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Riley Cooper comes a long way in six months

Cooper Getty Images

Six months ago, receiver Riley Cooper’s future in Philadelphia was tenuous at best.  Some wondered whether in the wake of his use of a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert whether any other team would embrace him.

Instead, Cooper took a short break from the Eagles and, after he returned, the issue quickly died.  Then, Cooper’s career came alive.

On the brink of hitting the open market, Cooper has signed a deal worth, per a league source, up to $25 million over five years.  A small amount of that total comes from escalators, so the base value is less than $25 million.

Of the amount, $10 million is guaranteed.  Specifically, Cooper gets a $4 million signing bonus, $4 million in base salary guaranteed for skill, injury, and salary cap ($1 million is fully guaranteed in 2014 and $3 million is fully guaranteed in 2015).  Of his total salary of $4 million in 2015, $1 million is guaranteed for injury only.  Also, $1 million of his 2016 salary is currently guaranteed for injury only.  The injury guarantees convert to a fully guaranteed amounts in March of 2015 and 2016, respectively.

While the deal isn’t a blockbuster, it comes at a time when more than 50 receivers are poised to flood the market.  Other teams were interested in Cooper, but may have had concerns about the incident from 2013 and the issues relating to absorbing Cooper into a new locker room.

In Philly, the locker room already has gotten past the incident, and the team realizes that he can make significant contributions in Chip Kelly’s offense.

Even if the Eagles re-sign receiver Jeremy Maclin, both Maclin and Cooper will get plenty of playing time, given that Kelly uses three wideouts roughly 80 percent of the time.  Cooper’s $5 million average likewise confirms that DeSean Jackson remains far and away the lead dog of the receiving corps, with a salary in 2014 of $10.5 million.

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Antonio Gates practices a day after his sister died of lupus

Antonio Gates AP

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates missed much of the team’s offseason program while dealing with a family situation that unfortunately had a sad ending.

Gates’ sister Pamela died at the age of 22 on Wednesday after a long battle with lupus. Gates also flew home after games last season to spend time with his sister, but was with the Chargers at practice on Thursday. Gates explained that he enjoyed being back on the field with his teammates while dealing with what he called the toughest thing he’s faced in his life.

“It puts me at ease, with all the things I’ve had to deal with from my family’s standpoint and a personal standpoint,” Gates said, via ESPN.com. “This is where I’m comfortable at — competing and doing the things I’m accustomed to doing playing football. And it takes a lot off of your mind.”

Everyone at PFT wishes Gates and his family well while dealing with Pamela’s loss.

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Raiders will cut Kevin Burnett

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kevin Burnett AP

The Raiders won’t have cornerback D.J. Hayden in the lineup for a while after foot surgery and they won’t have linebacker Kevin Burnett in the lineup at all.

Multiple reports from Raiders beat writers have the team parting ways with the veteran linebacker. Burnett missed a portion of the team’s spring work because of an ankle injury and Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com reports that he was never medically cleared to participate in practices this summer.

The Raiders signed Burnett to a two-year, $5.25 million deal before last season and Burnett started all 16 games for the team last year. He didn’t play particularly well and the Raiders will go with either Sio Moore or Miles Burris across from rookie Khalil Mack this season.

Burnett was a second-round pick in Dallas in 2005 and has played for the Chargers and Dolphins in addition to the Cowboys and Raiders. If he’s healthy, he could get a look from a team in need of an experienced hand on defense later this summer or during the season.

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Low preseason ranking ruffles feathers in South Florida

Dolphins Getty Images

Some of you were surprised to see that the average vote of the PFT staff placed the Dolphins at No. 31 on the preseason power rankings.  That group included Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

As explained by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Ross was sufficiently concerned about the placement to pick up the phone and call coach Joe Philbin, who apparently said something along the lines of, “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“I don’t think he knows the guys in our looker room or the guys that come to work in this building every single day from top to bottom,” Philbin said to Salguero, with the “he” actually being the “we” who voted on the best to worst franchises entering the 2014 season.

