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Preseason Power Rankings No. 29: Jacksonville Jaguars

Bortles AP

Unlike in recent years, there’s at least reason for hope with the Jaguars in the preseason.

They might be hanging around the bottom of the PFT Preseason Power Rankings, but the arrow is clearly pointing up for them after years of floundering about.

Second-year coach Gus Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell have remade the roster rapidly and with a clear plan, and they were willing to not reach last year knowing they couldn’t fix everything at once.

The Jaguars added their quarterback of the future this offseason, but they’re committed to not making him the quarterback of the present until he’s ready.

Along with the steady progress they’ve made building a competitive roster, the Jaguars are more interesting than they’ve been in years.

Strengths.

Bradley made a statement in his first year, getting the Jaguars to a competitive place one side of the ball at a time.

With a solid defense in place, they added parts which should make it even better this offseason.

Bringing in old friends from Seattle such as Chris Clemons and Red Bryant will lend some stability to the defensive line (along with former Steelers first-rounder Ziggy Hood).

They lost a solid starter in linebacker Russell Allen, but with former Buccaneer Dekoda Watson coming aboard, it’s still a fast group.

As their young secondary grows together, it should only get better, and give the Jaguars time to develop on the other side where they need it the most.

Being able to cut a productive veteran like Jason Babin points to the fact the Jaguars think this can be a good group as it stands.

Weaknesses.

For lack of a better word, the Jaguars were painful to watch last year when they had the ball.

And that feels generous.

They’re still in the process of remaking themselves on offense, and kept steady quarterback Chad Henne around to keep a hand on the wheel until Blake Bortles is ready.

The goal is to let Toby Gerhart provide some ballast to the running game. He’s shown enough in glimpses of playing time in Minnesota to make you think he can be a productive every-down player, and that’s what they’re banking on.

They’ll need a productive running game, because their receiving corps is very much a work in progress.

Wide receiver Cecil Shorts has shown game-breaking ability, but he needed help in the worst way. The Jaguars used a pair of second-round picks on wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, and will need both to contribute right off the bat.

With the offense in a bit of a holding pattern until Bortles makes his inevitable rise, it’s hard to know how much to expect.

But at least there’s a plan.

Changes.

As important as anyone the Jaguars brought in this offseason was their decisions on when to let go.

They made the cold, clinical call to let franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew walk into free agency, when they easy thing would have been to keep around a player who for years was the only reason to watch them.

Then they cut the cord on former first-rounder Blaine Gabbert, trading the guy they thought would be their franchise passer to the 49ers for a sack of beans.

There was also the tacit admission that they’ll never get anything from wide receiver Justin Blackmon by drafting receivers in bulk.

While it’s easier for a new administration to admit the mistakes of a former regime, getting something of value for Gabbert was a coup, and moving on from Jones-Drew before the inevitable decline was probably good business.

We’ll see if staking the running game to Toby Gerhart was the right decision, but drafting Blake Bortles is the clean slate at the position the team so desperately needed.

Camp Battles.

The Jaguars still have some work to do on defense, primarily finding a free safety.

Winston Guy and Josh Evans shared the role last year, and one needs to emerge. The Jaguars have been consistent giving young players chances, but they’ve brought in some depth to push them as well. Former Panthers second-rounder Sherrod Martin is still young enough to be an intriguing prospect, with the kind of range to have a shot.

The Jaguars also need to settle the middle of their offensive line.

With longtime center Brad Meester retiring and stable guard Uche Nwaneri cut, they’re remaking the interior. Former Broncos guard Zane Beadles was a big-ticket free agent addition, and they’re hoping some other young players are ready to step up.

If Mike Brewster is ready to take over at center, and they can find a right guard with the ability to help the run game, they appear to be moving in the right direction up front.

Prospects.

The Jaguars can get better this year, even if their record doesn’t.

Because the only true barometer of this season will be how it helps Bortles develop into the starter.

