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PFT’s Week 16 picks

Titans AP

I entered the week eight games behind MDS.  I exited the week eight games behind MDS.

And now I have only 32 games left to make up an eight-game gap.

But it’s not time to surrender.  A sweep this week gets me halfway to a tie, since we disagree on four games.

We each went 9-7 in Week 15.  For the year, he’s 147-77.  I’m 139-85.

All picks appear below.  As they always do.

Dolphins at Bills

MDS’s take: Going to Buffalo in December won’t be an easy road trip for Miami, as the Bills’ defense is playing well. But it’s hard to pick a team with nothing to play for against a team that just needs to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  Buffalo already beat the Dolphins in Miami.  With Thad Lewis at quarterback.  Lewis is back at quarterback, and the rematch occurs in Buffalo.  But the weather won’t be all that frightful, and the Dolphins have come a long way since losing to the Bills in October.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 27, Bills 17.

Saints at Panthers

MDS’s take: The Saints looked lousy away from home last week, and I expect them to look lousy away from home again this week. That’s bad news in New Orleans, because losing this game likely means losing the division, which in turn means the Saints will spend the postseason on the road.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 23, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  New Orleans squandered a chance to nail down the division and secure a bye by losing badly to the Rams.  The Panthers now get them outside in Charlotte for the biggest game at Bank of America Stadium in a long time.  A win puts Carolina in the driver’s seat that the Saints squandered, and the Panthers have the defense to disrupt Drew Brees’ timing.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 27, Saints 20.

Vikings at Bengals

MDS’s take: The Vikings are actually looking like a decent team with Matt Cassel at quarterback, while the Bengals turned in a lousy effort last week against the Steelers. But with the Bengals suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs, Marvin Lewis will have his team ready for a big game.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 34, Vikings 21.

Florio’s take:  Relegated to spoiler, the Vikings have played that role well, tying the Packers, beating the Bears, and upending the Eagles.  But Cincinnati hasn’t lost at home this year, and they are one of the best teams in the league when properly focused.  They’ll be focused on Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Vikings 13.

Broncos at Texans

MDS’s take: The Broncos are two wins away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans are two losses away from clinching the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Both teams will get halfway there on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Texans 10.

Florio’s take:  In 2012, Peyton Manning wanted to come to Houston.  But the Texans didn’t want him.  On Sunday, Houstonians will get to see what they’ve been missing.  A lot.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 42, Texans 20.

Titans at Jaguars

MDS’s take: This game is utterly meaningless unless you care who comes in second place in the AFC South. I’ll take the Titans to win a close one.

MDS’s pick: Titans 24, Jaguars 21.

Florio’s take:  The Titans aren’t in the losing business.  In Jacksonville, they’ll be in the not winning business.  If they’re really lucky, they’ll be in the tying business.

Florio’s pick:  Jaguars 30, Titans 27.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: In this likely preview of a wild card playoff game in two weeks, the surging Chiefs will prove that they’re a whole lot better than the slumping Colts.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 35, Colts 17.

Florio’s take:   They seem to be locked in as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, but the Chiefs still have some incentive to play hard.  If they win and the Broncos stumble only once, the No. 1 seed remains within reach for a team that won only two games in 2012.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 28, Colts 20.

Browns at Jets

MDS’s take: Neither of these teams is any good on offense, but the Jets are decidedly better on defense and special teams, and I’ll pick them on the strength of that.

MDS’s pick: Jets 17, Browns 13.

Florio’s take:  The 2014 preseason has begun for both teams.  Flip a coin.  Throw a dart.  Light a match.

Florio’s pick:  Browns 17, Jets 10.

Bears at Eagles

MDS’s take: The NFC North leaders visit the NFC East leaders in a game that figures to showcase the weaknesses of Chicago’s defense. I expect Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy to have a huge game as the Eagles roll to a big win.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 28, Bears 17.

Florio’s take:  Even with linebacker Lance Briggs expected to be back for the Bears, Chicago doesn’t have the defense to slow down LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Philly offense.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 31, Bears 24.

Buccaneers at Rams

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have shown more fight late in the season than I expected, so this game may be interesting to watch even though it doesn’t mean anything to the playoff race. I like the Rams, who are a last place team in the NFC West but would be contenders in the NFC North.

MDS’s pick: Rams 27, Buccaneers 20.

