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Patriots argue they are done paying Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez AP

The Patriots don’t intend to write any more checks to Aaron Hernandez, and counsel for the families of two men he’s accused of killing don’t want him getting any more money, either.

According to The Associated Press, the Patriots argued in Suffolk County (Mass.) Superior Court Wednesday that they are free of any responsibility to pay $3.25 million in unpaid signing bonus to Hernandez, whom they released in June 2013 after he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd.

Per the AP, the Patriots were in court for a hearing in the wrongful death lawsuits filed against Hernandez by the families of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, whom Hernandez is charged with murdering in 2012.

According to the AP, the Patriots have agreed to inform the court if Hernandez wins an NFLPA-filed grievance to receive money he claims he’s still owed by the franchise. Also, Judge Bonnie H. MacLeod indicated she’s probably not inclined to grant a motion to add the Patriots as a defendant to the wrongful death lawsuit, per the AP.

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Wrestlemania in Santa Clara serves as dry run for Super Bowl

WWE AP

So which event generated the highest attendance numbers in the first year of the new 49ers stadium?  The regular-season opener in prime time against the Bears?  The Thanksgiving night game against the Seahawks?

Actually, the high-water mark came Sunday night, when Levi’s Stadium hosted the annual Wrestlemania event.  It drew 76,976 fans, according to the San Jose Mercury News.  Via SportsBusiness Daily, the prior record was 70,799.

It served, per the San Francisco Chronicle, as a dry run for Super Bowl 50, testing the highways and rail system and buses and parking and everything else that will go along with getting a bunch of people to Santa Clara for the NFL championship game early next year.

“Operationally, I think we’ve had pretty positive reports so far,” 49ers spokesman Bob Lange told the Chronicle.

The highlight of the night apparently was UFC fighter Ronda Rousey judo flipping Triple H out of the ring.  The entire spectacle maybe should give the NFL ideas for Super Bowl halftime content other than live music from a shrinking universe of acts that are truly worthy of a stage that big.

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Packers reach a deal to keep defensive tackle Letroy Guion

letroyguion AP

The Packers wanted to sign Letroy Guion all along.

His weird arrest delayed things, but it was a trip to see another team that might have brought it into focus.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers have reached an agreement on a new one-year deal with the veteran defensive tackle.

Guion recently visited the Seahawks, which likely sparked the Packers to get something done.

Guion’s been a quality player for them, and this would have probably been done earlier if not for his February arrest on drug charges in Florida. The criminal case was thrown out as part of a plea deal for a first-offender, and he had to pay a $5,000 fine. Of course, the state of Florida is still holding $190,028.81 in cash he had on him at the time, a sum he’s trying to reclaim.

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Hakeem Nicks to visit 49ers

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Getty Images

Most of the players included on PFT’s list of the top 100 free agents this offseason have found homes for 2015, leaving just a handful without jobs as March comes to an end.

One member of that list is wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has been greeted by an indifferent reaction from the league coming off a 38-catch season with the Colts in 2014. Things may be looking up for Nicks, however.

He told Josina Anderson of ESPN that he is on his way to California on Monday for a visit with the 49ers. The 49ers have already added Torrey Smith and Jerome Simpson to their receiving corps while they have parted ways with Stevie Johnson. Michael Crabtree, who started every game for the Niners last year, remains unsigned and joins Nicks as one of the more prominent free agents still on the market.

With Smith and Anquan Boldin on hand, Nicks would be in line for a depth role with the 49ers similar to the one he played in Indy last year. Given the lack of other interest and Nicks’s diminishing on-field returns of the last three seasons, anything more than that appears to be an unlikely goal for Nicks’s 2015 job prospects.

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One month to first non-New York draft in 50 years

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One month from today, the NFL draft commences in Chicago.  It’ll be the first time since 1965 that the draft has occurred in a city other than New York.

When the draft begins in the 125-year-old Auditorium Theatre, not much is known about how it will play out.  The Buccaneers seem to be poised to pick quarterback Jameis Winston, who won’t be in the building for draft.  Although they could make it official with Winston at any time, there’s no reason not to wait, given the many things that can happen over the next 30 days — especially with his pro day workout set for Tuesday.

Not that a bad performance would scare the Bucs away, but a fluke injury while essentially playing catch with his former Florida State teammates could.  Likewise, anything can happen off the field in the next 31 days; there’s no reason for the Bucs to assume the risk of another embarrassing episode before they absolutely have to.