While Philbin can get plenty of mileage in the locker room out of the lack of perceived respect inherent to the ranking, he actually should be glad that expectations are so low.  The lower the expectations, the easier it is for a coach to exceed them and, in turn, to remain the coach.

While reasonable minds may differ on whether the Dolphins currently sit below every NFL team not located in Oakland, there’s plenty of reason to think the Dolphins won’t take a step forward from last year’s 8-8 finish, which was punctuated by a pair of losses in winnable games.  The organization showed serious signs of dysfunction in the early portion of the offseason, via multiple reports creating the impression that G.M. Jeff Ireland lost a power struggle with V.P. of football administration Dawn Aponte, who had reportedly aligned with Philbin after Ireland reportedly tried to get Aponte fired.  The perception that no one wanted to succeed Ireland as the team’s G.M. bolstered the sense that things aren’t going so well in South Florida.

Then there’s the aftermath of the Jonathan Martin situation, with Richie Incognito gone but Mike Pouncey still there, showing signs that he really hasn’t learned anything from the experience and that he blames the controversy on the media.  The Dolphins looked the other way on Pouncey because Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league.  And of course he’s now out through at least the middle of the season after hip surgery.

When the Dolphins finished 27th in yardage and 26th points and allowed 58 sacks, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took the fall.  Which means that his former pupil at Texas A&M, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, has to learn and adapt to a new offense.  Which may or may not work out.

Receiver Mike Wallace was a malcontent last year, his first after signing a big-money deal to jump from Pittsburgh to South Florida.  The offensive line is a work in progress at best, especially with Pouncey out.  And the defense, which finished in the bottom quarter of the league in points allowed but near the top 10 for yardage surrendered, has a long way to go before it can win games without much support from the offense.

So with no teams other than the Raiders standing out as having deep and profound deficiencies, it made sense to put the Dolphins behind the likes of the Titans, Jaguars (who should have been higher than 29, in my own assessment), the Bills, the Vikings, and the Buccaneers.  Ultimately, that’s the task for anyone who disagrees with the Dolphins at No. 31:  Point out a team other than the Raiders that is currently in worse overall shape.

Again, that’s good news for Philbin.  It gives him a way to get his players to affix a chip to their shoulders, and it gives him cover in the event the Dolphins don’t make it to the playoffs this year.  If they do — or even if they get close but don’t qualify — Philbin will have overcome major talent and organizational challenges that hopefully the organization led ultimately by Ross will be able to appreciate and reward.

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Floyd Reese: Fearing Al Davis, Bud Adams wanted to trade up with New Orleans for Vince Young

2006 NFL Draft Getty Images

It’s long been known the late Bud Adams coveted Vince Young in the 2006 NFL Draft.

And the Titans’ owner was even willing to trade up to get his man.

Via ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, ex-Titans G.M. Floyd Reese recalled Thursday how badly Adams wanted Young, who had led Texas to the national title months earlier.

“The night before he draft, [Adams] goes, ‘You gotta call New Orleans and trade up,’” Reese remembered Thursday in an interview with 104.5 FM “The Zone” in Nashville.

The Titans held the No. 3 pick, while the Saints had the second overall choice. And as Reese recalled, Adams believed Raiders owner Al Davis had designs on trading into New Orleans’ spot.

Reese, as the former Titans’ executive told “The Zone” on Thursday, couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“I said, ‘WHAT?’” Reese recalled.

Adams, Reese said, insisted he check in with New Orleans and make an offer. And so the Titans’ G.M. did as he was told.

Now it was the Saints’ turn to be surprised.

“So I called ‘em and I said — and trading one spot — I said, ‘I need to trade with you guys, and I will give you a ‘two,’” Reese said. “They said, ‘A TWO?’ I said, ‘Yep, a two.’ They go, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘We want that spot.’”

Reese continued: “And he goes, ‘You know something we don’t.’ He goes, ‘We’re not going to trade.’”

Said Reese, concluding his story: “I laughed about that forever.”

In the end, the Saints took Reggie Bush second overall, and the Titans selected Young with the next pick. The Titans got their quarterback, and they didn’t have to give up a second-rounder.

