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NFL morning after: Peyton’s place in history

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The list of players who have won at least five MVP awards in the major sports reads like a who’s who of the greatest athletes in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) in Major League Baseball. And that’s it.

Peyton Manning, who almost certainly clinched the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his stellar NFL career, is about to join that list.

We could debate where Manning ranks among the all-time great quarterbacks in football history, but I almost think that’s too narrow a debate. Perhaps the discussion needs to be where Manning ranks among the great competitors in the history of sports.

Think about all Manning has accomplished. He’s already the only NFL player who has ever won four MVP awards. He already owns several NFL records and will most likely own every significant career passing record before he’s finished. In addition to his fifth MVP award this year, he’s also going to get his 13th Pro Bowl selection and his seventh first-team All-Pro selection and perhaps his eighth offensive player of the year award. Last year he added a comeback player of the year award to his trophy case. In college he was a first-team All-American and winner of the Sullivan Award as America’s greatest amateur athlete. In high school he was the national player of the year.

Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Sunday’s win over the Texans, with his 51st touchdown pass of the year giving the Broncos their final score in an easy win. Next week he’s likely to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season, as the Broncos just need to beat the Raiders to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They’re one win away from heading into the postseason as the favorites to come out of the AFC and go to the Super Bowl. But as I was watching that unfold on Sunday, I was thinking two somewhat contradictory things.

First, I was thinking that it’s undeniable how great Peyton Manning is. He’s been an American sports star since he was a teenager, and he’s the best player in the NFL today at age 37. He’s about to get his fifth MVP, and there are another few seasons when he had a good case for the award (including last year, when he came in second). He’s just consistently amazing.

But the second thing I was thinking is that, no matter how much he does individually, he won’t be remembered as the greatest ever if he doesn’t get a second Super Bowl ring. That’s not right — football is the ultimate team sport, and no one wins or loses alone — but that’s the way it is. If any team other than the Broncos is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February, this will be remembered as another year when Peyton Manning didn’t get it done.

To me, though, Manning’s place in history is secure. He’s the best quarterback who ever lived.

Manning was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Below are some other thoughts:

Dallas has a badly coached defense. We’ve been talking all season about what a bad job Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is doing, and there are many examples of that, but I was particularly struck by how ill-prepared the Dallas defense was when Washington showed a new formation on Sunday. With Washington’s offense lining up four receivers to the left side early in the second half, the Dallas secondary didn’t know how to line up in coverage, and so they blew a timeout — and then Dallas gave up a touchdown pass two plays after that timeout. If your defense is wasting timeouts because you can’t figure out what the other team’s offense is doing, and if you can’t get your coverage straightened out even after you’ve called timeout, you’ve got serious problems. Firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin was a huge mistake for the Cowboys.

Weird call that I liked: Longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester had never caught a pass in his NFL career, but because he was playing his last home game after announcing that he’ll retire at the end of the season, the Jags decided to call a trick play with Meester as an eligible receiver. Sure enough, Meester caught the pass and then made a nifty little move to run for a first down. The Jaguars have had a rough season, but they haven’t quit on coach Gus Bradley, and plays like that pass to Meester show why: Players enjoy playing for a coach who makes football fun, and what’s more fun than letting a 300-pound 36-year-old catch a pass?

Weird call that I disliked, Part 1: With the Broncos facing fourth-and-3 in Houston, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — Denver’s offense should be able to pick up three yards on Houston’s defense. But I hated the play they ran, with Peyton Manning throwing a short pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who was tackled for a two-yard gain. If you’re throwing on fourth down, throw past the line to gain.

Weird call that I disliked, Part 2: With the Titans facing fourth-and-goal in Jacksonville, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go for it? But I hated the play they ran, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing it out the back of the end zone. If you’re throwing on fourth down, don’t throw it away.

Terron Armstead wasn’t ready. Armstead, the rookie left tackle inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time on Sunday, looked pretty much the way you’d expect a rookie from a small school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff to look in his first NFL start. The Saints have had problems on their offensive line all year, and I understand why Sean Payton wanted to see if Armstead could help protect Drew Brees’s blind side, but Armstead simply wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers’ pass rush terrorized Brees all day.

Luke Kuechly is amazing. The flip side of the Saints’ offense struggling is that the Panthers’ defense was incredible in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Kuechly, the second-year linebacker, had an unbelievable day: His 24 tackles were tied for the most the NFL has ever recorded by one player in a game, since tackles began being tracked as a statistic in 1994. Kuechly also became the first player since Derrick Brooks to record 20 tackles and an interception in the same game.

