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PFT’s Week 15 picks

Dolphins AP

Last week was a good week.  But not as good as it could have been.

With a 14-1 mark through Sunday’s games and a 3-0 record in the disagreements with MDS, a Cowboys win would mean a 15-1 week, a four-game sweep of MDS, and a six-game deficit with three weeks to go.

But the team that once went 15-1 for a full season thumped the Cowboys, and the gap was only narrowed by two games.

Through 14 weeks, MDS now has an eight-game lead.

For the week, I was 14-2 and he was 12-4.  For the year, he’s 138-70.  I’m 130-78.

This week, we differ once again on four games.  All of our prognostications appear below.

Chargers at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Chargers can put a lot of points on the board, but Peyton Manning will carve up a weak San Diego defense, and the Chargers won’t be able to keep up. Denver takes another step toward home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 38, Chargers 28.

Florio’s take:  The sun won’t be shining on a night when critics will have another chance to stick the narrative that Peyton Manning struggles in the cold where the sun doesn’t shine.  A week after thrashing Eli Manning’s team, Philip Rivers and company will be reminded that Peyton’s squad currently is a lot better.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Chargers 24.

Redskins at Falcons

MDS’s take: This terrible game is interesting to draft watchers and to friends and family of Kirk Cousins, but not to anyone else. Atlanta is bad, but they haven’t totally quit on their season like Washington has, so I’ll go with the Falcons.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 27, Redskins 17.

Florio’s take:  A pair of 2012 playoff teams currently are jockeying for the first pick in the draft.  The Rams, who hold Washington’s first-round selection, are rooting for their old NFC West rivals to wake up and take down Kirk Cousins and company.  If anyone actually shows up at the Georgia Dome, they may be pleased with the results.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Redskins 13.

Bears at Browns

MDS’s take: Jason Campbell and Josh Gordon can put up some points against this Bears defense, but I expect Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, and Brandon Marshall to put up more points against Cleveland’s defense.

MDS’s pick: Bears 24, Browns 21.

Florio’s take:  Two of the best young wideouts in the NFL meet in Cleveland.  Josh Gordon will once again have a big game in a loss.  Alshon Jeffery will once again have a big game in a win.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 24, Browns 20.

Texans at Colts

MDS’s take: Injuries are killing the Colts, and I think they’re going to be one-and-done in the playoffs. But they’re still better than the Texans, who are marching toward the first overall pick in the draft.

MDS’s pick: Colts 27, Texans 20.

Florio’s take:  If it wasn’t for teams that currently are in Houston or that used to be in Houston, the Colts would be winless since beating the quarterback who used to be in Indy.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 28, Texans 17.

Bills at Jaguars

MDS’s take: Credit the Jaguars for the way they’re continuing to play hard after a lot of teams would have quit, but I think it comes to an end on Sunday, when EJ Manuel will thrive on the scaled-back offense that the Bills’ coaches are giving him.

MDS’s pick: Bills 27, Jaguars 24.

Florio’s take:  For the second straight week, the Bills visit a team that started the season 0-8.  For the second straight week, the Bills will fall victim to that team’s stunning turnaround.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 24, Bills 10.

Patriots at Dolphins

MDS’s take: In one of this week’s few games matching up two teams with realistic playoff hopes, the Patriots will remind the Dolphins who owns the AFC East.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 31, Dolphins 20.

Florio’s take:  A couple of teams in the AFC East get together in a game that profoundly impacts a couple of teams in the AFC North.  The Dolphins will continue an unlikely run to January, which is bad news for the Ravens — but good news for the Bengals, who are trying to catch New England for the No. 2 seed in the conference.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 28, Patriots 27.

Eagles at Vikings

MDS’s take: The Eagles are rolling right now, and although the Vikings have been playing competitive football, they don’t have the personnel on defense to stop Philadelphia’s offense. This should be an easy win for the Eagles.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 27, Vikings 14.

Florio’s take:  The three-win Vikings have three opportunities to play spoiler.  Spoiling the next-to-last game at the Metrodome will be an Eagles team that has won five in a row and is 5-1 on the road.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Vikings 20.

Seahawks at Giants

MDS’s take: The Giants’ defense couldn’t stop the Chargers last week and they won’t be able to stop the Seahawks this week. Throw in a couple of Eli Manning interceptions against a great Seahawks defense, and this game won’t be close.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Giants 14.

Florio’s take:  The Seahawks make their first of two visits to MetLife Stadium.  Next time, they’ll be playing an AFC team there.  And it won’t be the Jets.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 40, Giants 21.

