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Lawyer says Kluwe lawsuit is coming Wednesday

SeinfeldTrial

If you missed the Friday night skirmish between the Vikings and former punter Chris Kluwe, you’re in luck.  Or perhaps not in luck.

The fight will continue during the current work week, with Kluwe filing a lawsuit in Minnesota state court.  Lawyer Clayton Halunen tells Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the suit will be filed in Hennepin County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

According to Halunen, Kluwe will seek damages for wrongful discharge and defamation of character.  Kluwe has said that all money awarded by a jury will be awarded to LGBT groups.  (That may or may not apply to Halunen’s fee — especially if he took the case on a 33-percent contingency.)

While the basis for a claim of defamation isn’t apparent at this point, the wrongful discharge claim will arise from allegations that the Vikings cut Kluwe because of his advocacy for gay rights.  A 29-page memo analyzing an independent investigation regarding Kluwe’s allegations concludes that he was fired at least in part for the distraction caused by his advocacy, a very fine line that, when coupled with the contents of hundreds of pages of raw materials generated by the investigation, could make it easier for Kluwe to prevail.

At a minimum, the hair-splitting defense to the decision to fire Kluwe opens the door for a Seinfeld-trial parade of evidence of all the distractions players and coaches have created over the years (Love Boat, anyone?) without being fired.

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Kevin Johnson could be the first cornerback taken

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Our first (perhaps only) mock draft of the year had Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going 18th overall to the Chiefs, two spots below cornerback Trae Waynes, to the Texans.  The order of their depature from the draft board ultimately could be flipped.

With the draft four days away, we’re told that multiple teams have Johnson ahead of Waynes.  If one of those teams ends up on the clock and decides to take a corner, Johnson will go before Waynes.

Johnson, who entered college at a mere 155 pounds, has steadily added weight.  Reaching 175 last year, Johnson currently spins the dial to 188.

That’s nearly twice what he weighed in adolescence.

“I had ability, I was just a late bloomer,” Johnson has said.  “My freshman year of high school, I was five feet tall and weighed 96 pounds.  So I’m just growing every day.  I’m still growing now.”

His confidence has grown, too.

“I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Johnson said.  “I think I’m a lockdown cornerback.”

Regardless of whether he’s the best cornerback in the draft, he could be the first one taken on Thursday night.

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Unnamed personnel executive: Class of 2015 has “no draftable kickers”

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There have been multiple kickers selected in each of the last three drafts.

However, there’s some feeling that not a single kicker merits being selected in the upcoming draft, which starts Thursday in Chicago.

In a story published Sunday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an unnamed personnel executive panned the kickers in the Class of 2015.

“There’s no draftable kickers,” the executive said, according to the Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn. “The combine was probably the worst display of kicking talent I’ve ever seen. It was, like, ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t develop a kicker?’ ”

In his 2015 NFL Draft Preview, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki gave six kickers draftable grades, with Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton getting the highest mark. However, only Manton received a grade equating to a “fair chance to earn a roster spot,” with the other five kickers graded as “capable of battling for a roster spot.”

It’s uncommon to have a draft without a kicker selected. The last was in 2010, which snapped an 11-year streak of at least one kicker drafted per spring.

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PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Amari Cooper’s draft position: 4.5

Amari Cooper AP

Leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, we’ll put on our oddsmaking hats and Ace Rothstein glasses and set one proposition “bet” per day for PFT Planet to ponder. At the conclusion of the draft, we’ll see how PFT Planet did on the wagers, which are for entertainment purposes only.

Here’s the second in our series of five draft-related props:

PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper’s draft position in Round One: 4.5.

Cooper is certain to be one of the top receivers taken on Thursday. Though quite unlikely to be the No. 1 overall pick, Cooper could seemingly appeal to a variety of other clubs selecting early, including Tennessee at No. 2 or Oakland at No. 4. In fact, Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris has the Raiders taking Cooper in his latest mock.

However, Cooper could also fit with teams after Oakland in the draft order, with Washington (No. 5), the Jets (No. 6) and Bears (No. 7) all logical landing spots.

So where does Amari Cooper land in Round One? The poll is open, as are the comments.

Previous draft props

PFT Draft Prop No. 1: Over-Under on first-round RBs: 2.5

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Kluwe says Peterson hasn’t handled his situation well

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One of Adrian Peterson’s always-outspoken former teammates says that Peterson needs to do a better job of handling his personal issues and his pending return to the NFL.

