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Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Washington Redskins

Jay Gruden, Robert Griffin III AP

The Redskins took a major step backward in 2013 and they blew things up as a result.

Jay Gruden is the new head coach, with the team hoping that his offensive mind can totally relegate former coach Mike Shanahan and his icy relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III to the fringes of memories. Griffin’s play could also do that as he’s had an entire offseason to work after rehabbing from a knee injury during the spring last year.

Dysfunction and lingering injuries weren’t the only reasons things went south for the Redskins last year, though. The defense was a mess and the changes on that side of the ball were not particularly dramatic, while the team also gave away far too many yards and points on special teams.

The potential for a repeat of 2012 certainly exists, but, based on their spot at No. 23, PFT’s panel needs to see more than potential to buy into the Redskins.

Strengths.

Signing DeSean Jackson was the latest addition to a receiving corps that should be much improved over last season. Pierre Garcon returns, tight end Jordan Reed should be healthy after last year’s concussions and Andre Roberts joined the team as a free agent. That’s more than Griffin had to work with as a rookie and should make his efforts as a passer easier than in past years.

Running back Alfred Morris is also back, giving the Redskins enviable potential balance on offense this season. If all goes according to plan, defenses will find it hard to keep an eye on everyone Washington rolls on the field.

Linebacker Brian Orakpo re-signed with the team and he’ll rejoin with Ryan Kerrigan to give the Redskins a strong pair of outside linebackers. If Jason Hatcher can repeat the pass rush he gave the Cowboys last season, Washington should be very effective at pressuring quarterbacks.

Left tackle Trent Williams remains one of the best in the league at his position and gives the Redskins an anchor as they build the rest of their offensive line.

Weaknesses.

The Redskins didn’t look that strong at safety when Tanard Jackson was in the mix and they aren’t looking any better in light of his latest suspension. The best hope is that Ryan Clark can push back father time and Brandon Meriweather avoids injury long enough for 2013 picks Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas to come into their own.

It would help the Redskins if cornerback David Amerson did the same thing in his second season. Old hands DeAngelo Hall and Tracy Porter will likely hold prominent roles, but the team needs Amerson to develop into a shutdown player on one side for their defense to reach its full potential.

Williams is a great left tackle, but the Redskins aren’t quite as lucky along the rest of the line. Kory Lichtensteiger is moving from guard to center, right guard is unsettled and the team picked Morgan Moses in the third round to give them an option other than Tyler Polumbus at right tackle.

Hatcher’s arrival should be a plus, but his offseason knee troubles are a bit of a concern since the rest of the Redskins defensive ends are an unimpressive lot.

Changes.

Gruden replacing Shanahan as head coach (and, for all intents and purposes, Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator) is by far the biggest change in Washington this offseason. Every coaching change is significant, of course, but this one feels even bigger because of how bad things got between Griffin and Shanahan last season.

Griffin has been spreading nothing but sunshine about the switch and the Redskins are hopeful that his knee will respond to a full offseason of work as well as he has responded to Shanahan’s departure. The quality of the skill position players around him should help.

The Redskins didn’t change defensive coordinators, but there’s been a lot of talk about a more aggressive approach from Jim Haslett’s unit this season. That should fit with the outside linebackers and help defensive tackle Barry Cofield rebound, although the defensive backfield could be stretched if they’re left out on islands.

Ben Kotwica is the new special teams coach and he’ll be charged with turning around units that struggled badly last season.

Camp Battles.

London Fletcher has brought his long career to an end, leaving an opening at inside linebacker next to Perry Riley. Keenan Robinson, Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward are all options with Robinson potentially the favorite if he’s over his torn pectoral.

Roberts was signed to play receiver, but Jackson’s arrival opens up the possibility that he could become the team’s primary kick returner. Rookie Lache Seastrunk would be another option for the role.

Chris Chester will try to hold onto the right guard job against challenges from Josh LeRibeus and third-round pick Spencer Long. The right choice there could help mitigate any right tackle issues.

Prospects.

The NFC East title has been a revolving door in recent seasons as the four teams generally muck their way through the regular season before someone grabs a 9-7 record in Week 17.

It is easy to see why the Redskins would believe they could return to the top of the food chain this season. Every report on Griffin’s health is positive, his supporting cast is stronger and the darkness that hung over Shanahan last season has been expunged.

