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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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Bills wrap up draft class by signing Nathan Peterman

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The Bills have all of their draft picks under contract.

The final piece of the puzzle came on Wednesday when they signed quarterback Nathan Peterman. The fifth-round pick signed a four-year deal.

Peterman started 24 games at Pittsburgh after transferring from Tennessee during his college career. He threw 47 touchdowns while completing 60 percent of his passes, which led to high marks from some draft evaluators that obviously didn’t match up with the way teams viewed him as he dropped to the third day.

He joins Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones and T.J. Yates on the quarterback depth chart in Buffalo. Taylor may be gone after this season, which should earn Peterman some looks in the preseason as the team plots its course at the position.

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Stephon Tuitt recovering from hand surgery

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The Steelers are down a defensive lineman at their Organized Team Activities.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that defensive end Stephon Tuitt is not practicing after having surgery on his hand. Bouchette adds that the team does not expect the surgery will impact him for the regular season.

That’s good news for the Steelers as Tuitt has developed into a crucial part of their defense since joining the team as a second-round pick in 2014. He’s produced 10.5 sacks over the last two years while also proving strong play against the run.

Tuitt’s entering the final year of his contract and his performance makes him an extension candidate at some point this year. Given the outlook for a return in time for the regular season, his surgery shouldn’t get in the way of that.

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Odell Beckham cashes in with shoe deal

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A football team has yet to give receiver Odell Beckham Jr. a massive contract. A shoe company has.

Beckham has a new deal with Nike. According to NiceKicks.com (via SportsBusiness Daily), Beckham will make more than $29 million over five years and up to $48 million over eight years. In contrast, he’ll make only (only?) $1.839 million in 2017 from the Giants.

That said, Beckham eventually will be making a lot more from football. In 2018, his salary spikes to $8.459 million. An extension would push his compensation even higher.

While Beckham is making more than any other NFL player on a shoe deal, basketball players do much, much better. LeBron James, for example, is believed to have a lifetime Nike deal worth more than $1 billion. Michael Jordan, retired for years, still made more than $100 million from Nike in 2016. (He made $94 million in salary during 15 years as a player.)

While those are extreme examples, Beckham now holds the NFL high-water mark for shoe deals. Which ultimately provides even more proof of the reality that athletes should play basketball or baseball instead of football, if they can.

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Jim Caldwell hopes to fix “family” issue with Calvin Johnson

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Very seldom do breakups go seamlessly, but Lions coach Jim Caldwell was surprised when Calvin Johnson’s split with the team turned ugly with recent comments.

But as a guy who tries to keep things as steady as possible, Caldwell hopes the rift can eventually be healed.

“Playing in the National Football League for a team, it’s like a family. Families sometimes have disagreements,” Caldwell said, via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. “They look at things a little differently. I have grown children. Sometimes we look at things a little differently. We hash them out, talk them out. There’s dialogue, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But we get the differences worked out.

“I think the same thing will happen in this situation. Maybe there’s a disagreement, a little different viewpoint, but the most important thing, I think, is perhaps this whole thing will bring about a little bit more dialogue.”

Johnson didn’t get into specifics, but the team’s decision to pursue $320,000 in prorated signing bonus from him upon retirement (which he could have easily avoided) seems to have been the most likely point of contention.

And while Caldwell said he hasn’t talked to Johnson, he said he texts with him regularly and hopes to get the franchise’s all-time leading receiver back in the fold someday.

“One of the things that I think you’ve noticed since I’ve been here, our practices are open to all our alumni,” Caldwell said. “They can come any time, any day. There’s no restrictions against them in terms of watching our practices and being involved.”

Of course, at the moment Johnson has been hanging out at Raiders practices, the kind of distance that’s both physical and metaphorical between the team and the latest star to have hurt feelings on the way out the door.

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Andrew Hawkins says he’s signing with Patriots

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Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins recently got a master’s degree in sports management from Columbia University and said that his goal is to become a General Manager in the NFL, but he won’t be heading to the front office just yet.

Hawkins said in a video posted to Uninterrupted’s Twitter account that he is signing with the Patriots. Hawkins visited with the team last week.

Hawkins caught 33 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns while playing in all 16 games for the Browns last year. That was his third season in Cleveland, a run that started with career highs of 63 catches and 824 yards in 2014.

He’ll join a Patriots receiving corps that includes Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan, so there’s going to be some work for Hawkins to do to claim a roster spot come the end of the preseason.

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Myles Garrett has minor injury, working on sideline at Browns’ OTAs

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The first overall pick in the draft is hurt, but the Browns are not concerned.

Myles Garrett was spotted on the sideline at Organized Team Activities today, riding a stationary bike and working with kettlebells rather than participating in football activities with the rest of the team. But multiple reporters posted on Twitter that he has only a minor injury.

There’s no word on the nature of Garrett’s injury, but the Browns are likely showing an excess of caution with a player they hope will be a cornerstone of their franchise for years to come.

A pass rusher from Texas A&M, Garrett played much of his final college season through a nagging leg injury.

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Cowboys keeping Ezekiel Elliott out of OTAs after car accident

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Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott currently isn’t participating in Organized Team Activities, for reasons unrelated to football. According to ESPN, Elliott was a passenger in a Sunday automobile accident.

Via Todd Archer and Adam Schefter of ESPN, Elliott did not suffer significant injuries. The Cowboys have opted to keep him out of the first two OTA sessions in the exercise of caution.

This implies that Elliott has injuries, but that the team doesn’t currently believe the injuries are significant. In January, Elliott was involved in an automobile accident that coach Jason Garrett dubbed a “fender bender.”

It’s unclear how many of the 10 OTA sessions Elliott will miss. Each team is permitted to conduct up to 10.