Chris Kluwe, the former Vikings punter who played with Peterson for six seasons, believes that Peterson should show public remorse for abusing his son.

“Obviously, AP can still play, but I think he needs to show that he understands he did something wrong and that he wants to work to change that, which I don’t know that he’s really shown yet,” Kluwe told the Pioneer Press.

One thing that Kluwe and Peterson have in common is that they’ve both clashed with the Vikings’ front office. But Kluwe seems to think Peterson is the one who bears most of the blame for his ongoing dispute with the Vikings.

“[Peterson] also feels that he’s been treated kind of unfairly, which I can see from a player’s perspective,” Kluwe said. “You think that the organization has your back. You think that these people have your back and then you get hung out to dry. I think there’s blame to go around on both sides, but AP hasn’t handled it particularly well. He’s probably valid in thinking he didn’t get some of the support that he thought he was going to get, but he’s the one who made the mistakes and he’s the one who needs to own up to it.”

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Colts take pride in scouring globe for unconventional players

Ryan Grigson AP

Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson loves to find unconventional players , or at least players with unconventional backgrounds.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise last week when he worked out a 380-pound Australian shot-putter.

It’s kind of the norm for a G.M. who has signed four CFL players, two former college basketball players and a Kenyan rugby player as he looks to bolster a roster headed by the best young quarterback in the game.

If you have elite athletic traits, you can do this,” Grigson told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. “This isn’t one of those specialized sports, like golf. If you have a level of toughness and you can move and you have instincts, if you have those at an elite level, you’re going to get a chance.”

Of course, the pursuit of bottom-of-the-roster talent is fine, as the presence of Andrew Luck gives them a little latitude. And there are other G.M.s who like to give chances to athletes who happen to not be football players, such as Trent Baalke’s attempted development of English discus thrower Lawrence Okoye.

But Grigson takes pride in searching the globe for talent, and they even have a scout dedicated to the strange and unusual (special projects scout Jon Shaw).

Finding a diamond in the rough is the ultimate prize — any scout can point to Luck and say “That guy is good at football.”

Then again, Grigson has turned his last two first-round picks into running back Trent Richardson and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner, neither of whom were active for the Colts’ latest playoff loss.

So as fun as finding unconventional players might be, a better effort toward the conventional ones might help the Colts more.

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Mike Tannenbaum: No decisions on Ryan Tannehill option for 2016

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We’re a week away from the deadline for teams to decide whether or not to exercise their options for the fifth year of their 2012 first-round pick’s contracts and several teams are still weighing their decisions.

The Dolphins say that they are one of them. The team has shown plenty of faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill and has been engaged in conversations with him about a long-term agreement, which would seem to make the call to pick up his option an easy one. At a press conference on Friday, though, executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said that no call has been made about the $16 million option for 2016.

“Look, Ryan is here, we’re excited he is here, we haven’t made any decisions yet,” Tannenbaum said. “We know when the deadline is and we’ll make those decisions when we get there. Obviously one of the other axioms you’d like to use this time of year is the tape sets the floor and the character sets the ceiling, and for all of the resources Mr. Ross gives us to put into a player, you want to make sure that player is taking all of those resources and Ryan is just a great example of that.”

There’s not much downside to picking up the option on Tannehill’s contract. It’s guaranteed against injury only, so the Dolphins could change course if things go south on the field next season, and does nothing to limit their ability to reach a longer deal with the quarterback. Given those conditions (and barring an extension in the next few days), it would be a surprise if May 3 passes without the option being exercised.

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Chris Long could be heading into his last year in St. Louis

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No NFL team has invested more resources in its defensive line than the Rams. But the centerpiece of that defensive line may be heading into his last season in St. Louis.

Chris Long, the Rams’ 2008 first-round draft pick who has developed into a very good defensive end, could be looking at a make-or-break year in 2015. Nick Wagoner of ESPN writes that unless Long has a big year in 2015, the Rams may decide he’s not worth the money and release him in 2016.

The money the Rams have invested in Long is substantial: Last year he counted $12.9 million against their cap despite playing in just six games and finishing the season with a grand total of one sack. This year his cap hit is $12.5 million, and next year his cap hit is $14.25 million. If Long isn’t playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2016, that $14.25 million would be hard to justify in 2016.

The Rams have an expensive defensive end on the other side of the line in Robert Quinn, and they’ve spent first-round picks on defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. On top of that, last month they signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Add it all up, and the Rams have invested a lot in the defensive line.

