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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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Browns take Cody Kessler, as Connor Cook slide continues

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The Connor Cook slide continues.

He wasn’t taken before Christian Hackenberg. He wasn’t taken before Jacoby Brissett. And he wasn’t taken before Cody Kessler.

The Browns took Kessler in round three. Which means Cook is still on the board, as the compensatory phase of round three begins.

The slide by Cook is stunning. He told PFT Live earlier this week he’d get nervous if not taken after round two. He may be undrafted after round three.

The good news (if there is any) is that former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was a fourth-round pick. Things worked out pretty well for him.

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Patriots grab QB Jacoby Brissett

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMEBER 14: Jacoby Brissett #12 looks over his line prior to a play against the Florida State Seminoles during the game at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida State Seminoles beat the North Carolina Wolfpack 34-17. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thanks to this week’s ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the Patriots face the prospect of playing the first four weeks of the season without quarterback Tom Brady.

That left them in need of a quarterback to go with Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster. They addressed that need in the third round on Friday night.

The Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State with the 91st overall pick. Brissett is a big quarterback at 6’4″ and 231 pounds and had some big games against good opponents over the course of his ACC career, but there’s definitely work to be done if he’s going to be an NFL starter.

New England can afford to give him that time with Brady and Garoppolo on hand now and he could follow Garoppolo into the No. 2 job if he continues to develop.

The Patriots made their first pick of the year in the second round when they took Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones with the 60th overall pick. Jones also excelled as a returner in college. They traded the 61st pick to the Saints, receiving third- and fourth-round picks in return. They used the third rounder on offensive lineman Joe Thuney, who was a college teammate of Brissett.

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Ohio State sets record for most players drafted through first three rounds

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Terry Richardson #13 of the Michigan Wolverines tackles Braxton Miller #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ohio State set the record for the most players drafted from a school in a single year when they had 14 players selected in the 2004 draft.

They may not match that record this year, but the NFL announced that they have more players selected through the first three rounds than any school in history. There are 10 players from Columbus off the board.

When the Bills selected defensive tackle Adolphus Washington with the 80th overall pick, it meant that 10 percent of the players selected to that point were Buckeyes. The percentage swung even further in the direction of Urban Meyer’s talent pipeline when the Texans made wide receiver Braxton Miller the 85th overall pick and ninth Ohio State player selected, and then the Seahawks took tight end Nick Vannett with the 94th pick.

Five Buckeyes went on Thursday night and two more went to the Saints in the second round. New Orleans took wide receiver Michael Thomas with the 47th pick and then traded up with the Patriots to No. 61 to pick safety Vonn Bell.

With quarterback Cardale Jones, linebacker Joshua Perry and other Buckeyes still available, the number of Ohio State products is likely to grow before Saturday’s festivities come to an end.

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Jaylon Smith will receive insurance payment, Myles Jack won’t

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack were the two best linebackers in college football last year. They both suffered serious knee injuries that caused them to drop in the draft. They both had insurance policies designed to protect them in case of an injury. But only Smith will collect on that policy.

That’s because Smith bought a policy that came with a significant payout if he dropped into the second round of the draft, while Jack bought a policy that would only pay out if he fell past the 45th pick.

Smith’s policy will pay $900,000 because he fell all the way to the 34th overall pick in the draft, Darren Rovell of ESPN reports. That doesn’t make up for the money Smith lost with his injury: If he’d been the third overall pick he would have signed a contract with a total value of about $26 million, but as the 34th overall pick he’ll get about $6.5 million on his rookie deal. Still, a $900,000 payout takes a little of the sting off his injury.

But Jack won’t get any insurance money. His policy would only pay if he dropped below the 45th overall pick, and the Jaguars drafted Jack at pick No. 36. Jack will make about $6.3 million on his rookie contract, but nothing from insurance.

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Browns make another trade, still own nine more picks in this draft

Cleveland Browns v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Browns traded pick No. 77 in the third round to the Panthers, who selected West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley.

The Browns have made four picks in this draft and made two trades. They netted a third-round pick and a 2017 second-rounder in their first round trade with the Titans, then gave up Nos. 77 and 141 to the Panthers for pick Nos. 93, 129 and 168 in this draft.

That gives the Browns five picks between Nos. 93-138, then Nos. 168, 172, 173 and 223.

No. 93 is a late third-round pick to be made later Friday night, then the Browns will have eight picks tomorrow.