And now, thanks to Reese, we have quite the footnote to add to the history of the 2006 NFL Draft.

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Raiders put D.J. Hayden on PUP list after foot surgery

D.J. Hayden AP

A number of teams might have been worried about D.J. Hayden’s heart scare prior to last year’s NFL Draft.

But Hayden’s biggest problem at the moment is all the other parts.

According to Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com, the Raiders cornerback suffered a stress fracture in his foot which had to be surgically repaired.

The surgery was done four weeks ago, and Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Hayden’s recovery was estimated at between four and eight weeks. For now, he’s on the active/physically unable to perform list.

That could well take him out of training camp altogether, which would be a blow for the team and last year’s 12th overall pick.

It’s a big setback,” veteran defensive back Charles Woodson said Wednesday, before it was known Hayden had surgery. “As I’ve said many times, the most important thing in this game is being out on the field. There’s only so much being in the film room and studying plays can do for you. It can only take you so far. You need to be out there. . . .

“Hopefully it’s not anything that’s going to hold him out the whole camp. Hopefully he doesn’t have to worry about being on a [physically unable to perform list] or anything like that. He’s a guy we feel can help us out around here. It has the potential to be a setback. Hopefully it’s not.”

After fighting through the heart injury which nearly killed him, and complications from an abdominal surgery last season, Hayden hardly needs any more hurdles.

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Charles gets $8.3 million guaranteed

Charles Getty Images

Omitted from the news regarding the new contract obtained by running back Jamaal Charles from the Chiefs was the amount of the four-year, $28 million contract that is guaranteed.

It was possibly omitted because it wasn’t an eye-popping number.

Per a league source, only the first year of the deal is guaranteed, which it would have been as of Week One of the regular season anyway.  The total amount is $8.3 million, a dramatic increase in the $3.9 million Charles was due to earn in 2014.

Nothing beyond 2014 is guaranteed.  So if the Chiefs were to cut Charles after this season, he’d hit the market with $8.3 million in his pocket from the upcoming season.

Charles probably could have given up some of the total dollars in exchange for getting some injury-only guarantees in future years.  But why bother?  The money only gets paid in the event of a serious injury.  For what the player would have to sacrifice by way of salary, it makes more sense in some situations to simply buy a disability policy.

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Griffin takes another shot at the Shanahans

Griffin AP

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III has made little effort to conceal something that should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the team — Griffin and former coach Mike Shanahan and former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t see eye to eye.

Last month, Griffin applauded the absence of “ulterior motives” in the organization this year.  On Thursday, Griffin took a more direct, but still passive-aggressive, dig at the Shanahans, when asked by reporters about Griffin’s supposed inability to read defenses.

“You don’t go from the ability to read defenses one year and not have that ability the next, so I don’t believe that one bit,” Griffin said.  “And it’s really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you.  Sean and Jay have done a great job.  They’ve given me a lot on my shoulders in that quarterback room and I cherish that.  You want to be asked to do more or just to do the bare minimum.”

The comments imply that the Shanahan didn’t “believe” in Griffin, and that they wanted him to do “the bare minimum” when running the offense.

Then again, the latter observation could be a reflection of Kyle Shanahan’s approach to the quarterback position, given that past pupils like Rex Grossman have described Kyle as wanting the quarterback to run the offense precisely the way Shanahan wants it to be run, with limited discretion or thought on the part of the quarterback.  It’ll be interesting to see whether Kyle Shanahan insists on that kind of structure from his latest pupil, the man named Johnny Football who plays some of his best football when the predetermined plan has landed in the johnny.

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Aldon Smith says he’s remained sober, expects to meet with Goodell soon

Aldon Smith AP

With word of Ravens running back Ray Rice’s two-game suspension being announced on Thursday, we may be drawing closer to learning what kind of discipline the league has in store for 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

Smith pleaded no contest to three weapons charges and a DUI this offseason and reports were that he’d meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell soon to discuss his situation. On Thursday, Smith confirmed, via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, that he expects to have a meeting with Goodell soon but that no date has been set yet.

