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Drew Rosenhaus: Gronk, Patriots on the same page

Rob Gronkowski AP

Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said over the weekend that there was no rift between the team and tight end Rob Gronkowski about the pace of his return to game action this season.

Gronkowski’s agent Drew Rosenhaus echoed those sentiments, as well as those of Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the difference between practicing and playing in a game on Thursday.

“There’s a huge difference between being cleared to practice and being cleared to play in a game,” Rosenhaus said on WQAM in Miami, via Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com. “I’ve had great dialogue with Coach Belichick and the Patriots’ medical staff and Rob and his family. Everybody’s on the same page, except it’s gotten a lot of play in the media and all these unsubstantiated sources.”

Last weekend, PFT reported that Gronkowski was likely to miss one more game, at most, before making his long-awaited 2013 debut. Rosenhaus said that Gronkowski still has not been cleared by Dr. James Andrews, but that he’ll “hopefully” be back soon and that this Sunday’s date with the Jets remains a possibility should Gronkowski get the necessary medical clearance.

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Kicking off our draft previews with a look at the Texans

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The Texans are intent on making this interesting.

Usually by this point, there’s a consensus on what the team with the top pick is going to do. (Of course, by this point, they’ve usually already drafted.)

But the Texans haven’t tipped their hand, as to whether they’re taking a quarterback or another position with the top spot. And with recent reports, their idea of the best player available might not match everyone else’s.

But there’s no doubt they have a number of needs. Click here to read the full breakdown, and cast your ballot below for what you think the Texans should do with the No. 1 pick.

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Packers paying out bonuses to get guys to workouts

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Talking players into spending their offseasons in scenic Green Bay isn’t the easiest thing to do.

So the Packers are paying their guys to do it.

According to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Packers paid out more in veteran workout bonuses than any team last year, and appear to be doing so again this year, with more than 20 veterans having substantial bonuses for showing up for offseason conditioning.

That’s a great way to get guys to volunteer for the voluntary work, especially in a place where I think polar bears are still roaming the streets in late April.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, outside linebacker Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields will each make $500,000 for offseason participation, while 13 other players will get six-figure bonuses for showing up.

Paying off key leaders to be there has a double benefit, because it will increase the peer pressure on other players to show up, even if they’re not cashing in.

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Rick Spielman: Quarterback decision is “torturous”

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There was a point when it seemed this year’s draft was going to be the perfect one for teams looking for a quarterback.

Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley decided to return to college, though, and teams found that Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel were not the sure things that you want to find when spending a high first-round pick on a player to build your team around. The Vikings are one of the teams looking for a franchise quarterback, leaving General Manager Rick Spielman and the rest of the brass to figure out if there’s a quarterback worth taking with the eighth pick or if they’re better served filling another hole while addressing quarterback later in the draft.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com quoted an NFL coach as saying that the quarterback decisions are “tortuous” this year, something Spielman agreed with while saying that there’s more pressure to make the right call this year than in the past.

“That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks … nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning,” Spielman said. “It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feelings, why don’t you just wait till later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now? I agree with that coach, whoever it is. It is torturous this year.”

Spielman said that if the Vikings do take a quarterback this year, they’d like him to sit and learn in 2014 before ascending to the starting job. That’s a tough thing to do when you use a top 10 pick on a player, which may push the Vikings and others toward different positions come May 8.

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Monday morning one-liners

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Taking a look at Donald Trump’s Buffalo ties in relation to his possible interest in buying the Bills.

Clemson WR Martavis Bryant is on the Dolphins’ list of visitors.

G Josh Kline made a quick positive impression on his Patriots teammates.

The Jets start offseason work and their quarterback competition on Monday.

Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome offered some advice to Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

How have the Bengals addressed their run game this offseason?

Browns LB Brandon Magee talks about playing both football and baseball.

The Steelers are one of eight teams without anyone left from their 2009 draft.

The Texans are one of the teams that should be looking for help at defensive tackle.

Colts wide receivers coach Charlie Williams watched Colorado WR Paul Richardson’s pro day workout.

An argument in favor of the Jaguars selecting QB Johnny Manziel.

The Titans website profiles Michigan T Taylor Lewan and Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan.

T Ryan Clady is one of the healthy Broncos that will be welcomed back to the field this week.

There are no pressing running back needs for the Chiefs.

The Raiders’ rundown of all their jersey numbers nears its end.

The Chargers’ website takes a look at Indiana WR Cody Latimer.

Are the Cowboys drafting too low to get a top defensive lineman in the first round?

The new look Giants get to work on Monday.

Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins would like to face the Redskins in Week One.