Before trading with the Panthers the Browns used pick No. 76 on offensive tackle Shon Coleman, a left tackle at Auburn who will compete for the right tackle job with the Browns.

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Kevin Faulk announces Patriots pick wearing Tom Brady jersey

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The #FreeBrady movement has made its way to Chicago.

Announcing New England’s third-round pick, former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk had a Tom Brady jersey under his jacket and over his dress shirt. Faulk unbuttoned the jacket, pulled it open, stood at the front of the stage with his hands on his hips while being introduced by NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.

“With the 78th pick of the 2016 NFL draft, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady select Joe Thuney, linebacker, North Carolina State,” Faulk declared.

The guys handling NFL Network’s coverage chuckled briefly but didn’t mention Faulk’s gesture. Which probably was smart.

On Monday, a federal appeals court reinstated Brady’s four-game #Deflategate suspension.

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Dolphins add Kenyan Drake to backfield

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide returns a kickoff for a 95 yards touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Dolphins coach Adam Gase said during the team’s minicamp this week that it was “very impressive” to see running back Jay Ajayi on the field, continuing a recent trend of confident notes about the backfield from Miami.

Early in free agency it looked like they weren’t so comfortable as they made an unsuccessful bid for C.J. Anderson as a restricted free agent and the team used a third-round pick to add another player to the mix. They selected Alabama running back Kenyan Drake at No. 73 overall on Friday night.

Drake has plenty of experience in backfield committees after sharing time with 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon and 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry at Alabama over the last two seasons. Drake, who broke his leg in 2014 and his arm in 2015, will bring speed out of the backfield and could be a pass receiving option as a complement to Ajayi.

Drake also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the NCAA title game last season and made several other big plays on special teams at Alabama, which should ensure him early playing time even if the running back rotation works out differently come September.

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Ravens add to pass rush, again

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 14:  Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Missouri Tigers avoids a sack by Bronson Kaufusi #90 of the Brigham Young Cougars as he rolls out to pass in the first quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) Getty Images

It seems the Ravens had a plan on Friday night, to add picks and to add pass rushers.

After making two trades and selecting Kamalei Correa in the second round, the Ravens in the third round picked defensive end Bronson Kaufusi at No. 70.

Kaufusi, who’s 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, had 11 sacks last season at BYU. He’ll play as a defensive end as the Ravens groom him, while Correa while likely play as a linebacker and then as a defensive end in nickel packages.

Kaufusi also played basketball at BYU and played both as a defensive end and as a stand-up pass rusher during his college career.

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Jaylon Smith says there’s “absolutely” a chance he will play this year

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The Cowboys balanced their win-now selection of running back Ezekiel Elliott in round one with a play-later option in second-round linebacker Jaylon Smith. But don’t tell Smith that he won’t be playing in 2016.

Asked by reporters after getting picked Friday night whether there’s a chance he’ll play this year, Smith said, “Absolutely. Never doubt God.”

Smith suffered a serious knee injury during his final game with Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Concerns regarding nerve damage caused him to fall, but he ended up being drafted earlier than expected — even earlier than linebacker Myles Jack.

“I get different sensations everyday with the nerve, but it’s just a timing thing,” Smith said. “I’m only three-and-a-half months out, so time will definitely tell, but the knee is fine. That was cleared at the medical recheck that the knee won’t have any issues. But it’s just a timing thing for the nerve. It’s too early in the process to tell. . . .

“There’s no recovery time because this is a process where we’re relying on God to do his work. We have to be patient and you know the nerve can come back tomorrow. It’s just a timing thing. Whenever it wants to come back, it’ll come back.”

The fact that the Cowboys made Smith such a high pick suggests that they’re hopeful the nerve will come back sooner than later. If it does, the Cowboys could have yet another great player as they continue to search for glory.

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Panthers find a cornerback, take Samford’s James Bradberry

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 1:  A man dressed as a toilet runs on the field during the Colorado State Rams game against the Colorado Buffaloes at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 1, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado won 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers were flush with salary cap room after taking the franchise tag off Josh Norman, but they were left with a leaky secondary.

So they drafted a guy who will have to help fix that problem.

With the 62nd overall pick, the Panthers drafted Samford cornerback James Bradberry, who will get a crack at replacing the departed Norman.

Of course, Bradberry wasn’t necessarily expecting the call, as he was busy fixing his mother’s toilet at the time the Panthers took him, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review.

While he’s a small-school player, that’s the kind of life skill that eclipses being able to cook like Eli Apple.