The next question becomes whether the Titans or someone else will select quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second pick.  While there’s a chance that Tennessee will opt to draft someone else, casting their lot at quarterback with 2014 sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger, the most practical scenario at this point remains Winston to the Bucs and Mariota to someone.

Sure, many of the mock drafts have the Titans taking USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams at No. 2, but with so few franchise quarterbacks and so many NFL owners intent on getting one, the Titans or someone else will be sorely tempted to get that which typically only can be gotten at the top of the draft.

The rest of the names quickly become a blur after the quarterbacks, with the Kevin White/Amari Cooper showdown at receiver becoming the most intriguing one-or-the-other decision after Winston vs. Mariota.  Defensively, the biggest this-guy-or-that-guy centers on the Vic Beasley/Dante Fowler Jr. race at pass rusher.

Over the next 30 days, plenty of news and rumors and speculation will emerge, and we’ll be tracking everything right here, all day every day.

I didn’t start this blurb with the goal of it becoming a commercial for PFT.  If that makes it any better.  Which it probably doesn’t.

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Report: Chandler Jones recovering from surgery

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Patriots aren’t any more forthcoming about injured players during the offseason than they are during the regular season, so they aren’t likely to offer any updates about why Chandler Jones is rehabbing at the team’s facility.

According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, though, Jones is recovering from surgery that happened after the team won the Super Bowl. Per Reiss, Jones has been walking with the help of crutches recently.

There’s no specific reason given for Jones’s operation, although he did miss six games last season with a hip injury and the presence of crutches suggests that the two things could be related. The lack of information about Jones’s status extends to his outlook for offseason work, as is the case for defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, although Reiss reports that there’s no sense of long-term concerns about his availability.

Jones had six sacks and two forced fumbles in the regular season and added a sack in the Super Bowl as one of the team’s leading pass rushers.

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RG3 is the starter now, but Jay Gruden may not stick with him long

The Washington Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings Getty Images

Washington coach Jay Gruden has said Robert Griffin III is the team’s starter “right now.” But it’s hard to believe that Griffin will remain the team’s starter for the duration of the 2015 season.

Gruden showed last year that he’s willing to make a change at the quarterback position if he doesn’t see the results he’s looking for. And Gruden made many public comments indicating that Griffin doesn’t play the quarterback position the way Gruden wants.

There’s also the simple fact that both Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins were better than Griffin last year, the first year in Gruden’s offense for all three of them. Griffin takes so many sacks (33, more than McCoy and Cousins combined) and fumbles so often (nine times, again more than McCoy and Cousins combined) that he negates the advantage that his running ability provides. It’s great for a quarterback to be able to make plays with his feet, but not great for him to trust his feet to bail him out of so many situations that he doesn’t get rid of the ball when he’s under pressure and ends up taking sacks or fumbling.

And Griffin simply isn’t the same runner anymore that he was as a rookie. Griffin went from 120 carries for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 to 86 carries for 489 yards and no touchdowns in 2013 to 38 carries for 176 yards and one touchdown in 2014. Post-knee surgery, Griffin is a different runner.

Even Griffin’s longest run of the season in 2014 was hardly something to celebrate: On a 23-yard scramble against the Giants, Griffin did a great job of breaking into the clear and picking up a first down. But instead of stepping out of bounds as soon as he passed the stick, Griffin cut back inside to pick up extra yardage. That resulted in a tackle that had Griffin going down hard on his knees. Griffin needs to learn that to protect himself better than that.

If Griffin can’t protect himself better than that, the question of whether he’ll remain the starter will become moot because he’ll get hurt. But even if Griffin stays healthy, the simple fact is Gruden has never seemed to think much of Griffin as a quarterback, and unless Griffin can improve dramatically, it’s probably just a matter of time before Gruden benches him for McCoy or Cousins.

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Saints could remain active, all the way through draft weekend

Sean Payton AP

Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear last week — during an impromptu media ethics lecture — that he had no intention of ever including quarterback Drew Brees in his team’s extreme makeover.

But that doesn’t mean some more significant changes aren’t coming.

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, the Saints are expected to remain active on several fronts leading up to the draft.

Two deals he mentions are possible trades of guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

They’re talking to Jordan about an extension, but apparently could be talked into letting someone else do the honors if they can’t agree on his value. And Payton admitted last week at the owners meetings that they’re still talking to Evans about what the appropriate numbers would look like (i.e. how much of a pay cut he’ll swallow, from his scheduled $7.5 million in salary and bonuses) on a restructured deal.

