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PFT’s Week Five picks

Luck AP

The gap has been narrowed from three games to two, thanks to 10-5 showing last week.  The good news for MDS, who went a mere 9-6, was that he had his first hole in one of the year, picking the Seahawks to beat the Texans by the score of 23-20.  (I’d be really impressed if he also predicted overtime.)

For the year, MDS leads with a mark of 43-20, or 68.2 percent.  I’m closing in on him with a 41-22 mark, which equates to 65 percent.

This week, we disagree on 21.4 percent of the games.  Read on for our takes and our picks.

Bills at Browns

MDS’s take: Browns fever is sweeping the nation! OK, that’s a slight overstatement, but this team is playing very well, especially on defense, where new coordinator Ray Horton deserves an enormous amount of credit. Cleveland will beat Buffalo and improve to 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by trading Trent Richardson.

MDS’s pick: Browns 17, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills are too banged up and the Browns, two weeks after they supposedly abandoned their season, are too strong on defense and sufficiently competent on offense to lose.  With two home wins only four days apart, they’ll soon have to call it the Factory of Gladness.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 20, Bills 14.

Saints at Bears

MDS’s take: The Bears’ defense is missing Henry Melton and struggled against Detroit’s offense last week. This week an even better New Orleans offense is heading to Chicago, and the Bears’ defense will struggle again.

MDS’s pick: Saints 28, Bears 24.

Florio’s take:  The Saints are much improved, but they’re still not the same team when they exit the Superdome.  The winless Bucs nearly beat them in Tampa; the much better Bears will finish the job on the choppy turf of Soldier Field.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Saints 21.

Patriots at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Patriots will miss Vince Wilfork’s presence on the defensive line. Look for Bengals running back Giovani Bernard to have a big day as the Patriots suffer their first loss of the season.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 21, Patriots 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are learning how to be a good team.  A week after failing to win a game they should have, the Bengals find a way to prevail in a contest many assume they’ll lose.  And down goes another of the undefeated.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 27, Patriots 24.

Lions at Packers

MDS’s take: The Lions have lost 22 in a row in Green Bay. The last time the Lions beat the Packers on the road, it was 1991 and the starting quarterbacks in the game were Erik Kramer and Mike Tomczak. The Lions are just not very good at Lambeau Field. The streak will continue for another year.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Lions 20.

Florio’s take:  Earlier this year, the Lions won for the first time ever in Washington.  And now it could be time to win in Green Bay for the first time since the year before Brett Favre arrived.  But the Packers are rested and ready and healed (for the most part) after a bye week.  More importantly, they’re desperate to avoid a 1-3 start to the season.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 31, Lions 24.

Seahawks at Colts

MDS’s take: The Seahawks tend to struggle on the road, and the Colts are playing excellent football, looking even better than last year’s surprise playoff team. So my head is telling me to pick Indianapolis. But my gut is telling me Russell Wilson is going to have an easier time finding open receivers in the Colts’ secondary than Andrew Luck will have finding open receivers in the Seahawks’ secondary, and that will be the difference.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 28, Colts 27.

Florio’s take
:  Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton won’t be allowing former Stanford cornerback (and receiver) Richard Sherman to spot any tendencies or tells this week.  If the Colts can outscore the 49ers by 20 in their own building, the Colts can outscore the Seahawks by at least one at home.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Seahawks 23.

Ravens at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Perhaps it’s premature, four weeks into the season, to say this about the defending Super Bowl champion. But I just don’t think the Ravens are a very good team. The Dolphins’ defense had plenty of flaws on display in Monday night’s loss to the Saints, but the Ravens’ suspect offensive line is going to make it easy for the Dolphins to get to Joe Flacco.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 31, Ravens 17.

Florio’s take:  In 2007, the Dolphins got their only win of the season against the Ravens.  This year, it will be one of a lot more than one.  While it’s too early to write off Baltimore, it’s too late to consider them a viable candidate to knock off the improved Dolphins in Miami.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Ravens 20.

