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Taking a closer look at the Jimmy Graham offer sheet dilemma

Jimmy Graham AP

The looming franchise-tag fight between the NFL/Saints and the NFLPA/Jimmy Graham on the question of whether he’s a tight end or a receiver (he reportedly was going to file a grievance “immediately,” but he hasn’t yet) quickly becomes moot if another team signs Graham to an offer sheet.

Once that occurs, only one issue would remain:  Will the Saints match the offer within five days?  If yes, he’s under contract with the Saints.  If no, he becomes property of the team that made the offer.

Of course, the team that made the offer also would be required to send a pair of first-round draft picks to the Saints.  In recent days, there has been plenty of reporting, speculation, and debate regarding whether Graham is worth a pair of first-round picks.  As the official launch of the ability to recruit and sign Graham approaches, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First, any team that signs Graham to an offer sheet must have a first-round pick to give.  The Colts, therefore, can’t even consider it, since their first-round pick was sent to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson during the 2013 season.

Second, a team that acquires a first-round pick from another team still must send its own pick.  The Browns, for example, wouldn’t be able to dangle the first-round pick they acquired from the Colts (26th overall).  The Browns would have to send their own pick, the fourth overall in the 2014 draft.

Third, the team could wait to sign Graham to an offer sheet after the 2014 draft, which would result in the 2015 first-round pick and the 2016 first-round pick becoming the compensation, if the offer sheet isn’t matched.

Fourth, while the “poison pill” is no longer available, a team could load up the offer to have a huge cap number in 2014, via a large base salary or roster bonus.  That’s a legitimate way to make it impossible for the Saints to match the offer.

With those factors in mind, let’s consider some of the teams that may think about making a run at Graham.

Seahawks:  Seattle seems to be the first team that comes up when this topic is broached.  As a practical matter, it could create some issues for the defending champions.  First, the already have more than $13 million in 2014 cap space devoted to Percy Harvin, for whom they gave up last year’s first-round pick, and more.  Second, the Seahawks need to pay some of the guys who have directly contributed to the Super Bowl win.  If the players who have been there don’t get paid and outsiders do, it’ll be hard to keep everyone happy.

Packers:  It’s not in G.M. Ted Thompson’s DNA to make a big splash in free agency.  He’d never give up two first-round picks (or even one) for a player with four years in the league.  Besides, the Packers need to invest not in their offense but in their defense.

Cardinals:  It’s an intriguing possibility mentioned by Erik Kuselias while I was visiting on Thursday morning the radio show that curiously bears his name.  With an extra $9.4 million in cap space from the restructuring of Larry Fitzgerald’s contract, the Cardinals could make the ultimate all-in move by adding Graham.  But they’d probably need more cap space in order to come up with an offer that the Saints would have no choice but to refuse.

Patriots:  Too much money already has been invested in Rob Gronkowski, even though Graham has proven to be the far more durable player.  Like the Packers, the big spending would be more appropriately focused on the defensive side of the ball.

Chiefs:  They gave up two second-round picks last year for Alex Smith.  Under that standard, two first-round picks for Graham doesn’t seem so crazy.  The Chiefs would need to create plenty of cap space before considering such a move.

Browns:  While it would be foolish to give up the fourth overall pick (plus their first-round pick in 2015) for Graham, the Browns could be tempted to push their chips to the middle of the table after using their first-round pick in 2014.  Signing Graham would be the perfect ending to a period of significant dysfunction, especially if the fourth pick in 2014 ends up becoming their latest quarterback of the future.

Dolphins:  This is another post-draft possibility.  They’ve got the cap space, but they’ve already committed a ton of money to receiver Mike Wallace.  From a business standpoint, they could use the boost that would come from bringing Graham back to Miami, where he played college football.

It remains unlikely that any team would swap two first-round picks for Graham.  The Saints likely assume it won’t happen.  If they thought it would, they would have applied the exclusive version of the franchise tag to Graham, like they did two years ago with quarterback Drew Brees.

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Report: Bills lose Alex Carrington for rest of season

<> of the New England Patriots of the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Getty Images

The Bills came into Sunday’s game with injury issues on their defensive line and it appears they only got worse during their 30-22 loss to the Chiefs.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that defensive end Alex Carrington tore his quad tendon and will have surgery on Monday to repair the injury. Per the report, Carrington’s season is over.

Carrington started in Kansas City because Mario Williams missed the game with a foot injury he suffered in the team’s Week 11 loss to the Patriots. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams also announced last week that he will have knee surgery and miss the rest of the season, so the Bills will need to dig a bit deeper on the depth chart for help up front on defense over the final five weeks.

Carrington was a third-round pick of the Bills in 2010 and played for the Rams in 2014 before returning to the Bills as a free agent during the offseason.

