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ProFootballTalk: Incognito and Miami coaching staff on the hot seat

The ProFootballTalk crew talks about who is on the hot seat this week, highlighting the turmoil in Miami. What will this all ultimately mean for the key players involved, most notably Richie Incognito, Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin.

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The incredible shrinking Jordan Gross

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Players come to camp every year saying they’re in the best shape of their life.

Former Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross clearly means it.

According to Adam Morgan of Black and Blue Review, Gross has dropped 70 pounds since retiring this offseason, from 305 down to 235.

“I don’t like it. I’m not a big fan of it. I think he looks kind of weird. He looks really unhealthy,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil cracked. “The problem is, he’s walking around and checking himself out in the mirror, and he thinks he looks cool. He just looks bad. And I’ve told him that many times.”

Gross will take it, even with the jabs coming from every direction.

“My wife’s freaking out. She says she’s having an affair on me with me,” Gross said. “I’ve been asked if my brother plays pro football. People look at me funny. I was actually out on our boat, and this girl said, ‘Are you Jordan Gross?’ and I said, ‘No. He’s fatter than I am.’ And she said, ‘Yeah and you’re probably better at football than him, too.’”

The shame of it is, he had finally grown into his ears, which are now again one of his more prominent features.

All jokes aside, the alarming rate at which Gross has dropped the weight underscores how hard it was for him to stay big enough to compete in the NFL. He looks like a fit person now, if not one who spent 12 years playing offensive line.

Photo credit: Black and Blue Review

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Matt Forte wants to disprove notions about aging running backs

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

There aren’t many walks of life when someone who is 28 is considered aging, but that’s the case for running backs in the NFL.

The much-feared 30th birthday isn’t too far away and any potential sign of slippage becomes a reason to worry that a back has hit the wall that separates the productive phase of their career from the final grinding years before retirement. Bears running back Matt Forte turns 29 in December and hopes to change some of the notions that we have about running backs that age during the 2014 season.

“I want to break the stereotype of old running backs going downhill,” Forte said, via the Chicago Tribune. “This offseason I feel better than I have the past five or six offseasons. I got my rest and I know how to take care of my body now. Yeah, it is going to be harder and harder every year, but as long as you continue to have your set routine and stick to it, and a lot of prayer too, that helps a lot. Health is the main deal.”

Health helped Forte stay on the field most of the time last season on his way to career highs in rushing yards and receptions and a third-place finish in total yards from scrimmage. It’s a strong argument against the start of the decline phase of his career, but it was also the most touches in the league and the cumulative effect of those touches could impact Forte this season. They’ll look to rookie Ka’Deem Carey to take some of those touches this season in hopes of keeping Forte fresh, but more production like 2013 will make it hard to keep Forte from showing that 28 is the new 25.

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Retirement decisions carry more weight this year

GETTY_H_110210_BrainScan Getty Images

When the concussion settlement was first announced in August 2013, the parties agreed that any retired players as of the date on which the deal received preliminary court approval would be part of the class of former players who would be eligible for benefits.  Although Judge Anita Brody gave preliminary approval three weeks ago, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the NFL likely would not fight the addition of players like receiver Sidney Rice, who retired last week due to his history of concussions.

For other players currently considering whether to walk away from football, the closing window (assuming it isn’t already closed) for participating in the concussion settlement should be a significant factor in the final analysis.  For now, any players who choose to retire land in a gray area.  As the date for final approval of the settlement approaches, at some point it will be too late.

And while players who retire after it’s too late to join the concussion settlement could file their own concussion lawsuits, the person who brokered the deal explained that future claims likely will fail.

“For a variety of reasons, the underlying theory of this lawsuit about what took place in the past would be difficult to replicate in the future,” Judge Layn Phillips said in a document explaining the settlement.  “Everyone now has a much deeper and more substantial understanding about concussions, and how to prevent and manage them, than they did 20 or even 10 years ago, and the information conveyed to players reflects that greater understanding.  In addition, the labor law defenses asserted by the NFL would represent a very substantial barrier to asserting these kinds of claims going forward.  The combination of advances in medical research, improved equipment, rules changes, greater understanding of concussion management, and enhanced benefits should, and hopefully will, prevent similar lawsuits in the future.”

It means that, if a player has concerns about a history of concussions, whether known to his team or kept secret, and is considering retiring for other reasons, potential participation in the concussion settlement could be a factor.

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LeSean McCoy throws some shade Chris Johnson’s way

LeSean McCoy AP

Maybe Eagles running back LeSean McCoy’s feelings were a little hurt, that former teammate Michael Vick was willing to race him last year, but won’t run against new Jets teammate Chris Johnson.

So the man called Shady threw some shade in the direction of the artist formerly known as CJ2K.

