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Bengals feel good about Leon Hall, Geno Atkins recoveries


The Bengals lost a pair of key defensive players to serious injuries last season, but the team isn’t showing much concern about the availability of either one for the start of the 2014 campaign.

Cornerback Leon Hall has received clearance to do football drills following last year’s torn right Achilles and looks like he’s on track to make the same full recovery that he did after tearing the left one in 2011. Coach Marvin Lewis called it an “amazing recovery” on Tuesday and said Hall would be lined up as a starting cornerback if training camp started today. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who tore his ACL in October, isn’t quite as far along, but Lewis is no less confident that he’ll be in the lineup with Hall when the curtain rises on the regular season.

“I don’t have any concern, no,” Lewis said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Geno, all intentions is whenever he can get back. But, again, you have to go through the process.”

While the Bengals defense generally held up well without the missing veterans, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said recently that his message to the defense was that they weren’t good enough to get the job done last year. Having Atkins and Hall in the lineup would likely go a long way toward helping them reach the level that Guenther wants to see.

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PFT Live returns Monday, with a vengeance

My mandatory vacation is nearly over. And while four weeks of the PFT Live podcast (plus several interviews during the break, including sit-downs with Dak Prescott, Bruce Arians, Adam Gase, Rob Ninkovich, Wes Welker, and Drew Rosenhaus) helped fill the void, there was no replacement for three hours per day, five days per week, of radio and TV.

It resumes Monday morning, when I’ll be joined by Barstool Big Cat. The co-host of the wildly popular Pardon My Take podcast will be in studio for the final two hours of Monday’s and Tuesday’s show. And maybe we’ll open the phone lines at some point for a phone call from his podcast partner and my Internet son, PFT Commenter.

So join us at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, and/or at 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN, as we all get ready for the 2017 season.

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Latavius Murray finds motivation in memory of friend

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Vikings running back Latavius Murray was believed to be the successor to Adrian Peterson, until the team drafted Dalvin Cook. With Murray’s role now vague and undetermined, especially since he was unable to participate in the offseason program, one thing is clear — he finds motivation from the memory of a friend who died last year in a shooting.

Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the story on Murray’s tumultuous November, when his best friend, Jonathan Diaz, was shot and killed.

“You’re used to talking to somebody every day, telling him everything and you spent so much time with a person, and then they’re just not there,” Murray said last month. “It’s an unreal feeling. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Murray, then playing for the Raiders, suited up in the next game after Diaz died. He gained only 45 yards on 19 carries against Carolina.

“I went to work and was a mess,” Murray said. “I felt I had no choice. A part of me feels guilty, but what do you do in that situation? It also put it into perspective the game of football. I didn’t care for nothing that game. But I had to be out there, I guess.”

Murray now must also process the reality that the man who killed Diaz was acquitted of murder, based on self-defense. And Murray’s decision to change from No. 28 to No. 25 means he’ll be wearing Diaz’s high-school number.

The extra motivation to honor Diaz can’t hurt. But here’s the reality: Murray’s three-year, $15 million contract is actually a one-year deal worth as little as $3.4 million. Those financial realities should be more than enough reason to Murray to practice and play as well as he can.

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Ezekiel Elliott’s accuser speaks out, a year after alleged abuse

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A year after Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott allegedly engaged in domestic violence five times in a six-day period, his accuser has spoken out.

“Exactly 1 year ago today my life changed forever,” the woman accusing Elliott of domestic violence posted on social media, via TMZ. “I finally got the strength to be the strong woman I was and got myself out of a very toxic relationship. Ladies never think you’re too in love or too scared to leave because at one point that was me. There’s plenty of opportunities out there for you. Love yourself first. Speak up and stop domestic violence.”