If he’s not ready to start the opener, they know they can leave Henne in there and be at least acceptable. But if they can use the time to get the third-overall pick up to speed, they’re better off for it in the long run.

Many thought during the draft season that Bortles was the player with the most upside, the classic drop-back passer frame, and the tools to succeed. But there was also a consensus that he needed some time.

The Jaguars appear willing to give him just that.

The way they pursued last season (knowing they didn’t have a long-term quarterback, and not reaching to get one for the sake of having one) indicates a well-thought-out plan.

Now comes the execution part of the plan, and if they can get Bortles ready, they’re set up to be competitive for years to come.

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Brian Hoyer ready for fresh start after Cleveland job fell apart

Brian Hoyer AP

Being a Northeast Ohio kid, playing quarterback for the Browns was a dream job for Brian Hoyer.

Right until it turned into a nightmare.

Hoyer told Jim Corbett of USA Today he was at peace with the Browns’ decision to sign Josh McCown, meaning he’ll head out into the free agent market looking for another chance at a starting job.

It’s good for both sides to get a fresh start and go our separate ways,” Hoyer said. “Being from here, I’ll always root for the Browns. I know I’m going to be continuing my football career somewhere.”

He just didn’t imagine it would be anywhere else, after the way he started the season.

Hoyer had the Browns off to a 7-4 start before things unraveled, and was ultimately replaced by the ill-prepared Johnny Manziel.

But Hoyer holds no grudges there, and said he checked with Manziel when he checked himself into rehab.

“I texted Johnny when he went into rehab, haven’t heard back. But I’m sure when you go into rehab they don’t allow you to use your phone,” Hoyer said. “It takes a big person to check yourself into rehab. There was no reason for me to have any animosity towards Johnny. He didn’t choose to be drafted by Cleveland.

“We got along great. I hope the best for him. He definitely has the talent to have a great career. They don’t just hand out the Heisman Trophy to anybody.”

Of course, that won’t be Hoyer’s problem soon, as he’ll head into the market as one of the top quarterbacks avialable.

Houston makes plenty of sense, where he could work with old coach Bill O’Brien, but there are multiple places where he’d make sense, from the Jets to the Titans to the Rams.

“I look forward to helping whatever team get better and go to the playoffs,” Hoyer said. “If you’re in the right situation, believe in yourself, nothing will hold you back.”

When he says it like that, it’s almost like Cleveland wasn’t the right situation for anybody.

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One more year should get Peyton the passing yardage record

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Peyton Manning’s return to the Broncos for the 2015 season should result in him breaking the all-time NFL record for career passing yards.

Manning currently has 69,691 passing yards, putting him within striking distance of Brett Favre’s record of 71,838 yards. Assuming Manning stays healthy, he should break Favre’s record some time in the middle of next season.

The NFL would surely love to have Manning break the record in a high-profile, nationally televised game, so don’t be surprised if the Broncos get a few prime time games in the middle of the season. If Manning were to average 300 yards a game, he’d top Favre’s mark in the eighth game of the season.

Once Manning takes the record from Favre, he’ll keep it for at least a few years. But if Manning retires after 2015, Drew Brees will have a shot at breaking the record some time around 2018. Brees, who is almost three years younger than Manning, is currently at 56,033 career passing yards.

Favre has owned the yardage record since 2007, when he topped Dan Marino’s career mark. He’ll likely have the record for only about eight more months.

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Report: Lance Briggs won’t be back in Chicago

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Lance Briggs believed he was playing his final season in Chicago last November.

The writing was on the wall regarding Briggs’ future and the Bears appear set to officially move on after 12 seasons together.

According to CSNChicago.com, the Bears have informed Briggs they will not be offering him a contract for next season.

It’s the last year of my deal,” Briggs said in November. “It’s not like I’m going to magically show up after this year and they’re going to open the gates up for you.

