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Larry Fitzgerald: Anti-gay laws have no place in our society

Larry Fitzgerald AP

One of Arizona’s most prominent professional athletes says he’s glad the governor vetoed a law that would have allowed anti-gay discrimination if it was motivated by religious beliefs. And he’s disappointed that the legislature ever put the law on the governor’s desk.

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald told USA Today that he was thankful for the veto, which ensured that the NFL would not pull next year’s Super Bowl out of Arizona, as was considered when Senate Bill 1026 passed.

“I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to go through,” Fitzgerald said. “I had a strong feeling it would’ve been vetoed. It’s good that it was, obviously. With the Super Bowl coming or any [event] like that, I think it just doesn’t have any place in our society. I’m happy that it’s behind us now.”

Fitzgerald is now hoping the Cardinals can become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl on their own home field.

“It’s fun. It’s going to be great for our community,” Fitzgerald said. “It’ll generate some revenue for our state, and obviously, it gives us a chance to play at home, too.”

That’s a chance Arizona might not have had if the bill had become law.

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Report: Browns have been in touch with Washington about No. 5 overall pick

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A team with a pair of first-round picks has reportedly been in contact with a club selecting in the top five in Thursday’s draft.

The Browns have communicated with Washington about the No. 5 overall pick, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported Monday. Cleveland has also reached out to other clubs with top 10 picks, Rapoport said.

The Browns select 12th and 19th in Round One, giving them the trade chips necessary to make a move up in the selection order if needed. What’s more, the Browns have shown they are willing to make a deal; they were involved in three of the five first-round trades in 2014. First, the Browns traded back from No. 4 to No. 9, gaining a 2015 first-rounder in the process. Later, they traded up to No. 8, selecting cornerback Justin Gilbert. Finally, the Browns moved up from No. 26 to No. 22 to take quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Manziel struggled as a rookie, which could make quarterback a position the Browns look to address in the draft. That would likely require a move up from their No. 12 spot.

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Browns have last-minute meeting with Chris Conley

Conley AP

Cleveland’s last-minute meal-related visit with Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman was followed by another last-minute meal-related visit in the same geographic area.

Per a league source, a Browns contingent led by G.M. Ray Farmer had lunch on Monday with Georgia receiver Chris Conley.

Conley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at the Scouting Combine, the third fastest time for all receivers in Indy.  His 45-inch vertical was the best ever for a wideout, and one inch short of the Combine record.  He also recorded a broad jump of 11 feet, seven inches.

And then there’s this:  Conley wrote and directed a 26-minute Star Wars fan film entitled Retribution, which currently has nearly 490,000 views on YouTube.  (Rolling Stone has interviewed Conley about his film making debut.)

Whatever happens with Conley, he’s a fascinating prospect, and the Browns were sufficiently fascinated to spend some time with him only three days before the draft begins.

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Rams not expected to exercise 2016 option on Mark Barron’s contract

Russell Wilson, Mark Barron AP

The Rams only had one pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, but they have a pair of decisions to make about 2016 options on first rounders.

They selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers and traded for safety Mark Barron last year after the Buccaneers decided to part ways with the  seventh overall pick. Reports on Monday indicate that they will exercise their option on Brockers’s deal, but Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that they won’t do the same with Barron.

Neither move is much of a surprise. As illustrated by Tampa’s willingness to deal Barron for fourth- and sixth-round picks in this year’s draft, the safety hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with his draft position. Since that draft position called for him to be paid the equivalent of the top 10 best-paid safeties in the league in 2016, the Rams will see what develops this season before deciding whether to pursue another deal with Barron.

Barron played all 16 games last year, starting seven for the Bucs before the trade and then mostly playing off the bench in St. Louis for the rest of the year. He has 248 tackles and three interceptions over his three seasons.

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Kevin Colbert calls pre-draft leaks “horrible”

Colbert AP

The explosion of media covering the NFL has led to the creation of a key rule of thumb regarding the draft:  Teams that love a player will leak negative information in the hopes the player fall to them, and teams that hate a player will tout him in the hopes that someone higher on the board will take him.

Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert isn’t a fan of the practice.

