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Preseason Power Rankings No. 1: Seattle Seahawks

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks enter their 2014 training camp as defending Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history. While the team lost a handful of contributing pieces to free agency, the Seahawks return most of their impact players from their championship squad. In addition, the team locked up Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin to long-term contracts to keep them in Seattle for the foreseeable future.

However, Seattle still has some questions to answer as training camp gets set to open on Friday. Can Thomas, Sherman and others play with the same drive after getting paid this offseason? How does Seattle replace Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald on their defensive line? Can Percy Harvin stay healthy enough to contribute all season?

Despite the few question marks, Seattle still enters the year as a strong candidate to return to the Super Bowl and become the first team to win consecutive titles since the New England Patriots in 2003-2004.

Strengths.

Even without Brandon Browner, the “Legion of Boom” will continue to cause fits for opposing offenses this year. Earl Thomas has become the premier safety in the game and Richard Sherman arguably the best cornerback. Kam Chancellor remains as the muscle of the quartet and Byron Maxwell has become dangerous as well with four interceptions in five starts to end the regular season.

Assuming the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch can resolve any potential lingering contract concerns, Seattle’s rushing attack should be as good, if not better, in 2014. Seattle finished the season fourth in rushing with Lynch accumulating 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns. Second-year back Christine Michael has drawn praise from the coaching staff and could give the offense a home run threat out of the backfield. Defenses still have to be aware of quarterback Russell Wilson rushing as well as he ran for 539 yards last season.

Weaknesses.

The offensive line was the biggest problem area for the Seahawks last season and many of the same issues remain as the season approaches. Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini and Max Unger combined to miss 18 games due to injury and the line struggled in their absence.

Giacomini is now gone to the New York Jets and Okung didn’t participate in offseason workouts while recovering from foot surgery. Former first-round pick James Carpenter has slimmed down and in the best shape of his professional career, but has mainly been a disappointment up to this point. Seattle also needs to find a starter at right tackle between Michael Bowie and second-round pick Justin Britt.

While still ranking as the best defense in the league last year, the Seahawks did struggle every once in a while against the run. St. Louis and Tampa Bay rushed for 200 yards against Seattle in consecutive weeks. With Red Bryant released for cap reasons, one of the stalwarts of Seattle’s rush defense is now gone.

Changes.

James Carpenter is slotted to take over full-time at left guard in place of the departed Paul McQuistan. The position had been a timeshare for most of last season. Breno Giacomini will also need to be replaced at right tackle.

The Seahawks had found a nice pass rush package late in the season that caused problems for opposing offenses. However, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald have departed and Seattle will need to find replacements. Benson Mayowa, Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill, Kevin Williams and Jesse Williams should all be vying for time in passing situations.

Bryon Maxwell will take over the starting cornerback job opposite Richard Sherman after assuming the role last season following the suspension of Brandon Browner.

Camp battles.

Despite Pete Carroll’s “always compete” mantra, there aren’t many battles for starting jobs expected during training camp. Michael Bowie and Justin Britt will compete for the starting job at right tackle.

Beyond that, the wide receiver position should be fierce for roster spots and playing time. Percy Harvin participated in all offseason workouts and appears truly healthy for the first time since injuring his ankle in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Sidney Rice will be among the group competing for the next spot in line behind Harvin.

The same applies for the defensive line rotation with a slew of players competing for playing time. Greg Scruggs, Jesse Williams, Jordan Hill and Benson Mayowa were “redshirted” for lack of a better term due to being buried in the depth or injury. Along with the redshirt class, draft picks Cassius Marsh and Jimmy Staten will also have a chance to factor in the rotation.

Seattle will also need to find a punt returner to replace Golden Tate.

Prospects.

The Seahawks roster remains supremely talented and young. They were the youngest team to ever win a Super Bowl last February and Seattle has done a very good job of preparing their roster to absorb the larger contracts given to their emerging superstars.

The defense remains a physically imposing unit. Marshawn Lynch is a battering ram at running back and Russell Wilson the calm, distributor that directs the offense.

There are few areas of concern from a roster standpoint for Seattle as training camp approaches. The biggest question may be if they can handle being the hunted as reigning champions.

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Cardinals bringing back return man Jeremy Ross

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 01:   Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates his touchdown pass to Jeremy Ross #16 with Larry Fitzgerald #11 to take a 13-0 lead over the Los Angeles Rams during the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals brought Jeremy Ross in for a late look last year, and apparently want to take a longer one.

According to Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Cardinals have re-signed Ross to a one-year deal.

