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Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Chicago Bears

Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall AP

The 2013 Bears scored the second-most points in franchise history (445). Only the 1985 Bears tallied more in regular season play, putting up 456 in their bulldozing of all non-Dan Marino-led competition in a 15-1 season.

But for all of their skill on offense, the 2013 Bears were overmatched on defense, surrendering 478 points, 57 points more than any previous Chicago club had given up.

Long before the Packers’ Randall Cobb sprinted through the Chicago secondary en route to the division-clinching touchdown in the regular season finale, the Bears’ defense was broken. Chicago surrendered at least 28 points in half of its games, including 54 to Philadelphia, 45 to Washington, 42 to St. Louis and 40 to Detroit. No team allowed more yards per play than the Bears, and no team was worse against the run.

In the offseason, the Bears set out to bolster that “D,” signing two of the best available defensive ends (Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen) and drafting defensive players with four of their first five picks. On offense, the Bears tried to build continuity. They re-committed to quarterback Jay Cutler, signing him to a seven-year contract worth up to $126.7 million in January. In May, they signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a four-year deal worth as much as $40 million.

These were logical moves for Chicago. For once, it was the offense didn’t need much work. Now, the focus turns to whether the defense can provide more resistance in head coach Marc Trestman’s second season on the job.

Strengths.

The Bears’ 2014 offense could be one of the best the franchise has ever fielded. Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs in 2013) and fellow starting wideout Alshon Jeffery (89-1,421-7) were Pro Bowlers a season ago, as were tailback Matt Forte (1,933 combined rushing-receiving yards) and right guard Kyle Long.

Cutler — now in sixth season in Chicago — appears to have taken well to Trestman’s scheme. The strong-armed Cutler connected on 63.1 percent of his throws a season ago, his best completion percentage in six years. He’s quite capable of being the first Bears quarterback to make a Pro Bowl since Jim McMahon 29 years ago.

If Cutler gets an all-star nod, he’ll be aided by strength of his pass catching corps. Marshall and Jeffery form an outstanding tandem. Forte is one of the game’s best receivers out of the backfield. Tight end Martellus Bennett is solid, too.

In Trestman’s inaugural campaign, the Bears’ passing attempts rose nearly 20 percent, but total sacks were down more than 30 percent. Moreover, the club’s completion percentage was up more than five percent. In short, the 2013 Bears threw it more and threw it better — and their quarterbacks hit the ground less. That’s testament to Trestman’s scheme, but it also reflects well on the offensive line, which the club overhauled last year, drafting Long and right tackle Jordan Mills and signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson.

The Bears can only hope their offseason D-line investment will pay similar dividends. And Allen, Houston and ex-Lions end Willie Young should strengthen a defense that got just 20 sacks from its front four a season ago.

Finally, in Robbie Gould, the Bears have one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers. He hit 26-of-29 field goals in 2013, including 9-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond.

Weaknesses.

Even with an upgraded defensive line, the Bears’ defense looms a major concern. The top player in the LB corps, Lance Briggs, will be 34 in November. Shea McClellin, the Bears’ 2012 first-round pick, could get reps at strong-side and middle linebacker in an attempt to jump-start his career. More is also needed from second-year pro Jon Bostic, whether at middle or outside linebacker.

The Bears’ secondary also looks shaky. Per Pro Football Focus grades, the club had two of the four worst starting safeties in 2013 (SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte). Wright departed in free agency, and Conte comes off shoulder surgery. The Bears added four veterans and a draft pick at safety, which at least gives them some options as they try to craft a workable solution on the back end.

The Bears’ cornerback play should also be monitored. The club added some much-needed youth and depth in the draft, taking Kyle Fuller in Round One. Fuller, veterans Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman figure as the top three corners. If the 33-year-old Tillman stays healthy and returns to form, and if Fuller is a quick study, the Bears should be just fine at this key position. But if Tillman misses time, and if Fuller isn’t quite ready for prime time, the Bears could have a problem.

The worries don’t stop there. The Bears’ special teams are quite unsettled entering training camp. The club will have a new punter, holder, long-snapper, punt returner and kickoff returner. And backup quarterback could be a trouble spot after the departure of Josh McCown. Veterans Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer and sixth-round rookie David Fales will vie to back up Cutler. Clausen and Palmer have generally struggled against NFL competition, but Trestman is masterful with quarterbacks.

Changes.

