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Aaron Rodgers says his layoff was a great learning experience

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will return to the field Sunday after missing seven games, and he believes he’s coming back with a new perspective on his position.

Rodgers said today in the Packers’ locker room that as much as he hated standing on the sideline instead of playing, he thinks he got something out of it.

“It’s a great learning experience,” Rodgers said. “Every time you’re faced with adversity you can take something away from that. For me it was to be able to step back and look at the team from a different perspective, be on the headset. It’s tough to not be out there with the guys but I think you learn a lot through the process, you find new ways to lead, you realize how important your attitude, your enthusiasm, your energy you bring to practice can be to the guys. I know they’re excited about my return but I think the way they believe in me, the expectations they have for me, I have the same ones for them. I believe in them, I have expectations that they’re going to play well. My coming back doesn’t alleviate any of the pressure on the guys. I think the pressure we put on ourselves, we can harness at this point and see how good we can really be.”

Rodgers sounds ready to lead the Packers into the playoffs.

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Another challenger joins the NFLPA executive director hunt


And then there were five.  And there still could be more.

With more than 36 hours remaining before the window closes on the ability of candidates for the NFLPA executive director position to be nominated by three player representatives, multiple reports indicate that former NFLPA counsel Arthur McAfee has obtained the requisite nominations and has been added to the ballot.

PFT first reported McAfee’s candidacy on Monday.  He joins Sean Gilbert, Andrew Smith, and John Stufflebeam as the official challengers to DeMaurice Smith.

Two other known candidates, James Acho and Sean Morey, have not yet received the three nominations.

The election is scheduled for March 15.

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Tyvon Branch beginning his free agent tour with Colts

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It’s almost like the Colts want to do the Bob Sanders thing again.

According to Conor Orr of, the Colts are bringing former Raiders safety Tyvon Branch in for a free agent visit.

When he’s well, Branch is a very good safety, the kind of guy who would represent an upgrade over their last free agent safety by (the just-cut LaRon Landry).

Only, it’s hard to count on Branch being well, after he’s played just five games the last two seasons. A broken leg and a broken foot might not be connected, and might not be a sign of future events.

But still, it’s hard to gauge what his market will be, and how any team is willing to invest in a guy with so little tape the last two years.

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Report: Randall Cobb expecting more than Packers offer of $8-9 million a year

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The Packers opted not to use the franchise or transition tag on wide receiver Randall Cobb earlier this week, a decision that pushed Cobb closer to the open market.

It also appears to have pushed him closer to the exit. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Packers have told Cobb’s agent Jimmy Sexton that they are willing to give Cobb a five-year contract worth between $8 and $9 million a season, which is less than Sexton believes Cobb will receive on the open market.

Cobb had exactly the year you’d want to have with free agency in the future as he played in every game for the first time in his career while setting personal bests for catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. McGinn believes that Cobb could top the $9.763 million per year that Jordy Nelson is set to make under the terms of the extension he signed last year and the presence of teams like the Raiders and Jaguars with big money to spend makes that seem like a real possibility.

The Packers drafted three wide receivers last year and they’ve replaced key offensive contributors without missing too many beats in the past, so there’s not much reason to think that they’re going to get into a bidding war for Cobb’s services. Right now, that gives the strong impression that Cobb will be in a different uniform pretty soon.

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Arians: Cardinals knew McCoy was available, but he’s not the right fit

Bruce Arians AP

The Bills weren’t the only team that knew the Eagles were looking to trade running back LeSean McCoy.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said on NFL Network that his team knew that McCoy was available in a trade, but decided not to make an offer.

“No, it wasn’t a good fit for us,” Arians said.

Still, Arians thinks highly of McCoy and thinks the Bills improved their team by trading Kiko Alonso to Philadelphia to acquire McCoy.

“Great move for Buffalo,” Arians said. “Not that Alonso is not a great player — I think he’s going to be, coming off surgery — but when you have LeSean’s resume, that kind of speaks for itself.”

So why did the Eagles make the trade? Arians said he sees Chip Kelly as a coach who wants to bring in his guys, who will play his way.

“Chip is building his culture there, and he’s doing one heck of a job,” Arians said.