Florio’s take:  The consistently inconsistent Rams stunned the Saints last week.  And so it would be fitting for the Rams to stumble against the Bucs, especially with a trip to Seattle looming.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 24, Rams 21.

Cowboys at Redskins

MDS’s take: Dallas’s D is terrible, but Washington is terrible on offense, defense, and special teams. Advantage: Cowboys.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Redskins 20.

Florio’s take:   The Cowboys are coming apart, and the Redskins have nothing to lose.  Especially since they’ve already lost their first-round draft, which pick belongs to the Rams.  Kirk Cousins riddles the Dallas defense and London Fletcher lifts the Washington defense in his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 35, Cowboys 31.

Giants at Lions

MDS’s take: The Lions have choked away their NFC North lead, but they at least have a slight chance to get to the playoffs. The Giants, on the other hand, are playing like a team that just wants this bad season to be over with already.

MDS’s pick: Lions 34, Giants 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to blow another game they need to win.  But they play the Giants.  And the Giants aren’t good.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 30, Giants 20.

Cardinals at Seahawks

MDS’s take: Give Arizona a lot of credit for staying in the NFC playoff race a lot later into the season than most people expected, but the Seahawks will crush the Cardinals’ hopes on Sunday and ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 35, Cardinals 14.

Florio’s take:  The best team to not make the playoffs will give the Seahawks a great tuneup for their coming playoffs games.  While the Cardinals have done great things this year, no one will be beating Seattle in its own building.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 24, Cardinals 10.

Steelers at Packers

MDS’s take: With the Packers now having a clear path to the NFC North title, they’ll take care of business against an inconsistent Steelers team.

MDS’s pick: Packers 24, Steelers 20.

Florio’s take:  The last time the Packers rallied for a playoff spot, they beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl.  While the Super Bowl is a long way away, a win over the Steelers could at least propel the Pack toward a fifth straight postseason berth.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 34, Steelers 31.

Raiders at Chargers

MDS’s take: The Chargers still have an outside shot at a wild card, and if they somehow get into the playoffs I think they’d be a dangerous team. It probably won’t happen, but they will take care of business against a Raiders team that has nothing left to play for.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 38, Raiders 20.

Florio’s take:  Even if the Chargers don’t make it to the playoffs (and they likely won’t), they’re laying the foundation for future competitiveness.  The Raiders aren’t.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Raiders 17.

Patriots at Ravens

MDS’s take: The Patriots have been the better team for most of this season, but the Ravens are playing their best football at the right time, while New England is struggling. I like the Ravens to win a tough, physical, low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 14, Patriots 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens have won four in a row.  The Patriots have suffered one too many injuries to remain highly competitive.  Baltimore moves another big step closer to a sixth straight playoff appearance.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 22, Patriots 17.

Falcons at 49ers

MDS’s take: In the most lopsided game of the week, the 49ers will roll to an easy win, while the Falcons will wish this disaster of a season could end already.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 45, Falcons 7.

Florio’s take:  The last game at Candlestick Park comes against an opponent that is neither nimble nor quick.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 35, Falcons 21.

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Report: Falcons sign LB Nate Stupar to one-year deal

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Falcons have signed one of their core special teams players to a new contact.

Atlanta has inked linebacker Nate Stupar to a contract extension, the club said Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Stupar played in 15 games for Atlanta a season ago, notching nine special teams tackles, per the club.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports the contract is for one year and $585,000.

Stupar entered the NFL as a seventh-round selection of Oakland in 2012. He has also appeared in regular season games with Jacksonville and San Francisco, with both stints occurring in 2013.

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PFT Live: Josh McCown, Broncos/Cowboys offseason to-do lists

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Things didn’t work out for Josh McCown in Tampa in 2014, but he didn’t have to wait long after being released to find a new home.

The Browns snapped up the veteran quarterback as an option along with Johnny Manziel for the 2015 season and we’ll talk to McCown about what led him to Cleveland when he joins Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live. Al Michaels and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith are also set to join the program.

Florio will also keep the offseason to-do lists rolling with a look at what’s ahead for the Broncos and Cowboys in the next few months. Peyton Manning, DeMarco Murray and much more will be up for discussion for a pair of teams trying to get back to the playoffs in 2015.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Report: Ray Rice got another $1.588 million from the Ravens

Rice Getty Images

In the two years preceding the elevator incident from more than 12 months ago, the Ravens paid running back Ray Rice $25 million.  They also paid him another $1.588 million after cutting him and resolving the grievance he filed challenging his release.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, who recently interviewed Rice as he tries to get the attention of a new NFL team, the Ravens paid what amounts to 44.9 percent of the $3.529 million Rice sought from the team.  The argument was the Rice had already been disciplined by the NFL, and that any additional discipline from the Ravens violated the terms of the labor deal.

