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Report: Ravens expected to be “strong potential landing spot” for Steve Smith

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Assuming, as expected, the Panthers fail to find a trading partner for wide receiver Steve Smith, they are expected to cut him loose to find a new home in the open market.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Ravens are “expected to emerge as a strong potential landing spot” for Smith if and when that comes to pass. The Ravens are definitely in the market for help at wideout this offseason and Smith would make a nice fit across from Torrey Smith in the role that Anquan Boldin played during the team’s Super Bowl run.

Steve Smith turns 35 in May and isn’t quite the same receiver he was earlier in his career, but he’s still a tough and productive player who would do some of what the Ravens were missing in the passing game last season.

Wilson also mentions the Buccaneers as a team that “makes a lot of sense” as a landing spot for the veteran wideout, although it is unclear how their uncertain quarterback situation might impact Smith’s decision about where to go after his long run in Carolina comes to an end.

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Peyton Manning ducks out of practice for treatment

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The Broncos have downplayed it, but Peyton Manning’s injury is at least significant enough to keep him off the practice field.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Manning went through stretching with his teammates before practice, then went indoors to get treatment on his injured thigh.

It’s likely no cause for panic (Who are we kidding, PANIC EVERYBODY!!!), but it’s worth noting that the normally meticulous Manning has had his routine changed.

If nothing else, it’s worth giving more reps to backup Brock Osweiler, but it keeps the Broncos even with Philip Rivers, who didn’t practice yesterday with a back problem.

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Cam Newton takes first-team reps, throws 65-yard pass

Cam Newton AP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton appears good to go.

Newton, who missed last week’s game after suffering a back injury in a car crash, took the first-team reps at practice today. Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that Newton threw a 65-yard pass, and it would be a shock if Newton doesn’t start Sunday.

The Panthers are still in the hunt for the division title in the terrible NFC South, and although they can credit backup quarterback Derek Anderson for playing well in his two starts, they’d much prefer to have Newton on the field with the season on the line.

It appears that the Panthers will have Newton on the field against the Browns. If Carolina wins, it improves to 6-8-1 and remains in contention for the NFC South.

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Unnamed Bears “confused and uncomfortable” with benching Cutler

Jay Cutler AP

Because it’s the Bears — and because it’s rapidly turning into a tire fire — it was inevitable that some unnamed sources checked in.

And they’re not necessarily thrilled with the benching of quarterback Jay Cutler.

According to Jeff Dickerson of, a pair of unnamed players said that part of the locker room was “confused and uncomfortable” over the way Cutler was benched.

Dickerson referred to them as “a pair of accomplished and respected Chicago Bears players,” which shortens the lists of suspects considerably.

But after offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer ripped Cutler anonymously, then outed himself by virtue of apology with no evident repercussions, the players seem conflicted.

Neither player had performance-based objections (since Cutler has been really bad this year), but didn’t like the disparity in punishment (since there was none for Kromer).

The Bears are rapidly descending chaos, and players and coaches are all beginning to act in ways to cover their own backsides for the future.

So it’s no wonder that Trestman doesn’t have a mandate in the locker room, after making an odd decision to start Jimmy Clausen this week.

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Case Keenum looks like the Texans’ starter, by default

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The Texans have no good options at quarterback this week, as injuries have already cost them their original starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, their second starter Ryan Lindley, and their third starter Tom Savage. So who will their fourth starter be?

It looks like Case Keenum, by default. Although Texans coach Bill O’Brien may not announce whether it’s Keenum or Thad Lewis until Sunday, Jason La Canfora of CBS reports that there’s every expectation Keenum will be the guy.

The difference between Keenum and Lewis is that Keenum, who initially signed with the Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2012, has been with the Texans and spent the whole offseason learning coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. Lewis arrived in Houston less than a month ago and doesn’t have as much time in the system.

Either way, the Texans will struggle against a good Baltimore defense. They’ll just hope Keenum is the better option of the two not-so-good options they have.

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Derek Anderson tries to rebuild bridge he napalmed

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At a time when former Cleveland quarterbacks seem to be lining up to rip the Browns, one of them is trying to be polite.

At least, now.

Panthers backup Derek Anderson — who might have to start Sunday if Cam Newton can’t — did his best to backpedal from previous inflammatory words about his stint with the Browns.

I’ve moved on from it,’’ Anderson said, via David Newton of “I’m focused on us.’’

Of course, that’s a far cry from his parting words for the Browns after he was released, when he said the city “didn’t deserve a winner.’’

“I will never forget getting cheered when I was injured,’’ Anderson said then. “I know at times I wasn’t great. I hope and pray I’m playing when my team comes to town and [we] roll them.’’