Eagles at Giants

MDS’s take: Other than the first half of Week One, the Eagles haven’t looked particularly good this season. But the Giants have looked downright awful. The NFC East is such a bad division that even at 0-4 the Giants aren’t out of it yet, but they’ll drop to 0-5 on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Giants 17.

Florio’s take:  Forget the 0-4 record.  The Giants are only two games out of first place, and they can pull to within one with a win over Philly and a Dallas loss to the Broncos.  Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning finally find a way to a win.  (And I’ll keep saying that until they finally do.)

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Eagles 19.

Jaguars at Rams

MDS’s take: I’d pick anyone to beat the Jaguars. Easily. This Jacksonville team is as bad an NFL team as I’ve ever seen, and I remember the 2008 Lions well.

MDS’s pick: Rams 34, Jaguars 17.

Florio’s take:  What’s more likely, the Broncos going 16-0 or the Jaguars going 0-16?  This week, we’ll remain on track for “both.”

Florio’s pick:  Rams 27, Jaguars 10.

Chiefs at Titans

MDS’s take: In this matchup of two surprise AFC playoff contenders, I probably would have picked Tennessee if Jake Locker were healthy. But with Locker out, the Chiefs will improve to 5-0. Who saw that coming?

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Titans 14.

Florio’s take:  Alex Smith gets his first crack at a Gregg Williams defense since proof emerged of Williams telling his players to hurt Smith.  The bigger problem for the Titans is that quarterback Jake Locker is hurt.  So which Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up — the one from before he got paid by the Bills, or after?

Florio’s pick
:  Chiefs 21, Titans 17.

Panthers at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Panthers won’t catch the Saints in the NFC South, and the Cardinals won’t catch the Seahawks in the NFC West. But the winner of this game will have to feel like it’s in very good position to emerge as an NFC wild card contender. I think it’s going to be the Panthers, who have an offense that’s capable of putting a lot of points on the board. I don’t see Arizona’s offense keeping up.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Cardinals 17.

Florio’s take:  For Carolina, the bye week makes many forget a dominant performance against the Giants.  Not me.  The defense is clicking and the offense is doing enough to outpace a better-than-expected Arizona team in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Cardinals 21.

Broncos at Cowboys

MDS’s take: This is the flip side of what I said earlier about the Jaguars: I’d pick the Broncos to beat anyone. (Although I’d probably have to think long and hard about it if they played at Seattle.) The Broncos are the best team in football and will improve to 5-0, while the Cowboys will fall to 2-3, which in the NFC East is still good enough for first place.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Cowboys 21.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones wants Tony Romo to be Peyton Manning.  Tony Romo is no Peyton Manning.  Jerry Jones will get to see it up close on Sunday.  To his dismay.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Cowboys 24.

Chargers at Raiders

MDS’s take: In the midnight special, Philip Rivers will put up big numbers against a suspect Raiders defense. The winners will be the Chargers and the losers will be any fans who stay up to watch the whole game and have to be at work on Monday morning.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Raiders 20.

Florio’s takeTerrelle Pryor has created hope for the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean there will be wins.  The Chargers are the better team on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Philip Rivers is reminding everyone that he’s still a franchise quarterback.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 26, Raiders 20.

Texans at 49ers

MDS’s take: This is a big one for two teams that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations and are now looking up at better teams in their own divisions. San Francisco’s defense will miss Aldon Smith, but they’ll still be able to get enough pressure on Matt Schaub to force him into another disappointing game.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  A pair of Super Bowl contenders that have failed to meet expectations meet in San Francisco with the expectation that the 49ers will win.  Expect that to happen, with the Niners sticking with a smash-mouth attack and the Texans sliding under .500 — and possibly two games out of first place in the AFC South.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 24, Texans 17.