The Ravens will now absorb a cap charge of $1.588 million; they’d been holding $1.44 million under Rice’s name.

While some may not be thrilled with the idea that Rice got extra money after being released for an off-field incident of misconduct, the Ravens didn’t cut Rice until after the video of the incident was released publicly.  Some in the organization knew exactly what happened in the elevator, and the team clearly could have (and should have) seen the video before deciding to recommit to Rice.

Rice said he’s working out regularly and hoping for a second chance.  As PFT reported over the weekend, Rice won’t be attending this month’s veteran combine, which could be Rice’s best chance to get another team’s attention.

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Business trip: Jameis Winston meeting with Bucs owners

Jameis Winston AP

We’re roughly two months from the 2015 NFL Draft, but a big piece of the puzzle could fall into place this week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is in Tampa Bay today as part of a meeting with Buccaneers officials.

He’ll spend plenty of time with ownership while there, in an effort to convince them he’s worth the risk.

Winston has already invited all the investigation any team wants to do, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith signed off on the character questions at the Scouting Combine.

Now Winston has to convince the guys who sign the checks, and this week is his chance.

UPDATE 10:49 a.m. ET: Bucs officials tell PFT it’s a one-day visit, rather than a longer one as Schefter previously reported.

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NFL admits responsibility for Super Bowl seating fiasco

super-bowl1

The first day of the Super Bowl XLV seating fiasco included a development that should surprise no one.  The NFL has admitted responsibility for the gap between paid tickets and actual seats.

“The NFL let them down.  The NFL takes full responsibility, and the NFL agrees they should be compensated,” defense lawyer Thad Behrens said during opening statements on Monday, per the Dallas Morning News.

The question becomes how that responsibility translates to compensation.  Behrens told the jury that some of the plaintiffs want more than the law entitles them to receive.  He pointed out that one plaintiff spent $35,000 on a charter flight, hotel, hospitality, and tickets.  The plaintiff was forced to move to a different seat, and the plaintiff wants the full $35,000.

Behrens also explained that the NFL has tried to reimburse fans for actual losses, including tickets, airfare, hotel, meals, transportation, and related costs.  While some of the plaintiffs may be overreaching for their out-of-pocket expenses, the plaintiffs undoubtedly are seeking compensation for the annoyance and inconvenience arising from the indignity of traveling to Dallas, showing up at the game, standing in a long line for multiple hours, and ultimately not being given the thing that they believed they were getting when buying the ticket.  Unless the two sides can agree to put a price on that specific aspect of the damages to be paid, the jury will have to decide how much the NFL should pay.

It could be a little.  It could be a lot.  It could be nothing. It could be a number so big that the judge or an appeals court reduces the award.  Regardless, that’s the real battleground in this specific brouhaha.

And that’s why the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Michael Avenatti, is focusing the jury’s attention on the NFL’s alleged “obsession” with setting a Super Bowl attendance record — and on evidence that the NFL realized a “debacle” was looming due to “gross incompetence.”  Those facts and arguments may influence the jury to take money from the NFL and give it to the plaintiffs in this modern-day process of Robin Hood (not Dennis Moore) style wealth redistribution.

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C.J. Spiller: EJ Manuel was too “buddy buddy” with other players

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Running back C.J. Spiller is headed for free agency and doesn’t know if he’ll be playing with quarterback EJ Manuel again in 2015, but he does think the Bills quarterback learned a valuable lesson after being benched for Kyle Orton last season.

When Orton took over the offense, some Bills players remarked about the difference that came with having a veteran like Orton in the lineup. They talked about the way he told players what he needed them to do, something that Spiller says Manuel didn’t do when he was the starter in his first two seasons.

“He learned that you can’t be buddy buddy with everybody,” Spiller said during an appearance on NFL Network. “You’re the face of the franchise, you’re the quarterback so you have to demand everything…I think early on he didn’t really didn’t understand how to step on guys’ toes. Once Kyle took over, he saw what Kyle did and it helped him.”