“I know the reality of it and I’m proud of all the years I’ve had here. It’s been great. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Briggs is a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection. However, he missed 13 games over the past two seasons due to injury. Briggs will be an unrestricted free agent.

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NFLPA announces nine candidates for executive director

NFLPA

With the window closed for submitting nominations for the position of NFLPA executive director, the official ballot has been announced.

NFLPA president Eric Winston said via Twitter that incumbent DeMaurice Smith will face Jim Acho, Jason Belser, Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith, Rob London, Arthur McAfee, John Stufflebeam, and Andrew Smith.

Robert London is one of the newest additions to the pool.  He is described in multiple online articles as a sports agent, but he does not appear to be an NFLPA-certified contract advisor.  In 2013, there were reports linking him to Jay Z’s then-fledging Roc Nation firm.

Jason Belser, who initially was omitted from the final ballot (Winston, in a follow-up tweet, called it an “[u]nfortunate email oversight by me on a crazy last day”), is the NFLPA’s Senior Director of Player Affairs & Development.  He reportedly declared his intent to run to staff members on Thursday.

One other declared candidate apparently failed to secure at least three nominations.  Former player and NFL Executive Committee member Sean Morey, who made an aggressive public case for change in leadership, is not among the official candidates.

The nine candidates will attend the upcoming NFLPA annual meeting and present their cases for election.  The 32 voting player reps (one per team) will then cast a ballot. If one candidate gets 17 or more, he wins the job.  If no one gets a majority, candidate with the least votes drops out and voting continues with the rest, until someone has a majority.

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Marqise Lee sues over loss-of-value policy

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For a college football player who hopes to protect his eventual ability to play for money while playing for the wholesale cost of an education (plus snacks!), the insurance industry provides two types of products.  First, the player can buy a total disability policy, which pays benefits in the event of a career-ending injury.  Second, the player can purchase a loss-of-value policy, which pays benefits when an injury suffered in college causes the player’s draft stock to drop.

The problem with both types of products is that:  (1) insurance companies love to collect premiums; and (2) insurance companies hate to pay benefits.

For total disability policies, the process is fairly simple.  A career-ending injury results in the payment of benefits.  For loss-of-value policies, the insurance company will try to force the player to prove that the drop in draft stock happened due to something other than the injury.

Which is why, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee has sued Lloyd’s of London after the company denied a claim for benefits under a loss-of-value policy.  In 2013, Lee paid $94,600 while at USC for protection against an injury that resulted in Lee getting an NFL contract worth less than $9.6 million.  He later suffered a knee injury, fell to the second round, and signed a contract worth $5.17 million.

After Lee slid through the first round in May 2014, reports circulated that the drop resulted from his knee.  Eventually, Lee may be able to prove that in a court of law.  At a minimum, Lloyd’s is going to force him to do so because:  (1) insurance companies love to collect premiums; and (2) insurance companies hate to pay benefits.

The message for anyone thinking about buying a loss-of-value policy is clear.  They’ll gladly take your $94,600.  But good luck getting anything back from them, unless you’re prepared to fight it out in court.

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Greg Scruggs tweets he’s re-signed with Seahawks

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The Seattle Seahawks have apparently re-signed one of their own players prior to the start of free agency next week.

Defensive tackle Greg Scruggs wrote on his instagram account that he will be back with Seattle next season.

Teams rarely take chances, let alone take chances after a double knee injury. Thankful to the @seahawks for the opportunity to sign on another year and be the best I can be to help the team win. #GoHawks.”

Scruggs has missed most of the last two seasons due to knee injuries. An ACL tear in offseason workouts forced Scruggs to miss the entire 2013 season. After bouncing from the practice squad to the active roster last year, Scruggs went down with a knee injury again in November and landing on injured reserve.

He appeared in just three games with two tackles last season. Scruggs was set to be a restricted free agent.

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Vince Wilfork’s horse wins second straight race on Thursday

Vince Wilfork AP

Well, Thursday wasn’t a total loss for Vince Wilfork.

