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Preseason Power Rankings No. 4: New England Patriots

Julian Edelman, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken AP

The Patriots were back in the AFC Championship Game last year, but their bid for another Super Bowl title were dashed by the Broncos.

Making it there was a credit to coach Bill Belichick’s adaptability as he had to fill holes created by injuries while finding a way to keep the offense moving in spite of an underwhelming season by Tom Brady’s wide receivers. That stopped against Denver, but the Patriots made it clear they have designs on staying on top in the AFC East.

They signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in hopes of stopping the revolving door at that position, with the Revis acquisition and a growing group of talent in the front seven leading to thoughts of the best Patriots defense in several years.

There were no such additions to the offense, but the hope is that the return to health of tight end Rob Gronkowski serves the same purpose.

Strengths.

When Gronkowski was healthy last season, the Patriots had one of the most potent offenses in the league. When he was out, they weren’t close to the same level as a team and Brady wasn’t as effective as a quarterback. Whether Gronk can stay healthy for an entire year is a matter of some debate, but his impact on the team is certain.

The Patriots had a pretty good defense last season without Revis. Adding one of the best cornerbacks in the game as he looks to restore some luster after a forgettable year in Tampa has the potential to move the defense from pretty good to great in a shift that the Pats would love to see.

Revis won’t be doing it alone, though. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost after the sixth week of the season because of a torn pectoral muscle and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s torn Achilles made him a bystander as well. Getting both back to go with Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich would make for one of the best front sevens in the conference.

The permanent move to safety was a good one for Devin McCourty, who turned in an excellent year in 2013. With better cornerback play expected, McCourty could be deployed in a more aggressive manner this time around.

Weaknesses.

Julian Edelman caught a lot of passes, but the rest of the wide receivers left something to be desired last season. The Patriots need Danny Amendola to remain on the field and they’d like to see the potential of Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins or Josh Boyce translated into actual production. Without those developments, the Patriots will be relying heavily on Gronkowski remaining healthy once again this year.

Brady was sacked 40 times last year, the second-most of his career, and that number will need to come down this season. Center and right guard are the spots most in need of improvement as Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were weak links last year.

LeGarrette Blount wasn’t re-signed as a free agent, leaving the Patriots without their battering ram in the backfield from last year. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are on hand, so there’s no reason to panic although the team’s versatility took a little bit of a hit with Blount’s departure.

If everyone is healthy, the defensive line should be pretty good. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Will Smith and first-round pick Dominique Easley are all returning from serious injuries, though, and the depth isn’t strong enough to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks if they aren’t in the game.

Changes.

We’ll get to the changes that have been made in a second, right after we discuss the changes that the Patriots hope will take place. After losing Gronkowski, Mayo, Wilfork, Kelly and Sebastian Vollmer to season-ending injuries last year, the Patriots will be hoping that simply being healthier will allow them to push their way back to the top of the conference.

The Pats added three offensive linemen in the draft — center Bryan Stork, tackle Cameron Fleming and guard Jon Halapio — to restock with some young depth up front.

Browner will serve a suspension to start the year, so it will be some time before he and Revis can be deployed as a tandem. Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard will be on hand to fill in and then fill out the sub packages.

Brandon LaFell was signed as a free agent after playing out his contract with the Panthers. There’s probably more upside with the younger receivers, but the Pats will take any help they can get at the position after last season.

Camp Battles.

Steve Gregory is gone, leaving an opening at safety next to McCourty. Patrick Chung is back after a spell with the Eagles and he’ll join Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis and rookie Jemea Thomas at the position. Harmon looks like the first choice heading into camp.

The Patriots drafted running back James White in the fourth round and he’ll likely vie with Brandon Bolden for backfield snaps left up for graps after Blount’s departure. Given the fluid nature of running back situations, he could wind up with even more than that if things break right.

New England selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round, setting up a competition with Ryan Mallett for backup duties and the role as unofficial heir to Brady.

Prospects.

The Patriots have advanced at least as far as the conference title game in each of the last three seasons. When you survey the AFC at this point, another trip to that round feels like the expectation once again in New England.

We can’t know which Patriots might be injured this season or which teams might come together to form a whole better than anyone is predicting in July, but, outside of Denver, there aren’t any teams in the conference that are safe bets to be better than the Patriots. And there certainly aren’t any in the AFC East, where the question again appears to be how many weeks it will take for the Pats to sew up the crown.