Does WR DeSean Jackson make up for the Redskins not having a first round pick?

Are the Bears in the market for a wide receiver in this year’s draft?

Georgia Tech DE/LB Jeremiah Attaochu could be a fit with the Lions.

The Packers are fond of paying workout bonuses to players for their offseason participation.

Should the Vikings trade down or bolster their defense in the first round?

TE Levine Toilolo is a player to watch as the Falcons get back to work.

Utah DE/LB Trevor Reilly said he had a good meeting with the Panthers.

Saints G Ben Grubbs recently visited Angola prison.

Buccaneers linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson sees some of himself in LB Lavonte David.

Buddy Morris is ready for his first year as the Cardinals’ strength and conditioning coach.

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com took his shot at guessing the Rams’ schedule.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee calls for tough love and no contract extension for 49ers LB Aldon Smith.

Washington State S Deone Bucannon is reportedly making the short trip to visit the Seahawks.

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Report: Texans G.M. prefers Khalil Mack to Jadeveon Clowney

Khalil Mack AP

When the longer-than-ever pre-draft process began, the general assumption was that the Texans would draft a quarterback.

Then, as everyone began to realize what a generational talent Jadeveon Clowney was, the pendulum of conventional wisdom swung that way.

Turns out, neither may be the case in two and a half weeks when the draft finally starts with the Texans on the clock.

According to Peter King of TheMMQB.com, one “Friend of Rick Smith” (the Texans’ General Manager) said that Smith preferred Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack to Clowney, but his preference in quarterbacks was unclear.

While Clowney might be a better fit in a 4-3 defense than in a 3-4 such as Houston’s, that’s still a bold call.

In fact, it’s almost like the kind of thing that gets out there on purpose this time of year, as the Texans hope that someone calls a Friend of Rick Smith and says “Hey, if you don’t want that pick, we do.”

We only have 17 more days to wait to find out.

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Jeff Fisher: Everyone says they’re ahead of schedule, Bradford really is

Sam Bradford, Jeff Fisher AP

In the last few years, so many players recovering from torn ACLs have been described as “ahead of schedule” that it seems like everyone in the league has begun viewing ACL tears through rose-colored glasses. But in the case of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, coach Jeff Fisher says he really, truly is ahead of schedule.

“You’re not gonna hear a head coach say he has a player on his team that’s not ahead of schedule coming off an ACL. Everybody says they’re all ahead of schedule. But he is realistically way ahead of schedule. He’s working hard,” Fisher said of Bradford, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Still, a torn ACL is serious business, and when the Rams open their offseason program today, Bradford won’t be able to do everything. Bradford is, however, on pace to be throwing during Organized Team Activities.

“Sam’s in a very good place considering what happened last year,” Fisher said. “I thought he was off to a great start. Had he stayed healthy his projected numbers could’ve been quite impressive. He’s worked hard through the process, and I would expect him at some point to be throwing in OTAs.”

Bradford tore his ACL six months ago, on October 20.

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Bears could be looking for long-term linebacker answers in the draft

Williams Getty Images

As the Chicago Bears attempt to fix quickly a defense that performed poorly in 2013, the franchise could be applying a longer-term view to one of the positions for which its renowned.

Linebacker.

As explained by Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears may need to target a middle linebacker in 2014 with a plan to use him in 2015.  For now, D.J. Williams (pictured) remains the man in the middle, with Lance Briggs still holding down the weak side and Shea McClellin getting a crack at taking over the strong side.  By next year, Briggs and Williams could be gone.

Drafted last year to be a middle linebacker, Bostic is headed to the outside this year.  He’ll likely get a chance to develop into a potential replacement for Briggs.  That leaves a hole behind Williams in the middle.

Finley pegs round three as the point at which the Bears could start looking for a future middle linebacker.  Plenty of factors come into play, including whether many potential middle linebackers remain after the first two rounds.

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The McNabb trade, four years later

McNabb Getty Images

The relative solitude of Easter Sunday in 2010 was disrupted by a stunning bit of NFL news.  The Eagles traded franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins.

In return, the Eagles picked up a 2010 second-round pick and, ultimately, a fourth-round pick in 2011.  Philly fans feared several years of being pummeled twice per season by McNabb and his new team.  McNabb emerged victorious in his return to the place he called home for 11 years, but then the Eagles and Mike Vick put a beating for the ages on their division rivals on a Monday night.

McNabb later was benched for Rex Grossman, and the Redskins traded McNabb to the Vikings after the 2011 lockout ended.  His stint in Minnesota was even less memorable.