At the same time, though, there’s not much about the Redskins that makes them a sure bet to be better than last year’s also-rans in Dallas and New Jersey or the defending division champs in Philly. The defense needs to be much better and we’ll still need to see Griffin’s play match the offseason reviews, for starters.

Should that happen, a return to the playoffs may not be out of reach but the Redskins will need to show that the stink of last year has been totally eradicated before the bandwagon starts to fill up.

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Mick Jagger panders to San Diego

Stones Getty Images

It’s great to be in [insert name of city]!

How about them [insert name of local sports team]!

For politicians and rock stars, pandering to the local customers is a tradition as old as the world’s oldest profession. And it works, routinely drawing loud cheers from the people who live in the city that gets named and who root for the local sports team that gets gratuitously praised.

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones took that tradition to the next level over the weekend. Via USA Today, the seventy-something Jagger had this to say on the opening night of the Zip Code Tour on Sunday night: “We are having such a great time in San Diego. It’s so beautiful here. Why would anyone want to leave? Especially the Chargers.”

Of course, the Rolling Stones had a business decision to make when booking a venue in San Diego. And they opted for Petco Park and its 42,000-person capacity for the concert. They could have squeezed a lot more bodies in — and sucked a lot more money out of — Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers play. But Qualcomm Stadium is a craphole, and that’s probably one of the reasons why the Rolling Stones opted not to use the structure that has gathered plenty of moss. (Yeah, I said it.)

And one of these days, when Mick Jagger is in his 80s and still prancing around the stage like a cat walking on its hind legs, the Rolling Stones may be back in Southern California, and Jagger will say, “It’s great to be in Carson! How about them Chargers! Screw San Diego!”

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Not everyone is thrilled about the idea of a game in Mexico

San Francisco 49ers vs Arizona Cardinals - October 2, 2005 Getty Images

Steelers president Art Rooney II might be advocating games in Mexico, but his team apparently wasn’t such a fan.

Via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, some Steelers feared for their families when they played there in 2000.

Running back Jerome Bettis said the only two games his parents missed were a preseason in Tokyo in 1996 and the game in Mexico City.

It wasn’t the distance (they made the 1997 preseason game Ireland), rather because “the players were told it was best to keep their families at home because of the danger in Mexico City.”

Naturally no one ever said that out loud at the time, which you’d expect while they were promoting a game there. And the league played a regular season game in Mexico City in 2005 between the Cardinals and 49ers, drawing over 100,000 fans.

Of course, the Steelers don’t have to worry about heading south of the border or anywhere else now, since their lease with Heinz Field requires them to play 10 games per year there.
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Tuesday morning one-liners

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

Taking stock of the Bills’ special teams.

Previewing some position battles that will play out at Dolphins practices.

Those who want to Free Tom Brady can show their support by buying a beer.

Taking a swing at predicting the Jets depth chart.

Ravens CB Rashaan Melvin is mourning his father’s death while preparing for the 2015 season.

This week’s OTAs will give some insight into the status of Bengals players rehabbing injuries.

The Browns will work to establish an offensive identity during OTAs.

Defensive questions remain the big ones for the Steelers.

Texans G Brandon Brooks shares his new workout routine.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano and QB Andrew Luck reminisced about a shared USO tour.

More than a third of the Jaguars roster has joined the team since January.

Where might the Titans look for additions to the roster?

Broncos G Ben Garland is happy he made the move from defense to offense.

How will the starting Chiefs offensive line look at OTA’s?

Breaking down the best case scenario for Raiders DE Max Valles’s rookie season.

A look at some undrafted additions to the Chargers linebacking corps.

Checking in with the Cowboys running backs as OTAs get underway.

Giants rookie T Ereck Flowers’s technique hasn’t won over every observer.

DE Brian Mihalik is hopeful that his large frame has a place on the Eagles roster.

Redskins QB Robert Griffin III commemorated Memorial Day on social media.

Ray McDonald’s arrest leaves egg on faces in the Bears front office.

Lions P Sam Martin is trying to put a poor playoff punt behind him.

Rookie Ty Montgomery could be just the thing for the Packers return game.

Eight questions about Vikings OTAs that are mostly about things other than Adrian Peterson’s plans.

Falcons FB and Army vet Colin Mooney shared some Memorial Day thoughts on ESPN.com.

Panthers LB Thomas Davis has developed a taste for auto racing.