How can teams play so badly, with so much on the line? The Bears entered Sunday night knowing a win would clinch the NFC North. They lost 54-11. The Ravens entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They lost 41-7. The Lions entered Sunday knowing they needed to win to stay alive. They lost at home to the woeful Giants. The Dolphins entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They were destroyed by the hapless Bills.

We have an exciting Week 17 ahead of us. Some years all of the top teams are locked into their playoff spots before the season’s final Sunday. But not this year. Only one team, the Chiefs, knows its playoff seed (No. 5 in the AFC). Every other contender still has something to play for. We’re going to see some great football on Sunday. Including, I expect, Peyton Manning to set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season while leading the Broncos to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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Bill Parcells is glad Tony Romo retired

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Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells declined all media requests in the aftermath of the decision of former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to walk away from football. Parcells has now broken his silence.

I was glad he retired,” Parcells told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. “Enough is enough. You got to know, this is hazardous to your health.”

Parcells, who added that he wishes tight end Jason Witten had retired, discovered Romo in 2003 as an undrafted player for whom former Cowboys assistant and current Saints coach Sean Payton stood on the table.

But it was more than finding Romo. Parcells also developed the former Eastern Illinois quarterback.

“I really believe I handled him the right way when he was young,” Parcells said. “If I had thrown him in there, it would have been tough. He was indiscriminant. It took a while. When we got [Vinny] Testaverde down there [in 2004], it was a big help to Tony. Vinny was very meticulous, very studious, very professional in his training and his weight lifting. Tony got to see that.”

In 2006, Romo supplanted Drew Bledsoe as the starter, a job Romo held until a back injury last August opened the door for Romo to be supplanted by Dak Prescott.

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Cowboys corner Anthony Brown truly has a chip on his shoulder

Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown is using his draft status as motivation.

But it appears a bunch of internet commenters have left him a little ruffled.

Via the Dallas Morning News and their intrepid band of screenshotters, Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown briefly shared on social media a picture of his new tattoo, a potato chip with a 189 underneath it.

That’s in honor of his overall draft position last year (the sixth round), but it’s hard to imagine what he expected people were going to do with that.

He eventually deleted it, and joked that the response was overwhelming.

Whether the former Purdue cornerback makes an impression in the NFL or not, he guaranteed himself a lifetime of salty trash-talk.

And the first time he gets beaten long early in a game, some wide receiver is going to say “Bet I can’t beat just one.”

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Millions still in dispute between Patriots, Aaron Hernandez

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The death of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez concludes all criminal cases against him. The various cases arising from his NFL contract eventually will resume.

Per multiple sources, the NFL and NFL Players Association previously agreed to put any grievances on hold until all criminal prosecution of Hernandez ends.

The issues to eventually be resolved include: (1) Hernandez’s demand for the remaining $3.25 million from his 2012 signing bonus; (2) the grievance filed by the NFL and Patriots seeking repayment of all money given to Hernandez until the 2012 contract; and (3) a grievance filed by Hernandez and the NFLPA for his guaranteed salary in 2013 and 2014 and a 2014 guaranteed workout bonus. (The third grievance was dismissed without prejudice but can be re-filed.)

The Patriots pin their case primarily on the notion that Hernandez allegedly committed two murders before signing the 2012 contract. Hernandez’s argument arises from the notion that he earned the payments, and that the Patriots cut him immediately after he was arrested for killing Odin Lloyd, instead of waiting for the league to suspend him.

Any money ultimately paid to Hernandez’s estate may not remain there for very long. Wrongful death cases have been filed by the estates of Odin Lloyd, Daniel de Abreu, and Safiro Furtado. Even though Hernandez was acquitted of killing de Abreu and Furtado, a lower standard of proof could result in a finding of civil liability.

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Taylor Gabriel signs one-year tender offer with Falcons

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Falcons receiver Taylor Gabriel won’t be going anywhere.

As he was expected to do, Gabriel has signed his one-year, $2.81 million tender offer to stay with the Falcons. Gabriel was a restricted free agent, meaning any team could have signed him, but the Falcons could have matched any offer, and that team would have given the Falcons a second-round draft pick.

The Browns made the Browns-like decision to cut Gabriel last year and the Falcons picked him up and immediately benefited, getting 35 catches for 579 yards and six touchdowns out of Gabriel.

In 2018 Gabriel will become an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t first sign an extension with the Falcons.