I think it’s horrible,” Colbert said during his annual pre-draft press conference, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com.  “I think it’s really bad for our profession when people use whatever means they use to get information out to try to influence the draft and they talk about a kid’s test score, a kid’s injury, a kid’s character.  I think that’s awful.  It’s disrespectful to our profession, it’s disrespectful to the game, it’s disrespectful to the kid.”

But it’s a realistic and understandable practice in the Machiavellian world of getting the best players via a system of picking one after another from the pool of eligible former college players.  The only way to stop if from happening would be to get rid of the draft and allow teams to compete for the rookies in the same way they compete for free agents.

Colbert’s sentiments are honorable, but he grossly underestimates the potential impact of the leaked information.

“[W]e really don’t pay attention to it,” Colbert said of the leaked information.   “We don’t believe in mock drafts and what people are saying about other teams because so much of it is misinformation.  You’d just lose your mind trying to figure out what everyone’s going to do.  We’re going to be true to what we do and feel good about it and live with it.”

While he and other scouts may not listen to the noise, owners and non-scouts in positions of influence do.  And in some cities owners and other non-scouts in positions of influence have great influence over the process.

If people didn’t think the process of leaking information to manipulate the draft works, they wouldn’t waste their time doing it.  And regardless of whether it works, enough people think that it does to result in enough people continuing to do it.

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Eagles exercise option on fifth year of Fletcher Cox’s contract

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

When the Chiefs took Dontari Poe with the 11th pick of the 2012 draft, they kicked off a run that saw two more defensive linemen come off the board in the next three picks.

Now it looks like all three of those players will have their options for the 2016 season exercised. We’ve heard previous reports that the Chiefs will exercise Poe’s option, that the Rams will do the same with 14th pick Michael Brockers and now the Eagles have announced that they will do the same with 12th overall pick Fletcher Cox.

None of the moves comes as a surprise. All three have become starters and key players on their respective defensive lines with Poe and Cox ranking among the top players to come out of that draft at any position.

Cox’s name has popped up in some of the trade rumors that have surfaced around the Eagles this offseason and it’s probably best not to rule out anything given the moves Chip Kelly has already pulled off with players who arrived in Philly before he got there in 2013. It would be a blow to their defensive line, although dealing Cox should bring back a handsome return given how well he’s played in his first three seasons.

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NFL tweaks the rules to speed up the draft

2012 NFL Draft - First Round Getty Images

This year’s NFL draft should wrap up a little faster.

The NFL has quietly tweaked the rules to reduce the amount of time between picks, allowing only four minutes between selections in the seventh round, as well as four minutes between selections for all compensatory picks. The league informed PFT today that the speeding up of the draft was discussed at the competition committee meetings and communicated to the teams at the league meeting in March. The change was made at the league office level and did not necessitate a vote of the 32 teams.

The new rule makes a lot of sense: The seventh round is when the draft begins to feel like it has dragged on interminably, and even Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock are running out of things to say. And compensatory picks can’t be traded, so teams need less time to make those picks.

The time between picks will remain the same for other rounds: Ten minutes between picks for the first round, seven minutes for the second round and five minutes for the third through sixth rounds, other than compensatory picks.

For the NFL, the draft is the signature event of the offseason, and it has become increasingly important to the league to make it a made-for-TV extravaganza. Sometimes the late rounds of the draft go from “extravaganza” to “excruciatingly dull,” so it’s no surprise that the league has decided to speed things up.

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Rivers trade looks to be dead, assuming it ever was alive

philiprivers AP

With three days to go until the 2015 NFL draft commences, it’s probably time to end speculation about the Chargers trading Philip Rivers.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com explains that he doesn’t believe a trade will happen, calling it a “gut feeling” based on spending “lots of time calling around” the league.  King nevertheless believes the Titans and Chargers will talk, but he doesn’t see a match.

King thinks the Titans would want more than Rivers in exchange for the second overall pick in the draft.  And that’s likely enough to kill the deal on its own, given that the Chargers should want more than the second overall pick in the draft for a proven franchise quarterback — especially if that proven franchise quarterback will also be extending his contract as part of the trade.