Saints at Rams

MDS’s take: The Saints bounced back nicely from their blowout loss to the Seahawks by blowing out the Panthers. New Orleans will win another blowout on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Saints 34, Rams 16.

Florio’s take:  Taking the Saints out of the Superdome increases the chances of beating them.  Putting them in a different dome against a so-so team decreases the chances of beating them.

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, Rams 20.

49ers at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: Give Greg Schiano a lot of credit for the way he got his team to turn things around late in the season, but Mike Glennon is going to struggle against a tough 49ers defense, and San Francisco will win.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 28, Buccaneers 10.

Florio’s take:  What once appeared to be a cakewalk for the Niners becomes a tougher task.  Tough enough for the Niners to stumble.  If Jim Harbaugh thought last week’s win over the Seahawks was a three-and-a-half-hour root canal, he’ll think this week’s game is a three-and-a-half-hour encounter at the bottom of the pile with Steelers center Cody Wallace.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 17, 49ers 16.

Cardinals at Titans

MDS’s take: Arizona’s defense will miss injured cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, but the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Titans offense still won’t be able to do much of anything. The Cardinals will win and keep their playoff hopes alive, although they look like they’re going to be the best team to miss the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 20, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  The Cardinals make only their second trip ever to Tennessee, where they lost in 2009.  This time, they get the job done.

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 24, Titans 21.

Jets at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Jets’ offense had a surprisingly effective game last week against the Raiders, but the Panthers are not the Raiders. This will be a blowout.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 34, Jets 10.

Florio’s take:  The advice given by Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to his twin brother Rex  regarding beating the Panthers consisted of this:  Get a time machine, go back to 2006, and sign Drew Brees.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Jets 17.

Chiefs at Raiders

MDS’s take: Give Kansas City credit for consistency.  The Chiefs have been destroying bad teams all season long. They’ll do it again on on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 36, Raiders 17.

Florio’s take:  The Chiefs are locked in to the No. 5 seed.  The Raiders are locked in to irrelevance.  Advantage playoff team.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 27, Raiders 20.

Packers at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Packers are pessimistic about Aaron Rodgers‘ chances, and that makes me pessimistic about the Packers’ chances. Although the Cowboys’ defense is bad enough that a Matt Flynn-led Packers offense can score some points on them, the Packers’ defense is every bit as bad, and a Tony Romo-led Cowboys offense will score more.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 31, Packers 28.

Florio’s take:  Jerry Jones said there’s no one he’d rather have running his defense than Monte Kiffin.  Maybe Jones meant to say he’d rather have no one running his defense than Kiffin.  Anyone could coordinate the Cowboys defense to hold down the Packers, if they again don’t have Aaron Rodgers.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 27, Packers 14.

Bengals at Steelers

MDS’s take: If Antonio Brown had kept his foot inbounds on the Steelers’ wild last play on Sunday, Pittsburgh would be right in the thick of the playoff race and this would be a very big game. Instead, the Steelers are all but eliminated, and the Bengals should cruise toward the AFC North title.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 24, Steelers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals roll back into Pittsburgh with the better team and better prospects for the balance of the season and beyond.  The bigger question is whether Cincy can finally win in the postseason.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 17, Steelers 14.

Ravens at Lions

MDS’s take: The NFC North is wide open for the Lions, and yet the Lions aren’t playing like a team that wants to take it, with losses in three of their last four games even though they had fourth-quarter leads in all three. And yet I believe the Lions are going to show up on Monday night and make a statement against a Ravens team that is also fighting for a playoff spot.

MDS’s pick: Lions 24, Ravens 21.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens know how to get the playoffs.  The Lions know how to not get to the playoffs.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 30, Lions 27.

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Dungy says timing of Shane Ray’s incident is the biggest concern

Ray Getty Images

Tuesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio included a visit from Tony Dungy of NBC’s Football Night in America, who addressed among other things the question of whether Monday’s citation for marijuana possession would result in Missouri defensive end Shane Ray being removed from Dungy’s draft board.

“It probably would for me because of when it happened, not the fact that someone smokes marijuana or is caught with marijuana,” Dungy said.  “But when you’re leading up to the biggest moment of your life so far, you can’t have those kinds of things happen.  You just can’t.”

Dungy made a great point by comparing the blunder three days before the draft to mistakes that could happen prior to other significant events in the player’s life.

“That would concern me that, hey, maybe we’re a couple of days before a Super Bowl, and what’s going to happen?  It would be bothersome just the fact that it happened this close to the draft.”

Of course, 31 teams can feel that way.  It only takes one to disagree strongly for Ray to remain one of the top players taken.

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Which draft room would you most like to visit?