“That’s Mike for you,” McCoy said, via Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. “Ask him who the best back is, he’ll tell you me.”

While few would argue that McCoy is the better back at the moment, the insecurity is a bit troubling. And Vick might not want to dump on his new teammate just to spare the feelings of a former, slower one.

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Jerry Jones was “that close” to taking Johnny Manziel

Romo AP

Yes, the Cowboys were close to drafting Johnny Manziel.  How close?

Very close.

“I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to putting that Manziel card in. It was that close,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Sunday on NFL Network, via Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  “I looked over to my son, Stephen . . . and I said, ‘I took the right pick.  [Zack Martin] was the top player by three players on our board at the time that we were sitting there looking at [Manziel]. . . .  The question was, ‘Could we make it work with Tony Romo during the period of time that we are going to have Tony?’  And by the way, my expectations are that Tony will be our quarterback several years to come as we move along.”

It’s easy for Jones to say that now.  In fact, it’s necessary, given that the Cowboys didn’t pick Manziel.  But if Manziel had been the pick, how many years could the Cowboys have parked him on the bench behind Romo?  And how relentless would the questions have been regarding Manziel’s elevation to starter?

“Manziel is special,” Jones said.  “I know him personally. I know that he is going to be a success in the National Football League, and it was a hard decision. And it is one that I will probably have for the rest of my career think about.”

Jones won’t have to personally confront the decision until 2016, when the Cowboys are due to visit Cleveland.  If Romo’s back problems have forced him to retire by then and if Manziel has become a quality starter, Jones will be thinking about it a lot.

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Colts cut Chris Rainey

rainey AP

So much for Chris Rainey doing “anything and everything” for the Colts this year.

Rainey, the running back and return man who appeared to be ready to compete for a big role in the offense after the injury to Vick Ballard, has instead been released. The Colts announced the move in a brief statement today.

No reason for Rainey’s release was given, but the timing is odd, both because the Ballard injury has the Colts thin at running back and because just days ago coach Chuck Pagano spoke glowingly about Rainey in practice.

Rainey was drafted by the Steelers in 2012 and had just 26 carries for 102 yards as a rookie, and the Steelers cut him when he was arrested shortly after his rookie year ended. Rainey signed with the Colts late last season and played only sparingly as a return man in two games. Now he’ll be placed on waivers, and we’ll see whether any other team wants to put in a claim for a player who says he can do “anything and everything” with the ball in his hands.

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Coughlin beyond disappointed that Odell Beckham can’t practice

Odell Beckham AP

The Giants are looking forward to first-round wide receiver Odell Beckham having a big impact this year.

But so far, they haven’t seen him do much, and that has Giants coach Tom Coughlin moving beyond simple disappointment.

“It’s more than that,” Coughlin said, via Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. “Sure it is. You’re trying to put a team together. We saw too much of that in the spring.”

The “that” Coughlin was referring to was the hamstring strain that kept him out of minicamp, and came back the first day of camp. Beckham was in full pads like everybody else Sunday, but he was limited, catching punts but not running with them.

It would be nice to get him back practicing,” Coughlin said. “He actually looks pretty good out there. He’s moving around, catching the ball, he doesn’t favor anything. I’m just hoping it’s a real short amount of time. . . .

“They’re not going to let him go if he’s in danger of hurting himself. That’s all there is to it. I can stand there all I want, but it’s not going to happen. When they think he can go and not risk recurring injury, they’ll let him go.”

You can practically see Coughlin steaming as he says it, wishing Beckham could rub some dirt on it and get back out there, but helpless against the forces of modern medicine.

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Randall Cobb doesn’t believe he’s done enough for a big deal

Randall Cobb AP

Jordy Nelson got paid over the weekend, leaving Randall Cobb as the next Packers wide receiver likely to sign a contract extension with the team.

Cobb says his heart is in Green Bay and that he’d like to stay with the team, but that he isn’t aware of any contract talks between the team and his agent at the moment. That suits Cobb, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, just fine as he says he’s content to focus on doing enough on the field this season to earn an extended deal.

“I don’t believe I’ve done enough and I think that’s on me,” Cobb said, via ESPN.com.

Cobb broke his leg last season, missing 10 games and it would be harder to say that there was still more to do in order to be worthy of an extension. Cobb caught 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 and was on pace for even bigger numbers when he got hurt. Should Cobb and Aaron Rodgers both remain healthy this season, the wideout’s numbers probably won’t leave much doubt about his value to the offense or whether he’s earned an extension.