So the possibility of a trade seems to be dead, assuming it was ever alive in the first place.  It’s possible, if not likely, that the issue arose from the looming expiration of the quarterback’s contract.  Indeed, Rivers first addressed the situation only four days after fellow 2004 first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger signed a gigantic new contract.  And Rivers has never said he won’t do a new deal with the Chargers; he has said only that he’s not inclined to until after the season.

Which makes sense, since the Chargers will need him more than ever if/when (when) they head to Los Angeles.  If they don’t have Rivers, they need another franchise quarterback.  And the only one they have a shot at getting is Marucs Mariota via a trade with the Titans.

If a trade is going to happen, the wheels need to be put in motion quickly, given that the Titans surely will want to conduct a physical and negotiate a new contract.  As to the latter, discretion will be easier to achieve because Jimmy Sexton represents Rivers, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, and Titans G.M. Ruston Webster.

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Report: Rams to exercise Michael Brockers’s 2016 contract option

New York Giants v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

It looks like the Rams will join the group of teams exercising their fifth-year options on members of the 2012 draft class.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team will pick up the option on defensive tackle Michael Brockers before the May 3 deadline to do so. The move will cost them just over $6.1 million and is guaranteed against injury only, so the Rams could rescind the option before the start of the next league year.

Brockers was the 14th pick of the draft and moved right into St. Louis’s starting lineup during his rookie season. He missed three games that year, but has started every game in the last two seasons and has recorded 11.5 career sacks.

Brockers is part of a talented defensive line in St. Louis that also features Robert Quinn and Chris Long flanking Brockers, Aaron Donald and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. Fairley is only signed for 2015, however, and Long’s future in St. Louis is already the subject of speculation thanks to his plus-sized cap hits.

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Bills waive Jonte Green

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Bills signed former Lions cornerback Jonte Green in January, but they’ve apparently already seen enough to know that he wasn’t going to be part of the team come September.

The team announced that they have waived Green, a 2012 sixth-round pick, on Monday. With Green’s departure, Buffalo’s roster stands at 70 players with the draft starting on Thursday.

Green last played in a regular season game in 2013 and appeared in 24 games for the Lions during his first two NFL seasons. He had 38 tackles and an interception in those appearances.

Green’s departure opens up a spot on the depth chart at corner for a rookie, but it’s probably not a top priority for the Bills heading into the draft. With Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey, Ron Brooks and 2014 fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell on the roster, the Bills have depth at the position and more immediate needs elsewhere on the roster.

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Giants waive RB Michael Cox

Michael Cox AP

The Giants have parted ways with one of their reserve running backs.

New York has waived third-year pro Michael Cox, the club said Monday.

A seventh-round pick of the Giants in 2013, the 26-year-old Cox appeared in 18 games for the Giants over the last two seasons, rushing for 76 yards on 26 carries. His 2014 campaign ended after he suffered a broken leg in a loss to Seattle in November.

Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams are the Giants’ top three backs. The club has five tailbacks on the roster.

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Washington hasn’t received any trade proposals for Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins AP

At various points in his three-year NFL career, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’s name has come up in trade chatter.

However, to hear it from Washington General Manager Scot McCloughan, it’s all quiet on that front for the time being.

At a pre-draft press conference Monday, McCloughan indicated Washington had not been approached with offers for Cousins, who has started nine regular season games for the club, including five in 2014.

Cousins is in the final year of his contract, and Washington would certainly have to listen on offers involving draft compensation for the former Michigan State quarterback. However, starting quarterback Robert Griffin III and backup passer Colt McCoy both dealt with injuries a season ago, so Cousins’ value might be greatest to Washington as it is.

Finally, Cousins has been up-and-down as a starter, especially a season ago, when third-stringer McCoy eventually relieved him as Washington waited for Griffin to return to the lineup.

In short, it’s not a real surprise Cousins hasn’t apparently generated significant interest this offseason.

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Packers confirm Brett Favre will be honored on Thanksgiving

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Just before the NFL schedule was unveiled last week, reports out of Green Bay indicated that the Packers would host the Bears on Thanksgiving and that they would retire former quarterback Brett Favre’s jersey at a ceremony during that contest.