Eventually, teams that invest that much in one position group find that they have to allocate some of their resources elsewhere. Next year may be the time that the Rams decide they need to spend on other positions, and move on from Long.

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NFL clears Ray McDonald in domestic violence case

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Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy were both accused of domestic violence last year. Both got the same results from the legal system, ultimately having their charges dropped. But the NFL’s brand of justice has been radically different.

Hardy was banished with pay by the Panthers for 15 games last season and has now been suspended an additional 10 games without pay this season. But McDonald was allowed to play for the 49ers amid the domestic violence accusation last year and will not be suspended at all this year.

The NFL has confirmed that it investigated McDonald, who is now with the Bears, and cleared him of any violation of the personal-conduct policy.

“We have completed that [domestic-violence] investigation,” NFL general counsel Jeff Pash told the Associated Press Sports Editors. ‘‘[Special counsel for investigations] Lisa [Friel] and her team completed that investigation [and] did not establish a violation of the personal-conduct policy. We informed the player and the [NFL] Players Association.’’

However, that doesn’t mean McDonald is totally out of the woods. He is also being investigated in connection with a sexual assault. McDonald has not been charged in that case and says he will sue the woman who accused him.

‘‘Just to be clear, Ray McDonald had two issues, as you may remember — one related to a domestic-
violence incident and one related to an alleged sexual assault,’’ Friel said. ‘‘It’s the domestic-violence incident that we have finished investigating and didn’t find sufficient evidence to say that he violated the personal-conduct policy. The sexual-assault incident, that investigation is ongoing. That has not been completed, nor has the district attorney’s office in Santa Clara County completed their investigation into that matter.’’

The second accusation against McDonald led the 49ers to cut him. But as far as the the NFL is concerned, he’s not in any trouble with the personal-conduct policy. At least not yet.

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Bucs did extensive vetting of Jameis Winston

Jameis AP

If the Buccaneers don’t make Jameis Winston their latest potential franchise quarterback in four days, they’ve managed to concoct an impressive smoke screen.

The Tampa Tribune has published extensive details of the vetting of Winston by the Buccaneers, which could be viewed as a deliberate effort to address any lingering concerns about Winston’s character.

Via the Tribune, G.M. Jason Licht said the Buccaneers “spoke to upwards of 75 people” about Winston.  The Tribune has determined that those “upwards of 75 people” include “family members, friends, teammates, former high school coaches, former college coaches and an assistant state attorney.”

“[W]e all couldn’t feel more confident about the process we have gone through,” Licht said.

The process, as PFT previously has reported, included contact with assistant Tallahassee district attorney Georgia Cappleman, who spoke to the Bucs not only about Erica Kinsman (who claims Winston sexually assaulted her) but also about a second victim to whom Kinsman’s lawsuit against Winston refers.

“I advised them that there was another woman who received some counseling services from Florida State University as a result of an encounter with Mr. Winston that was of a sexual nature,” Cappleman told the Tribune.  While Cappleman hasn’t personally spoken to the second victim, Cappleman said the second victim “doesn’t even consider herself a victim.”

As to Kinsman, the Buccaneers haven’t spoken to her or to her lawyers.

“When vetting any potentially credible accusation of off-field misconduct, I’d expect NFL teams to learn both sides and not just listen to the player, agent, and coach,” Kinsman lawyer Baine Kerr told the Tribune. “Due diligence should include learning the facts from the accuser’s point of view.”

While it’s important to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, it’s a no-win proposition for the Buccaneers to communicate directly with persons having a clear bias and financial incentive against Winston.  If the team gets too close to the controversy, the team becomes a pawn in the legal chess/checkers/chicken game between Winston and Kinsman.

We can’t believe that the Buccaneers still made Winston the first overall pick despite all the information we shared with them.

Some would say that the mere existence of so many questions about Winston, from the BB gun incident to the crab-leg caper to the sexual-assault allegation to the shouting of the vulgar Internet memo to the recent change in the crab-leg explanation is enough to justify passing on Winston and selecting someone else with potentially equivalent talent but zero off-field entanglements that require investigation and explanation.  But franchise quarterbacks are hard to find in the draft, and the Buccaneers in nearly 40 years of existence never have.  As Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune said on a recent edition of PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the Buccaneers have never given a second contract to any quarterback they drafted.