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Suspension looming, Lane Johnson slides to second team

Lane AP

Lost in last week’s news of the Ray Rice suspension was the news of the Lane Johnson suspension.  The fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft will miss twice as many games for Rice because, according to the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, he took a prescription medication that he didn’t realize appears on the NFL’s list of banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Based on those facts — accidentally taking a prescription medication versus knocking out a female in a casino elevator — it seems like an unfair result.  But Johnson can say whatever he wants about how the violation arose, and there’s nothing the league can do about it under the current drug policies.

“As a professional, you’re supposed to be aware of what you put in your body and take precautions,” Johnson said upon arriving at camp, via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia News. “That’s something I didn’t do, and now I pay the price.”

The league’s strict-liability, no-questions-asked PED policy creates an environment in which innocent, unintended violations trigger automatic suspensions.  Which has created a P.R. safe harbor for cheaters.  Apparently, the policy never actually ensnares a deliberate cheat; everyone popped for a four-game ban has an excuse that looks good on the surface — especially if the players refuses to go beneath the surface with his explanation.

In Johnson’s case, he declined to discuss the prescription medication he took, or the condition for which it was prescribed.  Which causes some to think there wasn’t one.

Regardless, coach Chip Kelly has moved Johnson to the second team for the start of training camp, since the team has to prepare Allen Barbre to handle the job while Johnson is away.

“We still have to develop Lane,” Kelly told reporters on Saturday.  “So he’ll get reps, but they won’t be with the first team right now.”

Some of that may be punitive, based on Kelly’s views regarding the manner in which the violation arose.

“There’s also some individual responsibility that goes with the player,” Kelly said regarding the question of whether the Eagles failed to properly oversee Johnson’s activities.  “So, you know, if the answer is, I didn’t know.  They know.  They get tested at the Combine.  They get tested anywhere.  Any one of these guys that comes from an NCAA institution knows they get tested.  They’re also their own men.  It’s no different than if you got pulled over for a DUI, you’re going to turn around and tell your employers, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that.  They’re adults.  They’re going to make mistakes.  They’re going to pay a hefty price for those mistakes.  They’re going to miss four games, four game checks.  Hopefully that works.”

For Johnson, who coincidentally (or not) gained nine pounds in the offseason, the message apparently has been sent from the league.  If Barbre plays well during Johnson’s four game absence, Kelly may decide to keep sending the message beyond Week Four to the guy who started 16 games as a rookie.

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Monday morning one-liners

Aqib Talib AP

G Kraig Urbik caught a touchdown pass during Bills practice.

Rishard Matthews is making a strong bid for a roster spot.

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley is trying to be a leader this season.

G Willie Colon is off the PUP list and practicing for the Jets.

Some Ravens veterans got Sunday off from practice.

Bengals DL Devon Still’s daughter is fighting a battle against cancer.

WR Nate Burleson thinks the Browns will be fine regardless of who plays quarterback.

There are high hopes for Steelers rookie WR Martavis Bryant.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t singling out anyone positively or negatively after practice this weekend.

Colts DE Cory Redding knows his career is winding down.

Sunday brought a few scuffles to Jaguars camp.

Titans RB Dexter McCluster is eager to show that he can take a hit.

CB Aqib Talib got a warm welcome at Broncos practice.

TE Demetrius Harris thinks he can win a job with the Chiefs.

WR Greg Little is enjoying a second chance with the Raiders.

The Chargers gave rookie CB Jason Verrett a look as a returner.

WR Dez Bryant’s credibility has grown in the Cowboys locker room.

Giants RB Andre Williams will try anything to improve as a pass catcher.

Said Eagles DE Fletcher Cox, “Basically, it’s got to be one of my better years this year, my third year going in. I’ve got two years under my belt. Hey, I’m ready to take off.”

LB Keenan Robinson draws on memories of London Fletcher as he helps set the Redskins defense.

Bears P Pat O’Donnell has been dubbed “Mega-Punt” by camp observers.

QB Matthew Stafford has been picking up the Lions’ offense.

Micah Hyde is doing his best to win a starting safety job with the Packers.

The Vikings would like a physical presence at fullback.

Dwight Lowery has made a quick impression at safety for the Falcons.

Panthers RB Mike Tolbert has lost weight, but hopefully not his toughness.

WR Brandin Cooks is learning fast at his first Saints training camp.

Buccaneers S Mark Barron is working to get his knee 100 percent before the start of the season.

Cardinals DT Dan Williams left practice with a knee injury.

Catching up with some long shots for the Rams roster.

Do the 49ers have reason to worry about their backup cornerbacks?

Dropped passes were prevalent at Sunday’s Seahawks practice.

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Jim Caldwell thinks a deal with Ndamukong Suh will get done

Ndamukong Suh AP

Lions coach Jim Caldwell doesn’t agree with the recent report that the Lions aren’t optimistic about a long-term contract with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Asked if he thinks the Lions can keep Suh long term, Caldwell said he believes they can, noting that the team views Suh as a building block and saying that Suh showed up to training camp in phenomenal shape.