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Constructing the dream offensive line

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Former Giants tackle and two-time Super Bowl champion David Diehl joined PFT Live on Tuesday for a full hour. Among the segments was an effort to construct the dream offensive line, with a fantasy draft format.

We picked one lineman after another until we each had a tackle-to-tackle unit of five players in whom we’d entrust the health and safety of a quarterback and running backs.

To see and hear what we had to say on the issue, check out the video and feel free to tell us which guy came up with the better dream offensive line. Especially if you think I did.

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Seahawks looking at Austin Davis, along with Colin Kaepernick

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If the Seahawks want to portray this as just another offseason tire-kicking, they needed to roll someone other than Colin Kaepernick into town.

Thus, they’ll have at least one other veteran quarterback come in to audition.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Seahawks are also bringing in Austin Davis for a workout today.

Davis was most recently with the Broncos, hanging around as a third option behind Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. He has also spent time with the Browns and Rams.

The Seahawks have insisted they’re looking at all available options, and have previously mentioned Robert Griffin III as one.

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Rick Spielman: We’ll take it a day at a time with Teddy Bridgewater

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The Vikings released video of Teddy Bridgewater taking snaps, dropping back and throwing passes during Tuesday’s practice, but they still aren’t ready to talk about when Bridgewater may be able to take on a full workload after last year’s knee injury.

General Manager Rick Spielman met with the media on Wednesday and said that the team will “take it a day at a time” with Bridgewater while adding that the quarterback hasn’t been cleared for full practices at this point. Spielman declined to comment on when that might happen and said it was “still the unknown” whether he’ll play in 2017, but acknowledged that it’s “very encouraging” to see Bridgewater doing things on the field.

“Very limited in what he’s able to do at this point, but it’s progress,” Spielman said.

Bridgewater is not at Wednesday’s practice for a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment and Spielman said the release of the video from Tuesday’s closed practice was partly because the media wouldn’t be able to see him working. If all goes well at the doctor and the progress continues, it shouldn’t be too long before they get that opportunity and the Vikings have to make a call about when he moves to the next step of his football work.

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Pro Bowl is staying in Orlando for another year

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Players hoping for free trips to Hawaii are going to continue to be disappointed.

The NFL announced that this year’s Pro Bowl would return to Orlando, after last year’s successful debut there last year.

The all-star game will be held in Camping World Stadium on Jan. 28, and will be broadcast by ESPN and simulcast on ABC, making it the first time it has aired on both cable and broadcast networks.

(While it’s become a silly game full of alternates, people still watch it.)

They will again play with the more familiar AFC vs. NFC format, after realizing previous contrived efforts to gin up interest didn’t work.

It will be interesting to see if playing in a less-than-glamorous destination will cause more and more players to skip the event, but the league was apparently content with last year’s experience.

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Titans sign fifth-rounder Jayon Brown

AP

The Titans signed first-round cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on Tuesday and they got another one of their draft picks under contract on Wednesday.

Linebacker Jayon Brown has agreed to a four-year deal with the team. Brown, a fifth-round pick, is the seventh player in the draft class to sign a deal.

Brown made 21 starts at UCLA and took over for Myles Jack in the middle of the defense last season. He led the Pac-12 in tackles and intercepted three passes on his way to first-team all-conference honors.

Brown will join college teammate Aaron Wallace in Tennessee’s linebacking corps and will also be reunited with Lou Spanos, who was UCLA’s defensive coordinator in his freshman year before moving on to become the Titans’ linebackers coach.

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Bills cut Cyrus Kouandjio to make room for Rod Streater

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As it turns out, being found pantsless and disoriented in a field wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Cyrus Kouandjio in Buffalo this offseason.

The Bills announced they released the former second-round pick, as part of a pair of roster moves.

They also signed tight end Wes Saxton and wide receiver Rod Streater, and also released quarterback Josh Woodrum.

Streater adds some depth to their receiving corps. He caught 60 passes for the Raiders in 2013, but hasn’t had much of an impact since. He caught just 28 passes the last three seasons.

Kouandjio, the tackle from Alabama, was coming off a hip injury and had an up-and-down career with the Bills. He started just seven games in three seasons, hardly what they expected from the 44th overall pick in the 2014 draft.

But the strange part was an incident in April, when he was found by police in a partial state of dress and behaving erratically after climbing over an electric fence. He was held for observation but wasn’t arrested, and little more has been said about the incident.

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Report: Matt Jones skipping OTAs

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There hasn’t been much sign that running back Matt Jones is in the Redskins’ plans for the 2017 season and it appears he won’t be in the picture at all during Organized Team Activities.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Jones will not be attending OTAs this year.

Jones started the first seven games of the year and ran for 460 yards on 99 carries, but didn’t play in the final nine games of the year. Rob Kelley took over as the lead back. Chris Thompson returns as the third-down back and Samaje Perine was drafted in the fourth round to give the team another reason to keep Jones out of the rotation.

Rapoport reported during the draft that Washington was shopping Jones in a trade, although no one bit on a player who finished last season as a regular on the inactive list. A trade remains a possibility, although teams may prefer to wait for what seems like an inevitable parting of the ways rather than giving up anything in compensation.

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Dre Kirkpatrick broke his hand in “freak accident”

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The Bengals were back on the field yesterday, but cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was a surprise addition to the injured players watching.

According to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kirkpatrick was on the sidelines with a cast on his right hand.

Kirkpatrick said he broke his hand in a “freak accident,” and that he’d be back in action in a few weeks.

He didn’t elaborate on the accident (though he better hope he wasn’t doing anything scandalous like dancing), and coach Marvin Lewis said there was no real timetable for him.

Kirkpatrick signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract extension this offseason. In his place, the Bengals used Darqueze Dennard outside with the starters.

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