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Draft needs: New Orleans Saints

Rob Ryan AP

With the NFL Draft approaching, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the needs of each club. Up next is the one with the No. 27 overall selection, the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have seven total picks, with an extra fifth-rounder and no seventh (which makes for a quick getaway on Saturday afternoon).

Cornerback: The Saints upgraded the middle of their secondary by bringing big-ticket safety Jairus Byrd in to pair with last year’s first-rounder Kenny Vaccaro.

But the edges of the defensive backfield are another matter.

After releasing veteran Jabari Greer, they brought an even veteran-er Champ Bailey in. But Bailey’s play dropped precipitously last year with injuries, and unless he has a remarkable physical comeback after he turns 36 in June, they need more help here.

Keenan Lewis is solid on one side, but they could use a first-round talent to help him, and to allow Bailey to stay in a more limited role.

Outside linebacker: They made an incredible move last year under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and they sort of did it with mirrors.

Junior Galette was very good (12.0 sacks), and Parys Haralson is a solid run-stopper, but they could use all the pass-rush they can find. Victor Butler was supposed to be the answer last year, but a torn ACL kept him from fulfilling the promise he had flashed as a reserve in Dallas.

Ryan performed alchemy last year, but they need to give him more to work with if he’s going to keep them playing at a high level.

Wide receiver: The Saints are always going to be able to fling it around as long as Drew Brees is there, so the pressure to find a guy is less.

But with age and the departure of reserves like Lance Moore, they need to find someone who could knock the top out of a defense. In a draft deep at the position, they need to find someone to stretch the field in the future, in case they can’t reach a long-term deal with tight end Jimmy Graham.

Offensive line: They didn’t put up much of a fight when center Brian de la Puente left in free agency for Chicago. That might indicate they have faith in Tim Lelito, but it also means they’re really thin in the middle.

They could also stand some tackle depth, though Terron Armstead showed signs he might be able to handle the left tackle job for the near future. That allowed them to let Charles Brown depart in free agency, and keeping Zach Strief allowed them some stability up front.

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Ryan Tannehill on Mike Wallace: I’m excited to see what this year holds for us

Mike Wallace, Ryan Tannehill AP

The Dolphins held onto tight end Charles Clay via the transition tag, but they’ve been taking the scalpel to other members of the receiving corps.

Wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson are both gone and the team hasn’t said what they plan to do about Mike Wallace, who will count $12.1 million against the cap after a year that ended with him on the bench after a spat with the coaching staff. That unhappiness with role or prominence in the offense has been a persistent storyline through Wallace’s two years in Miami with talk often roaming to his relationship with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill said Tuesday that he has no idea what the Dolphins will do with Wallace, but said he had a “great” conversation with the receiver recently that left him looking forward to a third year with the wideout.

“We’ve done it in the past, and the more time we spend together the more the relationship will grow. I’m excited to see what this year holds for us,” Tannehill said, via the Palm Beach Post. “Mike’s a talented player. We’ve all seen what he can do and the element he adds to our offense. Like I said, if he comes back, we’re going to make it work with him, and let him be the playmaker he is.”

Reports out of Miami last week were that Wallace wasn’t willing to take a pay cut, although there’s been no action or comment from the team in any direction.

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Cole Beasley signs four-year deal with Cowboys

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The Cowboys have reached agreement on a multi-year deal with one of their wide receivers.

No, not that one.

It’s Cole Beasley who has signed his name to a new contract with the team. Beasley was set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, but the team has gone further than that to secure his services.

According to multiple reports, Beasley has agreed to a four-year, $13.6 million deal with $7 million guaranteed. Incentives can push the total money in the deal up another $1.5 million and Beasley will reportedly get a $4 million signing bonus.

Beasley had 37 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns this season with 21 catches and all the scores coming as Dallas went 5-1 down the stretch. He had seven more catches in the playoffs and should continue to be a frequent presence in the slot alongside Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams next season.

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Marc Trestman’s Bears locker room experiment is over

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A lot of the things that made Marc Trestman an interesting/admirable human being might have not been conducive to winning football games.

But such that the locker room seating chart is one of those things, the Bears are going back to a more traditional way of doing business.

The team’s official website noted that the locker room at Halas Hall was reconfigured, and players will again sit and dress next to players from their same position groups.