The defensive depth chart got a makeover. The Bears released defensive end Julius Peppers and didn’t bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, defensive end Corey Wootton or linebacker James Anderson. The Bears’ most expensive free agent signings — Houston and Allen — are defensive ends, a nod to the premium that ready-made pass rushers command. To bolster the defensive tackle depth, the Bears turned to the draft, selecting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds, respectively.

The Bears took a value shopping approach at safety. Free agent additions Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson are all slated to make less than $1 million in salary this season, per NFLPA records.

On offense, the changes were reserved to backup spots. McCown left to be the Buccaneers’ starter, while tailback Michael Bush and Earl Bennett were released. Rookie Ka’Deem Carey could help replace Bush, while former Washington wideout Josh Morgan was signed to bolster the WR depth.

The Bears underwent several major shakeups in the kicking game. Long-time star returner Devin Hester signed with Atlanta. Punter Adam Podlesh was released, and the club spent a draft pick on a potential replacement (Pat O’Donnell, Round Six). Then, late in the offseason, 16-year long-snapper Patrick Mannelly retired, adding another layer of uncertainty to the special teams.

Camp battles.

Here are the positions and players to watch:

— Safety: Ex-Giant Mundy might have the edge at strong safety, but Wilson is a wild card if he has something left after missing the 2013 season with an Achilles injury. Rookie Vereen is the biggest threat to the incumbent Conte at free safety.

— Cornerback: The progress of Fuller must be monitored. There are plenty of snaps to be had in this secondary if he’s up to it.

— Defensive tackle: Can Ferguson or Sutton push starters Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea? If not, can the rookies at least prove capable rotation players?

— Linebacker: Will Bostic, McClellin and second-year outside linebacker Khaseem Greene step up their play? The Bears didn’t draft a linebacker and added only veteran backup Jordan Senn in free agency.

— Wide receiver: Morgan and second-year pro Marquess Wilson appear the favorites to replace Bennett as the third receiver.

— Running back: Carey and second-year pro Michael Ford will compete for the little work that won’t go to Forte, a true three-down back.

— Quarterback: Palmer, Clausen and Fales will compete for no more than two reserve roles. The question is, which of this trio most quickly applies Trestman’s lessons?

— Returner: Eric Weems is the most experienced option in the competition to return kickoffs and punts.

— Punter: O’Donnell will try to hold off veteran Tress Way.

— Long-snapper: First-year pro Brandon Hartson and CFL veteran Chad Rempel will battle it out.

Prospects.

The Bears must hang tough early. Six of their first nine games are on the road, including trips to visit the 49ers (Week Two), Falcons (Week Six), Patriots (Week Eight) and Packers (Week 10).

If Chicago can get through that nine-pack in decent order, there’s a real chance to close with gusto. From November 16 through December 21, the Bears play five home games and take just one road trip — Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears end their season at Minnesota — no picnic, yes, but not the worst draw ever.

It all looks fairly cut-and-dried with the Bears. If their defense is better, and if their offense hums along, they are serious contenders for a playoff spot. But if the defense remains a sieve, and if the offense regresses, they are vulnerable.

The Bears aren’t the youngest of teams. Tillman and Briggs don’t have many NFL years left. Cutler and Marshall aren’t kids, either, and Forte is approaching 2,000 career touches. There ought to be a real sense of urgency to get into the playoffs with an offense this talented. As Bears observers with any sense of history would tell you, scoring points traditionally hasn’t been a Chicago strength.

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Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion visits the Seahawks

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Now that the criminal charges against him are gone, Letroy Guion is looking for a way to replace the change which he hasn’t recovered yet.

And that might mean a change of address.

Via Adam, Caplan of ESPN, Guion visited the Seahawks yesterday. There’s still some interest from the Packers, but it’s interesting that his first contact was from the Northwest.

The Seahawks have been active looking for depth on the defensive line this offseason, and Guion would give them an opportunity to get younger and better in the middle.

Guion was arrested in February in Florida on gun and drug charges, but those went away as a first time offender, after he agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.

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Chad Greenway takes pay cut to stay with the Vikings

Chad Greenway, Nate Triplett AP

We noted early this month that the Vikings wanted to keep Chad Greenway, but didn’t want to pay him the $7 million he was owed on his contract.

Problem solved.

Greenway has taken a pay cut that will give Minnesota more than $3.2 million in salary cap relief, Field Yates of ESPN reports. Greenway’s new base salary is $3.4 million. He has $1 million guaranteed this year and can get $600,000 in incentives.