Having said that, Arians added that he was glad to see McCoy traded out of the conference. Arians may not have thought McCoy was a good fit in Arizona, but he’d prefer not to have to face him.

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McCoy reportedly isn’t happy about being traded to Buffalo

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In our first of umpteen-and-counting items about the Shady-for-Kiko trade, it was noted that it’s unclear whether running back LeSean McCoy will welcome a trade from Philadelphia to Buffalo.

He possibly won’t.

Josina Anderson of ESPN, citing an unnamed source close to LeSean McCoy, reports that McCoy is “frustrated” by the news that he’ll be sent to the Bills.

“He’s a Pennsylvania kid,” the source told Anderson.  “He’s never played football outside of Pennsylvania — high school, college, pro.  So of course he’s not happy.  Sounds like it’s pretty final to me unless LeSean is refusing to go to Buffalo.”

Of course, refusing to go to Buffalo would mean not earning $10.25 million in 2015, ultimately being cut by the Eagles, and then being forced to find $10.25 million on the open market.

“It’ll be interesting to see how this process plays itself out because he’s an interesting individual,” the source said.  “In your mind, when you think of Buffalo you think of cold and losing games.  It’s not like it’s the Philadelphia market where you’re always on [TV] and you’re playing for like the division title or that type of thing.”

Bills coach Rex Ryan likely believes that he’ll be able to persuade McCoy to give it a try, and Rex definitely has the ability to do that.  But McCoy may still balk, which means that the Bills then will have to decide whether to go through with the deal.

The deal can’t be finalized until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 10.  Before then, either side can decline to proceed.  And if McCoy makes it clear that he has no desire to play in Buffalo, that could be enough for the Bills to walk away, minimizing any style points they’d lose by reneging on the tentative swap.

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Steelers may want Polamalu to retire so they don’t have to cut him

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Troy Polamalu was a great player for the Steelers for years, but he turns 34 next month, and he isn’t great anymore. Which puts the Steelers in an awkward position.

No one in Pittsburgh wants to see Polamalu get cut and try to finish his career in another uniform, but the Steelers don’t want to pay a lot of money for an aging, slowing veteran this season, and they’d save $3.6 million on their 2015 salary cap if Polamalu is not on the roster. The best option, from the Steelers’ perspective, may be for Polamalu to decide on his own to walk away.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Steelers would prefer for Polamalu to retire, so they don’t have to go through the awkward situation of cutting a loyal veteran and fan favorite. The Steelers are in good enough cap shape that they don’t have to cut Polamalu, but according to Bouchette it’s “90 percent he’s not gonna be back.”

Three years ago the Steelers were in a similar situation with Hines Ward: Pittsburgh didn’t think Ward had much left, but Ward wasn’t ready to call it a career right away. So the Steelers cut Ward, only to have Ward look around for a few weeks, find that there weren’t any great offers for his services, and then announce his retirement.

Ideally, a player like Polamalu should retire as a Steeler without getting cut first. But if Polamalu doesn’t retire, the Steelers may decide that they have no choice but to tell him his time in Pittsburgh is over.

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NFL, Greg Hardy could end up making a deal

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As Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy heads to 345 Park Avenue for a meeting with the powers-that-be less than a week before becoming a free agent for the first time in his career, the tea leaves are suggesting that the two sides will try to strike a deal.

For example, Hardy could receive a free and clear path to free agency, with the ability to hit the market the moment the new league year begins next Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET.  In return, Hardy would agree to a suspension for the conduct that resulted in a judge finding him guilty last year of domestic violence.

It wouldn’t be the first time the NFL has resolved a player’s disciplinary proceedings by agreement.  Last year, the Aldon Smith suspension arose not through hearings and appeals but a compromise struck before any of the various proceedings began.

There’s reason to believe the NFL and Hardy have something unconventional going on.  For starters, Hardy’s camp has adopted a position of radio silence as the meeting at the league offices approaches.  Likewise, the NFL has failed to respond to repeated requests from PFT for clarification regarding Hardy’s ability to hit the free-agent market while on the Commissioner-Exempt list.  Which could mean the NFL wants his status to continue to be vague and unsettled in advance of their discussions with Hardy.