After trading Jimmy Graham to Seattle and Kenny Stills to Miami, the Saints have five of the first 78 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft (13, 31, 44, 75 and 78), which gives them plenty of ammunition to make a move.

So even if they’re committed to Brees for now (and there’s no reason to think they aren’t), they also have the kind of currency to make a play for a younger quarterback if they were so inclined, especially if they peddle two productive veterans for more picks.

And if they’re not looking for a long-term solution at quarterback, they at least have a chance to restock the pantry for the current one.

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Vic Beasley scheduled to work out for Falcons Monday

Vic Beasley AP

Early this month, Clemson’s Vic Beasley said that playing for the Falcons would be a dream come true after growing up outside Atlanta.

It doesn’t seem like the most farfetched dream either. The Falcons need a pass rusher for Dan Quinn to deploy in his first season as the team’s coach and Beasley is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, which has led some people to predict that Atlanta will take him with the eighth pick in the draft.

The Falcons will get an up-close look at Beasley as they try to make that decision. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reports that Beasley is scheduled to work out for Atlanta on Clemson’s campus on Monday.

Beasley recorded a school-record 33 sacks in four years at Clemson and turned in an outstanding performance at the combine to further bolster his appeal to teams looking for help off the edge. The Falcons are in that group even after bringing in Brooks Reed, O’Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn as free agents this offseason.

Missouri’s Shane Ray, another top pass rushing prospect, is set to meet with the team on April 10.

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Grigson, Pagano relationship may have been strained by #DeflateGate

Irsay AP

The curiously selective leak from last week that Colts coach Chuck Pagano will enter a lame-duck season without a new contract, which came without a mention that Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson occupies the same posture, has raised legitimate questions about their working relationship.

Those questions have prompted multiple league sources to point out to PFT that the Pagano and Grigson relationship may have been strained by the allegations against the Patriots arising from the AFC title game.  During the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Grigson surprisingly admitted that he’d alerted the league to the concerns regarding air pressure in New England footballs in the days before the conference championship.

Whether Pagano knew or didn’t know about the suspicions before the game (and if Grigson knew but didn’t tell Pagano, that’s a problem), Pagano has opted for much greater discretion regarding the situation, routinely declining to talk about the situation and deferring to the pending investigation.

As one source has explained it, the issue created a distraction in the locker room at halftime of a game that the Colts trailed 17-7.  With only 12 minutes to get ready for the final 30 minutes of action, anything other than a complete and total focus on the task at hand understandably would have irritated the head coach.

The primary football question emanating from the 45-7 loss relates to the inability of the Colts to stop the run, something Pagano recently called the team’s “Achilles heel.”  Despite a significant free-agency haul this month, the Colts didn’t upgrade the interior of the defensive line.  They were never going to pursue Ndamukong Suh, but they could have made a play for Vince Wilfork or Haloti Ngata.  It remains unclear why they didn’t.

The ability of Grigson and Pagano to set aside any differences and work together remains critical to their mutual success. Owner Jim Irsay could go a long way toward making them both understand that they need to work together.

Irsay has said nothing about last week’s report that Pagano could be in a make-or-break season.  Grigson likewise has said nothing about his own status, or Pagano’s.  Pagano’s statement from Friday night doesn’t really shed much light on the dynamics of his relationship with either man.

Regardless of how it all plays out, the Colts have suddenly replaced the 49ers as the franchise folks will be watching the most closely for signs of owner-G.M.-coach dysfunction until the team’s 2015 season ends.

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Fox on Cutler: Unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence

Jay Cutler AP

Bears coach John Fox said last week that Jay Cutler would be in an open competition for the starting quarterback job in 2015, something that could result in Cutler making $15 million to hold a clipboard while Jimmy Clausen or David Fales leads the Bears into the fray on Sundays.

That seems like an unlikely way for things to play out, something that even Fox seemed to admit while discussing what needs to change in order for Cutler to put forth a better effort than he managed last year.

“I think he got to the point that he lacked confidence a year ago. To build that back up is going to take time, daily. It takes trust like any relationship. I think he and [offensive coordinator] Adam Gase having a relationship from back in Denver [is helpful] so I think it starts there,” Fox said, via Peter King of the MMQB. “Football-wise, there are things you can do in coaching to minimize some of the exposure. Playing complementary football is going to help. I don’t want to just single him out. I have concerns with really everybody we’re going to line up as a starter. But I know this: Unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence.”