WarRoom Getty Images

The draft starts on Thursday night, and plenty of the NFL’s 32 teams will likely provide intrigue.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s PFT Planet poll question for Pro Football Talk on NBCSN:  Which team’s draft room would you most like to visit during this year’s draft?  (I was going to call it being a fly on the wall, but that would entail all sorts of unsavory fly-related activities.)

The choices are the Buccaneers, Eagles, Titans, Browns, and Cowboys.  Pick one, and then tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET for a full hour of NFL-related news and analysis, with Paul Burmeister, Jason Taylor, and Jonathan Vilma in Connecticut and yours truly in West Virginia.

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Jerry Jones: Defensive help, not running back, is major need in draft

jerryjones AP

The Cowboys have been linked with several of the draft’s top running backs in the weeks leading up to the draft, but owner Jerry Jones downplayed the team’s need for backfield help during a pre-draft press conference on Tuesday.

Jones said, via David Helman of the team’s website, that the team is interested in adding a running back to a backfield fronted by Darren McFadden, but that the need is not “not urgent.” Improving the defense, on the other hand, is something that Jones characterized as something that the Cowboys have to do “by hook or crook.”

It’s a sensible approach to take. The Cowboys have a strong offensive line and passing game, which creates confidence that they’ll be able to generate a strong running game even if they don’t come away from the draft with Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. It’s also thought to be a deep group of runners, which helps the Cowboys wait before pulling the trigger on a back.

The defense, on the other hand, needs reinforcing in various spots after outperforming expectations last season. Jones also suggested that some of the help on both sides of the ball will come after the Cowboys move around the draft board, saying that being at No. 27 raises the likelihood that the Cowboys will make a trade before Thursday night is out.

If the Cowboys were to move down and add picks on the second and/or third day of the draft, it seems likely that they’d use one on a back given McFadden’s injury history and the general trend of using multiple backs in today’s NFL.

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Peyton Manning: I wouldn’t call this year my farewell tour

Colts Broncos Football AP

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took his time this offseason before deciding to return to the Broncos for a fourth season, which didn’t do much to quell speculation that he’s closing in on the end of his playing days.

When he reached a deal with the Broncos to return, Manning gave no indication that he plans on 2015 being his final NFL season and he continued on that line Tuesday while speaking to the media on the first day of the team’s three-day minicamp.

Manning said that he doesn’t view this season as his “farewell tour” and that he feels like he’s a “young 39″ as he prepares for his 18th NFL season.   He also said that he’s feeling good physically and that he feels like he’ll do well with what coach Gary Kubiak wants to do on offense this season.

“I like to think I’m pretty versatile, believe it or not,” Manning said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Manning didn’t look like a particularly young 38 as last season came to a close, but the change in coaches and personnel in Denver this offseason may provide a burst of energy to the offense that was missing down the stretch last season. Whether it will be there in the final weeks of next season is harder to answer even with Manning’s confidence about the future.

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Vikings continue to insist they won’t trade Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson AP

The Minnesota Vikings continue to insist that Adrian Peterson is not going anywhere.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said today that despite widespread speculation that Peterson could be traded, that’s simply not going to happen.

“We can just end the Adrian Peterson stuff. Our position has not changed since all of the statements we made down at the owners’ meetings. Adrian Peterson is under contract, his suspension was lifted, we’re looking forward to having Adrian Peterson as a Minnesota Viking in 2015. That’s the end of the story. That’s it,” Spielman said.

Spielman reiterated comments from coach Mike Zimmer that the Vikings expect Peterson to be their starting running back this year.

“I think coach Zimmer made it clear that we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson. We don’t. Adrian made a mistake, he’s paid a price for that mistake, but I think if this organization didn’t believe in Adrian Peterson, he probably wouldn’t be here today. I know we believe in Adrian Peterson, but I also know that we’re a pretty good football team with Adrian Peterson in our backfield as well,” Spielman said.

This might not be “the end of the story” as Spielman claims, but it certainly seems like the story is going to end with Peterson in a Vikings uniform in 2015.

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Rick Spielman: Vikings want to trade down

Spielman AP

General managers usually play things close to the vest in the days leading up to the draft, but Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman is stating publicly what he wants to do on Thursday night: Trade down.

Spielman said today that the Vikings are open for business to move down, and that teams interested in trading up to the No. 11 pick should give him a call. The Vikings have seven picks this year, and Spielman would like to increase that number.

“I’m looking forward to potentially moving out of that pick, if at all possible. I don’t anticipate us moving up at this point, but I would love the opportunity to move down and collect more picks. My goal is always to have 10 picks and one of the reasons for that is you get the opportunity to move up and down throughout that draft,” Spielman said.

