers announced Thursday that they have re-signed Jenkins to a one-year contract after his first season in Tampa was wiped out because of his injury. Financial terms weren’t announced, but Jenkins signed with the Bucs for $1.5 million last year.

Jenkins was a first-round pick in Dallas in 2008 and spent five years in the Cowboys secondary, much of it as a starter. He then moved on for 15 starts with the Raiders in 2013 before coming home to play for the Bucs last year. He may not be guaranteed more than a shot at making the 53-man roster, but the Bucs don’t have much experienced depth to go with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.

The Bucs also announced that they have tendered contracts to exclusive rights free agents Bradley McDougald and Danny Lansanah. McDougald started the last five games of the season at safety while Lansanah made 11 starts at linebacker and both will at least compete for starting spots again this year.

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Carson Palmer says he’ll be ready for the start of training camp

carsonpalmer AP

The Cardinals were rolling last year until they ran out of quarterbacks.

But they had some good news Thursday, as the best one of the lot said he planned on being ready for the start of the 2015 season.

I’ll be ready for training camp,” Carson Palmer said, via Darren Urban of the team’s official website.

Palmer said his recovery from last November’s torn ACL was going well, and he’s running and cutting now. As with many players in his spot, he wants to push things a bit, saying “you want to jump into everything and you have to slow yourself down.”

Palmer said he hopes to get some reps during OTAs, though he knows coach Bruce Arians will likely hold him back.

But a simple physical recovery isn’t all he’s doing to help them. Palmer said he restructured his contract this offseason to create some salary cap room, which the Cards can use to stock more parts around him.

That will be a benefit, and Palmer said he was confident the Cardinals would do something next week to make the team better.

“We know we have a shot. And there are a lot of teams that don’t,” Palmer said. 

While some free agent additions would help, a healthy Palmer is the biggest step toward that goal.

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Dolphins remain expected frontrunners for Suh

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

There’s no reason to doubt Mike Silver’s report that the Raiders are “planning” to host defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for a visit next week.  (“That’s not the stench of raw sewage in the locker room . . . it’s just a bad batch of potpourri.”)  But there’s also no reason to believe the Dolphins aren’t the frontrunners for Suh’s services.

PFT continues to hear that the team with the best chance of landing Suh is the Dolphins.  And for good reason; owner Stephen Ross previously whiffed on coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Peyton Manning, and coach Jeff Fisher.  Ross wants to make a splash, as does new executive V.P. of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.

Ross won the rights to receiver Mike Wallace two years ago, but that hasn’t worked out very well.  Suh could end up working out even better.  Or maybe not.  Until we know whether Suh gives the Dolphins a realistic bump in their on-field fate, Suh will nevertheless create plenty of buzz and sell plenty of tickets and move plenty of merchandise in Miami.

When it comes to a contest between the Raiders and the Dolphins, Ross has ultimate ace in the hole — the absence of state income taxes in Florida.  In California, the rate for the really rich is 13.3 percent.

So if Suh signs a deal that pays him $15 million per year in California, the Golden State will withhold $1.995 million in taxes.  Per year.  In Florida, the Sunshine State will take the grand total of zero dollars and zero cents from Suh’s game checks.

Over the course of a seven-year deal (if Suh is there for all seven), the difference becomes $13.965 million.  In other words, he’d be working nearly one full year out of seven to pay for the privilege of living and working in Califoria.

The only way the Raiders can compete with the Dolphins and $15 million per year would be to enough to get Suh to the same net after federal and state taxes.  Which would be roughly $18 million per year.

The primary alternative for Suh will be staying put with the Lions.  In Michigan, the state income tax rate is only 4.25 percent, meaning that Suh would contribute $637,500 to the state budget every year on a deal worth $15 million annually.

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Age, contract, production, reputation make Marshall hard to move

Brandon Marshall AP

The Bears are trying to trade wide receiver Brandon Marshall. That won’t be easy.

Although Marshall is a five-time Pro Bowler, what he’s done in the past isn’t particularly relevant to what a team would be willing to give up for him now. What’s relevant is that Marshall’s production is declining with age, that he has an expensive contract, and that his reputation around the NFL is less than sterling.

Marshall will turn 31 this month, and last season he had his worst season since his rookie year. Marshall caught just 61 passes for 721 yards before suffering a season-ending injury in the 13th game of the season. That’s a sharp decline in production for a guy who had entered 2014 on a streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Like most players, Marshall has slowed down after his 30th birthday.

Another issue is Marshall’s contract, with a $7.5 million guarantee that comes due on March 12. Any team trading for Marshall would be inheriting that contract, unless Marshall is willing to restructure his deal. Marshall’s cap hit for 2015 is $9,575,000, which is the 16th biggest cap hit for a wide receiver in the NFL. If you’re going to pay a guy Top 16 money, that means you think he’s an above-average No. 1 receiver. Marshall has been an above-average No. 1 receiver in the past, but he’s not anymore.

There are also off-field questions that any team mulling a trade for Marshall would have to consider. Those issues go beyond the legal trouble Marshall faced multiple times early in his career: Marshall has spoken openly about his battle with mental illness, and he deserves credit for seeking treatment. But even if Marshall is now avoiding legal problems, there have been more recent reports that Marshall was a negative presence in the Bears’ locker room last season. Marshall has a reputation as a malcontent, and that’s not the kind of locker room presence teams want to acquire.

Add it all up, and it’s hard to see any team trading for Marshall. If the Bears don’t want him, they may have to cut him.

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Report: Raiders “planning” to host Ndamukong Suh next week

Maurice Jones-Drew, Ndamukong Suh AP

The Raiders are said to have designs on huddling with the top free agent in the Class of 2015.

According to Mike Silver of NFL Media, the Raiders are “planning” to meet with Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next week, the first of free agency.

Per NFL rules, teams cannot begin to negotiate and have contact with the agents of other clubs’ prospective free agents until 4 p.m. Eastern on Friday, so it’s unclear whether the Raiders are simply being hopeful about meeting with Suh.

Nevertheless, this is a signal that the Raiders, as expected, want to be players for Suh, PFT’s No. 1 free agent. Oakland certainly has the salary cap space to strike a deal. Per Spotrac.com. the Raiders are set to be $58.8 million under the cap in 2015.

Teams can start to host players on free agent visits starting Tuesday, when the new league year begins.

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