Fox is talking about Cutler’s confidence level, but the same can be said of confidence in Cutler as a winning quarterback after nine NFL seasons that have looked pretty much the same. A strong supporting cast will certainly help, but the consistent level of performance for most of a decade make it hard to have much confidence that 2015 is going to play out much differently.

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Sam Bradford’s old coach sees big things, now that he didn’t quit

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When Sam Bradford’s college coach heard about his former pupil’s trade to Philadelphia, he got excited.

After all, running a similar system at Oklahoma to the one Chip Kelly’s running with the Eagles, Bradford completed 69 percent of his passes and threw 86 touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Sooners.

“If he’s 100 percent healthy,” former Sooners quarterback coach Josh Heupel said, “he’ll be able to perform at an elite level.”

Of course, that’s always been the condition with Bradford.

But Huepel also had a hand in making sure Bradford came back to try, after he considering quitting after tearing his ACL twice in nine months. Bradford had previously admitted such, saying Huepel was key in talking him out of it.

“It was one of those moments where, after all the time and energy and passion that he poured into rehabilitating himself in the first injury, you feel like you’re snakebitten,” Heupel told Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You don’t know when, if, or how your body is going to respond and what your next opportunity is. You’re really just in a lot of limbo. Sometimes, I think, just having a voice from an outside perspective is something that can be valuable.”

Huepel, who is now offensive coordinator at Utah State, said the competitiveness he saw in Bradford in college wasn’t betrayed by the second injury, but underlined. So determined to come back from the first one, the heartache of falling short was temporarily devastating.

“When a player goes through a big letdown, it’s natural to be down,” Heupel said. “I just tried to reach out to him and say, ‘Hey, I still see this in you as a person and a player. I think the best is yet to come for you. You’ve got to get yourself healthy and get yourself back on the field and get yourself in the right environment with the right people and the right supporting cast around you, and there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll achieve the things you’re capable of achieving and want to achieve.’

“Nothing changed for him from a guy who was the number-one overall draft pick as far as who or what he is as a person and a competitor, and ultimately that’s why there’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to reach the pinnacle of success.”

And if — there’s that if again — he can stay healthy, he should be in a place to do just that.

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Marvin Lewis worries about defense, not Dalton, in the playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Getty Images

NFL coaches want their quarterbacks to play their best football in the playoffs, and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has not done that. Dalton has one touchdown and six interceptions in his four playoff games, all Bengals losses.

But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says Dalton is just fine. Asked if he’s worried about Dalton’s play in the playoffs, Lewis answered via TheMMQB.com, “What worries me is our poor performance on defense in the playoffs.”

Lewis continued that the team is committed to Dalton and thinks that Dalton can win if the defense supports him.

“You look at how we’ve played on defense. We haven’t played good enough. Andy had a bad game against San Diego—a bad second half two years ago. The other games it’s been split evenly. We do know, in order for us to be successful, which we can’t even talk about the playoffs because we haven’t gotten there, but the first thing we do, we have to take care of the ball and play better on defense,” Lewis said. “We feel Andy’s our quarterback, and we signed him long-term, and we feel good about him . . . and we will continue to get better with the pieces around Andy. Andy has done a lot of things so far as a pro that not a lot of people have done. We need to keep playing better around Andy and that will be helpful to Andy.”

It’s hard for the defense to play well when Dalton keeps giving them short fields to work with, so it would be nice if Dalton could play better. But make no mistake: Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown are totally committed to Dalton as the franchise quarterback.

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Monday morning one-liners

Brock Lesnar, Brock Edward Lesnar AP

Forecasting the big spots on the Bills schedule.

A look back at all the Dolphins news from last week.

Kansas LB Ben Heeney worked out for the Patriots.

The Jets make a couple of appearances on the list of the biggest trades in Buccaneers history.

An early look at 2016 free agency shows Ravens CB Jimmy Smith at the top of the list of potential free agents.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton was a spectator at TCU’s pro day.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks the Browns will continue trying to make moves at quarterback.

DT Red Bryant seems like an unlikely target for the Steelers.

The Texans website checked in with coach Bill O’Brien at the league meetings.

Is there a chance that Dwight Freeney could return to the Colts?

An argument that the Jaguars should at least double last year’s win total.

DT Leonard Williams remains a popular mock draft choice for the Titans.