Getting beyond the conference title game and earning another Lombardi Trophy is a different matter, however. They’ll need better health than last season, development from a young receiver or two and no noticeable slippage from key veterans to add a fourth ring for the Belichick era.

There’s a lot that needs to break right, but the Patriots are in position to capitalize if things do go that way.

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Former Jet charged with punching teenager

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Scott Mersereau #94 of the New York Jets rushes the quarterback against Doug Smith #56 of the Los Angeles Rams during a game at Anaheim Stadium on December 17, 1989 in Anaheim, California.  The Rams won 38-14  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) Getty Images

Scott Mersereau, a former Jets defensive lineman, faces charges of punching a 15-year-old boy. Mersereau reportedly believed the boy had egged Mersereau’s home.

Via the Palm Beach Post, Mersereau walked to the boy’s home to accuse him of throwing eggs. The boy denied doing it, the argument escalated,  and the boy allegedly cursed at Mersereau, who pushed the boy in the chest. When the boy told Mersereau to leave, Mersereau allegedly punched the boy in the back of the head with a closed fist.

Several people reportedly witnessed the attack, including the boy’s mother.

A police officer claimed that Mersereau was both belligerent and intoxicated. He faces a charge of child cruelty.

Mersereau, 51, was released on $3,000 bond over the weekend. He spent seven seasons with the Jets, 1987 through 1993. Mersereau was the teammate with whom Dennis Byrd collided in 1992 in an incident that left Byrd paralyzed.

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Report: James Conner gets “clean scan”

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 26:  James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers rushes against Rodney Williams #6 of the Syracuse Orange in the fourth quarter during the game at Heinz Field on November 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner got “a clean scan” Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 but returned to play last season. The news of his clean medical report comes a week before he heads to Indianapolis to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine with a talented class of running back prospects.

Conner scored 56 touchdowns in his time at Pitt, an ACC record, and ranks second in school history in total rushing yards behind only Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.

He was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had a knee injury in 2015 that led to his Hodgkin’s diagnosis, but he was cleared last year.

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Vince Young wants to own the rights to “Make Vince Great Again”

AUSTIN, TX - AUGUST 30:  Quarterback Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans, holds up his Texas Longhorns jersey as his number is retired before a game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on August 30, 2007 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The guy who applied the term “Dream Team” to the Eagles six years ago has a new catch phrase.

Via NFL.com, quarterback Vince Young has applied for the federal trademark rights to “Make Vince Great Again.”

On the other side of the coin from the point in the political sphere that the thing that hopefully will be made great again never stopped being great, Young arguably never really was a great pro quarterback.

He recently launched a comeback, hiring agent Leigh Steinberg and talking to CFL teams. The CFL is, frankly, the place Young should have gone when the quarterback-needy NFL decided it didn’t want him five years ago. Now, at age 33, Young will have a hard time engineering a second act.

So unless there’s some other Vince out there who was once great and who has a chance to return to glory (McMahon, Vaughn, Neil, van Gogh), Vince Young may have a hard time making money from his new side business.

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Alterraun Verner says he’s already getting calls from other teams

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alterraun Verner #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers walks out to the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.   The Cardinals defeated the Buccaneers  40-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Buccaneers released cornerback Alterraun Verner on Thursday afternoon, creating $6.5 million in cap space for themselves and giving Verner a head start on free agency to find a new team.

During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Pat Kerwin shortly after his departure from Tampa became official, Verner said he was disappointed that things didn’t work out with the Bucs but thanked them for the “professionalism” they showed by releasing him at this point in the calendar.

Verner also said he’s already hearing interest from clubs that could provide the next stop in his career.

“My agent’s been getting calls from multiple teams already,” Verner said. “It’s exciting to see what’s going to be happening next. It’s going to be exciting to see where I can go and hopefully contribute and put forth an effort to try to get to a Super Bowl.”

Verner’s play didn’t match the contract the Bucs signed him to in 2014, but there will likely be enough memories of his better days with the Titans to get him another shot heading into next season.

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Seven 2017 prospects chosen for Gruden’s QB Camp series

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) Getty Images

ESPN has announced the seven quarterbacks from this year’s draft class who will participate in the annual Jon Gruden QB Camp series that will begin airing two weeks before the draft.

DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Brad Kaaya will be this year’s participants. All seven will spend time in the film room and on the field with Gruden, a former NFL head coach turned television analyst, and he will address their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in segments that will ultimately air across various platfotms.

This is the eighth year for the QB Camp series, and in the past it has produced some pretty interesting and revealing moments.