Taking Hardy off the Commissioner-Exempt list before the market opens and the biggest money flows becomes the league’s leverage to get Hardy to accept a suspension, which may or may not include the forfeiture of an extra game check or two, given that he was paid his full $13.1 million salary in 2014 despite playing in only one game.  And while last week’s ruling in the Adrian Peterson case stands for the proposition that the new personal-conduct policy can’t be applied retroactively (which may limit Hardy to a two-game suspension under the old personal-conduct policy), Hardy can agree to any punishment he wants, if the agreement allows him to hit the market next month.

If Hardy doesn’t strike a deal, it’s quite possible that the NFL find a way to keep Hardy from being eligible for a new contract until after the big money has been spent.

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Tommy Smith expects 2015 Titans to “be in the playoff race and to get there”

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At the halfway point of the 2014 season, Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith said that he was “impatient” for better results than the 2-6 record the team compiled in its first eight games.

Going 0-8 to close out the season didn’t say much about the talent on hand in Tennessee, but it didn’t do anything to make Smith more patient either. During appearances on Nashville radio stations 102.5 The Game and 104.5 The Zone, Smith promised to be aggressive and active in free agency in order to fulfill his expectations for the team during the 2015 season.

“We need to get into the playoffs. We need to not just be competitive; we need to have the playoffs in mind and the playoffs should lead to the Super Bowl,” Smith said, via the Tennessean. “This year set us back, I have to admit. I really thought we were going to progress, but we didn’t get it done, terrible year. Next year I have high expectations, and I expect us to not just be competitive but to be in the playoff race and to get there.”

No team should go into a season with designs on finishing 2-14, but a playoff berth isn’t going to be easy for the Titans to come by in 2015. They have issues all over the team, including at quarterback, and correcting all of them is going to be beyond the grasp of even the most aggressive teams.

Smith also said that he still wants the team to establish the “smash-mouth identity” he’s been looking for since assuming responsibility for the team after Bud Adams’s death in 2013. Putting that in place may be a more attainable goal than that playoff spot, while missing on both may not bode well for coach Ken Whisenhunt or General Manager Ruston Webster.

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Entire NFC West in on Darnell Dockett, who will decide today

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The whole NFC West seems interested in Darnell Dockett, but we won’t have to wait long to see where his head is.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Dockett is expected to decide today where he’s going to play next year.

He visited the 49ers this week, and there’s reportedly some interest from the Rams and Seahawks as well.

The Cardinals have offered him a one-year deal worth up to $4 million if he hit all the incentives, so it will be curious to see if the 49ers are willing to match that.

While Dockett himself is a big story, any move he makes or doesn’t make could also be viewed as a sign about the future of 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith, whose own future is cloudy.

If the 49ers know they’re looking for a replacement for Smith, they might be inclined to top the Cards’ offer for a guy who’ll turn 34 in May and is coming off a torn ACL.

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Hartline visits the Bears on Wednesday

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On Tuesday, free-agent receiver Brian Hartline visited the Browns.  On Wednesday, the Hartline heartland tour takes him to Chicago, for a visit with the Bears.

Per a league source, Hartline will visit Halas Hall later today.  His visit to the Browns went well, and other teams remain interested.  Hartline hopes to decide on his next team within the next 24 hours.

Interested teams include the Dolphins, who cut Hartline last week in lieu of paying him $5.9 million in 2015.

Hartline had the lowest yardage output of his career with 474 in 2014, despite starting all 16 regular-season games.  He generated more than 1,000 yards in 2013 and 2012.

Chicago’s interest in Hartline is intriguing.  Given the rumors and speculation that receiver Brandon Marshall could be gone, Hartline could step in and start across from Alshon Jeffery.

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Stephen Jones says Cowboys are looking for value, not splash

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Having committed $12.8 million with the franchise tag for wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys plan to proceed carefully in free agency.

During an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team was more likely to slow-play the market, in hopes of finding some bargains after the first wave like they did last year in defensive end Jeremy Mincey.