Barrows also reports that Smith said he has remained sober since checking into a rehab facility after being arrested for DUI last September. Smith missed five games while in rehab, something Goodell said could be a factor in any penalty that is ultimately handed down.

The sobriety may also help persuade Goodell to opt for lesser discipline, but Smith has racked up enough negatives that it would be surprising if he’s in the 49ers lineup for the first few weeks of the regular season.

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Mike Priefer: I’ve learned a hard lesson

Minnesota Vikings Media Access Getty Images

The Vikings suspended special teams coach Mike Priefer last Friday night after an investigation into claims by the team’s former punter Chris Kluwe that Priefer made homophobic remarks while speaking to the team.

Priefer made his first public comments about the suspension, which is for three games with the potential to go down to two games after Priefer completes sensitivity training, and said he made a mistake that went “way below the bar” by making the remarks. Priefer reiterated the apology that he made on Friday and said he’s learned a lesson.

“I’m not going to change the way I coach and I’m not going to change the way I teach,” Priefer said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But I’ve learned a lesson. I have learned a lesson here. That’s a great thing about this situation, I’m going to look back and say something good had to come from this. But I learned a hard lesson, I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say and that’s not going to happen again.”

Priefer didn’t go into specific detail about what he said and will undergo sensitivity training during the first week of the regular season. General Manager Rick Spielman indicated that the team considered firing Priefer, but thought a suspension was more appropriate. Coach Mike Zimmer said he stands behind Priefer because he’s a good person that made a mistake.

“We all make mistakes,” Zimmer said. “We all try to learn from our mistakes. And I think this guy is a very high-character, quality person that I want to stand behind. Honestly, I want to stand behind him because I know what is inside of him, I know what’s in his heart. And he made a mistake, and if anyone here hasn’t made a mistake, I want you to raise your hand, because I know I’ve made plenty.”

Kluwe and the Vikings are working toward a settlement that would avoid a lawsuit from Kluwe alleging wrongful discharge and defamation of character. Should that happen, Priefer and the team will be closer to fulfilling Priefer’s desire to “move on” from the investigation.

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Pierre-Paul says he’s “110 percent,” thinks he’ll remain with Giants past 2014

Jasn Pierre-Paul AP

After going 7-9 last season, there are several Giants veterans on the spot heading into the 2014 season.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is right at the top of that list. Pierre-Paul battled injuries early and late while putting forth performances far below the standard he set on the way to a Super Bowl title in 2011, leading him to call it a “lost year” on Thursday. Getting Pierre-Paul back to form is big for a team that doesn’t have many proven pass rushers and it’s big for Pierre-Paul as well.

He’s entering the final year of his contract and what was once assumed to be a big extension is less certain after Pierre-Paul’s poor 2013. The defensive end says he’s “110 percent” now, though, and expects to remain with the team.

“I’m not gonna lie,” Pierre-Paul said, via the New York Post. “Seeing Tuck gone, it’s on my mind a little bit. I think I’m going to be here next year. Honest. Because I know how I play and I know what kind of game I bring.”

Listing the players who are 110 percent or in the best shape of their lives heading into training camp would take most of the month, so such statements should always be taken with an oversize grain of salt. Pierre-Paul has to produce once the whistle blows or his future, Giants or otherwise, is going to be a lot dimmer than it was 12 months ago.

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Report: Jordy Nelson’s looking for $10 million a year

Jordy Nelson Charity Softball AP

Jordy Nelson is definitely a wide receiver.

And he wants to get paid like one of the best.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, a source familiar with the negotiations said Nelson wants a deal “worth at least $10 million per season.”

Nelson’s currently working on the final year of the three-year, $12.6 million deal he signed in 2011, and his $4.2 million per season average is 34th among all receivers.

And since he signed that deal early during the 2011 season, he’s averaged 67 catches, 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns per season.

With Roddy White cashing in with the Falcons today, the bar was raised again for Nelson, who just turned 29 years old.

The Packers would like to keep Nelson and Randall Cobb (who is also up for free agency after this season), but they might find themselves in a spot where they can afford one or the other, but not both.