The two trades resulted in the Eagles selecting safety Nate Allen in the second round of the 2010 draft.  He has appeared in 59 of 64 regular-season games, with 54 starts.

The fourth-round pick in 2011 was shipped to the Buccaneers in exchange for a pair of fourth-round picks, one in 2011 and one in 2012.  With the 2011 pick, the Eagles selected linebacker Casey Matthews.  The 2012 fourth-rounder was traded to the Texans for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has started every game during his two years with the team.  Matthews, who began his rookie season as a starter, was benched after three games but nevertheless has appeared in all 48 of his career regular-season games.

The Redskins, who got the short end of the first McNabb trade, did well with the second McNabb trade, landing the sixth-round pick that became running back Alfred Morris.  He has started 32 regular-season games and generated 2,888 rushing yards in two years with the team.

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Recalling when a CFL club outspent Jerry Jones

Raghib Ismail #81 Getty Images

Imagine this: a CFL club outspending Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a top player.

Well, 23 years ago Sunday, this happened.

Yes, on April 20, 1991, the Toronto Argonauts signed Notre Dame wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail to a four-year contract reportedly worth up to $26.2 million with $18.2 million in guarantees.

The Cowboys, who acquired the No. 1 overall pick from New England, could not strike a deal with Ismail. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Cowboys wouldn’t give Ismail the five-year, $14.5 million guaranteed contract he sought. (Before dealing the No. 1 pick, New England also could not reach an agreement with Ismail.)

“Rocket is a fine, fine player, and we wish him a lot of luck,” Jones said after Ismail’s deal with Toronto, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We asked and received an offer from Ismail’s agents. It was very apparent when we got their offer that Rocket was legitimately headed to Canada. His numbers were totally out of our range. Basically, we wanted to see if there was a chance of an NFL team being able to sign him.”

Ismail played two seasons in Toronto, earning Grey Cup MVP honors after his kickoff return touchdown helped the Argonauts win the 1991 CFL title.

In 1993, Ismail would join the Los Angeles Raiders, who held his NFL rights after drafting him two years earlier in Round Four. Interestingly enough, Ismail would finish his pro career with Dallas, and he would set career-highs in catches (80) and yards (1,097) for the Cowboys in 1999.

The Cowboys, for the record, would take defensive lineman Russell Maryland No. 1 overall in 1991. He played on all three of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl-winning clubs of the 1990s. Also, the Cowboys’ other No. 1 pick in 1991, Alvin Harper, started in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII for Dallas.

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Rams could be planning to draft a quarterback

Murray AP

At the Scouting Combine in February, Rams G.M. Les Snead told NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk that there’s no way his team would take a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft.

That doesn’t mean the Rams aren’t thinking about beefing up the position later.

As explained by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Rams are “strongly considering” drafting a quarterback next month.  They’ve been spending time eyeballing the likes of Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (pictured), SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

While the Rams by all appearances remain committed to Sam Bradford, he’s recovering from a torn ACL and under contract for only two more years.  Likewise, backup Shaun Hill has signed a deal that covers only one year.

If they land a rookie who develop quickly and quietly, it’s possible that, come next year, the Rams may be rethinking their commitment to Bradford.

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Josh McCown sees young QBs as “nice kids,” ready to be a mentor

JoshMcCown Getty Images

Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown was brought in to be the starter, but he knows it may just be a matter of time before he’s replaced by a younger player, perhaps one the Bucs draft next month.

And McCown is fine with that. The Buccaneers have brought in some young quarterbacks for visits, and McCown likes what he sees from them.

They all seem like nice kids. They look so young,” McCown told the Tampa Bay Times. “It was cool to say hello to them; just briefly with Johnny [Manziel] and Teddy [Bridgewater] and Jimmy [Garoppolo]. Just, ‘Hey. How’s it going?’ and wish them well. It’s funny. You look at them, and you think back a few years and remember how fast it can go.”

The Bucs have another “nice kid” currently on the roster in Mike Glennon, and McCown will mentor Glennon as well. While McCown was out of the league in 2012 he briefly served as a high school coach, so he has experience as a mentor, and that’s a part of the job he welcomes. Even if the better he does mentoring, the sooner he could lose his job as the Bucs’ starter.

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Brandon Marshall expects big things from Marquess Wilson

Marquess Wilson AP

The release of Earl Bennett in Chicago opens up a clear path for Marquess Wilson to be the Bears’ third receiver next season.

Coach Marc Trestman would only say that Wilson will have “a chance to compete” for that job, but one of the two receivers definitely ahead of Marshall on the depth chart is expecting a bit more than that. Brandon Marshall said in an interview with CBSSports.com that he’s feeling good and looking forward to his “best year ever,” but the subject of Wilson was more exciting for him.