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Colts place Ahmad Bradshaw on IR for third straight year

Ahmad Bradshaw, Jude Adjei-Barimah AP

The Colts have turned their season around with an old quarterback.

But he won’t be able to rely on his old running back the rest of this season.

The Colts announced that Ahmad Bradshaw was going on injured reserve, after suffering a wrist injury against the Buccaneers.

This is his third straight season which has ended on IR, playing just 17 games for the Colts over that span. In 2013, it was a neck injury, with a broken leg sidelining him last year.

He came back on Oct. 14, and caught three touchdowns in six games. The Colts filled his roster spot by bringing back running back Zurlon Tipton.

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Dwayne Harris: We took win for granted

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 29: Wide receiver Dwayne Harris #17 of the New York Giants carries the ball against linebacker Preston Smith #94 of the Washington Redskins in the third quarter at FedExField on November 29, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said after Sunday’s loss that there was “no explanation” for the lack of fight that his team showed during the first three quarters of a game that could have given them a comfortable lead in the NFC East.

One of his fellow wideouts has some explanation, although it’s not one that Beckham or anyone else in the organization should be happy to hear. Dwayne Harris said he thinks that the team’s lack of fire was caused by overlooking the challenge that the Redskins presented after beating them the last five times they played.

“I think we were ready to play but we probably took this team a little bit for granted because … I don’t know,” Harris said, via “I don’t know everyone else’s mindset but we came out slow. I think everyone was ready to play but we came out too slow.”

Every season brings several results that make it clear that no NFL team can afford to go into a game expecting that they can just go through the motions and get a victory. The Giants should know that better than anyone given how many times they’ve dropped games to mediocre or worse competition in the Tom Coughlin era, to say nothing of the times they’ve stepped up to win games as underdogs.

It’s not a mistake that they should make again over the final five weeks, but making it once might have been enough to dash their hopes of winning a division title.

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Report: Rob Gronkowski may only miss one game, if that

Brock Osweiler AP

Given his history and his importance to their offense, it’s natural that the Patriots held their breath when tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off last night.

They can apparently exhale.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Gronkowski is “unlikely to miss more than one game,” and may not miss that one.

The Eagles would certainly take the absence, as it would leave Tom Brady with precious few possibilities to throw to. But it’s good news for the Patriots as they look to the playoffs, and because Bill Belichick looks like he secretly enjoys messing with reporters who ask injury questions.

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Jack Del Rio told alma mater no thanks when they called

Jack Del Rio, Dyrol Prioleau AP

Chip Kelly apparently wasn’t the only NFL head coach who was approached in some fashion about the Southern Cal opening.

According to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, the Trojans called Raiders coach Jack Del Rio about the opening, but he told them he wasn’t leaving his current gig.

Del Rio was a natural name for their short list, since he was a two-sport star at USC, as a linebacker and a catcher on the baseball team.

But with him just embarking on his second stint as a head coach (he was 68-71 in nine years with the Jaguars), it was likely too soon for him to consider going back to the alma mater.

The Raiders are 5-6 this year and on the fringe of the AFC playoff chase, with a promising young quarterback and hints of stability.

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Broncos suddenly have a contracts problem for 2016

Brock Osweiler AP

Good news, Broncos! Quarterback Brock Osweiler looks like he can play the position at a high level!

Bad news, Broncos! Copy and paste the above here!

In the fourth year of his rookie contract, Osweiler is now only five regular-season games away from becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency. And if he hits the open market after with last night’s snow-globe takedown of the Patriots on his resume, one of the handful of teams with horrible quarterback situations (you know who you are) will gladly pay Osweiler big money to take the reins.

Meanwhile, Broncos linebacker Von Miller is also rocketing toward unrestricted free agency, and the Broncos (like every NFL franchise) have only one franchise tag to use. So at least one of those two guys will need to be signed to a long-term deal before the deadline comes and goes for applying the tag to the other.

Meanwhile to the meanwhile, quarterback Peyton Manning has a $19 million base salary for 2016.

The easiest decision will be to move on from Manning. The harder decision will be to determine how much of Manning’s $19 million should go to Osweiler. If Osweiler decides to push for the open market (and his agents at CAA surely will know what the market will bear for him), the Broncos may need the full $19 million and then some in order to tag the quarterback — and they’ll also need to break the bank for Miller in order to keep him off the market, too.

Some would say it’s a good problem to have. Others would say the only good problem is no problem. Either way, 2016 has plenty of challenges for the Broncos. It’ll be here the moment the 2015 postseason concludes.

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PFT Live: Brian Hoyer, Kurt Coleman, Dolphins talk with Armando Salguero

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 29: Brian Hoyer #7 of the Houston Texans motions while playing against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter on November 29, 2015 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans got quarterback Brian Hoyer back in the lineup on Sunday and kept their winning streak going with a 24-6 thumping of the Saints that moved them to 6-5 and kept them even with the Colts in the AFC South.