Because most people tend to gravitate toward people with whom we share traits, a locker room can become a place bordering on segregated, in more ways than one. Trestman tried to shake that up, to make a receiver sit next to a lineman or a cornerback next to a kicker in hopes of fostering a greater bond of brotherhood. Or something. Who knows. It seemed like sort of a hippie social-engineering experiment, and those are usually better ideas on paper. Or anyplace other than a football locker room, really.

If there was any bad reaction to it, it probably had more to do with inertia than anything else, as not many people enjoy moving their stuff around. Does it help to sit next to guys who do the same job as you? Who knows.

Now, the Bears’ biggest challenge might be finding a quarterback who’s willing to sit next to Jay Cutler.

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Reports: With free agency nearing, Byron Maxwell changes agents

Byron Maxwell AP

The player widely regarded as the top cornerback in free agency has reportedly changed agents just before he can begin to start officially talking contract with other clubs.

Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell has parted ways with agent Jason Chayut, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported Maxwell was changing agents.

Per NFLPA regulations, Maxwell cannot hire an agent until this weekend, ESPN reported.

Teams can begin to negotiate with free agents on Friday, making the timing of the change less-than-optimal for Maxwell, who is PFT’s 16th-ranked free agent.

With Seattle having considerable resources tied up in its secondary, Maxwell is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, and it would not be a surprise if he were among the first wave of signees. The question now is whether the representation change will affect Maxwell’s ability to start laying the early groundwork for a deal.

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Andre Johnson’s agent says he never asked for a trade

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The sad reality for many Texans fans is that the best player in franchise history is leaving, and as is so often the case, not necessarily on good terms.

Which means now’s the time for the writing of the history, and Andre Johnson’s agent made it clear none of this was really Johnson’s idea.

Agent Kennard McGuire told Sports Radio 610 in Houston that the idea of a trade was broached by the Texans, only after the team told the veteran wide receiver they wanted him to take a reduced role (which normally comes with a reduced rate of compensation).

Andre did not, in the last couple of days, go in and ask for a trade,” McGuire said. “Certain things were expressed to [Andre] in which he didn’t agree with. And at that point in time permission was thusly granted to seek an opportunity elsewhere. That was not something that we asked for. That was something that was presented to us.

“The contractual matters never did come up. The only thing that was discussed was the role and that was in fact that there would be a reduced role.”

While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone would trade anything for Johnson and jump on the hook for his $10.5 million in salary this year, there will certainly be a market for him once he’s cut.

And it’s a terrible look for the Texans, who effectively asked Johnson to take a pay cut, even if those words never came out of their mouths.

While he might not be the same dominant receiver he once was, the idea that he can’t play a significant role doesn’t square with what he’s shown in recent years, especially considering the less-than-ideal quarterback situations he’s been in.

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Still no word on Peyton and the Broncos, but that should change soon

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Three weeks ago, Peyton Manning was reportedly planning to announce within the next week that he would return to the Broncos. Except the next week came and went, and another week came and went, and there was silence from Manning.

So does that mean Manning still might decide to retire?

Actually, probably not. As Mike Klis of the Denver Post said on PFT Live (and as other reporters have noted as well), from all indications Manning and the Broncos have both decided that he will be Denver’s quarterback this year. There are still issues to address — including Manning passing a physical and perhaps restructuring his contract — but everyone seems to agree that Manning will be back, and that an announcement is coming soon.

The biggest question seems to be whether Manning is willing to take a pay cut. If the Broncos are able to convince Manning that taking less than the $19 million he’s owed will make the team better suited to re-sign soon-to-be free agents Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, that might be an idea Manning is amenable to. Manning would probably give up millions if he believed it would make him more likely to win his second Super Bowl, and giving up millions to keep both Thomases might be a sound investment for Manning in the long run.

So there are still issues to work out before Manning’s return for 2015 becomes official. But those issues should be resolved soon.

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Panthers bring back veteran defensive tackle Colin Cole

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The Panthers are hanging onto one of their stable of talented defensive linemen.

No, not that one.

According to John Clayton of ESPN, the Panthers have agreed to a one-year deal with veteran defensive tackle Colin Cole.

The $1.05 million deal falls under the veteran benefit category, which means they get a salary cap break and he gets a chance to hang around another year.