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Chiefs cut Jaye Howard

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Last year, the Chiefs signed defensive lineman Jaye Howard to a two-year, $10 million contract, with $8.3 million guaranteed. This year, Howard is out.

The Chiefs released Howard today, while still owing him a guaranteed $2.5 million of that contract. If another team signs Howard, the offset in his contract allows the Chiefs to deduct his 2017 salary from the amount they still owe him.

Howard played in eight games last year, starting four, before going on injured reserve with a hip injury. There’s been no recent word on the status of his hip, but the Chiefs may doubt he’ll be able to return to the form they got from him in 2015, when he played in all 16 games with 13 starts and 5.5 sacks.

The 28-year-old Howard entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2012. He played in Seattle as a rookie and then was waived before his second season and picked up by the Chiefs.

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Durability concerns could drag down John Ross

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A Combine record of 4.22 seconds in the 40-yard dash may not propel John Ross to the top of the draft, after all.

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said Friday that injury concerns have caused teams either to downgrade the Washington receiver or to remove him from consideration.

“There are some teams that have pushed him either down their boards or off their boards because of injuries,” Mayock said, via NFL.com. “He’s had surgery on his shoulder, he’s had surgery on both knees, and he’s got a small frame. So the durability is a big issue with him right now.”

Of course, it doesn’t matter if most teams take him from the draft board. If at least two think of him highly — and if they’re willing to assume the risk that he’ll be injured on a regular basis or out of football sooner than expected — his draft stock will remain high.

For his part, Mayock still regards Ross as a first-round talent, who can immediately help as a receiver and a return specialist. Many others still see Ross as a sure-fire top-15 pick.

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DeShone Kizer: It was a comment I made and I stand by it

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Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer initially said he was taken out of context when he was quoted comparing himself to Tom Brady and Cam Newton, but Kizer now says he stands by what he said.

Kizer was asked about the comments on NBCSN during Notre Dame’s spring game, and he confirmed that those comments were an accurate representation of how he views himself.

“When you decide to play a game like this you’re going to try to model yourself after the greatest. It was a comment I made and I’m going to stand by it,” Kizer said.

Kizer said he doesn’t see any reason he shouldn’t aim to be the kind of quarterback Brady and Newton are.

“Why play this game if you don’t want to be the greatest?” Kizer said.

Kizer is hoping to hear his name called on Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft, although his stock has seemed to slip a bit in the pre-draft process, and he may have to wait until the second or third round to hear his name called.

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Former 49ers third-round pick Glen Coffee comes out of retirement

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Glen Coffee, a running back who retired from the 49ers after just one year in the NFL, is trying to make a comeback.

Coffee, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick in 2009, has filed the necessary paperwork to get back in the league. The 49ers placed him on waivers, meaning a team that wants to give him a look can claim him now. If no one claims him he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The 29-year-old Coffee initially said after retiring that he would go into the ministry, then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2013 and served for four years.

Now he’s hoping for another chance. He’s a long shot, given how long he’s been away, but a player with the talent to be a third-round pick ought to at least get a tryout from some team. Coffee may be in training camp this year after a seven-year absence.

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The Aaron Hernandez smear campaign apparently has begun

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On the heels of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez committing suicide and at the outset of an effort by his family and lawyers to ask tough and pointed questions about it, someone in law enforcement has decided to begin leaking inflammatory allegations about Hernandez. And multiple media outlets are embracing it.

We weren’t going to write about the Newsweek report that Hernandez was bisexual; that he left a suicide note for his “prison boyfriend” and that Hernandez may have killed Odin Lloyd to conceal that Hernandez was involved in an intimate relationship with a man. Hernandez’s sexuality isn’t relevant or newsworthy, especially at this point.

But then, as MDS and I traded emails regarding how to handle this one, the light bulb flickered: The “law enforcement sources” who are leaking this information on an anonymous basis apparently believe they are smearing Hernandez, possibly as a warning to those who plan to challenge whether prison officials failed to take steps aimed at preventing Hernandez from committing suicide.

If Hernandez was motivated to kill Lloyd because Lloyd was going to “out” Hernandez, wouldn’t that have come up at some point between the discovery of Lloyd’s body in June 2013 and the conviction of Hernandez for the killing in April 2015? The biggest weakness in the Lloyd murder (other than the failure to discover the murder weapon) was the absence of a clear motive.

So now law enforcement sources claim anonymously that this was the motive, even though over the past four years there had never been a hint that this was the motive?