Spiller said Manuel is a “tremendous worker” and that he thinks he can be a successful quarterback in the NFL if he works things out on the leadership side of the board. Spiller said that the ball is in Buffalo’s court as to whether he’ll be sharing a backfield with Manuel when and if that happens, but the chances of Manuel getting another shot will keep looking better the longer the Bills are without a viable alternative.

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Ray Ventrone joins Patriots coaching staff

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Patriots were the only team in the league without a former NFL player on their coaching staff in 2014, something that didn’t stand in their way of winning the Super Bowl.

They may have just been waiting for the right player to end his playing career. The Patriots have announced the addition of Ray Ventrone to their coaching staff as an assistant special teams coach a little more than two weeks after he was playing for the 49ers.

The move allows Ventrone to start his post-playing career in the same place he started his playing career. Ventrone was signed by the Patriots in 2005 as an undrafted safety out of Villanova and made his first regular season appearance for the team in 2007.

Ventrone bounced on and off the 49ers roster multiple times last season before ending the year on injured reserve with a groin injury. Ventrone saw a lot more time on special teams than in the secondary when he was in the lineup, which was the case for the majority of his playing career. All told, Ventrone played 97 games over nine seasons with New England, Cleveland and San Francisco and recorded 57 tackles.

 

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Gus Malzahn: Nick Marshall can play QB in the NFL

Nick Marshall AP

Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is being encouraged by NFL teams to learn to play defensive back if he wants to make it in the pros. But Marshall’s coach doesn’t think that’s necessary.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said on NFL Network that Marshall could play quarterback in the NFL, if a team puts him in an offense that fits his talents.

“I know he can be a quarterback at the next level,” Malzahn said. “It needs to be in the right system. You’re talking about a guy that’s probably one of the best zone-read quarterbacks in the history of college football. He’s got a unique skill set. He broke the school record against the most talented defense we faced last year [passing for 456 yards against Alabama]. So he’s got the ability, he’s got the knack to win games, when the game’s on the line, that very few quarterbacks have. So I believe he can play quarterback in the right system.”

The key words in that quote are “in the right system.” No one is saying Marshall can transform himself into the classic NFL pocket passer. That’s just not where his talents lie. But the NFL is increasingly finding room for quarterbacks who aren’t classic NFL pocket passers. A coach like Chip Kelly might decide to take a shot on Marshall in the later rounds of the draft and see what he can do in an innovative system.

Of course, Marshall does have some limitations as a passer, which is why there’s even a question about the position he’ll play in the NFL. But another reason there’s a question about it is that Marshall is a good enough athlete that he could play elsewhere. Malzahn sees that as a legitimate option.

“He’s a great athlete. He can play defensive back, he can play receiver, he’s got a great attitude, he’s a team player, and he just wants to help someone win,” Malzahn said.

More likely than not, Marshall will help someone win in the NFL by playing defense and special teams. But if a team is willing to put Marshall in the right system, and be patient while Marshall develops, there’s a chance that he may be an NFL quarterback.

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Bernard Pollard: I want another ring

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Safety Bernard Pollard got what he wanted on Monday when the Titans told him that they’d release him after Pollard requested his walking papers in the wake of a torn Achilles during a 2-14 season.

Pollard told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean that he feels like he was no longer a fit with the Titans because the team wanted to go young and that “a lot of mistakes have been made and they need to be fixed to put a defense together.” Pollard said he’d like to go somewhere that puts him in position to win as he sees his career having two or three years left.

“They are going to try and get some pieces, and they know they have work to do. But it was time for me to exit and go elsewhere,” Pollard said. “This was a business move for me. I don’t see fans argue when teams cut players under contract. This is a business. I am my own agent, and I have to do what is right for me and my family. I want more hardware, I want another ring.”

Pollard says he’s running after his Achilles injury and feels he could pass a physical, although he knows that some people will have their doubts about his ability to make a positive impact. Pollard promises to “bring heart and passion” and “a physical nature” to his next team, although it’s unclear who might be looking for such an addition to their secondary.

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Cardinals offered Darnell Dockett deal worth up to $4 million

Dockett AP

With former Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett visiting the 49ers, the floor has been set in his negotiations.

According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals had previously offered Dockett a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, with a chance to earn up to $4 million with playing time and performance incentives.

Since he was scheduled to make $6.8 million with the Cardinals, the difference shows why they didn’t agree and he was allowed to see what was out there.