As he does, Gruden praised the entire class in the press release for the show, but had especially high praise for Watson.

“There are some unknowns this year, but this class starts with Deshaun Watson,” Gruden said. “His body of work is as impressive as any quarterback we’ve had come through QB Camp. I got the chance to see him live and I think he has a ton of ability. There are some underclassmen coming out who have questions that need to be answered. That’s why this process is exciting. But three or four years from now, I expect people will be saying this is a pretty good quarterback class.”

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Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have a preferred team, officially

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 14:Patrick Mahomes #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates  touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 14, 2015 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 59-44. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) Getty Images

Hiding in plain sight among the NFL’s various P.R. gaffes is one the most brilliant masterstrokes in the history of shaping opinion: The idea that it’s somehow an honor to prevent a football player from selecting the pro football team for which he’ll play.

The draft process, which runs counter to the American notion of open markets and freedom of choice, prevents employees from selecting the company for which they will work. Instead, the employees are assigned to their employers based on a rotation that allows the employers to secure dibs on them.

The draft has become part of the league’s bedrock, even though it’s relevance to competitive balance in the age of free agency and the salary cap is minimal. And the employees who aspire to be drafted as high as possible are wired to take a step back and ask, “Shouldn’t I be picking the team instead of the team picking me?”

I posed that question to former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II on Thursday’s PFT Live. He provided the same response that, frankly, I would have given at the age of 21, while on the brink of hoping to be picked as early as possible.

“I guess you could say that but at the same time it’s really exciting,” Mahomes said. “You get to go into draft day, it’s gonna be a dream come true. I’m gonna get to sit there and watch the draft and hopefully get that phone call and get drafted. I mean you’re gonna be excited to go no matter where it is. They’re all great teams, all great cities and I just wanna get there now and hopefully get to the right team with the right coaching.”

At the tail end of the answer came a whisper of deviation from the standqard pre-draft talking point. He wants to get to the “right team with the right coaching.” But if that happens, it won’t be the product of Mahomes’ decision-making process; it will be a result of the right team with the right coaching deciding Mahomes is the right guy. What if the wrong team with the wrong coaching picks Mahomes? For at least four and maybe five years, there’s nothing he can do about it.

“There’s definitely no team that I’d prefer not to play for,” Mahomes added. “I really just want a team that has great coaching and that can really help me develop to be the best quarterback I can be and hopefully win a few championships.”

The truth could be at Mahomes simply isn’t able at this point to identify which teams will, and which teams won’t, help him fulfill that objective. And since neither he nor any other draft pick will have any say over where he will be, there’s no reason for Mahomes to try to figure out where he’d like to be drafted, and where he wouldn’t like to be drafted. The draft culture compels the players to compete for the false honor of being drafted as high as possible, with the hope that their NFL careers won’t be derailed by the wrong team and the wrong coaching at the wrong time.

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Potential enforcement of federal marijuana laws could reinforce NFL’s rule against it

SAFED, ISRAEL - MARCH 07: (ISRAEL OUT)  A  cannabis plant at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel. In conjunction with Israel's Health Ministry, Tikon Olam are currently distributing cannabis for medicinal purposes to over 1800 people in Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Getty Images

As more and more states have adopted laws permitting the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana, momentum has been building toward softening the NFL’s clear, unambiguous, blanket policy against the substance. That momentum may be slowing down.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew a distinction on Thursday between medical and recreational marijuana, suggesting that the pending federal prohibition regarding marijuana use could be used to push back against states that allow it recreationally.

There’s a big difference between [medicinal marijuana] and recreational marijuana,” Spicer said, via Forbes.com. “I think that when you see the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law we need to abide by in terms of when it comes to recreational marijuana.”

That shouldn’t be a surprise, given the appointment of long-time marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions has said in the past, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that legalization of marijuana “is, in fact, a very real danger.” However, at his confirmation hearing, Sessions suggested that a showdown with the states that have legalized marijuana could result in an undue strain on the federal government’s overall resources.

President Trump has said that the marijuana issue should be handled “state-by-state,” and that “medical should happen.” However, it could be that the states now allowing recreational marijuana use (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts) and that those considering joining the jointing trend will be forced to reverse course, sooner than later.

That could throw a wrench into efforts by the NFL Players Association to make the current rules against marijuana “less punitive” regarding recreational marijuana use. At a minimum, it could make the NFL want an even bigger concession to change a policy that both sides agreed to, years ago.

