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Rodney Thomas dies at 41

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Former Oilers, Titans and Falcons running back Rodney Thomas has died at the age of 41.

Trinity County (TX) Justice of the Peace Rod Blair confirmed that Thomas died in his hometown of Groveton at about 7 p.m. Saturday and no cause of death has been announced pending an autopsy. Thomas was drafted by the Oilers in the third round of the 1995 draft after completing a standout career at Texas A&M and ran for 947 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in Houston.

Thomas remained with the franchise through their move to Tennessee and played in Super Bowl XXXIV with the team. Thomas retired after one year with the Falcons in 2001 and compiled 1,973 rushing yards at the professional level. He had 3,014 while at Texas A&M, good for fifth on the school’s all-time list, and he ranks third in school history with 41 touchdowns.

“I was shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Rodney Thomas,” former A&M coach R.C. Slocum said in a statement, via AggieSports.com. “He was a great football player, but more importantly, he was one of the finest young men that I have ever met. He was so kind, considerate and unselfish. He impacted all that met him in a positive way. Our prayers go out to his family and friends. Aggieland lost one of its brightest stars today.”

We add our condolences to Thomas’ family and friends.

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The Texans have sent the Browns a lot of stuff lately

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Houston has been a quarterback away from being a serious contender for about the last five years, since Matt Schaub lost his mojo. They’ve been able to maintain a level of success by having everything else in place.

Now they have their quarterback of the future by making a move for Deshaun Watson, but they don’t have much ability to add nice things for him to play with after all their deals with Cleveland.

Coupled with the salary dump of quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Texans have sent the Browns their 2017 first-rounder (25th overall) and their 2018 first- and second-rounders. They did get Cleveland’s fourth-round comp pick this year (142nd overall) as part of the Osweiler deal, but had to give up a sixth-rounder (188th) to balance the scales.

Getting out from under the awful Osweiler contract was the key, of course, and the financial flexibility in the future will help with some looming free agency purchases.

The next order of business will be doing an extension for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, so his fellow Clemson man Watson will have someone to throw to. That’s going to cost them, as will an eventual deal for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose 2018 option they just picked up. Those are some big-ticket items on the horizon, and you’d ordinarily like to be able to balance the ledger with relatively cheap drafted players. But the Texans won’t pick until the third round next year, making it more difficult to reload with the kind of players who can make instant impacts.

If the Texans continue to be a playoff team this year (turning the Browns picks into late 20s and late 50s), and Watson develops into something more than the average-or-less guys they’ve been trotting out there, they will accept the risk.

But if they falter this year under the (presumed temporary) guidance of Tom Savage, they might have just gifted the Browns a pair of very high picks in 2018, which will make it harder for Watson to push them past their current good-not-great level.

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49ers kept Saints from getting Reuben Foster

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The 49ers sprang back into the first round to get a linebacker they regarded as one of the three best players in the draft. In so doing, the prevented the Saints from taking him.

Via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, 49ers G.M. John Lynch told reporters that, when he called Reuben Foster to explain that the 49ers had traded up to select him, Foster said, “New Orleans is taking me.”

Said Lynch, “No, we’re taking you.”

Ed Werder, formerly of ESPN, tweeted Thursday that the Saints would have indeed taken Foster at No. 32. They instead told tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

Foster slid to 31 after being sent home from the Scouting Combine due to an altercation with a hospital worker. More recently, Foster disclosed that he failed a drug test at the Combine with a diluted sample.

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Bengals might have traded, if anyone had called

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There were deals made in the Bengals’ neighborhood, with two of the next three picks traded to teams eager to move up for a quarterback.

But Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis might have felt a little lonely, since no one called to ask about moving to the ninth overall.

Nobody was interested when we were on the clock,” Lewis said, via Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Kansas City and Houston traded into the 10th and 12th spots, respectively, for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. But because the Chiefs and Texans were including the 27th and 25th picks as part of their packages (both included next year’s one, and the Chiefs threw in this year’s third), it’s not certain the Bengals would have been interested anyway.