“Absolutely,” Caldwell said, via the Detroit News. “I’m always optimistic . . . and I think without question [Lions management and Suh’s agent] are working at it. And I think something will be done at the appropriate time.”

Suh’s enormous cap number of $22.4 million this year — and the fact that franchising him next year would cost a whopping $26.9 million — makes it easy to see why the Lions would love to work out a long-term deal that provides them with some immediate cap relief. But it also makes it easy to see why Suh is tempted to simply play out his deal. The Lions probably wouldn’t franchise him because they wouldn’t want to eat that cap hit, which means Suh would hit the open market after this season.

Caldwell may have reasons to be optimistic about getting a deal done with Suh, but Suh has even more reasons to be optimistic that he’s going to get paid a fortune over the coming years, from the Lions or some other team.

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LaMichael James likely to miss preseason with dislocated elbow

LaMichael James, Colin Kaepernick AP

The good news for 49ers running back LaMichael James is that he is expected to be ready to go by Week One after suffering a practice injury on Sunday. The bad news is that the inexperienced James won’t benefit from any preseason experience.

James suffered a dislocated left elbow that will take about a month to heal, meaning he’s likely out for the entire preseason, ESPN reports. The 24-year-old James has just 39 carries for 184 yards so far in his NFL career, and the 49ers would have liked to see him get more action in the preseason, especially after they already lost running back Kendall Hunter for the entire season when he suffered a torn ACL on Friday.

The 49ers suddenly find themselves thin at running back, a position where they expected to be deep. In addition to the Hunter and James injuries, 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore is still not practicing because he’s still not 100 percent recovered from the serious knee injury he suffered at South Carolina in 2012.

After starter Frank Gore, the only 49ers running backs able to practice right now are second-round pick Carlos Hyde and former practice-squad player Jewel Hampton.

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Rudolph gets $6.5 million to sign on deal with maximum value of $40 million

Rudolph AP

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has a new five-year extension, announced tonight by the team and reportedly carrying a base value of $36.5 million.  A source with knowledge of the terms has shared some additional details with PFT.

Rudolph gets a $6.5 million signing bonus.  Along with a technically non-guaranteed but as a practical matter fully guaranteed base salary of $956,343 for 2014, Rudolph definitely will earn $7.456 million in the next five months.

Per the source, the deal has another $12 million in injury-only guarantees that eventually convert to full guarantees on the third day of a given league year.  (The number of years over which the guaranteed money is spread isn’t currently known.  Until the relevant dates pass and the money becomes fully guaranteed, it’s not actually or practically guaranteed.)

On the back end, Rudolph earns an extra $750,000 for each year in which he catches 80 passes, and $500,000 for each year he makes it to the Pro Bowl.  Over five years, that’s a total of $6.25 million in available incentives, but the total he can earn through these accomplishments is capped at a total of $3.5 million.

The base new-money value of $7.3 million puts him behind only Jimmy Graham ($10 million in new money), Rob Gronkowski ($9 million), Jason Witten ($7.4 million), and Vernon Davis ($7.35 million).  A single 80-catch season will throw another $0.25 million on the annual average, vaulting Rudolph ahead of Witten and Davis.

Eighty catches won’t be a breeze, but in Norv Turner’s offense it’s a distinct possibility.

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Vikings strike five-year deal with Kyle Rudolph

Kyle Rudolph AP

The Vikings have signed one of their core offensive players to a contract extension.

The club confirmed Sunday night it had reached a new deal with 24-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was entering the final year of his contract.

According to FOX’s Jay Glazer — who first reported news of the extension — Rudolph received a five-year, $36.5 million contract from Minnesota.

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports the new deal makes Rudolph the game’s fifth highest-paid tight end.

Rudolph has hauled in 109 passes for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns in three NFL seasons, all with Minnesota. The Vikings selected Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Notre Dame.

“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said in a statement issued by the club Sunday night. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”

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Christine Michael bangs up shoulder

Seahawks AP

As the Marshawn Lynch holdout lingers, his leverage spikes if/when any of the team’s alternatives at tailback gets injured.

If became when on Sunday, when second-year running back Christine Michael left practice with a shoulder injury.

“He just banged his shoulder a little bit,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters after practice.  “They think he will be ready to go on Tuesday.”

The injury serves as a reminder that Plan B can quickly becomes Plan C and so on, unless and until Lynch returns to the fold.  There’s been no progress along those lines, with Lynch wanting a new contract and the Seahawks refusing to rip up the last two seasons of a four-year, $30 million deal.

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