The Vikings drafted Greenway in the first round in 2006 and he’s spent his entire career in Minnesota, and both sides want Greenway to finish his career in Minnesota. But it’s also clear that both sides realize that at age 32 and coming off an injury-plagued season, Greenway isn’t the same player he was when he signed his previous contract. Now he’s going to be making a salary more commensurate with where he is, late in his career.

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Saturday morning one-liners

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Former Patriots S Rodney Harrison thinks the team made the right move in letting CB Darrelle Revis walk away.

Jets owner Woody Johnson sold a Manhattan apartment for $77.5 million.

Bills G.M. Doug Whaley would like to re-sign LB Brandon Spikes.

A timely text message from former Dolphins G.M. Jeff Ireland to New Orleans coach Sean Payton resulted in Ireland getting a new job.

Pittsburgh is actively trying to add more hotels in the hopes of hosting a Super Bowl.

In advance of a potential full-time move to Cleveland, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has put his Knoxville home on the market.

Bengals owner Mike Brown supports ditching the extra point and making everybody go for two.

Ravens LB Courtney Upshaw could fill the pass-rush void created by the departure of Pernell McPhee.

Texans owner Bob McNair seems to think WR Andre Johnson has lost a step.

A new Jaguars hat was supposed to show the Jacksonville skyline under the bill, but it wasn’t Jacksonville.

Titans assistant head coach/defense Dick LeBeau briefly considered calling it a career after leaving the Steelers.

The Colts will work out Alabama S Nick Perry on Monday.

Chiefs G.M. John Dorsey said S Eric Berry is in good spirits as he continues his cancer fight.

Chargers physician Christopher Wahl has resigned, citing family reasons and the potential relocation of the franchise.

Broncos WR Cody Latimer will join Peyton Manning for workouts next week in the hopes of making a leap in 2015.

DL C.J. Wilson is happy to be staying with the Raiders.

Cowboys DT Amobi Okoye has listed a Katy, Texas mansion for $2.1 million.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie attended Thursday’s public viewing for Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik.

Itsaknockout, a horse owned by Giants V.P. of player personnel Chris Mara, could end up in the Kentucky Derby.

Washington’s home field will host Argentina and El Salvador on Saturday in a soccer match.

The Bears could be looking to load up on pass rushers.

A Wisconsin man faces charges that the stole $46,000 from local businesses by failing to deliver on promises of Packers tickets.

Daktronics will install 18 high-definition LED video displays in the new Vikings stadium.

Lions DE Ziggy Ansah will benefit from the presence of DT Haloti Ngata.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has opened the door on a possible return from QB Matt Schaub, who was traded from Atlanta eight years ago.

After spending 2014 on the practice squad, Panthers WR Stephen Hill could be ready to make a real contribution this year.

Could the Buccaneers be making a Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf decision which knowing whether they’ll be taking Manning or Leaf?

Saints RB Mark Ingram is feeling “extremely blessed.”

The 49ers’ new stadium will be hosting Wrestlemania on Sunday night.

Free-agent DT Letroy Guion visited the Seahawks on Friday.

The workout bonus for Cardinals NT Alameda Ta’amu is tied to making weight.

A Rams scout talks about scouting.

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Arizona neurologist praises NFL’s new injury timeout rule

Craig Ochoa AP

Any time a doctor who works for or near the NFL praises an NFL initiative, there’s a reasonable cause for skepticism.

But in the case of the league’s recently adopted injury timeout rule, it’s hard to find much room for argument.

Via Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com, one of the league’s independent sideline neurologists had nothing but good to say about the policy.

“In my opinion, this is the biggest thing for sports medicine that has come out,” said Dr. Javier Cardenas, who is on the NFL head, neck and spine committee. “Where else do you have a medical provider that actually is calling a timeout in any other sport? None. None. Huge for sports medicine.”

Cardenas works the sidelines at Cardinals games, so he has ringside seats for what’s happening on the field. But under the new rule, it’s a certified athletic trainer (ATC spotter) upstairs) who can make the call to stop the game if a player appears disoriented (such as Julian Edelman late in the Super Bowl).

That’s when doctors such as Cardenas can step in.

Other than a natural curiosity as to whether the spotter will be as quick on the trigger when a star player or a quarterback is hurt, there’s a bright line distinction here. Unlike when one of the league’s own concussion specialists said reports of CTE in football players was “over-exaggerated,” Cardenas’ point was clear.