On Monday’s PFT Live, Mike Florio will talk to Hoyer about the victory over the Saints and everything that has fallen into place for the team during their four-game winning streak. A defense that’s allowed just 35 points in that span is at the top of the list, but we’ll find out about the offense as well during Hoyer’s visit.

Panthers safety Kurt Coleman will also drop by the show to discuss the even longer winning streak that the Panthers are on. Coleman had an interception return for a touchdown in the team’s Thanksgiving victory over the Cowboys, which is one of the things that we’ll talk about on Monday.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald will be on hand as well to discuss the team’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. They’ve already fired their head coach and defensive coordinator so we’ll ask Salguero whose head will be the next to role in a dismal season in Miami.

As always, we also want to hear what PFT Planet thinks. Email questions at any time or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app.

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Panthers sign Cortland Finnegan

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Cortland Finnegan #24 of the Miami Dolphins returns a fumble 50 yards to score a touchdown during the NFL match between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on September 28, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers have added veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan for the stretch run.

Finnegan worked out for the team last week and the Panthers announced Monday that they have signed him to their 53-man roster. Finnegan played for Miami last season, but has been out of the NFL since the Dolphins released him in the offseason.

That departure did not come as much of a surprise as Finnegan’s play in 2014 showed the same signs of decline that he exhibited in St. Louis during the two previous years. Finnegan seemed to agree that the game had passed him by because he said he was retiring after getting dropped by the Dolphins, but there’s nothing like interest from undefeated teams (the Patriots also worked him out recently) to make you think twice.

Carolina has been stretched a bit thin at corner the last two weeks with Charles Tillman out of the lineup and Colin Jones has struggled in the slot with Bene’ Benwikere moving outside to take over for Tillman, who is expected to miss more time. They’ll hope for more from Finnegan as they try to continue the league’s longest current winning streak.

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Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington having MRIs after injuries

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Chris Johnson #23 of the Arizona Cardinals is hit by Ian Williams #93 of the San Francisco 49ers at the line of scrimmage during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals squeaked out a 19-13 victory over the 49ers when Carson Palmer rambled into the end zone for a touchdown and spike that gave his teammates a good laugh.

It might be easier to leave the running to the players who are on the team for their ability in that area, but the Cardinals were running low on options in Sunday’s game. Both Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington left the game with injuries that General Manager Steve Keim said will have them in the MRI tube Monday.

Appearing on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said that Johnson suffered a bone bruise to his knee and that Ellington is dealing with a toe injury. He termed both players as “day-to-day” pending the results of the MRIs.

The Cardinals will be in St. Louis next weekend and rookie David Johnson will get the call if neither back is able to get back on the field in time to face the Rams.

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Cross Chip off the list: USC announces Clay Helton is head coach

Chip Kelly AP

Any speculation that Eagles coach Chip Kelly — or any other NFL coach — could leave to coach USC can end. The Trojans have announced that Clay Helton, their interim head coach for most this season, will lose the interim tag and become the permanent head coach going forward.

When USC fired Steve Sarkisian this year, there was widespread speculation that Kelly could be interested in the job. That speculation only intensified as the Eagles’ season collapsed.

But USC Athletic Director Pat Haden announced today that Helton will keep the job. Helton has done solid work this season, leading the Trojans to a 5-2 record in the seven games since he took over. Helton will coach USC against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Saturday.

Haden wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t at least put out feelers to Kelly (and possibly to NFL coaches with USC ties, like Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio) to gauge his interest. But there apparently wasn’t enough mutual interest for a job to get done.

Whether Kelly leaves Philadelphia and returns to college remains to be seen, but he won’t be leaving for USC.

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Roddy White on QB change: “Who else we going to put in there?”

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank and coach Dan Quinn expressed confidence in quarterback Matt Ryan after yesterday’s latest loss.

Veteran wide receiver Roddy White took a whole lot more of a pragmatic approach to the situation, when asked about the possibility of benching Ryan.

Who else we going to put in there? That’s going to be our quarterback forever,” White said, via Vaughn McClure of “Isn’t going to ever happen. All that speculation, you might want to kill that. We’re going to play better. So let’s nip that in the bud.”

Of course they’re not going to fix the problem by putting former seventh-rounder Sean Renfree in the game, but there’s clearly a problem that needs to be fixed.

The Falcons have lost five of their last six and four in a row, and the issue has been on the side of the ball they used to be able to trust the most.

In running out to a 5-0 start, the Falcons were averaging 32.4 points per game. Then they turned ice cold, with that number becoming 16.3 per game over the last six. They didn’t get to the end zone until the final two minutes against the Vikings, when it was already too late.

“To tell you the truth, our defense is playing really well, to me,” White said. “They’re getting stops. They’re getting turnovers. They’re allowing 20 points or less. We’re supposed to win those games, with the talent we’ve got on offense.