Lewis said they were so intrigued by the big-play potential of wide receiver John Ross that they didn’t want to risk moving too far down the order anyway.

“There are wow plays,” Lewis said. “When you watch tape you feel the guy. But we felt good about the nine guys we had up there. I made the comment to [owner] Mike [Brown] on Monday morning that where we ended up settling up there when you watch those guys play on tape you felt them.

“Sometimes when you watch guys on tape you get bored and those guys fall down further a little bit in my mind. The way it shook out for us, the nine guys that we thought fit us best when you watched them play you really felt them.”

While there were defensive players they could have taken a little later (bypassing their annual first-round cornerback in Marshon Lattimore), the Bengals didn’t want to drop past the mid-teens, and no one called anyway.

 

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Roger Goodell: Marijuana is addictive and unhealthy

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is willing to explore the possibility of allowing NFL players to use marijuana for medical reasons, but he’s not on board with the idea of taking it off the list of banned substances for recreational use.

Goodell said on Mike & Mike that he continues to believe marijuana is bad for players.

“I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use,” Goodell said. “Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. All of those things have to be considered. And it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. We really want to help our players in that circumstance but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that is something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”

Goodell did acknowledge, however, the growing body of evidence that marijuana can be used for medical reasons.

“We look at it from a medical standpoint,” Goodell said. “So if people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisers have to tell you that. We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that. But we’ve been studying that through our advisers. To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”

So even as an increasing number of states legalize marijuana, the NFL appears to be some time away from allowing players to use it for medical reasons, and dead-set opposed to allowing players to use it just because they want to use it.

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Report: Matt Jones being shopped for trade

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We saw two running backs get drafted on Thursday night and there are sure to be plenty of others coming off the board over the next six rounds of the draft.

The Redskins are reportedly hoping that there’s a team that prefers to make a trade for a runner rather than picking one from this year’s crop of prospects. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the team is shopping Matt Jones ahead of the start of the second round.

Jones was a third-round pick in 2015 and had some good moments over his first two seasons, but also fumbled eight times in 243 carries for Washington. The issues with holding onto the ball contributed to Jones getting sent to the bench midway through last season and he did not play the final nine games of the year as the Redskins went with Rob Kelley.

That doesn’t sound like the backstory of a player anyone will be clamoring to trade for in the next couple of days, which may mean Jones just gets cut if Washington adds a running back.

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Panthers compare McCaffrey to many backs, including a Hall of Famer

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Because Christian McCaffrey is a non-traditional running back (i.e. a white one, you might as well just say it), there is an irresistible compulsion to compare him to other backs when attempting to describe his versatility as a runner, receiver and return man.

Coach Ron Rivera threw a few names out there last night, mentioning Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, and Brian Westbrook with a little LeSean McCoy mixed in.

But when it was General Manager Dave Gettleman’s turn, he put McCaffrey in the same answer with a Hall-of-Famer while vouching for McCaffrey’s abilities to be a bell-cow back.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” Gettleman said. “The best tackle-box runner I’ve ever seen is Curtis Martin out of Pitt. Christian is right there with him. Running in that tackle box takes unique vision and unique quickness, and he’s got it. Curtis Martin had it, and he had a great career – a Hall of Fame career – and this kid’s got those kind of skills.”

Martin ran for 14,101 yards in 11 seasons, fourth on the all-time list before heading to Canton.

That’s a high bar to set for a guy who doesn’t walk into an immediate starting job (the Panthers just gave veteran Jonathan Stewart a one-year contract extension this offseason). But they made it clear they see McCaffrey having an immediate impact for them this season.

“You saw him do everything – line up as the tailback, line up as the halfback, line up as the quarterback in the Wildcat, motion out and run a wheel route, return kicks,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “This is a guy who you can get the ball in his hands many different ways and quickly.”