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Titans agree with first-round pick Taylor Lewan

Taylor Lewan AP

The final unsigned 2014 draft pick has reached a deal.

The Titans announced Thursday they had agreed to a contract with first-round selection Taylor Lewan, an offensive tackle from Michigan.

The No. 11 overall pick, Lewan (6-7, 309) has played both left and right tackle in the offseason. It’s possible he could challenge veteran Michael Oher at right tackle.

Lewan made 48 starts at left tackle for the Wolverines, earning a variety of All-American honors as a junior and as a senior. He was the third offensive lineman selected in May.

Lewan faces an October trial on assault and battery and aggravated assault charges related to a December incident in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Newsome calls Rice suspension “fair,” Rice doesn’t say whether he’ll appeal

Ray Rice AP

The suspension of Ray Rice has become official, which means that more statements will be issued from folks directly affected by the outcome.

“We appreciate the thorough process the league office used to evaluate the incident with Ray Rice,” Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome said in a statement issued by the team.  “The time the Commissioner spent with Ray and Janay is typical of the extra steps the NFL takes when making decisions regarding discipline issues. While not having Ray for the first two games is significant to our team, we respect the league’s decision and believe it is fair.

“We also respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Rice stopped short of calling the suspension “fair,” which possibly means he’ll exercise his right to an appeal.  He nevertheless continues to accept responsibility for his behavior.

“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault,” Rice said in a statement issued by the team (which is the paper equivalent of a press conference with no questions allowed from the press, which Rice did in May).  “As I said earlier, I failed in many ways.  But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night.  The counseling has helped tremendously.

“My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident.  I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously.  My actions going forward will show that.”

Neither statement addresses the broader issue of domestic violence, and neither the Ravens nor Rice have said or done anything use this incident as a way to help reduce situations where men strike their wives, fianceés, girlfriends, or any other people (male or female) they regularly encounter in their day-to-day lives.

Maybe the $705,000 that the Ravens won’t be paying to Rice should be donated to one or more groups that support the victims of domestic violence, and maybe Rice should match the amount of his financial penalty with an equal donation.  Some would call the gesture transparent or hollow, but it would have far more tangible impact than generating a page of quotes that avoid acknowledging what happened — Rice threw a punch at the woman he supposedly loves, and he knocked her out cold.

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Jaguars owner says they won’t cut Justin Blackmon

Shad Khan

The Jaguars have every pragmatic reason to distance themselves from Justin Blackmon.

But owner Shad Khan said he’s not about to release his former first round pick, who has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL and was arrested for marijuana possession last night.

We want him to get help he needs,” Khan said, via John Oehser of the team’s official website.

That sentiment seems to be consistent through the organization, as linebacker Paul Posluszny said: “This is no longer a football issue…We want the best for him. He’s a good kid at heart.”

It’s good to hear the Jaguars embrace a kid (it’s hard to call him a player, since he’s barely played for them since his rookie year) who obviously has some problems.

He showed flashes of talent in 2012, when his play might have justified their investment in him. If he had torn an ACL, they’d have gone to great lengths to get him well, so they could benefit from his labor in the future.

But Blackmon’s problem now is not a physical one, and we hope the Jaguars are sincere in getting him the help he needs, even if he never plays another down for them.

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Rice suspended two games, fined a game check

ray-rice Getty Images

The reports regarding the two-game suspension to be imposed on Ravens running back Ray Rice were mostly accurate, but ultimately incomplete.  The league has announced that Rice will be suspended two games and also fined an additional game check.

The decision will result in $705,0882 in lost salary for Rice.  The Ravens also could try to recover $352,941 of Rice’s $15 million signing bonus, paid in 2012.

Since the Ravens play on Thursday night in Week Two, he’ll be back on Friday, September 12, before the rest of the league has played its second game.

“As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to Rice.  “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”

The suspension has been widely criticized as being too soft, even though the league-owned network has described the punishment as an example of the NFL’s iron fist.

That’s an unfortunate metaphor in cases of domestic violence.  In this specific case, many would also say it’s inaccurate.

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