The journeyman special teamer was brought in last year after the Cards cut Michael Floyd following his DUI arrest, and appeared in two games.

He’s also spent time with the Jets, Ravens, Raiders, Lions, and Packers.

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Director of college scouting Matt Malaspina leaves 49ers, takes job with Packers

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

When teams hire new General Managers, the move is usually followed by other departures from the personnel department and the 49ers are proving to be no exception.

They announced that assistant G.M. Tom Gamble is leaving the team and he’ll be followed out the door by director of college scouting Matt Malaspina. According to multiple reports on Friday, Malaspina is joining them as a college scout.

Malaspina spent the last 12 years with the 49ers and spent the last four years at the top of their college scouting hierarchy. He worked for the Seahawks and Panthers before joining the Niners.

The 49ers will likely be making further moves in their personnel department as new General Manager John Lynch puts his stamp on the front office. He’s already hired Adam Peters as vice president of player personnel and former Lions G.M. Martin Mayhew as a senior personnel executive.

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Mohamed Sanu: Fourth quarter collapse won’t be our legacy

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Mohamed Sanu #12 of the Atlanta Falcons avoids a tackle by Logan Ryan #26 of the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Shortly after the Super Bowl, former NFL coach Kevin Gilbride stopped by PFT Live and told us that it can take a long time for an NFL team to get over a playoff collapse.

Gilbride has first-hand experience on that front as he was the offensive coordinator for the 1992 Oilers when they blew a huge lead against the Bills. The Oilers struggled out of the gate the next year, something Gilbride attributed to an extended hangover from that meltdown.

The Falcons will have to guard against a similar fate come the start of the 2017 season. One way that wide receiver Mohamaed Sanu appears to be approaching that task is to resist defining themselves solely as the team that gave up a 25-point lead over the final 23 minutes of Super Bowl LI.

“I mean, it’s however you guys want to interpret it as. Us as a team, we know what we have and what we did throughout the whole season and I wouldn’t say the last quarter of that game is our legacy,” Sanu said on NFL Network. “We did what we had to do throughout the season to make it on the big stage and we played well. It just so happened it didn’t go our way.”

While Sanu said that the pain of the loss has “definitely gotten better” over the last couple of weeks and that he’s focused on moving forward to the 2017 season, he also admitted there are still days where he wakes up thinking about the missed opportunity. Channelling those feelings in the right way will be a must for the Falcons if they want to give themselves another shot to finish the job.

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Broncos begin process of rebuilding defensive line

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 27:  Bobby Richardson #78 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates an interception during the second quarter of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 27, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Denver’s looking for defensive line help, and they’re dealing in bulk.

The Broncos announced they are signing former Saints defensive end Bobby Richardson.

He started 11 games for the Saints in 2015 after making the team as an undrafted rookie, but bounced from practice squads in Washington and Kansas City.

The Broncos also brought former Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, and are still awaiting word on that possible acquisition, as they add depth to a group that was hit hard with injuries last year.

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Are Vikings fans ready to move on from Adrian Peterson?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 20: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball against the Detroit Lions during the game on August 20, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Lions 26-16. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings have yet to offer running back Adrian Peterson a contract that would pay him less than the $18 million he is due to earn in 2017. It’s unclear whether they will.

From a P.R. standpoint, there’s a good reason for the Vikings to make Peterson an offer, even if it’s an offer he wouldn’t accept. Cutting him loose is one thing; extending what appears to be a fair offer on a revised deal and having him reject it is another.

This approach presumes that the fan base wants to continue to relationship, and that the fans will place blame based on how and why it ends. What if the fans are ready to move on from Peterson?

Paul Allen of KFAN and the Vikings Radio Network appeared on Friday’s PFT Live to discuss the team’s offseason priorities. He senses that there wouldn’t be an outcry if the team decides to put an end to Peterson’s 10-year run with the team.

Besides, the team can do plenty with the $18 million that otherwise would go to Peterson in 2017. Most fans are smart enough to notice it.

Paul said plenty more about the Vikings’ priorities for the coming year. To hear everything he had to say, check out the video.

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Add Washington to the list of non-talkers at the Scouting Combine

Jay Gruden AP

Each year, most of the coaches and General Managers around the NFL will speak to the assembled media at the Scouting Combine.

This year, there’s a new abstainer on the list of the usual suspects.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Saints coach Sean Payton and Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis generally do not participate, but at the moment, no one from Washington is on the schedule provided by the league.