Having said that, Spielman said the Vikings have a few players they love enough that they’d be willing to stay put and pick at No. 11.

“We may just stick at 11 this year if there’s a player that falls to us who’s just too good, we’re not going to pass and just going to take him,” Spielman said.

Basically, Spielman wants any team that has an interest in trading up to No. 11 to call him. There’s a good chance that the Vikings will say yes to a trade that yields them more picks.

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Report: Bills exercising fifth-year option on Stephon Gilmore’s contract

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

The Bills don’t have a first-round pick this year, which means, barring a trade on Thursday or down the road, they’ll avoid having to make a decision about a fifth-year option on a member of the 2015 draft class.

They do have to make one about their 2012 first-round selection, however, and Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the team has made it. Per Breer, they will exercise their option on cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s contract, which leaves the 10th overall pick of the 2012 draft set to make $11 million next season.

The Bills can rescind that option, but an extension that keeps Gilmore in town beyond 2016 seems a likelier option. He’s set to be the team’s top corner again this season and coach Rex Ryan has prized having talented corners able to lock up opposing receivers on the outside of his defenses.

After a slow start to last season, Gilmore showed that he can do that at a high level and the three-year starter should continue to benefit from playing behind a defensive front that creates a lot of problems for quarterbacks.

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Texans “encouraged and impressed” by Jadeveon Clowney’s progress

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

It’s been almost a year since the Texans made linebacker Jadeveon Clowney the top pick in the 2014 draft and the team’s hoping for a bigger impact from the former South Carolina star in his second pro season.

His first season was almost a complete washout because of a knee injury that forced him to miss 12 games and led to a pair of surgeries, including a microfracture operation that set up an offseason of rehab. Clowney said recently that he’s encouraged by the progress he’s made in rehab and General Manager Rick Smith said the same thing on Tuesday while adding that the team has big plans for him in 2015.

“I’ve been encouraged and impressed. He’s doing well. We expect him to be a major contributor this year,” Smith said, via the team.

The Texans had the best defensive player in the league last year in defensive end J.J. Watt and the prospect of putting a healthy Clowney on the field with him conjures up images of a defense that can overwhelm opposing offenses. Until Clowney gets on the field, though, we won’t know what impact the surgeries might have on his ability to fulfill Smith’s expectations.

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Stephen Jones takes exception to criticizing Cowboys over Greg Hardy

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones is pushing back against a perception that the Cowboys were unprepared for the 10-game suspension the NFL handed down to Greg Hardy.

Asked if the NFL’s 10-game suspension of Hardy shows that the league considered it a more serious matter than the Cowboys realized when they signed him, Jones shot back, “I take exception to that.”

“I think we were very aware that there was a suspension pending and knew that it could be of that length, so I would disagree with you there. I think we were very aware of that. I don’t think it turned out any different than we thought could happen. I think we structured a contract to deal with that and knew very well — our eyes were wide open on that,” Jones said.

Asked if the NFL found something in its investigation that the Cowboys weren’t aware of, Jones said that’s not the case.

“I think we were very aware of the things that went on,” Jones said. “This was not a surprise to anybody.”

Although Hardy’s contract had a maximum value of $13.1 million, the Cowboys structured the contract to protect themselves in the case of a suspension, and if Hardy loses his appeal, the Cowboys will end up paying him about $5 million for six games. The Cowboys think that’s a fair deal for one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, who also happens to be one of the poster boys for the NFL’s domestic violence problem.

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Falcons taking a look at former first-rounder Adam Carriker

Adam Carriker AP

Another member of the vaunted NFL Veteran Combine Class of 2015 has gotten a job, or at least an application for one.

According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Falcons have brought former first-round pick Adam Carriker to minicamp this week on a tryout basis.

Carriker was the 13th overall pick in 2007 by the Rams, and got a lucrative free agent deal from Washington, before a pair of quadriceps tears and three surgeries derailed his career.

He hasn’t played since early in the 2012 season, but for the price of free, the Falcons figured it couldn’t hurt.

The Falcons have also brought in 10 other players on a tryout basis for coach Dan Quinn’s first minicamp: Cornerback Derek Cox, cornerback Kennard Cox, wide receiver B.J. Hamilton, tackle Nate Menkin, running back Horace Miller, running back Carlton Mitchell, fullback Collin Mooney, running back Evan Royster, guard Tevita Stevens and wide receiver Stephen Williams were practicing with the Falcons as tryout players.

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Report: Texans looking to deal safety D.J. Swearinger

D.J. Swearinger AP

A recent second-round pick is reportedly on the trading block.