Regardless of the true motive for leaking this information about Hernandez, it’s shameful that law enforcement sources are doing it, and those reporting it merit criticism and scrutiny. This isn’t about having sympathy for the murderer; this is about family members who are trying to get to the truth and who now have to brace for any and every kind of ugly accusation to be leaked to Newsweek or other publications if they dare to ask too many tough and pointed questions about the circumstances surrounding Hernandez’s death.

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Giants claim evidence was omitted to make Eli Manning look guilty

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The Giants consistently have said that the supposed smoking-gun email implicating quarterback Eli Manning in memorabilia fraud was taken out of context and does not show that he actually wanted to dupe purchasers of game-used helmets with helmets not actually used in a game. More than a week later, however, details remain scant.

According to ESPN.com, lawyers representing the Giants and Manning have claimed in a court filing that the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in that case deliberately omitted “relevant evidence” to create the impression that Manning was complicit in a scheme to defraud. Per the report, the legal brief filed Wednesday claims Eli’s emails were mischaracterized, and that (per the report) “hundreds of documents exonerate Manning.”

The claims were made in a formal request to ask the presiding judge to uphold an agreement that information regarded as confidential would not be disclosed publicly. The Giants’ lawyers also contend that the plaintiffs “cherry-picked” the email that seems to show Eli’s involvement, in order to make him look bad publicly.

Missing through any of this is an effort to show why the supposed smoking-gun email isn’t. Nine days after it surfaced, those inclined to assume the worst about the email have seen nothing to dissuade them from doing so. At some point, the false (if it is) impression takes root, making it virtually impossible in this red state/blue state I’m-right-and-your-a-idiot #fakenews society to get those people to change their minds.

The sooner the lawyers representing the Giants and Eli Manning tell the whole story about why the email in which Eli requests two helmets that “can pass as game used” doesn’t mean what it seems to mean on its face, the better the chance that they’ll get people to reach a conclusion other than the one the governor of the state in which the Giants plays its home games immediately embraced.

As mentioned on Friday’s PFT Live, someone needs to tell the lawyers that, at this point, what happens in the court of public opinion is as important as (and maybe more important than) what happens in the court where the fraud case is pending. People who have seen the inflammatory email need to know exactly how and why it was taken out of context, even if that means prematurely playing a hand that would otherwise be played before a judge and a jury.

In the court of public opinion, everyone is on the jury, and plenty made up their minds when they saw the email. Claiming that it was taken out of context isn’t enough to get them to see if differently. If those claiming that the Giants were committing memorabilia fraud are indeed committing fraud on the public, that needs to be proven and not simply alleged.

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Report: Browns still considering Mitchell Trubisky first overall

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Everyone thinks the Browns will take Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the first overall pick in the draft on Thursday night, but maybe everyone is wrong.

Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports that North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is still under serious consideration by the Browns with their top pick.

There’s also been talk that the Brows could draft Garrett first and then try to move up from their second first-round pick, No. 12 overall, and grab Trubisky in the Top 10. The problem is there’s no guarantee he’ll be there. Projections on Trubisky have been all over the map, but some people think the 49ers could take him second overall, which would mean the Browns can only get him if they take him first.

The dilemma for the Browns could be that they think Garrett is the best player in the draft but Trubisky is the best quarterback, and then they have to weigh whether it’s better to use the first pick on the most important position, or on the best player regardless of position.

The Browns could also take Garrett first overall and then take whoever the best quarterback on the board is at 12, whether that’s Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson or Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. But if the Browns think Trubisky is the best quarterback in the draft, it seems odd that they’d settle for their No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback.

There have also been reports, denied by the Browns, of a rift in the front office, with head coach Hue Jackson wanting Garrett but Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta wanting Trubisky. It would be strange, to say the least, for the Browns to hire a head coach with a good track record for developing quarterbacks in Jackson, then use the first overall pick in the draft on a quarterback Jackson doesn’t think they should take.

It’s also possible that what the Browns really want is to trade down, and they’re feigning interest in Trubisky to make any other team that wants him think it would need to trade up to No. 1 to get him.

The Browns have said they won’t announce their pick until they’re on the clock. So we’ll find out on Thursday night.

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Eddie Macon, first African-American to play for the Bears, dies at 90

Eddie Macon, who in 1952 became the first black player in Chicago Bears history, has died. He was 90.

Born in 1927, Macon joined the Army as soon as he turned 18, just as World War II was ending, and was stationed in Japan for seven months. When he returned home he enrolled at the University of the Pacific, where he would recall years later that he was mostly treated well as the school’s first black football player.