The statement underscores the reality that, if the NFL doesn’t take action against Elliott, the alleged victim may decide to tell her full and complete story, either by doing an interview or filing a lawsuit. Which would put the league in the awkward spot of having to decide whether to leak or publish details that would refute her claims — or whether to weather the inevitable P.R. storm.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 6: Dallas Cowboys

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Dak Prescott has proclaimed the Cowboys are going to win the NFC East again. If so, they will accomplish some things they haven’t in a long time.

The Cowboys haven’t repeated as division champions since 1996, the year after the franchise’s last Super Bowl championship; they have not posted back-to-back winning seasons since 2008-09; and it’s been since 1995-96 that the Cowboys have had back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins.

However, because of their talent on offense, the Cowboys head into 2017 as Super Bowl contenders.

Prescott won offensive rookie of the year honors with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions; Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing as a rookie with 1,631 yards, earning him six MVP votes; Dez Bryant remains a big-play threat; and the Cowboys have three All-Pro offensive linemen.

It’s the lack of talent on defense that invites questions about how far the Cowboys will go this season. They lost six defensive players in free agency who combined for 64 starts last season, and the Cowboys spent seven draft picks on defensive players to replace them. The Cowboys are younger on defense than last season, but are they better?

Biggest positive change: The Cowboys lost 11 players in free agency and two more to retirement. They didn’t make any ballyhooed moves. But Tony Romo’s retirement assures two things: The Cowboys don’t have to worry about their all-time leading passer winning a Super Bowl elsewhere; and the quarterback controversy of last season is over. Dak Prescott won the job after Romo injured his back in the preseason, but even after Romo read a concession speech upon his return, a quarterback controversy remained. Romo’s departure leaves no question: This is Prescott’s team. The Cowboys veterans turned the keys over to Prescott this offseason, empowering him as their leader.

Biggest negative change: The Cowboys offensive line has earned the right to call itself the NFL’s best. Three linemen made first-team All-Pro honors last season. However, while center Travis Frederick, left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin return, the Cowboys lost the other two starters with whom they ended last season. Left guard Ron Leary signed with Denver in free agency, and right tackle Doug Free retired. The Cowboys moved left guard La’el Collins, who started the first three games last year before season-ending toe surgery, to right tackle and have often-injured Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper, a former first-round pick of the Cardinals, competing at left guard. The Cowboys might need some time to adjust to the changes.

Coaching thermometer: Jason Garrett enters the third year of a five-year deal with job security after last season’s 13-3 finish and NFL coach of the year honors. Garrett, though, has only a 58-46 record with two playoff appearances and one playoff victory in six full seasons as head coach. If he doesn’t get the Cowboys to the championship game this season, the heat will be on for next season.

We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Jason Witten. Truly one of the NFL’s all-time good guys. He is all about team on the field, and all about helping others off it. In 2012, he won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Five years after Witten’s retirement, Hall of Fame selectors will discuss his career. Witten has missed only one game in his career, sitting out a game against the Eagles his rookie season with a broken jaw, and he rarely misses practice. Who can forget his signature play from 2007 against the Eagles when Witten ran helmet-less down the field for a 53-yard gain?

How they can prove us wrong: Cowboys fans are painfully aware their team hasn’t made the NFC Championship Game since 1995, which was the last time they won the Super Bowl. They are 3-9 in the postseason since. As good as Tony Romo was, becoming the team’s all-time leading passer, he was 2-4 in the postseason. The Cowboys’ past two playoff losses – in 2014 and 2016 – came against the Packers when they couldn’t get enough consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Getting to the passer continues to be a trouble spot for the Cowboys.

Dallas has not had a player with double-digit sacks since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013, and it has not had a “war daddy” pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys drafted Taco Charlton in the first round, but he isn’t that. Rod Marinelli instead will rely on a rotation of pass rushers that includes Demarcus Lawrence, Charlton, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa and Charles Tapper, with hopes of wearing down offensive lines.

The Cowboys need more than 36 sacks and more than nine interceptions on defense, and they need Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to continue to do what they did last season on offense.