Dockett’s apparently drawn significant interest from other teams, but there’s no word about any other visits at this point.

He could still return to the Cardinals if he doesn’t find a better offer, but he at least had the benefit of a head start on the free agent market to find one.

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Brian Hartline to visit Browns on Tuesday

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Getty Images

Last week, Browns safety Donte Whitner banged the drum for the return of wide receiver Ted Ginn to the state he called home through the end of his college career at Ohio State.

The Browns were said to be considering that option, but that’s not the only homecoming possibility for the receiving corps. PFT has learned, via a league source, that Brian Hartline will visit the Browns on Tuesday.

Hartline was born in Canton and spent some time in Columbus with Ginn before heading to the NFL as a 2009 fourth-round pick of the Dolphins. Hartline had 150 catches over the 2012 and 2013 seasons while topping 1,000 yards in each season, but dropped to 39 catches for 474 yards with the Dolphins last year.

The Dolphins cut Hartline as part of their cap tightening last week, but there’s still interest in Miami about a possible return for the right price. Hartline has also garnered interest from other teams in addition to the Browns, though, so the chances of coming back to South Florida may not be great.

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What’s a top running back worth in today’s NFL? Murray will find out

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The NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year is 27 years old, in his prime, and about to hit unrestricted free agency. If any running back can make a fortune in today’s NFL, it’s DeMarco Murray.

But Murray may discover that no running back can make a fortune in today’s NFL. At least, not “a fortune” compared to what the top free agents at other positions will make.

Murray, the soon-to-be free agent Cowboy who led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards last season, will give us a good benchmark for how much a running back can command in today’s NFL. Unfortunately for Murray, the answer will be, “Nowhere near as much as a running back could command in yesterday’s NFL.”

There is almost no chance that Murray will get as much as the seven-year, $96 million contract (with $36 million guaranteed) that Adrian Peterson got from the Vikings in 2011, the biggest contract ever for a running back. That’s despite the fact that Peterson wasn’t a free agent at the time and could therefore negotiate only with the Vikings, and despite the fact that the NFL salary cap has risen from $120 million in 2011 to $143 million this year.

Murray may do quite well for himself, perhaps getting the second-biggest contract for a running back in NFL history. But there’s no way he’ll get as much as this year’s top free agent, Ndamukong Suh, and he may not do as well as the next group of free agents, like Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, Patriots safety Devin McCourty, Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes and Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

Running backs just don’t make the kind of money that players at other positions can make. In the NFL, running backs are viewed as lower-priced commodities. Even a running back who just won Offensive Player of the Year.

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Tuesday morning one-liners

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

A preview of the free agent running backs, including Bills RB C.J. Spiller.

Will the Dolphins be bidders for Ndamukong Suh?

A look at the decisions the Patriots have to make in the secondary.

The Jets are likely to be in the market for a wide receiver again.

Will Ravens WR Torrey Smith’s market be affected by the use of franchise tags on two wide receivers?

A preview of offseason machinations on the Bengals defensive line.

Former Browns FB Ed Modzelewski died at the age of 86.

The Steelers passed on the chance to tag LB Jason Worilds a second time.

Texans teammates past and present started saying farewell to WR Andre Johnson.

Any Colts moves in free agency have to start with players already on the roster.

The Jaguars are happy to have John Idzik in their front office.

An unenthused take on the Titans signing WR/KR Jacoby Jones.

A look at secondary concerns for the Broncos.

Not signing LB Justin Houston last year could prove costly to the Chiefs.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. brings experience and intensity with him to the job.

The Chargers are trying to do a stronger job of player development.

Tight end isn’t a major offseason priority for the Cowboys.

Giants WR Odell Beckham took a negative view of the “respect and morals” on social media via social media.

What’s ahead on the defensive line for the Eagles?

Questioning the Redskins’ ability to build through the draft.

The Bears are in good shape under the cap heading into free agency.

The Lions should look for special teams help this offseason.

T Bryan Bulaga and WR Randall Cobb could be on their way out for the Packers.

The Vikings were well represented at the University of Minnesota pro day.

Forecasting Falcons S Dwight Lowery’s free agency prospects.

Will OL Fernando Velasco remain with the Panthers?

Cuts are likely coming for the Buccaneers.

The Cardinals don’t have much work to do at wide receiver.