An exception to that, however, came when the team traveled to face LSU. Macon made the trip thinking he would play in the game, only to find out when he got there that LSU refused to play against a black player. Pacific’s team was also repeatedly refused service at restaurants because Macon was there, and when the team could finally dine together Macon was forced to use a back entrance.

You never get used to that,” Macon recalled in 2005. “It’s demeaning.”

After three seasons at Pacific, Macon was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 1952 NFL draft. As the only black player on the Bears he would say later that he was generally treated well, though there were some exceptions.

“I had no problems with the fans,” Macon said. “The team that I really had problems with was the Detroit Lions. They beat me in the face, twisted my legs. When I got in a pile, I tried to come out of that pile because I knew what they were going to try to do.”

Macon chose to leave the Bears after two years and play for his Pacific coach, who had taken a job in the Canadian Football League. That infuriated Bears owner George Halas, and as a result the Bears for decades did nothing to honor their first African-American player.

After quitting football in 1955 to become a longshoreman, Macon changed his mind and returned to the CFL in 1957, played three more seasons there, and then joined the upstart American Football League in 1960, where he was an All-Pro defensive back for the Raiders.

Macon retired from football the following year and returned to work as a longshoreman. He said in an interview four years ago, “I had the dream and lived the dream.”

Macon is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of 71 years, Jessie, as well as four children, 12 grandchildren, “more than three dozen” great-grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren.

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Judge orders preservation of evidence related to Aaron Hernandez’s death

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A medical examiner ruled on Thursday that former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez committed suicide on Wednesday. On Friday, a judge ordered authorities to preserve various forms of evidence related to Hernandez’s death.

Via the Associated Press, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez (who was not married to Hernandez but nevertheless took his name) asked for the preservation of video recordings from Hernandez’s cell for eight hours prior to his death, records relating to his whereabouts during that same time, and all of his property, including any writings. Three notes were found in his cell.

The judge also ordered that recordings of Hernandez’s phone calls for 30 days prior to his death be preserved. The judge declined to order the preservation of calls made by other inmates.

The request to preserve evidence relates directly to the desire of Hernandez’s family and lawyers to conduct an independent investigation regarding his death. Beyond the question of whether he actually committed suicide, it’s fair to explore whether he exhibited sufficient evidence of suicidal thoughts to prompt the authorities to prevent Hernandez from doing harm to himself.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster says Cowboys and Rams have shown the most interest

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As USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster prepares for the 2017 draft, he says two teams have shown the strongest desire to secure his services.

The Cowboys and the Rams have shown the most interest, Smith-Schuster said on Friday’s PFT Live.

While Smith-Schuster said he doesn’t have a wish list of teams for which he’d like to play (although he seems to believe players should be able to pick their NFL teams and not vice-versa), he said last month he’d like to play for the Chargers.

On PFT Live, he admitted that he has sent “a message” to the Raiders via his selection of them for the virtual JuJu in his Madden 2017 franchise.

In Madden 2018, Smith-Schuster will be assigned to one of the 32 teams, and he’ll be available to add to your Madden Ultimate Team, if that’s how you choose to play the game. Smith-Schuster and the rest of us will find out where that will be within the next week.

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Reggie McKenzie deemed Joe Mixon to be a “really good kid”

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As the Raiders wait for retired Marshawn Lynch to decide before the draft: (1) whether he wants to unretire; and (2) whether he wants to play for his hometown team, G.M. Reggie McKenzie is considering the prospects who will be eligible for selection next week.

One rookie running back has become one of the draft’s most controversial figures. But McKenzie doesn’t seem to be troubled by the prospect of picking Joe Mixon.

Via Michael Gehlken of the Las Review Review-Journal, McKenzie developed a good impression of Mixon upon visiting with him.

We thought he was a really good kid,” McKenzie said.

Whatever they decide to do about Mixon, the Raiders will make a decision only after they have everything they need to know.

We research everything,” McKenzie said, via Gehlken. “We get all the information.”

The latest piece of information comes from the settlement of the civil lawsuit filed by Amelia Molitor against Mixon, which was resolved with a joint statement issued by Molitor and Mixon. The outcome means that whoever drafts Mixon won’t have to worry about the distraction of ongoing litigation and, ultimately, a trial.

Whether that means the Raiders would take Mixon won’t matter until Marshawn decides what he’s going to do. And the one thing we know about Marshawn is that no one ever knows what he’s going to do, and that when he’s pressured to do one thing he often does the opposite.

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