Regardless of whether the federal government rolls back laws allowing the recreational rolling up of cigarettes that don’t contain tobacco, NFL players will continue to smoke marijuana. Under the current policy, players who are smart about when they smoke — and when they temporarily don’t — can smoke marijuana for most of the year without professional consequence. Players who want to smoke apparently will need to continue to be smart and discreet about it, or they eventually will face large fines and lengthy suspensions, culminating in banishment from the league.

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Jim Harbaugh suggests he should get a “medal” for lasting four years with 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers watches his team during their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh never has lasted longer than four years at any of his various coaching stops. For making it last that long in San Francisco, he believes he deserves special recognition.

In an appearance on Tim Kawakami’s podcast, via CSN Bay Area, Harbaugh pointed out that he “set a record for coaching there under the present ownership.”

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

The issue came up because new coach Kyle Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and Steve Mariucci in Shanahan’s introductory press conference. Harbaugh said he doesn’t believe he spent enough time with the team to be compared to those other coaches. Harbaugh perhaps would have made it more than four years if he had been working with new G.M. John Lynch.

“I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here [at Michigan], Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common-sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.”

Harbaugh and former 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke didn’t see eye to eye, and that fractured relationship contributed in large part to the “mutual parting” with Harbaugh that came after the 2014 season. The 49ers have hired three coaches in only two full seasons since then.

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Rick Spielman: “Everything’s in flux” with Sam Bradford beyond 2017

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Sam Bradford #8 and Kyle Rudolph #82 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the game against the Chicago Bears on January 1, 2017 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday that the Vikings haven’t decided what they’ll do with running back Adrian Peterson and the same is true when it comes to quarterback Sam Bradford beyond the 2017 season.

Bradford is entering the final year of his contract and the uncertainty about Teddy Bridgewater’s health means that the Vikings will be picking up the $18 million cap hit. The Vikings traded first- and fourth-round picks for him following Bridgewater’s severe knee injury last summer, something Spielman said that he’d do “over in a second” given the position the Vikings were in.

He was less committal about what the team was thinking about for 2018. Spielman included Bradford among players whose contracts needed to be addressed, but gave no indication about the team’s plans.

“Everything’s in flux right now,” Spielman said, via Tom Pelissero of USA Today. “So, I’ll just leave it at that.”

Spielman said “everybody’s hoping” Bridgewater can play again, but that the quarterback hasn’t done any football drills at this point in his recovery. His progress in the coming months will likely play a role in any decision about Bradford’s future, although it will be hard to give up the bird in the hand should the Vikings find their way back to a winning record in 2017.

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Jets release Nick Folk, Breno Giacomini

New York Jets kicker Nick Folk (2) kicks a field goal with punter Lac Edwards (4) holding during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) AP

The Jets have announced that former starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and kicker Nick Folk have been released.

Folk made 27-of-31 field goal attempts last season and ranks as the second all-time leading scorer in franchise history with 729 points. He made 81 percent of his field goal tries for the Jets from 2010-16.

Folk, 32, was due to make $3 million in the one season remaining on his contract.

“It’s a sad day, but that’s the business side of things,” Folk told the Jets’ official website. “I had a great seven years here. I think the only thing that would’ve topped it off would’ve been a couple of Super Bowl wins.”

Giacomini started 37 games in three seasons with the Jets. He was a full-time starter in his first two years but was limited to five games last season by a back injury. He also had one year left on his contract and was due to make $4.5 million in 2017.

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A.J. Bouye: “No telling” what will happen with Texans

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  A.J. Bouye #21 of the Houston Texans intercepts a pass from Connor Cook #8 of the Oakland Raiders during the second half of their AFC Wild Card game at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re going to have a breakout season, you might as well have it when you’re about to be a free agent.

That’s a lesson that cornerback A.J. Bouye is learning this offseason. Bouye had his best NFL season for the Texans in 2016 and heads into free agency poised to cash in on that success via the franchise tag or the open market. Recent word out of Houston is that the Texans aren’t planning to tag Bouye — the salary is expected to be over $14 million with a tag this year — and Bouye says that’s fine with him.

“I talked to my agent, and I’m not mad that they probably won’t franchise me, just because of how much the franchise tag is for a corner,” Bouye said to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. “It’s a lot. At the same time, the situation in Houston, money-wise, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. At the end of the day, I know they want to bring me back, but they have other things they have to address, which I totally understand.”