The Texans are efforting to deal starting strong safety D.J. Swearinger, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported.

The No. 57 overall pick in 2013, the 23-year-old Swearinger has started 22-of-32 games in two seasons with Houston, making 144 tackles, defending 10 passes and hauling in three interceptions.

Swearinger has two years left on his contract at affordable salaries ($722,390 in 2015, $881,085 in 2016), and his affordability and youth could perhaps make him attractive to another club.

The Texans’ secondary is somewhat thin beyond the starting ranks, and the news of Swearinger landing in trade talks only adds to possibility of the club looking to add to its defensive backfield in the draft. What’s more, the Texans met with free agent safety Stevie Brown last week.

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Evan Mathis came up in Eagles trade talks with Dolphins

Evan Mathis AP

Any interest the Eagles might have had in Dolphins outside linebacker/defensive end/cautionary tale Dion Jordan was rendered moot when Jordan was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

But it’s clear in the aftermath there was interest.

Via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles discussed a trade involving a conditional late-round pick in exchange for the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But guard Evan Mathis was also discussed during the process, which ultimately led to nothing.

Mathis is skipping the Eagles’ voluntary workouts, amid reprots he could be released if he’s not traded. He’s due $5.5 million and $6 million the next two years, a valuation Chip Kelly clearly doesn’t agree with.

You’d think he’d have a degree of a market this offseason, since veteran guards with big contracts have been dealt already (Ben Grubbs), but the fact he’d come up in what amounts to a throw-away deal for Jordan should indicate exactly how the Eagles feel about him.

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Report: Dion Jordan to be suspended for the 2015 season

Dion Jordan AP

One of the top picks in the 2013 NFL Draft will miss the entire upcoming season.

Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall selection two years ago, will be suspended for the 2015 regular season after a positive substance-abuse test, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday.

According to Schefter, Jordan’s positive test stems from a diluted test sample, and he is not appealing the ban. The defensive end served a four-game suspension in 2014 for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Furthermore, ESPN reports the latest positive test has scuttled a potential trade between the Dolphins and Eagles for Jordan, who played collegiately at Oregon under now-Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly.

The 25-year-old Jordan hasn’t had much of an impact in his first two NFL seasons, notching just three sacks in 26 regular season games. And now, he has suffered a significant setback.

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Panthers G.M.: “We made our statement” on domestic violence

Dave Gettleman AP

The Panthers could certainly use a game-breaking wide receiver, and picking 25th in the 2015 NFL Draft, the guys with flawless resumes will be gone.

But it seems safe to assume they won’t be using their first-rounder on former Missouri/Oklahoma wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, not based on General Manager Dave Gettleman’s response to a general question about character Tuesday.

Via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Gettleman blew that possibility out of the sky, without even being asked about the player specifically.

In terms of domestic violence, we made our statement,” Gettleman said, a clear reference to letting former franchise player Greg Hardy walk unfettered into the market.

Green-Beckham was investigated but not charged following a domestic violence incident, and also has drug issues in the past, making it easier for some teams to steer clear of a first-round talent.

Of course, drug issues alone might not be enough to knock a player off the Panthers’ radar, as Gettleman admitted having “more discussions” about some players with character questions this year. The Panthers brought pass-rusher marijuana test-failer Randy Gregory in for a visit, and Gettleman seemed to suggest that the scrutiny of players such as Gregory (and perhaps Shane Ray) was intense.

“It’s take no prisoners now,” Gettleman said of his interviews. “When they come in here, they get grilled pretty hard. We’re not hitting them with feather dusters; it’s two-by-fours. We have to find out what it’s about, what he’s about.”

Picking at the bottom of the first round, the Panthers might find a player who falls into their laps because of those questions. And it seems there are certain things they’ll abide, and certain things they won’t after paying Hardy $13.1 million for one game last year.

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NFL will give up its tax-exempt status

Super Bowl Football AP

The NFL has often faced scrutiny over its status as a tax-exempt organization. Now the league is deciding to give up that status.

According to Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal, the NFL will change its status to taxable from tax-exempt. The federal government has granted tax-exempt 501(c)(6) status to the NFL since 1966.

That may reduce the criticism the league takes for being a tax-exempt organization, but more important to the league, it removes the requirement that the NFL disclose the compensation of Commissioner Roger Goodell and other top executives. So Goodell’s salary will no longer be public record.

Although the league has been classified as a tax-exempt organization, the 32 teams are all taxable, for-profit businesses, which means the money made by the league is taxed. This move will not affect the tax burden faced by the teams.

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