He’s a big, physical player with little name recognition, but that’s what Norman was before he developed into an All-Pro, but the Panthers are hoping he develops more quickly, since they have little to no depth at the position.

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Report: Some teams think Raiders 2nd rounder Jihad Ward needs knee scope

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 22: Christian Hackenberg #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions is hit for a sack by Jihad Ward #17 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois defeated Penn State 16-14. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders took Illinois defensive tackle Jihad Ward with the 44th overall pick of the draft on Friday night, adding to a defense that they’ve been building up over the last few years through free agency and the draft.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, some teams were concerned about the health of Ward’s knee and believe that he needs to have arthroscopic surgery that would keep him off the field for six weeks.

The Raiders are not one of those teams, however, and he’ll presumably be taking part in the team’s rookie minicamp before finishing out the rest of the offseason program. Ward only played two years at Illinois after starting his college career at the junior college level, but played with a lot of energy and has a build that could make him a fit at various positions across the defensive line in Oakland.

Oakland drafted Khalil Mack in the first round and added defensive tackle Justin Ellis in the fourth round of the 2014 draft before picking defensive end Mario Edwards in the second round last year. Edwards suffered a neck injury that has created some doubt about his availability in 2016.

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Washington pounces on Cravens before Pats can

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One of the more intriguing prospects in the draft has landed with his first NFL team, even though he thought it would be another one.

Washington made former USC linebacker Su’a Cravens the 53rd pick in the draft.

Via Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Mid-Atlantic, Cravens said he was surprised by the selection. He thought he would be picked by the Patriots.

Cravens can play safety and linebacker. He told reporters that Washington plans to use him as a linebacker in the dime defense, for now.

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Buccaneers trade up to take kicker Roberto Aguayo

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Kicker Roberto Aguayo #19 of the Florida State Seminoles kicks the game winning field goal against the Boston College Eagles during the game at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles defeated the Eagles 20-17. (Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images) Getty Images

Not only did the Buccaneers take a kicker in the second round, they traded up to get him.

The Bucs moved up to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo with the 59th overall pick, an aggressive move considering the teams immediately in front of them (New England and Carolina) weren’t really a danger to take one.

Aguayo left school a year early, but he already earned his degree and was the most accurate kicker in college football, so there wasn’t a lot left to prove.

He’s the highest-drafted kicker since Mike Nugent went in the second round (47th overall) in 2005.

The Bucs had Connor Barth and Patrick Murray on the roster, but that probably won’t last long, as putting such a premium on Aguayo means he’s the guy.

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Report: Jets still want Ryan Fitzpatrick

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the New York Jets on the sidelines against the Houston Texans in the second quarter on November 22, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

Even after adding former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in round two of the draft, giving the Jets three quarterbacks under contract, they still want to bring back last year’s unexpected starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Jets still want to bring back Fitzpatrick, but possibly only on a one-year deal.

That actually may help get the deal done. A league source recently told PFT that one of the sticking points between player and team relates to the fact that the Jets have been offering a three-year deal with a solid payout ($10 million or $11 million) in 2016 but much lower salaries in 2017 and 2018.

If Fitzpatrick returns, it means that either Geno Smith (a second-round pick in 2013) or Bryce Petty (a fourth-round pick in 2015) will be the odd man out. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t return, it’s hard to envision a new team that would pay him the kind of money he’s reportedly looking for.

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Goodell still getting booed at draft

Zz1mNjFmZWQ2Njg0MTFkNGY5ZjM1MzA3NTY3OWJhNTViOA== AP

No, the draft isn’t being held in Boston. It just sounds that way.

Through both nights of the draft, Commissioner Roger Goodell has heard the boos repeatedly and regularly from fans attending the draft in Chicago. Next year, fans in a new city will have the chance to greet him, over and over, with a Park Avenue cheer.

It raises a broader question, one that became relevant a year ago when the name of quarterback Marcus Mariota was butchered at pick No. 2 (and Philip Dorsett later in the round): Why does Goodell keep delivering the picks personally?

Big Shield loves to talk about public confidence in the game. How is it good for public confidence in the game when the man ultimately in charge of it is being continuously disrespected by the only large, televised gathering of fans he addresses every year?

The time has come for the league to consider hiring an actor to deliver the picks, or to use a rotating cast of characters, like an awards show. The draft should be a celebration of the game, not a celebration for the fans’ apparent disdain of the man who runs the game.

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