Now how they’re able to do that is the next question. The Panthers would have preferred Leonard Fournette, primarily because he fits everything they already do as an offense. McCaffrey is, to put it simply, a finesse player dropped into the middle of a power and play-action offense. A Swiss-Army knife in a sledgehammer offense. Not only do they not have a similar player, they don’t have many of the plays with which to capitalize on McCaffrey’s skills.

Creating those plays, and installing them in an offense which won’t have its quarterback until training camp (while Cam Newton mends from shoulder surgery) is going to be a challenge for the coaching staff which has been talking about “evolving” all offseason.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Said CB Tre’Davious White of being picked by the Bills, “I knew that they needed a corner, but I didn’t know they were going to pick me. But I didn’t know they pretty much had that much interest in me at all.”

What sold the Dolphins on drafting DE Charles Harris?

Thursday night was a quiet one for the Patriots.

New Jets S Jamal Adams’ father played for the Giants.

T.J. Onwuanibe, the young man who announced the Ravens’ first-round pick, felt CB Marlon Humphrey’s addition was worthy of a fist pump.

The Bengals boosted their speed by drafting WR John Ross.

The Browns were the first team to make three first-round picks since 2013.

Will the Steelers be adding a defensive back next?

Texans fans were happy that the team moved up to take QB Deshaun Watson.

A look at how the dominoes fell in a way that left S Malik Hooker available for the Colts.

Leonard Fournette is the first running back the Jaguars have taken in the first round since Fred Taylor.

The Titans addressed both sides of the ball in the first round.

The Broncos feel they have solved their left tackle spot with Garrett Bolles.

Trading up for QB Patrick Mahomes is the kind of move that could shake up the Chiefs franchise.

Said Raiders coach Jack Del Rio of CB Gareon Conley, “We expect him to come in and compete. We think he’s a highly-skilled player and he’s got the potential to become one of our better corners.”

The Chargers helped make the top of the draft heavy on offensive players.

The Cowboys expect DE Taco Charlton to contribute immediately.

TE Evan Engram is the latest addition to the Giants’ offense.

DE Derek Barnett thinks he and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will get along well.

The Redskins said they aren’t concerned about DL Jonathan Allen’s shoulders.

The Bears went all in on QB Mitchell Trubisky.

Versatility was the buzzword about Lions LB Jarrad Davis on Thursday night.

Will the Packers trade down again on Friday?

The Vikings will get their chance to join the draft on Friday.

DE Takkarist McKinley was emotional about his late grandmother after being picked in the first round.

RB Christian McCaffrey hopes to do “special things” with Panthers QB Cam Newton.

CB Marshon Lattimore will be reunited with college teammates on the Saints.

The Buccaneers feel they got a big-game standout in TE O.J. Howard.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was the head coach at Temple long before LB Haason Reddick played there and built a resume that made him a first-round pick in Arizona.

The Rams are ready to get into this year’s draft.

49ers G.M. John Lynch earned high marks for his work on Thursday night.

The Seahawks traded down twice and ended the night without making any picks.

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Saints considered trading up for Marshon Lattimore, which may end other trade talks

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The Saints have been contemplating making big moves at cornerback all offseason.

They almost did again Thursday night, but didn’t even have to, as the defensive upgrade they needed came passively.

Via Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Saints coach Sean Payton said they discussed trading up, but sat tight through a run of skill-position talent and saw cornerback Marshon Lattimore fall into their laps with the 11th pick in the draft.

“Just through a lot of the different scenarios, he was one of the players that we felt would be difficult maybe to anticipate him being there, but things happen,” Payton said.

Really, once Lattimore cleared the sixth pick (when the Jets took LSU safety Jamal Adams) they were fine, as the next four teams in the order were locked in on running backs (Christian McCaffrey to the Panthers), wide receivers (Mike Williams to the Chargers and John Ross to the Bengals), and a quarterback (Patrick Mahomes to the Chiefs).

That was certainly OK with Payton, as he didn’t have to give up any more draft capital to get the guy they had a top-four grade on.