Max Unger is settling into his new role as the Saints’ starting center.

A positive take on QB Jameis Winston’s fit with the Buccaneers.

Where do things stand with Cardinals LB Daryl Washington’s reinstatement from suspension?

Crunching numbers comes up with some good news for the Rams.

49ers TE Vernon Davis is working to rebound in 2015.

Five Seahawks to watch as OTAs get going this week.

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Broncos have call to make on Antonio Smith this week

Antonio Smith, Derek Wolfe AP

The arrest and release of former Bears defensive end Ray McDonald became the big story in the NFL on Monday, but McDonald wasn’t the only defensive lineman to land in the news for the wrong reasons recently.

Last week, word broke of a child abuse investigation concerning Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith in Texas. The complaint against Smith was made last November and is reportedly “sexual in nature,” but no arrest has been made and no charges have been filed since the police sent the results of their investigation to the Fort Bend County district attorney in February.

The lack of charges or an arrest make Smith’s situation a different one from the one that led to McDonald’s departure from Chicago, but the Broncos still face a decision about Smith’s status. The team says it learned of the investigation last week and they’ll have to decide if they want to have Smith at this week’s organized team activities in light of the information they didn’t have when they signed Smith to a one-year, $2 million deal this offseason.

Denver could excuse Smith from the practices as they gather information about the allegations against Smith, something that would probably have already happened via a trip to the Commissioner Exempt list if Smith had been arrested or charged with a crime.

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Report: Ndamukong Suh to take part in Dolphins OTAs

Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh at a news conference on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Davie, Fla. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)

Typically when a team signs a guy to a $114 million contract, they expect him to show up for work.

But given Ndamukong Suh’s track record in Detroit, nothing’s given.

So the Dolphins have to be pleased that Suh is in South Florida to take part in OTAs which begin today, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.

Suh routinely skipped OTAs with the Lions, so he could work out on his own. But after the Dolphins paid him this offseason, they’re doubtless glad he’s showing up.

Suh came into town for the first day of offseason conditioning, long enough to get his picture taken anyway. But he hasn’t been an every day participant, such that he has to be.

Again, all these workouts are voluntary, and Suh’s sometimes attendance in Detroit didn’t keep him from becoming a top player. But it is nice to know that your money is buying something other than 16 Sundays.

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Arik Armstead calls criticism of his effort misguided

Arik Armstead AP

The 49ers liked defensive end Arik Armstead enough to make him the 17th overall pick in the draft, but there were some who were less impressed by Armstead heading into the draft.

Several draft pundits criticized Armstead for giving inconsistent effort while at Oregon, which suggested that the 6-7 former basketball player wasn’t willing to work hard enough to succeed on the football field. Armstead believes the label is an incorrect one, suggesting that those offering their opinion were expecting him to make plays as an individual that weren’t what the team asked him to do.

“Football-wise, it comes from people not noticing the little things,” Armstead said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “Me getting double-teamed or triple-teamed on certain plays. But those things help my team win games. I’ll sacrifice stats and things like that if I’m doing what my coaches want me to do. And if we’re winning doing that, I’m happy about it. I’ll deal with critics for that.”

Armstead says that he’s learned that you “can’t control everyone’s opinion,” but that his doubters will still provide motivation for him as he heads into his rookie year. If that motivation leads to anything but a high level of sustained effort, Armstead’s going to have a hard time thriving in the NFL.

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Owners need to create downside for taking chances on problem players

Risk Getty Images

It’s an idea that has been percolating for years. With the latest arrest of Bears defensive lineman Ray McDonald, its time finally has come.

NFL teams will continue to give talented players second (and third . . . and fourth) chances because NFL teams want to win. Seven years ago, the NFL implemented a deterrent to the practice of harboring problem players by instituting a convoluted system of fines on teams with multiple players suspended in a given year.

It hasn’t worked the way it should, and for good reason. Fines are a cost of doing business, especially when the ultimate goal of business is to compete for championships.

The only way to get the attention of teams inclined to roll the dice on the Ray McDonalds of the world will be to attach the loss of future draft picks when a player with a propensity for getting into trouble gets into trouble.

Last October, owners discussed the possibility of removing draft picks from teams with players who have multiple incidents under the Personal Conduct Policy.

What level of accountability should be expected of clubs?” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a memo to owners before the October session, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports reported at the time.  “Is the current Salary Remittance Program sufficient, or should additional measures be considered?”