Breer spoke to an AFC personnel exec who said he believes Bouye will be the “clear king of the class” in free agency once tags are given out and referenced the five-year, $62 million deal that Janoris Jenkins signed with the Giants last year. That’s heady territory for an undrafted player who got his first extended playing time last season, but it doesn’t sound unrealistic given the rising cap and the constant need for cornerbacks around the league.

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Buccaneers cutting cornerback Alterraun Verner

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alterraun Verner #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Buccaneers  40-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Once again, a guy who was once an early free agent big-ticket signing has found his way to the unemployment line.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Bucs are releasing cornerback Alterraun Verner.

It was 2014 when the Bucs made Verner a splash signing, but since then, they found a new flavor of the month. Last year’s first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III made him expendable, though Verner’s own play had contributed to that.

He was benched in his second year in Tampa, and was due $6.5 million this year, so it made sense from a football perspective. But it also serves as a reminder to keep some of the prizes of early March in perspective.

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DeMarco Murray will continue to be “the guy” in Titans backfield

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 27:  DeMarco Murray runs for a touchdown during the second quarter of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium on October 27, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans wanted to boost their rushing attack last offseason and addressed that desire by trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry in the second round.

Those moves and ones to shore up the offensive line paid off with a third-place finish in rushing yards as the team went 9-7 for their first winning season since 2011. Murray was the lead back with 293 carries while Henry ran the ball 110 times, something that coach Mike Mularkey suggested will continue to be the arrangement in 2017 when asked about the team’s plans at an event on Wednesday night.

“Derrick is an important part of our offense,’’ Mularkey said, via the team’s website. “Obviously DeMarco Murray is the guy. He has shown he is the guy and he will continue to be that guy. But I will say this:  Each week we put a different game plan together. We spend a lot of hours preparing to play the opponent. And Derrick, and as you saw, some games he was more involved than others. And a lot is based on how we are going to attack the opponent. We know (Derrick) is very special. He is going to have a long, great career here and he is going to be a big part of our offense next year, as he was this year. I like we have a one-two punch to smash it down peoples’ throats to be honest with you.”

The pecking order could change in the coming months, but the Titans are set at running back regardless of which guy is playing the lead role. A reprise of last year’s rushing attack matched with a healthy Marcus Mariota and further improvements to the rest of the roster over the offseason should lead to plenty of optimism in Nashville heading into next season.

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Vikings haven’t decided what to do with Adrian Peterson

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18: Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings hands the ball off to running back Adrian Peterson #28 during the first quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers on September 18, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

Will Adrian Peterson still be a Minnesota Viking when the team gets to work on the 2017 season? They don’t know yet.

That’s the word from Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, who told reporters today that the team still needs to make its decision.

Unless Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut, it’s hard to imagine that decision will be anything other than cutting Peterson. Peterson is 31 years old, coming off a knee injury and due $18 million in 2017. It would be crazy for the Vikings to pay a declining running back that kind of money.

Whether Peterson is willing to take a big pay cut remains to be seen, but Spielman did say he views Peterson as someone who will always be a Viking. That may be true, in the same sense that Emmitt Smith will always be a Cowboy. But Smith finished his career in Arizona, and Peterson may have to finish his career elsewhere as well.

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Okung’s folly: One year, $8 million, back on the market

Okung AP

Russell Okung didn’t want to pay an agent three percent of a long-term, big-money deal. Instead, he got to keep 100 percent of a one-year, $5 million contract in Denver.

Praised for opting to negotiate his own contract, Okung’s much-hyped five-year, $53 million deal ended up being a one-season prove-it deal. He didn’t do nearly enough to prove to the Broncos that they should guarantee another $19.5 million.

None of the $5 million was guaranteed. Okung, who previously played for the Seahawks, had to participate in 90 percent of the offseason program and be on the roster at the end of it to earn the first $1 million. Then, he had to be on the Week One roster to earn a $2 million roster bonus and a $2 million salary.

So, basically, before he even had a chance to “prove it” as to the $19.5 million, he had to prove that he should be given a chance to earn the first $5 million.

The good news is that he’ll once again be a free agent. The bad news is that many more tackles will be available this year. The worst news is that, if Okung decides to not hire an agent, teams will be allowed to negotiate with the agents representing all of the looming free-agent tackles who have agents during the two-day legal tampering period. During that same window, teams won’t be allowed to negotiate with Okung.

UPDATE 2:25 p.m. ET: By participating in 99 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Okung secured another $3 million in playing-time incentives. So the best tackle on the open market a year ago eventually earned $8 million without a penny of it guaranteed, and he’ll now be back on the market with a lot more competition than a year ago.

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