Great Minds, a racehorse owned by Wilfork, won the fifth race at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans this afternoon. It’s the second win in less than a month for Great Minds, a four-year-old gelding.

The horse’s victory came hours after Wilfork announced the Patriots would not be exercising his contract option for 2015.

Fifth of eight horses at the head of the stretch, Great Minds closed down the center of the course to best second-place finisher Liberal Spin by a head. The race was contested on turf at about 5.5 furlongs, or a little less than three-quarters of a mile.

The winner’s share of the purse was $22,800, increasing Great Minds’ career earnings to $89,765. In addition to the two wins, Great Minds has a pair of second-place finishes and one third-place tally in 10 starts.

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Wal-Mart says it doesn’t have video of July 2011 incident

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In the early-morning hours of July 11, 2011, someone called the Lancaster, Texas police to explain that a man pulled a woman from a Mercedes registered to Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and dragged her to another car.  A woman later returned with Bryant to the scene to tell the police that she wasn’t assaulted “in any way.”

Despite this conflict in the evidence, the Lancaster, Texas police officer didn’t enter the Wal-Mart store and request an immediate opportunity to review the available surveillance video.  Which means that Wal-Mart didn’t officially preserve the video evidence that would have been captured by its cameras.

Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what Wal-Mart told Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal on Thursday.

“Wal-Mart director of national media relations, Brian Nick, said because no charges had been filed, the company would not have pulled the security footage at the time and created a videotape of the incident,” Kaplan writes.

Implicit in Nick’s answer is that security footage of the incident at one point existed and was in the possession of Wal-Mart for a period of time after the incident occurred.  Nick also was explaining the company’s normal procedures in cases like this; as a corporate-level employee, he wouldn’t know whether someone at the Lancaster Wal-Mart decided on his or her own to preserve the footage.

Nearly two weeks ago, when I mentioned during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that multiple NFL insiders were investigating the existence of a videotape of an incident involving Dez Bryant, I made it very clear that I didn’t know whether a video exists.  I still don’t know whether a video exists.  I said that people who cover the NFL had been aggressively pursuing the story (including the possible existence of a video), and that many league insiders are aware of the story.  Adam Schefter of ESPN thereafter confirmed that, indeed, people who cover the NFL had been aggressively pursuing the story.

Though I shared no specifics during the February 20 segment with Shan Shariff and R.J. Choppy of 105.3 The Fan, the police report obtained last month and published last week by NFL Media meshes with the details I’d been given back in November:  (1) something happened outside a Dallas-area Wal-Mart; (2) the incident occurred in 2011; and (3) the incident involved a woman being dragged across the parking lot.

Currently, we know the Lancaster police department doesn’t have the video because the Lancaster police officer never asked to see it.  We also now know that a Wal-Mart spokesman claims it didn’t preserve the video as a matter of corporate policy because law enforcement didn’t ask Wal-Mart to do so.

But we don’t know whether anyone at Wal-Mart preserved the images separate from an official law-enforcement directive to do so.  We also don’t know whether Carl King or Christopher Mitchell, who arrived at the scene in an Escalade registered to Bryant to retrieve the Mercedes that was parked with the door still open, will share with the media what they know about the incident.

Likewise, we don’t know anything about Alex Penson’s knowledge of the incident; he’s the man with whom the alleged victim claims she simply had an argument.  Even though the police report says the officers spoke with “all parties involved,” there’s no evidence that anyone ever asked Penson whether he was in the Wal-Mart lot on or about 6:00 a.m. on July 11, 2011, whether he had an argument with the alleged victim, and/or whether he dragged her out of the Mercedes registered to Dez Bryant and/or dragged her to another car.

It’ll be interesting to see whether King, Mitchell, and/or Penson ever talk to the media about what happened in the Wal-Mart parking lot that morning.