“Those guys [the defense] gave up 10 points over three and a half quarters against the Vikings, and we’re over here and we’ve got three points. We had three points until 1:30 left on the clock. That can’t happen. Can’t ever happen; not with the talent we’ve got. Our guys are too good.”

Or at least they used to be. The Falcons still have a chance to turn things around, but with a pair of games against the undefeated Panthers left, they better hurry if they want to matter down the stretch.

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Osweiler credits Peyton for halftime adjustments

Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler AP

Peyton Manning didn’t play for the Broncos last night, but he did help them win.

Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that the Broncos made halftime adjustments based on Manning’s observations of the first half. Manning was watching from inside and went into the locker room to tell Osweiler what he saw.

“Peyton was fantastic at halftime. He came up to me and — you know Peyton — of course, he had a list of things ready to talk about that he saw out there. I’m not going to go into specifics, but he certainly did help me, and he helped this football team get a win today,” Osweiler said.

The question, however, is whether Manning helped Osweiler take his job: Did Osweiler play well enough in the second half to keep Manning on the bench?

“I’m not sure about that,” Osweiler said. “The one thing I do know, though, this football team got a tremendous win tonight against a great opponent, in front of the best fans in the world, and I’m just going to enjoy this win tonight.”

And Manning played a part of it, even if he wasn’t on the field.

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Dolphins fire offensive coordinator Bill Lazor

Bill Lazor, Ryan Tannehill AP

After the Dolphins’ first ugly loss to the Jets this season, they fired head coach Joe Philbin. After the Dolphins’ second ugly loss to the Jets on Sunday, they’ve fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Lazor was let go this morning, Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated reports. Quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor will take Lazor’s place as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator for the rest of the season.

There’s been talk of dissension in Miami about the state of the offense, with interim head coach Dan Campbell seemingly having a different philosophy than Lazor. We noted yesterday that Lazor has limited quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage, and that may be contributing to Tannehill’s lack of development as a quarterback.

At 4-7, the Dolphins are in last place in the AFC East and likely heading for a major shakeup in the offseason. About the only good thing that could happen to the Dolphins down the stretch would be Tannehill showing some signs that he deserves his status as the franchise quarterback, and that wasn’t happening with Lazor calling the shots.

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Aaron Rodgers: We’ve got to buckle down our preparation

498896000 Getty Images

The Packers practiced on Sunday for the first time since their Thanksgiving loss to the Bears, which was their fourth loss in five weeks.

That losing skid has led to plenty of discussions about what’s going wrong in Green Bay, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. On Sunday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers pointed to the way the team is preparing for games as a place where they need to improve if they’re going to put themselves back on a winning track.

“It goes back to what you’re doing in your spare time and what you’re doing with your time in the facility,” Rodgers said, via “Being a pro is all about making sure you’re as ready as possible by the time the game hits. I think that’s the important thing for guys to remember here, especially young guys. We’re 15 games into the season, counting preseason. That’s a long grind for those guys, especially the rookies. This is the time where they really got to get through that wall, and the vets — the vets have had some [missed assignments] as well. So we’ve got to buckle down our preparation and make sure we’re ready to play.”

The team’s preparation was a topic of conversation on Thanksgiving with Cris Collinsworth of NBC saying during the game that the Packers had a players-only meeting recently that was centered on Rodgers’ issues with the team’s preparation. Rodgers said that there wasn’t a meeting and suggested something was conveyed incorrectly to the NBC crew before the game, but the message he’s delivering to his team is clear whatever the venue he’s using to express it.

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Texans owner impressed with job Bill O’Brien is doing

Bill O'Brien AP

The Texans are suddenly playing very good football, and owner Bob McNair said a lot of the credit goes to head coach Bill O’Brien for keeping the team together amid a disastrous start.

I think he’s doing a fine job,” McNair said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “We had a lot of work to do. I think he’s got everybody pointed in the right direction and on the same page working together. That’s what it takes: offense, defense, special teams all doing well.”

Yesterday’s win over the Saints was their fourth straight, moving them to 6-5 and tied with the Colts for the AFC South lead. While the Colts won the first head-to-head matchup and have a tiebreaker, the two will play again on Dec. 20, possibly with the division title and a playoff spot on the line.

“That’s what you have to do,” McNair said. “Now we got to go out and try to win five. They’re playing well. As I’ve said, if we keep playing with this level of energy and playing the way we are we are competitive with anyone.”

Of course, McNair deserves some credit for stabilizing things. But it’s also worth wondering how things might have turned out if he hadn’t second-guessed himself on his decision to bench quarterback Brian Hoyer for the departed Ryan Mallett after one game, a decision O’Brien has already admitted was wrong.

While there might be a ceiling with Hoyer at the helm, they’ve already seen what it was like to crash through the floor, and have climbed back through it nicely.

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