The Cowboys will be hard pressed to win 13 games again, especially if Elliott misses any games because of an NFL suspension. But with a defense expected to feature four players who have yet to play a down in the NFL, the Cowboys actually could be better going into the 2017 postseason than they were in 2016 when they went four weeks between meaningful games.

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Carson Palmer believes he has more zip, velocity than a year ago


Cardinals coach Bruce Arians believes quarterback Carson Palmer wore out his arm during offseason workouts in 2016. This year, Palmer did a lot less — and he consequently has a lot more in the tank as preparations commence for the season to come.

You feel like you have more zip, more velocity,” Palmer said before Saturday’s initial training-camp practice, via the Associated Press. “I feel like I can go out and throw 150 balls in practice. I don’t think I felt that way coming into camp last year.”

That’s good news, especially in light of Palmer’s advanced age. Which he refuses to regard as advanced age.

“In football years, I think it’s perceived once you get to 35 you’re old,” Palmer said. “But if you can still put it on every day and play and work out and train and prepare mentally, I look at is as being experienced and mature.”

But the end is obviously coming for the 37-year-old Palmer, who entered the league in 2003 as the first overall pick in the draft. And the question is whether the Cardinals can reverse what was a disappointing 2016 season, which Arians believes came off the rails with a Week One loss to the Patriots.

Don’t assume they can’t. Even with a tired arm entering camp last year, Palmer threw for 4,233 yards — the third highest total of his career.

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Josh McCown respects Brandon Marshall’s dim view of the Jets

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Former Jets receiver Brandon Marshall recently said he wouldn’t have made it through another season with the team “knowing that we didn’t have a chance.” The man who likely will be the Week One starting quarterback, and who played with Marshall in Chicago, has reacted to that assessment of his new team.

That’s Brandon’s opinion and Brandon is a friend of mine,” Josh McCown said, via Rich Cimini of “I love him and he’s entitled to his opinion. I wish him the best at the Giants. We’ve got a direction we’re headed and excited about. I really don’t pay too much attention to it just because guys have different opinions about things, and that’s his. I don’t agree with it, but as a friend, hey, I respect it.”

That’s a fairly mild, and sort of boring, assessment of the situation from McCown. The real question is whether the Jets will be privately reacting to the external criticism and dismissals differently, and whether comments from people like Marshall and most of the media will become motivation for a team that many view as the worst in the league.

Whether ownership secretly wants them to be at the bottom of the NFL, and in turn the top of the draft order, is one thing. Whether the players will go along with that is another. They may not have the talent that they need, but they definitely will have plenty of reason to try to prove plenty of people wrong.

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Bucs soon to begin effort to be “badass”

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Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter declared after the draft that he wants his team to be “badass.” The effort begins this week, with the NFL Films/HBO cameras rolling and microphones engaged.

But first the players need to be on the same page as to what it means to be badass.

“A badass team means someone is going to go out there and fight,” left tackle Donovan Smith recently said, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “Grit. Down to the nitty gritty and go after it. Lean on teams. Get after them. Make them feel us all four quarters. When I hear that, that’s what it means to me.”

G.M. Jason Licht sees it another way, and he compares Koetter’s ability to push buttons to some of the best coaches in the game.

“We’re doing this together,” Licht said. “We need everybody to stay together and stay focused on the plan. I think that that message has really taken in from what Dirk is telling the team. We want, obviously, very competitive guys that want to win and want to win at all costs. That’s the identity that I want every player to have and Dirk as the head coach wants every player to have on this roster.

“Dirk has a rare blend of being direct and calculated and genuine in the message he delivers. It’s got a theme and every week. The guys I thought are the best at it is Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Bruce Arians. They have a fresh message every week. Dirk is right there with them.”

He’s not yet right there with them yet regarding postseason accomplishments; the Bucs haven’t made it to the postseason since 2007. But Koetter has been the coach for only one season, and the Bucs nearly got there in 2016.