Jets at Falcons

MDS’s take: Geno Smith may develop into a good quarterback eventually, but right now he’s a mess, and Monday night he’s going to have a particularly tough time when playing with a depleted receiving corps. The Jets’ defense is good enough to keep this game low scoring, but the Falcons will force multiple turnovers and control this game.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 17, Jets 6.

Florio’s take:  The surprisingly 1-3 Falcons host the surprisingly 2-2 Jets in a game with an outcome that will surprise no one.  Folks who stayed up late to watch Chargers-Raiders will get to catch up on their sleep by turning in at halftime, and in the morning they’ll find out whether the Falcons once again blew a big lead.  What has two thumbs and thinks they won’t?

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 42, Jets 17.

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Texans RB Alfred Blue has a famous workout partner

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Texans running back Alfred Blue had a solid rookie season in 2014, racking up 528 yards as Arian Foster’s top backup.

As Blue tries to hold his spot and earn a bigger role in his second NFL campaign, he is working with a personal trainer, as the Houston Chronicle noted Saturday. That’s not uncommon, but this is: One of Blue’s workout partners happens to be Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. And as Blue sees it, Peterson is primed for a strong return to NFL play this season.

“You see it in his eyes: ‘I’m going to show the world. When I get back out there, I’m going to break it this time,’ ” Blue said, according to Brian T. Smith of the Chronicle.

For his part, Blue, who turns 24 the week of the 2015 NFL Draft, told the Chronicle he does not want the Texans to “overlook me.”

With that in mind, Blue is not taking anything for granted.

“They tell you every year that nobody’s set, nobody’s safe,” Blue told the Chronicle. “You’ve got to come in every year like you just got drafted or like you’re an undrafted free agent trying to make the team.”

That Blue knows he cannot rest on his laurels is a good sign. He flashed his readiness for a bigger workload as a rookie, when he racked up 156 yards on 36 carries in his first career start. His willingness to work on his own to stay sharp suggests he’ll be ready the next time his number is called.

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Buccaneers spoke to district attorney as part of Winston research

Meggs Getty Images

During Friday’s Outside the Lines on ESPN, Bob Ley said that William Meggs, the local district attorney in Tallahassee, claimed that he has not been contacted by the NFL or any team.  According to a Buccaneers source, however, that information isn’t accurate.

Per the source, the Buccaneers have spoken to the district attorney’s office as part of an extensive due diligence process in which the team has engaged regarding Winston.

The communication occurred well in advance of Friday’s report, the source explained.  And it makes sense; having the first overall pick imposes an obligation to spend plenty of time and resources to research the players who potentially may be selected.  With Winston, that time and resources have been devoted, both as to the allegations made by Erica Kinsman and all other incidents that relate to him in any way.

UPDATE 10:03 p.m. ET:  Per the source, the Buccaneers communicated directly with assistant district attorney Georgia Cappleman, who did the bulk of the work on Kinsman’s claims.

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Mike Williams, Brad Smith added to PFT’s All-Unemployed Team

Mike Williams AP

Since published last week, PFT’s All-Unemployed Team has undergone a little turnover, with center Stefen Wisniewski (Jacksonville) and Michael Crabtree (Oakland) among those departing for the ranks of the job-holding.

With Crabtree gone, we had one spot open at wide receiver. However, we decided to add two receivers to the squad.

And both receivers, as it turns out, were one-time Bills.

However, Mike Williams and Brad Smith are different propositions for NFL clubs. The 27-year-old Williams has three 60-catch seasons to his credit. The 31-year-old Smith, on the other hand, has never caught more than 32 passes in a season.

Williams might have more upside. However, Smith can be used multiple ways. Smith has 134 career carries; Williams has one. Moreover, Smith is a former collegiate quarterback, and he has more special teams experience than Williams.

Williams might be a player who can still be developed. Smith, though, can do several things.

Whom do you prefer?

The answer probably depends on the club.