I don’t know if active is a good word,” Jones said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “I think active can get you in trouble in free agency. I think you have to be efficient and look for your values, and you can do good things.

“We did it last year with a player like Mincey where we got a lot of great value out of him. But at the same time, we’ve been in situations where you have to pay too much for players. You got to be very careful there. We’re certainly going to be that way. We’re going to look to be efficient. If that proves to be productive then that would be good.”

That dovetails nicely with the idea that running back DeMarco Murray would offer some degree of discount to stay home, and the Cowboys would love to drive the price down as far as they can for the reigning offensive player of the year.

“It’s one of those situations where you get down to the wire like this and free agency is right around the corner, it’s tough for a player not to want to look and see what his options may be,” Jones said. “At the same time, he understands the business of football that we can only do so much at each position. We’ve got to, at the end of the day, decide how we want to divide up the pie. Of course, we certainly want to give a nice piece of it to DeMarco.

“But we’ll just see how that works out. We really feel like we have a great relationship with DeMarco and his agent Bill Johnson. Certainly no guarantees, no promises that he’s going to bring offers back to us. But at the end of the day, I do think he wants to stay in Dallas. I know he knows we want him here. Hopefully we’ll have good communication as we move forward.”

The might, but the biggest communication is pretty clear — the Cowboys don’t plan to break the bank for Murray, or anyone other than Bryant.

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Chargers visit next up for Jacoby Jones

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Former Ravens wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones started his search for a new job with visits to the Bengals and Titans and he’ll continue the hunt with a trip to California.

Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that Jones will head to San Diego on Wednesday for a visit with the Chargers.

San Diego brings back Malcom Floyd and Keenan Allen from last year’s receiving corps, but Eddie Royal is set to be a free agent and there’s not much experienced depth under contract. Asking Jones to be much more than that on offense is probably a stretch, but he could help in the return game.

Allen and Royal split punt return duties in 2014 and a Jones signing would likely allow Allen to focus on his offensive duties. Jones could also take over kickoff return duties from Chris Davis, who averaged 25.1 yards on 19 returns during his rookie season.

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Wednesday morning one-liners

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Will LeSean McCoy try to block his trade to Buffalo?

Said Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill of the coming season, “With all the guys we have coming back playing in the second year of the offense, I’m excited about it.”

The NFL Films DVD of the Patriots’ Super Bowl run has been released.

The Jets have cap space and could use another running back, but don’t expect them to sign C.J. Spiller.

The Ravens seem likely to draft a cornerback in the first round.

Here’s a look at the state of the linebackers on the Bengals.

The Browns want Johnny Manziel to adopt the lifestyle of a quarterback.

Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is not a fan of Mel Kiper.

Ex-Texans G.M. Charley Casserly, who drafted Andre Johnson, thinks Johnson can still play.

Colts QB Andrew Luck is making a change to his facial hair.

Randall Cobb and Julius Thomas are among the players on the Jaguars’ free agent wish list.

The Titans have money to spend in free agency, and they’d better spend it if they want Tennessee fans to think they’re serious about winning.

If the Broncos lose G Orlando Franklin, they’ll have options to replace him.

Enjoy these pictures of Chiefs LB Justin Houston, Kansas City fans, because you may not see him again if he gets his wish of leaving in free agency.

Will the Raiders spend the money to sign Ndamukong Suh?

Chargers C Chris Watt is committed to his offseason workouts and expecting a big year in 2015.

Stephen Jones says the Cowboys will be efficient in free agency.

The Giants may need to beef up the offensive line in free agency.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is making plenty of moves, but he’s not talking about them.

Will Devin McCourty head to Washington in free agency?

The Bears’ draft party will include Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus.

New Lions defensive quality control coach Steven Williams played his college football at Harvard.

If Randall Cobb leaves in free agency, the Packers will have other options.

Don’t expect the Vikings to break the bank on any high-priced free agents.

The Falcons re-signed DE Cliff Matthews in large part because of his contributions on special teams.

Here’s a look back at the last year for Panthers DE Greg Hardy.

The 13th overall pick has been lucky for the teams that have had it, which is good news for the Saints this year.