Although plenty assume it will happen for the Bucs in the 10th anniversary of the last time it did, the NFC South features the last two NFC champions in Carolina and Atlanta and a New Orleans franchise that hopes it will be able to get back to where it was in 2009, when it made it to the Super Bowl and won it.

Arguably the most wide open division in the NFC, the Buccaneers will continue to reside on the fringe of playoff contention until they find a way to bust through to the final 12. If they manage to get there while constantly competing with the likes of the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints, maybe the Buccaneers will be able to do some badass things if they get there.

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Chargers’ Mike Williams denies he needs season-ending back surgery


Chargers first-round receiver Mike Williams is denying a report that he’ll need season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disc.

Appearing at Alshon Jeffery’s football camp, Williams told reporters that his back is going to be fine.

“I’m good. Everything’s good,” Williams said. “The back situation, that was some false information being released. I don’t know who released it, but everything is good.”

Williams suffered the injury at rookie minicamp and hasn’t been able to do much in the Chargers’ offseason program since, but he apparently believes he’ll be healthy enough to play this season, without surgery.

The Chargers took Williams out of Clemson with the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft.

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Deshaun Watson will take “open mind” and “open book” to training camp

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Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson embarks on his first NFL training camp next week, and he’s bringing the right attitude with him.

I just listen to all the veteran guys,” Watson said Saturday after an appearance in South Carolina, via Scott Keepfer of the Greenville (S.C.) News. “I’ll keep an open mind and an open book. . . .

“I’ve been wishing I could do this for a long time, and now it’s finally here, So I’ll be enjoying every moment, cherishing every moment and taking it one thing at a time.”

Watson also expressed appreciation for the praise he recently received from Texans assistant coach Wes Welker, who raved on PFT Live about Watson’s demeanor and work ethic.

“That’s pretty cool right there,” Watson said regarding Welker’s remarks. “Wes is a great guy, great mentor, especially for the receivers, but also for me. He’s seen a lot, played a lot of football, experienced a lot.”

Watson has experience a lot at the college level, where he played very well in consecutive NCAA championship games for Clemson against Alabama. Which is one of the reasons why Watson has had the highest-selling NFL jersey since the draft in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Does Belichick think Garoppolo will be the next Brady?

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Tom Brady supposedly hopes to play for another five or six seasons. Jimmy Garoppolo has only one more season of a commitment to the Patriots. So how will this one play out?

Coach Bill Belichick may eventually have to make a choice between the two. Underscoring the stakes of that decision is the possibility that Garoppolo could become the next Brady.

“Bill thinks he’s got the next great one,” an unnamed scout told Mike Giardi of CSN New England. “I watched his snaps. I think he can be that. [Garoppolo] has a great base, and his mechanics are close enough to [Brady] that you appreciate his willingness to learn and the coaching he’s gotten there.”

If Belichick truly has the next great one, so does agent Don Yee, whose firm represents both Brady and Garoppolo. Given that Brady consistently has done below-market deals with the Patriots, many assume that Garoppolo will behave the same way, especially in light of the Yee connection.

But what if Yee intends to make back from Garoppolo some of what Yee didn’t make from Brady? What if Garoppolo, buoyed by the Kirk Cousins situation and an emerging sense among players that they individually should be making more than they do, decides to play the same kind of hardball with Belichick that Belichick consistently plays with all of his players?

Garoppolo is 16 regular-season games and up to four postseason games away from becoming a free agent. And those games likely will involve little or no risk, since Plan A will be for QB1 to take all the snaps. Indeed, Garoppolo’s biggest injury risk will come over the next month, when he’s taking snaps behind the second-string offense line.

Like every other quarterback due to become a free agent, the analysis of his value is simple. The franchise tag will exceed $22 million for 2018. And that number will become at least $26.4 million for Garoppolo in 2019 and at least $38 million for 2020. That’s a minimum of $86.4 million that Garoppolo would make on a year-to-year basis over three years, if the Patriots keep using the franchise tag to keep him in place.