They should be considered, and they should be implemented. It won’t be easy; the formula for taking away draft picks when players get into trouble needs to be clear, simple, and fair.

Ultimately, it’s the only thing that will cause a team that sees a first-round talent slide to round four to stop and think about the potential consequences for rolling the dice. If/when the worst-case scenario unfolds, the team won’t simply lose the lower pick invested in a player whose ability should have gotten him off the board much sooner. They’ll lose one or more picks in the future.

Given the weight teams attach to those draft picks, it’s the best (and probably only) way to get them either to do a better job of keeping out players who may find trouble — or to ensure that players with a checkered past won’t find trouble in their next place of employment.

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Dannell Ellerbe glad to be in a place “that knows how to win”

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 23:  Dannell Ellerbe #59 of the Miami Dolphins looks on during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Life Stadium on August 23, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe spent his holiday trying to jam the toothpaste back in the tube, after making some harsh remarks about his time with the Dolphins.

Ellerbe told his hometown paper, the Richmond County (N.C.) Daily Journal, that he was glad to be out of Miami.

“It’s guys that want to win. I can honestly say it’s a place that knows how to win,” Ellerbe said. “I’m glad I’m getting back to a place with a great fan base and sold-out games. I’m looking forward to it. It’s always awesome when you have a great backing, when you have sold-out games and the fans got your back and are 100 percent behind you.”

That played well in his new home, but obviously not his previous one, leading him to tweet out his clarification yesterday,

“I want to apologize for how the article reads, I was just trying to explain my excitement for playing back in the Dome,” he wrote, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I had fun in Miami and had some awesome fans on my side.”

Of course he did, though they might not have the same warm feelings toward him former Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland did, when he signed Ellerbe to a $35 million contract two seasons ago.

When Ireland took a job with the Saints this offseason, he was able to reel in Ellerbe as a throw-in to the Kenny Stills trade, with a substantial pay cut.

Now, Ellerbe again has a chance to be a significant part of a defense, to go along with an opportunity to make some new friends.

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Oakland mayor opposes spending tax dollars to keep the Raiders

New York Jets v Oakland Raiders Getty Images

If the Raiders are going to stay in Oakland, they’re going to have to find a way to do it without any money from the city taxpayers.

That’s the word from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who says she would not support spending any public funds on a new stadium.

Schaaf noted that taxpayers are already on the hook for millions of dollars a year in debt from previous renovations on the Oakland Coliseum. That debt won’t be paid off until 2026, and the city has no interest in spending more money on a new stadium while it’s still paying off the old stadium.

“That money we’re paying now is general-fund money we could spend on police, parks or libraries,” she said.

Whether the Raiders move to Los Angeles remains to be seen, but if they’re getting a new stadium somewhere, it won’t be in Oakland.

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Bears have to find a starter after cutting Ray McDonald

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09:  Jeremiah Ratliff #90 of the Chicago Bears looks on from the bench in the second quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bears had little choice but part ways with defensive lineman Ray McDonald yesterday, for reasons that had nothing to do with football.

But they also have a football problem to solve now.

McDonald was penciled into the starting lineup of the 3-4 defense which new coordinator Vic Fangio’s installing, and now with the draft over and the bulk of free agency finished, they have to find another.

According to John Mullin of CSNChicago.com, the two most likely on-roster options are veteran Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson.

The 33-year-old Ratliff doesn’t have the size of a traditional 3-4 nose tackle anyway, and he has the experience to fill multiple roles.

Ferguson, last year’s second-round pick, is also a player they think they can shift outside.

“We’ve talked about that a lot,” General Manager Ryan Pace said earlier this year. “We project [Ferguson] as really nose and end. He can be both for us. So we don’t have him set at one position right now. He can be a nose or an end. He has position flexibility there, too.”

The Bears signed former Washington lineman Jarvis Jenkins this offseason, but need to add depth there, which they should have done anyway when they signed a player standing at the plate with two strikes.

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Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram drops 20 pounds

Melvin Ingram Getty Images

San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram is in the best shape of his NFL career.

According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ingram has lost 20 pounds this offseason after committing to a change in diet.

Ingram now weighs 246 pounds – down from 266 last season – and has just 8 percent body fat.