Of course, since he might have to play them this week, he stepped back from the napalm he was dropping on bridges then.

“The whole situation and how the whole thing went down in the last few months wasn’t great,” Anderson said yesterday. “I said some things I regret saying when I left.

“But it’s over with, I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I wasn’t in a great place when I left. I’m in a lot better place now.”

Anderson went to the Pro Bowl as a Brown in 2007, going 10-5 as a starter. They haven’t sniffed that kind of production since, and are now floundering about with Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

Longing for the days of Derek Anderson might speak to the futility that is being a Browns fan, especially considering he might not even start against them this weekend.

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PFT Live: Bears talk with John Mullin, Week 16 picks

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The Bears are making a big change to their offense this weekend.

Jay Cutler is out at quarterback less than a full season after signing a fat new extension with the team and former Panther Jimmy Clausen will start for the team against the Lions on Sunday. John Mullin of CSN Chicago will join Mike Florio on Thursday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss the reasons for the move, what the expectations for Clausen should be and what it all means for the future of coach Marc Trestman and the organization as a whole.

The Bears will be in Detroit for that matchup with the Lions and we’ll see what Florio and MDS think will happen in that game during their weekly meeting to pick the winners of every game on the schedule.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Antrel Rolle wants to play three more years with Giants

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Safety Antrel Rolle is coming to the end of the five-year contract that he signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2010 and he’s hoping that it isn’t the end of the line for his run with the organization.

Rolle wants to return to the Giants in 2015 and would like to play three more seasons before ending his career as a member of the team. Rolle, who turned 32 this week, said that he thinks the 2015 season is “going to be wonderful” for the Giants and doesn’t think that his age would stop him from contributing to their rebound effort.

“I have never worried about age. You can put me up against any 32-year-old,” Rolle said, via “Age has never been a factor to me. These coaches will tell you I don’t take days off, even in practice. Other players can take age and use it as whatever they want to use it as, but I know myself.”

There aren’t a lot of starting safeties in the league older that Rolle, which makes for a limited number of comps to test him against. Even with some slippage this year, Rolle has been a solid player for the Giants over the life of the contract and the team may opt to look for an upgrade at the other safety spot while bringing Rolle back.

Forecasting how things will play out is difficult at this point, though. The Giants have issues to sort out with their coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and money always plays a role in where a free agent winds up playing so there’s a lot to sort out before we find out if Rolle will return for a sixth season in New Jersey.

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Steelers want crowd to be loud on Sunday

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With the playoffs on the line, the Steelers need Heinz Field to be a-rockin’ when the Chiefs come a-knockin’.

As Pittsburgh prepares to host Kansas City in a venue that typically provides a strong home-field advantage, the Steelers hope to avoid a repeat of ugly home losses to the Buccaneers and the Saints.  To keep that from happening, the team wants the fans to make plenty of noise happen.

The team’s official website has collected various player quotes regarding the importance of fans getting loud and staying loud in the final two games of the regular season.

“We just need the Terrible Towels going crazy,” cornerback William Gay said.  “Hopefully we make them wave their arms all game.  I need it to be rocking.  Sometimes you see Heinz Field kind of shaking and that’s what we need this week.”

“We took care of our business on the road the last two weeks and now to go into these next two games with our fans behind us it’s going to give us so much more of a boost,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said.  “The stadium is going to be rocking this week. We are excited to play in front of the great fans we have.  The teams we are playing are in the hunt along with us.  It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere.  It’s going to be alive.  I expect to see the stadium rocking on Sunday.”

The Steelers have won four of six homes games this season.  Two of the wins came three points and seven.  The other two were blowouts fueled by six-touchdown/no-pick performances from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Wins on Sunday against the Chiefs and next Sunday against the Bengals will propel the Steelers to a division crown that few predicted.  The fans realize that.  Which means they’ll be loud.  Unless of course the Week 17 game is flexed to Sunday night.

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Oregon star suffers knee injury, school paid for his draft insurance

ifo AP

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, an Oregon cornerback with the talent to be a first-round draft pick, has suffered a serious knee injury that will keep him out of the college football playoff and may significantly impact his draft stock. But Ekpre-Olomu did something wise before the season, something every prospect who returns to school should do: He got Oregon to pay for an insurance policy that could pay him up to $3 million if he slides in the draft.

According to ESPN, Ekpre-Olomu has a loss of value insurance policy, which has been paid for by the University of Oregon. Schools are increasingly paying for such insurance for players who are likely to be high draft picks but choose to return to college anyway.