The release of the schedule confirmed that the Packers and Bears would be spending the holiday together and the team confirmed the rest of the news on Monday. Favre, who faced the Bears 32 times during his playing career, will be the sixth player in Packers history to be honored in that fashion.

“It will be an incredible honor to be in Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night with Packers fans and have my name and number placed among the greatest players in Packers history,” Favre said in a release from the team. “With the great history and tradition of the Packers-Bears rivalry, and remembering the great matchups we had during my career, it seems only fitting to have Chicago as the opponent.”

The Packers also announced that they’ll be honoring the man who brought Favre to Green Bay. Wolf will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer and will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at the team’s November 15 game against the Lions.

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Authorities won’t pursue DUI charges against P.J. Williams

University of Florida v Florida State Getty Images

Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams said recently that the teams he’s visited with have told him that his April 3 DUI arrest shouldn’t affect his draft status all that much.

On Monday, teams considering adding Williams to their roster later this week learned that there won’t be any charges for him to deal with during his rookie season. Williams’s attorney Jonathan Simon passed along word that authorities have decided not to pursue charges against Williams.

Williams admitted to having a few drinks at some point in the evening before he was arrested early on the morning of April 3, but he and his attorney disputed the version of events originally presented by police. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, paperwork filed in Florida about the decision not pursue charges indicated that video evidence in the case didn’t corroborate the charge.

Before the arrest, Williams was expected to be drafted late in the first round or early on the second day. Having the charges against him dropped probably won’t raise his draft stock, but the dismissal could keep him from sliding out of that expected range once the draft gets underway.

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ESPN, NFLN simply giving audience what it wants

Kid AP

Every year at this time, a debate has emerged regarding whether ESPN and NFL Network would tip draft picks before Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium and announces the pick.

As explained by Richard Deitsch of SI.com, ESPN and NFL Network have agreed once again that they won’t report on draft picks before the picks are officially disclosed.

We want to keep the suspense of the draft,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman tells Deitsch.  “This is purely listening to the viewers and what they want.  It was overwhelming that our consumers, our viewers, our fans do not want us to spoil the draft experience.  I know some of our competitors will tweet picks, but they are not telecasting the draft.  I am sure there is a segment of the population that wants it as soon as possible, but our responsibility is to our viewers.  It’s not some big journalism discussion in my mind.  It’s ‘I don’t like angering our viewers.'”

Markman is right.  It’s not, as Deadspin has suggested, an effort by ESPN to shill for the NFL.  It’s an effort to give the audience what it wants.  And the audience, many of whom will be following the draft on Twitter, don’t want the suspense — real or fabricated — to be spoiled.

In 2013, the first year ESPN and NFL Network decided not to tip picks, a whopping 85.37 percent of those responding said they don’t want to know the picks in advance.

So we’ll put up another poll, and you can chime in again with what you want.  And if/when the needle moves the other way the NFL and ESPN can reassess their position in 2016.

Until then, the audience gets what it wants — including an oversized face mask on which to gnaw regardless of all of the filthy hands that have touched it.  Even when the audience isn’t being smart, smart media companies give the audience what it wants.

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Steelers like outside linebacker group in this year’s draft

Vic Beasley AP

The Steelers head into the draft with no shortage of needs on the defensive side of the ball with outside linebacker among the places they could attempt to address in the early rounds.

If they do go that way, it sounds like General Manager Kevin Colbert likes their chances of getting a good player. During a pre-draft meeting with the media on Monday, Colbert said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that this year’s crop of players at the position is as deep as he’s seen in the last 10-15 years.

Colbert called them “real impact-type players” and coach Mike Tomlin added that he thought an increase in the number of players playing the position in college schemes similar to the one the Steelers run is a positive for the team.

The issue for the Steelers in the first round may be the number of other teams looking at edge rushers. Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Shane Ray and Randy Gregory are all potential picks in the first half of the first round, which could leave the Steelers short on options at the spot with the 22nd pick.

Given Colbert’s feelings about the overall quality of the group and the team’s need for help at corner and elsewhere, that may not be a major problem for Pittsburgh as they try to improve their roster this week.

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