“Being at 260 or 265, 266, wasn’t working, really,” Ingram said. “I felt quick but I kept getting injured. You’ve got to nitpick at your own body, your own self, your own game. … I felt like playing lighter would be a better thing for me. The lighter you are, the less stress it is on your body, the less stress it is on your knees, your hips, your joints or your ankles, your toes — everything.”

Injuries have hampered Ingram in his ability to live up to his status as a first-round pick. Ingram missed most of the 2013 season after suffering a torn ACL in the offseason and then missed eight weeks last season with a hamstring injury.

Ingram had his most productive season as a pass rusher last season for the Chargers despite the hamstring injury. He had four sacks in nine games played and also forced two fumbles.

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Sports book installs Seahawks-Colts as the most likely matchup for Super Bowl 50

Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson AP

We used to approach pro football odds posts with the tack of “Gee whiz, can you believe those wacky oddsmakers are accepting bets on (insert topic here)?”

Well, let’s cut it out. The surprise now is if something isn’t available to bet. We know it and you know it.

With this in mind, we check in to inform you that an online sports book is offering odds on a wide range of matchups — and we mean wide — for Super Bowl 50.

Sportsbook.ag has installed a Seahawks-Colts NFL title game as the favorite at 15-1, with Seahawks-Patriots and Colts-Packers next at 18-1. Packers-Patriots is 20-1, with Seahawks-Broncos 22-1.

What are the longest-priced Super Bowl 50 matchups? Glad you asked. Here they are:

Bears-Titans: 3,000-1.

Washington-Oakland: 3,000-1.

Buccaneers-Jaguars: 3,300-1.

Washington-Jaguars: 4,000-1.

Buccaneers-Titans: 5,000-1.

Washington-Titans: 6,000-1.

Sports books rarely offer odds in quadruple digits, which would suggest there isn’t a lot of fear about any of the real long shot matchups cashing. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see them on the board, right there for the gamblers, the dreamers and the diehards to take their shots.

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CBA doesn’t require Brady hearing to start within 10 days after appeal

Brady Getty Images

Some are reporting that the appeal of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension won’t be heard before Wednesday. That is correct.

Some are suggesting that Wednesday is the deadline for starting the appeal hearing. That is not correct.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL Players Association interprets the operative language of Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to require only that a date for the appeal hearing be set within 10 days after the appeal is filed.

The rule is a bit clunky. “Appeal hearings under Section 1(a) will be scheduled to commence within ten (10) days following receipt of the notice of appeal,” Article 46, Section 2(f)(i) provides. A fair reading of the awkward terms of the standard could be that the hearing itself must commence within 10 days after the appeal is filed. But if the union doesn’t interpret it that way, it’s not an issue.

And in this case the fact that the hearing won’t start by Wednesday isn’t an issue.

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Report: Eric Weddle won’t attend OTAs

Denver Broncos vs the San Diego Chargers Getty Images

One of the NFL’s most highly regarded safeties will reportedly not be present for his club’s organized team practice activities this week.

San Diego’s Eric Weddle will not take part in the voluntary workouts, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported Monday.

A three-time Pro Bowler, the 30-year-old Weddle is in the final year of his contract. He is seeking a new deal.

The Chargers’ OTAs run from Tuesday through Thursday this week as well as June 1-3 and June 8-11. The club’s mandatory offseason minicamp is June 16-June 18. Weddle would be subject to fines if he did not attend the minicamp, but there are no penalties for skipping OTAs.

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Bears release Ray McDonald

McDonald Getty Images

Holiday, schmoliday.

With the NFL taking a rare day off to celebrate Memorial Day, the Chicago Bears opted to transact some swift business in the immediate aftermath of the latest arrest of defensive lineman Ray McDonald.

The team has announced that McDonald has been released.

“We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear,” General Manager Ryan Pace said in team-issued release. “He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him.”

On one hand, McDonald is innocent until proven guilty, and it’s possible he didn’t do anything wrong. On the other hand, how many time can a guy be falsely accused before the question becomes why does he keep putting himself in the position to be accused falsely? With McDonald fully aware of the consequences of any misstep, he needed to do everything in his power to avoid any type of claim. He failed.

McDonald once again becomes a free agent, but it’s unlikely that anyone will take a chance on him unless and until he’s exonerated from the latest accusation of domestic violence and child endangerment. Even then, it’s possible that McDonald won’t get another second chance.

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