The only result of this new rule is positive.

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Winston first, Williams second, and then the draft is wide open

Jameis Winston AP

Everyone thinks the Buccaneers will take Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft. Most people think the Titans will take Leonard Williams with the second pick. And after that? No one knows.

Taking a look at a total of 10 mock drafts at Rotoworld, NFL.com and CBS, the general consensus is that there is no consensus beyond the Top 2 picks. Here are a few observations:

1. Everyone thinks Jameis Winston is going first. It’s not exactly breaking news at this point that the Buccaneers are expected to take Winston with the first overall pick in the draft. All 10 mock drafts had Winston going first.

2. Almost everyone thinks Leonard Williams is going second. One mock draft has Marcus Mariota going to Tennessee with the second overall pick. Eight of the other nine mock drafts had Williams, the USC defensive lineman, going No. 2. And the other mock draft that didn’t have Williams going second had Nebraska’s Randy Gregory going second — and that comes with an asterisk, because that mock draft came out before the news broke that Gregory had failed a marijuana test at the Combine, which may hurt his draft stock.

3. If Mariota doesn’t go second, no one knows where he’s going. Various mock drafts have him going third, sixth, seventh, 10th, 12th and 13th. Predicting where Mariota will land this year may prove as hard as predicting where Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater would land last year.

4. Dante Fowler looks like a very high pick. Most mock drafts have Fowler, the Florida outside linebacker, going third overall to Jacksonville. Everyone has Fowler going in the Top 8.

5. The Raiders will draft Kevin White or Amari Cooper. The biggest debate in this year’s draft may be about whether the best wide receiver is West Virginia’s White or Alabama’s Cooper. There seems to be little doubt that Oakland will draft one of them. Seven mock drafts have White going fourth overall to the Raiders, and the other three have Cooper going fourth overall to the Raiders.

6. Vic Beasley is all over the map. Beasley, the Clemson pass rusher, could go No. 3 to Jacksonville, No. 22 to Pittsburgh, or anywhere in between, depending on whom you believe.

7. Iowa’s Brandon Scherff is probably the top offensive lineman. Six of the mock drafts have Scherff as the first lineman off the board, but there’s widespread disagreement about how high he’ll go: Perhaps as high as No. 5, but there may also not be any offensive linemen in the Top 10.

8. At least one running back is going in the first round. The first-round running back once looked like an endangered species, but this year everyone agrees that either Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley, or both, will be a first-round pick.

9. No one really knows anything. A month away is still far too early to predict the draft with any degree of accuracy. All it takes is one team early in the draft to surprise us, and the domino effect will completely reshape the rest of the first round. And if that surprise early on is the Buccaneers taking someone other than Winston, you can tear up every mock draft right then and there.

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Cowboys won’t spend a lot to bring back Rolando McClain

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Free agent linebacker Rolando McClain remains unsigned, and from all indications, if he’s going to return to Dallas it will be for a low-cost, low-risk contract.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Cowboys and McClain have “a drastically different” number in mind when it comes to how much McClain should be paid. In other words, the Cowboys are willing to McClain back only if he’s willing to play for something close to the $700,000 they paid him last year.

McClain, however, surely thinks he’s worth a lot more than that. He started 12 games last year and was a big part of the reason the Cowboys’ defense significantly improved.

There have long been questions about McClain’s off-field activities. He’s been arrested multiple times, walked away from football for a year in 2013, and will be playing for free for the first four games of this season because of league discipline for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. So it’s easy to see why the Cowboys don’t want to devote a lot of money to him.

It’s also easy to see why no other team would want to devote a lot of money to him. Unless McClain is willing to reduce his contract demands, he may be out of work a while.

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Jones thinks a team or two is headed to L.A.

George Straight 2014 The Cowboy Rides Away Tour Press Conference Getty Images

Collectively, the NFL’s owners have yet to decide whether a franchise will relocate to Los Angeles.  Individually, more and more of them have expressed a belief that it’s going to happen.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently has joined the growing chorus of owners that see the NFL back in L.A.

“It does,” Jones said on PFT Live regarding the notion that it looks like a team or two will be returning to Los Angeles in 2016.  “[Chargers owner] Dean Spanos is outstanding, [Raiders owner] Mark Davis has got a legacy associated with Los Angeles, the Raiders, and of course [Rams owner] Stan Kroenke is one of the top owners we have in the room.  They’re doers, their teams are in a position that can do it.