While coach Jay Gruden has taken to the podium in the past, he’s not scheduled to speak this year, and G.M. Scot McCloughan isn’t either. Then again, McCloughan isn’t being allowed to talk to anyone else either, so that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.

There’s plenty to talk about there, considering the Kirk Cousins decisions being made, but those searching for answers are going to have to work the hallways and corridors of Indianapolis rather than having them provided.

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Tom Coughlin: QB improvement starts with improved protection

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jaguars have a new head of football operations in Tom Coughlin and Coughlin didn’t wait for the start of the league year to start making moves in hopes of improving the team’s fortunes in 2017.

Coughlin spoke to the Dolphins about a pair of trades this week that would send tight end Julius Thomas to Miami with left tackle Branden Albert making the move to Jacksonville. The acquisition of Albert is something that Coughlin believes will help address one of the biggest needs for the team.

That would be improvement from quarterback Blake Bortles. During a Friday press conference, Coughlin said that there’s plenty for Bortles (and everyone else on the team) to improve in their own games, but said that any big jump will require better work on the offensive line.

I think to improve the quarterback we have to improve the protection,” Coughlin said. 

Coughlin also said that he doesn’t think the team is helping Bortles “at all” if they can’t run the ball and noted that the team needs more than they got from the T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory backfield combo last year. He said there have been discussions about adding a fullback to the offensive mix, something that fit with his general theme of building a tougher Jaguars team in his first season back in Jacksonville.

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Will the Bills keep Tyrod Taylor despite upcoming payday?

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 27:  Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Buffalo Bills looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on September 27, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Bills signed quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a contract extension, the goal was to give the player a short-term raise and possible long-term security while also protecting the team against a possible Kirk Cousins-style game of tag. If Taylor had played really well or really poorly last year, the decision would be easy.

But Taylor’s 2016 performance falls somewhere between not good enough to make giving him $27.5 million for 2017 and not bad enough to make cutting him a no-brainer. So what will the Bills do?

The decision to bench him late in the 2016 regular season operated as a fairly clear indication that they wouldn’t be bringing him back, because they didn’t want him to suffer an injury that would have tied their hands as to the $27.5 million. The more accurate interpretation of that decision could be that the Bills wanted to give the next coaching staff maximum flexibility as to the question of whether Taylor would or wouldn’t be kept around.

The hiring of former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison made the situation more intriguing, given that the Broncos (where Dennison most recently worked) were interested in Taylor when he became a free agent two years ago. He opted for Buffalo and a starting job over joining a depth chart that featured Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler.

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com recently said it’s his “sense” that Dennison would like to keep Taylor. The question becomes the financial commitment. With $27.5 million due this year and another $13 million owed to Taylor in 2018, that’s a $40.5 million proposition over the next two seasons.

Ideally, the Bills and Taylor would negotiate an arrangement that allows him to continue to be the starter at a more realistic salary. But Taylor reportedly won’t re-do the deal. Which makes it an all-or-nothing proposition for the Bills.

And the clock is ticking.

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Report: Giants agree to new deal with Zak DeOssie

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 28:   Zak DeOssie #51 of the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium on October 28, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Giants have reached a deal to bring back veteran long snapper Zak DeOssie, the Houston Chronicle reported Friday.

DeOssie would have been a free agent had he not signed before the start of the new league year on March 9. A two-time Pro Bowler, DeOssie has spent his entire 10-year career with the Giants and has only missed four games during that time, all in 2015 due to a wrist injury.

Per the report, DeOssie will sign a two-year deal.

DeOssie, 32, and Eli Manning are the longest-tenured Giants players and the only remaining players from the Giants’ most recent Super Bowl teams. The Giants drafted DeOssie in the fourth round in 2007.

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Rob Gronkowski has “no doubt” about playing this year, wants to continue

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 16:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Even though he’s had more surgeries than Super Bowls and Pro Bowls combined, Rob Gronkowski has no intention to stop playing football.

The Patriots tight end is coming off his eighth surgery, and the third on his problematic back, but told ESPN there was “no doubt” he’d be ready for the start of the 2017 season.

And if this one has made him contemplate his future in the game, it’s hard to tell.

“I’m not really sure,” he said when asked how long he wants to play. “I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I can possibly play. My mindset is to keep on going.”

Gronkowski only played eight games last year, and he’s only played 16 games twice in his seven NFL seasons. His back problems were a concern for many teams when he was coming out in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he had two previous surgeries to repair herniated disks (in 2009 and 2013).