The policy will pay Ekpre-Olomu if he is not a first-round pick and will pay an increasing amount the further he falls in the draft, up to $3 million if he makes it past the start of the third round. The precise details are not known, but suffice to say that Ekpre-Olomu has some assurance that this injury will not cost him a fortune.

Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi also got his school to pay for a similar insurance policy for him, and that’s something that all top prospects should demand if they’re going to return to school. And if you’re a draft prospect whose school won’t pay for an insurance policy, that’s a pretty good indication that you should turn pro.

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Derek Carr would love to see Tony Sparano return in 2015

Tony Sparano, Derek Carr AP

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t finished his first year in the NFL, but he’s already played for two head coaches.

He’d be happy if the Raiders decided not to make it three once the regular season came to a close. Carr was asked Wednesday if he’d like to see Tony Sparano make the move from interim head coach to permanent head coach.

“Yeah, we love him. He’s our leader. Absolutely. We love him. Obviously, those decisions are going to happen, and we have no control in that. Those decisions will be made, and whoever is here is who we’ll play for,” Carr said, via the Bay Area News Group. “The fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s hard. But right now I’m focused on playing my heart out for him because I love him. I love him to death, I love playing for him. He pushes the heck out of me, and I love it. That’s how I like to be coached.”

Keeping the Raiders engaged, something they’ve appeared to be while winning two of their last four games, should help Sparano land on his feet if the ax does fall, but it probably isn’t going to be enough to keep it from falling once the Raiders offseason gets underway.

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Michael Vick has nearly paid off his bankruptcy debt

Michael Vick AP

Jets quarterback Michael Vick paid his debt to society when he spent time in federal prison for his conviction on dog fighting charges.

Now, he’s paid back most of the rest of the debt he accumulated.

According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, Vick has paid back most of the $18 million he owed to creditors when he filed for bankruptcy in July 2008.

Vick has been able to pay them back by living on a budget of $300,000 per year, which seems luxurious except he’s made more than $49 million from the Eagles and the Jets over that span. (OK, that still sounds luxurious).

“I feel blessed because I came out and found myself in a position where I had a lot of people that really believed in me, people who gave me an opportunity,” Vick said. “At the time, it wasn’t about trying to fulfill all the bankruptcy needs. I was trying to fulfill all the needs that I had in my life because I had nothing.”

“I had never been on a budget before, so I had to pay attention to everything that I was doing. Now I realize that I don’t need certain things I bought back in the day, like a new boat.”

Vick’s financial discipline — even if a little late — should be commended, as he could have chosen a form of bankruptcy which would have allowed him to avoid most of his debts.

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Julian Edelman dealing with a concussion

Julian Edelman, Reshad Jones AP

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was a limited participant in the team’s practices last week because of a thigh injury, but he played all the way through the team’s victory over the Dolphins last Sunday without showing any sign of difficulty because of injury.

That was also the case when he spoke to the media after the game, but Edelman did pick up another knock at some point between the start of that game against the Dolphins and the end of practice on Wednesday. Edelman was listed as a limited participant again on Wednesday, but he was listed with both a concussion and a thigh injury on the team’s injury report.

Players going through evaluation for a concussion typically don’t meet with the media, so it seems unlikely that Edelman was diagnosed with a concussion at that point. Symptoms don’t always appear right away, however, and there’s a chance he suffered the concussion at practice, although, as Phil Perry of points out, the Patriots were in shells and sweats on Wednesday.

Whenever Edelman was injured, he’ll need to pass through the concussion protocol before he’s allowed into the lineup for a game. That leaves it as a waiting game to find out if Edelman will be in the lineup as the Pats try to clinch at least a first-round bye against the Jets in Week 16.

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Harbaugh took less than Michigan offered in 2011

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For those who believe 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t use his alma mater as leverage for his next job, here’s perhaps conclusive evidence that he would.

He already has.

In 2011, Harbaugh rejected an Ann Arbor offer that would have paid him $5.2 million annually.  Instead, he took $5 million per year from the 49ers, who originally hoped to get Harbaugh for $4 million to $4.5 million per year.  Without the Michigan offer, it would have been difficult for Harbaugh to shake $5 million per year from the Niners.

This time around, Harbaugh has $8 million per year in hand from the Wolverines.  That may not get him more than $8 million from the Raiders or whoever, but it will prompt the Raiders or whoever to cough up more than they had hoped to pay.

Is he worth it?  Ultimately, we’re all worth whatever someone will pay.  But in an industry with a finite number of positions and no coaches union, it’s easy for ownership to set a market that keeps coaches from getting fair value in relation to their direct impact on winning and losing.  Rarely if ever does a head coach have the opportunity to blow the curve; Harbaugh has a chance to do it, thanks to Michigan’s ongoing willingness to extend offers that ultimately will be rejected.