“It’s going to mean a huge risk and a huge commitment of dollars to whoever does it,” Jones added.  “That will assure us that they’ll kill themselves making this a success.  Los Angeles is big to the NFL, it’s bigger than your normal consideration.  Los Angeles just has a ‘wow’ factor that we’ve got to do it right.  And that’s my biggest concern.  All of these guys are capable, they’ve got teams that the fans of Los Angeles are familiar with in all cases; two that have been in Los Angeles and one that’s been right down the road. So this is a good situation I think.”

What about the looming possibility that a team like the Raiders will end up right down the road from the Cowboys, in San Antonio?

“Well if they go there, we have a plain suburb called Plano, Texas right outside of Dallas. There’s a higher percentage of Cowboy fans in San Antonio than there is in Plano; 97 percent.  So it’s a great hotbed for us down there, we do a lot of things down there, we train down there.  So if they go down there they’ll be surrounded with a lot of Cowboy fans and that’s good, that’s good.  The main things I’m interested in is the fans in San Antonio getting all the football they deserve to get.”

Regardless, fans in L.A. will be getting plenty of football.  Whether they deserve it depends on how many of them show up to experience it.

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Pagano plans to coach Colts for “many years to come”

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Colts coach Chuck Pagano reportedly won’t be getting a new contract before the final season of his initial four-year deal.  But that doesn’t have Pagano thinking about working for any other team.

Be where your feet are,” Pagano said in a statement issued Friday night, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.  “What do I mean?  Cancer taught me to be thankful for today.  All I’m concentrating on is today.  Then tomorrow.  My focus right now is on the draft, bringing in players that can help us continue to grow, get better, and continue to ‘Build the Monster.’  I look forward to coaching the Colts this season and for many years to come.”

To summarize, Pagano isn’t thinking about the future but he plans to remain with the Colts well into the future.  Whether owner Jim Irsay feels that way after the next football season ends remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen whether Irsay issues a statement of his own.  Or says something about the situation on Twitter.  Using what may or may not be song lyrics.

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NFL found 25 failures to remove players from 2012 through 2014

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Earlier this week, the NFL gave the ATC spotter the power to stop the game action and insist on the removal of a player in distress.  It gives the spotter unprecedented authority, but it definitely was needed.

According to the league office, film study revealed 25 occasions in the last three seasons during which players in distress were not immediately removed from play.  (In a recent appearance on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent inadvertently said that the 25 plays came entirely from 2014.)

Vincent specifically confirmed that Patriots receiver Julian Edelman should have been removed from play for further evaluation after taking a blow to the head in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX.  It nevertheless remains to be seen whether the ATC spotter will stop the action and remove a key player during crunch time of a postseason game.

NBC Sports Medicine Analyst Mike Ryan, a long-time NFL athletic trainer, explained during Friday’s PFT Live that it shouldn’t be an issue, because the spotter should at all times have player health and safety as the paramount concern.  Still, if the spotter removes, for example, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at a critical moment of the Super Bowl and Brady ends up being fine, the spotter will need to be ready to withstand the criticism that necessarily will come from the decision to send Brady to the sideline for at least one snap.

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49ers waive CB Cameron Fuller

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The 49ers will have a different look at cornerback entering 2015.

This extends even to the reserve ranks.

San Francisco announced Friday it had waived second-year corner Cameron Fuller. The 24-yar-old Fuller joined the 49ers’s practice squad in mid-December and was on the active roster for the regular season finale vs. Arizona.

Two of the 49ers’s key cornerbacks of a season ago — Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver — have departed in free agency. While the club did add Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright in free agency, the position’s depth looms a concern as the 2015 NFL Draft nears.

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Bears owner at first said no to Ray McDonald, then changed his mind

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Bears owner George McCaskey says that when General Manager Ryan Pace first approached him about signing Ray McDonald, McCaskey said no. Then McDonald changed McCaskey’s mind.

McCaskey said that he initially thought McDonald, who was accused of both domestic violence and sexual assault last year, should not be brought to Chicago. But McDonald, who was not charged in connection with either accusation, reached out to McCaskey personally and convinced him that the Bears should take a chance on him.