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Twenty years ago Saturday, Joe Montana called it a career

Joe Montana of the Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

As the 49ers’ Twitter feed points out, Saturday is the 20th anniversary of quarterback Joe Montana’s retirement from the NFL.

Montana’s departure came after two seasons with Kansas City, which traded a first-round pick for him in April 1993.

While Montana wasn’t able to finish his career with the franchise with whom he won four Super Bowls, the trade worked out well for him, the Niners and the Chiefs.

Let’s review.

The Chiefs made the postseason in both of Montana’s seasons as a starter. He led the club to a pair of playoff wins in ’93 — the franchise’s last two postseason victories to date. His Kansas City seasons were a bookend to a spectacular career that landed him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

The 49ers, meanwhile, ended up trading the Chiefs’ first-round pick (No. 18, 1993) to Phoenix, as ProSportsTransactions.com notes. The 49ers then traded down again, landing at No. 26 in Round One, where they selected defensive Dana Stubblefield, who was a starter on their dominant Super Bowl XXIX-winning club of 1994.

But the 49ers’ draft haul from the Montana trade didn’t stop there.

In trading down for Stubblefield, the 49ers landed the No. 81 overall pick, a third-rounder. They packaged a second-round pick (No. 56) and the 81st pick to the Los Angeles Raiders for a second-round pick (No. 41).

It gets better. The 49ers then moved that 1993 second-round pick to the Chargers for San Diego’s first-round pick in the 1994 NFL Draft (No. 15 overall). The Chargers, for the record, took tailback Natrone Means, who helped that franchise get to Super Bowl XXIX.

So what did the 49ers do with the Chargers’ first-round pick? According to ProSportsTransactions.com, the 49ers traded it to the Los Angeles Rams for the No. 7 pick to take defensive tackle Bryant Young — who, like Stubblefield, was a starter at defensive tackle right off the bat. And when the Chargers and 49ers met in Super Bowl XXIX, Means rushed for just 33 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

To review: Joe Montana helped the 49ers win four Super Bowls, and when the franchise moved on from him, it picked up a couple of key pieces needed to win a fifth Super Bowl.

There’s a reason why the 49ers were as good as they were for as long as they were. Did they ever know talent, and did they ever know how to work the draft.

The words “Joe Montana, third-round pick” ought to ring a bell, too.

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Gates says he’s not looking to play less

Gates Getty Images

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates recently said that, instead of playing “the whole game” in 2015, he’s more likely to play only in those situation where he’s likely to get the ball.  He now says he didn’t say what it sounded like he said.

“For me, to put in all this work in all these years and have the opportunity to play and say I don’t want to play, I don’t know where people got that from,” Gates told Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.

They got it from his own words:  “With injuries and whatnot, I played a little bit more than they expected me to play last season,” Gates told TheMMQB.com.  “I was playing the whole game.  How I feel next year, it depends on how much volume they have me doing.  I’d like to come in on third-and-7s, red zones, those situations.  That’s what my contribution is at anyway.”

“It was probably a misquote or a misunderstanding,” Gates explained to Gehlken.  “I ain’t asking to play less.  Every time I’m in a game, I feel like I have the opportunity to make a play.  Why would I want to be on the sideline?  That defeats the purpose.  The only way you can contribute is by being in the game.”

So Gates doesn’t want to play less in 2015.  Regardless of whether he said he does.

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Marcedes Lewis takes pay cut to stay in Jacksonville

Marcus Gilchrist, Marcedes Lewis AP

Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis was on the trade block, but not anymore.

Lewis has agreed to a new deal and will stay in Jacksonville.

“I’m pumped to be a part of something exciting and be a big part of it,” Lewis told the Florida Times-Union.

The reports about Lewis’s new contract are calling it a “restructuring” and not a “pay cut,” but a pay cut is what it is. Lewis will turn 31 next month, was scheduled to cost $8.2 million against the Jaguars’ salary cap this season, and caught just 18 passes last year. Obviously, the Jaguars wouldn’t have kept him at his previous cap number.