Cole’s a solid contributor to a deep line, and worth keeping around at bargain rates. Fellow backup Dwan Edwards is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and they formed a good complement to young starters Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.

Of course, the Panthers are going to need to restock outside, as they’re going to let defensive end Greg Hardy slide, and they need someone to go with the steady Charles Johnson. General manager Dave Gettleman was talking up 2014 second-rounder Kony Ealy at the Scouting Combine, but the Panthers are always looking for line help.

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Eagles release CB Cary Williams

Cary Williams AP

The Eagles have said goodbye to one of their defensive starters, announcing the release of cornerback Cary Williams on Tuesday.

Williams started all 16 games for Philadelphia in the each of the last two years, recording 126 tackles, defending 21 passes and picking off five passes. He played over 1,100 snaps in both seasons, per Pro Football Focus data.

However, while dependable on the field from an availability standpoint, the 30-year-old Williams was set to make $6.5 million in 2015, according to NFLPA salary records. He was also involved in a number of controversies in his two seasons in Philadelphia, such as when he criticized the team’s practice regimen early in 2014 campaign.

The departure of Williams means the Eagles will have at least one new secondary starter in 2015. Moreover, cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen are also set to test free agency. In all, it’s quite possible the Eagles will remake their defensive backfield in the offseason, with safety Malcolm Jenkins the lone holdover from 2014.

Williams, for his part, figures to draw some interest in free agency, given his production and experience. Clubs in need of cornerback depth include the Ravens, with whom Williams was a two-season starter (2011, 2012) before joining Philadelphia.

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Report: Falcons sign LB Nate Stupar to one-year deal

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The Falcons have signed one of their core special teams players to a new contact.

Atlanta has inked linebacker Nate Stupar to a contract extension, the club said Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Stupar played in 15 games for Atlanta a season ago, notching nine special teams tackles, per the club.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports the contract is for one year and $585,000.

Stupar entered the NFL as a seventh-round selection of Oakland in 2012. He has also appeared in regular season games with Jacksonville and San Francisco, with both stints occurring in 2013.

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PFT Live: Josh McCown, Broncos/Cowboys offseason to-do lists

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Things didn’t work out for Josh McCown in Tampa in 2014, but he didn’t have to wait long after being released to find a new home.

The Browns snapped up the veteran quarterback as an option along with Johnny Manziel for the 2015 season and we’ll talk to McCown about what led him to Cleveland when he joins Mike Florio on Tuesday’s edition of PFT Live. Al Michaels and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith are also set to join the program.

Florio will also keep the offseason to-do lists rolling with a look at what’s ahead for the Broncos and Cowboys in the next few months. Peyton Manning, DeMarco Murray and much more will be up for discussion for a pair of teams trying to get back to the playoffs in 2015.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox 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. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Report: Ray Rice got another $1.588 million from the Ravens

Rice Getty Images

In the two years preceding the elevator incident from more than 12 months ago, the Ravens paid running back Ray Rice $25 million.  They also paid him another $1.588 million after cutting him and resolving the grievance he filed challenging his release.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, who recently interviewed Rice as he tries to get the attention of a new NFL team, the Ravens paid what amounts to 44.9 percent of the $3.529 million Rice sought from the team.  The argument was the Rice had already been disciplined by the NFL, and that any additional discipline from the Ravens violated the terms of the labor deal.

The Ravens will now absorb a cap charge of $1.588 million; they’d been holding $1.44 million under Rice’s name.

While some may not be thrilled with the idea that Rice got extra money after being released for an off-field incident of misconduct, the Ravens didn’t cut Rice until after the video of the incident was released publicly.  Some in the organization knew exactly what happened in the elevator, and the team clearly could have (and should have) seen the video before deciding to recommit to Rice.

Rice said he’s working out regularly and hoping for a second chance.  As PFT reported over the weekend, Rice won’t be attending this month’s veteran combine, which could be Rice’s best chance to get another team’s attention.

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Business trip: Jameis Winston meeting with Bucs owners

Jameis Winston AP

We’re roughly two months from the 2015 NFL Draft, but a big piece of the puzzle could fall into place this week.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is in Tampa Bay today as part of a meeting with Buccaneers officials.

He’ll spend plenty of time with ownership while there, in an effort to convince them he’s worth the risk.