That list includes, working backward, Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms, Joe Hamilton, Shaun King, Trent Dilfer, Craig Erickson, Mike Pawlawski, Pat O’Hara, Vinny Testaverde, Mike Shula, Blair Kiel, Steve Young, Mike Ford, Chuck Fusina, Doug Williams, Randy Hedberg, and Parnell Dickinson.

That’s 20 quarterbacks in 39 drafts.  Winston apparently will become No. 21, and the franchise seems to be ready to assume the risk that Winston could be yet another Buccaneer bust, whether due to on-field play or off-field problems.

If he is, maybe the 22nd quarterback drafted by the franchise will be the one to get a second contract.

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No talks between Eli Manning, Giants

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When 2015 began, each of the trio of first-round quarterbacks from the 2004 draft who have become NFL superstars were entering the final year of their second contracts.  One of them (Ben Roethlisberger) has gotten another big deal.  Another one (Philip Rivers) claims he doesn’t want one until 2016, if then.  The third says nothing is happening, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.

Nothing has been brought up,” Manning said Sunday, via Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.  “I haven’t made a big deal about it.”

Eli also said he won’t be insulted if he doesn’t get a new contract before the current one ends, pointing out that his brother, Peyton, has done that before.

Peyton has, twice before in Indianapolis.  But Eli got his current contract before his own rookie deal expired.  This time around, the Giants may decide to wait and see what happens in 2015.

“[The contract] is not something I’m going to argue about or make a fuss about,” Eli said Sunday.

Eli is due to earn a base salary of $17 million in 2015, with a cap number of $19.75 million.  That gives Eli plenty of leverage, since it would cost the Giants $23.7 million in 2016 under the non-exclusive franchise tag — and probably even more under the exclusive version of the tag.  Which means that the Giants would be paying plenty if Eli opts for a year-to-year arrangement, which would increase the tender by 20 percent in 2017 and 44 percent in 2018.

Given Eli’s stated desire not to leave the Giants, it’ll be very interesting to see whether New York would roll the dice with the non-exclusive tag, since that would open the door for another team willing to give up two first-round picks to make a run at Eli.

In other words, the Browns would make a run at Eli.

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Irsay “not really” surprised #DeflateGate investigation has taken so long

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The owner of the team that sparked the #DeflateGate investigation recently talked about the absence of closure in the case.  And Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn’t seem to be concerned about the fact that more than three months have passed since G.M. Ryan Grigson complained to the league about the air pressure in the footballs used during the first half of the AFC title game against the Patriots.

“I know that they are still finishing up their investigation, and there’s really nothing new to report,” Irsay told reporters at the third annual Chuckstrong gala on Friday night.  “It could be a few days, it could be a month or more.  I really don’t know.  They’re working to be, again, comprehensive and thorough, and when [Ted] Wells gets done with it, he’ll let us all know.”

Is Irsay surprised it has taken this long to wrap up the investigation?

“You know, probably not really,” Irsay said.  “He’s a very thorough investigator, and he’s gonna do what he thinks, sort of in his vacuum, so to speak.  He’s not concerned about when he gets the results, how long it takes.  He wants to be thorough.  So I know he operates that way.  So it’s not a shock, but I think everyone has wondered exactly when he’ll come through and let us know what he’s learned.”

Some suspect that a truly thorough investigation might reveal that the Colts took additional air out of the ball that was intercepted by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson during the first half of the game.  The NFL previously has declined to comment on whether Ted Wells is exploring that angle.  Others currently believe that the NFL has turned the investigation back on itself, hoping to placate Patriots owner Robert Kraft by determining how so many leaks of information that would tend to incriminate his team made their way to the media.

Regardless, it’s been more than a month since Commissioner Roger Goodell said the investigation is “getting near the end.”  With the draft less than a week away, it’s starting to feel like the end will arrive on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

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Jags have no update on Justin Blackmon’s status

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In January, Jaguars owner Shad Khan said that he was “very optimistic” about wide receiver Justin Blackmon returning to the field for the 2015 season and that he felt good about having Blackmon return to the team after missing more than a season on an indefinite suspension for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

We’re closing in on the end of April and the Jags have started their offseason workouts, but there’s still no word on whether Blackmon will have that ban lifted by the league. While speaking to the media last week, Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell said that the team didn’t know whether Blackmon has applied for reinstatement or much else about the receiver’s status.

“Our process hasn’t changed,” Caldwell said, via the Florida Times-Union. “Plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges and he’s going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we’re able to get some news, but if not, we weren’t planning on it, we’re just going to go.”