Their stroke of good fortune may also save them a pile of money, as having Lattimore fall unexpectedly might make them reconsider previous offers for Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who visited the Saints before re-signing his RFA tender with New England. They could still trade for him, and could still make a case for it since neither Lattimore nor cornerback Delvin Breaux have been what you’d call durable players.

But they entered the offseason looking for a big-ticket answer at the position, and now have one.

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Raiders did “miles and miles” of research on Gareon Conley

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Among the many storylines heading into Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft was the one involving sexual assault allegations made against former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley.

Conley strongly denied the accusation and reportedly passed a polygraph test, but there was some doubt that he’d remain a first-round pick with the cloud hanging overhead. Conley did wind up going before the night was out when the Raiders selected him at No. 24.

After the pick was made, General Manager Reggie McKenzie said he spoke to owner Mark Davis about picking Conley after doing work that convinced him that picking the corner wasn’t an undue risk.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process, and we trust our research, reports, everything we have on Mr. Conley,” McKenzie said, via the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We feel really good about having him join the Raiders, and having him be a great teammate. The research was done. It wasn’t just a gut [feeling]. It was based on research, and we are very confident in all the information we got. I don’t want to get into all the details about who we talked to. The bottom line is, we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were. We feel really good about the pick and where it’s going.”

It’s a move that comes with obvious risks for McKenzie, Davis and the Raiders if things should play out differently than they expect on the legal front, but the team headed for Vegas obviously felt comfortable rolling the dice anyway.

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John Lynch says 49ers got two of top three players on their board

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The 49ers were involved in the first big twist of the 2017 draft when they were able to obtain two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick for moving down one spot from No. 2 to No. 3 in a trade with the Bears.

General Manager John Lynch earned a lot of praise for pulling off that move while running his first draft since taking the job and he remained busy. After taking defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who was the expected pick at No. 2, Lynch traded back into the first round by sending the newly acquired fourth-round pick and the No. 34 pick to Seattle to take linebacker Reuben Foster with the 31st overall selection.

That ended a major drop for Foster, who was generally expected to come off the board far earlier in the round, and gave the 49ers a player that Lynch said they rated right alongside Thomas on their board.

“I can tell you right off the bat that what we had on the board was just under 200 players, and in terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” Lynch said, via ESPN.com. “We were able to do that, and we’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. We think these guys have a lot of traits of what we want to be about as a football organization.”

Both players should be playing early for the Niners and Lynch will be back at work trying to turn the team around on Friday night.

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John Elway’s contract is the unanswered question in Denver

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Is Broncos General Manager John Elway conducting his last draft in Denver?

Elway, whose contract expires after the upcoming season, declined to answer when asked following the first round of the draft what his own contract status is.

“We’re not going to talk about that now. We’re in the middle of this. We’re trying to get better as a football team. We’ll talk about that later. We’re going to be fine. I’m not worried about that,” Elway said.

Elway took no further questions after that. According to USA Today, the Broncos originally left that portion of the press conference off the video and transcript that the team posted online, although it was later added.

From all indications the 56-year-old Elway is happy in Denver and eager to build another Super Bowl winner, but until a new contract is in place, it’s an open question just how long a future he has with the Broncos.

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Andy Reid: Patrick Mahomes is going to take some time

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It wasn’t hard to find draft projections that had the Chiefs landing quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the first round, but they typically didn’t have that pick happening with the 10th overall pick.

There was word before the start of the draft that Kansas City might be coming up, however, and they wound up dealing next year’s first-round pick to Buffalo as part of a package that netted them the chance to draft Mahomes. Coach Andy Reid said they like Mahomes’ energy and intensity as well as his ability to make plays under pressure and that they feel comfortable with his ability to handle a pro-style offense after putting him through his paces.

Reid doesn’t think Mahomes will be ready to handle such an offense right off the bat, which leaves Alex Smith as the starter and Reid said he’s not concerned that paying a big price for Smith’s heir apparent will lead to any unease inside the team.