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden will talk to the Bucs’ two options with the first overall pick when he does his annual “Quarterback Camp” segment on ESPN.

The Cardinals have offered a contract to Darnell Dockett and expect to know by the end of the week whether he’s going to sign it.

There’s more criticism in St. Louis for Stan Kroenke’s plan to build a stadium in Los Angeles.

The 49ers would like to add speed at wide receiver, but if they sign Ted Ginn it will primarily be for his ability to return kicks.

Here’s a look at the state of the Seahawks’ free agents.

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Miami may emerge as the major player for Suh

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On Saturday, the three-day period opens for agent Jimmy Sexton to negotiate with teams other than the Lions on behalf of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  It would be naive to assume negotiations haven’t already happened.

Some have linked teams like the Giants and Washington to Suh.  Many believe a team that currently has no national relevance will pursue Suh in an effort to transform the franchise, generate excitement, sell tickets, and ultimately hope that more games will be won.

There’s one team that remains somewhat nationally relevant thanks to a pair of Super Bowl trophies from the ’70s and the exploits of players like Dan Marino.  But with one playoff appearance since 2002, an annual sense of 8-8-at-best malaise, an owner who has wanted to recharge the franchise since getting the keys to it, and a new executive V.P. of football operations who may be looking to make a splash, keep a close eye on the Miami Dolphins as a potential destination for Suh.

There’s talk that the Dolphins will emerge as the leaders for Suh, and that teams like the Raiders, Jaguars, and Buccaneers are being floated not as serious candidates but as leverage.  Ultimately, it may come down to the Dolphins bidding against themselves as Suh and Sexton try to set the bar for defensive players as high as they can.

Owner Stephen Ross has tried unsuccessfully to land a big name over the last four years.  From Jim Harbaugh to Peyton Manning to Jeff Fisher, the Dolphins have yet to make anything happen.  With Suh quite possibly chasing the best offer he gets and getting a chance to head to a city with South Beach and a state with no income taxes, it’s not a stretch to see Suh wearing on his helmet a logo featuring a mammal that has no arms or legs on which to stomp.

If Suh ends up in South Florida, the AFC East would get only more interesting.  The Patriots continue to be the Patriots.  The Bills are poised to add running back LeSean McCoy, a move that suggests Rex Ryan and company have plenty more up their sleeves.  And the Jets seem to be serious about trying to upgrade through the kind of serious spending they haven’t done in recent years, with no secret being made of their desire to bring Darrelle Revis home.

Yes, the AFC East may not be the best division in the NFL.  But it’s the most interesting.  It got a lot more interesting with this Tuesday’s news of the LeSean McCoy trade.  It could get a whole lot more interesting if next Tuesday’s news includes Suh going to Miami.

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John DeFilippo wants Johnny Manziel “obsessed with football”

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The Browns have signed quarterback Josh McCown, giving themselves a veteran option to Johnny Manziel for the 2015 season shortly after Manziel entered a treatment facility in the wake of a rough rookie season.

It’s not the most inspiring scene for the offense or for Manziel’s future, but offensive coordinator John DeFilippo thinks that he can get things moving in the right direction. He said the offense Manziel ran in college was limited, leaving a lot of work for DeFilippo to do to “take the grey area” out and turn things into the “pure progression” he’ll need to succeed as a professional.

The coach said that Manziel “needs experience playing the game at this level” if he’s going to improve, but that there’s also a mental aspect that requires a commitment on the quarterback’s part.

“It’s truly a lifestyle to be an NFL quarterback,” DeFilippo said on ESPN 850 WKNR. “It’s not just a job. It’s all-consuming. You need to sleep, eat, do everything fast and just think about football all the time. The great ones have an obsession with it. You watch the Peyton Mannings and the Drew Brees and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys are obsessed with football. And you talk about quarterback lifestyle, in our very first meeting that’s what we’re going to talk about with those guys.”

DeFilippo did an evenhanded job of assessing the areas where Manziel needs work on and off the field. He also laid out a pretty big mountain of work ahead for Manziel since there’s clearly a lot of work to do on both fronts in an environment that can be short on patience and rope for quarterbacks who aren’t ready for the job.

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