A Broncos return for WR Wes Welker looks unlikely.

Chiefs DE Mike DeVito and LB Derrick Johnson are pushing each other in rehab.

The Raiders have set up a bracket to determine the greatest play in team history.

Will C/G Trevor Robinson be in the mix for a starting job with the Chargers?

The Cowboys watched a workout by Georgia WR Chris Conley.

Is Randy Gregory a draft option for the Giants?

A look at where LB Marcus Smith stands with the Eagles.

What positions can the Redskins rule out with the fifth pick?

Bears coach John Fox has won with lightly regarded quarterbacks in the past.

Lions LB DeAndre Levy has taken up wing walking this offseason.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’s presence at Wisconsin’s Elite Eight victory rubbed at least one person the wrong way.

A pair of former Vikings took part in Wrestlemania’s main event on Sunday night.

Falcons players have been keeping close watch on March Madness.

Some discussion about the Panthers drafting a running back.

The Saints have reportedly set up a visit with Western Kentucky CB Dalton Patterson.

Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson checked out things in the auto racing world.

The Cardinals are planning more time at safety for Deone Buccanon in 2015.

Which guards are draft possibilities for the Rams?

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle wonders if improved mechanics will make all the difference for QB Colin Kaepernick.

Setting the Seahawks current lineup on defense.

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Nearly every NFL team wants extra points to change, but how

extrapoint AP

It’s clear that the NFL as an institution wants to make the extra point an actual football play, instead of a pro forma kick that no one ever misses, few want to participate in (especially Rob Gronkowski) and fewer even watch.

But with change accepted, the NFL is running into its usual issue, figuring out what to change it to.

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, 30 of 32 teams agreed the play needed to be changed, with the competition committee expected to advance a new proposal at the May meetings.

So last Tuesday at the league meetings, every team was asked for input on what the new rule should look like, and as expected, those opinions were “all over the map.”

According to King, the most likely skeleton of the proposal would involve two choices:

— Kicking for one would move from the 2-yard line to the 15, making it a 32-yard field goal (still a high percentage shot, but not 99.6 like last year’s PAT rate).

— Going for two, to turn it into a football play. They’re still talking about the right yard marker to put it on (the 1, 1.5 or 2), in order to make it a real play and not just a push-the-pile-and-hope.

(Man, with all this close-to-the-goal-line action, it sure would be neat if the league could afford fixed cameras to monitor it all. We should have a Bake Sale. Florio, I’ll bring the brownies.)

The proposals would also allow the defensive team to score two by blocking the kick, recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass and returning it to the other end zone.

It seems like a logical place to start, but anyone who’s been in a committee meeting knows how hard it is to find consensus on where to get lunch. Getting 24 of 32 rich and powerful owners to agree on the specific hows (when two of them don’t want it changed at all) will be the next challenge for the competition committee.

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Kaepernick impresses Warner with touch passes

Kaepernick AP

Cardinals fans weren’t happy when former Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner decided to start working with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick this offseason.  Cardinals fans may be even less happy now.

Via Jim Corbett of USA Today, Warner said recently that Kaepernick has been displaying better touch on his throws.  Thanks to playing touch football with some receivers who aren’t used to catching fastballs from an NFL quarterback.

“We had some guys come out from the office playing in my corporate charity event, and there were a couple of times where I went, ‘Whoa! Was that a little bit of touch I just saw?” Warner said, via Corbett.  “Colin laughed and told me, ‘We’re not out here working for nothing.’

“The situation forced him to throw with a little more touch.  He couldn’t throw it as hard as maybe he wanted to with those corporate guys.”

Over the past 10 weeks, Warner has helped Kaepernick with his stance while throwing and the mechanics of making reads from one receiver to the next.  But Warner realizes that may not make a difference once Kaepernick finds himself in live game reps with his muscle memory taking over.

“Is 10 weeks enough time for you to change what you’ve been doing your entire career?  And what does that look like when bullets are flying and people are attacking you?” Warner said, via Corbett.  “Have we gone far enough where that becomes the norm for Colin?

“That’s the big question none of us can answer. . . .  You talk about a guy who has been playing the position one way for twenty-something years, and we’re [trying] to change him in three months?”

It’s unlikely that much will change, unless Kaepernick’s protection allows him to not worry about being hit and instead to consciously focus on the things he’ll have to do for a lot more than 10 weeks in order for it to become part of his subconscious.

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