Winston has already invited all the investigation any team wants to do, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith signed off on the character questions at the Scouting Combine.

Now Winston has to convince the guys who sign the checks, and this week is his chance.

UPDATE 10:49 a.m. ET: Bucs officials tell PFT it’s a one-day visit, rather than a longer one as Schefter previously reported.

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NFL admits responsibility for Super Bowl seating fiasco

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The first day of the Super Bowl XLV seating fiasco included a development that should surprise no one.  The NFL has admitted responsibility for the gap between paid tickets and actual seats.

“The NFL let them down.  The NFL takes full responsibility, and the NFL agrees they should be compensated,” defense lawyer Thad Behrens said during opening statements on Monday, per the Dallas Morning News.

The question becomes how that responsibility translates to compensation.  Behrens told the jury that some of the plaintiffs want more than the law entitles them to receive.  He pointed out that one plaintiff spent $35,000 on a charter flight, hotel, hospitality, and tickets.  The plaintiff was forced to move to a different seat, and the plaintiff wants the full $35,000.

Behrens also explained that the NFL has tried to reimburse fans for actual losses, including tickets, airfare, hotel, meals, transportation, and related costs.  While some of the plaintiffs may be overreaching for their out-of-pocket expenses, the plaintiffs undoubtedly are seeking compensation for the annoyance and inconvenience arising from the indignity of traveling to Dallas, showing up at the game, standing in a long line for multiple hours, and ultimately not being given the thing that they believed they were getting when buying the ticket.  Unless the two sides can agree to put a price on that specific aspect of the damages to be paid, the jury will have to decide how much the NFL should pay.

It could be a little.  It could be a lot.  It could be nothing. It could be a number so big that the judge or an appeals court reduces the award.  Regardless, that’s the real battleground in this specific brouhaha.

And that’s why the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Michael Avenatti, is focusing the jury’s attention on the NFL’s alleged “obsession” with setting a Super Bowl attendance record — and on evidence that the NFL realized a “debacle” was looming due to “gross incompetence.”  Those facts and arguments may influence the jury to take money from the NFL and give it to the plaintiffs in this modern-day process of Robin Hood (not Dennis Moore) style wealth redistribution.

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C.J. Spiller: EJ Manuel was too “buddy buddy” with other players

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Running back C.J. Spiller is headed for free agency and doesn’t know if he’ll be playing with quarterback EJ Manuel again in 2015, but he does think the Bills quarterback learned a valuable lesson after being benched for Kyle Orton last season.

When Orton took over the offense, some Bills players remarked about the difference that came with having a veteran like Orton in the lineup. They talked about the way he told players what he needed them to do, something that Spiller says Manuel didn’t do when he was the starter in his first two seasons.

“He learned that you can’t be buddy buddy with everybody,” Spiller said during an appearance on NFL Network. “You’re the face of the franchise, you’re the quarterback so you have to demand everything…I think early on he didn’t really didn’t understand how to step on guys’ toes. Once Kyle took over, he saw what Kyle did and it helped him.”

Spiller said Manuel is a “tremendous worker” and that he thinks he can be a successful quarterback in the NFL if he works things out on the leadership side of the board. Spiller said that the ball is in Buffalo’s court as to whether he’ll be sharing a backfield with Manuel when and if that happens, but the chances of Manuel getting another shot will keep looking better the longer the Bills are without a viable alternative.

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Ray Ventrone joins Patriots coaching staff

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The Patriots were the only team in the league without a former NFL player on their coaching staff in 2014, something that didn’t stand in their way of winning the Super Bowl.

They may have just been waiting for the right player to end his playing career. The Patriots have announced the addition of Ray Ventrone to their coaching staff as an assistant special teams coach a little more than two weeks after he was playing for the 49ers.

The move allows Ventrone to start his post-playing career in the same place he started his playing career. Ventrone was signed by the Patriots in 2005 as an undrafted safety out of Villanova and made his first regular season appearance for the team in 2007.

Ventrone bounced on and off the 49ers roster multiple times last season before ending the year on injured reserve with a groin injury. Ventrone saw a lot more time on special teams than in the secondary when he was in the lineup, which was the case for the majority of his playing career. All told, Ventrone played 97 games over nine seasons with New England, Cleveland and San Francisco and recorded 57 tackles.

 

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