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Josh Doctson doing football drills

FILE - In this May 14, 2016 file photo, Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson, 18, works out during NFL football rookie minicamp in Ashburn, Va. Doctson is inching his way back from an Achilles tendon injury, though the Washington Redskins still don’t know when the wide receiver will be ready to practice with the team, let alone play in a game. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) AP

In a late January update on wide receiver Josh Doctson’s recovery from an Achilles injury, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that the 2016 first-round pick had “not really” made significant progress and that February would be an important month for him on the rehab front.

It looks like there have been some positive steps on that front. Doctson posted a Snapchat video of himself, via Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post, going through football drills at the team’s headquarters on Friday.

It’s hard to gauge just where a player is while running drills in a helmet and shorts against air, but Doctson was only running in a pool when Gruden spoke last month. That suggests an upward trajectory that should create some optimism that Doctson will be able to contribute in his second season.

That would be a big plus for the Redskins as both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are free agents who are expected to hit the open market next month.

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Chiefs sign C.J. Spiller

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 16:  Running back C.J. Spiller #28 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on October 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Chiefs have added a veteran to their backfield.

The team announced on Friday that they have signed C.J. Spiller. Spiller is eligible to sign a contract as a free agent now because he was released by the Jets in December and never signed with another team.

Spiller’s Jets stint was a brief one as he saw action in four games. He also played two games for the Seahawks after being released by the Saints in September. Spiller signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Saints in 2015, but flopped in 13 appearances with the team before getting dropped from the roster altogether.

Spiller is now well removed from his best days with the Bills in 2012 and 2013 so it is a stretch to bank on him being a contributor for Kansas City. A more immediate question may be whether his arrival spells the end of Jamaal Charles‘ time in Kansas City. Charles has a cap number of over $6.1 million and the Chiefs would get it all back if they move on from a player who has played just eight games over the last two seasons due to knee problems.

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Trent Cole wants to sign with a team that will let him off the leash

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 13:   Trent Cole #58 of the Indianapolis Colts hits the arm of  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the game at EverBank Field on December 13, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Soon-to-be free agent pass rusher Trent Cole wants to make it clear that he’s not done playing.

Cole took to Twitter today and said he will keep playing, emphasizing that he wants to sign with a team that will let him loose to go after the quarterback.

“No retirement happening here to make things clear,” Cole said. “It’s just time for somebody let me off the leash.”

Cole may be implying that he thinks the Colts didn’t let him off the leash. Cole finished last season with a career-low 2.0 sacks.

Of course, that’s in large part because Cole missed most of last season with a back injury. Some teams may question whether the 34-year-old Cole will ever be able to make it through a season healthy and return to his prior form. But he’s confident that he still has some football left in him.

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Nine days in, no franchise tags yet

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Outside linebacker Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals in action during the NFL game against the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the franchise-tag window opened nine days ago, I pointed out that no one would be using the franchise tag any time soon. And, of course, I assumed that three or four tags would end up being applied that same day.

It hasn’t happened. And for good reason. The NFL is, and always will be, a deadline-driven business. It’s not about procrastination; it’s about not doing anything until the time comes for doing it.

That said, there’s a chance that the time will be coming as soon as today for a tag or two to be applied. With teams switching into Scouting Combine-mode next week, they may want to make a final decision and act on it before they begin to focus on taking a very close look at the next wave of incoming draft picks.

Even if no tags happen today, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see tags be applied on Monday or Tuesday, if for no reason other than to avoid an unfortunate snafu that would result in the tag not officially attaching before the window closes at 4:00 p.m. ET.

The players most likely to be tagged this year include Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, Chiefs safety Eric Berry, and Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short. Time permitting (and if I don’t forget), I may cobble together over the weekend a team-by-team look at who could get tagged.

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Rob Gronkowski: Patriots fans will keep Roger Goodell out of the stadium

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and New England Patriots' Tom Brady with the Pete Rozelle MVP Trophy during the Super Bowl Winner and MVP press conference on February 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has some advice for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: Don’t come to New England.

Gronkowski told ESPN that Patriots fans are so angry about Goodell suspending Tom Brady that he believes it would be physically impossible for Goodell to get inside Gillette Stadium. Gronkowski was asked directly if Goodell can go to Foxboro, and Gronkowski said no.

“To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so,” Gronkowski said. “The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what. They have Tom’s back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston.”

Goodell has avoided New England since Deflategate broke two years ago. Although he has said he would return to New England if invited, the reality is the commissioner doesn’t need an invitation to attend an NFL game. The reason Goodell hasn’t attended a Patriots game is that he knows what kind of reception he’d receive.

Except Gronkowski thinks the reception would be even worse than Goodell realizes.

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