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Aldon Smith trades guaranteed salary for roster bonuses

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Under the fifth year of his top-10 rookie deal, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was due to earn a fully guaranteed (as of Tuesday) base salary of $9.754 million.  He’ll now earn that money only if he’s on the roster for the entire season.

According to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, Smith has converted his salary to a series of roster bonuses and salary that ultimately will pay him up to $9.754 million.

The specifics aren’t presently known.  Maiocco explains that Smith will receive “incremental” bonuses, starting in April.  He’ll earn $2 million before the start of the regular season.  The balance of the $9.754 million will come from base salary and 53-man roster bonuses paid throughout the season.

It means that, in return for a $2 million advance paid out from April through August, the 49ers will have the ability to cut Smith and avoid all or part of the money.

“It wasn’t like they said, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re cut,’” agent Doug Hendrickson told Maiocco.  “The thought behind it is that Aldon realizes he’s been his own worst enemy.  He has come a long way since he was suspended.  Ultimately his goal, my goal and the team’s goal is for him to sign a long-term contract with the Niners. . . .

“He’s basically saying, ‘I’m willing to bet on myself that I will not do anything stupid.'”

It’s possible Smith already did something stupid by betting on himself.  What does he gain if the bet pays off?  Nothing more than he would have been entitled to as of Tuesday.

Smith’s decision suggests that something other than a “bet on himself” is happening.  The fact that Smith will start collecting portions of money he otherwise wouldn’t have seen until the regular season starts suggests that Smith may have wanted (or perhaps needed) to trade financial security for cold, hard cash.  The fact that he gave up $9.754 million guaranteed for $9.754 million non-guaranteed suggests that, even without an ultimatum from the team, Smith may have been concerned that he would have been released before Tuesday.

It’s possible that the payoff will be a long-term deal with the 49ers before his rookie deal expires and Smith becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency.  Based on the grossly team-friendly deal that the 49ers foisted upon Colin Kaepernick last year, however, Smith could be better off forcing his way to the open market, where pass rushers who have racked up 44 career sacks in 50 career games don’t have to bet on themselves in order to get paid.

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Broncos reach four-year deal with long-snapper Aaron Brewer

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The Broncos have reached a deal with one of their restricted free agents, agreeing to a four-year contract with long-snapper Aaron Brewer on Thursday, the club said.

According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Brewer’s contract is worth $4 million, with a $740,000 signing bonus. Brewer (6-5, 230) notched three special teams tackles in 2014, per club statistics.

The 24-year-old Brewer has been Denver’s long-snapper the last three seasons. He signed with the club as an undrafted free agent out of San Diego State in 2012.

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Dockett looks forward to playing Cardinals twice per year

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Thursday began with news that defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, an 11-year fixture in Arizona, agreed to terms with the 49ers.  Dockett later explained that one of the best aspects of his decision to sign with San Francisco was the opportunity to face his former team on multiple occasions.

“All I can say for San Fran is that they won the lottery,” Dockett told FOX Sports 910 in Arizona, via 49ers.com.  “The biggest thing is I get to play Arizona two times a year, so you know what time it is.”

It’s time for the Cardinals to find a permanent replacement for Dockett.

“My time in Arizona is over, and now it’s time for me to take my work ethic, my heart and my passion to another team,” Dockett said.  “And unfortunately for them, it’s for a rivalry team.  Now it’s all business.  I’m coming to win.”

Dockett said he was drawn to the 49ers due in part to the presence of coach Jim Tomsula, San Fran’s long-time defensive line coach.

“For me, the head coach is a defensive line coach, and people fail to realize, man, this guy is awesome,” Dockett said. “After every game I played against San Francisco, he was one of the guys who always came over and we talked it up.  He admired my game and admired what I bring to the table.”