Tracing Chris Weinke’s path to his job as the Rams quarterbacks coach.

RB Frank Gore may be getting closer to his departure from the 49ers.

The Seahawks signed LB Mister Alexander to their 90-man roster.

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Jaguars glad to have John Idzik aboard, as they prepare to spend

New York Giants v New York Jets Getty Images

Among other things, Jets fans grew tired of former General Manager John Idzik not spending money.

That won’t be a problem for Idzik now, as he’s on with a team looking to make a splash in free agency.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Jaguars G.M. Dave Caldwell said he was eager to get Idzik on board as a consultant.

We’ve got a big undertaking here with our situation,” Caldwell said.

The Jaguars have $64.2 million in cap space, and are looking to spend a big chunk of it this year, the kind of splurge Idzik never took part in while running the Jets. But he started his new gig in Jacksonville Monday, working alongside Jags salary cap guy Tim Walsh.

“He spent the last two years in a very similar situation that we’re in and probably spent the last year or so forecasting having a similar type of cap space that we have,” Caldwell said of Idzik. “He made a great career in Tampa and Seattle of negotiating contracts and working the cap and that’s one area I need help in. . . .

“Tim Walsh is great, but with the amount of cap room we have moving forward and if we do some deals in free agency, I thought we needed the extra help because Tim’s the only guy in our [cap] department right now.”

After taking the medicine in New York to try to fix a bloated cap and get them in competitive shape, Idzik should enjoy being with a team that’s ready to see the other side of it.

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Hernandez’s lawyer may have opened the door for evidence of another shooting

Trial AP

When fashioning arguments, tactics, and strategies for trial, it’s critical that a lawyer carefully consider the ramifications of every word that may come out of his or her mouth.

In the first Aaron Hernandez murder trial, the former Patriots tight end’s lawyers may have failed to be as careful as they should have been.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports explains the latest fascinating turn in the case arising from the death of Odin Lloyd.  By consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, Hernandez’s high-priced lawyer may have inadvertently allowed evidence of another time Hernandez shot a supposed friend to be introduced.

The prosecution, per Wetzel, has filed paperwork asking Judge E. Susan Garsh to reconsider the question of whether evidence of the alleged February 13, 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley will be utilized in the Lloyd case.  The prosecution contends that Bradley was Hernandez’s “friend and confidante” but that Hernandez allegedly shot Bradley in the face “in an isolated industrial area,” dumped Bradley’s body on the ground, and fled the scene.

Bradley survived, suing Hernandez in civil court for the shooting not long before Odin Lloyd’s murder.

Despite Judge Garsh’s prior decision to prevent such evidence, the prosecution contends that Hernandez’s lawyers have “opened the door” by consistently referring to Lloyd as Hernandez’s friend, with the clear message being that Hernadnez wouldn’t shoot a friend.

Ordinarily, evidence of other conduct by a criminal defendant can’t be used to make the defendant look generally like a bad guy.  Rule 404(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Evidence (like the Rules of Evidence in most if not all states) provides that evidence may be admissible to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.  In Hernandez’s case, the goal would be to show motive — specifically, that Hernandez would shoot a friend over the flimsiest of actual or perceived indignities.  Bradley claims he was shot after a dispute over a bar bill that led to Hernandez refusing to take Bradley back to the bar to get the phone he’d left there that led to Bradley making “disrespectful remarks” about Hernandez.

The problem with Rule 404(b) evidence is that it can create a trial within a trial, with the trial of the main case being placed on hold while a mini-trial emerges on the question of whether the defendant did the other thing he’s accused of doing.  The bigger challenge comes from the requirement that the relevance of the evidence to the current case must substantially outweigh any unfair prejudice arising from it.

There will be plenty of prejudice to Hernandez flowing from proof that he shot another “friend” under circumstances similar to the shooting of Odin Lloyd.  The question becomes whether the prejudice is unfair to Hernandez — and whether the notion of Hernandez having a hair trigger with so-called friends supplies sufficient proof that Hernandez had a similar overreaction to something Lloyd said or did.Judge Garsh will be tempted to reiterate her prior exclusion of the evidence because it’s the kind of ruling that could result in a conviction of Hernandez being overturned by a higher court.  The judges on the higher court, however, would have to be able to set aside the overall evidence suggesting that Hernandez truly is a bad guy, and that society may be much better off with him permanently kept out of it.

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