Now Lewis will stick around another year, and although he’s no longer the top tight end in town after the arrival of Julius Thomas, he’ll get a chance to be a part of turning the Jaguars around.

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Bryant, Wells dispute lingers

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

The sending in February of a cease-and-desist letter to the former adviser of Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant hasn’t resolved the situation.

Per multiple sources, Wells still has not complied with specific requests made at the end of the February 20 letter, a copy of which PFT has obtained.

“You have until 5 p.m. EST, Monday, February 23, 2015 to provide us with the requested money and materials, as well as written confirmation of your compliance with the demands set forth in this letter,” the communication from Jordan W. Siev to Wells states.  “Absent your full and immediate compliance with these demands, we will take all appropriate actions to enforce our client’s rights, which may include commencing litigation against you to assert claims of conversion, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, among other claims, seeking a preliminary injunction, and seeking an award of compensatory and punitive damages, and reimbursement of all of our costs and attorneys’ fees resulting from your actions.”

The letter specifically refers to a payment received by Wells on Bryant’s behalf from BioSteel Sports Supplements.  Bryant’s representatives contend that Wells kept the money.

It’s unclear at this point whether any legal action will be taken by Bryant against Wells.  According to one source, the primary purpose of the letter was to terminate the power of attorney Wells previously held on behalf of Bryant.

Ultimately, Bryant has the right to change agents and advisers, whenever he wants and for whatever reason.  Bryant made a comment Friday indicating he realizes his agents and advisers work for him, not the other way around.

“I’m the one making the decisions on who to trust and who to be surrounded by,” Bryant said, via Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News.  “I’ve surrounded myself with people who I think deserve to be trusted.”

This implies that Bryant believes Wells and other former representatives/advisors didn’t deserve to be trusted.  Which could further alienate Wells, who had been Bryant’s closest confidant and adviser during the early days of his NFL career.

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Wisniewski lands in Jacksonville

Wis AP

Center Stefen Wisniewski has a new home.  Finally.

The free-agent lineman, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Jaguars, via Adam Schefter of ESPN.  The decision came after visits and/or discussions with the Titans, Jaguars, Patriots, Buccaneers, Seahawks, Bears, and Washington.

The short duration of the deal isn’t surprising; at this stage of the free-agency process, the big money is long gone.  So he’ll try to have a big year in Jacksonville and hit the market again in 2016.

A Pittsburgh native, Wisniewski played from the moment he arrived as a second-round pick in 2011, with 61 appearances and 61 starts.  As a rookie, Wisniewski played left guard; he shifted to center in 2012.  Wisniewski became displaced in Oakland when the Raiders signed Rodney Hudson last month.

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Rex Ryan goes after Jace Amaro again

Rex AP

Former Jets coach Rex Ryan continues to hold Jets tight end Jace Amaro accountable for his contention that the Jets weren’t held accountable in 2014, Ryan’s last one with the team.

It’s not the truth,” Ryan said Saturday morning on WFAN radio, via Dom Cosentino of NJ.com.

Rex then became more circumspect in his remarks about Amaro:  “That kid’s a little . . . he’s going to get . . . we’ll see what happens,” Rex told Kimberly Jones..

“I just know it’s not the truth, and for him or anybody else to pop off like that, I think is absolutely a joke,” Ryan said.  “Now, look, if David Harris would have said something, or D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, or someone, I would be hurt by it.  I would be absolutely devastated by it.  But a kid like that?  Nah.  I know him, and that doesn’t bother me one bit.”

If it did bother Rex, his comments presumably would be even stronger.  If that’s even possible.

He’s full of sh-t,” Rex recently told Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com, “and I’ll remind him of that when we play him.  Look, we weren’t perfect, and I never said we were going to be perfect.  But that’s a f–king b.s. comment.”