Regardless, Dockett’s decision arose not from a desire to leave Arizona but from an impasse over his value to the team.  The 49ers decided to offer him more than the Cardinals had offered.  If the Cardinals had outbid the 49ers, Dockett likely would have remained in Arizona.  While talk of Tomsula being “awesome” and 49ers players welcoming Dockett to the team sounds good, money talked more loudly than anything else.  As it usually does.

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Chiefs move on from Joe Mays

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The days before the start of the new league year routinely feature teams creating cap space by moving on from contracts with cap numbers they no longer can justify.  On Thursday, the Chiefs did just that with veteran linebacker Joe Mays.

Mays, perhaps best known for a hit on quarterback Matt Schaub that dislodged a piece of his ear, was due to earn a salary of $2.35 million in 2015, along with a per-game roster bonuses of up to $350,000.  The Chiefs will carry $1 million in dead money arising from the $2 million signing bonus Mays received in 2014.

A sixth-round pick of the Eagles in 2008, Mays also has played for the Broncos and Texans.  He appeared in eight games with three sacks in 2014, racking up zero sacks and no whole or partial auriculectomies.

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Colts tender Jerrell Freeman, Boom Herron, Daniel Adongo

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The Colts made the necessary offers to hang onto some of their restricted free agents today.

Most notably, the Colts tendered restricted free agent linebacker Jerrell Freeman at the second-round level. That means any team signing Freeman away would have to give the Colts a second-round draft pick. That won’t happen, and the Colts will keep Freeman for a salary of about $2 million this season.

The Colts also made qualifying offers to three exclusive rights free agents: Running back Daniel “Boom Herron,” linebacker Daniel Adongo and linebacker Cam Johnson.

Herron got increasing playing time late last season when the Colts finally began to realize that Trent Richardson simply isn’t good enough, and Herron out-played Richardson down the stretch. (Not that that’s saying much.) With the qualifying offer, Herron will be back in Indianapolis this season, potentially as their starting running back.

Adongo is a former rugby player who’s been with the Colts for two years. He hasn’t done much of anything yet, but the Colts think he has the athletic talent to amount to something, and they’ll give him at least another offseason to see what he can do.

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Jerry Jones is ordered to testify in Super Bowl ticket case

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The plaintiffs in the Super Bowl XLV ticket case may not get the verdict that they want, but they’ve secured another victory on the path to whatever justice they’ll obtain.

In 2013, the plaintiffs secured the ability to question Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose deposition was played for the jury earlier this week.  Per multiple reports, the judge presiding over the case has now ruled that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will be required to testify live and in person at the trial.

Jones resisted the effort to compel his testimony.

The NFL has acknowledged responsibility for the failure to have enough seats in place to correspond to the tickets sold.  At trial, the plaintiffs are trying to demonstrate that the NFL engaged in a sufficiently high level of misconduct to justify punitive damages and/or other compensation above and beyond the out-of-pocket losses suffered by fans who traveled to Dallas, showed up at the stadium, and found out they wouldn’t be watching the game.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Jones’ testimony could be entertaining given his history of extemporaneous speaking and the dangers of billionaires trying to dodge and parry with lawyers asking questions the billionaires don’t want to answer.

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49ers sign Jerome Simpson to two-year deal

Jerome Simpson AP

Jerome Simpson will attempt to jump-start his career in San Francisco.

Simpson, the former Bengals and Vikings wide receiver, has signed a two-year contract with the 49ers, the club said Thursday.

The 29-year-old Simpson has gained 13.8 yards per catch in his six-year NFL career. He was out of football in 2014 after Minnesota released him in September toward the end of a three-game suspension for a violation of the substance-abuse policy. He also served a three-game ban at the start of the 2012 season after a marijuana-related arrest and plea.

With Michael Crabtree set to be a free agent and Stevie Johnson’s future in San Francisco in question, the 49ers’ receiving corps could undergo some real changes this offseason. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Simpson’s size and athleticism can make him a field-stretching threat, and he certainly has the talent to make the roster, but he’ll probably need to do the little things well, too, in order to stick with San Francisco.

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