If they don’t tag him in any given year, Garoppolo would hit the open market — and possibly hit the jackpot. Ultimately, then, the question will be whether he’s not only the “next great one” but also the next great one to accept less-than-great contracts in a sport where the stars seem to be waking up to the leverage they possess.

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Darren McFadden misses Cowboys’ team charter

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Cowboys running back Darren McFadden will have to pay his own way to California.

McFadden missed the team charter Saturday afternoon, according to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. He called team officials to tell them he was running late and won’t face a fine as long as he arrives by 2 p.m. PT Sunday when players are required to arrive.

McFadden, though, will have to buy a commercial flight to Southern California.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, defensive lineman David Irving and rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis also weren’t on the team charter.

Scandrick, who lives in L.A. in the offseason, flew back to California on a commercial flight Friday after flying into DFW for a physical and a conditioning test earlier in the day.

Irving failed to report to The Star and faces a $40,000 fine for an unexcused absence, but he is in California.

Lewis returned to Michigan on Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. Jury selection begins Monday morning after a Thursday hearing ended without a settlement. Lewis, 21, pleaded not guilty to the charge on March 16. Under Michigan law, he faces a maximum of 93 days in jail and a fine of $500 if convicted.

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Lions hope to “ultimately” work out rift with Calvin Johnson

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With the Lions and Barry Sanders renewing their relationship a generation after Sanders abruptly quit and the team made him pay back millions, the Lions now have only one former superstar player who retired under less than ideal circumstances. And team president Rod Wood has now spoken publicly twice about the situation in less than a week, more recently expressing optimism that the situation “ultimately” will work itself out.

Wood’s remarks make it clear that there’s a problem; otherwise, there would be nothing to ultimately work out. The question becomes what it will take to work things out.

As recently suggested, the Lions could either release Johnson from the reserve/retired list or give him back the bonus money he paid upon retirement — or both.

The Lions are required to do nothing, but if they truly want to work things out, they should do something. An invitation to hang out at training camp or to stand on the sidelines during games likely won’t do much, if anything, to change the mind of a guy who has been consistently becoming more candid about his concerns with the organization.

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Cardinals sign LB Tevin Floyd, release C Lucas Crowley

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The Cardinals signed linebacker Tevin Floyd, releasing center Lucas Crowley to make room.
Floyd, a rookie free agent, started all 12 games last season at The Citadel, earning first-team All-Southern Conference with 86 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He finished his college career with 295 tackles, the third most in school history, while playing in 49 games as a three-year starter.  
Floyd participated in the Cardinals’ rookie minicamp on a tryout basis in May.

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Darron Lee changes numbers

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It’s a new year for former Jets first-round linebacker Darron Lee. And he’ll start it with a new number.

Via the team’s official website, Lee will switch from 50 to 58.

“It’s just all of my numbers in my lifetime added up,” Lee said. He wore No. 8 as a youth, No. 2, No. 5, and No. 8 in high school, and No. 43 at Ohio State. So 8 plus 2 plus 5 plus 43 is 58.

Erin Henderson wore No. 58 for the Jets a year ago, and Spencer Paysinger wore No. 58 during the offseason, after arriving in June. Paysinger will switch to No. 49, a number that also will be worn by tight end Jordan Leggett.

The league at one point required any player who switched numbers to pay for any unsold jerseys bearing the prior number. It’s possible that there aren’t all that many Darron Lee jerseys floating around, since he doesn’t play the kind of position that is conducive to major sales numbers, and he didn’t have the kind of rookie season that would make people want to buy it.

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Jalen Ramsey opens camp on PUP list

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Second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a top-five pick who faces high expectations in 2017, will start training camp with no practice.

Via Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Ramsey will be placed on the physically unable to perform list at the outset of formal preseason preparations. He had core muscle surgery in June.

Joining Ramsey on PUP will be cornerback Aaron Colvin.

Players on the active/PUP list can be activated once they pass a physical. They can’t participate in practices until activated.

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