So, basically, I don’t know whether I’d rather see the Bills face the Patriots on the first Thursday night of the season, or the Bills against the Jets on Sunday night.

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Medical re-check provides good news on Todd Gurley

Gurley AP

Former Georgia running back Todd Gurley appears poised to be the first running back selected in the first round of the draft in three years.

Gurley, who looked like a sure-thing first-round pick before suffering a torn ACL in November, had his surgically reconstructed knee inspected by doctors as part of the NFL’s medical-recheck today in Indianapolis. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Gurley’s knee checked out fine and there’s optimism that he’ll be good to go in time for training camp.

That likely means Gurley will go in the first round of the draft, something that we haven’t seen since 2012. In 2013 the first running back selected was Giovani Bernard with the fifth pick in the second round, and in 2014 the first running back selected was Bishop Sankey with the 22nd pick in the second round.

When healthy, Gurley is a powerful runner and kickoff returner with breakaway speed. If NFL teams are convinced he’ll be healthy in time to play a full rookie season, then he should be a high pick.

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Steelers’ doctors clear Jaelen Strong’s wrist

jaelen-strong-arizona-state-sun-devils-catching-pass Getty Images

We noted yesterday that former Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong would miss Saturday’s medical re-check in Indianapolis, and that he had a visit with the Steelers. As it turned out, Strong’s visit allowed the Steelers’ doctors to give Strong’s injured wrist a thorough check.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Strong went through a battery of tests on his wrist during his visit to Pittsburgh. According to Schefter, the Steelers’ doctors cleared Strong and are sending the results of his checkup to other teams.

It’s odd that Strong is getting the re-check from the Steelers’ doctors rather than going through the process that most players recovering from injuries go through in Indianapolis. It’s unclear whether every other team will be satisfied with getting a report from the Steelers’ staff.

Despite a report that Strong would need surgery to repair the broken bone in his wrist, Strong says he played five games through the injury and is fine.

Strong will attend the draft and is viewed as a late-first or early-second-round pick.

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Russell Wilson says Rangers want him to play baseball

Wilson AP

When some of the quotes first emerged from Russell Wilson’s interview with HBO’s Bryant Gumbel regarding Wilson playing baseball, it sounded like the musings of an elite, 25-year-old athlete who thinks he can do anything — but who surely would never undermine his football career by playing professional baseball.  Based on the full interview, it sounds like a stronger possibility.

After Wilson suggests that he may “push the envelope a little bit” and play football and baseball, Gumbel pounces.

“Let’s be blunt,” Gumbel says in an interview that debuts Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m. ET.  “You played minor league ball for a while.  Correct me if I’m wrong.  Numbers were .227 average, five homers, 26 RBI.  If the numbers were better, would you [play baseball and football]?”

“I wouldn’t be worried about the statistics of it,” Wilson replies.  “I know I can play in the big leagues.  With the work ethic and all that, I think I definitely could for sure.  And that’s why the Texas Rangers got my rights.  And they want me to play.  Jon Daniels, the G.M., wants me to play.  We were talking about it the other day.”

The Seahawks G.M., John Schneider, was talking about it the other day, too.  And Schneider isn’t ready to assume Wilson would fail.

“I think one of the primary things that really attracted Russell to us — I know me in particular — was the confidence he has in himself and the goals, dreams, aspirations,” Schneider told KIRO radio.  “He’s off the charts in terms of his confidence level and the way he views himself, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would think that way.  Quite frankly, I haven’t thought much about the baseball aspect of it.  Based on the position that he plays in football, I think it would be difficult.  But the way he attacks everything, I don’t think you could put anything past him.”

Schneider also declined to say whether the Seahawks would try to stop Wilson from playing baseball.  It was smart to sidestep the question, because a football-only ultimatum from N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien sparked Wilson to transfer to Wisconsin.

“I’ll never forget it,” Wilson says.  “I’ll never forget the times that people have told me that I couldn’t do something.”