“Ryan had asked me for permission to pursue him, and we had a file on him with the information that we had gathered,” McCaskey said. “I looked at the file and came back and said no. So Ryan said, ‘Fine, we’ll move onto the next guy.’ And then Ray . . . asked if I would be willing to meet with him and I said yes. The fact that he proposed that idea, I gave him a lot of credit for. He was very candid, very forthright. It was a difficult conversation. It was long. It took a lot out of me and I think it took a lot out of him. After that conversation, I told Ryan that he had our permission.”

So what did McDonald say to McCaskey to change his mind?

“He talked about these incidents which have become public knowledge and walked me through each one,” McCaskey said. “I don’t want to get too much into the particulars. I just want to give you a sense of the conversation. I was impressed with how sincere he was and how he motivated he is. He understands I think that he could have well been facing the end of his football career, and he loves football and he wants that career to continue. So I was impressed with his motivation.”

Now the question is whether McDonald can stay out of trouble in Chicago, or whether the Bears will have egg on their faces for giving McDonald another chance.

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Jets sending six to work out Mariota

Playoff Championship Ohio St Oregon Football AP

Back from Arizona after the league meetings, the Jets will now be heading west for a workout with quarterback Marcus Mariota.  And they may need a bigger plane to get there.

Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that six key decision makers will be heading to Oregon to work out Mariota, including G.M. Mike Maccagnan, coach Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo, director of college scouting Rex Hogan, and director of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger.

The Jets currently sit at No. 6 in round one, and there’s a chance Mariota will slide to them.  There’s also a chance the Jets will become sufficiently enthralled with Mariota to trade up with the team bearing the nickname the Jets once had:  The Titans.

Three years ago, Washington gave up the No. 6 pick, two additional first-round picks, and a second round pick to jump to No. 2, where they selected quarterback Robert Griffin III.

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Titans bring back CB Brandon Harris

Brandon Harris, T.Y. Hilton AP

The Titans have re-signed a secondary reserve, reaching a one-year deal with cornerback Brandon Harris, the club said Friday.

Harris (5-10, 189) made 11 tackles in 11 games with Tennessee in 2014. A Miami (Fla.) product, Harris had played the previous three seasons with Houston, which took him in Round Two in 2011. Overall, Harris has recorded 48 tackles and 10 passes defensed in regular season play.

Harris will again vie for a backup role with the Titans, who are likely to start Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty at the cornerback spots next season. One factor working in Harris’s favor in the near future? He is just 25 years old, and his combination of experience and relative youth would enhance his value were he to have a breakout season at some point.

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Caldwell says things “didn’t work out” with Reggie Bush

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Reggie Bush led the Lions in rushing in 2013, but they cut Bush before free agency.  At the league meetings in Arizona, coach Jim Caldwell didn’t have much to say about why Bush is no longer in Detroit.

“I think oftentimes you’ll find that there are going to be some adjustments here and there that you make that when you look at your team and make a determination on your personnel, what you think is best,” Caldwell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.  “Sometimes you got to let some guys go, and sometimes you try to make certain you keep certain guys if you can.  But it’s not always the case, and in that particular case it didn’t work out.  So we look to do other things.”

Those “other things” don’t mean finding another running back.  Instead, Bush’s absence will mean more opportunities for Joique Bell and Theo Riddick.

“I think [Riddick is] going to be one of those guys that’s going to force us to get him that ball a little bit more because I think you’re really going to see him come,” Caldwell said.

While the Lions decided to move on from Bush, the 49ers stepped in with a bottom-of-the-market contract but major expectations that he’ll be an every down back, as they search for a Frank Gore replacement.

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Panthers claim Jonathan Martin off waivers from 49ers

Jonathan Martin AP

The Panthers just added some more offensive line depth, and have now employed both players offended by Richie Incognito.

The Panthers announced they claimed tackle Jonathan Martin off waivers from the 49ers, a day after he was cut loose there.

Martin has shown at times to have NFL talent, though the abuse he took in Miami made some question how he’d fit into a locker room in the future. The 49ers, with his old college coach Jim Harbaugh, were a good place for him to reestablish himself.

The Panthers could use all the tackle depth they can get their hands on, so Martin has an opportunity for playing time. For a team that opened last year with Byron Bell and a converted defensive tackle (Nate Chandler) as their starting tackles, they’ve now added two cheap upgrades in Michael Oher and Martin.

“Our goal is to build the strongest roster possible and add competition at every position,” Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement from the team. “Jonathan brings quality experience to our offensive line, having started 32 games in his career at both tackle spots.”

The Panthers had “Player A” from the Ted Wells report, guard Andrew McDonaldin camp last summer.

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