“I don’t worry about Alex on this,” Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. “Alex knows we trust him. Alex is the starting quarterback. Nothing is going to change there. The kid is going to take some time. He understands that. But there’s gonna be a day Alex isn’t playing anymore and we’ll need someone to step in and play.”

Smith has some familiarity with the scenario after seeing Colin Kaepernick come to the 49ers and make his way from the bench to the starting lineup. That started out well for the 49ers as the Niners went to the Super Bowl after Kaepernick took over in his second season and the Chiefs would love a similar taste of success, although they’d surely prefer it come without the quick fizzle that followed for the 49ers.

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Which first-round quarterback has landed in the best spot?

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Three quarterbacks went in the first 12 selections on Thursday night. So which of those three landed in the best spot?

That’s the Friday PFT Live question of the day.

Cast a ballot below, drop a comment or two (or five), and then join us on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. And stay with us all day long for comprehensive reaction to a crazy night in Philly.

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Ryan Pace: If you want to be great, you can’t sit on your hands

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In a pre-draft season that saw few things go unnoticed, the Bears’ interest in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky slipped through the cracks.

Trubisky seemed to indicate the same after the pick, but General Manager Ryan Pace admitted to having a private workout with Trubisky that the team was able to keep under wraps. That visit, conversations with Trubisky and scouting his play at North Carolina were enough to leave Pace and the team convinced that he was the right man for them.

During a press conference after the trade and pick, Pace was asked if he felt the 49ers may have been bluffing about other teams coming up to get Trubisky. Pace said he knew other teams were making calls about a trade and “maybe you call the bluff and you miss out on the player.”

“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said, via the Chicago Tribune. “There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here; I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make.”

Pace said Mike Glennon is the starter and that there’s no timeline for Trubisky to change that, although moving up to take a quarterback with the second overall pick starts an unofficial one because Pace set a course for the future of the franchise and his future with the franchise on Thursday night.

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Browns “won’t rest” until they “solidify” quarterback position

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The Browns sort of gave their current quarterbacks a vote of confidence by not using one of three first-round picks on Thursday night on a rookie signal-caller. And then their executive V.P. of football operations did anything but give their current quarterbacks a vote of confidence.

We won’t rest until we solidify that position,” Sashi Brown said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s not solidified right now, so we know we need the guys here to work their tails off and Hue [Jackson] is going to develop them as much as possible and push them to be their best and we also know that until we get it solidified, we’re going to continue looking for players all over the league and in college.”

Brown cast a wide net regarding where the Browns may go to solidify the position.

“That may be in next year’s draft, it may be in free agency, it may be via trade,” Brown said. “But again, Brock [Osweiler], Cody [Kessler], and Kevin [Hogan] are here working hard and we’re going to support them as best we can.”

They’ll support them until they find the guy who supplants them. Per Brown, the effort to “solidify” (i.e., find someone better) will continue indefinitely.

“Every day until we solidify the position we leave this building thinking about what opportunities might be out there, so absolutely,” Brown said.

At some point, the solidification effort needs to commence. Maybe they would have gotten Mitchell Trubisky last night at some point after taking defensive end Myles Garrett, if the Bears hadn’t moved to No. 2 to get him. Maybe they would have taken Patrick Mahomes at No. 12, if the Chiefs hadn’t moved up. They could have taken Deshaun Watson at No. 12, but opted to trade down — and to take a future first-round pick from the Texans to do it.

They still could emerge from this weekend with a quarterback. DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb remain available. And a trade for a veteran remains possible.

Earlier this year, Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com said on PFT Live that the current brain trust in Cleveland won’t be on the clock for termination until they have their quarterback. It’s hard not to wonder whether they’re paralyzed by that reality, waiting for the best possible quarterback before pulling the trigger. A cynic also could wonder whether they’re deliberately delaying getting a quarterback to maximize job security.

That would be a risky move, because another horrible season to follow last year’s 1-15 disaster may be enough to get ownership to decide to pull the plug on the analytics-and-old-school hybrid that has been great at stockpiling draft picks but, so far, not much else.

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