“I really want to talk about Marquess Wilson,” Marshall said. “He came down and trained with us the whole offseason. We’re really looking for him to do some big things. This guy, he’s probably the steal of the draft last year. I’m going to say that. He came in, he put in the work, he looks like a body builder. Fast, strong, explosive. I’m looking forward to seeing him in OTAs.”

Wilson is 6-4, which would make him, Marshall and Alshon Jeffery one of the taller receiving trios in memory. Bennett wasn’t targeted all that often last season, but the Bears offense will be tough for defenses to measure up to in multiple ways if Wilson lives up to Marshall’s hype.

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Jason Verrett slated for visit with Jets

Jason Verrett AP

The Jets have either met with or set up meetings with a lot of prospective first round wide receivers and cornerbacks recently and that trend that will continue on Monday.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that TCU cornerback Jason Verrett will visit with the team a few days before Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard also drops by the team’s headquarters. Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby have also drawn interest from a team looking for help at cornerback after cutting Antonio Cromartie earlier this offseason.

Verrett is expected to go in the latter half of the first round despite shoulder surgery in March. He’s expected to be ready to go in time for training camp, which is a similar timeline to the one Jets cornerback and 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner followed last offseason.

The Jets are also expected to have receivers Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham and Marqise Lee, in for visits this week which means they could just sort things out by having everyone go one-on-one to determine the best fit for the 18th overall pick.

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One owner says Trump’s confirmation wouldn’t be a slam dunk

Trump AP

Recently, an NFL ownership-level source told PFT that it could be difficult to muster nine votes to keep Donald Trump out of the world’s most exclusive club of billionaires.  Another owner has told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News something very different.

He did try to bring the NFL down,” the unnamed owner told Myers.  “Certainly, a lot of owners aren’t around anymore.  Maybe some of the new guys wouldn’t bear the same type of resentment that some of the older guys would.  Do you think he would be a good partner for us or be somewhat of a maverick and be in it for himself?  All questions that have to be asked.  It’s not just the USFL stuff.  Who knows how serious he is.  He likes to have his name out there.  Let’s put it this way:  I don’t think his confirmation would be a slam dunk.”

Myers notes that 15 of the NFL’s 32 teams are still owned by the same person or family who owned those teams when Trump and his USFL cronies filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league.  Of the 32 teams, 24 owners must approve the sale of the Bills to Trump.  And Trump arguably has given some of the owners more incentive to oppose him with the intelligence-insulting claim that the USFL, not Trump, sued the NFL.
The AFL, with owners including the late Ralph Wilson, once battled the NFL toe-to-toe for players and fans and attention.  Ultimately, the AFL and NFL put their differences behind them and made a stronger league.  Trump would be wise to own what he did 30 years ago, and to hope that the owners who vividly recall the battles of the 1980s would be willing to treat Trump the way the AFL owners ultimately were treated.
“[Trump] said a lot of stupid things, and a lot of us still remember it,” said the unnamed owner, who reportedly laughed at Trump’s claim that he didn’t sue the NFL.  “If he ends up being the only guy interested in buying the Bills, then he could be it. I know Jon Bon Jovi is a serious contender. I think there will be some competition.”
Bon Jovi may be a serious contender, but he may not have the cash.  Trump apparently has the cash, but it’s unclear whether he’s serious about buying the Bills or whether he’s simply serious about generating free publicity by talking about buying the Bills.
Either way, if he’s going to try to buy the Bills, Trump’s best move would be to quit talking and start writing a check.
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Lions looking for a few good closers

Golden Tate AP

When a team is talking about looking for closers, the natural inclination is to assume that we’re talking about baseball.

This year’s draft will feature one team looking for football versions of Mariano Rivera, however. The Lions lost six of their final seven games last season and they held a fourth-quarter lead in all six of those losses, which is leading vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White to look for players who can help them finish out a lead in free agency and the draft this offseason.

“You saw six games out of seven where we did not finish. So we’re going to be looking for closers,” White said, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. “Look for them in free agency — guys who have been there, guys like our coaching staff that have been there, guys that will not quit. We have some now, but we need some additional players that have that same kind of mind-set. That’s what we’ve done so far, and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Wide receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo were both brought in via free agency and they each won Super Bowl rings in the last two years, which is likely the kind of closing kick the Lions would like to see from their team in the future.

The inability to finish what his team started helped seal former coach Jim Schwartz’s fate. Should 2014 feature more of the same, his won’t be the last head to roll in Detroit as they try to build a team that can go the distance.

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