That’s ultimately good news for Schneider and the Seahawks, because Wilson believes the interception at the end of Super Bowl XLIX won’t define him.

“Even if you don’t get back [to the Super Bowl]?” Gumbel says.

“I’ll get back.”

“You’re sure of that.”

“I’ll get back.”

Whether and how often he gets back could depend on how much of the team’s salary cap is devoted to him.  That wasn’t a topic that came up in the interview with Gumbel.  Soon, it’ll be an issue far more important than his lingering baseball dream and Super Bowl nightmare.

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Trent Baalke thinks Aldon Smith is primed for a big year

Aldon Smith AP

Aldon Smith has had so much off-field trouble during his time with the 49ers that there’s been talk that General Manager Trent Baalke should have just cut him. But not only is Baalke not getting rid of Smith, Baalke says Smith is primed for a big 2015 season.

He’s got a great look in his eye. He’s doing well,” Baalke told ESPN. “For anybody that’s been in a situation like Aldon’s been in, every day is a process. But he’s doing exceptionally well and he’s probably in as good a shape as he’s been in a long time.”

Smith missed nine games last season because of an NFL suspension, and when he did play he didn’t play particularly well, with just two sacks in seven games — a sharp decline from his 42 sacks in 43 games in his first three seasons. But Baalke said that Smith has had perfect attendance during offseason workouts and is even taking the lead with his teammates.

“[He’s] starting to develop into a leader out there, which is great to see and been a pleasure to watch,” Baalke said.

For the 49ers, who have experienced plenty of losses elsewhere on the roster, a return to form for Smith would go a long way toward getting their defense back on track. Baalke likes Smith’s chances of making it happen.

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New schedule-release target is Tuesday or Wednesday

2011 NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Few targets move like the one that eventually will trigger the release of the NFL’s regular-season schedule.  Originally planned for next Thursday, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the finalists are now Tuesday and Wednesday.

The schedule is and has been ready to go.  As another source tells PFT, the league circulates the finished product to some of the more influential owners for “beta testing” before making it officials.  It’s unclear whether any of the owners have the juice to force changes to the schedule; some adjustments would require more effort than shuffling a couple of games around.  It could be that Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose job partially entails keeping a constituency of 32 as happy as possible, wants some of the key members of the group that determines his terms of employment to feel as if they are involved.

And they should be.  It’s ultimately their sport.  Besides, a fresh look at the 256-game slate from a self-made billionaire or two (and even from some of the guys who had the billions handed to them at birth) can’t hurt.

Regarding the specific day for releasing the schedule, NFL Network typically has a strong voice in the process.  Currently, the word is that NFLN prefers Wednesday.

Either way, the wait for applying the “when” to the “who” and the “where” will end soon.

And it’s not as trivial an exercise as some would suggest.  Apart from letting fans make travel plans games the intend to attend or permitting fans to begin anticipating key prime-time and other high-profile games, individual teams will know whether they’ll be facing an array of cream puffs to start the season, a murderer’s row, or something in between.  For some franchises, the won-loss record at the end of September could be a major factor in whether the team does or doesn’t get to the postseason.

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New Colt Andre Johnson not focused on facing the Texans

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

When the NFL schedule comes out next week, some fans will circle the dates of the Colts-Texans games, when Andre Johnson will face his old team. But Johnson isn’t thinking about that.

Johnson, who signed in Indianapolis last month after 12 seasons in Houston, says he’s not motivated by revenge, anger or any animosity toward the Texans.

“Everybody thinks I went to the Colts to try to get back at the Texans, and stuff like that,” Johnson told ESPN. “That had nothing to do with it. I just went to the best place where I felt that was the best fit for me where I can have the best chance to win a championship. It wasn’t about circling dates or nothing against the Texans. I had 12 great years.”

Johnson’s return to Houston in a Colts uniform may be emotional for him, for his teammates and for fans. But once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game.

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