The Jaguars have no reason to close the door on a Blackmon return until there’s actually a return to contemplate and the lack of movement on that front suggests Caldwell’s right to devote his attention to other matters.

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Eagles still not showing real commitment to Bradford

Bradford AP

After the Eagles surprisingly traded for quarterback Sam Bradford in March, coach Chip Kelly insisted that Bradford wasn’t a stepping stone toward getting up the board to reunite with Marcus Mariota.  Since then, the Eagles have done nothing to take that possibility off the table.

As PFT reported on Wednesday, no meaningful contract talks have occurred between the Eagles and Bradford, who is due to make $12.985 million in 2015, the final year of his pre-wage-scale rookie deal.  The Eagles would like to knock down the cap number, and Bradford would like a chance to re-establish himself.  While money is a factor, security is, too; Bradford wants any new deal would to ensure that he won’t be shipped to the Browns or elsewhere, especially since a multi-year contract would make Bradford more valuable to a team that would acquire his rights for more than one season.

The absence of a true commitment to Bradford keeps the possibility of another trade in play.  Recently, PFT laid out the pieces of a three-way deal that would put Bradford in Cleveland, Mariota (and possibly Johnny Manziel) in Philly, and multiple picks in the pocket of a team that trades out of the top five.

The Eagles possibly could get there by giving up Bradford, the 20th pick in 2015, a first-round pick in 2016, and maybe another pick or two.  Whether that amounts to mortgaging the future isn’t known.

That said, why is a mortgage a bad thing?  For most, it’s the only way to buy a house.  For the Eagles, a mortgage for Mariota could not only buy a house but also eventually put a Lombardi Trophy in the case.

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Dennis Pitta “feeling good,” hopeful about playing in 2015

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Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was one of the players in attendance as the Ravens kicked off their conditioning program last week, which is an encouraging sign about his recovery from his second serious hip injury in as many years.

Pitta has fractured and dislocated his hip both times, which has cast doubt on his ability to continue his playing career. Pitta isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be able to play, but he said Saturday that he’s “feeling good in workouts” while waiting to find out if he gets the green light to make a full return to action.

“We still have some time to be able to assess where I’m at,” Pitta said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I sure hope that I’ll be on the field next year. That’s my hope; that’s my goal. We’ll just see if we can get there.”

The Ravens have played down their need for a receiver while being more open about their shortcomings at tight end with Pitta out of the picture. There’s not likely to be any change in his status between now and Thursday’s start to the draft, which means the Ravens have to continue to plan for life without Pitta in the passing game.

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Lyerla makes pitch to get back in NFL

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It’s hard to call tight end Colt Lyerla a former NFL player because he never really made it to the NFL.  He nevertheless wants back in.  Or simply in.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted on Sunday morning the link to a recent item from Tyson Alger of the Oregonian regarding Lyerla’s recent pitch to the NFL via videos posted on Twitter as part of a series he calls “The Resurrection.”

“To the NFL teams out there, obviously there’s been a lot of bad decisions made in the past,” Lyerla says in the video, which also includes clips from a recent workout in which he runs various pass routes.  “But like I said the past is the past and it’s going to stay in the past.”

The Packers signed Lyerla as an undrafted free agent last year.  He was waived-injured after suffering a knee injury and then reached an injury settlement, which paid him through Week Eight.  Lyerla thereafter was arrested for DUI, which became his latest off-field incident in a string that included an arrest for cocaine possession, suggesting that the Sandy Hook shooting was a governmental conspiracy, assault charges that later were dropped, skipping classes and practices in high school, ultimately quitting the team at Oregon.

Lyerla explains in the video that the DUI charge from last September was “officially dismissed,” but he admits that he has been in the NFL’s substance-abuse program for a year and a half and hasn’t failed a drug test.  (It’s not known precisely how long he has been in the NFL’s substance-abuse program; if he’s truly been in for 18 months, he would have entered the program in October 2013, seven months before he was undrafted.)

As to the injury that ended his time with the Packers — a torn PCL and MCL in his knee — Lyerla says he opted against surgery, allowing it to instead heal on it’s own.  It apparently has; remember J.J. Watt’s recent 61-inch box jump?  Lyerla did 62 inches.

One of several talented players who weren’t drafted last year due to off-field issues, it could be even harder for Lyerla this time around, given that the NFL has shifted its attitude toward players with problems away from the field (i.e., you’ve got to be extremely talented and not just really talented to qualify for an exception) and that he’s competing with a fresh crop of players emerging from the college ranks.

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