In this case, it would be a major surprise if Harbaugh doesn’t ultimately reject the Michigan offer.  It’s widely believed that Harbaugh, who has never coached outside of California, wants to stay there.  Unless the Stanford, Cal, USC, or UCLA jobs open up soon, the Golden State options are coach the Raiders or the 49ers or no one.

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So who would trade for Jay Cutler?

Cutler Getty Images

Has Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a bad season?  Sure.  Does it still make him a lot better than plenty of starting quarterbacks elsewhere in the league?  Absolutely.

By benching Cutler for the last two games, the Bears are essentially ensconcing him in bubble wrap for the balance of the year.  The obvious goal is to trade him to another team that would inherit the obligation to pay Cutler a fully-guaranteed base salary of $15.5 million in 2015.

So who would trade for Cutler?  Glad you asked.  (Even if you didn’t.)

Before considering the teams, keep in mind that each NFL coach tends to believe that he can get more out of a player than any other NFL coach ever did.  Many of the current NFL coaches don’t have quality quarterbacks; those who don’t have a franchise quarterback are always looking for one.  Cutler has shown that he has the ability to be one.  Otherwise, the Bears wouldn’t have paid him $22.5 million for 2014.

Also, keep in mind that, as usual, the free-agent quarterback class will have no obvious star options.  The draft class doesn’t have many/any sure things.

The Bills, who don’t have a first-round draft pick to use on a quarterback, have Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel.  Is Cutler better than either of them?  Yes.

The Jets need a quarterback, and they may not be in position to take Marcus Mariota.  Given his history, Jameis Winston may not be the ideal major-market face of the franchise, except for the folks who own the tabloids.  Cutler and the New York media would also be a potentially combustible mix for different reason, but Cutler may be a better option than anything the Jets can find.

The Browns may decide they need a quarterback.  Is Cutler an upgrade over Johnny Manziel?  Based on what we say last Sunday, yes.

The Texans, who turned up their noses at Peyton Manning nearly three years ago, desperately need to improve at the position.  Cutler is clearly better than any option the Texans have.

The Titans perhaps make the most sense, given that Cutler played college football at Vanderbilt.  And given that the Titans currently are irrelevant.  And that their current quarterbacks are not good.

Cutler’s history with the Broncos and his rebel-without-a-care attitude could make him an ideal Raiders quarterback, but for the promise shown by Derek Carr.  Still, maybe the next coach/G.M. would be interested in rolling the dice in the short term on a guy who could become another Jim Plunkett for the franchise.

In the NFC, fewer obvious options emerge.  Washington seems to be committed to giving Robert Griffin III one more try.  The Bucs likely wouldn’t be interested, given coach Lovie Smith’s Chicago experiences with Cutler.

The sticking point could be compensation.  Any team interested in Cutler will know that the Bears want to unload his contract, and that they can only do it by trading him.  It means that the Bears should be willing to essentially give him away, if need be.

The fairest outcome could be to tie 2016 draft picks to Cutler’s performance in 2015.  If he plays at a high level, the new team gives up more.  If he performs like he did in 2014, maybe the new team gives up nothing.

Or maybe the Bears tie a draft pick to Cutler in order to get someone else to take on the contract.  It sounds ridiculous on the surface, but the Bears can do a lot more with that $15.5 million in cash and cap space than they could do with a low-round draft pick.

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Chuck Pagano: It will take all hands on deck to contain Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Cowboys were in prime time last Sunday night, which means that the eyes of the football world were squarely on Philadelphia when wide receiver Dez Bryant caught three touchdown passes in a victory over the Eagles.

His performance didn’t escape the notice of Colts coach Chuck Pagano, whose team travels to Dallas this Sunday. Pagano said that he’s expecting to see running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday despite Murray’s hand surgery earlier this week, but he knows he’ll see Bryant and that it will “take all hands on deck” to contain a player who scares the Indianapolis head man.

“He’s a nightmare. He’s one of the most competitive guys that we’ve seen,” Pagano said, via the Cowboys website. “He’s a great talent. He’s a great player. He’s a combination of size, athleticism and speed. But his competitive nature and his drive and his passion for the game and for his team and for winning is second to none. The guy’s a monster.”

Cornerback Vontae Davis figures to get a heavy dose of Bryant during Sunday’s game and they’ll need him to do a better job than Bradley Fletcher did last weekend if they’re going to keep the Cowboys from taking another step toward a division title.

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